TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: Knave of Wands

Tenebrous

Adrian placed his key in the door, then paused. He left it dangling on the lock and sat down on the stoop.

He could hear them all the way down the driveway. As usual, all lights were on, and as he approached the front door, the booming sound of the TV reverberated in his ears.

Mumbled dialog with very audible expletives seeped through the kitchen window. His parents were at it again. Soon he would hear the crash of flying dinnerware against the wall and the slam of doors. Something exploded on the TV; Adrian’s parents were too busy fighting and caring only about themselves to mind what his little brothers were watching. They were not behaving either.

Adrian sighed and put his face in his hands.

“Why can’t there ever be peace?” He whispered.

At school people surrounded him, always talking, lecturing, gabbing and all vying or pleading for his attention. At home, the often cheerful jabber morphed into insults and yells and screams and blame, but it was no different. A constant yakety-yak.

Adrian sometimes wished he could press the mute button on his life and just live it in silence.

Maybe I should become a monk.

His phone vibrated and the insistent buzzing wrangled his nerves. Could they ever return to a time before noise?

The phone buzzed again. He glanced at it. Friends, more chatter, more hubbub and katzenjammer. He ignored the call.

The sun dipped into the horizon and the streetlamp at the corner switched on for the night. Adrian told himself to stand up and enter his raucous house, but he remained on the stoop.

The lights in the ramshackle house across the street also flicked on with a warm, inviting glow. Adrian frowned; he’d thought no one was home. It had felt empty to him and he didn’t see anyone arrive. His neighbors, a wizened and saddened man and his daughter who walked to school in faded clothes and scruffy sneakers, made no noise. He didn’t know her name, but he often saw her enter the middle school grounds as he drove past to his high school up the street.

Their house was always quiet, and Adrian, biting his lip, considered knocking on their door instead. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the door.

Only for a minute

He must have fallen asleep because, when he opened his eyes, he found himself deep in the folds of a dark mist. He could only see the dim beam of the neighbors’ porch-light. The clamor coming from his own house sounded far away and muffled; an eerie silence had fallen over the street. He’d been wishing for silence, but this quiet was unnerving and this was no ordinary mist. 

Something inside him, a voice, a hunch, something coaxed him to stand and follow the beam to the neighbors’ house.

He knocked on the door; the girl answered.

“I’m Adrian from across the street. I just…” He stopped at a loss for words; he hadn’t thought up an excuse.

The girl looked up at him with frightened eyes.

“Cassie,” she bleated. 

“Boy, this is strange weather, right? It’s tenebrous.”

Cassie nodded, her eyes darting this way in that.

“Are you OK?”

“The mist scares me,” she muttered, “I think he comes in it.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know, a man approached me at school. He came with the mist.”

A chill crept up Adrian’s his spine, and he glanced around trying to pierce the dense fog. He stared towards the end of the street. Shimmering in the gloom, he descried a figure in suit and hat sauntering down the road and approaching Cassie’s house.

“Right,” he took Cassie’s hand and led her inside, “you’re safe with me. I won’t hurt you.”

He closed the door. Cassie’s audible gasp confirmed he had not imagined it; he had slammed the door in the ugly, misshapen face shadowed beneath the hat. 

Adrian and Cassie stood in the hallway, his hand tight around hers, their eyes fixed on the door. The mist oozed through the gaps between the door and its frame. The knob turned and jangled. Adrian placed himself in front of Cassie; she pressed herself against his back. 

“Go away!” He yelled. 

A dog barked and growled somewhere; the sound cut through the fog and Adrian and Cassie watched in disbelief as it retreated outwards, like a vacuum sucking it all up into nothingness. 

The oppressing sensation in Adrian’s chest released, and the world returned to normal. He crept forward and peered through the peephole. No sign of the ugly man in the hat. 

He opened the door a crack; dusk had fallen in blue shadows over the street, but no hint of the weird fog. A German shepherd trotted across his sight and rounded the street corner.  

TAROT DRACONIS: Queen of Pentacles

Sparkle

Wanda leaned back in her gravity chair; her stomach churned as the backrest went down and her feet went up towards the firmament. It surprised her that, though the chair creaked from disuse, none of its powerful cords snapped and sent her crashing onto her butt.

She gazed at the starlit sky. How long had it been since she’d lounged here, bundled up against the cold and with a steaming cup of tea beside her?

One year, two months and eleven days.

The last time, Ben had stood beside her, his telescope pointing at the heavens, ready to answer all her silly questions.

Now the telescope sat buried in the garage, while Ben lay buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Tears pin pricked her eyes, and she ran her hand across her face. The tiny dots in space came back into focus. Wanda took a long, quivering breath.

Only Ben had known how to use the telescope, and now she regretted turning down his many offers to teach her.

She took a sip; the tea burned her tongue.

Wanda put on her earphones, clicked her phone and settled down to wait for her eyes to adjust to the night.

Orson Welles narrated in her ears. 

It had been a tradition between them. They sat outside in darkness and waited for the stars to show. Ben turned on his Bluetooth speaker and together they listened to old radio shows. The Shadow, The Saint and Gang Busters.

Every year, on this special night, they listened to the War of the Worlds while Ben’s telescope pointed towards Mars, waiting for the real spectacle to begin.

Today was the first of many nights she would restart the tradition, alone.

“Oh Ben,” she whispered, “I miss you.”

Wanda closed her eyes, and only half listened to the narration. Her mind torn between paying attention to a show she knew and wading in the murky waters of yesteryear, which rippled with memories of Ben.

Orson Welles faded and Wanda found herself in another night with the telescope between them, while Ben peered through it.

“Did you know that when some stars die,” Ben’s sweet voice filled her ears, “they go into supernova and that explosion causes the birth of new stars?”

Wanda smiled.

Ben continued, “One day our sun will explode and we will cease to exist. Out of its ashes, a new star will spark and keep the cycle of birth, death and rebirth spinning for eternity. When you think about it, death is only a transition.”

A sob exploded in Wanda’s chest. Then a second and a third, until tiny little supernovae thundered in her body. Tears flowed down her cheeks, and she didn’t stop nor repressed them.

Orson Welles’s transmission ended and Wanda, adrift in an ocean of muffled noise, removed her earphones. The night silence was like a breath of fresh air, its quiet permeated her skin and the exploding sobs in her heart abated.

The tears stopped, and the stars came back into focus through her wet eyelashes. Becalmed, she gazed at the sparkling heavens, enjoying it for the first time in a year. A smile crept across her lips as she recalled Ben’s voice a few moments ago. 

“It was you, wasn’t it?” She whispered to the stars, “You were here.”

A flare streaked across the sky. Then another and another. The myriad of shooting stars soon engulfed Wanda in spangles and wonder and evanescing sadness.

“Goodbye,” She whispered as a new spark kindled in her chest: Peace.

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: VIII Strength

The Stairs

Hattie glanced upwards the stairs and sighed; their steepness insurmountable to Hattie in her old age, though she conquered them every day. She clung on to the wooden railing and, hitching up her long skirt, started her ascent with a Herculean effort. Hattie could not fathom how today’s girls in their full skirts—bell-shaped by cumbersome crinoline hoops—glided up and down stairs like fairies. Much too old for current fashions, she longed for the long dresses and high waistlines of her youth. 

Up, up, up she went, taking her time, step-by-step, the wood beneath her feet creaking as loud as her old, old bones. But the steep, polished staircase did not deter Hattie. She rested when she needed and, with great patience and willpower, little by little she vanquished the stairs.

She paused halfway up, her hand tight around the railing, her heart pumping fast in her chest. 

A scuffle, a slam, a gunshot.

The door on the top landing burst open. Two men clad in mismatched three-piece suits and newsboy caps ran out. Their feet clattered on the rickety staircase as they barreled down it. Police sirens blared in the distance as the man in pin-striped slacks flung a revolver into the gloomy alley beside the building.

The rascals reached the street and ran with footsteps clanging on the concrete sidewalk. The pin-striped man rounded a corner when his partner, who donned a plaid blue cap, stopped and glanced back at the old stairs with a mystified expression.

Pin-Stripes urged him to run, “Let’s go!”

“I think I just saw her,” Plaid Cap said.

Pin-Stripes paused, bouncing on his heels, unsure whether to stay or go. 

Curiosity won, “Saw who?”

“The old lady. The one on the stairs.”

Pin-Stripes chuckled, “Nah, that’s just a ghost story. She doesn’t exist. Come on!”

A Verizon van zoomed past and splashed the sidewalk with puddle water. The two gangsters shimmered in the sunlight as murky droplets showered them, then vanished before the water hit the ground. 

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: XIV Art

Boris Karloff

Torrents of rain lashed down on the car as it rattled along the puddle-ridden and uneven wooded lane. The headlights created a narrow beam on the bald stones of the rocky road snaking through the forest, like skulls sticking out of the ground. Fat drops pelted down through the gnarls of overhanging branches, and the streaming rain caught the feeble shaft of the headlights. The water reflected the light, and Gloria imagined shooting stars streaking down from the sky. The scene would have been romantic, but for the gushing water, and Stu’s fingers wrapped so tight around the steering wheel, his knuckles were bone white. Even Gloria could see them in the gloomy deluge.

“We need shelter for the night,” Stu said.

Gloria chuckled, “That’s what they said in The Old Dark House.”

“The what?”

“Oh, it’s an old Boris Karloff movie. Motorists ask for shelter from a storm at this creepy old house. Then a crazy maniac terrorizes them.”

Stu remained silent and gave Gloria a sideways glance. He would have teased her about her love of old movies, but the road was too dangerous. Besides, at the moment they’d be lucky to come upon the Bates Motel.

 Stu slammed on the brakes, and the car skidded to a stop. The road ahead was underwater, and Stu thought his little hatch-back sedan would flood.

“What now?” Gloria asked.

“Turn around, I suppose…” Stu answered and shifted gears.

With much effort, he turned the car, and they retraced the drive. 

Gloria gasped, “A light!”

He braked. She pointed at the passenger side window, and Stu leaned over the steering wheel for a better view. Gloria was right. A dim light gleamed through the trees, and as they rolled beside it, Stu discerned a narrow driveway.

“I suppose your movie will come true,” he quipped as the car inched down the path, “did they die?”

“No, but almost…”

“Well, let’s hope for the best,” he said as they approached a cabin almost invisible in the thick woodland.

He turned off the car and, pulling his jacket on his head, ran up the front porch and knocked. Gloria switched on the interior light. He glanced around the property, bemused. He knocked again, and catching Gloria’s eye, shrugged.

Still no one answered; Stu hurried back to the car.

“No one home, I guess,” he said.

“Look!” Gloria pointed at the dim light in a window.

Through the glass, they glimpsed an old lady gazing out.

“I’ll knock,” Gloria said, “maybe she’ll open this time.”

Flinging Stu’s jacket on, she rushed to the door.

She knocked, but no answer. Three times she tried.

“Odd, I guess she’s hard of hearing or…?” Gloria said as she entered the car.

“Or she’s pretending because she doesn’t want to let us in,” Stu grumbled, “anyway let’s go.” 

He flicked the ignition; the car sputtered and revved, then died. He tried again, but the car did not start.

He heaved a dejected sigh. 

“Well, that’s that,” he said, letting down the backrest and covering himself with his sopping jacket, “nothing to do but sleep.”

He closed his eyes.

Gloria reached into the backseat and found her own jacket. She took Stu’s wet one and replaced it with a blanket she always kept and settled down for the night.

Sunlight shone through the windshield when Gloria awoke to find Stu’s face crumpled in confusion.

“What…?” Gloria’s words faded. 

They sat parked in a field, just a few yards from the smooth pavement of the highway. No trees, no house, no old lady in sight.

Stu flicked the ignition, and the car purred to life.

“At least Boris Karloff didn’t kill us,” he said as he pulled onto the paved road.

BRUEGEL TAROT: 10 of Chalices

Foreshadow

An icy draft blew through the stuffy and crowded bar as the door flew open. Snowflakes tumbled onto the floor and the patrons hushed to a pregnant silence, waiting for someone to appear. After a few moments of nothing, they returned to their lively conversations, shrugging off the occurrence as the door dragged itself shut. 

“Guess the ghost wanted in, Bill!” A man shouted and raised his glass.

Bill acknowledged the customer with a polite smile and resumed his work. However, he kept a wary eye on the doorway; he couldn’t shake the feeling that the door opening by itself was an omen. 

Bill’s Tavern was a small bar in the old part of town; its main entrance opened to a dark backstreet. A buzzing neon sign lit the way, while the dim bulb of the streetlamp flickered in and out of the existence. Most of the patrons had frequented his bar for years, and though fresh faces were always welcome, they seldom appeared.

Business dwindled as Bill’s foreboding increased. It was odd that no one had entered the place since that incident. Instead, people had trickled out, though the night was still young.

Gallows Alley was one of the oldest streets in town, and the empty lot across from Bill’s had once been the courthouse and jail, though it burned down decades ago.

The old folks said gibbets once lined the alleyway, though Bill suspected it was all baloney. Tongues wagged about strange occurrences in Gallows Alley, footsteps in the mist, long-dead criminals stalking the darkness. Hogwash, Bill always scoffed; he’d experienced nothing. 

Still, the door bursting open like that?

Time passed, and only Freddy, the local lush, remained.

Bill stole a glance at Freddy, who sat on the stool with hunched shoulders like he wanted to dive into his drink, and wondered whether to call him a cab. Bill frowned when he noticed Freddy’s drink remained untouched. He racked his memory and realized he’d only served Freddy that one drink throughout the evening. Freddy had waltzed in minutes before the door put on its creepy show.

“Freddy,” Bill said, “you okay? You haven’t touched your drink.”

Freddy glanced up from his glass and gazed at Bill through faraway eyes. It took his mind a moment to focus on Bill.

“Yeah, Bill, I just…” He hesitated, then took a breath, “I just been thinking about Miriam.”

“Miriam?”

“Yeah, did I ever tell you ‘bout her?”

Bill shook his head.

“She was my sister, and she vanished oh, sixty years ago. She was years older than me; I was only a boy. She disappeared the eve of her wedding. Snuck out in the night, took some belongings, but left her wedding dress. We never heard from her again.”

Bill sought his brain for something to say besides, “oh,” but drew a blank.

He’d known Freddy for years, but Freddy never talked of his childhood, nor had that soulful look in his eyes.

“What brought this on, Freddy?” Bill asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Freddy sighed, “but when that door flew open I swear I caught a whiff of her perfume.”

“Could’ve been anyone’s perfume,” Bill said, his cautious eye on the door.

“Nah, she disappeared decades ago and I doubt anyone would wear such an old-fashioned fragrance.”

Bill shrugged, “Vintage?”

Freddy shook his head with a half smile on his lips.

“When I was a boy, sometimes I’d stay home alone (no one thought twice about that back then) and I recall many times I heard Miriam arrive. I’d hear the key in the door, then the rustle of her coat as she hung it in the closet. Her perfume wafted up the stairs as her dainty footsteps clacked on the steps. I’d wait for her to burst into my room and, tickling me, say hello.”

“So?”

“So many times I’d wait and wait, but nothing. I’d go downstairs and find the house empty. I’d shrug my shoulders and shuffle back to my room. Later, I’d hear her arrive all over again, but for real this time. Miriam had her own little routine, and her perfume always preceded her. If I had a dime for every time… Well, it only happened with Miriam.”

Bill gazed at Freddy’s earnest face and tried to suppress the chill that crept up his spine.

“I’ve experienced nothing like that since she left, Bill,” he paused, “until tonight. That incident with the door was the preamble to her arrival.”

Freddy locked eyes with Bill, “Miriam is coming.”

THE GODDESS TAROT: II Wisdom – Sarasvati

Mind Full

“This is stupid,” Edith wriggled in her lotus position. She moved her neck from side to side and straightened her shoulders. With a deep breath, she tried to focus on the yoga instructor’s soft, lulling voice as he led the class into a meditation.

Edith wondered why she was here. Her therapist had recommended yoga for stress management and, like a fool, she had obliged. The guy next to her squirmed and the rustle of his movement sounded like nails on a chalkboard. Someone behind her cleared their throat, and that too grated at her brain.

Edith inhaled again, forcing herself to focus, but the instructor’s words meant nothing. Her never-ending to-do list occupied her thoughts. 

Darkness surrounded her through her closed eyes; someone must have turned off the lights. She hadn’t realized how much the yellow light filtering through her eyelids bothered her. Then something clicked in Edith’s brain and muted the anxious thoughts. She felt herself melt into the ground as she exhaled.

She was in utter darkness now and frightened, as she sensed her arms go limp and her shoulders droop, but the soft chanting seeped through the blackness and calmed her.

It grew louder until she distinguished the low, yet mellifluous unison of men’s voices intoning unintelligible words. The perfect harmony of their singing suggested to Edith she might be inside a temple or a church. The sound echoed inside a vault, though the yoga studio had a low ceiling.

A shudder, no, a trickle crept up her fingertips and a warm electricity coursed through her. It wasn’t a jolt, but a sense of home.

A point of light appeared in the darkness that clouded Edith’s mind. It merged with the blackness and she glimpsed a simple altar, made of rough-hewn wood and stone, unlike the one she’d seen that time in the cathedral.

The point of light expanded and revealed a procession of hooded men in front of her. They made the lovely music with their voices. Aware she walked among them, Edith peeked at the monk beside her, but his cowl draped too far over his forehead and she only glimpsed an aquiline nose.

Edith gazed at her hands, and startled when she saw the thick palms, heavy fingers, and wrinkled skin that clung onto the bone. One fingernail was black and, disgusted, Edith meant to fold the finger and hide the nail. Instead, the muscle twitched and sent a bolt through her body. The chants and the monks disappeared, and she was back in the yoga studio.

VISCONTI TAROT: XIX The Sun

Noir

The lighthouse orb carousels over the rocks, the ocean, the beach. 

It rolls through the window and casts shadows on the parlor floor, the wall, the ceiling. Embers glow in the fireplace, twinkling with the swiveling ray.

The heavy pendulum clock ticks against the wall. 

He sits in the armchair, still and silent.

Tick, tick, tick.

A merry-go-round, the beacon. 

Light, then shadow on the gaze of steel.

Embers crackle; the sputter of an automobile rolling up the drive.

Tick, tock.

The key turns in the door; the creaking mingles with the ticking clock.

And all the while the light goes around and around in the gloom.

Moonless, starless sky. 

The lighthouse sphere swirls on the placid ocean, the water like tar. Licorice fingers of lichen on the rocks. Pebbles roll with the waves upon the beach. 

Tick, tock.

A footstep in the hall. The soft tap of stiletto heels as weight rolls to the ball of the foot. 

Click, tap. Click, tap.

Keys shuffle and tinkle in the hand. She stifles them.

The ray shimmers through the sidelights and transom window and onto the walls.

Checkered shadows.

Dark house, but for the revolving beam. 

She creeps by the parlor; her silhouette large upon the wall.

She pauses, but why? 

A peek and she sees the armchair by the fire.

The embers glow red. 

The light beam wheels through the room; he has turned the chair around, she notices.

His scowl, raw. It freezes her.

The eyes glow red. 

White lightning thunders through the dusky night. 

A leaden thud; the crimson trickle on the spotless tile.

The acrid stench of gunpowder. 

Bitter the taste of revenge, but sweet the satisfaction.

Black and white the room, red the dying fire.

UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: Page of Swords

Recess

“Give it back!” Cassie yelled as Paula taunted her with the little horse trinket dangling above her head.

They caught Cassie by the girl’s bathroom, and pushed her into the corner behind the gym where the recess lady, old and frail, never looked.

Becky and Kendra held Cassie’s arms as Paula glanced at her chest and noticed the dangling bauble on its silver chain. The tiny obsidian figurine glimmered with its Fool’s Gold sheen in the sunlight, and Cassie, helpless, wriggled as Paula removed the chain from her neck. 

“You want it?” Paula said, “Come and get it!”

Paula was tall and built like a tank and Cassie knew she stood no chance against her. Cassie’s heart raced as Paula swung the necklace above her head like a throwing hammer and flung it into the bog behind the school grounds.

“No!” Cassie screamed as the necklace flew over the fence and thudded on the marshland.

Cassie’s eyes filled with tears of rage; her hand balled into a fist and, uncontrolled, it crashed into Paula’s face. Electricity coursed through her arm and guided it, as if all the bullying and rage coiled inside her exploded.

Movement behind her, and Cassie knew Becky would attack. Cassie’s eyes blurred as if someone had taken over her body. She blocked Becky’s punch and kicked Kendra with the strength and speed of a martial artist, even though Cassie had never set foot in a karate class in her life. Dad had no money for extracurricular activities.

Paula recovered and Cassie turned to see a fist driving towards her face. She flinched; Paula screamed in pain and held her bleeding knuckles against her chest. 

Everyone stood silent. Paula hadn’t touched her, so what had happened? Kendra moved to tackle Cassie and instead rammed shoulder first into an invisible barrier. She swayed and fell to the ground.

“Witch!” Becky screeched.

The girls ran off, yelling “witch!”

Cassie stood by the fence scanning the bog for Ethur, her guardian, her familiar. Tears welled up in her eyes; he’d been with her ancestors for centuries and, in one instant, she had lost him.

“Ethur!” Cassie yelled, “Ethur!”

She rattled the chain-link.

“Ether?” A husky voice whispered from behind the cedar tree by the school’s rusty fence. 

Cassie froze. A young man appeared dressed in a three-piece, pin-striped suit and fedora cocked to one side. Old-fashioned and out of place, Cassie thought he might take out his Tommy-gun like Al Capone’s gang on TV. 

Cassie trembled at the man’s face; he was ugly, with a wide mouth, crooked nose and beady eyes that twinkled with malice. 

“Who are you?” Cassie bleated. 

“Who are you?” The man replied with a reptilian smirk, “Who is Ether?”

Cassie backed away as the man stepped forward, “Come on child, if you tell me your name, I’ll tell you mine.”

Cassie shook her head. Alert, her head buzzed as if a thousand fire alarms had gone off in her brain. She gasped for air and felt faint. Silence surrounded her; recess had gone quiet. 

“Ethur…” she whispered. 

“Who is Ether?” The man cooed. 

He was at the fence now, and Cassie stepped back on quivering knees as bony fingers reached for her through the chain-link. Cassie’s back bumped against the brick wall, yet the long pale fingers kept coming. Frozen with fear, Cassie tried to scream, but no sound emerged from her parched lips.

He caressed the soft tendril of curly hair that fell on Cassie’s shoulder; she squirmed. 

A bobcat jumped down from the tree and, in mid-air, swiped at the stranger’s arm. The arm recoiled and Cassie noticed pinpricks of blood staining the cuffs of his pristine shirt. The bobcat stood between the humans and glared at the man. It hissed and snarled. 

The man glanced at Cassie and licked his lips. He vanished into the mist that Cassie only just noticed had descended on the school. 

The bobcat gazed at Cassie with impassive eyes. Its reddish coat glistened with mist dew and Cassie thought she saw its black spots gleaming with a golden luster, like Ethur’s obsidian glimmer. It climbed over the fence, landed on the ground and ran off into the bog, flinging dirt into the school grounds with its hind legs. 

The mist dissipated and the merry cries of playing children intensified. Something twinkled in the dirt the bobcat had stirred. Tears sprung to Cassie’s eyes and her heart soared with joy when she beheld Ethur shining on the muddy ground. 

Cassie picked up the necklace and draped it around her neck, cradling the tiny stone horse in her hands. It kicked and moved in her palms and Cassie felt tiny pinpricks, like teeny claws on her skin. For a fleeting instant, she glimpsed a little obsidian bobcat between her fingers, but when she opened her hands, Ethur, the horse, flicked his mane.  

The recess bell rang; Ethur froze and dangled from her neck as Cassie, rattled yet relieved, returned to class. 

Unseen in a tree, the bobcat kept a protective eye on Cassie as she entered the building.

TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: 2 of Chalices

Orpheus in Hell

Orpheus in the Underworld, Linda thought. Frank warbled and waved his arms like a malfunctioning octopus to Offenbach’s “Can-Can” booming on the stereo.

“Ignorant swine will know the ‘Infernal Galop’ when I’m through with him…” Linda mumbled through clenched teeth.

Not that Frank heard above the jovial din.

Rain pattered on the roof, and the wind drummed against the windows to the beat of the music. Linda stared at Frank; contempt raged in her eyes like the lightning zig-zagging through the storm clouds. Thunder rumbled as the pressure in her head increased, her heartbeat rose with the music’s crescendo. 

Her ears burned; Frank was at it again. He had a new girlfriend. He always blasted his music with the same piece on repeat when he cheated. Jackass hadn’t realized Linda had put two and two together long ago. Each new song meant a new girlfriend. And each tune represented a memorable feature. This new floozy, Linda seethed, was leggy.

Indignation sizzled.

While most people pictured frilly skirts and bloomers, tonight Linda imagined ten different murders, each one more violent than the last. But the bastard just wasn’t worth it. Yet, when he flaunted his clandestine relationships in her face, when he blared his music on repeat, Linda took comfort in fantasizing about a slow and torturous death.

The “Can-Can” restarted and Linda pounded on the steak with her tenderizer in time to the music, beating the anger out of herself with each thud.

“That’s such a magnificent piece!” Frank cheered as the music ended.

He noticed the thick piece of meat on the cutting board, “Steak for dinner? Nice!”

Linda forced a smile.

The rain stopped.
Frank checked his watch.

“Oh, darling, I’m sorry,” he said in his most apologetic voice, “I forgot I had an, um, an engagement tonight, an office thing. We can eat it tomorrow, right?”

His puppy dog eyes oozed imitation honey. 

He turned off the stereo, grabbed his jacket and headed out the door.

Linda washed her hands at the kitchen sink. She opened the cabinet where she kept the cleaning supplies (the best Frank repellent), grabbed the new locks she’d bought, and got her screwdriver.

Hours later, Frank cursed when his key wouldn’t open the door. The rain was beating down again and he rang the doorbell. 

No answer.

Sopping wet, he peeked through the sidelights; Linda sat on his favorite armchair, curled up with a book by the comforting fire.

The gale swirled around him. He pounded on the door.

Linda glanced up. 

Their eyes met; he motioned her to open the door.

With a satisfied smile, she turned off the lights.

Frank stood in the driving rain, soaking with bewilderment.

MINCHIATE: King of Coins

King of the Castle

Warren leaned back in his chair and belched. He patted his bulging belly and surveyed his domain. The family ate in silence and, though a dense cloud of unease hovered over the room, Warren noticed it not. 

He took a sip of his fine wine. 

Paige, his wife, was not a superb cook, unlike his mother. Bless her, Paige tried, but her meals were never up to par.

His daughter Romina took tiny bites from the bird-sized serving on her plate.Good, Warren thought, she should watch her weight before her marriage to Frederick Youngblood. He’d chosen the man for her, a man to his liking, a man in his image, successful and proud. 

Warren rolled his eyes at his eldest daughter, who was not marriageable. Spinsterhood was her destiny, with her funny-looking nose and weasel-like eyes. Odelia shoveled food into her mouth as if trying to gobble up her ugliness by the spoonful. Warren sighed; no use crying over spilled milk. She would be useful in his old age.

The life his women shaped for him every day satisfied Warren, though it gave him no pride. He wanted more, a son perhaps, or daughters who were both beautiful and smart and with the sense to marry wealthy men.

He drew the wineglass to his lips and sipped.

A knock at the door.

“No, no,” Warren said as his wife rose, “they can come back. It’s a salesman; our neighbors know better than to call on us at dinnertime.”

Paige gave a meek nod and sat down again. The girls kept their eyes on their plates. Warren had used his Caligula tone.

 A few minutes passed with no knock.

“See,” he said, “gone now.”

Warren finished his wine.

The lights flickered; the power died. A moment only. When the lights returned, a cloaked figure stood at the threshold between the dining room and the kitchen.

“Who are you?” Warren exclaimed and almost toppled over his chair as he hurried to stand.

“You know me,” the figure spoke in a tomb-like voice.

Warren stared agape at the stranger.

“I have come for one of you,” the figure said, “it’s reaping time in this house.”

Warren startled, his pulse quickened as the figure’s eyes landed on him and held his gaze. Held his fate.

Not yet!
But the figure had offered an alternative. It had said, “I have come for one of you.” 

So…

“Take Odelia!” Warren exclaimed, pointing at his eldest, “She’s homely and uninteresting. She’ll become an old maid, might as well put her out of her misery now.”

The figure glanced at Odelia, then turned back to Warren and shook its head.

“Then take Paige! She’s a bad housekeeper and in her dotage will be more trouble than she is worth.”

No.

“Take Romina! Frederick Youngblood will soon find a better wife.”

The figure shook its head a third time and pointed at Warren, whose chest constricted and his throat closed. He gasped for life, but eternal darkness closed in on him.

The figure pulled him away; he floated above the room and watched his family.
The three women observed Warren’s body struggle for its life. It shuddered with an odd rattle and then went still. 

His wife stood and collected his glass of wine. The wine only he drank; his women did not deserve it.

“Well, girls, remember what we rehearsed,” Paige smirked.

Odelia chuckled, “The king is dead!”

Romina sneered, “Long live the king.”