“All right, ladies and gents, three rules for tonight!”
Adam clapped his hands together, snapping me awake from my position in the front seat. I’d not even meant to fall asleep, I’d just been on my feet all day and I wasn’t really up for being out this late. But this was apparently a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience and I’d not had a chance to hang with Adam outside of cyberspace for months. So I let myself be dragged along as long as I didn’t have to drive. I didn’t have the gas money.
My energetic friend held up a finger. “Rule one, remember to tip. But these people don’t accept bills, did you bring the change, Fiona?”
Fiona nodded as she shook her bulging coin purse. “Hold out your hands,” She said as she gave us each a handful of coins. “Call us even for the time you guys let me couch surf for like a year.”
“Won’t they need more than just a few quarters?” I asked, stuffing the coins in my pockets.
Adam shook his head. “It’s not the value, it’s the shine. The shinier the coins the better. That’s what they like. Rule two,” His second finger popped up, “Be careful around the pretty ones. The prettier, the less trustworthy. If you have to pick between chilling with the cross eyed guy that’s drooling and the Victoria’s Secret Model, you will be leagues safer with the drooler.”
Jessie rolled his eyes, clearly not taking this too seriously, but Andrea frowned. “I thought you said this wouldn’t be dangerous,” She asked.
“It’s not! As long as you listen to the rules, you’re in no danger whatsoever. And number three,” The final finger went up, “Be back at the car at three AM. Don’t be leaving at three AM, be here at three AM. This is the most important rule. Time will get away from you. Set an alarm on your phone if you have to. But be here. Okay?”
I yawned. “That won’t be a problem. I’ll be back by one, probably. Taking a freaking nap,” I grumbled. I got a giggle from Fiona for that. I glanced around the dark park we were parked on the edge of. “I thought this all started at midnight, where is everyone?”
Adam checked his watch. “Just a sec… just a sec…. Now!” He snapped his fingers.
A streetlight popped on, just feet away from our car, and there was the juggler.
He wore a very snappy red and white striped shirt and a straw hat, and in his hands were five orange balls. After taking a short bow, he started tossing them in the air. Andrea gasped, her hands flying up to her mouth as more streetlamps began turning on, revealing fairy lights that were strung up between the poles.
A park I’d initially thought was vacant was now full of people, and before I knew it I stepped out of the car to get a better look.
The juggler winked as I stepped closer. “Hey, welcome to the show!” He said, throwing a ball and balancing it on his nose without missing a beat.
That got a chuckle from me and the juggler beamed. I reached in my pocket and pulled out two brand new pennies, tossing them into the glass bowl in front of him.
“Truly a generous gentleman!” Somehow the juggler managed to bow and not drop a single ball.
Walking into the park itself I was greeted with music from different sources, all playing the same jaunty tune. I stopped dead in my tracks at a booth with two hearts painted on the front, a curly haired gal sitting at it and puckering her lips in my direction. She had painted her face pure white other than her lips, which had a heart painted right in the center.
I put two quarters into the plastic cup on the booth. “Just a kiss?” I asked.
The girl didn’t say a word, just winked and leaned on in. I leaned in as well, making the mistake of closing my eyes. When I reopened them, I was no longer kissing the cutie but instead an elderly woman covered in disgusting warts and zits. I yelped and dodged away from her attempt to add tongue to our kiss, wiping my lips off vigorously. The hag howled and slapped her knee as the heart lipped cutie popped out from under the booth, also laughing her ass off.
“I can see why Adam said don’t trust the pretty ones,” I grumbled as I walked off to see more of the performers.
Fiona was currently in awe at a violinist, the right side of his face drooping as it seemed to be almost melting off his skull. Even the eye looked seconds from popping out. But the song he played was oh so joyful, oh so sweet, even I found myself stopping to enjoy it.
“I could listen to this all night,” She whispered. I nodded in agreement before tossing a penny into his case.
I saw a tear trickle down the paralyzed half of the violinist’s face as he bowed his head in my direction.
I found Andrea getting her palm read by someone who could’ve been the kissing booth hag’s twin sister, only even more hideous. Andrea waved me over and gestured to the elderly woman. “This is Basil, damn, she’s not too bad at this. Says I’m definitely in line for my promotion as long as I don’t let that jerk Mike try to intimidate me.”
“I didn’t call him a jerk, I called him a slimy, dickless snake. Be specific,” The woman croaked. She gestured to me next. “Would you like a reading, sweetie? I could make us some tea too.”
I shook my head. “No offense, I don’t really do fortune tellers,” I said.
Basil shrugged. “Suit yourself. You got some lipstick right here,” She tapped her bottom lip.
I heard Andrea snickering as I walked away, beet red and rubbing furiously away at my lipstick stain.
A bag was shoved in my face by a kid who couldn’t be older than ten, his emotionless face covered with freckles. I took it, mostly because if I didn’t I would’ve gotten whacked in the face. “Thanks, uh,” I dug in my pocket and handed him a coin, “Here?”
The boy took it, examined it in the lights before he popped it in his mouth and began chewing. “Pleasure doing business,” He burped before ambling off.
The cotton candy’s bag didn’t have any label on it, the floss itself was colored like the rainbow, but it tasted just fine as I continued my walk. I did catch a peek at Jessie hitting it off with a pair of acrobats, twins by the look of it, both giggling and lightly stroking his arm. Good grief.
I was cut off when a sharply dressed man stepped into my path. He tipped his top hat and gave a little bow before he pulled out his cards. “Pick a card, love,” He said, his voice soft but still audible above the music.
Chuckling, I took a card.
“Keep it a secret from me now, I don’t like to have the surprise spoiled,” The man winked and I noticed that his eyes were mismatched, the right was blue and the left was black. The magician shuffled the cards around, his fingers moving with fluidity I didn’t think was possible. “Keep watching… now, surprise!”
I sputtered as my credit card slipped out of his coat sleeve. “Is this your card?” He asked, oh so innocently.
I took it back, patting my wallet to see it was still there. “Okay, did you send that little kid from earlier to pick my pocket or something?” I asked.
“Kid from… cotton candy?” The magician bit his bottom lip before shaking his head. “No, I don’t do business with him. It would be my assistant, the lovely Bloom, who got your card of wealth. Bloom, darling? Could you give the gentleman back his phone as well?”
The woman stepped out of the shadows, wearing a black leotard and red stockings. She smiled as she handed it to me. “It ran out of battery while I had it on me, sorry. I tried to deliver it sooner,” She said, looking a bit sheepish.
“It’s fine, I’ll charge it when I’m back in the car,” I slipped it in my pocket, “I didn’t even see you though, how did you get my wallet?”
Blossom looped her arm in with mine. “Sit with us, I’ll explain,” She said, her fingers just gently grazing my arm. I almost declined when her magician friend took up the other side, snapping his fingers to get the attention of a little girl with purple pigtails.
“Darling, fetch us lemonades! Three, make Blossom’s a pink lemonade, of course!”
We all sat together on this picnic blanket, where the magician continued to play with his playing cards. Blossom draped her head on my shoulder, her emerald green eyes staring right at me. “You have such lovely eyelashes. Tell me, were you looking around when you were with the fortune teller?” She asked.
I shook my head.
“You were not, you were focused on a friend. That’s when I got your wallet. And were you paying attention as you took a bite of cotton candy?”
I shook my head again, finding it difficult to use my words.
“That’s when I returned it. I find my moments, I use them. I’m very good at that,” She tiptoed her fingers up my arm. “My master, Tristan, taught me to look for my moments.”
“Master?” I must’ve made quite the face because the magician started giggling.
“Get your head out of the gutter, I’m the Master of All Arcane Arts, Tristan! I have several assistants of both genders, I’ve performed for longer than you’d expect. I can make dreams come to life.” Tristan flipped his card around in his fingers several times before he rested it before me. It wasn’t a playing card anymore, I recognized it from when my younger sister went through her witch phase. It was a tarot card, specifically, the Magician.
I picked it up and rotated it in my fingers, trying to see if it was stuck to the playing card. “You’re not too bad at slight of hand,” I agreed.
The lemonades were sat down on the blanket and I took mine, taking a long sip. It was the perfect balance of sour and sweet, the best kind of lemonade. Tristan popped a ridiculously twisty green straw into his cup and sipped away, still smiling like he had a million secrets. “I thank you for your kindness, darling. I’ve performed all over the world and there’s nothing like a good compliment to fill the heart. How about we relax here for a bit? You look tired. Long day at work?” The magician rested his head on my knees and I never felt more comfortable to have two strangers so close to me.
“Not that I want to ruin a perfectly good conversation, but it’s been a long week at work.”
“Well, we have all night, don’t we?” Blossom ran her fingers through my hair and I melted. “Let’s just talk.”
We talked about my job, we talked about Blossom’s daughter back home, we talked about magic and illusions, we just talked and it could’ve been five minutes or five years when I felt someone roughly grab my shoulder and yank me away from Blossom and Tristan.
Tristan’s head bounced off the ground and his hat rolled off, I caught a glimpse of pointed ears before he put it back on. “Rude, couldn’t you have given us a few more minutes, woman?” He scolded. I looked back to see Fiona, who looked downright terrified.
“By then it’ll be three AM! Randy! Snap out of it!”
The comforting warmth of companionship faded away as I realized that the lights were starting to go off in the park. I slowly backed away from Tristan as the lights above him went dim. Suddenly the charming magician didn’t look so charming, his mismatched eyes now glowing pink and lavender in the dark. Meanwhile Blossom’s hair had grown down to her ankles, and around those ankles were vines, sprouting from her heels and roses blooming around her calves.
Tristan chuckled darkly as Fiona dragged me away from the pair, following us as the lights continued to go out. “You’ll never make it, Randy, how about we enjoy another cup of lemonade?” He replied in that soft voice of his.
I turned around and bolted then, now dragging along Fiona as we legged it for the car. As the lights went off, I saw the booths disappear, the people manning them either laughing at us or vanishing into thin air.
“Shitshitshit-” Fiona turned behind us and whatever she saw made her face go white. She screamed and with that burst of speed would’ve left me behind if our arms weren’t linked together. I dropped my cotton candy, it bouncing off the sidewalk before rolling into the darkness and melting into liquid, bubbling sugar.
The car was now in sight, but I knew we wouldn’t make it. I swore I could feel Tristan’s breath on the back of my neck, his sinister laughter echoing in my ears.
We weren’t going to make it. But I did.
Fiona came to a dead stop and before I could ask what she was doing she pushed me over into the road just as the last light went out.
I laid on the ground for a few moments before slowly turning around.
The park was now empty, save for a few playing cards fluttering in the wind, and a pair of glowing pink and lavender eyes that winked before they went dark.