Susan stared into the dark, mirror like eyes of the fortune teller. Wisps of scented smoke were drifting up to her from an incense stick burning in the corner of the small room, the heavy curtains that adorned the walls rustling slightly in a breeze, from somewhere invisible.
‘Give me your hand, my dear,’ said the teller, soft but unnerving. ‘Let me see your palm.’
Shaking a little, Susan did as the woman asked. She didn’t know if it had been a good idea to come here–could she just get up and leave …? A friend had talked her into coming after Susan, a critic of all things supernatural, had seen the shadow-dark stranger following her home, yet again, from the train station. The stranger, who always seemed to hover across the street from her house, watching, until she had closed the front door and been greeted by Burtie, her dog.
Suddenly a wrinkled hand shot out from a thick, black sleeve and grabbed Susan by the wrist. The shock made her jump, leaving was not an option now as the iron grip of the head-scarfed gypsy held her arm pinned down to the wooden table that separated them.
‘Give me your hand, I said, my dear. Don’t be afraid. Mama Iracia won’t hurt you.’
Something about the woman’s words sent a chill running through Susan’s already fast pumping blood.
‘I’m…er…I’m sorry, ok…’ she stammered, fighting to control her nerves.
She felt the old woman’s eyes boring down into her soft, sweaty palms. Then the teller’s skeletal finger rose and fell, softly tracing the lines that criss-crossed Susan’s hand. The sensation was strange, almost a tickle but with the ominous threat of something unseen behind.
The gypsy lady continued like this, in silence, for what seemed to Susan an eternity. Nothing sounded other than the occasional rustle of the curtains but despite her fear, Susan felt a curiosity to know the fortune teller’s verdict.
Would the old woman tell her about the strange shadow that appeared to float behind her along the street? Would she tell her it would be ok, or not? Would she tell her what to do?
All at once a shrill wail pierced the air! The stillness of before was broken and the tension rose, as if emanating directly from the old woman’s now panicked eyes. She pulled her hands back from those of Susan, as if Susan’s palms were burning, and began scraping her long, dirt encrusted nails down, again and again, over the black, lace headscarf.
Susan panicked! What was happening? The incense smoke seemed to suddenly come alive in a frenzied dance like that of a dying snake. It whipped around the room, shooting up to the ceiling before racing down and curling around the head of the accursed gypsy. The old woman scratched her nails from her forehead down to her chin and moaned in despair.
Susan sat frozen to her seat, an evil sensation of acidic bile rising up her throat and threatening to explode out over the now screaming woman in front of her.
And then, just as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. And stillness descended once again on the room.
The fortune teller’s heavy breaths were now the only thing to be heard but although Susan could feel an increasing asphyxia taking hold, the tightness in her chest didn’t allow her to breathe.
‘You must go.’ The teller’s words reached Susan. They opened the gates to her lungs and scented air rushed in, the words relieving the pressure inside her, for the moment at least. ‘You must go,’ the gypsy continued, quiet. ‘Go, but be careful. You will not come back here, that I can see. You will not see other places again in your life; that I also see. You must look behind you. You do not have much time, my dear, so take care of that which remains …’
After that, the fortune teller’s brown skin turned white and a look of fear mixed with sadness rushed, almost imperceptible, across her face.
‘What do you mean? What do you mean I don’t have much time? And the dark stranger, the shadow? Who is he? What should I do about him?’ Susan heard her own alarmed words as if they came from another.
The old woman stared hard into her eyes. ‘There is nothing you can do,’ she said. ‘You cannot hide from him. You cannot escape …’ Her words faltered as if there was something she left unsaid. ‘You must go now. It is not good that you are here.’
And so Susan stood, shaky and confused, and made her way out of the small room.
Outside the heavier dusk of late evening was already falling as she made her way to the tube station.
Later, as she ascended once more from its dark interior into her neighbourhood, she felt in a daze. Half of her told her to forget what the old woman had said. However, the other half could not and kept remembering the wild look in the black eyes and the way the bony fingers had scraped white lines down the leather-skin face.
As she left the station she felt the now familiar rush of cold as the shadow neared her.
But today was different; it was coming faster, faster than her, speeding towards her down the street-light illuminated pavement.
She dropped her bag to run, but her legs felt like lead. Her feet as heavy blocks of stone that refused to move, the tarmac as a quagmire of mud.
And then the shadow was upon her. She screamed and fell to the side from the pavement into the street. And she did not see the van as it came hurtling around the corner, smashing into her side and leaving her blood splattered and lifeless in the street.
Susan was above the scene now, looking down. She saw a shocked man stumble from the van and make his way over to a bloody heap on the road; to her. And she saw the dark shadow creep off down the street, away from her and everything. And at last she felt relief: the thing would bother her no more. And then the images below her became faint and she felt tired and all she heard in the background was the old woman’s voice and the barking of Burtie from behind her front door a little further up the road.
Always make the most of what you have, live each day as if it were your last, look forward and never back …
©Davey Northcott June 2014
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