A Muse Bouche Review: December 2021

Christmas Tales

Welcome to our November issue!

In this issue, we’re writing about black sheep, the supernatural, and the holidays. We hope you enjoy our stories.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Warmest regards,
The A Muse Bouche Review Team

A Muse Bouche Review Logo

Feature: Homecoming (D.W. Hitz) Fiction 
A Leap in the Dark (Renée Gendron) Fiction
The Colony of the Christmas Cake (Crystal L. Kirkham) Fiction 
All I Learned About Black Sheep (Louise Sorensen) Fiction
T’Was the Night Before A Totally Uncopyrighted Holiday (A.P. MillerPoem 
December Team Showcase


By D.W. Hitz (@dustinhitz)

Alex felt hot breath on his neck. In a way, it was better than the ten-degree winds that whipped around the vehicle, radiating cold into the car. In a way, it gave him the creeps, because he knew there would be drool soon to follow if Bruce didn’t move his head.

He reached over the seat and scratched the dog’s head. Bruce huffed and laid his chin on Alex’s shoulder.

“Almost there, buddy.”

They crossed the narrow bridge that separated the town of his birth from the northern farmlands and traveled for two miles. They passed Grandma’s church, her brother’s farm, her cousins’ farms, and a dozen other neighbors’ homes that Alex could have drawn from memory.

Each home looked the same, unchanged since his birth in any meaningful way. Each field was harvested, now dormant for the season, asleep until spring when they’d be called into service again.

The land reminded Alex of Death this time of year. He related the crumbled mounds that striped the fields to the dirt that covered his grandfather’s grave that icy December morning in his youth. The fields slept then, as did the only person in his family that he ever felt understood him, who loved him for who he really was. And now, after his five-year absence, the land felt as bleak as ever, and his reception, he was sure, would be as cold as ever.

Alex turned down the long drive that led to Grandma’s farmhouse. The house sat a quarter-mile away, and though it stood the same as ever, it was smaller, a miniature in comparison to the last time he had seen it. He remembered water balloon fights with his cousins around the steps, sneaking under the porch for hide-and-seek, searching for Easter eggs around the bushes and the creepy old pumphouse. All were bittersweet, gifts of childhood soon after ruined by pelts of stone and dirt clogs by cousins once the adults were back inside. The cousins, Alex assumed, were already there today.

The grass in front of the house was a parking lot. Alex recognized his mother’s car, as well as his father’s. The rest were a mix of SUVs and pickups, some from town and others from out here.

He parked beyond the last row, only a few feet from the beginning of the field, underneath the span of an oak that must have been over a hundred years old. As was the house, it stood timeless, unchanged since the years when he hid behind it from his cousins Howie and Roy for fear of being shot with their slingshots and BBs. As he stood and let Bruce out of his vehicle, he saw chips in the bark from errant shots meant for him.

“Come on, Buddy.” Alex checked his watch. In the display, three triangles had aligned; the fourth was only minutes away. He had cut it close. He headed toward the door. Bruce followed beside, his large brown paws printing in the snow.

On the front porch sat two cousins, Roy and Louise, bundled up and smoking. They stared at Alex as he approached, eying him up and down. A sneer crossed Roy’s face. Question raised Louise’s eyebrows.

“Look at this son of a bitch. Ugly as ever.” Roy stood and pointed at Alex. “And you brought a mutt?” He gave Louise a half-cocked smirk as if she would find his insult amusing. Same old Roy: nasty as ever and still willing to do anything to try and get into his cousin’s pants.

Louise flashed a genuine smile at Bruce. Her eyes met Alex’s as he reached the porch steps. “Long time no-see, cuz.”

“Yeah.” Alex nodded. “Looks like everyone’s here.”

“It’s a full house,” Roy said. “You’ll need to leave the mutt out here.”

Alex glanced at his watch. The last triangle ticked another hair counterclockwise. He estimated he had around 3 minutes left. He glanced down at Bruce. “Stay.”

Bruce planted his furry butt in the snow. He panted happily and stared out into the acres or dormant soil.

Alex walked up the steps and grabbed the screen door’s handle. He nodded at Louise. “Good to see you, cuz.” He went inside.

The familiar scents of Christmases past bombarded him, as did the humid atmosphere of the crowded kitchen. Turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry, pies, cakes. Sweet and savory sensations floated in the warm air like fruit ready to be picked, and the raucous din of overlapping conversations all seemed to halt at once as Alex closed the door and the entire family’s eyes fell upon him.

“Alex?” his mother’s voice cut through the silence. She rose from her traditional seat beside Grandma. “You came?” Her head tilted left as she puzzled over the event. She tried to smile and hide her revulsion, but it was slow to cross her face and unsuccessful at camouflaging the disgust in her eyes. It was Mom in a nutshell: always trying to appear cordial, while her feelings of vitriol flowed like a mighty sea below.

He glanced at his watch again, and murmurs filled the audible gap. Time felt like it was racing by. Around a minute.

Alex looked up to hateful stares. He felt their glances burning in the abnormalities he once thought a curse. His squared-off ears, his stubby fingers, his wide and bumpy nose, all exposed under their judgment. He didn’t know why he let them get to him. He had grown comfortable with himself. He had learned who he was and where he really came from and was happy in his life now. Ecstatic about where it was going. But in this place, with these people, the shame of decades of their rancor dragged him back into a near-cowering state.

He shook his head. Shivers passed through his flesh. He stood up straight.

Alex cleared his throat. “I’m here to say goodbye to everyone. I thought I should be here when it happened.”

The rest of the room looked him over, their expressions as puzzled as his mother’s. Aunts, uncles, cousins, their kids, and Grandma; confusion grasped the congregation, and Alex could sense it turning toward anger.

His watch beeped a melodious tune, and Alex sighed.

The ground below the home rumbled. The ceiling, the walls, the floor, creaked and vibrated. Food danced in dishes and glassware clinked on the table. The room came alive and shook as if an earthquake was raging under the bedrock. Each human in the house was silent.

Dozens of eyes remained frozen on Alex for what felt like an eternity, then their bodies twitched and convulsed. Vomit spewed from their mouths and noses. Blood streaked from their eyes and ears. They collapsed onto the tables and tumbled to the floor with gasps and gargles.

Alex took a breath and stepped outside. He walked past Roy and Louise, collapsed on the porch. He crouched and petted Bruce, who was staring up at the sky.

They watched together as his people’s armada continued descending from the sky.

A Leap in the Dark

by Renée Gendron (@reneegendron)

Ingrid Hansen stood in the corner of her parent’s living room using the Christmas tree as a shield, stood to its right. Her parent’s sixtieth-wedding photo was proudly displayed on the fireplace mantel. Ingrid’s idiot older brother Thomas was in a heated debate with her younger brother Finn about the stock market’s direction.

Thomas, the senior mutual fund manager, forcefully expressed his opinion that the markets would go up—opportunities in developing markets, weak Canadian dollar for cheaper exports to the Eurozone, and pent-up domestic demand.

Finn, the insurance representative, counted out on his fingers why he advised his high-value clients to take a conservative position—no exposure to foreign markets, no exposure to start-ups, no exposure to volatile commodities, only tangible assets within the province.

“You counsel your high-net-worth clients differently than others?” Ingrid asked Finn.

Both Thomas and Finn peered around the tree at Ingrid like she was a first-grader who had wandered into a Ph.D lecturer on astrophysics.

Ingrid shrunk behind a series of lights and glass Christmas ornaments, though through their refracted reflections, she now had twelve irritating siblings.

Ingrid’s younger sister, Lisbeth, dressed in designer labels but with the same hideous hairstyle she had in the 70s, cuddled against her soup-du-jour boyfriend, Ma—. Mathew. Marc. Martin. Made of Money. Ma—something or other. His temples had long turned white, he’d outgrown his belt size at least three years ago, and he had an eye for a prospective third wife in Lisbeth. He wore a diamond pinky ring on each finger, a thick gold chain around his neck, and more gold around his wrists. The man was a walking gold mine.

Lisbeth, the regional sales manager for a tech company, doubled down on her earlier position that tech start-ups burned through cash, but they paid off big-time. There is no great reward without great risk—blah, blah, something returned on investment.

“You like taking risks, don’t you?” Ingrid said to Lisbeth, sliding her gaze to Made of Money.

“Everything’s a risk.” Ingrid snuggled deeper against Made of Money, her fingers finding his little finger, and her thumb stroked the fingernail-sized diamond on his pinky ring. “Some risks have a higher payoff. Besides, looks like the bets you took didn’t pay off.”

“Really? I’m the trailblazer. I was the first woman lead engineer in a multi-billion-dollar project in the province’s history. That’s a big risk.”

Lisbeth rolled her eyes. “Big deal. You’ve got no friends, you’re thirty pounds overweight, you still can’t cook, your life’s a mess, and you drive a four-year-old clunker of a car.”

Ingrid opened her mouth to respond, but Thomas said, “Ini, you would have been able to retire by now had you taken more risks.”

Like moving four provinces away and forging her future wasn’t taking a big risk.

Finn roped the conversation back to him, attention hog that he was.

Dad sat in his ancient BarcaLounger, which he bought after coming home from Korea. A glass of rye in his hand, he reclined and placed his slippered feet on the footrest. Eyes heavy from too much food, breath wheezy from too much booze, Dad watched with quiet interest.

Downstairs, a gaggle of cousins watched an overly loud show on Netflix. Something with a space battle or perhaps a war on Earth. Definitely something with explosions, wounded people, and thuds that reverberated through the floor of Ingrid’s stomach.

Mom puttered in her office, the kitchen, removing a tray of something from the oven. She wore the same dancing elf apron Dad had bought her for Christmas forty-something years ago. Its colours were as crisp and bright as they had been on the day she had opened the box.

Above the heated debate between siblings, Mom’s humming was overheard. She hummed the lullaby she sang to them as children, took a breath, hummed her wedding song, took another breath, hummed Yakety Yak by The Coaster’s, In the Still of the Night by The Five Satins, Wake Up Little Susie by The Everly Brothers, and Rockin’ Robin by Bobby Day. One long breath, and she returned to humming the lullaby.

Ingrid pressed deeper into her corner, away from the kitchen and the living room and the predictability of it all. She grabbed her parka from the coat rack, stepped into her boots, and slipped outside.

Frigid December air slapped away the fog of her thoughts. She eased the door closed and stood on the front porch.

Christmas lights adorned every gutter on the block. Green and red lights flooded every garage door.

Ingrid walked down the block, away from ledgers and numbers and risk tolerances, to the small park on the street. She trudged up a narrow path  and plunked herself down on a swing. The black plastic seat was hard and cold, but the weight off her hips and the ability to kick her feet in the air removed forty years from her life.

She gave her first kiss to Paul Koskinen on this swing. She spent hours speaking with her high school friends, exchanging perspectives on which boy was cute and which one was a dork. Even more hours of her teenage life were spent on this swing, talking about deep philosophical issues that, in hindsight, lacked perspective and depth. But those conversations, head leaning against the chains, bum numb from hard plastic, those conversations still resonated in her soul.

Footfalls crunched the snow behind her.

She braced for an argument with her meddlesome sister to come here to gloat about her new beau. The one with the new BWM M23 Sedan, sixty-foot yacht, and a timeshare in the Bahamas. Not the boyfriend from last year, who drove an Audi A4 Sedan, had the ten-acre cabin in the woods and preferred to spend Christmas in Switzerland.

“I’m not interested, Lisbeth,” Ingrid said.

The person stopped walking. “Sorry?” His voice was coarse.

Ingrid’s heart jumped, and she peered over her shoulder. A man in his mid-fifties stood, chin tucked into his scarf. His wool coat was pulled closed and hung to his mid-calf. She couldn’t make out the line of his nose or jaw, but a shaft of moonlight cast across his forehead, revealing a silver-coloured Tintin curl.

She wrapped her fingers around the cold chains, then slid her hands into her coat pockets. “I, uh, thought you were someone else.”

“You look like you’re avoiding someone.” He stood thirty feet away from her, waiting.

“That obvious?”

“It’s minus ten, and you’re out here without gloves or a hat. Yeah, it’s obvious.” His voice was honest, his accent local.

“What are you avoiding?”

“The usual. Decades-old fights that are never resolved. A house overrun by people who only see each other two or three times a year. Being stuffed with dry turkey stuffing. Canned cranberry sauce. That last one…” he shook his head. “That’s my line in the sand.”

Ingrid couldn’t help but laugh. She inclined her head to the empty swing beside her. “Let’s avoid things together.”

He approached and eased onto the swing. He wrapped his gloved fingers around the swing’s chains and swung once, twice, and a third time. On the third swing, he jumped and landed gracefully.

The snow cracked and crunched under his weight.

“Boys never grow up, do they?” Ingrid asked.

“Growing up isn’t any fun. It’s only responsibilities, mortgages, and leaky faucets and clogged toilettes.” He strode towards her, the line of his triangular jaw sharpened by the shadows along his chin. There was a sincerity about him, a genuine calmness not found in men seeking the biggest bonus, the largest office, or the cottage with the private beach.

“Give it a try,” he said.

“And break my ankle?”

“It’s three feet at most, and all you’re doing is swinging a bit for momentum. If you fall, you’ll land on snow. Snow’s soft and fluffy.”

She cast him a wary eye.

“Come on.” He strode behind her. “I’ll help you gain speed. The trick is to release from the swing at its highest point. Your legs will be straightest, and all you have to do is ease down from the swing.”

It had been decades since she’d jumped off a swing. She glanced down the street, with its pretty houses contoured by Christmas list and their front yards lined with brightly lit trees. Each home had four to six cars crammed into the driveway. Each front room window displayed a postcard-worthy Christmas tree.

Perfection to the point of nausea.

Each house had its dirty little secret.

Mrs Poulsen was a drunk. Mr Kowlaczyk kept three women on the side. Despite the two new cars in his laneway, Mr Aydem’s business was so far in debt that he was on the verge of bankruptcy. Mrs Kongkaeo was a battered wife who insisted on staying with her husband despite the numerous interventions from her neighbours.

Secrets. Brave faces. More secrets. More lies.

“What’s your contradiction?” she asked.


“These houses. Everyone in them. They present well, but they all have their dirty little secrets. What’s yours?”

“I’ll tell you after you jump off once.”

She turned to face him, looked him square in the eye. Playful light-brown eyes stared back at her.

“You’re not a serial killer, are you?” she asked.

“If I were, I’d be at a larger park where there are more people to choose from. Not stuck in some post-World War Two neighbourhood that pretends to be perfect.”

“You’ve put a lot of thought into that.”

He shrugged. “I like cop shops.”

“Go on, then.” She lifted her legs until they were straight in front of her.

He pushed once; she swung forward. He pushed a second time, and she gained height. She drew in a long breath on the third, pushed and rallied her courage.

“Now!” he said.

She released her grip from the chains and slid from the swing. For one glorious second, she flew, then landed rather softly on the snow. Her right ankle, the one she twisted playing ringette, broken playing rugby and ripped the cartilage from while hiking, held firm.

She laughed, drawing cold air into her lungs. “That was fantastic.”

“There you go. I knew you could smile.” He sat on a swing, the toes of his boots dragging against the ground. “Which one’s yours?”

“My parents live around the bend. The house with the three pine trees wrapped in blue Christmas lights. You?”

“My parents live in the house with the Santa on the roof and the multi-coloured floodlights.”


“They were children of the sixties. It’s a wonder the drugs have ever cleared their system.”



An unhurried silence followed. The frigid night continued stabbing at her lungs, but she didn’t mind.

“When did your parents move in?” Ingrid asked.

“Thirty years ago.”


“Ah?” he asked.

“I’ve not been home in thirty-five. That explains why I don’t recognise the name.”

“What’s the trick to avoid being dragged back home for the holidays?”

Make every mistake possible, then double down on every mistake possible, following that, mortgage everything on those mistakes. “Move across country.”

“There’s a phone.”

“Not where I chose to live.”


“That’s what I thought.” She glanced towards him.

“But?” Randy kept his gaze straight. The moonlight bathed half of his face, bringing out the thoughtfulness of his expression and the strength of his sharp chin.

“A smart decision at eighteen seems foolish at twenty-five and idiotic by the time you’re thirty.”

“That bad?”

“Not catastrophic. I’m still here. I haven’t had to sell one of my children to repay debts.”

“That’s more than what half of the population can say.” His tone tickled her.

She extended her legs, swung forward, and extended her legs again. “Yeah, I supposed so.” She swung five more times. The chains squeaked. “What’s your mistake?”


“The one that brought you out here on Christmas night.”

“Do I need to answer?” The tease in his voice was delicious and syrup-ee and inviting.

“I admitted my errors.”

“You admitted to a high-level series of errors. No names. No specified mistakes. Nothing but an overview.”

“There’s not enough rye in me.”

Randy reached into his coat pocket and produced a silver flask. “It’s rum, but it’ll do.”

She took a swig, enjoying the sugary burn down her throat. “Twenty-three-year-old university graduate runs away with her academic counsellor to live four provinces away in a shoe-box house. Three children in five years, divorced in year seven.”

Randy let out a slow whistle. “He’d be arrested today for that.”

“Different times, different laws.”

Randy grunted.

She took a swig of his rum, returned his flask, and swung some more. “Your turn. What brings you out here on this frigid night? Avoiding Christmas dinner and the fights around it?”

Randy angled his face to the sky and closed his eyes. Blond stubble covered his cheeks, giving him a sugar-frosted look. “Married the first girl who slept with me. Graduated high school and took the first job I could get, which was at her father’s store. Worked like a slave for ten years, having two kids to support with no skills. Fights about money, fights about my lack of career, fights about her lack of career and turning to Daddy to complain. Just fights. So many fights. Things ended eleven years later. Couldn’t see my kids for a year, slept in a trailer for two years, five years to stop being sucked dry by her divorce attorneys.”

“And now?”

“A band-aid’s enough to stop the bleed from her demands, and the kids have graduated college or university.”

“Good for them.”

Randy grunted. “Better than I ever did.”

“And now?”

“My two-bedroom bungalow is paid. The ex can never touch it. The children are launched and have a firm footing in their lives. And I’m back here on this crescent. I thought I’d never come back again.”

“Father thought you a failure?”

Randy shook his head. “My mother. She never forgave me for ruining my high school sweetheart. She thought she had so much more potential than being with me after high school.”

“That’s harsh coming from your mom.”

“You didn’t want to hear what the ex’s mother had to say. Didn’t speak to me for three years.” He smoothed an eyebrow. “Mind, that was more of a blessing.”

Ingrid nodded in the silence of the night. “Potential. The word is a curse.”

“What potential did they say you had?”

Everything. Anything she set her mind to. Had she not followed her heart, stopped her education, put children before money. “Stockbroker. Business leader. Entrepreneur. Banker.”

“And what’d you become?”


He hissed. “Those numbers don’t count. Nothing to do with money. You black sheep, you.”

She cleared away the laughter in her throat. “And what coloured your fleece black?”

“The ex’s father owned a series of RV lots throughout eastern Ontario. I couldn’t stand sales. I did what I could to keep the kids fed and housed, but… Christ, I hate RVs. Buy a cottage. There’s accrued value in the property. It’s easier to rent them out.”

She stared into the Christmas-light-illuminated street before her. “What’d you do?”

“Sold RVs, and when I had a free moment, grew turf.”


“Like grass. Turf.”

“Who’d you sell it to?”

Snow fell onto his hair and eyebrows, resembling a frosted-over Arctic explorer. “Scraped together a down payment for a loan on a twenty-acre property. Field. Harvested turf for new housing development and golf courses. Within five years, I became one of the top three turf suppliers in the region. My ex still bled me, but I had some leftover.”

“Good for you.”

“I saved some of the turf business in the divorce. Turned some of the lots into a golf course. The one-off Highway 8.”

“It’s a popular spot.”

He nodded. “Golfers love pristine grass.”

Ingrid’s phone trilled in her pocket. She ignored it, but the buzzing was insistent. One of her brothers, sister, father, mother, children, nieces, or nephews, it didn’t matter who, but one of them or all of them was trying to reach her.


Belly-busting dinner served with a looping series of tunes hummed by Mom.


“Think black sheep should have a united front?” she asked.


“Meet on Thursday at the pub around the corner for eggnog?”

“Only if there isn’t any canned cranberry sauce.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

The Colony of the Christmas Cake

By Crystal L. Kirkham (@canuckclick)

My family holds their Christmas traditions in high esteem. There were many different ones, but the greatest of all is the Christmas Cake. That dense brick of fruits and nuts first appeared in 1968 and has returned every year since. I first had the unfortunate displeasure of this concoction when I was a young child.

There was only one reason I swallowed that first horrendous bite and every bite that followed: the look of pride on my grandmother’s face. I loved her dearly and the last thing I wanted to do was disappoint her. So, I smiled and ate it all.

As I grew older, like everyone in my family, I learned the secret of the fruitcake. It took over a month to collect the ingredients from around the world. It was a truly international recipe. There were even specific regions of each country that an ingredient had to come from. There was even a list of backup locations as well. Not one thing came from the local grocery store.

As I grew older, I would hide the slices given to me. As an adult, I had a freezer dedicated to storing the cakes. I never told anyone. It was a secret that I planned to take to my grave even as I joined in the making of that hated Christmas Cake.

As my stash of cakes grew, I had to expand my storage capabilities to a rented facility. I suppose if they didn’t take so much effort to make, I wouldn’t have kept them. Knowing the time and expense that went into them made it hard to even think of throwing any away.

It was Christmas of 2025—or was it 2026—when the unexpected happened. Some say it was aliens. Others claim it was a virus. Either way, the end result was the same: zombies. Or something that we called that. They weren’t the undead, but simply people who had been driven into an uncontrollable, violent frenzy. One that only stopped at death.

That was how I found myself on Christmas Day beating grandma over the head with a turkey leg after having just drowned my rabid cousin in the punch bowl. Mashed potatoes were little defence against my mother, but brussels sprouts proved slightly more effective against my father.

I scrambled to make it out of what was officially the worst Christmas dinner ever, but at every turn I was surrounded by loved ones attempting to tear me to literal shreds. In desperation, I grabbed the Christmas Cake from the candlelit display on the side hutch. Zombies or not, they all paused in their pursuit of me. Somehow, the sacred tradition was so ingrained that it reached them.

“I’ll drop it,” I screamed at the top of my lungs as I faked letting it go. The collective gasp was enough to confirm my suspicions. Wielding it like a shield, I backed out of the house and into the snowy street. Mr. Milligan from next door was decorating their maple tree with his wife’s intestines but stopped at the sight of me. He stumbled in my direction and I shoved the cake toward him in hopes it would work with him too.

He cringed away from me and hissed. It seemed to work even on those outside my family. Who knew that the dessert I hated so much would be so instrumental in saving my life? It was that fact alone that informed my next decision—I needed to make it to the rented freezer unit where I had enough Christmas Cake with which to build a fortress.

My keys were still in the house which meant I couldn’t get to my car. I would have to steal a vehicle or try to make it on foot. Turning in circles with the cake held out in front of me, my head whipping around as I tried to see in every direction.

“Help!” a woman screamed, and I turned to see several raging zombies chasing her down. I ran in her direction, waving the Christmas Cake in the air. Yet again, it had the desired effect as some of them gave horrified hisses and some gasped in shock, but all of them came to a halt. “Hurry, come with me. We need to find a car.” I ushered her closer as we made our way down the street, trying to find any vehicle that we could easily take.

Horrific tableaus from the most demented of imaginations confronted us at every turn. Eventually, we came across an old Pontiac sitting in the middle street, its engine still puttering away. The doors were open and the previous occupants missing. Red handprints decorated the windows, but I did my best to ignore them.

“Where are we going? Is that a fruitcake? And who are you?” The young woman broke the silence we had kept since I’d helped her escape the zombies earlier.

I answered the questions in order of importance. “It’s called a Christmas Cake. I have a freezer full of them and I’m Sam.”

“Catia, and thank you for saving me. How does that cake thing work? Why does it repel them?”

I shrugged. “I guess most people just have such strong feelings about the stuff that it’s ingrained in their… rage-fuelled minds? Do you even know what happened?”

“No. One moment we were holding hands and saying prayers around the table and the next, my sister was trying to bite me.” Catia snorted and laughed a little. “To be honest, we’ve never gotten along and it felt good when I hit her with the candlestick.”

In a vehicle, the trip to the freezer unit wasn’t long and, despite the already damaged fence, it was empty of people—zombie or otherwise. I led the way to the unit and opened it up to reveal more Christmas Cakes than most people saw in their lifetime.

“Damn, where did these all come from? And what are we doing with them?” Catia asked as the smell of expensive rum and fruit permeated the air. Even a freezer couldn’t stop that from happening, but I did know one secret of these cakes that none in my family had ever discovered. If I left them out long enough, they dried into the best bricks.

“My family is obsessed and, I swear, some years they would give me ten of them. Plus, I had to learn to make them, so those got stored too.” I turned to her and grinned.

“As for what we do with them: we build a fortress.”

* * *

Time passed and the fortress stood tall. Christmas cakes interspersed at regular intervals with more rugged building materials. It left a decent amount to use as repellents when we left our protective wall to venture out for supplies.

I tried to bake more cakes, but it seemed there was something about the family recipe that worked better than the rest though I had some moderate success with a variety that included eggnog.

Other survivors found us. The colony of the Christmas Cake grew and thrived in this new world. Every five years or so, whatever happened on that fateful Christmas Day repeated and a new batch of rage-zombies was created.

And still, the Christmas Cake repelled them. What I once thought was the bane of my existence, the reasoning in my mind that I may have actually been adopted, was the only thing that saved me—and the last remnants of humanity.

All I learned about Black Sheep

by Louise Sorensen (@louise3anne)

Herbivores keep their heads down most of the time. Grazing. It takes a lot of grass to fuel those bodies.
People learn to keep their heads down too. Sometimes as children, when they have a teacher nicknamed Happy Knuckles Harry roaming the classroom with a wooden yardstick, whacking students known to be rowdy across the back with all his might. This is enough to put a child right off their feed, possibly fire up rebellious feelings and question the nature of authority, and even trigger the expression of a black sheep gene. If there is such a thing. There must be something, that makes people go against everything they’ve ever been taught.
My mother had a black sheep she loved dearly. Darth Vader. He got eaten by wolves. The perils of keeping sheep in the wilds of north eastern Ontario, Canada.
The term ‘Black Sheep’ describes a disfavoured or disreputable member of a group or family. Of course, whether a black sheep is a good thing or not depends on public opinion and the nature of the group or family. Someone in a criminal family who decides to forego the family business and become a school teacher, might be considered as much a black sheep to their family, as a person from a family of scholars who becomes a human trafficker.
Halloween is the present-day remnant of a pagan celebration from 2000 years ago, a day when people believed the dead could walk among the living. In the 11th century, Christianity absorbed the day into its own lexicon in an effort to transform this celebration into its own. But someone who embraces the celebration of Halloween as the pagan festival of All Hallows Eve, can be considered a black sheep in a family of devoutly religious.
Kings and leaders in high places who abuse their power to the detriment of their people are considered saints by some, devils by others. Whether they are considered Black Sheep, which is a much less serious category, is unlikely—the Black Sheep is sometimes considered a scoundrel, acting against the good of the family, sometimes a hero, fighting for the good of the people. It all depends on point of view.
Actual sheep of the herbivorous persuasion have been bred by humans over many years to be white, and a black lamb is the result of a recessive gene that crops up only rarely. Black wool was considered less valuable than white wool because it’s coarser, making it uncomfortable to wear, and cannot be dyed. Otherwise, you’d think it’d be handy having ready-made black in your colour palette. This year, a fashion designer has blended the coarse wool from black sheep with soft wools like Merino for a unique look that responds to weather conditions and reflects the environmental conditions that the sheep were raised in.
The children’s nursery rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep has been controversial since the 1970s, in that it has been argued in modern times to be linked to the slave trade of the 1800s. But like many nursery rhymes, it is thought to have been written as a code for what was happening in politics centuries ago. 
Its origins can be traced back to the 12th Century, when a medieval wool tax was imposed by an English king who needed to drum up funds quickly, shortly after his return from the Crusades.
In the original version, a third of the cost of a sack of wool went to the king, another went to the church, the last to the farmer. Leaving none for the little boy who lived down the lane. 
But it would have been worth your life to complain. 
Perilous times spawn nursery rhymes.
So although it is enticing to connect the term black sheep to feelings and beliefs of the present day, it is inaccurate.
It’s amazing how many things from the 11th and 12th centuries still echo in some form in our lives today. They got a lot done back then. Will anything of our present survive a thousand years? Probably not at the rate of cancel culture. Unless there’s a terrific backlash at some point. People have ever sought to record history the way they want, as opposed to the way it actually happened. Maybe new nursery rhymes are the answer.
Black sheep in the disreputable sense, pop up in many families. It’s the child who doesn’t follow tradition, the family business, the family values. Often there is a ramrod stubborn elder involved who leads the family in ostracizing the errant member, sometimes to force them back into compliance, sometimes for sheer cussedness. Don’t be that person. Unless your kid is a human trafficker. Then, be that person.
I’ve known elders who ostracized family members for speaking out about their smoking, and whole families who were cut off from the main family for insulting the matriarch by not expressing enough appreciation for a meal that took her all day long to prepare. 
But often, people don’t know why they were singled out for disfavour and somehow became the black sheep. Sometimes being shunned by the rest of the family is a sorrow. Sometimes a blessing.
Black sheep make interesting characters in stories. Han Solo comes to mind as one of the good ones. Loki comes to mind as one of the other kind, but he had his reasons. The black sheep figures in many stories, often as the Protagonist, the Major Character, like Robin Hood or The Highwayman. If not the Major Character, they often steal the show anyway. Think Kili in the movie The Hobbit. Of course, interesting, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. 
In conclusion, don’t fear the Black Sheep. They’re simply innocent herbivores who got caught up in politics and power struggles and decided not to play. As opposed to sheeple, who simply follow without question and don’t even know there’s a game.
And as Forest Gump would say, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

T’was the Night Before a Totally Uncopyrighted Holiday

by A.P. Miller (@Millerverse)

Author’s Note: This poem is not about anything, or anyone, specific. The author is just that guy who likes the shocked look on people’s faces. Happy Holidays!
T’was the night before a holiday, no matter the occasion
My Grandma was drunk on the vineyard persuasion.
Grandpa was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life,”
Groaning & moaning about his battle-axe wife.
My mother was hopeful, that this was the one
The one holiday without fighting and only the fun
That went out the window when my uncle arrived
He smelled like a brewery, distilling his insides.
Grandpa and Uncle began to converse,
About which of their fathers was the biggest bastard, or worse.
My Dad and my Sister began to take wagers
On which of Mom’s family was in the greatest danger.
Mother threw up her hands, understandably pissed,
In a rage about how her holiday hopes were nixed.
Grandma stood up, her words mixed & jumbled
Asked if Mom wanted to go over her knee & be humbled.
Grandpa and Uncle, forgotten because of the fracas
Had their fists balled up and in each other’s faces.
With a deep, booming voice, exceeding a shout
My dad roared like a lion “GET THE F*** OUT!”
What about me? Had I made not a peep?
I’m more like a mouse, like the blackest of sheep.
I do not partake of the holiday warfare
I prefer to observe instead of despair.
From my heart to yours, the gladest of tidings
Thank you for reading my holiday writings.
May your New Year be filled with joy and with peace,
And may you create your opus masterpiece.

AMBR Team Showcase: December 2021

Seven Points of Contact, Renée Gendron 

White Lightening, Melissa Yi 

Dead Reckoning, Grave Intentions, Book 1 by Aedyn Brooks

Ready or Not, Grave Intentions, Book 2 by Aedyn Brooks

Devil’s Due, Grave Intentions, Book 3 by Aedyn Brooks – August 2021

Book 1 of the Outdoorsman Series, by Renée Gendron to be released October 14, 2021 

Seven Points of Contact, by Renée Gendron to be released fall/winter 2021-2022

Heads and Tales A supernatural / mythological anthology. Renée Gendron contributed a historical, supernatural, romance. Amazon

A Law of Constants by A.P. Miller is available on Amazon

Beneath The Twin Suns An Anthology, edited by https://reneegendron.com/james-and-mirabelleRenée Gendron, available now. Find the link to your Amazon here.

Days of the Phoenix by A.P. Miller is available on Amazon

Dead Reckoning: Grave Intentions, Book 1 by Aedyn Brooks is available on Amazon

Duel Visions by Misha Burnett and Louise Sorensen is available on Amazon

Heartened by Crime from Renée Gendron is available now.

In The Red Room : A crime anthology with heart Edited by Renée Gendron is available now.

Judith’s Prophecy, a Supernatural Thriller by D.W. Hitz is available from Evolved Publishing
 – Also book 2 and 3 are available + check for it now on audiobook

They Stole the Earth! A Middle Grade Sci-Fi Adventure by D.W. Hitz is available from Fedowar Press
 – Now available on audiobook!