The Page of Wands
Post-Series/S10 | PG-13
It's an odd place, Spike's head. The heart of it is difficult to find.
All right, so it’s a true story to say that Drusilla saw it all coming. She always did. It’s a true story to say that she and Spike spent the time they were reunited making hell in Louisiana, keeping out of the punk scene until Dru made her peace with it in 1981.
All the same, that night they met a tarot reader they didn’t do much else apart from eat her. No; you want a story? The story you want goes back a little further, up and over into New York City, and the immediate aftermath that followed Spike leaving a Slayer’s dead body on the floor of a C train.
It was a stranger murder than the last time, it had to be said. The last time, there had been Darla and the great git himself doing the parental bit, expecting him to fail. There had been Dru to look at him in the aftermath, to see exactly the sort of man he was.
This time, there was nothing and no one. It’s the greatest achievement possible for any vampire, offing the Slayer, but it’s not something you can crow about – not the moment her corpse hits the floor, not when no one knows you were on for the challenge anyway. The thing about beautiful young girls lying dead on the ground, it has a tendency to make humans try and play the hero, cause you aggro. As for the demon world, they don’t believe the Slayer’s dead until they see her mourning family and hear about the next little dervish stirring up a storm somewhere else. They’re superstitious bastards, after all: take her name in vain and she’s destined to walk right through your barroom door.
Anyway, right after it all went down, Spike left the subway to find himself in Brooklyn with nothing left to do. It was weird, to say the least, rising out of the depths into a city without Nikki in it – into a city where the entire supernatural world, apart from him, still thought there was a Slayer running about.
It should have been raining. Or storming. It should have been doing something, but it was nothing but quarter past two in the morning, with one murdered bird on the subway lying in wait for the driver to investigate the emergency brake.
Spike laughed, and swung around a lamppost, and a girl with over-kohled eyes approached him from a doorway, popping gum. Her hair was styled into a head of greasy Farrah Fawcett flicks that covered most of her features. “Hey,” she said, with no self-preservation at all. “You wanna handjob? It’s ten bucks.”
Spike laughed in her face. He hadn’t fed on the Slayer – hadn’t felt like it this time around, not without Dru there – and now lunch was walking up to him with a tomato in its mouth. This was the witness to his glory.
“I’ll take five,” the girl replied, unfazed. Another one of Spike’s guffaws and then she’d lost patience. “Are you high?” she asked. “If you’ve got something…”
This world of his, Spike’s world, it was too easy sometimes. The way Darla used to tell it, there were dangers around every turn – hunters and Slayers and Watchers, mobs and magic, all of it gunning to take them down. As far as Spike could tell, just shy of a century now and with two Slayers to his name – and two, remember, is how you measure that something’s not a fluke – all of that was all bollocks.
Maybe a mob was coming and it would catch him unawares. Maybe there would be something else to take him down. But on that night, in 1977, Spike didn’t reckon there was anything that could keep him from doing what he wanted, from taking what he desired.
He was young, all right? It’s worth forgiving the youth sometimes.
In any case, Spike didn’t realise it quite at that moment, but there was something in him that was starting to find the whole business just a little bit dull.
“You got any other tricks, love?” was what he asked the streetwalker. He wasn’t able to recognise his own feelings right then, but he knew well enough that he was hungry for conversation more than anything else. At least before dessert. Nikki was dead, so there was to be no more jibes out of her, and it would take a while to blood in the next nemesis. “I don’t mean with either of our bits,” he added, as the girl made moves to take the gum out of her mouth.
She rolled her eyes, this girl – chewing. Presumably it had been a slow night for her as much as it hadn’t been for Spike. He was still coming down. “I can read your fortune?” was what she eventually offered. “Ten bucks.”
I’ll point out that I’m not translating the prices here. It was a ridiculous amount to ask for a load of hokum. Quite why Spike took her up on it, I don’t think anyone will ever know. It’s possible he figured out he could kill her anyway, before he paid; it’s possible he figured out that ten stolen dollars was worth nothing to him when he could always go and steal ten more. Quite likely, he was missing Drusilla acutely. The other woman in his life was stone cold dead, the warmth of her body practically gone from her jacket in the time he’d taken to have this conversation.
For whatever reason, Spike did agree to the deal, and they found themselves in a bar where no one gave a toss who either of them were, nor that in the lamplight this girl could only be seventeen. The vamp of the hour was on to buy them a bottle of whiskey, because he was going to need it later. At the lady’s request, however, he got them white rum.
The girl had a handbag, which Spike hadn’t noticed. Going by the clonk of it on the dark wooden table, she kept a brick inside or something that would work just the same. Spike raised an eyebrow when she pulled out her tarot cards, because they seemed to take up half the space. They were held in a pack with an elastic band.
As the long-term lover of a girl who could see into the future and liked to play the mystery, it wasn’t like Spike didn’t know how attached the women could get to their decks. At the same time, in a city like New York? The girl would have been better off with a bigger brick.
Watching her shuffle, Spike found himself curious. “What’s your name?” he asked her, wondering if it would mean anything.
“Candy,” she replied immediately, and it didn’t. A moment later she was pulling the gum out of her mouth, sticking it under the table and asking him, “So what’s the question, bub?”
Spike stared at her, the pockmarks that covered both her cheeks. She had a scar on her jaw, which he hadn’t seen outside, and she had brown eyes, just like Nikki the Vampire Slayer. Her skin was fairer, but for a moment Spike was watching himself watching her and trying to figure out why this one was still alive.
Shaking his head, because he didn’t know what he was thinking, Spike poured them both a glass of rum and shot his down to warm him up. His new coat creaked. “Let’s stick to the classics, shall we?” was what he said. “I think I’ve hit a turning point,” he added, because it was a joke. “What am I gonna do now?”
This seemed to amuse the girl. “No idea,” she said, before slamming the knackered deck on the table. “Say let’s find out,” she added, picking up her rum. “Cut.”
It’s fair to say that Spike knew the drill. He thought about his question, which mostly meant thinking about his hands. He remembered how it had felt to hold Nikki’s life between them, to see that look in the Slayer’s eyes for a second time and snuff it out. He cut.
As for Candy, she put the decks back together as happy as you please and spread.
This is the thing, though, because it wasn’t a three-card draw. It was a full-blown Celtic Cross. She drew the three queens – and, let’s face it, Spike snorted his rum at the sight of them – but she drew a load of others as well, at ninety degrees to the pair of them up at the top of the table.
“Wow,” was her deadpan reaction. “That’s a lot of Pentacles.”
If you don’t know how the Celtic Cross works, it’s a standard, complex spread that looks nice and arcane for the punters. There are two parts of it, the cross on the left and the staff on the right. The cross is made out of six cards, the staff out of four.
At the centre of your cross, you’ve got two cards, one on top of the other: the card that defines your present and the card that defines your problem with it. I didn’t lie before about this reading – that present card was the Queen of Pentacles, the figure who understands hard graft and material gain, wants to provide. Crossed over that, though, Spike had the Eight of Pentacles, some poor bloke in a workshop trying to hammer his stack of coins together.
Either side of those two cards. These were exactly, fatally, those two other Slayers: on the one side the Queen of Swords, the one who’s figured out the stabs of the mind; on the other the Queen of Wands, she who’s sussed out instinct, passion, fire…
Anyway, that gives you a line that’s your past, present and future – but then above and below on your cross you’ve got your conscious and unconscious thoughts on the situation, the goal you’re heading for and what’s driving you in the back of your mind. Spike, well, he had more Pentacles. Above him he had the Five – this charming little scene of a church window, blocking out these two beggars in the snow. Below him, just as you’d expect – though he didn’t, quite – he had the Devil.
Scary, right? The thing about the Devil, he’s got his own Pentacle too. It’s upside-down, slap on his head, forcing him and his subjects to suffer from their base, material desires.
It wasn’t hard even for Spike to cotton onto the fact there was another Slayer in his future, but that vertical line, from Devil to the Eight to the Five of Pentacles, it was a story of vampirism, as far as he could guess it.
“OK – what I’m seeing,” Candy told him anyway, sipping rum, “is that this issue with the Queen of Pentacles, I dunno… We can say it’s a woman, but you’re a fool to think the court cards can only be other people. It’s gotta be what she means to you as well as who she is – no one can read minds with this stuff, just yours.” The girl’s tongue was getting looser now she was getting drunk. She was mostly talking to herself. “You figured something out with her, right? But would you say you’re still making an effort? Hammering things together?”
She pointed at the crossing card and Spike looked at it, zeroing in on the bloke’s hard-working face. He was trying – to prove himself above anything.
“You wanna shut people out with this project you’ve got,” moving her finger to tap the Five of Pentacles above. “I mean, if we figure you’re worrying the worries of this guy in the Eight, then we can see you working to build this window in the Five. We can see you beaten down and driven by this… Need to do this thing.” She jabbed the Devil. “Which isn’t going to help when the Queen of Wands comes along, because she can run rings around Pentacles.”
The project, in case you haven’t figured it out, it was evil. Sometimes the cards are very literal and Spike knew that well enough. The devil drove him and he wanted nothing more than for the rest of the world to rot in the winter of his maleficent discontent. He was working hard at it – couldn’t really work any harder. It was this Queen of Wands and her sexy little sunflower, she was the worry on the table.
So far so obvious, of course. Why would you off a Slayer if not to prove you could do the devil’s work that much better than the rest of them? What challenge could the future hold apart from the next Slayer, when there was no other danger on the horizon?
But then, the other part of this spread, the staff section, that had Spike’s attention. It’s the part Drusilla has a tendency to refer to as the willy stick, because he should never have let her see The Wicker Man. As the cross is about what’s going on right now inside you, and is a nice feminine circle shape to point out it’s all about reaction, the other four cards in their vertical line is all about agency and what the bloody hell you’re going to do to fix the mess you’re in. A nice bit of virile jizz.
It goes from bottom to top, with the first card supposedly giving you a bit of advice to wake you up. Then you’ve got something that points out the external shit you can’t control. The third card is something along the lines of what you can control, your hopes or fears or dreams or nightmares. It’s all those niggly thoughts you actually need to think about. The top card, finally, is understood to represent what the outcome is going to be, or likely will be unless you sort yourself out. It’s what makes sense of your future and tells you what act to get together.
Spike’s draw that night, it was a mix, but it was also yet more Pentacles. That first card, the advice, it was the Emperor: masculine energy and war and control. For the external stuff, he was inside his church from before, with the Three of Pentacles setting the scene for a happy little craftsman to show his wears to a commissioning public.
Hopes and fears and that shit? Well, that was interesting. Given the darkness of the rest of spread, the card that was there didn’t seem like it fit. It was the Page of Wands, with some poor bloke in a hideous yellow tunic and Robin Hood’s hat looking up at his staff like he had no idea what he was doing. Page cards are all like that, of course: first forays and ignorance about what their suits are meant to mean. Opposite of the queens, almost. It seemed as though Spike was afraid of his own passions, his own instincts, the poor sod.
The top card, capping the lot, that was the Ten of Pentacles. Three generations and some dogs, mingling around the mouth of their home, coming and going, barely making eye-contact. The Pentacles hung like Christmas tree ornaments, floating over the scene but irrelevant, everything all disconnection and material wealth with nothing at its heart.
“Geez, so how are we gonna make sense of this?” Candy asked. She was leaning back in the green leather booth and contemplating the spread. “Maybe we should leave the advice for one second and look at this outcome card. I mean, the Ten of Pentacles, set against your goal of a five? Whatever this project is, you are over-achieving on it, guy. It’s not gonna get you anywhere: look at these people; they got nothing. OK, dig it, so there are other people watching you, wanting it. I guess that’s how we can take the Three as your outside – but, yeah, talk to the Emperor. You can always take control back again.”
By this point the girl had drunk at least three shots of rum, and was clearly not all that used to it, or at least hadn’t eaten in a while. She was oddly relaxed, considering how Spike was yet half-planning to kill her. She was the only woman in the place and none of the men were looking out for her. Really, the only thing holding Spike back was how this was supposed to be a momentous night. Cheap blood was only going to water him down.
Possibly, Candy here was past caring. She had no qualms looking down on the Page of Wands and raising an eyebrow over the table. “I mean, let’s look at this – you’re working so hard you don’t notice jack shit about yourself. This turning point you’ve been telling me about? You noticed something, got a feeling you didn’t understand and it’s gotten you freaked out. Let me tell you, that’s the only thing that’s gonna save your ass in the end, so you’d better get understanding.”
Spike watched as she knocked back the rest of this round’s rum, crossing his heart against every sense of pointlessness in this whole charade of Slayer-killing. It was the shock of it, that was all. This uncanny city without her. Soon enough, there would be rewards to reap, Drusillas to entertain again.
“This girl,” Candy finished, licking her lips and stabbing her thumb in the face of the Queen of Wands, a mere two inches away from her page. “She’s got it made, at least how you want it. You watch out for her, because she is gonna screw with your shit. She’s gonna know it, know you.” With a lighter touch, she tapped her index finger on the emperor. “You’re gonna have to get control, get some war armour that’s not all these coins. If you wanna stand a chance…” She looked him in the eye. “I mean it,” she said seriously, ending the lesson.
Spike looked back at her, down at the Emperor and then up at the gormless naïf of Wands.
“Now where are my ten dollars?”
In the end, he didn’t eat her. Strangely, for one Twilight Zone moment, he almost wished that she would just goddamn eat him.
At least, that's how he remembered it.