He stands upon a stone, raising his lantern toward the West. Behind him, in the distance, a landscape of hills has been worn down by wind and darkness to a sea of sloping dunes. He braces himself on the precarious peak of the stone with his staff, holding the ash stick as well as he can with his damaged hand. His cloak, stained grey by a memory of rain, hangs loosely on his narrow frame. His beard and hair are so tangled and matted that it seems as if he has tentacles sprouting from his head and chin.

A six-pointed star is caught in the belly of his lantern—a pair of married triangles exploding with light in the throes of their lustful coupling. Its light illuminates the script of age written on his forehead.

The sky behind him is streaked with veins of color—purples and greens and blues and blacks as if rendered by the thick trowel of an Impressionist.

The fortune teller's teeth start to chatter. "The hermit is a representation of gained wisdom—the seeker who has learned enough to know that he must find his own way." He moves the card to the left side of the table, but does not release it. "This should be your first card, but it cannot be." His hand moves it across the empty swath of fabric to the right side of the table. "Nor can it be the last."

"It's the first card turned," I offer, feeling slightly embarrassed to be mentioning this obvious point.

The fortune teller regards me with his peacock eyes, and I squirm under his gaze, feeling as if I am indeed only twelve again. His teeth tap-tap against each other in the dish, the silver incisors glittering in the candlelight. "The hermit is a transition," they say finally, as if reluctant to release these words. "He is the wizard who stands upon the threshold of chaos. By drawing it first, you have set your reading . . ."

"What?" I ask. So petulant, so on the cusp of adolescence, so on the threshold of becoming a man.

He smiles, a twist of his lips that reveals the dark hole of his toothless mouth. His shoulders twitch, and his twisted finger taps the card in a syncopated rhythm. It takes me a moment to realize he is laughing.

The teeth rattle. "Is your lamp the light that fires the corpse of the sun, or is your flame a token reflection of its intent?"

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