Fiction Friday: “Memoirs of a Modern Oracle”

Here we are at another Friday, gentle reader. This week I am posting something from an older work, an unfinished Urban Fantasy novel. As memory serves I left off on this for pieces I considered more interesting at the time. I started this with a character sketch of the protagonist, Cassandra Norrel, because I was thinking how an oracle like Cassandra would fare in today’s world. Would she be able to support herself purely on her oracular abilities? Who would her clients be? Governments? Police? Criminals? It’s likely this would eventually become a Supernatural Detective Series….because the world doesn’t have enough of those. /sarcasm


Every night it is the same thing. If Cassandra ever spoke of it, which she did not, she would have called it a dream in order to keep the explanations to a minimum. However, for her there were no dreams. There was only the prescience of her visions, certain and implacable. Vividly, she experiences it as though waking with the only indication that she lingers still in a half-sleep state the calm insistence of her conscious mind as from a distant shore.

In the vision she is loved. She knows this with the same certainty that tells her these are the shades of future events. She is loved and she loves in turn, and it is good. Though she has never seen the figure clearly, never known more than the fact that this person she loves with all her heart and trusts with her entire soul, she is not troubled. The embrace is comforting and she lives in the arms of her lover, friend, soul-mate. Cassandra gives herself over to that embrace, loses herself in it till in a moment of absolute terror she realizes she is being smothered. In pulling away finds herself confined, pressed ever firmer into the chest of the one she loves and who in turn loves her and possess her in the most final and selfish way of all, by possessing her life. Despite her terror, in spite of her terror, the sense of her own love persists and she is unable to discern if she is more horrified that she is being murdered by her true love or that her own heart betrays her.

And then she wakes.

Cassandra Norrell is no longer scared when she wakes from this vision as she has every morning since she was fifteen and her gifts manifested. She accepts it with the same stoic certainty that a career athlete would greet the twinge in a shattered knee or the aches in a long abused back – the price of playing the game.

In the small bed in her room adjacent her studio Cassandra stretches before swinging herself from under the covers. The hardwood floors are like ice on the soles of her feet but she relishes the sensation, the assurance that this is the waking world. Cassandra leaves her room for the studio proper and immediately opens the blinds of the first of two large windows that face the rising sun in her modest studio. A few moments after dawn and the light is still grey but brightening. Another Seattle morning where the weather is capricious and there’s no real promise of rain or clear skies to be had at a casual glance. Without her glasses Cassandra can only interpret what she can see of the street from her third floor window as an impressionist painting, the long grey streak of the pavement, the lighter bands of the sidewalk and the colorful blobs of the various vehicles that are parked up and down the street in either direction. Often she’ll stand like this, looking at the world through the camera obscura of her own flawed vision. The irony isn’t lost on her that she, who can often see the future so clearly, is so limited in her physical vision. Cassandra and irony are acquaintances of long-standing. At twenty-two her name had been legally changed to Cassandra, a capitulation to nature of her gifts, and dark joke.

Cassandra never sets the alarm on her bedside clock as her own internal clock is accurate enough that she knows without looking that it can’t be more than ten minutes to seven. Six fifty-three if she thinks about it, and she knows that she’s right, exactly right. Cassandra has never been sure if it’s a quirk or a manifestation of her more impressive gift.

Turning her back on the window she makes the short walk to the bathroom and takes a moment to look at herself in the mirror. Her dark brown hair hangs messy and curled, the curls natural and a holdover from her Mediterranean heritage. Cassandra has her mother’s dark eyes that look brooding and sultry whether she wants them too or not, and shares the heart shape of her mother’s face. Her father’s nose dominates the center of that face, a broad homage to the African heritage of her forebears. The flush in her cheeks is usual in the mornings, blooms of pink on each cheek nearly the same color as her lips when uncolored. Since she was a teenager she has considered her ears too large. These are old idle thoughts as she undresses for her shower, the water is hot enough that it leaves her skin flushed and reddened. The morning routine is always economical. In the mornings there are things to do. Especially this morning as there are clients to be seen.

After the shower she dresses. In typical fashion she layers not knowing what the weather will bring. Her hair she arranges to be studiously unkempt, taking minutes to achieve a look of casually non-interest. Makeup has never been a real concern, a modest amount of color on her lips, nature has taken care of the rest as far as she is concerned. She was never going to be a fashion model at any rate. Too short for one thing and the practicality of her nature carried over to her bearing leaving little room for grace. Cassandra prided herself on her efficiency. Efficiency was better than grace any day.

As usual breakfast is skipped, a habit of long tradition. She pulls on her coat, a tan and brown affair that she only abandons in summer and then only if the temperature absolutely makes it necessary. It’s medium length but about a size too big for. However, it sports deep pockets which she values and was made for durability rather than style. She goes hat-less, never having been able to pull wearing one off decently. Rather than a purse Cassandra carries a second-hand paratrooper’s bag that nearly matches the coat in coloring. Usually it contains a journal and whatever camera she decides to take out for the day.

The bag which only carries her journal at the moment sits on the long table which doubles as a desk alongside her laptop, the twenty-four inch monitor she makes use of when she edits, printer, and film scanner. On another table a short distance away are her cameras.

The camera table is carefully ordered. Here also economy is the order of the day. Cassandra has never been an equipment junkie since simplicity has always been her mantra and there’s no exceptions. There are only a modest number of cleanings supplies, lens cloths and the like and the cameras and lenses. She has only the cameras she knows she will use and the same for lenses. Two digital 35mm bodies and one film, and the two Holgas (medium-format and 35mm) are all she needs. Keeping her lenses down to the 50mm, 28-70mm, and the 75-300mm is to her less about limitations and more about discipline. It’s the way keeping to these tools keeps her focused she likes. And she knows her tools well. Admittedly though she can afford to be particular since the photography isn’t the sole, or main, source of her income. One of the digital bodies with the 50mm and the 35mm Holga go in the bag today.

Leaving her apartment she opts to walk down three flights rather than take the elevator that services the building for the exercise and not out of superstition. After all, she knows how she will die one day and has known since she was fifteen. Still it’s strange, even to her, that this certain knowledge has not made her feel indestructible or untouchable. Buckling up in a car, unplugging appliances before cleaning them, checking the gas is off on her stove before bed and other things just because it’s human nature…or because she hopes that her own death might just be the one she’s wrong about.

Walking out the front of her building she takes a look to the left and then one to the right where sure enough she sees the aging blue-grey Celica that belongs to “Bear” Blake and the large man himself behind the wheel. The car pulls up short just in front of her and the door is already unlocked so she can let herself in.

The big man behind the wheel had grunted a good morning to her as she’d buckled in but as usual Cassandra noted he did his best not to really look at her and certainly not to make eye contact. For all that he towered over her and outweighed her by more than a hundred pounds she knew the big man was actually quite scared of her, or more specifically of what she could do, and Cassandra didn’t have a particular problem with that since theirs was not a relationship based on friendship. “Bear” Blakely, who lived up to his name in several ways, was at heart an unapologetic thug. Nearing his thirty-eighth year he had been a criminal since he was sixteen, leveraging his size and willingness to do harm in order to get his way into a moderately successful criminal career. If he’d been possessed of greater intelligence he might have been a real force in the underworld, instead for all that he was willing and capable in his way his ambitions were low and he found himself mostly playing the role of enforcer or minder. A follower rather than the followed.

If anyone had ever asked him Blakely would have admitted openly that the small, somewhat attractive, woman in the glasses he sometimes drove for scared him in a way that no man or woman before ever had, including his father the big man who had been the one to show him by example what results applying physical force to a problem could achieve. If it ever came to it he knew he could hurt this woman who knew things she shouldn’t know and would tell you things terrible and certain with a coldness and sureness that made it clear she was not crazy and certainly not sympathetic. It was the fear of what forces he might offend that would always make him keep his hands off of her. It was that which scared Blakely though he didn’t have the insight to articulate it. Cassandra’s prophecies lent her the weight of destiny in her eyes and voice as she pronounced them, and in her was all the impersonal movement of the universal clockwork, relentless and oblivious to sympathy and free will. She was to him awesome and terrible and part of him hated knowing she even existed. It was another part of him though that felt powerless to break the deal they had since he owed her and snubbing her felt like flipping the bird at God Himself.

© Desmond Manny 2005

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