Story in Progress

4/20/13

I pushed myself through the hanging crystals, beads, and wind-chimes on the medium’s porch. She opened the door as I reached for the knocker, startling me. A handsome woman around thirty, she wore a long purple skirt, white top, and a multi-colored vest. A shimmery gold scarf was tied about her head, her gray and crimson hair fell to her waist. Bangles and bracelets, rings and necklaces adorned her body. The smell of incense wafted out the door. I sniffed it and sneezed.

“Goddess bless you.”

“Uh, thanks.”

“Come in.” She ushered me inside and I nearly tripped over a skinny metal bar attached to the threshold. We stepped into a small room where, judging by appearance, she would see her clients. From a hidden record player came the sound of someone beating a drum and singing in low, slow vowels.

“I was just making a pot of tea, will you join me?” She spoke in a sing-song rhythm.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Don’t call me ma’am,” she said, leading me to her kitchen. “Call me Abigail or madam or Madam Abigail.”

“Yes ma–madam.”

“You are,” she paused and looked at me strangely, “Rosalyn?”

“Yes, but most folks call me Rose.” She watched me silently until I realized she thought I should be amazed that she knew my name. I wasn’t, seeing as I could probably name most people in town, but I didn’t want to be rude. “Uh, how did you know?”

She smiled and poured steaming green liquid from a pot into two cups, pushed one my way, and sat across the table from me.

She took a sip while keeping her gaze intently on me. “You’ve come because there is someone you love and you want to know if it’s a relationship worth pursuing.”

I stalled by taking a sip of the earthy tea. “Um, not really.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “Really?”

“Really.”

She gave me a sheepish smile. “I was cheating. You’re the first young woman to come to me who wasn’t concerned with romance. I’m afraid I assumed. How old are you?”

“I’m fifteen, and I didn’t really come for a reading,” I told her. “I’d just like to ask you a…”

She held up her hand and looked at me intently. “You’re here because of a problem, a mystery, that you want solved.”

I nodded. “A little girl, my cousin, she lives in Connecticut. She’s gone missing. She was supposed to meet a friend at a bowling alley, but she never showed up. That was a week ago, my family is all tore up over it. I wondered if you could do whatever you do to find her.” I had some coins in my pocket. “I can pay you almost a dollar.”

Abigail paused, and then dropped her fortune-teller personae, addressing me in a matter-of-fact voice. “I wish I could, Rose.”

“So, you’re not really a medium?”

“Of course I am. It’s just that I can only work in generalities, nothing specific like picking a winning horse or the exact date someone dies or—locating a lost child.”

“Oh.”

Abigail removed her scarf and slid off her vest. “Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?” She leaned toward me. “How can a child up and vanish like that?”

“It’s crazy,” I agreed and asked again, “Are you sure you can’t see or feel anything that would help?”

Abigail shook her head. She looked down at the tea cup in her hands. “If I could, I would have answered another mystery.” She looked up to see my blank expression and said, “I know of a child who disappeared in our own town in 1911.”

Normally I wouldn’t have cared about something that happened almost fifty years ago, but with my cousin missing I was curious to hear of another who shared her fate. “Who?”

“Her sister claimed to know what happened to her.” She leaned toward me. “Nobody believed her.”

“Why?”

Abigail turned to look at the Felix the Cat clock by the wall mounted phone. “I have an appointment in twenty minutes, so I have a little time.” She pointed at the tea pot. “Would you like more?”

I nodded, and she started her story as she poured the pungent tea.

5/11/13

What Madam Abigail Said

Some years ago there were twin sisters, Madeira and Yasmine Ficus. As so many stories like this begin, they left their home to visit a favorite playmate. It was a journey they’d made dozens of times. The most direct route was west from their house for three blocks, make a right, and their friend’s house was the fourth on the left. They departed, two young girls in pinafores and buckle shoes off to visit a friend. At some point as they walked the initial three blocks, they started to argue. What they argued about isn’t important, what’s significant is that they were sufficiently distracted that they wandered into an unfamiliar neighborhood.

            Madeira called her sister a cruel name, yet Yasmine didn’t react, instead she asked, “Where are we?”

            “Didn’t you hear what I said, Yasmine? I—uh—I’m not sure where we are.”

            They looked about and saw that the houses were of a totally different architecture, hunched together and leaning towards the street. There were no people about.

            “We must have walked right past the turn,” Madeira said.

            “I suppose,” Yasmine tentatively agreed.

            They went back the way they had come, only it was different. After what seemed like an hour, they went up to some of the houses hoping to get directions or help, but nobody answered when they knocked. 

            Yasmine looked about and whispered, “It’s getting dark.”

            Though she knew her sister was right, Madeira argued, “But it’s still morning.”

            “Really?” Yasmine swept her hand around, it was already dusk.

            “No crickets,” Yasmine said. In warm weather, crickets always accompanied dusk.

            “I don’t hear a thing,” Madeira added.

            “Come on,” Yasmine directed and they continued up the street.

            They crossed an intersection and the paved road gave way to hard packed dirt.

            “Where are the houses?” Yasmine asked

            Madeira looked all around. There was wild growth on all sides. Directly above them stars glowed like candles, providing enough light to see one tree in the distance that towered above all the others.

            “Look,” Yasmine pointed out, “The road narrows to a trail.”

            “Do you think it leads up Hawks Hill?”

            “Or Clayborn Ridge?”

“Or Hastings Summit? Maybe we should go back,” Madeira said.

They turned, and still saw the towering tree in the distance, which meant that no matter which way they faced, they could only go in one direction. Madeira panicked and cried while Yasmine held her tight. Then Yasmine cried as Madeira consoled her.

They traveled many miles, and Madeira moaned, “I’m hungry,”

At that moment they smelled meat cooking over a fire, and traversed a blind curve to where the road split. The towering tree grew in the middle of the fork. The trail they were on snaked to the left, while a red brick road branched off and swept up the hillside to the right. Yasmine and Madeira stopped at the fork.

“It looks like there might be lights up over that hill,” Yasmine pointed up the brick road.

Madeira sniffed, “I think that’s where the yummy smell comes from.”

The sisters, now terribly tired, intolerably thirsty, and ravenously hungry, left the dirt trail and headed up the brick road. They crested a small hill and saw that the road continued into a small valley where they could just make out an edifice of some sort. Flickering light glowed from three ground floor windows at the end of the structure closest to the road. The girls hurried down the hill and the forest receded. The building was a massive stone construct.

Yasmine said, “Is that a castle? It looks like one.”

“I don’t care,” Madeira snapped, “I’m hungry.”

“But there’s not a castle anywhere near here.”

6/3/13

Madeira said, “Look, there’s a fire in that room.”

Close enough to see into the building, they saw a campfire burning in the middle of a room.

“There are people around the fire.” Yasmine counted seven spaced evenly about the flames, including the figure at the far side that was much taller than the rest. Soon they were close enough to distinguish a spit over the fire, on which a large cut of meat slowly turned.

Yasmine grabbed Madeira’s shoulder, who growled, “Let go, I’m starving.” She shrugged free and rushed through a door-less entry.

Yasmine cautiously followed her in. None at the fire had taken notice of them.

Yasmine pointed at the furthest figure and whispered, “Look.” Who she’d initially thought was a tall man, was instead a hovering one. He was cross-legged, with his hands in his lap, his head back, and eyes closed. He floated three feet in the air.

            The man closest to the entry turned from the fire and smiled, “There you are, we’ve been waiting.” He got to his feet and approached.

Madeira took a step toward him, Yasmine took a step back. The man crossed the ground lightly and bowed before them, failing to hide a mischievous smile. Yasmine later described him as of small stature with long blonde hair so light as to be almost white. His skin, too, was pale and she said his eyes were big, and though he wasn’t oriental, they turned up at the corners like a Chinaman’s.

            They stared at the man and he at them until Madeira said, “I’m hungry.”

            He grinned and looked to Yasmine. “And you, also?”

            She didn’t answer.

            “Our food is ready, and you may have some.”

            Madeira took a step toward the fire.

            “But first,” the man held out a hand, “you must drink wine with me.”

            “No,” Yasmine said.

            “Yes,” Madeira countered. “I’m thirsty and I’m hungry.”

            A goatskin bladder appeared in the man’s hands. He uncorked the stopper, upended it over his mouth, and drank in a steady stream. He wiped his mouth and looked at Yasmine. “Are you sure you won’t drink with me?”

            Yasmine, frightened, took another step toward the doorway.

The man passed the goatskin to Madeira.

            Like him, she turned it up, drank in a stream, uttered an appreciative, “Mmmmm,” and was gone.

            Yasmine was totally, completely alone. Her sister was no longer there, nor was the man, the other men, the fire, nor the roasting meat, nor the castle. That was the loneliest moment of Yasmine’s life, a loneliness she carried in her heart for the rest of her life. And Yasmine never accepted a gift for as long as she lived, for as she witnessed, gifts can sometimes cost one dearly.