Black Petals Issue #92, Summer, 2020

We Get Him Together

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Mars-Chris Friend
Misty Page-A Game of Chess
Sean M. Carey-Chilled Bones Under Lovely Skin
Roy Dorman-Death in the Round Room, Part IV
Lael Braday-Magical Perspective
Matt Spangler-Master Smasher
Lena Abou-Khalil-The Nowhere Man
Grace Sielinski-'Port
Gavin McGarvey-The Black Petals
Marc Dickerson-Theater is Dead
C. S. Harbold-The Whispering
Dean Patrick-Vincent's Warning
Doug Park-We Get Him Together
Joseph Hurtgen-Worlds to Conquer
Mickie Bolling-Burke-The Bringer of Darkness
Aaron Hicks-The Last Days
Cindy Rosmus-Out of Juice
Matthew Wilson-Endless Men's Hate
Michael Steven-Hell Rift
Sean Goulding-Hypnagogic
David C. Kopaska-Merkel-In the Land of Giants
Loris John Fazio-The Thing in the Woods
Loris John Fazio-The Beggar Knows
Richard Stevenson-Peg Leg
Richard Stevenson-The Alkali Lake Monster
Richard Stevenson-The Green Man

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Art by Michael C. Davis 2020

   We Get Him Together

 

Doug Park

 

They lay in the tall grass and watched the clouds pass. Twiddling their arms and giggling, they welcomed the new one who joined them and brought yet another their way.   

                                                                            ***

Roger Elspin found the dilapidated bear, monkey, pig, or whatever it was lying amongst the leaves in a small patch of woods in his neighborhood. The tag on its back read only “My Name Is Zawby” without any of the usual manufacturer’s information. Roger was nearly fourteen and had never had any use for stuffed animals even when he was much younger. Still, finding this pathetic thing seemed the perfect end of a terrible day full of screaming teachers and boring classes, with Russell Gann shouting “Hey, faggot!” as he rode away from Claybaker Middle School in a red pickup with his older buddies. Shrugging, Roger crammed the animal into his back-pack, carried it home, and tossed it on the floor of his basement room.

A quick Google search came up blank. None of the mail order companies sold Zawby toys.  Must have been home-made, he decided, though any grandma who would make such a thing would have to be on crack or something worse. Staring down into the animal’s blank milky eyes staring back up at him from a mashed-in face with a long rubbery nose that resembled a charred sausage hanging straight over a crookedly gaping mouth, Roger heard himself ask aloud, “What are you? And why’d I find you?”   

When his mother called “RogerSupper!” he tossed the animal into a far corner under the bed and did his best to purge it from his mind as he trudged up the stairs. He thought little more of it as he passed the rest of the evening on a long aimless walk followed by an hour or so of strumming his guitar.

         The next day, after passing two quarts of beer with some schoolmates on the way home, Roger stopped outside the closed doorway to his room, hearing a garbled voice singing “Zawby got anuthuh home, anuthuh fwend, anuthuh life, oh spohdly-dohdly-dee!!”

He opened the door to find the animal goose-stepping about the room, abruptly ceasing its song and dance to chortle “Oh, hi, Wadjuh!” and dart beneath the bed. 

Head reeling, Roger sat against the wall and convinced himself that he was just a little drunk. He finally got up and gazed at the image in his full-length mirror with its wild eyes, unruly hair, splotches of acne, and frame so thin from recent growth.  Almost five-ten now, he was just about as tall, his mother told him, as the father who’d left them six years earlier, that heavy-set bespectacled man who carried him to bed when he was still in preschool but later smacked him hard on several occasions and called him “My favorite little pussy-fart” when his mother wasn’t around.

At supper, as he poked at his kale and didn’t say a word, his mom asked, “Roger, what on Earth is wrong with you tonight?” Her sleek graying reddish hair, the lines around her eyes, and puckery mouth reminded him of something from a faraway planet.

“Nothing. Just thinking about a chick, mom,” he told her, hearing the usual loud sigh as he went down to his room, where he picked at his guitar and brooded another three hours away.  Just as he was finally nodding off, Zawby let loose a shrill cackle that left him wide awake for most of the night.

        The next evening, after struggling to hold his head above his desk at school and immediately falling asleep on the living room couch until suppertime, he found what looked like a toddler’s red and yellow permanent marker drawing of houses, trees, and stick people decorating the wall behind his bedroom door. Then he caught a first whiff of the pile of pale brown gooey shit that he’d just stepped in.

          Zawby was missing from its chosen spot beneath the bed, but Roger quickly found the animal cowering in a far corner of his closet. “You little—”

“Oh Wadjuh dohn beat me! I’m sawwy I made dooky on yuh floh!”

After a long frenzy of punching, kicking, and hurling Zawby against the walls, the animal’s pleas only spurring him on, Roger felt no vengeance, only nausea, as he washed his right Reebok in steaming water and detergent, scraping hard with steel wool to get the last of the shit out of the treads. After scooping what was left on the carpet into a dustpan and watching it spiral down the toilet, he scoured the stained spot that would probably never go completely away. 

This thing was neither real nor the product of any chemicals he’d taken, he decided, guitar inert on his lap. It was easiest to believe that he was going nuts, maybe “paranoid schizophrenic” or better yet, a “psychopath” as some of his classmates had teasingly labeled him the day they surveyed mental illnesses in Health class. He liked that explanation best: Being crazy might get him taken out of that horrible school and maybe even put on some really fun drugs.

The smell of Zawby’s excretion hung in the air, and when Roger’s mother came down to check on him before she went to bed, she grimaced and seemed about to ask “What is that horrible odor?” before she glanced toward the nearby bathroom and, apparently assuming her son’s school lunch was to blame, said a hasty “Good night.”

Zawby still lay prone at an odd angle in the closet. “Yuh so big and stwong, Wadjuh! Why you havta beat up on poh little Zawby?”

“You better shut the hell up or I’ll take you out and KILL your sorry ass!”

There was a whimper from the closet before all was silent and Roger slept hard.  

         Things will never be the same, he realized, mind wandering in Math the next morning. Whatever becomes of me, there’s no going back to a normal life. But had he ever wanted a normal life? The dream of becoming a star guitarist was a nice one, but those guys had to work and work at it, and a lot fewer made it than didn’t. It just didn’t seem his lot to make it at anything, and he couldn’t imagine growing up to get married, have kiddies, and do something boring and exhausting like his mother’s work at the bank. There had to be other, better, realities out there: Why oh why had he been born into this one?

“Got yourself a woman yet, faggot-Elspin?” Russell Gann’s shove in the hallway was harder than usual.

Roger turned and sputtered “It ain’t—” It ain’t over, motherfucker!

“ ‘It AIN’T!’ ” Russell mimicked, slow and retarded. Then, with one hand holding his nose, the other swishing the air around him, “Whew, go wipe yourself off, boy!”

 I still smell like Zawby’s crap. That’s why people have been turning up their noses at me all day. Everyone must be talking about it: “Roger Elspin smells like someone  dipped him in shit!”

He had to get rid of Zawby and asked himself how.  

         It came to him rather quickly.

         A few weeks earlier, he’d half-watched some ’80s film on TV about a colonial village with a strict minister and the eldest daughter he would not allow to marry the kindly but simple carpenter’s son she truly loved. Roger had quickly drifted off into fantasies of taking a flame-thrower to the entire place and watching them all scream and burn. The only scene that really grabbed him was when they’d caught a fat man stealing precious food from the village storehouse. The Puritans had erected a gibbet, thrown a noose around the thief’s neck, kicked a barrel out from under him, and watched him writhe and choke as the prune-faced minister droned out the Old Testament in the background. The hanging had looked so delicious that Roger yearned for the day he might do just that to any of the many deserving people out there.

        That night, while his mother was at a friend’s house, he made as good a miniature noose as he could from some hemp twine she used to hang her plants and strung it from the coat rod in his closet. He changed into his oldest clothes, fetched a can of Lysol, and placed a sheet of aluminum foil on the floor beneath the noose. If more reeking shit fell from the animal as it expired, he would wrap it up, burn it, or maybe even take it to a lab somewhere for analysis. Dying to know what made Zawby tick, he also planned to dissect the corpse, though his vague imaginings of finding something other than fiber fluff and plastic pellets made him shiver.

        Inert in its usual spot beneath the bed, Zawby squirmed and spasmed as Roger tied its arms in a spare bit of twine and carried the animal toward the noose.  

        “Wadjuh, NO!”

        “ ‘Wadjuh,’ YEAH! I’m gonna love every second of watching you die, you sick little turd!”

        Roger’s mouth watered as Zawby twisted, coughed, and sputtered at the end of the twine, its cries slowly diminishing after a minute or so. After its stuffed head finally tilted to one side and its tiny bat-like ears ceased twitching, Roger smugly watched the limp animal sway for a couple more minutes before he took out his Swiss Army knife. The instant he began sawing at the twine, Zawby jerked its arms free of their bindings and with a low gurgling sound, raised a shaking paw to pull its head from the noose and fall with a loud crink onto the foil below. It lay gasping for some time before mewing “Why you do this to me, Wadjuh?”

        “Because. . .because. . .you’re evil.”

        “YUH ee-vul!!”

        “Maybe so. And I’m gonna love every second of watching you burn!”  I was a fool for thinking something that doesn’t weigh half a pound and probably doesn’t even have to breathe would die from hanging, but oh well.

        Roger grinned as tongues of flame spired from the charcoal grill on the back patio. Tightly wrapped in the failed twine on a nearby picnic table, Zawby screamed “Oh, please, HEH-ELLP!” obscenely loud as he carried it toward the fire.

        A light flashed on in the side window of a neighboring house.

        What if the police come?

        “Just playin’, Zawby-buddy.” As Roger dowsed the fire and replaced the grill lid, the less likely it seemed that the toy animal would simply have burned to a cinder and been gone from his life. Nor would it have been any different if he’d disemboweled or decapitated the thing or just taken it as far as he could and dumped it somewhere. “Man-up,” he told himself, “and face reality. Zawby somehow knew my name without being told. It can prance around on those scrawny legs, draw with those little paws, and talk, for Christ’s sake. And,” he snorted, “it can lay the rankest shit on Earth even though it doesn’t even have a hole down there. So, what else is it capable of. . .and what can it do for me if I’m nice to it?” 

        Back down in his room, he unbound Zawby and fashioned a make-shift bed of a spare pillow in an old cardboard box. Covering the animal with a bit of torn blanket used by a Cocker Spaniel he’d had years before, he asked “Need anything, pal?”

        “Nnno-woh!”

        “Just let me know if you gotta make dooky or anything so I can take you to the bathroom.”

        “Next time I make dooky, I make it wight on you!”

        Livid, Roger grabbed the animal’s long ugly nose in a firm pinch and sawed at it with his knife.

        “Oh, my no-wose! Please DOHN, Wadjuhhh!”

        Roger shook his head and laughed. “Just had to play with you one more time. No more messes on my floor, okay? No more whining. And if you shit on me while I’m asleep, I’ll cut off your nose and your arms and legs too so you won’t be able to get away when I hang you or burn you or tear your ass to pieces, whatever I feel like doing, and I won’t care how loud you scream!”

        “Okay, Wadjuh, wohn twy anyting else. Please dohn huht Zawby any moh!”

        “Deal! Let’s be friends, okay?”

        “Fwends!” One thin arm jerked in what seemed like an aborted fist-bump. 

        Careful to avoid the still-smelly spot nearby, Roger stooped to take a closer look at Zawby’s  mural on his wall. The three houses, along with the beginning of a fourth, were identical to one another, with pointed roofs and solitary upstairs windows. The lollipop trees were equally alike. The four dopily grinning, leaping stick figures, two with long curled hair and two with a single squiggle growing from the top of their perfectly spheroid heads, all held tiny rectangles or larger pads. One of the guys fingered his, and one of the girls held hers to her face. Roger hated all the idiots at school who chattered on and on about who texted, instant messaged, and Skyped who, constantly having to remind everyone of how connected they were. He was so intrigued that he didn’t even notice Zawby stagger up beside him.

        “You like my pick-shuh, Wadjuh?”

        “Um, yeah.  It’s kind of how the whole fuckin’ world is. But no more on my walls!”

        “Hee-hee!”

        Roger resisted the urge to grab the animal and pound it against the floor as it went back to its bed, where it still lay covered and crying the next morning, a rainy Saturday. Peering furtively down from his own bed, Roger wondered hopefully if it would die. 

           “Wadjuuuhhh!”     

          “Yeah.”

          “Oh, Wadjuh, I huht all ovuh!”

          “Well, what can I do for you?”

          “Take me for a walk, Wadjuh. Zawby need some fwesh ayeh.”

          Hearing rain splatter across the small ground-level window above him, Roger protested, “It’s pouring outside, man.”

          “I pwotect you.”

          “You’ll protect me?”

          “Yes, Wadjuh. Zawby look aftuh ­evwybody!”

          After deliberating under a hot shower, eating the pancakes his mother made for him, telling her “Dunno” and hearing her sigh when she asked his plans for the day, Roger stuck Zawby under his shirt and walked in the direction of a nearby half-built subdivision. Despite a few faint thunderclaps, the rain had slowed to a drizzle.

          “Lemme down, Wadjuh!”  The animal struggled under his shirt.

“What the--” If anyone drove by and saw Zawby skipping along beside him, would they think it was just a wind-up toy? An hallucination? Or would they stop and ask, “My God, what IS that thing?”. . .Would it make him rich and famous?

         Roger lowered Zawby gently to the pavement. The way it awkwardly stood there somehow reminded him of a mutant duck he’d once seen in an anime cartoon.

         “Weee!”  Zawby shrieked, dancing down the road in wide circles. “Oh, weee, weee, weee!”

         Weee, yourself, you little prick!  

         Coming to a bulldozer parked beside the new road, Zawby leapt up and sat on the very edge of the operator’s couch. Leaning forward to put its paws on the steering bars and then sliding over to grasp the blade control lever to its right, the animal warbled “Ba-wooom! Such powuh heah!”

         Roger had to admit that Zawby looked oddly cute with its homely head bobbing every which way as it played with the controls. Though most of him wanted to take the animal by the legs and thrash it against the front blade of the dozer, he picked it up and gave it a stiff hug.

         “But nowhere near as much power as you got, my friend,” he said, holding Zawby limply in his outstretched arms.

         “Yes, Wadjuh!” The animal wriggled its legs and pirouetted its arms.

         Side by side, they walked through the woods where they’d first met, which would soon no doubt be bulldozed to make room for more new houses full of more stupid boring people. Roger ranted on about Russell Gann, the beefy kid with rich parents he’d hated ever since they’d been assigned seats together back in fourth grade. Gann had called him every name in the book, bragged to everyone about kicking his ass after school and making him “cry like a retarded baby” even though he’d done no such thing, embarrassed Roger in front of certain girls he was sweet on by pointing out the bit of cobweb in his hair or the booger on the tip of his nose, and done every other thing he could find over the next four years to make his life pure Hell.

        “We get him, Wadjuh, we get him.” Zawby’s tone, slow and scheming, was one he hadn’t heard before.

       “Whatcha thinking, buddy?”

       “You see soon, Wadjuh. But we get him togethuh.”

       The sky darkened, and the rain came pouring down again. Roger ran fast to the nearest shell of a half-built home and stood under the overhang above the front door. Nostrils full of the scent of fresh cement, paint, and pine shingles, he looked around to find Zawby nowhere in sight.  He counted twenty before charging through the torrents down the nearby dirt road with its foundation of an old house and adjoining ruin of a garage where he and the other guys sometimes hung out after school. He’d catch his breath there before making a break for home to dry off and get under the covers and hopefully awaken to find the smell in his room gone and this whole episode of his life erased right along with Zawby’s etching on his wall.

Water spattered into the garage through the vacant eyes of its side windows and several holes in its roof. Roger found a seat on a stack of cinder blocks in a fairly dry corner. A couple of tattered porno magazines were still folded tightly within the apertures of the top block. He remembered that one jabbery kid--Shawn or Don something--bringing them with him when they’d all gotten together to drink beer three days earlier. Cigarette butts and empty soda and beer bottles lay scattered on the floor.    

Those guys: Mike McCaven, who’d lived on the same street as Roger for years and occasionally invited him over to play when they were younger; Alex Penaldo, who was good for supplying booze, cigarettes, and an occasional joint snuck from his party animal folks; Shawn, Don, whatever; and sometimes one or two others whose names he didn’t recall, but all of them dicks who tried so hard to act like tough cool men-of-the-world without even seeing what stupid little punks they really were.

Taking off his shoes and wringing out his socks, Roger noticed a sheet of notebook paper hanging from a nail on the back wall, half-hidden behind the veil of incoming rain. His jaw dropped as he took down the pencil sketch of a scraggly figure with a ludicrous mound of dark hair and a moping face so obviously his own.  Squiggly stink-lines surrounded Roger and tears poured from his eyes as he held up his arms and called “Ashley, baby, please come BACK!” to the fleeing figure of a ponytailed girl whose voice balloon screamed back “Eww! Get away from me ya sorry stinkbomb or Ill have Gann kick you’re ass!”

Ashleigh Spriggs, who’d walked with him on their way to Language Arts last semester, sometimes holding his hand. The last time he’d called Ashleigh, he’d let her know just how he felt about this suck-ass world and all the morons in it. “Some day,” he told her, “I’ll do something that’ll make everyone’s head spin!” And when he saw her in the hall the next morning talking with some sneering girls he did not know and said “Hey, Ash-LEIGH!” in that elated way he used to, she’d looked away and pretended he wasn’t there.             

After ripping the drawing to shreds, wadding it up, and tossing it out into the rain, Roger sat and stared at the littered concrete floor, his face burning. He felt a tiny poke to his left leg, which he chose to ignore until he felt it again. He lifted his head to see Zawby standing sadly beside him, dripping but somehow dry.

“Why you wun fwum me, Wadjuh?”

“I. . .I just had to get out of the rain.”

“You can’t wun away, Wadjuh. We ah good fwends, wemembuh? You wull always be pawt of Zawby!” To Roger’s disgust, the animal hugged the calf of his leg. “Wain’s stopping, Wadjuh. Walk with me.”

Water poured down the guttered sides of Wakefield Lane, becoming a miniature lake above a culvert draining into a small pond which fed into a narrow creek. Leaning on the guardrail, Roger stared down at the churning water as Zawby jumped atop the rail and danced a balancing act along its length. “Woah-de-doh, woah-de-doh, woah-de-doh! Oh, look at Zawww-beeee!!”

There was the sound of an approaching vehicle and a flash in the air as Zawby dove off the rail for cover among the rocks and weeds. An SUV passed, barely slowing at the low spot above the culvert. Roger barely managed to dodge the tall plume of water that flew his way as the SUV sped through the big puddle in the road.

Zawby leapt back onto the rail. “Woah-de-doh. . .”

Roger grabbed the animal and hurled it down into the pond. He took a quick glance at the thing twisting in the muddy froth before, stifling the urge to run, he walked coolly away.

“Heh-ellp, Wadjuhhh!”

Roger kept walking.

“Wadjuh, you can’t do this to Zawby!”

But I can!

“Wadjuh, what about ah big plans?!”

 I can get back at Gann on my own. I don’t need help from any little stuffed freak! I’m brilliant, I’m brave, I’m strong, I’m everything else. Like the ending to some fucked-up Disney flick, that’s what this whole Zawby-thing was meant to show me.

“You be sawwy, Wadjuh!”

Roger struggled to pause and think before turning back to the railing to see Zawby bobbing head-up in the far end of the pond. One paw grasped an errant vine snaking into the water; the other waved frantically up at him. If the animal let go, it would be sucked into the whirlpool that opened and closed like clockwork above a submerged concrete pipe a few feet behind it. Half a minute passed without that happening, and Zawby kept waving and crying.  Roger cursed and started down the slim muddy path from the road, grabbing at whatever branches and jutting rocks lent some support. Halfway down, his feet flew out from under him and he slid the last two yards on his backside.

Rubbing a scraped ankle, he tried to figure out how he could save the pleading thing. . . or maybe force it down the pipe? Scrounging through the underbrush nearby, he found a tree limb long and sturdy enough to do either job.

“Grab ­this, buddy!”

One tiny paw and then another closed around the limb, and Zawby emerged from the water.  “Bwing Zawby to showuh, Wadjuh!”

Dutifully, Roger swung the animal over the bank and saw its feet touch the ground a split second before the limb was ripped from his hands and whacked him hard on the side of his head. The world spun and shimmered as he fell sideways into the water.  His feet touched the rocky bottom, and for one scrambling submerged instant he thought “This pond’s only about six feet deep--I can get myself out of this!”

But the current dragged him down and he screamed, filling his lungs with dirty water. Head-first and face-up, he was sucked toward the drain pipe. Just before his shoulders crashed through its opening and his head smashed against a large rock three feet within its mouth, Roger saw Zawby standing over him on the bank, waving and somehow smiling. Several long moments of agony elapsed. All went blank for a couple more before he found himself gazing out of two tiny unblinking eyes a foot above the pond and tittering at the sight of his own legs hanging from the pipe, knees bending up and down in the water. To his dismay, a chorus of other voices laughed right along with him.  

                                                                           ***

Russell Gann’s buddies were supposed to come by an hour ago, but they had shown him up again. Well, fuck ’em. They treated him like a nothing because they were in high school and he was still at Claybaker, but he’d do them the same way next year. They were just a bunch of low-life punk-asses anyway. So, having nothing better to do right now, for the third time in the five days since the Elspin kid had drowned in the creek pond near the Gann’s new house, he came to look at the spot where it happened, his first time to come alone.

After last Saturday’s big rainstorm, some old man out for a stroll had seen a pair of legs sticking out of the pipe, and Elspin’s mom had id’d the body. There’d been a memorial service at school with some teachers and counselors talking about how hard it was to lose a classmate, how help was there for anyone feeling depressed, and all that shit. Russell had done a good job of keeping a poker face whenever people looked his way, but he didn’t care and neither did anyone else. And why should they? Elspin was just a scrawny dork who’d always thought he was something special. Some of the geekier kids at Claybaker were scared by the way he went around all glaring and crazy-looking, but Russell had always seen him for the zero that he was.    

Imagine it, he guffawed, skipping a stone across the pond: Meeting the big ultimate by falling into a drainage pond and being sucked into a pipe. This place would become one of those urban legend things, the rain-drain where the scuzzy freak died an awesomely freakish death. He and his crowd could come here and party. The nearby clearing would make a cool place to make out with girls.

Looking in that direction, Russell saw a thin furry arm with a little three-fingered paw sticking up out of the grass. He walked over and picked Zawby up with an amused scowl.

“Damn! Aren’t you the ugliest-ass thing?!” Russell chortled as the stuffed animal’s long, deformed nose spun round and round after he socked it. It seemed programmed to do that even though its head felt completely pillowy, giving no hint of wires or gadgetry when squeezed.  Glancing at the tag on its back, he snorted, “Well, Zaw-bee, what am I going to do with you, brother? Feed you to the crawdads?” He started to toss the animal into the middle of the pond, but sudden notions of sneaking it into some skaggy chick’s locker or back-pack stopped him. Better yet, he’d pin a card on it reading “I am the ghost of Roger Elspin” and leave it somewhere for goofy old Ashleigh Spriggs to find. Shrugging, he started down the trail home, holding Zawby roughly by the neck.       

                                                                    ***

Though still getting used to the company that had found him, Roger was becoming more and more at home with them. Though it was not yet time to speak aloud, his voice united with theirs in humming a soft “Spohdly-dohdly-wohdly-dee!” Together, they ventured a short, merry twist of their arms and legs as their newest friend carried them to their next home.

 

 

Doug Park is originally from Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he hated going to public school every bit as much as the protagonist in this story. He completed an MFA in Fiction from the University of Arkansas but did not yet have any publications in this genre. His only publications to speak of were a couple of poems in small, now-defunct magazines. He now lives in Lexington, Kentucky, where he presently works as a Mental Health Associate for a local psychiatric hospital. Prior to moving to Lexington, he spent several years working as a Composition Instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma.

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