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Around 1990 (plus or minus 5 years) I read a short fantasy in Asimov's Magazine about nonsense words that cause bad luck to anyone who reads them.

The main character (a person in modern times) reads the words, and the story notes, that you, the reader, have also read the words and are likewise cursed. Fortunately for the main character (and for me) the story ends after the main character encounters other nonsense words that cancel out the bad luck.

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Fortune and Misfortune by Lisa Goldstein. It was published in Asimov's Science Fiction, May 1997.

It's about an actress Pam and her friend Jesse. Pam is looking for the Oedipus Trilogy in Berkeley library when she finds a book called Fortune and Misfortune and opening it she reads (read on at your own risk!):

It all started with that damn book, I thought. It’s all because I took that book down and opened it. "And he who reads the following words will be plagued by ill fortune for all his life," it had said.

"Trogro. Trogrogrether. Ord, mord, drord. Coho, trogrogrether."

You look up a moment. The birds have stopped singing, a cloud has moved in front of the sun. You thought you were reading a story about someone struggling with death, with bad luck, with her own inner demons–Hamlet’s outrageous fortune.

After reading this Pam's life takes a swift turn downhill. She stops getting parts and her father dies. Eventually Pam goes back to look for the book again:

Finally, on the fifth day, I found it. I couldn’t believe it at first–I had to read the title at least three or four times to make sure. But this was definitely the book. The dust was spotted with fingerprints, my own and those of whoever had misshelved it.

My hands were trembling. I opened the book and read the headings at the top of the pages. Phrases for health, love, money, beauty, knowledge. All these things would have interested me once but I rifled past them, looking for the section I wanted, hoping it would be there.

It was. "And the following words will bring good fortune forever, and are proof against all words of ill fortune," I read.

"Tay, tay, tray. Tiralanta, tiralall. All, call, lall. Tiralanta, tiralall."

So. Those are the words–the bad luck you had begun to fear will not strike, and maybe even something truly wonderful is about to happen to you. Maybe the phone is ringing right now, maybe it’s good news. I won’t tell you what happened to me after I read these words–it’s outside the scope of this story, and anyway I think I’ve already done enough for you. I will say that I was sick and bitter for a long time but that now I’m better, though I’ll never be entirely free of these awful feelings.

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  • 1
    Thank you - that's it.
    – Andrew
    Aug 18 at 10:53
  • 16
    Thank you for quoting both phrases.
    – SQB
    Aug 19 at 7:11
  • 11
    @SQB I thought I'd better not take any chances! :-) Aug 19 at 7:16
  • Cool! Full text can be found here as well as here. Aug 20 at 1:33

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