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Prognostiqueso

Nebula Award-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the Blood of Earth trilogy from Harper Voyager. She's a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cats. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter @BethCato.

Callie's grandmother had made a practice of reading the future in tea leaves. Callie did the same in leftover crumbs of cheese. Her careworn store, The Once and Future Cheese Shop, was intimate, with space for a few tables before broad windows that looked onto Main Street. That meant that it was easy for her to watch her client and her boyfriend interact right in front of the cheese-laden counter.
The client, Avril, needed to know if she had a future with Skip. "I hear rumors that he's a dangerous driver. My family was run off the freeway and hurt in a road rage incident when I was a kid. I can't be with someone who causes that," she had said. "He tells me that he's always safe. I need to know the truth."
For Callie, cheese always revealed the truth--for others, not herself. That was the way of the family gift of prognostication. Callie wished she could see if she should move her shop to the north side, where business might be better. She might only manage that if she set the place alight for insurance money and got away with it, but she could never consciously harm the cheeses that she loved so much. They should only be melted in something like a grilled cheese on thick brioche.
The boyfriend gave Avril a kiss on the lips as he departed. Callie came around to claim his seat. The shop was otherwise empty.
"He seems nice, doesn't he?" Avril asked, nervous now that the moment of truth had arrived.
"He does." Callie patted Avril's hands. She was almost old enough to be Avril's mother. "But let's see what the cheese says."
For her readings, Callie relied on three-cheese saucers that her subjects customized themselves. She needed them to eat most of the cheese. Despite the fortune-telling advertisements on the tables and walls, most of her subjects remained oblivious to the fact that their futures were about to be read.
Skip had selected Roquefort, a truffle cheese, and an Italian buffalo milk cheese. They were assertive choices, but that didn't play into her reading. She stared through the smeared preserves and cracker crumbs to the remaining bleu nuggets and smeared paste, her focus on Skip and his driving. Through the ancient magic of tyromancy, she felt the world around her dim as the future loomed closer.
Skip revved his car, music up, sunglasses on. He cut-off a banana-yellow car, causing it to clang against a parked car and careen onward, but she didn't see what happened to that car next--her focus stayed tight on Skip. He glanced over his shoulder, guffawed in amusement, then drove on, bobbing his head to the beat.
Callie emerged to find Avril staring at her.
"What you've heard is true," Callie said. "I saw Skip cause a car accident through his aggressive driving, and he was amused by it. He kept driving, too."
Tears filled Avril's eyes. "Are you sure?"
"My visions are always of the near-future. They don't have to come true, but..."
"Maybe I can talk to him about driving more carefully!"
Ah, young, naive love. "Here. Let me fix you some tea, on the house." She stood and leaned to pick up Avril's saucer.
Usually Callie needed to purposefully focus to see the future, but this time, the morsels of aged Irish cheddar, Red Leicester, and Northern California goat cheese pulled her in like water down a drain.
She saw Avril scream and hold up her arms to shield her face, but that did nothing to hold back flying glass or the vehicle that crunched through the wall. The bright yellow car shoved Avril into the rounded-glass counter behind her, and stopped. Avril remained pinned, bleeding, limp. Maybe dead.
There was another body beside hers, almost buried in rubble. Callie recognized her from the mirror.
Callie emerged from her vision with a gasp. She dropped the saucer to grip Avril by both shoulders. The younger woman yelped in surprise as Callie hauled her over the small table, flinging both of their bodies toward the accompaniment shelves.
From outside came a heavy thud and the screech of tires. The car crashed through the broad windows, glass shattering. Callie had a view of falling ceiling tiles and dust, then blackness. Avril had landed on top of her.
The car's engine still roared as Avril rolled to one side. The car's bumper rested against the heavy cheese counter. No bodies were pinned there.
"Are you okay?" Avril asked, coughing.
Callie unsteadily stood. "I think so, yes. You?" Avril nodded.
"Hey! Hey! How's everyone?" called a man as he climbed in over debris.
"I'm calling emergency!" cried a woman from the sidewalk.
Strangers checked on Callie and Avril. The car was shut off. The crying driver looked fine, though was terribly shaken.
Callie and Avril were helped to the patio of the bakery next door. They sat in chairs, silent for a long minute.
"In my cheese--you saw the car coming?" Avril finally said.
"Yes, but we didn't move out of the way in my vision," she whispered.
"Oh God." Avril trembled. Sirens wailed, coming closer. "You mean, we, if you hadn't..."
"Avril. That's the same car that Skip cut-off. It's bright yellow, distinct. He triggered this."
Avril took in a shuddering breath. "Well. That makes things easier for me, I guess. You should be able to get security camera footage from around here to prove that for your insurance, too."
"I'm sorry."
"What's a few wasted months of my life? We almost died because of him! And your shop...! I'm so sorry."
"Don't be." Callie had to smile. The contents of her counter were a total loss, but her storage in back would be okay. She was okay. This was her opportunity to start again somewhere else.
The Once and Future Cheese Shop still had a future--and thanks to her cheese, so did she.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, July 29th, 2022


Author Comments

People who know me know I love cheese. Tyromancy--divination through cheese--is a type of magic practiced across the centuries. I've pondered ways to explore the subject before, but when I hit upon the title of "Prognostiqueso," I knew I had to figure out a story right away. This is the result.

- Beth Cato
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