Black Petals Issue #73 Fall, 2015

Final Run
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
A Journey Starts with a Flower-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Cold Surprise-Fiction by Paul Strickland
Final Run_Fiction by A. M. Stickel, Editor
Gift of the Anasazi-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Killer Deal-Fiction by Denny Marshall
Please Remember Me-Fiction by Charles C. Cole
Safe Haven, Part I-Fiction by Denis Bushlatov
Safe Haven, Part II-Fiction by Denis Bushtalov
The City-Fiction by Wayne Haroutunian
The Witch and the Rock-Fiction by Janet C. Ro
Roadside Accident-2 poems by Denny Marshall
Journey to the Devil's Shore-Poem by Grant Tarbard

Fiction by A. M. Stickel, Editor


Final Run


By A.M. Stickel, BP Editor


Do you know the way through Transylvania?



Zarko, whose thick eyebrows dominated his expression, always made me uneasy. This was to be the last cargo run of the season, and I’d been counting on doing it with my brother, Pavel, who loved tavern stops. At the last minute he’d called in sick, and the boss stuck me with a driver who hated jazz, loved gypsy music, and habitually brought his own flask. I knew my ears and backside would be aching by the end of the run. But I needed the money.

My partner was my age, but definitely a throwback to an earlier era…possibly that of cave dwellers. As my mood darkened with the fading of a clear, warm autumn day in the city, gloom descended on the Carpathians.

Zarko, however, grew almost sprightly as he hummed along with his favorites, taking a swig now and then, and finally asking cheerfully, “Didn’t you know about the new road security check points, Vladimir?”

“No,” I replied, surprised. “Curse the authorities!” (And why didn’t the boss tell me?)

“It seems circumstances require us to take an alternate route. Our exit is coming right up.”

With that, Zarko turned off the bumpy main highway onto an even bumpier road through thick forest. I hadn’t seen any exit sign, but felt a wrongness in my bones. I made the Sign of the Cross and touched my fingers to my lips, and then to my deceased aunt’s silver icon pinned to the fabric dashboard cover. A few white flakes kissed the windshield, and I shivered, although I felt confident our snow tires would keep us on track between the trees.

Zarko glanced over at me and smirked, taunting, “You still believe in that superstitious nonsense?”

Angry, I ripped the icon off the fabric and threw it out the window, followed by the flask he’d set on the seat between us to wave his hand at me while he taunted. His stunned look and flush was most rewarding. He slowed the van, and I wondered if he’d actually backtrack to retrieve the flask.

I couldn’t resist. “If you want to fetch your flask, my dear, why not grab a couple prayer rugs from the rear? I’m sure our precious cargo won’t mind!”

Resentment flickered across Zarko’s face. But he turned away, chuckled, and resumed humming and driving. After another hour of this, I barked, “Pull over, you devil! I need to take a piss. Check the cargo. I thought I heard some bumping and whining a few minutes ago.” (The boss was my uncle, meaning I gave the orders on this run.)

I waited until Zarko got out before I proceeded with my urgent business. I heard his crunching footsteps and the jingle of keys as he went to unlock the van’s rear doors. Then, instead of the usual creak of swinging doors, I heard a “HEY—”

On my way to check Zarko I slipped on something, looked down, and saw the icon. How did it get here? When I bent over to pick it up I smelled myrrh and felt a knife-edge wind pass over my head, sending my wool cap flying. The tassel on top was sheared off. On the ground beside it lay a road sign. I turned it over: BORGO PASS.

“That damn fool!” Everyone knew you couldn’t take a step on the Borgo without disturbing a grave. The place was a spiritual minefield. However, I was still alive. Icon in hand, I sprinted for the cab of the van. Are the keys in the ignition? They must be. The radio’s blaring gypsy music. I jumped in from the passenger side, slid over, and started the engine, making sure to lock the doors. My rear view showed fleeting white shapes surrounding the vehicle. The radio almost drowned their howls. Vlad the Impaler had just recruited our cargo, 49 prime virgin refugees, to his cause—no longer victims, but wolfish warriors in his eons-old, unholy war.

I sped along, slewing from side to side, my goal, the shrine at Borgo Summit. At least the bitches can’t fly!

My relief was unwarranted. I heard a thump, and the cab roof groaned. A taloned black wingtip tapped my side window. The mirror was now adorned with a bloody head whose gouged eyes were barely visible under bushy brows; a familiar flask protruded from the torn mouth. Not wanting my head impaled on the other side mirror, I kept a death grip on the icon in my hand.

Lowering the window just enough to poke at and dislodge the severed head, I shouted stupidly into its dead ears, “Get the hell off my mirror, Zarko!” Blood and snow mingled on the windshield. The wipers squealed in protest, yet kept working. Even though I couldn’t make out road markers, popped ears told me I’d gained altitude. Better yet, the dashboard clock promised the salvation of dawn. The weight of the undead Vlad lifted from my roof.

At sunrise I reached the shrine and pulled over, leaned out and opened the sides of the ancient triptych. From the center section Mary holding her Holy Child gazed at me in sympathy. The side sections were portraits of two vigilant angels, Michael (defender of the innocent) and Gabriel (bringer of good news). I would need their continued help. For, when I got out to stretch my legs in the little clearing, I walked up the road a ways. Where once a bridge had crossed the gorge that began the descent, only a sheer drop-off remained. Had I kept going, I’d have driven over the brink into the bottomless chasm I saw below…

Excerpt from The Trafficker’s Testimony

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