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.”


The Wonder of Classic Cars

Hayley walked Rascal. They had moved into the small town weeks before and were still getting acquainted with the close-knit community. Her neighbor had mentioned a trailhead to the state park a few blocks away. There, Rascal, her rambunctious puppy, could run, play and chase squirrels to his heart’s content. Though night was falling, and she figured the trailhead would be closed, Hayley sought it out for future reference and weekend walks.

A cool breeze played with her hair, and crickets chirped. Hayley and Rascal walked down the street, flanked on both sides by the warm, yellow porch-lights glowing in the starry night. They rounded a corner and came upon a dark street. The faint beams of the porch-lights glittered to her right. The left was a dark mess of jumbled shadows.

“I suppose we reached the woods.” 

She rubbed Rascal between the ears; he yipped in reply. They kept walking while Hayley scanned the dimness for the trailhead.

“C’mon, push!” 

A youthful voice sounded in the tranquil night.

Hayley noticed the dark silhouettes of two boys and a car in the moonlight.

“You guys all right?” She called when she reached them.

They were long-haired teenage boys, all knees and elbows, pushing a Volkswagen Beetle that seemed to have run out of gas, or battery. A third, the driver, was a giggling, murky tangle of jutting bones huddled over the steering wheel. 

“Should I call someone?” Hayley offered, taking out her phone.

The boys look puzzled.

In the moonlight, she noticed their bell-bottomed jeans and platform shoes, and supposed them on their way to a costume party, as Halloween was days away.

“Nah, thank you, ma’am,” one boy croaked, “we only need a few more pushes to get this jalopy started.”

Hayley wondered at the word ‘jalopy’. She thought most boys nowadays used the terms ‘clunker’ or ‘crap car’.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, you know these cars, just gotta push it in gear and it jump-starts the battery.”

Hayley had no clue about cars, whether old junkers or the latest models with all the bells and whistles. Though she recalled her parents talking about the wonder of the old VW bugs. They were suffocating in summer and freezing in winter, yet simple and reliable. 

“Well, good luck,” she nodded, “you know more about classic cars than me.”

The boys looked baffled for a fleeting instant, then shrugged and got ready to push.

Hayley waved at them, and urging Rascal, who had been quiet between her legs, walked away.

After finding the promised trailhead, Hayley and Rascal returned home via different streets. Entering the house, Hayley set her jingling keys and the bundle of mail on the kitchen counter. 

She was clearing up after a late dinner, when she caught sight of the community newspaper amid the pile of bills and flyers. The headline caught her attention. 

Our Boys Remembered

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the fatal hit-and-run that took the lives of three promising teenage boys as they pushed their 1967 Volkswagen Beetle alongside the state park road. The driver fled the scene and, even now, remains unidentified. Our community has never forgotten and is still seeking answers. 


Night Voices

Marlon gazed out the window as the teacher droned on and on and on about… Who knew?

He had stopped paying attention long ago. All morning his mind had wandered to the strange dream of the past night. He recalled nothing of the dream per se, but had woken up knowing someone had called out his name. He had lain still and alert. With eyes wide open, he tried to pierce the darkness and the jumble of shadows cast by the slits of moonlight that seeped in through the half-closed blinds. Only the typical sounds of the night filled the silent house; the creak of the walls and foundation, the ice-maker pushing clumps of ice into the refrigerator, the buzzing sound of the smart-home equipment his parents installed weeks ago.

He yawned.

“Marlon!” Mrs. glass snapped.

Marlon clamped his jaw shut, but she had noticed his wide mouth that seemed to eat the world.

“Yes, Miz?” He said.

“Repeat the last thing I said,” Mrs. Glass ordered.

“Um…” Marlon racked his brain for an answer.

“Right,” Mrs. Glass’s lips tightened into a thin line, “please stay behind after class.”

Marlon nodded and pretended to write something in his notebook.

That evening, Marlon sat in bed and gazed out the window. Mrs. Glass had given him extra homework, but at least she had not demanded to speak to his parents.

Marlon’s eyes drooped; he shifted his body into a comfortable position and fell asleep.


He tried to grasp the fleeting dream, but the shout of his name had ripped him out of it. With eyes wide open towards the window, he listened to the night air.

“Who keeps calling me?” He whispered, but only the ice-maker in the fridge responded with three muffled thumps.

Then he heard the two staccato notes of the electronic voice assistant in the living room.

“Hello?” Marlon chanced a louder murmur. “Who keeps calling me?”

“I do,” the electronic voice assistant answered.

“Who are you?” Marlon squeaked; trembling under the covers pulled up to his chin.

“Look out the window,” the electronic voice replied.

“I don’t want to…” Marlon was ready to cry.

“Please do,” the deadpan voice replied.

Marlon hesitated; reluctantly, he tiptoed to the window. He saw nothing outside but the tangled mess of branches of the wildlife preserve beyond his backyard. Moonlight shone on Mom’s herb garden. Marlon was used to the nighttime sounds of the creatures roaming free in the dense woods; yet nothing stirred. 

“There is a thicket beyond the herb garden,” the voice continued, “you know it well, you often play there.”

“Yes?” Marlon’s voice was steadier now as the fear subsided.

“Go there, I need your help.”

“To the thicket?”

“Yes, I am there, I need your help.”

This piqued Marlon’s curiosity, and without thinking twice, he put on his jacket and boots, crept through the house and out the back door.

He walked across the backyard and into the woods; dead leaves, mud, and mulch crunched under his feet.

Moonlight shone a path from the herb garden, into the forest and to the thicket overgrown with brambles.

Something whimpered in the bushes. He approached it, and turned on the flashlight Dad always kept by the back door, in case of emergencies.

He shone the light into the brambles.

Two eyes gleamed back at him. A fox lay among the tangled blackberries with its paw caught in a leg-hold trap. He edged toward the fox, who whimpered, pleading with its eyes. Marlon released him from the trap. The fox snapped its paw out of danger, gazed at Marlon for a moment, and then, limping, scampered into the gloom.

“You’re welcome,” Marlon said, and returned home.

The house was silent; no peep from the electronic voice assistant.

“Are you there?” Marlon whispered into the moonlit shadows, but received no answer.

Marlon shrugged and snuck upstairs. 

He was about to climb into bed when, “Wait… Who set the trap?”

GOLDEN TAROT: Six of Wands

Folktales by the Fire

“I think I saw a ghost once,” Carolina said, “but to this day, I’m uncertain I did.”

We sat around the fire-pit on a cool night. The brook babbled nearby, and we heard the occasional flapping of bat wings in the orchard; fruit bats making a banquet of the pear trees. The sound of their leather wings and the dancing fire gave the garden an eerie atmosphere. Billowing clouds veiled the moon in the crisp, humid air; it had rained all afternoon, and the wetness chilled the bones. 

We had trouble lighting the fire, but once we got it going nothing could drag us away. So, with tequila to warm the bones, and faces red from the licking flames that rose to the sky, the conversation drifted to spooky folklore. 

Everyone told a story; fire-lit anecdotes of nameless acquaintances. We wove a tapestry of words and flitting embers about witches and shape-shifting nahuales. The night listened to tales of haunted houses with buried gold, elves braiding horses’ manes, and people going up the mountain to meet the Devil. And La Llorona, the restless soul who, in life, had drowned her children. 

“So, Caro, tell us,” I shivered into my woolen sarape… from the cold? From the wet? Or just the creepy conversation?

An owl hooted.

Carolina began:

“I was driving on the highway, it was December and the processions had already begun, you know, to La Villa, to worship La Virgen de Guadalupe.

“Traffic was slow because a huge procession was ambling up ahead. I glimpsed the banners and flowers, even from so far behind. It was getting late, and I was losing patience, but what to do, right? You can’t just run over people. So I stopped at a gas station café nearby, hoping they would veer off somewhere and the jam would clear. 

“I don’t know how long I waited, but the sun was setting as I climbed back in the car. I drove for a little while. Twilight was falling, and it was that time of day when the half-light hurts the eyes. It’s too light and too dim at the same time. 

“Anyway, up ahead a man was walking alongside the road, and I wondered whether he had fallen behind the procession. As I neared, I noticed he wore huaraches, and a long jorongo. His head hung low on his shoulders, and I couldn’t tell if he was young or old. 

“I slowed down. He seemed to carry a bundle of something wrapped in the front of his jorongo. In the beam of my headlights I thought I saw a rose petals peeking out from the sides of the bundle.

“I would’ve pulled over, but at that moment a semi-trailer honked. I glanced in the rearview mirror; the semi was fast approaching. Its two big headlights bore down on me, blinding me for an instant. Then, when I glanced towards the man by the road, he wasn’t there.”

“Were you afraid?” I asked.

She paused.


We remained silent, reflecting on her story. I think we all pondered the same legend, but no one wanted to say it out loud. December, the processions, La Virgen de Guadalupe, the man with a bundle of roses…

The fire crackled, sparks danced and a low howl wove through the orchard, followed by the shriek of a barn owl — a lechuza — in the distance.

“It was just a guy catching up to the procession,” I broke the silence, “I bet he knew a footpath or a shortcut, and took it.”  

Everyone nodded, and the mood lightened; even the breeze seemed to heave a sigh of relief. 

“You know, La Llorona appears on rainy days, or near water,” Pedro said, his impish smile flickering in the firelight. “And the brook is only a few paces away…”


Motherpearl Island

Phyllis sat on her widow’s walk with a heavy woolen blanket draped over her legs. She placed a thermos filled with hot chocolate on the small bistro table before her. 

The soft crush and rumble of breaking waves drifted upward on the salty breeze. The cawing of seagulls filled the air and the hubbub of traffic below her was winding down as the street cleared of cars. Rush-hour was ebbing, and this was Phyllis’s favorite time of day.

The weather chilled days before and brought an abrupt end to summer with its frosty wind. Even the sea breeze, once musky with brine and heat, was now crisp with a stinging bite.

Phyllis watched the long shadows of the pavilion as they stretched over the sand towards the glimmering water in the waning sunlight. The sound of the breaking waves and the soft twilight glow cast a mystical spell over the beach.

Phyllis’s gaze turned to the island shimmering beyond the bay. From her vantage point, she saw the crumbling buildings of the old town.

Phyllis reminisced about her childhood trips to Motherpearl Island on her father’s boat. He claimed its anglers caught the best lobsters, and there were none so tasty in the universe. 

Motherpearl Island had once been a thriving community despite its isolation. Thunderous waves broke over jagged rocks all around it; the only means of communication was a long, man-made wooden pier which jutted out from the island’s single, tiny, and pebbled beach. The settlers had built their homes and businesses, a church with pealing bells, and a clock-tower on the grassy meadow that stretched beneath a towering forested hill. A lighthouse stood atop the hill’s barren peak. Beyond it, nothing but rocky cliffs and crushing waves. 

Phyllis recalled the strange iridescence of the rocks that gave the island its name. The entire island seemed to shimmer with a gossamer sheen of sparkling color, much like a dragonfly’s wings. Memories of Motherpearl Island evoked happiness and contentment; a simple and magical life. Her mind flooded with sun-filled days sitting on the jagged rocks, eating lobsters with Daddy, then hiking up to the lighthouse, and sailing home upon glimmering sunsets.

Then, the paradise crashed down during a wild, raging night. A storm wiped out the village on Motherpearl Island, scattering its inhabitants over the bay. Phyllis shuddered at the memory of bodies floating upon the water, day after day, for weeks. The storm also took Daddy’s boat and all the wonderful weekends at sea, the stinging breeze playing with her hair, and the waves lapping at the hull. Daddy never replaced the boat. 

Good years mingled with harsh years followed, and throughout, Phyllis watched the island from her widow’s walk and through Daddy’s old binoculars. A ghost town with decaying buildings; unreachable as the once sturdy pier now lay at the bottom of the sea.

Over the years, through the ancient lenses, Phyllis bore witness as the once-thriving town gave up the ghost and crumbled to the ground like sandcastles vanquished by a raging ocean. The clock in the old clock-tower had stopped with the storm, its hands suspended in time for years. Until one day, with a gasp, Phyllis had seen it crash to the ground. The church-tower ceiling tumbled inwards, buckling under the weight of the bells as they collapsed into the nave with deafening and discordant clangs. The lighthouse, severed in half, hunched on the hilltop; its light, fallen beside the stumpy foundation, pointed toward the sky. 

The sun had set, and the world was turning blue. Blue sky, blue sea, blue air, like the cyanotype Daddy once showed her of the beach she had lived by every day of her life, but had never known.

There had been an amusement park, Daddy said, and people flocked to it on the weekends for popcorn and lobster. But no lobster as delicious as those from Motherpearl Island.

The first stars twinkled in the sky and the blue darkened into black, as if black ink spilled on blue paper, oozing and blending over the world.

The seagulls quieted, and only the thunderous waves rumbled. All cars had gone home, and the cold settled over the widow’s walk. Phyllis stayed, draping another blanket over her shoulders, as crisp stars sparkled one by one to life over the dark inky waves.

Phyllis sipped her hot chocolate, and a smile dawned on her lips as her eyes fixed on the long-abandoned island. 

Bling! A light sparked on Motherpearl Island.  

Bling! Then another and another, until the abandoned island was aglow with tiny pinpricks of light, like a fairy village at night.

Phyllis grabbed her binoculars and lifted them to her eyes. 

Only during these hours and through these binoculars, Phyllis became a distant witness to the town’s severed heyday. Through the lenses she gazed at the clock, now back on its perch on the tower, and ticking away. The lighthouse, now tall atop the hill, shone its round, revolving beam over the breaking waves. On the soft breeze, Phyllis perceived the faraway peal of the church bells as they chimed in the shimmering reminiscence of glory days long gone.

Daddy was right, Phyllis never again ate lobsters as delicious as those on Motherpearl Island.


The Forgotten Castle

Naomi leaned back in her chair and stretched her arms above her head. She heaved an enormous yawn and glanced out her bedroom window. The ruined castle shimmered in the setting sun. Often she thought it a mirage, but she knew every nook and cranny of it. It was her favorite haunt, where she and her friends had played hide-and-seek among the ruined walls and crumbling ceilings. Her parents warned her of the dangers of playing among the ruins. Yet the warnings came with half-smiles; they too had played in the castle as children. As their own parents had done before them; a local tradition, a rite-of-passage, perhaps. 

After school, Naomi went to the castle by herself. She needed time alone; it had been a strange and trying day. She walked among the ruins and took a nap on the grass of its derelict courtyard. Leaving, she paused at the crumbling arch of the castle entrance to shake out a stone that had crept its way into her shoe. 

Now, she switched on the desk lamp and returned to her homework.

The sun cast its last rays over the glimmering land, and the castle faded into shadow, as its name had faded into oblivion; its decrepit turrets stood out against the indigo twilight. Naomi closed her schoolwork and switched off the desk lamp. The castle’s lonely silhouette blurred as dusky shadows fell. She stood up, crossed the bedroom and flopped down onto her bed; the ruinous gloomy mass still visible outside her window.

She loved to daydream about the castle’s heyday; the banquets, the tourneys, the dashing knights, and the fair princesses. She knew most of its legends, but loved one in particular. It drew her into the realm of imagination and defined the lonely ruins beyond the windowpane. 

The legend said:

A young knight rode into the hamlet on a horse so exhausted and grimy that its head bowed low to the ground as it trudged along the countryside. The knight’s head hung on his shoulders, heavy with fatigue.

The townspeople, wary of strangers, bolted their doors and shuttered their windows as he passed through the village square. Horse and knight—that ragged bundle of bones and sinew—traipsed towards the castle, unaware of the villagers’ icy reception. Field workers turned their heads away and crossed themselves, believing he was Death itself. No one approached, no one offered assistance. Upon reaching the castle gate, the guards denied the knight entry.

He claimed to be the nobleman’s son returning home, but no one believed him. All knew the son and only heir died in Holy Land; a monk had returned the family seal ring and confirmed the heir’s death. 

The young man pleaded his case.
“I have a crucifix. My mother gave it to me when I left. It bears my name.”

The nobleman asked to see it, but when the knight touched his neck to retrieve the crucifix hung up on it, he blanched. Had he dropped it? 

Unable to prove his identity, the nobleman turned the young knight away. 

He too vanished into oblivion; perhaps he took the castle’s name with him. 

Yet, people say the knight errant still wanders the land, always heading towards the castle.

Naomi’s room was now dark, and the moon beamed upon her outstretched body on the bed. She reached into her pocket and took out the trinket that had sparkled in the soil just beyond the castle grounds. She twirled it around and scratched the dirt off it with her nail; the crucifix dangled on its tarnished chain between her fingers. 

She gazed at the ruined castle.

Glowing in the moonlight, the spectral knight made his eternal and torturous journey home.