[Illustration: “Fortune Maker” © 2006 by D’Wayne Murphy.]
“Eww, there’s that creepy Johnny,” Amanda said, squishing her face up.
Megan wondered why her face didn’t look that cute when she practiced that expression in the mirror. Then she was fighting to keep her balance as Amanda jerked her behind one of the striped carnival tents. Her stumbling feet stirred up the scents of dust, old hay, and stale popcorn.
“I can’t stand him,” Amanda stage-whispered. “He’s such a nerd, and he’s always trying to touch me.”
Megan snuck a glance at the outlines of Amanda’s push-up bra showing through the tight shirt and knew why every boy in school tried to brush up against her. If it was Brandon or one of the other football players Amanda was currently in love with, she didn’t seem to mind. Glancing down at her own sweats, loose and form-concealing, Megan almost wished she had Amanda’s nerve.
“We have to hide somewhere,” Amanda said. Then Megan found herself being dragged along by the elbow at a near sprint to the opposite side of the tent. Amanda stopped so fast that Megan nearly ran into her. And Coach wondered why she preferred long distance to the stop and start of sprinting.
Amanda pointed. “There, the fortuneteller’s tent.”
“I don’t know,” Megan said. Her parents had warned her about messing with the occult — at best, they were scams, at worse, it was Satan’s realm. Knowing Amanda wouldn’t be turned from her course without a good alternative, she pointed at the building next to the fortuneteller’s somber black tent. “What about the freak show?”
“Eww, gross! Come on, I want my fortune told.”
So much for a good alternative. Megan found herself running behind her friend, unease tightening her stomach and shoulders. Amanda pushed aside the flap of the tent and ducked in. Megan stopped and allowed the flap to close with a puff of warm, cinnamon-scented air. It didn’t remind her of her grandmother’s kitchen. There were several other scents mixed in — something that might have been sandalwood and a green, crushed-herb scent that made her jittery. If she waited outside for Amanda, Megan would have to put up with the resulting silent treatment because she didn’t follow. And Johnny was kind of a jerk. She lifted the tent flap and slipped in.
Megan squinted, attempting to locate Amanda in the light cast by several red-shaded lamps, the bloody glow of which made her think of the dungeons of Hell. She forced herself to think of photographers’ darkrooms instead.
“Come in, if you two are together,” a woman’s voice said, “or one of you will have to wait outside for your turn.”
“We’re together,” Amanda said, her shape moving confidently forward into the crimson light.
Of course, they were together, Megan thought a little wearily. They were always together, Megan following where Amanda led, no matter where. She felt her way to the table, sliding her feet across what felt like a closely woven carpet, probably Persian, to go with the Gypsy ambience. Now that her eyes were adjusting, the light didn’t seem so wicked and threatening, more of a rose than a blood intensity. She noticed shelves of leatherbound books and glass vials that held glitter and darkness. Maybe old paper was one of the scents she couldn’t quite identify under the dominant cinnamon.
The fortuneteller wore a head-scarf edged in coins, hoop earrings, and a black shawl. Shuffling large, stiff cards with easy flicks of her fingers, she seemed to be glaring at Megan, judging her and finding her wanting. “So, what are you young ladies in the market for?” she asked. The tone of her voice, a disinterested drawl, gave lie to the intensity of those black, shining eyes. “Tarot cards are five, palm reading is seven, horoscopes are ten, but you have to give me an hour to do the charts.”
Megan slid a chair out, aware of the undulations of carvings under her fingers. She didn’t want any of the options given, but palm reading seemed the least scary.
“Do you have a crystal ball?” Amanda asked, bouncing a little in her chair. “I want a crystal ball.”
Megan let her breath out in relief as the woman finally shifted that scathing gaze away from her. The woman smiled at Amanda, casting a narrow shadow across the pink light reflected off of her face. “Ah, a dramatic personality.”
The woman stood and picked up a covered object from the shelf behind her. Something on the shelf beside the object flowed like black silk onto the table, landing with an audible thump. Megan jumped, then was startled again as Amanda squealed. Heart pounding and hot prickles racing down her limbs, Megan noticed ears and tail. Of course, a Gypsy fortuneteller would have a black cat. The cat regarded her with yellow eyes, then leapt easily to the floor, merging with the shadows.
“My pardon,” the fortuneteller said, setting the object on the table with care. “I have only the one cat, but I am watching a friend’s dog,” she continued, flicking a hand toward the entrance. Megan twisted around, spotting the silhouette of a raised, canine head by the door, a husky or German shepherd from the shape and the broadness of the ears. “Although, if something else besides the five of us should move, it is part of the show.”
Amanda giggled, but Megan wanted to leave right then. Still, Amanda thought it was OK. So it was only her imagination, the stares that she felt piercing her from all angles, picking at her as if she were a frog in a dissecting tray.
The fortuneteller pulled the covering off with a flourish. A perfectly round ball, about the size of a bowling ball, shone strangely white in the rose light. Megan fervently hoped there was a concealed place for batteries in that ebony base.
Tracing the surface lightly with long fingernails, the woman said, “A simple reading is ten. With the lights, strange bumps in the night, and trance, it’s twenty. The trance really takes it out of me.”
Megan knew Amanda didn’t have twenty dollars, having seen her fumble through her coins and bills to pay for cotton candy and a strip of tickets for the rides. Amanda screwed her face up in the cute pout. “We’ll have to go with just the reading.” Then she bounced on her seat again. “Unless that’s twenty dollars for both of us…?”
The fortuneteller struck down the question with another shadow-smile and a slight shake of her head. Megan had had other plans for her money… with an internal sigh, she passed the limp ten-dollar bill across the table. The woman took it with her fingernails and placed it next to the crystal ball. Amanda’s two fives were already on the other side. Megan had time to wonder, briefly, why the woman hadn’t put the money in a cash box, when the fortuneteller began rubbing the crystal with the palms of her hands. The light inside coalesced into pearlescent swirls, throwing restless white light on the shelves, highlighting the brown-green color of dried herbs in the bottles and the glint of the gold leaf on the book bindings.
Leaning forward, the creases in her brow alternating pink and black, the woman stated, “You, the first young lady. I see a tall, dark, handsome man in your immediate future.”
Megan thought that was ridiculously cliched, which was a relief, actually. Maybe this was just a waste of her money, like her father had warned, and not really touching the power of the devil, like her mother implied.
But Amanda was obviously pleased, leaning forward with her hands on the table to see into the ball. “What’s his name? Is he really cute?”
The woman’s expression was very bland when she glanced up. “He’s not wearing a name tag, silly.” She lowered her eyes to the fluid light. “He will fall in love with you at first sight. I see exotic places, mansions, and expensive cars.”
Amanda sighed happily, detestably impressed with the Harlequin Romance tone of her future.
When the fortuneteller turned her attention to her, Megan closed her eyes and gripped the armrests. “For you, my silent one, I see you being approached by a powerful organization. They will be very interested in your talents, especially in track and field.”
Megan’s eyes popped open. How had she known? Megan had tried out for the team when Amanda had, but, unlike Amanda, she had made it. Being on the track team was the only thing she did independent of Amanda. Could it be recruiters from a university? Her heart beat fast in her chest, until she reminded herself that she was wearing sweats. It wasn’t much of a stretch to correctly guess some sort of athletic ability.
“Well, kids, that’s ten bucks’ worth,” the woman said, sitting back. “The cost of electricity and all that.”
Megan tried not to hope too much for scholarships when Amanda, giggling about the future man in her life, dragged her back out into the floodlights and noise of the carnival.
* * *
The wolf by the door stood, head tipped questioningly. The fortune maker nodded and gestured toward a chair, but the wolf stayed by the door, snuffling at the edge of the flap. Shrugging, the fortune maker covered the crystal so the demon inside could go back to sleep, then tapped the table. The cat leapt up.
“What were you doing on the shelves?” she snapped.
As usual, the cat didn’t look the least bit sorry. “I was at a good part,” he said, then began to lick a forepaw.
“No reading during work hours,” the fortune maker said, and flicked him on the nose. Ignoring the resulting silent snarl, she continued, “Go tell the Baron I have an addition for his harem.” She picked up the two fives with her fingernails, doing her best not to leave any of her essence on the worn paper, and slipped them into a Ziploc. “And, tell him he doesn’t get the trace until he pays me for this one and the last one.”
The cat flicked an ear. “He’s cheap,” he said. “I think you should give her to the vampire. He always pays on time. The fortune was vague enough to apply to either of them.”
The fortune maker considered this, then shrugged. “Go tell both of them. We will let them bid against each other and take the highest bid. In immediate cash, of course. No more loans for the Baron.”
The cat nodded and jumped to the floor. After the cat had ducked past, the wolf stood on its hind legs and stretched into a heavily muscled woman with a nasty scar running from the bridge of her nose to the side of her mouth. The fur slid and clumped, turning into loose, leather pants and a Harley-Davidson leather jacket.
“The silent one?” the alpha she-wolf said, her tone skeptical. “Not that I want the silly one.”
The fortune maker made sure her stance was equally aggressive. When dealing with dominant werewolves, one had to face them with strength or roll over and ‘show the throat.’ “Oh, you read minds and see the colors of the soul? Then why pay me to find another to replace the one you lost?” Once the alpha looked away briefly, the fortune maker continued, “I am never wrong. The silent one will be an asset to the pack.”
“She doesn’t have the scent of one who runs with the moon,” the alpha stated, her stare firm but slightly less threatening.
The fortune maker waved a hand dismissively. “No, not yet — though with how you complained about the potpourri mask, I doubt you could have picked up much — but she will. She is sensitive to scents already and she loves to run. She will adapt better than any of the other week’s prospects, and she will be much happier once she doesn’t have the illusion of choice to distract her.”
The alpha snorted disbelief and hooked her thumbs in her pockets. “The Red Pack is trying to take some of our territory. I need a fighter.”
Cocking her head, the fortune maker said, “Oh? You want to kill another beta right away?”
The alpha she-wolf fingered the fresh, ragged flesh of the scar on the bridge of her nose, then huffed assent. “I’ll see what I can do with her.” She tossed a thick roll of money on the table and left, her gait a lope even in two-legged form.
Once she was sure the alpha was gone, the fortune maker pressed the center of the table, sending out the lure to attract the next set of suckers. *
About the Author: Teresa S Rich lives in Orem, Utah. She has a BSc and an MS in Microbiology and her day job is in that field. Besides herding TB and polio, she enjoys hiking with the intent of photographing the ‘wilds’ — both animals (vertebrate and invertebrate) and flowers. Currently, her favorite authors are, in alphabetical order, Lois McMasters Bujold, Terry Pratchett, and J.R.R.Tolkien. Teresa has had short stories published in The Storyteller, Circle Magazine, and Beyond Centauri. She will have a short story published in Leading Edge Magazine.
Story (c) 2006 Teresa S Rich firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Artist: D’Wayne “Dino” Murphy is a graphic designer and digital illustrator who creates mostly in the realms and genres of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, a far cry from his daytime job where he does graphic design for a well-known print company. Most of his work consists of pieces that can be used for bookcovers, magazine illo’s, CD covers, DVD covers, and accompanying illustrations for writer’s manuscripts or stories. He also does concept character creation, with a large focus of his work at this point primarily focused on the character’s face and mannerisms, but soon there will be more action shots and settings to come. He is an avid sketcher and loves drawing when he has the available time to do so. D’Wayne is hoping at some point to work with a game design company doing graphics and illustration and at some point character developement. Right now he works with a few magazine companies doing illo work.
Illustration (c) 2006 D’Wayne Murphy