THE FORTUNATE TELLER
The scene opens up flying over a carnival. As we go through the entrance, we see a sign that says “Grand Opening Today!” We see a Ferris wheel and different rides, booths, and lots of people milling about. As we go to ground level, we see kids winning prizes, lined up to ride the Zipper and eating your typical carnival foods.
We finally focus on a young couple wandering through. They don’t stop at any of the rides, or the booths, though we do see she is holding a stuffed animal. He is eating an ice cream cone, though every now and again, he offers her a bite. They are giving each other that look which means they are obviously very much in love. They are dressed up, perhaps a little too much for a carnival, but it doesn’t seem to bother them.
She turns to him with a smile, “Are you having fun?”
“I’m having a lot of fun, Sherry,” he says as he tosses away his ice cream wrapper. He reaches for her hand and they continue onward until she sees something that makes her excited as she jumps in front of him. “Can we go in here, Joseph?”
His eyes look up.
We see it’s a sign for a fortune teller that reads “Madam Cruelle.” He makes a sour face, “You don’t really believe in all of this hocus pocus shit, do you?”
Sherry makes a pouty face, “It’s just for fun. Take me inside. Please…” she bats her eyelashes at him as he rolls his eyes and laughs.
“You are ridiculous.”
She tugs at his arm, “She can tell us our future…”
“I already know all about our future.” He leans down and gives her a gentle kiss. “I’m going to marry you and live happily ever after.”
She smiles brightly at that. “And I’m sure that’s exactly what she will say. C’mon…”
He considers for a moment and then shrugs, “Sure, why not.”
They enter the tent. There’s a round table in the center with a crystal ball on it. Joseph wrinkles his nose at the smell of incense that has just finished burning. Off to the side is a birdcage with what appears to be a crow inside. It caws loudly and from behind comes the voice, “I’m coming, Lucy.”
The curtain parts and a woman walks through. She’s wearing a dark red robe with a hood that covers her head. She wears heavy makeup, so it’s really hard to determine her age, though her skin is flawless at first glance.
“Welcome. Please, have a seat.” She motions with a flourish towards the chairs on the opposite side of the table. Sherry starts to sit, but the woman stops her. “Please. Mr. Franks. You first.”
That catches his attention as he asks, “How did you know my name?”
She offers him a smile, “Please, just have a seat and we will begin.”
Joseph gives Sherry a glance, then turns to the woman, “My fiancee was wanting to have her fortune…”
“Please. Have a seat, sir,” she says again.
Sherry nudges him, “It’s fine. I can go after.”
Reluctantly, Joseph sits down.
“I am Madam Cruelle,” she explains as she lifts the crystal ball from the table and sets it over on a shelf before taking the seat across from him.
“You don’t need that?”
“It is unnecessary for your reading,” she says as she holds out her hand, “May I have your hand please?”
Slowly, he reaches his hand out to her and as she takes it, he notices how cold her hand feels. He glances up at Sherry, who smiles brightly at him. “This is so exciting!”
Joseph knew how this scam worked. Give some general details which were so vague they could be interpreted as pretty much anything. He hasn’t figured out how she knew his name as of yet, but it’s probably part of the carnival somehow.
She looks at his palm for several minutes in silence.
Finally, she looks up at him. “You are a stockbroker?”
Both Sherry and Joseph look surprised at this before he answers, “I am.”
“I see that you do not have much money…”
“I’m not sure that’s…
She interrupts, “It doesn’t matter. You will soon come into quite a bit of money.
Sherry squeals in delight, “Did you hear that?”
Joseph, however, isn’t excited at all. He knows he’s about to lose his job at the firm. He hasn’t picked up the skills as well as others have and he’s been told if it doesn’t turn around, they’re going to have to let him go. There’s no chance he’ll have a job in a few weeks, let alone a significant amount of money. Just as he suspected. Fraud.
The woman looks up at him, “What else would you like to know?”
He withdraws his hand as he stands up, “That’s all. I’ve heard enough.”
“Pity. There’s so much more to tell,” she responds.
“How much do I owe you?”
The fortune-teller thinks for a moment and then says, “10 dollars.”
He reaches into his wallet and pulls out a 10 dollar bill and places it on the table.
The woman reaches for it and tucks it into her robe.
Sherry moves quickly into the seat. “And me?”
The woman doesn’t seem nearly as interested in Sherry as she was in Joseph but she shrugs, “If you wish.”
Sherry quickly stretches out her hand, offering her palm. The teller takes her hand. It only takes her a moment to frown.
“You want to know if you and Mr. Franks will be married? Is that correct?”
Sherry leans forward eagerly, “Yes. Yes, please.”
The woman purses her lips, “It will not happen.”
Sherry snatches back her hand as if she were offended, “How dare you!” She gets up from her chair, “Joseph, let’s leave.”
The woman interrupts, “You should know that your lifeline is very short…”
Sherry doesn’t even wait, she leaves the tent as Joseph drops another 10 dollars on the table. He starts to leave when she stops him, “You didn’t believe a word I told you, did you?”
Joseph shakes his head, “Not one word.”
She nods her head. “Have you ever heard of Capital Innovations?”
He tilts his head curiously, “No.”
“I would look into them if I were you,” she says as she stands and walks behind the curtain, disappearing from view.
He watches her leave and then shakes his head, “Crazy bitch,” he mutters as he walks out to find Sherry in tears. “How could you?!” she demands!
“What did I do?” obviously clueless as to what she’s talking about.
“How dare you let her talk to me that way!”
He takes her hand, “I was just as shocked at her words as you were. It wouldn’t surprise me if no one ever went back to that place. She obviously doesn’t know how to do her job. It’s all a scam, Sherry. Do not even think twice about what she’s said. She’s crazy.”
The next day, Joseph is at work. He’s scrolling through his database. He’s been calling all day with no luck whatsoever. He needed a way to find new clients but he was completely out of ideas. He knew he had to do something or he was also going to be out of work. Then the fortune teller’s voice came back to him.
“Have you ever heard of Capital Innovations?”
He pulled up a search bar and typed in “Capital Innovations”.
A couple of clicks later, he realized exactly why he’d never heard of them. They were nobody. Bottom of the barrel, trading for cents. They had little capital, little productivity, and even less promise. A little deeper dig found that they owned property throughout North Dakota and West Virginia. Property that far exceeded their capital for sure. They were primed for a takeover, but so were a hundred other companies so what made this one special that she would mention them by name?
This company was more likely to go bankrupt before they were bought out.
Then a couple of questions came to mind. One, was how in the hell did she know who he was? Second, why Capital Innovations?
His cell phone started to ring, snapping him out of his thought as he almost reached for it. Sherry. It was her third call today. She spent all night bitching about that fortune teller. He wasn’t hearing it today. He ignored the call. He didn’t even want to go into that tent but she egged him on. It was her own fault. Then she accused him of being uncaring and insensitive. They went to bed angry. He jammed the phone back into his pocket and stood up and took a walk.
He stopped in front of Larry’s office and knocked on the door.
“What’s up, Franks?”
“I have something with potential here, I think. I thought I’d see what you thought.” Larry was something of a genius in the field so Joseph knew he’d be able to tell if this was a catch or not. “I don’t think you’ve heard of them, but they have promise. Capital Innovations.”
Without even looking up from his computer screen, Larry mutters, “You’re right.”
“I’ve never heard of them.”
Joseph could hear snickering in the other offices around him.
Larry finally looks up, “What’s so special about it?” He’s obviously pulled up some data on it on his computer at this point.
“It’s grossly undervalued and probably ripe for a takeover.”
Larry looks at his screen, makes a couple of mouse clicks. “It’s a company that owns property. Great. Sounds… wonderful. How did you find this dog again? Fortune teller?”
Larry closes the window, “Listen, Franks. We do serious analysis around here. If you wanna keep your job, bring me something more substantial than this bullshit.”
Joseph could feel his face burning with embarrassment as he walked back to his desk. “That fucker…” he mutters. He sat down and pulls up the screen again on his computer. That teller knew something. He could feel it in his bones. He opened up his phone and checked the balance in his checking account.
Three grand and some change.
He looked from his phone to his computer screen. Rent would be due in a few days. His mind was racing so fast. What if what she said was true? Could he really pass up this opportunity?
“Fuck it,” he finally says and purchases three grand worth of Capital Innovations stock.
When he got home, Sherry had dinner waiting. She apologized for being difficult and they made up.
“You’re probably right. She’s a fake,” Sherry says as she smiles at him across the table. “I’m sorry about that.”
Joseph felt something in the pit of this stomach. He was the one that said that crazy bitch was a fraud in the first place and now he’s spent all his money on that stupid stock. Her voice snapped him out of his downward spiral.
“Everything okay at work?”
He smiles at her, “Everything is perfect now,” he says. “Dinner is great.”
She seems pleased with his compliment.
As Joseph walks into the office the next morning, the receptionist tells him, “The boss wants to see you.”
His heart sank, “Shit… I’m getting fired today.”
He takes the elevator to the top floor and steps out. There’s another receptionist waiting, “He’s waiting for you. Go on inside.”
Joseph walks to the door of a very large office and lightly taps on the doorframe. “You wanted to see me, sir?”
Mr. Carlson was a large man, meaning heavy. He sat behind his desk with a bagel on a napkin as he taps away on his computer, “Franks, right? Joseph? C’mon in and have a seat. We need to talk.”
Joseph walks over and slowly sinks down into the offered chair as his heart sinks even deeper. “Did I do something wrong?”
“I was just going over your account. You mind telling me about this stock you purchased yesterday?”
Joseph blinks, “Stocks, sir?”
Mr. Carlson turns the monitor towards Joseph, “Capital Innovations. Sound familiar?”
“Oh! That one, yes sir.”
“You bought a bunch of shares yesterday. Can you tell me why?”
“Sir? Is there a problem with the shares?”
Carson points to the number near the bottom of the screen, “You bought three grand worth of shares yesterday. They are now worth almost sixty grand today. You didn’t know?”
Surprised, Joseph leans forward to look, “I just got in, sir. I haven’t had a chance to check my account.”
“Look, Joseph. I don’t know where you got this tip, but Capital Innovations was just purchased by the Tatchi Corporation. The stock went from cents to dollars in one day. What I want to know is where did you get this information?”
Joseph wasn’t about to tell his boss that he got the tip from a fortune teller. “It was really just a hunch, sir.”
Skeptical, Mr. Carlson leans forward against his desk, “Joseph, we have computer programs that analyze trends and data and all that significant bullshit. It also sounds an alarm when something doesn’t seem quite right and your transaction lit the whole goddamned system up like a fucking Christmas tree. The last thing I need is the SEC breathing down our necks. They do not take lightly to insider trading and neither does this company.”
Joseph holds up his hands, “Sir. I promise you there was no insider trading. I would never do that. I did the research, saw it was ripe for the takeover and decided to take a chance. I ran it past Larry before I did anything.”
“Did you now? What did he say?”
“He didn’t take me seriously. He said my instinct was trash. It’s why I used my own money. I wouldn’t have cost the firm a dime.”
Carson is silent for a moment, then nods. “I’ll tell you what. You get any more of these hunches, you come directly to me. Are we clear?”
The look on Joseph’s face made it very obvious that he was clear.
It was the middle of the afternoon as Joseph walked onto the fairgrounds. He didn’t stop for any rides, treats, or games. He walked directly to the fortune teller’s tent. He pulls back the door and steps into the tent and it looked the same as before. The crow cawed as his arrival and the woman appears from behind the curtain.
“Right on time, Mr. Franks. You made a lot of money, I see.” She walks towards him.
Joseph watches her approach, “I made a lot of money. Care to tell me how you know about that stock?”
She waves him off, “Is that really why you’re here? To find out how? Let’s not start deceiving each other so quickly. We both know that you are here for another tip. You want to make even more money, correct?”
Joseph could feel the greed eating at his soul, “More money is always good.”
“Perfect. But before I can do that, you must make good on your payment.”
Now he was confused, Joseph asks, “I paid you…”
She chuckles, “That was for the palm reading. What you owe now is sacrifice. You see, the universe will demand sacrifice in order for the world to remain in balance. I cannot give you any more information until you make some sort of sacrifice.”
Joseph laughs out loud, “What? Do you need a lamb or a goat or what is it you’re asking me for right now?”
Cruelle’s eyes dart to his wrist, “I was thinking about your watch.”
Protectively, Joseph places his hand over the watch, “My father gave me this watch after he passed. It’s the only thing of his that I have.”
The fortune-teller waves him off, “The universe requires sacrifice.” She starts to leave, he rushes over to her.
“This watch is only worth a couple of hundred dollars if that. I can give you far more in money…”
She looks up at him, “The watch.”
“I’m sure we can work something…”
“The watch, Mr. Franks.”
The desperation on his face was obvious. It was then followed by resignation as he unhooks the watch from his arm and offers it to her.
With a grin, she accepts the watch.
“Fine. What do you have for me?” he asks.
When Joseph arrived home that night, he had a little gift bag. He walks in, “I’m home!”
Sherry runs over to greet him with a kiss. “How was your day?”
He grins, “Perfect. And yours?”
“It was..” she starts to say and then sees the gift bag, “What’s that?”
Joseph chuckles, “It’s something for you.” He offers it to her.
She takes it and opens it up and runs off. She can be heard squealing as she rushes back in with a diamond bracelet on her arm, “It’s gorgeous!”
“We had a great day at the office. I wanted to do something nice for you.”
She hugs him tightly, “I’m so happy,” she says. When she pulls away, he hangs up his jacket and she notices the missing watch.
“What happened to your father’s watch?”
Joseph shakes his head, “It was acting funny so I dropped off at the repair shop.”
She seems to buy this story as he says, “Let me wash up and we can have dinner.”
A few days later, Joseph was called to the boss’ office once again. They are watching a variety of TV screens as the news is covering something called the Bell Spill. A freighter for the Bell Petroleum company ran into something and now thousands of gallons of oil are spilling into the ocean.
“Forty-eight dead, twenty-nine injured,” says the newscaster. “Meanwhile, as oil continues to flood into the ocean, heading for the Florida coastline. Carlson points a remote at the televisions and they all mute.
“Bell Petroleum’s stock just took a dive. Hard. If we hadn’t sold it all yesterday on your word, we’d have lost a million dollars today.” Carlson places a glass on the table and fills it halfway with scotch and slides it to Joseph. “The best part is there’s no way anyone can accuse us of insider trading. There’s no way to know this would happen in advance.”
Joseph wasn’t feeling well. The meds were wearing off and his hand was starting to throb again. He recalled what happened the night before.
He was at home when he heard of the explosion of the oil tanker. He made an excuse and left the home and drove straight to the carnival and to Cruelle’s tent.
“I guess you have heard,” she asks.
“That’s right,” he says slowly, still in shock.
“You made a lot of money?”
“A hundred thousand dollars. The firm made over a million dollars.”
“Just as I predicted, is it not?”
She looks up at him with a knowing look, “But you want more.”
He slowly sinks into the chair across from her at the table, “Everyone wants more.”
“It will require another sacrifice.”
He chuckles, “What now? My shoes?”
“Not quite, Mr. Franks.” She reaches next to her and opens a small drawer and pulls out a knife and places it on the table. “The universe requires your pinky finger.”
He looks at her as she’s joking for a moment, but slowly he realizes that she’s not pranking him. “You’re serious?”
“I am. The universe requires restitution. Each time must be greater than the last.”
He looks at the knife on the table as beads of sweat begin to form on his forehead. “If I give you my finger, you’ll give me another tip?”
She cracks a smile, “It will be the biggest one yet.”
He gulps as he slowly extends his hand onto the table, but she stops him.
“Your right hand, Mr. Franks.”
Their eyes meet and he places his other hand on the table. “Okay. Go ahead.”
She chuckles and shakes her head, “You must do it. It’s your sacrifice.”
His face falls as he realizes that once again, she’s very serious. He slowly reaches for the knife.
Carlson refilled Joseph’s glass with more scotch. Joseph reached into his pocket and removed a couple of percocet from the orange bottle and popped them into his mouth. He reached for the scotch and swallowed them down.
“Hand still bothering you, Franks?”
Joseph raised his hand, still bandaged up. “A little.” It hurt like hell, actually.
“What the hell happened?”
The meds were starting to kick in, “Kitchen accident,” he responds.
Carlson leans back in his chair, “Accident, hm? They couldn’t reattach it? I thought that was something they could do now a days.”
God damn. Joseph didn’t want to talk about his fucking finger. He just needed to keep taking his painkillers. As long as he had those, he’d be fine.
“Look, if you don’t want to tell me what really happened, that’s your business. But, shit, take care of yourself. You don’t want to do something stupid and ruin your future. Things are finally starting to look up for you, Franks.”
For some reason, this made Joseph start laughing. Uncontrollably. Perhaps it was the mixture of painkillers and scotch, but that made him laugh. He finally calmed down and wiped the tears away from his eyes and realized his boss was staring at him.
“You said you had another tip? Another winner?” Carlson asks. “Let’s hear it.”
After another swallow of scotch, Joseph was finally able to answer, “Insurance. Ever heard of All Life Insurance?”
“I think I’ve heard of it.”
“Sell short. Sell short now.”
“You got something I need to know?”
“Just sell. You won’t be sorry.”
Joseph stands up. It takes a moment for him to steady himself, but he walks out the door.
Carlson watches him for a moment and then pulls up a browser and types in All Life Insurance. After reading for a moment, he looks at the door. “What the fuck is this, Franks?” But Franks is long gone.
As we see the screen, we see that All Life Insurance insures mostly nuclear power plants.
A couple of days later, the carnival left town. Just pulled up and moved on.
Joseph Franks had driven onto the fairgrounds and there was nothing. It was vacant.
“No. No. No,” he mumbled to himself.
His finger was throbbing. The drugs. The alcohol. He was disheveled and in pain. He had to find out where the carnival went next. He saw a diner across the street and he ran across the street, narrowly avoiding cross traffic which honked at him. He staggered into the diner, the door hitting the bell as it opens and as he stumbles in, everyone turns to look his way and there’s a collective gasp.
This is the first time we see the front of Joseph Franks. His white dress shirt is covered in what appears to be blood. There are smudges on his dress pants. He had convinced himself it was hardly noticeable. But it was very noticeable as everyone gets up from their table and creates distance from him.
The universe had to be balanced, right?
He walks up to the cash register, “The carnival. Where did it go?”
Taking a couple steps backward, the cashier points, “Some workers said earlier they were headed to Stockwell.
Joseph turns and looks out the window as folks were placing money on the table and quickly leaving the diner.
He turns back, “Thank you.” He leaves the diner and as he does, the cashier reaches for the phone.
He waits for traffic to cross and gets into his car. He pops a couple more pills and then starts the car and heads out onto the road, heading towards Stockwell.
His hands are slick as the blood on the steering wheel makes it difficult to completely grasp.
The sign on the side of the road says that Stockwell is 75 miles down the road.
The scene opens and it’s mid-afternoon. The sun is hot and blaring down on the carnival as it’s being set up. The sign tells us that the grand opening is tomorrow.
Joseph pulls his car onto the fairgrounds and workers have to move out of his way as he doesn’t stop in the parking lot but drives right into the fair. His door swings open and he staggers out of the vehicle, not even bothering to turn it off.
He spots her tent.
He takes a few steps, has to steady himself along the way but he finally walks into the tent. Everything looks as it did before. He shouts out drunkenly, “Where are you?” He sniffs the air and it reminds him of something.
We flashback to his father’s funeral. The smell of the soil that lay in a heap next to the open grave, freshly dug. He remembers the casket being lowered into the ground and the dirt being pushed back into the hole. He swears he saw worms and bugs in the dirt. That’s the smell he’s smelling right now.
The sound of the crow snaps him out of his daydream as he jumps away from it. “Fucking bird..” he mutters.
Madam Cruelle comes through the curtain and takes one look at him and seems pleased, “You actually did it. The universe is happy.”
He starts towards her, but trip and catches himself on the table. The blood on his hands has dried, so he doesn’t fall. He looks up at the woman, “You told me to do it. You told me to balance the universe and so I did.”
The woman’s cackle rings his head as she takes a seat at the table. “Mr. Franks, I told you the universe needed sacrifice. You could have easily told me no.”
“I need another tip. I did what you asked, now give me a tip. I’ll do whatever you ask of me. Just tell me another tip.” The desperation in his voice screams out to her.
She nonchalantly shrugs, “Mr. Franks. There’s nothing more. It’s the end, Mr. Franks.”
His eyes go wide. “What do you mean it’s “the end”? How can this be the end?”
“It’s too late. The police are already on their way. You did what you did in front of witnesses. All the money you’ve made? Your account is frozen. You can’t go home. It’s all over, Mr. Franks.”
In the distance, the sound of sirens are heard.
Joseph lowered himself into the chair across from her.
“How come I never see anyone else in here? Every time I’ve come here, you’re alone. It’s like you sit here all day, just waiting for me. Like a fly to the spiderweb.”
The smile on her face gets wider. “You need to run, Mr. Franks. Run like your life depends on it, though I assure you that you won’t get far.”
He looks up at her, “How do you know?”
She pulls back the hood, revealing the rest of her head for the first time, “Mr. Franks. I would have told you the first time, but you didn’t want to hear it. Just like Sherry, you also have a very short lifeline.
We flashback to earlier that morning. Joseph didn’t sleep at all, but then again that wouldn’t be completely accurate.
He would take pills, fall asleep and then wake back up every couple of hours and start the process again.
The fortune-teller said he needed to sacrifice again. Death, she said.
As sunrise hit, the brightness of it shone right in his face, waking him. He reached for a couple more Percocet and a bottle of clear alcohol and just drained the last of it as he swallowed the pills. Some of the liquid ran down his shirt.
He rose to his feet and staggered into the kitchen area and pulled a knife from the block. He nearly falls as he makes his way down the carpeted hallway and into the bedroom where his fiance was fast asleep. He stumbled towards her and bumps into the bed.
Her eyes flutter open as he lifts high that knife in his hand and at first, there’s confusion in her eyes. Then the loud scream as he plunges that knife right into her chest.
From the other room, we hear the screams stop, but the sound of the knife entering her body repeatedly is heard.
Moments later, wrapped in a bloody sheet, he carries the body over his shoulder and drops it into the trunk of his car. Before climbing into the driver’s seat and driving off.
We also see one of his neighbors watching and talking on her cell phone.
He sits across from her, slumped down in that chair. “I wish I’d never come here. This is all your fault. Why did I ever have to meet you?”
Suddenly angry, he lunges for her but as he does, she disappears. Not only does she disappear, but the entire tent is gone as he lands on his knees on the ground.
Confused, he looks around as the camera pans back and we see a multitude of police cars driving onto the fairground and stopping around his car.
One of the officers gets out of their vehicle and walks up to his car, pops the trunk to find Sherry’s body, covered in a bloody sheet. We only know it’s her because her arm is visible, still wearing the diamond bracelet he gave her.
“Goddamned,” says the officer as he motions to the others.
Sitting alone in the grass, Joseph Franks sobs and sobs as officer’s pull their weapons and move in on him. He doesn’t struggle as they handcuff him and pull him to his feet.
They walk a couple of steps and suddenly, he just collapses on the ground. The camera focuses in on his face as the words ring in his head.
“Just like your friend Sherry, you also have a very short lifeline.”
He is drug to the squad car and placed inside as the camera pans upward to take in the rest of the carnival. There is no fortune teller tent.
The camera continues to pans upwards as the words “The End” scribble onto the screen.
JOSEPH JC Keeton
SHERRY Angel Kash
MADAM CRUELLE Vanita Thompson