VISCONTI TAROT: 3 of Wands

The Howling

It was past midnight the first time the dog barked. The deep loud woof broke through the silence and Lucy awoke with a start. Her muddled mind deduced that somewhere a dog had made that hollow sound, before she plunged back into a deep sleep. The episode had slipped into a vague memory by morning.

The sun shone through the windows and the mug in her hand steamed with fresh coffee, but that wisp of a thought lingered so shadowy, she did not realize at once none of her neighbors owned dogs. Lucy’s house stood at the dead end of the street, flanked by a tiny ranch house owned by an elderly couple; their potty-mouthed parrot squawked Shakespearean insults from its perch by the front window.

Across the street lived a young family with an arrogant cat whose favorite pastime was to stroll past the window and provoke the parrot into one of its baroque tirades.

The house with the backyard abutting her own had stood empty for years. Weeds and bramble had grown into a tangled mass that reminded Lucy of Sleeping Beauty’s forest of thorns.

Lucy sipped her coffee and tried to recall the episode, the bass note ringing true in her memory. She cast her mind over the remaining neighbors, but recalled no dogs. Residents of the nearby streets would sometimes saunter down her lonely lane with their nervous, yapping little pups on a leash, none big enough for such a deep bark.

Her coffee finished, Lucy occupied herself with breakfast and put the whole thing out of her mind.

That night, the dog barked again. Not one note that broke the silence, but a series of bays that yanked Lucy out of sleep and into total wakefulness. She did not roll onto her other side and fall asleep this time. Instead, she listened. The barks rang out through the sleepy lane, but they were neither frantic nor joyful. She imagined a lone survivor on a deserted planet calling out in the hope of an answer.

Lucy stood and tottered toward the window. She peeked through the slats of the half-closed Venetian blind, but in the moonless night, only the dark mass of the thorny, abandoned house greeted her. 

“Is anybody there?” the dog seemed to howl. 

“I’m here, doggy. Let’s go back to sleep,” Lucy murmured and returned to bed.

The lamenting howling ceased. 

The next day, as soon as the morning shower passed, Lucy put on her rain boots and coat and trudged to her backyard fence. 

“Doggy, here doggy,” she cooed, tracing the boundaries of her property, but received no answer.

From her bedroom window earlier that morning, she had discerned no living being in the empty house and twisted yard. Lucy slipped her keys and wallet in her pockets and made her way up the deserted, puddled street. Hers was an old lane, at the edge of town, and though black snakes of tar meandered through the repaired pavement, new cracks had appeared. 

She walked through the old neighborhood, greeting whoever was out and about on the streets. She asked whether they knew of a big dog living nearby, like a Saint Bernard, or a bloodhound, but only received shrugs and puzzled expressions in reply.

Upon her return, Lucy walked past the house with the parrot.

“Ninnyhammer!” The parrot squawked. 

Just then, Mrs. Graybeard stepped out decked in full rain gear—boots, pants, coat and an oversized bucket hat—though the sun had pushed through the clouds and steam rose from the pavement. Lucy had taken off her own raincoat and hung it on her arm. 

“Hello, Lucy!” Mrs. Graybeard’s thin, papery voice called to her, ignoring her parrot’s florid language.

“Hello, Mrs. Graybeard,” Lucy replied and waited as the old woman approached her. 

“Never mind Fiddlesticks, he’s just a cranky old windbag,” Mrs. Graybeard said when she reached Lucy. 

“Mrs. Graybeard,” Lucy said as they walked up the lane together, the niceties over, “did you hear a big dog barking last night?”

“Oh no, dear, I take out my hearing aids. Mr. Graybeard, my old coot, says the Apocalypse could be upon us and I’d never know it!”

“Oh, it’s just one woke me up. It sounded like it came from the house behind mine, but I know it’s been empty for years.”

“Oh yes, I remember them, Deanne and Sam, older than Methuselah when they died. I believe their children ensnared the property in a legal dispute. I’m on the welcoming committee, no one has rented or bought the house.”

“Oh, I see…” Lucy searched for a better reply, but Mrs. Graybeard continued, saving her the trouble. 

“Though they had a dog once, a big one, either a Great Dane or a Dalmatian, let me think. Its name was… Kaiser, I believe. Whatever happened to that dog?” Mrs. Graybeard clicked her tongue, “My memory is not what it was.”

They walked in silence for a moment while Mrs. Graybeard floated in a sea of memories, trying to hook the right one.

“That’s right,” Mrs. Graybeard piped up, “Kaiser died before they did; I believe that sneaky shyster, Old Age, got him. After that, things went downhill for them. If I recall, someone broke in and frightened Sam to death—heart attack, my dear, watch those arteries. Afterwards, Deanne just let herself go. She always lamented Kaiser’s absence; he’d have scared the robber out of his wits. His booming barks kept the riff-raff away.” 

***

The howling woke Lucy up again. 

“Kaiser,” she murmured, her breath frosting the windowpane, “I hear you. Go to sleep.”

The barking stopped and Lucy prepared to climb back into bed. Then, snarls and growls broke through the night and goosebumps crept up Lucy’s spine. She peeked out the window again; a thin sliver of moonlight shone on the gnarled neighboring yard, but showed no sign of life. 

The mesh of frenzied noise shook the walls, yet superimposed over nigh imperceptible sounds: cautious footsteps, the soft click of a doorknob and the slow turn of a door. 

Lucy whipped around, frozen in place, watching her bedroom door creak open as her worst nightmare came true. 

 A tall, muscular, masked figure appeared, backlit by the hallway night-light.

 She screamed, her voice intertwined with the snarling sound of gnashing teeth exploding through the wall. The thief tumbled backwards and squirmed, his arm over his face as if trying to fend off an attacking beast. 

Growls and barks thundered, and in the dim, blue beam of the night-light, Lucy distinguished the gossamer figure of a Great Dane, trampling and biting the flailing man. Crawling and kicking, the intruder stumbled down the stairs, out of the house and into the night. 

The yowling stopped. The flimsy image weaved into the room, and panting, trotted to where Lucy stood, mingling with the shadows of the darkened bedroom. 

Lucy, aghast and frightened, felt a cold lick on her fingertips and warm breath upon her hand. 

“Kaiser,” she bleated. 

A woof blasted in the room. 

“Thank you,” she yelped. 

Kaiser’s long wolf-like howl faded into the darkness.

GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: XX Judgement

Mirrors and Smoke

“If it’s too good to be true,” Grandpa had often said, “leave it. There’s always a catch.”

Nothing in Damon’s life had ever been too good to be true, and he often wondered whether that philosophy had inflicted missed opportunities upon his family. Yet, here was the job offer.

Damon’s heart beat with delight as he read the letter. The company offered extraordinary benefits, and the salary, oh, the salary, those zeroes went through the roof. He gulped; in one month he stood to earn more money than his parents had earned in their lifetime of toil and trouble and backbreaking overtime at the factory.

“It’s honest work, Damon,” his father’s words whispered in his memory, “never forget that. We are decent people, and that’s far more rewarding than money.”

It annoyed Damon that now, in his moment of victory, when he should savor pure bliss, those words would haunt him and a nagging apprehension would settle in his heart. He’d struggled too; being the first in his family with a college degree had been no picnic. And he worked his fingers to the bone at his meager-paying entry-level job while he clung for dear life to the bottom rung of the corporate ladder. 

 Then, that phone call; a headhunter saw his profile. A company, unknown but successful, was interested in his credentials. Afterwards came the whirlwind interview infused with smiles and enthusiasm. He’d researched the business. It seemed solid, according to the information available. And now, the blessed offer beyond his wildest dreams had arrived… but too good to be true.

Damon checked his watch. It was too late in the day to call and accept. He sighed and microwaved his frozen dinner, then turned on the TV. He paid no attention, his mind swirled with visions of wealth and success. 

Still, that gnawing feeling…

Damon climbed into bed, flicked off the light and drifted off to sleep.

He stood in smoke, a thick white smoke. A soft breeze blew and dissipating the fumes revealed a headstone. 

Nonplussed, he approached the gravestone. It was dark as onyx and reflected his own glimmering image on its smooth surface. Rugged letters etched the sepulchral mirror. He squinted, trying to the read the words inscribed, but they blurred in and out of focus. He reached out and traced his fingertips along the engraving. A ray of light beamed down upon the epitaph, and Damon distinguished only one word: PATSY.

“Whose grave is this?” he wondered.

“Yours,” Grandpa whispered beside him.

Damon turned towards the voice, but there was only vapor.

“Too good…” the wind ululated. 

Damon awoke with a start; dawn was peeping through the window-blinds.

He stared at the ceiling for a long time. Then he made a phone call.

Months later, the story exploded in the media. On the evening news, Damon watched as police handcuffed the company’s newest employee. The poor idiot had accepted the offer Damon had declined. 

“Honest work is never too good to be true,” Damon stated, and switched off the TV.

MINCHIATE: XXI Water

A Picture at an Exhibition

Cecilia stared at the picture of the sailing ship rocking in the waves. The galleon slanted on the water painted with thick oil-caked brushstrokes, and the full sails depicted the harsh ocean wind. Peter stood beside her; a snide remark died on his lips when he caught her far-away gaze.

“What’s the matter,” he asked, “don’t tell me you like this painting?”

“Well, it has so much movement,” Cecilia replied, “I can almost feel the wind blowing in my face and hear the waves lapping against the boards.”

“It has that,” Peter conceded, “but it’s just so jaded. It’s about time we stopped romanticizing the pirates. They were horrible people.”

“Who said anything about pirates?” Cecilia glanced at him, “There’s no black flag.”

“Huh…” Peter shrugged and squinted at the artwork, “must be my imagination; it’s the first thing I thought.”

He wandered off to gaze at the rest of exhibition.

“It’s a merchant vessel,” Cecilia mumbled in a monotone voice.

As she spoke, she listened to the jolly babble of sailors.

The sounds of the waves, the roaring wind and the merry sea chanties grew louder in Cecilia’s ears until she fancied herself on the keel. The gallery’s marble floor rocked under her feet, though the salty air bit into her skin. She was in two places at once, inside the cool air-conditioned gallery, and aboard the watercraft. 

The lookout’s cry cut through the noise, “Ship! Starboard!”

An ominous gloom draped over the canvas. 

Deep in the distance, Cecilia spotted sails moving fast on the waves.

“Sloop!” the lookout bellowed.

The men quieted in expectation. 

The oncoming ship drew closer, dark clouds behind it, as if trying to escape a storm. Or was it bringing it? A shaft of sunlight broke through the dense clouds and glinted upon its main mast. 

Cecilia covered her mouth and shrieked through her hand when something slapped down hard upon her shoulder. She jumped and whipped around in surprise.

“Jeez, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Peter said beside her, his hand still on her shoulder, “This picture fascinated you, didn’t it?”

“You’re right,” Cecilia replied, fixing her frightened eyes on him, “this painting is about pirates.”

An instant prior, she’d glimpsed cross-boned murder gliding upon the waves.

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: 7 of Wands, Valour

Instinct

“Hey,” I knocked on the doorframe to get Tony’s attention.

“Wassup,” he said, without glancing away from his computer.

“Um, you have a minute?” I asked, a slight tremble in my voice.

Tony tore his eyes away from the screen and turned in my direction. His indulgent smile faded when he focused on me.

“What’s happened?” he asked alarmed, “you look like you’ve seen a ghost!”

“I don’t know,” I mumbled, “but something happened on my way back.”

“Tell me about it,” he said. 

I sat down on the edge of the bed and related my story:

Every day, after night school, I walk home via the same route. My mom always told me to stick to well-lit streets, and I always do. But tonight, as I stepped onto the sidewalk outside the school, I felt an eerie chill in the air. Shrugging, I turned up my coat collar and started my walk home. I noted the empty sidewalk, though at that hour—a little before ten o’clock—the street is often busy. It being a cool evening, I figured people had stayed home.

At the corner, I turn onto Main Street, as it’s always bustling because of the shops and restaurants, but something stopped me. I couldn’t continue; the familiar thoroughfare with the raucous hubbub and beaming shops gave me goosebumps. So I did what my mom said never to do. I walked up a block and turned onto the tiny byway that runs parallel, it’s called Stygian Alley. It’s a dark lane, almost ghostlike at any hour of night. An icy wind blew against me and chilled me to the bone, but I would rather face that eerie, deserted street than enter Main. 

 All the while on Stygian Alley, I sensed someone watching me, stalking me, like a lion in the bush. I whipped around, but saw no one, only black masses flanking a black void. No buildings were lit. The dread increased with every step until I thought I would burst out of my skin. I ran all the way home, the clack-clack of my heels thundering in my ears like the ticking clock of the universe.

Wringing my trembling hands, I finished. Tony, silent and thoughtful, joined me. He put his arms around my quivering shoulders; I rested my head against his.

“I can’t explain it,” I went on, “but the thought of walking down Main Street frightened me more than Stygian Alley. Though I’m scared shitless, I’m certain I did the right thing. Is that possible?”

He contemplated me for a moment, “You followed your instinct, and that’s always a good thing. I doubt we will ever know otherwise.”

He kissed my forehead, and we left it at that.

Tony’s startled cry woke me up the next morning. I ran to the kitchen.

“What is it?” I gasped.

He showed me his phone. The local news read:

Last night, around ten o’clock, an out-of-control truck plowed into a restaurant on Main Street. It hit a gas pipe. The explosion started a four-alarm fire that spread to other businesses. Many people are dead, wounded and missing. Authorities are still investigating. 

I stared at him wide-eyed.

“Never, ever doubt your instinct,” he said.

GOLDEN TAROT: Knight of Swords + XIII Death

Duke

Norman traipsed along the forest path; he unclasped the dog leash, then tucked into his jacket pocket. Birds trilled in the trees as Duke ran ahead, tongue lolling out and tail wagging. Norman smiled, though a lump formed in his throat as he perceived Duke’s lopsided gait and frequent rests. Duke turned his panting face towards him, and Norman noticed the white hairs that lined Duke’s snout, though his fur still glowed with its natural golden hue. Their friendship neared its end… Norman severed that thought. In the past decade and change, age and illness had caught up to Duke, though he still had the youthful joy of a puppy.

A cool breeze blew and swayed the boughs with a soft rustle of red, orange and yellow leaves. The crisp autumn air nipped at Norman’s cheeks, and the sun shone at intervals through the passing clouds. Casual hikers were scarce on the mountain during the workweek, yet Norman had taken such a glorious day off to spend it with Duke.

Duke stopped; his ears pricked up, attentive.

“What is it, buddy?” Norman called after him.

Duke let out a soft woof and darted up the hillside. Norman ran after him, aware they were veering off the path.

“Duke, stop!” he called, but the dog kept running and Norman only just glimpsed his tail vanishing into a hillside grotto. 

Norman entered the cave, calling out Duke’s name, but the dog was too far ahead. Norman paused, listening for Duke’s footsteps. Darkness surrounded him, yet Norman realized he could see well enough in the pitch black. He scanned the cave’s walls, which glittered in hues of gold, silver, copper and bronze, as if the rock contained all the precious metals of the world. 

“What is this place?” he whispered.

A far-away bark, and he set off in search of Duke. He followed Duke’s bays and yips down labyrinthine passageways alight with the strange sparkle of the walls. At last Norman caught up with Duke as he sighted the dog passing through a towering arch. Duke waited for him just beyond the threshold.

Norman gaped as he joined his dog inside a cavernous vault. He heard a soft gush in the twinkling darkness; a smooth river with obsidian-like water flowed by his feet.

“Where are we?”

Duke gazed up at him with an unreadable expression.

“You know where you are,” a deep voice spoke beside him, “the question is, should you be here?” 

Norman whipped around, searching for the voice’s owner, but saw no one. Afraid, Norman stooped and put his arms around Duke’s neck. The dog licked his cheek.

“Who are you?” Norman asked, but before he received an answer, Duke slipped from his embrace and took off further into the vaulted space.

Norman ran after him, unaware he trod on the black water. With Duke ahead and in sight, Norman reached a tall enameled staircase. Duke was already halfway up and panting; Norman took the steps two by two.

“Wait, Duke!” Norman called, but Duke had reached the landing.

Heaving and wheezing, Norman reached Duke at the top of the stone stairs.

“Hello,” a soft, yet hollow voice spoke.

Norman glanced up and faced a couple seated on onyx thrones atop a pedestal hewn into the colossal walls. Pale and gaunt, the man gazed at him through stony black eyes, while the woman, a pallid blond, smiled at him.

“Where are we?” Norman whimpered.

“Didn’t Charon tell you?” the man asked.

Norman shook his head.

“He ran off,” the deep voice hissed beside him.

“I see,” Hades (it must be Hades) said, “why are you here?”

“I followed my dog,” Norman replied and gazed down at Duke sitting beside him.

“Ah, then it is true, you should not be here,” Persephone said.

“If you show us the way out,” Norman squeaked, “we’ll leave.”

“‘We’ sounds like a crowd,” Hades’s thin lips cracked into a kindhearted snicker, then turned serious, “someone belongs here, or the door would not have opened.”

Norman paled, fighting back tears of fright. He stood and stared, statue-like, as the truth sunk in like an anvil on his chest. Duke yipped and licked Norman’s fingers. The gesture washed away Norman’s fear as heartbreak and sadness overcame him. He kneeled down and cupped Duke’s face in his hands.

“I’m not ready,” he whispered.

“But I am,” Duke’s soft yip seemed to say.

He licked the tears running down Norman’s cheeks.

Norman pressed his face into Duke’s furry neck and sobbed. Man held dog for a long while, until Duke gave Norman’s ear one last lick, slipped from his embrace, and laid down at Hades’s feet.

“Will he suffer?” Norman fought back a sob.

“Not here,” Persephone answered, “out there with you, it’s all that awaits him; a slow and painful decline.”

“I’ve never wanted that,” Norman’s voice broke, “I only want his happiness.”

“That’s all genuine love ever is,” Hades replied, “go now, Norman, we don’t expect you for a very long time.”

Hades snapped his fingers and Norman whisked back through the cave and out to the forest. Norman lay on the soft grass and wept. 

Dusk was falling as he walked out of the mountain and reached his car, the empty leash dangling from his hand.

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Queen of Coins

The Wake

Darrell looked up from his cell phone, glanced around the room and rolled his exasperated eyes. He scoffed and shifted in his chair. These people, he thought, they’d never cared.

His aunt’s audible sobs broke through the relative quiet of the funeral parlor. Of course, she always made a scene. Even at a funeral, she was the center of attention. 

Cousin Blanche, as she preferred to call herself, stood up, and the whispers hushed. 

Darrell sneered at Cousin Blanche and her hypocrisy. Cousin Blanche made Auntie Clarabelle’s life miserable. Blanche spent most of her adult years trash-talking Clarabelle, though Clarabelle was older by at least a generation.

Darrell loved Auntie Clarabelle and her easy and open personality. Auntie Clarabelle always had a smile ready for him, wrapped in infinite patience. 

“Blanche has a special venom she spews by the drop and at intervals, so she’ll never be empty,” Auntie Clarabelle told Darrell many times.

“It’s all about the money her mother and I inherited,” Auntie Clarabelle said, “Blanche wants it all.”

“Why?” Darrell asked. 

Clarabelle answered with a mystified shrug, though the glint in her eyes told Darrell otherwise. 

“She will never see a cent,” Auntie Clarabelle vowed, “she’ll have it over my dead body. And you can take that to the bank!” 

Now Auntie Clarabelle lay in the coffin across the room, and only Darrell knew the truth. 

Blanche, dabbing at her crocodile tears with a handkerchief, tottered, ever the victim, towards the coffin.

All eyes watched the sanctimonious Blanche make her way across the room. The surrounding air congealed with pride and gloating; the best woman was still standing. Blanche had won over Clarabelle, if only because she was decades younger. Now it would all be hers. 

Darrell smirked, he imagined Blanche’s expression when she found out. 

“It’s all gone, hee-hee,” Auntie Clarabelle whispered on her deathbed as Darrell bent down to kiss her goodbye, “there’s nothing left.”  

The room gasped and Darrell’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

Cousin Blanche gave a watery, sudden wheeze, then toppled over and hit the floor with a surprised look on her face and stiff as a board. It took a few moments for the family to react, as if time had held its breath before heaving it out in a collective “oh!”

Then time sped up and people rushed to Blanche’s side. But Darrell had seen her face; the woman had dropped dead in that instant. People hustled around him, moaning and screeching. Someone yelled for a doctor. An uncle shook and pounded on Blanche’s chest. The room was a flurry of surprise and drama, like on Auntie Clarabelle’s favorite soap opera. 

Through the crowd, Darrell glimpsed Auntie Clarabelle’s coffin. Auntie Clarabelle shimmered beside it; she caught his eye and winked.

GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: Knave of Wands

The Birthday Present

Gabby grinned through gritted teeth and accepted the gift Uncle Morty held out to her.

“Happy birthday, Gabby,” he said, his top hat askew and handlebar mustache out of place in the small living room and her brother’s Xbox exploding in the adjacent den.

“Thank you, Uncle Morty,” she forced an even bigger smile.

Uncle Morty was the strange one, the oddity who enjoyed being eccentric, even if he put his relatives in awkward spots. 

He also gave the worst gifts.

Last year he’d given her an old-fashioned, poofy shower cap with frills around the edge. The year before that, a kaleidoscope which took up space on her chest of drawers (she never admitted it, but Gabby somewhat like that gift).

This year, Uncle Morty, recluse extraordinaire, gave her… 

Ta-da!

A fountain pen. 

A plain, black fountain pen, which she didn’t know how to use.

Gabby tried to suppress her disappointment, though she knew not why she felt it at all. Uncle Morty’s gifts always disappointed.

“Go on, try it,” Uncle Morty said, and Mom fetched the pad by the telephone.

Gabby unscrewed the cap. Though beautiful, the pen looked awkward between her fingers.

She poised it over the paper.

“No, no,” Uncle Morty said, and flipped the pen so the nib pointed down instead of upwards, “Now write, but don’t press down on the paper too hard.”

Gabby obeyed, and it surprised her when the ink flowed smoother than from the run-of-the-mill ballpoint pens. She squiggled and doodled; Uncle Morty’s proud smile softened Gabby’s heart towards him. He was a total weirdo, but in a good way. 

She screwed the cap back on and the party continued.

That night, Gabby stared at the pen before opening her Biology notebook to the last page. Gabby wrote:

“Hello, I am Gabriella, but everyone calls me Gabby.”

She liked the ink’s flow and the smooth passage of the nib on the paper.

She shrugged and smiled.

Gabby changed into her pajamas and was about to get into bed when her eyes fell on the notebook, still open to the last page.

Gabby frowned; beneath her big, girly handwriting words had appeared. The handwriting was small and wavy. 

“I am Gabriel, nice to greet you Gabby.”

Gabby gasped, and trembling, took a cautious look around her bedroom. She was alone, the windows and door shut, and she hadn’t left the room since she’d written her introductory sentence.

“Who are you?” She wrote, “What is happening?”

“I am your guardian angel. I am always present, but it’s difficult to communicate with you. Until now.”

Words appeared in the same flowing ink, though she held the pen against her heart.

“Why now?” She wrote.

“You know the pen is mightier than the sword?”

Gabby nodded as the words continued to appear.

“Well, this is The Pen. Many have used it for good, others for evil. You can choose how you use it.”

Gabby’s heart thudded in her ears. She gulped and brought out an old and tattered notebook. Not her diary, but kept just a secret and just as private. She pressed the notebook to her chest, as if re-absorbing the part of herself hidden from everyone—for fear of ridicule and mockery—that she’d ripped out long ago. 

The notebook contained the fantasies she’d imagined as a child, jotted down in candid vocabulary, childish hand and simple pictures. She had not opened this notebook since the first grade, when her curmudgeon and strict teacher had objected to it. Miz Prism had no imagination and pure contempt for those who did. Her parents had tsk-tsked and pooh-poohed and, once she’d buried it in her closet, forgotten all about it. 

“Yes,” the words appeared, “write to your heart’s content. I will guide you.”

UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: Page of Cups

Tall Tales

Vera sat on the balcony overlooking the rocky crag. The beach below was not for picnicking; waves pounded the jagged rocks at all times. It was a harsh beach, and many a vessel had seen its dreams dashed upon those unforgiving boulders. Yet, the sunsets were a thing of wonder as the bursting rays set the water afire and the thunderous waves rattled upon the rocks. Here, the sea never sparkled in stillness; it always raged, begrudging those who dared to sail upon its back. This ocean was mean, and sprinkled with cock-and-bull stories of shipwrecks, curses and sunken treasures. Legends Vera gave no credence to, though she’d spent little time here over the years. 

Night fell and Vera remained on the balcony with a warm shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Stars winked in the sky and the moon shone in full splendor over the roaring waves. The wind howled, and she thought she caught the distant call of a human voice.

“Ahoy!” 

Vera sprang up from her chair, her eyes straining to pierce the waves.

The wind whipped her hair about her face, and she tried to hold it in a ponytail.

“Ahoy!” Loud and clear the call. 

What on earth…?

There, in the moonlight, she spied a sailing ship. A tall ship? A galleon, perhaps? She knew nothing about ships, but this one looked like the ones in pirate films. 

Vera clasped her unruly hair with a hair clip.

“Ahoy!” She called, feeling ridiculous.

A faint light blinked from the ship as it approached. Vera, fearing it would strike a rock, flicked the balcony light on and off in quick succession, signaling danger and hoping the ship would see it.

But the worst came to pass and Vera, helpless and aghast, watched as the ship floundered on the rocks, capsized and vanished into the ocean depths.

“Grandpa! Shipwreck!” She yelled, bursting into the house.

Grandpa looked up from his easy chair by the fire and placed a finger on the page he’d been reading. The room, warm and cozy, surrounded him with valuable stuff; antiques, artifacts, knick-knacks, books, books and more books. Vera’s favorite antique was the astrolabe displayed on the mantelpiece. She also loved the ancient and faded charts framed and hanging on the walls, some water-damaged beyond repair, but still beautiful. 

“Ships don’t come this way, Vera. This hasn’t been a route for, oh, four hundred years.”

“I saw it, a great big sailing ship, like a pirate ship.”

“Did it capsize, then disappear?”

Vera nodded, perplexed by Grandpa’s tranquility.

“Yes, I’ve seen it too, every so often. Legend tells it was the last merchant ship to pass this way.  Did it call out?”

Vera nodded. 

“It’s good luck if you hear the call, did you answer?”

“I tried, I called out and flicked the balcony lights. I tried to warn it.”

“Good, it blesses those who respond,” he gave a loving glance around the room, “tomorrow, at the beach, we’ll collect whatever the sea has bequeathed us this time.”

TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: Knave of Wands

Tenebrous

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

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

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

Adrian sighed and put his face in his hands.

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

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

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

Maybe I should become a monk.

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

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

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

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

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

Only for a minute

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

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

He knocked on the door; the girl answered.

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

The girl looked up at him with frightened eyes.

“Cassie,” she bleated. 

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

Cassie nodded, her eyes darting this way in that.

“Are you OK?”

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

“Who?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Go away!” He yelled. 

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

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

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

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: VIII Strength

The Stairs

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

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

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

A scuffle, a slam, a gunshot.

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

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

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

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

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

Curiosity won, “Saw who?”

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

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

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