The Amulet

by John Paulits

Carl noticed his wife Karen looking at the amulet with the sparkling green stone for the third time. It was a Saturday afternoon and they were browsing the antique stores on Route 9 before heading to lunch at the Ram’s Head Inn to celebrate Karen’s thirty-second birthday. He walked over to her.

“Like it?” he smiled.

Karen looked at him and smiled back. “Expensive. But I don’t need it.”

Carl shrugged and noticed a stack of 45 rpm records. He sauntered over to look through them. When he finished he saw his wife in conversation with the proprietress of the store, a miserable looking old woman sprouting a tuft of hair on her chin. His wife looked concerned, so he approached them.

The proprietress noticed him and moved off.

“Everything okay?” he asked.

Karen nodded absently and walked over to stare at the amulet again. Her husband followed her.

“Change your mind?” her husband asked. “How much is it?”

“A hundred and fifty dollars.”


“I want it,” Karen said.

“You really do?”

“I brought some money.”

“No, no. It’s your birthday. She’ll take my card, no doubt.”

Carl gestured to the old woman and a few moments later Karen was the owner of the amulet with the sparkling green stone.

* * * *

Carl pulled his car into the driveway of his house. How was he going to break the news, he wondered. He saw the blinds on the kitchen window part and knew that Karen had heard his arrival. Well, he thought, there was nothing else to do but get it over with.

“You’re home early,” Karen said. “I haven’t even started dinner yet.” She stuck her head into the refrigerator and began to pull out different items.

“I have to tell you something.”

Karen closed the refrigerator door and faced her husband.

“Sit down,” he said.

Karen pulled out a kitchen chair and sat in it.

“Look, there’s no other way to say this but to just say it. I lost my job today.”

Karen nodded. “I’m sorry, Carl.”

Carl waited to hear more—a scolding—a request for details—more commiseration than a simple “I’m sorry.”

“Well, you’re taking this calmly. I’m out of work now. No income. Those two usually go together, you know.”

Karen rose, walked to her husband, and put her arms around him.

“I’m not worried, darling. Jobs come and go. You’ll get another job. Let’s go out to dinner. And don’t worry. Something will turn up.”

“Out to . . . ! Aren’t you the merry widow!”

“Don’t. Worry.” She hugged him again.

“If you say so. Are we going to the hospital tonight?” Karen’s mother had been taken to the hospital two days before with pain in her leg.

“Yes. Mom had some tests today.”

“Maybe don’t mention about my job.”

“No, I won’t. Let me go get dressed.”

Carl made himself a Scotch and water, wondering at his wife’s equanimity over his lost job. When she came back into the kitchen, Carl said, “Wearing your new necklace, eh?”

“It’s an amulet.”

“Looks nice. Hasn’t brought us much luck, though, has it?”

Karen didn’t answer and they left the house.

When the hospital’s elevator opened on the eighth floor, the first thing they saw was Karen’s father slumped against the wall, arms folded, chin on his chest.


“Karen. Hello, Carl.”

“How’s Mom?”

Father and daughter hugged and Carl listened as Karen’s father said, “It’s not too good, sweetheart. It wasn’t just minor trouble she’d been having with her leg. All of yesterday’s tests showed the cause. Some cancer, a small tumor, was growing in the leg.”

“Oh,” Karen moaned.

Carl saw Karen’s left hand clasp her amulet for a moment.

“And what happens now? What do the doctors do?” Karen asked.

“They’ve already done it. She was operated on today. I knew you were coming tonight and didn’t want to worry you. Oh, here’s the doctor now. Doctor, this is my daughter Karen and her husband Carl. How is my wife?”

Carl watched his wife to see how she would take whatever news the doctor gave and was surprised to see a slight smile begin and then fade away before the doctor spoke.

The doctor said, “It was a small tumor and from our tests it looks as if the tissue around the tumor was clean as a whistle. We’ll keep her for a few days, but I believe that when she heals from the operation itself, she’ll be as good as new. We’ll give her some exercises to strengthen the leg. And that’s about all I can tell you. I know this has been quite a shock to all of you, but try not to worry. You can go in and see her now.”

They stayed at the hospital with Karen’s mother and left when visiting hours were over.

As Carl drove to dinner, he noticed Karen fingering her amulet again.

“I lose my job. Your mom is diagnosed with cancer. That thing really hasn’t been very lucky.” He saw Karen’s fist redden as she clasped the amulet tighter. He decided to drop the topic.

* * * *

Carl found a job in less than two weeks, and life took on its old routine. On a quiet night two months later Carl was surprised to see Karen wearing her amulet when he got home from work.

“Why in the world do you have that on?” he asked.

Karen gave him a quick smile. “I don’t know. I haven’t worn it in a while. Dinner’ll be ready in ten minutes. Make yourself a drink.”

A faint discomfort flitted through Carl as his wife’s hand went to the amulet and squeezed it for a moment.

Later that night the phone rang. Carl was on the sofa reading and his wife was paging through a magazine.

“You get it, honey, will you?” Carl said.

“You’re closer, sweetheart.”

With a groan Carl stirred himself and went to the phone. He greeted the caller and then he listened.

“Oh, God, no,” he said. “When? Oh my God. We’ll be right over.” He turned to Karen and even through his shock he noticed that she was clasping the amulet, which dangled from her neck.

“What is it, Carl?”

“My father. He . . . he just died.”

“Oh, Carl. I’m so sorry.” And Karen went to him and embraced him.

Carl could feel the amulet hard against his chest.

* * * *

Two weeks after the interment, Carl decided it was time he and Karen got away for a while. One night over dinner he said to her, “Honey, how would you like to go to Florida for a week?”

“Can you? I mean so soon after starting work?”

He nodded. “I told Mr. Hennessey about these past few months. He said it would be all right. We could get out of this cold weather.”

Karen nodded. Carl was surprised at her lack of enthusiasm.

“You do want to go, don’t you?”

“Yes, of course. When?”

“Ten days. Saturday.”

* * * *

Two Friday nights hence as they packed, the shimmer of a green stone caught Carl’s eye. The amulet.

“Are you taking that thing with you?”

Karen held the amulet in her hand. Almost protectively, Carl thought.

“Yes, I like it.”

Carl didn’t argue but he began to think.

* * * *

An hour into the flight Carl said “Oh, good. Here comes some lunch. I should have eaten more this morning.” Suddenly, the overhead lights blinked and went out.

“Sorry,” came the calm, droning voice of the pilot. “We’re having a slight mechanical problem. We’ll have the lights on in a moment. Thank you.” As good as his word, the lights returned a few seconds later.

“I hate airplanes,” said Carl.

“Don’t worry, dear. We’ll get to Miami safely.”

Ten minutes later Carl took his chicken Florentine from the server and five minutes after that ordered a Scotch and soda from the drink cart and a red wine for his wife.

After Carl took the first sip of his drink he said, “I hope you don’t think I’m superstitious, Karen, but that necklace of yours made me nervous, so I took it out of your bag and put in back in your drawer.”

Karen’s plastic wineglass tumbled to the floor, and she screamed sharply. The attendants further down the aisle turned at the disturbance.

“Karen, what’s wrong? Your drink’s all over everything.”

Karen jumped up from her seat and unhooked the overhead baggage compartment. She pulled her carry-on bag from the space, tumbling pillows and blankets onto the floor of the cabin.

“Karen, what are you doing?” Carl asked.

“Where is it? Where is it?” Karen demanded. “Tell me you didn’t.”

“Stop it. Where is what? I didn’t what? And whisper.”

“The amulet. I want my amulet.”

“Karen, it’s home.” The lights blinked again but came on quickly. “I just told you. I left it home. Don’t get hysterical over one piece of jewelry. I’ll take you out when we get home, and you can wear it then. It just made me nervous is all.”

“Oh, god! Oh, god!” Karen threw herself into her seat, tossed her head into her hands, and sobbed.

Carl snapped, “Chrissake, it’s home. It’s not lost. I thought it would be bad luck. We’ve had nothing but bad luck since you brought it home.”

“Good luck! Good luck!” screamed Karen.

“Karen, quiet. You’re embarrassing me.”

“It was good luck.”

“My losing my job, your mother having cancer, and my father passing away was good luck?”

“Yes, exactly. Oh, Carl what have you done? The old woman I bought the amulet from told me what would happen. You were stealing from your company, weren’t you?”

Carl went stiff in his seat.

“You were stealing. She told me you’d be caught and disgraced. Maybe even go to jail. If I bought the amulet, you’d lose your job the way you did. No disgrace. And you’d find another job quickly. It came true. It was good luck. The amulet brought good luck.”

Carl was breathing heavily. He waited for her to continue. “My mother was saved from cancer. Don’t you see? The old woman told me that without the amulet my mother would lose her leg and perhaps die. The amulet prevented that. Your father died quickly, easily. The amulet brought him the good fortune to die so easily. The old woman saw that he would linger, helpless and in pain for months and months. But the amulet gave him a good death. Carl, oh Carl. There were four things.”

The lights blinked off and on again and a strange clanking noise floated through the plane.

“Four things? What was the fourth?”

Karen turned her eyes toward her husband for the first time since she’d learned of the loss of the amulet. She grasped his hand and squeezed it tighter than he thought she ever could.

“What was the fourth?” asked Carl, nearing panic himself.

“The plane,” Karen whispered. “The amulet was going to let the plane to . . . to have trouble but land safely in Atlanta. We’d switch to another plane there.”

“Without the amulet, what? Karen, without the amulet, what?”

The plane was thrown into sudden darkness, and before Karen could answer, it veered sharply to the right and began screaming viciously down through the clouds.

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