Dark Mysteries of the Palm...... Or Sticking Your Hand Into a Friendly Computer

Twenty-and-eight the phases of the moon,

The full and the moon's dark and all the crescents,

Twenty-and-eight, and yet but six-and-twenty

The cradles that a man must needs be rocked in:

For there's no human life at the full or the dark.

THE SIGN in the street said "Mrs. Murray. Card Advisor and Palm Readings." The building was very narrow and very decrepit. After hesitating a moment, I walked in and read the sign: "One flight up to Mrs. Murray." As I climbed the winding stairs, a dark-haired woman, olive-skinned, appeared from a decaying red-carpeted, red-furnished living room. She came out so quickly I was taken aback. Cynically. I wondered how many months, it had been since the last likely mark had wandered in.

"Uh, I'm very interested in astrology," I stammered. "I was wondering if you give readings." Actually, there wasn't much to wonder about; the sign outside had already established the preliminaries. But she was very understanding.

"Yes," she smiled. "Would you like one now?"

I really wasn't prepared. I told her I'd be back the next day.

"Fine." She smiled again.

"What's your fee?" I remembered to ask.

"Five dollars," she said.

"Fine."

She headed back to the living room, in which I noticed the figure of a bearded man. I galloped down the stairs and out into the all-American, midtown-Manhattan air. I had had my first face-to-face meeting with the forces of the occult.

When I was small. I exhausted the racks of fairy tales in the neighborhood library. Tales of witches and trolls, goblins and potions, never failed to enchant me. I was dazzled by the sorcery of Merlin and his professional colleagues, by the scheming of astrologers and the cauldrons of brooding witches. This was the world I was entering. No wonder I was apprehensive.