The Palm Reader of Haight Street: A Halloween Tale By Patrick Whitehurst

Punk Noir Magazine

Halo’s snowy white hair hung in spidery strands over her brows. In the dim light of the room, the palm reader’s eyes looked almost black. Her bangs cut across her facein an uneven line.

Palms didn’t warn against bad haircuts apparently.

Yet there was something unnerving about the woman. How did she know his name? Called it to him as he passed her doorway near the corner of Haight and Clayton. A sign in the shape of a hand, with her name painted over it, hung above the door. Halo said he had an aura she could see a mile away. An aura like a fucking nuclear bomb.Not that his energy fields had anything to do with the lines on his palm. Not so far as he knew.

“You look scared, Sam.”

“Stuff makes me nervous.”

Heavy drapes kept much of the light from the room. Shawls and scarves hung on every wall, some perilously close to lit candles. A stick of incense burned on a counter behind the woman, sending gray lines of oily sandalwood into the still air. He saw two pumpkins near the front door when he followed her in. Carved with lopsided smiles and crooked eyes. Posters of hands hung on the walls, half hidden behind the scarves and drapes. The palms in them were covered in lines and images, which looked to Sam like hieroglyphics. A paisley sheetcovered a small round table in the center of the room, a damn crystal ball placed in the middle. Madam Halo reached over it, her palms facing up, and asked for Sam’s hands. He unbuttoned his flannel cuffs, rolled them up, and laid his palms, facing up, in her grasp.

Someone laughed on the sidewalk outside. A car horn honked. “How do you know my name?”

His cell beeped. Probably Little Sam asking if he’d got the candy yet. Laterhe’d watch a Christopher Lee Dracula marathon with her and he’d promised peanut butter cups. They’d get a few trick or treaters too.

“Let’s just focus on those hands.” She spoke quietly and, despite the noise coming off the street, he heard every word. “I can see a lot from looking at you, but the hands reveal all.” Halo looked to be in her forties with barely a wrinkle. He couldn’t tell if her hair was dyed white or natural. Not that it mattered.

“Barista called out my name at the coffee shop just now. Must have been in there too, waiting for a sucker to call in off the street.”

“You’re right-handed I see. I’ll focus on that. Put the other down if you please.”

“As long as you don’t go over twenty bucks…” With his free hand, he reached intohis tan Dockers, then tossed a Jackson on the table next to the orb.

She swept the bill into her lap. “I knew you were coming to see me. I could tell when you crossed the street. Not to the other place, Pia’s Parlor, but here to my shop.”

Sam winced. “Stuff makes me nervous.” He said again.

“I see a long head line,” she whispered, trailing one thin finger over his hand. “You’re an intelligent man. Fast too. Not a single broken line.”

She paused before moving on. Sam watched her eyes.

Compliments always worked when it came to this shit. Butter up the clients, keep them coming back. “You’re a man of letters. At least you were,” she continued.

Sam thought of his former job as a newspaper reporter and the fucking layoffsthat led to his current occupation. “Odd jobs” paid better than journalism, especially the illegal ones.

Her finger traced his knuckles, touching a patch of scabs. “Seems now you use fists more than letters,” she said. “And you’re a sneaky one.”

She paused a moment, removed her hands, and set them in her lap. “I see beyond the hands, you know. I know why you’re here.”

“Because you called me in off the street.”

Halo waved her hand, dismissing the comment. “You seek wisdom from odd places, though much of your wisdom comes from within. You’re a rebel, an outlaw, and aren’t afraid to take risks.”

“Any of this got a point?” Sam could tell she was leading up to something. And he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear it.

“It’s your life line that interests me. Here.” She ran a finger along a crease near his thumb. “See how it interacts with the line of fate here? Yours is long, but with curious breaks. I see death around you. The worst is yet to come.”

Sam narrowed his eyes. The sandalwood made his stomach turn. “So much for my aura.”

She squeezed his hand. “Not your death. No. All around you. You have blood in your future.”

Sam pulled his hand away and jumped to his feet. “This is why I steer clear of this shit. I don’t want to know.”

Halo stood, her eyes hidden in black shadows. “Leaving so soon? What would your favorite author, Jack Kerouac, have to say about that?”

“How did you know…? Forget it. Keep the twenty bucks.”

She walked him to the door. He felt her hand on his back as she ushered him out. Did it nice enough, but he got the feeling she didn’t want him to be there any more than he did.


Back in the coffee shop, Sam stopped next to an older woman seated in a ray of sunshine near the door. She wore a gold blouse with an antique broach pinned at the neckline. She handed him the mocha he’d left with her earlier. Short black curls, an obvious wig, jiggled when she tilted her head.

“Was my two grand well spent?” she asked.

“It’s all there. Two baggies of meth. Stuck them under the table like you asked. Hope the glue holds.”

“Good. Already called the police to search her place. Should put her out of business for a while.”

“Did what you paid me for, Pia. Don’t need to know the rest.” Sam turned to leave.

“She told you something, didn’t she?”

He turned. The woman stared into his eyes. These fortune tellers, palm readers, whatever, had that all-knowing look downpat. “Told me a bit, yeah.”

“You’re not worried she’ll curse you, are you? If she thinks you planted the drugs?”

“Shit.” Sam took a sip of his coffee. It had gone cold. “She can do that?”

“Don’t worry.” Pia laughed. “She’ll have her hands full with the cops.”

Fog rolled in as Sam made his way down Clayton. He remembered Halo’s words. “I know why you’re here,” she’d said. He looked across the street. A block down he could see the white-haired woman outside her shop crowded by a detective and two uniforms. Only her shadowed eyes weren’t on them. They were on Sam. Watching him from half a block away. How did she even spot him on the misty, busy street?

She’d known. 

He dropped his mocha into a sidewalk trash receptacle and rifled his pockets. His pulse raced. Sure enough, the baggies were there in his back pocket, both bags with the glassy meth staring up at him. They went into the trash next to the half-finished mocha. She was good, that lady; good enough it made his head hurt to think about how she’d done it. He didn’t see a thing, yet she’d plucked the baggies from under the table and managed to plant them back in his pocket.

He felt around in his pants for the money Pia paid him. The two grand, his usual fee, hadn’t disappeared. Sam shook his head. Curses, magic, psychics; none of them held a candle to cold cash.

Mess with his rent and, curse or no curse, Halo’s prediction would come true. There would be blood. And it wouldn’t be his.

Patrick writes both fiction and nonfiction, the latter of which includes the books “Haunted Monterey County” and “Murder and Mayhem in Tucson.” His stories range from true crime to thriller fiction reminiscent of Tales from the Crypt. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, including Punk Noir, Shotgun Honey, Pulp Modern, Hoosier Noir, and Switchblade Magazine. He’s been featured in the anthologies “Bitter Chills,” “Wild Violence,” and “Shotgun Honey Presents: Recoil.” His reviews and author interviews appear regularly in Suspense Magazine.