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.

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: 7 of Wands, Valour

Grave

Moonlight shone through Mandy’s window in long skeleton claws across her unicorn bedspread; shadows cast by the tree outside, still bare though spring had arrived. The tree as ancient as the graveyard adjacent her house.

Mandy sat on the corner of the bed, huddled against the headboard with the comforter drawn up to her chin and her brother Mick’s baseball bat beside her. 

Tonight was the scary night. It came twice a year when the light and the dark were equal… and this was the scary hour. The soft rustling of the wind through the half-open window billowed her white curtains. Soon, just at the darkest moment, the voices would begin. 

Mandy closed her eyes and held her breath. She slid her hand out from under the covers and gripped the bat. The wind stopped, and the curtains settled against the wall like a dying breath. 

“Help me,” a soft voice whispered. 

“Pardon me, do you have the time?”

Hooves clopped and wheels rattled in the night. 

Mandy wormed herself to the window, her back scraping against the wall, knuckles white around the bat. She peeked out. 

A multitude of people crowded the yard. Women in long dresses and hoop skirts danced with men in long pants and tailed coats. Two soldiers faced one another swords drawn, one in a blue jacket, the other in red. A man wore a metal breastplate, puffy pants, tights and a pointed helmet; he leaned against a long heavy gun. They went about their business, unaware of the darkest hour and of the frosty graves on which they trod. A car sputtered by, and Mandy glimpsed the crank necessary to start it. A train horn blew and chugged in the darkness. 

Most nights, Mandy leaned on the windowsill and watched them, unafraid and taking in every detail. At seven years old, she now knew the difference between a barouche and a stagecoach, a musket and a rifle, a cloche hat and a bonnet. But tonight… the stench of rot and decay wafted into the room. 

Mandy gasped and pulled herself away as yellow, baggy eyes and rotted teeth peered through the glass. Greasy long hair flattened against the saggy cheeks; a tattered top hat sat crooked on the head. Only on the scary night, he came. 

“Let me in, child,” his voice sounded like a creaking door. 

“No,” Mandy whispered.

“You know you want to,” he cooed and chills ran up Mandy’s spine.

“No,”

“We’ll have such fun,” he hissed. 

Mandy pressed the bat against her, as white skeletal fingers slithered over the sill and into the room, reaching for her bare feet. 

She drew herself up into the tightest ball and whimpered, “leave me alone.”

“I want you,” he sneered. 

The ghosts were now silent and a dense evil had fallen like a rotten, lingering mist. The fingers closed in on Mandy and she felt the icy bone on her skin. 

The door slammed open and Mick burst into the room. He seized the bat and brought it down on the spectral hand. It retreated through the window. Mick faced him. 

“Leave her alone.”

“She’s mine!” The rotted teeth bared.

“Never!”

A cloud passed across the moon and the graveyard fell into momentary darkness. When the sky cleared, the graveyard was empty; the phantoms gone. 

Sunlight peeped through the window and shone on Mick and Mandy asleep, their hands clasped around the baseball bat between them.

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.

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Five of Coins

Heavy

“The road is long…” The Hollies sang; Martin switched off the radio. He hated “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”. It brought back memories of blasts and mud and death. Memories of Arthur, the brother who’d been so heavy Martin had buckled under his weight; so heavy Martin’s feet had dragged through the mud, surrounded by the deafening roar of bombs. Martin had tried to crawl, but Arthur had been so heavy…

Martin wiped off a tear and tried not to think about war things. The road was long and barren. He headed west in his 1969 Chevy and the sun was in his eyes, glaring at him, judging him for not bearing Arthur. He turned the radio back on, relieved the song had ended. The sun, harsh and unforgiving disappeared into the horizon. The first stars pierced the dark blue sky. 

Martin turned on the headlights. Led Zeppelin was singing about going to California. He liked the song and turned the up volume. He too was going to California. More stars sprinkled the darkening sky as Martin drove on. 

Up ahead, a figure appeared trudging alongside the road, head bent, as if weighed down by a great burden. Martin slowed down, deliberating whether to offer a ride or move on. As he approached, Martin distinguished a man in olive-drab uniform, much like the one he’d worn thirty years ago. Martin’s breath hitched, there was something familiar about the figure. 

The figure stopped and faced the road as the Chevy crawled. Martin met the figure’s eyes and his heart skipped a beat. His first instinct was to floor it and get the hell out of there, but his legs disobeyed and hit the brakes instead. He watched, frozen, as the figure opened the door and climbed into the passenger seat. 

“Thank you for stopping,” the man said. 

Martin stared, lips quivering. 

“I’m Arthur,” the man, no older than twenty-two, continued, “I’m heading home.”

Martin gripped the steering wheel and stared at Arthur, the Arthur, sitting beside him. Arthur had died thirty years before, yet here he was, as if not a day had passed. 

“How?” Martin bleated, “How are you here? You’re dead.”

Arthur smiled a warm embracing smile, but Martin only saw resentment in that smile as the guilt and burden welled up inside him. A guilt he’d spent thirty years trying to shrug off his shoulders.

“I left you!” Martin sobbed, “I left you to die!”

Tears streamed down Martin’s cheeks and he repeated the same phrase over and over through his sobs, chest heaving, face buried in his trembling hands. 

“You didn’t leave me,” Arthur replied, “I slipped off you, I was weighing you down. I’m home now, Marty, let me go.”

Arthur put a hand on Martin’s shoulder, the warmth passed through him, calming him, and, as Arthur removed his hand, he took Martin’s burden with him.

“Thank you,” Martin whispered. 

He lifted his gaze; he was still on the long stretch of highway with the sun blazing through the windshield and The Hollies on the radio.

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.