They were poor. Dirt poor. An old tattered sign stood in the yard advertising Maxine's services, yet hardly anyone stopped by. Most locals knew that Maxine, better known as Maxie, knew absolutely nothing about the future. So, Maxie and her husband, Danny, depended on the occasional drunk or curious traveler to stop by and hand over money for a reading into the future, even though the only future Maxie knew was her own. With each unknowing customer, Maxie knew her future held at least a paid bill or a few groceries.
When the morning sun beamed through the slightly opened drapes, Maxie rolled over blocking the light. She snuggled beneath the covers and tried to fall asleep, but each time she closed her eyes, the dream returned. Alarmed, Maxie leapt out of bed, darted to the window, and yanked back the drapes to look outside, but everything looked perfectly normal.
Preparing breakfast, she cracked three brown eggs and dropped them in an iron skillet. Waiting for the eggs to sizzle, she tossed two stale bread slices into the toaster. When the kitchen door creaked, Danny walked in wearing a t-shirt, blue jeans and muddy boots. He plopped on a mismatched wooden chair and dropped a set of keys on the table.
"The girls didn't put out last night." He lit a cigarette and took a drag, exhaling smoke in circles.
"There’s still a few eggs left in the icebox.” She placed a plate of eggs and toast on the table. “Maybe they'll produce some today."
“Maybe, if we’re lucky.” He snubbed the end of the cigarette in a dirty ashtray.
Maxie settled in a chair beside him. "I had a strange dream."
He laughed. "Damn woman, everyone knows your dreams mean nothing."
"No, I mean a really strange dream while I slept."
"Dreams don't mean shit. It’s just that crazy mind of yours."
"But this dream was different, really different."
"How so?" He stuffed a half piece of buttered toast in his mouth.
"The world ended."
He laughed. "You been sipping on that gin again?"
"I'm serious. Something about this dream was really strange."
"Well you're going to tell me anyway, so go ahead. What happened?"
"A tall slender man in a top hat and a dark suit, fit for a funeral, knocked on our front door. When I opened it, it was completely black outside, and a thick fog covered everything. The man stared directly at me with his beady little eyes without speaking a word for several minutes. About the time I decided to slam the door in his face, he finally spoke. In an unusually deep voice he said, if you keep lying to everyone, the world, as you know it, will end."
Danny rolled his eyes. "And if you don't keep lying to everyone, the thing that will end is you and me. We’ll either starve or freeze to death."
With a mouthful of egg, he stood and grabbed the keys. "I'm going to town to pick up feed for the girls."
Leaving the empty plate on the table, he walked out and headed to the farm supply store.
Standing over the sink, she washed dishes and gazed through the dirty windowpanes. The sun brightly shone in a clear blue sky and birds on a nearby branch whistled a tune. It was just a dream after all, she thought, maybe Danny was right, and she should just forget it. As she hung the dry towel over the oven handle, she heard a knock on the kitchen door. It was probably Ms. Mary from next door complaining about something else Danny either had or hadn't done.
When she opened the door, a man in a dark suit with a top hat stood on the porch staring with beady eyes directly into hers. Her heart pounded as she waited for him to speak, but when he didn’t, she rubbed her eyes to make sure she hadn’t fallen asleep.
“No worries, you’re wide awake.” Pushing past her, he entered the kitchen. “My name is Spirit.”
“That sounds like the name of a horse or maybe even a dog.”
“You really shouldn’t be such a smart ass.”
“Normally I’m quite cordial to guests, but most guests wait to be invited inside.”
“We don’t have time for formalities.” He leaned against the counter and removed his hat.
“I don’t know your plans, but I have all day. It’s not like customers are beating my door down.”
“And that’s exactly the reason I’m here.”
“You want a reading?”
Spirit chuckled. “Now you want to be a comedian.”
“I’m a fortune teller. Didn’t you read the sign?”
“Speaking of the sign. You’ll need to dig that thing up and burn it.”
“Who are you anyway?” She perched a hand on her hip. “Get off my property before I call the law.”
“Go ahead. Be my guest.” Spirit shrugged. “They can’t see me anyway. You’re the only one who can see me, so they’ll think you’ve gone crazy and toss you right into the nut house.”
“I’m not crazy.”
“Of course, you’re not crazy. You’re just a liar.”
“Name one person I’ve lied to, you idiot.”
“I can do much better than one. How many would you like to hear about?”
“You don’t even know me.”
“How about Ms. Mary, your next-door neighbor?”
“That old hag? She’s always over here complaining about something.”
“She’s almost out of firewood.”
“So, exactly how is that my problem?”
"Your house is pretty toasty with plenty more firewood in the back."
"Danny takes good care of me."
Spirit tilted his head. "Danny steals the firewood from Ms. Mary. I'd hardly say, that's taking care of you."
Maxie blushed. "You can't prove it."
"But I can, however I'm not."
"A little stolen firewood in the dead of winter is hardly a reason to harass me, Mr. Spirit or whoever you are." She opened the door. "Now get out."
"I'm not finished."
"When Danny gets back, you'll be finished. Finished into a fine pulp after he beats the living crap out of you."
"Danny won't be back anytime soon. He's at the bar spending your money. Besides, Danny can't even see me."
"He went to the store to get feed for the girls."
"No, he stole feed from Ms. Mary already. Now he’s spending the money in the bar.”
Maxie’s face reddened. "You're really pissing me off."
"Well, you should be pissed." He paused. "At yourself."
"Okay, I’ll bite. Mr. Know It All, why should I be pissed at myself?”
"Because little Anna died yesterday."
He shook his head. "You don't even remember your own stories, I see."
She glanced at the floor and thought for a moment. "The little girl with cancer?"
"Her mom stopped by a few months back. You should remember because she was desperate and paid you extremely well.'
"I remember. She wanted to know Anna's future."
"And you told her that Anna would be fine, not to worry. You couldn’t just leave it at that. You even claimed to see some extraordinary miracle, going over the top with dramatics, so Anna’s mother would pay more money to find out what you were seeing."
Maxie lowered her head. "Little Anna died?"
"Yes. Last night in her mother's arms."
"I'm so sorry."
"It's too late to be sorry for little Anna and her mother, not to mention everyone else you've hurt along the way."
“But we really needed the money."
"There are plenty of ways to make money without lying and stealing."
"I'm really sorry."
"You should be. Once you've gone as far as to cause death....."
Maxie interrupted. "I didn't kill anyone."
"Her mother believed you. In fact, you were so convincing, she turned down all the treatments which would have saved her daughter's life."
"Oh shit.” Maxie stared at the tile. “I really didn't mean for that to happen."
"Maybe not, but once death is involved, it’s a different story. Which is why I’m here.”
"So then what am I supposed to do now?"
"I thought you’d never ask. Dig up the sign in your yard, give Ms. Mary back the things Danny stole and figure out a way to take care of yourself that doesn't include stealing or hurting someone." Spirit paused. "And if you don't, then the world as you know it, will end."
"I'll do it.” She wiped a tear from her cheek. “I'll do it right away."
"I'll be watching." Placing the top hat back on his head, Spirit walked toward the door.
"Is Spirit really your name?" Maxie asked as he passed through the doorway.
Spirit looked back over his shoulder, "Yes. My name is Spirit. I’m the spirit of your future."
When Maxine blinked, Spirit had disappeared.
Wasting no time, she grabbed a shovel and dug around the old tattered sign which stood in the yard advertising her services.