Black Petals Issue #89 Autumn, 2019

Drop, Pt. 2: Help Thy Neighbor
Home
Mars-Chris Friend
BP Artists and Illustrators
A Tale of the Dark Web-Fiction by Blair Frison
Drop, Pt. 2: Help Thy Neighbor-Fiction by Michael Mulvihill
Gas Stop-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Grandad's Legacy-Fiction by Jan Cronos
Hive-Fiction by Dan Cardoza
My Nighttime Parents-Fiction by Malik Mandeville
Orphans at the Dark Door-Fiction by Roy Dorman
The News that Night-Fiction by June Driver
The Raft-Fiction by Stephen Caesar
The Voice from the Dark-Fiction by Scott Kimak
Dear Pneumonia-Two poems by Michael Mulvihill
The Well-Poem by Jason Rice

bp89droppart2savage.jpg
Art by W. Jack Savage 2019

Drop, Part 2: Help Thy Neighbour

 

 By Michael Mulvihill

War horrors

 

 

In the morning there seemed to be a pause in hostilities. I looked outside at the rubble covering the ground and thanked God just to be breathing, to be in one piece, aboveground.

Smoke still rose from surrounding buildings. To clear what was once a pitch, I used an old jalopy of a bull dozer. It took me a full day to clear the larger pieces. I picked up and put the smaller ones into a wheelbarrow and wheeled them off the pitch. I used a stiff broom to deal with the dust and mud. 

Five hours felt like five minutes. The day felt like a flick of the hand and, before I could reach my targeted amount of work, it was night. I looked up to see white specs of diamond dust sprinkled across the sky, and realized they were stars. It was warm, and streetlights were operable, which helped me to work. I continued cleaning until I was exhausted. My brow was covered in sweat, my tee shirt drenched. I took a seat, and watched a black water spout in front of me snap in two, half of it falling to the ground. 

I dried myself off and changed my shirt. I sat down and continued scrutinizing the building in front of me. The top half of the structure was blown out and looked like a dangerous cliff with rocks about to fall. The apartments to the front looked bulldozed, like a huge punch from King Kong had taken down a wall and big chunks in between.

From my black satchel, which I fetched from the seat on the dozer, I grabbed my copy book and drawing pencils. I started drawing what I saw. The stars looked close enough to touch. The silence, the stars, the black sky holding the stars, and the devastation underneath me was like a haiku to war.

Streetlights were flickering on and off. I took this for an advance warning that all lights would soon be off in the city. I got my torch from my black satchel and walked inside. The railings of the staircases were destroyed. I had to climb and jump over obstacles as I made my way downstairs to the basement room. 

I waited all night long for daylight. I slept poorly. Every hour I woke to check the time. In the morning I counted fifty piles to clean up and put into bags. The sun shone down upon me. I heard distant battles as I gathered up the remnants of yesterday’s mess. The grass was overgrown. I wanted cut it to stop potential rats nesting. 

With rusty hedge clippers I began the intensive process of cutting grass. It took me eight days to clear the area. On the ninth day I woke up, picked up a discarded ball, and walked outside. I was just about to kick the ball into the sky, when I had visions of me rifling the nets I’d made. Every dream must come to an end. I saw a man hanging by a rope from a goal post I’d made with wooden logs. I turned around and walked inside. 

 

Days passed after that awful event. To my great relief some people began to return to the Bayside region, including Sam and his family who’d returned from the countryside along with his wife and two kids. They looked hungry and shell-shocked. They brought all their worldly possessions in the trunk of a car which I helped to unload. I helped them get basic appliances working again. I told him that only if he wanted to freeze to death should he keep things as they were. Concerned, he asked for further help from me. 

I agreed to sort this problem out very soon. I gutted out all the glass I could find. My days of rehanging glass are long over. After us spending enough time together working through plumbing and other problems, he told me of his ordeal in the part of the countryside he’d fled.

“Food was scarce there.” 

“Food is getting short here too,” I said. 

“We had no other choice but to leave,” he told me. 

“Why? I thought you were doing well there.” 

He shook his head. I debated with him. “You have farm land, don’t you? You could live off that? Look around you: nothing grows here.”

“Her father’s house where we were staying was blown up.”

“I did not know that.”

“We will never return.”

“Possibly you will return if this never-ending war should draw to a conclusion.” 

“That is a distant hope.” 

“Do you have enough provisions for your family?”

“What we have is some clothes and essentials we borrowed from neighbors.”

His wife, who wore a blue-and-white dress, finally said a few words. “We moved to my father’s house because our home was too small here. Now we are relieved to have our small apartment to stay in.”

“Was anybody in the house when it was blown up?” I asked.

“No.”

“You are lucky.”

“My father would have been in the house, but had passed away six months before. It was morning when they hit our home. I was walking with the children; my husband was doing farm work,” she said.

“We had to leave our primary source of income and sustenance just to be safe,” Sam groaned. 

 

Time went by, and Sam’s family was truly manacled by hunger. We were all hungry. Sam was willing to do anything in order to survive. I gave Sam what little extra food I had, though it was not enough to keep a family. He was not willing to give up the struggle for survival, entering one of the many ruined complexes around his home area, searching for nothing short of a miracle.

His long beard was filthy; hair hung like a stalactite from his jaw. His face was dirtied from the plumes of smoke all around him—a pitiful sight, his body starved so his children and wife could live. With a proper diet he would have been a tall, strong man, but had become all skin and bone.

He climbed into destroyed and wasting buildings full of mud and rubble. The ground was uneven. He tripped over a rock and landed in mud and water. He pulled himself out of the mud and continued exploring. He could not ignore the strong smell coming from underneath the rocks. Unaware that he was smelling decaying bodies, he bent his knees, raised his hands, and hefted a huge rock. 

 He thought he would use the rock to crush something. He knew what he was looking for was somewhere between a crack in the wall and underneath the rocks below. He set down the rock and got out a sharp knife. There was no game to kill around here. He kept looking, and, eventually, saw the nest. What were they eating? 

They were there lining up between the walls—the size of dogs—no longer barely detectable. They had always been there. Before, they were small, fast, and skinny. They could run like lightning. Now, with fat rolling from their bodies, they were hardly able to waddle. What had they been feeding on? When the answer dawned on him, his stomach churned.

He walked slowly up to the vermin. As he neared them, their clicks sent a chill down his spine, disgusting him. This could not be his family’s dinner, could it? As he was about to move away he spotted white runners worn by a man with black trousers and a sweater, his head covered by a balaclava.

The militant entered the crumbling doorway and pointed his gun at Sam, who nearly fainted in disbelief. 

“You’re looking for something, aren’t you?”

His heart thumped hard. Two weeks ago, this same militant had attacked a hospital, where a surgeon had told the News Agency, “I think the death toll is much higher than thirty. The entire building was full of dead bodies and blood. I am still in shock and cannot forget the floor painted with blood.”

This militant, unremorseful and unperturbed by what he had done, must desire to shed more blood. 

“I have seen you around before.”

“You have?” Sam asked. 

“Yes, driving your motorbike.”

“I have no petrol for it now.”

The militant pointed his gun away. “You’re looking for food?” he asked as he took aim at the rats.

“Yes,” Sam admitted with shame.

“Do you have family?”

“Two children.”

“I know you are one of us.”

Sam did not dare disagree.

“I’ll give you enough supplies to last a month. But you must make deliveries around the city using your bike.” 

“How about cash for this?”

“I will pay in advance, and great money too. We will give you petrol.”

“I would appreciate that.”

“Come along with me.”

 

Sam was escorted to the militant’s checkpoint. It only took a few sentences for the militant to be understood. He was told to wait. Beside him were ten armed men dressed in combat fatigues. 

“There are two children?”

“Yes, as I told you, I have two.”

“Give them extra meat.” 

Sam was given four big bags of food. 

“Do you want help to bring them home?”

“No.”

“You better let us help you. Do you live far?”

“Yes.”

“It’s far enough for you to be attacked.” 

“Okay.”

“When you get there, we will fuel your bike and make sure it is in working condition. Your bike is outside your home?”

“Yes, it is.”

 

When Sam got home his wife and two children were fast asleep. Good, he would not have to face her questions, although he felt soon he would have to have answers. He lit the stove and started cooking. His food smelled delicious, but before he could taste it, his mobile phone beeped to indicate a received message in his inbox.

“First job tomorrow: pickups and deliveries will be texted at midnight.”

He shook his head. His wife had woken up. Facing her was worse than having to face the militants. The kids ate. It was a relief to see them eat. Junior before the war was a picky eater; now he wolfed down the greens and the fruit like they were the best food in the world. The children had not yet reached the stage where eating would be impossible.

Nobody said anything. Sam looked at his wife. Her face showed not victory, but defeat. An old lady began screeching mercilessly; the walls might have been made of paper, for there was no blocking out her grating voice.

He left the table, got a bucket of water and a rag, threw liquid soap into the water to make suds, and went to the basement to wash his motorcycle and forget about his family for a few hours. By the time he was done cleaning his bike, he was fed via SMS instructions for the next day.

He thought if he walked upstairs and went into the apartment everyone would be asleep. He opened his front door. His wife was waiting for him at the kitchen table…

Heavy fighting in the city started at five am, continuing without letup. His phone rang at six.

“We have the delivery earlier than expected; come get it.”

“Okay, I am coming for it.”

Sam had just put on his jacket when he heard his wife’s footsteps. He turned his head to her.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“To work,” he said. 

“What work?” she asked.

“Dangerous work,” Sam said, grinding his teeth.

“What work?” she repeated.

“I am going to work.” He refused to offer details.

“I’m trying to understand why we have to do desperate things to live,” she said.

“I know if you understand we will survive.”

She shook her head in frustration. “I see no future here.” 

“I am doing my best.” 

“You are not making things better for us.”

Sam could not disagree.

“This is hell,” she said, trembling. “What am I to do in hell? Tell me?”

“I will work only as needed.” He thought this comment would calm her down so he could mentally prepare for the work that was ahead of him. 

“I know who you are with.”

Sam wanted to bury himself. “You saw who I came home with?”

“Yes,” she replied.

Sam got his keys to leave.

“Sam, you have already joined them.”

“I am only carrying messages for them.”

“By taking alms from them and agreeing to do work for them you have completed their initiation ritual.”

“I will do this job.”

“I don’t care what you have to do, be safe. Do whatever it is that you have to do, and let’s get to hell out.” 

He opened the door. He gave her a kiss on the right and left cheek. He walked towards the door. A tear fell from his left eye. He wiped it away with his right palm.

Although most identifiable landmarks had been destroyed, luckily, he had a sat nav. He rode his bike on the roads filled with a white sandy dust, as plumes of smoke rose sporadically from various parts of the city. His first destination was a pickup at a rundown warehouse with shattered glass all over the ground in front of it. He was given strict instructions not to go inside. By SMS 564 he texted, “here at 8212.”

Sam waited patiently. A giant of a man in a bloody apron came out of a large black-cloth-covered opening in the wall holding a large box. The box was heavy. He handed it to Sam, telling him where to go. He told Sam to be prompt, go right away, with absolutely no stops.

 

An aggressive battle was kicking off—bomb after bomb, from land and air, in a ceaseless succession exploding. Sam focused. Overhead, bombs flew. One seemed to possess a mind of its own. It appeared to be going off target, straight into nowhere; then it made two turns, indicating that the bomb was somehow guided.

Sam kept riding through the dilapidated urban wilderness between rows of ruined houses, as dust rose to the sky. A hidden bearded man with long black hair lifted a MANPAD to his shoulder and proceeded to take aim. He concentrated all his attention to make sure his quarry was in sight and range. A bird flew overhead as the rebel prepared to fire.

The MANPAD was aimed directly at Sam. The rebel shouted towards the morning sun, sure Sam would be blown to pieces. The bird flew directly into the rebel’s face. He unintentionally turned the MANPAD and, as he misfired it, managed to blow off his own head. 

Sam rode on, completely oblivious to the fact that he was being targeted. Eventually he reached his delivery point, a bullet-ridden building just like those near his apartment block, with a blown-up minibus, its roof and center taken completely out. The apartment block had many walls riddled with drilled holes used for entry and exit points, for the purpose of transmitting snipers and fighters as swiftly as possible from one section to the other.

Sam picked up the box and walked towards the front entrance of the block. He took a deep breath and held it. At home his wife knelt to pray for Sam’s safety. She had not eaten anything. She would not eat until he returned, if, that is, he did. Sam held the box firmly.

“Come in and sit down,” a grumpy voice ordered. He walked slowly, carefully, and as calmly as he could. A man in his fifties with long grey hair and beard, wearing a black leather jacket, was sitting in a chair. He appeared to Sam as if he had been waiting a long time for his arrival. He leaned over and set the box down in front of the man.

“What is in this box?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I don’t know what I’m delivering.” Sam moved towards the box. 

“Stay seated,” the man growled. The man picked up the box, raised it, looked inside, shut his eyes, paused briefly, and commanded Sam, “Look!” 

Sam stood up and looked down into the now open box. On first sight, in disgust, he looked away.

“It’s my daughter’s severed hand.”

Sam turned his eyes away from the box.

“Keep looking.” The man lifted her hand with his right and with his left index finger pointed at her finger with a ring on it. This is the ring I gave her for her 21st birthday.”

Sam was sick.

“How do you explain this?”

“I hardly know how to pick up a gun to use it.”

“A gun did not do this; a knife did.”

“We are hungry. Armed factions control everything, and we are the last to be fed, the last to be looked after. The aid never adequately reaches us.”

“Those are not valid excuses. 

“Excuses are all I have.”

“Go,” the man said.

“I can leave?”

“Get out,” he replied.

Sam got up.

“Are you sure you want me to leave?”

“Go ahead.”

 He ran to his motorbike, got on it, and rang base control. In full view of gun range, Sam, the sitting turkey, asked. “Job is done; is there anything more to be done today?”

He waited, sitting on the bike, obstinately tempting fate. 

“No,” base replied.

Sam started his bike, drove the bike past a half-destroyed wall, worried that a large chunk of rock would fall on him or create an obstacle in the street. He wondered why his life had been spared. He knew there could have been anything in that box, even an unexploded bomb. His heart raced and his mind tried to focus on the road ahead. He had been paid a sum of money to do this job. He could call this desperation money, survival money, but somehow down the line he would have to admit it was blood money.

Sam, having driven for twenty minutes, got off his motorbike. A fierce gun fight was ongoing two blocks from his home. He ran for cover in the nick of time. His motorcycle was riddled with bullets. 

 

The sound of gunfire suddenly ceased. The decision for the gun battle to suddenly go silent was eerily abrupt. Sam was trying to figure out why. A woman, her face hidden by a balaclava, walked into the middle of the road. She had neither gun nor rifle. She gripped a human head by the scalp as blood dripped onto the ground from the severed neck. Sam could clearly see she was vested and belted with explosives. She screamed loudly. As Sam watched with revulsion the blood falling from the beheaded person’s neck, the motionless, expressionless face, which hung from her hands, appeared to look him straight in the eye, daring him to take some action, make some gesture of retribution. 

“I am a terrorist,” she announced.

His unsilenced mobile tingled with an SMS, now perfectly audible in the absence of gunfire. He swore that she was walking over to where he was hiding; the sound of his mobile was like waving a red flag to taunt a bull.

“I am a terrorist,” she repeated. “You have been killing us for a long time. Now I am your death.”

If a gunman shot her in the chest it would cause widespread damage. Her head would detach from her body, pieces of her body would splatter everywhere, and, most likely, Sam would be crushed to death in the explosion.  

A gunman raced into the middle of the street. She drew her hand to the suicide belt, ready to detonate. He shot her in the middle of her forehead two times. She fell back on the ground and did not self-explode. Sam did not have to think twice. He ran from where he was hiding. The soldier who had shot the woman dead looked at him directly. Sam thought he would also take aim at him. He did not say anything as they both looked at each other, probably sussing if they were enemies. 

 

His wife had stopped praying and the children sat on the sofa reading when Sam came home. He had done his work. Sam saw me fixing the generator. He waved at me. I waved back at him. 

Sam, especially his kids, had fled so quickly from their home all those months ago that I doubted they had clothes adequate for the winter. I was still working on the generator when I saw people in the distance barricading themselves in—U.S. Army soldiers. 

One of these new occupants, when night came, sent out a light signal: 5 pause, 4 pause, 5 pause, repeatedly. I knew this signal, and signaled back: 5 pause, 3 pause, 2 pause. He recognized and texted me.

“Rats are crawling around in the long grass,” he warned. 

“Militants?” 

“Yes.” 

“They are swarming the area now,” I said. 

“We will put out some poison and let them eat it,” he replied.

“What should I do?”

“Stay until we clear this mess.”

“When did you hear this?”

“A terrorist courier on a motorbike has been followed.”

“Since when?”

“This morning; we have been following his movements and making notes.”

“Do you know any reliable way to get out of here?”

“I don’t think any way is easier.”

“Well,” I said, “I would love to leave.” 

“Have you any idea how?” he asked me. 

“I think I would have to take a minibus out.”

“I know of one recent minibus ride that left from here and was shelled by mortar.”

“Anyone survive?”

“No one.” 

“I can’t possibly stay here, can I?”

“It’s only a matter of time before you get killed there.”

“Can you help get me out of here?”

“I will help you, but you must give me time.”

 

Men in black trousers, jumpers, and balaclavas parade around outside. One man carries a black flag. They busy themselves spreading their plague, practicing training drills, teaching other new recruits how to fight. I know if this battle is lost things will never be the same again. Sam came to me. I did not have to come to him. This is a critical point. Sam is my neighbor, but even if his decision to join militants is mercenary, he still belongs to the wrong side.

“Have you gained full control of the neighborhood?” I asked. 

“Not yet, but the others believe they really will crush the enemy.” 

“What will I have to do differently?”

“House the foreign militants here in the apartments.”

“These apartments are not mine to give. They belong to people who may come back here.” 

“You will not have any say in the matter.”

 

The End

 

 

Michael Mulvihill, mulvihillp@ymail.com, of Dublin, Ireland, wrote BP #89’s “Drop 2: Help Thy Neighbour” (+ BP #88’s “The Taxidermist Is Hatching.”; BP #81’s “Drogol’s Inst.” & “Killing Time”; BP #80’s “Rise”; BP #79’s “Drogol the Nosophorous and the Calf of Man”; BP #78’s “Self-Immolation,” BP #77’s “Lupine Savagery”; BP #76’s “The Watchers”; BP #68’s“The Toasters’ Tragedy” and “Ziggy’s Afterlife Analysis”; “Homeless” & “Why the Hell Siberia?” for BP #67; was featured author for BP #65’s “Ethagorian Evidence (Parts 1 & 2)” & “Uninsured Assurance”; VAMPIRE HORDE, Ch.1… for BP #63; BP #61’s poems, A Love Story Beautiful, Capitalism’s Modern Architecture of Love, Red Brick, The Securocrats, and Toxic Addiction; the poems, “Fatigued,” “O Mother,” & “Spike-Inverted Hearts” for BP #58; “The Cleaner and the Collector” & all 6 BP #56 poems; BP #50’s “The Soul Scrubber” and as featured vampire poet with A Vampire’s Dilemma: Love, Becoming a Vampire, Vampire Insomnia, and Vampiric War in The Kodori Valley; wrote BP #49’s poems—I, the Vampire, The Reluctant Vampire of Tbilisi, Vampire Observations, and Vampire Psychoanalysis). The 30ish author published a short story, “Ethagoria Nebsonia,” in BP in ‘98 and had a poem, “The Bombing,” in The Kingdom News about a domestic tragedy in Ireland. He has two 2007 poetry books out with Exposure Publishing: Searching for Love Central and The Genesis and Anatomy of Love, and has written the horror novels, DIABOLIS OF DUBLIN & SIBERIAN HELLHOLE.

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