The mutt whuffed and it sounded like laughter. He bobbed his head, dropping something to the ground at his feet. Nim was sure he grinned, but she had no time to wonder. The dog spun and ran leaving Nim alone in the soft light of the caravan.
“Come on Lem, it’s not funny.” Any second now Lem would step out from the shadows and laugh, Nim was sure of it. She waited, straining her ears for any recognizable sound. Cars passing in the street, the tinny music of the carnival’s old ferris wheel, even the mutt’s growl. But it was as though she were the only one left in the world.
A gust of wind broke the stillness, making Nim shiver. Pulling her shawl tighter, Nim took a step toward the thing the dog had dropped. Light glinted off it in a way she recognized and her skin prickled. A tarot card. Nim could hear it calling to her. It sang a song unlike any she’d ever heard before, and Nim had heard them all.
Lem never let Nim give readings. He thought he was the one with the talent and she let him go right on thinking it. Lem had no idea that while he made up fortunes, Nim saw the real thing. She meant to keep it that way.
The cards spoke to her. It started as whispers soon after their mother died. But now their voices were so loud that they kept her awake. At night, while Lem slept, Nim was forced to lay spread after spread, until they’d spilled all their secrets and finally gone quiet.
Their mother had always warned them not to misuse their gifts. Nim had obeyed, but Lem couldn’t resist using his charm. Through the cards, Nim knew the hearts of everyone with the carnival, whether she wanted to or not. Worst of all, she knew the greed that lived in Lem’s.
The song from the dropped card seemed to swell and grow until it surrounded Nim. The melody wove itself into her bones and she bent down to pick up the card before she even realized she’d walked to it. Nim hesitated. “Lem?” She called one last time, but she’d given up hope of a reply. If this was a joke, Lem would’ve come out by now. Even he wasn’t that mean.
The card lay face down in the dust. It was the same size and shape as Lem and Nim's deck, but with an ornate symbol drawn on it’s back. The symbol reminded Nim of the tattoo in the mutt’s ear. The way the lines twisted into loops and doubled back on themselves sparked a memory. She’d seen a mark like that before.
This belongs to the women in our family. It’s yours now, Nim's mother had whispered, one night near the end. She pressed a small, intricately carved wooden box, just big enough to hold a deck of tarot cards, into Nim’s hands. It will open when you need it. Don’t ever let anyone see it, not even your brother.
Nim could feel the eyes of the mutt out there somewhere. Watching and waiting to see what she did next. With a painful squeeze of the knife for courage, Nim snatched up the card and sprinted back to the caravan.
She slammed the flimsy door shut and latched it, knowing the caravan wouldn’t keep her safe from anything outside. It couldn’t even keep out a strong breeze.
The candles flickered and threatened to go out as Nim dropped the knife back in the block and laid the card face down on the table. She wasn’t ready yet to see what message the dog had left her.
Instead, Nim looked again at Lem’s last spread. He’d thought it was for the blonde, but the cards told a different story. His story. Death in his near future. The Fool as his significator, crossed by the Four of Cups. Greed. And the new card, The Cur, as his outcome. She pulled that one close and studied it. Lem’s face was frozen somewhere between horror and outrage. The Cur seemed to be staring right at her. Not with a snarl, as she’d first thought, but with a grin.
“How?” she asked the cards, but for once they were silent. Only the new card, the one the dog had dropped, still sang. With a shaky hand, she flipped it over.
Nim’s breath caught. The words at the top of the card read The Legacy, and like The Cur, it looked like it belonged in the deck but Nim knew better. It took her a moment to recognize herself because the girl on the card was smiling. But just as she was sure that the boy on The Cur was Lem, she knew the girl on The Legacy was her.
Unlike Lem’s, her card was a portrait. In one bite-scarred hand she held a small wood box. In the other, a deck of cards.
Nim ran to her bed and dug the box her mother had given from it’s hiding place underneath. The top was carved with the same intricate design drawn on the backs of the two new cards. It hummed against her palm, the vibrations a soft thrum in harmony with her heartbeat. At her touch, the lid popped open with a soft click.
The velvet-lined inside was filled with tarot cards, their backs all bearing the ornate symbol. Nim flipped through them slowly. An unfamiliar feeling, power, surged through her as she realized just what she held in her hands. Nim spread the tiny prisons out before her. Every drawing was unique. Each one featured a different scene, a different person, but one thing was always the same. The Cur. His mangy, scar-covered face grinned at her from every card.
Join us Monday when Natalie starts off a brand new story!
*Photo by Paolo Camera (vegaseddie) via Fickr Creative Commons
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