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MINCHIATE: Queen of Cups


Marilyn stared at the screen; the cursor blinked like an impatient mother tapping her foot. Tap, tap, tap. The cursor glared at Marilyn. 

She’d spent the last days staring at the blank document. Once in a while she began a sentence, then deleted it. Sometimes writing a story was like squeezing the juice out of a dry, withered lemon: it came in dribs and drabs and through gritted teeth.

Marilyn slammed her fist on the desk and stood up in frustration. The chair rolled and slammed against the wall. It left a nick in the drywall; Marilyn cared not. 

She made herself a snack and gazed at the street through the kitchen window. A dog barked and Marilyn, crunching potato chips she’d served in a bowl, expected her neighbor to appear as he walked his poodle every day. Marilyn brought a chip to her mouth and was about to pop it in when her hand froze in mid-air. A black-and-white Siberian husky passed before the kitchen window and fixed its ice-blue eyes on her. 

Marilyn furrowed her brow, “Wolf? Is that Wolf?”

With a thudding heart, she observed the dog, every moment more convinced it was Wolf. A woman appeared, and there was no mistaking Norma Jean’s coarse blond hair dyed in purple highlights. For a fleeting moment, Marilyn’s heart soared with delight when she recognized her sister. Then she noticed the torn clothing, missing hiking boot, Norma Jean’s ragged and bloodied ankle and grimy face. Her sister’s arm hung limp and at an odd angle. 

Marilyn dropped the bowl; it shattered on the cream-colored tile and scattered crumbling bits of potato chips. She ran out the front door. 

“Norma Jean!” Marilyn panted as she reached her sister, “What happened?”

“Help us, Marilyn!” Norma Jean’s hollow voice chilled her. It sounded far away, like through a static-filled radio station. 

Marilyn wanted to embrace her sister, but a dark cold and a zapping panic rooted her to the spot. 

“We’re up there, by the twisted tree!” 

Norma Jean pointed to the canyon in the distance and Marilyn’s heart sank as she saw the jutting form of the fallen tree dangling precarious over the craggy mountain slope. 

Wolf barked in the same hollow sound, and a gust of wind took Norma Jean’s last cry for help. Marilyn stood in the blistering sun, stunned and alone, and hesitated for a suspended moment in time.
A crow cawed and broke the spell. 

Marilyn rushed to the phone. 


“We made it just in time,” the rescuer told Marilyn as she burst into the emergency room, “they were there all yesterday and last night, but your sister will be fine.”

“And Wolf?”

The rescuer looked puzzled, “The dog?”

She nodded. 

“He’s at the animal hospital nearby on Monroe Avenue, I think he’ll be okay,” he paused, “I gotta say, that damn dog’s a genuine hero. She’d be dead if it weren’t for him. She slipped and fell down the slope. The dog slid after her, caught her by the ankle before she fell off the last ledge and pulled her to safety. She’ll have a nasty scar, but it’s a minor price to pay.”

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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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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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MINCHIATE: VII Strength + 7 of Staves

Good Samaritan

Laura stood outside the cottage. The overcast sky rumbled in the distance, though the sun peeked through the dense clouds and glimmered on the grass. She knew not how long she’d convalesced. Her wound still pained her, but no sign of fever today. She hadn’t yet met the Good Samaritan who’d helped her, though she recalled footsteps during the floating moments between sleep and fever. 

Someone had left a metal plate with bread and hard-boiled eggs, and a metal cup of milk on the rustic table inside the cottage. Laura was hungry, but stepped outside hoping to greet her rescuer and get her bearings. 

“It’s a farmstead,” Laura murmured as she scanned the rundown cottage and its surroundings. Chickens clucked by a rickety coop and a goat bleated; a loose rope, tied to a fence post, hung around its neck. 

“Like in Heidi, goat’s milk and eggs. I wonder where they made the bread.”

She walked around the small property, careful not to injure her bare feet. She’d run out her door barefoot—the night of her devil—and her ragged feet were only just healing. The Good Samaritan had left a pair of leather boots by her bed, but they were much too big and uncomfortable. 

“Mystery solved,” Laura sighed as she discovered an ancient brick oven behind the residence. 

The property thus comprised the cottage, the coop, the goat, the oven and a small field where, Laura suspected, the mysterious inhabitant farmed the grains for the bread. Thick woods surrounded it beyond her sight.

“Self-sustaining and off the grid,” Laura addressed the goat; it bleated in response. 

A chill crawled up her spine, “I hope this property doesn’t belong to one of those doomsday cults.”

The goat gazed at her with passive eyes. 

A thought tingled at her nape. Where was the dog? She’d heard one during the nights of sick slumber. She found no sign of other animals beside the goat and the chickens. 

Laura retreated into the cottage to plan her escape. She rubbed her arms; the wound at her side hurt and her stomach grumbled. But other thoughts pressed her. What if she’d fallen into their trap? What if this person was one of them, or worse?

Night fell and Laura remained in the cottage. She’d eaten the meal and stepped into the too-big boots intent on leaving, but had stopped at the forest edge, uneasy, scared and convinced invisible eyes were upon her. They had means of finding her through the air and time. 

Something—perhaps the intuition that had failed her when she met her devil—assured her the cottage was a safe place. A small fire crackled in the fireplace; the sound of the forest entered the windows and raindrops pattered on the roof. 

A thud at the door; Laura gasped, and knife in hand, waited with her heart in her mouth. The door creaked open and tiny hooves clip-clopped as the goat ran through the doorway. It bleated a greeting. A thick mass entered, and by the firelight, Laura thought it was a bear. An instant later she discovered it was only a tall bearded man. 

“Who are you?” Laura held the knife before her, ready to defend herself. 

“This is my home,” the man spoke in a deep, rumbling voice, “my name is Rainier.”

“Oh,” Laura had expected… well, something else, “did you bring me here?”

“No,” he answered, “you came to me. You knocked on my door.”

Rainier was young, maybe in his thirties, though by the thick voice, Laura thought him older. He wore his thick black hair long, had piercing blue eyes and the darkened complexion of someone who spends most of his time in the sun, wind and rain.

“The wound’s better? Does it hurt much?”

Laura shook her head, “Only a little.”

They stared at one another in the flickering light. 

“Thank you,” Laura broke the awkward silence, “I’m Laura.”

Rainier nodded. 

An owl hooted and the wind howled through the window. It almost blew out the fire; the red-and-orange tongues ebbed and waxed and cast a dance of eerie shadows on the walls. 

Rainier stood tense and alert with the brow-knitted expression of one who listens to the small sounds of the night.

“There is no danger in here,” he glanced around, “but someone outside means harm.”

In an instant, Rainier disappeared into the drizzling night. Laura sat dumbfounded at the table, the knife loose in her hand. She listened for his heavy footsteps on the damp ground, but heard none.

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The Eagle Flies

Cleopatra Bysbys sat on the park bench, her walking cane draped across her lap. Her wraparound sunglasses hid her eyes, which gazed into the distance, yet her sight was fixed inward. 

The sun beat down on her saggy skin, but Cleopatra, always a fright to behold, cared not. She paid no attention to the sunshine, nor the birds, nor the squirrels scuttling about her bony legs. Her wild hair fell over her jutting clavicles, and sitting so still and frozen, she looked like the pharaohs of old.   

Cleopatra Bysbys often trudged the lengthy walk from her rickety old house to the city park, both out of boredom and mischief. Spring had arrived; porch pirates didn’t hunt for free presents anymore, so her chances of a hearty laugh out of her aerie had dwindled. 

People were out and about, and Cleopatra, using her inner sight like invisible tentacles, glimpsed into their lives and delved for their deepest secrets. All their little peccadilloes in her grasp. A young man caught her attention, and she sniggered. She gripped her cane. 

The young man carried a doggie bag from a fancy restaurant; his eyes twinkled with witchy delight. He strutted down the footpath and would soon be upon the blind, ugly scrag of a woman on a bench. He sneered; today was a wonderful day and nothing could bring down his mood. He’d just clinched the deal of the century and stood to swim in moolah. Oh yeah, life was peachy keen, jelly bean. Plus, the little side gig… 

He strode past the bench; the cane on the witch’s lap swerved and whacked him between the ankles. An instant of confusion passed in slow motion as his feet lifted off the ground, the doggie bag flew and terra firma rose to kiss him. 

He spat and sputtered blood and pebbles and tried to stand. Cleopatra—half cackling—repeated raspy and empty apologies. She struggled to untangle and retrieve her cane but smacked him on the ankles, calves and shins instead. 

The young man, angry and frustrated, kicked the cane away. 

“You stupid old bitch!” He yelled. 

Cleopatra Bysbys sobered her expression and lowered her sunglasses. When her icy blue eyes glared at him, he froze. 

“Fuck off, you embezzling shithead,” she growled.

The young man blanched; with eyes like saucers, he wiped his bloody mouth and staggered to his feet. He hesitated, the little hamster in his brain churning away as a million thoughts flew. How did she know?

No matter; his expression darkened. He drew back his fist to punch the putrid hag. A searing pain burst on his knuckles as Cleopatra swatted the fist away. She pointed her cane at his throat and glared at him, her lips drawn into a defying smirk and cool as a cucumber.  

“Fuck you!” He showed her his palms and scampered away. 

Cleopatra Bysbys leaned back on the bench, cane draped across her lap and sight inward. She sneered. She wouldn’t miss that young man’s perp walk on the evening news for the world.

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The heavy wrought-iron gates opened as if by magic. Shaped like medieval swords staking the ground, the gates creaked; Colin’s spine prickled with portent. 

He stepped into the barren grounds, flanked by a ragged mass of skeletal trees. The castle loomed over him, thunderous clouds rumbled in the distance, and Colin, afraid, thought he might turn back instead. He turned to Lucy, but she’d gone on ahead. 

A woman stood at the thick wooden door carved with images of angels and demons tangled in eternal battle. The woman’s long white dress glimmered with unnatural brightness and a green hooded cloak hid her eyes.  

“Leave this place,” the woman’s voice sounded like pealing church bells, “you’ll only find grief and misfortune here.” 

Lightning struck.

Colin woke with a start, the lightning flash and the fire still fresh in his memory. Beside him, Lucy, asleep, rested her head on his shoulder. Colin gazed out the window as the train sped through the countryside in blurs of color and light. 

Lucy gasped. 

“Did I wake you?” Colin whispered, “I’m sorry.”

Lucy looked at him with glazed eyes, still heavy from sleep and slow to focus. 

“I was dreaming,” Lucy said, and continued without Colin’s prompt, “we approached the gates to a castle; big iron gates shaped like swords. A storm brewed, and a woman in a white dress and green cloak told us to leave.”

“Then lightning struck a turret and set the castle ablaze,” Colin finished. 

Lucy stared. 

“Did I talk in my sleep?” 

“No,” Colin answered, “I had the same dream just now.”

The train whistled and the conductor announced the next stop. The train slowed down and the landscape came into focus. It pulled up to a small country station. Atop a hill sat a majestic castle. From their window, Lucy and Colin distinguished the sword-shaped wrought-iron gates. 

Storm clouds gathered.

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UNIVERSAL WAITE TAROT: King of Cups + VI The Lovers


Ragged beams of sunlight struck the forest path; a cool breeze rustled through the trees. Pebbles and leaves crunched beneath our feet. Willoughby, our golden retriever, trotted beside me with his tongue hanging out. I held his leash and paid cursory attention to Byron’s languid try at conversation. 

I enjoyed the heat on my shoulders and the trill of birds filled my ears as we hiked on. Byron put his arm around my waist and kissed my cheek.

“You’re in one of your quiet moods, so I’ll shut up,” he said. 

I turned to him; he smiled at me. 

“I’m sorry, what were you saying?”

“You’ll never know,” he gave me a playful wink. 

I kissed his cheek and kept going. 

We were hiking this mountain for the first time and the trail was getting rougher. The track closed in on us and forced us to walk in single file, flanked by high and sturdy evergreens. Even the sunlight had trouble getting through the trees. Willoughby led, and Byron brought up the rear. His heavy footfalls thumped in my ears.

Willoughby stopped and sniffed, then turned to me and gave a brief bark. I frowned. Byron stood behind me, his breath hot on my neck. 

“What’s going on?”

“I don’t know.”

I nudged Willoughby forward, but he wouldn’t budge and let out an eerie whimper. I glanced at the trail ahead. Thick branches formed a dark, tangled canopy, and a gossamer mist veiled the path. 

A man approached.

“Don’t go that way,” he said as his icy blue eyes met mine, “it’s dangerous.” 

He slunk past us. 

“Who was that guy?” Byron asked, but I, with clenched fists and jaw, only stared after the man who’d vanished around the bend. 

I shook and knew not why. Something about him alarmed me, though I couldn’t put my finger on it. Maybe it was the way he’d appeared out of the mist and silence. Maybe it was those glacial eyes. Willoughby yelped and I patted him.

A cool breeze blew and rattled the boughs; it played with my hair. The silent forest woke a sense of foreboding in me. 

“Let’s turn around,” I said, “let’s go back.”

“Are you sure?” 

“Yeah, Willoughby doesn’t want to go on, either.” I pointed at the poor animal, burying his nose between my knees. Byron shrugged and led the way down the mountain. 

Later, we sat at the diner across the trailhead; Byron crunched French fries while scrolling through his cellphone. The place was old and shabby, though clean, with old-fashioned booths and Tiffany stained-glass table lamps. Pictures hung on the walls, many of them newspaper clippings. 

“Oh my God!” I gasped and Byron’s eyes snapped up; ketchup smeared on his upper lip.

I pointed at a picture of a man in breeches, tall lace-up boots, and a thick dark sweater. An old-fashioned metal canteen hung from his canvas pack. He sported a thick salt-and-pepper beard, hair tied at the back and a wide-brimmed hat; his pupils were almost white and gave a frosty stare. 

The fry Byron held between his fingers fell with a dull thud on the plate. He sat agape, eyes glued on the black-and-white picture which filled the front page of the local newspaper.

“Man dead on trail,” I mumbled the headline, “accident suspected, no foul play.”

“April 17, 1912,” Byron whispered the date he read on the yellowed paper. 

The elderly waitress stopped at our booth when she caught us staring at the picture. 

“That’s Daniel Danielson,” she said, “he often ate here after a hike. My mother worked here too. He was a generous tipper, she said.”

She leaned closer and whispered, “You saw him today, didn’t you?”

We nodded, ashen and eyes wide with wonder. 

“We call him Danger Dan now,” she continued, “he appears to hikers on various parts of the mountain and warns them of danger. I’m glad you listened.”

“How do you know we did?”

“You wouldn’t be here now if you hadn’t.”

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OLD ENGLISH TAROT: II The High Priestess

The Queen

Looking back, Darcy pinpointed the instant she dodged a bullet: the day she brought the painting home from the antique shop. She’d been in love with Robert for two months. It was a sunny day in early spring, the sun bright and the breeze cool. Flowers were only just poking their heads out of the damp earth. Darcy got into Janice’s car despite Robert’s complaints. 

She hadn’t seen Janice much since she’d met Robert and that day seemed perfect to have fun with a friend, antiquing the perfect excuse. Robert opted not to join them. Yet, all day, he’d blown up Darcy’s phone, messaging, calling, emailing. Not a minute went by her phone didn’t beep, squawk or ring. Janice watched uneasy; people scowled at Darcy until she’d set the phone on silent. It buzzed in her purse nonstop. 

The friends giggled and wove their way around the Antiques Fair, admiring the furniture, knick-knacks and whatnots. Janice was about to mention Robert’s neediness when something caught Darcy’s attention: an old likeness of a medieval queen sitting on a wooden throne. Her pose majestic, strong and proud, yet she gazed with soft eyes; a benevolent smile adorned her lips. 

“Well,…” the shop owner scratched his head, “I know little about this painting. I found it one day in my back room; someone must have sold it to us while my assistant was on duty.” 

Darcy bought it for a song. 

“She’s glaring at me,” Robert exclaimed as Darcy hung it on the living room wall, “Take it down, I don’t like it.” 

Darcy studied Robert, puzzled, but did no such thing.
In the weeks that followed, Janice felt her friend slipping away from her. Darcy stopped calling, and Janice could not find Darcy alone. Robert was always there.  

He complained about the picture every day. 

“Shh… Do you hear that?” Robert asked alert as they watched TV.

Darcy shook her head. 

“It’s that damn painting, I swear it whispered my name. It’s cursed. Throw it away.”

“There’s nothing wrong with it, I like it.” 

Robert huffed and stomped out the door. Darcy stared after him, bewildered. He came back the next day. 

Later, he claimed he saw a black malevolent shadow block his entrance into Darcy’s bedroom, and that The Queen scowled at him. The queen choked him once as he napped on the couch; he said. Yet Darcy experienced only a sense of peace and comfort whenever she gazed upon her beloved picture. In fact, when Robert went out, Darcy thought more light entered her house. 

Darcy was still floating in that sea of infatuation, unaware of Robert’s manipulations when that castle in the air she’d built for herself and Robert exploded. It was more like a slow, eroding landslide. He stopped coming to the house. His texts and emails were infrequent and his calls soon non-existent. Darcy cried into her pillow at night, wondering at Robert’s behavior and asking herself what else she’d done wrong. She knew The Queen was to blame, yet, no matter how hard she tried, Darcy could neither hate the picture nor get rid of it. Those soft brown eyes painted centuries ago brought her such an inner warmth it was difficult to look away. 

Weeks passed and Robert vanished into that complex dating lingo known as “ghosting”. Just when Darcy thought she was over him, he would nudge Darcy on social media or send her a random text; the wave of rejection would wash over her again. But what once was a tidal wave soon became nothing more than a sprinkle, and Darcy moved on, bathed in the strength and peace of The Queen. 

Darcy gasped as she opened the newspaper and read the headline. Her heart thumped as she clutched her phone with trembling fingers. Janice’s phone call came through just as Darcy was about to dial. 

“Have you seen the news?” Janice shouted into the phone.

“I can’t believe it!” Darcy glanced around the room, nervous and scared.

“I can,” Janice said on the line, “I sensed something wrong. I tried to tell you, but…”

Darcy wiped her eyes and read the headline: “Police Arrest Serial Killer”

The article recounted how he would seduce his victims, manipulate and isolate them from friends and family. He would then steal all their money, torture them and kill them. A picture of Robert scowled at Darcy from the newspaper. She felt violated and scared. Her mind raced through the memories of her time with him. 

Darcy glanced at her beloved painting. The queen sat on her throne, smiling her sweet smile. When Darcy gazed into her eyes, The Queen winked.

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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