Hira walked slowly towards the tattered orange pavilion in the end of the carnival. It was neither gaudily decorated nor flamboyantly lighted – but rather the torn exterior of the tent gave Hira the creeps and she folded her arms in a protective embrace.
But she was curious. The board outside the tent eerily proclaimed it to be “Fortune for Death.”
Fortune for death? – She chuckled to herself. Let’s see how fraudulent these guys turn out to be, she thought sneeringly.
Her arms wrapped around herself, she approached the tent and pulling aside the flap, walked into the pavilion.
It was odd. It was nothing stereotype – no orbs hanging from the roof, no sinister draping on the walls and no wizened old lady clasping a crystal ball wheezing,” Come, young lady, let’s peer into your future!”. The walls were black – and a pungent smell was dominant in the tent. The floor was covered with a bedraggled carpet and the roof was dark, impermeable. The entire interior held an uncanny feeling about it – as if something about it was not right, as if something lurked in the shadows of its interiors.
Hira didn’t panic. She was sure that the tent was meant to be like that – all spooky and mysterious. But she wasn’t about to fall in their attempt to scare her off! She would wait for the proprietor and see what mysterious ruse he would employ to tell her the future.
Suddenly, she heard footsteps from behind; she jerked out of her contemplations and slowly turned back – her eyes fearful, but when she saw who it was, she breathed a sigh of relief.
It was the proprietor. He donned lurid red pantaloons and a bright yellow shirt. The brightness of his presence dispelled all her fears – she was just being stupid, she decided as she glanced at the proprietor. She sniggered at the thought that this man would be telling her future – he was more befitted to perform in the ring.
“Welcome to Fortune for Death. I’m the proprietor of this pavilion,” his voice echoed in the dark tent,” My name is Isaac.”
He smiled. It was a wide toothless grin – and the grin coupled with his white fluffy hair and wrinkled skin made him look like a very amiable clown.
Hira smiled back. “My name is Hira and I would like you to tell me “my fortune for death!”
The clown swung his head to one side and laughed a rambunctious guffaw.
“So curiosity did kill the cat, eh?”
She was a bit taken back at his choice of phrase, but continued to smile.
“Hmm. So we would have to get back to work, don’t we?” He sighed.
“Ah, let’s see you can sit here, young lady,” Isaac proffered a dusty seat to Hira and then clambered on a wheeled chair and rolled himself towards her – all the time, beaming eerily.
“Um … How much would it cost me?” Hira asked as the man closed towards her.
“100 Rs, young lady.”
Hira pulled out a hundred-rupee note and handing it over to the clown began to wait for him to do some hocus pocus or some other weird antic and – tell her the future.
The clown stashed the note in one of his many pockets and then fiddling about one of his pockets, took out an elaborate pack of tarot cards.
Ahan, so he’s going to tell me future with the help of cards. Interesting … Hira thought.
“Pick one, lady,” the clown said, as he rapidly shuffled the cards and fanned them open.
Hira tapped her finger on one card – which the clown pulled out and closed the cards once again.
He lifted the card to his left eye, such that its elaborate cover now faced Hira. Hira watched, amazed by his course of action.
His right eye momentarily twinkled. Hira frowned.
“You’ve chosen a card of Past,” Isaac said, and then turned the card which exhibited a black crow,” As you can perceive, it’s a Black Crow or Hypograyes – the avatar of misfortune. I presume you’ve once in your past undergone an accident that changed your life entirely?”
Hira was shocked. How could he know?
She stammered a shaky yes.
The clown smiled serenely – it was an anomalous smile, a smile of secrecy.
The clown again shuffled the cards and released them into a fan.
He repeated,” Pick one, lady.”
Hira hesitantly pointed to one card, which the clown yanked out and closed the remaining cards.
He reiterated what he had done before – raising the card to his left eye, pausing for a few moments, the perfunctory gleaming of his right eye and then lowering it down to reveal a – a venomous green serpent.
The clown chuckled softly.
“The card you chose now was the card of Present. It is the Serpentine or the Deceptive one. Were you not thinking, just moments back when you came into my enterprise, that it’s dark, ominous setup were only meant to spook you out?”
Hira was flabbergasted. How did this weird, freaky guy figure out what she was thinking even before he entered the tent?
“How did you g-get to know?” Hira stuttered; her eyes wide open in shock.
The clown swayed his head from side to side and smiled jarringly.
“You’re certainly the bravest person who has entered this enterprise!”
He said and lapsed into quiet chuckles – his chuckles mocking. Hira watched him warily.
He soon stopped chortling and once again pulled open the cards, reiterating for the third time,” Pick one, dear lady.”
Her finger trembling, she fingered one card – which the clown tweaked out and repeated the process that he had already done two times.
He flipped the card to show it to Hira.
It was totally black – nothing was inscribed or engraved on it. It was nothing.
Her mouth dry, Hira asked in a quivering voice,” W-what is t-t-this supposed to mean?”
The clown smiled broadly. It was a gut-loosening smile – slick with menace and lustrous with malevolence.
“The card you chose now was the card of Future. You chose Oblivion or the Apocalypse – the divine retribution.”
“Divine retribution?” Hilary shakily asked.
The clown laughed loudly. He didn’t stifle his laugh as he had done before – he did not fear now that he might make a lot of noise.
“Retribution for the sins that you would commit in the future – the reprisal of the Providence,” the clown breathed: he drew closer to Hira, who shrank back in fear.
“B-b-but why should I b-be p-p-punished for the sins I haven’t committed as yet?” Hira faltered in her speech, she was woebegone in fear.
“But you would be a sinner, young lady. You’re not a prophet that you would be absolved of all sin. No! You would sin and all sinners must die!” fervor had lodged in the eyes of the clown – he now resembled a vengeful disciple, a zealous partisan: a person who can kill for his beliefs without any scruples, a person whose destiny was swathed with blood.
Hira couldn’t speak – she was experiencing rigor mortis. Her arms and legs were stricken: she couldn’t move, she couldn’t scream for help. She kept cursing herself for entering the darned tent in the first place – if she wouldn’t have entered it, she wouldn’t be encountering this fanatic clown.
The clown kept staring at her with his paranoid eyes while he rummaged in his pockets.
“Ahan!” he shouted in glee – he had found what he had been looking for.
Hira cowered in fear.
He pulled out a sharp dagger. It had a disquieting blade that gleamed with menace – its iniquitous gleam poised to kill.
He brought it closer to Hira’s face and smiled wickedly – Hira whimpered and a tear rolled down her cheek.
She cried out,” P-p-please l-l-eave me! P-please d-d-don’t kill m-m-me! I beg of y-you! Please don’t k-kill me!”
The clown laughed raucously and clapped his hands in glee.
“Not kill you and let you go? Why else do you think this venture is called “Fortune for death?!” the clown gnashed his teeth and brought the blade almost an inch away from her cheek.
Hira sobbed,” P-please have m-m-mercy! Pl-lease leave me! Have m-mercy!”
“DON’T CRY!” he shouted savagely and stroke her cheek with its sharp edge – blood trickled down and dripped down her neck.
Hira’s eyes widened in horror and gulped as she eyed the blade fearfully: all the time trying to impede her tears that flowed down her cheek and amalgamated with the blood. Transparence effused with red.
Her eyes pleading and brimful of tears, she cried,” P-please don’t kill me. P-ll-ease!”
The clown stared at her sternly through his obsessed eyes, the dagger still raised.
Moments passed in trepidation.
Then, suddenly clown’s face relaxed and he started laughing uncontrollably; it seemed as if he was undergoing a fit of laughter – he clutched his corpulent stomach as raucous laughter issued from his mouth.
Hira looked at the clown in disbelief.
“Was this all a joke?” she asked incredulously.
The clown amid laughter cried out,” Of course! Why would I want to kill you?”
“All that you-would-sin-in-future was nothing but a hoax?” Hira asked and when the clown nodded, with tears of laughter in his eyes, she shouted indignantly,” You are raving mad! You cut me, you old geezer so that you could have a laugh! Here I had been thinking you would murder me!”
“I wouldn’t kill you, see,” the clown had stopped laughing, though his eyes twinkled.
Again his choice of words made her shiver.
“What do you mean?” Hira asked, panicking again as she stood up from the dusty seat.
“What would I mean except that I won’t be the one killing you!” the clown returned, a nasty smile played on his curled lips.
The clown rolled his seat backward and something leaped from the shadows – the presence of something that had instilled fear in her heart when she had entered the tent bounded towards her.
Hira throat choked, wound up in panic. Her eyes gaped at the thing that hurdled towards her, growling terrifyingly – its looming eyes glinting in the gloom of the tent. Whatever it was – she could feel its hunger for blood, its desire for her flesh.
It was almost on her – she could smell its reek.
Adrenaline pumped into her body at the moment – and she regained movement in her muscles. She made way for the opening of the tent.
She could yet escape. She could yet live. She thought desperately.
She heard the snarl of the beast as she eluded its grasp and bee-lined for the exit. She ran towards the flap.
She was about to reach out to her freedom when somebody blocked her way.
It was Isaac.
“You chose to come here yourself, lady. Its fortune for death!” he pulled out her hundred-rupee note and threw it on her face.
“Get out my wa —-“
Her sentence was left in mid-air – warm, saliva-coated fangs had sunk into her flesh.
She let out an indefinite croak and faltering, swooned on the floor.
Silence reigned in the room as Isaac watched the beast devour his customer.
He hummed “Fortune for death!” under his breath, not wanting to disturb the beast.