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.

MINCHIATE: XXI Water

A Picture at an Exhibition

Cecilia stared at the picture of the sailing ship rocking in the waves. The galleon slanted on the water painted with thick oil-caked brushstrokes, and the full sails depicted the harsh ocean wind. Peter stood beside her; a snide remark died on his lips when he caught her far-away gaze.

“What’s the matter,” he asked, “don’t tell me you like this painting?”

“Well, it has so much movement,” Cecilia replied, “I can almost feel the wind blowing in my face and hear the waves lapping against the boards.”

“It has that,” Peter conceded, “but it’s just so jaded. It’s about time we stopped romanticizing the pirates. They were horrible people.”

“Who said anything about pirates?” Cecilia glanced at him, “There’s no black flag.”

“Huh…” Peter shrugged and squinted at the artwork, “must be my imagination; it’s the first thing I thought.”

He wandered off to gaze at the rest of exhibition.

“It’s a merchant vessel,” Cecilia mumbled in a monotone voice.

As she spoke, she listened to the jolly babble of sailors.

The sounds of the waves, the roaring wind and the merry sea chanties grew louder in Cecilia’s ears until she fancied herself on the keel. The gallery’s marble floor rocked under her feet, though the salty air bit into her skin. She was in two places at once, inside the cool air-conditioned gallery, and aboard the watercraft. 

The lookout’s cry cut through the noise, “Ship! Starboard!”

An ominous gloom draped over the canvas. 

Deep in the distance, Cecilia spotted sails moving fast on the waves.

“Sloop!” the lookout bellowed.

The men quieted in expectation. 

The oncoming ship drew closer, dark clouds behind it, as if trying to escape a storm. Or was it bringing it? A shaft of sunlight broke through the dense clouds and glinted upon its main mast. 

Cecilia covered her mouth and shrieked through her hand when something slapped down hard upon her shoulder. She jumped and whipped around in surprise.

“Jeez, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Peter said beside her, his hand still on her shoulder, “This picture fascinated you, didn’t it?”

“You’re right,” Cecilia replied, fixing her frightened eyes on him, “this painting is about pirates.”

An instant prior, she’d glimpsed cross-boned murder gliding upon the waves.

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: 7 of Wands, Valour

Instinct

“Hey,” I knocked on the doorframe to get Tony’s attention.

“Wassup,” he said, without glancing away from his computer.

“Um, you have a minute?” I asked, a slight tremble in my voice.

Tony tore his eyes away from the screen and turned in my direction. His indulgent smile faded when he focused on me.

“What’s happened?” he asked alarmed, “you look like you’ve seen a ghost!”

“I don’t know,” I mumbled, “but something happened on my way back.”

“Tell me about it,” he said. 

I sat down on the edge of the bed and related my story:

Every day, after night school, I walk home via the same route. My mom always told me to stick to well-lit streets, and I always do. But tonight, as I stepped onto the sidewalk outside the school, I felt an eerie chill in the air. Shrugging, I turned up my coat collar and started my walk home. I noted the empty sidewalk, though at that hour—a little before ten o’clock—the street is often busy. It being a cool evening, I figured people had stayed home.

At the corner, I turn onto Main Street, as it’s always bustling because of the shops and restaurants, but something stopped me. I couldn’t continue; the familiar thoroughfare with the raucous hubbub and beaming shops gave me goosebumps. So I did what my mom said never to do. I walked up a block and turned onto the tiny byway that runs parallel, it’s called Stygian Alley. It’s a dark lane, almost ghostlike at any hour of night. An icy wind blew against me and chilled me to the bone, but I would rather face that eerie, deserted street than enter Main. 

 All the while on Stygian Alley, I sensed someone watching me, stalking me, like a lion in the bush. I whipped around, but saw no one, only black masses flanking a black void. No buildings were lit. The dread increased with every step until I thought I would burst out of my skin. I ran all the way home, the clack-clack of my heels thundering in my ears like the ticking clock of the universe.

Wringing my trembling hands, I finished. Tony, silent and thoughtful, joined me. He put his arms around my quivering shoulders; I rested my head against his.

“I can’t explain it,” I went on, “but the thought of walking down Main Street frightened me more than Stygian Alley. Though I’m scared shitless, I’m certain I did the right thing. Is that possible?”

He contemplated me for a moment, “You followed your instinct, and that’s always a good thing. I doubt we will ever know otherwise.”

He kissed my forehead, and we left it at that.

Tony’s startled cry woke me up the next morning. I ran to the kitchen.

“What is it?” I gasped.

He showed me his phone. The local news read:

Last night, around ten o’clock, an out-of-control truck plowed into a restaurant on Main Street. It hit a gas pipe. The explosion started a four-alarm fire that spread to other businesses. Many people are dead, wounded and missing. Authorities are still investigating. 

I stared at him wide-eyed.

“Never, ever doubt your instinct,” he said.

GOLDEN TAROT: Knight of Swords + XIII Death

Duke

Norman traipsed along the forest path; he unclasped the dog leash, then tucked into his jacket pocket. Birds trilled in the trees as Duke ran ahead, tongue lolling out and tail wagging. Norman smiled, though a lump formed in his throat as he perceived Duke’s lopsided gait and frequent rests. Duke turned his panting face towards him, and Norman noticed the white hairs that lined Duke’s snout, though his fur still glowed with its natural golden hue. Their friendship neared its end… Norman severed that thought. In the past decade and change, age and illness had caught up to Duke, though he still had the youthful joy of a puppy.

A cool breeze blew and swayed the boughs with a soft rustle of red, orange and yellow leaves. The crisp autumn air nipped at Norman’s cheeks, and the sun shone at intervals through the passing clouds. Casual hikers were scarce on the mountain during the workweek, yet Norman had taken such a glorious day off to spend it with Duke.

Duke stopped; his ears pricked up, attentive.

“What is it, buddy?” Norman called after him.

Duke let out a soft woof and darted up the hillside. Norman ran after him, aware they were veering off the path.

“Duke, stop!” he called, but the dog kept running and Norman only just glimpsed his tail vanishing into a hillside grotto. 

Norman entered the cave, calling out Duke’s name, but the dog was too far ahead. Norman paused, listening for Duke’s footsteps. Darkness surrounded him, yet Norman realized he could see well enough in the pitch black. He scanned the cave’s walls, which glittered in hues of gold, silver, copper and bronze, as if the rock contained all the precious metals of the world. 

“What is this place?” he whispered.

A far-away bark, and he set off in search of Duke. He followed Duke’s bays and yips down labyrinthine passageways alight with the strange sparkle of the walls. At last Norman caught up with Duke as he sighted the dog passing through a towering arch. Duke waited for him just beyond the threshold.

Norman gaped as he joined his dog inside a cavernous vault. He heard a soft gush in the twinkling darkness; a smooth river with obsidian-like water flowed by his feet.

“Where are we?”

Duke gazed up at him with an unreadable expression.

“You know where you are,” a deep voice spoke beside him, “the question is, should you be here?” 

Norman whipped around, searching for the voice’s owner, but saw no one. Afraid, Norman stooped and put his arms around Duke’s neck. The dog licked his cheek.

“Who are you?” Norman asked, but before he received an answer, Duke slipped from his embrace and took off further into the vaulted space.

Norman ran after him, unaware he trod on the black water. With Duke ahead and in sight, Norman reached a tall enameled staircase. Duke was already halfway up and panting; Norman took the steps two by two.

“Wait, Duke!” Norman called, but Duke had reached the landing.

Heaving and wheezing, Norman reached Duke at the top of the stone stairs.

“Hello,” a soft, yet hollow voice spoke.

Norman glanced up and faced a couple seated on onyx thrones atop a pedestal hewn into the colossal walls. Pale and gaunt, the man gazed at him through stony black eyes, while the woman, a pallid blond, smiled at him.

“Where are we?” Norman whimpered.

“Didn’t Charon tell you?” the man asked.

Norman shook his head.

“He ran off,” the deep voice hissed beside him.

“I see,” Hades (it must be Hades) said, “why are you here?”

“I followed my dog,” Norman replied and gazed down at Duke sitting beside him.

“Ah, then it is true, you should not be here,” Persephone said.

“If you show us the way out,” Norman squeaked, “we’ll leave.”

“‘We’ sounds like a crowd,” Hades’s thin lips cracked into a kindhearted snicker, then turned serious, “someone belongs here, or the door would not have opened.”

Norman paled, fighting back tears of fright. He stood and stared, statue-like, as the truth sunk in like an anvil on his chest. Duke yipped and licked Norman’s fingers. The gesture washed away Norman’s fear as heartbreak and sadness overcame him. He kneeled down and cupped Duke’s face in his hands.

“I’m not ready,” he whispered.

“But I am,” Duke’s soft yip seemed to say.

He licked the tears running down Norman’s cheeks.

Norman pressed his face into Duke’s furry neck and sobbed. Man held dog for a long while, until Duke gave Norman’s ear one last lick, slipped from his embrace, and laid down at Hades’s feet.

“Will he suffer?” Norman fought back a sob.

“Not here,” Persephone answered, “out there with you, it’s all that awaits him; a slow and painful decline.”

“I’ve never wanted that,” Norman’s voice broke, “I only want his happiness.”

“That’s all genuine love ever is,” Hades replied, “go now, Norman, we don’t expect you for a very long time.”

Hades snapped his fingers and Norman whisked back through the cave and out to the forest. Norman lay on the soft grass and wept. 

Dusk was falling as he walked out of the mountain and reached his car, the empty leash dangling from his hand.

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: IV The Emperor

Adulting

Rick slid the chain-lock into place and scanned his apartment; his first adult home. The rent was nothing to laugh at, but satisfaction glowed out of his eyes as he surveyed his new domain. Several boxes stood open against the wall, and tomorrow he would rent a U-Haul and pick up the secondhand dining set he’d bought online. Though small, his apartment was perfect; top story on a separate wing with no next-door or upstairs neighbors, except for the empty unit below his. A new pre-owned car and exciting new job; his best years had begun. 

Rick padded to the bedroom and turned off all the lights. His parents always complained he wasted electricity. But now, with a brand new contract in his name and linked to his credit card, Rick was very conscious of the value of energy.

He climbed into bed and turned off the lamp. He stared at the ceiling, zigzagged by the shadows of the busy city as moving cars left a wake of light beams across it. His eyelids drooped, and he was drifting into sleep when the voice whispered.

“How should we do it?”

The voice, female, young and high-pitched, was so close in his ear his eyes flew open. His heart jumped to his throat, pumping blood so fast he thought it would leap out of his chest.

“We could smother him in his sleep,” another female voice, older and hoarse, replied.

Trembling, Rick reached for the switch; the room flooded with light. He sat up in bed. Everything was as he’d left it. Only…

He’d draped his pants over the plastic patio chair furnishing the room. They now lay in a heap on the floor beside it.

Rick slid out of bed and tiptoed to the window. City lights shone in full splendor; a foghorn blew in the distance. He crept across the room towards the door, cursing himself for leaving his baseball bat in the car. He peeked into the adjacent bathroom. Nothing out of place. He then made his cautious and frightened way through the tiny apartment. Nothing wrong; locked deadbolt and the chain crossed the door.

Satisfied he was alone, Rick grabbed the cutter he used to open the boxes and returned to bed. He flicked off the light and listened. Street sounds. He calmed down and closed his eyes.

“We could also poison him,” the youthful voice whispered.

Rick sat up and switched on the light.

“No,” the older voice spoke, and Rick pressed himself against the wall, knees to his chest.

The voices were in the room, but he saw no one.

“If we smother him, it would seem like he died in his sleep.”

“How do we get rid of the body?”

“We don’t, we make a big deal about finding him.”

Rick listened to the disembodied conversation, frozen with fear as his mind raced.

Headlights traced their way across the ceiling. Car doors closed, footsteps on the concrete.

“He’s here,” the younger voice said.

Rick forced his body to the window. He tried to gaze down into the street, but the fire escape blocked his view of the parking lot. 

He listened for sounds in the hall; his ears caught the click of a doorway and footsteps crossing the apartment below him. Rick slunk back into bed and drew the covers up to his chin, pondering whether to call the police. 

Then he remembered the realtor had said the apartment below remained unoccupied. The last tenant, he’d said, had died in his sleep years ago. The widow and daughter had moved out soon afterwards.

BRUEGEL TAROT: II The High Priestess

The Old Library

Joan paced the Old Library, checking everything was in place. This branch housed only the history and genealogy resources of the Main Library two streets away. The building was a Post-Medieval English New England house with a plaque claiming it as the town’s oldest structure. It was at least three hundred years old, and though a private residence for generations, the last descendants had willed it to the town upon their death. 

Joan often pondered about the downfall of the old families as she sat at the circulation desk, sometimes playing solitaire on the computer. Never the busiest of branches, most patrons, except for the members of the local historical society, only stopped to gape at the ancient building.

Evening was falling upon the shelves on her first time closing up since Joan’s recent transfer to this branch. Betty, her boss, went home early with an upset stomach.

The library boasted one central chimney flanked by two rooms, known as the hall and the parlor. Upstairs, in the garret, one of two tiny bedrooms functioned as a study room available to patrons, the other was the staff break room.

A long lane wound around the building and dead-ended at the town’s majestic Georgian style Wells House, now a museum. It and the Old Library had belonged to the Wells, the oldest and wealthiest family in town. They built the mansion as their wealth grew and vacated the much older family home, using it first, as a groundskeeper cottage, then left abandoned with their demise. The Wells died out decades ago, their fortune depleted. 

Joan peeked through the small, diamond-paned casement window. Flurries fluttered about the dusky night. She glanced at her watch, still an hour to go before closing time. She meandered to the old stone fireplace and sat down on one of the cozy high-backed chairs facing it. Poking the dying fire, the embers sparkled and twirled upon the now coal-black log. Joan wondered whether to rekindle it, but, even in its last flickers, the fire emitted enough cozy heat. Dim sconces lit up the rooms, and far from eerie, they produced a special welcoming warmth. 

Above the fireplace hung the portrait of a lady dressed in 18th century garb with her hair teased and curled into the pompadour style the ladies favored then. She wore a red dress with frilled cuffs, low neckline and tight corset. Joan thought her a plain woman of a certain age, dressed in the wealthy finery of a young girl. The portrait needed restoration; the background had darkened to indiscernible murkiness and cracks showed on the woman’s serious face. Her marble chest, devoid of ornaments, the brightest spot on the portrait. 

Joan sat and gazed, and for the first time, noticed the woman’s desolate expression. A lump caught in Joan’s throat as she beheld the saddened eyes, sunken into the pallid face. Her thin lips pulled downward in utter misery. 

On Joan’s first day at the Old Library, Betty had explained the portrait’s history. Joan had only half-listened as she pondered the odd placement of the picture. Shouldn’t it hang in the Wells House Museum instead? The high, elaborate hairdo and elegant clothing contrasted with the low ceilings and barebones style of the Old Library. 

Blue shadows of twilight criss-crossed the walls. The fire sputtered, and the ensuing flicker illuminated the painted lips with a ghostly quiver. 

If only Joan could remember the story.

Was she courted by a prince? No, that was her ancestor. 

Joan’s memory clicked into place.

And the prince had gifted the ancestor a precious diamond necklace, which she’d passed down the line to this woman, who had…

Joan scrunched her face and considered phoning Betty, but thought better of it; she’d gone home green with nausea. 

Let’s see, as a young girl the lady in the portrait had…

Had an affair with a British soldier during the Revolution!

Yes, but first, the necklace had disappeared. Then, someone had betrayed the lovers as they tried to elope and accused the soldier of stealing the necklace. She defended him, but the community shamed and shunned her and… 

What happened? He died in battle?

No, he hanged for theft, though the necklace never appeared. And…
A pariah, she lived in squalor in this building for the rest of her life.

A draft of air blew and sparked the glowing embers of the fireplace. Smoke and ash scattered everywhere, and Joan coughed and wheezed until the ash settled on the wooden floor by the high-backed chair.

As the smoke cleared, Joan glimpsed ash seeping through the cracks, delineating one, and only one wooden plank. She kneeled down and, running her fingers over it, realized she could hook her pinky nail under it and pry it loose.

Cautious and praying no rodent bit her, Joan stuck her hand into the gaping rectangle in the floor. Her fingers clasped around cloth. She pulled out a bundle of worn fabric and unwrapped it.

Her hands shone with bejeweled diamonds woven into a gold chain. She held it to the light, marveling as the stones caught the beams and reflected them back into the dim library. 

“I believe that belongs to me,” the voice of a young woman whispered and Joan turned towards the sound.

The portrait gazed down at her. A painted arm moved and reached through the turbid varnish of the picture and out into the room, so close it almost touched Joan’s face.

The woman held her arm out, palm up, expecting Joan to place the necklace on it. Shuddering, Joan deposited the jewels in the outstretched fingers.

“Thank you,” the woman said, smiling.

Another gust howled through the library. Twinkling embers danced around the portrait of the smiling young girl in wealthy dress and pompadour hairstyle with a shining necklace draped around her neck. A handsome man in a tricorn hat beamed behind her. 

MINCHIATE: XL Trumpets

Cosmos

In bed, Doreen lay with her knees tucked up tight to her belly. Silent tears trickled down her cheeks when the music seeped through the wall. She listened to it oozing through the wallpaper as it crescendoed until it blanketed the entire room.

Mr. Peterson still played Gustav Holst’s The Planets—the entire suite—every night before bedtime.

His music had filtered through the wall of the duplex since Doreen was a child. Through the stress of midterms, the bullies and the gossipmongers, her high school graduation, the first Christmas home from college. In good times and bad times, Mr. Peterson’s music was there, as certain as the moon orbits Earth. 

Her emotions always attuned to the music, as though a magician turned up the dial at just the right moment. “Mars” riled enough healthy anger and courage to break up with a sleazy boyfriend, “Venus” calmed her fighting spirit, “Jupiter” sparked her optimism. Mr. Peterson’s music had bent and molded and shaped her and set her on the right path. 

Doreen’s lips quivered. She had made the hardest decision of her life and moved back home with the hollow pit of defeat lodged in her stomach. 

The landlady had shut the door of the tiny apartment in the big city as Doreen’s dejected shadow shrunk along the wall of the stairwell with each step downward. The dreams she pursued for ten years rotted in the dumpster by the building. She had so much promise, so much potential; she was honest and disciplined and brave. But the city, the economy, downsizing, attrition and joblessness had beaten her little by little, a scratch here, a bruise there.

Her parents suggested she move back in with them.

“You can live here rent free while you get back on your feet,” her dad said.

Her mother piped up, “We’d love to have you with us!”

Doreen put it off until she faced eviction.

The condo, though welcoming as always, now bore the burden of promises and dreams down the drain. 

Mr. Peterson’s music soaked through the wall and into her soul like a soothing balm. Tomorrow I’ll knock and see how he is, Doreen thought as her eyelids drooped and she fell into a deep slumber, perhaps the deepest in months. 

Doreen woke up refreshed, still a failure, but a well-rested, clear-headed failure.

At breakfast, her mother smiled and placed her hand on her daughter’s.

“We’ve missed you,” she whispered.

Dad beamed at her over his coffee and winked. 

Doreen said, “So Mr. Peterson’s still playing his music every night, huh? I thought I’d knock and say hi.”

Her parents’ faces fell. Dad looked grim and Mom confused.

“Oh honey, didn’t you know?” Dad said, “Mr. Peterson passed away last summer. His condo is empty now.”

“But,” Doreen stammered as the news sunk in, “the music, last night…”

Dad shook his head, “it’s been quiet all this time.”

Dad patted her hand and excused himself from the table.

Doreen turned to Mom.

“I heard it,” she mumbled.

“I know,” Mom whispered, “I hear it too on nights when I need a friend, on tough nights. It soothes me too.”

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Queen of Coins

The Wake

Darrell looked up from his cell phone, glanced around the room and rolled his exasperated eyes. He scoffed and shifted in his chair. These people, he thought, they’d never cared.

His aunt’s audible sobs broke through the relative quiet of the funeral parlor. Of course, she always made a scene. Even at a funeral, she was the center of attention. 

Cousin Blanche, as she preferred to call herself, stood up, and the whispers hushed. 

Darrell sneered at Cousin Blanche and her hypocrisy. Cousin Blanche made Auntie Clarabelle’s life miserable. Blanche spent most of her adult years trash-talking Clarabelle, though Clarabelle was older by at least a generation.

Darrell loved Auntie Clarabelle and her easy and open personality. Auntie Clarabelle always had a smile ready for him, wrapped in infinite patience. 

“Blanche has a special venom she spews by the drop and at intervals, so she’ll never be empty,” Auntie Clarabelle told Darrell many times.

“It’s all about the money her mother and I inherited,” Auntie Clarabelle said, “Blanche wants it all.”

“Why?” Darrell asked. 

Clarabelle answered with a mystified shrug, though the glint in her eyes told Darrell otherwise. 

“She will never see a cent,” Auntie Clarabelle vowed, “she’ll have it over my dead body. And you can take that to the bank!” 

Now Auntie Clarabelle lay in the coffin across the room, and only Darrell knew the truth. 

Blanche, dabbing at her crocodile tears with a handkerchief, tottered, ever the victim, towards the coffin.

All eyes watched the sanctimonious Blanche make her way across the room. The surrounding air congealed with pride and gloating; the best woman was still standing. Blanche had won over Clarabelle, if only because she was decades younger. Now it would all be hers. 

Darrell smirked, he imagined Blanche’s expression when she found out. 

“It’s all gone, hee-hee,” Auntie Clarabelle whispered on her deathbed as Darrell bent down to kiss her goodbye, “there’s nothing left.”  

The room gasped and Darrell’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

Cousin Blanche gave a watery, sudden wheeze, then toppled over and hit the floor with a surprised look on her face and stiff as a board. It took a few moments for the family to react, as if time had held its breath before heaving it out in a collective “oh!”

Then time sped up and people rushed to Blanche’s side. But Darrell had seen her face; the woman had dropped dead in that instant. People hustled around him, moaning and screeching. Someone yelled for a doctor. An uncle shook and pounded on Blanche’s chest. The room was a flurry of surprise and drama, like on Auntie Clarabelle’s favorite soap opera. 

Through the crowd, Darrell glimpsed Auntie Clarabelle’s coffin. Auntie Clarabelle shimmered beside it; she caught his eye and winked.

GOLDEN BOTTICELLI TAROT: Knave of Wands

The Birthday Present

Gabby grinned through gritted teeth and accepted the gift Uncle Morty held out to her.

“Happy birthday, Gabby,” he said, his top hat askew and handlebar mustache out of place in the small living room and her brother’s Xbox exploding in the adjacent den.

“Thank you, Uncle Morty,” she forced an even bigger smile.

Uncle Morty was the strange one, the oddity who enjoyed being eccentric, even if he put his relatives in awkward spots. 

He also gave the worst gifts.

Last year he’d given her an old-fashioned, poofy shower cap with frills around the edge. The year before that, a kaleidoscope which took up space on her chest of drawers (she never admitted it, but Gabby somewhat like that gift).

This year, Uncle Morty, recluse extraordinaire, gave her… 

Ta-da!

A fountain pen. 

A plain, black fountain pen, which she didn’t know how to use.

Gabby tried to suppress her disappointment, though she knew not why she felt it at all. Uncle Morty’s gifts always disappointed.

“Go on, try it,” Uncle Morty said, and Mom fetched the pad by the telephone.

Gabby unscrewed the cap. Though beautiful, the pen looked awkward between her fingers.

She poised it over the paper.

“No, no,” Uncle Morty said, and flipped the pen so the nib pointed down instead of upwards, “Now write, but don’t press down on the paper too hard.”

Gabby obeyed, and it surprised her when the ink flowed smoother than from the run-of-the-mill ballpoint pens. She squiggled and doodled; Uncle Morty’s proud smile softened Gabby’s heart towards him. He was a total weirdo, but in a good way. 

She screwed the cap back on and the party continued.

That night, Gabby stared at the pen before opening her Biology notebook to the last page. Gabby wrote:

“Hello, I am Gabriella, but everyone calls me Gabby.”

She liked the ink’s flow and the smooth passage of the nib on the paper.

She shrugged and smiled.

Gabby changed into her pajamas and was about to get into bed when her eyes fell on the notebook, still open to the last page.

Gabby frowned; beneath her big, girly handwriting words had appeared. The handwriting was small and wavy. 

“I am Gabriel, nice to greet you Gabby.”

Gabby gasped, and trembling, took a cautious look around her bedroom. She was alone, the windows and door shut, and she hadn’t left the room since she’d written her introductory sentence.

“Who are you?” She wrote, “What is happening?”

“I am your guardian angel. I am always present, but it’s difficult to communicate with you. Until now.”

Words appeared in the same flowing ink, though she held the pen against her heart.

“Why now?” She wrote.

“You know the pen is mightier than the sword?”

Gabby nodded as the words continued to appear.

“Well, this is The Pen. Many have used it for good, others for evil. You can choose how you use it.”

Gabby’s heart thudded in her ears. She gulped and brought out an old and tattered notebook. Not her diary, but kept just a secret and just as private. She pressed the notebook to her chest, as if re-absorbing the part of herself hidden from everyone—for fear of ridicule and mockery—that she’d ripped out long ago. 

The notebook contained the fantasies she’d imagined as a child, jotted down in candid vocabulary, childish hand and simple pictures. She had not opened this notebook since the first grade, when her curmudgeon and strict teacher had objected to it. Miz Prism had no imagination and pure contempt for those who did. Her parents had tsk-tsked and pooh-poohed and, once she’d buried it in her closet, forgotten all about it. 

“Yes,” the words appeared, “write to your heart’s content. I will guide you.”