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BRUEGEL TAROT: Knight of Pentacles

The Puppeteer

The puppeteer wheeled his rickety cart onto the town green. 

“Come one, come all!” He yelled in a heavy Italian accent, “The Great Rigattini will tell a tale of love and courage!”

Children gathered around and sat on the grass; the grownups stood in a circle behind them. 

“The Great Rigattini will present the characters!” 

“Rigattini! That’s pasta!” A boy yelled, and the crowd laughed. 

The puppeteer’s cold smile showed through his heavy handlebar mustache and gave his face a devilish smirk. 

I didn’t laugh; I knew the heckler, and I didn’t like him. He always mocked my little brother, who was born a simpleton. Willy scooched closer to me and his plump, fluffy body, like a stuffed toy, warmed me. Willy didn’t like the heckler either. I put my arm around him and turned my attention to the puppeteer. 

He opened two small doors in his cart and revealed a stage; the background painted with bright stars over a mountain landscape. 

“The story takes place at night, as our hero, Marcello, traverses the mountain,” he pulled out a beautiful marionette clad in red armor with leather boots. It was a true marionette of the Old World, like the ones my grandfather once crafted. I turned to Willy and smiled. 

The puppet show continued, and at every instant possible, the heckler yelled out abuse and mockery. At first, some in the crowd laughed, but soon, the jokes went too far, and the crowd murmured uncomfortable. The puppeteer persevered; he was an excellent puppet master and the marionettes, all exquisite, moved with such ease it was easy to forget they were on strings. 

Willy leaned against me with his head on my shoulder. He laughed, oohed and aahed at the right moments, enjoying the show. Only the heckler seemed determined on ruining it for everyone. I glanced at him and his ridiculous smirk. He always ruined everything for everyone. 

Despite the mockery, the puppeteer drew us into the story. The crowd burst into raucous applause when the show ended. People approached him and put coins into a hat by the cart. With each clink, the puppeteer smiled with a grateful crinkle in his eyes, and bowed. The crowd dispersed. Hand in hand, we sidled up to the puppeteer as he put the marionettes away. 

Grazie,” I said and dropped money into the hat, “I loved the show.”

The puppeteer beamed, and the curly ends of the mustache almost reached his eyes. 

“You speak Italian?”

I shook my head, “only a little.”

“My nonno made them,” Willy spoke in his soft lisp.

“Did he?” The puppeteer’s warm gaze fixed on Willy’s dull eyes. 

Willy nodded. 

“He came from the Old World. He had a workshop there.” I explained. 

“Ah, then perhaps I should deliver this to you,” the puppeteer said and reached into his cart. He pulled out a stunning marionette of a young prince, hand-carved and hand-painted, its clothing so intricate only the best seamstress could have stitched it. He handed it to Willy. 

“Oh, Mister, we can’t…” I was mumbling an excuse when I noticed the engraving on the marionette’s foot. Nonno’s initials and insignia!

“Perhaps one day this marionette will bring you all the good luck and fortune it has brought me,” the puppeteer said, “it’s yours, take it.”

As he locked away his cart, I heard running footsteps behind me. I turned just as the heckler pushed me to the ground, kicked me, then ran away. Willy looked about to cry and clutched the marionette to his chest. 

The puppeteer raised a hand, fingers in a claw, as if he’d tied the strings of a marionette to the tips, and stared at the heckler as he ran. His face drawn and gaze intent, he twirled his fingers and twitched his wrist. The heckler hovered off the ground, his feet still moving, and fell hard on his backside. He screamed and cried, but no one minded him. The puppeteer flicked his wrist and turned his gaze. His features relaxed and their warmth returned. He offered me his hand and helped me stand. 

Si,” he smiled, “this marionette brought me many good things.” 

He winked and wheeled his cart away.

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GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: 7 of Swords

Cassiopeia

“Did you see the rags she’s wearing?” A soft female voice rang through the girl’s bathroom. 

“I know!” Another answered; vicious giggles. 

Cassie stood hunched on the toilet seat. She’d hid in the stall the moment she’d heard the bathroom door open. The girls gossiped and giggled; tears ran down Cassie’s cheek. They were talking about her. The details fit: her second-hand rumpled clothing and the pathetic state of her shoes. 

“I mean, you’d think she would try harder,” the cruel voice ran a dagger through her heart. 

“Ugh, even her name is stupid: Cassiopeia. More like Cassiopig!” The laughter thundered through the bathroom. 

Cassie stifled a sob. It hurt her deep because it was all true. Though she tried, it wasn’t her fault her curly hair stood up in a halo around her head and always looked windswept. Not even Mom had gotten it to behave. Dad did the best he could with his limp and minimum-wage job. He took extra shifts just so they could have a decent meal once a week, not the cheap ramen stuff.

Cassie closed her eyes and pictured her mother’s face, fearful she would one day forget it. She wished with all her might she were somewhere else, away from the school, the town and these people.

Cassie sniffed, John Carter wished himself on Mars, so why can’t I?
The sounds of the school faded. When the trill of birds filled her ears, Cassie, heart thumping in her chest, opened her eyes. 

Soft grass tickled her back and neck as bright sunshine warmed her skin. Cassie sat up and gazed around her. She smiled as she recognized the place. She and Mom used to hike this meadow with its dilapidated church and ancient graveyard where Cassie and Dad had spread Mom’s ashes under the cover of night. Mom had said they’d buried her ancestors there, but the headstones were so weather-beaten most of the names had faded back into the rock.

“All but one,” she’d said, “your great-great-great grandma Cassandra. They hanged her as a witch and buried her in an unmarked grave somewhere in the meadow, not on hallowed ground.”

Cassie beamed at the memory of her mother’s voice; she could almost hear it in the soft breeze blowing from the cemetery. 

“Legend says she jumped from place to place. She would disappear and presto, appear somewhere else.” 

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VISCONTI TAROT: IV The Emperor, XVI The Tower

The Hacienda

The humid heat blasted me as I opened the car door. It was intense, despite the overcast sky and the mild breeze. There was a dense muffled silence, and I wondered if it would storm tonight. 

The hotel receptionist greeted us with a smile. I gazed around the small reception with its plastered stone walls, modest provincial furniture, low ceilings and unmistakable scent of mildew drifting down from the wooden rafters. The old hacienda, now the best hotel in the region, offered thermal-spring swimming pools, temazcales and water sports on the blue-green lake.

The receptionist explained a little about the hacienda’s history as he checked our reservation. A Spanish noble built it in the sixteenth century and had been the head of a network of mining haciendas nearby. 

“The family lived here,” the receptionist said, “one night, lightning struck the main building, and it succumbed to fire. After a century of abandon, new owners built this space which comprises the lobby, the offices and the dining room. They never rebuilt the ruins and lived here until the family died out. Afterwards, it passed from owner to owner until the current one converted it into this hotel.”

I felt his gaze on me, yet, though I listened, I could not take my eyes off the portrait above the dining room entrance. A man, gray-haired, stern and ruthless stared at me through steel-colored eyes that pierced the ancient canvas and stabbed my heart. Chills crept up my spine. I had the scary sensation I’d seen him somewhere. 

Señora, that is the hacendado, Don Pedro Maldonado de Alarcón. He lived here with his daughter when the hacienda caught fire.”

I turned to the receptionist and caught a mischievous glint in his eyes, as if he wanted to continue, but waited for me to respond. 

“Oh, yeah?” I said, nonchalant; my gaze drawn back to that portrait. 

“What happened to him?” My husband Frank asked, falling straight into the honey trap. 

“No one knows,” the receptionist narrowed his eyes, “they think he perished in the fire, but they never found his remains.”

“Wow,” Frank was hooked. I too enjoyed a good story, but this time, I felt I already knew it. 

“Yes, the legend says he caught his daughter eloping with the capataz—how you say—foreman. They say he killed them, then the lightning struck, and the fire broke out. People say it was God’s punishment. Her portrait hangs in the dining room. You should see it.” He grinned at me, as if hinting something. 

“Shall we go to our room?” I said, a blank smile on my face. 

“You are in the Doña Pilar suite, go through that door and follow the well-marked paths. I will send the bell boy with your luggage.”

We smiled and walked out into the sultry air of the cobblestone courtyard. 

I gasped. 

“What is it?” Frank asked. 

“I’ve been here before,” I whispered, “in dreams, you know which ones.”

“Where you are trying to escape and you run down paths and courtyards?”

“Yes! And I’m running towards someone, I want to warn them, but, someone’s hunting me.”

“Damn.”

The cool breeze ululated like a crying woman through the tall, moss-laden trees of the dusky hacienda. I hugged myself while Frank glanced at the key and turned towards a path. The breeze enticed me to follow the path that led to the small stream. Up ahead I glimpsed a wall, both a dam and a narrow bridge. The gurgling stream sounded like running feet. 

Thunder cracked like gunshots. In the milky light, I saw a man and a woman shot down as they hurried across the bridge. The old man in the painting stood beside me, the musket still smoking in his arms. The bodies drifted down the stream, silky red water flowing behind them. Lightning flashed as they passed me, her in a heavy purple dress and corset, him in breeches, boots and shirt. I gazed into the woman’s face. My heart jolted; she looked like me!
I glanced away. The old man was gone. Though I heard the faint cry of “fuego!”, nothing was amiss. 

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TAROT DRACONIS: Ace of Swords

Journey

He awoke on a barren landscape, cold and charred, where the wind howled like ghosts in the night. Johnny gazed at the twilit sky and chills ran up his spine as the icy wind licked his arms. He reached for The Book, the blank book that showed him things, but his fingers found nothing. 

Johnny sat up with a start. He glanced around, but The Book was gone. The pouch of magic stones—Runes—was empty, the tiny stones scattered around him. He snatched them up and counted them as he put them back in the pouch. Johnny scowled, took the stones out again and repeated the procedure. One was missing. 

Which one? He spread them out one by one on the barren dirt. Johnny sighed. It was the one that resembled the letter R. Alondra said it meant Journey; the first time he’d touched it his bedroom had disappeared in a flash of light. 

“Alondra!” He yelled, but only the wind echoed his cry. For the first time, Johnny felt lonely. He was cold too, and glanced around for his jacket, but it was also missing.

Alondra had been teaching him the power of The Runes when lightning struck. He’d held Journey in one hand, The Book in the other and had dropped both when the strike startled him. 

Where was he? And Alondra? Was she all right? He recalled how she’d first appeared in the pages of The Book as an illustration. But then the picture had moved and Johnny had watched her dragged to the stake. The Rune of Journey had jumped out of the pouch and whisked him into the chanting crowd as the executioners lit the pyre. She’d come with him, and, in her strange English, explained about The Runes and the magic her mother had taught her. 

Johnny put the remaining Runes back in the pouch, cupped it in both hands, and asked them to guide him. He glanced up at the sky and his face fell. Two bright moons lit up the night.

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GOLDEN TAROT: Nine of Wands

The Night Watch

The night constable walked through the empty streets; his footfalls clacked on the cobble as he approached the cemetery. People said cemeteries were places of silence and tranquility, but he disagreed. The cemetery at night was as noisy as any city in the daytime. Owls hooted in the trees, crickets chirped and, if one paid attention, one could hear the soft scurrying sounds of rodents among the graves. To the constable, cemeteries were full of life; he often rested on the bench beside the wrought-iron gates flanked by stone angels. 

People asked if it didn’t scare him, but, in his thirty years of treading the vicinity, he’d witnessed nothing odd. Nothing spooked him, not even the mist which sometimes hovered over the graves and cast an eerie atmosphere. 

“What would the dead want with me?” He said, “Most people were good in life, why should they bother me?”

With a tired groan and a stiff back, the night constable sat on his bench, arms spread out along the backrest, and gazed skyward. The moon shone bright, and the stars twinkled. He even recognized a planet, though he was unsure which. He loved watching the stars from this spot and contemplated the Northern Cross bright above him. His mother used to tell him stories about the constellations as they sat out on the field by his childhood home. 

A black mass passed across the moon, and, as it crept, blocked all light. One by one it blotted out the stars, as if someone had placed a cloak over the dome of the sky. 

A dense silence settled over the cemetery; only the dim gaslight at the street corner provided an anchor of reality in this new thick darkness. All sound ceased. It oppressed and discomforted. 

The constable’s heart beat and pumped loud in his ears. What’s happening? He thought, and tried to call out, but though his mouth moved, no sound emerged. 

Out of the corner of his eye he glimpsed a light, and, thinking it might be a lantern, turned in the direction. He discerned a green orb, perhaps a comet, yet it hovered much too low on the horizon. It brought the silence with it, and the constable watched it approach. 

The light entered the cemetery and, like a billiard ball, bounced from grave to grave. It then ascended to the sky and disappeared, taking the strange mantle with it, as if someone had pinched a handkerchief off a table and flung it into the air. The moon shone again and the stars, one by one, turned on and twinkled. The night sounds resumed, and the world plunged back into normality. 

“Will-o’-the-wisps,” his wife shrugged when he explained. 

He shook his head. That light came not from this world.

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TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: 4 of Chalices

Elysium

 The battle raged, thunderous with destruction, despair and human cries of violence. Lucius, shield in one hand and gladius in the other, cut men down one by one. The sweat and muck in his eyes made it difficult to see, and he hoped he slayed only the enemy. Rain fell hard, and each drop stung his face; it cooled his body though it pinged off his armor. 

Lucius found himself alone, ensnared in the sudden hush of the surrounding dead. In this temporary calm, he wiped the grime, sweat and rain from his eyes, looking this way and that. Had the battle ended? A strange silence had befallen the field and Lucius thought he might be dead and on the threshold of Elysium. 

Lightning flashed and struck the ground nearby; the vibration snaking up his legs. Lucius blinked, and, astonished, glimpsed a young woman in a strange yellow cape standing in the middle of the battlefield. She had appeared in the flash and now glanced around, confused. 

For a moment, Lucius thought she might be a witch and raised his sword to slay her, but his dark eyes met hers and Lucius froze. A shock of short black hair framed her thin and dainty face, white as marble. Long dark eyelashes outlined big blue eyes which shone with fear and wonder. Eyes fixed on him, she extended a gloved hand, reaching for him. 

Thunder clapped and the clamor of war broke the eerie enchantment. Out of the corner of his eye, Lucius caught the menacing figure of an enemy, turned and stabbed him dead. The young woman remained, confused and frozen to the spot. A sword rose behind her, ready to strike. Lucius rushed to her side; he pushed her to the ground and killed the enemy. She screamed, covered her head with her arms and rolled herself into a bright yellow ball. Lucius kept fighting, aware of the delicate figure at his feet, careful not to trample her. 

Another lull. Lucius pulled her up by her elbow. He placed his shielded arm around her and ran with her into the nearby forest away from the onslaught; her body warm under his protective embrace. 

Lucius pushed her against a tree and told her to stay there. She freed herself from his grasp, hopped up and grabbed the nearest branch. He watched amazed at her nimble movements as she climbed the tree. She stopped on a fat branch and huddled against the trunk. Those big blue eyes shone at him through the wet leaves. Thunder and lightning flashed, and Lucius prayed for Jupiter to spare the tree from Vulcan’s bolt. Their eyes met one more time, and he returned to the fray. 

The battle soon died and the young woman clambered down from the tree. She walked among the dead, looking for her savior. She found him caked in blood and mud. With tears rolling down her cheeks, she wiped the blood from his closed eyes. He groaned. Her soft giggle of relief sounded like heavenly music in his ears. He opened his eyes and smiled into those bright blue irises gazing down at him. 

“Lucius,” he whispered and pointed to himself. 

The young woman took his hand in hers and raised it to her lips. 

“Miriam.”