Black Petals Issue #72 Summer, 2015


Mars-News, Views and Commentary
Brutal-Fiction by A. M. Stickel, Editor
Chaos in Corollary-Fiction by A. M. Stickel, Editor
In Dreams, There Is No Time-Fiction by George Gad Economou
Nuncapisco-Fiction by A. M. Stickel, Editor
Ocean Life-Fiction by Lael Braday
Onward Traveler-Fiction by Kathleen Wolak
The Beach House-Fiction by Roy Dorman
The Weeping Man-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Poetry & Prose by Alexis Child
Poetry by John Frazee
Poetry by Denny Marshall
Poetry by Jeffrey Park
Poetry by Dr. Mel Waldman



By A.M. Stickel, Editor

Our future smells fishy.



Hiking through the countryside, I’d purposely sought those places where roads never go. For two days, I’d seen no sign of humanity, but my luck could not last.

 One minute the afternoon sun shone down on me where I’d paused to fill my lungs with fresh air and appreciate the sparkling ocean from amid a wide meadow full of long grass and summer flowers. The next, a cloud hid the sun and I noticed that the meadow ended in a village. Perched on a tongue of land above the sea, the jumble of brown buildings blended with the soil. From a huddled center, they spread out among a hint of green plantings and scattered like crumbs on that tongue, to the land’s edge—a cliff above a beach, I assumed. How quaint.

Before I could stop them, my traitorous feet took me to the edge of the grass and onto occupied ground. The narrow streets were empty. Siesta time? I easily found the building, a little taller than the others, that appeared to be a chapel (indicated by a charcoal smudge resembling a cross high up the wall nearest me). It adjoined a tiny plaza or town square. I decided to pause for a prayer. I’ll just sneak in quietly. No one will ever know I was here.

I circled the windowless building. No door! Maybe I’d been mistaken and this was a ceremonial center, or even cool storage approached via underground passage. To my dismay, a boisterous crowd, clad mostly in white, was approaching. I tried my smattering of languages on several of them, only to be told, “Nuncapisco.” Grinning and babbling, they motioned for me to join them. Soon blaring, off-key music played on makeshift instruments—heavy on percussion—made vocal communication impossible.

Smiling and nodding at them, I tried to blend in, while looking for an escape among the maze of hovels. I pretended to join the merry throng that filled the square and spilled over into alleyways, but it was difficult to maneuver, and I just could not find an exit, other than one leading downhill.

To go closer to the ocean made me uneasy. I’d never been a swimmer and felt sure that a salt-water drowning had to be the worst way to go. I enjoyed the salt-air tang, warm sand, and the sight of the mighty deep from a safe distance. Although I loved to eat fish, I did not want to be fish food.

My fears were interrupted by a comical sight. A gray rat shot past, a skinny black cat in hot pursuit. A slender white hound ran, barking, after the cat. A small, sunburned boy, who looked like he’d been rolling in grass, chased the dog, trying to call it back. The revelers laughed and went on with their fiesta. Deciding to help the boy and make a friend, I followed him. Our way led into ever narrower, more stifling alleys, until I realized I could not keep up with those flying feet. Gasping, I sank down on a low wall, and was surprised to see greenery and a stream beyond it. I was out of the maze at last!

I could no longer hear the booming drums, blaring horns, or clacking shells of the celebration, only the sighing of the sea. It sounded no hungrier than I felt (ravenous after all the running), and the sun was low on the horizon. I didn’t want to impose on anyone or disturb their crops, so decided to chance the beach and use my litho stove to heat some stream water for tea and a rehydrated meal pack, before sand-camping.


Later, safe within a hollow where three low dunes met, full, drowsy, and cozy in my sleeping sack, I watched the full moon rise above a calm ocean. The descent from the inhabited tongue had been easy and uneventful. Best of all, I had my holy isolation back. I said a prayer in the star-lit cathedral of nature and drifted off to sleep.

The moon had not moved far when bladder pressure woke me, and I groggily wormed my way out of my sack. Cresting one edge of my shelter, I was on the verge of blessed relief when I noticed the silence: no wind, no sea, nothing. Have I gone deaf? I peered out toward where I’d heard the surf and seen the glistening, moonlit waves.

At first, I saw only inky blackness. This was followed by what I thought was a trick of my night vision—lots of tiny, glowing dots—some green, others blue, and still others, gold. The dots grew into huge eyes, along with a stench like a million rotting fish, and (if only the deafness had been real!) sand-slapping, squishy shuffling. The odor overwhelmed that of the hot urine that shocked me into action. I scanned behind me for the best escape route.

The way up was occupied. Villagers streamed down who didn’t need lights to show them the path, just their own glowing eyes and pearl-white teeth, as they stumbled in drunken nakedness toward their sea-kin. Chanting in guttural tones (that made me think of drowning souls), they beat drums, blew conches, and clattered strings of shells.

The reunion on the beach made me glad I’d been born a neuter in the sterile chambers of an arkology, like most of my urban contemporaries. For modern, landed society the war of the sexes had ended in nuclear ashes eons ago. But odd remnants remained, or had arisen from the embers, and here was the proof.

I nearly jumped out of my skin at a touch on my sleeve. There stood the little boy, webbed toes dug into the sand, and wearing my pack! I quickly pulled up my britches, but not before he’d seen how different I was.

Thumping his chest, he gurgled his name, which sounded like ‘Pel-agh-yus.’ I offered my own, along with my hand, “Hi, Pel...uh…,” pointing to myself, “Aphe Pollenectar.”

“Iffy,” he tried, and then bowed his head in frustration, “Nuncapisco.”

Instead of shaking my hand, Pel’s strong webbed fingers grabbed my wrist, and he pulled me along after him up a route that must have been secret. We entered a long, dank tunnel, his vision and the slime-green glimmer of its walls lighting our way. When he rolled back an enormous stone as if it were nothing, we emerged from below into a large room, a mixed pile of children and dogs and cats curled in sleep against its walls. He sealed the entrance just as I heard the roar of rushing water, not only up the tunnel we’d used but above us as well. The sleepers hardly stirred.

Pel threw my pack against the wall, grinning in triumph. He reached into one of his own deep pockets and pulled out two small, silvery fish. He tossed one in the air, his neck lengthening for an instant, gill slits along its sides exposed, and gulped it down, passing the other to me. I decided to try it. He clapped and barked just like a seal I’d seen in a vid once.

It might be awhile before the waters of the tidal wave from which the boy had just saved me receded. I closed my eyes and curled up against the wall whose outside bore a smudged symbol. I pictured that sign, finally realizing that it was two fish like Pel’s, one crossed over the other. So, being in a chapel, I prayed.


The End

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