Monday, April 16, 2018

Chap 15: Where the Cards Lead

The morning light was just seeping through the thin curtains and I was digging around in the bottom of the small closet looking for a pair of jeans that were still semi-clean. I hated laundry and waited till I had no clean clothes before carrying a heaping basket to any nearby laundromat. Finally snagging a pair I tripped and landed soundly on my butt. Grumbling I reached down to untangle my foot from the duffle bag strap. In doing so the bag tumbled out of the closet into my lap. After extracting my foot I sat cross-legged and dumped the bag's contents onto the floor, 

Dozens of decks of oracle cards and a few tarot decks landed in front of me. Some were well worn, beloved decks like The Faeries Oracle and other decks I had hardly ever touched, gifted to me or bought on a whim. Most were in boxes, some were wrapped with elastic bands and others were wrapped carefully in silk reading clothes. One, in particular, caught my eye and I picked it up, turning the box over and over in my hands, caressing the cardboard. 

I remembered vividly when I picked up this deck, but honestly, I had forgotten about it long ago. The cards had been dark and it was missing the little white book that explained any possible meanings so I had tossed it into my collection without much additional thought. Today, however, I let my mind drift back to the day that I had happened upon the deck in an old shop in Seattle.

I was wandering, browsing, headed to Pikes Place Market when I glanced down a narrow alleyway near the famous Bubble Gum Wall in downtown Seattle. What drew my eye was an easel sign planted on the sidewalk outside the old shop, advertising a psychic. Making my way carefully along the broken cobblestone sidewalk, damp from the never-ending drizzle that fills Seattle's skies, I stopped to gaze into the window. The deck lay, tossed carelessly onto a red silk cloth, surrounded by crystals, boxes on incense and embroidered tarot bags.  The Dark World

I entered the shop, almost choking on the thick incense that permeated inside, with the purpose of getting a closer look at the deck. The shop was crowded with items, crystal balls, bags, candles, books, and stones. I gave them a cursory glance while scanning the shop for additional copies of the deck. In the far left-hand corner, the decks were displayed on a small table with some crammed onto a wobbly wooden shelf. After a quick glance, it was obvious that the deck in the window was not included in this display. This only served to make me more determined to take a look at it.

The wizen old lady stocking shelves had not even glanced at me when the bell tinkled at the front door, announcing my arrival. She still had not looked up from the incense display she was diligently filling. I moved closer to her hoping to get her attention. Finally, she glanced at me, her dark eyes piercing me.

My voice reduced almost to a whisper by her gaze I said, "I'm interested in the deck in the window, The Dark World? But I can't find one in the shop."

She stood staring at me for so long I thought she hadn't heard, perhaps being hard of hearing at her ancient age. When I opened my mouth to speak again, she suddenly turned and made her way to the window. I followed like a misbehaving puppy. She reached into the display and pulled out the deck, running her hands lovingly across the surface, mumbling something chant-like. She turned and peered closely at me again, hesitant to give me the box.

I stretched my hand out toward her, with another dark glance she handed the box to me. My hand tingled, shooting an electrical current up my arm to my elbow. I winced, she nodded and turned away as if I was no longer her concern. I turned the box over in my hand, ignoring the strange sensation as it had already begun to dissipate. The red foil circles against the dark background shimmered even in the dim light of the shop. I turned to ask her how much and discovered her, standing a few feet away with her dark eyes locked on me again.

My throat was dry but I managed to croak, "How much?"

She didn't answer at first, instead, she made a sweeping gesture with her hand toward the door, brushing me away? I refused to budge and she finally spoke, in a voice that was as smooth as butter.

"Go, the deck has chosen you."

I frowned, puzzled. Was she just giving me the old deck?  I started to speak again but
her gnarled hand was on my back, ushering me toward the door, and out onto the street. I was so taken back that I stood for a minute, still on the stoop. In that minute I heard the deadbolt click on the door behind me and when I turned to look, the Closed sign now hung in the window.

I never experienced the tingling again, when I had first looked at the dark images on the cards I felt at a loss to their meaning. Often, even without the little book of card meanings, I might intuitively read from a deck, creating my own sense of what they portray. But regardless of what the old woman in the shop had said, I did not feel connected to this deck and it had laid idle in my collection.

Now, on the floor, in my tiny room, as I caressed the box, I felt again the tingling sensation on my hands, traveling up my arm like a low-level electrical current. Not painful but odd, I let it travel through my arm, feeling a sense of purpose, intrigued, I opened the box to look closer at the images of The Dark World again.

I let the cards fall from the deck, helter-skelter, most landed face down, a couple landed with the images staring at me. I picked up both and gazed at the surface, expecting some big revelation. I found none. I took a closer look.

The background of one card was black, with a hulking shadow figure lurking behind a tree. He wasn't clearly visible because he was surrounded by blackness and the shadow was gray. Also obscuring him were wispy fog like tendrils encircling his massive head. One hand rested on the tree as he peered out of the darkness and the fingers, long and gnarled ended with sharp claws.

I set this card to the side and looked at the other card that had landed face up. The figure of a young woman stared back at me. She wore a long flowing gown of white, detailed with golden thread that sparkled like the sun. She stood against a backdrop of dark woods, her face calm and serene as she lifted one hand toward the sky. I started to set the card down then paused. Was that a bracelet on her outstretched wrist. I pulled the card closer to my eyes but even so, I couldn't really distinguish what wrapped around her wrist. There was a faint tint of red and a dark line but try as I might I really couldn't tell what it was.

Placing these two cards to the side I picked up the other cards, shifting them in my hand, and then shuffling slowly. Starting with the top card, I turned them over and placed them in rows of six, face up. There were three rows on six and a row of four. I placed the two cards I had examined earlier in the final row, making four rows of 6 or 24 total. It was a thin deck. Most decks consisted of between 32 and 56 cards. I let my mind drift back through the decks in my collection.

Starting with the first row I let my eyes drift across the cards, predominantly dark and foreboding, filled with images almost as dark as the backgrounds. Six cards appeared lighter. I picked them up and set them to the side, focusing on the darker images. Along with the figure lurking behind the tree, there were other dark creatures, snake-like, goat-like, and slithering spider types. Card decks were often based on myths, legends, and folklore. Searching in my brain for any commonalities among these creatures and other sources, I couldn't quite place them. They reminded me most of the ancient  Egyptian art, with half human half animal creatures. Mulling it over I realized I should probably do some research later on cultures with human-animal types.

I picked up the six lighter toned cards. There was the woman I had examined earlier, an older, wrinkled grandmother type, a man in dark garb, another older woman weaving something, and two men both similar in dress, sketched in black ink against a red background. So odd. Usually, decks included characters of similar time periods but these cards seemed to cross generations as well as cultures. I put all the cards back together and shuffled them three times.

I slowly placed three cards facedown on the floor in front of me, using the Past Present and Future spread. I turned over the Past card. I was the wrinkled old grandmother. On the surface, the grandmother certainly represented the past. I looked closely at the card. Her dress was almost pioneer-like, longer with sturdy shoes and an apron. She appeared to be walking along a dusty path surrounded by trees that cast their shadows across her face.

I flipped over the center card, the Present, and the odd lurking figure behind a tree greeted me. For the first time, I noticed that his eyes glinted red in the darkness of the card. I shivered, with the odd sensation that I knew this creature. Although I had not gotten a clear read on the first card it was obvious that this card clearly represented danger. I reached out to straighten the card and as my fingers brushed it a shock shot through them, up my arm past my wrist. I pulled my hand back quickly then reached to turn over card number three.

The Future card was the woman with the white and gold gown, hand outstretched to the sky. The gold shimmered as I looked at the card. The energy from the card, vibrating, visible hovering over the image. Who was this woman and what did she tell of the future?  I shook my head and laughed, realizing that I had been lulled into the world of the cards.

I looked again at each of the three cards, trying to blend their messages together. The past card creates the foundation for the present, what is, emotional reactions currently, suggestions for handling the present. The past, try as we might, always influences the present, for the good or the bad. The future is never predetermined. The future card simply foretells what lies in wait, should we continue on the course we are taking. The idea is that by understanding the past and the present we can chart a more trustworthy and positive outcome for the future.

Scooping the cards up, placing them in the box, I realized the deck might be more than it appeared. Sometimes people create decks to tell a story, to release their own personal demons or desires. What had the author hoped for with this creation? I knew without looking that the box lacked an author or publishers name. I had looked when I first came by the deck. That, in itself, suggested that the deck was a more personal creation than mass produced decks are.

Standing, my feet tingling, I noticed the sun bright against the curtain. What time was it? Glancing at the clock, my stomach rumbled, confirming what the clock flashed. It was past 11:00. I had been lost in my examination of the cards for several hours. I hobbled to the chair by the window, sitting to let my poor feet recover some normalcy. The sunlight touched my arm, creating another tingling sensation.

The warm sun left me nodding with drowsiness and before long I drifted off. The dreams grabbed me quickly, kicking me along the dream path like a stone skipped on a smooth lake. They were disjointed and alternated between terrifying and comforting. The cards came to life in my dream world but even so their meanings remained foggy.

Suddenly I was awakened from my fitful slumber by a pounding at my door, stumping over to it, groggy from my nap, the door opened to find Kane impatiently shifting from foot to foot. Self consciously running a hand through my jumbled hair. I felt a tingling in the pit of my stomach, which had nothing to do with the cards, as I looked into his dark eyes. Longing to pull him toward me and melt in his arms instead I stepped aside and let him into the room.

"Something weird happened last night," he said in a voice still husky with sleep. I got the impression that he had been up most the night and hadn't been awake long.

"Another death?"

He rubbed a hand across his handsome face and shook his head.

"No, no, at least not that I know of. I patrolled the bars last night in search of this beast."

I held my breath and waited for more.

He signed and continued. "I didn't find him, well maybe I did but I didn't approach, I was alone..."

He stopped looking at me with chagrin and I immediately jumped in

"Well of course not, really you shouldn't have even been out there alone, tell me what you saw."

We sat on the edge of the bed and he told me about the night patrol, the seedy bars, the alley and the cats. I swear after all he had seen in his life, his eyes teared up about those damn cats. He took a deep breath and paused for a minute.

"So you think he was hunting the cats or they were just panic by him?"

He turned, his black eyes piercing mine.

"I don't think the cats were what he set out to hunt but for whatever reason, luck, fate?  They were all he ended up with. Those cats..." 

And I realized he would be haunted by those cats the rest of his life. I tried to imagine the pathetic little furs balls scattered in the night, confused by this new element of the night that they could neither understand or beat, realizing somewhere inside that it was this that affected him. The sense of hopelessness, the feeling of smallness compared to a larger evil slithered into his soul, both creating doubt and fear.

I reached out my hand to his and we sat for a bit, hands clasped, thinking about what we faced. After a few minutes, he suggested that we go to the alley where he had sensed the being. He thought we might find some clue or at the very least get a feel for the thinking of this unknown enemy we faced.

It took only a couple minutes to splash water on my face and run a brush through my hair. We grabbed a coffee from the shop below and it was hot and dark, strong coffee that had set awhile in the pot but we still gulped it as we climbed into the truck. We needed the caffeine and the warmth of the cups helped take away a bit of the chill that had crept into us.

Now we stood in the alley, looking intently at the cobblestones, potholes, and trash, an old newspaper, a cup, broken bottles and greasy wrappers from burgers, littered the small area. The air swirled with scents, grease, mold, urine, and some other scent. It was faint, lingering on the breeze both distinct and foreign. I recognized it immediately from the night at the church. At first, I didn't mention it because it confirmed that the creature had been here and I didn't want Kane beating himself up over not charging into a dark alley alone, but then he asked...

"Do you smell him?"

He was at the front of the alley next to the street while I was farther back next to the dumpster where the stench of the creature was strong enough to taste. It slid into my throat choking me and I wished for that strong black coffee again, no matter how horrid it was. I couldn't even answer I just nodded.
Hanging my head I looked at the littered ground around the dumpster, something caught my eye. I motioned for Kane.

Nestled against the back wheel of the dumpster, was a small black bead, small but larger than the red one on the bracelet that I had wrapped around my left wrist before we left the room. The shadowed sunlight caught its ebony surface, creating a shimmer. We didn't touch it, simply stood and looked at it. Kane picked up a stick and rolled the bead away from the wheel, into the brighter afternoon sunlight. As he did so the bead seemed to shrink before our eyes, growing only slightly smaller, but still obvious. I poked it with the stick, nothing. I rolled it around in the dust, nothing. Now it seemed about equal in size to the bead on my wrist.

As I compared the two, the red been felt warmer on my wrist and it too shimmered in the bright sunlight. In fact, it shimmered so much that it appeared to glow with a light. I nudged Kane and nodded my head toward my wrist.

Whispering, he asked, "Does it hurt?" I shook my head no, not sure why we were whispering, here alone in an old alley filled with light. We both watched the bead, as I reached closer to the black bead on the ground the red bead glowed brighter, warming even more against my skin. When I pulled away, the light was still visible but it was muted.

Puzzled I noticed Kane searching the alley, stopping to pick up something. It was a small tin can. He placed the can on the ground next to the black bead, using the stick he rolled the bead into the can. Peering into the can, the black bead was slightly larger again, fed by the darkness.

"What are you doing?" I asked my voice quivering slightly. I didn't like the black bead, it made me uncomfortable and edgy.

"We are collecting evidence. I want to run some tests on this and experiments," he said while heading toward the truck.

I was horrified. I didn't want to be anywhere near that bead. He reached the sidewalk and turned to say something, only to discover I was still rooted to my spot next to the dumpster. Frowning, he motioned with his hand, waving me toward him. I complied, even though I didn't want to, but I didn't want to be left in this alley reeking of the scent of the beast either.

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