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My aunt was a con artist and she learned from the best - her father. Grandpa never made it big but he lived for the game. Staying under the radar was probably what made sure he never did get caught. Not once. He was so proud of that.
Mom didn't take up the family business. She got religion instead and married a tax accountant. It's so ironic that it sounds like a joke but it's true; dad was the best for helping out with math homework. Mom's more colourful relations were kept at a figurative arm's length throughout my childhood lest they'd corrupt me into following a more interesting life path.
Aunt Cassie was the only one who could wiggle her way into my life. She was fully licenced as a psychologist, which made her a smidge more respectable. But Aunt Cassie used her ability to read a person in a whole different way, one probably not intended by the university who issued her degree.
Aunt Cassie was a bona fide Psychic.
She had a shop and everything. Crystals, herbs, candles. Anything you needed to fill the mystic void in your life could be bought for a healthy markup at her little store. There was even a private room in the back that was used for readings and seances.
Because both my folks worked I would often get dropped off at the shop where I would help Aunt Cassie out with those little shows. Anything from messing with the lights to knocking on walls. Playing with the thermostat was my idea and it was an effective one. Customers came to get chills down their spine, didn't they? Why not provide?
Cassie helped me become the skeptic I am today. Showed me all the behind the scenes sleight of hand stuff. We'd watch daytime talk shows with magicians and mediums and Cassie would explain every step from a basic rundown of cold readings to how to spot an audience plant.
After one particularly convincing episode I asked the natural question. Couldn't some of it be real? My aunt's reply was firm.
"The dead don't talk, kiddo. Anyone who claims otherwise is blowing smoke out of their ass."
It was her conviction, more than anything, that made me believe her.
There was only one client I ever saw my aunt refuse. He was old, bald and stooped. Took his hat off when he came inside and twisted it in his hands as he talked. Cassie tensed up immediately when she saw him.
The man claimed to have worked in the prison systems. Death row. He'd been responsible for carrying out the final punishments of the worst convicted criminals on the planet. In his old age this tormented him, ate at his soul. He wanted Cassie to contact the souls of the ones he'd killed so he could apologize and beg forgiveness before he joined them.
My aunt threw the most epic fit. I'd never seen her so mad! She hollered and threw things. Shouting for him to shut up and get out.
I hid under the counter with my hands over my ears until he left. Later I thought her reaction was one of fear because of the man's job. An executioner has to be a con artist's worst fear.
Eventually I got found out. I wanted to put on a magic show for my folks and stupidly I thought I'd do a Medium bit where I pretended to talk to Grandpa for mom since she missed him so much. Huge mistake. Mom freaked the hell out and banned me from seeing her sister ever again.
I'd left some textbooks at the shop though so I got to run in and grab them while mom fumed in the car outside. Aunt Cassie didn't even have to ask what was wrong. She could read my face, after all. I gave her a hug and a teary snot-filled goodbye. She did tell me one last secret though.
"Kiddo, there's a curse in this family that gets passed like a torch. I hope to whatever gods might be out there that I don't pass it on to you when I go."
We didn't get to talk again for more than nine years. That's when facebook entered the popular public sphere and no parental ban could keep me from trying to reconnect. It was awkward. She'd had a tough go of life; diagnosed with a schizoid disorder that took her business from her. To pay bills she went legitimate and with her business went all her zest and playful passion for life.
One day I got home to a message waiting in my inbox that made my stomach drop to the floor.
"I love you, kiddo. Remember what I told you."
I dialled her number, already crying. No answer. Didn't stop me from dialing again and again and again and again...
I was too much of a mess to tell my mom. The police did that for me the next day. Car accident. Drunk driver.
The funeral was a blur. Relatives I'd never seen in the flesh packed the church. I sat between my parents in the front row and wracked my brain trying to figure out what it was my aunt wanted me to remember.
We followed the hearse to the cemetery in dead silence. The priest did the last little speeches and then I was left alone by her headstone, still straining to remember. Snatches of my parent's conversation floated in and out of my attention span. If only Cassie hadn't been so cryptic.
"-expecting such a small turnout. It's a shame."
Small turnout? That bothered me. The service had practically been stuffed to the rafters. I turned around to say something and finally understood.
Behind my parents there was a whole host of people, all standing and staring dead ahead. My parents weren't paying them the slightest attention. The priest muttered some soothing condolences and excused himself, walking right through the thick of the crowd without disturbing a single soul.
At the head of the group, looking just like the day I'd seen her last was Cassie. All the 'rest in peace' sentiment in the world wouldn't have done her any good. Her mouth was wide, wide, wide open and just like that I knew. I know what the family curse is. I know why the dead don't talk.
They're too busy screaming.