Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Baxter found the fortune teller at the very back of the carnival grounds, as far away from the entrance as one could get without leaving the sprawling complex. It was either an afterthought or the origin point, which exactly was unclear.

The ancient tent canvas was greasy grey, the surface the texture of stiff leather, pulled tight over the center pole. The guide ropes stiff as iron keeping the walls at right angles to the ground.

The sign, carefully lettered in a bold calligraphic script, read simply ‘Futures Told, Inquire Within’, and hung beside a black tear of an entranceway which beckoned through the mist.

Baxter stepped into the darkness and followed a soft glow left, partway around the inside of the tent, until he emerged into the interior proper.

A low ceiling of sorts was composed of hundreds of light bulbs suspended by lengths of string stretching up into the darkness. Some were familiar incandescents of various shapes and sizes, some long skinny chandelier styles, and some large clear bulbous affairs, all unlit, having no apparent wiring. Each was tied by their metal base such that their bottom faces were at the same level and spaced equally about a shoulder’s width away from the next nearest in a grid that filled the room.

In the middle was a simple table, and on either side, there was a single straight back chair.

“Come, sit.” The voice came from everywhere and nowhere, and Baxter jumped despite himself, so focused on the decor he’d forgotten there would be someone else here.

From the darkness on the opposite side of the tent, perhaps fifteen meters away, the bulbs started to glow above a figure emerging from another entranceway.

He moved slowly and deliberately across the room to stand behind one of the chairs, and as he did so, a meter wide circle of light followed him, the hanging bulbs brightest at the point directly above his head.

Baxter walked to the table, hesitated for a moment, then pulled out one chair and sat. The parlour trick impressed him. The table had appeared weathered and worn as he approached, but he could see the top now was, in fact, a vivid green dressed in immaculate felt. The man remained standing for a long moment before sitting down himself, the lights above him dimming slightly as he did so.

Baxter cleared his throat, and then started “I’d like you to tell me–”

“I will look into your future, and I will tell you what I see,” the man interrupted as though Baxter himself hadn’t spoken at all, “what you do with what you learn is not my concern.”

Baxter sat back and crossed his arms, the man, in contrast, leaned forward, placing well-manicured hands flat on the table, crisp shirt-cuffs pinned with shining gold links. The light cast strange shadows, hiding the features of the man’s face, and when Baxter looked down, he would have sworn for a moment the man’s trousers were frayed at the edges, his shoes nearly worn through, but then the light changed and reflected back off highly polished oxfords below sharply creased slacks.

“Your hands,” the man said, turning his own palms up. Baxter paused, then leaned forward to place his hands on top of the man’s, and…

Jacob relaxed and sighed. The customer before him sat frozen in place, eyes fixed and pupils fully dilated. He took a deep breath, focused intently on the darkness inside the man’s barely visible irises, exhaled and then…

They were in a kitchen, seated at the table where Baxter was reading a letter in his shirtsleeves, a mug of coffee forgotten, a piece of toast in mid-flight between plate and mouth. Jacob stood and quickly scanned the letter over his shoulder, a ‘Dear John’ from a Vanessa expressing her frustration with his persistent indiscretions, informing him that she’d taken the kids, and he would hear from her lawyer.

Jacob filed the information away and looked cautiously out the kitchen window. They were here, too. Shadows of men staring back at him, unseeing at a distance, but here. Clearly, this wasn’t a viable exit either.

As he turned back to the kitchen table, he reached up and carefully unscrewed the light bulb from the hanging fixture, and then…

“You are going to lose Vanessa if you choose to womanize.” The man was sitting back now, and Baxter blinked twice before snatching his hands back from where they’d been suspended in the air over the empty table.

“Vanessa?” He said, his voice rising, uncertain. “From accounting?” Uncertainty turning to disbelief.

“There will be children, and happiness, a home, but you’ll throw it all away on frivolous affairs.”

The man stood, the lights overhead glowing with his ascent, and they followed as he walked back towards the edge of the tent, where he paused only for a moment to reach above and tie the new bulb to a dangling bit of string.

“See yourself out.”

And with that he was gone, leaving Baxter almost completely in the dark.