Aislyn and Ella followed a meandering path back to the RV. The glow of whiskey lingered in their bellies making them smile as they counted the bills they’d brought in that day. “It’s too easy,” Ella shouted. Then quieter, “It should be harder. I’d feel bad except I know they leave happier than when they walked in.”
Aislyn agreed, “We have to give the people what they want! I wonder if they know they all come looking for the same thing.”
“Probably. I don’t know. Maybe not. Everybody’s the star of their own show, after all. They probably don’t even think about it.”
The one thing 100% of their customers shared in common was the need for connection. They’d lost someone and wanted to find them one more time. And they wanted it so bad, they’d believe anything. Aislyn gazed at them with sincerity, gripped their hands tightly in his, whispered tender messages, and released them with a flourish, always before they wanted to let go. And they were hooked! They always wanted more. Some actually begged Aislyn to continue: “I have so many more questions. Just a few more minutes! Please!” Those were the repeat customers - eager to turn over their money in exchange for a thinly veiled deception.
Obviously, none of it worked without Aislyn’s gifts. Not psychic gifts, of course. No. What Aislyn could do was hold a persons attention, leading them down a path they always wanted to follow, but could never find. He was a master at reading people and understanding the things they didn’t say. He worked in the little spaces their customers didn’t know they’d left open.
But it was all Ella’s idea. She'd created the Full Psychic Experience, decorating their drafty shack with scarves and mirrors, crystal balls, and thoughtfully curated antiques that ranged from the weird to the downright scary! Ella greeted each visitor with a steamy cup of cinnamon tea, and chatted casually, gathering clues about what they really wanted. And when the session was over, Ella offered their customers a photo of themselves and Aislyn. It was a small memento of their experience, and truly completed the package. Clearly it was paying off!
On this particular February evening, the couple was a little drunk and a lot pleased with themselves, when they stumbled upon an actual proper gentleman in a tuxedo. They marveled at the flower in his lapel and the top hat, which he removed and tucked under his arm as he greeted them. He wore no coat, though he didn’t look cold.
“This is for you, Aislyn.” The gentleman handed him a small periwinkle envelope, snapped his fingers, returned the hat to his head, and walked away.
Aislyn and Ella looked at each other and then at the envelope. Aislyn opened it slowly, careful not to tear the lovely paper. He pulled out a small card bearing one word, Snap, inked in intricate calligraphy. Aislyn snapped his fingers, just as the gentleman had, and said aloud, “Snap”.
“What are you doing?” Ella’s brow furrowed.
Aislyn shrugged. “I don’t know. It seemed right.” He returned the card to the envelope and tucked it in his shirt pocket. He felt warm and tingly, but that was the whiskey, right? He smiled and pulled Ella close and they continued winding their way home.
“Babe, do you smell that?” Ella asked.
“It smells like cotton candy. Or caramel corn. Something. I can’t put my finger on it.”
“Huh. I don’t think there’s a candy shop around here.”
Once home, they moved through their nightly routine quietly, falling into bed around midnight, and drifting gently into sleep with a whispered, “I love you”.
Too soon the sun peeked through the bent window shades while Aislyn wrestled with the blankets, not sure if he wanted to wake up or figure out this odd dream. Eyes still closed, he heard voices, so many voices, all around him. He was surrounded by lights. He couldn’t see anything else. And the voices were overwhelming and constant. They competed for his attention with whistles and flashing lights. The only words he could make out were names. Finally, he sat up and opened his eye. The din in his head silenced. But, oof, the sun was bright for this hour. He leaned back turning toward Ella’s gently curved back. He closed his eyes, ready to settle into big spoon position only to find the lights and incessant voices filling his skull all over again. He jumped out of bed and looked at Ella’s startled, but still sleepy, face. “Sorry, babe. I was having a crazy dream…”
She smiled and stretched before beckoning him back to her side. “It’s still early. We don’t have to get up right away.”
Aislyn hesitated, but climbed in next to Ella. This time she was the big spoon and he relaxed and closed his eyes hoping for 10 more minutes. Nope! There were the voices and lights again. It was gentler this time, but he wanted no part of it!
“Fuck!” Aislyn grumbled, dragging himself out of bed.
“What is it?” Ella looked confused.
“A dream! Every time I close my eyes, it’s voices and lights. They’re shouting names… Trying to get my attention…” Aislyn shook his head and swayed on his feet.
“Babe, sit down.”
“I’m awake, right? You’re awake? Or are we both dreaming?”
Ella looked around their little RV. She was pretty sure she was awake. “Well, I don’t think we’re having a shared dream.”
Aislyn sat on the edge of the bed. Ella could see that he was shaken and went to kneel in front of him. “Try now. Close your eyes. If it’s bad, open them again.”
Aislyn stared at his girlfriend, and then slammed his eyes shut. He gasped and stiffened, but stuck with it.
“Do you hear them? What are they saying?”
Aislyn nodded spastically. “Names! Joyce, Tim, Joe, Helen. It’s all the names! I can’t separate them!” He opened his eyes.
“Were you scared? Were they mean?”, her eyes narrowed.
“Not exactly. But there were so many! It’s like a sea of lights and voices!”
Ella paused and considered. “I need coffee. You really need coffee. Let’s forget it for a while. Sometimes when you ignore a problem it actually does go away. Just, maybe don’t close your eyes for now.” He nodded and reached for the coffee maker.
After their caffein and protein bars, they agreed, with a nod and shrug, to try again. They took their same positions. Aislyn’s eyes were wide and glued to Ella’s. He took a deep breath and his lids dropped. The voices and lights rushed in, but he heard Ella’s voice above the din. “Breathe, Aislyn. Relax.” He breathed.
“There are so many. I don’t know what they’re saying. It’s confusing…”
“Try to focus. Can you touch them?”
His arm stretched out in front of him and Ella leaned back, away from his searching fingers. Aislyn dropped his arm and opened his eyes. “No. They’re always just out of reach.” But he felt steadier and took her hand, “Let’s try again.”
She sat next to him now, their arms and fingers intertwined. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Suddenly, Aislyn sat up very straight and said, “Who?” He opened his eyes and looked at her in wonder. “It said Ella…Bella.”
“Ella or Bella?”
That was the nickname Ella’s grandmother had given her, but she hadn’t heard it in years. She stood and turned in a slow circle. “Go back. Find it again and make sure that’s what it said.”
Aislyn closed his eyes. It was the same sea of lights and noise. He tried to move toward them, but they were never close enough. Frustrated, Ella grabbed Aislyn’s wrists, and all at once, there it was. One light close enough to touch, softly whispering “Ella-Bella.”
“There!” Aislyn cried. He wondered to himself: How do you know Ella? And the light softly explained, “My Ella-Bella. She’s a part of me. I’m a part of her. I’m so proud of her. Tell her we’ll meet again.”
Aislyn opened his eyes and whispered the words her grandmother had said. Tears welled up in Ella’s eyes. “Granny. She always said that: ‘I’m part of you, you’re part of me. We’re the same’.”
They stared at each other for several minutes until Ella’s alarm broke the spell. Their first appointment! They scrambled to get ready, carefully not discussing the mystery they’d woken up to, though neither could think of anything else. Arriving at the shack, Ella quickly searched up their first customer while Aislyn flipped on the electric tea kettle, and fired up the space heater.
“Up first,” Ella called out, “Jerry. A widower. Looking for his wife, Sue, who died a year ago. He wants to tell her something. He didn’t get to the point last time. Or maybe he wanted to ask her something. I can’t tell from my notes.”
“Got it.” Aislyn shook himself trying to loosen up and get in the zone. He stared at the picture and tried to think about Jerry. Nothing else. Just Jerry.
Still, doubts niggled at the back of his mind. What if he found Sue? Could he hold it together? And, what if he closed his eyes and nothing happened? He felt a little off his game and wasn’t sure he could convincingly fake a contact now that he’d apparently done the real thing.
The shack warmed up and Aislyn, waiting behind the curtain, shed his heavy coat in favor of a red velvet jacket. Soon, Ella greeted Jerry with a cup of tea and a warm smile. She saw his shoulders relax and his face soften as he settled into the warmth of the little room. “It’s good to see you, Jerry.” He smiled and dipped his head in thanks.
Aislyn was anxious and slipped out from behind the curtain straightaway. Jerry was eager to begin as well, so they took their seats at the table.
“Welcome back. Are you ready to talk to Sue today?”
“Do you… Do you think we’ll reach her this time?”
Aislyn glanced at Ella, “I’ll do my best.”
Jerry smiled, “Alrighty! Let’s go!”
Aislyn hesitated. He was unusually nervous. He stared at the little table, took a deep breath, and braced himself for the onslaught of voices. Aislyn’s face twitched as he searched through the chaos filling his mind. It wasn’t working! And then Ella’s voice floated in, softly murmuring, “Deep breaths. Relax.”
Aislyn did. He slowly reached for Jerry. They touched and the chaos quieted. With hands clasped, Aislyn focussed on one light separating itself from the rest. It called softly, “Jerry!”
Aislyn’s face beamed and Jerry leaned closer.
“Yes! She’s lovely…”
“What does she say? Is she OK?”
Jerry’s questions rippled through Aislyn’s mind, and he pushed them toward Sue. “Oh, I’m fine,” she giggled. “Just lovely. Dear Jer, do you know how I worry about you? Please take care of yourself. And you need to remember: I love you. Always.”
Aislyn relayed Sue’s words. Jerry looked dazed as he repeated, “I love you. Always.”
Jerry shook his hands free, breaking the spell. The two looked at each other, eyes brimming with tears.
“I can hardly believe it. It’s more than I ever dreamed of.”
Aislyn cleared his throat aiming for a composure he didn’t feel. “She’s beautiful. You’re… you’re a lucky man. Excuse me.” Aislyn slipped behind the curtain grabbing a tissue with shaking hands before the first tear fell. Now he’d talked to two dead people, but it wasn’t just “talking”. He wasn’t just a portal to another realm. He was more of a conduit, and it was words and feelings that passed through him leaving an emotional residue that he wasn’t sure how to deal with.
On settling up, Jerry, still radiant, didn’t care to make another appointment. Feeling sure that his Suzy was safe, and would be waiting for him when his time came, he was content. He smiled at Ella and gave her an extra $20. “You deserve it. You deserve more! Thank you, dear.” She held his hand for a moment before smiling and waving goodbye.
Aislyn and Ella collapsed onto cushions next to the space heater. “So, this is happening,” Aislyn said.
“I guess so!” They were both wide-eyed and felt a little high! They giggled nervously, and leaned closer. “Can you do this though, Ash?”
“Well, it’s only been one day. Maybe it’ll go away as fast as it came…”
“No. I mean, you look tired.”
Aislyn sighed, “I am tired. It’s like all their emotions are flowing through me. In both directions. And some of it stays.”
Ella looked slightly puzzled as she processed this.
“I think I can figure out how to manage it. It’s just, I’ve never felt so much before. All those lights and voices, when they’re all together, it’s a lot. But when I single out one light and voice, it’s beautiful. It pulls me in.”
The alarm on Ella’s phone blared again, and she jumped. She had a sudden, uncomfortable feeling that Aislyn was drifting away. But she couldn’t think about that now. They had another appointment.
“OK! Next up: Gwen. Looking for Frank. We didn’t get very far last time. Couldn’t even figure out who Frank is: father, uncle, brother, who knows! Here’s her picture.”
“Right. Sounds good.” Aislyn went behind the curtain and took a few deep breaths. He heard Ella greet Gwen moments later, and smiled. He remembered her. She was a little shy, slow to warm up, but he remembered liking her.
Aislyn stepped out, “You’re looking for Frank.”
“Yes!” He’d surprised her.
“Sorry! Would you like a minute, or…?”
“Um, no. Let’s get started I guess.”
Gwen sipped her tea while Aislyn settled himself, staring down at the scarf tablecloth. He had a plan this time. He closed his eyes and stretched his open hands across the table. Gwen tentatively place her hands in his. With hands locked, they both relaxed and leaned in slightly. Aislyn laughed right away. The light that came forward was bouncy! And the sounds it made were less words and more yaps and playful growls. “Frank’s a dog!”
Gwen’s eyes sparkled, “Yes,” she whispered. “I lost him a few months ago. I miss him. Is he OK?”
“He is! And he’s such a good boy! (Who’s a good boy?) He knows you’re here. He’s so happy to find you again! He’s perfect. He loves you. I think he wants to play fetch!”
Gwen cried softly, but smiled. She felt Frank there with her. She pulled her hands away and Aislyn’s heart sank. He didn’t want it to end.
Ella spoke softly with Gwen. She too declined another appointment. She was relieved to know Frank was happy, and no longer feeling the pain of his old age, and she imagined him playing and bouncing like his old self somewhere. Somewhere she would see him again one day.
The rest of their day carried on in much the same way. They had 4 more appointments and two walk-ins. Aislyn found everyone they were looking for, and by the end of the day he was spent. He felt simultaneously full of every emotion, and drained of everything.
They walked home hand in hand, picking up carryout Chinese so they wouldn’t have to go out again. It was cozy and warm in the RV where they snuggled close under thick blankets. But something was bothering Aislyn, “What about sleep? I don’t know how I will…”
Ella looked at him calmly. “I thought about that, and I have an idea. When you touch someone, it filters the noise, so you see and hear the one person you need to reach, right?”
“So, when we go to bed, you’ll put your arm around me,” she gently lifted his arm across her shoulders, “and we’ll think of my old kitty, Roscoe! He always slept at the foot of my bed. He’ll be quiet and soft, and he’ll purr us to sleep!”
Aislyn wrapped his other arm around her. This could work. He didn’t want to close his eyes, though. Not yet. He wanted to enjoy holding her, just the two of them.
Pretty soon, Ella was snoring softly. Aislyn shivered, bumped up the thermostat and switched off the lights. Nestling himself around Ella, big spoon fashion, he whispered in her ear, “What was your cat’s name again?”
“Roscoe,” she murmured, and they grew still in the docile glow and soft purr of Roscoe that cat. That warm and comforting feeling came over Aislyn as he watched the Roscoe light. He was relieved that Ella wouldn’t pull away, and he could stay there with the comforting glow until morning.
Several hours before dawn Aislyn stirred, dimly aware of a second light. It drew him closer, calling to him, “Ash… Aislyn… Babe?” It was soothing and he forgot all about morning, deciding to stay there until soon there were three lights whispering each other’s names.
It was an older couple out for their morning hike who found the eerily quiet RV. They couldn’t say what prompted them to investigate, but they knocked on the door, and peered in the windows. That’s when they saw the couple wrapped around each other in a tight embrace. The fire department said it was carbon monoxide poisoning, though they didn’t detect abnormal levels. They said the RV must have aired out when the old couple came in.
Several days later, Officer Cameron, sorting through the couple’s belongings was puzzled by a periwinkle envelope holding a small card on matching stock that read “Snap” in beautiful calligraphy. Without thinking, Cameron said the word out loud and snapped her fingers. “Hmm.” She smiled. And then sniffed. Was that bubblegum? Maybe caramel corn? “Funny,” she said tucking the envelope in her coat pocket.