We Card Everyone

He leaned forward across the table, hovering his face over the neatly aligned cards. He focused on one in particular, the last one dealt. She had snatched her hand away from that card, as if it burned.

"Huh!" he grunted, and nudged the rectangle of cardboard. Gaudy, it was, overdone with blue, purple and great swaths of black.

The fortuneteller glanced at him, her wide eyes recovering. She looked back to the card.

"What's it mean?" he asked.

"Death card," she answered. She held a single serving packet of peanuts in one hand, had been shoveling the contents through her gob from the minute he first walked in. She squeezed the packet, and little brown spheroids rolled out.

"Death card? Okay, and that means…"

"What, I have to spell it out?"

He scraped back his metal folding chair and stood in the shadowed tent. "Bullshit. I ain't gonna die."

"Mister, we all die. You're just doing it quick-like."

"This is carny bullshit."

"Be a dear. Settle up all your debts today." She popped another handful of peanuts into her mouth.

He stood with his fists on his hips, glowering down at the fortuneteller. He huffed and considered puffing, then maybe cursing her carny heritage or just blowing the tent down. But he hesitated as her eyes widened to circles and her face went suddenly ashen.

"So, what now? The grim reaper's standing behind me?" She did, in fact, seem to focus beyond him, so much so that he couldn't resist a glance over his shoulder.

Nobody. Nothing. But when he turned around she was jerking in spasms, as if with the dry heaves. "What the hell? Are you all right?"

She fell forward onto the table, scattering peanuts and tarot cards.

"Holy shit!" He shuffled toward her, then away. He didn't know what to do. "Help!" he screamed. "Somebody help!"

After a few more indecisive feints toward the woman, he flung himself about and tore from the tent onto the crowded midway. "Please, help!" he screamed into the lane, and leapt at the nearest passers-by. "The lady in that tent! I think she's dead!"

Panic, of course. The orderly progression of the crowd snarled on people pausing, people rubber-necking, and people breaking into a run toward the tent. The lion tamers had been caging their lion, making it a show for the kids gathered around. They forgot themselves and stared toward the commotion, the lion cage left open. The lion stood within the cage, looking momentarily confused. Then he relaxed into "why the hell not" and sprang from the cage onto a passing gaggle of clowns with cotton candy cones.

The lion chowed down on red noses and spun sugar while his possible desserts stampeded away, screaming. Many breached the barrier around the nearby kiddie rides and got pummeled and perforated in the Cuisinart of madly orbiting Dumbos and teacups.

Jesus! the erstwhile fortune seeker thought as pandemonium reared about him. This is nuts!

Security arrived, all tattoos, handlebar mustaches, and shotguns. They blasted the lion into steak, also some of his actual and prospective victims. Two gangbangers at the Balloon Shoot, keyed up by running, screaming herds of people, decided they’d had enough when the shotguns went off. Out came their Glocks. They fired indiscriminately into the crowd.

Bullets flew into an elephant ear stand, rupturing a propane tank. The explosion catapulted vendors and customers over tents and into the game stands.

Screeching tires from the neighboring street. Sharp slams and the rending of metal.

"My God! I get it!" the man, the original man, the man at the center of the current chaos yelped.

A bunch of Mennonites swarmed by, chased by a pack of snarling Scotts terriers in clown suits.

Sirens wailed, horns blared, and people sobbed and screeched; a cacophony of sudden transmutation.

A horse galloped by, eyes white, frothy-mouthed. It tripped over a white-eyed, frothy-mouthed woman pushing a double baby carriage. The horse crashed atop it all with the grace of an upset wheelbarrow.

"I been done up like Death, the destroyer of worlds!" the man proclaimed to the mayhem about him, and threw his beseeching eyes to the sky. "Please, God! Take back this terrible curse! Stop this carnage! Take me instead, but only if really necessary!"

Above the man, at the city's skyline, a passenger jet banked precipitously, trailing smoke.