My new book, The Fissure King–A Novel In Five Stories

is a noir fantasy, rather than a book about divination or Tarot, but it does have one scene with a Tarot reading that I had a lot of fun writing, and thought I might share it here.

It comes in a long flashback towards the end of the book, where we learn how the hero, Jack Shade, became a “Traveler,” the order of magicians, shamans, witches, and sorcerers who go back to the very beginnings of humanity, but who are also completely modern (they have their own dark web, for instance, called Jinn-net, and special apps on their phones). In the flashback we learn how young Jack never felt he belonged where he was, and how this leads him to run off with a carnival that comes to his town.

But first, the head of the carnival tells Jack he should get his fortune told from the carny’s resident fortune teller, Madame Clara.

So here is the scene:

The fair lasted six nights, Tuesday to Sunday. On the third night Jack worked out who ran things, a tall white man, skinny, with thinning hair and black-rimmed glasses. He wore black jeans and a white shirt, unbuttoned at the neck, and with the sleeves rolled up. A lot of the time he sat on a wooden stool near the ring toss, but every now and then he would stroll around the booths and machines. He had a trick of seeing everything while looking at nothing. Some of the workers called him “Marty,” but most said “Mr. Green.”
On the fourth night, with half the crowd at the costumed pig contest, Jack went up to Marty Green, who was sitting on his stool, looking at spread sheets. “Excuse me, Mr. Green?” Jack said.
For a couple of seconds Green seemed not to notice, then he slowly lifted his head. “Yeah?”
“Umm, there’s a guy in a brown suit walking around. I think he’s a cop.”
“Really? You don’t say.”
Shit, Jack thought. Green knew that, of course he did. Like all sixteen year old boys, the one thing Jack hated most was humiliation. He was about to leave when Green asked “What’s your name, kid?”
“Jack. Jack Shade.”
“Huh. Sharp-eyed Jack. You’re okay, kid. Thanks.” He went back to his spread sheet. Jack didn’t know what to do, so he started to walk away. Without looking up, Green said “Did you get your fortune told?”
“Nah,” said Jack, “I don’t believe in that stuff.”
“Yeah? Well, you might want to try it. And tell Clara it’s on me.”
“I can pay for it.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Umm, okay. Thanks.”
He didn’t visit Clara until the next night, the fifth. It was Saturday, and crowded, and Jack had to wait online behind a group of white girls his age—they managed to shoot glances at him, and he managed not to notice—and a middle-aged grim-faced Latina woman. Jack tried to guess what she’d come to ask, and almost immediately he could hear her tight voice in his head: “I want to know if my husband is cheating on me.”
Finally it was his turn through the velvet curtain. The booth was flimsy, aluminum sides and roofs that could be set up easily and taken down, but the walls inside were covered with the same symbols as outside. Mme. Clara herself was a short dark-skinned white woman in a shimmery long blue dress, with several fake silver necklaces and a transparent blue scarf draped over her dyed black hair. Jack figured she was supposed to be a Gypsy, but she looked a lot like Mrs. Parke, his homeroom teacher, who was a light-skinned brunette, so he figured Clara had dyed her hair and used a tanning bed. He kind of liked the idea of a white woman who made herself look darker. On a small wooden table in front of her, covered in a black cloth with yellow stars, sat a small crystal ball on a white cushion, a teapot and an empty cup, some thin sticks, and a pack of cards face down. A sign pinned to the cloth declared “Mme. Clara, Sees All! Tells all!” and then in smaller letters, “For entertainment purposes only.”
As Jack sat down on the wooden chair across from her the woman said, in an obviously fake accent, “Good evening. How may Mme. Clara help you?”
Jack said “I want to know what I should do.”
She nodded, “Ah. I sense a girl is involved.”
“What? No. That’s not—I just—some weird shit has been happening, and I want to know what to do about it.”
She looked a bit uncertain, then said, “Do you wish tea leaves? Or the palm? With such a deep question, perhaps only the cards will do.”
Jack guessed that the cards cost the most. “Sure,” he said. She was just picking up the deck when he added, “Oh, Mr. Green, Martin, he wanted me to tell you that this was on him.”
She hesitated a second before picking up the deck. “Very well,” she said. She began to mix the cards.
Jack said “Shouldn’t I be doing that?”
“Oh no,” she said, her accent thicker than ever. “Only reader must touch cards.” Quickly, as if she wanted to get it over with and return to people who were paying, she set down six cards. Some of them just looked like a collection of swords or cups, but the others looked like old-fashioned paintings, with titles he could read, even upside down. One, called the Lovers, showed some guy standing between a couple of women, with Cupid about to shoot an arrow at the poor sucker. The second, called the Wheel of Fortune, showed a bear turning the crank on a big wooden wheel, with monkeys in clothes going up one side and down the other. Jack wondered if it was a circus act. The third was that “Juggler” guy.
Carla just glanced at the cards and then said, “You are a good person, brave, but the people in your life do not understand you. They do not see the true you. You will face many hardships in life, but also joy. You will find a great love, lose it, and find another.”
“What?” Jack said. “You’re talking shit. You could say that to anybody.”
Clara glared at him. “How dare you? I have told fortunes for the great and powerful. I—”
“There’s a cop walking around outside. You want me to get him and tell him you’re scamming people?”
She crossed her arms and smirked. “Go ahead,” she said, her accent slipping. “He got his cut already. Besides, how could I scam you when you didn’t pay anything?”
“That’s right,” Jack said. “Mr. Green sent me here. How do you think he’ll like it if I tell him you just used your standard shit on me?” He leaned forward. “Do it for real. Come on.”
Her hands trembled slightly as she picked up the cards she’d turned over, put them back, shuffled the deck, cut it into three stacks, put them back together, and shuffled some more.
“Quit stalling,” Jack said.
“Shut up. You want this ‘for real,’ you have to let me do it.” Finally she turned over four cards. The Juggler was there again, and the Lovers, but now Death, which showed a skeleton wearing a cloak and wielding a scythe, and then the Moon, with a couple of wolves or dogs howling at the Moon. She stared at them, then murmured “You have abilities you might not know about.”
“I’m starting to guess.”
“You will learn. Someone—someone will train you. And then you will find love. And believe you are happy.”
“Love.” The idea seemed remote to Jack. He just wanted to know where he belonged.
She said, “But you will lose almost everything. I’m sorry.” Jack shrugged. “And wander. In…strange places.” Now her hand hovered over the deck, uncertain, it seemed, whether to turn over another card. Finally, she did, then jerked her hand away as if the card had caught fire. “Fuck!” she said.
“What?” Jack said. “What’s wrong?” He stared at the card. It was called “The Drowned Sailor,” and showed the body of a man washed up face down on a beach. “What is it? What does it mean?”
“No, no,” she said. “It’s not what it fucking means. It just shouldn’t be here.”
“Why not?”
“Because it doesn’t exist! It’s not part of the deck.”
Jack frowned. “What do you mean?”
She placed a fingertip on the face down pile. “This is the Tarot deck. Seventy-eight cards. Four suits of fourteen cards each, plus twenty-two extras. Got that?” Jack nodded. She held up The Lovers. “See this? Number six. Six out of twenty-two.” She reached for The Drowned Sailor, but only pointed at it. “What is this one? What’s the goddamn number?”
Jack leaned over to see better, and noticed that Clara pulled back, as if afraid he’d touch her. “XXV,” he said, “twenty-five.”
“Right! But there’s only twenty-two of them! It’s not part of the deck.”
“So what? You slipped it in with the others.”
“No, no, no. It doesn’t—Please listen. This card, this thing, was not in the deck when we started. And if I put it back, and we look through the whole deck, it won’t be there. I swear.”
Jack said, “But what does it mean?”
Carla pulled away. “Oh no,” she said.
“What? Tell me.”
“You didn’t say ‘that’s ridiculous,’ or call me a liar. Or a crook.” Jack stared at her. “Oh Jesus,” she said, “you’re one of them, aren’t you?”
“One of what?”
“A Traveler.”
If you want to be a traveler too…
Jack said, “What is a traveler?”
“You think I can tell you that?”
“Then you’re not—”
“I’m just a fucking fortune teller.” In her fake accent, she said “Knows all, tells all.”
“Then tell me what this means. This card you say you’ve never seen before.”
In her normal voice again she said, “I didn’t say that. I’ve seen it once. And before that I heard about it. From other readers. I didn’t believe it, of course. I figured they were screwing with me. And then there it was.”
“So what does it mean?”
She closed her eyes a moment, concentrated. “There is someone—someone you need to find. Not now. You will know when it happens. Something with water. And loss.” She stopped.
“Great. That’s it?”
“I’m sorry.”
“Take another one.”
“Another card. Come on.”
She sighed. “I don’t think that it will—” She stopped as she picked up the next card, looked at it, then dropped it as if it was on fire. “What the fuck?” she said.
“Christ,” Jack said. He looked down at an ornately dressed woman riding in a chariot drawn by a pair of swans. A crown adorned her head, and in her outstretched hand she held an enormous eye that seemed to stare at the viewer. “Don’t tell me,” he said. “Another card that doesn’t exist?”
“Yes,” she whispered. Then, her voice rough, “I don’t know what this is. I’ve never even heard of it.”
Jack said, “Well, gee, let me guess. She’s wearing a goddamn crown, and holding an eye, so maybe she’s the Queen of Eyes.”
Clara said “What did you do to my cards?”
Jack threw up his hands. “That’s it. Enough of this shit. You can’t tell me anything, can you? But even as he got up to leave, he knew it wasn’t true. In his mind, he heard her say “You’re one of them. A Traveler.”
Outside the booth, a small line of people were waiting for their fortunes to be told. “Don’t waste your time,” he said. “She’s nuts.” They all stared at him but didn’t step from their places.

Published in: on November 3, 2017 at 3:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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