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OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Seven of Swords

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

Maxwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncle Clayton sniggered and patted the boy on the head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maxwell beamed, “Dragons always protect their treasure.”

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MINCHIATE: Six of Swords

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

Swords

Again, I dreamed it. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: Prince of Cups

"Meant to Be" is a Flash Fiction story based on ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: Prince of Cups

Meant to Be

Kayla gazes at her watch, and a tear rolls down her cheek. The lone glass of wine sits on the table. She is past fuming; self-doubt and self-consciousness are biting at her self-esteem. Stood up, again. She should have known better than to accept the blind date.

Kayla takes a sip of wine and watches the couple at the next table. They are very much in love; it is clear by how they gaze into one another’s eyes and play with one another’s fingers. A slap in the face. Is there something wrong with her? Is love just not meant to be? Although older, the woman’s striking resemblance to Kayla is another stab to the heart. What does this woman have that Kayla does not, besides a tall, dark, handsome man with her?

Kayla sets her wine glass down on the table and wonders whether to stay for a lonely dinner or whether to leave and have a lonely dinner elsewhere. If you leave, everyone will know he stood you up and that you’re not even worth the guy’s time. If you stay, they’ll know you at least have the guts to face the rejection. With a deep sigh, Kayla picks up the menu and reads it for the tenth time that evening.

Lucas glances at his watch and exhales an exasperated huff. He scans the restaurant with apprehension, his eyes lingering on the door. She is late, and he wonders if she is standing him up again. 

His father’s voice whispers in his brain, “She’s not worth it, son.”

He refused to listen, and now he is in a relationship he himself knows is toxic. It is better than being alone, he always tells himself. Peor es nada, like his mother says, worse is nothing.

Lucas runs his tongue over his teeth and watches the couple at the next table. She is beautiful, with long, blonde hair and pouty lips. Her eyes sparkle as she gazes into the eyes of her partner who only has eyes for her as well.

Lucas grabs his whiskey glass and takes a gulp, his eyes rolling once more over the restaurant. He picks up the menu to order yet another lonely dinner. He refuses to text her. There is nothing left to say. As of now, he is a free man.

The sound of shuffling chairs draws his attention. The lovebirds are leaving, and Lucas notices the man has similar features to him, despite being older. Lucas hopes one day a beautiful woman will gaze into his eyes with so much love and admiration. The woman walks around the table and into the nook of the man’s outstretched arm. She slips her arm around his waist, and embracing, they walk out of the restaurant.

Lucas gazes ahead. A woman sits two tables in front of him, by herself. He glimpses the top of a shining blonde head over the menu she is holding up with her delicate hands. She lowers the menu and stares straight ahead. 

Their eyes meet, and Kayla feels an electric jolt through her body as her eyes fix on the dark and handsome man two tables in front of her.

Lucas’s heart skips a beat when he locks eyes with the beautiful blonde woman gazing at him.

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GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: 7 of Pentacles

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

La Llorona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: V of Cups

"A Hero's Journey" is a Flash Fiction story based on UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: V of Cups

A Hero’s Journey

The mansion glimmers in the blue twilight. Tiny pinpricks of electric light twinkle atop the hill. A glacial wind blows and chills him to the bones. He shivers under the thick wool of his army-issue overcoat and wonders whether the frosty night portends his welcome.

“The prodigal son returns,” his father will say, disdainful sarcasm dripping from his lips. The old man’s face hardened by scorn and frozen into a permanent sneer, dim electric light casting shadows on the stony visage. He wants to protest, but his father’s voice continues: useless, shiftless, feckless. Less…

“You’re dead to me!” The words clamored through the night as the young boy hurried away, tears of rage and sorrows streaming down his face.

Now that boy is a man. A hardened man, a decorated man, a valiant soldier who fought one despot but lacked the courage to face the overlord of his youth, and disappeared these war-torn years. He stands at the foot of the hill and looks to his home, that beacon of light to the outside, but inside the murky kingdom of a heartless tyrant. His gloomy childhood lies entombed in that shining palace on the hill.

Pulling his collar up to his ears and leaning into the biting wind, he takes a step. His footfalls crunch on the frozen ground as he traipses towards his greatest fear and most bitter enemy. The hero’s journey is at its end. 

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GOLDEN TAROT OF THE RENAISSANCE: XVIII The Moon

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

Coffee and Winding Vines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lulu whispered, “I only wish for peace.”

Djinn grinned and nodded. 

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

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

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

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ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: I the Magus

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

Cheshire

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

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

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

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

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MINCHIATE: XXXIII Leo

"Lions" is a flash fiction story based on MINCHIATE: XXXIII Leo

Lions

The newest volley of insults flew at Patrick like tiny, sharp darts that pricked his pride while others missed; but most he caught and flung back. Alice’s voice was now so shrill that Patrick’s ears rang. She stood in the middle of the living room, screeching her discontent. Amid the stinging jabs and disrespectful back-and-forth, one question slithered through Patrick’s mind: is this love?

They were fighting again. The last few years had become a long-drawn war. Exhausted and battle-weary, Alice’s needling remarks only spurred him deeper into the fight. He caught this second wind and wrestled to free himself from her entangling web of scorn while seeking to inflict lasting and debilitating damage on her as well. Deflecting the barrage of Alice’s disparaging remarks, his gaze landed on the wallpaper. Two lions stood on their hind legs and faced each other with gnashing teeth and flashing claws.

The world slowed down, and Alice’s shrill voice became low and muffled. He stared at those painted lions who began to move, while the real world stood still. In slow motion, they fought. Growls shook the walls and teeth gnashed. Claws slashed the flesh and blood spurted from the gashes.

Patrick watched the wallpaper lions rip each other to pieces until both lay dead in a bloody mess. Tears sprung to Patrick’s eyes as the world sped up, and the lions returned to their painted form. 

Alice’s voice reached its highest pitch, reproaching him for not listening, while Patrick glared at her with her bared teeth and clawing fingers pointed at him. A low growl rose to his throat as hurtful words formed on his lips, but his eyes shone with the sparkle of realization and the vivid vision of the future: together, Patrick and Alice would slash one another into rags.

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OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Six of Swords

"En Plein Air" flash fiction based on OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Six of Swords

En Plein Air

Nathan painted the last strokes onto the canvas and gathered his things. He glanced at the glimmering mansion ahead, then back at his canvas and nodded, satisfied that his painting looked like the original. Though there was still plenty of light before sunset, sweat beads rolled down Nathan’s forehead, stinging his eyes, and his wet shirt stuck to his back. He could no longer stand the heat, and even the cicadas buzzed in anger at the shining sun. 

While Nathan finished packing his easel and paints, two hunters carrying duck carcasses emerged from the forest path leading to the lake. Spotting Nathan, they waved.

Nathan smiled, and waving, called, “Good hunt?”

“Oh yes,” the hunters answered and, gesturing towards the mansion, invited Nathan to join them for dinner.

Nathan paused for a moment, considering the invitation. He glanced up at the sky and noticed the sun was nearing the horizon. Although curious to enter the mansion, he was new to the area and feared getting lost in the darkness. The hunters waved goodbye, and Nathan watched them disappear under the tree-lined mansion entrance.

Nathan reached town just as the sun was setting. He found an unoccupied table in the local tavern and settled down to a filling dinner. When the waitress brought his beer, she noticed the canvas on the opposite chair.

“That’s a wonderful likeness,” the waitress remarked, pointing to it.

Nathan thanked her, mentioning he had spent the day painting it from life.

Smiling, the waitress turned to leave him when Nathan asked, “Who lives there? In the mansion?”

“It’s abandoned,” she replied, “no one has lived there for centuries.”  

“But two hunters invited me to dine with them this evening, and I watched them enter the mansion,” Nathan remarked, confused. 

The waitress’ demeanor changed; her sunny smile dropped, and concern shaded her eyes. 

“You saw them? The hunters asked you to dinner?”

“Yes, two men, duck hunting.”

“Did you dine with them?”

“No, I declined.”

“Good,” the waitress breathed a sigh of relief.

“Why?”

She glanced towards the bar, then leaned closer and said, “People say those duck hunters are the Devil, and if you accept the invitation, you lose your soul.”

Bewildered, Nathan glanced at his painting; the tavern’s dim lighting cast an eerie shadow upon it.

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UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: Queen of Cups

"Sandcastle" is Flash Fiction story based on UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: Queen of Cups

Sandcastle

She sits on the beach. Seagulls caw as they swoop over the lapping waves, snatching clams and dropping them on the nearby rocks. The ocean roars and floods the beach, then rattles the coarse sand and scattered pebbles as the wave rolls away. The salty breeze plays with her hair and stings her eyes. The sun kisses her cheeks, but she feels no warmth.

A child has abandoned a sandcastle and the rising tide caresses the bucket-shaped tower, nibbling morsels off with each ebb and flood. The wind blows cool and a dark cloud creeps across the sky. 

She watches the sandcastle crumbling with every wave. The icy water now strokes her naked toes. The gusting wind tumbles the rasping sand; it sticks to her shivering skin, but she feels no cold. 

The wind howls and thunder rumbles as the dark cloud slithers across the sun. Shadows form on the water, and the sandcastle vanishes into the roaring ocean. Even the cawing seagulls have vanished, seeking shelter from the raging wind.

“Everyone vanishes,” she whispers, and fat tears roll down her cheeks.