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The University of Edinburgh's three creative writing prizes, open for 2024 submissions
Ailsa Fraser: Augurs Alone

Ailsa Fraser: Augurs Alone

Runner Up for the 2022 Lewis Edwards Memorial Prize

Ailsa Fraser (she/her) is a queer writer of speculative fiction, studying History and Politics at the University of Edinburgh. She has been writing for as long as she can remember. Her fiction work has been published in The Inkwell, and her non-fiction work can be found online at the website Vulvani, where she writes to de-stigmatise periods and other areas of sexual health.

Ailsa’s Non-Fiction Work

Visit Vulvani:

Augurs Alone 

The door of the shop slammed shut behind her, harshly enough to reflect the owner’s disdain, and Sandra let her lips twist. His gaze was fixed on her back, still—he wanted to close up before the mall was locked up, but he wasn’t going to leave when she still might be around. She was still the suspect behind the robbery of his brother’s business, even if the only evidence was a vague warning she’d given to get the customers out before masked men smashed the windows in. 

Still, she pretended the glares didn’t affect her and kept walking. She didn’t want to leave yet, even if it was nearly midnight, and she was fast running out of time before the security guards kicked her out. She couldn’t really risk getting into more trouble with them, seeing as they still weren’t convinced that that mother’s accusation against her had no merit.  

But she wanted to stay anyway. A feeling still demanded she stay. 

It was a feeling, though, not a vision, and she was getting worse at discerning which was meant to be which. Her brother thought it was stupid, her hanging around this mall all week because of some rumblings in her gut and chest; he was probably right. This was just another anxiety acting up again. 

Her gift could be strong—strong enough that she could see the future with undeniable clarity, impossible to ignore. But sometimes the curse was so much stronger. Sometimes, she didn’t believe her prophecies herself. 

Her car was on the lowest level of the basement carpark. In all the years since she’d predicted some poor woman getting trapped in a faulty lift, she’d never dared set foot in one herself, so she took the stairs. Even if the stairwell stank of piss and cheap alcohol. Neon strips of light flashed against the concrete walls and left shadows pooling in the corners. If they bent and warped through a thin film of tears, she blinked the illusions away.  

A sharp white light, ascending the steps in front of her. She stepped aside to let a security guard pass her, feeling his gaze raking up and down her. 

“You’re that woman who’s been hanging around all week,” he said, shining his torch right at her. She gritted her teeth, squinting through the light in the general direction of his face. “What the hell have you actually been doing here?” 

“Had a feeling,” she said. She knew the shit she’d get for it, but she still hated any sort of deception. 

He snorted. “About what?” 

“Something would happen. Probably something bad.” 

“Had a feeling you’d be able to steal something, huh?” 

Not so much as a thought that she might be telling the truth. It shouldn’t sting as much as it always did.  

His torch scanned her again. The safety pins holding her jacket together flashed in the light; the tears and fixed stitches on her shoes and clothes cast thick shadows.  

“I’m not a thief,” she said. She made to walk past him, but he caught her shoulder in a hand the size of her head. She tensed. 

“That’s not what I heard.” 

She shook herself free and backed away from his leer, dashed down the filthy steps, and sighed in relief when he couldn’t be bothered to chase her. Her bad feeling grew stronger, cacophonous in her chest, and she had to pause to breathe for a moment. It was just lingering fear from her encounter, not another premonition. But it was so hard to tell. 

When she carried on, so focused was she on calming herself, trying to crystallise her feelings into something definite, that she tripped over the object of prophecy. 

The guttural sounds of sobbing cut off abruptly—only then did she realise she had been hearing them at all. She caught herself before she faceplanted the cement, or even kicked the crying teenager too hard, and stumbled a few steps. It was a dark, dingy corner of the carpark, so she fumbled for her phone to switch on the torch. 

A pink, round, tearstained face stared at her, too shocked to be annoyed. Sandra stared back. 

A half-stifled hiccup broke the silence. 

“Sorry,” Sandra said at last. The feeling abruptly vanished in her chest; she scowled. Was that the premonition she’d been having? A week of worry and all it wanted was for her not to trip and break her neck because a snotty-nosed kid was sitting on the bottom step of the stairwell? 

Her scowl made the girl flinch. “Sorry I was in the way,” she mumbled, and grabbed her tote bag. It was rainbow-striped and had at least six badges and buttons on it, flashing bright in the torchlight. She made to stand up, but Sandra stopped her. 

“No, I— I’m sorry. I didn’t see you. It’s my fault.” 

“It’s dark.” 

“Still my fault.” Sandra nodded, made to turn away—then yanked herself around again like a puppet forced to pirouette. God. Stupid week of worry or not, it wasn’t the girl’s fault she was the terrible future Sandra was used to seeing.  

There had to be more to this. The girl was in tears. It had been a week. There had to be some meaning to this, right? 


She sucked in a breath. Let it go through her. Tried again. “Are you alright?” 

Fruitless silence. 

“Only… it’s nearly midnight, and it’s a Tuesday so I figure you have school tomorrow morning, and also you’re a young girl sitting in a pitch-dark carpark sobbing, and that creepy guard must have already passed you, so…” 

The girl hiccupped again. 

“I don’t want to pry, but—” 

“We’re gonna get snow,” the girl muttered. “School will be cancelled tomorrow. It’s fine. And the security guard just kicked me aside and kept walking.” 

Sandra raised her eyebrows. “The forecast says it’ll get warmer, not colder.” Sure, she knew that there were gonna be a couple of fatal accidents over the next week due to ice and snowfall, but most people didn’t. She’d called the weather channel enough times over the winters that she was pretty sure the interns had made a game of stringing her along. 

“I know it’ll snow. My, uh, my dad’s a meteorologist. He told me.” 

“That’s a lie.” 

The girl winced, but Sandra’s tone wasn’t accusatory. She sat down on the step, ignoring how the cold concrete chilled her arse.  

“I believe you,” she said. “It does seem like it’s getting colder, and you seem like a smart kid.” 

The girl was not very good at hiding her surprise. Sandra had a nascent suspicion in her chest—some painful parody of hope. 

“That’s not something you’re used to hearing,” she guessed, “is it?” 

“My boyfriend broke up with me.” 

Sandra blinked. “Oh?” She didn’t really care, but come to think of it that was probably why the girl was crying, not some general despair of the sort that dogged Sandra, so she made herself care. “Why? Tonight?” 

“Yeah. We went bowling for a date. At least, we were meant to. We got some food at Starbucks and then—” 

“Your boyfriend took you on a date to Starbucks?” 

She sniffled, wiping her eyes. “Yeah?” 

“Nothing. It’s fine. Do go on.” 

“I ruined it.” 

“Sounds like it was already ruined.” 

“I ruined it,” she said vehemently. “He got— God, I can’t even remember what he got. But they had to heat it up, you know? A toastie, or something. It had meat in it. And then he was going to take a massive bite of it, and I smacked it out of his hand.” 

Sandra pinched her lips. “Okay. Why did you do that?” 

“It was going to give him food poisoning,” she said matter-of-factly. “He was going to spend all of tonight and tomorrow hurling his guts up into the toilet. I told him that, but he scoffed at me. Told me I was always at it with these ridiculous worries. Broke up with me on the spot.” She hugged her knees. “Even took the bloody sandwich with him.” 

Silence fell for a moment. 

“Well,” Sandra said at last, “at least he’ll know you were right when he has a truly terrible time of it, tonight and tomorrow.” 

The girl laughed despite her tears. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, there’s that.” She sobered up. “He’s right, though. I always do this—worry about something stupid. Everyone knows it’s ridiculous, even me, but…” 

“Do these stupid worries end up happening?” Sandra asked. 

The girl startled again at the question. She squeezed her answer out around a blocked throat. “Yeah. Most of the time.” 

Triumph—at what, being right? She shouldn’t be cruel—flared in Sandra’s chest. “Are they upsetting? Do they hurt you and the people you care about?” 

The girl nodded. 

Sandra tried for a watery smile. “Your reaction doesn’t sound ridiculous to me, then.” 

She was met with more stunned silence.  

“You’re astute. You’re trying to use that to help other people and yourself. I see nothing wrong in that. It was a shitty sandwich. It’s good you tried to stop him eating it.” She leaned in. “If I thought a kid was going to be hit by a car, so I stepped in and distracted both him and his mother until it was past, is that a bad thing?” 


“Even if I was very, very bad at it, and to this day that woman thinks I’m an attempted kidnapper?” 

“How did you fuck it up that badly?” the girl laughed. 

“It’s a gift. One less useful than the foresight.” The girl stiffened at those words, looking her up and down—from her greying hair to her ragged shoes. “I already knew it was going to snow tomorrow,” she admitted. “I just didn’t expect you to as well, Cassandra.” 

“Cassie,” the girl corrected, before asking the more pertinent, “and how do you know my name?” 

“We’re all Cassandras. That’s the curse, isn’t it?” 

Cassie no longer looked spooked. She looked tired, when she nodded. It was a tiredness Sandra felt in her bones. 

“It’s going to be hard, Cassie,” Sandra admitted. “Your boyfriend wasn’t the first to be an arse about this, I bet, and I also bet he won’t be the last. It doesn’t get any easier every time someone refuses to listen to you. Do you know how much of my life I’ve spent arguing, being told to sit down or shut up?” 

She cut herself off, not anticipating her own tears. The carpark swam, a miasma of light and dark in front of her. When Cassie squeezed her hand in an attempt to reassure her, that only brought a fresh flood of tears. 

“It’s hard,” she finished. “Especially when your loved ones dismiss it. Especially when you can’t even tell what the vision or the hunch is meant to mean, exactly. But that doesn’t mean you’re wrong.” 

She’d saved that little boy’s life, whatever his mother thought. 

She’d saved those customers from being caught in the middle of an armed robbery, no matter what the shop owner thought. 

She might have saved a miserable girl sitting on the carpark stairs at midnight. She might have helped her feel less alone. 

“It doesn’t mean your knowledge is invalid,” she said. “You… your opinion—and your comfort—still matters.” It was a weak ending. She didn’t know where she was going. She didn’t even know who needed comfort anymore, Cassie or her. “Don’t let them silence you. You know you’re right. You know that you’re so fucking brave to face every day, Cassie, when you know exactly how shit it will be.” 

She expelled a breath and put her face in her hands. What was she doing? What was she trying to say? 

“It’s gonna be shit,” she finished. “But don’t take any shit.” 

But Cassie listened. 

“Thank you,” she said. “For the honesty especially.” 

Sandra’s mouth twitched. “I’ve never been a liar and I won’t start now.” 

“I hate how vague it is sometimes, as well,” Cassie said. “I don’t know what my bad feeling means. Sometimes it’s something, but a lot of the time… it’s nothing.” 

“Yeah. I know what that’s like. But you do get to tell the difference, with time.” That was why Sandra had spent a week hanging around this mall. She’d believed so fiercely it was a stupid feeling, it was nothing… but she knew it wasn’t, and had stuck around all the same. “Getting to know yourself. Getting to help yourself. Finding out where it comes from.”  

She took a deep breath. “But you’ll be alright.” 

“You said you weren’t a liar,” Cassie accused. 

“And I’m not,” she said. “Your ex-boyfriend will be sick for days, and he won’t admit you were right, but he’ll know it. You can talk to your family, help them to understand how you feel, and hopefully work with them to be patient with your feelings. You’ll figure out who you are, and what you want to do with,” she waved her hand dismissively, with an expression that made Cassie snort, “this. Even if it’s just that you don’t want to use it at all. But you’ll be fine. It won’t be horrible forever.” 

“Is this a prophecy?” Cassie asked. 

“I wish. No. It’s a prediction. But I’m pretty confident in it.”  

Looking into Cassie’s face, Sandra realised that might be the first time she’d ever given a prophecy and had someone believe her.  

There was a peculiar knot in her chest. 

She glanced at her phone. “It’s past midnight. Snow day or not, tomorrow, your parents must be worrying.” 

Cassie nodded. “Thank you,” she said again. 

“Thank you for putting up with me. I was… rambling.” 

They shared a laugh, then Sandra stood up. “Would you like me to walk you to the bus stop?” 

“Is something going to happen?” Cassie peered into the pitch darkness of the carpark. 

“Not that I know of,” Sandra said. “But it’s easier to be brave when you’re not alone.” 


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