Welcome to our August 2022 edition.
Last month, we had stories about summer. Harsh as that season may sometimes be, it doesn’t compare to the sudden, or not-so-sudden, impact of a natural disaster. In this issue, we write about such events and how they change people.
We are always looking for new faces and new writers. If you’re interested in becoming a regular contributor to the Review and do some back-office tasks, please drop us a line.
The Amuse Bouche Review Team
Feature: Destroyer of Words (Nicole Wells) (A New Contributor) Fiction
One In A Million (SA MacDonald) (A New Contributor) Fiction
Raindrops on the Window (Renée Gendron) Fiction
Somewhere Else (Joseph P. Garland) Fiction
Beyond the Wall (Marian L Thorpe) Fiction
August Team Showcase
Nicole Wells (@NWellsWrites)
IT’S THE LAST DAY of summer. Sweat drips down my back in the blistering heat, which does not help my mood. At. All.
“Thunderation!” Jorden growls as he rakes his pen against the parchment. My human author is feeling the heat, too, with tomorrow’s deadline.
Unfortunately, stress makes his annoying habit of ineptly borrowing out-dated words worse. “What a fopdoodle muse you are!” The biting slur might spur a lesser fairy, but I’ve been around long enough to know authors and their tempers. Although, Jorden P. Barks, ‘Best Selling Author,’ is the worst of the lot.
“You write biographies,” I state flatly. “They’re not particularly inspiring.” I flap my small butterfly-like wings in irritation, hoping some sweat will miraculously fling his way, even if it is glittery and strawberry-scented.
Some people are nice to their muses. Shower them with gifts. Lavish them with adoration. Or build a miniature palace out of marshmallows, with ornate chocolate screen dividers and strawberry ottomans. Just sayin’.
But not this Destroyer-of-Words. No, a penny-pincher even when his books sell, he can’t even be bothered to buy his muse decent food.
His meaty fist, which should be writing instead of harassing me, slams into the table. I bounce as the table shakes. Rolls of fat on his arm wobble as if spelled to slow motion. He gets plenty of food.
“Biographies are a noble calling, forsooth!”
He was supposed to be writing news briefs for the broadsheets everyone reads. I grit my teeth and take one more stab at helping him, although at this point it’d be less painful to stab myself. With a barbed letter opener. In the eye. “What about obituaries for the broadsheets? Who chooses to write about a shape-shifting sheep, anyway? I mean the alliteration itself—”
“An extremely rare creature. Verily, their biographies even more so.”
For a reason. I sigh and cross my arms, leaning my shoulder against his cool tankard. Goddess, that’s refreshing. I plaster myself to the side of it, shameless, like some desperate thing that hasn’t had social contact in months and any ole inanimate thing will do. Next, I’ll start having conversations with his ink pot.
Truth, Ammi right, Inky?
I flip to cool my back and make the mistake of opening my eyes.
Jorden’s burning stare roasts me, and I swear my wings wilt. I sigh. “I can’t think in this stifling sauna. Why are we indoors, anyway? It’s cooler outside.”
He continues to glare. “’’Tis called a process. All famous writers partake of it.” Turning back to his paper, he mumbles, “’Tis a good thing I’m a Best Selling Author.”
I roll my eyes. Stubborn and stupid is never a good combination. “You won because your book was so hard to sell. The judges were amazed you sold any at all, ergo, they called you the best at selling.”
The Pulverizer-of-Perfectly-Good-Paper narrows his eyes.
I put my hands up in a don’t-shoot-the-messenger fashion as I buzz behind the shelter of his tankard. Why should I help him when he doesn’t listen to me, in these rare instances when he can actually be bothered to work? How he even got assigned a muse is an enigma worthy of a mystery writer. Or maybe a fantasy writer.
I need to be reassigned. Thirty-eight days ago.
Sweat dribbles down my face. I’m eyeing his drink for a quick splash—a beer bath is not ideal, nor is a pickled muse, but something’s gotta give, when he announces, “It is complete.”
In half a candlemark? This can’t be good. I flutter closer. “Your title is ‘Sheep Shape-Shifter Squid of Olde?’ Are you aware your audience is mainly vicious werewolves and vampires? Although I’m tempted by the logistics of a water animal and a land—ugh, no!” I vehemently shake my head. “It sucks.”
“What? This is horrible! The end of the world!” His voice trails off in a yowl.
Missed-His-Calling-for-the-Theater needs serious redirection. Away from books. And people. I fan myself, even though it’s an exercise in futility—just more warm, dank air. “You know, the last gal I mused for wrote an instructive book on mining. Your big hands would be excellent with a pick-axe.” I throw up slightly in my mouth.
His eyes get wide. “Halt!”
I continue fanning myself. Not in this heat. And, please, do not voice what you’re think—
“The end of the world! What am I doing, wasting away writing biographies? Monsters shall take interest in an apocalypse, surely!”
I groan. It’s one thing to be stupid in his inconsequential little pond. Trying to write fiction with the big fish? No freaking way.
I shake my head, more in stupefaction than dismay, because I really couldn’t care less for his career, much as my own is tied to it.
Slayer-of-Plots’ pen flies across the parchment, the scratching noises busier than a family of mice eating through a carton of cornmeal. “A fairy that granteth a wish gone awry, causing a storm of maligned toads. No, pissed-off blunted unicorns whose stampede causes the earth to quiver and water to rise.”
“Just make the unicorns pissed from too much drink and turn it into a comedy.”
“Needs fire and brimstone, alas…”
“You really should think about mining.” Deep in the earth and away from other humans. “It’s a lot like writing, whittling away the superfluous for that gem.” Which you have yet to find.
“Speedy transportation snails gone mad, teleporting to new dimensions!”
Oh, dear goddess! “I quit.”
His brow scrunches as he stills. Now that’s a stupefied look. “Muses can’t quit.”
“And some writers can’t write. Word of advice—listen to your next muse’s advice.”
I buzz away, into the slight draft of air that has been calling my name for the last three candlemarks, under the door and out into freedom.
And smack right into something big. With nice, firm muscles.
The pouf of glitter from my wings dissipates as he catches me in his hand. “Whoa, there, beautiful. Are you okay?”
Hello Tall, Handsome, and An Aura So Dark It Makes Me Want to Glow. Thoughts of evil whirl about in his mind, a dizzying hurricane I want to get lost in. A smile reveals the tip of a fang. A dreamy sigh leaks out of me. Of course he’s a vamp.
Now this is a being that knows how to treat a muse. My-Ticket-Out-of-Here holds me at eye level, studying me. Hazel eyes as complex as a golden beryl gemstone radiate a spectrum of yellow, green, and brown.
I’m completely dazzled. And a wee bit lightheaded from all the sweating. Has he noticed the sodden armpits of my dress?
“I could write a whole tome of poetry dedicated to your beauty.”
Oh, my, he’s a keeper. And … “Wait, you’re a poet?” A slow grin blossoms on my face.
“Shane Doomsday, hate poet, at your service.” He sketches a courtly bow while keeping his hand still and my heart flutters.
Awed eyes find mine again when he straightens. “But you inspire me …” He shakes his head slowly, never dropping my gaze, as in disbelief. “I feel indomitable in your presence.” His deep, powerful voice–one surely meant for oration–is pure heaven, his look full of wonder. It’s as if angels have conspired to gift me this despicable, gore-slinging, fiend of hell.
A hate poet! I just know this Shane will listen to my advice, and this world hasn’t had a good hate poet since Pickles the Ruthless started frothing at the mouth during his recital.
My magic swells, a connection already forming as I get into my muse groove. I’ve struck gold with Looks-At-Me-Like-I’m-24-Karat. I stand with a smile, cocking my hip and leaning against his delicious smelling thumb. “Darling, you and me are going to rock this world.”
His eyes get wide, and our instant connection gives me a window into his apocalyptic thoughts. “What kind of fairy are you?” he gasps.
“Why does everyone go straight to gloom and doom? I’m a freakin’ muse!”
A smile brighter than a diamond erupts over his handsome face, just as the summer sun sets behind him.
The last day of summer is over but I have a feeling we’ll be reaping quite the bounty come autumn’s harvest, and a muse’s intuition is always to be trusted.
Nicole Wells is currently rewriting The Worst Story Ever Written, about an impoverished writer, a vampire prince, the Book Fairy, and an aardvark, to be released this September. The Great Royal Rod Debacle, also set in the Mythia universe, will be part of the Royal Rods Anthology, out in October.
ONE IN A MILLION, the doctors had said. Both parents needed to have the gene, and the odds of that were astronomical. The disease had a name that was difficult to remember but the symptoms were obvious.
I was starting to lose my motor functions, my ability to walk. From there it was going to be a quick slide from immobility to death. One day, the nurse who came to change my IV stumbled and fell, and I jumped to catch her. First time out of bed in months. I winced as the blood burst from her eyes onto my face. This was my introduction to the pandemic.
I raced home, running without losing wind, past piles of collapsed bodies, pools of bubbling blood. Oh, the smell on that hot day – a sweetly-sour scent I would associate with the virus itself.
I was afraid for my family. My husband and son. I had not seen either in a week, and of course I feared the worst. The door to my townhouse hung open. I grinded my jaw to form the familiar sounds again, and called out for my husband, then my son. To my disbelief, a tiny voice came back, “Mommy?”
My son was ten years old. My husband was nowhere to be found. Later I discovered him twisted in the street not far from our front door. His bloody, exploded face haunted me. It was the last image behind my eyelids every night. Bless him for sparing our son.
From first exposure to full onset, many died within weeks. But I got stronger. And my son showed no signs of illness. Every day I did what I could to help – medicines, old vaccines, extra-hygiene – but there was nothing to stop it and I could only ease the suffering of the poor people I found. I carried pens of pentobarbital to put them to sleep but for so many their veins had collapsed while their minds were painfully alive. Being where I lived, there was no shortage of guns and a bullet to the brain did the job better. I shook and sobbed every time.
My son had my genes. Did he have my disease too? Did he need the genes of the second parent? Maybe not.
I was on my usual walk about, looking for, what? I didn’t even know anymore. The city was still standing, mostly intact but quiet. The third wave was a tidal wave and everyone was wiped out in months. I didn’t bother to keep time any more. The last person I found was half-buried in the snow and now there were dandelions everywhere.
I came upon a man with the usual ghastly bloodiness of the virus. A late bloomer, this one. Maybe he came out to get supplies. Shame, I thought. He almost got away with it.
It has been a very long time since I came across anyone and my disease had returned. In the eerie quiet it was an easy decision to make. It was time to let the disease take its course and end it all. I was too tired to continue the same hollow routine.
Before, the open wounds were manna to my broken body – some weird reaction only one in a million could make. But I wasn’t interested in feeling good anymore, and I turned to walk away. A rustle from a low bush drew my eye around and from behind the branches, a brown and white sheepdog ambled forwards, head low, ears back. I hadn’t seen another living thing since… since then, and having no reason to speak aloud before, said his name again, a bookend to the expanse of silence.
It was my son’s name.
One day, his voice began to change, now in adolescence. Shortly after, I saw his cheek quiver, hardly noticeable, but having seen it so often, it was the unfortunate harbinger of the horror to come. I locked myself in the bathroom while Casey banged at the door.
“Mom! Mom, what’s wrong? What’s going on?”
I rocked back and forth, praying for a miracle. Yet, I took the gun from the drawer and made sure it had enough bullets. It was the pattern to have three weeks before the boiling blood, but we didn’t even get two. I put the gun to his head but I couldn’t pull the trigger. Not the second time, not the third.
In the end, though, how it happened was messy and he suffered too much. My maternal instinct to preserve him betrayed us both.
I said “Casey” again and the dog wagged his tail and came closer. He had a bandana around his neck, and despite his ribs poking through his skin, he seemed in good condition. He went to the man on the ground, sniffed him, then licked one of the open wounds. It was a dangerous thing to do, but he looked up with clear, blue eyes, and I saw another one in a million looking back.
“All you need is a good meal.” My voice croaked and my mouth didn’t shape the sounds too well. Casey wagged his tail and let me rest my hand on his head.
I went over to the man, the same place Casey had been, and groaned as I lowered myself down. I smelled the wound – that sickly-sweet, bitter scent hit my nose and my body welcomed it in, knowing that after a good night’s sleep I would feel stronger, and in three days, would be a new person. I hobbled up and made a plan to come back later for the body, to preserve it in one of the hospital morgues that had a working generator. All to make sure Casey and I stayed well for a good while. For the other one-in-a-millions to come.
But first things first, I had to go make my boy his dinner.
SA McDonald has self-published The Crystal Dragon: A Young Adult Fantasy and The Blackwood Collection, collected short stories and sketches. She lives in Stratford, Ontario with her family.
Renée Gendron (@ReneeGendron)
A LITTLE FUZZY, A LITTLE more tired, and a lot more blissed, Alice Clarke snuggled into Daniel and draped an arm over his bare chest. “That was nice.”
He stroked her shoulder with her fingers and then kissed her forehead. “I’m glad we decided to go to the water park. Tuckered the kids right out. What are we doing tomorrow to get the kids in bed by six?”
She laughed louder than she should. “How about a morning 25k hike followed by two hours of canoeing? They’ll be in bed by three.”
“I’ll be in bed by noon.”
She propped up on an elbow and kissed him. He tasted of beer, smores, and ten years of happiness. She settled her head against his shoulder. The steady beat of his heart was a nice backdrop to the pinging of the rain off the windows.
Daniel’s fingers found hers. “It’s coming down hard, isn’t it?”
The emergency alert alarm sounded on their cellphones.
Alice slapped the side table for her phone and turned off the alarm. “The forecast said it would rain heavily with strong winds until midnight then ease.”
“It’s going on midnight now.” He eased away from her. “I’ll check on the generator.”
She slid her fingers down his arm and tugged on his fingers. “Stay a while. There’s plenty of firewood, bottled water, and canned food. We’re good for a few days.”
He flopped back onto the bed and pulled her to his chest. His hand rested on the swell of her hip. “My parents will be coming up tomorrow.”
“They said mid-morning. They were stopping at The Four Corner’s for brunch.”
“Okay. I’ll do a supply run for milk and the cereal your mother likes.”
The rain pounded against the windows and obscured the oak tree outside the window. Water cascaded down the metal roof, not in a rhythmic pinging but in unrelenting wooshes. The shed door clacked against its frame.
She pulled the covers over her. “When are Bruce and Shirley coming up?”
“I don’t know. Shirley still has to confirm she can get the time off work.” He mumbled the way he did when he was sleepy.
“It’ll be nice if we could get everyone up.”
“It would be.” His breathing deepened.
Something metallic bounced off the roof.
Alice sat up in bed. “What was that?”
“Probably the chimney cap. I’ll fix it tomorrow.”
The rain slashed against the window. The summer air chilled, and a strong draft snaked around the cottage.
All sense of fuzzy bliss bled from her. She checked her cellphone. One bar. Seconds passed, and the weather report loaded. “They’ve issued a weather warning of flash floods for the entire region.”
Daniel scrubbed his face and then swung his legs over the bed. “I’ll check on the generator.”
“I think it’s past that.”
He pulled on his jeans. “What do you mean?”
“The OPP want people to evacuate the area.” She dressed, then shoved some clothes for him and her into a bag. “I’ll pack up stuff for the kids. We’ll move them to the car once we’re ready to go.”
“Okay. I’ll get the stuff in the kitchen.” He strode out of the room.
Alice shoved a few clothing changes into a suitcase and went to the kids’ rooms to pack up some of their stuff. She picked up Cloe’s Dinosaur Dig VR set, a few of her dinosaur-themed books, and then collected Flynn’s Paw Patrol stuffed animals.
Neither child would forgive her if she left those behind.
She carried two suitcases to the kitchen. “We’ll come back for the rest later.”
Water dripped from Daniel’s face. His shirt was plastered to him. His head was bent towards his cellphone. “It’s really bad out there. Maybe we should stay.”
“That bridge is really old. We’re stuck out there for a long time if it goes out.”
“The supplies could last a few days. We could fish.”
The lights flickered off. The fridge alarm sounded that it no longer had power.
“How much fuel do you have for the generator?” Alice asked.
“Until tomorrow, noon. Maybe. Longer if I siphon the car.”
An emergency alert sounded on her phone.
Alice started, then read the message. “They want us to evacuate. The OPP and fire services will be along the route.”
Daniel looked at his cell and drew in a long breath. He nodded once, then a second time, and the decision had reached his eyes by the third. “Okay, we go. I’ll get Cloe.”
Alice wheeled around, went to Flynn’s room and picked up her not-so-little-little-boy. Flynn mumbled something and settled his head against her shoulders.
“Go back to sleep.”
Flynn smacked his lips much like Daniel did when he was exhausted and drifted off to sleep.
Alice covered Flynn in her raincoat and went to the car. Daniel opened the rear passenger door, and she eased Flynn into his booster seat. She clicked the harness and covered him with a blanket.
Daniel eased the door shut. “Kids, suitcases, wallets, cellphones, and chargers. Anything else?” His voice was lost in the brutal wind.
She shook her head. “That’s everything.” She walked to the driver’s seat and got in.
Daniel sat in the passenger seat. He scrolled through his cellphone, the expression on his face the midway point between concerned and jumping out of his mind. “No new information. Just for us to evacuate.”
She turned on the engine and put the windshield wipers on their highest setting. She adjusted her headlights to a low beam and eased on the accelerator.
The tires sunk onto the muddy road. Puddles expanded into lagoons. The shadows of the forest were darker, longer, unending. The road wound around the side of a steep hill, and branches snapped from winds. Small rocks and forest debris pelted the car.
She steered the car around a sharp turn. “When are they going to put proper road signs up here?”
“The cottage association has been after the province for decades. Still nothing.”
She relaxed her grip on the steering wheel, long enough to regain sensation in her fingers, not long enough to ease the tension in her forearms.
“You hear that?” Dan’s voice was worried, worried in a way as she’d never heard him.
“Trees are toppling over. Their roots are losing their hold on the ground.”
The stress in her shoulders tightened. Her arms ached from holding on to the wheel, but she dared not release it. She blinked once, that fraction of a section a terrifying moment when she wasn’t eyeing the road.
The car dipped into a large pothole, her heart sank, and she eased off the gas to not spin out.
Pothole cleared, she sucked in air, then refocused on the road. She navigated down a hill, riding the brakes in a way she wasn’t supposed to but did anyway. Rocks and small branches pelted the car.
She gasped, Daniel curses, and Chloe stirred.
“What was that?” Alice asked.
“A tree fell next to the road.”
Alice swallowed hard, and couldn’t ignore the sweet pooling under her arms. She squinted into the gloom. The edges of the low beams were lost in the downpour.
“The bridge is coming up ahead.”
“Yeah, I see it.”
Five hundred feet. Five hundred feet to get onto a gravel road and out of the woods.
Her toes tingled to stomp on the accelerator, but she kept steady pressure, advancing a whopping ten kilometres an hour.
The car crept forward, hitting every pothole, spinning its tires in the mud, but it crept forward.
The front tires hit the bridge’s cement, and the rear tires spun on mud. She gave the car a little more gas and cleared the hurdle. Now all four tires were on cement and rolling towards relative safety.
Something heavy crashed into the car, crushing its roof.
Panicked, she turned to the backseat, but a tree obscured her view. “Dan?”
The front passenger seat lay buried under the boulder.
Everything was lost. Her pulse raced, but she felt life flee from her. She touched her side, now wet and sticky from blood. Cold rain dripped from the tree trunk. Tears crowded her eyes like raindrops on the window.
Joseph P. Garland (@JPGarlandAuthor)
THE RAIN. IT DIDN’T MATTER anymore. Whether the rain came or the rain didn’t come. It was just us. For miles around, there was nothing alive excepting grass shoots that emerged from the soil here and there. The taters if they existed at all were hardly alive.
“We used to pray for this,” my Grandmama said. We were in the cottage, and the door was open. The rain rolled from the roof to the ground where each drop joined a river of water heading down towards what had been our patch.
Last time anything edible grew on our bit of land was nearly a year before. Instead, my Papa and I would walk the mile or so into the village and collect the corn that the government was distributing now that the crops failed two years in a row. It was from America, and we pulled the wagon with the bushels that were our allotment each week.
We still had some of our own small potatoes and turnips and parsnips and some salted pork we’d managed from the pigs we slaughtered before they starved.
When too many of us were gone to the city, they only let us come in once every fortnight to get the corn, but there was still enough, barely, to see us through till our next trip.
Now the rain was just something to watch as it rolled in across the pins to the west. Enough as always to make things look green. Livestock might be able to eat the grass but we couldn’t and we had no livestock anymore that could anyway.
It was just me and Grandmama. She was so much older than her years, transparent skin barely covering her bones and stooped over. The others were just gone. Plots for them dug out back.
She didn’t need to say it. We all waited too long. My Papa was a religious man. “The Lord will see us through,” he said when a neighbor would ask when we were leaving. Neighbors never asked one another if they were leaving. It was always when. The others had pretty much gone before Christmas, before the really cold weather. Several were kind enough to give us some of what they’d been storing up for the winter. “We can’t take it with us and hope it’ll see you through” they’d say, and my Papa and I would pull our wagon—the horses long since dead—down the pitted road and load it up and bring it back and shovel it into the circular silo out back.
The next day or the day after that, the neighbor and his family would pass by—they never had horses neither—with walking sticks and whatever they could carry on their backs and with platforms they could pull so the little ones could sit bundled up. They wouldn’t stop, afraid they’d never start up again, as they headed to town some miles from our village where the government set up places for them to try to make it through till spring, when they could head somewhere else.
“Somewhere else,” they’d always say when we asked where they were headed and soon we stopped asking. “When you coming?” and some would wave for us to join ‘em, but my Papa’d laugh and say, “I have faith in the Lord.” They’d shake their heads and move along to wherever their somewhere else was.
Their landlords didn’t bother with their places anymore. There was nothing to be done about them. Goats and cows might move in, but there weren’t any of those anymore. Maybe they could get some fools to try planting again come spring. Everyone knew only a fool would do that, after two failed crops and no seeds to sow anyway.
Papa died not much after the last of our neighbors passed. He went quietly. Down, down, down till he was skin and bones and one morning was nothing but skin and bones and whatever the Lord planned for him was done.
After Papa died, Mama said “maybe we best try to go ourselves,” but it was deep cold then and she was too weak anyway and died a week or so after he did.
We—it was only my Grandmama and me by then—couldn’t dig a grave for either of them till the ground thawed and we laid her beside him, out back and close to the house, both wrapped in blankets. There was no point in heading to the village. The priest had long since gone with the others. So, when my Papa died my Grandmama—he was her boy—said some prayers with me and we did the same when Mama was gone.
They were lying out back and I thought them might haunt us but they never did, though some snow came through one day and I brushed it off their corpses which set me to crying till my Grandmama called me from the doorway and told me to come in or I’d end up like them and then where we would she be?
I was weak but young. Grandmama was weak and old, as I said.
I didn’t know how to read back then but it didn’t much matter since there was nothing to read excepting a bible and by the time of my eighteenth year I knew that whatever salvation it offered would not be of this earth. My Grandmama didn’t read either, but she sometimes told me stories she was told when she was a girl from the bible. They were the only stories she knew, and we were desperate to have something to talk about in the long nights other than how hard things had become and how bad it was that Papa and Mama were gone.
She wouldn’t surrender, though. She’d been born in this house and expected she’d die there. When we lay down, the rain was still pounding down. It was dark, but I knew more and more of the soil, the useless soil, was washing away.
In the morning, though, it was a new day. The sky was cloudless and blue. It was February but felt like spring.
“‘Tis time,” she said. We sat at the two chairs we still had that gave us a view outside. Her voice was very low, but I was used to that. A panic ran through me, and I reached in for her slight, bony hand.
“I know what I been sayin’,” she said, looking at the mud in what was left of our yard, “but ‘tis time to go.”
I gripped her hand more tightly.
“You can’t be going, Grandmama. You can’t leave me alone.”
I could make out a smile. “I reared a fool, I tink,” she said, turning to look at me. “‘The Lord will see us through.’ Look where that got him. And your Mama. Poor girl. It ain’t happening to you and it ain’t happening to me.”
“But this plot and the village. They’re all you’ve known.”
“It’s all I knows, aye, but that don’t mean it’s all I can know. I’ll die here and then you will die here if we stay. It’s warming up, it is. ‘Tis time. God willing, we’ll be free of this bit of hell. I been too much a fool for too long and it wouldn’t be so bad if I have to pay for it, but you shouldn’t.”
There was little to collect. Not much beyond some old, torn clothing that fit into a satchel and a walking stick that’d been around forever. It took us hours and hours and miles and miles with the sun burning down on us, but we slowly made it to the outskirts of the big town. We were seen by a farmer with a wagon who brought us in, and from there we began our journey to somewhere else.
Marian L. Thorpe (@marianlthorpe)
THE THOUGHT HAD COME to her in the shower, washing sweat and sunscreen off after her morning’s bike ride. She’d been thinking about the wildflowers blooming at the edge of the multiuse path, bindweed and clover and trefoil. The same wildflowers that had flowered alongside the farm lanes and gravel roads she’d biked as a child and teen. Those lanes and fields were gone now, the farms sold for housing decades past. Time and progress, those destroyers of worlds. And dreams.
She made coffee, sat at the kitchen table. Were those fields and lanes gone? If they lived in her memory, did they still exist in some cosmic equivalent of cyberspace? A Way-Back machine of the collective consciousness? And if so, could they be revisited?
She dismissed the thought and started her day’s work. But the thought lurked in the back of her mind, not quite quiescent. In the afternoon, her quota done for the day, she turned off the laptop. Her gaze went immediately to her bookshelves. Rising, she found what her subconscious had asked for: the thin chapbook of The Fields Beyond the Fields, by Charles de Lint. She’d had it signed, many years earlier when she’d heard him speak in Ottawa.
Memories flooded in. The title was an homage to one of Lord Dunsany’s books, Beyond the Fields We Know. Her thought wasn’t original, then: the magpie’s hoard of snippets and random facts that was her mind had just given it a new twist. Instead of fields that existed in another, ‘faerie’ realm, she’d modernized the idea, applied new ways of thinking to an old trope.
Not surprising, she thought: after all, she spent her days writing technical manuals and ‘how to’ articles for everything from computer games to accounting software. But the girl that had read those books and biked those lanes—she would have looked for the faerie fields, not some holodeck version of a recaptured reality.
Oh, don’t be ridiculous, she told herself. There were no faerie lands beyond a stone wall, the holodeck existed only in Star Trek, and she wasn’t that girl with her fancies and foolish dreams any more. The only words she was ever going to see credited to her name – if she was lucky – had titles like ‘Keyboard Shortcuts You Never Knew Existed’.
She’d been in the apartment long enough. She grabbed her phone and her shoulder bag; she’d walk downtown, have a beer at the Wooly, maybe treat herself to some nachos. The pub was only a fifteen-minute walk from her place, a favourite hang-out when she had the money. There was another café she liked too, a little further away, but she felt like a fraud among its artsy clientele.
But the Wooly had been taken over by a couple of baseball teams, the server told her with a rueful smile, an old-timers’ league telling stories like W.P. Kinsella, fields of dreams and nostalgia. She wanted that beer, so she walked the extra few minutes to the Red Brick. It was busy – it always was – but she found a table in the back room. A new art display had been hung since she was last here, something to look at while she sipped her drink. Abstracts, geometric shapes of green and brown, touched with yellow and pink and white here and there.
She wasn’t sure she liked them, but it was better than looking at the other people, mostly focused on their laptops or notebooks. Some were university students doing summer coursework, but far too many were writers. Real writers, not a freelance hack reworking material into yet another internet post.
She glanced around the room anyway. In an armchair by the windows, a man was reading a battered paperback. The cover image leapt out at her: a unicorn, trees in blue and green and magenta, a swordsman. The King of Elfland’s Daughter, the Ballentine paperback, the same one she’d owned since high school. She shook her head slightly in amazement. No one read Lord Dunsany any more. It was all Game of Thrones and grimdark, these days.
Fields of faerie. Fields of dreams. She looked up again at the pictures hanging on the dark wood of the café’s wall. They were fields too, abstractions of a landscape seen from above, weren’t they? There was a laneway, there a woodlot, and the spots of colour the roadside flowers of high summer: bindweed and clover and trefoil. She could smell the sweetness of the flowers overlaid by the dry scent of dust; hear the meadowlark singing from the fencepost and the sound of water running through irrigation pipes. Feel the coarse hair of her dog’s back, the sweatiness of her bike’s seat, the welcome gusts of breeze. Fields of memory.
She bent to the bag she’d placed at her feet. Her fingers found her phone, rejected it. Somewhere she had a notebook and a pen, didn’t she? Yes. She lifted them out, opened the notebook, took up the pen.
Something blocked the light from the window. She looked up, conscious the hand that held the pen ached. How long had she been writing? The man from the armchair stood there, the Dunsany paperback in his hand.
“Sorry to disturb,” he said. “I just wanted to say, well, I’ve been watching you a bit. You’re a writer, aren’t you? I love to read.” He held up the book. “So I wanted to say thank you. To one writer, but to you all, really. For the pleasure and the worlds you’ve given me.”
She smiled, reflexively. “I’m not—” She hesitated. “I’m not Lord Dunsany.”
“Of course not. You’re yourself.” He grinned before he walked away. She stared after him for a moment, until he turned the corner into the corridor leading to the front room of the café and disappeared.
Her eyes returned to the pages of writing in front of her. She reached for her warm beer before beginning to read what she’d written, a story about a computer technician who disables a firewall and finds herself flooded with the images and scents and sounds of her youth, unable to tell what is real and what is virtual, overwhelmed by memory and loss—as those who once visited faerie are said to be.
It’s rough, little more than a concept. It needs work, and rewriting, and editing, and maybe it’s beyond her, but for no reason she could explain she thinks not. She’s crossed a wall, and the stories are waiting.
New This Month: Ninth Star, by Renée Gendron, is available for pre-orders.
Shopkeeper & Spoon, a collection edited by Renée Gendron
I Am Alex Locus and other novels and stories, contemporary and set in the Gilded Age, by Joseph P. Garland are described at his Dermody House site.
Jaded Hearts, Renée Gendron
Book 1 of the Outdoorsman Series, by Renée Gendron
Seven Points of Contact, by Renée Gendron
Heads and Tales. A supernatural/mythological anthology. Renée Gendron contributed a historical, supernatural, romance.