The Witch in the Cave

Posted on September 2, 2010

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“I didn’t think she’d really be in a cave,” Sherry said. “I mean, it’s an actual cave. A big hole. In the hill.” She looked doubtfully at the well-worn dirt path leading to said cave, at the woods surrounding them and covering the hill. Her cousin Sue giggled.

“You’re psychic,” she said. “You should’ve known. And since you’re going to be a fortune teller, you’ll love Baba. Everybody visits her. Maybe you can get some career tips.” She giggled again.

“Psychic counselor, not fortune teller,” Sherry sniffed. “I’ll have a website and certificates. This… is really old school.”

“You’re scared.” Sue’s grin threatened another giggle.

“I’m not scared, silly. Let’s just do it.”

They approached the cave. Sherry could smell the musty earth inside, and a pungent aroma of sandalwood incense. It was dark beyond the entrance. She felt eyes waiting in that darkness.

“Come in,” said a deep female voice. Sherry jumped. Sue nudged Sherry forward.

A few yards inside, there was a low table. Candles burned, and Tarot cards, runes and other arcane tools were arranged around them.

“Have a seat,” said the old woman. She motioned to the stool in front of the table. Sherry sat down, peering at the woman in the candlelight.

The woman appeared to be in her seventies. She wore an old red scarf around her head, and wrinkled jowls hung low on her face. Bright gray eyes sparkled out of a lattice of crow’s feet, and big silver hoops stretched her thin earlobes. She was fat, and her aged clothes hung shapelessly over the mounds of her body. The skin of her hands was pale and papery.

“Now that you’ve a had a good look at me,” said the witch, “I can take a look at you and your future.”

Sherry nodded.

“What do you prefer, Tarot or runes? Shall I read your palm? Shall I use my magic mirror or talk to your spirit guides?”

Sherry let out a breath. The old woman– Baba, Sue had called her– was putting on the standard show.

Baba looked up at Sherry as though she’d spoken aloud. Her eyes darkened in the candlelight, and Sherry felt a chill race up her spine.

“I see,” Baba said. “You’re not some shallow little girl who wants a love spell. You want to learn the Craft. But if I’m a fraud, what do you think I can teach you?”

“My cousin Sue says everyone around here comes to you. You must be good if you have a clientele like that.”

“Ah,” Baba said. “You want to be me one day.”

Typical, Sherry thought. Get the clients to drop hints about themselves and put two and two together. Then they think you’re psychic. Oldest trick in the book.

“I don’t want to live in a cave,” Sherry said politely. “How’d you wind up here, anyway?” Baba chuckled.

“I had a house near town and a shop in the square. I gave accurate readings, did some efficient spells. Quality goods, quality business. Anyway, word spread. Everybody came to me one time or another, around the clock. I even affected town politics. But I got tired. I’d had enough. I came out here so I could hear the spirits again. It’s not as convenient as my shop was, but folks still find me.”

Sherry nodded thoughtfully, and Baba scowled at her.

“We’re supposed to be talking about you.”

“So read me,” Sherry said. “Prove how good you are.”

Baba closed her eyes. She breathed deeply, and Sherry saw her fleshy shoulders slump as she listened to the ether.

“You have the Sight,” she began. “It comes down your mother’s line, from your ancestors in… Russia? You want to use your gift to make your living. Your mama wants you to stay local, open a shop, give readings on the side. You want more than that. You want to publish your spells in books. You want to be a psychic advisor to kings and movie stars.

“Weigh your choices carefully. Whatever you choose, fame will follow you. Choose big fame, and the world will know you, but only superficially. Choose the little fame, and you’ll help a lot of people, and they’ll even respect you. Whichever you choose, it’ll drain you over time and you’ll leave the life you’ve built. People will still come to see you, sometimes on a whim, sometimes curious. But they’ll think your gift is a gimmick at best, and a fraud at worst. But it won’t matter, because by then you’ll have learned what’s most important.”

“And what’s most important?” Sherry said. The witch opened her eyes and stared at her.

“Why, to listen to yourself, of course; your own instincts. They’re in you for a reason.”

Baba chuckled, and her massive body shook. Sherry felt that laugh in the pit of her stomach as though it was her own, reverberating backward from a future she couldn’t see. She shuddered and stood up.

“Thanks.” She dropped some money on the table and turned to leave. Just then another question occurred to her. She turned again to ask it, but gasped instead. She hurried from the cave.

Sue waited for her, smiling expectantly.

“Well? Wasn’t it awesome?”

Sherry stood in the fresh air, bewildered and breathing hard, unable to answer. They started walking back down the path to town.

“The real Baba who lived in that cave was hanged during the witch trials,” Sue babbled. “And since Salem is such a witchy town now, they restored the cave as kind of a memorial to all the women who were persecuted. I love how they dressed up that mannequin in there just like some crazy old lady.”

Sherry broke into a run.

“What’s eating you?” Sue shouted, sprinting after her. “It’s just a cheesy tourist attraction.”

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Posted in: #FridayFlash, Fantasy