Out here in the slums among the Everglades, the alligators roam and the houses are falling down, as though they were constructed of damp and matted cardboard, their paint peeling in great, long faded swaths.
Out here you would avoid me if you saw me. You would cross to the other side of the seeping street. You would fear me.
But I am not the one to be feared, dear ones. No, I am not.
I may dress in rags, I may live in the shadows, but I am not evil.
I am an old woman, toothless, a hag you would call me. And you have.
Around these parts, though, they call me the Fortune Teller, although that is not exactly right either. I do not tell fortunes, for out here, there are none. No fortunes to be had. But I see. I see into the hearts of man and I know what lives there.
Out here among the ruins and the wrecks of houses, I see all sorts; different types of people, strange occurrences. Stories within storeys. We are all thrown together, like worlds colliding without an audience. We are invisible to the outside, we are the forgotten ones. Anything could happen here, many things do, and yet, no one will interfere, no one will save us, no one could ever imagine our lives. Not anyone from outside, at least.
Next door are the music makers. A band that practices interminably it seems, singing songs of hope and loss, kicking up dust and dirt and memories. Their bittersweet melodies lull me sometimes, when I allow my guard to drop, when I relax and my inner eye stops reading hearts for a moment.
The floor below them is quiet now, empty. But it is dangerous, a lair for a man with a dark soul. Today, an alligator is its sole occupant. He roams past the heavy iron tub the last girl, a fighter, overturned. The water still pools and trickles where it splashed out across the floor. The chair still sits at the bottom of the stairs, though she took the binding ropes with her when she fled.
And her captor, where is he? Why he is upstairs, above the musicians, closer to the sky – closer to God, he says – as he conducts his so-called prayer meetings.
The people go to The Preacher for salvation, to be delivered from evil, to be cleansed. They look up to him and while he offers them peace, he strips them of their money and their dreams as he searches for the next “chosen one,” as he calls them, another star in his little galaxy.
But it’s all a show. They don’t need to be exorcised, they don’t need saving, at least not from any sins. The Preacher on the other hand, he’s another story.
And me? I sit here quietly, unseen, unheard, in a darkened room in the house next door. But I see them, their stories, their thoughts.
Ah, but I have allowed myself to become distracted and now there’s an unexpected knocking at my door. It shakes me out of my thoughts.
“Who is it?” I ask, though of course by now I know. For a moment, I am dazed, I see stars swimming before my eyes.
Then I open the door. The Preacher steps forward and smiles his sickly sweet smile as he closes my door behind him.
“I have come to heal you, to save you, woman,” he declares, and he places his hand on my forehead. His skin is rough and cold and his breath is sour.
I can feel the wrath roiling inside him, the outrage. He knows what I am, he has felt me watching him and he knows what I have seen. I am caught off-guard. For a moment, I think of calling for help. I imagine, if someone did come, what I would tell and what I would keep to myself. But there is no one to call and no one to tell anything to.
“No one could ever know what happened here,” he says in answer to my thoughts.
As he continues to hold his hand on me, I feel as though I am shattering into a million pieces. I have the sensation of flying, flying through the darkened star-strung sky. Can a person become a star?
I know I will not return from here; it is peaceful.
Word count: 750
This week’s Speakeasy prompt includes One Republic’s video, Counting Stars, and the line, “No one could ever know what happened here,” which was to appear anywhere in the post.