A Whisker’s Breadth

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chapter-1

drop-cap-Reg opened the door and got her first glimpse of Vivian King, the woman who had called for a one o’clock appointment. Reg wasn’t sure where she had seen Reg advertise, or if she had come by a personal recommendation from another client. Vivian hadn’t revealed that on the phone.

She was a black woman, her skin a rich, warm brown, a little taller than Reg, with her hair cut short. Reg’s own hair, red, was in tiny box braids, just rebraided the day before by Ruan, who might just be her new regular hairdresser, if he stayed in town. But Reg suspected that once his fairy mate had recovered from her injuries, she and pixie Ruan would be on the road again, following a nomadic life since they were excluded from both of their communities.

Pixies and fairies didn’t mix.

Ever.

Except for cases like Calliopia and Ruan, which no one discussed.

Reg touched her braids self-consciously, worried that the woman would accuse her of cultural appropriation, but if Vivian had any thoughts on the subject, she kept them to herself. She smiled at Reg and swallowed, looking anxious.

“Regina Rawlins? Hi, I’m Vivian?” Her tone went up at the end of the sentence as if it was a question.

“Call me Reg.” She didn’t point out that Vivian’s pronunciation of her name with long E and I like the Canadian city was wrong, but settled with giving Vivian her nickname instead. “Come on in.”

She opened the door wider and ushered Vivian in. Vivian looked around the neat little guest cottage. Furnished by Sarah, the witch who owned the property, renting it to Reg at a price that really was a steal, it was light and pleasant. The scent of the ocean wafted in on the breeze through a couple of windows Reg had left cracked open. Reg motioned to the wicker furniture in the living room, and Vivian selected a chair and sat down, taking one more look around the room as if she was worried someone else might be there watching or ready to jump out and scare her.

People who wanted Reg to read palms usually sat on the couch so that they could reach her easily. Vivian was less sure of herself, putting not only space but also the coffee table between them. She would want something other than palmistry.

Reg gave her a smile that she hoped was reassuring. Nothing to be worried about. It was a safe place.

“Can I get you some tea?” Reg asked, motioning to the kitchen, where the kettle was beginning to whistle right on cue.

“Um, yes, sure,” Vivian agreed, which led to some small talk about what kind of tea she wanted. The easy, casual chatter would hopefully help to put her at ease, as would the calming tea and having something to do with her hands.

By the time Reg set the tea service down on the coffee table between them, Vivian was starting to loosen up.

“You have a nice little place here.”

“All of the compliments go to my landlord. It came furnished. All I had to do was unpack my bag. Do you know Sarah?” A lot of Reg’s referrals came from Sarah, so there was a good chance.

“No. I don’t really know anyone here. I’m new in town.”

“Oh, okay. Did someone refer you to me, then, or did you see an advertisement?”

“You have a poster up at the grocery store. I just saw it, and thought… why not?”

Reg nodded. She put her posters up on every community board that she could—even the ones where it tended to get ripped down the first day or two. Someday, the vandals would give up and leave it there.

“Great. Well, I’m glad you called. I’m always happy to take on new clients. You’ve just moved here recently? Are you planning to stay, or is this just along your way?”

“I don’t know.” Vivian looked away. “I don’t know how long I’ll be here. I… move around a lot.”

“I know what that’s like,” Reg said with a smile. She’d been on the move for a lot of years. Her stay at Black Sands had been quite long by her standards. And so far… she hadn’t been forced to move on. It was kind of nice to have a more permanent home. Though sometimes it made her anxious and she felt like she should move on before she wore out her welcome. Before anything from her past caught up with her or someone filed a complaint about her. She adjusted the “for entertainment purposes only” sign on the coffee table to make sure that Vivian saw it. The same thing was repeated on all of her signs, business cards, or other promotional items. To prevent any fraud charges by unhappy customers. She couldn’t prove that she provided actual psychic services, so it was important to be able to prove to the police that she was providing another legitimate service—entertainment.

“My last permanent place was in Colorado. It’s under a boulder.”

Reg blinked, sure that she had misheard. “You lived in Boulder, Colorado?”

“No. A smaller town. But a boulder broke off of the mountain and rolled down and landed on my house.”

“Oh, dear! How horrible! I gather… you weren’t home at the time.”

“I was,” Vivian nodded slowly. “I was in bed. That corner of my bedroom was the only part of the house that wasn’t completely destroyed. They said it was a miracle that I survived.”

Reg had heard about things like that happening, but she had never met anyone who had survived such a bizarre accident.

“So… what was that like? You were just sleeping in bed, and then…”

“I heard a rumbling and crashing noises. I thought it was the garbage truck. Then a lot more crashing, and I was going to get out of bed, thinking that someone was vandalizing my fence, or a truck had crashed through a barrier on the freeway. And then there was…” Her eyes were distant as she thought about it. “This huge explosion. Like someone had thrown dynamite into the house. Wood and debris and dust flying everywhere, I couldn’t see anything, and covered up my face to protect it. And then some creaking, and… everything got quiet.”

“How long did it take for you to figure out what had happened?”

Vivian just looked at her. “There was a big boulder taking up half my bedroom. I could see what had happened, but I didn’t really believe it. I just stayed there… in a state of shock, I guess, until the neighbors started calling out and climbing around the boulder into the bedroom.”

“Wow. That’s amazing. So then they got you out, and you were okay? And you had to make an insurance claim, I guess…”

“I didn’t have any insurance. I was just renting.”

“You could have had tenant’s insurance. Then at least you’d get something for the property you lost.”

“I can’t get insurance.”

“Oh.” It wasn’t any of Reg’s business whether Vivian was an illegal immigrant or had some other status that would prevent her from being able to purchase insurance, so she didn’t pursue that line of questioning. She took a long sip of her tea. “Well, that’s an incredible story. Hopefully, your stay in Black Sands will be much less eventful than that!”

chapter-2

drop-cap-Vivian didn’t say anything. She just sipped her own tea, her eyes far away.

“So… what can I do for you today?” Reg prodded. “You want me to do a reading for you?”

“Yes, I guess that’s what I want.”

“You’re sure? You don’t sound… exactly sure.”

Vivian pursed her lips, considering the question. Why else would she have come, other than for Reg to read her fortune or her future? That was what Reg did. She advertised psychic readings.

“Yes,” Vivian said eventually. “I guess that’s it. I want you to do a reading.”

Reg raised her eyebrows, waiting for some other sign of confirmation. Then she shrugged.

“Okay… what kind of reading do you want me to do? I do pretty much everything, reading palms, auras, tea leaves, crystal ball. Whatever you like.”

“You can… can you see the future, or just what has already happened? Or tell me that someone wants to give me a message or something?”

“The thing to remember about the future is that it isn’t one hundred percent,” Reg warned. “I can tell you what I see, but it’s often fuzzy, and you can do things to change it. If you make major changes in your life, new decisions that you hadn’t considered before, that kind of thing… I don’t know what will happen, how it will change things.”

Vivian nodded. “I can do things to change it.”

“Yes. The future is… fluid. It will generally follow a particular path, with minor variations. But its path can be changed.”

As could the past, Reg had found. But she hadn’t yet figured out to explain that even to herself. After years of watching Star Trek and other sci fi, she would have thought she had a pretty clear understanding of how catastrophic it could be to change the past. But that wasn’t how it had turned out at all. The river of time had continued to follow the same course as before, with only minor variations.

But that was beside the point. Vivian wasn’t asking about changing the past.

“So how can you see it? I guess that would be a crystal ball thing?” Vivian suggested.

“That would probably be the clearest,” Reg agreed. She gave Vivian a moment to think about it and change her mind, then moved over to the shelf to retrieve her crystal ball. “Do you mind cats? I can see more clearly with a bit of help.”

“Help?” Vivian looked at her blankly for a minute. “Oh. Okay, sure. Yeah, I don’t mind cats.”

Reg made kissy noises to call her familiar. “Starlight? Can you come help?”

She heard Starlight jump off of the bed and in a minute, the black and white tuxedo cat appeared in the doorway of the bedroom. He looked at her, blinking his disparate blue and green eyes, then made his way over to join them. He sniffed at Vivian, who politely held out her fingertips to him, then he jumped up onto the couch with Reg. He made himself comfy in her lap, kneading with his claws until she protested.

“Ouch. Enough. We don’t need to draw blood for this.”

Starlight settled into place. Reg stared into the crystal ball she had placed on the coffee table in front of her. She let her gaze gradually unfocus, thinking about Vivian King. She petted Starlight slowly, thinking about Vivian’s close encounter with the boulder and the restless wandering that had brought her to Black Sands. She took deep breaths and waited. If she didn’t see some stirrings in the crystal ball soon, she was going to have to make something up. She could; she had done so dozens of times before, but she hoped she would see something instead, confirming to herself that she had not lost her gift of vision in the recent trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Starlight extended his claws into Reg’s leg again, bringing her focus back to Vivian King rather than the dwarfs and Corvin. Reg needed to remain focused if she was to succeed.

Vivian shifted restlessly, ready for something to happen. Reg breathed out, trying to sort out what to tell Vivian that would resonate with her.

And then she saw it. Something was starting to form in the crystal. Reg stared at it steadily, her vision sharpening.

“I see…” Reg studied it. Nothing special. She might need to exaggerate a little to give Vivian something worth paying for. “A street. A neighborhood in Black Sands, I think. Maybe somewhere you are going to buy a house? Or maybe you’ve already rented something there… A nice neighborhood… quiet…” Too quiet. Reg needed something bigger to tell Vivian. “Nice houses… gardens… flowers… People with kids… strollers…”

She could see Vivian in her peripheral vision, nodding slightly, but not particularly impressed with Reg’s idyllic description. Who would want such an insipid future?

Reg first saw a figure on the sidewalk, and then was seeing the street from the figure’s perspective. It had to be Vivian. Her view of the street and the life around it.

“Uh… it seems very peaceful… a good place to rest…”

Vivian shifted, impatient. Then the colorless vision changed. Reg saw something that didn’t fit. A big truck, the kind that would take deliveries to a big grocery store, not that would normally drive down quiet residential lanes. Going way too fast, reckless in a street where children might be playing or crossing, or riding wobbly little two-wheeler bikes with training wheels. Reg sat forward, worried, watching the truck. It came barreling toward her, on a downward slope, gathering speed as it went. Vivian was on the sidewalk, so she didn’t have anything to worry about, and there were, luckily, no children playing in the way.

But the truck wasn’t following the curve of the road. It kept coming down the hill, straight down, straight toward Vivian.

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

A Whisker’s Breadth

By P.D. Workman

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