I whistled happily as I added up the proceeds of the day. A little over $5000. Definitely the best day yet. Skinning the fools who think that psychic powers are the real thing just kept getting easier and easier.
They'd point to Uri Geller and ask, “What about him? Aren't his real?”
I'd laugh and say, “Only if you want to bend spoons. I've got a wooden cane with more psychic powers than he has.”
Unconvinced, they'd frown, purse their lips, and shake their heads. One said, “You wouldn't be so sure of it if you encountered the real thing. Edgar Cayce was real.”
“Sure, sure,” I'd say. “Next thing you know, you'll be telling me that UFOs are also real and Atlantis really existed.” Once they left, shutting the front door behind them, I'd mutter, “Idiots. They wouldn't know real psychic powers if they came up and bit them. And in the meantime I'm getting richer and richer. As long as it's no skin off my nose, I could care less what the idiots think.”
I put the money in my personal safe, shut the door, and spun the combination dial.
After stretching my arms and cracking my knuckles, I climbed the stairs to my bedroom.
Looking around me, I knew that I had the best bed money could buy. I also had the best pillows, sheets, and quilt blankets, the best clothes, and the best artwork money could buy.
I changed into my very expensive silk pajamas and climbed into bed. I used a remote control to close the blinds on each bedroom window and put the remote control on my night-table.
There was a small mirror next to the remote control. “Sweet dreams,” I said to the mirror. “Tomorrow will be yet another day of lies and money-making. Something that's always worth looking forward to.”
With that I fell asleep.
I probably wouldn't have bothered to listen to a conversation elsewhere in town that evening. What do the marks know anyway?
“Someday all his insults will come back to haunt him,” one of my customers told his wife. “He's so used to lying that if the truth popped up, it would probably scare him half to death.”
“Then don't worry about him, darling,” his wife said. “We still have money in the bank, a roof over our heads, and food in the fridge. After all, he can't rob everyone blind.”
“He'll certainly try to,” he said. “I just wish there were some way to stop him.”
His wife hugged and kissed him. “There probably is. Just leave it up to God. God knows how to deal with faithless dishonest psychics. Let Him take care of it.”
He nodded. “I just hope you're right.”
The next morning I woke up, stretched luxuriantly, ready to face the new day.
The first thing I noticed was that the blinds on the window near my bed weren't all the way down. They were only half-way down. I grabbed the remote control but it didn't work. I opened up its battery compartment. The batteries seemed all right. Frustrated, I threw the remote control at the malfunctioning blinds. The blinds shot up to the top in seconds.
I stared at them, then at the remote control on the floor.
“What in the world?” I mused. “That's never happened before. Must be a glitch. I'll need to call a repairman and get it fixed.”
I got out of bed and went to the bathroom. Porcelain sink, toilet, bathtub, and tiles. Gold tap at the sink and gold bath and shower controls. King Midas himself never had it so good.
I tried to turn on the shower. It stubbornly refused to do anything.
“Is everything broken today?” I wondered as I headed toward the bathroom door. “What else won't work?”
In hindsight, I shouldn't have asked either question. Live and learn.
I turned and glared at the shower controls from five feet away. They turned quickly, hot and cold mixing until it was just the right temperature for me.
My left eyebrow rose. “Now that was weird. I don't recall asking for eye-controlled fixtures. Maybe they installed them without telling me? After all, I paid them enough. Maybe too much as it turns out.”
After taking a shower, I dried off, brushed teeth and hair, and shaved. The shower was still going as I pulled on my favorite bathrobe. I glared at the shower fixtures just as I'd done the first time. The shower turned off.
“Maybe there's too much automation in this house,” I said. “Either that or someone's hacked into the house's operating system.”
I shrugged, left the bathroom, and returned to the bedroom. The clothes I was going to wear were waiting for me on the bed. I checked the windows; they were all locked.
“All right,” I said to whomever was behind all these shenanigans. “This joke has gone on long enough. You can stop now.”
No answer. Of course.
I dressed and walked downstairs to the kitchen. The overhead light was blinking on and off. There seemed to be a small bonfire on the stove. The fridge was singing “Jingle Bells” off-key. Cutlery and pans were twirling as they floated in the air around my head. The toaster was tooting as it burned toast.
“I've had enough!” I shouted. “Stop that!”
The overhead light turned off. The bonfire disappeared. The fridge was silent. The cutlery and pans put themselves back where they belonged. The toaster was silent, no longer burning toast.
“Whoever you are, if you're waiting for me to laugh, forget it,” I said angrily. “I've got work to do today. I've got money to bilk from my all-too-gullible customers. Either assist me or leave me alone.”
The overhead light stayed on, steadily rather than erratically. The front left burner on the stove obediently lit up. A skillet was simmering as it cooked fried eggs over easy. Two slices of toast with melted butter and red raspberry jam on a plate. The plate followed the cutlery, the mug of coffee, and the glass of orange juice to the table. The skillet floated over to the table and the fried eggs slid from it and onto the plate, next to the toast.
Still fuming, I sat down at the table and had breakfast. Finished, I carried everything over to the sink. The sink obediently washed, dried, and put away the cleaned skillet, spatula, plate, cutlery, glass, and mug.
I knew it made no sense to yell at inanimate objects, but the urge to do so refused to go away.
There was a knock on the front door. I looked through the kitchen window. A customer. Thank goodness something was normal this morning.
I went to the front door and opened it. The wife of the customer who'd argued with me yesterday was standing there.
“If you're expecting an apology from me, Mrs. Wagner, don't bother,” I told her.
“I'm not,” she said.
“Oh, good,” I said and felt better. “What can I do for you, then?”
“I want to talk with my parents,” she said. “They passed over several years ago. I thought they might be able to help me today.”
“Not a problem,” I said and stepped aside, gesturing that she enter and precede me to the living room. I followed her, dimmed the lights, and sat down across the seance table from her. Nothing unusual happened. “What were their names?”
“Walter and Margaret Young,” she said.
“Ah,” I said, closing my eyes. “This shouldn't be too terribly difficult. I just need to reach Heaven's switchboard and request to speak with your parents. One moment, please.”
There was silence in the living room, but not in my mind.
I heard the old-fashioned noises of a switchboard from the 1940s and random bits of conversation, spoken mostly by women.
“Heaven Central here,” one female voice said. “What can I do for you?”
It was audible enough that Mrs. Wagner could hear it.
“I need to speak with Walter and Margaret Young,” I said. “If they're available. If not, that's quite all right. I mean --”
“One moment,” the female voice. “Connecting you with them now. Have a nice day, Mr. Reilly.”
The window blinds covering the living room windows shook a few times. Then I heard a quick series of beeps and boops, followed by a male deep voice. The voice made me think of James Earl Jones, but I could only wonder what he would think of all this.
“The late Walter Young speaking,” he said.
“This is Frank Reilly,” I said. “Your daughter would like to speak with you.”
“Angie?” he said. “Is something wrong?”
“No, no, Daddy,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure you're both all right.”
“We're doing fine, sweetie,” an female alto voice said. “You wouldn't believe how wonderful it is here in Heaven. A million or billion times better than anything on Earth.”
“Oh,” Angie said. “I'm happy to hear that.”
“Something is wrong,” her father said. “I can sense it. Even from over here. You can tell me anything, sweetie. You knew that on Earth and it's still true today both there and here.”
I opened my eyes, something I'd never done before during a seance, and looked at Angie. She was looking at me.
“It's this psychic,” Angie told her parents. “I wasn't sure if he was the real thing. I think he only wants to make money.”
“Which psychic?” her father asked. “The one helping you today or someone else?”
“This one,” she said, pointing at me.
“Oh ho,” he said. “We've heard about him. You should never have gone to him. He's nothing but a fraud. The real thing would be more interested in helping and less interested in money.”
“I am not a fraud,” I protested.
“Yes, you are.” I heard Angie and her parents all say it. “Even my husband knows it.”
“Then why in the world did you come here this morning?” I asked Angie.
“To make you admit you're a fraud,” she said.
“If I do that, my business won't just go under, it'll vanish,” I said.
“Not my problem,” she said. “You've lied to enough people. I just want your lying to stop.”
I angrily slammed my fist on the table. The table rose into the air and turned slowly in place.
“Is that just another illusion?” Angie asked me.
“Why don't you ask your parents?” I replied.
“Dad? Mom?” Angie asked them.
“It's for real,” they said. “Yesterday he wasn't a real psychic. Today, however --”
“You're the ones who have been behind all that's happened here this morning,” I said. “I should've known it.”
“We did nothing,” Angie's parents said.
“But that implies that --” I began, then paused.
“You're finally the real thing, Mr. Reilly,” Angie's father said. “It's permanent. Your punishment for years of lying and swindling your customers.”
“Oh, no you don't!” I yelled. “I haven't spent most of my life in this business to have it ruined by a pair of spooks!”
“We may be spooks, but at least we're honest,” Angie's mother said. “Which is more than we can say about you. The punishment fits both the crime and the criminal who committed it.”
I stood up. “Don't you dare leave me like this!”
“Too bad,” Angie's father said. “Maybe in your next life you won't try to swindle anyone.”
“Anything else, sweetie?” Angie's mother asked her.
Their daughter shook her head. “That's just fine. Thank you for your help.”
“Anytime, sweetie,” Angie's father said. “Love, luck, and lollipops.”
“Same to you both,” Angie said and stood up. “Good day, Mr. Reilly.”
I watched her leave the living room, walk down the front hall, open the front door, and leave.
“If you're still there, you won't get away with this!” I yelled at the ceiling.
“We already have,” Angie's parents said and then there was silence.
I bit my lower lip and snapped my fingers. The living room flipped upside-down. The living room was now beneath me.
I tipped the seance table over. Outside, the sky turned black. I heard thunderclaps and saw jagged lightning. One lightning bolt hit the backroom patio table and the chairs around it, setting them on fire. Rain poured from the dark sky, putting out the fire.
I used the worst swear words I could think of. The entire house rose several feet into the air and spun around quickly.
I tried to head for the front door. The floor undulated, lifting me several times before dropping me again.
I managed to make it to the front hall and then the front door. But the door was lucked.
I yanked at it and the door blew outwards, carrying me with it.
Next thing I knew, the door and I were a hundred feet above my house. It was still raining, so the door and I were both completely soaked. Looking down, I could see my neighbors exiting their homes and looking around. Then they saw me, pointed and started laughing.
I'd never been laughed at before. Ever. And I certainly wasn't going to let it keep happening today.
“All right!” I yelled. “What if I apologize?”
The wind hurled me this way and that. A voice from inside it said, “Liars can't be trusted.”
I fell from the sky and crashed into the roof of my house, arms and legs in an X shape. Happy to have something solid under me again, I tried to get to my feet.
“Even King Midas got a second chance,” I said.
“He wasn't a liar,” the wind's voice said. “Just greedy for gold. He learned his lesson.”
“And you think I won't?” I asked.
“You haven't yet,” the wind's voice said.
“How do I convince you that I mean it?” I asked.
“Give the money back to the customers you bilked,” the wind's voice said. “If you won't, we can do it instead.”
“I'll be broke,” I protested.
“You'll be free of your punishment,” the wind's voice said.
“Promise?” I asked.
“We promise,” the wind's voice said.
“All right,” I said. “Give the money back to them or let me do it myself.”
“It's done,” the wind's voice.
The storm calmed and then faded, replaced by blue skies and white clouds. I stood in the midst of a destroyed house. I wasn't just broke; I was also homeless.
“What about my house?” I asked.
“Look in the backyard,” the wind's voice said.
I did so. “The shed?”
“We can always restart your punishment,” the wind's voice said.
“No thanks,” I said.
“We'll come back to check and see how you're doing,” the wind's voice said. “Keep improving and you might get your house back. Slide back into your old ways and you might even lose the shed.”
I carefully walked across the ruins that had been my big wonderful house. The shed was solidly built. It didn't fall apart when I opened its front door and walked inside. There was an old mattress and pillow on the floor. No food or drink, though. But I didn't mention that aloud.
“Sleep well, Mr. Reilly,” the wind's voice said.
A year later, I was still living in that shed. I'd only had part-time jobs, but at least the work and the paychecks were honest. My clothes weren't the fine clothes I used to wear, but they were durable and easy to keep clean.
One bright Summer morning, I sat outside my shed, with my back against its front door.
The air was warm. Birds were singing. A deer family crossed my backyard, a dozen feet away. I waved at them and then bounded away, disappearing into the bushes that bordered all three sides of my backyard. All seemed to be well.
I heard the sound of flapping wings. Something flat, white, and hand-sized spun lazily from the sky down to me. I caught it. It was an envelope. I opened it and read the message inside:
Dear Mr. Reilly,
Like King Midas and Ebeneezer Scrooge, you've learned your lesson. Your house will be rebuilt by us. Your safe, however, will remain empty. If there is a knock on your front door, we hope that you will be kind, generous, and helpful to your visitor. We will be watching, of course.
Of course they would still watch. I could have a relapse that could make my life far worse than it had become.
I looked at the ruins of my house and watched as my house rebuilt itself. Within minutes, the rebuilding finished. I couldn't believe my eyes. After all, if I could lie, why couldn't my eyes do the same?
I opened the backdoor and entered my house for the first time in a year. Everything was as it used to be. Only the occupant had changed. Hopefully.
There was a knock on the front door. I went to it and opened the door.
A beautiful woman stood there. She looked at me with deep dark eyes and smiled. I smiled back.
“I was told that you could help me,” she said.
“Certainly,” I said. “What can I do for you?”
“Like Dimocrates, I'm searching for an honest man,” she said. “Have I finally found one?”
“I think you have,” I said. “Care for a mug of homemade eggnog or hot cocoa?”
“I'd like that,” she said. “I'd like that very much.”
“Please come in, then,” I said.