Black Petals Issue #84 Summer, 2018

Mars-News, Views and Commentary
Goodbye to Nowhere Land-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Just a Minute-Fiction by Mark Joseph Kevlock
Nobody Should Be in 1610 Maple-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Fiction by A.M. Stickel, Chapter 1
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Fiction by A.M. Stickel, Chapter 2
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Fiction by A.M. Stickel, Chapter 3
Prey-Poems by Michael Keshigian
Asunder-Poems by Mick Rose


Chapter 1

Accidental Destination?

by A.M. Stickel



Mirrors don’t lie, but I no longer wanted their version of the truth. I emptied my paltry accounts, converting to cash everything I hadn’t already squandered on self-pity and pills, packed munchies and bottled water in a brown paper bag, and forced several changes of undies, my favorite well-worn dresses, and a few toiletries into a padded knapsack. No room remained for the ball-and-chain laptop: too bad. I called a cab and left the door to my cluttered, unvacuumed house unlocked in case a homeless person needed a refuge.

The five feral cats came for their final feeding, my “So long, guys,” and to watch me tape a note to the front door. It read: Enjoy your stay. Pet the cats.

Who knew dying could be such an adventure? I took a plane, then a boat, then a train, and finally a cab to this old, rundown bus depot overwhelmed by ivy and wisteria. The header on the ancient Gillig about to depart in a stinky cloud of diesel displayed its destination: “Napper’s Holler.” The bus had a dragon paint job, complete with bronze scales, green-and-purple-rimmed headlight eyes, and sharp white grill teeth. Cool!

I’d never heard of Napper’s Holler. The name did not appear in any atlas I’d come across, online or off. And no one had ever mentioned it. Since I wasn’t on a sightseeing vacation, I decided to buy a ticket and go there. Once there, I could figure out the actual next step of my exit (beyond tossing out the “life saving” medications prescribed by doctors convinced of their effect by buy-or-die drug companies).

The bus had a bathroom, maybe to make up for the seats being so uncomfortable, maybe signaling that the trip was going to be a long one. No one else boarded, and the gum-chewing driver was not the talkative type. Good. What was it about southern speak, whether exiting the mouths of drawling goofballs on TV sitcoms or four-letter-wording white trashers at my hometown bus stops? I’d never taken it seriously, and was afraid to stumble into an imperfect imitation and insult someone, or worse—be laughed at the way I was always laughing at them (on the inside, mostly).

Relief came not in pill form that night, but in being able to sprawl across the last row of seats way in back and sleep despite the bathroom deodorizer. The rosary around my neck reminded me to pray my way to dreams among familiar mysteries—joyful, sorrowful, glorious, and the newish luminous. Square with the original intent or not, the repetition always worked.

I’d forgotten how good it felt just to sleep without owing anyone a waking duty. When I did wake up, alone in the parked bus, it was Sunday. Because I wanted to give God as many chances as possible to work things out with me, I needed to meet Him halfway, which meant going to a church. Besides, I knew better than to dismiss what I’d been writing about all my life—Lucifer, his gang, temptation, sin, and hell—and was trying to figure out how to avoid meeting him up close and personal by gracefully exiting life. Even crazy people knew that his gang, temptation, and sin didn’t have to win. At work in my lowly on-call lab job, one had once cleaned the demons off me: “Shoo, get away from her!” (leaving me unsure whether to be embarrassed or relieved).

Without the diesel to keep them off me, the mosquitoes did their best demonic impressions. Was I already in hell? No, the carved-wood sign in front of the church on the only street said “Saint Elmo’s.” Too bad Mass times weren’t part of the carving. Picking up my gear, I exited the bus. Was the driver a church-goer? I didn’t smell the cigarette smoke of a driver hanging around trying to dispel hunger or boredom with tobacco, as I’d seen drivers do the world over.

Entering Saint Elmo’s, I automatically dipped fingertips into the holy water font by the door, and got the surprise of my life when a gray-orange kitten nipped me! She’d been curled in the dry font, and I’d disturbed her nap. I knew by her hiss and aura of queenly affront that she was owed the “Sorry, girl” I whispered. Her small mew and closed eyes said I was forgiven and forgotten.

The church, dim except for candles lined up in front of the crucifix and statues of the Virgin Mary and her (“most chased…er, chaste spouse”) Joseph, smelled like every Catholic church I’d ever been in—of cool water, warm wax, and holy books. Holy books have a distinct perfume, one I’d almost achieved in my living room library (failure being due to the adulteration of sacred by secular tomes, way too many of them paperbacks).

I sat in the last pew and waited. Twangy-tongued folk wearing old-timey clothes drifted in—in singles, pairs, and whole families. Wise to the kitten, they used the font by the other door. Was the town a theme park? We were waiting for the priest, but not long enough for me to nod off, just blink a few times. He appeared between blinks—tall and chocolate-colored, smiling us to our feet, his deep bass intoning our first song. The hymns were printed by hand in hand-bound books. I was the only one who had to use a book because everyone else already knew the songs.

I didn’t really need that book either, since I couldn’t see, let alone sing, through my tears. How can I describe the sound of heaven? Everyone sang off-key, yet in harmony, and, oh, Sweet Lord, there were fiddles just like the ones in the tiny church I’d once hiked to on youthful legs in the Swiss Alps. The sermon made us all laugh. A Jesus look-alike held my hand for the “Our Father.” During Communion, a blond girl in blue gingham played a dulcimer. At the dismissal I didn’t want to leave.

God likes to throw cream pie at plans written on a doleful countenance and laugh along while it’s licked off. I was high on the divinely ironic delicacy that was Napper’s Holler. I’d learned where I was when Father William asked visitors to the Holler to please rise, and I was it.

People make me nervous. Even though these folks looked even more surprised to see me than I was to be among them, I didn’t know what to say because a group stare absolutely immobilizes me. The only calm ones were the priest and the cat, who was asleep. My clothes felt right, though. I always wear granny dresses, unacceptable in ‘normal society’ for about forty years, but which kind of fit in with what the other ladies present wore.

Mass, except for the hymns being in English instead of Latin, was what I remembered from early childhood. However, the kneeling my child knees used to tolerate without complaint, my adult knees protested mightily. Afterwards made up for it. I was invited to homemade breakfast at the rectory, and an earful of the history of the most unusual bus-stop I’d ever made.

Over the course of my stay, I’ve done my best to get down the (mostly irreverent) tales passed along through generations of locals. The handwritten versions I send out with Dragon Driver George are my translations of what I’ve been able to decipher and piece together. I do not plan to leave anytime soon, God-willing and the creek don’t rise. The cabin where I live is small but cozy, with neighbors there when I need them and not there when I don’t, which works fine for me. I try to do the same for them.     

Don’t look for me. You won’t find me. I’m writing under an assumed name and passing this through several layers of helpers. They are my new angels now that Lucifer has relinquished his greedy grasp. I don’t want to be famous or have to worry about what the heck to do with too much money. I just need enough for writing supplies.

Feel free to read and react as you see fit, take delight in or be offended by these words as it suits you. Despite what we may think, humans aren’t the only ones worth saving. If you see a cat or other type of stray who needs a home, give him or her one. Several special strays are in these chapters, along with many of my favorite folks, some I’ve met and others I wish I’d had the privilege of meeting. Maybe, in another life? This life is scary and often painful, but it sure beats the alternative. God be with you in yours.



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