BRUEGEL TAROT: 2 of Pentacles

Two Sides of the Same Coin

As children, John and James had lived embroiled in a constant tug-of-war. Being identical twins, they shared a physical appearance, and there, the similarities ended. 

With their loving mother dead, the boys’ father had taught them to compete against one another. Who ran fastest, who jumped higher. Who was smarter, who was better-looking; it was a constant push and pull. What belonged to John, James wanted. What belonged to James, John wanted. But it was never enough to exchange belongings. As soon as they had traded, they both wanted the original back. 

And so they entered adolescence, as cunning and ambitious as the day is long. 

One day, John realized how exhausting the constant competition was. He had looked into James’s malicious gaze, triumphant over some trifle, and a thought had flashed, quite unbidden, through John’s brain—I don’t want this life for myself anymore. 

That moment, that life-changing instant, launched John’s wellbeing and James’s demise. 

John had let go of the rope that bound him to James and made his life apart from his twin brother. But James had been tugging so hard, that when John’s resistance gave way, it sent him tumbling into a life of crime.

John moved away and lost all contact with his sibling. 

Aware of the wedge their father had driven between them, John changed his surname and adopted his mother’s maiden name. Life rewarded him with marriage, kids and success, and most important of all, peace. He lived in peace and free from all competition. Little by little, with patience and hard work, John achieved what most unscrupulous people do not — a quiet, pleasant and comfortable life. He coveted nothing and lacked nothing. 

Years and years passed, the kids grew up, graduated, married and had their own lives and their own families. It was in the second year of John’s widowerhood when he first heard from his twin brother. 

James came to him in a dream, rather, a nightmare. John woke up sweating that night with a heart beating so hard it would pop out of his chest. He placed his head in his hands and tried to wipe the dream away. Yet, even then, the dream was foggy, and all John recalled were still images, like faded photographs, with James front and center.  

He lay back down on the hot pillow, frowned, then with the herculean effort necessary for a man in his seventies, turned over the pillow. The cool satin calmed his flaming brain, and he soon drifted into sleep.

The next night, the nightmare returned. Once again, John tried to grasp it and make sense of it, but it was like a damaged silent film which was scratched, burned, and had missing bits and pieces. 

“Should I seek James?” John asked himself as sleep overtook him. 

On the third night of waking up in a panic, John resolved to search for his brother. 

He asked his grandchild, a lanky, screeching boy of thirteen, to help him in his quest. Andrew—contorting his facial muscles into many annoyed expressions—huffed, puffed, then agreed. 

He typed James’s name into the search engine. 

John’s face fell when Andrew clicked on the first link. The news article detailed James’s crimes. It spoke of rackets, gangs, betrayals, backstabbing and, always in the middle, James.

John shook his head and stopped reading. Andrew continued, wondering why his tranquil, do-gooder grandfather would be interested in this person. Then he reached the end of the article and saw the photograph. 

Andrew gasped as his grandfather’s face glared at him through the screen. 

“Grandpa,” he whispered. 

John, head bowed in—what? Shame? Sorrow?—answered in a dull voice, “I know, he looks like me.”

“Why?” Andrew asked. 

“Because he’s my twin brother.” 

“It says here he’s missing,” Andrew said, “the article says he was carrying a shi—boatload of evidence against some mafia boss, a much bigger fish, when he disappeared. That evidence could put this guy away for human trafficking, murder, prostitution, and then some. The FBI is seeking information on his whereabouts.”

John took a deep breath and exhaled, his tired old-man eyes fixed on his grandson’s youthful, pimpled countenance. The weight of his childhood had, in that instant, fallen on him like a ton of bricks, and it showed in his exhausted, wrinkled-paper face. 

“Grandpa,” Andrew read the right meaning in his grandfather’s expression, “you know where he is, don’t you?”

John nodded.

“Where?”

John sighed, “He is among skeletal trees that cling to a jagged crag overlooking a furious ocean.” 

“Is he alive?” 

John shook his head, “The trees caught his mangled body in their gnarled branches, invisible to all above on the cliff’s edge, and unreachable from the ocean-beaten rocks below.”

“How do you know all this?”

“James showed me in my dreams.”

Andrew stared agape at the loving man whose twin brother was a hardened criminal. 

John picked up the telephone, “He also showed me where he hid the shitload of evidence.”

TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: Queen of Swords

Magia

Adrian opened the door to Cassie’s house and placed the key back in its hiding place under the big flowerpot on the stoop. At his own house, he would have called out, but he’d noticed Cassie Power and her father never raised their voices. 

When in Rome, do as the Romans do… He closed the door behind him and walked through the shabby single-story house to Cassie’s bedroom. He knocked, not banged like his own father, and waited for Cassie’s reply. At his own home, they would have opened the door an instant later. Had Adrian a nickel for every time his little brothers burst in while he was dressing, he would have left home years ago. 

“Come in, Adi,” Cassie called. 

Adrian opened the door and found Cassie smiling at him from her desk. 

“Give me one minute,” she said, “I’m almost done with my homework.”

Adrian flopped down on her bed and stared at the ceiling. In the weeks since he’d met Cassie on the Day of the Ugly Man in the Mist, he had spent most afternoons with her, escaping his thunderous and dysfunctional family. Here, in the Power’s house, he experienced something he found nowhere else, not at home, not at school, not even on the soccer field: peace. 

Adrian and Cassie were now close friends and Adrian told her everything about his life, though she was years younger. To him, Cassie was a girl with the tenacity of a warrior and the wisdom of a sage. 

Cassie also felt a connection to Adrian and saw in him the older brother-cousin-friend she had never had. She spilled her guts about Mom’s death, and Dad’s money troubles, and the bullies at school. Yet, if she spoke about Ethur and the place-jumping and the grove by the Old Cemetery where her who-knows-how-many-greats-Grandma Cassandra had appeared, she feared she would frighten him away. 

The Day of the Ugly Man in the Mist, Dad had found Cassie draining pasta in the kitchen sink and an older boy stirring a steaming pot of sauce. 

“Hello,” he had said, nonplussed. 

“Mr. Power, hello, my name is Adrian Ryder, I live across the street.”

At dinner, they had explained about the scary man who had knocked on the door and frightened Cassie.
Dad had gazed at Adrian with a look of concern wrapped in eternal exhaustion and bow-tied with sorrow, and thanked him for helping his daughter. Since then, Adrian had become a fixture in his house. 

Cassie finished her homework and glanced at Adrian’s long figure sprawled across her bed. She sighed and pressed Ethur, the small horse-shaped figurine dangling on his long silver chain, against her chest. She would share her secret now that Grandma Cassandra had hinted in a dream that everything would be all right. 

“Adi,” she said, “if I tell you something, will you promise not to hate me?”

Adrian’s eyes flew open, and he sat up on the bed. He locked his gaze to hers. 

“Cass, you can tell me anything, you know that.”

“Remember the Day of the Ugly Man in the Mist?” Cassie began, “well…”

And she bared her soul to him. Sentences formed in her clumsy tongue and tumbled into the air, weaving a strange tapestry of magic and witchcraft. Adrian’s earnest gaze fixed on her, his face frozen into an expressionless stone. Yet, as he listened, he believed every word. He had known it all along, deep inside his soul. He never saw her leave her house, nor arrive from school. Yet he would see her on the middle school grounds as he drove by them, and she would be home as soon as the school day ended. 

Cassie finished with flushed cheeks and an expectant gaze, searching his face for anything, a sign, a word, an emotion. 

Adrian’s blank expression burst into a comforting smile, “I think I’ve always known. I mean, we explained The Ugly Man in the Mist to your father in the most rational way we could, but there was something eerie about that day. Something supernatural, something magical, too.” 

Cassie beamed and threw her arms around his neck, “I was so scared you’d run away. I was so frightened I’d scared you!”

“Nah, I’ve always thought witches were cool,” Adrian joked, “and good witches named Cassiopeia are the coolest.”

A tiny neigh broke the comfortable silence that ensued. Cassie glanced down at the figurine around her chest and placed it in her open palm. Adrian’s eyes widened with delight and wonder as he beheld the tiny obsidian horse kicking and bucking and flicking his tail and mane this way and that. 

“This is Ethur,” Cassie whispered, amazed Ethur would show himself to Adrian. 

“Hi, Ethur,” Adrian said and ran his pinky finger down Ethur’s snout. The tiny horse brayed. 

“I’ve never seen him so excited,” Cassie said, “I wonder what’s happening.”

“Maybe he wants you to show me this place-jumping thing, or whatever you call it.” 

“Ok, let’s try it,” Cassie exclaimed. 

She clasped Adrian’s hand and closed her eyes. She concentrated on the grove by the Old Cemetery and, sim sala bim, they were standing beneath the ever-blooming trees!

Adrian laughed and raised his fists in a gesture of victory, “Yeah! That was awesome!”

He put his arms around Cassie’s waist, lifted her and spun her around in circles. She giggled. 

“Look,” Cassie pointed downwards the hill, “we can see our houses from here. Mom and I used to picnic here all the time, sometimes we’d see Dad pull into the driveway and knew it was time to leave.” 

“You’re right, my little brothers left their bikes out when they’re not supposed to,” he said, and opened his mouth to continue, but froze. 

Cassie’s smile of delight faded as well; she inched closer to him. Adrian put his arm around her. A hawk screeched and glided above the trees.

Atop the hill, safe under a canopy of swirling blossoms, Cassie and Adrian watched an eerie fog creep down their street and engulf their houses in its evil darkness. 

The Ugly Man in the Mist was searching for them… and had missed them by an instant.

THE GODDESS TAROT: Queen of Cups

Memories

Judith sat by the window with the steaming cup of coffee before her. She placed her cheek in her hand and gazed at the gunmetal overcast sky. Thunder rumbled in the distance and Judith’s placidity contrasted with the encroaching storm. 

Once upon a long time ago, she had spent summers at her grandmother’s house in the country. Days of dense heat and cicadas, and nights speckled with the green glow of fireflies danced to the soft, melodious waltz of her memory.

She hummed her grandmother’s old lullaby. The fog of the past parted and showed her a child in bobby socks and stained pinafore laying on the grass, watching the clouds roll in the endless sky. The clouds descended; then, the same girl, though older, sat on her grandmother’s porch swing with a tall glass of cool, tangy lemonade in her hand. The soft click-click of Grandma’s knitting needles beside her. 

The click of the needles soon became the rattle of a train. Grandma’s smiling face blurred as the train sped away until she was only a speck on a station platform. 

So sat Judith by the window and let the memories sway and tumble like autumn leaves in the wind. 

Judith’s twisted fingers ached as she lifted the cup to her lips. The lukewarm coffee surprised her and brought her mind into focus with a sharp thwack. Had it been so long since she had sat down at the table?

Judith glanced about her; shadows lurked in the darkened kitchen. She gazed out the window. The storm had lumbered in, and lightning flashed across the rain-filled clouds. Then, the rain fell in torrents, as if a dam had burst in heaven. 

Drops spattered on the windowpane, and images flashed through her mind to the rhythm of the pitter-patter of rain on glass. This time, she recalled a young woman with cold toes in high heels sinking into wet grass as the rain fell all around her. Her fingers held on to the umbrella that threatened to overturn in the whipping wind. The certainty of no more summers buckled her knees and beat in her chest to the sound of earth falling on a coffin. Grandma had left, and she had taken the peace with her. 

Rat-tat-tat of rain on the roof mingled with the rat-tat-tat of gunfire in the distance. Judith’s hands, now sticky and murky with blood, flitted from body to body, trying to keep life bottled inside the flesh as it seeped into her Army nurse’s uniform. 

Lightning lit up the kitchen. Judith saw only the ashen face with unseeing eyes and the gaping hole in the man she loved, as she cradled his grimy head in her hands. 

Judith sat with her empty hands before her as the wind howled outside her window. Her mouth gaped open as the wail of heartbreak snaked up her arteries and out of her throat. For an instant, the wind and Judith were one. 

Night entered through the window as the storm thundered and raged, but Judith was long gone down the path of remembrance. Her memory now danced to the whirling rhythm of the howling wind. Years of loneliness in a perfunctory life with a perfunctory job passed. Yet, in the distance, the promise of a new love, a parallel universe of sunlight and happiness, waved a warm welcome. 

“Judith,” a soft voice whispered and ripped through the film reel of yesteryear. 

Judith turned towards the sound. A figure hovered on the threshold beside the humming refrigerator. It approached, passing from shadow into light. 

“Grandma,” Judith whispered. 

“It’s time to go, sweetheart,” Grandma said. 

“But I only just glimpsed Raymond in the distance. He’s coming, I must wait for him.”

“No, sweetie, he came and went. Remember the years of happiness at his side? We are waiting for you. Now it’s time to join us.”

A flash of lightning lit up the crumpled body by the window with its smiling face upon the kitchen table and the cold cup of coffee at its fingertips.

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Six of Batons

The Blizzard

The wind howled through the cobblestone lane, tumbling and wheeling the leaves in its furious path. Branches bowed and swayed as the creaking trees buckled in the gale with a hollow ululation, lamenting the loss of their copious red, yellow and orange ornaments. 

Winter blew through fall like dandelions in a soft summer breeze. A biting chill settled over the lane and frost glimmered on the windowpane. The sky, once clear and bright, was now a thick marshmallow of cloud. 

I pulled my coat tight around me and trudged up the lane towards the sleepy little town. I hoped to be home before the snow fell, but as soon as I stepped through the door of the grocer’s shop, the wailing wind splattered flurries onto the windowpanes. 

“We’ll have a harsh one tonight,” the old grocer greeted me, “you’re just in time, I was about to close the shop.”

“I’ll only be a minute, Mr. Gent,” I mumbled and rushed through the aisles. 

When I reached the cashier, through the windows I glimpsed big fat snowflakes falling in a frantic and whimsical dance.

Mr. Gent rang up my purchases and asked if I needed anything else.

“Some firewood, please,” I replied. 

He nodded, “We have little left, it’ll take a moment to get it.”

Then he turned around and opened a door marked ‘Private’. 

Mr. Gent, though amiable and kind, was not a trusting man. He’d manned the shop for too long and knew too well the trickery of petty thieves. He’d often grumbled about losing his faith in humankind over cents of a dollar. 

Mr. Gent returned with the bundle of firewood.

“I threw in some kindling,” he said as he clicked and clacked on the register, “no charge, you’ll need it. My arthritis is acting up, it’ll be a cold one.”

“Thank you,” I smiled. 

“Watch yourself, storms like this one bring out the Devil,” he said. 

“Oh, you don’t believe that old legend,” I teased. 

“Don’t I?” He huffed, though a playful wink flashed in his eye, “I was there. Saw the footprints m’self. And don’t forget what happened to Pete Garrett.”

“Pete Garrett? Ol’ Pete, up the road?” I asked, “What happened to him?”

“He vanished for months. Said he got lost in the blizzard. Wandered around for a few hours, he said, but we all know he appeared the next summer, still wearing his winter coat and trailing snowflakes with his boots… in July! It was hot as the gates of Hell and he stood in the middle of the street, looking like he’d just walked out of an igloo.”

I smirked and wished him good night. 

“Be safe, young man, Devil walks tonight!” He called after me as I shut the door and stepped into the heavy storm. 

Snow swirled around me as I tucked my paper grocery bag under one arm and my bundle of firewood under the other. 

Snowflakes fell on my eyelashes; I blinked hard and bowed my head as I trudged through the icy lane, the wind whipping and biting at my ears. 

The buildings on either side of the lane faded into white, and I soon found myself engulfed in a blind whiteout world where sight was useless and sound muffled. 

My heart pounded in my chest as I recalled Mr. Gent’s story about Ol’ Pete, but I steadied myself and slogged onwards. Even the swish-swish of my footfalls on the snow disappeared amid the gusting wind. 

“Oh, thank God!” I breathed when I reached my gate with its ornate lotus flower spikes. Through the whirling snow, I glimpsed the faint silhouette of my weathervane, spinning like a wild top. 

Lightning flashed down in snarls of light, as the wind booed at the windowpanes. But inside, with the fire blazing and a good book, I felt no danger. 

“Devil, my ass,” I sneered as I closed the book and prepared for bed. 

Sunlight burst into my room the next morning, white and blinding. I yawned, stretched, put on my warm slippers and padded to the window. 

I gasped. 

A trail of footprints meandered through my tiny garden; the fat, hoof-like footprints of a creature that undeniably walked upright. 

VISCONTI TAROT: 3 of Wands

The Howling

It was past midnight the first time the dog barked. The deep loud woof broke through the silence and Lucy awoke with a start. Her muddled mind deduced that somewhere a dog had made that hollow sound, before she plunged back into a deep sleep. The episode had slipped into a vague memory by morning.

The sun shone through the windows and the mug in her hand steamed with fresh coffee, but that wisp of a thought lingered so shadowy, she did not realize at once none of her neighbors owned dogs. Lucy’s house stood at the dead end of the street, flanked by a tiny ranch house owned by an elderly couple; their potty-mouthed parrot squawked Shakespearean insults from its perch by the front window.

Across the street lived a young family with an arrogant cat whose favorite pastime was to stroll past the window and provoke the parrot into one of its baroque tirades.

The house with the backyard abutting her own had stood empty for years. Weeds and bramble had grown into a tangled mass that reminded Lucy of Sleeping Beauty’s forest of thorns.

Lucy sipped her coffee and tried to recall the episode, the bass note ringing true in her memory. She cast her mind over the remaining neighbors, but recalled no dogs. Residents of the nearby streets would sometimes saunter down her lonely lane with their nervous, yapping little pups on a leash, none big enough for such a deep bark.

Her coffee finished, Lucy occupied herself with breakfast and put the whole thing out of her mind.

That night, the dog barked again. Not one note that broke the silence, but a series of bays that yanked Lucy out of sleep and into total wakefulness. She did not roll onto her other side and fall asleep this time. Instead, she listened. The barks rang out through the sleepy lane, but they were neither frantic nor joyful. She imagined a lone survivor on a deserted planet calling out in the hope of an answer.

Lucy stood and tottered toward the window. She peeked through the slats of the half-closed Venetian blind, but in the moonless night, only the dark mass of the thorny, abandoned house greeted her. 

“Is anybody there?” the dog seemed to howl. 

“I’m here, doggy. Let’s go back to sleep,” Lucy murmured and returned to bed.

The lamenting howling ceased. 

The next day, as soon as the morning shower passed, Lucy put on her rain boots and coat and trudged to her backyard fence. 

“Doggy, here doggy,” she cooed, tracing the boundaries of her property, but received no answer.

From her bedroom window earlier that morning, she had discerned no living being in the empty house and twisted yard. Lucy slipped her keys and wallet in her pockets and made her way up the deserted, puddled street. Hers was an old lane, at the edge of town, and though black snakes of tar meandered through the repaired pavement, new cracks had appeared. 

She walked through the old neighborhood, greeting whoever was out and about on the streets. She asked whether they knew of a big dog living nearby, like a Saint Bernard, or a bloodhound, but only received shrugs and puzzled expressions in reply.

Upon her return, Lucy walked past the house with the parrot.

“Ninnyhammer!” The parrot squawked. 

Just then, Mrs. Graybeard stepped out decked in full rain gear—boots, pants, coat and an oversized bucket hat—though the sun had pushed through the clouds and steam rose from the pavement. Lucy had taken off her own raincoat and hung it on her arm. 

“Hello, Lucy!” Mrs. Graybeard’s thin, papery voice called to her, ignoring her parrot’s florid language.

“Hello, Mrs. Graybeard,” Lucy replied and waited as the old woman approached her. 

“Never mind Fiddlesticks, he’s just a cranky old windbag,” Mrs. Graybeard said when she reached Lucy. 

“Mrs. Graybeard,” Lucy said as they walked up the lane together, the niceties over, “did you hear a big dog barking last night?”

“Oh no, dear, I take out my hearing aids. Mr. Graybeard, my old coot, says the Apocalypse could be upon us and I’d never know it!”

“Oh, it’s just one woke me up. It sounded like it came from the house behind mine, but I know it’s been empty for years.”

“Oh yes, I remember them, Deanne and Sam, older than Methuselah when they died. I believe their children ensnared the property in a legal dispute. I’m on the welcoming committee, no one has rented or bought the house.”

“Oh, I see…” Lucy searched for a better reply, but Mrs. Graybeard continued, saving her the trouble. 

“Though they had a dog once, a big one, either a Great Dane or a Dalmatian, let me think. Its name was… Kaiser, I believe. Whatever happened to that dog?” Mrs. Graybeard clicked her tongue, “My memory is not what it was.”

They walked in silence for a moment while Mrs. Graybeard floated in a sea of memories, trying to hook the right one.

“That’s right,” Mrs. Graybeard piped up, “Kaiser died before they did; I believe that sneaky shyster, Old Age, got him. After that, things went downhill for them. If I recall, someone broke in and frightened Sam to death—heart attack, my dear, watch those arteries. Afterwards, Deanne just let herself go. She always lamented Kaiser’s absence; he’d have scared the robber out of his wits. His booming barks kept the riff-raff away.” 

***

The howling woke Lucy up again. 

“Kaiser,” she murmured, her breath frosting the windowpane, “I hear you. Go to sleep.”

The barking stopped and Lucy prepared to climb back into bed. Then, snarls and growls broke through the night and goosebumps crept up Lucy’s spine. She peeked out the window again; a thin sliver of moonlight shone on the gnarled neighboring yard, but showed no sign of life. 

The mesh of frenzied noise shook the walls, yet superimposed over nigh imperceptible sounds: cautious footsteps, the soft click of a doorknob and the slow turn of a door. 

Lucy whipped around, frozen in place, watching her bedroom door creak open as her worst nightmare came true. 

 A tall, muscular, masked figure appeared, backlit by the hallway night-light.

 She screamed, her voice intertwined with the snarling sound of gnashing teeth exploding through the wall. The thief tumbled backwards and squirmed, his arm over his face as if trying to fend off an attacking beast. 

Growls and barks thundered, and in the dim, blue beam of the night-light, Lucy distinguished the gossamer figure of a Great Dane, trampling and biting the flailing man. Crawling and kicking, the intruder stumbled down the stairs, out of the house and into the night. 

The yowling stopped. The flimsy image weaved into the room, and panting, trotted to where Lucy stood, mingling with the shadows of the darkened bedroom. 

Lucy, aghast and frightened, felt a cold lick on her fingertips and warm breath upon her hand. 

“Kaiser,” she bleated. 

A woof blasted in the room. 

“Thank you,” she yelped. 

Kaiser’s long wolf-like howl faded into the darkness.

GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: XX Judgement

Mirrors and Smoke

“If it’s too good to be true,” Grandpa had often said, “leave it. There’s always a catch.”

Nothing in Damon’s life had ever been too good to be true, and he often wondered whether that philosophy had inflicted missed opportunities upon his family. Yet, here was the job offer.

Damon’s heart beat with delight as he read the letter. The company offered extraordinary benefits, and the salary, oh, the salary, those zeroes went through the roof. He gulped; in one month he stood to earn more money than his parents had earned in their lifetime of toil and trouble and backbreaking overtime at the factory.

“It’s honest work, Damon,” his father’s words whispered in his memory, “never forget that. We are decent people, and that’s far more rewarding than money.”

It annoyed Damon that now, in his moment of victory, when he should savor pure bliss, those words would haunt him and a nagging apprehension would settle in his heart. He’d struggled too; being the first in his family with a college degree had been no picnic. And he worked his fingers to the bone at his meager-paying entry-level job while he clung for dear life to the bottom rung of the corporate ladder. 

 Then, that phone call; a headhunter saw his profile. A company, unknown but successful, was interested in his credentials. Afterwards came the whirlwind interview infused with smiles and enthusiasm. He’d researched the business. It seemed solid, according to the information available. And now, the blessed offer beyond his wildest dreams had arrived… but too good to be true.

Damon checked his watch. It was too late in the day to call and accept. He sighed and microwaved his frozen dinner, then turned on the TV. He paid no attention, his mind swirled with visions of wealth and success. 

Still, that gnawing feeling…

Damon climbed into bed, flicked off the light and drifted off to sleep.

He stood in smoke, a thick white smoke. A soft breeze blew and dissipating the fumes revealed a headstone. 

Nonplussed, he approached the gravestone. It was dark as onyx and reflected his own glimmering image on its smooth surface. Rugged letters etched the sepulchral mirror. He squinted, trying to the read the words inscribed, but they blurred in and out of focus. He reached out and traced his fingertips along the engraving. A ray of light beamed down upon the epitaph, and Damon distinguished only one word: PATSY.

“Whose grave is this?” he wondered.

“Yours,” Grandpa whispered beside him.

Damon turned towards the voice, but there was only vapor.

“Too good…” the wind ululated. 

Damon awoke with a start; dawn was peeping through the window-blinds.

He stared at the ceiling for a long time. Then he made a phone call.

Months later, the story exploded in the media. On the evening news, Damon watched as police handcuffed the company’s newest employee. The poor idiot had accepted the offer Damon had declined. 

“Honest work is never too good to be true,” Damon stated, and switched off the TV.

MINCHIATE: XXI Water

A Picture at an Exhibition

Cecilia stared at the picture of the sailing ship rocking in the waves. The galleon slanted on the water painted with thick oil-caked brushstrokes, and the full sails depicted the harsh ocean wind. Peter stood beside her; a snide remark died on his lips when he caught her far-away gaze.

“What’s the matter,” he asked, “don’t tell me you like this painting?”

“Well, it has so much movement,” Cecilia replied, “I can almost feel the wind blowing in my face and hear the waves lapping against the boards.”

“It has that,” Peter conceded, “but it’s just so jaded. It’s about time we stopped romanticizing the pirates. They were horrible people.”

“Who said anything about pirates?” Cecilia glanced at him, “There’s no black flag.”

“Huh…” Peter shrugged and squinted at the artwork, “must be my imagination; it’s the first thing I thought.”

He wandered off to gaze at the rest of exhibition.

“It’s a merchant vessel,” Cecilia mumbled in a monotone voice.

As she spoke, she listened to the jolly babble of sailors.

The sounds of the waves, the roaring wind and the merry sea chanties grew louder in Cecilia’s ears until she fancied herself on the keel. The gallery’s marble floor rocked under her feet, though the salty air bit into her skin. She was in two places at once, inside the cool air-conditioned gallery, and aboard the watercraft. 

The lookout’s cry cut through the noise, “Ship! Starboard!”

An ominous gloom draped over the canvas. 

Deep in the distance, Cecilia spotted sails moving fast on the waves.

“Sloop!” the lookout bellowed.

The men quieted in expectation. 

The oncoming ship drew closer, dark clouds behind it, as if trying to escape a storm. Or was it bringing it? A shaft of sunlight broke through the dense clouds and glinted upon its main mast. 

Cecilia covered her mouth and shrieked through her hand when something slapped down hard upon her shoulder. She jumped and whipped around in surprise.

“Jeez, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Peter said beside her, his hand still on her shoulder, “This picture fascinated you, didn’t it?”

“You’re right,” Cecilia replied, fixing her frightened eyes on him, “this painting is about pirates.”

An instant prior, she’d glimpsed cross-boned murder gliding upon the waves.

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: 7 of Wands, Valour

Instinct

“Hey,” I knocked on the doorframe to get Tony’s attention.

“Wassup,” he said, without glancing away from his computer.

“Um, you have a minute?” I asked, a slight tremble in my voice.

Tony tore his eyes away from the screen and turned in my direction. His indulgent smile faded when he focused on me.

“What’s happened?” he asked alarmed, “you look like you’ve seen a ghost!”

“I don’t know,” I mumbled, “but something happened on my way back.”

“Tell me about it,” he said. 

I sat down on the edge of the bed and related my story:

Every day, after night school, I walk home via the same route. My mom always told me to stick to well-lit streets, and I always do. But tonight, as I stepped onto the sidewalk outside the school, I felt an eerie chill in the air. Shrugging, I turned up my coat collar and started my walk home. I noted the empty sidewalk, though at that hour—a little before ten o’clock—the street is often busy. It being a cool evening, I figured people had stayed home.

At the corner, I turn onto Main Street, as it’s always bustling because of the shops and restaurants, but something stopped me. I couldn’t continue; the familiar thoroughfare with the raucous hubbub and beaming shops gave me goosebumps. So I did what my mom said never to do. I walked up a block and turned onto the tiny byway that runs parallel, it’s called Stygian Alley. It’s a dark lane, almost ghostlike at any hour of night. An icy wind blew against me and chilled me to the bone, but I would rather face that eerie, deserted street than enter Main. 

 All the while on Stygian Alley, I sensed someone watching me, stalking me, like a lion in the bush. I whipped around, but saw no one, only black masses flanking a black void. No buildings were lit. The dread increased with every step until I thought I would burst out of my skin. I ran all the way home, the clack-clack of my heels thundering in my ears like the ticking clock of the universe.

Wringing my trembling hands, I finished. Tony, silent and thoughtful, joined me. He put his arms around my quivering shoulders; I rested my head against his.

“I can’t explain it,” I went on, “but the thought of walking down Main Street frightened me more than Stygian Alley. Though I’m scared shitless, I’m certain I did the right thing. Is that possible?”

He contemplated me for a moment, “You followed your instinct, and that’s always a good thing. I doubt we will ever know otherwise.”

He kissed my forehead, and we left it at that.

Tony’s startled cry woke me up the next morning. I ran to the kitchen.

“What is it?” I gasped.

He showed me his phone. The local news read:

Last night, around ten o’clock, an out-of-control truck plowed into a restaurant on Main Street. It hit a gas pipe. The explosion started a four-alarm fire that spread to other businesses. Many people are dead, wounded and missing. Authorities are still investigating. 

I stared at him wide-eyed.

“Never, ever doubt your instinct,” he said.

GOLDEN TAROT: Knight of Swords + XIII Death

Duke

Norman traipsed along the forest path; he unclasped the dog leash, then tucked into his jacket pocket. Birds trilled in the trees as Duke ran ahead, tongue lolling out and tail wagging. Norman smiled, though a lump formed in his throat as he perceived Duke’s lopsided gait and frequent rests. Duke turned his panting face towards him, and Norman noticed the white hairs that lined Duke’s snout, though his fur still glowed with its natural golden hue. Their friendship neared its end… Norman severed that thought. In the past decade and change, age and illness had caught up to Duke, though he still had the youthful joy of a puppy.

A cool breeze blew and swayed the boughs with a soft rustle of red, orange and yellow leaves. The crisp autumn air nipped at Norman’s cheeks, and the sun shone at intervals through the passing clouds. Casual hikers were scarce on the mountain during the workweek, yet Norman had taken such a glorious day off to spend it with Duke.

Duke stopped; his ears pricked up, attentive.

“What is it, buddy?” Norman called after him.

Duke let out a soft woof and darted up the hillside. Norman ran after him, aware they were veering off the path.

“Duke, stop!” he called, but the dog kept running and Norman only just glimpsed his tail vanishing into a hillside grotto. 

Norman entered the cave, calling out Duke’s name, but the dog was too far ahead. Norman paused, listening for Duke’s footsteps. Darkness surrounded him, yet Norman realized he could see well enough in the pitch black. He scanned the cave’s walls, which glittered in hues of gold, silver, copper and bronze, as if the rock contained all the precious metals of the world. 

“What is this place?” he whispered.

A far-away bark, and he set off in search of Duke. He followed Duke’s bays and yips down labyrinthine passageways alight with the strange sparkle of the walls. At last Norman caught up with Duke as he sighted the dog passing through a towering arch. Duke waited for him just beyond the threshold.

Norman gaped as he joined his dog inside a cavernous vault. He heard a soft gush in the twinkling darkness; a smooth river with obsidian-like water flowed by his feet.

“Where are we?”

Duke gazed up at him with an unreadable expression.

“You know where you are,” a deep voice spoke beside him, “the question is, should you be here?” 

Norman whipped around, searching for the voice’s owner, but saw no one. Afraid, Norman stooped and put his arms around Duke’s neck. The dog licked his cheek.

“Who are you?” Norman asked, but before he received an answer, Duke slipped from his embrace and took off further into the vaulted space.

Norman ran after him, unaware he trod on the black water. With Duke ahead and in sight, Norman reached a tall enameled staircase. Duke was already halfway up and panting; Norman took the steps two by two.

“Wait, Duke!” Norman called, but Duke had reached the landing.

Heaving and wheezing, Norman reached Duke at the top of the stone stairs.

“Hello,” a soft, yet hollow voice spoke.

Norman glanced up and faced a couple seated on onyx thrones atop a pedestal hewn into the colossal walls. Pale and gaunt, the man gazed at him through stony black eyes, while the woman, a pallid blond, smiled at him.

“Where are we?” Norman whimpered.

“Didn’t Charon tell you?” the man asked.

Norman shook his head.

“He ran off,” the deep voice hissed beside him.

“I see,” Hades (it must be Hades) said, “why are you here?”

“I followed my dog,” Norman replied and gazed down at Duke sitting beside him.

“Ah, then it is true, you should not be here,” Persephone said.

“If you show us the way out,” Norman squeaked, “we’ll leave.”

“‘We’ sounds like a crowd,” Hades’s thin lips cracked into a kindhearted snicker, then turned serious, “someone belongs here, or the door would not have opened.”

Norman paled, fighting back tears of fright. He stood and stared, statue-like, as the truth sunk in like an anvil on his chest. Duke yipped and licked Norman’s fingers. The gesture washed away Norman’s fear as heartbreak and sadness overcame him. He kneeled down and cupped Duke’s face in his hands.

“I’m not ready,” he whispered.

“But I am,” Duke’s soft yip seemed to say.

He licked the tears running down Norman’s cheeks.

Norman pressed his face into Duke’s furry neck and sobbed. Man held dog for a long while, until Duke gave Norman’s ear one last lick, slipped from his embrace, and laid down at Hades’s feet.

“Will he suffer?” Norman fought back a sob.

“Not here,” Persephone answered, “out there with you, it’s all that awaits him; a slow and painful decline.”

“I’ve never wanted that,” Norman’s voice broke, “I only want his happiness.”

“That’s all genuine love ever is,” Hades replied, “go now, Norman, we don’t expect you for a very long time.”

Hades snapped his fingers and Norman whisked back through the cave and out to the forest. Norman lay on the soft grass and wept. 

Dusk was falling as he walked out of the mountain and reached his car, the empty leash dangling from his hand.

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: IV The Emperor

Adulting

Rick slid the chain-lock into place and scanned his apartment; his first adult home. The rent was nothing to laugh at, but satisfaction glowed out of his eyes as he surveyed his new domain. Several boxes stood open against the wall, and tomorrow he would rent a U-Haul and pick up the secondhand dining set he’d bought online. Though small, his apartment was perfect; top story on a separate wing with no next-door or upstairs neighbors, except for the empty unit below his. A new pre-owned car and exciting new job; his best years had begun. 

Rick padded to the bedroom and turned off all the lights. His parents always complained he wasted electricity. But now, with a brand new contract in his name and linked to his credit card, Rick was very conscious of the value of energy.

He climbed into bed and turned off the lamp. He stared at the ceiling, zigzagged by the shadows of the busy city as moving cars left a wake of light beams across it. His eyelids drooped, and he was drifting into sleep when the voice whispered.

“How should we do it?”

The voice, female, young and high-pitched, was so close in his ear his eyes flew open. His heart jumped to his throat, pumping blood so fast he thought it would leap out of his chest.

“We could smother him in his sleep,” another female voice, older and hoarse, replied.

Trembling, Rick reached for the switch; the room flooded with light. He sat up in bed. Everything was as he’d left it. Only…

He’d draped his pants over the plastic patio chair furnishing the room. They now lay in a heap on the floor beside it.

Rick slid out of bed and tiptoed to the window. City lights shone in full splendor; a foghorn blew in the distance. He crept across the room towards the door, cursing himself for leaving his baseball bat in the car. He peeked into the adjacent bathroom. Nothing out of place. He then made his cautious and frightened way through the tiny apartment. Nothing wrong; locked deadbolt and the chain crossed the door.

Satisfied he was alone, Rick grabbed the cutter he used to open the boxes and returned to bed. He flicked off the light and listened. Street sounds. He calmed down and closed his eyes.

“We could also poison him,” the youthful voice whispered.

Rick sat up and switched on the light.

“No,” the older voice spoke, and Rick pressed himself against the wall, knees to his chest.

The voices were in the room, but he saw no one.

“If we smother him, it would seem like he died in his sleep.”

“How do we get rid of the body?”

“We don’t, we make a big deal about finding him.”

Rick listened to the disembodied conversation, frozen with fear as his mind raced.

Headlights traced their way across the ceiling. Car doors closed, footsteps on the concrete.

“He’s here,” the younger voice said.

Rick forced his body to the window. He tried to gaze down into the street, but the fire escape blocked his view of the parking lot. 

He listened for sounds in the hall; his ears caught the click of a doorway and footsteps crossing the apartment below him. Rick slunk back into bed and drew the covers up to his chin, pondering whether to call the police. 

Then he remembered the realtor had said the apartment below remained unoccupied. The last tenant, he’d said, had died in his sleep years ago. The widow and daughter had moved out soon afterwards.