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Fantasy Urban Fantasy Fiction

The ornate grandfather clock chimed loudly as the hour hand struck nine. Cassie’s client jumped, glancing around the small, incense-filled room as though she had forgotten where she was.

“Oh,” she stammered, “but Cassandra, I have more questions.”

“It’s okay,” said Cassie, gathering up her cards and giving the woman’s hand a gentle squeeze. “I can book you in for another appointment in three weeks. Now will that be cash or card?”

Shooing her final client out the door, Cassie collapsed on the velveteen couch, releasing her hair from the itchy turban after seven hours of back-to-back sessions.

“You done?” called a disembodied voice.

“Yep, I’m done,” she replied, stretching out on the couch as a cleverly disguised door opened inwards from the far side of the room.

“Catch.” A young man entered the room, throwing a handful of envelopes towards Cassie. Some landed haphazardly on her stomach, while others slipped onto the dark, glitter-embossed floor.

“Thanks love,” she said wryly, grabbing the rest of the paperwork before it, too, met its demise.

“No worries,” he said, grinning broadly as he flicked the light switch on.

The mysterious air of the room was instantly seared away by the fluorescent lights, and Cassie groaned, covering her eyes. “Did you have to?”

“Yes I did have to. And did you have to miss dinner… again?”

“I did if we wanted the money,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“There’s more to life than money. I really don’t know why you bother with all this.” Michael waved his hand through the air, apparently encompassing the entire room as well as Cassie’s attire.

“It’s important to the clients,” she said through gritted teeth. She’d told him numerous times that the costuming and decor was integral to the success of her business. Clients didn’t want to pay $150 to have their cards read by someone in jeans and a t-shirt. No, they wanted to breathe in the frankincense, gaze at the red velvet curtains and be told by a woman in a cape and a turban what the future held.

“No, I mean any of it,” he said, smiling. “You don’t love being a fraud, do you?”

Cassie bristled at the word. Spiritual Guidance, her business cards called it. “And you don’t love selling electricity plans, do you?”

“Touché,” said Michael, sitting on the arm of the couch and opening a packet of potato chips.

Not that Michael could talk. Cassie didn’t need to be truly psychic to doubt the veracity of the amazing deal he was peddling to the neighbours.

“It pays the bills,” she said quietly.

“It certainly does. Hey, that woman called again,” said Michael, crunching on a chip. “The crazy one.”

“Esmerelda?” Cassie couldn’t say the woman’s name without smirking. She herself might go by the slightly embellished Cassandra, but there was no way that Esmerelda was her rival’s real name.

“Yeah, that’s the one. She left a message on the answerphone.”

Cassie sighed, knowing that she shouldn’t be surprised that she attracted so many weirdos in this line of business. “What does she want this time?”

“The usual,” said Michael, offering Cassie a chip. “Stop what you’re doing, you’re a fraud, you’re profiting off people’s pain. Et cetera.”

Cassie snorted. “She’s doing exactly the same thing.” Esmerelda’s Enchantments had popped up on the other side of town around the same time that Cassie opened Cards with Cassandra. Economic rivalry, that’s what it was. Nothing like some small business ego to end the week. “She’s probably just jealous that my business is booming.”

“Maybe,” said Michael. “Hey, are you coming to Frank’s tonight?”

Cassie shook her head. “I’m seeing a couple of clients first thing, so I’d better not. But we can hang out afterwards?”

Michael sighed. “All right, sounds good. Love ya.”

“Love you too,” said Cassie, blowing Michael a kiss as he headed back inside the house.

Cassie rifled through the envelopes on her lap. Bills, bills, a late Christmas card from her aunt, and a donation request for a charity. So exciting. She heard Michael’s car start up and drive away as she scooped up the envelopes that had dropped to the floor. She felt a slight pang of regret—they used to hang out more often, but this job ate up her spare time. She was doing so well, though. She’d even paid off an extra chunk of the mortgage at the end of the financial year.

One of the envelopes caught her eye. It had no address on the front, just her name, handwritten. Whoever had sent her this letter had dropped it off personally in her letterbox. Strange. Ripping it open, something round and metallic dropped into Cassie’s lap, along with a business card for Esmerelda’s Enchantments.

Cassie groaned. “So you’re sending me hate mail now?” But there was no letter at all, just the business card and the metallic necklace that she picked up from her lap by the leather thong. “Or have you decided that we should be friends?” she murmured under the breath. Clasping the trinket, she turned it around to face her.

***

An insistent hammering woke Cassie up. Groaning, she rolled off the couch and swore. Her heartbeat was thudding in her head and she blearily gazed at the grandfather clock. She swore again as the banging started up on the door.

“Hello? Hello Cassandra, it’s Stacey. Are you in there?”

“Ah… one moment, Stacey,” called Cassie. “I’ll be right with you.”

There was no time to take a panadol to calm her headache. At least she’d fallen asleep with her cape on, so there was no need to get dressed. She hurriedly shoved her hair up into the turban and clicked off the fluorescent light. How could she be so careless? Falling asleep on the couch was one thing, but waking up to a client was just… unprofessional! Two minutes later and the incense was burning, the calming-yet-mysterious music was playing, and Cassie was ready to see her first client. She would just have to ignore the pain in her temples.

“Deep breaths, Cassie,” she whispered under her breath, opening the door wide. “Thank you for waiting,” she said to Stacey with a practiced deep and mysterious voice. “The spirits kept me very busy this morning.”

Stacey frowned, gazing at something on Cassie’s head. Reaching up, Cassie discovered an escapee piece of hair that she shoved back into her turban as she gestured for Stacey to enter. “Please, take a seat.”

The pain in her temples was becoming more intense now, moving towards the back of her head. Push it away, Cassie, she said to herself. You can do this. Just two clients to get through.

As Cassie took her seat opposite the client, a random image came into her mind like a dream. A blonde woman standing near a kitchen sink. She blinked, but the image wouldn’t disappear. If anything, it became more intense each time she closed her eyes.

“Are you okay?” asked Stacey, leaning forward.

Cassie shook her head, willing the image to go away. “No, I mean yes, I just… I’ll be fine. Shall we begin?”

“Yes,” said Stacey. “My sister recommended you.”

“That’s—” The image of the blonde woman started to play like a video, so that every time Cassie blinked she saw the woman moving in front of her like a glitching projector screen. A name came into her mind.

“Georgia?”

“Yes, that’s her. Anyway, she was blown away by her reading with you. Four months later, she’s never been happier. Says she…”

Cassie closed her eyes, drowning out what her client was saying and focussing on the image instead. Yes, Georgia. She vaguely remembered the woman, but had no idea what she’d told her. Whatever the woman wanted to hear, probably. Georgia was saying something, but it was like charades, being acted out in mute. Her mouth opened and closed, her face getting redder by the second. Shouting. The woman was shouting at someone just out of view.

“… don’t know who the guy is, but I know there has to be one. She’s very coy, just says she’s following her heart like you said.”

“Shh,” said Cassie.

“Excuse me?” said Stacey.

“Just… sorry, one moment, I’m just trying to listen.”

“Listen to what?”

—can’t believe you’d do this to…

Stacey, just listen to me…

The voices faded in and out of Cassie’s mind as she tried to make sense of what was going on.

“Do you fight with your sister much?” asked Cassie, opening her eyes.

“No…” said Stacey slowly. “Listen, aren’t you supposed to spread the cards out or something like that?”

“Mark,” said Cassie suddenly. “Mark—does that name ring a bell?”

Stacey narrowed her eyes. “Yes. What about him?”

“I’m not sure,” said Cassie. “I just can’t get this image out of my mind. You and your sister fighting.” She closed her eyes again. “It looks like… like Georgia is leaving with a man named Mark. They are getting married. You’re angry. I don’t know why.” Cassie shrugged, then rubbed her hand over her temples. “Does that mean anything to you?”

Tears filled Stacey’s eyes. “This is all your fault.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Cassie.

“You told Georgia to follow her heart. I knew there was someone, I knew it. But I never thought—

Cassie passed Stacey some tissues, but she knocked the box away.

“Mark is my husband.

“Not for long, I guess,” said Cassie.

Stacey burst into tears and stormed out of the building.

“Wait, you haven’t paid…”

Now there were new images entering Cassie’s mind, of people and places that she had never seen before. She saw fights and reunions and a car crash. She saw a flood with such vivid intensity that she found herself gasping for air. She saw herself lying unconscious on a hospital bed. What was happening to her? Fresh air, that’s what she needed. As she ran towards the door she noticed the business card sitting innocently on the floor beside the silver necklace. Esmeralda’s Enchantments. Right.

Scooping up the necklace, Cassie stormed outside.

***

The drive to Esmerelda’s Enchantments was pure torture. Cassie kept seeing images overlayed on reality, so that she virtually crawled to the other side of town. The pain in her head was a more bearable throb now, but the mental toll of seeing so many bizarre scenarios was even more exhausting.

Was it the future she was seeing? The future of all the different people that she was passing? Cassie snorted. She didn’t really believe in all this psychic mumbo jumbo—that’s why she was so good at faking it. But the thing with Stacey and her sister… No, it had to be some sort of bizarre trickery from her rival. Maybe Esmerelda had painted the necklace with a hallucinogen that was bringing on the visions. As Cassie walked up to the door of the shop, she was careful to carry it by the leather band just in case.

“You can have this back.” Cassie handed the necklace to Esmerelda, who smiled and opened the door wider.

“Come in, Cassandra, I’ll make you some tea.” She beckoned Cassie inside, turning the ‘open’ sign to ‘closed’ behind her.

Esmerelda’s Enchantments looked nothing like Cards with Cassie. It was light, airy. There were pictures of wild birds on every wall.

“You like them?” asked Esmerelda. “It’s my hobby, I go out as often as possible to take photos. I just love birds. I love how free they are. Here.” She handed a cup of steaming liquid to Cassie.

“I don’t want any tea.” But Cassie dutifully accepted the cup as another wave of incoherent images streamed through her mind.

“Sit, sit,” said Esmerelda. She looked Cassie up and down, taking in the cape and the lopsided turban. “And so we finally meet. You look ridiculous, you know that.”

“I look like a psychic.”

“Except you’re not a psychic. At least, you weren’t. You’re tarnishing the reputation of the whole sector. Drink.”

Cassie sipped the tea. It tasted like grassy fields and rainforests. She thought she tasted a hint of peppermint. Her mind latched onto one of the images. “Peppermint and chamomile,” she said aloud. “You picked them yourself from your garden out the back.”

“Very good,” said Esmerelda. “Keep drinking.”

Cassie drank deeply, her mind reeling. “So… you made me see the future,” she said slowly. Then she thought of Esmerelda, picking the ingredients for the tea. “And… the past?”

“I just connected you temporarily with the psychic realm.”

“The psychic realm?” Cassie snorted, and then held her head again. “Why did you do this to me?”

“Isn’t it what you wanted? To be psychic. I mean, it’s what you’ve been playing at for some time now.”

Cassie narrowed her eyes. “I didn’t want… that. It was a good way to make a profit, that’s all.”

Esmerelda shrugged. “Maybe I just gave you what you deserved.”

Cassie drained her cup. She felt a little better. The images seemed fuzzier, less intense. “Nobody deserves that.” She blinked a couple of times, then gazed at Esmerelda. “Is that what you see all the time?”

“More or less,” said Esmerelda. “Business has been booming, hasn’t it?”

Cassie nodded warily. “I guess.”

“Good for you, or maybe not so good. We’ll see.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” New images now. Herself and Michael. No arguments in this vision, just her boyfriend slipping out the door. “What’s happening?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” said Esmerelda. “It’s your premonition.”

He looked sad. He definitely looked sad. He was leaving, and she was alone. Her heart hammered in her chest. “Is this real?”

“Of course it’s not real,” said Esmerelda, lightly. “All this mumbo-jumbo psychic stuff—it’s all in your head.”

Cassie couldn’t breathe. It was like before, when she saw—when she felt—the flood of water streaming into her mouth.

“But regardless of what you’re doing to yourself, it’s definitely not good for your clients.”

Through gasping breaths Cassie managed to say, “My clients are very happy.”

“Some of them are,” said Esmerelda. “Some of them. But the psychic realm is not one to dabble in lightly. You’ve been making mischief.”

The flood subsided, and Cassie put her head in her hands, thankful to be breathing easily again. “Listen, I just tell clients what they want to hear.”

“Yes,” said Esmerelda slowly. “But that’s not always what people need. Not from someone that they trust has their best interests at heart.”

Cassie thought of Stacey and her sister. “It’s not my fault that Georgia—”

“Of course not,” interrupted Esmerelda. “It’s never anyone’s fault except their own. Adults make their own decisions… including you.”

The images were fuzzier, but still there. She saw herself taking the ‘Cards with Cassandra’ sign down.

“These images that I’m seeing, are they the truth?” she asked again. “I saw so many horrible things. Surely… surely they aren’t real.”

“Would you like me to tell you the truth, or would you like me to tell you what you want to hear.”

Cassie narrowed her eyes. “I want you to tell me if you are going to make me shut down my business.”

Esmerelda shrugged. “I’m not making you do anything.”

“But you are… in the future… I can see it.”

“Okay.”

“But what if I refuse? What if I want to keep my business?”

“It’s the future,” said Esmerelda slowly. “You can’t refuse the future.”

Cassie thought of the image of herself in the hospital bed. Of Michael walking away. An uneasy feeling bloomed in her stomach. Were these things set in stone? Or could she change them?

“The images will pass soon,” said Esmerelda. “In fact, they may just about be gone. It was only temporary, you see.”

Cassie nodded, feeling a moment of clarity as the images finally disappeared completely. “It all is.” She rose abruptly and hurried towards the door. “It’s all just temporary. I see that now. Excuse me, I have to go.”

***

Michael arrived back at the house to find Cassie pulling the Cards with Cassandra sign down off the fence.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Shutting up shop.” Cassie smiled, throwing her arms around him.

“But why? I mean trust me, I’m happy if you’re happy, but why the sudden change of heart?”

“Let’s just say that I’m trying to make a better future,” she said, gripping him tight.

January 08, 2022 04:45

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