Black Petals Issue #104, Summer 2023

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

Albert N. Katz: The Road Less Taken

Art by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal © 2023

The Road Less Taken


Albert N. Katz


          “John, John”, Frank told me. “No need to worry. The canoeing is easy and there are no really long portages, so none of the four of us will be in any danger at all.”

          Although I know him to be a bull-shitter, we go regardless, Gail figuring this might be our last chance for “adventure” before our child is born.

          The first two days out were great. Calm, clear lakes, with easy portages, no other canoeists in sight. I started to relax.

          Then on the third day, all hell breaks loose. Out of nowhere, we were hit  with strong gusts of winds and high waves.

          “Follow me”, Frank shouted. 

          Gail and I followed the other canoe, with Frank steering, his wife Joyce in the bow keeping up as best she could.

          We paddled through a brackish river for quite a while before entering back into a lake, Frank desperately trying to keep us near the shoreline away from the worst of the waves, looking for a place to land our canoes.

          It was pure luck that we eventually found an opening between the rocks and bush.  We pulled our canoes up and pitched our tents as the deluge continued.  Cold and wet, we huddled in our respective tents waiting for the storm to abate.

          It was getting dark when we ventured out. The storm had morphed into a steady drizzle, the winds diminished. In the chilly drizzle, we started our Coleman stove and cooked up the freeze-dried food we had brought along.

          As the food was being heated I took Frank aside and asked him straight out, “Do you have any idea where we are?”

          He just shook his head and walked away. I said nothing about this to Gail.

           She and I zipped our sleeping bags together, and spent the night keeping one another warm with our body heat. I felt her belly but the life inside her was sleeping.  She was not in the mood to have sex and gently rebuffed me. I kissed her goodnight chastely.

          Gail was snoring quietly when I heard heavy breathing and grunting outside the tent. I stayed still in the sleeping bag, frightened, not wanting to face a black bear or whatever was out there in the dark.

           I slept fitfully, thinking I heard grunting now and again throughout the night.

          The wind and rain was gone by the time the sun came up. Frank just kept looking out at the lake holding a map of the park with a blank look on his face.

          When I asked him if he had heard noises during the night, he was curt, his usual bravado gone.

          “No. For god sakes don’t spread stories around. The girls must be scared enough as it is.”

          As if he and I weren’t! 

          He didn’t say a word when we found the supplies bag we had hung from the tree to keep it from animals. It was torn apart. All of the fresh meat was gone.

           There were large footprints in the mud. “Black bear?” I asked. 

          Frank shrugged and in his I-know-best voice called out, “Whatever it was that got our food was just foraging. Nothing dangerous. We just have to make sure we secure what we have left better tonight.” 

          We spread out the remaining supplies. At best, if we figured that if rationed carefully we could eke out three days. Fortunately, the vegetarian options demanded by the women were not touched, and Frank had brought a fishing rod. With luck, we might catch some food. As it was, we had enough, perhaps, to get back to where we left our cars. That is, if we figured out where we were quickly and could then re-trace our steps.

           “Nothing to worry about, “ Frank assured us “this is a frequently used route and we will see other canoeists soon. They’ll be able to point out the quickest way back to parking area.”

          Bullshit, I thought.  We have not seen anyone else since we started.

          Frank and I decided to explore along the shoreline to get a better lay of the land, and maybe do a bit of foraging ourselves to see if we could find something edible.

          The women in the meanwhile planned to search closer to the campsite for wood we could use for a fire while keeping an eye out for canoeists or, perhaps, smoke from a campsite across the lake, from some other group that had taken shelter from the storm.

          As soon as I was sure the women wouldn’t hear us I asked Frank again what he thought got our food.

          “I have no frigging idea. Those were not like any bear prints I’ve ever seen.”    

          Flipping a coin, because one way seemed as good as any, we walked north, not talking, marking trees with a knife to ensure we can find our way back to the campsite.

           I found some mushrooms that we both agreed looked edible and Frank found some berries.       

          About 20 minutes in we came to another clearing on the shoreline, with a tent and the remains of a campfire, with grill. The tent was torn to pieces. There was no sign of a canoe or of people. 

           “Hello. Hello. Is anyone around?”

          There was no answer.

          The inside of the tent was a complete mess. Clothes was thrown around, the two sleeping bags were ripped to pieces, covered in blood.

          “Jesus. Let’s get back to camp, Frank and away from this place.”
          “And go in which direction? Let’s look around some more.”

          Behind the tent we saw what looked like a pathway had been made in the grass. Trampled down, as if someone had run through it. Or been pulled through it.

          Frank followed the pathway, I returned to rummage through the tent for food. Reaching under the strewn clothes, I felt a sharp pain that lasted only a few seconds.

          The bottom of the tent was filled with small bugs, hidden under the bags and clothes.

          Just then Frank called out, “Let’s get out of here, John. There is nothing to see and I don’t want to leave the women alone too long.”

          “There are bugs in the tent Frank, and I think one of them bit me; maybe burrowed into my skin.”

          Frank carefully examined under the clothes. “They look like some species of ticks. Show me where you felt a bite.”

          After looking at my leg, he said cautiously, “I see a small red spot. Hell John, some ticks carry Lyme disease. Let’s get back to camp and see if I can get it out.”

          “What in hell is Lyme Disease”?

          “All I know is it messes up the nervous system; makes people weak, screws up their thinking. But it is a rare consequence of a tick bite. No need to worry.”

          No need to worry? Hell if you had been bitten I wouldn’t worry either.

          On the way back we agreed not to mention the abandoned campsite, and the shredded sleeping bags, the blood, the ticks, or whatever they were. Best not spread panic.

          We returned to the campsite to find that the women had a rousing fire going and they, like us, had found berries and mushrooms.

          I offered to be the guinea pig and ate a few of the berries and mushrooms. They tasted fine. While we waited to see if I would start vomiting or get stomach pains, Frank heated his knife in the fire and, once it has cooled down, painfully dug around the red spot on my arm.

          “I don’t see or feel anything John. I think you lucked out and whatever bit you didn’t burrow in. I wouldn’t worry about it.”  

          There he went again, nothing for him to worry about.

          He treated the sore with antiseptic we had brought with us.

          After an hour or so, and with me feeling no ill effects, we all dug into a makeshift meal of foraged food.

          About midday, Joyce cried out that she saw smoke from across the lake. Another campsite!  

          Frank immediately volunteered to paddle across and take a look. I offered to join him but Gail didn’t want me to leave her, so I stayed behind with the women.  

          Frank was cheerful, ‘I shouldn’t be long. No more than an hour, hour and a half at most. Hopefully, the folks over there will be able to provide me with bearings so we can start our way back to the cars tomorrow.”

          We never saw him again.


          We waited and waited, but Frank had not returned by nightfall. 

          Joyce, between bouts of crying, kept on asking us, as if we had an answer, “Where could he be? Why hasn’t he returned?”

          Gail and I tried to keep up a brave front but I’m sure we all had the same thought: something has happened to him. Something bad,

          Joyce refused to sleep alone in the tent she shared with Frank, and so, the three of snuggled together, packed into our too-small sleeping bag in our too-small tent.

           Joyce smelled of hyacinths, Gail of lavender. We all slept fitfully.

           By daybreak I was feeling ill, not nauseous exactly, more like there were bubbles working up my spine towards my brain. I knew it is probably the power of suggestion what with Frank saying tick bites could impact the nervous system. I just prayed the mushrooms we had eaten didn’t have some slow-working toxic effect. I said nothing about my concerns, deciding additional worries would only add to our burden.  

          We awoke to find a trail of those tick-like bugs working across our tent floor.

          Both of the women complained of having been bitten during the night but weren’t sure. I checked them over as best as I could but could see no obvious sign of a bite.

          It was the first time I saw Joyce naked.  She displayed her body to me, almost coquettishly, so much out of character. Gail watched her with a sardonic smile. 

          I wanted to pack up, and find a bug-free site, or paddle across the lake in the direction Frank had gone, but demurred to Joyce’s request we wait for Frank until at least noon.

          When Frank had not returned by the time the sun was overhead, Gail and I overruled Joyce, packed everything in the remaining canoe and paddled across the lake towards where we had seen campfire the day earlier.

          Joyce vomited before we left but I doubted it was from the mushrooms or berries, just fear. I think we all had the same sinking feeling that we’d not find any good news when we got to the other side of the lake.

          The lake was calm, and even with the three of us, with all our gear in one canoe, it took only about 45 minutes to cross over and find Frank’s canoe, pulled up on a natural sandy beach. 

          Frank was nowhere to be seen.

          There were two tents on the site. One was vacant. In the other was a woman, huddled in a ball, eyes vacant, making weak, mewling sounds, with those bugs crawling up and down her arms.

          When I brushed them away and put my hand on her shoulder she pulled away in terror.

          Gail and Joyce ordered me out of the tent as they tended to the woman.  

          Unlike the site that Frank and I had found the previous day the tents were not ransacked. They were just eerily empty, the occupants, and now Frank as well, transported away.

          The women emerged from the tent.

           Joyce by this time was shouting for Frank at the top of her lungs, between bouts of crying.

          Gail pulled me aside, told me the woman was named Nancy, and was in shock, only repeating the words “No. No.”  

          I suggested that Gail stay with Joyce and Nancy while I explored around the tents and into the neighboring area. But Gail refused and followed me.

          Almost immediately we found a pool of blood, and bloody clawed-footsteps entering the woods.

          “Oh my God, Gail”, I said retching. “What have we gotten ourselves into?” And then, “Joyce! We can’t leave Joyce, or this Nancy, by themselves.”

          “John, how do you think they’ll react when they see this?
          “I don’t know, but have no better idea.”

          Gail, always better than me in such tasks, went up to Joyce. I heard them talking, with Gail diplomatically suggesting that there were some signs of foul play and that we best all stay together and take a look around.

          Nancy, still mewling, just shook her head, “no.”

          Joyce came with us, seemingly resigned to finding the worst, depleted of tears. She blanched when she saw the blood, but did not cry.

          “Let’s follow the blood trail”, was all she said in a monotone, and started doing so. We followed.

          No more than 300 yards down that red trail we found the half-eaten remains of a woman, torn to pieces, big chunks of her flesh torn off.

          Gail gagged. I vomited again.

          Joyce just looked at the corpse dispassionately, barely glancing at the remains before continuing on. “Come on. We have to find Frank.”

           “For God’s sake stop, Joyce. This is just crazy. We have to get away from this place.”

          But Joyce ignored me and continued on.

          Not knowing what else to do, we followed. Around a bend we came across another victim, a male, as badly savaged as the woman.

          Joyce, walking as in a trance, turned him over with her foot, glanced down, “Not Frank,” and continued walking.

           Hanging from his belt was a flare gun, and four flares.

          I cried out to Joyce, “Gail and I are returning to camp. We have flares. I suggest we use them and wait for help. The rangers will be better than us to track the animal and put together a search team to find Frank.  And Nancy needs medical care. I bet Frank saw the bodies, is probably hiding away somewhere, and didn’t canoe back to us because he didn’t want to take the chance of bringing the animal back to us.”

          I didn’t believe a word I said about Frank, and don’t know if the women did either.

          Joyce stopped, joined us. “I don’t feel well. I have little bubbles moving up and down my spine. I feel lightheaded.”

          ” Me too”, said Gail. And then, “Oh my God, the baby! What have we done?”


          By the time we got back to the campsite the bugs were gone.

          We gathered wood, and started a bonfire easily seen either from the lake or by air.

          When it was dark I set off the first flare, thinking it would then be most visible. I planned to set off a second at dawn, and repeat the day after.  

          We agreed that by the dawn of the third day if no one had found us we would take the meager remains of our food and set off down the lake in a fool’s attempt in finding someone.

          Nancy, who was now talking in short phrases, complained of not feeling well, of bubbles moving up her spine

          Keeping the canoes ready for a quick getaway, we used the tents already pitched, and the sleeping bags of the former occupants.

          We put two of the sleeping bags together and the four of us huddled together, trying to sleep. Nancy, smelling of roses, snuggled into me.

          During the night I heard grunts in the distance but I was beyond fear. What will be will be. I left the tent to make sure the fire was still strong and threw on some more of the wood.

          Away from the fire the night was velvet black, though, to my surprise, I could see clearly, well into the distance.

          At dawn I used the second flare.  We had eaten little for several days now and slept even less, yet we all felt energized. Strangely strong.

          The bubble sensation up my spine had disappeared. 

          We ate breakfast, kept feeding the fire and waited. I must have dozed off because I heard Gail calling, “Come give us a hand, John.”

          Nancy was sitting on a rock, a faraway distant look in her eyes.

          Gail and Joyce were pulling the savaged remains of the woman, trying to move her into a shallow grave they had dug. “We thought we should cover her up. Leaving her out will just attract who knows what kind of scavengers. Maybe bring back the animal that did this.”

          I helped drag the body to the hole. We used our feet to kick dirt over her. 

          The dead woman had oozed blood as we dragged her, covering our hands.

          I watched Gail and Joyce as they licked their hands clean.

          I found it extremely erotic and felt an erection starting. I called Nancy over and she joined me in watching them. I put my arm around her shoulder. She did not pull away, licked the blood from my fingers.


          They found us about mid-afternoon. We heard the helicopter in the distance. I used the third flare, and the aircraft turned towards us. 

          Before nightfall a boat arrived to bring us back to civilization.

          We each told them what we had seen and experienced. Nancy told of being awakened by screams in the middle of the night, seeing this manlike monster and that when she checked in the morning her companions had disappeared. She remembered nothing more until we had arrived.

          The rangers promised that a search for the animal and Frank would start in the morning.

          I remembered telling them I just wanted a hot shower and large rare steak.

          We were brought to the hospital but discharged after a day with the doctors telling us it was almost miraculous that we had held up so well.  

          We were a minor news sensation for a few days, making it even onto National News; our story was plastered in tabloids with headings such as     “Stalked by Satan’s Beast”, next to the latest story on Harry and Meaghan. 

          As with news generally, interest quickly disappeared, only reappearing when the savaged bodies were recovered.

          And finally they found Frank, also mutilated.

          In time, there were unconfirmed reports in the tabloids that a sect of cannibal terrorists had been discovered and all killed in a gun battle with Federal police.

          The women and I knew that was bullshit.


           As it is written in the bible;” God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

          Those words were meant for me and my kind.

          The first son I had with Gail is a man now, and he has started his own community, and soon my children with Joyce and Nancy will do so as well.

          But that is for another day. For now, I revel in my body, my children, and my three mates: Gail, Joyce and Nancy.

          We are strong, so very strong.

          Our senses of smell and sight are quite remarkable.

          We share thoughts, think rapidly, see a world humans cannot see.

          Although we crave meat, we only need human flesh when the creatures within us are in their mating cycle. They need us to survive and we benefit from what we they have given us.. Symbiosis.

          I have no interest in learning about their biochemistry and what chemical properties unique to humans satisfy their biological drives.

          Life is good. I know the time is fast approaching in which we will no longer need to hunt humans.

          It will be more efficient to domesticate them as livestock, alongside the cows and pigs that satisfy our other more mundane hungers.


                                                THE END


After 43 years as a cognitive scientist, Albert N. Katz (he/him) retired from academia and started a new career as a writer of short stories and poetry. The winner of the 2020 flash fiction competition from Whispering Prairie Press/ Kansas City Voices for his story “Hocus-Pocus”, his stories have appeared in anthologies, genre-based and literary magazines. His most recently speculative literature stories include: “An interview in the Garden of Earthly Delights” (“Dracula’s Guests Anthology” Hellbound Books, 2022),  Jack Mary Ann and the Loch Arkaig treasures” (Allegory, 2022), “Forbidden” (Starlit Bridges Anthology Red Polka Books, 2023) and “Parasite” (Culture Pulp anthology Cosmic Contact, 2023). His poems have appeared in such diverse literary journals as Abyss & Apex, Ascent, Backchannel and Rattle among others. He lives in Fredericton, NB Canada with his wife and two rescue cats, far from his three children living across the wideness of Canada.

He can be reached at; Albert Katz, 7- 634 Brunswick Street, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

twitter: akatzn

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