Welcome to 2023’s May edition: Regrets
Looking back, there’s always something, or a few somethings, that we’d each like to do differently. This issue contains some of our characters’ regrets. Perhaps none more important than that described in Crystal L. Kirkham’s Today/Regret poem which opens this collection.
The A Muse Bouche Review Team
Feature: Today/Regret (Crystal L. Kirkham) Poetry
Shards on the Tongue (Renee Gendron) Fiction
Rose Grey (Louise Sorensen) Fiction
Show a Path for Me (Marian L Thorpe) Fiction
Bagged (David M. Simon) Fiction
Captor (Lain McIntyre) Fiction
A Repair Gone Wrong (J Dalton) Fiction
Mr. Darcy’s Regret (Joseph P. Garland) Fiction
Crystal L. Kirkham (@CanuckClick)
Today, my friend told me she was dying
in the tone
one would use
to tell you
the sky is blue
Today, my friend told me she was dying
as if nothing
was even wrong
she talked on
drowned out her words
Today, my friend told me she was dying
an empty smile
to the news
to the words
to accept it
Today, my friend told me she was dying
with good-bye hugs
see you soon said
hold the tears
was it enough
Today, my friend told me she was dying
were they enough
the good times
the bad ones
try to forget
Today, my friend told me she was dying
could it have been
so many things
Today, my friend told me she was dying
when she is gone
would I be left
Renee Gendron (@ReneeGendron)
SEAN WAGNER STARED AT HIS second beer of the night at the unfamiliar bar around the corner from the bus station. The beer foam was thick, and dozens of bubbles fizzled through the cold drink. He shifted his weight on his barstool, but one hip remained uncomfortable, and the edge of the seat dug into his mid-thigh, numbing it.
A baseball game played on the screens above the bar, not that he followed the sport or cared who won. He lifted the tall glass, sucking off the thin layer of foam but not downing his beer.
Someone approached on his right and sat beside him. A heavy floral scent drowned out the smells of beer and burgers, overpowering him. The figure beside him motioned for a drink, and the bartender placed a beer on a paper coaster in front of her. But she didn’t touch it.
Uninterested in her, Sean focused on the foam of his beer.
The woman beside him crossed her legs, drawing attention to her skirt’s shortness and her thigh’s slimness. She dangled a four-inch heel from the tips of her pedicured toes.
He angled away from her, not in the mood for small talk, pleasantries, or conversations about the weather. He wanted to be alone, so alone the light of the sun wouldn’t reach him for a million years. He turned towards the cold uneasiness that would forever be his life.
He stared at the top of his beer, its golden surface having lost its foam and bubbles, gone flat like his life.
“Turn it up,” a man said, behind Sean.
The bartender took the remote, upped the volume, mixed three drinks, and poured two beers. Her movements were fluid and rehearsed, and she chatted with everyone she served.
Sean lowered his gaze to the bottom of his beer glass. He wanted nothing to do with the bar chatter, the excitement of the game, or the handful of womanly gazes that slid his way between sips of cocktails. He looked at his cell phone, and only ten minutes had passed since the last time he checked. Ten gruelling, painful, gouge-his-eyeballs-out minutes that he would relieve for the rest of his life.
He tucked his chin to his chest, wishing he had ordered something stronger. He downed his beer in four gulps but decided not to order another. He wanted to keep his thoughts straight and his emotions untangled and his ability to drive home clear. That is his ability to drive back to an empty home, a cold bed, and no one to speak with tomorrow morning over a boring breakfast of instant oatmeal.
He motioned to the bartender for a second beer, and she glided across the bar asking him for a draft or a bottle—did he want to drown in beer or sip it from a smaller portion? He opted to sip his sorrows. He had an early start to the morning driving the 4 a.m. bus route, and he couldn’t risk his licence or job. But if worse came to worse, he would call in sick tomorrow morning, sick from his head, heart, and soul.
Cheers came from behind him, but Sean couldn’t care less if the baseball team won, lost, or split the difference. He stared at his third beer. It was gold and smooth and nothing like the empty future he faced without Annie. He picked at his nails, unable to remove the dirt from his past.
His alcoholic mother, his weak-willed father who had finally found his strength through the embrace of another woman, and his drug-addicted brother were what remained of his past, present, and likely future.
Excited noise filtered around him, muddling his thoughts, masking his pain, and tempting him to withdraw to the darkest corners until he curled up into a ball and snarled at the break of day.
Why did he let Annie board that Greyhound? He should have stopped her or gone with her as support, but Annie insisted on going alone. Her father had yanked her chain since she was six, promising her this and that, only to break her heart every time. A chance at meeting him and forming a good relationship with him was about as likely as Sean placing a thousand-dollar bet on red at the roulette wheel and walking away while a million dollars.
Regret squeezed the air from his chest, twisting and gripping until he couldn’t breathe. He tightened his grip around his tall beer glass, wishing it remained cool to soothe his nerves.
“What’s the matter?” a woman’s voice was rich and sweet and more trouble than he could handle. She uncrossed her legs, then re-crossed them, showing off toned thighs.
He shook his head, in no mood for small talk.
Everything was the matter. Annie was boarding a bus to disaster, and she wouldn’t hear anything about it. A four-year relationship boiled down to a series of heated arguments, snarky texts, and silence. Sean wanted her to think before rushing to see her father and his out-of-the-blue promise to spend time with her, and Annie had nothing but bitter remarks about Sean not supporting her.
He sipped his beer. Its bitter taste reminded him of his sour last words that were shards on his tongue. Four good years had been reduced to tit-for-tat insults that had started with him trying to protect her and her asserting with venom and poison that this was her last chance to know her father.
Sean had been the loser of the argument, leaving his heart heavy and broken and his chest hollow and empty. He removed his cell phone from his pocket and rested his thumb on his contacts button. He should send her one last text message, a reconciliatory one wishing her a good time with her father.
He ran his tongue over his lower lip, tasting the bile and bitterness of their last words.
Another shadowy form sat on the barstool next to him, the one vacated by the woman with the nice thighs. “What are you doing?” Annie’s voice was sweet, sincere, and familiar as a grandmother’s meat pie.
Missing her with every breath, pulse, swallow and thought. “Thought you were getting the Greyhound to your father?”
“I was, but now I’m not.” Annie placed her hand on his.
He looked up at the baseball game on the television screen, unable to face the full force of her gaze. “Why?”
“He’s my biological dad, nothing more.”
“You tried for years to reach out to him. Why change your mind now?”
Annie placed her cell phone on the counter. “I saw a father waiting at the station, and two children approached him. The father had the widest smile I’d ever seen, and he rushed to hug them. He was so happy to see them.” She angled her gaze towards the bar. The lines of her mouth pulled downed in a sad frown. “I realised my biological dad never smiled at me like that and was never happy to hear from me when I called.” Her voice held a note of regret.
“He’s missing out on knowing a terrific person.”
Her lips twisted in a sad smile. “That he is.”
“I can’t live in the past. It hurts too much and ruins my chances at a good future with a good man. I was so happy and blinded at the bus station. I said things that were uncalled for. You tried to help me see my father for who he is, but I didn’t. I’m sorry I pushed you aside.”
Sean slid from his stool and stood before her, placing his hand over hers. “We hold onto each other, no matter what.”
She leaned forward and kissed him, soft and sweet, healing the rift between them. “No matter what.”
Image: By Tverdohlib on DepositPhotos.com
Louise Sorensen (@louise3anne)
THIS OLD HOUSE. IT’S NOT ALIVE, but after three hundred years, it still exists. It survived the high-speed train development, though the fields around it didn’t. And then it endured through the massive die-off and exodus. So much for high-speed trains, and people. And still it stands, frozen in time. With me in it.
After all these years, I still exist. Though it’s harder and harder to say it’s living, or a pleasure. Ghosts, after all, have no say in these matters. So far, I’ve found ‘follow the light,’ to be a myth.
Regrets? I wish I’d understood just how short life can be. How ephemeral.
How a person lives so much in the numbing rote of repetition.
I wish I had lived keenly every day of my life. But we are not made that way. We become complacent with what is before us, and many days of my life slipped by without note.
I miss all those beautiful faces that used to surround me. I loved and felt loved. Did they miss me? Even for a second?
I have no way of knowing.
Sudden death is full of surprises.
Awake one day. Dreaming in a fog of death the next.
It doesn’t affect houses though. This old house. I feel its stirrings.
Life here, that is, my existence, has been grey. A fog of grey.
Yesterday I saw a spot of colour in my grey.
And suddenly, Time snapped into focus. Memory cleared.
It must be Easter, because the house is full of people, and they’ve brought Easter eggs. Hidden them everywhere. Pinks and blues and yellows and greens. Sparks of colour like tiny lanterns lighting my way, creating a fair wind that’s blowing the grey and fog from my ragged mind.
I remember being at my Aunt Rose’s funeral. She’d suffered a sudden death in an epidemic of sudden deaths.
I’d had to buy a black dress because all my clothing was brightly coloured. Colours of joy. I was a happy person.
As the casket lowered into the grave, I thought I saw her float up from it and stand by the graveside with the mourners. I thought that impossible of course, but what happened later changed my mind.
That night, I dreamed of her. Aunt Rose. At least I think it was a dream. Only she wasn’t old and wrinkled, but young, with clear eyes and smooth skin. As young as me, though I could see right through her.
We were sitting at table having tea, and she was explaining something to me. Droning on and on as she often did. I tuned out as I sometimes had to, to preserve my sanity. Although I loved her as a mother, she did like to talk. Though I wasn’t paying much attention, I became sleepy, and saw that as she spoke, the colours all around us became more and more faint, washed out, until all was grey. Except for Rose, who was becoming more and more solid. Fresh, vibrant. I thought it was my imagination, until she leaned forward, and like a ship emerging from a fog of grey, she became solid. Real. And she kissed me. Full on the lips. Which despite having raised me as her daughter, she had never done before.
The next thing I knew I was drowning in pain, panic, the alarm beep of machines, the smell of antiseptic and despair. And then there was a very bright light and I awoke here. In the grey.
I could see right through me. I could see fog swirling in my veins.
But no one, in all the time I’ve been in this old house, this grey limbo, has been able to see me. Or sense me in any way, although I’ve watched their comings and goings as if in a dream.
I drift from room to room, no more visible than dust sparkling in sunlight.
But I remember now what she told me when we were having tea.
Just before she kissed me, she said, “I’m sorry.”
And that she wasn’t ready to go yet and had taken a lot of time to prepare so she wouldn’t have to. Consulted old tomes and ancient legends. Cultivated an alternate. So that when Death came calling for her, she had a young and juicy relative who would mourn her and attend her funeral. Someone to trade places with. Me.
When I heard that I tried to get up and run but it was like trying to move through quicksand. I couldn’t escape.
It took me years to piece together the thought that my fate had been sealed with a kiss.
Yesterday I saw the Easter eggs, and colour bloomed in my grey. I felt a world of energy, just waiting around the corner. Everything changed, became topsy-turvy in my world and then I saw the light and flew towards it. Beat my moth wings against it until they were tatters, but I breached the barrier, found the light, bright and blinding, and sank into warmth and safety.
Today, if that’s such a thing for those like me, I heard the music. The song that’s been playing faintly in the background of my last hundred years. Only this time it was loud. Becoming louder. Until I could almost, but not quite, make out the words.
And then the words faded, and the tune faded, and all that was left was the drum. The drum, beating like a heart, louder and louder. Steady. And I’m swimming. Gathering strength.
More memory returns and I remember her saying, “I’m sorry my love. It’s the only way.”
But it doesn’t matter now.
Because I see the light.
And this time I know I’m going somewhere.
Marian L Thorpe (@marianlthorpe)
CHANCES COME IN OUR LIVES, and chances go. Sometimes we make choices out of necessity, or responsibility, or because our gut says it’s right. Sometimes we rejoice in our decisions. Sometimes we regret them.
There’s little I’ve regretted in my life: it’s been long, and lucky, rich in both material things—not stupid, Elon Musk rich, but I’ve had everything I need, and a few things I simply wanted. Rich in the intangibles, too: the scent of a lover’s skin; the sight of snow geese winging north; the warmth of a cat curled on my lap. That first taste of coffee in the morning, and the smoothness of a single malt on my tongue, late at night. The way some words fit together in a poem or in prose. Music.
We lose things along the way; people, too, and I am sorry for some of those. Words I should have said; phone calls or emails I never returned. Some I could track down, maybe. Some it’s too late. But ask me to name the one thing I wish I’d done—or not done—and the answer will surprise you.
You’re thinking it’s the girl I didn’t ask out, or a lottery ticket I didn’t buy and the numbers came up, aren’t you? Because that’s what most people would say. You’d be wrong.
It’s black spruce country up where the Yellowhead Highway follows the course of the Athabasca between Jasper and Edmonton. The road’s busy, spring to fall, with tourists, come to see the mountains and the elk and maybe a grizzly bear or a wolf, if they’re lucky. But it was past tourist season, the scattered poplars golden against the dark needles of the spruce, frost on the grass and the windows of the truck in the morning. The sort of morning when the coffee tastes twice as good.
I must have left Jasper not long after dawn—I’m not foolish enough to drive the Yellowhead in the dark—because it was still early, the rising sun ahead of me turning the sky pink. I was planning to stop at the Timmie’s in Hinton for breakfast and a second cup of coffee. I like to break my driving day up. I had Stan Rogers in the CD player, and maybe that was part of it.
Just west of Hinton, there’s a crossroads where Highway 40 splits off from the Yellowhead to head north up toward Grande Prairie. I remember glancing to my left, making sure some too-tired trucker wasn’t going to miss the stop sign. And was hit.
Not by a logging truck, but by the purest pull I’ve ever felt in my life. It was physical, like I was a piece of steel and that road was magnetic. I had to force my eyes back to the highway in front of me, tell myself to keep driving east. I know I looked back, over my shoulder. Feeling the tug, telling myself no. I was due in Rocky Mountain House about noon. I had obligations. A settled life.
I stopped at the Timmies, ate my breakfast sandwich, drank my coffee and got a second one to go. In the parking lot I sat in the truck. Arguing with myself, fighting the call. It must have been ten minutes before I started the engine and swung back onto the eastbound lanes of the Yellowhead.
I still wish I hadn’t. I still wish I’d turned west again, driven the ten minutes or so back to Highway 40, made the right hand turn north. Been that tardiest explorer. Maybe all I would have found would have been the road back home again, like it says in Stan’s song. But I’d know.
Chances come in our lives, and chances go. I should have taken that one.
Stan Rogers singing ‘Northwest Passage’, the song referenced here: https://youtu.be/fx3iK_KGy54
David M. Simon (@writesdraws)
PAUL HAD PLENTY TO REGRET, but it was at least partly the witch’s fault.
There were other contributing factors. Paul’s friends had convinced him that a new club in the Industrial Flats was the place to be for a steamy summer night costume party. Regret number one. They had goaded him into wearing the wool Sherlock Holmes costume that was now causing him to sweat and itch uncontrollably. Regret number two. And alcohol had been involved; definitely regret number three.
It was the sight of the witch across a dance floor crowded with trendy, costumed partiers, however, that had caused his present, and absolutely regretful, predicament. He had caught just a glimpse of her; alabaster skin, raven black hair that refracted the spinning lights like a prism, the flash of a slim yet curvy body between the folds of her black satin cape. Beneath the cape a Moebius strip of leather, lace and chrome that revealed more than it concealed. Her boots were leather, intricately laced; wickedly high heels that pulled the sleek muscles in her calves taut. She held a mysteriously oversized black leather purse protectively against her body.
The witch was dancing by herself, spinning in slow, looping circles. Her body seemed to catch and hold the music, like each note was her own private lover. Paul watched her with an attraction that bordered on physical need; he felt like a small planet in orbit around a novaed sun. Their eyes caught just once. She held his gaze with eyes the color of anthracite, until he had to look away, dizzy.
When she left the club Paul followed, helplessly.
He was lost. Paul had no idea how long he had been following the witch. It was as if he was hypnotized by her impossible beauty, a moth drawn to her black flame. He vaguely remembered scrambling up and over a concrete bridge abutment, scraping his hands raw on the rough edge. He had crossed a railroad trestle above water mossy green in the moonlight, making his frightened way in the dark from one precarious foothold to the next. There was a long-deserted factory, rusted scrap metal piled into angular mountains. The witch moved with fluid grace, always too far ahead to catch, yet always in sight. At some point, they went underground.
The witch stopped. Paul stepped into a cavernous room where old fluorescent lights sputtered fitfully, sending hard-edged shadows careening across the space. Shapes moved in the darkness all around him. As they staggered into the spastic light, the shapes became people, dozens of them, dressed in rags and cast-offs. They carried bags or pushed squeaky shopping carts filled with bags and trash. They’re just bag people, Paul thought, and started to laugh. He had been spooked there for a minute.
The first rock caught him by surprise. He was on the ground before he realized what had happened, blood running into his eyes. They advanced methodically, stoning him with surprising precision. When they stopped, the witch was standing in front of him, smiling. She set her bag down next to him with great care. As Paul lay there, bleeding, curled up on the ground, counting up his many regrets of the evening, something moved inside the bag.
The last thing Paul saw before his connective tissue began to dissolve was the creature that oozed from the bag. It wrapped its many arms around his body, releasing a fluid that burned like napalm.
When Paul’s body was suitably prepared, the witch’s master laid eggs in the flesh jumble. The bag people danced long into the night, in celebration of the birth to come.
Lain McIntrye (@LainMcintyre)
LOGAN AND KATHRYNNE SPENT nearly six hours interrogating Patrick. They came at him again and again from different angles, but each time he told the same story.
Yes, he had been having an affair with Christina. Ever since she had tried to help him through his loss, his feelings for her had grown and he had fallen in love with her. She loved him too, but she didn’t want to leave Johnnie and his money.
Yes, they had had sex that morning at his house, just like nearly every morning for the last three months. Christina would wait for Johnnie to leave, then she would come to his house. Always, it was with the pretext of bringing him food or checking on him and his dog, Moosie. She would let herself in, strip naked, and slip into bed with him. He hated himself for making a cuckold of his best friend, but Christina was the only thing, other than the beer, that had kept him from eating his gun.
As for the rest, Patrick insisted that he knew nothing. He was being framed. Yes, it was hard to believe that someone would be able to sneak into his house, take his boots, and then use those boots to kick that poor girl in the back, then, be able to sneak back into his house, put the boots back where they had found them without him knowing about it, or without leaving any evidence.
He claimed he had no idea that the torture zone was just off from his camp or how all those things had gotten there.
Why hadn’t Moosie found the spot? He was being framed. Always, poor Patrick was being framed.
Patrick also denied any knowledge of how his old baseball bat with his fingerprints all over it, had been used to kill the man who had killed his wife. He claimed he didn’t even know the man was out of jail, or where he was living. He wasn’t sad about him being dead, though.
He had no clue that the girls that had been killed had all been identified, and each one had been arrested for DWI after killing an innocent person, or that all had gotten off on technicalities by using the same ambulance-chasing lawyer and Judge. All except Christina, that is.
That was the one thing that didn’t fit. Why did he kill her? Was he afraid that Johnnie would find out that he had been sleeping with Christina and in doing so, had given her Hep C?
Patrick claimed he had no idea Christina had been sick, and again, he was being framed.
Kathrynne came out of the interrogation room exhausted.
“You did your best, Kathrynne, now it’s up to the D. A.,” Sheriff Robbins said. ‘“We’ve done everything we could to be fair and unbiased. We even brought in the State guys. What else could we have done? I love Patrick like a son, but it looks like he snapped when Mary was killed. With any luck, they’ll get him some counseling with his sentence.” He turned to the other man in the room. “Bobby, take Patrick back to his cell.” Then, to Kathrynne, “Come on, Detective, I’ll buy you a drink. I know I need one. Now that this is over, I’m filing my papers for retirement first thing in the morning. You did good on this, Kathrynne, and I’m proud of you. I intend to recommend you to replace me as Sheriff until the next election.”
As Bobby led Patrick out of the room, Patrick stumbled, bumping into the deputy. He came up holding Bobby’s gun. Putting his arm around the deputy’s throat and using his body as a shield, Patrick placed the gun against Bobby’s neck. “Nobody moves, or Bobby gets it!”
“Patrick,” said Bobby. “My gun…”
“Shut up, Bobby! I’m innocent of everything they’re trying to pin on me about those girls. The only way I can prove it is to go out there and find the truth. Now, everybody BACK THE FUCK off, or I swear, I will kill this kid!”
“Patrick, I’m trying to tell you…”
“Shut up Bobby, you’re my ticket out of here. I don’t want to shoot you, but if they don’t back off….”
The Sheriff stepped into the room, gun drawn, and pointed it at Patrick.
“Patrick, this is stupid. Put the gun down, now. Do it now, and we can forget about this. No one’s been hurt yet, so no harm, no foul. Right?”
“Sheriff, my gun….” Bobby started to say.
“Shut up, Bobby! Just keep your mouth shut. That’s an order. We don’t need your interference in this, Patrick and I can work this out just fine.”
“You heard the man Bobby, shut up. This is between me and him.”
“Now Sam, just back up and step aside and let me walk out of here. That way no one gets hurt. I don’t want to hurt Bobby or anyone else here, and I didn’t hurt those women, and I sure didn’t kill that mutherfucker that killed my wife. I will say that I am glad about that, especially about the way he died. It was sweet justice. He had all his bones broken, just like my Mary did. But I didn’t do any of it, and I’m going to prove it.”
“Stay where you are, Patrick. I can’t let you walk out of here, you know that.”
“Be quiet, Bobby!”
“No! I won’t! This whole thing is nuts!” yelled Bobby.
Patrick started to push Bobby forward towards the door with the gun pressed hard against Bobby’s temple. Sam had his gun trained on Patrick’s hand, ready to pull the trigger at the first opportunity. Sam may have been ready to retire, but he was still the third-best shot in the County, right behind Johnnie and Patrick.
This close, it would be an easy shot for the Sheriff.
“Stay where you are, Patrick.”
Patrick kept pushing Bobby forward.
Suddenly, Bobby relaxed every muscle, falling forward, dropping his weight to the ground and pulling Patrick with him.
The movement caused Sam to squeeze the trigger. His shot would have caught Patrick in the hand if Bobby hadn’t dragged him down with him.
Instead, the shot caught Patrick square in the fore-head. The bullet passed through Patrick’s brain, punching a hole through the back of his skull, killing him instantly.
The weight of Patrick’s lifeless body pinned Bobby down. The Sheriff rushed over and pulled Patrick off of Bobby, kicking Bobby’s gun to the side. “Bobby, are you all right?”
Wiping Patrick’s blood off of his face, Bobby said, “I was all right all along. That was what I was trying to tell you. You didn’t have to shoot Patrick. My gun didn’t have any bullets in it. I was never in any real danger.”
“What do you mean, your gun wasn’t loaded?”
“Well, all I’ve ever heard from everyone around here is that I was going to shoot someone by accident. Everyone tells me that. Even you. So, I started keeping an empty clip in my gun, and a full one in my pocket. That way, I couldn’t accidentally shoot someone. I had to really mean it if I pointed my gun at someone.”
“Do you realize what you’ve done here, deputy?”
“Yes. I tried to move a prisoner back to his cell. He took my unloaded weapon from me. I tried to tell everyone that there was no danger, but no one ever listens to me. I’m just deputy Bobby who follows all of the rules. I didn’t need to remove my weapon when I was transporting the prisoner, ‘cause it wasn’t loaded. Everyone thinks I screwed up. But, you’re the one who shot and killed an unarmed prisoner for no reason, Sheriff.”
The Sheriff’s face reddened. “He got killed because you dragged him down! I would have hit him in the hand if you hadn’t moved the target.”
“Sheriff, you know none of us would never have let him get out the door. I followed my training and took him down.” With tears running down his blood-stained face, he added, “If you hadn’t shot him, he would still be alive. Patrick was my friend. He picked on me like everyone else, but he was never mean about it. He helped me on his own time learn how to be a good deputy. He would never have actually shot me. I was his friend.”
“Christina was his lover and they had recently had sex, yet he still ended up killing her. He brutally murdered her and three other women, Bobby, then, he brutally beat and killed the man that killed his wife. I’m sure your death would have meant nothing to him.”
“He was a dangerous unstable man, Bobby.” Logan added, “But with the Sheriff shooting one of his own Deputies, the State’s Internal Affairs department will have to sort all of this out now. Sheriff, you need to turn in your badge and gun now and wait for them to do their job. I’m afraid your retirement will have to wait a little longer.”
The Sheriff turned and placed his gun and badge on the nearest desk, Realizing he had handled this all wrong, he turned and, wiping the tears from his face for the death of his friend, walked out of the office.
J Dalton (@JDaltonAuthor)
THIS TIME, WITHOUT ALL THE compressed air tanks and equipment, there was plenty of room in the airlock for the three of them. Rocket had equipped each one with a tool bag containing extra nuts, bolts, hydraulic hoses and valves. The repair would go much quicker if they each had the tools necessary to fix whatever problem they encountered.
The hatch slid open, and they stepped into space.
Once again, Bob took the lead, towing both Rocket and Kevin as they headed around the bottom of the ship to sail Eight.
“Son of a bitch!” said Bob as they rounded the bottom and saw the sail, half deployed and folded over near the top. “That thing is huge! I never realized how big they are. It must be at least a kilometer tall when fully deployed.”
“Well, look at it this way Bob,” said Rocket. “Solar sails use photons, electrons and the small bits of wind that’re pushed out by a star. That’s a very tiny amount of energy, so you need to catch a whole bunch of it to move a ship this size. Imagine one mosquito pushing against the ship. Nothing would happen. But if you had a hundred billion, all pushing at once… bingo! The ship moves.”
“Makes sense to me,” said Kevin.
“Well, there’s the first problem,” said Rocket. “That control valve bolt is missing at the base of the sail. That should be an easy fix. Bob, you take that one. If you use the prybar in your bag, you should be able to move the bracket enough to slip a new bolt through. Make sure you use the torque wrench on it to be sure it stays in place. Oh yeah, put a lock washer on the end before you put on the nut. I’ll take a look higher and see what the problem is up there. Kevin, you come with me. I may need your help re-positioning this thing.”
Bob secured his tether to the grab bar and pulled the rope attached to his tool bag. This wasn’t going to be easy, but he wasn’t going to complain. The fold at the top looked like a way bigger problem.
Rocket and Kevin each gave a short burst of their suit thrusters and headed for the bent sail, nearly half a kilometer away. Several times they needed to make course corrections as the target seemed to move away from them the closer they got to the fold.
As they finally reached the target area, Rocket said, “Holy crap. That section is missing the entire hydraulic valve. The hose is snapped in half too. I’m glad I thought to bring everything. This really shouldn’t take long. I’ll replace the hose first. Kevin, I’ll need you to help position the sail so I can align the bolt holes and the valve.”
“OK, I’ll just be over here, enjoying the scenery,” said Kevin with a laugh.
Rocket replaced the hydraulic hose in just under ten minutes, all the while listening to Bob swear at the sail as he tried to align the two holes and kept failing. Reaching into his tool bag, Rocket brought out the new valve, attached it to the hose and bled the air out before he hooked it to the base.
“OK, Kevin. I’m going to need you to use your thrusters and pull up on the sail quite a bit so I can align the holes. Give me a second to grab the bolt and get it into the outer hole and when I say go, pull up. It needs to go about three centimeters.”
“Got it. No problem,” replied Kevin.
“Ready… OK, now.”
The thrusters on Kevin’s pack fired and the sail moved up slightly.
“A little more,” said Rocket.
Kevin’s thrusters fired again.
“Almost got it, just a little more,” Rocket urged.
Once again Kevin’s thrusters fired, this time a long burst as the sail slowly crept upward.
“Got it! Great job Kev! Come on back down and we’ll see if this worked.”
“Ten four, Rocket! Glad I could help.”
Kevin gave his thrusters a slight puff to turn him around, then hit them again to take him back to Patrick. Nothing happened.
He tried it again. Still nothing.
“Damn it, I’m out,” he said over the comm.
“What?” asked Bob.
“I used up all my thruster gas. I’m out. One of you will have to come pick me up.”
“No problem Kevin,” said Rocket. “Give me five to tighten this last nut and I’ll be on my way.”
“OK, I’m not going anywhere anyway,” he replied as he marveled at the size of the sails, now completely deployed around the ship, making it look like some kind of puffed-up lizard.
“Rocket to Stargazer.”
“Go ahead Rocket.”
“The sail is fixed and fully deployed. We’re coming back in as soon as I pick up my tools and get Kevin.”
“That’s great news, Rocket,” said Shea. “Reggie says he’s already detecting forward motion. Come on back in and we’ll have a drink to celebrate.”
“Roger that, Stargazer.”
Rocket returned all the tools to his bag and tied it shut. He looked up to see Kevin. Kevin wasn’t there.
“Kevin, this is Rocket. Where the fuck are you?”
“Rocket! The ship’s moving away and I’m out of gas. I can’t catch up!”
“Kevin? Didn’t you tether off?” asked Bob.
“There was nothing to tether to out here. The ship’s moving farther away guys. I need a pick up quick.”
“I’ll go get him,” said Rocket. “I’m closest.”
“Hold on,” said Reggie. “What’s your fuel gauge show, Rocket?”
“I’ve got a half a tank. If I leave now, I know I can get him.”
“No, don’t do that! I’m doing the calculations and at the rate the ship is accelerating, you won’t have near enough to get Kevin and get back before the ship exceeds the speed of your packs,” said Reggie.
“You guys come back in. We’ll get the tug going and go pick him up with that,” said Shea.
“That’ll take at least an hour to unbolt it, get the drive going and undock. How far away will he be by then?” asked Bob.
“I’m running the numbers now Bob. Give me a second,” replied Reggie.
“That’s not going to work either. Giving an hour to get the tug going, and the rate of acceleration Stargazer is getting, the tug could never catch back up.
“Can’t you just stop the ship or turn it around and pick him up?” asked Rocket. “We can’t just leave him out there.”
“The only way to do that is to do a giant turn, retract the sails and use the breaking thrusters,” said Jessie.
Reggie added, “By the time we were able to do that, Kevin would be out of oxygen and we wouldn’t have enough compressed gas left to stop the ship once we got back home. Either way, Kevin is fucked.”
“Bob?” said Kevin. “I know I screwed up and this is the end for me. Do me a favor will you?”
“Anything for you buddy, you know that!”
“Tell my wife and kids how much I loved them, and I’m sorry I screwed up.”
“You know I will. I’ll make sure they are taken care of, buddy. I love you like a brother.”
Tears flowed freely down Kevin’s face as he watched the Stargazer get smaller and smaller in the distance. He wished he had thought to put the picture of his family inside his helmet like he did on most days, but he didn’t think he would be outside the ship for long this time. Little had he known that this mission would be the longest of his short life.
“Goodbye Bob. Goodbye Rocket, I’m glad we got to work together. Captain, I know there’s nothing you can do and I only blame myself for the mess I’ve gotten into. Make sure my family gets my profit share credits and death benefits.”
“I will Kevin. I’ll let them know that those bastards killed you.”
“Goodbye,” choked back Kevin, as he waved goodbye for the last time.
Joseph P. Garland (@JPGarlandAuthor)*
April’s contribution was of an imagined carriage ride of two characters from Pride and Prejudice. For May, we have something different. What would have happened if….
“THERE WAS A GIRL, as I daresay there often is,” he told his cousin as they sat in the library that had been the late Sir William’s. The house was now their aunt’s. It sat majestically in the Kent countryside.
The two had just finished dinner at the aunt’s table and, most particularly, with the aunt’s daughter. The aunt had a name, and it was Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her daughter was Anne. The two gentlemen had arrived from London some hours earlier, and the talk immediately after they were alone and settled into their fat leather armchairs, each with a fine claret, turned into what was clearly the wish of their aunt. That Darcy marry Anne de Bourgh.
“Tell me about this girl,” the Colonel said. Darcy rose and filled his glass, lifting the decanter to his friend, who declined. He came back and resumed his seat, taking a long draught of the wine before lowering his glass and holding its stem between his fingers above his lap.
“My friend Charles Bingley—who you’ve met in town—was renting an estate in a quiet part of Hertfordshire. As is the custom in such country parts, a fuss was made about a local ball commemorating some event or another. It would have been churlish for him not to attend and so he did, bringing not only his sisters but me as well.”
He took a slight sip of his drink before placing the glass on a table beside his chair.
“You know my view of the country.”
“Yes, Darcy, I’ve heard you say one moves in a very confined and unvarying society in a country neighbourhood. Other than, of course, around Pemberley.”
“True enough,” Darcy said with the sort of smile he reserved for his closest friends, of whom his cousin was one. “I may have said some such thing a time or two.”
“The girl, Darcy. Tell me of this girl you mention.”
“Word had reached us that there were some few women and girls of slight accomplishment and much beauty and so I went to the country ball with great expectations as to who would be there.”
“Even if they were just country girls.”
“I was willing to be convinced.”
“You, Darcy? Willing to table your prejudices on that front? I should have liked to have accompanied you.”
Darcy ignored this slight.
“Charles and I rolled up with his sisters and his brother-in-law and, of course, much was made of our appearance. It was like some country livestock auction with mothers pressing their daughters to the front of the crowd and I was half-tempted to check the teeth on some of them as we passed.”
“You are incorrigible but I must know about this evasive girl.”
“Ah, the girl. She was, in fairness, far more a woman. She was there with her four sisters and introductions were made and, my god, how her mother was the very epitome of an ill-raised country mother.”
“Who cares about the mother? “
“So there were five of them, daughters I mean. The oldest was very pretty, I will say that, but she lacked any sort of spirit or depth, though my friend found her enchanting.”
“But you did not.”
“It will take more than a pretty face to tempt me.”
“But this other one, I’m guessing that she did tempt you.”
“She was the second daughter. The other three were truly girls of no consequence. Two of them flitted about like children, and the other made it obvious that she was miserable about being there.”
He lifted his glass, took a sip, and restored it to his fingers, turning it this way and that without conscious thought.
“At first I found her tolerable and not handsome, though she’d been labeled a beauty.”
Though his glass was half empty, he rose to fill it. When he put the decanter back and its stopper in, he turned to his cousin.
“Things got very peculiar after the ball. Charles’s sisters invited the girl’s older sister—and just her older sister—to their house for a visit when Charles was out but the sister got sick from being caught in the rain and as a matter of kindness the sisters—Charles’s sisters—allowed her to stay until she was well enough to travel back to her own home. The sister, the one I’m referring to—”
“The one you won’t get to.”
“Indeed, the one I haven’t gotten to. She appeared a day later, having walked the three miles from their home through the muck and the mud to see how her sister fared.”
“She didn’t have a carriage to carry her?”
“She was…strange. I spent a fair amount of time with her over the ensuing days. And like a fool I didn’t fully understand it, though I was impressed by her devotion to her sister.”
“Her name, Darcy? What is her name?”
“Didn’t I say? Elizabeth. Elizabeth Bennet.”
Darcy returned to his chair, cradling his wine.
“Over time, given what I took to be Charles’s infatuation with the eldest Miss Bennet, I found myself in the presence of Miss Elizabeth with some frequency. I confess I was not as discreet as I might have been, though I daresay she never suspected a thing as to my fascination with her. With observation, I began to find her face was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.”
“You are now a romantic, Darcy? I hardly know you.”
“Indeed, I hardly know, or knew, myself. She was not in the least fashionable in her manners but had an easy playfulness one would never encounter in town.”
“Especially by a single woman in want of a large fortune.”
“Quite so. Especially not. She was completely lacking in perfection in any particular, but I now realise that she came together quite well. Her looks alone were light and pleasing.”
“And the rest of her?”
“That is the worst part. Light and pleasing as she was in appearance, she was…intriguing in herself and I think had I given her a chance I would have found it very pleasing, if not light. I think I should have very much enjoyed going for walks with her and simply sitting of an evening with her nearby.”
“Did you not pursue her? She was a gentleman’s daughter, was she not?”
“She was. There were some difficulties in that regard, though. He had five daughters and no sons, and his estate was entailed.”
“To, much to my regret, a distant cousin.”
“The daughters had to marry well. I understand now why their mother was so intent on that, more so than most mothers, I think. Were the father to die, they’d all be left in poverty were none of them to marry well.”
“Not unlike me, being a second son and needing himself to marry well for just that reason.”
“The way of the world, Richard. The way of our world, at least. And I’m afraid that’s where that distant cousin comes in. He is, in fact, Mr. Collins.”
“‘Mr. Collins’? The parson?”
“The very same. The one given a living in Hunsford by Lady Catherine.”
“So, he will inherit the Bennet estate?”
“He will inherit the Bennet estate. And at Lady Catherine’s suggestion, he traveled to that estate some months ago and not long after I myself was introduced to the Bennet family. His specific intent was to find one of the daughters to marry.”
“Him? He is such a stupid fellow.”
“He is, but he has somehow earned the favour of Lady Catherine. In any case, he went to Longbourn—that’s the Bennet estate—and proposed to Miss Elizabeth Bennet and she said yes.”
“But if she was as you say, why would she accept him?”
“Because what choice did she have? When her father dies, she will become mistress of Longbourn and be able to protect her mother and those of her sisters who remain at home.”
“If she is Mrs. Collins, I assume I will meet her presently.”
“Yes. Lady Catherine mentioned to me that they would be invited to dinner several times while we are here.”
“And this is what brought back memories of her?”
“I’m afraid I cannot say that. It takes nothing to bring back thoughts of that woman. She has long tortured me. Even in my sleep. I’ve long compared her to the women I meet, those who thrust themselves at me.”
“Like Bingley’s sister?”
“Especially like Bingley’s sister. And none of them was or is or, I’m afraid, ever could be her equal. In beauty or any other womanly trait.”
“So, are you resigned to marrying our cousin Anne?”
“And joining Lady Catherine’s estate with Pemberley? It is what is expected and having lost the one opportunity to truly be content by my pride and refusal to see beyond her family.”
“Your prejudices have done you in, then, as I always feared they would.”
“And I was too proud to do what I now regret more than I daresay anything in my life. Not giving her the slightest encouragement about my growing feelings towards her.”
“And her sister? The beautiful one?”
“It is not my proudest moment and perhaps was beneath me but I convinced Charles that there was not the slightest hint of true affection on the side of the Miss Bennet and that she’d likely forgotten him before he’d reached town upon leaving the country house he leased and so nothing more was done about it or with her. I do not know what became of her and I’m sure that given her family—”
“Other than Miss Elizabeth.”
“Indeed other than Miss Elizabeth, he is well rid of her and perhaps even regrets leasing that estate so near Longbourn since it led to this unrequited infatuation. But that’s all I can say on that.”
Darcy was again up, though without his glass.
“Damn, Richard, had I only rejected my first instincts with that woman and allowed the truer feelings I had for her to grow, I know I could have convinced her to have me. And now I am all anxiousness about the thought of seeing her, of being in the same room with her after all these years.”
With that, Fitzwilliam Darcy turned on his heel and abandoned his cousin to fend for himself when the Colonel was called into the drawing room to make conversation with his aunt and the cousin, Anne, who seemed destined to become Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, the mistress of Pemberley.
* * * *
NOT A MILE FROM the events just recited, the object of the gentlemen’s conversation was herself ill at ease. Her husband had given her the fine news that they were invited to Rosings Hall for dinner the next day and that they were to be graced to be in the company of Lady Catherine’s nephew Fitzwilliam Darcy—who Mr. Collins had met at Meryton while he was seeking (quite successfully in his view at least) a wife—and a separate nephew who was a Colonel who neither Collins had met.
His wife was strangely affected by this news. She’d not thought of Mr. Darcy very much or very deeply since those days long ago when they crossed paths when Darcy’s friend leased Netherfield. Indeed, the whole lot of them vanished and Bingley gave up the lease on the place with barely a by-your-leave and Elizabeth’s older sister Jane was still prone to moments of regret for that disappearance. Their uncle, Mr. Gardiner, had managed to find a husband for the beautiful Jane and she already had a little boy from the union and was living in Cheapside, London but she confessed to at times wondering what would have happened had Charles Bingley not gone to town and not come back.
As was her custom when she felt deep emotions, Elizabeth decided to write to Jane. Her only other friend in the world was Charlotte Sebel, as was Charlotte Lucas, but Charlotte was not a woman to whom Elizabeth could divulge the deepness of her heart, much as she was a great friend.
Mr. Collins had suggested he read something to his wife while she did needlepoint, as was their usual way of spending an evening, but Elizabeth deferred, saying she wished to write to her sister. Her husband accepted this and sat in the front parlour with one of his books and was contentedly reading as Elizabeth extracted some stationery and pens from the desk that sat in the corner. She sat down to write to her sister.
I hope you and the baby and your dear husband are well. I confess to you that I do not know if I am.
I’ve just received the most startling news. Do not worry, it is of no significance except, perhaps, to my heart which I find is rumbling in a manner I have not known it to for many, many years.
Mr. Collins advised me with some excitement while we were at dinner that Lady Catherine has two visitors and that we are to be honoured to dine with them tomorrow at Rosings Park. I will not long tease you. The two are Fitzwilliam Darcy and his cousin, an unknown colonel who is related in some manner to both Darcy and Lady Catherine.
You’ll recall that Darcy is Lady Catherine’s nephew and, according to what Mr. Collins said upon delivering the news to me, he is destined to marry Lady Catherine’s daughter. That is Anne de Bourgh, of whom I have made reference as a small, rather sickly creature of great financial worth and, so far as I can make out on the evenings I have been with her at Rosings House or when she has deigned to stop while passing the Parsonage, little else.
But Mr. Darcy.
He was such a disagreeable man when I met him—as you and everyone else agreed—that I at least was pleased when he disappeared from Netherfield and Meryton while Mr. Collins was “courting” me. I am sorry to bring up what I know is a difficult period for you, but I fear I must to explain the difficult period through which I am going through.
You see, the mention of Mr. Darcy’s name and the prospect of again seeing him has roused something in me that I did not know existed, or at least that I did not know existed since I have become a married woman.
Oh Jane. I must take care as Mr. Collins is not ten feet from me as I write this, reading some sermon or another, but I cannot but tell you that the time apart from Mr. Darcy and the time not given to a thought of him has allowed the fermentation of something truly womanly and I fear what might become of me the moment we are together, when we are introduced and I must feign complete indifference which is, I fear, the exact opposite of what I will feel.
I know this is insanity. I know nothing can come of it. I know so many things but I cannot but know my heart.
I write in the hope that this fever may break between now and when I curtsey to him and he bows to me. I know he is completely indifferent to my existence. He never indicated by word or deed the slightest interest in me as other than a curiosity. Of being a country girl with something of an independent streak. Of some attractiveness but not nearly enough to tempt him.
I so wish you were here with me again. That we could walk along the paths around the Parsonage and talk in the manner we did as children, though the subject will be that of women.
My only hope, dear Jane, is that the reality of Mr. Darcy proves far less than my imaginary Mr. Darcy has become. Yes, I am sure that is the case. He was an unattractive man when I met him—save for his looks and his money!—and I am sure he still is. He was indifferent to me then as I am certain he is indifferent to me now. I should not be the least concerned that whatever ember once was present in my heart has long since gone.
It is only that I fear that to the contrary it has been smouldering and smouldering and that it will burst into flames the moment it meets the oxygen of the presence of Fitzwilliam Darcy.
As what happens will have long since happened when you read this, I am not sending this letter to you. I do not know what I will be able to say in twenty-four hours’ time. I do not know if I will be able to say anything. But I am afraid, Jane. I am afraid in a way that I have never before known.
“Are you finished my dear?” Mr. Collins asked when he saw his wife blow on the page to help dry the ink. “I hope you sent my regards to your sister.”
“Of course, my dear, I have done. As I always do.”
Mr. Collins rose, and Elizabeth lifted the pages to shake them dry and he could not see them.
“Very good, my dear,” her husband said, as he came to her. “I am tired—perhaps from all the excitement about tomorrow—and am retiring. I wish you good night.”
He gave his wife a kiss on the cheek before carrying his Sermons in one hand and a candle in the other to retire to his bedchamber.
Elizabeth Collins looked at the letter. It had served its purpose. There was a small fire in the grate. She placed the pages on top and watched as they crinkled away and then opened the window slightly to allow the smoke to vanish into the Hunsford night.
Image: Ann Calvert Stuart Robinson (Mrs. William Robinson), c. 1804, by Gilbert Stuart, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.
First-time contributor Lain McIntyre is the author of Captor, from which this month’s contribution is excerpted. It is available on Amazon.
J Dalton, also a first-timer, 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 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.
Joseph P. Garland‘s Pride and Prejudice sequel, Becoming Catherine, has a planned late April publication date. His contribution this month is from that book. He has a blog and information on his books and those bits of classic literature that he has republished at DermodyHouse.com.
Crystal L. Kirkham‘s many books can be found on her website.