Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Flesh and Ink
Maldoc the All-Seeing... He knows where you're going because he can see where you've been... Five Bucks a whirl...
The hand-painted particle board sign leaned against a milk crate in front of a pair of lawn chairs.
Maldoc remembered the day he painted that sign on a hot summer day over thirty years ago.
You wouldn't know that kind of time had passed by looking at him. He had the physique of a man half his age and his long, unruly hair was still as black as coal. His sun-bronzed skin was weathered but taut.
He chuckled when he thought about his sign. “Maldoc the All-Seeing” sounded grandiose these days. He had long since ditched the flamboyant Romany costumes for a series of pairs of disreputable cut-off shorts and a black leather vest he wore in any weather.
The rugs and the trinkets, along with the fancy tent, had been sold off or given away and the wooden cart he used to lug down to the boardwalk each day turned into kindling one winter. His tarot cards served as bookmarks, which was just as well since he never used them for divination in the first place.
He didn't even have a table anymore.
He didn't need one.
Everything he needed to practice his craft was on his person at all times. The Elders had seen to that.
It was tattooed into his skin.
Maldoc stretched out in his lawn chair and yawned. It was just past noon and he'd already given up on the day. Few people were likely to be out in the split pea soup that was passing for air in the late summer and even fewer would ever make it all the way down to his stretch of the boardwalk.
Recent years had been hard on the town of Caravan Bay.
A single motel and one crummy bar were all that remained of what once was an active scene for both visitors and locals alike. The town was a throwback, a sleepy waterfront destination that had passed the point where its antiquity could be considered quaint.
One by one the members of what had been a tight working community of vendors and entertainers closed up shop and moved on. Maldoc found their replacements not up to scratch, if they were replaced at all.
Caravan Bay had become a third-rate beach town with nothing to recommend it but a patch of golden sand, a mile of boardwalk, one motel, and one bar.
And, of course, Maldoc the All-Seeing.
Maldoc was the last of the old guard. He'd been working the boardwalk in Caravan Bay for the better part of thirty years, taking in a little cash by practicing his Talent- fortune telling.
He didn't need much in the way of cash. He lived in a trailer on public land and bartered small favors and odd jobs for meals, booze, and other necessities of life.
The heart of the boardwalk boasted a pair of pathetic food stands, three or four old carnies running dubious games of chance and skill, and a crumbling arcade that was held together by a combination of salt crust and wishful thinking.
Maldoc lit a clove cigarette and inhaled a lungful of harsh, fragrant smoke.
Carnival music tinkled in the air from the other end of the boardwalk and every so often he could hear the voice of a barker hawking his wares.
He looked down at the backs of his hands as he smoked, at the pattern of lines of ink criss-crossing them.
“You open for business?”
The voice stirred Maldoc to wakefulness and he smiled at the irony of a man billing himself as all-seeing being surprised by customers in broad daylight.
He dropped his cigarette and rose out of his chair to greet them.
The speaker was a young man, a biker. Leather vest. Tattoos running down the length of each arm. As much beard as the kid could manage. Red bandanna over a clean-shaved scalp.
The sun's glare made it difficult to see much else but he did notice the girl standing next to the biker boy. They were holding hands.
Electricity ripped through Maldoc's entire body as he looked at her.
Her face was obscured some by the sun but he did not have to see her clearly to know her face, her fire-red hair, her skin- ink-marked where henna once adorned it, the contours and soft places of her body. She could be no more than twenty-five but he knew her of old. Another lifetime ago.
He would know her essence anywhere.
“My name's Derek,” began the biker, “and this is-”
“Katrina,” whispered Maldoc.
The girl took a step back. “How did you know?”
Her voice. It was the same.
Derek broke the spell. “Maybe he's the real deal after all,” he said.
Maldoc recovered and bowed in welcome.
“What would you know of your futures?”
The two young people hesitated. The looked at one another with sheepish grins on their faces and then Katrina stepped forward.
Maldoc guided her to a lawn chair and sat down in the other.
“What are you gonna do?” she asked. “Read my palm?”
He smiled at her. The sun glinted off a tiny gem in her nose.
“No, child.” He put his hands out in front of him, palms down.
“Lay your hands on mine.”
She looked down at his hands, at the tattoos.
“Of a kind. They represent the tendrils that bind all things together. The past. The present. The future. Touch them and you will see.”
She smiled back at him and shot a glance at Derek before putting her hands down.
The contact lasted only a few seconds.
Maldoc's heart raced. There was no doubt. It was her.
She had returned.
“I have something special to show you, Katrina,” said Maldoc. “Something I do not allow just anyone to experience.”
He stood up and shucked off his vest.
On his chest was the most impressive tattoo Derek and Katrina had ever seen.
It covered his entire chest, from breastbone to the bottom of his ribcage. At first glance it looked to be of the branch network of some kind of tree, with three small birds resting among the leaves. The longer one looked at it though one was struck with how much the branches resembled ribs and lungs.
Maldoc lifted Katrina's right hand and placed it against one of the birds.
Katrina stiffened and gave a little cry.
Maldoc shot out his free hand to keep Derek at a distance. “She's safe! I will allow no harm to come to her.”
Derek was far from mollified but he did stay back.
Katrina cried out again. Unbridled joy spread over her face. She laughed until she was out of breath and then stepped back and let her hand fall to her side.
Derek ran forward to catch her before she fell over.
“What happened?” he demanded. He glared at Maldoc.
Katrina began to laugh again. “I was a bird!” She pointed to one of the birds tattooed on Maldoc's chest. “I was that bird! I was flying, flying fast and so high up! It was... amazing!”
She and Maldoc sat back down. Her hands found his on his lap.
The door opened once more.
Maldoc saw Derek in her mind, saw him through her eyes and through her heart. The way he looks at her. The way he speaks to her. The way he touches her. They way he protects her. He saw the strength of his love for her and of hers for him.
In that moment he understood.
“Are you all right, mister?” she asked him.
Maldoc opened his eyes and forced a smile. “Yes, child,” he said. “Never better.”
They sat in silence for a moment. The wind brought the roar of the surf to them. A single gull squawked out over the water.
“It's your turn, Derek,” said Maldoc.
Katrina lingered and held his gaze for a second before getting up out of the chair.
She brushed Derek's hand with her own and gave it a little squeeze.
The young biker looked up and down the boardwalk and then dropped into the lawn chair.
Katrina paced around them as Maldoc put his hands out for Derek. She gave a little gasp when she circled around the fortune teller but the biker did not notice.
Maldoc could feel her standing behind him. He knew she was staring at the tattoo on his back, staring at her own sweet face.
“I must show you something,” he said. “Are you ready, Derek?”
“Ready as I'll ever be, man.”
He grunted as the visions began to take hold. His jaw was clenched and his skin was soon coated in a sheen of cold sweat.
“What's wrong, baby?” asked Katrina. She hurried to his side.
Maldoc understood too well what the boy was feeling. He was seeing it along with him, reliving those events.
He saw himself as a younger man, bursting into a house just a minute too late. It was an old house, a cozy house, decorated with all the trappings of a bohemian lifestyle. It was their home. His and Katrina's.
He saw himself cradling her, trying to staunch the flow of blood with his hands. He heard his howls of grief and rage.
He showed Derek the open back door, made him hear the retreating footsteps on the path leading away from the house.
He made him feel the loss.
And then he broke the contact. He and the boy both stood up and he put his hands on his shoulders.
Derek looked like he was going to be sick.
“Do you understand?” asked Maldoc. “Do you understand what I've shown you?”
Derek said nothing but after several long seconds he nodded.
“I did eventually track down the man who murdered my Katrina. I often wondered if she would return to me. We do return, you know. Things have a way of repeating themselves. I prayed that she would return to me some day, that we would be reunited. And she has indeed returned. But not for me. Not for me.”
Katrina stood by Derek's side. He acknowledged her presence with a weak smile.
“You must protect her, Derek. My love could not save her and where I failed you must not. You must not.”
The young biker snapped out of it and took both of Katrina's hands in his. The torpor was gone and his eyes blazed with both light and heat as he looked into Katrina's eyes.
“I won't let you down, man,” he said. He raised Katrina's hand to his lips. “You either.”
Maldoc stood up and let his mind flow back to the life he once knew as he watched them walk away.
When they were halfway down the boardwalk Katrina turned her head and looked back.
Maldoc the All-Seeing was gone.
Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.