‘Good Fortune’, Karen Heslop

Illustrations © 2017 Cécile Matthey



 [ Fortune teller, © 2017 Cécile Matthey ] Irina pulled her coat tighter around her as she was whipped by the chilly afternoon winds. It was typical of The Witches’ Council to call a meeting on the evening after a thunderstorm had battered the town. As she stepped into the brightly lit hall, the entrance shimmered upon recognizing her aura. When she had experienced this for the first time as a fledgling witch, Irina had marvelled that such a grand hall would only appear as a derelict building to a mundane. Now she felt burdened by the charmed blood that ran through her veins and the dissolution of the camaraderie she once had.

She paused in the doorway to survey the room. She was tempted to sit in a random faction in defiance of the clear labels but decided her list of infractions was long enough. She dutifully marched over to the small table marked ‘TIME WITCHES’ and slumped into the chair nearest to the exit.

A young woman with white-blonde hair and ice blue eyes turned around at the sound. Though she should have known better, Irina’s heart fluttered with an influx of hope. She held her breath as if the very act would somehow yield different results. Miranda’s expression remained as unchanged as her resentment towards Irina who had first defied the Council’s out-dated rules 3 years ago. When she’d lost the close friendship of the girl everyone called her twin though Miranda’s colouring was directly opposite of hers, Irina had wondered if helping the mundane had been worth it. In spite of the consequences, she still thought it was.

She didn’t believe rules based on the tumultuous times of the witch trials were relevant in this time. As the offspring of an absentee father and a sickly mother, Irina had spent most of her young life moving from one homeless shelter to another so she knew what it was like to depend on someone else to stay alive. In fact when her powers had started to manifest, it had been a world weary nun who had pointed an orphaned Irina in the direction of someone who could help her. She had been placed with a family and inducted into the local coven.

Chairperson VanGuard approached the podium and silence spread through the room. When Irina had completed the designation ritual a year early at 13, Chairperson VanGuard had held the young uncertain girl in her arms and praised her for possessing a talent so few had been granted. She was a time witch. Irina had been speechless. Not only had she found a place in this spectacular world, she held a coveted one. She had made her mentor proud with her progress. Now Irina wondered if even a smidgen of those feelings still existed. The powerful sorceress was barely visible above the podium but her magical presence was gargantuan. Her clear clipped tone carried across the hall.

“Welcome factions. This will be a short meeting. In light of the destruction wrought by yesterday’s storm, the Council would like to remind everyone of the importance of adhering to the rules. We have already had five infractions and while these weren’t committed by the usual delinquents…”

She paused to flick a scathing glance at Irina and a few snickers littered the hall. Irina clenched her teeth against the tears welling in her eyes. She could move to another town but the Council ruled all factions in the country and she had no doubt the news of her rampant disobedience would have settled in way before she did.

“There was no reason for anyone to commit them in the first place. Please note that it brings the Council no pleasure when we dole out punishment. However, the rules are in place to ensure order and anonymity. With this mind, all members are required to only use magic to fix their property in as far as it will not arouse suspicion in surrounding mundanes. Do not use your powers to undertake any repairs for the mundane community.”

She paused as if daring anyone in attendance to offer a rebuttal. There was only silence.

“That is all.”

Irina sprang from her chair and fled the building. She let her coat billow around her lifting the load of her warring roles of obligation and exile. She hoped the weather would be better tomorrow so she would be able to open her shop. At least the mundanes liked her company. On her loneliest days she took solace in knowing she had made a difference in the lives of persons who had needed her as well as the firm belief that the Council would come to its senses one day.


In the morning, the sun lounged lazily in the sky, brightening the day but bringing only a modicum of warmth. Still Irina made the brief walk from her modest home to an even more modest shop at the back of the mall. The words “MADAME IRINA—BLESSED FORTUNE TELLER” were emblazoned on the shop’s door. Irina doubted she was blessed and there was certainly no fortune in her life of late. Still, it was a job and every now and then she had the opportunity to help someone.

A few hours passed before her entrance bell chimed. Irina watched passively from her antique chair as the couple entered her shop. The frown etched into the man’s wrinkled face told her the woman was likely the one interested in having her fortune read. A few moments of silence passed before the man waved in the direction of the small chair stationed opposite Irina’s.

“Well you wanted to come in here. Go get it over with.”

The slight woman dutifully sat down. She perched at the edge as if she were afraid to get too comfortable. Irina smiled and took the woman’s trembling hands into her own.

“Please… relax. It will make the reading easier. Tell me your name.”

The man chuckled from the doorway and muttered, “Some fortune teller. Can’t even bother to guess a name.”

Irina ignored him but the woman cast her eyes downwards as her cheeks stained crimson.

“It’s alright. Just your name.”

“Astra.”

“Alright, Astra. Let’s see what your future holds.”

Irina placed Astra’s hands on the table with the palms turned upwards and traced each with her fingertips. Flashes tore into Irina like a cat o’ nine tails drenched in a corrosive acid. Astra’s pain lit her body afire. She took deep breaths and forced her mind to focus on what was past, present and future. A tiny girl cried inconsolably in front of a trio of headstones. Based on the inscriptions, Irina assumed they belonged to Astra’s parents and a sister. The vision phased to Astra standing before a dull grey building with the sign declaring it an orphanage barely clinging to its exterior. The stench of fear seeped through the memory and Irina moved forward.

She emerged on a dimly lit dance floor beside Astra and a man who held her closely. She nestled her head in his shoulder and smiled hesitantly. Irina frowned at the desperation from both parties that pervaded this vision. She suspected how this would end but she moved forward.

In the next vision, Astra tumbled down the stairs in slow motion. Each bump and crack echoed through the sensory heightened arena of Irina’s mind. Astra’s battered frame crashed to the bottom of the stairwell. Her eyes were closed and her hands reached out to Irina as if seeking intervention. At the top of the stairs her husband peered down, his expression shifting from boredom to irritation when she didn’t get up.

“For God’s sake,” he muttered.

 [ Poker, © 2017 Cécile Matthey ] Irina didn’t need to see any more of Astra’s past or feel the heart rending emotions lurking in her memories. She moved on, pushing away any vision with emotions attached. Finally she walked into a scene which lacked the clarity of the ones before. She could see Astra and her husband in what looked to be the same living area. Their lips were moving but whatever sound came out was so distorted, it seemed to be coming to her from underwater. The husband pushed Astra to the ground and she hit her head on the brick façade of the fireplace. One hand clasped her stomach protectively while her other hand landed beside a black metal poker. Her fingers itched to grasp it.

When she hesitated, her husband stomped on her hand before burying his hand in her hair and pulling her from the room. Her chance was lost. Irina stared into the crackling fire. A glint caught her eye and her breath hitched in her throat as she realized what it was. A decision point. She reached into the fire and grasped the minute spark. Immediately she was transported to the point in time when Astra’s hand landed beside the poker. This time, she didn’t hesitate. Astra grabbed the poker and lunged at her husband’s thigh. A look of disbelief clouded his face as his beige slacks turned crimson. As he crumpled to the ground, Astra stood up and brought the poker down across his head.

There was a glimmer of light and out of curiosity Irina glided from one vision into another. The next scene was barely there. It was only a flash but it was all Irina needed to see. Astra and a little girl with her mother’s wiry brunette curls framing her face. They were sitting on a bench, eating ice cream cones and laughing.

With a gasp, Irina’s eyes flew open and Astra clutched her hands tightly.

“What did you see?” she asked anxiously.

Irina bit her lip. This was the tricky part. The part she had been forbidden to practice by The Witches’ Council. Her eyes darted to the frowning man in her doorway. It was worth it.

“I see… changes in your future.”

“Changes?”

“There will be important opportunities for improvement in your future but you must recognize them and grasp them.”

Astra looked at her in confusion.

“Grasp them?”

Irina dug for the memory of the decision point and muttered an incantation. She made small circles in Astra’s palm, willing her magic to build and imprint the image into the woman’s mind. Fire burned in Irina’s veins, pulsing and exploding into Astra’s palm soliciting a yelp.

“Grasp, Astra. Do you understand?”

Astra nodded numbly. Her husband pushed off from the wall and threw $15 on the table. He grabbed Astra’s hand from Irina’s and pulled her away.

“Alright that’s enough. You’re already wasting my money. I don’t need you to waste my time too.”

He glared at Irina.

“What kind of bullshit reading was that anyway?”

Irina shrugged.

“I guess I’m not that good of a fortune teller.”

His frown deepened and he flung the door open dragging Astra with him. The door slammed and a commanding voice filled the room.

“Seventh infraction. Time witches observe the future, they do not influence it.”

A black weathered hand appeared and dragged a single grey claw down the wall, deeply gouging the concrete. Blood spurted from an identical wound on Irina’s back, spanning the distance from the shoulder to her waist. As the blood soaked her blouse and pain dimmed her vision, she wrapped her arms around herself and whispered softly.

“It was worth it. It was worth it.”


© 2017, Karen Heslop

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