Dark Carnival Session Four Part 1 - Plots and Plans
CoC 1-6e Jazz Age
Monday, February 13, 2017
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu scenario “Dark Carnival” by David A. Hargrave from Curse of the Chthonians Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. with Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, Ben Abbott, Yorie Latimer, and Joey Scott.)
Evelyn Fairfield had been too busy at the Providence Journal on Wednesday, May 16, 1928, to join the others. She had not even received any telephone messages from those investigating the dark carnival, which surprised her. She wondered if the sexist, pompous assistant editor, James Updyke, had been taking the calls and so not even bothered. She had been out taking photographs most of the day and, when she returned, he had warned her, once again, about taking personal telephone calls at the office.
On Thursday, May 17, she had to get into the office early to cover for the city editor who was out that day. She ended up going to police headquarters to get the various police reports from the day before and was surprised to find a police report on the arrest of Dr. Carl Huxtable. He was charged with filing a false report and inciting mischief.
That sounds about right, she thought.
The report read Dr. Huxtable had contacted the police at the precinct near Swan Point Cemetery. He claimed to have found the missing boy and two officers escorted him to the cemetery. After a long search for a grave he claimed held a secret panel and having to consult the records at the cemetery superintendent’s home, they found the grave he claimed was correct. They dug down to the coffin but found nothing. At that point he admitted he might be in the wrong spot. He was returned to the precinct for questioning whereupon he “acted in an erratic and irrational manner” and led police to believe he was in great distress. He was held in a cell overnight and charged in the morning. He was released on his own recognizance.
She decided not to put it in the paper and discarded the report.
After lunch, she slipped out and biked to Potter’s Garage, a few blocks away. She found Nigel Bricker under a newer Model A, working on the motorcar. A man stood next to the automobile watching Bricker work and constantly questioning him on everything he did. Bricker ignored him but seemed very frustrated. He was under the car when he noticed a woman’s legs and ankles walk over.
Oh, he thought.
“Mr. Bricker,” Miss Fairfield said.
He looked out to see the woman.
“Oh!” he said.
“Are you almost done here?” she asked.
“Yeah, just give me a minute,” he said.
She stood off to the side while he finished up his work. He sent the man to Potter’s office to pay.
“I don’t think that guy did a very good job,” the complaining man said to his boss. “He didn’t seem to be working hard.”
“Every time,” Bricker muttered.
He wiped his hands and approached Miss Fairfield.
“So, I saw Huxtable got arrested,” she said to him. “Were you there?”
“Huxtable got arrested?” he said.
“Okay, I guess that answers my question.”
“No, I’d already taken off and come back by the time … I’m sure he got out or I’m pretty sure he got out, but I don’t know what happened─”
“Yeah, he did.”
“Well, he said something about some panel under a grave or something?”
“Yes, there was a panel under the grave. Did they not find it?”
She shook her head.
“Well, that’s news to me,” he said. “I know how else we got down there, but … I mean. I don’t think we found a way to get back to that grave.”
“Maybe we can talk somewhere more private,” she said.
Bricker told Potter he was taking his lunch break and they went to his tiny little room connected to the back of the garage. There, he told her what had happened the night before. He explained how they talked to the cemetery workers and entered the sewage drain pipe under the carnival. He related the vast caves there, Wessen and James going off on their own, and the dead men around the brazier. He called them zombies and noted they didn’t react unless you got close and touched them.
“So, like those things in Florida?” Miss Fairfield said.
“No,” he replied.
He noted they were like the things but not exactly like the things. They had no holes in their chest and didn’t seem to do much. He told her they had heard a noise and found some strange, dog-men things with hooves. One of them was gnawing on an arm that was Kent Howard’s. They found James with more of the things, which talked to them. They wanted dead bodies to tell them secrets. Then other people showed up, one of them the red-coated carnival barker. They attacked them but they escaped through the grave and then he ran home. He noted they had never seen Wessen again.
She asked who the new people he mentioned were. She recognized Father Oein’s name and thought he was in charge of one of the churches in Providence but didn’t recognize Wessen or Joseph Johnson. The only one Bricker knew how to get hold of was Joell Johnson.
* * *
Joell Johnson had tossed and turned the entire night, unable to sleep. The faces of the dead men, the horrible implications of what had happened to them, and the terrible, inhuman things that ate dead flesh wouldn’t stay out of his head. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw the horrible things from the caves.
It was not until well after 7 a.m. that he had fallen asleep and, even then, only slept fitfully, waking every few minutes to an hour to look about his room before going back to a semi-lucid, nightmarish, half-sleep.
It was around 1 p.m. when he was woken by a knock at his door. He threw some clothes on and answered it, finding Bricker and Miss Fairfield there. He looked exhausted, with dark bags under his eyes.
“Are you sick?” Miss Fairfield asked.
“No, but … after … after seeing all that, I didn’t get to sleep until it was already morning,” Johnson said. “Don’t come in. I’ll meet you out here in just a minute.”
He closed the door and, after a few minutes, joined them in the nasty hallway.
“You want to talk somewhere other than here?” Joell asked.
“Yeah,” Miss Fairfield said.
Someone coughed violently in one of the rooms. The walls were very thin.
“We definitely want to get out of here before Crazy Jeff gets home,” Joell said, leading them towards the stairs.
Jeff Straczynski was known as Crazy Jeff in the building. He was an older man who rarely bathed or groomed himself. His salt-and-pepper hair, mustache, and beard were always a mess. He wore heavy clothing year round and seemed to hate everyone. Everyone knew he was insane.
They met him coming up the stairs as they were going down.
“There you are!” he shouted at Joell. “I warned you─”
“What’s up, Jeff?” Jeoll said.
“You stay out of my room!”
“Yep. I did.”
“You stay out of my room!”
He poked Joell in the chest as he always did.
“I been following your orders, Jeff,” Joell said.
“You stay out!” Jeff bellowed.
“If I find anything missing … I put some hairs. I hooked ‘em to the door. I’ll know if they’re down! I’ll know!”
He walked by them, glaring at Joell. He stank of alcohol.
“You son of a bitch!” he shouted.
“Good to see you too, Jeff,” Joell said.
They left the flophouse.
“So, has Bricker already told you what happened?” Joell asked.
“Pretty much,” Miss Fairfield said.
“Alright. What’s the plan? Are we just getting everybody together?”
“Yep. And we should probably get you some coffee.”
“Well, I do know where my cousin lives,” he said. “He’s right nearby here. So, that can be our next stop.”
“All right,” she said.
They walked a few blocks to a nicer apartment building.
* * *
Joseph Johnson had burned his clothing in a burn barrel near Joell’s apartment. They had seen Crazy Jeff near the barrel with the other winos.
“Are those mine!?!” Crazy Jeff had yelled at Joell. “You son of a bitch!”
Joseph had gone home that terrible night, bathing and then sleeping. He felt awful when he woke up on Thursday. Not long after that, there was a knock on his door.
He opened the door, leaving the chain on, and saw his cousin Joell. He closed the door and unlocked it, letting them in. Joseph looked terrible. He wore an undershirt and pants. He was pale and looked sweaty. His hands were shaking. The apartment was a little bigger than Joell’s but sparsely furnished. A Murphy bed was down on one side, the blankets askew, and an open door led to a bathroom.
“You look about as good as I feel,” Joell said to him.
“Yeah … I … I didn’t throw up at all last night but … I just can’t stop now,” Joseph said.
“I haven’t eaten yet … or anything. I’m afraid …”
“I’m afraid of a lot of things.”
“Probably good for healing.”
“There’s been dogs barking outside. They’re coming.”
Bricker winced when the man mentioned dogs.
“Are you sure about this, Joell?” Miss Fairfield said.
“Well … I wanted to check on him, at least,” Joell said.
“Have … uh … did the … uh … police find anything?” Joseph asked.
“No,” Joell said.
“That Doctor … when we found him … okay. So, they found the grave, right?”
“Nope,” Miss Fairfield said. “Not the grave you saw.”
“Oh. I knew I should’ve broke that winch. Those dogs are down there.”
“I realize you’re not feeling well,” Joell said. “Are you feeling well enough to get together today? Or do you want us to come back sometime?”
“And also who’s that preacher man?”
“Oh. Father Oein.”
“Yeah, where is … if we need to talk to him …”
“He’s at St. Sebastian Catholic Church. It’s on the east side of town.”
That’s when Miss Fairfield remembered where she’d heard the name before. Father Oein was the priest who had taken over that church a few months before when the current priest had died. There’d been a story in the newspaper about it.
“You feeling good enough to head out today?” Joell asked again.
“Sure,” Joseph said hesitantly. “I didn’t realize when you said you needed some help it was this though. That was a bit much. I thought we were just going to find some carnies who were being … kidnapping children or something. Just regular carnies. You know.”
“That’s what I expected too,” Joell said.
“Yeah … we’ll see how the Father is. I’m sure he could handle stuff like this.”
“You want to go with us or do you want us to give you some time to put yourself together.”
“Give me some time.”
“All right, where should we meet you at? You want us to just come back here after we have the Father?”
Miss Fairfield actually had an idea where the church was located on the south side of the Blackstone neighborhood. It was a newer church only built about a decade before. Nearby was a nice, two-story, brick rectory where they guessed Father Oein lived.
* * *
Father Oein had dropped off the others, thrown his clothing in the burn barrel behind the rectory, and then hosed out his Model T before taking a bath and going to bed. Nonetheless, he felt terrible on Thursday morning. First had come the diarrhea and then the feeling of wanting to vomit. He had also been feeling very shaking in terms of his faith, God, and Christianity. That a kind and loving God could allow the things to exist that existed under that dark carnival were beyond him. It didn’t make sense, at least not in relation to everything he had believed all his life until then.
He answered the rectory door wearing a tank top undershirt, his black pants, and holding a crucifix in one hand and a glass of scotch in the other. He looked pale and sweaty.
“Hello?” he said to the three on the stoop.
“Well, good morning father,” Joell said. “You’re looking most holy today.”
“Holy … yeah,” Father Oein said. “Sure. How can I help you, my … child?”
“Are you sick too?”
“I’m not feeling so great. What can I do you for? And …uh … you have a new face.”
“Miss Fairfield,” she said.
“Miss Fairfield,” he replied. “Nice to meet you. I’m Father Oein.”
“I’ve heard about you in the paper. You’re the new pastor …er … preacher to this church.”
“Well, we were getting back together with everybody after what happened last night,” Joell said.
Father Oein grunted.
“But it looks like not all of us are up to it today,” Joell went on.
“Last night,” Father Oein said. “I’d rather not think about it. I don’t know if it’s what I saw or what I waded through that’s bothering me today but …”
“Things like this kind of … shake the faith a little bit, if you know what I mean,” he went on. “It’s just … disturbing to see. If it was even real! I … I don’t know.”
“Well, do you want us to give you some time to get better and figure out what to do about this situation later?” Joell asked.
“I would say give me … I at least need today. Today to recover. I need to drink my fluids.”
He held up the glass of scotch.
“And … just meditate,” he went on. “I would love to help you. I just don’t know if I’m in the best condition to right now.”
“All right,” Joell said. “We talked to Joseph, also. He’s a tough son of a bitch, so he said he’d go out, but─”
“─I don’t think he’s … oh. Right.”
“Joseph is, he’s one tough son of a gun, I’ll give you that. Is he not feeling well either?”
“He’s looking about like you are.”
“Must be the same thing. How lucky. I see you’re faring okay, despite wearing nothing … in the sewers.”
“If you call not being able to sleep okay then, yeah, I’m doing great.”
“I would definitely take that to what I feel like right now.”
“I can see that. Well, we’ll tell Joseph to call it off and we’ll get some rest too and meet back when everybody’s is better condition.”
“That sounds like a great plan.”
* * *
They returned to Joseph’s apartment and told him to rest for the day. Then the three tried Miss Edington but no one was home. Ingerton didn’t answer his telephone. Sanderson was out of town. They found Jake Wessen’s address in the telephone directory but the office was locked up and dark. They finally went their various ways.
Joell purchased a little snub-nosed .38 revolver and bullets to defend himself with.
* * *
Over the next few days, Bricker found a lawyer and had a will drawn up, leaving the three volumes of Revelations of Glaaki to Miss Edington and the chrome bear trap and the strange key to Miss Fairfield
* * *
They met again on Sunday, May 20, 1928, at the rectory of St. Sebastian’s Catholic Church in the early afternoon. A thunderstorm growled overhead with a steady fall of rain.
The rectory was a nice, two story brick house that was tastefully, if sparsely, decorated. There were crucifixes on the walls of every room. When they arrived, Father Oein took them into a cozy parlor where they could all sit comfortably. He offered them coffee.
“Or something a little stronger,” he said.
“Coffee will do me fine,” Joell said.
Both Father Oein and Joseph felt much better than they had two days before.
“So, I’m feeling much better today,” Father Oein said. “Thank you all for waiting. So, does anybody have any idea what happened that night?”
“About what we saw or what happened after?” Joseph said.
“I mean … I just feel like I need someone else’s opinion to piece it all together to make sure that I’m not the only person who experienced this.”
“Well, I don’t have an incredibly logical explanation for that,” Joell said. “Aside from something strange or outside of our normal realms of happening underneath the carnival.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Miss Fairfield said.
“That carnival seems … such an unholy place,” Father Oein said.
He wanted to go over what he experienced with everyone and they all spoke of the things they had seen and heard under the carnival. Father Oein learned, for the first time, that the voice that had called out to Ingerton had been one of the barkers at the carnival, at least according to Bricker. Miss Fairfield told of Huxtable’s arrest.
“Why haven’t the cops done anything?” Joseph asked her.
“I’m just a secretary,” she said.
“What happened to Dr. Huxtable? Didn’t he go and tell the cops?”
“I don’t know,” Father Oein said. “I got out of there.”
“He left before we got out of there.”
“So, he went back and they found nothing? Did he go to the right grave?”
“Knowing him, I hardly think so,” Miss Fairfield said.
“I mean, I just met the man, but … that’s not much to go off of after just a few hours.”
“The name on it was John Smith, so …” Joell said.
“There’s a lot of John Smiths,” Joseph said.
“There’s a possibility, we have to keep in mind, maybe it’s a grave that’s written differently on the manifests of the cemetery.”
“Or, there’s a lot of them. They could’ve moved a gravestone.”
“A lot of them?” Father Oein said.
“Let’s leave it at that.”
“Yeah. I just can’t imagine what kind of person you would have to be to align themselves with those things that we saw.”
“Well, in any case, there’s a child missing, there’s a girl missing, and there’s a man without an arm because of this, so …” Joell said.
They also noted others went missing back in 1918 so it was nothing new. Joell pointed out it was more frequent than it was before but it was no new kind of occurrence. Joseph asked about Wessen as he had been meaning to ask the man if he could talk to the police superintendent. Joell noted his office had been dark and silent. He’d visited it several times in the last three days.
“Knowing he went off on his own and Milo separated from him, I’m not sure we can be very optimistic about that,” he said.
“All I know is that, if nothing spiritual is going to be done about this, you’ll just have to take it into your own hands,” Father Oein said.
“That’s kind of what I’m about,” Joell said.
Father Oein was feeling pessimistic about his religion, God, and Christianity on a whole. He figured since God allowed something like this to happen, he would have to do something to stop it himself. He didn’t believe he could trust God to deal with the terrible situation. His sermons in church had been short and dark that day. His parishioners were unsure how to react to it but everyone seemed uncomfortable.
He had even prepared a good amount of holy water in the event they returned to the carnival. He regretted using the bottle of holy water blessed by Pope Pius XI at a special baptism some years before. He would have to fall back on the holy water at hand, blessed crucifixes, and the sacramental bread. He had some knowledge of the occult and guessed they would be useful against demons, vampires, witches, and the like.
Father Oein asked if anyone knew anything more about the man whose voice had come from the darkness. They knew he was one of the carnival barkers and Miss Fairfield noted the man gave her to the creeps. They told him the man tended to get into people’s faces and made them nervous or uncomfortable. Joseph wondered if he was sizing people up.
Joell said there was a crowd of people after them in the caves and it made him wonder if there was a group of people or perhaps everyone at the carnival involved. He also pointed out all of the workers live there in houses behind the carnival. He was suspicious of the barn that stood near those same buildings. He noted he’d been thinking they went in through the sewer but left through the graveyard.
“Where did the other people come from?” he asked. “Which means there must be some other entrance in there unless they all crawled through the sewer. But I don’t think so.”
Father Oein pointed out there were three caves on the other side of the pond and the cave where the things were. He noted there was a direction they didn’t go and that’s where the people came from. Joell said it made him think there was an entrance somewhere else or they could get in through the carnival somewhere. He thought all he could piece together was that the people who worked at the carnival were taking individuals and sacrificing them to the demons they’d seen in the caves. Joell said it seemed likely but he didn’t know how they were doing it. He also noted they had found the strange slime and there didn’t seem to be any connection with that yet. Then there were the ‘demons’ asking for dead bodies - rotten flesh.
“But why do they need us?” Father Oein asked. “It was asking us, specifically, to bring it to them. I don’t understand why, why that was … why they needed our help.”
“I do believe they said they weren’t allowed to get them,” Joell said. “But, if no one was looking, I don’t see why they couldn’t do it anyways. So …”
“So there’s some connection between the people working the carnival and the things underneath the cemetery.”
“I suppose so.”
“What do we want to do about this?”
“Miss Fairfield and Mr. Bricker, I first met you when we went into that dream place. And it seemed like you had some prior experience. Do you have … did you have anything similar to this in any of your adventures?”
Miss Fairfield and Bricker looked at each other. Father Oein poured himself a glass of scotch and sat back down to take it all in. Then the two started talking. They told everything.
They told them of their trip to North Carolina in the summer of 1927 and the missing child at Brown Mountain Beach. They related their search for the child, the strange carvings and markings, and their entrance into the caves under Brown Mountain. They told them of the strange, hexagonal tunnels and the things within. They related how they found gates that connected the interior of the mountain to the surface and how they had left some of their number in the tunnels, only to return to find them missing. They told of the fight with the horrible creatures and of William Avery Rockefeller, their friend, whose brain had been removed and put into cylinder and how they talked to it. They told how they forced one of the creatures to return Rockefeller’s brain to his body and how his servant had died so the thing had placed his brain into another body. They told of the gate that Miss Edington had gone through to retrieve the child and how the things had chased them in the end. They related that strange things had been happening to them since, as if the things were trying to ruin them.
They also told of their trip to Florida in October, wherein Bricker had inherited a house from a distant cousin. They had taken a boat to the terrible little village of New Dunwich and found it decrepit and terrible. They only saw a single person there and the inherited house was apparently haunted as strange things happened: Bricker got pushed down the stairs, words formed on the walls, images in the photographs moved, and the like. They talked to the only man in the village and found him in a bathtub filled with formaldehyde, but then he had attacked them. They had destroyed other dead bodies there as well. They later saw a terrible god appear - a combination of a turtle and a slug with terrible metal spines. Later, a black man had arrived and, when they followed him, they were attacked by the entire village which they somehow managed to wipe out though Miss Fairfield had been struck by a magical spell that injured her and left her looking years older. They burned down most of the houses in the village, the house with the formaldehyde exploding. The ghost seemed to have vanished. Finally, the man who had brought them there returned in his boat and they had escaped, Bricker handing over the deed to the property to him when they left.
They also related their strange adventure in the dream of Howard Phillips in November. Joell had been there for that as well. A psychologist from Dexter Asylum had a patient who wrote as if he was at an address on College Street. They had found the house deserted but with a warm spot in the bed upstairs. Investigation led them to his friend and then to a Chinaman in Chinatown who had sold some draught to him. That led them to the psychologist Endecott, who had helped them enter into Phillips’ dream where they dealt with terrible things with tentacles for faces and eventually helped the young man escape from his nightmare. In Chinatown, they had also noticed Lily Mitchell and the pygmy Chinamen.
It was 4 p.m. by the time they had finished relating the stories. If it had not been for what they had seen under the carnival, the other two men would not have believed a word of it. Father Oein was, in fact, angry that such things happened and were allowed to happen when they shouldn’t even exist in the first place.
Where is God? he thought.
He wanted to put a stop to whatever horror was going on there. The rain came down outside. He noted that with the thunderstorm, there probably wouldn’t be many people at the carnival.
Miss Fairfield wondered if the people chasing them in the caves had seen their faces. After some short discussion, Bricker figured the only one they might have seen clearly was Milo James as he had hung on the ladder under the false grave. Light had flashed up from below. He was unsure, however, if they would have gotten a good look at the man.
“So, from your stories, when there’s a group of people doing these … things, it’s not very easy to just … combat them,” Joell said.
Bricker and Miss Fairfield pointed out they had wiped out the entire town of New Dunwich and burned down nearly all of the buildings in the village. Joell noted they were not heavily armed and might not be equipped to take on a large cult.
Father Oein wanted to know what they were trying to accomplish by going there. He said he thought they knew what was happening to the missing people. Miss Fairfield noted that though they might not be able to save those who had already been kidnapped, they might be able to stop further kidnappings.
“So how do you think we go about shutting the carnival down for good?” Father Oein asked.
“Is it really the carnival or is it just the creatures?” Miss Fairfield asked.
“I wouldn’t feel so bad seeing the carnival disappear,” Father Oein said.
He felt it was too close to the two cemeteries.
“Well, I don’t want to crawl through the sewer again,” Joell said.
“No,” Father Oein said. “No.”
“I think we’re all in agreement on that. I think, if we go back there, that’s not our best option.”
Joseph suggested searching the graveyard again but Joell pointed out they searched it three times and only found anything once. He didn’t think it would be very fruitful but it might be an option. Miss Fairfield suggested whatever entrance the other people had used. Joell suggested trying to search the houses but admitted that would be a shot in the dark at best. He also thought they would need more equipment to go in. When Father Oein pointed out he had crucifixes, holy water, and bibles, Joell said he was thinking more about things that could put holes in people rather than holy things.
“So you all want to go get guns?” Father Oein said.
“I was thinking either─” Joell said.
“I already got mine,” Miss Fairfield said.
“Either we go in there with some protection and some plan to be able to find out what’s going on and deal with problems or we go down and talk to those things again,” Joell said.
“I’m not talking to those things again,” Father Oein said.
“I’m not keen on either of the plans honestly.”
“Well, I will take what I deem necessary and I would only hope that you all do the same.”
“I think we need to get back into the cave to investigate, or we need to see if there’s something suspicious in those houses. Either way, it seems to me that, unless we have some other way of finding out what’s going on at this carnival, the houses are probably the best bet. Or off limits areas.”
They discussed the file of the police superintendent but Joell noted only Sanderson might be able to get to look at it. Miss Fairfield said she could look at the newspaper archives. Father Oein noted they would have the way they entered the first time at least guarded. Miss Fairfield was of the opinion they should talk to Kent Howard and try to learn how he got into it. They discussed talking to him.
Joseph and Father Oein wanted to go to the carnival so Joell gave them the four tickets he had left over from the last time they’d visited.
* * *
Bricker went to the police precinct nearest Swan Point Cemetery. By sheer luck, the desk sergeant there recognized the man. He’d actually worked on his automobile at one time and fixed it. The sergeant was happy to let him peruse the public record files of closed cases.
Bricker looked through the files, trying to find out anything he could about the carnival in 1918.
* * *
Joell and Miss Fairfield went to the Rhode Island Hospital where they learned Kent Howard had been transferred to Butler Sanitarium.
“Not surprising,” Miss Fairfield said.
They went from there to the police precinct where Bricker had headed. When they mentioned his name, the desk sergeant seemed pleased and told them a long and boring story about the man fixing his automobile. He was happy to take them back to the room where Bricker worked. They all set to searching for information on their case.
* * *
Joseph Johnson and Father Oein, the latter in civilian clothes, went to the North Star Amusement Arcade and Pleasure Pier. Father Oein parked in the parking lot and they entered the wet carnival under the pouring rain. Though the rides were not running, the games and inside attractions were still open. It wasn’t particularly crowded.
They walked around the park, getting the lay of the land.
Joseph visited the shooting gallery and found the concrete building with the open front over the counter. The man running it was Hispanic and dressed like a cowboy. The ticket got him a .22 rifle with a full magazine of six shots. Both men noticed the building was very solid, made of concrete, and had very thick walls. There were also wooden interior walls that were heavily baffled to catch the bullets. They both realized that would also make the building sound proof if the shutters over the front were pulled closed.
Towards the back of the building was a duck pond filled with water. There were stationary and moving targets. Joseph was disappointed to find there were no prizes for shooting in the gallery but he enjoyed it anyway.
After that, they returned to the games fairway to the fortune teller booth. The small cottage had several wooden signs shaped like a palm or a teacup or a crystal ball or a tarot card with captions noting any or all of them could be used to see someone’s future. The name “Madam Zarah” was over the door.
The two men entered the quaint little building which smelled of incense and spices and fried onions and cigarette smoke. The single-room building was broken up by hanging curtains of clashing colors. Even the wallpaper was of a color and style that clashed with the curtains around it. Madam Zarah sat behind a small table with something round atop it covered with a purple silk cloth. She was middle aged and had dark hair.
“Ah, visitors,” she said in a thick European accent. “I sense … you are in search of answers.”
“How vague,” Father Oein said under his breath.
“Please!” Madam Zarah said. “Who wishes their fortune told?”
Joseph raised his hand and she gestured towards the chair in front of her.
“Come!” she said. “Sit! Sit! Ticket!”
He held out the ticket and she took it, tucking it away somewhere.
“What do you wish?” she asked. “Do you wish to know your future through the cards or the palm? Do you wish me to read your tea leaves or perhaps we could consult the crystal?”
“The cards,” Joseph said.
“The tarot cards!” she said. “Yes.”
She slid the round thing under the silk aside and pulled out a small deck of cards. She looked through them and then looked at him very carefully.
“I think this represents you,” she said, putting the Knight of Swords face up on the table.
She handed Joseph the cards, bidding him to shuffle them until they felt right in his hand.
“And then … and then … we’ll see your future,” she said dramatically.
He shuffled the cards and she took them back.
“I will now cut the cards because fate and chance must also … play a part,” she said. “This card represents your past.”
She put down the first card. It was the Ten of Pentacles.
“This is your past,” she said. “It could mean that somewhere in your past your had financial success. Did you have a lemonade stand as a child?”
“She got you,” Father Oein said.
“Somewhere there was money … but the card is inverted!” she went on. “Notice how it is upside down. When you look at it, it is upside down. So, you lost money in the past. It was … some time ago? Do you remember? Do you remember losing money in the past? Maybe it was just a few days ago. Or perhaps it was long ago. Have you lost money in the past?”
“Yes,” Joseph said.
“A good deal of money. That is it. That is what it shows.”
She drew another card, this one the Ace of Wands.
“This is your present!” she said. “Now your present shows a new beginning. But, as you can see, it is inverted, so some dark thing has started recently. Your present is filled with darkness and despair.”
“Uh … kinda …” Joseph said.
“Madam Zarah sees all!”
The third card was the Four of Cups but it was not inverted this time.
“Ah!” Madam Zarah said. “In your future, I see … boredom. There is dissatisfaction with what you’re being offered. You’re … quiescent. You’re wishing for some excitement in your life, are you not?”
“Yeah!” Joseph said.
“Ah, Madam Zarah knows. Madam Zarah knows all. She sees all. She knows all.”
She drew the last card.
“This represents your ultimate fate,” she said.
She put down the Eight of Pentacles. It was upright.
“In your fate, I see hard work,” Madam Zarah said. “A focused effort. You are laying the groundwork for something greater in the future. Perhaps a family. Perhaps friends that you are aiding in some endeavor for something good. As you can see, the card is upright. That is the reading! That is all. I feel the spirits have drifted away.”
She collected the cards from the table and tucked them into a small, wooden box.
Joseph was a little unnerved by the accuracy of the past and present predictions. He had lost $500 a week or so ago and dark and dreadful things were filling his life at present.
“Pet,” Father Oein said, realizing the things she’d said have been very vague. “Just like the Bible, am I right?”
She looked at him.
“Do you want your fortune told?” Joseph asked Father Oein.
“I do,” Father Oein said.
“Ah!” Madam Zarah said, smiling. “Your hand? Do you wish the crystal? Some of strong mind and will can sometimes see things in the crystal that even Madam Zarah cannot see.”
“Let’s do the crystal,” Father Oein said.
“Ticket,” she said.
She took his ticket and shushed Joseph out of the chair. She pushed the round object back into the center of the small table and lifted the silk scarf, revealing a crystal ball underneath.
“Sit. Sit. Sit.” she said.
Father Oein sat down.
“Now, look into the crystal,” she said. “It is said those with strong minds will sometimes see a light in the crystal.”
A glow started to emanate from the crystal ball.
“Sometimes,” she continued. “But only those with strong minds can create … oh! Oh! Oh! Tell me! Look deep! Concentrate. What do you see? And then I will tell you what I see. What do you see? Do you see anything?”
“I … see a light,” Father Oein said.
“Ah, the light. You are of strong mind and character, obviously. I can see … I am seeing … I am seeing … that you are searching for something. I am seeing you are looking to find out … things. Things about … truth. You’re looking for truth. You have recently been disillusioned about things, about things that were so very, so very important to you. Very important to you things. And … and now you are looking for truth. Are you looking for truth? Do you really wish to find it?”
“Yeah …” he said slowly.
“Madam Zarah knows!” she said. “She sees all. She is the seer. That’s where that word comes from. All right. So. You are looking for a certain truth. It lies … it lies both within you and in the world. But you must not give up hope! Because the truth is there and once you find it, once you find the truth … then it will set you free.”
He looked up at her.
“So that’s what Madam Zarah sees,” she said. “ Do you see anything? Look deep. Look deep. What do you see? What do you see?”
“A heavenly light,” he said. “It’s holy.”
“Yes! Yes! Perhaps the things … the things that you did not believe in are merely hidden. Hidden by a mask of deception and lies! Those are what you must think about.”
“So … the things that I seek are hidden. Sure.”
“By deceptions and lies.”
The light dimmed.
“Ah!” she said. “That is all the spirits have to tell us. That is all that Madam … I am exhausted!”
She leaned her head back and put the back of her hand to her forehead.
“The spirits have taken so much from me,” she said.
She tapped her chest with the other hand and made little, exhausted noises.
“Such a powerful mind you have,” she said. “You are your friend both. Such … such … Madam Zarah will need a moment. But thank you. Thank you for coming and enjoy the carnival.”
“I think we need to give Madam …” Father Oein said.
“Zarah,” she said. “Madam Zarah from Romania. From Romania. Madam Zarah.”
As they left, they heard a clicking noise behind them and Father Oein turned to see Madam Zarah lighting a cigarette and taking a drag.
“Oh yes,” she said when she noticed him looking. She blew out a puff of smoke. “No, I don’t see any spirits in the smoke this time. This time. This time.”
The two men left.
Father Oein went to the Tunnel of Terrors. The large wooden building, two stories high in the front and three in the rear, had a façade painted to resemble an old castle. The little carts on the track were shaped like coffins. It was about what Father Oein expected - corny and hokey things trying to be scary or frightening. The entire ride lasted more than five minutes and, though somewhat entertaining, it was nothing special. He could see the carts ahead and behind him sometimes as the track twisted and turned often. Screams and laugher echoed through the building.
* * *