“So how long do you think you’ll be able to keep running? I mean, this is a nice fantasy you’ve built up for yourself, but do you really think that this mystical bullshit is going to stop you from running out of money?”
Lisa looked up from the table where the cards from her fancy deck was spread out in a line before her. Seated across the bare steel table was a person in black robes wearing a mask that was her face. Lisa blinked as she realized that the mask looked and moved like human flesh, but was clearly something that the figure was wearing.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Lisa looked around. A vaguely perceived mist surrounded her little table. There was no light source but she could see clearly in the little space that she was occupying. Looking down, she saw the floor was polished such that it was a perfect mirror. In the reflection she saw the floor of the coffee house near her apartment.
She saw the floor of the coffee house as perfectly as if she was seated on the very ceiling of that place looking down. All the tables in the reflection were occupied except for the table that was the reflection of where she was sitting. The two chairs at that table were empty and the table itself was bare.
“Bullshit, you don’t. Look at you, you’re hallucinating! And you’re fucking sober! Don’t fucking sit there and say you’re not trying to avoid reality again!” The figure obscenely reclined in the same style of chair that had so completely abused Lisa’s back in the coffee house.
Lisa looked at the cards on the table. They were all neatly laid side by side and face down except for the third card from the right. That card was face up, but she could not see the card face.
A black gloved hand waved over the cards, breaking her line of sight. “And this, just what the fuck even is this?! Are you going to grow up and be a fortune teller? Where’s your crystal ball? I already know your future if you are fool enough to ask me.”
There was something about the figure’s voice that was familiar, something that was nagging Lisa into wanting to challenge them. But the voice was indistinguishable from the internal voice of her doubts and she was still mentally exhausted from the events of the previous day. “And what is my future, if you think you know it.”
The figure slapped the table causing the cards to jump and shift slightly. “TO DIE!” The figure leaned back and laughed the as cruel and as vicious a laugh as Lisa ever laughed at someone else. Lisa folded her hands in her lap as if Aunt Helen herself was presiding. She pulled her shoulders in and her head down and tried to make herself small and insignificant.
“Why are you doing this to yourself? Aunt Helen already had a good future ahead for you, but you did to her just as your mother did to you. Walked away and pissed on every offering of good will that could have been extended to you.” The figure leaned forward again and rested their arms on the now askew cards.
“It’s not fair.” Lisa’s voice was heard only by her tears that gathered in the corners of her eyes but refused to advance further.
The figure stood and placed both hands on the table to better steady themselves as they leaned completely over the table to place the mask of her perfectly cloned face inches away from her trembling own. To see even the pores in cold clarity made her feel even less real.
The figure spoke with Lisa’s voice, but to Lisa’s horror they used her Aunt Helen’s inflection. “I’m sorry. Did you speak? Use your inside voice please. No. Correction. Use your proper inside voice, please. No vulgarities. We already know you weren’t bred properly as it is.”
Lisa flinched and turned her head away from the figure. Too terrified to run, too ashamed to strike back, Lisa felt captive to the figure. Bound by them as sure as their hands were pinning cards to the table, and as sure as gravity held the table to the floor.
The mirrored floor.
Lisa forced herself to keep her head turned to the side and opened her eyes. Focusing on the floor beside her chair, she watched the coffee house patrons minding their own business in the reflection of the floor. Full awareness of her environment seeped into her from the image.
“You’re not me.”
“Well praise God for that!” The figure still spoke with her voice, but was now using her sister Jean’s inflection. “I suppose if you understand that, then you might actually be able to taught some respect.”
Lisa forced herself to fully sit up in the chair, but she kept her sight trained on the floor under the table.
“You’re not Jean, either. And you’re certainly not Aunt Helen. That bitch.” It was just one vulgar word, but saying it gave Lisa the strength to continue speaking. Everyone always said it wasn’t ladylike to use vulgarities and would leave her alone when she indulged in offensive phrases.
“Dig for more words. Words you actually need a book to understand. Try. So when I educate you about how fucking stupid you are, you might be able to comprehend it.” The figure was close enough to lick Lisa’s face. She wondered why they haven’t tried to strike her yet.
She lifted her sight just enough to see that their hands were still on the table, still on the cards. And that the cards were still face down except for that one. The figure’s hand was covering most of the card, but what was available to see had nothing to be seen.
“You can’t touch me.”
The figure shifted their hand as they all but crawled onto the table to impose further into her personal space. “Bitch said what?”
Lisa stared at the unnaturally blank card struggling to remember what the card name should be. “You can’t touch me.” This place was familiar. The floor was familiar. Lisa knew if she could just remember what had happened in this place before, she would be able to escape it.
“Why the fuck not?” The figure swept their hand in front of her face as if to slap her. She flinched but remained seated. “Try me. Touch me.”
She raised her sight and stared into the eyes of her unnatural twin. “No. Because you can’t touch me unless I touch you first. That’s the rules.”
“You’re fucking stupid. Listen to you, playing this fucking game of keepaway. Degenerate.”
Lisa moved her hands to her pockets so not to even accidentally touch the figure. “All you have is words. You can’t touch me. That’s the rules. When I was here before, you didn’t want me to have…” She grimaced as the memory failed her.
The figure started mocking her again but this time she knew to ignore the words. Taking a cue from that, she also ignored her own. She reached for her memory to remind her what happened the last time she was seated… no… standing… on the… ceiling…
“I didn’t touch you then and I’m not touching you now. I pulled Tarot, capital T, not whatever the fuck you are the judge of!” She felt like shoving the now recognized judge out of her face, off of the table, and off of the mirrored ceiling they were having their overworked drama on. But she admitted to herself that she really didn’t know the rules and wasn’t even sure if she was merely dreaming or not.
She looked on the table and saw the judge was still leaning on the cards. “Get the fuck off the cards, bitch! You’ll bend them!”
To her surprise, the judge did move off the table to retake their seat. To her dismay, the judge picked up all the cards on the table, except the face up card which kept slipping out of the judge’s hands to lay on the table before Lisa.
After several more futile attempts, the judge stopped trying to pick up the unrecognizable card and left it on the table while slipping the rest of the deck into a pocket. “There. Now the cards won’t be bent, but you won’t have them either.”
“You’re lying but I don’t know how. Yet.” Lisa stared at the card and tried to remember its name. “Why are you here?”
“Because you are. Why are you here?”
Lisa shrugged. “I dunno. Why are you suddenly chill?”
The judge did not answer. The mask of her face was static and still. No emotions fluttered over the duplicate skin. No flush of anger reddened it. The judge was silent.
Lisa stared at the card again in hopes of summoning all the answers that she had originally wanted from tarot. She called the memory of the first two cards. The World card had revealed to her the collapsing boundaries of her world and how if she did nothing that she would collapse with it. The Fool card had revealed to her how her willful ignorance of that state was self-destructive and that she needed to move past that ignorance if she was going to help herself.
But the Fool was out of turn because Rebecca had moved the card. What should have been the card before the World? She had looked at the decorated card before but the imagery made no sense to her. The card frame was filled with the twisting and turning of something like feathered wyrms, one of them grossly damaged. She remembered being frustrated that the image had no connection to the title and felt like she was taking a final test that she never had the materials to study for.
Understanding fluttered in her thoughts. She looked at the judge. “You’re testing me.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because you want to prove that I can’t do it. That I can’t carry it. That I’ll hurt myself and you want to make sure I don’t hurt others. That’s what you said. This is a test.” She glanced at the card on the table. “That card is a test. You can’t take that card because that’s the card in play right now.”
Lisa took her right hand out of her pocket and picked up the card while watching the judge. The judge did not move, even to the point of not having the appearance of breathing.
“I’m going through the deck in reverse. I have the World but I can’t do anything about that because I don’t have the tools to work on the World. Before I can win a prize, I have to prove myself worthy, I have to take the test, I have to pass…”
Lisa turned the blank card to face the judge.
The blank card changed shape and appearance to match the decorated deck. Lisa saw the shift but did not focus on it. “This whole thing we’re doing right now? That’s judgement. But you’re doing it not to pass me, but to fail me. You’re using other people’s words, other people’s false judgement to justify trying to break me! Why?!”
Lisa’s anger was returning and damn, it was starting to feel good. She realized how she was starting to work herself up, and as much as she wanted to slip back into old routines, she forced herself to remain level.
“No. That’s not what you were doing. I see now. You’re repeating… reflecting… my self-judgement against myself. All the ways that I’ve been using Jean’s and Aunt Helen’s and everyone else’s bullshit to beat myself down, to keep myself down, to stop myself from trying to rise above the bullshit and to do right.”
Lisa turned the card so that it faced her. The central damaged wyrm was surrounded by other wyrms. To her, they had participated in the causing the wound to the central wyrm and was waiting for its downfall to be complete. She noted that the case could also be made that the central wyrm harmed itself and the others were just waiting for it to finish self-destructing.
“Once I get a full-time job with fucking benefits and shit, I’m getting a shrink. I must have all sorts of fucking issues if this is starting to feel fucking normal and shit.”
Lisa stood up and put the Judgement card in her pocket. “I don’t know how this works. And somehow I don’t think that I’ll find good info on the Internet about this. I don’t know if you are a reflection of me like everything else here, or if you are me, but this much I do know…”
“You have no power over me.”
She started to walk away from the table. “Now, how the fuck do I get out of here? I need to go ask a card reader a question.”
As she turned to get around her chair she bumped into the blank mask judge. Somehow she was taller than them, shorter than them, and just the same height at them. “Don’t fucking tell me that you’ve been standing behind me the entire goddamn time!”
The blank mask judge nodded. “Very well, I won’t.”
Lisa shoved her hands in her pockets and stared at the ground again. The action in the mirror disoriented her so she stared at the blank mask again. “You just fucking stood there and let that bitch terrorize me?!”
“If that is how you want to describe it, yes.”
“WHY! I thought you’re supposed to be helping me! Why didn’t you help me?”
The blank mask judge tilted their head in a movement that Lisa interpreted as confusion of the question. “Because I am not here to help you.”
Lisa took a step back and bumped into the table. She turned around to stare at the judge wearing her face, then back at the blank face judge. “Not here to help… what the fuck are you here for, then?”
“To teach you tarot, as you requested.”
Lisa wanted to be angry. She wanted to be furious. She wanted to throw things and make a scene and raise everyone’s level of discomfort to dangerous levels. But Lisa was now remembering Rebecca’s words and her declaration that tarot is a tool.
“You’re not here to fix my shit. You’re here so I can have something to help me fix my shit, myself. But you’re not here to fix my shit, or to rescue me.”
The judge bowed. “That is correct.”
“I have to be the judge of my life. And all this bullshit that just happened was to make me see that. I judge myself, and walk that judgement out. I just have to make sure the rules I’m judging myself by are fair.”
Lisa reached forward and took the hand of the blank face judge. “Okay. I’m ready to go home.”
The judge pulled their hand out of Lisa’s suddenly weak grip. “Then leave.”
“Don’t I have to pull you or some shit?”
“No. You just decide to leave, and then leave.”
Lisa held her face in her hand. “Could I have done that at any time?”
Lisa woke up just after dawn. She stared at the far side of the room for a few minutes as she waited for the dream to fade. She got up, used the bathroom, stared out the window for a short while, then burrowed back under the covers once more, only to realize that the dream was still vivid.
She was still bitching and muttering under her breath when she fell back into a deep and dreamless sleep.