Lydia locked up her office and stopped in the lab to return the scroll to its case. She couldn’t resist taking the ring out of its secret compartment and looking at it again. It was such a beautiful work of art it was a shame that it had been hidden away all these years. She turned it over and over in her gloved fingers. Who had worn it? Had it been a gift of love? A wedding ring? The symbol of some office or title? It was definitely feminine, though the serpent was usually a masculine symbol.
If anyone had seen what she did next, Lydia’s career would have been over as soon as it had begun. But she just couldn’t resist. She slipped the gloves off her hands and touched the ancient gold carvings on the ring with her bare fingertips. She knew better, knew she could be damaging a valuable historical artifact but it was as if she were compelled, unable to resist. It was almost as if there was a voice in her head urging her to try it on.
She studied the inside looking for an inscription. Nothing there, the inner surface was smooth and worn. She held the ring above the third finger of her left hand, the blood red ruby flashing in the fluorescent light.
No. The voice in her head told her that wasn’t the correct digit. She shifted it allowing it to hover above the ring finger on her right hand, then shifted it two fingers to the left. Right index finger. How did she just somehow know that that was right? She’d accepted years ago that she had some small aptitude for psychic phenomena, the Tarot cards had proven that to her in early childhood. But this was a different feeling, like an oily presence in her brain. It was something totally outside her experience or understanding.
She had to slide the ring onto her finger. Part of her brain was still screaming at her not to do it but the compulsion was a powerful force. She had just inserted the tip of her finger into the golden circle, had the edge of the ring moved up to the base of her nail when her cell phone rang shattering whatever spell she’d been under.
Emitting a shrill squeak, Lydia jumped, dropping the ring to the marble floor, where it clattered and rolled under the lab table. She dug in the side pocket of her cargo Capri pants for her phone and answered it while she dropped to her knees to look for the ring.
“Hey Gina.” There it was, right next to the table leg. She remembered to grab a glove but she didn’t put it on, just used it like a tissue to pick the ring up and set it back on the table.
“Hey, we’re all at the psychic fair in front of Harrison Hall. You were supposed to be here an hour ago.”
Oh crap, she had agreed to meet her friends and wander about the booths set up on the campus’ largest green space, the area in front of the old ivy-covered administration building. The fair was always fun. There would be food vendors and New-Age musicians as well as booths offering everything from horoscopes to past-life regressions. In her early days as a grad student here she’d even participated, earning some extra cash with her Tarot readings.
“Give me ten minutes to lock up and dash over there.” She used her shoulder to hold the phone to her ear and quickly donned her gloves to put the ring and scroll back in their case, then she returned the case to the locked cabinet along the wall.
True to her word, ten minutes later she was scurrying down the sidewalk to the fountain at the center of the main campus square. She smiled at Gina, Tori, James and Don, all friends and all until recently fellow graduate students. Tori and James had their arms wrapped around one another, a new development this spring that Lydia hadn’t quite gotten used to seeing. She winced internally as they all hugged and moved off toward the refreshment stands. Who was she to talk? None of her friends even knew about Galen, though she knew Gina had suspected something happened on that last day of finals. What was going on in her life seemed too private to discuss, even with her friends. Besides, if she didn’t tell them anything to start with she wouldn’t have to deal with awkward explanations if things didn’t work out.
They ate hot dogs and listened to music, some good, some bad. Tori and James went for a couple’s horoscope reading and came out delighted but Lydia didn’t feel the need to pay anyone for a reading. If she wanted to know her future she could go home and get out her cards. As things began to close and wrap up, she said her goodbyes and started to walk back to where she’d left her car, over by the library.
“The card is the key.” The voice was low but clear. Lydia spun to see one of the psychics, an older woman whose face was totally unfamiliar, breaking down her booth.
“What?” She tilted her head. This woman wasn’t decked out in beads and scarves—she wore white jeans, a navy T-shirt and white canvas tennis shoes. Her gray hair was in a tidy bob. She didn’t look like a Sunday psychic at all. But Lydia’s eyes widened at the aura of pure power that emanated from the woman’s tiny frame.
“Very dangerous times are approaching. You must tell him that the card will be the key.”
The woman’s hands were shaking, Lydia saw. This wasn’t a cutesy fun reading, this was frighteningly real. She didn’t waste time arguing. “Tell who?”
“I do not know. Just that when the time comes it will be up to him to save you. And to find the answers he must look to the card. I’m sorry. That’s all I see.”
Lydia pulled out her wallet but the woman shook her head.
“No. Save your money. And be careful. I wish I could tell you where the danger comes from but all I see is red. Just remember what I have told you. The card is the key.”