Painful Memories Part 3 of 3
Headlights flicked on as the car navigated the empty streets. The coppery dusk was deepening to crimson night. Thoughts were drilling away at him — the wiped out expense account, the golden spike of commission, and his brother who had just simply…vanished. Life was on the line, and all he had to go on was a jacket sitting on his passenger seat.
The roads twisted and turned, edging towards what he thought was the outskirts of town. The few remaining houses disappeared and were replaced by huge, bulky oak trees that squeezed against the road. The road slanted downward, before leveling off. Views of the carnival slipped through some trees. Neon lights reflected across the pavement. Steven was going on pure adrenaline, and almost preternaturally found the place in the near dark. He slowed down, and turned the wheel cautiously.
Through the windshield, he could see that the entrance was marked by a towering 20ft. bronze miner holding a bold sign labeled “Old Orchard’s Fair Grounds: A Monstrously Good Time.” The parking lot was expansive, and unsurprisingly, empty. Empty except for a few cars. Maintenance workers or carnies were the most logical guess. After all, the place looked ready for customers.
The car stopped as he reached the front; his eyes glanced at the car’s clock. He could almost hear the grains of sand falling to floor of the hour glass. If he did make it out of this with the answers he needed, a big pile of questions awaited him tomorrow morning. One last time. He stabbed a button on his wheel — turning the radio up…only static. No time to waste. He shut the car off, and slid out.
The Old Orchard Fair Grounds were fenced in, not only by trees but an imposing gate. The place must have gotten pretty busy, judging from its size, and the money put into it. The entryway was no exception. Several ticket booths lined like soldiers. All freshly painted and framed by tiny light bulbs. Beyond that were those turn-style rows you’d see in a subway. As Steven approached the ticket counter, he noticed stacks of those mustard yellow tickets sealed off in a plexiglass lock box. Bingo.
He looked over his shoulder. A huge billboard fixed at the far edge of the parking lot. It was for a sterilized instrument cart. The same one Steve was attempting to buyout. But that town was miles away, or was it?
And then something a little closer.
The car — who’s owner had been watching him earlier — was parked under the lot’s yellow mercury-vapor lamp. Things weren’t adding up. He snapped his look back towards the counter and moved on. Towards —
The turnstile chambers. The flashy lights from the carnival danced above, and the faint sound of organ grinder music could now be heard. For the few cars that had been parked, nobody seemed to be guarding the entrance. He hopped over the metal bar, and made his way in.
The rides and booths were positioned in long rows, creating a maze of grassy, zigzagged lanes. There was no map, but something inside him — perhaps the echo of the Thrift Store owner “…look for the fortune-teller booth. Can’t miss her” — told him he’d find his way. He could feel a cold hand pushing him towards the truth. Beads of sweat began pooling near his hairline. The humidity out here was like a dog’s hot breath that clung in the July air, making his steps feel like sand bags.
Passing through rows of game booths with stuffed animals and characters from who-knows-what. Twisting Tilt-a-Whirls that hung in the air like metal spiders. Turned a corner. His eyes scanned across the grounds for workers or something that’d pop out. Nothing. Down the next row.
At the far end of this one sat a big neon sign in old script: MADAME VALSIP’S TAROT READING. There was no mistaking it. Even in a sea of lights, it stood out with startling clarity. Steve rushed towards it…
He stopped just shy of the entrance that was covered by two plummy colored velvet curtains. On top of the sign, sat a towering crystal ball filled with a cloudy, fuchsia liquid. Steve didn’t hesitate. He yanked back the curtain, and stepped forward. His heart charging.
The curtain slid quickly behind him.
Dim pools of evenly-spaced light sliced from the ceiling, enough to see the floor was dead grass. His eyes moved around the scenery:
The room was split into two sections parted by a velvet rope. On one side: A glass booth with a plastic genie waved his anamatronic arms, inviting you to step up and feed him your tickets. He looked it over for any clues, before moving on. On the other side: an easel with a chalkboard that read: “Madame Valsip’s Tarot Reading: Let Her Peer Into Your Soul.”
He moved quickly, but cautiously past the easel to a curtain dividing the room. His heart now a live wire. When he peeled back the second set of curtains — —
A mysterious lady was sitting calmly at a wooden table, shuffling large cards. Alone. Her face was concealed by the lighting, but she didn’t appear threatening. This was it. She had the answers, and he knew it.
Steven was a notch under shouting, his pulse racing: “I need to know what happened to my brother.”
Madame Valsip: “The cards will tell all.”
“No time for bullshit. What happend to him?”
She flipped a tarot card down. It was of two swords. “You’ve come to a crossroads. Your brother or your job.”
He wasn’t backing down. “How do you know about either?”
She sighed to herself as she flipped over another card. “You’re looking for truth. Your brother…Dan… is in the grave.”
Steven stepped closer. No time for games: “I need to know…how he died.” With that — he almost fell apart. His back braced against the wall. He knew Dan was dead, but the words traveling through the air were like hot pokers.
She leaned forward into the light. It was the lady who had been watching him back at the Thrift Store. Blank expression.
“You?” His eyes locked on her, regaining control. Inching forward. “What do you know?” “What are the cards telling you?” Fighting the paranoia —
She didn’t break eye contact either. Before pulling the next one. “There was an accident involving a car. Your brother was about to uncover something. Deception. Hidden secrets.” She turned the next card. The Moon.
“Secrets about what?”
“About the town…and the people in it.” Her voice turned icy. She caught a glimpse of Steve, before looking over the cards. “Your brother was trying to tell you something…”
“Tell me what?!” Steve belted out.
She brought another one down. Clean and fast. A castle, with people falling from its tower. She smoothly grabbed another one. Steve stalled -options dwindling- adrenaline pumping-eyes locked on her hand. Then on the card. She peeled over the final one…
“You… — Her hand lingered over it, covering the view
Killed… — She pulled her hand revealing —
Him…” — a Grim Reaper with satanic symbols. DEATH
Steve’s eyes went wide. Confusion turned to rage. “What the hell are you talking about?! No! NO!” He burst forward, flipping the table onto it’s top. Cards went flying. Glass too. Screams bellowed. Madame Valsip stayed motionless. Something was definitely not right. It got worse.
A shadow fell across Steve. He swung around — and came face-to-face with a cult member in cloak garb. Several more from the shadows flooded in behind him. Where their faces should have been, there was only darkness that went on forever. They moved in. Engulfing him. Steve uttered a guttural cry for the last time, before his time was up. Snap!
A brief moment of silence. Then, one of the members moved forward. His voice chilled the air.
“Did he believe you?”
“They always do,” replied Madame Valsip with a smile that inched its way from the side. The cult member nodded, and with that he turned back through the entrance. One by one the cult members moved out from the room. Madame Valsip glanced back over the cards that were face up on the floor.
And just like that, the town retained its secrets.
Originally published at Shoe Factory Road.