Black Petals Issue #106 Winter, 2023

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The Thing in the Yard: Fiction by Vincent Vurchio
A Forest Green: Fiction by Logan Williams
Clown Safe: Fiction by Taylor Hagood
Home Delivery: Fiction by Jon Adcock
Judith and Bobby Save the World: Fiction by Stephen Tillman
Many Wee Undead: Fiction by Marco Etheridge
Meat Pie: Fiction by Anna Koltes
Mexican Coffee and Burgers: Fiction by Fred Zackel
Leaving: Fiction by Roy Dorman
The Ghost of the Perfect Hotdog: Fiction by Mark Miller
The Illustrated Woman: Fiction by Jen Myers
Thrice in One Sitting: Fiction by Justin Alcala
In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning: Fiction by Gene Lass
AI Self-Mortification: Flash Fiction by Christopher Henckel
Correct Mistake: Flash Fiction by Eric Burbridge
A Moment of Inertia: Flash Fiction by Sean MacKendrick
Get Your Kicks on Route 666: Flash Fiction by M. L. Fortier
Let's Do Lunch: Flash Fiction by Hillary Lyon
"Three Wishes": Flash Fiction by Ronin Fox
Woodsman's Revenge: Flash Fiction by Jada Maze
To a Crow: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Estranged: Poem by Michael Keshigian
At the Terminal: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Angler's Nightmare: Poem by Michael Keshigian
Last Thirteen Steps: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Murderous Words: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
My Childhood Snapshot: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
With Vampires About: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
The Zombies are Loose: Poem by C. Renee Kiser
Lil' Toe Dipper: Poem by C. Renee Kiser
Scattered Pieces: Poem by Andrew Graber

Vincent Vurchio: The Thing in the Yard

106_bp_thinginyard_jenmong.jpg
Art by Jen Mong 2024

The Thing in the Yard

Vincent Vurchio

 

 

Nine-year-old boys are perfectly adapted, like politicians in a presidential election year, to see quite clearly things that aren’t there.  Joey was no exception.  He’d already called his father twice that same night to see the thing in the yard, but his father was too old (by Joey’s standards) and cranky (interrupted sleep will do that to an adult) to see anything he didn’t already expect to see.  That last time his father had made it abundantly clear there would be no third summons, so Joey was stuck at one-fifteen in the morning, staring out his bedroom window into the wind-swept backyard, watching for any indication to prove the presence of the thing he knew was out there.  But the thing, whatever it was, was being very clever.

Joey hadn’t actually seen the thing.  He’d seen around it, he’d seen the disturbance in the surrounding background that the thing had made, but he’d so far been unable to actually see the thing itself.  He knew that didn’t mean it wasn’t there; in fact, the absence of proof was merely a demonstration of the cunning ability displayed by whatever it was.  Nine-year-olds and presidential aspirants; an incredible coincidence of talent.  They couldn’t describe whatever the thing was but they could tell you what it wasn’t, and they couldn’t point it out to you on a map, but they knew it existed, that it was dangerous, and that you should be very afraid of it.

He considered, briefly, opening the window, hoping maybe he could hear the thing, skulking about the bushes, hiding behind trees, blending in with the relic wooden playscape his parents had gotten him for his fifth birthday.  He was so beyond such things now.  In another month he’d be ten, and he could already imagine the wonderful things he’d know then, the things he’d be able to master by virtue of age alone, but only so long as this whatever-it-was in the backyard didn’t do something really bad to him in the meantime, and opening the window might be construed as an invitation inside his room, so the window remained closed.

Was it ravenously hungry for the flesh of little boys, or did it just want to take over his brain and make him yet another part of its growing army of zombie children?  School was doing a good enough job of that, stifling every creative impulse he had, trying instead to mold him into some manipulable middling robot, to prepare him to live the same exact lifestyle his father complained about being trapped in, day after day.  Imagination is the only asset children have that elevates them above their elders, and it seemed to Joey that society had done everything but outlaw its exercise altogether.  Nobody wanted him to think or imagine or dream, just follow the rules and be like everybody else.  Now he had this thing in the yard, stalking him, watching him, waiting for his guard to fall so it could perform whatever nefarious crime it had in store for him, and by virtue of his youth, nobody would ever believe him, until it was too late.  Some days it felt like the entire universe conspired against him, and as he got older, experience would prove that it did just that.

For now, he was just another scared young man, staring out into the night, imagining all sorts of fanciful things, things that meant to hurt him, to alter him, to consume him, flinching at every shadow that moved, seeing in the deep ebony recesses of that yard the menacing shapeless evil that would gleefully tear his skin from his bones.  How odd, that the very same yard that now overflowed with ebony danger, in daylight was an infinite source of enjoyment!  Those same daytime places that became forts to defend and rivers to ford and mountains to climb in constant peril of falling to his doom, now threatened to rob him of breath, of blood, of life.  How could one place be such different things, all by changing just one aspect; light?

Joey sat up in bed and stared into the eye of death.  He wasn’t aware of having fallen asleep until he woke up to soft early daylight.

And now everything was changed.

The yard was just a yard again, full of potential.  The thing was gone, at least for the next twelve hours.

After breakfast, it being a Saturday and a favorable summer day, he and his father worked outside.  His father walked the mower around and Joey plucked weeds from the flower beds.  A little raking and the yard looked pristine, like something on a magazine cover.  How could anything that lovely harbor anything so frightful?

Over shared hotdogs and chips on the back patio at noon, Joey attempted to talk to his father about what had happened the previous night, but his father wasn’t having any of it.

“That’s the past, already,” his father told him as soon as he raised the subject.  “Can’t go back and change it.  All you can do is learn from it.”

But what exactly was the lesson?

“Did something like that happen to you when you were my age?”

Old people always started conversations with, “When I was your age…” so Joey had come to accept that nothing new ever really happened, just the same old stuff happening to new people.  Certainly, since his father had once been a little boy too, he’d had his share of monsters in the shadows.

“Never,” his father said.  “Not even once.  And if it ever had, I would have dealt with it on my own.  My father would have slapped the snots out of me for disturbing his sleep.”

An implied threat?  Joey took it that way.  His father had never struck him.  That policy seemed in jeopardy.

And so, the rest of the day went as normal days go.  They had worked together and eaten together, and now they spent a few hours ignoring each other; Joey played in the yard and his father sat before the TV watching other men play a game that he had never been very good at even when much younger.  Sandwiches for dinner, and then Joey got more time outdoors until the sky started to grow dark.

This time, no play.  Joey searched the back yard for clues and potential hiding places, or maybe secret portals where the thing could slip between universes and haunt his night again.  He found nothing usable because everything was usable, everything had the latent possibility of being an instrument of his doom, and with he and his father having shorn the grass and cleaned out the flowers of unwanted greenery, raked and graded, any residual evidence that might have been there was now obliterated. 

And now, darkness came, and time to go inside, watch a little TV with his father, maybe have a snack, and then back to bed.  Back to the darkness, and back to watching for the thing in the yard to come back.  Joey washed up and got in his pjs and he tried laying down and ignoring every creak and snap from outside his window, but he couldn’t.  He heard his father in the den down the hall, no doubt sitting before his computer, probably looking at things that Joey wasn’t supposed to know about but did, sort of, because a few of the older boys as school had talked about what went on in those sites.  He didn’t understand the fascination, and he had more important things to think about.

Like the thing in the yard.

He sat up, and leaned against the windowsill, held the ends of the curtains aside just enough to see past them into the darkened yard, and he knew it was there again.  Maybe it had been all day, cleverly hidden from both he and his father, laughing at their inability to see what was right before their eyes because we find it so hard to see things we don’t expect to see, and often see things we expect to see that really aren’t there.  Whatever the case, it was back, Joey knew it, and this time he even believed he knew exactly where in the yard the thing lurked.

He saw a shadow move behind the three skinny white birch trees way in the back, past the roses and hydrangeas.  Joey froze, because he feared it had seen him seeing it, and he waited, still as ice, barely breathing, waited, waited, and there it was again!

He’d seen it, or part of it anyway.  Tall as a man; thin, too.  It had a head and arms and legs, but he couldn’t see any distinct features, so he tried to imagine what sort of face it had, what size ears if it had any ears at all, what its hands and feet would look like, and he came up with all sorts of incredible images, pictures adopted from old movies and TV shows about monsters and space aliens.  Did the thing have fangs that dripped blood from its last victim?  Did it have five eyes and long sharp claws?  Was it hairy like a gorilla or scaled like a snake?  He wondered what its voice would be like, assuming it was capable of speech.

And then the thing walked out from behind the trees and stood still, right out in the open, and if the moon had been full Joey would have been able to see it!  See all of it!  But for now, it was just a shadow, a silhouette, like something cut out of black construction paper and propped up with an old broom handle.  He stared at it, hoping his eyes would adjust to the dark and show him something, anything, just one detail he could use to prove to his father that it existed.

The thing in the yard took a few more steps toward the house.  Joey still couldn’t see its face, but he knew it was looking right at him, its head tilted back just enough to focus on his second-floor bedroom window.  Did it know he was watching?  Being a night creature, he supposed it either had really sharp eyes and could see at midnight as clearly as he could at noon, or it was blind as the proverbial bat and had radar or something like that to ‘see’ everything around it?

To see him.

It came closer.

Joey ducked down, positive that it knew he was there, watching.

What to do?

His father was busy and would not like being interrupted.  Besides, by the time his father got out there, the thing in the yard would be gone again, and he’d be just another bad kid perhaps being sized up for a first back-handed slap as payment for his pre-adolescent indifference to a parent’s needs.  Joey was entirely on his own.

He slipped out of bed, and stepped into his slippers, and tiptoed to his door, opened it, saw the light from the den in the hallway, and snuck silently out of his room toward the stairs.  He knew which steps creaked and which did not and he descended them as silently as an idea, and then crept along the hall to the kitchen and from there to the back door.

He crouched down before the door and then lifted up slowly so just the top of his head came over the bottom of the door window, and he searched the yard for the thing.

And there it was.

Staring right at him.  Like it knew where he was every second.

Slowly, Joey unlocked the door, and then backed up a little to open it, gradually, as slow as the ocean tide, hoping maybe the thing wouldn’t realize what he was doing.  As soon as the door was opened enough for him to reach the storm door, he opened that, too, just a crack, and making himself as small as possible he oozed outside into the night and the back porch.

He crawled to the rail and put his face between the bars as if it were his prison cell, and he scanned the yard.

The thing was still there, and it still stared directly at him, its faceless head aimed right where he hid.

So, Joey stood up, slowly, since it knew he was there anyway.  It made no move toward him, so he stepped sideways to the stairs and went down them, one, two, three, and then put a foot onto the nice, freshly mown grass.  Now a second foot, and he took his hand off the rail, and now he was completely disconnected from the house.  Exposed, vulnerable, but so insatiably curious!  He had to know what it was.

Joey stepped slowly towards the thing, which didn’t move at all.  It made no sound, no threatening gestures.  Horrible white teeth didn’t glisten in the dark; razor-like claws didn’t catch a reflection from the distant street lamps.

He was twenty feet away, and it didn’t seem as menacing as it had from his window, where he’d been sure it was ten feet tall.  It wasn’t any taller than his father, and not even close to as wide.  Joey could hear it breathing, softly, deeply.  Now ten feet away and he stopped, because he wasn’t sure how fast it could move, and then it did a curious thing.

It squatted down so it was no taller than he, and put its arms out to him.

It called his name, in a whisper, a voice as cool as early spring rain, heavy with emotion.  He knew the voice, too, although he shouldn’t have.  He hadn’t heard it in years, and yet he might never forget the sound of it no matter how long he lived.

“Mom?”

He fell into the waiting arms, and she drew him in to her and held him so tightly that his bones threatened to crack.  “Joey!”  She cried on him, and he cried on her shoulder, and he embraced the warm body he had clung to so much, presumably for the last time,  when she went away -- how many years ago was it? – and she smelled sort of the same, and she felt sort of the same, maybe a little thinner, but they fit together like puzzle pieces, because that’s what they had always been; parts of some greater being, only whole when united.  The entire time she’d been gone, Joey hadn’t quite felt complete, and now he was again.  Incredible!

“Dad will be so happy that you’re back!”

“He doesn’t know,” she said in a whisper.  “He can’t know.  Not yet.”

“Where have you been?  Dad said you were sick, that you maybe were never coming back.”

“I’ve been away,” she said softly.  “In a hospital.  But I’m better now.  They had to let me go, and I’m back.  I couldn’t stay away.  I had to see you.”

“You’re staying this time?  We’ll be a family again?”

“Just for now,” she said.  “Just for tonight.  But there’s something I have to do.  Something I should have done a long time ago.  I tried, but, well, you know how it goes.  Your father can be quite stubborn about such things.   Come with me, just for a minute.  I have to show you something.”

Their embrace broke but their hands held fast to each other, and they stood and she walked Joey back towards the trees she’d been hiding behind, and she gave a last quick look at the house to make sure nobody else was watching, and then she showed him what she had hidden behind the trees.

In the morning, his father didn’t immediately panic when he didn’t find Joey in bed.  Sunday morning; the boy was probably downstairs with a bowl of cereal, parked on the couch, watching something on TV that his father most likely wouldn’t approve of.  But when he went downstairs the boy wasn’t there, and he called to him, down the basement stairs and up the attic stairs, and out the front door, and then he went to the back door and saw it was opened, and the screen door wasn’t closed completely either.  He went out into the yard and didn’t see anything but he called anyway and got no answer.

The grass was still sparkling with the dew that had formed just after dusk, and his father saw footprints heading out into the yard.   Small footprints; Joey’s footprints.  He followed them out, and there was a space where the grass was mushed down, and then two sets of prints heading back toward the birch trees.  He followed those, and they went behind the trees, and there in the ferns that grew up around the roots, he saw him.

The police said they’d never seen anything like that before, never even heard of any such thing happening, ever.  Dad knew who had done it, and the cops called the hospital and they said that his wife had been released a few days ago because of budget constraints.  The doctors didn’t think she posed an immediate threat, despite her history, and they had to make room for the really dangerously ill people.  His notification of her release was in the mail, sent out after her release, but he probably wouldn’t get it until Monday or Tuesday; the clerical staff was underfunded as well.

Joey’s mother was found not far away.  Her trail had been easy to follow.  They found her sleeping in back of a roadside diner about five miles south, lying on the bare ground.

She was still covered in blood, and the knife was still in her hand.

 

Vincent Vurchio has three self-published e-books available for Kindle, two of which are supernatural thrillers; The Harloc Mirror, and The Barnstable Curse.  The third is more of a drama, an estranged family reunited with the discovery of an old murder, called Bended Twigs.  Check them out; you might like them!