The storm seemed to come out of nowhere. One minute the skies were clear, the sun was bright making the spring day unusually warm, then the wind whipped up throwing up dirt and whipping tents and awnings making them snap and groan. The sky grew dark, and big heavy raindrops began to pelt the dusty fairgrounds. Nelson Peppernick, who had been cruising the fair for girls, made a mad dash for the closest cover, a deep blue tent with a heavy flap. It wasn’t until he was standing inside dripping and enjoying the warmth that he realized where he was. It was the tent of the soothsayer. The sign read ‘Madam Benovich welcomes you. Please, come in and find out what your future holds. Will she predict for you Love and happiness or will it be Loneliness and sadness? Madam Benovich sees it all’.
The woman at the table turned to him and he drew in a sharp breath. Her dark skin was deeply lined and craggy, but it was her eyes that startled him, they were pure white. The sign by the flap was wrong, Madam Benovich didn’t see it all, the Madam didn’t see anything. When she spoke though, her voice was soft and melodious. If pressed he would admit it was almost hypnotic.
“Welcome Nelson Peppernick, I’ve been expecting you. Come and sit. I know the desire you hold dearest to your heart and I have a message to give you.”
Nelson shook his head both in denial and to clear it of the inexplicable fog in his brain that made thinking difficult. How could she have known his name? How could she have even known it was him when she obviously couldn’t see, and he hadn’t even said anything for her to recognize his voice.
He took an uneasy step back. “Oh, no thank you ma’am.” Much to his embarrassment, his words came out shaky and cracked. “I’m not interested in any messages. I just came in to get out of the rain. As soon as it lets up some I’ll get out of here.”
The old woman tsked and shook her head. “You didn’t step in here by chance Nelson Peppernick. There are no coincidences in this world. You and I were preordained to meet this day. Come. Sit. Let us fulfill destiny.”
This time he was unable to resist the pull and he stumbled over to the table and sank down onto the chair across from her. Her smile transformed her, and he caught a glimpse of the beauty she must once have been.
They sat there, teenaged boy and old crone, each considering the other in silence. Then, rather than consulting the cards or crystal ball sitting on the table before her as he expected, she lifted something from her lap and slid it toward him. It was a bright red envelope about the size of a small greeting card. It was face down, and he could see that the flap was sealed with a blob of wax with an ornate letter B pressed into it. When he tried to take it, she held firm, her grip surprisingly strong.
“I want you to take this with an open mind and open heart Nelson Peppernick. The right moment to read it will present itself with obvious clarity. Do not open it before that moment and when you do, believe what it says without reservation. It will be wonderful Nelson. I can see it now.”
Nelson’s brow furrowed. “See what?”
She scowled. “Promise me.”
“But what do you s . . .” He let his question slip away at her deepened scowl. “Fine. Yes. I promise.”
She’d released the envelope then stood and walked to the back of the spacious tent and disappeared behind a partition without another word. Nelson bolted to his feet and stumbled out into what was once again a bright, warm, spring day.
He didn’t have time to wonder at the unexpectedly dry dirt and bright skies because a group of friends called out to him urging him to join them for a trip into town.
He stuffed the red envelope into his pocket and later into the glove box of his mustang and promptly forgot all about it.
Nelson Peppernick’s classic mustang sputtered, lurched, and emitted a heart-stopping bang just before losing all power. With a sigh, he eased his ailing vehicle onto the shoulder and turned the key to the off position. How could this have happened? The car had barely been out of the shop a week. A silver lining of sorts to this grim turn of events was that given that this trip had been embarked upon on a whim, the shenanigans of his temperamental car wouldn’t make him late for anything. But it was a rather disconcerting predicament to find himself in.
Another positive was that due to his mother’s gentle insistence, he was a card-carrying member of an auto club that provided free roadside assistance. And again thanks to his mother, the number with which to contact said club was pre-programmed into his cell phone. He pulled the phone from the handy dash mount his brother Micah had given him Christmas last only to find he had no signal.
Perhaps it would help if he got out of the car. He looked over his shoulder to check that it was safe and when he saw the road was empty in all directions, he stepped out into the warm spring day. It was only when he stood outside his car that he looked out at his surroundings. So engrossed in his audiobook had he been that he’d failed to notice he’d been driving through trees. How had that happened? He must have driven some distance to be where he was. This was a forest. Having lived all his twenty-eight years in the city, this was the first time he’d seen one in person. It was quite beautiful.
His mind went suddenly to the fair he’d attended almost a decade ago and the wizened old woman in the blue tent.
That early spring day had grown suddenly chilly on the heels of a freak storm that had kicked up in what had previously been a bright sunny day very similar to today. The tent had been an unexpected find. When the flaps had fallen closed behind him with a weighted thud, the old woman had turned his way, eyes white with cataracts. She’d called him by name and then taken him aback when she’d told him she’d been waiting for him. As unsettling as those declarations had been, her next words had made him truly nervous.
In retrospect, it hadn’t really been a bad kind of unease. It had felt more like barely subdued anticipation. After finally giving into the pull of her voice, he’d sank onto the chair across from her. She’d pushed a red envelope across the little table with its starry midnight blue cloth. When he’d reached for it, she’d held it firm and asked him to give his word that he’d open his mind and accept whatever it said without reservation and do what it asked.
He’d never opened the envelope. Where had he put it? He racked his brain trying desperately to remember. The glove box! Could it possibly still be there? With a sudden unexplained urgency, he yanked open the door, knelt in the driver’s seat, and leaned over to open the box. There it sat right on top and still as bright red as the day he’d tossed it in there. Its being on top made no sense. He’d dug through that box hundreds of times over the years. It was a wonder it was even still there.
He slid out of the car and back into the sunshine to study the envelope. When he turned it over, he found the seal was still intact. With hands that trembled just a bit, he broke the wax and lifted the flap and pulled out a yellowed slip of paper.
Greetings Nelson Peppernick.
I’m so pleased you found the courage to open this note. The thing you long for most is true love. Ten years from today you’ll find your soul mate in the forest on a red bench by a lake. Her name is Emmaline Banks and she is pure sunshine and happiness.
Be patient and wait for the one who is meant to be yours.
With love and light
Nelson looked up at his surroundings in awe. The woman had said he’d know when the time was right to read it and she was right. If he’d not been upset about Lizzette breaking up with him and taken this drive, he doubted he’d ever have been anywhere near the forest. Was it possible this was the right time? The right place? What were the chances of there being a lake through those trees? And more importantly, did people even put benches by a lake? And why would they paint them red? Did he dare to take the chance? Of course he did. He locked the car, put the keys, his useless cell phone along with the note safely tucked back in its envelope into his back pocket, and with trepidation stepped onto the path leading into the trees.
He was alone. All alone. In the woods. As a man born, raised, and with a life firmly entrenched in the city, the woods were a place he could quite honestly say he’d never imagined himself and he possessed a most vivid imagination.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d been walking and was hot and sweaty when he caught sight of something red through the trees. His breath caught and his heart sped up until it thudded wildly in his chest. He was almost at a full run when he broke into the little clearing. It was indeed a red bench facing a beautiful lake. But there was no one there. The bench was empty. No woman sat on it and definitely no soul mate. Disappointment surged through him as he sank dejectedly onto the bright red slats. How could he have been such a fool as to believe the words of a crazy blind old woman?
A branch snapped somewhere behind him and his heart leapt painfully in his chest. What was that? Was it a bear? Bears lived in the woods, didn’t they? What had that TV show he watched the other day said to do when one confronted a bear? Another snap, this one much closer, yanked him out of his rambling thoughts. Should he turn to look? Which would be the better death? To let it sneak up and surprise you and end your being you without ever seeing it’s face? Or would it be better and perhaps more noble a way to leave this plain of existence to meet death head on? A startled gasp of a feminine nature caused him to turn without further hesitation.
There on a path coming from the opposite direction he’d come from stood a girl. No, a young woman. And she was beautiful. Her blond hair was a mass of curls that didn’t quite reach her shoulders. Blue eyes that perfectly matched the flowers on her tank top were round with shock and full pink lips were parted. Her face was a mask of shock and fear. Finding a strange man in the woods must be terrifying for a woman alone. Not sure what he could do to calm her fears, he did the only thing he could think of. He slowly reached into his pocket then held up the red envelope.
Her expression changed to one of wonder and her smile could have lighted up the darkest dreariest day. She ran over to sit beside him and he swung around to face her and saw that her look of excited anticipation matched his own. She reached around to pull something from her own pocket. When she lifted her hand, he saw that she held a red envelope of her own complete with the broken seal with a barely visible letter B. Her blue eyes sparkled. She reached out and grabbed both his hands with hers.
“Hello Nelson Peppernick,” she said in a soft voice. “I’m Emmaline Banks. I’m so very very happy we’ve found each other at last.”
Based on a picture prompt from Writers Unite! You can find more stories here, based on the same prompt.