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The Major Arcana

The Major Arcana For the rest of Monday, Tommy wondered if what he’d seen had really been true. The gypsy wagon appearing out of nowhere, Remus and his fortune telling. He’d claimed that it was all psychology, but at the same time, he’d guessed Tommy’s secret within five minutes of meeting him. And he’d known his name. Tommy was 100% positive that he’d never told him that. And other time he would have gotten out of there and never come back, any other person who’d done those things would have terrified him. But there was something very... honest about Remus, and Tommy found himself trusting him. He wasn’t a bad person, he could tell. Tommy knew bad people. There was a fine line between mysterious and creepy and Remus was so far away from that line that he’d have to pack a suitcase in order to reach it. But more than that, Remus was simply cool. What he did was cool, and Tommy desperately wanted to know more. It would be dangerous. If he was caught and the teacher told his parents... he didn’t know what would happen. But Remus had offered to teach him more, and by golly he was going to learn. So on Tuesday he waited by the fence again until the playground monitor was well out of sight, then crossed the street to the dusty, abandoned lot. The wagon was still parked smack dab in the middle of it, complete with jangly bells and faded sign. Tommy briefly wondered if he was the only one who could see it. Either that, or no one else really wanted to. As soon as Tommy approached, Remus popped his head through the curtain in the back. “Ah, so you decided to come back, did you Tommy?” He grinned as he beckoned Tommy into the musty interior. “How did you do that?” Tommy asked, sitting on the same stool he’d occupied yesterday. “Do what?” Remus sat as well. “Guess my name,” he insisted. “I know I didn’t tell you.” Remus knocked himself on the head. “Oh, that’s right, you didn’t. Blast it! To tell you the truth,” his smile returned, “I’m mildly psychic.” “Mildly psychic?” Tommy repeated, raising an eyebrow. “Not in the way you’re thinking,” Remus reassured him. “I can’t move objects with my mind or anything, though that would certainly be helpful.” He laughed. “No, it’s simply that names and dispositions sometimes come to me with surprising accuracy.” “Well, that’s not fair,” Tommy huffed. “How so?” “You say it’s all about psychology and stuff,” Tommy explained. “But you’re cheating.” Remus shook his head. “I think you’re overestimating me. My knack for names rarely comes into much use in fortune-telling. Most people get nervous if you know their names. In fact, sometimes it’s detrimental. Fortune telling is easiest when done completely blind. Let me show you.” So Tommy listened, enraptured, until he heard the school bell ring from across the street. He almost didn’t want to leave, but Remus insisted that his education was important too. Of course, he barely paid attention the rest of the day anyway, instead attempting to ‘read’ his classmates. Though as Remus said, it was a lot harder when he already knew them. Wednesday went in much the same way. Tommy nearly bounced with impatience throughout the morning as he waited for recess, then almost got caught by the playground monitor on his way across the street. Remus decided to try something a little different that day. He pulled out a deck of cards, but they weren’t the kind that Tommy was familiar with: taller than normal ones, with ornate pictures depicting towers and priests. “Tarot cards,” Remus called them. “We’ll only look at the Major Arcana today.” He went on to explain how each of them had different meanings, and that meanings changed depending on the order you drew them. “But the meanings are all very vague,” he continued. “The trick is to interpret them in a way that makes your customer happy.” “And it all comes back to psychology.” Tommy nodded. “Exactly!” And Tommy went home that afternoon with a new set of cards in his backpack and a smile. On the way past the third Starbucks, Tommy thought that it would be fun to stop and observe people. Remus had told him so much about it, and he really wanted to try it for himself, because as he said, it only really worked if you went in blind. So Tommy sat on a hard, wooden bench and watched the people going in and out of the Starbucks. That women right there with the pantsuit was clearly worried about something, based on the scrunched look of her face. Maybe work? That man over there in the brightly pattern polo was meeting someone he wasn’t supposed to, since he kept glancing back and forth every other second. On and on and on it went. When Tommy next looked up, the sky was dark. Oh no, he hadn’t kept track of the time. He stood, grabbing his backpack. This wasn’t good, he had to get home, before the sun completely went down. Tommy dashed the last few blocks and up the stairs to the apartment. Just before he reached it, the door opened on its own, and Tommy froze until he saw that it was his mom. “Tommy,” her eyes were wide, “you’d better get in here before—“ “It that the boy?” His father asked from the living room. Tommy shuffled through the door, caught by the heavy odor of cigarette smoke. “Do you know what time it is?” His father sat forward in his armchair. Tommy shook his head. “Come here.” He gestured with the hand that held his cigarette. “Dear, it’s not all that—” his mom took a step in front of Tommy, but stopped as baby Mikey began to cry in the next room. She hesitated, looking back and forth between Tommy and the bedroom. Then she winced, and rushed off to check on the baby. “Come here, Thomas,” his father commanded. He didn’t want to. The next day he had a new burn on his arm. It stung, a constant reminder to never be home that late again. He couldn’t disobey father anymore. He was supposed to come home right after school and he had been gone an extra hour-and-a-half. He almost didn’t go back to Remus’ wagon on Thursday. His father would have flipped his lid if he knew that Tommy was leaving school. But still it, and Remus and the calming smell of incense inside beckoned him back. Though he tried to hide it, Remus of course noticed the new burn right away. “Would you like to talk about it?” He asked gently, sitting Tommy down. “I don’t know...” Tommy looked down at the dusty floor, and Remus waited. “It’s my fault.” He blurted out suddenly. “I... I wanted to read people like you taught me, but I lost track of time an-and was late coming home and so dad... dad had to teach me a lesson.” He sniffed a little, a trail of snot running down his nose, but he didn’t cry. “Tommy...” Remus shook his head. “This,” he pointed to the burn, “is not your fault at all. So maybe you were a little late—” “An hour and a half,” Tommy corrected. "It doesn't matter. There is never an excuse to hurt someone like this." Tommy blinked. “There isn’t?” He croaked. “No! Never.” There was a moment of silence in the wagon, and then Tommy began to cry. It wasn’t his fault. He hadn’t realized how much he’d wanted someone to say that to him. “T-then why?” he asked through stuttering breaths. “Why does he do it?” Remus wrapped his arms around him. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I hate it. I hate it I hate it I hate it.” Sighing, Remus sat back, so that his face was level with Tommy’s. “I want to help you, Tommy. I was going to try to find another solution, but this is all I can think of.” He paused. “How would you like to come with me? Get away from here? You could be my... apprentice of sorts.” “Come... with you?” Tommy asked. “But I barely know you!” “I know, I know. That’s why I was trying to come up with something else. But I don’t have time to just leave you like this.” He stared back at the boy’s wide eyes. “You don’t have to put up with it. You can come with me. I’ll take you far away from here. I’ve been to places you can never imagine!” “I’d love to, but—” Tommy paused. Going off with Remus sounded like a dream come true, but also like a dream, it sounded too good to be true. What if his father found him? What if Remus wasn’t who he seemed to be? But he was genuinely scared to go home. So many conflicting thoughts ran through his head. He did want to leave, wanted to get as far away as he could, but... “I can’t.” Remus nodded, smiling sadly. “Ah yes. Of course. I understand.” The bell rang, and Tommy began to back out of the wagon. “I... I’ve got to go.” “If you change your mind, or if you just need someone to talk to,” Remus said, “I’ll be here.” After school, Tommy went home as quickly as he dared, almost running. He didn’t want to, but he did it anyway. As soon as he entered the apartment, he snuck off to the bedroom that he and his sister Cindy shared. The air in the place was heavy, and though all reason said otherwise, Tommy was somehow sure that his father knew about the conversation he’d just had. His room was small, and starkly yellow from the fluorescent light above. Cindy was sleeping on the bed, drool coming from the corner of her mouth. She’d better enjoy her easy life while it lasted, Tommy thought, she’d have to start Kindergarten next year. Tommy put down his backpack, and stood in the door for a minute. He needed something to take his mind off of yesterday. Maybe... yeah. He dug through the backpack and grabbed out the pack of Tarot cards. First he separated the Major Arcana—the ones with the crazy names and pictures—from the Minor Arcana—the ones with suits and numbers—and set the latter aside. Remus hadn’t taught him about those yet. It was a little hard, thinking about Remus and his offer, but also somehow comforting. Tommy himself could admit the strangeness of the whole thing, but his gut told him that Remus truly had his best interests at heart. And seeing him and learning about people and fortune telling were about the only things he looked forward to.

Just as he was laying out the Tarot cards and trying to remember all their meanings, Cindy lifted her head from the pillow. “Wha’re you doing?” she asked, rubbing her eye with a pudgy fist, the bunch of yarn and plastic beads she called her “good luck charm” tinkling slightly on her wrist. “Practicing Tarot cards,” Tommy mumbled as he narrowed his eyes in concentration. Cindy sat up, looking over his shoulder with interest. “Tara cards?” “No, Tarot,” he corrected. “What are those for?” “They’re for telling the future.” Tommy gathered the cards from the floor and shuffled them clumsily. He winced as he accidentally bent one a little. “Here, let me show you.” Tommy didn’t know what he was doing. They hadn’t gotten that far yet. But it was like Remus said. “If you look like you have all the answers, they’ll all believe you do.” He drew a card from the top of the pile and laid on the carpet. “This is the Tower,” he said, relieved. That one was easy to remember, with its image of a monolith being struck by a flash of lightning. “It means hardship.” “Another one!” Cindy demanded, enraptured. The next card had an image of a woman feeding a goat. “Oh, this one is... is...” No! This was the one he kept forgetting. It wasn’t the Priestess, or the Empress, so it had to be... “Strength!” It finally came to him. “This one’s Strength. That meaning’s obvious. Let’s do one more.” He drew one final card, and placed it besides the others. It had a picture of a marauding warrior being pulled in a cart. “Chariot,” Tommy said. “This one is the Chariot. It means change. So if we read the three of them together...” he pointed to the first card. “There’s hardship ahead, but if we’re strong,” the second card, “things will change,” and finally the Chariot. Cindy’s eyes widened. “Whoa...” she said simply. “Do it again!” But just as Tommy began to gather the cards together, their door opened abruptly. “What are you kids doing in—?” his father burst in without knocking, but stopped as he saw the Tarot cards. “What in God’s name is this?” “N-nothing,” Tommy stuttered, trying to gather up the cards and hide them behind his back. “I can see that it’s not nothing,” he snarled. “What do you think I am, an idiot?” The glow of the fluorescent light caught the surface of the strength card, and his father picked it up. “Fortune cards? I thought I told you two to get your damned heads out of the clouds.” With little fanfare, he bent the card and tore it in half. Tommy watched the two halves fluttered silently to the ground in a second that seemed to stretch out to forever. He didn’t take his eyes off of it even when his father growled: “Where did you get there?” “I...” Tommy began, struggling. If he told his father about Remus, he could get him in huge trouble. And then he wouldn’t be able to see him again. He couldn’t tell, but if he didn’t... “I asked you a question, boy!” He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. That’s right, he didn’t have to put up with this. Remus had told him that. “No...” he said quietly. His father paused. “What did you just say?” “I... I said ‘no’.” Turning beat-red, his father took a step into the room. “You ungrateful little shitheel. Do you know who I am? I am your father! Tell me!” “No!” Tommy repeated, louder this time. “No, I won’t!” “You will not disobey me.” In a flash, his father unbuckled his belt, and wrapped it around Tommy’s neck. He squeezed. Tommy struggled. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t get away. His father bared his teeth as spots danced across his vision. Self-preservation made him kick and squirm, but weakly. He couldn’t feel his limbs, and the world was darkening. Somewhere distantly, Cindy screamed. “Robert!” His father let go as he heard Tommy’s mother at the door. Tommy collapsed, wheezing and coughing. The next thing he remembered, his mother’s arms were around him, her tears hot on his forehead, and his father was gone. “I’m sorry, Tommy.” She sobbed. “I’m so, so sorry.” She held him for a long time, and after she stopped crying, put him to bed. It was still early, but Tommy wouldn’t have been able to do anything else anyway. He just wanted to lose himself in the oblivion of sleep. His neck hurt. Even he was surprised by how calm he was. But all the while he lay in bed it all felt so distant. It had happened so fast; the only thing that made him sure it had been real was the pain in his neck every time he tried to cough. Much later, he would be grateful for that distance, because instead of panicking and feeling scared, only one thought entered his mind: he needed to leave. He couldn’t stay here any longer. His fate had been sealed the moment he’d said ‘no’. If he didn’t leave now, his father would kill him. Tommy waited, and waited, until he finally heard his parent’s bedroom door close for the last time. Slowly, he got up, grabbed his backpack from the ground, and began hastily stuffing clothes into it. He couldn’t tell exactly what he was grabbing in the dark, but he didn’t want to risk turning on the light, and it didn’t really matter anyway. “What are you doing?” whispered a voice. Tommy looked up to see Cindy blinking down at him from the bed. “I’m leaving,” he hissed out, unable to get his throat to work properly. He prayed that she wouldn’t cry or fight him. But she didn’t do either. She just stared and nodded, like she had known it longer than he had. After digging through the pile of blankets and pillows, Cindy held up her good luck charm. “Promise you’ll come back.” It was not a request. “I promise,” Tommy smiled, taking the charm from her and slipping it around his wrist. He hoisted the backpack over his shoulder and quietly as he could, opened the bedroom door. Cindy didn’t take her eyes off of him until he was almost gone. “Bye Tommy.” He waved, and shut the door behind him. Slowly, carefully, he snuck across the carpeted floor of the front room, grabbed the handle to the door, and turned. With baited breath he opened it, and when he heard nothing from the house, he ran. Down the stairs of the apartment complex, through the parking lot, and out onto the rain-soaked street. Before long, he was soaked to the bone, and his throat ached. He kept running. Past the Starbucks, across the street—he almost got hit by a car—and finally, the chain-link fence of the school came into view. And there, in the abandoned lot, caught in the glow of the Dollar Tree, was the wagon. A part of him had needlessly worried that it would be gone, just like it had appeared almost a week ago. But there it was. Tommy ran to it, pulled open the flap. “Remus,” he pushed, but almost no sound came out. “Who’s there?” the man emerged from a nest of blankets at the back of the wagon. “Tommy? Is that you?” he asked as he peered through the darkness. “Help.” Tommy tried again, but only produced air. Remus grabbed an electric lantern and clicked it on, shining it in Tommy’s direction. “What’s going—?” He began, but stopped as his eyes fell on Tommy’s neck. “God.” “I...” Tommy cleared his throat, not that it helped. “I need to go somewhere safe.” Nodding, Remus stood. “Of course.” He patted the side of the wagon. “You heard the lad, Mathilda. It’s time to go.” “The wagon has a name?” There! He got a little out that time. “Mathilda has... a mind of her own, you could say.” Remus nodded. “She takes me where I need to be.” “Where are we going?” Tommy asked as a strange wind began to blow around them. Chuckling, Remus smiled. “That’s the beauty of it: I don’t know!” “What?” “Here we go!” Remus shouted over the rising gale. Tommy closed his eyes, and when he opened them next, they were someplace new. A soft, green light flooded through the entrance to the wagon. Remus peaked his head out of the flap. “Ah, Mathilda, you genius.” He grinned. “This is perfect!” Blinking in the sudden light, Tommy looked too. Outside, the wagon was now surrounded by trees. But not just ordinary trees. They towered up hundreds of feet into the air, and their trunks were thick as houses. “Where are we?” he asked. “This is the forest of H’thalee.” Remus hopped out of the wagon, and offered a hand to Tommy. He took it, following behind. “I’ve been here before, helped the Geftil Tribe with an awful pusmumps epidemic about a year ago. They’re a very wise people, I’m sure they’ll have you all fixed up in a jiffy.” “H...H’thalee?” Tommy stuttered. “I’ve never heard of that.” Remus smiled. “Ah, that’s because I’ve taken you about as far away as I can manage. This place isn’t on your world, it’s someplace... different.” “Like another dimension?” “Exactly!” Remus nodded. “And there’s millions of different places out there! Things you can’t even imagine!” Despite the clenching fear in his gut, Tommy felt himself smiling as his eyes grew wide. “That sounds... amazing! And... and I can really come with you?” “Of course, my boy.” Remus grinned broadly, patting him on the head. “You’re my apprentice now, after all.”

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