The carnival was alive with all the coruscations of otherworldly sounds and playful particles of light. A dreamer from another world might be at home here in the terrible pleasures of fiddle litanies, fortune tellers and candy floss spun like the silk of some fantastic spider. Dancers whirled and threw about their lovely muscles upon the stage while children laughed and sang and played. All was a picturesque festival and the village and its people seemed at their happiest.
But happy to those immune to the allure of the magic booth. The sign outside was written in Old English lettering, embossed with gold leaf, and it said that the enchanter inside could read people’s auras. The children were forbidden from entering the booth: to know one’s aura was considered bad luck, and indeed a responsibility too great to be shouldered by the young. Typically, the only people who sought the knowledge of the aura-reader were those faced by some personal crisis: illness, a death in the family, a forbidden or forlorn love, a secret and implacable desire, or perhaps problems with coaxing the harvest to ripe.
They had expected the aura-reader to be some gnarled old woman, possibly wearing a witch’s hat, but certainly with a cat draped on one shoulder and a shimmering shawl of sorts on the other. They had certainly not expected the fresh-faced young man who sat up crossed-legged looking at a dream-catcher on the ceiling, a string of pearls around his neck.
“Welcome,” he murmured as a way of greeting. The villages were to come in two at a time, and leave their donations in a small pot by the tent’s entrance. The soft clink of silver in the pot chimed with the twinkle of metal slivers clicking together on the ends of the dream-catcher. Carefully, a couple took their place upon the rug in front of the aura-reader. They were not married, but in fact brother and sister.
“What is it you seek?” The boy’s voice had the uncanny bristle of a man much older. Yet as he spoke, no wrinkles betrayed his age, nor were there frown-lines to ripple his forehead. His face was as smooth as the skin of a ripe apple.
“Well, we came here because you can read auras,” the man said nervously.
“That I can do.”
“Y-yes.” The smell of incense wafted up from a corner of the boot, filling their heads with the dreamy airiness of distant promises.
“But why do you wish me to read your aura?”
“It sounds exciting,” the woman piped in, pulling back a strand of her ashen hair.
“Perhaps it is.” The boy closed his eyes and hummed gently, the sound seeming to illuminate his translucent skin. The man fidgeted and the woman stared at the boy’s long butterfly lashes and wished she’d been blessed with such an asset.
They waited a good hour or so for the boy to speak again. Time was a wispy thing; a silk-sliver dangling upon the streams his dream-catcher. The boy seemed caught in a trance and it would be a sin to wake him. When he opened his eyes, he stared first at the man and then the woman. He sighed deeply. He closed his eyes, then opened them to look one by one at the couple again, his gaze meeting theirs’ in ephemeral recognition.
“One of you will die a most horrific death,” he said after a pause. They waited with bated breath for him to continue.
“I see it in the after-image. Black: little snivelling swirls of it. It catches at your eyes and ears and makes a fool of your lovely soul. Soon you’ll be deep in the ground, cold.” His slow, emphatic tone savoured every word he spoke.
“But which one of us are you referring to?” the man asked with some desperation. Ignoring this inquest, the boy spoke again. It was just then that the couple noticed the shining bead of light emanating from the centre of his forehead. They tried to ignore it, looking up at the dream catcher as his words filled the tight space.
“The other has a most wonderful aura…such a rich, potent red… you are alive with carnal desires, so urgent and so lusty that I would love myself to reach out and touch you…but it would break the spell. You will live long and powerful and have many children, it is certain. Your body gives spark to the vivacity of your spiritual flesh.” He beamed, but his gaze was directed at the space between the man and the woman: the dark velvet of the curtain behind them.
“So one of us will live pleasantly whilst the other shall die?”
“It is perhaps so, as the colours tell me.”
They looked at each other and sorrow filled their souls as they thought of how the sibling bond between them was bound to inevitably burst. The thought of this sadness kindled a flame of rage and frustration, and it was all they could do to prevent themselves ripping at the boy’s throat; for how dare he cast such wicked slander upon their family? How could it be fair that one should live while the other perish in a most unpleasant death? It seemed a knowledge beyond all reason.
And so mania sizzled through their veins as they crawled from the tent, and once again faced the bright darkness, the fairy lights and lively music, the people and their bodies bumping and dancing and spinning.
“We must lose ourselves,” the man said. “It is the only way.” The sister swore to him that she agreed and so they took themselves off into the woods, stopping by at a seedy-looking stall to pick up the necessary paraphernalia. The needle would be sharp and sweet, as such things are destined always to be.
When they were found, dead, the next day, their bodies were swollen with staggering amounts of morphine. Black pocks marked their skin and already hoards of ants and maggots had begun feasting upon the cloth of their bodies. When the boy was called upon to witness them, he buried his head in his hands in a strained display of emotion.
“What a gorgeous aura – such passion and anguish! – and did they not know that an aura is but transience?”
So under the cherry glacé of a summer’s dawn the boy wept until all the sins crawled out of his soul like impatient worms; until he was a crumple upon the undergrowth, his aura black as a midnight sky or the ore of darkest coal. The ooze and cloud came out of every pore until his body joined his soul – so shrivelled and sad and old.
(Prompts: manic, paraphernalia, booth)
by Maria Rose Sledmere