GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: 9 of Pentacles

Procrastinating

Tyler leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms to the ceiling. The cursor blinked, tap, tap, tapping an impatient and expectant beat. In the past hour Tyler had changed his shoes, walked to the kitchen and chomped on a handful of pistachios. Then he walked back to his room. He paused on the stairwell and stared at the watercolor painting of purple flowers (he neither knew nor cared what flowers they were). He had turned around and sauntered back to the kitchen for another handful of pistachios. Then trekked all the way back to his room, giving the flower picture a cursory glance. He had fiddled with the knickknacks on his bedside table and patted Bear, who was lying down on his bed. Bear gave him an inquisitive yip. Tyler put his discarded shoes in the closet, stood by the window, and, huffing, sat down at the computer. 

The paper was due tomorrow, and he’d procrastinated all day. He stared at the screen and heaved an exasperated sigh. The assignment was to write a fictional story, all subjects welcome. Tyler, for the past few days, had been squeezing his brains like a dried lemon for a tidbit, a drop of an idea, but nothing. 

He glanced out the window at the whirling snow. Even the weather was cooperating so he could get this done today. The town announced a snow day and closed the school. He often went sledding or skating on these unexpected holidays, but today the snowstorm was raging so bad there was no possibility of going anywhere. 

The computer screen darkened, tired of waiting. Tyler kept his eyes on the window. 

Snowflakes splattered on the windowpane like bugs against a windshield, and the wind howled through the window frame. Outside the world was a marshmallow of thick, undulating white. The forest beyond the garden was invisible though, as the wind swept freewheeling snowflakes, he glimpsed the scraggly branches an instant before another rabble of errant flakes bespattered the window. 

Tyler thought about getting yet another handful of pistachios and perhaps a can of Coke. He made to stand, but something outside arrested his attention. 

A dark mass was lumbering its way along the trees. It tottered side to side like a pendulum as it approached his yard. Chills crept up Tyler’s spine and goosebumps sprouted on his arms. 

His heart raced, and a knot caught in his throat; he could not take his eyes off the figure as it waddled towards his house. The Beast! It was The Beast! 

Everyone knew the story; The Beast arrived when Johnny disappeared. Kids from school had seen it last summer as they had camped in their backyard, which, Tyler recalled, also melded into the woods. 

Tyler wanted to scream, but the screech caught in his throat like fishhooks. He gave Bear a hopeful glance. His heart sunk when he realized Bear, a massive mixture of Akita and Newfoundland, was the dumbest, laziest dog the Almighty ever created. If faced with The Beast, Bear would either slink away as speedy as a turtle and squeaking like a rubber ducky, or offer The Beast his disfigured chew toys. 

SPLAT!

Tyler jumped liked the Devil pricked his butt. His head snapped towards the window as another wave of snow slid down the pane. The slush obstructed his view and Tyler debated whether to open the window and wipe it clean or not. 

Better not, he decided, lest the sounds and movements attract The Beast. Heart in mouth, he waited for the snow to slide all the way down the glass. He swayed this way and that, trying for a better look. He gulped as the window cleared, and with his heart racing like a Ferrari, he pressed his forehead against the glass. The maelstrom of snow and ice still raged in whirlpools of swirling white, but the dark mass had vanished into the freezing vortex. 

Tyler paced the room trying to calm himself; Bear’s eyes followed him with mild interest. Bear gave a little peep as Tyler sat down and embraced him. He gave Tyler’s cheek a sloppy lick. Tyler listened, but heard no unfamiliar sound. He laid his head on the pillow and waited for his heart rate to slow. 

Bear yawned liked he would eat the world; a grin crept up Tyler’s lips as an idea flashed through his brain.  

“The Beast! Now that’s a story!”

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: 0 The Fool

Forty Winks

Erin sat on a flat rock overlooking the gorge. She set her backpack on the ground beside her, and considered whether to eat her sandwich now, or wait a few minutes. The soft breeze tousled her pony-tailed hair and cooled her cheeks. She closed her eyes and listened to the birds trilling in the trees and the river’s soft babble floating upwards the rocky crags of the gorge. Trees and plants clung onto the cliff wall; their gnarled tendrils snaked downwards towards the fertile earth by the riverbed. 

She had followed the narrow, knobby, pebbled path that hiked up, up, up through the forest; its thick canopy only allowed weedy shafts of sunlight to peek through its branches. Erin had gasped as she had burst through the trees; the world, wide and tall and warm and sunlit, had appeared before her in all its marvelous expanse. 

Something rustled in the trees behind her, and Erin opened her eyes. The blue, cloudless sky shimmered above her, while the river gushed so far below that its thunderous roar reached her ears like a mere sputtering gurgle. Dark silhouettes of mountains rose ahead like prehistoric and unreachable worlds. 

“The bigness of it all,” Erin murmured, recalling that, only a couple of hours before, the metal shell of her car had enclosed her. And the walls of her house had sheltered her, yet imprisoned her at the same time. 

Erin reached into her pack and took out her cell phone. She fought the urge to open the addicting game that kept her cooped up with its encroaching narrowness and instead turned on the camera. She pointed the lens at the gorge; sunlight obliterated the images on the screen. Blinking, Erin snapped a picture. 

She put the phone away and laid back against an adjacent rock, as if the landscape had created a hard, bumpy little divan just for her. Erin fought the urge to reclaim the phone and open the game. She placed her arms behind her head like a living pillow and interlaced those itchy fingers. She glanced upwards as the fluffy, white clouds rolled through the blue sky. 

Another rustle; Erin turned her cheek towards the sound and watched as a man emerged from the forest path. She noticed the man’s clothing: breeches with thick knee-high socks and short boots. He wore a short, belted frock coat and flat cap. He seemed to carry something burdensome, but as he reached the overlook, the man glimmered in the light, colors fading into a blur. The sun stung Erin’s eyes, and she closed them. The man seemed not to notice her.

Listening, she pictured the man’s movements. He bustled about and traipsed over the uneven ground. He stopped. A soft tapping of wood as he opened what sounded to her like a folding chair. His treading footfalls, and more tapping, clapping and rustling mingled with the sounds of the gorge. 

He’s setting up his camera, I suppose, Erin thought as the warm breeze kissed her cheeks. She wrinkled her nose. The breeze carried a faint scent of chemicals mingled with the overpowering aroma of pine, moss, and damp earth. Erin tried to open her eyes, but the light burst through her eyelashes. She could have turned her head away from the sunlight, but preferred the breeze blowing in her face. 

The sounds the man made soon faded away. Erin dozed on the rocks, with the babbling river below her, the cerulean expanse of sky above, the colossal mountains beyond, and the dense, cool forest at her back.  

A shadow passed over her and darkened the inside of her eyelids. 

The soft clearing of a man’s throat rumbled, “Pardon me, madam.”

Erin blinked her eyes open; the man’s young, smiling face towered over her. His smile crept over his features despite the bushy, dark eyebrows and eyelashes shading his twinkling eyes, and a thick vandyke beard hiding his lips. She caught his smile and returned it. 

“I did not wish to disturb you,” he said in a gruff voice and tobacco scented breath, “but your placidity enchanted me, and I wished to capture the moment.”

He held out a thin iron plate towards her, “Please forgive me for intruding on your rest, and accept this token of gratitude for your peaceful company this afternoon.”

“You’re not bothering me,” she said, “the sun’s so bright! I snapped a picture with my phone, but the glare… I couldn’t see anything on the screen.”

Erin took the plate he handed her. 

“I beg pardon,” the man said, his eyebrows knitted together in confusion, “I had no trouble with my camera, and I placed my portable darkroom tent beneath the shaded boughs. Tintypes are excellent for outdoor photography.”

Erin sat up and glanced at the thin sheet of metal in her hands. 

Fixed upon the plate was a grainy black-and-white image of herself asleep on the rocks. 

“Thank you,” she said, “what a beautiful picture.”

The man smiled and nodded, giving his cap a light tap. 

Erin gazed down at the picture and admired its prodigious detail. The man must be a pro, she thought, even if he is an odd duck in old-fashioned clothing

She turned to the man, wanting to say something kind. A heavy wind gusted from the forest and snatched the words from her tongue. The man had gone, leaving the twirling leaves in his wake. 

Was he a vision? A dream? A ghost?

Yet, the tintype remained in her hands. 

THE GODDESS TAROT: XI Strength – Oya

Opportunity Knocks

Zoe leaned back in her chair and sighed. She gazed around the silent office and past the darkened cubicles surrounding hers. Down the aisle, she glimpsed the gloomy windows. She never enjoyed staying late, but the boss had heaped last-minute work on her and she thought it best to get it done as soon as possible. It didn’t help matters she had spent the past half hour daydreaming about quitting the company. 

It had taken her a while to admit it, but she did not like her job. She got along with everyone and always pasted an eternal smile on her lips. But, in the past few months, she had been dragging herself out of bed every weekday and resisting the urge to call in sick. 

Things had been changing at the office; the new boss treated his employees like machines and had taken an especial dislike toward Zoe. Why? She could not say, but glancing around the empty office, it sure seemed true. He seemed to dump all eleventh-hour work on her, and only her. 

Zoe rubbed her eyes and yawned. Exhausted, she glanced at her phone and saw a new text message from her friend Norman. He had contacted her days ago and explained he was starting a business, wondering whether she would join him in the venture. 

Zoe had said she needed time to consider it. In fact, she had been daydreaming about quitting this job and throwing all cares to the wind. She had been pondering Norman’s offer. 

“Zoe, I believe we’d be a helluva team,” Norman’s deep black eyes had fixed their serious gaze on her — one blue and one brown — heterochromatic eyes. 

“But if I leave,” Zoe rested her face in her hands, “I’ll be taking a significant risk with my life. I also wouldn’t have time to do both jobs. What should I do?”

Zoe contemplated her options for another moment, before setting her hands on the keyboard. The characters on the screen melted into one giant blur; she blinked the exhaustion away and continued. 

Muffled footsteps and the sound of shuffling papers distracted her. She glimpsed an older woman she didn’t know, walking toward the copier room. Zoe gazed after her; she thought she was the only person left in the building. 

“Working late?” Zoe smiled as the woman approached on her return to her own workstation. 

The woman paused; an exhausted smile spread across her lips.

“Yes, I am. I wish I wasn’t though, but there are bills to pay and I need the overtime.”

“Yeah, I hear ya,” Zoe said, “I need to get this done by tomorrow, some last-minute stuff my boss requested.”

“Ah, yes, I worked for him many years ago.”

“What was he like?” Zoe asked, eager for a break and a little gossip. 

The woman leaned against Zoe’s cubicle. 

“Unkind and a terrible boss, somewhat of a bully, too. He enjoys demeaning and overworking the people he doesn’t like. He tests the waters with them, and if they give an inch, he grabs a foot and then some. If I were you, I’d request a transfer. You’re on his blacklist.”

“How do you know?”

The woman shrugged, “You’re the only one in his department working this late.”

Zoe took a deep breath. As the woman turned to go, Zoe made a split-second decision. 

“You know,” she spoke and the woman, halting, attended her, “my friend has asked me to join him in a startup. I’m hesitant. I don’t know what to do, it’s like I’m between a rock and a hard place.”

“What’s keeping you from taking your friend’s offer?”

Zoe thought for a moment, “Fear. I’m afraid it’ll fail and I’ll be out on my butt.”

“What’s the alternative?”

“Staying here, I suppose, and hoping a transfer goes through,” Zoe shrugged, “maybe I’ll search for another job, at another company as big and heartless as this one.”

“I had an offer like that once. My friend Norm asked me to join him in a risky venture,” The woman said in a voice brimming with melancholy and nostalgia. 

Zoe caught her breath when she heard the name; she always called Norman ‘Norm’ because he never bent the rules. 

“Wh-what happened?” Zoe stammered. 

“I turned him down and stayed at my safe and cushy job, working under a boss who disrespected me at every turn. I applied for transfer after transfer to another department, but it was years before that came through. Found out later the boss had thwarted all my opportunities over and over until he couldn’t anymore. By then, it was too late. Exhausted, I was drowning in debt with my small salary just keeping me afloat. Meanwhile, Norm and the person who took the offer I’d turned down were rolling in dough like Scrooge McDuck. In my darkest hour — unlike Scrooge McDuck — he loaned me some money, which went a long way.”

She paused; Zoe gaped. 

“I’ve always regretted turning down his job offer,” she fixed her gaze on Zoe. 

The woman stepped towards Zoe, who gasped when the light from the table lamp shone on the woman’s eyes. One eye was blue, the other brown. Zoe’s own face, drawn and haggard, stared back at her. The clock on the wall struck the hour and Zoe snapped her gaze away. When she turned back to the woman, no one was there. 

BRUEGEL TAROT: 2 of Pentacles

Two Sides of the Same Coin

As children, John and James had lived embroiled in a constant tug-of-war. Being identical twins, they shared a physical appearance, and there, the similarities ended. 

With their loving mother dead, the boys’ father had taught them to compete against one another. Who ran fastest, who jumped higher. Who was smarter, who was better-looking; it was a constant push and pull. What belonged to John, James wanted. What belonged to James, John wanted. But it was never enough to exchange belongings. As soon as they had traded, they both wanted the original back. 

And so they entered adolescence, as cunning and ambitious as the day is long. 

One day, John realized how exhausting the constant competition was. He had looked into James’s malicious gaze, triumphant over some trifle, and a thought had flashed, quite unbidden, through John’s brain—I don’t want this life for myself anymore. 

That moment, that life-changing instant, launched John’s wellbeing and James’s demise. 

John had let go of the rope that bound him to James and made his life apart from his twin brother. But James had been tugging so hard, that when John’s resistance gave way, it sent him tumbling into a life of crime.

John moved away and lost all contact with his sibling. 

Aware of the wedge their father had driven between them, John changed his surname and adopted his mother’s maiden name. Life rewarded him with marriage, kids and success, and most important of all, peace. He lived in peace and free from all competition. Little by little, with patience and hard work, John achieved what most unscrupulous people do not — a quiet, pleasant and comfortable life. He coveted nothing and lacked nothing. 

Years and years passed, the kids grew up, graduated, married and had their own lives and their own families. It was in the second year of John’s widowerhood when he first heard from his twin brother. 

James came to him in a dream, rather, a nightmare. John woke up sweating that night with a heart beating so hard it would pop out of his chest. He placed his head in his hands and tried to wipe the dream away. Yet, even then, the dream was foggy, and all John recalled were still images, like faded photographs, with James front and center.  

He lay back down on the hot pillow, frowned, then with the herculean effort necessary for a man in his seventies, turned over the pillow. The cool satin calmed his flaming brain, and he soon drifted into sleep.

The next night, the nightmare returned. Once again, John tried to grasp it and make sense of it, but it was like a damaged silent film which was scratched, burned, and had missing bits and pieces. 

“Should I seek James?” John asked himself as sleep overtook him. 

On the third night of waking up in a panic, John resolved to search for his brother. 

He asked his grandchild, a lanky, screeching boy of thirteen, to help him in his quest. Andrew—contorting his facial muscles into many annoyed expressions—huffed, puffed, then agreed. 

He typed James’s name into the search engine. 

John’s face fell when Andrew clicked on the first link. The news article detailed James’s crimes. It spoke of rackets, gangs, betrayals, backstabbing and, always in the middle, James.

John shook his head and stopped reading. Andrew continued, wondering why his tranquil, do-gooder grandfather would be interested in this person. Then he reached the end of the article and saw the photograph. 

Andrew gasped as his grandfather’s face glared at him through the screen. 

“Grandpa,” he whispered. 

John, head bowed in—what? Shame? Sorrow?—answered in a dull voice, “I know, he looks like me.”

“Why?” Andrew asked. 

“Because he’s my twin brother.” 

“It says here he’s missing,” Andrew said, “the article says he was carrying a shi—boatload of evidence against some mafia boss, a much bigger fish, when he disappeared. That evidence could put this guy away for human trafficking, murder, prostitution, and then some. The FBI is seeking information on his whereabouts.”

John took a deep breath and exhaled, his tired old-man eyes fixed on his grandson’s youthful, pimpled countenance. The weight of his childhood had, in that instant, fallen on him like a ton of bricks, and it showed in his exhausted, wrinkled-paper face. 

“Grandpa,” Andrew read the right meaning in his grandfather’s expression, “you know where he is, don’t you?”

John nodded.

“Where?”

John sighed, “He is among skeletal trees that cling to a jagged crag overlooking a furious ocean.” 

“Is he alive?” 

John shook his head, “The trees caught his mangled body in their gnarled branches, invisible to all above on the cliff’s edge, and unreachable from the ocean-beaten rocks below.”

“How do you know all this?”

“James showed me in my dreams.”

Andrew stared agape at the loving man whose twin brother was a hardened criminal. 

John picked up the telephone, “He also showed me where he hid the shitload of evidence.”

TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: Queen of Swords

Magia

Adrian opened the door to Cassie’s house and placed the key back in its hiding place under the big flowerpot on the stoop. At his own house, he would have called out, but he’d noticed Cassie Power and her father never raised their voices. 

When in Rome, do as the Romans do… He closed the door behind him and walked through the shabby single-story house to Cassie’s bedroom. He knocked, not banged like his own father, and waited for Cassie’s reply. At his own home, they would have opened the door an instant later. Had Adrian a nickel for every time his little brothers burst in while he was dressing, he would have left home years ago. 

“Come in, Adi,” Cassie called. 

Adrian opened the door and found Cassie smiling at him from her desk. 

“Give me one minute,” she said, “I’m almost done with my homework.”

Adrian flopped down on her bed and stared at the ceiling. In the weeks since he’d met Cassie on the Day of the Ugly Man in the Mist, he had spent most afternoons with her, escaping his thunderous and dysfunctional family. Here, in the Power’s house, he experienced something he found nowhere else, not at home, not at school, not even on the soccer field: peace. 

Adrian and Cassie were now close friends and Adrian told her everything about his life, though she was years younger. To him, Cassie was a girl with the tenacity of a warrior and the wisdom of a sage. 

Cassie also felt a connection to Adrian and saw in him the older brother-cousin-friend she had never had. She spilled her guts about Mom’s death, and Dad’s money troubles, and the bullies at school. Yet, if she spoke about Ethur and the place-jumping and the grove by the Old Cemetery where her who-knows-how-many-greats-Grandma Cassandra had appeared, she feared she would frighten him away. 

The Day of the Ugly Man in the Mist, Dad had found Cassie draining pasta in the kitchen sink and an older boy stirring a steaming pot of sauce. 

“Hello,” he had said, nonplussed. 

“Mr. Power, hello, my name is Adrian Ryder, I live across the street.”

At dinner, they had explained about the scary man who had knocked on the door and frightened Cassie.
Dad had gazed at Adrian with a look of concern wrapped in eternal exhaustion and bow-tied with sorrow, and thanked him for helping his daughter. Since then, Adrian had become a fixture in his house. 

Cassie finished her homework and glanced at Adrian’s long figure sprawled across her bed. She sighed and pressed Ethur, the small horse-shaped figurine dangling on his long silver chain, against her chest. She would share her secret now that Grandma Cassandra had hinted in a dream that everything would be all right. 

“Adi,” she said, “if I tell you something, will you promise not to hate me?”

Adrian’s eyes flew open, and he sat up on the bed. He locked his gaze to hers. 

“Cass, you can tell me anything, you know that.”

“Remember the Day of the Ugly Man in the Mist?” Cassie began, “well…”

And she bared her soul to him. Sentences formed in her clumsy tongue and tumbled into the air, weaving a strange tapestry of magic and witchcraft. Adrian’s earnest gaze fixed on her, his face frozen into an expressionless stone. Yet, as he listened, he believed every word. He had known it all along, deep inside his soul. He never saw her leave her house, nor arrive from school. Yet he would see her on the middle school grounds as he drove by them, and she would be home as soon as the school day ended. 

Cassie finished with flushed cheeks and an expectant gaze, searching his face for anything, a sign, a word, an emotion. 

Adrian’s blank expression burst into a comforting smile, “I think I’ve always known. I mean, we explained The Ugly Man in the Mist to your father in the most rational way we could, but there was something eerie about that day. Something supernatural, something magical, too.” 

Cassie beamed and threw her arms around his neck, “I was so scared you’d run away. I was so frightened I’d scared you!”

“Nah, I’ve always thought witches were cool,” Adrian joked, “and good witches named Cassiopeia are the coolest.”

A tiny neigh broke the comfortable silence that ensued. Cassie glanced down at the figurine around her chest and placed it in her open palm. Adrian’s eyes widened with delight and wonder as he beheld the tiny obsidian horse kicking and bucking and flicking his tail and mane this way and that. 

“This is Ethur,” Cassie whispered, amazed Ethur would show himself to Adrian. 

“Hi, Ethur,” Adrian said and ran his pinky finger down Ethur’s snout. The tiny horse brayed. 

“I’ve never seen him so excited,” Cassie said, “I wonder what’s happening.”

“Maybe he wants you to show me this place-jumping thing, or whatever you call it.” 

“Ok, let’s try it,” Cassie exclaimed. 

She clasped Adrian’s hand and closed her eyes. She concentrated on the grove by the Old Cemetery and, sim sala bim, they were standing beneath the ever-blooming trees!

Adrian laughed and raised his fists in a gesture of victory, “Yeah! That was awesome!”

He put his arms around Cassie’s waist, lifted her and spun her around in circles. She giggled. 

“Look,” Cassie pointed downwards the hill, “we can see our houses from here. Mom and I used to picnic here all the time, sometimes we’d see Dad pull into the driveway and knew it was time to leave.” 

“You’re right, my little brothers left their bikes out when they’re not supposed to,” he said, and opened his mouth to continue, but froze. 

Cassie’s smile of delight faded as well; she inched closer to him. Adrian put his arm around her. A hawk screeched and glided above the trees.

Atop the hill, safe under a canopy of swirling blossoms, Cassie and Adrian watched an eerie fog creep down their street and engulf their houses in its evil darkness. 

The Ugly Man in the Mist was searching for them… and had missed them by an instant.

MINCHIATE: Knave of Cups

Daphne’s Desk

Daphne stepped back, satisfied. Sunlight shone through the window and onto the antique desk she had bought. Dust mites danced and flitted around the polished maple. The warped and rounded lines of the circa 1900 Art Nouveau desk cast eerie shadows on the wall beside it, but Daphne thought nothing of them. She had fallen in love with the desk as soon as she had seen it at the antique mall. 

Daphne nodded with satisfaction; she took out her phone and snapped a picture. She posted it to her social media profile with the caption “look what I found at a bargain!”

A barrage of messages and posts followed and occupied her for the rest of the afternoon as she juggled the tasks of housework, dinner and endless likes and thumbs-ups. 

Dusk was falling and engulfed her apartment in blue light. The desk sat by its window, its Art Nouveau chair positioned just so, pretending to be both functional and fashionable. 

Daphne gave her phone a bored glance as it pinged for the thousandth time since she had posted the picture. She loved the attention her social media followers gave her, and considered herself somewhat of an influencer, but truth be told, all the praise soon got tiresome. 

She yawned and scrolled through the phone. 

Daphne frowned, taken aback by the message. 

“Who’s the guy?” Her brother asked. 

No cause for surprise; Gary, her brother, always rained on her parade. Daphne rolled her eyes. She considered ignoring the message, but the screen lit up with his smirking face and the option to ‘end call’ in a red circle, or ‘answer’ in green. 

“Who’s the guy?” Gary said on the phone. 

“What are you talking about?” Daphne answered annoyed, “What guy?”

“The guy in the picture,” Gary replied, “the snobby looking dude with the funky whiskers.”

“On which picture?” Daphne frowned, put the call on speakerphone and scrolled through her photos. 

“The picture you posted of the desk,” his voice sounded tinny. 

Daphne pulled up said photo. The light slanted in from the window and shone on the smooth surface and the rounded drawers of her beloved desk. Beside it, a dark shadow, a rather bluish mass, seemed to lean upon it. 

“There’s no guy. That shadow must be a trick of the light,” she said.

“Zoom into it.”

Daphne zoomed and, as the shadow grew larger, the features of a young man appeared. Dashing in a top hat, handlebar mustache, bow tie, long trousers and frock coat with silk lapels, the young man leaned against a cane.

Daphne glanced from the picture to the desk against the wall. Moonlight now gleamed through the window, casting its silvery light upon the desk. Its rounded and sleek contours shot warped shadows onto the floor, yet a lanky blot occupied the space beside it, as if black ink were dripping down the wall. Daphne tiptoed to the foot lamp across from the desk. She switched it on, but the dark mass remained. 

“Gary,” she whispered, “I think he’s still here. There’s a dark mass beside the dresser, like it’s absorbing the moonlight and the lamplight. I can’t see any features.”

“Ask him what he wants,” Gary’s nonchalant answer pricked Daphne, as if talking to strange shadows was nothing abnormal. 

“Why don’t you come and ask him what he wants?” She sneered. 

“Don’t be such a scaredy-cat,” Gary mocked, “what’s he gonna do? Eat you?”

Daphne scowled at the phone. She clicked and in a moment, Gary’s eye and half a hairy nostril appeared. He still hadn’t learned the art of video chat. 

Daphne stuck her tongue out at him, then pointed the screen towards the desk. 

“Can you see it?” She said. 

“Uh, yeah, it’s a big dark shadow,” his nostril answered, “why are you showing me this?”

“So you bear witness,” she replied. 

Daphne stepped towards the shadow, her phone held up as if it were a lantern with the screen facing the mass.

“Pardon me,” she squeaked, her heart pounded in her ears, “is anyone here?”

The dark mass stood still, and Daphne felt silly. An instant later, it twisted and morphed until the shape of a man with a top hat and cane appeared, but with no discernible face. 

“Can’t form all the way,” Gary’s eyebrow muttered. 

“May I help you, sir?” Daphne bleated. 

A low grumble sounded throughout the room, and Daphne shivered. To her surprise, a tiny desk drawer opened. Daphne, phone in hand with Gary still bearing witness, approached. She glanced into the drawer.

The moonlight shone on the yellowed paper of a letter in its envelope. 

“Ask him if you may read it,” Gary’s teeth instructed. 

In reply, the letter flew out of its drawer and slapped her in the face; Gary guffawed. 

“Post it,” an icy voice whispered in her ear. 

“Gar, did you hear that?” She whimpered. 

“No, what?”

“Post it,” the voice spoke. 

“I think he wants me to mail it,” she whispered into the phone, “but how?”

“Post it!” The voice yelled, and the room vibrated.

“I heard that,” Gary’s chin said, “just drop it in the mailbox, Daph.”

“POST IT!” 

“OKAY! No need to yell!” Daphne turned to the silhouette and snatched up the letter which had fallen back onto the smooth desktop.

She walked out in a huff; her phone still in hand and arms swinging so that Gary’s lips only witnessed the blurry floor and Daphne’s swishing Minnie Mouse slippers. He snickered; he would tease her about those later. 

Gary watched as Daphne’s chubby fingers slid the yellowed letter into the outgoing mail slot and retraced her steps to her apartment. 

“There! I mailed it!” She yelled. 

The silhouette bowed and tipped its hat. It vanished, and only the space between the desk and the wall remained.

THE GODDESS TAROT: Queen of Cups

Memories

Judith sat by the window with the steaming cup of coffee before her. She placed her cheek in her hand and gazed at the gunmetal overcast sky. Thunder rumbled in the distance and Judith’s placidity contrasted with the encroaching storm. 

Once upon a long time ago, she had spent summers at her grandmother’s house in the country. Days of dense heat and cicadas, and nights speckled with the green glow of fireflies danced to the soft, melodious waltz of her memory.

She hummed her grandmother’s old lullaby. The fog of the past parted and showed her a child in bobby socks and stained pinafore laying on the grass, watching the clouds roll in the endless sky. The clouds descended; then, the same girl, though older, sat on her grandmother’s porch swing with a tall glass of cool, tangy lemonade in her hand. The soft click-click of Grandma’s knitting needles beside her. 

The click of the needles soon became the rattle of a train. Grandma’s smiling face blurred as the train sped away until she was only a speck on a station platform. 

So sat Judith by the window and let the memories sway and tumble like autumn leaves in the wind. 

Judith’s twisted fingers ached as she lifted the cup to her lips. The lukewarm coffee surprised her and brought her mind into focus with a sharp thwack. Had it been so long since she had sat down at the table?

Judith glanced about her; shadows lurked in the darkened kitchen. She gazed out the window. The storm had lumbered in, and lightning flashed across the rain-filled clouds. Then, the rain fell in torrents, as if a dam had burst in heaven. 

Drops spattered on the windowpane, and images flashed through her mind to the rhythm of the pitter-patter of rain on glass. This time, she recalled a young woman with cold toes in high heels sinking into wet grass as the rain fell all around her. Her fingers held on to the umbrella that threatened to overturn in the whipping wind. The certainty of no more summers buckled her knees and beat in her chest to the sound of earth falling on a coffin. Grandma had left, and she had taken the peace with her. 

Rat-tat-tat of rain on the roof mingled with the rat-tat-tat of gunfire in the distance. Judith’s hands, now sticky and murky with blood, flitted from body to body, trying to keep life bottled inside the flesh as it seeped into her Army nurse’s uniform. 

Lightning lit up the kitchen. Judith saw only the ashen face with unseeing eyes and the gaping hole in the man she loved, as she cradled his grimy head in her hands. 

Judith sat with her empty hands before her as the wind howled outside her window. Her mouth gaped open as the wail of heartbreak snaked up her arteries and out of her throat. For an instant, the wind and Judith were one. 

Night entered through the window as the storm thundered and raged, but Judith was long gone down the path of remembrance. Her memory now danced to the whirling rhythm of the howling wind. Years of loneliness in a perfunctory life with a perfunctory job passed. Yet, in the distance, the promise of a new love, a parallel universe of sunlight and happiness, waved a warm welcome. 

“Judith,” a soft voice whispered and ripped through the film reel of yesteryear. 

Judith turned towards the sound. A figure hovered on the threshold beside the humming refrigerator. It approached, passing from shadow into light. 

“Grandma,” Judith whispered. 

“It’s time to go, sweetheart,” Grandma said. 

“But I only just glimpsed Raymond in the distance. He’s coming, I must wait for him.”

“No, sweetie, he came and went. Remember the years of happiness at his side? We are waiting for you. Now it’s time to join us.”

A flash of lightning lit up the crumpled body by the window with its smiling face upon the kitchen table and the cold cup of coffee at its fingertips.

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. 

VISCONTI TAROT: 3 of Wands

The Howling

It was past midnight the first time the dog barked. The deep loud woof broke through the silence and Lucy awoke with a start. Her muddled mind deduced that somewhere a dog had made that hollow sound, before she plunged back into a deep sleep. The episode had slipped into a vague memory by morning.

The sun shone through the windows and the mug in her hand steamed with fresh coffee, but that wisp of a thought lingered so shadowy, she did not realize at once none of her neighbors owned dogs. Lucy’s house stood at the dead end of the street, flanked by a tiny ranch house owned by an elderly couple; their potty-mouthed parrot squawked Shakespearean insults from its perch by the front window.

Across the street lived a young family with an arrogant cat whose favorite pastime was to stroll past the window and provoke the parrot into one of its baroque tirades.

The house with the backyard abutting her own had stood empty for years. Weeds and bramble had grown into a tangled mass that reminded Lucy of Sleeping Beauty’s forest of thorns.

Lucy sipped her coffee and tried to recall the episode, the bass note ringing true in her memory. She cast her mind over the remaining neighbors, but recalled no dogs. Residents of the nearby streets would sometimes saunter down her lonely lane with their nervous, yapping little pups on a leash, none big enough for such a deep bark.

Her coffee finished, Lucy occupied herself with breakfast and put the whole thing out of her mind.

That night, the dog barked again. Not one note that broke the silence, but a series of bays that yanked Lucy out of sleep and into total wakefulness. She did not roll onto her other side and fall asleep this time. Instead, she listened. The barks rang out through the sleepy lane, but they were neither frantic nor joyful. She imagined a lone survivor on a deserted planet calling out in the hope of an answer.

Lucy stood and tottered toward the window. She peeked through the slats of the half-closed Venetian blind, but in the moonless night, only the dark mass of the thorny, abandoned house greeted her. 

“Is anybody there?” the dog seemed to howl. 

“I’m here, doggy. Let’s go back to sleep,” Lucy murmured and returned to bed.

The lamenting howling ceased. 

The next day, as soon as the morning shower passed, Lucy put on her rain boots and coat and trudged to her backyard fence. 

“Doggy, here doggy,” she cooed, tracing the boundaries of her property, but received no answer.

From her bedroom window earlier that morning, she had discerned no living being in the empty house and twisted yard. Lucy slipped her keys and wallet in her pockets and made her way up the deserted, puddled street. Hers was an old lane, at the edge of town, and though black snakes of tar meandered through the repaired pavement, new cracks had appeared. 

She walked through the old neighborhood, greeting whoever was out and about on the streets. She asked whether they knew of a big dog living nearby, like a Saint Bernard, or a bloodhound, but only received shrugs and puzzled expressions in reply.

Upon her return, Lucy walked past the house with the parrot.

“Ninnyhammer!” The parrot squawked. 

Just then, Mrs. Graybeard stepped out decked in full rain gear—boots, pants, coat and an oversized bucket hat—though the sun had pushed through the clouds and steam rose from the pavement. Lucy had taken off her own raincoat and hung it on her arm. 

“Hello, Lucy!” Mrs. Graybeard’s thin, papery voice called to her, ignoring her parrot’s florid language.

“Hello, Mrs. Graybeard,” Lucy replied and waited as the old woman approached her. 

“Never mind Fiddlesticks, he’s just a cranky old windbag,” Mrs. Graybeard said when she reached Lucy. 

“Mrs. Graybeard,” Lucy said as they walked up the lane together, the niceties over, “did you hear a big dog barking last night?”

“Oh no, dear, I take out my hearing aids. Mr. Graybeard, my old coot, says the Apocalypse could be upon us and I’d never know it!”

“Oh, it’s just one woke me up. It sounded like it came from the house behind mine, but I know it’s been empty for years.”

“Oh yes, I remember them, Deanne and Sam, older than Methuselah when they died. I believe their children ensnared the property in a legal dispute. I’m on the welcoming committee, no one has rented or bought the house.”

“Oh, I see…” Lucy searched for a better reply, but Mrs. Graybeard continued, saving her the trouble. 

“Though they had a dog once, a big one, either a Great Dane or a Dalmatian, let me think. Its name was… Kaiser, I believe. Whatever happened to that dog?” Mrs. Graybeard clicked her tongue, “My memory is not what it was.”

They walked in silence for a moment while Mrs. Graybeard floated in a sea of memories, trying to hook the right one.

“That’s right,” Mrs. Graybeard piped up, “Kaiser died before they did; I believe that sneaky shyster, Old Age, got him. After that, things went downhill for them. If I recall, someone broke in and frightened Sam to death—heart attack, my dear, watch those arteries. Afterwards, Deanne just let herself go. She always lamented Kaiser’s absence; he’d have scared the robber out of his wits. His booming barks kept the riff-raff away.” 

***

The howling woke Lucy up again. 

“Kaiser,” she murmured, her breath frosting the windowpane, “I hear you. Go to sleep.”

The barking stopped and Lucy prepared to climb back into bed. Then, snarls and growls broke through the night and goosebumps crept up Lucy’s spine. She peeked out the window again; a thin sliver of moonlight shone on the gnarled neighboring yard, but showed no sign of life. 

The mesh of frenzied noise shook the walls, yet superimposed over nigh imperceptible sounds: cautious footsteps, the soft click of a doorknob and the slow turn of a door. 

Lucy whipped around, frozen in place, watching her bedroom door creak open as her worst nightmare came true. 

 A tall, muscular, masked figure appeared, backlit by the hallway night-light.

 She screamed, her voice intertwined with the snarling sound of gnashing teeth exploding through the wall. The thief tumbled backwards and squirmed, his arm over his face as if trying to fend off an attacking beast. 

Growls and barks thundered, and in the dim, blue beam of the night-light, Lucy distinguished the gossamer figure of a Great Dane, trampling and biting the flailing man. Crawling and kicking, the intruder stumbled down the stairs, out of the house and into the night. 

The yowling stopped. The flimsy image weaved into the room, and panting, trotted to where Lucy stood, mingling with the shadows of the darkened bedroom. 

Lucy, aghast and frightened, felt a cold lick on her fingertips and warm breath upon her hand. 

“Kaiser,” she bleated. 

A woof blasted in the room. 

“Thank you,” she yelped. 

Kaiser’s long wolf-like howl faded into the darkness.

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.