Normal people don’t have destinies.
Of course, I never tell them that. When they come into my shop, I take their palms solemnly—after I take their payment, $25 cash or card—and stare into the blankness of their futures with undue reverence. Day after day, year after year, they come: the businessmen and the soccer moms, the mailroom clerks, dentists, and hairstylists of the world. The politicians and the theologians, too. The young and the old, the hopeful and the hopeless, the sceptics and the true believers. They all come and its always the same.
“Can you tell me my future?” They ask me.
“Maybe,” I reply with a smile. No one likes a cocky psychic. “Let me see your hand.”
I pull them by the wrist and squint. “Ah,” I say, as I hum and haw over their meaningless folds, creases in skin that are nothing more than creases, places for sweat and dirt to collect. “Ah.” I usually do this a couple of times for dramatic effect. For $25, nobody wants instant gratification.
While customers squirm in front of me, I read the only legible parts of them, which are their presents and their pasts. “Your heartline tells me that you are restless,” I impart to the man with the imprint of a wedding ring on his finger. “You have struggled to find romantic fulfilment in your partner, and you worry that you will never be satisfied.” To the woman whose cell phone is always ringing in her bag, I say: “Look here. Your lifeline is weak. This means that you lack independence and are yearning for autonomy. Your life is not your own right now, and you’re worried that you’ll never get it back.”
People are always worried about something. They come to me because they want me to voice their fears, to render them legitimate by saying them out loud.
They want me to voice their fears and then they want me to predict their resolutions. “These are turbulent times, but they are temporary.” “Your fortunes will shortly turn.” “Your suffering is almost over.”
They want me to give them hope and, for $25, I’m happy to oblige.
Normal people don’t have destinies because they have choices. They are presented with an infinite number of decisions, which unfurl an infinite number of paths. Paths that run through time like the roots of a tree that won’t stop growing. Paths with millions of interconnecting nodes and nodules. Paths that can take them anywhere. For most, there is no grand design nor divine intervention fuelling their trajectory; there is only the physics of life. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. In the same way, people tend to keep on living, making choices, designing their own futures.
Normal people don’t have destinies and that is a blessing, because it means that nothing is impossible. Anything—literally anything—can happen. That’s why my “fortunes” sometimes come true. Customers return to me certain that I had predicted their future when, in reality, they just happened to make the right itinerary of choices to lead them to where I'd said they’d go.
It goes without saying that that’s good news for me, because it means that they will come back again and pay another $25 for another educated guess.
Normal people don’t have destinies.
But you, Customer 12, are different.
You come in just as Customer 11 of the day is leaving. I know that you don’t have an appointment, so I don’t bother to ask (I may have been blessed with the gift of sight, but I don't need to use it because I also have a watch. A glance at its face tells me that it is almost one o'clock, and I never book anyone in before my lunch break). Instead, I settle for: “how can I help you?” I try not to sound annoyed as I think of the burrito waiting in the microwave under my desk.
You ask for a palm reading. “That’ll be $25,” I tell you. “Cash or card?”
While you fumble for your wallet, I take a moment to examine you. I try to complete a standardised checklist for you in my mind. A believable fortune is based on information, so I gather all that I can find.
You are male. You might be thirty or forty, but you could be older with a youthful face. Your clothes are similarly nondescript: white t-shirt, black trousers, black tennis shoes. You aren’t wearing any jewellery and you don’t have any visible scars or tattoos, either.
Okay, Customer 12, I think to myself, You aren’t going to make this easy for me, are you?
You are completely and utterly unremarkable.
That, in itself, should have been a sign.
You pay in cash, which means that I can’t catch a glimpse of the name on your credit card, and then you follow me through the door to the divination chamber. Usually, customers ooh and ahh over the décor in here—swathes of dark velvet and damask wallpaper, curtains, beads, crystals, and curios of all kinds—but you don’t seem particularly impressed. I wonder if you can see the divination chamber for what it really is: a storage room at the back end of a strip mall storefront, as opposed to a retreat into the exotic arms of fate. But if you are sceptical of my powers, you do not say so, so I launch into the script: “Take a seat,” I rasp. Everyone seems to think that a psychic ought to have a husky voice, so I always drop mine an octave or two to give the people what they want.
You sit across from me at the table and stretch out your palm before I ask for it. New customers are usually a little nervous, tentative in the face of astrological wisdom, but not you. You seem like you know what you’re doing. When I take your hand in mine, your skin feels dry and cool.
“This isn’t your first reading,” I announce, trying to earn some premonition brownie points with you. The sooner I can convince you of my psychic aptitudes, the better.
You rebuff me with a twitch of your lips. “Yes, it is,” you say. I can already tell that you will be difficult to deceive, and I wish that you would just play along. Normal people usually want to believe.
I take your nonchalance as proof that you are lying. Fine, be that way. It’s your $25 you’re wasting. I try to redirect: “What do you hope to learn today? Is there anything specific that you seek to find?”
“No, not really.”
Oh, come on. You’re making me dig. I widen my eyes in an attempt to look sincere. “Nothing at all? There are no pressing questions in your life that need resolution? No uncertainties blocking your path? Your palm will be easier to read if I know what I’m looking for. Futures are never straightforward, you know. They are murky, even for those of us who can see them.” Give me something, I beg you silently, anything.
You pass me a smile, but it almost looks sad, somehow. For a second, I’m hopeful. Sometimes, people need to be prodded a little before they open up. Are you divorcing? Filing for bankruptcy? Battling a scary diagnosis? I hold my breath in anticipation, but you leave me disappointed.
“I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble with mine,” you assure me.
Another dead end. Great.
I try not to roll my eyes at you. “Okay, I’ll do my best.”
Normal people don’t have destinies, they have emotions. Waves of them, oceans, currents, cacophonies—that’s what we psychics try to read. So, when I reach for your open palm, I prepare myself for a familiar drenching. I prime myself to be submerged in everything that you have felt, are feeling, or could ever feel. That is the closest thing to a destiny that I have ever experienced: a thrashing of cogent and tangent potential energies.
I hold my breath and wait for it. But when I touch you, I feel only one thing.
It starts in the pit of my stomach and builds. Builds until I want to scream, until I’m trembling, until every shred of me seems to become it. It’s an infection, this frustration, bacterial, viral, feral. It moves into my body, and it takes up residence there. It wraps around my insides like a snake waiting to feed.
I gasp before I can stop myself, but you don’t flinch. You don’t even seem surprised. You try to pull your hand away, but I can’t let go. In that moment, holding onto you becomes the only thing stopping me from ripping my hair out, from gnashing my teeth until they break. Holding onto you becomes the only thing keeping me from slamming my face into the table, from trying to prize open my skull to release the pressure by allowing some of this noxious frustration to escape. If I let go of you, I am afraid that I will let go of myself, too, so I burrow my nails deeper and deeper into your wrist until you bleed.
Normal people don’t have destinies because they have choices.
Normal people don’t have destinies and that is a blessing, because destiny is tyranny reified and deified. It’s powerlessness and anguish. It’s the violent eradication of choice.
Normal people don’t have destinies, Customer 12, but you do.
You have never had any possibilities, only certainties, and you have bounced against the confines of the pre-set track you’re on until you have bruised black and blue with desire. Every time you move, you meet resistance, and it has pressed down on you until you are exhausted. It has strangled you—it is strangling you, it will strangle you—into submission.
Everything that you’ve ever done, you have been meant to do. And the worst part is, you know it. You are meant to be here now, and you know it. You are meant to bleed, and you know it. After this, you will leave, and you know that wherever you go next will be the place that you are meant to be. And as you tumble from right place to right place, you will eventually find yourself asking: if everything in your life is predetermined, is anything about you really you?
Is any joy that you feel organic? Is any emotion, or whim, or fleeting thought spontaneous? Or has it all been pre-decided for you by some unseeable, unfathomable force?
Normal people don’t have destinies, but you do, so you’ll never get to know where you end and where fate begins.
You’ll never know if you love your wife because you love her, or because you are meant to love her. And you do love her, so one day you will start to worry that you are robbing her of a more genuine form of love that she deserves to inspire in someone who could choose not to love her back.
And when this question finally consumes you to the point that you can't even stand to touch her, you will wonder if you destroyed your marriage or if this, too, was the brutal hands of destiny at work.
One day, you will contemplate ending it all, but you will know that killing yourself will not be escape, or solace, or rebellion. If you do it, you will know that dying was fated and if you do not, you’ll know that living was fated. So, you won’t bother.
Instead, you will wake up every day and you will do whatever it is that you are meant to do. You will go on and on and on. You will go on, and you will doubt. You will never trust yourself. You will never be sure of anything except that you have a destiny, which means that you’ll never be sure of anything at all.
I’m still shaking when you finally pry me from your wrist. Your touch is surprisingly gentle, and when you look at me, your expression is contrite. “I’m sorry,” you say, and I can tell that you mean it. You knew that this would happen, but you didn’t have a choice.
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Wow, HR, this is stunning. The imagery, harsh descriptions, tightness of plot, theme repeated– all very effective. You wrote this in one week? I am impressed. Congratulations on winning this week!
Very cool read. Sounds a lot like my only trip to a psychic. My mother was going for a reading and paid for mine, for taking her. I was a neutral, objective participant, with no nagging problems or expectations, but I wasn't frustrated either. That's where this story takes off and veers toward the bizarre. I think the story would have been fine without the repetitious 'normal people don't have destinies'. I think it would have been more effective if you had used variations of words in place of destinies. Nevertheless, a good story, well wr...
I think the repetition of "Normal people don't have destinies," was a genius way to keep us in the story. As the story built, it was like a grounding phrase, bringing you back down.
Repetition is tricky, it's one of those rules that can be broken for great creative effect. I think most readers felt like you did, Crouton 828, but the third time I read that line, I began to suspect that it had very little meaning. It appears to have worked fine for most people though.
Avoiding their destiny was part of their destiny. Another way to combine yourself your always right. We’ll played. A glimpse into the mind of someone who’s job it is to convince you that they’re right. I particularly enjoyed the spiral at the end, where the aerator is trying desperately to grasp onto the tiniest of threads.
Great story! Kept me rapt all the way through. Well done!
I found myself identifying with Customer 12. I have never visited a psychic before, but if I did, I would be extremely skeptical of any results. Congratulations on the win!
Love the take on the prompt and writing about a psychic--very good story and kept me reading and wondering where it would go. Also creates very interesting thoughts about what fate or destiny really is. Congratulations on the win!
Okay, you deserve the win. I once had an encounter with a psychic that truly threw me off my game, and I still wonder about that. And I wonder about the man who wanted to know and learned too much...maybe? Excellent work, sir!
An excellent debut. Great story!
I loved your story, the stakes seemed very high and I was gripped by it! A pleasure to read and worthy of the win! I look forward to reading more of your work. :) Thank you for sharing.
Good work. A fated destiny being unreadable, while a free life with infinite choices is readable is a great idea. Congratulations on the win.
Everyone wants to know their destiny, yet you show why that might not be the best idea. The pace of the story was great, a slow burn until the dramatic end. Congrats on the win!
Congratulations! A very compelling read. Once our POV character meets customer 12, I literally couldn’t read fast enough. I could feel the urgency and overwhelming experience the psychic was feeling. Excellent prose!
a marvellous read. when it dawned on me that customer 12 was the psychic himself truly blew me away — the non-appointment before his lunch break, how he was unamazed by the decor, holding on to his wrist because if he doesn’t he’ll lose himself too, and the deep deep clarity he has with his own thoughts and emotions, the way he is able to “read” and explain and internalise them unlike with all his other actual customers?? loved this. my take may be so so wrong but this made me feel things either way. massive congratulations on the win.
Great story. Fantastic and unique plot line, IMO well written. Not to mention, HR Pinches, you are now my new hero! You give a newbie like me hope! That's why I am here - to learn how to be a better writer from all of you. I have only read a brief sample of the contest winners to date, and I am reassured I made the correct choice to interact with mentors of your collective quality. I am ignoring the side issue raised during the comments - I encourage any and all to dump all over my submissions regardless of their motives.
This story is Sick!! I’m awed
Normal people don’t have destinies because they have choices. They are presented with an infinite number of decisions, which unfurl an infinite number of paths. You have a way with words, and had no idea where this story was going! Congrats on the win!
Wow, this is chilling. Love it!!!!