A Muse Bouche Review: November 2023


Dear Readers,

Welcome to 2023’s eleventh edition. Innocence. Edith Wharton wrote of the early Gilded Age in New York as the Age of Innocence. But there are many such ages, in which a world or a life is about to change or for good or ill one must address reality.

This month’s stories offer a range of such awakenings. Enjoy.

Featured: The Arrow of Exile (Marian L Thorpe) Fiction
Innocence (Heather Wickers) Poetry
The Volunteer’s Suspicion (Renée Gendron) Fiction
Innocence (Louise Sorensen) Fiction
Hit the Town (David M. Simon) Lyrics
Just a Little Rash (J Dalton) Fiction
An Interesting Development About My Mother (Joseph P. Garland) Fiction

November Team Showcase


Heather Wickers (@HWickersWriter)

 The Volunteer’s Suspicion (excerpt)

Renee Gendron (@ReneeGendron)

This is an excerpt from The Volunteer’s Suspicion, Book 3 of The Outdoorsmen Series

Danielle brushed a lock of hair from her brow. “We’ve missed our calling. Moved everything out in under two hours.”

Matt flashed a lopsided grin. “If being a heavy truck mechanic or a fire inspector doesn’t work out, I have a fall-back position.”

She laughed. Her cell phone rang, and Dad’s name popped up on the screen.

And with that one ring and one glance, her happiness burst.

Truck engine still off, Matt lowered his hands from the nine and three positions and hooked two fingers on the bottom of the steering wheel in quiet confidence. “Not going to answer it?”

She wanted to let the call go to voicemail. Instead, she answered it on the third ring. “Yeah?”

“You’ve finally realised I had nothing to do with it?”

Never. “What are you talking about?”

“I heard about what happened at the Merchant Tap House.”

“Having me followed?”

Dad sighed. “Kingston’s a small town. Word got back to me quickly. I’m making sure you’re okay.”

“What do you want?”

“My business reputation back.”

“Something like that is earned.”

“Something like that is stolen.” His voice was smooth on some words and jagged on others. He cleared his throat. “Are you seeing him?”

Yes. No. Damn, did she want to have Matt as a boyfriend. It was complicated. “It’s none of your business.”

“It is my business if they’re going to do to you what they did to me.” Dad’s voice filled with concern.

“I’m an adult.”

“And I’m still your father. I was transparent with them about the business deal from the start. I encouraged them to get a lawyer to review the documents and agreed to use the accountant they suggested. When the deal went sideways, I fully cooperated with the police, the Canada Revenue Agency, and every single forensic accountant the Forteses threw at me. All found nothing.”

Danielle shifted her gaze from the side window to the front. The highway stretched before her, then a little way up ahead, a series of black chevrons against orange road signs indicated a curve ahead.

Life was a series of curves. Some she took at speed and made the turn  Others she’d been thrown over the guard rails and landed dazed.

She couldn’t make sense of Dad’s business dealings and how it had completely collapsed. Mom blamed Dad. Everyone blamed Dad, and the reporters covering the story at the time all wrote about the suspicions in the business community.

Danielle shifted her gaze from the turn ahead to the forest lining the road. “Thanks, Dad.”

“Don’t let them gang up on you and ruin you.” He ended the call.

She held onto her cell phone, uncertain what to make of the conversation. Matt was a sweetheart of a guy who always did the right thing. His family were close-knit, upstanding people who had one really bad thing happen to them.

Worry wormed in her chest, finding a little place between her ribs to settle and grow.

Matt tossed her a look and raised his eyebrows.

It was everything, the real reason why she and Matt hadn’t gotten together years ago. “It’s nothing.”

Her phone pinged, and she looked up an anonymous comment on her blog, then frowned. “This is so strange.”


“Someone called UnknownUser37 is saying that I should dig deeper into the fire at the ice cream shop.”

Matt shifted in his seat, and the full intensity of his gaze landed on her. “Why?”

“Doesn’t say. Only to look into it further.” She typed up a response: anything I should look at?

“Do you get a lot of comments on your blog?” Matt asked.

Far fewer than she’d like to admit. “Not really. That’s what makes this strange.”

He leaned against the arm rest, all casual male model posing for a firefighter’s calendar.

She dabbed the corner of her mouth, certain she had drooled, then forced her gaze back to her cell phone. Not that the text had changed or a new comment had appeared.

“Any way to track it back to the sender?”

She texted the question to her technical support person.  “I’ll find out.”

The Volunteer’s Suspicion will be available on November 8, 2023. You can order it here:



Louise Sorensen (@louise3anne)

Care and Control of Your Human

Note: All measurements are given in Earth/Terran terms. See the Ornithulian Congress Time and Distances Measurement Brochure for translation to your own language.

Humans (Homo sSapiens) are a new and delightful offering in the Exotic Pet Category of the Ornithulian pet trade. They originate from an undistinguished, rocky, wet planet in the Milky Way Galaxy known to them as Earth, and what we call Terra. They’re a relatively new species of their type, that is a warm blooded bipedal, and took the stage on the planet in their current form about half a million years ago. They originated in a country they call Africa, and within a short time frame, colonized and indeed have overpopulated the whole planet.

After generations of breeding, there are over two hundred breeds of humans. They come in many different sizes, shapes, and colours, and as they speak a variety of languages, they can be easily trained to understand any language a new buyer might speak. But don’t teach them any more than simple commands.

They also come in a variety of sexes, so breeding them away from their native habitat can be tricky, depending on the situation. However, they are overcrowding their planet so badly at this time, that they are in danger of annihilating themselves through war, and/or the actual breakdown of their planet’s weather system. Even now their planet is heading towards runaway overheating, endangering not only Humans, but every other creature on the planet. So we consider the trapping and rehoming of a few of the more outstanding specimens an act of mercy, as they’re destroying themselves anyway.

We’re not sure why they’re not doing enough to counteract and fix what even they have identified as ‘Global Warming,’ as they are a very clever species and have even started colonizing their moon. Their cleverness makes them very desirable as a pet, but cautions must be given. Fortunately, not only are they clever, but with the proper preparation, they’re delightfully delicious. More on that later.

Humans, when kept in excellent conditions, can live from anywhere between 10-15 years, and sometimes even up to 20 years. It’s common for Humans not to reach their maximum life expectancy due to inadequate care. Keeping great care can extend the life of your pet Human.

 Human Habitat


Humans are considered a moderate temperature species, but can also be kept successfully at warmer or cooler temperatures. Do not let their habitat exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or go below 35 degrees Fahrenheit. If on the cool side, you will need to provide them with material to both nest in and wear. Or you can dress them in the accoutrements of your choice. They look absolutely precious when decked out as Roseenians, or Dragafollians. Or your favourite monster or myth.

Clean food, water, adequate atmosphere, and of course gravity, must be available at all times for your exotic pet. If you’re going away on vacation or estivation, be sure to make arrangements for the continued care of your Human.

Humans should be kept in the largest habitat possible, with a minimum area of 10 feet by 10 feet. A treadmill can be added for adequate exercise. Some humans are ambivalent about exercise and must be coaxed onto a treadmill or other device, to make sure they are moving around enough. Sometimes a prod may be required. Be sure not to make the setting too high. Mazes with a suitable treat at the end are also a popular add-on.

If you have more than one Human, introduce them to each other slowly and carefully as they are extremely territorial, and have been known to fight to the death when not adequately acquainted. Unless of course that is your aim, and then wagering can enter the picture.

Habitats can also be enriched with live plants and some animals, but be careful to make sure both are compatible with your pet.

They should get a bath once a week. Alternatively, a waterfall option can be an attractive yet practical add-on as well.

Provide a private place for them to eliminate, and be sure to clean their habitat daily.


Humans are predominately omnivores, but we Ornithulians, in our admittedly brief history with them, have found that they thrive best on the fruit and vegetables of their planet, in the form of Human Pellets, available at most pet outlet stores.

Do not overfeed your Human, as this can shorten their lifespan. They should show adequate muscling throughout the body, without revealing the ribs, but with no excess fat hanging off the belly. Unless of course you’re raising them for dinner, in which case, fatten them up and enjoy! But Humans are so adorable and entertaining, that we hardly ever eat them. Right?

Remember to moisten their pellets, and remove the uneaten portion after every meal. Otherwise, the habitat can become too humid and rot may set in.

Have your Human evaluated once a year by the appropriate medic, and especially keep an eye on their teeth. Unless of course you get a biter, in which case removal of the teeth is recommended. Or turn the little fellow in for a non-biter. Satisfaction is guaranteed, and if we can’t resolve the problem, we can always eat it.

Humans can make affectionate, entertaining pets and can live a long, healthy life with proper care. Their vibrantly coloured skin, entertaining personalities, and interest in you, and their environment, make them stand out from other pet species.

But they’re not a beginner pet for everyone, and a few warnings must be made.

First, do not attempt to breed them on your own. Leave the hunting, trapping, and breeding of them up to the experts at Ornithulians R Us, where we practise ethical and sustainable harvest. Humans are fecund, and before you know it, a habitat that is not managed with extreme knowledge and application, can be overrun.

Do not teach them your language, except for a few simple commands. Do not teach them how to read, or drive anything, or let them near any technology, not even basic fire. Do not train them for war, as belligerence is a large part of their personalities, and even though they are clever enough to give you the key to winning a war, know also that they are at the same time plotting your demise and the demise of all those dear to you, if they can just find a way.

They are inventive, aggressive, curious, delightfully vicious if given the chance, and well able to master most of the tech we take for granted. But be careful. If indulged too freely, they have been known to overrun and destroy not only individual domiciles, but also complete living stations.

In many ways, they possess the finest of our qualities, and we see in them a glimpse of our own noble selves, albeit in miniature.

Their brain to body weight ratio is even a little bit better than our own!

Feral populations of Humans are able to live quite comfortably hidden away in corridors and conduits, alongside us. Perish forbid, if this were to happen to your domicile, or home station, and you didn’t want to let them continue even for the opportunity of the occasional snack, contact Ornithulian Exterminators R Us immediately, for a thorough disinfectance. We are here to make your exotic pet experience not only a pleasure, but sometimes a feast.

We Ornithulians believe that challenges make life worth living, and this is why we favour and even recommend this species of exotic pet. And, as we are one of the most successful entities in seven galaxies, if you were to gift a pair of Humans to an enemy or enemies without giving them adequate care instructions, who are we to cast aspersions?

But a final word of caution, taken directly from some of the quaint legends of the Humans themselves. Although we pride ourselves on our ability to handle and control these delightful little creatures, you never know when a saying can contain an important grain of truth critical to your survival. So here it is.

Never, ever, ever, feed them after midnight.

Photo: Deposit Photos


Hit The Town

David M. Simon (@writesdraws)


My old man drove me as far as the station,
but he wouldn’t get out of the car.
He shook my hand and palmed me a twenty,
told me again I was straying too far.
Every small town kid wakes up one morning
with big city lights alive in his dreams,
but you’re just an innocent boy from the farm,
and those big city lights aren’t as bright as they seem.
Go on now, son, your train is waiting,
I know this is something you think you have to do,
but take this advice along for the ride,
someone gave it to me when I was a kid just like you.

You’ve got to hit the ground with both legs churning,
shine like a comet with both ends burning,
sweat and strain ’til the weight gets lighter,
keep coming back, like a punch drunk fighter,
and most of all, don’t forget this, Jack,
sometimes when you hit the town, the town hits back.

New York’s Penn Station at three in the morning
is something no boy from Ohio should see.
So many lost people huddled together,
so many dead eyes following me.
I sat on a bench to wait out the daylight,
wondered again how I’d come to this place.
An old woman tugged at the hem of my coat,
she said, don’t worry son, we’ll save you a space.

You’ve got to hit the ground with both legs churning,
shine like a comet with both ends burning,
sweat and strain ’til the weight gets lighter,
keep coming back, like a punch drunk fighter,
and most of all, don’t forget this, Jack,
sometimes when you hit the town, the town hits back.

Now here I am gazing from fifty floors up
at the lights of the city, completely alone,
thinking that maybe those lights aren’t so bright,
thinking that maybe it’s time to go home.
I’m tired of running just to keep up,
I need to sit down and rest for a while.
My innocence left me a long time ago.
It’s been so damn long since I wanted to smile.

New York’s Penn Station at three in the morning
is something that no longer bothers me much.
My eyes look away when voices are raised,
I don’t get too close, I’m afraid to be touched.
It’s hard to admit that my father was right,
but there comes a time when you must face the facts.
I won a few battles but I sure lost the war.
Sometimes when you hit the town, you know the town hits back.
Sometimes when you hit the town, you know the town hits back.

Image: iStock

Just a Little Rash

J Dalton (@JDaltonAuthor)

Marissa Grant took her beautiful young daughter, Wisper, in to see the settlement’s most senior doctor. Doctor Lee had been one of the original colonists, traveling through space while in cryo-sleep. With her friendly bedside manner, she had always been one of the most popular people on the planet, and spent many evenings sharing a meal and a drink with the families she served.

Marissa was concerned about the appearance of the skin on her daughter’s arms and legs. With the lower light from the red dwarf sun, it seemed odd for her normally fair skin to begin to darken considerably. The light blond fuzz that had once been on her arms had started to change into dark bristle-like hairs. Marissa had also noticed two small bumps had begun to form on her daughter’s back, right below her shoulder blades.

“What do you think, doctor?” she asked, as she wrung her hands and absentmindedly scratched at the skin on her own arms.

“She’s constantly scratching her arms and legs, and it just seems to me that the more she does, the more of these funny looking hairs pop out.”

“Let’s have a look see,” replied the smiling doctor. “I’m sure it’s nothing, probably just an allergic reaction to something she got into while playing outside. We’ve only been here just over a century, and still haven’t categorized all the plants, animals and fungal spores growing here.

How about you hop up here on the med bed, young lady?” she said as she patted the mattress.

Wisper stepped up on the stool the doctor had pulled out. With a little boost from the kindly doctor, she sat on the bed. Looking over at her mother, Wisper gave her a wide eyed questioning look as doctor Lee took her tiny hand in her own.

Patting the little girl’s thigh, the doctor said in her calm, reassuring voice, “It’s all right, sweetheart. You just lie back and relax. This isn’t going to hurt one bit. I’m just going to wave this shiny magic wand over you a few times and then we’ll let the computer tell us what it sees.”

The doctor smiled as she looked into the little girl’s eyes, only then noticing how strange they appeared. Then she passed the wand over Wisper several more times and smiling at Marissa as she walked over to the display console, said, “Let’s see what this old computer says.”

Doctor Lee stood over the computer terminal with her hands placed on each side of the display. She  studied the results for several minutes, all the while shaking her head almost imperceptibly.

“Let’s try this again, I think the computer forgot to purge the last scan. I’m blaming the computer of course, because I never make a mistake,” she said with a small laugh.

“Lay back down again, sweetheart. I’m just going to wave my magic wand over you again, and take another look inside,” she said. She placed her hand on the back of Wisper’s head and once again, helped the young girl lay back down on the bed.

This time, the doctor passed the wand over Wisper’s small body much more slowly, smiling as she did, making sure that she got every square centimeter of the little body. The girl smiled back, and for a split second, the doctor thought she saw a flicker of change in the child’s eyes, then… it was gone.

Doctor Lee once again went over to the display and spent several minutes going over the findings.

Turning to the young girl and smiling, the doctor said, “You did a good job, young lady. Now, how about you go out and see my nurse. She has some fresh made brownies that she brought in this morning, and I’m sure that she would love to share them with you, if you ask her nicely. While you do that, your mom and I can have a little talk.”

“Are they the chewy kind?” asked the little girl. “They’re my very favorite kind.”

“Why, I think they are!” replied doctor Lee as she held out her hand for Wisper to grab, helping her down from the bed. “Let’s go see.”

When the doctor returned, she took Marissa’s hands in hers as they sat facing each other at the end of the doctor’s desk. She said, “I don’t know exactly how to explain this to you, dear. I’ve never seen anything like this in my one hundred three years as a doctor. It appears that your daughter has two sets of DNA inside her small body. One is one hundred percent human, the other is unknown to this computer.

“What?” exclaimed Marissa. “How? What does that mean?”

“I don’t know, dear, but I’m going to do my best to find out. I would really like to admit Wisper to the clinic overnight so that we could perform some more tests. Nothing intrusive, I assure you, but I’d really like to know what we’re dealing with here. Would you like to talk to your husband about this?”

“I would, but Ari is out with the security force ship, and they’re always under radio silence while on patrol. He won’t be back for another two weeks at the earliest. Is there any way I could spend the night there with her? I know she’ll be scared without someone she knows,” she said as she scratched at several small bumps on her arm.

Doctor Lee frowned at the action, got out of her chair,  and walked around the end of her desk and knelt over Marissa’s arm. “Let me take a look at your arm for a second, dear.”

“What? Oh, it’s nothing, just a slight dry rash,” replied Marissa.

 “Nonsense dear, you’re here already, and I don’t have another appointment for at least an hour. Humor an old woman with a curious mind. Besides, with this dry air lately, maybe you just need a nice moisturizing cream,” she said as she took Marissa’s hand and drew it closer to her eyes.

Hmmm. My old eyes aren’t what they used to be. Let’s get a better look with the scanner, dear. Lie down on the med bed and let me wave my magic wand over you, too,” she said with a slight laugh. “Then you can tell Wisper you had the same thing done to you and it didn’t hurt you one bit either.”

The doctor passed the scanner wand across Marissa’s arm several times, then went and bent over the display screen.

Forcing a smile on her face before she turned around, the doctor said, “Just as I suspected, you need a good moisturizing cream. I’ll write a prescription, and you can pick it up when you go to the clinic. I’ll call ahead and make sure that they make arrangements for you to spend the night with Wisper. I’ll come and see you both in the morning.”

The doctor gave Marissa a hug and walked her to the door. She turned back to the display and re-read the results of the scan. A deep frown of concern crossed her face, now that she realized that both mother and daughter had two sets of DNA, but… only one was human.

A Memory to Hold

Marian L Thorpe (@marianlthorpe)

This is an excerpt from Empire’s Passing (to be published February 2024), a continuation of Thorpe’s Empire saga

I stretched, glancing at the lightly clouded sky beyond the high windows. “Let’s go for a walk.” After days of rain, I’d welcome the fresh air, and I needed to talk to Ruar privately.

“Can we bring Gwyllar?” The question surprised me, pleasantly. I wanted our son to know his father, but Ruar was being more attentive than I’d expected.

We found Gwyllar in the courtyard, ‘helping’ a gardener under the watchful eye of his nursemaid. She scooped him up to wash his hands in the fountain before handing him over. “Shall I come with you?”

I told her no. She could have an hour on her own. I spent as much time with Gwyllar as I could: before my morning’s tasks; sometimes at the midday meal; always in the later afternoon. It had been the pattern of my childhood, and while my parents had been as occupied with work as I was, I’d never felt neglected. I wanted the same security for my son.

We walked out along the gravelled path that ran beside the gardens. Bees hummed, attracted by the flowers on the mint. A blackbird sang from the peak of the villa’s roof. Gwyllar ran ahead of us, happy to be out of the confines of the villa.

“He’s becoming a boy,” Ruar said. I understood what he meant. In the last weeks, Gwyllar had lost much of his baby roundness, his torso and limbs lengthening.

“I know. He should begin lessons soon.” The thought brought a sharp pang of loss. I’d expected my father to be his first teacher, as he’d been mine. “I’ll have to find a tutor for him.”

“Someone from a Ti’ach?”

“Yes. I want him taught as I was. To learn to think, not just to recite facts.”

“Even at mealtimes,” Ruar said. “Did Cillian ever stop being the Comiádh?”

I smiled too at the memory. “Rarely.” But even beyond the classroom, the learning had never felt forced. He’d used my own curiosity—and my brother Colm’s—to foster and encourage discovery. Could I find someone who could do the same for Gwyllar?

Another thing to think about, but not why I wanted to talk to Ruar. Where the path branched ahead of us, Gwyllar chose the one leading to the stables. He paused, looking back at us. “Go on,” I called. He scampered ahead.

I wanted to take advantage of these few minutes alone. “Varsland,” I said. “How do we bring them closer?”

“Bryngyl’s daughter is promised to Daragh, but there are still a few years before they can wed.” A king’s daughter to the Teannasach’s presumed heir: a good match, adding to the strong links between Linrathe and Varsland, links that went back centuries. “But,” Ruar continued, “at Cillian’s burial, Roghan brought me a message. They are interested in Siusàn’s daughter as a possible bride.”

“I thought the prince—Trygve, isn’t it?—was betrothed?” We’d been informed of that through the usual channels last autumn.

“He was, to Earl Vidar’s oldest daughter. But she died over the winter. A cut that festered, and then killed her.”

“Poor girl.” A horrible death for anyone. “Why did they approach you, not me?”

“Because Siusàn and Flynsá reside at Dun Ceànnar, and in the ways of Varsland, with her father dead, I, as her mother’s brother, should be asked.”

Ruar’s sister had returned to Dun Ceànnar with her daughter when her son Constyn had entered the cadets. She’d wanted Flynsá to experience life in Linrathe, she’d said, and how could I argue? My father had wanted the same for me. “Isn’t she starting at a Ti’ach this autumn?”

“The Ti’ach na Kúsi, the same as her mother, although it was Asgaill’s school then. But that is of little matter. The betrothal is the bond. The marriage can wait.”

“Flynsá is Ésparian. She may have other thoughts.” Or other tastes. I was arguing against myself, because I had seen the benefit immediately. The heir to Varsland, married to a princess of Ésparias. A match similar to the one I’d once proposed for myself, when I was fourteen.

“Gwenna. You asked how to strengthen the alliance with Varsland. This is one way. Do we have a choice free of politics? I am not Gwyllar’s father because we are in love.” He spoke lightly, but the truth was there. I had made a political decision, and so, I supposed, had he. But I had made it for myself, not a cousin of barely twelve.

“What did you reply to Bryngyl?”

“That it was not I who should be approached, but you. I gave a letter to Roghan immediately; he will have delivered it by now.”

“Why didn’t you tell me then?”

“At your father’s burial? It wasn’t the time, leannan. I knew I would see you again before Varsland made any move.”

“You could have written to me,” I said.

“I could have,” he said mildly. “But I thought a conversation would be better. I have another thought. Would your brother make a marriage into Varsland, were he here?”

“Colm? I don’t even know if he’s alive.” I hoped he was; prayed, sometimes, to a nebulous deity I didn’t really believe in. The statue of the huntress had been brought from the Ti’ach to Ésparias, and now stood in the courtyard of the villa. I still touched her for luck, or in supplication, sometimes.

“No Casilani marriage, or partnership?”

“Not that I’m aware of.” I hadn’t seen him since he was fourteen. He’d sworn then never to marry, or to father children, the pain of Liane’s death too great. But he was twenty-five now, and time and distance may well have changed his mind. “But what suitable match in Varsland is there for a prince of Ésparias?”

“If an earl’s daughter was suitable for the heir to Varsland, surely it would be for Colm?” Ruar said. “It is what my wife was, after all.”

“One of Bryngyl’s regents’ daughters,” I countered. “Not quite the same.” There had been something about Colm—perhaps just the detachment of a mind already focused on medicine—that had made me wonder if his vow to remain unmarried and childless had come almost naturally to him. Nor did I think it was men who interested him. But perhaps he’d just been slow to mature; still, he’d never wanted to be a prince, and unless he’d changed, he’d baulk—or outright refuse—to be part of our plans.

“Mat’a!” Our son, impatient, ran back to us. He tugged at my hand. “I wan’ see G’uaga’.” He couldn’t quite say Gruagach, the pony’s name. Ruar bent to lift his son up.

“We will,” he told Gwyllar. “Look.” Ruar pointed. “There he is.”

The stablegirl, seeing us approaching, had saddled the shaggy animal and led it out into the yard. “Shall I take him, my lady?” she asked. I nodded.

Ruar settled Gwyllar in the deep seat of the saddle. “Sit up,” the stablegirl said. “Like I showed you. Good.”  She led the pony away, Gwyllar’s hands holding the pommel.

We watched Gwyllar on the pony. A strand of hair, caught by a gentle breeze, brushed across my face. I repinned it. The air smelled—not unpleasantly—of manure. The stablegirl circled back to us. “He’s ready for a slow trot, I believe.  Shall I call for someone to steady him? If you agree, my lady.”

“I’ll do it,” Ruar said. The stablegirl managed not to show her surprise. Ruar put a hand low on Gwyllar’s back, his fingers spread. Slowly Gruagach was urged into a gentle trot. Gwyllar’s eyes widened for a moment. Ruar spoke to him, and Gwyllar’s apprehension turned to fierce concentration.

I wondered if Ruar had done this for his older sons. Probably, given the ease with which he was supporting Gwyllar now. It had been Druise’s hand on my back at the Ti’ach; a little surprising to me now, given how much he had once disliked riding. But he’d come to it late; it wasn’t a skill learned by merchant’s sons in Casil.

Merchant’s son, and a merchant’s brother. What had Marius told him in his last letter?  I should have asked. My thoughts were too scattered. I needed to see all the moves on this gameboard, all the threats and all the plays I could make. So many aspects to consider.

But I told myself firmly, not now, not in the morning breeze, watching my son learning to ride with his father’s help. This was a moment to savour, a memory to hold—whatever the future brought.

Image by Thomas G. from Pixabay

An Interesting Development About My Mother

Joseph P. Garland (@JPGarlandAuthor

This is an excerpt from the first chapter of the author’s novel I Am Alex Locus. The apartment described was the author’s some decades ago. It is on West 85th Street. On the Upper West Side.

The bar where we were meeting on Amsterdam Avenue, Teddy’s, was typically loud with bass-heavy music and a crowd’s rumble as I got close. This, our Thursday night bar-hopping, was part of the ritual that Kate and I shared with half the twenty-somethings living on the Upper West Side, and Teddy’s was our favorite. Lots of cute guys were always there, and it didn’t have too many Goldman-types in their expensive suits and ties loosened below the collars of their white shirts. And though it smelled like a bar, it didn’t reek like a bar.

Right after I was inside, Kate saw me and gave me a salute with her wine glass.

“I need one of those,” I said by way of my abrupt greeting, and Sally, a waitress who knew me, took my Pinot Grigio order and was gone by the time I was on the stool across the table from Kate.

“You are not going to fucking believe what just happened to me.” It was loud, but not quite so loud off to the side where we were, even with the window open. Kate’s my oldest and best friend and she knew my mom well back from when we were in grammar school together in Bronxville, our wealthy Westchester suburb.

Anyway, she was like What?

“I went to a book reading at Barnes & Noble to kill time before meeting you.”

“I’m sorry but I did have to work late.” She was still in her office attire, though where she worked things were a lot less formal than at my bank.

“Anyway,” I said, “So I’m at the reading by some girl about our age. She’s reading from some short stories and there’s this older, very classy looking woman with her. Upper West Side type. I assumed it was her mother.”

“And it wasn’t?”

Just then, Sally lifted my wine glass from her small tray to the table, and Kate said she was fine with what she had.

I took a long sip. A gulp, really.

“No, it wasn’t her mother. She was some sort of mentor for the young one. A big deal author. The girl finishes, and this woman gets up and says some things about getting to know her and that she was the first recipient of the…‘Emily Locus Award.’”

“The what?”

“That’s what I thought. The Emily Locus Award. No doubt that’s what she said. It hit me like a brick, and I got up and went to the bathroom and I was, like, did she say, ‘Emily Locus’ and if she did could it be my mom?”

“What else did she say?”

“I was leaving, to get a handle on it, but something about this ‘Emily Locus’ being a writer who never did anything with it.”

“Did your mother write?”

“I don’t remember, frankly, though I kind of recall her doing it while we were on vacation at her folks’ place upstate. But it gets weirder. Someone needed to use the bathroom and so I left and I went down the hallway and they were just finishing up on the Q&A and a few people are lined up to buy the book and get her to sign it.

“I didn’t know what to do. I thought of just disappearing. But what if it was my mom? So, I went to that long escalator they have and watched them and just as they reached it and the younger one was going down, I told the other that I was Alex Locus. That’s all I said. ‘I am Alex Locus.’”


“She almost falls down the escalator and is staring at me and waving for me to follow her. What was I to do? I started this. So, I go down and she pulls me off to the side and it’s clear that this other, younger writer has no idea what the fuck is going on but the older one literally pulls me to her. She asks if I said I was Alexandra Locus and when I say I am, she whispers ‘I miss your mother so much.’”

“So, her Emily Locus was your mom?”

“I think so. She asked me to go to dinner with her and the other writer, but I said I had to go and raced here to see you. What am I supposed to do?”

“Can she track you down?”

“Who knows? How many Alex Locuses can there be?”

This all exhausted me, and I took a long slug of my Pinot.

“I need to think,” I said. Somehow, I finished the glass and grabbed a twenty from my bag and threw it on the tall, small round table and rushed out.

I barely made it a block before a breathless Kate tapped my shoulder and then was next to me.

“You can’t just go. Let’s be logical here.”

We both slowed for the seven or eight blocks to my place and on the way, we agreed to go online and find out what was going on.

My place. I was lucky to get it, and it was only because there was a lawyer in my father’s firm who represented the landlord, who let me have it. It was nothing great, not like you see in the movies. You walked in and you were in the living room. This once was a larger room, and there was simple molding on its high ceiling, but a wall was placed between the left and the center of the three windows that looked out onto the street to create the bedroom.

The kitchen was tiny, and a door opened to an equally small bathroom with just a toilet, sink, and shower. It sounds depressing, but it was very near the park, and it was my home and I loved it.

Kate was its most frequent visitor, and on the Thursday night I’m talking about, when we were inside she went straight to the kitchen where she opened the fridge for a bottle of Pinot and grabbed a can of mixed nuts from a cabinet and carried them to my little coffee table before returning with a couple of glasses, which she three-quartered filled.

By then I was on the sofa searching on my laptop and she was quickly backseat driving me. I started with the B&N site for the Broadway store. There was an announcement of tonight’s reading and Karen Adams. There was a photo.

“She’s kind of cute,” Kate said. “Check out the award.”

‘Emily Locus Award’ went into Google, and there it was.


“That’s her,” I said, pointing to a photo on the homepage. “That’s the older woman. Nancy Penchant.”

Kate leaned in as I clicked the ‘About’ tab.

“Impressive,” she said, and it was. Her novel Scream was an American Book Award finalist. She had several other novels and a collection of short stories with links to literary publications.

I went back. On the front page was an explanation:

Emily told me that she had written many stories over the years that no one read. The purpose of this award is to give someone who discloses who she is in writings that might otherwise end up being stuffed away in boxes left in the attic or a basement, never to be seen by anyone else, the opportunity to come forward and have those stories shared with others and, perhaps thanks in part to this little stipend, with the world.

We both leaned back.

“Did your mom write?” Kate asked again.

“I have no idea if she did it seriously. Just stuff when we were away and she was bored. There may be some boxes in the attic in Bronxville. It was years ago.”

As I scrolled down the page, I found a picture of my mom. With Nancy Penchant. So that was that. In Central Park. They were standing. Nancy had an arm around my mom’s waist. They were in jeans and polo shirts and wearing sneakers, their heads tilted slightly towards one another.

My mom was smiling, though she was never much of a smiler.

“Your mom may not have been who we thought she was,” Kate said, and I thought she might be right. I grabbed my wine and stared at the photo.

Image: Sad Girl on the Windowsill, via DepositPhotos.com. by “xload.”

November Team Showcase

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

Marian L Thorpe‘s newest installment in her wonderful Empire series, Empress & Soldier, has been released. (Empire’s Daughter is the first part.) She has numerous titles available; they can be found at her aptly-named website, MarianLThorpe.com. Her books are listed at Books2Read.

J Dalton is the author of The Saga of the Ones: a multi-part series about a newly discovered race living inside a Dyson sphere, a race that needs human blood to survive and whose Master emerges from a stasis condition with a plan. A plan to eliminate the human race.

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.

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

The audio version of Joseph P. Garland‘s Becoming Catherine Bennet is available on Audible.com. It is an imagined sequel to Pride and Prejudice that is also available as an ebook (exclusively on Kindle Unlimited) and as a paperback and hardcover. (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. His own reading of his short piece set in Gilded Age New York and entitled, “How I Became A Writer, by Alicia Cadbury,” which was originally published in the Loft literary journal.