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MINCHIATE: King of Coins

The Hunter

The Hunter

Jenny played with Nero, her beloved black cat, while Gil fiddled with the kindling in the living room fireplace. Never a country soul, he surprised Jenny when he announced he had inherited a country cottage.

“It’s the old family cottage,” Gil beamed, “Uncle Gilbert used it as a hunting lodge until his mysterious death. He was an avid and excellent hunter, you know. My great-aunt Dorcas lived there for the rest of her life. She left it to me in her will.”

Jenny joined Gil’s enthusiasm at having a weekend getaway. She had never seen the place, nor met Aunt Dorcas, who was very reclusive, but they were the only relatives to attend the old lady’s funeral weeks ago. 

This was their first night in the cottage, and Jenny marveled at the ornate ceilings with its hardwood panels. Aunt Dorcas had maintained the house in excellent shape; perhaps as a tribute to her late husband. The marble floors gleamed with exquisite patterns, and the chandelier shot out sparkling rays of light over the lavish dining room.

“Rich people…” Jenny muttered, glancing at the gold-leaf ornamented cornices, “and they call this a cottage!”

It was more of a chateau, but who was complaining?

The trophy animal heads that had disgraced the walls were the only things she had disliked about the place. As a veterinarian, they had shocked her, and she had refused to set foot in the building until Gil removed them. Gil did not protest, he also loved animals—live ones. Indeed, he had met Jenny through Rufus’s penchant for swallowing objects. Gil reached over and stroked the great Saint Bernard’s head. 

“Here lies the laziest, dumbest dog there ever lived,” Gil joked; Rufus replied with a languid yawn. 

Minutes later, Rufus glanced up as Gil got the hearth started, at last. Nero left Jenny’s lap and sidled over to his best friend, eager to share in the warmth.

“How did your great-uncle die?” Jenny asked, as the fire flared.

Flame-shadows danced on the walls as twilight cloaked the room. Jenny glanced at the standing lamp, but decided against switching on the electric light; the fire was cozy and bright.

Gil strode over to the couch and sat down beside her. He placed his arm around her shoulder; she leaned her cheek against the crook of his arm.

“No one knows,” Gil said, “they found his dead body deep in the woods, and could never determine a cause of death.”

“How mysterious…” Jenny murmured as the dancing shadows played around them, and her eyelids grew heavy.

“Aunt Dorcas once told me the Lord of the Animals took his life as a punishment for savoring the hunt,” Gil continued.

“How superstitious…” Jenny yawned; Gil, too, fell silent.

Night peeked in through the windows; cat and dog slumbered beside the roaring fireplace.

A sudden draft blew and stirred the crackling flames. Shadows whirled around them, and Jenny watched in placid drowsiness as they took shape. Shadow-trees flickered on the walls, and a deer silhouette pranced across it. The outline of a hunter followed. He paused, took aim, and shot the deer. Satisfied with the kill, the hunter kneeled beside the dead deer. Then, a creature crept up to the hunter. It was a tall person, much taller than any human, and it had antlers on its head.

The hunter-silhouette turned in its direction and, and upon seeing it, screamed. The shriek rang out through the house, and the flames sputtered. On the walls, the shadow-play ended with the hunter crumbling and falling dead beside the deer.

Another draft blew, and the spell broke. Gil’s and Jenny’s stunned eyes met; Nero and Rufus slept undisturbed.

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THE GODDESS TAROT: Five of Cups

The Silver Goblet

The Silver Goblet

Dust-cloth in hand, Marie picks up the antique silver goblet and wipes it, admiring the delicate engraving of waves and curls on the bowl. Canned laughter blares from the TV in the living room, but Marie pays no attention. She reminisces about the story of the beautiful goblet in her hand, an heirloom Grand-Mère brought from France after World War II. It was an antique even then, passed down for generations and rescued from the old ancestral home when the Nazis occupied France. Marie always suspected Grand-Mère worked with the Resistance, and though she never said it outright, Grand-Mère always dropped brief hints and allusions that only made sense later in history class.

Grand-Mère left France with nothing but the family diamonds sewn into the hem of her undergarments, and the one thing she never parted with: the silver goblet. Grand-Mère always said the goblet reminded her of the beloved brother she left behind and lost to the war. When pressed, Grand-Mère offered no further explanation.

The slamming screen door interrupts Marie’s reverie, and she glances up from the silver goblet as her son, Eric, shuffles towards the living room. He offers no help to clean the house, and slumps with a loud thud on the couch in the front of the TV, which Marie switched on for mere background noise in the silent house.

She shakes her head, expecting Eric’s Xbox to blare. Her cheerful child is now a morose and bumbling teenager. Marie suspects a girl’s involvement, but he has clammed up as tight as Grand-Mère did about the Resistance and losing her beloved brother. Like Grand-Mère, Eric also drops hints and intimations now and again.

Marie finishes dusting the dining room. The TV booms what sounds like a movie. Marie pauses and listens; Eric only plays video games. Wasn’t it playing a sitcom?

Marie creeps into the living room, perplexed, and stands behind the couch; her son stares at the TV, enthralled.

“What are you watching?” Marie asks.

“I don’t know,” Eric shrugs, “this was already on when I sat down.”

Marie focuses on the screen, which plays a black-and-white movie in French. 

“I thought you hate old movies,” Marie asks.

“Well, this one’s pretty good.”

“What’s it about?”

“The rich girl is a member of the French Resistance, but the Nazis arrested her best friend and sent her away to a concentration camp. She’s trying to find out who blew the whistle, because the friend was hiding in her house.”

Marie sits down beside her son, who does not move away. She watches the movie, and marvels at how much the young actress reminds her of Grand-Mère. The scene takes place in a lavish living room, where the actress sits deep in thought.

A door slams, and a young man enters the scene. The actor and the actress look very much alike, and Marie is about to say something when she notices the swastika wrapped around the young man’s arm.

“Huh,” Eric snorts, “the brother’s a Nazi? Didn’t see that coming.”

The young woman in the movie raises her eyebrows, and her face lights up with sudden realization. She ponders something for a moment, then offers the young man a drink. He nods, and she pours wine into a goblet. The young man drinks it, then chokes while the young woman looks on with tears in her eyes. Gasping for air, the Nazi slumps back onto the high chair, his eyes roll backwards, and then dies. The goblet falls from his hand and the camera zooms into it as it rolls on the marble floor.

Marie gasps, and Eric looks stunned.

“Isn’t that Grand-Mère’s…?” He stammers and points to the living room.

They gaze past the threshold and at the silver goblet taking pride of place on the dining room display cabinet.

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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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VISCONTI TAROT: Knave of Swords

Staring at Wallpaper

Staring at Wallpaper

Bobby stared at the black-and-white wallpaper in Grandma’s kitchen. It depicted a horse and knight surrounded by twisted leaves and tree branches winding around the figures in an intricate meander. The pattern repeated itself and became a procession of horses and knights galloping across the wall. 

Bobby love to fix his gaze on one spot until his vision blurred and his eyes hurt. The figures blended into one, and for an instant, Bobby glimpsed them move. But then he blinked, shattering the illusion. He rubbed his eyes and tried it again, while Mom set the table.

Pots and pans clattered as Grandma finished dinner. They chatted about Mom’s day at work. Bobby’s gaze broke away from the wallpaper and fixed on Grandma, scrutinizing her face for disapproval or disgust behind Mom’s back.

Bobby had only acted upset when his parents announced their separation and that he and Mom would move in with Grandma. Instead, the separation had brought him relief. His parents’ cold and respectful behavior never hurt him as much as Dad’s grimace of disgust and hatred when Mom turned her back on him. Bobby never caught her doing the same to Dad. But now, Grandma’s face radiated placid contentment, as if her daughter’s permanent residence made her happy that her baby was home. 

Grandma caught Bobby’s eye and winked. He smiled at her, then turned back to the wallpaper.

“You know,” Grandma said, “that wallpaper was already up when we bought the house.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes, and the house was new. They built this neighborhood for the veterans after the war. We were the first to move in. Only this house had that wallpaper.”

“Which war?” Bobby asked, and Grandma’s face darkened for an instant; it pained her so many wars had come afterwards.

“World War Two,” she answered, “They injured Grandpa during the Battle of the Bulge, and he almost died.”

Bobby nodded, “I remember he had a limp. And he was missing the tip of his finger from working in the diamond mines.”

Mom and Grandma burst out laughing; Bobby gazed at them, confused.

“He never worked in the diamond mines!” Grandma giggled, “He lost that tip in a silly accident pruning that big oak outside.”

“Yes, and he never flew with Charles Lindbergh either,” Mom chimed in, “but he always spun a good yarn.”

Bobby giggled as Mom and Grandma reminisced about Grandpa’s tall tales, and though he wanted to pay attention, his gaze kept sliding back to the wallpaper that enticed him to keep playing his staring game.

Bobby’s vision blurred, and the figures merged into one. He determined to stare for as long as possible, even though his eyes hurt. Flashes of color appeared and tinted the tangled leaves in green and yellow. The background became red, and the knight stood out in relief.

The merry chatter morphed into the sound of hooves and the distinct neigh of the horse on the wall. The knight pulled his sword out of its sheath; the cutting shwing it made rang in Bobby’s ears. The horse sped up as a terrifying roar rumbled through the walls. In a flash of yellow and orange, the tangle of leaves and branches caught fire, and the knight charged toward the flames.

Bobby’s eyes stung from the smoke, and he blinked, shredding the illusion. He rubbed his eyes. When his vision settled, he realized Mom and Grandma were gazing at him.

Bobby tried to stammer an excuse.

“You saw the knight, didn’t you?” Mom whispered; Bobby nodded.

Grandma said, “I could never stare long enough to know if he killed the dragon.”

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OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Ten of Batons

Driving Through Quilted Farmland

Driving Through Quilted Farmland

“Where are we?” Gloria asks as she rubs her eyes and yawns. Her neck is a little stiff.

Stuart glances at her and mumbles a reply she cannot understand.

So he’s in a bad mood, she thinks, and looks ahead. He has turned off the radio, and the silent road stretches out before them like a long black ribbon sewn into a green-gold-and-blue speckled bedspread.

Rows of earth-colored crops with many textures dot the scenery and disappear under the deep blue sky all around them. Golden sunrays glimmer on the landscape, and dance to the tune of the meandering wind as it rustles through the corn, the wheat, the barley. It is like driving on a quilt, and each crop a patterned square.

What put Stuart into such a bad mood in the little time she fell asleep? Gloria shrugs, she will not allow it to get to her. It’s a beautiful evening, and Gloria wants to open the window and feel the farmland-scented wind in her hair. But Stuart will only bark at her. All she needs to do is wait, and Stuart will be his lovely self soon enough. The road is long and the wind eternal, she will open the window many other times.

They near a speck on the road; the sun is low on the horizon and the sky will soon blaze in hues of red and orange as it sets.

Stuart slows down as they approach the speck — a slow-moving vehicle. Gloria takes a chance and rolls down the passenger-side window. The breeze sprinkles her face. She sneaks a side glance at Stuart; his puckered mouth signals annoyance.  

“It’s a cart with hay!” Gloria exclaims as if she has never seen one. 

Stuart growls; Gloria smirks. Pushing his buttons now and again does wonders for the spirit. 

They inch to a pause, and Stuart turns on the blinker, announcing to no one he intends to pass. The cart trudges onwards. Stuart edges the car onto the oncoming lane and cautiously overtakes the cart.

Gloria observes the cart as they pass. A man in gray breeches and tall boots walks beside the workhorse, who looks like it cannot carry its own soul, let alone pull the cart. The man seems to take no notice of them, and the horse stares ahead and trudges on, exhausted. Gloria glimpses the man’s brown doublet under his long cloak, and notices his steeple-crowned, broad-brimmed hat.

“Amish,” Stuart snarls and they speed away. She rolls up the window as the wind bites at her cheeks. 

Gloria gazes at him with a puzzled expression, “No, I don’t think they dress like that.”

Stuart rolls his eyes, “Whatever.”

Gloria shakes her head and looks out the window. She glances at the side-view mirror and sees only the empty road behind, tinted in red as the sun dips under the horizon.

 That man was not Amish, Gloria knows. She also ponders the man’s blank expression as they pass, as if he never saw them. 

“I heard no hoofbeats,” Stuart says intrigued, “they made no sound.”

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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.

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MINCHIATE: Two of Coins

The Antique Mirror-Minchiate: Two of Coins

The Antique Mirror

Catherine wandered through the tiny aisles of the antiques mall. Knickknacks surrounded her as she paced among books, furniture, and pictures of bygone days that filled the dusty old store. She glanced at everything, yet saw nothing at all. The deeper into the store she browsed, the more the number of antiques overwhelmed her, until a creeping claustrophobia crawled up her spine. While hurrying through the labyrinthine aisles toward the front door, one object caught her eye.

The old mirror hung above an old-fashioned iron stove, flanked by yellowing pictures of Tom Mix and James Dean. It was an oval with an ornate brass frame. The tarnished and clouded glass had black spots sprinkled over its surface, but Catherine’s bemused, yet intrigued, image peered from the flowery, corroded metal frame. Something about it attracted her—perhaps it was the way her face appeared out of its hazy freckled glass—and Catherine decided it needed to hang above her night-table. 

At home, Catherine smiled at her own reflection while she cleaned it. The shopkeeper told her the mirror may need to be re-silvered, but Catherine liked the dark, warped image of herself on its surface. The corroded brass and black spots gave her reflection an eerie, Gothic semblance. She looked like the imagined heroines in the gothic novels her older sister, Emma, had read to her at bedtime. Little Catherine had both cringed in horror and squealed with delight as Emma’s soft voice filled the darkened room. Her words painted a snaking dreamscape of villains and ghosts, and through the pages they traveled to dark castles and gloomy dungeons in faraway lands.

Catherine fought back hot tears as a lump snagged in her throat. She tried not to think about Emma too often because the pain still welled up, threatening an overspill of dark and despairing emotions. But now, alone and gazing into a clouded mirror, she loosened her restraint and let the tears streak down her cheeks. 

Emma went to the grocery store one bright summer afternoon and never returned. The police found no signs, no clue to her whereabouts and no suspect. Years dragged on with no news of her beloved sister, and the case grew cold. Emma became just another statistic; her face was a fading memory. Catherine’s childhood vanished with her sister. Catherine’s love of gothic novels was all that remained of Emma.

Catherine wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Then, she stroked the book that always lay on her night-table. It was the same tattered book she took out of her childhood home and carried through all the changes in her life, but never read. At least, she had never finished it. Emma had been halfway through it when she went missing, and Catherine never had the heart to read it to the end. She picked it up and smelled her sister’s memory as she leafed through the pages, never reaching the end. Catherine feared that if her eyes ever landed on the last words, then Emma would never return. 

Catherine pulled herself together and hammered a nail into the wall above the night-table. With a soft, satisfied yet tragic smile, she hung the mirror on the nail. Catherine gazed at her reflection, and for the first time in her life, thought she looked like her sister. Impossible, her logical brain whispered. Emma was blond with piercing blue eyes and milky white skin, while Catherine had a dark complexion with soft brown eyes and black hair. 

“Like Jane and Elizabeth Bennet,” Emma’s voice rose out of the deep well of Emma-memories in Catherine’s mind and filled the room. 

She reached her hand out and touched the damaged surface. Her heart jolted with electricity; Emma’s broad smile beamed through the darkened glass and radiated from the corroded brass frame. At last, Catherine had found her sister.

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BRUEGEL TAROT: XVI The Tower

One Wish-Bruegel Tarot XVI The Tower

One Wish

Armistice bends his hundred-year-old knees and apologizes to the ants for stepping on their anthill. He tells them he did not see them, as tiny black specks rush to repair their flattened home.

A breeze blows through the trees; Armistice stands up, takes off his reading glasses, and puts them in his breast pocket. He lifts his nose to the air and sniffs into the wind. There is a message in the breeze, and he ponders it. He sensed a change in the world, a rejuvenation borne on the wind, and he feels it now in his heart and in his bones.

“What happened?” He whispers to the squirrel, who stops nibbling to gaze at him.

The squirrel flicks its tail, and Armistice nods, “I don’t know either, but good things are coming.”

He has been on this earth for more than a century, and he is one with the world. This universal and ancestral interconnectedness has filled his heart with peace. He wants for nothing and wishes for nothing but to live in his house with its lush garden and its neighboring forest. He loves it when the deer feed off his flowers; he admires their beauty and grace as they canter from the tree-line and approach so close he might touch them. The deer, the owls, the squirrels, the raccoons, and the wolves howling in the night know the old man will not hurt them; he is their brother.

Armistice sits down in his rocking chair and inhales the cool air. Yes, he wishes for nothing. A passing cloud darkens his mind and chides him for lying to himself. 

He gazes up at the sky, “Okay, okay, I have only one wish.”

The wind gusts, and Armistice watches bewildered as an enormous bird soars across the sky. It beats its wings, and thunder roars in the heavens. Armistice holds his breath and tries to swallow the word ‘Thunderbird’ which has sprung to his lips, but it remains at the corner of his mouth. The bird circles overhead and begins its spiraling descent. It lands by the honeysuckle, and Armistice sees not a bird, but a man with blazing wings shimmering in the sunlight.

“What is it?” The angel’s eyes sparkle as he meets Armistice’s gaze, “What is your one wish?”

Armistice gapes, and the unspoken wish threatens to die within him. The angel’s kind smile radiates patience, and even the forest holds its breath in expectation. A soft, warm light fills the garden and seeps into Armistice’s heart. The wish he has wanted to express for decades rises to his throat. Armistice fears if he speaks it, it will negate his wonderful and love-filled life.

“It won’t,” the angel reassures him, “nothing will change. Your past speaks for itself, and you deserve this one wish fulfilled.”

Armistice gulps, “I wish…”

The angel encourages him.

“I wish for a life with Miss Ann Thrope.”

The angel beams, then raises his fingers and flicks Armistice on the forehead. A flash of light engulfs his world and plunges it into sweet darkness. Little by little, forest sounds trickle into his ears, and something wet kisses his hand.

Armistice opens his eyes and turns toward the kiss. A deer gazes up at him, then nuzzles his hand and leaps back into the forest.

Armistice reaches for the reading glasses in his breast pocket. His hand stops midair. He does not need them. For the first time in decades, he can see the cuticles of his nails and the creases of his knuckles. Marveling, he flips his hand over and flexes his fingers; it is the wrinkle-free and spotless hand of a young man.

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TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: 7 of Pentacles

Aegis

Adrian Ryder tore his gaze away from the book and contemplated the middle distance. He was reading about Perseus and Medusa, but found it hard to focus. The recent dream had sparked a tiny ember of peril that flared and dulled over the following days, but never died out. In the dream, Adrian, riding Ethur, came upon the Ugly Man in the Mist and an evil crone plotting to take Cassie. He had awakened, sensing its reality and the certainty that Cassie’s life was in grave danger.   

The school year was ending, and he kept telling himself this was the last stretch, but the sense of impending menace nagged at him. Yet, the branches of the ever-blossoming trees of the Grove by the Old Cemetery doused this dread almost to extinction. He sought the silence of the biggest ever-blossoming tree and hoped that by climbing it and being in it, not just in the grove, he might move forward with his final school assignment. But the dream…

It showed him the people who wanted Cassie for mysterious and nefarious reasons, but not how to stop them. Later, it had disturbed him even more when Cassie told about the new girl turning into a hag in front of the bathroom mirror. 

He laid his head back on the tree trunk and wished for Athena’s shield, which struck the enemy down in terror, as the soft rustle of the breeze through the blossoms lulled him and their sweet fragrance numbed his worried brain.

“Adrian,” a soft voice said beside him, “Climb down.”

Adrian gazed into a woman’s face. She had Cassie’s striking emerald green eyes, and knew it was Cassandra, her ancestor, buried in this grove.

Adrian clambered down from the tree. He found himself in a moonlit cemetery with old and crooked grave stones spiking out of the gnarled bramble. This place was ancient, much older than any cemetery in New England. He felt it in the moonlight and the soft breeze that swirled around him whispering in a thousand dead tongues. There was an eerie, yet comforting, peace about it. Cassandra stood beside one gravestone shimmering in the moon’s glow, but time had effaced its name.

“Dig,” she whispered.

He kneeled; one moonbeam pointed its long tendril to a glimmering spot on the ground, and Adrian scraped the damp earth with his hands. Dirt caught between his nails and soft brown mud caked his fingers. Digging deeper, the earth’s thick texture changed and covered his hands in fine soot and ash. He suppressed a shudder; they burned witches in this part of the world. Soon his fingers closed over a cloth pouch. He pulled it out of the ground, and turning it in his dirty hands, untied the string and opened it.

A shining gold coin fell on his blackened palm. It had a long, gold chain wound and threaded around it, binding it in a tether like Ethur’s silver bridle. Adrian turned to Cassandra, but she had vanished. A moonbeam caught the coin, and it sparkled in the starry darkness; it had a woman with serpentine hair engraved on one face, the other was a smooth and golden mirror. His heart skipped a beat, but his lips broke into a smirk. He draped the chain around his neck; a hawk screeched and the sound cut right through him.

Adrian’s eyelids flew open. Sunlight hurt his eyes, and the wind gusted through the blossoms. He jerked in surprise and almost fell off the tree. He gazed at his dirty fingers with black soot under their nails. Around his neck he felt the weight of the gold coin: Athena’s shield.