GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: Knave of Pentacles

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In the Forest

 

The sun shines through the trees and casts playful shadows on the forest path. I know this path well; it leads home. My footsteps crunch the leaves and pebbles underfoot. Birds sing in the trees and the forest is alive with sound. A breeze blows and I catch a whiff of pine and moss. A cloud covers the sun and I sit on a fallen trunk and wipe the sweat from my forehead.

I remove my shoe to tend my aching foot and groan at the blister growing on my toe. I feel I’ve walked for days, yet I set off early, well fed and rested from a good night’s sleep. Why am I so tired?

The sun beats down on the trunk and the heat weighs on me. I wipe my sweaty forehead again and take a swig from my water flask; the cool liquid soothes my parched throat.

My eyes grow heavy and the ground, so mossy and cool, beckons me to lie down and nap.

“Don’t,” I croak to myself, “remember the stories. This is how they start. Changelings, elves, fairies appear to weary travelers as they stop to rest.”

But the fatigue and heat are too much, and my words sound stale in my ears. I want to nap; I want to lie on the cool, damp earth and close my eyes. This forest is as alive with stories as with flora, and sometimes the sprites bring good, and other times they’re harbingers of evil. I’ve always suspected these encounters were dreams.

I give in and welcome the cold dew as it seeps through the back of my shirt. My eyes grow heavy and my body falls away, as if I’m floating.

I jolt and open my eyes; there’s someone beside me. A young boy sits on the fallen trunk and gazes at me, his head resting on his hand.

“Hello,” I say, “are you lost?”

The boy shakes his head and giggles.

“Are you from around here?”

He shakes his head again.

“Where are you going?”

“Home,” he answers.

“Where’s that?” I ask.

“Here.”

“The forest?”

The boy smiles. I gaze into his sparkling eyes and a faint memory tugs at my mind.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“You know my name.”

“I do?”

The boy nods again. I rack my brains; I’ve never seen the boy, but then, I left years ago. Could he be an old friend’s son? Yet, when I study his broad, freckled face and his wide smile, I recognize no one.

“Are you… Rumpelstiltskin?”

The boy laughs like the chatter of squirrels.

“That’s a fairy tale!”

“Peter Pan?”

“No, that’s only a play!”

“I give up then.”

“You know me in other forms, I’ve been with you all your life. I’ve guided you, taught you, chided you and consoled you. Have you forgotten me?”

He fixes his bright eyes on me; images, memories, flash through my mind, and I’m on the cusp of understanding, of grasping his identity, but it pulls away like ocean waves.

“Are you a ghost?”

“No.”

“Angel?”

The boy smiles, and the sun’s rays beam on him; the brightness stings my eyes. I blink. He’s gone.

“I’m always with you,” his voice whispers in my ear as the wind whooshes through the trees.

I stand up and put my shoes on. The sun is low and sets the forest afire with its last rays. I resume my walk; I have a strange sensation this was no dream. 

TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: 6 of Wands

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Campfire

 

“A great beast haunts this forest,” Nicky said, “they say it takes children.”

The glow of the roaring fire pit cast eerie shadows on his face.

“That’s a load of bull,” Chris answered, “can you prove it?”

“No, but can you prove it’s not haunted?”

“Ghosts and beasts don’t exist,” Chris pouted.

“Oh yeah, so how did Johnny disappear, huh? He vanished from his own room, like magic.”

“My dad says his father killed him and buried the body somewhere,” Jerry, a quiet, buck-toothed, freckled, big-eared boy, spoke up, “he says someday they’ll find him and people will know the truth.

“Your dad also says the moon landing is a fake and that Paul McCartney’s been dead for years,” Nicky retorted. Jerry shrugged.

The boys sat around the fire pit Nicky’s dad had lit for them. It was a warm evening, and the boys were camping out in Nicky’s backyard. They’d set up the tent and sat on camp chairs. Nicky gazed at the sky, the moon a mere sliver while Venus shone bright. Crickets chirped in the trees and the crackling fire made it seem they were somewhere in the wilderness; like Jack London, Nicky thought.

They loved camping at Nicky’s because his house was old and the backyard was unfenced. They could walk past the mown lawn and immerse themselves in the forest. Chris and Jerry lived in new houses, in new subdivisions with felled trees and fenced backyards.

Nicky poked at the fire, despite Dad’s orders.

“What do you think happened to Johnny?” Jerry whispered while Chris stuck a marshmallow on a stick.

“I dunno, maybe the beast took him,” Nicky mumbled through toasted marshmallow stickiness, “he lived down the road, ya know.”

They toasted more marshmallows.

“Dad knew Johnny,” Nicky said after a while, “they were friends.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, he says Johnny called him that day because he wanted to show him his new magic kit, but when he entered Johnny’s room, it was empty. They looked everywhere, but never found him.”

The boys talked and laughed and told ghost stories until the fire died. They put on their pajamas and were unrolling their sleeping bags when a rustle in the trees caught their attention.

“Who’s there?” Nicky called out; he’d heard footsteps.

Jerry trembled beside him; the ghost stories unsettling in the dark night. A crack of twigs and Chris whimpered. The forest was pitch black and the boys couldn’t see beyond their noses. Glowing embers remained of the once roaring campfire and the weak porch light did not illuminate the forest.

The ground shuddered beneath them and the boys huddled together, their gazes trying to pierce the thick darkness. A tall shadow and two glowing yellow eyes appeared in the sky. In the dim light of the gibbous moon, the boys beheld a head towering high above the trees. A dull growl shook the branches.

With one long collective scream, the boys burst through the back door, ran up the stairs and barged into Nicky’s room.

“What is it? Are you all right?” Dad ran in and found the boys huddled on Nicky’s bed.

“The beast! We saw the beast!”

The room filled with voices as they all talked at once, and Dad tried to calm them.

“Listen, guys!” He yelled over the hubbub, “The beast doesn’t exist, it’s just an urban legend. I’ve lived here all my life, I should know.”

“But it came out of the forest, I swear!”

“It’s just your imaginations running wild. Come, I’ll show you there’s no one out there.”

They slunk behind Dad. The fire was out and only the tent and the faint outline of the trees were visible in the pale porch light.

“There’s nothing there,” Dad assured them, “maybe it was a forest animal, and you scared it away with your screams.”

The boys admitted defeat; no glowing eyes, no giant face above the treetops.

“Can we sleep in my room?” Nicky asked while Dad fixed them glasses of warm milk.

“Of course.”

The boys glanced at one another and nodded; no one felt like camping now. They wiped their milk mustaches off with their sleeves and shuffled upstairs. Dad walked out onto the porch and gazed towards the woods.

“You ain’t taking these boys, ya hear?” He commanded and stood with arms on his hips in his best Superman pose, “They ain’t for you!”

A grumble in the woods, but Dad stood his ground. He entered the house and locked the door. As he climbed the stairs, he wondered where Johnny was.

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: XII The Hanged Man

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The Monkey Bars

 

Danny loved the monkey bars. Every day at recess he would climb on them, then cross them back and forth with his feet dangling and only the strength of his arms. His favorite part was to hook his knees on the crossbars and let himself hang upside down.

The world looked very different upside down. He recognized his classmates, but it always took him a moment, and he thought it strange how the bullies and meanies seemed nice and the pretty girls turned ugly. Maybe the upside-down shows you the opposite of what is, thought Danny, or maybe it shows you the truth.

Danny would hang until the recess monitor demanded he right himself, or until the blood rushed to his head and his brain thumped. He feared the throb which the latter produced because it blurred his vision and muffled his hearing, almost like being underwater.

Robbie bet him he couldn’t hang all recess. Danny knew the headache would come before the end, but for Robbie’s cupcake, he’d do it.

The recess bell rang, and the boys beelined for the monkey bars. They glanced towards the monitor and smirked. Mr. Stanford was on duty; he was old, and he liked to sit on a bench with his eyes closed.

“I’m not sleeping, I’m just gazing inside myself,” he’d say, “and if you bother those girls again, you’re off to detention faster than you can say ‘Jack Robinson’.” The offending party would slink away, perplexed at Mr. Stanford’s uncanny perspicacity.

Danny climbed on the monkey bars, crossed to the middle, lifted his legs and hooked his knees and ankles on the crossbars.

Robbie counted down, “Three… two… one!”

Danny lowered his head and gazed at the dirt beneath him; a butterfly flitted by and alighted on a pebble. Robbie’s smiling face seemed like a happy frown.

Soon, his cheeks puffed up and the first throb announced itself. He couldn’t swallow and his ears got hotter and hotter. Danny imagined his whole head blowing up like a balloon. He took a deep breath as the thumping began. Here goes. His vision clouded, and the world narrowed. At that moment, he would right himself, but for the sake of that creamy decadent cupcake, he hung on.

The upside-down world turned red and tinted Robbie’s dim and worried expression. Robbie moved his lips, but Danny heard nothing. Now he was underwater, suspended in the atmosphere, floating in space.

The ground cracked and opened. Fingers and hands dug their way out of the muddy, grassless dirt. Golden-haired ringlets emerged, followed by blue eyes and a creamy complexion. The girl frightened him; he distinguished the bone and sockets of her skull beneath her skin. Danny remembered why he hated this moment, he’d seen her once before and she’d scared him.

The girl, dressed in a pink poodle skirt and white blouse, bobby socks and saddle shoes, smiled at him and touched him. Danny screamed. The world spun and blackened.

“Danny, wake up!” Mr. Stanford’s voice came from far away.

Danny opened his eyes and focused on Robbie’s and Mr. Stanford’s worried expressions.

“Are you okay?” Robbie peeped.

“I saw her,” Danny whispered, his voice hollow in his ears.

“Who?”

“The girl, I think she’s buried here.”

“Nonsense.”

“I swear, Mr. Stanford, she wore a pink poofy skirt and her hair was all done up in curls and held back with a pink ribbon, like Goldilocks.”

Mr. Stanford went from worried to scared and Danny realized he knew about her.

“Grandpa told me a girl fell and broke her neck many years ago,” Robbie whispered and Mr. Stanford gave a slight, almost imperceptible nod.

“Was that her?” Danny asked, but in an instant, the fright had passed and Mr. Stanford composed himself, saying nothing. He helped Danny stand and sent him to the nurse.

As Robbie led Danny away, he glanced back; Mr. Stanford leaned on the monkey bars wiping tears from his eyes. The ghost girl stood beside him, shimmering in the hot day. She waved at Danny and vanished. 

BRUEGEL TAROT: King of Chalices

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The Trinket Man

 

Every morning as I swept the doorway I heard the low melancholic whistle of the peddler as he pushed his cart down the lane announcing his wares. He bought and sold goods from a cart that jingled and jangled like Christmas. When he passed by my house I waved, sometimes he’d stop and we’d chat.

He was a young man in an old body; the glimmer of his eyes showed he couldn’t be over forty, yet his crumpled body and teetering gait were those of a man in the winter of his life. He was never dirty, but always dressed in rags, and his firm voice and eloquence bespoke an educated childhood. I wondered about him though I never asked. We chatted about the rain and the sun, but never about the past.

I marveled at the knickknacks that rattled and clang on the ancient wooden cart. Once upon a time he might have hitched a horse to it, but now, the peddler, or Trinket Man as we called him in town, pushed it or pulled it, whatever his fancy and the state of the road. It overflowed with bric-a-brac and I often wondered how far he traveled. Sometimes his youthful eyes betrayed his exhaustion and tugged at my heart. I bought a second-hand kettle, a tarnished old necklace and chipped Delft platter. I sold him things too, things I no longer needed, hoping he might bring joy to someone who did.

The children would run after him and he would smile and sometimes pull a bauble from his cart and hand it to them. Then he would walk down the lane and follow the path through the woods while his whistle trailed in his wake.

Last winter he didn’t come after a snowstorm and the wind didn’t carry the sound of his whistle, nor the earth the tinkle and clatter of his cart. The town worried, but all we knew about him was his name, Woden, like the god of old. The children say he was just as ancient, a wanderer through time, and I often thought back to my childhood and smiled at my earliest memory; my mother’s arms and a low whistle in the wind.

Winter passed, and the snow melted. The thawing chilled to the bone, but spirits were high for spring was close.

One wet March day, the ground still hard from frost, but muddy where boots treaded, I was walking by the river towards my cousin’s house when I glimpsed a shimmer by the water on the far bank and I thought I heard the tiny tinkle of a bell. The wind swept across the river and a presentiment and sudden urgency to investigate overcame me. I ran to my cousin and together we crossed the river.

We came upon the cart among the trees, the wares and trifles stained and tarnished, its wheels splintered as if buried in snow and abandoned. A cold wind blew about us and we shivered into our shawls while the distinct, yet faint, whistle among the trees prickled our fears. We glanced whence the wind blew and trudged with our elbows hooked, as if in a trance. We’d gone but a few feet when a hand protruded from the bramble. I screamed and my cousin gasped. Our Trinket Man lay face down with his head bashed amid the thorn and mud.

The town talked of the murder for weeks, but nothing ever came to light. Perhaps a vagrant had attempted to rob him and fled.

It’s been almost a year now, and I feel the chill of the waning autumn as it flees the snows of winter. I sweep my stoop, like I do every morning. I lift my head and listen to the low melancholy whistle of our Trinket Man breezing down the lane. He glimmers in the early sunlight; his cart clangs faint and eerie as if from another time and another world. He totters by and I wave, but he no longer sees me. I watch him vanish down the lane.

THOTH TAROT DECK: Knight of Disks, 3 of Swords and 6 of Cups

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Homecoming

 

The sun set behind the mountain and spilled orange rays over the clouds; his childhood home a dark silhouette against the sky. The bus sputtered away as William watched the sun dip into the horizon until the final burst of orange and red stained the sky pink, and blue shadows spread over the land.

A tiny fleck of light appeared in the shadowy, gothic mass of stone and William’s heart flipped for joy of coming home. He lifted his bag and walked the rest of the way, trudging down the path he knew so well and lit only by the blue light of evening. The noises of the day yielded to the sounds of night; an owl hooted in the trees and the soft cry of crickets followed him home.

William approached the ancestral house in darkness and frowned.

“There was a light, and it wasn’t the evening star,” he mumbled and crossed his arms.

The night fell silent and an odd presentiment crept up William’s spine, a chill as powerful as the dark silence. An owl alighted on a nearby ledge and hooted.

William stepped to the tall oak door, its ancient gargoyle knocker ghastly in the eerie darkness, and turned the knob. The door creaked open with a spectral groan that resounded through the silent building. He crossed the threshold and, though he tiptoed, his footsteps pounded in his ears and tore apart the unbearable silence. With a tumultuous flutter, the owl darted past his head and disappeared into the darkness.

William crept through the dead house lit only by the moon. The stone walls smelled dank and moldy. He discerned the ghostly figures of blanketed furniture and the glittering snarls of cobwebs, while stalactite bats hung from the high rafters. Dust particles danced in the moonlight streaming through the dirty windows.

This was not the house of his childhood, warm and cozy and full of life. This was a dead house, a ghost house whose walls moaned with tragedy as an ominous waft blew through it. William hugged himself, cold and apprehensive. Every muscle and tendon screamed something was wrong.

He stepped into the dining room and his heart jolted. A life-size painting hung on the wall where the smiling portraits of his grandparents should be. It showed a family, the parents solemn while playful children hugged a young man dressed in black. Black trousers, black coat with tails, black waistcoat and a black shirt with a stiff, high collar. The moonlight shone on the young man’s pale face with bluish lips and dead eyes that stared out into the world beyond the painting. None of the family members wore black and William understood the young man was dead. The artist had depicted him with his family in a living pose, yet after death. The happy expressions of the children frightened William. It’s like they’re playing with a ghost, he thought.

There was something familiar about the young man and, as William drew close, his heart fell to his knees. He was looking at his own face! He was the young man!

Startled, William stepped back and felt the soft squish of flesh underfoot; a rat screeched and scurried away while wings flapped above and the owl swooped down and caught the rat. William screamed and ran. He plunged out into the moonlit world and dashed though the trees whose branches scratched his arms and face.

He never saw the rock, only the ground drawing near. A kerplunk and a flash of pain and William knew no more.

He was at the bus stop as the sun set behind the mountains and outlined his house in the distance. A fleck of light amid blue shadows appeared and William grabbed his bag. He flung it over his shoulder and set off towards his home.

He arrived at the ancient manor with the moon bright above and the night silent. An owl hooted from a nearby ledge. The big front door with the gargoyle knocker creaked open and William stepped through the threshold.

“Surprise!” A thunderous roar lit the house and a sea of arms, faces and hair engulfed William. Through the whirlwind he glimpsed into the dining room and smiled at the portraits of his grandparents hanging on the wall.

TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: 2 of Swords

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Nocturnal

 

“Follow me,” I heard the voice through the window. I lifted my gaze from my book and listened. Only the sound on leaves crunching underfoot in the woods. Who would trample tonight? I shrugged and renewed my reading.

I’d read the same paragraph twice when I set the book aside. The voice beyond my window bothered me. I did not recognize it. It was no one I knew and yet, there was something familiar about it. I closed my eyes and recalled the voice; gruff, yet youthful, neither manly nor womanly, but not a child’s.

“Follow me,” it had commanded, confident but with a hint of… malice? Treachery? The memory sent chills down my spine. I endeavored to ignore it and retrieved my book, Faust by Goethe; a man who sells his soul for knowledge.

The wind ululated outside my window while the fire crackled in my room and a sinister atmosphere had descended on the night. I turned the page and screeched when an illustrated Mephistopheles—with hooves, bat-wings and horns—startled me. I shoved the book away.

“Follow me,” the voice whispered.

My heart racing, I crawled out of bed and peeped through the window curtains. The night was crisp and starless for the moon shone so bright it cast silver shadows on the land. Frost lined the windowpane; the trees were bare, their branches reaching heavenward like skeletons begging for mercy, and their fallen, frozen leaves sparkled in the moonlight.

A shadow fell across the moon and for an instant I thought someone had passed by my window. I squinted. The moon lit the world again and there was only the sound of footsteps crunching the leaves.

I froze with fear, stiff as the trees, and listened. There was someone traipsing outside but I could not see them. I gasped and panted; my breath came short and fast and fogged the glass. I dared not move for there in the mist caused by my breath a lanky figure appeared, which faded as the window cleared. I breathed on the pane, and, in front of a tree, I saw the same figure.

“Follow me,” the voice hissed in my ear.

I spun my head. I was alone. I turned back to the window and this time the figure stood before the nearest tree, clear and defined in the moonlight. I rested my fingers on the windowpane; snow fell.

“Follow me!”

“No!” I cried and the glass split where I touched it. A trickle of blood appeared on my fingertip. I ran to my bed, jumped in and hid under the covers.

The next morning I tiptoed to the window and peered through the splintered glass. Copious snow covered the ground, the bare branches heavy under its virgin white, while the sun glinted in orange and yellow sparkles under a bright blue sky.

I gasped. Beneath the nearest tree, the sun shone on a patch of snow imprinted with a distinct pair of hooves; the long, horned shadow of a devil reached for me across the frozen ground. 

TAROT DRACONIS: 10 of Cups

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Swallows and Storms

 

Kayla sat on the porch and watched the swallows whirling in the sky. She loved swallows with their erratic soaring flight; such tiny creatures, so free, their chirping like sonorous kisses from Mother Nature.

Clouds blanketed the sun and Kayla knew it was time to go inside, yet remained seated with her cat, Chunky, curled up on her thighs; the pattern of his tiger-like fur formed one giant spiral, as though time and eternity swirled into existence on her lap.

The swallows disappeared as if by magic and fat raindrops fell. Chunky lifted his head and meowed. She ran soft fingers down his back and he purred. The rain fell harder, plink-plinking on the flowerpots and tap-tapping on the porch roof. Chunky’s purr gave a soft wavelike backbeat to the melody. What lovely music! Kayla smiled at Chunky who blinked up at her, giving her an eye kiss.

“You’ll catch your death of cold sitting out in the rain,” Momma’s voice echoed through her memory.

“What’s the point now?” She cooed at Chunky.

Thunder roared and lightning zigzagged across the clouds like electric eels falling from the sky. The front door opened; Kayla listened as a murmur of voices filled the house and condensed the atmosphere into heavy gelatinous sadness.

“Jesus, what a deluge,” someone inside said, “she always loved storms.”

“At least the service finished before the rain started, I felt the first drops as we left the cemetery and hurried to the carriage,” a woman answered and, in a quivering voice, continued, “I think she sent this down on us to say goodbye.”

The back door opened and Momma stepped onto the porch. She looked at Kayla and tears sprang to her eyes. Momma’s lip quivered when Chunky stood, stretched and rubbed himself against her legs.

“I told you you’d catch your death,” Momma whispered “why didn’t you listen?”

“Because I love the swallows and the rain,” Kayla said, but Momma only heard the rolling thunder.

Poppa emerged from the house and embraced Momma.

“Don’t you do this, don’t you throw your life away over rain too,” he pointed at the chair, “our little Kayla soars with her swallows now, she is the rain and her voice the thunder, all the more reason to love them.”

Momma sobbed into Poppa’s shoulder and stroked the back of Kayla’s empty chair. A gust of wind blew through the porch and Momma thought she’d caught Kayla’s scent. She glanced at Poppa, he’d smelled it too, but it could only be the honeysuckle, for Kayla was gone forever. Poppa led Momma inside, Chunky rubbed himself against Kayla’s chair one more time, then followed them into the house.