"Tell me your life story, I tell you your fortune," said the grey lump of rags hunched against the wall, "Cheap, for you." The lump extended what the Captain thought was a claw wrapped in bandages, but resolved itself into a filthy hand outstretched. The pinky finger was missing and the ring finger short by a knuckle. The Old Man started backwards to realize it was a human there at his feet. A human, looking for alms.
The Captain couldn't place the accent. It was English, he speculated, that may have once known its way around Spanish or something like it. He looked around the souk to see if anyone else had noticed. Aside from the bored stare of the coffee vendor, slumped next to his pots, no one was paying attention. The Captain looked back down, into a pair of obsidian eyes peering out from a headwrap that made mummy's linen look positively fresh. A hot breeze swept across the plaza, stinging the nostrils with Saharan grit and the pungent aroma of spice. The Captain coughed. The lump stirred not a bit, its arm still outstretched.
"My story would bore you," the Captain replied, "and I have no silver to spare."
The lump shifted slightly, saying nothing. The eyes blinked. The rags across its face split to reveal the ruins of a mouth, the three remaining teeth like ghostly palings in a fence destroyed by an angry sirocco. The grin, or what passed for it, sent a pulse of ice water through the Captain's heart. The hand spread open its fingers, jagged nails shining like claws in the heat. The Captain's vision blurred, and for an instant the hand was replaced by the head of a puff adder. He recoiled, pulling away, but the hand/snake struck out to grasp the Captain's wrist. It squeezed, and the Captain winced. He thought he had been bitten. The lump spoke, its words hissing like dry sand over stones.
"Then I shall give it to you free," it said. There was a pause. The obsidian eyes rolled up, and the Captain saw the lozenge shape irises open. The blackness was flecked by gold. The trapped man attempted to pull free, but the hand was holding his wrist in a crushing grip. The rags parted again.
"You came from rain, from cold, O man. You shall die in sand and heat." A sibilant laugh rasped from between the blackened rims of the mouth. The hand let go, causing the Captain to stagger back on trembling legs. He stifled the urge to run, glaring at the rags and nursing his bruised wrist.
The rags leaned back against the stone wall, the hand disappearing back into the filthy fabric. The laughing died away. The Captain felt his bowels turn to liquid, and he turned and ran. The voice followed him past the spice vendor's stall.
"Your blood shall stain the sand, foreigner, and the sun will erase your memory."
The Captain scarcely heard, running blindly into the heat, to collapse outside the walls of the kasbah. The heat shimmered and danced while two drops of blood welled on his wrist, shining like the eyes of a spider. They found him there in the morning, his wrist in his mouth. The teeth were in deep.