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Urban Fantasy Fantasy Speculative

The Two-edged Sword

Nyree Crandell fixed a large, silver hoop earring to each earlobe and tied a gaudy, multi-colored scarf around her salt-and-pepper hair. She encircled both eyes with a black eyeliner pencil, swiped her lips with crimson lipstick and assessed the result. Not a good look for a fifty-seven-year-old suburban divorcee, she allowed, but it was the persona she wanted. An aging gypsy stared back at her.

           Righto! Off to work.

           She packed her little car with the folding table, two folding chairs and her little tent. Well, it was more of a shade cover than a tent. You wouldn’t go camping with it but for her weekend market stall it served the purpose, providing shade and a facsimile of privacy for her ‘clients.’ She added her stall’s sign, hand-painted in gaudy colors and highlighted with gold glitter. It declared:

Madame Nga

Fortune teller

Readings from $20

Nyree grabbed her tote, collected her crystal ball swathed in its velvet wrap, and she was ready to go. Her market stall every weekend was her only source of income. But it usually did well, pulling in the curious, the bereaved and the hopeful, all eager to see if they could connect with the other side.

           The crystal ball once belonged to an elderly psychic whom Nyree was caring for until she died. The old woman passed the crystal ball over to Nyree on her deathbed and said, “I can see that you have the gift, Nga, you must continue my work after I am gone.”

           Nyree accepted the ball but no matter how hard she tried, it stubbornly refused to conjure messages from beyond this earthly realm. Peering into its depths from every angle, the glass orb always remained dark, mysterious and murky. Never a glimmer of ‘contact’ from anyone, this world or the next.

           So, Nyree faked it.

           She had always been a canny reader of body language and picked up on human non-verbal signals very adeptly. She would give her ‘clients’ psychic ‘readings’, looking for all the clues they gave off, to guide her. The tensing of the shoulders, the squinting of eyes, or perhaps the widening of the eyes, the leaning forward, the frowning or the smiles. The client usually gave away their life story without even realizing it and Nyree just winged it from there.

           “I see someone standing at your shoulder,” she would say.

           “Oh – that must be my favorite Uncle Harry! I always knew he was looking out for me!” her client would squeal.

           Or – “Oh, that’s my dear husband, Arty, he passed last October.”

           Then the tears would flow as Nyree glibly related an ambiguous and open-ended ‘message’ from beyond the grave, from her client’s loved one. They usually left happy and comforted and Nyree didn’t feel so bad about her deception. She could see that her artifice was providing a service and what harm could there be in that?

It was Saturday afternoon and the crowds had been a little thinner than usual. Numbers were down, no doubt due to the ominous gray clouds gathering overhead. Nyree joined the other stall-holders in packing up her tent early, they all wanted to beat the storm. Heading for home, the lightning and thunder got underway and by the time she had reached her house, the storm was in full force.

           Just as Nyree lodged her key into the door to let herself in, she was struck by the sizzling, blinding light of a lightning bolt with a deafening crack. The shock threw her to the ground where she lay for a long while, a tangled bundle of singed Gypsy rags and lifeless limbs.

           Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, Nyree stirred. Her whole body ached and her fingers that had been holding the key in the lock had burns. She crawled inside and collapsed on her bed with her ears still ringing, almost numb with shock.

On Sunday morning she felt a little drained and tender but otherwise unhurt so she decided it would be okay to go to the markets to ply her trade.

Er, her charade.

Never mind, it paid the bills, she told herself.

Her first customer was a young woman, whom Nyree quickly deduced was looking for love. Weren’t they all?

           She looked into her crystal ball to begin the pretense and there in its depths she clearly discerned a young man standing beside the ocean. Nyree was startled but tried to hide it. She looked closer and felt the powerful urge to pass on what she was seeing.

           “I see a young man looking at you, with his back to the sea. The sea is very significant in his life. Does that mean something to you?” she asked.

           “Oh… oh, I think I know who it is!” said the client with big round eyes.

           “Ah, I’m being told that he is going to be important to you. Yes, yes. He is your soul mate.”

           “Oh, my gosh,” exclaimed the woman, wringing her hands and smiling. “I work in the science dept at the university. That’s Vinnie. He’s a marine biologist and he loves sailing and surfing, too. He’s always hanging around asking me for coffee or drinks after work and I’ve been fobbing him off. He’s the quiet, serious kind, you know?” she gushed.

           Nyree couldn't keep from smiling. "Well, Spirit is telling me that he's serious about you and it looks like you two are fated."

           The excited lass got up from the table, paid Nyree, and hurried out of the tent with a big smile on her face.

           Nyree sat there stunned. What just happened?

Her next customer was a middle-aged man. He looked a tad nervous, a little uncomfortable. He was, no doubt, an unbeliever. Until today, Nyree had been one too.

“Hello, Madame Nga. I’m Howard.” He took the seat opposite her and looked at the crystal ball nestled in its velvet on the table.

Nyree took possession of the ball and gazed theatrically into its depths. Remarkably, just as before, images and scenes started to develop, gain shape, swirl and reform.

           “You are a businessman,” she said, surprising herself. He nodded almost imperceptibly. “Spirit is telling me that business is going well.”

           At this, he brightened a little. “Oh, yes. We’re finally getting some runs on the board and our projections are very encouraging.”

           Nyree frowned. “You have a business partner?” She looked over at him with raised eyebrows.

           He nodded. “I do.” Very terse. He wasn’t giving anything away. He was waiting to see how psychic she really was. Some were cagey like this while some couldn’t help themselves, they spewed information like an open book. Those were the ones that had made plying her trade easy, back when she didn’t have the gift.

           Fortunately, Spirit was still in a giving mood because Nyree saw a great deal unfolding in the fluid depths of her crystal ball.

           “Hmm. I have to pass on a warning from the other side.” The swirling clouds had an ominous purplish/gray tinge.

           He raised his eyebrows and leaned in a little closer. All ears now.

           “I’m being told you need to watch out for your partner… he may not be as trustworthy as you think. Just watch your back, is all I’m saying.”

Nyree wondered if she should tell the client more details, about how his partner was planning on shafting him and had registered a patent behind his back.

“Oh, oh…” Howard’s eyebrows took a dive. His demeanor shifted. His jawline tightened. “I had been wondering – I wondered if he was getting up to something. Thank you! Thank you so much! That just confirms my fears. Now I can deal with it.”

The client rose and handed Nyree a fifty-note. She made to find change but he held out a hand, palm facing outwards and said, "No, no, keep it. It is so worth it. I can’t thank you enough.” And he bustled out of the tent.

Nyree looked at the fifty thoughtfully before adding it to her money belt. She hoped her reading had given the poor fellow a clear path forward.

The whole day was the same, full of messages and communications that appeared in her globe, different for each client. She felt amazed – what was happening? Did she actually have the gift?

Something miraculous had happened to her. Some sort of gateway to Spirit had been opened and now she was the conduit for contact from the other side. Her energy fields must have been altered by the lightning strike, she deduced.

She smiled. She didn’t have to pretend anymore.

It was a strange feeling.

Madame Nga’s reputation spread by word of mouth and soon Nyree was even booking private readings through the week and earning a healthy income. Things were looking up.

           “Please take a seat, Andrea,” said Nyree.

The young woman settled in front of Nyree and looked at her eagerly. Nyree plumbed the depths of her crystal ball, interpreting the scenes that unfolded before her eyes. Oh, what was this?

“You... you’re, ah, expecting a baby,” Nyree declared, hoping that this wasn’t the way the lass would find out the news.

Andrea’s face broke into a huge smile. “Yes! Yes, we just found out with a positive test, yesterday. We’re so excited, it’s been a difficult three years with lots of disappointments but now we are finally pregnant!”

Nyree felt relieved. Thank heavens this was good news because for some people it wasn’t. She looked into her crystal ball and saw more.

“Spirit is showing me your partner – brown hair, slightly balding, brown eyes and a cheeky smile?”

Andrea nodded. “Yes, that’s Duncan. We’ve been married nine years.”

Nyree saw them standing together surrounded by a happy aura and a bonny baby… no – she looked closer.

“Ah, I can see two new babies.”

Angela sucked in her breath, her mouth a round ‘O’ but she quickly recovered her composure. “Well... I guess that’s not so surprising, there are several sets of twins in our family.”

Rising out of the chair, the client cut the reading short. She turned to leave. “I can’t wait to tell Dunc. Nothing for so long and now twins!”

Nyree watched the excited young woman hurry out of her tent. She added the twenty to her money belt. These days, the atmosphere in her tent hummed with positive energy when her clients were joyful and grateful. It felt good, really good, to be giving these people a good service and she suddenly felt a deep sense of shame for the years of cheating. She became determined to be a better person and share her newfound gift with others as best she could.

A young man entered her tent as Andrea left. He appeared nervous.

Oddly, Nyree felt the happy energy in her tent implode on itself, and her surroundings suddenly felt oppressive and brooding.

“Please, take a seat, dear. What’s your name?”

“Hello. I’m Tony Moretti, Madame Nga.” He sat across from Nyree and clasped his hands together in front of him on the table. He gazed at her with soulful brown eyes under heavy black eyebrows

“Tell me, Tony, you look sad. Why?”

He stammered, “I - I – I ah, things aren’t going well.”

She immediately wondered if he was suffering from depression. So many of these people sought fortune tellers in the desperate hope that they might get a glimpse of a brighter future ahead of them.

Nyree hoped she could give him good news to cheer him up. “So, tell me what’s bothering you?”

"Well, I just – it can be unbearable and I catch myself thinking I don't want to go on - you know? Sometimes I would get an urge to just... well, you know. But I have been getting counseling and things look like they might be turning around for me." He nodded and mustered a thin smile as if trying to convince himself.

“That’s a good move,” said Nyree in encouraging tones. “Half the problem can just be admitting you need help and seeking help, so you’re on the way to healing.” She laid it on, hoping that he would take away some positive encouragement from his session with her today. After all, she had pledged to help improve people’s lives now that she had the gift.

Nyree focused on her crystal ball while Tony watched her face intently for any crumbs of hope. What was this? Nothing was coming into view. Grey misty tendrils swirled and roiled but no images were forming.

“Ah, Tony, could you please place your fingertips on the crystal ball, each side?”

“Oh, sure. Is that how we do it?”

Nyree looked up and caught his anxious but half-hopeful expression. “Sure. It helps encourage communication from the other side.”

He placed thin fingers on each side of the ball and Nyree bent her head to scry the depths once more.

She felt an ugly sinking sensation gripping her. There was nothing. No message from Spirit, no images, no future thread of anything meaningful that she could spin.

Nyree struggled with herself. What should she do? Surely, she could not tell him lest it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. She didn’t want this visit to be what pushed him over the edge. Should she lie? Make up something pleasant?

“Ah, I can see sunshine starting to glow in my crystal ball,” she prevaricated. “Yes, there is a bright future ahead for you, Tony.” She glanced up and was shaken by the naked gleam of hope in the depths of his dark eyes.

“Really?” he asked in a shaky voice. A pleading smile danced on his lips for a fleeting moment. “What do you see? I can’t see anything in your crystal ball, myself.”

“Oh, no, of course you won’t. Not many people are blessed with the ability. But I can see you enjoying some activities with other people, and you have some success coming your way.” She was inventing vague promises, just as she had done in the past. Before the gift.

“Oh, gosh… that sounds great. I’ve never been the sociable type. A bit of an introvert, I’m afraid. Some success, you say?” He was grasping for details but Nyree had nothing to give him. “What else can you see?”

Nyree dragged her gaze from his pitiful smile and focused once more on the crystal ball. The mists swirled deep, dark and murky. There was still nothing but hollow emptiness and she felt burdened with the heavy pull of despair grinding outwards from the orb.

“Well, that’s all for today, Tony,” she declared as brightly as she could. “Thanks for stopping by. I hope you have enjoyed your experience?”

The young man passed across a bill but he hesitated to leave. “Thank you so much, Madame Nga. You’re a wonderful woman. You’ve given me a glimmer of hope and encouragement when it was most needed.” He rose and with a brief smile he turned to go.

“Tony? Will you stop by again soon?”

He paused. “Oh, sure, I’d love to. I like coming to the weekend markets and I’ll call in for another reading, real soon. Thanks again for everything.”

And then he was gone.

The following weekend and the next, Nyree hoped to see Tony again, maybe to give him more encouragement, to see if things were turning out for him. But he never returned and Nyree knew why.

She understood what the crystal ball had told her. The poor man had no future.

She tormented herself over that session.

Had she helped him with his struggles? Could she have done more, said more, to turn Tony away from his destructive path? Should she have elaborated more on a fake bright and happy future? Or, should she have been brutally honest and told the truth?

There was the dilemma. And she finally realized deep down, that such a blessed gift could also be a curse.

January 06, 2022 10:46

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6 comments

Graham Kinross
13:34 Jan 20, 2022

Poor Tony. You’d have to be a psycho or a sociopath to manage with that gift when it was bad news.

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Karen Court
23:08 Jan 20, 2022

Yes, it would be very difficult. This story was based on my Aunty Ngaire, a genuine psychic, and she found that incident very upsetting. But what can you do - there's the dilemma.

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Graham Kinross
00:17 Jan 22, 2022

Did your Aunty Ngaire use a crystal ball? Things like that are fascinating.

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Karen Court
20:26 Jan 22, 2022

She did, and though I couldn't see anything in it she got images and scenes that came into her mind/consciousness and she had to interpret them for her clients. She blew me away with some of the things she told me that were in the future. She is recently deceased, bless her.

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Barbara Burgess
06:59 Jan 13, 2022

Hi Karen, here is feedback for you story. I did enjoy it but I also felt it went on rather too long. I felt it could have been condensed in some way. If it were to be a novel then obviously one wants a lot of words but this was a short story. I felt you could have cut out at least one of the customers. I also felt you tried too hard at the beginning with your description. Again, too many words sort of saying the the same or a similar thing. It was a very interesting story with twists and turns to the lady's talents and I did like the way it...

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Karen Court
07:33 Jan 13, 2022

Thanks for your helpful comments, Barbara, I will work on that. I'm glad you liked it,

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