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Under a Crimson Moon

The fire crackled and sparked in the stone fireplace and lit up the dim room; the ornate grandfather clock ticked. Claire stood by the casement window as the sun glittered over the valley beyond the grounds. The castle lay atop a hillock and the gleam of the setting sun gave the shimmering landscape an air of magnificence. Xavier read his book. 

As the sun dipped into the jagged horizon and cast one last ray of light, Claire distinguished the three crosses silhouetted in the distance, their long shadows like ghostly fingers reaching for the castle.

The clock chimes mingled with the seven peals of the church towers beyond the gates. 

“Xavier, do you know the story behind those three crosses?”

Xavier, taciturn, rather than ask which crosses she meant, closed his book and joined her at the window. 

“Hmm,” he grumbled, “I don’t remember, but I believe they were three merciless bandits.”

“Strange someone would bury them and mark their graves,” Claire commented; Xavier shrugged. 

She glanced at her husband, his handsome features eerie in the dim firelight. Claire didn’t resent their move to this place. It wasn’t Xavier’s fault he’d inherited it from an estranged uncle. She would have preferred her modest old house, in her old village, yet they must take the golden opportunity. 

The castle needed much repair and Xavier had inherited the property and everything in it, but not the means to restore it. Now, they lived with parts of the majestic home closed. They meant to inhabit the castle, repair it little by little and turn it into a fancy hotel. Yet their savings were all but gone and the project not advanced enough to generate an income. 

Claire pulled up a chair by the casement. Darkness cast itself over the land and Xavier retired for the night. The full moon rose crimson and cast copper beams over the landscape. The stars poked through the inky black one by one. 

Charlemagne, their German shepherd, sat at Claire’s her feet. Claire’s eyelids drooped and her head nodded forward, then jerked back. She resolved to go to bed and cast one last glance at the glistening valley; the fire glowed dim. 

Charlemagne rose and gazed out the window, his ears perked and alert, listening. Claire followed his gaze. Under the rusty moonlight, three hooded figures rose from the three graves. Claire could not distinguish their features in the dusky night, but felt no fear, as if the figures meant no harm. Gliding, they approached the castle and faint moonbeams caught the crucifixes twinkling on their chests. 

“Monks, not bandits,” Claire murmured. Charlemagne gave a low whimper. 

The figures entered the grounds and stopped by the large weeping willow whose leaves drooped over the murky moat. The figures glanced around, then disappeared under the dangling boughs. 

Hoofbeats trampled the moonlit silence; the monks emerged from beneath the willow. Horsemen appeared and stormed the castle. Claire, with a hand over her mouth, let out a muffled shriek. The monks stood stoic as the horsemen slew them. 

Charlemagne growled; a cloud covered the blood-red moon and plunged the valley into darkness. The wind swept the dusky clouds away and the moon, now white, shone upon the land. All figures had vanished, though a silver moonbeam shone on the weeping willow. 

Claire grabbed a light and leashed Charlemagne. Xavier watched from the bedroom as the moonlit figures of his wife and dog crossed the grounds and approached the willow. They passed through the gnarled limbs. 

Charlemagne sniffed around the massive trunk; Claire followed his movements with her light. The German shepherd, resting his front paws on the trunk, stood on his hind legs and barked. Claire shone the light upwards, and in its soft glow, saw a tree hollow several branches overhead. 

Charlemagne yipped and wagged his tail as Claire climbed the willow. When she reached the tree hole, she dipped her arm in, wary of waking its tenant. An owl hooted as Claire’s fingers touched smooth metal. 

“Did the monks hide something?” Xavier called from the ground. 

“You saw them too?” Claire answered. 

She sat precariously on the branch, and hesitating, stuck her other arm in the hole. She pulled something from the tree hollow.


She dropped a box into Xavier’s extended arms. Surprised by the weight of the box and the cold metal, he dropped it. It clanged onto the tree root and flew open. Claire clambered down from the tree. 

“What is it?” Claire asked when she noticed Xavier’s gawking expression. 

Scattered over the twisted tree roots, sparkles of ruby, emerald, sapphire, gold, and silver glimmered in the thin rays of moonlight that passed through the heavy leaves. 

“It’s our financial salvation,” Xavier exclaimed.  

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BRUEGEL TAROT: 2 of Swords

Like Cats and Dogs?

Rufus snuggled up to Minerva; she gazed at him askance, decided he meant no harm, and turned her attention back to the kitchen. 

What’s it about this time? Rufus whimpered. 

Minerva gave him a disinterested yawn. 

It was always about something. Yesterday it was about him not clearing the dishwasher. The day before, she’d thrown away his napkin. He snored, she scraped her teeth on her fork. 

Rufus and Minerva cuddled on the couch, though his panting was annoying her. In the kitchen, they would soon hurl insults at each other. 

Minerva felt sleepy, but endeavored to stay awake and alert in these crucial times, lest a missile startled her. 

Rufus wanted to play and nudged Minerva. Finally she conceded and pretended to swat at his long drooping ears. He nipped at her, never meaning to hurt. 

“Fuck you, asshole!” 

Uh-oh, the gloves were off in the kitchen; Rufus and Minerva paused their game, four eyes intent on the scene before them. 

“No, fuck you, you bitch!”

“Who is she?”

“The fuck I’ll tell you!”


A bang shook the table. The plates upon it rattled. 

Rufus whimpered; Minerva mewed. They gazed at one another and he nuzzled his snout against her calico cheek. Minerva returned the gesture, rolled onto her back, and playing, pawed at his long basset hound ears. Rufus panted. 

“The fuck you snooping in my phone!”

“Who is she?”

Plates rattled. A chair scraped the floor. A cabinet door opened.
Minerva rolled herself onto her paws and squatted. She let out a soft growl. Rufus stood on the couch, his chubby legs ready to run. They stared ahead, Minerva’s ears pulled back. 

“Fuck off, witch! Stop snoopin’ in my damn phone!”

“Then answer the fucking question, idiot!”

He stood up and slammed his fist on the table. 

Rufus and Minerva watched the fight, damned if the customary torpedos caught them unawares again. 

“Answer me!” 

The flying cup hit him right on the chest. 

Rufus barked and Minerva meowed, but they might have been pictures on the wall for all the good it did. Another cup followed; he ducked. 

“Don’t you dare dodge, you wuss!” 

A saucer shattered against the wall. 

Rufus and Minerva slid off the couch and sauntered towards the bay window that looked out onto the street. She leaped up on the seat while Rufus, resting his short legs on it, pulled himself up beside her. The window’s distance from the kitchen kept them safe from the flying objects. Minerva loved to chatter at birds flitting on the tree branches by the window, and Rufus barked at anything that walked past the house. 

Something thudded on the couch; a chipped plate landed where the cat and dog had sat moments before. 

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The Phone Calls

Brenda considered herself a woman of science and dedicated her adult life to scientific research. She felt at home in her lab coat and among her beakers, flasks and petri dishes. She believed science could explain everything, one just had to know what formula to apply. 

The mysterious phone calls were a nuisance at first. The phone would ring, Brenda would answer and… nothing. Only noise on the other end. 

“They’re all from the same number,” she told Lisa, her co-worker, “you’ve no idea how many times I’ve blocked it.”

  “Why do you answer then?” Lisa asked. 

“That’s the creepy part,” Brenda replied, “the calls come from my grandfather’s number. He died when I was seven, but it, and my house, are the only phone numbers engraved in my memory.”

“Maybe someone else has the same phone number?”

“But why don’t they ever speak? It just sounds like someone at a party butt-dialing me.” 

“Weird,” Lisa shrugged and returned to her experiment. 

Then Brenda noticed the coincidences. 

One day she walked down a crowded city block. The hubbub of voices, footsteps and car horns buzzed in her ears, but the phone rang too loud to ignore. With an exasperated sigh, Brenda paused at a busy street corner, despite the pedestrian light signaling to cross. Oncoming passersby gave her angry looks as she blocked the sidewalk while she fished in her purse for the insistent phone. 

A car sped through the red light and almost hit the man on the crosswalk. He skipped onto the safety of the sidewalk and cursed the driver.  

“Good thing you weren’t crossing,” he turned to Brenda, who’d blanched, “he’d have run you right over.” 

“That wasn’t the only time,” Brenda chatted with Lisa the next day during their coffee break, “there have been other, little coincidences.”

“Go on,” Lisa coaxed and sipped her coffee. 

“The other day, I had finished up in the kitchen and was retiring for the night, when the phone rang. I’d left my phone on the table, but when I reached it, it stopped ringing. I shrugged and gave my apartment a last glance; I noticed the front door. It was unlocked! Had the phone not rung, I would’ve gone to bed without locking it!”

“And you’re sure it’s your granddad’s number?” Lisa asked, “May I see it?”

Brenda pulled the phone from her lab coat pocket and searched in the phone call register. As Lisa took the phone, it rang. The mysterious number blared on the screen. The women blanched and stared at it. Brenda’s hand shook as she lifted the phone to her ear. 

“Hello?” She squeaked.

“Get out of the building now!” A warm voice, an old voice, demanded. 

Brenda’s heart skipped and tears sprung to her eyes. That voice, it couldn’t be…

“Who are you?” She bleated. 

“You know who I am, Brenny-kin,” the familiar voice replied, “get out of the building now!”

Brenda grabbed Lisa, and pulling her along, led her out of the building. 

“GET OUT!” Brenda yelled as they rushed down the hall, “Get out of the building!” 

Lisa, ashen with fear and surprise, echoed Brenda’s warning. 

They reached the courtyard; Lisa begged Brenda to stop by a weeping willow. People filed out after them and loitered on the grass, bewildered. 

“What the…?” Lisa panted.

  A loud boom drowned out her voice. 

The ground shook beneath them as a heavy rumble echoed through the university grounds. Lisa watched horrified as the building they’d vacated crumbled and blazed. She put her arm around Brenda, who wept and sobbed with her hand covering her mouth.

The authorities determined a gas leak caused the explosion. An accident, they said, it was lucky no one died.

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Olivia watched through the window as Jeffrey climbed in his car and drove away. Both sad and relieved, Olivia closed the curtain. Sad the marriage had failed despite Olivia’s efforts, but Jeffrey was a spendthrift and a womanizer. Relief came with a sigh as the weight of Jeffrey’s presence lifted from her shoulders. 

As she glanced around the shabby hacienda into which they’d sunk her last penny—yet another of Jeffrey’s get-rich-quick schemes—a third emotion bubbled inside her: anger. Anger at herself for having stood by Jeffrey for so long, anger at Jeffrey for being so despicable, and anger at her father for pushing her into the marriage. 

Night fell and Olivia bid goodbye to Magdalena, the cleaning woman, worried she might soon have to fire her. Olivia ate dinner in the old-fashioned kitchen with cracked blue-and-white Talavera tiles, an ancient gas stove and a leaky faucet, with only the chugging refrigerator for company. The warm moonless night crept through the open window, while the roar of the gushing river drowned out the chirping crickets and buzzing cicadas. Olivia made herself a cup of tea and resolved to sip it outside in the garden. 

Olivia liked the hacienda, which they’d planned to repurpose as a bed-and-breakfast, until Jeffrey got in the way. Maybe if Olivia pressed her brother, he might lend her the money to finish the repairs and renovations; she might just make it through then. 

In the countryside, only the sounds of nature, not of industry, sprinkle the silent inky nights. The townspeople welcomed her and, as she stared at the kettle, a fourth emotion simmered: dismay she might have to leave. 

The kettle whistled and Olivia, shawl on her shoulders and hot mug in hand, walked through the darkened house and out to the garden.

The mug thumped on the ground, and unbroken, spilled its contents into the damp earth. Olivia stared agape at the far wall of the orchard. A man with sleek black hair sat on the stone wall, clear in the starlight, with a white shirt so bright it lit up the ancient mossy bricks. His feet dangled above the ground and he sported a black suit. 

Olivia stepped backwards; a twig snapped. The man remained impassive, eyes on the ground beneath him. 

“May I help you?” Olivia bleated. 

The man gazed at her with deep dark penetrating eyes. He grinned, then evaporated like mist. 

Olivia shook with fear and confusion. Had she seen a ghost? Her mind raced as it searched for logical possibilities. The river ran behind that wall, and, because of the frequent rains, rushed deep and dangerous. No person could have crossed it. And why sit on the wall? Was he a robber? How did he disappear like steam as it dissipates?

Olivia’s heart thumped with each unanswered question. She covered her mouth with trembling fingers when Magdalena’s voice washed over her like the flowing river. 

Ay señora, I saw a ghost once, allá en el monte, in the mountain. I dug and dug, but never found his buried money. A ghost always guards its hidden gold.”

Olivia drew her shawl tighter around her shoulders; dim garden lamps shone on the shovel leaning against the house. The Milky Way sparkled above the stone wall. 

The thunderous river drowned out the sound of metal breaking earth, and of Olivia’s delighted cries.

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“Johnny,” Alondra’s soft voice whispered in his ears, “Johnny…”

He opened his eyes and Alondra’s face, framed by flaming red hair, came into focus. 

“Alondra,” he murmured, “you’re okay.”

Alondra frowned, confused. 

“I am… what?”

“Okay,” Johnny struggled to sit up, “it means ‘fine’, it’s just a word we use back home.”

“Ah… Then, yes, I am fine.”

Johnny’s head throbbed; he winced. 

“You hit your head, you almost died,” Alondra nudged him to lie down again, “they saved you.”


“I don’t know, but they are amiable.”

“Where are we?”

“I don’t know. They speak like the Ancients, I understand very little.”

“There were two moons in the sky.”

Alondra nodded, “Do you have the runes?”

Johnny took a deep breath, “Most of them, the R is missing, the book too, and my jacket.”

Alondra widened her eyes, “Raido brought us here, without it, we cannot leave.”

A small sound interrupted her and Johnny turned his pounding head in the direction; the movement nauseated him. 

A young man with a long face and aquiline nose approached. His jet black hair stuck up in all directions and glimmered with iridescent blues, greens and purples, like feathers. He held out an earthenware cup and motioned for Johnny to drink it. 

Grunting, Johnny sat up. He glanced at Alondra, who smiled and nodded, then pressed the cup to his lips. Cool, fresh water flowed down his dry throat. It was so pure, he could almost taste the soil of the mountain spring whence it came, unlike the metallic tang of the water from the copper pipes back home. It was even purer than the water he’d drunk in Alondra’s time. 

The strange man touched a hand to his chest and, in a deep rumbling voice, said, “Belenos,”

“Johnny,” he imitated the movement. 

Belenos smiled; it reached his obsidian eyes. 

Sweat trickled down Johnny’s face, and he was about to wipe it away with his sleeve, when Belenos stayed his hand and dabbed Johnny’s face with a clean cloth. Johnny glimpsed a bright red spot on the soft white material. Belenos cupped Johnny’s head and turned it to see better in the soft firelight. 

For the first time since waking, Johnny caught glimpses of the room. It was cave-like with walls of soft stone, and a tall curved ceiling with glowing embers sprinkled here and there, almost like stars which flickered like candles. As Belenos bade him look sideways, Johnny discerned he lay on a cot hewn into the wall. Fire crackled nearby, and it shocked Johnny to see the fire gurgling from a tiny spring in the ground. 

Belenos took a small vial from around his neck and opened the cork. He tapped it like selecting pills out of a bottle. A bright tiny drop-shaped diamond sprung into his open palm. It caught the firelight and plunged Johnny into a kaleidoscope of colored light. Belenos took the drop and pressed it against Johnny’s painful temple. The pain ceased and a comforting warmth spread over his face.  

Alondra gasped, “It healed! The wound disappeared!”

Belenos turned to her and beamed. He helped Johnny lay back down on the pillow and beckoned Alondra to follow. Sleep overtook Johnny as he watched them leave, Belenos at least two feet taller than Alondra. As his eyelids closed, Johnny thought he saw wings on Belenos’s back

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Poor as Church Mice

My eyes adjusted as I stepped through the threshold of the old church; the nave appeared little by little. First the altar, flanked by saints gazing down upon the congregation, then the aisle with its rickety wooden pews. A simple wooden crucifix hung from the ceiling; the Christ seemed tortured and sorrowful. 

The church was empty, save for a hooded figure slouched on a pew; a woman, old and old-fashioned with a black lace mantle draped over her gray hair. She sat, head bowed, hands on her lap, twirling a rosary. I heard the soft whisper of prayer. 

I walked up the aisle and stood before the ancient colonial wooden altarpiece, so old the wood had bent and shrunken as if it hoped to wither and die before the musty pews. The saints were chipped and cracked, the stations of the cross so faded and darkened it was almost impossible to know what they depicted. This humble church smelled of incense and dank; tarnished candlesticks stood on the altar table. 

Footsteps sounded behind me. I turned. A priest click-clacked towards me and I noticed the shabbiness of his collar, and a moth-eaten hole in his sleeve. Poor as a church mouse, I thought. He smiled and nodded a greeting as he passed me. 

I gazed at the crucifix, as old as the church, yet the only image in decent condition. The old lady glanced at me, and smiling, stood beside me and whispered,

“We’re a poor church, señorita, but we are proud of our 16th century altarpiece, however dilapidated. Everything else is just as old.”

“Can’t the town restore it?”

The woman shook her head.

“We had the money once, long ago. We worked and toiled, scrimped and saved. A famous artist came. He worked for two days, then vanished.”

“What happened?”

Oro, señorita. They say he found gold and fled. We could have used it, but… I hope it made him happy.”

She smiled and left; stale jasmine and mothballs wafting in her wake. 

Alone in the church, I walked to the donation box under the loving gazes of the humble saints. The tinkling of coins resounded as I dropped them into the box. I glanced at the Christ. The dim light caught the gold coin as I held it up; it gleamed in my hand. 

“I’m not my father; he squandered his luck. I’m returning these, they belong here.”

As I dropped the last coin into the box, the sun shone through the darkened stained-glass windows. A breeze blew from the door to the altar, the candles flickered and the church hissed a ghostly sigh of relief.

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The Old Manor

Rhonda slammed on the brakes; the tiny Kia skidded to a stop. She peeked out from the passenger-side window, mouth agape and head weaving this way and that to get a better look. Every day she drove past this spot and she knew the corner where she’d stopped had, until yesterday, been a vacant lot. 

It had been so for years. She recalled vague memories of sirens and running feet in the night when the Old Manor had burned to the ground. She must have been, what, five, six years old? It had been a great tragedy, and in it, the family had died out. Ever since, that space had remained empty, weeds had overgrown the remnants of the foundations until it looked like any vacant lot.

Now, the Old Manor stood in splendor, just as she’d seen in her grandfather’s pictures. He’d been an avid photographer and had chronicled the Old Manor since its heyday until its blazing demise. The house was a mishmash of different architectural styles, built upon by several generations, complete with turrets, a wide verandah and a widow’s walk. 

Rhonda climbed out of her car and gazed around the deserted street. With no one around, the house appeared unnoticed. Crickets and cicadas chirped and buzzed in the trees; the hot sun beat down on her stinging shoulders. Drenched in sweat, her tank top stuck to her body. 

She tiptoed into the gated yard, fenced in by tall wrought-iron bars, polished and new, unlike the rusty remnants she’d seen all her life. Glancing every which way, she stepped to the door and searched the wall for a doorbell. She found none and knocked, pressing her ears to the door. She thought she heard footsteps within and a murmur of voices. Rhonda frowned and peeked in the first window on the wide verandah. She gasped. 

Rhonda ran back to the door and tried the knob. It opened and, heart beating, she entered. The lavish interior reminded Rhonda of her visit to the Gilded Age mansions in Newport, Rhode Island. Yet, unlike those museums, this house felt alive, not a hodgepodge of old-fashioned furniture on display. 

She ventured further into the house, following the sounds of voices and music, until she came upon a party. 

“What’s happening?” Rhonda murmured, “Is this a play? Are they filming a movie?”

Ladies dressed in lacy high collars, long dresses and elbow gloves danced on the arms of handsome men in three-piece suits and copious mustaches; pearls and feathered fans everywhere. A quartet played a lively waltz. 

“Pardon me, madam,” someone spoke at her shoulder. Rhonda turned. A man in butler’s garb and white gloves offered her a drink from a silver tray. Rhonda, always shy and awkward, shook her head and ran back to her Kia. 

She sped past the houses she knew so well, screeched to a stop at her house, and, calling for her husband Bert, ran up the driveway. 

“The house,” she panted. She pointed and tugged at his sleeved, unable to explain in words what she’d witnessed. 

Bert, mild-mannered and easy-going, tried calming her, but she grabbed him by the lapel and shoved him into the car. The Kia lurched and screeched as she turned around. She zoomed past the neighbors walking their dogs or mowing their lawns without a wave of acknowledgment. 

Rhonda slammed on the brakes; the Kia skidded to a stop. 

“What is it?” Bert asked, alarmed. 

Rhonda stared openmouthed at the vacant lot where the Old Manor had burned down long ago. 

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MINCHIATE: Eight of Swords


For the third time, Miriam was at a crossroads and wondered where life would take her. The first time, she’d been gazing out the window on a summer’s eve, and had witnessed her fiancé’s perfidy. She’d chosen the easy road then and had run away. The second time she’d stood between two signs when her car broke down on the ice. Life had whisked her away then, and her greatest adventure had begun. 

Now, she sat by the campfire Lucius had lit, helpless, blue eyes wide with wonder. The trees rustled in the wind meandering through the dark forest where Miriam had stumbled with Lucius, injured and exhausted, and where she’d tended to him. The moon shone through the thick branches and the stars lit up the night despite the tall trees. Miriam had never seen such stars. The fire crackled and hissed and cast playful shadows on his face; it glowed on her alabaster cheeks.  

Lucius told her to leave, but where? She’d arrived in a flash of light, maybe he expected her to leave in one?

“I must find my legion, whatever’s left of it,” he said, “I thank you for healing me, but I cannot take you with me.”

“I have nowhere to go,” Miriam answered in her broken, schoolgirl Latin. 

He gazed at her and took in her dainty form. With her short hair, maybe she could pass as a boy?

Lucius sighed; he handed her a silver dagger he pulled from his belt. 

“My father gave this to me,” he said, “it will keep you safe. Let me see you use it.”

Miriam took the dagger and pretended to stab the air. 

“Grip it well,” he said, and taking it from her, showed her how. She imitated his movements. 

“Very well, now use it on me.”

Miriam shook her head. 

Lucius growled and pulled her close. The violent gesture startled her and, by instinct, she slipped from his grasp, pushed him against a tree and placed the dagger at his throat. Their eyes met; Miriam saw no danger, but something between mirth and admiration. His warm smile lightened the fire-lit shadows on his face. 

“You’ve got fight, you’d be a great soldier, if…”

“If I weren’t a woman?” Miriam scowled. Her parents had brought her up to agree to men, to be demure and discreet, yet a fire of rebellion had always burned in her chest. That fire must have blazed in her blue eyes, because Lucius stopped himself. 

“You’re like no woman I’ve ever met. How did you get here?”

Miriam explained as best she could about the ice, the breakdown (she used the Latin word for cart), and the signpost. 

“I found this stone. Then I was here.”

She showed him the stone. Moonlight struck its crude R, and Miriam felt the earth shudder. The world around her spun and she felt herself drifting away from Lucius. His black eyes widened with surprise, his dark hand with muddy fingernails reached out. He grabbed her outstretched palm and gripped tight. He held on as the forest faded.  

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Gardenias in the Storm

My grandmother smelled like gardenias; she taught me to play chess. I sit on the window-seat and watch the stormy night, remembering the cozy evenings at the chessboard in her living room. The streetlight flickers in the driving rain. The wind howls and knocks on the windowpane; it wants to enter. 

I yawn. My book lies open on my lap, awaiting me to turn the page, but I reminisce and the house heaves an exasperated sigh. I lean my forehead on the cool glass and let the memories flow. The cuckoo clock ticks, the only remnant from my grandmother’s living room. Each tick-tock sends me back to my childhood, the chessboard and the constant scent of gardenias. 

Cuckoo! It strikes the hour and I jolt as lightning flashes. The room lights up and for an instant, I’m sitting in Grandma’s living room, the chessboard before me, the fire crackling. 

“Sarah…” she whispers, but I don’t see her. 

The cuckoo is still chiming; twelve times it must chime. 

I gaze out the window. A young woman stands in the lamplight. She looks up at me; her face aglow. I recognize Grandma, though it’s the grandmother I only saw in her wedding pictures. 


She smiles and waves. 

I wave back. 

The cuckoo slides back into its house. Rain patters against my window. I turn away. I’m back in my room on the window-seat, my book still open on my lap. I sigh; the balmy redolence of gardenias enfolds me. 

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TAROT DRACONIS: 10 of Pentacles

The Book

The book burned a hole in Derek’s conscience since he’d stolen it from the library. No matter how hard he tried justifying his actions, it was all for naught. Derek knew not why he’d stolen it, but the compulsion had been irresistible. 

Now the book lay in the back of his closet wrapped in an old towel. He wished he could shut it out of his mind too. The book had brought him nothing but unrest and nightmares. He’d wake in a sweat, terrified of God-knows-what and always with the sensation of dreaming something important which slipped away as his conscience woke. 

Derek glanced out the window; fog descended and with it silence. Foggy days always made him feel suspended in time and place, disconnected from reality, the physical world hovering somewhere between the dream state and death; the ultimate peace. But not today. Today he feared the fog, as if it wanted to attack him. It was that damn book. 

Derek glanced up the stairs, his gaze beyond the landing, his mind on the book in the dark corner of the closet. 

“All right,” he said, “all right, I’m coming.”

After much grunting and rummaging, Derek retrieved the book from its prison. He tucked it under his arm, still in its terry-cloth wrap and brought it to the kitchen, turning on every light in the house. He unwrapped it. 

The book was still in good condition; maybe if he returned it, no one would know it had left the library. He ran his fingers over the leather cover and, with a deep intake of breath, opened it. 

Derek frowned, he’d expected to see the illustrated old cottage, but the page was blank. He flipped through the pages and his heart raced; the whole book was blank. 

He was about to shut it, beads of cold sweat on his face, when a picture formed. Derek watched open-mouthed as it came to life. 

A young boy stood in the forest, fractured moonlight shone through the tall trees. Dressed in a tunic and sandals, the boy trudged through dead leaves and mossy ground. He didn’t stumble or trip, though the forest was dark; he knew the way. 

The boy approached a shack, and a strange quiet hung in the air. Derek’s heart raced as broken images of long-ago nightmares flared in his mind. The boy, alert and uneasy, clutched a silver dagger on his belt. Something was wrong, the world felt strange, and Derek screamed at the boy to run. 

The boy didn’t hear Derek’s warning, nor did he run. Instead, he opened the ramshackle door and entered. Moonlight shone through the tiny windows and the remnants of a fire glowed in the corner. Smoke billowed into the boy’s eyes. Derek felt the sting in his own. 

The darkness took shape, lumps appeared on the floor, against the walls. The room stank of blood; Derek covered his nose. The boy approached the embers and lit a torch made of stick and cloth. He bent by the nearest mass and passed the light over it. The boy jumped back. Sightless eyes and blue lips gaped up at him. He swung the makeshift torch around, the dark lumps now bloody corpses in the light. 

Derek screamed and shut the book. He’d known all along what the boy would find: the mangled corpses of his murdered family.