Golden Goose

Pat gave Lena the money and watched through the window as the dusky evening swallowed her up—Pat hoped—forever.

She closed the blinds; she must start dinner. Pat entered the kitchen and stared at the counter, now bathed in the evening light shining through the box windows. Dusk gleamed, its indigo hue broken by the last rays of sunlight that shot out of the earth and colored the fluffy bellies of the cloudy sky.

Pat took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and opened them moments later. She was still standing by the counter in the darkening kitchen as the gloom engulfed the cabinets and the glazed white backsplash behind the spotless stove.

I should turn on the lamps, she thought, and flicked the light-switch.

As the electric beams flooded the kitchen, a light broke through her own dark thoughts. A wave of emotion rose through her feet and broke with a thundering crash in her chest, right by the heartbeat. Tears came unbidden as Pat leaned against the kitchen table with its inlaid wooden, multihued rhombi arranged in a star pattern. It was a beautiful table, and she contemplated it, trying to keep the toxic thoughts at bay.

Lena came and went; now, she was a thorn in Pat’s side, though once a beloved daughter.

Tonight was the last time, Pat promised herself, though her resolution faltered.

Could she ever do it?

Hoping the darkness would swallow Lena up forever differed from wishing her harm, she persuaded herself. With a shake of the head, Pat chided herself for her guilty wish as Lena left with money in hand.

Though once a happy child, Lena fell in with a dangerous company as a teenager. Despite Pat’s and Ted’s entreaties, Lena chose the path of fun and recklessness, which had led her down a speeding highway of drugs and booze.

Ted had not lived to see the jittery waif Lena had become. Her first arrest had ended with Ted’s massive heart attack.

Pat clenched her fist as she recalled using Ted’s savings to bail her daughter out of jail. Her head throbbed, and her pounding heart shook her entire frame to the core.

Lena left soon afterwards and once in a while returned, sometimes sober and apologetic, though most times high as a kite, and always begging for money. Pat always complied.

A stifled sob broke through the kitchen’s silence.

“No more,” she whispered, “please give me the strength to let her go.”

Pat had used much of her own savings to pay for Lena’s first stint in rehab, with excellent result. Pat had relaxed for the first time. Then one day, Pat came home to find her jewels and debit card missing, and Lena gone with the wind. The hassle of canceling the account before Lena cleaned it out still made her blood boil. 

Later, she had dipped into Ted’s life insurance payout to bail Lena out a second time. The girl swore and promised she would quit, and cajoled Pat into investing even more money into another drug rehabilitation program. But it seemed Lena could not stop. Did she not want help?

Years passed and Lena appeared and disappeared, and every time, Pat’s little income dwindled.

Tears stung Pat’s eyes and flowed down her cheeks as she gritted her teeth. The rage that had been boiling inside her for years erupted in a geyser of sweltering tears and heartbreaking sobs. Gloom closed in around her, and swallowed Pat the way she had hoped it would swallow Lena. The salt and pepper shakers rattled from the force of Pat’s shaking body, and her enraged screams ripped through the silent house she had shared with Ted.

“Please,” she cried, “please help me let her go!”

A hand on her shoulder startled her. Pat turned, expecting to find Lena, but her jaw dropped. Through the tears, she saw Ted as young and handsome as the day she had met him. He smiled at her.

“Hey doll, don’t you worry ‘bout Lena no more,” he said in that sweet tenor voice Pat missed so much, “she’s made her own choices. You are not responsible, nor were you ever. She’s always known what she’s doing. She relishes in the harm she causes.”

“Why?” Pat gasped.

“I don’t know,” Ted answered, “but it’s not for us to know.”

Ted pulled her into his arms. Pat felt the love she missed in the cold-warm spectral embrace. She closed her eyes and relished the moment as her old body pressed against his young image.

Lena knocked on the door to her mother’s house. She stood on the stoop perplexed when a young man answered.

“May I help you,” the young man asked, eyeing her with suspicion and disapproval.

She looked like a junkie, and she knew it. It was all part of the act, part of the scam.

So the old lady turned out to be a real cougar, a wry smirk spread across her lips.

“I’m looking for Pat Morrow,” Lena sprinkled the name with contempt.

“Sorry, I don’t know who she is.”

“This is her house,” Lena said, her haughtiness rising, as it always did.

“No, this is my house,” the young man glared; his stern reply startled Lena.

“Who sold it to you?” Lena defied the man with her jutting jaw and arms akimbo.

“The realtor,” the man’s exasperation showed, “the old woman who lived here died, and her estate put the house up for sale. Now, please leave, or I’ll call the police.”

He shut the door in her face.

Lena stood a moment longer as the realization dunked her into a tank of icy water; the goose that laid the golden eggs was dead.



“What does tilting at windmills mean?” Colin asked Mom while she tucked in the bedcovers. 

“Where did you hear that?” 

“You told Dad to stop doing it.” 

“Oh, well…” Mom furrowed her brow, searching for words, “tilting at windmills means battling imaginary monsters. Dad is under a lot of pressure at work, and sometimes, I think he sees problems and setbacks bigger than they are.” 

“Oh, I see,” Colin answered, though he understood nothing about Dad’s work or his problems and setbacks. 

Mom kissed him on the forehead, wished him good night, and flicked off the light as she left the door ajar. 

Colin stared at the gray darkness. A thin shaft of light seeped in through the threshold, and the nightlight burned with a weak yellow hue. He still thought about this new concept as his eyes tried to pierce the tangled shadows that the old birch tree beyond his window cast on the wall. The waning crescent moon shone its tiny sliver of light on the birch’s white bark. 

Colin’s teacher had once asked the class to describe the world outside their bedroom window, and Colin had said the tree was ‘ghostly’. The teacher had frowned and asked if it scared Colin. 

“No,” he had answered, “it’s good ghostly, not bad ghostly.” 

Now Colin stared at the birch as it swayed in the breeze. Mom always left the window ajar for the night air to waft in and perfume the room with the honeysuckle that climbed up the trellis beneath his window. 

An owl hooted in the birch tree. 

The teacher had once asked the class to describe their mothers. ‘Ajar’ had popped into Colin’s mind and slipped out of his lips. Once again, Colin had to explain. 

“Mom leaves everything ajar; the doors, the windows, the closets and the cabinets, too. My house is never closed, it’s always ajar.” 

Colin liked his bedroom door ajar, he took comfort in his parents’ footsteps and murmured voices as they settled in for the night. 

He loved his window ajar too; the night was a new world yearning to come inside and tell him all that happened when the sun slept and the moon reigned over the sky. He enjoyed listening to the night creatures and imagined their lives in the darkness. 

The closet door was always ajar, and that he disliked. In the daytime, the clothes hanging in the closet seemed mundane; pants, shirts and jackets, nothing else. But at night, they took on the shape of silent sentinels. 

Colin’s eyes traveled from the window to the closet. 

“Tilting at windmills,” he whispered, “means battling imaginary monsters.” 

The closet door creaked, and Colin’s breath hitched. He pulled the covers up to his chin as it squeaked open. It was now ajar-plus, and the swirling phantoms within fluttered in anticipation. 

Colin knew all about monsters and how they were not imaginary but real. He also knew they lived in the world beyond the closet, flittering and snickering with excitement at night. He also knew that ajar meant easy entry, and the soldier-outlines of his hanging clothes did nothing but stand like petrified gendarmes. 

Colin forced himself to look away from the slithering fingers that pushed the closet door open little by little. He gazed at the birch, whose spectral shadows had spread across the walls. 

The new concept was not imaginary monsters but the battling of them. How did you battle monsters? He could not touch them, only see their shapeless mass and perceive their leering giggles. He wrinkled his nose from their fetid stench and tasted their rotten evil in his mouth. Yet he could flail his limbs until kingdom come, but never touch them. 

The thing slipped between the closet door and its threshold. The sliver of moonlight shone on the birch branches, and their skeletal shadows expanded as they oozed through the window like jagged claws. The tree cast its protective shadow-claw over the bedspread and onto the headboard as the thing slithered closer. 

Every night, the sentry-clothes stood and stared as the creatures slipped past them into the room.

Every night, the tree protected Colin, and the things retreated whence they came.

And every night, Colin thought about screaming, but never could.

Tonight, he had learned a new term, a new concept.

“Battle them,” he thought as the putrid shape crept onto the bed and drifted toward his neck.

The wind howled and rustled the birch boughs. Its protective silhouette quivered and trembled and Colin, awed and scared, saw the birch-shadows and their wraith-like talons clasp something.

A flash of lightning zapped the windowsill, and the bedroom shook. 

The sentry-clothes sprang into action and ambushed the things awaiting their turn to enter. 

A shriek rang through the room; the walls shuddered as the closet door banged shut. 

Thunder clapped and, amid the rumble, Colin detected the distinct sound of something ripped from the walls. 

A low, painful whimper faded into the gray darkness. 

A trample of footsteps in the hall and light flooded the room. Mom and Dad stood in the doorway, now wide open. 

“Buddy, are you okay?” Dad asked, “We heard a slam. What’s going on?” 

“I was tilting at windmills,” Colin pointed at the closet door. 

Mom opened it; his clothes lay in a crumpled pile on the floor. 

“Huh?” she frowned. 

“The wind slammed the closet shut,” Colin whispered as the rain fell, tapping on the windowpane.

“They must’ve fallen from the force,” Dad said, attempting reassurance, though perplexed. 

Colin nodded. 

His parents scanned the room, yet found nothing amiss. They wished him good night, and each kissed his forehead. 

“Should I close the window?” Mom asked. 

Colin shook his head, “please leave everything ajar.”



“You are a failure!” Harriet spat. 

Spittle flew, her teeth gnashed, and her voice crackled through the darkened house.

“You are worth nothing, you have done nothing. You are a has-been, a washout, a failure! All the years I’ve wasted on you! After all I did, all my family did, you still failed!”

The spittle burst from her lipstick-stained teeth when she pronounced the letter F, as if she enjoyed sullying the world with it.

“All the handouts you took, the network, the friends, the clients, and you failed!”

The tirade continued. Every night she picked up where she left off the night before it, like Scheherazade and her one-thousand-and-one tales. For the past thirty years, he had come home to this, this Harpy and her relentless blame game. 

Mortimer fixed himself a drink and carried it out to the porch. He closed the door behind him. Yet Harpy’s screeches still sounded through the windows.

“You bought him that fucking car,” she screamed, “it’s all your fault!”

The F split into a thousand pieces; a thousand shattered memories. 

It was her favorite letter, and she relished in it. 

F for Failure, for Fuck-up, for Fault. 

F for Florian.

F for Funeral. 

So many years and she still could not Forgive; that F did not figure in her vocabulary.

So many decades had passed and Harriet’s guilt and loss had twisted her memories, bent them and reshaped them to her convenience. 

She had bought Florian the car with her daddy’s money. And Florian, that scoundrel of a son with his lopsided smile and drunken slur, had thrown his life away on a curve.

Mortimer closed his eyes and took a deep, shaky breath.

“I let her coddle him like she did. I gave him my name when he was nothing of mine and saved her reputation. It was right, because, back then, I loved her. Yet, I am guilty…”

He shook his head, and a tear sprung to his eye. 

“It is my fault… I let that girl get in the car with him.”


The Wonder of Classic Cars

Hayley walked Rascal. They had moved into the small town weeks before and were still getting acquainted with the close-knit community. Her neighbor had mentioned a trailhead to the state park a few blocks away. There, Rascal, her rambunctious puppy, could run, play and chase squirrels to his heart’s content. Though night was falling, and she figured the trailhead would be closed, Hayley sought it out for future reference and weekend walks.

A cool breeze played with her hair, and crickets chirped. Hayley and Rascal walked down the street, flanked on both sides by the warm, yellow porch-lights glowing in the starry night. They rounded a corner and came upon a dark street. The faint beams of the porch-lights glittered to her right. The left was a dark mess of jumbled shadows.

“I suppose we reached the woods.” 

She rubbed Rascal between the ears; he yipped in reply. They kept walking while Hayley scanned the dimness for the trailhead.

“C’mon, push!” 

A youthful voice sounded in the tranquil night.

Hayley noticed the dark silhouettes of two boys and a car in the moonlight.

“You guys all right?” She called when she reached them.

They were long-haired teenage boys, all knees and elbows, pushing a Volkswagen Beetle that seemed to have run out of gas, or battery. A third, the driver, was a giggling, murky tangle of jutting bones huddled over the steering wheel. 

“Should I call someone?” Hayley offered, taking out her phone.

The boys look puzzled.

In the moonlight, she noticed their bell-bottomed jeans and platform shoes, and supposed them on their way to a costume party, as Halloween was days away.

“Nah, thank you, ma’am,” one boy croaked, “we only need a few more pushes to get this jalopy started.”

Hayley wondered at the word ‘jalopy’. She thought most boys nowadays used the terms ‘clunker’ or ‘crap car’.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, you know these cars, just gotta push it in gear and it jump-starts the battery.”

Hayley had no clue about cars, whether old junkers or the latest models with all the bells and whistles. Though she recalled her parents talking about the wonder of the old VW bugs. They were suffocating in summer and freezing in winter, yet simple and reliable. 

“Well, good luck,” she nodded, “you know more about classic cars than me.”

The boys looked baffled for a fleeting instant, then shrugged and got ready to push.

Hayley waved at them, and urging Rascal, who had been quiet between her legs, walked away.

After finding the promised trailhead, Hayley and Rascal returned home via different streets. Entering the house, Hayley set her jingling keys and the bundle of mail on the kitchen counter. 

She was clearing up after a late dinner, when she caught sight of the community newspaper amid the pile of bills and flyers. The headline caught her attention. 

Our Boys Remembered

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the fatal hit-and-run that took the lives of three promising teenage boys as they pushed their 1967 Volkswagen Beetle alongside the state park road. The driver fled the scene and, even now, remains unidentified. Our community has never forgotten and is still seeking answers. 


Night Voices

Marlon gazed out the window as the teacher droned on and on and on about… Who knew?

He had stopped paying attention long ago. All morning his mind had wandered to the strange dream of the past night. He recalled nothing of the dream per se, but had woken up knowing someone had called out his name. He had lain still and alert. With eyes wide open, he tried to pierce the darkness and the jumble of shadows cast by the slits of moonlight that seeped in through the half-closed blinds. Only the typical sounds of the night filled the silent house; the creak of the walls and foundation, the ice-maker pushing clumps of ice into the refrigerator, the buzzing sound of the smart-home equipment his parents installed weeks ago.

He yawned.

“Marlon!” Mrs. glass snapped.

Marlon clamped his jaw shut, but she had noticed his wide mouth that seemed to eat the world.

“Yes, Miz?” He said.

“Repeat the last thing I said,” Mrs. Glass ordered.

“Um…” Marlon racked his brain for an answer.

“Right,” Mrs. Glass’s lips tightened into a thin line, “please stay behind after class.”

Marlon nodded and pretended to write something in his notebook.

That evening, Marlon sat in bed and gazed out the window. Mrs. Glass had given him extra homework, but at least she had not demanded to speak to his parents.

Marlon’s eyes drooped; he shifted his body into a comfortable position and fell asleep.


He tried to grasp the fleeting dream, but the shout of his name had ripped him out of it. With eyes wide open towards the window, he listened to the night air.

“Who keeps calling me?” He whispered, but only the ice-maker in the fridge responded with three muffled thumps.

Then he heard the two staccato notes of the electronic voice assistant in the living room.

“Hello?” Marlon chanced a louder murmur. “Who keeps calling me?”

“I do,” the electronic voice assistant answered.

“Who are you?” Marlon squeaked; trembling under the covers pulled up to his chin.

“Look out the window,” the electronic voice replied.

“I don’t want to…” Marlon was ready to cry.

“Please do,” the deadpan voice replied.

Marlon hesitated; reluctantly, he tiptoed to the window. He saw nothing outside but the tangled mess of branches of the wildlife preserve beyond his backyard. Moonlight shone on Mom’s herb garden. Marlon was used to the nighttime sounds of the creatures roaming free in the dense woods; yet nothing stirred. 

“There is a thicket beyond the herb garden,” the voice continued, “you know it well, you often play there.”

“Yes?” Marlon’s voice was steadier now as the fear subsided.

“Go there, I need your help.”

“To the thicket?”

“Yes, I am there, I need your help.”

This piqued Marlon’s curiosity, and without thinking twice, he put on his jacket and boots, crept through the house and out the back door.

He walked across the backyard and into the woods; dead leaves, mud, and mulch crunched under his feet.

Moonlight shone a path from the herb garden, into the forest and to the thicket overgrown with brambles.

Something whimpered in the bushes. He approached it, and turned on the flashlight Dad always kept by the back door, in case of emergencies.

He shone the light into the brambles.

Two eyes gleamed back at him. A fox lay among the tangled blackberries with its paw caught in a leg-hold trap. He edged toward the fox, who whimpered, pleading with its eyes. Marlon released him from the trap. The fox snapped its paw out of danger, gazed at Marlon for a moment, and then, limping, scampered into the gloom.

“You’re welcome,” Marlon said, and returned home.

The house was silent; no peep from the electronic voice assistant.

“Are you there?” Marlon whispered into the moonlit shadows, but received no answer.

Marlon shrugged and snuck upstairs. 

He was about to climb into bed when, “Wait… Who set the trap?”

GOLDEN TAROT: Six of Wands

Folktales by the Fire

“I think I saw a ghost once,” Carolina said, “but to this day, I’m uncertain I did.”

We sat around the fire-pit on a cool night. The brook babbled nearby, and we heard the occasional flapping of bat wings in the orchard; fruit bats making a banquet of the pear trees. The sound of their leather wings and the dancing fire gave the garden an eerie atmosphere. Billowing clouds veiled the moon in the crisp, humid air; it had rained all afternoon, and the wetness chilled the bones. 

We had trouble lighting the fire, but once we got it going nothing could drag us away. So, with tequila to warm the bones, and faces red from the licking flames that rose to the sky, the conversation drifted to spooky folklore. 

Everyone told a story; fire-lit anecdotes of nameless acquaintances. We wove a tapestry of words and flitting embers about witches and shape-shifting nahuales. The night listened to tales of haunted houses with buried gold, elves braiding horses’ manes, and people going up the mountain to meet the Devil. And La Llorona, the restless soul who, in life, had drowned her children. 

“So, Caro, tell us,” I shivered into my woolen sarape… from the cold? From the wet? Or just the creepy conversation?

An owl hooted.

Carolina began:

“I was driving on the highway, it was December and the processions had already begun, you know, to La Villa, to worship La Virgen de Guadalupe.

“Traffic was slow because a huge procession was ambling up ahead. I glimpsed the banners and flowers, even from so far behind. It was getting late, and I was losing patience, but what to do, right? You can’t just run over people. So I stopped at a gas station café nearby, hoping they would veer off somewhere and the jam would clear. 

“I don’t know how long I waited, but the sun was setting as I climbed back in the car. I drove for a little while. Twilight was falling, and it was that time of day when the half-light hurts the eyes. It’s too light and too dim at the same time. 

“Anyway, up ahead a man was walking alongside the road, and I wondered whether he had fallen behind the procession. As I neared, I noticed he wore huaraches, and a long jorongo. His head hung low on his shoulders, and I couldn’t tell if he was young or old. 

“I slowed down. He seemed to carry a bundle of something wrapped in the front of his jorongo. In the beam of my headlights I thought I saw a rose petals peeking out from the sides of the bundle.

“I would’ve pulled over, but at that moment a semi-trailer honked. I glanced in the rearview mirror; the semi was fast approaching. Its two big headlights bore down on me, blinding me for an instant. Then, when I glanced towards the man by the road, he wasn’t there.”

“Were you afraid?” I asked.

She paused.


We remained silent, reflecting on her story. I think we all pondered the same legend, but no one wanted to say it out loud. December, the processions, La Virgen de Guadalupe, the man with a bundle of roses…

The fire crackled, sparks danced and a low howl wove through the orchard, followed by the shriek of a barn owl — a lechuza — in the distance.

“It was just a guy catching up to the procession,” I broke the silence, “I bet he knew a footpath or a shortcut, and took it.”  

Everyone nodded, and the mood lightened; even the breeze seemed to heave a sigh of relief. 

“You know, La Llorona appears on rainy days, or near water,” Pedro said, his impish smile flickering in the firelight. “And the brook is only a few paces away…”


The Forgotten Castle

Naomi leaned back in her chair and stretched her arms above her head. She heaved an enormous yawn and glanced out her bedroom window. The ruined castle shimmered in the setting sun. Often she thought it a mirage, but she knew every nook and cranny of it. It was her favorite haunt, where she and her friends had played hide-and-seek among the ruined walls and crumbling ceilings. Her parents warned her of the dangers of playing among the ruins. Yet the warnings came with half-smiles; they too had played in the castle as children. As their own parents had done before them; a local tradition, a rite-of-passage, perhaps. 

After school, Naomi went to the castle by herself. She needed time alone; it had been a strange and trying day. She walked among the ruins and took a nap on the grass of its derelict courtyard. Leaving, she paused at the crumbling arch of the castle entrance to shake out a stone that had crept its way into her shoe. 

Now, she switched on the desk lamp and returned to her homework.

The sun cast its last rays over the glimmering land, and the castle faded into shadow, as its name had faded into oblivion; its decrepit turrets stood out against the indigo twilight. Naomi closed her schoolwork and switched off the desk lamp. The castle’s lonely silhouette blurred as dusky shadows fell. She stood up, crossed the bedroom and flopped down onto her bed; the ruinous gloomy mass still visible outside her window.

She loved to daydream about the castle’s heyday; the banquets, the tourneys, the dashing knights, and the fair princesses. She knew most of its legends, but loved one in particular. It drew her into the realm of imagination and defined the lonely ruins beyond the windowpane. 

The legend said:

A young knight rode into the hamlet on a horse so exhausted and grimy that its head bowed low to the ground as it trudged along the countryside. The knight’s head hung on his shoulders, heavy with fatigue.

The townspeople, wary of strangers, bolted their doors and shuttered their windows as he passed through the village square. Horse and knight—that ragged bundle of bones and sinew—traipsed towards the castle, unaware of the villagers’ icy reception. Field workers turned their heads away and crossed themselves, believing he was Death itself. No one approached, no one offered assistance. Upon reaching the castle gate, the guards denied the knight entry.

He claimed to be the nobleman’s son returning home, but no one believed him. All knew the son and only heir died in Holy Land; a monk had returned the family seal ring and confirmed the heir’s death. 

The young man pleaded his case.
“I have a crucifix. My mother gave it to me when I left. It bears my name.”

The nobleman asked to see it, but when the knight touched his neck to retrieve the crucifix hung up on it, he blanched. Had he dropped it? 

Unable to prove his identity, the nobleman turned the young knight away. 

He too vanished into oblivion; perhaps he took the castle’s name with him. 

Yet, people say the knight errant still wanders the land, always heading towards the castle.

Naomi’s room was now dark, and the moon beamed upon her outstretched body on the bed. She reached into her pocket and took out the trinket that had sparkled in the soil just beyond the castle grounds. She twirled it around and scratched the dirt off it with her nail; the crucifix dangled on its tarnished chain between her fingers. 

She gazed at the ruined castle.

Glowing in the moonlight, the spectral knight made his eternal and torturous journey home.



Marianne wandered away from the camp in search of firewood. She heard their voices nearby and resolved not to stray too far. She knew the danger of wandering alone in these woods so thick that faint sunlight only seeped in through the dense canopy of the ancient evergreens. This forest teemed with legends of shifting trees, vanishing paths, and whispered voices that led people astray. She gave them no credence—they were just ghost stories—but the forest was notorious for its incidence of missing hikers and strange accidents.

Marianne gathered a few more branches and twigs and tucked them in the crook of her arm. She turned to retrace her steps down the narrow forest path. But, to her surprise, it had disappeared. Marianne pivoted and scanned the forest for the opening in the trees, the jagged rock that jutted out so the path wound around it. She searched for the trail marker painted on the tall oak, but found no sign.

Marianne gulped. She listened for her friends’ laughter and hubbub, but perceived only the soft breeze blowing through the leaves.

“What the…?” She muttered. 

A strange sensation, as if a sinister blanket woven with eerie thread, descended upon her. Her heart raced, her knees buckled, and her arms trembled under the prickly weight of the firewood. Beads of sweat formed on her brow, and Marianne struggled to calm herself.

Did she get turned around somehow? Had she wandered too far away?

Marianne took several deep breaths until the pounding fear subsided. Closing her eyes, she listened, focusing on the soft trickle of the nearby stream. She gauged its direction, and still carrying the firewood, set off to find it. Then she would follow it upstream to the fallen tree; they had camped several yards from it, inward the woods.

Relief escaped from her lips when she found the babbling brook.

The sun’s last rays shot out and sparkled in the water. Marianne trudged along the riverbank upstream; the cloudless sky blazed with red and yellow flames. The oozing dusk began staining the world with its blue light.

Marianne paused for breath and glanced around her, hoping to distinguish a marker towards the campsite. But the woods were dark, engulfed in a haunting gloom. Phantom shadows meandered through the trees. She cast her eyes towards the stream; the water flowed with an unearthly, dark glimmer. 

Lightning flashed upon the riverbank and, startled, Marianne dropped the firewood she still carried. She spied four shimmering apparitions drifting downstream towards her. As they neared, Marianne leaned closer to discern them. Fallen branches? But their blinding, bluish-white glow mystified her. 

Marianne gasped. 

Four bodies floated, feet first, past the riverbank with ghastly faces, shut eyelids and blue lips, their hands crossed upon their chests, as if they lay inside shimmering, watery coffins.

She screamed. 

The first body was her own likeness! Next came the image of Monty, followed by Minnie, then Miranda—the four M’s. 

Marianne plunged her hand into the water, but the wraiths disappeared.

“A mirage!” she breathed with relief.

Wishing to leave, Marianne set off at a brisk trot, always keeping the river by her side. Her breath came in heaves and pants, and tears stung her eyes so that she tripped as they blurred her vision. The fallen tree loomed ahead, and Marianne hurried to reach it.

As she rounded the tree, she found the forest path in the waning sunlight trickling through the leaves, and her friends’ distant voices shattered the eerie gloom.

“Don’t set up,” Marianne panted as she burst into the campsite, “let’s get out of here.”

“Why?” Miranda asked, puzzled by Marianne’s ashen countenance.

“Please let’s go!” Marianne’s gaze darted from one friend to the next like a frightened cat, “This forest warned me to leave.”

Monty shrugged. He never admitted it, but he was superstitious, and he had grown up with the legends too.

Marianne’s frightened expression dried up Minnie’s protests. 

Thunder rumbled in the distance, though the weather forecast had predicted no storms. 

They reached the car parked at the trailhead when heavy raindrops fell. Thunder and lightning were now upon them, and the air was dense with moisture. 

As they drove away Marianne glimpsed the sign pinned up on the board at the trail entrance; “WARNING! FLASH FLOOD AREA!” it screamed.


Down a Country Lane

The car meandered down the country lane. Soft music sounded from the stereo. Heidi threw a quick glance at Claudia in the passenger seat. Her friend’s eyes were open, but she stared into space. Their chatter had ebbed minutes before as the length of the drive, the late hour, and the exciting evening took its toll on the two middle-aged ladies.

They had driven two hours to the city to attend a ballet performance of Giselle. Heidi figured the ballerinas in billowing tutus still danced before Claudia’s eyes. Heidi yawned and rubbed her eyelid. 

“Do you want me to drive?” Claudia asked.

“No, I’m fine, maybe a little tired,” Heidi answered.

Claudia nodded and turned up the volume. The turbulent opening notes of Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain blared from the speakers. 

Now and again, a half-moon peeked between the boughs overhanging the lane. The narrow road wound through the forest; the October wind blew dead leaves across the crooked and snaky asphalt. Heidi shuddered. The long scraggly branches shone with spectral whiteness in the car’s high beams. The haunting Giselle still danced in her mind as A Night on Bald Mountain’s powerful and frenzied tune filled the car.

Then the car stalled. Its lights flashed and blinked as the engine sputtered. Heaving a desolate sigh, it coasted to a stop. Heidi flicked the ignition, but the engine was dead. Even the stereo was silent.

“What’s going on?” Claudia’s voice oscillated between confusion and apprehension.

“I don’t know, the car stopped, just like that.”

“Now what?” Claudia asked; her voice rising an octave, and her eyes brimming with alarm.

“Call AAA?” Heidi shrugged, refusing to show her growing anxiety.

Heidi reached into the backseat for her purse, and was fumbling in it for her cell phone when Claudia spoke.

“What an eerie night! It’s so still and silent… Have you ever known the forest to be this silent?”

Heidi paused with her hand still in her purse.

“No,” she conceded and glanced at her watch, “it’s not even midnight; the world quiets down around 3 AM.”

“I know, but listen, nothing is moving.”

“Sure there is.” 

Heidi opened the door, thinking how, if they had been in her old car, she could have rolled down the window. Her son had bought her this new car and had touted the electric windows as the eighth wonder of the world. 

Icy air cooled her arm, but did not blow through the car, as if it did not want to enter. Heidi listened. Claudia was right. No owl hooted, no cricket chirped, and no breeze blew, despite the swaying branches of moments ago.

Heidi shivered. She closed the door and rubbed her goosebumps.

“Gosh it’s cold out! The forecast claimed it would only be in the low 60s tonight. I’d say it’s more like the low 30s!”

Heidi tried the ignition again, to no avail. Claudia, meanwhile, had fumbled in her own purse and had taken out her cell phone. She put the phone to her ear. 

Frowning, Claudia said, “No signal, try yours?”

Heidi pulled out her phone.
“Nada, zilch, we’re on our own.”

The two friends stared at one another at a loss for what next, when the sound of giggling laughter seeped into the car. It was faint, yet crescendoing as female voices approached. 

Heidi and Claudia sighed with relief.

The trees beside the lane rustled, and the women discerned soft firelights floating between the wraithlike trunks. The lights bobbed and wove, fluttering between the branches. For a moment, Heidi thought it was Giselle and her spooky friends.

The sparkling lights burst through the trees and dozens of women carrying lanterns danced onto the lane.

“They’re stark naked!” Claudia exclaimed.

Not all were flitting about in their birthday suits in the nippy cold air; a few wore long, flowing nightgowns. Heidi tried to say so, but the words stuck in her throat.

Bug-eyed, they watched the twirling women. 

The car shook when the uncanny dancers surrounded it, and a biting cold chilled the friends to the bone. The frolicking sprites crossed the lane and vanished into the woods.

“They… They…” Claudia stammered. 

“They passed right through us; through the car, through the seats, and right through you and me!” Heidi wheezed. 

“My God!” Claudia shrieked. 

Just then, A Night on Bald Mountain resumed, and the car gasped to life.


By the Light of Twin Moons

Johnny Seaver and Alondra trudged up the jagged, barren mountainside of sand and rock. 

The two bright moons, round in their full splendor, lit up the sky so torches were unnecessary. Belenos had directed them to meet him at the top at midnight. Johnny and Alondra set out early in the evening. When they emerged from the residence, the hustle and bustle beyond Belenos’s door surprised Johnny.

Belenos’s people had hewn all dwellings into the mountain; Johnny wondered if they had stumbled upon ancient cave folk. Upon seeing Johnny and Alondra, Belenos’s neighbors scurried into their own homes; their eyes ever wary of the two strangers. Like Belenos, his neighbors were tall, and, in the sparkling sunset, their long shadows shimmered like meandering tendrils. Alondra wondered if perhaps these people might be shadows themselves…

“You know,” Alondra said, “they speak the language of the Ancients, perhaps these are the giants David defeated?”

Johnny whispered, “I always thought ancient humans were shorter.”

“I doubt they are humans,” Alondra murmured, as a shadow slunk past them.

“Then, what are they?” Johnny asked.

“The Ancients,” Alondra replied, “they who enter our dreams, live in our forests and rivers, and seas. The masters of air, water, fire and earth.”

“You mean mythical beings?”

Alondra shrugged.

They were on the outskirts of town, following the barren path Belenos had pointed out, and beginning their upward climb. Alondra and Johnny soon grew silent; the ascent up the steep mountainside too strenuous for talk.

Johnny wondered if they could rest; he was having trouble keeping up with Alondra. She seemed to never tire of walking.

Two things are obvious. I traveled back in time and met Alondra, and we are not on planet Earth.

“So then,” Johnny murmured, “where are we?”

“Pardon?” Alondra asked but Johnny ignored her; his pensive expression told Alondra he was not talking to her.

In Belenos’s home, Johnny had kept track of night and day, and he surmised they were about the same length as on Earth.

As far as he knew, no one had ever discovered other Earth-like planets. Dad always said the idea was all based on statistics and suppositions. 

“The moons only seem identical,” Alondra spoke up, “but they are not. The shadows on one moon mirror the shadows on the other. Also, one glows with a faint copper hue.”

Johnny huffed as he toiled up the rocks and paused for a moment to gaze at the moons. 

He gasped, “We’re in another dimension!” 

Alondra stopped ahead of him and fixed him with a puzzled expression.

“Yes,” Belenos said.

He sat atop a jagged rock; Johnny, startled out of his reverie, realized they had reached the top.

The moonlight shone on Belenos and gave his skin a magical glow.

A deep, lush valley stretched below them, with trees so thick and strong Johnny thought a squirrel never need touch the ground.

The peak where they stood was arid, but the curly canopy of trees adorned the skirts of the mountain, like frills on a dress.

Johnny glanced back towards the desert, scraggy path and realized where they had been. Belenos and his people lived inside a volcano!

“Now,” Belenos’s deep voice rang out through the night, “we must meet one who can answer your questions.”

Belenos smiled and rose.

“Come, he awaits us.”