Black Petals Issue #104, Summer 2023

Home
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

Michael Stoll: Crawling Flesh

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Art by KJ Hannah Greenberg 2023

Crawling Flesh

 

By Michael Stoll

 

          My name is Trey, and I’m an alcoholic.

          And that’s the least of my problems.

          If I’m being honest, alcohol is not my only addiction. I’m no stranger to weed, crank, angel dust, or blow. In fact, if you name it, I’ve probably done it, sometimes multiple drugs at once.

          And before you ask, the answer is yes, it has led me down a road I never thought I would travel, but after a while stopped caring that I was. I lost my job; my car was repossessed; the only place I could afford to live was a shitty, one-bedroom apartment with a bunch of other addicts; I was disowned by my parents; and, of course, I’ve been arrested multiple times.

Not that a whole lot happened with those arrests. The worst charges I ever received were for felony fifth-degree drug possession. Cops never caught me sucking some guy’s dick behind a dumpster in an alleyway that smelled of piss, or prying open someone’s back door or slipping in through an open window to see what I could steal. No, it was only for drugs.

The first time, I pled guilty and got sentenced to rehab and five years of probation. And the second, third, fourth, and fifth times? Well, the State of Minnesota, in its infinite wisdom, has a policy of not clogging the prisons with low-level drug offenders. So, felonies and probation violations they were, but prison time they were not. The only time I spent in jail was while I was awaiting trial, and that was only because neither I nor anyone else I knew could afford bail. Hell, sometimes my addict friends were in jail with me. But I learned after the second time that the quicker you take a plea agreement, the quicker they’ll sentence you to rehab and probation, thus the quicker you’ll be out.

And did rehab help me? Did spending time around a bunch of other addicts trying to kick the habit, while simultaneously craving the very thing they were forbidden to have, in any way improve my lot in life?

Did I mention I’ve been arrested multiple times, all for drugs?

          So, there you have it! My name is Trey, and I’m an alcoholic and raging drug addict!

          Or I was until last week.

          Don’t believe me? Hand to God, I’m sober! No needles have been in my arms; no powder has been snorted up my nose; not a drop of beer nor liquor has washed over my tongue. Nothing! Not even a cigarette! Clean as a whistle!

          And again, before you ask, yes, the temptation is there. Staying clean for a few hours is difficult enough, let alone for a full day or two. But a week, especially with my addictions? You better believe the urge is there. The pain and sickness of withdrawal are powerful enough to drive anyone mad! I’m barely holding it together as I relate this story to you. But what’s worse is I know that all I need to do to make it stop is to drink a tenth of whiskey, or smoke some PCP, or shove a heroin-filled syringe needle into my arm and hit the plunger. And I want to! My God, do I ever!

          And then I think of what happened last week, and suddenly the pain becomes tolerable.

          Yes, what happened last week terrified me so much, that even the agony of withdrawal can’t make me go back. In fact, I don’t know which is making me shake worse – withdrawal or terror?

          The events that led to my forced sobriety took place on a Tuesday night. Or perhaps it was Wednesday. All has been a blur since then, and neither day may be correct, but no matter. The night began like most of my nights—me hanging out in a bad Minneapolis neighborhood at some trashy bar where the booze was cheap and bottom of the barrel, just like the clientele. It was not the kind of place a self-respecting individual would spend his evenings, though that didn’t stop those married men who came by in search of some cheap, discreet strange, or were looking for some easy head. It was the kind of place that screamed “degenerate” loud and clear for all to hear.

          In other words, it was the perfect place for me.

Some of those looking to get an anonymous blowjob without the risk of their wives finding out could find a willing participant in me. I didn’t get any joy out of it, but money is money. The bartender didn’t care if I took the occasional john to the back alley. After all, he was my meth dealer and knew that a good bit of that money would eventually end up in his pocket. It helped that the booze was so cheap—anything to get the taste out of my mouth.

If I remembered correctly, it had been a profitable night. Or at least my definition of profitable – $130. No, it was not all from blowjobs. I had sold a few stolen items to a nearby pawn shop that afternoon for about $60. In that neighborhood, pawn shop owners never bothered to ask where you got it. All they cared about was if it could turn a profit. The rest of the money, well… you know.

After having several drinks, my body was aching for a hit of something. I asked the bartender if he could hook me up with about $30 worth of meth, and he gave me the answer that I sure as shit didn’t want to hear – “I’m all out, man.” It was like a solid kick in the ass, and I could feel myself about to scream at him, but then he said something that I was not expecting.

“Could I interest you in some blotter?”

Now, I am no stranger to LSD. Remember, if you name it, I’ve probably done it. Still, it had been a while since I’d dropped acid. But at that moment, I just wanted something to get me high or help me forget about the misery that was (and in many ways still is) my life.

I agreed to the acid, even though that prick made me pay $50 for it. He could tell I was desperate, if not visually, then olfactory. Yes, I literally reeked of desperation. I can only imagine what I must smell like to others in my present state.

I gave him the money and he handed me a tiny prescription bottle. Inside were two small tablets. Being the junkie that I am (or was, need I remind you), I removed one 8tablet and placed it on my tongue. It was not long after it dissolved that the desired effects took hold. The walls seemed more vivid, even in the dark, subdued lighting, and I felt like I was floating with a warm sense of euphoria taking over. At that moment, I didn’t care that I had overpaid. I intended to ride that euphoric train until my next score.

I stepped out of that lowly boozer, as I had so many times, and started down the sidewalk. It had rained earlier that evening and the humid summer night air felt like a bowl of cream of mushroom soup dousing my face. Not that I minded; even the crumby, run-down buildings that lined the street seemed to be vibrant and the street lamps glowed with an intense aura.

It was really good acid… or so I thought.

I can only imagine how I looked as I turned (or more likely stumbled) around the corner of the bar into the alleyway, the same spot I had serviced so many men with low standards for a bit of cash. I could hear wet footsteps as I walked through the rain-soaked alley, past the dumpster and a pile of liquor crates. Past there I came upon a homeless man sitting with his back up against the bar’s exterior wall. Next to him was a dirty jacket, no doubt what he normally wore over his dirty, stained t-shirt, just not on a warm night like this. He was shaking and mumbling to himself, and even in my high state of mind, I suspected that like many of his kind, he wasn’t right in the head. I looked down at him, certain I could see lice and fleas in his dirty, thick hair, though I’m certain now it was the effects of the acid. He looked back at me, glaring with beady eyes protruding from a grime-encrusted face.

“Spare some itch cream?” I’m fairly certain that’s what he said, but then I thought it was just the drugs talking. Even so, I felt compelled to correct him.

“I think you mean change, and no, I don’t have any.”

He looked at me and his face appeared to twist and morph into a hideous ball of rage.

“I asked for itch cream!” he yelled in a voice that didn’t sound human. I stepped back in fear, not realizing it was just part of my acid trip.

“Okay, man!” I said, trying to calm him. “It’s cool. Sorry, but I don’t have any itch cream.” I paused and thought about what he said. “Why do you need itch cream?”

He thrust his arms at me and I could clearly see wide red scratches running the length of skin between the elbow and wrists. He then raised his head, exposing similar marks all over his neck. In some areas it looked like the skin had been broken, though strangely no blood could be seen in the wounds.

“I won’t stop itching!” he yelled in frustration as he began to furiously scratch his chest and belly. “It itches so fucking bad!”

I watched him as he twisted his arms around his body in an unsuccessful attempt to scratch his back, writhing, twitching, and grunting in exasperation. Had I walked away at that moment, I would still be spending my days searching for my next high. But I didn’t, and it was clear from what I saw next that the acid was making me go mad.

As he tried in vain to ease the torment of his itchy skin, I could swear that I saw his flesh crawl. I don’t mean that it parted from his body and began to literally crawl away like a snake or an inchworm. What I saw could be best described as a pulse, as if something under the skin was rapidly swelling, then collapsing, like a set of lungs sucking in a copious amount of air before exhaling. But as it swelled, it looked as though something was crawling beneath the flesh. I recoiled, but continued to stare, wondering if what I was seeing was real. Now that I’m sober, I’m confident it was all in my mind; a trick of the chemical that was messing with my brain.

If only it had stopped there.

No sooner had I observed that unsettling pulse then the man started to scream. As he did, his body violently spasmed and he smashed the back of his head hard against the wall behind him. His scream, followed by the loud thud of his head, seemed to echo in my mind. I have no doubt the drugs made both sounds seem louder than they really were, and I jumped with fright and covered my ears. The man screamed again and continued to jerk, bending forward before springing backward. His screams then took on a high, eardrum-piercing pitch that ripped into my mind. No matter what I did to block out the awful sound, it was to no avail, and I too began to scream. I closed my eyes, hoping rather foolishly that not seeing him would somehow dampen the sound.

My eyes had been closed no more than a few seconds (or so it seemed to me) when the screaming suddenly stopped. I dared to open my eyes and saw that he was no longer sitting upright, but had fallen over onto his right side. His flesh was pulsing harder and he continued to spasm. His tongue protruded from his mouth and his eyes stared blankly, as if he was completely unaware that I was there. His movements must have been a hallucination on my part; there was no way he could have been moving because he was clearly dead.

Then the hallucination went from bad to worse.

The man’s body gave a sudden, violent jerk, and a fine mist of blood sprayed from what seemed like every pore of his body with a pop that sounded like a soft gunshot. He began to twitch again as a white pus-like liquid began to seep from his skin. Except it wasn’t pus, nor was it a liquid. From the way it writhed as it pushed itself through the skin, I realized that I was looking at countless worms.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I wanted desperately to look away, but I couldn’t take my eyes from the grotesque spectacle (albeit a hallucination) that squirmed before me. The man’s body seemed to rapidly decay as the worms made their escape. My stomach began to turn, a sign for any right-minded person to run away, or at least stop watching. But nothing could force me to avert my eyes, no matter how crazy it was making me feel.

The mass of worms made a final push with a slimy, wet splat onto the wet concrete. It then moved closer towards me, and I realized with a profound sense of horror that it was not a mass of worms, but actually one giant worm! Imagine, if you would, that someone’s circulatory system had been entirely removed from their body, right down to the last capillary, and you will know what this LSD-inspired worm looked like. It was as if the abomination had taken shape within the man’s circulatory system, growing within the walls of his blood vessels and taking their shape, much like molten steel that cools after being poured into a mold.

I screamed at the sight of this monstrosity, my drug-impaired brain still not recognizing it for the hallucination it was. I started to run, but tripped over a sewer grate in the middle of the alleyway, twisting my ankle in the process. I tried to stand, but a sharp jolt of pain shot up my leg and I fell again. I turned and sat up, letting out a shriek as the worm crawled towards me with what seemed to be an unheard-of effort from such creatures. I began to scoot backwards, but the pain in my ankle made even that a difficult endeavor. The worm appeared to pick up even more speed, its countless appendages flailing as it drew closer. My mind began to think that I would not escape; that the horror that seemed to be Poe’s proverbial Conqueror Worm would make me suffer the same fate as the homeless man I just so happened to encounter in this godforsaken alley.

The thought of such a horrendous end gave me the strength to ignore the pain and attempt to get away. I rolled over onto my stomach and began to crawl my way to the other end of the alley, trying as best I could to avoid using my bad ankle. The acid was still strong in my system; the walls seemed to be melting and each puddle looked like an expansive lake in which I could drown. But, I thought, better to drown than be turned inside out from a thing that should not be, and I dragged myself through with vigor (or what could pass for vigor while on an LSD trip). I didn’t dare stop to look behind me to see if the worm was gaining. The pain in my ankle only intensified, but it was nothing compared to the fear and insanity that was dominating my mind. I had to get away!

I have no idea how long I crawled, but it was long enough for the acid to wear off. As it did, I began to recognize where I was, and it was not far from my shithole apartment. I attempted to get to my feet, but first turned over to see if I was being followed.

Nothing. No worm, no worm-like creature, nothing.

I let out a sigh of relief and managed to stand up. Grabbing anything I could get my hands on for support, I was able to make it back to the apartment without incident. My roommates were asleep (no doubt the result of a heroin high) on their respective dirty mattresses. I found my own mattress and tried to sleep, but the memory of the hallucination still had me terrified.

And I’m still afraid today. But sometimes fear is what it takes to get your shit together, even if withdrawal makes you sick and makes you hurt.

And itchy.

It itches so fucking bad!


Michael Stoll is a former journalist and historian who resides in Northwest Arkansas with his wife and son. 

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