False Prophecy 

Prequel to 
Those of My Blood   
by

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

"False Prophecy". In Rachel Pollack, and Caitlin Matthews, eds., Tarot Tales, Century Legend, London, 1989.

Rprnt. in Midnight Zoo, Jon L. Herron, Ed., 544 Ygnacio Valley Rd., #A273, Walnut Creek, CA 94596, issue #?, 1992.

In Rachel Pollack and Caitlin Mathews, eds., Tarot Tales, Ace Books, 1996?

Recording by Wollcott & Sheridan Audio Performances Library.  

 

 

 

Oh, I hope I'm doing the right thing!

Bringing her Mazda to a stop at the red light, Gavriella Dean peered up at the rusty highway signs overhead barely lit by the street lamps. Route 59 East, ahead. Route 9W South, to the right.

Yes, this had to be the corner. With New York's crazy right turn laws, she couldn't figure out if she could turn against the red light or not, so she sat there visualizing the Hanged Man Tarot card, suppressing a touch of hysteria. She'd never read Tarot in public before, and to start at a Halloween costume party seemed - well, risky.

Thy Will be done, she prayed, placing her destiny in the hands of God, and made the turn. Maybe she wouldn't find the house. Then she could just go home.

9W climbed and narrowed to a crumbling, two way track lined with tumble-down businesses. Then she passed the sign that said, THE NYACKS'HISTORICAL PRESERVATION AREA, and suddenly there were gorgeous victorian homes on either side of the road, with carefully painted gingerbread, turrets, and roofed carriage porches on the sides.

Ordinarily, she supposed, this area would be beautiful, especially when lit by the perfect full moon now climbing the sky. But many of the houses were decorated for Halloween, some whimsically, some sinisterly. The animated holos of ghosts, witches, and vampires got to her, but she resisted closing her eyes as she passed them. She had been warned.

She counted streets and landmarks according to her directions. Before she knew it, the land to her left dropped away and the road became a narrow ledge cut into the hillside, treetops and roof turrets poking up next to her car. Over them, she could see the Hudson River, and beyond, the dense lights of the city.

Dirt driveways snaked up the steep hillside on her right, and twisted down to the houses buried under the trees on her left. Racks of mail boxes were stationed at intervals. Some were decorated with jack-o-lanterns or ghosts. She almost missed the one she was hunting for - under a holo of a red-eyed vampire bat. But, just beyond it a line of cars was parked against the cliff, left tires barely clear of the white line that edged the roadway. She tucked her Mazda in behind a Lincoln and doused the lights.

Shouldering her bag, she dragged the lace shawl of her makeshift witch's costume around her and walked back to the stairs up to the house. The narrow stair was cut into the solid rock. Modern lights lit the treads and banister, but the stairs looked more than a century old.

She put her head down and climbed, praying If You're sure this is what You want, okay. She was visualizing The Hermit card, staff and lantern lighting her climb to Wisdom, when feet scuffed to a stop beyond her nose, and a man gasped, "Oh! Sorry!" and backed up the narrow stair.

Simultaneously, she backed down, barely stifling a yelp, and had to grab the banister. The stair treads were an odd height and worn unevenly. Suddenly, she was falling backwards.

Hands closed over her arms and she was lifted back up the steps and set down on a landing edged with shrubbery on both sides. She'd never been lifted like that before; all hundred seventy-seven pounds of her five-foot-two body just moved. It made her feel like a ballerina, beautiful and graceful, until she heard the man grunt with the effort as if he'd strained himself.

Heart pounding, she looked up at her benefactor, a slender young man in a Dracula costume with a rental tag showing at the collar. In one electric glance, she took in the blood red satin lined cape, archaic tuxedo and pale white makeup on hands and face that was so well done, it didn't look like makeup at all. The moon glancing off his eyes had struck ruby highlights somehow. It absolutely made the outfit. "Red contacts, right?" she gasped.

He laughed. It was a wonderfully rich sound. "Right. I'm sorry I startled you. My name is Titus Shiddehara."

"Gabby. Short for Gavriella. Gavriella Dean." Her voice was choked and husky, and she thought she might faint.

"Here," said Titus drawing her through the bushes, "come over here and catch your breath. It's still along climb up to the house and witches shouldn't arrive out of breath."

Against her better judgment, her feet followed him into the bushes which were so thick with vines that the wall of growth closed up behind her.

But then they were on a moonlit lawn under a gnarled oak that had to be a century old. Behind them, the windows of the house spilled out light, music and shrieks that turned to laughter. Behind the house, the hillside rose steeply, covered with trees and vines. The only exposed spot was a huge rock that stuck out of the hill, forming a kind of overlook. She could just discern the hint of a foot path that disappeared into the undergrowth, probably leading to the rock.

She couldn't imagine why anyone would go up there. There was no retaining wall around the edge of the rock.

She surveyed the river and the city beyond. The velvet dark was sprinkled with jewels and presided over by the moon which made golden paths on the river. Like a Tarot card.

Titus said with restrained disapproval, "I have to warn you the entire climb from here up to the house is trapped with fun house tricks, some pretty realistic ones, too. Brace yourself, and don't get startled like that again."

She stepped away to get a better look at him. "You were leaving?" She'd arrived a quarter hour early.

"I - didn't care for the atmosphere. The whole house is filled with things that pop out of closets or swoop down from the shadows of the high ceilings. And there are a few people doing drugs already." He flashed her a smile. "I don't suppose I could offer to take you to a movie, or something?"

He hadn't laid a finger on her since he'd dragged her into the bushes. "I'm tempted. Doesn't sound like my kind of party, either. But I gave my word. I'm supposed to be reading Tarot to entertain the guests." Tarot wouldn't work if they were into drugs already, so she was really tempted.

"Do you read at a lot of parties?"

"No. I'm just doing this as a favor to my boss. I've been reading for other people for about a year, but not at parties." She pulled the lace shawl up, wishing she'd come in a business suit instead of letting her sister talk her into the costume. At least she'd have been warmer.

"Gabby, they've already got a lot of readers. I don't think they'd miss you."

"Maybe I can get away early. But I really have to do a couple of hours at least. I did promise."

There was a squirming discomfort in her stomach, a warning she was about to do something she'd regret. She never picked up strange guys. That was how women became police statistics.

But when she'd consulted the cards over coming to this party, the theme that ran through every layout was Hanged Man, Hermit, and Lovers; putting trust in the Higher Powers, following the path to Maturity, and facing temptations or finding real inner harmony through relationships. But there'd also been a number of Fives tangled through the whole issue, along with the Nine and Ten of Swords. Whatever was due to happen would hurt a lot. But she'd learned long since that challenges like that led to worthwhile triumphs.

"Well," allowed Titus, "in that case, I'll wait." He guided her back onto the stairs, warning her of hidden obstacles he'd tripped over when he'd discovered the secluded spot. They went up the long, long stair together, Titus alerting her at each trap. She didn't tell him how much she appreciated his help, and then immediately regretted it when he delivered her to the door and vanished into the crowd.

Oddly enough, despite the cobwebs and skeletons decore, Gabby's queasy discomfort vanished also. That man's the temptation I'm here to resist. She could already tell that resisting wasn't going to be easy.

The host, the man who had financed her boss's venture into newspaper publishing, was standing in the entry foyer beside a real, satin lined, teak coffin wearing a fabulous Dracula costume, complete with appropriate dentition. But she'd never seen a Dracula with gray hair, spectacles, and an ample waistline before. Well, why not?

As she introduced herself, Gabby realized that Titus had lacked the fangs, but their host had omitted the contacts.

She'd been told there was to be a Dracula contest later. There were already ten or fifteen Draculas in the living room behind the man she was facing.

"Ms. Dean?"

"Uh - yes sir?" The unmistakable odor of pot wafted through the spray-can-cobwebs. Well, if it's just pot . . .

"Please follow Mr. Simon. He'll show you to the room we've prepared for you." He intoned the words with silken menace, and laughed diabolically, then turned to the couple entering behind Gabby, Dracula-and-nightgowned-victim.

He was really enjoying the act, she realized, as she followed the man in the caterer's outfit. As she saw others wearing identical black jumpsuits with red cummerbunds carrying white towels over their left arms, passing large trays among the guests, she realized he was a real waiter, not a costumed guest. I'm way out of my class here!

Installed in what had been a small bedroom, decorated now as a gypsy tent complete with little round table and crystal ball, she ordered a virgin Mary, then cleared the crystal ball off the table. It was a real one, probably costing more than she made in a week as a features editor. She put it on the floor in the corner and tucked it behind a fold of the cloth which draped the walls. She discovered a small attic window and grunted it open a crack. The cramped room was already stuffy.

Then she saw the antique china bowl on a side table by the door. A huge sign over it, shaped like a hand raised in benediction, read, CROSS MY PALM WITH SILVER AND I'LL REVEAL YOUR FUTURE.

Oh-my-God!

She yanked the sign off the table so hard the whole table collapsed. She grabbed the bowl just in time, and discovered the table was just a folding cardboard parson's table draped with a round cloth. She set it up again and put the bowl back upside down.

A gypsy woman swirled into the room, beads rattling. Immediately, her hands went out to right the bowl. "Cheesy little tables. You'd think a place like this could afford better props! What happened to your sign?"

"Excuse me?" Gabby had no idea who the woman could be.

"I work next door here. Cynthia. Where's your sign? They did give you one?"

"Uh - look, I don't do this for money. Ever."

Cynthia's whole demeanor changed. Gabby retreated a bit, sensing she'd offended the woman. Then Cynthia put one arm around her shoulders and said confidentially, "Look, if you take that attitude, you'll undercut the trade. It makes us all look bad - especially if you're any good. Are you?"

"Well, my clients keep coming back . . . ."

"So. You are good. Well. You know, it's all right to take money for a Reading if it's the only way you can support yourself - which is the way it is for most of us here. And these kind of people - well. They're not going to listen to free advice. If they have to pay for it, what you tell them will make an impression. You do tell the truth, don't you?"

"Yes," she answered uncertainly.

"You wouldn't want it ignored just because you sold it cheap?"

"No."

"So. There. You see? That's settled. Where did you say that sign was?"

"I'll - uh - I'll take care of what needs to be done."

Summoning all the courage she'd ever owned, Gabby ushered the woman out the door. People were milling around in the hall, comparing the readings they'd been given.

Cynthia disappeared into the throng, and Gabby snatched the little table and folded it up, hiding the bowl underneath the heap of material, hoping it would blend into the decore. Then she asked a blessing and protection for her working space.

She wouldn't take money. She had a job - though she might not have tomorrow morning if she just picked up and left. She was behind in her car payments and had no idea how she'd scrape together next month's rent, but her teachers had warned her repeatedly of the dangers of going commercial.

A voice asked, "Are you reading?"

It was a woman with too much makeup and too little dress covering her hips. But other than that, she looked normal. "Yes," said Gabby, "I was about to start."

The woman held her drink away and turned to display the red sequined outfit. "Like it? I'm the Virgin Victim of Dracula. His cape is lined with the same red sequins."

"Oh. Very impressive." She wondered how many "virgin victims" the Draculas had brought. Gabby settled at the round table and spread out her silk reading cloth, then began shuffling her cards. "Have you ever had a Tarot reading before?" There was no alcohol on the woman's breath. At least there was a chance this one reading would work.

So the evening began. Before and after each reading, Gabby had to explain that there was no charge, that if the reading proved of value, then the recipient could make a donation to their own favorite charity, but even that wasn't necessary. She got very tired of that speech.

Three clients and an hour later, she had to ask for a NO SMOKING sign. After that, she fell into the natural trance in which she did her best reading, and words started to flow as the gestalt pattern of each card layout became perfectly clear. Words flowed from her, describing by analogy and anecdote, explaining by parables she originated on the spot, elaborating and embroidering on each card's inner meaning for those who would listen. And a moment after she picked up the cards to reshuffle, she had forgotten what she'd said.

The clients made little impression on her. They were patterns in the cards, classic problems in living life, layers and crosscurrents of power struggles in domestic affairs, knotty choices of vocation or job, serious quests for spiritual enlightenment.

At one point she realized she needed to use two different decks, so she moved onto the floor where she could sit in lotus and spread out the work. taking the most portentous card from the first layout as significator for a second reading, she used the deck she had drawn and colored herself for the second reading. Comparing the two readings, she could penetrate the mists of the client's subconscious, and finally understand where the anguish was coming from.

"No, that's not what you want," Gabby said. "That's what others want of you. What is it you, yourself, need?"

The client, a young, skinny woman dressed as a Dracula, broke into sobs. "You're right! My God, you're right!"

Gabby looked up and realized she had a huge audience peering down at them. "Somebody get a box of tissues." Then she put her arm around the client and talked her back to composure. It took six tissues. She'd hit a nerve.

The onlookers had been friends of the client, most of them privy to the actual problem. Gabby, herself, didn't know and didn't want to know the personal details. "It's all right to kibitz, and it's even good to watch if you've never seen this done before. All I can do is describe the general pattern of the seeker's current life-crisis. I can't reveal anything really private. I can't foretell the future. I can only describe the decisions already made, where they might lead, and the options still open. I can't even tell what's the best solution. I can only describe the problem in terms of the value system inherent in the Tarot."

"Can I go next?" asked someone.

"Certainly." It was a young man in a Harlequin suit who folded his long legs tailor fashion and sat next to her.

After that, she lost track. The crowd around her never thinned, and though many broke into astonished sobs during the readings, there was never a lack of volunteers. As usual with a group, the readings began to fall into a pattern echoing her own most recent pattern, of Hanged Man/Hermit/Lovers laced with varying combinations of 5's and the themes of the 9 and 10 of Swords. As the crowd around her had heard her repeat the instructions to the seeker many times, she eventually left them out.

It was close to midnight, and she had just organized the people waiting into a line, promising to get to them in order when one of the waiters brought her another Virgin Mary and announced, "Ms. Dean, it's time for your break." He raised his voice. "She's entitled to half an hour now."

Suddenly, there was a space around her, and contrite murmurings of how tired she must be. Very quickly, the room emptied. Actually, she felt no strain. She was, however, stiff from sitting so long, and she discovered she'd been sitting in the cold draft from the window. It felt good to get up and move. And then she saw the table by the door.

The bowl was back in place, and it was half full of currency, tens, twenties, and even a few crisp hundreds. It looked like more than a month's salary.

What am I going to do? Not even wanting to touch it, she pushed out into the crowded hall where people were milling about or waiting in line at the other doors. Some of the Draculas now wore prize ribbons pinned to their lapels.

She found the lavatory when someone came out. She went in, glad that her makeup, wallet and necessaries were in a leather pouch tied to her waste, part of the medieval flavor of the witch's costume. Refreshed, she emerged to find their host was working up and down the hall, making sure everyone was happy. He seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.

She plastered herself against the wall to let him pass, but he spotted her. "Ah, Ms. Dean, you've become quite a hit!" He reached into his breast pocket and produced an elegantly printed envelope which he presented to her. "Your fee. Only a token compared to what you've been collecting."

Pushing the envelope away, she shook her head. He drew her hand up and curled it around the envelope. It was a thick package. "I'm so grateful to Tom for getting you to come. You're worth more than any of the others. I won't forget the favor." With a raised eyebrow and a nod, he was gone into the crowd.

Clutching the envelope, stunned, she felt large, strong hands came onto her shoulders, kneading the tension she hadn't realized was there. She stifled a yelp, and spun to find Titus behind her. "Oh! You shouldn't do that!"

"I think you need it. You've been working harder than anyone, and with far better results. Ready to leave yet?"

"Oh, I can't." This man is the temptation I have to resist. But there had never been all that many personable men interested in her.

"Listen, Gabby," he said leaning over to speak softly into her ear as he worked on her back, "some people here are dealing. This is a Wall Street crowd, very high class, very elegant, but still, the place could be raided. I don't want to get caught in anything like that and neither do you."

"Dealing," she repeated, stricken. She turned and noted inanely that the rental tag was gone from his collar.

She wanted to grab her Tarot bag and go. It was plausible that someone here would be dealing. She'd done many readings indicative of substance and power abuse. Still, she hadn't seen it with her own eyes, and this man was the temptation she had to resist. He'd certainly found her most sensitive button, too. He was just the sort of man no sane woman would get involved with; so sexy she could hardly stand it, so insightful he found her buttons before they'd even had a single date, and so manipulative he'd push those buttons shamelessly. What sort of marriage could that lead to? Besides, she didn't want to get married. She was a career woman on the way up. Wasn't she?

"Titus," she said, knowing she should keep it formal but unable to remember his last name, "I can't. I promised at least ten more people."

"You should make them come to your office."

"What?"

"Good psychologists don't give away free samples."

"Oh, no. You've got it all wrong." She explained she was only a features editor for an Advertiser distributed free to home owners in Bergen County, just across in New Jersey.

He eyed the knot of people beginning to collect outside her door and the fervent, animated discussions developing among them. "I'd say you're in the wrong line of work."

"Titus, people always behave this way about the Tarot because the results run so completely counter to everything we think we know about reality. The Tarot works. Come on, try it, you'll see."

This time she took his hand and tugged him through a barrier, not shrubbery but people. It parted before them and closed behind them. As she entered the room, she tossed the envelope into the bowl, noticing that there was as much in there now as there had been when she'd left the room. She realized she'd vaguely hoped somebody would steal it.

The floor had been cleaned up, and her things were set up on the table again. She shrugged. She had, out of habit, put all her cards away and wrapped them, so there was no harm done. Titus went with her as far as the client's seat, but as she moved around the table, he balked.

"No, no. This is ridiculous."

"Suspend your disbelief," she suggested.

"I'm an astrophysicist here for a convention. This just doesn't fit my concept of reality. Not at all."

Maybe that's what's so strange about his aura. She realized the queasy feeling was back again. Perhaps it meant he was a heavily repressed psychic, or a deeply disturbed person. There was no denying the rich sexual attraction she felt, but it would be a bad mistake to get involved, especially knowing how incompatible they were. Besides, if he was not from around here, she'd never see him again after tonight. She was glad she'd declined to go out with him.

Then she looked up at him, and he was looking down at her as if she were beautiful. She had to say something or she'd seem to be staring. "Why aren't you wearing a prize ribbon? You're certainly the best Dracula I've seen."

She was immediately embarrassed at what her mouth had said of its own accord, but he responded levelly, "I didn't expect to stay for the contest, but I'm glad I did."

"Oh, why?" She was enjoying just being near him and despite the cluster of people politely hanging back by the door, she wanted to prolong the experience.

"I hadn't realized so many more Draculas would turn up."

It wasn't the flirtatious response she'd expected. "Are you a connoiseur of Draculas?"

"No, I was just looking for someone. He hasn't come, and the atmosphere is even worse now. Are you sure you wouldn't like to go somewhere for coffee? There's a Denny's up on Rt. 59."

She was ready to go simply because he hadn't invited her to a bar or a dance hall. Temptation. "Titus, I hate to point this out, but I'm part of that distasteful atmosphere. I don't think you'd really care for the company of someone who interprets the world in terms of occult principles."

"No, no!" Leaning closer, he said confidentially, "The atmosphere I referred to was the alcohol and drugs, and the people who need that to have fun or make fortunes trading on others' weaknesses. It is dangerous to stay here."

"Then I guess you'd better go. I did promise the others in line."

He withdrew. She was overwhelmed with a sudden regret and had to grit her teeth not to call out to him. He paused and turned back to her, frowned, then said, "I'll just watch you work for a while. Okay?"

He wants to protect me! It wasn't the way most men reacted to her, and it felt oddly thrilling to be so valued. But then she took another look at him as he turned to inspect the crowd. Sideways, he looked like Frank Sinatra in the oldest movies - so thin a strong wind would blow him over. Mafia Muscle wouldn't even notice him. But even that cynical observation couldn't erase the thrill warming her inside.

Then a black woman in a diaphanous ghost costume complete with clanking chains came forward. Gabby remembered the costume and began shuffling.

The work picked up as it had left off, and she forgot all about Titus. Occasionally, though, as one client left and another sat down, there would be a break in the wall of bodies through which she glimpsed someone putting money in her bowl. She began to wonder if she could take it all home. Maybe, if it was still there at the end of the evening it would mean she was properly entitled to it. After all, she'd never done so many readings in a row, nor worked so hard at them - nor had she ever been so fiendishly accurate.

She began to enjoy the working a new way. A peculiar gratification swept through her each time she spread out the cards and drew forth a precise statement of the problem. At some point, the queasiness denoting Titus's presence vanished but she hardly noticed. She'd hit a breakthrough in her skills. For the first time in her life, she felt she was worth any amount of money, praise or respect offered her. And she saw that as she became more accurate, her clients left more money in the bowl. She could see a mound of green paper heaping above the rim.

Aware of the spellbound awe of her audience, she began to strive to increase the effect. Occasionally, now, she began to miss. One client simply could not make sense of what she said, and with another, she found the cards would not synthesize into a meaning. But even when she had to give up, disappointing a client, others came forward eagerly.

They were on the third box of tissues,and the crowd had thinned, the dull roar of noise from down stairs having abated significantly, when five burly Draculas stalked into the room. Three of them spread out as one approached the empty client's chair. Unobtrusively, people drifted out of the room, but Gabby hardly noticed when the last of them left her alone with the four men.

Through the open window she heard doors clattering and cars staring up, people laughing and calling to each other.

The man before her reached in to his breast pocket, fumbling with the ribbon and pendant of a replica of a Royal Order, and brought out six one-thousand dollar bills. He placed three of the bills on the table before her. "It seems you can actually do this witch stuff. So tell me what's going to happen at 4 a.m. today, and the other three bills are yours, too." He fingered the bills he still held.

I could be completely out of debt. I could afford to go back to school. But she said, "The Tarot can't predict the future."

He leaned closer, looming over her. "Now you and I both know that's not true. You've already done it accurately for several people tonight." He exuded the same kind of quiet menace that her boss and other powerful men did. It didn't mean he was the one who was dealing. It could be about some insider trading on the Tokyo exchange.

She swallowed hard, her mouth dry. Suppose I can't do it? Or suppose I get it all wrong?

He moved the deck of cards in front of her. "Do it."

Hands shaking, she shuffled the cards and set them down for him to cut, muttering the instructions with her mouth while her mind was frantically invoking Protection. The familiar routine steadied her hands and the shroud of the reading trance settled over her. She snapped each card face up on the table in a Celtic Cross. The pattern coalesced as crisp and clear as any she'd seen that night.

Devil crossed by the Tower, with the Moon beneath and the Page of Swords behind.

He's dealing drugs and there's a spy in his organization who's set him up. Violence, shocking revelations. It was just supposition, but it was the only interpretation that fit both the circumstances and the archetypical meanings of the cards in pattern.

She exposed the Five Swords above, and Judgment Reversed in front of him. Nine of Wands Reversed in the 9th, and in the tenth, World Reversed.

He fears failure, is beset on all sides, is pitied and hates it, knows he's beaten. Deep down inside, he wants to be caught, but is terrified of what will happen then.

All at once, she realized her mouth had been babbling words, and she clamped it shut as one final word exploded into her consciousness. Suicide. If he fails, he plans to kill himself!

She found herself gazing into hard, black eyes set in a face gone suddenly pale beneath a Florida tan.

What did I say aloud? She had no idea.

"Who!" he demanded. "Who's the police spy?"

Her throat emitted strangled noises.

His hand slapped the table, bouncing the cards. "Who!"

She forced her eyes back to the cards, expecting the images to be ten disconnected entities devoid of meaning. But the story was still clear. "A young woman you admire and trust, the one person you'd never suspect." Oh, God! Why did I say that?

He subsided into his chair, shocked wonder suffusing his face. "Of course! I should have known. All the clues were there and I couldn't see it." His attention snapped back to the cards. "What will happen if I just don't show?"

She swallowed and gritted her teeth, wishing desperately for Titus to walk in, then awash in relief that he wasn't there, she said, "I don't know. How could I possibly know? I can't foretell the future." Her voice broke into a squeak.

"Look at the cards. Tell me!" He was sweating. When she didn't move, he slapped the second three bills down on top of the first and reached into his breast pocket again to pull forth another three. He waved them at her as if she were an informant holding out for a higher bribe.

She wanted the money. She suddenly realized she'd been wrong all evening. The challenge wasn't to resist Titus. The challenge was to resist abuse of power. Overwhelmed with shame, she recalled the ruddy glow of pride she'd felt when the crowd around her had murmured in awe. And there had been greed, too, as she saw the money being heaped into her bowl.

When she lowered her eyes again, the cards were just bits of colored paper. It would serve her right if she could never read again. She shook her head. "I don't know. Nobody can know. If I said something, it would be a lie." She pushed the money back across the table at him. "I was only guessing, and I was probably wrong." Relief sighed through her like a mountain breeze. Truth was its own reward.

He sat back and stared at her, stone faced.

She gave the money another little shove, and began collecting her cards.

On the periphery of her vision, she saw his hand move, flashing a heavy gold ring and watch. The next moment,hard hands gripped her wrists and she was yanked to her feet.

One of the men slammed the door of the room, while simultaneously, a hand clamped over her mouth and she was pinned against at tall, hard body. "She knows too much!"

"No. She's a charlatan like all the others. She was just guessing. It's not hard. Most everyone here knew we had a shipment coming in tonight."

"Well, if she didn't learn it from her cards, she certainly knows it all now. We have to make sure of her."

Gabby's heart slammed against her ribs. She could hardly breathe, but she prayed with all her might. Are You really sure this is what You want? I'm sorry for what I did. I've learned a lesson. Isn't that enough? Do I have to die, too? And aside, in her mind, the thought came, Oh, Titus!

If she hadn't tried so hard to read her own future in the cards before she came, she'd probably have gone with him instead of into the house, and none of this would have happened. The cards can't foretell the future. Why can't I learn that?

The man before her nodded to one of his men. "Take care of it." He went to peer out the little window which had a view of the steep slope behind the house. "Up there. See the rock? Drop her over the edge of that. Get some liquor into her first. Regrettable accident." He turned. "Anybody seen a phone on this floor?"

He went out and before she knew it, Gabby was wrapped around and tied securely by her sister's shawl. Somebody's silk handkerchief was tied around her mouth. That hurt. Her mouth was already dry, her voice husky with overuse. But she struggled anyway. She managed to kick the money bowl over as they dragged her out of the room. It made a satisfying crash. But nobody came. Nobody noticed as they carried her down the narrow, twisting back staircase, and past the dark and deserted kitchen. The fifth man, the one she'd been reading for, joined them and led the way out the back door.

Vines and branches slapped her face, cold dew mixing with the hot tears that dripped from her eyes trailing backwards up her forehead because she was upside down.

She found herself being carried up the steep path she'd spotted from the front garden. Where it passed under the trees, the underbrush had been cut back forming a tunnel. A very dark tunnel. She struggled, hoping the man carrying her would trip and fall. Her moving weight did cause him to stagger. He slung her to the ground and slapped her face. "Stop it, or we'll all have at you before we dump you."

She glanced at the leader, who was carrying a large bottle of liquor. He seemed disinterested. Well, it would take up some time. Anything for a reprieve. It was a nice, logical thought but when the man shouldered her body once more, she couldn't bring herself to further defiance. What's wrong with me? People survive rape!

Before she could talk herself into it, she was rolled onto a cold, hard surface that was almost smooth. It sloped to one side and she rolled involuntarily, which brought the panorama of the Hudson River into view. There were fewer city lights now, and moonlight was coming from the west. But it was still breathtaking. Oh, Titus!

When she looked to see what her captors were doing, she found them passing the bottle. The last one wiped his mouth and let out a gusty sigh. "Too good to waste on her."

"Let's get this over with," said the leader as if he really didn't want to kill her. "Take the gag off and hold her mouth open."

One of them moved behind her and propped her up, cutting the gag and tilting her chin back. "Pour."

Another man held the neck of the bottle up to her mouth. "Drink. It'll make this easier on you."

Liquor gurgled into her mouth. She gathered it in her cheek, and when the man holding her clamped his fingers over her nose, she sprayed the stuff out hard. Even without swallowing it, the fumes triggered a coughing fit.

Someone slapped her face.

"Take it easy," said the leader. "We don't want to leave any evidence of a fight. I want this done perfectly."

The one holding her head shifted his grip and one hand crept down her back toward her buttocks. "Drink, girl, or you'll get it right in there!"

She yelped and surged away from his stiff finger, glad of the layers of thick skirt she wore.

Both hands came back to her head again. "Pour!"

Her head was forced back. She saw the five men in vampire costumes silhouetted against the stars as they bent over her. Higher up the sheer mountain, a very large oak leaned out above the rock. There was no wind, but the branches shook as she fastened her eyes on them and tried to pray. I said do what You will with me. I meant it. Honest.

Deep in the shadow, there was a figure hanging from the biggest branch. It looked human.

Without warning, the oak heaved and a blood curdling scream split the air. The man holding her jerked back, gasping, and the others turned. There above them, blotting out the sky, was a huge bat with red eyes and needle sharp teeth gleaming in the moonlight. Teeth and talons dripped thick, red blood. As it fell on them, engulfing them in a putrid stench, it screamed again.

She could feel the gust of wind from its powerfully beating wings. The sense of horror that washed through her made her previous terror seem like a silly illusion.

The man behind her dropped her. The liquor bottle fell and broke. The creature screamed again. In a mad scramble, the men ran. And something was settling down to eat her.

Without transition it seemed, Titus was bending over her, rubbing her wrists and patting her face. "Gabby? Gabby, are you all right? Wake up. Come on. You can do it. You only fainted. It's all right now."

She was untied and Titus's Dracula cape was laid over her like a blanket. "I must have passed out. You'll never believe what I thought I saw."

"What did you see?"

"It - " No, he'd never believe it. She didn't believe it. "Where did you come from?"

"The tree. I jumped down yelling, and those men ran."

She struggled to sit up. "Men. It wasn't a nightmare. It really happened. They were going to kill me. You were right. There were dealers here." That much was real, but the rest - the whole house had been thick with smoke. God alone knew what sort of mixture she had in her blood by now. Small wonder she'd hallucinated.

"Can you walk, Gabby?" We'd better get out of here. They might come back."

She got up and took off his cape. It was too long. No matter what she did with it, she'd trip on it. "Come on. My car's out front," she said, trying to sound brave. She doubted she even sounded sane. Shock. It's shock.

He took her hand and led her down the dark, twisting trail as if it were broad daylight.

There were still lights on in the house. "Titus, I'm not going back for my things. Where's your car?"

"Don't worry about me. Just get yourself out of here."

They picked their way around the house as quietly as they could, then dashed down the long flights of steps to 9W. Panting, afraid they'd been heard, she paused, one hand groping in her belt pouch for her car keys. "Titus, how can I thank you for saving my life?"

"By not dying now. Are you sure you can drive?"

She held out the car key. It wasn't shaking. Yet. "Sure. They didn't get any liquor into me. But what about you?"

He walked her to the Mazda. "Don't worry about me. Just get yourself away. I have my own transportation."

As she unlocked the door, he opened it and eased her into the driver's seat. He leaned over and brushed her forehead with his lips. "Go!" He closed the door quietly.

Feeling beautiful again, she started the motor and eased away from the wall, catching sight of him in her right side mirror. The red lined cape was billowing in the wind like wings, and a stray bit of moonlight made his eyes glow red. She thought she saw a shimmering aura around him that throbbed with power. It had to be an optical illusion. It wasn't at all like any aura she'd ever seen before.

She shuddered.

Oh, come on! Don't be ridiculous. The combination of passive drug smoking with liquor fumes must have warped her brain.

"I jumped down yelling and those men ran." Fifty yards away and picking up speed, she glanced into her rear view mirror again, suddenly unable to understand why she had believed it when he'd said it. Why had she scoffed at the thinness of his profile while forgetting that he'd lifted her up the steps quite easily? And what had he been doing in the tree? She was a reporter. She didn't fail to ask obvious questions like that.

She was also not stupid. She couldn't fail to see the obvious answer; he was a real vampire.

Her skin crawled and she clamped her chattering teeth together, determined to get home before she had any kind of reaction. At least she was headed south into New Jersey. She'd pick up Route 4 at the G.W. Bridge and be home in no time. Then she could shake and cry until dawn.

Vampires disintegrated at dawn and reality returned full force. That's what I need. A dose of reality.

Titus was probably the police spy she'd thought was the Page of Swords. That was why he was able to handle those men so well. He was trained for this kind of thing, and he just wanted her out of there so the bust would go down smoothly. She'd see the whole thing on Eye Witness News in the morning.

And she'd never see him or anyone from that party again, including her boss. She'd call in her resignation in the morning, borrow some money from her mother, take off for California.

She clung to that resolution all the way home.

END

Read the direct sequel to "False Prophecy", "True Hospitality".  

Learn current status of the reprint of the novel Those of My Blood.  

Read more about Titus Shiddehara in Those of My Blood published by BenBella Books.  

Check on availability of the companion volume Dreamspy.  

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False Prophecy copyright 1989 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg.  All rights reserved. 

copyright 2002 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg.  All rights reserved. 

Those of My Blood copyright 1988 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Dreamspy copyright 1989 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg