MINCHIATE: Queen of Cups

Wolf

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.”

GOLDEN TAROT OF THE RENAISSANCE: 2 of Swords

Dark Strangers

The bartender watched as The Stranger stepped through the swinging doors of the old cantina; the lights flickered and dimmed, obscuring the shabbiness of the place. 

He was tall and slim and his presence commanded every man’s attention. The room fell silent. The bartender wiped the countertop and pretended not to care as The Stranger sidled to the bar. 

“Tequila,” he slapped a hand on the counter and slid onto a barstool. The old man next to him gave him a quick once-over, gulped down his drink, put money on the countertop, and left. 

The Stranger grinned and downed the shot of Tequila before him. 

“Who among you is a man?” The Stranger spoke; no patron met his gaze. 

The bartender sighed. 

“No one?”

“We want no trouble here, señor,” the bartender murmured, eyes on the countertop. 

“No one will challenge me then?” The Stranger ignored the bartender. 

“I challenge you!” A low voice sounded from the corner. A man sat in shadow, his hat hung low over his eyes. 

Both men stood with hands on their gun-belts; The Stranger sneered. 

The patrons sat and stared. No one yelled, no one ran.

Two shots rang out. The duelers fell. Blood seeped into the sawdusty wooden floor. 

The bartender shook his head and the patrons returned to their business. Only I stared open-mouthed as the bodies vanished. The lights intensified. 

“Every night, to the minute,” the bartender rolled his eyes and filled my glass. My hand shook as I lifted it to my lips. 

“Those two pendejos appear, every night, and kill one another.”

TAROT DRACONIS: 4 of Swords + 9 of Swords

Block G

“Lights out!” The guard calls.

I lie on my cot and rest my head on my hands. Years ago, I pled innocent, but, everything they accused me of doing, I did, and, on nights like tonight, I regret it. Don’t feel sorry for me, I’m not a bad person, just a victim of circumstance. 

For years I sat in the teeming prison, sharing a cell with a revolving door of inmates. Some wide-eyed and scared, others with an evil twinkle in their eyes; all innocent, yet many guiltier than me. When the prison overcrowded, the warden re-opened the ancient Block G. They transferred only a few of us here, and now I have a cell all to myself; “careful what you wish for”, Mamma always said. 

Cell Block G is small, reminiscent of a medieval jail with dank and cold stone walls, dim lights and howling echoes. It’s a disquieting place, though I relish the relative silence of it. No cussing, no gang fights. In the daytime, it’s OK, but at night…

The lights are off and darkness rules. It’s a strange darkness, incomplete, eerie, unsettling. It’s a bluish darkness. 

I roll over onto my side, my back to the wall, always to the wall. I close my eyes and hope to fall asleep before…

A scream rings out trough the prison. My eyes fly open. I sit up, gasping. 

A cacophony of voices, screams and moans, all hollow and dead—unlike those in my old block—fill the prison and send chills down my spine. 

“Help me!” Someone yells. 

A woman with a long tattered dress, a ripped corset, unkempt hair and crazed eyes runs through the bars in my cell and disappears into the wall across my cot. Two shots boom and, through the wall I hear a yelp and a thud. Every night, every damn…

Wait. 

I stand up, touch the wall and wonder. 

Was this a door? What if…

An idea flashes. 

Hope springs eternal…

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Seven of Swords

Nigel

Nigel opened his eyes, bare branches above him, icy ground seeping into his bones. He took a deep breath and rose to a sitting position. He grimaced, expecting the sharp jabbing pain in his back and the crack, rattle and crunch of his joints. Major Creaks he called himself nowadays. Yet he found the movement painless. 

He gazed at his hands, and though chapped, he missed the familiar veins and age spots that had appeared over the long years. Nigel twiddled his straight fingers and marveled at their ease of movement; he moved his legs and stood up. His knees didn’t pop. Once standing, his hip didn’t jut out to the side and there was no stabbing pain down his back. 

Nigel beamed as he realized he was young again. He looked down at his feet, covered in heavy combat boots and shook the snow off his army-issue overcoat. He glanced around the dense, snowy forest. 

“Oh, I’m here again,” he whispered with dismay. Yet, the sensation of youth was so real, he was happy, even if he was back in the Ardennes and the horror of it had haunted him through the years of peace, prosperity, social revolution, consumerism, internet boom and the much-celebrated Millennium. 

“He fought in the Battle of the Bulge,” his neighbors often whispered with huddled heads, as if to explain away his somber and aloof behavior. 

Something glinted by a tree trunk and Nigel, curious, stooped, his once rusty knees bending like rubber. It was a long sword, a Claymore perhaps, he thought, and picked it up as if it were a feather. How wonderful not to feel the arm buckle under its weight! The fingers clasped around the hilt, painless, strong and straight as arrows. 

A roar cut through the trees, shaking the snow off the bare branches. Nigel heard the wood creak and the falling snow sounded like maracas. It had been years since he’d heard the sounds of the forest, however muffled in snow. 

Nigel, unafraid, headed in the roar’s direction. The forest, quiet under its freezing blanket, seemed to wake and give a startled yawn before sleeping again. Yet something odd remained in the air. He sniffed and perceived a hint of acrid smoke.

Boom! The forest exploded into a blaze of fire and Nigel dropped to the ground as he’d done decades ago. The trees shook, and though Nigel attributed the explosion to an air raid, he thought tanks rolled, not stomped, like he perceived underfoot. 

Another roar, so close it almost split his rejuvenated eardrums. He stood up and found himself face to face with a dragon, its wings wide, nostrils ablaze and tail pointed upward, scorpion-like. It smelled of burned flesh; he gagged. 

The dragon spotted him, and Nigel, sword at the ready, caught his gaze. They defied one another. 

The dragon hissed and a fireball spit from his nose; Nigel ducked. He moved through the trees like a cat and soon was close enough to strike the scaly beast. Metal clanged on the hard scales, but Nigel noticed they broke. He struck again and again until the beast gave a piercing scream. 

Flames surrounded him. Fire burned his flesh and ash blocked his vision. He drove the sword into the raw skin he’d hacked. Blood poured from the wound. His clothes caught fire, and the flames engulfed both beast and man. 

***

The fire department could not find a clear cause for the fire that had reduced the house to cinders. They believed the ancient wiring in the wall behind the bed was at fault. 

The strange old man hadn’t stood a chance; maybe he hadn’t even woken up. 

A rumor spread through the neighborhood children. It was spontaneous combustion, they said, because no one found the charred remains.

TAROT DRACONIS: 10 of Pentacles + XII The Hanged Man

The Card Game

The body swayed in the howling wind as the noose creaked on the gallows’ crossbeam. The distant scurrying of a rat the only sound on the empty square. 

Hangman glanced out the window and sighted the dangling body in the pale moonlight. He sighed. He hated the job, but the little ’uns had to eat. 

“You gon’ play or not?” Deputy called. A soft moan sounded through the jail.

“He must be wakin’ up,” Deputy murmured and Hangman, shuffling into a chair opposite, shrugged. The town drunk was always waking up in their care. 

Deputy shuffled the cards and dealt. Firelight flickered from the wood-burning stove by the wall. Deputy’s keys jingled in the cavernous dark of the jail. They played round after round with only the soft crackling fire for comfort and the occasional moaning for sound. They spoke little; the aftertaste of the hanging lingered, dense and stuffy. 

“Very easy to get away with murder in these parts,” Hangman flung coins onto the table. 

“Sheriff insisted,” Deputy shrugged and gazed at the window. Sheriff had bent over backwards to pin it on the poor devil swaying in the wind. He shook his head. 

“Town bayed for blood, Sheriff gave it to ’em,” Hangman said, “made no difference ole Paddy Corcoran was born wrong, dumb as a box o’ rocks he was. Three families slain in their homes…”

“Dang it!” Deputy threw his cards on the table, “This ain’t right, Paddy never hurt no one. He was innocent as a baby with the mind of a child.”

Hangman nodded. 

“Who’s gon’ take care of his Ma? She a cripple an’ all.”

Hangman shrugged. He hoped the dead held no grudge against him. He only did his job; the little ’uns had to eat. 

“Who d’you reckon done it?”

“Sheriff.” Hangman whispered the words and an icy draft blew through the jail. The lantern on the table flickered. 

“Best keep that to yourself,” Deputy murmured, “can’t prove nothin’.”

Hangman nodded, “an’ he’s Johnson’s brother, they own the town.” 

The name slithered out if his mouth in a steam of contempt. The Johnsons owned the mine, the mercantile and the law. Why did they need more? It’s no coincidence the Ruth Farm was the most prosperous, the Millers bred the best horses, and the Cranes owned the saloon. Hangman and Deputy left their certainty unspoken, though, by the glint of their gaze, they agreed. The whole town was now in the hands of the Johnsons. 

A faint creak stopped the game. Hangman and Deputy glared into the darkness, cards still pressed to their chest. The lantern flickered, dimmed, died and rekindled with an odd green flame. 

“Christ!” Deputy exclaimed and fell off his chair. He faced the doorway, and Hangman, watched the blood drain from Deputy’s face. His spine tingled as he forced himself to turn. 

In the doorway stood Paddy Corcoran, tall and chubby, hands folded on his chest as always, yet, instead of dull brown, his eyes blazed with the same eerie green light. 

“Well, butter m’butt and call me a biscuit,” Hangman said through gritted teeth. 

The dead man, bloated and purple, exploded into a gruesome guffaw. Hangman dared a grin, Paddy always used to laugh at that. 

“Wh-what d’you want?” Deputy stammered. 

“We couldn’t stop ’im, Paddy,” Hangman said, his voice steady. Paddy wasn’t the first dead to appear to Hangman. 

“Who?” Paddy’s voice was hollow, crypt-like.

“Sheriff. Can’t prove it though.” Deputy regained his composure. 

“Where now?” 

Hangman jerked his head towards the cell, “Sleepin’ it off, as always.”

Paddy walked past them, his footfalls silent in death, unlike the heavy stomps he’d trod in life. Hangman and Deputy watched him disappear into the dark jail. Deputy righted his chair and sat. 

A terrified scream cut through the darkness, then silence. The lantern flickered and rekindled into the regular yellow flame; the fire in the stove crackled. Hangman and Deputy returned to their card game. 

No one cared the sheriff died drunk in the jail cell.

ALEISTER CROWLEY THOTH TAROT: 7 of Wands, Valour

Grave

Moonlight shone through Mandy’s window in long skeleton claws across her unicorn bedspread; shadows cast by the tree outside, still bare though spring had arrived. The tree as ancient as the graveyard adjacent her house.

Mandy sat on the corner of the bed, huddled against the headboard with the comforter drawn up to her chin and her brother Mick’s baseball bat beside her. 

Tonight was the scary night. It came twice a year when the light and the dark were equal… and this was the scary hour. The soft rustling of the wind through the half-open window billowed her white curtains. Soon, just at the darkest moment, the voices would begin. 

Mandy closed her eyes and held her breath. She slid her hand out from under the covers and gripped the bat. The wind stopped, and the curtains settled against the wall like a dying breath. 

“Help me,” a soft voice whispered. 

“Pardon me, do you have the time?”

Hooves clopped and wheels rattled in the night. 

Mandy wormed herself to the window, her back scraping against the wall, knuckles white around the bat. She peeked out. 

A multitude of people crowded the yard. Women in long dresses and hoop skirts danced with men in long pants and tailed coats. Two soldiers faced one another swords drawn, one in a blue jacket, the other in red. A man wore a metal breastplate, puffy pants, tights and a pointed helmet; he leaned against a long heavy gun. They went about their business, unaware of the darkest hour and of the frosty graves on which they trod. A car sputtered by, and Mandy glimpsed the crank necessary to start it. A train horn blew and chugged in the darkness. 

Most nights, Mandy leaned on the windowsill and watched them, unafraid and taking in every detail. At seven years old, she now knew the difference between a barouche and a stagecoach, a musket and a rifle, a cloche hat and a bonnet. But tonight… the stench of rot and decay wafted into the room. 

Mandy gasped and pulled herself away as yellow, baggy eyes and rotted teeth peered through the glass. Greasy long hair flattened against the saggy cheeks; a tattered top hat sat crooked on the head. Only on the scary night, he came. 

“Let me in, child,” his voice sounded like a creaking door. 

“No,” Mandy whispered.

“You know you want to,” he cooed and chills ran up Mandy’s spine.

“No,”

“We’ll have such fun,” he hissed. 

Mandy pressed the bat against her, as white skeletal fingers slithered over the sill and into the room, reaching for her bare feet. 

She drew herself up into the tightest ball and whimpered, “leave me alone.”

“I want you,” he sneered. 

The ghosts were now silent and a dense evil had fallen like a rotten, lingering mist. The fingers closed in on Mandy and she felt the icy bone on her skin. 

The door slammed open and Mick burst into the room. He seized the bat and brought it down on the spectral hand. It retreated through the window. Mick faced him. 

“Leave her alone.”

“She’s mine!” The rotted teeth bared.

“Never!”

A cloud passed across the moon and the graveyard fell into momentary darkness. When the sky cleared, the graveyard was empty; the phantoms gone. 

Sunlight peeped through the window and shone on Mick and Mandy asleep, their hands clasped around the baseball bat between them.

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Five of Coins

Heavy

“The road is long…” The Hollies sang; Martin switched off the radio. He hated “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”. It brought back memories of blasts and mud and death. Memories of Arthur, the brother who’d been so heavy Martin had buckled under his weight; so heavy Martin’s feet had dragged through the mud, surrounded by the deafening roar of bombs. Martin had tried to crawl, but Arthur had been so heavy…

Martin wiped off a tear and tried not to think about war things. The road was long and barren. He headed west in his 1969 Chevy and the sun was in his eyes, glaring at him, judging him for not bearing Arthur. He turned the radio back on, relieved the song had ended. The sun, harsh and unforgiving disappeared into the horizon. The first stars pierced the dark blue sky. 

Martin turned on the headlights. Led Zeppelin was singing about going to California. He liked the song and turned the up volume. He too was going to California. More stars sprinkled the darkening sky as Martin drove on. 

Up ahead, a figure appeared trudging alongside the road, head bent, as if weighed down by a great burden. Martin slowed down, deliberating whether to offer a ride or move on. As he approached, Martin distinguished a man in olive-drab uniform, much like the one he’d worn thirty years ago. Martin’s breath hitched, there was something familiar about the figure. 

The figure stopped and faced the road as the Chevy crawled. Martin met the figure’s eyes and his heart skipped a beat. His first instinct was to floor it and get the hell out of there, but his legs disobeyed and hit the brakes instead. He watched, frozen, as the figure opened the door and climbed into the passenger seat. 

“Thank you for stopping,” the man said. 

Martin stared, lips quivering. 

“I’m Arthur,” the man, no older than twenty-two, continued, “I’m heading home.”

Martin gripped the steering wheel and stared at Arthur, the Arthur, sitting beside him. Arthur had died thirty years before, yet here he was, as if not a day had passed. 

“How?” Martin bleated, “How are you here? You’re dead.”

Arthur smiled a warm embracing smile, but Martin only saw resentment in that smile as the guilt and burden welled up inside him. A guilt he’d spent thirty years trying to shrug off his shoulders.

“I left you!” Martin sobbed, “I left you to die!”

Tears streamed down Martin’s cheeks and he repeated the same phrase over and over through his sobs, chest heaving, face buried in his trembling hands. 

“You didn’t leave me,” Arthur replied, “I slipped off you, I was weighing you down. I’m home now, Marty, let me go.”

Arthur put a hand on Martin’s shoulder, the warmth passed through him, calming him, and, as Arthur removed his hand, he took Martin’s burden with him.

“Thank you,” Martin whispered. 

He lifted his gaze; he was still on the long stretch of highway with the sun blazing through the windshield and The Hollies on the radio.

TAROT DRACONIS: Knight of Chalices

Trick or Treat

“Go on, do it,” the boys stood before the gate and egged Ralphie on. He wiped his sweaty palms on the seat of his pants and adjusted the cardboard breastplate he’d made. Tonight he was a knight, and this was his quest. He tightened the twine around his legs that held the cardboard shinguards in place and set his cardboard helmet straight. Ralphie held his makeshift cardboard sword and took a deep breath. 

Skeletal fingers of dead bushes snaked over the yard’s dry ground. The house itself was always dark, the windows empty eye sockets and the rotted wooden door gritted fangs. The moon shone bright and cast eerie shadows over the place. 

“Go,” Winston, a small boy with chubby fingers and thick glasses gave Ralphie a soft shove. Dressed in his green sweatsuit, a garbage can lid strapped to his back and his sister’s purple head wrap and ribbons, he’d transformed himself into Donatello of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He gripped his broomstick, a pretend bo. 

Ralphie glanced at his friends, nodded and took a step forward, “One small step for man…”

“Oh, just get on with it!” Timmy, an unoriginal ghost with a blanket draped over his body and holes for eyes, yelled and started the crows cawing. 

Ralphie trudged through the thorny remnants of the once lively flora that tickled his ankles. He hoped the door wouldn’t budge. He pushed it and, with a hollow groan, the rotted door creaked open. Ralphie’s heart sank, and he gazed back at his friends. No one laughed or heckled him. They stared, pale and gaunt in the moonlight, their homemade Halloween costumes pathetic before the spooky house. 

Ralphie inched in with his sword held out in front. One step at a time his feet took him further into the cavernous darkness of the long-abandoned house; every footstep creaked and resounded over the walls. The stinging smell of rusty metal cut his throat like jagged razors. Ralphie stopped by the stairs and, in the dim moonlight peering through the gaping windows, he glimpsed the remnants of furniture and debris. 

The piercing scream rushed like an icy gust of wind down the stairs and Ralphie froze, his knees trembled yet rooted to the spot. 

“Leave,” a deep voice whispered in his ear and chills crept up his spine, his back stiffened and the hair on his nape stood on end like a frightened cat. 

“Leave!” The voice yelled and a flash of light punched Ralphie in the gut. He fell backwards and slid across the floor to the threshold. Winded and afraid, he clambered and crawled to the stoop. The rotted door slammed and hit him on the backside. 

The boys watched terrified as Ralphie picked himself up and staggered toward the rusty gate; his helmet askew and one loosened shinguard slapping against his leg, the sword forgotten on the stoop. The house grumbled and flashed, as if a storm raged inside though the sky was clear, the moon a bright tranquil witness. 

“LEAVE!” The voice boomed, and the ground shook. The boys turned and ran towards the merry sound of the trick-or-treaters on the next street. 

TAROCCHI DELL’OLIMPO: X The Wheel

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Robert Mackey

 

“What goes around, comes around,” Grandma used to say.

I recall the last time I saw her. She sat on the blue high-backed chair and the sun from the window behind glinted off her knitting needles as she wove soft skeins into colorful creations. Moments later, I heard a crash and a moan from the living room. I rushed downstairs and found Grandma on the floor, shattered window shards strewn everywhere.

“Grandma!”

She grabbed my wrist and fixed her terrified eyes on me.

“He’s here! He’s here!” She cried, wild-eyed.

I wriggled my hand free and ran to the phone.

“Robert, it was Robert!” She raved in the ambulance, sometimes whispering that name, sometimes yelling it. Then she fixed her eyes on me with a strange clarity in her gaze, as if looking through time.

“I killed him,” she said, squeezing my hand so tight it hurt, “find him and make amends.”

“Who, Grandma?”

“Robert Mackey. Find him, break the curse. What goes around…”

I spent the next ten years, to the day, searching for Robert Mackey without success. Instead, I know Grandma better in death than in life. She was a combat nurse at the start of WWII, and later in the war, the Allies recruited her as a spy. Still, I found no trace of Robert Mackey.

“I’m sorry, Grandma,” I wheeze, “I couldn’t make amends. I didn’t have enough time.”

I lie at the bottom of the stairs, immobile, dazed and my limbs strewn at odd angles. Breathing is difficult and blood stings in my throat.

A dirty young man in a WWII uniform stands over me and points his rifle; only a bullet could have made the bloody hole in his temple.

Robert Mackey.

I move my lips but don’t make a sound.

He nods; rage and revenge flash in his eyes.

His bayonet glints and I gurgle when he stabs me through the heart.

 

OLD ENGLISH TAROT: XII The Hanged Man

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The Monkey Bars

 

Danny loved the monkey bars. Every day at recess he would climb on them, then cross them back and forth with his feet dangling and only the strength of his arms. His favorite part was to hook his knees on the crossbars and let himself hang upside down.

The world looked very different upside down. He recognized his classmates, but it always took him a moment, and he thought it strange how the bullies and meanies seemed nice and the pretty girls turned ugly. Maybe the upside-down shows you the opposite of what is, thought Danny, or maybe it shows you the truth.

Danny would hang until the recess monitor demanded he right himself, or until the blood rushed to his head and his brain thumped. He feared the throb which the latter produced because it blurred his vision and muffled his hearing, almost like being underwater.

Robbie bet him he couldn’t hang all recess. Danny knew the headache would come before the end, but for Robbie’s cupcake, he’d do it.

The recess bell rang, and the boys beelined for the monkey bars. They glanced towards the monitor and smirked. Mr. Stanford was on duty; he was old, and he liked to sit on a bench with his eyes closed.

“I’m not sleeping, I’m just gazing inside myself,” he’d say, “and if you bother those girls again, you’re off to detention faster than you can say ‘Jack Robinson’.” The offending party would slink away, perplexed at Mr. Stanford’s uncanny perspicacity.

Danny climbed on the monkey bars, crossed to the middle, lifted his legs and hooked his knees and ankles on the crossbars.

Robbie counted down, “Three… two… one!”

Danny lowered his head and gazed at the dirt beneath him; a butterfly flitted by and alighted on a pebble. Robbie’s smiling face seemed like a happy frown.

Soon, his cheeks puffed up and the first throb announced itself. He couldn’t swallow and his ears got hotter and hotter. Danny imagined his whole head blowing up like a balloon. He took a deep breath as the thumping began. Here goes. His vision clouded, and the world narrowed. At that moment, he would right himself, but for the sake of that creamy decadent cupcake, he hung on.

The upside-down world turned red and tinted Robbie’s dim and worried expression. Robbie moved his lips, but Danny heard nothing. Now he was underwater, suspended in the atmosphere, floating in space.

The ground cracked and opened. Fingers and hands dug their way out of the muddy, grassless dirt. Golden-haired ringlets emerged, followed by blue eyes and a creamy complexion. The girl frightened him; he distinguished the bone and sockets of her skull beneath her skin. Danny remembered why he hated this moment, he’d seen her once before and she’d scared him.

The girl, dressed in a pink poodle skirt and white blouse, bobby socks and saddle shoes, smiled at him and touched him. Danny screamed. The world spun and blackened.

“Danny, wake up!” Mr. Stanford’s voice came from far away.

Danny opened his eyes and focused on Robbie’s and Mr. Stanford’s worried expressions.

“Are you okay?” Robbie peeped.

“I saw her,” Danny whispered, his voice hollow in his ears.

“Who?”

“The girl, I think she’s buried here.”

“Nonsense.”

“I swear, Mr. Stanford, she wore a pink poofy skirt and her hair was all done up in curls and held back with a pink ribbon, like Goldilocks.”

Mr. Stanford went from worried to scared and Danny realized he knew about her.

“Grandpa told me a girl fell and broke her neck many years ago,” Robbie whispered and Mr. Stanford gave a slight, almost imperceptible nod.

“Was that her?” Danny asked, but in an instant, the fright had passed and Mr. Stanford composed himself, saying nothing. He helped Danny stand and sent him to the nurse.

As Robbie led Danny away, he glanced back; Mr. Stanford leaned on the monkey bars wiping tears from his eyes. The ghost girl stood beside him, shimmering in the hot day. She waved at Danny and vanished.