The Tarot Reader

A Sci-Fi Short Story written by Margaret Karmazin

The Tarot Reader

by Margaret Karmazin


A psychic lives on the run and isn’t what she appears to be.


Margaret Karmazin’s credits include stories published in literary and SF magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Mobius, Confrontation, Pennsylvania Review, The Speculative Edge, Aphelion and Another Realm. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Mobius were nominated for Pushcart awards. She has stories included in several anthologies, published a YA novel, REPLACING FIONA, a children’s book, FLICK-FLICK & DREAMER and a collection of short stories, RISK. She lives with her husband and cat by a lake in northeast Pennsylvania.


The sign was understated, green hand printing on a twelve-inch card in the corner of the window closest to the front door. “Let me tell your future,” it said. “Ring the bell.”

I had a discreet camera set up outside and saw the young woman hesitate, continue on and then circle back. Predictable but a good thing, for this was how I made my living and not an especially posh one. Fortunately, I didn’t need much for food, considering my particular physical situation.

The customer pressed the bell hesitantly and I let her wait a little before opening the door so as to maintain mystery. “Come in,” I said.

“I hope you’re open for business,” she said.

“You caught me at the right time. What’s your name?”

“Ellen. I-I need a reading. A whole one, however long that takes. How much is that?”

“Eighty for a full. Fifty for a shorter version.”

“I want the full,” said she said, sighing.

I motioned for her to sit at a small round table set up in the living room, which was decorated in a slapdash bohemian style, what one would expect from a fortune teller perhaps. I felt the slightly dark and shabby atmosphere created the right ambiance. Also, a black wig against my naturally swarthy skin helped.

I laid the deck in front of her. “Cut it into thirds and put them in the order of your choosing.” Then I laid out the cards in three-row style and leaned over, ostensibly to study them. “Hmmmm,” I murmured.

This behavior was a charade since to “tell someone’s future,” I didn’t need any props. For the future ran in streams of energy and all I needed to do was tap in. I was very skilled at tapping into the correct one for any particular living being. For that matter, I could tell what would happen to a random cat or dog, or giraffe or hyena on the grasslands of Africa. I could not, however, tell what would happen to myself. That was forbidden.

Before speaking, I fingered some of the cards. “You’re involved with a man a couple of years older. He has light brown hair and is involved in a profession using numbers. You’re not completely sure how you feel about him, though you often experience a sensation of suffocation. He assumes that you’re going to marry him. If you do, your life will move in an orderly and conventional manner for a good while, but he will die in middle age. If you end the relationship now, your life will be more adventurous. It will not be predictable but it will be better for your health and mind, even if that means going long periods without a partner. The point of incarnating is to learn things, to improve your energies. It is school. Never choose safety if it means wasting this education.”

Ellen wore a shocked expression. “You’re telling me not to marry him?”

I shrugged. “I am suggesting that you not waste an education. But it’s all up to you, of course.” I already knew which way she would choose.

Like most who came to me, the young woman wanted comfort and to be assured. She wanted to feel safe. The customer always longed to be told that no, their loved one was not going to die, they did not have cancer, they would go to heaven and the perfect mate was coming or it was someone they already knew. That last statement was always a winner and a fun mystery for them to try and solve.

“I-I don’t know what to do,” Ellen said. “I mean if he’s going to die in middle age. What is middle age exactly? Forty?”

Only someone young would ask that question. As if once you were forty, nothing mattered anyway.

“That might depend on how long the person’s parents live. If your parents live to their nineties, then chances are good you will too and middle-age would be about forty to sixty. If they only live to seventy, then middle-age would start much earlier.”

Ellen was silent for a long moment. “I guess he won’t be living long then,” she said. “Anything else in the reading?”

I gave her the rest of it; the girl got up and paid and rather sullenly left.

“Probably not a return customer,” I said to the gray, tiger striped cat who had just awakened and was stretching. It moved from house to house and lived temporarily with anyone who fed him.

It wasn’t long before someone else pressed the bell. I checked my phone and saw a man in his mid-forties, dressed in a suit and tie. Taking a deep breath, I gathered my energies. It was surprising how often men in high positions came here, not people one would expect to visit a fortune teller. But then there was a long history of men in high places who sought the input of psychics – kings, presidents, prime ministers and generals. Nothing new there except that if the psychic pissed them off, they had the power to put her down in more ways than one. Especially if she could not read her own future.

Rather reluctantly, I opened the door. The man scuttled in as if being followed by Russian spies. I understood, of course, that he was embarrassed should anyone see him. Either he was the local bank president or a politician. They were all the same.

“Relax,” I said. “I doubt that anyone of your acquaintance would be hanging out in this low-level blue-collar neighborhood. Unless they visit prostitutes.” I smiled.

He didn’t return the smile, and even inside my house, glanced around as if someone, possibly a reporter, might be lurking.

“How did you hear about me?” I asked.

“Oh, my sister’s friend. Overheard her and her friend talking. No one can know about this.”

I wanted to tell him that I couldn’t care less who he was, what he did or who his friends were, but I nodded seriously. “Everything here is as confidential as it would be in a psychiatrist’s office or a priest’s confession booth. Nothing to worry about.”

Right off, I saw that he was going to go far in politics, even run for governor, but he would be caught in a scandal. We sat down and I dealt out the cards for appearances. The question was, did I want to help him? I could also see that he was borderline fascist. Did I even care what happened in politics, or even in this particular spot on the globe? Well, I had to live here now, didn’t I?

He was watching me intently, even slightly threateningly but it was easy to see the fear behind it all. I felt compelled to tell him something; after all I wanted his money. “Be careful about a certain woman,” I said. This would take some round-about talking. “A young women who will someday work in your office. Dark hair, dark eyes, tallish, religious. Be wary of her. Remember, you’re married. Remember your reputation.”

This, though I was picking up that his wife currently had a lover. Should I tell him? I didn’t like the man. Still, he was my customer. “Just a suggestion, but it might behoove you to pay more attention to your spouse. A man needs a happy home. Well, not just a man but a person needs a happy home from which to venture out and succeed in the world.”

He looked distracted even with this rather pointed information. “What do you see in the next 6 months?” he said.

You find out about your wife’s affair; your kid is selling pills he and his friends steal from their parents’ and grandparents’ medicine cabinets and a close associate is leaking info to the press. But I said, “Just keep an eye out for what others around you are doing. Don’t assume all is well or that you can trust everyone. Someone near you is a traitor.” I said that last part because I felt like making his life miserable. He was not a nice being, not at this point.

He paid rather reluctantly and left and I got out the vodka. One of humankind’s best creations. If it didn’t exist, I would have to invent it but I would prefer not to call attention to myself.

The last visitor for the day was one of the neighbors, a “working girl.” She comes often, maybe once a month or so. I enjoy her and feel much sympathy and affection for her. Her future, believe it or not, is bright. If it wasn’t, I would dread her frequent visits.

“Hello, Gabrielle,” I said. “You’re looking perky this evening. Don’t you have to work?” She usually came around noon, not so late.

“Not yet tonight!” she said cheerfully. “I have an all-nighter with a classy gentleman.”

“Are you sure he’s classy? I mean besides his having money?” I assumed that’s what she meant.

“Oh yes, I’ve been with him before. He’s a little guy in his sixties and he has Parkinson’s. He owns a couple of factories that make electric toothbrushes and other stuff. He takes me out for a really nice dinner first and then has room service bring in a fancy breakfast the next morning. Really nice.”

I nodded and laid out her cards, which of course I didn’t need. “I’m going to remind you, Gabrielle, that when a client offers you investment advice, particularly concerning alternative energy production, take it. Put in half of your savings. It’s coming up soon, but it’s not this ‘gentleman’ tonight. Some other man – I seem to see him as dark with a beard, possibly foreign, and not necessarily a nice guy but his advice will be good. Come and tell me when it happens.”

“You keep telling me that,” she said.

“That’s because it is going to make you financially stable, very much so. You’ll be able to stop what you’re doing and eventually go to college. It’s never too late to do that, my dear.”

I thought that when it happened, I might put in a little buy of my own but that would take some extra cash, which I didn’t currently have.

“College,” murmured Gabrielle. “I’m probably too dumb for that.”

“Not true,” I said. “Someday you will have a profession you’re proud of.”

“What will it be?”

“Once again, I’m not going to tell you. When it comes time to go to school, you will know. But I’ll give you a hint. What kind of TV shows do you like to watch? Thank about that.”

“An actress?” she said.

“No, dear. The subject of the TV shows. Now don’t ask me anymore. I don’t want to ruin it for you by taking away some of the fun.”

She paid me and I felt bad taking her money but I did have to eat and keep a roof over my head. And more than that, keep myself out of view as much as possible. That was why I had chosen this particular neighborhood and not some fancy one where certain forces might think someone like me would end up if she could.

I locked the door, took down the sign, turned out the lights in the front room and retired to the back of the house where I made myself a meal of greens and oatmeal and hunkered down in front of the TV to watch the world and keep an ear to the news. All the blinds and curtains were dark and closed. A bit like blackouts in World War II.

The night is long but I think about the wonderful existence I used to enjoy before everything fell apart and I was dragged off and prosecuted. Hubris is the downfall of many, no matter where you are. I let my view of myself and what I thought was safety grow too large, took ridiculous chances, did not heed warnings..

Around ten the next morning, I put the sign back up and was annoyed when Mrs. Fauster arrived. She is a horrible person. No matter where she might exist in time and space, she would be a nasty individual. A crazy, mean gossip who tries her best to alienate everyone and probably I am the last resort for her to talk to. She showed up about every three months, usually after she’d fallen out with yet another person. This time, believe it or not, it was her nine-year-old granddaughter.

I slapped the cards down. Her soul reminded me of a black hole. “You’re having a problem with a young relative,” I said.

“You’re damn right,” she barked. “Little whore.”

“She disappointed you,” I prompted.

“Just like her stupid mother! Why my son married that slut I’ll never know! The little brat stole money out of my purse and she tore up the paperback I was reading and she-“

“She took money, Mrs. Fauster? Hmmmm, it appears that she needed that for school. Maybe no one would give her what she needed.”

“There is no excuse for stealing, I don’t care. Why didn’t she get it from her parents?”

I tried not to roll my eyes. “It seems maybe that they’re not paying attention to her, leaving her alone most of the time? Maybe you could take over where they left off, Mrs. Fauster? Be her grandma, help her out?”

Perhaps I had gone too far. All I wanted was for her to pay me and leave. Still no response from Black Hole. “She needs you,” I added.

As usual, I didn’t tell her that she was going to get cancer within the next couple of years and die in three. She left after another tirade but I pocketed her money, money that she willingly wasted on me, that was so needed by her neglected granddaughter.

I had been at this address for almost two years. Before that I spent a year in a motel in Jacksonville, Florida; prior to that, two years in Detroit, ere that two in Lafayette, Louisiana, and well, I could keep going but what’s the point. My best time was in Oxnard, California. That was back when I imagined I’d made a clean escape. And maybe I did, but I’m a realist, always have been, even when going off the rails. I had a visceral feeling something was closing in.

Why didn’t I leave the North American continent? The need for a passport. And even now, you had to have one to go to Canada or anywhere for that matter. It appeared that my existence had to be in low rent places in the US but that was better than where I came from. Pretty much anything is better than that or where I could end up again. And really, it wouldn’t matter where I was on the globe; they could still zero in on me.

It was late October, two days before Halloween which meant sunspots and other variables were not as conducive to anything unpleasant turning up and though I loathed the cold, I figured I might be safe for several months, relatively speaking. I was working on a bit of a scam on the computer, nothing too attention grabbing but I needed more money and this was under another alias of course. It had been a slow day so when a hard rap on the front door sounded through the apartment, I was grateful.

This turned out to be three inebriated college boys, possibly a bit intimidating should they get carried away though I had my methods for keeping people at bay. “Come in,” I said, opening the door wide.

“We thought we’d find out our futures,” laughed the leader, a typical frat boy type, white and privileged with dark blond hair and a high, aristocratic nose. Possibly a future senator slumming it here in this neighborhood, planning on using the hookers later.

“Who wants to go first?” I said, and two of them laughed, taking everything I said as “dirty.”

The two dominant males pushed the smaller, meeker one towards the table and he sat down. I dealt the cards while observing his energy streams and was surprised. “You’re going to be a famous writer,” I said. “Your novels will be made into films and in the further future holographic cinema. You will be very rich and have two wives and four children.” I smiled. Not only that but he would live to over a hundred. A blessed life if there ever was one.

The other two boys hooted and punched him and he blushed and tried to get away.

“Next!” I barked to distract their idiocy.

The brunette sat down, high coloring against black hair, maybe Italian in there, possibly Spanish, a pretty boy trying his best to be macho. His streams were clear, he was gay, but I would not say it out loud and open him to abuse from the annoying alpha. “You’ll go into computers,” I told him, “and later change to graphic arts. A good choice. You’ll find a compatible partner (I put it that way) and raise two children.” Some, other details and then on to the cocky blond.

This was not good. How do you tell a person, even if you don’t like him that he is going to die in his thirties? A blood disease, some rare form of leukemia it will take a while to diagnose. He will leave a wife and baby with debts up to the ceiling. I rack my brain and end up with “You’ll work in the insurance business and be a big spender, maybe go easy when you get married. Your wife will be beautiful, you’ve already met her; she goes to the same church when you go. Her mother knows your mother.” Blah blah blah, whatever drivel I could think of, and finally I got rid of the three of them. They were a bit exhausting.

Not long after, the doorbell rang persistently. I had a wild and sudden urge to flee.

“Mara Loca?” said Hollywood’s idea of an old lady when I opened it. Small, shriveled, slouched over, wearing an outfit like a 1950s librarian, she immediately aroused my suspicions. The hairs on my arms stood up slightly. I had a funny taste in the back of my mouth and my heart speeded up.

“Yes,” I said. “How do you know my last name?”

“Well, the neighborhood,” she said. What the hell did that mean?

“Very few people know my last name,” I said. It was fake anyway, but still.

“Could I please have a reading?” she asked.

Her eyes were small and beady and strange looking. Not quite human. My stomach contracted.

I led her to the table and took the cards out of their silken bag. Why wasn’t I getting a story about her in my head? Why did the streams of energy feel unavailable to me at the moment? What on earth was I going to say?

“Having trouble?” she said, almost gleefully.

“Uh, a little,” I admitted. “Some people I just can’t read for.” This had never been true, but she didn’t have to know that.

Her eyes were dark and when I looked at them, I felt I was being sucked into a pit. It seemed that part of my mind was being drained.

“I think you’d better go,” I said. “This isn’t going to work.” I stood up.

She stood up too and waved her hand at the front door, sealing it with some kind of energy. I saw it glow slightly and knew I was in terrifying trouble.

“Who are you?” I whispered.

My voice was weak; this horrible creature was totally draining me. I was having terrifying suspicions. Yes, I lived on the run and in a constant state of low-level fear and it wasn’t like I’d ever pretended a terrible day wouldn’t arrive, but whatever this was, it wasn’t what I’d expected. Since when did they come this way?

The old lady pressed something on her chest and instantly morphed into the stuff of my nightmares, a Warden First Class from Prison Moon 1146-21. She, or IT, had the audacity to laugh at my sudden collapse. The jig, as they used to say in English speaking Earth nations, was up.

Within minutes, one more escaped inner dimensional physicist from the Alliance was recaptured, shrunk and enclosed in a small black box to be transported back to detention hell. We would be there in, give or take, two earth weeks, using FTL speed. The problem was, my jailers did not allow suicide. They knew every angle on how to prevent it. Once we arrived, just as before, I would have to entertain myself reading the energy streams of insects and the occasional reptile that happened to sneak into my dark and damp cell, which without question, would be deeper underground and much more secure than the last one.

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