Friday, March 20, 2009

The Fortune Teller

“She’s never wrong, you know,” said the gal behind me. “Stacy says she’s 5 for 5, far as the people she knows who’ve died.”

I felt squeezed. Too many people at this goddamn party. I wedged out my elbows, but got stepped on anyway.


I stared at Madame Olenska as she offered her two-word prediction to a sweating, fat man with a damp whistle in his breath.

“Heart attack,” she said. “Next.”

A woman with an insulin pump fastened to her belt sat in the plush chair across from the crystal ball.

“Kidney failure. Next.”

The fortuneteller had one talent of prophecy. The means of death. That’s it. Not the time, nor the place. Just the fatal click.

She scarcely looked at me as I assumed the position. So I cleared my throat. But she was too busy dissecting the silvery entrails of her orb to offer so much as a nod.

I puffed the hair out of my eyes. Scratched my neck.

She squinted harder.

The walls of the room jiggled. My heartbeat slammed a wicked bass line inside my ears. Why was I here again? A stupid midnight party parlor trick, was all this was. I was plastered. Done for. None of this was even real.

So why couldn’t I suck any oxygen?

“Sorry,” I said, starting to rise. “I don’t—”

“Gunshot,” she said. Her eyes flicked to mine briefly, before glowering at the red velvet curtain behind me. A line slithered into the living room, where dance music hammered. “Next.”

I laughed and hiccupped simultaneously.

She lifted a two-pronged eyebrow. “Funny, is it? Madame Olenska is never mistaken. You wait and see.”


People looked at me with a little more respect the rest of the night. Suddenly, I had all the room in the world. Of course, I just laughed the whole thing off. But that stupid Stacy had to go and tear up. Hugging me like it was the last time.

Never liked her, anyway.

I preyed over the fortuneteller’s words on the trek back to my apartment in the lower east side. Tasted their gritty talc on my tongue. Digested their dark cancer as my gaze flicked around the nearly abandoned city streets. Shadows inked walls darker than any graffiti, while alleyways gaped like dumpster graveyards. Strange men’s eyes soiled my body, even as their hands remained hidden things in oversized coat pockets.

Dry-mouthed and heaving, I tried running in the three-inch heels, but their clicking was too sharp an invitation of the softness of my skin. How pitifully breakable I was, chalked the car headlights outlining my horror as my heart lunged for home.

How pathetically human.

When I finally got to my apartment, I didn’t attempt sleep. I was too busy barricading the door, and listening to the scratches and rustles camouflaged as wind outside my window. Didn’t fool me. Things were out there. Underneath the soulless sirens and the dogs who barked to hear the proof of their thinning mortality.

So many things.


One year later, and I’ve barked long and loud enough to run everyone away. Not to be trusted, people. Especially the men. Much more likely to own a firearm. Had to quit my job, and dropped the boyfriend from sometime status to get-the-fuck-out. Even my sister, lately, has started looking at me funny. Like I have things crawling from my ears or something. Makes me wonder what she’s keeping from me, to be looking at a sister like that. No matter.

I’ve bought a pistol. (Yeah, so what.) Going to deliver myself some relief. Hold that hard barrel to my sweetly supple temple, and squeeze.

Right after I finish this drink.

So let’s all raise a glass. To Madame Olenska!

6 for 6.


Charles Gramlich said...

A nasty little piece of work here. And as a horror writer I mean that with the highest regard. :)

Sarah Hina said...

Charles, I think I must have been drinking when I thought of this one. ;) But thank you.

Catvibe said...

Well now, a whole new side of Sarah is being revealed, and it's dark and shadowy. Ooooh. The image of strange men's eyes soiling her body with their hands in over sized coat pockets is kind of burning into me right now, as they walk through the dark foggy streets of my psyche.

I think that fortune teller is bad news. I don't like her, make her go away.

Anonymous said...

What a great short story! I thought that the build and the pacing in the first half of the story was especially effective and gripping. I loved the build of tension and the massive implications of hearing those words from the fortune teller.

Yes, I think hearing the mode of our demise would critically change us. And as you've pointed out, not for the better.

Sarah Hina said...

Cat, I just had this strange idea about fate. If we believe in it hard enough, maybe we make it so.

I didn't like the fortune teller, or the narrator. But I wanted the latter's brittleness, her chip-on-the-shoulder attitude problem to shout loud and clear. The fortune teller is perhaps more perceptive of human nature than supernaturally prophetic at all.

Jason, this story deserved more space. I really had to squeeze it down to make it fit a flash format. But thank you for the warm words. :)

Maybe there's a reason fortune tellers generally tell us what we want to hear. Anything else could worm its way into our minds, becoming the instrument of destruction rather than the passive outcome.

Aniket said...

Oooohhh!!! Dark,, very dark!

I read the whole thing and then went back again.... "Well the blog name does say 'murmurs'" i thought to myself. lol

You should drink more frequently, to show us the sinister side.

I sooooooo hate superstitions btw... my grandma believes in them and has got like a million stories to tell! :)

Here's one for Sarah...for a 10 on 10 she is! :-)

Karen said...

Sarah has a dark side! I like it!!

The pacing of this is really effective, especially moving from her skepticism to her own fulfillment of the fate. I like the irony of that fulfillment. Which came first?

Aine said...

Fabulous! The twist got me (though in retrospect, it shouldn't have.) I like seeing your dark side!

I, too, tend to believe that our thoughts create our fate. And I wholeheartedly agree that fortune tellers do "tell us what we want to hear" on purpose. In fact, psychologists should team up with a fortune teller-- educate them about a client and let them work their magic! LOL

Sarah Hina said...

Aniket, superstitions are a lot of fun, as long as people don't let them guide their thoughts and actions. That said, I'll continue to knock on wood. :D

Thank you for enjoying my dark side! (Mwaa ha ha...) And hey, now I have an excuse to drink more often. ;)

Karen, very good point. I really liked the circular nature of this concept. And the tension between fate and choice has always grabbed me.

Thank you for the kind, supportive words! This was a bit of an experiment for me, and it's nice to see it well received. :)

Aine, that's a fantastic idea! Why do I have the feeling some people would be more likely to believe the fortune teller over the psychologist? ;) Pairing the two could really work some magic...

(psst...I couldn't help but think of HP after writing this; prophecies are powerful :))

Jennifer said...

Sarah, this is so well done. You show her unraveling, in such short space, perfectly.

And I think, as others have indicated, part of the fun was that this type of story was somewhat unexpected from you. So you had us right from the beginning on several levels! :)

I need to find a way to learn from this something about the fact that the you know what always hits the fan when my husband goes out of town...I used to think it was to show me how capable and in control of things I am, but now I have to wonder: Am I creating chaos with expectation at this point??? ;)

Sarah Hina said...

Jennifer, I think you're onto something here...the burden of expectations driving us toward a fate that didn't have to be! Maybe there's something to that...or maybe the cosmos really does have a sick sense of humor. Especially where kids and lone parenting are concerned. :P

Thank you for the kind words about the piece! It was fun to mix things up a little. :)

Aine said...

Oooooh...I like what Jennifer said, too! Creating chaos with expectation. Great phrase! I must remember that everytime I fear that things will not "go" as I would like. Perhaps I'm the cause...

This will be rattling around in my head for awhile.... Thanks!!

Sarah Hina said...

Aine, I agree. My mindset gets me into trouble more often than I'd like to acknowledge. Being more open, and accepting, of the unexpected is such a freeing experience. Especially with kids! :)

Karen said...

Sarah - There's an award for you at my place.

Bob said...

Wow... that was intense... excellent tho! Wow.

Sarah Hina said...

Karen, I loved that one. Thank you so much. :)

Bob, I'm glad you felt a power here. Thank you for reading and enjoying! :)

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

I once went to a woman who studied my aura. She just looked at me and shook her head and said, "If you wanted to, you could have conversations with trees or rocks." I do want to...

Your story was very well written. Great hook. Wonderful dialogue...strong character development, and nice flow/pacing.
Really intriguing subject!!

Ironic twist. Madame Olenska's predcition became like a self- fulfilling prophecy in the end. Captivating!

You have such a range of techniques, abilities, and skills that you employ in your writing. I am always impressed.

the walking man said...

Sarah...Again you prove your literary mettle. I identified so much with the end.

All the while thinking after the parlor trick reading "foolish woman, why would one want to know, just knowing that death comes should be enough, why tempt the gods of knowledge?" And here it is the ugly gods played the parlor trick not Madam Olenska.

Sarah Hina said...

K, I think you do have those conversations. Their essence shows up in your poetry, anyway.

I appreciate the kind words about my range here. I haven't always felt like I had that ability to draw on different voices and techniques. I think blogging has been exceedingly helpful in developing that a little. I never even wrote poetry until I started blogging. So I am so grateful to this wonderful medium, and the supportive people I've met along the way! Thank you, K. :)

Walking Man, I thought you might get a kick out of this one.

I think we're responsible for our fates to a large degree. Or our innate nature is. Madame Olenska might have penetrated the narrator's character, but the woman relented to the dark illogic of that suggestion without a fight. She doomed herself.

Thanks for your comments, as always, Mark.

Vesper said...

What a great, captivating story, Sarah. I enjoyed every element of it, the rhythm, the suspense, the outcome... I often wonder what fate is, something that we bring upon us or something that we can never escape no matter what we would do... Very interesting!

Sarah Hina said...

Vesper, I'm tantalized by those questions, too. They've been circling around a lot in my head lately.

I'm glad you enjoyed this different take from me! Thank you, my friend. :)

Rose DesRochers said...

What a great short story Sarah. You really have a talent for writing.