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 entitled Phowa: A Guided Meditation for Time of Death and after reading about the 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?
Bunker of My Mind
1949: U. S. Naval Hospital - Charley
I’m experiencing something so deep and on the surface, my skin, my face is burning hot; it’s embarrassing. My heart hurts and with the back of my hand, I wipe the tear sizzling down my cheek.
“Charley, you’ve been here fourteen days,” Dr. Savage squeaks.
I swipe my nose. Holy shit, a whole fortnight, and I thought I’d only been here maybe two days — three max. I open my eyes to see a tin of Prince Albert tobacco on his desk and Dr. Savage holding out a tissue as he clenches a mahogany pipe in his mouth. He then crosses his arms across his chest and, after what seems like an eternity, he sets down the pipe and opens his mouth. This time I’m actually able to hear his words as they dribble out.
To try and stay alert, I move from the couch to a hard metal chair, but it’s like sitting on a damn block of ice. Since I’ve lost my appetite, there’s even less padding on my butt. At six foot one, I’ve always been pretty lean and any muscles I’d developed since joining the Navy have turned to mush. I adjust my tailbone, crossing one leg over the other to try and get comfy. I’m shivering and without lifting or turning my bulky head, I eyeball the room. Whatever they’ve given me is obviously still floating around in my system making everything seem a little fuzzy. I do feel a little better though, sorta like you do after puking your guts out after a peyote trip down in the Sonora Desert.
“You seem a little disoriented,” Savage says. “First of all, do you remember why you’re here?”
A little disoriented? There’s just a little smog in the noggin. I shrug my shoulders and slowly shake my heavy head sure hurting something awful. Truth be told, I do remember my side of the story, but I don’t have the strength to answer. Anyway, I flex my brain muscles to try and recall the exact details leading up to now.
Rubbing the fresh tattoo on my upper arm, it comes to me, but I don’t open my mouth. I’m here because some asshole down in San Diego has it in for me. It’s not like I’m the first sailor ever needed to get bailed out of a Tijuana jail cell. Of course this all happened only a couple of weeks after I’d gotten drunk while babysitting my commanding officer’s kid. Admittedly, I fucked up. But drinking is the only way I know to drown out Doc’s voice — booze and loud music.
My C.O. told me he wouldn’t report me if I’d come up and “volunteer” for some observation. I’m not stupid and I’m not here of my own accord. Really, I don’t care anymore if I get kicked out of the Navy. It wasn’t my idea to join at seventeen in the first place. My life had been so out of control and with the way things were going, the choice was either the military or a future in prison (I never imagined I’d be stuck on the 2nd floor of the U.S. Naval Hospital). So, I didn’t have too many options. And hell yes, I’m scared shitless. But the real truth is, in addition to George, I’m not sure who else Doc wants crossed off his check list.
So yeah, I volunteered, but I’m your typical passive sort of cat — afraid to say what he really thinks, able to stand anything, and yet stand for nothing. I’m a rebel without a cause; someday, I’m going to find one. But I can tell you, joining the Navy hasn’t made the voice go away. I’ve only become even more disillusioned. Now, in addition to Papa Doc, Uncle Sam has let me down. “Join the Navy and see the world.” Yeah, sure.
At the end, except for a couple of liberty trips south of the border, I never even left the shipyard out of San Diego. I rub my arm. It still smarts. And now the trip to this shithole. Nothing is making sense right now.
Stationed as a corpsman down in San Diego, how could I do my job with hands so jittery; how was I supposed to hold onto my own dick to take a piss? I hadn’t been sleeping. It wasn’t my fault I slept through my watch. They’d probably been slipping bennies and shit in my coffee for weeks. Probably putting radioactive crap in my oatmeal, too, while they were at it.
By the time I entered the Navy, my nerves were already so fried and we weren’t even at war — not a war they wanted to tell us about. I’d already experienced my own personal war at home -- Goddamn World War III if you ask me.
It’s 1949 and we aren’t at war, but something about the dismembered, crazy-eyed, shell-shocked World War II vets they keep doped up in the ward has gotten to me. I’m a good listener, with my ears to the ground like a Navajo Tracker whose code can’t be broken. The old vets fill my head, already jammed to capacity. One vet, in particular, Old Joe Tucker – he’s really only thirty-two – he tells me war stories when I push his stump of a body around the ward in his wheelchair.
The other morning, Old Joe says, “I’d just poured a cup of coffee when the first wave of dive bombers hit Pearl Harbor. Yellow bastards! Blew the ship out from right underneath us.”
As I listen to old Joe, all of a sudden, I remember where I was on December 7th, the day the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor. Mother and I were all alone in the big dark house huddled together next to the radio. I needed to be brave; after all, with George gone, I became the man of the house – at least figuratively. We kept the place dark and the windows covered, living in fear for quite some time.
“We were sitting ducks,” Old Joe says. “Never saw the Japs comin’. But they knew. Roosevelt was either an evil genius or plain old stupid, but he knew.”
Buy Links (including Goodreads):
What makes your featured book a must-read?
“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.
Enter to win a $28 Amazon (US) gift card:
Runs May 25 – June 2, 2021.
Winner will be drawn on June 3, 2021.
Marlenée is a Los Angeles novelist, screenwriter, and poet who earned Writers’ Certificate “With Distinction” from UCLA. Her novel Curse of the Ninth was published in February 2019. Her third novel Agave Blues, Touchpoint Press, is forthcoming in 2021. Her poetry and short stories can be found in various publications, including Sharks 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.
Social Media Link: