In a small cave lit by a warm fire, several people were laughing, eating, and generally enjoying the moment.
Around the fire sat a man wearing a dingy green, wool uniform. Another in dark, tattered cotton shirt and pants, and a woman and her young daughter in traveling clothes.
Ulrich, the man in the uniform, opened a can of corned beef and put some on top of biscuits. He handed them to the girl, her mom, and finally the other man. “It’s not pheasant, but it’s better than nothing,” said Ulrich.
The other man, named Binh, took a pot of soup from the fire and poured it into wooden bowls. Binh said while distributing the broth: “Hot. Good for eating.”
Carol, the young girl, took two bowls and handed one to her mother, Grace.
After finishing the corned beef on biscuit and the broth, Grace took a pot from the fire and poured hot water into tin cups. She made tea for all.
“This ‘cave of plenty’ is a miracle,” said Ulrich.
Carol finally tasted the soup and made a funny face. She said, “It’s quite tart, like a lemon, but really good soup.”
“You like?” asked Binh. Carol smiled, pursed her lips, and crossed her eyes.
Everyone laughed. Carol stood up to get closer to the fire. When she sat, a card dropped out of her coat pocket.
“What that?” asked Binh.
“It’s a Tarot card,” said Carol. “It tells the future.”
“Not quite, Carole,” said Grace. She continued: “The cards are a diversion to pass time. That’s all. They describe situations that may have some meaning to our lives. This one here is the Nine of Cups, and represents social gathering, a party with friends. And maybe even poignant happiness.“
“Then the card predicted our future, momma,” said Carol. “It’s exactly what we have here – friends, laughter, and lemon soup.”
Binh responded, “So card is future?”
“Yes,” said Ulrich, agreeing with Binh. “The card tells the future. Amazing. It has correctly predicted our merry gathering. Well, we certainly deserve this , especially since…” His voice trailed off.
After a brief silence, Ulrich took his tin cup filled with tea, raised it and said: “To us, my friends, our quiet gathering, and to this bountiful meal. I do not know what brought us together, but it must be the hand of the divine to bring about this moment of joy.”
All raised their cups for the toast, and drank the tea. Then quiet and contemplation followed, each person looking intently at the fire.
The mood changed. Ulrich’s eyes glistened. “I’ve killed many people,” he said. “I cannot count the number, even with both hands. I am tired of killing. Tired of the war. And I’m tired of the trenches. There’s nothing there but mud, stench, death. We’ve been in the muck for months with no end in sight. The enemy is similarly entrenched. I don’t know how much longer I can survive.”
“I kill also. Many men. Very bad. Me not good man,” added Binh. “We keep digging tunnels. Blow up old tunnel. Blow up enemy. Then digging. No see sky for long time. Digging only. Digging. Always digging.”
Grace held Carol tightly and said, “My family has also killed many – my husband and son have – at least that is what I know. My husband’s ship sunk many enemy vessels. And my son – he’s in North Africa somewhere blowing up tanks.”
Carol stood up, looked at everyone, and said, “It’s time to go back now, isn’t it?”
“Ja,” said Ulrich. The fire was starting to burn out. “I believe so. It is time to go back.”
Everyone stood up and collected their things. When all was packed, they looked at each other dispiritedly, but managed a smile to keep spirits up. Carol began to weep. The group said their goodbyes, knowing that this would be the last time they would meet at the cave.
They all turned away from each other and headed toward the darkening walls. There were three recesses just beyond the light, each pitch black and hiding an exit. The group walked toward their respective exit, turned back to have a final look, then stepped into the darkness.
Ulrich emerged in a trench. It was night and raining. Mud and men – alive and dead – were everywhere. Bullets were whizzing by and bombs were exploding all around. Ulrich rejoined the other soldiers in the trench somewhere in Belgium. It was 1917, and Ulrich, with his German ground unit, was fighting the British. Ulrich looked at his tin cup – the one that recently held the tea. He was killed instantly by a bullet to his neck.
Binh refocused his eyes as he came to a long tunnel. A grenade exploded at one end. He turned and ran the opposite way. It was 1972. Binh, a fighter for the Viet Cong, reached the end of the tunnel. Trying to escape from the advancing American army, Binh, desperate to escape, began digging and clawing the earth with his hands. The ceiling started to crumble and dirt began to fall all around him. One last grenade exploded and destabilized the tunnel. The ceiling fell and Binh was crushed to death.
Grace and Carol, hand in hand, stepped into their small bomb shelter. They were once again in London 1941 during the Blitz. German planes were mercilessly bombing the city, and at this moment, directly on top of the shelter. Bombs exploded every second, getting louder and louder. Grace held Carol to her chest as tight as she could. The shelter flashed and disintegrated as a bomb pierced the roof and blew up the underground room.
The cave continued to dim as the burning wood expired to nothing more than coals. The space shrank. At the end, only Carol’s Nine of Cups card remained visible, capturing the last glow. Then it, too, faded into darkness.
This is Dante P Ramon, your host and author of The Dark Reading, scary stories inspired by Tarot cards. I invite you to listen to our podcast regularly, and visit us on the web at TheDarkReading.com. And please feel free to share The Dark Reading with your friends.
I just picked the Death card, so good night for now.
Season 1 Episode 16.
©2020 The Dark Reading. All Rights Reserved.
All third party marks are the property of their respective owners. Image credit: Golden Tarot, Kat Black.