A Muse Bouche Review: June 2020

Flash Fiction

Dear Readers,

Welcome! Why did we delay our June issue?

It’s simple. We did not want our voice to take away space around the debate for racial equality and social justice.

One of our charter members, Melanie Reeds, has returned to provide us a feature article expressing her pain and views surrounding injustice. Despite our topic this month, Melanie’s piece is anything but fiction. Melanie’s struggle is her own, and she shares it with her community and family. Many of us will not directly understand what it is like, but we can stand with her.

We ask only that you read, that you feel, and that you take action in your own community if you can.

Warmest Regards,

The A Muse Bouche Review Team

A Muse Bouche Review Logo

Feature:  Dear America (Guest Charter Member: Melanie Reeds)   Essay
An Apple (D.W. Hitz)   Flash Fiction
Date Night & Fake Out (Crystal L. Kirkham)   Flash Fiction
The Set-Up (Renée Gendron)   Flash Fiction
On Flash Fiction (Guest: KJ Cartmell)   Essay
Three Little Pinwheels & A Date with Grace (Guest: Jodi Jensen)   Flash Fiction
The Time Before (Guest: Dan Fitzgerald)   Flash Fiction
Below the Bombs (E.G. Deaile)   Flash Fiction

Dear America

by Returning Charter Member: Melanie Reeds (@MelanieReeds)

Dear America,

I can’t breathe.

I told myself to keep my thoughts hidden, but words are my sword. They suffocated me. Demanded that I take a second and exhale my finally scream. We have war on our streets. A single word could be the difference between me at home, and me bound to the ground, a gun pointed at my head.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t see the destruction past the bodies of men and women, boys and girls, who have lain on our streets. I can’t see past the statistics that a virus is taking our families at a higher rate, and the names that linger but not heard. Becoming just another number.

I can’t breathe.

I can’t hear the cries of “My livelihood” when my life, the life of my family, has been under the knees of people who are ready to suffocate it and claim that they had no role. I can’t hear past the pleas for help that have been called for, and ignored for so long.

I can’t BREATHE.

This isn’t just George Floyd. He was the tipping point. This is Tyree King. This is Ahmaud Arbery. This is for every Person Of Color who walked for days in a hoodie, carrying skittles and there was still no justice.

We’re supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave, but I have yet to see either in the justice system that is determined to label us based on an anger that had been building for years. A system that still supports the rebels in the south, but refuses to see how we’re hurting.

We’re a country where a man can be reporting the news, and still be ripped from safety before our eyes. A president who calls us ‘thugs’ for the purpose of getting votes, trying to hide behind his many lies. Where they tell us that the American Dream is by the boot straps, but won’t tell us where to find shoes.

A constant reminder that our history was peaceful, but not acknowledging that we’re still on our knees, with a noose on our neck. No need to hang us. We’re choking on the hypocrisy spewed every day.

We call for breath, while looking over our back. Not one, not two, but so many holding us down by their newly created rules. “One more thing before we can handle the issue.” “Just hold on.” “You should be grateful.” Yet, you do nothing when we’re still on the ground, broken.

I can only hope that you are ready for CPR. An electric shock to a country that has been ignoring our final gasps.

Do you see us now?


The Person With Nothing To Lose

An Apple

by D.W. Hitz (@dustinhitz)

Eli held the Honeycrisp in his left hand. He watched the sun glisten off of its skin. Speckled red, orange, yellow, and green patterns amazed his eyes. Had he ever really imagined the beauty in such a trivial thing? An apple? Had he ever taken the time to really look at one, or had it always just been a race to devour his food and move on with his life? Not this time.

He sat in the tree and inhaled the sweet scent of his fruit. He smelled the bark of the trunk and the sunlit leaves. It reminded him of his father. But how was that?

Twenty years ago, now he remembered. On a cool September day, they had driven to Washington state, stopped at a farm on an old country road. He wouldn’t have remembered the name of the road or even what the farmhouse looked like if he tried, but the apples in that grove, their taste would last forever. Sweeter than anything mom had ever brought home from the store, with a hint of sour crispness. As he sat on Dad’s shoulders and sunk his teeth inside it, he knew there would never be another thing that would compare.

Or would it?

Eli wrapped his teeth around his meal, puncturing its skin. He closed his jaws and felt juice run along his lips and down to his chin. His mouth became full of sweat wet pulp. It tickled the insides of his cheeks and stood his taste-buds at attention.

“My God,” he muttered. His words failed to rise over the cacophony below, but the thought of his sentiment tingled down his arms and back.

Eli swallowed and took another bite, and he remembered pie.

Susan used to make them on holidays and harass him that he didn’t eat enough. It was never his favorite, but he always tried to eat at least one piece to show his appreciation. She may have spent hours making them, and it only took moments to eat. But it wasn’t for him anyway. It was for Jesse. Their little girl asked for a pie every year since she could say the word. And it occurred to Eli, there was no pie at Easter. It was the last time there could have been, and Jesse missed out.

A stream of reluctant dread wiped the pleasant taste from his mind, and the sound of animal hunger rose from below.

It was his fault. There would have been pie, but he didn’t get off of work when he was supposed to. One more thing, another pointless task, had to finish it before he would let himself leave the office. When he got to the store, there were no more apples. None of the kind Jesse liked in her pies anyway.

A tear rolled down Eli’s cheek. A vision of blood clouded his thoughts.

Eli shook his head. He pulled in a giant breath. “Soon enough. I’ll be able to make it up to her. To both of them.”

He raised the apple and held it an inch from his mouth. The tree vibrated. Its leaves trembled. It felt hot, way too hot for an autumn day.

He took a bite and remembered his mother. She would peel his apples and serve them in slices. Even once he was a teen, and later when she visited and did the same for Jesse. She would beam gently, her short, curled hair bouncing as she worked at the counter. Eli never realized how joyously she did this until the memory showed him. She was so happy to feed her family and give them such a treat, to make them smile when she set the plate on the table. Even when half the time, she was rewarded with nothing other than the sound of chewing.

Eli thought about her grave. He was relieved the stroke came two years ago. She never had to deal with this nightmare.

“No more,” He said. The branch under him thumped. If this was going to be the last thing he ate, he would enjoy it, goddammit.

Eli thrust the fruit into his mouth and chomped. It was almost gone. He forced his brain to think about sunsets in his backyard when Jesse was small. Watching her chase fireflies and dance to Susan’s favorite songs under the twinkle of dangling Christmas lights. He thought about the trip he and Susan took to Yellowstone the year after their wedding. They had rented a small cabin and for days refused to leave it for sightseeing, in favor of holding each other between the sheets. Kissing gently. Wanting nothing else in the world but to be right in that moment.

“One more bite.” Eli examined the apple. Its seeds clung to its core. He crunched into the last remaining segment with skin. He looked into the horizon and felt something against his foot. He chewed and felt wetness on his skin.

More juice? No, it was on his cheeks. Tears were streaming down his face.

A firm grip wrapped around Eli’s right foot, and then his left. The stench of death wafted up to his nose, and he tossed the core.

Okay, then.

Eli swallowed the bite and looked down. He watched bloodied teeth sink into his left ankle. He watched another pair sink into his right calf. He howled. He jerked his legs out of reflex, but it didn’t matter now. He swallowed the pain and let them hang limp.

Rotting, gray hands yanked on Eli. He closed his eyes as he slid from the branch. The back of his head scraped on knot after knot as his head skated down the bark. His skull cracked as he hit the ground, and his head thumped into a bulging root.

Eli smiled. Through blurred sight, he watched his little girl kneel. Then, Susan beside her. Their teeth ripped into his sides.

Eli screamed, but inside, all he could think was that soon they’d be eating together again.

Date Night

by Crystal L. Kirkham (@canuckclick)

One of the things that I love about flash fiction is that it teaches you to write a full story in so few words. Conciseness is key to this art form and one that I have worked hard at. Date Night, like many of my pieces of flash fiction, also arose from a challenge. Here, I found my inspiration in my love of writing dark, paranormal stories.

‘Date night’ was written in bold black letters, circled in red on the calendar. Every third Friday of every month had been marked this way. She grinned as she read those two words. It was her favourite day of the month. Work was done and she had an hour to make herself ready to meet him.

She ran up the stairs and looked in the mirror. Her makeup needed a touch-up, but her hair looked good. She’d already laid out her clothes for tonight before leaving this morning. Her sexiest lingerie replaced the practical underwear and warm winter socks were swapped for lace-topped thigh-highs.

She shimmied into her black dress, struggling with the zipper. It was starting to get a bit tight again. She made a mental note to go on a diet. This was her favourite date night outfit and she’d cry if she had to replace it. Make up went bolder for the night. Smoky eyes and lips the colour of blood. Smoothing her hands over her hair, she admired herself in the mirror.

She’d hardly aged at all since their first date so many years ago. She remembered it well and many of the ones that followed. They vowed, even after they got married that, no matter what happened, they’d always have a real date every month. And they’d kept that promise to each other.

She bounded back downstairs and grabbed her long wool coat. It would keep her toasty against the chill. Knee-high stiletto boots finished off the look. She had no doubt that of how sexy she looked. She didn’t need anyone to tell her that.

It didn’t take long for her to get to the same restaurant they always met at. She walked right in as if she owned the place and took her usual seat. She checked the time, already knowing it was early. She was always early, eager to see him walk through those doors, looking more handsome than any leading man.

Wine poured and waiting. She didn’t dare take the first sip without him and, right on time, he appeared. Her breath caught in her throat, her heart beat faster. If she could have, she would have run across the room and wrapped herself around him. But she didn’t. She waited for him to come to her.

“Hello, my love.” His rich baritone voice sent shivers down her spine. “I missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too.” She picked up her glass with a trembling hand. “I always miss you when you’re not near.”

He chuckled. “I know.”

They whiled away the time over drinks and food. Somehow, never running out of things to talk about and, as always, the evening passed far too quickly for them both. Her watch beeped and she winced. So, did he.

“Is it already that time?” He asked and she nodded, not trusting her voice. It was the worst part of the night. “Same time next month?”

She nodded again, holding back tears. Her lips quivered as she faked a smile for his sake. Not wanting him to see her cry this time. It hurt him when she did. The moment he was gone, the icy touch of his fingers entwined in hers fading as if it had never been, she let the dam break. Tears poured down her face as she sobbed, not caring about the scene she made. There was no one to see her in this old abandoned place.

God, how she missed him, but she was lucky that they’d made that promise. It was the only thing that kept bringing him back to her. Once a month was better than never.

Fake Out

by Crystal L. Kirkham (@canuckclick)

This piece of flash fiction began its life as a challenge to give a character in a short story an absolutely terrible name, but to make it funny at the same time. Hopefully, you find that here. Although, this is a story in my normal wheelhouse of being very dark.

I keep my breathing shallow and will my body to be limp spaghetti. If I didn’t convince that psycho into thinking I’m already dead, then it would be a reality soon. Blood pooled under my belly, warm and sticky. Hell, I even peed myself to make it seem real. Although, if I was being honest, that was more out fear than anything. It was the first time I’d been shot.

Footsteps sounded close to my head. A steel-toed boot prods my rib cage. He kicks me hard. I bite my tongue to keep from screaming and hope he doesn’t see my jaw clench. He chuckles. A low, almost soothing sound. Fingertips brush my cheek, pushing back my hair.

“You were supposed to be a mighty opponent and now, look at you.” Another low chuckle. Less soothing this time. How dare he say I was easy. The last time any man had said that to me, well, it had been the last time he’d said anything.

I still kept his tongue in a jar as a prize.

“Ladies and gentle-ghosts, the win goes to Bentley Cox!”

Seriously, the dude that thought he could claim the fame of besting me, was named Bent Cox? No way a parent should be that cruel. I barely keep my snort of laughter contained.

More footsteps.

Is he…dancing? It sounds like it and I’m dying to open my eyes to see if I’m right.

“Ain’t no party like a Bent Cox party!” He screams it out in a singsong voice that’s terribly off-key.

I can’t take it anymore. I open my eyes. He is indeed doing the mashed potato. I snort loudly, not that he can hear me over his deafening scream-singing. My snort turns into a belly laugh that hurts like hell thanks to the bullet wound.

And then I see he had put the gun down within reach of me.

I grab it as he turns around, his eyes go wide and the colour drains from his face. I grin as the realization of his failure washes over him. I can see it in his eyes. He lunges for me, one desperate last attempt, and I squeeze the trigger.

I’m not an idiot, I aim for his head.

The Set-Up

by Renée Gendron (@ReneeGendron)

The smell of rose scented soap curled around Delphénie, and she stumbled down the street with four baskets of wet laundry pressing against her. She leaned back against the weight of the clothes and took one step forward. The mountain of laundry teetered, and she leaned farther back. Not one sheet corner or dress hem could skim the ground. She’d be ruined as a laundress.

“Easy there.” Dewitt’s soothing voice came from the other side of the pile of linens.

The smell of floral soap gave way to the scent of freshly baked goods mixed with exotic spices.

He lightened her load by three baskets and fell in step beside her. His blond hair was pulled back in a neat queue that hung between his shoulders. He wore a clean light-blue shirt but had smudges of flour on his cheeks. “Your mother sent word for another meat pie.” Dewitt’s kind face flooded with a smile.

“She does love them.”

A four-horse carriage rolled by, its jangling harnesses and ripple of bells filled the street.

“Hannigan,” Dewitt said. “Slow down.” Dewitt dropped the baskets, looped a hand around her waist and spun her so his back was to the oncoming team. He pressed them against the wall. His amber eyes peered into hers, something hidden behind them. “Careful.” His rich voice wrapped around her like a fine wool blanket. He looked over his shoulder to watch Hannigan drive down Merchant Street.

Hannigan winked at Dewitt, then whistled, bringing his team of horses from a trot to a canter.

Dewitt’s arms fell from her waist, and he stepped back. He tugged his shirt collar and shook his head. “There was something about that driver—” He turned towards the street and stared after the carriage. His lips pressed together, but the corners of his mouth curved upward in a tight smile.

“The laundry.” Delphénie glanced down at the basket. The ache in her arms gave way to the churn in her stomach. Her reputation as a laundress. Her future clients. Her ability to open a shop and hire laundresses.

Dewitt swooped down and folded the errant corners back into the pile. “They’re fine.” He picked up a shirt hem, dusted off a speck and placed it back into the basket. “There’s no dirt on them.” His voice wavered, and he bent to pick up the three baskets of wet linens.

She peered down at the spotless dresses and sheets. The tension in her shoulders eased, and she resumed her walk towards the small patch of green at the end of the street where there were community clotheslines.

Dewitt fell in step with her, his right foot dragging a little.

“When we’re done, you’re going to see Marie,” she said, glancing down to watch his gait. “Nay. Caroline. She’s better with sprains.”

“The ankle’s fine.” A tiny wrinkle appeared in the corner of his eye, an almost-contained winced. One that would fool everyone but not her.

She let the matter drop.

For now.

“My father wanted to know if your mother would like to try a chicken pie?” He lowered the baskets to the ground next to the clothesline. “Says he’s got a recipe she’d like.”

Delphénie picked up the first of the sheets and hung them over the line, then reached for the linen satchel at her waist, removed a wooden clothespin, and pinned the sheet. “He’s trying to tempt my mother with a delicacy? A special recipe?” She ducked under one of the sheets to collect a silk dress.

She shook the dress free of wrinkles, raised it to the line and frowned. The Sal’e’rian silk would need steaming. No way around it.

Dewitt’s eyebrows rose, then his eyes brightened. He stepped to his left and threw a sheet over the line.

She reached for a clothespin and handed it to him between the hanging sheets. Her fingers grazed his. Electricity raced up her hand, leaving behind a wake of tingles.

“He said he was eager to try it.” Dewitt poked his hand through the sheets, palm up, a silent request for some clothespins.

She fished a few from her satchel and placed them in his palm. A glancing touch of her fingers against his skin and a surge of heat burned and settled somewhere deep inside her. “It’s a new recipe?”

“He got some spices from Ores. He’s eager to try them on his favourite customer.” He bent down and collected another dress.

Through a gap in the sheets, she caught a glimpse of the way the fabric of his trousers stretched against his bottom. The tips of her ears burned hotter than when she had taken ill with Grosinchemian Desert Fever.

But they were not to be. A baker’s son had better prospects than a milkmaid’s daughter whose father had run off long ago.

“Careful with that one.” She reached for the sunflower dress between the linens and took it from his hand. She turned it inside out and draped it over the line. “I don’t want the line to stain the silks.” One ruined dress, and she’d lose half of the noblewomen. “My mother likes surprises.”

“Does she?” A flash of something bright and curious in his eyes. He peered over the clotheslines and looked straight into her.

The tops of her thighs quivered. “She does. Won’t admit it to anyone. But she likes surprises. She’d like anything sweet.”

“I’ll pass that along.” His melodic voice curled around her, lifting her spirits. He ducked down, collected a sheet, and placed it on the line.

She reached up to pin it, and her fingertips trailed over his. A jolt of desire rocked her bones. She stared at him, with his slanted eyebrows, golden hair and bent nose, and her world tilted left and right. So close.

Dewitt’s fingertip rested against hers, hooked over the clothesline.

A flare of hope.

A carriage rolled behind her. The flick of the whip cracked the morning air.

“What kind of dessert does your mother like?” His voice was as rich as a four-layer Borozan spiced caked, topped by three-layers of whipped cream.

“Something so sweet it makes your cheeks turn inside out.” Heat crept up her neck and settled in her cheeks. All of her attention focused on the tip of his finger curved over hers.

“I’ll be sure to tell my father to fill the dessert with extra custard.” He held her gaze, pinning her to spot. Thick eyelashes framed his eyes, drawing out the intensity of his gaze.

Her knees knocked together. “I think—” She looked down at the tips of his flour-covered boots poking out from under the hanging sheet. The tip of her tongue rolled along her bottom lip, testing her next words, starving for his kiss.

He shifted his weight. The intensity of his look warmed Delphénie in her most intimate of places.

“You think what?” His frame pressed against the damp dress between them. His finger slid down until his second knuckle rested over hers. He gave her hand a tentative caress. Soft. Caring. Sweet. The certainty in his eyes gave way to vulnerability.

She took a half step forward. Her fingers glided over the back of his hand. “Anything sweet. Anything made with care.”

“What’s a man but the devotion he puts into his work?” His voice trembled with emotion.

She took another half step forward until her chest pressed the damp dress against him. She glanced down at the dress—no steam came from it.

Give it a moment.

Her lips ached in need of relief only he could give her. “What about a pork pie? It’s been a long time since my mother had one.”

“Pork?” His fingertip traced small circles the length of her finger. “How about pork pie and cranberry bread pudding with custard? They’re my specialties.” A hopeful tremor in his voice.

“I didn’t know.” Her hands slid down his until her fingers looped around his wrists. His pulse was rapid, the look in his eyes that of a famished man.

His delicious scent of spices mingled with that of roses. His deep breaths a steady beat against the clatter in the streets.

Now or never.

Live with this all-consuming ache and sleepless nights or step forward.

Her body jumped to life. She brushed aside the dress, ducked under the clothesline and stepped into the circle of his arms. Her heart pounded in her throat, robbing her of breath. She arched forward on her tiptoes and stopped short of his lips.

And waited.

The sun hung high in the sky, pouring all of its heat against her, sapping her strength to resist, shrivelling her insides.

His arms dropped to her waist and pulled her the mouse whisker’s distance that remained between them, swooping down to claim her mouth.

Heat that put the sun to shame burst from her. Dewitt tasted of spice, sweetness, and sugar.

“Thank the gods your mother loves meat pie.” Each word was punctuated by a grabbed breath.

“Actually, my mother hates meat pies.”

His surprised laughter filled her spirit.

Renée Gendron
Extends beta reading and structural editing services. To find out more, please visit here.

On Flash Fiction

by Guest Contributor, KJ Cartmell (@KJCartmell)

I have this conversation every so often with neighbors or work colleagues. They learn that I am a writer, that I have recently completed a novel, and they say rather innocently, “You should publish it! That way, you can earn a living from your writing and not have to work anymore!”

I smile and nod. “Yes, I should.” In fact, I have written several novels. I’ve published a few of them. Yet, I still have my day job.

Part of my strategy for becoming a better-known writer is to place short stories in literary magazines. Every month, I send my stories out to these magazines in the hope of landing one in an upcoming issue. I’m attempting to build a track record, lines on my writing resume, that I can highlight in cover letters to agents. I want to be able to say, “I’m a published writer. I’m up and coming. You should help me sell my book to a publisher.”

My stories are of varying lengths. From a practical standpoint, the shorter your piece, the better chance it has of an editor selecting it. These magazines have only so much space in each issue, and they want to showcase as many authors as they can. The shortest of short stories, a form that most every magazine accepts, is called flash fiction, typically defined as stories under one thousand words.

The name is somewhat deceptive. Flash fiction sounds like something you wrote very quickly, in a flash of inspiration. In reality, a good flash fiction story is more like a poem. You need to craft every line, make every word matter. A good flash fiction piece can take a month or more to compose and refine.

My first published work, a flash fiction piece called “A Story from Our Boyhood,” was the result of years of writing and revising. In the beginning, it was a prose poem in the style of Carolyn Forché and Gary Soto. I worked on it sporadically for over fifteen years, collecting rejection notices from several poetry journals along the way. In 2006, I discovered a small journal called Vestal Review that published flash fiction. I immediately saw the possibility – instead of a prose poem, I could turn “Story” into a poetic flash fiction piece.

I recall sitting at my kitchen table and reviewing the many drafts of my poem. I culled the best lines from all of the drafts and wrote it out in paragraphs instead of stanzas. I sent it to Vestal Review, and they published it in their January 2007 issue. (It’s under my “real name.” I didn’t adopt the KJ Cartmell pen name until 2009.)

In my prose, I vary between first- and third-person narration. This is often an intuitive decision that eludes concrete reasoning. When it comes to flash fiction, however, I stick with first-person. I want to grab the reader and bring them quickly into the flow of my story. I want them to feel a sense of intimacy and camaraderie with my narrator. That intimacy is much easier and quicker to achieve with first-person narration.

In a short story, you generally want to limit the story’s scope and its character list (though, I’ve broken this rule more than once.) With flash fiction, however, this becomes an imperative. There is no room for subplots and extra people. Two characters is a good upper limit. If you can make do with just one, even better. The goal is to make your story as focused and compact as possible.

General fiction rules still apply. Your dialogue should be believable and purposeful. You need to evoke the setting, making it come alive for the reader while keeping your words at a minimum.

I strive in my writing to provoke. I want to spur thought and grow consciousness. In “A Story from Our Boyhood,” the narrator describes to his friend his dream girl, sparking this exchange:

You asked, “Who is she?”

I wondered, “How could you not know?”

Readers have come to me through the years with many different answers to those questions. I prefer to let those ideas stand unchallenged rather than dispel them with my own original concept.

Flash fiction is not a simplistic or truncated story. It should have every element that you find in a short story or novel compacted down into the briefest form possible.

Our readers live in a frantic multi-media world, distracted by their televisions and the constant chirping of their phones. They may not be able to carve out time for a novel, but we can offer them a brief respite with our finely crafted mini-story.

For literary magazine editors, it’s a chance to squeeze in one more writer, the writer who just might be a future Booker prize winner.

I see my flash fiction pieces as a showcase of who I am as a writer – my style, my storytelling and the values inherent in my creative vision. They beckon – Come take another journey with me.

KJ Cartmell is a writer from the San Francisco Bay Area, in California. He writes love stories, mostly about young people in early, formative relationships. His novel Revelation is available at Amazon. See his innovative approach to fanfiction with his Liam Wren series at HPFT and HPFF.

KJ’s links:






Three Little Pinwheels

by Guest Contributor, Jodi Jensen (@WritesJodi)

I’ve always had a thing for graveyards. I find them peaceful and go there whenever I need to think. As I wander among the stones, I consider the names and wonder what each person’s story was.

Occasionally, something about a stone will give me pause, and I’ll stop. At times, I’ll find a poem or an inscription about how this person lived or were loved. Those are always my favorites.

The ones that touch me the most though are the babies and children. I always stop, whisper a “bless you baby” and take a moment to send loving energy to the child and its family, no matter how long they’ve been gone.

On this particular early fall day, my mind was filled with worries about life, love, my past and future. With the exception of the groundskeeper, I had the whole cemetery to myself, and I took my time weaving my way down row after row.

That moment of grace I was looking for was a long time coming though, and my troubles continued to follow me as I strolled past stone after stone.

Finally, something out of place caught my eye. Three colorful little pinwheels stuck into the ground among the grey headstones and dying grass. I immediately went to check it out. As I approached, I saw the pinwheels had been placed right in front of three small headstones, the kind that lay flat, which is why I hadn’t seen them until I got closer.

The air was so still, like the whole cemetery was holding its collective breath while I read the names and the dates. Three children, siblings, all under the age of five.

My first thought was, that poor mother, and my heart broke a little. I closed my eyes and pictured three small children playing in the grass. In my mind, the sun shined on their smiling faces and I could feel how much they were loved.

I swallowed my own grief and sent a burst of love to each child, followed by another for the nameless parents of these sweet little ones. Though the air around me was cool, I felt the warmth of the sun on my own face and I smiled.

I opened my eyes and whispered, “Bless you, babies,” then turned to leave.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move and I turned back around to find all three pinwheels spinning madly.

There was no wind, not even a slight breeze to ruffle my hair or rustle the leaves in a nearby tree. The air was perfectly still. Yet, the pinwheels spun, colors blurred with silver now as they flashed in the sunlight.

My smile grew, widening as I heard the faint, but distinct sound of childish giggles.

I’m not sure how long I stood there before I realized the gift I’d been given by these three precious little souls.

The peace I needed so desperately, and that moment of grace.

My heart was full and my eyes filled with tears.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

A Date With Grace

by Guest Contributor, Jodi Jensen (@WritesJodi)

“Gracie Potter? Is that you?”

Grabbing the side of her long, flowing skirt, Grace gave a brief curtsey as she scanned the sea of familiar faces, trying to see who’d called out.

“All right, folks, next up for bid we have a date with Grace!”

She smiled and waved as the crowd erupted in applause, pleased with the turnout for the charity auction. The small, historic opera house was bursting at the seams.

“Where are we taking her?” a man shouted above the noise.

The announcer held up two tickets. “To the rodeo, then the carnival after.” He glanced in her direction and grinned. “Who wants to start the bidding?”

“A hundred dollars!”


“One seventy-five!”

Voice after voice rang out in rapid succession, and suddenly, the bids were up to four hundred.

“Going once…”

“Five hundred dollars!”

Grace searched the faces in the back of the room, her gaze coming to rest on a tall cowboy in a black hat.

“Five hundred going once…”

“Five twenty-five!”

Grace recognized that one, the uncle of the little girl they were raising money for. She glanced back at the black hat in time to see him call out again.

“One thousand dollars!”

She gasped and heads in the crowd turned as speculative murmurs spread throughout the room.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a winner!” The auctioneer hesitated for barely a second, his look of bug-eyed excitement resting on the cowboy. “Going once…twice…sold, for one thousand dollars!”

Grace locked gazes with the man as he sauntered up the aisle. Little prickles of recognition shot through her the closer he got.

She knew him.

His eyes registered her awareness, and amusement sparkled in their dark green depths.

A slow smile spread across her lips and butterflies she hadn’t felt in years suddenly came alive inside of her.


He mounted the steps with an exaggerated swagger. “Gracie Potter,” he drawled.

The audience burst into cheers and laughter when he removed his hat and bowed to her.

“It’s just Grace.” She batted her eyelashes, playing along. “I’m all grown up now.”

He placed his hat firmly on top of his head and held out a crooked elbow. “You most certainly are, Grace.”

She took his arm and they both waved to the noisy approval of the crowd, and made their exit.

The second they were out of sight, Ian swept her into a giant bear hug.

“What’re you doing here?” she asked, her voice muffled by his muscular shoulder.

“Same thing as you.” He released her, laughing and shaking his head. “What’s it been? Ten years?”

“Something like that,” she agreed, smoothing her sleek brown bob and tucking one side behind her ear. “Rachel didn’t tell me you were coming.”

“You know my sister can’t keep a secret,” he admonished. “And you also know how quickly things spread in a small town.”

“Like wildfire.” She gave a pointed glance to a small group huddled by the stairs, watching them.

Seeing them, Ian chuckled. “Let’s get out of here.”

She walked with him to his truck, smiling when he opened the door for her. “What about the tickets?”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Do you really want to go to the rodeo?”

She couldn’t help but laugh at his look of disbelief. “No, not especially.”

“Didn’t think so.” He grinned and shook his head.

Grace laid a hand on his arm, the feel of him vibrating through her fingertips. “The carnival sounds fun though.”

“Carnival it is then,” he said, glancing at her hand. He lifted it to his mouth and touched his lips to the back in a gallant gesture.

Her breath caught and she looked at him. “Ian?”

Smiling, he walked around the front of the truck and climbed in. He took off his hat, placed it on the dashboard, and ran his hand through his thick, dark hair. His mouth curved into a lopsided grin. “You’re wondering why?”

She nodded, half-scared of the answer. She’d had a crush on him since she was fifteen and he was eighteen.

“Oh, Grace…” he turned and held hand out to her.

She slipped her hand in his and closed her fingers around the rough, calloused skin, then shut her eyes, savoring the moment.

“You never knew, did you?”

Something in his voice made her heart skip a beat.

He’d had feelings for her, too?

She opened her eyes and met his gaze, taken aback. “Oh…”

Ian tugged on her hand. “C’mere.”

She slid across the seat, embracing the jittery excitement that skittered through her when his arm dropped settled around her shoulders. “A thousand dollars though?” She gave a disbelieving chuckle. “Ian, really?”

He leaned in close and whispered, “Worth every penny.”

The Time Before

by Guest Contributor, Dan Fitzgerald (@DanFitzWrites)

Kuun stood struggling to slow his breath as the acolytes wrapped strips of the stinking wet cloth around his body, binding his arms to his chest and covering everything but his mouth and eyes. He twisted his head a little to the right to take one last look at the rod, which lay on a stone table, gleaming orange-gold in the torchlight. With its help, he might yet complete his life’s work, and make the Maer whole again, if plague and war with the humans had not wiped them from the earth by the time he emerged from hibernation.

The mage removed the bronze cup from the flame and stirred it with utmost care, her voice rising as she murmured the incantation, in a language too ancient for even Kuun to understand. He swayed, his balance failing with the heavy dose of soma, and was propped up by one of the acolytes. The mage cleared her throat, gesturing with a gentle blink, and the acolytes lowered Kuun onto the cold stone slab, their arms trembling with the effort. The flames from the torches cast impossible colors and shapes on the chamber’s high ceiling. Kuun’s heart drummed and his breath came in shallow gasps as the mage approached with the steaming cup.

“There is no pain, no loss, no death where you are going. Only a long darkness, followed by the forever kingdom.” The mage dipped a spoon into the cup and blew on the tarry mixture as she stirred it once, twice, three times, then held the spoon over Kuun’s mouth, watching as the black sludge flowed into a large glob, then dropped into his mouth. It clogged his throat, and he tried to cough, but his body was frozen, powerless as the foul concoction spread through him, permeating his lungs, his stomach, his heart, and finally his mind. The mage’s words grew louder but more distant, echoes in the growing darkness, pebbles clattering into the void.

This piece is an excerpt from The Place Below, the third book in the Maer Cycle trilogy, scheduled for publication in March 2021 from www.shadowsparkpub.com.

The first book, Hollow Road, launches in September 2020.

Find out more at https://www.danfitzwrites.com/the-maer-cycle

Dan Fitzgerald can be found on Twitter as @DanFitzWrites.

Below the Bombs

by E.G. Deaile (@egdeaile_writer)

“A priest a monk and a rabbi walk into a bar, when the horse wished upon a star, the burnt sky above never seemed so far, as when the priest, monk, and rabbi walked into that bar.
“What do you think of my poem?” Dowd released the push to talk button on his radio.

“It was lovely.” Christine wiped the tear from her cheek. Listening to Dowd’s failing brain core come up with human poetry, or at least attempt to, was a failure of not only the architects to build a strong enough bunker, but of the world to avoid cataclysmic war. The bombs had fallen, saturating the earth with shockwaves, flames, and radiation that would be with them for hundreds of thousands of years.
“I’m glad you liked it” Dowd’s voice now synthesized poorly as the radiation above ate through its neural pathways. A human might last longer on the surface, but none could have closed the blast doors once the hydraulics failed. Only Dowd could do that. And so he had gone to save these few doomed humans.

Not just doomed, entombed. In the ever long list of ironies, the nuclear reactor, the same technology shredding the earth’s atmosphere at this moment, would ensure the survival of not just the human race, but indigenous animals and flora as well. At least, that was the idea.

Installations just the same as this one existed all over the world, and it was unlikely they would all fail. But no one really knew if a machine could maintain itself for a few hundred years much less hundreds of thousands.

“Christine, I think I like it outside.” Dowd’s voice came over the comm again.
“Are there any clouds in the sky?” Christine cut off a sob with the button.

“Do you want to hear a joke?” Dowd’s synthesizer sounded stronger. Without Dowd, this entire installation was nothing more than a grave. Only Dowd could operate the reactor, the food systems, the waste disposal. The human crew had been wiped out. Christine had little hope the sixteen tiny humans she had managed to get below ground would live much past the end of the week without clean water.

“Of course I do.”

“A horse, a monkey, and a rabbi walked into the bar.”

It was getting bad up there. Around her, the earth trembled with the havoc of the multi-kiloton bombs. Christine’s finger hovered over the button, unsure how to respond. Dowd’s crackled voice echoed one last time: “The priest ducked.”

E.G. Deaile writes thrillers and killers across multiple genres. Currently prepping a series of murdery-goodness writing advice series on YouTube. Follow @craftingkillers on Instagram for updates!