Ewan Marsh never believed in mystics, psychics or any of that paranormal nonsense, but he stepped into the tiny shop with bright red and blue neon lights in the window announcing
Authentic Tarot and Palm Readings @ Reasonable Prices
because it was Sunday night, nearly every other place was closed, and he was utterly bored out of his skull.
It was a hole in the wall, barely larger than a closet, walls covered in dark curtains. A round table covered with a tablecloth that matched the drapes sat in the center of the space. He was directed by hand gesture to take a seat in a padded wooden chair across the table from Madame Siora, skin of alabaster, lips of blood and eyes of emerald.
“Tired of living in the moment?” Madame Siora asked. “Of making a blind guess at the correct path that will lead you to what you desire? Are you ready to seek the counsel of one who is attuned to the forces that science and logic cannot define or understand?”
“I have to give you credit,” Ewan said. “You actually managed to say that with a straight face.”
Madame Siora smiled. “Doubters make the best believers,” she said. “Please, may I see your palm?”
With his patented cheesy grin in place, Ewan proffered his hand…and seventy-five dollars later, he knew this woman would be his wife.
They broke dawn together and over reheated Chinese takeout and beer, he learned that Madame Siora’s birth name was Kiera Houghton, and when they became serious and knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, Ewan, being the old fashioned type, wanted to ask Kiera’s parents for her hand in marriage. Kiera told him that was absolutely not necessary, but Ewan insisted, so she arranged a date.
Ewan arrived early at the Houghton Family residence, but Kiera was running late because of a client who was paying serious money for an in-depth reading. Kiera’s mother, Tegan, welcomed Ewan with open arms. He must have caught her in the middle of a meditation session because she was dressed in a long velvet robe, deep crimson with some sort of crest over the right breast, and the house was illuminated only by candlelight.
“If I’ve come at a bad time, I can wait in the car until Kiera arrives,” Ewan said apologetically.
“Don’t be silly,” Tegan said. “It gives us a chance to get to know one another.”
Mrs. Houghton led Ewan to a room that was too large to be a sitting room and too small to be the living room. The walls were lined with tapestries depicting the darker nature of the Old Testament of the Bible, and the room was devoid of furnishings besides the sturdy long table varnished in a dark red lacquer in the center and the surrounding medieval metal candlestands.
Tegan Houghton moved with the grace of a cat and stood almost nose to nose with Ewan. She turned her back on him and asked, “Can you get the zipper, please?”
It took Ewan a moment to understand what she was asking. He located the zipper in the back of the robe, fumbled with the hook and unzipped the robe down to the small of her back.
“Thank you,” Tegan said, as she turned to face Ewan again, still a hair’s breadth away from touching noses. She did a little shimmy and the robe slid off her shoulders and gathered around her ankles, exposing her nude body.
At least Ewan thought she was nude. He wouldn’t allow himself to look down. She was Kiera’s mother, after all.
“W-will Mr. Houghton be joining us?” Ewan stammered.
“Jordan is running errands, picking up a few last-minute items for dinner tonight,” Tegan said with breath that smelled of honey and mint. “He was supposed to be here by now but he always runs late. A bad habit Kiera picked up from him.”
“Um, Mrs. Houghton?”
“Tegan, I, um, don’t really feel comfortable being in the same room with you while you’re naked. If anyone walked in right now, they might get the wrong idea.”
Tegan laughed. “If either Jordan or Kiera walked in right now, they would know exactly what was going on. They know how I am. I love the naked form, Ewan. May I call you Ewan?”
“Sure, no problem.”
“This was the way we were intended to be before that silly original sin was committed. Here I stand before you, naked and exposed, with all my secrets revealed. Do you want to see my secrets, Ewan?”
“No,” Ewan answered, sweat beading on his brow. “You’re entitled to your secrets.”
“How generous,” Tegan said, wiping sweat from Ewan’s temple and tasting it. “If it is too hot for you in here, feel free to strip down to your level of comfort. There is no dress code in this house.”
“But I am not fine, Ewan,” Tegan Houghton said, her voice an octave lower than a moment ago. You stand here before me tonight for the first time and you have not yet become initiated into the mysteries of the ancient House of Houghton.”
“Um, I think there’s been some misunderstanding. I’m not here to be initiated into anything. I’m just here to ask for Kiera’s hand in marriage.”
“And you believe that my husband and I would grant you access to our daughter without first testing your mettle to determine if you are worthy of joining our inner circle?”
“That thought never really crossed my mind, if I’m being totally honest. I figured you’d either say yes or no.”
“Well, now that you have been made aware, you may be wondering what is going to happen, so I will tell you. Before proceeding to the mysteries, it is, of course, necessary for the mind and soul of the initiate to become purged and to be made clean.”
“What exactly do you mean by that?”
“You are going to need to become in tune with us by submitting to a very simple process of control,” Tegan’s eyes seemed to grow somehow, filling up Ewan’s entire field of vision.
“You will need to place yourself under the guidance of the House of Houghton.”
“Please, can I just go back to the car and wait for Kiera? Maybe she can explain all this to me in a way I’ll understand.”
“Do you refuse to be initiated?”
“I mean, I really love your daughter and I want to be with her for the rest of my life…”
“Then you are decided!”
“Well, I’m not so…”
“Be silent! And relax,” Tegan took Ewan by the chin and turned his head in the direction of the nearest candle.
“What’re you doing?”
“Calm your breathing and keep your eyes fixed on this candle flame.”
“Shhh, just relax and keep your eyes fixed. Before receiving entry into the House of Houghton, your mind must be white and blank. You are already feeling sleepy. Do you hear me?”
“Yes,” Ewan heard his own lazy voice coming from outside himself.
“Your mind is becoming quite blank. You feel that, don’t you?”
“Yes, quite blank.” His concerns were evaporating level by level.
“And you will obey my every command.”
“Yes, obey.” It was less stressful to obey than to resist.
“Good. Now, remove your shirt and expose your bare chest.”
“Yes, remove shirt.” It was too hot in this room.
“Now climb upon this altar and lie on your back.”
“Yes, lie back.” Ewan climbed onto the table and did as he was told.
“Now, are you prepared to sacrifice everything to have our daughter?”
“Yes, sacrifice everything.” It was true. He would have given everything to be with Kiera.
“Even your heart for hers?”
“Yes, my heart.” It was the very least he could do.
From its special housing secured beneath the table, Tegan Houghton unsheathed a ceremonial dagger engraved with symbols from a time before language, gripped the handle in both hands and raised it above her head.
“Mom!” Kiera yelled as she burst into the room. “Will you stop fucking around with Ewan, put some goddamned clothes on, and snap him out of the trance, for chrissake!”
“Oh, come on, honey,” Tegan turned to her daughter and smiled. “I wasn’t really going to sacrifice your boyfriend.”
“Fiancé,” Kiera corrected.
“I was just having a little fun, that’s all. Who knew he’d be this susceptible?”
“Fun? You were about to stab him in the heart!”
“Only a little. You know we can bring him back.”
“Yeah, but you’re not the one who has to make love to a reanimated corpse!”
“Who says I haven’t?”
“Ewww! Too much information, Mom! I want this one alive, not all necromanced up like all the others, do you get me? In his original condition!”
“But look at his chest…it’s so stabbable. Just a quick one?”
“Mom, I’m not playing with you!”
“All right, all right, spoilsport, but if I let this one live, you have to promise to make some new friends and invite them over so your father and I can have a little fun. We don’t get out as much as we used to.”
“It’s a deal,” Kiera said. “And I know whom I’ll bring. Remember I mentioned that psychic shop that just opened right across the street from me? Turns out it’s run by some Eastern European outfit that’s using it as a front for a bordello.”
“Works for me,” Tegan Houghton said. “And just so you know, I think this one really loves you. He didn’t look at my body once. Imagine ignoring this pretty piece of flesh?”
Erp! Kiera placed a hand to her mouth. “I think I just threw up in my mouth a little. Now, get this all cleaned up before Dad gets home, and not a word of this to him! I’m not in the mood to hear him questioning Ewan’s manhood for not trying to cop a feel off you.”
“He might have a point.”
“I can reanimate, too, you know, so don’t push me,” Kiera warned. “And you never know, a good resurrection might just help you to mature.”
“Good luck with that,” Tegan said with a smirk, before slipping back into her robe. As she prepared to bring Ewan out of the trance, she leaned and whispered in his ear, “You’d better not let anyone slice into that heart of yours before I get a crack at it.”
“I heard that!”
“Honey, retrace your steps,” Tegan said, rolling her eyes. “I think you lost your sense of humor along the way.”
Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys