ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: XI Lust

Sinister

Arachne spat. The bones told her he had failed; the little minx had gotten away, and he was not coming back. She snarled, baring yellow and rotted teeth. 

“Useless! Just like your father,” she hissed at Dagan, who lounged on the high chair across the room. The memory of that bumbling man churned her stomach.

“But you won’t fail, Dagan,” she cooed, “you’re better than your brother.”

Dagan smirked, his leg draped over the chair arm, and swirled blood red wine around the glass. He was as ugly as his brother was handsome and had the sensitivity of barbed wire. Alastor was sensual and charming, Dagan devious and cruel. The dim light cast eerie shadows on his unpleasant and pockmarked face. 

“No Mother,” his voice was thick with venom, “I’m not like Alastor. I don’t have to seduce every poor innocent bitch that comes along. Look what that got him.” 

“Hassle, and an early grave,” she croaked, “couldn’t even choose the right minx.”

Arachne gazed into the shattered mirror which fractured her haggard and willowy hair, and wagging her finger, continued,

“He liked her strong, he said, ‘I can subdue her,’ he said, ‘it’ll be more satisfying,’ he said.”

Arachne screeched. She paced the floor of the darkened room, careful not to step on the bones. She ignored Dagan, who observed her with his suspicious glare.

“I will summon the coven,” she squawked, “yes, we’ll find her and bring her back. No more niceties, no more seduction, Laura will return.”

Arachne smirked, her wrinkled face twisted and her eyes shone bright with hatred. 

“To see Laura in your grasp, Dagan, now that’s satisfaction!” 

“Don’t you mean our grasp, Mother?” Dagan leered, “whatever I do is nothing compared to what you have planned for her.” 

Arachne cackled, and Dagan chuckled. She picked up the bones she’d strewn on the floor, put them in her little pouch and sneered. She turned to the dense shadow in the corner.

“Soon the little minx will be yours, My Lord. Once we have her, nothing will stop you, not even death.”

The shadow laughed. Arachne and Dagan gazed in reverence. 

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Seven of Swords

Nigel

Nigel opened his eyes, bare branches above him, icy ground seeping into his bones. He took a deep breath and rose to a sitting position. He grimaced, expecting the sharp jabbing pain in his back and the crack, rattle and crunch of his joints. Major Creaks he called himself nowadays. Yet he found the movement painless. 

He gazed at his hands, and though chapped, he missed the familiar veins and age spots that had appeared over the long years. Nigel twiddled his straight fingers and marveled at their ease of movement; he moved his legs and stood up. His knees didn’t pop. Once standing, his hip didn’t jut out to the side and there was no stabbing pain down his back. 

Nigel beamed as he realized he was young again. He looked down at his feet, covered in heavy combat boots and shook the snow off his army-issue overcoat. He glanced around the dense, snowy forest. 

“Oh, I’m here again,” he whispered with dismay. Yet, the sensation of youth was so real, he was happy, even if he was back in the Ardennes and the horror of it had haunted him through the years of peace, prosperity, social revolution, consumerism, internet boom and the much-celebrated Millennium. 

“He fought in the Battle of the Bulge,” his neighbors often whispered with huddled heads, as if to explain away his somber and aloof behavior. 

Something glinted by a tree trunk and Nigel, curious, stooped, his once rusty knees bending like rubber. It was a long sword, a Claymore perhaps, he thought, and picked it up as if it were a feather. How wonderful not to feel the arm buckle under its weight! The fingers clasped around the hilt, painless, strong and straight as arrows. 

A roar cut through the trees, shaking the snow off the bare branches. Nigel heard the wood creak and the falling snow sounded like maracas. It had been years since he’d heard the sounds of the forest, however muffled in snow. 

Nigel, unafraid, headed in the roar’s direction. The forest, quiet under its freezing blanket, seemed to wake and give a startled yawn before sleeping again. Yet something odd remained in the air. He sniffed and perceived a hint of acrid smoke.

Boom! The forest exploded into a blaze of fire and Nigel dropped to the ground as he’d done decades ago. The trees shook, and though Nigel attributed the explosion to an air raid, he thought tanks rolled, not stomped, like he perceived underfoot. 

Another roar, so close it almost split his rejuvenated eardrums. He stood up and found himself face to face with a dragon, its wings wide, nostrils ablaze and tail pointed upward, scorpion-like. It smelled of burned flesh; he gagged. 

The dragon spotted him, and Nigel, sword at the ready, caught his gaze. They defied one another. 

The dragon hissed and a fireball spit from his nose; Nigel ducked. He moved through the trees like a cat and soon was close enough to strike the scaly beast. Metal clanged on the hard scales, but Nigel noticed they broke. He struck again and again until the beast gave a piercing scream. 

Flames surrounded him. Fire burned his flesh and ash blocked his vision. He drove the sword into the raw skin he’d hacked. Blood poured from the wound. His clothes caught fire, and the flames engulfed both beast and man. 

***

The fire department could not find a clear cause for the fire that had reduced the house to cinders. They believed the ancient wiring in the wall behind the bed was at fault. 

The strange old man hadn’t stood a chance; maybe he hadn’t even woken up. 

A rumor spread through the neighborhood children. It was spontaneous combustion, they said, because no one found the charred remains.

MINCHIATE: XII The Hanged Man

Waiting

“Can I get you something else?” The waiter asked, his expression full of sympathy, yet amused. I’d been at the table for almost an hour and Kyle hadn’t yet arrived. The restaurant boasted a century of continued service.

“More water, please,” I smiled.

I glanced at my wristwatch. Kyle is often late, but he’s never stood me up. He’s my brother, I know what to expect. 

I gazed out the big floor-to-ceiling window and watched the people and cars zipping by in the rush-hour bustle. 

My cell phone lay on the table, by the dim Tiffany stained-glass table lamp lit up in hues of reds, greens, yellows and blues. My eyes darted from the window to the phone’s dark screen. No news is good news, I thought. 

A brand new 1920s black Cadillac stopped in front of the restaurant. I frowned, confused. Something felt odd about the car, its shiny newness seemed real, not like the restored hot-rods at the antique car shows Kyle likes. 

The doors opened. Two men jumped out. They wore three-piece suits, one dressed in gray, the other in a pinstriped navy blue. Their hats hung low on their heads. My heart raced as they pulled out a submachine gun each. 

They stood legs apart, pointed the guns at the window and fired. I heard the rat-tat-tat of the machine guns, and saw them blazing, yet the glass remained intact. No one on the street screamed or ducked; no one in the restaurant panicked. In the line of fire, I was unscathed.

The men climbed in the car and sped away.

Was I dreaming? A car honked somewhere and brought the restaurant itself back to reality. 

I glanced around, wondering whether others had seen the gangsters. For the first time, I noticed a line of bullet holes on the back wall, gaping in the ancient and faded wallpaper. These were not recent, but no one had bothered to cover them.

“Hi, so sorry I’m late,” Kyle slid into the chair; he was flushed and sweaty and out of breath, “what did I miss?”

“Al Capone’s gang just shot up the place.”

“Wait, you saw them?”

“What do you mean?” 

“I came here once on a date,” he took a sip of my water, “I was looking at the street when an old Caddy stopped. Two old-fashioned gangsters pulled out their Tommy guns and shot at the window.”

My jaw dropped. 

“No one else saw a thing,” he said.   

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.

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.” 

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. 

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.