Tarot

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
A boy with a unique gift is plagued by disturbing visions. (Gasp, so original, just read it)

Submitted: January 03, 2014

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Submitted: January 03, 2014

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Tarot

by T.K. Reeves

  A baby wailed across the subway car. The mother, right in front of me, her plastic torture chair a chipping yellow, mine a vibrant pink, wrestled with the toddler as it's screaming continued.

She was definitely young, barely older than myself, I guessed, judging from her small frame and bag full of textbooks. And the waves of bitter taste wafting from her skin. Not to mention the skittering tickles of nervous electircity filling the train‘s cabin. Her face was a mask of anxiousness, eyes darting around between murmurs, like a deer waiting for the cougar. 

Yeah, definitely young, and definitely uncomfortable.

“Shhh” she begged, the static buzzing in the air like a swarm of wasps.

The baby’s cries echoed inside the car, the three of us its only prisoners. 

My head throbbed.

Just like it always did in situations like this.

Every.

Single.

Time.

With a sigh, I brought out my sketchbook from my bag, and took out my pen. Slowly I closed my eyes, sending myself into darkness. Darkness with the screaming. Like a torture chamber; a rattling, iron dungeon deep under the city, that smelled faintly of sweat and piss. 

I took in a deep breath, centering myself, ignoring the throbbing in my head. For a second, the air around me muffled, then there was a click, mentally, in the back of my head. My hand moved, pen met paper, ink flowed in controlled streams of black.

I didn’t know what I was drawing.

I never knew.

Until I felt I was finished.

As I drew, eyes closed, hand moving without a hitch, I began to see colors, the colors flooded my vision, right on que.

A field of blue surrounded me, like a faint mist, and in front of me danced a vaporous mass of grey; the mother and screaming child. With an exhale I pushed at the blue, and a cerulean tendril slithered over, probing into the swarm of grey. It always reminded me of watching a drop ink spread and mingle in a glass of water.

My hand kept moving, more slowly now. Eyes still closed, I finished the final touches of whatever drawing I was doing. And as I finished each line, the baby slowly quieted, the blue tendrils retreating back to the mist around me.

Suddenly my eyes shot open, another mental click going through my brain.

The baby was quiet, finally, and the mother was crying, quietly thankful.

I looked down at my sketchbook.

A baby, the real one wrapped in its mother’s arms not five feet from me, was asleep on the page, an exact rendering, with cartoonish z’s floating above its head. Ok. So it wasn't a perfect image, but it was damn near close enough.

The girl looked up, teary eyes meeting mine, and gave me a small smile. It was weak and merely obligatory; the one you give strangers when you accidentally make eye contact, which, of course, is what she did.

I smiled back, putting no real emotion into it, and closed my sketchbook before she could see the drawing. 

They never knew, never noticed.

I wanted to keep it that way.

The only other person to see my drawings was Sinead, and even though this girl resembled her, she was not my friend.

A sensation of piercing thorns in the back of my brain told me that we were no longer alone, the baby, the mother, and I. Thankfully, I was the only one who noticed. The flickering lights of the subway showed the figure, sitting in the seat next to me. I saw it, whatever it was, next to my reflection, in the window behind the girl’s head. 

I didn’t know what it was, but it was often there, after my little episodes. More often than not in fact, and I usually could only see it in reflections or shadows. It didn't always appear. Sometimes, when I was actually hoping it would, the thing never showed its face. Was I going crazy? Probably. But one thing was certain. The smell. Turpentine and mold. Every time it appeared, that stench filled my lungs, and that very stench choked me then. 

Not only could I see it in the inky black glass,but I could also feel it, warm and empowering at my shoulder. I likened it to someone was being nosey over my back. The feeling was worse than that “someone’s watching” pins and needles, more like a sensation of warming violation, making me slightly nauseas and clammy. I hated it. My head throbbed, its invisible appearance forcing down with vice grips on my mind.

Whatever it was, it didn’t look like anything that existed in this world. The intrusive thing was more like something in my comics, especially the horror ones. I took my sketchbook back out and opened it. I needed a distraction, a distraction from this thing, and my pounding head, and the urge to vomit.

“How old is he?” I asked the mother, breaking the rattling silence of the subway, my hand drawing a small, round head and slim body, proportions unnaturally elongated but the form basically humanoid.I was hoping the sound of my voice would steer my thoughts away from the creature, and I'd look like a stranger making small talk while I sketched. Not a lunatic trying to avoid acknowledging the massive invisible beast in the subway.

“Oh….. well just under four moths…. four months tomorrow,” she answered, shifting the baby, eyes darting at me, awkwardly.In that moment, she really resembled Sinead.

“What’s his name?” I asked, eyes darting up, fast enough to make her think I was looking at her instead of stealing a glance at the creature sitting next to me. Yeah, it was still there, silent and still and stinking. I drew slanted, sunken eyes, a conical shaped head, razor sharp cheek bones, and a lipless mouth, reminiscent of a shark, with black, metallic looking teeth. 

“Benji… his name is Benji,” she answered nervously, slightly leaning forward. 

 Looking at what I was drawing.

“ You do that..um, very well,” she said, more out of politeness than actual interest I’m sure. Her eyes grew after seeing the horror I was sketching; sharp shoulders, quills rising from the collar bones, and running down a protruding spine, long, translucent, insectoid wings quivering from either shoulder blade. 

I could almost feel her growing wariness of me. I could almost see her thoughts. (Although, that, thankfully, isn't one of my skills) She was thinking I was a strange, obviously homeless young man, drawing nightmarish creatures in a ratty subway in the early hours of the morning, inquiring about her small child. And, she was right, sorta. She looked as if she was about to leap from her seat at any moment.

“Thanks, its something I was born with I guess,” I said, meaning not just the drawing.

The train began to slow, breaks squealing, tormented voices in a dirge of agony, and I finished up my sketch. I finished the creature by adding emaciated ribs on the chest, with small, sagging breasts, and added the age spots on the weathered, slimy looking skin. 

“This your stop?” I asked the girl, answer obvious as she hastily gathered her things with her one free arm, and stood. The thing sitting next to me cocked its head to the side and watched her, a bird watching a worm with large whiteless, black orbs for eyes.

“Um, yeah,” she said awkwardly, and all but ran to the opening doors, the babe still silent and sleeping in her arms. 

“You’re welcome..” I muttered bitterly after her.

So I was alone in the train.

Me and the beast.

And the impending need to vomit.

The lights flickered twice, the creature glitching out each time, and suddenly was just gone.

Leaving only my name in the air, in a voice as husky and raw as sand, haunting my ears for the rest of my subway ride.

“Bo…..”

 

~

 

I couldn’t get the mother and child out of my mind as I found my usual spot on the alley street. It was MY spot, one not too close to the dumpster but far enough away from the doors of the surrounding stores that I couldn’t be charged with soliciting. There was something about the unluckily young mother that stuck with me, but I couldn’t say what exactly it was. Maybe it was because she was so young, like my long dead mother. Or maybe it was because I could remember screaming like that child, my seemingly unjustified outburst of emotion making sense only to me.

Most people can’t remember their births, and by most, I’m pretty sure it’s all, but it's one thing in my life that I remember most vividly…

I remember the red blood and someone screaming, an assault of smells and sounds on my sensitive, fresh nose and ears, my first tastes of the world the stale rot of the alley.

I remember the cold feel of a concrete street, the roughness of the man-made stone hashing my vulnerable infant skin.

Mom, a sickly thin, skeleton of a woman, full of drugs and disease, screamed as I fell from her body, a waterfall of blood and water-like fluid, mingling with the filth of the alley floor.

Me, a wet plop on the ground.

I remember struggling at a new action, one I wasn't accustomed too. I opened my mouth, involuntarily, trying to suck in  the cold odor tinged air into my throat. 

I knew I had to do this spontaneous movement to live, but couldn’t seem to manage it. My body felt the air around me, the rough texture where I laid.

I was struggling, gasping, squirming, choking. But there was pressure on my face, a wet, dead pressure, and I couldn’t get down the air, and couldn’t scream, couldn’t breathe.

There I was, seconds old, dying in the fluids of my birth.

Instead of my newborn cries, the alley filled with my mother’s horrified wails. 

The very alley that I stood in, setting up my table, in a future years away, echoed with the memories that haunted me, all too often.

If I tried, I could still hear her.

She scooped me up, still screaming, and yanked the wet pressure from my face, peeling it back from my skin.

The cold air drenched my throat, like water, going straight down into my lungs, flooding and stinging my chest. I heard a new sound, a sharp, shrill cry, my cries, followed by a sickly moist thud and my mother’s relieved sigh, almost the chirp of a wounded animal.

Her new, scrawny baby boy was all right, thin and knobby, but alright.

As she held me to her chest, my mouth searched for her breasts, and the nourishment my instincts told me they held. I found a tough nipple, drawing the sweet nectar into my empty stomach, hushing my crying, as my mother held me. Her hands and her infant were covered in blood, slime, and dirt, both shivering with sobs of relief and a new found terror.

My mother began to cry, horrid, heavy tears, and the shadows flickered behind her, the creature stepping out, smiling down on us.

I shook the memory back into the cryptic vaults of my head, pressing it down, back into the shadows it came from, one finger tracing my cheek were the amniotic sac had been, the other hand taking out a moth-eaten table cloth from my bag. I hid my small, rickety table behind the rusted dumpster, and hoped every day that it wouldn’t get thrown out, so far, it hadn't. That hope seemed to be working, just as it had for the past five years, since I was fourteen and started this whole thing.

I took the table out, dusted off the dirt, set it up, and threw out the cloth, unfurling it over the tabletop. As it slowly descended, like a specter on a grave, a flicker of movement caught my attention. I turned, eyes searching deep in the alley behind my booth, where the brick and shit were ruled by shadow, and cloaked in darkness. Silently, I watched, hand going to my pocket, prepared to use my small pocket knife like a sword. 

A can hit the cement, and rolled mechanically out of the shadow. I took out my knife, extended the grimy blade, keeping my hand low, so that it was still hidden. I winced slightly as the click of the blade sliced through the silence.

Occasionally, I’d have to fend of the hungry hobo who wholed up in the alley for shelter or food, or even the local neighborhood dickhead to protect Sinead and the other kids. They usually didn’t put up a fight at all, one look at the knife, one look at the crazy kid holding it, and they just mumble a few curses, then scamper away, like the rats humanity thought they were. So, I kept the knife on me at all times. Better to be safe than sorry.

At least, that's why I told myself I kept it.

It was an eat or be eaten world on the streets.

I was ready for a fight.

When nothing came out of the alley, and another can fell, I began to feel a tightening in my chest, preparing for something more hostile than the average hungry hobo.

“Who’s there?”  I asked, loudly, my voice defensive, almost arrogant.

I’d heard stories of homeless people being killed in the alleys and left to rot, kidneys gone, and beginning to stink. Stories of kids and women being lured into dark back places to be raped and slaughtered.

Now, I didn’t know how true those stories were, but I knew that some people were definitely that fucked up.

My chest tightened again.

Something not so deep, but definitely dark in my soul loved the adrenaline that began to leak out into my system. 

“Come on, either grow some balls and get out here, or go the hell away.” My stomach tightened again, nervous excitement attacking my nerves like ants on a dropped peice of food, sending my body into nervous, wonderfully excited shivers.

What would it be? 

A knife? 

A gun? 

A chainsaw?

Maybe something more sick and twisted, more creative, like a strand of barbed wire to strangle a helpless victim. 

The image instantly took over my imagination, and my fingers itched to draw it: a massive, burly figure with a torn coat, blood stained hands wringing the teeth of the wire in and out of bony knuckles.

The figure in the shadows of my imagination took a step towards me..

Leaving the darkness of the alley….

Eyes glinting with insane hunger..

Inching closer…

A small, sickly black cat stepped forward, eyes darkly gleaming. It was staring at me, boring into my brain, and shattering the image my imagination conjured up. My stomach sank in slight disappointment and even slighter relief. I switched the blade of the knife back into place and slipped it back into my pocket. The cat didn’t move at the sharp sound, didn’t start at my movement, only sat there, obsidian eyes watching me. 

“Don’t look at me like that,” I said, staring at the grotesquely thin feline. “ Does it look like I have any damn food?” 

Before I turned back to my work, the cat cocked its head, suddenly to the side, taking one last look. Then silently, it slithered away, out of the alley and melted into the crowded street, disappearing from view.

My stomach dropped again, and a nauseated recognition hit my brain. The way the cat sat there, staring, and cocked its head to the side tickled my recognition, unleashing a sick sense of déjà vu.

After struggling, in vain, to remember, I shook off the sensation, and returned to setting up my makeshift booth.

 

~

 

Business was always slow. Except around Halloween, when people believed in what I did. I know they all thought that somehow, the cards in my hand summoned ghosts, or spirits of the damned, or whatever other bullshit TV and superstition had ingrained in the collective conscious of the population.

I wasn’t sure that all that bullshit was all entirely true, but I knew it wasn’t entirely false either. In truth, I didn’t know how exactly these little tricks worked, and honestly, didn’t really give a rat’s ass.

My only concern was just that the people who came to see me got the answers they were seeking, and, more importantly, left money in the tarnished tin can to my left; my own bank account, personal and without fees or regulations.

Most people were in a state of emotional wreckage, and extremely desperate by the time they came to me. They came making a blind, almost faithless, attempt at answers, probably after not finding them in their abundance of self-help books and empowerment seminar. Those things were good for nothing more than filling their heads with “yes you can” and “get what you want,” which of course, was promised with “just four easy payments of nineteen ninety-five!”

Me?

I was just a orphan on the streets with a deck of personally illustrated cards that gave answers and told truths.

It was cheap, and came from the “all knowing spirits.” So, surely, this dark, disturbed artistic street rat had at least a small chance of getting it right. Right?

Like I said, they were mostly either extremely desperate, or extremely drunk, and more often than not, both.

The woman sitting in front of me was neither, however.

The swirling light around her showed that she was forcing herself to be calm, the tinges of color the only sign she was worried. Deeply worried. Past the point of freaking out, and receding into a deep cave of calm destruction.

It all danced around her head. Her big, black hat, reflected in her pitch black aviators. Complete in an tight black dress, she looked like a slightly colored inking from a graphic novel, a modern damsel in distress, perfectly captured on the background of the gritty alley.

And after what she said, I knew that my mental illustration was correct.

“I need to know if my husband is cheating on me.” 

One question.

That’s all she asked, her heavy red lips only parting for that one request, then remaining shut.

I could feel her eyes piercing mine from behind those shades, searching, silently pleading, praying that I could answer. I knew she didn’t care what answer I gave, a yes or a no. All she wanted was closure. I didn’t matter if it was a door back to her heavenly dream, or a creaking gate to a dark nightmare.

She just wanted to know.

After a few minutes of silence, just to make sure there was no other question, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath in and mentally relaxed.

I let the smells of the alley fill my lungs.

It stung, and stank, but it was calming, familiar. 

My hands slowly moved, finding my deck of cards, cards that I myself drew and painted. With my eyes closed, darkness around me, I could feel them vibrating, every so slightly. It was more like the sound of insect wings then a actual physical movement. They were a swimming mass of color in the dark, a squirming rainbow of maggots on the rickety table, full of emotion, energy, and knowledge. 

I turned into a marionette, my hand moving on invisible strings to my talent.

I lifted the cards, thrumming against my skin, burning colors in my hands.

I inhaled, deeply.

I exhaled, skin tingling, eyes glued shut.

I cut the cards, slicing the sunburst hues in my grasp, folding them, in and out, shuffling the rainbow.

They whispered, the cards, voices in blue, red, purple, green, orange, singing their arcane song. 

Her question stained my mind, and I concentrated on it.

I need to know…

The cards grew cold and heavy, their paper bodies feeling as if they were made of stone; icy stone from a graveyard in winter. 

“… if my husband is cheating on me..”

The colors started to dim, fading to gray light.

Slowly, the voices growing louder, a buzzing of chatter in an untranslatable language. 

The song crescendoed..

Louder..

LOUDER.

The cards sank, heavier and heavier, in my hand, until finally, in an explosion of song and numbing cold, everything stopped.

My hands.

The color.

The noise.

All of it.

Ceased.

I let out a breath, and, eyes still closed, turned over my answer.

A gasp told me that the lady, whoever the hell she was, recognized the card I drew. She more than likely didn’t know what it meant, but recognized it nonetheless.

And in fact, that was expected.

It was kind of a universal symbol.

On the flat surface of the card, a figure rode on a sickly, damned steed, a horse as pale as snow, and as thin as bones was rendered in scratchy ink, and blotted paint. Its rider, a boney frame, was hooded, cloaked, hunched, and frail under the midnight fabric. In one hand of the rider, was a moth, emerging from a cocoon, in the other, as scythe dripping red acrylic blood.

Yeah, it was a universal symbol, one that scared the shit out of most people, and extremely cliché. 

Death.

Bile rose in my stomach.

Ok, I may have been part of that "most people." 

“What does it mean?” she said, placing her obviously expensive purse on the disgusting alley floor, and leaned into me, eyes locked on the cards.

I felt another presence leaning in, over my right shoulder.

And was completely unsurprised at the waft of turpentine and mold that followed.

The conical, skeletal head was leaning over my right shoulder about five feet above me, spines shuddering and translucent wings shivering in waiting, just as real as the woman in front of me, and as eerily silent.

Two appearances in one day wasn’t common, but also wasn’t a first, so I pushed the thought down, or at least tried.

Something else stirred, like a rotted serpent in my abdomen, and my instinct kicked in.

This wasn’t right.

The monster showing up again.

This reading.

This card.

It all unnerved me, all of it spilling together like random strokes of paint to form an unwanted, sickening painting.

My readings were never wrong, but this card was definitely the wrong answer to this woman’s question. It wasn’t what I expected, and was what my gut told me wasn’t true for her. I wanted to vomit with the feeling that enclosed my body, like a demon’s hand squeezing my bowels.

“Is… is… he going to die?”

A natural question, one expected from the ignorant when it comes to stuff like this. 

The answer?

No, he wasn’t going to die.

Well, more than likely wasn’t.

Probably wasn’t.

Death in the deck showed a need for a life altering change, usually, a metaphorical death, like the killing of a habit, or the separation from a certain group of people. Sometimes this change was immensely difficult, and was emotionally tolling, just like physical death, but very seldom was the loss of a life foretold by this card.

So seldom, it never happened.

Well, I thought it never happened.

Even still, it didn’t feel quite right, a horrible energy, like the pedophile in a room full of parents and their children.

It just felt…wrong.

Now, the question was, do I tell her what I knew she wanted to hear, and get paid, hopefully?

Or tell her the truth?

That I didn’t know why I had drawn this card, and not eat tonight? 

She looked at me then, with her eyes, shades discarded sometime during my inward thoughts.

Her eyes told me what to do, pleading like the full moon above us, wanting the knowledge of the dead souls below, and my own sweet selfishness agreed.

“No,” I answered finally, forcing arrogant confidence in my voice, seeing her relax just a bit.

“He isn’t going to die, no one is. What it means is that, to help yourself, to fix what’s wrong, which is what you actually want to know, is that you need to come to a change.”

She looked puzzled at this, so part in pity and part in frustration at her ignorance, I hurried on.

“This is going to be a hard decision, one that changes your life, so it is, in a sense, the death of a part of your life. Be it just flat out asking him for the truth, leaving him, or staying with him and forever being plagued by the unasked question burning inside you? Its up to you. But that’s what has to be done. So choose wisely, be careful what you wish for, all that shit, but just do it. Got that?”

She sits there, quietly staring at me, eyes beading with tears. I sit, staring down at the card, and feeling her gaze burying into my soul.

She never has to know that this is the  most generic meaning of Death, and not the one she was specifically looking for.

She will do just what all the others do, and read whatever the hell they want too into it, tell themselves anything to comfort themselves.

It was no concern or mine what they did with the information, and frankly I didn’t care.

I was just the messenger, so sue me.

Her eyes fell, and she took a breath, shaking, digesting what I'd said. The monster silently stepped over us and the small table to stop behind her, moving like a soundless, elegant corpse in the fading sunlight of the alley. Its black eyes looked down at the card on the table, and its wings stopped twitching.. Waiting for God only knows what.

“I… I know that…Deep down, I know that it’s the right thing to do..” she whispered to no one but herself.

Just like I said, automatically accepting the information, and molding it, like clay, to her situation.

She was thinking out loud, working through this whole shit of a mess that her life now was. I sat, silent, but with growing irritation, and waited for her to be done.

What she did next surprised me almost just as much as much as Death showing its face on this card.

She slowly rose, opened her purse, pulled out a bill, and placed it in my can.

“Thank you, dear. Thank you.”

The monster stepped out of her path, cocked its head to the side, and disappeared in the breeze, a scent of flowers and herbs following her.

My fingers reached into the can, and pulled out the hundred dollar bill she left for me.

 

 

Thunder rolled in the sky, a dark blanket of clouds swallowing the fattening moon. The woman was my last customer, and frankly, the only one that mattered, so I packed up my booth and hid my table back in its place behind the dumpster.

Light rain began to fall, thankfully after my cards were safely in their velvet bag. I made the bag from velvet I lifted from an old comforter I found in a dumpster a few years back, the same dumpster my jacket came from, my bag, and my extremely ratty and under sized converse, now held together with duct tape.

I was used to living off what I found and what I could save, used to mending with tape and string and staples. 

Even though it was rattled with the remnants of a feast of moths, I pulled my hood over my head, more for the sheer appearance of blocking the rain, than actually achieving it. 

I pulled out my ipod, looking at its remaining battery life.

Not much.

I’d have to stop by somewhere, somewhere with electricity, and charge it.

Most people looked at me funny when they saw the ipod, no doubt wondering how a person like me got it, and knowing the obvious answer. And they were right. I lifted it from a twenty year old jackass, last New Years, passed out drunk, ipod still booming.

I’d learned a long time ago to take my chances, especially when an easy outcome was presented to me.

Sinead would never let me live it down. Theiving from drunken fratards.

It was a eat or be eaten world on the streets, a point I learned a long time ago, and a way of live drilled into my brain.

I cranked up the ipod, a band called Disturbed wailing in my head. It seemed to fit the days course of events. Disturbing, tiring. 

I chewed on my bottom lip ring, thinking about the baby.

The mother.

The creature.

My mother.

Death. 

All of this was swimming and swirling in my mind like a whirlpool of darkness.

The creature had shown up twice in one day, twice.

That hardly ever happens.

And on top of it all, I drew the wrong card.

It wasn’t the one that woman needed. I knew it. I felt it. 

Worry took hold of me and I walked on harder, head down, music blaring, the world around me lost in my thoughts and emotions.

Was I loosing my gift?

My touch?

My power?

I hoped not.

Maybe this was just a one time thing, I couldn’t be right on all the time… right? No one is perfect..

But, I had never been wrong before, never got a unnecessary card.

This was my talent, my life, my existence. I couldn’t be losing it.

Suddenly I felt like a fish out of water, struggling for breath like I was the day I was born in the alley, and just as helpless.

I turned to take a step out onto the street.

A hand clamped on my shoulder, and tore me backwards, ripping my ear buds from my head, shattering my illusion of seclusion, and hurling me back into reality. The screeching breaks and glaring headlights showed a car, angrily driving by, through the space that I just occupied.And standing over me was a familiar, dirty, freckled face, with curly, blood red hair.

“Sinead… um… thanks..” I said, taking the girls cold hand and, with her help, hoisting myself from the damp sidewalk. 

“No problem, Bo,” she said, bending down briskly and snatching my ipod from the ground, before it could be ruined by the rain. “You shouldn’t shut yourself out completely like that. Next time I may not be here.” She giggled, plucked my nose playfully, after slipping my ipod into my pants pocket, and scampered away, knowing that after my cloud of irritation dissipated, I’d follow. 

I could never be mad a Sinead for long. She was like the little sister I never had, and I treated her as such. She was the first kid to speak to me, to simply be civil, when I claimed a spot in the underground subway system we called home.

Like me, she had been born on the streets, and like me, she worked and, once in a very rare blue moon, stole for a living, a blue moon that came a lot more often these days. Her homemade brews and “magic potions” provided enough money from the ignorant, desperate, and drunk, so that she hardly had to steal anything. But when she did, she hit the jackpot, every time, and never seemed to get caught. Actually, it was quite odd. Unnerving even. And from what she told me, this was tested more and more these days. People seemed to be losing interest in her herbs and charms, which meant she was bringing in even less cash.

Sinead was as silent as a cat, and just as cautious. And with her knitted shawl and peasant skirt, dirty Toms, and a mass of scarlet fire curls, she even looked the part of the homely good witch, and the waft of burning incense and rosemary that followed her didn’t do a thing but strengthen the persona. But maybe that’s all it was, just a mask.. I didn't like talking about my own abilities so I never bothered asking if other's had them.

“I was just about to stop in a café somewhere and charge up,” I said, wiggling my ipod in my hands. “Dinner? My treat.” I mumbled dryly, keeping the hundred dollar bill in my pocket, in attempt to prevent one of her “stealing isn’t right if you don’t have too” spiels. My mother died a long time ago, and I didn’t need Sinead stepping in as her shadow, an occurrence that happened all-too-fucking-often. And, knowing that I would, I didn’t want to bite her head off for annoying me, because with what was on my mind, I knew that’s exactly what would happen.

“Sure..” she said, looking at me suspiciously, but remaining silent, emerald eyes searching my face.

She knew.

She always knew.

It was a talent of hers, I was sure of it; knowing.

Silent and knowing. A deadly combination.

Thankfully, she didn’t start speaking until we had made it to a quiet Starbucks a few blocks down. It was almost ten, the sky still showing a gargantuan swollen mass of grey, threatening to rupture at any moment. This place was exactly what I needed, quiet and dry.

Well almost quiet.

“Spill it,” she said, as soon as we sat at a table in the corner, after making our order.

She didn’t even say anything, shockingly, when I handed the barista behind the counter a hundred dollar bill.

The barista, a kid that looked about our age, and also looked like he was trying to be a homeless kid too, according to his heavily overpriced dress and ratty hair. He simply took the money and gave me the appropriate change, quietly and mechanically.

Thank God for the simple things, and simple minded people.

“Spill what? What do you want?” I asked not so nicely, showing every ounce of my irritation as I plugged in my ipod. I knew I was stirring a sleeping volcano, no matter how naïve and innocent she looked. 

“Something is wrong, I can tell, Bo. You know I can tell. I feel it. I see it on your face. What‘s wrong?!” She said, interrupted by the hobo-wana-be calling out our drinks and snacks. When she returned and set our drinks and plates down it was like she never left, fiery hair burning, and eyes demanding an answer. She even cocked her head to the left and gave me that smart ass "tell me now" look.

“Its just a bad reading, Sinead." I said, taking a swig of my coffee and nearly spitting it out.

Maybe it was the situation, but the coffee tasted off, slightly nausiating.

I summed it up to me being annoyed at everything. 

"Doesn’t mean shit. That’s all your getting Sinead, now shut up and eat.”

It was rude, and bitter, and stinging, and I knew it. But I didn’t care.

I had too much on my mind to worry about what she thought, or to worry about her worrying about me, or to worry about hurting her feelings.

She would get over the hurt, and if not, well then, I’d crossed that bridge when I got there, and bring my own pack of matches.

 

~

 

That night, I couldn’t sleep. I felt sick and nightmares of my mom and the monster and Death kept haunting my mind, an infestation of subconscious roaches that bred to over population. So, after a hour or so of tossing and turning on my bed of discarded coats, I just got up, gathered my bag, patted a sleeping Sinead on the head, and walked up to the surface. 

The darkness of the tunnels and the ten or so minute walk up gave me time to think, and time for my mind to start its illustrations.

I imagined emaciated corpses rising and taking out cheating husbands.

And lower, city dwelling fearies stealing newborns in alleys.

Straight from puddles of blood and amniotic fluid. 

With crying crack-whore mothers crying in the corners. 

None of this scared me, instead, a sense of adventure and arrogance rose in my heart, daring my mind’s monsters to come to life, wishing they actually would. 

When I reached the surface, I sat there, on the platform to the trains, and cranked up my newly charged ipod. The change from the underworldly tunnels was severe.

Here, the light was sharp and mechanical, penetrating everything, whereas down in the depths, the darkness was all consuming. At least down there, I couldn't see the monsters lurking around, but up here, I couldn’t help but notice every detail.

In every speeding train and cracked surface, I saw hooded figures, and shining scythes. I shook my head fiercely, in an attempt to sling the nightmares away.

The feeling of wrongness still had not gone away, and in fact felt as if it was growing, rotting like an ulcer in my soul, slowly sucking me in from the inside out.

 I was never wrong!

Never!

I had no clue where the hell the answers came from, but I was never wrong.

So what the hell did this mean?

I could feel the frustration mingling with the sick feeling of wrongness, blood and vinegar, churning inside, threatening to spew out at any moment.

I reached in my bag, and took out the velvet pouch, stroking it with my thumbs as if it was made of gold.

Maybe this time I’d be right.

If not, then I’d try again, and again, desperately doing something to get it right, instead of just sitting there idly, wondering what the hell this was.

Surely it would be right this time.

Surely.

Right?

I took out the cards, throwing the bag to the side, like it was no more than the rags it was made from, then madly began shuffling, concentrating.

Eyes, closed, just as always, my hands moved, trembling so hard, they might fold the cards.

I didn’t care.

I just wanted to know what the fuck is going on. 

Why did I get that card?

Why?

I repeated the question in my mind, like a mantra.

Why?

The cards were a writhing mass of hot red and deep black, oozing color through my fingers. 

Why?

My hands grew cold, a filling, a growing, eating cold. 

The red and black began to mold together, slithering and twisting, an invisible demonic sculpture forming skeletal hands.

Vomit rose in my throat and I choked it down, head slowing, breath coming in blocked spurts, sweat pouring with fear from my pores.

My head and heart pounded in unison, screaming for escape from my body.

The ulcer inside grew to the max, swallowing my insides, as two burning eyes exploded in my consciousness.

WHY?

The mental slam in my head told me that I had an answer, and my eyes immediately shot open. 

I dropped the cards and retched, the wrongness matching the burning sensation of my guts coming from my mouth.

All the cards were the same.

All of them!

Scattered about me, on every single card! 

Cards that I myself had hand painted! 

On every one was a hooded figure riding a skeletal horse.

In one hand a scythe. In the other, a moth emerging from a cocoon.

Death.

I felt my brain kicking into overdrive on the empty subway platform. I felt the tightening of my chest and the weakness flooding my body.

I screamed, kicking the cards away, as black shadows emerged from the cracks in the tiled floors.

Monstrous sized moths fluttering around me, dripping shadows and blood, coming for me, filling my mind with whispers of psychological demons. 

I could hear their wings, feel them fluttering.

They were calling my name, telling me to come with them.

BO!

Telling me I was wrong.

BO!

I was never wrong! 

BO!!

Pain shot through my head, fueling the hellish vision.

In the midst of all the mental chaos, I saw a form emerge.

Small, lithe, sickly, the cat cocked its head to the side, watching my insanity attack. 

Waiting.

I seized my head and screamed, as the blackness swallowed me, mind, body, and soul.

 

~

 

“Kid. Kid! Get up! Now, you sonofubitch!” 

The voice was harsh, and threatening, and through the clearing cloudiness, I knew that whoever was talking to me wasn’t wanting to help, not that anyone ever did, so my mind, out of habbit, igonred it.

The smell of sweat and vomit filled my nose and the taste of acid took over my cracking mouth as my mind tried to disperse the fog of what had happened.

I was still on the platform, my cards still scattered around me.

With a start of realization, I shot up, much to fast, and while suppressing the urge to dry heave, I frantically gathered the cards. With a sigh of relief, and a twinge of embarrassment, I saw that they were all different again, just like I’d created them.

I didn’t have time to contemplate the relief before a booted foot kicked the cards from my hand, and the snapping in my fingers told me my hands were gone.

Gone. 

Useless.

Broken. 

Surprise and anger defeated the pain in my mind.

“You did it! You told HER TO LEAVE ME!”

The man, dressed in combat boots, dingy designer jeans, and an expensive black shirt, bore down on me, hands going for my neck, stomping my cards into the floor. I couldn’t see his face, only a heavily stubbled chin shrouded under the hood of a expensive leather jacket, but I could feel the burning anger of his eyes. Hatred penetrated my gaze.

His iron-grip hands took hold of my jacket and he lifted me off the ground, slamming my back to the wall, knocking my breath away. The glass shattering beneath me telling me that the subway map was ruined. 

Like my hand.

Like my talent. 

Like this man's wife.

His life.

“She left me! Gone!” his breath wreaked of alcohol, burning my nose, and bringing tears to my eyes.

“You told her to leave me!”

His voice hitched and I realized he was crying.

He let me go, backing up as I sank to the floor, gasping. I reached in my pocket searching for my knife.

My hand grasped only emptiness in the denim.

Shit.

The man, still crying, mumbled to himself psychotically. 

Then, explosively, kicked my bag towards me, barely missing my head, and sending my sketchbook flying, landing on my thigh with a sting. My hands clench, and the broken glass underneath me bit into my skin.

“Its your fault! Yours!” He was even more frantic now. Reaching behind him, he pulled a shining pistol from his waistband. 

“I didn’t do a thing! You told her to leave! It’s your fault!”

Under his screams, a rumbling noise began to grow in the air.

My hands tightened again, eyes locked on the gun, and warm blood fills my palm between the hateful shards.It calmed my mind in a macabre manner, and allowed me to focus. Slowly I extended a bloody finger towards my open sketchbook, ignoring the protests of the broken bones, and smear crimson on the whte of the paper.

“I didn’t tell her to do anything.” I said, calmly, just a bit of bite in my words. 

“You did! You told her to leave me!” he screamed, spit flying from his lips, taking a step toward me, trembling. 

A loud horn ripped through the tunnels, getting closer.

I keep my eyes locked to his, not daring to look away, blood covered digit still moving quickly on the snow white paper,  as a burning red mist fills my vision around him. My eyes aren’t closed, but maybe I just have to be blindly drawing.

I hoped so.

“I told her it was her choice, hers,” my voice was calm, eerily soothing, and seething with black, venomous charisma.

As I continued to draw in crimson, my eyes burned into his.

“She…said… cards….you.” his voice came out slurred, eyes clouding over. He swayed a bit from side to side.

“Back away,” I whisper, mind clicking the trick into place, voice barely audible above the growing rumble.

“Its…my fault… “ He said, shaking his head in confusion, like a wandering child, still crying. The gun clattered to the floor from his loosened grasp, and I sucked in a gasp of relief when it didn’t go off on impact.

Slowly the man turned, still muttering.

I could see light brightening in the tunnel, and the sound of running tracks crescendoing into the platform. 

The man stopped, precariously close to the edge, crumpled and crying, head in his hands. 

Ready to leap.

“I’m so sorry!” 

His screams are swallowed up by the blaring of the subway train, and the wet sound of grinding meat on the tracks. The whole scene looked like a massive metallic serpent devouring a suicidal victim. 

I looked down at my sketchbook as the train sped by, unceasing.

The blood of the drawing, a demented ink, was slowly drying, a illustrated version of the scene rendered in rusting reds and browns. 

I sighed in relief, trying not to dwell too much on what I’d done.

Steadying my breath, I realized that maybe this was what the card meant, a literal death. Maybe I hadn’t lost my gift, or at least that’s what I tried to tell myself. The wrong feeling reared its head ever so slowly, again, as the panic dissipated, and my vision was beginning to darken.

Surely this was it. Surely...

A giggle and a rosemary scented breeze broke my thoughts.

“Well, well, now, Bo. Why’d you go and do that?”

My eyes shot open, wide awake and alert.

The voice was hers, but different.

Sinead came around the corner, giggling and bobbing up and down on her feet, hands behind her back. 

The confusion I felt must have showed on my face.

“Oh, you were right, with the cards and all, but that's no surprise now is it? You're always right,” she said, coming to me, and crouching down to my level, arms still hidden. “But it wasn’t for that woman. Or that man, really.”

She gave me a peck on the cheek, giggled strangely, and danced away.

I found that I couldn’t move, that my body was being held down by something, something invisible.

There was a strange scent of herbs and oil, coming from right beneath my nose, jumbling my brain and feeding the confusion.

Mentally I willed my body to move, but it was as still as a marble statue.

“Its amazing what a little brew of herbs and spices will do,” Sinead’s voice took on a weird lilt, like it was more than one person speaking with her mouth, shaky and cold, sharp and piercing, glass shattering from sheer cold. She was turned away from me, kneeling where the man leapt to his death, her back the only thing I could see of her.

“But, people don’t believe like they used too. They don’t think that all this hocus pocus will work! Why would it? It’s just weeds and useless words!” She jerked up, jaggedly, twitching, almost mechanically. Her voice grew fiercer, seeming to fill the cavernous platform. “Oh, but they will believe a fucked-up-in-the-head artist with some magic cards!”

She laughed then, a bitter, venomous, cold laugh.

I saw her hand move, turning something shiny. 

“I sent them, you know. It didn’t take much effort. Never does on the weak-minded.” She turned to me, and if I could, I would have gasped. Sinead’s childish, freckled face had taken on sharp, monstrous angels and her eyes literally glowed with anger. Fangs pierced her mouth.

“The problem was there, I just lit the fuse. BOOM!” She knelt down in front of me again, her arm taking a sharp jerk behind her back, followed by the click of metal. "Its my way of hunting, see. I simply light the explosives and they come running back for more of my little remedies when my little bombs go off. And it's always when I am ever so hungry." She licked her lips and savored a remembered taste, saliva making her fangs shine.

“Oh,” her finger was cold and abrasive as she pushed my chin up, “say something, won't you Bo?” Her voice took on a mock version of the Sinead I knew. “Oh that’s right, I forgot,” she giggled, bringing her hand from behind her back and running the blade of a knife, my knife, along the collar of my jacket. “Just a bunch of hocus pocus.”

My mind reeled backwards, remembering.

She pulled me out of the way of the incoming car. 

Then slipped my ipod into my pocket. 

The pocket my knife was in. 

She brought me my cup of coffe.

The one that didnt taste quite right.

She also sent the man after me, the man who grabbed my collar, leaving the scents of herbs and oil behind, noticed only after his whiskey heavy breath was gone.

Sinead had always been silent and cautious.

Always.

My throat tightened. 

“Bo, Bo, Bo,” she slithered behind me, hands sensuously caressing my chest, then shoulders. “I can’t have you stealing my poor, little, desperate customers. How so ever will I survive, however will i eat? A girl's gotta eat, don't she?” she pouted, flashing the knife in my sight. 

My heart jumped, mind screaming.

“Its an eat or be eaten world, Bo, and I’m tired of being hungry,” her voice was gone, replaced by burning lyrics of malice and hate.

I wanted to scream as the blade split open a river of red on my throat.

 

~

 

I remembered the numbness flooding my body, the cold, the hard tiled floor of the platform, and that my senses were leaving.

I couldn’t hear, couldn’t taste, couldn’t smell, couldn’t move.

My eyes wouldn’t close, my breath wouldn’t come.

I just lay there, lifeless, watching a sea of red spread out around me in the grungy white of the subway station, my sense of time demolished.

In my dying mind I laughed sickly, cynical with hysteria. 

I was right, fuckin right.

Not for that woman or her husband, but for me.

Me!

In my dying moments, I still held on to the small joy that I hadn’t lost my talent, that my existence was right and it hadn’t been taken away.

In the corner of my eye, a shadow stirred, and the cart morphed from the darkness.

I wanted to reach out and take it in my arms, laugh with relief, cry and hold it to my chest, this random, mangy feline.

The only thing that hadn’t abandoned me had come to watch my demented funeral of blood and dirt. 

Inside, I laughed harder.

The cat’s head cocked to the side, and its shape began to change. Shadows around it shimmered and crawled, its fur morphing into slimy, wrinkled skin. Spines and bug wings sprouted from its back as it took on a willowy humanoid shape, eyes bulging and morphing from cat eyes to empty black orbs.

The creature, my creature, crouched there in front of me, head cocked to the side, and smiling, with an unusual warmth. A sensation took hold of my dying body.

I felt as if I was rising slightly and glowing inside, a single flame burning from the darkness. 

The creature reached out a clawed, gray hand, and brushed a lock of blood matted hair from my face, then cupped my cheek lovingly.

“Bo….” it whispered caringly.

Then, the strangest thing happened.

The creature took me, well, what I thought was me, in its arms, cradling me like a child, and looking down at me with loving, obsidian eyes. I felt something stir in my soul, something familiar and empowering.

I felt hope and relief and happiness.

It was over.

The stealing and struggling and fighting, the alley and hunger and sleeping in dirt.

All of it.

Over.

I wanted to cry.

With a smile, the creatures wings buzzed, and we rose, me tightly in her arms.

Safe.

Loved.

The last thing of life I saw, was myself, a horrid, demented shell of me, lying in a pool of blood, throat decimated.

I left that all behind, and turned my gaze to the glowing light above me.

And I cried.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2019 TKReeves. All rights reserved.

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