Word count: 3,205/50,000
The Fortune Teller
It was into the darkness I remembered…
I watched the garage door slide up, wincing at the sharp scream of the door's wheels as they moved for the first time in months. My friend pushed the door hard and it rattled to a stop, a handful of dust cascading to the ground and exploding in a small cloud. "Wow." I couldn't stop the word from slipping out of my mouth.
The garage was packed. Beyond packed, actually. There seemed to be more things in there than air molecules.
"Yeah, Gramps is a bit of a hoarder," Billy drawled with a small smirk. "Works in our favor, eh?"
My nod was a bit late, my eyes still wide from taking in the impossibly-packed garage. "How are we supposed to find three boxes in this?"
"They're over there…" Billy pointed a hand towards the left side of the garage, went up on his toes, and peered over a pile of dusty boxes. "I think." He nodded sharply. "Yeah. Over there."
He started to pick his way through the mess, climbing over an over-turned chair, and vanished from view. I scowled a little, rocking back and forth on my feet and putting off following him for as long as possible. It wasn't that I wasn't willing to climb into that death trap, it was more of the fact that I wasn't suicidal. My life was dull and average, but at least it was a life.
"What?" I called back, leaning forwards and setting my fingers against the dusty handle of a half-buried lawn mower. Billy was difficult to see, only the tops of his gel-sculpted hair visible amidst the junk.
"Neat." Based on the amount of dust and how far into the garage Billy probably was, I figured the motorcycle to be about forty years old and probably broken. I couldn't really muster up the enthusiasm I normally would have. "You see the boxes?"
There was a horribly loud crashing sound, a groan of pain, and a few clatters. I winced, ready to go get help if Billy was trapped, but the sound of his voice echoed out of the clutter. "No. Get in here or I'm taking Gramps' twenty bucks and running. I'll take Cindy to the movie-"
"Yeah right," I said with a scowl, grabbing a good handhold and pushing myself over the upside-down chair. "You couldn't ask Cindy out if you had cue-cards and a crowd cheering you on." A box under my foot moved oddly and I yelped, nearly falling.
"Could too," he muttered. "I have a better chance of getting her to the movies than you do."
I shook my head at that and crawled deeper into the junk. "Some day I will," I said to myself, levering up onto the grimy seat of an ancient tractor. My head was inches from the ceiling beams. Reaching up, I grabbed ahold of one of the rafters and closed my eyes, picturing Cindy and her accompanying groupies in my head.
A soft whistling sound caught my attention moments before a bit of something metal hit my chest with a thud and bounced off. My eyes jerked open and I rubbed at my chest. "Hey!"
"Stop day-dreaming about Cindy and get over here. I found 'em." Billy was grinning at me from about ten feet away, blue eyes sparkling under his brown hair.
"I wasn't thinking about Cindy," I grumbled, getting off the tractor seat and climbing towards him.
"You always have the stupidest grin on your face when you're thinking about Cindy," he told me with a laugh. "You'll get over her someday."
As soon as I was close enough, I reached out and punched him in the arm just hard enough to let him know I meant it. "Shut it."
He pouted a little, rubbing his arm in mock pain. "Meanie," he said sourly. "Now I'm really taking the money and running."
I rolled my eyes.
The pout faded and was replaced by his normal smile. "Over here," he said, pointing. "Come on. Let's grab the boxes and get out of here. Movies, here we come!"
I picked my way after him, watching him balance carefully on one foot and peer around a large, fabric-covered box near the back corner of the garage. He teetered a bit, seemingly trying to pull on something trapped behind the giant case.
"They're stuck," he complained, turning back to look at me. "Get over to that side and push, would ya?"
"Yay," I muttered, working my way around the blanket-covered crate and leaning around it. The three boxes were clearly labeled and neatly stacked in the corner, just like Billy's grandfather had said they'd be. Reaching out, I pushed against the top box, feeling it wiggle slightly as Billy yanked on it from the other side.
They didn't budge.
"Great," Billy growled, crossing his arms and glaring at the boxes. "Now what?"
I kicked the fabric-draped box lightly with my foot, hearing a hollow, metallic ringing. "We need to move this first, I guess." When Billy simply sighed and started muttering to himself, I reached out and pulled on the black, dust-covered material. It shifted a bit before getting stuck on something.
"We're not getting paid to move the entire garage," Billy said sourly, but grabbed onto his part of the fabric and tugged on it. The cloth bunched, stretched, and then tore completely away. Billy stumbled backwards, catching himself on a tower of plastic containers, and let the dirty material fall to the floor.
The metal container was perhaps four feet tall and two feet wide. Shiny metal on three of the sides, the front was a large piece of dusty glass that was decorated and painted around the edges. Peering out from inside was a mechanical woman with large eyes, covered in colorful scarves and her black hair falling around her in thick braids. One of the hands was curled tightly around a cracked glass ball, the other held out and pressed against the glass, like she was trying to escape.
"Freaky," Billy whispered. "No wonder it was covered up. It's like she's staring at you."
I nodded, shifting uncomfortably. Her eyes seemed to follow me, demanding to be set free from her cage and a horrible feeling settled into my head. For some reason, I felt a strange tingle of terror just looking at the old thing. "Let's just get the boxes and get out of here."
Billy nodded faintly, moving to the side of the odd machine. "Yeah, the movie's going to…" he trailed off, suddenly moving back around to the front and poking at something near the base. "Hey! It's one of those coin-operated things. You think it still works?"
Blinking at him for a moment at the sudden topic change, I shook my head. "No, I don't think it still works. Get on your side and let's move it so we can get out of here."
"Aww, is ikkle Tommy afwaid of a widdle mo-sheen?" he babbled, a huge grin on his face.
"No. I just want to go see the movie." I crossed my arms and glared at him, doing my best not to look at the metal contraption.
Billy laughed. "Yeah, right. You're afraid of it. I bet you've got goosebumps all over your arms and… dude, you're grinding your teeth!" His eyes took on a maniacal light and his laughing kicked up a notch.
I instantly loosened my jaw, but it was too late. Billy'd already seen and he'd known me for too long - he knew every one of my quirks. The fact that I ground my teeth when I was scared was something he never failed to bother me about.
"Thomas Morel, you're terrified of a stupid machine," Billy said between peals of laughter.
Looking away from him, I felt my shoulders tense and the corner of my eye start to twitch. "Can we just get the stupid boxes?"
There was the light clinking sound of coins moving around, then the harsh rattle of the knob on the coin slot being turned. My eyes closed, a cold feeling settled into my stomach as I realized what Billy was doing. Above the sounds of Billy's faint, seemingly unstoppable laughter, came the static-filled sound of a woman's voice. "Please place your hand against mine and I'll tell you your fortune."
"This is awesome," Billy whispered.
I turned just enough to watch as he reached forward and pressed his hand against the glass. Something in my head screamed for him to stop - to pull away, for me to save him from something - but I just bit my tongue and watched. I had no idea why I was holding my breath, feeling fear curl in my stomach, but I did know how Billy would react if I expressed that fear somehow. There was no way I was ever going to let him know how badly I wanted to just run away.
It made no sense, but I was completely willing to go with it. That machine was going to give me nightmares already.
"Love is coming your way," the machine said in that static voice. "Make sure the next time your heart starts to beat faster, you grab hold of the reins and do something about it. You'll be rewarded."
There was a clunk and silence.
"This. Is. Awesome," Billy repeated, pausing between each word. "You've got to try this!"
"No," I protested. "Let's just get out of here."
"It's just a stupid fortune teller thing. Come on, I'll even pay for you." He dug through his pocket again, holding up a nickel. It shone softly in the sunlight streaming through a window. "Or are you scared?"
I stood still, my arms tight against my chest, and struggled to take a deep breath. My mind was racing, fighting with itself. I knew it was just a machine, just a bunch of wires and gears and who-knows-what else and that I didn't need to be afraid of it. But I was. Deep down, from the bottoms of my toes to the pit of my stomach, I was afraid.
"Dare you," Billy said softly.
"Fine," I finally growled, the more logical part of my mind winning out with a bit of help from the part of my brain that refused to back down from a challenge. There was nothing to be afraid of. It was just a thing - like a computer or a cell phone or something.
I turned around sharply, kneeling in front of the fortune teller. Her empty, wide eyes stared at me, feeling like they were piercing straight into my soul. There was the sound of the knob turning, the clink of the nickel falling through the slot and into the machine.
"Please place your hand against mine and I'll tell you your future."
My tongue snuck out of my mouth to lick nervously at my lips. My hand moved, seemingly on its own, and reached towards the glass. It was cold, hard, and smooth as my fingers pressed against the machine's surface, a slim distance from the woman's fake hand, and I felt a small jolt as my palm finally touched the glass.
I waited, my heart beating loudly in my ears. I could hear my breath rasping loudly in my chest, struggling to make it past my fear-swollen throat. The machine didn't make a sound.
"Why's it not working?" Billy's voice sounded like it was coming from a million miles away. "That's stupid."
I couldn't tear my eyes off of the woman's. Her eyes were wide and brown, filled with terror and pain. Suddenly the slight opening of her mouth looked like she had been frozen just as she was about the scream, the pale color of her skin not the result of sun and time, but of the blood that had drained from someone who'd seen something truly horrible.
Then she blinked.
A startled breath jumped into my throat, then stuck.
"Come on, Tom. Let's get the stupid boxes and forget about this." Billy's voice was even farther away, watery and distant.
The woman in the machine blinked again, then tipped her head to the side. When she spoke, the static was gone from her voice and a deep, horrible darkness had replaced it. The smile that curled at her lips reminded me of the images of the Devil my parents used to scare me with, the terror-filled eyes never changing or moving their gaze from mine. "Thomas."
I couldn't breathe, I couldn't move, and I certainly couldn't respond.
"I've been looking for you," she continued. "Are you ready to be Called to Service?" There was something in the way she said those last words that made them seem special. Terrible.
The glass vanished. Her hand, hot as fire, suddenly pressed against my skin. I tried to pull away, but I found myself seemingly frozen in place. Her burning fingers moved, curling around my hand, pulling at my arm.
"Come with me," she cooed. "I have need of you."
She moved backwards, her eyes never leaving mine. I found myself moving, following, standing up and about to take a step forwards.
…this is impossible, part of my brain demanded. You're going to walk right into the glass! Snap out of it before you get hurt.
"Come, my servant," she whispered. Flames danced in her eyes, pulling at my soul. "Come. Take the three steps into my realm, Thomas."
Unable to stop myself, I took a mesmerized step forwards. The stuffy, stale air of the garage vanished to be replaced with hot, muggy air. Something buzzed past my ear and I flinched, blinking. That seemed to be just enough to break my stare and I looked down at my feet, letting out an unsteady breath.
My brain felt like it was full of cotton balls. Thoughts moved slowly in and around my mind, settling in random places. I could see that the junk-filled garage was no longer under my feet and surrounding me, but I could make no sense of what was there. Weeds, plants, muck. One of my tennis shoes was slowly sinking into what seemed to be some sort of oozing plant.
I knew I should be panicking. I knew I should be confused. I knew none of this made any sense what-so-ever, as I was still in that garage, about to move a couple of boxes, and then be on my way to see the block-buster film of the summer. But all I could think about was the slow stirring of fear in my stomach.
"Another step, my servant."
My foot didn't move. It seemed to be stuck in the strange plant.
"Look at me," she breathed. Her burning-hot fingers curled more tightly around my hand, causing a burst of pain in my arm that brought tears to my eyes. "Walk with me."
I glanced up, catching her wide brown eyes, and felt myself being drawn forwards yet again. My foot came off the ground, moving forwards.
She hissed, "Yessss…"
The muggy air was vanishing, a freezing cold breeze slamming through the two of us. Her black braids were blown around in the air like snakes, the hundred scarves around her neck moving and brushing against me. She took a step backwards, her smile urging me onwards.
"Tom?" I couldn't make out who was calling my name, but I hesitated, my foot inches from touching the ground. I felt this strange shaking in my shoulders, like someone was moving my skin but nothing underneath, and again the voice called. "Tom?"
Who was that?
"Come with me," the woman from the machine whispered, tugging at my arm urgently.
I looked down at the hand clenching mine. Steam was rising from the place where our hands joined, the bits of my skin that were visible between her fingers red from the heat. Cruel, blood-red claws arched out of the ends of her fingers and dug into my hand.
The corner of my eye twitched, my forehead wrinkling. The muscles in my neck spasmed.
I found my head shaking back and forth, flexing my fingers and attempting to pull away from the woman even as my foot started to come back down. The dew-drenched plants misted and vanished, replaced by billowing white. Freezing cold wrapped around me, cutting into my sweaty tee shirt.
"Thomas," she crooned softly.
My foot was barely a breath from the ground when my mouth finally moved, mouthing the word 'no', and I jerked my hand free from her grasp. Her claws traced bloody lines on the back of my hand. "NO!" she screeched, her fingers grasping for me.
My weight came down on my foot, but the ground vanished from underneath me. The woman misted and vanished like fog, her eyes staring at me until the last. I barely had time to pinwheel my arms once before I fell. Through the ground, through the snow, through the ice, and deep into the freezing water below.
The cold slammed me back into my senses, my cotton-balled brain suddenly deciding to work again.
Cold. Freezing cold.