Martha Riggins started the day with burnt toast, a dead phone, and a surprise downpour without an umbrella, so when her crystal ball decided to freeze mid-vision, she was hardly shocked. It was unfortunate, as she had a high-paying customer at the time, but she had lots of practice in bull-crap and was able to use what she’d already seen to give the man a satisfactory answer. One worth 100 dollars, at least.
The only other readings she had that day were Tarot readings, so she stuffed her crystal ball into the corner of her room and put it out of her mind temporarily. After she closed shop, she took it back out and laid it on her table, sighing.
“User BX4503. Give me tech support.”
The ball was still frozen on a scene of a fence and a dog mid-run, but thankfully it responded predictably. It clouded over, glowing a dim green before revealing a smiling face and solid green uniform. “Welcome to the Crystal Calamities tech support center. My name is Kimberly. How may I assist you today?” She flashed her teeth at Martha, revealing her slightly crooked bottom tooth and distracting Martha for a second.
“Uh, hello, I’ve been a customer for a while, had the same crystal for years, and today it just pooped out on me.”
“Can you describe to me exactly what the problem may be?”
“Sure.” Martha waved her arms in front of her face. “It just froze during a vision. Like, everything was working perfectly normally and then all of a sudden it stopped on a scene and wouldn’t do anything past that. It’s a miracle it let me contact tech support, honestly.”
Kimberly smiled down at something on her desk (probably a folder of responses) and looked through it. “Does your crystal flicker?”
The girl looked farther down her sheet. “Is it emitting a low-level humming noise?”
“Strange and unearthly sounds?”
Martha sighed. “It’s not doing anything besides just not working. It just froze. That’s it. No flickering, no noises, nothing. Okay?”
“Hmm.” Kimberly’s smile didn’t waver. “What kind of reading were you performing at the time?”
She shrugged. “Just a normal one. Reading into their future. Easy stuff, what their married life would look like, how many kids, et cetera.”
Kimberly tapped her finger against the folder and pursed her lips, then remembered she had to keep smiling. “What was the last thing you saw before your crystal went kaput?”
There was the scene with the dog, and the fence. That was the domestic life of her client, a cute little house in a suburb with a dog, a wife, and probably a couple of kids, though she hadn’t been able to discern anything about that. She’d told him to expect a girl and a boy. That was always her go-to when she wasn’t able to actually see that aspect of their future, as it was most likely and it would be too late for them to come back and sue her if that turned out to be false.
“Just normal stuff. Their future place of residence and some aspects of that. Nothing out of the ordinary, if you’re thinking that had something to do with my crystal’s failure.”
“Well according to this…” the girl flipped through her folder and pointed to a line of text, “sudden failure of a crystal can be the result of an intense vision of magic overloading the system, or—” she looked up from the sheet quickly, “—a sign of the coming apocalypse.”
Martha snorted. “Uh huh.” She frowned when Kimberly’s facial expression didn’t change from its current emotionless state. “Wait…you actually think I just predicted the apocalypse with a mundane client reading?”
The Crystal Calamities worker looked back down at her folder. “It says here that if your crystal pauses with no other warning signs that it may mean the coming of the end times. If that is the case, the frozen vision will begin to curl in on itself until it disappears altogether. Have you noticed that?”
“Uh, no, I don’t think it’s done that. One sec, I’ll have to disconnect visual to check that.” Martha moved her hands over the crystal, and the image of the lady vanished. A swirl of green smoke cleared to show the same image that the crystal had frozen on. Except, the edges were starting to turn black. “Uhh…Kimberly? You still there?”
“Yes ma’am. What do you see?”
“The edges of the vision are turning black. That’s bad, right?”
“Umm…” Martha heard shuffling, then a clunk. She frowned and turned the visual back on with a wave of her hand. Kimberly was no longer in the picture. Probably ran off to get her manager.
As she waited, Martha whistled some elevator music. Or was it the Jeopardy! theme song? It was one of those things. Whatever. She just wanted to get done with this so she could go to dinner with her boyfriend. As it was, she was probably going to be late to picking him up, but then again she was always late. He’d understand that she was caught up because her crystal ball was displaying signs of the coming apocalypse. Hmm. That would make for interesting dinner conversation. “If the end times were coming, what would you do?” No, that was too cliché. She’d have to think of something better. Maybe—”
“Ms. Riggins?” a gruff voice cut into her thoughts. Her whistling sputtered out as the man (manager, probably) came into the image on her crystal. He was holding a red folder. They’re really taking this apocalypse thing seriously, aren’t they?
“Yes?” Martha ducked her head so she was eye level with the man’s image. “Did you figure out what’s wrong with it?”
The man thumbed the folder. “No ma’am. I have some more, specialized questions for you to answer. Firstly…” he opened it and looked at the first entry, “have you been experiencing nightmares lately?”
Martha scoffed. “Oh, sure, I have nightmares every night.”
“Do they involved…skulls, crows, wolves, rivers of blood—”
“Nah, mostly about showing up to an important event completely naked,” Martha cut in. “Oh, but there was this one time that I dreamt I was still in high school and I walked into my math class and there was a pop quiz. It was terrifying.”
Martha stifled a chuckle at the grimaces on the faces of the two tech support workers. They looked like they were decided between yelling and crying. “Ms. Riggins,” the man eventually said, “This is a serious matter. We need to make sure that what you have is just your run-of-the-mill crystal failure.”
Suddenly, the crystal ball started glowing a deep purple color in one spot. Martha watched as it spread across the screen like a virus. “Um. It’s starting to glow weird colors now. Is that part of a run-of-the-mill failure?”
“What color?” Another woman jumped into view.
Jeez, they just keep popping up. “Hi. It’s purple, and it started at the top and started spreading around. It’s actually getting a bit harder to see all of you now.”
“We need to prepare for a code black,” the new woman said, addressing the other people in view.
“Code black?” Kimberly’s eyes widened and she brought her hands up to her chest, wringing them like she was cold. The men and the new woman ran out of view, presumably to warn other people in the tech center, and Kimberly stared blankly as they left.
“Hello?” Martha waved frantically at the crystal. “What’s a code black? And why is everyone freaking out?” Her stomach rumbled, and she instantly remembered that all she’d had to eat so far was a salad and a piece of burnt toast. She checked her watch and tried to remember what time she and her boyfriend were supposed to go out to eat. “I’m kinda in a hurry here, could someone please talk to me?” Kimberly was still not responding, or even looking in her direction.
Martha banged her fist on the crystal and shouted, “HEY! Can anyone here me over there?”
Immediately, the purple fog dissipated, the image of the tech center disappeared, and the frozen vision returned. “Thank you for using Crystal Calamities tech support. Enjoy your day,” an automated voice said, and the vision unfroze. The dog ran into the house, and a man walked out and closed the door.
Martha stared at the crystal, which was completely back to normal now. “Great. Thanks for all the help,” Martha muttered to the air, then chuckled. She wondered if the tech center was still in code black, whatever that was, then decided she didn’t care. She packed the crystal into its cushioned box, locked up her shop, and went to pick up her boyfriend for dinner.