OLD ENGLISH TAROT: 9 of Cups

The Cotillion

All eyes stared at the handsome young man as he entered the doorway. There was something strange and mystical, almost ethereal about his presence. His tall, lean figure graced the door while his black hair shone in the light cast by the flickering candles on the chandelier. His piercing blue eyes under long lashes glanced around the ballroom. Even the musicians stopped as he crossed the room. 

Women smiled. The girls, the belles of the ball, dressed in colorful dresses, high hairdos and lace gloves, fanned themselves and giggled as he glided past them. They fluttered their eyelashes attempting to get his attention. Older men grinned with mischievous glints in their eyes, while the young men, dressed to the nines in high collars and tails, smirked and scowled. 

The beauties all gasped as the young man approached a seated young lady with her head lowered. He extended his hand, and the lady, gaping with eyes wide and cheeks afire, obliged. He led her to the dance floor; she stumbled on his arm. Ladies giggled as the conductor a-hemmed and the music resumed. 

The handsome stranger and the young lady began their dance while all other couples stood and watched. The young lady, plain and clumsy, spun and swirled like a princess on his arm. Her face glowed with her beaming smile, while her dull eyes sparkled with delight. She became the most beautiful lady in the room. 

When the piece ended, he thanked her, led her back to her seat and bowed. He then approached the young lady seated in a corner by the drapes. She was a chubby girl with the unfortunate body of a barrel. Her heel caught her dress as she stood, and ripped the hem. She stomped to the dance floor, clinging to his arm. 

The dance began and once again his grace and charm turned a bumbling wretch into the most gorgeous girl in the ballroom. Dance after dance, plain girl after plain girl, each uglier than the last, for a few shining moments became the most radiant beauty of the night. 

The natural beauties squirmed and smirked. It seemed when he danced he drained them of their beauty and, as long as the music played, their features contorted into ugliness. One old man, the grandfather of the first dancing partner, noticed this enchantment also befell the young men. The handsome grimaced and raged out of jealousy, while the plain gentlemen, delighted by the occurrence, shone with dignity and composure. While the music played, beauties and beasties learned how the other half lived. 

The clock struck midnight. Thunder boomed above the musical din and lightning flashed, casting the ballroom into an eerie blue light. 

The patrons gasped, all eyes fixed on the dance floor. The young man had vanished. Only a pile of glimmering pearly feathers remained in his place.

GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: 9 of Swords

Sounds in the Night

Andrea sits up in bed with a gasp. Something has woken her. She listens to the sounds of the night. She hears the soft tinkle and pitter-patter of Goliath, the noisiest cat alive. He’s found something and is playing with it all over the house. 

Andrea lays her head back down on the pillow and stares at the ceiling. Soft moonlight streaks across her bedspread. Something is wrong, she knows it, but sleep is heavy and soon her eyelids close and she dozes off into an uneasy slumber. 

Andrea kneels inside a gothic church, the vaulted ceilings high above her, the crucifix enormous and imposing. Statues of angels with swords in hands surround her, as if ready to protect the sanctuary and those within it. Footsteps approach, yet no matter how hard she tries, a soft, yet firm vise does not allow her to turn. 

“Who is it?” Andrea utters with distorted words. She knows those footsteps, they belong to someone who’s missing, someone she yearns for and wishes were with her. The church nave is long and Andrea knows the footsteps will soon be upon her. Chills crawl up her spine as she waits. The footsteps have changed and are now ominous and discomforting, and Andrea wonders she should feel so afraid in a church.

A rough hand clamps down on her shoulder and Andrea screams, gasps and awakens to find Goliath sitting on her chest, gazing at her. 

“Meow.”

“Goliath, you scared me!” Andrea reaches out from under the covers and strokes him between the ears. Goliath purrs and closes his eyes into tight slits. Andrea is dozing again when Goliath stands up, ears back, spine arched and stares at the doorway. 

Andrea’s heart races and the hair at her nape stiffens. She listens. She hears the tinkle-tinkle of someone rummaging around the kitchen, familiar footsteps and the opening and closing of the refrigerator. Andrea gazes at Goliath, stiff and immobile. The footsteps ascend the stairs and a tall mass appears under the open door. Andrea screams, Goliath hisses. A car whizzes by and casts its moving lights upon the wall. When the light reaches the doorway, it’s empty, save for the glint of a something draped around a bloody neck. It’s a fleeting moment, but Andrea sees a beloved smiling face missing in war and destruction. The face vanishes, and Goliath relaxes, he sits, folds his front paws beneath him and cuddles next to Andrea. 

Andrea puts her arm around her cat and silent tears fall down her cheeks, recalling the sound of Peter fixing himself a midnight snack. She lays still until sleep overcomes her. 

Sunlight streams through Andrea’s window when she opens her eyes. She has a vague recollection of the night. Goliath is asleep on the empty pillow beside her. A knot forms in her throat. She reaches over to stroke the cat, it brings her peace. Her other hand is in a tight fist. As she opens it, Peter’s dog tags fall out. Andrea gasps and sobs, clutching them to her chest. 

The doorbell rings. She knows what the sergeant on the stoop will tell her… Peter is found. Peter is dead.

BRUEGEL TAROT: XVIII The Moon

The Dark Cottage

Laura opened her eyes and glimpsed light creeping in slits around the windows. She moved her fingers on the coarse fabric of the blanket. She touched her side, her wound bandaged. 

Laura gazed at the ceiling as her eyes adjusted to the darkness and wondered where she was. She remembered staggering to her feet by the river and running, moving as fast as she could. She remembered thinking the others would come after her and her urgency gave her strength, yet befuddled her sense of direction. A cabin or a cottage had shone in the starlight, and Laura remembered stumbling to the door. Had she knocked? She was now lying on a bed, safe indoors and warm. 

Laura tried to sit up and a pang of sharp pain made her wince. She inspected her surroundings. The room was dark, save for the slits of light from the shuttered windows and doorsill. The embers of a fire glowed on the far wall and Laura distinguished a pot or cauldron hanging above it. Her heart sped and thumped in her chest. They, her devils, had fires with hanging cauldrons. She discerned the dark stone of the fireplace framing the glowing embers. Eerie figures stood like black masses against the wall; she hoped they were a table and chairs. 

Laura felt woozy and closed her eyes for a moment. Her body hurt, and she was thirsty. A glass filled with liquid sat on the nightstand and Laura wondered if she should drink. She reached for it and sniffed it. It had no scent and Laura hoped it was water. As she drank, she caught sight of a pair of yellow fiery stars watching her from the corner. A rough breathing, like a whispered growl or a cat’s purr, came from the direction. The eyes were too big to be a house cat, and she perceived a big black mass occupying the entire corner and part of the far wall. 

“Who are you?” Laura whispered. 

A red flame-like tongue flicked out, and the mouth, shining with jagged pearls, gaped open in an audible yawn. Laura remembered a bearded young man had opened the door. Maybe he had a big dog? Laura passed a hand over her eyes and stifled a yawn. Still woozy and sleepy, she slid down in the bed and closed her eyes. 

She heard the padded feet and the clack-clack of claws on the floor and thought the dog was approaching. Then, she noticed the distinct sound of booted footsteps by the bed. She tried to open her eyes, but fell into a deep sleep instead.

TAROT DRACONIS: 10 of Pentacles + XII The Hanged Man

The Card Game

The body swayed in the howling wind as the noose creaked on the gallows’ crossbeam. The distant scurrying of a rat the only sound on the empty square. 

Hangman glanced out the window and sighted the dangling body in the pale moonlight. He sighed. He hated the job, but the little ’uns had to eat. 

“You gon’ play or not?” Deputy called. A soft moan sounded through the jail.

“He must be wakin’ up,” Deputy murmured and Hangman, shuffling into a chair opposite, shrugged. The town drunk was always waking up in their care. 

Deputy shuffled the cards and dealt. Firelight flickered from the wood-burning stove by the wall. Deputy’s keys jingled in the cavernous dark of the jail. They played round after round with only the soft crackling fire for comfort and the occasional moaning for sound. They spoke little; the aftertaste of the hanging lingered, dense and stuffy. 

“Very easy to get away with murder in these parts,” Hangman flung coins onto the table. 

“Sheriff insisted,” Deputy shrugged and gazed at the window. Sheriff had bent over backwards to pin it on the poor devil swaying in the wind. He shook his head. 

“Town bayed for blood, Sheriff gave it to ’em,” Hangman said, “made no difference ole Paddy Corcoran was born wrong, dumb as a box o’ rocks he was. Three families slain in their homes…”

“Dang it!” Deputy threw his cards on the table, “This ain’t right, Paddy never hurt no one. He was innocent as a baby with the mind of a child.”

Hangman nodded. 

“Who’s gon’ take care of his Ma? She a cripple an’ all.”

Hangman shrugged. He hoped the dead held no grudge against him. He only did his job; the little ’uns had to eat. 

“Who d’you reckon done it?”

“Sheriff.” Hangman whispered the words and an icy draft blew through the jail. The lantern on the table flickered. 

“Best keep that to yourself,” Deputy murmured, “can’t prove nothin’.”

Hangman nodded, “an’ he’s Johnson’s brother, they own the town.” 

The name slithered out if his mouth in a steam of contempt. The Johnsons owned the mine, the mercantile and the law. Why did they need more? It’s no coincidence the Ruth Farm was the most prosperous, the Millers bred the best horses, and the Cranes owned the saloon. Hangman and Deputy left their certainty unspoken, though, by the glint of their gaze, they agreed. The whole town was now in the hands of the Johnsons. 

A faint creak stopped the game. Hangman and Deputy glared into the darkness, cards still pressed to their chest. The lantern flickered, dimmed, died and rekindled with an odd green flame. 

“Christ!” Deputy exclaimed and fell off his chair. He faced the doorway, and Hangman, watched the blood drain from Deputy’s face. His spine tingled as he forced himself to turn. 

In the doorway stood Paddy Corcoran, tall and chubby, hands folded on his chest as always, yet, instead of dull brown, his eyes blazed with the same eerie green light. 

“Well, butter m’butt and call me a biscuit,” Hangman said through gritted teeth. 

The dead man, bloated and purple, exploded into a gruesome guffaw. Hangman dared a grin, Paddy always used to laugh at that. 

“Wh-what d’you want?” Deputy stammered. 

“We couldn’t stop ’im, Paddy,” Hangman said, his voice steady. Paddy wasn’t the first dead to appear to Hangman. 

“Who?” Paddy’s voice was hollow, crypt-like.

“Sheriff. Can’t prove it though.” Deputy regained his composure. 

“Where now?” 

Hangman jerked his head towards the cell, “Sleepin’ it off, as always.”

Paddy walked past them, his footfalls silent in death, unlike the heavy stomps he’d trod in life. Hangman and Deputy watched him disappear into the dark jail. Deputy righted his chair and sat. 

A terrified scream cut through the darkness, then silence. The lantern flickered and rekindled into the regular yellow flame; the fire in the stove crackled. Hangman and Deputy returned to their card game. 

No one cared the sheriff died drunk in the jail cell.

TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: 3 of Chalices

The Lark at Dawn

Alondra sits in her damp cell and buries her head in her hands. Through the tiny window she glimpses the moon as the sky lightens. Dawn approaches and Alondra kneels and prays with pleading eyes fixed on the moon. 

Dios,” she whispers in Castilian, “please help me. I have done no wrong.”

Light crawls over the land and creeps through Alondra’s window. She passes her fingers under the tiny ray, as if trying to touch it, but feels no warmth. 

With a thunder of boots and a rattle of keys, the jailer, a greasy heavyset man, opens the cell. He grabs Alondra’s arm and pushes her. Alondra stumbles onto her knees. 

The jailer grabs her hair, and forcing her head back, whispers, “If you’d accepted my offer, you’d be free now.” 

Alondra clamps her jaw. She refused to exchange her freedom for sex and only the charges against her kept the jailer from forcing her. She thanked God every day for her mother’s native English, for nothing could scare an evil man more than a woman speaking in tongues. 

The jailer drags her by the hair until she stands. A crowd has gathered and Alondra catches a fleeting glimpse as the jailer throws her into the brightness. Half blind and forced to kneel before the priest—this so-called holy man who dispatches brutality and torture in the name of God—she gazes up at him. He smirks down at her. 

“Last words?” His words slither.

Alondra spits in his face. 

The executioner, expressionless, grabs her and pushes her onto the pyre; the crowd chants “Sorceress! Heretic!”.
He binds her to the stake as she faces the multitude. They were once her neighbors, her people, but now they have turned against her. Her eyes fix on Rolando; he grins. He’s done this, she knows, because she refused him. Beside him stands Sans, her faithful old servant, beaten and dirty, with head bowed and glimmering tears on his cheeks. Alondra understands Rolando has confiscated her land and possessions and forced her people into his service. He’s traded my life for land, bastardo.

She raises her head and sneers at Rolando; her red curls, once fiery and luscious, now grimy against her cheeks. 

“God will smite you,” she says, her words lost in the raucous crowd yet glaring in her piercing blue eyes. 

A boy pushes his way to the front. Their eyes meet and Alondra notices his strange clothing; baggy coarse blue stockings rumpled at the ankles. He wears a short tunic with a strange crest of a white dog with black ears laying atop a red house. His ankle boots are white and red with black laces, unlike any she’s ever seen.

“Light the pyre!” The priest commands. 

Alondra soon feels the heat of the flame, yet, despite the smoke in her eyes, she stares at the boy. Alondra does not scream as the fire sears her skin. 

The boy takes a stone from a small pouch and tosses it onto her feet. It is cold on her toes and its coolness crawls up her body, as if she’d stepped into freezing water. She recognizes the carved line down the middle and grins; it is the rune of Ice, this knowledge also her mother’s legacy. The fire no longer burns her flesh. 

“Come with me!” The boy yells in a language resembling her mother’s. 

She nods. 

He throws another stone at her feet, this one carved with a crude R—the rune of Journey. The boy jumps into the pyre and embraces Alondra as wind blows around them, and the world spins until screams and fire fade away.

UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: VIII Strength

Reflection

Jenny stared at the funhouse. Lightning flashed in the distance, yet the town fair was still in full swing. She counted her tickets, aware of her dad’s impatience to be home before the storm arrived.

“It’ll be a big one,” Dad said and allowed Jenny one last game. 

She chose the funhouse. 

Jenny took a deep breath and advanced toward the attendant, her tickets held out before her like a dangling paper snake. 

A shy, soft-spoken child, with plain brown hair, plain brown eyes, round glasses and a tiny pinched nose, Jenny looked like a frightened squirrel. At school, kids teased and bullied her for being a weakling, a bookworm, and a doormat. At home, she listened to her centenarian grandmother’s stories of the Mexican Revolution, Pancho Villa and growing up with the soldaderas, women, like her great-grandmother, who’d taken up arms. Jenny wished she were a soldadera. Now, at the funhouse entrance, was her moment to prove her bravery to herself, because the funhouse scared her to death. 

She entered and walked through the mirror maze with caution, gazing at her altered reflection. Here, tall and thin, there, squat and fat, or slanted, bent and squiggled. Jenny tried to laugh but seeing herself amplified and deformed frightened her. She reached the center of the maze, and a circle of mirrors multiplied her into all shapes and sizes. 

Jenny stood, eyes to the ground, daring herself to look at the plethora of Jennys surrounding her, when thunder clapped and the lights went out. It was but a moment, yet Jenny’s heart skipped in her chest, her stomach jumped and she shut her eyes. An instant later, the generator whirred, and the lights turned on again. Jenny counted to three and opened her eyes. 

She was still in the funhouse and surrounded by mirrors, but, instead of the multitude of Jennys, she gaped at an oncoming cavalry. Shots rumbled around her like the thunder outside until she didn’t know which was which. 

The men on horseback wore big sombreros and, by the neckerchiefs that masked their faces, Jenny knew they were bandidos out for blood and pillage. Screams soon mixed with the thunder and gunfire; someone shouted at Jenny in her grandmother’s Spanish and she turned in the direction. 

In the mirror beside her, stood a young woman in a long blue skirt, high-necked blouse, and her plain brown hair wrapped into a bun. She gazed at Jenny through her plain brown eyes and round glasses upon her tiny pinched nose. In her arms, the woman held a rifle, and slung across her torso, she wore a bandolier, replete with ammunition. The woman nodded at Jenny, who felt the weight and cold metal of the gun in her own hands. 

The woman fixed her eye on one bandido and fired. Jenny staggered back from the recoil; the rifle hot, yet safe in her arms. Jenny, together with the woman in the mirror, lifted the gun to her shoulder, fixed her sight on another bandido and shot. Again and again, they fired. One by one, the bandidos fell, and in doing so, their image in the mirrors disappeared until only the young soldadera and Jenny remained. 

The soldadera set her rifle down and Jenny felt her arms lighten. She pierced Jenny with her plain eyes, now full of fire, then smiled and winked. She disappeared and left Jenny looking at her own self in the mirror, surrounded only by plain, distorted Jennys. 

Jenny straightened herself and smiled, no longer the frightened squirrel.

GOLDEN TAROT: XVII The Star

By Starlight

Starlight glimmers on a soft raggedy lump by the riverbank; water crackles against the pebbles. A soft moan breaks the silence and the lump shudders and stirs. Little by little, the lump awakens, piercing the quiet night with groans and whimpers. With much effort, the lump flips itself over and a pale face gazes upwards. 

“Help me,” the tiny voice whispers; the lips quiver in pain and agony. 

It moves its fingers and sandy pebbles stick to the tattered skin. The figure looks up at the starry sky and fixes its gaze on one star, any star, praying for help. Thunder rolls in the distance and a harsh wind rustles through the trees by the riverbank. 

The figure gasps and, struggling, sits itself upright; a sharp pain in its side. The grimy figure places its dainty hand on the sore spot and through the starlight sees the thick liquid shimmering on her palm, the stench of blood scrapes her nostrils. 

She squirms and wobbles to her feet. 

She must get away.

Lightning strikes; it evokes the flash of the muzzle. The thunder reverberates with the sound of two gunshots an instant apart from one another.  

Her devil came for her, stood at the foot of the bed and fired. She fired too; the sight of her bullet in his forehead engraved in her memory forever. At first, Laura thought he’d missed, but as she fled down the stairs and out the back door, the searing pain in her flank told her otherwise. Didn’t matter, she ran deeper and deeper into the woods. He wasn’t the only enemy and the further she ran, the better. The others would come for her too. Soon, her gait became unsteady, she stumbled, and the woods closed in on her; everything faded to black.  

Laura staggers into the river wading and following the current. She remembers her history teachers telling how escaped slaves would use the water to throw dogs off their scent. She also recalls a vague song about the stars being guides. Pain and thirst addles Laura’s brain, but she keeps going, hoping to find refuge soon. 

Up ahead a cabin appears as the moon rises in the sky. Out of breath and fainting, Laura reaches the cabin door. She musters what remains of her strength and knocks. A young bearded man opens the door. Laura’s eyes roll back into her head and the world disappears around her.