A Muse Bouche Review: March 2024

Through the Window


Welcome to our third edition of 2024. The theme is Windows.

Looking through. Being seen from. Enjoy!

The A Muse Bouche Review Team

Featured: Through Windows Left Open (Heather Wickers) Poetry
Cold (Louise Sorensen) Fiction
Deadly Dance (Renée Gendron)Fiction
Paradise (David M. Simon) Fiction
A Window on the World (Marian L Thorpe) Fiction
Finding Love and Acceptance (Joseph P. Garland) Song Lyrics

March Team Showcase


 Deadly Dance

Renee Gendron (@ReneeGendron)

Free Animals Wolves photo and picture

Alpha Squad Leader Onni Huhta lay flat against the ground. Sweat clung to his underarms and waist, rendering his snowsuit into a sweat suit. His visor flashed warning after warning against his visor—rising temperatures, loss of communications with base, and unknown movement circling him one klick out.

He wet his lips with his tongue, feeling their chapped edges. He slowed his breathing, but the breaths still came in sharp and short. “Dome, report.” He sucked in air through his oxygen tank, then tapped his wrist computer.

Static filled the comms.

Onni shifted his weight, and his suit crinkled against the mushy snow of the tundra. At three o’clock in the afternoon on a winter’s day, the tundra should be compact and crispy, but the solar flare had lasted for over a day, and radiation was cooking the planet.

“Huhta.” First class Corporal Nao Chiba said. “There’s movement from the west.”


“Unknown, but it’s fast.”

Onni repositioned himself to face west, straightened his finger along the stock, and looked through his rifle site.

Bright light and grey steam combined to obscure everything past fifty meters.

The nerve endings along Onni’s trigger finger remained calm and in control, yet those in the rest of his body did a jig. “Anything?”

“It’s out there,” Chiba said. “The steam is messing with instruments, but it’s out there.”

“One or two?”

“Four, maybe five.”

Behind Onni, someone in his squad shifted their weight, sloshing the slush and making a wet noise.

“Speed?” Onni arced his rifle in a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn. Shadows, steam, and an unnerving sense that more than one thing lurked beyond.



“Can’t clock it.”

A tremor vibrated against Onni’s stomach.

He looked over his shoulder, but white bleakness blanked by fog obscured his view.

A thick paste covered the back of his throat—the kind of paste that tasted sour and only arrived when there was something wrong. Seriously wrong.

He tapped his wrist computer, but the controls on the screen flashed on and off and on, then blank. Curses rolled off his tongue, but his teeth kept them in. The communications link was his only contact with Takara Hayashi and the Dome.

Downed communication with search teams meant the Dome was experiencing weather-related problems.

“Squad leader,” Chiba said. “My comms are down.”

“Mine, too,” infantryman Khumalo said.

“We’ll trek back.” Onni pushed himself to stand, slung his rifle over his shoulder, then swiped the slush from the front of his jacket. A bit of moisture had seeped through his minus one-hundred-degree centigrade coat. If he stood in the middle of the tundra and faced eighty-kilometre gusts of wind, his coat would keep him alive. Not hot, but alive.

His kit was made for cold, not dampness, and the chill of the outside had already connected with the sweat on his cool skin. A shiver rattled him from jaw to ankle. He motioned for his squad to head out in the direction of the Dome—the only human habitat on the plain.

As for what else survived in the tundra, none of it was human. Wolves had stalked the remnants of former settlements, picking off sole survivors and smaller prey that found shelter in ice caves and remnants of civilization.

And over time, the wind had swept away all manners of jagged edges, leaving them rounded and bent and flattened against an unmerciful landscape.

Every spring, herds of muskox traversed the tundra that curved over the horizon to the west, then looped back again to rejoin east of the Dome. For six months out of the year, there was enough light and warmth on the surface to allow hearty grasses to grow and fatten enough muskox to survive the winter and feed the wolves.

For six months, the ground turned from white to muted sage with many white splotches against an endless horizon of grey. The sun never shown, never in direct force, never as some giant, glowing orb in the sky. But its bright light, somewhere between gold and grey, bathed the surface for half the year, enough to shake the frigid winter from the vegetation but never warm enough for the plants to thrive past light brown to lush green.

Too small of a tundra, too short of summer, and too many Dome inhabitants meant not enough protein for the colonists to survive. Thus, the Dome and its gutting of the spaceships landed the colonists in hydroponics bays and labs to synthesize proteins.

Onni leaned into the wind and light-stepped his way back to the Dome.

A gust of wind blew through him, pushing his damp coat against his cold skin leaving him numb. He picked up his pace. His breath quickened, his muscles pumped, but he couldn’t shake the cold.

He covered one klick, then another, his squad mates keeping pace with ease.

Something flashed on his wrist computer, but he kept his brisk pace to the next snow dune, then knelt behind it.

The light of day cast a long shadow over the dune.

Onni tapped his wrist computer. The comms link to the Dome was still down, and with it, no connection to Takara.

She’d be at the communication centre, whether it was her shift or not. She’d be in the thick of it, ensuring repair crews had their orders, the habitat sections were secured, and everything possible was being done to see the safe return of the squads.

One corner of his mouth kicked up in a grin. Takara would find a way, even if it meant lying through sorrowful eyes and finding backchannels and learning obscure codes to get the message out.

The cold against his chest warmed, and the knots in his muscles from a twenty-four-recon mission turned into motivation to return to the Dome for a hot shot, hot meal, and bed warmed by Takara.

Each step of his flat run sank deeper into the muskeg, latching onto his ankles and gripping them, sucking him deeper into the ground. If he slowed, he’d be pulled down into the earth, encompassed.

An average patrol, battered by weather.

The Dome had scavenged the planet for resources and survivors of lost colonies. Most stragglers had been overjoyed to be found. Some had resisted anything resembling the Empire that had left them to rot on a rock of ice.

Onni looked over his shoulder. The rest of his six-person squad leaned against the edge of the snow dune, hauling in lungfuls of air.

Onni tapped his wrist computer. The light fritzed and flashed on, then off. “Anyone have contact with the Dome?”

One by one, his squad tapped against their wrist computers, and one by one then shook their heads.

Onni’s throat clamped shut.

Three hard clicks out, in terrain that would rather turn him into compost and in a space where the wolves charge faster and harder against them.

Onni swore under his breath. He should have insisted on bringing two buggies out to explore the perimeter.

Hoofing it was too dangerous. No human could outrun any four-legged animal—no wolf, no charging muskox, no tundra rabbit that needed to be chased down.

Static crackled in his ear, and for a faint moment, he thought he heard Takara’s sweet voice.

He unshouldered his rifle, looked through its sites, and swept the horizon.

A blur of movements danced across the screen of his wrist computer. Too slow to be a strike from the raiders, but too fast to be a tundra muskox.

Onni tapped his screen, but the lights streaked across it again. He lifted his gaze from the screen to the horizon towards the Dome. He squinted towards the brightness of the afternoon.

The horizon was mist and vapour and so blurry it might have ended fifty meters, five hundred meters or five hundred kilometres from him.

Undefined, bright, and forbidding—the horizon.

Onni pressed his hand against his coat, feeling for the necklace Takara gave him. Made of re-re-recycled station metals. The necklace was far from white gold or silver, but it wouldn’t rust and symbolize everything about their relationship.

Durable, dependable, determined to see their years out together, facing the endless horizon, the constant dangers, with enough heat between them to warm the frost from their bedroom window on the coldest winter night.

He lowered his second gold visor against the solar flare. A long solar flare that had lasted over a day, and the ground beneath him had turned to mush.

Something else streaked against his viewscreen, fast with terminal velocity, then disappeared from lidar.

The hollow of Onni’s stomach widened, deepened, and absorbed whatever impact the streaking green light across his console represented.

Chiba shifted uncomfortably beside Onni. Then, the other team members changed their stances, balancing their weight from stand-firm to run.

Something prickled the air. Something shifted, changing its taste from crisp to chemically crusty.

Onni gagged.

The small hairs on the back of his hands and neck pushed up, sending a cascade of worry against him.

The stench of heavy fuel drifted in the air, tickling his nose, then shoving its way past his throat.

Onni’s breath caught somewhere between his mouth and his lungs and expanded in his throat, choking him.

The acidic stench of heavy fuel, like the kind used in interstellar ships, flooded the air.

Onni’s mouth crashed open. His heart plummeted to the ground. His stomach all but lost his lunch.

The only ships that would venture to this ice rock of a planet with few mineral resources, no geo-galactic importance, and no scientific interest, would be Imperial.

Onni raised his fist, convinced this would be his last act of defiance, then motioned for his squad to move out.

Communications were down. Wolves circled them. The tundra had turned to a swamp, and an enemy that would see them laid to waste stood at Onni’s back, and the laser-sighted 50 calibre machine he carried was a spit-wad shooter against precision laser-guided planet killers all Imperial ships carried.

Weapon secured in a two-handed ready carry, he charged the tundra-turned-marsh towards the Dome. He ignored the bleeps flashing across his wrist computer, the static in his earpiece, and the pounding of feet against slushy ground.

He had two objections. The first: reach the Dome in time to warn of the impending Imperial military force attack.

The second: kiss Takara’s lips one last time. They would stand shoulder to shoulder in defiance against an Imperial force that would destroy everything the colonists had fought and bled and struggled for over several decades. But at least they would stand together, and they would be each other’s support in their final seconds as they had been each other’s support for years.

Glory wasn’t a word on this frozen planet. There was no vainglorious last stand to be had against a numerically superior, more technologically advanced force. No, such a valiant last stand against an enemy that shared no common god, culture or system of government.

Nothing linked the colony and the Empire. Their common language hadn’t been spoken in decades, and the local dialect of the colony had been almost indecipherable by the most sophistical universal translators.

An energy pulse landed close to Onni, sending a chute of vapour shooting up from the ground.


He pumped his legs and pressed forward, looking over his shoulder to his right, then left. His team kept up.

In the prime of their lives with daily intensive training, they lopped across the sloshy tundra with ease and grace, their breaths even and their movements swift.

Onni swung his gaze forward to the horizon, to Takara, to some modicum of safety against the most technologically advanced military in the galaxy.

His wrist computer beeped, warning of some new threat Onni refused to consider. He had had enough new threats for the day to risk a glance at the screen.

He raced forward, jumping over the largest puddles, splashing through the smallest.

A blur of fangs and claws and fur lunged at him, tackling him to the ground.

He landed with a hard thump, and the air squished out of him. Pain flooded through him, leaving him stunned.

Dazed, he stared up at a large patch of fur and a gaping jaw of sharpened teeth. He raised his weapon to protect against a flurry of snaps and chomps, defending himself against a fierce bite.

A shot ran out, followed by three more sharp tat-tat-tats, and the beast on top of him fell limp to the ground.

Shot of breath, Onni scrambled to his feet and turned sharply to his right.

Chibo stood with her weapon raised, looking down at the site and a plume of smoke wafting from her weapon’s barrel.

Two more wolves lay dead on the tundra.

The air thickened with aviation fuel, and Onni motioned for his team to run. He tapped against his wrist computer, but the communications to the Dome were still down.

The air was electrified with the static of lasers, then the air discharged the potential, and a lightning-bright bolt rocketed against the sky and landed a dozen meters in front of Onni.

He fell to the ground, finger-ready to pull the trigger, but the enemy was dozens of kilometres behind him. He called out to his team, and each reported they were safe.

Again, Onni scrambled to his feet and led the way back to the Dome. He weaved, he zagged, he jumped over puddles, skirted around lakes of melting snow, and pressed forward into the night.

The outline of the Dome came into view.

Its jagged edges of communications antenna, glass panels, and military turrets jutted from the sky. The Dome was more some ragged beast of an outline than a smooth, half-circle structure that graced the sky.

The Dome didn’t grace the sky but rendered it ugly and present and memorable in the way nightmares were. It was also home to over a million residents who knew nothing more than the harsh existence life under the Dome provided.

Onni slowed, then turned back. He pinwheeled his arm, motioning for his team to move forward. He waved past Chibo, then his sergeant, then his infantrymen, motioning for them to charge home until they collapsed dead from the last of their breath and lack of ammunition.

One by one, his team ran to the main gate of the Dome.

An energy blast arced across the sky, landing against the Dome’s shields. The shields held, but another energy blast dissipated against them.

Onni punched the gate’s access codes into his wrist computer, but the screen flashed an error message he hadn’t seen before.

He stomped towards a twenty-meter metallic gate and raised, then lowered his fist. There was no point in pounding against it. No one would hear.

Energy blasts fizzled the air around him, pounding against the shield and raking every hair along the back of his neck.

Onni’s wrist computer squawked with a familiar, kind voice—Takara.

“Alpha Squad,” Takara said. “Can you hear me?”

“Five by five,” Onni said.

A moment’s silence stretched on the radio, long and relieved and so filled with emotion it almost knocked Onni back onto his haunches.

His heart stilled, waiting to rejoin the beating of hers. He tasted her kiss, though only an impression from three days prior.

The line on his wrist computer crackled, long and difficult and carrying more emotions than he could feel.

“Blasts coming in from Imperial forces.” Takara’s voice was professional and detached but weighed down with so many emotions he hadn’t the strength to carry his weapon. “Solar flares are blasting the shields. Multiple vectors of attack. We cannot open the doors.”

Onni blinked, feeling the weight of her weights pressed against his heart, then his stomach.

He formed his jaw, smoothed his tongue, then faced the endless horizon behind him. His heart lay inside the Dome, his team stood at his shoulders, and his enemy before him.

This was his stand. For his heart, his soul, his conscience. Every last bullet would be spent, every last breath exhausted fighting, and every last beat of heart in sync with Takara’s, and every last pulse of his soul spent fighting the good fight.

Bring. It. On.

Image by Mila del Monte from Pixabay


Louise Sorensen@louise3anne)

Outside it’s minus 20 Celsius. That’s not too bad. Could be worse.

Inside it’s toasty warm. We live on a big dairy farm, and never let the fires go out. Not even in summer.

So it’s warm inside.

I have to leave the house six times a day or more. It’s not the feedings in the barn, or the drives into town for supplies, or the walks or skis for exercise that make my blood run cold.

My life would be normal, even boring, if that’s all there was to my story.

But you add in a touch of the supernatural, a hint of the macabre, a dash of past lives.

And it’s the ghosts I dread.

All the bodies buried in the garden aren’t the problem. They’re furry friends and companions that I miss every day. I’m glad to see them if they show up, and they’re a great comfort and glad to see me too, but most of the time, their graves are quiet. They’re off on ghostly business.

No, it’s the ghosts of people from way down the road and even far away that make me dread going outside.

It’s not an easy life, when you can see ghosts.

And it’s even worse when they realize you can see them.

I don’t know how they found out about me, but every time I step outside I have to run the gauntlet of cold white faces, of hands grasping at me, trying to trip me, stop me, so they can ask, or demand a favour. It seems that once you’re dead, if you hang around, you lose all hold on manners and social graces.

When ghosts first showed up, it was only about one a week, hanging outside our property boundaries. Then three years ago last Halloween, there was a surge, as though they’d had a party, and word got out that a live one lived here.

That’s when the ghosts from the graveyard halfway to town started showing up. And even that wasn’t too bad. They were respectful, and didn’t cross the property line.

But over that winter, it seems like every deceased and their uncle followed the scent to my place, and they’ve been as thick as fleas around the house ever since.

The house has always had its own haunts, respectful of me, and territorial, and has been able to keep itself free of foreign ghosts. I used to be able to detect the house ghosts, but that ability has faded, along with my energy.

And the barn is a ghost-free zone, as well. But the barn has a different kind of haunting. A presence I can almost detect, that burns white hot. A long time ago, the barn burned down, and was rebuilt. Whatever entity took up residence there after the fire, remains. I can’t communicate with it, but I can tell it’s there. I can feel its terrible flames, but they don’t warm me.

We were warned when we first looked at this place that strange occurrences happened regularly, and we were okay with that. Outside of items lost or moved around, or quiet wailing when there was no wind or cold patches where there should be no draft, no harm seemed to be done.

But we didn’t realize that living in such a place can change you. Like smoking a pack of cigarettes for forty years can give you cancer, living in a haunted house can hone your senses until you can see past the shroud of death. It’s not like you’d imagine, with half-seen glimpses of beautiful shades, and dramatic sightings of soulful wisps. Who knew ghosts were so demanding? Whiney. Ruthless, to imbibe any semblance of life.

But the problem is, it’s getting so that running through a crowd of handsy ghosts, no matter the time of year, is leaving me cold. So cold I can hardly warm up. Bereft of heat and life.

Hence the fires in winter and summer.

When I come in from outside, all I can do is stand near a fire to warm up until it’s time for me to go out again. I’m just going through the motions, in a loop. This isn’t a life.

I never see my family anymore. I don’t know where they’ve gotten to.

I’m too busy doing the chores and my daily walks or skis to check up on them. And keeping the ghosts out of the house, of course.

All I can see when I look out the window is wall to wall ghosts. When I go out, no matter how fast I move, they suck out my heat and energy.

Despite the fires, I’m getting colder and colder.

Any colder and I’ll be frozen in place.

It’s all I can do to keep them out of the house.

Through the patio window I can see them. They’re pairing up now. Dancing. Dancing?

Waving at me to come join the fun.

I can’t, I don’t think. I’m not dead yet.




Winter has taken my soul.

I hear music. I can hear the music they’re dancing to!

When I get so cold I’m warm again, I’ll fling open the window and join them.

Image credit: Sean Gentle from Pixabay


David M. Simon (@writesdraws)

I found myself on the Deuce that night through a combination of loneliness, self pity, and drunkenness. I was nineteen, and Trina, the first, hell—the only— love of my life had dumped me that morning after yet another fight because I had lost my shitty bodega job. Dumped me? She had thrown me out of the Alphabet City walkup we shared, her right I guess, since her Wall Street father was paying for it. He hated me, which in retrospect I don’t blame him for one bit, so I’m sure the tearful phone call he probably got after I left pleased him.

I was actually jealous of him and her if you want to know the truth, even if he was an asshole. I had grown up in foster care, where love was measured by how big the check from Family Services was. Apparently, the checks weren’t very big. Trina’s dad loved his little girl, despite her choosing to live with a lowlife like me in a tiny flat. I couldn’t imagine someone caring about me that much. And yes, I know how pathetic that sounds.

Anyway, there I was walking down Forty-Second Street, the Deuce, with the clothes on my back and maybe two hundred bucks, my life savings, wadded up in my pocket. This was in the late seventies, before they cleaned up Times Square. ‘Cleaned up’ makes it sound like a good thing, but not to me, not at all. Back then, Times Square, and especially the Deuce, was a wonderland of grind houses, strip joints, peep shows, and dive bars, with a dozen hookers on every corner, drug dealers openly offering their wares, and three card monte shysters fleecing the rubes from Kansas who had just arrived in the big city. Yes, it was dirty and dangerous, but it was so fucking alive. When they sanitized Times Square, turned it into Disneyland, they sucked the soul clean out of it.

I spent hours making my way from the lower east side to midtown, pausing here and there to sip Mad Dog from a cliched paper bag and feel sorry for myself. I had no real destination in mind, except that I needed a place to sleep that night, and had heard there were hot-sheet flop houses on the Deuce where a bed could be had for a few bucks. Hey, it sounded better than a bench at the Port Authority.

When I reached Times Square, I let myself get swept away in the sea of humanity, tossed and turned past one decaying XXX movie palace after another. Hookers and dealers both vied for my attention, but my mood was too black for either to sound enticing. I usually found the energy there exhilarating, but that day it did little to lighten my mood.

“Smile, kid.Why the scowl? You’re at the center of the world!” These words, delivered in a voice that was somehow both high pitched and gravelly, were accompanied by a slap on the back. I had been lost in my own misery, not paying attention, but the combination of voice and back slap pulled me out.

I was standing in front of a gaudy establishment called Stairway to Paradise. It was a storefront painted Pepto Bismol pink, decorated with life size silhouettes of naked women. Neon arrows pointed to an open doorway that led to, you guessed it, a stairway leading to the second floor. The man who had stopped me dead in my tracks stood in front of that doorway. He was dressed in full pimp finery, from wide-brimmed, feathered hat, to full-length leopard print coat, to the jewel-capped cane he was now waving in the direction of the doorway.

“I got nothing to smile about,” I said, with as much belligerence as I could muster.

“Then take the Stairway to Paradise, my friend. At the top of those stairs are a dozen doors, and inside each one is a window that offers a different glimpse of paradise. Whether you like girls, or boys, or something in between, for the price of a few dollars, enlightenment awaits. Take a chance, and turn that frown upside down.”

“I don’t think it’ll help,” I said, and turned to leave.

The man barred my way with his cane. “Kid, believe me, you need this. I can always tell, and you need this bad.”

I was feeling a little dizzy, and needed to sit down anyway. “Okay, fine.” I headed for the doorway.

“Excellent choice, my boy. See the lady at the top of the stairs, she’ll get you squared away. And take my advice…don’t choose a door, let the door choose you. The doors always know what you need.”

A middle-aged woman sat behind a counter at the top of the stairs. When I approached her, she immediately went into her spiel, one she had clearly recited a thousand times. “Welcome to paradise. Choose a door, if it’s locked that means there’s someone in there, pick another. Behind each door is a little room with a chair in front of a covered window. Put a token in the slot on the little metal box, and the window opens. Ten tokens for ten dollars, each one opens the window for one minute.”

“I got it,” I said, handing her a ten.

She gave me a stack of tarnished gold tokens. “One more thing. There’s a roll of paper towels in every room. Please clean up after yourself. Thank you, and enjoy your time in paradise.”

Past her was a hallway lined with closed doors, none of them labeled with who might be behind them. I decided to take the man with the cane’s advice. I meandered down the hallway, waiting for a doorway to call to me. Shockingly, one did.

When I reached the last door on the left, I felt…something. A vibration, a shift in atmosphere, I don’t know, but I felt something. Good enough, I thought. I entered the dark, tiny room and closed the door behind me. True to the front-desk woman’s word, a folding chair faced a large window covered with shutters. On the wall next to the chair was the metal box with a slot for tokens, and above that a nearly empty paper towel roll on a dowel rod. Not surprisingly, the floor was sticky.

I took a deep breath, not sure what to expect. I’m straight, but if there was a naked guy on the other side of the window, what the hell. I decided to be open minded, and let whatever was going to happen, happen. I settled in the wobbly chair and dropped a token in the slot.

The shutters rumbled open. No naked woman. No naked man, for that matter. Through the window I saw what appeared to be a 1950s era kitchen, complete with avocado colored appliances and a yellow formica dinette. A plump, elderly woman wearing an apron was in the process of removing a pan of chocolate chip cookies from the oven. She was wearing oven mitts decorated with roosters in overalls.

At the sound of the shutters rising she looked over at me and smiled. “There you are, dear. I thought I heard you come in. I’m just taking out some cookies, would you like one? What am I saying, of course you’d like one.”

She removed the oven mitts and brought me a cookie, then took a seat across from me. I didn’t know what to do, didn’t know what to say. I took the cookie. It was soft and warm and wonderful.

“What do you say, dear?”

A red light blinked on the metal box, warning me that the minute was almost up, and I hurriedly dropped in another token.

“Thank you,” I mumbled around a mouthful of cookie. “Thank you—”

“Nana. You can call me Nana. Now why don’t you tell me why you look so sad today?”

And…and I did. I told Nana about Trina breaking up with me, about how much her father hated me. I told her about my life, how empty it felt, that it had felt empty and pointless even before Trina kicked me out. I spilled my guts, pausing only to stuff tokens into the box.

As the last token dropped, Nana stood up, dusted off her hands. “Well, dear, I think you know what you have to do.”

“I do?”

“Yes, you do. You’re a good boy, you’ve always been a good boy. You just need to get out there and find your passion, get your life on the right track. Go on now, make your Nana proud.” She leaned over and kissed me on the forehead, and then the shutters rolled down tight.

I left Stairway to Paradise in an absolute daze, not sure what exactly I’d experienced. The man out front took one look at my face and laughed, slapped me on the back with even more gusto than the first time. “I told you, my man, I told you. The doors always know what you need. I’ll see you again. Soon.”

I slept that night on a bench in Central Park. Let me rephrase. I slept damn good that night on a bench in Central Park. It was as if a weight had been lifted. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, and maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t an oncoming train.

I returned to Stairway to Paradise bright and early the next morning. The man didn’t say a word, just shook his head and smiled, waving me in. I bought my tokens and approached the door slowly. What if Nana wasn’t there? What if it had all been a dream courtesy of depression and Mad Dog?

Nana was there, this time with a loaf of banana bread. She hurried over to the window with a slice of the bread, butter oozing down the sides, and a copy of the Village Voice in her hand. “I’m so glad to see you, dear. Not to be a busybody, but I saw this in the classifieds, and thought you might be interested.”

She had circled an ad in the help wanted section. A local theater company was looking for help refurbishing an abandoned performance space. Enthusiasm was more important than experience, and better yet, the job came with a small apartment, so the space would be occupied at night. It wasn’t fancy, but it was warm and dry. I thanked Nana, and we talked while I ate the banana bread. When the last token had dropped, she kissed me on the forehead again and said, “Let me know how the interview goes. I’m so proud of you, Gregory.”

I left Stairway to Paradise and walked straight to the address listed in the ad. A crew of people around my age were busy cleaning up a building that had clearly seen better days. The woman in charge, who turned out to be the director of the theater company, looked me up and down, shook my hand, and asked me if I was a hard worker. I answered yes, and was surprised to find that I meant it. I didn’t want to disappoint Nana.

It was later that night, as I lay in the bed of the small apartment at the back of the theater building, that I realized I had never told Nana my name.

The next morning, on the way to tell Nana the good news, I stopped at Junior’s for some cheesecake to surprise her with. Except, in the spot where Stairway to Paradise had been just the day before, there was a vacant lot. The lot was overgrown with weeds, filled with garbage, as if the building had never been there at all.


Image by Rahul Pandit from Pixabay

Through Windows Left Open

Heather Wickers (@hwickerswriter)


A Window to the World

Marian L Thorpe (@marianlthorpe)


The third of my introductory stories, creating characters and background to the work-in-planning. The narrator here is Kirt, whom we met in January’s The Onion Tart.

For all I have become extraordinarily fond of Cenric, he is appallingly slow at preparing to go out. At a guess, the hour bell will have rung before he makes an appearance. Every hair will be in place, every button shining, the seams of his garments straight. ‘A bé Casille,’ he has said, when I have expressed impatience, ‘must always look his best.’

I have my own opinions on when Cenric bé Casille looks his best, and they have nothing to do with groomed hair or shining buttons. But his pride amuses me, and perhaps he is right. He is—by twenty minutes or so—the head of the family, barring his uncle, who now lives the ascetic life of the Leordh of Wintredene, concerning himself largely with books and translations and the running of the school, not the business of commerce. At the guild meetings, while Cenric is not physically the most striking of its members, his arguments are reasoned and rational and he commands respect. To be richly but soberly dressed adds to his gravitas, I can see.

Still, we are going out to dine, not to discuss wool prices around the guildhall table.  And I have been ready for a quarter of an hour, and I am bored with waiting. I want a distraction. In one corner of the room Luce’s cittara leans against the wall. She is not at home; whether attending a patient or pursuing her own amusements I have no idea. But I doubt she would mind; we have discussed music, a little, over suppers or of an evening. Just a little. And there is something I want to know.

The cittara is almost in tune. I tighten one string, run my fingers over the four together. The sound is pleasing. I play a few notes, and then, purposely, a snatch of melody. One I have known since I was a boy: an unusual, haunting rise and fall. It takes me out of this room, out of my impatience, back to Leste. To a house standing high over the harbor, wide windows thrown open in all but the worst weather, and the music that drifted down to the street. Music that sometimes included this run of notes, played by my grandmother Radné.

Radné il’Ikorsa, merchant, ship’s captain, scion of a powerful Ikorsan trading family. That my father, a de Guerdián, tracing his descent from an ancient Casilani governor of Leste—for whom I was named— had chosen her daughter as his wife spoke to their importance. And ours: an il’Ikorsa marriage was rarely for love. Nor was a de Guerdián one, come to that. A link between two merchant families was far more valuable. Still, my parents appeared happy enough. I had a brother, and two sisters, and that went far beyond the usual expectations of a transactional marriage.

That my mother’s mother had chosen to accompany her to Leste also was not expected, but then Radné was not a woman who did the expected. I had known that, somehow, from earliest childhood. Her tales of her voyages no doubt sowed the seed of my own desire to travel, even knowing the dangers. She’d survived—and most of her crew with her—uncharted waters, pirates, even encroaching ice once on a northern voyage. Her career as a captain had been ended, capriciously, by a sudden squall, the wind rising from nowhere like the feared xubae of the desert, a rope lashing like a serpent, catching and coiling around her leg, wrenching her hip from its socket.  She’d endured days of agony before a competent doctor could be found, but her life as a ship’s captain was over.

She’d told me all this when I was seven or eight, sitting at her feet at the open window overlooking the harbour. Without regret, or self-pity, at least not that my child’s mind comprehended. What I’d heard instead was that adventure shouldn’t be put off. Bad things could happen to anyone, so I should grab at life with both hands before fate found me.

I’d learned to play a cittara from her, too. She had, it seemed to me, an endless repertoire of songs. She began to play in the morning as soon as she was dressed and seated in her wheeled chair—either near the open windows or out on the balcony when the weather permitted—and continued late into the evening. People stopped in the street below to listen on their way to the wells or to the market, to the harbour or to workshops. Children gathered to play games or to dance with unselfconscious abandon. Usually, Radné’s tunes were either peaceful or playful. Sometimes they were complex and difficult. The run of notes I was playing now came from one of those songs.

The door behind me—the one that leads to the entrance hall—opens. Lost in memory and music, I had not heard the outer door, or any murmur of voices. “If you are attempting to alert Cenric, he won’t understand,” Luce says.

My fingers still. “But you do,” I say. I look at Cenric’s twin. Like him, she is square, dark haired, blue eyed. Unlike him, she gives little thought to her appearance, preferring to dress simply. Appropriate for a physician whose garments must be washed daily, in truth.

“Yes.” She watches me, her gaze level. Says, in the language of my mother and grandmother, “If you have seduced him to gain access to Ésparias’s secrets, you have made a mistake.”

She spent several years in Ikorsa and Cyrenne, learning from their superb physicians. I should not be surprised she mastered the language. I should not be surprised by anything Luce bé Casille does, I suspect.

“That was not my intent,” I say. It is almost the truth. Or has grown into the truth, with every night I spend with Cenric.

Luce holds her hand out for the cittara. I hand it to her. She plays another run of notes, a sombre, sad motif. They tell me, not of danger or treachery as might be expected, but of a successful transaction made. What transaction depends on the rest of the tune. I tilt my head in unspoken query.

She plucks the strings, an almost jaunty melody now. I translate the notes silently. “You were to make this contact?”

“In such a way as to encourage friendship, or more,” she says. “So I could judge you for myself. But as our tastes in bed partners do not align—”

“You suggested to my brother that I might find Cenric…interesting.”

She nods. “You will never tell him that.”

“No,” I agree. In tacit agreement we sit, facing each other. Her face tells me nothing. Physicians, like successful merchants, learn to hide their thoughts. “Where did you learn the codes?”

“Did you think them known only to the de Guerdián family?”

“Of course not. I would not have been playing the piece I was, in that case.”

She inclines her head in acknowledgement. “Where I learned them is of little importance. Suffice it to say a physician in any land may see even the highest amongst us in complete privacy, if needed.”

“Whereas a merchant cannot, but has friends and connections in the ports of many lands.”

“Indeed. And has the opportunity to make more, in an exploration of trading opportunities in new cities and lands. Especially an exploration led by Kirthan de Guerdián of legend and fame.”

Or by Radné il’Ikorsa, in past years. Footsteps sound overhead. For once, I hope Cenric is still dithering between tunics or shoes.

“Would Ésparias be asking more of you than you have done for Leste, and, I believe, Ikorsa, in these past twenty years?” Luce murmurs.

Grab at life with both hands. The lesson—one lesson— my grandmother had taught me, along with the codes hidden in the music she played sitting by her open window, to the entertainment of children and passers-by. And to pass on messages or give commands to men and women who would never be seen to enter her house, or even look up to the source of the music.

The creak of the stairs announces Cenric. His hair is brushed back, every strand in place. His tunic is the blue he favours, matching his eyes. “I’m ready,” he says. “Hello, Luce. Were you playing for Kirt? I heard music.”

“A complex passage from an Ésparian song,” I say. “One that I believe I will attempt to learn. I like a challenge.”

“Then we must find the time to work together,” Luce says, rising. “But now I wish a bath and a quiet evening. Where are you going?”

“To dine on the first of the season’s lamb at Ferrand’s inn,” Cenric tells her. “He has also had a new shipment of wine from Cyrenne. Shall we go, Kirt?”

“We shall,” I say, smiling. “I asked for a table by the windows. I like to look out on the city, to watch the people passing by, and listen, perhaps, to a strolling musician. Come, amané. Let’s enjoy the night.”

Illustration credit:  Scene from a Novella

Artist: Liberale da Verona (Italian, Verona ca. 1445–1527/29), Metropolitan Museum of Art, public domain


Finding Love and Acceptance

Joseph P. Garland (@JPGarlandAuthor

Free Woman Train photo and picture

These lyrics  grew into the novella Finding Love and Acceptance. You can listen to a rough sample here.

She saw the last streaks of sunshine
As she boarded the train.
By the time she had departed,
The streaks had become of rain.

The stations passed went quickly by,
Each nothing but a blur.
She thought of things that would never be.
And things that never were.

After some hours, the car’s lights dimmed,
And she dozed in time with its sway.
It wasn’t quite sleep and she’d jolt awake,
Till exhaustion carried her away.

Her sleep was shallow and restless.
Then a flash of sun struck her eye.
She stirred, not yet awake.
An orange dawn in the new sky.

It took longer than if she simply flew.
She liked to feel the train’s sway.
It took longer as such trips often do.
She liked the solitude of going that way.

And again she felt the rocking beat
Of the train continuing west.
She remained spent and drowsy
After her brief and fitful rest.

She hadn’t seen him in many years,
Since he said he disapproved,
Of what she was and who she was.
He was nothing to her but cruel.

She tidied up in the bathroom.
Saw the bags below each eye.
A bit of water and she was wide awake.
She hadn’t realized she’d cried.

Her brother picked up at the station,
About a quarter past noon.
They drove quietly to the house.
She didn’t want to get there too soon.

She never knew if he saw her.
Perhaps it was just as well.
She was shocked when she saw him.
He’d become a hollow shell.

There was laughter in the hallway.
As her sister shared a joke.
She looked at her for a moment.
And suddenly he spoke.

It was then she saw the old pastor.
She ignored him as he passed her.
He and her father had judged her long ago.

The room was bright, the air was still.
Old photos lined the window sill.
Happy times to those who didn’t know.

She couldn’t quite make out
What he tried to say.
His eyes flashed his hatred though.
She knew she couldn’t stay.

She told the others she’d seen enough,
That he was still the same.
As he was when they last met.
When he said he was sorry she had his name.

By four she was back aboard.
The Amtrak heading east.
She wasn’t sorry that she’d come.
He hadn’t changed in the least.

It was a reddish sunset.
There’d be no rain that night.
She slept deeply and soundly.
Until being awakened by the next dawn’s light.

Image by Anja from Pixabay

March Team Showcase

Marian L Thorpe‘s eighth and final book in her historically inspired speculative fiction series Empire’s LegacyEmpire’s Passing, is out in paperback and as an ebook. (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.

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.

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.