April 22, 2011

Enchanted Garden Chapter Fourteen

We dare you to have your main character talk to a psychic with a crystal ball. What do they find out about the future?

Nothing in the clearing stirred as the children walked toward the caravan, other than the animal that was like a horse but not really a horse. That beast continued cropping the purple grasses, and utterly ignored them. With a jolt in the pit of her stomach, Newt realized that this was the first animal she had seen, heard, or even seen any sign of, since she had first awoken lying on her back in the lavender, heliotrope, and solferino colored grasses of the broad meadow in which the TARDIS was currently parked.

There was no sign of life in the caravan at all, as Harold, Dusty, and Newt approached it. They cautiously made their way up the four decayed and withered steps that led to the tiny porch at the back end of the caravan. Timidly, Newt let go of Harold’s left hand, and raised her right hand to knock on the weather beaten door.

Harold placed one hand on Newt’s shoulder, maintaining contact with her while he quietly stepped behind both her and Dusty, and took up Dusty’s other hand, keeping the three of them linked. Newt approved of his move. He firmly believed that maintaining physical contact was the best way to ensure that whatever other magic befell them, it would befall them all equally, and that they wouldn’t become separated in the course of their adventures. Newt had a feeling, deep down in the darkness of her soul, that the only true chance she had to return home lay in remaining in the company of those with whom she had begun her travels.

The corner of the ragged cloth covering the filthy glass pane set in the door of the caravan stirred slightly in response to Newt’s rap upon the panels of the door. One blue eye, once bright, but clouded now by age, peered out from the very corner of the glass made murky by virtue of the grime and filth encrusted upon its surface.

A thin reedy voice issued through a crack between two of the door’s panels.

“Who be ye, and what do ye be seeking?” the voice asked, and despite the weakness of the voice, Newt heard the authority of command at the core of it, with a strength like steel.

“I seek Madame Du Pompadour,” Newt answered, and noted with pleasure that the fear currently causing her knees to quake and rattle one against the other had no hold upon her voice, which came out clear and firm. “As to who I am, do you tell me that a woman who claims the power of foretelling the future cannot know that without asking? Or perhaps age has tempered her powers, and we should seek in other places for some one who can lay the future open to us.”

The eye disappeared from the corner of the window, and they heard the hurried sound of the door’s bolt rattling against its fittings as it was being drawn back. The door swung slowly open to reveal the supposed fortune teller, Madame Du Pompadour.

She wore a dress very similar in many ways to the one Newt had rented for a Halloween costume. The hoops spread out to either side, rather than in round circles as Newt’s hoops were. The ancient woman wore no blouse beneath the gown, and the low neck threatened to reveal her bosom. Judging from the look on Dusty’s face, he was rather hoping that the dress would slip rather more than a few inches.

The sleeves were short little puffs at her shoulders, and the front of the gown was split to reveal a faded under skirt that had at one time been dyed a rather bright yellow. The gown itself had originally been a deep blue, but its color was as faded as everything else about this caravan had shown itself to be. There were many places where bare threads stuck out from the gown, showing where beads or jewels had been sewn, once upon a time, but now the once beautiful embellishments had either fallen off or had been removed, leaving only the bits of thread as mute testimony to the former grandeur and glory of this gown.

The wig the woman wore had once been piled high atop her head, but now the strands lay limp and straggly along her shoulders, although the jeweled pins still firmly attached the wig to what was left of the ancient woman’s thinning hair.

Newt heard the Doctor’s voice in the back of her mind, recalling his words concerning her need of different clothing to wear. He had said there was no need for her to traipse through the woods looking like a refugee from the French Royal Court. Suddenly, she knew that this woman truly was such a refugee, and she wondered how she had come to be here, and whether or not the Doctor had known of her existence and residence on this planet when he had chosen those words to describe her costume. Or had he, as a traveler in time, actually been present at that court, and what sort of memories did her costume dredge up from the depths of his mind?

The elderly woman retreated from the door, doddering her way to a chair at a small table in the center of the caravan’s small single room.

This room was draped with the ragged and decaying remnants of rich fabrics, which now hung as frail as cobwebs, their fragile fibers barely clinging to each other out of long habit.

If the sum total of this room was her office, Newt wondered abstractedly where the elderly crone slept, and where she prepared her meals. She didn’t have the appearance of being undernourished or ill, merely old beyond imagining. Even her wrinkles had wrinkles.

Newt advanced into the room in the wake of the superannuated woman, her friends following behind her, and keeping themselves in firm contact with her. She felt security and comfort flowing from Dusty’s hand, and hoped he felt the same in clinging to herself and Harold.

The fortune teller calling herself Madame Du Pompadour had by this time reached an upholstered chair at the far end of the caravan which was at least as aged as her body. It was losing its stuffing in several places where the fabric had simply given out, the elegantly and intricately carved wood was scuffed and scratched, dried out and appeared to be quite brittle, and at least one spring was visible as it protruded from the fabric covering the seat.

Madame Du Pompadour seated herself with all the grace and elegance of a queen. Without a word, she gestured to Newt to sit in the hard wood chair on the side of the table opposite her. This chair, though it had never been more than a well carved hard wooden chair, looked a bit more comfortable than sitting on bare springs poking out of the seat cushion. However, the wood itself appeared to be of an equal age with the other furnishings of the caravan, and Newt wondered for a moment whether or not the chair would actually hold her weight.

She sat gingerly on the edge of the chair, and looked at the table in front of her. The table was covered with an ancient, yet elegantly draped cloth that had lace work along the edges. The cloth had long since yellowed, and there were places where the threads had worn so thin that the table could be glimpsed through the actual fabric of the cloth. The lace had aged better, and though yellow, it was holding together well. It didn’t look like it was either knitting, crocheting, or tatting, all of which she had seen some beautiful examples of that had been made by her grandmother, but this lace still had the appearance of having been hand made, with each individual thread woven or knotted securely into place. Set squarely in the center of the small round table was an ornate base covered with carved vines that cradled a ball made of solid crystal, some seven or eight inches across, and as far as Newt could see, entirely without any sort of bubbles or blemish throughout the entire piece.

Suddenly she felt very silly, having come here to consult a fortune teller, when she didn’t even believe in any sort of magic at all. Then she laughed within the privacy of her own mind. How could she say that she didn’t believe in any sort of magic at all? If she didn’t believe in any sort of magic at all, then she was in the midst of a very elaborate hallucination, and she had entirely lost her mind. She preferred to believe that she had come to believe in magic, than that she had entirely lost her sanity.

“So,” said Madame Du Pompadour as soon as they had both seated themselves, “what sort of fortune would you have me tell, then? You’re interested in Palmistry? Or tasseomancy, perhaps?” She reached for Newt’s hand, and Newt hastily pulled her hand back to her side, out of the old woman’s reach. A sudden chill shook Newt’s frame, and she shivered with the fear that wormed its way into her heart. Newt had no idea what prompted her fear, but suddenly she didn’t want the woman to touch her.

“N…no,” Newt stammered. “I…” her voice failed her for a moment. She cleared her throat and tried again. “I would like my fortune told,” she said, “by having you look into your crystal ball and tell me what I need to do in order to get home again.”

“Where is your home?” Madame Du Pompadour asked, with a crafty gleam in her eye.

“Wrong answer,” Harold said, speaking in Madame Du Pompadour’s presence for the first time. She gave a start, as though she hadn’t noticed him or Dusty until just this moment. Then again, with the way the cataracts had clouded her vision, perhaps she hadn’t noticed them.

“You’re supposed to be the fortune teller here.” Harold continued. “That means we ask the questions, and you supply the answers. Or are you just one of the millions of frauds who pump their client for information and then spout off generalities that are calculated to be what the client wants to hear.”

“What do you want of me?” the old woman whinged.

“We want what you advertised,” Harold said. “Look into your crystal ball and scry her future. ‘Fortunes told, be they fair or foul’” he quoted from her sign. “So do your job. Tell the lady what she wants to hear. How does she find her way back home again? And you get no hints from us.”

He closed his mouth, pinching his lips together, and a look of utter resolve came across his face. Newt watched as Dusty straightened his spine and did his best to emulate Harold’s cold and calm demeanor, and she did likewise, sealing her lips shut, and glaring at the ancient and decrepit crone, daring her to actually tell what the future might hold.

Madame Du Pompadour looked at the three resolute teenagers in her small caravan for a long moment before she apparently came to a decision.

She nodded her head, once, with a rather jerky motion, and then bent studiously over the large crystal ball on the table.

“The girl wants to know how to go home,” Madame Du Pompadour announced, then sat motionless in silence as she gazed steadily into the large crystal ball upon the table in front of her.

Newt sat tensely on the edge of her hard carved wooden chair and looked intently into the crystal ball also, just to see if she could see anything in its depths. To her gaze, the ball remained as clear as it had in the beginning, which was a little bit strange, as the crystal ball was apparently the only object in the little caravan that the woman ever dusted. Either that, or the familiar spirit that resided within the ball had rendered it incapable of collecting the dust in the first place.

Newt felt the palm of Dusty’s hand grow clammy against her own, and felt the tension mount within the tiny and ancient caravan, as minute after minute passed in silence. Madame Du Pompadour stared into the crystal ball without pause, silently, and after a while Newt began to wonder if the venerable octogenarian had fallen asleep over her crystal ball, or perhaps she might have suffered a heart attack and died; such was the depth of the stillness both in sound and motion that the old woman exhibited.

Finally, at long last, the aged diviner made a pair of small, soft moans, and then a long exhalation of her pent up breath.

“I see,” Madame Du Pompadour said to no one in particular, though Newt got the impression that she was using the crystal ball to communicate with some being that resided at a far distant location from the planet Purvis Major. There was a long pause while she listened for a reply that as far as Newt was concerned, hadn’t been given.

“But what can then be done about that?” she asked next, and listened again to the reply that was either nonexistent or inaudible to the children.

There was an even longer pause while Madame Du Pompadour stared, eyes apparently unfocused, into the ball.

“Can it be reversed? Or is there no solution at all?”

On hearing these words, Newt’s heart suddenly shrank within her chest, as though it had suddenly been seized by icy cold talons. Dusty’s hand tightened on hers convulsively, as though he didn’t want to even think the thought that there might be no way home.

Finally, the old woman sighed, and, passing her hand over the ball as if she was erasing the messages that had appeared there, or perhaps as though she was turning it off for a while, she sighed deeply and turned her attention back to Newt again.

“There is only one way for you to return to your homes again,” she said wearily, her voice even thinner and weaker than it had been when she had answered the door to them.

“What is it?” Newt asked, suddenly fearful of what the woman might say, but not at all sure what exactly it was that she feared the woman would tell her to do.

“The familiar spirit that has chosen to live within my crystal ball, which is that being who delivers to me proclamations regarding the future, instructs me to say to you that you must do nothing. All will be revealed unto you when the time is right. Midnight is the witching hour, and the hour when the greatest power comes to those who have power. The spell that has been cast around you as a net will lift at midnight, and you will find that all in your life will be as it should, but beware, for time does not run at the same speed when in different dimensions, and therefore you must be careful, for any injury that you take while in this continuum will travel with you into the next, even unto death. Beware of pirates who make false promises, and always trust your physician, after all, an apple a day gets the doctor away!”

Newt was totally confused. “But…but what does that all mean?” she asked.

The old woman, Madame Du Pompadour, cackled with delight. “I deliver to you the pronouncements of the familiar spirit who lives within my crystal. He, whom I mustn’t name under any circumstances lest he leave me, has made his pronouncement. It’s neither his fault nor mine that you aren’t able to understand it. The interpretation of the fortune is yours, and yours alone. Now get out! Get thee out of my caravan, and out of my meadow, and away from me, and never come near me again, unless you desire to provoke me to a much greater wrath than she whose wrath you’ve already provoked, she who has sent you to this time and this place, with the intent to harass both thee and me. Now Begone!” Her voice rose steadily throughout her diatribe, until the last words were so shrilly shrieked that they were nearly inaudible.

Newt jumped up from the hard, elaborately carved wood chair she had been sitting in with enough force that the chair sailed backwards and slammed into the wall behind her. The chair hit the wall hard, and collapsed into what seemed like a hundred million splintered fragments.

Harold threw open the ancient door, and pulled his friends behind him in his wake as the three of them fled back the way they had come across the small clearing and down the path into the forest.