1 comment

Drama Urban Fantasy Fantasy

(TW: Mentions of assault/violence and suicide)

Stella sets up her booth like she does every Friday. Ballston Mall is always swarming with desperate characters: flirtatious teenagers, voracious salespeople, millennials trying to find acceptance with a side of discount pajamas. She gets her fair share of hate, sure. There's always a MAGA Hat Asshole that spits on the ground and calls her some terrible slur. She usually makes at least $500 though, and for a fortune teller that's basically the best one can do.

"Hello? Do you take card?"

It's a timid college student, obviously no cash. Probably still on her parent's credit card. Her shirt is on-trend and cheap. Her hair is straightened and prim, but her makeup is a mess. Lipstick on her teeth and smudged eyeliner. Hopefully the Macy's woman can help her out. Stella and her have lunch every Saturday; she's a sweetie, but intimidating. A genius with a brush though.

"Yeah, we take card. CashApp is preferable though."

"Oh, great! I have CashApp. Should I send you the money before or after?"

Stella sighs. She hates when people ask that question.

"Before, please."

"Okay, I'll send it right now."

There's an awkward pause as the woman sorts through her phone and *pings* the money over. Stella nods for her to sit down in the chair opposite hers.

"Y'know, I don't normally do this type of thing. I was raised Catholic, so we were very skeptical. But my roommate is absolutely obsessed with tarot and crystals, so I thought she'd love it if I came here. She got it done once and it changed her life. Or so she said, at least. Actually, I don't know if it was here. Might've been a fair or something."

She's rambling, which would normally annoy Stella, but there's something about it that's endearing. Like she genuinely believes Stella cares. A lot of people ramble to fortune tellers, but they just seem to talk because they can. This woman (who Stella is about 90% sure is named Grace) is talking because she wants to. And that makes Stella feel good.

"Well, I'm glad. I'd ask for her name, but I probably wouldn't remember. Been working here a long time."

"Oh, it's alright. So how does this work? Do I give you my hand or do you read cards? I have a rose quartz in my bag somewhere."

'That won't be necessary. Just tilt your head forward, Grace."

Grace smiles with delight.

"How'd you know that? My name, I mean?"

Stella shrugs.

"A hunch."

Grace smiles smugly and leans forward a bit.

"Well, you're right and wrong. My friends call me Grace, but my real name is Grayson."

Stella decides she no longer likes Grace/Grayson.

"Okay. Head tilt, please."

Grace obeys, and Stella lays two cool fingers on her forehead. It's really oily; she'll send her to Macy's right after she's done.

Immediately Stella sees a dirty wall. It's the kind of wall you couldn't usually tell was dirty unless you're standing an inch away, which Stella is. The wall gradually expands into four, and soon enough Stella and Grace are in a tiny apartment bedroom. Bare bones, but cute. Clean white bedsheets and some simple posters. A dresser full of discount clothes.

"Why don't you tell me where we are?"

Grace looks around bewildered.

"We're, umm, we're in my room. This is my apartment."

"I know that. I mean when was this?"

"This? This was my dream last night."

Stella tries not to look taken aback. It's rare a client selects a recent dream. Those are normally too personal, too raw.

"You chose it, so we'll see what's in store."

"Okay. It should start any minute now, I guess. I'm sorry, I didn't think this would work so...I don't know, viscerally. I thought you'd just..."

"Make some generic shit up? Oh honey, read the sign."

Right outside the booth, Stella has a sign up: PREPARE TO BE SHOCKED. It's half gimmick, but also half real. It's a truly shocking thing to relive a dream while awake. People never remember a dream start to finish, and seeing one play out in real time can be incredibly disturbing. She knows for a fact it's made at least seven people go insane.

"Yeah, I, uh...I really wish I would've chosen a different one though. This one is pretty unusual for me, I think. I didn't think you'd be able to see details. Like watch it all play out."

Stella knows Grace is lying. Obviously the dream is characteristic. Everybody has "special" dreams occasionally, but they don't reveal anything extraordinary. People always choose a typical one. They want to understand their pattern, what makes them tick. Or at least they think they do.

"It's okay. I don't judge. I've seen it all."

This is also true. Stella has seen it all. And once you've seen it all, judging doesn't just become pointless, it becomes boring. No one is truly special. That fact just becomes more apparent at night.

Suddenly Dream Grace walks in wearing an evening gown. Actually, not just any evening gown: Kim Kardashian's Met Gala 2017 look. Strange, but probably not meaningful. Dream Grace is followed by a shorter, skinnier woman that Stella recognizes as her roommate. She is wearing an Adam-and-Eve look consisting of just leaves on the non-PG parts. That probably means something. Behind them both is a skinny, freakishly tall, faceless man wearing a clean-cut suit. He appears in a lot of people's dreams. Stella calls him Jack Frost. He's harmless, but certainly creepy, and the Real Grace's face goes white looking at him. Stella tries not to laugh.

"Can they see us?"

Real Grace looks so wan and sickly. Stella's seen worse reactions, but she still doesn't think Grace will last long here. It's not for the faint of heart.

"No they can't. We're kind of like ghosts."

Normally people ask questions after that, but Real Grace just leans against the wall and watches this distorted version of her life.

Suddenly a booming noise echoes throughout the room, making Real Grace jump.

"Let's play Twister."

Jack Frost has a weird, modulated voice. Not typical, but not worth thinking about. He pulls a Twister board out of thin air and they begin to play on the bed.

The dream is really boring for a while after that. They play about 9 rounds of Twister and Micheal Jackson starts playing in the background. Not a whole song, just that one clip from Smooth Criminal. Annie, are you okay? Won't you tell us? Are you okay?

"This is so strange."

Real Grace is watching the whole thing play out in rapture, even though all that's happened was Dream Grace dropping out of Twister when she fell trying to reach a blue circle.

"All of this is perfectly normal."

It's more than perfectly normal, actually. It's exceptionally boring.

"Oh shit. This is the part I remember," Real Grace says as she buries her face in her hands and slumps against the wall.

Suddenly a TV appears and they all start to watch a bunch of random clips from an assortment of shows. Jack Frost and Grace laugh every time without fail, but the best friend is creepily austere. She just stares lifelessly ahead.

"Are you okay, Kate?" Dream Grace sounds fake concerned, almost like she's mocking the best friend.

Wordlessly, Kate turns to Dream Grace and stares at her. Jack Frost hands her a knife he was apparently carrying. And Kate begins to stab Dream Grace violently, rapaciously, and soullessly.

Stella looks down at Real Grace with mild concern. She has her hands over her mouth and her eyes wide. There are tears rolling down her cheeks noiselessly. Her brown hair is ruffled like she's been tousling it, and if her eyeliner was smeared before it's unfixable now.

Stella was almost sure Real Grace would ask her to stop the dream now. She didn't seem like the type who could handle it. But there she stood, tears dripping down, watching herself die.

She watches the blood splatter. She watches Kate laugh and wear the red like war paint. She watches Jack Frost play Twister with her lifeless body. She watches it all until she thinks she can't anymore. Then her eyes open again and she watches some more.

Finally everything goes dark. Stella and Grace are back in the courtyard, though they never really left. Grace looks slightly better than she did in the dream, but her physical body cried as well so she still seems frazzled. Her trendy shirt is covered in eyeliner stains. There are a couple of people staring. Stella tries not to smile, but she knows that means new customers. Everybody loves a traumatic revelation.

"So what do you think?" Grace sounds shockingly hopeful for someone who just watched her own murder. She wants a good interpretation. Her desperate energy radiates off of her and it makes Stella nauseous with disgust.

"I think you are too hard on yourself. You compare yourself to people you see in the media, to your best friend. You're a jealous creature, and you need to let go of that. Reconnect with Kate. Stop making everything a competition. Also, whoever that dude you're dating is, dump him. He wants to come between you two."

Grace nods like she knew it all along. She sniffles and wipes off her nose. After a quick glance around, she sees that some people are looking and begins to compose herself.

"Wow. Thank you. Truly. That was amazing. I"ll tell everyone I know, I promise." Stella stands up out of her chair and motions that she can leave now, the session is over. And at the risk of laying it on, she shouts after Grace as she walks away:

"And honey? You need to stop being so kind. Stand up for yourself. Stop being so giving. Take some time."

The small crowd that gathered nods in approval, and Grace blushes and walks away standing taller. A nearby waitress claps and Stella resists the urge to punch her in the face.

As a line forms in front of her booth, Stella puts up a 5 minute break sign. That familiar feeling of disgust and hatred is sinking in, and she needs to compose herself if she wants to make any money at all. Grace doesn't need to stop being so kind. It's dumb advice to anybody, even the most selfless person in the world. Everybody should be kinder, and everybody knows it. That's why they love to hear that no, they're too kind, that's their problem. They want to feel validated in their selfishness, and Stella gives them the stamp of approval.

Stella finds comfort in the fact it wasn't all a lie, though. She definitely is jealous of her roommate and Kim Kardashian. However, her roommate is probably bad news, and the boyfriend trying to get between them was almost certainly a good thing. The advice to dump him was still relevant because Grace was obviously a repressed lesbian. She had her best friend wearing nothing but leaves, and she did grow up Catholic so it makes perfect sense.

But Grace doesn't want to hear that she's a secret lesbian. She doesn't want to know she needs to be kinder. And she certainly does not want to know her jealousy is just thinly veiled attraction. So Stella doesn't tell her. Stella doesn't tell anybody the truth, even after doing this for 52 years because 53 years ago she did tell the truth and the man committed suicide not two minutes later. He jumped off one of the store balconies after Stella told him he was probably going to become a peeping-tom stalker later on in life, after he got bored of his wife like it was clear that he would. It was then that Stella realized people don't want to know what their id wants, no matter how much they claim to. And she wanted out of the job, wanted to become an accountant or something safe. But it was too late. Once you're sworn to the dreams, you can't leave. So Stella spends every day lying and letting the malicious people of the world continue to be cruel with a clean conscience.

She composes herself and steps back to her desk, facing the line that has formed.

She puts on a fake smile like she's learned to do so well.

"Only card, please."

September 30, 2021 14:49

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

Mariah Loiselle
17:34 Oct 04, 2021

Oh, what a wonderful read! SO much dialogue too! I love that for a short story. From the very beginning I felt connected to the chricature.


Show 0 replies