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Fortunes Inside

Fortunes Inside

It was at recess, when he was trying not to barf on the swing set, that Tommy first saw the wagon. He could have sworn that it wasn’t there a moment ago, but then he blinked and there it was, dropped in the middle of the empty lot where it lodged itself directly in between the Chico’s and the Dollar Tree. Maybe it had been there all along, and he just hadn’t noticed it. Gypsy wagons didn’t just appear in abandoned lots, after all. But even Tommy, who had the reputation among the fourth graders as the most rational kid—or most boring depending on who you talked to—they had ever met, had to admit that it certainly did stand out. The wagon was looming, with a rounded top that seemed to bow out before meeting overhead in a nice little arch. Ornate carvings swirled across its dark wood surface in dizzying patterns, while the bobbles attached to the sides jangled in the breeze, blowing through the blue curtain that acted as a portal into the darkness beyond. Tommy was not one to believe in magic gypsy wagons, let alone one that suddenly appeared out of thin air. Then again, Tommy was not one to believe in much of anything. But this happening seemed to be so blatantly set opposed to his rationality that Tommy almost had to disprove it. He hopped off the swing set, approaching the rusty chain-link fence which separated the playground from the road, and by extension, the lot across from that. The fence didn’t go all the way around the playground; there was a sizable gap between the school building and the parking lot. Still, he hesitated. breaking a rule like that was a serious offense. He'd be in so much trouble with his teacher if he was caught. He'd be in even more trouble with his dad. But there was something about that wagon that almost mesmerized him. It seemed to beckon him from the porthole-window on its side, as if teasing him with its irrationality. And it was just one rule, right? He'd be there and back before anyone even missed him. As soon as the playground monitor became distracted by some boys roughhousing over by the monkey bars, Tommy dashed around the side of the brick school-building. Pausing for a moment, he glanced back and forth, listening. No one seemed to have noticed that he was gone. He ran across the street before he could second guess himself and over to the abandoned lot. Now he saw a sign that he hadn’t noticed before. It was an old, faded piece of wood, with the words “Fortunes Inside” painted in a sprawling, spidery hand. Tommy rolled his eyes. If there was one thing that he was sure wasn’t real, it was fortune-telling. There was no way someone could just tell your future, that’s not how the world worked. Magic didn't exist, and fortune-tellers were nothing but charlatans. At least, that’s what dad told him. There were several small, round scars on his arm from the last time he'd asked otherwise. They still ached a little. Still, this would be a wonderful opportunity to prove it once and for all, wouldn’t it? He’d never been allowed into a fortune-teller’s wagon before. He took a few, tentative steps towards the wagon, then a few more. Finally, he reached the creaky, wooden stairs and pushed aside the heavy, blue curtain. It took his eyes a minute to adjust to the murky dark of the interior, and the same could be said of his nose as well. The heavy smell of cigarette smoke and incense assaulted his senses, and he coughed uncontrollably as the scent tickled the back of his throat. Then, someone laughed from the depths of the gloom, which Tommy was beginning to suspect now as he glanced around was slightly bigger on the inside. He paused in his hacking, suddenly nervous as he peered further in to discover the source of the noise. “Ah!” said the voice, surprisingly chipper for such a grim, dark space, which dripped with density from the numerous scarves and other such fabric hanging from the ceiling and walls. “Come to have your fortune told, have you?” Tommy hesitated. “Don’t be alarmed. Come closer, my boy.” He stepped forward, pushing aside a gauzy something that tinkled as he touched it. And there, behind a small, round table, sat a man with the most impressive carpet of chest hair, bursting forth from his open shirt, that Tommy had ever seen. The hair on his head was equally as curly and wild, and beginning to fleck with grey. “Who are you?” Tommy asked abruptly. The man chuckled again. “Forgive me,” he said, standing as much as he could in the small space. “I am Remus Delero Padelus Renea, Apothecary and Fortune Teller at your service,” He bowed deeply, his head almost touching the crystal ball on the table in front of him. “But just Remus will do,” he added as Tommy choked a little in trying to repeat the name. “Now, if you were a little more peaked I would suggest you peruse my fine medicinal merchandise but you...” and here he paused for dramatic effect, grinning mysteriously, “You’re here to see your future, aren’t you?” “I don’t believe in fortune-telling,” he blurted, trying to regain his lost composure. “Yes, yes, of cour—wait,” Remus blinked, “Don’t believe in fortune-telling? What child doesn’t...?” he paused, shaking his head, and instantly recaptured his mysterious gypsy persona. “Then you’re here to disprove the whole thing, aren’t you?” Tommy shuffled his feet. “H-how did you know that?” “I would say magic, but I doubt you’d believe me,” Remus’ eyes twinkled. “Call it simple psychology." "Psychology?" Tommy asked, taking a step forward into the wagon. "Is... is that all it is? Fortune telling, I mean. Just psychology?" He was almost a little... disappointed. Remus shrugged. "Well, that is a rather large chunk of the method, but that's not all there is. Here,” he sat once more behind the table, and gestured Tommy to the chair opposite, “Why don't I just show you.” "I don't have any money," he said. "No, no. No charge", Remus waved him off. "You look so curious I'm afraid you'll explode if I don't tell you." After a moment's hesitation, Tommy sat, waiting for Remus to begin. “Now,” Remus’ eyes sparkled as his mouth split into a crooked-toothed grin, “Look into the crystal ball.” Though he scrunched his eyes and gazed hard, Tommy saw nothing. Of course he didn’t. It was just a ball of glass, after all. “I don’t see anything,” he said. “Ah,” Remus shook a finger, “But there is something: your reflection. I can see your face perfectly from my side, and mine from yours. But most people don’t pay attention to that, because they want to see something. Are you beginning to understand?” “You can see what my face is doing without looking at me,” Tommy nodded. “And more!” Remus’ voice somehow managed to boom around the small space. “People reveal so much about themselves when they don’t think they’re being watched. So, you start vague, always positive! For instance, say there was a pretty, young lady sitting in front of you. First you take the time to observe her as you mutter mumbo-jumbo over the crystal. What is she wearing, does she look happy, are there people with her, is she wearing a ring?” Tommy’s raised an eyebrow. “That’s almost a little creepy...” “Perhaps,” Remus shrugged. “But it’s all part of the game. So you might start by saying ‘Ahh, I see someone in your future.’ Notice her expression. Does this news seem to excite her? So then, based on her reaction, you continue.” “You just keep observing until you get it right?” Tommy asked. “That seems really hard.” “You get very good at it after you’ve practiced. And besides”, Remus leaned forward conspiratorially, “the secret is that that’s what they really want. Something vague and happy to get them through another day.” Nodding as he glanced at the floor in thought, Tommy thought that he might understand. “So, what would you say for me, then?” “For you?” Remus thought for a second. “Things will get better.” Tommy’s heart dropped a centimeter. “Why would you say that?” Remus’ smile faltered, but he continued anyway. “Your eyes,” he hesitated, “They keep darting around the room, like you’re watching for something and... and the mark on your face. It could be dirt, but it’s not, is it?” Tommy looked away from Remus, and the crystal ball, trying not to think about dark rooms and the smell of alcohol. “Anyway,” Remus continued, trying to remedy the situation. “Perhaps that’s enough for today.” “And it’s all just a bunch of guesses,” Tommy interrupted. “Reading people and all that.” “Precisely, my boy. But I do have a few extra tricks up my sleeve.” Remus smiled kindly, winking. Quite beyond his control, Tommy grinned back. He felt something strange, a feeling that he didn’t remember ever feeling: genuine excitement. “Like what?” he asked. But just as Remus opened his mouth to respond, they both heard the sound of the recess bell from across the street, though to Tommy it seemed so far away now. His heart sank as he rose obediently, preparing to leave. “Oh...” he said. “I have to go.” “Would you like to learn more?” Remus asked quietly. Tommy nodded silently. “I’ll be in town for a few weeks,” Remus patted him on the head, slowly once he noticed the boy flinch. He led him back through the curtain and out into the sunlight of the abandoned lot. “Perhaps you could come back and I could teach you.” “Could I?” Tommy brightened a little. “Of course you can, Tommy,” Remus laughed, “But right now, you’ll be late for school.” Before running back to the school, where the last stragglers from recess were slipping through the heavy doors, Tommy looked towards the wagon, and Remus, one more time. “Thank you,” he said, and finally turned back to the real world as Remus waved. It wasn’t until later that he realized he had never told Remus his name.

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