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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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Worlds Away

As he walked with no direction, Johnny tried to remember Dad’s incessant science lessons, hoping to deduce where he was. The two moons had startled him and he’d almost sat down to cry, but as he walked, his mind calmed and his thoughts cleared. 

“I am on one of four planets,” he mumbled, “the outer planets are all gas, and they have many moons. Pluto would be ice and I wouldn’t survive the cold. So, it must be Mercury, Venus, Earth, or Mars.”

Mercury would be too hot, and Dad said the atmosphere on Venus is hellish and toxic, so it can only be Mars and Earth. I’m not on Earth, so does Mars have two moons?

Johnny shrugged, he couldn’t remember. 

“Mars would be much colder than Earth, because it’s farther away from the sun,” Dad’s voice drifted into his mind, “you’d never wear T-shirts.”

Johnny stopped for a moment. He didn’t feel cold, despite losing his jacket. In fact, it wasn’t just the air, heat seeped through his sneakers. He spied tall peaks in the distance. Does Mars have volcanoes? 

“Not active ones,” he whispered. 

He pondered further.

Johnny’s knees buckled as the thought hit him, “It’s not our solar system!” 

His heart dropped and a wave of loss and loneliness gushed through him, such as he’d never felt, not even when the runes had whisked him away. Then, it had been like being on an unknown street, but in the same neighborhood. 

“Okay, Johnny, think,” he muttered, heart thumping in his ears, “this must be an Earth-like planet because I can breathe, so it must have an atmosphere. It must also revolve around its own sun. Isn’t that what Dad said? So how many suns are there?”


He glanced around the barren landscape. In the bright light of the moons, it seemed lifeless. Johnny gazed at the moons, both full, both rugged and cratered; identical. 

Wind blew, warm and smoky. It stung his eyes, but something caught his attention. He heard a melodious voice. 

“Alondra!” He yelled. 


  Then it started again, and Johnny, overjoyed, ran towards it. 

Up ahead he glimpsed a figure, tall, thin, graceful and woman-like. He distinguished the shock of fire-red hair. 


The figure watched him. As he neared it, the figure caught his gaze with eyes bright as diamonds. It then swirled into a flame which sprouted fire wings and flew away. 

Johnny tripped and fell. 

Sharp pain; hazy vision. 

Then, darkness.