5 min read

In The Middle of the City.

I saw him as we drove by, an old man wearing a straw hat, with an unlit cigarette on his lips. He was sitting on a pylon, staring at the distance as if time was not important anymore. His dog lay in front of him in the grass.

We drove around to the parking lot. As we started to walk we saw one of those old houses with a hand with an eye in the middle, drawn in a window, it read "fortune-telling" for 20 bucks. It was a nice day, so we said fuck it and went in. There was a teenager at the counter. He asked:" how many" and we said two. He got up from the chair and pulled a dark curtain to the side, "come on in" he said.

It was like the ones on TV, with the Crystal ball in the middle. As soon as we sat at the table the guy at the counter turned on the fog machine,  and we could hear it humming. A woman of middle age came into the room and moved the ball to another table close by, as she said: "Hello hello".

She had everything on the big hoops: the rings, the nose ring. I looked at my friend and he looked very skeptical with an air of arrogance almost. "Who first?" she said, I volunteered my friend by pointing.

I knew he read about cold reading and he was going to give her a hard time. I wasn't expecting that she was going to get so mad after he let her tell him about his dead wife and how she missed him just to reveal he's never been married. "Turn off this stupid thing," she said to the guy at the front "you're one of those that come here and waste my time," she said waving her hand at us with all the clinking noises from her bracelets.

"It's all bullshit anyway, why are you so mad that I caught you?" Said my friend, and to this day I wish he didn't. Her anger went away as if it was never there. She sat back down and took a small cigar freshly rolled from a drawer close by. "All bullshit eh?" She said lighting the cigar with a match and as she shook her hand to kill the match said something unintelligible in another language.

A cloud of smoke went up to her face as she took the cigar in one hand. With that same hand, she pointed at us, "you fucking kids want real?" She asked, her voice was different and her accent thicker, but maybe I imagined that part. I could see my friend was getting uncomfortable, but I also knew he'd just gone all in and he was not going to back off. "Sure yeah we want real, I mean  we still have time left for the 20 right?" He said. She clicked her tongue and said something in another language as she put the cigar back in her mouth and got up from the table.

As she got up, she hit the wall where the front desk was and I saw the guy through the curtain flip the sign from open to close and lock the door. "Dude what the fuck" I whispered to my friend "relax, is the middle of the city nothing is gonna happen let's see what she's gonna show us".

"Come with me," she said. She moved what looked like a very heavy door and flip the switch a couple of times. After nothing happened, she grabbed an oil lamp from a table and lit it, cursing in English and the other language. "Come," she said pointing with her head as she went down a very creaky set of stairs.

I couldn't leave my friend alone, but I had the urge to run away. We've heard about tunnels in old houses in the city, those that they used to use in the prohibition times. The walls were rock as we went down the stairs.

When we got to the bottom, it was dark. She flicked a switch angrily, but nothing happened again. I saw him in the corner, the same old man from the street, not moving at all staring at a random point in a wall, barely breathing from where I was standing.

She got close and lit the cigarette in his mouth, as she said something in her language. The man finally moved after a cloud of smoke left his nose. He grabbed the cigarette with one hand and moved the hat up with the other.

In a deep raspy voice, he asked a question to the woman in their language, who stopped in her tracks and looked back at us. "Hmmm," she said, putting out her cigar against one of the rock walls. "Come now sit" she pointed at a chair in front of the man. "They want the real thing," she said doing air quotes with her fingers. " I see, well let's get started" as he said that the woman dimmed the light of the oil lamp to the point where the light coming from his lit cigarette was probably brighter.

"So what would be real enough?" He said as the smoke of his cigarette went up slowly. "Do you want to talk to the dead? Do you want to see your future? Do you want something in particular?" He said as the light of the oil lamp pulsated, almost giving the room a heartbeat. " Let me tell you a story," he said, letting out a big cloud of smoke.

This is where it got weird… because I swear I saw the smoke dance and take shapes, and as he talked the shadows in the back took shapes as well. Maybe it was the light, who knows. I can't remember the story that well, but I don't think that was the point. His eyes said something very different. The eyes of a hunter, a tiger trapped in a cage. They even had a tinge of red. With the room beating to the rhythm of the lamp and the low rumble, almost hypnotic sound of his voice. The room started to disappear, I saw a dark forest and a fire.

The old man was there, but he felt different. "Sit, "he said, pointing to a spot close to the fire. " Just remember there was nothing you could do, remember those words. I can tell you the future, but what difference does it make now?" He said as I sat down "It's a pity, your friend is still very young, but I can help, I'll make you a deal" There was a scream in a language I didn't understand, and suddenly I was back in the room.

The woman was walking towards us, the man seemed unfazed by this and didn't move at all. Then I looked at my friend and he was pale looking down at the table,  I could see sweat coming down his forehead.

When she reached the table the man asked if he could have one more hit of his cigarette, reluctantly she agreed and then took it.  The man exhaled letting out a huge cloud again then reclined on the back of his chair and did a node with his hat.

Then nothing, as if he was no longer there. "Now get out," she said. I grabbed my friend by his jacket and pulled him out of his chair, he still didn't seem to come back to reality.

"What did he do to him?" I asked, a bit alarmed. After laughing, she said " he can do nothing, your friend will be fine, now get out"  
We walked out of the store and my friend's jacket was damp with sweat, "are you ok?" I asked, shaking him a bit. He finally looked up at me and said "I saw it man, when and how I died and you were there" I could feel him shaking as he said this " when?" "Tomorrow," he said.

"Dude you know it's all bullshit, do you believe what that old man was saying? Let's go man you know it's all a trick with smoke and mirrors" I said trying to comfort him. That seemed to work, so we walked to the car.

As we started to drive I saw the old man again sitting in the same pylon with the same unlit cigarette. Immobile he stared at me until I couldn't see him anymore and when I tried to find him in the mirrors he was gone.