We are both very subdued all afternoon. I keep myself occupied by starting the end of the year inventory. By the time I have counted all of the gemstones and wands, I am ready for a hot bath and a glass of wine. I peek in at Zeke, who has been on the computer this whole time and tell him what I’m going to do. He nods but doesn’t say that he’ll join me so I head off to the bathroom.
I am so tired. I stretch out on the bed for just a moment…
I am seated at a table and John Robert is sitting across from me. I am holding Tarot cards, but they are not my Egyptian cards. I realize that they are the traditional Rider-Waite and I am dealing them out to give him a reading.
We are both naked but somehow this doesn’t bother me. I don’t even care that he has one hand on himself, stroking and rubbing as he leers at me. “You know you want this in you, admit it. You are like every other woman…a good stiff one ever so often and then you do as you’re told.” I ignore his words.
The wolf is sitting next to me and I feel the brush of fur as the fox also takes up his position on my other side. I don’t recognize the layout. It has thirteen cards in it and is in the shape of a clock, with twelve cards around the central one. Even as I am aware that I am dreaming, I am remembering the cards so that I can tell Zeke.
I tell John Robert about the cards and he just laughs at me. I don’t exactly know what I am saying; I only know that it is portentous. He stands, masturbating and thrusting his hips towards me. I am looking up at him, seeing his mouth open and his eyes shut as he laughs at me.
Suddenly I see three dark berries in his mouth. He gives a start like he’s surprised that they are there and then he swallows them. His eyes open very wide. The pupils are huge, black holes and he begins to lean towards me. His hands flap helplessly as he puts them to his throat in the universal sign for choking. His face is quite pale but even as I watch, he flushes and then pitches face first onto the ground. A cloud of smoke covers him.
There is a gust of wind and the smoke disappears. He is the snake again. I can see the mistletoe sticking out of its mouth. Once more there is the oak staff through his body. I look over to see the doe standing at the edge of the trees. I know that it’s just an animal, but there is a…”smug” is the only word I can come up with to describe the expression on her face.
I stand and walk once more into the forest.
I sit up in the bed, confused about where I am for a moment. I am panting from the dream, looking around wildly until I recognize my own room. Vader has bounced onto the bed and is barking at me. Zeke comes running in and I stare up at him.
“Oh gods, Zeke. Oh gods. He’s going to die and I think I know how.” He sits on the edge of the bed and pulls me into his arms. “I think…I…know…”
“You mean John Robert? You dreamt it?” He is stroking my hair. I am so glad at this moment that he never doubts me; he doesn’t question how I know things. I wish I didn’t—and I’m hoping that I really don’t—but it’s good to have someone who will listen to what I have seen in my mind.
“Yes. I was giving him a Tarot reading. We were naked. I even remember all the cards. They were the Rider-Waite and I don’t know what the layout was…” I fall silent.
“How does he die, Mattie?” Zeke nudges me.
“Sorry. I think it’s belladonna poisoning.”
“He ate something, like cherries or berries of some kind. Then his pupils got huge. He kept holding his throat like he was choking, and first he was pale and then he flushed. He also kept leaning towards me.” I shudder from the recollection of the images.
“Let me get my notebook. I want to list the cards and we’ll look them up.” He lets go of me long enough to grab it and a pen. He indicates that I am to start.
I notice that he has not corrected my guess about the belladonna. Zeke knows his herbs and poisons. I don’t want to be right. The primary poison in belladonna is atropine and it’s not a nice way to die.
“They were laid out like a clock. There were twelve cards around one in the middle—and a bunch of them were major arcana. In fact, I think most of them were…” My voice trails off as I try to picture them all again.
“Oh that’s a great start…look out, here comes Fate.”
“Yeah. Because I don’t know the layout, I don’t know the significance of where the cards were.”
“We can worry about that once we know what they are and what they mean.”
“Let me think.” I take a deep breath and relax, not forcing anything. If I just let it come out, it will. “The Magician was in the center. Starting at one o’clock, it was Justice, The High Priestess, The Three of Swords, then Strength, The Chariot, and then the Four of Cups. At seven o’clock and going back up towards midnight were The Devil, The Tower, the Page of Swords, The Moon, Death, and Ten of Swords.”
Zeke writes this all down and I see that he is putting it on the paper in a clock shape as well. He reaches over to his bedside table and pulls out a Tarot book. He flips through it and begins scribbling notes.
“Hey, do you need me any more? I was really on my way to take a bath…” I ask. I want to get clean, all the way down to my soul. I probably can’t soak long enough on this earth, but I can try.
“Huh? Oh, no, you don’t need to stay. Let me get the meanings down and I’ll come in there in a minute and we can talk about it, ok?”
The hot water feels good as I slip down into the tub, holding my glass of wine. Vader is curled up next to me and I can just barely hear Zeke mumbling as he shuffles through the book. I try not to think of anything and just drink my wine.
It takes him long enough that the water has cooled down and I have been warmed it back up twice before he finally comes in. “If I understand this right, it’s a doozy. You want to soak for a while longer, or do you want to get out and we can talk about it on dry land?” He bends over and kisses me. He even notices that my glass is empty but he doesn’t say anything.
“I think I’ll get out. I’m already on my way to being all wrinkled; I might as well stop before I’m just a giant prune in the tub.”
I stand and he wraps the towel around me. I put my arms around his neck and let him—oh hell, I pretty much just beg him to—dry me off. He grins and rubs the towel all over me but it’s efficient and geared towards talking rather than other activities.
I am trying to distract him…even though I know we need to forge on with the dreadful chore of figuring out the messages I am being given. I wish the gods would get another messenger!
We go back into the bedroom only long enough for me to pull on a robe and then he leads me into the living area. He does refill my glass and gets one of his own before he also sits down. He opens the notebook and turns back a page.
“Okay. The Magician can be Mercury, the god of thieves. He is a smooth talker, a salesman—and he might just be selling you snake oil. This card can indicate that you are given a mental image of whatever you most want. And you wanted to know who the snake was, for absolute sure. I would offer the idea that this is indeed John Robert. He is also in the center and everything else revolves around him.”
“Right.” I take a large swallow of my wine. I know that this is only going to get worse before it gets better.
“If we start at the one o’clock position, we have Justice and the High Priestess. Justice is about balance and the consequences of actions. It can mean mundane legal things, but it almost always means that the outcome will be scrupulously fair. The High Priestess being next to it sort of suggests that the consequences may come from a woman who has secret knowledge. She represents Persephone, who went to the land of the dead.”
He looks up at me. “The next card is the Three of Swords.” He sighs. “I hate swords in a reading. Anyway…The three is about pain and heartbreak, usually with a love triangle. It is also an air sign, so the idea is that there is some sort of lie or falsehood associated with it. I noticed the minor arcana all showed up on the quarter hours and I think that is significant.”
“I’m not quite sure. Let’s finish with this and maybe something will occur to you.”
“At four o’clock we have Strength. It is usually a card of courage and energy. It is associated with the Maiden and having control of one’s self. I thought it was interesting to note that it is about maintaining one’s personal honor.” He takes a sip of wine. “The Chariot rides next to it. On its most basic level, it’s about war. There’s a huge struggle before hard-won victory. It often means that there is a stagnant situation that needs to get moving again.
I mention that because next comes the Four of Cups. It represents straight out stagnation. It’s the card that expresses the concept of “the grass is greener”, the idea that the Querent is overindulgent in many things—specifically alcohol, food, drugs or sex. It is a warning card.”
I knew it. It is awful and when held up against John Robert’s life, a strong reading indeed. I still have no idea how we can stem what appears to be an incoming tsunami.
“Oooff. We’re up to the seven o’clock card which is the charming Devil. He is not Satan, in the Christian sense of the word, but he does represent that aspect of the God most connected to pleasure and abandon, wild behavior and unbridled desires. This is a man who has power, is aggressive, controlling and persuasive.” Well, gee, that sounds just like the infamous Lord Kiss My Ass. Whoever wrote that description might have taken it right from his biography.
“The Tower is next. Another war card, this one is about the war between the truth and lies. If you get this card, you can expect a shake up or a shocking revelation. Then we have the Page of Swords. Court cards can represent a real person, and pages are young, usually male.
This is about messages. It can mean a problem that is solved or ends badly, or it can mean rumors and gossip. I get the feeling that it may be Eric, but that may only be my knowledge of the fiasco about his initiation. He’s followed by The Moon, never a good card to get in any reading.”
I am willing to agree about the Page meaning Eric, but I am always confused about The Moon card in the Rider-Waite Tarot. The moon is associated with the Goddess, with psychic abilities and intuition; its silver color is the Goddess color. I just don’t understand how it can have such a negative a meaning. Oh well.
Zeke shifts a little, settles and looks back at his notes. “This is all about illusions, madness and warnings. It can mean hidden enemies or lies. It also is a warning to take your medication, which I thought that was a little odd. Then the last two cards almost certainly go together. We have Death, which in this case I think is quite literal, especially since it’s followed by the Ten of Swords. Death can mean a time of great change, but it talks about the humbling of the Querent, where the mighty are brought low.
The Ten of Swords is a real downer. It’s a nasty looking card, and basically means that everything just…goes…wrong, that things are as bad as you fear.” He looks up at me. “The last phrase that the book uses to describe this card pretty much sums it up: you can’t be * more * dead. Once you’re dead, that’s it.”
He sits back and puts the notebook on his lap. I swallow another mouthful of wine even as I know that it is indeed showing that “veritas”—he is indeed telling the truth. John Robert will die and while I won’t cry for him, I don’t want to know that it’s going to happen. People die every day…and I don’t dream about them or their deaths.
“Zeke.” I stand up and face him.
“Excuse me?” His eyes are wide and he’s not sure that he’s heard me say what I have just said.
“Put that notebook away, take off your clothes and make me insane with desire. Fuck me. I want you inside of me, I want to feel your skin against mine, I want to forget about John Robert and death. I want you. To. Fuck. ME. NOW!” I holler as I rip open the robe and hurl myself at him. He grunts as I land on him, but his mouth meets mine and his hands move over me.
He flips me onto my back and I feel his hand reach between us to open his zipper. He never takes his mouth away; he just keeps kissing me as he works his jeans off his hips so that he can lower himself into me. He brushes the tears away, the tears that I cannot help.
And he does not fuck me but he makes love to me, deeply, sweetly and thoroughly. He surrounds me with his love like ocean covers the land…and the horror abates for a while.
Temporary amnesia is just that. Temporary. While I admire the man’s stamina, he really cannot go forever and soon, too soon, we are both sated. He positions himself so that I am not being squashed but we keep the full body contact. He knows that I need it, that I need him. Psychic gifts are not always gifts; sometimes, they are a definite curse.
“I love you, Zeke. I love you so much. I am so glad every day that I have you in my life.” I kiss his cheek where it rests near mine. “And I know that we need to work on this…this…damned dream.”
“I love you, too. And yeah, I want to figure this out. I know that we are being given blatant, obvious clues. I just wish we were smart enough to know what they all mean. Before it’s too late.” He kisses me back and then rolls us so that we are laying side by side and he can reach that (really bad word) notebook again.
“Okay. I think we both agree that this is about John Robert.” I nod. He continues. “Looking at it from a logical point of view, he leads a life that is about excess and gratification; chances are good that he will die as a direct result of that. Even if it’s not murder, his lifestyle will be a major factor in his death.”
“How can you say it won’t be murder? I mean, face it, there’s plenty of people who would dance on his grave.”
“True. But it may not necessarily be that they hasten him to that grave. You saw what looked like poisoning. That could just be symbolic of him not taking medication that he’s been prescribed, or eating stuff he’s not supposed to. We’ve been told that he has heart problems of some sort. Maybe that’s what it means.”
I ponder the idea and concede the idea that he could be right. “But how does that explain the animals clawing at the snake before? And the staff?”
“We don’t know that the animals actually killed the snake. And the staff may be representative of Divine retribution…you know, punishment for hubris, a way of saying, ‘Human, you got what you deserved.’ Karma.”
“Maybe. The mistletoe? Why do I keep seeing that?”
“Something else about him abusing his power as a High Priest?”
“And the doe? Is that Laurie? Is she carrying his child?”
“Another thing I’m not sure about. I don’t even know if we can find out if they have spent time together. John Robert usually goes for the little bit older and wiser woman. He does prefer a…riper peach, from what I’ve seen. And I know she’s been good to us, but that would include Rhyssa.”
And if Rhyssa has something going on with John Robert, it might explain some of her behavior towards us. I would also like to know about her friend, Jane. The few answers we seem to have only create more questions in my mind.
“Mattie?” He startles me from my thinking. “Why do the four minor arcana cards fall on the four points of the compass? They aren’t elemental, since we have three swords and a cup. Why do they seem to be so important?”
“Maybe they are about the physical life. Zeke, maybe these are concrete, actual things in his life. This reading is not about his spirituality or his mental state as much as it’s about his daily stuff.” I can sense that this is the explanation. “It’s about his normal routine, the people he sees, the things that he does, here on Earth, in the physical plane.”
He nods slowly. “I think that you are right. That makes sense. Yeah, if he’s going to die, regardless of how, it really doesn’t matter about his state of mind, or how pure his life is. Or in his case, is not.”
“So the rest of the cards are major arcana to indicate the inevitability of whatever is coming down the road…I guess.”
“And your guesses are better than a lot of people’s facts.” A vote of confidence that I’m not sure I want, but it’s still nice to know he feels that way.
“And I still get the idea that whatever happens, there is going to be a woman involved rather deeply in the drama. At least one woman.” I idly trace a path across his chest. I like the feel of his warm body under my hands and here, in his arms, I feel safe. Why do I think I need to be safe?
The phone rings. We both jump but it’s hard to get ourselves untangled from each other and various pieces of clothing. By the time he gets to it, it has switched over to the answering machine and I can hear a woman’s voice screaming.
“Oh God, Mattie! Zeke! Please pick up! Please pick up! This is Laurie!” If she had not said her name, I would have no idea who it was. She sounds hysterical. I have only a moment to think about her father and what must be happening before Zeke picks up the receiver.
“Laurie! It’s Zeke, what is wrong?” He frowns at the answer which I can only hear the tone but not the words. It doesn’t sound good, whatever it is.
“Okay, okay. Take a breath.” She apparently does, because he lowers his volume a bit. “Have you called the police? Why not? You have to! Hang up and call them. We are also on our way out there. Do. Not. Touch. A. Thing. Do you hear me? Okay, as soon as I can get off the phone…Bye!” He hangs up and looks at me. “Get dressed. Now. Laurie says that John Robert is dead.”
“DEAD?!? Oh gods, Zeke…” He interrupts me.
“Yeah, dead. He was stabbed.” We stare at each other. “So much for poison.”
We get in the car after shutting the door on a confused and upset dog. Vader is not happy with being left behind and I can hear him barking as we pull out. I can only hope that he will not attempt some act of vandalism to show how very upset he is.
I am surprised when Zeke turns in towards town instead of out, to the Johnson’s. “Where are we going?”
“Laurie was calling me from his office. That’s where he is.”
“Oh. Oh. Why was she there?”
“I can hardly wait to hear the reason.”
We pull up to John Robert’s apparent final resting place and there’s no flashing lights, no police…no ambulance, although if Laurie’s right, John Robert doesn’t need one anyways. We glance at each other and both of us shrug. The office door is open when Zeke pushes on it, and we walk hesitantly into the building. The lights are on in the hallway leading to the office and I can hear Laurie, sobbing.
“Laurie? It’s Mattie, hon.” There is a catch in the sound of her crying, and then she is running down the hall at us. Zeke catches her in his arms and she grabs onto him like she’s drowning.
“Oh god, Mattie. I don’t know what to do.” She looks at me, a wounded child. There is no sign of the young woman I have known, only this hurt and terrified girl and I have to remember that she is only seventeen. “It’s awful. He’s….oh god, he’s…he doesn’t have any clothes on, and the knife—“ She sobs anew.
Zeke tries to calm her, but she’s not able to get control of herself. He leads her back down the hall, following me as I walk towards the open door. I realize that the wall paper is a foliage pattern so that it looks like a forest and a sense of horror fills me.
I turn to the pair of them standing behind me. “Laurie, have you called the police?” “N-n-n-n-n-o. I tried to, but I-I-I—“ and she starts crying again.
“Zeke, do you have your cell phone?” And before I can finish the question, he pulls it out and starts dialing. I turn back to the door. I concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, making myself move forward. I try not to be aware of the fact that I am leaving Zeke behind me.
I step into the room. I don’t have to take more than about four steps to see John Robert. He is very dead. Not only that, but he is very naked and there is something tied to his…wand. I choke back the giggle as I think about his penis that way…he thought he was doing magic with it, according to the stories of his sexual escapades.
He is also very neatly arranged for someone who was…stabbed. And there is indeed a metal thing sticking out of his chest, right into his black, black…and not beating heart. I try to focus on the details of the room and not the dead man, staring up at me.
Staring? I look at his pupils and they are enormous, like great black dots on his eyes. I can’t tell if his skin is flushed…I look down at the obscenity of metal that is protruding and shudder to see that is an athame. It has oak leaves on it and it looks just like the one I sold to Mike Johnson less than two months ago. There is blood around where it has been plunged into him.
I have seen enough TV shows to know that deep and deadly puncture wounds may not necessarily spew blood everywhere—but still be fatal. I am confused by the stabbing, since everything in my dreams points to poisoning. Maybe Zeke’s interpretation is right.
I keep looking, my glance going down to the green that is propped so…delicately… between his legs. I recognize the plant and while it’s appropriate for this time of year, mistletoe is usually not hung over the testicles. This certainly is. I pull my gaze back to slowly have it dawn on me that he is arranged like Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. Everyone knows the sketch—a man’s figure, arms and legs spread out with a circle drawn around him. I look at the ground around John Robert and there is a chalk circle going around him.
I make a strong guess about his directional orientation and figure out that his head is actually pointing north. By this time, I can hear the sirens. I take one last look at him and suddenly see little scratch marks all over his arms and legs, like the clawing marks…of… animals…
I am standing with Zeke and Laurie when the police come barreling down the hall.
They keep us for hours, answering the same questions over and over again. They won’t let us be together and I can only imagine what they are saying to Laurie. I am sure that Zeke is telling them the same thing I am—she called us, we came down, called them. No, we didn’t mess with the body, no we didn’t touch anything. Yes, we know the deceased. No, we don’t know why she was down there.
And that is one question I would like to hear the answer to. Finally, the detective in charge comes into the room where they have been hounding me.
“I guess that’s about it for now. You can go home, but don’t leave town. I’ve got your address and phone number if I need to ask you some more questions.” My goodness, he does sound just like every cop show I’ve ever seen.
The door opens and Zeke sticks his head in, saving me from being arrested for mouthing off to the authorities.
“Mattie? Can you go home, too?” He looks weary and I can sense the bone-depth of his tiredness. I nod, and stand up. The cop gives me one more look like I drove the dagger into John Robert but steps to one side as I walk to Zeke.
He wraps an arm around me and we leave the police station in time to see the moon set and the sky begin to lighten for the dawn.