A CERTAIN FUTURE • by Karl Lykken

“When one’s eye is so often focused on the future, one cannot always gaze clearly into the past, so please remind me, my dear, have I read your fortune before?” I ask her. She curls her lips into a strained smile, and slowly shakes her head. I guess I didn’t need to ask; I tend to remember the mopes like this girl. I’ll have to keep my predictions positive just to be sure she doesn’t start blubbering. I motion to the chair across the table from me. “Well, have a seat then, my dear, and we’ll see what your future holds.”

I glance at her hands as she sits down and notice the tan line on her ring finger. That could explain her gloom. I’ll tell her she’ll meet someone better, but I won’t start with that. I’ll focus on her career first. I take the cover off of my crystal ball and start rubbing it all over. “Ah, very interesting.”

“What’s interesting?” she asks, her eyes sweeping me over. I don’t know why she seems so focused on me; this is supposed to be all about her. But what about her? What should I say? I try to take in as much about her as I can while I look up from the crystal ball. She’s wearing a long skirt and has a bunch of wooden bracelets dangling from her wrists, but it’s the picture of Shakespeare on her ragged t-shirt that gives it totally away: she’s a struggling writer.

“I see a book in your future—a book coming from you but then being dispersed to millions of people. You write a bestseller, my dear.”

“Really?” She sounds incredulous. I guess she doesn’t have much faith in herself. It’ll take some work for me to cheer her up I guess.

“Yes, my dear, you write a bestseller, but what you get from that isn’t just fame and fortune. You find love—the love of a wonderful, caring man whom you meet on one of your book tours. Yours is a—”

“Forever love?” she interjects, her voice thick with malice. That was what I was going to say, what I commonly say to lovesick girls. But how did she know that?

“Yes, my dear, a forever love,” I reply, maintaining my composure.

“Tell me, have you ever known a forever love?” she inquires bitterly.

I don’t need this. I’m just trying to perk her up a little and she’s gonna start coming after me. “I’ve known the loves in the futures of my clients, felt those loves as clearly as they will come to feel them in time.”

“And how much time are we talking?”

She’s really getting on my nerves now. “That is unclear. I see what the future holds, but the powers that be aren’t so forthcoming as to give me a schedule.”

“I lied to you earlier,” she says, rising to her feet. “I have been here before. About three years ago. You told me that my love with my fiancée was a forever love, that the book I was working on was a bestseller in the making. And even though I knew better, knew that fortune telling is a bunch of bullshit, I still believed you. I was so sure of it that I quit my teaching job to work on my novel full time. But it didn’t sell. It didn’t even get published. And I couldn’t get my job back. And my forever love, my fiancée, decided he needed a wife who could support him, support his art, his dreams. So he left me, and he left me with nothing.” The tears begin to stream from her eyes.

“I’m so sorry, my dear, but I—”

“You what?” she snarls. “You didn’t mean for your predictions to be taken seriously? I should have known it was all in good fun? Well, we’ll have a little fun now. We’ll see if you can’t predict what I’m gonna do next.”

She reaches into her purse and pulls out a pistol. I jump to my feet, knocking over my chair as I back away from her. This can’t be happening. I don’t deserve this. I’m sorry things didn’t work out for her, but it’s not my job to know the future. It’s my job to make people feel better, to get people excited about their futures, and I’ve done that for so many people. I did it for her. I tried to help her. I’m a good person. Why is this happening to me? “Please! Please, no! I don’t want to die! I’m so sorry! I just wanted to help! Please don’t kill me!”

She breaks into hysterical laughter. “You lose the game! You guessed wrong! I’m not going to shoot you!” She puts the pistol in her mouth. I may not be psychic, but I can predict her future now.

Or not. She withdraws the gun from her mouth and cracks a smile. “You lose again.”

I don’t understand. Is she just crazy? Is she going to shoot me after all? God, what have I done to deserve this? “What do you mean?” I ask.

“I thought about doing this for months after Robbie left me. I wanted to show you what you’d done to me, how you’d hurt me. I thought about it day after day until I finally wrote it all down into a novel, and this one got published.  It just made The New York Times Best Sellers list this morning. Just thought I’d come by and let you know.” She widens her smile before slipping her gun back into her purse and strutting out the door.

I can’t stop shaking. I guess she is crazy. But then, perhaps I’ll keep my guesses to myself.


When not scouring the Gobi for death worms or munching on tarantulas in Siem Reap, Karl Lykken writes both fiction and software in Texas. He is currently working on his first novel (isn’t everyone?) and on a vocab-building joke book.


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  • MPmcgurty

    Haha! I have to admit I was a little pessimistic about this when I read “…her eyes sweeping me over.” Unless you mean that she actually knocked you off your feet, this perhaps should be “…her eyes sweeping over me.”

    I was half-bored, thinking I knew the ending, until the woman says, “I lied to you earlier.” The rollercoaster that follows that line is marvelous. It’s been a long time since something on this site truly surprised me as this one did.

    Pretty good voice, too. Good job, and thanks.

  • nell cox

    The story caught me by surprise. It had a surprising ending. However, very good.
    I enjoyed it very much.

  • S Conroy

    Rollercoaster is the right word (@MPmcGurty). Starts of deceptively slowly, but once it gains speed there’s no stopping it. Well done.

  • CTowns

    Sometimes I like the comfort of knowing exactly where a story is going, but more often I really like to be surprised. This has suspense and plot-twist done right–especially for such a short story.

    To echo the other comments: Excellent work.

  • joanna b.

    I enjoyed this. the surprise ending was a surprise to me. and i liked the twists along the way. the one thing i knew too early was that the girl had been to this fortune teller before. nonetheless, 5 stars for a good read.

  • I loved that her shirt with Shakespeare on it shows that she’s a struggling writer – that part cracked me up. Excellent story!

  • Paul A. Freeman

    “Never write about writers.” That’s another old chestnut knocked on the head. Very enjoyable.

  • monksunkadan

    Just a snappy piece of flash. I enjoyed this story on every level it got to and loved the ride all the way. Thanks Karl for a story that brightened my day. I needed it.

  • Oh yes this is really good. I enjoyed the story. I liked the way it was told.

  • judy

    Wow…..unique, clever, surprising.I want to read more Karl.

  • Absolutely delightful. Well done. Unique. Ending certainly not anticipated, and that’s hard to do. I always look for the STORY first. It’s definitely a story. Easy five.

  • Misty Grey

    Yes, “… sweeping me over” was awkward, but the story was good. How you achieved so much depth of content with so few words is beyond me. This is a story I will remember.

  • Chinwillow

    Woohoo!!!and well done!

  • onomas

    Things that worked well for me
    -Suspense increased until the last line.
    -Left me wondering. In the good sense.
    -All the action/dialogue contributed constructively; nothing superfluous.
    -Clever character development for 1000 words. Very compact. By the time we finish we have a clear picture of the characters and how they changed/revealed themselves.
    -The ending was plausible, or at least possible, and flowed directly from the setup. I never felt the story was contrived or forced.

  • Multiple surprise endings were a good idea. Starts off with a deceptive Updike/Cheever voice that meandered into something else, but still a work that echoed theirs until the multiple ending.

    Shakespeare shirt line held true for me. Hopefully that means my Einstein shirt does, too.

  • MaryAlice

    That was fun, Karl, but what really interests me is your vocab-building joke book. I’d stand in line to buy it. It has movie possibilities, too. Keep us posted.

  • Nice job! Didn’t see the twist at the end coming. lol Run, fast read. That girl was nuts, but I guess it’s a good thing her life wasn’t in shambles after all