Stroke

He said his name was Brian and that he was named for his mother, but he declined to explain further.

I’d read about his Tarot workshop on a flyer out at Three Oaks Festival last Imbolc. It had been tacked up between a yoga poster and a notice for handcrafted ritual wands.

TAROT FOR SEEKERS OF ECSTASY.

I snatched one of the pull-tabs with the phone number and when I returned home from the festival called this Brian Amadan and booked him for a workshop at my studio.

Betty breezed through the door almost as soon as I finished arranging the appointment, with her usual timing. “Amadan?” she said, and squinched up her nose. “I think that’s a Celtic word. Flip on that computer, Sal.”

I did, and after the shop was open for the day, we plugged the word into Google and were offered several return hits. Topping the list were a band out of Portland, some sort of online role-playing server, and an entry from a Gaelic dictionary.

I laughed when I saw what it meant. “A fool,” I laughed. “I wonder if the name came first or the workshop?”

We spent near an hour hunting up chatter about Brian Amadan and his workshop. Three bloggers (one of whom writes regular columns for The Hecate Papers and is more than trustworthy) raved about him. “An amazing journey of discovery for the knowledgeable and the beginner!” wrote Lady Red Sparrow. Nimue Parks said, “His esoteric path is wrought with adventure and delight. You won’t regret it. Not to mention Mr. Amadan himself! Quite the handsome gentleman.” And the Hecate Papers columnist, Magdalene, insisted, “The best workshop of my life. You will never regret attending. Amadan opened my inner-eyes to a world of bliss I’d never imagined.”

Betty was sold, and I couldn’t wait for the May Day session.

#

I was the last person into the studio, of course. I had to lock the shop door and because, like an idiot, I’d already shut off the front lights, I ran into a tall stand of incense. A round clay diffuser toppled off, and in my haste I caught it against my shirt. The strong scent of orange blossoms wafted up as the essential oil soaked into the cloth. I sneezed.

Righting the vial in the dark, I peered down at my shirt. In the dim glow from the studio door, I could just barely see the oily stain. I heard, “Thank you for coming to my workshop,” and the chatter from the studio quieted.

“My name is Brian Amadan, and I’m going to teach you about ecstasy.”

I tore my shirt off over my head and pulled it back on inside-out.

“Close your eyes,” Amadan said as I slid into the studio and shut the door behind me. I crept to the rear of the room and gave him my attention. He wore a top hat striped in black and gray tilted jauntily atop his head, and the brim shadowed his eyes just enough that they were only large dark pools in the candlelight.

My studio had been scrubbed down and all the layered rugs vacuumed. I’d tacked thin tapestries in purple and green with weedy-looking Celtic knot work designs up on the walls and added candles and Betty’s aroma therapy lamps to all the work surfaces usually dedicated to molding and painting and wire.

Mr. Amadan crouched before the group of twenty-three, mostly women, who had folded themselves onto the floor. He planted the foot of his cane on the woven rug beneath him and tossed the shaft back and forth between his long fingers like it was the stick of a metronome. Left…right…left… right, slowly and surely and calmly. White blond hair fell past his ears. A ratty black vest hung over his shoulders and down his sides to drip onto the floor, and his pale arms were decorated with tattoos that spiraled down like vines. Silk pants clung to his legs and his feet were bare. I couldn’t blame my friends and customers for not obeying him immediately. I didn’t want to look away either.

He smiled delicately and caught his cane in one hand. With the other he tipped back the brim of his hat so we could see his eyes. They were green – the green of early spring, with the leaves are fresh and the air smells of rain. “What is the Fool? Some of you know Tarot, do you not? Tell me, what is the Fool?”

I sat in the back of the studio and kept my gaze focused on Amadan while the group glanced at each other and gradually gathered their courage. Answers began to arise: The Fool is the first card of the Major Arcana. It is the card of beginning. Of faith. Or madness.

“Yes, fine lady,” Amadan said, pointing to Mrs. Pens. “Madness. The absence of reason. The absence of that which teaches us to know truth from falsehood, of black from white, of good from evil: experience. What else? What are the symbols you associate with the Fool?” He reached into his vest and pulled out a triad of cards. Fanning them out, I could barely see they were all Fool cards. “One stands on a cliff with a dog at his heels. One kneels before the image of the Grail with an angel at his back. One is naked and filthy and stained. What else?”

He continued to reveal to us what we already knew, shaping the conversation with questions and proddings. His cheeks flushed and he continually thumped his cane on the rug for emphasis. As he grew more excited, as the participation from the crowd grew more emphatic, he seemed younger and younger to me. And it grew warmer and warmer in the room.

We chatted about the Fool in Rider-Waite, about the Belgian Tarot, of games like the tarocchini and different ways the card is named. Il Mato, The Jester, The Seeker. I wondered if we would discuss any cards but the Fool. I looked around at my friends and saw their cheeks glistened with sweat and some were as flushed as Amadan. Betty’s hair was frizzy. I hadn’t noticed any humidity, but as soon as I thought it, I was oppressed by the atmosphere.

“Now. Close your eyes,” Mr. Amadan said again.

Everyone but I complied.

“The Fool, in all these decks, in all these stories leaps off this cliff, ventures into the woods, or runs screaming against the storm with his eyes wide open. But I say, your eyes must be closed to find what he offers. You must see through your own darkness, through your own imagination to find that purity of madness.”

I managed not to scoff as stood up to open a window. It was small and round and looked into an alley. Cool air slunk through the crack and I reveled in its kiss on my cheek. My shoulders were hot and I felt sweat slide down to the small of my back. What was wrong with me? My stomach burned. My eyes ached. But Mr. Amadan knew his stuff, and everyone else was completely drawn in. What was it about his youthful face and ever moving hands that I so disliked?

From behind me, I heard a soft cry. Spinning, I looked at Betty, who had collapsed back into Dave Wright’s lap with a smile on her lips. She said, “Oh, God!” and sighed. The sigh was echoed from all around, while the nearest participants reached out to touch her. As though she’d been electrified, her hair stood on end and her fingers shook. Dave Wright kissed her forehead and then moaned.

I pressed against the wall and listened to the alien noise of traffic and the shimmer of early May leaves. Outside was cool and dark and simple, in here the colors were organic, blending boldly into one another. Every person in the room but for Amadan and I was physically connected to all the rest, by hands, knees, thighs, feet – bare skin on bare skin and a weird heat shimmered throughout.

“That is it,” Amadan whispered, somehow making himself heard over the crackle of magic and the sighing and weeping. “That is what you seek.”

I was beginning to feel rather mad.

Betty’s back arched and she screamed. I dove into the cluster, calling, “Turn on the lights! Open your eyes, everyone!” They moved when I made them, but as soon as I had passed, the web reformed behind me. I knelt beside Betty and found her smiling. Her eyes fluttered open and she said, “Sal, hi. Oh, Sal!” and she sighed again and reached out to touch my hand. The moment she did I felt disoriented by a wave of dizziness. I snatched myself back and wrapped my arms tightly around my stomach. I glared at the front of the room.

Amadan was not there.

#

I paced out front, listening to the cries and sighing and sounds of ecstasy escaping through the studio door. Whenever I paused I shook dreadfully, like a vibrating piano string. I was furious and frightened and called Brian Amadan’s phone number again and again to no response.

Twice I nearly called an ambulance. But what would I say? A room filled with people had been overcome by religious rapture and some bizarre form of madness, and I was afraid they’d make themselves sick?

It finally grew quiet, and I went to the door. Opening it carefully, I saw that most of my guests were gathering their shoes and jackets. At least ten had already departed. When I saw Betty prone on the floor, her eyes open and staring, I threw myself in. I shook her. She blinked, but did not move. Her pupils were dilated. I grasped at Spiral Johnson’s sleeve. “Call an ambulance!” I snapped.

Spiral smiled at me, her grandmotherly face serene. “No worry, Sal, she’s fine. We’re all fine. Wasn’t that a wonderful workshop?”

“Oh, yes!” said Paula McShane. “I do hope Mr. Amadan will visit again. Thank him for us!”

I gaped at them, then down at Betty. They all filed out, one by one, through the rear exit. They prattled and gossiped and glowed. “Betty,” I pled, touching her cheek.

Nothing.

I stumbled back out of the studio and spun around to find my phone.

He was there, directly in front of me. I squeaked back a scream and skidded to a halt. A frown textured his face into a goblin mask. “What is wrong with you?” he asked, his voice lacking a bit of its earlier seduction by the note of complaint.

I shook my head. “What did you do to Betty?”

Heaving a sigh, he studied me up and down, from the crown of my head to my feet.

“Ah-ha!” he cried, peering at my shirt. “Damn and blast.” He grinned at me. “Well done and well won. I’m getting careless in my old age.”

I glanced down at my stained shirt. I didn’t see any secret messages or sudden answers stitched into the seams. “You psycho, what did you do to Betty?” My eyes flashed up, but again he had vanished.

I spun in a circle. The studio was empty, too. Betty was gone. All the doors were closed and I hadn’t heard the jangle of copper bells strung to the front door.

But I was alone.

20 thoughts on “Stroke

  1. Ooh I loved it! Great imagery, great characterization with what little you had here. I’d love to see this continued and find out what happened to Betty and Mr. Amadan, and also why the oil kept the protagonist from being swept up into it as well. 🙂

  2. Thanks. A (relatively) common way to protect oneself from the faeries is to turn your clothes inside out.

    ps. Amadan has appeared in my Wednesday fiction before. Recently. 😉

  3. That was my favorite thing about the story, actually. I’d love to teach this workshop. With less, um, dire results.

  4. Ooh then I’ll have to check out the previous entries. I’m sort of new to the comm but hope to find time to get it all 😀

  5. I like the thing with the shirt there…one of the most fun things about knowing different lore and superstitutions is being able to guess as soon as stuff like that pops up.

  6. This was JUST AWESOME.

    JUST AWESOME.

    Great voice and I LOVE the fairy bits twined in; felt very organic and natural.

  7. Fun. A workshop with ecstasy. I’m teaching the wrong stuff. At times I get a purr response on the healing table, mmmm, maybe group therapy is the way to go. Cool, Simon.

  8. Scrolling up to the top, I caught this bit of goodness–“I tore my shirt off over my head” and had to immediately read the story beginning to end. It was lot’s of fun!

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