I’ve never been a superstitious person, but now… I’m not sure what to think.
It all goes back to my days in primary school, where my friend Luke was given a series of random dares and challenges of all sorts; such was walking past a group of black cats, stepping on cracks on the sidewalk and all many other different and silly things. He was deemed crazy by those in our class, not being afraid of the horrible years of misfortune he’d face because of the things he did. He would just laugh at them, and snatch whatever they used to place bets. He became a rich kid by the end of the semester, making at least $340 or more a grade. He was such a cocky person. He laughed in the faces of those that dared him to do things that most kids were afraid of. He wasn’t superstitious and thought those all who were, were common idiots. He was a self proclaimed skeptic and thought curses were about as real as the fairy tales we were told as little kids. Luke kept the jig up into our secondary and university years.
He still did simple dares, like staying in haunted houses and sleeping beside the graves of serial criminals; each for a pretty penny. Some wagered their video game consoles, sneakers, skateboards and other things too. I remember a kid was stupid enough to wager front row tickets for Ozzfest. The most he ever made was in cash was at least $300 for a single stunt. He didn’t care what it was, as long as people kept the money flow going. At the rate he was going, he would have had enough to pay off his tuition and still have enough to blow on good drugs and a motorcycle. The ultimate of dares was planned out thoroughly by brother, Donnie; who swore that this would the most extreme of anything Luke has ever done. I took it and raced around campus to find him, to tell him of the news. He, like those who challenged him in the past, were very superstitious despite Luke walking away from it all without trouble, only richer.
He had his nose in a book, and was writing in a notebook. I assumed he was working on a research paper for our general psychology class. Leaving him alone to work would have been the right and considerate thing to do, but he would have grinned from ear to ear to know a nice amount of money was waiting for him. So I had no other option. I called out his name, and he turned around with a smile.
“Hey Mort.” He said “What’s good?”
“I have something you might like.” I said
“What would that be?”
“Donnie has a new challenge for you.” I said “And pay will be big.”
That wide smile I’ve known all my life returned, and he beamed with pride. He shut his book, and turned over to me; as I took the seat to his left.
“What’s the challenge this time?” he asked
“It’s a surprise.” I said “Donnie and I will explain on the way tonight. Others will be there, and somebody else is joining in.”
“How much money we talking about?” Luke asked, a typical question he always had for every challenge and dare he was presented with
“How does $1000 sound?” I said
“You’re shitting me.” He said
“I’m not.” I said “Meet me outside the grand hall at 5 o’clock.”
The time had arrived and Donnie and I pulled up in my white minivan. A classmate from my law class, Hank Osborne was going to join in on the challenge. He too was promised $1000 by Donnie if he did it. He called from a pay phone outside the shop, saying her was there with two others; Carl Jamison and Hans “Hands” Bell, from Donnie and Osborne’s photography class.
“So what’s the challenge?” Luke asked
“Have you heard of the Devil’s Chair, my friend?” Donnie asked
“No.” said Luke
“It’s rumored that it was once owned by Napoleon,” he said “He sat on it while planning out strategies in an old Belgian farm house before he’d go to battle. That battle was the Battle of Waterloo, the greatest military defeat of all time. The story goes that all who sit upon it have suffered severe misfortunes. The reputation caused a shop owner, who now has it to place it high on a wall; so nobody can sit on it.”
“So I sit on this stupid chair, and I get $1000?” asked Luke
“Yes.” I said “Osborne will be joining.”
“Wait, so we split the money?” Luke asked, irritated
“No no no.” he said “Individual pay. There’s no way in hell that you’d get less than such for something this big.”
In the rear view mirror, Luke showed his cocky and arrogant smile again. Donnie rolled his eyes and smirked. I knew Donnie believed in the curse very well. The amount of coincidences is too disturbing not to notice. The story alone was enough to give me chills, and nearly made me question my beliefs. If I told him I was about to call the story valid, he would have laughed in my face—calling me stupid, just like the others. We pulled a block away from the tavern where the chair was being held, as to not let any cameras outside pick up on us. Under the street light, Osborne was smoking a cigarette. Hands would go on to explain he was calling his girlfriend, and Carl was staring at the apartment building across the street, hoping that residents weren’t eye-balling them.
“Where’s the money?” Luke asked
“In time my friend.” said Donnie “In time. We’ll pay inside.”
Carl worked at the shop, so he had a spare key from the owner, Sam Duncan. Once inside, Hands led us to the location of the chair, while Carl fetched us cherry cokes from the mini fridge that was always stocked under the bar. Hands went on to retell his hearing of the legend, how the chair has many deaths under its belt. The former curator of the chair, a maid, a business man and many others unexpectedly died or suffered misfortunes after being rumored to have sat on it. He said it in a tone that made it seem like Poe himself was trying to tell you a bedtime story. Donnie and I grew more fascinated the stranger his tone became and how much more intense his speech became.
“He went crazy I tell you!” Hands said “Crazy! He went out back and took the axe he sharpened earlier that day, and dragged it into the house. He stared into the room with eyes of a man who lost his mind. He was mad. Crazy I tell you. Just bonkers. He approached the chair, talking to it. With a voice of madness, he proclaimed he would not succumb to the curse. It wasn’t going to get him. He would not be destroyed by a chair."
His speech grew louder, more passionate and intense. He started to pantomime the scene. He pretended to hold an ax above his head, and strike air.
“He held it high in the AIR THEN!!!-“
Hands dropped the imaginary axe, put his hand over his chest and collapsed to the floor. His eyes were wide and full of pain and fear as he fell. He lied there motionless for a good ten seconds, before rising to his feet. Luke busted out laughing. I wasn’t sure if he was doing it to mask fear, or he was laughing at the curse. Osborne, who wasn’t a firm believer in curses, was starting to question if maybe this one was for real. Carl returned with the pops and placed them on the table in front the chair that was above our heads.
“C’mon.” said Luke “We’re wasting time. Get that hunk of crap down and let’s get this show going.”
Carl sighed and he and Hands went to pull the chair down from the wall. Hands dusted off the fine layers of dust that covered it, after it being un-used for a good ten years. Donnie pulled an envelope out of his pocket, extracted $2000 dollars. Luke looked it over thoroughly to make sure it wasn’t counterfeit. It was real alright. He convinced everyone in our classes to pitch in for it. Osborne just stared at it, not really able to believe that the chair was real. Luke pushed him to the side, to be the first to sit on it.
“See.” He said “It’s just a stupid chair.”
His attitude seemed to change on a dime. He looked uncomfortable, and quickly got off.
“It’s not the most comfortable thing in the world.” He said “But I don’t feel cursed.”
Osborne hesitated, but sat down anyways. He too said the chair felt weird. It was too hard or something. Donnie sighed, and handed the contents to the two nonbelievers. Luke seemed psyched and happy. Osborne on the other hand, didn’t look as happy. I guess the story of the curse freaked him out too much. When class rolled around on Monday, the two were waltzing around campus, with their noses in the air. They were wearing fancy leather jackets, aviators and threw money around like it was nothing. They spoke with greed in their voices. The believers who’d challenge Luke as a kid, praised him. They heralded him as undefeatable, and faced the most frightening of dares, and perhaps the most questionable of all curses. He denounced the ability of curses, calling them ridiculous and silly. Osborne seemed happier, and he took quickly jumped ships. From being unsure, to almost believe, to full blown “fuck curses”. Donnie was going to wave the flag and join the “curses are silly” group. But it changed as fast as it happened.
The both of us (Donnie and I) returned home for our sister’s birthday party when we got the news. Osborne was hit by a bus, a week after he and Luke took the challenge. He didn’t make it. Donnie sunk into a deep depression over it, and would preach on campus the next day that the curse of the chair killed him, not the bus. He managed to convince others, which in turn—caused Luke to call him an idiot. Luke ruled Osborne’s death as an unfortunate accident, not having anything to do with the curse. I’m not sure if it was me trying to project my thoughts on him, but I could tell in his expression that he had his suspicions. But still, I guess he didn’t want to believe.
We hadn’t seen Carl in days, and weren’t sure what happened to him. We got in touch at Osborne’s funeral. He explained that he had opened the shop early after the challenge, and forgot to put the chair back up on the wall. A customer was drawn to it took a sit on it. The customer was Luke’s friend; Eric Chase. Two days after Osborne’s funeral, Eric was on a 7AM flight to Denver for a special convention. According to a report from the airlines, the engines blew out, sending all 251 passengers into a fiery demise. Luke broke down when he heard the news. While people were trying to comfort Luke and his loss, Carl had the misfortune to tell them about what happened at the shop; getting more to believe in the power of the curse.
It seemed like two months since the challenge was issued, and Luke was falling apart. His father died from a massive heart attack on the job, after he found out his textile company was about to go under. He had recently become a victim to identity theft and lost everything he owned. His lawyer was doing everything she could do to help him, but it was difficult. To make matters worse, a doctor diagnosed him with leukemia. It was good they caught it early, and he was going through intense chemotherapy. He stopped going to class, and started to spend his day in his dorm room, gaining his strength. Donnie, Carl, Hands and I went to visit him; hoping it would cheer him up. But it wasn’t as planned. He was silent the whole time. He only asked one thing of us, and it was to retell the story about the curse. Donnie and Hands took turns explaining portions. With Donnie, it was Napoleon. And with Hands, it was the death of the skeptical curator, Paul Kimmons; who suffered the massive heart attack—in an attempt to destroy the chair. Luke had at last, lost it. In a familiar madness, he swore the chair was cursed. He couldn’t ignore what’s been going on. Even somebody who strongly believes in coincidences would probably start to believe in curses after this. We were all chilled by him, and left to let him calm down. I never saw him again, but I found out what happened through his roommate and Duncan.
He left his room around 11PM, getting on a bus to go to the stop, two blocks from the shop. He wasn’t going empty handed either. According to surveillance footage, he was carrying heavy weapon that was later confirmed as an axe. I guess it was after Eric’s death that Duncan had moved the chair higher up on the wall, to where it was nearly touching the ceiling; being twice as high as it was before. He had cameras installed to make sure thieves wouldn’t take it or move it. It was like Paul Kimmons all over again. Luke stumbled towards the chair, with an axe over his shoulder. He placed it down on the table, and went to a storage room, to find a ladder that would reach it. Returning a few moments later, he positioned the ladder under the chair; and climbed up towards the ceiling. He was about to strike it, but he fell and landed on the floor, not moving. Duncan thought Luke was trying to steal the chair, but fell, breaking his neck in the process. The coroner would agree, but add that the fall was triggered by a stress induced heart attack; which is what killed him. Luke’s death only made the superstitious more fearful, and those who’d once laugh with him into firm believers.
But like I said, I've never been a superstitious person. But now... I have no idea what to believe.