burning candle near tarot cards on table

6. Oath

This entry is part 6 of 9 in the series Flash Fiction February

“This last card, Death, represents your future. But don’t worry, it’s not talking about your actual death. Death represents an ending and, possibly, a new beginning. However, when it’s reversed, as it is now, it’s the lack of that end. This card is saying that you are stuck, or there’s a danger that you might feel stuck in your near future. In this position, it’s warning you against inertia, against doing nothing to change your current situation. For you, allowing yourself to fall into this state is the real death. A slow death of the mind and body.” He steepled his fingers and flashed his winsome smile at his patron who was still staring at the cards in front of her, afraid to make eye contact with him.

This is how they always were after a reading. They come in, all energy and bustle, see the little sideshow freak giving tarot card readings. They giggle to their friends, each daring the other to get a reading done. Then one of them musters the courage to sit down across the table from the purple-skinned tiefling, stare uncomfortably into his sharp-toothed, cheshire grin, and get a reading. They were almost never ready for the result.

As much as Taliesin was an entertainer, and as much of the underlying mysticism of tarot was bullshit, there was never an intent to deceive or mislead his patrons. There was no sleight of hand, no fabricating meanings to match what the patron wanted to hear. That was the one thing he swore never to do. And the cards wouldn’t let him, anyway. The thing with tarot is, it’s not about the fortune teller. It’s never about the fortune teller. The fortune teller is as involved as a storyteller reading from a book to a circle of children. Taliesin just read what the cards gave him. It’s the cards that were uncannily accurate.

Sure, he was great at reading body language, at making mental leaps and assumptions based on the pregnant looks the patrons gave to their friends, always waiting in the wings. There’s a lot to be intuited from a furtive glance or uncomfortable laugh.And, yes, that did inform some of the readings. But that was just filler. That was the spice that layered the flavor of the dish. The cards were the cards, and they knew a lot more than they let on, innocuous as they seem stacked in the wooden box he kept them in.

He watched the girl uncomfortably reach out towards the cards again. Not touching them, he was pretty clear about that, and anyway, after that reading, she was almost afraid to get near them, as if they might jump up and bite her fingertips. Just…reaching. “Do you have any questions?” His eyes jumped to the crack in the tent flap, beyond which he knew a line was possibly growing and beyond which, too, was his lunch. And at least one very large glass of wine. Who was he kidding? A bottle of wine had his name on it tonight.

“Um, no. Th- thank you.” Still avoiding eye contact, she placed a handful of coins on the table, grabbed her things and practically ran out the door. Taliesin scooped up the money, tossed it into a pouch on his belt, and picked up the cards, already shuffling them in his hands. It always struck him how, despite not believing in the power of the cards, there was always something to shuffling them, an energy that radiated from them, especially after a reading. He shuffled, and shuffled, and as he did, he focused on clearing the last reading and emptying the cards for the next reading. The next one would be the last for the night. He was tired, and this one took a lot out of him. His bottle of pinot was waiting for him.

“Are you ready for another one?” he said to the cards. Or to no one, since the cards can’t actually hear him. They’re cards. They don’t actually have sentience.

“Oh yes,” they seemed to whisper. “Give me more.”

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