Marty’s stomach has begun to squirm and his face trembles with fear. But somehow he forces his limbs to move him into the shelter of the tent. And then her presence surrounds him, and her gentle yet sinister voice reaches out to him.
“Hello there,” she says. “You look frightened.”
Marty shakes his head, and stamps his foot. He does not have the courage to speak.
“Are you lost?” asks the young lady. Her right eyebrow raises.
He avoids her eyes and looks at the floor. “No. I…I just wanted to…for you to read my palm.” Marty lets out a huge breath of relief. The first step has been made.
She smiles with only one side of her mouth, and her bare arms rise up and her back stretches as she pulls her loose hair behind her back. Marty nearly faints.
And then she leans forward and motions for him to have a seat.
“Please,” she says. Marty sits and then displays his palm.
She reaches forward, but before she can enter her state of concentration, Marty breaks forward with a daring attempt at his quest. “My friends say you’re a witch,” he blurts. He feels immediately ashamed at making such a rude comment and at approaching his task in such a blunt way. He is supposed to be clever and subtle, like a con man. He wasn’t supposed to blurt out his intentions! Now she is suspicious and most certainly won’t reveal her true identity.
She is frozen all except for her dark eyes which flicker across his red face. “And what do you think?” she asks. Her voice is soft yet deadly. He shivers.
“I…I didn’t think you were.”
She smiles. “Good,” she says. “Such a thought is just plain silly.”
Marty gives a nervous laugh. “But,” he says. He doesn’t know how he is supposed to make her laugh. He knows that she is a kind and gentle person, and that she is not an evil sorcerer as the other’s seemed to think. He knows all this now that he is in her presence. But he is frustrated because he is supposed to prove this to his watching friends.
“But what?” she asks. “What else did they say about me?”
Marty shakes his head and stares down at his knobby knees with a trembling lower lip.
The young lady becomes somehow softer and gentler, and she moves to comfort him. This all too much for him as her scent washes over him, and her arm moves around his shoulder. “My, you’re trembling. Are you afraid of me?” She sounds mildly insulted and confused. “I am not a frightening person. Why are you so scared? Your friends must have made me out to be a most dreadful person.” She sounds very distressed and saddened at this idea, and Marty feels even worse.
“They just said stuff because you were so serious. You don’t ever laugh when you’re at the fair. I told them that you are kind and laugh a lot when you’re not being a fortune teller, but…”
“Well,” she says curtly. “That was very kind of you, but I think those boys are all rather silly. To think that I am a bad person just because…” She falls silent and appears to be genuinely hurt by this situation. “I’m sorry,” she murmurs, tilting her head and allowing her hair to fall in a wave down the side of her face. She pauses, a glint enters her eyes, and she gives a strangely off-setting grin. “If they thought about it, they would realize why I don’t laugh while fortune telling. And bringing us back to the real reason that you’re here: did you want me to read your palm?”
“Oh,” says Marty. “Okay.”
He lifts his palm up, and she takes it with a greedy eye. She then settles into a deep trance, placing her fingertips on his palm. He feels her fingers like fire and ice, and he can hardly keep his hand steady. She takes a breath and then blinks repeatedly. “My,” she murmurs.
Marty is frozen, his breathing shallow and his chest tight. She leans in closer, and he can feel her breath on his palm as her fingers continue to trace the lines. It is almost too much. He wills to retract his hand with a violent tug.
She straightens up with a strange noise. Then she tilts her head, frowns, and moves her fingers in a reverse pattern. Marty is suddenly very afraid. He can feel her grave energy as she inspects some distant possibility in the future. Maybe she is a witch!
Marty leans in close as the tension becomes unbearable, and watches the intense expressions flicker across her open face. An ominous feeling begins to shiver along his back. And when he is most intent, all at once, her eyes flicker open and she lets out a laugh. Marty cries out in terror. This laugh is far more frightening than any alternative.
She puts her free hand to her lips and frowns deeply, her eyes wide and bright. Marty is on edge. Why won’t she just speak?
But instead, she laughs again, this time as if she could not hold it back. Marty’s eyebrows snap together and he feels angry. What could possibly be so funny about his future? But she is not finished yet, and her fingers bend for her nails to pick gently at a wrinkle in his hand. She lingers a moment longer, and then hides a further smile.
Marty finally clears his throat. “What?” he asks with stark fear. His eyes rise and somehow lock with hers. And then he watches a powerful transformation. Her eyes are at first wide and fearful, and then they change, they wither, her expression lets go of all seriousness, and another laugh hits him in the face.
He is stunned and shocked, but it is too much for her. She pulls away, looks down at her lap, and shakes with laughter.
“What!” cries Marty.
And now she cannot hold anything back, and her laughter soon bursts. It is loud and merry, free of any spite, but Marty is only hurt by her carelessness. If only she would tell him what was the matter!
She is shaking in her seat now, and her hands are pressed into her eyes as her red lips split and split again, showing her white teeth and tongue delighting in the humor. Her bosom shakes, and she rolls back in her chair, letting out an absolute wail.
Marty finds himself on his feet, ready to bolt. She reaches out to stop him, but she has no power over her fit of hilarity, and she nearly falls from her chair. Marty screams something, she lunges forward to stop him, and as Marty bolts, she falls over the table.
Marty freezes as she gives a genuine cry of fear as the table collapses, and he is caused to hold back. Instead, he finds himself helping her to her feet. She apologizes and thanks him for his support.
He helps her to her seat where she breathes long and deep. Tears are streaming from her eyes, her nose is red, and her lips are held in a permanent yet not active smile. Finally she fixes a knowing look on him.
“My boy,” she says. “How is that for a laughing fortune teller?” Her voice is bitter, and she laughs just to see his expression.
“What was so funny?” he manages to ask.
She grows serious and reaches out to hold his hand in hers once more. “What is your name, boy?”
“M-Marty,” he says.
“Well Marty. I am sorry, but I have foreseen a rather grim future for you. If only your friends were nicer people. If only you didn’t do stupid things because of a dare. If only you chose to make your own judgments of people. If only…’if only’ are the words of a fool, I am afraid. Marty…” Her voice goes suddenly soft, and he has to lean in close to hear her.
“Marty…your life is…doomed—” Marty’s eyes go wide “—to be …” she continues, “a…comedy!”
Marty screams, the fortune teller stumbles back in laughter, and Marty flees the scene.
A few minutes later, a very red and trembling Marty falls into his friends’ arms. They are astounded, in awe, praising Marty as a bold hero, a clever genius, a master comedian, a prince charming!
“How did you make her laugh so hard?” they cry. “What did you say? Tell us! Tell us! You had her on the floor laughing!”
And Billy: “If she was a witch, you defeated her! You killed the witch side of her with laughter!”
But Marty will never tell them what he went through on that day.
Marty was off to find new friends in a new life. Unfortunately for him, this new life was doomed to be, yes, a comedy.