The old gypsy woman pointed to the chair and snapped, “Siddown.”
The ladder-back creaked as Roger sank into it. Scooting forward to the red-draped table, feeling the chair wobble beneath him, he wondered how old this thing was. Maybe as old as the woman herself. Would it crumble beneath him? Would her wrinkled face and toothless smirk dissolve into ether before his very eyes?
The fortune teller’s tented booth, situated at the end of the carnival midway, smelled of cigarettes and dust and rotting wood. He settled his elbows on the table and took a nervous look around. Garish reds, purples, and greens formed a backdrop for a strange collection of trappings that suggested a horror movie. His teeth chattered even though his mind told him it was all illusion, a charade, part of the show. A stuffed owl glared at him from the top of a tall cabinet as though contemplating a rabbit. To the other side, a stuffed falcon with wings spread appeared to be diving for his throat. And were those shrunken heads and jars of animal innards lurking in the corner? Stacks of ancient cards cluttered an old cherry bookcase behind the woman while, in the center of the table, a crystal ball, like a great jaundiced eye, glowed faintly yellow.
“Elbows off the table!” Hands quivering with age, the gypsy lifted the crystal ball and set it to one side. “Need room for the cards. Can’t do a reading without room for the cards.”
Roger obeyed. He’d come in skeptical but had to admit the atmospherics touched off something primal in his brain. Outside, delighted squeals of children racketed by on their way to the next attraction while the cries of the barkers formed a distant background. But here, within this tent, time held its breath as the old woman gently settled a deck of cards on the table and patted it as though it was a faithful dog. He couldn’t help but doubt his own doubt. Did she in truth possess some secret wisdom? Did spirits whisper in her ear? Did ghosts commandeer her voice to speak from beyond the grave? Could her old eyes peer into his future and tell him of loves and loses to come?
“Don’t be daft,” she scolded. “I’m just short on cash. You play blackjack?”
Startled, Roger blinked and nearly said yes. But he hadn’t voiced his thoughts! How had she known?
She cackled like a witch in some old B-flick and with a lopsided grin waved him toward the cards. “Hell, kid, it’s written all over your face. Now come on, I haven’t got all day. You want this reading or not?”
“The Fortune Teller” was written from a themed list of ten words from the writing prompt book Add Ten Words by M. M. Graham. It was written during a creative writing workshop I lead and later revised to add depth to the scene.
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