A Muse Bouche Review: February 2024

Sunrise, Sunset

Dear Readers,


Welcome to our second edition of 2014. The theme is sunrise/sunset.


The A Muse Bouche Review Team

Featured: Ships (Louise Sorensen) Fiction
Waiting on the Sunset (Renée Gendron) Fiction
Life Ain’t Easy for a Vampire (David M. Simon) Fiction
Sunrise, Sunset (Marian L Thorpe) Fiction
sunrise (Heather Wickers) Poetry
A Visit to the Island (Joseph P. Garland) Fiction

February Team Showcase


Louise Sorensen (@louise3anne)

Image: sergeyonas on Deposit Photos

After I tried a few times at being an entrepreneur, my mother became impatient and started on me again to get serious about participating in the family business. Desperately seeking alternatives, I had to get away from Deodanth for a while.

Having no particular destination in mind, I left my dog with one of my trustworthy brothers, and went down mountain to the coast. Finding the villagers no more rational than the last time I’d visited, I ignored their silliness and followed my nose to the market, hoping to find lunch.

The baby octopi on offer twitched at me, reminding me too much of the Elders who ruled Deodanth. I lost my appetite, bought some travel bread, and took the first train out of there. A train ride appealed to me, and though I’d never been on one, I wanted to have new experiences. You never know when an opportunity will arise, but nothing much happens when you never try anything.

As we chugged up the coast, I watched the scenery fly by, and fell asleep, only to be awakened by something pressing against me. I woke up and found someone trying to cut the straps of my backpack. I grabbed the hand that held the knife and twisted. The cutpurse was weak and smelled of garbage and unwashed hair, and the knife fell neatly into my hand. Upon examination, it wasn’t even sharp.

No one in the crowded carriage sounded any alarm, and no eyes were upon us. I took a good look at my assailant and discovered a small, thin, dirt-smeared girl. No one takes pride in their profession anymore.

I gave the girl back her knife, and then fished in my backpack for some trail bread and bits of gold. “Here,” I whispered. “Take this and go to Deodanth. Find the Assassin’s Guild. Tell them Darla sent you, and they’ll give you a job.” They’d give her more than a job. They’d give her food, shelter, and an education. A chance to survive. If she wasn’t cut out for killing people, they’d find her something else to do. My family might be bloodthirsty murderers on the outside, but they were… let’s face it, they were bloodthirsty murderers on the inside too, but they had a soft spot for strays.

She frowned, but accepted the offerings, and took a seat in the farthest end of the car. I was sure she knew of Deodanth. Everyone knew of Deodanth. The question was, would she go? That was out of my hands. But if I met her again picking pockets or cutting purses, I would personally escort her there.

With that, the train ride had been tainted for me and I got off at the next stop, even farther away from Deodanth. The escape made me feel giddy.  The heat and humidity of the coast was more than I was used to in my mountain home, and I longed for fresh air. A conversation with a rational person wouldn’t go amiss either, but I wasn’t optimistic.

I spotted a path that meandered up the mountain, and felt an odd pull in that direction. Picture signs at the bottom indicated avalanches, rockfalls, flooding, and big, toothy creatures. I was intrigued. As I walked around the thorn bushes blocking the beginning of the path and headed up, I wondered what the villagers were trying to hide.

It wasn’t long before I came to a ravine cutting across the path. It was too wide to jump, and I saw no bridge. The sides were crumbling sand, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. The path continued on the other side so I knew it must be possible to get across. A little way down my descent, the sand gave way and tumbled me to the bottom, into a narrow creek. I cracked my knee against a big submerged rock and saw stars. After giving myself a few minutes to get over the pain, I crossed the creek and started the climb up the other side.

A few trickles of sand fell from above, and in no time there was an avalanche of sand and gravel trying to bury me. I climbed to the side away from it, but a sufficient amount of weight had collected on my backpack and was driving me down. I shook myself violently and most of it flew off, and then I found a rocky vein that I followed to the top. When I flopped over the top, I moved as far away from the edge as I could and had another little rest. I didn’t take long though, because I had the feeling there might be more hazards to come. Despite the cold, the sun was strong. I lay beside two large rocks near the path and my clothes dried off quickly.

Just as I was falling asleep, I heard the pitter pat of little hooves on rock and looked up to see a herd of goats headed straight for me. The lead goat sported a set of horns that would have suited a creature ten times its size. And he didn’t look friendly. His companions, and there were about twenty of them, also had outsized horns. Their noses were all scrunched up, revealing awesome teeth. I didn’t know goats had fangs.

I wasn’t sure how to get past without fighting them, and I wasn’t sure I could come out of a fight with them. There were too many.

A sudden brainwave had me opening my backpack, ripping out pieces of trail bread, and throwing it away from me. The goats took off after my breakfasts, lunches, and suppers, and I took off up the path.

The mountain rose steeply soon after and the running was tough. But whatever had caught my attention down in the village was pulling me on. The attraction was stronger than ever. The air was clean and dry and smelled like pine and rock. I took deep breaths and kept going. After a while, thinking the goats had to be far away, and hopefully attending to other goatish business than harassing me, I slowed to a walk. The pull lured me on.

It was getting towards nightfall when I came upon a cave. Inside the entrance, an old man sat on a pile of furs. When I saw him in the gloom, I didn’t hesitate for a moment but ran to him and threw my arms around him in a hug, feeling like I’d known him forever. Although I was fairly sure we’d never met.

#   #   #

It’s a sad thing to die alone, even when you’ve done it many times.

I knew the moment I saw her that she, like me, was from Deodanth. I’d felt the pull of her mind days ago and focused on it to bring her here. To have a few days of love and companionship before undergoing the ordeal. When you die alone, you never know if you’ll decide halfway through to come back or not. But if there’s been celebration and there’s joy nearby, your chances are better. That is the way of some from Deodanth. Like calls to like. I called, she answered.

We spoke of Deodanth for three days. She told me her name was Darla and regaled me with her adventures. Her family, her mother who was pressuring her to enter the family business. Her dog. Her escapade with the terrible toads of Machu Hampacchu. The narrow escape from the whale and the rescue of the sacrificial chloe. The subterranean fungus cave that almost swallowed the dog. The shibboleth. That last was the worst. She’s small, and does not yet stand out, but if you can dispatch a shibboleth, you are a great warrior. As I will be again. As she may be, and then be again.

But after our three days together, it was time.

She had been making me stimulating teas, in an effort to make me get better, I think. There is no getting better from the weight of years for people like us, invented, bred, related, I don’t know, to the terrible Elders who rule Deodanth. There is no way to go but forward.

I told her then that I was dying, and that my grandson would be arriving any day to perform the funeral ceremony.

She cried a little when she heard, and that she couldn’t attend, but I told her it was very private, and that my grandson would take care of it.

Were they monsters from the stars, our Elders? Blood, bone, and sinew, they were part of us. Did that make us monsters? A question for the philosophers. Darla and I were undecided. We spoke of many things, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her about our resurrection. She’d figure it out eventually, as we do. Or not. It was beyond my control.

When I could hold it off no longer, I asked her to make the tea, and that she join me. She never knew it was the special tea. For me, it would ease the pains of the change. For her, it would keep her asleep until my change was over.

I waited to finish my tea until she was asleep, then got up, my weary bones creaking, laid her on my pile of furs, and covered her under them against the cold.

Then I gulped the rest of my tea, felt the numbness penetrate, went farther into the cave, and lay down on my bed.

I entered the change. Visions of the cold and black of space pierced my mind. Battles and explosions, unearthly struggles, fear and loneliness, and hunger, never ending hunger, plagued my dreams. I knew they were only ancient memories, inherited from the Elders, our sometimes progenitors, and would not harm me. Remembering the first time I’d gone through this, I almost laughed, but by then I had no mouth, or vocal cords, or even much of a brain, to filter the humour.

I hoped Darla wouldn’t awaken and come in to see me before I was finished taking my final form. That form is also a decision. I successfully avoided the path to becoming an Elder one more time. But until I became a vibrant youth again, mid-metamorphosis, I was an unsightly blob of plasm.

I awoke to the scent of pine and wind. The air was cold. I held up my arm and studied the goosebumps. My skin was the right colour. And no scales. Counted my fingers. The correct number. Rolled my shoulders to check for wings. None. Felt my forehead. No tentacles. Good. I got up and looked at my reflection in the small cracked mirror that was part of my man of the mountain persona. A young face stared back at me. Good.

I left the cave and checked on Darla. Still asleep. I made the other kind of tea and had a dose, the taste clean and cool on my tongue. Mountain berries, leaves of herbs, blood of a Deodanthan. Gave her some. Only a little was required as she was already coming out of it. You can’t keep a good Deodanthan down.

When she awoke, I told her the story. That my grandfather had died during the night and I had performed the burial ceremony. When she asked to visit the grave, I told her I’d scattered his ashes to the wind, as he had wished.

We spoke for a whole day, sharing more stories. I hinted at the details of our inheritance. When she thought about them enough, she’d put them together.

The next day, we had to part. She’d fulfilled my need to have a companion for the change, and we both felt the urge to get on with our lives and go our separate ways.

We had a final hug. I told her we’d meet again someday. It was inevitable. We had a bond that over the years would mature.

I gave her some trail bread to eat along the way, and scatter for the goats if they bothered her, but with my blessing on her, they shouldn’t.

I stood up to fuss with the fire, poking a stick through it to burn the last embers. She said goodbye and left. Headed down the path, slowly at first, then faster, as she thought of all the places she would visit and the sights she would see.

I gazed at her back, wishing we could stay together right now. We appeared to be about the same age, timing be damned. But you can’t rush time, no matter how much you may wish.

Just before she went around the bend, she stopped, and looked back at me.

We stayed like that for minutes, the pull between us unmistakable. Until I sent her the thought, ‘Be safe, until we meet again.’

She turned and left.

What more is there to say?

We will meet again.


 Waiting on the Sunset

Renee Gendron (@ReneeGendron)

Third rank communications technician Takara Hayashi stared at her console, then pounded against the analogue thermometer. Five degrees Celsius couldn’t be right. A relic from when the station had first been built, the mercury had to be too old, or the tube congested, or some other scientific explanation had to exist to explain why it was nine in the morning on a winter’s day, and it was already five degrees.

“Solar flare,” a woman’s voice squawked on the station’s intercom. “All non-essential personnel report to the fortified habitat shelters. All essential personnel report to your stations.” Her voice was as cold as the surface temperature.

Takara clicked through her screen to the department update—solar flare expected to last four hours. Hours of disrupted communication with advance teams scavenging the planet for spare parts, reconnoitring against roving bands, and cutting the planet off from communications with other planets and the Commonwealth.

Not that there was much wealth left in the Commonwealth. The Outer Planets and colonies had been pillaged and bled dry of resources, and Prime had gobbled all up, leaving specks of stardust along its greedy path.

Tens of thousands of people had been abandoned on inhospitable planets at the far end of trade routes with scant opportunities to engage in commerce, acquire replacement parts, or improve their technology. Resources depleted, the best and brightest of their populations long gone with the last of the inter-planetary transports, the populations of these worlds, including Takara’s, had been left to die a slow, starving, often chilling but sometimes overheated death.

“Takara?” Onni’s crisp voice cracked through the radio. “What are you reading?”

She blinked and reorganised her thoughts onto her instrument panels. “I’ve lost communication with the south side of the dome.”

“ETA to repairs?”

She looked up the status of her instruments, but half were down or glitchy, and from previous experience with solar flares, she couldn’t trust the readings. “Unknown.”

Crackling static filled the line. Between the pops and cracks of static was the whir of an engine and the rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire.

Her breathing slowed and slowed and slowed, and she was certain her lungs had completely seized. “Where are you?” Her voice cracked as loud as the static.

“Heading back.”

She stared at her screen until the words and symbols blurred. “From?”

Crackles pricked a moment of silence.

“The Craters.”

Numbness enrobed her, robbing her fingers and toes of sensation and her mind of clear thought. The Craters was a colloquial and almost quaint term for the hectares upon hectares of devastated lands pocked and marred by meteorites. The only fresh source of minerals since the mine deposits had been depleted decades prior.

Minerals the colony needed to maintain repairs of its hull and equipment and electronics.

Takara’s fingers stilled over the keyboard. He was heading back, he was heading back, he was heading back. She repeated the mantra until it became the chorus to her heartbeat. Onni was safe and on his way back, far away from the fall zone of thousands of hand-sized meteorites that could puncture his oxygen pack, damage the engine of his buggy, and leave him vulnerable to cold and wolves and gangs, and over one unlucky strike to his head and kill him outright.

She pulled up his tracker on the screen and followed the progression of the flashing dot heading for the dome. Three other buggies followed in a V-formation, with Onni’s buggy at the tip. Takara couldn’t pull up life signs because the solar flare had damaged that array. But the other buggies were following in close formation and their speed was neither hurried nor slow.

No one was injured.

She smoothed an eyebrow, wishing she could trace the contours of Onni’s mouth. When he left for a mission or returned from one, there was always a tightness to his lips and jaw. He stood, eyes front, chest out, mouth set, like he was posing for his annual service photo. But with each year, the grim determination in his features had turned sterner, sadder, grimmer like he knew he would never get off this frozen rock.

No one ever got off this rock. The trade transports had long stopped passing by the system, and the planet had likely been removed from all trade charts. But none of that mattered. The colonists had had one another for generations, and the rest of the universe could burst.

More static came on the line, and her computer screen flashed several red warning lights. The communications array on the eastern side of the colony fritzed out, and contact with engineering and the forward laser defence grid was out. They were operational until they lost power, but lack of communication posed its problems.

The nomads that stalked the tundra watching them incessantly, might pounce on the opportunity to conduct a raid. Maybe some half-starved packs of wolves would make a desperate attack on their refuse bins or find a way into the dome.

Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. All was possible, and all was terrifying without communications.

Takara checked the radar reads of the region.

Onni’s platoon approached with speed towards the dome, and no one and no thing followed them. A routine scouting mission to deter the hostile force without contact with an enemy and without injury to personnel—a success by Takara’s standards.

A weather report popped up on her screen. Temperatures were expected to rise another three degrees within the hour.

Takara stared at the report. The urge to bang her monitor to see if the letters and words rearranged themselves tickled her palm. But the words and numbers stayed in position, and the sudden increase in temperature risked more equipment malfunctions.

She sent a text message to the exaction teams to expect more solar activity and to put in any request for personnel or equipment as soon as possible. She hit send, but three dots continued to move left to right and cycled back to left. The message hadn’t been sent. She tried the backup communications system, one that was analogue and broke down at least twice a week, but it was hard-wired to some advance posts on the tundra. The infrastructure was a relic of a time hundreds of years ago when the colony was established as a forward base, not as the base on the planet.

No response to her message. Not even a break in the static to suggest someone was attempting communication by Morse code.

She sucked on the inside of her cheek, then made a note of it in her log. But a little, wiggling, uncomfortable sensation wormed its way into her stomach. It sat there, too heavy to be ignored but too ill-defined to point her to the source of the problem.

Crackle and static popped in her ears, and dozens upon dozens of delayed messages clogged her screen. She shifted her gaze to Onni’s last position. The radar bleeps still moved steadily towards the base.

Fuzzy lines blurred her readers, and when they cleared, her screen was dark.

She shifted her gaze to the screens of her coworkers at the Communications Centre, all dark.

One by one, Takara and her colleagues rose from their chairs. The curly wires of their headsets connected them to the workstations, but they all stood speechless and uncertain.

Communications Director Marja Korpi rose from her chair in her office and strode into the main communications room. She climbed a few steps to the platform of the map of the communications infrastructure of the dome, then faced her colleagues. “This was expected. We’ll wait out the solar flare.” She flashed a reassuring smile that didn’t brighten her eyes or curve her cheeks, then returned to her office and closed the door.

Takara’s colleagues removed their headsets and congregated in the centre of the room, exchanging chit-chat and idle gossip and absolutely nothing of importance that could support the dozens of work teams and one scouting team outside of the dome.

Nothing was ever safe on the planet. Its terrain and wildlife and native inhabitants were chiseled from ice and hardships, gave no mercy and had no understanding of its concept.

Takara lowered herself to the edge of her chair. Her shoulders complained of being rounded over the keyboard, and her lower back wailed in pain for the lack of lumbar support, but this is how she tuned out the rest of the world and focused on her task at hand.

She pulled up the last known coordinates of a pack of nomads tracking Onni’s reconnaissance team. The nomads used the ridges and rises and valleys to their advantage when following and attacking. With blasts of wind over two hundred kilometres per hour during medium-intensity storms, the landscape of the tundra changed frequently.

Radar, lidar, mapping expeditions and uses of markers only went so far to orient teams compared to the millennia-old knowledge and traditions of the nomads.

Takara pulled up the telemetry of the miners and the recon team, and they were on track to intersect in—she typed a few numbers into the computer—ten minutes. Then, she overlayed the projected path of the nomads.

Her throat thickened until she could barely breathe. She stared at the intersection between Onni’s group and the nomads. She shifted her gaze from Onni’s six-member recon patrol to the dozens of dots that represented nomads. Armed nomads who had scavenged advanced weapons from the dome over the years and who had developed tactics and strategies to ensure both superiority in number and firepower.

She pulled on Onni’s frequency. “Onni?”


“Onni. Report.”

No response.

“Onni, if you can hear me, report.”

Still no response.

One of her colleagues laughed too loud at an impertinent joke.

Takara frowned. Onni and his soldiers were out there. Dozens of miners were out there digging up resources to keep the colony alive.

She pressed her eyes closed to keep from shedding one tear. Not at her workstation, not in front of her colleagues, and most certainly not in front of the boss she was trying to impress to get a promotion. She pressed her eyes tighter, keeping the burning tear in place.

Onni—quick to make her laugh, slow to make love to her, quick to help, and slow to judge. Onni, the reason her heart beat and her body warmed on this frozen rock that was the last planet in the solar system in a solar system so far at the edges of a corrupt empire that it might as well have been a speck of dust.

Another tear stung her eye, and despite all the will and strength and determination she had, it fell from her eyelashes and plopped onto her keyboard. She swiped it away, then blinked until clarity returned to her vision.

Onni, his team, and the miners. Their lives needed to be protected, and she needed to send them a message to warn them of the swarm of nomads encroaching on their position.

She tried bouncing a signal off the eastern array, but it was too weak. She deployed a drone to lay down some communications markers, and it left its dock and headed out, but three hundred meters from the dome, she lost contact with it.

Uncertainty ripped through her, turning her palms slick, her tongue thick, and the corner of her eye to tick.

Onni. She wanted to hear his voice, see his text messages come through, see his distinct cadence of Morse code break through the static on the line.

A slow panic crept through her, stopping to tingle her toes, quake her calves, tighten her lower back and screw her spine. Each progression through her body, stiffened her, rattled her, left her tight and constricted as if gripped in a vice.

A temperature increase popped up on her screen. A further one-degree increase was expected within the house.

The eastern communication array blinked and fritzed, then winked out of operations.

A red warning light flashed over the communications room, and her oblivious colleagues, revealed by disgusting jokes and engrossed by gossip, turned their heads towards the warning light. One by one, they frowned or widened their eyes, and their jaws fell open or screwed shut, and their eyebrows arched or furrowed. Whatever the movement of their muscles, up or down, fear twisted their faces.

Her colleagues dashed to their desks and dropped to their chairs. The clicks and clacks of fingers on keyboards rose and rose until the sound of hundreds of fingers was mightier than the pen.

A series of excited chatter turned into a chorus of murmurs. All expressed a desire for contact and confirmation, but none received it.

Takara shifted back into her chair, and the small muscles of her lower lumbar all but aaaahhhed in relief of support, no matter how insignificant. But the burn in her shoulders intensified like a screwdriver had been driven into the top of her shoulder and twisted.

Blinding pain robbed her of concentration. She sucked in air between her teeth, again, and again, until she was going to pass out or need to lie down on the floor to let her body reset. She pulled over her desk drawer, removed a series of herbs given to her by the botanist, and chewed on them. She chewed and chewed and chewed like she was some tundra-bread cow, and the pain in her shoulders eased from kill-me-now to kill-me-after-my-last meal.

Enough focus returned, stealing it from the pain and discomfort and the hot-pack therapy she would need tonight to sleep. The haze of her vision cleared enough for her to see that none of her messages to Onni or the miners had gone through.

Her vision fogged with new tears, and she angled her gaze to the metal grate floor. She hated that floor. Each step she took created a metallic ping and a slight jolt to her ankles. The floor never gave, only took.

She rechecked the projections of the radar against the movements of the nomads. If the readings were correct, the nomads would intersect Onni’s small recon team within minutes.

She pulled up the military channel and opened a line. “This is Takara in communications.”


The military communications network relied heavily on equipment in the eastern communications array, which now bore the full brunt of the solar flare.

A silent gulp swelled her throat. “This is Takara in communications. Please respond.”

Again, no answer.

Decades ago, a massive solar event that lasted for weeks had fried the separate military communications array. The colony had doubled down on prospecting and mining efforts for the rare minerals needed for hardened electronics against flares, but this barren, frozen world had refused them such bounty.

Takara stood and walked the length of the communications office to a series of pneumatic tubes. A remnant of the ancientness of the ship used and cannibalised to colonise the planet, the pressurised tubes once carried messages across the vast colony.

She scribbled a note warning of the nomads tracking the recon team, placed it into the tube leading to military operations, then closed the latch. A loud woomp sound followed, and the message was sucked into the pipes.

The air pressure changed from high to low, and the steady sound of air ceased.

A block in the pipes somewhere.

Takara cursed under her breath, then whacked the pipes, but the air pressure didn’t change. She went back to her station and looked up the latest data, which projected the nomads were directly on the recon team. Onni’s team. Onni’s team had gone out for a routine patrol for an hour, and the nearest support team was ten minutes away. Except, they no longer had the means to communicate the need for backup.

Communications officers relayed frantic messages, communicating with repair teams and the meteorologist’s office.

The lights in the office flickered on, then off, and on again, then off.

The quiet chatter of communication professionals turned stressed and loud. A few curses filled the darkness, but the silence was thick and telling and worried.

Emergency lights turned on. Dull grey lighting was sufficient for each person to see their monitor glowed in the room and darkened the shadows of concern on the officers.

Communications Director Korpi stood at the door of her office. “Enact Theta Protocol.”

The silence turned cold and foreboding.

“Theta Protocol.” Three workstations down, a man whispered the words like the entire world was coming to an end. Neither prayer nor curse, only a stunned acceptance that things were going to get a lot worse.

Takara glanced down at her watch. Six more hours to go before sunset and the possibility of slight relief from the solar flare. A slight possibility because the planet’s magnetic field was affected on both the bright and dark sides.

Despite the brightness of day, everything outside of the colony was dark—no meteorology reports, no communications, no military updates, no sense of what the enemy amassed at the gates.

Theta Protocol meant the full shutdown of non-essential systems. Physical relays of information through the massive dome by all civilians with non-technical roles or medical complications. If they were old enough to stand on their feet, they were old enough to hand off written messages from person to person.

In the near dark, with dropping temperatures to save energy, all colonists would be called to pull triple duty: communication relay, regular duties, and emergency repairs for whatever broke, snapped, froze, or leaked. Every colonist who could breathe without medical assistance would duct tape a crack, stick a finger in to plug a hole or use some combination of grit and glue to fill in the gap.

Theta Protocol meant all military personnel were at their stations. Communications blackouts were too prime of targets for nomads and scavengers and other threats that lurked in the frozen, barren beyond.

Takara tipped her chin up at the challenge. Onni was out there, and nothing would keep her hearing his stupid jokes and being awakened by his rolling snores.

The light grey light of the communications turned red.

Theta Protocol was in full force.

She glanced out the window onto the sun-drenched tundra. Dunes cast long shadows, and the horizon was lost between a carpet of white and a sky of light blue. Somewhere, beyond her vision and the capability of downed sensors, Onni was out there.

Outside the window, sunset couldn’t come fast enough.


The story will continue in next month’s A Muse Bouche Review.

Life Ain’t Easy for a Vampire

David M. Simon (@writesdraws)

Look, I know what you’re thinking: That’s bullshit. Vampires have it made. You couldn’t be more wrong, my friend, but it’s not your fault. You’ve been spoon fed a steady diet of totally made up mythology, half truths, and downright lies. I blame the writers—I’m looking at you, Bram Stoker and Anne Rice—and especially Hollywood.

Hollywood don’t know shit about vampires.

I don’t have much time here, which I’ll explain, but let me drop a little knowledge on you, tell you what they get wrong.

I’ll start with one of the big ones—all vampires are obscenely rich. That’s what you think, right? In the old days we lived in vast castles, with dozens of servants from the village down below to snack on. Then we took our drachmas, our deutsche marks, rubles, francs, and rubles, and we invested them over centuries. Got in on the ground floor with Apple. Now we live in penthouses, fly in private jets, have starlets delivered like DoorDash when we’re feeling hangry.

Me? Yeah, not so much. I don’t really have a head for numbers. I was broke when I was turned, and not much has changed in the 400 odd years since then. I mean, I put all my money in tulips way back in the day, and I bet big on Blockbuster, which explains everything you need to know about my investment strategy. I live in a sixth floor walkup in Newark, and work in a call center. It’s a living.

Another one—all vampires are beautiful and supernaturally charismatic. I blame this one squarely on Hollywood. I mean, come on, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt? Please. And then, for a while, we were sparkly. Sparkly? Fuck that. I was a shy, antisocial, out-of-shape 45-year-old shopkeeper with a weak chin when I was turned. Yes, being a vampire gives you some help in the charisma department, but making me Brad Pitt is a big ask that vampirism can’t hope to answer. Maybe it helps me close the occasional sale at the call center.

If you think every vampire has a thrall, or a whole pack of thralls, at their beck and call, taking care of their every personal need and bringing them warm bodies to drain, think again. I’ve never had my own Renfield. I do my own laundry. I secure my own food, and I’m sad to say that it’s mostly homeless people and rats. Luckily, Newark has plenty of both.

There’s one more piece of erroneous Hollywood mythology that I need to set you straight on, because it leads directly to my current circumstances. There’s only one way to kill a vampire. Not a stake in the heart. It hurts, I’m not gonna lie, but I can heal and survive. And I have. Nope, the only thing that can kill us is prolonged exposure to the rays of the sun.

Unfortunately, the assholes on the dark web vampire-hunting forum who managed to find me, they knew that. So here I am, alone, stark naked, spread eagle, chained down in the middle of an abandoned factory parking lot in New Jersey.

Sunrise is just a few seconds away.

Life ain’t easy for a vampi—



Heather Wickers (@HWickersWriter)


Sunrise, Sunset

Marian L Thorpe (@marianlthorpe)

Another introduction to characters from the world I’m building for the next novel. We met Cenric and Kirthan in January’s The Onion Tart: now it’s the turn of Audun, who is Cenric’s son, and his great-uncle Gerhart.

Image by guillermo gavilla from Pixabay

Light woke me, the first brightening of the eastern sky through the open shutters of the window. I left them open purposely, wanting the early wakening—or rather, believing I should want it. I lay, blinking, trying to keep my eyes open. The desire to cover my head with the pillow and go back to sleep warred with a deeper wish: to be worthy of the title of Leordh one day. A position that required immense self-discipline. Including early rising, even when unnecessary.

I pushed back the covers and got up. The morning star hung low on the horizon, clear and bright in the bands of pink and copper and a fiery gold that heralded the sun’s rising. My room was on the third floor of the students’ hall, high enough to see not just the day’s awakening, but that of the Tæchsel, too. In the courtyard below me, students on kitchen or stable duty walked alone or in pairs to their work. I watched them, noting who chattered animatedly, who walked alone and slowly. A good teacher—whether Leordh or a raedere—knew his or her pupils, could judge their state of mind from how they sat or the tone of their voice. So my great-uncle Gerhart had told me, when I had confessed my desire to follow in his footsteps—or rather the footsteps of the men and women of my family for long centuries. Some of my family, anyhow.

“So you must practice paying attention,” my great-uncle, Leordh of Wintredene, had said. “A tired or worried mind cannot learn, and what stands in the way of learning must be addressed. Equally, you must learn to recognise what kindles interest in a student, whether it is mathematics or philosophy or science.” Every student, at seventeen, met with the Leordh to discuss his or her future—be it returning to a family business, or continuing in higher study. Those who were to be physicians or engineers remained here; those whose future lay in the world of books and writing and thought—or teaching —went elsewhere.

For this last year I had assisted one of the raederen with classes for the youngest students, the twelve-year-olds who came, apprehensive or excited, to the school at Wintredene to set their feet on the path to one of those futures. I remembered my own mix of fear and anticipation, five years earlier. And now, later this day, I would learn from the Leordh what my future was to be. At the very least, I hoped I would be sent to one of the lesser Tæchsellë, to divide my time between further learning and teaching. That would tell me that my dream wasn’t completely unattainable.

What if–? I stopped that thought. Nothing I could do now would change the Leordh’s decision. I turned from the window to wash, the chill of the water stripping the last vestiges of sleepiness from me. The breakfast bell would not ring for an hour; I had time for my own studies, before the morning’s work.

But the transcription I was making of Catilius’s Contemplations did not hold my mind, and after carefully scraping off and rewriting two mistakes, I put the pen down. The task was one required of all students who were directed into the life of a raedere, or to serve as administrators or diplomats, no matter how minor.  It gave us insight into the mind of a great emperor, the doubts that assailed him, and the discipline and awareness he had needed—and we too would need—to live a calm and ordered life.

I put the work away, and went out into the morning. Smoke rose from the kitchen chimneys, where pots of porridge were cooking over low fires. The Leordh had asked me to see him after the evening meal. What would be his instruction? Would he send me to Linrathe, where, the histories said, the traditions of our schools had started? Perhaps to the fabled Ti’ach—the northern word for a Tæchsel—in its hidden valley, the school where the man who had brought the light of learning to Ésparias had begun his own education. The possibility that I shared his blood made me feel small and unworthy. Even looking at his memorial stone, set into the wall of the hall, could make me shiver inside. Colm of Ésparias: physician, teacher, prince. My ancestor, if the family stories were true.

Or perhaps to Casille, or Berge-on-the-Wall, to teach the sons and daughters of merchants and artisans. I was a merchant’s son myself, after all. The Leordh might see that as appropriate. What would life be like in a town not dominated by a Tæchsel? Not that Wintredene  was without its taverns and bathhouse, but students were barred from their doors. This wasn’t the case at other Tæchsellë, I’d heard, from one of the senior students, a man who’d come from Berge. ‘Once we turned sixteen, we had one night of freedom a month,’ he’d told me. ‘I’ll miss that.’

‘We have wine on certain nights, and beer,’ I’d replied. ‘And good baths.’

‘I have no doubt,’ he’d said, grinning. ‘But there was more to those nights than the baths and drink.’

Maybe I would prefer to be sent to another town’s Tæchsel, at that. The bell signalling breakfast interrupted my thoughts—probably a good thing, I realised wryly. I turned towards the hall, my stomach rumbling.


My stomach was rumbling again as I knocked on the Leordh’s door in the fading light, but this time from apprehension. I’d managed to eat most of my supper, but it wasn’t sitting well.

“Enter.” My great-uncle was at his desk overlooking the courtyard. He turned as I came in, smiling. “Audun. Please have a seat.” I took the chair I always did during tutorials, my mouth dry. He shifted his chair to face me, resting his hands on its arms, looking both masterful and relaxed. “You know why you are here.”

“Yes, Leordh.” I licked my lips. “My five years are done. It is time for me to leave Wintredene.”

“It is.” He regarded me, his blue eyes, faded with age, both incisive and somehow gentle. “I have given this much thought, and I have taken into consideration your desire to someday sit at this desk. But—” He paused. My throat tightened. He would tell me I had not the mind to be Leordh of Wintredene. I was a good student, I knew, but not exceptional. I didn’t always see the connections between ideas or events, and I lost at xache as often as I won.

“I could not decide what would be best for you,” the Leordh went on.  This is not misfortune, I reminded myself,  but to bear this worthily is good fortune. I tried to believe Catilius’s words, to not show my disappointment, but my great-uncle had been reading students’ expressions for twenty years or more. He smiled. “Relax, Audun. I believe you could be Leordh here, one day. But Luce will take that title after me, so there are many years between this moment and”—the smile became a grin—“your skinny backside in this chair. Although I expect it will be less skinny, by then.”

Luce? My physician aunt? She did teach here, it was true, for a portion of the year, and she invited the most promising of the medical students to her treatment rooms for observation and practice. And some, it was rumoured, to her private rooms as well. But the Leordh was still speaking. I concentrated on his words.

“To be Leordh requires experience of the world, not just the learning gained through books and study, or even through experiment and design. I could send you to teach at another Tæchsel, or to give private tuition to the children of one lord or another. But the truth is you know little beyond your home village and Wintredene, and that needs remedying. I was debating sending you to Linrathe, when the letter came from your father.”

“My father?” A man I knew only slightly. I’d been brought up in the coastal village of Torrey by my mother, who ran a workshop which made baskets and boxes from the reeds of the saltmarsh and the willows that grew on higher ground. My father had visited frequently, and I knew he’d contributed generously to the needs of a growing boy. I’d liked him well enough, and I was his acknowledged—and only—heir. He’d done his duty to the family by begetting me, I guessed, and had been relieved I had lived and thrived.

“Your father,” the Leordh confirmed. “With an interesting offer. His partner Kirthan de Guerdián is shortly to embark on a journey to investigate new markets and opportunities for trade in the northern towns, in Varsland and the lands to its east. Cenric suggests you accompany de Guerdián, and I agree.”

“Go with his partner? But—” I couldn’t make sense of this. Hadn’t my great-uncle just said I could be Leordh one day? “Why? I don’t want to be a merchant.”

“Nor is your father suggesting that you should be one. But you are both quick with numbers and speak several languages, and both will be useful to Aldor de Guerdián. As will your neat and legible hand.”

“I am to be a clerk?”

“For a year or two, yes. But a clerk who will travel into lands new to him, who will learn of different customs, different thoughts. You will hear stories and songs that tell history from different eyes. Luce went east, you know, when she was not much older than you. To Beria and further, and across the sea to learn from the doctors of Ikorsa and Cyrenne. She still corresponds with physicians she met in that time.”

“Our founder went to Casil,” I said, remembering. Something fluttered in my chest.

“He did.”

“Where did you go, Leordh?” The question was presumptuous—or would have been, ten minutes earlier.

He turned his head to look out his window. “To Casil. To the fallen city, now little more than a market town surrounded by ruins. I spent three years in travel along the shores of the Nivéan Sea, and east beyond it, a little.” He brought his gaze back into the room. “On those shelves,” he said, gesturing, “are books written in one of the languages of the east. I have spent much of my life translating them, and finding where they overlap with our own histories. But they tell too of countries far beyond their own borders and the trade routes that bring us silk and jade and fine ceramics. I have spoken of these to my nephew and de Guerdián when I have visited them in Casille. I think, Audun, that it may have been I who planted this idea in their minds of a journey to investigate new routes and new markets.”

A journey. Into lands I’d only read about, and perhaps ones I hadn’t. With Kirthan de Guerdián, a man about whom many—many—stories were told, in voices ranging from hushed to disbelieving. Beyond the diamond-shaped panes of glass in the Leordh’s window, the sun was setting. The world shone golden in its rays.

This morning, I’d thought the taverns and bathhouses of Berge would be an adventure. I began to smile.

A Visit to the Island

Joseph P. Garland (@JPGarlandAuthor

Image: SK-M on Deposit Photos

I don’t know that I’ll ever get accustomed to reaching out in the night only to find the bed is empty beside me. Maybe never. It still startles and upsets me each time.

This morning, I was at my sister’s place on Fire Island. I’d been having a particularly difficult spell, and she suggested a few days in her cabin might help. It’s really just a bungalow built in the fifties about a hundred yards from the Atlantic. The Island is a narrow isthmus, and in her part of it there were no “streets” but just a network of boardwalks set out in a grid. Such vegetation as there is consists chiefly of prickly sea plants that offer at least some color, albeit mostly just green, against the sand, and offer a bit of wispiness when the wind comes across from the south.

I’d taken the ferry on the Tuesday. I was carrying a fair amount of food in my ubiquitous Zabar’s bag and had my other stuff in my small carry-on. The ferry, which went to three of the Island’s communities of which my sister’s was the first, wasn’t crowded, it being a Tuesday and the guys in the trades having taken an earlier one.

There’s a little general store by the ferry slip. It’s pretty much the only thing on the Island, or at least this part of the Island, that’s not one of the bungalows, except for a makeshift firehouse with some sort of firefighting contraption.

I picked up a few overpriced items at the general store and unlocked the little red wagon that belonged to my sister and headed south along the boardwalk.

It wasn’t a long walk. Since my sister hadn’t been there for a few weeks, the house was a little dank from the sea air, and I went from room to room opening the windows as I settled in. It’s a small place, really a bungalow as I said. It had a large living room with a small dining area that’s been combined with the small kitchen to make for a comfortable place to relax. For sleeping, there are three rooms, two of which can barely fit a full mattress and the third capable of holding a queen-sized. The floors are wooden with small carpets here and there and the ceiling is high enough to avoid having a sense of claustrophobia. It has a wrap-around deck, which is where I intended to spend most of each day.

After a late walk along this boardwalk and that, nodding hellos to the few others I came upon who were doing the same, I ended the night inside with the screen closed to ward off the bugs until I began to feel drowsy and put down my book.

The bed in the master was quite comfortable. Savoring the initial calmness of being in such an isolated spot with a slight sea breeze passing over, I was quickly into a deep sleep.

My conscious relaxing, though, had no control over my unconscious. So when I awakened at about 4 or 4:30 early on the Wednesday morning and found nothing, or particularly no one, beside me in the bed, I was immediately wide awake. This happens more than you’d think so long after she’s been gone and it doesn’t get any easier.

I slipped on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and got some water. Realizing there was no point in trying to get back to sleep, I thought to take a walk to the ocean. Though the sky was pitch black, little solar powered lights are spaced either side of the boardwalk so it is navigable. Donning a pair of flip-flops, I headed out.

After maybe twenty steps, the sound of the surf reached me, the rhythm of the ocean hitting the beach. There was a hint of the salty air coming from that direction. With each step, I was nearer, the silence only interrupted by the increasingly loud and reverberating roar ahead of me.

Once I’d reached the beach, I’d exhausted the coverage of the lights, but it didn’t matter. One did not need to see the beach to know it was there, to feel it.

I removed my sandals and placed them to the side of the final part of the boardwalk and continued walking straight. The simple sound of the waves was now a harmonious chorus of noise as the waves hit different parts of the beach in different times, yet always in the precise rhythm of the Atlantic. And the sound of the water coming in could be distinguished from the sound of the water gurgling out. The sand was warm.

I got near enough to the water to let it kiss my feet and tinkle up my calves and I wiggled my toes a bit, now hearing a bit of wind crossing from west to east and inhaling the smell, the unique sound of an ocean beach and bending my head back to take it all in.

Out there. There was nothing “out there” except what might as well have been an infinite stretch of water that highlighted my insignificance, my utter insignificance to anything or anyone or anywhere. It had a decidedly calming effect on me, this appreciation of my own insignificance and then, like the next wave, the loneliness was upon me. I wasn’t always so insignificant. I had mattered.

I stepped back, perhaps ten feet from the jagged line at which the waves exhausted themselves. I lowered myself to the sand, dry from a lack of rain, and opened my eyes to the darkness.

And I sat in my insignificance and did not move until the darkness turned gray and I could see that the water did go on to infinity and beyond. With that first ray of light, that first ray of the new morning, I turned to my left and knew it would not be long until I would have to get up and retrace my steps to my sister’s little bungalow and the reality that there was no one else staying there.

February Team Showcase

Renée Gendron‘s A Gift of Stars: Book 1 The Nearer Realm Tales is available for pre-order on Amazon. Her Golden Hearts: Book 2 of Frontier Hearts and Two Hearts on the Backspin, Novella 2 of her Heartened series, are also available there. The second book in her Outdoorsmen series, The Officer’s Gamble, was published on October 18. Book 1 of the Outdoorsman Series is available as is her Ninth StarJaded Hearts, and Seven Points of ContactHeads and Tales, a supernatural/mythological anthology. to which Renée contributed a historical, supernatural, romance. Shopkeeper & SpoonBeneath The Twin Suns: An AnthologyHeartened by Crimeand In The Red Room: A crime anthology with heart, all edited by Renée Gendron, are also available now.

Marian L Thorpe‘s eighth and last book in her historically inspired speculative fiction series Empire’s LegacyEmpire’s Passing, is out in paperback and e-book. (Empire’s Daughter is the first part.) She has numerous titles available; they can be found at her aptly-named website, MarianLThorpe.com  or at Books2Read. Marian’s short story On Shining Wings is included in the anthology Historical Stories of Exilepublished by Taw River Press.

David M. Simon has published The Wild Hunt: Novella 2 of The Wild Hearts and Hunts Duology (Part 1 is Renée Gedron’s Ninth Star) as well as Trapped in Lunch Lady Land, a middle-grade fantasy adventure.

Louise Sorensen has contributed to numerous anthologies that are available on Amazon, and is the co-author, with Misha Burnett, of Duel Visions.

Joseph P. Garland‘s The Diary of Elizabeth Elliot has just been published; it is on Kindle Unlimited. Becoming Catherine Bennet is available on KU and also on Audible.com.  (First Chapters.) He has also adapted his AMBR submission of a few months back involving Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy entitled “Mr. Darcy’s Regrets” from June 2023 into a novella entitled The Omen at Rosings Park, also available on Kindle Unlimited and as an Audiobook on Audible.com. He has also started a newsletter and those interested in getting on the mailing list can contact him at JPGarlandAuthor@DermodyHouse.com.

Heather Wickers has published Just One Night, a novel (as Heather Melo), and Tiny Little Wishes, a collection of poetry.