Running Away, Running To.
Welcome to 2023’s sixth edition, Running Away. But as you’ll see, running away can lead to reaching a place you’d not have reached before. And this month is eclectic mix of stories and a few poems.
The A Muse Bouche Review Team
Feature: Farewell (Louise Sorensen) Non-Fiction
Dreams (Renee Gendron) Fiction
A Change in the Stars (Marian L Thorpe) Fiction
Follow (David M. Simon) Song Lyrics
Dratle Danger (J Dalton) Fiction
Running Away (Joseph P. Garland) Fiction
run away (Heather Wickers) Poetry
Renee Gendron (@ReneeGendron)
A MOSQUITO BUZZED around Danielle Reid’s head, and she slapped it against her cheek. The buzzing stopped but was quickly replaced with the buzzing of two more mosquitoes. She reached around to her backpack, but the all-important can of DEET was out of reach. She shifted to ease the backpack from her shoulders.
“DEET?” Mateus—Matt—Fortes stepped over the cold fire pit. A sympathetic smile curved his cheeks and reached his gorgeous eyes.
“It seems I never pack enough.”
“Spring in Frontenac Park. The mosquitoes are starving.” He adjusted her backpack, sprayed her neck and arms and placed the can back into her pack.
Long-time friends packed camping equipment and made a joke that Danielle had only caught the punchline. Something about fishing lines and carp.
“We’re ready to head out.” Tristan pushed his glasses up to the bridge of his nose. “The next part of the trail can be tricky when wet.”
Christine shot a playful look at Tristan. Three years married, and they still acted like newlyweds. “You’re the one who got bogged down in it last year.”
“Yeah. I know. I lost perfectly good gear off the edge of the cliff.”
“Which is why it’s important to watch your footing.” Mateus pulled on his backpack and buckled the strap across his chest, then the one across his waist. If a gym needed a model for their advertisements, Mateus would be the first one called. “Muddy trails pull you in but also knock you off balance.”
“Hey, I’m the one warning people.” Tristan spread his hands wide. “I learned my lesson, not sure if others did.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder to where Aubrey, Ricardo, Caitlin, and Stephen stood talking. “You heard me?”
“Yeah, yeah. Mud. Trails. Got it.” Aubrey stepped forward. “Can’t forget how much you complained on the way home.”
Danielle headed up the soggy trail. She stepped on a rock darkened by dampness and took another confident step. The scents of forest and lakes invigorated her. Shafts of light warmed her face, lightening the load on her back and easing the pressure in her knees. Everything, absolutely everything, was better when hiking and camping. Bacon tasted better, the air was sweeter, the breeze transformed from a caress to a tickle, and the birds sang a harmony of songs. Everything was better when out of doors with friends and exercising muscles that had sat in front of a computer for too long.
Something buzzed around her ear, and she swatted the mosquito away.
Everything was better out of doors except for the storm-clouded sky of mosquitoes that followed her around.
Matt chuckled, low and soft, and right behind her.
“What?” She flicked a mosquito off her forearm.
“They sure love you.”
She might love him. Maybe. Probably. Most definitely. “I need to file a complaint against the manufacturers of DEET.” She pulled her bandana over her neck and mouth.
He chuckled again, softer, lower, and even closer. “Not sure you could find a lawyer to take on that case, but I’d bet my last dollar you could report on it.” His voice was confident with a healthy dose of pride.
Pride. The weight of her camping gear eased, the tightness in the strap of her backpack loosened—and her heart buoyed. “Hard to sell that kind of story.”
“You’ll sell it. There’s always a buyer for a little-guy-against-the-big-guy story.”
If only her journalist career had taken off by working for a major newspaper or television network. Instead, she was scraping by with short stories highlighting local businesses in local newspapers and human interest stories sold to mid-size publications. Enough to pay the rent—most months—and food and fuel and maintain a twelve-year-old car. Gaz-guzzler, oil-belcher, that it was.
“Buyers don’t always pay enough.” She tried to keep her tone light, but past-due bills and an uncertain future bogged down her words.
“You’ll sell that story to the CBC or The Financial Post. Someone with deep pockets will scoop it up.”
Joy and relief wrestled in her, but there was no clear winner. Ten years after university working odd jobs, selling stories to small magazines and publishers, and tipping between excitement for her story and fear of not paying her bills, left her disillusioned with a once noble profession now turned to a direct path to starvation.
“Here’s hoping.” She placed her weight on a rock and pivoted over a bumpy root. “How’s the shop?”
“The same.” Matt’s voice was even, too even, hiding a secret he could keep from everyone but her.
“But what?” His voice hitched a little.
Dollars-to-doughnuts, Matt’s brows were pulled together, and he had that all-too-innocent look in his eye that betrayed his lie. She got him in mid-lie. “Not getting along with your father and brother?”
He hiked behind her, the silence more telling than his mannerisms. “I’ll start a heavy truck mechanic course in a few weeks.”
“Really? And you haven’t said anything?”
He walked a few paces, and his hiking boots scuffed against dirt, roots, and rocks. “Things have been a little busy at the shop.”
He hadn’t told anyone because he didn’t want his father and brother to find out. Matt would stick up for anyone but himself. It had been that way since they were in grade three. “They’ll be proud of you.”
An awkward silence stretched, punctuated by his steady but not laboured breathing and the steady sounds of his hiking boots against the trail. “There’s a lot of work to convince them to move into heavy trucks.”
“Business in cars that bad?”
“Good and bad. Good that there are fewer accidents because more people are working from home. Bad because more people work from home, fewer accidents occur.”
She couldn’t argue either point. “But the business is steady?”
“Steady enough. Working to keep it that way.” The confidence in his voice waned with each step, but the pace of his hike remained constant.
She stepped between pine roots, placed her weight on the slope of a large boulder, and then hiked onto the rest of the trail. Her breath was a little short, and her pulse a little fast, but not as fast as when Matt looked her straight in the eye. “How long will the course last?”
“You’ll ace it.”
His shy-but-grateful grin landed between her shoulder blades, and she all but pivoted and pulled him into a fierce embrace, but her career was in Toronto or Ottawa. Only the big political stories happened in the provincial and national capitals. If she had a shot at a career, it couldn’t be in Kingston. If she had a shot with Matt, it could only be in Kingston. She had two dreams but could only go after one, and she had her first job interview with Toronto next week.
Louise Sorensen (@louise3anne)
The world makes me sad.
You only have to look around to know what I mean.
But nothing makes me sadder than when a good person passes on.
I wish the good guys could live forever.
I don’t know if the melancholy I feel is a part of being Canadian, or not. We do have long winters and endless stretches of cold and low light. It’s enough to freeze your soul, and our artists capture the feeling beautifully.
But always in life there is balance.
There can be endless snow, but there is also sunlight and warmth.
There can be strong wind, but also calm and peace.
Destructive fire, but also cool rain.
Sadness, but music and poetry and joy.
Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian singer and songwriter, has passed on.
One of his most famous and best loved songs is “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
I can’t quote the lyrics due to copyright issues, but I can tell you about them and their effect.
Lightfoot sings of the legend of the Great Lake Superior, and the night the American freighter Edmund Fitzgerald went down in a November storm, taking all twenty-nine crewmen with it.
I can’t even think of the opening lyrics without hearing the music playing in my mind.
He sings of the passage of endless time, and a legend as big as a people.
This is how music combines poetry and sounds to enhance emotion. To describe something that is bigger than ourselves, when words alone are not enough.
The reason music, and especially stories put to music, bring joy, escapes me. But I think music is humankind’s greatest gift.
Canada has a wonder of the world, a system of five huge lakes that we call Great.
Lightfoot sings of these five lakes as, rolling, steaming, singing, icy, friendly, but in the end, deadly.
The way he puts the words together, I can’t imagine more powerful ways to describe them. Combined with the rest of the lyrics and the music, with its echoing drumbeat, and guitar ringing like a bell, the effect is haunting.
Even without the lyrics, I think the melody would affect people with melancholy and longing. Maybe that’s a Canadian thing, born of wide-open spaces, wind, trees, and water. Or maybe it’s a melody that can affect anyone, but I suspect that people who live near the wild, far away from warm sunny beaches and busy colourful cities, might grasp it sooner, understand it better.
Love it longer.
Poetry enhances music, and music enhances poetry, creating a song that is more than the sum of its parts.
Gord Lightfoot had a long career, and spent all of it singing and writing. To me, it’s amazing that one person could combine melody and poetry together so beautifully to create such perfect songs.
I’ve been trying to analyze his music. Was it all written with the same chords? In the same minor key? I think a lot of it was. He has a signature sound. But I’m no expert. His music is full of surprise rises, and unusual imagery.
He sings of desperation and the loss of faith in a bad storm when each moment goes on for eternity, but is over too soon, and there is no hope of rescue.
His is a profound observation, deep as the Great Lakes, expressed in just a few words.
If you were lucky enough to be blest with a longer time to think in times of trouble than that doomed crew, you could seek joy. But when you’re at your lowest, it helps to listen to sad songs. To understand what others feel too and that it’s a part of being alive. Sad songs help us wash away the hurt and wring our hearts dry.
Sometimes, mostly, you want to run away from sadness. But running away from one thing, can be running to something else. Poetry. Music. Joy.
And by and by, sadness will fade, and give way to gratitude. Gratitude for a life well lived, and the gift of music that he gave us.
“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is a tribute to and a reminder of good men. Warriors of the water. In that way, they are universal and we can all relate.
But Gordon Lightfoot’s many songs express all emotions. We will not see his like again anytime soon.
I wish the good guys could live forever, and maybe, in a way, they do.
May his legend live on.
Marian L Thorpe (@marianlthorpe)
(an edited excerpt from Empire’s Exile)
THE WAXING MOON RODE high. I would have preferred a darker sky, but I had no choice. A gusty breeze came down off the mountainside, carrying sound and scent away from the village: a blessing. I wanted to run, but I forced myself to keep to a rapid walk, using the foot roll I’d learned, making my movement nearly silent. The path led along the river, heading downhill. I reached the rapids, identified as much by sound as by the glint of splashing water in the starlight. I stopped. Beyond this, everything was new.
When would I be missed? At dawn, or soon after, I judged: earlier, if Ivor regained consciousness before then. If he was alive. Until daybreak, I would continue eastward on the path. Once there was enough light to see, I would climb back up into the hills, and hope to find a safe spot to hide. I would be pursued, I knew.
The rapids splashed and gurgled, obscuring sound. The moon had gone beyond the western mountains and the night was very dark, meaning I needed to move more slowly now. I allowed myself a small sip of water and continued on.
In the first glimmers of dawn I stopped again. Ahead of me I could hear the rush and roar of the waterfall, and to my left the cliffs mantled over me, blocking the eastern light. I put the pack down to find food, bread and one piece of cold meat. Chewing, I looked around me as the day brightened. The river ran wide but fast between shallow banks, edged with scrubby trees. Birds greeted each other and the sun, soft chips becoming morning song. I finished the food and stepped off the path to relieve myself.
Leaving the pack, I approached the riverbank. Holding firmly to a tree, I allowed my feet to slip down the bank. I fell harder than I had planned, onto my side, a foot dipping into the water. Pain flared in my hip. I dragged myself up and onto the path, biting my lip. But it had given me an idea. I cut a ragged bit from the arm of my tunic and snagged it on an overhanging branch where I might have reached for balance. Did it look as if I fell in? Would anyone believe I had gone for water without putting my pack down first?
I turned to the cliffs, studying them, looking for a way up. The face in front of me was still dark, angled away from the rising sun, but the trail and the cliffs curved northward a short distance ahead. I shouldered the pack and moved forward, limping a little.
The hip pain eased as I walked. I followed the curve of the trail, and suddenly beneath me was a wide plain stretching out eastward towards the rising sun. On my right the river thundered over the edge of the scarp, spray glittering, soaking the path ahead where it began to snake down the steep drop; on my left, the cliff edge rose in broken columns skyward.
If my pursuers don’t believe I fell trying to get water, I thought, then maybe they’ll believe I slipped on the wet path and fell into the chasm. I looked up at the cliff face, away from the dazzle of the low sun. The blocks of rock, interspersed with channels of gravel and dotted with scrubby evergreens and grasses, looked impossible to climb. But slowly, as I moved a bit further along the path, I began to see a possible route.
I was no more than a couple of hours from the village, measured by the distance a man in daylight could run. I had no time to search for a better way up. I balanced and tightened the pack on my back and turned to the cliff face, reaching up to find a handhold.
My left foot slipped once, and when I tested the gravelly soil in the fissures I found it unstable, as were the gnarled trees anchored in it. But of more concern was the lack of strength in my hands and arms. Without the demands of fishing or of the work at the Wall, where I had been as likely to be assigned to dig drains as to watch duty, I simply wasn’t as strong as I had been not so long ago. The wrist Ivor had wrenched ached. I needed, I realized, to be able to push myself up with my legs, like climbing a staircase, whenever possible.
I had to spend more time studying the choices, making less progress than I liked. I used my hands for balance, stepping from one small ledge to another, hugging the rock. I stopped to regain my breath, clinging to the cliff-face with one hand, looking upward at the choices ahead of me. On one higher ledge, droppings from the gemzē, the goat-deer, lay scattered on the rock. We had followed gemzē paths before, crossing the Durrains: I should be able to follow this one.
Once I learned to find the signs, the choices the deer had made, I moved more quickly. The gemzē were more agile than me, and more than once I needed to use my arms to help me from one ledge to another, feeling the burn of muscle in my shoulders and ignoring the wrenched wrist. My legs began to ache. I stopped to rest, and suddenly I wondered if climbing back down the cliff was going to be possible. I almost looked down. Four ledges to go…then three…two more upward thrusts of my body and I was rolling onto the grass and gravel of the clifftop.
I heard the barking of dogs below me, still some distance away. I lay panting, aching from fingertip to toes. My hands stung in the cold air and my throat felt parched. I heard human voices below me now, as well as the dogs. I crawled behind a low bush, flattening myself against the ground.
In the still morning air I heard a voice. “Any sign, Karel?”
I did not hear a reply. If I moved my head slightly I could see the trail, not directly below me, but both the way I had come and the sinuous descent down the scarp. The men—or rather Karel and a boy—moved into my line of sight. Karel knelt, peering down the chasm. I saw him shake his head, straighten, look up. I didn’t move. The sheepdogs milled about his feet. Karel moved towards the cliff face, disappearing from my view for a moment, then reappeared, looking upward.
“Just a gemzē trail,” I heard him say, clearly. “She’s gone into the river, as we thought. Nothing to do. We better get back.”
I rested, waiting for my heart to stop pounding, considering my priorities. I needed to create a shelter, and when that was done, I needed to work out how I got off this clifftop. The first task was straightforward: I had a tent and rope. I simply had to find a place to set it up. I scouted around the plateau, settling finally on the slope of a small depression rimmed with shrubs. Using a branch and my heels, I levelled out part of the slope; then I strung the rope between two stunted trees and hung the tent. A few rocks on the edges, the pack hung as high as I could manage, and my camp was done.
Exhaustion sank through me, weighing down my limbs. Closing my eyes, I stretched out in the grass and fell asleep.
The croak of a raven woke me. The sky was the dark blue of evening; I guessed I had slept for six hours or so. I sat up, stiffly; stretching, I stood and found my way back to my camp. Nothing had disturbed it. I had hoped to hunt this afternoon, but my body had demanded sleep.
I lit a small fire, ate cold food, made tea. In the flicker of the fire I fashioned a couple of snares from sinew and set them where I had seen droppings earlier. Stars emerged, glittering against the black of the sky. I leaned back against the slope, looking north. There was the bear…and there the north star. I remembered looking up at these same stars from outside an inn, thinking how I could follow them home from anywhere. But I had travelled too far for that. The stars had not changed, but they could no longer take me home.
David M. Simon (@writesdraws)
My pick-up truck gave up the ghost just outside Junction City
Left it there, no burial, I guess death is never pretty
Walked twenty miles through corn and wheat as far as the horizon
I know that it’s good exercise, but I wish I was still drivin’
Sad and sleepless in a Motel 6, waiting for the break of day
Out of luck, and that damn girl is still half a state away
Call me a dreamer, call me a fool
Prove that you love me as much as I love you
Come climb a mountain and lay down beside me
Follow my trail to the love that’s inside me
Leave that life behind and start everything new
Come on, she said, let’s run away and keep on running for a while
I shook my head and silenced her with an absent, condescending smile
She was gone next morning, left behind a map from triple A
that led to Colorado, where she wrote “I’m heading this way”
And she left behind a letter that cut right to the heart
And I knew I better hit the road ’cause she had a good head start
So here I am with thumb outstretched and not a car in sight
But I think I crossed into Colorado sometime late last night
There’s a mountain in the distance that I know I’ll have to climb
You know, the climb is worth it if it makes that dreamer mine
Now I’m standing in the foothills with my future up above
And I’m climbing to the moon, to the stars, to my love
Call me a dreamer, call me a fool
Prove that you love me as much as I love you
Come climb a mountain and lay down beside me
Follow my trail to the love that’s inside me
Leave that life behind and start everything new
J Dalton (@JDaltonAuthor)
EVERYWHERE THEY LOOKED, thousands of the spider-like bots were floating inside the Dratle ship, on their way to do some task.
Because they were in stealth mode, no actual spoken words were broadcast to each other, but the message displayed on the HUD inside of Johnnie’s faceplate from Fire Wolf’s whispered message read, “The Marines are going to need a bigger gun if they plan on fighting these things.”
“Then it’s all the more important that we complete our mission without letting them know we are here. Have you gotten a signal yet?” whispered Johnnie.
“Yes, but it is very weak still. We need to go forward and down… a lot,” was the whispered display that appeared on Johnnie’s HUD as Fire Wolf pointed down. The Battle suits had a stealth mode, but other battle suits that were linked through the HUD could be seen by each other.
Deeper and deeper they went into the belly of the Dratle ship. Row after row after row of windows went by as if they were in an elevator. Johnnie couldn’t help but see the hapless expressions on the faces of the captives. Some just stood looking out, while others paced back and forth, like the caged animals they were. Some, presumably fairly new captives, pounded against the windows in a futile attempt to get free.
“We are getting close Captain. The signal is much stronger here. Watch out for the spider on your port side,” warned Fire Wolf.
Johnnie gave a slight puff from his suit’s thruster to miss the spider which suddenly stopped. It slowly spun in a one-hundred-eighty degree turn, searching for whatever had disturbed the interior. The spider flipped on its side and searched again on its vertical axis. Finally, it reoriented itself and resumed its former trajectory.
“Note to self,” whispered Johnnie. “Never fire your thrusters near a Dratle spider while in stealth mode. Bad things can happen. Bad things, man!”
“Captain,” whispered Fire Wolf. He pointed down slightly and just ahead. “The signal is very strong here.”
“Before we come to a stop, make sure no spiders are close by. We don’t want to alert them to our presence by the use of our thrusters.” whispered Johnnie.
“All clear,” appeared on Johnnie’s HUD.
Fire Wolf triggered a short burst of his forward thrusters, and settled to a stop in front of one of the windows, as Johnnie did the same.
“There they are,” said Fire Wolf, pointing to the window.
Kreig sat cross legged with his right shoulder against the window and knee against the wall. Jessie sat the same way, but facing the wall. Johnnie and Fire Wolf watched as she tapped against the wall, then put her ear against it. Kreig blew his breath against the window, fogging it up momentarily. Jessie reached across Kreig and added a letter to the word that was starting to form on the window.
“Captain, I think Jessie is using Morse code to talk to someone on the other side of the wall. Should I take a look?” appeared on Johnnie’s HUD.
Before he could answer, Fire Wolf reached out and pushed ever so slightly against the edge of the window, enabling him to see into the next compartment.
“It is a small male humanoid, Captain,” scrolled across Johnnie’s HUD. “He has hair the color of fire, and he is dressed in strange clothing.”
“Nevermind,” whispered Johnnie. “We have a job to do, and it doesn’t include him. Are you ready?”
The two phased through the window and settled to the floor as the artificial gravity inside the cubicle took effect. Johnnie raised the visor on his helmet and, after deactivating the stealth mode, put his finger to his lips and set the two extra suits on the floor.
Kreig noticed him first, and slowly reached out and touched Jessie’s shoulder. As she turned to look at him, he mimicked Johnnie’s shushing gesture, then pointed. She turned to see what Kreig was looking at and Fire Wolf switched off the stealth mode, de-cloaking in front of her, once again holding his finger up, also in a shushing mode.
“What the fuck are you two doing here?” she whispered.
“We’re getting you out of here. Put on these suits, quickly,” whispered Johnnie back.
Fire Wolf held up the larger suit for Kreig, and as he stepped into it, he placed a small disk on Kreig’s chest which allowed it to automatically seal, despite Kreig not having an ISA military chip implanted inside his chest.
“How did you find us?” whispered Jessie.
“Later,” answered Johnnie as he leaned in close and placed Jessie’s disk on her chest. “Speed is of the utmost importance here. We can’t let the Dratle know we are here.”
“Wait,” Jessie whispered as Johnnie placed the helmet on her head and secured the fastener. “What about Reijo?”
“Who is Reijo?”
“He is the person in the next cell. He was captured just before we were. We can’t leave him here,” said Jessie in a slightly louder voice.
“Shhhh,” whispered Fire Wolf. “Do not alert the Dratle. There are too many of them for us to fight. Besides, we do not have a suit for him.”
“Well, I’m not leaving without Reijo,” she whispered as she pushed herself away from Johnnie.
“Not possible. Let’s go,” said Johnnie.
“No, wait,” whispered Jessie. “How long would we be out in space before we get picked up?”
“Probably not more than ten seconds as long as the Little Big Man can find us as soon as we exit,” replied Johnnie.
“That’ll work,” she replied.
“What do you mean, that’ll work?” whispered Fire Wolf.
“On one of our trips on the Stargazer, one of the cargo handlers shattered his faceplate. He blew out all of the air in his lungs that he could and hit the thrusters on his suit. He was out in space for thirteen seconds before he came across the cargo bay force fields. It took him a couple of weeks in sick bay, but he survived. If we surround Reijo and hold him tightly, he may get a little frostbite and he may be in some pain, but I’m sure he would prefer that to living the rest of his life in here.”
“What do you think, Fire Wolf?” whispered Johnnie.
“If he wants to risk his life in order to get out of here, why not give him the chance?”
“Fine. Go get him,” whispered Johnnie with a slightly disgusted frown on his face. Turning back to Jessie, he added, “No more, got it? The three of you are all the two of us can handle when we phase out of here.”
Fire Wolf closed his eyes, concentrated on the task ahead, and stepped through the wall into Reijo’s cubicle.
* * * *
“Who are you?” shouted Reijo.
“Be quiet,” whispered Fire Wolf. “I’m here to rescue you. Trust me, and do not speak again. Hold my hand and we will get you out of here.”
“I don’t think so Pal,” said Reijo, louder than necessary as he put his hands behind his back. “I’m not that kind of guy.”
“Do you want to die here?” whispered Fire Wolf. If not, take my hand and just trust me.”
Two of the spider mechs appeared in front of Reijo’s window. And a string began to slide out of the side wall.
“Do it now!” said Fire Wolf, as he grabbed Reijo by the arm and dragged him towards the wall.
“Look out, there’s a wal…” was all he got out before they phased through the wall and stepped back into Jessie and Kreig’s cubicle.
“Reijo?” asked Jessie.
“Yes. Listen up and don’t ask questions. As you can see, these guys can phase through solid walls. The problem is, they didn’t know about you and they don’t have a suit for you, so… We’re going to put you in the middle of the four of us and phase through the wall of this ship, then go out into space. You need to keep your hands tucked in tight under your armpits so they don’t freeze. Also, just before we phase through, you need to breathe out as much air as you can. Trust me on this.”
“Jessie,” said Kreig as he pointed to the window.
There were now four spider-like mecks starting to dig at the edges.
“Fire Wolf, let those bastards have a taste of some plasma grenades.”
O’komeeho’esta pulled two grenades off of the front of his battle suit, and took the four steps to the window. He closed his eyes and reached his arm through the window, tossing the grenades at the mechs.
The explosion was deafening and sent one of the spider’s arms crashing into the window. That created a tiny crack in the window, causing it to bow outwards as the air pressure inside the cubicle pushed against the window pane.
“No time to wait,” yelled Johnnie. “That’s gonna get a lot of attention from the Dratle. We go now, or not at all. Captain John to Major Boglach. Retreat and blow the hole. We need a distraction!”
“Go,” yelled Reijo as the window exploded outwards.
The four of them in battle suits flipped down their faceplates and Fire Wolf flipped a switch on the scanner and threw it into the corner. Johnnie and Fire Wolf reached back to grab Jessie and Kreig’s hands. They took the lead as Jessie and Kreig shoved Reijo into the middle and pressed their bodies tightly against him.
The floor shook as the explosives the Marines had planted around the door of the Dratle ship exploded and sent the metal outward into space.
The string raced across the floor and began to wrap its way around Kreig’s foot. He gave a big jerk against it, snapping it in half just as they phased through the wall.
* * * *
The five of them reappeared just outside of the Dratle ship. Captain John and Fire Wolf both hit their suit thrusters to take them farther away from the ship. Johnnie blinked his right eye twice to open the channel to the Little Big Man.
Jessie started counting the seconds down in her head, one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand…
“Emergency, code seven! Emergency, code seven!” he repeated. “Lock onto my signal and make a jump that puts us in the middle of the med bay, now!”
Kreig closed his eyes and pulled Jessie and Reijo tighter. When he opened them, they were inside the Little Big Man, and Reijo’s face was turning blue.
“Where are the Marines?” asked Johnie.
“Already here,” replied Major Boglach.
“Make the Jump to Gibraltar, now!” yelled Johnnie. “Put me through to Captain Chen ASAP!”
Jessie laid Reijo down on the floor and slapped his face. “Breathe… now damn it!”
Reijo took a shallow breath and began to cough. Little droplets of blood sprayed from his mouth, as the capillaries in his lungs had burst from the difference in pressure. When he opened his eyes, they matched the redness of his hair as the capillaries there had burst also.
“Jesus,” he moaned. “That fucking hurt!” He tried to sit up, but failed. He settled instead for leaning on his elbow. “It feels like I burnt my tongue on something hot,” he slurred.
“That’s because the moisture on your tongue actually boiled when you were exposed to space. Kind of like all of the capillaries on your skin. It looks like you have a ton of hickeys all over you,” said Jessie with a smile. Reaching her hand out she said, “By the way, I’m Jessie. It’s really nice to finally meet you, Mr. Reijo.”
Grasping her hand in response, he replied, “Reijo is my first name, Jessie. Captain Reijo DeLeucee, at your service ma’am.”
Joseph P. Garland (@JPGarlandAuthor)*
IT WAS MY DREAM.
So why did it seem that I was running away? From something? From someone?
I really hadn’t planned it. No one had. I’d put off going to grad school. I could experience once, before I settled down into whatever I was going to settle down into, what all the fuss was about. A year in the Big City.
It’d be crazy expensive, even in some hovel in Brooklyn or Queens or wherever recent college grads congregated. Which was a reason to congregate there of course, before the big money folks started buying everything up and fixing everything up.
After a year piled into a place on the east side, my boyfriend heard about a cheap two-bedroom in a third-floor walk-up on a lesser-known street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and we signed the lease before anyone else could snatch it up.
Then Covid hit. So we were there ALL THE TIME. We were each working and having regular Zoom work calls. And we got closer and closer. Or so I thought. And when I was doing my applying to grad school, he suggested I head out west. I’ve never been, well, west of the Mississippi as they say other than for quick visits. “Go,” he’d say. “It’d be a unique chance for something new.”
So I’d applied to USC and Stanford as well as NYU and a few other schools in the east and he was super excited when I got into Stanford’s and NYU’s MFA programs. Then he started pushing Stanford with that unique-opportunity spiel.
Tell me to stay, I’d think. But he wouldn’t. At least he didn’t.
As we were in the cab to JFK when I was actually going to Palo Alto, actually moving to Palo Alto, I nearly cried. We didn’t say much and traffic was lighter than usual and lighter than I hoped it would be. Then far too soon we were at the terminal and he and I were in the line for the American Airlines counter. I checked my bags—much of my stuff was being shipped separately and was probably in Ohio or Nebraska or somewhere at that point—and with my boarding pass on my phone we headed towards the gate.
Then though I was walking a little slower than usual, we reached the TSA check-point.
“They won’t let you through without a ticket,” I tell him, and he says he knows. I only have my backpack and a bag for carry-on and I’m a few people from the actual security post. We hug.
“I’ll miss you,” I tell him and I can’t believe how much it’s true. I give him an extra squeeze. Please, please, I’m willing him.
He doesn’t seem to notice.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he says as we separate, our arms still entangled. “You’ll be back for Christmas, yes?”
“We’ll see. I may get too busy.”
I don’t know why I said that. Of course I was coming home for Christmas. If not to New York, at least to be with my folks in Marblehead. He’d be able to take Acela up and I could meet him in Boston. And I don’t know why I said I might not be coming home.
He looks a bit funny at that, but I’m going with the flow and I say “I’ll miss you” and he says he’ll miss me and then I’m through security and there’s no going back even if I had a reason to. With a final look back and a slight wave, I continue with the flow, to Gate 17.
I check the board:
San Francisco SFO AA9390 1:00 Gate 17 On Time
It’s about 12:25 and I find a seat not too close to the gate itself and the crowd and the kids running around but where I’ll hear the boarding announcement. There, I can look at the big windows towards the plane. It’s a widebody of some sort and I’m in seat 35A. Window on the left side.
Why didn’t he say something? Because he wanted me to go. Wants me to go. He kept telling me how great Stanford would be. “A unique opportunity.” If I asked him, he’d probably suggest I get a tattoo that said that. Maybe in Greek or, who knows?, Chinese. Unique Opportunity. Fuck him.
Roommate to replace me? Oh, he’ll find someone. And she’ll replace me and quickly make him forget I ever existed. He’ll be the one “too busy” to see me at Christmas.
Why didn’t he say something? For that matter, why didn’t I? Yeah. Why didn’t I tell him I love him? Why did I do what fucking Mr. Collins told Elizabeth he thought she was doing: Playing hard to get.
And was I running away? Was I afraid? That’s it. Was I afraid of committing to him? Cliché, I know, but don’t they say that there’s often an element of truth in every cliché?
I lift my bag and backpack and walk around a bit. Head to the ladies and fill the empty water bottle at a fountain so I’ll have it on the plane. On my seat on the port side of the economy part of an American Airlines widebody going from NY’s JFK to San Francisco’s whatever-they-call-the-damn-airport.
I check the board:
San Francisco SFO AA9390 1:00 Gate 17 On Time
They’ll be boarding in a few minutes so I keep myself close, trying to look nonchalant as I anticipate when my row’s included in the boarding group so I can get towards the front. I get my phone with the boarding pass out and ready.
Ladies and gentlemen. For American flight 9390 with non-stop service to San Francisco. We’ll be boarding shortly, we hope, but we’re being told that there’s a slight delay. Please stay near the gate as we’ll try to get everyone on board as quickly as possible when we get the okay. Right now, we’re looking at a one-thirty departure and we thank you for your cooperation.
Fuck. More sitting around regretting what an asshole I’ve been. Why am I putting this on him? My mom always said God gave me a mouth to use and I didn’t use it.
Doesn’t matter now. He’s halfway back to our—I mean his apartment. Not long before he’ll open the window in what had been my room and he’ll air it out—meaning air me out.
Get a room, I think as I look over at a couple with their arms around each other’s waist. Too old to be honeymooners—though one never knows—so they’ll be married for at least ten years. That could be me in ten years. But it won’t be. Cause the only person whose arm I want to encircle my waist is sitting in the backseat of a cab on the BQE scrolling through his phone to see who wants to go out with him tonight. It won’t be a girl. Too soon for that. Some of his cronies. Ball-and-chain finally gone, one—I’m pretty sure I know which one—will tell him and maybe he’ll laugh. But maybe he’ll say, “fuck you. Best things that ever happened to me and she’s taking a cab to Palo Alto right now, getting out at her ‘new life.’”
And maybe he’ll get up, throw a ten on the bar and head back to what was Our Place. And maybe he’ll be sad that I’m gone.
Ladies and gentlemen. For American flight 9390 with non-stop service to San Francisco. Don’t get up yet. I’m afraid we have more…bad news. Right now, we’re being told to expect a one-fifty departure. Again, please don’t stray far from the gate since once we do get to board—if we do get to board—we hope to do that quickly so we can get you all there with as slight a delay as possible. And we regret the delay and we thank you for your cooperation. We know things haven’t been great for any of us, and we really do appreciate you.
No point in standing. This is not looking good and those of us who’d clustered near the gate move away and find places to drop down, and that’s what I do, though it’s on the floor near a window.
Everyone’s checking their phones. Making calls. Checking alternative flights.
Mr. and Mrs. too-old-to-be-honeymooners have even tired of their cuddliness and are sitting next to one another staring at their own phones and I wonder who each of them would call if they could get away with it.
Yeah, I’m getting cynical here.
Ladies and gentlemen. For what was supposed to be American flight 9390 with non-stop service to San Francisco. Yes, you heard that right. That plane isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and certainly not to San Francisco. They’re not telling us why, but Flight 9390 is officially cancelled for today. We’re sorry. That’s all we can say right now.
If you checked baggage, it’s being off-loaded and you need to go to Baggage Claim area 3, downstairs in the terminal. As to your tickets, please contact AA.com for details. Again, we’re very and truly sorry.
They’re very and truly sorry! What am I going to do? Well, I can’t stay in this madhouse. I have to get my baggage downstairs. And then what? I’ll call him. What choice do I have? I’m sure he’ll be okay with me staying until I can get another flight. I’ll take a cab when I have my things.
People are flooding out, most looking at their phones. I pull mine out. It’ll hurt to see him, knowing I’m going to have to…leave him again. It was so hard this time. But, as I said, what choice do I have?
I hit his speed dial number and it rings. Then he’s standing there. He’s not in Williamsburg. He’s standing there. In the American terminal.
“I was just calling you,” I say, equal parts surprised and thrilled at his presence.
“Don’t go,” he says.
“Don’t go. Please.”
*Perhaps this sounds familiar. It is the other perspective of the author’s story “Delayed Departure” in the September 2022 issue.
Heather Wickers (@HWickersWriter)
J Dalton is the author of The Gates to the Galaxies sci-fi series. It is a ten-volume series also available on Amazon.
Renée Gendron‘s Golden Hearts: Book 2 of Frontier Hearts is now available on Amazon. Her Two Hearts on the Backspin, Novella 2 of her Heartened series, is 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 Star, Jaded Hearts, and Seven Points of Contact, Heads and Tales, a supernatural/mythological anthology. to which Renée contributed a historical, supernatural, romance. Shopkeeper & Spoon, Beneath The Twin Suns: An Anthology, Heartened by Crime, and In The Red Room: A crime anthology with heart, all edited by Renée Gendron, are also available now.
Marian L Thorpe‘s newest installment in her wonderful Empire series, Empress & Soldier, has been released. (Empire’s Daughter is the first part.) She has numerous titles available; they can be found at her aptly-named website, MarianLThorpe.com. Her books are listed at Books2Read.
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.
Becoming Catherine Bennet, Joseph P. Garland‘s Pride and Prejudice sequel, has been published. The ebook is exclusively on Amazon, and on Kindle Unlimited. An excerpt was in the April issue. The first chapters can be sampled here. It is available in paperback and hardcover on Amazon and elsewhere. He has a blog and information on his books and those bits of classic literature that he has republished at DermodyHouse.com.
Heather Wickers can be found on Twitter as @HWickersWriter and regularly posts poems there.