A while ago I was asked to take part in a September 16th FORTUNE TELLER BLOG HOP.
Well folks that sounded like a bucket full of fun.
I said “Sure” and here’s my entry.
As part of today’s FORTUNE TELLER BLOG HOP – I’ve decided to post a story that was originally sold to a magazine with the great title of VAMPIRE DAN’S STORY EMPORIUM. Unfortunately the magazine went under just before they had the chance to publish this piece.
Eventually I turned this short story into my full-length novel GYPSY BLOOD – which I then sold to Five Star Press. Much later I re-sold the original story to BEST NEW VAMPIRES VOLUME 1 (Books of the Dead Press).
I had great hopes for this novel – GYPSY BLOOD – but it turned out that my original publisher had a REALLY weird distribution network that specialized in selling directly to libraries. They avoided selling to bookstores – so that they did not have to deal with returns. So the book was basically published and disappeared after 1000 or so copies were sold.
Since then I have released it as an e-book and have been asked many times if I would ever consider a sequel.
Well – the book is selling and I have two short stories roughed out involving the protagonist – and I likewise have a full-length novel in mind.
All it takes is time.
So what is GYPSY BLOOD about?
Carnival (whom I call Jack in the short story” is a part-time fortune teller and occult trouble shooter and a full-time pain in the neck. Do you have a banshee that needs a tonsillectomy? Call Carnival. Do you need to give the yo-ho-heave-ho to some troublesome pirate-ghosts? Call Carnival. What about that mummy that thinks she’s a rap artist? Call Carnival.
Carnival is a gypsy. His Poppa calls him a poshrat. That’s Rom, for half-blood. Carnival never listened to his Poppa when he was alive but these days he doesn’t have much of a choice. It serves him right for sticking his Poppa so close to his heart. What a way to treat a dead relative but that’s Carnival for you. A real spontaneous kind of guy. Like when he gives that succubus a permanent case of lockjaw. Or when he invites a full grown demon into the tub for a scrub-a-dub. Or when he falls in love with a vampire. Talk about your pain in the neck.
Gypsy Blood is an 85,000 word fast paced, funny and terrifying novel like nothing you’ve ever read before. The whole thing rolls like an avalanche of skateboards, building to a climactic battle royale between Carnival, his two-timing vampire lover, a she-demon with a mother complex, a social climbing blood god, the collective spirit of the city and a mercenary mariachi band in a rickshaw.
That’s right, I said a rickshaw.
You want to know more – well, you’ll just have to pony up that 99 cents before the price goes back up and download yourself a copy from Amazon.
Note: this is the THIRD cover that this e-book has had – and I’m still not truly happy with it. In the next month or so – if sales are good and the royalty gods are kind – I have a cover design in mind that I will have to purchase.
Now here is that story I promised you.
What can I tell you? I’m a gypsy, or at least the sign outside my shop says so. GYPSY FORTUNE TELLING – BY WALK-IN OR APPOINTMENT ONLY, ASK US ABOUT OUR RAINY DAY SPECIAL.
That’s one sign. There’s another on the lamp post outside my shop window. It tells anyone who cares to read that JESUS CHRIST SAVES FROM ALL SINS. PRAY TO JESUS NOW. OBEY THE BIBLE.
That’s as direct as a marine drill instructor. They don’t call it the Salvation ARMY for nothing. A Cosa Nostra strong arm paissano, with biceps the size of bowling balls and tatoos on each arm that read MUDDER and MURDER could not be half so explicit.
There’s a basket full of tracts sprouting from beneath the sign. The basket is refilled every couple of weeks. I don’t know who refills it. I’ve never seen anyone go near the basket. Maybe it is refilled by night. Maybe the tracts spontaneously procreate. Maybe there is a miniaturized printing press installed inside the lamp post.
Stranger things have happened.
I never see anyone reading any of the tracts. I think winos use them to blow their noses when the weather is cold.
Underneath the basket the motif continues – DEATH, JUDGEMENT, ETERNITY, HEAVEN OR HELL, YOU DECIDE.
It kind of reminds me of those warnings the government prints on cigarette packages.
I’ve got another sign hung on the wall beside my table. Printed on a sheet of cardboard as neatly as my penmanship allowed, in bright red magic marker; and covered with a thin layer of plastic sandwich wrap.
It almost looks professional.
“The moving finger writes and having writ moves on, nor all your wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all your tears wash out a word of it.”
Now there was a fellow who knew his lines.
Me, I’m a palmist. I flip the tarot. I’ve got a knack for seeing what people want to see in the dreams. I can even fake a tea cup if the price is right.
Some folks call me Gypsy Jack.
I don’t know jack.
Is it a con? Sure, what isn’t? We live in concrete tombs built out of cons and promises and lies. We fill our ears with radio waves and television signals stuffed full of larcenous fantasies. We play bingo and invest in the stock market, and figure it is all the way things ought to be.
I’m an honest-to-Cheiro palmist. One of those crazy guys who actually believes in what he’s doing.
That’s rare, these days.
Not the palmistry.
My granny taught me how, much to the undying shame of my poppa. Poppa thinks I should leave the teacups and cards for the women and take up a trade as an honest thief.
What can I tell you?
Fathers are never happy with their sons. I think it’s some kind of immortal law, you know?
God forbid, if I ever have a son I promise to be happy with him.
Unless he disappoints me.
So here I am, in my rented storefront with my cot out back.
The building code tells me I’m not supposed to sleep here, but I read palms, not codes. What the slumlord doesn’t know isn’t going to hurt me.
I’ve been here six months. In six more months this block is scheduled for urban renewal.
The juggernaut of gentrification.
The power of progress.
Call it what you will, it’s all means the same damn thing. Me and the tattooist upstairs and the lady in the basement who takes in homeless sailors are going to be out on the street.
What can I tell you?
Nothing lasts forever.
Six months before, I was somewhere else. Six months from now I’ll just move on. The cheapest buildings are always the ones about to die.
It isn’t that vicious of a cycle.
I like what I’m doing most of the time, except every now and then I get to feeling like a priest who’s heard one too many lousy confessions.
Like today, for instance.
Today came down like endless thunder.
I should have seen it coming. The signs were everywhere. A cat moaned under my window. A dog howled even though the moon had its eye poked out for the next three days. I woke up this morning with a mouthful of cobweb and a dead rat on my door way.
Oh can I hear an omen, please?
I should have seen it coming when she first walked in. I should have seen it in the way she looked at me like a lonely moonlit cave.
I should have turned her away.
I could have.
It was night time. I was thinking about frying a couple of sausages with some peppers and onions and garlic and that bottle of plonk I’d saved since Saturday. Then she walked in and all I saw was a customer, and a chance to feed the bills.
“I want to know my future,” she said. “Palm or cards, I don’t care, just tell me what you see.”
“What I tell you depends on what you want to know. The palm tells everything. Birth to death, cradle to grave. Only general, you know? The cards are specific, but shortsighted. Two or three months at best. The cards don’t see far, but they sure see straight.”
“I don’t know about two or three months. I just know I’m here, for now, so maybe it better be the palm.”
I’ve got a card table from a junk shop. It’s covered with a black cotton table cloth an old lady sewed me for a dream I read. There’s a couple of chairs. A green plastic lawn chair that she sits in. I found it in an alley. A wooden chair that I’m already sitting in that came with the rent.
“So are you right-handed or left-handed?” I ask.
“Does it make a difference?”
“In the old days the palmist read your left hand. Closest to the heart tells truth, so they figured. But that’s bullshit. The heart’s the biggest liar you ever met. I read the hand you think with, the one you work with. The hand you don’t use, that’s what you were born with,” I tell her. “The hand you use, that’s what you made of it.”
“What if I’m ambidextrous?”
It was late and my patience was never long-lived.
“Then you ought to make up your mind,” I said, trying to make my irritability into a joke.
She just stared.
“So are you?”
“Am I what?”
“Are you ambidextrous?”
“No,” she said. “I’m right-handed.”
So I get her to hold out her right hand.
“You’re receptive,” I say. “Like a radar dish to life, you take in what it sends you. You lap it up, like a cat licks cream.”
The shape of her palm, her splayed-out fingers, they tell me this; that and a pretty good guess. Her grin tells me I guessed right.
I hold her hand, and I test it for flexibility. A stiff hand means an unflexible person. Someone who doesn’t change easily, a control freak, unreceptive to new ideas.
Her hand is cold, but it’s almost night and there’s probably a chill in the air. I could tell her she has a warm heart, but I don’t believe in that old saying – “cold hands, warm heart”.
Next I always turn the hand over and look at the life line. That’s the line that fish hooks from between your thumb and index and down towards your wrist. If it’s long and strong it means a good healthy life. If it bends away from your thumb, like a linebacker heading out for a lateral pass, it shows a wild spirit, a black sheep, someone who has disappointed their father early on. If there is a second line inside it, it means a strong inner life.
Only this line wasn’t like any of those others. This line was like some kind of crazy spiral dance. This line looked like a long skinny worm wrapped around and around her thumb. It just kept running on, wrapping around her thumb and back again, like a string that she’d tied on so as not to forget something.
It looked like one of those spinning hypnotic discs you used to be able to buy in the back of comic books. You know, the ones right next to the garlic chewing gum, the X – Ray glasses, and the genuine shrunken heads. The discs were supposed to allow you to hypnotize women into letting you have your way with them.
Believe me, they didn’t work.
“What do you see?” she asked.
What do I see?
Christ, I don’t want to see what I’m seeing.
I try to swallow, but my tongue has swollen to the size of an overstuffed couch.
“What do you see?” she repeated.
This means a lot to her.
She needs to know.
Call me Galahad, but there’s something about a woman in need I can’t resist.
I swallow the couch and find my voice.
“I see a long life. A very, very long life.”
I’m not kidding. A life line like this you would expect to see on something like a god. Something that’s going to be around for a very long time.
“What else do you see?” she asked impatiently.
What could I tell her? It was like her life line had swallowed everything. Heart, head, fate, all gone in a gulp.
“I see hunger,” I say. “I see a life of endless hunger.”
She clears her throat, like she is tasting something she doesn’t like.
“What about happiness? What about children? What about marriage?” she asks.
There’s a well of unshed tears lingering in her voice, but she isn’t the kind of woman who cries a lot.
Not any kind of woman at all.
I remember something granny told me; about a life line that ran like this. Something I brushed off as old superstition.
I was putting pieces together.
Count Yorga and Barnabas Collins.
Like Christopher Lee in all those old Hammer movies, only worse.
This was real.
She was real.
She kept asking me questions.
“What about love?” she asked.
“What about it? You might as well ask me which way the wind will blow, three hundred years from tomorrow. It’s late. Go home, and see me in the morning.”
“I don’t see anyone before sundown,” she said.
“What about my future?”
“Future is all you got. Future, past, and hunger. Lots of hunger.”
She looks at me like I might look at a good tavern steak.
I figure that it’s time for a little creative self-defense. I stood up quickly. I kicked over the wooden chair and brought my boot down on it as it hit the ground.
The rungs shattered.
She watches me like a patient diner, waiting for their favorite snack.
I grabbed a chair rung and pointed it at her like a knife.
“Get back vampire. There’s no future for you today.”
She looked at the chair rung. One eyebrow rose up like a black sunrise.
“Not sharp enough. If you’re going to stick me, it’s got to be sharper than that.”
Ha. Some joke.
If she smiles I’m going to scream.
I wish for the time to unsnap my jack knife and whittle a point, but wishing, like my stake, is pointless.
She holds up her palm, like an Indian in a bad cowboy movie, about to say “How.”
Suddenly she’s Mandrake, Svengali, and Mesmer rolled into one.
I don’t want to look, but I have to. I have to look at her palm, and it’s like staring at a whirlpool in the ocean, and I am falling in to it, and it is spinning about me, rising up to entangle me. It feels a little like falling headfirst into a canyon full of maggots.
I feel the line, her life line, wrapping about me. I feel like Tarzan wrestling a giant snake, only this snake is colder than any mere reptile. Cold and unbelievably dead and absolutely hungry.
I feel it sucking at me, drawing me inwards. She’s amoebic, like one of those creeping vines that strangle sunflowers.
Forget about movies.
Forget about what you read in Stoker.
Vampires, the real ones, they never bite.
They suck. I’m talking death by osmosis. A little visceral empathy, if you please.
I’ve one hope. I reach down below me, down through the clinging lines that wrap about me like I was a virgin in a lounge room of undead pick-up artists slinging line after unholy line, to feel the broken wreckage of my wooden chair.
I rise up, amidst the gut-storm of this evil thing’s life line, clinging to two chair rungs like a drowning sailor clinging to a couple of matchsticks.
I cross them, and hold them outward. I try to think of Van Helsing. I think about the pope. I think about Mother Theresa and Billy Graham and Evil Knievel.
It’s been years since my mother took me to church, but I still remember some of it.
I recite the one prayer from the rosary I remember.
“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was crucified, died, and was buried.”
I’m getting some of the lines wrong, but I must be doing something right because the lifeline about me loosens and I begin to feel a kind of hope being born – and like a ninety-year-old death bed repentant who hasn’t seen the inside of a church since his grandmother took him to be baptized, I just keep on praying.
“He descended into hell and on the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God.”
I can’t remember the last of it, something about communion and resurrection and maybe it wasn’t so good a thing to be praying for in the face of what I was facing.
Then I remembered a prayer my uncle taught me, the time the neighborhood bully kicked my ass.
“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in our day of battle; protect us against the deceit and wickedness of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray.”
St. Micheal did the trick. I was free, and I was back in my room, crouched behind the refuge of my overturned card table that had somehow been kicked over in the heat of our struggle, brandishing my makeshift crucifix in the face of this hungry she-devil.
What could I do?
I kept on praying, falling back on the ever reliable Lord’s Prayer.
“Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
She swatted the card table out of the way. It slammed against the far wall and one of its chrome legs snapped off.
The part of my mind closest to my wallet mourned the loss of a perfectly good card table and my favorite wooden chair.
The sensible part just kept on praying.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…,”
She laughed at this, the kind of laugh that crows laugh over the bones of dead men.
I felt a little less confident, but I kept on praying.
“…as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.”
She swatted the Tim Allen cross from my hands, and I felt my daily bread grow moldy.
I crossed my fingers and began to chant, “the power of Christ compels you, the power of Christ compels you,” but I guess she hadn’t seen that movie.
She caught me by my throat, and held me close enough to smell the stink of the graveyard dirt she’d slept in.
“My people are older than your people,” she said in a voice that sounded like a toad that had somehow learned to speak. “My people are older than His people.”
I was scared. I tried not to show it. I figure I did pretty well, seeing how I managed not to soil my pants.
I kept trying to pray.
“Our father, our father,”
But I guess he wasn’t listening as her grip choked the words from me. She knew it was all an act. I hadn’t been to church since Jesus wore short pants and a training robe.
“Little god-boy,” she said with a laugh. “You mouth your prayers, yet you have not been to confession in more years than you will admit. Your words are wind; smoke that slips from the chimney that I will make of your open throat.”
“Holy Mary, mother of…,”
She shook me like a dog shakes a dead rat, and then she threw me to the floor.
“I spit on your mother.” she said.
That did it.
That, more than anything else did it.
No one insults my mother.
I was lying face-first on the floor, staring at a tarot card that had fallen when she’d knocked over the card table.
It was the card they call the hanged man.
I stared at that card and thought of my mother and as that she-demon picked me up again by my throat I found the strength to speak.
“Vampire,” I said, spitting the word like bad mouth wash. “You mock me, you say my words are empty. Yet last week I slept with a gypsy girl whose piss was warmer than what passes for your pitiful blood. Her laugh was like a gift from heaven and her heartbeat like a thunder of roses. You have nothing to match her.”
She squeezed tighter, but I was inspired. Out of pure mule-stubborn spunk I kept on speaking.
“You can take my life, and you still have nothing. No children, no love, no happiness. I know, I’m a gypsy and I see it in your palm. You live in the grave, and no matter how far you walk by night you will always live in your grave, and that is no life at all.”
I thought about dying.
I wished I had time to write out a will, but what the hell, I had nothing worth bequeathing and no one to bequeath it to.
My favorite chair was broken, and I was lying about the gypsy girl.
The truth was I hadn’t been laid in months.
And right about now my future prospects didn’t look so hot.
I kept on talking, even though the words cut through my damaged throat like razors made of barbed wire.
“As dead as I am about to be I have more future than you. That Gypsy girl will someday tell her children about the night I tripped over her father’s pig trying to sneak into her camp and was chased away by the hounds, and her children will laugh and I will be reborn in their laughter. Who have you made laugh, bitch? Who has smiled for you? Who will remember you and grin?”
She hissed like an angered snake, slamming my back against the wall and the last breath from my lungs.
The room swam. Bright spots of good-bye polka danced about my eyes.
I felt her teeth kiss my neck. I felt the weight of her nonexistent breath haunting my skin. Then she screamed, and the room turned over as she threw me to the floor. I fell beside the wreckage of my broken card table. My arm felt broken, but I didn’t have time for pain. I tried to rise. If I was to greet death today, I would do it on my two good feet.
I was my mother’s son.
I was a gypsy.
She let me stand.
She stood there, staring at something far beyond me.
I kept waiting for her to finish me, but she did nothing.
I stared at her and she stared at something so unimaginably vast, that I couldn’t begin to tell you what it was.
She began to moan, and the building shook, and if the tattooist upstairs was tattooing an angel on a sailor’s back, he probably just gave her an extra tit on her wing.
And the noise she made, such a noise, I have never heard in my entire life time.
Try to imagine the sound that the moon makes as she wails for her long lost lover on a cold November night in the highest reaches of the Balkan Mountains.
Try to imagine the shrieking of Mary as the Roman centurions nailed her heart to a couple of two by fours.
Then multiply them both by one hundred and ten.
I covered my ears, for fear of going deaf.
Finally she stopped screaming.
The corner of her left eye began to bleed a single tear, blood that was cut with the smallest spectre of sorrow.
We stood, staring at each other while I counted time by my heart beat, until she found the courage to speak.
“Do you know,” she asked, with a lopsided grin that was halfway to heart break, “Do you know that I have not seen a sunrise since your grandfather’s grandfather first drew breath?”
Her voice was strained, as if I had been strangling her and not the other way around. Her voice cracked and groaned like the door of a long unopened secret.
“What are you going to do about that?” I asked.
She smiled, the kind of smile that blessedly didn’t show her teeth.
“I think I will stand alone,” she said. “Outside your door, and watch the sun rise one final time.”
She walked to the door, opened it, and was gone.
I followed her outside.
I sat down on my front steps.
She stood beside the lamp post with that sign that spoke of redemption and damnation, waiting through the long cold night.
The two of us waited for the sun to rise.
Once a car slowed down beside her, thinking that perhaps that she was the woman who took in homeless sailors.
The man in the car spoke. I couldn’t hear his line, but I heard her laugh, that once, bitter and sweet and lonely like a very old child.
The car drove away.
We waited some more.
Once – only once – she looked back at me, and I thought that maybe she was having second thoughts.
Perhaps she was.
She could have had me. I would not have fought. I had fallen in love with that last little laugh of hers, that oh so lonely laugh that sounded so much like a child who had been turned away by her father some thousand years ago.
Loneliness ached within my heart, and love like a moth that flutters beneath the moon was born.
She could have had me, but she didn’t.
The sun rose like a dying phoenix, and without looking at me once, she screamed a long goodbye.
If you liked that story than why not go and pick up the entire e-book – which takes a slightly different turn and is told in a slightly different style – but I believe you will like it just the same.
Let’s see…I think I got them all.
Be sure to check out the rest of the participants of the Fortune Teller Blog Hop
yours in storytelling,