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OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Six of Swords

"En Plein Air" flash fiction based on OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Six of Swords

En Plein Air

Nathan painted the last strokes onto the canvas and gathered his things. He glanced at the glimmering mansion ahead, then back at his canvas and nodded, satisfied that his painting looked like the original. Though there was still plenty of light before sunset, sweat beads rolled down Nathan’s forehead, stinging his eyes, and his wet shirt stuck to his back. He could no longer stand the heat, and even the cicadas buzzed in anger at the shining sun. 

While Nathan finished packing his easel and paints, two hunters carrying duck carcasses emerged from the forest path leading to the lake. Spotting Nathan, they waved.

Nathan smiled, and waving, called, “Good hunt?”

“Oh yes,” the hunters answered and, gesturing towards the mansion, invited Nathan to join them for dinner.

Nathan paused for a moment, considering the invitation. He glanced up at the sky and noticed the sun was nearing the horizon. Although curious to enter the mansion, he was new to the area and feared getting lost in the darkness. The hunters waved goodbye, and Nathan watched them disappear under the tree-lined mansion entrance.

Nathan reached town just as the sun was setting. He found an unoccupied table in the local tavern and settled down to a filling dinner. When the waitress brought his beer, she noticed the canvas on the opposite chair.

“That’s a wonderful likeness,” the waitress remarked, pointing to it.

Nathan thanked her, mentioning he had spent the day painting it from life.

Smiling, the waitress turned to leave him when Nathan asked, “Who lives there? In the mansion?”

“It’s abandoned,” she replied, “no one has lived there for centuries.”  

“But two hunters invited me to dine with them this evening, and I watched them enter the mansion,” Nathan remarked, confused. 

The waitress’ demeanor changed; her sunny smile dropped, and concern shaded her eyes. 

“You saw them? The hunters asked you to dinner?”

“Yes, two men, duck hunting.”

“Did you dine with them?”

“No, I declined.”

“Good,” the waitress breathed a sigh of relief.

“Why?”

She glanced towards the bar, then leaned closer and said, “People say those duck hunters are the Devil, and if you accept the invitation, you lose your soul.”

Bewildered, Nathan glanced at his painting; the tavern’s dim lighting cast an eerie shadow upon it.

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UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: Queen of Cups

"Sandcastle" is Flash Fiction story based on UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: Queen of Cups

Sandcastle

She sits on the beach. Seagulls caw as they swoop over the lapping waves, snatching clams and dropping them on the nearby rocks. The ocean roars and floods the beach, then rattles the coarse sand and scattered pebbles as the wave rolls away. The salty breeze plays with her hair and stings her eyes. The sun kisses her cheeks, but she feels no warmth.

A child has abandoned a sandcastle and the rising tide caresses the bucket-shaped tower, nibbling morsels off with each ebb and flood. The wind blows cool and a dark cloud creeps across the sky. 

She watches the sandcastle crumbling with every wave. The icy water now strokes her naked toes. The gusting wind tumbles the rasping sand; it sticks to her shivering skin, but she feels no cold. 

The wind howls and thunder rumbles as the dark cloud slithers across the sun. Shadows form on the water, and the sandcastle vanishes into the roaring ocean. Even the cawing seagulls have vanished, seeking shelter from the raging wind.

“Everyone vanishes,” she whispers, and fat tears roll down her cheeks.

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MINCHIATE: 2 of Cups

"Emptiness" is a Flash Fiction story based on MINCHIATE: 2 of Cups

Emptiness

The empty wine glass across the table blurred as tears filled Anne’s eyes and overflowed. She wiped her cheeks with the tips of her fingers and stifled a sob. The thick aroma of the hours spent cooking their anniversary dinner hovered in a dense cloud over the dining room.

Anne stared at that empty wine glass and plate while tears fogged her vision. She sat in the soft candlelight, dressed in her best evening gown and adorned with her finest jewelry as the minutes ticked on the cuckoo clock hanging on the wall. The cuckoo had chimed while she set the table with their best china and silver utensils. It had trilled when she turned off the oven, hoping he would arrive soon.

The cuckoo peered out and announced yet another hour. Anne sat at the table, wine settling uneasily in her empty stomach and stirring the nagging suspicion he would not arrive. Anne wiped the tears that kept flowing like salty rivers down her cheeks. She could not stop them. She recalled their first meeting, his proposal, their wedding and their honeymoon, and still the wine glass across the table remained empty, while tears filled the one in her hand.

Wild sobs shook her when the cuckoo poked its head out one more time and chimed the hour to an empty house. Because the house was empty; it was devoid of love and affection, and though Anne sat at their dining table in body, her mind and spirit had left the house long ago.

Those wild sobs stopped, but the tears kept flowing, and as they rolled down her cheeks, they flushed out the love and respect she had for him until they emptied her of any affection towards the man she had once agreed to stay with “until death do us part”.

The cuckoo clock was chiming when he stumbled into the house. He shuffled up the stairs and collapsed on the bed; the pale light of the waning night streaked through the window blinds. In his drunken stupor, he reached out to touch the warm, faithful body of the woman who had sworn “to have and to hold” him but felt only the cold sheets.

Bleary-eyed, he fumbled on the nightstand and switched on the bedside lamp.

The empty closet glared at him in the yellow electric light with its wide-open doors showcasing the gaping hole of all he had lost; the lingering emptiness of all he let slip away.

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BRUEGEL TAROT: 7 of Wands

"A New World" is a Flash Fiction story based on BRUEGEL TAROT: 7 of Wands

A New World

Miss Ann Thrope rushed into her house and bolted the front door. She slid down against the door and sat on the floor. Pulling her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them, she buried her face in her limber legs, weeping.

So much noise in the outside world! 

In search of her old friend Armistice, she had walked to the street corner—once flanked by a deep forest—that had led towards the town center. It was now a busy intersection with four-way stoplights. The cars zooming past her at breakneck speed frightened her as memories of the automobile accident that had crippled her for life rushed through her agitated brain. Fear crept over her and she ran back inside the safety of her house, that mausoleum that had buried her for a century, and still bore the musty odor of time standing still.

Miss Ann Thrope felt the thinness of her new body, its agility and flexibility, and wondered what the Angel that had returned her youth to her would think of her fear. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and contemplated its youthful smoothness. The pearl-white fingers, long and slender, moved as if on their own.

“No,” she said, “If the world won’t let me out, I will let the world in.”

She sprung up with the lightness of the twenty-year-old body she now inhabited and sped through the house, opening all the windows. Many were stuck, but with the willpower and superhuman strength of a young girl, she pried them open. The fragrance of her mother’s roses wafted in and permeated the musty walls with their sweet aroma. A soft breeze blew through the rooms and swirled the dust devils as they danced in the sunlight. The outside world oozed through the first floor of the house, and soon filled it with the sound of passing cars, merry children, and barking dogs.

Miss Ann Thrope sat down on a wooden chair; she would throw out the old high-backed chair that had been her home and her prison these many years. She sat with hands folded on her lap until she became accustomed to the noisy world beyond her windows and her fear subsided.

With a deep breath, she stood up and on her way to the door, caught sight of her reflection in her grandmother’s ancient and tarnished hall mirror; her heart fell with a thud. A youthful body peered out from oversized old-lady clothes. Unflattering and shabby, her secondhand slacks and shirt made her look frumpy. Her hair was still in its long braid, though now a vibrant and shiny black instead of a wispy white. The brown shirt muted the radiance of her youthful skin and she looked like a washed-out banshee. Before the accident, she would never have worn brown. Disgusted, she tore at the clothes and stopped short of removing them.

Miss Ann Thrope stood at the foot of the stairs, gazing upward. Confined to the main level of her house for decades, she placed her foot on the first step. Rolling her weight onto it and feeling no pain, she put her other foot on the second step. Laughing, Miss Ann Thrope climbed to the top, then skipped down the stairs and ran back up them. At the top, checking the sturdiness of the banister, she placed her bum on it, and slid down yelling “wee!” all the way to the bottom landing.

Giggling like a child, she repeated the game several times before entering the darkened upstairs. Shuttered for decades, the second floor of the house was dusty and smelled of loneliness.

Miss Ann Thrope opened the bedroom doors, and once again forced the stubborn windows. It seemed Death did not want to give up its hold on this house, but in the end, Life defeated the musty silence and gusted through the open windows.

Miss Ann Thrope contemplated each room. She ran her hand over the furniture left untouched for eons and gazed at the knickknacks and pictures she had forgotten long ago.

When she opened the door to her old bedroom—her sanctuary—she gasped as the light hit it. It had remained as she had left it on that fateful day when the horrible car crash had forced her into the small parlor her parents had equipped as her sick room for the rest of her life.

Miss Ann Thrope ran her fingertips over the flowered bedspread as she walked to the old armoire. She flung open its doors and gasped with delight while happy tears sprung to her eyes. Her dresses, her beautiful dresses, still hung there in perfect condition; their bright colors radiant in the dusty sunshine.

Miss Ann Thrope placed a purple silk gown against her slender body. Yes, now she was ready for the new world.

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GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: Knight of Pentacles + Ace of Wands

"Blow Out" is a Flash Fiction story based on GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: Knight of Pentacles + Ace of Wands

Blow Out

Nancy heard the tire’s loud pop. The car skidded for a moment, then Nancy guided the thud-thud-thudding car to the roadside. She climbed out and heaved a heavy and worried sigh; the tire was beyond repair.

The lonely road stretched ahead for who-knew-how-many miles and an endless prairie surrounded her. The solitude and silence struck her like a punch in the gut, and she noticed the aloneness of her life. But Nancy was not lonely; she enjoyed the time by herself. Traveling to the big city for a crowded library convention, she knew no one that would drop everything and drive for hours to her aid.  

Nancy pulled out her cell phone and dialed the number on her AAA card. No dial tone; she squinted at the screen as the heavy sunlight darkened it. There was no signal.

“Oh, boy,” Nancy mumbled, and opened the trunk.

She tried to recall her father’s instructions for changing tires; he died thirty years ago. Closing her eyes, she pictured her father kneeling beside their old brown-and-white station wagon, but the memory was too foggy and imprecise. She tried to follow his movements through the hazy memory, and only remembered the long scar that ran down the length of his forearm. His blurred face pricked Nancy’s chest; at least the memory of his arm and the scar that marred it was crystal clear, albeit useless at the moment. She then focused on his voice, and though she recalled its pitch and cadence, his words and instructions came back jumbled and incoherent.

Nancy shook her head, then rummaged between her knickknacks and suitcase for the tire changing kit. Blanching, she realized she had no jack. Nancy placed her face in her hands and let out a quiet, despairing sob. 

“Help me please, Dad,” she prayed.

Tears threatened to roll down her cheeks, but she pushed them back and wiped her eyes with the tips of her fingers. With a little shake, she squared her shoulders and grabbed a bottle of water from the trunk. She closed it and resolved to walk until she found help.

“Need help?” A voice said behind her; Nancy jumped.

A young clean-cut man in a plain white t-shirt and jeans with rolled-up cuffs revealing Converse sneakers stood behind her.

“I’m sorry,” Nancy stammered, “I didn’t hear you approach.”

The young man smiled, “That tire’s blown, would you like help in changing it?”

“Yes, please,” Nancy replied, “I would’ve done it myself, but I just realized I have no equipment.”

“No worries, I’ll do it.”

The young man kneeled and placed the jack he carried under Nancy’s car.

Nancy’s eyes widened when she saw the long scar running down the young man’s forearm as he pumped the jack. Tears stung the back of her eyes. She was about to mention the scar, but the young man had finished changing the tire and was wiping his hands on a handkerchief.

“All set,” he smiled, “good luck and have a nice day.”

Flabbergasted, Nancy stammered out a thank-you, as the young man climbed in his car and drove away. Nancy watched until the young man’s brown-and-white station wagon vanished in a flash of sunlight.

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OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Three of Batons

"Ulf" Flash Fiction based on OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Three of Batons

Ulf

The old windmill creaked. A thin gauze of mist slithered over the ground. The full moon cast its silvery light upon it, and it looked like a very long will-o’-the-wisp.

Ulf pulled his cloak tight around him and shivered in the icy breeze. He gazed at the old windmill lit by moon-rays, and though decrepit, it would afford shelter for the night. With heavy and determined steps, he traipsed towards it. Tomorrow, he would find his way home.

Nothing stirred in the old windmill, save for its creaking and shuddering blade in the soft, glacial breeze. 

Ulf cursed himself for losing his way in the well-known woods. It seemed the trees kept shifting, drawing him further into the deep forest until a sliver of crimson sunlight peeking through the dense canopy announced eventide. Night had fallen when Ulf reached the spooky glade with the long-forgotten windmill.

Ulf settled himself against the sturdiest wall and pulled his hood below his eyes, he draped his woolen cloak around his knees and bowed his head, hoping to sleep. A shaft of moonlight illuminated him as a pair of unseen red eyes glared at him from the darkness.

Exhausted and hungry, Ulf soon fell asleep, wishing he were in his soft, warm bed with Bear, his placid sheepdog, sleeping beside him.

A gelid wind billowed the white curtains, and Ulf shivered beneath the covers. Bear snorted, and Ulf felt his warm breath on his face, and the wet lick of Bear’s tongue on the tip of his nose. He nuzzled against Bear as the cold seeped into Ulf’s bones. He needed to shut the window, and upon opening his eyes, thought how strange it was that Bear looked like a wolf. Stiff from the cold, Ulf willed himself to move, but his body did not respond. Then, his arm twitched, and the wolf-like Bear, dug his sharp fangs into his forearm.

Ulf jerked awake from the searing pain. Moonbeams fell like jagged claw-marks on the rotting floor. Gasping, Ulf scanned the darkness until he recalled the old windmill. His heart thudded in his chest and pain stung his forearm.

A low snarl in the far corner caught his attention, and he glared at it, trying to pierce the blackness. Two red spots flared in the gloom, and white fangs flashed in the cold moonlight before vanishing.

The darkness faded, and the soft, white light of dawn oozed through the cracked wooden walls. Ulf glanced down at his stinging arm; thick vermillion blood trickled from it. The cold haze of early dawn glistened on the fanged bite marks that had gashed Ulf’s flesh.

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ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: Ace of Wands

"Fireflies" Flash Fiction based on ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: Ace of Wands

Fireflies

The fire crackled in the hearth as the blue light of dusk seeped through the French doors. It bounced and glinted off the silver and gold ornaments that decorated the room. The firelight cast happy shadows that flickered on the walls.

The world faded into nightfall as Elmer stood on the balcony with a glass of brandy in his hand. He wiped a tear from his eye and gave the room a quick glance before turning back towards the encroaching forest that swallowed up the once-manicured gardens.

Uncle Raymond had let the gardens fall into disrepair, now overgrown with weeds and bramble and wildflowers. The house, in contrast with the garden, was in excellent shape. Uncle Raymond had loved this house and nurtured it. Yes, that was the word, he nurtured it.

Now the house was his, but who cared? Elmer thought. He would rather spend one more day talking to the man who raised him and loved him than owning these possessions. Yet Uncle Raymond lay underground in a fresh grave on the family plot.

Long ago, Elmer could see the jagged graves of his ancestors from this very window. No more, his forefathers now slept in the forest’s belly.

The fire sputtered, and the evening star awoke in the indigo sky. Elmer leaned against the railing and sipped his brandy. He recalled a frequent conversation they often had since the autumn of Uncle Raymond’s life.

“The ancient spirits of the world play in the woods,” Uncle Raymond said.

Elmer wondered if Uncle Raymond’s old mind was playing tricks on him. Was the end beginning? Had he reached life’s apex and now began the steep decline?

“I see them at night,” Uncle Raymond’s wistful gaze hovered over the forest, “They pinprick the darkness with their lanterns.”

“Fireflies,” Elmer said.

The old man said nothing.

Often they revisited the conversation, and the old man would lapse into silence whenever Elmer pointed out the most logical explanation: fireflies. Elmer wondered what might have been if he had played along with Uncle Raymond’s fantasies.

“Too late for that now,” Elmer muttered.

A soft breeze rustled in the trees. The first specks of light appeared in the gloaming.

“See, Uncle Raymond, fireflies,” Elmer whispered.

But the silver and gold lights multiplied and spread over the land until Elmer thought a sea of stars was flooding the forest.

The wind blew and his ear caught strange voices speaking in a language far more ancient than any human tongue. The voices laughed and giggled and then broke into song. The sparkling lights condensed and expanded, flowing in an intricate dance, which first resembled the flicker of flames, morphed into the flow of ocean waves, then blended into the gusting wind on the mountaintop, and at last, it slithered like snakes on the earth. 

Elmer watched the sparkles weave these strange and shimmering patterns to the old and beautiful music he heard as the wind ruffled his hair. It whispered the secrets of the world.

Elmer smiled and raised his brandy glass to the sky.

“Cheers, Uncle Raymond,” he said.

“Cheers,” the wind echoed. 

He drank the last gulp of brandy and stepped inside, closing the balcony door behind him.

Better not intrude on the ancient spirits of the world.

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GOLDEN TAROT OF THE RENAISSANCE: Queen of Swords

"Phantasmagoria" - Flash Fiction based on GOLDEN TAROT OF THE RENAISSANCE: Queen of Swords

Phantasmagoria

Millie stared at the blue-and-black speckled ceiling. Moonlight shone through the branches scratching the window and its shadows draped a phantasmal leopard skin over the ceiling.

In the still darkness, the prior day’s euphoria settled and a calm self-reflection washed over her. 

He had asked her to marry him. Ecstatic, and amid the amused gazes of the restaurant patrons, Millie had accepted. Yet, now, in the tranquility of her bed and the silent, silver moon-glow, vacillation wormed over her and tainted her enthusiasm. 

Why should she feel this way? Millie wondered, was she happy?

The question oozed into the room and loomed over the bed as Millie’s eyelids drooped and the mottled ceiling shadows melded into pitch blackness.

An eerie silence fell over Millie; she stood among gravestones. Millie tried to read the inscriptions, but the letters appeared faded and jumbled. 

A red moon spilled its bloody light over one grave. Millie approached it on heavy feet that sliced through the lavender mist slithering over the ground. The grave intrigued her; a figure sat beside it. As she stepped into the crimson moonlight, the figure glanced up, and Millie smiled.

Her dear, beloved brother, who had left her side long ago, stood beside the grave. He visited her often in dreams, and the sight of his eternal child’s face always lightened her heart and eased the sorrow she had borne for years. This time, Millie’s countenance fell when she noticed the scarlet shadows crawling across Maurice’s somber face.

“Do you love him?” Maurice asked in a hollow voice.

She gave him a slight nod. Thunder rumbled in the distance.

“Do you love him?” He asked again.

Millie nodded, and opened her mouth to speak, but lightning flashed across the sky and thunder clapped so loud it shook the graves.

“Do you love him?” Maurice pierced her with his spirit eyes.

The thunder roared, and the sky opened its belly and rained hot bloody sparks that seared open her chest. 

Millie gasped and opened her tear-filled eyes; fat salty drops spilled down her cheeks. She panted and sobbed as the truth that had lain dormant burst into the spectral room and overwhelmed her.

No, she did not love him.

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UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: Ace of Pentacles 

Better Late... is a flash fiction story based on the Ace of Pentacles card of the Universal Waite Tarot.

Better Late…

“I’m late, late, late!” Daphne zigzagged through the house in a frantic search for her keys. 

Ever running late, she resolved to change when her date, whom she had hoped would soon be her boyfriend, ended their budding relationship because of her constant tardiness. He was not the first to complain, and after a teary-eyed foray into a tub of ice cream and a revealing moment of self-reflection, Daphne determined to become Miss Punctuality. A brighter, punctual future lay ahead. No more embarrassing excuses, no more exasperated stares; witness the dawn of a new Daphne.

Then came Wednesday morning. Her keys seemed to have grown legs overnight and hidden in the deepest, darkest cranny. Not finding them, she zoomed through every room, upending cushions, opening drawers and moving chairs, to no avail.

“I’m late,” she panted, “why, why, why? Why today, of all days?”

The boss had called an early morning staff meeting to announce important changes to the department, and a sense of impeding doom had settled over her colleagues; they rumored layoffs. The boss was never late, never ever. How he managed such precise and constant punctuality, no one knew. Though he and Daphne drove the same route, she always got caught behind a garbage truck, or at a malfunctioning stoplight, causing her considerable delay.

Daphne let out a delighted shriek. Underneath the refrigerator, she sighted a glint of metal. She shone a flashlight at it and the fugitive keys winked at her. Running upstairs, Daphne snatched a hanger from the closet, and used the hook to pull out the keys. She grabbed them, glanced at the microwave clock, and, muttering, “I’m late, I’m late,” ran out the door.

Sitting in traffic, she blew out several exasperated sighs. As the cars inched forward, she glimpsed flashing police lights ahead.

“Oh, boy, I hope everyone’s OK,” she muttered as she crawled towards the accident.

Daphne’s eyes widened when she saw the overturned and mangled car. Her mouth dropped, and she stared agape as the paramedics loaded a zipped-up body bag into the silent ambulance.

As the traffic jam loosened past the accident, it occurred to her that, had she been on time, she might have been driving on this stretch of road when it happened.

“Hoo boy,” she breathed, “it could’ve been me!”

Somber and somewhat downcast, she hurried toward the meeting room, hoping to sidle into the ongoing meeting without too much interruption. Instead, her colleagues were chatting amongst themselves.

“What’s going on?” She asked Hannah.

“Boss isn’t here yet, he’s late,” she answered, “did you hear about the accident?”

“I saw the body bag taken away,” Daphne replied.

“Rob was just saying it sure looked like the boss’ car,” Hannah commented with wide, portentous eyes.

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GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: Knight of Swords

Homeward

Homeward

He bows his head against the howling wind and pulls his collar up around his ears. Thunder rumbles overhead, reminiscent of the booming cannons. He wills himself to stay in the moment, as fat raindrops fall. He wipes his weary eyes and fixes his gaze on the road ahead.

The house appears out of the stormy gloom; a light shines in the window. He smiles with relief. He approaches and sees her beautiful silhouette. His lips quiver with the happiness and relief of home. He has cherished her image these long years of battle, and relishes in the prospect of her loving arms around him.

Thunder cracks, and a spark of light flashes before his eyes. 

A pang of sharp pain snakes through his body. He feels woozy, and he falls with a hard thud on the stoop. 

He blinks as the stinging rain pelts his eyes. 

A man looms over him in the dim light.

A revolver points at his head. 

His eyes widen one last time. 

She pulls the trigger.