The Message

The fire crackled in the fireplace and lit up the otherwise dusky room. Eric growled and dashed his glass of port against it. Flames flared and ashes swirled, giving Eric’s reflection in the mirror above the mantel a grimace of abject fury. His thick eyebrows scowled and his teeth gnashed, as the flickering fire played with the lines on his face in a dance of light and shadow. He looked like a devil with the still-tender scar across his forehead and the gray hairs that now lined his face. Eric was young, but the war had aged him, and not well. He returned home with a permanent limp and a diminishing bank account. At least she had still been there… until now. 

She ran off with Lewis, that no good two-timing blackguard who called himself a brother. Lewis knew nothing of brotherhood. Eric served with better men, far more valiant and loyal than his own flesh and blood. Meanwhile, Lewis spent the war flitting from party to party and squandering the rest of Father’s fortune. Were he alive today, Father would tan Lewis’s hide, no doubt! 

Angry tears welled up in Eric’s eyes, and snarling, he fought them back. They spilled down his cheeks anyway, and Eric wiped them away which such force his sleeve scraped his cheeks and the scar on his forehead stung. The fire rose and ebbed; he paced the room like a caged tiger, not heeding the searing pain in his leg, and clenching and unclenching his fist.

“Damn them!” He cursed at the walls, the rug, the mirror. 

Tongues of fire licked his wrath as he glared into the fireplace. He ran his fingers through his hair and, in one swift move, upended the antique pedestal table by Father’s old high-backed chair.

The baroque table had been one of Mother’s favorite pieces of furniture. It had one ornate carved leg with a tripod base, a thick round tabletop with inlaid tile depicting a phoenix, and a tiny drawer that was always locked since the key had vanished before its arrival at the shop. The table rested on its side; the tiny drawer was now open, and a piece of paper lay on the rug beside it. The paper fluttered as the fire flickered, and Eric glared at it through gritted teeth and tear-filled eyes.

Curiosity crept up his spine, and Eric picked up the paper, which was folded into a letter with no recipient or sender. He broke the wax seal and opened it.

Eric huffed. It was nothing but gibberish. He was about to fling it into the fire when he gave it a second glance.

“This looks like a cryptogram,” he muttered as he leaned closer to the firelight to read it.

Eric hobbled to Father’s desk across the room, and sitting in the big leather chair, switched on the desk lamp. He reached for a pen, and with a nostalgic lump in his throat, set to decoding it as he had done years ago by Mother’s sick bed. She loved puzzles and had bequeathed that love to him during many a quiet evening. His last moments with her had been over a cryptic crossword he helped her decipher.

That skill served him well in the army, and he spent most of the war decoding messages from the Nazis to their Luftwaffe. Though he did not escape the bombs — the ghastly scar and his shattered leg proved it. 

Eric focused his mind on the task at hand, forgetting her perfidy and Lewis’s betrayal. It was a substitution code written in symbols; difficult, but not impossible.

The fire dwindled, and the room cooled around him, as the message appeared, letter by letter. 

Confused, he furrowed his brow.

“Decipher this message and prosper for all eternity.”

Eric leaned back in the chair and huffed.

“What is this?” He said, the fire hissed in reply.

Eric stood and, noting the chill, limped across the room and threw another log into the fire. The flames sputtered and cackled, playing with the dead wood.

Eric returned the overturned table to its upright position and sat on the high-backed chair beside it. He watched the flames crackle and pop as his eyelids grew heavy and drifted off to sleep. His hand drooped over the arm of the chair, and his fingers loosened the grip on the decoded message. 

The paper fluttered on the rug as a draft of wind gusted through the room, despite the closed doors and windows. It lifted the paper into a whirlwind of dancing flames and blew it into the fire. With one final wheeze, the fire incinerated the cipher and died.

The cold crept into Eric’s bones, and he stirred, shivering. He opened his eyes and stood to throw another log into the fire when, catching his reflection in the mirror, he gasped. The scar and the gray hairs had vanished! His youthful, flabbergasted face stared back at him, and only then did he realize he felt no pain in his leg. Rather, he felt no pain anywhere. He covered his mouth with his hand—a million thoughts flying through his brain—when he glanced into the cold hearth.
Glints and glimmers sparkled in the dim light of Father’s desk lamp. Instead of glowing embers, Eric beheld a trove of diamonds, gold, silver and precious gems where only ashes should be.


Rider Through the Mist

The insults and accusations flew like daggers and stabbed the walls of Adrian’s house. His parents’ fight resonated through the wallpaper of his room. His little brothers’ video game thundered in his ears.

Adrian put his head in his hands and drew two shaky breaths. He closed his book and reached for his earplugs. He hated wearing them; they only muffled the world without providing the peaceful silence he craved. Not even Cassie’s home satisfied that yearning. Over there, the silence was doleful; it weighed heavy on Mr. Powers’ brow and shoulders. Cassie bore its burden as well. But of late, Adrian had noticed her sorrow lifting, and now a tiny ember of something alive shone in Cassie’s emerald eyes. Still, that sad silence was better than none. 

Maybe I’ll only ever find that peaceful silence when I’m dead, he thought, but checked himself when the grove by the Old Cemetery flashed in his mind. There, among the ever-blooming trees, he found peace, though not silence. 

He sighed and pushed the earplugs into his ears as the world muted, and his brain filled with a heavy and dense artificial quiet. The alternative was the incessant noise that rattled his house.

Adrian laid back on his pillow and closed his eyes. A deep, multicolored mist filled his mind, and Adrian welcomed it; it fluttered like the wind playing with the blossoms in the grove. Soon, his mind sank into its own depths.

Out of the swirling mind-mist, a black horse appeared. Adrian recognized Ethur’s obsidian sheen glowing on his lustrous coat. His long, glossy mane bounced as he cantered towards Adrian. With his cool nose, Ethur touched Adrian’s hand resting on his chest. Adrian wanted to open his eyes, but his eyelids were too heavy, and the brain-mist too dense.

Adrian placed his hands on Ethur’s back and mounted him.

Ethur galloped through the mist until Adrian discerned a window flickering with flame-light. Ethur neared it and Adrian marveled at the stealthy silence of his hooves, like he was riding a cat. As the thought flashed, Adrian noticed the head and rounded ears of a black panther. It had Ethur’s obsidian luster, and Adrian knew this was Ethur in his panther shape.

They peeked in the window.

The room beyond the glass looked seedy and grotesque; Adrian imagined a putrid stink, though he smelled nothing. A dark fireplace lit the room, and even the flames flickered with a vile glow. A man and a woman sat on two shabby high-backed chairs facing each other. Both had ghastly features, as if they wore their souls on their skin.

“Have you found her?” the woman asked.

“No,” the man replied deadpan, “but there might be another more powerful than Laura Duke, and easier too. She’s only twelve. I believe her name is Cassie.”

“I don’t care!” The woman snapped, and the man flinched but hid his reflex behind a cynical leer.

“I want Laura! I want that bitch to suffer for what she did to your brother!”

“I understand,” the man cast his eyes down, and Adrian saw an angry, unrepentant spark in them as he did so.

There was a moment’s silence.

“More powerful, you say?” The woman purred.


“And only twelve?”


“Why have you not brought her?”

“I will.”

The woman smirked, “Can you seduce her?”

The man grinned, “With your help, yes.”

The woman cackled and rose from the chair. She crossed the room and took a vial from a low shelf. 

She gave it to him, “You better use it well.”

“She will not resist the charms of the new boy in school. Trust me.”

Adrian gasped, and the pair stopped. Their heads whipped around and faced the window, but saw only the dense fog that veiled their evil from the world.

“Someone’s watching,” the woman snarled and fixed her gaze in Adrian’s direction.

Adrian opened his mouth to scream as the fire flared and two sharp eyes gleamed from its flames. A shadowy figure growled in the fireplace.

Adrian’s eyes flew open, he lay on his bed and took deep breaths to calm his beating heart. His fingers closed around Ethur’s tiny obsidian stone figure lying on his chest.

MINCHIATE: Two of Cups

Jordan Nash

“He died right here,” the old neighbor called out to Tessa as she passed by the empty house.

“Beg pardon?”

“It’s why you’re here, right?” The neighbor said, “You want to know how he died?”

“Who?” She asked, nonplussed.

“Jordan Nash, the football player they murdered while walking his dog.”

Tessa furrowed her brow, yet something pricked at her memory.

“Jordan Nash, yeah,” Tessa mused, “but that many was years ago.”

“He won two Super Bowls, y’know. But he never let fame get to him. Never moved out of his house, though he had boatloads of money. Used to walk his dog every night.”

Tessa let the old man reminisce. He had that faraway look in his eyes and the distant voice that came from a long-dormant nook in his memory.

“You a reporter?” He returned to the moment.

Tessa shook her head.

“No, I live in the house behind this one. Just moved here.”

“Oh, have you met Minnie?” He asked.


“His widow, she’s a kind lady. She’ll tell you all about it.”

Tessa gazed at the old neighbor, confused. She thought the house was empty. It looked abandoned with the overgrown grass, rusty gate and shattered windows. An old faded ‘For Sale’ sign stood in the front yard, creaking in the wind that blew down from the mountain.

Tessa chose this small, middle-class neighborhood because of the mountain, the peace it brought so far away from the city center, and its affordability. No one told her this was where the famous quarterback, Jordan Nash, had died.

Tessa wondered whether the widow was alive, entombed in that ramshackle house.

A car pulled up beside them, and a young woman climbed out.

“Dad,” she called to the old neighbor, “you all right?”

“Yes,” he said smiling, “I was telling this young reporter about Jordan Nash and how he used to walk his dog every night.”

Tessa nodded when she caught the woman’s eye.

“He would whistle, one long, then two short whistles. That’s how he called to Prophet, his basset hound. He was the best dog. We all loved Prophet.”

The woman turned to Tessa and said, “I’m sorry, he’s…”

She trailed off when the man interrupted her, “I told her she should speak to Minnie, she would be glad to talk about her husband.”

“Dad,” the woman said, “you know Mrs. Nash moved out a long time ago. We said goodbye to her as the moving van drove away, remember? Jordan Nash has been dead for at least four decades.”

“No!” The old man gasped, “Have they caught the killer?”

“They never found out who did it, now come inside.”

Tessa said goodbye as the daughter coaxed the old man into their neighboring house.

That night, Tessa sat on the back porch, enjoying the warm summer evening. The moonlight silhouetted the dark mass of the deserted house whose backyard bordered her own. Tessa laid her head back in her lawn chair and listened to the crickets’ joyous chirping.

A long whistle sounded through the night, followed by two short chirps.

Tessa opened her eyes and wondered whether the old neighbor was playing a prank on her, but decided against it. He seemed to be adrift in the mind’s ocean of the long-ago. She surmised that, to him, only a few days had passed since the murder.

Tessa finished her lemonade and entered her house. She turned the garden lights off, checked the locks on all doors and windows, and headed upstairs, switching lamps off on her way.

Her bedroom faced the back, and through the window, she saw into the overgrown yard of the quarterback’s house. The full moon shone its radiant silver light upon it, and Tessa thought it seemed eerie.

The long whistle followed by two short chirps sounded again, and a dog barked.

“Prophet!” A man called, “Come on, buddy, let’s go!”

Tessa stood motionless by the window. Her heart beat in her ears. Were the neighbors pranking her?

A shot rang out through the night. A dog growled, but went silent as another shot thundered. She heard footsteps running on the sidewalk and glimpsed a shadowy figure as it ran between houses. 

Tessa dialed the sheriff to report a shooting. When she stated her location, the deputy paused.

“Are you near Jordan Nash’s old house?” He asked.

“Yeah, I bought the house behind it, the backyards abut each other.”

“Did you hear a long whistle, two short ones, then a dog barking?”

“Yes, I think the dog’s name is Prophet, the man called out to it. One shot, the dog growling, and another shot. Afterwards, there were running footsteps on the street.”

“Yep,” the deputy sighed, “happens every night this month. Ol’ Jordan ain’t at rest. If you ask me, the wife did it, but we never proved it. She’s the only one that hated that dog, and the only one cold-blooded enough to kill it, too.”

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Queen of Batons


Layla sits on the rocking-chair by the window with a mug of hot tea clasped between her hands. She gazes at the tangled mass of oak boughs that flank her childhood home. Perhaps the slivers of light piercing the overcast sky and glimmering on the red and golden leaves remind her of her one year at boarding school, where she met her two dearest and lifelong friends. She has vague memories of the place, save for one indelible incident.

One night, Layla, Sarah, and Tiffany sat by the window overlooking the school’s garden.

Beyond the garden wall was a ruined house, with a collapsed roof and hollow windows. From their dormitory, they had a clear view into its yard, and the moonlight caught the snarled mess of brambles and briars beside the ramshackle porch.

The girls had been yakking away about everything under the sun when Sarah gasped.

“Look!” She pointed at the adjoining yard. 

Their eyes followed Sarah’s finger. 

A young man stood in the moonlight. As they watched and wondered who he was, he glanced up, sighting their child faces framed by the window and illuminated by the faint light of their desk lamp.

Night had only just fallen, Layla recalls, because they had not announced lights out yet.

“It was winter,” she mutters, “it must’ve been, because it was full night, and the darkness was crisp and silvery.”

The young man caught their gazes, and Layla’s heart still skips and drops to her feet at the memory of his eyes. They were a bright, cold piercing blue; she recalls nothing of his face, just his eerie, bright eyes. In her mind, he seems to be all light and shadow, like Tiffany’s most celebrated paintings.

Sarah, the first to spot the apparition, was also the first to die.

Tears sting Layla’s eyes as she remembers her young friend taken by death beneath the bloody metal of a car at the bottom of a ravine. Did she lose control of her car? Cool-headed Sarah with steel grit? Layla shakes her head and stifles a sob. 

Decades and several husbands later, Tiffany also passed away. Her death was not violent but slow, as the cancer ate away, first at her breast, then at the remains of her meager body.

“Layla,” Tiffany called for her on her deathbed.

Layla, a lump in her throat, bent forward as Tiffany whispered her last words.

“He’s here. I see him.”


“The man with the icy blue eyes; the man from that night.”

A chill ran up her spine and froze all words of comfort, while Tiffany breathed her last. 

A sob rises in Layla’s chest.

She misses her friends. One did not live long enough, the other too much. Layla glances down at her wrinkled, twisted fingers cupped around the mug of tea. Her spotted hands tremble from the involuntary spams she has developed of late.

Shaking, she lifts one hand, and with her knobby fingers, wipes the tears streaming down her face.

She longs for her youth, her past, her health. But most of all, she longs for her friends.

Layla turns her gaze back to the window. She shrieks; there beneath the tree stands the man with the piercing blue eyes. He beckons to her.

Layla’s mug of tea rolls to the floor, spilling its contents onto the carpet.



The homeless man sat on the dingy stoop of the abandoned factory across the street from Rose’s apartment building. She always saw him when she gazed out her bedroom window. The humpbacked figure sat beneath the street lamplight, as the night shadows danced around him.

To Rose, he was a sad figure, someone to pity, someone for whom to feel compassion. He never scared her, not even when he looked up and stared at her window. He seemed to pierce the darkness and cast his gaze upon her. An instant later, his head would droop back down on his crooked shoulders. Rose knew he had not seen her, that he could not see through the double-paned window, into the darkened bedroom lit only by the faint reading lamp on the nightstand.

Every night, unseen, Rose would give the man a slight wave and tell him a silent goodnight as she switched off the lamp. He was always there, motionless, like a misshapen statue.

One night, as Rose’s eyes searched the murk for the reassuring beam of light across the street, she noticed the hunched vagrant was not in his usual place.

Lightning flashed; thunder roared. A big storm was coming, and Rose hoped the drifter either made it to the safety of the tattered awning above the stoop, or had found decent shelter elsewhere.

Regardless, she gave the usual tiny wave and wished the hunchback goodnight as she turned off the light. She settled her head on her pillow, waiting for sleep and listening to the roaring storm.

Rose’s eyes flew open. The storm had abated, and far away the sounds of tires driving on wet pavement shimmered in the silence of her apartment.

A sound had awakened her. A click, like the click of a deadbolt.

Rose’s heart pounded as she kept still and listened to the darkness beyond the bedroom. Her hand slid out from under the covers and edged towards the nightstand, seeking her cellphone. Rose paled as her fingers touched only its wooden surface. 

It’s in the living room, she cursed herself as her pulse quickened.

Rose held her breath when she caught the distant sound of shuffling feet.

Despite the black overcast night, light peered through the window-grilles and Rose, frightened as she was, found it comforting.

Muffled footsteps approached her closed bedroom door.

She shifted her body towards the light glimmering through the window. From the height of the bed, Rose had a view of the abandoned factory and its stoop. There, in the lamplight, sat the humpbacked figure, and Rose’s heart skipped with relief. 

As unknown fingers closed around the bedroom doorknob, she was hyper-alert and comforted by the sight of the strange, yet familiar, vagabond across the street.

The doorknob turned; Rose stifled a sob and fixed her gaze on the slouching figure bathed in the golden ray of the street lamp.

The bedroom door inched open with a muffled squeak.

Rose’s hand crept towards the window.

Help me, she implored in the same mind-voice she always bid the hunched tramp goodnight.

He looked up at her as if he heard her prayer. He glared at Rose’s window and, for an instant, his eyes glowed with a silver spark.

Rose’s spine crawled as the footsteps and presence of a big man approached her bed. Her fingers curled around the bedsheet as the sound of deep, lustful breaths reached her ears, and a human warmth inched towards her neck. Still, she kept her gaze fixed on the crooked beggar in the streetlamp. 

The hunchback, his eyes still on the window, rose from the stoop. He rose and rose and rose until he stood straight and tall and powerful.

Rose’s heart pounded. 

A hand crept up her back and shoulder, then cupped her breast as the intruder lay down beside her. His hand wormed its way to her neck, feeling every inch of her clammy skin, and settled over her mouth.

“If you behave,” the invader growled, “I won’t kill you.”

The radiant figure across the street entranced the immobile Rose, as a white pearlescent wing unfurled from its back, then another.

In a flash, the figure took flight, passed through the windowpane, and alighted on Rose’s bed. It grabbed the screaming prowler by the neck and hurled him against the wall.

The prowler, frightened out of his wits, scrambled to stand while the angel stood tall and defiant with arms akimbo and wings splayed wide over Rose.

The intruder clutched at his face as if it burned, then tottered and clambered out the open bedroom door. Rose heard his frenzied screams as he bolted from the apartment and stumbled into the hallway. The inky gloom swallowed the manic would-be rapist as he floundered across the street, and his terrified yowls faded in the distance. 

Soft, loving fingers now brushed Rose’s cheek; she turned her head to meet the angel’s gaze. His smile reached the golden-silver twinkle of his eyes. He bent down and kissed her forehead.

“Thank you,” Rose murmured, but the angel had vanished.

As the fright ebbed, she gazed out towards the abandoned factory stoop. In the lamplight, she saw the comforting hunchbacked figure.

Rose gave her customary little wave and bid him goodnight.



Frustration. It gleamed in Clara’s downcast eyes and dismayed grin. It glowed in her flushed cheeks and twitched on her eyelids as she fought back tears. Again, he had not noticed her. Every day, Clara tried to catch Byron’s attention. But he just passed by, never heeding her, never meeting her gaze.

Clara slammed her locker shut and stuffed her notebooks into her backpack. The bell rang and kids were filing out of the building like swarms of bees leaving the hive. People jostled and pushed her in their hurried frenzy to leave the school.

“I suppose I’m invisible,” Clara said; no one heard.

At the entrance, she sighted Byron flirting with a cheerleader, and Clara’s heart squirmed with yearning and a pang of jealousy.

If only…

If only she were beautiful, and svelte, and tall and smart. Tears pinpricked Clara’s eyes, and she pushed them back.

Clara opened the door to her bedroom and plumped onto her bed in a heap of frustration and longing and self-hatred.

The tears came; she pushed her face against the pillow, stifling the sobs threatening to rip her chest apart. Not alone in the house, she had no desire for a heart-to-heart with her mother. She also did not want her pesky little brother hanging around her room. If either of them suspected something wrong, they would try all afternoon to pry it out of her. She wanted to be alone with her frustration.

Clara closed her eyes, and as the tears ebbed and her breath normalized, she drifted into sleep.

She was at school, screaming amidst the multitude of children, but no one cared. No one acknowledged her.

The sea of children parted and she saw Byron, handsome as ever — though in the dream he resembled Harry Styles, whose pictures graced her bedroom walls.

He winked at her. Clara glanced around, wondering whether he might mean someone else, but the halls were now empty.

Harry Styles (Byron) winked again and grinned the lopsided grin that made Clara’s knees quiver.

“Hi,” he mouthed, but made no sound.

“Hi,” Clara replied, and no sound came from her lips either.

Harry Styles (Byron) reached his open palm to her, beckoning her to take it with a small nod of the head.

Clara beamed as she floated towards him. She reached out her hand, which was not her hand because the fingers were skinny, but… why not? It closed around his fingers. He pulled her beside him and slipped her under his arm. She basked in his warm embrace, and her body tingled. He then placed his arm around her waist and together they hovered above the school.

Soon they were flying above the building, the cool clouds kissing their faces. Clara felt the wind and the lightness of her body as she and Harry Styles (Byron) soared through the sky.

“Clara!” Mom’s voice boomed from a dark, plump cloud laden with rain, “Dinner!”

The sound rushed through her ears as she jerked awake. Clara glanced around the darkening room and, for the first time in a long time, felt as lighthearted as she had in her dream.

The next day at school, Clara glimpsed Byron on the quad, and her heart skipped a beat. A mischievous grin crept across her lips, as if she were the proud owner of a juicy secret.

She entered the building. It no longer mattered whether Byron glanced her way. It no longer mattered whether he noticed her. The dream had lifted all the frustration and self-consciousness off her chest. She still had a crush on Byron, but now, just watching him from afar satisfied her. Besides, though handsome, Byron looked nothing like Harry Styles (even if he tried to look like the singer).

Clara opened her locker and was reaching for her Geography book when someone pushed her.

“Hey! You pushed me!” Clara spun around, indignant.

She would have said more, but her voice quaked when Byron turned around and murmured an empty sorry. Then he paused and fixed her with a bewildered gaze.

“I think I dreamed about you last night,” he said and broke into a wide smile, “yeah, sure I did!”


Down The Mountainside 

Johnny, Alondra and Belenos descended the mountain. It was a harsh trek, especially for Johnny, as the summit was steep, jagged and rocky. Beneath his feet, the warm ground permeated through the soles of his dirty sneakers. To his right, the flaming river of lava flowed downhill, glimmering in the night and lighting the way.

He found the journey difficult; he was unused to hiking and traipsing up and down mountains. He tried to emulate Alondra’s graceful steps, but he stomped and trampled all over the strange, barren peak.

Who were these people that lived in a volcano? Did they not fear it would one day erupt like Krakatoa, or Mount Saint Helens? Did they even know about these events?

Belenos skipped from rock to rock, as if this trek were nothing but a light walk, and it made Johnny uneasy and somewhat jealous of Belenos’s grace and good looks. He hoped to grow up to be someone handsome and lithe.

He also wondered whether the other runes could help him descend this precarious mountainside.

“I cannot say,” Alondra said and Johnny gazed at her, astonished.

“You can’t say what?” Johnny asked.

Belenos paused and was gazing at them.

“I cannot say whether the other runes will work here. Raido is the rune of Journey, but it is the only one.”

“And now I’ve lost it.”

Alondra nodded.

“Although,” Alondra continued after a pause, “at first, I understood a little of Belenos’s tongue because he speaks like the Ancients. But, when we two are together, I understand him well, and so do you.”


“So, you have the remaining runes, and Ansuz is the rune of Word. I think we all understand one another because of it.”

“Yes,” Belenos interjected, “when you speak, I hear strange words, but they make sense in my mind.”

Johnny raised his eyebrows; Belenos was right. He also felt a strange sensation in his brain, as if it jumbled and reorganized the information his ears relayed. 

“Maybe the other runes work here too.” Johnny stated; Alondra smiled and shrugged. 

They proceeded in silence as the descent became easier. Here and there, plant life sprouted from the barren earth, and Johnny realized they were nearing the fertile base of the mountain.

“Do you know any of these plants?” He asked Alondra.

“No, they are like some I know, but not the same.”

As they continued downwards, the vegetation flourished and soon Belenos had led them to a copse of tall evergreens. Johnny could not discern whether they were pines or spruces, but they had similar features as the evergreens back home. Although here, their leaves glittered with an iridescent sheen. In fact, this entire world glinted and sparkled and twinkled, even in the deep inky night. The air here was crisp and biting, and so deliciously fresh he almost tasted it. Johnny realized this was a world without industry, without pollution.

Dawn had crept as they made the laborious journey down the mountain. Its pale light shone on the cloud-bellies of the horizon, which glimmered with a mother-of-pearl glow. He glanced at Alondra, whose intent and puzzled gaze pointed towards the dawn. 

For the first time in a long time, he smiled. He liked this world and pondered whether he would ever want to leave.

“You do not belong here,” a voice whispered through the trees.

Chills ran up Johnny’s spine.

“Did you hear that?” He turned to Alondra, but she was still looking towards the new day. 

“What is it?” Johnny asked her.

“I think that is the West,” Alondra pointed towards the sunrise. 

“Yes, it is,” the same voice replied. 

Alondra and Johnny whipped around, searching for the owner of the voice. A kind smile formed on Belenos’s lips. 

“Who’s there?” Johnny called.

“I am,” the voice said. 

“Who are you?” Alondra asked.

“I am me,” the voice giggled.

“A joker,” Johnny huffed and rolled his eyes. 

“No,” the voice replied.

It bounced around them, so they could not pinpoint its location; they jerked and bobbed their heads like cats hunting invisible bugs. 

“Where are you?” Alondra asked.


They whipped around towards the voice and spotted a path to a grove. Belenos beamed and pointed to a tiny cave entrance on a nearby ledge.

“I guess we have arrived,” Alondra stated. 

The voice giggled.


A Helping Hand

Cassie Power walked out of the school building and said goodbye to Mrs. Hall, now that the amiable teacher had commented she never saw Cassie at the door anymore. Mrs. Hall had a habit of standing by the front double doors and saying goodbye to all the students. Small town, small school.

A light breeze played with Cassie’s hair as she stepped into the sunshine. It was a chilly breeze, and she hoped summer would last just a little longer.

She walked down the school path and turned the corner. Out of sight from everyone, Cassie would hide behind a tall oak and use her jumping powers to transport herself home before the bullies followed her.

Then, something reached out and tripped her. She lost her balance and, in slow motion — at least to her — fell flat on her face, and onto the hard cobblestone.

Laughter erupted around her, and through watering eyes, she saw Becky, Kendra, and Paula guffawing. Cassie tried to pick herself up, but someone pulled her leg from under her and she went down again.

Tears stung her eyes as the mocking laughter filled her ears. Kids everywhere gazed at her and pointed, smirking. They encircled her and jeered at her. Every time Cassie tried to stand, someone pushed her, and she fell. Cassie’s hands and cheek stung from the falls, and she was certain her jeans had ripped — Dad could not afford new ones — and she had scraped her knee. 

The rage and humiliation rose and spilled as tears; these tears only made the bullies laugh harder. The laughter entered her ears and multiplied in her brain. It blocked her mind and turned Cassie into a mockery of an automaton, like the wind-up monkey that clapped the cymbals. Up and down, again and again; this loop of humiliation and mockery with neither clear nor graceful exit ensnared her.

Then, the most curious thing happened, the laughter ebbed away until only a few snickers remained.

Cassie lifted her eyes off the floor and saw a hand reaching out to her. The hand was rough and strong and reminded Cassie of a bear’s claw. She traced her gaze over the wrist attached to a brown, muscled arm. Then along a square torso and up into the smiling blue eyes of the kneeling, long-haired, bearded young man before her.

He winked at her, and Cassie placed her grateful, tiny hand on top of his thick fingers. The powerful arm helped her rise, and Cassie thought he could lift her off her feet with that arm. The man also rose, until he almost touched the clouds gathering overhead, like the giants in the fairytales she still read in secret. He was taller than anyone Cassie had ever seen; taller than Adrian, and taller than Dad. 

“Are you all right?” The man said in a deep, rolling voice.

Cassie nodded, blushing, “Yes, thank you.”

The man gazed at her for a moment and Cassie thought he looked familiar. Something in his piercing blue eyes caught her attention, and reminded her of… but the cool breeze blew the recognition away. 

The man then glared at all the surrounding bullies, now silent.

“You all sound like hens,” he said and turned on his heel.

Cassie dusted herself off and tried to hasten after him, but Kendra pushed her. Cassie regained her footing and spun around to face the enemy. Kendra’s lips stretched into a mocking grin, she threw her head back and… clucked.

Kendra gasped and placed her hand across her mouth. 

Paula and Becky opened their mouths to speak, “Cluck, cluck, cluck.”

An instant later, the small circle of desperate bullies was clucking with panic in their eyes. They jittered in place and walked in circles, like, well, headless chickens. The thought brought a smile to Cassie’s lips, though she fought back her own laughter lest she also turned into a silly hen. Also, Cassie knew too well the jagged, salty taste of humiliation. 

Instead, Cassie hurried, hoping to catch up to the man.

“Wait!” she called, “What’s your name?”

But there was no sign of him, only a cat lazing atop the hood of a parked car gave her a disinterested yawn.


I Started a Lie

Sheilah glanced around her bedroom as tears sprung to her eyes. She pinpointed the moment her world crashed. It all started with a fib; a little white lie, a lie of omission.

Sheilah turned on the radio, no longer able to bear the silence. The Bee Gees sang “I Started a Joke”, and the song hit her; it chided her. Disgusted with it, and herself, she turned it off and silenced the shaming tune. 

She started no joke. She had stayed silent, then uttered a fib, which snowballed into a monstrous lie. Before she knew it, she was standing in the ring of fire caused by it.

The shame smoldered in her mind and stung the back of her eyes as more tears welled up and ran down her cheeks, like liquid smoke. Her ears burned and her chest rattled from the raging force of the lie.

If only I had shut the fuck up, she thought.

But ‘if only’ was too late. ‘If only’ was a dead wish in a dried up wishing well. That fib, that little innocent lie, why did she say it? 

Even now, as she replayed the events leading up to that moment, as she lived with the consequences, she could not say what possessed her to fib.

The school expelled an innocent person. A person, a friend, unable to afford a permanent record tarnished by such a disgraceful expulsion. 

Sheilah tried to fix it, to no avail. Those once unspoken words now boomed louder than her voice, which dissipated like ashes in the space between her and the school principal. 

“I was afraid,” she said for the first time.

The realization smacked her right in the chest. It was fear, fear made her lie. But fear of what?

“Fear of these very consequences,” she said.

The silent bedroom replied with more silence until her sobs broke through it.

Sheilah lay down on the floor, rolled herself into a ball, and cried. The day turned to dusk, and night soon spilled its inky darkness over the world, and still Sheilah cried. The room darkened around her, but she noticed nothing.

“Sheilah,” a voice whispered, and Sheilah opened her salt-rimmed eyes.

“Sheilah,” the voice said again.

“Who is it?”

“You can still make it right,” the voice whispered. It pealed like heavenly bells.


“Tell the truth,” the voice said, and a loving touch warmed her shoulder, yet she saw no one.

“It’s too late!”

“No, it’s never too late to be truthful. Come, I will guide you. But first, I must apologize. I wasn’t there when you needed me, and this is the result.”

“Who are you?”

“You know me, I appear in adversity, and I am here now.”

Sheilah felt a soft kiss on her cheeks and arms that pulled her off the floor. In a daze, she grabbed her backpack, which held the crumpled, evidential truth. The loving, invisible fingers closed around her hand and guided her out the door. A resolute warmth flowed through her skin and into her tingling spine. 

“Come now, let’s make it right,” the mellifluous voice sang in her ear.

“But who are you?”

“I am Courage.”

BRUEGEL TAROT: 5 of Chalices

Grim Encounter

Jeb and Billy stepped out of the bar as if floating on clouds. Their heads swam with every step, and their faces glowed with a foolish grin. They ambled along in the humid night. The chilly breeze cooled their blazing cheeks, and the air smelled of wet earth.

“I guess it rained,” Jeb slurred.

“We weren’t in there that long, were we?” Billy answered, and hiccuped.

Jeb shrugged and gazed at the sky. A thin shaft of moonlight pierced the thick clouds overhead.

“It was still daylight when we entered the bar, and not a cloud in the sky.” Jeb gave Billy a lazy and dazed grin.

“Maybe we are Whip n’ Wrinkle and we walked out twenty years later,” Billy suggested.

“Rip van Twinkle… no, Winkle.”

“That’s… what I said.”

The brothers giggled like schoolboys and sauntered on, swaying now and again.

“Damn that Ol’ Hans. Once he gets talkin’ there’s no stoppin’ him,” Billy spoke after a while, as the cool night ebbed his boozy buzz.

“Yep, but he spins a good yarn. He’s a helluva folklorist, if there ever was one,” Jeb replied.

“Ha!” Billy snorted, “He tells half the stories backward and confuses fairies with leprechauns.”

“Ain’t leprechauns a type of fairy?” Jeb asked.

“Don’t you start,” Billy glared at him askance.

Jeb giggled.

The cloudy night drew around them as they turned down the country lane towards home. Only the faint beams of porch-lights guided the way. Jeb wished he had his flashlight with him and said so. Billy harrumphed. In their drunken state, it occurred to neither of them their cellphones could act as flashlights, so what had begun as a swaying amble now turned into a precarious trek.

A crisp breeze blew through the trees lining the lane as a patch of sky opened above them. The half moon shone on a nearby tree.

“What’s that?” Jeb stopped Billy and pointed towards the tree.

Through his boozy daze, Billy glimpsed something white billowing beside the tree. He blinked a few times and squinted, trying to focus his eyes. He had forgotten his glasses and the undulating whiteness took on a spectral blur.

Chills ran up his spine as his befuddled mind recalled the tall tales Ol’ Hans had regaled them with in the bar.

“A ghost!” Billy said and Jeb paled.

“You think?”

“Uh-huh,” Billy nodded as the thing quivered before their eyes.

“Uh-oh, what if it sees us?” Jeb said, his eyes darting side to side, searching for a hidey-hole. But… Could you hide from ghosts?

“If we don’t look at it, it won’t see us,” Billy said matter-of-fact.

“Like… Cats,” Jeb answered.

“Yup… Wait, what?”

But Jeb had moved on, and was tiptoeing past the ghost with both hands at his temples, shielding his eyes, like horse blinders. He froze with one foot in front of the other. Still shielding the corner of his eyes, Jeb turned inch by inch towards Billy, who stood stiff as a board, though with quivering knees.

“You hear that?” Jeb whispered, and the soft sound cut through the heavy darkness.

“Yeah,” Billy squeaked.

“It came from the ghost,” Jeb said.

Billy nodded.

The brothers stared at one another for a moment, Billy opened his mouth to speak, but a low growl near the tree killed the words in his throat. Then a sorrowful howl meandered through the forest. It crescendoed as it approached, and the brothers, ashen-faced, watched in terror as the ghost hovered for an instant and took flight towards them.

Its flapping and quick approach stopped their hearts but kick-started their legs. Jeb and Billy, neither athletic nor limber, sprinted home while the ghost fluttered and thrashed at their napes, lashing out and tousling their hair. Screeching like frightened squirrels, they reached the safety of their house faster than either of them could say Usain Bolt.

They locked the door, drew all the blinds and huddled in their living room until sleep overtook them. 

Sunlight woke Jeb. He rubbed the sleep off his eyes. He lay sprawled on the couch, one foot on the floor. 

Billy snorted himself awake and blinked at Jeb. He had draped himself on the high-backed chair with limbs contorted every which way. 

“If anyone asks,” he said, “we fought the thing off.”

Jeb nodded, “like the Brave Little Sailor.”



Birds twittered outside their window and a soft thump on the door meant the newspaper had arrived.

Billy rose from the chair and rubbed his back and neck. Groaning and muttering something about feeling stiff, like RoboCop, he blundered and tottered towards the door. 

He opened it and grabbed the paper. 

Wind gusted and lifted the discarded white rag lying on the lawn. It lingered for an instant, waving goodbye, before the wind blew it away. The brothers were none the wiser.