Anyone who knows me will attest that I have some pretty weird, creative dreams. Sometimes, when the dreams are clear or provoking I will write them down. About two years ago I had a dream about a girl who dipped her fingers in quicksilver and told the future.
And the following story fragment was born:
Maria Futurum sat behind a pane of liquid glass, waiting for her next customer to press their hands through the barrier to have their palms read. She fiddled with her curly red hair that was tied back under a yellow and orange headscarf. She fixed the strand of hair that hung next to her long pale face. She could not see her customers, but she knew that they could see her. Soon she saw the glass ripple with the hands of a new client. Old and cracked, the hands came through empty, without payment. A quiet frustration overcame Maria as she pointed to the old wooden sign to her left.
FIVE PENCE PER FUTURE
NO REFUNDS OR FREE READS
The hands never wavered. Maybe he wasn’t looking, she thought, and pointed to the sign again after tapping the tan, leathery hands. The man behind the pane pushed his hands closer to Maria, gesturing that he had no intention to pay. It was times like this when Maria wished that she could see or hear through the wall that was between her and the people on the outside. But she knew that without the barrier, she would be unable to give the client the honest, unbiased reading that made her the most popular and trusted fortune teller on this route.
Travelers chose to take the Flumenum Veritas instead of shorter, more direct passages through the Ignis Mountains so they could visit Maria. They knew that if she promised them safe travels, that they would make it to their destination unscathed. And if she told them to turn back, they almost always did.
But Maria was not going to reveal this man’s future for free, so she sat impassively until the weathered hands retracted angrily from the booth, through the one-way mirror of the liquid wall.
Sometimes Maria felt trapped at her table behind that wall that she could never see through. But she knew that she couldn’t read palms any other way. How could she look a mother in the face and tell her that her boy is going to be attacked by a Lup? She had for seen so many people being taken by those mangey half wolf, half men that roamed the Flumenum Veritas scavenging for a meal. And she knew that there was nothing she could do to change their fate.
Once two little hands, so small that they could barely grasp payment for the read, placed themselves on the mat in front of her. She knew that these infantile hands were only hours away from the jaws of a Lup. She closed the tiny fingers back around their five pence and pushed them back through the glass, without saying a word.
Today, she was lucky. She had predicted many happy, healthy futures, and had only had that one man who tried to get his fortune for free. Maria sat, back aching from the lack of support from the small stool that she used as a chair, watching her reflection in a wooden bowl of quicksilver swirl and bubble. She didn’t know how it worked, but she knew that it was something about the alchemy between her skin and that thick silvery soup that made her able to see into people’s future. But for some reason, Maria could never see her own future. She had never known who the next customer was going to be, or what their fortune was before she read it. She never knew if she would pass through her nights unscathed by the Lups, or any of the other beasts that roamed the Relinquiae Silvarum, the Forrest of Remains, that flanked the Flumenum Veritas. And a part of her never wanted to know.
To Maria’s surprise, an hour after the man had attempted to get his fortune read for free, his cracked, labored hands shimmered through the fluid wall with the required five pence. They seemed impatient and determined, tapping the mat while Maria soaked her hands in the quicksilver.
She felt the metallic liquid seep into her skin, creeping up underneath her fingernails, and snake-like tendrils slither up and around her wrists. As she removed her hands from the engraved wooden bowl, the quicksilver hardened into smooth, pliable gloves. Maria gently scooped up the awaiting hands into her own, took a deep breath and closed her eyes in preparation for the wave of images that she knew were to come.
For the first time in her life, Maria saw herself in the flow of knowledge that passed through the vision of her mind’s eye. She saw the man that the hands belonged to, and she saw herself running with him, somewhere far away. The images were foggy and vague. All that she knew was that she was going to leave her post on the Flumenum with these weathered hands, and that she had a reason to be afraid, because someone was after her.
Her eyes bulged open when, for the first time in her career, the hands of the customer grasped her own, reassuring her.
While Maria was usually one to question the intentions of strangers, she was never one to question the validity of her own visions. She had seen too many poor pilgrims die just as she had predicted to not trust the fortunes. She had felt the urgency in the images, and knew that she had to leave right away. She hastily dunked her hands back into the bowl, and felt the heavy gloves slough off. Rummaging through her small bag of belongings that she brought with her to the post every day, she found the bladder she used to store the quicksilver, and quickly poured it in, and tied the mouth shut with a plaited leather strap. She grabbed her bank and dumped it into her coin purse. Maria had worked in that small closed in booth since her mother died when she was fourteen. It had only been three years, but telling for the travelers had aged her well beyond her seventeen years. Taking one last quick look around her booth, she whispered goodbye, knowing that she would never set eyes on it again.
“Maria.” A rough voice called to her as she fumbled clumsily with her things as she closed the booth’s door behind her. Her head whipped around to meet the hard gray stare of the leather handed man. He gestured for her to follow. The man could not be more than twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old, but his eyes, like Maria’s, told a different story.
“And you are?” Maria asked hurriedly, dodging pilgrims and trying to catch up to the man’s pace as he walked toward the trees that lined the Flumenum.
“Jack.” His voice was coarse like the stubble that lined his tan, angular face.
“What’s going on, Jack? What are we running from? How did you know to find me?” Maria asked as more and more questions kept piling up in her mind.
“This forrest has ears, and we will do best to keep them deaf to our plans.” Jack’s gray eyes scanned the sea of travelers that they walked though to the edge of the trail.
“Do you have everything you need? This is will be a long journey, and a dress like that won’t do.” He said as he examined the fabric of her dress between his fingers. Maria caught the smell of pine on his skin as he spoke.
“I—I didn’t know.”
“I know you didn’t, otherwise you would have been waiting for me this morning by the tavern. Or maybe you would have read your own future off my hands for free. But that’s neither here nor there,” Jack said, swatting the thought away with his hand, “Let’s go get something you can travel in.”
“We will be living in the Silvarum, won’t we?” Maria asked quietly, trying not to be heard.
“Living? No… Surviving? More likely.”