“When?” asked the seer, his quill pen poised over a piece of parchment that was pinned down to his writing table at each corner. A fly buzzed around the room in slow motion, counting each flap of its wings to itself in a voice beneath human understanding.
“Now and soon and never,” said the doorknob.
The seer paused for a few moments looking down at the blank parchment and then decided to write it anyway. When he finished, he frowned at the words on the page and thought about his fan club, their waning fervor, their half-hearted handkerchief waving and muttered, snickering asides.
“Anything else?” asked the seer.
The doorknob was silent for a moment. “No,” it finally admitted.
“Ho-kay,” said the seer, dropping his quill. He looked at his desk lamp, his collectible plate, and his guitar. None of them said anything. The seer shook his head from side to side and the doorknob died again. The fly careened into a wall and fell stunned to the dusty floor.
The seer unpinned the corners of the parchment and rolled it up, tying it with a cord woven from the long beard hairs pulled from the drain in his shower and dried on a pane of glass in the evening sun.
He put his coat on over his flowing robes and used makeup to enhance the dark circles under his eyes. He felt for his keys in his pocket, heaved a deep, sickly breath, and went out to face the music.
The event hall was tucked into the wet, slippery hills just beyond town. Its roof was made of rough-hewn beams and sod. Inside, it was quiet and dimly lit by mismatched lanterns hanging from hooks driven into the drywall. The seer kept his coat on and sat down on a metal folding chair at the front of the long, narrow room. In days past, the event hall had comfortably accommodated all 400 members of the seer’s fan club. Tonight there were maybe thirty in all, scattered in ones and twos with wide stretches of empty chairs between them. They ate potato chips off of sad paper plates that the event hall staff had prepared and set out on a folding table at the back of the room. The brims of the members’ hats hid their faces in shadow.
“Good evening,” said the seer. He untied the beard hairs, depositing them in his pocket for later use, and unrolled his parchment.
“Well,” said the only man in the front row. “What have you seen?” The fan club had long ago dispensed with formality.
“I heard it,” said the seer.
Someone in the back barked a laugh and then, aside from the wind whistling through the cracks around the windows, there was silence.
“Famine,” said the seer, reading from the parchment.
“When?” asked a woman with a bandana over her mouth. She slipped a potato chip up under the bandana.
The seer paused and then said, “Now and soon and never.”
A couple sitting near the aisle about halfway back stood and left the hall, slamming the door behind them. Someone else sighed and said, “Here we go again.”
“I only relate what I am shown and told,” said the seer for the one hundredth time, waving his parchment at the fan club.
“That’s what you always say,” said a man without a shirt on under his vest. “Your prophecies aren’t helpful anymore. They’re just depressing.”
A man so fat that he took up two chairs raised his hand. “Will the famine be literal or figurative?”
The seer sat and seethed for a moment. Then he rose to his feet and strode down the center aisle to the refreshment table at the back of the room. The event hall staff watched his approach with mild interest. There were still a dozen plates of potato chips on the table. The staff had apparently been expecting a slightly better turnout. The seer grabbed the table with both hands and flipped it over, shouting, “Here! No more chips! A literal famine! When? Right now!”
No one responded. An immeasurable amount of time later, the seer noticed that the table was still flipping and chips were still falling, creeping down toward the floor with a grace one would have thought impossible for potato chips. The frayed collar on one of the event staff’s uniforms began to speak. It said, “Fa-a-amine.”
“Oh boy,” said the seer.
“Don’t go to the fan club meeting tonight,” said the collar. “It won’t go well.”
“Thank you,” said the seer. “I’m already there and you’re right, it isn’t going well. Now you’re telling me the present.”
The collar didn’t seem embarrassed. “The famine shall come and go, ebb and flow, circle back…”
“What happened?” asked the seer. “When did my talent become so shoddy?”
“You don’t have talent,” said the collar. “You’re just a link in the chain.”
“Then why do I wear these robes?” asked the seer. “Why do I meditate and burn incense and read ancient, forbidden texts by candlelight into the deepest hours of the night?”
“Because you’re vain,” said the collar.
Then the collar died, the table crashed to the floor, and the potato chips scattered all around it in a big mess.
The members of the fan club shivered in their seats, woozy and disoriented, their hats askew. They blinked and looked around at each other. “What just happened?” asked someone.
As the event staff stumbled to the closet for brooms to clean up the broken potato chips on the floor, the seer walked back up the aisle to the front of the room, his hands folded in front of him. “I have received new word,” he announced. “I have seen, yes seen the future.”
“For real?” asked the man in the front row.
“Yes,” said the seer. He smiled through his beard. “I have seen prosperity! I have seen years of plenty!”
“When?” asked the woman with the bandana over her mouth. “When? When?”
“Starting within the month,” said the seer. “And then stretching on into the days of our grandchildren and beyond!”
“What did it look like?” asked an old man in a neck brace.
“Fruited vines coiling through freshly painted trellises under a light rain,” said the seer. “Lush pastures teeming with livestock bearing offspring without veterinary assistance. Cupboards in vacation homes bursting with packaged food still months away from expiration.”
“Beautiful,” said the old man in the neck brace.
“That,” said the seer. “Is what I thought.”