UPDATED: I took some input from some people on the various other sites I spook around. I hope this shows some improvement. I tried to activate the sentences, remove the danged “-ly” adverbs, and generally strengthen it. Hope you all have a happy Halloween!
(Some of you may have already read this on one of my other sites. Sorry about not getting it up here sooner.)
This one goes WAAAAY back to 1997 for me. I hadn’t met my beautiful, loving wife yet, and was working through trying to learn how to write a book. But, as a pants-seat writer, I never followed through, so here it sits, rotting on my hard drive. Let me know what you think of it.
The ticking of the clock seemed deafening.
Her shop stood crypt-quiet most nights. Debbie Syntalis had opened her Psychic-Tarot reading storefront two months ago. In a town as small as Hinton, Illinois, it takes time for a business to get established. She knew that when she opened, but still … with the holidays coming, shopping to be done, rent coming due and bills to pay, money was more than tight.
Relocating to Hinton seemed like a mistake to her now.
Of course, being on the outer edges of the Bible belt didn’t help either. The strength of the evangelical Christian community, with their fundamental and narrow-minded beliefs, didn’t help the health of her business. While outlying communities had psychic shops, Debbie’s was one of only four in Hinton proper. The church-going, Bible-thumping town just didn’t like non-Christian ideals, and psychics? Well, they’re downright evil.
Putting the shop any farther west meant being in the heartland, surrounded by corn and farmers. Any farther east, closer to Chicago, meant fierce competition. Going into Chicago itself meant high taxes, crime and congestion … too much for Debbie altogether. Hinton seemed ideal — a quiet, peaceful suburb with relative affluence, low crime, good schools and a high injection of young people because of the nearby college.
It wasn’t ideal at all, though. At least not yet. She looked at the stack of bills looming on the counter, gave a quick calculation of the remnants of her small business loan, and sighed. Things didn’t look good. But, her reading predicted success in Hinton. A wry smile snaked over her full, pink lips, and she swept her chestnut hair behind her delicate ear. She’d always had the psychic gift, even if it waxed and waned over time.
She had, of course, been wrong before. And would be wrong again. Nothing’s ever right all the time.
This time, though, she really believed her gift had been right. She would have success, even in Hinton. If she could keep the doors open long enough. Her reading had shown her name being on the lips of many, many people. And the sensation had been so strong, the vision so clear, everyone in town talking about her, being such a known, household name — she knew it would happen.
She gave a quick glance around the shop: all the books, CDs of transcendental meditative music, incense packs lining the shelves across from the counter. The battered green indoor-outdoor carpeting of the storefront she’d covered over with muted area rugs in Persian patterns from a local big-box home improvement center. The walls she painted, but the broken gypsum board beneath poked holes into shop’s decor. She sighed, tallied the inventory in the narrow shop, the dark wood shelves filled with trinkets, tarot decks, crystals, dreamcatchers, minature Zen gardens and water fountains, candles of every shape and color. She inhaled again, let it out through her flapping lips, and blew a stray lock from her brow.
Debbie ruminated at her reflection in the glass display case under her elbows, full of crystals, incense, meditation aids and other sundries. She assessed herself: Attractive. Early thirties … still young. Only one disastrous long-term relationship under her belt. They’d ignored the psychic’s advice when they went to him. Jim Something-or-other, she couldn’t recall the medium’s name. But he influenced her permanently. His startling, accurate portrayal of their relationship’s demise sparked her interest in psychics and spirituality. Raised a Baptist, Debbie gave up the faith her parents tried with pit bull relentlessness to impart on her during her college years. The loss of her one committed relationship two years later changed her life forever. She tried to explain to them the depth and mysterious nature of the psychic world, and that it didn’t exclude Christian beliefs, but they were frantic to “get her help.” She realized with a minor pang she hadn’t contacted them since she’d been in Hinton, and decided to send a Christmas card and call before the end of the week.
As she jotted a note to herself, the door opened, and the jingling bell over the jamb startled her when it pierced the background New Age music wafting through the tiny, narrow storefront.
A man in his early thirties walked in from the late evening darkness, his near-shoulder length hair swept back on the slipstream when he moved.
Debbie caught herself stricken by his rugged, stubble-and-plaid good looks. She melted the slightest bit when he flashed her a smile. She returned it, felt the warmth of a blush.
“Hi, can I help you?” She tipped her head and shifted her weight to one leg, her hip tossed out in an instinctive luring pose. She adjusted when she caught herself, blushed deeper. She cleared her throat and smiled up at him again, hoping he hadn’t noticed her gyrations.
“I hope so. I’m looking for Debbie. Is she here?” His soft, liquid voice drew her gaze into his dark chocolate eyes.
“I’m Debbie.” A schoolgirl’s butterfly flutter raced through her midsection.
His smile broadened and he offered a flawless hand, large, with long fingers, palm smooth but not feminine, just the right amount of contour and musculature to it. “Hi, Debbie, I’m Jerry.”
She took his hand and shook it, and his touch radiated warmth up her arm to the elbow. ”I know,” she said, a trained psychic’s joke to keep the illusion up. ”What can I do for you, Jerry?”
He cocked his head in skepticism. ”If you knew my name, how come you don’t know why I’m here?” A mischievous grin twisted the delicious corners of his mouth up.
Debbie giggled, her bluff called. “Well, I can’t take all the impetus away from you,” she said, and tittered.
She almost winced at her own reaction.
He laughed with her … thank goodness. ”Oh, I see. Did the little gremlin sitting on your shoulder giving you information fly away?” He smiled through the comment, but she noticed a subtle change in his tone and attitude.
“Not at all.” She issued herself a mental chiding for her distraction, then cleared a spot on the counter in front of her. She motioned him to the opening. ”What can I do for you today, Jerry?”
“You mean, you really don’t know?”
“Why don’t you tell me, and that’ll make things a little easier on both of us.” She tried to take control of the meeting. She noticed he seemed delighted by the fact that she couldn’t pinpoint anything in or around him. Like some sort of … cloudiness around him interfered with her reading him – his aura, his presence, his spirit. Everything.
His voice was soft, just more than a whisper. “Oh, that’s disappointing, but not surprising. Psychics never know what I want from them. Isn’t that interesting? None of them ever ‘pick up’ anything from me.” He smiled again, but she didn’t think it reached his eyes. A shiver wormed its way up her spine in a slow, chilling slide.
She smiled anyway, tried to hide her discomfort. ”Well, tell me what you’re looking for and I’ll see what I can do.”
“Are you that good?” he asked, his eyebrows perking in query.
She hesitated. Something strange she couldn’t nail down, something different than anyone else she’d ever seen, flitted at her. Like a gnat whizzing around a fruit bowl. It seemed like an image in a static-filled TV screen — indistinct, unrecognizable … but there.
“Still with me, Debbie?” His smile faded somewhat.
She blinked, tried to focus. ”Y-yes … I’m sorry, I’m just … tired. Long day.” She forced a smile, worried it looked false.
She still couldn’t penetrate the cloud, get any sort of vibe from him, no matter how she concentrated. She couldn’t connect to anything – as if he had no terrain to his persona for her to map out. It confused and concerned her. She’d never experienced anything like it before.
“Don’t feel bad, Debbie,” he said. ”It’s not your fault. Your god can’t help you with me.” He blinked expressionless at her.
Something in his face, under his expression, sent a bolt of fear through her. But she couldn’t say what, or why. “Excuse me?”
“Your god, Satan, can’t help you with me, Debbie. You won’t get any ‘readings,’ you won’t ‘see my aura,’ you won’t ‘pick up’ anything. You’re powerless with me. That’s why I’m here. I’m here to help you, Debbie.”
She swallowed the thick, sticky spit in her mouth. Her eyes darted to the phone on her counter top. She wondered if she could reach it without him getting hold of her first. The way he kept repeating her name, made it roll over her, creeped her out more.
He followed her gaze, looked back at her. “Don’t worry, Debbie. I’m not here to hurt you … only to help you.” He stared into her eyes, the burning gaze deep, gripping.
“Look … Jerry … I don’t think I can help you,” she said, held her voice even. ”I think it’s best if you just leave.”
His lips sagged in a frown. “I’m sorry, Debbie, I can’t do that yet.”
“Mister, if you don’t leave, I’m calling the cops.” She tried to harden her tone. She failed.
“I don’t think so,” he said, looked down and shook his head. ”I don’t think you’ll be calling anyone. Until after we talk.”
“Really?” she said, voice quavered. ”Watch me.” She bolted to the phone and jerked the handset from the base, held it to her ear.
Silence. No dial tone, no busy signal … not even white noise to indicate the phone functioned.
“See?” he said, his tone reassuring. ”I took care of the phone so we wouldn’t be interrupted.”
Her heart pounded in her chest. Her strength drained from her in a torrent of adrenalin-flooded fear. Abject terror settled on her for the first time in earnest. She couldn’t hold the phone up. The handset in her shaking hand clattered against the plastic base unit as it slowly dropped back down.
“Don’t be afraid, Debbie,” he soothed. ”You don’t have to be afraid anymore. I’m here to help you.”
She wanted to scream but couldn’t force it out. She scanned the counter for a weapon of some kind, but her pounding heart shook her vision. Her short, sharp breathing raked her throat as panic crept over her.
She stifled a yelp when she realized she’d have to pass him around the counter to escape through either door.
She was trapped.
“Debbie, Debbie,” he cajoled, “relax. I’m not here to hurt you. I just want to help you.”
She groped under the counter for something, anything, to defend herself. She knocked unseen items over and scuttled them around on the shelves. She never took her eyes from him, hands trembling as they fluttered along the storage place.
“I’m here to offer you a great gift – a pearl beyond value, a treasure beyond price,” he cooed.
“I don’t want anything from you! Leave me alone!”
“I can’t do that, Debbie.” The eerie sadness in his tone escalated her fear, her panic, her heart rate somehow, made her whimper as she moved down the counter, still feeling under it for something, anything, she could strike with, her gaze stayed locked on him while he continued to speak in a soft, soothing voice. ”You need what I’m giving you, and I can’t leave until you accept it.”
She sobbed, knocked over a stool, opened the far display case beside the wall and hefted a five-inch diameter crystal ball from its base. She clutched it over her right ear, poised to hurl at him.
He cocked his head and raised his eyebrows. ”Would you attack me for trying to help you?”
“Get out of my shop, you freak!” She blinked and tears that clouded her vision leaped from her eyes down her cheeks.
“Debbie, you have to listen. I’m offering you life … eternal life, Debbie.”
“Get out! Get out of my shop!”
“Jesus is calling you, Debbie … He sent me here. He wants you to have eternal life, Debbie. He’s calling you.”
“Leave me alone!” She squeezed her eyes shut and wagged her head back and forth in her shouts. Maybe someone on the street would hear her, come and help.
“Debbie, don’t reject this gift. You can be saved, even though you’re serving Satan. God’s mercy is so great, Debbie …just accept it.”
“Shut up, damn you!” Her voice tore to shreds as she screamed. “Get out of here! Now!”
“You aren’t going to reject the call of Christ, are you?” His voice turned to a pained moan, full of grief, suffering.
“Yes, damn you! Get out!”
A tear rolled down his cheek, and he wiped it with a tender fingertip. ”I’m so sorry to hear that,” he whispered. “So … so sorry.”
* * * * *
The car pulled up in front of the tiny shop. The young couple jumped out, all giggles and smiles, their breath large white plumes in front of them.
They were happy and in love. And young enough to need money from their parents.
They wanted to get married. Their parents wanted them to finish school. They refuted the parental claim that their desire for one another is temporary and fleeting, but as parents are wont to do, they presented a road block.
No money for the wedding until after they made an investment to find out whether they’re right for each other.
Their solution to the challenge – “invest” not time, but money. In a psychic, to be precise, who would tell them their romantic futures. The parents couldn’t argue the “investment” part. But the idea drove their committed, church-going, Bible-believing Christian parents mad with fury, disappointment, disapproval.
They pushed the door open and heard the bell over the door announce their entrance. The girl snuggled her head into his chest as they walked along the counter. He put his cheek atop her head, shut his eyes, smelled the sweet perfume of her hair and drifted, lost in her aroma.
Her horrified scream slammed him like a runaway train and tore him from his trance.
He jumped hard, opened his eyes and stared behind the counter. A body, blood under her head pooled and congealed in her hair, and coagulated on the artificial Persian rug.
The girl screamed again and the boy turned to vomit.
All original content copyright J. Dane Tyler, 2008
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED