Have You Ever Tried Lying to a Witch

The opening chapter of a new children’s novel that I have been writing. I am very interested in the Lemony Snicket-esque concept of the ‘childrens books for adults.’ This piece is very experimental and new for me, so I would appreciate any feedback or critique!

***

Madam Lucinda, as the advertisements called her, was a Psychic.  She was not, however, psychic.   There is a difference, though you may never have noticed it. Somebody who is psychic, for example, may be able to read minds, or see the future, or see ghosts and spirits who are perhaps too busy or too troublesome or too lazy to ‘move on.’ Somebody who is a Psychic, however, is simply somebody who is paid a lot of money to tell people that they can read minds or see the future or see all of those busy, troublesome, lazy spirits.

You can see already why there might be some confusion, because it is possible for a person to be one, or the other, or both. It is even possible for a person to be neither. You, for example, are probably not psychic nor do you, as far as I am aware, get payed a lot of money to tell people that you are. Though I could be wrong, as I – Like Madam Lucinda at the beginning of our tale – am not psychic.

She certainly played the part convincingly. She had all of the shawls and large gem-stones and big, clanky jewellery that you might expect to see on somebody who had spent just enough time around meddlesome ghosts to be going a little loopy. She even had a crystal ball – something that, you might already know, is not available at your local supermarket. Madam Lucinda was very proud of this, and she kept her crystal ball on a little table in the centre of her shop, which impressed her customers to no end.

It was in this shop where the magic happened. Well, the fake magic. The non-magic. It depends, really, on your definition of magic. There was no mind-reading, no summoning of spirits. Not even the occasional enchantment or a cheeky potion here and there. There were only deceptions and fictions and disguises, arguably forms of magic in themselves. There would eventually be “real” magic happening in this shop, though it would not be performed by Lucinda and not, patient readers, just yet. We will get to that soon enough.

On the day that our story begins, Madam Lucinda had spent what was, in her opinion, far too long in her shop. She did not much enjoy the deceptions and fictions and disguises. She especially disliked the customers. What she did like was their wallets, their credit-cards, the wads of money that they had been saving up for a while and kept in their handbags. She liked those things a lot. And it was those things that kept her in the shop, customer after customer, pretending to be psychic.

She had spoken to one woman who, after the loss of her husband Mike, had managed to be convinced, with some encouragement from Lucinda, that he had changed his name to Marcus in the afterlife. Madam Lucinda saw the locket the woman had been wearing, which had an ‘M’ engraved on it, and pulled the name Marcus out of thin air. It was a guess, but a guess that had been made with lots of mystical humming and consultation of her trusty crystal ball. That was the oldest trick in the book, and a convincing one at that. The woman, desperate for some interaction with her late husband, had noted that “he had always liked the name Marcus,” and decided that was that. After some declarations of love from one side to the other, and a quick argument about whether their daughter should learn piano or violin (Lucinda, or Marcus I should say, won that one. Piano, of course), the woman went away satisfied, and handed over a fairly large sum of money, which Madam Lucinda proceeded to tuck into her sock for safe-keeping.

She had also spoken to a teenage boy, who strutted in with a credit card which, Lucinda guessed, was not his own. He frowned at her, all pimples and braces and aftershave, and asked her to contact his grandfather. Madam Lucinda, once again, with some trickery of lights and shadows, consulted her crystal ball, and came across a Mr. Avery, (the surname, she had spotted, had been written on the credit card). The teenage boy was convinced enough by this, and went on to ask some fairly impertinent questions about his grandfather’s fortune, and the money that had been left behind. This was a scenario that Madam Lucinda was not unfamiliar with, and she always knew the best way to respond. The boy’s grandfather, she decided, had left him an unbelievably large amount of money. He left, as she had expected, a happy customer, but not before leaving a sizeable tip.

She had a few more customers that morning, including but not limited to a teenage girl asking after the deceased lead singer of her favourite band, and an elderly man hoping to find closure about his missing dog. She worked her way through them all, dutiful and bored, but the little wad of cash in her sock growing with every hour.

A few hours in, her sock fairly bulging with money and her mind growing exhausted, as most minds are inclined to do after hours of deceit and manipulation, Madam Lucinda decided to close up her shop for lunch. She put her morning’s earnings into a little safe in the back room, and went outside for a bacon sandwich and a cigarette. She took off the colourful shawls and the bright jewellery, and her world turned just a little bit greyer. These were the moments when the mystery and excitement fell away. She filled her stomach and her lungs, and thought about what she really did for a living. She lied. A professional liar. A psychic that was not psychic.

It is usual, at this point, for a story like ours to have a moral. For Madam Lucinda, the professional liar, to stub out her cigarette and in a moment of revelation, decide to change her life. Perhaps she might even give up her shop, adopt a few unfortunate orphans, and use her free time to run an animal shelter, helping all the sickly little kittens who couldn’t find a home.

Madam Lucinda had no such revelation, and our story, unfortunately, has no such moral. Lying isn’t all that bad. All of her customers went away happy and satisfied. She had helped those people find comfort and closure. If she had any reservations, they dissipated at the thought of all of those crisp notes now lying in her safe. If you must assign a moral to this story, let it not be about truth, but about greed.

The afternoon was almost as uneventful as the morning. Don’t worry though, the excitement of our story does begin here. The afternoon, I said, was almost as uneventful. Almost, but not quite. Not after the last customer showed up. Not just the last customer of the day, but the last customer ever to set foot in Madam Lucinda’s shop for a good long while. That is, the last living customer at least.

The old woman looked about as normal as it is possible to be. She looked as if she carried boiled sweets in her handbag to hand out to strangers at bus stops. She looked as if she named her cats things like Tiddles and Mr. Fluff. She looked as though her calloused hands had gotten that way through furious knitting of baby clothes while she nagged at her children to give her grandkids. That is how she looked. But the thing about deceptions is that they are not always extravagant. They are not always shawls and jewels and crystal balls. Sometimes, the best deceptions can be tricking somebody into thinking you are ordinary, when you are, in fact, extraordinary.

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