Drawing of a crystal ball, inside is a snow-capped mountain range, with pine trees in the foreground. Caption reads: "It was meant to be a joke."

Fortune short story by Iris Carden

It was meant to be a joke, a bit of fun.

Kate didn’t really believe in fortune telling. She’d entered Madame Zarina’s tent and handed over her money, as a joke, a fun thing she could talk about when she got home.

In the dark, cluttered space, the old woman with the bright headscarf, who looked like an old movie stereotype of a fortune teller, ushered her to a seat at a small round table. A crystal ball sat in the centre of the table. Madame Zarina sat at the opposite side, and moved her hands over the ball. Then she looked intently into the glass.

All Kate could see in the ball was the reflection of the overcrowded room.

“You enjoyed your trip to the mountains at the start of your holiday. The skiing was good, I see.”

Kate nodded. She had gone to the mountains and been skiing, but then, probably every tourist here had. She was waiting for a cliche, like “you will meet a handsome stranger.” What she heard was something different.

“The elephant tattoo. Beware of the man with the elephant tattoo.”

How had she known Geoffrey had an elephant tattoo? Kate was sure she hadn’t mentioned her stalker ex-husband to anyone. She had chosen this holiday at the last minute, to get as far as she could from Geoffrey while she planned her future. She had no friends left, because all the friends she’d been allowed were “couple” friends. So she’d gone alone.

The old woman grabbed Kate’s arm, the long fingernails almost piercing the skin. “Do not go back to the hotel! He is there already. He’s waiting to kill you. Run.”

Kate was shaken. Surely the old woman couldn’t really read anything in the crystal ball, but she shouldn’t have known anything about Geoffrey.

Kate walked around the street market in a daze for a while.

She had her credit card, travellers’ cheques and passport in a money belt tucked inside her clothes, as she’d read online this was the safest way to carry important documents in a foreign country. Her phone, in her handbag, had copies of her airline ticket.

If she believed Madame Zarina, she could actually avoid going back to the hotel. She could abandon her souvinirs, her other clothes, and her suitcase, and just go to the airport and try to change to an earlier flight.

But she didn’t believe Madame Zarina, did she? That was all nonsense. The elephant tattoo was just a coincidence, surely. Geoffrey couldn’t be there. Not leaving the country was a condition of his parole.

Determined that she actually believed common sense ahead of superstitious nonsense, Kate returned to her hotel. As she walked through the lobby, the front desk attendant called her over.

“Ms Acton,” she said, “you really should have told us you were having a second person in the room, we’re going to have to charge you an extra fee.”

“What second person?” Kate asked, her heart suddenly beating faster.

“Your husband arrived while you were out. He’s already up in your room.”

“Oh, my husband. Of course. I hadn’t realised he was coming. I have to duck out for something I forgot. Yes, absolutely add that extra charge to the bill. You’ve got my credit card on file, or my husband can pay.”

Kate practically ran out of the hotel. She found a taxi, and went straight to the airport. She would contact the authorities, once she was safely away, but for now, she would take the old woman’s advice and run.


In Australia, if you are dealing with domestic violence issues, you help is available at 1800RESPECT.

In Australia, on average, one woman a week is murdered by a current or former domestic partner. Source

If you want to know about the women who don’t manage to escape violent men, Counting Dead Women tells the stories of women who die by violence.

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.

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