— Fate And Fortune
The days passed, one after another, as Summer passed over Clearwater. Jason and Claire drove down to the valley to camp every few weekends. I steered my friends from Savage to keep deter them meeting Stella and Alice. Claire was the only one who knew about them, or knew I was trans. I had no intention of introducing Jason and Sam to my magical, mountain drug dealers.
I took heed of Alice’s advice, and spent my time decluttering the chaotic mess of my past memories. I practiced breathing exercises in the mirror, while chugging mouthfuls of Euphoria to make the world breathe with me.
I worked in a patisserie along the main square of Clearwater. Stoned walks through the cool, morning air brought new life to my eyes, that had only known the morning to come after the night.
The tourists rarely commented on my unusual appearance. Androgyny had comforted the pain, but it brought no joy, other than the moments my curls tickled the tips of my ears, reminding me there was time to grow.
The locals were different creatures. I could tell most of them a part by the gruff, overbearing attitude and general negativity toward the visitors. They would approach the counter, throw me a once-over, and ask, “Whose kid, are you?”, Which would embarrass me, were these men not the sweatiest Bible-thumpers, stumbling from a drunken daze in the backwoods. I told them I was a child of God and left it at that.
The whirlwind of the world had slowed to a monotonous click of a clock with only an hour hand shown. Sunlight dripped in golden-crimson waves from the blanket of trees that rose around the valley like a moving, bejeweled wave. The pressure had, all at once, stopped.
I drove to Savage every week to smoke weed along the hiking trails with Stella, or help Alice prepare poultices and other odd mixtures from the local flora. Alice visited me in town, or while I was working; Stella never tagged along. Her discomfort in people exceeded mine. The first night we met, when she had stalked me, I had not guessed it was from fear.
I enjoyed our walks. We talked for hours about my childhood, and the memories I had pushed down within me to hide this secret, even from myself. Desires and pains came back with a crashing realization of where those feelings had originated from. I had felt like such a fool, but Stella said it was the same for her and for Alice. We all hid what we hated, but those feelings would drown us in the end.
In the absence of our conversations, Stella would start throwing different names at me, “How about Rose? Ashley? Alexandra?”
“I don’t know.” I said, or “That doesn’t feel right.” I wasn’t sure where to begin, but Stella promised to give it time.
“Are you going to see a doctor soon?” She asked one time.
“No. I had something else.” was all she said. I had felt there was more to that, but I left it be.
“I owe my parents an explanation, before I do that.” As well as the less noble objective of needing insurance, before I could enter the American Healthcare arena.
“You owe people an opportunity to love you. Nothing more.” She had said.
I agreed; however, I wanted to push this off for as long as I could. The days were too good to push my luck with life-changing declarations.
The weekends Claire and Jason came down were reminiscent of the nights spent traversing the rolling hills in Claire’s dad’s SUV. Sam rolled the blunts in the back next to me, while Jason reached out to our classmates for any hint of a party. Most nights, back when Claire’s mom was still alive, we slept in her basement, watching horror movies on a projector screen.
It would never be the same, but this was as close as our fading youth could get. As smooth as the drugs that melted in the back of our throats did the rhythm of the season pass. There were few mornings I truly saw save for the nights when mushrooms or cocaine kept me tweaked until the sun rose. My friends would sit and play their instruments, while I lied dazed on Sam’s carpeted basement, or a campsite out in Grey Haven. It mattered little where we were. We would run through forests and laugh at the absurdity of the words stumbling out from our funky throats. This was the only semblance of normalcy I had come to experience recently. Every moment away from my own mind offered a brief respite. Sam and I would go up most weekends to stay at their apartment. We’d drive Sam’s boat around the lake and go to the dingiest bars in the city. Days were spent inebriated more often than not.
College, in contrast, was just a prolonged, fuzzy silence. I smoked and drank often, but the thrill was gone, or it was replaced with necessity. The choice was always present, but to believe them equally weighed would be folly. I no longer needed friends to drink; I no longer needed friends to buy weed for me. I had forgotten why drinking, and smoking, and doing drugs was fun; there was a thrill in the secrecy of our illegal vices. The pleasure was heightened as long as danger was present; otherwise, it felt sad and lonely.
My feet swayed with the music of the cars and of the busses. I had returned to the city by myself for the night, while Claire took off. We had walked through the wharf and watched the sailors; then, after a few drinks in a bar, we walked to the park and sat beneath an oak tree to watch the world slowly progress. I felt in place, as if I were nothing more than a decoration in the city. An oddity not crafted for ridicule, but for intrigue as all things were. A few strangers cast me wayward looks, but I had gotten used to the stares and the feeling of someone watching.
I knew the further I went the worst it would get, until; hopefully, the looks stop all together if I were privileged enough to find safety through immersing my body and mind in femininity- like Stella.
Alice was not so fortunate for others to see her beauty as it was. She had said the road was worse. The nights in the trains were terrifying and dark. Strangers hid in the shadows, and if they weren’t hostile then the rail police would. The world outside of trainyards and drifters was not much better. She had wanted to stay in Clearwater as long as possible, but the veins of the mountain were failing. Soon, there would be nothing left to halt the shadows and nothing left keeping Stella and Alice here.
“What if she’s like your trans fairy god mother?” Claire asked as we made our way back to her apartment.
“Everything has felt so magical; I would not be surprised.” I said.
“Well, free drugs and pretty dresses does not sound like a bad deal.” She responded. “Do you actually think it is safe? I know you trust them, but I never met them, and I don’t like the idea of you wandering through the woods with Randoms.”
I felt inclined to agree; however, I had never felt this close to enjoying life as I did while high. I felt more like myself than I ever did before. Every second of my life, before realizing I was a girl, was spent feeling like an imposter, or a fraud in my own body. This was right, and if it led to anything worse; then, so be it.
True to her word Claire told no one about me; however, that did not stop her from asking questions. “You know we all love you, Alex.” She would say.
“I know.” Would be my response, “I just don’t know how to say it.”
She would usually stop fighting me then and wait for a better time. Every once and a while a question will arise softly from her lips as if she were afraid I would bite her.
“Alex,” She said, “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure.” Usually what comes after was innocent. A question about an emotion or experience that made me giggle. I answer them honestly enough. Truthfully, I enjoy being asked questions. Monsters…. Sorry, Claire asked me to stop saying that. I enjoy sharing thoughts equally absurd with her. It truly was only when we brought these dark thoughts into the light that the blades fall apart. The weapons we use against ourselves are flimsy and easily ignored, yet I dwelt on them. The dull cut took longer, but stung proper. Euphoria turned the dull edge into pure pleasure. Claire hid it better than I. My movement changed on Euphoria. The weight of things melted away from my shoulders. I was light; laughter would touch my lips quickly and with no forewarning. A passing thought questioned whether this was normalcy. Euphoria had done its best to make it so.
That was not to say, that the darkness had dissipated. Drugs were only drugs. The brunt of the work was always destined to be mine. Moments of terror, occasionally, dug their claws into my heart during brief interludes of sobriety. Thoughts, like icy tendrils, spread ever so near to puncturing the lining of my lungs, making my breath shallow and coarse. My airflow constricted with no physical obstacle to push away. I still wished for death sometimes. So, little were my troubles, yet they hurt.
I was trying, and little by little I was feeling stable.
The night continued in traditional fashion. Another song to be belched towards the citizens of the world. Drunken cries, soft promises, songs, dances, and a flame burning within the hands of Atlas. Hold me up, let me shine for as long as I am able.
The song stretched across the city. The lights trembled with my hold on conscious action. Euphoria took the alcohol from system and replaced it with the lightest of glows. A few shots focused the haze, enough for the feminine glow to weave herself through my body.
Claire had worked at most of these restaurants at one point or another. As we dashed between the bars she introduced me to old coworkers and a few current drug dealers. This world was unlike any I had seen. I had never seen another like me before. Solitude was my friend for so long, that I had forgotten how big everything was.
The darkness hid whatever shame Euphoria stripped away. My vision blurred the lights of the bars as they flickered overhead. I could not feel my body, and yet I knew I was dancing. I could not taste my drink, and yet I knew it was strong. There was a pulse that echoed in the dingiest bars and dirtiest clubs. A common experience as bodies moved with others. All of us were strangers. All of us were here, hiding beneath neon lights and drowning in liquor.
Claire would yell at me and point to the exit when she was ready to leave, or wanted more Euphoria. I’d do the same if I wanted coke. We created a wonderful system; however, as time passed our sloppiness only increased.
I stifled a yawn and decided my body had enough torment. As I roved my head I could not find Claire. My phone was a fuzzy portal. I touched my pocket and felt the rest of the Euphoria I brought for the night. It was enough. I pushed myself through the bodies. I would face the city alone.
The nights had returned to a subtle coolness. Wind blew fiercely around the mountains, trapping itself between the streets. Once again, my hoodie offered me protection from the grips of the outside world. The inner one was sloshed with spirit and chemicals.
I stumbled drunkenly through the intersecting alleyways and footpaths. It felt familiar, but I could have been anywhere. I decided to walk until the hieroglyphics on my screen to make sense. The bars were all closing. The strangers in the darkness emerged in the night. Men were fighting in the street as their friends rushed in to break it up. A girl was throwing up on the side of a club. Her friend rushed over, grabbing her hair fiercely. Apparently, their uber was there.
The time was night; that was all I knew. The fatigue of the day had slithered through the drug induced coma I forced upon myself. I found a park bench a block away and rested my weary body. I stifled another yawn. I had to get back before I fell asleep here; however, the bench had proven itself worthy.
A minute passed, before I shook myself awake. I distracted my mind with the lights, sparkling across the alleyways and closed, shops. I saw the fortune teller’s light glowing green. I could not be too far from the apartment.
I forced myself to rise and begun walking towards what I thought to be the right direction. That was until I noticed a mist sweeping through the street. Fear gripped me at once. I looked around for Alice’s image. It was certainly possible she followed me here, but I didn’t think so. It would be a strange sight to see her in a dragonfly dress in the middle of the city.
I approached the alley cautiously. The mist stemmed from the entrance to the fortune teller. I was not one for the spiritual investment. Introspection had done its damage already, but this felt like a sign.
I opened the door as the bell above it jingled sharply. Books lay lined on several bookshelves stretched across the strict confines of the den. Shrines lay in each corner. Beneath my feet a compass was carved in the wood paneling; I faced East. Ahead was a small clearing. A round table sat with two chairs pushed in. A candle was already lit in the middle. Trinkets, amulets, and occult statues were filtered amongst the room as well. It smelled of cypress and lavender.
“Hello.” I said hesitantly to no response.
I was about to turn away when a soft voice drifted behind a silk curtain in the back. “Just a moment, child.” The curtains were thrown back and a beautiful woman emerged carrying a wooden carrier of jars. Within looked like water and leaves except the water was golden with waves of cascading red. A brown gown adorned the woman’s figure. Her hair shone crimson and fell gracefully to her lower back. Her eyes were pale blue, but they were prominent on her face, glowing in contrast to the noir aesthetic.
“I’m sorry; I’m drunk.” I said rubbing my head as to why I would admit that. Then again it was the middle of the night on a Friday. I doubt she’d get many sober visitors, “I’ll leave.” As I turned to dip, the red, neon lights flickered aggressively, highlighting horrific scenes, woven intricately upon various tapestries. The same symbol, written upon the envelope to the dress, was stained in ink above the door; a runic symbol depicting a dashed eye with scripture scratched around the borders.
“State of the mind won’t affect the reading.” Her voice soothingly called.
The questions bubbled within me, but I decided to play it cool; I could, at the very least, ask who the man in the suit was. “What do I do?” I said, approaching the table.
The woman set the carrier down and turned off a stuttering record player. She gestured to one of the seats; I pulled out the oak chair. It’s weight, scraping the floor, as I tugged at the dense wood.
A heavy smoke of incense filled the room; the smell was thick and sweet, making my head swim. It reminded me of a pine forest. There was a scent of metal as well. A rusted iron aftertaste coated my tongue. It was like blood, and my arm began to itch.
High or not there was something off around me. The world became so dark. It was true; the shadows of the sheets lengthened against the walls. Posters of sullen dancers and rotting flowers covered whatever free space the tapestries had left behind. The dancers’ eyes stared into mine. Was it from the high? No. I cannot question my sanity now.
A rustic table cloth, embroidered with intricate floral designs, was draped across the table. A crystal ball sat upon the center. It glowed red along with the neon lights, except different. It caught my eye for the briefest of moments, and I was trapped. The lights swirled around in the smoke. Shapes took form. I saw trees and smoke. A lighter sat in an empty hand. It was Claire’s. The nails were lavender. The image shifted with a moon, stained red and closer than I have ever looked at it. A creature formed with the smoke. Claws hung at its side as blood dripped onto the ground.
A sheet was delicately placed over the ball and I snapped back into reality. “Don’t get too lost in there. Its more or less just a parlor trick.” The woman took out a glass from beneath the table and poured a glass of some strange substance. It was yellow and viscous and fell like syrup out of a jug. She put the bottle back under the table and wiped the edge of the glass with her nail. She sucked the excess goop from her finger and placed the glass on the table.
She looked at me and smiled, “It seems you have already had your fill for tonight.”
“Of what?” I said attempting to play coy, in spite of my state.
“A drug only us wretched enjoy.” She said, “Welcome to the fold, Little Bird.” The woman said opening her arms out.
“Did you send me the dress?” I asked.
“Of course, as soon as I knew what visited my mountain; I had to reach out.”
I turned to her skeptically as if a fortune teller in the middle of the city owned the mountain in Clearwater, “Your mountain?”
“My father’s mountain.” She said, “Since stolen by bigger fish.” She flourished her hands in the air, “The past should be forgotten, right? That’s what we tell ourselves?”
“What do you want with me?” I asked.
She ignored my question and brought a pile of cards out of her bag. At first glance I thought they were tarot cards. Claire had a pack of those in the apartment. She would occasionally do readings before shows or parties. These were not tarot. They were thick planks of wood brazened with runic inscriptions. The woman spread the wooden cards across the table and brought her palms towards me. I placed my hands over hers and she guided me over the cards. I felt nothing but the warmth from her hands.
“A little blood.” She said, pulling out a gold dagger. The handle was wrapped in yellow-dyed leather, as intricate designs streaked across the hilt. The blade shimmered in the neon lights and casted out its own rich hue.
The fortune teller rubbed her hands over my wrists and smiled, “It is at least something you are familiar with.”
“What do you have to do with Stella?” I asked quietly. I was not sober enough for tact.
The woman shrugged, spinning the dagger on the table between us, “She came to me, as you do now.”
“But what are you selling? What is this?” I spat.
“This, child.” She spoke condescendingly, “Is a better gift, than any drug or God those fools might have promised you.”
“So, it’s a sale’s pitch?” I asked, narrowing my eyes.
“You can see it in them, the difference. Can you not?” The woman spoke of Alice and Stella, “One took my gift; the other did not. I’ll leave the rest to you.”
It was awful talk, and horrendous for me to even compare my friends; however, my mind was its own master. Images of my future burrowed within the depths of my mind.
“If we are to be outcasts, why not be beautiful?”
“There’s more than that.” I said shaking intrusive ideas away, “I’m not an idiot. I know who I am, and I know I don’t get this shit for free. Why is everyone fucking with my head!” I shouted unprecedented.
I turned my head to catch the woman looking at me as a child to a lost puppy- or a bird with a broken wing. “I can’t promise you a high, but I can give you everything that womanhood can offer. The price, as you said, is simply taking on a duty as martyr.”
“Martyr?” I said, “So I die?”
“We all die eventually.” She said, “But to one who has never lived, why not take this?”
“Why didn’t Stella?”
“Stella chases trains. She has no desire to help anyone, other than herself.”
“That’s not true.” I said, “She brought me to the grove.”
“She got you high.” Kiera laughed, “I’d hardly count that as a selfless act.”
“Okay, so I die?” I repeated.
“Twenty-two years.” She said, “I can offer you, your time back and nothing more.”
“Because the world does not revolve around the life of one tranny.” She spat, “There are more important things.”
“Like helping people?” I asked.
“Many people.” She said, “You get to be beautiful, and young, and free. No doctors, no therapy, and no insurance.”
My body, mind, and soul all split in differing directions and thought patterns, never concluding, yet I reached for the dagger all the same. “Just a little blood?” I asked.
“A test.” The woman said, “I need to ensure you are pure.”
“I’m not.” I said bitterly.
She nodded her head toward my arm, “Let us see.”
Her eyes reflected the lights in the room. Her face was marked in soot, yet her beauty shown through. Large blue eyes stared at me beneath gold eyeshadow. Her braids danced with the candle light.
I could care less about my blood. I grabbed the handle and rested it on the palm of my hand. “How much?” I asked.
“Just a drop.” She pushed a small ceramic vestibule across the table. “In there if you please.”
I pressed the point of the blade on the palm of my hand. A sharp pain seared through my veins. I pulled back immediately, dropping the knife on the floor. Cursing, I looked over at the woman who wore a smirk. “What was on that knife?” I asked.
“Nothing, my dear. The blade is incredibly sharp. It is meant for delicate cuts. Now please,” She gestured toward the bowl, “your blood.”
My arm throbbed. My veins were on fire, but I grabbed my left arm with my hand and pulled it over the black bowl. Dried blood stains soaked the bottom already. I was not the first to do the bidding of this woman. I had second thoughts, but before I could pull back a drop splashed into the bowl and the wooden cards glowed in a dark-red color
“It seems you were right.” She said gazing at the bowl. “You are not what I am looking for.”
I should have felt relief, but anger bubbled within me. “What do you mean, I’m not what you are looking for? You just promised me beauty, and life, and everything. I cut myself, and now you say its bullshit?”
“My mistake; however, this does remain true.” She said inquisitively gazing at her runes.
“What?” I asked biting my tongue.
“You are marked for self-inflicted death. Your fate lies in your own hands. You are your own undoing, I’m afraid.” The woman spoke softly, but it was enough to cut through me.
“Fuck this.” I said kicking the chair away from me. I felt the air in the room grow heavy as all eyes were firmly fixed on me. “Keep your shitty dresses.” I yelled, ignoring the growing fear within me. I slammed through the door and hastened my step to the streets.
My phone exploded with texts from Claire and Jason, as well as meme from Sam. I stumbled toward the apartment. Looking behind me to see the neon sign of the fortune teller’s shut off.
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