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A Morning Stroll

The peacock’s shrill cry sounded throughout the hacienda. It was now a luxury hotel and Eliza paced the cobblestone path through a soft mist hovering over the ground. The old stone wall rose beside her, and Eliza admired the green moss growing between the ancient stonework.

The peacock shrieked again and Eliza glimpsed the beautiful, iridescent turquoise tail atop the stone wall. The peacock jumped down from the wall and ambled along the path ahead of Eliza. She came to a small fork in the cobblestone path, paused for a moment, then followed the peacock as it faded into the mist, which was thickening like whipped cream as it rolled down from the mountain.

Tall trees lined the path and the Spanish moss clinging to the branches looked like witches flitting among the trees. Though spooky, the foggy silence comforted Eliza. She sauntered behind the peacock’s fading form.

A cool morning breeze blew through the mist, and Eliza pulled her cardigan tight across her chest. The mist closed around the peacock and Eliza lost sight of it, but discerned the clear click of its feet on the cobblestone. She guided herself by the tall bulk of the stone wall alongside her, and the protruding roots of the Spanish moss laden trees that lined the path. She paused and wondered whether to turn back, but the mist now engulfed her, so all she distinguished was the pathway ahead. As long as she followed the path, she reasoned, and kept the wall to her right, she had no chance of leaving the hacienda and losing her way at the foot of the mountain. The peacock cried, and Eliza’s apprehension lifted as she renewed her steps towards the sound.

Up ahead, in the misty silence, a dark mass formed, and as Eliza slowed her pace, a figure approached her. Out of the mist, a couple appeared, and Eliza perceived a young man in a three-piece suit and top hat, leading a young lady with a straw hat pinned to her low pompadour hairstyle. Her gloved fingers curled around the man’s elbow, and a small parasol hooked over her other arm. Her long dress shone in brilliant white, as did the man’s shirt underneath the black vest and coat. The man swung a cane with each step as they strolled towards Eliza. 

The woman gave Eliza a kind nod, and the man tipped his hat when they crossed paths.

Buenos días,” the woman smiled, and Eliza returned the greeting.

The peacock shrieked and startled Eliza, who whipped her head towards the sound. It perched atop the stone wall; sunbeams broke through and dissipated the milky mist. Eliza turned back towards the couple, but saw only the ancient path behind her. It occurred to her she never heard their footsteps, nor the thump-thump of the man’s cane as they strolled on the cobblestone.

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Red Sand

The painting hung by itself in the gallery; the enormous canvas covered most of the back wall. When Daphne wandered in, she paused in front of it, and gave it a bored glance.

Abstract art never interested Daphne. She found no meaning to it. To her, it was just a bunch of colors, stains, blobs, and oodles of ego. But this painting seized her. It caught her in its grip, and while Daphne’s mind told her to move away, her body froze with her torso facing the painting while her feet turned sideways, as if unsure whether to stay or go.

Entranced, Daphne contemplated the painting. It was a blob of bright red, with black and blue lines running down it. The uneven lines streaked it with such violence it seemed as if a tiger had mauled the canvas. The red background looked like a bloodstain on the sand. Indeed, the artist had named it “Red Sand”. 

But Daphne saw a city street in a fiery sunset. The blue and black strikes that seared the sunset bled out of the picture and surrounded her. They grew straight and tall, flanking her on either side. Up and up they rose until they scraped the sky. The pavement stretching out in front of her shone with the metallic green of automobile oil. Cars honked in the distance, and Daphne wondered whether they honked beyond the gallery walls, or whether they honked in the painting. Wherever, traffic rushed all around her, but she saw none of it. The sky darkened above the sunset fire, and a chill crept up Daphne’s spine.

Footsteps clacked on the pavement behind her. She wanted to turn around and yank herself out of the painting, but she stood transfixed by the vibrant colors of the sunset and darkened skyscrapers on either side.

The footsteps approached. Daphne followed the click-clack of stiletto heels as they reached her, then walked around her on either side, like water separating around a stubborn rock and flowing back together afterwards. The footsteps overtook Daphne and continued down the oil-slicked pavement towards the sunset. She listened, still staring down the abstract alleyway and waiting to see their owner appear, but the footsteps paused for an instant, then picked up the pace and hurried away from her. A sense of impending danger rose from Daphne’s toes, like a menace careening towards her. The footsteps’ panicking clack-clack hurtled into the blazing sunset as inky darkness fell over the sky and the buildings no longer glowed in the gloaming. Now they were only darkened statues flanking her, like fallen angels guarding the threshold to Hell.

The footfalls faded away; then, a bloodcurdling scream lacerated the painted night and ripped her out of the picture.

Shaken, Daphne glanced around for the source of that heart-wrenching shriek, but the gallery was quiet, with no sound of a commotion anywhere.

“It’s a magnificent piece, its violence rips through you,” a voice wafted in from the doorway. 

Startled, Daphne whipped around towards it. The curator stood gazing at the painting. 

“Yes,” Daphne agreed. 

“You know, it was the artist’s last piece. He called it ‘Red Sand’ because it’s an abstract depiction of his wife’s death. Police found her murdered on a beach. It was a brutal crime—never solved—and the artist never recovered from the shock. He killed himself soon after finishing this painting.”

Daphne stared wide-eyed at the curator, then gazed back at the painting. 

“No,” Daphne said, “his wife didn’t die on a beach, they murdered her in a city alley.”

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OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Three of Swords


Ivy crept up the ancient and massive stone wall. Bridget stood on tiptoe and stretched her neck, hoping to see beyond the wall, but the tangle of leaves and branches obscured all glimpses of what lay beyond it.

She had inherited this vast property from a distant, unknown relative, with no other explanation than a map to its location and the old, leaf-shaped iron key. Now, Bridget had a choice: to sell it for a song, or to repair it.

But the ivy and honeysuckle and bougainvilleas crawled and climbed and slithered in a mess of thorns and leaves, and Bridget saw no hope of gaining access to the ramshackle structure.

“It’s like The Secret Garden,” Bridget mumbled, and pondered whether to climb a tree.

She jangled the key in her hand; the gate was so rusty and overgrown with vine she doubted the lock would work. She tried anyway; she had not come all this way just to peek over the wall. With great effort, the key turned, and the door creaked open. It swung with the high-pitched squeak of rusty hinges, but snagged on the overgrown weeds that spidered over the ground.

Bridget squeezed through the gate; the sight beyond it caught her breath. She had entered a world of green. Every branch and leaf glowed with a thousand shades of green. Green, up and down and left and right. She rubbed her eyes, and little green sparks flashed under her eyelids.

Yards ahead, she spotted a stone building covered with moss and crawling with bindweed. It was a short one-story home with a series of stocky arches lining a desolate veranda over which twining plants hung like blooming tendrils. Three turrets stood at three corners and jutted out like three swords ensnared in the vines. The fourth turret had crumbled long ago.

As her eyes adjusted to the blinding green light, she noted pinpricks of reds, yellows, whites, purples and blues, and realized the entire property was in full bloom, in October!

A small twitching under an arch caught her sight. A tiny light seemed to wink at her. Something rustled in the trees, and out of the corner of her eye, Bridget saw movement.

She turned in time to glimpse a figure disappear into the matted forest behind the house.

“Wait!” She called and hurried after it.

It dashed and darted between the trees and ivy, and Bridget had difficulty following it. She stopped at the end of the wall. The figure had disappeared, and she strained her eyes, scanning the thick, overgrown orchard for it.

“You are not like the others,” a voice whispered in her ear.

She whipped around, but glimpsed only a green shadow glide behind a flourishing tree.

“What do you mean? Who are you?”

“I am your most ancient ancestor. Your forefathers hated their people, but you respect us. You respect all living things.”

“Who is us? I don’t understand.”

“You come from a long line of sprites — people of nature, beings of light. Some humans call us fairies, others leprechauns, some know us as nymphs, others as devas. We are wood people, forest people. Your human forebears hated us, hunted us, felled our homes. They turned away from us, except for one. This home is our last sanctuary.”

As the voice spoke, Bridget noticed watchful eyes on her peering out from among the branches and leaves and multicolored blossoms.

“How came you here, child?” Another voice spoke from a sprawling rosebush.

“I-I inherited this property from a distant relative when she died. I never knew her.”

“Ah, so the age of Ostara has ended. The age of Brighid begins.” 

“You are welcome here… You need not join us, but please do not take our home,” someone whispered from behind an oak.

“Yes, let us be,” a fourth voice spoke from the jasmine creeping up the turret, “if you wish to leave.”

Bridget glanced at the old building, and for the first time realized the roof had caved in, and all that remained were the arches, the veranda, and the three stone turrets. 

Hundreds of expectant eyes held her in place, and through the flora, Bridget almost glimpsed the creatures’ various shapes, all so elusive they might have been shadows. She sensed their pleas, their dread, and the hope their idyll might last a while longer.

Bridget said nothing, but made her way back to the half-opened the gate. All the while, a shadowy, tall, man-like figure followed beside her, hidden among the brambles.

She passed through the gate and shut it behind her. A man came into full view between the wrought-iron bars and bindweed. He had long, green, straw-like hair and a long copious green beard. His eyes shone green and his skin was rugged, like bark. His expression showed hope and fear.

Bridget whispered, “There’s nothing of monetary value here.”

She winked, and The Green Man’s rough lips broke into a wide smile, revealing birch-white teeth.

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BRUEGEL TAROT: 8 of Pentacles


The painting captivated Frieda. It hung in the library of her grandparents’ castle, which had been in the family for generations. The painting was an allusion to her family’s tradesman past and depicted her 17th century ancestors, though her family line extended a hundred years before it. Instead of portraying her forebears in stiff poses and ostentatious clothing, it depicted them in a marketplace, selling their wares at various stalls. Much like Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, which led to the suspicion Rembrandt himself might have been the artist. 

“There is no evidence of that,” Opa said, giving her a conspiratorial wink, “but legend has it, it was our predecessor Johannes, an accomplished artist, who painted it.”

“So how come no one knows?” Frieda asked as she and Opa gazed at the painting.

“Because he had already vanished. No one knows who painted it.”

Frieda gave Opa a suspicious glance. He had a penchant for tall tales and unlikely yarns; he once told her their ancestors had slain a dragon and kept the treasure it had been guarding. Frieda knew he was repeating the gist of the Nibelungenlied. 

“Sure, Opa,” Frieda said and suppressed an exasperated eye-roll.

“No, look,” Opa said, “you see him there in the middle, the baker dressed in black handing out the bread roll? That’s him; and beside him, in the meat stall, is his brother Benno. The woman is Hilde, his sister, who is counting out the money. The man in the smithy is their cousin, Klaus.”

Frieda raised a dubious eyebrow and Opa sighed, “I know this because someone wrote their names beside the portraits. The letters have faded, but I’ve gazed at this portrait more decades than you.”

“Was Johannes a baker?”

“No, the family was already wealthy and respected by then. In the Renaissance, three brothers, one a baker, one a butcher and the third a blacksmith, working together, amassed the wealth passed down to us. We descend from the baker, like Johannes, but he was an artist.”

“Hmm,” Frieda still doubted Opa’s veracity, “how did he vanish?”

“No one knows, he just disappeared. People gossiped that he ran off with a woman of a lower class. Others said someone murdered him and hid his remains somewhere.”

“Who would murder him?” Frieda asked.

“Most people thought his sister and her husband, Lorenz, that man in the background who looks like he wants to vomit.”


Opa shrugged, “Jealousy? No one even knows it happened. There’s no evidence.”

Frieda shrugged and said good night. Opa sat down in his armchair and opened his book as she left the room.

Hours later, Frieda woke up from a strange dream she could not recall. Moonlight peeped through the slit in the middle of the closed curtains. Frieda had an odd feeling she needed to gaze at the painting one more time. That sliver of a dream which had vanished like a will-o’-the-wisp nagged at her, and she guessed it had been about the painting. Frieda got out of bed and shoved her feet into her slippers. She opened the bedroom door and tiptoed down the hall towards the library.

The fireplace glowed with red-hot embers, and Frieda noticed Opa’s sleeping figure in the armchair. His snores mingled with the tick-tock of the cuckoo clock hanging on the wall.

Frieda crept up to the painting, careful not to wake Opa, but he gave a loud snort and opened his eyes to find her gazing at the picture.

“Frieda? What is it?” He whispered.

“Nothing, I just, I needed to see it again,” she replied.

Opa rubbed the sleep from his eyes and stretched, “I guess it’s time for bed now.”

The cuckoo clock struck the hour, and the little bird sprang out and cuckooed three times. A cold draft blew and revived the dying embers in the hearth; they cast an eerie red glow over the room.

Frieda gasped, “Opa, look!”

But Opa was already aware of what was happening in the painting.

The butcher, Benno, moved and struck Johannes in the head with a cleaver. Johannes toppled forward as blood oozed from the frame. As he fell, his body breached the barrier between the two-dimensional painting and landed with a hollow thud on the three-dimensional floor.

Frieda gripped Opa’s hand, who squeezed hers back; neither moved.

The murderer returned to his position in the meat stall, but their gazes were intent on Johannes’s body on the floor.

The moonlight entered the tall windows and shone on the specter. One hand moved, then the other, and little by little Johannes stirred. With the cleaver still lodged in his head, he stood. His ghostly eyes fixed on the two observers. He floated toward the tall bookshelf in the corner and pulled a volume from the shelf. A phantom door slid open, and he disappeared inside it.

Another cold draft blew from the bookcase, and both Frieda and Opa sensed the spell had broken.

“It wasn’t vomit-face,” Frieda murmured. 

Opa walked to the bookcase. He pulled all the books from the shelf until he found the one that triggered the hidden door. It creaked open. Frieda peeked around Opa’s hunching shoulders. There, in a nook too narrow for anyone to sit, slumped a pile of rags and bones, the skull split down the middle.

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Walking Home

Walking home down the dark alley on a moonless night, I shrieked. He looked like Nosferatu and snapped me from my reverie when he morphed out of the shadows and fell into step beside me.

“Excuse me…” he murmured an empty apology, as if he had meant to catch up to me.

“I was not expecting you…” I mumbled and sped up, trying to steady my nerves. 

The tall, pale and lanky man with sunken eyes, buck teeth and dressed in black let me pass. I felt his eyes on the back of my neck as I rounded the corner into my street. I considered walking on and pretending I lived elsewhere, but remembered the all-night pharmacy across the road.

Still rattled, I stepped into the bright shop. I often buy candy or last-minute groceries here, and knew the employees, at least by sight. There was no one at the checkout, which did not surprise me, since they often walked around the store, but would always materialize as soon as someone neared the register.

I ambled around the candy aisle for a while, but did not wish to buy anything. Nothing made my mouth water. In fact, my stomach was in a knot.

Countless times I had walked the streets by myself and encountered so many people. None, not even the homeless man who yelled obscenities at the air, had ever frightened me as this creepy Nosferatu. There was nothing about him that should scare me, I rationalized. He was only an unfortunate-looking fellow walking alone at night.

“It’s not even that late,” I muttered.

“Beg pardon, miss?”

I jumped and stared at the employee standing beside me. 

“Sorry, I was just, um, thinking aloud,” I managed an innocent smile.

He smiled back, and I gazed into his warm, brown eyes.

“Is there anything you need?” He asked, and his voice was music to my ears.

“No, no,” I stammered, “I, um… Someone startled me outside, and I’m still a little shaken.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, and my heart skipped a beat when he smiled, “Do you live nearby?” 

“Across the street,” I replied. 

A little voice in my head said to never show strangers where I live, but a pleasant brain-fog drowned it out. I grinned at the employee while a wispy thought wondered why I had never seen him.

“Would you like me to walk you out? My shift will be over in a few minutes.” He held my gaze, and I blushed.

He was handsome and kind, and I drifted into an ocean of comfort and trust. The little voice in my head was screaming now, but with muffled, mangled and nonsensical words. The world stopped when I assented, and he beamed at me with the radiance of a thousand suns.

I lallygagged until he beckoned to me, and I followed him out the sliding doors.

“Is the man you saw still here?” He asked as we reached the curb.

I tore my eyes away from him for a quick glance, “No, he isn’t.”

The little voice whispered, how did he know it was a man? You never said it was a man! But it might have been speaking Greek for all I cared.

We crossed and approached the stoop to my apartment building. The street was quiet and the porch-light dim. I had an odd sense of artificial silence, though I heard the bustle of the city traffic a few streets away. 

I stared into his eyes and smiled at him. We were at the front door. I had a vague idea I should reach into my purse for my keys, but I only stared into his handsome face. He brushed my cheek with his fingers, and I trembled. He leaned closer.

“May I come in?” He cooed.

I was about to nod, but was so entranced by his touch and breath on my skin that I could not reply. He put his arm around my waist and pulled me into his embrace. The porch-light flickered, and I felt his warm kiss on my lips.

His gentle hand guided my head sideways and brushed my hair away, exposing my neck. I closed my eyes, enjoying the moment as he placed his lips on my throbbing vein and made a soft, lustful hiss. 

I gave a blissful giggle and blinked my eyes open, then screamed. Nosferatu’s pallid face appeared from the darkness behind him. In an instant, long bony fingers grabbed hold of his shoulders and pulled him away from me.

Horrified, I glimpsed his handsome face transform into a growling grimace. His eyes became two fiery red-hot coals, while two long fangs gnashed at Nosferatu.

The vampire lunged at the pale, lanky shadow-lurker. But Nosferatu, lightning fast, drove a wooden stake into the vampire’s heart. The vampire squealed in agony, then shattered into a cluster of spiders.

Calm and collected, Nosferatu quashed every one. Terrified and motionless, I stood on the stoop; the porch-light flickered and buzzed. When he finished, Nosferatu turned to me and smiled. It was a soft, comforting smile that improved his wraith-like countenance a thousandfold.

“Pardon me, miss,” he said, “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

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Rider Through the Mist

The insults and accusations flew like daggers and stabbed the walls of Adrian’s house. His parents’ fight resonated through the wallpaper of his room. His little brothers’ video game thundered in his ears.

Adrian put his head in his hands and drew two shaky breaths. He closed his book and reached for his earplugs. He hated wearing them; they only muffled the world without providing the peaceful silence he craved. Not even Cassie’s home satisfied that yearning. Over there, the silence was doleful; it weighed heavy on Mr. Powers’ brow and shoulders. Cassie bore its burden as well. But of late, Adrian had noticed her sorrow lifting, and now a tiny ember of something alive shone in Cassie’s emerald eyes. Still, that sad silence was better than none. 

Maybe I’ll only ever find that peaceful silence when I’m dead, he thought, but checked himself when the grove by the Old Cemetery flashed in his mind. There, among the ever-blooming trees, he found peace, though not silence. 

He sighed and pushed the earplugs into his ears as the world muted, and his brain filled with a heavy and dense artificial quiet. The alternative was the incessant noise that rattled his house.

Adrian laid back on his pillow and closed his eyes. A deep, multicolored mist filled his mind, and Adrian welcomed it; it fluttered like the wind playing with the blossoms in the grove. Soon, his mind sank into its own depths.

Out of the swirling mind-mist, a black horse appeared. Adrian recognized Ethur’s obsidian sheen glowing on his lustrous coat. His long, glossy mane bounced as he cantered towards Adrian. With his cool nose, Ethur touched Adrian’s hand resting on his chest. Adrian wanted to open his eyes, but his eyelids were too heavy, and the brain-mist too dense.

Adrian placed his hands on Ethur’s back and mounted him.

Ethur galloped through the mist until Adrian discerned a window flickering with flame-light. Ethur neared it and Adrian marveled at the stealthy silence of his hooves, like he was riding a cat. As the thought flashed, Adrian noticed the head and rounded ears of a black panther. It had Ethur’s obsidian luster, and Adrian knew this was Ethur in his panther shape.

They peeked in the window.

The room beyond the glass looked seedy and grotesque; Adrian imagined a putrid stink, though he smelled nothing. A dark fireplace lit the room, and even the flames flickered with a vile glow. A man and a woman sat on two shabby high-backed chairs facing each other. Both had ghastly features, as if they wore their souls on their skin.

“Have you found her?” the woman asked.

“No,” the man replied deadpan, “but there might be another more powerful than Laura Duke, and easier too. She’s only twelve. I believe her name is Cassie.”

“I don’t care!” The woman snapped, and the man flinched but hid his reflex behind a cynical leer.

“I want Laura! I want that bitch to suffer for what she did to your brother!”

“I understand,” the man cast his eyes down, and Adrian saw an angry, unrepentant spark in them as he did so.

There was a moment’s silence.

“More powerful, you say?” The woman purred.


“And only twelve?”


“Why have you not brought her?”

“I will.”

The woman smirked, “Can you seduce her?”

The man grinned, “With your help, yes.”

The woman cackled and rose from the chair. She crossed the room and took a vial from a low shelf. 

She gave it to him, “You better use it well.”

“She will not resist the charms of the new boy in school. Trust me.”

Adrian gasped, and the pair stopped. Their heads whipped around and faced the window, but saw only the dense fog that veiled their evil from the world.

“Someone’s watching,” the woman snarled and fixed her gaze in Adrian’s direction.

Adrian opened his mouth to scream as the fire flared and two sharp eyes gleamed from its flames. A shadowy figure growled in the fireplace.

Adrian’s eyes flew open, he lay on his bed and took deep breaths to calm his beating heart. His fingers closed around Ethur’s tiny obsidian stone figure lying on his chest.

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OLD ENGLISH TAROT: Queen of Batons


Layla sits on the rocking-chair by the window with a mug of hot tea clasped between her hands. She gazes at the tangled mass of oak boughs that flank her childhood home. Perhaps the slivers of light piercing the overcast sky and glimmering on the red and golden leaves remind her of her one year at boarding school, where she met her two dearest and lifelong friends. She has vague memories of the place, save for one indelible incident.

One night, Layla, Sarah, and Tiffany sat by the window overlooking the school’s garden.

Beyond the garden wall was a ruined house, with a collapsed roof and hollow windows. From their dormitory, they had a clear view into its yard, and the moonlight caught the snarled mess of brambles and briars beside the ramshackle porch.

The girls had been yakking away about everything under the sun when Sarah gasped.

“Look!” She pointed at the adjoining yard. 

Their eyes followed Sarah’s finger. 

A young man stood in the moonlight. As they watched and wondered who he was, he glanced up, sighting their child faces framed by the window and illuminated by the faint light of their desk lamp.

Night had only just fallen, Layla recalls, because they had not announced lights out yet.

“It was winter,” she mutters, “it must’ve been, because it was full night, and the darkness was crisp and silvery.”

The young man caught their gazes, and Layla’s heart still skips and drops to her feet at the memory of his eyes. They were a bright, cold piercing blue; she recalls nothing of his face, just his eerie, bright eyes. In her mind, he seems to be all light and shadow, like Tiffany’s most celebrated paintings.

Sarah, the first to spot the apparition, was also the first to die.

Tears sting Layla’s eyes as she remembers her young friend taken by death beneath the bloody metal of a car at the bottom of a ravine. Did she lose control of her car? Cool-headed Sarah with steel grit? Layla shakes her head and stifles a sob. 

Decades and several husbands later, Tiffany also passed away. Her death was not violent but slow, as the cancer ate away, first at her breast, then at the remains of her meager body.

“Layla,” Tiffany called for her on her deathbed.

Layla, a lump in her throat, bent forward as Tiffany whispered her last words.

“He’s here. I see him.”


“The man with the icy blue eyes; the man from that night.”

A chill ran up her spine and froze all words of comfort, while Tiffany breathed her last. 

A sob rises in Layla’s chest.

She misses her friends. One did not live long enough, the other too much. Layla glances down at her wrinkled, twisted fingers cupped around the mug of tea. Her spotted hands tremble from the involuntary spams she has developed of late.

Shaking, she lifts one hand, and with her knobby fingers, wipes the tears streaming down her face.

She longs for her youth, her past, her health. But most of all, she longs for her friends.

Layla turns her gaze back to the window. She shrieks; there beneath the tree stands the man with the piercing blue eyes. He beckons to her.

Layla’s mug of tea rolls to the floor, spilling its contents onto the carpet.

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The homeless man sat on the dingy stoop of the abandoned factory across the street from Rose’s apartment building. She always saw him when she gazed out her bedroom window. The humpbacked figure sat beneath the street lamplight, as the night shadows danced around him.

To Rose, he was a sad figure, someone to pity, someone for whom to feel compassion. He never scared her, not even when he looked up and stared at her window. He seemed to pierce the darkness and cast his gaze upon her. An instant later, his head would droop back down on his crooked shoulders. Rose knew he had not seen her, that he could not see through the double-paned window, into the darkened bedroom lit only by the faint reading lamp on the nightstand.

Every night, unseen, Rose would give the man a slight wave and tell him a silent goodnight as she switched off the lamp. He was always there, motionless, like a misshapen statue.

One night, as Rose’s eyes searched the murk for the reassuring beam of light across the street, she noticed the hunched vagrant was not in his usual place.

Lightning flashed; thunder roared. A big storm was coming, and Rose hoped the drifter either made it to the safety of the tattered awning above the stoop, or had found decent shelter elsewhere.

Regardless, she gave the usual tiny wave and wished the hunchback goodnight as she turned off the light. She settled her head on her pillow, waiting for sleep and listening to the roaring storm.

Rose’s eyes flew open. The storm had abated, and far away the sounds of tires driving on wet pavement shimmered in the silence of her apartment.

A sound had awakened her. A click, like the click of a deadbolt.

Rose’s heart pounded as she kept still and listened to the darkness beyond the bedroom. Her hand slid out from under the covers and edged towards the nightstand, seeking her cellphone. Rose paled as her fingers touched only its wooden surface. 

It’s in the living room, she cursed herself as her pulse quickened.

Rose held her breath when she caught the distant sound of shuffling feet.

Despite the black overcast night, light peered through the window-grilles and Rose, frightened as she was, found it comforting.

Muffled footsteps approached her closed bedroom door.

She shifted her body towards the light glimmering through the window. From the height of the bed, Rose had a view of the abandoned factory and its stoop. There, in the lamplight, sat the humpbacked figure, and Rose’s heart skipped with relief. 

As unknown fingers closed around the bedroom doorknob, she was hyper-alert and comforted by the sight of the strange, yet familiar, vagabond across the street.

The doorknob turned; Rose stifled a sob and fixed her gaze on the slouching figure bathed in the golden ray of the street lamp.

The bedroom door inched open with a muffled squeak.

Rose’s hand crept towards the window.

Help me, she implored in the same mind-voice she always bid the hunched tramp goodnight.

He looked up at her as if he heard her prayer. He glared at Rose’s window and, for an instant, his eyes glowed with a silver spark.

Rose’s spine crawled as the footsteps and presence of a big man approached her bed. Her fingers curled around the bedsheet as the sound of deep, lustful breaths reached her ears, and a human warmth inched towards her neck. Still, she kept her gaze fixed on the crooked beggar in the streetlamp. 

The hunchback, his eyes still on the window, rose from the stoop. He rose and rose and rose until he stood straight and tall and powerful.

Rose’s heart pounded. 

A hand crept up her back and shoulder, then cupped her breast as the intruder lay down beside her. His hand wormed its way to her neck, feeling every inch of her clammy skin, and settled over her mouth.

“If you behave,” the invader growled, “I won’t kill you.”

The radiant figure across the street entranced the immobile Rose, as a white pearlescent wing unfurled from its back, then another.

In a flash, the figure took flight, passed through the windowpane, and alighted on Rose’s bed. It grabbed the screaming prowler by the neck and hurled him against the wall.

The prowler, frightened out of his wits, scrambled to stand while the angel stood tall and defiant with arms akimbo and wings splayed wide over Rose.

The intruder clutched at his face as if it burned, then tottered and clambered out the open bedroom door. Rose heard his frenzied screams as he bolted from the apartment and stumbled into the hallway. The inky gloom swallowed the manic would-be rapist as he floundered across the street, and his terrified yowls faded in the distance. 

Soft, loving fingers now brushed Rose’s cheek; she turned her head to meet the angel’s gaze. His smile reached the golden-silver twinkle of his eyes. He bent down and kissed her forehead.

“Thank you,” Rose murmured, but the angel had vanished.

As the fright ebbed, she gazed out towards the abandoned factory stoop. In the lamplight, she saw the comforting hunchbacked figure.

Rose gave her customary little wave and bid him goodnight.

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Reyna’s  Oak

The statue stood in the old graveyard since time immemorial. A stone woman sat on a throne and held up a goblet in an eternal salutation to the good life. The throne perched atop a tomb, and a tall, thick oak tree flanked it, like a sentinel protecting his queen. Time had smoothed the statue’s nose, eyes, and mouth into bumps and valleys, and the name on the tomb had faded into oblivion long ago.

The carved folds of her dress were now smooth lines covered in moss and bindweed. Ivy slithered around her bare, polished feet and crawled up her lap, winding itself around the arm holding the goblet aloft. No one knew her name, the villagers all called her The Queen.

She was the heroine of many fanciful legends about her identity and contribution to the world. People surmised she was Guinevere, or Boudicca, but the mystery hovered still over the village of Reyna’s Oak.

The statue had been many a scholarly enterprise for decades. Historians and archeologists came from the big universities to determine her name and age. Many experts said medieval sculptors carved her, but others thought she was Roman, and still others believed she was even more ancient. They brought machines and dug around her feet. They used ground-penetrating radar to peer under the slab of stone that covered the grave beneath the throne. There was a skeleton down there, they said, but without exhumation they could know no more.

The village council hemmed and hawed every time someone — always an outsider — suggested breaking the stone beneath her feet. They stonewalled all attempts to dig deeper into The Queen’s history.

The villagers of Reyna’s Oak considered The Queen a landmark, a patrimony of their village, and they stalled all endeavors to deface her. They understood something the erudite scholars and archeologists did not: The Queen’s well-being affected Reyna’s Oak’s well-being. The tomb bound the village to it, as if Reyna’s Oak’s life began with The Queen’s death.

The goblet The Queen held was always full of water. How much water remained in the cup at the start of spring determined the harvest and economic development for the rest of the year.

If the water in the goblet was low, then the village — poor and rich alike — would have a harsh year. If the water brimmed over, then the village rejoiced, for abundance lay ahead. The goblet had never been dry.

One night, a terrible storm raged. It came in a banging flash and villagers scattered, running to their houses as hail and rain pelted them from the sky.

Taking refuge in their homes, they watched in horror as lightning zapped down and struck the old cemetery at the center of town.

Many screamed, others gasped, and all hoped The Queen remained unscathed.

Thunder, lightning, and hail pummeled the village all night, but by morning, the storm had abated.

The villagers breathed a collective sigh of relief as they took stock of their property. Most buildings were undamaged.

Not a significant loss, they murmured. Phew, they breathed.

Then the screams sounded throughout the village streets.

Lightning had struck The Queen.

The guardian oak stood with its thick trunk split and charred, and groaned in pain and sorrow as its branches swayed in the cool breeze. The Queen’s goblet lay on the ground with its cup separated from the stem. The cup — thank heavens — remained full. A jagged crack marred the smooth statue as the lightning left its trace. The tomb beneath the stone had shattered, and a hole gaped. A few people dared to peer inside it, others turned their heads.

Those who dared a glance reported seeing nothing but earth and stone, despite the assurances of the myriad of scholars of a human skeleton buried in the ground. Many shrugged and stated that academics rarely knew what they said. Most looked at one another askance, superstition shining in their eyes and wondering if perhaps this was a bad omen.

That night, the villagers awoke to the sound of a woman singing through the village streets. The voice was both sweet and hollow, and an eerie mist spread over the town. The meek cowered in their beds, while the bold dared to peek out the windows. They reported the spectral figure of a woman in a long, flowing dress floating down the street. Barking dogs quieted and whimpered as she approached. The mist thickened and soon engulfed the village.

The next morning, the scholars came, alerted to the damage done to The Queen. They arrived at the quiet village and wondered that no one was in sight. They knocked on doors, but no answer came. Then they peeked in the windows and found the houses empty of living souls. The mystery of Reyna’s Oak’s disappearance only deepened when the scholars read the last entries in the vanished inhabitants’ journals.

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Nothing Special About the Lighthouse

Irene crossed the street and followed the sidewalk to the beach entrance. She leaned on the stumpy seawall separating the beach from the sidewalk and took off her shoes. Summer was over, yet the weather remained warm. The salty breeze played with her hair, and the moonlight shone on the breaking waves. She crossed the sand and let the waves lick her warm feet. The icy water bit at her toes.

Irene stepped back, beyond the reach of the waves, and trudged on the sand towards the lighthouse. Its beacon rotated in the night air and lit up the rocks as it passed over them. Those jagged rocks had been the culprit of many a shipwreck, but no ship had entered the harbor since… Who knew?

The murmur of the lapping waves crowded her hearing and cleared her mind of the sad thoughts of the day. She recalled walking with Grandpa Nathan along the beach as a child. He would tell her folklore and fairytales as the waves caressed their feet, and their footsteps remained imprinted on the wet sand. She marveled at how quickly the water wiped them away, as if their existence were nothing but a flutter in time.

Grandpa would never take her on his night walks, because she should have been in bed. But Irene often crawled out of it and, from her window, watched his rickety silhouette make its way to the lighthouse.

“What’s at the lighthouse?” She asked once.

“Nothing,” Grandpa said with a stern eye, despite his grinning lips.

Irene shrugged and let the matter drop.

“Go to bed,” Grandpa ordered afterwards, as if he had only just realized the lateness of the hour.

Moonlight peeped in through the window and gleamed on the wedding picture of Grandpa and Stella—her real grandmother—on the mantlepiece.

Irene knew Erica, the woman who raised her after her parents died, was no blood relative of hers. She was Grandpa’s second wife; Stella died long before Irene was born. She loved Erica all the same.

The sand stuck between Irene’s toes as she walked to the lighthouse for the first time in many years. Glancing at the houses lining the beach, she imagined someone at their window wondering who the woman in the black skirt and blazer was, what she was doing there, and what was so special about the lighthouse at night.

“Nothing,” she would have said, but there was no one at Grandpa’s house.

He died long ago. And today, Irene had buried Erica. In all the years she had lived with them, Irene had never gone for a night walk. She left for college soon after Grandpa’s death and started her life in the city, though always in touch with Erica. Now Erica left too, and for the first time, Irene went for a night stroll on the beach.

The lighthouse rose before her. Lost in her reverie, Irene did not realize when she reached it. She put on her shoes and glanced towards the lighthouse-park entrance. The gate was closed. Irene sighed and looked up at the smooth building atop the rugged rocks. Grandpa was right, there was nothing special about the lighthouse at night.

As she turned to leave, the ocean breeze carried a happy giggle. Irene scanned the area for its source and decided it came from the park.

She remembered visiting the park with Erica on a hot day; the sun blinded her as she crossed the gate. There was nothing special about the lighthouse in the daytime, either.

Irene heard the giggle again. Should she investigate? She climbed up the dangerous rocks, cautious and teetering, but too curious to leave.

She reached the lighthouse, and in the moonlight, she discerned two silhouettes on a bench. A young man and a young woman sat talking and giggling, and from that distance, Irene noticed they were very much in love.

She pondered whether to call the police.

Then the young man spoke and Irene froze.

“Stella,” he said and Irene’s heart skipped a beat, “will you marry me?”

“Yes, Nathan,” Stella replied, her voice sparkling with joy.

Irene gazed at the couple; the moon shone on their faces. Tears sprung from her eyes when she recognized the lovers whose wedding picture had sat on the mantlepiece all her childhood.