The Fortune Teller Part IV The Box

Special Note: This is the fourth (and final) section of the short story “The Fortune Teller.” If you haven’t read Part I, II and III, then scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the link to start the tale from the beginning.

The story continues on with Joe the Mechanic leading Selena to the Keeper of Odds and Ends. This has been a crazy night, Selena thinks to herself. Never did she dream that having her fortune told would require so much work!

From her encounter with the Tall Man, the awful clowns in the Funhouse, and following Joe the Mechanic with his jiggling toolbelt halfway across the carnival, Selena feels like the main character in a Felini film. All of this to retrieve a box which the Fortune Teller, Madame Zofina, insists will tell Selena what she needs to know most about the future.

“Here we are!” Joe calls back to Selena as he ducks into The Sideshow, a large carnival tent selling knick-knacks. Teenagers crowd around tables with novelty pranks for sale; the bug in the fake ice cube, the shock-hand buzzer, the old fashion whoopie cushion, and many other items meant to trick an unsuspecting victim.

Throughout the tent there are mystical items such as magic eight balls, wizard wands, and Tarot cards. There are magic tricks and even books on how to become an Illusionist.

And for the daring, there is candy with disgusting flavors. Jelly beans that taste (and look) like snot. Trash can gummy bears like slimy banana peel and dirty socks.

There are nostalgic carnival souvenirs such as small replicas of the Ferris Wheel and Funhouse (a souvenir Selena can do without).

And then there are the items not for sale, but definitely crowd pleasers, inspiring pointed fingers with oohs and ahs. One-of-a-kind oddities, frauds of course, but fun nonetheless, such as scales from the Loch Ness monster, a trio of shrunken heads, dragon teeth, and a straight jacket once worn by Houdini.

“Maggie!” Joe bellows out as he heads towards a middle-aged woman with wiry long, blonde hair that stands on end as though it were styled by an electric socket. She looks back at the Mechanic with her hands on her hips wearing a purple hippie skirt and long pink t-shirt dressed up with a pair of dangling beaded earrings and sparkling bracelets.

Joe gives Maggie a quick hug and then keeps one arm wrapped around her shoulders, “Maggie, my darling, this is Selena. She’s giving this to you in exchange for the box.” After finishing his announcement, Joe officially hands off the token to Maggie.

“My job is done, so I’m heading off back to work,” he sneaks a quick kiss to Maggie’s cheek.

“Stop flirting with me, you oaf!” She laughs and pushes him away. Joe smiles back at her.

“Goodbye, Selena. Never mind my old lady, she might sound tough but she’s a sweetheart. Best of luck to you,” Joe shakes Selena’s hand before leaving. She can hear his toolbelt jingling along as he walks away.

“That man is insufferable, but I do love him. God help me,” Maggie mutters as she watches him go. “Selena, dear, it’s nice to meet you. Come with me. I have what you’re looking for,” Maggie motions to Selena to follow.

Maggie steps behind a wooden counter and proceeds to plunk down three boxes in front of Selena.

“Go on, love. Pick one,” she says with a smile and then rests her chin on her hands and her elbows on the counter. Her bright blue eyes carefully watch Selena’s selection like a cat observing a mouse.

“I have to choose? I thought the box was supposed to be special. You know “like very old and very wise”?

Maggie laughs. “Of course, all of these boxes are very old. But which one do you want?” She continues to study Selena with her chin resting on the palms of her hands.

“But what if I pick the wrong one?” Selena absentmindedly lets the words slip out. How silly, I’m being! She thinks to herself. I’ve almost forgotten that I don’t believe in any of this!

“You won’t. Most people are paralyzed by choice. Who should I marry? Which job should I take? What if I get it all wrong they say to themselves.” Maggie shrugs her shoulders. “Truth is. darling, you can’t get it wrong. True, some choices we’re sorely sorry for and wish we could undo, but they become a part of our story and lead to other choices, some of which bring out the best in us.”

Maggie leans in closer, “Here’s the secret. As long as you’re doing the choosing, in the end, your life will start to reflect more and more of you who you are. But if you don’t choose, something else will choose for you, and that’s when your life turns ugly.” She sighs and then Maggie’s smile returns, “So, go on then. Choose!”

Selena carefully examines the three boxes. The first is small like a jewelry box with golden pedestal legs and an oval light blue cushion top, something an admirer would give to a love interest. The second box is larger, the size of a Kleenex box, and made of monkey wood. A puzzle box, perhaps? Selena feels wary of this one for some unknown reason, as though it might have secrets of its own hidden inside. The last box is the largest of the three, but still no more than twelve inches tall or wide. It is sturdy; made of mahogany wood, but plain, as if what you see is exactly what you get.

“I’ll pick this one,” Selena points to the largest box.

“Then it is yours,” Maggie smiles and stands tall again. “I wish you the best, Selena.” Her bright eyes look at Selena warmly as if conveying the truth of her sentiment. Then without further fanfare, Maggie turns her attention back to the noisy crowd of customers collecting in her tent.

Selena leaves The Sideshow carrying her chosen box, ready to see Madame Zofina. Her fingers can feel the smoothness of the wood. A thought creeps up through her hands and wiggles its way into her awareness, “What’s inside the box?”

She laughs at herself. Really? Her little adventure must have suckered her into Josie’s world of fortune cookie logic. Now, she’s actually curious about what’s inside the box. Ridiculous!

Still, tonight had changed her somehow, hadn’t it? A tiny part of herself speaks up pointing out the truth. The Tall Man, Joe, Maggie, even the damn clowns, they had gotten to her somehow, softened her, made her see the world differently. What will happen when she opens the box?

Well, I guess I’m about to find out, she reasons. Back at the Fortune Teller’s lair, Selena takes a deep breath and goes inside.

“You’ve returned, child,” Madame Zofina’s voice fills the tent, “and I see that you’ve chosen a box. Good, bring it here.”

Selena’s eyes begin to adjust to the dim lighting and gradually she sees Madame Zofina seated at the round table.

“Have a seat, Selena,” Madame Zofina gestures with a wave of the hand. “Are you ready to open the box?”

“So, the box will tell me my future?” Selena asks as she places the box on the table. She catches the nervousness in her voice as it echoes back to her.

“The box will tell you what you need to know about the future, so you can be happier,” Madame Zofina answers and as she speaks she rises from her chair. Graceful as a kitty, she moves to stand behind Selena. “Go ahead, child. Open the box.”

Selena feels a tingling sliver of hope that maybe this might work. She opens the box. Stunned, she stares at it trying to make sense of what she finds.

“I don’t understand,” Selena utters the words out loud without taking her eyes off the box.

“You don’t understand?” Madame Zofina asks. “You’re such a clever girl. I thought you might have guessed.”

“There’s nothing in here, except for a mirror. It’s just an empty box!” Selena’s voice rises in pitch, unable to hide the anger at being played a fool.

“In that way, the box is exactly like the future, Selena. My dear, the future does not exist. Not really. It lives only in the imagination. It is a myth we tell ourselves to inspire fear or hope, a convention of time used for planning. But we never live in the future, do we? Each minute when it arrives is exactly as it has always been, the present.,” Madame Zofina sighs.

“So, this has all been for nothing. There is no special box that is “very old and very wise” that can help me,” Selena replies. Her words drop to the ground like a deflated balloon.

“You’re wrong, Selena. The box is very wise. Look into the mirror, child,” upon saying the words Madame Zofina places both hands softly on Selena’s shoulders.

Selena’s image begins to change. The color drains from her face and clothes melding into tones of white, black and red. She watches in horror as she sees herself once again trapped inside a clown.

“The present only becomes a nightmare when it doesn’t reflect who you truly are. Good and bad things will always come and go, but it is when you stop making our own choices that everything around you becomes distorted, and you’re left feeling like something is missing. What you are missing is yourself, Selena,” after hearing the words the image swirls and again Selena is staring at her real face.

“My dear child, start making your own choices instead of pleasing those around you. The more you express yourself, the more you will see your true face in your surroundings, the world around will start to reflect the world within.”

“I’m so lost, Madame Zofina. I don’t even know who I am,” Selena slumps in her chair.

“Turn the box over, Selena,” Madame Zofina’s voice floats gently like a grandmother coaxing a tired child.

When she turns the box upside-down, Selena sees a tiny golden lever. She’s holding a music box.

“The box is wise because it listens. It listens not only to words and thoughts, but to feelings that are rarely given voice. Tonight, it has been listening to you. Wind the music box, child,” Madame Zofina leans in closer still keeping her hands lightly on Selena’s shoulders. She whispers into her ear, “This is who you are.”

Words flood Selena’s mind like an ocean. Some phrases start to surface and she begins to hear them echo through out the room.

“I don’t need a Fortune Teller to tell me my life will be screwed up in the future!” She hears her thoughts out loud and watches in the mirror as she enters the carnival. A recording of the past, but unlike a movie, she feels the emotions.

Madame Zofina watches and laughs, “I love that you think for yourself. Very smart. No one dictates your future!”

Now Selena sees herself standing outside the Fortune Teller’s tent looking angry. She hears her own voice sharing her unsaid thoughts at the time, “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.”

“Honest and loyal,” Madame Zofina whispers behind her.

The images start to blur together and the phrases blend out of sequence. She sees herself with the Tall Man and then trying to open the wrought iron gates. The words call out, “There’s no going back. I’m happier alone than with a man like that. When you can’t go backwards, you have to go forward, right?”

“You are strong, Selena!” The Fortune Teller’s voice rises above the blending memories.

Now she’s in the Funhouse watching her face turn from a clown into her own. “I’d rather be alone and laughed at than to be stuck in this hideous image. Set me free. I want to see myself.” She feels gratitude swell in her heart looking at her true image.

“Beautiful, my child. You are beautiful!” Madame Zofina’s voice rings out.

The Tall Man is back. He leans down to hear her answer, “Yes, I’m a writer. I love to write. If only I had a pen I would stop everything and capture it all.”

The flood of images takes Selena back to the beginning of her night. She sees Madame Zofina rise to retrieve a small object from a nearby shelf, “How could such a beautiful, strong, smart woman, such as yourself, not be happy? We live in a truly strange world, I think.” This time Selena sees the sadness in Madame Zofina’s eyes as she says the words.

Madame Zofina closes the box. The room returns to normal. The Fortune Teller sits next to Selena and gently holds her hand.

“The world is only strange when you are a stranger to yourself. You are beautiful, strong, smart and honest. Show yourself in your writing, your friendships, work, and in everything you do and to everyone you meet. Then your world will not be strange, because you will recognize yourself in it.”

Selena feels her eyes tear up not from sadness, but from a sense of feeling loved and understood.

“Madame Zofina, where does your magic come from?” Selena asks.

“Oh no, my dear. That wasn’t me. That was you. The box has been listening to you, remember? You put everything inside.”

“I don’t have any magic,” Selena shakes her head in disbelief.

“Don’t you? Creating worlds out of thin air, isn’t that what writers do?” Madame Zofina winks and laughs.

Not sure of what to make of that revelation, Selena decides to laugh with her, because laughing feels incredibly good.

“How can I repay you for this gift?” Selena asks.

“Your friend Josie asked the same question.”

“She did?”

“Yes,” Madame Zofina reaches into her pocket and hands Selena a ticket. “Give this to someone who needs it. All I ask for is a name. Can you think of someone?”

Selena stares into Madame Zofina’s green cat eyes and gives it some thought.

“Oh, yes. I have a name,” Selena answers.

Dearest Reader, the one who was willing to read to the very end of this long tale. The one who has walked hand and hand with me in this imaginary carnival. Did you guess the name given? You’re so clever, I’m sure you did.

The Fortune Teller Part III The Funhouse

Special Note: This is the third part in a four part series. If you haven’t read Part I and Part II scroll to the bottom of this page and click the link to find the beginning of “The Fortune Teller”.

“I don’t want to do this,” Selena whispers as she enters the Funhouse. She passes through the double doors that resemble a giant clown’s mouth and lets the Funhouse swallow her whole.

Inside, she sees crazy black and white stripes scattering in every direction on the walls, floor, and ceiling. It’s a dizzying combination of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines running amok. Nothing makes sense. It’s like an awful B-rated black and white movie sprung to life.

Up ahead, across from her, she spots the opening to the next room. Selena takes a few steps forward, but the stripes makes her feel off-balance like she’s walking on a ship at sea. Just keep going, she commands her clumsy legs.

“Aaah!”A high-pitched, blood-curdling scream shakes the room. Everything goes black. Electric fear shoots through her. She can’t even see an inch in front of her. No moonlight shining through the window curtains to soften the blackness. It is pitch dark.

“Ha, ha, ha! Scared you!” An annoying disembodied voice that sounds like a wind up doll yells out. Horrible laughter fills the room. The laughter bounces off the walls in every direction, behind her, in front, from all sides. A terrible thought rises up, “What if I’m not alone?” She swings her arms around violently trying to feel the space surrounding her.

Then she sees it. A blue light flickers above the entrance of the next room. Anything is better than this darkness, Selena reasons, as she rushes towards it.

Selena walks into a nightmare. It is a hallway of clowns. Life-size clown mannequins line the passageway on both sides. There must be a dozen standing still and quiet.

Selena can see the opening to the next room laughing at her from the end of the hallway. What are the chances she’ll make it through without one of them grabbing her?

She studies them carefully, half expecting one to turn its head. Each clown looks the same; chalky white face plastered with makeup, rosy cheeks, bulbous nose, and an exaggerated smile. Fluffs of red hair surround a bald white cap like a friar Tuck. Each have ruffled Taffeta around the neck and are stuffed into a black and white polka dotted clown suit finished with shiny red shoes.

I don’t trust clowns, she thinks. Nothing about them is real. How can you trust something that smiles all the time?

The clowns are motionless. She walks swiftly trying to avoid the eyes. At the same time, she scans for movement and checks behind hoping there is nothing following her. It’s hard to breathe with fear gripping her lungs, but she makes her way.

“Stay with us!” A clown screams out as he lunges from her right side with over-sized hands. Selena escapes his grip and runs past him leaving him laughing behind her.

Selena steals a quick glance behind and sees him there frozen in place with his outstretched hands. A mechanized doll triggered to give a good fright. She breathes easier.

She enters a mirrored maze. Trapping her are passageways of glass and mirrors. Selena runs her fingers along the clear panels to try to get the feel of the maze. She scans around for hidden clowns. A nasty fear of a clown grabbing her by the shoulder creeps along with her as she moves about the maze.

As she twists and turns about the labyrinth, she’s given choices. She wanders each passageway until she reaches a dead end, a distorted reflection of herself staring back blocking the path.

She sees herself skinny, chunky, tall, fatheaded, and wavy; a dozen possible lives she could have lived. Each falsehood reflects an ugliness in the distortion. She starts to long to see herself as she truly looks, just to be sure her face hasn’t changed.

And then she comes upon the mirror that stops her heart. White flakey makeup, red clumps of hair, fat nose, and painted smile staring back with her own eyes underneath. Another Selena dressed in a black and white polka-dotted clown suit, wrapped up in a red taffeta ring around her neck. Selena moves, and it moves as if they are one.

“Oh, crap!” Selena says out loud. Fear wants her to turn away, but she can’t. She keeps looking at it until the fear dies down. Something about this image speaks to her. Seeing herself this way stirs compassion. What have I been doing to myself? She thinks.

“This is who I have been for the past five years,” she says to her image. Painting on a fake smile every day, trying to be the perfect girlfriend, going along with things she knew wasn’t right for her. Trying to stuff herself into a costume to fit in with the other clowns around her.

The only thing left that is real is her eyes and whatever lies inside watching and waiting to be let free. She has done this to herself, chosen this dead end. Hiding away what she loves, her writing, for fear of ridicule from the other clowns. Scared to be herself, if it means being rejected.

And this is what has happened, she has become a caricature of herself. Her eyes plead with her, as if saying, “I’d rather be alone and laughed at than to be stuck in this hideous image. Set me free. I want to see myself.”

Selena touches her image as if to comfort the eyes, and for a moment the clown suit disappears. She sees herself just as she is, her true face. But it quickly disappears, as the mirror opens and Selena finds herself staring at the carnival outside. The bright lights and music rushing to her as she exits the Funhouse.

“There you are! I’ve been waiting for you,” a man in overalls calls out. He heads towards her with his plump belly jiggling his toolbelt as he walks.

“I’m Joe,” he holds out a hand to shake hers. Selena stares up at him taking in his gold-rimmed glasses and blue bandana wrapped around his head.

“I’m Selena,” she answers still a little shaken. He seems nice, she thinks to herself.

“Do you have something for me?” Joe asks and smiles.

“I do,” Selena says as she rummages in her pocket and finds the token. She offers it to Joe.

“I hate those damn clowns. Don’t you?” The mechanic looks at the gold coin in his hands and laughs.

“More than you can imagine!” Selena laughs with him. It feels good to laugh again.

“Okay, my dear. Let’s take you to the Keeper of Odds and Ends,” Joe announces and motions for Selena to follow.

Selena takes one last look at the Funhouse. Inside, she thanks it for tucking away the clowns, preventing them from haunting her any further. She says goodbye to them in her heart, and walks forward more herself than she has ever been.

The Fortune Teller Part II Search for the Tall Man

Special Note: This is the second part in a four part series. If you haven’t read Part I scroll to the bottom of this page and click on the link, “The Fortune Teller Part I”.

We continue on where we left off, Selena is looking for the Tall Man. Madame Zofina has told her to find three guides who can help Selena retrieve a very wise and very old box. The box contains what Selena needs to learn about the future so she can be happy. So far, Selena isn’t having much luck in her search.

“This is impossible!” She grumbles to herself. Selena has circled the carnival three times and has yet to see anyone she would consider to be abnormally tall. She toys with the thought of asking the people around her if they’ve seen the Tall Man, but nixes the idea. It’s bad enough she’s on a fool’s errand, she’s not about to start sharing this silliness with strangers. So, she makes a deal with herself. One last loop. I will try one more time and that’s it. I’m giving up if I don’t see him.

She passes by the game booths. Carnies call out trying to attract anyone willing to spend money for the chance to win a prize. Pop three balloons with a dart and win a gigantic pink bear. Knock down three milk cans with a baseball and impress your date. Parade around all night with your prize to show everyone you are a winner.

Oh well, no Tall Man here, she tells herself as she turns to head towards the amusement rides. She stops when a shadow of movement catches the corner of her vision.

A man with a top hat rises from a park bench, and he’s taller than any man she’s ever seen. He has to be at least eight and a half feet tall! The man is slender and lanky. He is dressed in long black pants, a bright red coat, and has a Walrus moustache so large it must be fake. His hands are covered with white gloves. Selena catches herself staring at him and turns away in embarrassment. That’s awfully rude of me, she scolds herself. Gathering her courage, she makes her way towards the Tall Man.

As she gets closer, Selena tries to think of a way to make the introduction less awkward. The Tall Man simply watches her as she approaches. Selena tilts her head upward to meet his gaze.

“Hello, my name is Selena. Madame Zofina gave me this key,” she holds the key up so he can see it. “She said to find you and ask if you would open the gate for me. I’d really appreciate your help.”

“Hmmm,” the Tall Man says while cupping his chin with one hand. “You’d like my help? What would you be willing to offer in return?”

“You want something in return?’ Selena asks. Her first reaction is surprise which swiftly gives way to skepticism. Just what kind of offer is this guy expecting?

Noticing Selena’s narrowed eyes and straight-lined mouth, the Tall Man quickly asks, “What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a barista at a coffee shop,” Selena answers, unsure of his intentions.

“Now, a cup of coffee would be a mighty nice trade. I can’t think of anything I’d like better than a cup of coffee, but it’s night time. If I drink coffee at this hour, I won’t sleep at all. So, that won’t work. What else do you do? Any hobbies?”

“Not much. I dance and write. That’s about it.”

“Dance? I like that! What kind of dancing do you do?” The Tall Man asks.

“I’m a Salsa dancer. It’s just for fun, though. I don’t do it professionally,” Selena answers feeling a little embarrassed.

“Salsa? I love the Latin dances. To dance with a lovely lady like yourself would be a fine trade. But alas, I have only one partner and she’s waiting for me at home. So, that won’t work either. But you said that you’re a writer?” The Tall Man’s eyes shine in the moonlight as he stares down at her. He leans forward a little more as if curious to hear her answer.

“Yes, I’m a writer. I love to write, but I haven’t published anything yet,” Selena feels nervous calling herself a writer.

“What have you written?” The Tall Man’s smile puts her at ease. He seems to be genuine in his curiosity.

“Mostly short stories, but I did just finish the rough draft of my first book,” Selena answers. She’s surprised that she’s telling this to a stranger. It’s been her most guarded secret for the past year. But his smile makes her feel that he is truly interested, and that feels incredibly good.

“Fiction or non-fiction?” He probes.

“Fiction. I love to spin a good tale,” Selena can feel herself start to smile as she says the words out loud.

“I’ll make you a deal. I’ll open the gate for you, if you make me a character in one of your stories. I love the idea of myself out there somewhere doing something made up.” After presenting the offer, the Tall Man bends down to look her in the eye.

“Okay, I’ll do it! I’d love to have you as a character in one of my stories,” Selena answers. Just the thought gives her goosebumps. No one has ever asked to be part of her stories before. The Tall Man extends his hand and they shake on it.

“Let’s walk over to the gate, and I’ll share a little about myself on the way. You can’t write my character if you don’t know something about me, right?” He smiles, stands tall, and smooths his moustache.

“I’d like that,” Selena laughs.

“Promise me you’ll make me a foot taller than I am and that you will give me a top hat, okay?” He says as they walk slowly together.

“I promise,” Selena replies. She can already feel the words of his character wanting to be written on the page. If only she had a pen she would stop everything and capture it all, especially that Walrus moustache. But for now, she keeps walking and listening.

As they walk, Selena notices the reaction of the crowd to the Tall Man. Much like her own initial reaction, many can’t help but stare. She even overhears one drunk man shout out, “Hey! How’s the weather up there?” She hears people talk about him as they pass by.

“Do you know my official job title?” The Tall Man asks.

“No, what is it?”

“Security Guard,” the Tall Man laughs. “Can you believe it? It’s actually rather clever. While the crowd is watching me, I am paid to watch them.”

“It makes a lot of sense,” Selena laughs with him. “You’d make the ideal Security Guard. Nobody would suspect it,” Selena observes.

“You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen.” the Tall Man shakes his head as if trying to clear away unpleasant memories. “At first, I didn’t like the job. The looks, finger-pointing, and murmurs behind my back. It bothered me. I felt like I didn’t belong. I used to whisper to myself, “If only I wasn’t so tall.” Until one day, I figured out a valuable truth,” the Tall Man stops moving and looks down at Selena.

“What’s that?” She asks.

“We all belong. Nobody’s life here is perfect. I’ve seen people you wouldn’t expect lie, cheat and steal. I’ve seen couples dress and act like rich people and then argue when they don’t have enough gas money to make it home. But mostly, I see ordinary folk like yourself wandering about feeling out of place.” Catching the change in her expression, he adds, “Yes, I watched you circling around looking for me. What I’m saying is true, right? You don’t feel like you belong,” the Tall Man continues to look at her.

Instead of feeling defensive, Selena feels understood. She lets down her guard. “Yes, that’s exactly how I feel. Everyone here has someone who loves them, except me. There must be something wrong with me. Look at that girl over there,” Selena points to a woman close by. “Do you see that ring on her finger? She’s engaged. That man holding her hand loves her enough to want to spend the rest of his life with her.”

“Do you think so?” He asks.

“Yes, of course! Do you see how happy they are?” Selena responds back louder than she intends.

“What if I told you last night I saw him here with another girl, and they looked just as happy?”

“I’d say you’re lying,” Selena answers.

“Unfortunately, I’m not. I really wish I were. It’s the one thing I hate about my job. I see more than I want to sometimes,” as the Tall man says this he starts moving again.

Selena has no reason to believe him, and yet she does. She continues walking with him.

“You know, I’d be happier alone than with a man like that,” Selena announces. As her words escape her she feels the weight of them drop to the ground, and in return she feels lighter and freer.

“You see, we all belong. Everyone’s life here is screwed up in one way or another, even if some don’t realize it yet. It is the one thing we all have in common. Nobody’s life is perfect. Selena, my dear, these are your people,” he takes a gloved hand and shows her the crowd like a Ringmaster introducing the circus troop.

“We’ve finally reached our destination,” the Tall Man says as they stop in front of a massive wrought iron gate. He extends his hand for the key. Selena places it in his white glove.

The Tall man unlocks the gate and then tucks the key safely in his pocket. He then hands Selena a token, a bronze-colored coin etched with a clown’s face.

“Give this to Joe, the Mechanic. Up ahead, around the corner, you will see the Funhouse. It’s closed for repairs, but Joe’s expecting you. So, go inside. Once you find your way out, give this token to Joe. He’ll show you what to do next.” At the end of his instructions, the Tall Man holds the gate open for Selena like a true gentleman. After she passes through, he closes it behind her.

“You’re not coming with me?” She asks.

“No, some things you have to do on your own,” he sighs. “But I have enjoyed my talk with you, and truly wish you the best,” with a bit of flair he nods his head and tips his hat to her with one gloved hand.

“Thank you, I enjoyed talking to you too,” Selena answers. She wants to say more, but can’t find the right words, so she leaves it at that. The Tall Man turns and walks away. His long strides carry him off quickly.

She heads towards the Funhouse. Being alone seems to color the night darker. How many horror movies revolve around a creepy Funhouse? They’re cheesy in the daylight with friends, but alone? She’s not so sure about this.

The Funhouse emerges as soon as she turns the corner. It’s visage is a gigantic clown face with its double doors open wide for the clown’s mouth. It’s wild red hair stretches out along the front wall in both directions. A carnival attraction usually has blaring music, but this one stands silent. It is the silence that is unnerving.

She runs. It’s silly, and she would be embarrassed if anyone saw her, but she doesn’t care. If she hurries and screams loud enough, the Tall Man might hear her and return. Selena reaches the gate and tries to open it, but the wrought iron just groans in her hands refusing to budge. It’s locked. The Tall Man is no where to be seen.

She cries. There’s no going back, she tells herself, as both of her hands grip the gate. After the tears start to subside, the words, “There’s no going back,” repeat in her head until she feels another meaning coming from them.

She remembers the girl at the carnival. The one about to be married to a cheat and a liar.

There is no going back to my old life, she thinks. I’m happier alone than with a man like that.

She releases her grip on the wrought iron gate. It won’t budge. Her only choice is to continue on.

Even though the logic makes sense, it’s still scary, especially when facing the unknown alone. But what other choice does she have? When you can’t go backwards, you have to go forward, right?

This is what Selena tells herself as she slowly walks towards the Funhouse. The gigantic clown face watches her approach and smiles.

The Fortune Teller Part I

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.


The Game Maker

It is said that creation is a two-way street. As an artist creates the artwork, the artwork creates the artist. I think that is why many of us love stories. Hidden in the conflict of every fairytale is the story of a writer wrestling with real life. Sometimes, it is easier to find an answer in a make believe world. Sometimes, it is the story that saves you.

And so, I’ve created the tale of “The Game Maker.” I hope you enjoy it.

“How can I get her to find the Golden Castle if she’s stuck in the Temple of Gloom!” The Game Maker shakes his head and takes a deep breath.

“There has to be a way! Something I haven’t tried yet,” he rubs his face and bald head with his hands, a nervous tick. The doorbell rings and breaks him away from his thoughts. Oh, it must be the pizza guy.

He gets up from his computer chair. His legs are stiff from sitting so long. Slowly, he makes his way to the door and opens it.

“How’s it going, Mr. Comp-Man?” It’s Barry, the pizza guy. The twenty-something old pizza deliveryman that visits his house too often. How many times has he ordered pizza this week? So many times that Barry has given him a nickname, “The Comp-Man.”

“Are you working on a new game?” Barry asks as he hands him his pizza.

“Yeah, this one has me stumped,” he answers as he hands Barry twenty bucks for the pizza and an extra ten for the tip. It’s a bit much, but looking at Barry’s raggedy red flannel shirt and worn blue jeans, he figures the kid needs it.

“Thanks, Mr. Comp-Man,” Barry answers as he pockets the ten and puts the twenty in the money bag.

“I have a big favor to ask, Mr. Comp-Man. I met this beautiful girl. I mean, she’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. Anyways, she’s a gamer and a big fan of yours. She’s even read your book about how to create games. Could I bring her by tonight to get your autograph?” Barry asks as he shifts his weight from foot to foot.

“Sure, bring her by,” he tells Barry. The kid looks happy.

“Thanks, Mr. Comp-Man,” Barry says as he heads back to his car.

Young love. Must be nice. He thinks to himself as he goes back to his computer to work on the game.

His heroine is in trouble. The game works flawlessly in every scenario, except this one. From the beginning, the game is rigged in her favor. She starts out smart, sweet, and confident. The only child of loving parents. In all other versions of the game, she finds her way to the Golden Castle where she overthrows the Foolish Monkeys and brings happiness to the land. No matter what choices the gamer makes, he can always find enough clues to get her to the happy ending.

The only glitch happens if the gamer stumbles upon this storyline. The one where her father wanders into the Forest of Error and abandons her at the tender age of fourteen. From there, the heroine gets off track searching for love instead of looking for clues to her destiny. She falls in love with men who treat her badly. She suffers heartbreak after heartbreak, until she ends up dancing in the Temple of Gloom. Trapped in her own dance of sorrow, the gamer has no way of getting her out.

The Game Maker has tried everything. For longer than he can remember, he’s been stuck in his house working non-stop trying to fix this problem. He refuses to let this ending exist. His head hurts from trying to create clues that will entice her out of the Temple of Gloom. She ignores them all. It’s as if she has a mind of her own. He can’t stand to see her suffer when he’s created her to be heroic. He sinks his face into his hands and weeps.

When he finally lifts his head, he looks at the dancing girl on the screen. He feels her sorrow and loss. As she spins and twirls, he remembers all the hours of hard work it took to make her look so beautiful. She moves like a cat, smooth and graceful. Will she ever see her own beauty as she dances before the mirrors of the Temple of Gloom?

Exhausted, the Game Maker finally talks to the dancing girl.

“I’ve watched you for so long, so much so, that your disappointments have become my disappointments, and your heartaches my own. I’ve created a better life for you, but you won’t leave this place. Even so, I just want to tell you that despite all the wrong turns that have landed you in this screwed up scenario, I love you more today than when I first created you.”

He looks at the girl remembering how he agonized over choosing every detail from her eye color, hairstyle, angle of her smile, quick wit, and kind personality. In his eyes, she remains a most beautiful creation.

It is in that moment the girl stops dancing. She stares back into his eyes and smiles. Tears streaming down her face, not tears of sorrow, but of joy. He watches as her energy level rises and her power increases.

Without touching his keyboard, he tells her, “Go right now. Leave this place!”

She exits without hesitation.

The Game Maker laughs. Leaning back in his chair, he feels waves of relief wash over him. Now that the dancing girl has left the Temple of Gloom, she will bump into a kind, handsome young man who will walk with her to the Golden Castle.

The doorbell rings. The Game Maker gets up to answer it. He feels so much lighter, that he’s tempted to skip to the door.

When he opens it, he see Barry and a beautiful young woman. Both kids are wearing flannel shirts and well-worn jeans, a charming couple. The girl has a big grin and her eyes are bright.

“Suzy, this is Mr. Comp-Man, ” Barry starts to say, but Suzy can’t hold back her excitement.

“Oh my goodness, I can’t believe it,” Suzy grabs his hand and starts to shake it. “It’s you, it’s really you. I love your games! I love your book!” She takes a deep breath and then nervously confesses, “I dream of creating my own games one day. It would mean a lot to me if you would sign my book.”

“Of course,” Mr. Comp-Man smiles as he takes her copy of his book.

She reminds me of the girl in the game, he thinks to himself. He knows his dancing girl will find her way to a future as bright as Suzy’s eyes.

Dear Suzy,

The future is yours. Go after your dream, and let nothing hold you back.

Best wishes,

Mike Compassion

A.K.A. “The Comp-Man”

Are you asking yourself, “What was that all about?” Well, it is the clue I have created for you.

Have you ever felt trapped and unable to move forward in life? Before there is change, forgiveness or courage; there must be compassion. If you can’t find compassion for yourself, then imagine it for another, another woman, sister or friend. See your life through someone else’s eyes. Let Compassion move you forward.