Sybil

a short story by Len Lange

Do you really want to know the future? photograph by Solarus - CC0 license - via pixabay

BY LEN LANGE

The absence of light in the room only adds to the suffocating feeling gripping cold around your neck, causing you to helplessly glance back toward the door. You can make it out if you squint, though it isn’t even quite bright enough there for light to properly pool under the door. You suppose that makes sense, what with the frustratingly dim lighting you’d dealt with as you filled out a variety of forms for the cheery woman behind the desk. Rumor has it the person in her place changes every week. You can’t help but feel like there’s no conceivable way that wasn’t intentional, just for the sake of drawing attention and making skin crawl. The draft in the room is only making the sensation more intense, despite the fact that the very notion seems nonsensical. The room, from what you can tell, has no windows to speak of, nor did the room you entered through. The silence is almost as deep seated as the dark before it’s cut through, the sound precise and piercing as a knife in gelatin.

“What’ll it be, then?” You jolt at the sound, and your eyes have to adjust for a moment at the newly lit candle before you. You swallow, taking a seat at the table before you. The speaker across from you still isn’t visible, but you know exactly who it is. You’d paid egregiously and crossed the country to see one person and one person only.

“Akagawa?” There’s a grin on his voice.

“The one and only.” You let out a breath you hadn’t realized you’d been holding. A seemingly ethereal breeze raises gooseflesh once again, the feeling of eyes on you through the dark only worsening the feeling.

“But seriously, what’re you here for?” You have to take a moment to remember why you had come all this way for a moment, upon coming back to grips with reality.

“I need to know an outcome.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty typical. Are you reserved?” You’d not in a million years expect a reader as infamous as Akagawa Rei to take walk-ins. The very concept for someone so well known seems utterly absurd.

“Of course.”

“Alright, alright. First thing I’m gonna need is a name.” You’re pulled from reverie for the second time in two minutes, taking longer than you’d care to admit to answer the question.

“Sato Taro.”  You fail to notice just how long you’d been staring at the candle in front of you when another one is lit, to the right of the original. That one is followed by another to its left, and you take in what little more you can make out. The two new candles make visible the width of the table, and you can see no more than a pair of elbows across from you. It’s not like you haven’t seen his face, many have and many will; it’s only the fact that you can’t see it now that intimidates you a bit.

“So talk to me Sato. What’re you lookin’ for? I dish out the vague whatevers, not take it.” You almost hate that this kid has you so caught up in his spectacle. It’s frustrating beyond belief. You suppose that’s the price you pay for believing in something as ludicrous as fortune telling. Oh well.

“I just need to know if my wife should have this baby.” You explain the situation carefully, what with her disorder, the risks, other factors, and anything else you think possibly relevant. That should do it, shouldn’t it? He pauses for a moment when you finish, the absent drumming of his fingers on the table the only sound in the room. It’s dull on the tablecloth, sure, but it feels as though it’s ringing in your head as you await an answer. Bududum, bududum, bududum.

“So that’s like, it?” If you weren’t so worried, you’d likely be annoyed. For all that a non-worried you would be you might’ve already taken your business elsewhere! You really can’t trust any less than the best, however.

“Completely and wholly.”

“Can I see your face for a sec, Sato?” You watch two fingers slide the center candle your way, and you don’t say a word. Once it’s sufficiently within your reach, you position it just so.

“Thanks.” This means you can see even less of him now, though you doubt it matters much. You can feel his eyes on you as is, scanning for every secret within your being. Several long moments of silence pass between you before he speaks again, equally nonchalant.

“And can I see a hand?” You reluctantly place your right hand on the table, palm facing the ceiling. He takes it quickly, not nearly as slow and dramatic as he’d been sliding you the candle. You try not to pay much mind as he gets closer than he has before in attempting to pull anything from it in such low light. You can feel him running a finger over the different creases in your hand once, twice, three times and again, before dropping your hand as quickly as he’d picked it up. The silence you wait in is once again agonizing, and you can’t help but wonder if he’s just doing this to put you on edge. It’s completely possible you suppose, considering how well it’s working.

“So?”

“I’m trying to figure out how to tell you this, Sato. Your outlook isn’t super great.” Your heart sinks through the floor, down, down, down, probably out past the Earth’s core. It really is hopeless.

“I don’t think I can give you anything super helpful, but I can tell you the deal. I know what could happen, not what you should do. Between you and me, Sato, I’m not too great with family advice.” You’re far too lost in thought to be suitably frustrated with his toying this time.

“What is it?”

“So you are still here.” There’s a laugh on his voice, though it isn’t physically expressed. You don’t say a word in reply; you’ve come too far for these specifics. If you don’t find out now, there really isn’t any hope.

“So the gist of it is this. If you wanna have that baby, you’re going to pay for it. Don’t get mad at me for this, I’m just the messenger. Basically whatever weird forces that be are sayin’ that it’s not really an eye for an eye here? More like a…” He trails off in the metaphor.

“An eye for like, three fingernails or something. It’s super gonna suck, but it’s not gonna like, ruin everything, y’know?” The entire room seems to brighten, like the candles had been multiplied by about a dozen. It actually seem like they have brightened physically, as odd as it sounds. You can nearly make out the thin, sharp face and ungodly long, bleached blonde hair you’d seen so many times in pictures. You really have  been speaking to nineteen year old Akagawa Rei, supposedly the most accurate fortune teller the world’s seen yet.

“If that’s it, the door’s right behind you.”

“Yes, thank you so much. Goodbye.” He doesn’t reply with a word. Rather, you feel the same unnatural draft on the back of your neck as you leave, and you don’t look back as all three candles go dead at once.