A loud bang! sound from behind me made me jump. I whirled around, gripping my purse in white knuckles in case I had to use it as a weapon.
An elated ten year old was receiving a huge stuffed hippo from a man in a pork pie hat, having just scored “Hercules” on the strength test. Another kid next to him was swinging an oversized rubber hammer; with a similar bang!, the lights on the gauge began to light up to indicate the child’s strength.
I nudged my glasses up onto my nose and chastised myself. You’ve got to calm down, Steph, I said. That old lady was crazy. All she did was scam you out of five bucks.
But then the image of the woman came back to mind; the tiny tent, the air heavy with the smell of incense and perfume. For five dollars, I’d asked her to read my fortune.
She’d held her hands over her crystal ball, staring into it as if she’s lost something deep inside its glass surface. After a few moments, I said wryly,
“So, do you see a man in my future?”
She glanced up, so suddenly that I jumped back a bit.
“Yes,” she said, her voice as cold and serious as the grave.
“Well, what is he like?” I’d already paid my five bucks, might as well get my money’s worth.
She looked away from me and turned her huge, pale eyes back to her crystal ball. Her oversized hoop earrings swung about as she glanced into the orb from all possible angles. A white silken veil partially obscured her ancient-looking face from my view.
“He…he has four eyes,” she murmured.
“Oh, I like guys in glasses. Okay, what else?”
“He… Oh,” she pulled away from the sphere suddenly and raised one hand to her face, covering her eyes.
“What?” I asked, now fully engrossed in the séance.
“Beware of the man with four eyes,” she cawed, sneaking another quick glance into the crystal ball. “It is hard to understand, there is so much chaos… and, red... so much red. All I can see is red.”
I pulled my white cardigan more snuggly around my shoulders. “What do you mean?”
“That is what the spirits show me,” she mumbled, her attention fully returned to her orb. “There is nothing else. The spirits have nothing else to offer.”
“What do you mean there is nothing else?” I felt my voice rise. “Was it blood? Was there blood?”
“Please, I have no more,” she said, pleading with me.
“Well, you’ve got to tell me! Am I in danger?” my voice cracked with tension; it was all I could do to force my anxiety back down.
“Please, you must leave, that is all I have.” She would no longer look at me or the crystal ball.
“Stupid carnies,” I mumbled, and continued my walk by the games of strength. A calliope of noises rattled and whistled all around me as I walked through the bustling evening crowd. “Stupid Tessa. Where the hell’d she go anyway?” I pulled out my cell phone and tried to call her again. Nothing. It was her idea to come to the carnival in the first place- I only came because I had nothing else to do. But now all I wanted to do was go home.
I remembered she wanted to go on the carousel- I hate the things, so I headed to the fortune teller’s tent, a decision I was regretting more with each step.
“Tessa, where are you?” I cursed silently. We’d ridden together- I couldn’t leave without her.
“Game of skill, miss?” someone said from my right- a guy wearing a striped shirt and glasses tried to hand me a water pistol from behind a wooden stand.
I turned and practically ran from the stand, heading in the direction of the carousel. Now I was noticing every guy in the crowd who was wearing glasses- the guy with two kids, the short man at the cotton candy stand, the old guy with the cane. The ever-changing spectrum of carnival lights flickered across each of their lenses, giving their eyes a mysterious, fey quality that unnerved me.
“Stupid fortune teller,” I said again, trying once more to drive down the slow panic that was threatening to rise from the pit of my stomach.
“Tessa!” I called, and instantly felt a flush rise in my cheeks. There was no way she’d be able to hear me over the commotion of screeching children, shouting teenagers, ringing bells, and various other carnival white noises. Shouting for her would only make me look like a lost child.
Geez, who knew there were so many people with glasses at the carnival? A teenager with black plastic Buddy Holly’s walked by, caterwauling with two others in identical frames. I winced at the series of loud crashed that came when a girl knocked over a stack of tin bottles with a softball. I tried again to shake myself out of hysteria, but it was no good. I had to find Tessa and get out.
Up ahead a series of brightly blinking lights chasing each other in a long train caught my eye. Finally, the carousel. I’d left Tessa less than ten minutes ago. She had to still be around here somewhere. I scanned the crowd milling about the carnival ride but didn’t see my short, blonde friend. Why couldn’t I have some tall, red-headed, easy to pick out of a crowd girlfriends?
“Stephanie!” Someone called from my left, near a series of snack booths. I turned sharply at the sound, and crashed into someone broad and heavy.
Something icy cold covered my chest, and I screamed in shock and fear. I back peddled two steps, purse clutched at shoulder height ready to bludgeon the next living thing to get too close to me.
Before me was a tall guy with dark brown hair, wavy about his ears. His deep brown eyes were wide with horror, his mouth hanging open.
“Oh my gosh! I am SO sorry!” he said, extending both hands to me the way someone might try to calm a rabid animal. “I didn’t even see you! Are you okay?”
I forced myself to breathe again. Nothing hurt. I hadn’t been attacked. A deep chill in my chest prompted me to look down at the front of my sweater. My white cardigan was covered in red slush, soaked straight through to my t-shirt.
I looked up at the brown-haired guy in front of me. He was holding a large Styrofoam cup. I could see the red inside of it, though I was wearing most of its contents.
“Steph!” I heard the voice again, and noticed Tessa running toward me from a nearby corn dog stand. “Oh my god Steph, what happened?”
“I’m sorry, it was an accident,” the guy with the cup said again, his face ashen. He unzipped and wiggled out of his hooded sweatshirt and handed it to me. “Here, put this on. Oh man, that cardigan’s totally ruined. I’ll try to bleach it, if you want. Man, I am SO sorry,” his apology was written all over his face.
Only then did I notice the deely-bobbers on top of his head; those little plastic headbands with springs on them that wobble around when you move. At the end of the springs were bright green light-up plastic eyeballs.
The guy with four eyes.
“Uh, what’s so funny?” he said, but I couldn’t stop laughing. “Look, you must be frozen. Let me buy you a coffee or something to warm you up?” He extended the sweatshirt to me again, his apologetic smile accenting a dimple on his left cheek. I took the sweatshirt gratefully and unbuttoned down to my t-shirt. I stole a glance up at him once I’d discarded the soaked sweater.
Hmm. His two real eyes were actually a really pretty shade of brown.