My name is Jonathan Adams, no relation to our second or sixth presidents; I’m just a simple man with simple aims; I’m what you might label a doubter, a skeptic, a cynic, a debunker, and I’ve spent the last two decades going to extremes to find the truth in order to expose magicians, alien abductees, ghost hunters, monster spotters, and especially so-called psychics. However, there was one fortune-teller in particular that I’ve always wanted to humble; her professional name is Madame Evelyn.
She and I are approximately the same age, both around forty, and she’s been practicing her fraudulent forecasts for as long as I’ve been discrediting her peers. Imagine my surprise, when out of the blue I received an e-mail from her requesting a meeting. Doubly, imagine my sheer astonishment, when I read exactly why she wanted to meet:
Dearest Mr. Adams,
I wish to meet you at my parlor next Tuesday at noon. I know of your moral mission to silence people like myself, but regardless, I have decided to aid you in your pursuit. I am prepared to reveal all of my secrets. Please be punctual, and prepare for our meeting by downloading to your mobile phone the encrypted document attached to this correspondence.
With All Urgency,
I looked at my calendar; Tuesday was just two days hence, and I had a meeting with a network executive at eleven, with a corresponding television interview scheduled from twelve to one. Shit. At first, I thought I’d reply to the message requesting a different time, but no…I’ve done plenty of radio and television spots; I didn’t want to give up the chance to take down the Omniscient Madame, a moniker given to the seer by her fans, so I spent a good portion of Monday morning juggling my appointment book to keep Tuesday afternoon free.
I arrived at the front door of her home, where she performed most of her soothsaying from a basement parlor. As requested, I had downloaded her mysterious document, which I could only assume contained all of her secrets. Additionally, I had ensured that I had plenty of storage space to record her confessions, but the real burning question I had, besides the encryption password, was, ‘Why? What had happened to make this huckster come clean?’
I knocked on her bright-red, “Christian” front door; its six wooden panels were arranged with the two smaller ones on top forming a cross with the two middle ones; the bottom two represented an open bible. There was a brief pause and I could hear her hand on the handle as she peeked through the spyhole.
The door swung inward and she welcomed me, “Greetings, Mister Adams,” she said warmly with a slight Slavic twang of rolled-Rs. Madame Evelyn drew a paisley-patterned, silk robe that matched the color of the front door tighter around her nimble frame and cinched its shoestring waistband. She then reached up to pull an elongated hairpin from her bun, and as her curly, black tresses fell across her shoulders I noticed not a single strand of gray, unlike my own salt and pepper sideburns. I did however perceive a slight shaking in her pale, dainty fingers as her left hand rested on the door knob.
“You’re trembling,” I observed. “Are you having second thoughts? Or might you be more comfortable coming to my office instead of meeting here at your home?”
“No, no, Mister Adams, it’s just zat I vuz hoping you’d be late…to prove me wrong,” she said bluntly.
I glanced at my gold Cartier watch and snickered, “Late? Prove you wrong? You said to be prompt; I’m two minutes early.”
She pursed her delicate, ripe lips and breathed deeply through her petite nose, to settle herself before waving me in, “Come, come, down to my parlor, and I vill explain.”
She closed the door behind me and led me down an unusually long flight of stairs. ‘Were there two basements in this place?’ I reflected as we descended. Once we reached a hard concrete slab, she stepped her slippered feet through an opening that had a huge steel door with a hand wheel, like on a naval ship’s bulkhead, hanging into the hallway. I only hesitated briefly before following.
There was a lush, Persian, hand-knotted, woolen rug that encompassed the entire parlor. Additional rugs decorated the walls; they were all uniquely patterned in shades of red, purple, and gold, with blue borders, and the room had a single chandelier that resembled a pentagram wagon-wheel hanging from its concrete ceiling. Five wide candles around the chandelier provided the only light in the room. She glided to a high-backed chair at the far side of an antique, claw-foot, dining table in the room’s center and took a seat. In front of her, dividing her creamy cleavage, was a crystal ball, to her right was a weathered deck of Tarot cards, and to her left was a tarnished candelabra with five candles. I could see another matching hatchway across the parlor that was closed, probably leading to additional rooms for storage and bunks. To me, this place looked like some kind of World-War bunker, and evidently my imagination was running wild.
She beckoned me to take a seat across the table from her; there were two wooden chairs there, and one on each end; once seated in the rightmost chair, she snapped her red-nailed fingers, and the candles of the silver candelabra ignited across from me.
“Nice parlor trick,” I chided. “I’ve seen that one plenty of times. I hope it’s not one of the secrets you were planning to reveal, as that would be rather disappointing. Do you mind if I record our conversation?” I placed my phone on the table between us and pressed the red button to begin my recording; I also noticed my device had no up-link to the Internet in her parlor, but I didn’t give it a second thought.
“No, and no, Mister Adams. Audio and video are both fine. I vuz originally going to demonstrate all of de tricks of my trade, but I have changed my mind.” Madame Evelyn pouted in mock or actual sadness; I couldn’t tell which.
“You’re kidding me? Right?” I was obviously perturbed.
“Relax, Mister Adams, you already have all of de answers you seek. Before I sent you zat e-mail, I vuz going to go over everything in person…but I decided later zat’d take far too long. So, as you may have already guessed, de encrypted file zat I asked you to download contains every detail of how I have duped de world.”
I was getting impatient, “What’s the damn password then?”
She crossed her arms and frowned, “Be patient; it von’t be long.” She reached over and turned the Tarot card deck face up, spreading the cards out along the length of the table. “Zat file contains your card reading, but first, examine my deck to ensure zat it is complete; I’m confident you know de suits. Next, shuffle and select your cards. Place zem face up in vutever pattern suits you, and zen I vill give you de passcode.”
Incredulous, I examined the deck and shuffled. Before laying out my cards I asked, “How many cards?”
“You choose; three, five, six, seven, ten, it matters not,” she grinned.
“This is a trick I’ve never seen before, Madame. I hope you’ve explained it in the document you sent,” I commented as I laid out five random cards from left to right: an upside-down Ace of Swords, an inverted Four of Cups, the right-side-up Lovers, an upright King of Pentacles, and the upright Death card. ‘This can’t be good,’ I mused.
She nodded, “Ah, yes, a five-card spread for illumination and clarity. Excellent choice. Use pass code: capital-Omega-capital-Delta-99 to read your fortune. It is on de first page…before all of my detailed confessions.”
I keyed in the password and read aloud:
“Card 1: This card describes what is happening at the moment, and you’ve selected the Ace of Swords. In its upright position, it would signify a breakthrough or sharp clarity. However you have placed it in the reversed position denoting confusion and chaos.
Card 2: This card describes how you can weather what is happening easily and with grace. You’ve selected the Four of Cups, also reversed. This tells you that sudden awareness will allow you to accept the moment and choose happiness over apathy or discontentment.
Card 3: This card explains the lesson that needs to be learned. You have chosen the upright Major Arcana Lovers card revealing that only through union, duality, and partnership can you hope to overcome.
Card 4: This card tells you what is leaving at this time, and you’ve picked the upright King of Pentacles. This is very ominous, as it means abundance, prosperity, and security shall flee from you.
Card 5: This card tells you what is arriving at this time. You’ve placed the Major Arcana Death card in the upright position. This card should not be feared; it simply denotes the end of a cycle, new beginnings, change, and metamorphosis.”
It was a perfect match! I quickly scanned the rest of the document to see how she could’ve possibly known what cards I would lay out. There was explanations for how she did her standard readings with a pre-meeting Internet search, and how she did cold readings by simply sizing up her subjects, but there was nothing about what just happened. “Damn it, Evelyn! How did you do it?”
She ignored my curse and looked at an antique wind-up clock on the wall just above the open hatchway which read 12:40. “See zat timepiece? Let me tell you de story of how I did it before its long hand reaches a quarter ‘til.”
She cleared her throat and moved her hands over her crystal ball as she coldly recounted her tale. Fog, or smoke, and fire rotated like a cyclone inside the glass globe. “I chose you, Mister Adams, not only for your critical mind, but also for your healthy physique. I know you are attracted to me too…your eyes are not focused on my crystal ball, but gazing past it…at other orbs.”
She had caught me staring, so I looked her eye-to-eye. “I’m sorry; my physique? What are you talking about?”
She squinted at the clock again; the five Tarot cards I had drawn materialized and tumbled amid the fire and smoke of her crystal ball. “Listen! Time is short. I vuz unhappy vith my life; it vuz a sham; I needed to start over; I desired to do _SO_ much more. A few days before I sent zat e-mail, I vuz just going to tell it to you straight; let you hang me in de public square, but zat morning I awoke from a vision so lucid, so crystal clear, zat I had to see it through to its conclusion. You see, in zat vision, I saw your Tarot reading before it vuz laid…every card…and sequence…and direction. Not only zat…but I saw vut it actually meant…not just some sketchy details like vut I wrote in zat document…but everything! I had awoken with true magic…precise prophetic power! Somehow I’ve always known how it ends…and I have prepared for it! I said _I_ chose you…but truly it vuz de universe zat chose you!”
“You’re a loon!” I shouted, “And I’ve got the proof right here!” I stopped the recording on my cellphone, and stood up to leave. The clock read 12:43.
She stood up as well and rushed past me to block the hatchway. “I haven’t finished, Jon! Your reading applies equally to me!” She called me by my first name and I froze. She clung to the lapels of my suit coat and began to weep, “De Ace of Swords brings chaos zat is already here! De King of Pentacles takes away all prosperity and security! De Lovers warns us zat vee must face our futures together, and de Four of Cups…as you push me aside and step through de threshold, your cellphone vill reestablish its connection and be inundated vith messages giving you sudden awareness; you vill see de truth!”
I pushed past her, and as she foretold, my phone immediately began receiving panicked texts, voicemails, and an E.A.S., Emergency Alert System, alarm…
Buzz…buzz…buzz…the following message is being broadcast at the request of the United States government…the North American Aerospace Defense Command has detected a launch of over two dozen Chinese missiles headed for the United States…these missiles are presumed to contain nuclear warheads and are predicted to make impact between 12:45 PM and 1:00 PM Eastern Standard Time...major impact sites include: Washington D.C., New York City, Boston, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Miami, Atlanta, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Detroit, Chicago, Omaha, Kansas City, Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Denver, New Orleans, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle…all persons within one hundred miles of the impacted areas should seek a fallout shelter…if no shelter is available…
“Get inside! Or de Death card vill take us both!” she shouted.
I was in shock as I stared down at my phone in absolute horror when Madame Evelyn yanked me back into her parlor and swung shut the heavy steel door. The clock read 12:44, as she rotated the wheel to lock the door in place. Like a sack of potatoes, she pushed and propelled me through the other door and we passed a kitchen, a bathroom, and wandered through a large storage room before locking down a final hatch. She lit a single candle, and the utter blackness of our new home was illuminated. Together we sat down on a small bed and clung to each other in desperation as the bombs shook the city above us. Armageddon had arrived.
Hours later, when the roaring noise had given way to absolute silence, for some reason I chuckled…albeit a nervous chuckle.
Evelyn wiped the tears from her eyes, “Vut can possibly be funny, Mister Adams?”
I pulled her prone onto the bed, and she willingly collapsed in my arms. “De famous debunker in de bunker,” I said, poorly imitating her accent.
She slapped my face, and then we kissed; a long and zealous kiss; it was probably the first kiss of the New Age, so we made it count. We knew it might be a long time before Mister Adams and Madame Evelyn could attempt to explore the surface and do any gardening.