There wasn't a moment in my future where I thought I would be sitting in a damp tent on the west side of main street, a woman's choppy, purple bangs staring me straight in the face. She scrunches her nose at me, eyes sealed tight.
"You gonna pay for that?" she mutters, jabbing a thumb haphazardly toward a tips jar. I begrudgingly fork over a small fortune, the labor from my summer job weeping over the pointless expenses. Kiki had better been right about this.
The girl's nose ring moves over to the right. I try to take my eyes off of the dangling jewelry before she can catch me looking, but there isn't much of an attempt made there. She catches me staring and rudely turns away, huffing slowly.
"Let's get this over with." The lights quickly begin to dim, all of their sparkling lights fizzing out into a state of entropy. The psychic's eyes lay on a thin line of haunting and just plain pathetic, each green earring standing out like a sore thumb.
As she runs her hands across each of the gold-laden cards, I begin to try breathing in the musty air for what seems like (but can't possibly be) the first time. Each fragrance from the deep-hued tent takes me by surprise as I mentally catalog psychic into the list of jobs I can't let myself be in the future.
"Your past..." she hums a slow tune under her breath, something that sounds suspiciously like 'Poor unfortunate souls'.
Her ornately decorated hand clasps onto the thin paper, flipping it over with a flick of her heavily bedazzled wrist. The other side reveals a card with seven goblets, all stacked precariously toward me.
"The seven of cups," the psychic nods, not a hint of remorse in her tone. "I'll translate," she adds, noting my odd look.
"You've been setting too many goals," she pulls up a thin phone, checking it for a moment as she balances the card in her hand. "It was fine when you started to set high goals, but, girl, get a little grounded"
Before I can respond, she continues her explanation. "There were too many options, many of which are still pending. Narrow your college list. Maybe look at Fordham"
My eyes fall to my sweater with disgust. "You just read the school off of my shirt"
The psychic shrugs, hand already hovering over the next card. "Maybe. Just believe what you want to"
Her face breaks into a smug smile at the next card, containing a ruler in vibrant clothing sitting upon a throne. "The king?" I guess, reaching to inspect it further.
"The emperor," she corrects, slapping my hand away. "You're gaining authority, and you think your options are settled. Your relationships may blossom, but that may only come from force. Try to be more lenient with people in the future, as in, to certain psychics who just gave you a discounted price"
"That was a discount?" I snort, looking at the fat wad of cash dunked in the glass jar.
"Of course you could have just done it online. Now for your future..."
She peels the card from the table, hiding it from me. A gasp emits from her mouth, steady and slow breathing being replaced with the shock of the illustration.
"What is it?" I ask, growing nervous, despite my disbelief. "Death or something?"
"No," she mouths slowly, shaking her head to flip it over. Before me stands an imposing tower, glowing with a pale red.
"Oh," I sit back in my chair, relieved. "That's alright then, isn't it?"
The woman rolls her eyes as if she can't bear to even sit beside me. "Just because it isn't death doesn't mean anything. Look closer. The tower's on fire. People are falling from it. Dying"
My heart sinks inside my chest as I take it all in. I need to slow down more. I need to start listening. "Oh"
"Yeah. Want me to explain?"
I nod eagerly, but a part of me screams no. I just can't spend a minute more here. I have to get out.
But I remain seated.
"The tower is, by all means, a sturdy structure. It has stood through storms before, so what's different about this one?
"The answer is, the foundation"
"What do you mean?"
"The people fortified the tower with the strongest bricks they could find. It was a prize for them, something that would keep them safe for years to come"
"What happened then?"
"The ground below wasn't hard enough. When the storm came, the ground turned soft beneath their feet. This was normal for the people of the tower. However, the storm didn't stop there.
"It went on for days, something that would be considered a tragedy in their day. All it took was a single stroke of lightning for the entire thing to crumble down. People fled from the tower, jumping out high windows to stay safe"
"Sort of like the triangle shirtwaist fire"
She ignores me, simply standing. "I think it's time you go"
"Look, just because your crazy demon witch voodoo decides I'm a bad omen doesn't mean you can just ki-"
The woman doesn't let me finish my sentence, leaving me out in the rain to ponder what just happened. Was I so adamant about staying there? I guess I couldn't explain it all.
I turn, only to find Kiki throwing her small body at me. After the attack, she peels away from my arm, smiling her sly half-moon grin.
I mean, there’s not much more that could be standing between us. From her pale complexion to my dark skin, from my curly hair to the smooth golden locks with their purple streaks. I can even see it in her eyes, that small fire that refuses to listen to parents.
“Did you like Barbara’s reading?”
I deduce that she means the lady who did that whole card trick. “Well...”
She reads my face before I can hide the annoyance with a smile. “Yeah, I didn’t know if you’d like it or not. She was one of the better ones though. I guess this whole scene isn’t for you, huh?”
I nod, looking back towards the nearly obscene purple hut. Kiki’s been obsessed with everything magic since she was 8 when her mom took her to see a magician's show. She quickly took that off of her career list, but now she wants to be the agent for talentos like them. It’s funny, imagining how someone like her could keep people grounded.
“I bought this off of one of the stalls,” Kiki produces a thin wooden board from her backpack, displaying it out for me.
“No. You did not just buy that”
Kiki fakes a pout, only to latch onto my shoulder. “You know you’d love it! Besides, isn’t it time you loosened up a little?”
The tarot cards were one thing. In Kiki’s small hands stands an ouija board, each segment a different opalescent shade of pink. I can’t deny the craftsmanship, but that’s too spooky for me.
“You’d do it for me, right?”
I pull my face closer into the sweater, the pungent scent of cinnamon clogging my nose. She can’t see me blushing. It’d be too mortifying.
After repeating that mantra in my head, I breathe in once more, the heat that rose to my face expelling itself down for now. “Fine. I’ll ask my parents if I can stay over tomorrow”
This prompts a hug, one that turns my face even warmer. “Thanks!” Kiki runs off, stashing the board into her backpack as she rushes away. I stare down at my vans, the word repeating itself over and over in my head like a broken record.
Why am I so obsequious when it comes to love?
My eyes whip back to Kiki, her knee covered in a thick red mark. Her bike slides away, cascading into the deep trench by the side of the road, plunging quickly into a bed of thorns.
"Damn..." she takes hold of my hand, staring ruefully at the bike. "There goes that"
I push past her, unaware of her slight size as she gets knocked back, reaching for the single purple handle that sticks up into the air.
"Bea," Kiki warns, looking at the spikes on their vines. "Be careful"
"I know," I call back, barely even paying attention. I can't even stop myself this time. She didn't even ask me to do this.
So why am I even trying?
"Hey," she pulls me back a little, watching as a thorn makes its way towards me. “I’ll help you. You don’t have to strain yourself”
Heat rises to my face. “I know. Just...”
Kiki shoots me a look, her eyes filled with a glimmer of concern. She climbs onto the bike, watching as I awkwardly make my way onto my bike, plain and brown. Just the way I like it.
She takes the bike off the curb slowly, only to speed past me, whooping as she takes in the last fall air of the season, all smiles and adventure, risks made to be taken. I cross beside her, trying to let the air run across my face.
Her house stands before us, tilting with an odd crease through the door, it's once vibrant purple and orange paint now weathered down into dull, yet homey colors of silver-grey and brown. She stands upon her porch, allowing the leaves to crunch under her feet. The sun is already falling through the hills in the distance, weaving in and out between the remains of leafy trees. Maybe I shouldn't have drawn the class meeting out so long.
"My mom's working," Kiki declares, smashing her backpack down on the floor. I've stayed over for the night so many times, but ever since I began to realize what Kiki meant to me, it's been stressful just thinking about coming here now. She had to bargain with me just to stay over for a day.
It all changed when she broke up with her old girlfriend, tearing back to me for support.
"Bea," she saddles up beside me, snatching one of her tall chairs near the large counter in the dining room. I'd have to win the lottery to get a place like this, and Kiki just thinks of it as her home, comfortable, yet weary. At least she doesn't brag about the money she fell into. "What did you think of Mr. Arnold's quiz?"
I sigh, pissed. "Let's not talk about that, Kiki"
A mischievous glint flashes through her eyes. "Sounds like something's wrong. You can tell me. Here..."
She rummages through the nightmare of her bag, pulling out a scrap of paper. Her brow furrows.
"He gave me a C-" Kiki tells me, folding up the paper meticulously into something that could be persuaded to be an origami crane, but is more likely just Kiki trying to crumple up the test. "What about you?"
I wince, pulling the paper out. "A B-"
"Cool," Kiki answers back, smiling. "That's okay, right?"
Okay? "No!" I try to level out my voice, but it comes out way too harsh. "Do you know what this would do to my GPA?"
"It'd do wonders for mine," Kiki snorts. Of course, her unlimited supply of clubs and extracurriculars make up for her academic laziness.
"I'm just annoyed, okay?"
She looks past me, towards my honey brown eyes, amused. "I know what'll make you feel better about your good grade"
The ouija board from before comes back, placed eerily across the table.
"It'll take your mind off of it all a little," Kiki promises. "Besides, it's almost nighttime. We could take it outside"
I brush the offer aside. "I'm not really into that type of stuff. Plus, isn't that like a bad omen?"
She sighs, reaching for a calendar, marked almost exclusively in purple pen. "It's a waxing gibbous moon tonight. That's got to be like, the least spooky moon pattern"
"If you say so," I drag my feet to the ground, kicking myself for just following her lead over and over again. Maybe if I actually made a move and asked her out, I wouldn't have to be like this.
Of course, that requires more badassery than my current self can contain.
The grass is a pillow beneath my dull vans, peeled away at the edges to expose ugly yellow fabric. Kiki spreads out the small board, a fire dancing through her eyes.
"You ready for this?"
I swallow, uncomfortable. What could go wrong?
My hand immediately lurches to the right, stopping just short of the calligraphed 'Hi!'. Only Kiki could buy such an optimistic ouija board.
"You did that, right?"
She breaks down into a fit of laughter. "Yeah. I wanted to wait a second, just to see if it-"
The board flashes erupting into an echo of Kiki's laughter, low and crackling.
"That wasn't me though," Kiki adds, voice touched with only a shimmer of concern. The rest of her mouth turns up into a salacious grin. "Did we just summon a demon?"
"This has to be battery operated..." I flip it over, frantically searching for some sort of explanation.
"Man," a malicious voice calls from above the trees. "That took forever!"
"Who are you?" Kiki asks, sounding more intrigued than worried.
The creature erupts into a painful sounding chortle, only to translate a moment later. "I'd be called Malfeasance in this language if you don't mind"
"Kiki..." I pull at her arm, looking down toward my phone. "We should do something. Maybe call the cops?"
"The cops?" the voice shouts, propelling me onto the frost blanketed grass. "Kid, I ain't ever going back to them?"
"What are you?"
A shape solidifies in front of me, smoke pulling away like curtains as the demonic beast makes its entrance. Its eyes pulse with soft purple air, shading light, white skin. The womanly figure wears a thick purple dress, tattered and straight from the 1900s, only darker and displaying much more of the creature's trademark pale skin to the sky. The sun hits Malfeasance in a way that causes her to glow, a thin aura stretching at least a foot from her body, as if the light can't even make its way into her.
"Hey so," she drags her body around to me, running a clawed hand through my hair, lustfully stage whispering. "I got a deal for ya, honey, and I think you just might like it"
"Get off of me..."
Malfeasance dissipates, reappearing in front of me. "I'll make it worth your while..."
"Take it!" Kiki urges, mouthing the words.
"Are you insane?"
"This is a once in a lifetime chance! When else are you going to summon a demon like this?"
I arch an eyebrow tentatively. "Didn't you summon it?"
"That's beside the point," Malfeasance turns back to me, a contract slashed through her hand. Her black lipstick stretches her grotesque smile farther across her mouth. "All you have to do is sign!"
"Sign for what? I haven't even made a deal with you?"
"I'm a good insurance, girl," the demon flicks her hair lazily, checking her reflection out in a dirty window. "There seems to be something on your mind... maybe a ruined future?"
I breathe in, trying to ignore the demon's incessant pleas. "I won't sign anything. What's the chance that you happened to show up right when something bad happened?"
"Slim..." she bats an eye toward me, jabbing a finger toward Kiki, sidling right beside me. "And what's the chance you're gonna get with this girl without listening to her?"
"She doesn't really want this"
"Mmm," Malfeasance cackles. "Don't be so sure. This is a lifetime opportunity, and you're just going to throw it all away?"
The beast snaps her fingers, causing the scroll to plunge into the ground, unaltered by the solid earth below us. "You know what? We'll just get to that later"
"Bea," Kiki insists. "C'mon. You should just do it. It's not like anything bad will happen"
My gut wrenches. "How did you find me?"
"Oh," the demon pulls the paper back out, reading it over. "You know... ancient demon bylaws, credit card tracking, got some friends together... and this"
She twists the paper around, sliding it out from her palm. I cover my mouth in horror when the shape comes to me.
The tower stares listlessly at me, it's tragic tale repeating in my mind.
"This is my card," Malfeasance explains. “I’ve found the decline of the ones who steel themselves the most simply delicious. Who cares about the devil, or even death? There’s no show. I get to watch you tear yourself apart.
“That is unless you sign this contract”
“You baited me,” I accuse her, stamping my foot as she yawns. “What are you planning?”
“Nothing much. You’re overreacting, you know”
“Do it,” Kiki urges. “Please”
And just like that, my heart tears inside my chest. How can I just stand here, listening to what everyone tells me to do?
That’s what takes down the tower.
The pen scratches on the parchment with a sickening crunch, Malfeasance’s smile growing like putty.
“Perfect...” she purrs, snapping her finger. Within a second, my hands are caught to the ground, thick manacles claiming to the earth.
“It’ll come someday, my dear,” the demon promises. “Enjoy this while it lasts”
Everything in my heart breaks as her words sink in. Kiki looks almost overjoyed, the sight of the spirit leaving her in a high unlike any other. But, most importantly, she’s noticing me.
I got what I wanted, didn’t I?
The clock’s incessant ticking wears us down, each second that passes by destroying any sense of calm.
It’s all a countdown to our own personal apocalypses.