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At the Elephant Corners

by Rudi Dornemann

It took Sylvie all morning, steering her motorbike through crowded market streets and up stairway alleys, before she found the corner and the four bas-relief elephants, right where the fortune teller said they'd be, sculpted into the stone of each building at the intersection. The second-floor balconies perched like howdahs on the backs of the elephants, and the doors were half-hidden in the legs that were the buildings' front corners.

Sylvie tugged the bell-pull by the knee of the blue elephant's door-leg, heard a faint chime and the sound of feet down stairs. The door opened; a woman bent from the second step. She wore a long dress, black and covered with tiny glinting beads, her hair wrapped in a white towel, as if just washed. She curled her hand in a gesture that seemed to mean Sylvie should follow, and led the way up.

The fortune woman had said Sylvie would die, soon and horribly, if she didn't stay in the elephant long enough to hear three things.

They came up into bright sunlight on the howdah-porch. Beyond it, the room went back into shadows. Sylvie saw couches and cushions on which more women in dark dresses sat or lounged. Incense so heavy she nearly sneezed. From below, the sputter-pop of her motorbike, someone stealing it, or trying to, and almost ran back down the stairs.

A life-size silver gorilla sculpture, on top of which someone had left a dusty bowler hat.

"For any who visit,” said the woman. "You can go no farther bare-headed."

Sylvie put it on. The thief had the bike motor rumbling close to the right note. Sylive's palms sweated; ever since the last accident, she knew every time she started the bike, every time made a delivery, it might lead to a final accident. That's why she'd found the fortune teller.

The whine of her bike increasingly distant as Syvie walked into the room, stepping around cushions. This must have been the fortune teller's plan. Send her here so her bike would be stolen, and she couldn't die in a crash.

"Not many find us," said the woman. That was two.

Sylvie had escaped death, but, without a bike, she doubted there was anything the fortune woman could to do to avoid Debtors' Island.

"What is this place?" said Sylvie.

"It is the fortune tellers' school." The woman spread her arms. Smiled. Women on the nearer couches looked up. "And you are our newest student."


Brilliant. Even considering my soft spot for stories with elephants and hats.

Posted by: Dan | April 13, 2009 3:44 PM

Thanks! Clearly you're my target audience, and, as I continue to triangulate your taste in fiction ever more precisely, I believe you can look forward to future stories about elephant-shaped hats (or, better, hat-shaped elephants...)

Posted by: Rudi | April 14, 2009 2:52 AM

so informative, thanks to tell us.

Posted by: rorUnsado | September 30, 2010 1:15 AM

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