ONE

Fortune tellers are creepy. I don't care what anyone says. They are. Trust me. Last time I went to one ... well, you'll see.

You do want to hear my story, right? Of course. That's why you clicked this link. You're curious. I've hooked your attention, and this is the point where I would tell you something that seals the deal – you're in. But the truth is that I don't know if you should be reading this. It might be too dangerous.

Well, scroll down if you want. Read my tale. But just a word of warning: this story is NOT for the faint-hearted.

Continue ... if you dare.


The Springfield carnival. A marvelous event. Every year it introduces new ideas, new rides, new games, new people.

That year, however ... everything changed.

My name is Daniel Winston. I'm seventeen, and my friends and I always enjoy the carnival. So, naturally, we planned to meet up this year, too. We all met up at Jake's that Saturday to head over together. I arrived at his house at seven, and we got in his van and left for the carnival.

When we arrived, we marveled at the sight before us. They had everything from Smack-a-Rat to Slant-a-Spin to the Gravatroid and back. They had water slides, sprinkler-type things, and more fun water rides. We passed games where you throw a ball to knock over bottles, throw darts to pop balloons, spray water guns to fill up a tank, and fish for rubber ducks. We passed rides where you sit in a pirate ship as it swings back and forth, where a roller coaster car is in a loop and it launches over and over again until you finally make it over and back down, and where you get strapped into a machine and hold onto a metal bar while you hang-glide around in a circle. We passed popcorn stands, funnel cake stands, ice cream and milkshake stands, and pizza stands. We passed bingo, a Ferris wheel, and so much more.

After exploring the entire carnival to see what was new, we split into groups to start going on rides. Donna went with Jake, Ryan with Pam, and Nancy (my girlfriend) with me. We headed our separate ways.

Nancy and I rode the Gravatroid. You step into a jewel-shaped machine and stand against the wall. Then the whole thing spins around like crazy and you get pinned to the wall. Eventually the gravity gets all messed up, so you can barely move, and the walls slide up to the ceiling. It was a blast. I laughed when Nancy had to pull up her orange tank top to stop it from sliding all the way down. She laughed, too, but I could tell she was glad the gravity hadn't pulled it any further.

We roamed the carnival again, looking for something else fun to do.

"I'm cold," Nancy commented as we walked. "This breeze is killing me."

I looked her over. She did look pale, even paler than usual. Besides her tank top, she was just wearing denim shorts and green shoes. Her brown hair was in a ponytail. "Well, look how you're dressed! It's freezing out!"

"Well, I didn't know it would be this bad," she said, slapping me on the shoulder. I let her move closer to warm up a bit. I had come more prepared, in jeans and a long-sleeved black shirt with some witty statement on it, as well as a windbreaker. When I felt how cold she was, I took off the jacket and let her wear it.

That's when we came across the tent.

It looked like a circus top, but smaller, with pink and white stripes. A sign above the opening read:

MONDO THE MIND READER AND HYPNOTIST

Take a glimpse into what is, what was, what could have been ... and what is yet to be.

"Oh, I love stuff like this," Nancy said with excitement. "You wanna go in?"

"Sure," I replied. "But he's probably got microphones in the audience, so remember: Your name is Margaret, mine's Peter, and we just got back from Antarctica."

Nancy grinned, and we entered the tent.

There were six gray benches lined up in rows, two in each. Between the benches in each row, an aisle was cleared to approach the man at the table. He sat at the further end, a mysterious look in his eye. There were two other chairs at the table. Currently, they were occupied by a young girl, who was wearing a white T-shirt and black shorts, maybe six or seven, and what appeared to be her father, wearing a black Disgraceful Dead T-shirt under a green sweatshirt and jeans. Nancy and I took our places on the right bench of the front row, and observed the scene before us.

The little girl apparently didn't want to be there, because she was squirming and crying. Her father was trying to reassure her, but it wasn't working.

Mondo's eyes lit up. He reached into the grass under his chair and pulled out a small clock on a metal chain. From where we sat, I could faintly hear the steady tick, tick, tick of the second hand.

He put his hand on the girl's chin and softly turned her sobbing head towards the watch. "Look into the clock," he said, swinging it back and forth. His voice was entrancing, almost soothing. He'd make a good therapist, I noted.

"This should be good – a nice change from the cold winds of our igloo in Antarctica," I said to Nancy, clearly pronouncing every word. "Don't you think, Margaret?" I emphasized the fake name.

She nodded, grinning. "I wonder what will happen, Peter."

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Suddenly, the girl stopped crying. The hypnotist smiled and took his hand away, still swinging the watch. "That's it. Very good. Now, I can tell it has been a long day for you. You are excited for your ... [He breathed deeply and closed his eyes for a moment, then reopened them.] ... birthday party in two days. You want to see your friends ... [Again, he closed his eyes and inhaled through his nose.] ... Hannah ... Charlotte ... Raven ... and Rosette. [He reopened his eyes.] But it's okay. The day will soon be upon you. But for now ... you need rest."

The girl's eyelids began to droop.

Her father looked on in bewilderment. "How did you know all that?" he asked.

Mondo appeared to not have heard him. "Sleep ... sleep ..." he continued. "Sleep ... when you hear the fourth tick."

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

The girl's head hit the table, eyes closed. Her back began to rise and fall.

Nancy's eyes widened. My jaw dropped. We looked at each other in amused astonishment.

Her father seemed equally shocked. "That's amazing!" he cried.

The girl didn't stir.

Her father put a hand on her back and started to shake her gently. "Emily," he cooed. "Emily ... wake up."

Nothing happened.

His face quickly changed from amazement to concern. "Emily?" He shook harder. Emily didn't wake.

Nancy looked worried. I put my arm around her and whispered in her ear, "This is probably part of his act. Everything's okay." She forced a smile and nodded.

Emily's father wasn't so confident. He looked at Mondo, his eyes fierce. "Wake her up!" he shouted.

Mondo didn't appear troubled. "It's okay, Gregory. She's fine."

Emily's dad's eyes widened. "How do you know my name? What did you do to her?"

"She has fallen asleep. She will only wake on her own account."

"Snap her out of it!"

Nancy stood.

I could hear confused voices from outside. "What's going on in there?"

"I'm afraid I can't," Mondo replied calmly.

Now I was standing, too.

"I don't know, Hannah," said another vague voice from outside. "Where's it coming from?"

Gregory was fuming. He looked close to tears.

"Bring. Her. BACK." At this point I could tell he was struggling not to strangle the fortune teller.

"She will awaken. But only when she hears her friend's voice."

"WHAT'S THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?" The man was outraged; fear was in his eyes. "WAKE HER UP NOW!"

Mondo stood. "Hannah!" he called loudly. "Hannah!"

From somewhere outside, a little girl said, "What was that?"

"Hannah!"

Gregory was furious. "Would you STOP calling that name and WAKE UP MY DAUGHTER?"

"Someone's calling my name," came the voice from outside. It was small, young.

"Hannah!"

"I hear it, too," an older voice came. "I think it's coming from that tent. Let's just get out of here. It sounds like something serious is going on in there."

"Hannah Jones!"

"Someone else with the same last name as me?"

"HANNAH JONES!"

"I think it's coming from that tent."

In walked a girl, presumably the same age as Emily – who was still conked out on the table. Hannah Jones was with her mother, who was wearing a purple blouse and jeans. Hannah wore a pink shirt and white pants, with blue flip-flops.

"Greg?" Mrs. Jones asked.

"Emily?" asked Hannah.

"Okay, what is going ON here?" asked Gregory.

"Simple," Mondo responded. "I've hypnotized Emily, and now she's fallen asleep. She can only be awoken by one of the four friends she wants at her party, and since I saw Hannah walk by outside, I knew she'd do the job."

"But how did you know who my daughter was?" asked Mrs. Jones.

"The same way I knew she even existed. I saw her name and image in Emily's mind. I also saw her at Emily's party on Monday."

Everyone in the room was completely creeped. I looked over at Nancy, but she had already sat down, arms folded. I sat beside her. "I can't believe these knuckleheads are falling for this, Peter," she said simply.

"What do you mean, Margaret?"

"Don't you get it? Gosh, you're gullible."

"But what –"

"You'll see."

I turned back to the situation.

It appeared Mrs. Jones and Gregory were also starting to piece things together. "You're a fake!" he shouted.

Mondo appeared truly shocked. "Me? A fake? How dare you!"

"You're a liar! You've probably planted microphones all over this tent! You heard our whole conversation while waiting for our turn! You heard Emily complain her party was two days away. You heard her list the kids she wanted at the party. You heard her name Hannah by her last name. You heard me say we'd be meeting up with Hannah by the Ferris wheel in an hour, so you knew she was here."

"And when you heard me use the name 'Hannah' outside, you knew you got lucky," Mrs. Jones continued. "Your only problem would've been if it had been a different Hannah, but it wasn't."

"You probably even told Emily to pretend to be asleep!" Greg concluded.

Mondo looked horrified, but then he smiled. "Hah! I can prove I'm not a fake! How did I know your first name, Gregory?"

His face fell. "Uh ..." he stammered. "Um ... well ..." He looked over to Mrs. Jones for support.

"Oh, for crying out loud," Nancy muttered beside me. "Idiots!" She stood. "The word 'Greg' is embroidered on your jacket!"

Looking more closely, I found she was right. I was at a bad angle before, but now that he was standing, it was crystal clear.

He looked dumbfounded. "Oh. Right." He turned back to Mondo. "You're a fake!"

Mondo looked disorientated. "That's preposterous!"

"Oh, yeah?" Mrs. Jones asked. "What's my first name?"

Mondo's face fell instantly. He paused for a second. "Megan?"

She shook her head no.

"We're leaving," Greg decided. And then, in a scary imitation of Hannah, said "Emily? Wake up! Emily!"

Emily's eyes opened. She flung herself backwards and gasped, looking like someone who had just been brought back from death. She flung her arms so violently, her chair toppled over backwards.

She wasn't a very good actress.

"Ha!" exclaimed Greg. "I proved it! She 'awoke' to my own voice!" He turned to Emily. "How could you listen to this man? You're in big trouble."

"But he promised me he'd let me play with the horses!"

"There are no horses here," Mrs. Jones told her.

"Oh." The girl suddenly looked miserable. She ran to her father. "I'm sorry, Daddy!"

"No! Come back!" yelled Mondo as Gregory gathered up his daughter and the four of them left. "Come back!"

Nancy sat back down beside me, and I replaced my arm around her. "Nice detective work, Margaret."

She grinned. "Well, I try." I leaned in and kissed her on the cheek.

"Wanna go make an even bigger idiot out of that guy?" I whispered to her.

She laughed. "You bet."

She approached Mondo, and I followed. He rested his head in his arms on the table. "I've always been a hypnotist!" he cried, looking up at us. "But somebody always catches me, word spreads, and I get fired! I'm running out of opportunities! This place was my last hope!"

"Woah, dude!" Nancy put her hands out in front of her, like a crossing guard stopping people from running. "I came here to be hypnotized, not for some guy in a tuxedo to pour his heart out on me."

I glanced at her, eyebrows raised. "Well put."

"You mean you'll ... give me another chance?" Mondo asked hopefully.

"Well, let's see ..." Nancy started pacing across the tent, right hand on her chin, thinking melodramatically. After a few moments she stopped in front of the table and said, "You know what? If you can successfully use your amazing powers on one of us, I'll tell all my friends you're the greatest magician slash mind reader slash hypnodude or whatever – the greatest one of those around. If not, I'll tell everyone what a horrible, lying, failure you truly are. Deal?"

He gratefully stood and shook her hand. "Deal!" he exclaimed eagerly.

The three of us all sat down at the table. Nancy went first. She laid her hand out on the table, palm up, for Mondo to read.

He stared at it, rubbing his thumbs up and down her wrinkles. "Your name," he began. "I'm seeing something ... an 'M' ..."

Nancy stole a glance at me.

"Yes, an 'M' ... Margaret?" he asked hopefully.

Trying to contain herself, she shook her head no.

Mondo's eyes widened. "Uh ... I feel cold vibes emanating strongly from you," he continued. "You have just come back from some place frozen ... the arctic, I would guess."

"Nope," Nancy said calmly.

I leaned over and whispered jokingly in her ear, "You're evil."

Mondo's face turned to one of sheet panic. "No! That's not possible!" he shouted, truly anguished. "How could I fail again?"

"It's okay; you can still do me," I told him.

He looked up, surprised, and smiled gratefully.

"But hypnotize me instead, okay?"

His face fell for a moment. Then, struggling to regain composure, he obediently took out the watch. He held the end of the chain and started to swing it back and forth, back and forth. Listening to nothing but the steady tick, tick, tick.

"Clear your mind of all thoughts," Mondo instructed. "Listen to nothing but the tempo of the clock. Lose yourself in the rhythm. Feel the beat. And become one with the sound."

Tick. Tick.

Tick. Tick.

As I stared straight ahead as the watch swung back and forth, like a pendulum, the world started to lose focus.

Everything else blurred. Nothing else was important.

Tick. Tick.

Tick. Tick.

My eyes relaxed. My shoulders began to slump. It was the strangest sensation. Like my soul was starting to drift away calmly from my body.

Tick. Tick.

Tick. Tick.

The background noise of the kids and the rides faded away. The startling pink of the circus tent blurred into the green of the grass.

Tick. Tick.

Tick. Tick.

Tick. Tick.

Tick. Tick.

Tick. Tick.

Tick. Tick.

Tick.

Suddenly everything snapped back. I was grabbed by the ankle and dragged back down to Earth, back to the carnival, the tent, the chair.

The hypnotist let out a sharp cry of astonishment. He stopped swinging the watch. He grabbed the clock and stared at it, muttering to himself over and over. "No. No. No no no no no no no no no NO! "

At first Nancy and I were confused. Then Nancy's eyes went wide. "Wait a sec."

Then I heard it, too. Or rather, I didn't hear it.

The ticking had stopped.

"What happened?" I asked Mondo.

"This doesn't make any sense. I've never seen anything like it before!" he cried.

"What? What?"

Reluctantly, he showed us the clock.

It had stopped. The hands were completely still.

Nancy laughed. "That's it? The clock stopped, dude, that's all. What's the big deal?"

Mondo shook his head urgently. "You do not understand. This is bad. Very bad."

She remained skeptical. "And what is this supposed to mean?"

"It's exactly what it seems," Mondo replied.

"And what's that supposed to mean?" I interjected.

"Well ... it means – someone has a grudge against you," he replied, his voice full of worry and sorrow.

Nancy and I exchanged glances.

"It means that someone will do whatever it takes to make sure they get what they want. More directly, it means –"

Suddenly, something wooden flew in through the gap of the tent and landed on the table. It was an I. One of the ones from Mondo's sign out front, probably from "MIND" or "HYPNOTIST."

All sorts of things started flying into the tent, some from Mondo's sign, some not. All more letters.

They all landed on the table and started to rearrange themselves. I saw a Y, an R, a U, and a few more, but they came in so fast, it was hard to keep track.

Finally, they were all down on the table. The letters instantly stopped moving. Their message was across.

YOUR

TIME'S

RUN OUT

Mondo leapt out of his chair and ran from the tent.

Nancy stood quickly, knocking her chair over. "Wait! Come back!" she screamed. She turned and grasped my hand. "Don't worry. It's probably just some kind of elaborate prank. Right?"

I wasn't convinced.

"Let's get out of here," I said. Nancy and I ran to the tent flap.

Before we left, I took one last glance at the table.

Most of the letters had fallen onto the floor, leaving a new word. Before I could see what it was, Nancy pulled me away. When I managed to look back at the table, all the letters were gone.