The Fortune

Richard Myers

I've seen them before at carnivals and flea markets - dark complexion, colorful scarves around their heads, crow's marks around the eyes, often a babe balanced on the hip. They're harmless enough, and I'd never before paid them any mind. Oh sure, storekeepers complain about petty thievery, and a farmer may lose an occasional chicken. But I'm no easy mark for Gypsy women. They leave me alone. So it was strange when I saw two of them near the pawn shops on Larimer Street; and the older woman said, "There's a man on a dangerous journey."

I pointed to a newly purchased camp stove under my arm. "Good guess," I said. "Into the wilderness. So what else?" She stretched forth her hand. "For three coins in the palm I shall tell what else."

I dug out three quarters and, wishing they'd been dimes, dropped them into her hand.

"I see a difficult journey to a remote place where few travel."

"Wilderness," I repeated with an edge to my voice. "What else?"

"A high place. Very cold."

"Winter in Colorado. Another guess. Tell me what I don't know."

She dropped the coins into a pocket in her ragged old coat and turned away. As she rounded the corner she paused. "I see death", she said quietly. She was gone.

An empty feeling in my belly turned suddenly to laughter when I realized that me and Chester were counting on a little death this very weekend. We were after high-country Wapiti, the majestic Colorado elk that roam the flat-tops. With any luck we'd put death to a couple of 'em before sundown...

I saved the question till we'd packed the gear to a high meadow just below Retribution Peak. I didn't want to seem too anxious for an answer. "Chester, you believe in fortune tellin'?"

Chester kept right on settin' up the tent as he chuckled, "That what's got you so quiet? You ain't said a word all the way up the mountain. Someone musta told you a bad one."

"Gypsy woman said something about dying in the wilderness."

Chester fell silent for the briefest moment before he answered, "Hell, you ain't dead yet, so start drivin' stakes!" "Chester, you don't believe in nothin'" I laughed, "In any case, I'm sleepin' with my rifle to-night."

By Saturday afternoon we'd scouted Three-Elk meadow without seeing any sign, so we climbed the high ridges above the beaver ponds to scan the area. It was almost dusk when we headed back through Medicine Spring a ceremonial ground where the Cheyenne once danced the ceremony of the sacred arrow. The Cheyenne were long gone, but in our sights were a pair of the biggest, proudest Wapiti we'd ever seen. The bull had already picked up the swish of our snow shoes when we topped the rise, but Chester brought down the cow with a single shot. Grandpa Elk got away, but we had all day tomorrow to track him down.

You might not think a Gypsy woman can see the future; and you might not expect an elk to seek revenge for a lost mate; and I admit that in the dark of the tent I never really saw the instrument of our destruction. But we awakened to a bellowing like a steam train and we fired our rifles in every direction before the tent finally collapsed. I didn't dare move until the morning light showed Chester's skull was cracked, and a Gypsy woman's words were ringing in my ears.

from RMPJ 12/86

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