Title: Curse of the Ninth
Author: Ruthie Marlenée
Genre: Literary Fiction
In the music world, there is a superstition, Curse of the Ninth, whereby “a composer who produces a ninth symphony has reached a decisive landmark – to embark on the tenth is a challenge to fate.”
In the fall of 1930, even though Charley had not yet been born, he recalls vividly what happened to his father “Doc” as he lay dying. The fated son of classic pianist and composer, Phoebe, Charley is cursed by having to share the life of his father. As a boy, Charley discovers a book describing an Eastern religious practice whereby at the moment of death, one may transfer his consciousness into a pure form, it makes perfect sense that Doc, like a changing of guards, transferred over his consciousness to his son. Charley is left with no choice other than to carry out his father’s plans, including taking revenge on his killer. But, there will be consequences.
A tragic character, Charley simply wants to be loved, but is tortured by a voice and a presence shadowing his life from birth. Charley is confused when he sees and has feelings for his mother through the eyes and consciousness of his own father. During his journey to escape this twisted Oedipal curse, Charley floats in and out of juvie, jail, and finally ends up in the U.S. Naval Hospital’s mental ward as a perfect candidate for the government’s “Project Chatter.” Once he’s released with a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia, Charley realizes the only way to get rid of Doc is for Charley to die also, but will he be ready to give up the life he was meant to have with the woman he was meant to love?
The whole ordeal terrified me. As much as you tell a kid not to think about or look at something, he’ll think about it; he’ll look. The day after the botched séance, I returned to the scene of the crime and sat at my father’s desk, the place where Mrs. Hotchener said she could feel his energy. Rubbing the surface of the desk, I closed my eyes, willing my father to appear. After a while, I pulled on the top right drawer. This time it wasn’t locked. As I rummaged through, my small hand brushed across something taped to the bottom. A key. I stood and walked over to the rifle case. It fit.
I’d come down to the creekside with the Bible Auntie Ann had given me. In the weeks following the silly séance, I read the Good Book to pass the time going by as slowly as creation in the book of Genesis. Mother had made me go to church with Milty and my Auntie where I felt like the leper Pastor Elwood talked about at the First United Methodist Church.
Auntie Ann had bookmarked a prayer for me to read whenever I felt troubled – pretty much all the time. She told me the prayer had something to do with God, my Father; a father for which I had no concept.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
I lay down along the banks of the creek, holding the book up above my face to read.
He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
I couldn’t understand. Whose namesake?
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me.
But, I do fear evil for Thou art with me, Doc, my father.
As I sat, leaning on a tree, I found no comfort in the book, it only frightened me more. So lonely and scared, I felt like I just wanted to die. I hadn’t remembered taking the shotgun from the case in the library, but lately I hadn’t been thinking clearly. I’d find myself in a room and wouldn’t remember why I was there. I’d start a sentence and then forget what I was going to say. I got in trouble at school for daydreaming and not doing my work.
I looked over at the gun set on the ground beside me. I picked it up to examine it closer; it felt warm and I could smell something like rotten eggs. And then something fell out of the barrel. Rolled up tight like a long cigarette was a piece of paper that seemed to relax once out of the tube. I unrolled it the rest of the way and noticed there were words typed on it. I read out loud. “California Certificate of Death — Gun shot wound through the brain inflicted accidentally by himself.”
My body tingled and shook and it seemed as if the fog had rolled in and yet it had been a warm day with a blue, cloudless sky. I closed my eyes to stop the world from spinning and when I opened them, I saw a young boy in striped pajamas leaning on a lemon tree across from me. Blood seeped from a hole through his head, but I hadn’t fired the gun. He appeared to be dead, but he still held onto the Winchester ’86. Is that me? I felt terrified. Is that going to be me? I wondered, but then I noticed he’d been wearing eyeglasses. It felt like my heart had exploded into millions of tiny shards in my chest. I squeezed my eyes shut.
The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want…
The boy had disappeared when I opened my eyes. I shot up to take a look all around me and then I went back and slumped down where I’d been leaning on the tree. I gazed over at the creek where the water rushed by. I thought about rolling into the water and floating all the way down to the ocean where the birds and fishies might make a meal of me. Maybe, I wouldn’t die and Sammy Seagull would be there and teach me how to fly away. I thought I might have been better off dead except that I’d learned in church how people who killed themselves ended up burning forever in hell. I’d burned myself plenty of times playing with fire — had even burned down part of the orchard last year with a glass lens and singed off my eyebrows when a branch fell from a burning bush. That hurt like –well, like hell. So I couldn’t imagine burning there forever.
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“Curse of the Ninth” with its “beautiful description and engaging author writing style,” is a supernatural mystery, unlike anything you’ve read before. A compelling read with a strange mixture of the occult, historical reference, and poetic prose, it’s a haunting read you won’t want to put down.
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Marlenée is a Los Angeles novelist, screenwriter, and poet who earned a Writers’ Certificate in Fiction “With Distinction” from UCLA. Her novel “Curse of the Ninth” was published in February 2020. Her third novel “Agave Blues", Touchpoint Press, is forthcoming. Her poetry and short stories can be found in various publications, including Shark Reef, The Coiled Serpent Anthology, So To Speak, and Silver Birch Press. She’s received awards for her screenplays from the Women’s International Film Festival, the Oaxaca Film Festival, Carmesi International Fest, and the Mexico International Film Festival.
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