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BRUEGEL TAROT: Knight of Chalices

El Dorado

El Dorado

Lightning flashes over the shining city as the car approaches it. Stuart yawns and hopes they find lodgings before the storm bears down on them. Gloria doubts it, eyeing the laden thunderhead with alarm.

Stuart speeds up the car.

“I hate driving in the rain,” he groans.

Gloria nods, but says nothing. Stuart loves driving, and she suspects he gets a little sadistic thrill in dangerous conditions.

They enter the city, Gloria gazes up at the looming storm cloud, which casts a lingering gloom over the city. Gloria shudders as streetlights flicker and buzz.

“Something’s wrong,” she says, and goosebumps crawl on her arms.

“Where is everyone?” Stuart echoes the sentiment.

They drive through deserted streets though it is midday. Papers whirl across the road like dust devils, and debris lies scattered on the street. Gloria feels the desolation deep in her bones. She focuses on the parked cars. They are rusty, banged up and broken down, lying on their bellies with their flat tires peeking out from under them. Like dragons sitting on their loot. 

The stoplights blink red, and Stuart crawls across the intersection, but no one awaits at the corner. He glances at the store windows and sees only cavernous darkness. Buildings gape in toothless screams, and a shiver runs down his back.

Thunder rumbles overhead as Stuart dares to speed up the car.

“We’re not staying here, Glo,” he states.

“I second that,” Gloria reaches for the map in the glove compartment.

The guidebook falls out with its pages splayed open to the picture of a bright, bustling city. She scans the caption; it mentions the supposed never-ending wealth of the city built beside an enormous gold vein. Gloria glances out the window — of these streets of gold, only rubble remains.

She opens the map and directs Stuart to keep going straight. Thunder rumbles, and Gloria shudders.

“That sounded like a growl,” Stuart says, apprehension quaking in his voice.

Gloria says nothing, but looks at the thunderhead. The cloud shifts and meanders like a cat. No, a snake. A boa slithering across the sky, surrounding and squeezing this city.

“Hurry, Stu,” she pleads, and Stuart steps on the gas.

They speed through deserted streets, flanked by crumbling buildings. The storm cloud seems to glide towards them, and Gloria fears they will never leave if it catches up to them.

Lightning flashes across the sky, and Stuart thinks it looks like fangs, but he says nothing. From his quick glance at Gloria’s ashen face, he knows she agrees.

At last, they reach the city limits. Stuart sees the bright day ahead and wills the rumbling engine to go faster, though the speedometer is at its wits’ end.

The storm cloud roars as the car dashes out of the city into the blazing sunlight.

Gloria turns in her seat and stares behind her. The cloud twists into the shape of a dark snake-like head. It opens its mouth and spits fire into the shining city of eternal wealth.

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OLD ENGLISH TAROT: XVII The Star

Ripper

Ripper

Dainty heels click-clack on the pavement and approach the dark alley. He hides in a doorway, the dim gaslight of the streetlamp shines only on the blade peeking out from his sleeve. His features are in shadow, yet, in the darkness, he smirks.

The heels approach, and the woman rounds the corner, entering the alley. The sputtering gas-lamp flickers as she walks by, but he sees the seductive radiance emanating from her. She shines with the light of the brightest star.

Does she not know a murderer lurks the streets?

He wants her.

He chooses her.

He waits as she passes by the gloomy doorway, oblivious to his shadowy presence. He slithers in the gloom, his footfalls soundless on the cobblestone. Her footsteps echo in the night.

The fingers clasping the cold dagger twitch, and his nostrils flare, anticipating the aroma of flowing blood. It is a metallic perfume so powerful in its seductiveness, he must bathe in it again and again.

She walks on and nears the next gaslight. 

He reaches out and grabs her. 

She snarls. 

The blade flashes in the dim light.

The street is abuzz with the rumor the killer has struck again. Police shove their way through the crowd huddled in the alleyway. In the soft light of dawn, they expect the sight of a woman’s torn corpse. 

They find a man instead; a dagger lies beside him. 

Jagged fang marks slash his throat, and his eyes stare, frozen in abject terror. 

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UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: I The Magician

Film Noir Smooth

Film Noir Smooth

Debbie rushed into the book club meeting and took the first available seat. The members were already chatting amongst themselves, and the room was abuzz with snippets of conversation. They quieted when Amelia called the meeting to order. Debbie glanced around the room, smiling at those who met her gaze. Then, her eyes fell on a handsome young man in a black fedora, whom she had never seen. 

His eyes met hers, and she nodded a greeting. He smiled and tipped his hat. 

Amelia finished giving the club announcements, and the book discussion began. Bewildered, Debbie wondered why Amelia had not asked the young man in the hat to introduce himself, but the members were already diving into the discussion in their usual chaotic and cheerful way. They were tearing the book apart.

Dividing her attention between the lively discussion and the young man, Debbie observed him through quick, surreptitious glances. Square-jawed and impressive, with dark features, the young man had an air of sensual mystery about him. He was film noir smooth. 

Throughout the meeting, the young man kept catching her gaze, and spoke up several times, his voice booming over all others, but always directing his striking eyes at her. His piercing gaze made Debbie so self-conscious she found it difficult to follow the discussion, though she noticed he kept twirling a piece of paper between his fingers. 

The meeting soon ended, and as the members filed out of the library’s conference room, Amelia caught up to Debbie.

“You were quiet today,” she said. 

Debbie nodded, “I, uh, had nothing nice to say about the book.”

“Ha! No one did, it was pretty terrible,” Amelia giggled. 

“Hey, do you know that new guy?”

Amelia looked puzzled, “who?”

“The guy in the fedora. I don’t know if he introduced himself before I arrived.”

“There was no new guy,” Amelia stated.

“Sure there was! He spoke a few times.”

“Yeah? What did he say?”

“Um…” Debbie racked her brain, but could not remember a single word the young man had uttered, “Are you sure you saw no one in a fedora?”

“I’m certain,” Amelia answered and nudged her, “maybe you dreamed of him.”

She winked, and wishing Debbie a good night, walked out the door.

Debbie paused, flabbergasted, and looked back at the conference room, but the motion detector had already turned off the lights and only a dark cavern stared back at her. Bewildered, she turned to leave, but felt something fluttering behind her ear. She swatted it away; a piece of paper floated to the ground. It read: “hello.”

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GOLDEN TAROT OF THE RENAISSANCE: 10 of Chalices

A Message

A Message

Clara gives an agonizing cry and covers her mouth with her hand. She stares at the coded message shoved through the threshold of her apartment moments ago. Despite solving thick books of variety puzzles, Clara has not touched a cipher in fifty years, and now this tiny piece of paper has flung her into a whirlwind of cutting emotions.

 She grasps at her sanity as memories swirl around her mind. Tina and Clara giggling over a magazine picture of Clark Gable. Clara and Tina painting each other’s nails. Tina and Clara huddled under a rickety umbrella, splashing through the thundering rain. Tina and Clara, Clara and Tina, always. Best friends, friends so close they could read each other’s minds. Soulmates. Children, who, playing at being spies, had devised their own cipher, and would leave coded messages for one another to find. And then… the War. 

A sob escapes Clara’s clogged throat when Tina’s face shines in her mind, only to be torn to shreds by her last coded message: “leave the building”.

Clara pants as the memories of that hectic flight flood her mind, the air-raid siren blaring in her ears, the sound of hasty footsteps cramming into the bunker. Clara’s muffled voice calling out for Tina, Tina! Tina! And the spiraling world as the ground shakes and the lights go out. 

Clara weeps into her hands; she closes her eyes, which still burn with the image of Tina’s charred remains buried in the rubble of her mind. 

Clara takes a deep breath. It took her seconds to decode this new message; she recognized their cipher right away. Clara’s blurry, tear-stained vision focuses on the paper. Her lips form the words that crawl over the page: “Clara, help me”.

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TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: 3 of Wands

She Sits on the Cliff’s Edge

She Sits on the Cliff’s Edge

She sits on the cliff’s edge, gazing down at the roaring waves below her. Twilight is creeping its blue shadows over the land. The mansion pulses with the joyful clamor of party guests and the bubbly sound of ragtime music traveling on the cool sea-breeze. The ink on the Treaty of Versailles is still wet, but the revelry has already begun.

As night cloaks the radiant mansion, and the champagne flows, and the band plays, and the crowd cheers, she disappears into the dark abyss, hoping to find him who never returned.

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MINCHIATE: King of Coins

The Hunter

The Hunter

Jenny played with Nero, her beloved black cat, while Gil fiddled with the kindling in the living room fireplace. Never a country soul, he surprised Jenny when he announced he had inherited a country cottage.

“It’s the old family cottage,” Gil beamed, “Uncle Gilbert used it as a hunting lodge until his mysterious death. He was an avid and excellent hunter, you know. My great-aunt Dorcas lived there for the rest of her life. She left it to me in her will.”

Jenny joined Gil’s enthusiasm at having a weekend getaway. She had never seen the place, nor met Aunt Dorcas, who was very reclusive, but they were the only relatives to attend the old lady’s funeral weeks ago. 

This was their first night in the cottage, and Jenny marveled at the ornate ceilings with its hardwood panels. Aunt Dorcas had maintained the house in excellent shape; perhaps as a tribute to her late husband. The marble floors gleamed with exquisite patterns, and the chandelier shot out sparkling rays of light over the lavish dining room.

“Rich people…” Jenny muttered, glancing at the gold-leaf ornamented cornices, “and they call this a cottage!”

It was more of a chateau, but who was complaining?

The trophy animal heads that had disgraced the walls were the only things she had disliked about the place. As a veterinarian, they had shocked her, and she had refused to set foot in the building until Gil removed them. Gil did not protest, he also loved animals—live ones. Indeed, he had met Jenny through Rufus’s penchant for swallowing objects. Gil reached over and stroked the great Saint Bernard’s head. 

“Here lies the laziest, dumbest dog there ever lived,” Gil joked; Rufus replied with a languid yawn. 

Minutes later, Rufus glanced up as Gil got the hearth started, at last. Nero left Jenny’s lap and sidled over to his best friend, eager to share in the warmth.

“How did your great-uncle die?” Jenny asked, as the fire flared.

Flame-shadows danced on the walls as twilight cloaked the room. Jenny glanced at the standing lamp, but decided against switching on the electric light; the fire was cozy and bright.

Gil strode over to the couch and sat down beside her. He placed his arm around her shoulder; she leaned her cheek against the crook of his arm.

“No one knows,” Gil said, “they found his dead body deep in the woods, and could never determine a cause of death.”

“How mysterious…” Jenny murmured as the dancing shadows played around them, and her eyelids grew heavy.

“Aunt Dorcas once told me the Lord of the Animals took his life as a punishment for savoring the hunt,” Gil continued.

“How superstitious…” Jenny yawned; Gil, too, fell silent.

Night peeked in through the windows; cat and dog slumbered beside the roaring fireplace.

A sudden draft blew and stirred the crackling flames. Shadows whirled around them, and Jenny watched in placid drowsiness as they took shape. Shadow-trees flickered on the walls, and a deer silhouette pranced across it. The outline of a hunter followed. He paused, took aim, and shot the deer. Satisfied with the kill, the hunter kneeled beside the dead deer. Then, a creature crept up to the hunter. It was a tall person, much taller than any human, and it had antlers on its head.

The hunter-silhouette turned in its direction and, and upon seeing it, screamed. The shriek rang out through the house, and the flames sputtered. On the walls, the shadow-play ended with the hunter crumbling and falling dead beside the deer.

Another draft blew, and the spell broke. Gil’s and Jenny’s stunned eyes met; Nero and Rufus slept undisturbed.

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THE GODDESS TAROT: Five of Cups

The Silver Goblet

The Silver Goblet

Dust-cloth in hand, Marie picks up the antique silver goblet and wipes it, admiring the delicate engraving of waves and curls on the bowl. Canned laughter blares from the TV in the living room, but Marie pays no attention. She reminisces about the story of the beautiful goblet in her hand, an heirloom Grand-Mère brought from France after World War II. It was an antique even then, passed down for generations and rescued from the old ancestral home when the Nazis occupied France. Marie always suspected Grand-Mère worked with the Resistance, and though she never said it outright, Grand-Mère always dropped brief hints and allusions that only made sense later in history class.

Grand-Mère left France with nothing but the family diamonds sewn into the hem of her undergarments, and the one thing she never parted with: the silver goblet. Grand-Mère always said the goblet reminded her of the beloved brother she left behind and lost to the war. When pressed, Grand-Mère offered no further explanation.

The slamming screen door interrupts Marie’s reverie, and she glances up from the silver goblet as her son, Eric, shuffles towards the living room. He offers no help to clean the house, and slumps with a loud thud on the couch in the front of the TV, which Marie switched on for mere background noise in the silent house.

She shakes her head, expecting Eric’s Xbox to blare. Her cheerful child is now a morose and bumbling teenager. Marie suspects a girl’s involvement, but he has clammed up as tight as Grand-Mère did about the Resistance and losing her beloved brother. Like Grand-Mère, Eric also drops hints and intimations now and again.

Marie finishes dusting the dining room. The TV booms what sounds like a movie. Marie pauses and listens; Eric only plays video games. Wasn’t it playing a sitcom?

Marie creeps into the living room, perplexed, and stands behind the couch; her son stares at the TV, enthralled.

“What are you watching?” Marie asks.

“I don’t know,” Eric shrugs, “this was already on when I sat down.”

Marie focuses on the screen, which plays a black-and-white movie in French. 

“I thought you hate old movies,” Marie asks.

“Well, this one’s pretty good.”

“What’s it about?”

“The rich girl is a member of the French Resistance, but the Nazis arrested her best friend and sent her away to a concentration camp. She’s trying to find out who blew the whistle, because the friend was hiding in her house.”

Marie sits down beside her son, who does not move away. She watches the movie, and marvels at how much the young actress reminds her of Grand-Mère. The scene takes place in a lavish living room, where the actress sits deep in thought.

A door slams, and a young man enters the scene. The actor and the actress look very much alike, and Marie is about to say something when she notices the swastika wrapped around the young man’s arm.

“Huh,” Eric snorts, “the brother’s a Nazi? Didn’t see that coming.”

The young woman in the movie raises her eyebrows, and her face lights up with sudden realization. She ponders something for a moment, then offers the young man a drink. He nods, and she pours wine into a goblet. The young man drinks it, then chokes while the young woman looks on with tears in her eyes. Gasping for air, the Nazi slumps back onto the high chair, his eyes roll backwards, and then dies. The goblet falls from his hand and the camera zooms into it as it rolls on the marble floor.

Marie gasps, and Eric looks stunned.

“Isn’t that Grand-Mère’s…?” He stammers and points to the living room.

They gaze past the threshold and at the silver goblet taking pride of place on the dining room display cabinet.

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ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: Queen of Wands

Harbinger

Harbinger

Cleopatra Bysbys sits in her aerie with her rifle resting beside the chair. She gazes at the large windows, but does not see the treetops and full moon shining its silver light on her shabby house. On most days, at this late hour, she uses her long-sight—her mind’s eye—to snoop on the neighbors from the comfort of her bed. But tonight, Cleopatra sits in her belvedere, the small observatory atop her house, with her gun at the ready because she knows danger is coming.

Her next-door neighbor, Adrian Ryder, is in his bedroom, while across the street from him, Cassie Power cries herself to sleep, mourning her dead mother. The soft hum of the TV helps muffle her tears; it is her father’s nighttime resource to numb the pain. Cleopatra Bysbys sees him sitting in the living room, the TV blaring, while he stares straight ahead, not minding what he sees. 

Cleopatra switches her mind’s gaze to Adrian Ryder’s house. His family is far more entertaining than the Powers’ gloomy lives. Adrian is reading a book, enjoying the unusual quiet of his home. His younger brothers are at a sleepover, while his father works late. His mother is…

Adrian pauses his reading and listens for a moment. He senses his mother is in her bedroom, sitting at the vanity table and wiping off her makeup. Adrian resumes reading; Cleopatra Bysbys raises an eyebrow. Can the boy…? Impossible, she thinks, he just knows the family routine. There are no fights tonight, and Adrian basks in the silence, grateful that his father has been working so late these past few weeks. Cleopatra sneers; Mr. Ryder left work hours ago, mere minutes after his new assistant sashayed out of the building. 

Cleopatra Bysbys snaps to attention as the black mist descends upon her street. She does not like this mist. It is the harbinger of an ancient evil, one she thought vanquished eons ago. Her hand slides down and caresses her rifle; a man in a top hat saunters in the mist.

Adrian Ryder pauses his reading and gazes out the window. Cassie Power’s tears have stopped flowing, and she stares at the moonlit glass. The black mist swallows all night sounds; Cleopatra Bysbys raises her rifle and kneels at an open window with the barrel pointed at the mist. Though the mist hides the man in the top hat, her powerful mind’s eye perceives him well.

An eerie atmosphere envelops the street, and Adrian Ryder is on high alert. Cassie Power senses the danger in the night, and the fear paralyzes her. She reaches for the long chain around her neck and clasps the horse-shaped obsidian pendant at its end. Her heart races.

Adrian Ryder clutches the golden coin in his hand, and stares straight ahead. His toes jerk with adrenaline, and he wills himself to run and defend Cassie, but an invisible rock crushes his body and paralyzes him.  

Blinding white soars past Cassie’s window and a barn owl alights on the narrow ledge with its back to Cassie. Cassie gulps in fear, as the barn owl rotates its head and faces Cassie. The sight of the heart-shaped white face comforts her, and the fear lightens a little. 

The Ugly Man in the Mist struts up the Powers’ driveway and climbs the stoop. He reaches for the door knob, smirking and savoring the fear emanating from within the house.

A loud crack whips through the black mist, dissipating it. The man in the top hat snaps his hand back and growls in pain. Blood drips from his hand onto the stoop; his palm has a gaping hole. He scans the surrounding street, but sees no one. The barn owl screeches and breaks his silent spell. Clutching his injured hand, The Ugly Man in the Mist flees into the night.

Cleopatra Bysbys lowers her rifle and directs her gaze at the radiant barn owl perched on the ledge at Cassie’s window.

“The Long Fight is coming, my friend,” she says, “but at least this one bleeds.”

The owl meets her gaze and hoots in response.

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BRUEGEL TAROT: II The Hight Priestess

Heart Notes

Heart Notes

Rummaging through Grandma’s attic, Angie turns the crystal bottle in her hand. The bottle is small, and she marvels at the beautiful craftsmanship of the glass. It catches the dim electric light of the lone bulb hanging from the ceiling and shoots it out in diamond rays that twist and wind around her hand. She searches for a name, but finds none. 

Angie considers opening the bottle and letting out its fragrance. She giggles to herself as she imagines a genie oozing out in a puff of white smoke and granting her three wishes.

“Nonsense,” she chides herself, “It’s only perfume, which may be rotten now.”

Angie glances around at the bric-à-brac left behind by her centenarian grandmother and wonders if she ever used the fragrance. Grandma always said that perfume was heaven’s manna, and she felt naked without it. Angie would shrug her shoulders and resume playing with her dolls. 

Now, the bottle entices and intrigues her; she strokes it with her thumb, and her cheeks color at the thought of Prince Charming leaning in… She shakes the image away and remembers Grandma’s smiling eyes and the swirl of peaches and roses that always trailed behind her. 

“Mom!” Angie calls as she steps out of the attic, perfume bottle in hand.

“Yes?”

“Is this Grandma’s perfume? The one she was always talking about?”

“No, I keep her bottle on my dresser. Where did you find this?”

“In the attic. In the drawer of an old dressing table. It’s beautiful too, I wonder if Dad can fix it for my room.”

“We’ll see,” Mom muses, “you know, this was Grandma’s childhood home. Maybe it belonged to your great-grandmother.”

Angie gazes at the lovely bottle with enchanted eyes, and Mom notices for the first time that her daughter is leaving childhood behind her. She was searching the attic for games and toys, and found this…

“I wonder what it smells like,” Angie says.

“I wonder if there’s any perfume left in the bottle,” Mom replies, “there’s only one way to find out.”

Mom rips a piece of paper out of a notepad, “You spritz some on here and then inhale the scent.”

Angie sprays the paper and sniffs.

“Now describe the aroma to me,” Mom says.

“It’s fresh,” Angie closes her eyes, “and smells like Earl Grey tea.”

“That’s the bergamot,” Mom says, “and those are the head notes.”

“Head notes?”

“Yes, it’s the first impression of a perfume, the scents that dissipate the quickest. What else?”

“Now it’s morphing into something flowery. I can’t quite place it, but it grows in Grandma’s garden.”

Mom nods, “I detect Jasmine and gardenia, and those are the heart notes.”

“Heart?”

“The bouquet that lingers after the head notes have faded. In a little while, on the dry-down, you’ll get a sense of the base notes. Those are the heavy aromas that stay the longest on the skin.”

“You mean like how you smell of wood and something powdery when you come home?”

Mom nods and smiles as unseen tears spring to her eyes.

“How do you know all this?” Angie asks.

“Grandma taught me when I was your age,” Mom answers, “and her mother taught her when she was ready to learn.”

Angie gazes into Mom’s smiling eyes.

“Now,” Mom continues, “spritz some on your wrist and tell me what happens. Does it change? Do you like it more? Or less? Perfumes are unique to people. The same fragrance can be heavenly on you, but infernal on me, and vice versa.”

Angie sprays her wrist, and the perfume expands and envelops her in a blissful whirlwind of flowers and thunderstorms and a crackling hearth. It brings her to the brink of something wonderful, as if the perfume was opening a mysterious door and leading her towards it. 

“You know,” Angie hesitates, a little embarrassed, “for a moment, I hoped a genie would come out of the bottle. Isn’t that silly?”

“No,” Mom winks, “Magic always floats out of perfume bottles.”

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UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: VI of Cups

Dark Corner

Dark Corner

Shadows slither down the wall like spilled ink spreads over paper. Darkness envelops the world outside the window until all Colin sees are dark masses of black and gray. He pulls the bedcovers up to his chin and listens to the comforting sounds of Mom and Dad as they prepare for bed. 

Colin wills the light peeking through the crack under the door to shine brighter, but knows the darkness will also swallow it soon. It swallows everything, and Colin wishes that night would never come. He wishes to live on a planet that never rotates on its axis and always faces the sun.

“But life would be impossible on such a planet,” the teacher said.

“So would darkness,” Colin answered, and the teacher gazed at him with a puzzled expression.

“Are you afraid of the dark?” His mother asked when she hung up the phone.

Colin nodded, and Mom promised to buy him a nightlight. Dad said the world stays the same in light or darkness, and he should never fear the dark. Colin nodded and gulped down the embarrassment, but refrained from telling it was not the darkness that he feared most, but the man that appeared in its depths.

Tonight is the last night he will sleep in gloom; Dad turned the closet light on and left its door ajar, and Mom left the bedroom door open.

Colin’s heart beats like a drum against his chest when both doors sway themselves shut, as the shadows ooze in through the windows and plunge the room into pitch black.

Colin stares at the deepest corner; his breath clings to his throat and sweat runs down his feet. The darkness is taking shape, condensing and expanding until Colin sees the clear-cut figure of a hooded man standing there, watching him, glaring at him. He senses its icy stare on his clammy toes and closes his eyes tight, like a kitten, hoping, pleading with the figure to leave.

“Tomorrow,” Colin whispers, “you won’t be here anymore.”

The figure’s lips curl into a sneer.

“I’ll always be here,” it whispers in its deep voice, “just because you cannot see me in the light does not mean I am gone.”

Colin gulps, knowing it speaks the truth. Beads of cold sweat form on his forehead and he wants to scream for Dad. But something in the smooth silkiness of its voice stops him. Colin feels a warm touch on his cool forehead and opens his eyes. The apparition no longer stands in the corner. It sits on the bed now and smiles at Colin with loving warmth.

The apparition strokes Colin’s forehead, and the fear melts away.

“Who are you?” He asks.

“I am Darkness, Loneliness, Fear. Everything you cannot see and do not understand. I am The Unknown, and now that I have introduced myself, you will never fear me again.”