PROLOGUE: The Opening of the Deck
In the darkened room, a click is heard. A high intensity desk lamp turns on. A figure shrouded in shadows places a new deck of cards on the table. The words Rider Tarot Deck can easily be read on the box. Bone-white hands, disembodied by an oval of light illuminating only the tabletop, break the seal on the deck. The deck is placed so a card can be seen.
A robed figure stands behind a table with a disk inscribed with a pentagram, a sword, a cup, and a green stick. The figure's right hand is raised with what looks like a small white wand of unknown substance. His left hand is pointing to the ground. Over the figure's head, two circles twisted and joined, forming infinity. The card is arrayed with a garden of flowers that overflow its sides.
After a pause, the deck is turned over. The cards shuffled and cut, shuffled and cut, shuffled and cut. The deck is then placed in the middle of the table and the top card is removed and placed face up next to the deck.
A man leaning on a green staff, his head bandaged, appears on its face, and behind him stands a row of eight more green staffs in a barricade. The man has a vaguely lost, melancholy look as he gazes off to his right.
A noncommittal, "Humfff" comes from the figure cloaked in darkness. The hands reach up, a click, and the room plunges to black.
* * * *
CHAPTER 1: The Nine of Wands
His name was James Makinen. He was cleanly dressed but appeared slovenly. His appearance had declined over the last five years when his marriage started to come apart. James' disintegration accelerated when three years ago he had stopped by his old house to pick up his two kids for the weekend and discovered his wife had left for California with both children. After spending all the money he had left after the divorce in court trying to get his kids back, he gave up. His despair and lack of money accounted for most of his disheveled looks. The rest of his looks came mostly from his genetics.
James had thin, wispy, light caramel-colored hair and slightly tarnished wire-rimmed glasses. His fair skin had a tendency to break out at the least excuse. He had the overweight look of middle age. With his pale skin and pudgy appearance, everyone considered him as sickly. Healthy by current standards was a bronze complexion, broad chest and thin waist, the exact opposite of his looks. No one believed that he had never missed a day of work for sickness in the last ten years. His current health had less to do with care and more to do with depression. After his wife and children left him, he would lay in bed for hours unable to sleep. Six weeks after being served the divorce papers, he had tried to exercise instead of tossing back and forth in bed. After an hour of push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks, he had slept. This went on until he discovered T'ai-Chi and the other forms, or katas, of oriental shadow boxing. Now every night he would spend hours practicing the different forms and designing his own. In complete exhaustion, he would crawl into bed and the oblivion of sleep.
When the clock's alarm rang in the morning, he would climb into the first clean clothes he found in his closet, check his face in a mirror to see if he had to go to a barber, eat anything he found in the refrigerator that hadn't turned green yet, and drive to the high school to teach. With everything that had happened in his personal life, you would think that he had become a bad teacher. He had been a great teacher, spending hours before and after school to supplement the course work. Now he just put in his time. However, since he had been great, his marking time was better then most people's best.
Every day Makinen had hall duty during the lunch hour. The school had a large open commons area where the kids would mill about while waiting for their fifth-hour classes to start. He stood on the second floor balcony looking over his right shoulder at a group of girls. Most people thought of teenage girls as pretty and sexy, but although he considered them pretty, he was repulsed. When he was younger, he'd had a large fish tank. The tropical fish would form up in schools. They would swim back and forth through the water ignoring the other fish with their strength of numbers. A fish would dart from the school and nip the fins of a lone fish swimming by itself. As if this was a marking of a victim, the other fish in the school would take a turn harassing the marked fish. It would take days but finally he would find the fish in the tank, floating belly up with a hole eaten halfway through its belly and the school pecking at another fish.
Today James watched a girl leave her clique, make a remark to a friendless girl, and leave her in tears. He knew the others in the clique sensing blood would soon join in the game. In a weariness that soaked through his bones, he eased himself away from the railing to break up the group. He was too late.
The new history teacher, Lori Waithe, moved the girls along. She had graduated five years earlier from this same school. James remembered her in the vague way he remembered the hundreds of other former students. But now it was different. She wasn't a member of some girlish clique anymore, but an individual, a woman. She had graduated from the school, the clique, to become an individual to be admired and appreciated. He watched her move, studied her profile. His eyes followed the clean smooth lines of her body until he got to the curve of her butt. That had always been his favorite part of the female anatomy. The only thing he could still remember without anger or remorse about his former wife was tracing the curve of her buttock with his fingertips after lovemaking.
From the other end of the commons another person watched. The softening look on James's face made it obvious what he was thinking. The watcher followed his gaze to the group of girls. Anger flared. The watcher lusted for one in the group. Since the watcher lusted, so must the teacher on the balcony. The teacher must be destroyed.