The next day, Alison drove to Belvoir Road to visit Marissa. Greg sat beside her, anxiously asking questions about her most recent encounter with Death.
“That’s all he said?”
He sounded like he didn’t believe her. “That’s all,” she replied. She knew it was strange. Her second encounter, they’d think she’d learn something new but she was just as confused as the first time she had seen him.
“But all he did was repeat himself.”
“I know, I know. It didn’t make any sense.”
“I wonder why he called Emily ‘Blessed’.”
“Who knows. I still don’t get what it even means to be Blessed in the first place.” She paused, turning a corner. “He did say something else too.”
“He said the Soulless killed her.”
“What’s a Soulless?”
“From the sounds of it, something without a soul,” she said dryly.
“Yeah, okay, I get it, but what does that mean? How did it kill her?”
She had been wondering the exact same thing herself. Instead of answering any of their questions, Death seemed to simply raise more. “I dunno. That’s what I wanted to know. You don’t know what it’s like when Death’s talking to you. You completely freeze up. You try and ask him something and he acts like he didn’t hear you. I don’t think he does hear me. He’s like a broken record repeating riddles. It’s exasperating.”
“What do you think Marissa’s gonna say when you tell her?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think I’m going to tell her everything. It’s too much to put on her at once. She’ll think I’m losing it.”
“It is a little farfetched,” Greg agreed.
“I want to show her the knife for sure, but I won’t go into detail with it. I want to see if she can sense anything.”
“With her magic deck of cards, right?” Greg asked, rolling his eyes. “I’m sure it’ll be amazing.”
“She’s not like that,” Alison said. “She knows what she’s doing.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“Just trust me. She’s the real thing.” Even as she said it, Alison understood Greg’s reluctance to believe in a fortune teller. Alison had been saying the exact same thing herself not so long ago. For every psychic out there with a gift, there were a hundred more charlatans taking advantage of the naïve for money. Marissa just happened to be one of the exceptions.
Belvoir road came into view. The street was a hustle of teenagers and twenty-year olds. The sushi restaurant was packed, with a line that extended out the door and spilled onto the sidewalk. Pulling into the crowded parking lot, she parked her car. “All right, I’m going to head in,” she told him.
“Want me to come in?”
“I don’t know, Greg,” she said, hesitating. “She can’t see you like I can. I won’t be able to talk to you or anything.”
“I’ll just watch. I won’t make a peep.”
She sighed. “I guess. But try not to distract me, all right? It’s hard listening to two people at once. I need to hear what she’s saying. I don’t know if you realize how loud you are.”
“Now I’m loud,” he said. “Great.”
“I didn’t mean it like that.” She stepped out of her car, pulling her purse out with her. A glance inside the bag verified the dagger was still there where she had left it. She headed through the parking lot, passing the organic food store and stepping into Enlightenment Palace.
Marissa’s aunt, Jennifer Blaire, greeted her at the door. “Alison! How are you?” she asked cheerfully.
“I’m good. Is Marissa in?” Alison asked.
“She’s in the back with a customer.”
“Do you mind if I see her when she’s done?”
“Go right ahead,” Jessica said. “It’s been such a slow day today, I know she’s dying of boredom back there.”
Alison turned to the rack of candles on the counter as she waited. Her eyes fell on the list of “powers” each candle was supposed to have, taped to the side of the wooden shelf. She suppressed an amused smile. Did people really buy these things? They must’ve because quite a few appeared to be missing, particularly the pink and light green ones. Hell, what did she know? Maybe they worked?
She wandered a little ways to the opposite end of the counter. Looking down inside the glass display case, she spotted several silver charms that hung from chains. There were small, interestingly designed boards with the words ‘yes’, ‘no’, and ‘maybe’ etched into them lying beside the chains.
“They’re for dowsing,” Marissa’s aunt explained, stepping towards her.
Alison looked up at the older woman. “What’s that?”
“It’s another form of divination. You hold the chain between your thumb and two fingers,” she said, using her hands to act it out. “Then you dangle it over one of those boards there and it swings toward the correct answer.”
“Does it work?”
“Oh yes, it works. Marissa’s very good at it herself. It’s not for everyone, of course, but the people that can do it are usually very good with it. Do you want me to show you?”
“No, that’s all right,” Alison said. “You don’t have to.”
“You don’t think it’ll work?”
“Well, no…” She trailed off at the sound of a door opening behind her. Turning around, she made out an older man with grey hair leaving the back room.
“Looks like Marissa’s all done,” Jessica said. “You can go ahead and see her now.”
Alison nodded. She gave a small smile to the older man as she passed him. Then she ducked into the small room.
“Alison,” Marissa exclaimed. She was sitting at the small table she used when she read cards. Several candles sat in the middle. Her hands were steadily shuffling the worn deck in front of her. “What’s goin’ on?”
“A lot, actually.”
“Come on, sit down,” Marissa offered. She climbed to her feet, reaching for a lamp and turning it on. “My eyes are killing me. I think I’m going to drop the candle effect. I feel like I’m going blind.”
“Maybe you should then.”
“Hey, what’s that?” Marissa asked, sitting back down. Her eyes fell to the athame Alison was pulling out of her purse. “That’s from here, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, Emily bought it for me the last time came over together.”
“That was sweet of her.”
“It was.” Alison stopped, holding it in front of her. She wasn’t sure how much she should say. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Marissa. She just didn’t think Marissa would believe her if she did tell her everything.
Greg chose that moment to pop in then. To Alison’s annoyance, he floated right through the wall, landing on Marissa’s couch. He waved and Alison tried to ignore him.
“Something weird happened last night,” Alison continued, turning her attention back to Marissa.
“There was a… a spirit in my house. It was holding this knife Emily gave me like it wanted me to do something with it. Then it handed the thing over to me itself.” It wasn’t really lying, Alison reasoned. Just paraphrasing a little. Otherwise, who knew how Marissa would take it if Alison told her it had been Death.
“That’s really creepy. You sure have a lot of scary stuff happen to you.” She asked, “Can I see it?”
Nodding, Alison handed it to her.
Marissa had barely held it for a second before she dropped it again, the knife clattering down on top of the table. The candles shook at the impact. “Damn that’s cold,” she said. “Did you keep it in your freezer?”
Alison stared at her blankly. “No.” What was Marissa talking about? She didn’t think it felt cold at all.
“Was it that bad?”
“It was like ice! I can’t believe you didn’t feel that.” She tapped it again with her index finger. “Feel it. It’s still there. See how cold it is?”
Alison leaned forward, touching it cautiously on the blade. It felt fine to her. “I don’t feel anything.”
“Weird.” Marissa stared at it for a moment before saying, “Want me to give you a reading? Maybe we can figure out what that spirit wanted you to do with it.”
“Sure, that sounds cool,” Alison said.
Nudging the knife out of her way, Marissa began shuffling the deck of cards once more. She set them down. “Your turn.”
Alison shuffled them clumsily in her hands, dropping two.
“That’s fine. Just put them back in,” Marissa said. “Now, cut the deck.”
She divided the deck into two equal piles. Marissa took them back into her hands. She lifted the top card of the deck, placing it facing up on the table. It was blank. Alison blinked. The card was completely white with nothing printed or written on it at all. “What’s that mean?” she asked.
Marissa had stopped moving, staring at the blank card in front of her. “I… I don’t know. I never had an empty card in my deck before.”
“Are you serious?”
Looking aghast, she said, “Seriously, I never saw that card before. I have no idea where it came from.” She set another card down. It was also blank. She frowned. Slowly, she set down the third card, which was the same as the first two. There were no pictures on the face of the three cards at all, no numbers, no shapes or figures. Marissa flipped the rest of the deck in her hand over, shuffling through the different suits. “I don’t get it. How the hell did that happen?” She showed the rest of the cards to Alison. “Look. The rest of them are normal. Where the hell did those cards come from?”
“I have no idea,” Alison replied doubtfully. This was actually freaky. She had seen Marissa shuffle them and Alison had shuffled and cut the deck herself afterwards. There was no way it could’ve been planned to work out like that. “Does it tell you anything?”
“Not at all,” Marissa replied. She stared at the three blank white cards in wonder. “Nothing like this ever happened to me before.”
“Do you think it’s a message?”
“It has to be,” her friend agreed. “But I don’t know what it’s trying to tell me. Usually, I get a… like a… picture in my head, but this doesn’t tell me anything. I can’t see anything.”
“I don’t believe it. I really don’t believe it.”