Light and Shadow


Julie stared at the empty seat in front of her, a fake smile pasted on her lips and gaze cool as ice. She seemed the incarnation of the Snow Queen, but inside, she was a pure fire sparked from rage and fanned with insult.

I’m seething, she thought.

Melvin and Cora, she cursed.

Revenge, she wished.

The train stopped at the station, and the doors opened. An old woman, short and chubby, took the seat facing her. She smiled at Julie. Julie pursed her lips into the kindest grin she could muster as the train left the station and plunged into a tunnel.

Light, then shadow, fell on the railcar as the electric lamp crackled, the woman’s face clear and kind, then old and ugly. The train’s clatter screamed in Julie’s head, chug-a-chug, Melvin-and-Cora, on and on, so loud and steady she thought she would explode.

The old woman glanced around, then smiled at Julie again. Julie stared straight ahead; if the old woman smiled one more time, the invisible chain which kept her wrath from exploding would shatter.

The old woman noticed the slight tremble in Julie’s hands as she opened and closed her fist to the rhythm of the Melvin-and-Cora mantra in her head.

“Let it go. He ain’t worth it.”

The woman’s voice rang clear above the din of the train against the rails, her face in light.

“What do you mean ‘he’?” Julie hissed through gritted teeth.

The woman shrugged, ugly in shadow, “Only a man can anger a woman so much. I know your wrath, and trust me, it’ll poison you.”

Julie pursed her lips, the fire inside threatening to explode.

“There’s a dragon inside me, and I don’t think I can keep it chained much longer,” Julie muttered, half hoping the woman wouldn’t hear, but deafness did not ail her old age.

“What did he do? Cheat?”

“Yes, with my sister,” Julie fought back lava tears.


“He’s not worth it.” (Light)

“I know, but it doesn’t make me less angry.” Julie’s jaw clicked when she spoke.

“Then, for your sake, let that dragon out. Don’t keep it bottled inside, it’ll rot you.” (Shadow)

“How would you know?”

“Because I’ve been where you are. He slept with my sister and I vowed revenge.”

A chill crawled up Julie’s spine as the woman spoke, her words mirroring Julie’s thoughts. 

“Did you get it?”

“Oh yes, I screwed with their lives and hounded them to death, slow and steady, for years. But I got nothing in return.”

Julie gulped. How could the woman know she was planning a slow and simmering revenge?

“What was his name?” Julie asked unnerved, yet intrigued.

“Melvin,” The flickering light cast the woman into shadow, and Julie blanched.

“My sister’s name was Cora,” the woman continued.

“What? How?” Julie gaped.

“I kept my dragon locked up and made their lives miserable. I took their money, their livelihood, their happiness. Whatever they built I destroyed. I used everything in my power to screw them six ways from Sunday.”

Julie remained silent as the train chugged on, the wagon eerie in the sputtering light.

“They died in poverty and starvation.”

“Are you sorry?”

“Yes, but now I can redeem myself.”

“What do you mean?”

“On my deathbed I repented, and here I am.”

The train came to a halt, still in the tunnel; the light held steady and shone bright on the old woman. They locked eyes and Julie almost screamed; the woman’s eyes were her own, and her gaze, albeit old and bitter, was the same gaze that greeted Julie from every mirror.

“I’m telling you, Julie, you can change the course of this lifetime. Let the dragon out. Revenge is not the way; you’ll end up alone and sick and bitter.”

The light flickered off and thrust the wagon into darkness. Julie’s spine tingled at the woman’s hot breath by her ear as she whispered, “Heed me.”

The light flashed back on and Julie found herself alone in the wagon; the train resumed its slow ride to the station.




Only Illusions?


Johnny watched in awe as the magician came onstage.

“It’s only illusions,” Dad said.

“I know,” Johnny answered, a burble of wonder tickling his spine; illusions fascinated him.

“Magic doesn’t exist,” Dad whispered when the magician pulled a dove out of a hat.

“I know, Dad,” Johnny hissed. Dad had a way of spoiling even fake magic.

Johnny knew magic was all sleight-of-hand, distraction and optics, but it fascinated him. That our brains tricked us into believing someone pulled a dove out of an empty hat intrigued him. Dad was a scientist and shot down anything unproven. He leaned over and whispered it was only science and illusion. Johnny shifted in his seat. Didn’t Dad understand he wanted to watch the show, magic or no? He liked magicians; they were more fun than clowns and he enjoyed trying to figure out their tricks.

Dad and Johnny left when the show ended, and, in the car, while Dad turned on the ignition, Johnny took out his allowance and counted it. Maybe it would be enough to buy the magic kit he’d seen in the toy store in town.

“What’s up, bud?” Dad asked when he saw Johnny counting his money.

“I want to buy a magic kit.”

Dad looked askance at him and opened his mouth to speak but Johnny interrupted him.

“I know, Dad. It’s all illusion, but I want to understand the science behind it.”

Dad smiled. One little seven-letter word and Dad was hooked.

At home, Johnny cradled his new magic kit. He sensed that something could change as soon as he opened it. Deep down Johnny wanted dragons to exist and to imagine he could snap his fingers or wiggle his nose for cool things to happen. Yet, if he opened the kit and learned the tricks, all fantasies would end. He closed the door to his room and sat cross-legged on the floor.

Johnny opened the box and frowned. The lid said it included “everything necessary to learn the art of magic: one top hat, one wand, one deck of playing cards, five colored scarves, and one instruction booklet.” But the box only contained two items, an old book and a small green pouch.

When he touched the book, it tickled his fingers and sent a delightful surge through his spine. It was old and leather-bound and Johnny turned it over searching for the title, but it had none. He opened the cover. The first page was blank, and the second, third and fourth. The whole book was blank! He flung it away, disappointed.

“Boy, what a waste of an allowance!”

He turned his attention back to the box but all that remained was the velvet pouch. Johnny reached for it and the contents inside clinked with a strange thick sound, unlike the jingle of coins. Small stones sprinkled the carpet when he opened the pouch and overturned it. The nearest one had a crude R carved on one side. Johnny flicked it away and watched amazed as it rolled back to him. He picked it up and the same funny feeling ran through his fingers, up his arm and down his back. He held the stone in his palm and thought for a moment it had sparkled, but it was just a trick of the light, right?

“No way it glinted,” he whispered, but there it was again, a tiny green spark, like a firefly.

Johnny reached for the book; the stone flew from his hand and attached itself to the cover as if the book were magnetic. One by one, the stones on the floor bounced up and stuck to the book. He opened it and dropped it, aghast, when writing appeared. As the writing progressed, like an invisible pen writing visible words, the pages flipped by themselves. The writing was not English. In fact, it wasn’t any recognizable language; it looked like someone was writing with sticks. Johnny realized they were the same characters carved into each of the stones, but jumbled and organized, as if they formed sentences.

When the book flipped to the last page, it slammed closed and lifted a cloud of dust which engulfed Johnny in a sparkling tornado… And whisked him away.




The Last Drop


Dorcas stood by the couch and said, “I’ve slept on my laurels all my life. I’m the grasshopper who sang all summer.”

Wayne grunted, eyes fixed on the TV.

Dorcas sighed; it was like talking to a wall, like baring your soul to a marble statue. He only cared about dinnertime. Dorcas hung her head. She entered the kitchen and took in the warm sunny buttercup wallpaper and pea-green countertops; her favorite room.

She ran a hand along the cedar table and whispered, “My place in this house.”

She’d spent hours cooking up a storm in this cozy room, for Wayne and for the kids. Her boys were raising their own families, her daughter, the youngest was halfway through college and almost on her own.

Dorcas recalled the last chat they’d had, right here on this table, the sun gleaming on the porcelain tea mugs and bouncing off her earrings in sparkles.

“Mom, you can do whatever you want now, go anywhere, be anyone. You can live again.”

Dorcas had nodded and stifled a sob. 

“Yes, dear,” she’d promised, knowing that while Wayne watched sports and waited for dinner, her life would never change.

A happy whoop from Wayne brought her back to the present. She used to run out and celebrate the score whenever he whooped, cheery yet watchful the water didn’t boil over or the casserole didn’t burn. But it had been years since she’d felt excited.

Dorcas brewed chamomile tea. The warmth flowed into her tummy as she imagined herself going back to school, or working at a big department store (they were always hiring seniors). Maybe she could…

The words hung in the air like ball moss on trees which slowly kills them. Dorcas sipped her tea and “maybe” tasted bittersweet.

A loud bang startled her; she hurried to the window. Storm clouds cloaked the sky and thunder clapped so loud it set off the car alarms. Rain poured down as if someone had opened a hole under heavenly waterfalls. For a moment, Dorcas imagined herself outside in the wet, hair clinging to her face, clothes sticking to her bones, and wished it were so.

She turned back to her tea and hugged herself. Her sunny kitchen had turned dark and cold and uninviting; “our time together has passed, you are no longer welcome here” it seemed to say. Wayne groaned and cursed at the TV.

“God,” whispered Dorcas, gaze upwards, “if you stop the rain, I’ll leave with nothing but the clothes I’m wearing.”

Like magic, the heavy rain stopped and sunshine broke through the wet sky.


Dorcas opened the hall closet, grabbed her purse and walked out the front door.

The house was gloomy and dark when Wayne hollered for his dinner.






Seth stood by the gate and wondered about the world beyond it. He knew the town with cobbled streets, barber shop, grocer, mercantile and his father’s drapers, but wanted to leave home.

Seth sighed, stuffed hands in pockets, and leaned against the open door, the sun shining on his skin, the breeze cool on his forehead. He gazed past the iron gate flanked by two hedges, past the trees on the lane and beyond the cobblestones and toward the mountains in the distance. Seth took a deep breath and could almost taste the marshmallow clouds floating on the azure sky.

“Seth!” Grandmother called. She’d been an invalid since he was a child and didn’t mind tending to her; she told the most fascinating stories and adventures.


Seth turned his back to the blue expanse of the unknown and sauntered into the tidy house. Grandmother sat on the high-backed chair by the window.

“I know what you want,” she said as he came in, “you want your birthright; to walk out and make your own way. They took it from you and I am sorry.”

“What do you mean?”

“The first-born son takes care of the family business and the estate, the second inherits the ship and the last son must find his own fortune.”

“But I’m the only child.”

“You’re the only surviving child.”

Seth stared at Grandmother, amazed. He opened his mouth to speak, but Grandmother continued,

“Oh yes, didn’t you know? There were two boys before you. Neither survived infancy.”

Seth sat down on the floor, next to Grandmother and gave her his full attention, like when she told her stories of witches and pirates.

“Your brother Joseph was a year old when the influenza took him. He was the first and the oldest. Then, years later, William succumbed to the measles when he was five. You were a baby then, and we were frightened you’d sicken too. But here you are, stepping in for your older brothers and longing for what you’ve always known was your right. It’s your fate to leave and not come back.”

“But Grandmother, who will mind the shop?”

“Your father, it’s his responsibility.”

“For how long? He is old now.”

“The hills are old!” Grandmother threw her arms in the air, “He can still do it for several years.”

“I have no money.”

“Yes, you do,” she produced a letter from under her shawl, “this arrived yesterday. Your Uncle Charles died. He left you everything.”

“Who’s Uncle Charles?”

“My son, your father’s younger brother; he left for Africa long ago and made a fortune. My sons had a falling out, and as long as I lived here, your father forbade any mention of him, but Charles and I still wrote one another in secret. He knows all about you and now he’s made you his sole heir. You have money to leave and never worry about the shop again.”

“Why not use it for the shop?”

“Because your father will gamble it away, as he does every spare cent he gets his hands on.”

“Why didn’t you leave with Uncle Charles?”

“I couldn’t leave you here. Now stop asking silly questions and making excuses. It’s time for you to live your own life and start your own adventure! I’ll be fine, now go!”

Seth glanced out the window and heard the siren call of adventure blowing down from the mountain.






The morning sun shone through Irma’s window and danced on her closed eyelids. She yawned, taking a moment to focus as the dream dissolved around her. Irma opened the window and birdsong filled the air. She put on her robe and padded downstairs in stockinged feet, trying to recall the dream, but it had faded almost to oblivion.

“I was on a hill,” she murmured and turned on the coffeemaker.

The dream was almost a blur now and, as she opened the cabinet to take out two mugs, she glimpsed the wall calendar. The photograph of a medieval castle, in ruins, on a hilltop; Montsegur, Occitanie, France, according to the caption. The picture tickled Irma’s mind, and she stared at it for a moment, a distant memory of a dream. Hoofbeats, screams, fire.

Irma shook her head and glanced out the window. But the dream was pleasant and restful. The picture of the ruined castle behind bored its presence into her shoulders. Something was off about that castle.
Irma sipped her coffee and puckered her lips. It tasted like blood, but her mouth was not bloody.


Thunder rumbled far in the distance, yet the trilling birds on the tree-branch beyond the open window seemed not to care.

“Because they didn’t hear it.”
Lourdes, her sister, shuffled into the kitchen.

“Who didn’t hear what?” Lourdes asked and poured herself a cuppa.

“The birds didn’t hear the thunder.”
Irma’s voice sounded strange and distant to Lourdes and gave her goosebumps.

“What do you mean?” A soft eerie knock at the back of Lourdes’s mind chilled her despite the warm sun filling the kitchen and she dreaded opening that door.

“I was dreaming of something, but can’t remember what, when I heard a far-off thunder. Maybe it was in my head though because the birds didn’t stop singing.”

“Hmm,” Lourdes was reluctant to say birds didn’t always fear thunder, “what were you dreaming?”

“I don’t know.”

Lourdes gazed at Irma, puzzled, and like a wave crashing on the shore, her own dream returned, so vivid she almost fainted.

Irma’s face was different but Lourdes knew it was her. A cold shiver pierced her heart as she remembered Irma ramming a sword through her chest. Lourdes looked away and her stomach turned when she caught sight of the wall calendar, steadying herself on the counter. 

“I think there was a storm, and horses, and a battle,” Irma continued, oblivious to Lourdes’s shock, “there was a fire and…”

The image of Lourdes, with other features, popped in her mind. Irma let the dream take over as it banged through her like a thunderstorm; still feeling the weight of the sword as it sliced through Lourdes’s chest.

“I killed you,” Irma whispered. Saying it loud meant it happened. 

“I know, I dreamed it too.”

Birds stopped chirping, and a shadow fell on the room. The sisters faced one another, neither seeing outward, only inward. The calendar hung innocent on the wall. A castle in ruins, fire and swords and blood.




“No!” Jason yelped when the chain of his bike broke as he turned the corner. First the snap and then the pedals limp under his feet. He teetered on the bike, braked, and hopped off before he hit the ground. 

Jason puffed his bangs out of his eyes. Of all places, here. He would have to walk his bike through this street instead of zipping down it like always. It wasn’t the street he dreaded, but one house; the house. 

Jason began his uncomfortable trek, the bike rattling beside him, and thought of the myriad of legends and stories he’d heard about the place. The sun set in the horizon and the last rays of orange and pink faded into a blue darkness. Wind high above blew the copious clouds into zip-like patterns, so that the sky looked marred by giant claws. A storm threatened.

The house was dark, like a cave, and as Jason approached it, his stomach tightened. He gulped. He couldn’t remember when someone had lived in the house. The weeds overgrown, the wind rustled through the tangled branches, the iron-barred windows dead and black. The gate, hanging on one solitary rusty hinge, creaked open and shut.

People spoke of murders long ago and strange happenings ever since. Jason had experienced nothing, but he’d never lingered long enough. The wind howled a ghostly moan through the door left open before time immemorial. The clang of the broken chain set his teeth on edge.

Another story spoke of strange creaks and noises and shadows appearing across the windows. Jason’s knuckles were white on the handlebars. He considered dropping his bike and running all the way home, but that meant returning for it, and the house was creepy any time of day. And Dad would ground him for life.

The scream, like a crying child, cut through the night and Jason stopped cold by the gate, heart booming in his ears, rooted to the spot.

“The baby,” Jason muttered, recalling the tale of the baby who’d died, yet still cried in the night. A cold, dense, electric wind blew around him, and Jason shivered under his thin jacket. He resumed his walk on wobbly legs at the quickest pace possible with the cumbersome, useless bike.

A movement out of the corner of his eye stopped his heart. His knees buckled, and he whimpered. Jason willed himself not to look, but the curious little sprite inside him turned his head to the house. Something flew by the soulless window and dashed across the yard. Soft treads sped towards him.

A dark figure appeared through the gate and crossed the glistening pavement. The streetlight flashed on its eyes as they fixed on Jason, the pointed ears illuminated by the lightning strike through the darkened sky. A crow cawed, and it scurried away.

“Stupid, stupid cat,” muttered Jason. Relief melted his tense muscles, his heart still in his mouth. Jason leaned the bike on his legs and slid his clammy hands up his jeans. The cat wailed again, baby-like, and Jason picked up the pace.

At the end of the street, he gazed at the dark, looming house. Thunder rumbled. The house still spooky as ever.




The Midas Touch


I listen to the teacher tell the story of King Midas. Uncle Charlie comes to mind, because, like Midas, he has it all, but always wants more. And gets it. 

“He has the Midas touch. He can sell sawdust to a lumber mill,” Mom always says.

“He would also sell his own mother if it suited him,” Dad quips back.

The bell rings and I collect my books. I walk out into the sunlight, blinking and blinded by the bright. I turn toward the building and contemplate my few years there. Bah, I shrug off the school.

I walk and Uncle Charlie fills my thoughts.

“Come work for me,” he’d said, “school, schmool, there’s better than books.”

I smile when I remember how Mom blew her top when he said that. Dad cussed and chased him out of the house with his shotgun.

“Don’t you listen to your Uncle Charlie,” Dad’s stern gaze on me, the shotgun in his arms, “he don’t know nothin’ about nothin’! Books are the only way to go.”

I nodded meekly.

I don’t dare tell them, but I’ve considered Uncle Charlie’s offer. I’m on my way to meet him at his restaurant. He says he has an easy job for me.

“All you gotta do is deliver a package after school tomorrow,” he whispered last night, “don’t worry, kid, you’re doin’ right. Your Uncle Charlie will take care of ya. Stick with me and I’ll set you up for life.”

I kick a pebble on the sidewalk, imagining myself a grown man, in fancy shiny suits like Uncle Charlie, respected by everyone like Uncle Charlie. I smile. Nothin’ to it, easy-peasy.

I decide that, if all goes well, I won’t turn in the homework on King Midas tomorrow. If all goes well, I won’t go back to school.

I approach the restaurant. I see Uncle Charlie through the window sitting at his table all the way at the back. Two older men sit with him. I go around to the back door. I cross the kitchen as silent and stealthy as a mouse. Vito the Cook is a crabby old fart who doesn’t put up with shenanigans. He’s nice when I don’t make a noise.

I step out into the dining room and raise my hand to wave at Uncle Charlie across the room.

Two big guys burst in and rush to Charlie’s table. Before he knows what’s what the loud bang spatters red on the wall behind him. Two more bangs and more red soaks the white tablecloth. I stand, my hand still raised in a frozen wave. The thugs saunter out; they don’t notice me.

Vito the Cook pulls me into the kitchen. I stare wide-eyed into his steely eyes, his hands firm on my shoulders.

“You didn’t see nothin’, kid, ya hear? You were in here with me.”

I nod.

My Uncle Charlie had the Midas touch, and it killed him.