Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

FLASH Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 29

“You can have your money back; just please go,” the psychic says to me.

Madame Esmeralda is more window dressing than even cynical ole me was expecting. Still, I wanted answers, so I was ready to try anything when I arrived here at their modest-sized storefront in North Dallas just over an hour ago.

I’ve been having troubling dreams. Dreams of a woman that I don’t know dying in front of me. And what is most troubling, by my hands. For three weeks now, five nights out of seven, at least, I’m strangling this strange woman in my dreams.

I wake night after night in a cold sweat.

The dream has zero other context. It begins with my hands around the woman’s slender neck, struggling, eyes bulging, her pale skin gradually turning blue. It ends with her corpse under me. Then I awake. There might be superficial differences between replays of the dream, but none are significant enough for me to tease out what they are.

Once she’s lifeless is when her neon green hair drives me crazy. I mean, come on, who has neon green hair! Not that that is a reason to kill her.

The weirdest thing about the dream is that it doesn’t fade. Every detail, regardless of how minor, is burned into my brain. And unlike my other dreams, which grow hazy and evaporate if I don’t review them promptly, I can recall every brutal second of it. Dream time isn’t actual time, I know, but if I had to guess, I would say that I perceive the dream to be four minutes 37 seconds. That’s weird, that precision.

But the weirdest thing about the dream is I only have an instant of guilty feelings. Each time I dream the dream, I review it upon waking, looking for any discrepancy from the previous occurrence. And each time I finish replaying the dream, I grow calmer, not more agitated. That troubles me because I feel it should bother me more. In short, I’m bothered by not being bothered.

But what does my dream mean?

I don’t believe in precognition, and I don’t recognize the woman. I suppose she could be a projection. Some constructed recipient of some inner anger, but I can’t diagram it out in a way that makes sense. And while I’ve always been skeptical of psychic phenomenon, divination, and all things new-age, I’m way more distrustful of psychiatrists and counselors. So I thought I would try the former first. When I did a GOOGLE search for psychics in my area, I found one for Reginald the Magnificent. Even the name makes me feel like a country bumpkin, a rube, at a county fair a million years ago, a caricature from a morality play. Just eager to be fleeced of my last nickel. Still, if Reginald can provide any insight into my dream, then it will be money I don’t regret spending. I will tell none of my friends that I spent money at a psychic either, but that’s another matter.

I arrive ten minutes early for my reading. I enter the office. The woman sitting behind the counter tells me her name is Princess Esmeralda. She tells me that Reginald has taken ill, and she is standing in for his afternoon appointments. I glance down at her open appointment book. I see only one booking for the entire day, mine.

Princess Esmeralda, which I’m suspecting is not her actual name, is selling the gypsy angle with her wardrobe choices. She is bedazzled with gold and silver, jangly jewels and baubles.

I tell her that is fine. It’s my first reading, so I’m happy with either Reginald or Esmeralda. She hands me a clipboard with a form and a pen; she asks me to fill it out.

I look over the form. It’s pretty standard stuff. Not asking me to put my social security, which I wouldn’t, but it is asking for my full name, phone number, and address.

Are you kidding me? Could you imagine a more transparent attempt to glean information? I give you this info; then you enter it into one of your multiple monthly fee subscription services, and – voila! Suddenly you are getting a vision of a $2,419.38 balance on a credit card. Which by the time it gets formatted for rube consumption becomes ‘I see you are having some financial stress in your life.’

I enter a fake name and pay the $75 in cash. I wasn’t born yesterday.

I figure Madame Esmeralda will excuse herself at this point to head to the back where she can do her preliminary research on me in private, but she only scans the information then lays the clipboard on the desk. She then steps out from behind the counter, locks the front door, and tells me to follow her to the back.

Still, there are ways. Esmeralda might have an accomplice. But they aren’t getting anything unfairly out of me. If she’s a psychic, then she should be able to see it, right? I don’t feel bad at all about lying on the form.

I follow Esmeralda into the sheep-shearing room. The place where the suckers are separated from their money. She sits on the far side of the table. I sit with my back to the door – which I don’t like. I nearly laugh when I see the obligatory crystal ball.

Wow! People are gullible, I guess. Whatever! Let the reading begin!

I’m already questioning this appointment. But there’s something about Esmeralda I find either alluring or familiar. I can’t decide which. Her hair is midnight black, but that might be a wig. She seems pleasant and sincere, but this field has got to be crawling with unethical folks ready to take advantage of people.

She begins the reading. There are a few gentle questions that might be subtle pumps for information. She is good and but I am not volunteering anything. She’s the psychic, after all! If she is, then she can tell me about my dream.

Our reading continues.

Finally, Esmeralda turns to the crystal ball. It must be her ‘big-gun.’ She’s struck out with all her questions. The ball must be the deal closer for most people that sit where I’m sitting now. Still, it is an impressive prop. It seems to fill with light and smoke. I admit it; I am impressed by whatever technology is behind the ruse.

I sit patiently while Madame Esmeralda studies the torrent of smoke and light inside the tiny glass sphere.

“I see a great evil here,” she says. Then her skin turns ashen, and she stops talking.

I saw the moment her guard went up. I don’t understand the angle she’s working here. She already has my money. The reading has already lasted thirty minutes. Why doesn’t she offer me some generic platitudes that will make me feel good about myself?. Or assure me that the dream is nothing with which to concern myself? What does she care?

“I don’t think I can help you today,” Esmeralda says. “I’m so sorry.”

I know I’m being played, but she is good at what she does.

“But you, um, you obviously saw something in your … crystal ball! What did you see?” I press her.

“It’s nothing. My spirit guide isn’t being cooperative today. Some days are like this,” she says with an apologetic shrug.

I am deeply impressed now. Esmeralda doesn’t try upselling me a ‘deluxe’ service, which is only an extra $75. Instead, she shuts down, hard.

That or, and this is just laughable; she is a legitimate psychic.

“No, I want to know about my dream! You promised me, or Reginald did, that I would have some answers, and I want my answers. Please,” I say. I project panic and frustration; the sort of customer that might leave a bad Yelp review. She won’t turn me away now; damn it, I deserve my platitudes!

She looks down at her lap for a second.

“You can have your money back; just please go,” she says to me as she rises to her feet.

She moves past me towards the exit.

Something in me snaps, something primal and raw. I’m not doing this. It is happening through me.

With no conscious involvement in my actions, I am on her. I throw her to the floor. I fall on her, straddling her, wrap my hands around her neck. I throttle her. A part of me knows I should be embarrassed or even apologetic, but I’m more fascinated by the experience of being a puppet. I do not know who’s pulling my strings.

I’m so possessed; I don’t recognize the irony. I’m throttling the woman I would hope might give me answers to why I am having visions of throttling a woman. It’s a circular, dizzying track with no beginning and no end.

After fifteen seconds, she loses consciousness. But I keep on. After a few minutes, something shifts in her, and I sense she is dead. I sit back and consider my crime. I am remarkably calm, considering I’ve just murdered a woman.

I lean forward to close her eyes. It feels like the respectful thing to do.

When I wipe the hair from her eyes, I see she wears a wig. I pull it from her head; her neon green hair has been tied back neatly in an intricate, compact arrangement of braids that must have taken hours to complete.

Oh, great! I’m sure the dream will never leave me now!

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