ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: 2 of Cups, Love

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Shadows by the Fountain

 

I sat on the window-seat and glanced at the fountain at the end of the garden as it spurted cheerful gurgles; I thought about the day to come.

The sun had set and blue shadows glimmered on the water. The trees morphed into tall wooden figures, like giants come down from their beanstalks. Crickets and cicadas chirped in the warm summer evening, and, together with the soft bubbling fountain and the distant croak of frogs, they created a natural melody that filled the garden with harmonious sound.

I smiled and extended my hand with fingers outstretched as the fading light twinkled on my ring. The colorful display of reflected light danced before my eyes and I sighed, content.

Somewhere in the house a door closed and the sound of footsteps reverberated on the walls. I leaned my head on the window frame and gazed out. Another door closed and more footsteps pattered through the silent house. These last were heavy and a soft prickle of apprehension needled my heart. I knew these footsteps, and though I wanted to get up and follow, I remained seated at the window, my eyes fixed on the fountain.

Night fell and the soft path-lights illuminated the stone structure of two intertwined fish. The fountain was a tribute to the Pisces constellation whose billions of stars spun light years away from Earth.

I heard the clack-clack of high heels on the dark stone path, followed the thud-thud of manly footfalls. Two shadows appeared, and I watched as they reached the fountain.

I gasped.

In the dim light of the path a man and a woman met. They embraced and kissed, unaware of my watchful gaze.

My eyes filled with tears when the soft light shone on his face and I recognized the man who’d said he loved me and asked me to grow old with him. 

I turned my face away; in the darkened room, I glimpsed the ghostly shadow of my wedding dress hanging on the perch.

***

The wedding day dawned and the servants and guests stirred.

A cry rang through the house.

The bride had vanished; her dress still on its perch, white and desolate in the morning light.

 

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.

UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: III of Swords

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Swords

 

Soraya’s heart skipped when the Tarot reader flipped the card. The answer to her question lay in front of her, plain as day.

“The Three of Swords,” the psychic mused, “you need to decide, you are at a crossroads.”

How right she was, but it wasn’t a simple decision, like what skirt to wear, it meant ripping out her heart whatever she chose. She was at an impasse. Damned if she did, damned if she didn’t.

The Tarot reader flipped the remaining cards and continued with the reading, but Soraya’s gaze remained fixed on the Three of Swords and its cruel depiction of her life. Three swords crisscrossed a heart in a rainstorm. Three wounds, three people.

Soraya wiped a tear from her eye which the psychic noticed and stopped the reading. She observed Soraya for a moment, then gathered all the cards in the spread save the Three of Swords.

“You know, don’t you?” The psychic spoke, “You hoped the cards would tell you something different, but they’ve only confirmed your suspicions.”

Soraya nodded and sniffed.

“Your life path has swerved because of a man.”

Soraya nodded again; she wanted to speak, but feared spewing a deluge of sorrow upon this stranger, so she stifled a sob.

The woman tapped her between the eyes and the woman’s fingertip on her skin startled Soraya.

“You know what to do,” she smiled, “you’ve known for a while, but now it’s complicated.”

“Yes,” Soraya squeaked, “way more complicated.”

Soraya placed her hand on her tummy and the Tarot reader smiled, her wrinkled face beaming with kindness.

“New life is always welcome but you must decide who will be in it.”

“I don’t know what to do, I only suspect, but it’s so strong, I know I’m right.”

“You are not alone, you are never alone, and if you ask, you will receive an answer.”

Soraya thanked the woman and held out a wad of bills, but the woman shook her head and declined them. Soraya’s eyes filled with tears and she opened the door. She glanced back at the woman who was still smiling at her, and left.

She sat in her car; those three swords stabbed her with every heartbeat. Overhead the sky rumbled as tears fell on the steering wheel. She put her face in her hands and sobbed.

“Please help me,” she pleaded aloud, “please guide me.” But only the tap-tap-tap of the rain on the roof answered.

Soraya switched the ignition and began the long drive home. The heavy rain poured down and she couldn’t see the road despite the windshield wipers swaying at full speed.

***

Myra lay naked in bed while Aaron dressed; his wedding ring glinting in the electric light. They’d had sex through the raging storm, the thunder and lightning beating outside the window, as if trying to break in and smite them. Now and again, the ember of their guilt would rekindle, but they’d douse it with more sex. As the storm abated, Myra closed her eyes, exhausted and blissful.

A pang of pain on her chest jolted her, as if someone had rammed a sword through it. Tears she couldn’t control poured down her face and her mind screamed her sister’s name, Soraya! Soraya!

In an instant, the sensation passed and Myra perceived a strange sense of loss, like something gone forever.

Myra reached for her phone and dialed Soraya’s number. Aaron’s phone rang while she waited for the call to connect. The insistent tone of the busy signal pounded in her brain.

Aaron glanced at the display and grinned the devilish grin that tickled Myra’s lust. He showed her the display with Soraya’s picture and winked.

“Hi honey, I’ll be home soon, I promise.”

A knot formed in Myra’s throat as Aaron’s face fell. He slowly lowered his arm and let the phone drop on the carpet.

“Soraya,” he muttered, “the storm… Car accident… She’s dead.”

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: XII The Hanged Man

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The Monkey Bars

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you okay?” Robbie peeped.

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

“Who?”

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

“Nonsense.”

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

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

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

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

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

BRUEGEL TAROT: King of Chalices

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The Trinket Man

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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