STORIES

Short Story: The White Spider

A foreword on Fate:

 

Do I believe in signs and predictions? Yes and no. I believe in the power of interpretation and the even greater power of purposeful determination. Should fate be predetermined, we edit it with our choices. As a writer, I confirm that an edit may imply a total rewrite.

I have no trust in dubious research or invalid information.

To me, fate is the union of collective free will. Between two people it forms a relationship; between several – a family; between all people – humanity.

No bond exists without purpose. There is only one enduring relationship – civilization- from which none is disconnected.  No one’s fate is excluded from the paramount scheme: decidedly human, and essentially divine.

This story was written when my grandmother – fond of Russian TV was watching yet another season of the popular show, “Bitva Ekstrasensov,” (Battle of the Psychics). It also explores one of my favorite topics – INTERCONNECTION. Oh, and fate, of course: your free will is to read this story and my free will – in having written it.

 

THE WHITE SPIDER

 

Sybil held that she was a master of her own fate, unlike her neighbors whom she accused of gullibility. She had not believed in signs – much less in magic – when they told her of a young man who had recently moved into the building. He occupied a bachelor apartment on the 13th floor. The lighting never worked on that floor, no matter how often the superintendent changed it, and spiders infested the corners. At first, the residents blamed the intendent with neglect in a chorus of strong words. But soon, they venerably whispered that the blackouts were caused by the presence of a clairvoyant – the mysterious young man.

Sybil’s neighbor, Katrina, broadcast to everyone who listened that her myopia was healed after a visit to the clairvoyant. She continued wearing glasses only because it felt unnatural to have “nothing on her nose” after decades of prescriptions. The couple next door were expecting a baby after years of trying. Their diverse nightly efforts had been inefficient until they worked with the clairvoyant…A few others went further, saying the young man could summon spirits, describe events of bygone years, and lift the fear of the unknown by narrating the future.

“The only thing supernatural is my headache this morning,” Sybil winced and spotted a spider on her desk. It tickled over the page of her new article, spun a web in between the words “America” and “Russia,” in spectral harmony, and then dexterously whisked under her notebook. Lifting the notebook, Sybil found no trace of the spider.

“I must sleep more.” She would schedule an appointment with the optometrist on her next free afternoon to check for floaters. Unlike her crazy neighbor, Katrina, she had no plan to see a clairvoyant.

Coming home late, Sybil stepped into the elevator, already dreaming of the moment when her head would hit the pillow.  But skipping her floor, the elevator ascended to the 13th.

A pale young man with long fingers and cross-shaped scars on his arms greeted her on the dark floor. Cold and tranquil, there was no shade of a smile or a soul in his eyes.

“Sorry, wrong floor,” Sybil muttered, feeling an unpleasant chill from the intense, sullen look of the alleged clairvoyant.

“No, it’s the right floor,” the young man said. His skin seemed to glow in the darkness of the hallway, and Sybil had no doubts that the young man was an addict – a self-abusing emotional wreck, as evidenced by the skin cutting. Why was his presence so addictive to her neighbors, who claimed the young man was capable of miracles and extraordinary healings?

There was a silver amulet of a spider on his chest. His unnervingly calm voice sent shivers up her spine, “People come to ask me questions. You have three. One: If I am a drug-addict? The answer is no. Two: Do I practice self-harm? The answer is no. Not in the way you can imagine. Three: Whether I am real. The answer is maybe. Goodnight.”

The elevator’s doors closed before Sybil could retort.

She was annoyed by the clairvoyant. Things she could not explain always triggered this reaction.

At last, she sensibly concluded, “Anyone would have those questions when seeing the guy. He is no clairvoyant, because clairvoyants don’t exist. Only illusions of the mind.”

After a bad night sleep, she was glad for a peaceful Saturday morning when her only obligation was meeting her best friend for a tour of a museum and dinner afterwards.

“We will change the world one day, don’t you doubt it!” said Michelle, as the girls indulged in oysters at a sumptuous seafood place. The waiters watching the girls, so heatedly engaged in talk in the candle-light of the patio, presumed the two were lovers and brought oysters on a valentine-shaped plate. In fact, the girls were in love with the fervid expectations of all they planned to achieve: Sybil in her journalist’s career, Michelle – through philanthropy, having been born with a paycheque for a million dollars in her crib. Her mother ran an adoption business. Her father was a seasoned investor.

“Have you been to a sick children’s orphanage?” Michelle asked, “I was to several as a child myself with my mother. Such was my introduction to humanity: the contrast of everything I had and was taking for granted and of the monstrous indifference which consumed the lives of others. In one of those orphanages I saw a girl, around three years old, and I asked my mother, “What are those pipes sticking from her nostrils?” I will never stop blaming myself for asking so loudly, although the girl could not understand me. She was comatose. “Out of a womb into a trash bag” – that’s how the caretakers called her. Her birthdate and name were stamped on a paper and attached to her crib. Her name was Michelle, like my own…There were dozens of children lying in that vast, cold room. Their names unloved by anyone, their birthdays – forgotten. Leaving the orphanage, I realized once and for all that spilling tears for my own worries – my amendable worries – was akin to a crime. Where I’m happily around, that poor angel is long dead.”

“Do you plan on having children or adopting yourself?” Sybil asked.

Michelle gave a wistful smile, “A clairvoyant once told me (if you would believe such things) that I will have a boy and girl with a man who’ll love me dearly. I’ve chosen to adopt the world instead – with my philanthropy.”

Sybil knew all about Michelle with exception of one fact: her most intimate despair which, nonetheless, defined her character. Despite the mirage of a close-knit family, Michelle felt like an orphan herself. Saving the world, Michelle’s mother was impartial to her own child, overcooking herself in solariums, relaxing in mud-baths and in endless visits to friends on whom she poured the mud of gossip behind their backs. Michelle’s father called home on holidays from one of his international offices or from the embraces of his mistresses – each younger than the previous. Two elder brothers married gold-diggers who looked daggers at each other at rare family assemblies, debating which of them could snatch the jackpot of a billion dollars, once the father-in-law would collapse at some stressful business meeting.

Michelle’s mother handed her a monthly cheque for 10 thousand dollars in the substitute of love. Whenever the daughter prayed for attention, the mother shrugged, “Buy it from someone who has time. My hairdresser is waiting and so are the kids in the orphanage. They need attention more than you!”

Michelle could never argue with the latter excuse.

“Please let me pay,” Michelle asked Sybil.

She then hurried to the washroom to cry.

 

* * *

 

The sky was wrinkled with clouds. Sybil was looking out of her office window in one of the tallest skyscrapers of City N. A phone call from her boss reminded that she was a greenhorn with her head on the corporate scaffold.

Sybil arrived in City N on New Year’s Eve last year, viewing the metropolis as a battlefield for the full charge of her ambition. Now, she summed up her successes, admitting that she’d fallen short. The most she did was write an article, read by 2 million people –urging the audience to follow their dreams to the resolute extreme. She wrote on many social issues, and wondered if those blazing words had ever been a call to action, or triggered the derisive yawns of everyone who’d cared to read them. She craved attention to bring change – for this tired and bored city to spring vibrantly to life – not mere existence; to recharge it with the zeal of incredible achievements. But a strange, lethargic mist crept over the buildings, and into the minds of its people. Most of City N appeared to move in a video-game: a simulation of reactions and repetitive thought-patterns, with no place for the fantastic in the dreary mundane strife, in competition of survival…

Sybil had no time for dating or frequent social interaction. She would only meet Michelle on the weekends, feeling blessed for one close friend.

Sybil called her parents daily, assuring them she was okay. They were perpetually drowsing in front of the zombie-box of the TV, in a remote, provincial town. They never seemed to understand what a demon had possessed her, sweeping their daughter away to the temptation of a big city.

“Fame,” Sybil admitted, “I seek fame. Only then I will be heard and make the world a better place. I am the master of my fate. I will direct all of my energy into making a name, a reputation for myself…”

Her boss promised last week, “Write another breakthrough article and I will promote you.”

Most of her boss’s promises had been forgotten by the weekend.

Sybil needed a sensation which would solidify her name as a journalist.

Her musings were interrupted by a shadow of a man beyond the window.

What the…?” Sybil rubbed her eyes…Her office was on the 30th floor. She then backed away with a gasp, seeing the world shatter into 7 billion human pieces – ringing with pain and disconnection. Or had she only felt it?

“What is going on?” Sybil grabbed her things, forgetting all about her work and even the risk of getting fired…Catching the bus home, Sybil remembered, “Michelle said yesterday that a clairvoyant foresaw her having two children. Is this clairvoyant one and the same? What if hundreds of people are visiting him, paying him, and he’s lying to them all? Or is he the real thing?”

Perhaps this could be her sensation for the newspaper: she would expose the young man for whatever he was. Riding home, Sybil didn’t notice when her fully charged phone died and she missed an urgent call from Michelle… But, she certainly noticed that the key to her apartment did not work. She heard two men speaking on a lower flight of stairs, and glimpsed one of them – a bald and brawly type, a tattoo of a red shark on his glistening scalp.

He noted gruffly, “Look, there’s a broad.”

Another confirmed, “Yep, a young broad,” his voice sounding choked and low.

“Let’s get her…”

Sybil raced up the staircase, shouting for help – but the scream dried in her throat. None of the doors she tried to escape through bulged, as if they were cemented shut.

Trapped in a nightmare, Sybil continued running up, hearing two pursuers behind her.

Just one door opened: to the 13th floor. She was greeted by the clairvoyant. He stood in the dark hallway, expecting her. The cool tide of his voice washed over her:

“It’s all in your head. Nobody is chasing you…only the dead.”

“The dead?!” a wave of nausea ebbed to Sybil’s throat.

“Yes, I kindly asked them to depart,” the clairvoyant assured, “The first of them had a tattoo of a red shark on his head. Bill died from a heart-attack on the flight of the staircase in 1967. He lay there for an hour, and people heard him call for help. It was late and they were frightened. They didn’t want to get involved. That’s why Bill is still around. The second is an older phantom. Nate died when a slab collapsed during the building’s construction in 1930. He’s what they call a “jolly chap.” He fell three stories, breaking almost every bone. He couldn`t have caught up with you. He’s a slow one. He has some vivid memories of WW1, fresh from the trenches – a neat guy to talk…The third phantom…well, you didn’t hear him, but he wished to meet you too.”

“There were three?” Sybil barely found the words, staring at the amulet of the spider on the clairvoyant’s chest.

“Yes,” the clairvoyant revealed after a pause, “He’s headless from a train collision so you didn’t hear him speak.”

Sybil whimpered in dread as he continued, “Had you turned around, you would have seen him floating behind you. He’s the only of the three who doesn’t know that he is dead. Murray. A hypochondriac who had feared to die from a headache.”

Sybil felt herself on the brink of going insane, “The man with the shark tattoo looked real. You are lying! They just heard me speaking to you and went away…”

The clairvoyant smirked, looking intently into her eyes, “Would you like me to call them back?”

Sybil felt herself under an ex-ray: her outrage, humiliation, all emotions in between, and all her intimate confessions were the clairvoyant’s to examine.

She flinched in disgust at her own vulnerability, as he predicted, “You’ll get a fever tonight. Drink lemon water – it will help. Your parents will call you. Your mom sprained her ankle. Your dad is doing alright. Both will live to a rickety old age. As for me, I have two séances for which I must prepare. Katrina wants to know the future: always a gamble. In that case – not a lucky one. Katrina’s husband might die soon. Tomorrow, in fact, around 5.45 pm…the ambulance will show up late. There will be a hellacious storm. She must call doctors in advance. No other way to postpone death…However, he will certainly die in the upcoming year. Death doesn’t wait. Nor do my clients,” the clairvoyant disclosed, studying Sybil with his aloof yet focused gaze.

“Bastard,” was all she managed to say, “I will write about you. All of City N will know how gullible they are…”

Gullible?” the young man seemed to grow taller, shadows condensing around him, “Come back tomorrow and tell me how gullible you are.”

“Bastard,” Sybil repeated – sounding dangerous herself – and then stubbornly insisted, “Walk me back to my apartment.”

She was scared out of her wits.

“Of course,” the clairvoyant obliged, fearing nothing in the dark.

Sybil’s apartment door wouldn’t open. She furiously pounded the door, sputtering a cannonade of curses.

“Careful there, you might summon the Devil,” the clairvoyant warned, “Let me try instead.”

He asked the door politely, “Could you please open now?” and it easily unlocked.

“You see…” he mentored Sybil to her chagrin, “Good manners work magic.”

“It was jammed before I hit it. I could have opened it myself,” was Sybil’s angry explanation.

“Undoubtedly,” the clairvoyant smirked again, as Sybil hastily walked in. She was about to retort, but the clairvoyant was no longer behind her. There was no trace of the young man on her floor anymore and Sybil did not dare to check, in case more things would appear from the shadows. She hastened to her medical-box and swallowed every vitamin. She measured her temperature, noting to herself, “I feel better than ever. I am young, tough and brimming with health.”

Just then a call from her parents notified Sybil of her mother’s sprained ankle. Sybil’s mind wandered during the call. She was mentally in space; a haunting tune playing in the background somewhere…Her parents assumed she was too tired to speak.

“You would never get tired in South Forkville (such was the name of the small town)!” the mother started nagging her.

“Does your boss pay enough for exploiting you?” the father pressed on…

“It’s winter. I’m coming down with a cold. Nothing serious,” Sybil lied, promising to call tomorrow.

Her final – tearful – words to them were, “Mom, dad. Please live to a rickety old age.”

“We’ll do our best,” the parents promised, warmly touched by her concern.

A few moments after disconnecting, Sybil was fighting back a sneeze. Her temperature rose.

“I won’t surrender,” she repeated but fell on the couch, shot down by another sneeze. Only after drinking several glasses of lemon water did the temperature descend. The next day was a holiday, but City N’s mood was damped by a freezing rain.

Gloom prevailed on Sybil’s street when the ambulance parked in the front yard to take Katrina’s husband away: not to the hospital but to the morgue. They had arrived late…

“That’s it,” Sybil went up to the 13th floor. The clairvoyant was leaning against the wall, expectedly sullen and provocatively calm. He measured her with a dark gaze, and Sybil noticed that his blue eyes had turned black.

“Do you live in this hallway?” she asked with a challenge wondering if the color of his eyes was an effect of contact lenses.

“To those who should not enter my home – yes I do,” he replied.

Sensing her anger, he added, “You aren’t prepared to see it yet.”

Yet?” Sybil echoed.

“Yet,” the clairvoyant repeated, “For now, you are here to change your opinion about me. As for my opinion about you, I formed it the moment I saw you. Even before you moved into this building, I knew who you were.”

“That’s rather biased, don’t you think?” Sybil asked, but didn’t protest when he took her hand. She wished to feel this strange man’s touch, only to determine if he had a pulse.

“The eyes of a snake…hypnotising,” Sybil thought, and the clairvoyant read her mind, observing, “Rather biased, don’t you think?”

He then suddenly asked, “How do you feel?” and she honestly said, “Good.”’

“Not good. In love,” the clairvoyant whispered into her ear –a cold draft grazing the sensitive skin of her neck.

‘What?!” Sybil tore her hand away.

“In love. Good,” he confirmed, as if diagnosing an illness, “Now, feel your heartbeat.”

Sybil checked her heartbeat and triumphantly declared, “Calmer than ever and love-free!”

“Really?” the clairvoyant chuckled softly, and extended his own hand, “Feel it, then.”

Sybil skeptically felt the young man’s heartbeat.

Her pupils dilated from shock, “You should sit down. It seems you’re running on a treadmill.”

“Actually, it’s yours,” the clairvoyant said, and his heart rate started dropping.

Sybil’s climbed to a wild rhythm, fluttering and skipping beats. For a few minutes, his heartbeat had copied hers – and vice versa. She felt weightlessly calm at that time. Something she hadn’t felt for ages. Now, the weight of the world settled in her ribcage, throbbing with fear and inadmissible excitement.

“I’m not in love…” she insisted, flaming to the roots of her hair.

But the clairvoyant had no time for denials.

He merely said, continuing to diagnose her, “You are making a bad choice. My heart is already full and there is no room for feelings. I serve things greater than us both. The calmness you felt is how you perceive me, not who I actually am. It’s what everybody feels when they step into my home, in search for healing and redemption, for answers to resolve their pain…for the impossible to happen. You want fame, and had you visited me sooner, I would have given fame to you: for the world to cheer your name, not for me to whisper it in the privacy of passion. Now, it’s too late. I cannot give you what you want, as I don’t have it any longer. You also want my soul and love for yours. But my soul is non-existent.”

“What do you serve?” she muttered.

“Humanity,” he said and walked into the dark abode which she was not prepared to enter.

Sybil returned to her apartment. Tears spilled from her eyes for the first time in a year. She had vowed to postpone such weakness until her name would shine in gold over an awestruck City N. These tears weren’t only her own, and she could not stop for hours, growing conscious of the grief, anxiety and isolation of the people in her building – and the people of the world – compressed in one unspoken plea.

She called her parents, and felt her heart splitting into myriad pieces when they did not pick up.

“I love you, I love you…” she whispered, remembering those cherished faces which meant nothing to anyone but herself in the medley of creation. She imagined that her parents were now old people, vulnerable to all harm. No matter how she’d struggle to outrace calamity – no matter the bargain she would try to make with fate – they would scatter into dust.

Roaming in a haze of dread – from one room to another – Sybil couldn’t hear the phone when Michelle called her…Michelle – her only bond in the city full of indifference.

She just recalled their conversation about the orphanage, and sunk wailing to the floor in a bout of agony. Such hopeless sorrow overcame her, that she suddenly felt numb, unable to absorb more pain from the orphaned world around her. She saw glimpses of people who once rented her apartment and felt a paralyzing tug under her shoulder-blade. The previous owner had died from cardiac-arrest. Sybil darted for a tide of fresh air and nearly shattered the window in the frantic urge to live.  She didn’t see the usual view of a yard with two swings and a miniature grove, picturesquely veiled by snow. She saw a wasteland covered with bones and countless people dressed in garbs of all eras, locked in chains of all regimes and crimes against humanity – reaching out their hands to her, praying and weeping under a bright crimson moon over which a giant spider was weaving a net of suffocating, human interconnections.

Sybil passed out from the pain.

In her dream, she saw the clairvoyant embracing her softly and saying, “Such is my gift, my curse, and purpose.”

Sybil awoke in icy sweat, with no sense of time or location, but with her furious boss calling.

Twenty minutes later, she was riding the subway, praying not to get sacked. She wanted to forget her last night’s visions but could not shake off the anxiety.

“God, please make this nightmare stop…” she pleaded.

The train abruptly stopped. The lights flickered and some impressionable persons screamed, assuming it could be a terrorist attack, or a disastrous glitch which would fry them to a crisp. The realists agreed that this had never happened before and inwardly cursed being late to their humdrum affairs. But even they were discomposed when the train seemed to change tracks, riding backward.

In the grim, underground tunnels, Sybil saw the headless man, pointing at her.

“Oh God, we are about to die! The train will crash or explode!” Sybil’s heart stopped with horror, just as the train stopped too. Regaining her breath, Sybil recognized the station to get even more alarmed. Michelle lived nearby. Several messages and missed phone calls appeared on Sybil’s phone – arriving days late…Or had she only noticed them now?

Michelle had suffered a mental break-down. She had enjoyed the company of people who spat on the rules of a fake, hierarchal society. Those were self-proclaimed seekers of truth, using meditation and spirituality as pretexts for drug-dealing. They had invited Michelle for a combined take of  psychedelics at her place: to transcend the frontiers of the mind, and partake in the battle of light and darkness waged beyond the suspicion of humankind.

A belated voice message from Michelle recorded her screaming: “Sybil, where are you?! Pick up the phone! People don`t know that the sky will collapse, with all of its angels. The sky is the planks of God`s house, and they`ve gone rotten. There`s nothing God can do about it. But you can, Sybil! Protect yourself! I beg you, be vigilant! People can kill you with one look, one evil intention. It`s not what they say or do. It`s how they lie that your life matters. They can push you out of your body by wishing you ill. And everyone is pushing and pushing until you can breathe no more! No one needs me, Sybil. Pick up! For God`s sake, PICK UP! I can`t take this anymore…I`ve found some friends. We`ve connected so well… Please come and join us at the dances. The entire world is dancing to distract itself from pain. We`ll say goodbye to everything and offer ourselves to the cosmos. I`m a bit scared. Please be there with me, hold my hand for the last time…I`m fragile like a porcelain doll – haha – what a cliché thing to say. You must be rolling your eyes on this drama of mine. But I`ve exhausted myself. I want a long rest, away from the world. Sybil, no one really needs me. Not even you…”

   The voice message ended, and Sybil hurried to Michelle’s, imagining her friend in a puddle of tears or in a puddle of blood.

Michelle’s roommate was home, letting Sybil in. According to the roommate, Michelle was in bed for days, though she was not really sick. She lashed out and then apologized in cycles, and lost her sense of hygiene.

“Why didn’t you call me?” Sybil demanded from the roommate, frantically climbing the staircase to Michelle’s room.

“Why didn’t you call back? Michelle told me that you had ignored her calls,” was the defensive, irresponsible reply.

The door to Michelle’s room was open…

Sybil ventured inside in expectation of anything. Michelle could fling herself on her neck, sobbing uncontrollably, or attack her with knife, or amiably smile in greeting…

The room was empty. Michelle’s phone was dead and endless scenarios whirled through Sybil’s mind, each darker than the previous.

“Was she home last night?” Sybil confronted the roommate, who shrugged, “Why would I care? My boyfriend came over.”

Feeling Sybil’s rage, she added, “Hey. Don’t stare at me like that. You will burn a hole through me. I’ll tell Mich to call you when she comes back.  And if she doesn’t come back, it’s not your fault. She’s an adult and makes her choices. Even if her final choice.”

Walking out to the street, Sybil slipped on an ice-crust, barely keeping her balance. A moment later, she was almost run over by a renegade car. She waved for a taxi, but none stopped – rushing like yellow cockroaches in all directions. Suddenly, she was stranded in the middle of a vast, busy road. Lights were glowing red around her – like a hundred flaming eyes – and death sped past her, over and over again, until a taxi picked her up and she breathlessly sank on the back seat.

“Take me…” she gasped, darkness swimming in her eyes.

“I know where to take you,” a man said from the driver’s seat.

Before Sybil knew it, a police car was wailing behind them, and she thought of jumping out of the taxi.

“They won’t help you find your friend,” the driver said, rashly turning into a side-street. The buildings beyond the car’s window looked unfamiliar to Sybil. They were shorter and the people around them were dressed in outdated fashion, with hippies and flower-children among them.

“Who are they and where is the police car?” Sybil cried in horror, ‘And who are you?”

They were taking a short-cut in the 1960s. She received no reply until the taxi U-turned into the present and stopped in front of an imposing iron gate – the entrance to the graveyard.

“He has already paid,” the driver said – reeking alcohol through his rotten teeth – and Sybil jolted out of the taxi, not daring to look back. Otherwise, she could have seen the driver smirk and take off his hat, baring the tattoo of a red shark. That night, the policeman didn’t report a runaway taxi, driven by no one. The single camera which could have recorded the mystery had gone out of order…

Sybil ventured through the gate of the graveyard. A flood of whispers poured over her, goosebumps electrifying her skin. There was no one in proximity except a figure in the distance ­– as likely dead as alive. The clairvoyant stood gazing into the void of a grave-pit.

“The dead are sincere, unlike the living. They seek only memory and pardon,” he explained when Sybil hurried to his side, fleeing whispers in the dark. He talked not to Sybil but to the vacant space beside a willow scarred by a multitude of lightnings:

“Friend, show me what you hold in your hands. Don’t try to hide it. I see you and your sorrow. You’ve stood there for two hundred years waiting for someone to forgive you. So, I forgive you. Rest in peace.”

The phantom showed something to the clairvoyant that did not let it sleep in peace until this benign moment.

“The rope of a suicide victim,” the clairvoyant’s grin was subtle like the mist between the tombs.

Then, touching the amulet of the spider, he addressed Sybil, “Your friend, Michelle, is edge-walking on a rooftop. The skyscraper of her father’s company. Two men brought her there, telling her what a fine view she could see from there: what radiant truths of heaven and hell are mirrored in the eyes of death. That’s what I see an hour from now…” he pointed into the yet empty grave, “So far, she and these idiots are doing things I’ll leave unmentioned.”

Sybil was shaken to her bones, pleading the clairvoyant, “You must do something before it’s too late!”

“Not I. We must do something,” he said grimly, “But it will come with a price. There is always an exchange.”

“What must I give?” Sybil was prepared for anything.

The clairvoyant revealed watching her closely, “Your life as you know it… and a connection to someone who could have shared it with you.”

“I’m ready,” Sybil said, and emptiness swallowed her heart.

The phantom taxi picked them up. Sybil entered the clairvoyant’s apartment. The layout was identical to her studio apartment, but stepping inside, she felt lost in a maze. Moonstones and obsidians hung down on strings from the ceiling of the kitchen. The clairvoyant returned with two steaming goblets – tall and carved with runes. Sybil diffidently took one but resolutely drank the substance.

“How fast will it work?” she asked, her eyes feverishly gleaming.

“The tea?” the clairvoyant raised an eyebrow, and could not restrain a ghost of a smile. She had gullibly believed that he had treated her to poison.  He then rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, and exposed a network of scars, some fresh and others fading.

He told the petrified Sybil, “Sometimes I practice white magic – a connection with nature, lighter energies of healing and rejuvenation. At other times, I channel forces of decay. Information from the living does not suffice for a full picture. I drink a merged truth from the duality of worlds.”

“Black magic,” Sybil muttered as the clairvoyant took out a thin, silver blade. A few ruby drops poured into an ornate cup.

“People only call ‘magic’ what they can’t explain,” he advised and spread out a black cloth on the table, mantras and pentagrams lining the corners. He drank from the cup, and extended the rest to her.

His look became darker, more perceptive and intense. A shadow seemed to cover them, prying on their every move and the young man started singing in a language of a world full of unobstructed sorrow and the freedom to transcend.

“Will I see your world again?” she recalled the fearsome vision from yesterday night – when the darkest truth of humanity appeared from a chasm of infinite light.

He nodded, and she drank feeling no pain or horror. Her hands were hot, his – icy-cold, and he asked quietly but firmly, “Do you surrender your love to save another?”

“Yes,” she answered.

When the ritual was over, a streak of a nosebleed dripped onto the velvet table cloth.

That was all.

A few minutes later, the clairvoyant instructed:

“Call your friend’s family. Tell them to fetch her from the rooftop. Time is frozen there, moving at a hundredth pace of the physical dimension. They will realize, at last, how their neglect has made her suffer. As for you…Michelle will feel like you betrayed her for telling on her. The minds of addicts do such things. Once she recovers, she will be too ashamed to meet.”

Sybil hindered, and he asked – with a tingle of disdain – “Would you rather lose your friend or be a murderer?”

They went down to her apartment where Sybil’s phone-book was. As they left the 13th floor, all of the lights switched on.

Sybil made the call, and the suddenly-terrified mother ran from the spa to her Mercedes and drove practically naked to the fateful address. She grabbed her daughter’s hand a moment before Michelle stepped over the edge of City N’s most famous rooftop.

“It’s done,” Sybil sighed and dropped her phone to the floor. Even holding it was painful.

She then wondered anxiously, “On that night when I saw your world, what did you see?”

The young man confessed, “It was the only night in my recollection when I was flawlessly at peace, free of pain and obligation. I am doomed not to forget any devastating loss – not just my own but of all those who have ever relied on my assistance.”

The conviction in his words was unshakable like granite…no, like the immutable essence which he personified.

“Can’t I share this burden?” Sybil whispered, realizing that the bond she had sacrificed in saving Michelle would have been with the clairvoyant. She finally met someone whose solitude could match her own – and far exceed it. She was smitten, humbled, awed, and ignited with a flame to create a better world, only wishing in reward that this world would include HIM…

What caused this avalanche of madness that swept everything away?

She took his icy hands and said, “I could never love again. I say this as a final truth. I beg you…try to understand how well I can understand you.  I can read it in your eyes…How much you feel and hide away. Please try to feel and love with me.”

His reply was also final:

“People don’t need understanding. They need acceptance above all. I readily accept your feelings, as a fact. Please accept, in turn, that I feel nothing for you because I feel everything for humankind. I judge no one and attach myself to no one. Light and darkness are harmonious to me. I am the loneliest of people and also the happiest. I am connected to everyone, both to the illness and the cure. Do I love humankind? – Assuredly not. What should I love anyone for? Love and connection are not the same, nor is love the true purpose in life. Stay true to yourself, to your unbounded inner strength, and to your true, immutable nature: the wisdom of the Universe. Such is my advice to you, my apology and blessing.”

He embraced her and his touch was far warmer than his words.

“I will be with you or no one. God has given me no choice – such is my fate,” she pledged and pleaded.

“Why should God – or anyone else for that matter – decide your fate?” the clairvoyant’s eyes glinted with irony…One of his eyes was black, the other was a piercing blue.

Releasing her from the embrace, he forbade her, “Don’t try to meet with me again. The attempt may claim your life. You were nearly run over by cars when I sent a taxi for you. It was no coincidence.”

He took a long, focused look at her, reading into her future and her impossible despair.

He then left her apartment, merging with shadows and silence trailing after him.

Sybil sank down to the floor, reflections flooding over her: of the present and the past. She recalled herself as a child in the mountains where she challenged the wind to a race. The mountains stood tall in their millennial grandeur; snow glimmering among the clouds which her spirit soared to reach – to the peaks of ageless truths and to the threshold of the stars. She ran – invincible, imperilled and rapturously unaware – over the edge of an abyss: a narrow lane of dust and thistle. Her parents watched in speechless dread, and neither of them called to her. Had she been conscious of the danger, she would have fallen to her death…The young man reminded her of those mountains – standing silent and alone – and her passion was the race over the disastrous edge. By the time she would reach him, she would certainly collapse.

Yet, she remembered his words, “Why should God – or anyone else – decide your fate?”

The flame of hope raged so intensely that she ran to the elevator.

Ten floors and his prophesy divided them from happiness – another chance to persuade him to love. Sybil closed her eyes, counting. Reaching only the next floor, the lights flickered and gave out. The fire within her only shone brighter. She didn’t press for the elevator to stop when the floor began to shake. It gave a formidable jolt. So did her heart, although the faith in it grew stronger, more determined and insane. Smoke filled the cabin when Sybil was one floor away from heaven or hell – ready to share whichever with him – and when crimson drops rained on the floor.

Sybil lost consciousness from a nosebleed so heavy that it seemed an open wound.

Her neighbors – the ones expecting a baby – entered the elevator and the woman nearly suffered a miscarriage from the sight of so much blood. They rang the ambulance and all of the neighbors poured into the yard. Most of them instantly proposed to summon the clairvoyant.

Climbing to the 13th floor, they found the lights of the hallway shining bright as day.

The young man was not in the building.

At the hospital, the doctors couldn’t determine the young woman’s blood type. The test showed varying results. Her blood seemed every type combined, then none of them – even the composition of pure water, or something that could not be blood at all.

“If we don’t transfuse, we’ll lose her!” the doctors’ own blood pressure rose while Sybil’s was catastrophically dropping. Then, suddenly one of the doctors left the emergency room in a trance…

“Chad, what the hell are you doing?” the others were incredulous. “You are deserting a patient!”

Had their new colleague lost his senses? It was his first emergency case.

However, Chad returned with two litres of blood. There was a label on the bag, “That’s what you need.”

“She’s dying!” one of the doctors shouted as Sybil’s pulse grew faint.

“Give that to me!” another doctor commanded and began the transfusion at the risk of his career…

Later Chad confessed that he had no recollection of walking out of the emergency room and finding the supply of blood which had rescued the young woman.

Soon Sybil awoke. Her vital signs were weak but stable. There was no one in the emergency room except a glassy winter moon. She noticed something on her neck which the doctors could not account for when they returned for a checkup – the amulet of the white spider…

Starting with the New Year, the neighbors crowded for a séance with the young woman, who occupied the apartment on the 13th floor. The lights on the floor once again did not work…Recalling the former inhabitants of the apartment they noted, “It is always someone young who doesn’t stay for long… There’ve been four of them in the last decade. One died from a blood infection, with more scars on her arms than we could count. Another was stabbed in broad daylight by the husband of a girl he had not saved. He said something to that husband about it being “her time…” The next was a calm young man with mystic eyes. Where did he vanish?…And now it’s Sybil. May she last longer. We need her!”

One of Sybil’s clients was her former boss who thought the young woman was insane when she quit her promising job but gratefully apologized when she rid his son of addiction.

Sybil’s parents didn’t know about their daughter’s new vocation. They planned to visit City N in summer, but Sybil convinced them to reschedule for fall. She would find it easier to hide the scars under a sweater…Despite her fears about the meeting, she was glad to know that apart from a mild boating accident on their trip to Aruba in 2021, a minor knee surgery for her father and controlled diabetes for her mother, nothing would threaten her loved ones for another 30 years.

“Loved ones,” was redefined by Sybil. She had accepted humanity as the young man had before, with all its solitude and beauty and interlinked responsibility. She was one with calamity and one with redemption; with the storm and with the sunlight; and with every aching soul, striving for eternal balance. She wasn’t grieved that Michelle no longer replied to her messages, being consoled that Michelle was now cared for by her family. A few months later, Michelle got immersed in philanthropy at City N’s orphanages, devoting herself to noble causes and great work. At one of the functions, she met a good man with whom she would have two children, one of them adopted.

Michelle didn’t know that the clairvoyant, who had saved her, was raised at the orphanage.  He didn’t speak until the age of five, seldom ate but slept through most of the day. He claimed to see rooms full of people, watching over the children when caregivers were away.

Once, he declared to the caregivers that he would be leaving the orphanage, and that his family would pick him up tomorrow.

“I’m sorry,” the director said, “But your family is dead.”

The following day several men and women arrived to the orphanage. They knew everything about the child and assured the director that the boy would be raised with all of his unique needs met. They would love and mentor him – in what precisely, they did not reveal…Three years later, the director buried his father and noticed the portraits of the boy’s family upon the surrounding tombs. Some of them had died a century earlier. The shocked director couldn’t know that during their lifetimes each of them had practiced magic. The director brushed off the vision as a glitch of a mind, fogged with mourning for his father…

Sybil confirmed, however, that saving Michelle was full-circle for the clairvoyant. She had found a notebook kept by the young man, containing the names of numerous people, tracing their interconnections between one another and what each of them required as a “fair exchange” in order to flourish professionally, in their love-life…and to survive. There was also her name in the book with two observations in crimson ink. She was to inherit the clairvoyant’s gift. His solitude would now be hers. The second comment described her as the most honest person he had encountered in his life. Her feelings were pure and capable of miracles: more so than his magic, containing the most radiant light and the most profound darkness.

“We have a long day ahead,” the new clairvoyant said to her assistants: Bill, Nate, and the headless Murray. She had seen them on the staircase, on the train and in the taxi because clairvoyance was innate to her. One of her ancestors from South Forkville had been a witch. But only recently she had learned to embrace this power through her connection to the man whose blood now coursed in her veins. She often wondered what had happened to her predecessor. She could not feel his energy in either world. No spell could summon him to her. The grave-lot on the cemetery was now covered with black soil, but she felt nothing underneath. At times, she felt her own energy in the ground: still and immutably tranquil. She wondered if he rested there. His blood fluttered through her heart in cool, soothing tides, reminding to be calm and patient in her duty to the world. He was inside of her forever, or until the time would come for somebody to take her place.

The only peculiar thing she had noticed was that the spider on the amulet had changed its position, to weave the endless thread of hope to bond humanity together.

 

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