Short Stories

Short Story: Omens

There in the distance, an owl called three times. She listened to its cries. It was the high-pitched sound of an Eurasian pygmy owl. She frowned. There was nothing special about an owl’s call this time at the night or the season for the matter, but she had been seeing omens all day. The first one was the mouse bones in the garden. She had ignored the sign then. But now, this and the four others she had seen throughout the day made sure she couldn’t keep ignoring what the omens tried to tell her. She tied her long black coat tighter and looked at the new moon rising over the sky. She didn’t believe in omens, but they found her wherever she went. The last time she had ignored them, a city had flooded, and thousands of people had died. That was on her. The warnings had been clear, and she had done nothing.

She sighed and turned her back on the moon, heading back into the house and stumping her tobacco before closing the door behind her. Inside, the fireplace had made the small room unbearably hot. She dropped the coat on the small black armchair beside the wooden kitchen table. The remnants of the dinner were scattered on it. She couldn’t bother with the washing and cleaning. Not tonight. She gathered the hem of her long ebony dress and sat in the middle of the parlor and crossed her legs and shifted her weight from right to left to release the pressure the hardwood floor was putting on her sitting bones. When the posture was right, she took the set of cards out from the satchel on her belt. She laid the cards on the floor, spreading them into a half circle. She picked cards from the deck one by one, arriving at eight.

She flipped them open only to see writing appear on them instantly, leaving on the blank cards a silvery burn. One day, the cards had been there waiting for her on her former cabin’s front steps. She had asked after them at the village, but no one knew anything, and she didn’t press on. As an unmarried woman, it was bad enough that she had lived alone in the woods. Such things got rumors started, and soon she would find herself burned or drowned, like had happened to her sisters all over the continent not a decade ago. She hadn’t wanted to move and didn’t want to move now either. She liked it here. The river was not far off, and the lands were fresh with berries and game.

As always, the text was clear about what was going to happen. From the look of things, the land would shake at the end of tomorrow, and buildings would collapse, taking lives. Whoever had made the deck didn’t leave it there. The last two cards had instructions on where she should take the villagers. A vast field close to her cabin would be secure. They could set up tents there. She returned the cards to the deck and turned to face the fireplace. She drew the cards in and watched them remain intact, killing the fire around them.

She sighed. She could save the village, or try at least. Sometimes they didn’t listen to her, and they died. But the cards had never been wrong. It was just that she never understood why. Why should she care about people who were often ready enough to kill her because she didn’t fit into their neat little box of how things should be? For a long time, she had argued to herself that there was value in human life. That was reason enough. But now she wasn’t sure any longer. Was there value just by existing, especially if you were a selfish, small-minded idiot? Most in the village were just that, back-watered morons. The real question was, why did someone care, and how did they know what would happen?

She didn’t believe in divinity. Yet the cards defied all the norms. So did the omens. She was pretty sure that she hadn’t lost her mind. She had tried to do a reading with the cards to answer all her questions, but they had stayed blank. The omens had to come first, and then they would react. And it was never about her. Not that she cared for herself to be the center of any divine intervention. She hated having to put herself out there and be an alarmist or a witch, depending on the town she went to. Neither position was alluring. Neither was what she was. She had been slightly clairvoyant before the cards, having a great intuition regarding people and the environment, but that had nothing to do with witchcraft. Just her mind being a keen observer. And her keen mind knew that none of this could be real in a magical sense. There had to be a scientific explanation. The world was entering the age of electricity; magic couldn’t exist in such a time and place; nor in her heart.

She took the cards out of the fireplace and organized them back into her satchel. The answer wouldn’t be there. The answer would be in the catastrophes to happen. She had been observing them, and they didn’t seem right. As if they were this organized spectacle, but to whom? The last part she was unsure of. But whoever did them had an enemy—the one who had delivered her the cards. 

Thank you for reading, and have a great day ❤

Sorry to leave the ending here. I wanted to finish this, but it wasn’t happening in one sitting, so here we are. Maybe one day I will get to it.

© K.A. Ashcomb

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