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The Reason I Don’t Do Cold Readings Anymore

Estimated reading time — 9 minutes

I don’t do ‘cold readings’ anymore. I don’t tell fortunes. I don’t read tea leaves.

And I do not do contact ‘the other side’.

Look, don’t judge me alright? It was an easy gig. I mean, the first time I did it, it was a joke. I did it just to impress a girl. You’ve been there, right? It was something I’d read about online and I thought I’d give it a go.


Cold reading.

I don’t need to tell you that there’s no such thing as a psychic. It’s just extremely convincing educated guessing. I know, I know, if you believe in this stuff you’ve definitely got a story to tell me that starts ‘Yea most are fake but this one time…’ and you’ll tell me some incredibly specific thing that they couldn’t possibly have known. Honestly though? If I could have been there when you got your ‘revelatory message’, you gave them everything they needed, they just connected dots.

See, people aren’t desperately unique, not really. Hell, you only need 23 people before there’s a 50% chance that two of them have the same birthday. You give me a crowd of 50 people and I’ll find someone born in August with an important ‘L’ in their life (Luck, Leeds, Louise) and I’ll have everything I need. It’s not hard. People like a sense of pattern in their lives. It gives them a sense of control. It’s why people like conspiracy theories. It’s hard to think that everything really is as shit and meaningless and random as experience would imply. When someone flies a plane into a building it’s easier to think it’s just another cog in some grand scheme than face up to the fact that, actually, it really doesn’t take all that much other than a fuck-up and a box cutter to completely ruin everything.

Similarly, when you’re holding the hand of a five-year-old girl long after her long black hair has fallen out and she’s looking at you for help and you can’t, maybe it’s easier to think it’s just a crappy part of a bigger plan. You’re both just changing lines for a bit but you’re heading to the same destination.

So look, I’m not defending myself, I’m not saying I’m not a twat in all this. I’m just saying that I never wanted to deceive people. I mean, not maliciously. I just thought I was providing a service, you know? An outlet, maybe.

So when I did my cold readings, I got quite good at them. It’s pretty simple really, you’re just a salesman. If you can sell a used car, you can sell a reading. It all boils down to two things; confidence and knowing your audience.


Like, alright, I’ll tell you a story. One of the first times I did it was in a bar. It was a chain bar, one of those where the menu was the same in every town and the Happy Hour hasn’t changed since 2008. I was being introduced to a group of my girlfriend’s friends and so I was on my best behavior. Captain Charming, you know? So when Maria, all olive skin and deep brown wavy hair, said that the women in her family always had a sort of gift for talking to the beyond… I saw a chance.

So I read her. My girlfriend was 24, and they were university friends so I guessed that Maria was likely a year either side, maximum. She was thus probably a child of the early nineties. Young enough that likely her parents were still alive, but that she may have lost a grandparent or two. There were no rings on her fingers so I guessed she wasn’t married, and the way she was poured into that red cocktail dress pretty much counted out the chance of her being a mum.

So, grandparents were the way in. The most common first letter in first names are J for men and A for women (for men this is especially useful as it takes care of all the Johns, James and Jacks which have had staying power during the generations too).

“There’s someone who wants to speak with you”

Maria’s eyes flicker with excitement. This is a good sign.

“I’m getting an… A?”

No reaction at all from Maria. Luckily, it’s an easy conversion.

“No, not A… it’s a J.”

Another flicker. She takes in a sharp breath.


“I think it’s a James? Or a John?”

“John! Yes, John! My grandfather!”

“He’s here with us now.”

Now, most people at this point are still pretty skeptical. Maria was taking the bait with gusto but most people would still be sat back in their chairs at this point, single eyebrow raised. Now you gotta hit ‘em with something a bit more personal.

With grandparents, it tends to be a pretty positive relationship that you’re playing on. I mean, if it’s a dead partner there can be all kinds of baggage to unpack, but dead grandparents are usually a big bag of happy memories.

So that’s the card you play; if they’re wanting to talk to grandparents, it’s because they want to feel that same safeness again. First though, gotta pull them in with something that seems specific.

“I see him watching over you, but I see a blackness in his chest… or abdomen. That kind of area.”

(It’s a fair shot usually; something north of 85% of deaths of men over 65 are due to some form of complication around there).

“But he wants you to know he’s at peace, and he says that he sees you struggling with something… A choice, perhaps? He’s saying that you should follow your heart, and that you shouldn’t worry about the money.”

See, that seems really personalized, but actually, when are we not toying with some kind of big choice? Even if it’s not imminent, people are always juggling the idea of moving house or job or changing something up with their partner. And what big choice doesn’t have financial implications? Or, moreover, who isn’t worried about money literally all the time?

Same as ever; feels personal but applies to everyone.

Maria is almost breathless at this point, and starts asking really direct questions that would expose me if I tried to answer them honestly.

“No, he’s… Fading. He’s gone back over”


So that’s how I got started. But then it got out of hand. See, Maria had bought the whole act. She told a friend who told a friend who told a friend. Soon I had people ringing me and texting me, asking for readings.

Then they started offering money.

Well, cut a long story short, that’s how I ended up on stage here, earning £2000 for a two-night performance in the conference center of a shitty airport hotel outside Manchester.

The first night was like any other night. The venue was about 1/3rd full. I was wearing my black suit with the open-collared blue velvet shirt. Very 80s Butlins Entertainer outfit. I was scanning the room for easy marks – someone clutching at jewelry or a picture. The ticket asks them to bring something belonging to the person they wish to contact, so the second you see anyone with their hands full you know you’ve got a gullible mark.

And there she was; nervously spinning her wedding ring with a photo resting on her lap.

Dead husband. My bread and butter.

I sat with her and… well. There’s a reason I don’t do these anymore. I played it safe at first;

“I’m getting a…. J.”

She took a deep breath, and started to react.

Before I could get a chance to read her reaction, another voice called from the other side of the room.

“It’s him!” came the voice.

Sometimes, you get someone who’s a bit over-enthusiastic. Someone who’s so desperate to get in touch with their beloved that they’ll assume that whatever voice is coming through is trying to get in touch with them, regardless of who the current mark is. It’s why I stay away from ‘sensing’ the letter R – between the Richards and Dicks and Roberts and Bobs half the sodding room thinks they’re being contacted. I got ready to politely ask the interrupter to sit back down.

But there was nothing. No one.

I turned back to the widow. She was steeling herself to get in touch with her ‘J’. I caught a brief glimpse of what I thought was the name ‘Alan’ on the wedding photo in her lap and was ready to fix my pitch accordingly when the voice came again.

This time, just a single word rang through so loud it arrived with a blinding white.


My eyes focused again on the widow in front of me. She was taking little shallow rasps of breath and staring at me with eyes like a startled deer.

I spun round to try and find the source of the yell, but there was no one.

“Did anyone else hear that?!”

The crowd, assuming it was part of the gig, simply shook their heads.

Catching my breath, I tried to get back on track.


“No, not a J, it’s an A -” SLAM – another bullet train of sound to the back of my mind.


I was knocked back a few paces. Panting, beads of sweat form on my forehead. I pulled at my tie to loosen it.

“Please” I pleaded with the crowd “try not to shout when the voices are coming to me, it makes it hard to concentrate”

What had been amused half-smiles at what they assumed was showmanship became puzzled, silent exchanges with the people sitting near them as I asked the silent crowd for quiet.

I went a third time to speak to the widow but the voice rung out again; popping in my ears, as though it had been trapped in a bubble.


I was still catching my breath. Panting heavily. I scanned the crowd and, sure enough, there he was. Third row. Red, casual-fitted shirt that looked expensive. Short brown hair in a modern, professional cut framing a neutral, polite smile. Light brown chinos and brown leather shoes. Arm draped around the shoulders of a nervous-looking blonde woman. I couldn’t see her face as she held an unbroken look with her lap. Her hands gripped the blue velvet clutch on her knees. Her legs were pinned together with vice-like strength. Her shoulders drooped under the weight of his arm.

Even as I met his eyes, he didn’t let that neutral salesman grin drop. It was the grin of the man who’s sold the car and is going in to sell the paint job.


My knees cracked with the punches of the sound and I fell to the floor. I could hear the gasps in the audience. People were out of their chairs, craning their necks and crowding to see what was happening.

I told you that this gig is all about salesmanship. This was me losing the pitch. They wanted enthusiasm, not seizures.

Back on my feet, the widow well at the back of my mind, I managed to rise, zombie-like, to my feet.

I raised a pointed finger at Mr. Red Shirt.

“I’m getting… a voice.” I croaked.

I pinched the bridge of my nose and put out an arm, evangelical style.

“What…. What’s your name?”


“She… says her name is Gemma. Does that mean anything to you?” Red Shirt’s grin spreads.

“Sorry, pal, nothing to me,” was his only reply.

“She’s saying she… knows you.”

Red Shirt laughed. “Never known a Gemma in my life.” His companion raised her head at the mention of the name. Her eyes were wide and pricked with tears.

Gemma’s voice in my ears got louder and shriller and more panicked. I could feel my heartbeat in my eyes. Soon I was simply parroting her words.

“She’s saying… She’s saying you killed her. You killed her and buried her body out the back of Bleacher’s Woods, by the A55. She’s saying you were waiting for her after she finished work and you came up behind her and clocked her round the head and put her in the back of your white Ford Transit.”

The crowd was bustling by now. This was not what they’d paid for. They wanted financial advice from Granddad or to know that little Robbie is happy in heaven after he came off his bike and fell under the 681 bus to Salford. Not to have some sweating charlatan shouting accusations at innocent audience members. People were grabbing their bags and starting for the doors. I couldn’t stop though, by now I was just a puppet for Gemma’s voice.

“You thought I was out cold, you fuck, but I was just barely conscious. I felt everything. I felt you tearing my clothes, I felt the way you scraped my underwear against my thighs when you were too weak to tear them off in one. I felt the dirt as it landed on my back. I heard you pat down the soil before one type of darkness gave way to the next.”

The steadfast grin on Red Shirt’s face was back.


“I was alive, you bastard!”

Not even a hint of his grin slipping.

Gemma’s voice was fading. Like someone being dragged away in a noisy bar. Her voice replaced by the din of silence.

“No! Not yet! You have to warn her! Amy! Amy!’

And with that, Gemma was gone. And like a puppet with the strings suddenly cut, my shaking knees buckled and I fell to all fours and emptied my guts over the worn and dirty brown carpet flooring. People were streaming out now, muttering criticisms under their breaths.

“Worst show ever”

“Macabre nonsense”

“I told you we should have gone to the cinema”

Red Shirt strong-armed his partner out of her seat and started marching towards the door. I reached out from my prone position to try and grab the hem of her skirt but she was already out of reach, and I could barely stand.

Through the sweats and the panting, I looked up to see Red Shirt ushering the woman out of the door. I thought I saw tears in her eyes. In the confusion and bustle of the crowd leaving the room, I thought I saw her reach out towards me. But Red Shirt had a firm grasp on her shoulder.

He stared back at me, that same salesman grin on his face.

And he winked.

And they were gone.

I stumbled to my feet, standing in my own vomit as I started towards the door. I burst into the foyer, desperate to try and find Red Shirt and his crying companion. But in the bustling crowd I couldn’t see either of them.

I just stood there.

A wave crashed through again. A final hurrah from Gemma;


* * * * * *

Complaints about my performance flooded the venue and they were forced to cancel the second night’s performance. Of course, I’d already paid for the hotel room, so spent the second evening sat at the bar, trying my best to forget about Gemma.

I was on the third whiskey when a tail end news report caught my ear about a missing woman.

The prim news reader stated:

“Police are appealing for witnesses in the disappearance of Amy Hockstetter, a woman from the Salford area who was last seen leaving the Quays Hotel Conference Centre with an unidentified man. She had been attending an event hosted by alleged psychic, Theo Capewell, an event that she’d attended because, according to friends, she’d been hoping to contact her sister, Gemma Hockstetter, who disappeared last year. Anyone with information should contact….”

The rest of the report was lost to the din of the bar.

Like I said;

I don’t do cold readings anymore. They’re not cold enough.

Credit: Kevin Thomas (a.k.a. Skarjo) (InstagramFacebookTwitterReddit)

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