It was late when Julie awoke. The sun was streaming through her window, bright and lazy. She threw off the covers, reaching for her phone in a panic. Her head was ringing. Noon. Why was it so late? She never slept that late. She was due to the recording studio in a couple of hours. She hated it when going to the studio and back took up her entire day; she imagined that was how having your blood drained from you entirely would feel. She hated the way the layers upon layers of clownish make-up and the violent lights felt upon her skin. It was so tacky. Makes you age faster, too. Her reflection on the bathroom sink seemed to agree.
The ringing had subsided, some, by the time she was done zipping up her boots. It was accompanied by an odd restlessness, a sense of disconnection, she could only put down to having overslept. She had not drunk, last night. She didn’t like to. No, she had taken a stroll through the neighbourhood, then to the bridge. It was a shiny, recent addition to the town’s landscape, perched like an insect across the span of water, spindy legs and transparent cables about to take flight. She enjoyed going there, watching the moonlight shatter on the water, letting herself become hypnotised with the flow of the waves. It stopped her thinking. Sometimes, she’d get so lost she even forgot to be afraid that someone might recognise her. The sensation. The fraud.
She had been completely immersed in the current, in the flowing, rapid waters below, when the moonlight evaporated from the surface. Julie raised her eyes to the sky. It was gone. She turned her alarmed gaze to her fellow passer-by, to see if anybody had noticed. But no one seemed to think anything was amiss. No moon, and nothing wrong with it. She thought about stopping someone, asking whether they saw what was before her eyes. It shouldn’t come as a difficulty, making a spectacle of herself. Her hands were sweating. She had no idea what to do. How do you draw attention to something so obvious, so wrong? She saw a middle-aged woman walking by herself, a pleasant expression on her face. Yes. She would do. Julie started making her way towards her. Just as the older lady noticed she was approaching her, and started arranging her face in a questioning, somewhat wary expression, Julie turned to look at the sky one last time. The moon was back in place. It seemed to wink at her.
It was the lady who approached her, in the end, as Julie remained frozen in place, transfixed as she eyed the winking moon “Are you alright?” She whipped her head around. There was an odd smell, of fruits and earth and flowers, emanating from the lady. Her clothes shimmered and morphed under the moon, glimmers of heavy-duty working gear stealing stripes off her tailored suit. Julie shook her head, and both the scent and the vision cleared. Meanwhile, recognition flooded the other’s expression.
Julie took off before it could congeal into a sneer. That self-assured, elegant lady would never have anything but contempt for a TV clairvoyant. Someone who made money from the sheer gullibility of other people. She would have known it was all fake.
There was not much she could remember after that. As she made her way home, she became more and more aware of the way her head was pounding. It must have started back on the bridge, surely. By the time she reached her apartment complex – the sort of nuveau-riche, tacky thing the public expected of her – the closest analogy she could think of was someone driving a long, rusted nail through her left eye. She thought she might be sick from the pain. The sudden white light of the lobby was a deliberate aggression to her senses, it tasted metallic on her tongue, behind her eyes. Eventually, she managed to slip into her apartment, made her way to the bathroom cabinet without turning on the light, downed some pain medication and crawled under the covers.
Contrary to what might be believed – of TV personalities and clairvoyants alike – she did not enjoy taking pills, either. If anything, she would say she was less medicated than the average person. That must be why she felt so fuzzy. As the taxi took her to the recording session, she let her mind drift to the night before. She liked letting her mind wander, following whatever wisps of thought might occur. It was one of the reasons why she was so believable at her job. And as she did so, fragments resurfaced. As she made her way through the city, headache mounting behind her eyes, she had crossed paths with a young man in a sharp suit, looking elated. She blinked, and he was drunk and angry, expensive suit oozing destitution. A couple was arguing, but she heard them chirping and professing undying love for an instant, and then they were shouting again. A motorcycle passed her by, and the driver was on the ground, blood fanning out beneath her head, and then it whooshed past her.
Nonsensical, all of it. Dreams caused by her headache, and maybe her pills. But you have seen the moon disappear. That, she could not deny. A flick of light. A reflection in the water. I was tired.
She was still tired, as she sat down on the make-up artist’s stool. The plaque on her door read Ariadne, her stage name. That had been a nerve-wracker, early on. It had to be a name that carried some gravitas, some level of mystical implication. But it could not be too in-your-nose, like Sybil, or so common it had lost its edge, like Cassandra. And it could not be too obscure either, because the reference had to be recognizable. It had to sound obscure, not be so. Ariadne, helping you on your way through the labyrinth of life; Ariadne pulling you back by her thread. Ariadne spinning sense from the unknown. She would do.
Gravity pulled the skin of her face down as the dust-pink-haired girl flitted around her, happy as can be. Kat, that was her name. She must really love this job, if she’s so chirpy despite the peanuts they pay her. For an instant, the girl’s face appeared in the mirror. Her hair was longer and pinker, and she was proffering a piece of paper in her extended hand. She looked victorious. Ah, so you do get a better contract eventually, Julie blinked, returning the woman in the mirror to her less violent shade of hair. She shook her head, what was that about? “All set!” the girl smiled encouragingly, admiring her work. It was great work, Julie had to admit. Her face was several shades darker than this morning, celebrity-tan. Petrol green fringed with gold now swallowed her eyelids, giving her common, mossy hazel eyes the mysterious depth of an underground lake. All that was left now was for the costume department to swathe her in long trailing robes and coil her limp, ash blonde hair in a low, deceptively haphazard-looking turban, and load her with enough jewellery to sink a boat. Then she would make her way to her room, her Pythian alcove (long and low and narrow, to give the public the illusion they were in the same room, sitting across from her; that she was sharing her deep and secret knowledge with them alone, personally, and not with anyone who happened upon Channel 11 that evening) padded with more opulent cloths in shades of green and bronze and sparse accents of gold and black, Kat would make one final appearance to give the last few touches to her make up, make sure none of her magic dust had been brushed off from Julie’s face and chest, and recording would begin.
There was a low table set in front of Julie, cross-legged on her cushions. The table the viewer was ideally seated across, with a stone bowl the size of a soup plate filled with clear, still water sitting on it. The angle of the camera captured a glimmer of a sliver of water. That had been a point of contention, early on, as with so many things. There had to be a medium, something to receive the message, something for her to interpret. The Seer was the messenger, but the message had to come in visible form. Throwing her head back as she pretended to see something would not work if the public was not in the room with her; other, more traditional objects (crystal orbs, tarot cards, mirrors) would be too obvious even for the willingly misguided, while animal entrails would be too much for a TV show like that. The water had immediate associations, even literary ones, but they smacked less of obvious fraud.
She kept her eyes trained on the bowl as she entered the room and sat down. Ever since the incident with Kat, she had made it a point to keep her eyes on objects. Objects had not triggered these… lapses so far, objects were good. Pins, hats, ties. Better yet if they weren’t attached to a human at all, like the bowl. Looking at articles of clothing made her queasy, though not as much as looking at faces. Her insides were tied in a tight knot, and she had to hold her hands together. Hopefully her co-workers would think she was just getting in character or something. She only had to make it through this session. Then she could wash the make-up off her face, slip under covers, and sleep it off. Whatever this was.
She tried to summon some of her old enthusiasm for this job. It had been fun, really fun in the beginning, five years ago. They had let her have a say in pretty much everything – it was her idea, after all. It was so much fun, seeing this creature springing from her forehead, brought to life by a team of professionals, having to think of every minor aspect – things that had not really occurred to her when it was just a fantasy floating through her head. What are we going to use, what is the room going to look like, what is the medium going to look like, what kind of predictions should we engage in, how to get the public involved, what kind of light, where to place the cameras, what tone of voice should you aim for, what kind of body language and gaze, how much room for improv, how much variation in the script… she remembered the fear they would take her idea, and give the job to someone else. Hoping they would leave her a part in the production, behind the scenes, if she couldn’t have the spotlight… and like in a fairy tale, they let her have it all. She had the right look. Early thirties, with a bird-like frame, easily swallowed by large and airy folds. A disembodied Siren. She had conceived it as entertainment, mostly. Who believed in mediums in the third millennium? And instead, at some point, her creature grew out of her grasp. And for a time she chose not to see, because it was just a bit of fun, and it was going so well… she never understood how calculated that had been on the production’s part. Or hers, after a while. When the public had started believing her, when it all had slipped out of her hands. And now… there was no backing out.
She went through the motions, interrogating the water about the handful of problems the staff had selected for her from the pantagruelic stream of emails, letters and postcards that came to her begging for a taste of wisdom. She let it ripple and crease, her veil to the world of spirits, weaving around it with delicate, long-fingered hands. She modulated her voice, making it sound more distant, deep and wavering like reflections in a cave. She pointedly avoided looking at the staff. After a couple of hours, she let herself think she had made it. The lights dimmed. She let herself relax, falling back against the cushions for an instant and closing her eyes.
Three days. It had been three days since the night the moon had winked at her, and Julie knew she was losing her mind. She had barricaded herself in her apartment. Because as soon as she went out, the instant her gaze landed on another human, there was no escaping it. The visions, the sounds, the smells. It had been growing more and more frequent, more and more detailed, more and more prolonged. The first day or so, it had been a possibility. Glances so inconsistent, so ephemeral, that she had nearly succeeded in telling herself there was nothing to see. Now, it was a certainty. It was more vivid than real life, it was there and not there, and she could tell when she was having a vision and she supposed that was at least some comfort, but it did not stop her feeling beleaguered. She had witnessed more deaths over the past few days than over her thirty-seven years of life, she had seen weddings, career changes, births, journeys, violence. Other people’s lives had invaded her, swept through her with a force that left her drained and empty. And alone. She had never, not even at the lowest point in her life, been so alone. Who could she tell? Who would believe her?
She knew what that was, of course. The Moon had cursed her. She had made a mockery of its mysteries, she, profane and unbeliever, and now the Moon mocked her in turn, by giving her a gift. A gift beyond human comprehension, beyond what humans were supposed to bear. Or maybe she had just lost it. Maybe she had simply gone mad. After playing the savant for so long, some corner of her brain had tricked itself into thinking that it was real. Her charade had crept up to her. Except… except that she had seen the young man from that faithful night, the last time she had ventured out. Drunk out of his mind. Except that there had been reports of an accident near the bridge, involving a female biker.
It made sense, finally. Why the seers of song and story all lived in remote, isolated places. In towers and forests and caves, or deep in the recesses of their temple. Who could hope to live in the real world, when the mere sight of a human face set the Future howling at their senses? She had started seeing, hearing it even when she turned on the TV or the radio. That was new; it had started happening late the previous afternoon. Before, it was only people in the flesh who triggered it. Now, all that was needed was for her to have a glimpse, even in a recording. Maybe I can capitalize on this too, and it was almost funny.
She needed to leave. Go somewhere quieter. Do like the seers in the stories. Otherwise, it would consume her. She looked out her window. The moon winked at her.