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Martin let out a snarl that was caught between a roar and a growl. The Wi-Fi had been screwy all evening, and he wanted to unwind by playing his favorite video game.

It was the latest installment of a popular RPG — role-playing game — set in ancient Greece. The game crashed and froze several times, and Martin, frustrated, tried once more before calling it a night. He turned off the console and checked the router (it seemed to work fine). He restarted it anyway, just in case…

Martin drummed his impatient fingers on the arms of his gamer’s chair as the game loaded. Outside, the wind howled and Martin felt a tinge of apprehension crawl up his spine. He choked it and forced it down with one dense gulp. Martin hated admitting that storms freaked him out. It wasn’t just childish; he felt canine too.

The storm was coming, and the wind ululated its dire warning. He hoped his game would keep the storm at bay, but it was loading at a snail’s pace.

“Yes!” Martin heaved a sigh of relief as the game asked him to choose a character.

Martin cupped the controller with both hands, his fingers embracing their best friend. A soft, delighted smile crept up his lips as the game’s music blasted from the home entertainment system.

His fingers moved the tiny joystick and pressed buttons as his character, a Greek oracle in golden armor, moved forward in a seamless stream of motion that contrasted with the staccato click-click of the controller.

His character arrived at a ravine where a bloody battled raged.

Martin bared his teeth, the thirst for pixellated blood triggering his adrenaline.

This was it, the ultimate battle, he only had to find the Nemesis and vanquish him. Then he would win the game. He would be the first to beat the game since its release.

The Greek Oracle obeyed all Martin’s orders and fought a deft and valiant battle. Fallen enemy after fallen enemy piled at his feet.

He came upon the hoplite phalanx, a wall of armored soldiers with tall shields protecting them and long spears pointing at the Greek Oracle, their faces obscured by the bronze helmets.

Martin smirked. He made it. He only needed to get past the phalanx and the Nemesis would appear.

Faster than he could say “abracadabra”, the Greek Oracle cast a spell to slow down the phalanx’s movements. He fought and jumped and slaughtered them. Game-blood filled the screen.

The phalanx retreated, and as the smoke from his myriad of fireballs cleared, the Greek Oracle stood mid-screen, ready to fight the looming figure that was forming in the background.

Dark, smoldering and menacing, the Nemesis advanced. Martin’s thoughts rushed through the arsenal of powers and spells at his command, formulating a battle plan.

The Nemesis raced a fiery bow and arrow. He pointed it at Martin’s character, the Greek Oracle, and before Martin wondered why there was no monologue, the Nemesis shot.

The storm raged into the morning. It was still sprinkling as a police officer knocked on Martin’s door.

“Mr. Ludo,” the officer called, “I’m here to do a wellness check. Are you in there?” 

He knocked again, but no answer. The officer glanced around and shrugged. He was about to leave when something caught his eye. He peeked through the living room window.

Martin sat on his gamer’s chair with his hands still clutching the controller. The officer gasped when he stepped sideways for a better look and saw the arrow buried in Martin’s chest.

The TV screen blared “Game Over”.

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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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THE GODDESS TAROT: XIII Transformation – Ukemochi


The new girl sat next to Cassie and smiled at her. Cassie glanced around and returned a feeble smile. No one ever sat next to Cassie during lunch, and she felt ill at ease. Before meeting Adrian, she spent her lunches in solitude, often within earshot of the other girls, who laughed and gossiped about her. Mom always said Cassie had remarkable senses; they were keen, to the point of being supernatural. Little had Mom known…

Nowadays, she often jumped to a meeting place behind the high school gym and had lunch with Adrian. But today, he had an exam. Cassie wished he were here. 

The new girl was beautiful and chic, and Cassie noticed how Becky and her friends had taken to her the moment she stepped into the classroom. Cassie suspected she wanted to gather information and gossip about her with the other girls. She disliked the way the new girl fixed her gaze on her. It made her uncomfortable.

“Hi,” the new girl said, “you’re Cassie, right?”

She nodded. 

Cassie gazed into those icy blue eyes and shivered. She wanted to say nothing more. In fact, the thump, thump of her heart told her to beware. What was it about those eyes? She has seen them somewhere…

“So what’s up?” The new girl tried to make idle talk. 

Cassie wondered why this girl wanted to talk to her, of all people, but shrugged and unwrapped her sandwich, taking a big bite.

The new girl gave her a quizzical look, then gathered up her meal.

“Well, see ya,” she said, and walked towards the building.

Cassie gazed after her, bewildered. Ethur came to life and kicked at Cassie’s bellybutton. She had tucked him under her T-shirt the moment that strange girl laid eyes on her. She squeezed Ethur beneath the fabric and whispered soothing words. 

Cassie finished her sandwich and crumpled up the plastic wrap. She stood, marched to the trashcan, and threw it away. She then hurried inside the building. She would hide in the bathroom stall, and jump to her favorite place, the Old Cemetery. There, she would steady her nerves, and gauge her unease and Ethur’s alarm.

As she entered the corner stall and closed its door, she heard the bathroom door open and footsteps approach. Cassie slowly slid the lock into place. Something was wrong. Her whole body shook, and her ears rang with a tinnitus so clear and high-pitched it alarmed her.

Cassie held her breath and risked a peek through the gap between the door and the stall separator.

The new girl stood before the mirror. A dense black cloud fogged her reflection. The new girl ran her hands across her face, and Cassie watched, amazed at how the young, beautiful girl morphed into an old hag. Only her eyes, those icy blue eyes, remained the same.

“She’ll be a hard nut to crack,” the hag spoke into the mirror.

Out of the black cloud in the glass, a figure appeared.

Cassie almost screamed, but she stifled a gasp. She pressed one hand to her mouth, the other squeezed Ethur at her bellybutton.

The figure in the mirror cackled. He wore a top hat, and his icy blue eyes glinted with malice. The new girl knew the Ugly Man in the Mist! Since the first time she saw him, his hellish countenance had been giving her nightmares.

“You’ll have to try harder, Mother,” the Ugly Man hissed, “you can’t let someone like her get away.”

The old hag spat at the mirror, “Don’t you give me lip!”

The Ugly Man’s expression went from smug to chagrined to scared and back to smug in an instant, but Cassie caught the changes, and her own fear increased tenfold.

“We’ll get Cassie,” the old woman hissed.

Cassie gasped. 

The old woman whipped around and growled. She banged open all the stalls and found no one.