Black Petals Issue #104, Summer 2023

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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

N. G. Leonetti: Elm Weaver

104_bp_elmweaver_jenmong.jpg
Art by Jen Mong 2023

Elm Weaver

 

N.G. Leonetti

 

 

EAST PENINSULA CYCLE – THE ELM WEAVER

Mary baked me a sweet loaf that morning - my favorite. She even whipped a little cream and sugar into a light frosting to make it a touch sweeter. Five candles, connected by a blue drizzle, made up a pentacle in the center – East Peninsula’s symbol of good fortune.

“Happy Birthday,” she said, planting a kiss on the tip of my nose. “I certainly wish you didn’t have to hunt today; then I would be able to give you your real present.”

I ran my hands up her thighs, her skin warm through the thin gown. This woman, my wife of ten years – I still couldn’t keep my hands off her. 

“Light your candles, honey,” she said, gently brushing me away. She handed me two wooden matches in case one went out. I lit every candle, needing only one match, and placed the other in my pocket - a burning arrow would be a nice spectacle on such a special day. 

After I blew out the candles, we sang the Song of Healthy Years and shared the cake, leaving a slice for Benjamin when he awoke.

The boy was ten and had been playing with a new set of dominoes I had carved for him the night before. I picked one up and rubbed at the tiny hollows in the little pieces of wood. It felt good underneath my fingertips. I placed the domino in my pocket: it would be nice to have a small piece of Benjamin with me throughout the day.

I rose and went over to the fireside. My long bow, all hickory wood, straight grained and smooth to the touch, hung on two sturdy nails, high enough so that the boy couldn’t quite reach it yet. The riser was something I was born to handle: it had always fit perfectly in my hand. Some would say it was a bit bulky, but I liked the excess weight. It made me work just a tad harder for my kill.  

“You’re made to last, aren’t you,” I said, admiring my work.

“We’ve been blessed with clear skies this morning,” Mary said, giving me one more kiss. “Be back before supper, please and thank you.”

“I love you so much,” I said. 

I placed the bow over my shoulder, along with a quiver full of arrows that bristled with halved hawk feathers the color of fresh blood. They were bronze tipped, sharp as snakes’ teeth.” 

“Take care, my love,” I said and left.

***

A few cake crumbs stuck to my beard, utterly delicious as I picked them off, one by one, and let them disintegrate on my tongue. I was still hungry; I was always hungry. Fortunately, I knew Mary would have a full spread ready by the time I arrived home.

The hefty weight of the weapon felt heavy and good as it bounced on my back to my pace. The soft loam on my bare feet (I always hunted with bare feet) was so warm and inviting that, like a child, I wanted to roll around in it for a while. Maybe I would. Later, I could take a nap in the cool shade of the forest. I had all day, after all.

The goat was waiting for me at the top of the hill, just on the far side of our humble farmland. She loved carrots. We had a small vegetable patch, ripe for reaping. I reached down and grabbed a handful of green leaves and yanked. It was full in size, ripe and orange as an apricot. I did my best to wipe away the dry dirt and made my way over to the hill.  

Every morning, I or Benjamin would feed the nanny with carrots and cabbages and sometimes even strawberries if we could find them in the wild grass. She loved scratches on her head and at the sides of her face, almost as much as I loved giving them.

The hill was overgrown with shaggy grass that Mary and I would soon mow down with scythes. Right now, though, it was my birthday. Let the grass grow high! It felt good as it licked my legs and gave underneath my feet. A hawk circled above me, and I unshouldered my bow, pretending to unleash arrows at it.

“Live another day, beast,” I said and smirked.

The sun shined and had already begun rounding the cloudless sky on the first day of my thirtieth year.

***

When I reached the top of the hill, the nanny was nowhere in sight. 

Strange, I thought, and it was rather odd. I couldn’t ever remember her missing a single day of my favors.

Maybe the wolves got her – a horrid thought that sent a wave of nauseating dread into the pit of my stomach. 

But there was no need to jump to such a horrible conclusion. She was probably basking somewhere else in the warm sun. I would leave the carrot at the top of the hill for her and come back to check if she took it later in the day.

As I left the gift and turned to trudge back down the hill, there was a slight rustle in an ugly, grey patch of weeds. There was no breeze. The grass around me stood in stillness. The feeling of being watched crept down my spine. 

I glanced to my left and right and saw nothing, but the feeling did not faulter. I gripped my bow and crouched low. There were wild cats out here, pouching the livestock. I would take no chances.

I heard the happy squeals of children far in the distance, smelled the peppery aroma of tomato vines warming in the sun, but never took my eyes of that grotesque patch of weeds.  

There was something, a presence, lurking below me.

I knew I should turn and head in the other direction. Call it lingering boyish wonder, but I was curious. I wanted to know what was stalking me. It had no chance, after all. I was hell with a bow, able to knock and let fly an arrow faster than anyone else in East Peninsula.  

Moments went by, and the weeds did not stir. Both reassuring and a little disappointing, the silence had offered a sobering effect, setting me free from this mental quagmire. I had to get to work.

I shook my head and turned to make my way back down the hill. 

“Stop acting like a child,” I said to myself with a smile. “You’re all alone, and you’re -”

“You’re all alone,” a voice said back.

Immediately, I had an arrow knocked at the ready. I must admit, I was frightened. What scared me the most was not that something was there with me; rather, that it was someone, and they were below me. In the tall grass, a person lurked, using the wagging foliage as a cloak of concealment.

“Show yourself!” I shouted. And as I began to move my feet, a wormy hand wrapped around my ankle, as tight as a vice, and sucked me down into the murk.

***

          Elm weavers, up until this point, were fairy tales - tantamount to the Teddy Bear Man or the Priests of the Black Circle. This is because a sighting of one in Eastern Peninsula had not been made for longer than my father or his father before him had been alive. They were utilized to frighten children into good behavior.

Elm weavers surely didn’t exist.

          Being dragged effortlessly through the tall grass, I could just see the cloaked figure that pulled me. As black and quick as a panther, it wiped aside the patch of weeds: a deception that hid a dark tunnel below the topsoil, below the roots. It all felt surreal as I was engulphed by darkness: a nightmare I would soon wake up from. But the pebbles and chilly earthen floor scratching against my back and the fetid stink of the thing that dragged me made everything hellishly real. I was screaming for help, not even realizing it, for my body had left my mind and gone into a frenzy for survival.

None of it mattered, though.

I was just brought deeper into the earth.  

          Elm weavers made their nests out of human hair, according to legend. But no one could figure out how they could attain so much of it, for their egg sacs were supposedly filled with hundreds of babies that were well over a foot each at birth. 

          After what felt like miles behind us, the tunnel opened into a cavernous room far under the earth. The ceiling above glowed with a blue-green light emitted by thousands of glow worms crawling over one another. It was by this glowing light that I took in the thing that had snatched me. 

I had always imagined an elm weaver to be a giant spider, which is terrifying enough. This creature, though, was far worse. It had an extensive, slender body, like a praying mantis, cloaked in a black robe that ended at its stinger. Eight humanoid arms as white as sheep’s milk and as soft as a baby’s cheek dangling nailless fingers, pudgy at the tips. Its face was a human face that bore not an ounce of humanity if this at all makes sense. 

I saw nothing in its violet eyes but a hunger for something it wanted from me.

“You’re all alone,” it said again as it began collecting products from a makeshift shelf made of bone. So many bowls and pestles and powders and potions moving from hand-to-hand at once, it was hard not to be entranced by the scene. 

“Please,” I said. 

The elm weaver dropped everything and scuttled over to me, placing one of its soft hands over my mouth and chittered its teeth at me, raising its stinger to my face.

“You’re all alone,” it said and chittered again. “Show yourself. Please.”

I realized the voice I was hearing was my own. Of course, the creature couldn’t really speak or understand me. It merely mimicked what its prey was saying to trap it.

By the way it so violently dropped its tools and grabbed my face I realized it didn’t want me to make a sound, so I kept quiet. No matter how loud I screamed and pleaded in this place, anyway, no one would hear me. 

As it busied itself with its work once again, I looked around, frantically trying to find something I could use as a weapon or a way of escape. Like a blessing from the gods, the leather quill full of arrows, along with the hickory bow had been dragged down with me, shining in the creepy green light.

I racked my brain, frantically. 

I wasn’t an idiot: I had stalked and hunted hundreds of beasts in their own dwellings. I had to figure out a way to outsmart this monster, or it would never let me go. As far as I knew, there was never a survivor to tell the tale, which is why these creatures were so elusive in the first place. 

I wanted to live…

I wanted to make love to Mary again…

I wanted to embrace my son…

I wanted to my life back…

My thoughts were cut off as it began vomiting up a foul smelling, viscous substance all over my hands and feet. It ripped my clothes away with those horribly supple fingers. I was naked, suspended to the wall like one of the glowworms above me. The elm weaver was gathering up the bowls brimming with a concoction. It was white and reminded me of the cream I had for breakfast that morning. But after the first, forced bite I knew it was far from this: it tasted like the mucus I coughed up when ill with a cold. My body tried to reject it, to throw it back up, but the thing kept this from happening. Its soft hands worked together to keep it all down: one was feeding me, another closing my lips until I swallowed, another massaging my throat muscles, another rubbing my chest, another my stomach…

After what felt like hours of this, I finally lost consciousness. 

***

I awoke, remembering what it was like having a beard. Before I wedded Mary, I kept my whiskers. She said the damned things tickled too much, especially when I was between her legs, so I kept my face freshly shaved.

As already stated, according to the stories, elm weavers use human hair to make their nests. Turns out, this was not a fantasy made up to scare children; turns out, they most certainly did make nests from hair. And whatever concoction I was force fed worked as a catalyst. Every pore of my entire body, from earlobe to asshole, sprouted furry curls that grew and grew and grew…

It skittered over to me, seeing I was awake, and began trimming me with tiny blades – eight hands that worked with mesmeric precision.

I couldn’t even cry. My tear ducts were clogged with tiny, bristling hairs. At that moment, I thought, if my throat began to fill up with the stuff, I would go mad, simply mad, and be done with it all.

***

The hellish process went on for days: the feeding, the cutting, all the while its nest growing. Often its robe would shift to the side, and I would shutter at the contents hiding beneath: tiny, slimy orbs glistening in the incandescence of the glowworms above.

Babies.

Thousands of them.

As fantastic as it may sound, this wasn’t the most disturbing part. My body seemed to shit out the slop as fast as I was forced to eat it, and – with horror – I realized the elm weaver was licking away the filth away running down my legs, in order to keep the hair clean. 

I tried to think about Benjamin’s dominoes, how good they felt between my fingers.

 And the nanny. I’d hoped to be able to pet her once more.

But my mind would always revert to the little hell I was stuck in: How long would this last? What would the creature do with me after its nest was complete? These questions tormented me, and I prayed to the gods for help, give me a redeeming chance for whatever I may have done to deserve this… 

One of my pointers broke away from the glue that held me down.

The cool air, even in this putrid tomb, felt like a blessing. I scratched desperately at the mucilage with my freed finger, and as my nail worked, I felt little shavings flutter to the floor. I was so scared the thing would notice my actions. But it never did, for its focus was elsewhere.

The nest was almost complete.

***

I allowed myself to be more compliant as the elm weaver fed me, groomed me. The less fuss I caused, the better a chance I would have of my escape going unnoticed. Time had become, at best, illusory, so my patience did not dwindle. I didn’t know how long I had been down there. Could have been days. Could have been weeks. It felt like years.

When the creature finally slept, I knew the nest was complete. 

It stopped feeding me and did a final trim before its slumber. My hair was still growing but seemed to slow down once I stopped receiving the muck.

My hand freed itself just before the elm weaver nodded off. I made sure to keep as still as a corpse, lest it notice anything strange. It collapsed on its side, most likely out of exhaustion, the underbelly completely exposed.

The eggs – gods there were so many of them! - undulated in a malignant pulsation. I could hear the hatchlings scratching underneath their thin, membranous shells. Soon they would be set free. And then what? Eat me alive? Was that how it planned of getting rid of me?

I wasn’t going to wait to find out.

I swung my arm to the right, so much heavier now that it was matted with hair, and began to tear at my shackles. In milky white chunks they broke away, gave, and I was able to work at my feet, a much more challenging task. Every time I would tear away a piece, a mat of hair would rip off with it. I stifled scream after scream as I tore. And suddenly I dropped, my feet hitting the floor. 

I was free.

My eyes darted back and forth, desperate for some idea of what to do next. The beast was asleep, but not for long. The babies were growing impatient in their morbid cribs, and they would need something to suckle after they were free.

     Not me, I thought and grabbed for my blessed bow. It felt so good in my hands. My first thought was to slam an arrow into the thing's face, but something else caught my eye.

A thin wedge jutted out of the discarded pile of clothing torn from me. Small and faintly visible in the glow. 

The match I had pocketed.

And a spark of an idea.

I grinned.

I would burn the fucker down.

The elm weaver, her nest, her babies… 

I’d set fire to it all.

I had to work quickly. My hair was still growing. It grew slowly, but still made the process of moving, let alone moving quickly, a difficult one at best. I shouldered my bow, my quill, and snatched the match from my torn pants. I had to be doubly careful with the thing: firstly, that it would light; and, secondly, that I, myself, would not catch fire.

With one flick of a shaking finger, the paraffin set ablaze, and I tossed it into the nest.

The hair caught immediately, and the mess went up in a swift whoosh!

I didn’t stay to watch. Bare-ass naked, wearing nothing but a coat of hair, I scuttled up the tunnel.

I heard an infernal scream, loud pops that were surely the eggs exploding in the flames.

And I heard it coming for me.

Fast.

Now it was me who was screaming. I ran as fast as I could, but eight legs work faster than two. I saw the blessed sun breaking through in thin rays the grass that covered the hidden lair. I was so close, but what then? I was still a good distance from home or any sort of civilization for that matter. 

No matter, I had to try. 

If the beast ended up getting me, I would at least give it a run for its money. 

I felt soft fingers grasping at my ankles as I broke through the loam, gasping. With sudden and forceful exigence, I reached for my bow and had an arrow nocked and ready to go within seconds.

The elm weaver exploded through the grass and was on top of me. Pale face still blank, but its eyes told a different story, for those two black orbs now burned with a hate that was palpable. Its stinger, dripping with poison, was raised to the ready. It would bring it down on me at once, twice, and pound me into dust.

“You’ve made sure to keep me well fed during this whole ordeal. Allow me to return the favor!”

Only inches from its face, I let the arrow fly. It went square through its mouth and out the back of its head. The elm weaver tensed up, made a gurgling sound, and keeled over to the side. All eight of its arms stuck straight up to the sky and then slowly wilted.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as the nanny ran down the hill.  

***        

 

 

I don’t remember arriving home. I lay in my bed, wrapped in quilts, and cup after cup of steaming root tea would be carefully poured down my throat by Mary, by Benjamin. Their voices as quiet as dreams, appeared and disappeared like ghostly apparitions as I rested.

***

The hair. 

It never went away.

It didn’t grow as profusely as when the elm weaver was feeding me, but it never stopped either. They never made mention of it, at least not to my face, but I knew it took quite a while for my wife and child to get used to my appearance. But love is a powerful antidote to even the most hideous morbidities. Mary began trimming my hair daily and made me special clothing that concealed as much of it as possible. 

Benjamin, bless the boy, acted as if I hadn’t changed at all. 

My tormentors learned quickly not to toy with me. When I finally built up the nerve to visit the local tavern, I was met with hushed shock. As conversations once again commenced, a drunk fellow approached me. He looked me up again and smirked.

“Take off that hair suit, you punker,” he said and yanked a hunk of hair out of my shoulder. He looked at the bloody tuft in his hand, at first stunned. He shook his shock off and began to laugh.

“Hey!” he yelled for the rest of the tavern to here. “This old boy’s got more hair than my old lady’s snatch!”

As he walked away, I smashed a fist so hard into the back of his head his jaw shattered like candy glass. 

From then on, I wore my wooly mane with pride eventually.

What else could I do?

If I had to be a freak, a freak I would be, but there was no one better with a bow. I had also butchered an elm weaver, which was no small feat.

I never did see the nanny after it ran off, which still makes me sad. 

I still climb the hill of shaggy grass with a carrot.

The lair is still there, now overgrown with crabgrass. As far as I can tell, nothing has ever disturbed nature as it quietly erased any evidence of such a nightmare realm. Soon, the weeds would be so thick and impenetrable, there would be no sign of a tunnel at all.

I always carried my bow, though, always at the ready for a swift kill.

Once, I thought I heard a voice as I made my way down the hill and back home.

“You’re all alone” seemed to blow with the breeze as the air took on the chill of autumn. My entire mane was damp with sweat as I swung the bow left and right, waiting for the elm weaver to skitter toward me, poisoned tip at the ready.

There was nothing, though, and I saw that the moon was large and gibbous in the twilight, illuminating a bright white, like a billion glowworms, as the sky faded to black.  

N.G. Leonetti’s horror stories have been published in Black Petals, Bewildering Stories and October Hill Magazine. He resides in South Jersey where he teaches college writing. He is married to the poet, Maria Provenzano.

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