TAROT DRACONIS: 10 of Pentacles + XII The Hanged Man

The Card Game

The body swayed in the howling wind as the noose creaked on the gallows’ crossbeam. The distant scurrying of a rat the only sound on the empty square. 

Hangman glanced out the window and sighted the dangling body in the pale moonlight. He sighed. He hated the job, but the little ’uns had to eat. 

“You gon’ play or not?” Deputy called. A soft moan sounded through the jail.

“He must be wakin’ up,” Deputy murmured and Hangman, shuffling into a chair opposite, shrugged. The town drunk was always waking up in their care. 

Deputy shuffled the cards and dealt. Firelight flickered from the wood-burning stove by the wall. Deputy’s keys jingled in the cavernous dark of the jail. They played round after round with only the soft crackling fire for comfort and the occasional moaning for sound. They spoke little; the aftertaste of the hanging lingered, dense and stuffy. 

“Very easy to get away with murder in these parts,” Hangman flung coins onto the table. 

“Sheriff insisted,” Deputy shrugged and gazed at the window. Sheriff had bent over backwards to pin it on the poor devil swaying in the wind. He shook his head. 

“Town bayed for blood, Sheriff gave it to ’em,” Hangman said, “made no difference ole Paddy Corcoran was born wrong, dumb as a box o’ rocks he was. Three families slain in their homes…”

“Dang it!” Deputy threw his cards on the table, “This ain’t right, Paddy never hurt no one. He was innocent as a baby with the mind of a child.”

Hangman nodded. 

“Who’s gon’ take care of his Ma? She a cripple an’ all.”

Hangman shrugged. He hoped the dead held no grudge against him. He only did his job; the little ’uns had to eat. 

“Who d’you reckon done it?”

“Sheriff.” Hangman whispered the words and an icy draft blew through the jail. The lantern on the table flickered. 

“Best keep that to yourself,” Deputy murmured, “can’t prove nothin’.”

Hangman nodded, “an’ he’s Johnson’s brother, they own the town.” 

The name slithered out if his mouth in a steam of contempt. The Johnsons owned the mine, the mercantile and the law. Why did they need more? It’s no coincidence the Ruth Farm was the most prosperous, the Millers bred the best horses, and the Cranes owned the saloon. Hangman and Deputy left their certainty unspoken, though, by the glint of their gaze, they agreed. The whole town was now in the hands of the Johnsons. 

A faint creak stopped the game. Hangman and Deputy glared into the darkness, cards still pressed to their chest. The lantern flickered, dimmed, died and rekindled with an odd green flame. 

“Christ!” Deputy exclaimed and fell off his chair. He faced the doorway, and Hangman, watched the blood drain from Deputy’s face. His spine tingled as he forced himself to turn. 

In the doorway stood Paddy Corcoran, tall and chubby, hands folded on his chest as always, yet, instead of dull brown, his eyes blazed with the same eerie green light. 

“Well, butter m’butt and call me a biscuit,” Hangman said through gritted teeth. 

The dead man, bloated and purple, exploded into a gruesome guffaw. Hangman dared a grin, Paddy always used to laugh at that. 

“Wh-what d’you want?” Deputy stammered. 

“We couldn’t stop ’im, Paddy,” Hangman said, his voice steady. Paddy wasn’t the first dead to appear to Hangman. 

“Who?” Paddy’s voice was hollow, crypt-like.

“Sheriff. Can’t prove it though.” Deputy regained his composure. 

“Where now?” 

Hangman jerked his head towards the cell, “Sleepin’ it off, as always.”

Paddy walked past them, his footfalls silent in death, unlike the heavy stomps he’d trod in life. Hangman and Deputy watched him disappear into the dark jail. Deputy righted his chair and sat. 

A terrified scream cut through the darkness, then silence. The lantern flickered and rekindled into the regular yellow flame; the fire in the stove crackled. Hangman and Deputy returned to their card game. 

No one cared the sheriff died drunk in the jail cell.

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: 7 of Wands, Valour

Grave

Moonlight shone through Mandy’s window in long skeleton claws across her unicorn bedspread; shadows cast by the tree outside, still bare though spring had arrived. The tree as ancient as the graveyard adjacent her house.

Mandy sat on the corner of the bed, huddled against the headboard with the comforter drawn up to her chin and her brother Mick’s baseball bat beside her. 

Tonight was the scary night. It came twice a year when the light and the dark were equal… and this was the scary hour. The soft rustling of the wind through the half-open window billowed her white curtains. Soon, just at the darkest moment, the voices would begin. 

Mandy closed her eyes and held her breath. She slid her hand out from under the covers and gripped the bat. The wind stopped, and the curtains settled against the wall like a dying breath. 

“Help me,” a soft voice whispered. 

“Pardon me, do you have the time?”

Hooves clopped and wheels rattled in the night. 

Mandy wormed herself to the window, her back scraping against the wall, knuckles white around the bat. She peeked out. 

A multitude of people crowded the yard. Women in long dresses and hoop skirts danced with men in long pants and tailed coats. Two soldiers faced one another swords drawn, one in a blue jacket, the other in red. A man wore a metal breastplate, puffy pants, tights and a pointed helmet; he leaned against a long heavy gun. They went about their business, unaware of the darkest hour and of the frosty graves on which they trod. A car sputtered by, and Mandy glimpsed the crank necessary to start it. A train horn blew and chugged in the darkness. 

Most nights, Mandy leaned on the windowsill and watched them, unafraid and taking in every detail. At seven years old, she now knew the difference between a barouche and a stagecoach, a musket and a rifle, a cloche hat and a bonnet. But tonight… the stench of rot and decay wafted into the room. 

Mandy gasped and pulled herself away as yellow, baggy eyes and rotted teeth peered through the glass. Greasy long hair flattened against the saggy cheeks; a tattered top hat sat crooked on the head. Only on the scary night, he came. 

“Let me in, child,” his voice sounded like a creaking door. 

“No,” Mandy whispered.

“You know you want to,” he cooed and chills ran up Mandy’s spine.

“No,”

“We’ll have such fun,” he hissed. 

Mandy pressed the bat against her, as white skeletal fingers slithered over the sill and into the room, reaching for her bare feet. 

She drew herself up into the tightest ball and whimpered, “leave me alone.”

“I want you,” he sneered. 

The ghosts were now silent and a dense evil had fallen like a rotten, lingering mist. The fingers closed in on Mandy and she felt the icy bone on her skin. 

The door slammed open and Mick burst into the room. He seized the bat and brought it down on the spectral hand. It retreated through the window. Mick faced him. 

“Leave her alone.”

“She’s mine!” The rotted teeth bared.

“Never!”

A cloud passed across the moon and the graveyard fell into momentary darkness. When the sky cleared, the graveyard was empty; the phantoms gone. 

Sunlight peeped through the window and shone on Mick and Mandy asleep, their hands clasped around the baseball bat between them.

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Five of Coins

Heavy

“The road is long…” The Hollies sang; Martin switched off the radio. He hated “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”. It brought back memories of blasts and mud and death. Memories of Arthur, the brother who’d been so heavy Martin had buckled under his weight; so heavy Martin’s feet had dragged through the mud, surrounded by the deafening roar of bombs. Martin had tried to crawl, but Arthur had been so heavy…

Martin wiped off a tear and tried not to think about war things. The road was long and barren. He headed west in his 1969 Chevy and the sun was in his eyes, glaring at him, judging him for not bearing Arthur. He turned the radio back on, relieved the song had ended. The sun, harsh and unforgiving disappeared into the horizon. The first stars pierced the dark blue sky. 

Martin turned on the headlights. Led Zeppelin was singing about going to California. He liked the song and turned the up volume. He too was going to California. More stars sprinkled the darkening sky as Martin drove on. 

Up ahead, a figure appeared trudging alongside the road, head bent, as if weighed down by a great burden. Martin slowed down, deliberating whether to offer a ride or move on. As he approached, Martin distinguished a man in olive-drab uniform, much like the one he’d worn thirty years ago. Martin’s breath hitched, there was something familiar about the figure. 

The figure stopped and faced the road as the Chevy crawled. Martin met the figure’s eyes and his heart skipped a beat. His first instinct was to floor it and get the hell out of there, but his legs disobeyed and hit the brakes instead. He watched, frozen, as the figure opened the door and climbed into the passenger seat. 

“Thank you for stopping,” the man said. 

Martin stared, lips quivering. 

“I’m Arthur,” the man, no older than twenty-two, continued, “I’m heading home.”

Martin gripped the steering wheel and stared at Arthur, the Arthur, sitting beside him. Arthur had died thirty years before, yet here he was, as if not a day had passed. 

“How?” Martin bleated, “How are you here? You’re dead.”

Arthur smiled a warm embracing smile, but Martin only saw resentment in that smile as the guilt and burden welled up inside him. A guilt he’d spent thirty years trying to shrug off his shoulders.

“I left you!” Martin sobbed, “I left you to die!”

Tears streamed down Martin’s cheeks and he repeated the same phrase over and over through his sobs, chest heaving, face buried in his trembling hands. 

“You didn’t leave me,” Arthur replied, “I slipped off you, I was weighing you down. I’m home now, Marty, let me go.”

Arthur put a hand on Martin’s shoulder, the warmth passed through him, calming him, and, as Arthur removed his hand, he took Martin’s burden with him.

“Thank you,” Martin whispered. 

He lifted his gaze; he was still on the long stretch of highway with the sun blazing through the windshield and The Hollies on the radio.

TAROT DRACONIS: Knight of Chalices

Trick or Treat

“Go on, do it,” the boys stood before the gate and egged Ralphie on. He wiped his sweaty palms on the seat of his pants and adjusted the cardboard breastplate he’d made. Tonight he was a knight, and this was his quest. He tightened the twine around his legs that held the cardboard shinguards in place and set his cardboard helmet straight. Ralphie held his makeshift cardboard sword and took a deep breath. 

Skeletal fingers of dead bushes snaked over the yard’s dry ground. The house itself was always dark, the windows empty eye sockets and the rotted wooden door gritted fangs. The moon shone bright and cast eerie shadows over the place. 

“Go,” Winston, a small boy with chubby fingers and thick glasses gave Ralphie a soft shove. Dressed in his green sweatsuit, a garbage can lid strapped to his back and his sister’s purple head wrap and ribbons, he’d transformed himself into Donatello of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He gripped his broomstick, a pretend bo. 

Ralphie glanced at his friends, nodded and took a step forward, “One small step for man…”

“Oh, just get on with it!” Timmy, an unoriginal ghost with a blanket draped over his body and holes for eyes, yelled and started the crows cawing. 

Ralphie trudged through the thorny remnants of the once lively flora that tickled his ankles. He hoped the door wouldn’t budge. He pushed it and, with a hollow groan, the rotted door creaked open. Ralphie’s heart sank, and he gazed back at his friends. No one laughed or heckled him. They stared, pale and gaunt in the moonlight, their homemade Halloween costumes pathetic before the spooky house. 

Ralphie inched in with his sword held out in front. One step at a time his feet took him further into the cavernous darkness of the long-abandoned house; every footstep creaked and resounded over the walls. The stinging smell of rusty metal cut his throat like jagged razors. Ralphie stopped by the stairs and, in the dim moonlight peering through the gaping windows, he glimpsed the remnants of furniture and debris. 

The piercing scream rushed like an icy gust of wind down the stairs and Ralphie froze, his knees trembled yet rooted to the spot. 

“Leave,” a deep voice whispered in his ear and chills crept up his spine, his back stiffened and the hair on his nape stood on end like a frightened cat. 

“Leave!” The voice yelled and a flash of light punched Ralphie in the gut. He fell backwards and slid across the floor to the threshold. Winded and afraid, he clambered and crawled to the stoop. The rotted door slammed and hit him on the backside. 

The boys watched terrified as Ralphie picked himself up and staggered toward the rusty gate; his helmet askew and one loosened shinguard slapping against his leg, the sword forgotten on the stoop. The house grumbled and flashed, as if a storm raged inside though the sky was clear, the moon a bright tranquil witness. 

“LEAVE!” The voice boomed, and the ground shook. The boys turned and ran towards the merry sound of the trick-or-treaters on the next street. 

TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: X The Wheel

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Robert Mackey

 

“What goes around, comes around,” Grandma used to say.

I recall the last time I saw her. She sat on the blue high-backed chair and the sun from the window behind glinted off her knitting needles as she wove soft skeins into colorful creations. Moments later, I heard a crash and a moan from the living room. I rushed downstairs and found Grandma on the floor, shattered window shards strewn everywhere.

“Grandma!”

She grabbed my wrist and fixed her terrified eyes on me.

“He’s here! He’s here!” She cried, wild-eyed.

I wriggled my hand free and ran to the phone.

“Robert, it was Robert!” She raved in the ambulance, sometimes whispering that name, sometimes yelling it. Then she fixed her eyes on me with a strange clarity in her gaze, as if looking through time.

“I killed him,” she said, squeezing my hand so tight it hurt, “find him and make amends.”

“Who, Grandma?”

“Robert Mackey. Find him, break the curse. What goes around…”

I spent the next ten years, to the day, searching for Robert Mackey without success. Instead, I know Grandma better in death than in life. She was a combat nurse at the start of WWII, and later in the war, the Allies recruited her as a spy. Still, I found no trace of Robert Mackey.

“I’m sorry, Grandma,” I wheeze, “I couldn’t make amends. I didn’t have enough time.”

I lie at the bottom of the stairs, immobile, dazed and my limbs strewn at odd angles. Breathing is difficult and blood stings in my throat.

A dirty young man in a WWII uniform stands over me and points his rifle; only a bullet could have made the bloody hole in his temple.

Robert Mackey.

I move my lips but don’t make a sound.

He nods; rage and revenge flash in his eyes.

His bayonet glints and I gurgle when he stabs me through the heart.

 

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.