Thursday, November 18, 2010


By Harris Tobias

The old soothsayer blew into his fist three times and tossed the bones on the rabbit skin. Then he studied their arrangement and drew a diagram on his palm with a charcoal stick. There were many patterns and each was a message from the spirit world. The shaman knew them all by heart but looked it up in the old book anyway as was the custom. He then pointed to the pattern in the book and opened his hand to show that they were the same. Only then did he give his reading.

“There is trouble coming. Two, three days hence. Arm yourself or flee but prepare to meet your fate.”

The young man paled at the pronouncement. It was the second time he had heard it that morning. The same pattern twice in a row from two different shaman. It was unprecedented. This was bad, really bad. Two days maybe three. “What should I do?” he asked the old man, “What’s coming? How do I prepare?” The old man shrugged his bony shoulders. He could say no more than what the bones told him. He rolled up his rabbit skin, returned the bones to their leather sack and held out his hand for payment. The boy placed a copper coin in the dirty palm and walked away.

There was no use in trying another soothsayer—two was enough. His fate was sealed. Big trouble was on its way. He walked down the crowded street lost in thought. He could flee the bones said but could you really escape your fate? What if he sailed across the sea and the boat sank in a storm? or he took a carriage to another city and was killed by highwaymen? Would that be escaping ones fate or rushing to meet it? How could you flee your fate?

He could stay and fight. Arm yourself the bones said. That sounded more noble than fleeing but he was no fighter. He was hopeless with weapons. He’d certainly be killed if he drew a sword on anyone. He was a musician, after all, not a fighter. He had a kind heart and a gentle nature.

Two or three days hence the bones said. Why the uncertainty? It gave him a glimmer of hope. Maybe the bones didn’t know everything. Did it mean that he couldn’t be killed today? And what about that phrase, “There is trouble coming?” What did that mean? When wasn’t there trouble? All his life that’s all there’d ever been. It was the same for everyone in this city. Life was trouble.

So over and over the youth parsed the prediction until he thought he would go mad. He stopped into a tavern and ordered a flagon of ale from a comely wench and took his lute from its sack and started to play. Some people threw coins to him so he ordered dinner. The same shy, pretty girl brought him a bowl of stew and a rusk of bread. He sang to her and she smiled at him. Sated, he sang some more. Singing greatly improved his mood and, sometime later, lying with the serving girl in the barn, boosted his spirits even more.

They spent the next day together. He learned her name and told her his. She was a country girl new to the city. They walked beyond the city walls talking and laughing. The day was fair, the fields full of flowers. They felt a strong attraction for each other as only two young people on the verge of falling in love can. That night they slept together in his bed. The boy was never happier, the soothsayer’s gloomy prediction all but forgotten. The next morning they made plans to meet when her working day was through. She told the boy she loved him and he pledged his love to her. All that day he spent composing love songs and by the evening he had written three.

He went to the tavern to see her. He sat at a table and played his new songs to her as she worked. It was a rough crowd but she flitted amongst the soldiers and farmers like sunlight. A fight broke out, as common an occurrence as ale in a place like that. Knives were drawn and pistols fired. The constables came and hauled the ruffians away. In the confusion, no one noticed the serving girl shot and bleeding in the corner.

The boy felt his heart break. He held her until she died. He wept and cursed his fate. Then he understood the meaning of the soothsayer’s prediction. You can not flee your fate, you can not fight it, you can not even know what form it will take. You can only live your life and accept whatever comes.

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Harris Tobias lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of several novels and dozens of short stories. His fiction has appeared in Ray Gun Revival, The Calliope Nerve, Literal Translations, FriedFiction, Down In The Dirt, Eclectic Flash, E Fiction and several other obscure publications. His poetry has appeared in Vox Poetica, The poem Factory and The Poetry Super Highway. You can find links to his novels at:


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