Orpheus in Hell

Orpheus in the Underworld, Linda thought. Frank warbled and waved his arms like a malfunctioning octopus to Offenbach’s “Can-Can” booming on the stereo.

“Ignorant swine will know the ‘Infernal Galop’ when I’m through with him…” Linda mumbled through clenched teeth.

Not that Frank heard above the jovial din.

Rain pattered on the roof, and the wind drummed against the windows to the beat of the music. Linda stared at Frank; contempt raged in her eyes like the lightning zig-zagging through the storm clouds. Thunder rumbled as the pressure in her head increased, her heartbeat rose with the music’s crescendo. 

Her ears burned; Frank was at it again. He had a new girlfriend. He always blasted his music with the same piece on repeat when he cheated. Jackass hadn’t realized Linda had put two and two together long ago. Each new song meant a new girlfriend. And each tune represented a memorable feature. This new floozy, Linda seethed, was leggy.

Indignation sizzled.

While most people pictured frilly skirts and bloomers, tonight Linda imagined ten different murders, each one more violent than the last. But the bastard just wasn’t worth it. Yet, when he flaunted his clandestine relationships in her face, when he blared his music on repeat, Linda took comfort in fantasizing about a slow and torturous death.

The “Can-Can” restarted and Linda pounded on the steak with her tenderizer in time to the music, beating the anger out of herself with each thud.

“That’s such a magnificent piece!” Frank cheered as the music ended.

He noticed the thick piece of meat on the cutting board, “Steak for dinner? Nice!”

Linda forced a smile.

The rain stopped.
Frank checked his watch.

“Oh, darling, I’m sorry,” he said in his most apologetic voice, “I forgot I had an, um, an engagement tonight, an office thing. We can eat it tomorrow, right?”

His puppy dog eyes oozed imitation honey. 

He turned off the stereo, grabbed his jacket and headed out the door.

Linda washed her hands at the kitchen sink. She opened the cabinet where she kept the cleaning supplies (the best Frank repellent), grabbed the new locks she’d bought, and got her screwdriver.

Hours later, Frank cursed when his key wouldn’t open the door. The rain was beating down again and he rang the doorbell. 

No answer.

Sopping wet, he peeked through the sidelights; Linda sat on his favorite armchair, curled up with a book by the comforting fire.

The gale swirled around him. He pounded on the door.

Linda glanced up. 

Their eyes met; he motioned her to open the door.

With a satisfied smile, she turned off the lights.

Frank stood in the driving rain, soaking with bewilderment.

MINCHIATE: King of Coins

King of the Castle

Warren leaned back in his chair and belched. He patted his bulging belly and surveyed his domain. The family ate in silence and, though a dense cloud of unease hovered over the room, Warren noticed it not. 

He took a sip of his fine wine. 

Paige, his wife, was not a superb cook, unlike his mother. Bless her, Paige tried, but her meals were never up to par.

His daughter Romina took tiny bites from the bird-sized serving on her plate.Good, Warren thought, she should watch her weight before her marriage to Frederick Youngblood. He’d chosen the man for her, a man to his liking, a man in his image, successful and proud. 

Warren rolled his eyes at his eldest daughter, who was not marriageable. Spinsterhood was her destiny, with her funny-looking nose and weasel-like eyes. Odelia shoveled food into her mouth as if trying to gobble up her ugliness by the spoonful. Warren sighed; no use crying over spilled milk. She would be useful in his old age.

The life his women shaped for him every day satisfied Warren, though it gave him no pride. He wanted more, a son perhaps, or daughters who were both beautiful and smart and with the sense to marry wealthy men.

He drew the wineglass to his lips and sipped.

A knock at the door.

“No, no,” Warren said as his wife rose, “they can come back. It’s a salesman; our neighbors know better than to call on us at dinnertime.”

Paige gave a meek nod and sat down again. The girls kept their eyes on their plates. Warren had used his Caligula tone.

 A few minutes passed with no knock.

“See,” he said, “gone now.”

Warren finished his wine.

The lights flickered; the power died. A moment only. When the lights returned, a cloaked figure stood at the threshold between the dining room and the kitchen.

“Who are you?” Warren exclaimed and almost toppled over his chair as he hurried to stand.

“You know me,” the figure spoke in a tomb-like voice.

Warren stared agape at the stranger.

“I have come for one of you,” the figure said, “it’s reaping time in this house.”

Warren startled, his pulse quickened as the figure’s eyes landed on him and held his gaze. Held his fate.

Not yet!
But the figure had offered an alternative. It had said, “I have come for one of you.” 


“Take Odelia!” Warren exclaimed, pointing at his eldest, “She’s homely and uninteresting. She’ll become an old maid, might as well put her out of her misery now.”

The figure glanced at Odelia, then turned back to Warren and shook its head.

“Then take Paige! She’s a bad housekeeper and in her dotage will be more trouble than she is worth.”


“Take Romina! Frederick Youngblood will soon find a better wife.”

The figure shook its head a third time and pointed at Warren, whose chest constricted and his throat closed. He gasped for life, but eternal darkness closed in on him.

The figure pulled him away; he floated above the room and watched his family.
The three women observed Warren’s body struggle for its life. It shuddered with an odd rattle and then went still. 

His wife stood and collected his glass of wine. The wine only he drank; his women did not deserve it.

“Well, girls, remember what we rehearsed,” Paige smirked.

Odelia chuckled, “The king is dead!”

Romina sneered, “Long live the king.”


Through the Tunnel

Martin closed his book and yawned. The train rattled and shook. Tired and headachy, he wanted nothing more than his high-backed armchair by his blazing fireplace.

He laid his head back on the seat and gazed out the window. The landscape zoomed by in a blur. 

Or rather, I zoom past it in a blur.

The brakes screeched and the hazy stripes of color became trees and shrubs. His heart sank; they hadn’t yet reached the city limits. The weariness of the ride weighed on him.

The train slowed down as they approached a tunnel; its dark mouth gaped like a lion’s den.

He sniggered. At this pace, anyone could climb onto the train like Fantômas or Jesse James and plunge the passengers, himself included, into their crimes.

He closed his eyes. No one would rob this train. No one would kill anyone on this train. Nothing would happen.

Darkness encroached; Martin heaved a deep, bored sigh. He leaned his head against the windowpane and tried to make out the end of the tunnel. The train halted and came to a full stop. 

Now what? 

He kept his eyes on the window. A light approached and Martin realized another train chugged in the opposite direction. Soon he would see its passengers through the windows. 

Isn’t this the premise of an Agatha Christie story?

The train passed and a dismayed Martin realized it was a cargo train and bore no passengers. Boxcar after boxcar dawdled by his window.
How long will this take? Why arent we moving? Don’t both trains fit in the tunnel?

Ridiculous, he chided himself, it’s obvious they fit.

Martin glanced at his watch, an instinctive motion, though futile, since he could not discern the hour in the dimness.

Maybe time stopped?

The train squealed to life and began its slow rattle through the tunnel.

“At last,” Martin mumbled, glad yet disappointed. No bandits, no murder through the windows of the opposite train.

He reached his destination, and with heavy shoulders and a relieved smile, stepped onto the platform. He glanced at his wristwatch and noted they had arrived ten minutes later than expected.

He sighed and flagged down a porter. In doing so, he noticed the time on the clock-tower; it was ten minutes slow. 

“Help you with your luggage, sir?” An old porter asked. He looked as old as the shabby clock-tower. 

“Yes, thank you,” Martin said, “and you might inform the stationmaster the clock is ten minutes slow. “

The porter glanced at his own watch and frowned, “I have the same time as the tower, and your train arrived on schedule, sir.”

“Impossible,” Martin huffed, “we stopped for ages at the last tunnel, waiting for that cargo train to pass.”

“I am sorry sir, no cargo trains use these tracks. None have been on the timetables for, oh, three decades.”


“No sir, the last one carried explosives. A terrible accident in the tunnel; the cargo and the oncoming passenger trains blew sky-high. We no longer allow cargo trains on these tracks.”

GOLDEN TAROT: Eight of Cups

The Magpie

The ruined building had stood at the corner forever; melancholy with the architecture of a bygone era. The roof remained, though the walls had long ago crumbled into piles of rubble, like a pie crumbles when sliced with a dull knife. It looked like a big gaping mouth.

Byron walked past it every day. He felt a strange connection to the ruins and often speculated what they had housed and who had built them. One particular mystery were the faded posters pinned to the fence which flapped in the wind; they also littered the rubble. A picture of a young girl named Maggie took up most of the paper; ‘missing’ printed on top, ‘reward’ at the bottom. She’d disappeared in 1974, and Byron wondered about her. 

One cloudy day, as Byron walked past the sun peeked through the pesky clouds that set the icy breeze on the world, and shone on the ruins.

A glint in the rubble caught Byron’s eye. A tiny shimmer of something glimmered in the subdued sunlight just before the yawning entrance into the belly of the building.

“Kids,” he muttered, supposing some had dropped a shiny toy while playing.

He walked two paces, then stopped and glanced back; the shiny object winked at him.

I must be part magpie; he realized he could not walk away without knowing what shone in the rubble. A memory floated up his spine, but Byron suppressed it. It involved a Hot Wheels, a glaring policeman blocking a toy store’s exit, and a can of whoop-ass his mom had opened at home. 

Byron realized not that he licked his lips and wrung his hands as the thing twinkled again. A quick glance; no one watched. Byron climbed the fence with the agility of a monkey. He trudged and traipsed through the stone crumbs toward the sparkle. 

A haze had fallen on the street and the air smelled like rain.

“Curiosity killed the cat,” he grumbled as he almost turned his ankle on a precarious rock.

“But satisfaction brought it back,” he said when he reached the dark mouth of the ruins.

He scanned the ground for the gleam; his heart skipped when he saw it.

“Ha!” He exclaimed and picked it up.

He turned it in his hand and held it up to the glimmering light. It was an old coin; its engraving defaced by time and earth. Byron shrugged, and with a tiny ember of dismay, turned to go, when his eye caught another flicker further inwards. Beyond it, something else winked at him, and something else beyond that. 

Byron grinned, unaware he did so, and a greedy sparkle shone in his eye. The memory of him shoplifting returned, and with it a feeling, a wish he’d buried that day, awoke. The Magpie stirred deep inside his body and compelled him to move, kneel and collect all the tiny shiny things scattered among the rubble.

It absorbed him, and before he knew it, he’d entered the deep guts of the building, never wondering how it could continue for so long and so deep.

As he picked up the last of the defaced shimmering coins, he glanced up. Darkness surrounded him, cavernous and tomb-like. The dense and musty air stifled him, and Byron’s first thought was I need to leave now. Yet, how? His eyes could not pierce the pitch dark.

A cold, ominous draft blew from within, and the surrounding walls rumbled with a deep groan. A terrifying thought snaked through his mind. The beast is awake.


Torn and yellowed posters pleading for the whereabouts of Byron Elster clung to the rusty fence as Rob’s eyes flickered with yearning for the winking trinket by the derelict building.


It’s the Guys from “Supernatural”

The highway stretched into the distance; the cold jagged peaks in the horizon never neared.

Karla and Rachel sat in congenial silence while Bruno Mars played on the stereo. It was a long drive and half of it was already behind them. The full moon rose in the shimmering sky as the sun set at their back.

“Huh,” Rachel breathed, “seems like we’re going backwards.”

“What do you mean?”

“Yeah, we’re driving towards the darkness as we leave the light behind us. Like moving away from life, towards death.”

Karla sniggered, “Don’t be such a Debbie Downer.”

Rachel chuckled.

The long drive was only the start of a long goodbye and yes, Karla was aware they drove towards death. The ultimate destination of Grandpa’s long life.

Karla glanced in the rearview mirror. A black classic car was tailgating them, pushing them to speed up.

“Look, it’s the guys from Supernatural,” Karla said as the car changed into the fast lane.
The sisters watched it overtake them.

It was a Chevy Impala, but an earlier model and a convertible, unlike the one featured in the show. The top was down and two impatient women laughed and whooped into Karla’s side mirror. The driver wore a baby-blue headscarf wrapped around her hair, which billowed behind her; one gloved hand on the wheel, the other draped over the door. The passenger had a ponytail tied with a pink ribbon and curled into a single ringlet; she wore red Lolita heart-shaped sunglasses. The Impala’s bat-wing fins zipped by and the cat-eye taillights squinted at them as the car heaved and revved, then sped into the horizon. 

“Grandpa would have loved that,” Rachel grinned, “it was a 50s model, right?”

“Yep, he would know the exact year and the whole shebang, too. He talks a blue streak about cars.”

Rachel giggled.

The drive continued; blue shadows fell over the landscape. 

Karla and Rachel would stop at a motel. As Rachel read out the upcoming exits, Karla glanced in the rearview mirror.

“Huh,” she said, “the guys from Supernatural behind us again.”

The sisters fell silent as the eager black car overtook them. The two female passengers zoomed past with reckless abandon.

“Gosh, Karly, that was the same car!”

“I know, right! But how? At what point did we pass them?”

“Maybe they stopped for a bite somewhere?”


Karla doubted but kept quiet; she didn’t recall any rest stops…

The road stretched ahead; they would soon near their stopover. As they approached their exit a car pulled up behind them. It drew close and honked. 

“I think it’s the same car again,” Karla frowned at the rearview mirror.

Rachel glanced back, “No way…”

“Ooh, that’s our exit,” she exclaimed as they passed a road sign.

Karla slowed down and signaled. The black car followed close in rude impatience. They took the offramp; the Impala pushing them to go faster. Karla resisted because she knew not how dangerous the junction into the state highway would be. The Chevy sped up as they rounded a curve and overtook them. Both women glared at the sisters as they passed; the pony-tailed passenger—her heart-shaped sunglasses now atop her head—stuck her tongue out at them.

 The black car squeezed in front of Karla’s Honda and merged onto the state highway. Karla screamed and slammed on the brakes when it disappeared under the nose of a semi-trailer truck with a horrible crunch and a flash of metal. Karla’s own car skidded with screeching brakes; Rachel shrieked. Karla maneuvered onto the shoulder; they came to a trembling stop. The truck zoomed past, not stopping for the black wreck in the grassland.

Rachel jumped out and ran towards the wreckage as Karla’s shaking fingers fumbled for her phone. She was about to dial 911 when Rachel’s perplexed expression in the beams of the headlight stopped her. She ran out to meet her sister.

“What the…?”

“There’s no one here,” Rachel choked, “there’s no one!”

Karla stared. Rachel was right, there was no one. The metal remains were rusty and overgrown with grass and devoid of humans. 

A cloud covered the moon and darkened the landscape. Rachel felt for Karla’s hand; the car-wreck disappeared! Nothing remained on the arid grass by the highway. As the moon shone again, something glinted in the grass at Rachel’s feet. She picked it up. It was a rusty 1950s Chevrolet hood emblem encrusted in the bent rims of heart-shaped sunglasses.


Wishing for Solitude

Dear Stella,

I have followed your advice column for years, but never had cause to contact you until now.

My family has owned Wraith Manor for two centuries, and, in it, I have enjoyed a most quiet existence.

I love the cold, drafty rooms and ancient halls. I spend my happiest moments in the solitude of home. At night, the stars peek through the old casement windows and the soft breeze blows through the dark hallways, dripping with the musk of my mother’s roses.

I am free to roam my domain at will; yet, now and then, infestation appears, like the biblical locusts.

In the past, I have removed these plagues with little effort, but now, try as I might, I cannot get rid of them. My tried-and-true tactics—footsteps, moving objects, torpedoes, wails, moans and slamming doors—no longer work. 

Worse even, the new vermin have taken my family portraits off the walls and installed pesky fireflies that light up with the flick of a switch.

I love fireflies as much as the next, but these little bugs, instead of blinking soothing green, light up in garish hues of white and yellow that glare and crackle.

Gone now is the moonlight wafting through the windows. Gone now is the sleepy silence of the hall, kitchen, ballroom and bedrooms. Instead, there is a constant chatter of voices by day, and a relentless buzzing by night. 

I have done my best to spook these pests away, but to no avail. I even reached out to my cousin at Canterville Chase, but he could not offer much help.

What can I do?

Spectrally yours,

Wishing for Solitude in Eternity


Jem Thompson

Jem Thompson’s childhood best friend was Bruise, a mongrel dog mixed with stray, with a gray-black patch over his eye. Bruise died when Jem was a teen, and he missed his friend so much he never kept another pet again. There could be no other like Bruise. 

Marriage, kids, grandkids, widowerhood.

Every day, Jem Thompson would walk in the park that faced his house and sit on the bench by the mermaid fountain at its eastern corner. There he would watch the comings and goings of his neighbors, and revel in the games they played with their dogs. 

Late in the afternoon on a cloudy day, Jem Thompson sat at his bench longer than usual; fluffy white clouds had kept the beaming sun at bay and a cool breeze blew. He laid his head back on the hard wooden seat and took a brief nap. A cold wetness surprised Jem Thompson and he awoke to find Bruise’s soulful eyes gazing at him as the dog licked Jem’s fingers.

“Bruise?” Jem Thompson muttered in disbelief.

The dog yipped and Jem Thompson knew was Bruise, not another dog that looked like him. Bruise nuzzled his hand and then nudged Jem Thompson, now an old man, to follow him. The dog was relentless, and, with a snap of bones and a creak of the old knee, Jem Thompson stood, his hip jutting out sideways. Bruise walked a few paces, then returned to coax his old friend. With his slow and crooked gait, Jem Thompson followed his long-gone dog. It never occurred to him to fear the animal; this was Bruise, after all. 

Bruise led him across the street and down a narrow alley, away from the square with the park at its center he’d known so well for forty-odd years. He walked past houses he hadn’t seen in decades, since Madge’s death and the creaky knee had forced him into an almost sedentary life. He came to a brick-red townhouse that stood between two modern bungalows. Jem Thompson recalled it had been part of a row of townhouses; now it was the last one standing. The plain, modern eyesores had replaced the others. 

Jem sighed, winded and tired; Bruise trotted to the door. He barked and scratched it. The sun was low in the sky and Jem, unaware of how far he’d walked, stood like a fool before the house.

Bruise returned to his side and snapped at Jem’s hand, the way he’d always done when he’d wanted something from him. Jem sighed, and, shaking his head, tottered up the front path. He stood at the door, uneasy. With a deep breath, he rang the bell. An old woman opened; they stared at one another for a moment, then Jem’s eyes went from dull to shining with recognition.

“Fanny?” He said, surprised, “Fanny Markowitz?”

A slow smile spread over the woman’s face, “Jem Thompson, well I’ll be damned! It’s been, what, sixty years?”

Jem smiled at his old friend and was about to reply when a loud bang rattled the house.

“What the…?” Fanny exclaimed and turned to enter when Jem pulled her back. 

“I smell gas!” he yelled.

He took Fanny’s withered hand and let her to the street. Tongues of fire licked the kitchen curtains. Smoke billowed from the upstairs window-frames and, in the next instant, flames erupted from the shattered glass.

“Serena!” Fanny yelled.

“Is someone else inside the house?” Jem asked in alarm.

“Serena, my cat!” Fanny screamed, “I need to get her!”

She was about to lunge into the flames when they distinguished the silhouette of a dog in the gaping doorway. It carried something in its muzzle. 

Away from the burning house, the dog set the dangling bundle on the ground; it jerked and moved and ran to Fanny. Fanny cradled the calico cat in her arms. Jem turned to pet the dog, but Bruise had disappeared.

Fanny whispered beside him, “That was Bruise, wasn’t it?”

Jem nodded and moved his lips, but wailing sirens drowned out his answer.


Perfumed Glass

“I still can’t believe this is happening,” Vicky squealed. Her thick round glasses made her look like an owl.

“Oh my gosh, I know!” Kathy giggled, “I didn’t think they even knew we existed!”

They glanced at themselves in the mirror; excitement beaming in their faces. Kathy put her earrings on. 

“Now for the final touch,” Kathy smiled at Vicky.

She picked up the perfume bottle and sprayed just a tiny amount on her neck and on her wrists. The perfume was her dearest possession; it had belonged to Tina, Kathy’s older sister, and Kathy only wore it on special occasions. She passed the bottle to Vicky.

“Really? May I?” Vicky asked.

“It’s for good luck,” Kathy answered.

Vicky was careful to only use a tiny spritz behind her ears. Both girls fell silent as jasmine and lemongrass filled the room.

“An angel passed…” 

“Tina, of course,” Kathy glanced at Vicky, her smile suspended in Tina’s scent.

Should she tell her best friend about Tina’s footsteps approaching her bed at nights, or about Tina’s laughter bursting through the walls when no one else was home? 

“I feel her sometimes, you know,” Vicky said, her voice cautious.

“Yeah,” Kathy mumbled, “she’s watching us from heaven.”

Vicky wanted to say more but turned to the mirror. She gasped.

“Look,” she pointed.

Kathy followed Vicky’s gaze. The mirror no longer showed the image of the two excited girls, instead it showed a party replete with their classmates, well, only the popular kids. Kathy and Vicky did not belong to this group, and this was the party they would never ever in their wildest dreams attend. No one would invite them, and should they show up, they would be out on their butts in a flash. Kathy glanced at Vicky, whose owl eyes looked like two round moons.

The image in the mirror wound through the throngs of teenagers laughing and drinking. A couch appeared and, in it, sat Chad and Ian, the two boys who’d asked Kathy and Vicky on a date. Kyle, their friend, sat on the nearby chair. They were joking and laughing and swigging the cans of beer in their hands.

“Are you guys going to pick up those two nerds?” Kyle asked.

“We’ll leave in a few minutes,” Ian replied, “don’t get ahead of yourself, the night is young and we’ve caught the prey.”

“Easiest hundred bucks I ever made,” Chad chuckled.

“Don’t forget you have to go all the way, otherwise you lose the bet,” Kyle retorted.

“No problem,” Ian said, “those uggos are already eating out of the palms of our hands. We got this.”

“It’s a done deal,” Chad drove the knife home. 

Kathy and Vicky stood speechless and shocked as they watched the exchange through the mirror. All the pieces fell into place; the date was just a game to them. Kathy felt the sting of tears and glanced at Vicky, whose glasses had misted over and wet streaks shone down her cheeks.

Tina’s perfume still hung in the air when the doorbell rang, and the mist from the spray hovered before the mirror. The girls’ eyes met and reached an unspoken agreement. Kathy flew out and reached the door as her father was about to open it.

“No Daddy, don’t,” Kathy whispered.

Her father stared at her through eyes sunken by deep sorrow. Tina’s death had left him haggard; a ragged soul in a middle-aged shell with a long life still ahead.  

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Yes, we’ve decided not to go.”

He gave her a puzzled look; his eyes trying to pierce her innermost thoughts.

“Okay,” he reassured her, “you don’t have to go. I’ll handle this.”

He ushered Kathy upstairs; she joined Vicky and listened to the murmur of voices at the front door. Vicky touched Tina’s perfume bottle, then looked at the mirror. Through the perfumed mist, Tina’s smiling figure appeared in the glass. Her long black hair hung loose on her shoulders, and the green dress they’d buried her in shone like light passing through emeralds. 

“Thank you,” the girls murmured in unison. 

Tina smiled at them, and, as the mist dissipated, the girls noticed the pearly white wings on her back. 


Wagons Rolling Down the Mountain

I opened the balcony door and stepped out to the balmy evening. Rain had trickled down all afternoon and had wrecked our plans to climb the mountain under whose skirts the small hotel stood. It was an ancient house built during colonial times, made of adobe with dark and dank rooms. The balcony was a narrow ledge protected by wrought-iron, and I leaned on the railing as I gazed at the mountain nearby.

The sun had set moments before, and its last rays intensified the green of the mountain. Verde que te quiero verde, I thought, and watched the flitting hummingbirds defend their territory at the feeder in the walled garden below my room. Hummingbirds—such big wars raging in such tiny creatures. No wonder the Aztecs believed warriors reincarnated as hummingbirds; only the bees dared to defy them.  

Dusk descended, and with it an eerie calmness. I pulled up a chair and put my feet up on the railing; the cicadas’ fervent buzz inundated the evening like radio static. A humid breeze blew and wafted waves of jasmine and honeysuckle.

In the distance I heard the soft rumble of thunder and hoped rain would not ruin tomorrow’s expedition, again. Yet, as I listened, I realized it was not thunder I heard, but the soft grumble of hooves, and the click-clack of wooden wheels. I strained my ears and, sure enough, I distinguished the clip clop of horses and the rackety-rack of carts. A pilgrimage?

I glanced at the mountain and watched in awe as a long string of red mist descended the mountainside. It wound through the rocks and trees as if following a well-trodden path. 

I remembered what the owner had told us in the lobby, “Sometimes you can hear wagons coming down the mountain after a rainstorm. People say it’s ghosts, but I think it’s the wind blowing through the trees.” 

I would have agreed with him. Yet no one had mentioned the red meandering mist.

The water in the bathroom stopped and Tom stepped out.

“Shower’s free,” he said, and approached in his jeans and wet hair.

I did not answer, but stared mesmerized at the haze; the clatter of hooves reverberated in the mellow dusk.

“What is it?” He asked.

I pointed, “The mist. Isn’t it weird?” 

He watched for a moment and agreed. A white moon appeared in the sky and Venus, the evening star, blinked hello.

“How long has this gone on?” Tom wondered.

“A few minutes, it started after sunset,” I answered, “wait… listen.”

It was then I realized the cicadas were silent and the hummingbirds had vanished from the feeder. I told him so. Tom pulled up a chair beside me and we watched the fog snaking closer; it would soon engulf us.

The raucous hooves intensified, as if the sound belonged to the red cloudiness. Tom reached for my hand and squeezed it; there were no words in his mouth or mine.

The reddish mist was upon us now, and as it slithered past our balcony, I discerned the shapes and figures of horses and riders, and a regiment on foot. I recognized the puffy pants, armor plate, helmets and muskets of the conquistadors that had marched through this land five-hundred years before. 

They tramped right under us, oblivious to the garden wall and hummingbird feeder dangling from the ahuehuete tree. The cannon rattled as a horse pulled it over uneven ground. A rearguard soldier glanced up in passing and caught my gaze.

Señora,” his hollow voice rang in my ears as he nodded a gracious greeting.

The mist dissipated with the sudden flutter of a myriad of hummingbirds. Night fell. The sounds of hooves faded away as the cicadas chirped again. The soft breeze whirled jasmine, honeysuckle… and gunpowder.


The House Told Me

The house menaced in the harsh sunlight. The yard was a barren plot of dry grass, and the broken windows looked like hollow eye-sockets. 

“Isn’t it great?” Miranda giggled and bounced on her toes. 

“Um…” I tried to stammer out a supporting response but couldn’t, for the life of me, fathom why anyone would buy this house. 

“It’s my first fixer-upper,” she squealed with delight, “it’s got real potential and I think we can turn a good profit.”

“Does Oscar agree?” I asked, knowing my sister’s penchant for pies in the sky. 

“You bet!” She said and beckoned me to follow her. 

I stared at the hideous building. It didn’t have the charm of a bygone architectural style most old houses had. It was square, dilapidated and bleak, but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. 

“Let me show you,” Miranda took my hand and hurried me across the arid yard. 

Charm and beauty weren’t on the inside either. It was like walking into a box with low ceilings and no decorative features. Debris lay strewn about on the floor, lost and mismatched objects, broken glass and, in the corner, a creepy doll slumped against the wall. 

My heart skipped a beat when I beheld it. Only a bare rag of what may have been an apron covered the doll. Its arm was scorched black and it was missing an eye. Someone had pulled out most of its hair. To whom had this toy belonged?

“Do you know who lives here?” I asked Miranda, unable to peel my eyes off the unfortunate doll. 

“Um, no, it’s abandoned.” Miranda answered, oblivious to the anxiety in my voice. 

I cast one last look around the room as she led me towards the stairs. Eerie warped sunlight entered the window, and for the first time, I noticed the walls. My heart raced as my mind sought an explanation for the reddish brown spatters and streaks that lined the shabby wallpaper. What could have done this? These stains peppered every wall, and though they didn’t look like blood, I had the strange sensation they pointed to something. 

“Elise!” Miranda called from the upstairs landing. 

Reluctant, I climbed the stairs that creaked and cracked under my feet. Miranda stood at the top, arms akimbo, waiting for me as I dawdled. Shadows danced on the walls and ceiling behind her. I paused. Were they the distorted shapes of children? 

I gulped. My mind was playing tricks on me, but…

I reached the top of the stairs and entered the gloomy and messy second floor. 

“It doesn’t have the greatest view,” Miranda chatted as we crept down the hallway, “but we’ll figure something out.”

We entered one of the smaller bedrooms. I gasped and held back a scream. 

“What?” Miranda asked. 

“Who lived here?” I breathed. 

She followed my gaze and shrugged.

“So the windows have bars,” she stated with that annoying nonchalance that often made me want to punch her. 

“On the inside?” I exclaimed and pointed at the iron bars that ran from the ceiling to the floor. 

“Why not?” She shrugged; I gave her an annoyed glance. 

A draft blew in this dreary, ugly house and sent a chill up my spine. I whipped around, certain I’d heard a child’s whimper in that gust of air. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a shadow run into the adjacent door, but I didn’t dare look. Instead, I invited Miranda to lunch, the sooner to hightail it without hurting her feelings. She was so damn sensitive and so excited about this horrible house any objection would fall on deaf ears. 

As we turned to go, I glanced down the hall towards the master bedroom. In the fuzzy sunlight streaked on the wall, I saw, just for a moment, the dangling silhouette of a hanging man. I hurried my sister along and sped through the ground floor and its stained walls and into the dead yard. 

This house is dead, but the shadows live. The words pounded in my brain and it took me a while to compose myself. Miranda never noticed. 

“I’ve heard some stories,” Oscar whispered when I voiced my concern over the telephone the next day, “I heard the last owner, decades ago, hanged himself in a bedroom. They said he was heartbroken when his wife ran off with their kids.”

I said no more; in the background Miranda’s excited voice mixed with the rattle and boom of heavy machinery. 

I hung up and went about my day, trying, and failing, to get that house out of my mind. Oscar’s story rang true, but there was something…

Night fell; the phone rang. 

“Oh my God, Elise!” Miranda yelled before I could say the customary hello. 

“What? What’s happened?” I said alarmed. 

“You won’t believe what the workers found!”

“The skeletons of a woman and children entombed in the stained walls,” I blurted out. 

A pause. 

“How did you know?”

“The house told me…”