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OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Seven of Swords

"Maxwell" is a Flash Fiction story based on OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Seven of Swords

Maxwell

The frozen earth crunched under Maxwell’s heavy boots as he traipsed toward the old and ruined chapel on Uncle Clayton’s estate.

The first Christmas in the trenches, and the following years of war had left a permanent chill in his bones. Coming home, Maxwell had wished only for a long, hot bath and a warm chat by the blazing fire with Uncle Clayton. Instead, he found a darkened house in disrepair and disarray, and a new grave on the ancient family plot.

The chill in Maxwell’s bones deepened upon learning his cousins had inherited Uncle Clayton’s fortune and plundered the house of its riches. The icy wind brought tears to Maxwell’s eyes as he pulled his collar up and trudged towards the ruined chapel. He willed himself not to glance back at the old house, now dark and cold in the short wintry day. 

His cousins did not want the house—too much upkeep, Maxwell surmised—and left the unpleasant surprise and financial burden on him. How had he offended them? His cousins’ loathing of him was palpable in the state they had left his beloved uncle’s house. Perhaps that was the great insult, the sincere and respectful love that existed between him and Uncle Clayton, and the fear that the old and heirless widower would leave everything to Maxwell.

No one had informed him of Uncle Clayton’s death that first Christmas in the trenches, when they had all warmed themselves around a weak fire sparked by a tenuous truce. Maxwell’s eyes watered from the biting wind and the bitter intuition as he roamed over the sprawling frozen grounds. Although unable to prove it, he realized that by leaving only the house in his name they had left him in debt and impoverished.

“They told him I died,” Maxwell’s teeth gnashed with rage, and his frame rattled with certainty. 

In his mind’s eye, he saw the lie whispered by the old man’s sickbed while their lawyer waited with a new will and testament in hand. Cold tears spilled from Maxwell’s stinging eyes and that permanent chill gnawed at his bones. 

Enraged, Maxwell kicked a stone and watched it roll away. The memory of a warm summer’s day welled up from the bottom of his mind; Uncle Clayton strode beside a ten-year-old Maxwell. Uncle Clayton chatted while the boy kicked and played with the stones and pebbles littering the grass-lined path. 

“You know, your ancestors hid money here. A great big hoard of looted treasure,” Uncle Clayton said with a playful glint in his eye and mischief quivering from the corner of his mouth. 

“Uh-huh,” Maxwell replied and rolled his eyes.

Even then, he had known of Uncle Clayton’s penchant for telling tall tales. Maxwell himself had been the butt of many a fantastic prank.

Uncle Clayton continued, “your great-great-grandfather was a privateer, and he buried the loot captured from a Spanish vessel somewhere on this estate.”

“Oh, Uncle,” Maxwell sighed, “if we already owned this place, why would my ancestor need to be a privateer? We can trace our family’s wealth back to William the Conqueror, you said.”

Uncle Clayton sniggered and patted the boy on the head.

Maxwell reached the old medieval chapel. His cousins had not touched this building, no doubt they deemed it useless. It was chilly and dank, and he shivered from that inner freeze that never subsided. Ancient pictures with dark and faded images hung on the walls in rotting frames. It smelled of moss-covered stone and damp incense. A ray of silver sunshine shone through the tarnished stained-glass windows and illumined an image of Saint George and the Dragon, and another boyhood memory crawled out of its abyss. 

Maxwell smiled, enraptured by the painting, his eyes drinking in every color and every stroke. Uncle Clayton sat beside him, and a peaceful silence settled over the ruined chapel and its leaky roof, while outside, summer life buzzed, chirped and bubbled. The sun dipped on the horizon; the chapel glimmered with the pinks and blues and purples of the stained-glass, and Uncle Clayton announced it was time to leave.

“You know,” Uncle Clayton spoke as they walked in the gleaming sunset.

Maxwell hid a smirk from him; Uncle Clayton’s cock-and-bull stories always started with “you know,”.

“Dragons always protect their treasure,” Uncle Clayton began, but Maxwell sprinted ahead, challenging his uncle to a race.

Now, the young man stood before the painting, longing for his uncle’s fanciful yarns. Cool sunlight shimmered on the wall, and Maxwell caught sight of a small golden glint just beneath the crooked frame. Maxwell tried to pry the painting off the wall, but it was well-fastened. Yet, just beneath the frame, right where the mossy stone had eroded, he glimpsed a tiny nook from which glimmered flashes of gold, silver, emerald and ruby.

Maxwell beamed, “Dragons always protect their treasure.”

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MINCHIATE: Six of Swords

"Swords" is a Flash Fiction story based on MINCHIATE: Six of Swords

Swords

Again, I dreamed it. 

A door opens and I walk into a fire-lit room; shadows dance to the crackling flames while the grandfather clock ticks a steady tattoo. Six crossed swords hang on the wall and their blades glint in the firelight. A deathly wail blasts through the room and snuffs out the fire.

I jolt awake; perspiration drips down my forehead, and my heart beats so fast I fear it will jump out of my chest. 

I first dreamed this scene when I was a young child. I awakened crying, and my parents rushed to comfort me. Even now, tears spring to my eyes as I recall their loving faces and soothing words. The next night, my grandmother died, and I forgot the dream. 

Until my fifteenth birthday, when I once again entered the fire-lit room. Five swords glimmered on the wall. The same hollow lament gusted through the room and plunged it into darkness. This time, I lay in silence with a pounding chest. We received a telegram soon afterwards; my brother perished in battle.

The third time, I cried upon awakening, for only three swords hung on the wall. I froze at the news of my parents’ bloody deaths in an awful accident on the road. I cried bitter tears and raged about the dream warning me of an imminent death I could not stop. 

My wife died giving birth to a stillborn baby, and the sorrow burdens me even after all these decades; the prior night, only one sword hung on the wall. 

My family has left this earthy plane, and though I have lived a lonely life, I regret nothing. I write this letter because again; I dreamed it. 

The door opens and shadows dance to the flickering fire and the tic-tock of the grandfather clock. No sword hangs on the wall. 

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GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: 7 of Pentacles

"La Llorona" is a Flash Fiction story based on GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: 7 of Pentacles

La Llorona

The dense clouds parted, revealing an inky blue night and a brilliant full moon. Twinkling stars speckled the sky and raindrops dripped from the eaves. Pilar sat on the hacienda’s terrace; the fresh scent of wet earth and grass filled her nostrils, while a cool breeze chilled the balmy night.

She draped a blanket across her legs and sipped her steaming cup of tea with the chirping crickets as her only company. Moonlight sparkled on the wet glade and toads croaked in the grass. The night bloomed with life; thunder rumbled in the distance, chasing after the rolling storm.

A bright beam of white caught Pilar’s gaze as it quivered on the meadow like a long and slender tendril of moonlight. An eerie moan in the gloaming sent shivers up Pilar’s spine, and she sat frozen with her teacup midway to her lips.

The white figure meandered through the glade as the chilly breeze carried a mournful dirge over the field. A bloated cloud blocked the moon and plunged the field into darkness; only Pilar’s kerosene lamp flickered on the terrace like a beacon pointing to safety.

In the pitch darkness, the figure’s white-hot radiance swelled as it oscillated into the trees and vanished in the black. A wailing lament quavered through the night and scared the cloud away. The moon illuminated the glade again, and the night relaxed around her. The toads croaked, and the crickets chirped to the merry dance of moon-rays shimmering on the wet grass. Raindrops beat a harmonious tattoo as they trickled from the terrace roof.

Pilar sipped her tea; its warmth seeped down her throat and into her tight stomach, loosening her taut muscles. 

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BRUEGEL TAROT: 9 of Chalices + IV The Emperor

"Presage" is a Flash Fiction story based on BRUEGEL TAROT: 9 of Chalices + IV The Emperor

Presage

An icy draft sliced through the ballroom, snuffing out the flickering candles. The room plunged into darkness. 

Moonlight streaming from the double doors leading to the terrace illuminated the bewildered faces of those mingling near them. Their powdered wigs shone with a ghostly brilliance and moon-rays silhouetted their corseted gowns, breeches, and coattails against a backdrop of an eerie blue night. Champagne glasses shimmered in their trembling hands, though all stood frozen by the sudden wind howling through the open doors. An oppressive gloom settled over the astounded silence until the sound of stricken matches cut through it, and as candle-flames sparked, whispers and murmurs rippled through the crowd.

A bloodcurdling scream resounded from the gilded walls, and more shrieks filled the room with horror and surprise. The guests parted, revealing the cause of the spine-tingling tumult.

Blood trickled from a gleaming scythe with its sharp tip lodged deep into the wall. The glowing blood pooled on the floor and slithered over the white marble, staining clothes and shoes. 

Rumor has it those aristocrats with blood-stained clothes from that springtime night later fell under the guillotine during the following years of revolution and terror. 

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GOLDEN TAROT OF THE RENAISSANCE: XVIII The Moon

"Coffee and Winding Vines" is a Flash Fiction story based on GOLDEN TAROT OF THE RENAISSANCE: XVIII The Moon

Coffee and Winding Vines

Lulu tried to calm her nerves and gazed at the full moon shining on the overgrown garden with its tangle of briar and bramble she loved so much. She sat on the back porch and gave a slight shiver as the cool breeze pricked her cheeks. White steam billowed from the cup of coffee in her hand, its soft tendrils caressing her nose with their comforting aroma of roasted coffee and cardamom.

Lulu made coffee the way Nanna had always made it: ground to a powder, strong and dense with that added cardamom that always sent her senses on a delicious flight to bygone days.

It had delighted her to find that, besides the little painted cabinet, her awful relatives had also left behind her grandfather’s wooden manual coffee grind and its everlasting scent of coffee beans and cardamom. 

Lulu gave an exasperated sigh; her relatives had been harassing her for the past few weeks. They wanted the house and tried to convince her to sign bogus documents that would hand it over to them. Lulu was inexperienced, but not stupid, and her cousins’ latest attempts to sweet-talk her and seduce her annoyed and offended her.

They had been pounding on the door all day, gaining no entrance as Lulu ignored the heavy blows on the door, and their loud demands for her to open it. The cool breeze still carried their shrieking voices over the fence and through the gardens, and Lulu wondered if they would ever tire. 

“Doubtful,” she muttered, “there’s no rest for the wicked.”

The silver moon cast a shadow on the white steam swirling from the coffee cup; it gleamed with a red glow. The red tentacles of steam rose, multiplied and expanded, until a red, ghostlike figure glimmered and quivered beside her.

“I am at your service,” Djinn’s deep voice rumbled like thunder rolling down a mountain.

Lulu smiled, but said nothing. She sipped her coffee and watched the moon-rays playing on the twining vines that wound themselves around the porch pillars and adjacent pergola.

Lulu whispered, “I only wish for peace.”

Djinn grinned and nodded. 

Lulu closed her eyes as the hot coffee oozed down her throat; the cardamom warmed her insides while its bitter taste soothed all her worries. The harsh day fell away, and her relatives’ angry faces melted into oblivion in her mind. They seemed to dissipate, and Lulu felt an inner barrier going up, an imaginary brick wall they could never penetrate. 

She opened her eyes and realized that impenetrable barrier not only surrounded her but also the house. The pounding on the door stopped, and their angry calls blew away with the breeze. For the first time in weeks, Lulu felt the silence and peace embracing her house and garden. 

Smiling, Lulu gazed at the moon and enjoyed her coffee, knowing her relatives would never bother her again.

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ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: I the Magus

"Cheshire" is a flash fiction story based on ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: I the Magus

Cheshire

First, she saw the bright smile appear out of the hazy and silent night. The inky blackness had swallowed the neon lights and clamorous traffic from the nearby avenues. A flash of pearl, and then the brilliance of a white, high-necked and starched shirt. Dark shoulders seeped out of the shadows and a black top hat leaned towards her. White gloves touched the hat brim in salutation, and the voice underneath it begged her pardon.

“I didn’t mean to startle you, Miss,” a dark, thick handlebar mustache framed the glittering teeth, casting the hidden eyes into shadow. Yet the brilliant smile comforted her and warmed her bones in the chilly night.

She mumbled something, but the man, tipping his hat, had melded into the dense blackness.

Standing bewildered, she shone her flashlight over the ghastly and cavernous Victorian houses that once glimmered with wealth and opulence, but were now crumbling into oblivion.

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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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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.