Black Petals Issue #93 Autumn, 2020

Bless Be Him
BP Artists and Illustrators
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
Justin Alcala: A Horse for Us All-Fiction
Matthew Penwell: Bless Be Him-Fiction
Shiloh Simmons: Coffin Birth-Fiction
John Cox: Don't Teach Cats Latin-Fiction
Ken Hueler: I, Said the Fish-Fiction
R. A. Busby: Not the Man I Married-Fiction
Jude Clee: Notes from a Bathroom Stall-Fiction
M. W. Moriearty: Scarecrows-Fiction
Robert Masterson: Sharper Than She Ever Imagined-Fiction
Michael Steven: The Mirror-Fiction
Kevin Hawthorne: The Song-Fiction
Marlin Bressi: The Man on the Box-Fiction
Terry Riccardi: Winter Hunt-Fiction
Stephen J. Tillman: Angry Tammy-Flash Fiction
Andreas Hort: Pay the Price!-Flash Fiction
Sam Clover: Piety and Parm-Flash Fiction
Deisy Toussaint: Parasite in the Shadows-Flash Fiction
Outnumbered-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Mickey Sloan: Basement Beldam-Poetry
Daniel G. Snethen: Grandmother Screamed-Poetry
Daniel G. Snethen: Pumpkin Tanka-Poetry
Daniel G. Snethen: Yellow Death-Haiku
Theresa C. Gaynord: The JuJu Man-Poetry
Theresa C. Gaynord: The Widow Paris-Poetry
Theresa C. Gaynord: Funeral at the Louisiana Bayou-Poetry
Theresa C. Gaynord: The Old Hag-Poetry
Loris John Fazio: Halloween Prayer-Poetry
Marilyn Lou Berry: My Darling, My Sustenance-Poetry
Chris Collins: Nature-Poetry

Art by Michael D. Davis 2020

“Bless Be Him”

By: Matthew Penwell



We were there, in the garden. Mozart played over loudspeakers, giving the place a divine, happy feeling. Everyone was dressed in their best. Mr. Hawks's bald head gleamed in the fresh sunlight; Mrs. Gregory had brought out her brightest shade of red lipstick; Mrs. Delaware had her hair tied back in a professional bun—not a hair stuck out of place.

          “How nice to see you, Ana.”

          I smile at Dixie Blackwell. I've known her most of my life, but I don't ever see her unless it's at parties. She's wearing a bright yellow dress that stops just below the knees; a solid gold bracelet studded with emeralds and sapphires jingled on her wrist. She wasn't a fan of diamonds. I shut off my phone and focused my attention on her.

She smiles at me. “Have you heard the news?”

          Of course I have, but I let my face look dumb. “No. What news?”

          “I'm pregnant.”

          Surprised you waited until you were twenty-three, and not fifteen. I think. This brings a genuine smile to my face. “I'm so happy for you!”

          “Thank you. Thank you.” She gloats. She thinks she has all my attention, but I'm only playing along. “I'm due in September.”

          “Make sure you send me a photo—although, I know I'll see the little bug on here.” I held up my phone.

          Something of a grimace sweeps over Dixie's face, like she'd just bitten into a lemon. But it's gone as quickly as it had come. I'd known Dixie long enough to know how easily she can shift her emotions about.

          “Well, I guess I'll see you around.” She leans in and gives me a swift, pitiful hug.

          “Make sure you send me photos of the kid.”

          “I will.”

          I almost go back to my phone, but decide against it. I scan the crowd for Devon but don't see his face. I look at the refreshment table, and spot him. Of course. He's always eating. I stand up, press my dress down. No one is looking at me. I start moving towards Devon. I don't know why I still come to these things. I lost interest long ago. It's the same shit every time. Never changes. But it isn't supposed to. Changing something wouldn't be in the interest of these people. I reach Devon's side without a single soul talking to me, and place a hand on his shoulder.

          He looks at me with a mouthful of crackers. Devon has always been polite to me, never speaks with his mouthful of food. He holds up a finger. One moment. Chews. Swallows. “You scared me.” He chuckles.

          “Devon, can we go?”


          “Not feeling well.”

          “We can't just up and leave, Ana. Have you eaten anything today? You should eat. See if you feel better.”

          “I had toast.”

          Devon looks at his watch. “It's almost one. What time did you eat?”

          “Does it matter? I'm not hungry.”

          “Devon Cartwright.” Mr. Coyne says as he extends his hand. Devon shakes it, smiles. Beside Alister Coyne is Wendy Coyne. The two look like a match made in hell; she is twenty, and he is approaching sixty. She's small, apt to break if someone looks at her wrong. She is new to this, after Vivian Coyne kicked the bucket earlier this year. Wendy doesn't like making eye contact and will stare off into space if looked at. It's something she's going to have to change if she wants to be with Alister in the long run.

          “You met Wendy, right?”

          No. But everyone knows about her. Made national news when the billionaire lost his wife of thirty-six years and married someone twice his senior less than three months later.

          “I'm sorry about Vivian. Did you get my card?” Devon avoids the matter. I look at his face. His eyes don't stay on Wendy long.

          “I did. Thank you for the kindness.” Mr. Coyne says, his voice is agitated at the mention of his former wife.

          “It was nothing. Vivian was one of us.” Devon smiles, shifts his gaze to Wendy.

          “Yeah.” Alister touches his forehead with his index finger and brings it down to his chin. Devon and I repeat the gesture. “Be with you.”

          “Be with you.” Devon and I say in unison.

          “That was slick.” I say.


          “Don't hmm me.”

          Devon smiles. “I didn't do anything.”

          “Don't bullshit me.” I take his hand. “Let's go sit down.”

          “Thought you wanted to leave?”

          I shrug. “Promise me we'll leave after the speech?”

          “I promise.”

          I guide him back to our reserved table with Mr. and Mrs. Zahor. Neither of them were able to make it this year. Something about their son falling off his horse and breaking both his leg. I don't know. It doesn't matter. We have the table to ourselves.


          At one-ten on the dot, Mozart ended. The chatter in the garden died. Everyone focused their gazes on the old wooden gallows. It's said in the Book that the gallows were built before the house. But I don't know. I've never managed to make it through the Book. I know enough of it to keep me alive.

          Mr. Greene's age is unknown. Some say two-hundred, some say more. He's the oldest man I've ever met. That's for sure. He walks with a slight limp of the left leg, and hunched over; he has only wisps of hair that blow like strands of cotton in the light wind.

He stands in front of the gallows, looking out at us. His left eye is milky white. He licks his cracked, bleeding lips.

          “It es 'nother year. 'Nother year of blessins. An we wouldn't be here wit'out 'elp from 'im.”

          “Be with him!” Everyone shouts.

          Mr. Greene trails his index finger down his face. Everyone repeats it.

          “It will be nother year of blessins.”

          The back door to the house opens and everyone stares at the man as he is dragged towards the gallows, kicking and screaming muffled groans. He is brought to his feet at the base of the stairs. A bulging man dressed in a blue suit shoves the man up the stairs. There's absolute terror in the sounds coming out from under the gag. The bulging man presses on the gagged man's back. The man loses his balance and falls hard onto the wood. A light laughter drifts from the crowd. Together, the gagged man and the bulging man reach the top of the stairs and walk across the platform.

          And here the man is turned towards us and unmasked. I always try to imagine what it's like to be in total darkness then to see fifty or so people dressed in their best, staring back at you. The man darts his eyes about, not locking on a face for very long. The bulging man takes him by the arm and drags him a few paces back. I've seen every emotion possible on the faces of the people as the noose is placed about their neck—even a few people smiling, probably asking themselves: when is the joke over. C'mon guys. Enough is enough.

          It isn't until the last moment they realize this isn't a joke.

          Mr. Greene slips the mask onto his face. It's golden and reflects brightly in the sun. The nose is elongated, like that of a plague doctor mask. The eyes are small vertical slits. Two girls dressed in white walk about with a tray of masks and crystal goblets. A girl reaches me and I take one of each. I slip it over my head and reach out for Devon's hand. I find it and squeeze. He squeezes back.

          I can't blink or look away. Mr. Greene walks to a tarnished brass tub positioned under the gallows. He strips off his shirt first, holding it out to be taken. It takes a while, but eventually he remembers how to work his belt and let his pants fall about his ankles. With assistance from a small, hunched man, Mr. Greene kicks them off. Next he is naked, ass towards us. Mr. Greene steps over the side of the tub gingerly and adjusts himself into it. He nods to the hunched man. The man steps back and nods to the bulging man.

          The man doesn't make a sound as the floor beneath him drops—and if he did, the rusted hinges on the deadfall drowned them out. He swings slightly once to the left and stops. Mr. Greene looks at the man hanging above him. There's a smile on his face. The hunched man approaches the tub with a long spear. Mr. Green opens his mouth; the man is jabbed, and the blood flows.

          One by one the people at the tables are ushered to the gallows with cup in hand.

          “Bless be Him.” I say, sticking my goblet under the drips. I don't get much. I only need the taste of it. Bless be him. Don't ever let me have children. Let me die old, doing this. Not my children. Bless be Him. In return for this Blessing, I will give myself over to your order. Bless be Him. I tilt the cup and let a drop fall onto my tongue.

          It never gets any easier.

          I want to throw up.

Matthew lives in Tennessee. He enjoys classic horror paperbacks and Faulkner. He has been published in Black Petals once before, and has other stories published elsewhere.

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