I'm excited to announce that Dead Reckoning Tarot is expanding to include book reviews and original short fiction. In this short story series, we follow a curious figure from the small township of Willowsbank, the Widow of Oak Hill Lane. When we meet the widow, she has just uncovered an unexpected visitor in her garden.
Someone was in the garden again. It was apparent in how the tall ironweed swayed in the wind, bending around a foreign mass. The birds were quiet and the stray tom cat that patrolled the far compost heap for rodents was wary, alert. The widow of Oak Hill Lane looked out the window at the verdant backyard and knew, in the way a spider at the center of her web knows, that someone has been caught at the periphery.
“Hmm,” the widow thought, “let’s see what the storm washed up tonight.” The widow of Oak Hill was quite invested in dressing and acting as a widow might, in high necked blouses, sensible wool blends, and tightly leashed buns. To her, the title of widow was respectable, an honorable mantle which had been laid upon her shoulders. The uniform of her office was as important to her existence as, well, the unfortunate incident that made her a widow.
Taking a flashlight from a shelf in the mud room, the widow stepped into dark rain boots and opened the back door. The house on Oak Hill was an old two-story farmhouse, with a wraparound porch and delicate woodwork at the cornices and eaves. The front yard was as lush as the back, strange and wild plants beginning to overrun their beds, ancient yard ornaments covered in a fine layer of silt, as though the gardener couldn’t quite keep the plants at bay, as though they had a mind of their own. It was charming in a storybook way, if those storybooks happened to have a pervasive sense of dread.
The house was clearly older than the other homes on the lane, which were nearly identical 4 bed, 2.5 bath, vinyl-sided McMansions with a 2-car garage where a front door should have been. The widow had lived in the house as long as she could remember; the structure was built before her time, but she had made it her own, adding rooms and hiring carpenters, carving pathways out of the garden. The back field, though, was unchanged from decades past. Where the front of the house had been cajoled into a semblance of respectability with shovel and herbicide, the back was ceded to the wilds.
The widow had heard that some studies were done in the 1950s at some secret military base or other that found plants had emotional reactions to certain stimuli. The scientists concluded that the dandelions in your front yard not only wanted to live, but they could feel the fear of death and the sting of pain. At the time, it had made the widow contemplate how the knowledge might shape human technological evolution, the ways in which people impacted their environment. Now, the widow simply wondered how long before the plants had had enough.
Walking through the back field of 5 Oak Hill Lane, it was easy to imagine the plants were sentient, cautiously watching you, considering whether you were a threat that merited a response. Giant field thistle towered out of brambles of wild blackberry and pricklyash, like alien skyscrapers the widow used as landmarks. In a few places, clusters of wild indigo bloomed with soft, cream colored flowers, breaking up the unending, rich green of a thousand different leaves and vines. There were no paths to walk through the wild field, and the brush was so thickly grown that it wasn’t even picturesque. The field was feral and self-sustaining and had no need to make itself amenable to visitors. To an unfamiliar eye, it seemed purposefully inhospitable. Of course, the widow rarely imagined such whimsical things. She was, after all, a greater ally to the fecund weeds and vines than enemy.
After picking a path through the aggressively sharp brambles for about 40 feet, the widow began to hear a deep thrashing from the direction of a copse of sycamore trees, as though a wild animal had been caught in a trap and was fighting for release before the trap setter could arrive. Shifting her course, the widow quickened her pace.
“Whatever is caught sounds terrified out of its wits,” the widow thought, her heart ticking a bit faster, as though she could smell the creature’s fear on the wind, even at this distance.
Stepping into the deep shade under the tall, skeletal sycamores, the widow peered into the undergrowth. This copse had a dense population of black cohosh, the bright green three-pointed leaves growing large and bold in the undisturbed earth of the abandoned field. In the midday darkness, the white flowers of the plants reached 3 and 4 feet into the air, ephemeral streaks of white like floating bottle brushes. And struggling with a large blackberry bramble, in the midst of a particularly dense growth of black cohosh was a young woman.
The widow paused. She hadn’t expected a human woman to be caught out here on the edges of Oak Hill’s wilderness. It was a deep and sacred place and people rarely accidentally wound up ensnared by the plants, where injured doe and young rabbits generally were trapped.
The young woman reached down to grasp a thorny vine that had wrapped around her calf and pulled. A blush of blood seeped out from her hands where the thorns dug in, breaking the widow’s reverie and ushering her forward. Stepping into the sycamore grove, the young woman heard the widow’s careful steps and whirled around to face whatever was coming for her.
As the woman straightened and turned to face her, the widow was able to better assess this unusual catch. She was deeply tanned and tall, black hair falling from a loose ponytail to frame her face. Her oval-shaped face was tilted down, as if she was bracing herself against a strong wind, and her eyes squinted into the dimness, flashing with some fiery emotion - likely fear and a pinch of guilt. The widow was no stranger to the turbulent emotions and knew a person who understood they had gotten themselves into a bad situation on sight. The young woman was wearing denim overalls over a salmon colored t-shirt, and absurdly yellow flats, the kind of shoe that everyone who had ever seen a tree knew wasn’t appropriate footwear for walking through the woods. Breathing shallowly, quick gasps that revealed a deep anxiety, the woman relaxed slightly when she realized the approaching predator was only an old woman.
“Oh, I thought you were a bear.” The woman sighed and shouted, a strange combination that made her sound even more frightened than she looked.
“Not a bear,” the widow replied, coolly eyeing the open backpack at the woman’s feet. It was filled with hastily dug black cohosh.
“The woman realized what the widow was looking at and bent down to pick up the bag. “I’m so sorry. Are- are you the owner of the property? I heard this was the only place you could find black cohosh anymore in the county, and when I saw it from the back fence line, I thought…” she trailed off, perhaps realizing that trespassing and theft were crimes that needed little backstory when you were effectively ensnared by your victim.
“It is one of the few places black cohosh grows anymore, because enthusiastic herbalists and new age types over-harvested the rest of the wild population,” the widow responded, staying where she had stopped about 10 feet away from the woman, and delicately folding her hands in front of her stomach. She cut an odd image; a neat and tidy librarian in such a wild place.
The woman, looking satisfyingly cajoled from the widow’s implication - that perhaps pillaging the last wild population of black cohosh in the county was a foolish decision - set the bag back down. “I’m sorry. I guess I didn’t think too much about the ecological implications.”
“People generally don’t.” The woman wilted just a tad farther, a forlorn interloper, intercepted and ensnared. The widow seemed to soften a bit, looking back toward the Oak Hill house. “There’s a storm coming. Would you like to come into the house?”
To be continued....
Alex is the founder and primary spiritual navigator for Dead Reckoning Tarot. She has been working with tarot cards since she was an anxious and overeager teen, and now as an anxious and overeager adult enjoys finding ways to infuse the every day world with magic. You can book a tarot reading with Alex here.