By Deborah Walker
Deborah Walker grew up in the most English town in the country, but she soon high-tailed it down to London, where she now lives with her partner, Chris, and her two young children. Find Deborah in the British Museum trawling the past for future inspiration or on her blog. Her stories have appeared in Nature’s Futures, Cosmos, Daily Science Fiction, and The Year’s Best SF 18.
The ghost of my future smells of ash.
“I thought that you were going to stop smoking,” I say.
“It’s been a tough year.” She rummages inside her bag and produces a packet of Marlborough Lights. “Life doesn’t always go according to plan, does it, Sibyl?” She lights a cigarette and blows the smoke towards me, ghost smoke, a multiplication of the insubstantial.
“I think I’ll join you.” I take a cigarette from my own packet while taking a critical look at my future self. She looks much older than she looked a year ago. She’s not doing herself any favors by not wearing make-up. Her hair looks dry and brittle, and the roots need doing. “I see that you haven’t lost any weight.”
She shrugs. “Dieting’s a waste of time. I’m nearly forty. I am what I am.”
She’s in one of those moods. “So, what’s new?” I ask.
I sigh. “That’s not very helpful. This rite is not without sacrifice, you know.” I point to the iron knife balancing on top of the dish of blood water.
“Don’t I know it?” She rolls up her sleeve and shows me her right arm. She is seven years older than I am, seven more scars. This is how it works, once a year I can see seven years into the future.
“Shall we do the diary?” I ask.
“Ah, yes, the diary.” She takes the leather diary out of her bag. I’d bought it in Venice, on my honeymoon. I’m supposed to write in it every day: the diary of my life.
The ghost flicks through the pages. “The trouble with this diary is that it gets a little sketchy in places. You’re drinking a lot at the moment, aren’t you?”
I shrug. I like a glass of wine or two in the evening. It takes the edge off. But who is she to judge me? “Shall we get on with the markets?”
“Sure.” My future self recites share prices while I take notes. I play the market. Although playing implies that I’ve a possibility of losing. That’s not the case, not with the information I’m receiving. I’m the ultimate insider trader.
When she’s finished, she says, “All right then, I’ll be off.”
“Don’t go yet.”
“What is it?” she asks, impatiently.
“You don’t look great.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“I mean, what’s happened to you in the last year?” I feel sorry for her, but more importantly I feel anxious. I need to know.
“It’s best not to talk about personal stuff, Sibyl, you know that.”
“Are you sure you want to know?”
“It is Alex, isn’t it? What’s happened? He’s not… dead, is he?”
She lights another cigarette. I do the same.
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