‘This is the weirdest thing I think I’ve ever come across!’ Susan announced, placing her iPad and her notebook on the cafe table with a flourish.
Lisa was vaguely irritated. She had so little spare time now with work and dealing with Mandy that she needed some ‘time out’ and she’d very much wanted to use this brief moment to talk with her friend about her concerns for her daughter and her crush on Damien. But Susan had brushed these off with a dismissive comment about teenagers, crushes and the like, because her interests were obviously so otherwise directed.
‘What is?’ Lisa asked, her voice a bit tight, though her friend did not notice this. Or if she did, she wasn’t of a mind to acknowledge it. Susan could be like a steamroller sometimes, unaware of the finer nuances of social interaction. This probably gave her a suit of armour for her job, a kind of lacuna of empathy on occasion that allowed her to trespass on people’s private worlds if required, but it also made her a somewhat oblivious friend.
Still, there would be no dissuading her from her course till she had told her story. When they were young, Susan was fond of being the storyteller, and not above a fair degree of embellishment and exaggeration. Again, this probably aided her in her vocation. But remembering this, Lisa also met all her friend’s ‘stories’ with a degree of discriminating disbelief. What constitutes a cause celebre on the front page of a newspaper one day will often be forgotten the next, but Lisa remembered beyond that and how often in their youth Susan’s stories turned out to be flights of fancy and no more. So when she said something was the weirdest thing ever, Lisa switched on her critical faculties as quickly as she attuned her ears to hear the story about to unfold.
‘This town has a long history of peculiar deaths,’ Susan intoned.
‘I imagine all towns do, if you look hard enough into their history.’ Lisa replied. She idly swirled the pattern of chocolate on the top of her cappuccino froth, as though that might divine for her a speedier retreat from the discussion. For a second a sense memory wafted up to her, of Damien passing her a coffee at the end of the Twin Peaks viewing night, his fingers lingering just a few seconds too long on hers. There was such promise in that single moment, a communion of such shared and agreed desire, that the memory took her out of the present just long enough to miss the beginning of what Susan was saying, and her friend seemed to sense this and said, rather sharply, ‘Are you with me or with him?’
‘What?’ Lisa asked, stunned.
Susan cackled. ‘You know. Our mysterious new neighbour! Your mysterious…handsome.. new neighbour, from what you’ve said!’
Lisa blushed, caught out.
‘When are you going to introduce me to this paragon, by the way?’ Susan asked, ‘I’m dying to see what kind of man captures my fussy friend’s attention!’
‘What? Oh soon I suppose, maybe you could come over to dinner soon and I’ll invite him too’ Lisa muttered, then landed on an idea, ‘It could be good to see what you make of Mandy’s reaction to him too.’
‘Cool, I’ll be your undercover spy!’ Susan chortled, ‘now, back to the mystery, if I may have your undivided attention for just a few moments? Yes? Good. As I said, this town has an interesting history of deaths – some unsolved, some accidental and so forth, but I started to see a pattern, taking into account the hint about tarot cards in your dream. I decided to go backwards and see if anything fit.’
Susan continued that she was sure it did. She outlined her theory about Carlotta’s uncle being lynched, as a sign of the Justice card, then noted that only about eighteen months previously a young girl had been killed in a freak accident at a playground. Running past the spinning playground wheel her clothes had somehow gotten captured to the device and the momentum of this and the other children playing on the wheel meant that she was dragged, then bashed against the wheel itself, cracking her skull as easily as one might break an egg.
Lisa shuddered at the description, and instantly communed with the mother of this poor child, who probably only looked away for a moment, and one moment later her life was shattered, her little girl gone. Every parent’s worst nightmare. Then arising from the reverie she shook her head at her friend and raised her eyebrows, as though to ask ‘So?’
‘The card before the Justice card is the Wheel of Fortune! The Wheel! A children’s playground wheel! Don’t you see?’
‘Susan, that’s a bit of a stretch, and a ghoulish one at that, surely!’
‘Well perhaps if that was all,’ Susan said, slightly pouting, but unswayed, ‘But not long before that there was a suicide of a failed author. Apparently he was a shy person who worked quietly at the town library for many years till something convinced him to try to write himself, then he kind of disappeared into his loneliness and inability to succeed. They said he lived a completely solitary life and no-one would have even known except the council was called out when a neighbour spoke of a strange smell coming from his house.’
‘Susan, these things happen depressingly often. There is a whole underbelly of the lost and disenfranchised in society these days..’
‘He was a hermit!’ Susan said, irritated her friend wasn’t catching on, ‘And the card before the Wheel is the Hermit!
‘Susan, I suspect if you wanted to you could trawl through town deaths and find vague links to anything really.’
‘Before that, a celebrated athlete in the town had a heart attack at a visiting carnival show, trying to prove his strength in a carnival game!’
‘Yes, and..let me guess..that has a card correlation too…’
‘Strength! The card before that is Strength! Then about a year earlier the old local train station was the site of a terrible train accident, with someone falling before a train just as it was coming in to the station. It’s one of the reasons they shut the place down. The card before that is The Chariot.’
‘Ok, now you are really stretching things! “ Lisa said, getting quite irritated with her friend’s bizarre theory and the dark, morbid line of enquiry. Wasn’t it enough that she and her daughter lived next to the house where a poor young girl was murdered? Did Susan really have to look for something occult and bizarre and even more gruesome to add to it? Was she that bored? It seemed it was maybe time for her friend to think about moving to a bigger city. The confines of a quiet country town would soon not contain her appetite for drama.
‘Before that there’s a story of lovers doing a suicide pack, and the card is the Lovers. Then there was a disgraced priest, suiciding of all things in the Church, after being caught out having an affair with a local dignitary’s wife. The card is the Hierophant, which is all about formal structure, religion, and so forth. I’m not sure about the Emperor, but apparently it is about work among other things, and about ten years before that there was a terrible accident at a construction site, where they were re-building the town theatre, so possibly that’s a connection given the victims were at their work at the time.’
‘You must see how this is getting even more tenuous, surely?’
‘But then, the card before that is the Empress, which is the mother, and about three years before that I found reference to a mother killing her own child! Infanticide! Probably post natal depression though this was a long time ago by now – the deaths stretch over many decades overall – so I guess they didn’t know about that type of depression then! Then, even creepier, there was a story of two strange murders on the outskirts of town which looked like they were ritual based – a man and a woman, strangers to the town, not known, they still don’t know who the victims were. Apparently there was talk at the time that the town might have had some sort of satanic group at large, and the cards before the Empress are the High Priestess and the Magician, both which could fit with that type of thing. And frankly, if there was a satanic group here, maybe that’s what’s behind all of it really, and perhaps they are still here! Then about two years before that, the local mayor of the time was killed in a climbing accident – admittedly on his holidays at the Blue Mountains, but he was a town figure, and if you look at the picture on the very first tarot card – the Fool – then you see someone dancing on the precipice of a cliff!’
‘And you said this spanned over decades?’
‘Yes!’ Susan agreed, excitedly, ‘So whatever this is, it’s been happening for a long time and quite deliberately. I can show you some of my research!’
Lisa reached out and put her hand over the top of her friend’s left hand, stopping her reaching for her iPad.
‘Susan, I really don’t have time for that now, I’ll need to get back to work. And anyway, really, I think this is a bit too much, even for you. I know you love mysteries, but I kind of bet, as I said before, if you went through the history of deaths in any town you could find connections to this type of theory, just by sheer coincidence.’
‘But in that order?’
‘Well, yes, if you extend the search long enough and you were liberal enough in making your interpretations and connections, I think you could. You aren’t saying all these deaths happened over a brief period of time in exactly that order, and without any unrelated deaths between them, now are you?’
Susan shook her head, a bit angry at her friend’s dismissal. ‘Of course there are deaths between them, but some of these are odd and I doubt you would find this pattern just anywhere, no matter how much you tried! I think there’s something else going on here, something much stranger, like a procession of death of sorts, in line with the tarot.’
‘And if that is true, given the randomness of it all, what could possibly be behind it, and why, satanic groups or not withstanding and I must say if they are around they must have a hell of a lot of patience to see this through if you are right. And in any case, by your reckoning, the next one, ‘Death’ – could be years away. Or, by your theory, the next person who dies peacefully in their sleep, given they are dead, might qualify!’
Susan looked at her friend in dismay. Lisa obviously saw what was her complete lack of imagination as pragmatism, and her refusal to consider other alternatives was just blindness masquerading in her mind as analytical discrimination. Somehow, deep in her bones, Susan knew she was on to something real here. Call it journalistic instinct if you like, she felt the weave of history as a narrative and she knew something worse was on its way, something riding on the next tarot card, the portentous card of Death.
‘There’s something strange going on here, in this town, I can feel it!’ She argued, knowing it was pointless, but feeling in some way she still had to say this anyway, that in some sense she needed to warn her friend, even if she wasn’t really sure why this would be. ‘You can dismiss my theory all you like, and you are right the next time might be ages away, I admit, though by my reckoning the speed of these is slowly, but surely increasing over time. Still, I hope the next time is way off, because for my part, a simple natural death wouldn’t qualify. I’m not that gullible Lisa, and I’m not just stretching things to fit a theory, no matter what you may think! The next one, if I’m right, will be bad, really bad. Not some gentle passing into that good night. The Death card is like the grim reaper, cutting a swathe through a battleground. So the next time won’t be a single, simple death. I think it’s going to be lots of death, lots of it, all at once. So I hope to God it is years and years away, and none of us are still here to witness it!’
(c) Helen M Valentina 2015, All Rights Reserved