Black Petals Issue #104, Summer 2023

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Editor's Page
BP Artists and Illustrators
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
A Question of Money: Fiction by Eric Burbridge
Behold, a White Horse; Fiction by Spencer Jepma
Crawling Flesh: Fiction by Michael Stoll
Elm Weaver: N. G. Leonetti
Hunger: Fiction by Mark Jabaut
Mr. Fuzzypants: Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
Stop the World: Fiction by Roy Dorman
The Road Less Taken: Fiction by Albert N. Katz
The Washer Woman: Fiction by Sophia Wiseman-Rose
Underneath the Sheet: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Shining Up Grandma: Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
The Children of 666 Middle School: Flash Fiction by M. L. Fortier
Bleed: Flash Fiction by Liam Spinage
Good Times: Flash Fiction by Ronin Fox
Time Lost: Flash Fiction by Bruce Costello
Unhappy Shadow: Flash Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
Cemetery Road: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
Chasing Desolation: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
Detroit Jurassic: Poem by Joseph V. Donaski
Colonia Somnia: Poem by Bianca Alu-Marr
The Precipice: Poem by Bianca Alu-Marr
Dread: Poem by LindaAnn LoSchiavo
Home Movies: Poem by Christopher Hivner
Peppermint Twist: Poem by Christopher Hivner
There's Always Tomorrow Night: Poem by Christopher Hivner
Joke: Poem by DJ Tyrer
Ceramic Duck: Poem by Pete Mladinic
Choice: Poem by Pete Mladinic
To Stop the Killing: Poem by Pete Mladinic
Reaper: Poem by David Barber

Spencer Jepma: Behold, a White Horse

104_bp_beholdawhitehorse_jelliott.jpg
Art by J. Elliott 2023

Behold, a White Horse

by Spencer Jepma

 

Harry Hardigan lay by the fire allowing it to bring some feeling back into his fingers. It had been a long day and he was looking at another long day tomorrow, and another after that. If he was correct, he would be riding into Green River Wyoming sometime later that week, that is if nothing stopped him on the trail in the next few days. His stomach grumbled but Harry knew he had to save what food he had left. He pulled his blanket up under his chin, trying to keep warm but knowing it wouldn’t matter, it was too cold for a thin blanket and small fire to keep the frost and biting wind away.

He shivered most of the night until a restless sleep overtook him sometime before dawn. Harry tossed and turned, his fire burned out but he was too cold and tired to gather more wood to put on it. He kept his LeMat revolver resting on his chest as he slept, never knowing when he would need it in a hurry. He favored this revolver over the Colt even though some would say the Colt was superior. The main reason the LeMat was superior was that it held nine shots instead of the usual six. Three more men you could put down if you needed to and he liked the way it felt in his hand, always had liked it more than a Colt.

 He finally got up when the first rays of the sun pierced through the clouds in the east illuminating the endless landscape of rocks and shrubs that lay before him. His knees had a deep ache in them that never seemed to recede, and his back cracked as he stood up. Sleeping on the trails had always been hard but as the years crept along the nights under the stars had become more and more taxing. The coffee had been gone for almost a week at this point, so Harry sipped on the little water he had left and chewed on some dried deer meat as he packed his camp up and readied his horse. With his camp carefully packed away on his horse, Marston was his name, Harry sat down, pulled out a pouch of tobacco he always had on him and began to roll a cigarette. The cold made this process much more difficult than it should be and Harry stopped a few times, flexing his fingers, trying to push more blood into them. With the cigarette rolled and lit he inhaled the hot smoke, allowing it to warm his chest, and kept his hands tucked in his armpits to keep them warm. Harry sat gazing out over the barren landscape before him, listening to the silence only to be broken by the impatient shuffling of Marston or the whistling of wind over the rocks.

Harry finished his cigarette and stood up, readying himself for the long ride ahead. As he turned to grab his horse and start his day, he noticed something off in the distance. He raised a hand up to block out the rising sun and could faintly make out a man on a white horse heading towards him. Instinctively he dropped his right hand to his holster as the man rode closer. After a few minutes Harry could make out more detail and what he saw didn’t comfort him.

The horse was white and very thin. Harry could see its rib bones sticking out of its side and he could make out what looked like sores on the horse's head. A black tongue hung from its mouth, swinging from side to side as the horse and its rider came closer. Harry felt whoever was riding it was cruel and should put the poor beast out of its misery. The man on top of the horse was wrapped in a green overcoat and was holding onto reins that looked ancient, Harry was amazed they hadn’t crumbled into dust. The man’s arms and hands were very pale and very thin as well. Harry felt any cut would draw no blood but simply reveal the bone beneath the skin.

His hand tightened over his gun and he took a step back, feeling sickened by the approaching man. The man was now no more than 50 feet away and raised his hand up in a friendly manner, “Hello friend,” the man said. His voice was deep and raspy and off-putting.

“Who are you?” Harry called back, not reciprocating the friendly wave.

“I’m just passing through, I’m on my way to Green River, then I’ll be heading to Rock Springs then through to Superior where I will be meeting my three brothers for a kind of reunion,” the man answered with a tight grin etched on his face, he was no more than 25 feet away now.

“What business you got at Green River?”

“I’m a salesman. I go town to town and try to scratch out a living for myself.”

The man stopped his horse about fifteen feet from where Harry stood. Harry could make out the man’s face, his cheeks were sunken in and pale, his eyes were a deep green color and his teeth were black and rotting. He smelled awful, like meat left out on a hot day growing moldy and black.

“Whatcha selling at Green River? That’s the direction I’m heading.”

“You don’t say,” the man said with a big smile that could have been endearing if not for the rotting teeth and horribly unattractive face. Harry nodded, his right hand still resting by his revolver. “I can show you what I’m selling if you’d like?” Harry shifted on his feet and glanced over his shoulder toward his horse.

“I really must be getting going. Got a long day ahead of me.”

“Humor me, friend. I show you my products and in return for your time, I will lend you some supplies to ease the trip ahead of you.” Harry thought it over momentarily before giving the man a curt nod. He had no intention of buying whatever this man was selling and he really did not want to spend any time with him, but he did need the supplies. A few minutes of his time were worth it. The man began to climb off his horse and reach into a bag that was strapped to his side.

“Ah! Slowly now sir. Don’t you be pulling anything out of that pack that’ll require myself to shoot ya,” Harry said as his fingers wrapped around his gun.

The man laughed, “No, no, of course not. I’m no fool,” and he pulled out a small sack that looked similar to what Harry kept his tobacco in but was larger and looked old, very old. It didn’t look like leather or cloth, Harry couldn’t quite tell what the bag was made out of. The man slowly walked around his horse and approached Harry. Harry took a step back and pointed at a rock a few feet away from him, “Sit there and show me.” The man smiled and nodded his understanding sitting down with a sigh.

“Could I ask a favor of you friend?”

“Depends on what you're asking,” Harry replied.

The man smiled, showing his rotting teeth, “Would you be so kind as to roll me a cigarette? That is, if you have any to spare, of course. I ran out a few days ago.” Harry stared at the man for a moment then nodded. He sat down on another rock about ten feet away from where the man sat and went about rolling a cigarette. He rolled two so he could have one as well. He leaned over and handed the man his cigarette, careful not to touch his hands.

“Much appreciated,” the man said with a smile and a nod. The man reached into one of the many pockets in his coat and pulled out a match, leaned down and scraped the match on a rock. The match tip burst alive, a greenish flame dancing from the tip, the man held the flame to the cigarette, the fire casting shadows over his face. He inhaled deeply and blew the flame out, sending a cloud of smoke out into the cold blue sky. “Ahh, that is delicious. One of the many amazing things about this earth I would say,” the man held the cigarette in front of him, admiring it for a moment before taking another drag. Harry sat quietly smoking his own cigarette, never letting his eyes wander away from the man. He still felt uneasy about him, but the man seemed harmless, he was so thin and frail-looking Harry knew he would be a faster draw. He also knew he could overpower the man very easily if need be.

“Well then!” the man exclaimed and slapped his free hand on his knee, “let me show you what it is I have to sell!” The man carefully placed his half-smoked cigarette down next to his feet and Harry watched as he slowly opened the pouch that was resting in his lap and reached a skinny pale hand inside it. The man looked at Harry and smiled, his dark green eyes swimming in the sun as he pulled his hand out clenched into a fist. Harry watched as the man carefully placed the pouch on the ground next to him and rotated his hand so it was facing palm up. Harry stared at the man's hand as he extended his fingers and revealed what he was holding. It looked like black dirt or ash to Harry. Harry scrunched his forehead trying to understand what it was.

“What is it?” Harry asked the man.

“It’s something I’ve been working on for years and years. I think I’ve finally got it right this time,” the man replied with a smile, his teeth making Harry feel sick again. Harry continued to stare at the dirt or whatever it was, thinking this guy was obviously crazy.

“Do you want to see what it does?” the man asked Harry, staring intently at him, his green eyes twirling in his skull. Before Harry could even think of an answer to give him, the man leaned forward, raised his hand up before his mouth and blew the dust into Harry’s face. Harry was so shocked he almost fell backwards off the rock. He coughed as he felt the dust go in his mouth, up his nose and into his lungs. It stung his eyes and he tried quickly to wipe it off his face.

“God damn! What the hell was that!” Harry stammered as he tried to clear his eyes. The man leaned back with a smile, “Well?” he asked Harry, “what do you think?”

“What the hell do you mean you bastard? My eyes are burning! What the hell was that stuff?” Harry asked, finally wiping enough dust off his face so he could see again. The man didn’t answer him, he just sat on the rock and continued to observe Harry. Harry tried coughing up more of the dust, he could feel it still in his throat and his lungs. It tasted awful and smelled worse. It was starting to make him feel sick, the smell of it and the taste of it. Harry’s stomach started to twist and turn in him, trying to fight the nausea he was feeling. He lost that battle, fell forward on his hands and knees and vomited. He tried to spit and get the taste out of his mouth.

Harry sat back up and stared wide-eyed at the man who continued to watch him with a smile on his face. Harry scrambled to his feet and quickly reached for his gun but before he could grab it his stomach cramped again, and Harry doubled over in pain falling down to the ground. He threw up and this time he could see blood mixed in with the half-digested deer jerky and bile. After it passed Harry could feel something wet and warm coming from his left ear. He reached a hand up and felt around in his ear, touched something sticky and pulled his fingers away. Blood. “What did you do?” Harry weakly asked on his hands and knees, staring at the man who seemed to be taking great pleasure in Harry’s misery.

“I told you, it’s something I’ve been working on for many years.” the man said with a smile and laugh. Harry tried again to get up and grab his gun but the pain in his stomach was so intense that he couldn’t stand straight and when he tried it caused him to vomit. Blood was running from both ears now and out of his nose. He could also feel something warm and wet running down his legs, too scared to check, knowing perfectly well what it was. Harry fell to the ground, landing on his chest, his face lying in dirt and blood. The pain gripped his stomach and Harry vomited again. He tried desperately to get up, his muscles failing him over and over. He watched the man watching him, trying to grab the gun on his hip but every time his hand moved the pain and nausea would seize him again and would contort his body back into a ball. After a few minutes of writhing and wriggling on the ground Harry stopped moving.

The man sat on the rock for quite some time, admiring the scene before him. He reached down and grabbed the pouch he kept his black powder in, closed it and walked over to his horse, putting it back where he had taken it from. The man slowly walked back over to Harry and using his thumb and pointer finger grabbed Harry’s face and slowly moved his head left and right. The man looked into Harry’s ears, then looked up his nose then pulled his eye lids up to examine his eyes. The man used his free hand to open Harry’s mouth and look inside, smiling as he did so. When he was done he patted Harry on the cheek, “Good. Very good,” he said and stood up. He reached into another one of his infinite pockets and pulled out a handkerchief, wiping the blood off his hands. He gazed down at Harry one last time before turning around and walked back to his horse, stopping only momentarily to pick up his still-smoldering cigarette. He placed it back in his mouth and inhaled deeply. Marston neighed at the scene before him but didn’t run. The man grabbed his reins and led him towards the white horse.

The man mounted his sickly horse with a grunt and sat atop it taking in the scene of death before him. He patted his horse's head for a while, his swirling green eyes gazing out over the landscape. He spurred his horse along, Marston in tow, leaving Harry behind to rot in the rising sun, laying in his own vomit and blood. His white horse pointed towards Green River, the man knew he should be arriving there in a few days, maybe he’d have a few more horses in tow behind him. He knew that when he arrived he would bring fear and when he departed he would only leave pestilence and death. 

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