(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 shop was quiet.
The shop was quiet most of the time, actually. Debbie Syntalis opened her Psychic-Tarot reading storefront two months ago, and in a town as small as Hinton, Illinois, it takes time to get established. She knew that when she opened up, but still …with the holidays coming soon and shopping to be done, rent coming due and bills to pay, money was more than tight. Relocating to Hinton wasn’t turning out to be everything she’d hoped.
Of course, being on the outer edges of the Bible belt didn’t help either. The strength of the Christian community, with their fundamental and narrow-minded beliefs, wasn’t exactly nurturing to the health of her business. Outlying communities had psychics, but Debbie would be only one of four or so in Hinton proper. Going any further west meant being in the heartland, surrounded by corn and farmers. Going farther east meant more fierce competition, and going into Chicago was too much for her altogether. Hinton seemed ideal, because it was a quiet, peaceful suburb with relative affluence and somewhat higher-level educated populace.
It wasn’t ideal at all, though. At least not yet, she mused. She looked at the stack of bills sitting on the counter, gave a quick calculation of the remains of her small business loan, and sighed. Things didn’t look good, but she predicted success in Hinton for herself. A wry smile snaked over her full, pink lips, and she swept her auburn hair behind her delicate ear. I could be wrong, I suppose, she thought amused. It wouldn’t be the first time … or the last.
She looked at her reflection thoughtfully in the glass of the display case in front of her, where the crystals, incense, meditation aids and other sundries were stored for sale. She was an attractive woman, and she knew that. Early thirties, single most of her life, with only one disastrously failed long-term relationship under her belt. That was so long ago, but she 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 heavily. His startlingly accurate portrayal of their relationship’s demise sparked her interest in psychics and spirituality. Raised a Baptist, she gave up on the faith her parents tried doggedly to impart on her in college. The loss of her one committed relationship two years later changed the path of her life forever. She tried to explain to her parents the depth and the mysterious nature of the psychic world, and that it didn’t exclude Christian beliefs, but they were frantically trying to “get her help.” She realized she hadn’t contacted them yet since she’d been in Hinton, and decided to send a Christmas card and call before the end of the week.
She was jotting a note to herself when the door opened, and the jingling of the bell on the jam almost startled her through the background New Age music lofting through the tiny, narrow storefront.
The man that came in was in his early thirties, about six feet tall, with jet-black hair that fell to just above his shoulders. When he walked in from the late evening darkness, it swept back on the currents of air he created when he moved. Wow, he’s GORGEOUS, she mused as he flashed a winning smile at her. She smiled back. “Hi, can I help you?”
“I think so. I’m looking for Debbie. Do you know if she’s in?” His voice was soft and liquid, and she found herself drawn to him and gazing into his deep, deep brown eyes.
“I’m Debbie,” she said, feeling what she could only describe as a schoolgirl’s flush run through her cheeks. What’s my deal? she thought. I just laid eyes on this guy and I’m already flushing? He smiled more broadly and stretched out a flawless, piano player’s hand.
“Hi, Debbie, I’m Jerry,” he said.
She took his hand and shook it. “I know,” she lied, throwing out a trained psychic’s response to keep the illusion up. “What can I do for you, Jerry?”
He cocked his head to the side skeptically. “If you knew my name, how come you don’t know why I’m here?” he said softly, the grin twisting the corners of his mouth up deliciously.
She giggled. Oh, great, she thought, NOW I’m giggling, too! She knew her bluff had been called. “Well, I can’t take ALL the impetus away from you,” she said and laughed again.
Thankfully, he laughed with her. “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.
I’m distracted, she thought. I need to focus, here.
“Not at all,” she said, and cleared a spot on the counter in front of her and gestured for him to come nearer. “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 was trying to regain control of the meeting’s flow. She did notice, however, that he seemed to delight in the fact that she couldn’t pinpoint anything in him, or around him. There was almost a … cloudiness about him that interfered with her reading.
“Oh, that’s disappointing, but not surprising,” he said softly. “Psychics NEVER know what I want from them. Isn’t that interesting? None of them ever ‘pick anything up’ from me.” He smiled again.
She smiled back. “Well, tell me what you’re looking for and I’ll see what I can do.”
“Are you that powerful?” he asked, his eyebrows going up quizzically.
She hesitated. Something was strange. She couldn’t nail it down, but there was something different about this man than anyone else she’d ever seen.
“Still with me, Debbie?” he asked, the smile fading from his lips somewhat.
She blinked, trying to focus. “Y-yes … I’m sorry, I’m just … tired. Long day.” She smiled again.
She still couldn’t get through, get any kind of vibe from him, no matter how she reached out. There was nothing she could contact – no aura that she could see, no terrain to his persona for her to map out. She was confused, and concerned. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
“Don’t feel bad, Debbie,” he said sympathetically. “It’s not your fault. Your god can’t help you with me.” There was no smile on his face, now.
“Excuse me?” she said, and the expression on his face began to frighten her.
“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 get anything. You’re powerless with me. That’s why I’m here. I’m here to help you, Debbie.”
This is getting creepy, she thought. This guy’s weird.
Her eyes darted to the phone on her counter top, within her reach.
“Don’t worry, Debbie. I’m not here to hurt you … only to help you,” he said, and he looked deep into her eyes.
He knows I’m getting nervous, she said. Man, I’m not comfortable with this at ALL. I need to get this guy out of here.
“Look, I don’t think I can help you, Jerry,” she said calmly. “I think it’s best for you to leave.”
“I’m sorry, Debbie, I can’t do that yet,” he said sadly.
“If you don’t leave, mister, I’m going to call the cops,” she threatened, trying to harden her tone. She failed.
“No, I don’t think you will,” he said, looking down and shaking his head. “I don’t think you’ll be calling anyone for a little while. Until we talk.”
“Really?” she spat. “Watch me.” She jerked the receiver from the hook and put the phone to her ear.
Silence. No dial tone, no busy signal …not even electronic noise to indicate the phone was working.
“You see?” he said, his tone one of attempted comfort. “I’ve taken care of your phones. So we wouldn’t be interrupted.”
Her heart pounded in her chest and she slowly lowered the hand piece onto the base unit again, trying to think. Oh my God, she thought, this man is insane. Fear began to sink in for the first time in earnest.
“Don’t be afraid, Debbie,” he said soothingly. “You don’t have to be afraid anymore. I’m here to help you.”
She wanted to scream but couldn’t find the strength to force it through her lips. She ran her eyes over him frantically, looking for a weapon of some kind, but adrenaline made her vision quake. Her breathing was short and sharp, and she could feel the panic rising.
She started to cry when she realized that she’d have to go past him around the counter to try and escape through the rear of the store. If she tried to climb over the counter, he’d be there before she could get over it. She was trapped.
“Debbie, Debbie,” he cajoled, trying to calm her, “relax. I’m not here to hurt you. All I want to do is help you.”
She groped madly under the counter for something to defend herself with, anything to defend herself with. She was desperately trying to be fast and quiet simultaneously, and her hands shook violently.
“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!” she shouted, hysteria setting in. “LEAVE ME ALONE!”
“I can’t do that, Debbie,” he said sadly. “You need what I’m giving you, and I can’t leave until you accept it.”
She began to sob, no longer concerned with whether he heard her reaching and groping beneath the counter. She jumped off her stool and fumbled beneath the counter, opening the display case and taking out a five-inch diameter crystal ball from its base, clutching it over her right ear to hurl it at him.
He cocked his head and raised his eyebrows sadly. “Would you attack me for trying to help you?”
“Get out of my shop, you freak,” she shouted through her tears that clouded her vision.
“Debbie, you only have to listen. All I’m doing is offering you life … eternal life, Debbie.”
“Get out!” she screamed again. “Get out of my shop!”
“It’s Jesus that calls you, Debbie … He’s the one that sent me here. He wants you to have eternal life, Debbie. He’s calling you.”
“LEAVE ME ALONE!” she was screaming over his words, eyes closed and head wagging back and forth from the effort of her shouts. Maybe someone on the street would hear her … maybe someone would 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!” she screamed. “Get out of here! NOW!”
“You aren’t going to reject the call of Christ, are you, Debbie?” he asked, and his voice was mournful.
She shrieked and squeezed her eyes shut, hissing through clenched teeth. “YES, DAMN YOU! GET OUT!”
A tear rolled down his cheek, and he wiped it tenderly away. “I’m so sorry to hear that,” he said softly.
The car pulled up in front of the tiny shop, and the two young people jumped out all giggles and smiles. She was twenty-two, he was twenty-four; they were so in love, all hormones and emotions. The push to marry was driven by their incessant desire to be together constantly, but they were “honoring” their parents’ wishes that they find out whether or not they were right for each other and ready for the commitment.
Their solution was to seek out the advice of a psychic. It drove their parents insane, because they were committed Christians … which was exactly the point.
They pushed open the door and heard the chiming of the bell announcing their entrance. The girl snuggled her head into his chest and they walked toward the counter as he put his cheek against the top of her head. He shut his eyes, smelling the sweet perfume of her hair and drifting, lost in her aroma.
It was her horrified scream that tore him from the trance.
He shot his eyes open and stared at the body behind the counter, the blood beneath her head caked in her hair and coagulating on the artificial Persian rug.
The girl screamed again and the boy turned to vomit.