09 Sep The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
“The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy”Written by David Feuling Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 10 minutes
My name is Frank Zauf, and I think my tarot deck is threatening me. It’s important to me that someone understands. I’ll make this all as quick as I can. Please let me explain.
I bought the deck as a child. It was at a flea market, and that was over twenty years ago. It hasn’t ever let me go. Once a week, I meditate while shuffling the deck in my hands. I ask it to give me some positive hint about what will happen next in my life. The deck is powerful, and it’s always correct. The deck has been cross with me lately, though. I can’t figure out why.
From a blot of darkness in the far corner of my bedroom, a growing cluster of insect legs is twitching and grasping at the air. The legs grow like the tendrils of an orchid, searching for purchase against the nearby walls as they proliferate. The Presence is visiting my room to remind me that I’ll never be welcome in this house. I move to the dining room to give myself some space.
Nobody sees the Presence except for me, but that doesn’t make it go away. My life has been a series of torturous patterns that others can’t perceive. The Presence follows me from my bedroom, crawling on a hundred centipede legs with a face like Aunt Rebecca’s. I’m forced to leave the house and walk out to the greenhouse. I manage to wait until I’m outside to start crying. I hate it when the Presence deliberately chooses a form that makes me feel afraid.
I first noticed that my deck was punishing me two weeks ago. I was feeling good about myself until the tarot cards lashed out with an evil premonition. I had asked it about my immediate future. It answered as follows:
“Ten swords driven through a dead man, the Tower, nine swords hanging in the air (inverted), the Lovers, and Justice.”
I understand this prophecy to mean that there’s someone in my life who is hurting me, and if I don’t deal with that person soon, then fate or the Presence will destroy me completely.
* * * * * *
There was a story on the local news this morning that caught my attention. The story was about something bad I did, but nobody else knows that yet. I feel bad about what happened, but I put it out of my mind because worrying will make me act suspiciously. That’s one of the first things I learned when I originally began following the tarot deck’s instructions. I finish my breakfast and hurry to catch the bus to my therapy session.
My therapist’s name is Dr. Cascos. She says that I personify inanimate objects, and that I have a martyr’s complex. She insists that the deck isn’t threatening me. She’s watching me but not understanding. Dr. Cascos claims the deck doesn’t control my future. She says I’m projecting my fears onto external objects.
“Remember, Frank,” she tells me at today’s therapy session. “None of these delusions or hallucinations are your fault. Okay? The things you’re seeing and feeling are not your fault at all. There’s inflammation in the ventricles in your brain, but that’s no different than having a medical problem with any other organ. It simply requires medicine, good health habits, healing therapy, and patience.”
“Right, right,” I say. “The brain swelling.” I’m ashamed of my sick brain, and so I wring both hands in my lap while I think of a way to change the subject.
“I see you’re wearing short sleeves,” Dr. Cascos ventures. Her eyes are clearly drawn to the aimless fretting of my eight remaining fingers. “Does that mean you’re feeling a little more positively about your scars today?”
“I guess so,” I mutter. I mostly feel glad to be done talking about the swelling in my brain. “Yeah… The burns don’t hurt so much right now. A kid even stared at me while I was sitting on the bus earlier today. It didn’t bother me.” I stare down at what remains of my hands. Eight fingers survived the accident, and the rest is just uneven connective tissue in a patchwork of almost-matching colors. I still have more than enough strength in these arms to feed the plants, and to talk to my deck, though. That’s all I really care about anyway.
I take the bus home. Opening my front door, I greet the Presence dourly and slump into a chair. The Presence is already resting in my living room, but it’s daytime and so I know it’s feeling sluggish and can’t hurt me yet. I decide to rest my eyes for an hour before yielding this room to the Presence.
I napped in the chair longer than I intended to. When I awake, the Presence has inched closer to me. It’s staring hard in my direction with an irregular assortment of eyes. Aunt Rebecca’s grandfather clock chimes at three minutes past the hour. The clock is always three minutes late, and it always rings out far louder than it reasonably should. I can’t figure out how to disable the clock, nor fix the timing of the mechanisms. It’s always been that way, since even before I can remember. I guess it won’t ever stop.
I have to hurry out of the house, because dusk is approaching. The Presence is surely cross with me now, and if it finds me tonight it will punish me. I gather some canned goods from the kitchen. They’ll serve as dinner later this evening, while I spend my time safely in the greenhouse. I’ll sleep there until the sun comes up.
I feel peace return when I step into my garden. The plants can’t cast aspersions. They never intimidate or hound me like the Presence loves to do. There’s rosemary, nutmeg, sage, verbena, parsley, and more here. I keep a few short rows of aromatic nightshades. The plants may suffer from my mistakes, but they never judge me. The garden is a safe place that I share with those who help it grow.
I’ve read about the principle of the conservation of energy in books. Plants grow from dead creatures, and when those plants burn, that energy is set free into the air. Simple creatures are easiest to add to the soil because they never scream when they die. If they suffer too much, that’s bad energy that goes into the plants. I only want unsoiled energy to go into the smoke when I burn these plants in my ceremonies. That’s the only way to be sure that the cards in my tarot deck are being purified when I waft them, one by one, over the fire.
I grow a bit of fresh food for myself in a small corner of the greenhouse. The rest of the plants – the sage, verbena, rosemary, and so on – are grown exclusively to supply my deck with new energy. The life force from all the dead creatures travels up through the soil and into the plants themselves. I harvest that energy for the deck. Life becomes smoke and fire, and it’s that transference that renews the magic of the deck.
I collect and kill simpler creatures whenever I can. Things like toads and grasshoppers can be used for their life energy without too much guilt, but it’s hard to collect enough of them. The larger animal parts I brought back haven’t been composting correctly. I worry about the smell, and burn some extra sage and mullein to cleanse the air. I feel better, but not completely at peace by the time I’m ready to sleep. The unpleasant smell lingers even under the scent of the herbs.
The Presence claimed my bed tonight. I’ve settled with a blanket on the living room couch rather than disturb it. I couldn’t even sleep on the corner of my bed. It sat like a lump that consumed the whole mattress, staring out at me with one, cataract-clouded eye. I sleep on the couch, knowing that Aunt Rebecca’s grandfather clock will wake me repeatedly as the night continues.
* * * * * *
My therapist asked me today whether I was thinking about hurting myself. I told her “of course not.” That’s true. I desperately want to live, and I especially want things to continue the way that they are now. That’s why I’ve started doing things to convince the tarot deck to forgive me.
Sometimes making the deck happy involves hurting myself, or doing something that I don’t agree with, but that’s entirely beside the point. It’s never self-mutilation when I’m serving a greater purpose. Take for example my damaged hands and forearms. They’re terribly scarred and almost ruined by the fire. I’ve only got eight working fingers left, but I didn’t do any of this because I hated my hands. I did it because of what Aunt Rebecca threatened to do to my tarot deck.
Spiritualists all over the world self-flagellate, or starve themselves, or do a million other things that hurt. They do it to show humility and respect to higher powers. That’s all I’m doing, but I can’t seem to explain it to my therapist in a way she can accept. When she sent me home last week, she told me she was going to write my psychiatrist about increasing the dosage of my mood stabilizers. I said that would be fine. It’s the court that mandates I take those stupid things in the first place. All I need to be happy is to win back the approval of my tarot deck.
I drew five more cards last weekend. I had hoped my efforts would have impressed the deck, but apparently they did not. The cards arrived as follows:
“The Hermit, the Hanged Man, the Wheel of Fortune (inverted), Death, and three swords pierced through a belly.”
I remain on a path to destruction. That much is obvious. I’ll die soon, unless I can understand what I’m doing wrong. The gardening hasn’t been going well, and I’ve been too distracted to make things right. I spend the rest of the night reflecting on my problem, but by morning there are no new answers.
My therapist has been making me angry recently. Even with the increased dose of mood stabilizers, she’s been making me see red. The way she doubts the tarot deck is unacceptable. Not just to me, but to the deck as well. I realize that maybe my passivity is why I’ve fallen out of the deck’s good graces. Perhaps it’s because I tolerate such non-belief in my life.
The moon is new tonight, and so I re-purify the deck during a nighttime ceremony. The Presence is weakest during nights like these, and it can’t stop me from burning the sacred herbs. I’m strongest of all on nights like these, but that doesn’t mean the ritual is easy.
To prepare for the ritual, I turn off the main circuit breaker so that absolutely no electric light is present inside the house. I prepare my crucible by rolling a 55-gallon, steel drum into the center of the living room. I then fill the drum with clean tinder, firewood, and a mixture of the purifying herbs. When the darkness of a new moon’s night has made it almost impossible to see, I ignite the kindling and begin stoking the flame to life.
The fire makes every glass surface dance idly in place. The Presence hides in every dark corner of the house, but I can’t perform the ritual outside. Too much of the precious, sacred smoke gets lost into the atmosphere if I burn the herbs under an open sky. Besides that, the ceremony is a solemn and private affair. I don’t want anyone spying on me tonight. Although I have to share the house with the Presence, at least here I can load the air with purifying aroma until my own ability to breath begins to fail.
There’s a portrait of my aunt above the fireplace, which sits empty because it is far too small a vessel for this kind of fire. The light from the ritual makes her look alive in the otherwise total darkness. I cast my eyes downward, and see thin tendrils of the Presence squirming feebly at my feet. It’s lapping gently at my bare toes. I remind myself that it can’t hurt me when sage is in the air.
I force my eyes back upward to confront the flickering image of Aunt Rebecca. Fire makes the portrait’s features glimmer and dance. Her face comes alive in the modulating light, and so it’s like she’s here again with me tonight. Newly returned from the grave and looking exactly how I remember her, she’s staring back at me from across the house
I want to scream it out loud. “Why did she force me to stop her? Why did it have to escalate like that?” I want to scream, but I have to keep the words in. Sage is sacred and needs quiet to work. Besides, the Presence loves to know when I’m upset. It will grow bolder if I let these feelings out.
“Why did I have to defend the deck from my own family?” I ask myself silently, regaining a small modicum of my own composure by reflecting. Aunt Rebecca lived in this house for decades. Didn’t she realize how the Presence pushes me around?” I feel the urge to scream rise again, but the Presence is always listening. I stifle myself and remember.
The court orders say that I need to check in with Dr. Cascos for at least three years. I told the police that I got my burns from trying to pull my Aunt out of the flames, rather than pressing her into them. Nobody could prove exactly what happened, but there was enough evidence to force a plea deal. I agreed to therapy and monitoring. They’re all still watching me without understanding, but I don’t mind. They can observe until my work is done.
Aunt Rebecca was going to burn my deck on the night she died. I protected the deck by holding her in the fire instead. The scars on my arms and the webbing between my surviving fingers are all reminders of that choice. I tried to put my aunt in the garden. It was the only way I could think of as a way to send her home. I thought maybe if I put some of her into the deck, I could carry her with me for the rest of my life. Instead, they came and took her away.
I force my mind to refocus on completing the ritual. When every card has been purified, I douse the fire and climb the stairs to my bedroom. Tonight the Presence has been badly injured. It will let me sleep in peace.
* * * * * *
I drew five new cards this weekend. This time, I asked whether my therapist was the problem. It answered:
“Judgment, five cups knocked to the ground and spilling out dark red wine, Strength, the Devil, and the Fool.”
I understand this to mean that only an act of wild violence will serve to properly condemn those who speak against the deck. I see myself full of dark power as I strike a heretic down. The decisions for what comes next have already been made.
* * * * * *
I brought my therapist to the garden, but it was an empty gesture in the end. I let my tarot deck down, and so I’ve failed to meet my destiny. That happens to a lot of people, and so while I’m very upset, I also understand.
I keep thinking about the last thing Dr. Cascos said before I killed her. She said that maybe I misunderstood what the deck was telling me. In her desperation to save her own life, she pretended to believe in its magic so that she might convince me. She said that maybe I was misinterpreting the cards. Perhaps instead, she claimed, it was warning me that my actions would soon ruin my life. She said that it was warning me against my own paranoid fantasies.
“Maybe the deck and I are both begging you now, Frank. We’re both begging you not to commit any more violence.” That was the last thing she ever said.
I’m so sorry that it all turned out this way. Dr. Cascos helped so many more people than I ever did. Aunt Rebecca was a better person than I ever was, too. I didn’t choose any of this. Or… at least, I don’t think I did. I’m sitting in the soil of the greenhouse garden now, waiting for what comes next. I hold my tarot deck in both hands, and turn the cards over as I shuffle through them. I’m watching the art on the cards when the police arrive.
The door to the greenhouse shatters open at three minutes after midnight. A man’s voice announces that they’re serving a warrant for the murder of Dr. Cascos. Aunt Rebecca’s grandfather clock chimes from inside the house. I always knew there was a pattern to it all, and so I let myself smile as the flashlights find me in the dark.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available