Scott Hammer

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from IT HAS A DEATH CURSE

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INGREDIENTS

One late summer morning you’d go out there to the lake and already your skin would be bracing for the cold. Thinking hard about its layers. Although bodies of water in this part of the country are at their warmest, they are still just melting. Before the sun hits the surface of either of your skins. You put your toes in the sand and imagine yourself to be a polar bear. Your tiny hairs tickle. It’s almost as if you have a sort of fleece to you, but you do not. You almost have a coma. The sand feels good. Cold. The properties of the forest have been conjuring in the night. If you had been awake you would have heard all the chanting: crickets, frogs. The chorus of their song is about the lake you prepare your cortex for.

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As the sun rises, you chance to look up at the tiny waves and morning ripples the lake provides, just for you. They comprise the ethics of the lake. Fish know this, but it’s unclear whether you know it. The lake may not even be a lake. In any case, it is not the same lake as it was when it was younger. Before it learned about the death curse.

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There are ingredients to it, just like in any old spell. The universal element is salamander skin. This is a non-negotiable. But the lore says other recipes for a death curse vary. I have heard of just some:

  1. the skin of Samuel Pepys
  2. Kennedy half-dollar
  3. pine tar resin
  4. viola
  5. crocheted water
  6. papaya seed
  7. alligator ink

They vary. What also tends to be conditional is the death curse itself. That is exactly why you’ve chosen the morning hours to visit the lake. If you can catch it before it is fully awake, before it takes that first sip of joe, chances are you could be safe. A problem with living on earth, in this part of the country, is that you can never know who has been conjuring. You also cannot know its degree of effectiveness. So when you approach the lake in your skivvies (your mother has told you, repeatedly, that this is not the way to die but you are old enough now to make your own decisions) you must look directly to its surface.

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Here’s where things become tricky. If the lake spells your name on its shimmering face, then certainly you will die inside it. If the name is someone other than your own, then that someone has recently been sucked under. If there is no name whatsoever, either the conjuring failed or the ingredients were measured incorrectly. Though it is not often a conjurer forgets the salamander skin, not everybody possesses a Kennedy half-dollar. I suspect one was given to my by accident; I put it directly into my spice cabinet collection.

It would seem that you have a choice not to go into the lake and die. Two caveats. One: you do not exactly “die”. Two: you do not possess this power of choice.

Those with the protection of Monster Arm are a special case. Those in love are not. It sometimes is rare to believe you are truly in love, but it is even more rare to possess Monster Arm.

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When you look at your nipples that early in the morning, you notice they are nearly blue. This is not because you are dead. Not yet. It’s a trick the morning plays, which is a trick unlike what the lake is capable of. Spells are not to be questioned, though their effectiveness varies. You may notice that the horizon looks blue, or some shade of purple-blue specific to the morning sky. It comes right over the pine trees. It comes for you.

It could be that polar bears survive in this kind of environment, but science is telling us that polar bears, of all us people on earth, tend not to survive. These days. If they had expense accounts, let’s say, their funds are down to only a few fifty-cent pieces. Which is a point I make only to reiterate that nothing can save you. No amount of being a polar bear, or imagining yourself taking to the water gracefully, is likely to reverse the spelling of your name. You may impress the lake. The lake is not immune to your charm. There is wiggle-room in everything: Trotsky was killed with an ice-axe, not an icepick. In some photos of him you can almost notice Monster Arm, but he gave it, too early, away.

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