Before Alison knew what was happening, she was standing at the door of some New Age store at the edge of town. The store was located on Belvoir Road, known for its contemporary take on the word “Hippie.” Each store on the street was small and privately owned, selling what ranged from bongs to tie-dye and flowered skirts. The main hangout was a coffee shop owned by an elderly couple, full of greasy teenagers with ripped jeans, long unwashed hair and multiple piercings. The food choices were a burrito shop and a sushi restaurant.
They passed the organic food and health store on the way in. Bells jingled as they stepped into the tiny shop called Enlightenment Palace. The owner, a woman named Jennifer Blaire, sat at the cash register, flipping through one of her own magazines.
“Hi Jennifer,” Emily said cheerfully.
The woman was in her late-thirties with a round face and red hair pulled up in bun in the back of her head. Plastic glasses sat on her small nose, taking all attention away from what little she had in the lip department. “Emily, back already?” One could infer that Emily dropped by the place a lot.
The store wasn’t terrible flashy. Subtle brown and cream colors. A few cheap bookcases were set up against the wall and three long couches were arranged in the back of the store. The book offerings consisted of spells and hocus pocus, voodoo and hoodoo, Wicca and Buddhism and modern paganism. Alison paused to look at a line of tiny bottles filled with essential oils on a small shelf. Some were labeled by scent (Vanilla, for example), and other, apparently by purpose, with words like “Money” and “Empowerment” scrawled across the front.
Dried herbs hung from pegs in tiny plastic packages, from the simplest plant used for cooking, like basil, to strange red chunks of powder called ‘Dragon’s blood’. The cashier counter itself was especially overwhelmed with wooden shelves stacked with colored candles and incense. A chart was pasted against the side of the shelves case, listing the colors and their supposed purposes for spell casting. Red for passion and courage. Pink for love. Green for money and success. Purple for psychic powers. White for truth. It all sounded like a bunch of mumbo jumbo to her.
She caught sight of Emily gossiping energetically with the owner of the store. She was telling her that they wanted their fortunes told by Marissa. Alison turned her attention back to the shelf of books before her.
She picked up an especially thick one about communicating with the dead and glanced over the cover. Cute. A picture of a single flickering candle showed on the front. She flipped it open purely out of curiosity. Nothing too spectacular in the end, a lot of emphasis on candles and incense, and chanting to the right angels and building the right spirit shields. Pretty funny stuff, really, but almost entirely unnecessary.
Emily came hurrying up to her then, holding a long, slender box in her hand. Alison looked down on it, noticing the picture of a mini sword-looking thing on the front. “What’s that?” Alison asked.
“I bought it for you,” Emily said. “It’s an athame. See?” She opened the box, pulling out the slender, metal blade.
Why the heck’d she go and get her something like that, anyway? Alison felt perplexed as she took it into her own hand. Her fingers grasped the handle, noting that it looked to be a solid hunk of metal carved down to the size of a dagger. The only designs were made up of hatching marks along the handle and a few squiggly lines moving up the blade. “Well, it’s definitely heavy.”
“It’s made out of iron,” the younger woman explained. “You know what they say, don’t you?”
“I actually have no idea what they say.”
“Iron knives banish evil.”
Alison furrowed her brows. She had absolutely no clue what Emily was talking about. “What evil?”
“You know, like evil spirits. It’s good for protection.”
“Oh, okay,” Alison replied doubtfully. “Thanks. You really didn’t have to do that though.” Was she supposed to take this? Wouldn’t it be unprofessional of her to accept gifts from her customer? She supposed she didn’t have much of a choice. She wasn’t about to hurt the girl’s feelings. Lifting her purse, she tucked the long box inside, figuring she’d find a place to put it later.
Emily tugged on her arm then. “Let’s go. Marissa’s in the back. She’ll read our cards.”
“’Sure,” Alison replied, following after. She felt like a mom being dragged around town by her little daughter. She thought of her dead sister, remembering how she had once been reminded of her by Emily’s mannerisms. Perhaps it was more like that then? Like an older sister being dragged around by her little sister?
The store was actually just a little bigger than Alison had first suspected. Emily surprised her by pushing through strings of beads dangling across a dark doorway in the back of the shop. She revealed a homey room lit up by candles, a small round table in the center and a deck of cards sitting on a shiny piece of purple cloth.
A woman who must’ve been Marissa was sitting on a small couch in the corner, a smoking cigarette in her mouth and a book in her hands. She looked up at them in surprise. “Emily!” she called out. “Good to see you, girl!” She set the book down and pulled the cigarette from her mouth, smashing it into an ashtray. Then she hurried up to Emily and wrapped her arms around her tightly. She wasn’t dressed in anything interesting or showy, just a long blue skirt and a lime green spaghetti strap top. A black and white bandana covered her short, dyed black hair. “What’ve you been up to?”
“Nothing much,” Emily said. “I brought someone. This is Alison. She runs a ghost agency.”
“Ghost agency?” Marissa furrowed her brows. “What’s that?”
Alison felt annoyed at the mention of her work. She hated talking about herself, especially when it wasn’t to produce income or serve any other monetary purposes. “I get paid to investigate supernatural activity,” she explained reluctantly. “You know. I get rid of unwanted spirits.”
Marissa let out a little laugh. “Hey, that’s pretty cool. I didn’t know they had something like that around here. I outta let you over my place sometime. I swear, that place’s gotta be swarming with all kinda weird stuff.”
“You’ve seen weird stuff there?” Alison asked.
“Well, no.” Marissa lifted her hands behind her head, tightening the bandana she had covering her hair. “I just kinda… I dunno… can tell. Know what I mean? When you don’t really see it, you just… know something’s there.”
“I think I know what you mean.”
“But you can get rid of ghosts, right? Does that mean you can see ’em?”
“That’s cool.” She grinned, moving toward the round table and taking a seat in the chair behind it. “Maybe I can’t do what you do, but I gotta admit, I’m pretty good at telling people’s fortune.”
“She is good,” Emily said. “She’s told my fortune tons of times and she’s always been right.”
Marissa shrugged. “I’d say I’m on the mark about 95% of the time. I definitely think I’m doing better than some of the other readers out there.” She pulled the deck of cards from the table, pulling up her sleeves and getting comfortable. “Come on,” she said, motioning to Alison with her hand. “You’re going first.”
Great. Alison took a seat in the chair on the other side of the table, facing Marissa. “What am I supposed to do?”
“Nothing yet.” She began shuffling the deck in her hands. Alison narrowed her eyes as she watched her. Hey. Wait a minute. Those weren’t even tarot cards. They were just regular playing cards. What were they doing? Playing Black Jack here? “All right,” she said. “Give me a question.”
“What kind of question?”
“Any question. What do you want to know?”
“Do I have to say it out loud?”
Well that cut out a lot right there. She was too embarrassed to bring up Greg or Emily’s brother. What else could she ask then? “Fine then,” she said. Maybe she could still ask without having to give any specifics about it. “Am I going to find someone… romantically?”
“I need a timeframe.”
“I don’t know. I meant ‘ever.’ Am I ever going to find someone?”
“That’s no good. Of course you’re going to find someone eventually. Tell me how soon you’re looking for?”
Alison rolled her eyes. “Fine. A week. Will I find someone this week?” This was ridiculous.
Marissa nodded, handing her the cards. “Cut the deck.” Alison cut it and Marissa took the cards from her. She began placing the cards down on the table. One in the center. Then one to the left of the center one. Then one to the right of the center one. Then one above the center one, and one below the center one. Five cards in all. Five playing cards, to be exact. It looked pretty unimpressive. She had at least been hoping for pretty pictures.
The card in the center was the queen of clubs. The one to the left of that was a four of clubs. To the right of the center card was a four of spades. Above the center card was an ace of hearts and below the center card was the two of hearts.
Marissa smiled as she looked down at the simple spread before her. “All right. I see it. This is good. I like this.” She lifted a finger, pressing it down on the queen of clubs in the center. “This, Miss Alison, is you. The beautiful dark-haired woman. Very pretty. Very mysterious.” She looked up at her. “And of course, very stubborn. Sound like you, yet?”
“The stubborn part, maybe.”
The woman continued, “And it looks like there’s more to this question than meets the eye. This isn’t a normal woman looking for love. Not at all. This is a troubled woman with a troubled past. It looks like you experienced a significant change in luck when you were younger. Something that drastically turned your world upside down, for the worse, it looks like. I see loss.” She looked up at Alison. “You lost a mother, maybe?” She looked down at the cards, her finger running over the two of hearts. “Or maybe a sister?”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“This might surprise you but it actually does. The point of this looks to be focused on the loss in your life. It’s making it hard for you to communicate with others. You want to get close to men but you can’t. Your past and your present are haunting you.”
“Hey, I’m not done yet,” Marissa said. “There’s more. I see that there’s something to be gained this week. Even if it’s not a husband, I do see a growing friendship between you and a male partner.” She paused. “Not to mention a growing amount of jealousy. This jealousy is going to get in the way. Don’t let it eat you up. It’ll get you.”
“That wasn’t a very optimistic reading,” Alison replied, feeling irritated. She did wonder about what the woman had said though. It struck a cord with her. The sudden change in her past, it immediately made her think of the moment she gained the ability to see the dead. It was the day her life turned upside down, and in a sense, the night her life as a normal, happy girl came to an end. The loss of her sister, that was a big one. She was surprised and angry that the woman had mentioned it. “Don’t people get mad at you when you tell them stuff like that?”
“Sometimes.” She pulled the cards back into a pile. “But I tell the truth, and that’s a lot more than you’ll get from other readers. Besides, keeps my schedule nice and open for my favorite customers, right Emily?”
Emily laughed. “I suppose.”
“Your turn, Babe. Come on up.” Emily came over and Alison climbed out of the seat, letting the woman sit down in the chair. “Got a question for me, today?” she asked.
“Yeah, I do actually,” Emily said. “I want to know, what’s going to happen to me in the future?”
“What do you mean?”
She paused. “Just in general, I guess. I’ve been having problems with my house lately.”
“Can you give me a time frame?”
“This week,” Emily said. “Or next week. It doesn’t matter. What’s going to happen to me in the couple of weeks?”
“All right then.” She began shuffling the cards. When she was finished, she handed them to Emily. Alison watched as Emily carefully mixed them in her hands, before cutting the deck and handing them back to Marissa. Marissa began laying them on the table. The first one was a six of clubs that sat in the center. The second was a six of hearts that lay to the left of the center card. The third was a six of spades laid to the right of the center card. Three six’s in a row. Cute.
Marissa had her brows furrowed as she continued lying cards down. An ace of spades above the center card and a nine of spades below the center card.
“Is that bad?” Emily asked uncertainly.
“Well…” Marissa paused, cocking her head to the side. “Yeah, it could be considered bad. But it doesn’t mean we have to take it that way. For example, if I just put these back, we can make it a three-card reading.” She lifted the ace of spades and nine of spades from the table and stuck them back into the deck.
“Are you allowed to do that?” Emily asked doubtfully.
“Sure. Why not? We can do whatever we want.”
Alison couldn’t help but comment as well, despite the fact that she didn’t want to get involved in their little fortune telling game any more than she had to. “So, she’s better off with the devil’s number across the table,” she asked, smirking a little in reference to the three sixes. “How’s that work?”
“Oh, don’t be so superstitious,” Marissa replied. “We’re not reading them together. We’re reading them as… as three separate numbers here.” She looked down at the three cards in front of her. “And according to this, Emily’s luck is changing for the better.” She nodded. “Financially too. I see good fortune headed your way. In little bits and pieces but it’s coming. Which means you’re in good shape.”
“Then my house isn’t going to be haunted anymore?”
“I don’t see why it should be.”
“That’s great,” she said, looking relieved. “I was so worried.” She looked to Alison. “Looks like you were right about the house.”
Hey, if that was all it took to keep her from being afraid then Alison was all for it. “Yeah, glad she had some good news for you. Let’s go.”
“Just one more,” Emily said quickly. “Please?”
Alison sighed. “That’s fine. Just hurry it up.”
Emily turned back to Marissa. “What was the other reading? Before you took away the two cards?”
The woman just smiled, shuffling the cards back together again. “I didn’t get a good enough look at them. Sorry about that. We can try again though.”