The Fortuneteller

For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
—2 Peter 1:21

You let your hair grow wild, slump down into the cave of your clothes, go native; you catch glimpses of your streets, your homeless poets, old faces nameless but familiar. It’s a postcard scene, not a window; a reminder of what you’ve lost, not the res ipsa. You might be a trophy on a Yellow mantel someplace, a toy for an old diabetic, but that’ll drive you crazy thinking about it, so mostly you don’t. You keep your eyes open, though it’s little enough.

You have a name down here, a reliable one. They come to you for advice. You set bones, break curses, tell fortunes, broker deals. You make your own cards, each a glimpse of the city you lost, of the people, and spread them out for whoever asks. You derive symbols of your own calculus; if they are unblessed by tradition, they are no less meaningful.

Two for the past, one for the present, two for the future: Babylon, Labyrinth, the Lion of Belfort reversed, the Cyborg, the Tower. The unsettled city of traitors, the inescapable path, the wine steward with a cup of poison; humiliation leading to growth, a goal never quite obtained.

“Yes,” you murmur to yourself, “that seems right.”


for Rachel Fleming

In the markets of Underground.

They sell memories, lists, images: paintings, filth, books half-written. Their collectors, clever-handed rats, comb through garbage cans and drainage ditches, old men’s faces pursed in disapproval. They do not bathe; human scent lies heavy as fog over their stalls and impregnates the things they sell.

You have found your way here by chance, all your carefully curated Art tossed aside. You turn at random, follow purposeful-seeming passersby, turn your eyes from street signs already half-obscure. You have been trapped in the strength of your own desire; perhaps in abandoning it you may reclaim it.

“Rage,” one cries, voice tinny through the translator. “Rage for sale.” Rage is a heavy flannel shirt, stained and wet, reeking of beer. You try it on for size; several sizes too small, it fits perfectly. “Never used.”

“How much?”

It looks at you while its collector curls around your ankles, wizened hands plucking at your socks. “Yours for the taking.”

You clench your hand; the shirt, warmed to you, cracks against your shoulders. There is something there… you reach for it, but it dissolves and you are alone in your office, wearing someone else’s clothing.

“Perhaps not,” you say.


This is an image post. Inspiration for this sketch came from this image.

You come to in the driver’s seat, hands steady on the wheel and the road throbbing away into darkness. You don’t think you’ve been asleep, but there’s a long empty stretch back of your eyes and you can’t push through it to the other side. What time is it? Where’s your city?

There’s nothing out there. The headlights throw you back a circle of trees, a ribbon of highway, jewelflash of animal eyes darting from shoulder to shoulder. No stars, no moon, just a dim red glow like a banked fire. Off on the horizon flashes of lightning. The car growls beneath you like a beast all teeth and wild hunger.

Morning catches you miles from anywhere. It’s been hours, and you haven’t seen a sign of anything you recognize, not so much as a telephone pole or stop sign. The gas gauge hasn’t dropped an inch in all that time, not so much as a flick of the needle, and you’re starting to figure things out. You’re not sure who whammied you, or why they wanted you out of the way, but you’re getting home if it kills you. You leave your shoes nailed to the red dirt of nowhere, and trace the anchor of their wandering back up the river of asphalt.

The Graduation

The old lady comes to you and says, good job, and are you going to give the gang back to her now? You think about it and think maybe not. You’re enjoying yourself for the first time in years and the feeling of power is intoxicating. So you tell her that and she looks at you with those little eyes like raisins and says maybe that’s smart and maybe that isn’t but in either case you should watch yourself from now on. You think why wait? and throw a comb on the street in front of her that grows into a thicket of telephone poles. She sends out a big wind, almost a hurricane, and knocks them all down. You maroon her in a pothole big enough to drown in and she skates across it like winter. You sink her in the earth; she bursts out of storm drains, sewer grates, fire hydrants. You show her her soul in a mirror and she breaks the glass, crunch, crunch, crunch into sand between her teeth. She lifts you miles up into the air and drops you; the angel Aiwass is there to catch you. She wipes you in fire; you swallow it and send it crackling back at her. It goes on for hours, maybe days, and in the end you’re both limp and spent, empty of everything.

Good, she says, good. Your apprenticeship is done. She stamps her foot and a door opens up in the pavement and she’s gone.

The Blitz

It’s a volatile situation, and you spend almost a year just watching it churn. The old lady knows the hoodoo racket inside and out, and leaves you to play the drugs and people angle however you want, though you never shake the feeling that she’s waiting for you to do something significant before she gives you the thumbs up or down. You play conservatively for that first year, tiptapping here and there against the other colors and letting them push you back and forth as they can. You take a couple of their convoys, because they all but fell into your lap, but mostly you work the status quo.

You strike a deal with the Blues, where they’ll help you run the Greens into the ground in exchange for killing the trade in their area. It’s an unpopular deal on your side – the trade in the warehouses is a huge part of your income – but you’re big enough now that anyone who kicks gets pinned back pretty thoroughly, and it goes through. It takes you a week to sweep all the Greens into the river; after that you’ve got the city to yourself.