The Divination Game

Richard Karpala


You were drunk in the cemetery when your friends called you over to see Marla’s grave. It had a special flourish, unlike the others. The floral indentations, so beautifully carved into the stone, were the feminine gestures of equanimity luring you towards it.

Someone asked if you ever played the Divination Game where you divine a dead person.

You learned how to do it by word of mouth, which no one dared to write down in books. It was not meant for passing on. It was supposed to be carried with you to the grave.

The grave of Marla would not have been your first choice for the game. But it was an innocent looking tomb . . .

From her gravestone you knew Marla was 19 years old from cradle to the grave. When you touched the stone work you learned her unpublished novel was collecting dust in the attic of her parents’ home and she desperately wanted someone to read it.

You saw her fall into the arctic-cold waters of the Saratoga Coast. You doubted if it was a real place, or something she imagined. Sometimes that was a problem when divining writers or artists who died.

You saw faint smiles and heard hoarse laughter. There was a name, echoing up from some dark pocket of her memory—a name she was close to, a name she was too afraid to repeat. She had forgotten the name, which might happen sometimes, your friends warned. It was up to you whether to learn more about it or move on.

So now there was more armature about Marla going into the divination. The next step in the process was to divine deeper into her mind, deeper into her heart. 

You could divine the opening sentence of her novel: “Darcy stumbled into misspent youth”.

You thought of it when you made breakfast in the morning or when you were bored at work.

It was easy to summon Marla because of her unnatural interest in the post-humous lives of others, the ones who went on after their deaths, dissatisfied with life and disinterested in what came after it.

She wanted to be roused, you realized. Marla wanted to be divined.

In Marla’s mind hundreds of years of solitude had passed and she’d forgotten everything of the world. It was her boredom you sensed now, built up like gas in a steam engine, which was dangerous to those in her circle.

On the day Marla showed herself, the gasket blew off and the pent up energy killed your friend with a massive cardiac embolism when he was sitting in your passenger seat.

You were lucky to arrive at the Saratoga Coast, unhurt. Your friend had already been dead for hours in the car, so you left him in the passenger seat and walked to the shoreline. An outcrop of stones stretched over the horizon, so you followed it. The outcrop rose up into the sky like black sea crystals, jagged and unstable. You had to remove your shoes and finish the journey on your bare feet. At the top you looked down and saw where she had taken her last plunge. It looked different in your divination. She died sometime after the sun was gone, and the moon had done the heavy lifting, guiding her steps to oblivion. She wanted it to be dark so she wouldn’t be able to judge the moment of impact from the top.

That was where you also discovered a secret of her heart: that her first husband carried a gun and died with it in his La-Z Boy, holding a book in his lap Marla had written. He liked the chair more than he liked the book.

When Marla found him in the chair she opened her book to see how far he’d read and discovered he made it five pages in before taking his own life. She fled to the Saratoga Coast where she ended her life in much the same manner her husband had taken his own.  

No secret, you realized too late, was worth the price of divination. But when the game is started it is impossible to finish.

You wished you never met your friends. Then you would not have seen Marla’s grave. The floral indentations on the tomb were enticing but so was every single moment passed without contemplating Marla’s warm embrace below it.

One evening you awakened to feet trampling above you in the darkness. Someone else had arrived to divine you. You could hardly believe it. Some time had passed, and the tomb you were lying in had grown uncomfortably close-quartered.

They were teenagers, four or so from the sounds of it, about as old as you once were when you first divined Marla. They saw your tomb and reacted to the name carved in stone. They heard a rumor that you died playing the Divination Game.

They were desperate to know how you ended up down here.

So they divined you too.




Richard Karpala was born in Colorado, where he attended the University of Colorado at Boulder and graduated with a BFA in Film Production. As a writer his projects include the feature film Amok. As a filmmaker his shorts include “Murderabiliac,” which recently screened at Beyond Fest and Austin Film Fest, as well as “Iris,” which screened in hundreds of film festivals and can be seen in the anthology horror film, “Galaxy of Horrors” (available on Amazon, iTunes, and other fine digital retailers.) Richard lives in Los Angeles with his wife Ruth and their dog, Luna.