Today, Lise Quintana and Kevin Sharp explore “The Strange Foresight of Madame Le Fèy” by Marta Tanrikulu, submitted to NonBinary Review #12: The Works of Edgar Allan Poe.
“Madame La Feè, Psychic,” the sign proclaimed to French Quarter tourists and locals alike. “Specializing in Tarot, Palmistry, Horoscopes and Voodoo.” Potted ferns hung in profusion from the balcony, failing to disguise the peeling paint on the ground floor or the thick layer of grime coating the display windows.
“This place?” Zachary Edgar asked his fiancée. “I don’t know, Claire, it doesn’t sound terribly authentic.”
“Well, you’ve been telling me to keep an open mind, and Mindy swears Madame’s predictions are amazingly accurate.”
“Mindy’s just a New Age blogger.”
Zach hoped that would be the end of the matter, but Claire pursued it. “Not everyone believes only the descendants of Marie Laveau possess the true sight.”
Zach let Claire grasp his arm and tug him toward the shop. With her free hand, she shoved the door to open it, recoiling with a whimper.
“What’s wrong?” Zach saw Claire’s eyes rolling back; for a second, he was afraid she would pass out.
“My hand. It still isn’t healed.”
Zach felt her reproach. Noting the puffiness of her fingers, he said, “Maybe we should have it looked at after all.”
Claire shook her head and went inside. Zach followed her and was enveloped by cold air heavy with the scents of incense and mold. He shivered, suppressing a sneeze.
The sunlight barely penetrated dirty windows framed with torn cobwebs. He stood at the door, hearing Claire’s footsteps reverberate as she made her away around the small shop. A trio of flickering candles lit a skull on an altar-like shelf and cast eerie shadows on a neighboring rack of stickpin dolls and statues, fetishes and charms. Another shelf held herbs and potions, incense and oils, candles and crystals. On the other side of the entrance, dusty collections of precariously leaning books and stacks of tarot cards competed for attention.
At least it wasn’t selling mugs and T-shirts.
A jingling at the back of the shop alerted Zach that they weren’t alone, moments before a woman with deeply wrinkled cheeks emerged from a curtain of faded red brocade. A garish coin-studded scarf around her head and a matching one around her waist clashed with her skirt. Bangles covered her arms. Zach found this stereotype of a gypsy fortune teller in poor taste. In his travels, he’d encountered real Romanies. Their clothing wasn’t so loud.
“How may I help you, dears?” the woman asked in a distinctly French accent.
Before they could answer, a voice came from somewhere above. “Mama? Did you need something?”
“That’s my daughter,” the woman explained, then shouted, “We have customers, Anne.”
“I’ll be right down,” the voice said. Ponderous footsteps started down a staircase next to the curtain.
The woman looked first at Claire and then at Zach. “You are perhaps looking for Madame La Feè?”
“Yes,” Claire said.
“I am she. How may she serve you?”
Claire explained she wanted their fortune told, and the woman guided her by the elbow behind the curtain, gesturing for Zach to follow. Three badly upholstered cafe chairs framed a small table covered with a glittery cloth; on it stood a smudged crystal ball, a Ouija board and a worn deck of tarot cards. Madame motioned for them to sit.
“Shall we start with palm readings?” asked Madame. “Only ten dollars apiece.”
“Not me.” Zach folded his arms.
“But of course, you must go first,” Madame said. “Even though you know better, you are the skeptic.”
Strange how she echoed his grandmother’s “you know better.” Gran had been a true practitioner. Reluctantly, he held out his hand.
“No,” Madame said. “Your other hand.”
She peered at his palm, muttering to herself. “You are a traveler, no?”
Zach said, “A merchant sailor.”
“And you have recently returned from a long voyage.”
Zach figured that was easy enough to infer, but the woman had Claire’s rapt attention.
“Your future… it is murky. It will depend on many choices you make.” She looked at Zach sharply. “Do not laugh! You stand to lose everything.”
Zach yanked his hand back.
“My turn!” Claire held her injured hand out to Madame, who gasped.
“Oh, my! What happened to your hand?”
“Zach’s … ” She glanced at Zach. “Our pet bit it,” she said.
“Oh, dear.” Madame gawked at Claire’s palm. “I’m afraid the wound, it obscures your lifeline. We must try another approach. Perhaps the three-card spread of the tarot cards?”
Claire looked at Zach, who shrugged, and the woman dealt three cards face up. Zach didn’t have much faith in tarot cards, but he smiled as Claire gazed entranced at their exotic designs, waiting for the woman to interpret them.
Madame appeared flustered, biting her lip and fidgeting with a bracelet. Finally, she spoke. “This one, it is the ten of swords. It is your past. This card can mean many things. Perhaps you have recently had something very bad happen to you?”
“No, not really…” Claire said.
Zach rolled his eyes. No doubt the woman assumed being bitten was very traumatic.
“This one in the middle, the moon, it is your present. It can mean fear, or that things are not as they seem. Or it may mean that you are imagining something.”
Or it could mean anything at all.
“What does this creepy one mean?” Claire asked, pointing to the third card, showing a skeletal knight on a white horse.
“This last card, it concerns me, particularly as it follows these other two. This is your future.”
“And what is it?”
“A drastic change may be in store for you. It is the card of death.”
Claire’s eyes filled with tears and her lower lip trembled.
Zach shoved his chair back. “That’s ridiculous! You’re nothing but a charlatan who tricks people into paying for your lies. Shame on you for frightening my fiancée!”
“I’m not lying!” Madame said.
Claire stood and stumbled toward the curtain, throwing it back haphazardly. Zach went after her. The voice belonging to the daughter cut in. “You can pay here.” A shape draped in gaudy scarves materialized from a dark corner to intercept them. Claire jostled her aside and pushed open the shop door, letting it slam behind her. The woman blocked Zach’s exit.
From outside, Zach could hear Claire cursing the shop.
“What about my money?” Madame asked.
Zach fumbled for his wallet. The fortune teller held out her hand, and he quickly placed a couple of ten dollar bills on it. She lifted them, then paused, peering at her palm, eyes widening. Zach darted toward the door to follow Claire, glancing back to nod curtly when the daughter let him through.
Madame was still staring at her palm.
* * *
Claire complained of feeling faint, so Zach returned home with her to their apartment. The rhesus macaque he had smuggled into the country was in another frenzy.
“Wicked beast!” Claire said, pressing her hand across her forehead. She let her purse fall to the floor and stretched out on the couch.
Zach dropped a few grapes into the monkey’s cage to shut it up. “Want any?” he asked.
Claire wrinkled her nose. “No. I’m really not feeling well.”
“Can I get you anything?”
“No, I just want to be left alone. Maybe I’ll take a nap…”
“All right if I join the guys for a beer, then?”
Claire mumbled something incoherent and dozed off.
* * *
Zach amused his dock buddies with an account of his morning adventure. An hour or so later, he texted to Claire. “Hope you’re feeling better. Home for dinner.”
When he returned to the apartment, the monkey was mercifully quiet, rolled into a ball in the far corner of the cage. He was surprised to find Claire still on the couch, but decided to let her sleep.
When he kissed her ice-cold cheek that evening and she didn’t stir, he realized something was wrong. By then it was too late to call an ambulance. She was dead.
Once Zach could process anything beyond that horrible fact, he realized he’d need to report her death. Who did one call, 911? The police? He debated what to do about the monkey. Should he hide it or let it loose? Such a small creature would face so many dangers on the streets. But it would be confiscated as soon as it was reported to the authorities. Still, Claire might have died because of it.
On the other hand, everyone suspected the boyfriend in sudden deaths. His heart pounded; he couldn’t catch his breath. They’d haul him away, send him to jail. He’d never be free to sail the seas again.
He rummaged for a bottle of rum and downed a long swallow straight from the bottle. Then another one. He sank to the kitchen floor, wondering if he’d jinxed their future by encouraging Claire to have her fortune told, wondering what bad omens he’d overlooked, wondering how he was going to explain a captive monkey and a dead woman who’d been bitten by it.
How much would it would hurt if he slit his wrists with his pocketknife?
* * *
A horrible wailing noise threaded through his stupor, joined by a terrible metallic rattling. He fully woke when the apartment door banged open.
Claire was gone.
So was the macaque.
Could he have been mistaken? Could Claire still be alive? Elation displaced his despair.
Where could she be?
Her purse was gone, her cell phone nowhere in sight. He pulled out his cell and phoned hers. No answer. He launched his tracking application, and got a signal. The GPS from Claire’s phone was several blocks away, in the direction of the French Quarter.
Claire’s signal pinned her location as just ahead on Royal Street. This late at night–or more accurately, this early in the morning–the din was subsiding, and even the drunks had gone elsewhere.
High-pitched shrieks and guttural shouts came from half a block down and were attracting attention. Zach followed the growing crowd. The loud vocals originated from one of the floors above the shop of the psychic they’d visited the morning before, and were now accompanied by sounds of violence: furniture being moved and objects breaking. A metal rolling door covered the shopfront.
Zach was sure at least two women were screaming. A deeper voice threatened them. The coincidence of Claire’s cell phone being nearby and their earlier visit to this shop convinced him she was in danger. Others in the crowd were trying to attract the attention of a policeman to get the rolling door open. Zach ran instead for the nearby alley.
He approached the building from the rear. Inside, the upstairs floors were dark, but a dimly lit fire escape led up to each. The screams held new urgency, bearing intense terror and pain. As he debated going up the fire escape, one voice was abruptly silenced. Was he too late?
A moment later, a thump followed by the sound of breaking glass made him halt. He threw up his arms to protect himself. A sickening thud sounded to his left. Dropping his arms, he saw a woman’s bloodied body on the concrete, accompanied by several large shards of glass; he barely stifled his own scream. The woman’s head was partially severed, and her shoulders and arms were rent by enormous gashes. Despite the horrible disfigurement, he recognized Madame La Feè.
From the street, a cheer went up. A metallic grinding announced the raising of the rolling door. Inside, the menacing sounds paused. Replacing the second woman’s cries was utter, terrifying silence. He’d arrived too late, waited too long to help the women, to help Claire.
The pounding of several pairs of shoes running up a staircase echoed from the building. A shadowy figure showed for an instant on the balcony, then leapt onto the fire escape, scrambling down in a way that reminded him of a monkey.
Was this his macaque?
No; something much bigger.
It was Claire—or rather, what had been Claire. He could never have imagined his beloved Claire distorted so into the grotesque. She dripped gore and showed no sign of awareness in her eyes—only hunger.
Zach remained crouched by the dead psychic, unable to move, praying he wouldn’t be noticed. Growing up, he’d heard many tales of the macabre, and his travels had uncovered more; he knew there was a grain of truth in most of them. The possessed, the undead…
The not-dead thing gave a low growl. Zach stopped breathing. Then it passed quickly down the alley, lost in the night.
The moment Zach’s lungs filled again, he perceived a slight ripple on the chest of the body in front of him. With horror, his mind tried to reject what he’d seen. But he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. He knew what she was about to become.
He’d been unable to help this woman, too afraid and too unsure of what to do. Because he had failed, she would soon become a crazed hunter. A mindless killer. Like Claire. He could run and join the hunted, or bring the predator down before it awakened.
Hastily, he brought out his pocketknife. Sawing at the strands of flesh that kept the head attached to the body, he fought nausea, struggling to think of it as a slab of beef, rather than part of a woman who had spoken with him only hours ago. Blood coated his hands, making the knife slippery. He wiped it on the woman’s torn blouse; the sight made him retch. A moment later, a small spasm wracked the torso, and he went back to work with desperation. A final tendon snapped, and the corpse again went still.
Now Zach ran.
He wouldn’t be going home.
* * *
Zach stopped by the docks to take his name off the active hiring list, removed all his savings from his bank account, and paid cash for a rental room on the outskirts of town. He slept fitfully, obsessed by evil dreams. Eventually, he crawled shakily out of bed, suffering from a massive headache and raw throat. After a long shower, he tried accessing the local news from his cell phone browser, but kept losing the connection. When his phone started ringing from an undisclosed number, he threw it away.
The night after losing Claire, he ventured into a tourist-filled bar with several widescreen TVs. The ballgame ended when he was midway through chugging a beer and shoving down a po’ boy. Someone changed the channel to the news.
The screen showed an earnest anchorman. “We have an update for you on the police investigation into the mutilation killings at the home of a psychic in the French Quarter. Sarah?”
A perky reporter replaced him on the screen, gesturing to the front of the shop, barricaded with yellow crime scene tape. “The psychic, known professionally as Madame La Feè, was the victim of a grisly decapitation. Her daughter, Anne Morgan, underwent emergency surgery but was declared dead just an hour ago. She never regained consciousness.”
“Sarah, didn’t witnesses say she mumbled something about a monster before the ambulance arrived?” asked the anchor.
“Yes, and the savagery of the attack was certainly the work of one.”
“Is it true police have failed to find any next of kin?” the anchor asked. “How can viewers help?”
“A five thousand dollar reward for any information leading to the killer is being offered by a local blogger, who also drew attention to the uncanny parallel between the deaths of the pyschic and New Orleans’ famed voodoo queen Marie Laveau.”
Zach paused in mid-bite, chilled by the sensation of pinpricks around his neck. A few “ooh”s escaped his fellow patrons.
The reporter continued, “Authorities are following several leads in the case. A neighbor claimed to have heard raised voices in the vicinity of the shop the morning before the murder. And Madame La Feè withdrew a large sum of money from her bank that afternoon.”
Zach felt the piece of sandwich stick in his throat. A large withdrawal? That was certainly an odd coincidence.
“Police are urging anyone who may know why to contact them. However, a teller at the bank told me something quite intriguing. Apparently, the psychic didn’t want her daughter to wait for probate if anything happened to her. Which means the woman may have foreseen her own death!”
“Sarah, didn’t investigators find a purse belonging to a third woman where the attacks took place? Is anything known about the owner? Was she another intended victim?”
“The police haven’t released that information.”
Zach wiped perspiration from his forehead. Claire’s purse would have all her identification. If it also held her cell phone, the police might have been calling him. Through Claire, he was now linked to the killings. Worse, someone who was on the street that night might recognize him. Could he be arrested for killing a dead woman?
The reporter continued, “The money was found in a safe on the premises, but police haven’t ruled out theft, blackmail or revenge. And though the psychic isn’t believed to have owned any pets, several unusual animal hairs were found at the crime scene.” She paused dramatically.
“I’ve just learned from the coroner’s office that they were fur from a rhesus monkey.”
Zach almost choked on his beer. He hoped the poor monkey was all right. Throwing down a few bills, he headed for the exit.
The next day, he visited a department store to buy a radio, a duffel bag and a few clothes, along with a bottle of sleeping pills. Back in his room, he tuned the radio to a local news station and heard his name spoken immediately.
“Zachary Edgar is wanted for questioning in connection with the case. He’s a close friend of Claire Talbot, the woman identified as the owner of the purse and cell phone found at the scene. Neither has been seen in several days, and friends and relatives are concerned for their safety. A neighbor of Mr. Edgar also reported that he recently acquired a rhesus monkey. Ownership of such an animal is illegal in Louisiana.
“Based on advice from medical and veterinary experts, police are considering the possibility that the monkey is a disease carrier and will attack without being provoked. Anyone sighting a monkey is requested to avoid contact and to alert the authorities immediately.
“In a strange incident believed to be unrelated to her attack, the body of Anne Morgan, one of the two women killed, disappeared from the morgue yesterday evening.”
A sudden chill traveled down Zach’s arms. He switched the radio off. What should he do? Contact the police? Tell his story to the media? Stay hidden? What would Claire have wanted him to do?
The next day, the news did not get better. Compelled to turn on the radio, he immediately heard an update.
“In positive news, a rhesus monkey roaming the wharf area was tranquilized and captured early this morning. It has been released to the care of zoo officials, who will test it for any signs of disease and treat it as appropriate.
“Based on the animal’s circumstantial link to Claire Talbot, a missing woman placed at the scene of the deaths, this monkey is now believed to be responsible for the fatal injuries to both women. It is not known whether Miss Talbot brought the monkey on a visit to Madame La Feè, perhaps to sell it, or whether the monkey followed her.
“Even if the animal is not linked decisively to the mauling deaths of the psychic and her daughter, zoo officials may have to put the animal down. Two workers were injured by the monkey when it came out of sedation.
“In related news, the chief of police warns citizens to be vigilant. Two homeless men died this evening as a result of a savage assault believed to be the work of a copycat murderer.”
Copycat? Didn’t the police have any idea what they had on their hands? Zach was appalled. He threw his few clothes into the duffel bag. In a matter of days, this city would be riddled with undead things, all intent on ripping good citizens apart.
It was time to get out of town. Time to put Claire behind him.
He quickly made arrangements to board a cargo ship departing that evening. Though he couldn’t travel as a crewmember, he had enough cash to pay as a passenger. When he got to the next port, it should be safe again to use his union identification.
Mentally exhausted, he settled into a tiny cabin, placing his duffel bag on the narrow cot. As the ship cast off from its moorings and gently settled into the current of the river, he bade the nightmare farewell. Being back on the water calmed him, but he swallowed several sleeping pills. Tomorrow would be a new day, and a new life. He wanted to wake to it refreshed. Comforted by the shipboard chatter, he pulled out the radio and placed it on a small shelf, adjusting the antenna to optimize reception. Through the static, he heard:
“The monkey implicated in the gruesome deaths of a local psychic and her daughter escaped from the zoo around four this afternoon. A worker cleaning its cage thought the animal was under sedation, but it bit him and fled. The public is urged to let authorities know immediately of any sightings.”
* * *
Zach turned off the radio. That was all behind him now. He stretched out on the cot and laid his head on the hard pillow. As the ship slowly glided from the harbor, its swaying lulled him into drowsiness. Eyelids weighted down, breathing slowed, thoughts drifting, he slipped into the dark welcome of oblivion.
The last thing his consciousness registered was the call of a rhesus macaque.