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“Can I help you?”

We both spin around and a large—really large—man with gauged ears and a lip ring is staring down at us.

I kind of want to apologize to him and leave as fast as we can, but Charlie has other plans. “Do you know what this gate is guarding? The one in the picture?” Charlie asks him, pointing over her shoulder. The man’s eyes lift to the picture frame. He shrugs.

“Must be new,” he says. “I’ve never noticed it before.” He looks at me, arching an eyebrow adorned with multiple piercings. One being a small…bone? Is that a bone sticking through his eyebrow? “You two looking for anything in particular?”

I shake my head and begin to respond, but my words are cut off by someone else’s.

“They’re here to see me.” A hand reaches through a beaded curtain to our right. A woman steps out, and Charlie immediately sidles against me. I wrap my arm around her. I don’t know why she’s allowing this place to freak her out. She doesn’t seem like the type to believe in this sort of thing, but I’m not complaining. A frightened Charlie means a very lucky Silas.

“This way,” the woman says, motioning for us to follow her. I start to object, but then remind myself that places like this…they’re all about theatrics. It’s Halloween 365 days a year. She’s just playing a part. She’s no different than Charlie and me, pretending to be two people we aren’t.

Charlie glances up at me, silently asking for permission to follow her. I nod and we follow the woman through the curtain of—I touch one of the beads and take a closer look—plastic skulls. Nice touch.

The room is small and every wall is covered with thick, velvet black curtains. There are candles lit around the room, flickers of light licking the walls, the floor, us. The woman takes a seat at a small table in the center of the room for us to sit in the two chairs across from her. I keep Charlie’s hand wrapped tightly in mine as we both sit.

The woman begins to slowly shuffle a deck of tarot cards. “A joint reading, I assume?” she asks.

We both nod. She hands Charlie the deck and asks her to hold them. Charlie takes them from her and clasps her hands around them. The woman nudges her head toward me. “Both of you. Hold them.”

I want to roll my eyes, but instead I reach my hand across Charlie and place it on the deck with her.

“You need to want the same thing out of this reading. Multiple readings can sometimes overlap when there isn’t cohesiveness. It’s important your goal is the same.”

Charlie nods. “They are. It is.”

I hate the desperation in her voice, like we’re actually going to get an answer. Surely she doesn’t believe this.

The woman reaches across to take the cards from our hands. Her fingers brush mine and they’re ice cold. I pull my hand back and grab Charlie’s, moving it onto my lap.

She begins laying cards out on the table, one by one. They’re all facedown. When she’s finished, she asks me to pull a card from the deck. When I hand her the card, she sets it apart from the others. She points at it. “This card will give you your answer, but the other cards explain the path to your question.”

She puts her fingers on the card in the middle. “This position represents your current situation.” She flips it over.

“Death?” Charlie whispers. Her hand tightens around mine.

The woman looks at Charlie and tilts her head. “It isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” she says. “The death card represents a major change. A reformation. The two of you have experienced a loss of sorts.”

She touches another card. “This position represents the immediate past.” She flips it over and before I look down at the card, I can see the woman’s eyes narrow. My eyes fall to the card. The Devil.

“This indicates something or someone was enslaving you in the past. It could represent a number of things close to you. Parental influence. An unhealthy relationship.” Her eyes meet mine. “Inverted cards reflect a negative influence, and although it represents the past, it can also signify something you’re currently transitioning through.”

Her fingers fall to another card. “This card represents your immediate future.” She slides the card toward her and flips it over. A quiet gasp falls from her mouth and I feel Charlie flinch. I glance down at her and she’s staring intently at the woman, waiting for an explanation. She looks terrified.

I don’t know what kind of game this woman is playing, but it’s beginning to piss me off…

“The Tower card?” Charlie says. “What does it mean?”

The woman flips the card back over as if it’s the worst card in the deck. She closes her eyes and blows out a long breath. Her eyes pop open again and she’s staring right at Charlie. “It means…destruction.”

I roll my eyes and push back from the table. “Charlie, let’s get out of here.”

Charlie looks at me pleadingly. “We’re almost finished,” she says.

I relent and scoot back toward the table.

The woman flips over two more cards, explaining them to Charlie, but I don’t hear a single word she says. My eyes wander around the room as I try to remain patient and let her finish, but I feel like we’re wasting time.

Charlie’s hand begins squeezing the life out of mine, so I return my attention to the reading. The woman’s eyes are closed tight and her lips are moving. She’s mumbling words I can’t decipher.

Charlie scoots closer to me, and I instinctively wrap my arm around her. “Charlie,” I whisper, making her look up at me. “It’s theatrics. She gets paid to do this. Don’t be scared.”

My voice must have broken the woman out of her conveniently timed trance. She’s tapping the table, trying to get our attention as if she wasn’t off in la-la land for the last minute and a half.

Her fingers fall to the card I pulled out of the deck. Her eyes meet mine, and then they move to Charlie’s. “This card,” she says slowly. “Is your outcome card. Combined with the other cards in the reading, this gives you the answer to why you are here.” She flips the card over.

The woman doesn’t move. Her eyes are locked on the card beneath her fingertips. The rooms grows eerily quiet, and as if on cue, one of the candles loses its flame. Another nice touch, I think.

I look down at the outcome card. There aren’t any words on it. No title. No picture.

The card is blank.

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