A curtain of crystal beads fell back into place behind Petra; it sounded like the tinkling of falling glass shards. Heavy incense hung in the air and Petra felt the scent invading her lungs. She blinked, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. A large crystal ball on a table draped in brightly woven damasks glowed and sent a shivery light that didn’t reach the far corners of the tent. Large pillows scattered the tapestry rugs and Petra nudged one with her foot, wondering if she should sit. She didn’t see Mylan.
“Petra, welcome,” a voice in the semi darkness cackled.
Petra laughed when she felt Robyn, just behind her, jump. It took a moment for her to find the owner of the voice, a hunched old woman sitting on a pillow in a gloomy corner. In front of her a collection of tarot cards, face up: a fool dancing, tossing stars into a purple sky, a magician holding a wand scattering glitter.
“I’m afraid you must come alone,” the fortune teller spoke again, leaving her gaze on Petra’s face as her twisted hands gathered the cards, and tapped them into a deck.
Robyn’s eyes flashed a question at Petra. Petra squeezed her hand, sending her a silent signal. “I’ll wait with Zoe,” Robyn said.
Still expecting Mylan to suddenly appear, Petra didn’t even watch her friend leave, but she knew when Robyn had gone by the flash of daylight that came and then left with the rise and fall of a curtain and the jangle of the crystal beads.
“There are some journeys one must undertake on their own,” the fortune teller said, staring up at Petra.
Struck by the woman’s dark eyes, Petra didn’t comment. She stepped closer. The woman had long riotous curls the same color as her silver hooped earrings. Lined and criss-crossed, her skin looked like aged leather. Her eyes were so dark the iris swallowed the pupil and appeared bottomless. Endless.
Petra shook herself. Eyes couldn’t be endless. She’d learned about eyes in biology, had even studied a cow’s eye, trapped in a glass jar of formaldehyde. Large, yellowish with a brown iris, the cow’s eyeball had given her a sick feeling in her belly and when it’d been her turn to hold the jar, she had tried to wave it away. Her lab partner, Lloyd of the big glasses, had laughed and refused to take it from her. She’d quickly passed it to the girl behind her and had looked out the window. She felt the same queasiness now, staring in the fortune teller’s eyes, but she found herself unable to look away. She cleared her throat. “Is Mylan --”
The woman began to laugh and the sound surprised Petra. Not an old person hoot, or an evil Snow White’s stepmother’s cackle, but a laugh that sounded like church bells -- the type that ring at funerals. A Dickenson poem sprang to mind, oppresses like the heft of Cathedral tunes. Shivers shot up Petra’s arms and she took a step back, nearly tripping on a pillow. “If Mylan’s not here, I’ll go --”
The laughter stopped. “You paid the price, did you not?”
“Well, yes, but so did Robyn.”
“Then you must listen.” The old woman drew the fool card from the deck with a knobby finger, laid it on the carpet and tapped it with a pointy fingernail. “With all his worldly possessions in one small pack, the Fool travels he knows not where. So filled with visions and daydreams is he, that he doesn't see the cliff in his path. At his heel, a small dog harries him, sending him a warning.” The woman lifted her finger at Petra. The nail seemed almost as long as the finger, curling under as if it were too heavy to stay lifted. The finger and nail were both gray, the color of dead flesh. “You, my dear, are the fool. I am your warning.”
Mylan’s the fool, Petra thought, fighting a hot flash of anger, if he thought I’d find this freak show even remotely entertaining. She bit back a rude retort and instead asked, “Warning? Of what? ” She raised her voice so that if Mylan happened to be hiding he could hear. “Should I find another date to the prom? Drew already asked, so--”
“Be not quick to judge,” The woman, who had been sitting in the corner, suddenly appeared at Petra’s side. Petra flinched from the strong smell of liquor on the woman’s breath and the warmth of her body. Petra took a deep breath and a stepped closer to the door.
The woman continued, “If you think your life is the here and now, you are mistaken. I’ve been sent to tell you --”
“My only mistake was putting twenty dollars in your jar and ever believing for a second that Mylan was anything but a player.” Her voice sounded screechy, the peeved Petra tone her dad disliked.
“Harbingers of ill will do not always mean you harm.” The woman laid her fingers on Petra’s arm and sent a jolt of electricity that lifted Petra off her feet. Petra watched as the crystal ball sailed through the air and the strings of hanging beads began to sway, making a sound like a rush of wind chimes. Tarot cards floated around her, like large, one dimensional snowflakes. The ball connected with a flying tent and shattered into thousands of pieces. Crystal glinted midair. The poles supporting the draped damask teetered and then began to collapse.
An earthquake, the rational part of Petra’s mind told her, but Petra was listening to another voice, one that said, run. But, running, especially in ballet slippers, had never been Petra’s strength, and besides she’d never tried to run while in airborne. Amidst the fluttering curtains Petra flew. When the earth settled, Petra found herself buried beneath a pile fabric and pillows. She sat up dazed. Other than a few strewn drapes of cloth and the sway crystal beads, the tent looked about the same. The tarot cards lay scattered about her and she pushed them away so that she wouldn’t step on them. Looking around, she didn’t see Fiorella the fortune teller. After brushing off her dress and straightening her tiara, she pushed through the curtains, took a few faltering steps, and then stopped.
The only earthquake Petra could remember had been on an Easter Sunday. She’d sat with her family around the dining room table and watched the chandelier swing above the ham and creamed potatoes. The quake had rolled rather than shook and had lasted less than a minute. Zoe had wailed in terror. Petra knew that she had to be frightened now.
Where was Zoe?
A three legged, unleashed dog of indeterminate breed loped by and took Petra off her feet. She landed hard on her butt in the dirt, her legs splayed in front, the dress around her thighs. She stared after the animal and then watched the crowd filling the dusty street to see how they’d react to a dog breaking leash laws. No one seemed to notice. Where were the yellow jackets? Petra stood, dusted off her dress and sat down on Zoe’s abandoned stump.
She remembered the advice she’d been given on a girl’s scout hike, when lost stay where you are. She didn’t know if Zoe had received the same advice, but it made sense that Zoe would eventually return to look for her, if only for the promised funnel cake. She closed her eyes, wondering what had become of Robyn, Zoe and Mylan. When she opened her eyes, she had a vague hope of finding Zoe beside her, but the faire looked as strange as it had only moments ago.
Petra, unused to waiting, drew in the dirt with the toe of her slipper. The blue shoes had a smattering of faux diamonds across the top. At first, she’d been annoyed about not being able to wear heels to the prom, but her dad had convinced her that since her last year’s date, Micky Lund, had yet to hit a growth spurt, slippers would be a kinder choice. Petra didn’t care for the shoes or Micky, but she couldn’t walk around a Renaissance Faire in heels, and it would have tacky to wear flip-flops or tennis shoes.
But, none of that mattered anymore. She was ready to go home. Petra stood, and not spotting Zoe’s familiar tangerine hair, she climbed onto the stump to see over the heads of the crowd. Perhaps Zoe’s with Robyn, she thought, watching for Robyn’s tiara. Standing with her hands on her hips, she looked back at the fortune teller’s tent and then twisted around. The tent had been replaced with what appeared to be a blacksmith’s shop. A giant fire blazed in a forge and a thick armed man wearing a leather apron and wielding a hammer stood where only moments ago she’d visited Fiorella. Petra climbed off the stump with weak knees.
The black smith swung his hammer down on a flaming red piece of ore and sparks flew. Again and again the hammer struck the metal. The pounding rang Petra’s ears.
Where was Zoe? The anger she’d felt turned to confusion. Waiting reminded her of the very first time her mother hadn’t met her after school. She’d stood at the corner near the crossing guard, surrounded by other second graders waiting for their moms, just as her mother had said, until eventually, all the other kids disappeared into cars and she’d been left alone with the guard who’d marched her to the office, where she had to sit on a hard plastic chair while the secretary, a gum chewing hag, had called her mom. And then her dad. During the second phone call the lady’s voice changed from cranky to hushed and her gaze slid to Petra with a look of pity that Petra would later learn to know too well. When her dad showed up, he seemed worried, harassed and untalkative. No one, not her mother or her father, had apologized for making her wait. Nor had they offered excuses.
A donkey pulled wagon rumbled by and brought Petra out of the long ago memory. A trio of dirty faced kids dressed in brown cloth tunics gazed at her with wide eyes from their perch in the wagon. Their rags made Zoe’s pillow case look good.
Petra tried to orient herself. She could see the jousting arena, but not the funnel cake stand. She rubbed her head again and decided that when she left the tent, she must have gone out another side from the one she’d entered. That was it. She must have gone in one way and out another and from this new angle the fortune teller’s tent looked different. She knew that perception could alter reality. She’d learned about mental maps, paradigm shifts, and how changed circumstances could transform reality in her AP physc class. Thinking about Dr. Burns and the class, bolstered her. She knew that she wasn’t stupid, ditzy or dizzy and that the blonde jokes, in her case, didn’t apply. But, as she stood on the stump, overlooking the faire, she felt increasingly lost…dizzy even.
She tried to recall Dr. Burn’s words. If you had an incorrect map of a city and were looking for a specific location, you would be both lost and frustrated. No amount of positive thinking or diligent work would change the fact that your map couldn’t lead you to your goal. Each person sees the world not as it is, but as he or she is. Experience determines perception.
Dr. Burn was brilliant. Right now she needed a map, not of her psyche, but of the faire. She’d simply gotten lost. And the three legged dog, the blacksmith shop spouting flames and sparks, (something she couldn’t believe the fire authorities would ever allow) the three story buildings and thatched roofed cottages, well those were all things that she just hadn’t noticed in the past. She wandered in the direction of the fortune teller’s tent, but she couldn’t find any bright colored fabrics or strings of crystal beads. Refusing to consider that she would have noticed a blacksmith shop spouting sparks, she brushed off her skirt, squared her shoulders and set out to find the information booth where Mrs. Jordan handed out maps.
When she couldn’t find the booth or Mrs. Jordan, she thought, maybe I hit my head in the earthquake. Turning toward what she hoped was the direction of the stables, she considered what she’d say to Zoe? Why did you leave the stump? Why couldn’t you stay where I put you? I’m sorry I lost you.
Emory followed Chambers through the crowd of venders. Farmers, artisans and peddlers shared the square, competing for business, breathing the same foul air. Hawkers called out, their voices rising above the bellow of cows and the snorts of pigs, but no one called to Emory. No one noticed him.
Two old men sitting in the shade of a vegetable cart and smoking long pipes looked up as Emory moved beyond them, out of their line of vision. A child teasing a cat with a bit of fish didn’t see him, but the cat took note. Emory slipped into a dark alley, away from the market’s chaos, and leaned his head back against the wall. Dark, cool, the passage had a line of doors, but Chambers had chosen the furthest from the crowd, and for perhaps the first time, Emory applauded Chambers judgment. Emory knew Chambers well, but Chambers did not know Emory. If Chambers knew Emory’s plans, Chambers would undoubtedly have him killed. Emory smiled at the futility. Mightier men had tried and failed.
Through the door Emory heard the men’s conversation and he committed it to memory -- half past midnight, two nights hence, the rectory. Emory marveled at Chamber’s audacity, his ability to believe he worked in the name of God, the gall and pride that allowed him to consider that the Almighty would join league with barbarians.
Emory pulled away from the door when he heard the scratch of chairs on the stone floors. Footsteps, shuffling, voices approaching the door, a rattle of the latch. After a quick survey of the alley Emory realized the entry, his means of escape, had been blocked by a gaggle of geese. Geese were noisy, filthy and mean. Not wanting to wade through them, Emory headed towards the closest door. Finding it unlocked, he slipped inside, praying the room would be uninhabited.
He saw a chair by the fire, tools spread across a work bench and a floor strewn with wood shavings. Emory leaned against the wall and listened. He heard the geese, the rumble of Chamber’s voice on the other side of the wall, and the villagers outside the window.
But then he heard another noise. A much closer, scarier noise.
A low growl.
Emory looked around the bench and spotted an arthritic mongrel slowly rising from his ragged mat to his feet. The growl grew deeper as the dog lifted his lips, exposing brown jagged teeth.
Putting his hand in front of him, Emory whispered, “Good dog.”
But the dog didn’t want to be good. His fur rose like a razorback along his massive shoulders. His head lowered and his ears flattened. Drool gathered on his lips and when he barked, the spittle flew.
Emory tried to listen over the dog’s noise for the men’s voices, but the neighboring room seemed hushed, while in Emory’s room several noisy things happened at once. The dog lunged at Emory, catching his teeth on Emory’s breeches, a woman, alerted by the dog’s barking and wielding a large wooden spoon, appeared from nowhere.
She attacked him verbally and physically. “Out! Out,” she cried and with each directive she belted Emory with her spoon.
“I mean no harm,” Emory said while covering his head with his arms and trying to shake the dog off his leg.
“Out! Out!” the wooden spoon beat on Emory’s shoulders and back.
Tripping over the dog, which he’d managed to kick in the jaw, Emory made it to the window. The dog launched for Emory’s throat and Emory clambered over the window sill. The tear in his breeches, compliments of the dog, caught on a wooden peg protruding from the sill, but after a few moments of awkward hanging, Emory fell face first into a woodpile.
Above him, the woman shouted obscenities and the dog barked, but to Emory’s relief, the room that Chambers had occupied hadn’t a window on the woodpile side. Emory, scooted off the wood, scattering logs and planks, offered the woman a lopsided grin and an apology. “A simple mistake, good mistress. A wrong door, tis all.” He ratcheted up the charm in his smile and watched the woman visibly soften. Her lips twitched in return as he scrambled and tripped his way out of the wood pile. He caught a log rolling down the street, picked it up and waved it at her before returning it to the pile. The gesture won him a toothless smile.
The dog, however refused to be charmed. With his paws on the windowsill and his head poking out, he continued to bark, spraying Emory with slobber. The dog looked too old and rickety to clear the window, but Emory decided not to stay and find out. He loped through the alley, turned a corner and stopped short when he saw a girl about his age dressed in blue wandering through the crowd. Blond hair piled on her head. Jewels in her hair and in her ears. She moved like a feather on the wind, graceful and yet aimless. Long, pale arms and a slender neck. A tiny frown pulling at her full lips and a worried scowl creasing between her eyebrows. Turning, she faced him and her eyes, the color of her gown, widened, as if she recognized him. He took a step towards her, as if pulled by an invisible cord.
The geese complained as he pushed through them. They honked and pecked as they surrounded him.
“Give way, gov’nor,” the goose girl shouted at him.
But, Emory wasn’t listening to her. He strained to hear what the girl in blue was calling. Emory felt a flash of sudden, inexplicable pain, knowing that she, nor indeed anyone, would ever call for him.