Copper Penny

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Copper PennyIt had been lying on the concrete inside the white stripe of paint that delineated the parking spot he’d taken.  And when Rix opened the door to step out of his car, his left foot landed beside it.  It glinted in the noon sun as if newly minted.  It certainly looked newly minted, but it couldn’t be.  He marked the year on the coin.  It was the year he was born.  Rix smiled a little and put the coin in his pocket.

He had picked up the copper penny, not out of belief in its luck, but out of hope.  The blind hope of the young.  It didn’t take him too long to notice.  The coin was having an effect on his luck.  He used the coin in a flip to determine who would pay for lunch that day, him or his best friend Selene.  It landed on heads.  He won the flip.  And for the rest of the day, he was the golden boy.  Every little thing seemed to go his way.  Someone pulled out of a prime parking spot right in front of him during the evening rush at the market.  He got all green lights on his way home from work.  When he was detoured later on his way to see his friends, he ended up on a street that led him straight to the fancy new restaurant.  Dreading the bill, he resolved to settle on a meager meal of salad, until their waiter informed them their table number had won a silent raffle and would eat and drink for free.

The next day, Rix remembered his lucky penny.  He took it out, smiled at it, and flipped it.  It landed on tails.  He laughed to himself.

Couldn’t last forever, he thought, reminiscing about his good luck streak the night before.

But the good luck continued.  He hit a home run at a presentation he had to give at work because his buggy projection set-up ran smoothly for once.  Later, he fell into conversation with a colleague from another division that he thought disliked him.  They bonded over an intense discussion about astronomy.  Rix wasn’t much of a drinker, but he felt energized enough by a good day at work that he joined some co-workers for drinks to celebrate the upcoming holidays.  Someone had invited a friend of a friend who caught Rix’s eye.  She had hair the color of dark chocolate.  His favorite color.  And lucky for him, her charm was not just hair-deep.  He went home with solid plans for a date the following week.

The very next morning, he flipped this lucky penny again.  It landed on heads and he wondered what it meant.  Then he shook his head and told himself it meant nothing.  He would later realize just what it meant.  More good luck.  Entering and winning a contest for some coveted concert tickets.  Pouring rain suddenly stopping right when he wanted to go out and run errands.

He became intoxicated by the days of good luck.  Flipping the coin became a morning ritual, and part of him believed the coin was actually directing his luck.  He noticed a pattern.  The sides were alternating.  If it was heads one day, the next day would be tails, then heads, then tails, and so on.

Then one day, he flipped the coin and it didn’t follow the pattern.  Heads it had been the day before and heads it was again.

That day he drove over a nail and got a flat tire.  Because of the flat tire, he was late to a meeting.  He wasn’t able to give his input on a project he was working on, and decisions were made that he disagreed with but could live with.  He stayed in for lunch to work on things.  Someone made a sandwich run for him and brought back the wrong sandwich.  It had saffron on it.  He was allergic to saffron.

He went home somewhat miserable and wondered about his penny.  The next morning, he flipped it and it came up tails, and he wondered what that meant.

He was almost in an accident going to work.  He could have sworn his brakes seemed to slip.  He almost cancelled the date he had made for that night with the dark-haired girl he’d met, but he talked himself out of his superstitious fears.  She didn’t show up to dinner.  Rix checked his phone a few times, but there were no messages, no missed calls.  Finally, he ordered a meal and picked at it, half out of disappointment and anger, and half out of worry about what he might be accidentally eating.  He had asked the waiter twice whether or not the dish contained any of the few odd things he was allergic too.

The next morning he took the copper penny out and looked at it.  It had lost its luster.  The heads side was still marked with the year of his birth, but he hadn’t noticed before that it didn’t look like a modern penny at all.  The heads side was stamped with a rather inhuman-looking head.  Though he couldn’t put his finger on what made it seem unnatural.  And the tails side was marked with some kind of vine.  The penny seemed old, ancient and yet unworn.

Was it really responsible for the run of good luck and the run of bad luck he had just experienced?

It took Rix a few weeks of studying and testing the penny to figure out how it worked.  Once he flipped the coin, he had to keep flipping it every day.  The result of the flip would determine whether the day would be a good luck day or a bad luck day.  Good luck and bad luck were not associated with a particular side of the coin.  It all depended on the first flip.  On the first day, Rix had flipped a heads and had a good luck day.  When he flipped again the next day, if it landed on the other side, on tails, his good luck would continue as it had.  If the coin landed on the same face, his luck would change.  And the longer his luck remained consistent, the more intense it would be come.  Good luck would become amazing luck in the span of a few days.  And bad luck…

At first, Rix tried to deal with it himself.  He visited the library, did online searches, and even made a phone call to a mystic or two.  And his luck continued to change.  During a run of good luck days, he found out the girl he fancied had indeed tried to call him, but she had one digit wrong on his number.  She was free on the night of that concert he’d won tickets for.  And he found out one of her hobbies was astronomy.  During a run of bad luck days, he fell down a flight of stairs.  The next morning, he flipped the coin and it landed on a good luck day.  And it turned out he didn’t have any serious injuries.  He tried not the use the coin, not to flip it.  But that didn’t work.  It only made things worse.  For that was when the luck spread to other people.  The final straw was when one of his friends got hurt.

Rix had suffered bad times before and enjoyed good times, as any average person would, so he thought.  And there were times when he could not figure out how to lift himself up from whatever troubles plagued him.  There was only one person he could turn to in such times.  Only one person who would believe him, or at least humor him without condescending or panicking or being otherwise unhelpful.  Selene.

***

It had started at a lunch with Selene.  Rix hoped to end it the same way.  As they ate, he laid out his story about the penny, interspersing his experiences with the lore he had found in his researches.  When he finished talking, they sat in silence a while.  Rix ate and watched his friend mull over everything he had told her.

He pulled the penny out and laid it on the table.  “Remember that rhyme about pennies?  ‘See a penny, pick it up, and all the day you’ll have good luck’?”

“Of course.”

“I looked it up.  That’s not the original verse.  Originally, it was ‘See a penny, pick it up, and as it turns, so turns your luck.’”

“So…”

“So when I flipped it, I…I don’t know, activated it.”

“You know, that makes me think of one of my favorite sayings, ‘Be careful what you wish for, for you will get it, but there will be consequences.’”

Rix pressed his lips together.  “Thank you, Selene.  That’s very helpful.  I hadn’t yet made that observation.”

Selene sighed apologetically.  “You really think Charlie’s in the hospital because of you?  Accidents do happen.”

“They do.  And maybe it wasn’t me, but in my gut I know it was.”

“Not you,” Selene said glancing at the coin on the table.  “That.”

“So, do you believe me?”

“I don’t know if I do.  But I have noticed your extreme luck lately.  I mean that lottery thing…I was going to ask you about it actually, so maybe there’s something to it.  And you know I’ll help you however I can.”  She took a swig of her soda and slammed the can on the table.  “Do you have any kind of plan that I can sidekick on?”

“I’m having a good luck day,” Rix said.  “Let’s see what it gets me.”  He pulled out his cell and typed in the search terms he wanted in the phone book application.  A list of seven names appeared.  Rix closed his eyes and pointed.  “This one.”  He looked and noted the name of the expert he sought to consult.  “I’ll call and make an appointment for tomorrow.”

“You’re kidding.  That’s your method?”

“It’ll work.  I’m having a good luck day.”

“What if you have a bad luck day tomorrow?” Selene asked.

“Good point.”  Rix called the number.  A young woman answered on the other line on behalf of a Mrs. Moorcock, an occulist.  As luck would have it, at least on that day, Mrs. Moorcock had lost a client, who was scheduled to see her that afternoon.  She had an opening.

***

Rix knew it was a stereotype, but he was expecting beaded curtains, a dim room lit only by candlelight, an old woman dressed in a long skirt, adorned with layers of colorful scarves and weighed down with an abundance of chunky jewelry.  What he found was…Mrs. Moorcock.  She had an air of casual competence and hidden knowledge, like a retired secret agent.  Her silver hair was tied in a neat but loose bun.  She wore a powder blue and white pant suit.  Her only jewelry was a pair of pearl earrings and a silver watch.  There were no scarves.  She greeted Selene and Rix at the door, giving no indication that she could detect anything wrong with either of them.  She offered them tea and scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam.  And as it was a good luck day, Rix ate it and it was, of course, the best tea and scones he had had in his life.

“Now then,” Mrs. Moorcock said.  “What can I do for you?”

Rix explained everything starting from the moment he found penny—including the details of where and when—to the moment he realized the connection between the penny and his changing luck to the days of research he had done himself to his walking up her steps to the landing before her front door.  Mrs. Moorcock listened closely, nodding every now and then, sipping at her tea.  She had a pen and pad beside the tea service, but she made no notes.

“I tried not flipping the coin one day,” Rix said.  “I was in the middle of a good luck streak.  I put it away in my drawer.  The next day it was the same face of course.  If I had flipped, that would mean a change to bad luck.  And it did, only not bad luck for me.  My luck evened out, but everyone around me that day seemed to have bad luck.  Harmless stuff at first.  My co-worker broke her heel.  Someone else spilled coffee on his favorite shirt.  I noted it, but I couldn’t tell if it was the coin or just common bad luck.  The next day, I still refused to flip the coin.  So it was on the same face as the day before.  If I had flipped, that would mean good luck.  Only I noticed, I didn’t have any good luck.  But the people around me did.  A friend won a television for being the hundredth customer to walk in the door on the store’s anniversary.  My mother found a gold chain necklace that she thought she’d lost over a decade ago.  I noted it again.  It was predictable, one good luck day, then a bad luck day, then good luck, and so on.  But none of the luck was falling on me.  It was falling on the people around me and it began to escalate.  Good became great became unbelievable.  Bad became worse became unbearable.  Someone I care about ended up in the hospital with a broken arm and sprained back because of my bad luck.”

“The universe needed to balance out the luck that was given,” Mrs. Moorcock said.  “If you had too much good, it needed to give you bad, so that ultimately, luck evens out.  Because you refused to flip, the coin or whatever force controls it, made its balance with the people around you, friends, family, and colleagues.”

Rix nodded, his brow pinched with regret.  “So I started flipping the coin again, hoping the luck would just fall on me.  Then one day, I tried flipping the coin twice within a day, hoping that it would land on heads for one flip and on tails for another flip, and that would cancel out the effects.  But whenever I flipped it, it came up the same face.  It won’t change unless the clock passes midnight.  I would have used that to place some bets and win some money, if I hadn’t already won a jackpot at a local lottery.”  He sighed.  “I hadn’t even bought any tickets.”

“What else have your tried?”

“I tried destroying it,” Rix said.  “Burning, hammering, but nothing worked.”

“Why don’t you just leave it somewhere, for someone else to pick up?” Mrs. Moorcock suggested.  “That’s probably what its prior owner did.  Luck is unpredictable.  But if you’re having a good luck day, that’s the easiest and surest way to get rid of the penny and its effects.”

“By passing the curse on to someone else?” Rix winced.  “I thought about it.  But no, even on a selfish level, if I leave this somewhere, someone I know may pick it up.  When the luck starts working on them, it will eventually spread, and it probably will spread to me.  So I’d be dealing with the penny’s luck anyway, only I wouldn’t have any control whatsoever.”

“Some legends speak of coins forged by the God of Luck.  He forged them to contain some of his power so it couldn’t be stolen by other gods, or else he forged them at the behest of the king of the gods.  Myths and legends vary.”

Rix nodded.  “I’ve read some of those myth and legends too.  The coins are always made of copper and they’re called the luck-makers.”

Mrs. Moorcock set down her cup of tea.  “Whatever its origin, you have witnessed its effects, its magic to be real, yes?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve unleashed the power of luck.  You cannot quench it unless you balance it.”

“How?  How do I stop it from spreading and affecting everyone around me?”

“If you don’t want to pass the curse on to another, there is one other way.  You can absorb all the penny’s luck into yourself.  Your soul and your body will be the cage that holds it, until the end of your life.”

“Then what happens?”

Mrs. Moorcock chuckled.  “Then you will rot away, the penny will remain, and it will wait for some other fool to pick it up.”

“Wait, what will happen to Rix?” Selened asked.  “Is it dangerous?”

“Of course it’s dangerous.  It might kill him.  Or it might do the opposite.”  She shifted her head and her eyes glinted.

“There’s no other choice,” Rix said.  “I sowed the seeds.”

“And now it’s time to reap,” Mrs. Moorcock said.

“How do I do it?”

“It’s relatively simple.  You light a fire, chant some words, swallow the coin.”

Selene frowned.  “Can we at least clean it before he puts it in his mouth?”

“I insist,” the old woman said.

Selene cleaned and polished the penny until the copper gleamed through.  For something so troublesome, both sides shined with humble beauty.

The two woman drove Rix into the middle of the forest where there was an empty cave.  They prepared the cave, with blankets, a fire, and plenty of food to last Rix for a few days.  Mrs. Moorcock taught him the ritual and the incantations and words to speak.  But she told him that it would not work unless he performed it all with sincerity.

Selene reminded him to call her when it was done, casting a sad smile behind as if she knew he wouldn’t actually call.  Then she and Mrs. Moorcock left.  Rix suddenly felt immensely lonely.  And scared.  He didn’t want to die.

Could a person actually die from too much bad luck? he wondered.

At last, when it grew dark, he fed more fuel into the fire.  He heard the howling of a wolf outside the cave.  It was comfortably warm and cozy in the cave, and Rix was tired.  He longed to sleep, but he had something to do first.  He sat before the fire.  He made signs.  He unrolled scrolls and recited from them.  He swallowed the copper penny.  He closed his eyes and sat in silence, willing his body and soul to contain the power of the penny.  He felt nothing for several minutes and then the pain struck.  He had never been stabbed in the belly, but the shards of pain that sliced through his gut felt like what he imagined a knife in the gut would feel like.  He cried out at first and then the pain was so severe, he could hardly breathe, much less make a sound.  He tried to crawl to where Mrs. Moorcock and Selene had left him some supplies, praying they had packed some kind of painkillers.  But he never made it to the supplies.

***

When he woke, it was dim and cold.  Shivering, he sat up and groped about for something to cover himself in.  He found the blankets.  He found some pieces of wood.  He wrapped himself in the blankets and added the wood to the dying fire.  He found oil and used it to stoke the fire.

I’m still alive, he thought.  And his stomach growled so loudly it startled him.

He ate and by the time he was finished, it was lightening outside.  He stepped outside of the cave.  It was a clear day.  Night was retreating from the rays of dawn.  Rix looked down at his hands and at himself.  Aside from feeling exhausted and a bit sore, he felt no different.  He couldn’t tell if he was containing the luck of the luck-maker inside himself.  Mrs. Moorcock had warned him it would be so.

Rix left.

He had made all the necessary arrangements.  He didn’t know how long he would survive.  There were human beings who lived out in the wild on their own, but Rix was never the outdoors type.  He had grown up running on concrete not grass, and climbing on steel not trees.  Still, he would make a go of it.  He would live a different life than the one he’d thought, the one he’d planned.  He had always wanted to succeed in the eyes of others.  Now he would be out of sight, invisible to the world.  None would know of his sacrifice.  It was the only way he knew to protect the ones he loved from himself and to take the penny away so far that no one would find it again.  He would succeed, even if no one else knew it.  He wondered if it was still possible to have fun and enjoy without his modern comforts, without the people he loved.  He wondered, if he seemed to be normal, could he return to his life someday?

Such thoughts accompanied him on his trek, deeper and deeper into and through the woods.

“I’ll probably die,” Rix said to himself.  “Unless I get lucky.”  He chuckled to himself.

When he stopped for an evening snack, he sat on a log beside a small pond.  He watched a frog sitting on a lily pad trying to catch the dragonflies that buzzed all around.  The other frogs were feasting, but it seemed that one frog couldn’t catch a dragonfly to save his life.

Rix peered at the frog and tilted his head just so.  The frog’s tongue shot out and caught a dragonfly.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel.

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