Fortune Teller. Short Story.

Sally sat back and stretched, her back was starting to get sore from being hunched over all day. She stood from the chair and closed over the curtain, putting out a sign and a barrier to prevent people from just wandering in. With that done she sat again and brought her lunch from under the table. She would have liked to eat outside, but she knew from past experience it would be pointless, someone would manage to find her and then they’d start asking stupid questions. No, for now it was much better to just stay in the tent. She opened the Tupperware box and started to eat, enjoying the salad.

The tent she had been given was small, but it suited her needs so Sally didn’t complain, inside there was a small table and three chairs. She allowed no more than two people in at once, and that was only if it was a parent and child. Everyone else came in separately. The small room was draped in fabrics, making it seem smaller again, creating a closed, intimate space. Behind her sat a cabinet in which she kept some of her props, they stayed there until she determined what the customer wanted. If they were required she started making a speech and slowly, reverently, brought out what ever item was needed. It was always effective, created a sense of awe. Of course they were props, like her costume. It was a surprisingly comfortable get up, a long, flowy gypsy skirt, a flashy, slightly puffed shirt, large dangly earrings, some rings and a few bracelets helped to complete the picture. Depending on how she was feeling, she sometimes tied her hair up in a scarf, other times she let it down loose. It was black and curly, so there was no real need to try and add volume to it. It was a costume she hadn’t worn in a few years, one she had hoped she wouldn’t need again, yet here she found herself, back at a fair. She had bought her own shop years ago, selling mystical objects she researched online, incense and candles, while providing psychic readings and fortune telling in the back. It was much nicer in the shop, everything was bright and airy and she was fine wearing what ever she liked. A shop seemed to give her an air of gravity, that only props and costumes could provide in a fair ground setting.

Sally never really thought about it, but if asked, she would have revealed that she didn’t feel the need to dress up, or act mystical in normal situations because she was a genuine psychic. Sure, she had the props in her office, but that was just to go along with peoples expectations. She learned long ago that simply telling someone what their future held wasn’t enough, no, people wanted a story, a show. Once she built a reputation for herself, that seemed to fade a little, but she could never seem to get herself away from the traditional trappings of her business. One of the problems that she faced, was that she could not control her gift, nor what it showed her. She couldn’t peer into someone’s future and pluck out the face of their future lover, nor could she warn of impending danger, unless, of course, that was what she was shown. Sometimes it was something important and other times it was something banal. Her personal favourite was the woman who came in tears, whose life was in shambles, and what did Sally see? Improvements? The woman winning the lotto? No. She saw the woman, at home, making herself a sandwich. It boggled the mind sometimes. Sally hadn’t mentioned the sandwich, but she hoped it was the best damn sandwich that woman had ever made.

In these cases, or in the cases where a vision did not seem to be coming, Sally did the only thing she could, she lied. It wasn’t a bad thing in her opinion, it gave people hope. She used techniques she had learned of in books and told the person things that they wanted to hear. There were of course, some lines Sally didn’t cross. Speaking to the dead was one of them. Sure, it happened occasionally and it was emotional and tiring for all involved, but she never lied to someone about it. That seemed cruel and needless. If someone came in looking for such a thing, and the spirit was quiet, or just didn’t care to speak to the person, she would redirect them, give them something else, reassuring them that their loved one had already moved on.

Sally enjoyed her work, even when the visions showed her something terrible, she was usually able to do something to prevent it. The work paid well and she was able to meet a good variety of people, and she had even made lifelong friends. Sally closed the container and set it under the table again, careful to place it behind the table leg, where someone couldn’t accidently nudge it with their foot. She sighed and stood, it was time to get back to work. She lit a few sticks of incense, then, wishing she could light some candles without fear of burning down the entire fair, she remembered the sign and opened her door. She only had to do this for another few days, then the damage to the shop would be repaired. A water pipe had burst, flooding the shop and ruining most of the stock and the floor. She of course saw people on a private basis, if, and only if, they had already had a reading from her in the shop a few times, just for safety. But she also got a lot of foot traffic based on curiosity and rumour. Some people would never come back, and that was fine with Sally, but others would return once or twice. While she made good money, she had bills to pay and she simply couldn’t afford the amount of downtime the repairs required. She sat and adjusted her skirts, then stifled a yawn. A moment later a face peered into the tent,
“Ah, welcome, come in, don’t be frightened and tell me what it is you seek.”

Sally walked slowly, it had been a long, long day. She had been asked to work later than her shift and she had stupidly agreed because, hey, more money. A decision she was regretting. She hadn’t even eaten since lunch and it was now approaching one A.M. She stopped at a fast food place and ordered a burger and fries, wolfing them down quickly before continuing on her way. At least she had the morning off tomorrow so she could sleep in. It was a bit chilly, but her jacket kept her warm, there was a faint breeze and all around she could hear the noise of the city winding down. It was a Wednesday, so no one had expected the crowds to be as large as they were. Even now there were groups of people walking home from pubs and bars. As she walked, Sally tried to recall if there were any matches on, or some kind of event happening, but she didn’t think there was. She let herself into her apartment and dumped everything just inside the door, before going straight to bed.

The next morning she woke slowly, then after struggling for a while to get out of bed, hunger finally drove her to the kitchen. She poured herself some cereal and ate sitting at the counter, still feeling too tired to do anything meaningful. When she had finished eating, she went to the small living room and sprawled across the couch, flipping on the TV. An hour or so later and she was starting to feel better, more lively. Feeling slightly guilty, Sally turned off the TV and grabbed some books, she needed to keep up with her studies. Her power, what ever it was, occasionally skipped generations. Her grandmother and great uncle had it, but her mother hadn’t. Her great uncle had died two years before she was born, stabbed in a bar fight. Her grand mother lived until Sally was twelve, around the time the powers started to manifest, but some disagreement between her grandmother and mother meant Sally hadn’t seen the woman since she was four and only had vague memories of her. The only other person she had been able to find with a similar gift had been completely useless, refusing to teach her anything, using the reasoning that if she was meant to know, her grandmother would have taught her. Sally had tried reaching out to her grandmother, who either was no longer able to, or simply refused, to have anything to do with her granddaughter. So it was up to Sally to teach herself and separate old wives tales from useful information. Her collection of books was large and she used them as a jumping off point with a lot of the things she tried. Many of the things in the books were completely useless, but she was able to glean enough information from them to keep herself and others safe. Her current goal, as it had been for a long, long time, was to enable herself to have visions and readings on command. Something that was apparently possible, no matter how impossible it seemed to her.

Once she finished her studying, she changed and went for a run. When she was done, she felt better, more alert and awake. She showered and dressed in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, she wouldn’t have to leave for work for another two hours or so. She made herself a late lunch and ate in front of the TV, wanting to relax a little more before going off. It would be a long night.

When she was finishing up it wasn’t nearly as late as she had expected. Everyone had prepared themselves to be slammed, but the night just fizzled. There had been a student promotion, half price entry and some of the rides were free. Sally figured that they’d jump on it, after all there were a lot of college aged kids hanging around on the weekends. Rick, the manager, had stopped by a few minutes before to tell her she could go whenever she felt like it, it was only eleven and the place was already starting to clear out. Sally decided she’d either do two more people, or wait until a half an hour was up, which ever came first.

As she was starting to pack up, a man walked in, then paused, uncertain. Damn, she should have put up the sign first. “Welcome, come in.”
“I’m sorry, were you leaving? I can come back another time.”
“No, no it’s fine. Have a seat.”
Sally settled herself and after a second, the man sat across from her.
“So, what is it you seek?”
“Um. I don’t really know.”
Great. One of these types. She’d try and steer him towards something, but usually they left feeling unfulfilled.
“Well, I can read your palm, look into your future, sometimes I can speak to the spirits, but there are no guarantees that it will work.”
“Look into my future, I guess.”
“Ok, please place both your hands onto the table, palms up.”
He did as she instructed,
“I’m going to place my hands over yours, you might feel a slight twinge, but it won’t be anything painful. Now, I want you to take three deep breaths and relax.”
The man adjusted himself, then started to breath, slow and deep. His shoulders settled, relaxing. Sally took a deep breath herself, and started to breath out slowly, trying to focus the energy. The mans hands were surprisingly warm and thankfully dry. His skin was smooth, soft, not the hands of a labourer. Maybe something in an office then? No. Concentrate. She redirected her thoughts, focusing on her breathing, syncing it to his, paying attention to the heat of his hands, how his skin felt against hers.
Then she felt it. That low little tingle that connected her to someone.
There he was, standing somewhere, somewhere dark. Large structures rose around him, twisted metal. It flashed, lights flaring. He was standing in the fair, the metal structures were the rides. A few people were walking but not many. He was going somewhere, leaving perhaps? Ahead someone was walking in front of him. It was her. He hesitated then walked a little faster, joining her. They talked, laughed. No, she needed something else. Something different. She focused, trying to shift her attention to further ahead. Her hands throbbed once, heat infusing them, it was working.

He was standing outside a shop, it looked like a book shop. It took her only a second to place it, it was one of the shops in the city. He was looking at the titles. He turned and kept walking, the heat in her hands was building. She was speaking now without realising.
“A man, blue jacket pushing a stroller. A woman, on her phone, yelling. You, walking. Shops, a dog is barking, a yelp. Crossing the road, a car-“ She jerked her hands away, the heat becoming too much, she was pale, shaking. The vision started to fade, she scrambled to hold onto it, but soon it was gone with only faint remnants left, like a dream.
“I think, I think I saw you getting hit by a car.”
An image, bright and fresh, the man sitting across from her lying on the street, lying so still with one arm twisted impossibly. She shuddered. He frowned, “When?”
“I’m, I’m not sure.” Her breathing was ragged, “Soon I think. In the next few days.”
She shook her head, “It’s gone, I’m sorry, I don’t know exactly where you were. In this city I think.”

“I’m only here for a few days, for work.”
“Be careful, look for the signs, people, I described. I can’t quite remember them. Just watch out for them and you’ll be able to avoid what would have happened. Go into a shop, or wait for a few minutes. You should be fine.”
They talked for a moment, but Sally couldn’t quite remember what they talked about, she was still shaken. It had definitely been one of her strongest visions. She had never seen someone dying before, not so graphically. And it was intense, she could feel it, the heat of the sun on his back, the vague pang of annoyance as the dog barked. She shuddered again. Ten minutes later she started to feel better, and she began to pack her things, making sure this time the sign was up. She was just leaving the tent when she realised the man hadn’t paid, she never even asked for money. She shook her head, it didn’t matter. She would be seeing him at some point, at least she knew why he’d seek her out again. Besides, this was a break through for her, if she could do that again, who knew, maybe she’d be able to start controlling the damn things.

As she walked out of the fair, someone called out behind her, she paused, it was the man.
“I almost didn’t recognise you, dressed normally.”
Sally smiled, “I prefer low key clothes when I’m out and about.”
He nodded, “I’m David by the way.”
He stuck out his hand, she looked at it for a second before shaking it. There was nothing, no tingle, no sign of what had happened just a short while ago.
“I’m sorry for leaving, ya know, without paying? I didn’t realise until it was too late and then the sign was up…”

“It’s ok, really.”
“No, it isn’t.”
He started to take out his wallet, “No, it’s fine.” Sally was feeling good now that some of the after effects had faded, sure the small amount of money would help now, but what he had already given her was so much better.

“I insist.”
Sally though back to her first vision, there was something there, she could feel it, something about him and her. She’d take a chance.
“Well, how about you buy me a cup of coffee and we’ll call it even.”
He grinned, “ok.”

They walked slowly, meandering through the city, it was empty enough at this time, but there were still a few places open. They stopped into one and after a second thought, Sally ordered a hot chocolate, and David did the same.

“When in Rome.”

They held their hot drinks in their hands as they walked along, chatting amicably. Sally smiled and raised her cup to hide it, she had been right to take a chance. His hand brushed against hers and before she had time to think, they were holding hands. She was glad that she was walking with him, even if she would have already been home by now. The streets were empty and if she had been alone, it would have felt creepy, but together, it felt vaguely romantic, almost promising. He stopped, and she followed suit, he turned to her, his eyes were bright, she could feel a faint blush starting across her cheeks. He grabbed her, pushing her, Sally scrambled backwards, trying not to fall, she didn’t have time to register that he was pushing her into an alley, shadows fell across them both. He swung her around, slamming her back into the wall, driving the breath from her lungs, leaving her winded. One hand snaked up and grabbed her neck, he pulled her forward, then back, slamming her head into the wall, dazing her. She needed to fight back, yell, scream, something, anything, but her body froze. Pain, sudden and deep in her stomach, warmth flowed down her body, made her top heavy, her jeans sodden. He drove the knife deeper into her belly, twisting, she gasped, one of her arms started to rise weakly. He moved forward, forcing his lips onto hers, parting her lips with his tongue, she felt sick, faint as it invaded her mouth. The taste of the hot chocolate and something else, something sour and bitter. Her mouth started to tingle, that always pleasant tingle that preceded her visions. She could feel him sucking at her, pulling and insistent. The tingle started to fade, she felt it moving from her into him, then it was gone. The knife slid out, then back in slanting upwards, slicing through her. She let out a choked cough of air, then his mouth was gone. He was breathing heavily, panting, a faint tremor in his arm. His hand was gone from her throat, it felt raw, bruised, she collapsed to the ground, gasping and coughing, each movement sending screams of pain through her body.

David leaned against the wall, ignoring her gasps and mewling, focusing on the power that was fluttering around his body, desperate to escape to its rightful place. He grinned, luxuriating in the thrill of panic as it faded and died. Enjoying the feeling of strength that flowed through him, blooming bright and hot. He stood from the wall and looked down at Sally, she was fading quickly. David bent and wiped the knife off on a clean patch of her t-shirt. With that done he slid it back into its sheath and stood, he cast one last glance at her before leaving the alley.


About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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