Welcome to our April 2022 edition.
In this issue, we write about the common cause.
The A Muse Bouche Review Team
by Crystal L. Kirkham (@canucklick)
“Equals? No. Your kind is barely better than a beast of burden. Go back to the mines where you belong or I will make sure you never bother anyone with your useless thoughts ever again.” Bezon’s voice boomed through the small office, lightning danced between his fingers.
The orc, Ach, bowed and backed out of the room. He knew better than to argue with such a powerful necromancer and doubly so when it was Bezon MuskElf. There were few who crossed him and lived to tell their tale.
It had been a gamble to come up here to demand fair treatment for his people, but that was what had been promised to them when they entered into an agreement with Bezon. Ach had thought—foolishly, it would seem—that a MuskElf would be kinder to the orcs than those higher born.
The MuskElf clan knew what it was like to be looked down upon, to be thought of as lesser because they were a cursed clan. They had once been among the mighty, but had been cast out from the rest of the elf clans. Bezon had been determined to raise his kind from the muck and mire back to their previous glory as a highborn clan.
Ach, and many others, had believed the promises of the MuskElfs to raise all species to equality if they worked together. Ach honestly believed that if a cursed clan could do it, then perhaps one day society might accept them, as well. He should have known better than to trust any kind of elf. They all should have known better.
He stepped onto the lift, giving a nod to the poor undead creature that was mindlessly operating it. Orcs were not the only species that were little more than slaves to what was now the most powerful clan of elves in the world and he was determined to do something to better their fate. However, any option left meant that he would need to find allies among the downtrodden.
Ach eyed the zombie—she looked like she’d been a LòtinElf in life—and wondered how much independent thought she was capable of. Sure, Bezon created them and controlled them, but Ach had also seen zombies ordered to be destroyed. He’d never questioned it before, but was there something of the original being still inside?
“Hey, you. Do you have a name?”
The zombie rolled her eyes to look at him and groaned. Her teeth gnashed together, tendons creaking in disuse. Another groan, this time it sounded as though she were trying to form words. Ach frowned as he took in her appearance. She’d been dead a long time from the look. He wondered if one of the newer dead might find it easier to communicate.
“Can your kind communicate with each other?” Ach’s eyes narrowed. All these years working beside the animated dead, and he only now considered whether they might be more than walking corpses.
Another grunt, and a movement that he interpreted as a nod.
“He doesn’t have complete control over all of you, does he?”
Another grunt, a subtle swinging of the head from side to side. The lift jerked to a stop, but the doors stayed closed. Ach hoped it was a sign and tried not to get his hopes up that he might find an unlikely ally in the zombies. He waited, but all he got were several more unintelligible grunts.
“If you can communicate, and if your kind wants to be free from their creator, find a way to let me know. Maybe we can work together.”
Another slight nod, and the doors opened. Small orbs lit the way down the path of rough-hewn rock. Orcs were accustomed to living deep in the depths of the earth and it was the only part of their slavery that was never considered a burden. Perhaps that was why Bezon had chosen to make them suffer or perhaps it was because none of the other peoples in the land would care if it were orcs or other disreputable creatures being used so cruelly.
Zombies, goblins, leprechauns, shades, gnomes… Ach ran through the different creatures he knew of down in the mine. The leprechauns were his best bet for finding allies. They could be terrible, sneaky creatures to deal with normally, but they wanted their powers unbound. Even with their magic gone, they could be useful. Goblins and shades might be harder to convince. He still avoided shades, and goblins were historical servants of MuskElf long before the uprising. Gnomes had potential though.
Now, all he needed was a plan.
“Orrrcccsssss. Frieeeennnddddssss.” The words slithered through Ach’s dreams luring him back to the waking world. A zombie, recently dead from the look of him, stood a few feet away.
“Whuh?” Ach rubbed at his eyes as he sat up.
“Orrrcccssss. Frieeeennnddddssss,” the zombie said, each word came like the pump of bellows. Ach could only imagine the effort it took to force air in and out of lungs that were no longer used to such movement. “Weeeeeee. Heeeeelllllllp.”
Ach grinned, hoping the sight wouldn’t scare the zombie, as it did most creatures. “Thank you. I am Ach.”
“Wwwwiiiiiilllllll.” The zombie thumped his chest as he spoke. “Yoooouuuu plaaaaaannnnn?”
Ach groaned and shook his head. “No, Will. I don’t have a plan…yet.”
Will nodded and lumbered closer. “Iiiddddeeeeeaaaaa.”
“You have an idea?”
Will nodded again. “Unnnnioooonnnn.”
It was a simple plan, but it was one that hadn’t crossed Ach’s mind. Unions were a human thing, their guilds and associations. However, for the other creatures he could sell it as a new type of clan. It could work except for one small snag. “And how do we make him listen to us? Even if we stop working until there is better treatment, he can kill his was a swipe of his hand.”
Will tilted his head to the side and said nothing. Whether the answer was too complex for him to articulate or he had none, Ach wasn’t sure. Was possible death worth it for the chance of even a minute increase in freedom and respect? He didn’t feel qualified to answer that.
“Neeeeeeddddssssss uuuuusssssss,” Will said.
Ach blinked. It was not a thought that had occurred to him, but his kind weren’t known for their intellectual abilities and he was no exception to that. Of course, Bezon needed them to work the mines. It would be difficult to find or make more slaves and too many zombies were a strain on even the greatest necromancers.
“Okay. Give me a week and I will rally the orcs and as many of the others that are stuck in his service that I can reach. Then we make our demands and if Bezon denies us those rights, we will refuse to work. He can’t kill us all.” Ach puffed out his chest as he spoke, his words more confident than his thoughts.
Will grunted in response and shuffled out of the room. Ach waited until he could no longer hear the footsteps echoing through the caves before he slumped back into his bed. A week wasn’t much time, but he already had most of the orcs on his side already. Hopefully, no one else would realise how dangerous this idea was.
“WHAT?!” Bezon’s booming voice echoed throughout the cave system. Ach could only assume that one of the supervising liches had told him about the work strike. Dust rained down on the gathered mass of orcs, zombies, gnomes, leprechauns, and the few goblins and shades that had chosen to stand with them.
Ach shifted his stance and squared his shoulders even as his gut churned. Will stood next to him, twitching sporadically. Several liches stood facing them, doing their best to force the zombies back to work. Ach knew the power those creatures could wield and they’d tried every trick in the book, short of killing someone, to get them to return to work. So far, it hadn’t been enough to sway any of those gathered.
They parted to allow Bezon into the large cavern where they’d gathered. He glared at those gathered there. Ach thought his heart would pound out of his chest as those eyes lighted on him. A spark crackled between Bezon’s fingers as he marched toward Ach.
“You. You were in my office demanding better treatment for your kind. Are you responsible for this?” Bezon’s slight form towered over his stockier form.
“Yes.” Ach snapped his jaw shut after saying that simple word. He didn’t need Bezon hearing his voice tremble. Will grunted beside him, drawing the necromancer’s attention.
“Both of you. I should have known. I will have your heads for this.” Bezon’s pulled a short, elegant sword from beneath his voluminous robes.
“It won’t work. We demand fair treatment,” a sharply accented voice called out. One of leprechauns shoved her way forward from the crowd to stand beside Ach as well. “We are done being your slaves when we promised better than this. If you want us to go back to work, then all you need to do is give us what we are asking for. You can kill us all, but then what? You have no way of replacing a workforce of this size.”
Ach was glad she had stepped forward to speak. He wasn’t sure he could say it so eloquently. In a smooth movement, Bezon gutted the leprechaun. Chaotic conversations filled the air before her body stilled and several more leprechauns stepped forward. Bezon’s eyes flicked across the show of force and the uncertainty in them gave Ach the courage to step closer to the necromancer.
“You cannot kill our desire to be free of tyranny. We don’t mind working the mines, but we want what was promised. All of us.” He bared his teeth and widened his stance. Ach knew this would never lead to physical confrontation but he put on the show for everyone else watching.
“Then you can all die. I don’t need the living to keep this place working.”
Those words followed him into a deep, lonely darkness before they called him back to the light. He found his eyes staring at prone bodies. Ach struggled to push himself up, each movement an agony. It was as though his body was a million miles away from his control.
I can’t believe he did that, Ach. Didn’t think it would turn out this way, but there is no way he can control all of us, not even with the help of the liches. It was Will’s voice that filled his mind and he wasn’t even sure how he knew that, but he did.
Bezon’s coarse chuckle drew his attention. Ach managed to move his head to see the necromancer staring down at them. “What do you have to say for yourselves now, you useless peons?”
Ach’s pulled air into his lungs and then forced out a single word. “Unnnnioooonnnniiiizzzze.”
by A.P. Miller (@Millerverse)
April 21, 2022
123 Hind Street
Attn: Officer Theodore Rostam, Negotiator, a proxy for the addressed
Re: Hostage Negotiations
Dear Officer Rostam:
Please let it be understood this letter is being written with the expectation of illicit compliance and the demands met without a moment’s hesitation. Failure to comply will result in swift consequences & the burden of responsibility will fall on you exclusively. Our expectation of timeliness and efficiency is a reflection of the work environment we’ve been subjected to since Turner Plastics purchased the factory from Mr. & Mrs. Pfieffer. We’ve been overworked, underpaid, manipulated, & devalued. That abuse ceases immediately.
So that we’re all with the same foundation of transparency: we have captured the building, plant manager Bill Clemmons is in our custody, and we are prepared to dispose of both. Per your request, and in the spirit of good faith, we agree to negotiate the release of Mr. Clemmons & the surrender of possession of the building. If our demands are met, in full, neither Mr. Clemmons nor the building will be harmed.
Our demands, in order of importance:
Number One: the CEO of Turner Plastics, Ned Gottschall, goes on the public record and acknowledges that he created an environment where a man like Henry Tucker would be fired on the day before his retirement began, & causing him to forfeit his pension that was guaranteed under the terms of sale from the Pfieffers. That thieving rat bastard will acknowledge what a gutless slug he is to fire the most senior plant operator, denying him the send-off he deserved, robbing him of the gold watch he’d been working for at this plant since he was fifteen years old, all to sate his tremendous greed.
Number Two: Turner Plastics will report themselves to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for gross violations & blatant negligence. Among the violations they will admit to, Turner Plastics will acknowledge they disabled the air conditioning in the summer, the heat in the winter, refused to supply workers with appropriate ear protection, & maintain a drinking fountain that supplied safe drinking water. Turner Plastics will tell OSHA they willingly committed these violations & will accept any & all disciplinary measures. Turner Plastics will also acknowledge to OSHA that these violations were committed so the company could save money — we know this to be true because Bill Clemmons walked around the plant, demanding we do more for less, so he would get paid his bonus for his operating budget. To be clear: we are not paid a bonus. We are told to be grateful for the opportunity to be employed.
Number Three: No criminal charges will be filed against the collective members of Plastic Molders Union – Local 245 for the imprisonment of Bill Clemmons, forcing him to urinate in his pants as penance for denying his subordinates such luxuries as bathroom breaks, and forcibly taking possession of the building after we had to watch Henry Tucker sob as he was escorted to his vehicle. Henry was denied his dignity, so Bill Clemmons was denied his in retaliation. From this day forward, Turner Plastics will regard us as human beings & Bill Clemmons will be referred to, professionally, as Captain Piss-Pants.
Number Four: Turner Plastics will immediately recognize the reorganization & authority of Plastic Molders Union – Local 245. Turner Plastics will also pay the dues for all members, as well as punitive charges, as atonement for manipulating all of the members to disband the union for more favorable contract terms, only to make working conditions even worse for the sake of profit.
Number Five: Turner Plastics, Captain Piss-Pants, and any affiliated parties will forfeit the opportunity to press criminal, or civil, charges against the members of the union. We were men and women who had been robbed of our dignity, our financial security, and our ability to live life comfortably. People, human beings, should not have to go to work each day and lay their heads on the pillows in worry. People should not have to punch in every day wondering if they are the ones getting fired unceremoniously that day.
When Turner Plastics came into the building to announce they are purchasing the company, we were told our hard work would be rewarded, that the company couldn’t make it without us, and how valued we are. We know now that those words were pandering in the most insulting sense. We are human beings tried to keep the fridge half-full, try to keep the lights on, and try to keep holes out of our clothes. We’re not asking for luxury, we’re asking to be able to afford basic human necessities, and not be the collateral bi-product of greed-mongering.
If you back a dog into a corner, that dog is going to bite. Turner Plastics backed us into a corner by firing Henry Tucker to sack his pension as a threat to all of us. We bit by overtaking the building, holding a douchebag hostage, and asked for a ransom. We felt alive shattering windows, destroying company property, and duct-taping Bill Clemmons to a chair. For the first time since Turner Plastics took over, we were exerting ourselves for the sake of ourselves. Now that we have a taste of empowerment, we’re not giving that up.
Please read our demands carefully — we’re not asking for a boatload of cash or a helicopter to escape, we’re asking for honest consideration for an honest day’s work. If Turner Plastics refuses to meet those demands, we’re prepared to go to prison for arson. Three meals a day, a bed, and labor guaranteed to be lighter than what we’ve been working? Where’s the downside.
You have six (6) hours to respond. After six (6) hours, Bill Clemmons begins testing the occupational hazards of the plant with the exact same safety provisions Turner Plastics has given us.
The Collective Bargaining Committee
Plastic Molders Union
by D. W. Hitz (@dustinhitz)
Saul’s lip curled into his cheek, his nearly orange teeth exposed as he sloshed through mud and manure. He opened the plastic bin beside the coop and groaned, then scooped and sprinkled the feces-drenched ground with seed and grain.
Fowl scampered from a hundred directions pecking at the ground. Their beaks dug into the soiled earth, desperately pecking each and every bit of grime-covered sustenance. Saul waited, his teeth grinding against one another. He scooped again and tossed a rainbow of feed on top of the birds. It landed on heads and backs and stuck to feathers. Birds looked up, then pecked at each other, desperate for any bite, including those wedged between the feathers of their yard mates.
Saul watched them fight and grinned. He waited until one was pecked enough that he could see blood seeping through the feathers on her back. He snatched her up by the neck and carried her out of the yard.
Saul ate his chicken dinner, fried with a side of potatoes, and scowled at the pictures on the kitchen wall. His mother’s pictures, they showed an eight-year-old Saul, his father, and the girl he once called his sister.
He remembered that day. It was before Pa fell off the tractor drunk and was run over by his plow. It was before Jessica took a liking to the Miller boy, got pregnant, and went away to have it dealt with. It was before Momma found Pa’s demons and made them her own. But that day was when Pa said it: “This will be yours one day, Saul.”
He wondered if his Pa had premonitions, but figured, likely not. He never considered Jessica, looked right past her. Never considered Momma; he really only seemed to talk to her at night in the bedroom when she shouted. But the man knew, regardless.
Saul chewed, his lips and cheeks greasy. He thought about the eggs, the pickup in the morning, and when he might have twenty spare dollars and could call Ramona to come over and spend a few minutes with him in the bedroom.
Pain tore through Saul’s gums. “Gah!” he screamed through a mouth of half-masticated meat. He spat everything onto his plate and felt around his mouth with his fingers. He found it protruding from the pink tissue above his upper right incisor, an inch-long shard or ivory: a chicken bone.
He yanked it free and examined it in his hand. The shiny white thing contrasted against the dirt stains on his hands and the black under his fingernails. He growled to himself, tossed it aside, and sipped from his glass of whiskey. It burned his mouth and then his throat, and he resumed his dinner.
Saul flopped onto his bed, Ramona’s smooth, chunky hips on his mind. Before he could unbutton his pants and finish the thought, he was unconscious.
He didn’t know what time it was when he started hearing the sounds. It started as a scratching, something running along the wood floor. Then the air moved over his body, across his head, over him. There was a scraping, ripping cloth.
He opened his eyes and saw the dark outlines of his room, what had once been Pa and Momma’s room. The yellow bulb down the hall faintly lit the floor by the door, and something shuffled in the shadows.
“Who’s there?” His voice was groggy and dry.
Scraping on the floor to his right. He spun and stared into the darkness. Was it a rat? The shadows moved and there was scratching to his left. A couple rats.
He rolled to his right, to the nightstand, and pulled open the drawer. Pa’s .45. He grabbed it and pointed into the darkness. “Fuckin’ varmints!”
Something hit his foot. Through the thin layer of cotton, he felt a sharp, stabbing pain.
“Ow!” He jerked his foot inward and felt warm wetness. He was bleeding. He scooted back against the wall and aimed into the darkened room. Shadows moved everywhere.
He fumbled for the light. He switched on the lamp, and pain shot through his hand.
On his nightstand was a black chicken. Blood dripped from its beak. His hand had a quarter-sized hole in it.
Saul pointed the pistol and fired. “Fuck you, bird!”
He was deaf for a moment as the chicken exploded in feathers and blood. He didn’t hear the flap of the birds on his left as they landed on his leg and pecked into his flesh.
“Shit!” He jerked away.
They flapped up and back and he saw them. He saw them all. His gaze circled the room, and he spotted hundreds of beady eyes upon him, hundreds of hungry, beady chicken eyes.
by Renée Gendron (@reneegendron)
Ten year-contract, eight-medal, four-tour, First-strike Platoon Commander (FSPC) Harlow Sargysan ducked behind a pile of debris.
Energy slugs blasted against brick walls, smashing bricks and thickening the air with dust. A metallic taste lingered on FSPC Sargysan’s tongue.
“Under fire.” Strained and stressed but in control, a male voice squawked through her shoulder-mounted radio.
“Position?” Harlow asked.
“Corner of Lakeshore and Main… what’s left of it.”
Harlow sprang to her feet and motioned for her platoon to move forward. She half-ran, half-crouched to the collapsed building twenty metres ahead and peered around the corner.
The zwoom of an energy pulse headed towards her, and she pressed her back flat against the rubble.
The blast hit their previous location and disintegrated the mound of bricks.
Zwoom. Zwooom. Zwooooom.
Larger and larger and larger pulses barreled down the street, blasting fine dust into the atmosphere.
Harlow sucked in a breath that was more dust than air. Cold sweat cascaded down her spine and pooled in her lower back. “With me.”
She ducked out from behind the wall and ran to what remained of a four-storey apartment building. Her platoon followed and sought shelter.
Energy blasts rained from Harlow’s left. The ground shook under her feet, and the hairs on her arms stood on end from the electricity arcing above her.
Two blocks. Two blocks until she set eyes on what remained of a lush park with a pond, bicycle paths, and three-thousand-year-old oaks.
A vice grip tightened around her chest, weighing her shoulders down, heavier than the anti-pulse armour she donned, heavier than a lifetime of memories of her family, heavier still than the thousand-year-old grudge between the Ilinians and Maniris.
“Two more blocks.” Harlow’s voice boomed over the zwooms. She rounded her shoulders and zigzagged through piles of rubble, flattening herself against the ground when the zwoom was too close and scrambling to the next shelter the moment it passed.
A swirling mass of bright-blue energy shot past her, filling the air with ozone and making her a little light headed. She gulped air and pressed her eyes closed in silent prayer. Only one block remaining to get to the survivors.
“Reinforcements. Now.” The male’s voice begged. “We’re overrun.”
Harlow ran from under her meagre shelter and raced up the street. She charged over piles of rocks and the fault line of a shattered road. She ran, building courage and strength, and loosened a roar that rattled the fear out of her.
The members of her platoon released a courage-mustering roar behind her.
Emboldened, Harlow cleared the rubble and relieved the itch in her trigger finger. Her pulse gun recoiled into her shoulder, heavy and fast and with a double kick. She followed her salvo of energy blasts into the fray, then sheltered behind an overturned and burned-out bus.
Her platoon fell in behind her, chests heaving, helmets shading their eyes, sweat dripping from their chins.
“Civilian with child.” Two-tour, Master Corporal Aclynn Nguyen motioned to the south.
Harlow removed her scope from her webbing and scanned the area.
Four hundred metres southeast, a man in his late thirties caked in dirt cradled a child in his arms. Dirt clung to his eyebrows, and the lines around his mouth were pinched tight.
The child rested her head against his chest, tears streaming down her face, leaving two clean tracks down her filthy cheeks.
“Other civilians?” Harlow kept her scope on the man and child.
“Negative,” Aclynn said.
“Cover me.” Courage surged through Harlow. She clutched her pulse rifle and ran towards the man and his daughter.
Energy shots blasted heated the air, but she charged forward toward the man. Her arms ached from carrying the ten-kilo energy rifle prototype, but she returned blind fire.
She motioned for the man to move away from the rubble’s edge and fell in beside him, kneeling. “Are you injured?”
Pale cheeked, three-year-old Violet reached up for her mother.
“Violet, how are you doing?” Harlow angled around the corner and laid down suppressing fire.
“Mama, I’m scared.”
“I know, sweetheart. Do you have your dolly?” Harlow laid down a second round of suppressing fire, eyed her platoon taking up defensive positions, and motioned for them to stay.
“I have Katie.” Violet held up her dolly. Missing one eye and covered in dirt, her arms were still outstretched for an embrace.
“Good, sweetheart. Hold on to Daddy while I get us out of here.” She peered over her shoulder.
Strands of black hair cascaded down Violet’s cheeks, but the strength in her eyes gave Harlow pause.
“That’s my girl. Hold onto Daddy.”
“I’ve got her,” Grant said.
Harlow rolled her shoulder back, then forward, loosening it enough to endure another vicious kickback. “Follow me.” She ran from under the shelter and returned fire, racing from one pile of rubble to the next. She halted behind the first pile, giving Grant the chance to catch up.
Her platoon returned fire, a constant blast of high-energy, high-pitch, rat-tat-tats, with two-tour Master Corporal Aclynn Nguyen changing positions to create crossfire.
Harlow shoved Grant to the ground, turned her back to him and Violet, and fired onto the approaching enemy. “There’s a civilian evacuation point two hundred metres south. Can you make it?”
“I can.” His voice faltered, but he stood tall and straight.
“Get down.” She yanked on his shirt. “Don’t go until I tell you it’s clear.”
The silence between them filled with gunfire.
She angled her shoulder to Grant, leaned back, pulling Violet into an embrace. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Mama.”
Harlow raised her gaze to Grant. “I saw you first.”
“That may be, but I bought the first drink.”
Harlow pressed her lips against Grant’s in a quick but emotional kiss, then laid down fire to see him and Violet evacuated.
Jaded Hearts, Renée Gendron
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.