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.”

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.

TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: Knave of Wands

Tenebrous

Adrian placed his key in the door, then paused. He left it dangling on the lock and sat down on the stoop.

He could hear them all the way down the driveway. As usual, all lights were on, and as he approached the front door, the booming sound of the TV reverberated in his ears.

Mumbled dialog with very audible expletives seeped through the kitchen window. His parents were at it again. Soon he would hear the crash of flying dinnerware against the wall and the slam of doors. Something exploded on the TV; Adrian’s parents were too busy fighting and caring only about themselves to mind what his little brothers were watching. They were not behaving either.

Adrian sighed and put his face in his hands.

“Why can’t there ever be peace?” He whispered.

At school people surrounded him, always talking, lecturing, gabbing and all vying or pleading for his attention. At home, the often cheerful jabber morphed into insults and yells and screams and blame, but it was no different. A constant yakety-yak.

Adrian sometimes wished he could press the mute button on his life and just live it in silence.

Maybe I should become a monk.

His phone vibrated and the insistent buzzing wrangled his nerves. Could they ever return to a time before noise?

The phone buzzed again. He glanced at it. Friends, more chatter, more hubbub and katzenjammer. He ignored the call.

The sun dipped into the horizon and the streetlamp at the corner switched on for the night. Adrian told himself to stand up and enter his raucous house, but he remained on the stoop.

The lights in the ramshackle house across the street also flicked on with a warm, inviting glow. Adrian frowned; he’d thought no one was home. It had felt empty to him and he didn’t see anyone arrive. His neighbors, a wizened and saddened man and his daughter who walked to school in faded clothes and scruffy sneakers, made no noise. He didn’t know her name, but he often saw her enter the middle school grounds as he drove past to his high school up the street.

Their house was always quiet, and Adrian, biting his lip, considered knocking on their door instead. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the door.

Only for a minute

He must have fallen asleep because, when he opened his eyes, he found himself deep in the folds of a dark mist. He could only see the dim beam of the neighbors’ porch-light. The clamor coming from his own house sounded far away and muffled; an eerie silence had fallen over the street. He’d been wishing for silence, but this quiet was unnerving and this was no ordinary mist. 

Something inside him, a voice, a hunch, something coaxed him to stand and follow the beam to the neighbors’ house.

He knocked on the door; the girl answered.

“I’m Adrian from across the street. I just…” He stopped at a loss for words; he hadn’t thought up an excuse.

The girl looked up at him with frightened eyes.

“Cassie,” she bleated. 

“Boy, this is strange weather, right? It’s tenebrous.”

Cassie nodded, her eyes darting this way in that.

“Are you OK?”

“The mist scares me,” she muttered, “I think he comes in it.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know, a man approached me at school. He came with the mist.”

A chill crept up Adrian’s his spine, and he glanced around trying to pierce the dense fog. He stared towards the end of the street. Shimmering in the gloom, he descried a figure in suit and hat sauntering down the road and approaching Cassie’s house.

“Right,” he took Cassie’s hand and led her inside, “you’re safe with me. I won’t hurt you.”

He closed the door. Cassie’s audible gasp confirmed he had not imagined it; he had slammed the door in the ugly, misshapen face shadowed beneath the hat. 

Adrian and Cassie stood in the hallway, his hand tight around hers, their eyes fixed on the door. The mist oozed through the gaps between the door and its frame. The knob turned and jangled. Adrian placed himself in front of Cassie; she pressed herself against his back. 

“Go away!” He yelled. 

A dog barked and growled somewhere; the sound cut through the fog and Adrian and Cassie watched in disbelief as it retreated outwards, like a vacuum sucking it all up into nothingness. 

The oppressing sensation in Adrian’s chest released, and the world returned to normal. He crept forward and peered through the peephole. No sign of the ugly man in the hat. 

He opened the door a crack; dusk had fallen in blue shadows over the street, but no hint of the weird fog. A German shepherd trotted across his sight and rounded the street corner.  

TAROT DRACONIS: Queen of Pentacles

Sparkle

Wanda leaned back in her gravity chair; her stomach churned as the backrest went down and her feet went up towards the firmament. It surprised her that, though the chair creaked from disuse, none of its powerful cords snapped and sent her crashing onto her butt.

She gazed at the starlit sky. How long had it been since she’d lounged here, bundled up against the cold and with a steaming cup of tea beside her?

One year, two months and eleven days.

The last time, Ben had stood beside her, his telescope pointing at the heavens, ready to answer all her silly questions.

Now the telescope sat buried in the garage, while Ben lay buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Tears pin pricked her eyes, and she ran her hand across her face. The tiny dots in space came back into focus. Wanda took a long, quivering breath.

Only Ben had known how to use the telescope, and now she regretted turning down his many offers to teach her.

She took a sip; the tea burned her tongue.

Wanda put on her earphones, clicked her phone and settled down to wait for her eyes to adjust to the night.

Orson Welles narrated in her ears. 

It had been a tradition between them. They sat outside in darkness and waited for the stars to show. Ben turned on his Bluetooth speaker and together they listened to old radio shows. The Shadow, The Saint and Gang Busters.

Every year, on this special night, they listened to the War of the Worlds while Ben’s telescope pointed towards Mars, waiting for the real spectacle to begin.

Today was the first of many nights she would restart the tradition, alone.

“Oh Ben,” she whispered, “I miss you.”

Wanda closed her eyes, and only half listened to the narration. Her mind torn between paying attention to a show she knew and wading in the murky waters of yesteryear, which rippled with memories of Ben.

Orson Welles faded and Wanda found herself in another night with the telescope between them, while Ben peered through it.

“Did you know that when some stars die,” Ben’s sweet voice filled her ears, “they go into supernova and that explosion causes the birth of new stars?”

Wanda smiled.

Ben continued, “One day our sun will explode and we will cease to exist. Out of its ashes, a new star will spark and keep the cycle of birth, death and rebirth spinning for eternity. When you think about it, death is only a transition.”

A sob exploded in Wanda’s chest. Then a second and a third, until tiny little supernovae thundered in her body. Tears flowed down her cheeks, and she didn’t stop nor repressed them.

Orson Welles’s transmission ended and Wanda, adrift in an ocean of muffled noise, removed her earphones. The night silence was like a breath of fresh air, its quiet permeated her skin and the exploding sobs in her heart abated.

The tears stopped, and the stars came back into focus through her wet eyelashes. Becalmed, she gazed at the sparkling heavens, enjoying it for the first time in a year. A smile crept across her lips as she recalled Ben’s voice a few moments ago. 

“It was you, wasn’t it?” She whispered to the stars, “You were here.”

A flare streaked across the sky. Then another and another. The myriad of shooting stars soon engulfed Wanda in spangles and wonder and evanescing sadness.

“Goodbye,” She whispered as a new spark kindled in her chest: Peace.

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: VIII Strength

The Stairs

Hattie glanced upwards the stairs and sighed; their steepness insurmountable to Hattie in her old age, though she conquered them every day. She clung on to the wooden railing and, hitching up her long skirt, started her ascent with a Herculean effort. Hattie could not fathom how today’s girls in their full skirts—bell-shaped by cumbersome crinoline hoops—glided up and down stairs like fairies. Much too old for current fashions, she longed for the long dresses and high waistlines of her youth. 

Up, up, up she went, taking her time, step-by-step, the wood beneath her feet creaking as loud as her old, old bones. But the steep, polished staircase did not deter Hattie. She rested when she needed and, with great patience and willpower, little by little she vanquished the stairs.

She paused halfway up, her hand tight around the railing, her heart pumping fast in her chest. 

A scuffle, a slam, a gunshot.

The door on the top landing burst open. Two men clad in mismatched three-piece suits and newsboy caps ran out. Their feet clattered on the rickety staircase as they barreled down it. Police sirens blared in the distance as the man in pin-striped slacks flung a revolver into the gloomy alley beside the building.

The rascals reached the street and ran with footsteps clanging on the concrete sidewalk. The pin-striped man rounded a corner when his partner, who donned a plaid blue cap, stopped and glanced back at the old stairs with a mystified expression.

Pin-Stripes urged him to run, “Let’s go!”

“I think I just saw her,” Plaid Cap said.

Pin-Stripes paused, bouncing on his heels, unsure whether to stay or go. 

Curiosity won, “Saw who?”

“The old lady. The one on the stairs.”

Pin-Stripes chuckled, “Nah, that’s just a ghost story. She doesn’t exist. Come on!”

A Verizon van zoomed past and splashed the sidewalk with puddle water. The two gangsters shimmered in the sunlight as murky droplets showered them, then vanished before the water hit the ground.