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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