The unyielding floor boards pressed into my knees, alerting me that I was not in my room anymore. My black feather cloak moved with my hands as I brushed my fingers over the worn blemished wood.
A series of small bright flares caught my attention, and without looking up I knew I was surrounded by a multitude of candles. Some were tapers and some were pillars and some were tea lights and some were salvaged. All were pressed tightly together and had obviously been burning for some time. The wax runoffs pooled together to create a sealing ring around me.
I looked up.
The multitude of candles became six large pillar candles placed equidistant from each other on the large ash ring that surrounded me and sealed me in place. I smiled to recognize them.
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it, Girl.”
He wore the same ashen skull markings on his face as that day he drew me here. The filthy ripped black tuxedo suit draped too large over his frame, fooling the eye into thinking a weak and frail man sat obscenely on the chair. The cane he fondled was the same that was broken from me on the height of that day. I made no attempt to claim it.
He savored his bitter cigar as he silently gave me the grace to look about the room. The table covered in skulls remained behind him. The sounds of drums remained in the distance. The walls and shelves remained covered with the statues, portraits, and iconography of Roman Catholic saints and angels.
The room was as it was six years ago.
I was not afraid to be in it.
“What has changed, Girl?”
“My understanding, Sir.”
“Oh, a lot more has changed than that. But that is not the topic for today.” His smirk flavored his words and the scent from the cigar.
I recognized a few more saints than I did before, and a few more who were wearing the faces of those saints than I did before. I had no anxiety to be under their gaze this time. The symbols of Christianity no longer seared me.
“I understand you’ve been invited to sit at someone else’s table, Girl.”
I noted the cold humor in his tone. “Aye, Sir.”
“You have my permission to attend.”
I turned slowly to face him. I wasn’t sure what kind of warding, if any, was present to keep me in my place, and I wasn’t going to try my luck with him this day. “There you go, confusing the hell out of me again. I thought I wasn’t yours to tie like that.”
He drew a long pull on the cigar. “Are you challenging me?” He spoke without releasing the smoke.
“Nay, Sir. I’m trying to find the boundaries in a kind way. One that allows my head to remain on my shoulders and not be added to yon table.”
He released the smoke through his nostrils as a long exhale. I watched the smoke move and slither down and away from him. The particles circled the ash circle I was kept in without crossing it.
“Are you gonna accept her invite?” He propped the cane between his legs and stroked it. The lewd act neither distracted nor amused me.
“I’d like to.”
“… I dunno what is the price she wants from me. And I’ll be out of place even more than I am with you.”
“Heh.” He drew again on the cigar and let the smoke out in dribbles. “That’s all you’re worried about? Damn, Girl. When am I going to break you of this rude need for imperial decorum? Do you not see where you are? Do you not see who surrounds you? You were known to them before you ever opened your eyes in here.” He shoved the cigar in his mouth and spoke roughly. “The cost of attending her invite was already paid, or you would not have the opportunity to be an ass and decline. And as far as being out of place… she already made a place, unless you’re gonna tell her that her reflections are too ugly for you to bear, and you are neither that stupid nor that suicidal.”
He blew smoke towards me. The tendrils traced the boundary of the ashen circle in midair. “You wanted to learn [a thing], Girl. There are lessons I can’t teach you, but she can. And she’s willing. But you’re right about one thing, you ain’t hers. So I’m giving you leave to sit at her table.”
I listened to his words and to what his words were not saying. “Leave to sit at her table, as long as I remember who gave me leave to sit at yours.”
He leaned the cane against his crotch and gripped the silver head. I bit my tongue to keep from giggling at the juvenile posturing. His voice dripped with more thick smoke. “Something like that.”
Still kneeling, I bowed briefly. “Aye, Sir. I will remember. And I will remember my manners when I sit at hers.” When I straightened up, I noticed one of the icons had changed into a large version of a certain tarot card. Her tarot card.
He pulled and pulled on the cigar. The end flared but the body was not consumed. “You do that.” He blew the drawn smoke directly at me. The particles eagerly pierced the boundary holding me in and smothered me. I passed out and fell from both my position and the dream.