OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Queen of Batons

Layla

Layla sits on the rocking-chair by the window with a mug of hot tea clasped between her hands. She gazes at the tangled mass of oak boughs that flank her childhood home. Perhaps the slivers of light piercing the overcast sky and glimmering on the red and golden leaves remind her of her one year at boarding school, where she met her two dearest and lifelong friends. She has vague memories of the place, save for one indelible incident.

One night, Layla, Sarah, and Tiffany sat by the window overlooking the school’s garden.

Beyond the garden wall was a ruined house, with a collapsed roof and hollow windows. From their dormitory, they had a clear view into its yard, and the moonlight caught the snarled mess of brambles and briars beside the ramshackle porch.

The girls had been yakking away about everything under the sun when Sarah gasped.

“Look!” She pointed at the adjoining yard. 

Their eyes followed Sarah’s finger. 

A young man stood in the moonlight. As they watched and wondered who he was, he glanced up, sighting their child faces framed by the window and illuminated by the faint light of their desk lamp.

Night had only just fallen, Layla recalls, because they had not announced lights out yet.

“It was winter,” she mutters, “it must’ve been, because it was full night, and the darkness was crisp and silvery.”

The young man caught their gazes, and Layla’s heart still skips and drops to her feet at the memory of his eyes. They were a bright, cold piercing blue; she recalls nothing of his face, just his eerie, bright eyes. In her mind, he seems to be all light and shadow, like Tiffany’s most celebrated paintings.

Sarah, the first to spot the apparition, was also the first to die.

Tears sting Layla’s eyes as she remembers her young friend taken by death beneath the bloody metal of a car at the bottom of a ravine. Did she lose control of her car? Cool-headed Sarah with steel grit? Layla shakes her head and stifles a sob. 

Decades and several husbands later, Tiffany also passed away. Her death was not violent but slow, as the cancer ate away, first at her breast, then at the remains of her meager body.

“Layla,” Tiffany called for her on her deathbed.

Layla, a lump in her throat, bent forward as Tiffany whispered her last words.

“He’s here. I see him.”

“Who?”

“The man with the icy blue eyes; the man from that night.”

A chill ran up her spine and froze all words of comfort, while Tiffany breathed her last. 

A sob rises in Layla’s chest.

She misses her friends. One did not live long enough, the other too much. Layla glances down at her wrinkled, twisted fingers cupped around the mug of tea. Her spotted hands tremble from the involuntary spams she has developed of late.

Shaking, she lifts one hand, and with her knobby fingers, wipes the tears streaming down her face.

She longs for her youth, her past, her health. But most of all, she longs for her friends.

Layla turns her gaze back to the window. She shrieks; there beneath the tree stands the man with the piercing blue eyes. He beckons to her.

Layla’s mug of tea rolls to the floor, spilling its contents onto the carpet.

GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: 0 – The Fool

Goodnight

The homeless man sat on the dingy stoop of the abandoned factory across the street from Rose’s apartment building. She always saw him when she gazed out her bedroom window. The humpbacked figure sat beneath the street lamplight, as the night shadows danced around him.

To Rose, he was a sad figure, someone to pity, someone for whom to feel compassion. He never scared her, not even when he looked up and stared at her window. He seemed to pierce the darkness and cast his gaze upon her. An instant later, his head would droop back down on his crooked shoulders. Rose knew he had not seen her, that he could not see through the double-paned window, into the darkened bedroom lit only by the faint reading lamp on the nightstand.

Every night, unseen, Rose would give the man a slight wave and tell him a silent goodnight as she switched off the lamp. He was always there, motionless, like a misshapen statue.

One night, as Rose’s eyes searched the murk for the reassuring beam of light across the street, she noticed the hunched vagrant was not in his usual place.

Lightning flashed; thunder roared. A big storm was coming, and Rose hoped the drifter either made it to the safety of the tattered awning above the stoop, or had found decent shelter elsewhere.

Regardless, she gave the usual tiny wave and wished the hunchback goodnight as she turned off the light. She settled her head on her pillow, waiting for sleep and listening to the roaring storm.

Rose’s eyes flew open. The storm had abated, and far away the sounds of tires driving on wet pavement shimmered in the silence of her apartment.

A sound had awakened her. A click, like the click of a deadbolt.

Rose’s heart pounded as she kept still and listened to the darkness beyond the bedroom. Her hand slid out from under the covers and edged towards the nightstand, seeking her cellphone. Rose paled as her fingers touched only its wooden surface. 

It’s in the living room, she cursed herself as her pulse quickened.

Rose held her breath when she caught the distant sound of shuffling feet.

Despite the black overcast night, light peered through the window-grilles and Rose, frightened as she was, found it comforting.

Muffled footsteps approached her closed bedroom door.

She shifted her body towards the light glimmering through the window. From the height of the bed, Rose had a view of the abandoned factory and its stoop. There, in the lamplight, sat the humpbacked figure, and Rose’s heart skipped with relief. 

As unknown fingers closed around the bedroom doorknob, she was hyper-alert and comforted by the sight of the strange, yet familiar, vagabond across the street.

The doorknob turned; Rose stifled a sob and fixed her gaze on the slouching figure bathed in the golden ray of the street lamp.

The bedroom door inched open with a muffled squeak.

Rose’s hand crept towards the window.

Help me, she implored in the same mind-voice she always bid the hunched tramp goodnight.

He looked up at her as if he heard her prayer. He glared at Rose’s window and, for an instant, his eyes glowed with a silver spark.

Rose’s spine crawled as the footsteps and presence of a big man approached her bed. Her fingers curled around the bedsheet as the sound of deep, lustful breaths reached her ears, and a human warmth inched towards her neck. Still, she kept her gaze fixed on the crooked beggar in the streetlamp. 

The hunchback, his eyes still on the window, rose from the stoop. He rose and rose and rose until he stood straight and tall and powerful.

Rose’s heart pounded. 

A hand crept up her back and shoulder, then cupped her breast as the intruder lay down beside her. His hand wormed its way to her neck, feeling every inch of her clammy skin, and settled over her mouth.

“If you behave,” the invader growled, “I won’t kill you.”

The radiant figure across the street entranced the immobile Rose, as a white pearlescent wing unfurled from its back, then another.

In a flash, the figure took flight, passed through the windowpane, and alighted on Rose’s bed. It grabbed the screaming prowler by the neck and hurled him against the wall.

The prowler, frightened out of his wits, scrambled to stand while the angel stood tall and defiant with arms akimbo and wings splayed wide over Rose.

The intruder clutched at his face as if it burned, then tottered and clambered out the open bedroom door. Rose heard his frenzied screams as he bolted from the apartment and stumbled into the hallway. The inky gloom swallowed the manic would-be rapist as he floundered across the street, and his terrified yowls faded in the distance. 

Soft, loving fingers now brushed Rose’s cheek; she turned her head to meet the angel’s gaze. His smile reached the golden-silver twinkle of his eyes. He bent down and kissed her forehead.

“Thank you,” Rose murmured, but the angel had vanished.

As the fright ebbed, she gazed out towards the abandoned factory stoop. In the lamplight, she saw the comforting hunchbacked figure.

Rose gave her customary little wave and bid him goodnight.

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: XXI The Universe

Frustration

Frustration. It gleamed in Clara’s downcast eyes and dismayed grin. It glowed in her flushed cheeks and twitched on her eyelids as she fought back tears. Again, he had not noticed her. Every day, Clara tried to catch Byron’s attention. But he just passed by, never heeding her, never meeting her gaze.

Clara slammed her locker shut and stuffed her notebooks into her backpack. The bell rang and kids were filing out of the building like swarms of bees leaving the hive. People jostled and pushed her in their hurried frenzy to leave the school.

“I suppose I’m invisible,” Clara said; no one heard.

At the entrance, she sighted Byron flirting with a cheerleader, and Clara’s heart squirmed with yearning and a pang of jealousy.

If only…

If only she were beautiful, and svelte, and tall and smart. Tears pinpricked Clara’s eyes, and she pushed them back.

Clara opened the door to her bedroom and plumped onto her bed in a heap of frustration and longing and self-hatred.

The tears came; she pushed her face against the pillow, stifling the sobs threatening to rip her chest apart. Not alone in the house, she had no desire for a heart-to-heart with her mother. She also did not want her pesky little brother hanging around her room. If either of them suspected something wrong, they would try all afternoon to pry it out of her. She wanted to be alone with her frustration.

Clara closed her eyes, and as the tears ebbed and her breath normalized, she drifted into sleep.

She was at school, screaming amidst the multitude of children, but no one cared. No one acknowledged her.

The sea of children parted and she saw Byron, handsome as ever — though in the dream he resembled Harry Styles, whose pictures graced her bedroom walls.

He winked at her. Clara glanced around, wondering whether he might mean someone else, but the halls were now empty.

Harry Styles (Byron) winked again and grinned the lopsided grin that made Clara’s knees quiver.

“Hi,” he mouthed, but made no sound.

“Hi,” Clara replied, and no sound came from her lips either.

Harry Styles (Byron) reached his open palm to her, beckoning her to take it with a small nod of the head.

Clara beamed as she floated towards him. She reached out her hand, which was not her hand because the fingers were skinny, but… why not? It closed around his fingers. He pulled her beside him and slipped her under his arm. She basked in his warm embrace, and her body tingled. He then placed his arm around her waist and together they hovered above the school.

Soon they were flying above the building, the cool clouds kissing their faces. Clara felt the wind and the lightness of her body as she and Harry Styles (Byron) soared through the sky.

“Clara!” Mom’s voice boomed from a dark, plump cloud laden with rain, “Dinner!”

The sound rushed through her ears as she jerked awake. Clara glanced around the darkening room and, for the first time in a long time, felt as lighthearted as she had in her dream.

The next day at school, Clara glimpsed Byron on the quad, and her heart skipped a beat. A mischievous grin crept across her lips, as if she were the proud owner of a juicy secret.

She entered the building. It no longer mattered whether Byron glanced her way. It no longer mattered whether he noticed her. The dream had lifted all the frustration and self-consciousness off her chest. She still had a crush on Byron, but now, just watching him from afar satisfied her. Besides, though handsome, Byron looked nothing like Harry Styles (even if he tried to look like the singer).

Clara opened her locker and was reaching for her Geography book when someone pushed her.

“Hey! You pushed me!” Clara spun around, indignant.

She would have said more, but her voice quaked when Byron turned around and murmured an empty sorry. Then he paused and fixed her with a bewildered gaze.

“I think I dreamed about you last night,” he said and broke into a wide smile, “yeah, sure I did!”

TAROT DRACONIS: 3 of Wands

Down The Mountainside 

Johnny, Alondra and Belenos descended the mountain. It was a harsh trek, especially for Johnny, as the summit was steep, jagged and rocky. Beneath his feet, the warm ground permeated through the soles of his dirty sneakers. To his right, the flaming river of lava flowed downhill, glimmering in the night and lighting the way.

He found the journey difficult; he was unused to hiking and traipsing up and down mountains. He tried to emulate Alondra’s graceful steps, but he stomped and trampled all over the strange, barren peak.

Who were these people that lived in a volcano? Did they not fear it would one day erupt like Krakatoa, or Mount Saint Helens? Did they even know about these events?

Belenos skipped from rock to rock, as if this trek were nothing but a light walk, and it made Johnny uneasy and somewhat jealous of Belenos’s grace and good looks. He hoped to grow up to be someone handsome and lithe.

He also wondered whether the other runes could help him descend this precarious mountainside.

“I cannot say,” Alondra said and Johnny gazed at her, astonished.

“You can’t say what?” Johnny asked.

Belenos paused and was gazing at them.

“I cannot say whether the other runes will work here. Raido is the rune of Journey, but it is the only one.”

“And now I’ve lost it.”

Alondra nodded.

“Although,” Alondra continued after a pause, “at first, I understood a little of Belenos’s tongue because he speaks like the Ancients. But, when we two are together, I understand him well, and so do you.”

“So?”

“So, you have the remaining runes, and Ansuz is the rune of Word. I think we all understand one another because of it.”

“Yes,” Belenos interjected, “when you speak, I hear strange words, but they make sense in my mind.”

Johnny raised his eyebrows; Belenos was right. He also felt a strange sensation in his brain, as if it jumbled and reorganized the information his ears relayed. 

“Maybe the other runes work here too.” Johnny stated; Alondra smiled and shrugged. 

They proceeded in silence as the descent became easier. Here and there, plant life sprouted from the barren earth, and Johnny realized they were nearing the fertile base of the mountain.

“Do you know any of these plants?” He asked Alondra.

“No, they are like some I know, but not the same.”

As they continued downwards, the vegetation flourished and soon Belenos had led them to a copse of tall evergreens. Johnny could not discern whether they were pines or spruces, but they had similar features as the evergreens back home. Although here, their leaves glittered with an iridescent sheen. In fact, this entire world glinted and sparkled and twinkled, even in the deep inky night. The air here was crisp and biting, and so deliciously fresh he almost tasted it. Johnny realized this was a world without industry, without pollution.

Dawn had crept as they made the laborious journey down the mountain. Its pale light shone on the cloud-bellies of the horizon, which glimmered with a mother-of-pearl glow. He glanced at Alondra, whose intent and puzzled gaze pointed towards the dawn. 

For the first time in a long time, he smiled. He liked this world and pondered whether he would ever want to leave.

“You do not belong here,” a voice whispered through the trees.

Chills ran up Johnny’s spine.

“Did you hear that?” He turned to Alondra, but she was still looking towards the new day. 

“What is it?” Johnny asked her.

“I think that is the West,” Alondra pointed towards the sunrise. 

“Yes, it is,” the same voice replied. 

Alondra and Johnny whipped around, searching for the owner of the voice. A kind smile formed on Belenos’s lips. 

“Who’s there?” Johnny called.

“I am,” the voice said. 

“Who are you?” Alondra asked.

“I am me,” the voice giggled.

“A joker,” Johnny huffed and rolled his eyes. 

“No,” the voice replied.

It bounced around them, so they could not pinpoint its location; they jerked and bobbed their heads like cats hunting invisible bugs. 

“Where are you?” Alondra asked.

“Here!”

They whipped around towards the voice and spotted a path to a grove. Belenos beamed and pointed to a tiny cave entrance on a nearby ledge.

“I guess we have arrived,” Alondra stated. 

The voice giggled.

TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: XIII Death

A Helping Hand

Cassie Power walked out of the school building and said goodbye to Mrs. Hall, now that the amiable teacher had commented she never saw Cassie at the door anymore. Mrs. Hall had a habit of standing by the front double doors and saying goodbye to all the students. Small town, small school.

A light breeze played with Cassie’s hair as she stepped into the sunshine. It was a chilly breeze, and she hoped summer would last just a little longer.

She walked down the school path and turned the corner. Out of sight from everyone, Cassie would hide behind a tall oak and use her jumping powers to transport herself home before the bullies followed her.

Then, something reached out and tripped her. She lost her balance and, in slow motion — at least to her — fell flat on her face, and onto the hard cobblestone.

Laughter erupted around her, and through watering eyes, she saw Becky, Kendra, and Paula guffawing. Cassie tried to pick herself up, but someone pulled her leg from under her and she went down again.

Tears stung her eyes as the mocking laughter filled her ears. Kids everywhere gazed at her and pointed, smirking. They encircled her and jeered at her. Every time Cassie tried to stand, someone pushed her, and she fell. Cassie’s hands and cheek stung from the falls, and she was certain her jeans had ripped — Dad could not afford new ones — and she had scraped her knee. 

The rage and humiliation rose and spilled as tears; these tears only made the bullies laugh harder. The laughter entered her ears and multiplied in her brain. It blocked her mind and turned Cassie into a mockery of an automaton, like the wind-up monkey that clapped the cymbals. Up and down, again and again; this loop of humiliation and mockery with neither clear nor graceful exit ensnared her.

Then, the most curious thing happened, the laughter ebbed away until only a few snickers remained.

Cassie lifted her eyes off the floor and saw a hand reaching out to her. The hand was rough and strong and reminded Cassie of a bear’s claw. She traced her gaze over the wrist attached to a brown, muscled arm. Then along a square torso and up into the smiling blue eyes of the kneeling, long-haired, bearded young man before her.

He winked at her, and Cassie placed her grateful, tiny hand on top of his thick fingers. The powerful arm helped her rise, and Cassie thought he could lift her off her feet with that arm. The man also rose, until he almost touched the clouds gathering overhead, like the giants in the fairytales she still read in secret. He was taller than anyone Cassie had ever seen; taller than Adrian, and taller than Dad. 

“Are you all right?” The man said in a deep, rolling voice.

Cassie nodded, blushing, “Yes, thank you.”

The man gazed at her for a moment and Cassie thought he looked familiar. Something in his piercing blue eyes caught her attention, and reminded her of… but the cool breeze blew the recognition away. 

The man then glared at all the surrounding bullies, now silent.

“You all sound like hens,” he said and turned on his heel.

Cassie dusted herself off and tried to hasten after him, but Kendra pushed her. Cassie regained her footing and spun around to face the enemy. Kendra’s lips stretched into a mocking grin, she threw her head back and… clucked.

Kendra gasped and placed her hand across her mouth. 

Paula and Becky opened their mouths to speak, “Cluck, cluck, cluck.”

An instant later, the small circle of desperate bullies was clucking with panic in their eyes. They jittered in place and walked in circles, like, well, headless chickens. The thought brought a smile to Cassie’s lips, though she fought back her own laughter lest she also turned into a silly hen. Also, Cassie knew too well the jagged, salty taste of humiliation. 

Instead, Cassie hurried, hoping to catch up to the man.

“Wait!” she called, “What’s your name?”

But there was no sign of him, only a cat lazing atop the hood of a parked car gave her a disinterested yawn.

UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: XVI The Tower

I Started a Lie

Sheilah glanced around her bedroom as tears sprung to her eyes. She pinpointed the moment her world crashed. It all started with a fib; a little white lie, a lie of omission.

Sheilah turned on the radio, no longer able to bear the silence. The Bee Gees sang “I Started a Joke”, and the song hit her; it chided her. Disgusted with it, and herself, she turned it off and silenced the shaming tune. 

She started no joke. She had stayed silent, then uttered a fib, which snowballed into a monstrous lie. Before she knew it, she was standing in the ring of fire caused by it.

The shame smoldered in her mind and stung the back of her eyes as more tears welled up and ran down her cheeks, like liquid smoke. Her ears burned and her chest rattled from the raging force of the lie.

If only I had shut the fuck up, she thought.

But ‘if only’ was too late. ‘If only’ was a dead wish in a dried up wishing well. That fib, that little innocent lie, why did she say it? 

Even now, as she replayed the events leading up to that moment, as she lived with the consequences, she could not say what possessed her to fib.

The school expelled an innocent person. A person, a friend, unable to afford a permanent record tarnished by such a disgraceful expulsion. 

Sheilah tried to fix it, to no avail. Those once unspoken words now boomed louder than her voice, which dissipated like ashes in the space between her and the school principal. 

“I was afraid,” she said for the first time.

The realization smacked her right in the chest. It was fear, fear made her lie. But fear of what?

“Fear of these very consequences,” she said.

The silent bedroom replied with more silence until her sobs broke through it.

Sheilah lay down on the floor, rolled herself into a ball, and cried. The day turned to dusk, and night soon spilled its inky darkness over the world, and still Sheilah cried. The room darkened around her, but she noticed nothing.

“Sheilah,” a voice whispered, and Sheilah opened her salt-rimmed eyes.

“Sheilah,” the voice said again.

“Who is it?”

“You can still make it right,” the voice whispered. It pealed like heavenly bells.

“How?”

“Tell the truth,” the voice said, and a loving touch warmed her shoulder, yet she saw no one.

“It’s too late!”

“No, it’s never too late to be truthful. Come, I will guide you. But first, I must apologize. I wasn’t there when you needed me, and this is the result.”

“Who are you?”

“You know me, I appear in adversity, and I am here now.”

Sheilah felt a soft kiss on her cheeks and arms that pulled her off the floor. In a daze, she grabbed her backpack, which held the crumpled, evidential truth. The loving, invisible fingers closed around her hand and guided her out the door. A resolute warmth flowed through her skin and into her tingling spine. 

“Come now, let’s make it right,” the mellifluous voice sang in her ear.

“But who are you?”

“I am Courage.”

BRUEGEL TAROT: 5 of Chalices

Grim Encounter

Jeb and Billy stepped out of the bar as if floating on clouds. Their heads swam with every step, and their faces glowed with a foolish grin. They ambled along in the humid night. The chilly breeze cooled their blazing cheeks, and the air smelled of wet earth.

“I guess it rained,” Jeb slurred.

“We weren’t in there that long, were we?” Billy answered, and hiccuped.

Jeb shrugged and gazed at the sky. A thin shaft of moonlight pierced the thick clouds overhead.

“It was still daylight when we entered the bar, and not a cloud in the sky.” Jeb gave Billy a lazy and dazed grin.

“Maybe we are Whip n’ Wrinkle and we walked out twenty years later,” Billy suggested.

“Rip van Twinkle… no, Winkle.”

“That’s… what I said.”

The brothers giggled like schoolboys and sauntered on, swaying now and again.

“Damn that Ol’ Hans. Once he gets talkin’ there’s no stoppin’ him,” Billy spoke after a while, as the cool night ebbed his boozy buzz.

“Yep, but he spins a good yarn. He’s a helluva folklorist, if there ever was one,” Jeb replied.

“Ha!” Billy snorted, “He tells half the stories backward and confuses fairies with leprechauns.”

“Ain’t leprechauns a type of fairy?” Jeb asked.

“Don’t you start,” Billy glared at him askance.

Jeb giggled.

The cloudy night drew around them as they turned down the country lane towards home. Only the faint beams of porch-lights guided the way. Jeb wished he had his flashlight with him and said so. Billy harrumphed. In their drunken state, it occurred to neither of them their cellphones could act as flashlights, so what had begun as a swaying amble now turned into a precarious trek.

A crisp breeze blew through the trees lining the lane as a patch of sky opened above them. The half moon shone on a nearby tree.

“What’s that?” Jeb stopped Billy and pointed towards the tree.

Through his boozy daze, Billy glimpsed something white billowing beside the tree. He blinked a few times and squinted, trying to focus his eyes. He had forgotten his glasses and the undulating whiteness took on a spectral blur.

Chills ran up his spine as his befuddled mind recalled the tall tales Ol’ Hans had regaled them with in the bar.

“A ghost!” Billy said and Jeb paled.

“You think?”

“Uh-huh,” Billy nodded as the thing quivered before their eyes.

“Uh-oh, what if it sees us?” Jeb said, his eyes darting side to side, searching for a hidey-hole. But… Could you hide from ghosts?

“If we don’t look at it, it won’t see us,” Billy said matter-of-fact.

“Like… Cats,” Jeb answered.

“Yup… Wait, what?”

But Jeb had moved on, and was tiptoeing past the ghost with both hands at his temples, shielding his eyes, like horse blinders. He froze with one foot in front of the other. Still shielding the corner of his eyes, Jeb turned inch by inch towards Billy, who stood stiff as a board, though with quivering knees.

“You hear that?” Jeb whispered, and the soft sound cut through the heavy darkness.

“Yeah,” Billy squeaked.

“It came from the ghost,” Jeb said.

Billy nodded.

The brothers stared at one another for a moment, Billy opened his mouth to speak, but a low growl near the tree killed the words in his throat. Then a sorrowful howl meandered through the forest. It crescendoed as it approached, and the brothers, ashen-faced, watched in terror as the ghost hovered for an instant and took flight towards them.

Its flapping and quick approach stopped their hearts but kick-started their legs. Jeb and Billy, neither athletic nor limber, sprinted home while the ghost fluttered and thrashed at their napes, lashing out and tousling their hair. Screeching like frightened squirrels, they reached the safety of their house faster than either of them could say Usain Bolt.

They locked the door, drew all the blinds and huddled in their living room until sleep overtook them. 

Sunlight woke Jeb. He rubbed the sleep off his eyes. He lay sprawled on the couch, one foot on the floor. 

Billy snorted himself awake and blinked at Jeb. He had draped himself on the high-backed chair with limbs contorted every which way. 

“If anyone asks,” he said, “we fought the thing off.”

Jeb nodded, “like the Brave Little Sailor.”

“Tailor.”

“Whatever.”

Birds twittered outside their window and a soft thump on the door meant the newspaper had arrived.

Billy rose from the chair and rubbed his back and neck. Groaning and muttering something about feeling stiff, like RoboCop, he blundered and tottered towards the door. 

He opened it and grabbed the paper. 

Wind gusted and lifted the discarded white rag lying on the lawn. It lingered for an instant, waving goodbye, before the wind blew it away. The brothers were none the wiser.

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: XVIII The Moon + XVII The Star

Ella

Ella sat by the window; moonlight cast a silvery glow over the snow-covered ground and the smooth surface of the frozen lake. Stars scintillated in the heavens, and Ella marveled at how bright they seemed despite the moon’s radiant glow. The wind crooned through the window and picked up stray flurries that glittered like fluttering grains of sugar. Frost settled over the snow and froze the powdery fluff so that moonbeams caught the individual crystals here and there, sparkling like diamonds on the soft ground; a mirror image of the twinkling stars in the sky. An owl hooted nearby, and the sound seemed to cast a spell over the shimmering landscape. 

There must be magic tonight, Ella thought, good magic, as the world seems sprinkled with sugar, like icing on a cake.

Ella pulled her cream-colored flannel robe over her paisley blue pajamas and turned away from the window. She glanced at her bed with its purple flowered bedspread and the one teddy bear she had not yet parted with leaning against the pillow. Over the last few months, she had exchanged her toys for posters of cute boy bands and celebrities. Necklaces and bracelets now dangled from the corners of her vanity’s mirror, and a jewelry box had replaced the Barbie dolls sitting atop the dresser. 

She reached into the pocket of her robe, and, smiling, took out her brand-new lipstick. She had cajoled her mother into buying it for her. It was her very first, and it was a soft pink hue, though she had tried to convince her mother the bright red “Cadillac Heart” shade suited her better.

“No baloney, Miss Mahoney,” her mother had put her foot down and glared. 

Beside the jewelry box stood the bottle of her first perfume, which her beloved aunt gave her as a birthday gift. It had started the transformation inside her. 

Facing the mirror, Ella traced the lipstick over her lips, marveling at how the paint changed their appearance. She pressed her lips together to even out the color—like her aunt taught her — then puckered them and beamed at herself, giggling. 

Ella sighed and returned her gaze to the sugary cake-world outside her window. A glimmer in the sky caught her eye, and the thought she should wish upon that star flashed, but her new grown-up mind stifled that spark.

“You’re too old to believe in fairytales,” she chided herself; the owl hooted once, as if disagreeing. 

The star, one of many, flickered again and, unbidden, the wish for a handsome prince blossomed in her mind. Feeling silly, Ella slid her feet off the window-seat. 

She was turning away when she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She fixed her gaze on the frozen lake. Her heart pounded as a figure floated across the ice. In the moonlight, she discerned someone approaching her house.

She gulped; was it possible her wish was coming true? She wondered whether to call her parents, who were watching TV in the living room; the muffled sound of the program seeped through the otherwise silent home. Yet something kept her rooted to the spot. Awe, perhaps, mingled with a tad of apprehension.

The figure neared and crossed the property boundary into the backyard. Ella grinned; the moonlight shone on the figure of a young man about her age. He was handsome, like the boy celebrities plastered on her wall. He glided with a cool swagger and, as he reached her window, a smile lit up his face.

Ella and the shimmering prince gazed at one another through the frost-lined pane. The prince reached out his hand and placed it on the glass, beaming his royal smile.

“Let me in,” his mellifluous voice broke the frozen silence, “I’m cold.”

Ella contemplated his beautiful eyes as her hand edged towards the latch. Her fingers closed around it.

She blushed at the boy’s adoring gaze, while her brain instructed her wrist to turn the latch and open the window. 

An instant later, Ella gasped and yanked her hand back, shaking her head. She had caught the flash of malice in the prince’s eyes. Her heart thundered in her ears and chills crawled up her spine.

The prince scowled, and his whole countenance darkened.

“Let me in,” he demanded, but Ella shook her head.

She opened her mouth to scream, but terror caught in her throat as the glass splintered where the prince’s fingers still rested upon it.

“Let me in,” he growled, but Ella refused.

Help me, she thought, her mind racing as she noticed the fiery-red glare of the prince’s pupils. They burned into her like hot, furious coals.

“Let me in,” he snarled and gnashed his teeth.

“No,” she whimpered.

Someone help me, please, she implored.

The prince-demon balled his talon-fingers into a fist. Ella felt her heart would burst out of her chest. The prince-demon drew back the fist and was about to smash the window, when a Snowy Owl swooped down upon him. Amid the flutter of blinding white and bloodcurdling screeches, Ella shrieked as the prince-demon shattered into a thousand glowing cinders that dissipated into the night.

TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: 8 of Pentacles

Ol’ Blue Eyes Knows Best

“It’s like a sword slicing through you,” Patron said, and stared into his drink.

“Hmm,” Bartender wiped the counter.

It was just another day, another dollar for him. He poured people’s drinks, and they poured their souls onto the counter. Day and day out, Bartender wiped the troubles and sorrows that trickled onto the wooden countertop as the ice in the drinks melted.

Bartender’s job was to serve and wipe the troubles away.

“You ever felt like that?” Patron asked.

“Sure,” Bartender murmured.

Listening was not in his job description. Yet he had learned long ago that if someone shuffled in alone at midday, slouched at the bar and ordered whiskey straight, he had better listen.

“Money?” Bartender asked.

“Huh?”

“Is it money troubles?” Bartender repeated the question.

“Nah, I wish,” Patron replied, “money troubles are easy to fix.”

Bartender lifted an eyebrow; most people thought money problems were the end of the world.

“Love?” he continued.

“What is love?” Patron mused.

Bartender suppressed a grin; he had hit the nail on the head.

“So love feels like someone thrust a sword through you?” Bartender leaned forward with an intrigued sparkle in his eyes and placed his elbows on the shiny countertop.

Patron glanced up from his drink and met Bartender’s gaze.

“Yeah,” he said, “you’re on top of the world, until a chiseled Ken doll flies out of the mist and rams a broadsword through you.”

Bartender nodded. He sympathized. He too was versed in love and war, and knew the superpower ‘chiseled Ken dolls’ had.

“And there you are,” Patron continued, “numb and whimpering like a dog. All your defenses, your armor scattered about, useless. Every experience, every triumph, and every defeat laid bare for all to see. Your life gutted, like your innards.”

Frank Sinatra boomed on the stereo. Bartender pointed to the speaker perched above the corner of the bar, then pointed to his ear.

“Listen to him, Ol’ Blue Eyes knows what he’s talking about.”

Patron listened.

He nodded as the song ended. 

“He’s right, that’s life.” Patron managed a sad grin.

“The trick, buddy, is to get up again and…” he raised his arms and belted out off-key, “jump back in the race!”

Patron chuckled, reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He paid his tab and left a hefty tip.

“Thanks, buddy,” Bartender beamed for the first time all day, “you gonna be all right?”

“Sure,” Patron replied as a smile crawled across his lips, “just gotta repair my armor, piece by piece.”

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Queen of Cups

Reyna’s  Oak

The statue stood in the old graveyard since time immemorial. A stone woman sat on a throne and held up a goblet in an eternal salutation to the good life. The throne perched atop a tomb, and a tall, thick oak tree flanked it, like a sentinel protecting his queen. Time had smoothed the statue’s nose, eyes, and mouth into bumps and valleys, and the name on the tomb had faded into oblivion long ago.

The carved folds of her dress were now smooth lines covered in moss and bindweed. Ivy slithered around her bare, polished feet and crawled up her lap, winding itself around the arm holding the goblet aloft. No one knew her name, the villagers all called her The Queen.

She was the heroine of many fanciful legends about her identity and contribution to the world. People surmised she was Guinevere, or Boudicca, but the mystery hovered still over the village of Reyna’s Oak.

The statue had been many a scholarly enterprise for decades. Historians and archeologists came from the big universities to determine her name and age. Many experts said medieval sculptors carved her, but others thought she was Roman, and still others believed she was even more ancient. They brought machines and dug around her feet. They used ground-penetrating radar to peer under the slab of stone that covered the grave beneath the throne. There was a skeleton down there, they said, but without exhumation they could know no more.

The village council hemmed and hawed every time someone — always an outsider — suggested breaking the stone beneath her feet. They stonewalled all attempts to dig deeper into The Queen’s history.

The villagers of Reyna’s Oak considered The Queen a landmark, a patrimony of their village, and they stalled all endeavors to deface her. They understood something the erudite scholars and archeologists did not: The Queen’s well-being affected Reyna’s Oak’s well-being. The tomb bound the village to it, as if Reyna’s Oak’s life began with The Queen’s death.

The goblet The Queen held was always full of water. How much water remained in the cup at the start of spring determined the harvest and economic development for the rest of the year.

If the water in the goblet was low, then the village — poor and rich alike — would have a harsh year. If the water brimmed over, then the village rejoiced, for abundance lay ahead. The goblet had never been dry.

One night, a terrible storm raged. It came in a banging flash and villagers scattered, running to their houses as hail and rain pelted them from the sky.

Taking refuge in their homes, they watched in horror as lightning zapped down and struck the old cemetery at the center of town.

Many screamed, others gasped, and all hoped The Queen remained unscathed.

Thunder, lightning, and hail pummeled the village all night, but by morning, the storm had abated.

The villagers breathed a collective sigh of relief as they took stock of their property. Most buildings were undamaged.

Not a significant loss, they murmured. Phew, they breathed.

Then the screams sounded throughout the village streets.

Lightning had struck The Queen.

The guardian oak stood with its thick trunk split and charred, and groaned in pain and sorrow as its branches swayed in the cool breeze. The Queen’s goblet lay on the ground with its cup separated from the stem. The cup — thank heavens — remained full. A jagged crack marred the smooth statue as the lightning left its trace. The tomb beneath the stone had shattered, and a hole gaped. A few people dared to peer inside it, others turned their heads.

Those who dared a glance reported seeing nothing but earth and stone, despite the assurances of the myriad of scholars of a human skeleton buried in the ground. Many shrugged and stated that academics rarely knew what they said. Most looked at one another askance, superstition shining in their eyes and wondering if perhaps this was a bad omen.

That night, the villagers awoke to the sound of a woman singing through the village streets. The voice was both sweet and hollow, and an eerie mist spread over the town. The meek cowered in their beds, while the bold dared to peek out the windows. They reported the spectral figure of a woman in a long, flowing dress floating down the street. Barking dogs quieted and whimpered as she approached. The mist thickened and soon engulfed the village.

The next morning, the scholars came, alerted to the damage done to The Queen. They arrived at the quiet village and wondered that no one was in sight. They knocked on doors, but no answer came. Then they peeked in the windows and found the houses empty of living souls. The mystery of Reyna’s Oak’s disappearance only deepened when the scholars read the last entries in the vanished inhabitants’ journals.