Looking at these makes me really happy. These women have been my friends for many, many years and I love them. (The dogs not as long, though.) These pictures were taken at Claudine's house, which--interesting side note--used to be my house. We moved when my twins were 4 days old, but many of the trees in her yard were planted by me.
Beyond the Fortuneteller's Tent is one of my favorites and it's free. Here's a teaser:
The Royal Oaks Renaissance Faire is the brain baby of Mrs. Brighton, part-time English teacher and full-time witch. Glass blowers, potters, and herbalists mingle with students, teachers, and parents on sawdust strewn paths lined with wooden stalls. Axe throwing is not only allowed but encouraged. Games include Drench-a-Wench (Mrs. Brighton) and Soak-a-Bloke (Principal Olsen). Wizards, elves, beer and barely covered booties are all welcome as long as they help raise thousands of dollars for the high school drama department.
Petra stared at the fortuneteller’s tent -- silky curtains, beaded strings, the faint aroma of vanilla, a gaudy riot of color. She’d been waiting forever, but now that she was here, she took a breath and then another.
Robyn squeezed her hand. “It’s so romantic,” she whispered. “This is the perfect place for him to ask you.”
“It’s so him, right?” Petra returned Robyn’s squeeze, but her gaze never left the tent. She thought it ugly, garish in a more-is-less way. She sighed and wished that Kyle had asked without hoopla. Maybe she should have asked him. Maybe they shouldn’t go. Prom was so yesterday, dated like a debutante ball… Or a jousting competition, she thought, her gaze going to the nearby stadium.
The frustration of denial settled between her shoulder blades like an unreachable itch. Why did she even care about prom? She’d been with Kyle for months; a silly dance didn’t define their relationship.
Or did it? Some of her friends already had their dresses. Petra hadn’t bought one, that would have been presumptuous but she knew which one she wanted. She’d found the perfect shoes. She hoped Kyle would be okay with the coral-colored vest she’d picked out for him.
“It’s so who?” Zoe demanded.
Petra put her hand on top of Zoe’s orange curls. Zoe was the pooper at the party, the stepsister that never should have come to the fair.
Petra could understand why her stepmother, Laurel, didn’t want to take Zoe to a hospital to visit her Aunt Ida. No one sane would ever want to take Zoe anywhere, especially a place where people needed quiet and rest.
Robyn rolled her eyes at Petra. Robyn and Petra called themselves tele-friends, because they could read each other like open books. Now Robyn nodded at the tent, just go.
“Do you think he’s in there?” Petra whispered.
Robyn widened her eyes. “He said he would be, didn’t he?”
“Who’s he?” Zoe demanded. “Are you talking about Kyle?”
Petra swallowed and tried to forget Zoe’s existence. “He didn’t say anything, but his note said to meet at the fortuneteller’s tent. What if he didn’t send the note? What if this is a joke?”
“Then it’s not a funny one.” Robyn shook her head and her curls bounced around her shoulders. “It was Kyle.” She sounded way more confident than Petra felt. Robyn cut her a sideways glance, and another flicker of doubt tickled Petra’s thoughts. Why did she suspect the fortuneteller’s tent was more Robyn’s idea than Kyle’s? Petra squelched the thought. Kyle was her fortune. Nothing else mattered.
“Kyle has hotitude that sadly so often accompanies physical beauty,” Zoe sighed, parroting her mom.
Petra groaned. Did her parents dislike Kyle because he was rock-star gorgeous? She shook away the other more legitimate reasons why her parents might not like Kyle.
“Ignore her,” Robyn mouthed over Zoe’s head. “And just go already.” She gave Petra a push toward the tent.
Petra dug in her silky flats. “Wait. How do I look?”
“As always, you’re beautiful.” Robyn straightened Petra’s tiara, gave her a small hug, and then turned Petra tent-ward.
“Pretty as a Petra poopy picture,” Zoe muttered.
Petra frowned at Zoe and then glanced at her dress, last year’s prom gown. She and Robyn were the only two at the fair dressed as princesses. All around her she saw women in laced-up bodices, men in tights and knee-high boots, horses draped in flashy bright cloths, and even a snowy white owl on a perch. Zoe in her pink flip-flops, cut-up pillowcase and drapery tassel looked more in place than Petra and Robyn. Petra sniffed. She loved the silky fabric, the seed pearls, and poufy skirt and didn’t care that she was overdressed. She put a finger on the tiara; maybe the faux diamonds were too much. Too late now.
Straightening her shoulders, clutching her beaded purse, she headed to the tent. Her steps faltered, and she turned back. “Come with me,” she said to Robyn, taking and tugging her friend’s hand.
Zoe’s mouth dropped open. “You can’t leave me alone!”
Robyn motioned to the fair-goers: teachers, fellow students, neighbors. “Alone?”
Zoe’s eyes, for a moment, looked almost as crazy as her hair. “There are witches, people with swords, wild animals!”
Petra saw several people she knew, but Zoe had only just moved to Royal Oaks. Petra knelt so she could look in Zoe’s crazy eyes. “And not one of them will hurt you, I promise. It’s a petting zoo—no wild animals! But if anyone bugs you, which they won’t, call a yellow jacket,” Petra said, referring to the Royal Oaks security guards who patrolled the school grounds and used blow horns to keep peace. “Please, just sit.”
Petra stood and pointed at a convenient stump, wishing for the zillionth time that Zoe would take lessons from their dog, Frosty, who greeted all instructions with lolling tongue and wagging tail. Zoe didn’t receive instructions; she counterattacked them. Poodles and stepsisters had very little in common, except for in Zoe’s case, the hair-do.
“If you leave me here—” Zoe began.
Petra silenced her by holding up a finger. “If you can be quiet, sit and not say a word, I’ll buy you a funnel cake.” She raised her eyebrows to see if Zoe would take the bribe, or if she needed to toss in a caramel apple. Health-foodie Laurel wouldn’t pony up for brand-name peanut butter, let alone treats fried in oil and covered with sugary powder.
Zoe harrumphed, then sat and picked at the hem of her pillowcase tunic. Petra followed her gaze to the corral across the path. Zoe’s expression lit up. “I want a funnel cake and to ride that horse.”
Petra and Robyn both turned to watch a guy lead a stallion through a wooden gate.
“Giddy-up,” Robyn said, staring.
The guy had brown, shoulder length hair tied back with a leather thong and wore soft, fawn-colored breeches and matching knee-high boots. His white shirt billowed around a wide leather belt that hung about his hips. Three simultaneous thoughts struck Petra. First: Everyone else, including herself, wore costumes, but this guy looked at ease in his breeches and boots, as if they were his everyday clothes. Second: His eyes and the small smile curving his lips sent a jolt of recognition up her spine although she knew they’d never met. She would have remembered. Third: This guy would never wear a coral colored vest.
“Isn’t he awesome?” Zoe breathed, her eyes large and round. “He’s so huge.”
Robyn gave Zoe a look, and Petra laughed. “You can’t ride him,” she said, watching the Arabian toss his mane and pull at the reins held by the guy. The stallion fought the bit, rose up on his hind legs and scissored the air with his hooves. “He’s not one of the ponies they lead through the rink.”
Zoe frowned, sending her freckles south. “I’m sure he’d rather be with me on the trail than in that horrible jousting place.” Earlier, they had tried watching the knights’ competitions. Zoe, unconcerned for the men being thwacked about by lances, had wailed for the sweat-dripping horses.
“I’m sure you’re right, Zoe, but I’m pretty sure I’m right too,” Petra said. “They’d never let you take him out of their sight. Besides, he looks fast and barely tamed.”
“I like them fast and barely tamed,” Robyn said under her breath, smoothing her pink chiffon skirt.
From the jousting arena came cheering and huzzahs. Petra heard the horses’ hooves thundering and the clanging of lances hitting shields and armor. She smelled roasted turkey legs, the fires from the pottery kilns and dung. Her senses careened on overload, and when the guy with the horse caught her eye and winked, dizziness and a skin-pricking sensation of déjà vu washed over her.
Zoe looked up at Petra, smiled and said in a voice as sweet as funnel cake, “If you let me ride that horse I won’t tell about you face-sucking Kyle.”
“There’s been no face-sucking!” At least not in front of Zoe.
Zoe put her fists on her hips and jutted out her chin. “Who says?”
Petra blew at a loose strand of hair in front of her eyes. “You can’t ride that horse!”
Zoe’s gaze cut to the corral and lingered on the stallion. “But you can ask if I can.”
Robyn nodded, a flirty smile on her lips. “We can ask.”
Petra shot her a look that said, Traitor.
“Hot Horse Guy,” Robyn murmured, flipping her brown curls over her shoulder.
“And offer him money,” Zoe put in.
“How much money?” Petra nearly growled. Since her dad’s marriage she’d been given an allowance ‘to help you find your own financial feet in the real world,’ Laurel’s words. Petra’s feet wanted a pair of coral-colored heels for prom.
“I saw him wink at you.” Zoe’s tone turned calculating. “Maybe you wouldn’t need to pay him.”
Petra frowned at Zoe; eight years old seemed too young to know the art of female bartering.
“We’ll ask him right after we visit the fortuneteller,” Robyn promised Zoe, sending a let’s-get-together-soon smile at Horse Guy.
He smiled back and ducked his head.
Zoe scowled, folded her arms and watched the horses parading in the corral.
Petra turned to the fortuneteller’s tent and forced herself to not look at hot Horse Guy, although she imagined she felt his gaze on her back. She towed Robyn by one wrist.
Held up by large wooden poles, the tent had brightly woven damask walls. A barrel-chested man wearing nothing but gold chains, large rings, and red bloomerish pants guarded a money jar. A hand-printed sign propped by the jar read Fester Foretells your Fate.
“Fester?” Petra stopped short of the tent. “He sounds like he needs a squirt of Neosporin.”
“You’re stalling,” Robyn pulled on Petra’s hand.
“What if he’s not in there?” Petra flashed the guy in bloomers a nervous glance but he remained motionless and expressionless, as if she and Robyn didn’t even exist. What would happen if she poked him? Would he do more than flinch? Would he do even that?
“Then we’ll have our fortunes read.” Robyn gave the bloomer guy a sideways look, but he stared straight ahead not even looking at Robyn, which Petra found impressive. Most guys couldn’t resist looking at Robyn.
“I’m telling Daddy that you ditched me,” Zoe kicked her flip-flops heels against the stump.
Petra scowled at Zoe. Her parents had only been married a few months, and it stung to hear Zoe call her dad ‘Daddy.’ “We’re not ditching you. It’s more like we’re parking you in a five-minute loading zone.” Petra made a lever pulling motion. “There, I put on the emergency brake. You’re stuck.”
Petra turned her back on Zoe and faced Robyn. “What if Kyle doesn’t think to come inside? He could stand out here forever while some hag predicts that I don’t get into a good school and will end up selling shoes for the rest of my life.”
“You love shoes,” Robyn said. “Besides, I’m sure he’s already inside.”
“And, just like me, listening to every word you say!” Zoe added.
Petra gave Zoe another be-quiet-or-be-dead look but then realized Zoe could be right. What if Kyle was on the other side of the curtain, waiting and listening? Fighting the flush creeping up her neck, Petra dropped money into Fester’s jar and pushed back the curtain of crystal beads.
When the curtain fell back into place behind them, it carried the sound of breaking glass. Heavy incense hung in the air. Petra blinked, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. She scanned the tiny space, searching for Kyle. A crystal ball on a table draped in silks glowed and sent a shivery light that didn’t reach the corners of the tent. Large pillows dotted tapestry rugs covering the ground.
Petra wondered if she should sit and wait. Could Kyle be hiding behind a curtain? No. He probably wasn’t here yet, meaning that he hadn’t heard her and Zoe. That was good. Wasn’t it?
“Petra, welcome,” a voice in the semi-darkness cackled.
Behind Petra, Robyn jumped. It took Petra a moment to find the owner of the voice, a hunched man on a pillow in a dark corner. Before him lay a pair of tarot cards, face up: a fool dancing, tossing stars into a purple sky and a magician holding a wand, scattering glitter.
“I’m afraid you must come alone,” Fester said, leaving his gaze on Petra’s face as his twisted hands gathered the cards, and tapped them into a deck.
Robyn’s eyes flashed a question at Petra. Petra squeezed Robyn’s hand.
“I’ll wait with your sister,” Robyn said.
Still expecting Kyle to show, Petra didn’t 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 the curtain and the tinkle of the beads.
“There are journeys some must undertake on their own,” Fester the fortuneteller said, staring up at Petra.
“No prosecution should thereafter be made on a charge of witchcraft and that all persons professing to occult skill or undertaking to tell fortunes might be sentenced to imprisonment for one year, made to stand pillory, and pledge future good behavior.” George II
"Every person pretending or professing to tell fortunes or using any subtle craft, means, or device, by palmistry or otherwise to deceive, and impose on any of His Majesty's Subjects will be deemed a vagabond and rogue and be punished accordingly.” George IV
So, why did they have a fortuneteller at the Royal Oaks Renaissance Faire and not a pillory?
Fester had riotous curls the same color as his silver hooped earrings. Lined and crisscrossed, his skin looked like aged leather. Struck by his dark eyes, Petra stepped closer. The iris, so dark, swallowed the pupil and appeared bottomless. Endless.
Petra shook herself. Eyes weren’t endless. She’d learned about eyes in biology, had even studied a cow’s eye trapped in a jar of formaldehyde. Large, yellowish and with a brown iris, the cow’s eyeball had given her a sick feeling. Her lab partner, Lloyd of the big glasses, had laughed and refused to take it from her so she’d quickly passed it to the girl behind her. Petra felt that same queasiness now, staring into the fortuneteller’s eyes, but she found herself unable to look away. She cleared her throat. “I’m expecting someone. He asked me to meet him here.”
Fester laughed, and the sound surprised Petra. Not an old person hoot or an evil cackle, but a laugh that sounded like church bells, the type that ring at funerals. A Dickinson poem sprang to Petra’s memory: oppresses like the heft of Cathedral tunes. Shivers shot up her arms and she took a step back, nearly tripping on a pillow. “If Kyle isn’t here, I’ll just go…”
The laughter stopped. “You paid the price, did you not?”
“Well, yes, but so did Robyn.” Petra reached behind her for the curtain. Her hand bumped against the beads which rattled but suddenly hushed as the man spoke.
“Then you must listen.” Fester drew the fool card from the deck with a knobby finger, laid it on the rug and tapped it with a pointy fingernail. “Carrying all his possessions wrapped in a scarf, the Fool travels to destinations unknown. So filled with visions and daydreams he cannot see the dangers lying in wait. In his path, a small dog harries him, sending a warning.”
Fester lifted his finger at Petra. The nail seemed almost as long as the finger, curling under as if it bent beneath its own weight. The finger and nail were both gray, the color of dead flesh. “You, my dear, are the fool. I am your warning.”
Kyle’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 remark and instead asked, “Of what?”
Fester, who had been sitting in the corner, somehow suddenly flashed to Petra’s side. She flinched from the strong, garlicky smell and the warmth of his body. Petra held her breath and took a step closer to the curtains that led outside.
He followed. “If you think your life is here and now, you are mistaken. Indeed, there is no time or space.”
“My only mistake was putting twenty dollars in your jar.” Petra’s voice sounded screechy in her ears.
“Harbingers of ill will do not always mean you harm.” Fester laid his fingers on Petra’s arm and sent a jolt of electricity that lifted her off her feet.
Petra watched the crystal ball sail through the air and the strings of hanging beads swayed, sounding like a rush of wind chimes. Potion jars spun in the air, tarot cards floated around her like large, one-dimensional snowflakes. The ball connected with a flying jar and shattered into thousands of pieces, crystal and potion glinting midair as the poles supporting the draped damask groaned and teetered.
Earthquake, the rational part of Petra’s mind told her, but Petra was listening to another voice, one that said, run. Amidst the fluttering curtains Petra flew, whirling her arms and feet, a mid-air mime pantomiming running.
When the earth settled, Petra found herself buried beneath a pile of fabric and pillows. She sat up, dazed. Other than the drapes of cloth and the swaying crystal beads, the tent looked about the same, give or take the tarot cards scattered about. She pushed them away so she wouldn’t step on them.
Looking around, she didn’t see the fortuneteller. She wondered where he was and if he was hurt. Dazed, she tried looking for him, but the incense stung the back of her throat and filled her head. Needing air, she pushed through the curtains, brushed off her dress and straightened her tiara. Taking a few faltering steps, she stopped.
The only other earthquake Petra remembered had been on Easter Sunday, less than a month earlier. She had been with her family at the dining room table and had watched the chandelier swing above the ham and creamed potatoes. That quake had rolled rather than shook and had lasted less than a minute but Zoe had wailed in terror. Zoe had to be frightened now.
Where was Zoe?
Too bad this town square didn’t have stocks and pillory. They would have come in handy about five minutes ago. Then she would have known exactly where to find Zoe.
A three-legged, dog of indeterminate breed charged and took Petra off her feet. She landed hard on her butt in the dirt, legs splayed in front, dress around her thighs. She stared after the animal and watched the crowd filling the dusty street to see how they’d react to a dog breaking leash laws. No one seemed to notice.
Petra wanted to ask someone about the earthquake, but she didn’t see anyone she knew. Where were the yellow jackets? Principal Soak-a-Bloke? Mrs. Brighton in her witch’s hat? Petra stood, dusted off her dress and sat down on Zoe’s abandoned stump.
Petra 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 ever received similar advice, but it made sense that Zoe would eventually return, if only for the funnel cake. Petra closed her eyes, trying not to picture the trouble she’d be in when Zoe blabbed. Maybe Robyn was with Zoe. The thought made her feel a little better, but when she opened her eyes, the fair looked as strange as it had before.
Petra drew in the dirt with the toe of her slipper. The blue shoes had a smattering of faux diamonds across the top. She’d been annoyed about not being able to wear heels to the prom until her dad pointed out to her that last year’s date, Micky Lund, had yet to hit a growth spurt. Slippers were a kinder choice. Petra hadn’t cared that much about the shoes or Micky, but she was glad now to be in slippers.
Except none of that mattered anymore because she was ready to go home. Not spotting Zoe’s familiar tangerine hair, Petra climbed onto the stump for a better view. Standing with her hands on her hips, she glanced back at the fortuneteller’s tent and then twisted around completely. Somehow the tent had been replaced with 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 Fester. Right? Petra climbed off the stump with weak knees.
The blacksmith swung his hammer onto a flaming red piece of metal and sparks flew. Again and again, the hammer struck; the pounding rang in Petra’s ears.
Where is Zoe? Petra’s anger melted into confusion. She must have hit her head during the earthquake. That’s why she thought she was flying mid-air. She must have had a concussion. Knowing that a head injury would soften her parents, Petra sat, waiting. Zoe and Robyn would turn up any minute…and maybe even Kyle.
But waiting didn’t calm Petra. It 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 instructed. 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 gum chewing secretary called her mom.
And then her dad.
During the second phone call, the secretary’s voice had changed from cranky to hushed, and her gaze slid to Petra with a look of pity that Petra would later know too well. When her dad showed up, he seemed worried, harassed, and withdrawn. No one, not her mother or her father, had apologized for making Petra wait.
A donkey-pulled wagon rumbled by and brought Petra out of the memory. A trio of dirty-faced kids in brown cloth tunics gazed at her with wide eyes from their perch in the wagon. Their rags made Zoe’s pillowcase look good.
Petra tried again to orient herself. She saw the jousting arena but not the funnel cake booth. She rubbed her head and decided that she must have left the tent from a different side. From this new angle the fortuneteller’s tent looked different.
Perception can alter reality. In AP psychology they’d learned about mental maps and paradigm shifts. Thinking about Doctor Burns and the class bolstered Petra. She wasn’t stupid, ditzy, or dizzy. Blonde jokes, in her case, didn’t apply. Still, as she stood on the stump, she felt increasingly lost. Silly even.
She tried to recall Doctor 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. Experience determines perception.
Right now she needed a map not of her psyche but of the fair. She’d gotten lost. The three-legged dog, the blacksmith shop spouting flames and sparks (something she couldn’t believe the fire marshal would allow), the three story-buildings and thatched roofed cottages, well, those were all things she hadn’t noticed before when she’d been preoccupied with Kyle and his supposed prom invite.
She was on the wrong tree stump! Abandoning the stump, she wandered around looking for the fortuneteller’s tent, but she couldn’t find any bright colored fabrics or strings of crystal beads. Refusing to believe that she would have noticed a blacksmith shop spouting sparks, she squared her shoulders and set out to find the information booth where Mrs. Jordan handed out maps.
Ten minutes later when she couldn’t find the booth or Mrs. Jordan, she turned toward what she hoped was the direction of the stables. She hoped to find Zoe with hot Horse Guy and thought about what she’d say to Zoe. The angry, why did you leave the stump? And, why didn’t you stay where I put you? Quickly turned to, I’m sorry I lost you.
“Zoe!” Petra called out, her voice mingling with the calls of the vendors. “Robyn?” No one was paying any attention to her. “Zoe? Robyn? Anyone?”
You can get your free copy of Beyond the Fortuneteller's Tent here