The Fortune Teller of Rhinelander by Marlin Bressi

We’re thrilled to give you a Halloween treat– the winners of the Cult of Weird/ Milwaukee Paranormal Conference short fiction contest. We absolutely thrilled that all of our story winners (and honorable mentions) have been narrated by the extremely talented Darren Marlar on his Weird Darkness program. Light some candles and listen here:

And check out more Weird Darkness programs/ submit stories to Darren here: www.WeirdDarkness.com

We had 40 entries in our contest, a lot of unique and chilling takes. The only contest requirements were a 1500 word limit, a paranormal theme, and Wisconsin as a backdrop. Our top three stories were separated by a mere one point margin. Here is our second place contest winner.

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The Fortune Teller of Rhinelander

By Marlin Bressi

“Such a peculiar little girl,” her grandmother would say whenever Rosey went outside to play. While other neighborhood children would jump rope, play hide and seek along the marshy banks of the Pelican River or sell lemonade from a stand on the sidewalk, Rosey Palm would wrap herself in her grandmother’s paisley shawl, put on her shower cap and tell the fortunes of those who strolled down the quaint, tree-lined thoroughfare of Randall Avenue.

Rosey’s fascination with palmistry developed as a result of her own misfortune at a young age; when she was only three years old she had yanked the tail of Mr. Stanley’s ornery beagle, Samson, who responded by snapping his fangs at the girl’s fingers. Rosey was left with a jagged pink scar which ran down the side of her palm, crooked and meandering like the course of the Pelican, which she could see from her bedroom window.

The scar fascinated the young girl, as well as the lines that zig-zagged across her palm like highways on a flesh-toned road map. While other children were interested in games and toys, Rosey became fascinated with the human hand. She would spend entire afternoons at the town library reading about fingerprints, fingernails, and any other subject related to the hand. Her favorite subject, however, was palm reading.

Rosey’s grandmother was dismayed about the girl’s interest in fortune telling. “If your mother and father were still alive, they would surely not find such behavior appropriate for a young girl,” Rosey’s grandmother would say. Nonetheless, she allowed the girl to read palms and tell fortunes and costume herself like a gypsy princess, as long as she stayed within sight of the house.

One quiet and uneventful mid-summer afternoon, Rosey absconded with her grandmother’s folding card table and set up a fortune telling booth on the sidewalk in front of the house. Her grandmother had gone downtown to buy groceries, but Rosey didn’t think she would object to her borrowing the table. The passersby were more than happy to give Rosey a quarter for a palm reading, since they had a soft spot in their hearts for the little girl who, at such a tender age, had endured so much hardship.

Before long, a woman came down the street, her natural beauty concealed behind horn-rimmed glasses, and she was fashionably dressed in a floral dress and white gloves. Rosey immediately liked the woman, and hoped that she could talk her into a palm reading.

“Beautiful afternoon, isn’t it?” the woman smiled as she neared Rosey and her makeshift fortune telling booth.

“Yes, ma’am,” the young girl replied. “My name is Rosey Palm, and I can tell you your fortune for a quarter.”

The woman with the glasses chuckled. “That’s a tempting offer, young lady. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time. I’m waiting for the bus to Milwaukee and before it arrives I wanted to see the house where I grew up.”

“You grew up on Randall Avenue?” asked Rosey, excited to make the acquaintence of a native Rhinelander, and one who appeared to have gone on to bigger and better things. Rosey supposed that she might be an actress or singer; they were the only types of women who wore those lovely, long white gloves.

“Yes. Right there is where I grew up,” the woman replied, pointing to a white house with cheerfully-painted red shutters.

“That’s my house!” exclaimed Rosey, her mouth agape in astonishment. “I live here with my grandmother. I moved here last year, after…. after, my parents passed away.”

The woman in glasses gave Rosey a sympathetic stare. “I’m sorry to hear that, my dear,” she said. “It must be terribly difficult for you.”

“I suppose,” replied Rosey. “But I make the best of it. So, you must have been the one who lived in this house before me and Grandma?”

The woman didn’t hear the question; she was gazing vacantly at the house, which caused her expression to change into one of sadness. Rosey asked her what was wrong.

“Nothing is wrong, dear,” she said. “I’m just remembering things. Things that happened long ago, yet are as fresh in my mind as if they just happened today.”

Her statement, along with the hint of sadness in her voice, aroused Rosey’s curiosity. “What kind of things? Did something bad happen to you when you lived in my house?”

“Something very bad, unfortunately,” the woman replied.  She took a moment to compose herself, and then told the young fortune teller her story. “I was playing outside, when a man came up to me and said he was from the water company, and that he needed to come into the house and check on the pipes in the basement. There was no one else home, so I let him inside.” She paused. “He did some awful things to me.” The woman’s voice trailed off as she recalled the horrendous experience.

“What kind of things?”

The woman in glasses shook her head and told Rosey that she was far too young to understand, and that she didn’t want to frighten the young girl with her story.

“Don’t be afraid, though. They caught the man and he went to jail for a very long time. I only wish I could have done things differently, and perhaps it wouldn’t have happened the way it did. But I was young and didn’t know any better. Nobody thinks of such terrible things happening in a town like this.”

“What did the man look like?” asked Rosey. She was deeply interested in hearing the rest of the woman’s story. She had read many books about crime in the library, in the books about fingerprints which she pored over like a student of criminology.

“He was a tall man, in a gray suit and a black fedora. He– ”

“What’s wrong?”

The woman took off her glove in order to glance at her watch. “Nothing, dear. I just realized that my bus will be here soon and I must leave. It was very nice meeting you, Rosey,” she said, extending her ungloved hand to the girl for a handshake.

Rosey shook her hand, noticing the pink jagged scar on the woman’s palm. Rosey watched the woman disappear around the corner, and was still grasping the strangeness of the incident when she turned around and saw a man walking toward her. He was wearing a gray suit and a black fedora.

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Short Story Contest Winners!

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Milwaukee Paranormal Conference and Cult of Weird launched a short story speculative fiction contest on the first day of Summer and now on this, one of the first days of Autumn, we are thrilled to announce the winners! We challenged people to write stories with a paranormal theme and a setting of Wisconsin as the backdrop. A fantastic response of 40 stories that chilled us to the bone crept into our inbox.

We had four judges for the contest– Matthew Wamser of Furrow (a UWM undergraduate literary journal), author Rachel Green (First Contact), author J. Nathan Couch (Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? and Washington County Paranormal)and Christina Rickman of Cult of Weird. They had quite a challenge and competition was fierce, but based on their totaled scoresheets, here are our winners:

1st Place: “The Devil in the Cornfield” by Zelia Edgar

2nd Place: “The Fortune Teller of Rhinelander” by Marlin Bressi

3rd Place: “Thinning the Herd” by Eric Montag

Honorable mentions:
“Stopping Sirens” by Cassie O’Rourke
“Beware the Bindlestiff” by Carolyn Toms-Neary

You will be able to read “The Devil in the Cornfield” in our conference program (accompanied with original art from Xeroine Illustration) and all three placing stories will be posted on our website on Oct. 30, Halloween Eve.

Our winning authors are invited to read their stories in a special session at the conference, Sunday, Oct. 16 4pm in Union Ballroom West, hosted by author Kat de Falla. The top three contest authors also get conference tickets and a prize pack that includes signed books, a gift from Grave Digger Candles and MPC merch. Honorable mentions will receive free conference tickets.

Thanks to everyone who participated, we appreciate your efforts and we hope to host the contest again next summer!


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