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.

BRUEGEL TAROT: Queen of Swords





“I’ll call you,” Ethan walked out the door without looking back. Lorna closed it behind him and leaned against it, smiling. He’d spent the night. Lorna floated to her bed and pressed her face against the pillows.

“Ethan,” she whispered, and the name sweetened her tongue, “Lorna and Ethan.”

They’d taken it slow, meeting almost every week for the past few months. Almost. The word nagged Lorna; it reminded her of the times they didn’t meet. He’d canceled because of work. Then she’d had plans. But all was in the past. Last night sealed the deal, and Lorna felt the petals of an exclusive and long-lasting relationship blossoming.

Ethan didn’t call the next day. Lorna dismissed it. He’d said he was swamped at work. He was often swamped at work.

Two more days of silence; Lorna wondered if he was all right. She clicked the refresh button and waited impatiently as the email loaded. Nothing new. Lorna glanced at her phone. No new text, no missed call.

“Maybe he messaged me through social media,” she mumbled and pulled up her profile.

Nothing, nada, zip.

Lorna glanced left and right and clicked on his picture.

“Just making sure he’s all right,” she said to the keyboard, whose letters C-R-E-E-P jumped out in screaming black. Ethan hadn’t updated his relationship status, and while Lorna shrugged the detail off into the universe, it circled around to the back of her mind. But he’d posted something new, a picture of himself raising a beer with a group of people. A blond woman sat next to him, almost grazing his arm with her boob as she lifted her glass. Lorna’s spine tingled as she glared at the static face. The caption read: “great time last night!”

Lorna swallowed back a sinking notion. She pushed it all the way down her throat and into the deep recess of her mind, but the thought creeped out just before she shut the big iron door that reined in such pesky feelings.

“Why didn’t he ask you to join him?” The little voice in her brain yelled through the tiny keyhole as she turned the lock.

‘Why’ slithered through, and try as she might, she couldn’t swat the puny word away.


“Because he’s considerate and respectful, and didn’t want me to think it was a booty call,” she told the dishwater and pulled the plug out.


“Because it’s too soon to meet one another’s friends,” she was firm to the TV.

“Why? Why? Why?” The more she tried to explain it, the less she could.

Lorna tossed and turned all night.

“Hello, you’ve reached Ethan’s voicemail, please leave a message.”

Maybe he was working through lunch?

“Hi, it’s Lorna, just wondering if you’d like to do something together this weekend.” 

The beep that ended the call brought tears to her eyes. 

The weekend came and went without Ethan. And the next week. He’d almost disappeared.


That bothersome little word had nagged her since the beginning. Almost there, almost gone.

Her computer pinged. Lorna’s heart skipped when Ethan ‘liked’ her new post about her promotion. She glanced at her phone; silent as a tomb.

“Beautiful!” He commented on the picture her friends had taken at the beach over the weekend, but the phone still didn’t ring.

Lorna cried silent tears as she reviewed her profile and wondered what was wrong with her.

Why didn’t he call? If he wasn’t interested, then why was he following her every move online? He commented on her profile, so why not in person? Why? Why? Why?

“Because he’s an idiot!” The voice boomed in her mind. The misgivings burst forth in a deluge of tears and rage, like a volcano erupting in the ocean, until red wrath and blue sorrow gave way to white, foamy determination.

“No one toys with me!” She yelled at the computer, “How dare he ghost me!”
Lorna took a deep breath and exhaled through her teeth, the whistle reminiscent of a sword coming out of its sheath. With knitted eyebrows and tense jaw, she brought her finger down like a guillotine and clicked “unfriend”.

The cool waves of clarity washed away the angry lava. Lorna laid her head back and closed her eyes, traces of dry tears on her cheeks.

Lorna’s phone rang. She took her eyes off the television. Ethan’s picture blared on the tiny screen. Call declined.

THE GODDESS TAROT: Eight of Pentacles




Callie set her easel and stool on the grass, glad of such a beautiful spot. She took out her paints, aligned them in the order she preferred, tied her apron with pockets for her brushes and set the canvas on the easel. 

The day was bright and the wind blowing down from the mountains cooled the summer heat. The sky was cloudless and the world around her silent, save for the gusting wind.

Callie filled her brush with paint and smeared the canvas with a beautiful pastel and cyan blue for the sky. She painted the rolling hills in hues of green and the mountains black and purple behind them. The world around her melted away.

Callie omitted the details of the modern world and depicted the landscape before electricity poles blighted it, or the highways and railroads marred the mountains. She imagined this spot before the dreadful parking lot and overlook killed grass and shrub as they paved the way for progress. She loved to paint the long-ago world which came to life on her canvas. The sun set behind the mountains.

“Oh no,” Callie blinked and rubbed her eyes, “it’s getting dark.”

Dusk fell, and the wind turned chilly while she gathered her things. She bent down to put away her paints and as she stood, slinging the easel over her shoulder, she gasped.

“What the…” Callie murmured, bewildered by the absolute darkness. The street lights were unlit, and she had trouble locating the ugly parking lot in the distance.

Callie looked around her in the moonlight and blanched. The modern amenities she’d complained about vanished! No road signs, no trash cans, no paved path back to her car. She clutched her pack and listened to the far-away click-clack. Hooves? Was there a ranch nearby? Callie pressed her memory, but could not remember passing any ranches or stables on the road.

A dark figure appeared in the distance, formless in the silver moonlight. Click-clack, the figure approached. She perceived a horseman wearing a cloak and three-cornered hat. He rode fast and was soon upon her. Callie, too afraid to move and still clutching her belongings, stared at him.

“Hullo,” the man stopped the horse beside her; his face obscured by the tricorne and his voice a deep velvet, “are ye lost, madam?”

Callie nodded, unable to speak and rooted to the spot with feet together and hugging her things like a little girl afraid of the dark. His silver cloak pin glinted in the moonlight.

“Might I inquire as to your dwellings?”

Callie stammered and mumbled, unsure what to respond. She doubted the man knew Lincoln Street in Oakwell Heights. She pointed instead toward the general direction of her house.

The man nodded, and the moon shone on his face. He was dark, with a strong jaw, straight nose and piercing eyes, yet his kind smile softened the shadows on his face. He extended his hand.

“Come,” his eyes twinkled when he grinned, “I shall take ye, ’tis a cold night.”

Callie’s fingers brushed his, and static electricity charged through her. Her heart beat loud in her chest; the promise of an adventure at her fingertips. His warm fingers tightened around hers.

A car honked in the distance and ripped through the silence. The modern world blasted through the moonlight and Callie stood, her arm outstretched, grasping at the chilly wind.

Callie drew in her breath, dropped her pack and put her hands on her lips. Her mind raced, and she shivered, tears springing to her eyes; missed opportunities beat in her heart.

Callie bent to pick up her belongings; a glimmer of silver on the ground caught her eye. The cloak pin. Callie stroked it with her thumb and clenched it against her chest. Head down, she plodded to her car.

Callie wore the cloak pin on a chain around her neck and painted at the same spot every day, hoping to see the rider again. But the spell remained broken.




Sunny Afternoon


The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon” played on the portable speaker and John, smiling, tilted his head back and shut his eyes. Today was his Sunny Afternoon; his day for rest and relaxation.

The sun sparkled on the calm lake and small waves rippled on the pebbles where John had set his chair and fishing equipment. He hummed along with the verse and bellowed out the chorus: “Save me from this squeeze!” His voice echoed over the water. John inhaled deep and let the sun warm his face.

“I’m free!” He yelled after a moment. Birds in the trees fluttered their wings as if applauding him. He reflected on the past years; not all so bad. And then the mother-in-law had moved in.

“I tell ya,” he said to the duck that waddled out of the water beside him, “there never was such a witch. Cleaned me out, both of ‘em, but I’m happy now. No amount of money is worth losing your freedom.”

The duck quacked and waddled on. John gazed at his watch and smiled.

“Three, two, one!” He counted down as the hands met at noon. As of now, Tiffany and her ‘Smother’ were no longer a problem; they were out of his life forever. This freedom had cost him a fortune, but it was well worth it.

“Both witches,” he murmured and cracked open a can of beer. It was cool on his tongue and slid down his throat like a salve over the acrid memories of the past few years. That life was over and done.

“Nevermore, nevermore!” He said to the ravens cawing on the branches above him.

The fishing line tugged and John reeled it in. Just like they reeled me in, he thought as a perch appeared on the surface. It wriggled and squirmed, hooked on the line. John unhooked it and threw it back, watching content as the water rippled with the fish’s escape. He was not a catch-and-release fisherman, but today was different. Tiffany and her mother had caught him, but today, a merciful soul released him back into the water. Someone was taking care of that problem. 

Geese waded past him, their honking added texture to the cacophony of cicadas and birds.

“Maybe I’ll fly away this winter, too,” he said to the geese and raised his beer in a toast to them.

John’s phone pinged, and he smiled at the text message.

“The deed is done,” it read, “freedom is yours.”

John laughed and clapped his hands, whooping like at a football game.

Another ping told him he’d received a video.

John beamed as Tiffany told the poor devil with a much fuller bank account that she’d “love and hold, in sickness and in health, till death do us part”. The priest smiled as the sucker slipped a ring on her talon. The mother-in-law sneered in the background.