Ella sat by the window; moonlight cast a silvery glow over the snow-covered ground and the smooth surface of the frozen lake. Stars scintillated in the heavens, and Ella marveled at how bright they seemed despite the moon’s radiant glow. The wind crooned through the window and picked up stray flurries that glittered like fluttering grains of sugar. Frost settled over the snow and froze the powdery fluff so that moonbeams caught the individual crystals here and there, sparkling like diamonds on the soft ground; a mirror image of the twinkling stars in the sky. An owl hooted nearby, and the sound seemed to cast a spell over the shimmering landscape. 

There must be magic tonight, Ella thought, good magic, as the world seems sprinkled with sugar, like icing on a cake.

Ella pulled her cream-colored flannel robe over her paisley blue pajamas and turned away from the window. She glanced at her bed with its purple flowered bedspread and the one teddy bear she had not yet parted with leaning against the pillow. Over the last few months, she had exchanged her toys for posters of cute boy bands and celebrities. Necklaces and bracelets now dangled from the corners of her vanity’s mirror, and a jewelry box had replaced the Barbie dolls sitting atop the dresser. 

She reached into the pocket of her robe, and, smiling, took out her brand-new lipstick. She had cajoled her mother into buying it for her. It was her very first, and it was a soft pink hue, though she had tried to convince her mother the bright red “Cadillac Heart” shade suited her better.

“No baloney, Miss Mahoney,” her mother had put her foot down and glared. 

Beside the jewelry box stood the bottle of her first perfume, which her beloved aunt gave her as a birthday gift. It had started the transformation inside her. 

Facing the mirror, Ella traced the lipstick over her lips, marveling at how the paint changed their appearance. She pressed her lips together to even out the color—like her aunt taught her — then puckered them and beamed at herself, giggling. 

Ella sighed and returned her gaze to the sugary cake-world outside her window. A glimmer in the sky caught her eye, and the thought she should wish upon that star flashed, but her new grown-up mind stifled that spark.

“You’re too old to believe in fairytales,” she chided herself; the owl hooted once, as if disagreeing. 

The star, one of many, flickered again and, unbidden, the wish for a handsome prince blossomed in her mind. Feeling silly, Ella slid her feet off the window-seat. 

She was turning away when she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She fixed her gaze on the frozen lake. Her heart pounded as a figure floated across the ice. In the moonlight, she discerned someone approaching her house.

She gulped; was it possible her wish was coming true? She wondered whether to call her parents, who were watching TV in the living room; the muffled sound of the program seeped through the otherwise silent home. Yet something kept her rooted to the spot. Awe, perhaps, mingled with a tad of apprehension.

The figure neared and crossed the property boundary into the backyard. Ella grinned; the moonlight shone on the figure of a young man about her age. He was handsome, like the boy celebrities plastered on her wall. He glided with a cool swagger and, as he reached her window, a smile lit up his face.

Ella and the shimmering prince gazed at one another through the frost-lined pane. The prince reached out his hand and placed it on the glass, beaming his royal smile.

“Let me in,” his mellifluous voice broke the frozen silence, “I’m cold.”

Ella contemplated his beautiful eyes as her hand edged towards the latch. Her fingers closed around it.

She blushed at the boy’s adoring gaze, while her brain instructed her wrist to turn the latch and open the window. 

An instant later, Ella gasped and yanked her hand back, shaking her head. She had caught the flash of malice in the prince’s eyes. Her heart thundered in her ears and chills crawled up her spine.

The prince scowled, and his whole countenance darkened.

“Let me in,” he demanded, but Ella shook her head.

She opened her mouth to scream, but terror caught in her throat as the glass splintered where the prince’s fingers still rested upon it.

“Let me in,” he growled, but Ella refused.

Help me, she thought, her mind racing as she noticed the fiery-red glare of the prince’s pupils. They burned into her like hot, furious coals.

“Let me in,” he snarled and gnashed his teeth.

“No,” she whimpered.

Someone help me, please, she implored.

The prince-demon balled his talon-fingers into a fist. Ella felt her heart would burst out of her chest. The prince-demon drew back the fist and was about to smash the window, when a Snowy Owl swooped down upon him. Amid the flutter of blinding white and bloodcurdling screeches, Ella shrieked as the prince-demon shattered into a thousand glowing cinders that dissipated into the night.


Ol’ Blue Eyes Knows Best

“It’s like a sword slicing through you,” Patron said, and stared into his drink.

“Hmm,” Bartender wiped the counter.

It was just another day, another dollar for him. He poured people’s drinks, and they poured their souls onto the counter. Day and day out, Bartender wiped the troubles and sorrows that trickled onto the wooden countertop as the ice in the drinks melted.

Bartender’s job was to serve and wipe the troubles away.

“You ever felt like that?” Patron asked.

“Sure,” Bartender murmured.

Listening was not in his job description. Yet he had learned long ago that if someone shuffled in alone at midday, slouched at the bar and ordered whiskey straight, he had better listen.

“Money?” Bartender asked.


“Is it money troubles?” Bartender repeated the question.

“Nah, I wish,” Patron replied, “money troubles are easy to fix.”

Bartender lifted an eyebrow; most people thought money problems were the end of the world.

“Love?” he continued.

“What is love?” Patron mused.

Bartender suppressed a grin; he had hit the nail on the head.

“So love feels like someone thrust a sword through you?” Bartender leaned forward with an intrigued sparkle in his eyes and placed his elbows on the shiny countertop.

Patron glanced up from his drink and met Bartender’s gaze.

“Yeah,” he said, “you’re on top of the world, until a chiseled Ken doll flies out of the mist and rams a broadsword through you.”

Bartender nodded. He sympathized. He too was versed in love and war, and knew the superpower ‘chiseled Ken dolls’ had.

“And there you are,” Patron continued, “numb and whimpering like a dog. All your defenses, your armor scattered about, useless. Every experience, every triumph, and every defeat laid bare for all to see. Your life gutted, like your innards.”

Frank Sinatra boomed on the stereo. Bartender pointed to the speaker perched above the corner of the bar, then pointed to his ear.

“Listen to him, Ol’ Blue Eyes knows what he’s talking about.”

Patron listened.

He nodded as the song ended. 

“He’s right, that’s life.” Patron managed a sad grin.

“The trick, buddy, is to get up again and…” he raised his arms and belted out off-key, “jump back in the race!”

Patron chuckled, reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He paid his tab and left a hefty tip.

“Thanks, buddy,” Bartender beamed for the first time all day, “you gonna be all right?”

“Sure,” Patron replied as a smile crawled across his lips, “just gotta repair my armor, piece by piece.”


Reyna’s  Oak

The statue stood in the old graveyard since time immemorial. A stone woman sat on a throne and held up a goblet in an eternal salutation to the good life. The throne perched atop a tomb, and a tall, thick oak tree flanked it, like a sentinel protecting his queen. Time had smoothed the statue’s nose, eyes, and mouth into bumps and valleys, and the name on the tomb had faded into oblivion long ago.

The carved folds of her dress were now smooth lines covered in moss and bindweed. Ivy slithered around her bare, polished feet and crawled up her lap, winding itself around the arm holding the goblet aloft. No one knew her name, the villagers all called her The Queen.

She was the heroine of many fanciful legends about her identity and contribution to the world. People surmised she was Guinevere, or Boudicca, but the mystery hovered still over the village of Reyna’s Oak.

The statue had been many a scholarly enterprise for decades. Historians and archeologists came from the big universities to determine her name and age. Many experts said medieval sculptors carved her, but others thought she was Roman, and still others believed she was even more ancient. They brought machines and dug around her feet. They used ground-penetrating radar to peer under the slab of stone that covered the grave beneath the throne. There was a skeleton down there, they said, but without exhumation they could know no more.

The village council hemmed and hawed every time someone — always an outsider — suggested breaking the stone beneath her feet. They stonewalled all attempts to dig deeper into The Queen’s history.

The villagers of Reyna’s Oak considered The Queen a landmark, a patrimony of their village, and they stalled all endeavors to deface her. They understood something the erudite scholars and archeologists did not: The Queen’s well-being affected Reyna’s Oak’s well-being. The tomb bound the village to it, as if Reyna’s Oak’s life began with The Queen’s death.

The goblet The Queen held was always full of water. How much water remained in the cup at the start of spring determined the harvest and economic development for the rest of the year.

If the water in the goblet was low, then the village — poor and rich alike — would have a harsh year. If the water brimmed over, then the village rejoiced, for abundance lay ahead. The goblet had never been dry.

One night, a terrible storm raged. It came in a banging flash and villagers scattered, running to their houses as hail and rain pelted them from the sky.

Taking refuge in their homes, they watched in horror as lightning zapped down and struck the old cemetery at the center of town.

Many screamed, others gasped, and all hoped The Queen remained unscathed.

Thunder, lightning, and hail pummeled the village all night, but by morning, the storm had abated.

The villagers breathed a collective sigh of relief as they took stock of their property. Most buildings were undamaged.

Not a significant loss, they murmured. Phew, they breathed.

Then the screams sounded throughout the village streets.

Lightning had struck The Queen.

The guardian oak stood with its thick trunk split and charred, and groaned in pain and sorrow as its branches swayed in the cool breeze. The Queen’s goblet lay on the ground with its cup separated from the stem. The cup — thank heavens — remained full. A jagged crack marred the smooth statue as the lightning left its trace. The tomb beneath the stone had shattered, and a hole gaped. A few people dared to peer inside it, others turned their heads.

Those who dared a glance reported seeing nothing but earth and stone, despite the assurances of the myriad of scholars of a human skeleton buried in the ground. Many shrugged and stated that academics rarely knew what they said. Most looked at one another askance, superstition shining in their eyes and wondering if perhaps this was a bad omen.

That night, the villagers awoke to the sound of a woman singing through the village streets. The voice was both sweet and hollow, and an eerie mist spread over the town. The meek cowered in their beds, while the bold dared to peek out the windows. They reported the spectral figure of a woman in a long, flowing dress floating down the street. Barking dogs quieted and whimpered as she approached. The mist thickened and soon engulfed the village.

The next morning, the scholars came, alerted to the damage done to The Queen. They arrived at the quiet village and wondered that no one was in sight. They knocked on doors, but no answer came. Then they peeked in the windows and found the houses empty of living souls. The mystery of Reyna’s Oak’s disappearance only deepened when the scholars read the last entries in the vanished inhabitants’ journals.



“Hey, Lori,” Joe called, “come see!”

He stood by the window that peered out to the meadow beyond the backyard’s wrought-iron fence.

Lori joined him.

“What do you make of this?” He asked.

She followed his gaze to where a young man was lighting a campfire. He was tall and muscled and Lori thought he was “ruggedly handsome”, though she would never admit it to Joe. 

“Are people allowed to camp here?” She asked.

“I dunno,” Joe replied, “the realtor only said the meadow lies beyond the property line and it belongs to the state park.”

“Huh… Maybe the park allows camping in this area.”

Joe shrugged. 

Lori examined the man, both with awe and apprehension. He was dark-haired and with weatherbeaten skin and the way he squatted… There was something odd about him.

“He doesn’t belong here,” she murmured.

“Should we call the police?” Joe asked.

“No, I mean… I don’t know how to explain it,” Lori answered.

Joe gazed at her, waiting.

“It’s like, have you noticed how guys don’t look like him anymore? Like he’s not from around here.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, he lit that fire without lighter fluid. How many guys can do that nowadays?”

Joe raised his eyebrows; she had a point.

“Also, he hasn’t taken out a phone or some fancy-pants camping doodad most people use today. And check out his clothes, it seems he’s mixed and matched every clothing style since time began.”

“Yeah, you’re right. And that hunting knife strapped around his waist looks more like the swords they used in Gladiator.”

“Something’s off.”

A young woman approached the man. She wore a yellow old-fashioned raincoat and a cloche hat. Her boots had spats on them, and though the raincoat hid the rest, Lori glimpsed pinstriped trousers.

“She looks like someone out of I Love Lucy!” Joe exclaimed.

Lori nodded, her brow furrowed. The young woman was out of place, too. No, they were out of time, as if they came from another time, or from many other times.

The back door opened, and Lori saw Joe walk across the yard. She stood, frozen in place.

“Hey there!” Joe called as he approached the couple.

They stiffened and stared at him. The rain drizzled, and wet sprinkles appeared on Joe’s shirt.

“Is everything all right?” Joe called.

Lori held her breath as the woman placed a hand on the man’s shoulder.

The man rose, wrapping his arm around the woman’s waist, while his other hand slid across his chest and hovered over the ‘hunting knife’. Not taking their eyes off Joe, they said nothing.

Lori’s heart skipped a beat when the woman slipped her free hand into her coat pocket. Did she have a gun? Lori’s breath came in rapid gasps as Joe, spotting the movement, stood stunned like a deer in headlights.

Thunder clapped, and in a flash of light, the couple vanished. Joe’s ashen face stared wide-eyed at Lori. Wisps of smoke rose from the abandoned campfire. 


Nothing Special About the Lighthouse

Irene crossed the street and followed the sidewalk to the beach entrance. She leaned on the stumpy seawall separating the beach from the sidewalk and took off her shoes. Summer was over, yet the weather remained warm. The salty breeze played with her hair, and the moonlight shone on the breaking waves. She crossed the sand and let the waves lick her warm feet. The icy water bit at her toes.

Irene stepped back, beyond the reach of the waves, and trudged on the sand towards the lighthouse. Its beacon rotated in the night air and lit up the rocks as it passed over them. Those jagged rocks had been the culprit of many a shipwreck, but no ship had entered the harbor since… Who knew?

The murmur of the lapping waves crowded her hearing and cleared her mind of the sad thoughts of the day. She recalled walking with Grandpa Nathan along the beach as a child. He would tell her folklore and fairytales as the waves caressed their feet, and their footsteps remained imprinted on the wet sand. She marveled at how quickly the water wiped them away, as if their existence were nothing but a flutter in time.

Grandpa would never take her on his night walks, because she should have been in bed. But Irene often crawled out of it and, from her window, watched his rickety silhouette make its way to the lighthouse.

“What’s at the lighthouse?” She asked once.

“Nothing,” Grandpa said with a stern eye, despite his grinning lips.

Irene shrugged and let the matter drop.

“Go to bed,” Grandpa ordered afterwards, as if he had only just realized the lateness of the hour.

Moonlight peeped in through the window and gleamed on the wedding picture of Grandpa and Stella—her real grandmother—on the mantlepiece.

Irene knew Erica, the woman who raised her after her parents died, was no blood relative of hers. She was Grandpa’s second wife; Stella died long before Irene was born. She loved Erica all the same.

The sand stuck between Irene’s toes as she walked to the lighthouse for the first time in many years. Glancing at the houses lining the beach, she imagined someone at their window wondering who the woman in the black skirt and blazer was, what she was doing there, and what was so special about the lighthouse at night.

“Nothing,” she would have said, but there was no one at Grandpa’s house.

He died long ago. And today, Irene had buried Erica. In all the years she had lived with them, Irene had never gone for a night walk. She left for college soon after Grandpa’s death and started her life in the city, though always in touch with Erica. Now Erica left too, and for the first time, Irene went for a night stroll on the beach.

The lighthouse rose before her. Lost in her reverie, Irene did not realize when she reached it. She put on her shoes and glanced towards the lighthouse-park entrance. The gate was closed. Irene sighed and looked up at the smooth building atop the rugged rocks. Grandpa was right, there was nothing special about the lighthouse at night.

As she turned to leave, the ocean breeze carried a happy giggle. Irene scanned the area for its source and decided it came from the park.

She remembered visiting the park with Erica on a hot day; the sun blinded her as she crossed the gate. There was nothing special about the lighthouse in the daytime, either.

Irene heard the giggle again. Should she investigate? She climbed up the dangerous rocks, cautious and teetering, but too curious to leave.

She reached the lighthouse, and in the moonlight, she discerned two silhouettes on a bench. A young man and a young woman sat talking and giggling, and from that distance, Irene noticed they were very much in love.

She pondered whether to call the police.

Then the young man spoke and Irene froze.

“Stella,” he said and Irene’s heart skipped a beat, “will you marry me?”

“Yes, Nathan,” Stella replied, her voice sparkling with joy.

Irene gazed at the couple; the moon shone on their faces. Tears sprung from her eyes when she recognized the lovers whose wedding picture had sat on the mantlepiece all her childhood.


The Cutting Words

Diane closed the door to her bedroom and broke down in tears. She placed her face in her hands to stifle them. 

What for? The thought flashed unbidden. Who’s gonna to notice? Who’s gonna care?

She threw herself onto the bed and wept. The sky beyond her window darkened and sprinkled the world with starlight. Diane remained on the bed, gazing out at it through salt-filled eyes and puffy cheeks.

The worst thing about crying, Diane thought, is nasal congestion. She also hated the hot tears flowing down her cheeks; another reason she never cried.

Diane closed her swollen and red eyes; they stung.
How could one’s contented life collapse in an instant? 

How could one answer hurt so much? 

She took a few shaky breaths and tried to regain her composure.

The silence beyond her bedroom boomed. It was so deafening because it was empty.

Diane had been living alone most of her adult life, and she always enjoyed it. Never lonely, her aloneness, her space, was a sanctuary where to regroup and recharge.

“Until Dennis,” her whispered voice cracked when she pronounced the name. 

Diane took another trembling breath and hearkened back to when they first met. She tried to recall the joy of realizing not only that she loved him, but that he loved her back. But tonight’s cutting words slashed every memory.

“That’s your problem,” he said as he closed the door with a suitcase in hand.

When did it all go wrong?

Diane searched her memory for an answer or hint, anything that might tell her how she failed him.

“That’s your problem,” screamed in her mind.

The tears welled in her eyes and her chest hurt when she remembered the only other time those words had lacerated her spirit.

The memories flooded Diane’s mind. The school bullying, and her mother’s exasperated sigh as Diane, sobbing, yet again told her about the awful day, the mocking, the teasing, the ridicule. 

Her mother rolled her eyes and said, “It’s you, there’s something about you that bothers them.”

“What?” Diane implored.

“I don’t know, but it’s you.”

“No one likes me,” the ten-year-old whined, hoping for sympathy.

But her mother’s indifferent shrug froze her and stopped the tears dead in their tracks. Then, her reply plunged down on Diane like double-edged swords that ripped and tore every molecule in her body. 

“That’s your problem.”

Little Diane stood in the kitchen as the world spun around her and the harsh comprehension clawed at her feet. She had no recollection of what happened next, but now, watching the darkness fall, she realized the moment she became like her mother: cold, aloof, and disdainful.

Dennis brought her out of her shell, and she had been joyous for a while, but in the end, he too uttered the razor-words.

Diane sat up, blew her nose, and went to the bathroom. She splashed water on her face and gazed at herself in the mirror. A little ten-year-old girl stared back. Her eyes were puffy and red, her cheeks swollen, and she quivered with the weight of the desolate world.

Diane did not feel sorry for the little girl. That little girl had been with her all along, and she was always with that little girl. Separate, they were the friendless past and the lonely present, but together, they were the future, and absolute. A warm light sparked in Diane’s chest and coursed through her body, melting the icy scars marring her soul.  

“It’s just you and me, kid,” she spoke to the mirror, “we need no one else.”

Diane managed a tiny, reassuring smile. 

The little girl smiled back.



The tap-tap-tapping woke Lars every night. It did not frighten him; he convinced himself it was all part of the old house’s charm. He told himself it was all right since the home inspector found nothing of structural concern.

Little by little, since moving into the old house, he had gotten used to every creak and moan. He had identified the cause of most noises, save for the tap-tap-tapping. He could not explain it away. As the days passed, it got louder and louder. For the past few nights, Lars had walked around the house, trying to find the cause of the tapping.

He went to the library and looked up the house in the town’s public records. It was two centuries old.

The records stated the grandson of the original owner disappeared. The police blamed the stepmother. She stood trial, but because no one discovered the body, the jury acquitted her on all charges. Her defense claimed the boy wandered off into the woods and got lost. The boy never reappeared.

Years later, a new family bought the house. A child from this new family also vanished, but in this case, no one suspected foul play. This child too must have gotten lost in the thick woods that engulfed the property. The townspeople thought evil beings haunted the woods; they still believed in old superstitions and whispered about witches, ghosts, ghouls, and changelings.

Lars frowned as he read further. Each time the house exchanged hands, a child disappeared. No one ever found the missing children. The woods swallowed them; the townspeople said. 

Lars left the library, puzzled and somewhat concerned. The realtor had never mentioned these incidents, though—Lars reasoned—they had no direct connection to the house, only to the surrounding woods. He found no mention of strange taps in the records or the old microfilmed newspapers. Besides, Lars, a bachelor, had no children. 

Lars glanced out the window at the darkened forest and resolved never to hike it without a compass or GPS. He turned off the light, rolled onto his side, and fell asleep. 

The tap-tapping woke Lars soon afterwards.

It was loud and concentrated in one room of the house. Lars followed the sound to a small door in the smallest bedroom. He gulped. He had read Edgar Allan Poe in high school and hoped he would not find children’s skeletons encased in the wall. 

Lars knocked on the tiny, child-sized door. To his surprise, the plaster on the wall beside it fell off, and a golden shaft of light seeped through a tiny pinhole.

“This isn’t an outer wall,” Lars whispered.

He shut one eye and peeped through the hole.

Two patrolmen knocked on the door. Lars had not been to work, nor phoned in for several days; after many failed attempts to reach him, his boss called the police.

The officers entered the house, but found it empty, though Lars’s furniture and belongings remained; nothing else seemed amiss. 

“One more for the books,” Officer Jackson shrugged as they closed the front door, “it’s always this address. D’you think we oughta search the woods?”

“Shh…” Officer Maxwell replied, “listen…”

A faint tap-tap-tapping sounded through the house.

“Let’s check that out,” Jackson said, but Maxwell, placing his hand on his partner’s shoulder, stopped him.

“My old man always said to never investigate mysterious taps, and this house is chock-full of mystery.”


Golden Goose

Pat gave Lena the money and watched through the window as the dusky evening swallowed her up—Pat hoped—forever.

She closed the blinds; she must start dinner. Pat entered the kitchen and stared at the counter, now bathed in the evening light shining through the box windows. Dusk gleamed, its indigo hue broken by the last rays of sunlight that shot out of the earth and colored the fluffy bellies of the cloudy sky.

Pat took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and opened them moments later. She was still standing by the counter in the darkening kitchen as the gloom engulfed the cabinets and the glazed white backsplash behind the spotless stove.

I should turn on the lamps, she thought, and flicked the light-switch.

As the electric beams flooded the kitchen, a light broke through her own dark thoughts. A wave of emotion rose through her feet and broke with a thundering crash in her chest, right by the heartbeat. Tears came unbidden as Pat leaned against the kitchen table with its inlaid wooden, multihued rhombi arranged in a star pattern. It was a beautiful table, and she contemplated it, trying to keep the toxic thoughts at bay.

Lena came and went; now, she was a thorn in Pat’s side, though once a beloved daughter.

Tonight was the last time, Pat promised herself, though her resolution faltered.

Could she ever do it?

Hoping the darkness would swallow Lena up forever differed from wishing her harm, she persuaded herself. With a shake of the head, Pat chided herself for her guilty wish as Lena left with money in hand.

Though once a happy child, Lena fell in with a dangerous company as a teenager. Despite Pat’s and Ted’s entreaties, Lena chose the path of fun and recklessness, which had led her down a speeding highway of drugs and booze.

Ted had not lived to see the jittery waif Lena had become. Her first arrest had ended with Ted’s massive heart attack.

Pat clenched her fist as she recalled using Ted’s savings to bail her daughter out of jail. Her head throbbed, and her pounding heart shook her entire frame to the core.

Lena left soon afterwards and once in a while returned, sometimes sober and apologetic, though most times high as a kite, and always begging for money. Pat always complied.

A stifled sob broke through the kitchen’s silence.

“No more,” she whispered, “please give me the strength to let her go.”

Pat had used much of her own savings to pay for Lena’s first stint in rehab, with excellent result. Pat had relaxed for the first time. Then one day, Pat came home to find her jewels and debit card missing, and Lena gone with the wind. The hassle of canceling the account before Lena cleaned it out still made her blood boil. 

Later, she had dipped into Ted’s life insurance payout to bail Lena out a second time. The girl swore and promised she would quit, and cajoled Pat into investing even more money into another drug rehabilitation program. But it seemed Lena could not stop. Did she not want help?

Years passed and Lena appeared and disappeared, and every time, Pat’s little income dwindled.

Tears stung Pat’s eyes and flowed down her cheeks as she gritted her teeth. The rage that had been boiling inside her for years erupted in a geyser of sweltering tears and heartbreaking sobs. Gloom closed in around her, and swallowed Pat the way she had hoped it would swallow Lena. The salt and pepper shakers rattled from the force of Pat’s shaking body, and her enraged screams ripped through the silent house she had shared with Ted.

“Please,” she cried, “please help me let her go!”

A hand on her shoulder startled her. Pat turned, expecting to find Lena, but her jaw dropped. Through the tears, she saw Ted as young and handsome as the day she had met him. He smiled at her.

“Hey doll, don’t you worry ‘bout Lena no more,” he said in that sweet tenor voice Pat missed so much, “she’s made her own choices. You are not responsible, nor were you ever. She’s always known what she’s doing. She relishes in the harm she causes.”

“Why?” Pat gasped.

“I don’t know,” Ted answered, “but it’s not for us to know.”

Ted pulled her into his arms. Pat felt the love she missed in the cold-warm spectral embrace. She closed her eyes and relished the moment as her old body pressed against his young image.

Lena knocked on the door to her mother’s house. She stood on the stoop perplexed when a young man answered.

“May I help you,” the young man asked, eyeing her with suspicion and disapproval.

She looked like a junkie, and she knew it. It was all part of the act, part of the scam.

So the old lady turned out to be a real cougar, a wry smirk spread across her lips.

“I’m looking for Pat Morrow,” Lena sprinkled the name with contempt.

“Sorry, I don’t know who she is.”

“This is her house,” Lena said, her haughtiness rising, as it always did.

“No, this is my house,” the young man glared; his stern reply startled Lena.

“Who sold it to you?” Lena defied the man with her jutting jaw and arms akimbo.

“The realtor,” the man’s exasperation showed, “the old woman who lived here died, and her estate put the house up for sale. Now, please leave, or I’ll call the police.”

He shut the door in her face.

Lena stood a moment longer as the realization dunked her into a tank of icy water; the goose that laid the golden eggs was dead.



“What does tilting at windmills mean?” Colin asked Mom while she tucked in the bedcovers. 

“Where did you hear that?” 

“You told Dad to stop doing it.” 

“Oh, well…” Mom furrowed her brow, searching for words, “tilting at windmills means battling imaginary monsters. Dad is under a lot of pressure at work, and sometimes, I think he sees problems and setbacks bigger than they are.” 

“Oh, I see,” Colin answered, though he understood nothing about Dad’s work or his problems and setbacks. 

Mom kissed him on the forehead, wished him good night, and flicked off the light as she left the door ajar. 

Colin stared at the gray darkness. A thin shaft of light seeped in through the threshold, and the nightlight burned with a weak yellow hue. He still thought about this new concept as his eyes tried to pierce the tangled shadows that the old birch tree beyond his window cast on the wall. The waning crescent moon shone its tiny sliver of light on the birch’s white bark. 

Colin’s teacher had once asked the class to describe the world outside their bedroom window, and Colin had said the tree was ‘ghostly’. The teacher had frowned and asked if it scared Colin. 

“No,” he had answered, “it’s good ghostly, not bad ghostly.” 

Now Colin stared at the birch as it swayed in the breeze. Mom always left the window ajar for the night air to waft in and perfume the room with the honeysuckle that climbed up the trellis beneath his window. 

An owl hooted in the birch tree. 

The teacher had once asked the class to describe their mothers. ‘Ajar’ had popped into Colin’s mind and slipped out of his lips. Once again, Colin had to explain. 

“Mom leaves everything ajar; the doors, the windows, the closets and the cabinets, too. My house is never closed, it’s always ajar.” 

Colin liked his bedroom door ajar, he took comfort in his parents’ footsteps and murmured voices as they settled in for the night. 

He loved his window ajar too; the night was a new world yearning to come inside and tell him all that happened when the sun slept and the moon reigned over the sky. He enjoyed listening to the night creatures and imagined their lives in the darkness. 

The closet door was always ajar, and that he disliked. In the daytime, the clothes hanging in the closet seemed mundane; pants, shirts and jackets, nothing else. But at night, they took on the shape of silent sentinels. 

Colin’s eyes traveled from the window to the closet. 

“Tilting at windmills,” he whispered, “means battling imaginary monsters.” 

The closet door creaked, and Colin’s breath hitched. He pulled the covers up to his chin as it squeaked open. It was now ajar-plus, and the swirling phantoms within fluttered in anticipation. 

Colin knew all about monsters and how they were not imaginary but real. He also knew they lived in the world beyond the closet, flittering and snickering with excitement at night. He also knew that ajar meant easy entry, and the soldier-outlines of his hanging clothes did nothing but stand like petrified gendarmes. 

Colin forced himself to look away from the slithering fingers that pushed the closet door open little by little. He gazed at the birch, whose spectral shadows had spread across the walls. 

The new concept was not imaginary monsters but the battling of them. How did you battle monsters? He could not touch them, only see their shapeless mass and perceive their leering giggles. He wrinkled his nose from their fetid stench and tasted their rotten evil in his mouth. Yet he could flail his limbs until kingdom come, but never touch them. 

The thing slipped between the closet door and its threshold. The sliver of moonlight shone on the birch branches, and their skeletal shadows expanded as they oozed through the window like jagged claws. The tree cast its protective shadow-claw over the bedspread and onto the headboard as the thing slithered closer. 

Every night, the sentry-clothes stood and stared as the creatures slipped past them into the room.

Every night, the tree protected Colin, and the things retreated whence they came.

And every night, Colin thought about screaming, but never could.

Tonight, he had learned a new term, a new concept.

“Battle them,” he thought as the putrid shape crept onto the bed and drifted toward his neck.

The wind howled and rustled the birch boughs. Its protective silhouette quivered and trembled and Colin, awed and scared, saw the birch-shadows and their wraith-like talons clasp something.

A flash of lightning zapped the windowsill, and the bedroom shook. 

The sentry-clothes sprang into action and ambushed the things awaiting their turn to enter. 

A shriek rang through the room; the walls shuddered as the closet door banged shut. 

Thunder clapped and, amid the rumble, Colin detected the distinct sound of something ripped from the walls. 

A low, painful whimper faded into the gray darkness. 

A trample of footsteps in the hall and light flooded the room. Mom and Dad stood in the doorway, now wide open. 

“Buddy, are you okay?” Dad asked, “We heard a slam. What’s going on?” 

“I was tilting at windmills,” Colin pointed at the closet door. 

Mom opened it; his clothes lay in a crumpled pile on the floor. 

“Huh?” she frowned. 

“The wind slammed the closet shut,” Colin whispered as the rain fell, tapping on the windowpane.

“They must’ve fallen from the force,” Dad said, attempting reassurance, though perplexed. 

Colin nodded. 

His parents scanned the room, yet found nothing amiss. They wished him good night, and each kissed his forehead. 

“Should I close the window?” Mom asked. 

Colin shook his head, “please leave everything ajar.”



“You are a failure!” Harriet spat. 

Spittle flew, her teeth gnashed, and her voice crackled through the darkened house.

“You are worth nothing, you have done nothing. You are a has-been, a washout, a failure! All the years I’ve wasted on you! After all I did, all my family did, you still failed!”

The spittle burst from her lipstick-stained teeth when she pronounced the letter F, as if she enjoyed sullying the world with it.

“All the handouts you took, the network, the friends, the clients, and you failed!”

The tirade continued. Every night she picked up where she left off the night before it, like Scheherazade and her one-thousand-and-one tales. For the past thirty years, he had come home to this, this Harpy and her relentless blame game. 

Mortimer fixed himself a drink and carried it out to the porch. He closed the door behind him. Yet Harpy’s screeches still sounded through the windows.

“You bought him that fucking car,” she screamed, “it’s all your fault!”

The F split into a thousand pieces; a thousand shattered memories. 

It was her favorite letter, and she relished in it. 

F for Failure, for Fuck-up, for Fault. 

F for Florian.

F for Funeral. 

So many years and she still could not Forgive; that F did not figure in her vocabulary.

So many decades had passed and Harriet’s guilt and loss had twisted her memories, bent them and reshaped them to her convenience. 

She had bought Florian the car with her daddy’s money. And Florian, that scoundrel of a son with his lopsided smile and drunken slur, had thrown his life away on a curve.

Mortimer closed his eyes and took a deep, shaky breath.

“I let her coddle him like she did. I gave him my name when he was nothing of mine and saved her reputation. It was right, because, back then, I loved her. Yet, I am guilty…”

He shook his head, and a tear sprung to his eye. 

“It is my fault… I let that girl get in the car with him.”