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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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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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BRUEGEL TAROT: Knight of Chalices

El Dorado

El Dorado

Lightning flashes over the shining city as the car approaches it. Stuart yawns and hopes they find lodgings before the storm bears down on them. Gloria doubts it, eyeing the laden thunderhead with alarm.

Stuart speeds up the car.

“I hate driving in the rain,” he groans.

Gloria nods, but says nothing. Stuart loves driving, and she suspects he gets a little sadistic thrill in dangerous conditions.

They enter the city, Gloria gazes up at the looming storm cloud, which casts a lingering gloom over the city. Gloria shudders as streetlights flicker and buzz.

“Something’s wrong,” she says, and goosebumps crawl on her arms.

“Where is everyone?” Stuart echoes the sentiment.

They drive through deserted streets though it is midday. Papers whirl across the road like dust devils, and debris lies scattered on the street. Gloria feels the desolation deep in her bones. She focuses on the parked cars. They are rusty, banged up and broken down, lying on their bellies with their flat tires peeking out from under them. Like dragons sitting on their loot. 

The stoplights blink red, and Stuart crawls across the intersection, but no one awaits at the corner. He glances at the store windows and sees only cavernous darkness. Buildings gape in toothless screams, and a shiver runs down his back.

Thunder rumbles overhead as Stuart dares to speed up the car.

“We’re not staying here, Glo,” he states.

“I second that,” Gloria reaches for the map in the glove compartment.

The guidebook falls out with its pages splayed open to the picture of a bright, bustling city. She scans the caption; it mentions the supposed never-ending wealth of the city built beside an enormous gold vein. Gloria glances out the window — of these streets of gold, only rubble remains.

She opens the map and directs Stuart to keep going straight. Thunder rumbles, and Gloria shudders.

“That sounded like a growl,” Stuart says, apprehension quaking in his voice.

Gloria says nothing, but looks at the thunderhead. The cloud shifts and meanders like a cat. No, a snake. A boa slithering across the sky, surrounding and squeezing this city.

“Hurry, Stu,” she pleads, and Stuart steps on the gas.

They speed through deserted streets, flanked by crumbling buildings. The storm cloud seems to glide towards them, and Gloria fears they will never leave if it catches up to them.

Lightning flashes across the sky, and Stuart thinks it looks like fangs, but he says nothing. From his quick glance at Gloria’s ashen face, he knows she agrees.

At last, they reach the city limits. Stuart sees the bright day ahead and wills the rumbling engine to go faster, though the speedometer is at its wits’ end.

The storm cloud roars as the car dashes out of the city into the blazing sunlight.

Gloria turns in her seat and stares behind her. The cloud twists into the shape of a dark snake-like head. It opens its mouth and spits fire into the shining city of eternal wealth.

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OLD ENGLISH TAROT: XVII The Star

Ripper

Ripper

Dainty heels click-clack on the pavement and approach the dark alley. He hides in a doorway, the dim gaslight of the streetlamp shines only on the blade peeking out from his sleeve. His features are in shadow, yet, in the darkness, he smirks.

The heels approach, and the woman rounds the corner, entering the alley. The sputtering gas-lamp flickers as she walks by, but he sees the seductive radiance emanating from her. She shines with the light of the brightest star.

Does she not know a murderer lurks the streets?

He wants her.

He chooses her.

He waits as she passes by the gloomy doorway, oblivious to his shadowy presence. He slithers in the gloom, his footfalls soundless on the cobblestone. Her footsteps echo in the night.

The fingers clasping the cold dagger twitch, and his nostrils flare, anticipating the aroma of flowing blood. It is a metallic perfume so powerful in its seductiveness, he must bathe in it again and again.

She walks on and nears the next gaslight. 

He reaches out and grabs her. 

She snarls. 

The blade flashes in the dim light.

The street is abuzz with the rumor the killer has struck again. Police shove their way through the crowd huddled in the alleyway. In the soft light of dawn, they expect the sight of a woman’s torn corpse. 

They find a man instead; a dagger lies beside him. 

Jagged fang marks slash his throat, and his eyes stare, frozen in abject terror. 

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UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: I The Magician

Film Noir Smooth

Film Noir Smooth

Debbie rushed into the book club meeting and took the first available seat. The members were already chatting amongst themselves, and the room was abuzz with snippets of conversation. They quieted when Amelia called the meeting to order. Debbie glanced around the room, smiling at those who met her gaze. Then, her eyes fell on a handsome young man in a black fedora, whom she had never seen. 

His eyes met hers, and she nodded a greeting. He smiled and tipped his hat. 

Amelia finished giving the club announcements, and the book discussion began. Bewildered, Debbie wondered why Amelia had not asked the young man in the hat to introduce himself, but the members were already diving into the discussion in their usual chaotic and cheerful way. They were tearing the book apart.

Dividing her attention between the lively discussion and the young man, Debbie observed him through quick, surreptitious glances. Square-jawed and impressive, with dark features, the young man had an air of sensual mystery about him. He was film noir smooth. 

Throughout the meeting, the young man kept catching her gaze, and spoke up several times, his voice booming over all others, but always directing his striking eyes at her. His piercing gaze made Debbie so self-conscious she found it difficult to follow the discussion, though she noticed he kept twirling a piece of paper between his fingers. 

The meeting soon ended, and as the members filed out of the library’s conference room, Amelia caught up to Debbie.

“You were quiet today,” she said. 

Debbie nodded, “I, uh, had nothing nice to say about the book.”

“Ha! No one did, it was pretty terrible,” Amelia giggled. 

“Hey, do you know that new guy?”

Amelia looked puzzled, “who?”

“The guy in the fedora. I don’t know if he introduced himself before I arrived.”

“There was no new guy,” Amelia stated.

“Sure there was! He spoke a few times.”

“Yeah? What did he say?”

“Um…” Debbie racked her brain, but could not remember a single word the young man had uttered, “Are you sure you saw no one in a fedora?”

“I’m certain,” Amelia answered and nudged her, “maybe you dreamed of him.”

She winked, and wishing Debbie a good night, walked out the door.

Debbie paused, flabbergasted, and looked back at the conference room, but the motion detector had already turned off the lights and only a dark cavern stared back at her. Bewildered, she turned to leave, but felt something fluttering behind her ear. She swatted it away; a piece of paper floated to the ground. It read: “hello.”

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GOLDEN TAROT OF THE RENAISSANCE: 10 of Chalices

A Message

A Message

Clara gives an agonizing cry and covers her mouth with her hand. She stares at the coded message shoved through the threshold of her apartment moments ago. Despite solving thick books of variety puzzles, Clara has not touched a cipher in fifty years, and now this tiny piece of paper has flung her into a whirlwind of cutting emotions.

 She grasps at her sanity as memories swirl around her mind. Tina and Clara giggling over a magazine picture of Clark Gable. Clara and Tina painting each other’s nails. Tina and Clara huddled under a rickety umbrella, splashing through the thundering rain. Tina and Clara, Clara and Tina, always. Best friends, friends so close they could read each other’s minds. Soulmates. Children, who, playing at being spies, had devised their own cipher, and would leave coded messages for one another to find. And then… the War. 

A sob escapes Clara’s clogged throat when Tina’s face shines in her mind, only to be torn to shreds by her last coded message: “leave the building”.

Clara pants as the memories of that hectic flight flood her mind, the air-raid siren blaring in her ears, the sound of hasty footsteps cramming into the bunker. Clara’s muffled voice calling out for Tina, Tina! Tina! And the spiraling world as the ground shakes and the lights go out. 

Clara weeps into her hands; she closes her eyes, which still burn with the image of Tina’s charred remains buried in the rubble of her mind. 

Clara takes a deep breath. It took her seconds to decode this new message; she recognized their cipher right away. Clara’s blurry, tear-stained vision focuses on the paper. Her lips form the words that crawl over the page: “Clara, help me”.