There were colorful tents and clunking rides littered across the open area. The sun was heading down towards the horizon, and the air smelled like hot butter. Children stuffed cotton candy into their mouths, and parents nibbled on pretzels and hot dogs. Lights flickered on and off like dancing fireflies, and the noise was a barely tolerable cacophony of laughter and tinny pop songs.
Jane Doe stood in the midst of the chaos and took a bite of her corn dog.
“Thanks for coming today,” Weller said from his spot beside her. “I know Sawyer really wanted you to see this.”
Sawyer was on the ride in front of them, The Viking. Jane had ridden it once, and she had nearly been re-acquainted with the funnel cake she had eaten earlier. She was definitely going to add The Viking to her negative list when she got back to the safe house that night.
“Is he even old enough to ride alone?” Jane asked. Sawyer was on his third round of The Viking, and it didn’t look like he had any plans of getting off.
They two of them laughed together, which was nice. Jane liked being able to spend time with Weller outside of official FBI business. It was simple. The tattoos on her body were just art when they were alone. She could be just Jane without people constantly trying to figure out who she really was. Weller thought he knew, but he didn’t let his memories of Taylor sour his relationship with Jane. She could almost pretend she was normal.
Sawyer finally got off the ride with wobbly legs and promptly declared that he needed to use the restroom.
“I think I saw a couple outhouses by the food court,” Jane said helpfully.
Weller held his churro out to her. “You want this? I’m not bringing food into a porta-potty.” Sawyer tugged at his clothes insistently and looked a little green.
Jane took it from him and promised to stay in the general area. She watched them walk away until they were lost in the crowd, and she was alone. She licked a bit of the cinnamon sugar off the churro first, and yes, that was good. Cinnamon sugar belonged on the positive list. She took a bite and made a mental note to also write down churro in all caps. The carnival was full of positives.
She wandered a bit, always keeping The Viking in sight. There were stalls full of sweet smelling popcorn and games with fake guns. Weller had explained earlier that you could win giant stuffed animals by winning games, and she liked the idea of taking something back to the safe house with her. She liked the idea of making the safe house feel like home.
There was a tent that was advertised to house a “Painted Woman,” but after seeing the gaudy pictures posted outside, Jane decided to not go in. She didn’t need to blow a couple bucks to get that kind of entertainment.
She kept walking past stalls and tents until The Viking was a small figure in the distance. Jane thought about heading back. She wanted Weller to buy her another churro and maybe one of those pretzels that came with a cup of spicy cheese.
A head popped out from the tent beside her and whispered, “You want your fortune told, honey?”
Jane startled. The head was that of an old woman, and she was smiling kindly. Her wrinkles were deeply carved around her eyes and mouth, and they only deepened as she continued to smile.
“My fortune?” Jane let out shakily.
“Your fortune! Your future is an easy thing to see, kiddo. Want me to pluck it out of the air and show it to you?” The woman wiggled her eyebrows enticingly. “Money, love, the future’s future; I can lay it all out on the table for you.”
Jane thought about Sawyer and Weller waiting for her. “No, thank you, ma’am, but I really do need to get back to my friends,” and the food court, she thought. She had seen people with cups of caramel as well as cheese, and she wondered if she could convince Weller to buy her a long bag of popcorn and two pretzels.
“Your past, then.”
“Let me show you your past.”
Jane only wavered for a moment before turning and stepping through the tent’s heavy curtains.
The tent was dimly lit, and it smelled like… like…
“What’s that smell?”
“Thyme and mint,” the old woman said as she sat down at a low table. She noticed Jane’s hesitation. “Come sit, honey. No need to be frightened. I have a feeling you could snap my neck like a twig if you ever felt so inclined.”
Jane’s face flushed as she quickly sat on the opposite side.
“You have money? No?”
Jane flushed even further. Weller had said tonight was his treat, and she didn’t really carry cash on her. She only had her FBI monitored debit card.
“That’s perfect,” the woman smiled, “because this whole shebang is for free!”
“Oh, no, I can’t accept that,” Jane protested.
The woman hummed at her for a moment, looking her over. “Give me that,” she said as she pointed to the corn dog stick in Jane’s hand. The corn dog itself was long gone, but there were still crusty bits of batter stuck to the base. Jane handed her the stick, and the woman made a great show of looking it over and then dropping it dramatically into the voluminous pockets of her dress.
“There. I have been paid.”
Jane stared for a moment with a blank face. “But-”
“No buts! I have received payment, and I am ready to hand out the product, so let’s just do this.” She produced a large stack of cards from one of her other pockets and placed them on the table.
“Look, kid,” the woman brought up a hand motioning for Jane to stop, “I like you. I like your look. I’m digging the whole sweet chocolate wrapped in a hard, candy exterior thing you have going on.” She gestured at the air around Jane. “I can see how many lives you’re going to have a hand in changing, and I would really like to get a better glimpse of you, so could you do me a favor and just go along with it?”
“Alright then, Linchpin,” she said cheerily as she picked up the cards and started to shuffle them, “Let’s have us a look at what you’ve been up to.”
Jane nodded again.
“When I lay these cards down, I want you to pick three and turn them over,” she flapped hands a bit and she started to lay the cards out. “We’re not going to bother with any of those fancy configurations or anything, so just flip ‘em however you want.”
The fwip-fwip of the cards stopped, and they were all on the table. The backs of them shown pearly in the dim light. Jane reached her hand out hesitantly before yanking it back suddenly.
“Are you Zoltar?”
“You know, Zoltar Speaks? I’ve seen Big, that movie with Tom Hanks. Are you going to try and make me little? Is that what you mean by ‘looking at my past?’” Jane squinted her eyes at the woman. “Or are you going to try and make me old? Are you going to steal my youth and make me run this fortune telling tent for you?”
The woman flapped her hands at Jane again. “What’s wrong with you? I’m a fortune teller, not a damn spellcaster!” She made grabby hands at Jane’s. “Now, come on. Just flip these cards. I want to see.”
Mollified, Jane reached out and flip a card on the far left, at the edge of the table.
Jane looked at the woman expectantly. “What does it mean?”
“Flip the others,” the woman said quietly. “You can’t see the picture until all the lines have been drawn.”
Jane huffed and flipped a card on the right, closer to the woman than to her.
“One more,” the woman urged.
Jane studied the table. She couldn’t tell if the cards were colored silver or gold. They kept winking lazily in the light, even when there was no movement. Jane reached out and flipped the card directly in front of her.
The Hanged Man.
Jane shivered when the picture was revealed. She felt like the man hanging in the illustration was watching her, looking right at her. If she moved so much as an inch, she was sure his eyes would follow.
“Well, that looks pretty simple. You are at a crossroads right now that will shape the rest of your life. You’re striving to understand whether or not someone you know is who they-” the woman stopped abruptly.
Neither of them spoke for a moment. Jane stared at the card, and the woman stared at the space behind Jane.
“Did you have a twin?” the woman asked.
Jane kept her eyes on the card. She knew rationally that the man in the picture couldn’t be swinging from side to side, but… She rubbed at her eyes. “No. No twin. I don’t think I even had siblings.”
“Think?” The woman grabbed Jane’s face, jerking it up to meet her eyes. “Do you not know your past? Do you not know who you were?”
She looked so concerned, but all Jane could do was shake her head, dislodging her grip. The woman swallowed thickly and visibly. She looked down at the table, focusing on the cards in front of her.
“The cards couldn’t show you your past, so they summoned something that can.”
The space between Jane’s eyebrows crinkled. “What? I’m not sure I understand.” She pointed at the cards she had flipped. “What do they mean? Do I need to pay you? Do you want me to give you something more than a corn dog stick?”
“No, Linchpin, no,” she crooned as she patted Jane’s hands. “You just go on back to your friends and don’t look back, alright?”
“Don’t look back?” Jane was so confused. She could pay the woman if she wanted her to. She didn’t have any cash, but she probably had a bit of change in her coat somewhere. Jane didn’t know how much having your fortune usually cost, but she assumed it was more than the leftover coins from coffee.
“You read, don’t you?” the woman asked. “This is like one of those fairy stories where you can have anything you ever wanted if you can just walk a certain distance without looking back. You know those stories, don’t you?”
Jane did know. She had read a lot since she became self aware. “Like Orpheus and Euridice?”
“Just like them, Linchpin!” The woman’s mouth was smiling, but the rest of her face looked tense. “Go back to your friends and only look straight ahead. Once you’re away from here, everything will be fine.”
“Alright.” Jane stood to leave. She didn’t understand what was going on, but she thought it was probably for the best that she listen. There was an agent at the FBI, Agent Lewandowska, who smiled like a cherub and sparred with Jane from time to time, and she was very superstitious. She had told Jane before that even if she doesn’t believe in something, like magic or religion, she should still respect it, lest the powers that be see fit to take remuneration. So that was what Jane was trying to do. Respect it.
She was going to walk out of the tent looking straight ahead and then find Weller and Sawyer without moving a muscle in her neck. She was going to heckle Weller into buying her a few more overpriced carnival snacks, then she was going to win a stuffed animal from one of the game stalls so she could make her safe house feel like her home, and then they were all going to leave the fairgrounds and forget anything strange had happened at all that night.
She had started to back away from the table when she noticed that she was holding The Hanged Man card in her hand. She squinted at it. Jane couldn’t remember ever picking it up off the table. The man was still swinging ever so slighting in the painted wind, but his eyes were different. They weren’t looking at Jane anymore; they were looking just over her shoulder.
Jane knew she shouldn’t, but her neck seemed to turn itself. The man’s eyes shouldn’t have looked like that. They shouldn’t have made her feel so scared of what they were looking at, but they did, and she was so scared. She had been shot at and beat on and lied to since the moment she crawled out of that bag, but she had never felt as terrified as she did in that moment.
Jane looked back.
For a moment, she thought that someone had placed a mirror behind her, because she just saw herself. Jane was going to turn and ask the woman what kind of joke she thought she was playing when she realized that something didn’t seem right. Her reflection looked off, like she was looking at a photograph of herself. Her hair was long, her face was sharp, and her skin was clear.
Jane choked on her breath and stumbled back, ramming the back of her knees into the table which bent her legs and weakened her stance. The woman made a distressed sound behind her, but Jane couldn’t hear it. She almost wished this was a fairy story where the worst thing that could happen was not getting what you wanted.
Her skin was clear and clean of any trace of ink.
The cards couldn’t show you your past, so they summoned something that could.
It wasn’t her; it wasn’t Jane.
It was her; it was Taylor.
“She told you not to turn around.”