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.

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: IV The Emperor

Adulting

Rick slid the chain-lock into place and scanned his apartment; his first adult home. The rent was nothing to laugh at, but satisfaction glowed out of his eyes as he surveyed his new domain. Several boxes stood open against the wall, and tomorrow he would rent a U-Haul and pick up the secondhand dining set he’d bought online. Though small, his apartment was perfect; top story on a separate wing with no next-door or upstairs neighbors, except for the empty unit below his. A new pre-owned car and exciting new job; his best years had begun. 

Rick padded to the bedroom and turned off all the lights. His parents always complained he wasted electricity. But now, with a brand new contract in his name and linked to his credit card, Rick was very conscious of the value of energy.

He climbed into bed and turned off the lamp. He stared at the ceiling, zigzagged by the shadows of the busy city as moving cars left a wake of light beams across it. His eyelids drooped, and he was drifting into sleep when the voice whispered.

“How should we do it?”

The voice, female, young and high-pitched, was so close in his ear his eyes flew open. His heart jumped to his throat, pumping blood so fast he thought it would leap out of his chest.

“We could smother him in his sleep,” another female voice, older and hoarse, replied.

Trembling, Rick reached for the switch; the room flooded with light. He sat up in bed. Everything was as he’d left it. Only…

He’d draped his pants over the plastic patio chair furnishing the room. They now lay in a heap on the floor beside it.

Rick slid out of bed and tiptoed to the window. City lights shone in full splendor; a foghorn blew in the distance. He crept across the room towards the door, cursing himself for leaving his baseball bat in the car. He peeked into the adjacent bathroom. Nothing out of place. He then made his cautious and frightened way through the tiny apartment. Nothing wrong; locked deadbolt and the chain crossed the door.

Satisfied he was alone, Rick grabbed the cutter he used to open the boxes and returned to bed. He flicked off the light and listened. Street sounds. He calmed down and closed his eyes.

“We could also poison him,” the youthful voice whispered.

Rick sat up and switched on the light.

“No,” the older voice spoke, and Rick pressed himself against the wall, knees to his chest.

The voices were in the room, but he saw no one.

“If we smother him, it would seem like he died in his sleep.”

“How do we get rid of the body?”

“We don’t, we make a big deal about finding him.”

Rick listened to the disembodied conversation, frozen with fear as his mind raced.

Headlights traced their way across the ceiling. Car doors closed, footsteps on the concrete.

“He’s here,” the younger voice said.

Rick forced his body to the window. He tried to gaze down into the street, but the fire escape blocked his view of the parking lot. 

He listened for sounds in the hall; his ears caught the click of a doorway and footsteps crossing the apartment below him. Rick slunk back into bed and drew the covers up to his chin, pondering whether to call the police. 

Then he remembered the realtor had said the apartment below remained unoccupied. The last tenant, he’d said, had died in his sleep years ago. The widow and daughter had moved out soon afterwards.

BRUEGEL TAROT: II The High Priestess

The Old Library

Joan paced the Old Library, checking everything was in place. This branch housed only the history and genealogy resources of the Main Library two streets away. The building was a Post-Medieval English New England house with a plaque claiming it as the town’s oldest structure. It was at least three hundred years old, and though a private residence for generations, the last descendants had willed it to the town upon their death. 

Joan often pondered about the downfall of the old families as she sat at the circulation desk, sometimes playing solitaire on the computer. Never the busiest of branches, most patrons, except for the members of the local historical society, only stopped to gape at the ancient building.

Evening was falling upon the shelves on her first time closing up since Joan’s recent transfer to this branch. Betty, her boss, went home early with an upset stomach.

The library boasted one central chimney flanked by two rooms, known as the hall and the parlor. Upstairs, in the garret, one of two tiny bedrooms functioned as a study room available to patrons, the other was the staff break room.

A long lane wound around the building and dead-ended at the town’s majestic Georgian style Wells House, now a museum. It and the Old Library had belonged to the Wells, the oldest and wealthiest family in town. They built the mansion as their wealth grew and vacated the much older family home, using it first, as a groundskeeper cottage, then left abandoned with their demise. The Wells died out decades ago, their fortune depleted. 

Joan peeked through the small, diamond-paned casement window. Flurries fluttered about the dusky night. She glanced at her watch, still an hour to go before closing time. She meandered to the old stone fireplace and sat down on one of the cozy high-backed chairs facing it. Poking the dying fire, the embers sparkled and twirled upon the now coal-black log. Joan wondered whether to rekindle it, but, even in its last flickers, the fire emitted enough cozy heat. Dim sconces lit up the rooms, and far from eerie, they produced a special welcoming warmth. 

Above the fireplace hung the portrait of a lady dressed in 18th century garb with her hair teased and curled into the pompadour style the ladies favored then. She wore a red dress with frilled cuffs, low neckline and tight corset. Joan thought her a plain woman of a certain age, dressed in the wealthy finery of a young girl. The portrait needed restoration; the background had darkened to indiscernible murkiness and cracks showed on the woman’s serious face. Her marble chest, devoid of ornaments, the brightest spot on the portrait. 

Joan sat and gazed, and for the first time, noticed the woman’s desolate expression. A lump caught in Joan’s throat as she beheld the saddened eyes, sunken into the pallid face. Her thin lips pulled downward in utter misery. 

On Joan’s first day at the Old Library, Betty had explained the portrait’s history. Joan had only half-listened as she pondered the odd placement of the picture. Shouldn’t it hang in the Wells House Museum instead? The high, elaborate hairdo and elegant clothing contrasted with the low ceilings and barebones style of the Old Library. 

Blue shadows of twilight criss-crossed the walls. The fire sputtered, and the ensuing flicker illuminated the painted lips with a ghostly quiver. 

If only Joan could remember the story.

Was she courted by a prince? No, that was her ancestor. 

Joan’s memory clicked into place.

And the prince had gifted the ancestor a precious diamond necklace, which she’d passed down the line to this woman, who had…

Joan scrunched her face and considered phoning Betty, but thought better of it; she’d gone home green with nausea. 

Let’s see, as a young girl the lady in the portrait had…

Had an affair with a British soldier during the Revolution!

Yes, but first, the necklace had disappeared. Then, someone had betrayed the lovers as they tried to elope and accused the soldier of stealing the necklace. She defended him, but the community shamed and shunned her and… 

What happened? He died in battle?

No, he hanged for theft, though the necklace never appeared. And…
A pariah, she lived in squalor in this building for the rest of her life.

A draft of air blew and sparked the glowing embers of the fireplace. Smoke and ash scattered everywhere, and Joan coughed and wheezed until the ash settled on the wooden floor by the high-backed chair.

As the smoke cleared, Joan glimpsed ash seeping through the cracks, delineating one, and only one wooden plank. She kneeled down and, running her fingers over it, realized she could hook her pinky nail under it and pry it loose.

Cautious and praying no rodent bit her, Joan stuck her hand into the gaping rectangle in the floor. Her fingers clasped around cloth. She pulled out a bundle of worn fabric and unwrapped it.

Her hands shone with bejeweled diamonds woven into a gold chain. She held it to the light, marveling as the stones caught the beams and reflected them back into the dim library. 

“I believe that belongs to me,” the voice of a young woman whispered and Joan turned towards the sound.

The portrait gazed down at her. A painted arm moved and reached through the turbid varnish of the picture and out into the room, so close it almost touched Joan’s face.

The woman held her arm out, palm up, expecting Joan to place the necklace on it. Shuddering, Joan deposited the jewels in the outstretched fingers.

“Thank you,” the woman said, smiling.

Another gust howled through the library. Twinkling embers danced around the portrait of the smiling young girl in wealthy dress and pompadour hairstyle with a shining necklace draped around her neck. A handsome man in a tricorn hat beamed behind her. 

MINCHIATE: XL Trumpets

Cosmos

In bed, Doreen lay with her knees tucked up tight to her belly. Silent tears trickled down her cheeks when the music seeped through the wall. She listened to it oozing through the wallpaper as it crescendoed until it blanketed the entire room.

Mr. Peterson still played Gustav Holst’s The Planets—the entire suite—every night before bedtime.

His music had filtered through the wall of the duplex since Doreen was a child. Through the stress of midterms, the bullies and the gossipmongers, her high school graduation, the first Christmas home from college. In good times and bad times, Mr. Peterson’s music was there, as certain as the moon orbits Earth. 

Her emotions always attuned to the music, as though a magician turned up the dial at just the right moment. “Mars” riled enough healthy anger and courage to break up with a sleazy boyfriend, “Venus” calmed her fighting spirit, “Jupiter” sparked her optimism. Mr. Peterson’s music had bent and molded and shaped her and set her on the right path. 

Doreen’s lips quivered. She had made the hardest decision of her life and moved back home with the hollow pit of defeat lodged in her stomach. 

The landlady had shut the door of the tiny apartment in the big city as Doreen’s dejected shadow shrunk along the wall of the stairwell with each step downward. The dreams she pursued for ten years rotted in the dumpster by the building. She had so much promise, so much potential; she was honest and disciplined and brave. But the city, the economy, downsizing, attrition and joblessness had beaten her little by little, a scratch here, a bruise there.

Her parents suggested she move back in with them.

“You can live here rent free while you get back on your feet,” her dad said.

Her mother piped up, “We’d love to have you with us!”

Doreen put it off until she faced eviction.

The condo, though welcoming as always, now bore the burden of promises and dreams down the drain. 

Mr. Peterson’s music soaked through the wall and into her soul like a soothing balm. Tomorrow I’ll knock and see how he is, Doreen thought as her eyelids drooped and she fell into a deep slumber, perhaps the deepest in months. 

Doreen woke up refreshed, still a failure, but a well-rested, clear-headed failure.

At breakfast, her mother smiled and placed her hand on her daughter’s.

“We’ve missed you,” she whispered.

Dad beamed at her over his coffee and winked. 

Doreen said, “So Mr. Peterson’s still playing his music every night, huh? I thought I’d knock and say hi.”

Her parents’ faces fell. Dad looked grim and Mom confused.

“Oh honey, didn’t you know?” Dad said, “Mr. Peterson passed away last summer. His condo is empty now.”

“But,” Doreen stammered as the news sunk in, “the music, last night…”

Dad shook his head, “it’s been quiet all this time.”

Dad patted her hand and excused himself from the table.

Doreen turned to Mom.

“I heard it,” she mumbled.

“I know,” Mom whispered, “I hear it too on nights when I need a friend, on tough nights. It soothes me too.”

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.  

TAROT DRACONIS: Queen of Pentacles

Sparkle

Wanda leaned back in her gravity chair; her stomach churned as the backrest went down and her feet went up towards the firmament. It surprised her that, though the chair creaked from disuse, none of its powerful cords snapped and sent her crashing onto her butt.

She gazed at the starlit sky. How long had it been since she’d lounged here, bundled up against the cold and with a steaming cup of tea beside her?

One year, two months and eleven days.

The last time, Ben had stood beside her, his telescope pointing at the heavens, ready to answer all her silly questions.

Now the telescope sat buried in the garage, while Ben lay buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Tears pin pricked her eyes, and she ran her hand across her face. The tiny dots in space came back into focus. Wanda took a long, quivering breath.

Only Ben had known how to use the telescope, and now she regretted turning down his many offers to teach her.

She took a sip; the tea burned her tongue.

Wanda put on her earphones, clicked her phone and settled down to wait for her eyes to adjust to the night.

Orson Welles narrated in her ears. 

It had been a tradition between them. They sat outside in darkness and waited for the stars to show. Ben turned on his Bluetooth speaker and together they listened to old radio shows. The Shadow, The Saint and Gang Busters.

Every year, on this special night, they listened to the War of the Worlds while Ben’s telescope pointed towards Mars, waiting for the real spectacle to begin.

Today was the first of many nights she would restart the tradition, alone.

“Oh Ben,” she whispered, “I miss you.”

Wanda closed her eyes, and only half listened to the narration. Her mind torn between paying attention to a show she knew and wading in the murky waters of yesteryear, which rippled with memories of Ben.

Orson Welles faded and Wanda found herself in another night with the telescope between them, while Ben peered through it.

“Did you know that when some stars die,” Ben’s sweet voice filled her ears, “they go into supernova and that explosion causes the birth of new stars?”

Wanda smiled.

Ben continued, “One day our sun will explode and we will cease to exist. Out of its ashes, a new star will spark and keep the cycle of birth, death and rebirth spinning for eternity. When you think about it, death is only a transition.”

A sob exploded in Wanda’s chest. Then a second and a third, until tiny little supernovae thundered in her body. Tears flowed down her cheeks, and she didn’t stop nor repressed them.

Orson Welles’s transmission ended and Wanda, adrift in an ocean of muffled noise, removed her earphones. The night silence was like a breath of fresh air, its quiet permeated her skin and the exploding sobs in her heart abated.

The tears stopped, and the stars came back into focus through her wet eyelashes. Becalmed, she gazed at the sparkling heavens, enjoying it for the first time in a year. A smile crept across her lips as she recalled Ben’s voice a few moments ago. 

“It was you, wasn’t it?” She whispered to the stars, “You were here.”

A flare streaked across the sky. Then another and another. The myriad of shooting stars soon engulfed Wanda in spangles and wonder and evanescing sadness.

“Goodbye,” She whispered as a new spark kindled in her chest: Peace.

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.