Bad: A Memoir of Good & Evil
Couldn't Call It Unexpected
Cyn & Tangents
Lead Paint Double Date Set Diaries
Moving to Mars
New Roman Times
Saint Red
Suspension of Disbelief
What Fools


New Roman Times
Part 2 - Biweekly Reading

By Jordan D. White

I closed the shop early for lunch that Thursday. 10:45. Some punk I had been trying to avoid for the last week or so caught me off guard, and I was closing to get rid of him. I had figured he was some sort of teenybopper magic poseur, but it turns out he was a medium, just coming into his own, trying to figure out what the hell was going on in the world. I took a chance and traded him a big book on auras for his… wrist thing. Sure, he was inexperienced, but still. I was thrilled at the prospect, obviously, since the last medium I'd had in my pocket had recently become… unreachable, shall we say. And it's always good to have a medium at your disposal. Once he'd gone I figured I might as well shut down anyway- I'd already started, and besides, an acquisition like this was cause for a celebration. It just left me with a little time to kill before my appointment.

There had only been two new acquisitions that morning- Rituals of the Black Continent, a 19th century book covering African tribal magic, and Divining the Gods, a book specializing on ways to tell the differences between similar Deities. Wondering which Thunder God is raining on your parade? This is the book for you. I grabbed both books and dropped them into the drop slot for processing, a gentle 'shush' emanating from the opening as they slid down into the nether regions of the building.

I grabbed my purse and headed out the front door, pulling down the shutter and locking up as I went. The bum was hanging around outside, same bum that had been lounging about for the last few weeks. He was enormously tall, so sitting slouched on the sidewalk leaning against the outside of the building his knees were at the same height as his head. He smiled knowingly when he saw me. I frowned.

"What are you sticking around for, anyway? I don't appreciate you encouraging young punks to waste my time." Of course, I was actually very lucky he had urged the boy to keep trying, but I wasn't going to let him know that- I don’t appreciate others nosing in on my affairs uninvited. Either way, he paid me no nevermind.

I went over to the shopping cart he had chained up to a nearby bike rack and grabbed a hold of the side of it. "You hear me?" I said, "Who are you? What do you want?" Much to my surprise, I found I didn't know the answer to my questions.

"Not mine," said the bum, his grin revealing his filthy teeth. "Belongs to a supermarket over on the jut. Just been borrowing it"

I released the cart. "You've come a long way from the jut," I said. "What do you want here?"

"I'm not from the jut," he said. "The cart is."

"That doesn't answer my question."

"No, it doesn't," he said, closing his eyes.

"I hope it rains," I said as I gave up and walked away.

It was early for lunch, but I was in a good mood, so I treated myself to a sit down breakfast of eggs and sausage at a diner on the corner of Moore and Kaufman. Afterwards, I headed another block south to pop in on a friend and get a drink. It looked like a real run down dive from the outside- and it was, but it was one of a very few places where those of us in the know tended to congregate. A small wooden sign hung from a metal post over the door. "Ancient Spirits", it read. I opened the door and headed down the stairs into the windowless bar. A few customers were scattered around the place. The lighting was dim, but I could see well enough to know that I'd seen them all before.

"A bit early for you, isn't it, Des?" came a voice from the bar.

I smiled and headed over. "Why hello there, Kel." Kelly O'Riordan stood behind the bar wiping his hands on a washcloth. "For your information I didn't come to drink. But I might as well, since I'm here."

"Coming right up," he said, pouring me a rum and coke. "You look happy."

"I am," I said. I lowered my voice. "I think I've discovered a new medium."

Kelly was a friend. He'd inherited the bar about five years ago when his father, Mike, has died. I'd known them both for a number of years before that. Kelly was one of the few people I actually considered a friend, one I actually trusted. Of course, that might be because I had made an effort to never get him involved in business, no matter what. Mike had been fairly powerful in his youth, but as he got older, he'd given up all his magics. Never taught Kelly so much as a charm.

"Jesus Christ, Desiree!" he said. "Way to mourn! It's been, what, three weeks?"

"Charlie isn't dead," I said.

"Not for lack of trying," he said. "What do you need this one for, anyway? What have you gotten yourself into?"

"Nothing, nothing," I said. "I didn't seek this one out, he just fell into my lap."

"He wouldn't be the first."

"Not what I meant. This one is just a kid."

"It gets better all the time." He looked into my eyes. "Be careful with this one."

"Do you really think-"

"Ah-ah," said Kelly, "You know the rules. No questions unless you put your hands up."

I put my hands up where he could see them. "Do you really think I wanted that to happen? It was Charlie's own fault. It's not like he and I were friends."

"Obviously," Kelly said.

I downed the rest of the drink and threw a few dollars on the counter. "If I'd wanted guilt, I would have gone to see his wife and kid. But thanks for the freebie." I got up to leave.

"Oh, don't be like that, Des," he called after me. I didn't say anything.

It just gets my goat. I don't like to be judged. I do what I have to, what I think is best. Everyone might not end up happy, but I make the best of the series of lousy situations life continues to thrust on me on a daily basis. I'm not responsible for other people's bad choices. I just make my own based on what is presented to me. Is that wrong?

I had an appointment to keep anyway. It was time for my biweekly reading. I descended into the subs and got on the red line going west. I changed at Mackie St. for the blue line, which crossed the bay. I rode that right over to the Bayside stop.

The Bayside Thrill Park was founded about fifty years ago. A number of the shipping companies on the West Side of the bay had gone out of business in the forties and someone with money and foresight had snatched up the land. In the summer of 1950 it opened and became a hit. Just across the bay from New Rome's bustling center, it offered a gorgeous view of the downtown area. Over the years it has thrived with both local families and tourists flocking to it every year. The tweak and add to it in the off-seasons. At this point, both the big wheel and it's original rollercoaster, "The Cobra", are both dwarfed by newer rides.

I don't ride the rides that much, but when they're open, I come by every two weeks or so to see Madame Zelda. She has a small shop in a goofier section of the park, somewhere between the sideshow and the petting zoo. Her name is not actually Madame Zelda, of course, it's Shawna, or at least it has been for the last three years. Before that, Madame Zelda was a woman named Doreen. Shawna took the job to help pay for her college. She's a Biology major. I suspect when she graduates, there will be a new Madame Zelda. So far, however, both Shawna and Doreen have shared one unique quality that has made them perfect for giving me my biweekly tarot readings: they are not at all psychic. Or magical in any way, really.

I know plenty of readers who are, of course, back in my part of town, but I don't really trust them to do my readings. There's no telling how their powers of their feelings for me could influence the reading. No, give me a pure, untainted deck any day. That way, the cards will just be influenced by the energy of the world, not of the person performing the reading.

Shawna had been expecting me. "Hey there, Des," she said.

"Zelda," I nodded.

"Anything special today?" she asked as I say across the table from her.

"Not today. Just the standard. Next two weeks."

"You got it," she said.

We had this down. She did the mechanics of the read reading for me but I actually did the interpreting. It was your average Rider-Waite deck, the most common there is. She shuffled the cards then lay them on the table. I cut the deck. She took them back into her hands, the two halves reversed now, and dealt four cards out onto the table.

Ace of Cups inverted, Four of Cups, The Hermit, and Justice.

Hmph. The quick reading of those basically said bad feelings, bad experiences, seek help, things work out.

"Hit me again," I said. More detail, please. Shawna laid the next four cards over the first four.

Ten of Cups, Three of Swords inverted, Five of Pentacles, Two of Cups inverted.

The ten of cups over the ace of cups inverted… this showed a rainbow over a happy frolicking family. Whatever the source of all these bad vibes, my guess was I'd run into it here at Bayside. Down by the newest coaster, the Spectrum, I’d wager. Three of swords over the four of cups… the bad experiences seem to take the form of mistakes, errors. I just hoped the one making them wasn't me. Five of clubs over the Hermit… someone poor? Or crippled? I should seek help from someone poor or crippled? And finally, the icing on the cake… inverted two of cups over Justice. In other words, while it will end as it should it's not going to end necessarily well or how I'd like. Sounds about par for the course.

I let out an exasperated sigh.

"Not helpful?" asked Shawna.

"No, it's helpful," I told her, "Just very typical of my life right now. What have you heard about the Spectrum?"

"It's fun. Scary. People like it. Tallest coaster on the East Coast…"

"Ah well," I said. "Sounds like I have some business on it. Or near it. I'm off."

"See you in two weeks?"

"So long as that didn't mean the thing was going to break while I was on it."

Shawna laughed. I smiled, but wished I hadn't said that.

I headed down to the nearest ticket booth and paid a few bucks for however many tickets the girl there said it would be for the ride. I had no great love for roller coasters, but I wasn't afraid of them either. Hell, with all that I'd seen, some stupid man made thing like this should be nothing. They test them a lot before they open them. They plan them out very elaborately- they're not in the business of letting people die. I remembered each of these things to myself a number of times as I stood in the hour-long line to get on the new ride.

The big 'thing' about this ride was that when it went down the first hill it went straight down under the ground. While down there, there was apparently some crazy laser lights (hence the name), and it periodically popped in and out of the ground as it continued to its finish. They had more than one set of cars going around the track, so I was able to watch the ride run quite a few times as I moved closer and closer to the head of the line. In my current mind frame, of course, every rattle, every clack seemed to be a vital bolt coming out of place.

I was sweating a bit when I climbed into the car. My rational mind said not to worry, but I couldn't shake the feeling that just saying that the ride would break lend power to the idea. Which was, of course, why I had been trying not to think about it at all since I'd said it. Trying and failing miserably. I had actually worked myself into such a frenzy that I almost didn't notice when the set of cars in front of us got stuck half way up the hill. The entire crowd of people waiting in the line erupted into a group "Aww," of disappointment.

The two guys who had been securing our harnesses told us to just give it a minute, that it happens all the time with new rides, but after two minutes of just sitting there, the one in the control booth announced that the Spectrum would be experiencing a temporary delay and all riders would need to get off the ride. The two guys released us and then began heading up the walkway that went up the track to get those who had been stranded up there. We were given the option to wait there for the ride to get up and running again, many people did, but I opted to leave the line. I had a suspicion that the Spectrum had already fulfilled its place in my destiny.

I got a hot dog and a coke at a vendor right near where the Spectrum goes underground for the first time and sat on a nearby bench. I looked around. The hotdog was good, but did little for my mood. Sometimes prophecies can be so frustrating. Ok, sure, there were lots of bad feelings as I waited to get on the Spectrum, but come on, I wouldn't have even thought about going on the ride had I not had that reading.

I looked around as I say and sipped my soda. Perhaps there was something else, something that was supposed to lead me to. I began to look at the people walking by.

It's a strange thing to be sitting alone in an amusement park. So many people pass by you in such an unending stream, all of them happy, smiling, chatting, giggling, flirting. To actually stop and sit and look and listen quietly is surreal. For one thing, it's so loud. You'd got the hundreds of customers, the tilt-a-whirl just behind me, the girl on the megaphone at the guessing game getting peoples weight completely wrong, the endless supply of pseudo-hit songs playing over the hidden speakers, and to top it all off, they seemed to have fixed something on the Spectrum and had just begun sending empty cars through to test it out.

What am I supposed to see here, I wondered. The girl at the guessing game was giving away another giant penguin, having failed to guess a woman's age. The ride workers were riding the Spectrum now, testing it once more before letting the paying passengers back on. The hotdog vendor was taking a big order from a man with five squealing kids gathered around him.

"How's it going today?" asked a voice. I blinked and looked up to see a tan blonde guy in a red Bayside Uniform shirt looking down at me. His nametag dubbed him Pete. Just what I needed, to be hit on by some shmuck. He was a good-looking shmuck, mind you, but I had other things on my mind.

"I'm fine," I said, and looked away. The man with the kids was disseminating hotdogs.

"Did you ride the spectrum today?" Pete asked me.

"I don't think it's in the cards," I said. The guessing game girl couldn't guess a little girl's month of birth either.

"You should really give it a try," said Pete. "Tallest on the East Coast."

"So I've heard," I told him. Come on, figure this out. Think about the reading.

"What's your name?" he asked me.

"Desiree," I said. The kids were scampering with their hotdogs to a nearby table under a big umbrella. The older man working the guessing game was shaking his head as the girl gave away another stuffed animal, this time a big Kermit the Frog.

"My name's Pete," he said.

Bad experiences, under the Spectrum, bad feelings, mistakes….

"Listen," said Pete, "If you have any… comments about your day here, any questions, or even, you just want to chat, here's my card. It has my email and voice mail on the front and my home number on the back."

"Thanks, I will. You do this often, Pete?" I asked, taking his card and smiling politely.

"You're the first," he said. Of course, I also heard the actual answer: he'd given the card to roughly 87 women so far this season. In fact, he had printed up the cards especially when he got the job for the soul purpose of giving them out to good-looking women.

The man who'd bought the hotdogs was gathering up a tray full of drinks. The girl at the guessing game was being talked to quietly by the man working there.

"I am certain you'll be hearing from me," I said, dropping the card into my purse. The man with the drinks began walking towards the table the kids had had settle into as the guessing girl took off her nametag and handed it to her boss. He held out a penguin to her. A consolation prize?

I saw what was about to happen. I leapt from the bench and shouted, "Wait!" but it was too late. The girl snatched the penguin, turned from her boss and walked two steps right smack into the tray full of drinks. Both she and the customer fell to the ground, drenched in sticky sugar water. I ran up to them.

The girl was shaken. The man was furious. "Why don't you watch where you're going?" he shouted at her.

Her boss stepped up quickly. "I'm so sorry, sir, I'll get you more drinks right away."

"You'd better," he spat, looking down on the girl.

I picked up her soggy penguin and offered her a hand up. "Are you ok?" I asked.

"I'm… I'm fine," she said, rising. Having her penguin, of course, I also heard "No. Nothing has been going right for me today. I seem to be doing everything wrong. I don't understand it."

"What kind of things?" I asked.

"Everything… from getting to work late to being duped by my boyfriend to losing my wallet to not being able to walk without tripping…" and, of course, aloud she said, "Huh?"

"When did this start?" I asked. By this point the manager was looking at me strangely as well.

"Just this morning, since I woke up," she said. And, "What are you talking about?"

"Everything is all right here, ma'am, you don't need to worry about it," said the manager, trying to gently usher the girl away from me. The girl was genuinely frightened by me, I think. She went with him.

"How can I get in touch with you?" I called out to her as they left.

"My name is Cheryl Dean. I'm in the book," came the answer. She said nothing aloud, actually, just stared back at me for a moment quizzically while she was lead away. Unfortunately, this made her walk right into the side of the guessing booth.

I walked over to a garbage can and wrung out some of the soda from the penguin. He was purple. I looked around to make sure no one was looking and slipped him into my impossibly small purse as well. Then I headed home.

Blue to the Red, Red to good old Cidso East, then I footed it home. Two blocks from the subs, three blocks from New Rome Tomes, and five from Ancient Spirits, I arrived at the place I call home- my apartment building.

Some jerk was buzzing someone's place repeatedly when I came to the door and slipped in after me. He headed over to the tiny elevator and rather than ride that close to him, I decided to take the stairs. Three flights up, I finally get to enter my… sanctum, perhaps.

It's only somewhat filthy, really. I mean, to a casual observer, I can see how they might think it was, but really, that's only because I hadn't taken the time to do a decent cleaning spell in about a month. I'd been busy, cut me a break. It's not every day you get involved with some guy trying to… well, I'd been busy.

I flopped down on my couch, grabbed the remote control, and put on some music. Leonard Facet's new album. Good stuff. I grabbed a pair of labels off the table and a sharpie marker and opened up my purse. I pulled out the little… wrist band I'd gotten from the kid that morning. On the first label I wrote "Gino DeFeo, South Ray, Regal Terrace H4, 7896 Memorial Ct. W, new medium". I fastened the string of the label around the band. Next I grabbed the penguin. "Cheryl Dean… bad luck?" I wrote on the other label, and fastened it onto the purple bird's flipper.

I stood up and took the two of them with me to a nearby dresser. I put the wristband in the one I'd mentally marked useful, and the penguin in the one I'd thought of as mysteries. Then a thought struck me. I snatched my purse back up and took out Pete's card.

"Come on, Petey-boy, mama wants to go out tonight," I mumbled. I took the card into the next room. Perhaps this would be more aptly called my sanctum. This was where I'd perform my more serious magics, the ones I couldn't do with a quick couple of words. The walls were lined with shelves, shelves full of powders, useful magical devices I'd procured, books that were worth keeping, anything I might need in the performing of my magical duties.

The item I was going for this time was a pair of pants. They were fastened onto a wire frame mannequin. I always think of them as my voodoo pants, but of course, there was a proper magical name for what I'd done to them that I hadn't bothered to learn.

I took Pete's card and a paperclip and fastened it to the front of the pants, up where they fasten. I stood back. I had set up the spell so that the only serious work I'd have to do would be in charming the pants in the first place. A simple incantation was all I needed to make it work now.

"Magics dance, magic pants,
Do as you maker commands,
Do your best to become
He I took this trinket from."

Ok, shut up. I never claimed to be a poet. The point is that it does what I want it to, ok? I reached into the back pocket of the voodoo pants. Nothing. I tried the other back pocket. Nothing. OK, so he's one of those guys. I reached into the front right pocket. Finally- his wallet.

For some loser working an amusement park, he had a decent amount of cash on him. Sixty-seven bucks. That would come in handy. I pocketed it myself. He also had a condom, why am I not surprised, and about ten to fifteen more of his cards. I took his credit card, not to use, I threw it away, it was just more punishment for being a jerk. I grabbed one of his pickup cards and laid a big kiss on it, leaving a nice lipstick print and slipped it back into the wallet. I slipped the wallet back into his pants and snatched the card off the front of the pants.

I took the wallet back into the other room and paper clipped a label to it saying, "Pete, Bayside, Shmuck" and filed it into the shmuck drawer, then I headed out to see what I could dredge up on Cheryl.

Go to Part 3