Ask

Ask by Ashe ArterberryThe road twisted and turned through the mountains. Greenery flashed by the car windows. Trees, plants, and another curve in the road were all that they encountered on their way. The road was not highly traveled and eventually it turned to gravel, but they continued on as the light faded from the sky and the darkness started to settle in the hollows of the mountains. Tall trees cast darkness over the car and its passengers mile by mile.

The destination finally came into view around one particularly long curve. There the road flattened out and a valley came into view. There was a stream bordered by high grass. The road stopped here. There was a building. It was a house or something else. It was low and dark. It went back towards the hills, but sat in a flat spot in the hollow. There was more light as there weren’t as many trees in the valley. The colors of sunset were beginning to be burned into the sky there.

They parked the car in the gravel drive and got out. There were other cars here as well. They came for something, just as the two passengers in the car had come for something. None of the cars were expensive or flashy, but all their drivers and passengers had come to this building for something. They were here to ask. Each of these people had something that they wanted and this building was where they could ask for it.

The front of the building was covered under a porch. There was a gradual ramp up to the porch which did not sit very high off of the ground, less than a foot. The entire building was made of a dark stained wood. The roof was a rusty metal, dark with age and element. Hanging on the edge of the porch from the eave were wind chimes, many sets of them. There were regular wind chimes made from metal pipes. There were wind chimes made of bamboo with their hollow knocking notes. There were chimes made of old silverware, knives, forks, and spoons; flower patterns adorned the handles. There was a set of wind chimes made of small crucifixes; some were right side up and some were upside down. A couple sets of chimes were made of bones, most obviously bird bones. The bones were small and slight and barely made noises at all due the hollow nature of bird bones. As a breeze was blowing, the chimes created a strange orchestra of music; it wasn’t quite comforting, but it wasn’t quite off-putting.

Under the porch roof were more oddities. From the rafters of the porch hung cages. From these cages peeped various small birds. Some of the birds were from the area, plain, brown, and small, while others were more exotic, such as parakeets. Some of the birds chirped and made noises, while others simply perched and watched. They eyed up the visitors. They looked as if they had watched many come and go, which most likely they had. The birds were endowed with a knowing of what went on in this place.

Amongst the birds was a wire mesh cage, also hanging from the porch rafters. This cage did not hold a bird. Inside was a chameleon. It stared out, silent, at the visitors as well. It turned one eye on them as they walked up the porch and towards the door. The chameleon knew as well. People came here, all kinds of people, and asked for things which they desired.

The visitors were both female, friends, not lovers. One was Abbie and the other was Becky. They had shared many moments in each of their lives, but they both wanted something. They had heard that the woman at this place could get it for them, if they were willing to pay the price. The woman knew things.

Abbie was in her forties; she had spent much of her life alone. She went to work and had fun from time to time, but mostly lived her life in the general confines of a rut. She was a generous person and friendly to most. She loved animals and her parents. She and Becky had struck a fast friendship. There was an age difference between the two, but it didn’t seem to matter.

Becky was in her early thirties and she was alone. In her loneness, she and Abbie had something in common. They both felt without partner and often relied on each other to fulfill the emotional needs that a partner would have fulfilled. Becky had not always been alone. She used to be married, but the man she was married to had turned out to be a demon, in action and word, and Becky fought to get away from him. It had taken Becky a while to feel like herself after escaping. She had become confident in being herself, but she was tired of being alone. She wanted a companion in life. This was why she had come.

Becky did not come for love potions. Becky came for a name. That was all she wanted. She just wanted to know a name, a simple name. If the woman here could tell her a name, Becky would have the confidence to know that there was someone out there for her and she would not have to feel so hopeless and alone in the world.

She did not know what Abbie wanted, nor did Abbie know what she wanted. Becky actually had no clue what Abbie was going to ask for. Both had been very secretive about their desires in seeing this woman. When the subject had come up, both had talked in whispers about it.

Could she be real? Could it be true? Could this woman really grant their desires?

The idea had been planted in their heads and as the days wore on it sprouted and became a sapling, and then a tree. They would go. They would try it. They would ask of this woman.

The dark brown door was open. It was made of wood and solid. There were no windows in the door, no one could see out if someone knocked while it was shut, but the door stood open ready for visitors.

Becky and Abbie stepped inside. It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to yet more darkness. A large room finally came into view. The ceiling was low and the room was dark. The floors were dark wood. The walls were dark wood. The ceiling was dark wood. The walls were hung with various items. In the back were other women. There was a stove. There was a loom. A woman worked at the loom in the back. The sound was rhythmic, a constant background noise to this place. A couple other women worked at the stove. The entire place smelled of smoke and some type of incense.

To the right of the doorway was a large dark wood table. There were already people seated there, a few, not many. Two of the seated people were obviously a couple. They leaned upon each other and held hands, their knuckles were white with uncertainty. They wanted a child, Becky could tell. They had tried and they had failed; this was their last resort. The IVF hadn’t taken and they were sick and tired of hormones and injections. The other people at the table were quite unremarkable.

On the wall near the head of the table was a fireplace. A fire burned there, even though it wasn’t that cool outside. The fire cast light upon the dark room. It crackled and wove in on itself. The sound of the fire added yet more background noise to the room.

There was more to the building than the one large room, but those parts were secret and shut off from this room. This room was where everything happened. This room was where she gave people what they asked for.

She was there. She was named Leslie.

Money swapped hands, a great amount, but the exact amount was unimportant. If someone were getting what he or she most desired, what was money? What price did it matter? The money was not important. It flowed freely from the hands of Becky and Abbie and into Leslie’s hands.

Leslie put the money somewhere, but Becky and Abbie did not see. They seated themselves at the table, as the others had done. Abbie was to the left of Becky and Becky sat at the end of the table closest to the door. Leslie did not introduce herself; there was no need. Everyone here knew who she was and what she did. There was no need to waste words on something that would only take time away from the asking.

Leslie herself was not young and nor was she old. She was middle-aged. Her hair had not begun to gray yet. She was not a skinny woman. One might even call her fat, but not excessively so. She wore a skirt and a shawl, both were flowing and billowy. The colors were darker and patterned. Her hands were covered in rings, of what specific design could not be discerned at the end of the table. Her hair was dark and curly, about shoulder length. She would have a double chin if she looked down, but only just.

In her hands was a deck of cards, not ordinary cards. Perhaps they were tarot cards. Perhaps they were something else entirely.

Leslie said that she would place one card, face down, for each person, or people, who had come here to ask. They must not turn the cards over before it was time. There was no warning of what would happen if a person decided to turn their card over before it was time. She stood at the head of the table and said she would begin up there.

The couple sat nearest the head of the table on the right. They looked at their card expectantly. Their glances were nervous and unsure. Most likely, they each wondered what they had gotten themselves into. The money, although not important if this worked, was no small sacrifice.

Something happened. There was green-blue light, almost like flame that came from Leslie’s hands and to the card of the couple, which seemed to be ignited, but did not burn. Leslie flipped the card over and showed it to the couple so that only they could see. She did not speak to the couple, but what they saw on the card made the two dissolve into tears, but not tears of sadness. They had not asked aloud of Leslie, but apparently they were going to get what they asked for.

Leslie moved to the left side of the table, a man. It was the same with the blue-green flame. Then a woman. Both got what they asked for as it seemed.

Becky had been entranced the entire time and had watched as people were given what they asked for. She had not been paying attention to Abbie.

It was Abbie’s turn at the card, but something was not right. Leslie gave Abbie a disproving looked.

You looked. You looked at your card. Abbie immediately dissolved into tears. She held her hands to her face and tears soon covered them. Leslie grabbed the card and flipped it over for all to see. There was nothing there. It was blank. It was just like a blank piece of paper. Nothing was there at all.

You will not get what you seek, if you are not patient enough to wait for it in its time. Leslie said to Abbie.

Her skirt and shawl swished as she moved past Abbie and onto Becky. Abbie would not get a second chance. She looked. She couldn’t wait. The loom and crackling fire still gave their music to the room as Leslie stood beside Becky. She looked at Becky. She looked into her eyes. She stared into her thoughts and her desires. The green-blue flame materialized on Leslie’s hands, out of flesh, and leapt down onto Becky’s card. Becky stared wide-eyed in amazement. She had felt bad for Abbie, but she was too taken in by what was happening.

Leslie turned over the card, so just Becky could see.

There was a name.

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