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Thanks for taking a peek at this, I'd love some help in trimming it down for the ghost story contest.  I'm too involved to make the wounds!  As you can see, I'm not anywhere finished yet so I'll post more when I can but if it can be used for the story contest I'd love to give it a shot!  :)

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Tarot and the Dead/working title
Copyright: Stacey Graham 2000

I had to share a story about one night while reading for someone at my home.  I don’t usually do this, my personal influences intrude (namely my kids) and the querent may focus more on what flavor of sucker is stuck to their butts, compliment of the aforementioned children, instead of their reason for seeing me.  This woman came to me, however, on the urging of a friend.  She had insisted that this woman was haunted and a reading through me would help her to reach what had been following her.

Elizabeth came to my house after dinner, she looked nervous but strong.  Tall and pale, her hair swept back from her face and held by two severe looking clips, she gave the impression of wanting complete control over her surroundings.  After meeting my family, we went downstairs to my office, this time locking the never-locked door.  The air stuck to us in the humid Virginia night, electricity crackled as we got down to the business of finding out what hovered around her.  I asked her to face me and relax.  I began to slowly relax and focus upon what I could do to show her the path that lay nestled against that of her spirit companion.

I began by explaining that places, not people, were usually haunted.  What we are familiar with as a haunting is generally believed to be a pattern torn from time and repeated over and over again.  Footsteps, noises, visions, all were classic in a haunted house.  What, I wondered, made her so sure she was being visited?

“Sometimes at night,” Elizabeth started, “I would feel my heart start to pound and I’d get so tired I needed to sit down immediately.  I didn’t think anything of it, I work late and convinced myself that I wasn’t getting enough rest.  Usually I’d just go to bed, but then the other things began to happen.”

I shuffled the cards as she spoke, concentrating on what she was saying but also putting myself in tune with her feelings, listening beyond the words and into her emotions.

“It began after my husband left, we had split up peacefully and I was enjoying being single again.  One night as I lay in bed, I began to hear a soft weeping coming from the living room.  It didn’t take much to get me curious, so I got up and walked out there not expecting to see anyone and I wasn’t disappointed.  There was no one there.  I convinced myself that it was my imagination and went back to bed.  The next night, at the same time, the weeping began again.  I knew I was hearing it clearly this time, I leapt off the bed and ran towards the door.  I wasn’t afraid of a noise and if this thing was moving in, I wanted to know what I was dealing with.”

Elizabeth got up and walked around the small room, her eyes browsed the yard outside the window not seeing but absorbing the coming twilight.   Her small hands picked up books that held the strange meanings of the tarot, flipping through their pages she hoped to get a better understanding of what had become trapped in her house.  I stopped my shuffling and lit a small diffuser, adding my favorite essential oils to scent the room and dispel the confusion she was unknowingly emitting.  Chamomile embraced us and she visibly relaxed.

“As I opened the door, the weeping stopped as it had the night before but I felt a change in the air.  It was charged like it is tonight but I could feel the energy pressing against me.  My heart started beating rapidly and I began to become lightheaded.”  She laughed at the memory now, it held no horror.  “I called out to it but felt like an idiot talking to my armchair.  I went into the kitchen to make some tea, turning on the light I noticed that the faucet was on, just a little bit, it sounded like a whisper.  I don’t remember leaving it on after doing the dishes but I was concerned more about how I was going to get to sleep more than a leaky faucet.  I filled up the kettle and went back into the living room to wait for it to heat up.”

Elizabeth started pacing the room now, her mouth drawing into a tight line as she remembered what came next.  I stopped the noise of the cards and began to deal them in an intricate pattern, I wanted to use this energy to see if it would help us to find answers.  She watched but didn’t see me, her eyes reflecting that night in memory.

“I laid down on the couch and switched on the television, I wasn’t really paying attention, I was thinking of the crying.  I had almost convinced myself that it was all in my head when the TV started to splutter.  Don’t laugh, it started waving in and out and the sound kept going louder and softer.  The remote didn’t work at all so I got up and went to turn it off by the buttons.  Nothing happened as I pushed them, it just kept going crazy!  I finally tore out the plug but it continued.  I thought I was out of my mind until the whistle on the kettle blew.  Everything stopped dead.  The television went blank and I was left holding the plug.”  Elizabeth sat down and stared at the spread I had just thrown, the cards laid out before her like a tapestry of her life.  She wasn’t quite ready yet to hear what the cards had chosen to tell her so moved her eyes away from them and stared into the light of the small candle warming the oils.

“I ran into the kitchen and grabbed the kettle off the burner, I was so shocked by what had just happened in the other room that I spilled some on my nightgown.   I jumped back so as not to get burned by the boiling water but it was too late, the water had drenched me.  Except it was cold, the stove burner had never been turned on!  Now I was really close to losing it, I could swear that I had just heard the whistle telling me that the kettle was boiling and the noise had stopped the TV from exploding.  I ran back into my room and got dressed, I went to a friend’s house and spent the night.”

By this time I had given up all pretence of paying attention to the cards, I leaned closer to hear her soft words, she had the look of someone tortured by their own mind.

”The next morning I went back to the house, everything seemed quiet and normal in the daytime, what was there to be afraid of?”  she laughed nervously, “When I entered the house the air seemed to press against me again, like there was someone or something there that didn’t want me.  I’ve never backed down from anything and this certainly wasn’t going to keep me from my house.  It was just electrical problems and pipes, right?”  I just raised an eyebrow and kept quiet, she didn’t need speculation from me at this point.  “It seemed simple enough, I would go in and get ready for work like nothing happened.  I went into the bathroom to find the faucet leaking like the kitchen last night, a little transparent stream snaking it’s way from the faucet to the drain.  Innocuous enough but it made me aware that whatever had been playing with me last night was still around.  I went into the living room to see if anything was thrown about, my imagination was working overtime by then only to find nothing out of the ordinary.  I was almost disappointed,” she laughed again, “ what did I expect?  Headless bodies roaming my laundry room?”

“I went deeper into the living room and passed the TV, it was plugged in.  At least whatever had been there last night was tidy, the kettle I had thrown to the floor the night before was now back on top of the stove.  And the faucet, the damn thing was on again.  Then I got angry, I ran over and grabbed the handle and wrenched it closed as hard as I could.  That’s when I noticed the silence, I live in a busy neighborhood, and there are always cars roaming by or kids on their bikes yelling to each other.  At that moment even the bugs were silent outside.  The air became heavy and dank, it was like I was swimming through atmosphere with my feet dragging me along towards the other room.  The sun that had just been shining passed behind clouds, making shadows on the walls.  I think they were shadows, geez, I hope they were shadows.  It was as if I was watching a kids shadow play, I stood in the middle of the living room and watched as dark patches wrestled on the wall.  There seemed to be two figures but they mixed so often it was hard to tell where one left off and the other began.  I wanted to run but I couldn’t, I was now part of its audience.”

Her hands started to shake and she asked if she could smoke, a vehement non-smoker myself I gave her permission and wondered I needed one too.  The scent of tobacco filled the room, blocking the oils I had warmed for their healing properties and replaced it with one that choked and smothered.  Somehow it seems appropriate. 

“As I watched, they began to tumble and crawl across the walls, reaching for something.  I don’t know what they were clawing for but it was always just beyond their grasp.  Then the smells came, rotten, awful, it smelled like dead flesh was piled up in a corner, I had to get out of there!  I finally was able to run out of the house, forget work I was going back to Aly’s!  So this is why I’m here, I need to know what is happening to me!”

I stared at her in silence, I could hardly believe what she had just told me.  While I believe in spirits, I had a healthy dose of skeptism for ghost stories.  I decided that she believed it so I would take her at her word, with that I turned to the cards.  The tarot had shown me, over the years, what a person’s character was truly like.  You couldn’t hide selfishness or greed, nor could someone bury secrets for long.  A reading exposed what lies beneath and as the reader and querent become more in tune with each other, more is revealed.  I knew in this first reading we probably wouldn’t get to the bottom of her problem but I wanted to see what she was made of.  As she had been speaking, I threw her a Star spread, one that gave me a quick looksee into her psychical makeup.

The first position told me of her childhood, she had drawn the card of the Tower.  It represented a time of upheaval and distress.  Sometimes the past follows us into the present, karma that had yet to be learned.  Elizabeth’s past may be intruding on her present life, I wondered if she had been visited by spirits before?  The second position of the star showed me the Two of Pentacles, this was the present phase in her life, she was balancing her life without her husband with the past memories of being a couple.  She was learning to live again as a single entity without the balancing force of her husband.  She told me they had split amicably, what was she holding onto?  A reversed Nine of Cups told me of her near future, she was not revealing all to me, she had a wish, something that would not come quickly but would influence her life.  I wondered if she was regretting her decision to divorce. 

Her next card was the Queen of Swords, showing me her true character.  This card represents a woman who uses her mental abilities for her own good.  She outsmarts her obstacles, no wonder what was happening in her house was driving her mad.  Anything she could not explain away became a threat to her vision of reality, she was not a woman who accepted things outside of logic.  It was difficult for her to experience a tear in common sense and recognize that she was now sharing the house with something other than a bed bug.  The psyche position revealed the High Preistess, the card of intuition and secrets.  Did she know of her powers?  The Queen would suppress anything that conflicted with her control but the High Preistess would lay under the surface, working almost against the Queen until it was time to take over.  Elizabeth had been pulled in two directions for her entire life, not knowing that the struggle lay within.

Where then was she headed?  How did these cards play into her drama at home?  They didn’t seem to reflect how spirits had suddenly appeared to take over her house and plumbing.  She had two cards left to be revealed, the obstacles and the culmination.  While she listened to my explanation of each card I could see that she was studying the colors and symbols of the deck.  Each had meaning, each had the power to show her the path she traveled.  I flipped the sixth card to reveal the Devil, the card was dark and violent with its depiction of a horned beast squatting between two chained lovers.  I felt triumphant that we were getting somewhere, we could start to explore this mystery in more depth via the cards.  One card was left, somehow I knew what it was and dreaded her reaction.  I turned over the card to reveal Death.  I wasn’t going for melodramatics or meaningful pauses but she certainly gave me one.   The air sucked into her body with a great rush, her surprise and horror at seeing the grinning skull at the center of the spread made her begin to look as if she wanted to run out of the room but then where would she go? 

I couldn’t let her believe that the Death card was literal, it meant that radical change was coming.  She shook her head as if to block out the panic that was taking over, she was too emotional to listen to words of reassurance that she wasn’t going to be hit by a bus on the way home.  I needed to make her understand that this was a serious card but not one that foretold her death.  Elizabeth jumped from the table and walked quickly to the door, as she turned the handle I reminded her it was locked.  She stared hard at me as she turned the knob and opened the door without a word.  I watched her go up the steps and knew I had something other than a simple haunting on my hands.

Chapter Two

Night had crept over the hills as Elizabeth returned to the house.  The drive was comfortably familiar as her intuition took over and she thought about the cards she had seen.  She wasn’t completely ignorant of tarot, she had seen the Death card before but not in relation to herself, not under circumstances as strange as these.  What could the Devil card have meant?  She thought back along the past few years, searching for obsessions or unhealthy habits that may have brought this on.  Aside from a slight flirtation with non-fat frozen yogurt, she couldn’t think of anything else evil that would’ve brought such a card as her obstacle.  Though, in the back of her mind, she knew something was there, something she had pushed back so as to be forgotten.  Elizabeth refused to acknowledge its insistent drumming for attention and she drove on.

The silence greeted her again as she drove into her neighborhood.  The rain that had threatened earlier had produced fat drops splattering against the windshield.  Not bothering to turn on the wipers as she was so close to home, she missed the subtle changes in the wind as it reached her house.  The trees overhead tossed the wind up and over the roof instead of letting it hit the walls.  The leaves took the brunt as wind violently vaulted upwards so as not to disturb the atmosphere of the small house.  Elizabeth pulled into the driveway and gathered her things, silently getting ready to battle what was inside.  As she opened the car door, the wind howled in pain at its interruption over the vehicle.  Elizabeth pulled her sweater tighter and put her head down against the now fierce rain as she ran towards the door.  As she got closer, however, the wind settled, the rain fell softly against her and she slowed as she approached the front door. 

“This is ridiculous,” she thought, “how can I be afraid of my own house?”  As she forced the key into the lock, she found that the handle opened gently in her hand.  She knew it had been locked earlier as it had a self-locking mechanism installed when she and her husband, Hamish, first moved in.  He was always lecturing her on safety, calling her too arrogant to think of being robbed.  She missed his comforting bulk right now, she wished she could call him but didn’t want him to see any weakness.  The rain began anew to creep upon the house, she pushed open the door and reached for the light switch inside before stepping in.  Light flooded the front hallway, illuminating the hard wood floors and pale green walls.  Elizabeth moved silently over the walkway, her feet making no sound on the soft throw rugs leading to the kitchen.

A quiet hum surrounded the house, she could feel it rather than hear it.  An energy that rested below what we can usually see or touch, it relied on intuition to get its message across that it was still here.  Elizabeth crept into the kitchen, unconsciously holding her breath until she had turned on the light and looked around.  The faucet was silent, its stream halted by the force of her hands the day before.  She relaxed and took this as a sign that it was going to be a quiet night. 

The rain lashed against the trees throughout the night, but the house was ignorant of its fury.  Inside, Elizabeth kept a wary eye on the television and got ready for bed.  The almost electric vibrations of the house lulled her into a deep sleep, she was tired of fighting things she couldn’t understand and only wanted escape.  As sleep claimed her, she missed the quiet rocking of the chair in the front room and the soft sobs that accompanied its silent watch of the house.

Chapter Three

The glare of the morning sun woke her as it streamed from the open window and fell across her pillow.  Pushing back her tangle of red hair, Elizabeth laid with her eyes closed against the sun.  Not fully awake, she half-listened to the noises of the house, checking subconsciously to make sure all was right.  “That faucet is going again, damn it!” she thought aloud.  Fully awake now, she rolled out of bed and sprinted across the room to wrest open the partially opened door and ran into the kitchen.  There, neatly stacked upon her counter top was a pile of plates.  Each one balanced so that they would simultaneously fall if anything were disturbed.  Backing away, Elizabeth left the faucet running and turned to face to living room. 

“Ok, I get the picture, there’s someone here.  Now what the hell do you want with me!” she cried.  Only silence greeted her.  Elizabeth walked slowly into the sunlit room, no menacing shadows on the wall, only photographs of herself and Hamish from happier days.  Sitting on the couch, she tucked her feet under herself and put her head in her hands.  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a small movement coming from the rocking chair.  It seemed to be shifting back and forth slowly, such a tiny bit that she felt sure she was imagining it.  Then the chair picked up speed, Elizabeth watched in amazement as the antique began to rock violently, hitting the back wall.  She leapt from the couch and grabbed the chair with both hands, being pulled along with its brutal force and now unable to free herself.  She struck the wall with her body trying to shield her head from hitting the shelf above the chair.  Elizabeth flung her full weight back from the chair and pulled it on top of her, her hands finally free as she quickly pushed it away.