Eyes of the Tarot
The attic was cold and musty, but Bonnie didn't care. It had been years since she had found the time to come up here and rummage around, and she was delighted to find that it still held the same fascination for her that it had had when she was younger. One of the things she hated about growing up was finding out that some things weren't as special as they had been when she was little. Oh, there were new things to take their place. But she always felt a twinge of sadness when she went back to a favorite spot and found it no longer as wonderful-as magical as it once had been.
So she was delighted when her grandmother's attic didn't let her down.
She had had enough letdowns in the last few days anyway-losing out on a part-any part-in her class play; her disastrous midterm grades; and, worst of all, her fight with Alan the day before she left Barker's Cove for this visit with her grandmother.
Absentmindedly, Bonnie pulled at a lock of her red hair. She began to chew on it-a habit her mother had been trying to break her of for years-as she thought about the fight. Maybe it really had been her fault. She had been in a bad mood because of the disappointments over the play and her grades. Alan had just been trying to cheer her up, but she had decided he wasn't taking her problems seriously. She felt a little twist inside. Tiffany Perkins was dying to get her hands on Alan; what a chance this would be for her to move in. Suddenly Bonnie wished she hadn't accepted her grandmother's invitation to spend spring vacation in Boston after all. She decided she had better call Alan right after supper.
The decision made her feel better. She turned her attention back to the attic. Brushing aside a cobweb, she went straight to her favorite thing-her great-great-grandfather's old sea chest.
It was huge, made of oak planks and bound with thick leather straps. The latch and hinges were brass, still beautiful even though they were heavily tarnished.
A thin layer of dust covered the top of the trunk. Grandmother McBurnie had always been a fastidious housekeeper, but she probably didn't come to the attic very often these days.
Bonnie wondered how often her grandmother did come up here. She looked around. Maybe never. Coming up to the attic would be like visiting with ghosts. The space was filled with hundreds of years worth of McBurnie family memorabilia-everything from her grandmother's wedding dress to her great-granduncle's wooden leg. The McBurnies had been a sea-faring family, and there were souvenirs from all around the world: coral from the Indies, jade from the East, and, somewhat more grisly, a human skull one of her ancestors had brought back from Java.
Bonnie shivered as a combination of wonder and fear engulfed her. She had felt the same way as a child whenever she came to the attic.
She turned back to the trunk. The hinges were a little stiffer than she had remembered, and the lid creaked loudly as she raised it. But the contents were exactly as she had remembered-varied and wonderful.
She began taking things out one by one, unconsciously falling into a ritual she had developed during the years she and her mother and brother had lived in this house while her father was serving in the navy.
There was a specific order to be followed, and specific points to be appreciated about each item. She fingered the silk of the kimono sash from Japan, carefully removed the top from each of the nesting dolls from Russia, traced the embroidery on the Persian slippers…
She stopped. The next item was harmless enough-the crystal ball that had belonged to a gypsy woman who married into the family four generations back. She was a bit of a family legend. Lots of stories were told about her and the wildness she had added to their pure Scottish bloodline. Bonnie's father had often said teasingly that her own dark eyes must have “come from the gypsy.”
But that was all light-hearted. As she sat now with the smooth globe in her hands, she struggled with some other memory, something dark and frightening. She began to stare into the crystal and found that it made her uneasy. A shiver shook down through her shoulders. She tore her eyes away.
With trembling hands she set the crystal down. The attic seemed colder now. She pulled her cardigan more snugly around her and bit her lip. What was happening to her?
Several minutes passed, and her fear began to fade. Bonnie shook her head as if she were emerging from a trance, then looked in the trunk again.
Before long she had taken everything out of it and arranged the old treasures in a half circle around her. She remembered the game she had played when she was little: Pirate Jenny. She was Jenny, the queen of all the pirates who had ever sailed the seven seas, and the contents of the trunk were her stolen booty. Dreamily she leaned against the trunk and dropped one hand inside, running her fingers back and forth, tracing the smooth wood of the bottom.
She stopped. She had touched something-a slight ridge-that didn't feel right. She bent over the trunk, looked in, and was just able to make out the ridge if she squinted.
The bottom of the trunk was made of two wide boards. The ridge ran across the width of one of them. Why was it there? Puzzled, Bonnie poked at the board. To her surprise it wobbled slightly. She touched it again and a feeling of excitement began to rise in her. She knew she had discovered something. Suddenly she heard a little noise, and the board seemed to split as one end of it tipped up. For a second, Bonnie was afraid she had broken something. Then she looked closer and realized she had discovered a false bottom in the trunk.
Gingerly, she lifted the end of the board a little higher and looked underneath. She had opened a shallow compartment.
In it lay a bone, small and smooth and white.
Bonnie shivered. It looked for all the world like the pictures of finger bones she had seen in her bio textbook the year before.
Beside the bone lay a small package wrapped in leather. Carefully avoiding the bone, Bonnie reached in and lifted it out.
The leather was soft and dark and papery, with several small holes worn in it. It was held closed by a leather thong. She put the packet down in front of her. After a moment's hesitation, imagining what might be in the package and knowing full well that she would probably not find anything very exciting, she untied the thong. Gently she pulled back the leather flaps.
Inside was a deck of cards.
Bonnie was puzzled. Why would anyone bother to put cards in such a special place? She had been hoping to find a small jewelry case with a fortune in diamonds tucked inside.
So much for daydreams.
She frowned. Something about the cards seemed oddly familiar. She looked at them more closely. The top card was face down. The back of it was blank, which seemed odd to her. When she turned it over she dropped it in shock. On the face of the card was a vivid, gruesome picture of a skeleton dressed as a knight in silver armor and riding a black horse. Bonnie shuddered. But she turned over another card.
Something began to stir in her mind. She turned over a third card: a dark queen, holding a sword.
Bonnie smiled. She knew what this was after all: a tarot deck. It was used to tell fortunes. Maybe it had belonged to her gypsy ancestor.
She studied the three cards and once again felt a slight shudder ripple through her. The eyes on all three cards, even the skeleton's, were extraordinarily vivid; they seemed to be looking right through her, almost as if they were alive.
Bonnie turned over several more cards, admiring the artwork, which was crude but powerful. She touched each card lightly, afraid it might crumble. Yet soon she realized the cards were far sturdier than she would have expected. Apparently the leather wrapping had done its job well.
She gathered up the deck, wrapped it back in the leather packet, and took it downstairs to show to her grandmother.
Iris McBurnie was a small, spare woman, somewhat birdlike in her appearance. In her eyes was an old sorrow, a pain that had appeared when her husband died at sea ten years earlier and never entirely faded. But she was generally cheerful, and her immense store of anecdotes about the McBurnie family made her fascinating to spend time with.
She was in the kitchen, mixing a cake, when Bonnie came downstairs.
“Hey, Gran-look what I found,” she called, setting the deck on the table.
“What is it?” asked her grandmother, coming to look over her shoulder.
“A deck of cards.” Bonnie unwrapped the leather as she spoke. Then she turned over the top card, the card with the skeleton on it.
She heard a clatter as the spoon her grandmother had been holding fell to the floor.
“Where did you get those?”
“In the attic,” said Bonnie, slightly surprised. “Why?” She reached down to pick up the spoon.
Her grandmother sat, wiping her hands on her apron before picking up the cards. Bonnie noticed that her fingers trembled slightly. “Do you know what these are?” she asked.
“Sure. Tarot cards. You use them to tell people's fortunes.”
“You read too many of those R.L. Stine books,” said her grandmother, making a face.
Bonnie smiled. “I love them.”
“I know. But I don't think they're good for you.” She looked through the cards as she spoke, examining each one briefly but intensely. Suddenly she slapped the pack into the leather wrapping. “Put them back where you found them.”
“Bonnie, do as I say.” Her grandmother's voice was strict. But underneath, like a hidden current, Bonnie could sense something else, a note of-fear? She wrapped the cards, then stood, looking down at her grandmother to make one last protest.
The look on the old woman's face stilled her tongue. Quietly she went back to the attic and placed the cards in the hidden compartment.
“I don't understand,” said Bonnie, after she returned to the kitchen. “I just wanted to show them to you. I thought they were neat.”
Her grandmother gave her a weak smile. “I suppose they are. But I'm afraid of them. I think they may be dangerous.”
For an instant, Bonnie had a strange sensation of deja vu. The tickle at her memory began to stir again. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, I'm probably just being silly. But there is a family legend attached to those cards.”
“There's a family legend attached to everything in the attic,” said Bonnie with a grin. “And to almost everything else in the house, too.”
“Not quite like this one,” said her grandmother, and her smile was a little more relaxed this time. “It has to do with the gypsy woman.”
“I knew it!” cried Bonnie. “I was sure those must be hers.”
“Oh, but they weren't.”
“If you'll just be still and listen, I'll tell you the story.”
Bonnie settled herself into a chair, knowing her grandmother would explain everything in her own fashion-and on her own timetable.
“It started-” Mrs. McBurnie stopped and did a quick calculation on her fingers. “It started a hundred and ninety-seven years ago. One of your grandfathers, I forget how many greats go in front of it, was the captain of a whaling ship. In a port somewhere he got involved in some gambling. The man he was playing with-a Persian he was, with only one eye, at least according to your great-grandfather-ran out of money. He pulled out this deck of cards, wrapped in that very same leather, and asked if he could use them to bet with. Your several-times-great-grandfather didn't want to take them, but the man insisted they were of great value. When your ancestor looked them over, he found himself entranced by the eyes on the cards. Suddenly he felt as if he knew the cards-as if they had been a part of our family's history.
“As if they were being returned to him for a purpose.
“Well, he took the bet and he won the cards-and a small bone as well, which the Persian said had to be kept with the cards. He carried them home, and all might have been well if he had just left them alone. But he got to taking them out and looking them over in the evenings. He knew you were supposed to be able to tell fortunes with them, but he could never get the knack of it, even though he found a book somewhere that supposedly explained it all. He had married by this time and had two children. His wife hated the cards because they absorbed so much of his attention.”
Bonnie found herself sitting on the edge of her chair. “What happened?”
Her grandmother paused. “One night he stayed up quite late, looking through the cards, shuffling them, arranging them. His wife had gone to bed. Suddenly she heard him scream, `The eyes, the eyes!' She went rushing downstairs into the library and found him slumped across the desk. Dead. The cards were scattered across the floor.”
Bonnie shuddered. “But what about the gypsy woman?”
“Just hold your peace,” said her grandmother. “That's coming. Now after your great-whatever-grandfather's death the cards were wrapped up and put away. Nothing that had happened couldn't be explained naturally, but everyone had a jittery feeling about them. To tell you the truth, I do, too, Bonnie, though I had never seen them until today.”
“How come they make you jittery?”
“Hush! Now, time went on and eventually the gypsy woman married into the family. It was a little troublesome,because some accepted her and some didn't. But for the most part things went well. She began to charm the family because she was pretty and laughed a lot, so after a while most of them took a shine to her. But, of course, her gypsy background was always on their minds, and she kept that crazy crystal ball out. As far as I know, she never used it. The family would ask her to once in a while, but she would laugh and say it was only a trick and she had left all that behind when her husband took her from the gypsy camp.
“Then one night her husband's younger brother brought out the deck of tarot cards and asked her if she would do a reading. She became very serious. `The tarot is not a trick,' she told him. `Not like the crystal. This is serious.' Well, of course that only made him more interested, and he insisted she do a reading. So she opened the cards and began spreading them out on the table.
“But soon her husband could tell she was extremely frightened. A tension built up in the room. Her eyes grew wider and wider, and you could almost see her hair beginning to stand on end. At least, that's what my mother told me.
“Finally she turned over the card with the shattered tower. And then she began to scream.” Mrs. McBurnie paused for a moment, rummaging in her mind. “Magistimes. That's what it was. `Magistimes, Magistimes!' she cried. And her eyes went blank.
“Well, they stretched her out on the sofa and packed up the cards, and after awhile she came around. But she was never quite the same afterward.” Mrs. McBurnie bent closer to Bonnie and dropped her voice to a whisper. “And five weeks later she died. Just like that. Like a candle going out. Now, that doesn't mean anything, of course. People die. It happens all the time. And there was nothing, not a thing, to connect the cards with her death. But it bothered the family all the same, and her husband took the deck and hid it, and, I think, no one has seen it since.”
“Until today,” said Bonnie.
“Until today,” repeated her grandmother. Then she stopped and looked at Bonnie intensely. For a moment there was a hint of something unspoken in her eyes-not fear, exactly, but something close to it. Bonnie knew there was more she was not saying.
“So, let it be, child,” she murmured. “Let it be.”
Her grandmother's eyes were pleading with her.
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