Black Petals Issue #95 Spring, 2021

The Muscus

Home
BP Editorial Page
BP Artist's Page
BP Guidelines
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
Blue Meet-Fiction by George Aitch
Dark Alleyways-Fiction by Adam Phillips
Iris' Vanity-Fiction by Tristan Miller
Scalp Cleanse-Fiction by Kajetan Kwiatkowski
The Muscus-Fiction by Alice Stone
The Wrong Place-Fiction by Ante Caleta
Things That Happen-Fiction by Guido Eekhaut
Tidal Horror-Fiction by Sal Braden
Two Martinis In-Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Vampire-Fiction by Gene Lass
Hypnic Jerk-Flash Fiction by Vismay Harani
Speed Dating-Flash Fiction by Alexander Condie
Step Out-Flash Fiction by Ed Nobody
The Packing Bay-Flash Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Trophy Kill-Flash Fiction by Eddie D. Moore
Occupational Hazard-Flash Fiction by Doug Hawley
The Definition of Crash-Poems by Paul David Adkins
Ghost: A Working Definition-Poem by Carl E. Reed
Vampiric Threnody-Poem by Carl E. Reed
Leelanau Lake Monster-Poems by Richard Stevenson
Ballast-2 Poems by Angelo Letizia
Pit Bull-3 Poems by Pete Mladinic
Shadow of Sleep-Poem by Teresa Ann Frazee
Microcosmus-3 Poems by Daniel Snethen
The Higher Dimensions-Poem by David C. Kopaska- Merkel

95_bp_themuscus_wjsavage.jpg
Art by W. Jack Savage 2021

The Muscus

By Alice Stone

 

You walk home after working a twelve-hour shift and you feel the joints in your shoulders wind tighter, struggling to keep both your arms from dropping to the floor. You open the door to your very own pit of unease. There he is. Just as you left him. Silent and staring. Less your dad and more an ominous space where he had once been. An empty husk of a person, slouched in a large brown armchair covered in yellowish stains, matching the colour of his fingernails. With him in the dark sits a television, loud and bright and never resting. You peel back the curtains to reveal dusty sunlight dancing about the window ledge. As the light soaks over his pale face, you notice tiny streams of blood running over the white of his eyes. Still staring just behind the TV screen, you doubt he has even noticed your presence. You kick your boots off which hit hard against the skirting board, leaving a trail of dirt across the lower part of the wall. You finally remove your jacket, hanging it up next to a moth-bitten fishing jacket belonging to your dad, bait hooks still clinging to the front pocket from its last adventure.

      You glide into the kitchen, skidding on the hard floor in your socks, your big toe peeking out from a large hole you hadn’t noticed till now. The kitchen is small, with a single blocked-off window that once looked onto the garden at the back of the house, which is now more of a tiny jungle filled with vines and rotting pieces of wood. A rusty oven sits unused to the right of the sink, which hasn’t worked since before you moved back in, over two years ago. After trying to fix it on several occasions, you realised that it had accepted its fate and so should you. Turning on the balls of your feet you make towards the grey- coloured fridge, the handle mysteriously sticky. Peering in, you expertly move your hand up and around the piles of microwave meals to the back of the shelf, where you hid a large chocolate bar. Half-eaten by you on previous days, you take two pieces from the edge and place it lightly into your mouth. It melts quickly over your tongue, moving about your cheeks, leaving bursts of flavour between your teeth as you reach for two portions of macaroni and cheese. You remove the layers of packaging and peel back the thin layer of plastic as a mound of sticky cheese sauce claims the edge of your right pinkie finger.

After carelessly tossing the two meals into the microwave and setting the timer to four minutes and thirty-five seconds, you spend the time staring vacantly into middle distance. The microwave tells you that it’s time to eat. You grab the meals; knives, forks, and a large grey plastic tray, with a worn picture of a blueish butterfly printed across the middle. You set the tray down across his lap, you feel his stale breath against your cheek for a moment before you pull away. The smell of fermented coffee curdled with beer, hot saliva and impressive amounts of tobacco burns at your nose. You gag as the aroma pounds at your gut, bringing what is left of your lunch, up into your throat. You purse your lips together tightly as half-digested tuna thickened with chocolate slips back down your throat, eyes watering as escaped stomach acid drips from your nose, drowning you in its sting. You swing to the side, hand covering the lower portion of your face, hiding the disgust. You give yourself a good minute to compose yourself. He doesn’t notice. You clear a large pile of newspapers from a small leather foot stool, moving around it clumsily, your meal burning into the palm of your other hand. You sit to the left of his chair, your bodies parallel.

You eat. Ignoring the screen, you look to the window just above. You watch the unsettled dust, still swaying in the warm light spilling through the dirty glass. Every so often you glance over to him, the sides of the chair hiding his eyes and nose. His hands shake. They hadn’t before. They shake, gripping tightly to the cheap metal fork as he shovels lukewarm pasta deep into his mouth. Slurping at the sauce and gnawing at the pasta with his imperfect teeth, orange from years of smoking. Sauce dripping down the corner of his mouth, falling deep into his wiry stubble. Scoffing as the cheese sauce combines with the thick layers of phlegm dangling at the back of his throat.

          You try not to stare, but you carry on despite yourself. This is the most noise he makes. The last time you recall him speaking was that one summer evening just over a year ago. You passed him on the landing, he was staring wide eyed into one of the large display cases drilled to the wall, having a conversation with his reflection in the glass. Since then, conversation has turned to grunts. Looking down at your meal, you feel a knot forming in your gut. You take a bite. The thick tangy sauce spoils your appetite. You give up and instead slide your meal onto the edge of his tray.

“I’m not that hungry.” You mumble.

Before you have even left the room, you hear him tuck into your meal without hesitation. You make your way up the narrow set of stairs, eyes on your feet to avoid catching your toes on the carpet tacks sticking out a little too far. Reaching the landing, you come face to face with the bathroom door. Carefully you move through the equally narrow hallway, most of the head space taken up by rows of bulky display cases, each filled with an array of brightly-coloured insects, their wings held down by silver pins. Each with a tiny handwritten label just above its antennae. You take a short while acknowledging the names of some of the butterflies as you pass by: Protogoniomorpha cytora; a light blue butterfly with black details, almost watercolour like. Cymothoe mabillei; a bright orange butterfly from Africa. Thailand’s Burara gotmata; also known as the pale-green awlet. Your favourite. Its wings black and white striped with a dusty orange body. An extensive collection, accumulated by your dad during his travels decades ago. Just to the right of your door a case filled with pressed plants, like the bugs accompanied by their Latin names. Ceres violaeque; colligentes zizania and muscus.

You continue to your room at the end of the hallway. In one swift movement you brush the pile of clothes from this morning’s events onto the wooden floor and lay down in their place, the springs in the mattress creaking slightly as they break your fall. Your room is only just big enough to fit your single bed and the bulky chest of drawers pushed up against the wall, the back corner of it scratching at the paint work each time you bump your hip against it as you leave for work on a morning. Your window is the cleanest in the house, facing out over the back-garden jungle, looking onto endless fields filled with cattle and corn. You take your phone from your back pocket. You press play on the audio book you began the day before, ‘Submarine’ by Joe Dunthorne. Sweeping your hands up into the air, letting them hang there for a short time, examining your own battle scars. Just beneath the forefinger on the left hand sits the ghost of a cigarette wound which still burns today, less the burn and more of the fear it carried with it. A lesson, and you haven’t touched a pack of dad’s smokes since. As the furnace-orange light fades to darkness, you lie there waiting for the next day, eventually falling into a deep slumber losing all the meaning to the words still spouting from your phone.

        The small alarm clock resting on your windowsill cries out to tell you it’s Saturday. You hop out of bed, realising you slept in clothes from the day before. You hunt through the pile on the floor, changing clumsily. You throw on a light jacket hanging from the edge of your door and make your way swiftly down the stairs. You peek into the sitting room, he slept there last night. You see the corner of his face, mouth open, half dried dribble falling down the curves in his chin. You notice that he’s stopped making the journey to bed just over a month ago.

            Quietly, you make for the tray, bending down to scoop it from the floor in front of him. You avert your eyes from his stained boxers, the hem peeking out from beneath his sleeveless shirt, that too was a shade of burnt yellow. You notice the backs of his legs are covered in swollen red lumps, outlined with a tinge of yellow. You stand up slowly, tray in hand, your eyes gently falling over him. You study the wrinkles in his skin, thin like antique paper that could tear in the slightest breeze. Equal parts of love and loathing cloud over your memories of him, locked doors, and silence echo through your mind. You would always be the least interesting thing he stuck pins through. Taking a glance at the ashtray resting on the arm of his chair, you see ash piled to the rim of the glass, the cigarette butts nowhere to be seen. You take the tray into the kitchen, pouring the two plates into the sink. You fill it with hot water, hoping that the solid lumps of cheese will fall off in time, with little effort.

        You grab your fishing bag and rod from the back of the cupboard built deep under the stairs; slip your muddy brown boots, coated with clumps of moss onto your feet and head out into the village.

          It doesn’t take long till you reach a small winding alley taking you away from the houses and into the fields. Following down the path, you kick small pebbles into the thick nettles growing up into the hedges on both sides. The early morning sun invades your vision. Like a swarm of flies, batting it away with the side of your hand. This walk has become a part of your weekly routine, heading out alone to fish. Willmore lake has been boarded up since before you were born, rumours of murders and strange creatures living in the deepest parts of the lake spread through bedtime stories and urban legend. Not long ago you found an opening in the tall metal fence holding the sign reading “Keep out. Danger.” Since then, you find it to be the perfect place for solitude and fishing. You push your bag and rod through the gap and follow suit. The grass is long and entangled with weeds and wildflowers. You hear a crunch beneath your feet. Looking down you find it’s broken glass from a beer bottle. You wade through low-hanging branches from the rows of trees leading to the water, catching your shirt on sharp twigs as you brush past.

            Each time you visit you can’t help but remember your father’s version of ‘The tales of Willmore’. He’d sit on the edge of your bed, his face orange in the lamplight and begin.

      In the sixties a group of kids cut down part of the wired fence around the lake and held a party on the grounds. They parked their vans on the other side of the trees to the lake and began to drink into the night, playing music and dancing beneath the moon. A young girl by the name of Jeanie Martin drank too much and stumbled through the trees, to the edge of the lake. Some would call it a drunken mistake; others say the water called her like a drone beneath the music. She fell to her knees, ripping the bottom of her thin floral dress and began to hurl that night’s food and drink into the water. Delirious, Genie reached out for something to cancel out the taste of bile swimming about her mouth. She pulled a thick chunk of brown moss from a jagged rock poking out from beneath the water. Doing so, she smashed the palm of her hand into the sharp part of the rock, pulling the flesh from her bones. Her blood dripped from her veins and was absorbed by the moss. She shoved it deep into her mouth. It glided down her throat like cream, no need to chew. She pulled herself up, onto her feet, walking back towards ‘the gang’, who hadn’t noticed her leave. Before she could take another step, Genie fell hard onto the ground, clutching her stomach and howling into the night. She felt the moss contract and squeeze her organs, moving about inside her like a snake twisting tight around her lungs. She dug her bloodied fingers deep into the back of her throat, choking on them violently.

        The howling and choking went on, as her entire body spasmed, lying curled up amongst the tall winding grass. She stopped. Spontaneously her pain was relieved. She stood up, her dress coated in stains of green and dark red, clotting about her waist. Hand still oozing blood, the wound encrusted with strands of moss. Staring up, her eyes gleamed red in the moonlight, the blue in them completely washed away. She ran through the trees.

        Their screams could be heard from miles around, they echoed in the night, disturbing the birds asleep in their nests. She dragged their bodies through the grass and trees, forcing them into the water. Their blood gliding over the ripples, terror still spelled clearly across their faces. She was the last of them. It was said that after diving headfirst into the dark, Genie swam amongst her friend’s corpses till daylight came. When the police finally found the remains of that summer night’s party, no sign of carnage was found. No corpses floating face up in the water and no sign of Genie. They drained the lake and they found nothing but a mossy bottom. Some years later, a man’s dog disappeared behind the wire fence. When it returned, in its mouth was a blood-stained floral dress, untouched by time or corrosion.

       Those stories scared you to sleep most nights as did the man funnelling them into your tiny ears. Reminiscing on nightmares, you sit down among the tall grass, baiting your hook and casting it into the water, your mind turns blissfully clear. The natural quiet ensnares you.

      You didn’t notice the sky turn dark. You pack up and head home, without a single fish, wondering where the time went.

          Your week starts on a Sunday. Each day from then rolls into the next, visiting Willmore to fish on a Saturday like clockwork. The dirty plates pile high in the sink, more mould forming each time. You ignore it. Each day your dad eats more and more but somehow loses more weight than he started with. His skin like thin latex laid over the bones in his face, the corner of his lips burnt from smoking. Ash crusted between the flaps of skin between his fingers, the ashtray left full and forgotten. You observe that the sores on the backs of his legs have grown and mutated into mass bags of fluid, almost ready to pop.

One evening as you place another microwave meal in front of him, you stop. You notice the side of his jaw moving, gnawing. His bottom lip is coated in deep red; the blood glazed over it like blackberry jam. As his lips move apart and thick black fluid pours down his chin, you see his tongue, torn to pieces, resting between his bloodied gums, limp like skinned meat. He begins to choke.  

You feel your heart screaming out beneath your ribs. Ignoring its cries, you stand, grounded. You watch as his eyes change quickly in and out of panic. They lock onto yours. You can feel him, staring deep behind your eyes, unearthing lost memories you’d learnt to repress, sucking them from you like a leech.

       The air in your lungs turns stale. Without warning, he leaps to the floor, sending searing lasagne down your chest, the sauce seeping through your shirt, cooking the skin beneath. You scream, running to the kitchen and throw the sauce-covered shirt straight to the floor. Eyes watering from the burns, you force yourself beneath the cold tap, the cool water easing the sting. A great crack echoes from the next room, followed by an array of crashes and thuds.

    Cautious, you peek your head back through the doorframe to see the rear end of your father scampering towards the front door, moving on his hands and feet with an agility you weren’t aware humans possessed. Clutching your hand over your bare, blistering chest, you reluctantly follow behind him. Rounding the corner to find the door smashed clearly open, shards of wood hanging over the door frame. You pull the fishing jacket from its peg and drape it around you before heading out after him.

       Somehow the day has fallen into the night without you noticing. The moon framed perfectly by grey clouds, illuminates the pale yellow of your father’s legs in the distance, bounding on all fours like a wolf in the night. Breathing heavily, you run through the village, begging the universe for all the neighbours to be fast asleep. Quickly you break into a sprint, the hairs on your arms standing on end from the night’s chill. Swiftly, you reach the all-too-familiar winding alley, leading out into the fields, out to Willmore. Eyes watering, you push on, sprinting through thick nettles, feeling your untied boot laces rasp against your ankles. There it is, the “KEEP OUT. DANGER!” sign welded to the fence. As you reach the opening you swallow a breath, gulping it back like a tennis ball in your throat. The torn metal edges. Pulled back further than before, each end dripping with blood. Carefully you twist your way through, regardless. A stream of cold blood falls down your left shoulder, causing you to grimace. As you grow closer, you can hear him. Low growls held in the gentle breeze. You navigate through the low-hanging trees. Batting flies and rogue leaves away from your dry mouth, you see him.

       Rocking back and forth, crouched on all fours amidst the tall grass bordering the water, the joints in his wrists creaking under the pressure. You begin to circle him, peering with terror and curiosity. A small pile of yellowish teeth has formed below him, scattered among the flat patch he has made amidst the weeds. He continues to gurgle on the fluid dribbling from his mouth, choking on his teeth as they fall from his gums. You home in on his spine. It ripples like waves beneath his skin, each section dislocating, twisting back on itself, springing up, piercing through his paper-like back, releasing swells of orange pus, falling over him and stiffening like wax.  The joints in his hips have snapped back, taking on the form of a dog’s hind legs.

       You keep your distance. Peering through the dark, you shudder as he plunges his long fingernails into the soft dirt, edging closer to the murky water. The gleam of the moon can do nothing to mask the lake’s startling emptiness. Suddenly his hand slips, plummeting into the water, splashing it up onto his orange pus-coating. It lets out a great hiss, fizzing, turning white from contact. Startled, you move in just enough to better your view. The white upon him begins to move, pulsing, tiny pieces falling from him. Maggots. Once again, he begins to choke, heaving maggots and black flies into the water. They stream from his mouth and ears. The flies swarm to his open wounds, burrowing more eggs into the crust of his blood. You gag. He begins to crumble into a mass of bugs and tiny wings. The sound of them catches in the light breeze, melding with his screams, muzzling him with their tiny bodies. You know you should help him, do something, or scream but you can’t. The muscles in your feet have turned to stone. The blood in your veins still like red frozen rivers. The weight of the air rests gently on your back as you stand there useless and weak.

        You hear an immense splash. Using the last of his strength, your father hurls himself into the lake. The light of the moon gives you small glimpses of bare bone beneath the layers of maggots and wings. Suddenly, he is sucked deep into the cold, leaving only a ripple of flies on the water’s surface. You hear him gargle a last word.

          “Muscus.”

“Muscus.” The word falls from your lips. “Moss, the, the moss.” Your breath catches in the back of your throat. Years of night terrors. Years of nightmares. You begin to cry, wailing into the night like a slaughtered pig, mouth dripping with saliva, choking you. The thought twists in your mind, turning the pain into laughter. The feeling bursts from your throat, ugly and free, you fall to your knees as the sky turns pink and the birds begin their song.

          “Muscus.”



Alice Stone is a young English writer, who specialises in the surreal and uncomfortable. Still studying her craft as a BA in creative writing at Edge hill university, Alice is currently working on her own experimental novel. Her main ideals as a writer is to show more representation within the genre of horror, challenging the usual format of a scary story and  her readers.




      



Site Maintained by Fossil Publications