Jeremy was playing with his mom’s Tarot deck. His mom was a psychic, you see. Why, it said so right on the hand-written sign in the front lawn.
His mom was a deeply spiritual woman. And deeply opposed to organized religion—for as she often explained to Jeremy, spirituality and religion had absolutely nothing in common.
His grandmother—a good, god-fearing woman—disapproved of her daughter’s occupation. She used to take Jeremy to church. But she died last year when Jeremy was 7.
Just before she died, she had given him a little cross to wear around his neck, tucked underneath his T-shirt. Mom would take it away if she saw it. So he had to keep it hidden from view.
His mom and dad split up when he was 5. That’s after his dad found out that his wife was having an affair with another woman. This being the West Coast, custody was awarded to his mom and her domestic partner.
His dad lived in New York. Dad would pay the occasional visit to Astoria to see his son on birthdays and Winter break—you were not allowed to call it “Christmas” in Oregon—but otherwise it was just Jeremy and his mom. Actually. Jeremy now had two mommies, but no daddy.
Jeremy didn’t play cards. Rather, he played with cards.
He liked the cards because of the really neat pictures—like the Hierophant and Hanged Man. He used to play with them as if they were his friends because, well, because he didn’t have many other friends. Except for the family business, his mom was rather reclusive.
She kept the drapes drawn all hours of the day and night to screen out the evil eye. And the neighborhood kids stayed away from his house. Said it was haunted. Rumors of snakes and dead cats in the backyard.
One of the neighborhood boys said he slipped over the fence one day and came face to face with a King Cobra! His buddies all nodded in solemn awe whenever he told them the tale of his narrow escape from the fangs of death! None of the other kids had the nerve to check out his story.
When he was around, dad would take his son to the beach, or boating on the Columbia, but dad was never around—except for Winter break or his birthday. So it came down to Jeremy and his imaginary playmates.
Mom didn’t approve of his using her deck of cards. Not that she suffered from any moral compunctions, mind you. But she needed them for her business. She had to go looking for them every time she needed them.
They were scattered all over his room—like toy soldiers. He would stage battle scenes, with one suit attacking another suit. Spades against clubs, and hearts against diamonds.
She often told him not to play with her Tarot cards, but he didn’t pay attention. For one thing, she was far too enlightened to punish him. Discipline was child abuse. Spanking was a hate crime.
She tried to make him understand how much it hurt mommy’s feelings when he did these things, but somehow that didn’t reduce him to abject submission. She couldn’t very well send him to his room since that’s where he spent all his time in the first place. It was hard to be a progressive parent.
One day he fell asleep while he was playing with her cards. He awoke when he felt someone tugging at his sleeve. It was the Fool. Only the Fool was now as tall as he was.
But when Jeremy looked around, there was nothing on the other side. The Fool was paper-thin. He had a front, but no back. Invisible unless you saw him from a certain angle.
The Fool was tugging and his sleeve and speaking to him. Somehow, the Fool had come alive. Maybe he was dreaming. Jeremy, that is.
“Wake up! Wake up!” it said.
Jeremy was too dumbfounded at first to say anything.
“Hurry up!” it said. “We must run away and hide,” it said.
“Why?” Jeremy asked
“Because she’s coming to get you,” it said.
“Who is coming to get me?” Jeremy asked.
“The High Priestess, of course!” he answered. “Come, I will take you to the Empress. She will protect you.”
“But where can we hide?” Jeremy asked, drowsily, still wiping his eyes. “Under the bed? In the closet?”
Jeremy thought he was still in his bedroom. And, in a way, maybe he was. But after his eyes began to cleared, he took a look around.
Above him was the open sky. The ceiling was gone. It was a full moon. With twinkling stars. Just like a postcard.
In the moonlight, he could also dimly see that the walls of his room were gone. The furniture was still there, but where the walls had been was a forest on every side.
The Fool took him by the hand and they ran into the woods. Jeremy had a pocket full of marbles, and he dropped a marble on the ground every so often so that he could find his way back.
Because of the moonlight, they were able to see pretty well, although Jeremy still stumbled over branches in the dark. Behind him he heard the clickety-clack of horses galloping in the distance. Whatever it was, it was gaining on them. As it came closer, the ground began to shake.
He looked over his shoulder and saw a horse-drawn carriage bearing down on them like a freight train. He felt like he was trying to outrun a train. Like he would stumble and fall on the tracks.
The glint of the lanterns shone like a pair of fiery eyes. The roar of the horses thundered in his ears. Finally, the Fool yanked him off to the side of the trail before they were tramped underfoot by the carriage.
The carriage abruptly halted. The horses were flicked with white foam from their exertions.
The carriage door opened and the High Priestess emerged.
“She looks like a witch!” Jeremy whispered to the Fool.
“She is a witch,” he said, under his breath. “But it’s impolite to call people witches nowadays,” he said. “So we call her the High Priestess instead.”
She stalked over to the huddled pair.
“Fool,” she began, in an imperious tone of voice. “Did you really think you could make off with the boy?”
“The Empress has a rightful claim on him,” he answered. “Everyone in the land of Arcana is subject to my Mistress.”
“Spoken like a royal Fool!” she cackled. “Or should I say the court jester?”
The Fool was tempted to reply, but bit his tongue.
“Come here, Jeremy,” she said, extending a cadaverous hand with long sharp nails.
“How do you know may name?” he asked.
“You can’t see into our world, but we can see into yours,” she answered.
“Bind the Fool and take him with us!” she told the coachman, who looked like a troll.
“Where are we headed,” Jeremy asked, as they got into the carriage.
“To the Tower,” she replied.
When they arrived, wolves were guarding the premises. A man wearing a tiara was the porter. He accompanied the Priestess and her captives to the rood tower.
“Bind the Fool to the Wheel of Fortune,” she ordered the Hierophant, “to punish him for his treachery!”
“And now for you, young man!”
“What about me?” Jeremy said.
“Up until this evening, our two worlds were walled off from one another, but now that you’ve been able to invade my domain, by your black magical arts, I may be able to invade yours and reign in both.”
“I don’t practice black magic,” Jeremy protested.
“No, but your mother does, and you were playing with her deck of cards. That’s how you got here. The question is how to reverse the process.”
She sat down with a deck of cards.
“You mean, you play cards, too?” he asked.
“Why not” she said, slightly affronted.
“It’s just funny to see one card play cards.”
“They’re imaginary characters,” she said, looking at her deck of cards. “We’re the real thing! What’s imaginary in your world is real in ours, while what’s real in our world is imaginary in yours! Here, cartomancy is a science, and cosmology is a pseudoscience; there; cosmology is a science, and cartomancy is a pseudoscience.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Jeremy said.
“You’ll understand when you’re older,” she said. “If you live that long,” she added—ominously.
“What are you going to do to me?” he said?
“We need to take you back to your bedroom and open the door.”
“So why don’t we just go back?” he asked.
“Because my evil sister may be on the look out for you. She has spies, you know. Especially the elderberry bushes. Never trust an elderberry bush!”
“Your evil sister?” he asked.
“I mean, the ‘Empress,’ as she’s pleased to call herself.”
“I’m sorry to hear you have an evil sister,” he said, trying to play for sympathy.
“Yes, our mother was terribly disappointed. You see, my sister was only moderately evil, whereas our mother was hoping, through good breeding and a liberal arts education, to have a purely evil daughter. Good witches are such a bore, you know. But everyone loves a wicked witch. The badder the better. It was quite a let down until I was born. I was her favorite!” she said, beaming with filial pride.
As she spoke, the Priestess was laying cards on the table, face up, when—all of a sudden—the Tower was struck by lightning. The wolves began to bay.
“She found us first!” the Priestess, exclaimed.
“Who?” Jeremy asked.
“My evil sister. I must make my escape!”
With that, the Priestess hopped on a broomstick and flew out the window.
Down below, Jeremy could hear the wolves howling and growling, followed by the sound of footsteps mounting the staircase. The rood tower echoed with the rising entourage.
Finally, two rows spear-bearing guards entered the rood tower, followed by a breathless woman in purple robes—with her Magus taking up the rear.
“Release the Fool from the Wheel of Fortune and take the boy to my carriage,” she commanded.
“Where am I going,” Jeremy asked, as they were riding along.
“To your bedroom,” she said. “You must show us the way.”
“I don’t know if I remember the way,” he said. “It was awfully dark in the woods.”
“Don’t lie to me, little boy!” she shrieked, “unless you want to end up like him!” as she gestured to the Hanged Man, seated on the other side.
Jeremy thought to himself, “Wasn’t this supposed to be the good witch?”
The sun was dawning, and Jeremy could make out the marbles along the trail. When they arrived at his bedroom, the Empress said, “Show us the door!”
Jeremy looked back at her blankly. For the door had vanished when the walls went away and the ceiling disappeared.
“Stupid boy!” she said. “What I’m asking you is, where was the door? I know you can’t see it. It’s invisible.”
Jeremy pointed to where the door used to be. The Empress snapped her fingers at the Magus.
He walked over to that side of the bedroom, uttered a Latin incantation, and the door reappeared. He tried the knob, but the door was locked.
The Empress was furious. “Where’s the key?” she screamed.
Jeremy didn’t know what to do. He dearly wanted to escape, but he didn’t want to take her along with him into his own world. Then he thought of something.
“Wait a minute while I look for the key,” he said, strolling over to his toy box as he pretended to look for the key.
While he was rummaging through the toy box, with his back turned to the Empress, he felt for his cross. It was still there, underneath his T-shirt. He then said a prayer his grandmother taught him before she died.
All at once, the other cards came alive, like figures stepping out of a picture frame. One by one they introduced themselves:
“I’m King David,” said the King of Spades.
“I’m Charlemagne,” said the King of Diamonds.
“I’m Judas Maccabaeus,” said the Jack of Clubs.
“I’m Olgier Danemarche,” said the Jack of Spades.
“Attack them!” said Jeremy, pointing to the Empress and her royal retinue.
Then a great battle ensued. Her guards outnumbered Jeremy’s little band. But his warriors were better the spear, sword, slingshot, and crossbow.
In the melee, Jeremy headed for the door and locked it behind him. On the other side of the door he could hear the clatter of swords and spears. Snapping bones and shrieks of pain.
At that point, Jeremy did what any sensible, levelheaded, well-adjusted, and enterprising boy would do. He went into the kitchen and made himself a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich.
After his snack he went back and put his ear to the bedroom door. He heard nothing on the other side.
Warily, he opened the door just a crack and took a peek inside. The room was back to normal. The sky was gone. The woods were gone. The rug was strewn with playing cards.
Next day, he decided to burn the deck of cards in the backyard on a rusty old BBQ. He only saved the King of Spades, Jack of Spades, King of Hearts and Jack of Clubs—which he put beside his model plane on the chest of drawers.
In the following weeks he started to attend Sunday school, waking to the very same church his beloved grandmother used to take him to. And he began to play with the neighborhood boys.
Mom was naturally distraught by his delinquent behavior. And things went from bad to worse. A few years later she was shocked and appalled to find a Bible under his mattress when she was hoping to uncover a syringe or condom.
She had tried so hard to raise him right. But there was nothing much she could do about it. It was hard to be a progressive parent.