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A SOUL TO STEAL
By Rob Blackwell
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You Are What You Fear
Something is stalking the citizens of Loudoun County, Va. Is it the return of the notorious serial killer known as Lord Halloween? Or is it something worse--a figure that can cloak itself as your worst nightmare? Kate and Quinn, two community journalists, rush to uncover the truth before a promised bloodbath on Halloween night. This debut novel from award-winning journalist Rob Blackwell balances mystery, suspense, romance, action and the paranormal, building to a gripping and unforgettable conclusion.
Madame Zora took a large breath.
“You want to see the Tarot card bit?” she asked.
“Tarot cards are great little devices,” Zora said. “I used to think they were crap. But I made the mistake everybody makes when they see these used. They think the cards somehow have power. And that is, of course, absurd.”
“The cards are inanimate objects,” she replied. “They have no power at all. But the people—the two of us, for example—have the power. My abilities and my read of the person affect how I shuffle the cards and subconsciously affect what I pull out. It’s really quite simple.”
Kate watched Zora as she shuffled her way through the deck and laid them out on the table. She laid three in the center face down.
“This is just a test run, honey,” Zora said. “You can do this with all different kinds of cards in all sorts of ways. I’m just going to do three from the Major Aracana.”
With that, her voice changed.
“Now we shall see your destiny,” Zora said in her fake British accent.
She flipped the first card.
Kate was a little surprised to see it was the Hanged Man. A man was suspended upside down from a tree, his feet tied up with rope. Kate had seen this card before—she remembered seeing a friend get her fortune told at the beach some years ago—but then the man had looked peaceful, as if in suspended animation. On this card, the Hanged Man looked in pain, as if he was struggling to get free but failing. His arms were tied behind his back and Kate could see a figure in the distance coming towards him. Whoever it was, the Hanged Man looked panicked about it.
“Strange,” Zora said. She flipped the cards over and stared at it. “I use these cards a lot, but I don’t remember seeing this version before.”
“What does it mean?”
“Probably Lou Ann bought me the wrong pack,” Zora said, but her voice sounded unsteady, as if she wasn’t sure that was the case.
“All right, though, what does the card mean?”
Zora kept staring at it.
“Well, it can mean many things. Sacrifice, giving up, surrender, even passivity,” she said. “But I don’t think that’s what this one means.”
“I don’t follow,” Kate said.
“Everything is instinct. My gut says you are not the surrendering type and this card—this version of it—is about anything but surrender. I’ve never seen one like it. But the Hanging Man is also a doorway of sorts. He sees what others do not, from an angle they do not. In this case, he could be an opening to the Truth. To the mystical.”
Kate wanted to look away and couldn’t. The image bothered her more than she wanted to admit, particularly the look on the Hanged Man’s face.
“Isn’t he supposed to be peaceful?” she said.
“In every other card I’ve seen, he is,” Zora said, looking up at Kate. She couldn’t be sure, but Kate thought Zora looked a little bit frightened. “This card isn’t like the others. It’s about a journey, one that may be quite painful for you. But it clearly denotes the start of something, something that will look like one thing but be another.”
“Like a friend who isn’t a friend?” Kate asked.
Zora nodded. “Or something that seems good, but isn’t. Or the reverse. The Hanged Man sees things in a different way—he sees what’s real.”
“He looks like whatever he sees is terrifying him.”
“Let’s just move on to the next card.”
Zora drew carefully from the deck this time, as if she wasn’t quite sure she wanted to. With some hesitation, she put the card on the table.
Kate didn’t need an interpretation. At a glance, she knew the card: The Devil. A horned, giant beast stood in the middle of the card, holding a trident in one hand and extending his arm to two human figures below him. There were a man and a woman on the card, both naked with horns of their own.
Kate looked up. “If this is a joke, it isn’t funny,” she said.
But Zora seemed more unnerved than she did.
“The Devil can also mean many things: ignorance, stupidity, prejudice and pessimism,” Zora said. “But I think this one is about something else too. It’s about sex.”
Kate took a look at the card. The human figures weren’t looking at the Devil—not even a little bit. Instead, they seemed to be staring at each other with a look of raw desire. Kate wasn’t sure how the artist could show it in such detail, but now that she looked at it, it was obvious the two wanted to have sex. And not the kind you see in the movies, or at least not the films she watched. These two people wanted to get it on right there and then and if the Devil was watching them, she doubted they cared.
“Again, this version of the card is unique,” Zora said, her voice still unsteady. “The Devil often indicates sexuality, but this is more obvious than on some. There is another thread here as well: obsession and temptation. One thing I know: sex will change everything.”
“I’m not exactly a virgin,” Kate replied.
“Doesn’t matter,” Zora responded. “This—whatever this is—is different. Is there anyone you are attracted to? A boyfriend?”
Quinn came unbidden into her thoughts. She had been about to say no, when an image of him popped into her mind. But she hadn’t looked at him that way, had she? No, he was just a friend. Then why had she kissed him? Why was she thinking of him now?
“No,” she said.
Zora was staring at her.
“I don’t need to be a psychic to tell that you are lying,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter,” Kate said.
“Not to me, it doesn’t, but it matters to you,” Zora said. “This is not your average relationship, that’s for sure. If you move forward with this person—if you have sex with him—the world will never be the same.”
Kate tried to smile, tried to laugh it off, but none of it felt funny. The more she thought about Quinn, the more she realized she was attracted to him. She was breathing faster, her pulse rate up. She licked her lips. It dawned on her that she was very attracted to him and that scared the hell out of her.
“Next card,” she said.
“I don’t know that it’s a good idea.”
“Look, we’ve come this far,” Kate responded.
Zora reached into the deck and pulled out the card. Kate noticed her hands were shaking. She already knew what the next card would be. She had known it all along.
The card showed a knight on a dirty, matted horse. The knight held a sword aloft and below him were the trampled bodies of kings, merchants and peasants. Women and children lay sprawled at his feet. The knight himself was a grinning skeleton.
“Death,” Kate said. “Well, at least I know what this one means. Is it my death?”
Zora looked back at her. She suddenly seemed worn and very, very tired. Kate knew she wanted to lie, was almost sure she was going to.
“Maybe,” she said. “Usually, the answer would be a straight no. I would tell you this is a symbol and nothing more.”
“But not this time?”
“Honey, I’ve never seen these three cards together. The Hanged Man, The Devil and Death? That’s a bad combination.”
“I’m really missing why you get any return business.”
“The death card may not mean your death,” Zora said. “Typically it stands for the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. It’s about transformation. Taken together, these cards show a major event in your future, one that could have massive ramifications.”
Kate sat in stunned silence. She looked at the three cards. The man hanging upside down, the couple staring at each other, and the skeleton on top of the horse.
Something gnawed at her about the death card, so she picked it up off the table. The message in the card was clear enough: death takes everyone—men, women and children, from nobility to serfs. The skeleton knight held a sword out in front of him and it was unclear if he had trampled his victims to death, or used his weapon.
There’s something familiar in this, Kate thought. But she couldn’t quite place it. An image that was similar, but not quite right. It was on the tip of her tongue when she noticed a word written on the sword. The letters were hard to see and Kate had trouble making it out.
“What’s this?” she said and pointed to the sword.
Zora took the card from her and stared at it.
“Sanheim,” she said finally.
Kate nearly grabbed the card out of Zora’s hands.
“I know that word,” she said, and felt like the room was starting to spin. She had seen it written in the bathroom mirror just the other day. Then it had disappeared.
“What does it mean?” she asked. “What’s Sanheim?”
Zora stared at her.
“Sanheim was the Celtic God of the Dead. It’s also a festival celebrated by thousands every year.”
“I’ve never heard of it,” Kate responded.
“Not under that name. But believe me, you know it. It’s the festival the early Christians renamed when they came to convert the Irish. They started calling it All Hallow’s Eve.”
“Halloween,” Kate said under her breath. “Sanheim means Halloween.”
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