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Darker Than Dark-Fiction by Mark Joseph Kevlock
What a Mess-Fiction by Miles Ryan Fisher
Flippimg the Frozen Finger Farewell-Fiction by Michael D. Davis
A Gift of Death-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Maggot-Fiction by Max Watt
Redemption for a Lowlife-Fiction by Angelo Gentile
A Night Out at Wrath's-Fiction by Jason Butkowski
The Pact-Fiction by Edward Francisco
Joey Brick-Fiction by Henry Simpson
Violators-Fiction by Doug Hawley
Trauma-Fiction by Robert Petyo
Fire-Fiction by Tom Barlow
The Bank Robbin' Deacon-Flash Fiction by Walter Giersbach
The Matrix of Love-Flash Fiction by J. Brooke
Huddled and Crying-Flash Fiction by Paul Beckman
The Mere Four-Flash Fiction by Henry G. Stanton
The Big Hunt-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Family Tree-Poem by Neil Ellman
A Line from Lynynrd Skynyrd-Poem by Mark Young
The End of the End-Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Bones-Poem by Christopher Hivner
The Berserker Train-Poem by Christopher Hivner
Contemplating an Unknown-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
Lifeless Space Rock-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
Our Armored Oxygen Suits-Poem by Ayaz Daryl Nielsen
Like Broken Glass-Poem by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal
Walk at Night-Poem by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal
Terrible Animal-Poem by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal
I Am Borges-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
I Am Hesse-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
I Am Camus-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
The House of Four Senses-Poem by John Grey
At the Complaint Department-Poem by John Grey
My Mighty Pen-Poem by John Grey
Cartoons by Cartwright
Hail, Tiger!
Angel of Manslaughter
The Gazing Ball
Strange Gardens
Gutter Balls
Calpurnia's Window
No Place Like Home
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Art by Kevin Duncan © 2019

A Gift of Death


Kenneth James Crist


Always pitch your tent on high ground. I mean, if it’s just a silly little, one-man Wal Mart tent and it doesn’t look like rain, fuck it, put the damn thing anywhere it looks good. But if it’s a good-sized, serious tent and you’re gonna be there a while, find the high ground and, if there’s a stream or river nearby, look for high-water marks and locate above them. This way, if it storms, you get drainage and a flood won’t carry your ass away, to be found weeks later, drowned and a putrefying mess.

“Is this a good spot?” Katie had never camped out and it had been a while for me, too. We had forest all around and a stream nearby. We were on federal land in a National Forest and our permits were in order, all fees paid.

“This is about as good as it’s gonna get, Babe. We’re a few miles off the beaten path and I think we’re gonna have the place all to ourselves. It’s too late in the season for a lot of city folks to come up here. How you feelin’?”

“Surprisingly good, actually,” she said, “Other than being a little winded from the altitude.”

I was amazed at how well she was holding up. We had hiked in from a parking area several miles away. True, I had lugged most of the equipment, but she had done well, considering how sick she had been just a week before. I dropped everything I’d been carrying and reached for her. I kissed her neck and her lips and the top of her bald head and we sat down together and rested for a while.

Katie had survived cancer twice before. This time, she would not. I knew it and she knew it and all her doctors knew it. The chemo had left her weak and skinny and bald and she had good days and bad days. But now she had put all the bad days behind her. She had opted, now that she was nearing the end, to just let all the treatments go and end her life in the most natural way possible.

In the state we were in, laws had now been passed to allow assisted suicide, under the supervision of a doctor. I was that doctor. Nowhere in the law did it state that the doctor assisting had to be the patient’s regular physician. Any licensed doctor could assist. And when the time was right, I would help her on her way.

It would not be easy. We had been married only eleven years and we were still very much in love. We had hoped to be together for fifty, sixty, seventy years, but it was not going to happen, at least not this time around.

“So, you gonna show me how to set up a tent, or are we just gonna sit around and listen to the wind?” I gave her another quick smooch by her ear and got up and started breaking out the tent. It was not new, by any means, and it was borrowed, but I was familiar with what went where, and in about forty minutes, we had a canvas house, complete with mesh windows, roll up covers and a floor. Katie didn’t like bugs all that well.

Blowing up air mattresses when at an unaccustomed altitude is a pain in the ass and a dizzying experience. That took almost as long as setting up the tent. By evening, I had built a fire pit and we had a nice fire going and dinner was in the skillet.

I wish I could tell you about a whirlwind romance, riding horses in the surf, sneaking off to an isolated cabin for Christmas, calling each other in the dead of night, talking breathlessly about our love and our future together.

It wasn’t like that. When I was in Medical School at Kansas University in Wichita, Kathryn Ann Gilmore had just been there, on the periphery of all the craziness and 19-hour days, the absolute cramming of knowledge into the stubborn cranium that is the experience of med school.

She was a secretary, nothing more. No aspersions on that honorable profession, and one as dedicated as she truly made it a profession, not just a job.

Our first date was a total bust, mostly my fault. Dinner and a show had turned out to be Hardee’s burgers and me sleeping through a movie I can’t even remember now. Why she ever agreed to a second date is a secret she’s taken with her to her grave…

I don’t know why soldiers bitch about MRE’s. Meals Ready to Eat require only water and some heat and they’re ready to go. They will easily last 25 years and they’re actually pretty tasty. Better than their predecessor, C-rations.

We had beef Stroganoff and some canned peaches and a couple beers that I’d parked in the ice-cold stream when we arrived. We fed the fire and talked about anything and everything, except Katie’s demise. We carefully avoided that subject, at least for now.

At about ten, we turned in and, much to my surprise, Katie wanted to make love. We had tried a few times since the chemo had started, but found she was dry and it was painful, so we’d left it alone. On this first night in camp, she got in her purse and got out a small bottle and carefully anointed me with a very nice lubricant and then straddled me and carefully joined us together. It was the best we’d had in a long time. The darkness was good, only the light from the dying fire to illuminate the tent wall. It was hard to see the scar on her chest and the one missing breast. Afterward, she cried a little. Tears of joy. Tears of sorrow, too, I supposed. I held her against me and soon, we slept.

I would be the first to admit that my initial attraction to Katie was entirely physical. I wanted to fuck her. Sometimes, so badly my teeth itched. In medical-psychological mumbo-jumbo, she fit my “template”, so much so that thinking about nailing her was screwing with my grades.

She was small and willowy, small breasts, small hips, and at the same time shapely in a way that was almost voluptuous. With our schedules and all the studying, it was nine half-assed dates before I finally got her in bed…

As the days went by, I watched as Katie got steadily weaker and I knew she would never leave this place alive. She didn’t know it, but I had arranged an airlift of her remains by helicopter, once it was all over. I had scouted a small meadow just a hundred yards away for the chopper to land, so it could be accomplished quickly. Mr. Efficiency, that’s me, alright.

The first time we made love, I had expected a certain reluctance on her part, that she might have to actually be seduced. As it turned out, she was as hot to go as I was and many of the things I loved to do to her were exactly the things she’d been hoping for in a lover and eventually, a husband. I think I must have fit her “template.” Moving in with her meant I had to get some transportation, but I no longer had to pay rent. I bought my first motorcycle and we were off to the races.

On the last day, Katie woke up with chills and a quick check with a thermometer showed she was spiking a fever. It is often the case that the cancer does not kill the patient. Often a secondary infection such as pneumonia or influenza will do that, something the person could likely survive if their immune system was not already compromised by the cancer and the chemotherapy.

Late in the day, she rallied somewhat and was able to eat some soup and crackers and she got some good rest.

In a way, I regretted we had not had any kids. Once Katie was gone, there would be nothing left of her but memories and a few trinkets. No little Katie-clone to comfort Daddy or for Daddy to hold. But during our lives together, at least for the first seven years, we thought we’d have plenty of time for kids later. After I had my practice established. After I paid off a hundred and sixty thousand dollars’ worth of student loans. Now, time was short, and some things would never be accomplished. I hoped she had no regrets…

At nine in the evening, I was sitting by the fire, when I heard her call from the tent. I helped her to the chemical toilet and then she wanted to go back to her bed and she wanted me to join her. I held her as she shivered in the dark and she said, “I think it’s time to hook me up, Johnny.”

Through a veil of tears, I got out the equipment and started the IV. The process would be started entirely by her, with the simple press of a button, only and not until she was ready.

In the dark, she said, “I’d like to try making love one more time.”

“Are you sure? Do you really feel good enough?”

“No, but I want to anyway…”

That was a phrase I’d heard from her all our time together. Her first ride behind me on the bike. “Are you okay with this?” I knew she was scared shitless. “No, but let’s do it anyway…” then the discovery that she loved riding behind me, whenever we got the chance.

At an amusement park in Kansas City, looking at one of the world’s great roller coasters. “Sure you wanna do this?”

“Fuck no, but I’m gonna do it anyway…” Then, when we got off the ride, asking if we could go again.

This time she wanted to be on her back and we were careful of the IV and bottles and tubing. She cried out when she climaxed, and I was glad she had that pleasure. I stayed awake for a long time and eventually she slept. I figured maybe it was a false alarm and we’d have another day or so. I listened to her somewhat raspy breathing, not liking the sound of it at all, and I thought, Are ya sure you wanna do this, Katie? And in my mind, I heard her laugh and say, “Nope. But I’m gonna do it anyway…”

In the morning, I found that Katie had passed away, sometime after I slept. The button on the lethal IV had never been activated. The bottles were still full, all except for the normal saline, which was about half gone. In the steel-gray of the morning light filtering through the trees, I washed her and dressed her and wept at her enduring beauty and my own loss.

Last of all, I kissed her cold lips and then I went outside and called for the helicopter.

Kenneth James Crist is Editor Emeritus of Black Petals Magazine and is on staff at Yellow Mama ezine. He has been a published writer since 1998, having had almost two hundred short stories and poems in venues ranging from Skin and Bones and The Edge-Tales of Suspense to Kudzu Monthly. He is particularly fond of supernatural biker stories. He reads everything he can get his hands on, not just in horror or sci-fi, but in mystery, hardboiled, biographies, westerns and adventure tales. He retired from the Wichita, Kansas police department in 1992 and from the security department at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita in 2016. Now 74, he is an avid motorcyclist and handgun shooter. He is active in the American Legion Riders and the Patriot Guard, helping to honor and look after our military. He is also a volunteer driver for the American Red Cross, Midway Kansas Chapter. He is the owner of Fossil Publications, a desktop publishing venture that seems incapable of making any money at all. On June the ninth, he did his first (and last) parachute jump and crossed that shit off his bucket list.

Kevin D. Duncan was born 1958 in Alton, Illinois where he still resides. He has degrees in Political Science, Classics, and Art & Design. He has been freelancing illustration and cartoons for over 25 years. He has done editorial cartoons and editorial illustration for local and regional newspapers, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His award-winning work has appeared in numerous small press zines, e-zines, and he has illustrated a few books.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications © 2019