OLD ENGLISH TAROT: XII The Hanged Man

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The Monkey Bars

 

Danny loved the monkey bars. Every day at recess he would climb on them, then cross them back and forth with his feet dangling and only the strength of his arms. His favorite part was to hook his knees on the crossbars and let himself hang upside down.

The world looked very different upside down. He recognized his classmates, but it always took him a moment, and he thought it strange how the bullies and meanies seemed nice and the pretty girls turned ugly. Maybe the upside-down shows you the opposite of what is, thought Danny, or maybe it shows you the truth.

Danny would hang until the recess monitor demanded he right himself, or until the blood rushed to his head and his brain thumped. He feared the throb which the latter produced because it blurred his vision and muffled his hearing, almost like being underwater.

Robbie bet him he couldn’t hang all recess. Danny knew the headache would come before the end, but for Robbie’s cupcake, he’d do it.

The recess bell rang, and the boys beelined for the monkey bars. They glanced towards the monitor and smirked. Mr. Stanford was on duty; he was old, and he liked to sit on a bench with his eyes closed.

“I’m not sleeping, I’m just gazing inside myself,” he’d say, “and if you bother those girls again, you’re off to detention faster than you can say ‘Jack Robinson’.” The offending party would slink away, perplexed at Mr. Stanford’s uncanny perspicacity.

Danny climbed on the monkey bars, crossed to the middle, lifted his legs and hooked his knees and ankles on the crossbars.

Robbie counted down, “Three… two… one!”

Danny lowered his head and gazed at the dirt beneath him; a butterfly flitted by and alighted on a pebble. Robbie’s smiling face seemed like a happy frown.

Soon, his cheeks puffed up and the first throb announced itself. He couldn’t swallow and his ears got hotter and hotter. Danny imagined his whole head blowing up like a balloon. He took a deep breath as the thumping began. Here goes. His vision clouded, and the world narrowed. At that moment, he would right himself, but for the sake of that creamy decadent cupcake, he hung on.

The upside-down world turned red and tinted Robbie’s dim and worried expression. Robbie moved his lips, but Danny heard nothing. Now he was underwater, suspended in the atmosphere, floating in space.

The ground cracked and opened. Fingers and hands dug their way out of the muddy, grassless dirt. Golden-haired ringlets emerged, followed by blue eyes and a creamy complexion. The girl frightened him; he distinguished the bone and sockets of her skull beneath her skin. Danny remembered why he hated this moment, he’d seen her once before and she’d scared him.

The girl, dressed in a pink poodle skirt and white blouse, bobby socks and saddle shoes, smiled at him and touched him. Danny screamed. The world spun and blackened.

“Danny, wake up!” Mr. Stanford’s voice came from far away.

Danny opened his eyes and focused on Robbie’s and Mr. Stanford’s worried expressions.

“Are you okay?” Robbie peeped.

“I saw her,” Danny whispered, his voice hollow in his ears.

“Who?”

“The girl, I think she’s buried here.”

“Nonsense.”

“I swear, Mr. Stanford, she wore a pink poofy skirt and her hair was all done up in curls and held back with a pink ribbon, like Goldilocks.”

Mr. Stanford went from worried to scared and Danny realized he knew about her.

“Grandpa told me a girl fell and broke her neck many years ago,” Robbie whispered and Mr. Stanford gave a slight, almost imperceptible nod.

“Was that her?” Danny asked, but in an instant, the fright had passed and Mr. Stanford composed himself, saying nothing. He helped Danny stand and sent him to the nurse.

As Robbie led Danny away, he glanced back; Mr. Stanford leaned on the monkey bars wiping tears from his eyes. The ghost girl stood beside him, shimmering in the hot day. She waved at Danny and vanished. 

BRUEGEL TAROT: King of Chalices

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The Trinket Man

 

Every morning as I swept the doorway I heard the low melancholic whistle of the peddler as he pushed his cart down the lane announcing his wares. He bought and sold goods from a cart that jingled and jangled like Christmas. When he passed by my house I waved, sometimes he’d stop and we’d chat.

He was a young man in an old body; the glimmer of his eyes showed he couldn’t be over forty, yet his crumpled body and teetering gait were those of a man in the winter of his life. He was never dirty, but always dressed in rags, and his firm voice and eloquence bespoke an educated childhood. I wondered about him though I never asked. We chatted about the rain and the sun, but never about the past.

I marveled at the knickknacks that rattled and clang on the ancient wooden cart. Once upon a time he might have hitched a horse to it, but now, the peddler, or Trinket Man as we called him in town, pushed it or pulled it, whatever his fancy and the state of the road. It overflowed with bric-a-brac and I often wondered how far he traveled. Sometimes his youthful eyes betrayed his exhaustion and tugged at my heart. I bought a second-hand kettle, a tarnished old necklace and chipped Delft platter. I sold him things too, things I no longer needed, hoping he might bring joy to someone who did.

The children would run after him and he would smile and sometimes pull a bauble from his cart and hand it to them. Then he would walk down the lane and follow the path through the woods while his whistle trailed in his wake.

Last winter he didn’t come after a snowstorm and the wind didn’t carry the sound of his whistle, nor the earth the tinkle and clatter of his cart. The town worried, but all we knew about him was his name, Woden, like the god of old. The children say he was just as ancient, a wanderer through time, and I often thought back to my childhood and smiled at my earliest memory; my mother’s arms and a low whistle in the wind.

Winter passed, and the snow melted. The thawing chilled to the bone, but spirits were high for spring was close.

One wet March day, the ground still hard from frost, but muddy where boots treaded, I was walking by the river towards my cousin’s house when I glimpsed a shimmer by the water on the far bank and I thought I heard the tiny tinkle of a bell. The wind swept across the river and a presentiment and sudden urgency to investigate overcame me. I ran to my cousin and together we crossed the river.

We came upon the cart among the trees, the wares and trifles stained and tarnished, its wheels splintered as if buried in snow and abandoned. A cold wind blew about us and we shivered into our shawls while the distinct, yet faint, whistle among the trees prickled our fears. We glanced whence the wind blew and trudged with our elbows hooked, as if in a trance. We’d gone but a few feet when a hand protruded from the bramble. I screamed and my cousin gasped. Our Trinket Man lay face down with his head bashed amid the thorn and mud.

The town talked of the murder for weeks, but nothing ever came to light. Perhaps a vagrant had attempted to rob him and fled.

It’s been almost a year now, and I feel the chill of the waning autumn as it flees the snows of winter. I sweep my stoop, like I do every morning. I lift my head and listen to the low melancholy whistle of our Trinket Man breezing down the lane. He glimmers in the early sunlight; his cart clangs faint and eerie as if from another time and another world. He totters by and I wave, but he no longer sees me. I watch him vanish down the lane.

THOTH TAROT DECK: Knight of Disks, 3 of Swords and 6 of Cups

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Homecoming

 

The sun set behind the mountain and spilled orange rays over the clouds; his childhood home a dark silhouette against the sky. The bus sputtered away as William watched the sun dip into the horizon until the final burst of orange and red stained the sky pink, and blue shadows spread over the land.

A tiny fleck of light appeared in the shadowy, gothic mass of stone and William’s heart flipped for joy of coming home. He lifted his bag and walked the rest of the way, trudging down the path he knew so well and lit only by the blue light of evening. The noises of the day yielded to the sounds of night; an owl hooted in the trees and the soft cry of crickets followed him home.

William approached the ancestral house in darkness and frowned.

“There was a light, and it wasn’t the evening star,” he mumbled and crossed his arms.

The night fell silent and an odd presentiment crept up William’s spine, a chill as powerful as the dark silence. An owl alighted on a nearby ledge and hooted.

William stepped to the tall oak door, its ancient gargoyle knocker ghastly in the eerie darkness, and turned the knob. The door creaked open with a spectral groan that resounded through the silent building. He crossed the threshold and, though he tiptoed, his footsteps pounded in his ears and tore apart the unbearable silence. With a tumultuous flutter, the owl darted past his head and disappeared into the darkness.

William crept through the dead house lit only by the moon. The stone walls smelled dank and moldy. He discerned the ghostly figures of blanketed furniture and the glittering snarls of cobwebs, while stalactite bats hung from the high rafters. Dust particles danced in the moonlight streaming through the dirty windows.

This was not the house of his childhood, warm and cozy and full of life. This was a dead house, a ghost house whose walls moaned with tragedy as an ominous waft blew through it. William hugged himself, cold and apprehensive. Every muscle and tendon screamed something was wrong.

He stepped into the dining room and his heart jolted. A life-size painting hung on the wall where the smiling portraits of his grandparents should be. It showed a family, the parents solemn while playful children hugged a young man dressed in black. Black trousers, black coat with tails, black waistcoat and a black shirt with a stiff, high collar. The moonlight shone on the young man’s pale face with bluish lips and dead eyes that stared out into the world beyond the painting. None of the family members wore black and William understood the young man was dead. The artist had depicted him with his family in a living pose, yet after death. The happy expressions of the children frightened William. It’s like they’re playing with a ghost, he thought.

There was something familiar about the young man and, as William drew close, his heart fell to his knees. He was looking at his own face! He was the young man!

Startled, William stepped back and felt the soft squish of flesh underfoot; a rat screeched and scurried away while wings flapped above and the owl swooped down and caught the rat. William screamed and ran. He plunged out into the moonlit world and dashed though the trees whose branches scratched his arms and face.

He never saw the rock, only the ground drawing near. A kerplunk and a flash of pain and William knew no more.

He was at the bus stop as the sun set behind the mountains and outlined his house in the distance. A fleck of light amid blue shadows appeared and William grabbed his bag. He flung it over his shoulder and set off towards his home.

He arrived at the ancient manor with the moon bright above and the night silent. An owl hooted from a nearby ledge. The big front door with the gargoyle knocker creaked open and William stepped through the threshold.

“Surprise!” A thunderous roar lit the house and a sea of arms, faces and hair engulfed William. Through the whirlwind he glimpsed into the dining room and smiled at the portraits of his grandparents hanging on the wall.

TAROT DRACONIS: 10 of Cups

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Swallows and Storms

 

Kayla sat on the porch and watched the swallows whirling in the sky. She loved swallows with their erratic soaring flight; such tiny creatures, so free, their chirping like sonorous kisses from Mother Nature.

Clouds blanketed the sun and Kayla knew it was time to go inside, yet remained seated with her cat, Chunky, curled up on her thighs; the pattern of his tiger-like fur formed one giant spiral, as though time and eternity swirled into existence on her lap.

The swallows disappeared as if by magic and fat raindrops fell. Chunky lifted his head and meowed. She ran soft fingers down his back and he purred. The rain fell harder, plink-plinking on the flowerpots and tap-tapping on the porch roof. Chunky’s purr gave a soft wavelike backbeat to the melody. What lovely music! Kayla smiled at Chunky who blinked up at her, giving her an eye kiss.

“You’ll catch your death of cold sitting out in the rain,” Momma’s voice echoed through her memory.

“What’s the point now?” She cooed at Chunky.

Thunder roared and lightning zigzagged across the clouds like electric eels falling from the sky. The front door opened; Kayla listened as a murmur of voices filled the house and condensed the atmosphere into heavy gelatinous sadness.

“Jesus, what a deluge,” someone inside said, “she always loved storms.”

“At least the service finished before the rain started, I felt the first drops as we left the cemetery and hurried to the carriage,” a woman answered and, in a quivering voice, continued, “I think she sent this down on us to say goodbye.”

The back door opened and Momma stepped onto the porch. She looked at Kayla and tears sprang to her eyes. Momma’s lip quivered when Chunky stood, stretched and rubbed himself against her legs.

“I told you you’d catch your death,” Momma whispered “why didn’t you listen?”

“Because I love the swallows and the rain,” Kayla said, but Momma only heard the rolling thunder.

Poppa emerged from the house and embraced Momma.

“Don’t you do this, don’t you throw your life away over rain too,” he pointed at the chair, “our little Kayla soars with her swallows now, she is the rain and her voice the thunder, all the more reason to love them.”

Momma sobbed into Poppa’s shoulder and stroked the back of Kayla’s empty chair. A gust of wind blew through the porch and Momma thought she’d caught Kayla’s scent. She glanced at Poppa, he’d smelled it too, but it could only be the honeysuckle, for Kayla was gone forever. Poppa led Momma inside, Chunky rubbed himself against Kayla’s chair one more time, then followed them into the house.

 

 

THE GODDESS TAROT: XXI THE WORLD – GAIA

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On The Meadow

 

Darren lay on the meadow, pebbles sticking into his back through his T-shirt. He loved spending time among the trees and often felt he had a special connection with nature. Sometimes he thought the trees reached out to him, as if they wished to tell him a secret. He would then close his eyes and listen, but could never understand the message.

On this occasion, bathed in the warm sunlight, his mind was on the ground, how wet and cool and lumpy it was. He breathed in the grass, the moss and damp earth. With closed eyes, he thought about the millions of feet that had walked upon the piece of dirt on which he lay. Animals, insects, birds and humans, how many had trampled here?

Minutes passed, and he noticed a slow and steady thumping; he opened his palm and touched the ground. It pulsed, thud, thud, thud, louder and stronger as if footsteps, big stomping footsteps approached. Darren opened his eyes, and a shadow fell across the pastel blue sky. He turned his head to one side just as a boot stomped beside his shoulder. Another plunked down by his hand.

Traipsing boots and gaiters soon engulfed Darren; the pungent scent of leather and mud stung. The ground shook with the footfalls, and the boom of the march so near his ears sounded like cannonballs. He lay motionless, heart racing, while above him the sky turned red, and a reeking cloud of wool, metal and gunpowder seared his nostrils.

As the boots marched away, Darren sat up and glimpsed the backs of British soldiers, their long red coats, muskets, bayonets and tricorn hats fading into the forest. Darren wanted to stand up and rush after them, but the sun was too bright and the heat weighed heavy on him. He lay back down and closed his eyes.

The setting sun was casting an orange hue over the meadow when Darren awoke. He perked his ears and listened for footsteps, but heard nothing except the sounds of the evening forest. Darren walked home—his own footfalls loud in his ears—wondering whether the troop had been a dream or the specters of a long-dead reality.

TAROT DRACONIS: 10 of Wands

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Light and Shadow

 

Julie stared at the empty seat in front of her, a fake smile pasted on her lips and gaze cool as ice. She seemed the incarnation of the Snow Queen, but inside, she was a pure fire sparked from rage and fanned with insult.

I’m seething, she thought.

Melvin and Cora, she cursed.

Revenge, she wished.

The train stopped at the station, and the doors opened. An old woman, short and chubby, took the seat facing her. She smiled at Julie. Julie pursed her lips into the kindest grin she could muster as the train left the station and plunged into a tunnel.

Light, then shadow, fell on the railcar as the electric lamp crackled, the woman’s face clear and kind, then old and ugly. The train’s clatter screamed in Julie’s head, chug-a-chug, Melvin-and-Cora, on and on, so loud and steady she thought she would explode.

The old woman glanced around, then smiled at Julie again. Julie stared straight ahead; if the old woman smiled one more time, the invisible chain which kept her wrath from exploding would shatter.

The old woman noticed the slight tremble in Julie’s hands as she opened and closed her fist to the rhythm of the Melvin-and-Cora mantra in her head.

“Let it go. He ain’t worth it.”

The woman’s voice rang clear above the din of the train against the rails, her face in light.

“What do you mean ‘he’?” Julie hissed through gritted teeth.

The woman shrugged, ugly in shadow, “Only a man can anger a woman so much. I know your wrath, and trust me, it’ll poison you.”

Julie pursed her lips, the fire inside threatening to explode.

“There’s a dragon inside me, and I don’t think I can keep it chained much longer,” Julie muttered, half hoping the woman wouldn’t hear, but deafness did not ail her old age.

“What did he do? Cheat?”

“Yes, with my sister,” Julie fought back lava tears.

Melvin-and-Cora.

“He’s not worth it.” (Light)

“I know, but it doesn’t make me less angry.” Julie’s jaw clicked when she spoke.

“Then, for your sake, let that dragon out. Don’t keep it bottled inside, it’ll rot you.” (Shadow)

“How would you know?”

“Because I’ve been where you are. He slept with my sister and I vowed revenge.”

A chill crawled up Julie’s spine as the woman spoke, her words mirroring Julie’s thoughts. 

“Did you get it?”

“Oh yes, I screwed with their lives and hounded them to death, slow and steady, for years. But I got nothing in return.”

Julie gulped. How could the woman know she was planning a slow and simmering revenge?

“What was his name?” Julie asked unnerved, yet intrigued.

“Melvin,” The flickering light cast the woman into shadow, and Julie blanched.

“My sister’s name was Cora,” the woman continued.

“What? How?” Julie gaped.

“I kept my dragon locked up and made their lives miserable. I took their money, their livelihood, their happiness. Whatever they built I destroyed. I used everything in my power to screw them six ways from Sunday.”

Julie remained silent as the train chugged on, the wagon eerie in the sputtering light.

“They died in poverty and starvation.”

“Are you sorry?”

“Yes, but now I can redeem myself.”

“What do you mean?”

“On my deathbed I repented, and here I am.”

The train came to a halt, still in the tunnel; the light held steady and shone bright on the old woman. They locked eyes and Julie almost screamed; the woman’s eyes were her own, and her gaze, albeit old and bitter, was the same gaze that greeted Julie from every mirror.

“I’m telling you, Julie, you can change the course of this lifetime. Let the dragon out. Revenge is not the way; you’ll end up alone and sick and bitter.”

The light flickered off and thrust the wagon into darkness. Julie’s spine tingled at the woman’s hot breath by her ear as she whispered, “Heed me.”

The light flashed back on and Julie found herself alone in the wagon; the train resumed its slow ride to the station.