Suzi?

‘Adrienne. The cards, my dear.’

What  are you doing here?

‘For who?’

And what’s that you’re holding?

‘For him who lies so close, inside of near, who can, by more than proxy, fix the deck. Shuffle, my dark one.’

I’m holding the cards, but I have no sensation of them in my hands.

No, don’t show me!

The Fool

‘The Fool. This is a precarious man balanced on a choice. He dreams the great dreams. He builds in the air, thus his stepping stones will not support him. The wine he drinks of you may set his wits adrift… yet water, tumbling down, is stronger still. Oracle-embryonic, take heed The Brink. Truth, and truth alone, can break your fall.’

I recognize that box. Keep it closed. Take it away.

She stares right through me as if I’m transparent, as if she’s seeing someone else behind. I turn to look; the darkness has no depth; if I dared to reach my hand I could almost touch its end.

It’s past. You’re past. We’re past. I’ve learned the things you ridiculed. I’m at the very threshold you once dismissed.

I turn back; the first card is covered by a second.

Queen of Swords

‘Queen of Swords, Adrienne. She strops her blade on bitterness. One thrust and the seed of guilt is planted deeply… like a fatal bubble of air underneath the skin… wending, sight unseen, to her target’s heart.’

I know this dimension; I passed through it… with you. A long, long time ago. How you've pulled me back, I don’t want to guess. You must be getting help; I sense a power stronger than yours.

The light is changing. The table top now is aglow with many colors. I look up past the Gypsy Woman’s face to a stained glass window hanging there above her, then back to the table where the image of a man—praying—lies across the Queen’s card. He looks so real I can almost see him breathing. He looks familiar, too, like I’ve known him in the past. Or will in the future?

Four of Swords

‘He rests. He prays for light. He must restore his balance before the past is overcome.’

No, Suzi. I won’t play this game. Whatever you’ve brought to show me can't do any good. Not here. Not now. Not ever.

The window is gone but there’s another light. Dimmer. Colorless. There are cups in the next card’s foreground, and, walking away, there’s a man. Maybe the same one? It’s too dark to tell.

Eight of Cups

‘Restlessness ensues. He wanders. Hollow joys are left behind for vague alternatives (less and less substantial). Beware addiction to vagrancy. Its drug pretends to unlock doors down untold corridors—corridors festooned with cast-off keys.’

It isn’t right that you’ve come back. I’ve grown… matured… gained insight. You see? Look here; I’ve even sprouted wings.

It is the same man; I’m sure of it. This new card shows him sitting under a tree. There are three of the same kind of cups in front of him, with a fourth being offered by a hand, sticking out from a cloud.

Four of Cups

‘His eyes grow weary of form masquerading as substance. But will true substance be, by him, perceived? Especially if it comes in an oft-rejected guise?’

That won’t work anymore. Cover yourself.  I’m well beyond those cravings; can't you see?

She's polishing the next card on her sleeve. She lays it down. It's blank. I lean over to look more closely. It's a mirror. My eyes are green, in the reflection; my hair's not black but auburn. Otherwise, we're identical—Adrienne and this glass-reflected me.

The World

‘If he braves your tender portal to share his troubled seed, his tide may turn.’

Her lips didn’t move; I watched them from inside the mirror. This is suddenly all familiar. This is that dream I couldn’t remember—or one very much like it. I can see them sitting across from each other—the Gypsy and my look-alike—at a cloth-covered table full of coffee stains and strange, hand-painted cards… laid out in a cross pattern. The furthest card to the right shows a man and a woman, each holding a golden cup. I feel an odd sensation welling up inside. I stare at the card. In a blink, I’m standing face to face with the man. My senses feel on fire. I ‘taste’ a flavor that ‘smells’ like a blood-red rose. Somehow, gazing into this man’s deep blue eyes, I know we’ll soon be lovers… Or maybe not.

Two of Cups

You’ve paralyzed me. How? I can’t move my feet!

I can’t see his eyes anymore; they’re masked. Our cups have turned to swords. He holds them in his crossed hands—she holds them, rather. I don’t understand.

Two of Swords

I’m back in the wicker chair watching another card being turned and placed above the blindfolded woman’s. The new one shows a skeleton, in armor, riding a pure-white horse.

Death

‘Circles breathe. Lines that will not bend, alas, expire. Change; all circumstance changes. The seasons know. White rose in hand, your love advances upon the Towers.’

Listen to me, Suzi. This has gone on long enough. These tricks of yours—if they are yours—will not work.

I see more cups. It’s hard to count them; seven I think. They keep fading in and out of focus—with weird stuff inside. I hear her voice again… so strange… so strange.

Seven of Cups

‘Enraptured by his own illusions, he dreams the Juggler’s Dream… his footing grown more treacherous… vertigo impending.’

Suzi, let go! You’re not well. I’m sorry; I should have helped. I didn’t fully realize… but, please, turn me loose.

My hands! What has she done to my hands? Suddenly they’re all crisscrossed with burnt sienna lines—numbers, words, tiny symbols written in the spaces between—like hers.

‘Pay attention, Adrienne. Never mind the ciphers; they will not last. Nothing lasts, my dear—though ignorance of this man’s fate may leave its mark for a lifetime. Look. Look here.’

The Moon

She’s put another card down—the last, I suspect—placed it across my palm. I’m afraid to look at it. I refuse. I shut my eyes. I hear howling sounds, like hounds way off in the distance… baying at a full moon. I also hear her voice—actually feel it—chanting very close, right inside my ear.

‘Will illumine to mind then lie?

Or eye rebel and see?

Will light, on darkness, trespass?

Will light, on darkness, trespass?’

No, I won’t look. Take it away.

‘Will body yield to coarse desire?

Or fire refine the key?

Will light, on darkness, trespass?

Will light, on darkness, trespass?’

Suzi, I’ll wake up!

‘Will spirit fold its wings and die?

Or, by the truth, be freed?

Will light, on darkness, trespass?

Will light, on darkness, trespass?’

*

*

As Simon violently flinched, Brandy jerked awake, struggling to maneuver in the sleeping bag's cramped confines, trying to see whose gasping breath had annihilated sleep, recognizing Simon in the dim light, his eyes so tightly clenched he seemed in pain.

"Simon, what’s wrong? Hey; wake up."

She managed to free her hands and shake him by the shoulders.

"Simon!"

As if spring-loaded, his lids shot open. For one horrified moment he saw nothing but the appalling after-image of an open shoe box, its gruesome contents bullying his disbelieving sight; then, mercifully, it dissipated.

Brandy?

He had almost spoken her name aloud.

Like a nightmare-haunted child, he hid his face in Brandy’s pliant bosom.

*

*

When Simon next...

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