Photograph of a gypsy looking into the camera, her hands hovering above a crystal ball

The old gypsy stared into the smoke and flames of the campfire. “Every fire has its own story to tell,” Vano said.

Through the smoke, Patrin squinted across at the old gypsy. “We all have our stories to tell, my friend,” Patrin said.

“This is true,” Vano said. “But it isn’t true that all of us tell our stories.”

Patrin continued to stare across at Vano. The black sky was punctured with millions of stars. Patrin turned his gaze to the sky. “Up there, the stars have their stories too,” he said. “Each of them was born into a certain time and fill a specific space. We are like the stars, born of our time, and fill our space.”

“Yes, we are born of our time, but each of us fills his space with a different vigor,” Vano said. “Some of us like this life, some of us don’t. Therein lie the comedy and tragedy of life.”

“Life is not so easily defined, my friend,” Patrin said. “The great philosophers still quarrel over the meaning of life.”

“Great philosophers, humph,” said Vano. “They quarrel over trivialities. There is no meaning to life. It is, that’s all.”

“Can it be so easily described?” Patrin asked.

“Sure, why not? Why go on about things that can never be understood,” Vano said.

“You do not believe in a higher existence, something beyond the stars?” Patrin asked.

“Beyond the stars exist more stars. They go on forever. What we see, we see, what we don’t, we don’t. Have your great philosophers explain that.”

“It is true that there is great mystery in the stars, but in this fire, too, exists all the mysteries of the universe,” Patrin said. “In every particle exists a piece of every other particle. My blood runs in your blood, your blood runs in mine. This is the nature of life.”

Patrin and Vano had been friends for a long time and traveled together, along with Isra and Lavinia, who were seers. Their lives existed in travel and storytelling, and they survived on the little money they received from foretelling the future. Isra had a gift for seeing the future in her crystal ball and Lavinia read it in the palm of a hand, while Patrin and Vano sharpened knives and scissors. Their lives were not easy, but they never complained.

They traveled in a turquoise and white 1964 VW bus. They slept outside whenever the weather allowed, but during stormy nights, they slept comfortably inside the bus. They traveled without care.

Before turning in, and knowing how the desert grows cold at night, Vano added more wood to the fire. Wrapped in his sleeping bag, he stared up into the endless night, wondering if God did exist. If He did, why did He remain such an enigma? But was He an enigma? Maybe we just weren’t looking in the right places. Vano recalled a passage from The Great Canon of Repentance by St. Andrew: “When God so wills, the natural order is overcome; for He does whatever He wishes.”

Vano looked over at Patrin, still sitting next to the fire, lost in thought. Patrin was an old soul, Vano thought. Out of place. It is a sad thing to be incongruous with the time in which you live. Sad for Patrin, Vano thought, but fortunate for us who know him because he adds so much wisdom to our lives.

“My friend, you should get some sleep,” Vano said.

“Yes, I agree,” Patrin said. “I will check on the ladies. They are quiet.”

“I was just thinking the same thing,” Vano said. “On such a quiet night, I miss the sound of their voices. Strange how we get used to things, even take things for granted until they are missing or gone. Tell them goodnight for me.”

Patrin stood up and walked to the VW bus. The bus was dark so he guessed Isra and Lavinia had already fallen asleep. Yet he wanted to check on them, so he opened the side door as quietly as he could, knowing that the slightest disturbance would awaken them. When he peeked inside, Lavinia looked over at him from her bunk.

“There you are,” Lavinia said. “We have been wondering about the two of you, lost in deep philosophy. We thought you might go on all night.”

“Is everything all right?” Patrin asked.

“Yes, as you can see,” Lavinia said. Isra looked down from the bunk above. “Will you be warm enough by the fire?” Isra asked.

“We will be fine,” he said. “Do you have everything you need?”

“Everything?” Isra said. “That is an open question. You are the philosopher, tell me, do we?”

“As a philosopher, as you call me, I have to say, yes, we have no other choice than to believe that we have everything we need. Otherwise, we become disenchanted.”

“Then, yes, we have everything we need,” Isra said.

“Good,” Patrin said. “I will say goodnight then and wish you peaceful dreams.”

“Same to you,” Isra said.

Patrin walked back to the fire and crawled into his sleeping bag, looking over at Vano. “Goodnight, my friend,” he said.

Vano looked over at Patrin, and then upward at the stars that went on forever. “Goodnight, my friend. ‘There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ Peaceful sleep.”

Patrin smiled. “This is true,” he said.

In the morning, Vano busied himself with rekindling the fire and preparing the coffee pot. Patrin had walked down to the river to wash. Isra and Lavinia had not yet come out of the bus. The desert air was cold and Vano moved in a state of excitement. Once they had their breakfast, and the bus was packed, they would be on the road for Carrizozo for the cherry cider festival, an opportunity to showcase their gypsy legacy.

The fire was blazing when Isra and Lavinia came out of the bus, hurrying to the warmth of the fire. Vano poured them cups of coffee and they stood with their backs to the blaze. Both of them had to pee but were reluctant to move away from the fire.

“Good morning, lovelies,” Vano said. “And how did you sleep?”

“Very comfortably, thank you,” Isra said. “And this coffee is pure heaven.”

“I’m glad you like it. It is my special gypsy blend,” Vano said with a laugh.

“Gypsy blend?” Lavinia said. “Made with juniper berries and tree bark, I presume.”

“Juniper berries, yes, but no tree bark. I find tree bark very difficult to swallow.”

“Who swallows? I use the coffee only to heat my hands,” Lavinia said.

“But it is meant to drink. Like life,” Vano said.

Patrin came up from the river and greeted Isra and Lavinia. “You look refreshed, Patrin,” Isra said.

“It always amazes me that the river is never disturbed when I dip my hands into it. It doesn’t see it as an intrusion at all,” Patrin said.

“Speaking of intrusions, my bladder is intruding on my desire to stay here close to the fire,” Isra said.

After setting her cup on a nearby log, Isra hurried into the woods, followed by Lavinia. Vano handed a cup of coffee to Patrin, who took it eagerly. “On to our next adventure, eh, Vano?” Patrin said. “I am looking forward to visiting Carrizozo. How far is it?”

“Not far. Of course, nothing is far when one thinks about it. Even the stars. I studied them a long time last night and they seemed to pull me to them. For a while, I was a star. Just as the river welcomes your cold hands, the stars welcomed me among them. They hold many secrets but are always willing to share them,” Vano said.

“We should be in Carrizozo by this afternoon?” Patrin asked.

“Yes, easily,” Vano said, finishing his coffee. “If we break camp soon, that is.”

The gypsies were on the road in the early light of morning. From Los Lunas to Carrizozo was just over 130 miles on Highway 60 to 55. The VW bus was slow but reliable. Since the gypsies were always traveling from here to there, slow was good.

They pulled into Carrizozo before noon, stopping at a small store to ask directions to the festival. The clerk, who had never seen a gypsy, was hesitant to talk to them. But Vano was patient and was able to get directions. Carrizozo was a small town and they had no problems finding the town plaza. Booths were already being set up. Vano found an open area under a cottonwood tree and parked the bus. Isra, who had been sitting in the passenger seat of the bus, stepped out and opened the side doors for Lavinia and Patrin.

They knew what needed to be done and they moved with precision to set up their booth. The festival would not begin until tomorrow, but people had already crowded into town and would be exploring the plaza. Regulations for the festival were loose and none of the regulations prevented them from seeing to the needs of people who happened to stop by their booth before the official start of the festival.

Isra and Lavinia were always the main attraction because of their gifts for foretelling the future. People wanted to know what lay ahead. This had always struck Patrin as strange and contrary since it seemed to him that that would be the last thing anyone would want to know.

The day was crisp and the yellow and orange leaves crunched underneath their footsteps as they moved about getting ready. Their booth consisted of a long table behind which sat Isra, with her crystal ball, and Lavinia. Inside the back of the bus, from which a table folded down, Patrin and Vano had their sharpening instruments, whetstones, grinding wheels, honing steels, razor strops, all kinds of tools for razor-like edges.

Passersby slowed down as they passed in front of the table but no one stopped. Isra thought this peculiar.

A young man passed by but walked only a short distance before turning around, passing by slower this time. Isra watched as he walked past other booths, looking over his shoulder. She knew he would turn again. He did.

As he approached the table, he slowed but didn’t stop. Sensing his reluctance, she smiled. Her smile was warm and genuine and the young man hesitated, paralyzed by uncertainty. He approached slowly.

“Good afternoon,” Isra said. “A fine day, yes?”

The young man looked around. It was a fine day and he smiled and nodded. Vano came up to the table with two jugs and a handful of cups.

“You have to try some of this,” he said and poured out a cup of cherry cider for Isra. “Would you like to try some?” he asked the young man. The young man shook his head, “No, thank you.”

“Oh, but you must,” he insisted and poured out a cup for the young man and handed it to him.

“I hope I am not interrupting anything,” Vano said.

“No, not at all,” Isra said. She sipped the cider. “This is amazing.”

“Yes, it is, isn’t it? And I have apple cider, too.”

“I was just about to introduce myself to this young man,” Isra said. “My name is Isra. And you?”

The young man hesitated before saying, “My name’s Jep.”

“Jep, it is a privilege to meet you,” Isra said. “This interesting character with the jugs of cider is Vano.”

“It is nice to meet you,” Jep said.

“My honor, sir,” Vano said. “Now you have to try the apple cider. It is bliss.” Vano set two cups on the table and filled them with apple cider, handing one of them to Jep. As quickly as he had appeared, he turned around and disappeared.

Jep, holding the two cups of cider, watched Vano walk briskly away. He then turned back to Isra. “Do you really tell futures?” he asked.

“I do,” she said. “I don’t need to tell futures to see that something is troubling you, however.” She stood up and walked back to the bus, hurrying back with a chair that she positioned in front of the table. “Won’t you have a seat?” she asked Jep.

“Thank you.” Jep sat down and set the cups on the table.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Isra asked. “Not only am I a fortune teller, but I am a good listener. As you can see, I have traveled to many places and heard many stories.”

“I can only imagine,” Jep said. “I haven’t done much traveling. I had wanted to, but life kind of got in the way.”

“That happens,” Isra said. “I hear this all the time. We get busy. And when we think we are looking at the sunrise, we realize that we are staring into the sunset instead. But you are young. Don’t get too busy.”

“I guess I do have time now,” Jep said. “My life changed. Not gradually but all of a sudden.”

“Tell me about it,” Isra said.

“It hurts a little still, after three months,” Jep said. “There was a car accident. I fell asleep. I didn’t mean to but it happened. We ran off the road and my wife and daughter were killed.” Jep turned away, tears filling his eyes. He struggled to go on.

“You don’t have to tell me any more if you’re not up to it,” Isra said. “I can see your heart is broken. It isn’t just a little broken but broken in the worst way possible. We’ve all had to live through brokenness, but this is harsh brokenness. I am sorry.”

Jep turned back to Isra, “Do you really see things in there?” he asked, pointing to the crystal ball.

“Sometimes,” she said.

“How does it work?” he asked.

“I’m not sure. I have had this gift since I was very young. When I first look into the ball, it is cloudy, like there’s a heavy fog there. You know how sometimes in your soul, you feel the weight of a thousand years?” Isra said.

“Yeah, I know that feeling. In my heart right now, I feel this heavy fog. It won’t lift. I walk and walk but never escape the fog. It goes on forever. It feels as if I am walking in circles. Maybe the fog is just a small patch, but I can’t find a way out because I am just walking in circles.”

“Yes, that’s it,” Isra said. “This fog is thick and it is hard to know how deep it is or where it ends. This is what I see when I look into the ball. And then, once in a while, the fog lifts, and a light appears. With this light, things become clearer. This is what happens, and then I know the crystal ball is going to show me something. I am never in the picture, only the person who sits across from me.”

“Can you see anything in there now?” Jep asked.

“Do you want me to try?” Isra asked.

“How much does it cost?”

“For you, the picture, if it exists, is a gift,” Isra said.

“I hate to put you out,” Jep said. “You have already given up a lot of your time.”

“What is time? Nothing but an illusion. Time doesn’t exist inside the crystal ball. That is why the fog sometimes lifts and a picture appears. The picture is there, inside you, in your heart. You just don’t know it’s there because you have been conditioned to believe that only what you see with your eyes truly exists. But that is the illusion. What you see with your eyes is a small sliver of what exists.”

Isra pressed close to the crystal ball, and Jep bent in closer. She stared at the ball and then up at Jep.

“Is there something there?” Jep asked.

“There is,” Isra said. Jep watched Isra as she turned her attention back to the crystal ball. “I see the tear in your heart. A large open wound. You have the worst kind of disease imaginable. Inconsolable grief. This wound cannot be healed by you alone. You have neither the skills nor the weapons to repair this hole.” Isra looked at Jep.

“But does it tell you anything else? Will I live with this wound for the rest of my life?”

Isra turned back to the crystal ball. As she studied it intently, Vano came from behind the bus carrying the jug of cherry cider. Isra ignored him, but Jep’s focus shifted to Vano.

When Vano saw that Isra was intent on the crystal ball, he turned on his heels and retreated. But Jep was caught off guard and looked around, not sure what he was doing there. Isra noticed his discomfort and sat back in her chair, cussing Vano under her breath.

“You are deeply troubled, my friend,” she said. “I can teach you the skills you will need to repair this wound, but you must find your own weapons. The weapons alone won’t heal your grief since you don’t know how to use them. And the skills without the weapons are useless.”

Jep kept looking over his shoulder. Isra, seeing his nervousness, reached out her hand and placed it on his hand. Jep looked down at Isra’s hand and then up at her.

“How long?” he asked.

Isra at first didn’t understand his question. “How long? For what, my friend?” she asked.

“Would it take to learn the skills?” he asked.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time. We will only be here for two days.”

“What can you teach me in two days? I hate to ask but I don’t know where else to turn,” Jep said.

“We will do what we can do,” she said. “Of course, let’s begin. But first, I need you to do something.”

“Anything,” Jep said.

“In the desert lie many secrets,” Isra began. “You have to take advantage of this. The festival begins tomorrow and there will be many people. I am asking you to seek solitude in the desert tonight, and tomorrow I will come to you in the afternoon.”

“Where? I don’t understand,” Jep said. “How will you find me?”

“You don’t have much faith in me as a fortune teller if you don’t believe I can find you,” Isra said. “I will prepare the things I need tonight and come to you tomorrow. Trust me, I will find you. But it will be late in the afternoon, just before sunset. I must attend to business here during the day.”

“But I don’t have a tent or even a sleeping bag,” Jep said.

“That’s not a problem, I can provide you with a tent and sleeping bag. But you must be in the desert tonight. Alone.”

“I understand,” Jep said. “I mean, I don’t understand the reason behind it, but I understand what I must do. I have to tell you that I’m not comfortable with being alone in the desert.”

“Are you not alone now?” Isra asked. “Trust me, you’ll be fine. And tomorrow before sunset, I will come to you.”

Isara walked to the VW bus and brought back a backpack filled with food, a sleeping bag, and a tent. “Here is everything you’ll need for tonight and tomorrow. I will come to you tomorrow night.”’

Jep took the backpack from Isra, told her thank you, turned slowly, and walked away, looking over his shoulder. He wasn’t even out of sight before she turned back to the bus. Vano and Patrin were sitting in folding chairs behind the bus when she walked up to them. They could tell that she was deeply troubled.

“A sad case,” Vano said. Isra looked at him, tears rolling down her cheeks. She shook her head and walked away. Vano caught up to her, and when she turned to him, she said, “There is nothing I can do for him.”

“What did you see?” Vano asked.

“The worst thing imaginable,” she said. “At least, the worst thing imaginable for the living. For him, maybe it isn’t the worst thing imaginable. I told him that I could help him, but I can’t. His future is set.”

“What do you intend to do?” Vano asked.

“I will go to him as I promised, tomorrow before sunset,” she said. “That is all I can do. When nothing more can be done, we go, we sit with them, we console. This is what members of the tribe do for each other.”

It was a short distance from the plaza to the edge of town, and from the edge of town to the solitude of the desert took Jep less than an hour. By the time he set up the tent and started a fire, it was the quiet time of day between dusk and darkness. Isra had packed coffee and a coffee pot, along with cheese and bread, so Jep, sitting close to the fire, sipping the dark coffee, felt a sense of contentment fall over him along with the darkness. For the first time in a long time, Jep felt relief from the weight of grief.

The night was quiet and Jep’s mind was at ease, looking up into the sky. He was such a small piece of everything, why did his worries seem so great? If he disappeared, there would be no shift in the universe. Not even a wiggle.

Instead of adding to his anguish, this thought eased his mind. His life didn’t matter. But this didn’t relieve the feeling of despair he felt when he thought of his wife and daughter. The vastness of the universe could not swallow up his grief.

From the corner of his eye, something moved. There was a stir in the brush. Not so much movement as a whisper of movement. But enough that it caught his attention. Turning slowly in the direction of the noise, allowing his eyes time to adjust, Jep peered into the darkness. In the thick rabbitbrush and scrub pinyon, something moved. Slowly, he set his cup on the ground and eased his hands underneath his butt, bracing himself against the unknown.

When three figures rushed from the copse, Jep jumped to his feet and ran. In the dark, he stumbled over tall sagebrush. Scrambling on his hands and knees, he looked over his shoulder. In the dim light from the campfire, he saw three coyotes or wild dogs. Running in a tight circle, the three dogs chased each other, raising a cloud of dust and scattering everything in their path.

His arms behind him, his legs crab-walking wildly, Jep scrambled to keep his distance. The wild dogs, intent on each other, took no notice of him. Backing against a juniper tree, he managed to stand and slip around the tree, away from the ruckus. As he watched, he began to realize that the dogs, instead of chasing each other, were performing some kind of ritual, one he didn’t understand.

Mesmerized, Jep continued to watch, as the ritual moved closer. As suddenly as they had appeared, they were gone, the whirl of dogs moving further into the desert. Jep stared at the chaos left behind. His tent had been flattened and the campfire reduced to sparks and embers.

Taking a deep breath, Jep moved from behind the juniper tree and walked back to what was left of his campsite. He picked up the coffee pot and stirred the fire, adding more wood. The night was cold and he needed the warmth. Once the fire was blazing, he tried to put the tent back together, but it was hopeless.

Sitting in front of the fire, he began to doubt what he’d seen. Was it possible? He looked around at the disarray, unable to ignore what he saw. As hard as it was to believe, what was left behind proved that it had happened. The question going through his mind now was, What did it mean?

His nerves were frazzled and he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep. Through the night, he huddled in the cold next to the fire.

Isra couldn’t sleep, worrying about Jep. Knowing what a night in the desert was like, she knew he was feeling alone and abandoned. Awakened by Isra’s tossing and turning, Lavinia reached across. “What’s wrong?” Lavinia asked.

Isra stepped out of her bunk and motioned to Lavinia to follow her outside. Lavinia threw her shawl around her shoulders and followed Isra. Isra shivered against the cold night air. “It’s Jep,” she said.

“That young man you were talking to earlier today?” Lavinia asked.

“Yes. I am worried about him.”

“You saw something?”

“Yes. There is nothing that can be done,” Isra said.

“He is out there tonight?” Lavinia asked, looking toward the desert.

Isra nodded. “I feel helpless,” she said. “Never before, since I first discovered that I could see the future, have I felt such a sense of dread and foreboding. He is in danger, and I feel helpless.”

“We should go to him,” Lavinia said. “Tonight.”

“What can we do?” Isra asked. “I am afraid that we are powerless against the evil that confronts him.”

“We must try, he is alone. He has no other hope.”

Isra stared back at Lavinia, trying to find the courage needed to battle this evil. “Lavinia, I have to admit, I am afraid. This is an evil I have never seen before. I feel defenseless against its power.”

“This doesn’t matter, we must go,” Lavinia said.

“Yes. We must. But I fear we are too late,” Isra said.

“All the more reason to go now,” Lavinia said. Isra stared into the desert, paralyzed by fear. Grabbing Isra’s shoulders, Lavinia turned her. “Now, we must go now. Get your things.”

Dazed, Isra looked hard at Lavinia, and then over her shoulder. Muttering, Isra walked back to the bus and Lavinia followed. Inside, Isra asked if they should wake up Vano and Patrin? “No,” Lavinia said. “This is up to us. They would be of no help.”

Isra and Lavinia gathered their heaviest shawls and grabbed the lantern. The night was cold and dark. Isra’s mind was whirling out of control. Under her breath, she kept repeating, “Stay calm, stay calm, think, think, think.” Seeing the distress etched in Isra’s face, Lavinia guided her out of the bus. They hesitated in front of the tent where Vano and Patrin slept, looked at each other, and then, arm in arm, made their way across the plaza, moving hurriedly toward the edge of the desert.

Once they had cleared the limits of the small town, Isra lit the wick in the lantern. The lantern cast a shallow light, but Isra knew where they needed to go. Their step was quick and sure, and as they approached, they smelled the smoke from Jep’s campfire. Isra hesitated, grabbing Lavinia’s arm, afraid of what she might see. Lavinia urged her on.

As they approached the small clearing, they saw Jep, staring blindly into the fire. Handing the lantern to Lavinia, Isra knelt, looking into Jep’s eyes. The hollowness she saw there startled her. She shook Jep’s shoulders but there was no response.

“Jep, it’s me, Isra,” she said. He didn’t respond. Isra turned to look into the fire, hoping to see what he saw. The fire twisted and swirled and she saw nothing there. She looked up at Lavinia.

“Shhh…,” Lavinia whispered. “Did you hear that?”

Isra stood. Holding her breath, she listened. Off in the distance, she heard the howl. It seemed to come from miles away, but Isra knew that it was close. And it was coming closer. She reached for Lavinia. “What is it?” Lavinia asked. Isra stared off into the distance.

They knew that they needed to leave, but they couldn’t leave Jep, who was paralyzed by fear. Isra tried to think, what, what, but in her panic, she couldn’t focus. The only thought that came to her, the desert is a lonely place, the desert is a lonely place.

She shivered against the cold and moved closer to the fire, but she knew there was no protection against what was coming. The thought came to them at the same time, one of them needed to run for help, and one of them needed to stay behind with Jep.

Isra knelt in front of Jep, holding the lantern up to his eyes, shaking him by the shoulder. “Jep, we need to leave this place,” she pleaded with him. He stared at her, his lips moving.

“What? What are you trying to say?” she asked.

“I saw,” he mumbled.

Isra waited but nothing more came out of his mouth. “You saw what?” Isra asked. She looked up at Lavinia, who was looking off in the distance. She turned to Isra, her face frozen.

“It’s getting closer,” Lavinia said.

Isra turned back to Jep. “We have to go,” she said. “What did you see? Jep, listen to me. What did you see?”

“Them,” he said.

“Who? Your family?”

“My wife and daughter. They were dancing with the devil,” Jep said. Isra leaned in closer to make out what he was saying.

“You saw your wife and daughter?” she asked, setting the lantern down.

“Dancing,” he said.

“Listen, Jep, that wasn’t the devil. You have to listen to me,” Isra said, holding Jep’s face between her hands. “What you saw were tricksters, the worst kind. And they mean us harm. We don’t have much time.”

When Isra looked up at Lavinia, she saw the panic on her face. “You need to go,” Isra said. “Now. You need to get Vano and Patrin. I’ll stay here. Go. Now!”

Lavinia stared down at Isra, unable to move. Isra rushed to her, taking her by the shoulders. “Lavinia, now! Get help.”

Stumbling, Lavinia didn’t know in what direction to go. Isra reached back for the lantern, handed it to Lavinia, turned her in the right direction, and urged her to leave. Isra watched as Lavinia began to run. Once she was out of sight, Isra returned to Jep.

“Jep, we need to move, over there, behind those trees. It isn’t far, you can do it. I need you to help. Do you hear me? Now!”

Isra tried to pull Jep to his feet. She bent low and pulled as hard as she could, but he didn’t budge. As she struggled, she continued to look over her shoulder in the direction of the threat.

Lavinia was out of breath when she reached the tent. Kneeling in front of the tent, she pulled the flap aside and reached the lantern inside. Roused from a heavy sleep, Vano and Patrin were startled by the light.

“What?” Vano said. “Who’s there?” Unable to catch her breath, Lavinia moved the lantern aside and stuck her head farther into the tent.

“Oh, it is you,” Vano said. “What time is it?”

“Never mind,” she began, “you must come with me. Now.”

Patrin, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, asked, “What is it? It is the middle of the night.”

“Isra is in trouble,” she said.

“Where?” Vano asked. “What kind of trouble?”

“I don’t have time to explain. We must go.”

Patrin didn’t hesitate, and in his rush to get outside, Lavinia was thrown aside. Lavinia steadied herself and followed him to the VW bus, where he rushed inside for his cloak and cap. He was back outside, standing next to Lavinia before Vano had made his way out of the tent.

“You must hurry,” Patrin said to Vano.

“I am doing my best,” Vano said, struggling to step up inside the VW bus. Patrin and Lavinia could hear his cursing from inside as he looked for his cloak. Patrin paced about. As soon as Vano’s head cleared the side doors of the VW bus, Patrin grabbed Lavinia’s arm and urged her to show them the way. Vano ran after them.

When they saw the glow from the campfire, they slowed to a walk. Patrin whispered, “What are we going to find?”

“When we arrived at Jep’s campsite, he was frozen with fear, unable to tell us what he’d seen. He kept mumbling something about his wife and daughter, how he’d seen them dancing with the devil. Isra tried to explain to him that it wasn’t the devil but tricksters,” Lavinia said.

A worried look came over Patrin and he turned to Vano.

“What else?” Vano asked.

“There was a noise, off in the distance. A horrible noise. A scream of sorts. Something I’ve never heard before,” Lavinia said. “It was coming closer. This is when Isra yelled at me to get help, and I left.”

They moved cautiously toward the campfire. Every few steps, Patrin would stop to listen. He had taken the lantern from Lavinia and held it out in front of him. He looked around for a stick that he could use as a club, finding a crooked branch from a pinyon tree. It was unwieldy but he didn’t have time to find anything more suitable. At the edge of the clearing, they could see the fire, but Isra wasn’t there.

Patrin turned to Lavinia and Vano, not knowing what to do. This was Isra’s realm, not his. Whenever any of them were confounded by the mysteries of the spiritual world, they turned to Isra for guidance. Without her to rely on, they felt helpless. But they had to do something.

They approached the fire, sorting through the chaos. The tent and sleeping bag had been shredded and around the campfire, they saw the disturbance that could only have been left by a pack of wild dogs.

“He kept mumbling something about wild dogs,” Lavinia said. “Yes, I remember now. This can only be the work of some kind of wild animal.”

Holding the lantern, Patrin bent low to the ground inspecting the claw marks. He backed away from the fire, his focus still on the ground, looking for other signs. There had to be footprints. Isra couldn’t have simply disappeared. Although he’d seen things he couldn’t explain, he’d never seen anyone disappear without an explanation.

Vano joined Patrin, looking over Patrin’s shoulder at the disturbed ground. From time to time, he looked up at Lavinia, standing close to the fire, wringing her hands. To Vano, it seemed as if Lavinia had drifted away, far, far away.

Patrin stopped and knelt, holding the lantern close to the ground. He brushed the dirt away, uncovering a footprint. Vano knelt next to Patrin, trying to make out what had caught Patrin’s attention. There it was. It was a boot print, a gypsy’s boot. Isra’s boot.

Patrin looked at Vano. “It’s Isra’s,” Vano said.

Patrin moved cautiously, careful not to disturb the footprints, which led away from the fire toward the copse of juniper and pinyon trees. Vano and Lavinia followed close behind.

Patrin stopped, holding the lantern up. A long scream came to them from off in the distance. Patrin turned to Vano. Vano had heard it. It was a howl the likes of which they’d never heard before. Swallowing their fear, they moved in the direction of the scream, no longer looking for boot prints.

The desert grew darker and darker as they moved away from the campsite, but no matter how far they moved in the direction of the howls, they never seemed to get any closer. Several minutes had passed, none of them could be sure how many because they had become disoriented.

Becoming more and more disoriented, they stopped. Patrin still held the lantern but the darkness consumed them. “I’m afraid we aren’t getting anywhere,” he said. Lavinia held onto his arm, hoping that they would decide to go back to the bus.

“Are we lost?” Vano asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” Patrin said. “But I don’t see any point in going on.”

Dejectedly, they made their way back to their campsite at the plaza. Their worries had left them drained and feeling defeated. Patrin set the lantern down and opened the side doors of the VW bus. Picking it up and shining it into the bus, all of them were startled to see Isra sitting on her bunk.

Lavinia rushed inside and hugged Isra. “What?” she managed to say.

“I don’t know,” Isra said. “I lost Jep. I don’t know what happened. I am in as much of a fog as you are.”

“I don’t understand,” Lavinia began, “Jep is gone? Where?”

“I have no idea. There was such a storm of dust and chaos that we had to flee. I couldn’t get Jep up, so I drug him as far as I could before collapsing. From behind an uprooted tree, I could just make out the wild dogs. But they weren’t wild dogs. They were tricksters, just as I had warned Jep against. I knew they weren’t dogs because of the way they behaved. Only evil spirits behave in such a chaotic and unpredictable manner. When the dust blotted out the glow from the fire, I couldn’t see anything, I could only hear the mayhem. As the ruckus grew closer, I moved to throw myself over Jep because I knew he was defenseless, and that is when I discovered he wasn’t there. When the whirlwind of dust and noise passed over me, I crawled on my hands and knees looking for him, calling his name. But he was nowhere to be found. I made my way back to his camp, but he wasn’t there. I waited for what seemed like an eternity. And when he didn’t come back, I made my way back here. Discovering that you were gone, I knew you were searching for me, so I thought it best to wait here for your return.”

“Thank god you are safe,” Lavinia said. “There is no point in going back out tonight. We’ll resume our search in the morning.”

“What about the festival?” Vano asked.

“We can’t worry about the festival now,” Lavinia said.

“We’ll search in pairs,” Patrin said. “Lavinia and I will go out first, and if we don’t find him, then Vano and Isra will take up the search. That way we’ll always have two people here at the booth.”

Unable to sleep, they were awake early the next morning. Vano had a fire going and coffee on when Isra and Lavinia stepped out of the bus. Before they had time to step closer to the fire, Vano had cups of coffee ready for them. The morning was cold and clear and Lavinia and Isra hurried to the fire, cradling the hot coffee, blowing steam back into their faces, fighting the urge to run to the bathroom.

When they asked about Patrin, Vano told them he was filling water jugs at the well. There was no need to ask anyone else how he or she had slept because they had all slept poorly or not at all. When Patrin got back to the fire, Lavinia finished her coffee and walked quickly to the bathroom in the middle of the square, yelling to Patrin over her shoulder that she wouldn’t be long. Patrin told her to take her time, skeptical that any search was going to turn up Jep. Nevertheless, he was eager to begin.

Wrapped in their cloaks, Patrin and Lavinia set out toward Jep’s campsite. Isra and Vano set about getting ready for the beginning of the festival. It had been agreed that Patrin and Lavinia would be back before noon to relieve Isra and Vano unless they discovered something sooner.

Once the sun moved up in the sky, the day turned warm. The festival was alive with people and there was a line of people waiting to have their fortunes told. Vano stayed busy, amazed at the number of knives and scissors in such a small community.

Toward noon, a young woman stepped up to Isra’s table and paused before sitting down. Sensing her uncertainty, and hoping to calm her nervousness, Isra smiled at the young woman. Reluctantly, the young woman sat down, looking across at Isra.

Before Isra had a chance to look into her crystal ball, a strong sensation overcame her. This young woman held the answer. But Isra wondered, how could this young woman hold the key to Jep’s disappearance?

“I hope I can be of service,” Isra said to the young woman, who looked around nervously. “You are uneasy.”

“Yes,” she said. “I am not sure why I am here. I don’t know what I hope to gain by being here.”

Isra looked into the crystal ball sitting on the table between them. The image was unmistakable. This young woman suffered from a recent breakup of her marriage. She was contemplating killing herself. But there was something else, someone who was there on the periphery. Isra concentrated until the picture in the crystal ball became clear. Astonished, Isra looked up at the young woman and then back at the crystal ball. There was no question, the figure on the periphery was Jep.

Noticing Isra’s alarm, the young woman asked what she had seen?

“You are hurting,” Isra said, “but you mustn’t give up hope. Your life is about to change for the better.” She looked into the crystal ball, hoping to see more. The mystery of last night came rushing back to Isra, wondering if Lavinia and Patrin had found anything. Whatever might have taken place, Isra knew that she needed to guide this woman away from her tragic desires.

“What do you see?” the young woman asked.

“Someone is about to come into your life,” Isra said. “And with him, the promise of a new life.”

“I can’t see any way that my life will take a turn for the better. You are only telling me what you think I want to hear.”

“No, I am telling you what I see,” Isra said.

The young woman stood and, backing away from the table, asked Isra what she owed. “There is no charge,” Isra told her. “But you must believe me. Things are coming. You must hang on.”

“Thank you,” the young woman said and spun around, walking quickly away.

Isra watched the young woman walk across the plaza. Her head was down, deep in thought. Isra continued to watch as the young woman crossed the plaza and headed into the desert, walking in the direction of Jep’s campsite. Isra rushed to the back of the VW bus and yelled to Vano that she’d be back as soon as she could. Vano stared at her, but Isra turned and hurried across the plaza.

As she chased after the young woman, Isra wondered how she would stop her. As the young woman came into view, Isra slowed, thinking, No, she shouldn’t stop the young woman but instead, follow her. She would lead her to Jep.

A short distance into the desert, with the young woman still ahead of her, Isra froze in her tracks. Lavina and Patrin were standing right in front of her. “We were headed back to the plaza,” Lavinia said. “Why are you here?”

“Did you see a young woman?” Isra asked.

Lavinia turned to Patrin, who shook his head. “We didn’t see anyone,” she said. “And we found no signs of Jep. It’s as if he’s vanished from the face of the earth.”

“But she was right in front of me,” Isra said.

“Who?” Lavinia asked.

“The young woman, just now. I followed her from the plaza.”

“But who is she?” Patrin asked.

“She came to the booth, quite upset. The crystal ball showed me that she was in grave danger of taking her own life. But there was something else. I saw Jep. He was with her.”

Lavinia had never questioned Isra’s abilities to see into the future, but she stared at Isra in disbelief. Unable to grasp what Isra was telling them, Lavinia and Patrin waited for further explanation, but Isra just stared off in the distance.

Finally, Lavinia grabbed hold of Isra’s shoulders to shake her out of her trance. When Isra looked at Lavinia, Lavinia said, “No one came this way.”

“But she had to,” Isra said. “She was right in front of me. I never let her out of my sight until I came upon you. We must find her.”

Lavinia let go of Isra’s shoulders and turned toward Patrin, but he simply looked back at her in silence. “Isra, there was no one. You are tired. None of us got much sleep last night and the strain of Jep has caught up to you. Let’s go back to camp.”

Isra continued to stare off into the distance. The crystal ball was clear, the young woman did exist, and in the crystal ball’s vision, the young woman found Jep. They found each other. Yet, she couldn’t ignore what her friends had told her. Maybe she was tired. Maybe her mind was playing tricks on her. The magic in the universe was not always easy to comprehend. Things happened that fell outside our realm of comprehension. She of all people should know this. Of all people, she should understand that the future can sometimes elude us, can come to us as a trickster. Accept it, she told herself. But acceptance, acceptance, the hardest lesson of all.

Lavinia and Patrin started in the direction of the plaza, and Isra followed, looking over her shoulder. The desert, even in the middle of the day, is filled with mystery. It is an eerie place.

TEXT © David W. Stoner

All Rights Reserved



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