The Fool With the Clever Eyes

Digital drawing. A left hand, at bottom, holding five cards of a tarot deck, fanned out. The card at right is mostly visibly with the thumb covering the bottom left corner. That card bears an image of a young man from waist up, facing left, three-quarters view, with his hands in his pockets. Behind him at his shoulders is the symbolic depiction of an eye with straight rays of banded color emanating from above it and curved rays below. The word “fool” is visible at the card’s bottom. From right to left, the next card is half visible, half of a long-haired person from waist-up with right hand held loosely clawed, palm facing right. Next, a bird perched on a gloved hand. Then a partial view of a crown on a head of bright wavy hair. The last card, half visible depicts a stone tower covered in vines, studded with flowers, with bunches of flowers at the base of the tower. Letters, but no complete words, are partly visible at the bottoms of the other cards.

Hands in pockets, inhaling sharply, and exhaling a sigh, Freddie glanced around the room that was not an escape room.  He was standing in front of a typical-looking door smoothly painted in a pleasant shade of beige.  He adjusted his glasses and peered at the textures on the door’s surface.  His friends murmuring amongst themselves behind him.  They weren’t trying to get out of the room.  They were trying to get into the next room. 

That was the objective of the game.  Because the room they were trying to get into was filled with treasure.  And that “treasure” could have been anything from a book of gift certificates to a brand new car. 

Freddie felt and heard the rumble in his stomach.  He sighed again, turned his head around, and said a single word.


Only one of his five friends seemed to have heard him.  Malina glanced up from the scroll that they were all gathered around.

“What did you say, Freddie?” she asked, even as she waved her hands at the others, signaling them to quiet down.

Freddie repeated the word.  Without hesitation, Demi, who was holding the one pen they’d been allowed to have, wrote the word down on the scroll, as Freddie spelled it.  He rolled up the scroll, slid it into a canister, and sent it through what looked like an old-timey pneumatic tube system. 

When the door in front of him clicked open a few minutes later, Freddie smiled a little.  It wasn’t a smile of triumph for having solved the puzzle.  He could have done that a minute after they unrolled the scroll.  His eyes had taken in the pattern as a whole, then his gaze had flicked to the separate parts.  His friends started solving it, so he’d stepped aside.  

He smiled because the game was now done, and his friends could claim their prizes, and they could finally go to dinner and just sit and catch up.  He’d waited long enough to give everyone a chance to guess and deduce and brainstorm together, but not so long that they started growing irritated and frustrated.  And he’d tried to look as if he were listening to them go over the clues, as if he needed to hear them again, to put together a puzzle in his mind, the way they were writing it out on the scroll.

Malina’s date walked up to Freddie, rubbing his hands together, saying he hoped there was a car behind the door.  As it turned out, there were some nice gifts in the room.  No cars or puppies.  No trips to tropical locations either.  No prize that required the winners to exhibit personal responsibility or have an active passport. 

The prizes were all arrayed on tables draped with dark velvet fabrics.  There were chests full of obviously fake gold coins and piles of jewels made from glass and plastic, to give the room that “cavern full of treasure” ambience.  Freddie strolled around glancing at the various items tagged with a round blue sticker—the prizes they were allowed to claim.   A lamp with a shade that looked like a page from an illuminated manuscript caught his eye, along with a feather quill pen, and a deck of mystical cards with some vibrant detailed artwork.  But there was nothing in the room he really wanted or needed.  So he chose nothing. 

But as they exited and reclaimed their coats and phones, their host informed them that part of their prize was a complimentary dinner at the restaurant a few doors down.  They could go anytime over the next month.

So Freddie would get his prize after all, a nice dinner with friends.

He got his phone first and waited for everyone outside, smelling the damp grassy-scented air of a recent rainfall.  He heard the click of heeled footsteps behind himself and turned by instinct, expecting Malina.

But the person approaching was not one of his friends.

It was a woman in a business suit and skirt under her raincoat.  It wasn’t sprinkling, but she held an umbrella over her head of sleekly styled dark hair.

She introduced herself as one of the puzzle-makers of the game room they’d just completed. 

“I was watching you all tonight,” she said.  All the game rooms had security videos, which was noted in the one-page waiver form that Freddie and his friends signed before they went in. 

“You chose one of our hardest puzzle rooms,” she continued.  “You got through it far more quickly than any other guests we’ve had.”

Freddie shrugged.  “We make a good team.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed for just a flash as she smiled at him.  “It wasn’t the group that solved most of the elements though.”  She raised her free hand and offered him a card.  “Would you call me?  Tomorrow, sometime?”

Freddie raised his brows.  He stared at her, shifting his gaze from the corners of her eyes to her rouged cheeks.  But he couldn’t tell if she was asking for a date, or offering him a job interview, or what.  He took the card.

“Oh,” she said, slipping her hand into her coat pocket.  “I also noticed that you didn’t take any prizes.  But I couldn’t let you leave empty-handed.”  She pulled a tiny round pin out of her pocket and held it up.  The backing was black and it simply bore a symbol that looked like the Greek letter “psi” in silver.  With his permission, she pinned it on his jacket lapel.

His friends teased him about it at dinner—they only saw the interaction from afar. 

By the next morning, he’d forgotten. 


But before he walked out his front door to go to work, he was reminded. 

Demi messaged him, and asked if he would be calling the “puzzle lady.”

Good morning to you, too, Freddie messaged back.  Why don’t you call her, since you’re so interested?

Demi replied, Ever dream of not sleeping alone?

Freddie smirked as he assembled the components of his lunch, and gave himself time to compose the appropriate response.

He grinned as he sent it.  Ever dream about not being pushed to a corner of your bed by one human and seven furry little mammals?


Freddie laughed and slipped his phone in his pocket.  He glanced over at the countertop beside the oven.  A grayish fog lingered there.

The sudden beeping of an alarm startled him.  He pulled his phone out of his pocket and silenced the alarm.  It was his warning to get out the front door now or he’d be late for work.  When he glanced back up, the gray fog was gone. 

Freddie grabbed his lunch, jacket, and umbrella, and headed out to work for the day. 

By the time he got home, the sky was still bright, but darkening quickly. 

So the automated hallways lights hadn’t yet turned on, and he wasn’t sure he saw what he thought he saw until he got closer to his front door.

He kept walking, slowly.  His face felt warm all of a sudden, and he felt his heartbeat quicken.

The woman, the puzzle-maker from the night before, was standing by his front door.  When she spotted him looking at her, she beamed and started toward him.

When she was a few feet away, she stopped and said, “You didn’t call, so I thought I’d come to you.”

She sounded closer than she should have.  And something looked off about her.  Freddie frowned.  “I was at work.”

“Of course, it’s just…I didn’t do a good enough job of convincing you last night.  Being face to face with you now has just confirmed for me that I should been more forthcoming and clear about why I came to meet you and talk to you.  I’d like maybe fifteen minutes of your time now.  Twenty at most.  And then I’ll go.”

Freddie’s mouth took that moment to yawn.  He felt the drag on his eyelids, his shoulders.

“You’re tired,” the puzzle-maker said.  “But let me show you that it will be worthwhile for you to come talk to me, at the coffee shop just around the corner.  I’ll wait there for half an hour.  And the first thing I’ll do is explain what is just about to happen.”

Freddie blinked.  And when his eyes opened again, she was gone.  He glanced around in the hallway, walked up and down, checked the stairwells. 

It was as if she’d just vanished into thin air.


Ten minutes later, he was at the coffee shop.  He found the puzzle-maker sitting in a corner.  He ordered a coffee and went to sit with her.  She slipped a few sugar packets into the front pocket of her purse surreptitiously, as if the staff would care or stop her, and gestured to the chair across from her.

“It’s the lapel pin,” she said, stirring her small steaming cup.

Freddie looked at her blankly for a moment, but then his hand went to the collar of his jacket.  His fingers found the tiny round pin that she herself had pinned there the night before. 

“It’s a kind of pre-test,” she said, probably knowing that she had not yet clarified or explained anything by the bemused look in her eyes.  “By seeing me in that hallway, you passed.  My voice was projected from the pin as well, and directed to your ear.  Though, I wouldn’t have spoken if I hadn’t been certain you saw me.”

Freddie furrowed his brows.  “You were a hologram?”

The puzzle-maker shook her head.  “An illusion.  One that’s only visible to the rare individual.”

“What’s the difference?”

She took a sip of her coffee and stared into his eyes.  “You could tell, couldn’t you?”

Freddie recalled how she looked in the hallway and how she looked now, with the warm overhead lights of the coffee shop reflecting and bouncing off her auburn hair, giving a hint of shine to her lipstick. 

“Details and dimension,” he said.

She nodded.  “I can do better, but I wanted to see if you’d notice.”


“You have enchanted eyes,” she said, leaning toward him and gazing into his eyes.

Freddie arched a brow.  “Uh…is this a date?”

She propped her elbows on the table, folded her fingers together, and rested her chin on them.  “Not enchanting.  Enchanted.  As in, your eyes have a spell upon them.”

“Uh-huh.  That’s…okay.”

“You don’t believe me?”

Freddie raised his shoulders in a small shrug.  “There’s no such thing as a—“

“A spell is a skill that you did not develop or hone yourself.  Someone else did, and they passed it down to you.  Here’s my educated guess.  This spell is an inheritance that you’ve been unaware of receiving, and have only been making use of by instinct.  But you have no idea how to really use this fortune that you’ve been granted.”

“No offense, but this is starting to sound like a scam, or a grift.  I can save you some time.  I’m not rich.”

“Yes, you are.”

Freddie’s coffee arrived then.  He reached for a sugar, but the puzzle-maker covered the packets with her hand. 

“Where are the ones I took?” she asked.  “I’ll give them to you, if you tell me where they are.”

When Freddie told her, her eyes went wide, and he leaned back a little, afraid he’d somehow said something offensive.

“Your eye is quicker than my hand,” she said.  “Quicker than my own eye maybe.  I’m speaking here of visual perception and real-time interpretation of the most subtle details.  It’s one of the reasons you’re so good at puzzles and games.”

“So, that’s what you wanted to talk to me about?  Are you recruiting me?  For a position?”

“You must feel it, by instinct, in your subconscious, the way you knew there was something off about the illusion of me in the hallways.  You must feel that there is something off about your life—especially your job, since you mention it.  You must feel there’s something more you’re capable of, and that it’s close, right there, within reach, but you can’t quite grasp it.  Maybe it’s too close, like the proverbial thing that’s right in front of your nose.”  She demonstrated by moving her finger just below his nose so that his eyes couldn’t see it.

“Sure,” Freddie said, “but that’s lots of people.”

“I’d like to pay you to let me study you, and your eyes.”

Freddie blinked.  “That sounds creepy.”

She smiled warmly.  “Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to sacrifice one for me to dissect.  I’m just talking about you doing one of the things you do best, solving puzzles.”

“People aren’t always interested in doing the things they’re good at doing.  That’s me and puzzles.  I don’t need a mystery to solve.”

“I do,” the puzzle-maker said.

“You said that if I said, ‘no,’ you’d walk away.”

“And I meant it.  I just have a lot of faith in my powers of persuasion.”

“I don’t want to shatter your faith, but I’m not convinced, sorry.”  Freddie pushed back his chair.

“What you have is a powerful gift,” the puzzle-maker said.  “Would you at least solve one puzzle for me?”

Freddie sighed.  “Just one coffee.  Just one puzzle.”  He turned his head and looked at her sideways.  “You’re looking to chip away at me, aren’t you?”

“No, I just want to show you what you already have the ability to see.”

He removed the pin from his lapel.  He held it up.  “You can spy on me with this thing, can’t you?”

She glanced at the pin, said nothing, and glanced down at her coffee.

He set the pin on the table and slid it toward her.  “Not very persuasive.”  He rose to leave.

“If not me, then I hope you’ll go to someone at some point,” the puzzle-maker said.  “If you learn more about your eyes and what they can really do, you’ll see more than the solutions to puzzles that don’t matter to you.  Your restless eyes, when they learn where to look, will see the path of your life winding ahead of you, where now you only see fog.”

Freddie couldn’t quite hold back a frown.  He offered a polite nod before leaving her at the table.


He’d returned the pin.

But he still had her card.

And in the days that followed, when he thought about what the puzzle-maker had said, what she had known and surmised, he couldn’t help but feel curious. 

He resisted that curiosity.  And when he felt it growing, he got some help from a couple of friends.

After dinner one evening at his place, he told Malina and Demi all about the puzzling follow-up to their puzzles and games night.

“So she just said it, huh?” Malina asked.  “No preamble.  No, ‘Listen, this is going to blow your mind, but magic is real, and not only that, but you’ve been touched by it.’”

“And you’re sure she wasn’t flirting?” Demi asked.

Freddie sighed.  “Demi…”

Malina slung an arm over his shoulder.  “Frederick,” she said, “what you’ve got to ask yourself right now is this, is this the right opportunity at the right time?  A lot of what your puzzle lady said—or maybe all of it—is true.  Also, she seems genuinely curious too, which could work to your benefit.”

“You didn’t really call us over here to stop you,” Demi added.  “If you just wanted someone to stop you, you would have called your mom.”

Freddie huffed out a laugh.  “True.”

“And you wouldn’t have showed us the stuff you bought, and asked me to set it up for you ‘just in case.’”

Demi nodded.  “Right, you called us over, ironically, to help you see what you might not be able to see, if you’re too distracted by curiosity and eagerness, and whatever else is going on in that precious little head.”

Freddie had also called them over because they were in it together.  Whatever decision he made, they would have to deal with the fallout.  He thought about Malina’s words.

The right opportunity. 

At the right time.


Two days later, Freddie found himself walking through the doors of the treasure room game experience again.

“What made you change your mind?” the puzzle-maker asked, when she met him in the lobby, and directed him toward a private room.

Freddie glanced at her askance.  “You knew I would.” 

And maybe she didn’t want to push her luck, because she accepted his non-answer for the time being.

She had paperwork for him to sign, just a two-page contract for the initial testing he was going to undergo, to which Freddie added his own conditions.  For instance, he would only agree to the testing if he could have a copy of the results.  And if the parameters of the test included that day’s date.  So they couldn’t compel him to continue or return.

He had not expected the company to agree to all his conditions, and was prepared to drop it all.  Or maybe to take the puzzle-maker’s advice about seeking someone else out to get the answers to his questions.

But they did agree.

And he found himself in a plain-looking room, sitting on a decent office chair at a sturdy folding table. 

“I’ll be conducting the tests myself,” the puzzle-maker said, taking a seat across from him.  “It shouldn’t take more than an hour, unless you want longer.”

“Are there other people being tested?”

“Not today.”

“Are you conducting my tests because you’re the one I’ve been talking with?”


One of the conditions that Freddie had put in his contract, the one he thought would compel the company to refuse actually, was that he be allowed to ask whatever questions he wanted, and receive truthful answers.  They could have just agreed and then decided to lie to him anyway.  For all they knew, he didn’t have any way to check.

The puzzle-maker set a thick book down on the table and started flipping through it.

Freddie noted the steady rhythm of the artery along her neck.  And the matching rhythm of the artery on the inside of her wrist, when he caught glimpses of it.  “So, what’s in it for you?” he asked.

She glanced up at him with a dry smile.  “A paycheck.  This is my job.”

She resumed flipping through the book and didn’t say more.  Freddie wondered if she was just getting him back for his not answering her question earlier.

“Fair enough,” he said.  “Then what’s the ultimate objective?  The paperwork said if I passed the tests today, you’d teach me how to use the…skill I’ve been given.”

Still looking down at the book, she smiled again and shrugged.  “Also, a paycheck.  You’ll be given a job.  The contract will be for your services exclusive for one year.  And you can keep your day job if you’re able to balance it.  If you don’t complete the one year with us, you’ll be required to pay tuition for the education we give you.”  She glanced up again.  “So, it might actually be a good idea to keep that day job.”

It sounded like the typical deal that companies had regarding tuition reimbursement for further education. 

I just need to keep my eyes open, he thought to himself.

The puzzle-maker stopped at a page, turned the book around, and pushed it toward him.

“Let’s begin.”


The test took only half an hour at most.  And Freddie only took that long because he wanted time to continue his own examination, of the room he was in, of the tests he was being administered, and of the person administering that test. 

When they were finished, she told him two things that surprised him.  One was that she was going to take him on a tour of the facility, all the puzzle rooms and everything behind the scenes.  The second was that he would take home a copy of his results right after the tour.  She was already confident of what the results would be, otherwise she wouldn’t have decided to take him on the tour.

She started with a familiar room.

It was the treasure room where he and his friends had been less than a week prior.

When Freddie saw her pick up a small deck of cards, he felt his pulse quicken.  She handed him the deck.

He took it.  “Tarot.” 

“I caught you looking at them the other night,” she said. 

He held the little box up.  “Are there any bugs or cameras or projectors in here?”

The puzzle-maker stopped smiling and looked him in the eye.  “No surveillance tech.  Promise.  We wouldn’t have used the button to spy, by the way.  Just because we could doesn’t mean we would.”

Freddie pressed his lips together and slipped the deck into his jacket pocket.

“You didn’t take them that night,” she said.  “Why?” 

Freddie shook his head.  “I don’t know how to use them.  I just thought the art was nice.”

“It’s a commercial deck,” she said, laughing.  “But you’re right, the artwork is very cool, very pretty.”

He peered at her.  “You’ve noticed a lot about me.  So your eyes are also enchanted, I’m guessing.” 

She exhaled and folded her hands in front of herself.  “I’m not so lucky.  I’ve just developed the skill of plain old careful observation.” 

“I wouldn’t use the word ‘just.’ That’s a fairly powerful skill.  Should probably develop more of it myself.” 

“With our help, you will.”

“Just so you know,” he said, “I plan on staying skeptical.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”


As planned, Demi and Malina were waiting for him when he got home, earlier than they’d expected.  He’d even taken the time to pick up some food.

They didn’t ask him anything as they took the bags of food into the kitchen and started plating it. 

Freddie gazed at the gray fog that condensed in that one corner of the kitchen. 

He pulled the deck of tarot cards out of his pocket and held them up toward Malina.

“What is that?” she asked.

“A gift from my new prospective employer.”

“Cool gift,” Demi said.  “Also weird.”

Malina reached for them.  “Can I check them out?”

Freddie pulled his hand back.  “Uh…sure.  But wash your hands first.”  He set the deck on the counter.

“Got it,” Malina said.  She washed her hands, and then pulled a device out of her handbag.  She used the coaster-shaped device to scan the deck.

After a few minutes, she looked up at him and nodded.  “Clean.”

Freddie returned the nod.  “There’s no magical surveillance either.  But they’re definitely marked.  They can track how I use the cards.  Shuffling, spreads.  But as long as they’re not being handled, they’re inert.”

“Great, so we’re good to talk freely,” Demi said, glancing between his friends, and then behind himself, to the corner of the kitchen where the gray fog hung in the air just above the countertop.

The fog condensed further, cascaded down and formed a shape, a human shape, still gray, but sharpening into arms, a face, features.  The ghost of an older woman.  She squeezed her eyes shut, opened them, and though she had no breath, she seemed to exhale from the effort of manifesting. 

The ghost floated toward the tarot card deck and frowned.  She conjured a deck of her own, shuffled them, pulled out several cards, and fanned them out. 

Freddie read the cards.  “Yes, this is the very deck I was planning on switching out with the one I bought.  I didn’t know she was going to give them to me as a gift.”

“So I take it you weren’t able to plant our surveillance tech?” Malina asked.

Freddie shook his head and pulled a second deck from his pocket.  The one he’d bought and that Malina had equipped with a camera and microphone that was somehow flattened against the backing.  “This could work to our advantage somehow,” he said.  “She told me to just casually read up on tarot and then bring the cards back and do a reading on her.”

“What does that have to do with your eyes?” Demi asked.

Malina crossed her arms.  “Maybe she wants to test your baseline ability to pick up on subtle clues, and extrapolate on possible outcomes, and then subconsciously pick cards that display those outcomes?”

Everyone looked at her. 

The ghost shuffled her cards, and displayed a hand to Freddie. 

Freddie grinned at Malina.  “Grandma agrees with you, and she wants me to tell you that she’s impressed with your way with words.”

Being the only one who couldn’t see the ghost, Malina grinned and glanced around the kitchen.

Freddie told them about his testing and the tour.

“I took detailed notes,” he said.

Malina frowned.  “How?  I thought they took your phone.”

Freddie opened the box of the tarot deck that he had bought.  After he examined the deck the puzzle-maker gave him and seen that his movements would be tracked, he had used his own deck, rearranging the cards while they were still in his pocket, to tell a story, just as his grandmother had taught him.  Just as she had learned to do when she first manifested, and found that her grandson could see her but not hear her.

“I’ve spent half my life seeing things that other people don’t see,” Freddie said.  “Things that were strange or mysterious to other people, but obvious to me.”

He smiled at the ghost of his grandmother.  The one who had passed down her knowledge as a spell upon his eyes.  “I’ve taken it for granted that I can see, but not be seen.”

“They’ll be looking into you now,” Demi said.  “Puzzle lady will probably do it herself.”

“Told you those acting classes would come in handy,” Malina said.  “And the alias you used to take them.”

Freddie’s balance of reluctance and curiosity had been an act.  His attempt to fake not knowing that his eyes were enchanted.  An act.  His genial skepticism.  An act.  

Everyone in the room had already known about the puzzle-maker and her employers long before they set foot in the treasure room game experience.

There were those who could see the solutions to puzzles.  Those who could see the subtle colors and shapes and negative spaces of the world.  Natural talent was just a seed that might never sprout, or a seed that might grow and branch in complex ways if the person were to develop skill.  Freddie had been faking being a delicate sprout, when he was actually a young tree, with still a lot of growing to do, but already settled in solid roots.  His grandmother hadn’t lived long enough to teach him.  So her ghost had stayed behind to do it. 

In a troubled world, there were many troubling patterns.  But ever since he saw the one that seemed to guide them all, Freddie hadn’t been able to turn away his seeing eyes.  So he watched, and tried to show others what he saw.  But whatever he had been doing made no difference.  He could still see the relentless march of ruin.   

But then, he made two friends who converged upon the same road he walked from different directions.  At first, they were like puppies with a bone.  That’s what his grandmother’s ghost had called them, because she feared for them.  Because they talked about spying and blowing whistles.

Freddie was the one who held them back.  Because he was the one who could see.  He was the one who could follow the path of their actions to their inevitable doomed ends.  They were hapless fools facing a towering monster.

So when Freddie said he saw an open path, a winding path, but an open one, they started planning. 

And they entered that path when they entered that treasure room.

“I thought I would feel like celebrating when we got this far,” Freddie said.  “But this is actually just the beginning of the beginning.”

The ghost of his grandmother shuffled her spectral cards, and showed him her new hand.  “It is,” she said, “but it’s a strong beginning.” 

Freddie translated for the others.  Malina smiled a crooked smile.  Demi crossed his arms and nodded.

“She’s right,” Freddie said.  He felt his stomach flip.  And he felt the loosening in his shoulders from a burden shared.  He adjusted his glasses and smiled at his friends.  “Also, we make a good team.”

Copyright © 2022  Nila L. Patel

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