by Duke Droste:
The neon palm stood out to him as Jack drove southbound on the four-lane thoroughfare. He knew it existed, but it never offered him more than a fleeting curiosity. When he returned the same way north, it came up his side of the street, and on an impulse, he swung into the parking lot.
The sign read, “Psychic Readings. Come to Know Your Future.” Convinced this was all a sham, he didn’t understand what compulsion had led him there. He opened the door and stepped inside. He had expected freaky décor with lava lamps, multi-colored curtains, and black-lit velvet paintings of Elvis or Jesus. Instead, it felt like stepping into someone’s home. In the middle of the den stood a round table with four comfortable high-back chairs, and across the room sat a large leather couch strewn with throw pillows. Shards of light broke through several windows, giving the place warmth.
“Hello,” he said down the hallway.
“Just a minute … Have a seat,” called a woman out of sight.
Jack threw himself on the couch and crossed his legs. Closing his eyes, a few minutes passed.
“Well, don’t you look comfortable?”
Jack opened his eyes. A woman in her mid-thirties stood straight and proper with a hint of a smile. He pulled himself up and faced her. She wore a flowing white dress, and for some reason, he felt nervous.
“Can I help you?” She tucked a strand of red hair behind her ear.
“Um … I … I wanted to have my fortune …”
“Okay, please step over to the table and have a seat.”
Jack picked the closest chair. The woman didn’t move until he sat, then she sauntered, cat-like, to the table. She took the opposite chair.
“The name’s Sarah. What kind of reading do you want? Palm? Tarot Cards?”
“Ah … sure, palm reading. I’ve never done this. How much?”
“Fifty dollars for a thirty minute reading.” She stretched her arm across the table. “Give me your hand.”
Jack placed his hand in hers. Her touch felt warm. She turned his hand over and studied the lines.
“I can tell you all about the swirls on your fingertips.” She pointed at his palm. “I can tell you what these lines here mean, but I think you want something else.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I see you’ve suffered a tragedy. You’re looking for answers. There’s an older female figure to your right trying to communicate with you. Is she your mother?”
“Oh yeah … my mother. Okay.” He knew it was a mistake. This was all hooey.
Sarah continued to hold his hand, but a dark frown crossed her face. “You don’t believe me? Hey … look you came to me. If you don’t want to talk to your mother, then leave. She does have a message for you, if you care to hear it.”
“No offense to your gifts and all, but my mother’s alive.” Jack pulled his hand back and folded his arms across his chest. “What’s the message?”
“She says that she wants you to finish college and take care of your father.”
“Really… If that’s my mother then what’s her name?”
“Huh? She’s your mother. You don’t know her name?” Sarah had a slight twisted grin.
“Funny. If you’re speaking to her from … Beyond,” he said, raising both hands making quotation marks in the air. “Then tell me her name.”
“Stephanie,” said the medium without hesitation.
“Wrong. That’s not her name. Is your satellite dish pointed in the right direction?” This was too strange.
The woman sat silent, her gaze remained locked on him while several awkward seconds passed.
“All right … sorry. But you’re telling me my mom’s dead, and then you get her name wrong. What am I supposed to think?”
“Fair enough. Apology accepted, but regardless, she is dead.” Only her lips moved.
“Are you trying to piss me off? You realize I haven’t paid, yet.”
Jack gave a sideways glance and leaned forward in his chair. He extended his arm with his palm up. “I guess I got nothing to lose.”
“You’ve got fifty dollars to lose. You already lost your mother and every moment you dally, you risk me losing the connection.”
“Okay, continue. You have my attention.”
“Fifty dollars. Your credit just expired after you balked.”
“Fine. You take any cards?” Jack retrieved his wallet and pulled his check card, handing it to her.
“I’ll just hold onto this as collateral.” She took the card, then grasped his hand and leaned in to study. She stared, unblinking, for several minutes.
“Your mother says that she’s sorry she lost you all those years ago.”
“What do you mean? My mom’s never lost me.”
“She says you were gone and she could never find you until now.”
Jack heard a slight ringing in his ears. It reminded him of the sound after a big gun goes off. The ringing grew louder and the pressure in his ears increased. Her voice sounded muffled like she spoke underwater. Both the ringing and pressure continued to build. She stopped talking and her face scrunched up into a question. His ears popped like when taking off in an airplane; the pressure equalized and the ringing ceased.
“Are you all right?”
“Ah … yeah I think so.”
“You looked ready to explode. Your face turned red and your eyes got big.”
Then he heard another voice, but it existed only in his mind.
“Tell him to look for me by the river and to bring the pink pelican.”
“Your mother says to go down to the …water and look for a pink… flamingo,” said the medium.
“That’s not what she said.” replied Jack. Who was that?
“Yes, it is. I know it is difficult to understand, but the dead communicate in strange ways.”
“No, she said to look for her by the river and bring a pink pelican … whatever that means.”
Sarah’s eyes got beady and cruel. “What’s she saying now?”
“She’s saying nothing.”
“You’re wrong. She’s telling me that you need to come back tomorrow and then she’ll explain the meaning of her request.”
“Tomorrow and another fifty bucks I bet,” said Jack.
The voice now spoke, “John, don’t listen to this witch.” The medium’s face flinched with the word. “She’s an amateur hack and can’t understand everything I say because like you said, she’s not tuned properly. She can only get every other word like she’s on a bad phone connection. But she’ll understand this…”
Jack wondered if he had indeed gone crazy. Sarah’s mouth hung open and she seemed confused.
“Your mother is gone,” said the medium.
“I’m still here, you lying bitch. CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW, HACK?”
Sarah flinched as the voice railed at her.
“Are you sure?” asked Jack.
“Yes, she’s gone.”
“No, she’s not. She’s still yelling at you. Can’t you hear the names? She says you’re an amateur.”
The medium became ashen. “You can hear all this?”
“For some reason I can. Don’t understand it, though. That’s not my mother’s voice.”
“I am your mother, but not your mom,” said the voice.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? Am I adopted? ” asked Jack out loud.
“You’re not adopted.”
“Are you saying I was abducted?”
“You’re not abducted.”
The medium appeared to have heard the dialogue well enough to follow along as Jack argued with the voice inside his head. Her brow sprang into a knot and her eyes sharpened while focused on him.
“I’m also your mother—a mother from another life. Just bring the pink pelican to the river and I’ll explain. I’ve got to go. Tell that crazy medium her father wants to tell her something.”
“What?” Jack shook his head and tried to gauge if he still held a grip on reality.
The voice disappeared. Sarah sat frozen in her seat—speechless.
“Are you playing some trick on me?” she asked. Her eyes flashed an angry stare and she threw his hand away from her.
“No, I swear, I’m just as confused. She says your father wants to speak to you.”
The ringing and pressure came back and then his ears popped again. He heard static and then another voice—male.
“Tell Sarah that I know how difficult it’s been. I’ve watched her. She’s looking for my gold coin. Tell her it’s in the attic in a box marked, ‘Harlingun’. There’s a tin canister at the bottom. She really loved that coin. I know she wants it to remember me. Thanks for translating.”
“Your dad says the gold coin is in a box. He knows you have had it tough and that you want it for a keepsake,” said Jack.
“What…? How did you know about the coin? Have you been talking to my brother?” Sarah appeared flustered as she played with her hands.
“I hear a voice saying he’s your father and that’s the message he gave.”
“How come I can’t hear him?”
“Sorry, but the dead communicate in mysterious ways. Can I have my card back?”
“No, I need to charge you first.”
“Well, how about we trade?”
“Trade? Look, you come in here for a reading, then you get all freaky, and now you want it for free?”
“I’ll trade you the fifty for the location of the coin. I’m assuming it’s worth more to you than fifty dollars. You really should be charging me twenty five, since you only got half the message right.”
“Ah … well, fine. Where is it?”
“It’s in a tin canister at the bottom of a box in your attic labeled, ‘Harlingun’.”
Sarah’s face grew fierce and even her hair took on a fiery glow. She flung the card at Jack and screamed, “How dare you say that. GET OUT.”
Surprised by her reaction, Jack jumped out of his chair and took a step back. “I thought you‘d be hap—.”
“GET OUT OF MY HOUSE. NOW.”
“NOW!” Sarah shook so hard, her hair jostled out of place. Her hands rose, and her fingers splayed out as if she were ready to pounce on him and claw his eyes out.
Jack retreated, heading for the door.
“TELL MY BROTHER … NICE TRY.”
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