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Authors: Annetta Ribken,Baylee,Eden

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BOOK: Allegories of the Tarot
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“You with the photographer.”
It
was more an accusation than a question.

I nodded.

“Seems kind of sad, a man such as himself wasting time
snapping pictures at Hoot ‘n’ Holler.”

“It makes him happy,” I replied, wondering if the man
had recognized Hansom out there at the camera.

“What do you think makes him happier? Taking pictures of
people gambling money they ain’t got—or being taken seriously by a young man
such as yourself?”

By the time I found my words he had already zipped up
and walked out.

I peered at the enlarged negative of myself on the wall.
Hansom stood at the edge, his knees pressed into the cheap mattress and
bedspread. He waved a frantic finger at something blurred into the foreground.
Specks of dust spun in the projector’s beam like tiny angels in search of a
pinhead to dance on.

In that negative, I had just decided to try my best to
learn what I could from Hansom. No matter how senile he might be, the master
photographer still had plenty he could teach me. It wouldn’t hurt to humor him
about the fairies, would it? It’s not like anyone would ever have to know.
Maybe there was an explanation besides the one involving straightjackets and
rubber rooms. Dust or water spots on the film or something.

“Do you see them?” Hansom pleaded. The projector shone
in the old man’s eyes, making them glisten.

I squinted.
Took a step forward into
the projector’s beam.
Hansom tugged at my shirtsleeve like one of his
homeless veterans asking for spare change. “Do you?”

For a tenth of a blink or less, projected on the wall of
a dingy southwest Georgia motel room from a bingo parlor negative taken by a
Pulitzer-winning photographer, I saw something I can hardly describe, much less
believe. In the foreground, almost too fast for the mind to commit, but not the
eye—

—A trick of the light?

Lithe arms, holding hands.
Blur-frozen wings.

Eyes like tiny sequins that faded too fast.

I hadn’t felt any difference the moment my luck changed,
but I felt different now.
Ecstatic.
The hairs on my
arm stood on end.
Electrified with wonder.

“Yes,” I breathed. My eyes watered a little at the ache
of what they’d glimpsed and lost. I would spend the rest of my life trying to
see them again, one split second at a time.

***

Lon Prater has worked in the Reactor Compartments of USS
Enterprise, edited the military’s textbook on arms deals, and kept things safe
in the produce and laundry industries. He lives, writes, and plays a lot of
board games in Pensacola, Florida. Visit
lonprater.com
to find out more.

***

THE HIGH PRIESTESS

Deadly Son

By Billie Sue Mosiman

The land of Solomon near the edge of the sea shook with
thunder and lightning. Bold silver rain poured in shiny sheets, turning
cobblestone streets to rivers. The people of the city closed their doors and
windows, took in their goats and chickens, and prayed for the sun.

Katrine, high priestess for the great Solomon, sat
before a parted veil embroidered with palm leaves and pomegranates. She kept
her window open so she could see the roiling sea beyond her home. Her sister,
the empress, had come to visit earlier, but warned she might not be able to
return because of rising waters.

Katrine had sent her servants home to parents and mates
rather than ask them to stay in her palace to be stranded. She was alone now,
subject to the whim of weather, but she could far-see and knew she’d persevere.
As for others in the city, she worried for their safety, petulant in
interpreting the visions plaguing her. The sights she saw playing out in thin
air before her disrupted her sleep. Many would die. That’s what she saw in the
visions. Bodies piled like cord wood, fires set to consume flesh. There were
too many for burial in the underground crypts.

Far-seeing was Katrine’s gift. With her help as his main
confidant, Solomon made the kingdom happy and prosperous. The land was a Mecca
for trade, with ships coming from foreign shores like South India, Ophir, and
Tarshish. Camel trains from across the vast deserts, from Arabia or Egypt,
sometimes Tyre. The crops grew in fertile ground so the granaries were full
each fall to feed the city’s citizens. Do this, she told Solomon, and he did.
Do that, she advised, and he never refused. In this way Katrine felt she served
both the Spirit and her country. Solomon was known far and wide as a good king,
a fair and caring ruler over his people.

At least he had been a fine man and king until he met
Sheba, the queen of a land in Ethiopia, a country none of Solomon’s people had
ever seen. When Katrine first met Sheba, she’d been highly impressed. The young
girl’s hair was braided with gold threads all across her scalp. She wore a gold
bodice that sparkled in the sun and a long, body-hugging, diaphanous scarlet
skirt worked with streaks of gold thread. Her skin was even darker than any of
Solomon’s people, so dark it was like stony night. The contrast between her
color and her clothes made her look like a waltzing, ribald angel. She came to
Solomon bearing gifts—barrels of fragrant olive oil, tankards of rich, heady
wine, dried mango and coconut, barrels of gold nuggets. She bowed to him and
when she smiled the audience was swayed to love her.

It was the first night of the queen’s visit when Katrine
saw the vision of downfall. The next morning she hurried to Solomon’s chambers.
He sat, immersed with writing on a scroll, perched on a cane chair before a
table inlaid with chips of abalone. He paused in his work, looked up, and
frowned.

“Something is wrong, isn’t it?” he asked. “I don’t have
to far-see to know from the look on your face.”

“Master!
The woman from over
the sea! She brings dissolution and catastrophe with her.”

“Are you speaking of Sheba, our latest visitor?”

“I am, Master. I saw a vision wherein she...she...”

He waved at her with his quill pen. “Katrine, isn’t it
too early to make these kinds of pronouncements on a stranger? Shouldn’t we
give the girl a small chance to show
herself
either
good or evil?”

“But, Master, she’ll manipulate you. She’ll bring down
the tem...”

He spoke a word meaning the whole idea ridiculous and
returned his attention to the scroll. “She’s just a girl. I’m not afraid of a
girl.”

Katrine, dismissed, bowed low and backed from the room.
She had failed to warn him, to make him understand the seriousness of her
vision. She would have to approach him again when the girl began to work her
magic. She mustn’t let her master and her country be brought to ruin.

That evening the empress sent carriage bearers to the
palace where Katrine lived in a room separate from Solomon, asking her to come.
When Katrine told her sister of the dire warning, the empress laughed, for she
was sometimes amused by the idea of far-seeing. “You don’t know that for sure,
Kat. The girl’s so clever and generous. She’s such good company. She even
brought her own dancers for our evening’s amusement.”

“You’re seeing the outward person,” Katrine insisted. “It’s
the inner one of which I speak. The inner one is dark purple as the rind of
shriveled valley grapes. I tell you, she’ll bring down Solomon.”

The empress laughed happily at the idea of dried grapes
and sent her maid servant to fetch a platter of them. “Since this gift has
befallen you, your worries have mounted, my sister. You know yourself sometimes
they are for nothing.”

It was true some of Katrine’s visions failed to
materialize. She believed it was because she’d waylaid the chaos by turning the
people involved another way, speaking a different phrase, or praying a new
prayer to some old deity. How could she explain some visions remained
unfulfilled only because her advice had prevented them? She couldn’t prove it.

***

Solomon took Sheba to his bed. The whole city knew it
and none more intimately than Katrine. She rarely moved beyond her quarters in
the palace, but during the times she did, she heard the two of them cavorting,
laughing, and sometimes grunting like animals in rut. Katrine spent more time
consulting the Great Spirit that moved her, and asking for intervention. The
girl seemed no threat. She was the king’s plaything at the moment, but in time
he would be mad for her. He would be willing to die for her. He would be so
snared in her golden tendrils of mystery, he’d never waggle free.

Katrine barely saw her master as his time was taken up
with Sheba. Therefore, Katrine watched for the woman when she went for her
ablutions. She was a fastidious woman and bathed daily, surrounded by her dark
handmaidens. Katrine intruded, walking toward the pool set in the floor and
taking a low position on a turquoise cushion. She smiled innocently at the
worldly girl. “Your skin is so beautiful,” she said.

Sheba eyed her carefully. She said, “I bathe in goat
milk as you can see. It keeps my skin soft and pliant. Are you the king’s
witchdoctor?”

Katrine, taken off-balance, laughed then covered her
mouth. One should not laugh at a personage as great as a queen. “I’m sorry, I
was startled. No, I’m a friend of the king and his advisor.”

“But you cavort with spirits,” Sheba insisted.

Katrine’s spine straightened. “I do no such thing. I’m a
far-seer. I see in the distance of time.”

“Do you, now? That’s very interesting.” Sheba inclined
her head to the side and studied Katrine while the maidens washed her neck and
shoulders with soft sea sponges. “Tell me, then, what do you see in time for
me?”

Now Katrine felt uncomfortable. This strange woman didn’t
abide by any of their customs and her courtesy was at a minimum. She spoke her
thoughts, no matter what they might be. She seemed to have no fear of reprisal
or of censure.

“I...I have not looked,” Katrine lied.

“You far-see for the King then?”

“And the kingdom,” Katrine added.

“What do you see for this great land, my little friend?”
Repulsed, she was being grilled and insulted. Katrine was neither little nor
was she the girl’s friend.
Just the opposite.
She saw
Sheba as the enemy to both her master and her country.

“I see on your face your thoughts,” Sheba said, pushing
away her handmaidens. She stood regal from the milky water and let a maiden
wrap absorbent cotton cloth around her nakedness. “You think I’m some sort of
demon, don’t you?
Some dark lady here to bring harm.”

Katrine jutted out her chin. She
rose
,
fists balled but hidden behind her skirts. With great control, she lowered her
head and backed from the room. She would not answer for it would force her to
lie to the girl’s face again and she’d know. The girl already knew.

***

Finally, Katrine had another audience with Solomon and
this time she insisted he take her seriously. “You know I’ve been right before.
You know I kept morale up when I saw rains were coming to save the crops in
drought. You know I told you we would be a central spoke for commerce from
foreign lands and that event would make you wealthy and your kingdom would
increase. You know...”

He raised his palm for her to stop. “I’m grateful for
you, High Priestess. I’ve always listened to you. But if this is about Sheba,
you can save your breath.”

“But why, Master? Why must you travel down this road to
perdition? She is greedy, she’ll have
your
...”

He stood, bellowing, “ENOUGH.”

Katrine’s gaze lowered to the floor where she stared
until tears came to her eyes. He had never spoken to her so harshly.

“I’m sorry, but I won’t have anyone speaking against
her. She’s my lover. She will be my queen. Never speak again her name connected
with a negative word if you value your position in this palace and beneath my
shelter.”

Katrine now sat before the blowing winds, the blanket
rain, the rising waters, the tossing sea, and she mourned the falling of both
her king and her land. This was the man to whom God gave wisdom. In one
instance, two women came to Solomon arguing over a child, each claiming to be
the mother. The Great and Wise Solomon decreed they divide the child with a
sword. One of the women leaped forward and said she’d give up the child, do not
kill it! That was the woman Solomon gave the child, calling her surely the true
mother. How could such a wise man be so clouded in judgment by a mere girl-queen?

Sheba goaded him.

He stood in Hiram’s hall entrance between two massive
columns housing the Ark of the Covenant and his legendary strength put to test.

Crowds gathered and looked on as Sheba bade him, “Bring
them down, Solomon! Bring down the walls!”

She had turned the king to idolatrous gods and away from
the god of his father. Sheba told him his strength was given him by these
foreign gods and to show them his gratitude he must tear down the temple of his
old religion, burying the Ark beneath rubble.

While Katrine stood on the lower steps watching, her
heart sunk in despair. It was the vision she’d earlier seen coming to fruition.
Solomon pushed until sweat broke out on his massive biceps and shoulders and
back. His mighty head hung down, like a lion about to roar, and the columns
trembled, the stone ceiling shook, blocks of marble crumbled and fell inside to
crash on the floor, and still Sheba screamed, “Bring it down, bring it down
now, Solomon!”

When it fatally cracked, the walls and ceiling giving,
Solomon walked placidly down the steps and away, his queen’s arm linked in his
own, as the temple fell behind him into a monstrous cloud of gray dust.

People wailed, some danced with joy, and Katrine wiped
the tears from her eyes and followed behind her Master to the palace.

BOOK: Allegories of the Tarot
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