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Milk and Honey

The heavy wooden door cracked and moaned as it inched open on its rusty hinges. A cool draft blew through the yard as the wrought-iron gate, squeaking and banging, swung in the wind. Dead leaves rustled and danced on the overgrown grass, fluttering towards the last rays of the setting sun. Dusk cast an eerie, blue gloom over the abandoned house, and Edgar shivered. 

The prior night’s dream agglutinated in his brain like dense honey, as vivid now as it had been the night before, and almost every night before that, since he could remember. It started in his early childhood—now a tangled mess of vagrant memories—and Edgar had since learned it foretold yet another move, another city, another change. His parents, both free-flowing hippies, never settled down, and at the drop of a hat would up and move their child miles and miles and miles away. Every time the dream visited Edgar, he knew change was imminent, and the dream would not leave until he had installed himself in a new house, in a new town, and a new school. The dream had given him respite during his stable and constant college years, but it had returned in full blast.

In the dream, Edgar stands by a window in the House of Usher — as he described it—gloomy, dark and ramshackle. The window overlooks a courtyard, just as abandoned and forgotten as the house itself. In the middle of the courtyard, between the cracked and lumpy cobblestone, sits a large fountain with a wide round base and three tiers of a baroque pillar stacked upon one another. Each section has an ornate basin, which gets smaller as the pillar rises. A phoenix crowns the fountain, its wings spread wide as its tail winds around the pillar, down to the topmost basin. Silky nectar flows from it and shines in the sunlight. The phoenix whispers, “Come find me.”

The dream’s frequency had abated in recent years until weeks ago, when Edgar received a summons from a lawyer. That very night, the dream exploded in his brain, and it blazed night after night. 

Bewildered, Edgar attended the appointment.

“You are the only remaining heir,” the lawyer said, as he read the last will and testament of a long-forgotten uncle, “Your uncle’s finances had dwindled, and the house fell into disrepair, but now it belongs to you.”

Now, Edgar stood on the doorstep of this abandoned house as it creaked open with the burden of years weighing down an old man. 

Edgar stepped through the threshold. Twilight glimmered through the dirty windows, and Edgar’s heart skipped at the ghosts waiting for him inside every room. He chided himself when he realized they were only pieces of furniture covered by sheets. Edgar walked through the chilly and dusty rooms; shadows crept on the walls. He marveled at the high and decorated ceilings, and at the baroque cornices. He approached a tall casement window; its shabby drapes billowing in a mysterious breeze.

He glanced out of it and gasped. The window overlooked the courtyard, and in its middle, lit by the rising moon, stood his dream-fountain with its crowning phoenix. But this fountain was as dry as a desert; its magnificence lost in its abandonment, its phoenix cracked by time.

Edgar opened the casement window, and the soft scent of honeysuckle wafted into the room, though in the moonlight, he distinguished only skeleton branches and gnarled, bony bramble that crawled over the ground like spiders.

“Hello,” the wind whispered, as it blew around Edgar.

“Hello!” Edgar replied, and the sound of his voice echoed through the courtyard.

A soft rumble shuddered through the house and the fountain gurgled and bubbled to life as silvery water sprang from its interior. The phoenix-wind whooshed again and awakened the fireplace across the room, which sparked a warm and comforting blaze. The room flooded with light, and Edgar saw it as it had been in its heyday: glowing, beautiful, and cozy.

The dream that had been with him so long burst inside his brain and oozed a warm welcome through his body. This milky feeling tasted like honey, and Edgar knew that after all this time, he was home.

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St. Elmo’s Fire

Esther sat on the hotel’s terrace overlooking the ocean. The soft sea breeze cooled Esther’s sunburned cheeks. The ocean mumbled a lullaby beneath her as the waves lapped on the pebbled beach. It sounded like a baby’s rattle, and a lump formed in Esther’s throat at the memory of their baby-that-was-never-to-be.

Arthur caught the lump and smoothed it away by stroking her hand in his, like water smooths down jagged rocks. Their eyes met, and both understood the pain lurking behind their irises — his blue, hers brown.

“This was a good day,” Arthur said.

Esther nodded, “Oh yes, I could stay here forever.”

Moonless and starless night fell, and only the dim terrace lights burning behind them offered comfort from the encroaching darkness. They sat on Adirondack chairs facing the water, which was now a black mirror that reflected nothing, like a void in the earth surrounded by ghostly cliffs.

Arthur sipped his whiskey, while Esther let the playful breeze tousle her hair.

Arthur cleared his throat to get her attention, “What’s that?”

Esther opened her eyes.

In the cove, three blue lights flickered, no, danced upon the water. They snaked and glimmered like tongues of fire playfully devouring lumber. They frolicked in a smoky meander on the still and mirror-like waves.

“I wonder…” Esther stated.

“I think it’s Saint Elmo’s fire,” Arthur said.

“Beg pardon?”

“It’s an electrical weather phenomenon that appears on pointy structures, like masts and spires, when lightning strikes are imminent. It looks like blue flames.”

“Do you think we ought to go inside?”

“I don’t know,” Arthur replied, “the sky is cloudy, but it doesn’t feel like rain. What intrigues me is, what is catching the electricity?”

“A ship, perhaps.”

Arthur doubted, “There were no ships at sunset, and there are no ship lights.”

The waiter approached and asked if they wanted anything else.

Arthur turned to the man, “No, but you should warn that ship.”

The waiter looked puzzled; Arthur pointed towards the water.

“That’s Saint Elmo’s fire,” he said, “and that ship is in danger of being struck by lightning.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but there are no ships on this part of the island. It’s impossible to approach this cove from the ocean. A terrible death of jagged rock lies beneath the waves. Many ships have sunk here, too far for rescue from the shore. Not even a rowboat dares enter this cove.”

Esther gazed at the man, confused.

“Then what’s out there?” Arthur asked, “What’s causing those lights?”

“St. Elmo’s Fire on the masts, like you said, sir, but that ship now lies in its watery grave. The lights appear on darkest nights, but lightning struck it centuries ago.” 

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Streetlamps in the Snow

Snowflakes flit in the wind and glimmer in the dim light of the lampposts. The snow falls in a steady stream of dancing fairy-flakes, and the wind bites and gnaws at Eric’s cheeks and ears. He pulls up the collar of his long, woolen overcoat and sticks his hands in his pockets. 

What a sudden change of weather! The morning was almost warm, and the sunshine played on his forehead as he walked to work. The evening is now black and dense with creamy, snow-filled clouds. He wishes for his hat, scarf and gloves, but can only bow his head to the wind, and trudge onwards. He only has a few more blocks to go before he reaches the warm comfort of home.

Ahead, a lamppost flickers, and Eric discerns an old man standing under it. He hunches in the way only an old man hunches, and his hip juts out sideways, though he gazes in Eric’s direction.

Eric approaches and prepares to nod a greeting, but the old man turns and, leaning on his cane, totters around the corner. Eric shrugs and slogs on through the fluttering snow. He reaches the corner and looks out for oncoming cars; the nearest lamppost flickers, and Eric sees the same man beneath it, gazing towards him.

Eric means to cross the street and not to turn the corner. But the man, dressed in a three-piece suit — coatless and hatless — seems to wait for him. Eric raises his arm to wave and bid the old man goodnight. He steps off the curb. His heart lurches when he slips, but regains his footing. The wind howls at Eric; the street lamps blow out and plunge Eric’s path into cold and speckled darkness. He turns towards the old man, still waiting beneath the only flickering lamp around the corner. His way blocked by black night, black pavement and black ice, Eric traipses towards the man, who turns and hobbles further down the street. 

The snowy darkness devours the man, but Eric hears the soft thud of the man’s cane moving away. Eric pauses beneath the now darkened lamppost as the light before the next corner flickers. The old man with the crooked hip pauses and turns towards him, waiting. Eric picks up the pace and reaches the corner just as the old man rounds it.

The street is dark, lit only by the lights streaming from one window. All houses are dark, and Eric reasons the inhabitants have not yet arrived from their workday.

The lonely lights in the window flicker, and Eric detects the old man standing beneath it. He crosses the street towards the house. As he approaches the front walkway, he hears a low moan. Eric glances at the old man beneath the window. The old man points towards the stoop.

Painful groans break the snowy silence as Eric reaches the lump sprawled upon the stoop. Eric gasps; the old man with the crooked hip and three-piece suit is lying supine on the icy steps. His cane is out of reach, and a full and knotted garbage bag clings to the skeleton bushes that line the stoop.

“Help,” the old man whimpers, “I fell.”

“Is anything broken?” Eric asks and fumbles for his phone.

“No, I don’t think so, but I cannot get up without my cane.”

Eric drapes the man’s arm around his shoulder, then slips his other arm around the man’s waist and pulls him up to standing. They limp through the open door, and Eric gently sits the man down on an old high-back chair.

“I was taking out the trash,” the man stammers as Eric wraps a blanket around the man’s shoulders, “thank goodness you came along. My neighbors won’t arrive until much later. Do you live nearby?”

Eric shakes his head, “This street is not on my way home.”

The old man’s kind eyes fill with gratitude as he gazes into Eric’s face, “Then, what brought you this way?” 

“You led me here. I followed you.”

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A Morning Stroll

The peacock’s shrill cry sounded throughout the hacienda. It was now a luxury hotel and Eliza paced the cobblestone path through a soft mist hovering over the ground. The old stone wall rose beside her, and Eliza admired the green moss growing between the ancient stonework.

The peacock shrieked again and Eliza glimpsed the beautiful, iridescent turquoise tail atop the stone wall. The peacock jumped down from the wall and ambled along the path ahead of Eliza. She came to a small fork in the cobblestone path, paused for a moment, then followed the peacock as it faded into the mist, which was thickening like whipped cream as it rolled down from the mountain.

Tall trees lined the path and the Spanish moss clinging to the branches looked like witches flitting among the trees. Though spooky, the foggy silence comforted Eliza. She sauntered behind the peacock’s fading form.

A cool morning breeze blew through the mist, and Eliza pulled her cardigan tight across her chest. The mist closed around the peacock and Eliza lost sight of it, but discerned the clear click of its feet on the cobblestone. She guided herself by the tall bulk of the stone wall alongside her, and the protruding roots of the Spanish moss laden trees that lined the path. She paused and wondered whether to turn back, but the mist now engulfed her, so all she distinguished was the pathway ahead. As long as she followed the path, she reasoned, and kept the wall to her right, she had no chance of leaving the hacienda and losing her way at the foot of the mountain. The peacock cried, and Eliza’s apprehension lifted as she renewed her steps towards the sound.

Up ahead, in the misty silence, a dark mass formed, and as Eliza slowed her pace, a figure approached her. Out of the mist, a couple appeared, and Eliza perceived a young man in a three-piece suit and top hat, leading a young lady with a straw hat pinned to her low pompadour hairstyle. Her gloved fingers curled around the man’s elbow, and a small parasol hooked over her other arm. Her long dress shone in brilliant white, as did the man’s shirt underneath the black vest and coat. The man swung a cane with each step as they strolled towards Eliza. 

The woman gave Eliza a kind nod, and the man tipped his hat when they crossed paths.

Buenos días,” the woman smiled, and Eliza returned the greeting.

The peacock shrieked and startled Eliza, who whipped her head towards the sound. It perched atop the stone wall; sunbeams broke through and dissipated the milky mist. Eliza turned back towards the couple, but saw only the ancient path behind her. It occurred to her she never heard their footsteps, nor the thump-thump of the man’s cane as they strolled on the cobblestone.

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Red Sand

The painting hung by itself in the gallery; the enormous canvas covered most of the back wall. When Daphne wandered in, she paused in front of it, and gave it a bored glance.

Abstract art never interested Daphne. She found no meaning to it. To her, it was just a bunch of colors, stains, blobs, and oodles of ego. But this painting seized her. It caught her in its grip, and while Daphne’s mind told her to move away, her body froze with her torso facing the painting while her feet turned sideways, as if unsure whether to stay or go.

Entranced, Daphne contemplated the painting. It was a blob of bright red, with black and blue lines running down it. The uneven lines streaked it with such violence it seemed as if a tiger had mauled the canvas. The red background looked like a bloodstain on the sand. Indeed, the artist had named it “Red Sand”. 

But Daphne saw a city street in a fiery sunset. The blue and black strikes that seared the sunset bled out of the picture and surrounded her. They grew straight and tall, flanking her on either side. Up and up they rose until they scraped the sky. The pavement stretching out in front of her shone with the metallic green of automobile oil. Cars honked in the distance, and Daphne wondered whether they honked beyond the gallery walls, or whether they honked in the painting. Wherever, traffic rushed all around her, but she saw none of it. The sky darkened above the sunset fire, and a chill crept up Daphne’s spine.

Footsteps clacked on the pavement behind her. She wanted to turn around and yank herself out of the painting, but she stood transfixed by the vibrant colors of the sunset and darkened skyscrapers on either side.

The footsteps approached. Daphne followed the click-clack of stiletto heels as they reached her, then walked around her on either side, like water separating around a stubborn rock and flowing back together afterwards. The footsteps overtook Daphne and continued down the oil-slicked pavement towards the sunset. She listened, still staring down the abstract alleyway and waiting to see their owner appear, but the footsteps paused for an instant, then picked up the pace and hurried away from her. A sense of impending danger rose from Daphne’s toes, like a menace careening towards her. The footsteps’ panicking clack-clack hurtled into the blazing sunset as inky darkness fell over the sky and the buildings no longer glowed in the gloaming. Now they were only darkened statues flanking her, like fallen angels guarding the threshold to Hell.

The footfalls faded away; then, a bloodcurdling scream lacerated the painted night and ripped her out of the picture.

Shaken, Daphne glanced around for the source of that heart-wrenching shriek, but the gallery was quiet, with no sound of a commotion anywhere.

“It’s a magnificent piece, its violence rips through you,” a voice wafted in from the doorway. 

Startled, Daphne whipped around towards it. The curator stood gazing at the painting. 

“Yes,” Daphne agreed. 

“You know, it was the artist’s last piece. He called it ‘Red Sand’ because it’s an abstract depiction of his wife’s death. Police found her murdered on a beach. It was a brutal crime—never solved—and the artist never recovered from the shock. He killed himself soon after finishing this painting.”

Daphne stared wide-eyed at the curator, then gazed back at the painting. 

“No,” Daphne said, “his wife didn’t die on a beach, they murdered her in a city alley.”

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The Dawning

The new smart speaker sat on the bookshelf; Melissa contemplated it with pleasure. A set of three, she placed the speakers around the house so they could communicate with one another and with the smart assistant on her cell phone. She placed one speaker on her nightstand, another in the kitchen, so it could read recipes to her, and the third on the bookshelf in the den.

When the budget allowed it, she often treated her three-hundred-year-old house to small bites of pleasurable modernity. The house was well worth it, though she scrimped and saved for the upkeep of the small New England saltbox, and the historic district’s regulations forbade her to alter its exterior and structure. She loved the layout and the coziness of the low-ceilinged rooms. Every evening, she enjoyed the soft light of the standing lamps as she closed the wooden shutters to the gloaming peeking in through the slats. 

The kitchen held stainless steel state-of-the-art appliances, though it was small under its gabled roof at the back of the house. The refrigerator, with its icemaker and double doors, stood by the threshold of the living room like a constable guarding culinary secrets. The far wall of the living room contained the all-important flat-screen OLED TV framed by a floor-to-ceiling console and bookshelf. A sofa-bed covered with plushy cushions faced it.
The central fireplace delighted Melissa on frosty nights when she saved herself paltry pennies by shutting off the air conditioning/heating system (the house’s newest addition) and watched the flames dance and crackle as they filled the entire house with their cozy, primeval warmth. Someone, throughout the house’s three centuries, had converted one half of the sitting parlor into a modern bathroom, while the half nearest the front door was now a mud room. 

The den faced the street, and here, Melissa placed her desk with the latest, fastest computer sitting atop it, and the ergonomic chair before it. A small bookcase stood across the desk, beside the window, where the new smart speaker—a petite round bulb with a powerful sound and a blue orb of electronic light in its display—sat waiting, like a genie in a bottle, for her command. 

Melissa’s favorite room was her tiny bedroom with its slanted ceiling. The original house had two small attic bedrooms, but during its history, a pragmatic owner had converted the smaller of the two into an ample, full-sized bathroom. The oldest of six children, she had always dreamed of turning her parents’ attic into her own private bedroom, but Melissa had left home before her parents had the means to remodel it. Now, she was living her dream, a small, cozy house, with an attic bedroom, all to herself. No squealing, no traipsing, no banging, just her and the little modern commodities that brought the world into the house, yet kept it at bay. 

She spent the evening testing and configuring the system, so all the features it promised worked in a seamless stream of trailblazing technology. Satisfied, Melissa asked the bedroom speaker to play soft music as she woke her e-reader; the blue orb pulsed to the beat of the comforting neutral voice of the smart assistant as it replied. Night fell around her, and the blue cold of spring seeped in around the shutters. Melissa set her e-reader on the nightstand, shuffled under the covers, then asked the speaker to turn off the lights and stop playing the music in half an hour, and went to sleep.

Something woke Melissa; she opened her eyes and got her bearings.

Soft daybreak poured around the closed shutters, and the room filled with the spring chill of April. She rolled over and listened for the sounds of the modern world, but heard neither passing cars nor the distant roar of the highway. Not even the soft thud of the icemaker releasing ice.

Melissa yawned, sleep had crept away from her like a thief in the night, and there was no hope of its return.

“What time is it?” She asked the smart assistant.

The blue orb pulsed, but she received no reply.

Melissa frowned. She stretched her legs and was about to sit up when the distant sound of clopping hooves thudded through the room. Melissa deduced someone was horseback riding. She listened, the hoofbeats paused. A faraway knock on a door followed, and the hoofbeats resumed. The pattern repeated, only louder, as if nearer, and this time the chilly April breeze carried the murmur of apprehensive voices. 

Melissa sat up in bed, her heart thudding, alarmed by the sense of secretive urgency spilling through the wooden shutters. She turned on the light and opened the shutters, but only her car sat parked in its driveway. The neighbor’s house was still dark.

Melissa slipped into her plush slippers and padded downstairs to the front of the house. In the den, she glanced out of the window, but saw no sign of movement. The neighbors’ cars remained parked as they had been the night before, and no horse and rider glimmered in the early dawn. 

The hooves approached, clanging through the room, and the horse neighed and panted. The noise was so near she should have seen the horse and rider out of her window, but there was no one. She kept her eyes glued to the street beyond the window. 

Melissa jumped at the sound of a knock on her door; no one stood on the stoop. 

 “The Regulars are coming!” A male voice whispered through the threshold, and sent chills crawling up her spine. 

Then she heard footsteps upstairs, as if someone had roused themselves from her bed. Melissa stood frozen by the window, as the hairs on her nape stood on end.

Now, the thud of heavy boots came trampling down the stairs. Huffing and groaning, the footfalls reached the door and turned the inner lock. Melissa’s gaze turned to the front door as it remained closed, while the sound of it creaking open filled the room.

“Ready thyself! The Regulars are coming!” The voice spoke; Melissa’s heart jumped to her throat, choking her, then fell to her feet.

She glanced around her; the caller seemed to speak beside her, as if the horse and rider were in the room. But only her modern desk with its big computer display stared back at her.

Swift footfalls surrounded her, and doors creaked and whooshed open as people awoke to the midnight ride. Yet, beyond the window, nothing stirred. Melissa cast her frantic gaze over the room as the horse and rider melted into the hurried call to arms of men and the anguished cries of women that enveloped her in a sea of misty sound.

Her eyes landed on the smart speaker sitting innocently on the shelf; its indicator light waning and waxing to the rhythm of the dawning revolution. 

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OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Three of Swords


Ivy crept up the ancient and massive stone wall. Bridget stood on tiptoe and stretched her neck, hoping to see beyond the wall, but the tangle of leaves and branches obscured all glimpses of what lay beyond it.

She had inherited this vast property from a distant, unknown relative, with no other explanation than a map to its location and the old, leaf-shaped iron key. Now, Bridget had a choice: to sell it for a song, or to repair it.

But the ivy and honeysuckle and bougainvilleas crawled and climbed and slithered in a mess of thorns and leaves, and Bridget saw no hope of gaining access to the ramshackle structure.

“It’s like The Secret Garden,” Bridget mumbled, and pondered whether to climb a tree.

She jangled the key in her hand; the gate was so rusty and overgrown with vine she doubted the lock would work. She tried anyway; she had not come all this way just to peek over the wall. With great effort, the key turned, and the door creaked open. It swung with the high-pitched squeak of rusty hinges, but snagged on the overgrown weeds that spidered over the ground.

Bridget squeezed through the gate; the sight beyond it caught her breath. She had entered a world of green. Every branch and leaf glowed with a thousand shades of green. Green, up and down and left and right. She rubbed her eyes, and little green sparks flashed under her eyelids.

Yards ahead, she spotted a stone building covered with moss and crawling with bindweed. It was a short one-story home with a series of stocky arches lining a desolate veranda over which twining plants hung like blooming tendrils. Three turrets stood at three corners and jutted out like three swords ensnared in the vines. The fourth turret had crumbled long ago.

As her eyes adjusted to the blinding green light, she noted pinpricks of reds, yellows, whites, purples and blues, and realized the entire property was in full bloom, in October!

A small twitching under an arch caught her sight. A tiny light seemed to wink at her. Something rustled in the trees, and out of the corner of her eye, Bridget saw movement.

She turned in time to glimpse a figure disappear into the matted forest behind the house.

“Wait!” She called and hurried after it.

It dashed and darted between the trees and ivy, and Bridget had difficulty following it. She stopped at the end of the wall. The figure had disappeared, and she strained her eyes, scanning the thick, overgrown orchard for it.

“You are not like the others,” a voice whispered in her ear.

She whipped around, but glimpsed only a green shadow glide behind a flourishing tree.

“What do you mean? Who are you?”

“I am your most ancient ancestor. Your forefathers hated their people, but you respect us. You respect all living things.”

“Who is us? I don’t understand.”

“You come from a long line of sprites — people of nature, beings of light. Some humans call us fairies, others leprechauns, some know us as nymphs, others as devas. We are wood people, forest people. Your human forebears hated us, hunted us, felled our homes. They turned away from us, except for one. This home is our last sanctuary.”

As the voice spoke, Bridget noticed watchful eyes on her peering out from among the branches and leaves and multicolored blossoms.

“How came you here, child?” Another voice spoke from a sprawling rosebush.

“I-I inherited this property from a distant relative when she died. I never knew her.”

“Ah, so the age of Ostara has ended. The age of Brighid begins.” 

“You are welcome here… You need not join us, but please do not take our home,” someone whispered from behind an oak.

“Yes, let us be,” a fourth voice spoke from the jasmine creeping up the turret, “if you wish to leave.”

Bridget glanced at the old building, and for the first time realized the roof had caved in, and all that remained were the arches, the veranda, and the three stone turrets. 

Hundreds of expectant eyes held her in place, and through the flora, Bridget almost glimpsed the creatures’ various shapes, all so elusive they might have been shadows. She sensed their pleas, their dread, and the hope their idyll might last a while longer.

Bridget said nothing, but made her way back to the half-opened the gate. All the while, a shadowy, tall, man-like figure followed beside her, hidden among the brambles.

She passed through the gate and shut it behind her. A man came into full view between the wrought-iron bars and bindweed. He had long, green, straw-like hair and a long copious green beard. His eyes shone green and his skin was rugged, like bark. His expression showed hope and fear.

Bridget whispered, “There’s nothing of monetary value here.”

She winked, and The Green Man’s rough lips broke into a wide smile, revealing birch-white teeth.

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BRUEGEL TAROT: 8 of Pentacles


The painting captivated Frieda. It hung in the library of her grandparents’ castle, which had been in the family for generations. The painting was an allusion to her family’s tradesman past and depicted her 17th century ancestors, though her family line extended a hundred years before it. Instead of portraying her forebears in stiff poses and ostentatious clothing, it depicted them in a marketplace, selling their wares at various stalls. Much like Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, which led to the suspicion Rembrandt himself might have been the artist. 

“There is no evidence of that,” Opa said, giving her a conspiratorial wink, “but legend has it, it was our predecessor Johannes, an accomplished artist, who painted it.”

“So how come no one knows?” Frieda asked as she and Opa gazed at the painting.

“Because he had already vanished. No one knows who painted it.”

Frieda gave Opa a suspicious glance. He had a penchant for tall tales and unlikely yarns; he once told her their ancestors had slain a dragon and kept the treasure it had been guarding. Frieda knew he was repeating the gist of the Nibelungenlied. 

“Sure, Opa,” Frieda said and suppressed an exasperated eye-roll.

“No, look,” Opa said, “you see him there in the middle, the baker dressed in black handing out the bread roll? That’s him; and beside him, in the meat stall, is his brother Benno. The woman is Hilde, his sister, who is counting out the money. The man in the smithy is their cousin, Klaus.”

Frieda raised a dubious eyebrow and Opa sighed, “I know this because someone wrote their names beside the portraits. The letters have faded, but I’ve gazed at this portrait more decades than you.”

“Was Johannes a baker?”

“No, the family was already wealthy and respected by then. In the Renaissance, three brothers, one a baker, one a butcher and the third a blacksmith, working together, amassed the wealth passed down to us. We descend from the baker, like Johannes, but he was an artist.”

“Hmm,” Frieda still doubted Opa’s veracity, “how did he vanish?”

“No one knows, he just disappeared. People gossiped that he ran off with a woman of a lower class. Others said someone murdered him and hid his remains somewhere.”

“Who would murder him?” Frieda asked.

“Most people thought his sister and her husband, Lorenz, that man in the background who looks like he wants to vomit.”


Opa shrugged, “Jealousy? No one even knows it happened. There’s no evidence.”

Frieda shrugged and said good night. Opa sat down in his armchair and opened his book as she left the room.

Hours later, Frieda woke up from a strange dream she could not recall. Moonlight peeped through the slit in the middle of the closed curtains. Frieda had an odd feeling she needed to gaze at the painting one more time. That sliver of a dream which had vanished like a will-o’-the-wisp nagged at her, and she guessed it had been about the painting. Frieda got out of bed and shoved her feet into her slippers. She opened the bedroom door and tiptoed down the hall towards the library.

The fireplace glowed with red-hot embers, and Frieda noticed Opa’s sleeping figure in the armchair. His snores mingled with the tick-tock of the cuckoo clock hanging on the wall.

Frieda crept up to the painting, careful not to wake Opa, but he gave a loud snort and opened his eyes to find her gazing at the picture.

“Frieda? What is it?” He whispered.

“Nothing, I just, I needed to see it again,” she replied.

Opa rubbed the sleep from his eyes and stretched, “I guess it’s time for bed now.”

The cuckoo clock struck the hour, and the little bird sprang out and cuckooed three times. A cold draft blew and revived the dying embers in the hearth; they cast an eerie red glow over the room.

Frieda gasped, “Opa, look!”

But Opa was already aware of what was happening in the painting.

The butcher, Benno, moved and struck Johannes in the head with a cleaver. Johannes toppled forward as blood oozed from the frame. As he fell, his body breached the barrier between the two-dimensional painting and landed with a hollow thud on the three-dimensional floor.

Frieda gripped Opa’s hand, who squeezed hers back; neither moved.

The murderer returned to his position in the meat stall, but their gazes were intent on Johannes’s body on the floor.

The moonlight entered the tall windows and shone on the specter. One hand moved, then the other, and little by little Johannes stirred. With the cleaver still lodged in his head, he stood. His ghostly eyes fixed on the two observers. He floated toward the tall bookshelf in the corner and pulled a volume from the shelf. A phantom door slid open, and he disappeared inside it.

Another cold draft blew from the bookcase, and both Frieda and Opa sensed the spell had broken.

“It wasn’t vomit-face,” Frieda murmured. 

Opa walked to the bookcase. He pulled all the books from the shelf until he found the one that triggered the hidden door. It creaked open. Frieda peeked around Opa’s hunching shoulders. There, in a nook too narrow for anyone to sit, slumped a pile of rags and bones, the skull split down the middle.

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Walking Home

Walking home down the dark alley on a moonless night, I shrieked. He looked like Nosferatu and snapped me from my reverie when he morphed out of the shadows and fell into step beside me.

“Excuse me…” he murmured an empty apology, as if he had meant to catch up to me.

“I was not expecting you…” I mumbled and sped up, trying to steady my nerves. 

The tall, pale and lanky man with sunken eyes, buck teeth and dressed in black let me pass. I felt his eyes on the back of my neck as I rounded the corner into my street. I considered walking on and pretending I lived elsewhere, but remembered the all-night pharmacy across the road.

Still rattled, I stepped into the bright shop. I often buy candy or last-minute groceries here, and knew the employees, at least by sight. There was no one at the checkout, which did not surprise me, since they often walked around the store, but would always materialize as soon as someone neared the register.

I ambled around the candy aisle for a while, but did not wish to buy anything. Nothing made my mouth water. In fact, my stomach was in a knot.

Countless times I had walked the streets by myself and encountered so many people. None, not even the homeless man who yelled obscenities at the air, had ever frightened me as this creepy Nosferatu. There was nothing about him that should scare me, I rationalized. He was only an unfortunate-looking fellow walking alone at night.

“It’s not even that late,” I muttered.

“Beg pardon, miss?”

I jumped and stared at the employee standing beside me. 

“Sorry, I was just, um, thinking aloud,” I managed an innocent smile.

He smiled back, and I gazed into his warm, brown eyes.

“Is there anything you need?” He asked, and his voice was music to my ears.

“No, no,” I stammered, “I, um… Someone startled me outside, and I’m still a little shaken.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, and my heart skipped a beat when he smiled, “Do you live nearby?” 

“Across the street,” I replied. 

A little voice in my head said to never show strangers where I live, but a pleasant brain-fog drowned it out. I grinned at the employee while a wispy thought wondered why I had never seen him.

“Would you like me to walk you out? My shift will be over in a few minutes.” He held my gaze, and I blushed.

He was handsome and kind, and I drifted into an ocean of comfort and trust. The little voice in my head was screaming now, but with muffled, mangled and nonsensical words. The world stopped when I assented, and he beamed at me with the radiance of a thousand suns.

I lallygagged until he beckoned to me, and I followed him out the sliding doors.

“Is the man you saw still here?” He asked as we reached the curb.

I tore my eyes away from him for a quick glance, “No, he isn’t.”

The little voice whispered, how did he know it was a man? You never said it was a man! But it might have been speaking Greek for all I cared.

We crossed and approached the stoop to my apartment building. The street was quiet and the porch-light dim. I had an odd sense of artificial silence, though I heard the bustle of the city traffic a few streets away. 

I stared into his eyes and smiled at him. We were at the front door. I had a vague idea I should reach into my purse for my keys, but I only stared into his handsome face. He brushed my cheek with his fingers, and I trembled. He leaned closer.

“May I come in?” He cooed.

I was about to nod, but was so entranced by his touch and breath on my skin that I could not reply. He put his arm around my waist and pulled me into his embrace. The porch-light flickered, and I felt his warm kiss on my lips.

His gentle hand guided my head sideways and brushed my hair away, exposing my neck. I closed my eyes, enjoying the moment as he placed his lips on my throbbing vein and made a soft, lustful hiss. 

I gave a blissful giggle and blinked my eyes open, then screamed. Nosferatu’s pallid face appeared from the darkness behind him. In an instant, long bony fingers grabbed hold of his shoulders and pulled him away from me.

Horrified, I glimpsed his handsome face transform into a growling grimace. His eyes became two fiery red-hot coals, while two long fangs gnashed at Nosferatu.

The vampire lunged at the pale, lanky shadow-lurker. But Nosferatu, lightning fast, drove a wooden stake into the vampire’s heart. The vampire squealed in agony, then shattered into a cluster of spiders.

Calm and collected, Nosferatu quashed every one. Terrified and motionless, I stood on the stoop; the porch-light flickered and buzzed. When he finished, Nosferatu turned to me and smiled. It was a soft, comforting smile that improved his wraith-like countenance a thousandfold.

“Pardon me, miss,” he said, “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

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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.