ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: I The Magus + III The Empress

Minutes to Midnight

Evening:

Luke checks into the hotel and, as the receptionist runs his credit card, he notices the photograph displayed in the lobby. It is a black-and-white photo of the majestic Victorian building. He cannot say why, there is nothing odd about it, but it gives him the creepy-crawlies. 

“That picture was taken when the hotel opened in the 1890s,” the receptionist says and hands him a key. 

Luke enters his room and jolts at the sight of the black-and-white photograph hanging above the bed. 

  • Art Nouveau four-poster bed, nightstand, table and chair at back of room, heavy dark drapes line French doors to balcony. Sunlight gleams on bedspread. 

The sleek curves of the Art Nouveau style warp the mood of the photograph and give it a bizarre, off-kilter feel. 

The furniture in Luke’s room is different, modern, but the layout the same. White bedspread, blue curtains. 

“It’s this very room,” he exclaims. 

Luke shudders. 

He startles at the knock; the bellboy enters with Luke’s luggage and leaves. 

Luke steps onto the balcony and enjoys the setting sun’s milky glimmer over the cityscape. 

Dusk:

Luke’s eyes adjust as he enters from the balcony. Long shadows play upon the walls and blue imbues the room. Luke reaches for his jacket and stares at the photograph. 

  • Man lies on bed, in slacks, vest and shirt, tie unfolded, legs extended on bedspread, arms behind head; resting. Face gazes towards balcony. Suit-jacket draped on chair, hat on table, shoes by bed. 

Trembling, Luke grabs his wallet and hastens to the door. He leaves for dinner. 

Night: 

Luke opens the door and flicks on the light. The lamp on the nightstand is dim, but moonlight enters from the balcony. He places the keys on the nightstand and undoes his tie, preparing for bed. His heart skips when he glimpses the photograph. 

  • Man, now in striped pajamas, opens bedspread. Face blurred by bulb of light from Tiffany lamp on nightstand. 

Luke gulps and wonders whether to change rooms. He phones the lobby, but no other rooms available for the night. 

“Tomorrow,” the receptionist says. 

Luke enters the bathroom. 

11:58 pm: 

Luke opens the bed and is about to climb in when he stops and stares at the photograph. 

  • Darkened room lit by moonlight from balcony. Table and chair in silhouette, nightstand in shadow, billowing drapes. Outline of man laying on side, face towards balcony, flat sheet and blanket pulled up to neck, bedspread rolled at feet; asleep. 

11:59 pm: 

Luke stands with arms hanging and mouth open, mesmerized. His heart pounds and he gapes at the photograph.

  • Woman stands at foot of bed. Long dress and tight jacket, heeled boots, corset and bustle. Hair in bun, tilted cap on head. Face blurry but turned toward sleeping man. 

Luke’s frenzied mind searches for an explanation and finds none. He wants to turn away, but cannot. 

  • Woman extends arm and points gun at sleeping man. Gun glitters in moonlight. 

Midnight:

  • Flash of light at gun barrel. 

Luke hears a faded pop, as if from a gramophone. The light in his room dims, then brightens.

  • Blanked out image, dark edges. Overexposed?

Luke screams as red spots appear and expand, soaking the white satin pillow on his bed.

MINCHIATE: VII Strength + 7 of Staves

Good Samaritan

Laura stood outside the cottage. The overcast sky rumbled in the distance, though the sun peeked through the dense clouds and glimmered on the grass. She knew not how long she’d convalesced. Her wound still pained her, but no sign of fever today. She hadn’t yet met the Good Samaritan who’d helped her, though she recalled footsteps during the floating moments between sleep and fever. 

Someone had left a metal plate with bread and hard-boiled eggs, and a metal cup of milk on the rustic table inside the cottage. Laura was hungry, but stepped outside hoping to greet her rescuer and get her bearings. 

“It’s a farmstead,” Laura murmured as she scanned the rundown cottage and its surroundings. Chickens clucked by a rickety coop and a goat bleated; a loose rope, tied to a fence post, hung around its neck. 

“Like in Heidi, goat’s milk and eggs. I wonder where they made the bread.”

She walked around the small property, careful not to injure her bare feet. She’d run out her door barefoot—the night of her devil—and her ragged feet were only just healing. The Good Samaritan had left a pair of leather boots by her bed, but they were much too big and uncomfortable. 

“Mystery solved,” Laura sighed as she discovered an ancient brick oven behind the residence. 

The property thus comprised the cottage, the coop, the goat, the oven and a small field where, Laura suspected, the mysterious inhabitant farmed the grains for the bread. Thick woods surrounded it beyond her sight.

“Self-sustaining and off the grid,” Laura addressed the goat; it bleated in response. 

A chill crawled up her spine, “I hope this property doesn’t belong to one of those doomsday cults.”

The goat gazed at her with passive eyes. 

A thought tingled at her nape. Where was the dog? She’d heard one during the nights of sick slumber. She found no sign of other animals beside the goat and the chickens. 

Laura retreated into the cottage to plan her escape. She rubbed her arms; the wound at her side hurt and her stomach grumbled. But other thoughts pressed her. What if she’d fallen into their trap? What if this person was one of them, or worse?

Night fell and Laura remained in the cottage. She’d eaten the meal and stepped into the too-big boots intent on leaving, but had stopped at the forest edge, uneasy, scared and convinced invisible eyes were upon her. They had means of finding her through the air and time. 

Something—perhaps the intuition that had failed her when she met her devil—assured her the cottage was a safe place. A small fire crackled in the fireplace; the sound of the forest entered the windows and raindrops pattered on the roof. 

A thud at the door; Laura gasped, and knife in hand, waited with her heart in her mouth. The door creaked open and tiny hooves clip-clopped as the goat ran through the doorway. It bleated a greeting. A thick mass entered, and by the firelight, Laura thought it was a bear. An instant later she discovered it was only a tall bearded man. 

“Who are you?” Laura held the knife before her, ready to defend herself. 

“This is my home,” the man spoke in a deep, rumbling voice, “my name is Rainier.”

“Oh,” Laura had expected… well, something else, “did you bring me here?”

“No,” he answered, “you came to me. You knocked on my door.”

Rainier was young, maybe in his thirties, though by the thick voice, Laura thought him older. He wore his thick black hair long, had piercing blue eyes and the darkened complexion of someone who spends most of his time in the sun, wind and rain.

“The wound’s better? Does it hurt much?”

Laura shook her head, “Only a little.”

They stared at one another in the flickering light. 

“Thank you,” Laura broke the awkward silence, “I’m Laura.”

Rainier nodded. 

An owl hooted and the wind howled through the window. It almost blew out the fire; the red-and-orange tongues ebbed and waxed and cast a dance of eerie shadows on the walls. 

Rainier stood tense and alert with the brow-knitted expression of one who listens to the small sounds of the night.

“There is no danger in here,” he glanced around, “but someone outside means harm.”

In an instant, Rainier disappeared into the drizzling night. Laura sat dumbfounded at the table, the knife loose in her hand. She listened for his heavy footsteps on the damp ground, but heard none.

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Seven of Swords

Nigel

Nigel opened his eyes, bare branches above him, icy ground seeping into his bones. He took a deep breath and rose to a sitting position. He grimaced, expecting the sharp jabbing pain in his back and the crack, rattle and crunch of his joints. Major Creaks he called himself nowadays. Yet he found the movement painless. 

He gazed at his hands, and though chapped, he missed the familiar veins and age spots that had appeared over the long years. Nigel twiddled his straight fingers and marveled at their ease of movement; he moved his legs and stood up. His knees didn’t pop. Once standing, his hip didn’t jut out to the side and there was no stabbing pain down his back. 

Nigel beamed as he realized he was young again. He looked down at his feet, covered in heavy combat boots and shook the snow off his army-issue overcoat. He glanced around the dense, snowy forest. 

“Oh, I’m here again,” he whispered with dismay. Yet, the sensation of youth was so real, he was happy, even if he was back in the Ardennes and the horror of it had haunted him through the years of peace, prosperity, social revolution, consumerism, internet boom and the much-celebrated Millennium. 

“He fought in the Battle of the Bulge,” his neighbors often whispered with huddled heads, as if to explain away his somber and aloof behavior. 

Something glinted by a tree trunk and Nigel, curious, stooped, his once rusty knees bending like rubber. It was a long sword, a Claymore perhaps, he thought, and picked it up as if it were a feather. How wonderful not to feel the arm buckle under its weight! The fingers clasped around the hilt, painless, strong and straight as arrows. 

A roar cut through the trees, shaking the snow off the bare branches. Nigel heard the wood creak and the falling snow sounded like maracas. It had been years since he’d heard the sounds of the forest, however muffled in snow. 

Nigel, unafraid, headed in the roar’s direction. The forest, quiet under its freezing blanket, seemed to wake and give a startled yawn before sleeping again. Yet something odd remained in the air. He sniffed and perceived a hint of acrid smoke.

Boom! The forest exploded into a blaze of fire and Nigel dropped to the ground as he’d done decades ago. The trees shook, and though Nigel attributed the explosion to an air raid, he thought tanks rolled, not stomped, like he perceived underfoot. 

Another roar, so close it almost split his rejuvenated eardrums. He stood up and found himself face to face with a dragon, its wings wide, nostrils ablaze and tail pointed upward, scorpion-like. It smelled of burned flesh; he gagged. 

The dragon spotted him, and Nigel, sword at the ready, caught his gaze. They defied one another. 

The dragon hissed and a fireball spit from his nose; Nigel ducked. He moved through the trees like a cat and soon was close enough to strike the scaly beast. Metal clanged on the hard scales, but Nigel noticed they broke. He struck again and again until the beast gave a piercing scream. 

Flames surrounded him. Fire burned his flesh and ash blocked his vision. He drove the sword into the raw skin he’d hacked. Blood poured from the wound. His clothes caught fire, and the flames engulfed both beast and man. 

***

The fire department could not find a clear cause for the fire that had reduced the house to cinders. They believed the ancient wiring in the wall behind the bed was at fault. 

The strange old man hadn’t stood a chance; maybe he hadn’t even woken up. 

A rumor spread through the neighborhood children. It was spontaneous combustion, they said, because no one found the charred remains.