It had been a year since Maleva the old fortuneteller had camped at the old rest stop on Route 50 on the east side of Hillsboro, and I was excited to see her covered wagon there again Thursday night, with her old, tired horse tied to a nearby tree.
I opened the flap at the back of the wagon and peeked inside. Maleva was sitting on a small wooden stool, with bats’ wings, dried toads and shrunken heads dangling on pieces of string attached to the tattered canvas ceiling. Her back was to me as she watched a large flat screen TV.
I cleared my throat to make my presence known, but she hushed me. “Quiet!” she said. “There are 30 seconds left and the Cavs are leading by three.”
I stepped inside and watched in silence as the seconds ticked away, with Cleveland finally walking off with a win over the Celtics.
“Just as I predicted,” she said under her breath. Finally, Maleva switched off the television and turned to face me, a look of recognition crossing her withered and wrinkled face.
“Ah, it is you again, my son,” she said in her thick Hungarian accent. “I remember you from last year. What brings you here tonight? Do you need a good luck charm? Just $19.95, or two for $29.95. A wooden cross to ward off vampires? Large, $22.99, medium, $15.99. I’m out of the smalls. A silver bullet to kill werewolves? I have a special on those, two for $99.95.”
“Those are good prices,” I said. “But no, I was hoping you could tell me what’s in store for the future.”
She nodded, then turned and pulled away a large black cloth that had been covering her crystal ball situated at the center of an old rickety table. She scooted her stool to the table, and motioned for me to sit opposite her on a similar three-legged seat.
“That’s $39.95 in advance,” she said, holding out her hand. I handed her two twenties and told her to keep the change.
“Big tipper,” she said, tucking the bills into her fanny pack. She closed her eyes and began moving her small, age-spotted hands around the smoky crystal, and several minutes passed without a word.
Finally, I said, “Maleva?”
She jumped a little, and said, “Sorry. I fell asleep. Let’s start again.”
Again she caressed the crystal ball, and after a few seconds she began to speak in a trance-like state.
“The mayor, he was in trouble last year, yes?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “But he was acquitted at a trial.”
She nodded, and said, “Ah, but the forces aligned against him have not abated. He will need to remain vigilant. Tell him to come see me before Saturday, when I’m leaving for Florida. I have a charm that will protect him against the lifeless.”
“Yes. People who need a life,” she explained.
“Oh, kind of like zombies?” I asked.
“Sort of,” she replied. “But zombies are not as vicious. The charm is just $59.99. Tell him I only have two left, so hurry.”
“What about the upcoming football game between Ohio State and Clemson?” I asked.
“Ah yes,” she replied, softly caressing the crystal ball. “Hmmm. This cannot be right.”
“What do you see, Maleva?”
“I see the Tigers crushing the Buckeyes, 31-0.”
“That’s impossible,” I said.
“That is what I see,” she said. “The crystal has only been wrong once before, when Trump beat Clinton.”
“Wow, even your crystal ball didn’t see that coming?”
“No,” she said. “But my cousin, Esmeralda, from Russia, predicted it correctly.”
I thanked Maleva for her time and stood to leave, and wished her safe travels.
“Thank you,” she said. “Drivers here are so reckless. I almost hit a guardrail on 138 outside of Greenfield trying to pass an Amish buggy. They kept speeding up every time I tried to go around them. I nearly hit another buggy coming at me in the other lane. Don’t they know to yield to covered wagons?”
She shook her head thinking about it, and then said, “Come back next year, my son. I come to these parts every December.”
“Why is that?”
“I always try to catch the Harlem Globetrotters when they play in Cincinnati,” she said. “It’s the only time I can leave my crystal ball in the cupboard and still know what’s going to happen.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.