I’ve always been fascinated with tales that dabble with a Gypsy fortune teller. There’s something both foreboding and enticing about stealing a glimpse of the future for a little sum of money.

I, myself, have never tried it. I’d say it’s because I don’t believe in such hogwash, but if I’m honest, I think it’s fear that keeps me away. It whispers in my ear that some things are best left alone.

So, I’ve done the next best thing. I’ve decided to write my own story of a mystical encounter at the carnival. I’ll be sharing it over the next three blog posts. Starring another version of myself (since every character in a story is the author in disguise, right?), who is much braver than I am. Walk with me in this imaginary carnival, hand in hand, and let’s see what secrets the Lady of Fortune will reveal.

The story begins with the clockwork of fate already ticking. Selena waits outside the carnival gates with her ticket in her pocket. Her best friend, Josie, surprised her with it at work this morning, and the two have agreed to meet at this exact time and place. The catch? Her friend hasn’t shown up yet. As we find Selena, her cell phone gives out that familiar buzz that tells her she has a call, and of course, it’s from Josie.

“Hey, Josie. I’m here waiting out front. Where are you?” Selena asks.

“At home with a sick kid. I’m so sorry. My little guy has a fever of 102,” Josie answers.

“Oh, don’t even worry about it. Family first. I hope your little guy feels better. Do you need anything?”

“No, I have everything I need here. You’re still going to the carnival, right?” Josie’s voice sounds worried. She’s not her usual carefree self.

“Nah, I think I might just call it a night,” Selena casually touches her ticket resting in her pocket as she turns to walk back to her car.

“No! Listen, I really want you to see Madame Zofina,” Josie’s voice has a hint of fervor that seems out of place.

“The Fortune Teller?” Selena laughs. “Oh, come on. You know I don’t believe in that stuff.”

“I know, but do it for me. I paid extra for your ticket. It includes a special reading with Zofina. You know, like the one I had. Remember? Look at how much my life has changed! You need this, Selena. You need something to shake you out of the funk you’re in,” Josie’s tone turns more towards pleading. She is very hard to say no to when she gets like this.

“All right, I’ll do it for you,” Selena says as she turns back towards the carnival. Josie always gets her way in the end. What would be the point of fighting?

“Perfect! Call me as soon as its over. I want to hear all the details before you forget any of it!”

“I will,” Selena promises and hangs up the phone.

The bright lights of the carnival are inviting on a dark night. Each ticket promises to deliver a good time. The crowd murmurs in excitement as they enter the gates. Happy smiles, screams of delight, couples holding hands, cotton candy fingers, prized over-sized bears, all of it alluring, but Selena would prefer to turn around and go home. Oh, well, she thinks, I’ll do it for Josie.

Selena walks up to the gate and surrenders her ticket. A young man with a grubby red flannel shirt and ponytail looks it over carefully and then puts a plastic yellow bracelet around Selena’s wrist.

Selena watches others pass by, walking into the park without the trinket.

“Why do I have this on my wrist and others don’t?” She asks the carny.

He smiles and looks at her for a moment (a moment too long for her liking), “That’s because they are not a Special Guest of Madame Zofina.” After holding her gaze for another uncomfortable pause, he starts laughing.

He’s messing with me, Selena thinks. Trying to be good-natured and keep the mood light, she lets him have his fun, laughs it off, and moves on.

“What a creep!” She thinks to herself as she enters through the gate. Her plan is to find Madame Zofina, have her future read, and leave. She doesn’t belong here. Everyone has someone, except her.

The carnival reminds her of Randy, her on again/off again boyfriend she’s been dating for the past five years. Last year, they were here holding hands like all the other happy couples, and now, they’ve called it quits once again.

I’m such a screw up, she tells herself as she heads towards Madame Zofina’s tent. I don’t need a Fortune Teller to tell me that my life will still be screwed up in the future. Or worse yet, lie to me. Promise me love and fortune is just around the corner.

Why did Josie buy this ticket? She can’t afford it. They both work as baristas in the local coffee shop, hardly millionaires. And yet, Josie had come into work this morning bubbling with excitement as she handed the ticket to Selena.

Josie is Selena’s opposite, constantly searching for tell tale signs from the universe and good omens in tea leaves. It’s that same positive energy that makes her such a good friend. Josie is the only one cheering on Selena’s dream of becoming a writer, reading every short story as if it’s a bestseller book.

Selena has been unable to write since Randy and her broke it off. That’s the funk Josie was talking about. Life feels hopeless. Why keep dreaming that tomorrow will bring something better? It just seems so disappointing.

And there it is, Madame Zofina’s tent with its colorful fabrics laden with moons and stars, hiding who knows what inside. In the dead center, there is a small opening inviting/frightening anyone curious enough to enter. Above the gateway looms a large wide open eye that sees all.

“Oh my goodness, I can’t believe Josie believes all this crap! But since she’s the sweetest friend I’ll ever have,” Selena mutters to herself as she enters Madame Zofina’s tent.

“There you are my child. Come closer so I can see you. Please sit down. I’ve been waiting for you,” Madame Zofina’s voice echoes off the draping fabric as Selena walks towards her.

Madame Zofina is seated across from her at a round table. The dim lit room casts shadows, but gives enough light so Selena can take in all the strange objects around her. On the table rests a crystal ball, a deck of Tarot cards, and a Ouija board. Everything you would expect to find in a Charlatan’s lair.

Madame Zofina, herself, looks rather odd. A small woman, older than expected, perhaps in her late sixties, with long curly red hair and bright green cat eyes. She has a purple scarf with rhinestones and dangling gold coins wrapped around the crown of her head. She has layers of colorful fabric and jewelry adorning her and a silky white blouse with billowing long sleeves. Instead of being intimidating, she has a welcoming smile and a kind voice, almost that of a grandmother drawing out a shy child. Selena takes a seat at the table.

“How can I help you, Selena?”

“You know my name?” Selena asks.

“Of course, I wouldn’t be much of a Fortune Teller if I didn’t,” after a long pause, Madame Zofina laughs and adds, “and your friend, Josie, told me your name.” With a wink and a smile, Madame Zofina points to the yellow wristband, “Plus that’s a pretty good give away.”

“Surely, I’m not your only customer tonight,” Selena points out.

“”There have been many today,” Madame Zofina sighs. “Happy couples wishing to know if they’ll stay together forever. Women wanting to know if they’ll ever have a child. Others asking for career advice. Everybody wants to know something about the future. But, I only do one Special Reading a night.”

“Only one?” Selena’s high-pitch inflection gives away her skepticism.

“Only one,” Madame Zofina answers. Her green eyes widen with excitement, “So, my dear child, what is it that you want to know?”

Selena thought about lying, but she couldn’t. It would be so easy to ask for something predictable like love and money, have Madame Zofina spout some mumbo jumbo, and be on her merry way back home. But, it isn’t in her nature to lie. She’s a lousy liar.

“Madame Zofina, you’ve done so much for my friend, Josie. She’s really happy and talks non-stop about how you’ve helped her. But me, well, I just don’t believe in any of this. I’m here, because I promised my friend I would come. I’m sorry,” she was going to continue on, but Madame Zofina interrupted.

“I knew I would like you!” Madame Zofina clapped her hands together in delight making Selena jump slightly in her seat. “I knew it from the minute you entered my tent. You are a smart girl and very honest! But my dear, if I may ask, why are you so sad?”

“What? Sad? No, not really,” but even as Selena utters the words out loud they resonate off the fabric walls with a false tone.

Madame Zofina simply looks at her. How much did Josie tell her? She has a new respect for Madame Zofina. Although the old woman looks like a kind grandmother, she is a cunning fox and this is her den. Selena was one blabber away from confiding in her.

Madame Zofina laughs watching her, “Don’t worry. You’re friend told me nothing about you except for your name. I asked her not to. It makes it more fun for me that way. I’m not using my psychic powers to read your aura, either. Haven’t you ever seen a sad person before? I was simply curious and had to ask. How could such a beautiful, strong, smart woman, such as yourself, not be happy? We live in a truly strange world, I think,” as she talked she rose from her chair and retrieved a small object from a nearby shelf.

“That’s okay, my love, you don’t have to tell me. I’m just an old lady who is like a curious cat. The only one you have to be honest with is yourself.”

The Fortune Teller closes the distance between them and hands Selena a large old-fashioned key.

“You will meet three guides tonight who will help you retrieve a very wise and very old box. When you find the box bring it here, and we will open it together. Do not open it before! Inside the box will be what you need to know about the future, so you can be happier.”

“What? I have to search for a box! Couldn’t we make this easier? I don’t want to waste your time. I know your busy, right? Look, we don’t have to make it a Special Reading. Couldn’t you just do a quick reading now?” Selena tries her best to persuade the Fortune Teller that she doesn’t have to put on a big show to please her.

Madame Zofina gives her a stern look that silences her like a misbehaved child. No laughter. No smile. No nice Grandma.

“Lies come easily. For a sum of money, anyone can whisper sweet lies into your ear. I’ve done enough of that today. What I am giving you is the truth, so you’ll have to earn it,” as she scolds Selena she softly takes her by the hand to guide her out of the tent.

Madame Zofina links her arm with Selena as she slowly ushers her out. The younger woman being at least a foot taller than the elderly lady. Madame Zofina huddles close to her as they walk together.

“Look for the Tall Man. He is your first guide. Give him the key and convince him to open the gate. That is your first task,” Madame Zofina tells her as Selena steps outside the threshold.

Selena turns to ask another question, but the drapes of the tent close before she can open her mouth.

“Madame Zofina, Madame Zofina,” Selena repeats her name several times, each attempt becomes a little louder, until she gives up and opens the tent.

No one is there. The tent is empty. This is ridiculous! Where could she have gone? She must have slipped out the back. Probably a trick to add drama.

Selena feels a bit of anger stir up in her. This reminds her of Randy. Always demanding his way and then threatening to disappear if she voices any objections. His latest demand was an open relationship, and when she said no, they broke up.

Feeling the weight of the key in her hand, Selena thinks of her friend. Josie spent what little money she had hoping that Madame Zofina might help Selena be happy again. Even if this is stupid, I’m not going to let Josie down. I can’t lie to her, so I’m going to do this, Selena thinks as she steps away from the tent.

Selena scans the carnival. It looks twice as large as she remembers. Where does she begin to look? The guy’s big, right? He can’t be hard to find. So, she braves the carnival alone on a fool’s mission with directions given by a Charlatan, an old key in hand, searching for the Tall Man.

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