Long ago, when the stars were young and sparkled brighter, there lived a seer of visions. Alone in her caravan, Muska would gaze into her singing bowl to glimpse possible futures. People were willing to pay significant sums to know their fate.
Muska turned away those whose hearts were not pure. If the water remained calm, a future might be glimpsed. But, if the image of a dark flame dancing upon the water's surface appeared, the person's heart was dark. Muska was always careful to warn that the end is never the same as what is foretold, and what you think you know will surely be what you don't.
During this time, there lived a little girl named Zena. Her father died recently, leaving her family in complete chaos. Her two older brothers constantly fought over who should be the head of the family. Her mother sat beside her husband's grave, weeping from morning to night, rain or shine.
One day, Zena found a bent coin on the roadside. She hid it, knowing her brothers would use it to buy alcohol to drown their pain, only to fight viciously after the whiskey was gone.
After completing her daily duties, Zena retrieved the hidden coin and considered using this precious gift. She thought of everything she could buy with the coin: candies, muffins, tarts, or something to make Mother smile.
Zena had no idea. However, that fate had different plans for the coin. As the child sat by a pool, her future approached unusually, as it sometimes does.
Mushka drove the caravan slowly down the road, allowing its hanging bells to chime. Curious faces peered from windows and hedgerows as her horse walked along the path. Spotting a clearing, Mushka climbed down from the caravan and led the horse off the road.
With the business of setting up camp finished, the mystic gave her horse a handful of oats and set about making a fire. Then, Mushka hurriedly set up the singing bowl. Once night fell, villagers would stream down the lane, hoping to learn about their future.
Sitting on a bench, Zena's thoughts were suddenly directed toward a column of smoke over the tree line.
"Whom could it be so late in the evening? Maybe I should have a peek to make sure it's not a bandit," said Zena to herself.
A chance for adventure was welcomed after her father's passing. She placed the bent coin in her pocket and walked to the hedgerow.
"Who is this stranger?" asked Zena. Peering through the shrubs, the child watched the mystic prepare for the evening's events.
"You girl, come! Give me a hand moving this table," said Mushka. "What, you have no ears to go with peeping eyes? Now come at once," she commanded.
"Is she talking to me?" wondered Zena. She started to back away when Mushka spoke.
"If you ever want to use your bent coin, then come here and help me," said the mystic.
"How do you know about my coin?" asked the child as she pushed through the hedgerow. "Are you a gypsy or witch who steals children to sell in the dark market?" asked Zena.
Mushka burst out laughing. "Girl, would I need you to help me move this table if I were? No! I would be rich and have a servant, not some bush child helping me," she replied.
Zena lifted the table, and the two dragged it along the ground to the road's edge. "I am sorry for your father's passing. I, too, lost my parents when I was a young girl," said Muska.
"How do you know these things about me? Did someone tell you who I am?" asked Zena. She was beginning to get nervous about this stranger.
"Let us say, you have a look about you that I know well myself and nothing more," answered Muska. Next, they carried chairs to the table, and then the mystic poured water into the bowl and lit the candles.
"Done. Now, you sit in that other chair and give me your bent coin," said Muska.
"What? Give you my coin? No! It's for a special gift. Why should I give it to you?" asked Zena.
"You desperately want to know your future. You wish to know the fate of your brothers and mother. No?" replied the mystic.
"Well, yes, how do you know? Never mind. I will not give you my coin. I can't be sure you won't trick me and take my money," said Zena.
"OK. Suit yourself, but no flowers will make Mama happy, and whiskey won't stop your brothers' fighting. You won't spend it on treats because you are too afraid of living your life for yourself now that Father is dead. Correct?" Muska asked.
A chill passed over Zena: too many questions and too much fear. Zena reached into her pocket and dropped the coin on the table before Muska. "Yes," said Zena in a whisper.
Muska picked up the coin and dropped it into the metal bowl. The mystic rubbed the bowl's rim, producing a soothing hum.
Both stared intently at the water's surface. Muska expected to see nothing since she perceived the child to have a kind heart. But to her astonishment, three brilliant, blue flames danced above the water's surface.
Muska drew her hand from the bowl, rose quickly, and disappeared into her caravan. Scared by Mystic's reaction, Zena grabbed the coin and ran back through the hedge to her home.
The child clutched the bent coin that night and cried silently until sleep overcame her. Her dreams were anything but comforting. Morning's light brought relief to the night's fear and uncertainty.
Zena found her mother cooking in the kitchen when she awoke. "Good morning. Are you hungry?" asked her mother. Shocked to see her at home, Zena nodded politely and went to fetch water.
She met her two brothers on the way to the well. They rushed toward her. Zena was terrified they were drunk and intended to beat her. Instead, they grabbed her by her arms and swung her between them, as in the days before her father's death.
Setting her down gently, the boys patted her head, reminding her of her duties. Both appeared in high spirits, and all traces of anger had vanished.
"I think this must be a dream. It's like everything is as it was before Papa died," said Zena to the well.
"No child, it is no dream. What you see is real," came a voice from behind her. There stood the mystic, looking tired. Solemnly, she told Zena that something unexpected, extraordinary, and dangerous had happened yesterday during the reading.
"You have unmade the world," said the mystic.
"Unmade? I don't understand," replied the child.
"All that is in balance is no longer. Past, present, and future are now one. You must accompany me to repair the damage before the dark chaos spreads. Do you have the bent coin?" asked Mushka.
"No. It's hidden under my bed," said Zena.
The two walked briskly back to the house. Zena struggled to keep up and not spill the water.
"Say nothing to your mother, get the coin, and return to me here outside the door," said the mystic.
Zena entered the room, went straight to the fire pot, and began pouring in the water when a familiar voice came from behind.
"Let me help you with that," said the voice. "I don't want my Dewdrop to get burned."
Zena dropped the bucket and spun around to see her father standing on the other side of the table.
"Oh! I'm sorry I startled you. Let me help you clean it up," said the man.
"Child, don't touch him! Come to me quickly if you wish to save the rest of your family," warned Mushka.
"You can't be here. You're dead! How can he be here, Muska? Is this the unmade you told me about?" cried Zena.
"Nonsense, I am right here. Who is Muska?" asked her father.
"He can't see or hear me, child. I have cloaked myself from all but you. Now hurry and retrieve the coin if you wish to save this world. There is little time left," said the mystic.
"Zena, what is the meaning of this? Why don't you answer your father?" asked her mother.
Zena felt faint and thought about all the pain she had gone through when her father drowned in the river: the sleepless nights and the aching loneliness. If what Muska said was true, it would happen again for Mother and her brothers.
"Too much!" screamed the child. She ran to her room and retrieved the coin.
As Zena raced toward the door, her father lunged at her, barely missing her clothes. Muska instantly wrapped her in a cloth, causing her to vanish.
The child sobbed uncontrollably as Muska hurried them through the hedgerow and into her caravan.
Inside the wagon, the mystic prepared a tonic of ancient herbs and gave it to the child. "Poor lamb. It's time to stop your suffering to set things the right way round," said Muska.
"How do I have the power to unmake the world?" asked the child.
"Tis best not to look too deeply into the well. You may not like what you find staring back at you," replied the old woman. Muska took the bent coin from Zena's hand and placed it in the singing bowl.
"Hold my hands and think of yesterday. Focus on your loss and the sadness you feel throughout your whole body. Focus on your father's death. You must not think of the happy past, only the pain after his death. That will set things in order," said Muska.
"NO! I want him back. Why can't I bring him back, Muska?" begged Zena.
"Once the spirits take a life, it is wrong to take it back. They will demand their due, which means your family is in danger. You have to set things straight," ordered the mystic.
Fighting back the tears, Zena held the crone's hands and focused on the image of her father lying motionless, his pale white skin, the cold touch of his hand, and the emptiness of the house after his death.
The mystic murmured some words and, then, rubbed her finger on the bowl until it sang clearly. After a moment, Muska stopped. "All is as it should be, child. Go home and be with those who breathe. Love them. They will need your strength more than ever," she explained.
"I will leave soon, but before I go, I wish to give you this amulet that was given to me by my Baba long ago. It will help you focus your powers. You have a strength that I have never known before. Use it wisely and use it with compassion," said Muska.
Zena hugged the woman tightly, kissed her on the cheek, then turned and walked back through the hedgerow. She walked to her father's grave, where her mother wept and, taking her hand, looked deep into her eyes and said, "It is time to live. Let the spirits have their due."
The following days and weeks brought a return to normal as the brothers worked together to bring in the harvest, and Zena and her mother prepared the home for the coming winter. Some days, Zena would walk to the hedgerow and peek through to the spot where Muska's caravan had been. Would she ever see her again? Perhaps someday she would understand all that had happened. Perhaps…