BRUEGEL TAROT: II The High Priestess

The Old Library

Joan paced the Old Library, checking everything was in place. This branch housed only the history and genealogy resources of the Main Library two streets away. The building was a Post-Medieval English New England house with a plaque claiming it as the town’s oldest structure. It was at least three hundred years old, and though a private residence for generations, the last descendants had willed it to the town upon their death. 

Joan often pondered about the downfall of the old families as she sat at the circulation desk, sometimes playing solitaire on the computer. Never the busiest of branches, most patrons, except for the members of the local historical society, only stopped to gape at the ancient building.

Evening was falling upon the shelves on her first time closing up since Joan’s recent transfer to this branch. Betty, her boss, went home early with an upset stomach.

The library boasted one central chimney flanked by two rooms, known as the hall and the parlor. Upstairs, in the garret, one of two tiny bedrooms functioned as a study room available to patrons, the other was the staff break room.

A long lane wound around the building and dead-ended at the town’s majestic Georgian style Wells House, now a museum. It and the Old Library had belonged to the Wells, the oldest and wealthiest family in town. They built the mansion as their wealth grew and vacated the much older family home, using it first, as a groundskeeper cottage, then left abandoned with their demise. The Wells died out decades ago, their fortune depleted. 

Joan peeked through the small, diamond-paned casement window. Flurries fluttered about the dusky night. She glanced at her watch, still an hour to go before closing time. She meandered to the old stone fireplace and sat down on one of the cozy high-backed chairs facing it. Poking the dying fire, the embers sparkled and twirled upon the now coal-black log. Joan wondered whether to rekindle it, but, even in its last flickers, the fire emitted enough cozy heat. Dim sconces lit up the rooms, and far from eerie, they produced a special welcoming warmth. 

Above the fireplace hung the portrait of a lady dressed in 18th century garb with her hair teased and curled into the pompadour style the ladies favored then. She wore a red dress with frilled cuffs, low neckline and tight corset. Joan thought her a plain woman of a certain age, dressed in the wealthy finery of a young girl. The portrait needed restoration; the background had darkened to indiscernible murkiness and cracks showed on the woman’s serious face. Her marble chest, devoid of ornaments, the brightest spot on the portrait. 

Joan sat and gazed, and for the first time, noticed the woman’s desolate expression. A lump caught in Joan’s throat as she beheld the saddened eyes, sunken into the pallid face. Her thin lips pulled downward in utter misery. 

On Joan’s first day at the Old Library, Betty had explained the portrait’s history. Joan had only half-listened as she pondered the odd placement of the picture. Shouldn’t it hang in the Wells House Museum instead? The high, elaborate hairdo and elegant clothing contrasted with the low ceilings and barebones style of the Old Library. 

Blue shadows of twilight criss-crossed the walls. The fire sputtered, and the ensuing flicker illuminated the painted lips with a ghostly quiver. 

If only Joan could remember the story.

Was she courted by a prince? No, that was her ancestor. 

Joan’s memory clicked into place.

And the prince had gifted the ancestor a precious diamond necklace, which she’d passed down the line to this woman, who had…

Joan scrunched her face and considered phoning Betty, but thought better of it; she’d gone home green with nausea. 

Let’s see, as a young girl the lady in the portrait had…

Had an affair with a British soldier during the Revolution!

Yes, but first, the necklace had disappeared. Then, someone had betrayed the lovers as they tried to elope and accused the soldier of stealing the necklace. She defended him, but the community shamed and shunned her and… 

What happened? He died in battle?

No, he hanged for theft, though the necklace never appeared. And…
A pariah, she lived in squalor in this building for the rest of her life.

A draft of air blew and sparked the glowing embers of the fireplace. Smoke and ash scattered everywhere, and Joan coughed and wheezed until the ash settled on the wooden floor by the high-backed chair.

As the smoke cleared, Joan glimpsed ash seeping through the cracks, delineating one, and only one wooden plank. She kneeled down and, running her fingers over it, realized she could hook her pinky nail under it and pry it loose.

Cautious and praying no rodent bit her, Joan stuck her hand into the gaping rectangle in the floor. Her fingers clasped around cloth. She pulled out a bundle of worn fabric and unwrapped it.

Her hands shone with bejeweled diamonds woven into a gold chain. She held it to the light, marveling as the stones caught the beams and reflected them back into the dim library. 

“I believe that belongs to me,” the voice of a young woman whispered and Joan turned towards the sound.

The portrait gazed down at her. A painted arm moved and reached through the turbid varnish of the picture and out into the room, so close it almost touched Joan’s face.

The woman held her arm out, palm up, expecting Joan to place the necklace on it. Shuddering, Joan deposited the jewels in the outstretched fingers.

“Thank you,” the woman said, smiling.

Another gust howled through the library. Twinkling embers danced around the portrait of the smiling young girl in wealthy dress and pompadour hairstyle with a shining necklace draped around her neck. A handsome man in a tricorn hat beamed behind her. 

MINCHIATE: XL Trumpets

Cosmos

In bed, Doreen lay with her knees tucked up tight to her belly. Silent tears trickled down her cheeks when the music seeped through the wall. She listened to it oozing through the wallpaper as it crescendoed until it blanketed the entire room.

Mr. Peterson still played Gustav Holst’s The Planets—the entire suite—every night before bedtime.

His music had filtered through the wall of the duplex since Doreen was a child. Through the stress of midterms, the bullies and the gossipmongers, her high school graduation, the first Christmas home from college. In good times and bad times, Mr. Peterson’s music was there, as certain as the moon orbits Earth. 

Her emotions always attuned to the music, as though a magician turned up the dial at just the right moment. “Mars” riled enough healthy anger and courage to break up with a sleazy boyfriend, “Venus” calmed her fighting spirit, “Jupiter” sparked her optimism. Mr. Peterson’s music had bent and molded and shaped her and set her on the right path. 

Doreen’s lips quivered. She had made the hardest decision of her life and moved back home with the hollow pit of defeat lodged in her stomach. 

The landlady had shut the door of the tiny apartment in the big city as Doreen’s dejected shadow shrunk along the wall of the stairwell with each step downward. The dreams she pursued for ten years rotted in the dumpster by the building. She had so much promise, so much potential; she was honest and disciplined and brave. But the city, the economy, downsizing, attrition and joblessness had beaten her little by little, a scratch here, a bruise there.

Her parents suggested she move back in with them.

“You can live here rent free while you get back on your feet,” her dad said.

Her mother piped up, “We’d love to have you with us!”

Doreen put it off until she faced eviction.

The condo, though welcoming as always, now bore the burden of promises and dreams down the drain. 

Mr. Peterson’s music soaked through the wall and into her soul like a soothing balm. Tomorrow I’ll knock and see how he is, Doreen thought as her eyelids drooped and she fell into a deep slumber, perhaps the deepest in months. 

Doreen woke up refreshed, still a failure, but a well-rested, clear-headed failure.

At breakfast, her mother smiled and placed her hand on her daughter’s.

“We’ve missed you,” she whispered.

Dad beamed at her over his coffee and winked. 

Doreen said, “So Mr. Peterson’s still playing his music every night, huh? I thought I’d knock and say hi.”

Her parents’ faces fell. Dad looked grim and Mom confused.

“Oh honey, didn’t you know?” Dad said, “Mr. Peterson passed away last summer. His condo is empty now.”

“But,” Doreen stammered as the news sunk in, “the music, last night…”

Dad shook his head, “it’s been quiet all this time.”

Dad patted her hand and excused himself from the table.

Doreen turned to Mom.

“I heard it,” she mumbled.

“I know,” Mom whispered, “I hear it too on nights when I need a friend, on tough nights. It soothes me too.”

THE GODDESS TAROT: II Wisdom – Sarasvati

Mind Full

“This is stupid,” Edith wriggled in her lotus position. She moved her neck from side to side and straightened her shoulders. With a deep breath, she tried to focus on the yoga instructor’s soft, lulling voice as he led the class into a meditation.

Edith wondered why she was here. Her therapist had recommended yoga for stress management and, like a fool, she had obliged. The guy next to her squirmed and the rustle of his movement sounded like nails on a chalkboard. Someone behind her cleared their throat, and that too grated at her brain.

Edith inhaled again, forcing herself to focus, but the instructor’s words meant nothing. Her never-ending to-do list occupied her thoughts. 

Darkness surrounded her through her closed eyes; someone must have turned off the lights. She hadn’t realized how much the yellow light filtering through her eyelids bothered her. Then something clicked in Edith’s brain and muted the anxious thoughts. She felt herself melt into the ground as she exhaled.

She was in utter darkness now and frightened, as she sensed her arms go limp and her shoulders droop, but the soft chanting seeped through the blackness and calmed her.

It grew louder until she distinguished the low, yet mellifluous unison of men’s voices intoning unintelligible words. The perfect harmony of their singing suggested to Edith she might be inside a temple or a church. The sound echoed inside a vault, though the yoga studio had a low ceiling.

A shudder, no, a trickle crept up her fingertips and a warm electricity coursed through her. It wasn’t a jolt, but a sense of home.

A point of light appeared in the darkness that clouded Edith’s mind. It merged with the blackness and she glimpsed a simple altar, made of rough-hewn wood and stone, unlike the one she’d seen that time in the cathedral.

The point of light expanded and revealed a procession of hooded men in front of her. They made the lovely music with their voices. Aware she walked among them, Edith peeked at the monk beside her, but his cowl draped too far over his forehead and she only glimpsed an aquiline nose.

Edith gazed at her hands, and startled when she saw the thick palms, heavy fingers, and wrinkled skin that clung onto the bone. One fingernail was black and, disgusted, Edith meant to fold the finger and hide the nail. Instead, the muscle twitched and sent a bolt through her body. The chants and the monks disappeared, and she was back in the yoga studio.

VISCONTI TAROT: XIX The Sun

Noir

The lighthouse orb carousels over the rocks, the ocean, the beach. 

It rolls through the window and casts shadows on the parlor floor, the wall, the ceiling. Embers glow in the fireplace, twinkling with the swiveling ray.

The heavy pendulum clock ticks against the wall. 

He sits in the armchair, still and silent.

Tick, tick, tick.

A merry-go-round, the beacon. 

Light, then shadow on the gaze of steel.

Embers crackle; the sputter of an automobile rolling up the drive.

Tick, tock.

The key turns in the door; the creaking mingles with the ticking clock.

And all the while the light goes around and around in the gloom.

Moonless, starless sky. 

The lighthouse sphere swirls on the placid ocean, the water like tar. Licorice fingers of lichen on the rocks. Pebbles roll with the waves upon the beach. 

Tick, tock.

A footstep in the hall. The soft tap of stiletto heels as weight rolls to the ball of the foot. 

Click, tap. Click, tap.

Keys shuffle and tinkle in the hand. She stifles them.

The ray shimmers through the sidelights and transom window and onto the walls.

Checkered shadows.

Dark house, but for the revolving beam. 

She creeps by the parlor; her silhouette large upon the wall.

She pauses, but why? 

A peek and she sees the armchair by the fire.

The embers glow red. 

The light beam wheels through the room; he has turned the chair around, she notices.

His scowl, raw. It freezes her.

The eyes glow red. 

White lightning thunders through the dusky night. 

A leaden thud; the crimson trickle on the spotless tile.

The acrid stench of gunpowder. 

Bitter the taste of revenge, but sweet the satisfaction.

Black and white the room, red the dying fire.

GOLDEN TAROT: Eight of Cups

The Magpie

The ruined building had stood at the corner forever; melancholy with the architecture of a bygone era. The roof remained, though the walls had long ago crumbled into piles of rubble, like a pie crumbles when sliced with a dull knife. It looked like a big gaping mouth.

Byron walked past it every day. He felt a strange connection to the ruins and often speculated what they had housed and who had built them. One particular mystery were the faded posters pinned to the fence which flapped in the wind; they also littered the rubble. A picture of a young girl named Maggie took up most of the paper; ‘missing’ printed on top, ‘reward’ at the bottom. She’d disappeared in 1974, and Byron wondered about her. 

One cloudy day, as Byron walked past the sun peeked through the pesky clouds that set the icy breeze on the world, and shone on the ruins.

A glint in the rubble caught Byron’s eye. A tiny shimmer of something glimmered in the subdued sunlight just before the yawning entrance into the belly of the building.

“Kids,” he muttered, supposing some had dropped a shiny toy while playing.

He walked two paces, then stopped and glanced back; the shiny object winked at him.

I must be part magpie; he realized he could not walk away without knowing what shone in the rubble. A memory floated up his spine, but Byron suppressed it. It involved a Hot Wheels, a glaring policeman blocking a toy store’s exit, and a can of whoop-ass his mom had opened at home. 

Byron realized not that he licked his lips and wrung his hands as the thing twinkled again. A quick glance; no one watched. Byron climbed the fence with the agility of a monkey. He trudged and traipsed through the stone crumbs toward the sparkle. 

A haze had fallen on the street and the air smelled like rain.

“Curiosity killed the cat,” he grumbled as he almost turned his ankle on a precarious rock.

“But satisfaction brought it back,” he said when he reached the dark mouth of the ruins.

He scanned the ground for the gleam; his heart skipped when he saw it.

“Ha!” He exclaimed and picked it up.

He turned it in his hand and held it up to the glimmering light. It was an old coin; its engraving defaced by time and earth. Byron shrugged, and with a tiny ember of dismay, turned to go, when his eye caught another flicker further inwards. Beyond it, something else winked at him, and something else beyond that. 

Byron grinned, unaware he did so, and a greedy sparkle shone in his eye. The memory of him shoplifting returned, and with it a feeling, a wish he’d buried that day, awoke. The Magpie stirred deep inside his body and compelled him to move, kneel and collect all the tiny shiny things scattered among the rubble.

It absorbed him, and before he knew it, he’d entered the deep guts of the building, never wondering how it could continue for so long and so deep.

As he picked up the last of the defaced shimmering coins, he glanced up. Darkness surrounded him, cavernous and tomb-like. The dense and musty air stifled him, and Byron’s first thought was I need to leave now. Yet, how? His eyes could not pierce the pitch dark.

A cold, ominous draft blew from within, and the surrounding walls rumbled with a deep groan. A terrifying thought snaked through his mind. The beast is awake.

***

Torn and yellowed posters pleading for the whereabouts of Byron Elster clung to the rusty fence as Rob’s eyes flickered with yearning for the winking trinket by the derelict building.

GOLDEN TAROT: VII The Chariot

The Last Train

The old man rocked on the back porch; his niece sat beside him. The evening closed around them, crickets chirped and cicadas buzzed. His niece lived with him; she cared for him in his last years and he accompanied her in the autumn of her life. Two lonely people, both unmarried, both aging with nothing to do but sit on the back porch and gaze at the garden, and wait. 

“Uncle, can I get you something? Maybe some lemonade?” Niece asked. 

Uncle nodded and told her to hurry.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” she giggled.

Niece entered the old house, once a railroad station, with its gabled roof and stumpy watchtower. It had been more than a century since the trains had stopped and half that time since the old station became a house with an added two-story wing. The old railroad tracks, now rusty and decaying, marred the garden Niece cared for with vehemence, yet she’d never covered them. 

Trains had stopped at this station, passengers had climbed off and on, and then had pulled out with a loud whistle conveying hopes to their destinations. The tracks ran through the tree-lined meadow and disappeared into the forest, where they wound around a bend and continued along a steep ravine. The Last Train had vanished into the trees and reappeared at the bottom of the gorge as a twisted and smoldering wreck. No one survived. No one removed the tracks either. 

“The train won’t come if you cover them,” Uncle had said when she’d first moved in a decade ago. She had watched him with quizzical eyes, wondering if his mind was deteriorating too. 

“Trains haven’t stopped here in more than a century,” she’d said.

He’d grumbled something and nodded, but a tiny sparkle had shone through his old man’s eyes. 

Niece joined Uncle with two tall glasses of lemonade. 

“I miss the fireflies,” he broke the silence, “haven’t seen one since that night.”

“What night?” Niece asked in her most nonchalant voice; she sensed a rare peep into Uncle’s history. 

“The night she vanished. Crickets and cicadas had buzzed then too, but the fireflies flitted all over the fountain,” he sipped the lemonade.

“Who vanished?”

“My bride-to-be; she left her wedding dress on the perch and disappeared into the night.”

“You were engaged?”

He nodded. 

“She left you?”

He nodded again, “though I’ve always suspected I’m to blame. Me and my trysts.”

Niece gazed at Uncle with wide eyes. She’d never married because no one had proposed, but Uncle…

Uncle produced a photograph from his inner jacket pocket. A beautiful girl with marble skin and cropped jet-black hair that peeped from under a cloche hat with a white flower bow on the side smiled at the camera. The picture was black-and-white, but Niece noticed the light eyes, maybe blue, that twinkled with delight. She was young and fresh, and Uncle’s perfidy stung Niece.

“She took her yellow raincoat, her blue suitcase and that hat. They found the hat by an abandoned car. It was 1959. We never heard from her again.”

“What was her name?”

A tiny green light twinkled between them and Uncle and Niece turned their gaze back to the garden and the long-forgotten tracks. The same green light sparkled and multiplied until the garden glittered. 

“Fireflies!” Uncle exclaimed with delight.  

They watched the fireflies with awe and wonder as the bugs flitted around them, like flickering memories of innocent times. 

“Uncle, what was her name?” Niece repeated after a moment. 

A rumble blew through the trees and Niece’s question faded in the wind. The rumble thundered in their ears, yet the world remained unperturbed. In an instant, a black steam locomotive chugged into the eroding tracks. It hissed and sputtered. The murmur of voices overpowered the crickets and the hubbub and flurry of the past engulfed Uncle and Niece. A stationmaster called out orders. Gentlemen in suits, high-collars and stovepipe hats, paid porters to handle their luggage. Women in long skirts with bustles, corseted jackets and flowered bonnets, fanned themselves or closed their parasols, ready to ascend the train. 

The locomotive churned on to the edge of sight, and the first wagon appeared with its passengers peering out of the window. Niece knew who to expect: the old lady and her elaborate hairdo, the gentleman with prominent muttonchops smoking his pipe, and the young dandy with the round spectacles. All of them with shining eyes and hopeful smiles, unaware they rode The Last Train and their dreams had tumbled into the abyss a century and a half ago. 

Uncle gasped and pointed. Niece followed his gaze and through one window saw two passengers she’d never seen in the decade they’d watched The Last Train arrive. A young woman with a pearly complexion, short jet-black hair and blue eyes leaned her head on the shoulder of a rugged dark-haired and olive-skinned man with piercing black eyes.

“Miriam!” Uncle shrieked. 

The train chugged away and vanished into the trees, toward the final bend. 

Niece stared aghast; the photograph flittered in the breeze.

But… The Last Train crashed long before Uncle was born.

TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: Knight of Pentacles

Ethur

Cassiopeia rushed to Mom’s nightstand. The teacher’s lesson on the Trojan horse reminded her of the tiny figurine Mom had worn around her neck and Dad had buried in a drawer since she died. Cassie rummaged in the drawerful of knick-knacks Dad hadn’t yet had the heart to clean out until her fingers closed around a bauble wrapped in Mom’s cotton hanky. 

Tears sprung to Cassie’s eyes when she saw Mom’s initials knitted into the cloth but she fought them back and unwrapped the trinket. In her palm she beheld a black stone carved into the shape of a horse rearing on its hind legs. It shone iridescent gold when the light caught it and Cassie remembered Mom telling her it was Fool’s Gold, an obsidian with a gold sheen. Mom had promised Cassie would inherit it someday. Someone had wrapped a silver wire around it, simulating a saddle and bridle which twined into a long silver chain with no clasp, as if to bind the figurine into infinity. 

Dad didn’t think it worth much, it only had a deep and cutting sentimental value to him. But Mom had always told her ancestors had bequeathed it even after the townspeople had hanged Great-Grandma Cassandra as a witch three-hundred years before. 

At the thought of Great-Grandma Cassandra, the ancient graveyard by the meadow flashed through her mind. Cassie checked herself and endeavored to distract her thoughts away from the cemetery, though it was her most beloved place in the world. She and Dad had spread Mom’s ashes amidst the tombs of her ancestors. 

“Stop it!” She scolded herself. 

If she concentrated on a place, Cassie would find herself there. Once, while imagining herself as a hawk perched on a branch, she appeared atop a tall oak and had a harrowing time climbing down from it. She’d gotten better at controlling this gift. Now, by concentrating on her room, it served as a respite from the harassing torment of her walk home in her tattered sneakers and faded clothes. 

Cassie twirled her fingers around the obsidian horse, then draped the chain around her neck. In a flash, she stood at the old graveyard in the meadow. The peacefulness of the place ran through her body and washed away the distressing school day mired by constant bullying. 

Two groves flanked the old graveyard, one a barren clump of dead birches with peeling ghostly white bark and scraggly branches that rose upwards like supplicant fingers. Mom had said Great-Grandma Cassandra’s unmarked grave had withered those trees. 

On the other side, stood a thicket of hawthorns and redbuds that seemed in constant bloom and powdered the ground with pink and white blossoms. Whenever she walked among the ancient graves, the wind always stirred these blossoms and they clung to her hair like fairies. 

Cassie’s chest tickled. She gasped when she saw the tiny obsidian horse dangling by her bellybutton, kicking and bucking. She tried to grab it. The tiny horse, still on its long chain, slipped through her fingers and galloped up her arm and onto her shoulder, where it patted her skin with its glimmering hoof. It emitted a tiny huffy neigh and gazed at her. 

The wind gusted through the hawthorn and redbud blossoms and drew her attention. In the swirling pink and white buds a woman appeared with a long black dress, white apron and hair tied into a cap. She shimmered and seemed to meld into the wind until she hovered before Cassie. Their eyes met and Cassie perceived the same mystical pearlescence of her own malachite-green eyes. 

Cassie gulped; the woman ran a ghostly finger down Cassie’s nose, just like Mom used to do, only it felt like falling dew instead of Mom’s warm caress.

“Cassandra?” She squeaked. 

Cassandra nodded and smiled, then placed her fingertip under the tiny horse’s snout still perched on Cassie’s shoulder. The horse nuzzled it. 

“This is Ethur, he is your spirit-guide and protector,” Cassandra spoke, “only those like us can bring him to life. Ask and he will answer, go and he will follow, but know this, he is of Light and only works in Light. He will not heed the dark requests of your heart. He is your constant companion, guide and friend. Love him as he loves you, and when you leave this earth, he will sleep. Pass him down to your descendants until someone awakens him again.”

Tears rolled down Cassie’s cheek, but Cassandra, her fingers under the girl’s chin, continued.

“You have much magic in you and much to learn. As your gifts evolve, he will guide you to use them for the good of the world. Those who torment you do so out of fear, this is your fate, do not let them stop you in your path to lighten the darkness. Ethur, I, and your ancestral line are always with you. Fear not your destiny; embrace it instead.”

She bent down and kissed Cassie’s cheek. It felt like a cool speckle of rain under a clear sky. Another gust of wind and Cassandra vanished with the swirling blossoms. 

Cassie stood alone by the old graveyard. She gazed at Ethur on her shoulder; his obsidian gold sparkled in the sunlight. She smiled at him and placed a fingertip under his snout, just as Cassandra had done. He nuzzled it and warm energy rushed through her body. In her heart, she knew the gesture had formed the thickest of bonds. 

Voices approached and Ethur froze. He tugged at her neck as he slipped off her shoulder and dangled at her belly, a stone trinket once more. An old couple in hiking boots stopped to admire the blossoms and never noticed the girl with the shabby clothing who was there one moment and gone the next.

MINCHIATE: Queen of Cups

Wolf

Marilyn stared at the screen; the cursor blinked like an impatient mother tapping her foot. Tap, tap, tap. The cursor glared at Marilyn. 

She’d spent the last days staring at the blank document. Once in a while she began a sentence, then deleted it. Sometimes writing a story was like squeezing the juice out of a dry, withered lemon: it came in dribs and drabs and through gritted teeth.

Marilyn slammed her fist on the desk and stood up in frustration. The chair rolled and slammed against the wall. It left a nick in the drywall; Marilyn cared not. 

She made herself a snack and gazed at the street through the kitchen window. A dog barked and Marilyn, crunching potato chips she’d served in a bowl, expected her neighbor to appear as he walked his poodle every day. Marilyn brought a chip to her mouth and was about to pop it in when her hand froze in mid-air. A black-and-white Siberian husky passed before the kitchen window and fixed its ice-blue eyes on her. 

Marilyn furrowed her brow, “Wolf? Is that Wolf?”

With a thudding heart, she observed the dog, every moment more convinced it was Wolf. A woman appeared, and there was no mistaking Norma Jean’s coarse blond hair dyed in purple highlights. For a fleeting moment, Marilyn’s heart soared with delight when she recognized her sister. Then she noticed the torn clothing, missing hiking boot, Norma Jean’s ragged and bloodied ankle and grimy face. Her sister’s arm hung limp and at an odd angle. 

Marilyn dropped the bowl; it shattered on the cream-colored tile and scattered crumbling bits of potato chips. She ran out the front door. 

“Norma Jean!” Marilyn panted as she reached her sister, “What happened?”

“Help us, Marilyn!” Norma Jean’s hollow voice chilled her. It sounded far away, like through a static-filled radio station. 

Marilyn wanted to embrace her sister, but a dark cold and a zapping panic rooted her to the spot. 

“We’re up there, by the twisted tree!” 

Norma Jean pointed to the canyon in the distance and Marilyn’s heart sank as she saw the jutting form of the fallen tree dangling precarious over the craggy mountain slope. 

Wolf barked in the same hollow sound, and a gust of wind took Norma Jean’s last cry for help. Marilyn stood in the blistering sun, stunned and alone, and hesitated for a suspended moment in time.
A crow cawed and broke the spell. 

Marilyn rushed to the phone. 

***

“We made it just in time,” the rescuer told Marilyn as she burst into the emergency room, “they were there all yesterday and last night, but your sister will be fine.”

“And Wolf?”

The rescuer looked puzzled, “The dog?”

She nodded. 

“He’s at the animal hospital nearby on Monroe Avenue, I think he’ll be okay,” he paused, “I gotta say, that damn dog’s a genuine hero. She’d be dead if it weren’t for him. She slipped and fell down the slope. The dog slid after her, caught her by the ankle before she fell off the last ledge and pulled her to safety. She’ll have a nasty scar, but it’s a minor price to pay.”

BRUEGEL TAROT: 2 of Swords

Like Cats and Dogs?

Rufus snuggled up to Minerva; she gazed at him askance, decided he meant no harm, and turned her attention back to the kitchen. 

What’s it about this time? Rufus whimpered. 

Minerva gave him a disinterested yawn. 

It was always about something. Yesterday it was about him not clearing the dishwasher. The day before, she’d thrown away his napkin. He snored, she scraped her teeth on her fork. 

Rufus and Minerva cuddled on the couch, though his panting was annoying her. In the kitchen, they would soon hurl insults at each other. 

Minerva felt sleepy, but endeavored to stay awake and alert in these crucial times, lest a missile startled her. 

Rufus wanted to play and nudged Minerva. Finally she conceded and pretended to swat at his long drooping ears. He nipped at her, never meaning to hurt. 

“Fuck you, asshole!” 

Uh-oh, the gloves were off in the kitchen; Rufus and Minerva paused their game, four eyes intent on the scene before them. 

“No, fuck you, you bitch!”

“Who is she?”

“The fuck I’ll tell you!”

“Bastard!” 

A bang shook the table. The plates upon it rattled. 

Rufus whimpered; Minerva mewed. They gazed at one another and he nuzzled his snout against her calico cheek. Minerva returned the gesture, rolled onto her back, and playing, pawed at his long basset hound ears. Rufus panted. 

“The fuck you snooping in my phone!”

“Who is she?”

Plates rattled. A chair scraped the floor. A cabinet door opened.
Minerva rolled herself onto her paws and squatted. She let out a soft growl. Rufus stood on the couch, his chubby legs ready to run. They stared ahead, Minerva’s ears pulled back. 

“Fuck off, witch! Stop snoopin’ in my damn phone!”

“Then answer the fucking question, idiot!”

He stood up and slammed his fist on the table. 

Rufus and Minerva watched the fight, damned if the customary torpedos caught them unawares again. 

“Answer me!” 

The flying cup hit him right on the chest. 

Rufus barked and Minerva meowed, but they might have been pictures on the wall for all the good it did. Another cup followed; he ducked. 

“Don’t you dare dodge, you wuss!” 

A saucer shattered against the wall. 

Rufus and Minerva slid off the couch and sauntered towards the bay window that looked out onto the street. She leaped up on the seat while Rufus, resting his short legs on it, pulled himself up beside her. The window’s distance from the kitchen kept them safe from the flying objects. Minerva loved to chatter at birds flitting on the tree branches by the window, and Rufus barked at anything that walked past the house. 

Something thudded on the couch; a chipped plate landed where the cat and dog had sat moments before. 

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: 6 of Swords, Science

The Phone Calls

Brenda considered herself a woman of science and dedicated her adult life to scientific research. She felt at home in her lab coat and among her beakers, flasks and petri dishes. She believed science could explain everything, one just had to know what formula to apply. 

The mysterious phone calls were a nuisance at first. The phone would ring, Brenda would answer and… nothing. Only noise on the other end. 

“They’re all from the same number,” she told Lisa, her co-worker, “you’ve no idea how many times I’ve blocked it.”

  “Why do you answer then?” Lisa asked. 

“That’s the creepy part,” Brenda replied, “the calls come from my grandfather’s number. He died when I was seven, but it, and my house, are the only phone numbers engraved in my memory.”

“Maybe someone else has the same phone number?”

“But why don’t they ever speak? It just sounds like someone at a party butt-dialing me.” 

“Weird,” Lisa shrugged and returned to her experiment. 

Then Brenda noticed the coincidences. 

One day she walked down a crowded city block. The hubbub of voices, footsteps and car horns buzzed in her ears, but the phone rang too loud to ignore. With an exasperated sigh, Brenda paused at a busy street corner, despite the pedestrian light signaling to cross. Oncoming passersby gave her angry looks as she blocked the sidewalk while she fished in her purse for the insistent phone. 

A car sped through the red light and almost hit the man on the crosswalk. He skipped onto the safety of the sidewalk and cursed the driver.  

“Good thing you weren’t crossing,” he turned to Brenda, who’d blanched, “he’d have run you right over.” 

“That wasn’t the only time,” Brenda chatted with Lisa the next day during their coffee break, “there have been other, little coincidences.”

“Go on,” Lisa coaxed and sipped her coffee. 

“The other day, I had finished up in the kitchen and was retiring for the night, when the phone rang. I’d left my phone on the table, but when I reached it, it stopped ringing. I shrugged and gave my apartment a last glance; I noticed the front door. It was unlocked! Had the phone not rung, I would’ve gone to bed without locking it!”

“And you’re sure it’s your granddad’s number?” Lisa asked, “May I see it?”

Brenda pulled the phone from her lab coat pocket and searched in the phone call register. As Lisa took the phone, it rang. The mysterious number blared on the screen. The women blanched and stared at it. Brenda’s hand shook as she lifted the phone to her ear. 

“Hello?” She squeaked.

“Get out of the building now!” A warm voice, an old voice, demanded. 

Brenda’s heart skipped and tears sprung to her eyes. That voice, it couldn’t be…

“Who are you?” She bleated. 

“You know who I am, Brenny-kin,” the familiar voice replied, “get out of the building now!”

Brenda grabbed Lisa, and pulling her along, led her out of the building. 

“GET OUT!” Brenda yelled as they rushed down the hall, “Get out of the building!” 

Lisa, ashen with fear and surprise, echoed Brenda’s warning. 

They reached the courtyard; Lisa begged Brenda to stop by a weeping willow. People filed out after them and loitered on the grass, bewildered. 

“What the…?” Lisa panted.

  A loud boom drowned out her voice. 

The ground shook beneath them as a heavy rumble echoed through the university grounds. Lisa watched horrified as the building they’d vacated crumbled and blazed. She put her arm around Brenda, who wept and sobbed with her hand covering her mouth.

The authorities determined a gas leak caused the explosion. An accident, they said, it was lucky no one died.