Luke was sitting at his booth, making a house out of tarot cards and wishing desperately for a nap. He'd gone to bed sometime around three AM the night before, and he'd had to wake up at six. His head was killing him, and despite the little tent-shade set up over his spot, the sun was blinding.
He sat back in his seat and watched disinterestedly as a few people passed by.
A large woman scantly clad in pink walked past. He sat up and leaned over the table top.
"Yo, Millie!" He said. "Hey, can I borrow your sunglasses?"
The woman turned to see who was calling her. Her long, red-brown beard was tied up in a braid.
"Depends," she said. "Do I win the lottery today, Merlin?"
"The day you shave that thing off, you'll win two lotteries. Can I use them?"
"Sorry, Ted's already got dibs."
Ted was one of the maintenance workers for the merry go round. Luke sighed. "Damn. Thanks anyway."
Millie ambled off, leaving Luke with nothing to do but play with his cards. It had been a slow day. Despite the summer sun and breezy Californian weather, there was only a couple dozen customers around, and none of them wanted anything to do with him.
He played with the thought of ducking out for a quick nap. Nobody would notice. Hell, even if they did notice, they probably wouldn't care. He was just about to put up a small 'out to lunch' sign he had when something across the way caught his attention.
It was a girl. She had masses of dark curly hair, tan skin, and was wearing a blue dress that didn't belong in the middle of a dump like Pete's Carnival. She would have been perfect, except that she was on the arm of some guy Luke disliked immediately on principle.
He had slicked back blonde hair (a sure sign of evil), sunglasses that took up more than half his face (more evidence against him) and -Luke squinted to make sure- yes, orange skin. He was either an unusually tall Oompa Loompa, had way too much keratin in his diet, or had on a fake tan. The girl he was with didn't seem to be bothered by what Luke considered to be obvious character flaws and kissed him.
Lucky bastard, he thought.
He watched them get fleeced by Rob's ball throwing game, and then by Maddie's ring toss. Everyone in the strip (all the carnie workers with a booth, anyways) were waiting patently for the couple to go their way.
Ah, the rich, thought Luke. They always make such good targets.
About five minutes and what Luke estimated to be about forty dollars later, the girl caught sight of his booth and squealed. Loudly. She tugged at Blondie's arm and dragged him along towards Luke. He could hear the boyfriend protesting.
Showtime. Luke straightened up and tried his best to look respectable.
The couple arrived at the booth, and before Luke could get to the pitch, the woman said,
"Do you tell fortunes?"
Luke glanced at the sign near by. Yes, the words 'Three Dollar Fortune Teller' were still there in bold print.
Alrighty, he thought. Taking the mental image he had of her off its pedestal, he said, "Yes, I do."
The woman stuck her wrist under his nose. "Can you do mine?"
Luke tried to be charming. "Why certainly, anything for such a lovely lady."
The boyfriend didn't appreciate that one bit.
"Come on, Candace." He grabbed her lightly by the shoulder. "Don't go wasting your money with this crap." He gave Luke a good sneer.
Luke had to resist the urge to respond in kind. With his luck, Pete would walk by and chew him out for scaring off customers. He settled with thinking loudly.
Yeah, well, I don't like you either.
The girl shook him off. "Come on, it'll be fun."
Angel, he thought.
The boyfriend sighed and Luke started the palm reading. Sure, there were other, more reliable ways to tell the future, but, well, she had a nice wrist. After a moment of palm reading, he had to stop himself from pulling out his hair.
Alright, he thought. No big deal. Happens all the time. You know this. He took a deep breath and decided to give her the usual formula. He'd concentrate on the stuff around her, rather than the girl herself. Easy.
"I see an interesting future in you," he said. The boyfriend snorted.
"Let me guess," he said. "She'll meet a tall stranger, fall in love, and go on a trip."
"Eric," said Candace disapprovingly. "Quit it."
"Come on, Candy, you're too smart for this shit. He's a total ripoff."
Luke clenched his fists until the knuckles turned white. Blondie was really starting to get on his nerves.
"As luck would have it, you are going on a trip. Soon."
Blondie scoffed. "See?"
Luke ignored him and pressed two fingers to his temples in a sufficiently dramatic way (Pete had been on him about his lack of showmanship lately). "You're going out. . . Midwest. To see - I'm sensing someone close. Do you have family out there?"
Candace's eyes widened. "Yes, my grandmother lives out there!"
"That would be it then." Concentrate on the happy, he thought.
"Oh come on," said Blondie
Luke plowed right over him. "Very soon you will receive a windfall from an unexpected source."
"Really?" said Candace. "Why? How?"
"How much?" said Eric.
Luke went with a political answer. It didn't do to give out specifics. "I'm afraid I cannot divulge that information at this time."
"Figures," said Eric. "Come on, Candy, let's get out of here. This guy doesn't know shit." He turned to go.
"Wait," said Candace. She started digging through her purse.
"Three dollars," said Luke. Before she could hand him the money, Eric came back and snatched the purse out of her hands.
"Don't bother," he said, holding the purse above her head. "He's a fraud."
"Eric, that's not funny!" She elbowed him lightly.
Luke had had enough. After reading the girl's palm, he was in no mood to put up with this sort of bullshit. "Hey, Eric!"
Eric let the purse go. "What do you want?"
"You want a future, huh? You want a god damned future? Well I'll tell you."
Luke let himself go then and the world went odd. His eyes unfocused and refocused rapidly. He could feel the blood pulsing through his veins, could hear the beating of not only his own heart, but the hearts of Candace and Eric as well. Then, as though someone had shut off the white noise, he could hear.
People always went on to him about seeing the future, like it came in visions or dreams. Luke never knew where they got that. If you want to know the future, you had to listen.
"About four minutes from now, a man in a yellow suit will walk by and offer a little girl in pink a balloon animal."
"What the hell does that have to do with-"
"Don't interrupt! She'll take it, and ask for a turtle. He doesn't know how to do turtles, but manages to make one for her anyway. She doesn't know that he came to work drunk today because his wife's been cheating on him, and he doesn't know that she wet herself on the Ferris wheel because it was her first time."
"Quiet!" Luke pounded his fist on the table, knocking down what was left of the house of cards. Eric's jaw clamped shut, and his eyes widened. Candace didn't seem to notice that her boyfriend had gone very rigid.
"What then?" she said.
"Then you, Eric, will go home. You will take your red corvette, make out with Candy here for about twenty minutes, drop her off at her house where her mom will be out front, taking care of her roses. Then you will drive up to your place in El Dorado Hills. You will take a shower, have a beer, then call up that Lucy girl you've been seeing on the side. She'll be busy, so you'll call Cameron instead."
"Lucy?" said Candace. "Cameron?"
Luke's eyes never left Eric's, but he didn't see him. He didn't see anything. "Yes, Lucy. And Cameron on Saturdays."
"You said you had a bowling league!"
"No," said Luke. "No bowling league. He doesn't know it, but Lucy's pregnant. Twins. They're his, a boy and a girl. They'll have his eyes, and his father's chin."
Candace hit Eric a few times with her purse. Since Luke was still holding him immobile, he'd no choice but to take it.
"Hey, Candace?" Luke said faintly. "Candace Ozdalga?"
"Yes?" She stopped hitting her ex-boyfriend.
"Go home. Take the bus. I wasn't kidding about the windfall, or the trip." He licked his lips, then after a brief internal struggle, added, "Go call your grandmother. Tell her you love her."
For a moment Luke was worried she hadn't caught the hint. Then it hit her. He could practically see the gears in her head clicking into place.
"My grandmother," she said slowly. "She lives Midwest."
"Yes," said Luke.
"She's- I mean, she's kind of old." Her eyes filled with tears. "I think I'm in her will."
Candace didn't need to be told again. She hurried towards the carnival exit, stumbling every so often. She almost ran into a man in yellow on her way out. The balloon he'd been holding flew out of his hand and floated away.
Luke watched her go and made sure she was gone before releasing his hold on Eric.
The young man fell to the ground, gasping for air.
Oh right, thought Luke distantly. They need to move their lungs to breath. Forgot about that.
He always felt a little off after letting himself Hear.
"Why," rasped out Eric after a minute of choking. "Why the hell did you tell her that?"
Luke could feel a headache coming on. "Because I'm doing you both a favor."
Eric struggled to his feet, leaning heavily on the table.
"But it wasn't true!"
Luke went back and sat heavily in his chair. He was dog tired. "It would have been. After you got out of the hospital."
"Are you threatening me?"
Luke snorted. He started rubbing his temples. "Eric, buddy, I've got a little story to share with you. And I think you're gonna listen. You're gonna stand there and listen, because you can't move your feet. You've been trying, and you just can't make them go."
Eric said nothing.
"Once upon a time, there was a guy. Rich enough guy. His dad's CEO of some big pharmaceutical company, so this guy's been living large his whole life. He's got this girlfriend. Nice girl, a bit of a ditz sometimes, but a real sweetheart. Likes fish, of all things. Aquariums and stuff. Wants to be ichthyologist and work at the Monterey aquarium."
"How did you know-"
"What did I tell you about interrupting? So these two go off to the carnival for a date. See, the girl doesn't know that her boy's been having a hard time of it lately. He and daddy aren't getting along like they used to, and he's stressed out about how the hell he's going to pay off his student loans without help. So yes, he's understandably stressed out. Not quite thinking right."
Eric kept silent, but nodded. Once.
"Now let's meet Fred. He's forty five. He's going through a mid life crisis. Schmuck went and spent his daughter's college fund on a motorcycle. Well, that went over like a fart in church when his wife found out, so he's been officially kicked out. Which is fine with him, at the moment anyways. He'll feel like crap in couple of hours, but for now, he's just having fun riding around, swerving between cars, running red lights." Luke smiled sadly. "It's great. You can't possibly imagine how spectacular it feels. It's so great, in fact, that after the first hour of it, he's not quite paying attention like he should be."
He went quiet.
"What," said Eric hoarsely. "What happens?"
Luke closed his right hand into a fist. He held up his left hand, then drove his fist into his palm. Eric winced.
"The girl doesn't make it. Her mama cries. Her brother cries. Her boyfriend would have cried, but he's too busy in surgery, having shrapnel removed from his chest. Lucy and Cameron show up a few years later, only Lucy's your maid and Cameron's your wife." Luke gave a half hearted chuckle. "You have a mid life crisis, too."
Luke watched as Eric seemed to finally grasp what he'd been told. "You- you're crazy. You're insane. I- I-," he tried to back up a few steps, only to fall backwards onto the ground.
"Sorry." Luke let his feet go.
The second he was free, Eric scrabbled backwards, babbling. "Don't, don't hurt me. You stay away from me!" The young man got to his feet and ran towards the exit. "You're fucking psycho!" he shouted.
Luke watched him go and sighed. He sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. A low throbbing was starting up somewhere behind his eyes and was starting to make its way to the top of his skull.
See what you get when you do a good deed? he thought. Headaches.
He hadn't even gotten paid. Pete was going to-
"Dammit, I saw that."
Luke opened his eyes and saw Pete, owner and manager of Pete's Carnival, in all his portly, bearded glory looking sullenly at him.
"Hiya, Pete," he said. He sat up and gave a meek little wave.
Pete wasn't having any of it. "What did I tell you about scaring off customers?"
"It was for his own good-"
"He looked like he was gonna cry! It's bad business making customers cry, Luke."
"I know, but-"
"What the hell did you say to him?"
Luke looked down at the table guiltily and started fiddling with the fallen cards. "I told him how his girlfriend dies."
"Well she's not dying anymore. Now she took the bus home."
"You can't just go around telling people how they died."
"Or how they almost died. You just can't. Stick to the formula, Luke. Mysterious love interests, trips, and good luck."
Luke titled his head slightly to the side. "Hey, Pete?"
"No," said Pete. "I know that look. Not unless it's good news."
"Er, Reggie's stand is about to catch fire. It's gonna to spread out to the funnel cake kiosk unless it gets put out soon."
For a large man, Pete could move fairly quickly. "I won't forget," he called over his shoulder.
Luke made like he was plucking something from out of the air. A small grain of golden light appeared in his hand. "Yes," he said, letting the light float away and disperse into the air. "You will."
Luke Aesis sighed and tried to make himself comfortable. He closed his eyes. It was a slow day, and a nap seemed like a good idea.