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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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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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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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ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: Queen of Wands

Harbinger

Harbinger

Cleopatra Bysbys sits in her aerie with her rifle resting beside the chair. She gazes at the large windows, but does not see the treetops and full moon shining its silver light on her shabby house. On most days, at this late hour, she uses her long-sight—her mind’s eye—to snoop on the neighbors from the comfort of her bed. But tonight, Cleopatra sits in her belvedere, the small observatory atop her house, with her gun at the ready because she knows danger is coming.

Her next-door neighbor, Adrian Ryder, is in his bedroom, while across the street from him, Cassie Power cries herself to sleep, mourning her dead mother. The soft hum of the TV helps muffle her tears; it is her father’s nighttime resource to numb the pain. Cleopatra Bysbys sees him sitting in the living room, the TV blaring, while he stares straight ahead, not minding what he sees. 

Cleopatra switches her mind’s gaze to Adrian Ryder’s house. His family is far more entertaining than the Powers’ gloomy lives. Adrian is reading a book, enjoying the unusual quiet of his home. His younger brothers are at a sleepover, while his father works late. His mother is…

Adrian pauses his reading and listens for a moment. He senses his mother is in her bedroom, sitting at the vanity table and wiping off her makeup. Adrian resumes reading; Cleopatra Bysbys raises an eyebrow. Can the boy…? Impossible, she thinks, he just knows the family routine. There are no fights tonight, and Adrian basks in the silence, grateful that his father has been working so late these past few weeks. Cleopatra sneers; Mr. Ryder left work hours ago, mere minutes after his new assistant sashayed out of the building. 

Cleopatra Bysbys snaps to attention as the black mist descends upon her street. She does not like this mist. It is the harbinger of an ancient evil, one she thought vanquished eons ago. Her hand slides down and caresses her rifle; a man in a top hat saunters in the mist.

Adrian Ryder pauses his reading and gazes out the window. Cassie Power’s tears have stopped flowing, and she stares at the moonlit glass. The black mist swallows all night sounds; Cleopatra Bysbys raises her rifle and kneels at an open window with the barrel pointed at the mist. Though the mist hides the man in the top hat, her powerful mind’s eye perceives him well.

An eerie atmosphere envelops the street, and Adrian Ryder is on high alert. Cassie Power senses the danger in the night, and the fear paralyzes her. She reaches for the long chain around her neck and clasps the horse-shaped obsidian pendant at its end. Her heart races.

Adrian Ryder clutches the golden coin in his hand, and stares straight ahead. His toes jerk with adrenaline, and he wills himself to run and defend Cassie, but an invisible rock crushes his body and paralyzes him.  

Blinding white soars past Cassie’s window and a barn owl alights on the narrow ledge with its back to Cassie. Cassie gulps in fear, as the barn owl rotates its head and faces Cassie. The sight of the heart-shaped white face comforts her, and the fear lightens a little. 

The Ugly Man in the Mist struts up the Powers’ driveway and climbs the stoop. He reaches for the door knob, smirking and savoring the fear emanating from within the house.

A loud crack whips through the black mist, dissipating it. The man in the top hat snaps his hand back and growls in pain. Blood drips from his hand onto the stoop; his palm has a gaping hole. He scans the surrounding street, but sees no one. The barn owl screeches and breaks his silent spell. Clutching his injured hand, The Ugly Man in the Mist flees into the night.

Cleopatra Bysbys lowers her rifle and directs her gaze at the radiant barn owl perched on the ledge at Cassie’s window.

“The Long Fight is coming, my friend,” she says, “but at least this one bleeds.”

The owl meets her gaze and hoots in response.

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UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: VI of Cups

Dark Corner

Dark Corner

Shadows slither down the wall like spilled ink spreads over paper. Darkness envelops the world outside the window until all Colin sees are dark masses of black and gray. He pulls the bedcovers up to his chin and listens to the comforting sounds of Mom and Dad as they prepare for bed. 

Colin wills the light peeking through the crack under the door to shine brighter, but knows the darkness will also swallow it soon. It swallows everything, and Colin wishes that night would never come. He wishes to live on a planet that never rotates on its axis and always faces the sun.

“But life would be impossible on such a planet,” the teacher said.

“So would darkness,” Colin answered, and the teacher gazed at him with a puzzled expression.

“Are you afraid of the dark?” His mother asked when she hung up the phone.

Colin nodded, and Mom promised to buy him a nightlight. Dad said the world stays the same in light or darkness, and he should never fear the dark. Colin nodded and gulped down the embarrassment, but refrained from telling it was not the darkness that he feared most, but the man that appeared in its depths.

Tonight is the last night he will sleep in gloom; Dad turned the closet light on and left its door ajar, and Mom left the bedroom door open.

Colin’s heart beats like a drum against his chest when both doors sway themselves shut, as the shadows ooze in through the windows and plunge the room into pitch black.

Colin stares at the deepest corner; his breath clings to his throat and sweat runs down his feet. The darkness is taking shape, condensing and expanding until Colin sees the clear-cut figure of a hooded man standing there, watching him, glaring at him. He senses its icy stare on his clammy toes and closes his eyes tight, like a kitten, hoping, pleading with the figure to leave.

“Tomorrow,” Colin whispers, “you won’t be here anymore.”

The figure’s lips curl into a sneer.

“I’ll always be here,” it whispers in its deep voice, “just because you cannot see me in the light does not mean I am gone.”

Colin gulps, knowing it speaks the truth. Beads of cold sweat form on his forehead and he wants to scream for Dad. But something in the smooth silkiness of its voice stops him. Colin feels a warm touch on his cool forehead and opens his eyes. The apparition no longer stands in the corner. It sits on the bed now and smiles at Colin with loving warmth.

The apparition strokes Colin’s forehead, and the fear melts away.

“Who are you?” He asks.

“I am Darkness, Loneliness, Fear. Everything you cannot see and do not understand. I am The Unknown, and now that I have introduced myself, you will never fear me again.”

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THE GODDESS TAROT: IX – Contemplation

Contemplation-The Goddess Tarot: IX - Contemplation

Contemplation

Corey lies on his bed and contemplates the ceiling. His fixed gaze and his body’s relaxed demeanor contrast against the racing thoughts in his mind. His life is at a crossroads, and his mind seeks to see as far ahead as possible in all directions before he chooses the path to follow. An innate risk-taker; Corey is always quick to realize and seize an opportunity. He knows the solution—the road to take at a crossroads—will always present itself. 

Until now.

He has two choices: take the job out of state, or move back home and help his parents run the family business.

The job at the big corporation should be a straightforward decision, but still he doubts. It pays very well, and Corey is always open to new experiences. It is a job he has been striving for throughout his college years. He survived the grueling interview process and jumped with delight upon receiving the job offer. The company is solid and offers plenty of advancement opportunities. It even offers to help with MBA tuitions. Yet… 

His other choice is to run the small shoe store his grandfather opened with blood, sweat and tears. It has survived against all odds, and chugged through The Great Depression, several economic downturns, and even the financial meltdown of the 21st-century, though with little expansion. It’s profitable, and Corey would be the third generation to run it. Corey can see its future. In his mind, he sees the 100th anniversary celebrations that will come in the next decade. In fact, he sees far beyond that. But there’s no risk, no adventure in the meantime. The opportunity to expand is years away. And if he takes the corporate job, the adventure starts now. 

So what’s the problem? He thinks. Mom and Dad are still young and healthy, now is the time to try his hand at something else, and learn beyond what his grandfather and father learned in their lifetimes. Corey knows the shop will always be there, a haven to return to when his ship runs aground. So what stops him from taking the corporate job offer?

Corey sighs and shifts onto his side, facing the wall. His bedroom door clicks open, and he hears Dad’s footsteps on the carpet. Confused, Corey turns to face him, but his heart stops when he sees his father’s haggard and ashen face and his blue-tinged lips. Corey opens his mouth to speak, but no words come out. His father stands beside the bed, and gazes at him with the blank stare of a corpse. The apparition carries a gravestone. Shock snags Corey’s breath when he notices the date.

At last, the words flow with the tears, “Will you be dead in two years?”

The apparition nods and fades into the dusky gloom seeping through the window. A sob strangles in Corey’s throat; he reaches for the phone.

“Hello?” Dad’s voice is a soothing balm.

“Dad,” Corey chokes.

“Son! How are you? Did you get the job?”

“I’m fine, how are you?” Corey ignores the last question.

“Fine, fine. A little out of breath lately. Mom thinks I should see a doctor, but I’m sure it’s nothing. The job?”

“No… I didn’t get it,” Corey lies.

In the end, the solution always appears.