OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Queen of Cups

Reyna’s  Oak

The statue stood in the old graveyard since time immemorial. A stone woman sat on a throne and held up a goblet in an eternal salutation to the good life. The throne perched atop a tomb, and a tall, thick oak tree flanked it, like a sentinel protecting his queen. Time had smoothed the statue’s nose, eyes, and mouth into bumps and valleys, and the name on the tomb had faded into oblivion long ago.

The carved folds of her dress were now smooth lines covered in moss and bindweed. Ivy slithered around her bare, polished feet and crawled up her lap, winding itself around the arm holding the goblet aloft. No one knew her name, the villagers all called her The Queen.

She was the heroine of many fanciful legends about her identity and contribution to the world. People surmised she was Guinevere, or Boudicca, but the mystery hovered still over the village of Reyna’s Oak.

The statue had been many a scholarly enterprise for decades. Historians and archeologists came from the big universities to determine her name and age. Many experts said medieval sculptors carved her, but others thought she was Roman, and still others believed she was even more ancient. They brought machines and dug around her feet. They used ground-penetrating radar to peer under the slab of stone that covered the grave beneath the throne. There was a skeleton down there, they said, but without exhumation they could know no more.

The village council hemmed and hawed every time someone — always an outsider — suggested breaking the stone beneath her feet. They stonewalled all attempts to dig deeper into The Queen’s history.

The villagers of Reyna’s Oak considered The Queen a landmark, a patrimony of their village, and they stalled all endeavors to deface her. They understood something the erudite scholars and archeologists did not: The Queen’s well-being affected Reyna’s Oak’s well-being. The tomb bound the village to it, as if Reyna’s Oak’s life began with The Queen’s death.

The goblet The Queen held was always full of water. How much water remained in the cup at the start of spring determined the harvest and economic development for the rest of the year.

If the water in the goblet was low, then the village — poor and rich alike — would have a harsh year. If the water brimmed over, then the village rejoiced, for abundance lay ahead. The goblet had never been dry.

One night, a terrible storm raged. It came in a banging flash and villagers scattered, running to their houses as hail and rain pelted them from the sky.

Taking refuge in their homes, they watched in horror as lightning zapped down and struck the old cemetery at the center of town.

Many screamed, others gasped, and all hoped The Queen remained unscathed.

Thunder, lightning, and hail pummeled the village all night, but by morning, the storm had abated.

The villagers breathed a collective sigh of relief as they took stock of their property. Most buildings were undamaged.

Not a significant loss, they murmured. Phew, they breathed.

Then the screams sounded throughout the village streets.

Lightning had struck The Queen.

The guardian oak stood with its thick trunk split and charred, and groaned in pain and sorrow as its branches swayed in the cool breeze. The Queen’s goblet lay on the ground with its cup separated from the stem. The cup — thank heavens — remained full. A jagged crack marred the smooth statue as the lightning left its trace. The tomb beneath the stone had shattered, and a hole gaped. A few people dared to peer inside it, others turned their heads.

Those who dared a glance reported seeing nothing but earth and stone, despite the assurances of the myriad of scholars of a human skeleton buried in the ground. Many shrugged and stated that academics rarely knew what they said. Most looked at one another askance, superstition shining in their eyes and wondering if perhaps this was a bad omen.

That night, the villagers awoke to the sound of a woman singing through the village streets. The voice was both sweet and hollow, and an eerie mist spread over the town. The meek cowered in their beds, while the bold dared to peek out the windows. They reported the spectral figure of a woman in a long, flowing dress floating down the street. Barking dogs quieted and whimpered as she approached. The mist thickened and soon engulfed the village.

The next morning, the scholars came, alerted to the damage done to The Queen. They arrived at the quiet village and wondered that no one was in sight. They knocked on doors, but no answer came. Then they peeked in the windows and found the houses empty of living souls. The mystery of Reyna’s Oak’s disappearance only deepened when the scholars read the last entries in the vanished inhabitants’ journals.

THE GODDESS TAROT: Eight of Cups

Nothing Special About the Lighthouse

Irene crossed the street and followed the sidewalk to the beach entrance. She leaned on the stumpy seawall separating the beach from the sidewalk and took off her shoes. Summer was over, yet the weather remained warm. The salty breeze played with her hair, and the moonlight shone on the breaking waves. She crossed the sand and let the waves lick her warm feet. The icy water bit at her toes.

Irene stepped back, beyond the reach of the waves, and trudged on the sand towards the lighthouse. Its beacon rotated in the night air and lit up the rocks as it passed over them. Those jagged rocks had been the culprit of many a shipwreck, but no ship had entered the harbor since… Who knew?

The murmur of the lapping waves crowded her hearing and cleared her mind of the sad thoughts of the day. She recalled walking with Grandpa Nathan along the beach as a child. He would tell her folklore and fairytales as the waves caressed their feet, and their footsteps remained imprinted on the wet sand. She marveled at how quickly the water wiped them away, as if their existence were nothing but a flutter in time.

Grandpa would never take her on his night walks, because she should have been in bed. But Irene often crawled out of it and, from her window, watched his rickety silhouette make its way to the lighthouse.

“What’s at the lighthouse?” She asked once.

“Nothing,” Grandpa said with a stern eye, despite his grinning lips.

Irene shrugged and let the matter drop.

“Go to bed,” Grandpa ordered afterwards, as if he had only just realized the lateness of the hour.

Moonlight peeped in through the window and gleamed on the wedding picture of Grandpa and Stella—her real grandmother—on the mantlepiece.

Irene knew Erica, the woman who raised her after her parents died, was no blood relative of hers. She was Grandpa’s second wife; Stella died long before Irene was born. She loved Erica all the same.

The sand stuck between Irene’s toes as she walked to the lighthouse for the first time in many years. Glancing at the houses lining the beach, she imagined someone at their window wondering who the woman in the black skirt and blazer was, what she was doing there, and what was so special about the lighthouse at night.

“Nothing,” she would have said, but there was no one at Grandpa’s house.

He died long ago. And today, Irene had buried Erica. In all the years she had lived with them, Irene had never gone for a night walk. She left for college soon after Grandpa’s death and started her life in the city, though always in touch with Erica. Now Erica left too, and for the first time, Irene went for a night stroll on the beach.

The lighthouse rose before her. Lost in her reverie, Irene did not realize when she reached it. She put on her shoes and glanced towards the lighthouse-park entrance. The gate was closed. Irene sighed and looked up at the smooth building atop the rugged rocks. Grandpa was right, there was nothing special about the lighthouse at night.

As she turned to leave, the ocean breeze carried a happy giggle. Irene scanned the area for its source and decided it came from the park.

She remembered visiting the park with Erica on a hot day; the sun blinded her as she crossed the gate. There was nothing special about the lighthouse in the daytime, either.

Irene heard the giggle again. Should she investigate? She climbed up the dangerous rocks, cautious and teetering, but too curious to leave.

She reached the lighthouse, and in the moonlight, she discerned two silhouettes on a bench. A young man and a young woman sat talking and giggling, and from that distance, Irene noticed they were very much in love.

She pondered whether to call the police.

Then the young man spoke and Irene froze.

“Stella,” he said and Irene’s heart skipped a beat, “will you marry me?”

“Yes, Nathan,” Stella replied, her voice sparkling with joy.

Irene gazed at the couple; the moon shone on their faces. Tears sprung from her eyes when she recognized the lovers whose wedding picture had sat on the mantlepiece all her childhood.

MINCHIATE: XXVII Aries

Ajar

“What does tilting at windmills mean?” Colin asked Mom while she tucked in the bedcovers. 

“Where did you hear that?” 

“You told Dad to stop doing it.” 

“Oh, well…” Mom furrowed her brow, searching for words, “tilting at windmills means battling imaginary monsters. Dad is under a lot of pressure at work, and sometimes, I think he sees problems and setbacks bigger than they are.” 

“Oh, I see,” Colin answered, though he understood nothing about Dad’s work or his problems and setbacks. 

Mom kissed him on the forehead, wished him good night, and flicked off the light as she left the door ajar. 

Colin stared at the gray darkness. A thin shaft of light seeped in through the threshold, and the nightlight burned with a weak yellow hue. He still thought about this new concept as his eyes tried to pierce the tangled shadows that the old birch tree beyond his window cast on the wall. The waning crescent moon shone its tiny sliver of light on the birch’s white bark. 

Colin’s teacher had once asked the class to describe the world outside their bedroom window, and Colin had said the tree was ‘ghostly’. The teacher had frowned and asked if it scared Colin. 

“No,” he had answered, “it’s good ghostly, not bad ghostly.” 

Now Colin stared at the birch as it swayed in the breeze. Mom always left the window ajar for the night air to waft in and perfume the room with the honeysuckle that climbed up the trellis beneath his window. 

An owl hooted in the birch tree. 

The teacher had once asked the class to describe their mothers. ‘Ajar’ had popped into Colin’s mind and slipped out of his lips. Once again, Colin had to explain. 

“Mom leaves everything ajar; the doors, the windows, the closets and the cabinets, too. My house is never closed, it’s always ajar.” 

Colin liked his bedroom door ajar, he took comfort in his parents’ footsteps and murmured voices as they settled in for the night. 

He loved his window ajar too; the night was a new world yearning to come inside and tell him all that happened when the sun slept and the moon reigned over the sky. He enjoyed listening to the night creatures and imagined their lives in the darkness. 

The closet door was always ajar, and that he disliked. In the daytime, the clothes hanging in the closet seemed mundane; pants, shirts and jackets, nothing else. But at night, they took on the shape of silent sentinels. 

Colin’s eyes traveled from the window to the closet. 

“Tilting at windmills,” he whispered, “means battling imaginary monsters.” 

The closet door creaked, and Colin’s breath hitched. He pulled the covers up to his chin as it squeaked open. It was now ajar-plus, and the swirling phantoms within fluttered in anticipation. 

Colin knew all about monsters and how they were not imaginary but real. He also knew they lived in the world beyond the closet, flittering and snickering with excitement at night. He also knew that ajar meant easy entry, and the soldier-outlines of his hanging clothes did nothing but stand like petrified gendarmes. 

Colin forced himself to look away from the slithering fingers that pushed the closet door open little by little. He gazed at the birch, whose spectral shadows had spread across the walls. 

The new concept was not imaginary monsters but the battling of them. How did you battle monsters? He could not touch them, only see their shapeless mass and perceive their leering giggles. He wrinkled his nose from their fetid stench and tasted their rotten evil in his mouth. Yet he could flail his limbs until kingdom come, but never touch them. 

The thing slipped between the closet door and its threshold. The sliver of moonlight shone on the birch branches, and their skeletal shadows expanded as they oozed through the window like jagged claws. The tree cast its protective shadow-claw over the bedspread and onto the headboard as the thing slithered closer. 

Every night, the sentry-clothes stood and stared as the creatures slipped past them into the room.

Every night, the tree protected Colin, and the things retreated whence they came.

And every night, Colin thought about screaming, but never could.

Tonight, he had learned a new term, a new concept.

“Battle them,” he thought as the putrid shape crept onto the bed and drifted toward his neck.

The wind howled and rustled the birch boughs. Its protective silhouette quivered and trembled and Colin, awed and scared, saw the birch-shadows and their wraith-like talons clasp something.

A flash of lightning zapped the windowsill, and the bedroom shook. 

The sentry-clothes sprang into action and ambushed the things awaiting their turn to enter. 

A shriek rang through the room; the walls shuddered as the closet door banged shut. 

Thunder clapped and, amid the rumble, Colin detected the distinct sound of something ripped from the walls. 

A low, painful whimper faded into the gray darkness. 

A trample of footsteps in the hall and light flooded the room. Mom and Dad stood in the doorway, now wide open. 

“Buddy, are you okay?” Dad asked, “We heard a slam. What’s going on?” 

“I was tilting at windmills,” Colin pointed at the closet door. 

Mom opened it; his clothes lay in a crumpled pile on the floor. 

“Huh?” she frowned. 

“The wind slammed the closet shut,” Colin whispered as the rain fell, tapping on the windowpane.

“They must’ve fallen from the force,” Dad said, attempting reassurance, though perplexed. 

Colin nodded. 

His parents scanned the room, yet found nothing amiss. They wished him good night, and each kissed his forehead. 

“Should I close the window?” Mom asked. 

Colin shook his head, “please leave everything ajar.”

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: Knight of Disks

The Forgotten Castle

Naomi leaned back in her chair and stretched her arms above her head. She heaved an enormous yawn and glanced out her bedroom window. The ruined castle shimmered in the setting sun. Often she thought it a mirage, but she knew every nook and cranny of it. It was her favorite haunt, where she and her friends had played hide-and-seek among the ruined walls and crumbling ceilings. Her parents warned her of the dangers of playing among the ruins. Yet the warnings came with half-smiles; they too had played in the castle as children. As their own parents had done before them; a local tradition, a rite-of-passage, perhaps. 

After school, Naomi went to the castle by herself. She needed time alone; it had been a strange and trying day. She walked among the ruins and took a nap on the grass of its derelict courtyard. Leaving, she paused at the crumbling arch of the castle entrance to shake out a stone that had crept its way into her shoe. 

Now, she switched on the desk lamp and returned to her homework.

The sun cast its last rays over the glimmering land, and the castle faded into shadow, as its name had faded into oblivion; its decrepit turrets stood out against the indigo twilight. Naomi closed her schoolwork and switched off the desk lamp. The castle’s lonely silhouette blurred as dusky shadows fell. She stood up, crossed the bedroom and flopped down onto her bed; the ruinous gloomy mass still visible outside her window.

She loved to daydream about the castle’s heyday; the banquets, the tourneys, the dashing knights, and the fair princesses. She knew most of its legends, but loved one in particular. It drew her into the realm of imagination and defined the lonely ruins beyond the windowpane. 

The legend said:

A young knight rode into the hamlet on a horse so exhausted and grimy that its head bowed low to the ground as it trudged along the countryside. The knight’s head hung on his shoulders, heavy with fatigue.

The townspeople, wary of strangers, bolted their doors and shuttered their windows as he passed through the village square. Horse and knight—that ragged bundle of bones and sinew—traipsed towards the castle, unaware of the villagers’ icy reception. Field workers turned their heads away and crossed themselves, believing he was Death itself. No one approached, no one offered assistance. Upon reaching the castle gate, the guards denied the knight entry.

He claimed to be the nobleman’s son returning home, but no one believed him. All knew the son and only heir died in Holy Land; a monk had returned the family seal ring and confirmed the heir’s death. 

The young man pleaded his case.
“I have a crucifix. My mother gave it to me when I left. It bears my name.”

The nobleman asked to see it, but when the knight touched his neck to retrieve the crucifix hung up on it, he blanched. Had he dropped it? 

Unable to prove his identity, the nobleman turned the young knight away. 

He too vanished into oblivion; perhaps he took the castle’s name with him. 

Yet, people say the knight errant still wanders the land, always heading towards the castle.

Naomi’s room was now dark, and the moon beamed upon her outstretched body on the bed. She reached into her pocket and took out the trinket that had sparkled in the soil just beyond the castle grounds. She twirled it around and scratched the dirt off it with her nail; the crucifix dangled on its tarnished chain between her fingers. 

She gazed at the ruined castle.

Glowing in the moonlight, the spectral knight made his eternal and torturous journey home.

UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: Ace of Cups

Marianne

Marianne wandered away from the camp in search of firewood. She heard their voices nearby and resolved not to stray too far. She knew the danger of wandering alone in these woods so thick that faint sunlight only seeped in through the dense canopy of the ancient evergreens. This forest teemed with legends of shifting trees, vanishing paths, and whispered voices that led people astray. She gave them no credence—they were just ghost stories—but the forest was notorious for its incidence of missing hikers and strange accidents.

Marianne gathered a few more branches and twigs and tucked them in the crook of her arm. She turned to retrace her steps down the narrow forest path. But, to her surprise, it had disappeared. Marianne pivoted and scanned the forest for the opening in the trees, the jagged rock that jutted out so the path wound around it. She searched for the trail marker painted on the tall oak, but found no sign.

Marianne gulped. She listened for her friends’ laughter and hubbub, but perceived only the soft breeze blowing through the leaves.

“What the…?” She muttered. 

A strange sensation, as if a sinister blanket woven with eerie thread, descended upon her. Her heart raced, her knees buckled, and her arms trembled under the prickly weight of the firewood. Beads of sweat formed on her brow, and Marianne struggled to calm herself.

Did she get turned around somehow? Had she wandered too far away?

Marianne took several deep breaths until the pounding fear subsided. Closing her eyes, she listened, focusing on the soft trickle of the nearby stream. She gauged its direction, and still carrying the firewood, set off to find it. Then she would follow it upstream to the fallen tree; they had camped several yards from it, inward the woods.

Relief escaped from her lips when she found the babbling brook.

The sun’s last rays shot out and sparkled in the water. Marianne trudged along the riverbank upstream; the cloudless sky blazed with red and yellow flames. The oozing dusk began staining the world with its blue light.

Marianne paused for breath and glanced around her, hoping to distinguish a marker towards the campsite. But the woods were dark, engulfed in a haunting gloom. Phantom shadows meandered through the trees. She cast her eyes towards the stream; the water flowed with an unearthly, dark glimmer. 

Lightning flashed upon the riverbank and, startled, Marianne dropped the firewood she still carried. She spied four shimmering apparitions drifting downstream towards her. As they neared, Marianne leaned closer to discern them. Fallen branches? But their blinding, bluish-white glow mystified her. 

Marianne gasped. 

Four bodies floated, feet first, past the riverbank with ghastly faces, shut eyelids and blue lips, their hands crossed upon their chests, as if they lay inside shimmering, watery coffins.

She screamed. 

The first body was her own likeness! Next came the image of Monty, followed by Minnie, then Miranda—the four M’s. 

Marianne plunged her hand into the water, but the wraiths disappeared.

“A mirage!” she breathed with relief.

Wishing to leave, Marianne set off at a brisk trot, always keeping the river by her side. Her breath came in heaves and pants, and tears stung her eyes so that she tripped as they blurred her vision. The fallen tree loomed ahead, and Marianne hurried to reach it.

As she rounded the tree, she found the forest path in the waning sunlight trickling through the leaves, and her friends’ distant voices shattered the eerie gloom.

“Don’t set up,” Marianne panted as she burst into the campsite, “let’s get out of here.”

“Why?” Miranda asked, puzzled by Marianne’s ashen countenance.

“Please let’s go!” Marianne’s gaze darted from one friend to the next like a frightened cat, “This forest warned me to leave.”

Monty shrugged. He never admitted it, but he was superstitious, and he had grown up with the legends too.

Marianne’s frightened expression dried up Minnie’s protests. 

Thunder rumbled in the distance, though the weather forecast had predicted no storms. 

They reached the car parked at the trailhead when heavy raindrops fell. Thunder and lightning were now upon them, and the air was dense with moisture. 

As they drove away Marianne glimpsed the sign pinned up on the board at the trail entrance; “WARNING! FLASH FLOOD AREA!” it screamed.

TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: Queen of Wands

Down a Country Lane

The car meandered down the country lane. Soft music sounded from the stereo. Heidi threw a quick glance at Claudia in the passenger seat. Her friend’s eyes were open, but she stared into space. Their chatter had ebbed minutes before as the length of the drive, the late hour, and the exciting evening took its toll on the two middle-aged ladies.

They had driven two hours to the city to attend a ballet performance of Giselle. Heidi figured the ballerinas in billowing tutus still danced before Claudia’s eyes. Heidi yawned and rubbed her eyelid. 

“Do you want me to drive?” Claudia asked.

“No, I’m fine, maybe a little tired,” Heidi answered.

Claudia nodded and turned up the volume. The turbulent opening notes of Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain blared from the speakers. 

Now and again, a half-moon peeked between the boughs overhanging the lane. The narrow road wound through the forest; the October wind blew dead leaves across the crooked and snaky asphalt. Heidi shuddered. The long scraggly branches shone with spectral whiteness in the car’s high beams. The haunting Giselle still danced in her mind as A Night on Bald Mountain’s powerful and frenzied tune filled the car.

Then the car stalled. Its lights flashed and blinked as the engine sputtered. Heaving a desolate sigh, it coasted to a stop. Heidi flicked the ignition, but the engine was dead. Even the stereo was silent.

“What’s going on?” Claudia’s voice oscillated between confusion and apprehension.

“I don’t know, the car stopped, just like that.”

“Now what?” Claudia asked; her voice rising an octave, and her eyes brimming with alarm.

“Call AAA?” Heidi shrugged, refusing to show her growing anxiety.

Heidi reached into the backseat for her purse, and was fumbling in it for her cell phone when Claudia spoke.

“What an eerie night! It’s so still and silent… Have you ever known the forest to be this silent?”

Heidi paused with her hand still in her purse.

“No,” she conceded and glanced at her watch, “it’s not even midnight; the world quiets down around 3 AM.”

“I know, but listen, nothing is moving.”

“Sure there is.” 

Heidi opened the door, thinking how, if they had been in her old car, she could have rolled down the window. Her son had bought her this new car and had touted the electric windows as the eighth wonder of the world. 

Icy air cooled her arm, but did not blow through the car, as if it did not want to enter. Heidi listened. Claudia was right. No owl hooted, no cricket chirped, and no breeze blew, despite the swaying branches of moments ago.

Heidi shivered. She closed the door and rubbed her goosebumps.

“Gosh it’s cold out! The forecast claimed it would only be in the low 60s tonight. I’d say it’s more like the low 30s!”

Heidi tried the ignition again, to no avail. Claudia, meanwhile, had fumbled in her own purse and had taken out her cell phone. She put the phone to her ear. 

Frowning, Claudia said, “No signal, try yours?”

Heidi pulled out her phone.
“Nada, zilch, we’re on our own.”

The two friends stared at one another at a loss for what next, when the sound of giggling laughter seeped into the car. It was faint, yet crescendoing as female voices approached. 

Heidi and Claudia sighed with relief.

The trees beside the lane rustled, and the women discerned soft firelights floating between the wraithlike trunks. The lights bobbed and wove, fluttering between the branches. For a moment, Heidi thought it was Giselle and her spooky friends.

The sparkling lights burst through the trees and dozens of women carrying lanterns danced onto the lane.

“They’re stark naked!” Claudia exclaimed.

Not all were flitting about in their birthday suits in the nippy cold air; a few wore long, flowing nightgowns. Heidi tried to say so, but the words stuck in her throat.

Bug-eyed, they watched the twirling women. 

The car shook when the uncanny dancers surrounded it, and a biting cold chilled the friends to the bone. The frolicking sprites crossed the lane and vanished into the woods.

“They… They…” Claudia stammered. 

“They passed right through us; through the car, through the seats, and right through you and me!” Heidi wheezed. 

“My God!” Claudia shrieked. 

Just then, A Night on Bald Mountain resumed, and the car gasped to life.

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Six of Batons

The Blizzard

The wind howled through the cobblestone lane, tumbling and wheeling the leaves in its furious path. Branches bowed and swayed as the creaking trees buckled in the gale with a hollow ululation, lamenting the loss of their copious red, yellow and orange ornaments. 

Winter blew through fall like dandelions in a soft summer breeze. A biting chill settled over the lane and frost glimmered on the windowpane. The sky, once clear and bright, was now a thick marshmallow of cloud. 

I pulled my coat tight around me and trudged up the lane towards the sleepy little town. I hoped to be home before the snow fell, but as soon as I stepped through the door of the grocer’s shop, the wailing wind splattered flurries onto the windowpanes. 

“We’ll have a harsh one tonight,” the old grocer greeted me, “you’re just in time, I was about to close the shop.”

“I’ll only be a minute, Mr. Gent,” I mumbled and rushed through the aisles. 

When I reached the cashier, through the windows I glimpsed big fat snowflakes falling in a frantic and whimsical dance.

Mr. Gent rang up my purchases and asked if I needed anything else.

“Some firewood, please,” I replied. 

He nodded, “We have little left, it’ll take a moment to get it.”

Then he turned around and opened a door marked ‘Private’. 

Mr. Gent, though amiable and kind, was not a trusting man. He’d manned the shop for too long and knew too well the trickery of petty thieves. He’d often grumbled about losing his faith in humankind over cents of a dollar. 

Mr. Gent returned with the bundle of firewood.

“I threw in some kindling,” he said as he clicked and clacked on the register, “no charge, you’ll need it. My arthritis is acting up, it’ll be a cold one.”

“Thank you,” I smiled. 

“Watch yourself, storms like this one bring out the Devil,” he said. 

“Oh, you don’t believe that old legend,” I teased. 

“Don’t I?” He huffed, though a playful wink flashed in his eye, “I was there. Saw the footprints m’self. And don’t forget what happened to Pete Garrett.”

“Pete Garrett? Ol’ Pete, up the road?” I asked, “What happened to him?”

“He vanished for months. Said he got lost in the blizzard. Wandered around for a few hours, he said, but we all know he appeared the next summer, still wearing his winter coat and trailing snowflakes with his boots… in July! It was hot as the gates of Hell and he stood in the middle of the street, looking like he’d just walked out of an igloo.”

I smirked and wished him good night. 

“Be safe, young man, Devil walks tonight!” He called after me as I shut the door and stepped into the heavy storm. 

Snow swirled around me as I tucked my paper grocery bag under one arm and my bundle of firewood under the other. 

Snowflakes fell on my eyelashes; I blinked hard and bowed my head as I trudged through the icy lane, the wind whipping and biting at my ears. 

The buildings on either side of the lane faded into white, and I soon found myself engulfed in a blind whiteout world where sight was useless and sound muffled. 

My heart pounded in my chest as I recalled Mr. Gent’s story about Ol’ Pete, but I steadied myself and slogged onwards. Even the swish-swish of my footfalls on the snow disappeared amid the gusting wind. 

“Oh, thank God!” I breathed when I reached my gate with its ornate lotus flower spikes. Through the whirling snow, I glimpsed the faint silhouette of my weathervane, spinning like a wild top. 

Lightning flashed down in snarls of light, as the wind booed at the windowpanes. But inside, with the fire blazing and a good book, I felt no danger. 

“Devil, my ass,” I sneered as I closed the book and prepared for bed. 

Sunlight burst into my room the next morning, white and blinding. I yawned, stretched, put on my warm slippers and padded to the window. 

I gasped. 

A trail of footprints meandered through my tiny garden; the fat, hoof-like footprints of a creature that undeniably walked upright. 

GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: XX Judgement

Mirrors and Smoke

“If it’s too good to be true,” Grandpa had often said, “leave it. There’s always a catch.”

Nothing in Damon’s life had ever been too good to be true, and he often wondered whether that philosophy had inflicted missed opportunities upon his family. Yet, here was the job offer.

Damon’s heart beat with delight as he read the letter. The company offered extraordinary benefits, and the salary, oh, the salary, those zeroes went through the roof. He gulped; in one month he stood to earn more money than his parents had earned in their lifetime of toil and trouble and backbreaking overtime at the factory.

“It’s honest work, Damon,” his father’s words whispered in his memory, “never forget that. We are decent people, and that’s far more rewarding than money.”

It annoyed Damon that now, in his moment of victory, when he should savor pure bliss, those words would haunt him and a nagging apprehension would settle in his heart. He’d struggled too; being the first in his family with a college degree had been no picnic. And he worked his fingers to the bone at his meager-paying entry-level job while he clung for dear life to the bottom rung of the corporate ladder. 

 Then, that phone call; a headhunter saw his profile. A company, unknown but successful, was interested in his credentials. Afterwards came the whirlwind interview infused with smiles and enthusiasm. He’d researched the business. It seemed solid, according to the information available. And now, the blessed offer beyond his wildest dreams had arrived… but too good to be true.

Damon checked his watch. It was too late in the day to call and accept. He sighed and microwaved his frozen dinner, then turned on the TV. He paid no attention, his mind swirled with visions of wealth and success. 

Still, that gnawing feeling…

Damon climbed into bed, flicked off the light and drifted off to sleep.

He stood in smoke, a thick white smoke. A soft breeze blew and dissipating the fumes revealed a headstone. 

Nonplussed, he approached the gravestone. It was dark as onyx and reflected his own glimmering image on its smooth surface. Rugged letters etched the sepulchral mirror. He squinted, trying to the read the words inscribed, but they blurred in and out of focus. He reached out and traced his fingertips along the engraving. A ray of light beamed down upon the epitaph, and Damon distinguished only one word: PATSY.

“Whose grave is this?” he wondered.

“Yours,” Grandpa whispered beside him.

Damon turned towards the voice, but there was only vapor.

“Too good…” the wind ululated. 

Damon awoke with a start; dawn was peeping through the window-blinds.

He stared at the ceiling for a long time. Then he made a phone call.

Months later, the story exploded in the media. On the evening news, Damon watched as police handcuffed the company’s newest employee. The poor idiot had accepted the offer Damon had declined. 

“Honest work is never too good to be true,” Damon stated, and switched off the TV.

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: 7 of Wands, Valour

Instinct

“Hey,” I knocked on the doorframe to get Tony’s attention.

“Wassup,” he said, without glancing away from his computer.

“Um, you have a minute?” I asked, a slight tremble in my voice.

Tony tore his eyes away from the screen and turned in my direction. His indulgent smile faded when he focused on me.

“What’s happened?” he asked alarmed, “you look like you’ve seen a ghost!”

“I don’t know,” I mumbled, “but something happened on my way back.”

“Tell me about it,” he said. 

I sat down on the edge of the bed and related my story:

Every day, after night school, I walk home via the same route. My mom always told me to stick to well-lit streets, and I always do. But tonight, as I stepped onto the sidewalk outside the school, I felt an eerie chill in the air. Shrugging, I turned up my coat collar and started my walk home. I noted the empty sidewalk, though at that hour—a little before ten o’clock—the street is often busy. It being a cool evening, I figured people had stayed home.

At the corner, I turn onto Main Street, as it’s always bustling because of the shops and restaurants, but something stopped me. I couldn’t continue; the familiar thoroughfare with the raucous hubbub and beaming shops gave me goosebumps. So I did what my mom said never to do. I walked up a block and turned onto the tiny byway that runs parallel, it’s called Stygian Alley. It’s a dark lane, almost ghostlike at any hour of night. An icy wind blew against me and chilled me to the bone, but I would rather face that eerie, deserted street than enter Main. 

 All the while on Stygian Alley, I sensed someone watching me, stalking me, like a lion in the bush. I whipped around, but saw no one, only black masses flanking a black void. No buildings were lit. The dread increased with every step until I thought I would burst out of my skin. I ran all the way home, the clack-clack of my heels thundering in my ears like the ticking clock of the universe.

Wringing my trembling hands, I finished. Tony, silent and thoughtful, joined me. He put his arms around my quivering shoulders; I rested my head against his.

“I can’t explain it,” I went on, “but the thought of walking down Main Street frightened me more than Stygian Alley. Though I’m scared shitless, I’m certain I did the right thing. Is that possible?”

He contemplated me for a moment, “You followed your instinct, and that’s always a good thing. I doubt we will ever know otherwise.”

He kissed my forehead, and we left it at that.

Tony’s startled cry woke me up the next morning. I ran to the kitchen.

“What is it?” I gasped.

He showed me his phone. The local news read:

Last night, around ten o’clock, an out-of-control truck plowed into a restaurant on Main Street. It hit a gas pipe. The explosion started a four-alarm fire that spread to other businesses. Many people are dead, wounded and missing. Authorities are still investigating. 

I stared at him wide-eyed.

“Never, ever doubt your instinct,” he said.

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.