Peering into her crystal ball, Sybil sighed. Her double life wore on her. Jane wasn’t the only one in the partnership driven to pretense half her life. At least Jane was free to shed her shadow persona when she walked through the doors of their home. Not so, Sybil. It had begun innocently enough, back before they’d scraped together funds for their Belltown digs. Jane would motor up the freeway to her tortuous-but-rent-paying School for Scoundrels and Sybil was left at home, so unrecognized people had even forgotten she had her own last name. She wondered if she didn’t exist just as a drain on their meagre finances.
This was the dark scenario of her life until the fateful day she’d mused to herself, for the zillionth time, “If only I knew what the future held in store for us!” She couldn’t believe now how long it had taken to realize that, with her name (bestowed in honor of her great-aunt, a well-known Celtic conjuror) and her skill with glass, the answer to her questions lay as close as her studio.
First she made a simple mirror, silvered at the edge and watery as a pond when looked into by folk not gifted with the Sight. She pondered. Ruminated. Meditated. Believed she heard the answer. Then she set to crafting her first orb.
O! The orbs had all been things of beauty! She’d consult them, then sell them for whatever price they suggested to her. The sky was virtually the limit. It wasn’t long before she’d set up her busker’s booth at Harbor Steps, right across from the Seattle Art Museum and just a block from Pike’s Market. She found she couldn’t stay away from her new passion project. Sybil discovered she was a cross-marketing genius.
Sybil brought her well-worn Pamela Coleman Smith deck (an invaluable bequest from her great-aunt) as a prop, turbaned her hair, honed her fortune-telling trade with the well-heeled who passed by and thought nothing of dropping $100 to know when they’d be able to afford that special something to make life complete. She worked long hours, between the gallery, glass-blowing and busking, but she devised a schedule that put her in the booth starting at. In winter, of course, this meant setting up in the early afternoon, which did cut into gallery hours seasonally. She sighed again. The life of an entrepreneur was not for the meek or lazy.
Jane never knew the details of how Sybil spent her days. If anything, Jane had become more consumed with the school as the years went on. Oh, Sybil would still ask her to come home from work early whenever possible, would still joke with her about the incompetence of Jane’s peers, but – ultimately – it had led to this. Separate lives. Jane thought they were living a dream, which was right enough in its way. Mostly because Jane would not wake up.
While Sybil developed her divining craft with paying customers, she had grown to realize she truly had the ability to discover what the future held for them. She had a gift with the crystal ball and cards, a reality that became more clear to her every time she put out her placard. Sybil came to know not only the secrets of strangers but also the undisclosed sins of her wife’s naive youth. And the far more salacious sins of her present moment. That Sybil held interest and access to the photo albums, diaries, computer files stored at home enhanced her prescience.
Sybil’s moonlighting had led to a fast friendship with that wicked, wicked witch to the north, Helen Hannah Martin. Their friendship had blossomed so that Helen was the only person who knew of Sybil’s double life. This confidence inspired Helen to refer more than one “student” her way. Apprentices, they could be called. Spending time near the Scoundrel campus, in turn, gave Sybil more time to stalk her wife. All Jane’s hours away from home did not bode well for a relationship – she didn’t need a crystal ball to tell her that.
Small wonder that Alex Porter, Ace reporter for the Fort Landers Daily Mail, was on the scene, even now investigating the case of little miss Annabelle the Tree-Hugging Anarchist. True, now Annabelle been found, but there was still unraveling to be done regarding the who, what and where of Annabelle’s mislaid hours. Troy could still cover the aftermath of the cantankerous Cascadia subduction zone, a story that was not new but seemed to be seldom read. Over the years, Alex had become one of Sybil’s steadiest clients in the fortune-telling booth.
Some said the Daily Mail was a dying, ill-edited rag and that those who still received their paltry paychecks courtesy of the Daily’s dastardly parent company GateKeeper Media, had sold their souls. Alex had considered selling his soul for any scoop that might land him a gig sufficiently lucrative to pay the bills. Alex had found a better, a more stellar story-telling source in Sybil. Much of Sybil’s insider information stemmed from time spent listening intently as an eccentrically garbed but invisible woman of a certain age. Alex didn’t care, and so he didn’t ask, how she knew what she knew.
A word from Sybil into Alex’s ear at the opportune moment gave him the advantage of proximity to many a strong lead. Some wondered at his “nose” for a story, the more generous attributing it to a newsman’s ability to scent and unearth, much like woodland creatures. Alex himself attributed it to Sybil’s predictions. In the current confusion at her beloved’s workplace, Sybil’s source had been a breathy phone call, received just a few days earlier.
“Oh, my God, I mean, Goddess, I don’t want to offend you, Sybil. I can’t be bothered to be PC right now. My baby has been kidnapped! I need you to check your orb, or your oracle, or whatever. There should still be plenty left on your retainer, but if not, I’ll get Jack to pony up. What do you see? What do you see?”
Ever the accomplished soothsayer, Sybil sought to convey her own centeredness through the ether. Emerald was a hot mess under the best of circumstances. She was a typical client, showing up for readings whenever crises loomed. The last time Sybil gave Emerald a reading was the very afternoon she and her beau-du-jour had been driving to SEATAC for a flight to St. Bart’s. Emerald had spent the better part of her 50 minute reading spilling the tea about some wild scheme to have her own daughter kidnapped.
“Not really kidnapped, you know sweetie. Just to have her show up missing long enough we’ll force the school to waive her tuition fees, making me the financial hero for once and not the one Annabelle accuses of unfairly exploiting her father. Not that he can’t afford it. Not that she hasn’t always been a daddy’s girl who gives him every benefit of the doubt. He’s weak, Sybil, you know that. Jack is weak and weak men cannot be trusted.”
Oh Goddess. Emerald was off an a rant about the ex and her daughter was missing.
“Emerald….” Sybil’s voice held warning. It had taken years to cultivate the timbre required to telegraph notes of the ominous to the unhinged.
Emerald had the grace to blush a satisfying crimson. She had begun again.
“Of course, we’ll make certain Annabelle comes to no harm, but it’s sure to be teach her a little lesson. More importantly, once she’s in that school, her college admission essays will pop to the top, what with the media attention she’s sure to get. The Seven Sisters will be elbowing each other out of the way to get her on their rolls!”
Sybil didn’t like to judge, indeed, Sybil was the first to admit she was professionally unqualified to make a medical diagnosis, but she was pretty sure Emerald had a personality disorder. The woman was up one second and down the next with plans more half-baked than the cookies coming out of the Martin kitchen.
But that confession of Emerald’s had been in person and she’d left Sybil’s table seeming to have abandoned the kidnapping of her own daughter.
Now Emerald had phoned Sybil from an ocean away telling her that the daughter had disappeared. Sybil struggled to make sense of that conversation with Emerald, but the call kept dropping and Annabelle’s mother had skittered from one convoluted sentence to another when they’d reconnect.
“Slow down, slow down Emerald. So, Annabelle has gone missing and – this isn’t part of the faux kidnapping plan you were telling me about?”
“No! No! Someone else got to her first!”
“So, I assume you’ll be coming right home. It will be easier for me to get a read once you’re here.”
“Maybe.” Emerald paused. Or had the call dropped again? “I just went through all this with Zeph. Now I’m worried about her, but maybe I don’t have to be. She’s a clever little thing. She got my brains, thank God. I mean Goddess. I am so sorry Sybil, I really don’t mean to offend. That’s why I want you to look in your ball. Tell me if she’s okay. Did she just disappear herself? I wouldn’t put it past her, I don’t know where she gets her unpredictable nature, Just….”
“Look Emerald, you have to come home. It’s the right thing to do.”
“So you can see the spirits want me to come home? You’re sure?”
This was Sybil’s least favorite part of her job as a clairvoyant. People were always trying to get you to let them off the hook in the name of what the Cosmos wanted. The Cosmos didn’t want you to cut down trees, steal land, indulge in insider trading or shaft your neighbor. Although she had clients who wanted her to assure them that, in fact, the Cosmos was in favor of these very things.
Sybil cleared her throat, summoning her most authoritative voice.
“Emerald. This is very upsetting news about Annabelle. I’ll do a reading to find her, In fact, I’ll personally go up to the school today. I’ll see if I can find an article of clothing to help guide the spirits to her whereabouts. I’ll move heaven and earth to get it. But jump on the next plane out, Emerald. Buck up. The spirits and I are pulling for you.”
Now, the earth had moved, Emerald had returned home, and Sybil sat in her car at the edge of the woods. She might have second sight, but she couldn’t believe what was in front of her eyes.