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Monthly Vignette: In The Cards.

By Paul Leone.

This month, our vignette is from the 73rd vignette challenge, which had as its theme: “Occult.” This was from Paul Leone, with a lovely set of period details.


The current monthly vignette challenge is on the subject of Goth, and can be found here.





In the Cards.


London, 1969.


It was a summer afternoon in London and Violet Axford was lounging with her mates at Billy O’Donnell’s flat in a particularly squalid corner of Soho, miles away from her own stolidly middle-class rowhouse in Peckham. It was just her, Lazy Rachel, Billy O and his girl, and a few more of Billy’s mates from the neighbourhood. Actors and whores, most of them, Violet suspected, thrilled at the rebellion-by-proximity. The marijuana was even more thrilling in a mellow sort of way. Violet wasn’t sure ‘thrilling’ and ‘mellow’ really went together, and giggled about it for a bit after it was her turn with the bong.


“Didja hear that Elizabeth Blake’s back in town?” That was one of Billy’s theatre friends, a gangly redhead from Liverpool. His name was Jerry or Jeff or something like that.


“Who’s that?” Violet asked. She couldn’t help but smiling as she did, and was almost entirely oblivious to the way it made a few of the boys grin back like wolves.


“Her? She’s our guru, luv.” He winked at her. “Our very own Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.”


“Ah, you’re underselling her, mate,” Jerry or Jeff said. “She’s the real deal. A real lady of the black arts. They say she was one of Aleister Crowley’s teachers.”


Violet had some vague idea who he was – or had been, since he’d been dead for years and years, hadn’t he? A magician or something like that. One of the types that really believed they were doing magic instead of just tricks. Magic! Or was it magick with a K? Around this crowd, probably Magick: Capital M a g i c k.


“His teacher? She must be older’n God, then, mate,” Rachel said.


Violet more or less stifled a giggle then. Of course Rachel knew who he was.


“Might be, but she don’t look it,” Billy said. “She don’t look a day over thirty.”


“It’s magic, it is,” Jerry (Violet was sure it was Jerry now) said. Just after that, he fell asleep and started snoring like a baby. Still, Violet noticed Rachel shiver a little at the conviction in the stoned Scouser’s voice. Fortunately for Rachel, the talk moved away from Crowley and magic(k), and soon enough, she abandoned them anyway.




Three weeks later, at a pub near Billy’s flat, the gang was together again.


“How’d you like to meet her?” Billy asked Rachel in a conspiratorial whisper. He almost winked as he did. Before Rachel joined them, they’d talked all about it already; talked and decided.


“Who? The bloody Queen Mother?” Rachel asked.


Billy laughed. “No. Black Elizabeth. Elizabeth Blake, I mean.”




“Really. What d’you think?”


“Think it’d be brilliant.”


Violet smiled nastily at Rachel, and she wasn’t the only one, but the blonde missed it entirely. She was too busy staring at Billy with her brown cow eyes.




The meeting with “Black Elizabeth” was at a private room in a restaurant in the West End, an expensive place called Zara’s. But Violet didn’t think about how costly it was, and how silly the food probably was, once she laid eyes on Elizabeth. The woman was startlingly attractive, not at all what Violet had expected for a “Magick” maker.


To begin with, she was young, not a day over thirty, which puzzled Violet. How could someone that age have taught Crowley anything? She couldn’t have been more than a child when he died. Young, attractive, tall, and smartly dressed compared to Violet and her mates.


They were seated all around a long table. Violet, Billy, Jerry, Rachel, and Black Elizabeth.


The alleged guru of magick had a deck of large, ornate cards in her hands. Tarot cards – fancy ones, at that. They must’ve cost a few quid.


Elizabeth held them up for all to see. “Behold the cards! Crowley’s deck, as they call it.” There was a brief, bitter smile on her face and a hint, just the barest hint, of West Country in her voice. “As they call it.”


“Oi! Do me up,” Violet said, her eagerness amplified by a glass or two of wine.


Elizabeth looked at her, and there might have been something strange in her glance, but Violet didn’t notice. “All right, then,” Elizabeth said with a sly smile.


She shuffled the cards; slowly at first but faster and faster until hands and cards alike were practically a blur. Violet stared, enthralled, as Elizabeth began laying the cards down in a circle, or something like that. Maybe it was more apt to call it a triangle. Two cards, slightly overlapping, a space, two more cards, another space, and the last three – or were they the first?


“This is the Ouroboros Spread. There are some who call it the Devil’s Spread.” Elizabeth smiled. “Do you see? Three pairs. Past. Present. Future. The first card leads to its partner in each case. Turn them over. Start with the one nearest to you.”


Violet giggled as she took the card and looked at it. Then she laughed. “It knows me, the deck does,” she said, holding up a card with a golden-haired nymph on it. It read XI  - CUPIDITAS.


“Lust,” Elizabeth said.


The only thing wrong was the hair – she was a redhead, not blonde like Rachel.


“Again,” Elizabeth said.


Two people coupled together. The vivid image left almost nothing to the imagination and Violet could have sworn the pair were writhing just a little. VII – AMANTES.


“The Lovers. First desire and then the consummation. Again. The first of the second pair.”


Violet reached out and then recoiled, startled, when Elizabeth hissed impatiently. “Anti-clockwise, girl.”


“Oh. Right then.” Violet pursed her lips as she flipped over the third card. A capering jester with a Harlequin mask. 0 – FATUUS.


“The Fool. Confusion and bewilderment.”


“Ha! Too right it knows you,” Billy said with a mocking laugh.


“Shut it.” Violet flipped over the next card without being told. It showed a copper hammer and tongs. Some trick of the light gave them a rusty hint just as Violet turned the card up. XIV – ARS.


“Art. Craft. Cunning work. Again.”


Bronze scales, one side weighed down by something invisible. VIII – IUSTITIA.


“Justice, or at least judgement. Again.”


A medieval plague doctor in a white funeral shroud. XIII – MORS.




“It means change, yeah?” Violet asked. She smiled nervously as she did. Her stomach was fluttering and she felt a hint of colour in her cheeks even if nobody around saw any red.


“Sometimes it does.” Elizabeth swept up the cards and started to shuffle them. “One more divination, I think.” She looked at each of the young people and then pointed at Rachel.




“Are you afraid?”


Rachel scoffed. “Lay them out, then.”


Violet barely paid attention as Elizabeth shuffled, quick as a cat, and then dealt the cards again.


XIX – SOLIS. Pleasure.




XVIII – LUNA. Deception.


IV – IMPERATOR. Realisation.


XV – DIABOLUS. Destiny.


And finally XIII – MORS.


Rachel made a face and Violet almost giggled at how nervous the other girl looked (never mind how nervous she herself felt – but it was an exhilerating sort of nervous, like she was about to parachute out of an airplane). “Bit grim, isn’t it? Your fortune telling?” Rachel asked the magick woman.


“Life’s not a Walt Disney cartoon, dear,” Elizabeth said, sneering as she did.


Soon enough, the evening was over. Billy and Rachel went off together, Rachel still looking unsettled. Violet was still feeling unsettled, but she hid it. “Wait a moment, dear.”


Violet started and then giggled as she turned to face Elizabeth. “Yeah? I mean, yes?”


Elizabeth smiled and it made Violet feel comfortable. “I’m ever so sorry if I upset you with the cards. Permit me to make up for it.”


“Er – how?”


“I’ve been invited to a party in Purfleet. It would delight me if you’d come. Consider it an apology and an invitation at the same time. You would, in fact, be the guest of honour.”


Violet hesitated, but Elizabeth smiled again, and she found herself nodding and saying “Yes” almost without realising it.


“Delightful, dear, delightful.”


She flicked her wrist and handed Violet an old-fashioned card that had appeared almost by magic (magick) between two fingers.


Violet took it (it felt warm) and looked at it. The back was completely done in red ink. For just a second as she flipped it over, Violet was sure she saw patterns there, or even a hint of motion just as with the card a little while ago, but she didn’t turn it back and look like a gawking idiot like Rachel to Elizabeth. Instead, she read what was on the front. A name, Violet guessed, although not an English one – Vasile Draghici – and two addresses, 138 Picadilly in London and Purfleet House, London Road, Purfleet.


“Wow,” Violet said. “This Draghici fellow must be well off.”


“Quite so,” Elizabeth confirmed with a sly smile. “I hope your Friday evening is free.”


“Absolutely,” Violet said, smiling back. She felt giddy.


Elizabeth laid a hand on Violet’s shoulder. “Splendid, dear, splendid.”




A few days later, Violet fussed with her hair as she stepped up to the wrought iron gate on London Road. She’d done her best – rented a nice dress, spent almost an hour on her hair and her make-up and everything – and she just hoped it looked okay compared to all the rich people that were sure to attend a party like this.


She bit her lip a little. The gate was shut and there was no buzzer or anything. How was she supposed to get in? Was it all some kind of joke?


Just as she thought that, the gate split and slid open with just the faintest rasp of iron on asphalt and the crunch of a dry summer leaf getting ground to bits.


“Well, that’s better,” Violet said under her breath before heading up the sidewalk at a very careful pace. She hardly ever wore high heels and didn’t want to look stupid for it. A few minutes later, she reached the entrance. There were four slender stone columns supporting a sloping roof over the front porch, with iron bars between the columns. The bars weren’t fitted right, or something, because Violet could hear a faint creaking noise that made her teeth hurt. It reminded her of something else she couldn’t remember.


Just as she raised her hand to ring the bell, the door swung open.


A tall, aquiline man stood there, clad in a dark suit, and with long black hair, and a long but carefully-trimmed beard and moustache. “Miss Axford?” he asked smoothly, in a voice as rich as fine wine.


Violet blushed and then nodded. Then she remembered her manners and curtsied in a wobbly sort of way. “Mr Draghici?”


“I am he.” The man took her hand and bowed deeply. “And you are, without doubt, Ms. Violet Axford. You are even lovelier than dear Elizabeth said.”


Violet, suddenly at a loss for words, nodded.


Draghici rose, his gloved hand still wrapped around her bare one. “Enter freely, and of your own will.”


Violet’s blush deepened. “Thank you, sir,” she said in a bit of a rush. “I hope I’m not late!”


“Not at all, my dear. We were waiting for you, in fact,” he said, gently guiding Violet over the threshold.


The door slammed shut behind her.




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