Authors: Ian Rogers
Tags: #Speculative Fiction
“Aces” © 2012 by Ian Rogers
All rights reserved.
Published by ChiZine Publications
This short story was originally published in
Every House Is Haunted
by Ian Rogers, first published in print form in 2012, and in an ePub edition in 2012, by ChiZine Publications.
Original ePub edition (in
Every House Is Haunted
) October 2012 ISBN: 9781927469194.
This ePub edition November 2012 ISBN: 978-1-927469-92-7.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Soelle got kicked out of school for killing one of her classmates.
They couldn’t prove she actually did it, which was why she received an expulsion instead of a murder charge, but there was no doubt among the faculty that she was responsible.
Soelle told me she didn’t care if they kicked her out or put her in jail. She just wanted her tarot cards back.
* * *
At dinner that night I asked her if she wanted to talk about it. Our parents should have been the ones dealing with this, but we hadn’t seen them in four years.
“Talk about what?” Soelle snapped. “Tara Denton is such a baby. I read her cards wrong on purpose. She wasn’t really going to die!”
die,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, because she ran in front of a bus.”
“So you did predict her death.”
Soelle tilted her head to the side and gave me a long-suffering look, as if she was the older sibling and I was the younger. “We all predict our own deaths, Tobias.”
“Nice. Where did you get that?”
She frowned. “
“Why don’t you tell me what actually happened.”
Soelle blew a strand of her straggly blonde hair off her forehead and dropped her fork on the plate with a loud clink. She was going to be sixteen in August, but she still had the mannerisms of a young child. Most people grow up; Soelle was growing inward.
“It was Algebra and I was so bored I could die. I was feeling fidgety so I took out my tarot deck and started shuffling it, practising some of those fancy shuffles you taught me. I started snapping cards down on my desk—maybe a bit too loudly, I admit—and Tara, she was sitting beside me, started giving me these dirty looks. I shot one right back at her and asked if she wanted to play. Do you know what she said to me? She said, ‘I don’t gamble.’ Like she had never seen a tarot deck before. What a zero. Anyway, Mrs. O’Reilly put some big complicated problem on the blackboard and said she had to step out for a few minutes. I heard she’s a drunk, so I figured she was heading off to the boiler room to get juiced. Robbie Moore said he saw her in the parking lot one time and—”
“So the teacher left and I turned to Tara. She was kind of pissing me off at that point. I snapped down a few more cards, some of the trumps, and I said, ‘Do these look like
cards to you, sistah?’ I was expecting Tara to say something smart, but she surprised me; she actually picked up the cards, one at a time, and looked at them. She asked me what they were, and I figured, what the hell, and I started explaining what tarot is. We weren’t bonding or anything—I was still thinking she was a twit—but she seemed seriously interested. I could tell because she looked kind of scared. She probably heard some the rumours about me that are always floating around. . . .”
I nodded. “Go on.”
“So I asked Tara if she wanted me to give her a reading. I told her she had to ask me to do it or else it wouldn’t work. I don’t think that’s true—in fact I’m pretty sure it isn’t—but it sounded kind of occult, sort of vampirish, and she seemed to eat it up. By then a few of the other kids had gathered around us, and Tara must’ve known it was too late to back out. So she started acting smarmy, telling me to play her cards and read her future, or am I too scared. I didn’t like that. First she says ‘play’ her cards, right after I told her they weren’t playing cards, and she says it in this joking tone, not for my benefit, or even hers, but because we had an audience. Then, to top it all off, she asks me if I’m scared, which I found doubly insulting since she was the one who was actually afraid. But then I figured out what the problem really was. What
problem was.” Soelle paused for a moment, possibly to take a breath, more likely for effect. “I realized she wasn’t scared
“So that’s what you did?” I said. “You scared her?”
“I don’t care if people disrespect me. They can say whatever they want about me. They can write it on the bathroom walls—they could write it in neon on the front of the school, for all I care. But tarot isn’t something to be laughed at. The cards don’t like it. They told me so.”
“Uh-huh. So what happened?”
“I dealt out her spread. Then I sat there for a while staring at her cards, looking like I was concentrating really hard on them. I knew the longer I took the more agitated Tara would get. So I started her reading—her
reading, I might add. It wasn’t real. I made it up. I just wanted to take her down a peg, and in front of all the jerks she was trying so hard to impress. I put on this serious expression and shook my head, telling her I didn’t like what I saw. I began asking these medical questions, like if there was a history of heart problems in her family, is her father a smoker, stuff like that. Tara started getting freaked out. I had her cards laid out facedown, and I was flipping them over one at a time. The first card I turned over slowly and smoothly, barely making a sound, but each one after that I started snapping them louder and louder. When I flipped the last one—a card I slipped to the top of the deck on purpose without Tara noticing—it sounded like a gunshot, and Tara actually jumped in her seat. She was really scared, Toby. That last card was Death, which, as any self-respecting tarot reader will tell you, doesn’t actually mean death but change.”
“I would say death is a fairly big change.”
Soelle’s shoulders twitched in a small shrug. She was tall for her age and tended to slouch, which gave her the appearance of someone expressing perpetual indifference.
“Tara wanted to know if I was making it up. I told her I wouldn’t do something like that. I told her that the cards would turn back on me if I read them incorrectly. I’m pretty sure that’s bull, too, but it didn’t matter much because Tara wasn’t listening anyway. She stood up and started flapping her arms like she had to pee or something. She was breathing really fast and looking all around the room. She looked at me with these big saucer eyes and asked how she was going to die. Then I realized why she was looking all around like that. She was seeing death everywhere. I told her I didn’t know how she was going to die, that the cards weren’t that specific. Maybe she’d slip in the shower and break her neck. Or maybe she’d get kidnapped and chopped into little pieces.”
“Or get hit by a bus,” I added.
Soelle shrugged again. “Or that.”
“Then what happened?”
“Some of the others were trying to calm her down. They tried to get her to sit back in her chair, but she pushed them away. She started saying something really fast. I didn’t understand all of it, but I think she was worried that one of the chair legs was going to break and she was going to fall backwards and fracture her skull. She started moving down the aisle toward the door, turning around and around. She bumped into Jack Horton, who was just coming back from sharpening his pencil, and she started screaming at him, accusing him of trying to kill her. She was absolute loony tunes. She started spinning around pointing at the chalkboard, the globe, even Blinky the classroom iguana—screaming about death, death everywhere. Then she ran out of the room. Nobody followed her, but some of the others went over to the windows. A few moments later we saw her come running out of the school and into the street. The buses were just arriving and”—Soelle drove her fist into her palm—“el smacko.”
“You sound real broken up about it.”
“Tara Denton wasn’t my friend. She was some twit I sat next to in Algebra who believed too much in tarot. I didn’t like her, but I didn’t kill her.”
“And yet you got kicked out of school.”
“They’ve been waiting to do that for a long time,” Soelle said, with a noticeable lack of resentment. “Ever since the school mascot drowned himself.”
“Right,” I said. “Because he thought he was a real shark.”
Soelle shrugged. “That’s the rumour.”
“Seems to be a lot of rumours at that high school,” I mentioned. “Most of them about you. Would it kill you to make some friends?”
“I don’t need friends. Just my brother.”
She gave me her NutraSweet grin: full of artificial sweetness.
* * *
I remember the day when I became an adult.
It was four years ago. I was eighteen and Soelle was eleven. I’d just graduated from high school. My student co-op at the paper mill had turned into a full-time job. I drove a forklift. The hours were long, the work monotonous, but it was union and the pay was decent. I wondered if it was possible to do this kind of mindless labour for the next thirty or forty years without developing some sort of psychotic disorder. I was thinking about getting my own place and finding a girl to take back to it.
One day I came home from work and found Soelle sitting on the porch swing. She was drinking an Orange Crush and reading one of her Anne of Green Gables books.
“Mom and Dad are gone,” she said.
“What do you mean they’re gone?”
“They’re gone.” She took a sip of her drink. “I went out walking this morning, and when I came back they were gone.”
I looked over at my car sitting in the driveway, parked behind my parents’ station wagon. “Where did they go?”
“I don’t know,” Soelle said. “I thought they went visiting, but they haven’t come back.”
“Well that’s it, then. They’ve just gone over to the Mullens’ or the Heaths’. They’ll be back.”
Soelle lowered her book and gave me a patronizing look. “Mom and Dad haven’t gone visiting in years, Toby. Where have
I was beginning to wonder that myself. I felt like I had been away much longer than seven hours. More like seven years.
I left Soelle on the porch and checked the house from top to bottom. There was no sign of our parents. No sign that they had suddenly packed up and left, but no sign that they had been dragged out of the house by force, either. No sign of anything at all. It was like they had been ghosts haunting the place rather than flesh and blood people who had once lived here. My memories of them felt hazy already.
I didn’t feel scared or frantic. I felt angry. I didn’t know why I felt that way, and that made me angrier. Where the hell could they have gone? Why would they leave me alone with Soelle?
I called the police and they searched the house. They talked to the neighbours. They asked for phone numbers of our other relatives, but we didn’t have anyone we were close to.
The police came to the same conclusion I had reached hours earlier: that our parents had left the house seemingly of their own volition, but with absolutely no evidence of having done so. Their belongings hadn’t been disturbed or removed and their luggage was still stacked in the crawl space. The neighbours didn’t recall seeing them leave the house, nor did they report seeing any unusual people in the area.
Time passed. Days turned into weeks, and I kept waiting for a social worker from the Children’s Aid Society to come and take us away. Soelle and I would be placed in a province-run care facility until adequate foster homes could be found. They would try and keep us together, but there were no guarantees. We would eventually be passed off to different families. Over the next few years Soelle and I would exchange birthday cards, Christmas presents, the occasional letter, but eventually we’d drift apart until we finally forget we even had a brother or sister. It was stuff shitty made-for-TV melodramas are made of.
But it didn’t happen. The social worker never showed up. I thought maybe Soelle and I had slipped through the cracks, as so many kids are supposed to do, if you believe the news magazine shows. The truth was much simpler.
They didn’t come because I was eighteen and working. The mortgage was already paid off, and I was bringing in enough to cover the bills and keep us fed. I had grown up without realizing it. I was an adult.
* * *
Soelle had a reputation as an unusual child even before she started school.
My earliest memory of an “incident,” which was what our parents called the strange things that happened in Soelle’s presence, occurred when Soelle was two years old and I was nine. We were in the back yard, Soelle playing in her turtle kiddie pool, me sitting on the swing set that I was already too big for. I was bored out of my skull. I had been tasked with keeping an eye on Soelle and making sure she didn’t drown herself in fourteen inches of water.
Something caught my attention in the farmer’s field that our property backed onto. I don’t recall what it was. A deer, maybe. I wandered over to check it out, and when I came back, no more than two minutes later, the turtle pool was gone.
The pool wasn’t very big, but it was a painfully bright lime green that stood out on our parched yellow lawn like a radioactive spotlight. Still, it took me a moment to realize it was gone. Part of that was because Soelle was still right where I had left her, blonde hair in a ponytail, decked out in her My Little Pony bathingsuit, and sitting in the spot where the pool had been only a moment ago.
“Soelle,” I said, “where’s the pool?”
“It’s gone!” She was crying and slapping at the ground, which was turning muddy from the hose that was still spraying out water.
“Where did it go?”
I was thinking some kid must have come into our yard and taken it.
“It went away!” There were tears on her face. I remember that because she wasn’t the kind of kid who cried very often. She raised her hands, the hose still gripped in one of them, and sent a spray of water into the air.
I actually looked up then, half-expecting to see a green turtle-shaped pool floating in the sky over my head.
Of course there was nothing there when I looked.
But I saw plenty of other strange things over the years since then.
* * *
After Soelle got kicked out of school, she started disappearing most nights. I’d be walking past her door on my way to bed and, more often than not, her room would be empty, the bedsheets neat and undisturbed. She was always back in the morning, acting as though she hadn’t left, and although I questioned her about it at first, she always gave me the same reply: “I was just out walking.”