TAROT DRACONIS: Knight of Chalices

Trick or Treat

“Go on, do it,” the boys stood before the gate and egged Ralphie on. He wiped his sweaty palms on the seat of his pants and adjusted the cardboard breastplate he’d made. Tonight he was a knight, and this was his quest. He tightened the twine around his legs that held the cardboard shinguards in place and set his cardboard helmet straight. Ralphie held his makeshift cardboard sword and took a deep breath. 

Skeletal fingers of dead bushes snaked over the yard’s dry ground. The house itself was always dark, the windows empty eye sockets and the rotted wooden door gritted fangs. The moon shone bright and cast eerie shadows over the place. 

“Go,” Winston, a small boy with chubby fingers and thick glasses gave Ralphie a soft shove. Dressed in his green sweatsuit, a garbage can lid strapped to his back and his sister’s purple head wrap and ribbons, he’d transformed himself into Donatello of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He gripped his broomstick, a pretend bo. 

Ralphie glanced at his friends, nodded and took a step forward, “One small step for man…”

“Oh, just get on with it!” Timmy, an unoriginal ghost with a blanket draped over his body and holes for eyes, yelled and started the crows cawing. 

Ralphie trudged through the thorny remnants of the once lively flora that tickled his ankles. He hoped the door wouldn’t budge. He pushed it and, with a hollow groan, the rotted door creaked open. Ralphie’s heart sank, and he gazed back at his friends. No one laughed or heckled him. They stared, pale and gaunt in the moonlight, their homemade Halloween costumes pathetic before the spooky house. 

Ralphie inched in with his sword held out in front. One step at a time his feet took him further into the cavernous darkness of the long-abandoned house; every footstep creaked and resounded over the walls. The stinging smell of rusty metal cut his throat like jagged razors. Ralphie stopped by the stairs and, in the dim moonlight peering through the gaping windows, he glimpsed the remnants of furniture and debris. 

The piercing scream rushed like an icy gust of wind down the stairs and Ralphie froze, his knees trembled yet rooted to the spot. 

“Leave,” a deep voice whispered in his ear and chills crept up his spine, his back stiffened and the hair on his nape stood on end like a frightened cat. 

“Leave!” The voice yelled and a flash of light punched Ralphie in the gut. He fell backwards and slid across the floor to the threshold. Winded and afraid, he clambered and crawled to the stoop. The rotted door slammed and hit him on the backside. 

The boys watched terrified as Ralphie picked himself up and staggered toward the rusty gate; his helmet askew and one loosened shinguard slapping against his leg, the sword forgotten on the stoop. The house grumbled and flashed, as if a storm raged inside though the sky was clear, the moon a bright tranquil witness. 

“LEAVE!” The voice boomed, and the ground shook. The boys turned and ran towards the merry sound of the trick-or-treaters on the next street. 

MINCHIATE: Four of Staves + XX Fire

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The Frozen Road

 

The car sputtered and hissed to a stop. Miriam banged the steering wheel with her hand, then rubbed her palm where she’d banged too hard. She’d ignored the blinking light as long as she could, but now the car let out a final rattle and sigh. Steam surrounded her as she thought what to do. The headlights shone through the vapor and emitted an eerie atmosphere. Miriam didn’t know where she was though she’d climbed in the car with no destination in mind.

Tall trees lined the one-lane country road and though paved—the cracked pavement patched with black meandering snakes—Miriam perceived the loneliness of what had once been a transited thoroughfare.

For the past hour she’d been trying to get onto the shiny new interstate everyone raved about, but the signage was confusing and now she found herself in the middle of nowhere, protected only by the metal shell of the useless steaming Edsel.

A grunt from outside brought her to attention. She perked her ears and listened through the dissipating steam; the snow crunched among the trees. Miriam could not distinguish what made the sound but sat quiet as it faded into the woods.

She considered leaving behind her suitcase, but thought better when she realized she didn’t know how long she’d walk before she found help. Miriam opened the door with a creak that ripped through the quiet, crisp night. The leafless trees afforded her a view of the stars so bright she could almost touch them in the moonless night. 

Miriam slipped into her heavy yellow raincoat, the thickest coat she could grab in haste. She glanced in the side-view mirror and put on her favorite red cloche hat with a black ribbon band and white flower bow on the side; it made her look like a modernized 1920s flapper. She took her hard blue suitcase out of the car and closed the door with a squeak and a slam. Her driving gloves were thinner than she wished so she stuck her free hand in her raincoat pocket. The crunch of her feet on the frozen ground the only sound as she made her way down the deserted road.

Up ahead she sighted a crossroads and hurried, eager to read the sign. Avalonia straight ahead; Osprey Cove to the right. Where in the world was she? No signage for the interstate, though she believed it should be nearby; she’d followed the sign to it a few miles back and had taken no turns.

Where should she go? Miriam decided the road to Osprey Cove looked wider and better lit by starlight and turned in the direction. She stepped on something; a lump at her feet with a sleeve pointing toward Avalonia. It was a dirty jacket, small, like for a young boy. Miriam noticed lettering on the lapel and turned it this way and that so to read it by the strange bright light of the stars.

“Johnny,” she muttered as she discerned the name. Miriam gazed around, but she was alone in the night. She shook it, folded it lengthwise and draped it on her arm. Something fell and tinkled against her rain boot. The small stone had a crude R carved on it. It twinkled in the starlight and, when she put it in her pocket, the stars agglutinated into a bright flash.

***

State troopers found the abandoned Edsel in the spring. They determined it had been there all winter based on the rust and deterioration of the tires. At the crossroads, under the sign, they found a red cloche hat with a black ribbon band and a white flower side bow, such as young ladies wore these days; “Miriam” sewn on the inside brim. It matched the description of that runaway bride missing since late summer. The little boy’s jacket beside it was a mystery.

VISCONTI TAROT: 9 of Cups

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A Table Set for Nine

 

Frida sat on the high-backed chair and waited. The grandfather clock ticked as the minutes passed. The sky rumbled, portending storms. She gazed upward with a wary eye and hoped the thunder and lightning would hold off until they arrived.

She set the dining room table for nine people. Her children and spouses were finally coming to dinner. Frida hadn’t seen them since their father died. A lightning bolt flashed through the window and Frida sighed. The house smelled of roast and cookies and now the storm threatened to ruin her much expected evening. 

Frida glanced at her watch. They were late.

She surveyed the room; all was in order. Her eyes rested on the little figurines on the mantelpiece. They were stone figures and metal amulets of the Old Norse gods she loved so much. On the walls hung pictures, paintings she’d done herself of the same old gods as she imagined them and over the doors she’d placed carvings of runes.

An old familiar pain stabbed her heart as she remembered Wayne, her husband, telling her to throw that shit out. She had put them all in a box for thirty years and unearthed them after he died, once the walls had stopped echoing his voice and the floors had ceased creaking with his footsteps. Frida grabbed her old tattered copy of Norse Mythology and pressed it to her chest as she’d done for years whenever Wayne’s remarks stung her soul. She shut her eyes and held it tight and told herself when she opened them, she would see the clean, dusted and vacuumed room she’d slaved over for the past week, and not the shabby pigsty Wayne always said she kept.

The past days had revolved around this dinner. She’d planned the menu, shopped at three different markets for the perfect ingredients, and spent days cleaning the house down to the last nook and cranny.

Fat drops pounded on the roof and window. The grandfather clock ticked merciless as the evening dragged on with no sign of her children. Each ticktock sang “not-coming” and “hate-you”, and “stu-pid”, and “use-less” until the ticking got so loud it morphed into Wayne’s raspy voice and her children’s echoed the words. Frida clutched her book tight and laid her head back against the chair. She fought back tears, and a lump formed in her throat.

The hail pattered down as the tears burst through her eyelids. It thumped and banged and the whole house sounded like a hard-rock concert (another pleasure Wayne had stripped from her).

A tap on the door startled Frida out of her misery. She stood up in a flash, and still clenching her book, glided to the door. Could it be? Did they come after all? Did they brave the storm to see her?

Frida opened the door with a smile which vanished when she saw two tall men on the stoop. One dressed in a dark cloak, half of his face hidden by a lock of hair that covered his eye. The other was muscular with hair so red and wild his head seemed aflame.

“May I help you?” She bleated and cursed herself for not peeking through the peephole.

“Madam, could you spare food and shelter for weary travelers? My sons and I have walked a long way, and we saw your light…”

The cloaked man’s voice was soothing and familiar, as if she’d heard it a long time ago.

“Sons?”

“Hello!” The mellifluous voice came from behind the cloaked man and a smiling blond face appeared. He lit up the night and Frida’s fear and apprehension washed away from her as the young man’s smile warmed her heart.

“Please come in,” she said and stepped aside.

The tall men filled the hallway. She offered to take the cloak, but the man refused.

“You are expecting company?” The red-head asked, pointing to the dining room.

“My children. They are late.”

“Ah.”

“Bad storm out there,” the blond man said and his voice tickled like a baby’s soft laugh.

“Yes.”

She led the men into the kitchen and offered to pack them a meal to go, but as she glimpsed the lovely table, an idea popped in her mind.

“I don’t think my children are coming. They were close with their father, not so much with me.”

“That’s a shame.”

“Would you gentlemen share the meal with me?”

The three men smiled and followed her into the dining room. The storm raged outside but inside the house burst with merriment. Ms. Williams, the neighbor, glanced once or twice in their direction, puzzled by the laughter that broke through the rumble of the storm. She knew Frida was unhappy and marveled that her children had shown up at all.

“They think I’m an idiot, you know,” Frida blurted out.

“Who?” The red-head asked.

“My children. Their father taught them I am weak and stupid. It embarrasses them to be with me in public. My presence shames them,” tears sprang to her eyes as her voice broke, “perhaps they are right.”

“They are not,” the cloaked man spoke in a voice so deep even the thunder quieted, “you have forgotten who you are, but you are not weak.”

The men held her gaze, and the room went silent.

“We have been watching you forever. You are better than you think. We are here to take you home.”

“Who are you?”

“You know who we are,” the cloaked man fixed his piercing blue eye on her.

Frida glanced from one man to another and the fog of insecurity and oppression Wayne had woven around her dissipated. She looked at her paintings, and her figurines and at the book she’d set on the table, and all fell into place, as if she’d found the missing piece of a puzzle. The cloaked man whose hair hid his eye socket because he had no eye. He’d exchanged it for wisdom. The muscular red-head who filled the room and whose footfalls rattled the house and appeared on a thunderous evening, his arms folded above a glistening belt. Finally, the man whose radiance lit the darkest night and whose kind smile melted the stoniest, loneliest of hearts.

“You can’t be…” she stuttered.

“Say our names, and we’ll bring you home.”

“Home?”

“You know where, all you must do is say the words.”

Frida gulped. She’d dreamed this for years. As a child, she’d wished they were real. As a teenager, she’d asked for their help. And, as a married woman, she’d shoved them to the back of her mind yet always hoped they’d take her away.

She pointed to the cloaked man, “Odin.”

Her gazed fixed on the red-head, “Thor.”

She beamed at the blond, “Balder.”

The three men smiled.

***

Ms. Williams followed the policemen into Frida’s house. She’d alerted them because she’d not seen her neighbor since the night of the hailstorm. The house was empty, the grandfather clock the only sound.

Ms. Williams stood in the dining room; she pressed her hands to her chest and whispered, “Wherever you are, Frida, I wish you the happiness you never had.”

A thin veil of dust had settled on the dining room table. It was set for nine.

TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: X The Wheel

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Robert Mackey

 

“What goes around, comes around,” Grandma used to say.

I recall the last time I saw her. She sat on the blue high-backed chair and the sun from the window behind glinted off her knitting needles as she wove soft skeins into colorful creations. Moments later, I heard a crash and a moan from the living room. I rushed downstairs and found Grandma on the floor, shattered window shards strewn everywhere.

“Grandma!”

She grabbed my wrist and fixed her terrified eyes on me.

“He’s here! He’s here!” She cried, wild-eyed.

I wriggled my hand free and ran to the phone.

“Robert, it was Robert!” She raved in the ambulance, sometimes whispering that name, sometimes yelling it. Then she fixed her eyes on me with a strange clarity in her gaze, as if looking through time.

“I killed him,” she said, squeezing my hand so tight it hurt, “find him and make amends.”

“Who, Grandma?”

“Robert Mackey. Find him, break the curse. What goes around…”

I spent the next ten years, to the day, searching for Robert Mackey without success. Instead, I know Grandma better in death than in life. She was a combat nurse at the start of WWII, and later in the war, the Allies recruited her as a spy. Still, I found no trace of Robert Mackey.

“I’m sorry, Grandma,” I wheeze, “I couldn’t make amends. I didn’t have enough time.”

I lie at the bottom of the stairs, immobile, dazed and my limbs strewn at odd angles. Breathing is difficult and blood stings in my throat.

A dirty young man in a WWII uniform stands over me and points his rifle; only a bullet could have made the bloody hole in his temple.

Robert Mackey.

I move my lips but don’t make a sound.

He nods; rage and revenge flash in his eyes.

His bayonet glints and I gurgle when he stabs me through the heart.

 

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.