Rachel, the professional portal hunter
Rachel was a portal hunter. She’d been doing this professionally since 1988, but this was the first one she’d found. She’d known it was the real deal because of the way the light avoided the ground. This tricksy portal was hiding in plain sight, but not from her! Her decades of honed professionalism taught her to look directly at that which others pass over. She felt vindicated at last, and shook off the niggling doubts which others had imparted to her.
To be honest, it wasn’t what she expected: it was a bit dirty really. She had presumed portals to the underworld would be kept pristine by their magical charms. It may well be that others are, she thought, perhaps that’s why even her trained gaze slid over their glossy charm. That this one was covered in grime was the fact which allowed her gaze to stick upon it, and thereby notice the unmistakable light aversion.
Rachel reached into her rucksack and took her drumming stick out. For the uninitiated, a drumming stick is kind of like a drum stick but wavy and made out of hazel. She did a few quick breaths of fire, cleared her throat, blew her nose, and then started tapping out a rhythm on her left arm with her drumming stick, as her feet did a few shuffle-ball-toes, heel digs, and toe drops. All the while she hoped to the goddess that it didn’t matter if you weren’t much of a musician or dancer – there would be no West Side Story in these here woods.
After some time, the window handle on the portal started to slowly move around, at the same time as the dust and debris fell from the door. It took all Rachel’s studied training to keep her focus intact, and not lose herself to excitement. She upped the intensity of her drumming and added in some buffalo turns and travelling time steps for good measure. Eventually, and without even really understanding how, she found herself, rucksack and all, in the underworld. At last – she had made it!
As Rachel slowed down her dancing, she heard some clapping and a few ‘bravos!’ being shouted. Without thinking, she instinctually curtsied, and then, wide-eyed, uttered a ‘wow!’. ‘Thank you’, said the most beautiful woman Rachel had ever seen. ‘I am Belili the goddess of absolutely everything, and it has been a goodly long while since I had a seeker. What, pray, brings you to the old ways?’
Rachel explained that she was a professional portal hunter and had been seeking a doorway for two decades. She pulled out her journal from her bag, where she had meticulously recorded the dates and locations of all her hunts, and showed it to Belili. The goddess frowned and said she’d have to have a word with Artemis if Rachel’s journal was to be trusted, since clearly someone wasn’t doing their job: a hunter this diligent should have met their prey a long while back. Perhaps there were other seekers unable to find the old way, Belili pondered, due to Artemis not showing people the right path.
The two ladies then had some lunch together as they conversed. I can’t tell you about what as it is private to Rachel’s destiny and lifetimes of Personal Workings Out. What I can say is that Rachel was greatly edified by the content of the conversation and that if you too want the best and most accurate tarot reading of your life, you better get started dedicating your life to becoming a professional portal hunter as well. There is still time. There is always time. Remember that.
As the end of the conversation, Belili called forth Lucy, Rachel’s spirit guide. At first, no one appeared and Belili rolled her eyes, let out a sigh, and said ‘sorry about this’. Then she went dead still, like her body was a tree, and then a waterfall appeared between them upon which a pheasant floated out of the void. ‘Quack’, it said. ‘What the fuck?!’, said Rachel, forgetting her manners. And Belili, well Belili she said nothing; she just had a mischievous grin on her face as she shrugged and walked away.
It was Rachel’s turn to stand dead still, except for her eyes which were furiously blinking. Lucy said ‘quack’ again and then walked into Rachel’s leg. ‘What the FUCK?!’, said Rachel, for the second and hopefully final time.
Lucy waddled over to where a small puddle of water remained from Belili’s waterfall and sat down in it. Rachel continued to stare mutely and blink a lot. After a short period of feathers and bottoms being shaken, Lucy, thankfully, let out one final ‘quack’ and then proceeded to speak in English. She told Rachel that she was Lucy the Duck, Rachel’s spirit guide, and that it was nice to finally meet. How was Rachel, she enquired?
’You’re a pheasant’, said Rachel, direct as ever.
‘Yes, well,’ shuffled Lucy uncomfortably, ‘I have heard that before, but I can assure you that I am actually a duck. Things are not always as they seem, especially in the underworld.’
To be honest, that put Rachel in her place, as she knew full well that there are a variety of ways of seeing. Plus, it wasn’t like she had any practical experience in the underworld, only a theoretical knowledge. So she spread out her sit mat and settled down to… oh no, Lucy was getting up and instructing Rachel to follow.
‘She does waddle an awful lot like a duck’, thought Rachel.
‘I told you’, said Lucy, deep within Rachel’s head. ‘Just so you know, there’s no hiding your thoughts from me, as I am linked with your spirit. I am here to offer you guidance and a wisdom from the deep.’
At that, Lucy dispelled her prejudices, reminding herself that she was a mere professional portal hunter, albeit one with decades of experience. So she set out asking Lucy a series of Very Important Questions that she had been formulating over several years. Again, because they are private and really only relevant to Rachel, I can’t share them with you as it’d be rude, and you should never really talk about what your spirit animal reveals to you. However, I have been reliably informed that I can tell you the answers without prejudicing Rachel’s journey. You may find that if you substitute the redacted questions for ones of your own, the answers may reveal things synchronistically to you. You never know, it’s worth a try.
[Redacted question one]. ‘Aahhh,’ said Lucy, ‘that’s an easy one. When the union of cranberry pie fields, cinnamon raisin snowmen, and Wensleydale doves occurs on the fourteenth Saturday after our meet, then the answer to that one will become as apparent as the heir to your throne.’
‘Hmm’, said Rachel, thinking ponderously, and if she was honest with herself, not a little skeptically. ‘My throne, you say..?’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Lucy tetchily, since she could feel the skepticism. ‘Moving on. Number two please.’
[Redacted question two.] Lucy had a think, then: ‘On the fortieth hour after your visit to Wayland’s Smithy, you will find an amulet of power disguised as [redacted]. Put it in your left pocket and keep it with you at all times as it will bring love, luck, and an ability to communicate with the animals.’
‘What, like, even when I am sleeping?’, enquired Rachel with sincerity not sarcasm, ‘my pyjamas don’t have pockets’. Lucy was still a bit tetchy so she deliberately said ‘quack’ in response.
[Redacted question three.] Lucy nodded sagely and told Rachel that was a wise question. ‘First came time, then came money, third in line was myth. Shatter the illusion and break the story until all understand that nature is the gift. After that, my love, it’s up to you to make a new story. I trust that you will be equitable and generative. It’s part of the job description of a professional portal hunter after all.’ Rachel beamed with pride.
Ever the scholar, Rachel had jotted down each of the answers in her notebook as she didn’t have a clue what any of them meant, really. Part of her was worried that Belili had stitched her up; the other part trusted in the wisdom of the goddess.
After the third answer had been neatly recorded, Lucy announced that it was time to return to the upperworld. For the first time, she appeared a little unsure of herself and cocked her head from side to side as if she had lost something. And she had—the exit—she just didn’t want to tell Rachel that.
The first thing Lucy tried was the trunk of an oak tree. ‘Are you sure?’, asked Rachel uncertainly.
‘Mais oui, bien sûr!’, said Lucy confidently as she walked into the trunk with a loud bang.
‘Bollix’, said one of them.
The next thing Lucy tried was the arse of a goat. Rachel looked on horrified. After that, Lucy was adamant that the doorway would appear if the two of them bonded by braiding a giant chain of daisy flowers. Since it was a nice day in the underworld (it is always a nice day in the underworld), Rachel did not protest and sat down with Lucy to make a giant circle of flowers. Still, nothing, no portal appeared.
They got up again and wandered and out of the corner of her left eye, Rachel observed a shimmering in a hollow in an elder tree. ‘Oh, oh – is that it?!’, she asked excitedly, to which Lucy replied a miffed ‘no’ without even looking. It was clear that Lucy’s pride had taken a beating.
For forty three days it went on like this. Lucy leading Rachel to one dead end after another. Thankfully Rachel had a lot of snacks in her bag, so was able to go on and on in the endless journey through the underworld. At first, Rachel was annoyed: just her luck to get stuck with a pheasant who thinks it’s a duck, so stupid that it can’t even find the exit. However, Rachel is accustomed to paying attention to what she is paying attention to, and realised early on that it would be better for everyone’s wellbeing if she just relaxed and went with Lucy’s mistaken flow.
As it turned out, the journey through the underworld was fascinating to a professional portal hunter like Rachel. She saw first hand all manner of incredible and magical things, from the Eternal Grove of Sacred Trees, to the root of the collected megaliths of the world. She met Pharaohs and Great Aunts, prophets and clouds, and even once, a talking can of Diet Coke. She did her best to make notes in her now overflowing journal, and resolved to do a stunningly original presentation on it all at the next Convention of Professional Portal Hunters, provided she ever made it home.
Eventually, as they passed the shimmering elder tree again, Lucy excitedly shouted: ‘HERE IT IS!’ Rachel, kinder now she’d seen the educational advantage to getting terribly lost, only smiled graciously and didn’t point out that she’d told Lucy so. Rachel faced Lucy head on, tapped her heart twice with her right fist, and thanked her with a genuinely sincere profusion.
‘Quack’, said Lucy.
And with that, Rachel turned and went through the screamingly obvious portal and emerged in Holly Hill Wood a thoroughly renewed person. Over the next few weeks, she prepared her presentation for the forthcoming Convention of Professional Portal Hunters, who as it turned out, had themed the various rooms around the buffets contained therein: a table packed with cranberry pies, a mound of cinnamon raisin buns, and a cheeseboard in the shape of a dove.
‘Amazing!,’ said Rachel. And faintly now, at the back of her mind, she was sure she heard a ‘quack’.