Chloe was wandering aimlessly past the rides and attractions. It was a carnival, not the forest. There was no reason to worry about getting lost and anything was better than listening to her sister's brand of wisdom about how she should conduct her life. It wasn't like she was going to put herself in danger. She just wanted a chance to feel like she was doing something that mattered to her.
For her theory of a carnival not being like a forest, it was changing in odd ways. The rides were far behind her, and the attractions were getting further apart. In addition, there did not seem to be any sort of wall or fence to indicate the edge of the carnival. There was no end to it and Chloe was beginning to get tired.
Chloe stood and looked around, trying to find a better strategy than walking back since she had no idea how far she went. The smell of freshly baked cookies caught her attention and she thought, maybe a snack will help me reset my direction.
She walked toward the scent and found a lovely looking woman, who seemed close to her age of thirty, standing in a costume that made her look like a fortune teller. Chloe felt drawn to her friendly demeanor but did not want to have her fortune told.
I'll ask about the cookies and stay strong about no fortunes, she decided.
"Ah, I was wondering when you would come around," the lady greeted Chloe.
"Yes, umm," Chloe answered, ready for the woman to try to convince her for a reading, “I just wanted to inquire about the scent of cookies. They seemed to come from this direction.”
“Of course, I have them right here,” the lady held her hands up and a tray of cookies came into view. They smelled perfect and even though Chloe felt hesitant about trying them, their appearance didn’t frighten her.
“Go ahead,” the lady insisted, “They’re safe and wonderful.”
Chloe took one and studied it. There was a familiarity to it. She tasted it and noticed a blend of lemon and cinnamon flavors. Chloe’s eyes lit up, “I have experimented with this combination before. I make cookies just like this.”
“I know,” the lady noted, “Shall we get started.”
“I don’t feel comfortable about seeing a fortune teller,” Chloe protested.
“Oh, no problem. How about this?” the woman shook her hands like they were wet and she became a blur. When she was back into focus, she was wearing fitted jeans and a blouse that looked like it had Van Gogh’s Starry Night painted on it. At closer glance, it was a scene from Star Wars in the Starry Night format.
Chloe chuckled, “Now you look like someone I would totally be friends with. But I still know that you’re a fortune teller so, no go.”
“Actually, I’m a Decider, not a fortune teller. I have no real power. I just mold your power.”
“Mold, like clay?”
The lady nodded.
“What’s your name?” Chloe inquired.
“It is best if you give me a name. Don’t think too hard. Just say what you are thinking...right...now.”
“Susan?’ Chloe questioned.
“Perfect. Call me Susan.”
“Hmm, okay. So what do you do if you are not a fortune teller?”
“I have a lot to entertain you with, like this box,” Susan took out a bright blue box, the size of her palm and threw it on the ground. It rocked and moaned as it grew to the size of the women. Susan started to open the side as she said, “Time to get into the box.”
“I don’t want to get into a box,” Chloe responded.
“You haven’t even looked inside yet.”
Chloe hesitantly peaked in, making sure that she was grounded enough that she could avoid being pulled in.
She prepared to see emptiness or something scary but it was dull. She saw people dressed in drab colors with hardly any sunshine around them. She struggled to focus on what she was seeing.
“It just looks average and humdrum. I can see this everyday. I do see this everyday,” she said confused.
“Yes!” Susan triumphed, “That’s what you gave me to work with.”
Chloe sighed in disappointment. Even a carnival attraction based on her was boring.
“Not impressed?” Susan asked.
Chloe shook her head.
Susan pondered Chloe and seemed to be considering her inside and out.
“Hmm, I do sense some more to you. Let me try this,” Susan held up her hand as if she was miming holding a ball, “Warning, this won’t be as concrete as the last one.”
She began to blow on the invisible ball and a ball of opal began to appear. It started to grow to the size of a small house and hovered above Chloe and Susan’s heads. There was an opening where they could see inside, “It’s empty,” Chloe remarked.
“Not as concrete,” Susan reminded Chloe.
Chloe felt warmth coming from the sphere and she could smell every spice she ever loved in baking. They didn’t overwhelm her all at once. They seemed to drift by her, one by one like a beautiful dance.
Chloe looked at Susan amazed, “This one seems extremely inviting.”
Susan smiled proudly, “Let’s go then.”
“Your power. You tell me.”
Chloe giggled like a child, thrilled at the excitement she was feeling. She reached out for Susan’s hand and held their hands up. They floated into the sphere.
They passed through beautiful colors of opal until the colors began to become solid. Chloe focused on the solid color and reached out to touch it feeling warm tile. She pulled back and saw that it was the backsplash of an oven. She turned around and viewed her surroundings and found a place that she had only imagined before. She could smell her spices again and she saw the setup of her ideal bakery with bowls, baking pans, mixers, baking racks, and colors for frostings. Susan placed her hand on Chloe's shoulder, "It looks grand. It’s more than a kitchen. It looks like a tool for an artist whose medium is pastries."
Chloe sighed, "I often felt like I was painting when I baked. Like the confections just flowed out of me."
"Is this your business?" Susan asked.
"No," Chloe lamented, "It was too much of a risk to try. I was raised to be sensible."
"Well, your family must have tried your pastries. Didn't they think it was worth the risk?" Susan asked.
"They loved my cakes and cookies but..." Chloe looked at Susan to explain, "my mom and sister feel that it is important to remind me of how much of a mess I was as a child and how hard it was for me to accomplish anything. I'm not sure..."
"Ah, but you grew up," Susan pointed out, "Sometimes people forget to notice that fact."
"And hard doesn't mean impossible," Susan observed.
"True. It would be nice to have at least one person to," Chloe struggled with the thought, "cheer me on."
"Ah yes. Like a friend. You need a friend," Susan said and gestured to the door.
A voice sang out from the front of the bakery, "Chloe, we're starting to run out of your lemon-cinnamon cookies. I can barely keep them on the shelf. Please make more."
As if Chloe had been living this life for a while, she called out, "No problem, Susan."
Chloe froze and looked at the Susan in front of her confused.
Susan smiled and leaned in, "She must have been on your mind when you met me."
Susan gave Chloe a knowing smile, "Your new friend."
Chloe stared at the door trying to make sense of it all. Susan touched her arm, "Come on. There are cookies to make."
Chloe revelled in the kitchen, knowing exactly where everything was. The ingredients mixed together like a song with perfect textures and perfect smells evolving from batter to baked cookies. Chloe stood over the four batches of cookies and gave Susan a sly grin as she said, "It would be irresponsible of us to not test them."
Both of them took a warm lemon-cinnamon cookie and marveled at the beautiful, toasted color as they bit into such wonderful flavor. Chloe looked around, "Now this feels like living."
A chime that sounded like a grandfather clock sounded from Susan's jean pocket, "Oh, the carnival is about to close. I need to get you back."
Chloe's face fell, "One more bite." Chloe tried to watch as much of the kitchen as possible before it darkened and left them. Once again, she was standing in the place where she had found the Decider. Susan went back to her fortune teller attire, "You came a long way to get this far into the carnival. Let me help you get back to the front."
She placed her hands on the ground and spread them up to make a blue door in front of them. When she opened the door, Chloe looked through it and saw the dull colors and a boring scene of people walking around. It reminded her of what she had seen earlier. "I already told you that I didn't like the blue box. I don't want to go there."
The Decider placed her hand on Chloe's shoulder again and gently explained, "This isn't the box Dear. This is your life. The one you've had since the beginning of this evening."
"Oh," Chloe felt melancholy as she studied it further.
The Decider smiled and there was hope in her voice, "Life is always changing. It is never too late for a change."
Chloe nodded but her smile was forced.
"Maybe it won't be so scary with a friend, hmm?"
Chloe agreed, a little more hopeful.
The Decider pointed into the crowd, to a woman who did not seem to exist in dull colors like everyone else. She was wearing fitted jeans and a Starry Night blouse, just like the Decider had worn.
"Go ahead, call her."
Chloe took a deep breath and called out, “Susan?”
The woman turned around, looked at Chloe, and smiled.