II

Image from Wikimedia by Wolfgang Rieger.

I’d been waiting for this day for three years, five months, and one day. That time, plus two weeks, was how long I’d been working as Miriam Lindstrom’s karma balancer.

As a balancer, I did good works. As many as I could. And I suffered the misfortune of her bad karma–twisted ankles, broken umbrellas, bird poop on my favorite sweater–you name it, it had happened. 

I paid her debt constantly, wearing it down in small manageable bites. Some people tried to pay off a debt in one big lump sum–the most lucrative option, but also the most dangerous.

Try to redeem too much bad luck at once, and you’d likely suffer a permanent loss–of a limb, a loved one, or even your own life.

Miriam Lindstrom paid me handsomely for the balancing, of course. She didn’t want to have to worry overmuch about bird poop or hang nails. Some bad karma got through, but rarely, and very minor inconveniences.

She still railed at me over those hiccups, as if I could do my job any better than I did. Each time I accepted her payment, I got some kind of lecture. Instead of a simple direct deposit, she wrote a check because she wanted to hand it over in person and hear me express my gratitude. Gratitude! For doing a job, a difficult job she certainly didn’t want to do?

Entitled twit.

I hadn’t hated her at first, but when I’d picked up my first check, and she’d refused to release it from her manicured fingers until I’d groveled enough… That had done it. Kindled a burning in the pit of my stomach that couldn’t be quenched by anything except revenge.

And today, she’d finally delivered my revenge along with the check.

“Now, Lily,” –My name wasn’t Lily, it’s Dahlia, but the woman doesn’t listen to anything she doesn’t consider important– “Your work has been slipping lately. I broke one of my favorite heels, and I just cannot.”

She paused, tapping her fingertips to her glossy red lips. “I cannot express how that hurt me. You will simply have to do better the next week, then you’ll find the next check at previous levels.”

I didn’t reach for the envelope, my heart racing, but my expression calm. I’d gotten better at swallowing rage and offering a serene smile. “Some bad luck is inevitable. It isn’t possible for one balancer–or even two or three–to remove every possible negative event in a life. It’s in the contract.”

She sighed, as if I deeply wearied her, and dropped the envelope to the gleaming surface of her desk. “I’m not interested in arguing with you, Lily. If you’re going to be unpleasant, I can always replace you.”

No. 

I controlled the lurch in my stomach, and shook my head, eyes downcast. “I didn’t mean to be unpleasant. Only remind you of the contract. I didn’t write it, it’s standard for all karma balancers.”

“Yes, yes, I know you didn’t write it.” She waved at me dismissively.

I scooped up the envelope, and hesitated. 

“Well, go. I’ll see you in two weeks. And remember my shoes!”

Pressing the check to my pounding heart, I nodded in the deep almost bow that made her happy, and scurried away. She hadn’t fired me, which meant I’d finally, gloriously won.

Karma balancers were well paid, because no one would do such a terrible job without generous recompense. And most of my clients, I didn’t mind. They were polite, paid promptly and electronically, and hardly registered in my life. I did the job, served the term of the contract, renewed or didn’t, and moved on.

Miriam Lindstrom had clearly not read that contract, the one she thought I was too dumb to write. Which was very, very careless of her.

I opened the check, and saw she’d docked 500 dollars from it, which made my eyes well with indignant, pointless anger.

Well, not pointless. She’d broken the contract–she couldn’t alter my payment without written agreement. And she wasn’t allowed to dock my pay for any misfortune she received, unless she could prove I’d deliberately shirked my job.

Right there in the parking lot, I took out my copy of the contract, and pressed the check to the surface of the paper. It hissed and sizzled, the paper giving off heat that stung my face like standing over an open, working oven.

The words “contract void due to provider misconduct” appeared in bold red print across every page. 

Satisfied, I returned the pages to the folder, tucked them into my bag, then started the car.

I’d deposit the check, because I’d earned that money. Best to do it quickly. Miriam Lindstrom would very soon be realizing why she should have read her contract.

Misconduct on her part came with a steep price–all the karma she’d shed on me, which I had balanced with my good deeds and suffered through the negative–it would all rebound on her, in a flurry of misfortune.

I wished I could be there to see it happen.

About Caitlin Stern

I have a MA in English, and have so many fantasy/urban fantasy WIPs it's not even funny. I'm an avid reader of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, biography, fiction, and anything else that catches my interest. I collect books, and bookmarks I find that are visually appealing and useful.

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