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“Step right up! Come and see Fenwell’s Fabulous Fair! Come one and all! Everybody welcome!”
The portly man stood by the open gate, ushering visitors into the field. Red and gold paint spelled out the name of the travelling fair over the lop-sided entrance arch. A hag in gypsy clothing took pennies and handed out tickets.
“Liss, have you got the money? Have you got it?” asked Teva.
Teva Hunt clutched at Liss’ arm, dragging her elder sister along the track to the fair. Liss rolled her eyes and fished in her pocket for two pennies. Teva snatched the coins and scampered ahead. She bounced up and down behind the people blocking the arch. Liss strolled up behind her as she handed the hag the money.
“I still don’t know why you made me come to this. You know I don’t like travelling fairs,” said Liss. She shoved the small paper ticket into her pocket.
“Oh but they’re so much fun! All of the stalls, all of the smells, all of the colourful people with stories to tell!” Teva beamed.
“You need to stop reading that poetry nonsense,” said Liss. “I told you it’ll just bake your brain.”
Teva rolled her eyes and pulled Liss into the crowd. Citizens of all ages and classes mingled in the field. Liss spotted two Vertigo City officials standing by the stall marked “tavern”. They hid under stovepipe hats and false moustaches that fooled no one. A gang of rowdy dockworkers jostled each other beside the dancing girls’ show. Liss hurried her sister away from the stage. The girls didn’t look much older than Teva.
“Look! A fortune teller! I’m going to go and have my cards read!” said Teva. She pointed at a purple tent covered in silver stars. A scrawny woman in a moth-eaten shawl stood outside, proclaiming the talents of Madame Cherie, the finest fortune teller in all the land.
“You do know it’s all rubbish, don’t you?” asked Liss.
“Stop raining on everything. Mother asked you to bring me and you said yes. If you didn’t want to come, you shouldn’t have said you would,” said Teva. Her look of defiance withered under Liss’ glare.
“I came because I wouldn’t have had a moment’s peace if I had said no. Why in the name of sweet Vertigo would you want to come somewhere like this in the first place?”
“Well I’m going to see the fortune teller, and you can’t stop me.”
Teva turned and flounced through the crowd towards the purple tent. Liss tried to follow her progress but the bulk of a quayside fishwife blocked her view.
“That girl has talent of her own. Why is she going to a fortune teller?”
Liss spun round at the sound of the scraping voice. A pale young woman stood behind her, a mass of inky curls tumbling around her shoulders. She wore a long black frock coat over voluminous black leggings. Liss gaped at her, watching the stars that glittered in the depths of her midnight eyes. The woman’s deep purple lips parted in a friendly smile, although Liss baulked at the black gums and grey teeth.
“Who in the name of Vertigo are you? And how do you know about Teva’s talents?” asked Liss.
“I know a lot of random things about people. You might call it my parlour trick,” replied the young woman. A harsh metallic edge sharpened her words into the buzzing of flies.
“Are you a fortune teller as well?” asked Liss.
“Well you’re not from Vertigo City. I’d remember someone like you.”
“Oh I’m a frequent visitor to Vertigo. I just like to keep a low profile when I’m there, especially when business is...brisk.”
“So what do you want?” Liss knew she sounded rude but the black and white woman unnerved her. She tried to avoid eye contact by glancing at the shifting crowd around them. She’d completely lost sight of Teva.
“We’re both bored and neither of us really wants to be here. Say, there’s a shooting range over there, do you want a go?”
Liss followed the line of the young woman’s starry gaze. As promised, a shooting range stood at the end of the row of stalls. A man with a red nose and grey beard called for citizens to take their best shot. He offered a wooden figurine of a deer to the best shot of the night.
“Oh I love shooting!” exclaimed Liss. Her father taught her to shoot rats in their cellar, using the sound of their squeaks to locate them in the dark.
“Let’s have a go then!”