© 2018 Rebecca Wralstad. All Rights Reserved. Time-stamped by Beta Readers.
I opened another beer first, empty-stomached and alone, and then turned to the tape-entombed moving boxes. Maybe that’s why the top box tipped off the tall stack and sent a suicide splatter across the studio apartment floor. I couldn’t believe it was anything but an accident, even though I felt the fall coming and stepped back, sloshing beer down my shirt.
Two funeral prayer cards, a handful of unused candles, a jar of collected sea glass, and my crumpled college diploma skidded to a stop by my feet. I stepped over them as if those memories didn’t stick to my soul like spat-out gum.
The rest of the knickknacks were equally barbed but I felt better digging in the toppled box. If this was that box then I knew I’d stashed a little marijuana in an old mint tin. I swiped past used concert tickets, faded photographs, and all the flotsam of what was supposed to have been a good time.
Then I touched it.
The deck was larger than regular playing cards, wrapped in a silk scarf, and tied with a black ribbon. The tight knot slipped as I plucked the Tarot cards out of the box with shaking hands. There wasn’t any furniture in my empty shell of an apartment, so I sat on the scarred hardwood floor, kneeling painfully as penance. Elephants paraded across the patterned silk and trampled into my lap.
“Only one way.” I muttered.
Salt, now worn to dust, shook free of the scarf and a sliver of selenite clattered to the floor. The cards slipped free in my hands and I fumbled through the memorized symbols. One glance told me the shadow was still there, insistent on the face of certain cards.
“Of course.” I snarled then switched to a mocking impression: “’You can’t outrun your shadow.’”
I strangled the Tarot deck, still angry at such condescending wisdom. Moving back to my old neighborhood had been a mistake. He was too close and it was only a matter of time, but I had nowhere else to go. I couldn’t afford to run again.
The battered Tarot deck twisted and shuffled in my hands. It felt, as always, that another stratum of my brain took charge, too eager to talk through the archetypal cards. The edges of my vision darkened and all the nearby electro-magnetic frequencies increased their pitch. My stomach churned and it took all my strength to uncurl my fingers and deal the cards.
The traditional spread took shape face down on the floor. The shadow appeared, scattered at first, and then slipping into one mass on the back of the first card. My body was stony, refusing to stretch my aching legs, while my mind thought now was a good time to run for the door. Instead, I knelt outside the sunshine cast through my dirty third story window and stared at the shadowed Tarot card. All my focus and threadbare faith couldn’t erase that ominous mark. I held my breath. Down in the neglected courtyard the dried leaves of an elm tree rattled.
“You’re long gone.” I hoped aloud. I had to try.
That rattle of leaves like a dying breath and then still silence.
I turned the first card and scrambled to my feet. Stiff-legged I paced the far end of my five hundred square foot studio until the card’s familiar face cornered me. There was no escape. There had never been a chance for me.
The Tarot card held up two fingers, an insulting salute reminding me that higher powers held sway. Powers he could harness; powers he had cursed on me. If I bowed my head and bought in, then all my pain would slowly seep away.
“Stalker,” I hissed at the Hierophant.
I paced the short empty space again and again, sometimes giving the familiar card my own one-fingered gesture. The rest of the spread didn’t matter. It would be nothing but a series of failures and repeats. Unless I faced him, I would stay stuck and I had promised myself no more wallowing. That’s why I had returned and rented this ridiculously small apartment. Seeing Jeremy was a necessary evil. I shoved aside the rest of my unpacked boxes and grabbed my jacket.
On the stairs, I yanked my scarf out of my pocket. I looped it over my head, jogged down the three flights, and then tucked it tightly over my heart. It burned a hole in my chest how Jeremy was the undeniable reason I was in Uptown. I pushed open the apartment building door and took a deep breath but the fresh air didn’t sooth me. As much as I wanted to flee in the opposite direction, I headed up the block towards his shop. At least Jeremy was better than some of the things I had left buried when I ran away.