Shell Out

Part 3

“Psychic Friends Hotline”

Shell Out

Part 1

“Chapter Title”

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He managed to survive for a little over a year at the Psychic Friends Hotline, which was amazing considering he sometimes misunderstood his own mind. The position had given him a unique opportunity to interact with interesting people, and he learned much about human psychology during his many experiments. And, despite his initial high climaxing in the first month and the subsequent fall resembling a slow-motion dream where he’d jump out of a plane as it raced for the side of a mountain, just to discover that he had forgotten to take a parachute, he gave it his heart because it gave him a paycheck.

But, as the thrill drew closer to death, he began to lose his step. His interest followed. The effects were gradual, but he could sense the difference between now and his first day. The standard protocol had sown in him the seeds of boredom, and he needed to spice things up. His readings had grown riskier: he was giving them futures that would change their destinies. And he knew the risk had an expiration date that would eventually spoil him. But he kept it going for as long as he could. His paycheck was enough that he had forgotten what it was like to eat noodles on the couch in front of a dead TV on a Friday night.

He fell in hot water when he took things too far and a caller suspected him of fraud. It was a shame, too, because his future-predicting skills, or what passed as skills, landed him a weekly paycheck almost worth smiling about. The call in particular, which brought the head psychic to break out his big fat red pen, began after lunch:

“Well, Heeeelllloooo,” Greg said, as he dangled the handset by his mouth. “Thank you for choosing the Psychic Friends Hotline where your future can make your dreams come true and all that fun stuff. Let us join minds, Mis . . .”

“Wow, hi,” said the male caller. “I can’t believe I’m finally calling the Hotline. I’ve thought about it for months, ever since my girlfriend dumped me, but she used to make fun of it, saying it was a big joke. I couldn’t get the nerve to call until a girl at Crappy Burger said, ‘Tommy, you need to get over Mandy. She was never good for you. If you call the Psychic Friends Hotline today, the friendly psychic can tell you your future so you don’t have to end up with girls like her again.’ Wasn’t that nice of her? So here I am, calling the Psychic Friends Hotline, and I’m nervous, but I need advice.”

“Well, Mister Tommy, let us see what we can find–”

“You know my name? Wow, you’re the real deal, man.”

“Of course, Tommy. I’m a psychic.” Greg took notes on some Post-its while he listened to the caller and regurgitated his information. So far he kept the caller’s name and gender recorded next to a doodle of a rooster he had been scribbling since his conversation with the previous caller.

“That’s so amazing. That is so frickin’ awesome. I’m listening to everything Kelly says from now on. So what’s my relational future?”

For effect, Greg emitted a droning noise–he liked to do this whenever he needed the illusion of reading futures. Habit had also brought him to spit and gurgle at the end of the show. The entire system took about sixty seconds of the caller’s time.

“According to my amazing psychic powers I can predict that getting over Mandy will be in your best interest and that awaiting a new love is in your future.”

“Really? When?”

“Well, Tommy, I predict a new beautiful woman will show up in your life very soon. And this woman, Tommy, you will not only find attractive, but with her a relationship you will also desire.”

“Wow, really? Are you sure?”

“Do not underestimate the all-knowingness of a Psychic Friend. There will be a girl arriving very soon who will catch your attention and fill your thoughts with love. And this woman will be highly, highly attractive.”

“Omigosh, omigosh, that’s so frickin’ awesome.”

Greg paused as he waited for Tommy to stop hyperventilating. In the meantime he wrote down attractive woman, Mandy, and drew some feathers on the rooster.

“Tommy, are you okay?”

“What else can you tell me? What else can you tell me?”

Greg cracked a smile, as he always did when he got a caller begging for information.

“I predict this woman will seduce you with her beauty and make you want to sleep beside her all day and night, and perhaps even around lunchtime.” Sleeping beauty.

At this point Tommy’s words flew off his lips so fast that Greg could no longer understand him.

“Tommy, I sense you are happy about this revelation.”

“This is the greatest moment of my life! Thank you, Psychic Friends Hotline!”

Greg lurched. “But, Tommy, there is still more to this tale.”

He normally preferred the easy way out, and this was the one time he should’ve taken it. Since he was getting paid by the hour, not the minute, he tried to end his calls after the first load of crap was dished. But for some reason, whether it was a desire to look productive to his boss, boredom, or just the thick layer of smoke in the air getting to his brain, he couldn’t resist dragging this one out.

“What’s that, Psychic Friend? What could possibly be better than a beautiful woman coming into my life?”

“Well, Tommy, I’m afraid there’s a bulldozer accident in your future.”

Tommy’s chipper spirit took an abrupt turn.

“What do you mean? I thought this was about my love life.”

“It is about your love life, Tommy, but the path to happiness will be temporarily detoured by a bulldozer–a big yellow one.”

He began sketching a bulldozer next to the rooster. He couldn’t remember if the shovel was supposed to have teeth or not.

“How so?”

Greg found a tabloid magazine opened along the corner of his desk and consulted the cover story for details. It was one of his tricks for finding life details in a hurry.

“I sense the bulldozer will be under the control of a crazed vampire named Gruptach the Wagner, who will use the device to wreak havoc on humanity.”

“No, that can’t be.”

“Oh, but it is what I see. A terrible vampire in really horrible clothes–I’m guessing from one of those whacked-out French designers–will try to infect the living with his bloodsucking disease, and you, Tommy, will be at the center of it.”

“The vampire is going to bite me?”

Greg paused for dramatic effect, and also to think up his next line of BS.

“No, Tommy, the vampire will not bite you; I see that clearly.”


“Yes, Tommy, and not because he’s a sissy–he is indeed not a sissy–but because you are a hero.”

“I’m a hero?”

“You are a bona fide, certified, classified hero, and the vampire will be afraid of you. Gruptach the Wagner will be downright, out-a-sight afraid of you.”

“Then . . . how will there be a bulldozer accident in my future?”

“The bulldozer, Tommy, is not afraid of you. The vampire, though too frightened to bite you, will have no regret sending his devious devices your way, stopping at nothing to bowl you over–to flatten you, making you easily devoured by his bloodsucking fangs. But I see you acting swiftly, Tommy. The hero won’t allow that bulldozer to touch you.

“The accident, Tommy, will be the bulldozer falling into a ravine, into which it will attempt to knock you over. In your swift action you will dodge the ten-mile-an-hour bulldozer, just as it plummets over the edge. And in your triumph, Tommy, you will see the explosion wipe away all obstacles that threaten your dream–your destiny of crossing paths with the beautiful woman.”

“Wow, are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure, Tommy! I am a Psychic Friend. I know the future of your path to the future. You cannot begin to underestimate my ability to convince you of these ironclad predictions. What I’ve told you today, I stand by in the vicinity of one hundred percent, with a hundred percent probability of definitive possibility.”

Tommy lapsed in temporary silence, then quickly piped up with an anxious breath.

“So what must I do to prepare for this vampire attack?”

“You must eat three cloves of garlic a day, then attempt to kiss a beautiful stranger. This, Tommy, will also be the gateway into ushering your dream into reality–the dream to discover and stand close to the beautiful woman I have predicted. When you lean in to kiss her, that is the moment she will notice you.”

“Wow, okay, Psychic Friend. I can do this.”

“Of course you can, Tommy, as I have already seen it. Now go, you have a beautiful maiden to lay eyes upon.”

“Thank you, Psychic Friend.”

“No, thank you, Tommy. Thank you for being a hero. Now will you be paying with Visa, MasterCard, or American Express?”

A few days later, the supervisor summoned him to his office to discuss a call involving a vampire and a bulldozer. Although Greg had steered the phone conversation in an absurd direction to make things interesting–and why wouldn’t he? His customers were idiots–the supervisor (and lead psychic) didn’t find it so amusing when the caller named Tommy complained about a severe injury he had incurred while crossing a demolished sidewalk.

“He said you told him he wouldn’t get hurt by a bulldozer,” the supervisor said. He had a twitch in his eyes and a frown on his face. “And yet somehow he did anyway. Care to explain?”

Greg was dumbfounded. Never in a moment had he thought there would be a bulldozer in Tommy’s future.

“I was just . . .”

“Mr. Agnew wants to sue us for fraud. He stated, with conviction, that his psychic advisor informed him, with absolution, that he would dodge an oncoming bulldozer. I’m sure you can imagine his surprise when he, in fact, did not dodge the oncoming bulldozer.”

At first Greg wanted to laugh at the man’s ridiculous misfortune, but instead felt angry over this odd coincidence.

“It was just a joke, Mr. Freedman. Who really takes this stuff seriously?”

“Well, evidently, Mr. Agnew takes this stuff seriously. And also, evidently, so do I.”

And the rest of the story segued into a speech about ethics, emotional abuse, and the fact that the Psychic Friends had no room for practical jokers, so Greg had once again found himself trudging through the unemployment line.