Wednesday, November 3, 2010

In The Cards (Part 2 of 3)

She stood, brushed the hair back from her shoulders and adjusted her shawl. It wasn’t ideal to pop in with blood dripping from her palm, but there was no time to find a wash bucket. Nim reached for the handle, stopped only for a moment to utter, “Showtime” and pulled the door open.

Nim held her eyes wide as they adjusted to the soft glow of candlelight. It didn’t help them focus any faster, but this part always went better if she appeared to be seeing things others couldn’t.

The air was so full of the blonde’s cloying perfume, Nim was sure it would stick in the back of her throat long after Lem had sent her on her way. Nim didn’t allow her nose to wrinkle. The smell was no worse than the usual must of the caravan. Lem called it character.

The blonde’s back was to her. Lem always seated them so he could see the door and give Nim her cue. He would lean back in his chair and smile. He always said the same thing, “Nim, just in time.  Would ya take a look at these cards? The lady has quite the future.” But it wasn’t the words that were important, it was his gesture. If he swept his left hand over the cards, that meant love; if it was his right, money.

Nim would approach the table slowly. She knew just how to let her head fall so that she appeared to be listening to the spirits. It was an easy sell. She already looked like a ghost. After a moment, she would speak softly in a way that made her words seem profound, and tell them she saw a great love in their future. Or money. Or fame. Or whatever it was Lem had figured they wanted most. It didn’t matter what the spirits actually had to say.

Of the dozens of signals Lem had designed, they used only three or four, but as Nim stepped into the room this time, he used none of them.

Because Lem wasn’t there.

There was only the blonde and the table and the four walls of the caravan. Nim took another step and could see that the blonde’s shoulders trembled and her arms were covered in gooseflesh.

“Hey,” she called, but her voice sunk into the thick shag of the carpet. The blonde didn’t move. Nim tugged her shawl tight around her shoulders and stepped around the table. The girl had a strange and focused look in her eyes. Nim glanced over the spread of cards. Nine in all, with the tenth clutched in the delicately jeweled fingers of the girl. “Hey,” she said again, this time louder.

With a start, the girl dropped the card. “Oh, hey.” She smiled. Her teeth were whiter than pearls. “Sorry. I must’ve totally spaced for a minute.”

Nim stepped back as the girl got to her feet and slung her purse over her shoulder. The strap was leather with shiny silver studs. “Would you mind? I mean, I’ve gotta go.” She dug her cell phone out and started rapidly tapping at the screen. “Just, uh, tell ‘im I said thanks or something.”

She moved quickly. The door fell shut behind her and Nim listened as she stepped into a jog. Nim couldn’t blame her. This wasn’t the sort of place for city girls after dark.

It didn’t take long to search the space. There were only so many places a person could hide in their tiny caravan and Lem was in none of them. Nim frowned at the mess of blankets on his bed. If this was part of the game, he’d have told her.

Coming back to the table in the center of the room, she traced the pattern of cards Lem had laid. The spread was filled with cup cards. Lem would’ve had no trouble reading them as love. He called that sort of thing magic.

It was the tenth card that made her hiss through her teeth. It lay over the sixth, and Nim knew from the bit she could see that it was Death – the card of transformation. But the tenth card was not one she’d ever seen before.

A mangy dog with muddy eyes and scars criss-crossed over its nose stood on dusty ground. It’s lips were pulled back in a snarl. Blood dripped from one of its sharp teeth. ‘The Cur’ was printed across the top in jagged, black font. Painted in the same style as the rest of Lem’s cards, this one could’ve gone unnoticed to someone else, but Nim knew better.

Nim shivered in spite of the warmth of the caravan. Fire seemed a fitting companion for this card. She would burn it in the trash bin and then find Lem, but as she reached for the card, something in the background caught her eye.

The Cur stood some distance away from a caravan. Nim recognized it as the trash it was, but it was the figure standing by the door that made her catch her breath and hold it: a boy, dressed in jeans and a loose button down top with a deck of cards spilling from one hand and dark hair falling over one blue eye.

“Lem?” She asked, her voice strained and hollow.

As if in answer, Nim heard a dog bark outside her door. Shoving the card into her pocket, she pulled a knife from the wooden block by the sink and opened the door.

The flea-bitten mutt stood ten feet away. He was hard to see against the dark sky, but Nim could see the reflection of candlelight in its eyes and on its pale paws.

“What do you want?” Propping the door with one hand, she held the knife in the other. The handle pressed against her forgotten wound. It throbbed in a dull, distant way.

The mutt whuffed and it sounded like laughter. He bobbed his head, dropping something to the ground at his feet. Nim was sure he grinned, but she had no time to wonder. The dog spun and ran leaving Nim alone in the soft light of the caravan.

Check back this Friday for the final piece by Valerie!
*Photo by Paolo Camera (vegaseddie) via Fickr Creative Commons

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