Lisa lost track of how many times she reset the timer until finally giving up and just committing herself to the task for as long as she was able to remain awake. As it turned out, the Hermit’s influence enabled her to remain awake and aware as long as she was applying herself to her initial task of learning as much as she could about the twenty-two trump cards of the tarot deck.
Lisa learned about the mythical histories of tarot and the reconstructed histories of the tarot. She learned how tarot names changed over time and how political favor and disdain rose and fell depending on how strong was the church at the time and how politically connected was the person caught with tarot cards. She learned how the tarot was just a deck of playing cards no matter how dressed and adorned it was with the expectations and presentations of those who want it to be something entirely different that benefits the person presenting the cards as different in the first place.
But most importantly, Lisa learned that there is no One True Way™ to tarot cards of any sort. Not their appearance, not their numbering, not their purpose, and not how they are used. Whatever tarot means to the person holding the cards is right for that person and the cards they hold. Which meant that no one could tell Lisa that she was wrong for experiencing the visitation and apparitions of tarot card spirits. Or for that matter, anything that came as a result of accepting them.
Lisa did not learn why the apparitions of Death and the Sun were so fond of her. But she did start to understand why the ordeal of the Moon card was successful in overwhelming her by using her fears against herself. Death’s explanation of Fortune’s dislike of her was further elaborated upon, and she knew that going forward, Lisa would need to stop allowing so much of her life to be determined by chance. But at the same time, she would need to temper Temperance’s influence as well, and allow herself to literally live a little every now and then.
The next card for Lisa to experience was the Emperor. The list of meanings made it clear that this was a card of hubris and ego. “Because I’m the Empire, that’s why.” The decorated deck’s keywords listed structure, authority, and masculinity as the themes of the deck. Lisa had not quite sworn off men after closing off her interactions with Ricardo, but as she considered how the catchphrase overlapped with the keywords, she was considering making a go of it right there on the spot.
After all, since her father died, every male figure that has entered her life has tried to rule it in one way or the other. Ricardo was just the ultimate example of it. As Lisa leaned back and stretched her increasingly aching back, she also noted that he is the last male figure in her life at the moment. She still wasn’t sure if she was going to get another shot at the courier job, but for that moment in Aunt Helen’s house while her possible boss was talking to her, she felt as comfortable as if her father was there with her.
An increasing light off to her side caught her attention and she wondered if this was a new apparition. She was surprised to see the new dawn’s rays being reflected and amplified between the buildings on her street. “Shit. It’s da–” Lisa’s attempt to speak was quickly swallowed up by a long and extended yawn. “Alright, fine, fuck. I’ve been up all night? I haven’t done that since cramming for finals. Okay. Wow, Hermit, you really are a professional student, huh.”
Lisa stood up and wavered. Both her body and her cellphone were low on energy and in a desperate need to recharge. Now that she had no work to report to for the rest of the week, she wouldn’t feel guilty about going to bed so late. She smiled sadly when she realized that she was already so done with her jobs that by the time her world had started to crumble, she was tempted to sleep late just to dare them to fire her, anyway.
Dealing with masculinity was going to have to wait until after she had a good rest followed by some good eats. No sense attempting to do her part to undermine the patriarchy being already half beaten herself. She assembled her decks and placed her notes next to the decks. She shut down her laptop and plugged in her cell phone. Now too exhausted even for a quick shower, she wiped down the important bits and went to bed resolving to pick up where she left off once she woke up.
She slept through the first alarm but panicked when the second alarm sounded. She failed to untangle herself from the bedsheets and fell out of bed. Kicking off the blanket, she finally managed to get to the cellphone and stopped the alarm sequence before the song that she’s always hated started playing. She stared at the time. If she hurries, she’ll be at the restaurant fifteen minutes early. Any other day, she wouldn’t care, but she needs to keep this job, so Lisa had managed to find the one fuck of the week to give.
As she brushed her teeth and dressed, she had the feeling that something was off, that the day had already begun in some deep state of wrongness and she just hadn’t realized it yet. As she waited in the garage for her rideshare pickup, she attributed that sense of wrongness to the fact that she was wearing mismatched socks and the confusion of textures were setting her off.
“God dammit, Lisa! Can’t you be on time for fucking once!” Ricardo was waiting at the staff entrance to the restaurant. “Just once, that’s all I fucking ask of you!”
“Yesterday, you asked a lot fucking more than that! If you’ve forgotten about it, I can remind you!” Lisa’s retort was automatic as she let her mouth run off with the usual response while she attempted to think through why just showing up for work felt so damn wrong.
Ricardo blocked the entryway with his body. He was thin enough that Lisa would have no problem literally ducking around him. But he had a sense of presence about him today that repelled her and made her feel afraid.
“No. Not today. Today, you will request to be permitted to work and I will think about whether to let you or not.” He braced his arm in the doorway. However, he wasn’t daring her to attempt to duck around him. His refusal was intense and personal. Ricardo was not having any of Lisa’s shit today.
Lisa took a step back. Something was very wrong about this scene, but she could not identify what was out of sorts. The building looked the same. The parking lot behind her looked the same. Ricardo looked the same. She looked the same. Hell, even the full moon gracing the height of the morning sky looked the same though Lisa had a hard time seeing it through the thickening clouds.
“Fucking ass. Move. I gotta get in uniform or did you want to play with that, too?”
“No. Yield.” Ricardo’s presence felt dark and smothering, as if by his will alone, he was trying to make her submit.
Lisa took another step back. This wasn’t like Ricardo, even when they were playing games. “What’s your fucking problem today?”
Ricardo stepped away from the entryway towards her. “What’s yours? Any other time, you would be on your knees by now, ready to serve me as I please. Do you want to be forced this time? I can, and I will, teach you what is your proper place, at last.”
“Ha! Heh. Heh-heh. Huh. The fuck?” Lisa took another step away from him. She looked up at the completely overcast sky before looking around at the darkening scene. She looked past him at the restaurant standing in the nearly empty parking lot. She looked back at the part of the sky where she saw the full moon in the peak of the midheaven before looking at the mid-morning sun that was now being obscured by the low clouds.
“It’s a full moon. But the sun is up. It’s the brightest the moon can be, but the sun is shining.” Lisa looked away from the darkening sky and from Ricardo’s darkening face. She did not notice the darkening shadows flowing from behind her to cover her feet.
“Don’t think about it too hard, Lisa. You know science is not your strength, Lisa. Come to me, Lisa. I have a place for you, Lisa. You won’t have to struggle to keep your head up, Lisa. Because it will be laid to a proper rest, Lisa. But first, you must submit, Lisa. Submit to me, Lisa.”
Ricardo stretched out his hand, and a shadow uncoiled from the crook of his elbow to twist in the air as it moved through the space between him and her. Lisa watched the oncoming flow with fascination and terror.
The shadows had fixed her feet to the asphalt of the parking lot, preventing her from running away. “I’m dreaming. I have to be. This isn’t real.” Lisa protested as the shadow from Ricardo’s arm twisted itself into an opaque snake still attempting to reach her.
Ricardo’s voice started to sound less and less like what Lisa remembered of him. “It’s as real as it needs to be, Lisa. Let me touch you, Lisa. Let me have you, Lisa. This terrible time you are going through is the dream, Lisa. Yield to me and I will make the terror stop, Lisa. Submit to me and I will raise you up to be my queen, Lisa.”
As she watched, helpless to look away, Ricardo’s form grew tall and his face grimaced, stretched, and pinched. The black soul patch on his chin turned a brilliant copper red and lengthened as the hair on his head fell completely away to reveal a bald scalp. Ricardo’s black irises fell away to expose a hazel hue. Even Ricardo’s clothes stretched and restitched themselves into a black suit with a black linen shirt.
“You’re not Ricardo.” The figure stopped reaching out to her and even the shadow snake held still. “Ricardo always said that all women were bitches and hoes. He would never call any woman his queen, not even his wife if he had one! I’m dreaming!”
Lisa tried to push against the rising shadows that now were holding her arms in the self-hug position they had captured her in. The shadows held tightly to her, preventing her from doing anything more than wiggle upright in place. She had an instinct that there was something she needed to hold, something she needed to take, but she could not even unfurl her fists to receive, much less to take.
The tall bearded man appeared angry with her. “Perhaps you are, Lisa. Perhaps you are not, Lisa. Should you take that chance, Lisa? Would it not be better to yield to your place, Lisa?”
The fury that was boiling in Lisa’s soul was greater than the fear chilling her stomach. “Yield to fucking who, bitch! I don’t see Aunt Helen anywhere! And who the hell are you to be telling me what to do! I don’t see a crown on your head making you my emperor!”
The sound of her words burned her ears. “Emperor… Where have I heard that before?”
Lisa looked around and realized the shadows were pulling her face down, as if preventing her from looking up. So, she immediately pulled against the shadows and looked up.
The full moon was not too far away from the near noon sun. If they were any closer, an eclipse would be sure to begin. The moon appeared to be drawing light and energy from the sun, diminishing it.
“You see, Lisa. But you don’t understand what you see, Lisa. And that is why this place devours you, Lisa. You don’t want to see and you don’t have to see, Lisa. Let me see for you, Lisa. Yield to me while it is easy to do so, Lisa. Because if I have to make you yield, the cost of conquest will be painful for a long time, Lisa. Either way, you will yield, Lisa. And you will yield, to me, Lisa.”
The shadows were cocooning her as she stood in place. They chilled and numbed her skin and almost completely squeezed the idea of rebellion out of her. Almost, but not quite.
“And who the fuck are you?” She closed her eyes as she started to shiver from the chill. Lisa knew she was dreaming and knew she was not in control of the dream. She needed help, but what was in this environment that she could trust?
He stepped closer to her. With each step, the clothes on his form changed, but the body remained the same underneath. He wore the robes of a ceremonial magician. He wore a track suit. He wore a flannel shirt and dockers. He wore only a cloth tied around his hips. He stood in front of her, robed with light and crowned with stars.
“You see, but you do not understand what you see, Lisa. It was requested of me to break you completely, Lisa. To shatter your mind and your spirit, Lisa. But you have a gift and to destroy that gift would be a shame, Lisa. Let me touch you, Lisa. Yield to me and I will hide you from your aunt, Lisa. I will make of you my apprentice, Lisa. You will learn not only what you see but how to control what you see, Lisa. Including how to control other people, Lisa. You can be free, Lisa. But first, you must submit, Lisa.”
He raised his hand and swept it over her face, closing her eyes. She heard him grunt in satisfaction when he moved his hand away and her eyes remained closed.
But with the shutting down of one sense, Lisa’s other senses intensified. She could smell his arrogance. She could smell his assumption that he was dominating her. And she could smell his disappointment that the conquest was proceeding faster than he wanted. There was something in him that wanted her to be a proxy for a different woman, a woman he could neither control nor conquer.
She knew she was dreaming, but the lights in the sky were completely wrong. This must be his dream, Lisa concluded. With a flash of insight, she remembered Jean talking about Aunt Helen’s card reader that she kept on retainer and about Rebecca’s private hobbies. If Rebecca was into the occult and magic, then surely Aunt Helen’s card reader was also into the same. Only without the pesky moral restrictions that kept Rebecca from going private.
If a magician is controlling the dream, then there was nothing in the dream that she could use to save herself, Lisa realized. She had to pull something from within herself. But what could she possibly recall that would stand up to a practiced magician?
“Oh, you’re hiding, Lisa. And in plain sight, Lisa. I guess I’ll have some fun after all, Lisa.”
Lisa needed to stall for time to think. Since he entered the dream wearing Ricardo’s face, perhaps it will be her experiences with Ricardo that buys that time. “Yea. I’ve never seen anyone with your kind of mastery before and I wanted to see what it looks like. But, like, you’ve closed my eyes, so now I can’t see shit.”
She could hear him enjoy the flattery. “Nice try, Lisa. But no, Lisa. I won’t release you, Lisa. I’ve already done what she commissioned, Lisa. While your psyche remains in my care, your waking self is malleable and controllable, Lisa. It will take a few days for the adjustment to settle, Lisa. But by the end of the week, you’ll be submitting to me, Lisa. And you’ll be obedient to my client as she desires, Lisa.”
Lisa had already guessed that Aunt Helen was involved in this one way or the other. What was the old saying? A man can’t serve two masters.
“If I’m obedient to her, then how am I going to submit to you? Not to mention, you have something I don’t, and I want in on that.”
She felt him stop moving and smelled greed and envy slip around him. “I don’t know how this submitting thing works, but if you’re as strong as I think you are, then you shouldn’t be working for her, she should be working for you!” Now she smelled greed, envy, and fear. He was afraid of Aunt Helen?
Lisa did her best to make herself small and quiet as the thrill of insight wrapped around her spine. This dream environment may have been created by him, but he was not immune to the dream’s effects. He may control everything outside of her, but this time, her mind did not surrender when her sight did. If she could sense his greed, envy, and fear, then she could pull on those same emotions to combat him. She could use his leashes against him.
Now fully lucid and aware of the circumstances she was literally sleeping through, Lisa put her new knowledge of the tarot cards to work. She recalled the Devil tarot card and how that card tested her. When next she spoke, it was with the intention of taking control of his leash.
“We could work against her, you know. I’ve learned a lot already but I’m sure there is a lot more that I need to learn. We can be free of her, but first you have to free me. You’ve met the technical requirements of her request. Look, I’m bound. Now let’s unbind ourselves and be free.”
He laughed coldly. “And how will we be free, Lisa? What will hold our leash this time, Lisa? You are offering to trade one devil for another, Lisa. And I’ll take the devil I know, Lisa.”
His resolve to maintain control resumed, though Lisa could smell that it wasn’t as exuberant as it was before. Lisa needed to make him blink, somehow. To cease being vigilant for five hot seconds… hot… heat.
If this was a dream, than anything could happen. She could be anyone. She could be as bright as the Sun if she wanted.
Sun, if you have any favor towards me, come and shine through me so that falsehoods are revealed and only the truth remains! Lisa’s silent prayer was unnoticed by the smugly gloating man. She discovered that her prayer was heard when he let go of her arm with a pained shout.
“No, Lisa! Be silent, Lisa! Be still, Lisa! BE DIM, LISA!”
Still bound and upright, she heard the man yell strange words and syllables at her, all the while he was moving away from her. Lisa felt an unnatural and unexpected heat burn away all the shadows that were holding her captive. She wanted to open her eyes, but another set of hands touched her face, keeping her eyes closed. She recognized the touch of the figure of the Sun tarot card.
The heat burned away the smothering effects of the realm of the Moon and Lisa now recognized why she saw the full moon in the daytime sky. As he continued to retreat away from her, she could smell why he was dependent on Aunt Helen and his rationale for his attempt to enslave her.
“YOU HAVE NO POWER AWAY FROM HER! YOU FUCKING FRAUD! YOU NEED HER TO BELIEVE IN YOU BEFORE YOU CAN BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! YOU NEED ME TO BELIEVE IN YOU BEFORE YOU CAN WORK YOUR SHIT ON ME! WELL GUESS FUCKING WHAT! I DON’T FUCKING BELIEVE IN YOU!”
Lisa took her released hands and pressed the Sun’s manifested hand against her eyes to keep from opening them. “You have no power over me.”
The environment around her shattered into shards of nothingness removing his presence from her awareness. Screaming obscenities, Lisa and the Sun fell into the pit of nothingness from which all dreams are made.
Lisa jerked awake in mid-fall as the tangled blanket caught her enough to have her hanging off the edge of the bed for a while, but ultimately gravity caught up with her.
She laid on the floor for a bit, noting the afternoon sun was hurrying to trade batons with night as wintered settled in deep. “It was a dream. It was all a fucking dream!”
Lisa sat up and laughed before kicking her feet in rage. “God damn it, am I going to lose my ability to have normal dreams? Shit!”
She crawled back into the bed and lay there, thinking about what had happened. “If that was the card reader, then Aunt Helen knows I have tarot cards and that I have some power of my own. I dunno what dirt she had on him, but it was enough to send him to do some dirty work on her behalf.”
Now that she was awake, Lisa knew that the card ordeal she just passed through was for the Emperor but in a crossed state as he had no power unless it was given to him. Lisa resolved not to give anyone any power.
She thanked the Sun card, then asked it to keep watch over her as she took a nap for one more hour because dream battles are exhausting. The apparition of the Sun appeared and pulled the covers up over Lisa’s shoulders before kissing her on the forehead and disappearing.
As Lisa fell into a deep sleep again for the day, the girl child figure of Death appeared on the pillow next to Lisa. She held her teddy bear and rocked herself back and forth as she held guard over the sleeping human.
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