[WARNING:  This fic is rated R for graphic violence!  It also includes the deaths of main characters, so if this is something you'd rather not read, then you had best stop reading right here.  Otherwise, enjoy…]

FATED By:  Mark J. Hadley

*          *            *


            The City of Townsville… a city whose hardworking people are looking forward to the weekend, and a few days of relaxation.  This is a good weekend for it as well, since the annual fair is in town; posters all over town announced it for the past week, to build excitement and so that everyone could start making plans to attend.  The fair itself was ready overnight that Thursday, the trucks rolling in on the outskirts of town and setting up the rides, games, and attractions in preparation of everyone's arrival starting on Friday.  The sight of the fairground going up served to heighten the anticipation even further.

            This was especially true for the children of Townsville.  It was the subject of playground discussion during recess at Pokey Oaks Kindergarten, as all the children were eagerly telling each other what rides they wanted to go on first.  Even their teacher, Ms. Keane, was excited about it… since some of the attractions included historical displays and various other educational exhibits, she decided to arrange a field trip for the class, much to the delight of the children.  The intent was to learn a few things while they were at it, but it wasn't difficult to see that Ms. Keane just wanted an excuse to go to the park herself.

            That Friday, all the children gathered on the bus that was to take them to the fair.  Everyone had brought their field trip permission slips from their folks at home, and of course, money for admission, rides, games, and food.  Once Ms. Keane checked everyone's permission slips to be sure everything was in order, she smiled and gave an okay signal to the bus driver.  All the children cheered as the bus pulled away from Pokey Oaks, and began driving off towards the fair.

            "I can't wait!" Bubbles said, bouncing up and down in her seat.  "Didja hear about the animal show?  There's going to be ponies there!  We can even ride them!"  She looked like she was going to swoon just at the thought.

            "Nah, bring on the games!" Buttercup said, grinning.  "I'll win every stuffed animal in that fair, just watch!"

            Blossom said, "Easy, Buttercup… remember last year?  I don't think they want you to break the strength meter again…"

            "Well, what'd they expect?" Buttercup shrugged.  "Those things are rigged, they've gotta be.  I hit that thing with the hammer as hard as I could, smashed the platform and everything, but the stupid bell-ringer thing didn't even go up all the way!  Serves them right that it broke, huh?"

            Shaking her head, Blossom replied, "It's not how hard you hit it, Buttercup, it's where you hit it.  I'll prove it when we're there, okay?"

            "Fine," Buttercup sighed, folding her arms.  She looked out of the window, watching as the bus continued on closer to its destination.  Blossom sat back in her seat calmly, but in reality, she was just as excited as the rest of them were.  There's supposed to be a big science exhibit, too, she thought.  And an art show!  I like the fact that we'll be able to have so much fun, and learn a great deal at the same time.  Ms. Keane is definitely the coolest teacher ever to put this trip together for us!  She smiled as she thought about the exhibits, and what kind of amazing things she'd see and learn there…

*          *            *

            "Let's see," Ms. Keane said, looking over a schedule of the various shows at the fair.  "The art show opens in an hour… the historical exhibit opens a half hour after that…"  She smiled and looked over at her class and said, "Well, there's some time before we get the learning portion of our trip underway, so why don't we all meet back here in one hour?  Don't get lost now!"  She knew they'd be perfectly safe anyway, because security at the fair was vigilant, with officers posted regularly throughout the fairgrounds.  Besides, as busy as things were, the layout of the fair was simple enough that it was difficult to get lost in the first place.

            The kids cheered and began heading off in various directions, most of them towards the rides and games.  A few headed for the concession stands to buy cotton candy or drinks.  The Powerpuff girls, in the meantime, stayed where they were and looked around, trying to decide where to go first.  "Let's try the games!" Buttercup urged.  "C'mon, it'll be fun!"

            "I wanna see the animals," Bubbles insisted.  "We can play the games later!"

            Blossom glanced up at a clock that was up over the fair entrance and said, "Well, we have plenty of time.  Bubbles, you go ahead to the animals, but make sure to be back here afterwards, all right?"

            "Wheee!" Bubbles shouted, and bounded off in the direction of the animal pens.  Blossom grinned a little, then pulled out her money to check it, thinking, Okay, we've got enough for some games, a little food later on, and probably one ride on each of the rides…

            Buttercup grabbed her arm and said, "Count your money later, Red… let's get playin'!"  She pulled Blossom along in the direction of the midway games.  As they went, they saw Ms. Keane heading towards the large Ferris wheel in the center of the fair.  If Blossom didn't know any better, she would have sworn that Ms. Keane's expression was almost child-like, as if she were reminiscing about what it was like to go to fairs like this when she was their age.

            They reached the games, booth after booth with stuffed animals and other prizes hanging along the fronts, and the hawkers at each booth calling out to each passerby to try their luck with them.  Buttercup's eyes lit up the moment they got close, and she took off, flying up to the nearest booth, a baseball throwing game.  The man already at the booth had just thrown his last ball, knocking only one of the bottles from the stand across the way… the game's attendant said, "Aww, nice try.  Better luck next time… so, who's next?"

            "Me!" Buttercup said, flying up and putting a dollar down on the table.  The attendant's eyes widened slightly as he recognized her from the previous year, and he nervously took the dollar, putting the baseballs on the table in front of her.  Buttercup scooped them up and exclaimed, "All right!  Here goes…"

            Blossom smiled a little and casually wandered off to look at the other games.  There was a dart-throwing game, with people trying to pop balloons against a board, and decided she'd have to remember to compete with Buttercup to see who could pop the most.  Besides, she figured, there was a really cute stuffed zebra doll on display there, and it would be a challenge to win, since she'd have to hit a balloon with every dart to do so.

            Her eyes spotted something else, a fortune teller's hut situated next to the dart-throwing game.  The sign above said, 'MADAME MYSTERIA -- YOUR FORTUNE READ, $.50'.  Blossom shook her head a little… she didn't really believe in fortune telling or magic, and knew it was all a sham, but it was still funny to watch them go through their little scripted routine, and see what kind of bogus, horoscope-type information they would come up with.  Besides, for fifty cents, it was cheap as far as the other games went, and was probably good for a laugh.  She walked up to the entrance to the hut, pushing the drapes aside and entering.

            It was dark inside, of course, and there were little strings of white Christmas lights running along the edges of the hut.  In the center was a small, round table, atop which sat a crystal ball pulsing with swirling light, the only other light source.  Little moon and star cutouts were attached across the whole interior of the hut and along the cloth that hung from the table.  Blossom stifled a laugh… she was sure that it was meant to create some kind of atmosphere, but it looked so cheesy.  Nevertheless, she went up to the chair next to the table and hopped up onto it, standing instead of sitting so she could see over the edge.

            From the darkness on the far side of the hut, a figure moved forward, moving into the light and sitting in the opposite chair.  As expected, she wore gypsy robes, embroidered with fancy designs, with a hood that covered her head.  She was hanging her head down, only a little bit of the bottom of her face visible beneath the folds of the hood, and spoke in a strained voice, "Welcome, young one, to Madame Mysteria's tent… you have many questions, as I know, but first…"  She extended her hand slowly towards Blossom, palm facing up.

            Blossom took fifty cents from her supply of money and put it in the fortune teller's hand, which closed over the coins and retracted just as slowly.  She put the money away, then brought both of her hands out over the crystal ball, which began to light up.  "Now then… the spirits are strong today… very strong… and they will grant you what you wish to know… the future…"

            Nodding, Blossom decided to pick the first thing that came to mind to ask, about the outcome of her dart-throwing competition with Buttercup.  Opening her mouth, she started to say, "Can you t—…"

            "Shhhhhh…" the fortune teller said, raising a finger to her lips.  "You may believe you know what you wish to learn… but what you believe may not be what you really wish to know… the spirits will guide you, see into your soul and find the answers that you truly desire…"

            So this isn't a request, Blossom thought.  Makes sense, that way she can just give a general prediction, so it can apply to anything.  It's fun to watch her do the lines, though… I wonder if she writes this stuff ahead of time, or what?  She probably does it so often that she knows it by heart…

            Retracting one of her hands, she placed the other on top of the crystal ball, still not lifting her head from where she was staring down at the table, and said, "The future is there, always… clouded by the present, which prevents us from seeing it… only if you truly believe can the cloud be pierced… do you believe?"

            Playing along, Blossom said, "Yes."

            "Do you wish to see things that are yet to pass?" she continued.  "Do you wish to see what will become… what will inevitably be?"

            "Yes," Blossom nodded.

            With the briefest of nods, the fortune teller spoke again, "Do you wish to see how they will die?"

            The last line took her a bit off-guard.  Blinking a few times, Blossom said, "…what?"

            "Do you wish to see…" the fortune teller said, her voice filling with a darker, more dangerous tone, "…how they will all die…?"

            Not sure how to respond, Blossom stared across the table blankly for a few moments.  Something felt eerily wrong about the whole situation now… the fortune teller's choice of words had sent a chill down her spine, and briefly she wondered if she was serious.  She knew it was crazy, but at the same time, she was far too curious to back off now, if only for some confirmation that it was some kind of tasteless joke.  She finally found her voice and whispered, "Yes…"

            "Look here, child…" she said, pulling her hand away from the crystal ball, and grasping her hood, pulling it back very slowly as she lifted her head.  Blossom gasped as she saw the woman's face completely now.  It was middle-aged, with a few wrinkles, nothing out of the ordinary, except for around her eyes.  There were scars that ran across them, some just from eyelid to eyelid, but others from further out along her face.  The eyes themselves were hazel, and looked perfect, showing no sign of the scars that her eyelids implied would be present.  The fortune teller stared directly into Blossom's eyes, and she stared back, noticing something in them… weariness, and maybe a bit of sadness, although whether from age or anything else, she couldn't tell.

            Giving a small, nearly imperceptible twitch, the fortune teller said, "The future will become known to you… and to you alone… accept the hands of fate, and believe…"  Blossom's eyes were locked onto hers now, and she didn't look away… she almost couldn't look away, her own curiosity keeping her in place, and the ominous words that were being spoken…

            A bright flash of light startled her, and she clamped her eyes shut, falling back into the chair and rubbing them with her hands.  It had come so quickly that she didn't even get to see where the source of the light came from, although part of her suspected it was probably from the crystal ball on the table, since she had been staring across it.  Opening her eyes, she waited until they adjusted to the darkness once again, seeing that the fortune teller had returned the robe over her head and was leaning back once again.

            "What… why did…?" Blossom started to ask.

            "You will know," came the reply.  "You will feel it, and know the future… you will see fate for yourself…"  With that, she got up from the table and backed off into the shadows in the back of the hut.  Blossom was about to protest, but then sighed and decided not to.  Creepy old lady, she thought, hopping down from the chair and heading for the exit to the hut, rubbing her eyes a bit more.  I think she was just trying to be scary… I mean, she didn't even tell me a fortune, really…

            She emerged back out into the fair, giving the hut a glance for a moment before she shrugged and started off to look for Buttercup.  If I know her, she thought, she probably has a huge stack of prizes by now.  Oh well… maybe I can still challenge her to that dart game.  Even if I didn't learn the outcome…  She laughed a bit to herself, then headed off into the crowd.

*          *            *

            A lot of kids were in line for the pony rides, which took place in a small fenced-in area next to the stables.  The animal handler controlling the ride held onto the reigns and guided the pony, a beautiful brown and white one, around the ride area… the rider, little Robin Snyder, grinned and waved at the other children, who waved back to her.  At the front of the line, Bubbles was hopping up and down in anticipation.

            The pony was guided back over towards the stables, and the man helped Robin get down from the saddle.  She said, "Thank you, sir!  That was great!"

            "Any time, little miss," the man nodded, then turned towards the line, "Who's next?"

            "Me me me me me!" Bubbles exclaimed, waving her arms.  The man laughed and motioned for her to come.  She wasted no time in hopping over excitedly, and the man laughed, picking her up and setting her down on the pony.  He started to lead the pony around the ride area, and Bubbles was beaming, absolutely enjoying herself.

            She heard Buttercup's voice call out, "Hey, Bubbles!"  Glancing over, she saw Buttercup outside the edge of the fence, carrying a rather large stuffed tiger doll, bigger than she was.  She also spotted Mitch Mitchellson next to her.  Now that she had her attention, Buttercup continued, "Mitch and I were gonna hit the arcade for a little bit… wanna come?"

            "In a minute," Bubbles shouted to her.  She hugged the back of the pony's neck and sighed happily.  As much as she wanted the ride to last forever, she knew it was coming to an end soon, but this didn't sadden her; it was good while it lasted.

*          *            *

            The fair was absolutely packed by now.  People kept coming in as the early morning began to pass, and Blossom figured that a lot of them probably were taking the day off from their jobs just to spend the extra day.  Of course, this didn't make finding someone any easier.  As she made her way through the crowd, she glanced at a clock on the side of one of the displays, which showed that they had about a half hour before they had to meet back with the rest of the class.

            Ah, they're probably off having a good time anyway, she thought.  I should be doing the same.  Maybe I'll head back and try out that baseball game, if Buttercup left it in once piece…

            As she started back, she watched some people get off of a merry-go-round.  One of the groups was a family of three, consisting of a mother, father, and a small boy, probably around four or five years old.  The mother is what caught her attention, though, because she had long, red hair, much like her own.  The woman looked around the park and stopped for a moment when she noticed Blossom watching her.  Blossom smiled, and the woman smiled back… for a moment, Blossom thought she looked a lot how she pictured herself when she would eventually grow up.  She imagined that the woman may have looked similar to her when she was younger, too.

            And while she was thinking this, staring into the woman's eyes, she imagined her choking to death.

            No wait, she thought, startled a little bit… that's not my imagination, is it?  What was that?  She tried to focus on her again, but the woman had already turned back to her family, and they started moving through the crowd.  Blossom was confused… What just happened? she thought.  Why would I imagine something like that?  The picture was so clear in her mind, and it came from nowhere, just as surely as if she had thought it up herself… she had difficulty remembering it, because the thought had passed by her so quickly…

            Snapping back to her senses, she chided herself for getting distracted and returned to looking for the other girls.  It was probably nothing, she thought.  That creepy 'fortune teller' must have spooked me.  I don't even believe in that stuff, why am I letting it get to me?  Heading further into the crowd, she gave a glance in the direction the woman had gone, just for a moment, before continuing on.

*          *            *

            Looking out from the top of the Ferris wheel, Ms. Keane could see out across the entire fair.  It was really starting to get packed quickly, and she was briefly concerned that the children might get lost… but then, she could also spot a few of them from up here, and they seemed perfectly fine.  In fact, most of them hadn't even gone too far from their meeting point in the first place, so she figured it would be easy to gather them all back together again.

            In the meantime, though, she just enjoyed the ride.  She had gone to this fair every year since she was a little girl, and it brought back so many memories.  The Ferris wheel was always her favorite, because she could see so far out.  She used to imagine that this is what birds would see, flying high above everyone else.  It was both relaxing and exciting, and it was something she always looked forward to year after year.

            There was a bit of commotion below that caught her attention, and she peered over the side for a better look.  Alarmed, she watched an ambulance pull into the fair, and paramedics quickly heading out to a gathering of people below… worrying suddenly for the children, she looked for any of them in that area but didn't see any, other than Blossom, who was flying in that direction, obviously having heard the siren…

*          *            *

            Blossom approached the now tightly packed crowd… she was concerned when she heard the ambulance arrive, and wanted to see if there was any way she could help.  The paramedics had already made their way through, and even though she figured they would probably be able to help the most, Blossom still decided to fly up and get a better look at what was going on.

            Someone had collapsed, and the paramedics were trying to revive her, as the crowd had formed a circle around them to give them space.  In shock, Blossom recognized her as the woman she had seen just before, the one with the long red hair… she spotted the little boy off to one side, hugging his father's leg tightly as the father tried to comfort him.  Blossom descended to the edge of the circle and landed, watching the medics continue their efforts, but then they stopped, and sadly shook their heads.

            The little boy was crying, and tore away from his father's leg, covering his face with his hands.  Blossom moved over and tried to comfort him, "Hey… are you all right?"

            "M-mommy…" the boy sobbed.  "…she… sh-she's…"

            "I'm so sorry," Blossom said softly.  She looked over at the woman and said, "What… what happened?"

            Still rubbing his eyes and not looking up, the boy said, "I-I dunno… we were j-just… just getting some pretzels… mommy t-took a bite an'… a-an'…"

            At the sound of this, Blossom felt cold again… the woman choked to death on a bite of pretzel?  It was so startling close to what she had imagined… and it began to occur to her that maybe she wasn't imagining it after all.  She thought, Did I… did I see the future somehow?  But… I don't have any kind of powers like that… so how…?

            She gradually remembered the words of the fortune teller… ["Do you wish to see how they will die?  Do you wish to see… how they will all die?"]  …that bright flash of light when she had stared into her eyes… that final, ominous message… ["You will feel it, and know the future… you will see fate for yourself…"]

            Looking around the crowd, which security had begun to disperse as the medics were moving the woman's body, she tried to focus on the people.  Nothing was coming, though… no visions, no premonitions… until she made eye contact with an old man that was looking in her direction.  An image flashed in her mind, even clearer than before, showing the man clutching his chest and collapsing, probably due to a heart attack.  She couldn't tell, because the image was vague, and she saw nothing that showed where he was.  Otherwise, it was crystal-clear, until the man turned his head to look away, after which it faded.

            Blossom quickly looked around at other people… there was a girl walking with some of her friends, and when the girl looked at her, she stared back into her eyes and saw an image of the girl's arms and neck broken.  As with the other ones, it was still vague, so she couldn't see any kind of details as to how it happened.  Turning, she looked at a security guard, who looked back at her long enough for her to see a vision of the guard clutching what looked like a bullet wound to his chest.

            Oh my god, Blossom thought… What… what happened to me…?