“Are you sure this is what you want?”

“Yes. I’d do anything to keep him safe!”

“Of course, you would.”

A cloud of incense hits them first. Their boisterous chatter ceases. The room is cluttered, lined with pools of fabric and flickering candles. The woman in the corner of the room greets them with her back. Half of her face is cloaked in shadow, and her bony fingers shuffle something incessantly.

Without pause, the woman suggests, “Take a seat.”

The teenaged trio blinks one, twice and dash to the table in the middle of the room. They sit in red-cushioned chairs as the woman approaches. She’s tall, quite pale, but her eyes are bright and vivid as she addresses the trio.

“You may call me Madam Dreama. I suppose you’re here to know what wealth awaits you.”

The trio nods. Madam Dreama raises an eyebrow and gestures to the table.

“Who shall go first?”

The shortest of the three is first to go. She’s round and pudgy in certain places, but she will do. The fortune teller smiles, eyes crinkling at the corners. She places five cards in an upper arc. She pulls back. The child hesitates. She smiles again, teeth sharp and ready for the bait.

“Go on, child, pick,” she ushers.

The girl picks the last card on the left and flips it. Madam Dreama grins, lips pulling slightly to one side.

The card is that of the Devil.

Seeing the girl’s subtle shock, she quickly explains, “The Devil represents, in the upright position, hidden forces that contain negativity and make you believe you are being restrained in some way. It’s not a unique card – we all have this inner force within us. It is our fears, addictions, and other harmful habits. The Devil is a master of deception and illusions. However, we freely give it power. That is its true nature.”

The girl leans back, brows furrowed in thought. “If you would like me to continue, I can,” Madam Dreama asks.

The girl shakes her head. “No? Fine. What about you, young man? May I read yours?”

The boy leans forward, and Madam Dreama takes it as a confirmation. She replaces the cards on the table with new ones. All in the same similar upper arc. The boy fumbles with one in the middle and flips it upright. She nods grimly.

“Death is one of the most feared and misunderstood cards. However, it is also one of the most fruitful and positive ones as well. Death means change, a transition. What you are now will no longer be. If you resist this change, everything will become physically and emotionally painful. It would be wise to heed its warning,” Madam Dreama answers and glances toward the last figure.

This girl is petite and small, fragile. Madam Dreama quirks an eyebrow, and the petite figure nods.

Madam Dreama snaps her fingers, and everything goes dark.

The pudgy one stirs awake first. Her eyelids drooping and fingers twitching. Her head is full of smoke. The room spins when she raises her head, but quickly, she drops back to her chest. She groans. Eyes barely open, the girl sees the floor with clearness now. She can tell it was once white, but something covers it. The substance has darkened now, and she smells copper in the air.

“Oh, God…” she croaks.

“Your God’s not here,” a voice from behind tickles her ears. It’s followed by a clank of metal on metal. The girl rolls her head to peer behind herself. The wall is white, and a sink and tray lies beneath it. The oh-so familiar substance splatters upon the pristine wall with the slick sound of cut. Some lands on her cheek. She jerks violently, pulling at the restraints on the chair. She groans and moans about God. She stops when she gazes upon an empty chair beside her. Its restraints have been cut.

“No, no… not him. Please,” she begs.

“He put up quite the struggle. I was afraid we were going to wake you,” the voice comments.

The girl’s eyes widen as Madam Dreama walks in front her. The fortune teller beams at the girl and drops the towel she’d been using. Kneeling down, Madam Dreama gazes upon her captive. Head cocked, she asks, “Can you see like he could?”

The girl’s eyes narrow; eyes searching for something of difference. It takes a moment, but she does see it. It’s almost like an illusion, a glitch you see in a game. Madam Dreama’s eyes are the same, bright and vivid. They do not change like the rest of the woman. Her skin is mismatched now, patched up. One side of a crimson smile is supposed to stay shut, but it isn’t. The stitches gone, and stained teeth take their place.

The room feels heavy. She is so sleepy. Head lolling once more, the girl mumbles, “What are you?”

“So, you can,” Madam Dreama scoffs and yanks the girl’s head up. The girl winces at the throbbing pain in her scalp. Madam Dreama holds up two fingers, eye level to girl. “Then allow me the privilege of taking that sight away,” she whispers and plunges her fingers into the girl’s eyes.

“You were damned from the time you walked into my abode.”

The last of the trio is home now, safe. She walks up the stairs of her home.

“Andy! Andy!” she calls, but the house is silent.

She shakes her head and approaches the door to her brother’s room. He’s lying on the bed with his back turned toward her.

“Andy…” she mutters and leans over him.

She roughly shakes him, but stumbles back when he flops on to her lap. She can feel it now. The coldness of his skin, empty and dead. She smacks a hand over her mouth.

“No, no...” she cries, seeing the hole where his heart should be. She throws the body of her brother onto the floor and sprints down the stairs.

“No! No! It wasn’t supposed to happen this way! You promised! We had a deal!” She screams into the thin air.

“We had a deal, and I fulfilled it.”

She swings around to the woman behind her. She jabs a finger into the woman’s torso and growls, “No. You promised to take care of him. He’s dead!

Madam Dreama grins at her. “And I did. I took care of him.”

“Not like this! You’re a monster!”

Madam Dreama’s grin lengthens. “Monster? I’m the monster?” she asks and takes a step forward, glaring down at the petite girl. “You bring me two bodies to feast upon, and you do so for the “greater good” - to save some soul that’s been damned since birth. And I’m the monster? How rich.”

“It’s not the same!”

“It’s always the same, Loraine. Always.”

Loraine grinds her teeth – How infuriating! It is not the same! No! She did this for her brother – Two people were worth it. Yes, they were worth it.

“You’re the one who is damned!”

Madam Dreama’s eyes grow brighter and more vivid, darkening the surrounding skin.

She snaps her fingers, and everything goes dark.

The woman sits on a red-cushioned chair, an elbow propped up on a table, and a stick of incense burning into an ashtray beside her. She shuffles a small stack of cards in her lap before reaching down and drawing one out. She flings it, watching it flutter onto the tabletop.

The Wheel of Fortune - Reversed.

She smiles sadly.

“Dear Loraine, the Wheel of Fortune reversed represents ups and downs, instability, and unpredictability. Traditionally, negligence and inconsistency. Sometimes cruel fate,” the fortune teller sighs.

“Apparent good fortune may not be so good after all.”

Madam Dreama snaps her fingers, and everything goes dark.

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