by DA Rist
Man who can see the future gets more than he planned.
|Over the radio played Doris Day, “Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be, the future's not ours, to see.” I like Doris Day as much as the next man, probably more since I know who she is, but this song drives me nuts. The song lies. The future is mine to see. My name is Xavier Niuno and I am a seer. I like that term. It sounds nobler than fortune-teller. Perhaps oracle, as in the Oracle at Delphi, but I am neither incapacitated nor high on drugs. Plus, “oracle” often refers to the tools of divination. Prophet is out due to the religious overtones. My ability is powerful, but frustratingly unreliable and maddeningly vague at times.
For as long as I can remember, I have had the ability to see what was going to happen to someone. It is a handy trait. I remember the time Sally Jorgenson told me that she was going on a picnic with her mom and dad. We were four years old. I saw her sitting by the window, watching the rain pour down. I asked my mother to make some cookies. The look on Sally’s face as I brought the cookies, still warm, to her door filled me with pure bliss. I had a crush. We sat and ate cookies with milk. We played all afternoon. If such things count at that age, she was my first girlfriend. We were inseparable until the age of eight, when her family moved away. I saw that she would be happy at her new home. It was traumatic to realize I would be nothing more than a happy memory. I knew she would be happy and I would be miserable for the rest of my life, or so it seemed. To a child, time was a slippery concept. The now was an eternal moment.
I never actually told anyone about my gift. Whenever I thought about it, I would see the results before I spoke. I had no idea what “inquisition” meant, nor “scientific research,” but the images were enough to keep my mouth shut. Even so, the other children quickly realized that in a game, they wanted me on their team. They also picked up on the fact that Hide & Seek was no fun if I played. I stopped playing games after a while, the trophies and ribbons were meaningless. The chance of losing is what makes a game fun. Knowing the future can really take the fun out of life.
You would think that prescience would make the teen years simpler. The anxiety, the self-doubt, the general feeling of inadequacy — these feelings do not come from the insecurity of not knowing the future, nor are they something that can be planned. I had a new role to play and I had not played it before. That was the root of my insecurity. I knew what the results of my actions would be, but not why. I quickly discovered that I might know whether a girl would go out with me, but I could not be sure if they loved me. The world is too big to spend it alone.
This was also the time when I found that the future could be a terrifying place. Everyone stayed away from crazy old Mr. Bormann. I played no small part in encouraging my friends to avoid him. I suspected that the occasional image of him splattered with blood was connected to the disappearance of various pets in the neighborhood. Sadly, my visions did not constitute proof of any wrong doing. One day, Jimmy Thurston and I were playing catch in Jimmy’s yard.
“Heads up,” Jimmy said.
“Got it,” I said. Mr. Bormann walked by. He was, once again, covered in blood, more blood than normal. Distracted, the ball hit me and knocked me down. Mr. Bormann continued past with a smirk.
“Hey, man, you all right?”
“Jimmy? Where are you?”
“I’m right here, man. You’re freaking me out.”
“I can’t see you.”
“Hold on, I’ll get Mom.”
When he returned with his mother, I was sitting up. I told her I was fine, but Mrs. Thurston made Jimmy walk me the few blocks to my home while she called my parents. That was the last time I saw Jimmy. Mr. Bormann got the chair. Mrs. Thurston got enough of her son to fill the coffin. This is when I realized just how painful seeing the future could be.
Near the end of High School, I resolved to use my gift to make a living. I decided to apprentice myself to one of the fortune tellers in town. I found that most were frauds. At best, they had a modicum of talent. About to give up, I found Claire. To this day, I am not sure if Claire had the gift or not. She used cards and books. I suppose calling her a witch would be accurate enough.
“You don’t get visions?” I said.
“Oh gods, no,” she said. “I do a ritual to invoke Mercury-Thoth. He rules the Tarot.”
“Yes. Sometimes I get a clear meaning from the cards. Most of the time, it isn’t necessary.”
“What do you mean?”
“Most people just want advice — logical, clear advice. I charge less than a shrink. Most people’s questions don’t require any real ability. If you don’t know, just give some vague answer. Prophecy is always like that. It’s unclear, muddled, symbolic. Hell, people are still arguing over those poems Nostradamus wrote.”
“Isn’t that cheating? What if they follow your advice and they get hurt?”
“That’s the beauty of it. They only follow the advice they’d do anyway.”
It was a bit cynical, but she was right. We had many long discussions. She would talk quite a bit about values and principles. I admit that I didn’t really pay attention to a lot of it.
“So, can the future change?” I said.
“Who knows,” Claire said.
“So if we see something bad, and we don’t act, is it our fault?”
“Fault, schmault. You’re thinking of your friend again. Stop. It’s not your fault. Even if you’d understood what you were seeing.”
“Then why? Why should I see?”
“People ignore things they don’t want to see all the time. It’s just harder for you.”
I didn’t stay in contact with Claire after I moved to go to college. However, I used what she taught me well. If no vision came to me, I just gave some twaddle about the future being cloudy, and followed with some generic practical advice.
As I got older I could see further into the future. Two classes that had a big impact on me were English Literature and Introduction to Buddhism. The descriptions of hell allowed me to interpret the visions I was now receiving. I had been seeing weird, surreal things: frozen plains where people were being stung with sleet, people mired in feces with giant insects stinging any part of the body above the cesspool, and emaciated ethereal beings vainly attempting to force food down a throat too small to accept anything. One becomes accustomed to things when one has always lived with them. This new dimension caused me to wonder if my gift had driven me insane.
During my Introduction to Buddhism class, we were introduced to two illustrated scrolls from around the 1200s. They caught my eye for the scenes they depicted seemed familiar. Scene from scene unfolded in the Scroll of the Hells. Here were the keys to my visions. The scroll mimicked several of the scenes I had seen, people being flayed alive, and people being ground in a mortar and pestle. When I saw an image of a person being torn by a giant rooster, I knew that this was their punishment in the afterlife for animal cruelty. I made an anonymous call to the Animal Welfare office.
Dante provided another clue. In reading about the rings of Hell in The Inferno, the meaning of the frozen plains became clear. The people turned into trees and torn by harpies had killed themselves. When I had a vision of a person trapped in a rocky crevasse with snakes and lizard chewing on their flesh, this was because they were thieves. Having a framework to classify the new symbol set helped me to understand what I was seeing.
I should be clear. My visions in college were not all tormented sinners. I still saw the sunny days, the joyous relationships, and the locations of missing items. For some reason, such tales are harder to recall. Perhaps it is a failing of mine, but the frightful images seem more vivid.
I used the money I earned to make some investments and did well enough that I was able to give up on fortune telling altogether. I had an upscale penthouse, a moderately expensive car. It was better to not stand out too much. I was able to dress in an understated but expensive manner. Designer shoes, black slacks, and a jewel-tone dress shirt — I cut a dashing figure, if I do say so myself. It was at this time I met Margarete.
She was sitting alone at a cafe not far from my studio, a radiant being with an odd blot of darkness — an occlusion or obstruction to my view. Despite this, I knew that I would be happy if I talked to her. It turned out that she had a boyfriend, Mark. She suspected he had not quit coke like he said he had. She had met him on the internet and had moved from Chicago to be with him.
“The time!” she said, looking at her watch, “I really should go.” The lights about her seemed dimmed, grinning skulls licked non-existent lips.
“Must you?” I said. My face was calm, but my heart was pounding.
“Mark will be home soon. His work ended an hour ago.”
“But you said he was always coming home late.”
“Yes, but —”
“Tell you what, why don’t you call and tell him that you’re out, and were wondering if you should rush home.”
“I don’t know…” I could tell my insistence was bothering her. We had just met. I was definitely acting in too familiar a manner.
“Sorry. I’ve just been enjoying your company. There is a play opening up at the Center Stage, and I was hoping you would join me. They’re doing a special showing of The Importance of Being Earnest.” If you give someone an out, they will take it. Her choices were to go home where she would probably be alone. There she would inevitably return to the question of Mark. Instead of dealing with this uncomfortable truth, she could delay it for a few hours while delighting in a comedic play with an understanding and sympathetic friend. We had just met, but friends go to the theater together, not strangers. I desperately wanted to be in a friend, rather than a stranger.
“All right,” she said. She took my phone and talked with Mark. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but it wasn’t a long conversation. She looked upset. “He said it was fine. That I should have fun. He didn’t even ask who I was going with.”
As she spoke, the symbols of death faded. Relieved, I made reservations. After a moment’s hesitation, she took my arm and we walked to my car. The play was wonderful, full of the wit and farce for which Wilde is famous. After the play, I took her home. The police had the whole house cordoned off. It seems that Mark had come home with a couple of girls and a mountain of coke. Unfortunately, Mark’s dealer felt that Mark should have paid for the cocaine before taking it. Imagine a bunch of jacked up coke-heads with firearms. They were all dead — Mark, the girls, the dealer, and the dealer’s two goons.
With Mark’s death, Margarete was alone. She had moved across the country to be with a man she had known for a couple of months.
“What am I going to do? Where am I going to live?” she said. Confusion and panic was adding a hint of hysteria to her voice.
“I… I have a spare room if you need it.”
She hesitated. Looking at the coroner vans and yards of yellow tape, she agreed. Any lifeline looks good to a drowning person.
I was a perfect gentleman. I did nothing more than hold her as she cried. Eventually, she went to bed. She was still a radiant being behind a circle of darkness.
As the days passed and she became accustomed to her new life, I made her my manager. It was simple enough of a job. She invested my money in the things I asked her to invest in. She began to take her pay and invest it in the same things and soon she was financially secure. She leased her own apartment not far away and we became romantically involved.
Many of my clients had not accepted my retirement. Despite my refusals, an old client would still drop by to try and convince me to see their future. One day, they tried to get Margarete to convince me.
“So you can see the future?” she said.
“Sometimes. I try not to.”
“Seems like it would be handy.”
“It does make investing easier.”
“And picking up women?”
“It allows me to see whether we would be happy or sad together.”
“Why did you stop?”
“People don’t want to hear the future if it is bad. I got tired of dealing with it.”
“And? There has to be more to it than that.”
She knew me well. Over a year of dating would do that I suppose. “I can see the afterlife. More accurately, I can see people as they suffer in hell.”
What can be said after that? She embraced me and never asked me about it again.
To say that our life together was bliss would be no understatement. However, there was one concern. The occlusion over Margarete was steadily growing. Her light was undiminished, but the darkness grew. It was a blot on her divine radiance. I tried to ask questions, to get answers, but they did nothing but increase the darkness. More of my time was taken in research. I poured over tomes of visions. Symbols of science, both modern and ancient, revealed nothing. Jung was silent. My vision would not guide my hand. I saw no answers. Sometimes days would pass with me shuttered away in research. My compulsion worried Margarete. The darkness grew. In response, my own compulsion grew. Abandoned, she grew concerned, frantic in her concern for me.
The radio continued its song. I should probably call Margarete, it’s been a week. I heard the door open.
“Are you there?” Margarete called.
“In the library.”
“You didn’t answer the phone. I had to convince the manager to give me the key.”
I looked at her. She shone like the sun during an eclipse, total darkness with a ring that seared my mind. “What?” The manager was a crotchety old man. He would not have handed over the key short of a court order.
“Are you tired of me? Are you leaving me?” she said.
“What? No. I love you.”
“You’re leaving me, like everyone else. I won’t be alone.”
She stepped forward, through the curtain of darkness. Her shoes and hands were stained with the blood of the manager. It was too late. I had failed. As she reached for me I don’t know what hurt more, my crushed throat or the vision of harpies nesting in the branches of my beloved Margarete.
How fitting that the radio was playing “Que Sera, Sera.” Doris Day was right, the future is not ours to see.