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 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.