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BRUEGEL TAROT: Queen of Swords

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Ghost

 

“I’ll call you,” Ethan walked out the door without looking back. Lorna closed it behind him and leaned against it, smiling. He’d spent the night. Lorna floated to her bed and pressed her face against the pillows.

“Ethan,” she whispered, and the name sweetened her tongue, “Lorna and Ethan.”

They’d taken it slow, meeting almost every week for the past few months. Almost. The word nagged Lorna; it reminded her of the times they didn’t meet. He’d canceled because of work. Then she’d had plans. But all was in the past. Last night sealed the deal, and Lorna felt the petals of an exclusive and long-lasting relationship blossoming.

Ethan didn’t call the next day. Lorna dismissed it. He’d said he was swamped at work. He was often swamped at work.

Two more days of silence; Lorna wondered if he was all right. She clicked the refresh button and waited impatiently as the email loaded. Nothing new. Lorna glanced at her phone. No new text, no missed call.

“Maybe he messaged me through social media,” she mumbled and pulled up her profile.

Nothing, nada, zip.

Lorna glanced left and right and clicked on his picture.

“Just making sure he’s all right,” she said to the keyboard, whose letters C-R-E-E-P jumped out in screaming black. Ethan hadn’t updated his relationship status, and while Lorna shrugged the detail off into the universe, it circled around to the back of her mind. But he’d posted something new, a picture of himself raising a beer with a group of people. A blond woman sat next to him, almost grazing his arm with her boob as she lifted her glass. Lorna’s spine tingled as she glared at the static face. The caption read: “great time last night!”

Lorna swallowed back a sinking notion. She pushed it all the way down her throat and into the deep recess of her mind, but the thought creeped out just before she shut the big iron door that reined in such pesky feelings.

“Why didn’t he ask you to join him?” The little voice in her brain yelled through the tiny keyhole as she turned the lock.

‘Why’ slithered through, and try as she might, she couldn’t swat the puny word away.

“Why?”

“Because he’s considerate and respectful, and didn’t want me to think it was a booty call,” she told the dishwater and pulled the plug out.

“Why?”

“Because it’s too soon to meet one another’s friends,” she was firm to the TV.

“Why? Why? Why?” The more she tried to explain it, the less she could.

Lorna tossed and turned all night.

“Hello, you’ve reached Ethan’s voicemail, please leave a message.”

Maybe he was working through lunch?

“Hi, it’s Lorna, just wondering if you’d like to do something together this weekend.” 

The beep that ended the call brought tears to her eyes. 

The weekend came and went without Ethan. And the next week. He’d almost disappeared.

Almost.

That bothersome little word had nagged her since the beginning. Almost there, almost gone.

Her computer pinged. Lorna’s heart skipped when Ethan ‘liked’ her new post about her promotion. She glanced at her phone; silent as a tomb.

“Beautiful!” He commented on the picture her friends had taken at the beach over the weekend, but the phone still didn’t ring.

Lorna cried silent tears as she reviewed her profile and wondered what was wrong with her.

Why didn’t he call? If he wasn’t interested, then why was he following her every move online? He commented on her profile, so why not in person? Why? Why? Why?

“Because he’s an idiot!” The voice boomed in her mind. The misgivings burst forth in a deluge of tears and rage, like a volcano erupting in the ocean, until red wrath and blue sorrow gave way to white, foamy determination.

“No one toys with me!” She yelled at the computer, “How dare he ghost me!”
Lorna took a deep breath and exhaled through her teeth, the whistle reminiscent of a sword coming out of its sheath. With knitted eyebrows and tense jaw, she brought her finger down like a guillotine and clicked “unfriend”.

The cool waves of clarity washed away the angry lava. Lorna laid her head back and closed her eyes, traces of dry tears on her cheeks.

Lorna’s phone rang. She took her eyes off the television. Ethan’s picture blared on the tiny screen. Call declined.

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THE GODDESS TAROT: Eight of Pentacles

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Callie

 

Callie set her easel and stool on the grass, glad of such a beautiful spot. She took out her paints, aligned them in the order she preferred, tied her apron with pockets for her brushes and set the canvas on the easel. 

The day was bright and the wind blowing down from the mountains cooled the summer heat. The sky was cloudless and the world around her silent, save for the gusting wind.

Callie filled her brush with paint and smeared the canvas with a beautiful pastel and cyan blue for the sky. She painted the rolling hills in hues of green and the mountains black and purple behind them. The world around her melted away.

Callie omitted the details of the modern world and depicted the landscape before electricity poles blighted it, or the highways and railroads marred the mountains. She imagined this spot before the dreadful parking lot and overlook killed grass and shrub as they paved the way for progress. She loved to paint the long-ago world which came to life on her canvas. The sun set behind the mountains.

“Oh no,” Callie blinked and rubbed her eyes, “it’s getting dark.”

Dusk fell, and the wind turned chilly while she gathered her things. She bent down to put away her paints and as she stood, slinging the easel over her shoulder, she gasped.

“What the…” Callie murmured, bewildered by the absolute darkness. The street lights were unlit, and she had trouble locating the ugly parking lot in the distance.

Callie looked around her in the moonlight and blanched. The modern amenities she’d complained about vanished! No road signs, no trash cans, no paved path back to her car. She clutched her pack and listened to the far-away click-clack. Hooves? Was there a ranch nearby? Callie pressed her memory, but could not remember passing any ranches or stables on the road.

A dark figure appeared in the distance, formless in the silver moonlight. Click-clack, the figure approached. She perceived a horseman wearing a cloak and three-cornered hat. He rode fast and was soon upon her. Callie, too afraid to move and still clutching her belongings, stared at him.

“Hullo,” the man stopped the horse beside her; his face obscured by the tricorne and his voice a deep velvet, “are ye lost, madam?”

Callie nodded, unable to speak and rooted to the spot with feet together and hugging her things like a little girl afraid of the dark. His silver cloak pin glinted in the moonlight.

“Might I inquire as to your dwellings?”

Callie stammered and mumbled, unsure what to respond. She doubted the man knew Lincoln Street in Oakwell Heights. She pointed instead toward the general direction of her house.

The man nodded, and the moon shone on his face. He was dark, with a strong jaw, straight nose and piercing eyes, yet his kind smile softened the shadows on his face. He extended his hand.

“Come,” his eyes twinkled when he grinned, “I shall take ye, ’tis a cold night.”

Callie’s fingers brushed his, and static electricity charged through her. Her heart beat loud in her chest; the promise of an adventure at her fingertips. His warm fingers tightened around hers.

A car honked in the distance and ripped through the silence. The modern world blasted through the moonlight and Callie stood, her arm outstretched, grasping at the chilly wind.

Callie drew in her breath, dropped her pack and put her hands on her lips. Her mind raced, and she shivered, tears springing to her eyes; missed opportunities beat in her heart.

Callie bent to pick up her belongings; a glimmer of silver on the ground caught her eye. The cloak pin. Callie stroked it with her thumb and clenched it against her chest. Head down, she plodded to her car.

Callie wore the cloak pin on a chain around her neck and painted at the same spot every day, hoping to see the rider again. But the spell remained broken.

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ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: 6 of Cups – Pleasure

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Sunny Afternoon

 

The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” played on the portable speaker and John, smiling, tilted his head back and shut his eyes. Today was his Sunny Afternoon; his day for rest and relaxation.

The sun sparkled on the calm lake and small waves rippled on the pebbles where John had set his chair and fishing equipment. He hummed along with the verse and bellowed out the chorus: “Save me from this squeeze!” His voice echoed over the water. John inhaled deep and let the sun warm his face.

“I’m free!” He yelled after a moment. Birds in the trees fluttered their wings as if applauding him. He reflected on the past years; not all so bad. And then the mother-in-law had moved in.

“I tell ya,” he said to the duck that waddled out of the water beside him, “there never was such a witch. Cleaned me out, both of ‘em, but I’m happy now. No amount of money is worth losing your freedom.”

The duck quacked and waddled on. John gazed at his watch and smiled.

“Three, two, one!” He counted down as the hands met at noon. As of now, Tiffany and her ‘Smother’ were no longer a problem; they were out of his life forever. This freedom had cost him a fortune, but it was well worth it.

“Both witches,” he murmured and cracked open a can of beer. It was cool on his tongue and slid down his throat like a salve over the acrid memories of the past few years. That life was over and done.

“Nevermore, nevermore!” He said to the ravens cawing on the branches above him.

The fishing line tugged and John reeled it in. Just like they reeled me in, he thought as a perch appeared on the surface. It wriggled and squirmed, hooked on the line. John unhooked it and threw it back, watching content as the water rippled with the fish’s escape. He was not a catch-and-release fisherman, but today was different. Tiffany and her mother had caught him, but today, a merciful soul released him back into the water. Someone was taking care of that problem. 

Geese waded past him, their honking added texture to the cacophony of cicadas and birds.

“Maybe I’ll fly away this winter, too,” he said to the geese and raised his beer in a toast to them.

John’s phone pinged, and he smiled at the text message.

“The deed is done,” it read, “freedom is yours.”

John laughed and clapped his hands, whooping like at a football game.

Another ping told him he’d received a video.

John beamed as Tiffany told the poor devil with a much fuller bank account that she’d “love and hold, in sickness and in health, till death do us part”. The priest smiled as the sucker slipped a ring on her talon. The mother-in-law sneered in the background.

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TAROT DRACONIS: 7 of Swords

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Wishing

 

Lady Macbeth went mad from guilt, but I doubt I would. Beatrix set the book on the nightstand and blew out the candle, not smiling at the space beside her. He was late again, no doubt on one of his flings. At least he wouldn’t bother her tonight.

Beatrix closed her eyes and reminisced her childhood and how she’d dreamt of handsome knights and princes all vying for her love. She’d never imagined herself stuck in a loveless marriage.

Beatrix turned on her side and faced the space in the bed. Lady Macbeth lost her mind because she persuaded her husband to kill the king, but I wish…. She stopped before she finished the thought. It wasn’t the first time she’d stopped herself from wishing awful things on Horace, that disgusting husband her father had chosen for her.

“A daughter’s duty,” he’d said, “you have to fulfill it.”

“Why?”

The age-old reason: money. The haves and have-nots, and Beatrix was born into a family that used to have, until her father gambled it all away. To Horace. He’d gambled her away too; his daughter in a hand of poker.

Now Horace belonged to the haves and flaunted it. He gambled like her father and was a philanderer to boot.

Beatrix wiped away the angry tear that stained her pillow. She shut her eyes tight and waited for sleep…

Beatrix stood outside, the night dark around her and in complete silence. She peeked inside the lighted window.

Horace sat at a card table with a leggy redhead on his knee. Beatrix ran a hand through her raven hair, her breath formed a mist around her, but, to her surprise, it did not steam the pane.

A young man positioned himself at the window facing Beatrix, but seemed not to notice her. He looked straight at her, in her white nightgown, candlelight shining on her, yet he didn’t see. Beatrix locked eyes with him, but he stared ahead into the darkness…

Beatrix held a candle, the embers still warm and red in the chimney. The card table was empty, the room darkened, and the candles blown out save hers. Laughter and moans drifted from the rooms upstairs. The dying light of the fireplace cast her shadow on a wall. It was not her shadow. She stretched her hand out, soft and milky white, yet the shadow hand that mimicked her movement had twisted claws; the hand of a beast.

The shadow climbed the stairs, teeth and horns outlined on the wall. Beatrix followed; her mind and soul still and silent as the darkness. The shadow beast crept into the room where Horace “entertained” the leggy redhead. Beatrix stood at the door, ghostly in her long white nightgown. 

The redhead knelt on the bed, her naked back to the door. The shadow beast handed the woman a knife. She raised it; the blade gleamed in the moonlight streaming through the window.

Beatrix counted seven stabs, one for each year of her hellish marriage. Horace groaned and gurgled, caught between pleasure and surprise. His blood stained the crisp white sheets.

The beast gazed at Beatrix, its eyes a cold, gleaming green. She gasped…

Beatrix sat up in her bed, the space still empty beside her. She held her head in her hands, trembling. What a frightful dream!

Dawn cast shadows on her wall, and for a moment, she thought she saw the beast, but it was only a fleeting image, an illusion caused by the silhouette of the bare tree outside her window.

Beatrix laid down and slept again. She awoke to the thunder of insistent knocking. The sun shone bright through the window. Beatrix tied her robe and opened the door. 

“Mrs. Snyde,” a young man held his hat in his hands; Beatrix blanched, it was the young man from the window!

“I’m very sorry to say this, but Mr. Snyde passed away.” 

Her heartbeat throbbed in her ears; her dream was all too real!
“How?”
The young man blushed,
“In his sleep.”   

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TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: King of Swords

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Hercules

 

Andy glanced in the mirror and smiled; his brand new winter hat on his head. His grandmother had gifted it and it would be his first day wearing it. The hat woven into the head of a lion, complete with a mane that covered his ears; the mittens knitted claws.

“Ready for the first snowball fight, Hercules?” Daddy leaned under the door smiling,  “He wore headgear like that.”

“Really?” Andy gazed wide-eyed at Daddy, who knew everything.

“Yep, you know why he was famous?”

Andy shook his head.

“His supernatural strength; he killed a mean lion and used his hide as a cloak because it was impenetrable. Nothing could pierce it.”

“Wow! Do you think I’ll have supernatural strength now?”

“Oh, yeah!”

Andy growled and swiped at Daddy, who picked him up and kissed his forehead. Andy rushed outside into the new fluffy snow and ran down the sidewalk to his friends.

They played in Ollie’s yard, throwing snowballs and racing one another. Soon, snow angels covered the yard and left room for none. Ollie suggested sledding, and the boys spent the next half hour asking permission and collecting the sleds.

“Be careful,” Daddy called after Andy as he pulled the sled behind him.

During winter, the kids slid down the slopes of the public golf course nearby. It was hard work pulling the sled up the hill, but Andy didn’t feel it today because with the lion hat on he was strong like Hercules.

Up and down they slid until the sun dipped low in the horizon and the cold bit their cheeks. One by one they went home, save for Andy and Ollie, who lived closest and didn’t need to hurry. They climbed the hill as snowflakes fell.

“One more time!” Ollie said and climbed on behind Andy.

They flew down the hill in cheerful giggles. Andy tried to steer away from a snow bank, but grazed it and, with a bump, Ollie fell off the sled. Andy lost control and slammed into a snow-covered bush; white ice showered the lion mane. He shook himself off and scanned the snowy hill. Flakes danced around him. Evening had fallen, and the world was turning black. Andy wiped the flakes from his face and spotted Ollie’s red jacket in the snow.

“Ollie!” He trudged to his friend.

“Are you okay?” Andy panted. Ollie was crying and his foot sat at a strange angle.

“I think my ankle’s broken!” He sniffed and wiped tears and snow from his eyes.

“Can you stand?”

Ollie shook his head.

Andy looked around, hoping someone had seen them, but there was no one, only snow and the encroaching blue light of evening. Andy feared they would lose their way in the darkness and the bitter cold chilled him.

“I’ll give you a piggyback ride home,” Andy positioned himself in front of Ollie, and with great effort, hoisted Ollie onto his back.

“There they are!” Daddy called when he spotted the slow-moving mass in the snow. He recognized Andy’s lion head bent under Ollie’s red jacket. He rushed to them and lifted Ollie off Andy’s back. Ollie’s parents caught up and amidst kisses and hugs carried Ollie home. They would take Ollie straight to the hospital, they said.

“It gave me superpowers,” Andy touched his hat, his claw mitten holding Daddy’s hand.

“Yes, you were very strong and brave. I’m very proud of you.”

* * *

“Just like twenty years ago, buddy,” Andy’s thick low voice rumbled, “hold on, we’ll make it.”

Andy struggled through the mud, bent under Ollie’s weight. He wished for his lion hat, loved and now worn to rags. Bombs exploded around him. He remembered the snow fell hard that day. Andy gazed down at his combat boots and toiled on, Ollie on his back.

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BRUEGEL TAROT: 4 of Cups

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Snow Day

 

Thundersnow pounded against the window; lightning struck and shone on Rusty’s forlorn face. He wanted to play outside, but even the sun felt it was too cold to shine. The clouds, the snow, the wind, the thunder and lightning came out to play instead.

“Rusty!” Mom called, “Come down, the window’s too cold, you’ll catch your death!”

Rusty sighed and stepped off the window seat. He dragged his feet downstairs. What a wasted Saturday; they wouldn’t even have a snow day off.

The howling wind spattered snowflakes on the window, laughing at Rusty’s ruined weekend.

“I’m bored,” Rusty complained and plopped into his usual chair at the kitchen table next to his little brother. Mickey the Booger always had snot running down his nose.

“Oh, c’mon, it’s not so bad,” Mom wiped Mickey’s nose, “we can still have fun.”

“Where’s Dad?” Rusty smushed his cheek against the palm of his hand, his elbow on the table, as if keeping his face from melting of boredom.

“He’s outside, trying to shovel as much snow as possible, though I think it’s a boondoggle.”

“A what?” Rusty smiled and Mickey giggled at Mommy’s funny word.

“A boondoggle.”

“What’s that, Mommy?” Mickey’s tiny voice rang out, the candle of mucus shiny on his philtrum.

“A boondoggle is an exercise in futility, something you do but won’t amount to anything. It’s a waste of energy.”

“Then why is Daddy doing it?”

“Because he thinks if he shovels now, there will be less snow to shovel tomorrow, and because it won’t harden so much.”

“And because I’m bored out of my mind!” Dad’s thunderous voice resembled the pounding tempest behind his silhouette under the back door. Lightning struck behind him and the house plunged into the semi-darkness of the stormy day. Mom helped him with his boots and coat. He sniffed and checked the fusebox.

“Power’s out,” Dad sat down, his cheeks still red from the cold, “can’t even watch TV now.”

“No!” Rusty and Mickey cried in unison.

“Calm down, it’s not the end of the world. It’s only been a hundred years since people had electricity in their homes, and before that, people didn’t get bored.” Dad placed his cheek on his hand, mimicking Rusty.

“How? By sitting and staring at each other?”

“And farting while at it,” Dad said, sending Rusty and Mickey into a fit of laughter.

“Fart!” Mickey’s gleeful voice sang out over the hubbub. Even Mom giggled as she nudged Dad.

“What? Most people lived with parasites and amoebas in their tummies, so I bet there was tons of farting going on!”

The thunder joined in the gales of laughter.

“Okay, okay,” Mom said when the hilarity died down, “what do you want to do? We could play a game?”

“What game? Monopoly? The Booger can’t add yet.”

“Oh, we’ll find something.” 

Mom brought out a big box that claimed to contain a hundred board games. Dad brought out the kerosene camping lantern, and the room filled with cozy candlelight.

Rusty stole a glance at the snowstorm; it didn’t rage anymore but howled with mirth. Snowflakes crowded the windows wanting to join the fun.

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UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: X of Cups

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Bootstraps

 

“It’s strange knowing your ship has come home. After all the work and hardship, the sacrifice, everything, you relax, you can breathe. The world is at your feet. I hope that one day you’ll feel that way too.”

I sat across the old man listening to his spiel about how he’d been poor and desperate and how, through hard work and sacrifice he’d pulled himself up by the bootstraps. I tried hard not to roll my eyes nor to avert his gaze. He’d conveniently forgotten to mention something we all knew to be true, that someone had given him a chance and opened the doors of opportunity for him to strut through.

Anger rose and my cheeks flushed. I gritted my teeth and swallowed back the ire about to burst through my clenched fist. The arrogant bastard was laying me off (“the company’s downsizing, the economy” blah, blah, blah), after six years of working for him…

I took a deep breath to keep the almighty fury at bay and Dirk, always misinterpreting, thought his self-aggrandizement bored me.

“Well, I suppose you’ve heard this story before,” he said, oozing snark. He turned grave and shuffled papers on his desk.

“I have,” I said, my voice strong despite the oncoming tears of rage, “and I know it’s bullshit.”

Dirk opened his eyes wide, I held his gaze and continued,

“Everyone knows Mortimer took you under his wing and made you who you are. It was his generosity that helped you up, not your hard work.

“You’ve shown me you care nothing about hard work, but about what others can do for you. My Ivy League scholarship-funded education means nothing to you because my daddy isn’t a Fortune 500 CEO. He was a plumber, and a damn good one. My consistent quality performance is useless because I don’t have uncles in the government.

“But who do you think you are? I know you’re just like me! Your father was a house painter and now you dare look down on us, the common people like yourself, who’ve studied hard for an education and who come here every day and put up with your shit because we are pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps with no help from you. You’ve shut the door on us because you know we’re better than you!”

The old man huffed and a devious smirk crawled across his face. He opened his mouth to speak, but I interrupted him,

“I know why you’ve called me in here, don’t think I’m surprised, but next time, don’t waste your breath on that bullshit story.”

“Fired,” he hissed through gritted teeth.

“Thank you.”

I walked out of his office, out of the building and into the warm sunlight. He was right, though my ship hasn’t come in, I know what he meant about being able to breathe.

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GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: 7 of Chalices

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Winter

Lara opened her eyes. Something woke her. Moonlight shone through the window in a strange silver-and-gold light. She padded to it in bare feet and flushed cheeks despite the glacial cold; it was winter.

The frost on the window framed the glass, and she gazed out into the snowy meadow. Lara loved the silent snowfalls when they muted all nature’s noises. Through the falling snow she glimpsed a light on the field, just before the copse of trees that lined the edge of the woods, their bare branches now affording a strange, transparent visibility not available the rest of the year.

“Skeletons,” she whispered, “memories of summer.”

The meadow shone gold and, bathed in moon rays, it gave off the silver-and-gold light that entered the window. She beheld a small orb of gold light moving towards the house. The nearer it came, the more it grew and, when it reached the gate, Lara recognized the figure of a man emitting such light. He glanced at the window where Lara stood in her white nightgown and burning cheeks, a ghostly figure in the crisp midwinter’s night. The stranger smiled and unfurled golden wings.

He flew and tapped on the window. Lara shook her head.

“If you are a vampire, I do not invite you.” She said, her throat hoarse.

“Not a vampire,” the winged figure smiled, “and I need no invitation.”

The window flew open with a gesture of his hand and he floated inside, alighting before her.

“Who are you?” She whispered.

“You know who I am.”

“Why are you here?” Her voice quavered, and she held back a cough.

“I’ve come for you,” he extended his hand.

“So soon?”

“Yes.”

“May I say goodbye first?”

He nodded.

Lara didn’t need to wake me, I’d awoken when the silver-and-gold light glistened through the window. As she stood over me, I knew I was gazing into my sister’s lovely eyes for the last time.

“Must you go?” I bleated, my voice meek and muted by the blanket.

“Yes, he says so, and he knows.”

“I love you,” I said, tears brimming and stinging my eyes, a knot in my throat.

“I love you too, I will always be with you.” She bent and kissed my forehead.

Lara turned to the stranger and held his hand; they flew out the window. I jumped out of bed and ran after them. I leaned out calling her name into the silent night, but they’d vanished. My knees buckled, and I slid against the wall sobbing such tears of sorrow they constricted my chest. My heart broke when The Angel of Death took my sister.

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ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT DECK: 5 of Wands

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Strife

The dictionary said the Word of the Day was ‘strife’. Not a word you can really savor, I thought. But an important word. An ominous word. 

Strife: “an angry or bitter disagreement over fundamental issues; conflict.”

I came home and there was strife, in the shape of a suitcase in the hall. Strife shone through the windows and the evening fire lit the coat, the shoes, the keys by the door. 

I followed the scent of strife up the stairs and into the bedroom. The rumpled bed; clothing strewn on the sheets. Closet doors open wide. Empty. Strife had emptied them. 

Strife burst from the bathroom and slammed the other suitcase shut.  

“Fuck you,” said Strife, pushing passed me. 

Stomps on the stairs shook the house. Bottles in the bathroom clinked. 

“Goodbye!” called Strife. 

The door slammed. 

Silence.

Strife took all my baggage.

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OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Three of Coins

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Dearest friend, 

I write to you from the old tavern on the edge of town. There is a hustle and a bustle around me, but all I see through the window is the old medieval castle, its ruins calling as the wind blows down the long unpaved path. It rests upon a small hill, and an old, forgotten vineyard stretches out beneath its fairy-tale turrets. 

All around me the sound of cars, people, dogs, and the endless hum of generators fill my ears to the point of explosion. I close my eyes and hear only the soft breeze as it winds through the overgrown grapevines, and rustles through the trees that line the path towards the ruins. I hear the soft clop of hooves and I feel as on the threshold of time. 

People here say no one goes up that way anymore. Strange things happen to all those who venture up there. Some say evil lives there, others say it’s an Angel that haunts that place. 

The barman claims his neighbor’s father walked up that path at midnight, in search of the Devil. A short time later, the man and his family bought properties in and around the town. He became the wealthiest man about.

“But what good was all his money,” the barman said, “when all his children died one after another, like dominoes. Only my neighbor, the youngest, survives, and he is ill and childless. The Devil always gets his due.”

He wipes down the bar as if wiping away the whole affair. 

“My grandfather went up that way,” a lady chimes in. She sits at the end of the bar, beer before her, listening.

“He and my grandmother were poor as church mice. They would traipse through the woods in rags and bare feet collecting firewood to sell. One winter night, they found themselves at the edge of the path and saw a light in the tower. The place was deserted since time began. Grandfather said the light flickered, and a voice whispered in their ear, and such images of warmth and comfort filled their minds they longed for the light. So, without thinking, he said, they trudged the frozen path. At the gate they met an angel, so bright and kind. He smiled at them and said they would never be cold again. He carried a staff, and with it, struck the ground. The Angel vanished. Where he stood, my grandfather said, there remained a spark. It looked like something shining, he said, and he dug it up. They found a small hoard of gold that night, right at the gates. They were never cold again.”

The lady smiles as she sips her beer. 

“I think,” she continued, “whether you meet Devil or Angel, depends on your intentions. So if you go up there, please thank the Angel for the wonderful life he gave me and my family.”

The sun set while I listened in the tavern. I step out onto the darkened street and look at the castle. There is a light in the tower. 

Love always,