By the Light of Twin Moons

Johnny Seaver and Alondra trudged up the jagged, barren mountainside of sand and rock. 

The two bright moons, round in their full splendor, lit up the sky so torches were unnecessary. Belenos had directed them to meet him at the top at midnight. Johnny and Alondra set out early in the evening. When they emerged from the residence, the hustle and bustle beyond Belenos’s door surprised Johnny.

Belenos’s people had hewn all dwellings into the mountain; Johnny wondered if they had stumbled upon ancient cave folk. Upon seeing Johnny and Alondra, Belenos’s neighbors scurried into their own homes; their eyes ever wary of the two strangers. Like Belenos, his neighbors were tall, and, in the sparkling sunset, their long shadows shimmered like meandering tendrils. Alondra wondered if perhaps these people might be shadows themselves…

“You know,” Alondra said, “they speak the language of the Ancients, perhaps these are the giants David defeated?”

Johnny whispered, “I always thought ancient humans were shorter.”

“I doubt they are humans,” Alondra murmured, as a shadow slunk past them.

“Then, what are they?” Johnny asked.

“The Ancients,” Alondra replied, “they who enter our dreams, live in our forests and rivers, and seas. The masters of air, water, fire and earth.”

“You mean mythical beings?”

Alondra shrugged.

They were on the outskirts of town, following the barren path Belenos had pointed out, and beginning their upward climb. Alondra and Johnny soon grew silent; the ascent up the steep mountainside too strenuous for talk.

Johnny wondered if they could rest; he was having trouble keeping up with Alondra. She seemed to never tire of walking.

Two things are obvious. I traveled back in time and met Alondra, and we are not on planet Earth.

“So then,” Johnny murmured, “where are we?”

“Pardon?” Alondra asked but Johnny ignored her; his pensive expression told Alondra he was not talking to her.

In Belenos’s home, Johnny had kept track of night and day, and he surmised they were about the same length as on Earth.

As far as he knew, no one had ever discovered other Earth-like planets. Dad always said the idea was all based on statistics and suppositions. 

“The moons only seem identical,” Alondra spoke up, “but they are not. The shadows on one moon mirror the shadows on the other. Also, one glows with a faint copper hue.”

Johnny huffed as he toiled up the rocks and paused for a moment to gaze at the moons. 

He gasped, “We’re in another dimension!” 

Alondra stopped ahead of him and fixed him with a puzzled expression.

“Yes,” Belenos said.

He sat atop a jagged rock; Johnny, startled out of his reverie, realized they had reached the top.

The moonlight shone on Belenos and gave his skin a magical glow.

A deep, lush valley stretched below them, with trees so thick and strong Johnny thought a squirrel never need touch the ground.

The peak where they stood was arid, but the curly canopy of trees adorned the skirts of the mountain, like frills on a dress.

Johnny glanced back towards the desert, scraggy path and realized where they had been. Belenos and his people lived inside a volcano!

“Now,” Belenos’s deep voice rang out through the night, “we must meet one who can answer your questions.”

Belenos smiled and rose.

“Come, he awaits us.” 


The Dinner

Jennifer’s teeth scraped against her fork and it bothered Gary. This was one of Jennifer’s many quirks and foibles that needled him to no end.

“So, Gary,” Mr. Darrowby spoke just before he swallowed his mouthful, “would you step into my office tomorrow before the meeting? I have some pointers to run by you.”

Gary nodded; Mr. Darrowby had taken another bite before finishing the sentence. Jennifer had inherited that irritating habit from Mr. Darrowby, her father. She was the boss’s daughter, and though Gary had at first ignored the phrase, “Don’t dip your pen in the company ink,” he now saw its wisdom. 

Jennifer had enchanted Gary when he had met her at the company picnic. But now, almost a year later, the spell had faded. Sure, Jennifer was still as beautiful as ever, but all the little gestures he had once found charming, now annoyed him.

“Oh, honey, please don’t forget the about the dinner party tomorrow. I think you should wear the blue tie I gave you,” Jennifer directed her gaze at him. 

Gary pursed his lips and smiled through gritted teeth. She nagged. She always nagged; and he hated it.

She was always telling him what to do, how to dress, who to be. Gary often wondered why she stayed with him at all; he was not the right person for her if she always found something to correct.

Mrs. Darrowby, Jennifer’s mother, never raised her eyes from the plate. Gary often thought she hated him, but Jennifer assured him she was just a silent person, taciturn even, whose only ambition in life was to read novels all day.

Gary sighed and shoveled food into his mouth. Yet again, he was dining with his girlfriend’s family in their big ornate house, with their expensive, ornate silverware and no conversation worth having. Mr. Darrowby only talked about work, Jennifer about his minor faults, and Mrs. Darrowby said nothing.

A clock ticked in the next room. The fact Gary heard it was a testament to the hollow dinner.

Empty, Gary thought, they have all these things, their house is full, they want for nothing and yet; they are empty.

He cast his gaze over the expensive dining table, the crystal chandeliers, the antique sideboard and all the fine art on the walls. His eyes settled on Mrs. Darrowby, and Gary’s heart skipped with apprehension when he caught her gazing at him.

He avoided her eyes and glanced at the floor-to-ceiling cathedral windows which opened to a spacious terrace overlooking the perfect, manicured grounds. No wild plants grew on the Darrowby estate; all, even nature, was under control here. 

As night fell, the tall cypresses beyond the terrace cast long shadows upon it. The full moon was high in the sky and shining its bright light on the stone floor. Jennifer prattled on about something or other. Gary, lost in his own world, imagined himself living in this big house with a bottomless fortune at his disposal. What would he do with it? What did the Darrowbys do with it? Jennifer flitted from party to party; a fundraiser here, a charity ball there. Mr. Darrowby lived only for work and golf. And Mrs. Darrowby… who knows what Mrs. Darrowby did?

Gary felt her eyes on him again and met her gaze; kind and… nostalgic? Melancholy? He could not describe it. Since he had known her, she had never gazed at him that way. Her eyes had always seemed distant.

The power went out. 

Gary shrugged; it happened in the best of houses too.

Jennifer whimpered as if the world was ending. Mr. Darrowby hollered for the butler to do something about it.

Where Gary came from, power outages were the daily bread. These elicited groans, curses and even giggles, but not cries of despair. In moments like these, the difference in their upbringing was palpable. Emotions had filled Gary’s home, ranging from love to anger, with laughter and tears and sweet nothings and cusses. Jennifer’s childhood had comprised servants and tutors and money, lots and lots of money.

“Maybe a fuse blew,” Gary said, though he doubted it because the entire house had gone quiet, which suggested a general power outage.

“Daddy, what do we do?” Jennifer’s high-pitched voice cracked with fear.

“Now, now sweetie, it’s all right.”

Gary rolled his eyes while Mr. Darrowby comforted Jennifer. 

Gary’s gaze wandered to the windows; he discerned Mrs. Darrowby’s figure silhouetted in the moonlight. She remained quiet and pensive in her seat. Chairs scraped as Mr. Darrowby and Jennifer left the table. Mr. Darrowby searched for the butler, and Jennifer tagged along to give the man a piece of her mind for not fixing the power. Their voices faded into the adjoining hallways.

“Leave her,” Mrs. Darrowby said into the darkness.

“I beg your pardon?” Gary replied, taken aback.

“Leave her,” Mrs. Darrowby said, “don’t worry about Jennifer, she’s callous and she’ll get over you. She’ll meet someone else, someone like her, who loves parties and dinners and money.”

“I, I…” Gary stammered in disbelief.

“She is my daughter and I love her,” Mrs. Darrowby continued, “but she takes after her father. They are both cold and calculating. I found out the hard way there is no happiness when you marry into a life of luxury, especially when you wed someone who sees wrong in everything you do. I know you wonder whether you are right for her, but, she is not worthy of you. She won’t change, ever; no dashing knight can rescue her from this life she loves to live. Go, your happiness and wellbeing are far more important.”

The power returned and Gary noticed for the first time the sadness in Mrs. Darrowby’s bland and pale face.

Mr. Darrowby and Jennifer shuffled into the dining room. Gary’s eyes followed Jennifer as she resumed her seat.

“Eat up, darling, so we can have dessert,” Jennifer ordered. 

Gary turned towards the windows. Reflected in the windowpanes, he saw his own face wearing Mrs. Darrowby’s miserable expression; an omen of a potential future.



Armistice turned on the porch light, its dim rays cast themselves over the steps. Soft raindrops trickled from the wooden beams onto the flowerpots beneath them. Damp earth and honeysuckle perfumed the warm, rainy evening, and the music of chirping crickets mingled with the hoarse croak of frogs in the nearby pond. 

Sipping his coffee, Armistice sat down on his rocking chair beside the door and gazed over the meadow. This had been his father’s cabin; the weekend getaway. Here he had grown up swimming in the pond, collecting berries in the neighboring bog and chasing the fireflies that had once glimmered in the meadow surrounding the cabin. In his old age, and despite his children’s protests, he now lived in it, as rooted to this home as the honeysuckle that crept up the porch columns. Armistice knew not how many evenings as perfect as this he had left to enjoy. 

Born on the very day World War I ended, Armistice was now one-hundred-and-two years old and fit as a fiddle. His bones creaked, and he had lost the youthful spring in his step, but his mind remained as clear and bright as a summer’s day. He spent his mornings playing with the cryptic crosswords and logic puzzles on the big large-print books he received in the mail. Much to the chagrin of his occasional visiting grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he mopped the floor with them at trivia. After lunch, he took a folding chair to the pond and read until his eyes hurt from strain; books littered his home, jammed into bookshelves and piled into tall pillars that leaned against the walls. When the day cooled, he worked in his vegetable garden, trimming here and nipping there, kneeling for hours while the soil burrowed deep into his fingernails.  

But to Armistice, the evenings on the porch were the cherry on top. This was the time of day he let his mind wander over the memories of his long life. He would sit and stare for hours, eyes gazing into a chasm of nothing, while his brain replayed with vivid clarity the events of past decades. His arm would lift the coffee cup to his lips and he would sip it like an automaton, though he savored only memories. 

The frogs ceased their croaking as a cloud burst open and rain fell in a thick dense shower, its steady shoosh reminiscent of the radio static of his youth. A soft foxtrot melody oozed into Armistice’s mind. It crackled and popped as the record spun around the jukebox. A smile bloomed on his lips and Armistice’s fingers tip-tapped on the wooden arm of the rocking chair. His legs beat to a long-forgotten rhythm.

Distant thunder rolled down from the mountains, yet Armistice heard only the sound of dancing feet and joyous hubbub. Lightning flashed and lit up the trees lining the meadow. Armistice’s eyes saw only Ann Thrope’s radiant smile as she danced under the string of lights that radiated outward from the gazebo and festooned the town green. To Armistice no one was lovelier, then or now. 

He watched her slim figure as she thread and wove with graceful movements around the dancing couples. She danced in Florian’s arms and Armistice’s gut knotted with jealousy and longing. For Armistice, there was no one but Ann Thrope; for Miss Ann Thrope there was no one but Florian. 

Armistice heaved a forlorn sigh laden with unrequited love and apprehension for the days to come. He had received a telegram; the United States government required Armistice’s service in the military. In a few days he would ship out to the other side of the world, places he’d only seen on the maps tacked to the walls at school. 

Oh, the irony of life, born at the end of one war, only to be among the first drafted into the next one. 

Even if tonight, by divine intervention, he caught Ann Thrope’s attention and wrested it away from Florian, what good would it do? He would leave for war and he knew too well its horrors, having lived through them in the letters from his perished uncle he had found among his father’s things. Florian was a formidable rival, handsome, intelligent and amiable, and Armistice knew his chances against him were slim to none. 

A clap of thunder brought Armistice out of his reverie, but his mind slipped right back into bygone days. This time, he roared above the clouds, dashing and swooping like an eagle hunting for enemy planes. Despite such a peace-bringing name, Armistice was born for war. He never enjoyed it, but he was skilled at it, and in the heavens of a continent in ruins, he had taken to war like a duck to water. Flight came to him as natural as it comes to a bird. 

As the storm intensified, so did the memories. Every thunderclap became the rat-tat-tat of bullets zipping through the air. Airplanes exploded in his mind with every lightning flash. The roaring wind gusted through his brain like the engine of his Warhawk as he soared through the skies, killing enemies left and right. 

Despite the death and destruction, Miss Ann Thrope had always remained an illusion as untouchable as manna, yet as welcome and homely as apple pie.  

A gust of wind blew raindrops onto the porch and splashed Armistice. The memories faded and his gaze focused on the porch, the flowerpots that lined its edge and the water dripping from its beams. He picked up the cup and took a sip; the coffee had gone cold and tasted bitter. He stood up, creaking as loud as his old rocking chair, and entered the house. 

He came back from the war in one piece, saddened by the loss of fallen brethren, but strong in body and sound of mind. In the years to come, he would watch many loved ones die, including Nancy, his loving wife who had planted the honeysuckle that scented his evenings on the porch.

Upon his return, Armistice had sought Ann Thrope. He had knocked on her door; she would not see him. 

“Florian died,” her mother had said, “it was a terrible accident, she won’t see anyone.” 

Armistice had taken one last look at the dream he had cherished all these years, folded it into a letter, placed it in an envelope, and never mailed it.

That last sip of coffee was still bitter in his mouth.

In the kitchen, he cut himself a slice of his daughter’s apple pie. The sweetness filled his palate. He smiled as Miss Ann Thrope danced through his mind; a flitting dream he only indulged in on perfect evenings. 



Tyler leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms to the ceiling. The cursor blinked, tap, tap, tapping an impatient and expectant beat. In the past hour Tyler had changed his shoes, walked to the kitchen and chomped on a handful of pistachios. Then he walked back to his room. He paused on the stairwell and stared at the watercolor painting of purple flowers (he neither knew nor cared what flowers they were). He had turned around and sauntered back to the kitchen for another handful of pistachios. Then trekked all the way back to his room, giving the flower picture a cursory glance. He had fiddled with the knickknacks on his bedside table and patted Bear, who was lying down on his bed. Bear gave him an inquisitive yip. Tyler put his discarded shoes in the closet, stood by the window, and, huffing, sat down at the computer. 

The paper was due tomorrow, and he’d procrastinated all day. He stared at the screen and heaved an exasperated sigh. The assignment was to write a fictional story, all subjects welcome. Tyler, for the past few days, had been squeezing his brains like a dried lemon for a tidbit, a drop of an idea, but nothing. 

He glanced out the window at the whirling snow. Even the weather was cooperating so he could get this done today. The town announced a snow day and closed the school. He often went sledding or skating on these unexpected holidays, but today the snowstorm was raging so bad there was no possibility of going anywhere. 

The computer screen darkened, tired of waiting. Tyler kept his eyes on the window. 

Snowflakes splattered on the windowpane like bugs against a windshield, and the wind howled through the window frame. Outside the world was a marshmallow of thick, undulating white. The forest beyond the garden was invisible though, as the wind swept freewheeling snowflakes, he glimpsed the scraggly branches an instant before another rabble of errant flakes bespattered the window. 

Tyler thought about getting yet another handful of pistachios and perhaps a can of Coke. He made to stand, but something outside arrested his attention. 

A dark mass was lumbering its way along the trees. It tottered side to side like a pendulum as it approached his yard. Chills crept up Tyler’s spine and goosebumps sprouted on his arms. 

His heart raced, and a knot caught in his throat; he could not take his eyes off the figure as it waddled towards his house. The Beast! It was The Beast! 

Everyone knew the story; The Beast arrived when Johnny disappeared. Kids from school had seen it last summer as they had camped in their backyard, which, Tyler recalled, also melded into the woods. 

Tyler wanted to scream, but the screech caught in his throat like fishhooks. He gave Bear a hopeful glance. His heart sunk when he realized Bear, a massive mixture of Akita and Newfoundland, was the dumbest, laziest dog the Almighty ever created. If faced with The Beast, Bear would either slink away as speedy as a turtle and squeaking like a rubber ducky, or offer The Beast his disfigured chew toys. 


Tyler jumped liked the Devil pricked his butt. His head snapped towards the window as another wave of snow slid down the pane. The slush obstructed his view and Tyler debated whether to open the window and wipe it clean or not. 

Better not, he decided, lest the sounds and movements attract The Beast. Heart in mouth, he waited for the snow to slide all the way down the glass. He swayed this way and that, trying for a better look. He gulped as the window cleared, and with his heart racing like a Ferrari, he pressed his forehead against the glass. The maelstrom of snow and ice still raged in whirlpools of swirling white, but the dark mass had vanished into the freezing vortex. 

Tyler paced the room trying to calm himself; Bear’s eyes followed him with mild interest. Bear gave a little peep as Tyler sat down and embraced him. He gave Tyler’s cheek a sloppy lick. Tyler listened, but heard no unfamiliar sound. He laid his head on the pillow and waited for his heart rate to slow. 

Bear yawned liked he would eat the world; a grin crept up Tyler’s lips as an idea flashed through his brain.  

“The Beast! Now that’s a story!”


Forty Winks

Erin sat on a flat rock overlooking the gorge. She set her backpack on the ground beside her, and considered whether to eat her sandwich now, or wait a few minutes. The soft breeze tousled her pony-tailed hair and cooled her cheeks. She closed her eyes and listened to the birds trilling in the trees and the river’s soft babble floating upwards the rocky crags of the gorge. Trees and plants clung onto the cliff wall; their gnarled tendrils snaked downwards towards the fertile earth by the riverbed. 

She had followed the narrow, knobby, pebbled path that hiked up, up, up through the forest; its thick canopy only allowed weedy shafts of sunlight to peek through its branches. Erin had gasped as she had burst through the trees; the world, wide and tall and warm and sunlit, had appeared before her in all its marvelous expanse. 

Something rustled in the trees behind her, and Erin opened her eyes. The blue, cloudless sky shimmered above her, while the river gushed so far below that its thunderous roar reached her ears like a mere sputtering gurgle. Dark silhouettes of mountains rose ahead like prehistoric and unreachable worlds. 

“The bigness of it all,” Erin murmured, recalling that, only a couple of hours before, the metal shell of her car had enclosed her. And the walls of her house had sheltered her, yet imprisoned her at the same time. 

Erin reached into her pack and took out her cell phone. She fought the urge to open the addicting game that kept her cooped up with its encroaching narrowness and instead turned on the camera. She pointed the lens at the gorge; sunlight obliterated the images on the screen. Blinking, Erin snapped a picture. 

She put the phone away and laid back against an adjacent rock, as if the landscape had created a hard, bumpy little divan just for her. Erin fought the urge to reclaim the phone and open the game. She placed her arms behind her head like a living pillow and interlaced those itchy fingers. She glanced upwards as the fluffy, white clouds rolled through the blue sky. 

Another rustle; Erin turned her cheek towards the sound and watched as a man emerged from the forest path. She noticed the man’s clothing: breeches with thick knee-high socks and short boots. He wore a short, belted frock coat and flat cap. He seemed to carry something burdensome, but as he reached the overlook, the man glimmered in the light, colors fading into a blur. The sun stung Erin’s eyes, and she closed them. The man seemed not to notice her.

Listening, she pictured the man’s movements. He bustled about and traipsed over the uneven ground. He stopped. A soft tapping of wood as he opened what sounded to her like a folding chair. His treading footfalls, and more tapping, clapping and rustling mingled with the sounds of the gorge. 

He’s setting up his camera, I suppose, Erin thought as the warm breeze kissed her cheeks. She wrinkled her nose. The breeze carried a faint scent of chemicals mingled with the overpowering aroma of pine, moss, and damp earth. Erin tried to open her eyes, but the light burst through her eyelashes. She could have turned her head away from the sunlight, but preferred the breeze blowing in her face. 

The sounds the man made soon faded away. Erin dozed on the rocks, with the babbling river below her, the cerulean expanse of sky above, the colossal mountains beyond, and the dense, cool forest at her back.  

A shadow passed over her and darkened the inside of her eyelids. 

The soft clearing of a man’s throat rumbled, “Pardon me, madam.”

Erin blinked her eyes open; the man’s young, smiling face towered over her. His smile crept over his features despite the bushy, dark eyebrows and eyelashes shading his twinkling eyes, and a thick vandyke beard hiding his lips. She caught his smile and returned it. 

“I did not wish to disturb you,” he said in a gruff voice and tobacco scented breath, “but your placidity enchanted me, and I wished to capture the moment.”

He held out a thin iron plate towards her, “Please forgive me for intruding on your rest, and accept this token of gratitude for your peaceful company this afternoon.”

“You’re not bothering me,” she said, “the sun’s so bright! I snapped a picture with my phone, but the glare… I couldn’t see anything on the screen.”

Erin took the plate he handed her. 

“I beg pardon,” the man said, his eyebrows knitted together in confusion, “I had no trouble with my camera, and I placed my portable darkroom tent beneath the shaded boughs. Tintypes are excellent for outdoor photography.”

Erin sat up and glanced at the thin sheet of metal in her hands. 

Fixed upon the plate was a grainy black-and-white image of herself asleep on the rocks. 

“Thank you,” she said, “what a beautiful picture.”

The man smiled and nodded, giving his cap a light tap. 

Erin gazed down at the picture and admired its prodigious detail. The man must be a pro, she thought, even if he is an odd duck in old-fashioned clothing

She turned to the man, wanting to say something kind. A heavy wind gusted from the forest and snatched the words from her tongue. The man had gone, leaving the twirling leaves in his wake. 

Was he a vision? A dream? A ghost?

Yet, the tintype remained in her hands. 


Opportunity Knocks

Zoe leaned back in her chair and sighed. She gazed around the silent office and past the darkened cubicles surrounding hers. Down the aisle, she glimpsed the gloomy windows. She never enjoyed staying late, but the boss had heaped last-minute work on her and she thought it best to get it done as soon as possible. It didn’t help matters she had spent the past half hour daydreaming about quitting the company. 

It had taken her a while to admit it, but she did not like her job. She got along with everyone and always pasted an eternal smile on her lips. But, in the past few months, she had been dragging herself out of bed every weekday and resisting the urge to call in sick. 

Things had been changing at the office; the new boss treated his employees like machines and had taken an especial dislike toward Zoe. Why? She could not say, but glancing around the empty office, it sure seemed true. He seemed to dump all eleventh-hour work on her, and only her. 

Zoe rubbed her eyes and yawned. Exhausted, she glanced at her phone and saw a new text message from her friend Norman. He had contacted her days ago and explained he was starting a business, wondering whether she would join him in the venture. 

Zoe had said she needed time to consider it. In fact, she had been daydreaming about quitting this job and throwing all cares to the wind. She had been pondering Norman’s offer. 

“Zoe, I believe we’d be a helluva team,” Norman’s deep black eyes had fixed their serious gaze on her — one blue and one brown — heterochromatic eyes. 

“But if I leave,” Zoe rested her face in her hands, “I’ll be taking a significant risk with my life. I also wouldn’t have time to do both jobs. What should I do?”

Zoe contemplated her options for another moment, before setting her hands on the keyboard. The characters on the screen melted into one giant blur; she blinked the exhaustion away and continued. 

Muffled footsteps and the sound of shuffling papers distracted her. She glimpsed an older woman she didn’t know, walking toward the copier room. Zoe gazed after her; she thought she was the only person left in the building. 

“Working late?” Zoe smiled as the woman approached on her return to her own workstation. 

The woman paused; an exhausted smile spread across her lips.

“Yes, I am. I wish I wasn’t though, but there are bills to pay and I need the overtime.”

“Yeah, I hear ya,” Zoe said, “I need to get this done by tomorrow, some last-minute stuff my boss requested.”

“Ah, yes, I worked for him many years ago.”

“What was he like?” Zoe asked, eager for a break and a little gossip. 

The woman leaned against Zoe’s cubicle. 

“Unkind and a terrible boss, somewhat of a bully, too. He enjoys demeaning and overworking the people he doesn’t like. He tests the waters with them, and if they give an inch, he grabs a foot and then some. If I were you, I’d request a transfer. You’re on his blacklist.”

“How do you know?”

The woman shrugged, “You’re the only one in his department working this late.”

Zoe took a deep breath. As the woman turned to go, Zoe made a split-second decision. 

“You know,” she spoke and the woman, halting, attended her, “my friend has asked me to join him in a startup. I’m hesitant. I don’t know what to do, it’s like I’m between a rock and a hard place.”

“What’s keeping you from taking your friend’s offer?”

Zoe thought for a moment, “Fear. I’m afraid it’ll fail and I’ll be out on my butt.”

“What’s the alternative?”

“Staying here, I suppose, and hoping a transfer goes through,” Zoe shrugged, “maybe I’ll search for another job, at another company as big and heartless as this one.”

“I had an offer like that once. My friend Norm asked me to join him in a risky venture,” The woman said in a voice brimming with melancholy and nostalgia. 

Zoe caught her breath when she heard the name; she always called Norman ‘Norm’ because he never bent the rules. 

“Wh-what happened?” Zoe stammered. 

“I turned him down and stayed at my safe and cushy job, working under a boss who disrespected me at every turn. I applied for transfer after transfer to another department, but it was years before that came through. Found out later the boss had thwarted all my opportunities over and over until he couldn’t anymore. By then, it was too late. Exhausted, I was drowning in debt with my small salary just keeping me afloat. Meanwhile, Norm and the person who took the offer I’d turned down were rolling in dough like Scrooge McDuck. In my darkest hour — unlike Scrooge McDuck — he loaned me some money, which went a long way.”

She paused; Zoe gaped. 

“I’ve always regretted turning down his job offer,” she fixed her gaze on Zoe. 

The woman stepped towards Zoe, who gasped when the light from the table lamp shone on the woman’s eyes. One eye was blue, the other brown. Zoe’s own face, drawn and haggard, stared back at her. The clock on the wall struck the hour and Zoe snapped her gaze away. When she turned back to the woman, no one was there. 

BRUEGEL TAROT: 2 of Pentacles

Two Sides of the Same Coin

As children, John and James had lived embroiled in a constant tug-of-war. Being identical twins, they shared a physical appearance, and there, the similarities ended. 

With their loving mother dead, the boys’ father had taught them to compete against one another. Who ran fastest, who jumped higher. Who was smarter, who was better-looking; it was a constant push and pull. What belonged to John, James wanted. What belonged to James, John wanted. But it was never enough to exchange belongings. As soon as they had traded, they both wanted the original back. 

And so they entered adolescence, as cunning and ambitious as the day is long. 

One day, John realized how exhausting the constant competition was. He had looked into James’s malicious gaze, triumphant over some trifle, and a thought had flashed, quite unbidden, through John’s brain—I don’t want this life for myself anymore. 

That moment, that life-changing instant, launched John’s wellbeing and James’s demise. 

John had let go of the rope that bound him to James and made his life apart from his twin brother. But James had been tugging so hard, that when John’s resistance gave way, it sent him tumbling into a life of crime.

John moved away and lost all contact with his sibling. 

Aware of the wedge their father had driven between them, John changed his surname and adopted his mother’s maiden name. Life rewarded him with marriage, kids and success, and most important of all, peace. He lived in peace and free from all competition. Little by little, with patience and hard work, John achieved what most unscrupulous people do not — a quiet, pleasant and comfortable life. He coveted nothing and lacked nothing. 

Years and years passed, the kids grew up, graduated, married and had their own lives and their own families. It was in the second year of John’s widowerhood when he first heard from his twin brother. 

James came to him in a dream, rather, a nightmare. John woke up sweating that night with a heart beating so hard it would pop out of his chest. He placed his head in his hands and tried to wipe the dream away. Yet, even then, the dream was foggy, and all John recalled were still images, like faded photographs, with James front and center.  

He lay back down on the hot pillow, frowned, then with the herculean effort necessary for a man in his seventies, turned over the pillow. The cool satin calmed his flaming brain, and he soon drifted into sleep.

The next night, the nightmare returned. Once again, John tried to grasp it and make sense of it, but it was like a damaged silent film which was scratched, burned, and had missing bits and pieces. 

“Should I seek James?” John asked himself as sleep overtook him. 

On the third night of waking up in a panic, John resolved to search for his brother. 

He asked his grandchild, a lanky, screeching boy of thirteen, to help him in his quest. Andrew—contorting his facial muscles into many annoyed expressions—huffed, puffed, then agreed. 

He typed James’s name into the search engine. 

John’s face fell when Andrew clicked on the first link. The news article detailed James’s crimes. It spoke of rackets, gangs, betrayals, backstabbing and, always in the middle, James.

John shook his head and stopped reading. Andrew continued, wondering why his tranquil, do-gooder grandfather would be interested in this person. Then he reached the end of the article and saw the photograph. 

Andrew gasped as his grandfather’s face glared at him through the screen. 

“Grandpa,” he whispered. 

John, head bowed in—what? Shame? Sorrow?—answered in a dull voice, “I know, he looks like me.”

“Why?” Andrew asked. 

“Because he’s my twin brother.” 

“It says here he’s missing,” Andrew said, “the article says he was carrying a shi—boatload of evidence against some mafia boss, a much bigger fish, when he disappeared. That evidence could put this guy away for human trafficking, murder, prostitution, and then some. The FBI is seeking information on his whereabouts.”

John took a deep breath and exhaled, his tired old-man eyes fixed on his grandson’s youthful, pimpled countenance. The weight of his childhood had, in that instant, fallen on him like a ton of bricks, and it showed in his exhausted, wrinkled-paper face. 

“Grandpa,” Andrew read the right meaning in his grandfather’s expression, “you know where he is, don’t you?”

John nodded.


John sighed, “He is among skeletal trees that cling to a jagged crag overlooking a furious ocean.” 

“Is he alive?” 

John shook his head, “The trees caught his mangled body in their gnarled branches, invisible to all above on the cliff’s edge, and unreachable from the ocean-beaten rocks below.”

“How do you know all this?”

“James showed me in my dreams.”

Andrew stared agape at the loving man whose twin brother was a hardened criminal. 

John picked up the telephone, “He also showed me where he hid the shitload of evidence.”



Adrian opened the door to Cassie’s house and placed the key back in its hiding place under the big flowerpot on the stoop. At his own house, he would have called out, but he’d noticed Cassie Power and her father never raised their voices. 

When in Rome, do as the Romans do… He closed the door behind him and walked through the shabby single-story house to Cassie’s bedroom. He knocked, not banged like his own father, and waited for Cassie’s reply. At his own home, they would have opened the door an instant later. Had Adrian a nickel for every time his little brothers burst in while he was dressing, he would have left home years ago. 

“Come in, Adi,” Cassie called. 

Adrian opened the door and found Cassie smiling at him from her desk. 

“Give me one minute,” she said, “I’m almost done with my homework.”

Adrian flopped down on her bed and stared at the ceiling. In the weeks since he’d met Cassie on the Day of the Ugly Man in the Mist, he had spent most afternoons with her, escaping his thunderous and dysfunctional family. Here, in the Power’s house, he experienced something he found nowhere else, not at home, not at school, not even on the soccer field: peace. 

Adrian and Cassie were now close friends and Adrian told her everything about his life, though she was years younger. To him, Cassie was a girl with the tenacity of a warrior and the wisdom of a sage. 

Cassie also felt a connection to Adrian and saw in him the older brother-cousin-friend she had never had. She spilled her guts about Mom’s death, and Dad’s money troubles, and the bullies at school. Yet, if she spoke about Ethur and the place-jumping and the grove by the Old Cemetery where her who-knows-how-many-greats-Grandma Cassandra had appeared, she feared she would frighten him away. 

The Day of the Ugly Man in the Mist, Dad had found Cassie draining pasta in the kitchen sink and an older boy stirring a steaming pot of sauce. 

“Hello,” he had said, nonplussed. 

“Mr. Power, hello, my name is Adrian Ryder, I live across the street.”

At dinner, they had explained about the scary man who had knocked on the door and frightened Cassie.
Dad had gazed at Adrian with a look of concern wrapped in eternal exhaustion and bow-tied with sorrow, and thanked him for helping his daughter. Since then, Adrian had become a fixture in his house. 

Cassie finished her homework and glanced at Adrian’s long figure sprawled across her bed. She sighed and pressed Ethur, the small horse-shaped figurine dangling on his long silver chain, against her chest. She would share her secret now that Grandma Cassandra had hinted in a dream that everything would be all right. 

“Adi,” she said, “if I tell you something, will you promise not to hate me?”

Adrian’s eyes flew open, and he sat up on the bed. He locked his gaze to hers. 

“Cass, you can tell me anything, you know that.”

“Remember the Day of the Ugly Man in the Mist?” Cassie began, “well…”

And she bared her soul to him. Sentences formed in her clumsy tongue and tumbled into the air, weaving a strange tapestry of magic and witchcraft. Adrian’s earnest gaze fixed on her, his face frozen into an expressionless stone. Yet, as he listened, he believed every word. He had known it all along, deep inside his soul. He never saw her leave her house, nor arrive from school. Yet he would see her on the middle school grounds as he drove by them, and she would be home as soon as the school day ended. 

Cassie finished with flushed cheeks and an expectant gaze, searching his face for anything, a sign, a word, an emotion. 

Adrian’s blank expression burst into a comforting smile, “I think I’ve always known. I mean, we explained The Ugly Man in the Mist to your father in the most rational way we could, but there was something eerie about that day. Something supernatural, something magical, too.” 

Cassie beamed and threw her arms around his neck, “I was so scared you’d run away. I was so frightened I’d scared you!”

“Nah, I’ve always thought witches were cool,” Adrian joked, “and good witches named Cassiopeia are the coolest.”

A tiny neigh broke the comfortable silence that ensued. Cassie glanced down at the figurine around her chest and placed it in her open palm. Adrian’s eyes widened with delight and wonder as he beheld the tiny obsidian horse kicking and bucking and flicking his tail and mane this way and that. 

“This is Ethur,” Cassie whispered, amazed Ethur would show himself to Adrian. 

“Hi, Ethur,” Adrian said and ran his pinky finger down Ethur’s snout. The tiny horse brayed. 

“I’ve never seen him so excited,” Cassie said, “I wonder what’s happening.”

“Maybe he wants you to show me this place-jumping thing, or whatever you call it.” 

“Ok, let’s try it,” Cassie exclaimed. 

She clasped Adrian’s hand and closed her eyes. She concentrated on the grove by the Old Cemetery and, sim sala bim, they were standing beneath the ever-blooming trees!

Adrian laughed and raised his fists in a gesture of victory, “Yeah! That was awesome!”

He put his arms around Cassie’s waist, lifted her and spun her around in circles. She giggled. 

“Look,” Cassie pointed downwards the hill, “we can see our houses from here. Mom and I used to picnic here all the time, sometimes we’d see Dad pull into the driveway and knew it was time to leave.” 

“You’re right, my little brothers left their bikes out when they’re not supposed to,” he said, and opened his mouth to continue, but froze. 

Cassie’s smile of delight faded as well; she inched closer to him. Adrian put his arm around her. A hawk screeched and glided above the trees.

Atop the hill, safe under a canopy of swirling blossoms, Cassie and Adrian watched an eerie fog creep down their street and engulf their houses in its evil darkness. 

The Ugly Man in the Mist was searching for them… and had missed them by an instant.

MINCHIATE: Knave of Cups

Daphne’s Desk

Daphne stepped back, satisfied. Sunlight shone through the window and onto the antique desk she had bought. Dust mites danced and flitted around the polished maple. The warped and rounded lines of the circa 1900 Art Nouveau desk cast eerie shadows on the wall beside it, but Daphne thought nothing of them. She had fallen in love with the desk as soon as she had seen it at the antique mall. 

Daphne nodded with satisfaction; she took out her phone and snapped a picture. She posted it to her social media profile with the caption “look what I found at a bargain!”

A barrage of messages and posts followed and occupied her for the rest of the afternoon as she juggled the tasks of housework, dinner and endless likes and thumbs-ups. 

Dusk was falling and engulfed her apartment in blue light. The desk sat by its window, its Art Nouveau chair positioned just so, pretending to be both functional and fashionable. 

Daphne gave her phone a bored glance as it pinged for the thousandth time since she had posted the picture. She loved the attention her social media followers gave her, and considered herself somewhat of an influencer, but truth be told, all the praise soon got tiresome. 

She yawned and scrolled through the phone. 

Daphne frowned, taken aback by the message. 

“Who’s the guy?” Her brother asked. 

No cause for surprise; Gary, her brother, always rained on her parade. Daphne rolled her eyes. She considered ignoring the message, but the screen lit up with his smirking face and the option to ‘end call’ in a red circle, or ‘answer’ in green. 

“Who’s the guy?” Gary said on the phone. 

“What are you talking about?” Daphne answered annoyed, “What guy?”

“The guy in the picture,” Gary replied, “the snobby looking dude with the funky whiskers.”

“On which picture?” Daphne frowned, put the call on speakerphone and scrolled through her photos. 

“The picture you posted of the desk,” his voice sounded tinny. 

Daphne pulled up said photo. The light slanted in from the window and shone on the smooth surface and the rounded drawers of her beloved desk. Beside it, a dark shadow, a rather bluish mass, seemed to lean upon it. 

“There’s no guy. That shadow must be a trick of the light,” she said.

“Zoom into it.”

Daphne zoomed and, as the shadow grew larger, the features of a young man appeared. Dashing in a top hat, handlebar mustache, bow tie, long trousers and frock coat with silk lapels, the young man leaned against a cane.

Daphne glanced from the picture to the desk against the wall. Moonlight now gleamed through the window, casting its silvery light upon the desk. Its rounded and sleek contours shot warped shadows onto the floor, yet a lanky blot occupied the space beside it, as if black ink were dripping down the wall. Daphne tiptoed to the foot lamp across from the desk. She switched it on, but the dark mass remained. 

“Gary,” she whispered, “I think he’s still here. There’s a dark mass beside the dresser, like it’s absorbing the moonlight and the lamplight. I can’t see any features.”

“Ask him what he wants,” Gary’s nonchalant answer pricked Daphne, as if talking to strange shadows was nothing abnormal. 

“Why don’t you come and ask him what he wants?” She sneered. 

“Don’t be such a scaredy-cat,” Gary mocked, “what’s he gonna do? Eat you?”

Daphne scowled at the phone. She clicked and in a moment, Gary’s eye and half a hairy nostril appeared. He still hadn’t learned the art of video chat. 

Daphne stuck her tongue out at him, then pointed the screen towards the desk. 

“Can you see it?” She said. 

“Uh, yeah, it’s a big dark shadow,” his nostril answered, “why are you showing me this?”

“So you bear witness,” she replied. 

Daphne stepped towards the shadow, her phone held up as if it were a lantern with the screen facing the mass.

“Pardon me,” she squeaked, her heart pounded in her ears, “is anyone here?”

The dark mass stood still, and Daphne felt silly. An instant later, it twisted and morphed until the shape of a man with a top hat and cane appeared, but with no discernible face. 

“Can’t form all the way,” Gary’s eyebrow muttered. 

“May I help you, sir?” Daphne bleated. 

A low grumble sounded throughout the room, and Daphne shivered. To her surprise, a tiny desk drawer opened. Daphne, phone in hand with Gary still bearing witness, approached. She glanced into the drawer.

The moonlight shone on the yellowed paper of a letter in its envelope. 

“Ask him if you may read it,” Gary’s teeth instructed. 

In reply, the letter flew out of its drawer and slapped her in the face; Gary guffawed. 

“Post it,” an icy voice whispered in her ear. 

“Gar, did you hear that?” She whimpered. 

“No, what?”

“Post it,” the voice spoke. 

“I think he wants me to mail it,” she whispered into the phone, “but how?”

“Post it!” The voice yelled, and the room vibrated.

“I heard that,” Gary’s chin said, “just drop it in the mailbox, Daph.”


“OKAY! No need to yell!” Daphne turned to the silhouette and snatched up the letter which had fallen back onto the smooth desktop.

She walked out in a huff; her phone still in hand and arms swinging so that Gary’s lips only witnessed the blurry floor and Daphne’s swishing Minnie Mouse slippers. He snickered; he would tease her about those later. 

Gary watched as Daphne’s chubby fingers slid the yellowed letter into the outgoing mail slot and retraced her steps to her apartment. 

“There! I mailed it!” She yelled. 

The silhouette bowed and tipped its hat. It vanished, and only the space between the desk and the wall remained.



Judith sat by the window with the steaming cup of coffee before her. She placed her cheek in her hand and gazed at the gunmetal overcast sky. Thunder rumbled in the distance and Judith’s placidity contrasted with the encroaching storm. 

Once upon a long time ago, she had spent summers at her grandmother’s house in the country. Days of dense heat and cicadas, and nights speckled with the green glow of fireflies danced to the soft, melodious waltz of her memory.

She hummed her grandmother’s old lullaby. The fog of the past parted and showed her a child in bobby socks and stained pinafore laying on the grass, watching the clouds roll in the endless sky. The clouds descended; then, the same girl, though older, sat on her grandmother’s porch swing with a tall glass of cool, tangy lemonade in her hand. The soft click-click of Grandma’s knitting needles beside her. 

The click of the needles soon became the rattle of a train. Grandma’s smiling face blurred as the train sped away until she was only a speck on a station platform. 

So sat Judith by the window and let the memories sway and tumble like autumn leaves in the wind. 

Judith’s twisted fingers ached as she lifted the cup to her lips. The lukewarm coffee surprised her and brought her mind into focus with a sharp thwack. Had it been so long since she had sat down at the table?

Judith glanced about her; shadows lurked in the darkened kitchen. She gazed out the window. The storm had lumbered in, and lightning flashed across the rain-filled clouds. Then, the rain fell in torrents, as if a dam had burst in heaven. 

Drops spattered on the windowpane, and images flashed through her mind to the rhythm of the pitter-patter of rain on glass. This time, she recalled a young woman with cold toes in high heels sinking into wet grass as the rain fell all around her. Her fingers held on to the umbrella that threatened to overturn in the whipping wind. The certainty of no more summers buckled her knees and beat in her chest to the sound of earth falling on a coffin. Grandma had left, and she had taken the peace with her. 

Rat-tat-tat of rain on the roof mingled with the rat-tat-tat of gunfire in the distance. Judith’s hands, now sticky and murky with blood, flitted from body to body, trying to keep life bottled inside the flesh as it seeped into her Army nurse’s uniform. 

Lightning lit up the kitchen. Judith saw only the ashen face with unseeing eyes and the gaping hole in the man she loved, as she cradled his grimy head in her hands. 

Judith sat with her empty hands before her as the wind howled outside her window. Her mouth gaped open as the wail of heartbreak snaked up her arteries and out of her throat. For an instant, the wind and Judith were one. 

Night entered through the window as the storm thundered and raged, but Judith was long gone down the path of remembrance. Her memory now danced to the whirling rhythm of the howling wind. Years of loneliness in a perfunctory life with a perfunctory job passed. Yet, in the distance, the promise of a new love, a parallel universe of sunlight and happiness, waved a warm welcome. 

“Judith,” a soft voice whispered and ripped through the film reel of yesteryear. 

Judith turned towards the sound. A figure hovered on the threshold beside the humming refrigerator. It approached, passing from shadow into light. 

“Grandma,” Judith whispered. 

“It’s time to go, sweetheart,” Grandma said. 

“But I only just glimpsed Raymond in the distance. He’s coming, I must wait for him.”

“No, sweetie, he came and went. Remember the years of happiness at his side? We are waiting for you. Now it’s time to join us.”

A flash of lightning lit up the crumpled body by the window with its smiling face upon the kitchen table and the cold cup of coffee at its fingertips.