Maleva the Fortune Teller was camping at the old rest stop on Route 50, and I couldn’t resist stopping by for a visit.
After all, Maleva is a legend. She is famous for warning Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man, about the curse that had befallen him when he was bitten by her own werewolf son. And now here she was in Hillsboro. I was very excited.
The weather across Hillsboro was mild, but it was dark and stormy at the rest stop when I approached Maleva’s small covered wagon. An old horse was tied to a nearby tree, grazing on the weeds and grass.
I peeked inside, where a single flickering candle illuminated her cramped quarters, which featured such oddities as a stuffed crow sitting on a rickety old cabinet, a crooked, knotty cane leaning against a battered tin wash basin, and in the corner a stack of DVDs, including three on top marked “Breaking Bad, Seasons 1-3.”
The tiny old woman sat with her back to me, staring into a crystal ball. Just as I was about to clear my throat to make myself known, she said in her thick Hungarian accent, “Come in, my son.”
I climbed into the wagon and sat down on a small wooden stool on the other side of her wobbly table. She never looked up, instead continuing to stare intensely into the crystal ball which sat in the middle of the table between us.
“You are troubled, my son,” she said.
“Not really,” I answered honestly.
“No, you are troubled,” she insisted. “All who come to me are troubled. Let me see your palm. Good, no pentagram. Most of my visitors are werewolves. If you do not suffer from the ancient curse, then you must want your future told, as it is revealed through the crystal.”
“Uh, sure,” I said. “But my future is probably boring. Can you tell me anything about the future of Hillsboro?”
She held out a withered, trembling hand, and after a moment I realized she was a for-profit enterprise. I reached into my pocket and dropped a few coins into her palm. For the first time, she looked up at me, giving me a stern glaze. I pulled out my wallet and handed her a 20. She nodded and tucked the money into a zipper pouch attached to a nylon belt around her waist.
She turned her attention again to the crystal ball, slowly moving both hands around the small, smoky globe. The candle seemed to flicker more brightly, casting ominous shadows against the tattered canvas of the wagon as the wind howled around us.
After a moment, she said, “I see no trouble in this town.”
I knew that couldn’t be right. “What about our mayor? He’s in lots of trouble.”
“Trouble? For what, my son?” she asked.
“Well, he may not have followed procedure for a $500 rebate he got back from a fee he paid, and he is accused of dumping personal trash into a city dumpster. He could be removed from office.”
Maleva looked up at me for the second time. She appeared confused, and said, “Removed from office? He must be a werewolf or a vampire!”
“Then he must keep townspeople chained in a secret dungeon.”
“He steals the souls from sleeping children?”
“He eats the brains of the living?”
She thought for a moment more, and then asked, “Does he burn down churches? Torture small animals? Poison the food? Steal the crops?”
She leaned forward and whispered, “In my town of Vasaria, in the old country, our mayor did all those things.”
“Wow,” I said. “Did you get rid of him?’
“Get rid of him?” she answered. “No, we re-elected him with 99 percent of the vote. He was much kinder than his opponent, whose campaign slogan was, ‘If Elected, I Will Kill You In Your Sleep.’”
She paused, and then asked, “So, this mayor who is in trouble. Does he worship the devil? Drink goat’s blood?”
“No,” I said.
Maleva shook her head slowly. “So let me understand. He is in trouble because he got money back that he paid, and he threw trash into a dumpster?”
“Oh, it’s not that simple,” I tried to explain. “There are procedures, and laws, and there’s a big investigation going on. Oh, and he says things on Facebook that upsets people sometimes.”
She nodded and patted my hand. “It sounds terrifying,” she said. “Try to stay strong. Meanwhile I must prepare to return to Vasaria. I don’t want to miss the Festival of the Bells.”
“Oh, you have one of those, too? So do we!” I said, happy that we may have finally found something to which we could both relate.
“How nice,” she said, brightening a little. “At your festival, do they tie the townspeople upside down inside the giant bells to use their skulls as the clappers? It makes the bells ring so loudly.”
“Uh, no,” I said.
“Then I think our festivals must be different,” she said with a shrug.
I stood up to say goodbye, but before I left, she reached into a small wooden box and withdrew a tiny silver cross on a chain. She carefully placed it around my neck.
“To ward off vampires?” I asked, truly grateful for her thoughtfulness.
“No,” she said, holding out her hand. “That will be $29.95, please. I’m in town until midnight. Tell your friends.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.