Chapter 3 – Cards and Rings

Zeke brings me tea in bed the next morning.  He knows that I am not going to function very well for most of today.  Between the dream and the rather energetic sex, I have managed to wipe out most of my energy.  Vader is even more leech-like than usual.  He likes to be with me anyway but after I have a premonition (and especially a violent one like last night’s), he is like Peter Pan’s shadow and sewn to my heels.  I swear that he is not a dog but a small man in a fur coat.  He often acts in ways that very human and shows a great deal of comprehension with psychic matters, particularly with me.  He will not leave me alone today at all.

Zeke elbows him and Vader shifts so that he can sit with us.  Zeke pulls me against his chest and I sit leaning on him, sipping the tea.  He rubs the knots out of my shoulders and then picks up my brush to stroke it through my hair.  I know that it’s wild and tangled from the night, but he never pulls it, just brushes it slowly and steadily.  I love it when he combs my hair.  I feel like a child again, not a worry in the world, being taken care of.  I sit quietly and can feel myself centering once more.  I hear a sound from Zeke and I realize that he is speaking, very low, as he brushes my hair.  I recognize the rhythm of it and smile.  He is chanting the Kwan Yin mantra which he and I memorized together on our first official date.

Having gotten my hair back into something approaching neatness, he puts the brush back down.  He sits back up and looks intently at me.  I begin to feel confused but before I can say anything, he leans over and kisses me.  I can feel his love, like a warm ocean wave, surrounding me as he puts a hand on each of my shoulders.  He holds me and I melt into his mouth.  He pulls away and I am still, my eyes closed.  I can feel his fingers tracing a pattern on my forehead, then on each shoulder and I realize that he is protecting me with a pentacle at each point of contact.  Now I am afraid.  He only does this when really bad things are going to happen.  He finishes with the two pentacles on my knees and I open my eyes to look up at him.

“Do you know what my dream means?”

“I have some ideas.  I know that some of it is real obvious.  I am the wolf.”

“Of course, you always are.  And the fox was Vader.”

“Yep.  The other animals are also people you know.”

“Ye-es.” I hesitantly agree.  “But other than the doe, who I think I recognize but I don’t know why…I don’t know who they are.”

“I know.  I wish I knew why you saw the plants in such clarity.  They are important.”

Zeke is generally right on target with his interpretations of my dreams.  He has a gift for translating the symbols in them and if he says the plants are important, they are.  If he says that I know the people who are represented by the animals, I need to start figuring out how they match up.  I hate this part of it, because I almost never figure it out in time to prevent tragedy.  I have managed to reduce the effects several times, but I suspect that there is more to destiny than we can fathom.  I do not understand why I am given the questionable gift of seeing things before they happen if I can’t do anything about it.  I would trade it all in for being able to know the winning lottery numbers just once.

By the time I can make my way to the bathroom, Zeke has the water running and helps me step in.  This is one morning when he will not scare me, but he does shampoo my hair for me—and that is my idea of heaven.  Vader gets in as well and this means we need another towel when we are done showering.  As I dress, Zeke fixes a massive breakfast.  He knows that I will protest that I am not hungry.  I know that he will badger me and distract me with dirty jokes until I have eaten most everything he cooks.  My body needs the recharging, but then I feel stuffed and slow, like a…snake that has just eaten.

I don’t like all the snake references that my brain keeps supplying me with.  I want to forget the black snake of my dream but I can’t get it out of my head.  That means that it’s probably the focus of the premonition, and I tell Zeke.  He just nods.  He makes up some lame story about being done with computer stuff so that he can come down and help me in the store.  I accept it as I’m secretly glad that I don’t have to be the only person tending to customers today.  I would probably not bother to open up but once again, he knows that I need to have the diversion of business to help ease the night’s terrors.  This morning they are waiting on the doorstep for me to unlock the door and we remain steadily busy most of the day.

Because it’s Saturday and we do most of our business on the weekends, it is also a long day.  By the time we can lock the door again, ten hours of “May I help you?” later, I am physically exhausted but not as mentally wiped out as I had been at waking.  Zeke helps me lock up, and we go back upstairs.  He cooks dinner and we watch old movies until I fall asleep laying on him.  I only vaguely rouse long enough to know that he is carrying me to bed, and I go back into a heavy, dreamless sleep right after I feel him spoon up against me.

Sundays are lazy days up until almost noon.  We sleep in and only get up to have our tea outside, throwing toast crusts to the koi.  Vader is still attentive to me, but he is willing to go far enough to try and catch one of the fish when it pops its head up for toast.  Zeke and I both laugh to watch the dog go all indignant when he gets water up his nose.  He finally gives up on the game and naps under my chair.  I read the comics while Zeke reads the rest of the paper and we are done in time to pull on working clothes and open the shop.  The shop is only open for 5 hours on Sundays, but it’s worth every moment.  Just before closing, Rhyssa comes in and I ask her to stay to dinner.

“I’d like that.  Did you hear that Apollo went over to Lord Candeur’s house Friday night?  I mean, right up to his house, banged on the door and screamed to be let in!” she tells me, her eyes growing large at the thought of such behavior towards her esteemed HP.

“And was he let in?” Zeke asks.

“Oh, no!  Lord Candeur came outside and told him that he was to leave the premises or he’d have him arrested.” She says with obvious relish.  “Then Apollo started shouting about how he had lied to him, saying that he would be a High Priest and then not doing the ritual…”

As she trails off, I turn to see a customer standing there.  As I step towards him, I realize that he is the little man in green from Friday night.  It takes me a moment to realize that because today he is wearing jeans and a t shirt and he is looking vaguely uncomfortable.

“Hi, Mike.”  Rhyssa greets him.  He nods at her and then turns back to me.

“May I help you?” I say in my best “I never seen you before in my life and I have no idea that you are a Pagan who is in my shop to stock up on Craft items” voice.

That seems to calm him and he asks to see the athames.  Oh he actually says the word “daggers”, but when he describes what he wants, it is a ceremonial athame.  I take him to the kitchen and pull a couple out of the knife block.  He handles each of them, weighing the feel of them in his hand.  I casually step over to ostentatiously straighten up the candle display while keeping the corner of my eye on him.  He is apparently in some distress as to which will suit, but since I do not want to ask him straight out what it is for so that I can help him choose, I leave him to it.  I putter about, clearing up stock and just generally trying to give off the air of “I’m here if you need me, but I’m real busy, so don’t mind me”.  I am checking out the herb supplies when Vader nudges me, right before this voice comes from behind me.

“Excuse me, I think I have chosen.”

Thank goodness for the dog or I would have jumped a mile.  I didn’t hear him move across the room and he is now standing almost too close for my personal comfort zone.  I take a step back and Vader casually steps between us.  Green man seems to realize this and he moves, almost too casually taking a step back as well.

“Good, let me put the others away and we can check out.  Unless there’s something else you would like to see?”

As I go to shut the drawer on the herbs, his eyes look at what I am doing and he reads the label.

“Do you have poisonous herbs here?” he asks with surprising eagerness.  I am mildly shocked at myself to realize that his lurid interest disgusts me.

“I have herbs that can be dangerous if they are not used correctly.  Those that would lead to death are kept locked up.  If you want to buy them, there’s a form to fill out and I make a copy of your driver’s license.  Was there – something – that you wanted to see?”

“Ah.  Um.  No.  I was just wondering.” He has the grace to look embarrassed, as if suddenly aware of how inappropriate his delight in poisons is.

I let him off the hook by picking up his athame, excuse me, dagger and heading to the cash register.  He follows along, pays for it and then leaves.  I feel a vague sense of discomfort, like I’m missing something.

Zeke cooks dinner for us, so Rhyssa and I go sit in the garden while he slaves over the hot stove.  I manage to get her talking about books instead of the coven so the evening is a pleasant interlude.

After she leaves, I help Zeke do the dishes.

“Did you notice the ring that he was wearing?” he asks me.

“Who was wearing?” I am confused.

“The Green Man who bought the oak leaf athame today.  Did you see his ring?”

“No, I don’t think so…no.  Why?”

“It was a badger’s head.  I noticed it because he bought the oak leaf athame.” He says, stressing the words “oak” and “leaf”.

I can feel the blood leave my face and I begin to tremble.  Zeke takes the towel I have been using to dry dishes out of my hand and pulls me to him.  I wrap my arms around his waist and lean my head against his chest, listening to his heart.  I figure that if I just stand there, listening to the slow steady drumming of his heart, I don’t have to face the nightmare again.  He allows me a few minutes of this fantasy and then tips my head up to look intently into my eyes.

“You know we need to figure this out.  I know we can’t stop it, but if we can at least have some idea of what is going to happen, maybe we can keep the worst from happening.” He kisses me.

I know that he is right, damn his eyes.  “Probably not.” I shrug.  “Get my deck and we’ll work on it.”

I shuffle the deck, thinking about the nightmare.  I picture the snake, the doe…I remember the sounds and I try to focus on the entire scene while I mix the cards and then I begin the layout.  I have an Egyptian Tarot deck that has the greatest resonance for me and I use it in a 10 card layout, in the shape of a pyramid.  The top three cards are the spiritual life, the middle row is the mental or emotional life and the bottom row of four cards is about the physical or earthly life.

The first card is at the apex of the shape and is the key to the entire reading.  Somehow there’s no surprise that it is the second card of the Duat family.  The Duats are the keepers of the Underground and are associated with death.  The second card is the god, Apep who is symbolized by an enormous snake, representing a period of spiritual darkness and horror.  I know that we are working on interpreting my dream, but it is always a little creepy when the Tarot cards are so much on the mark.  I couldn’t have chosen a better one by looking through the deck and pulling it out.  This card has a meaning of oppression, unconscious fears and memories that must be confronted.

Zeke begins to write all of this down.  He is usually the one who pulls it all together when we’re finished a reading, but somehow I suspect that this is going to be one of those “I can’t believe how obvious this is” readings that even I will know exactly what it means.  I can only hope that the meaning will smack us before it’s too late.  I turn up the next card and place it just below and to the left of the first one.  This position tells about the past and how it influences the present.  It is the god Amsu and holds a meaning of sexual pleasure, rejuvenation and initiation.  The picture shows a male figure that has a perpetual erection so the sexual meaning is certainly driven home.  The mythology of Amsu talks about him having sex with all the women and making the human men unhappy… sort of like the Greek god, Zeus.

I deal off the third card and place it next to the second.  It’s me.  Well, it’s not really me, but my namesake, Ma’at.  She is the Egyptian goddess of Truth and Justice.  Everyone calls me “Mattie” but the name on my birth certificate is Ma’at.  My parents were very much into Egyptology and I just thank the gods every day that they didn’t name me after the primordial Creator Goddess, Nut.  It’s pronounced “noot” but I know people and I did not want to go through life correcting them.

Ma’at is in the position of being the guideline for the future.  I know this means that I am important to the situation that is coming, that I will be given the answers to the problem.  I just keep hoping that I can at least deflect the worst of the dream.  Zeke and I exchange a significant look and then I deal out card number four.  It begins the third line, the row that deals more with emotions and instincts.

Card four indicates the point of contact between the individual and the outside world and the energy flow between them.  And it’s a doozy—it is the Scorpion Queen, Serqet.  She represents sexual energy and how it is used.  The card carries the warning that if sexual energy is used for destructive or manipulative purposes, it ensnares the one using it more deeply into the world of appearance.  That sexual energy will become poisonous as a scorpion to the person who misuses it.  The reading is beginning to look more and more like doom and gloom, only intensifying the dread I already feel from the nightmare.  We both know that it’s bad, but the cards are adding evil at an exponential rate.  Zeke reaches out to hold my hand, and looks at me.

“We need to finish this, even though it looks like it’s a real obvious thing.  You doing ok?  You gonna be able to do this?”

“Yes, but I want a hot bath when we’re done.  I feel dirty already.”

“I know what you mean.  I think we will both soak for a while.”

He lets go of my hand and continues writing, making notes about the pictures on the cards and their relative positions to each other.  I am almost afraid to put out the next card.  It is the center of the layout, and generally indicates the actual person the reading is about.  I am not sure that I want to know who the snake is—and it is someone I know.  I turn over the card and staring up at me is Sobek, the crocodile god.  Not good, not good at all.  He is known for voracity and is the personification of darkness and death.  The card indicates destructive energies that will cause the downfall of the person he symbolizes.  Everything else revolves around this.  This card is the one that tells about the connection of the person’s earthly and spiritual lives.  It would seem to point to someone who is a glutton, who believes that more is good and that there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing; someone who takes what they want without even thinking about the consequences—and are always shocked when those consequences come.

The final card in this row is card six, the wishes and expectations.  It’s also from the Duat family and is another snake.  It is called the “Unu-T 4-5” and it represents the dark night of the soul.  The picture shows a lake of fire where unpurified souls are burnt and consumed.  This card is about illness and suffering and doesn’t seem right for wishes and expectations.  I don’t bother trying to figure it out, but keep dealing.  I start the fourth row with the hippo god, Apet.  It is in a position of past events and means pregnancy or a period of gestation, a time of waiting for something to happen.  It has an association with bestial behavior, of being like an animal in the cycle of eating, sleeping and sex without greater intelligence being used in daily living.

The eighth card is Seth, one of the few “bad” gods in the Egyptian pantheon.  It means opposition and strife and comes in the position of our aspirations and how we advance in the world.  I sense that it means the snake, whoever it represents, has used bad methods to get to its place of power.  I mention this feeling to Zeke, who continues to meticulously record it all.

The last two cards deal with free and independent actions having an impact now and on our future.  Card nine talks about the power to do things or immediate action and I have dealt out the goddess Mafdet.  She is almost another aspect of Ma’at, but she is more connected to punishment rather than justice.  She is the one who imposes discipline or has judicial authority to extract payment for some wrong that has been done.  I am mildly interested that this reading indicates that although the snake has done bad things to women, justice and retribution will come from women as well.  It just seems fitting.

I turn over the last card, the answer to the question or problem of the reading.  It is the Kem-T, another depiction of the snake god Apep representing Chaos and it is fighting with Confusion.  The main idea behind this card is the breaking down of structure, or dissolution.  It is the end and the beginning.  I know that it means the snake’s death—not just in the nightmare, but in real life.  Someone is going to die.  And I can’t do a damned thing about it.  Zeke and I stare at each other.

We don’t worry about figuring it all out now. He knows that I can’t talk about it for a while so we’ll just let the images of the cards and my dream percolate in our brains and talk about it when the time is right.  Zeke puts his papers away as I go into the bathroom and draw us a nice hot bath.  He walks in and dumps sandalwood oil into the water, both for the smell of it as well as its powers of purification.  I light candles around the edge of the tub and start to strip.

I realize that he is murmuring under his breath as he watches me and it’s the Kwan Yin mantra again.  This time I join him in saying it.  We pull his clothes off, then both of us slide into the hot water.  By the time we get out, we’re both wrinkled and the water has gone cold.  He goes into the bedroom while I clean the oil residue out of the tub.  When I walk into the room, it smells of the sage he has used it to smudge our space.  It feels much cleaner than when we were doing the reading.  Vader is on the bed but moves when we pull the comforter off.  I slide in next to Zeke and we lay cuddled together.  I feel safe in his arms and fall asleep without remembering any of my dreams when the sun wakes us in the morning.

Mondays are the only day that the shop is closed.  We take the opportunity to check stock, catch up on errands or look for new items to add.  This week we need to go to the bank and mail some letters, so we head out after breakfast.  Vader loves going with us and is practically beside himself when I get out his leash.  He dances so much I can hardly put the collar on him and then he tries to drag me down the stairs.  Zeke laughs at us and locks up the door as I let Vader tend to his health on our property before going out in public.  The three of us walk to the bank and take care of the money situation.  As we come out of the lobby, a large man comes toward us and Vader growls, putting himself between me and the man.  It is John Robert Schmidt himself and he stops just beyond Vader’s leash length.

“Good morning, good morning.  How are you all?” he says, beaming at us like we’re the best things he’s ever seen.

“Hello, John Robert.  We’re doing fine.” I let Zeke answer for both of us and prefer to just stand there watching this.  We haven’t had much contact at all with him since the office incident in March and I haven’t missed him.

“Glad to hear that.  We missed you all the other night.  Ritual went very well, very well indeed.”

“Can’t close the shop if we have customers.  You do business, so you know that.” Zeke takes a not too subtle poke at him.

John Roberts appears not to notice.  “That’s a shame.  I do hope that you will both attend Samhain.  We have great plans afoot and I would like you to participate.  I like to pull all the local Pagans together, especially for such an important Sabbat.”

I don’t mind talking about my spiritual path and I am not ashamed of it but I do know that in the middle of the Mundanes –or non-Pagans—it’s not a good idea to trumpet this kind of information as loudly as John Robert is doing.  I have to wonder if he’s trying to mess with my business by freaking out the general public.  Zeke also looks a little miffed and Vader is still growling softly.  John Robert is oblivious.  He continues on, digging a deeper hole for himself.

“I was wondering when we would be able to continue your studies, m’dear.”  He smiles over at me and I can feel my skin crawl.

Before I can answer, Zeke steps in.

“Listen to me, you bastard.  You will never continue that kind of studies with Mattie.  Neither of us is interested in your particular brand of religion.  If we come to any of your events, it’s because we want to share them with the group, not because you lead it.  You’d better learn to keep your pants and your lips zipped.”

Zeke takes my hand and pulls me away from the now sputtering John Robert.  Vader helps him by yanking me towards the street and my last view is of him standing there, red-faced and gaping after us.   I have to trot to keep up with Zeke’s long legs but he doesn’t slow down until we’re a good block away from the bank.  We happen to have gone in the exact opposite direction of the post office, but I don’t bother to mention it.  I’m too busy enjoying the image of John Robert effectively shut up.  I am feeling a little like the damsel in distress who has just been rescued by her knight in shining armor—a direct conflict with the idea that I can do my own fighting.  Zeke finally slows down and then stops to look at me.

“You okay?”

“If I can catch my breath—you boys have run me down the street too fast.”

I lean up against the wall as he leans into me.  I am caught off guard by his mouth latching onto mine but I rapidly respond to his insistent kissing.  We melt together, hands touching and bodies rubbing against each other.  I don’t understand this surge of lust but at the moment I don’t care.  I just know that I want to be naked and under this man NOW!  Vader barks and pounces onto us, breaking us apart and saving us from public embarrassment.  I am so glad at this moment that my arousal is not nearly as visible as his.

“Sorry.  I didn’t mean to turn into a caveman.  He was just so fucking smug, so—secure in his power.  For him to even think that you would—“

“That’s ok.”  I interrupt him.  “I would have told him the same thing but you beat me to it.”

“The thought of him trying that again…makes me crazy.”

“And you have successfully proven that you have ownership of my body.”

“Oh hell, Mattie.  I’m sorry.  I just—“

“Can we skip the post office?  I’ll bet Vader and I can beat you home.”

I take off running towards the house.  I glance back over my shoulder to see him standing there, open mouthed.  Then he throws his head back, laughs and starts running after me.  Vader goes all out and we run home.  Zeke is careful to stay just far enough back that I will have to open the door and he can catch me as we go into the dim silence.  He kisses me, then lets go to run upstairs.

I take off Vader’s leash and drop it on the floor.  I take the stairs at full tilt and charge into the bedroom.  Zeke is pulling off clothes as fast as he can and I copy him.  I’ve barely removed my jeans before he grabs me and throws me on the bed, landing on top of me before I’ve bounced twice.  Our lovemaking is violent and quick, a storm that rages over us and then departs, leaving only the faintest traces of its ever being there.  When we can both breathe again, he speaks to me.

“What the hell was that all about?  That was like…wild animals.”

“Mmmmm.  I know.  And it may sound odd, but I needed that.”

“Yeah.  I know what you mean.  I suppose we should send a thank-you note to Lord Kiss My Ass.”

“I can’t believe he still thinks I’d…it makes me feel sick.”

“Me too.  You know that part of this was my manly attempt to mark you as mine.”

“I know.  I’m glad you did.  I wanted you to.”

“You did?”  He sounds incredulous.

“Yes, silly man.  I love you and I don’t even want to picture the image of that, that, that…bastard doing anything at all with me.”  I lean over and kiss him.  “I’m glad that you want to make me yours.”

“Every day.  Want to get married?”  He asks me this regularly and he is only partly joking when he says it.  It isn’t time for his annual proposal so I know that the encounter with John Robert has bothered him as much as it bothered me.  He watches me and I get the impression that he is holding his breath.

“Can we just go steady for a while longer?”   It’s the traditional answer that I have been giving for ten years.  Then I say something that I didn’t know I was going to—it just pops out of my mouth.  “How about a promise ring?”

I feel him startle under my hands and he looks at me very intently.  I try not to back out of the stare.

“Really?  A ring?”  He watches me.

I go for broke.  I know that this is something he has wanted to give me for years and I wouldn’t let him.  I had been married before and not happily.  Zeke knew that I had issues about the whole wedding thing and he was willing to wait.  I was so lucky that he had waited this long already and didn’t show signs of departing for a less tedious woman.  I take a deep breath and look straight at him.

“Yes, I will wear your ring if you want to give me one.”

“Give you one?”  He says as if there’s any doubt.  “Wahoo!”

Then he bear hugs me.  Vader jumps up on the bed to check out all the noise and we hug him as well.  He seems to know that something momentous has just occurred and he bestows doggy kisses on both of us.

Having finally gotten permission to give me a ring, Zeke is not about to let the opportunity pass.  He takes me to the jeweler’s that very afternoon.  He knows better than to point me at the diamonds, so we look at other gemstones.  I can’t find anything that seems just right and I know this makes him nervous.  I also know that he won’t push me to get just any ring so I am careful not to reject any without a specific reason.  After looking at pretty much every ring they have and not finding one I want, I convince him to leave the store.

We go to several others but I just can’t find the one ring that I would wear.  I know that he’s disappointed but he doesn’t say anything except to talk about looking elsewhere.  We agree to head home as it’s getting late.  Walking back to the car, we pass an antique store.  I casually look in the window and I spy a wolf statue that I think he’d like.  I drag him in to look at it and he decides to buy it.  I go browse while he’s paying and he calls me over to the counter.

“Mattie, look at this.”  He points to a ring in the display.  It’s an emerald in an old fashioned filigree setting that looks like real gold.  I like it and the more I look at it, the more I want it.  The lady pulls it out of the case and Zeke takes it from her to put it on my left hand.  It fits as if it had been mine forever.  The green of the stone glows at me and I don’t even hear the lady telling Zeke that it is indeed 18 carat gold, she just got it yesterday from an estate sale and had only put it in the case a few minutes before we came in.

He tells me all of this later, back at home.  I only know that I must have this ring and if he gives it to me, it will be doubly precious.  Of course he buys it.  I am loathe to remove it long enough to let them take the price sticker off but the minute it’s gone, he slides it back on my finger and kisses me.  The lady smiles and happily rings up the sale.  Zeke carries his wolf and I keep looking at this new sign of our commitment as we return to the house.

I’m still feeling a little subdued from the nightmare and the weekend, so I lay down to take a nap.  Vader curls up at my feet and Zeke wanders out to put the new statue somewhere in the garden.

Chapter 4 – Winds of Change

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