Black Petals Issue #106 Winter, 2023

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Mars-News, Views and Commentary
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

Logan Williams: A Forest Green

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Art by Darren Blanch 2024

A Forest Green

Logan Williams

 

 

After my girlfriend left me for a better prospect I was shattered. A week of drinking came and went and in my hangover I decided I needed to make a change. Get away from it all. Stop seeing reminders everywhere I went and come back swinging. Everyone has a different way of doing this but for me It would be a trip.

I had more than enough vacation days. Since we started fighting, I buried myself in my work, racking up a savings and benefit hours. I took tech support calls while chained to a cubicle. One among an anthill of us, a hairs breadth away from killing ourselves in the parking lot outside. “Living the dream,” was the acceptable answer to “How are you?” A phrase parroted by us all. It was codeword for “Please take me outside and shoot me, we can make it look like an accident, I swear.” Anyone who’s worked beneath those bleak fluorescent lights knows exactly what I mean. In lieu of my circumstances and even the break up,

I was almost giddy filling out the forms. “Two weeks in a row? Are you sure you want to cash all that out at once?” The general manager eyed my papers, looking for any excuse to reject it.

With a cacophony of voices and ringing phones behind me like the screams of the damned I plead my case. “Cashing it out now means I’ll be here for the product launch and holidays.” My mind was racing for something, anything else to say. “Besides , the break should help me get my numbers back up.”

My boss with a solemn nod continued over my papers. He knew as well as I did my numbers had tanked since the breakup and the rumor mill was abuzz with why.

Everything from catching her cheating to shooting heroin in the bathroom.

Finally, he gave a shrug and bid me farewell. “Finish the week strong. When you come back I expect you at peak performance.”

I thanked him for the approval and went back to my desk floating. The next week I spent planning and packing for a week in the Humboldt Forest.

Finally, with a hopeful spirit I made the trip. The drive from Boise to Arcata, California was a full day within itself. A trip full of Lye pits and sand in the wasteland of Oregon desert. Thirteen hours of Beef jerky and chips till I crossed the California border with another 8 after. It wasn’t until sunup the next day that I reached my destination. It was then, as the sun rose on the ocean front, I knew it was worth every second. A sea of orange and yellow crested the Lost coast. Sands lined with tall grass and every shade of green. A fog primordial covered everything like a veil on something holy. It was as though the rainforest of Arcata was conquering the very waters it had bordered. The deepest green I’d ever seen lay in that constant fog in an air that felt ancient and wondrous to venture. Redwoods larger than buildings. Many were older than mankind, there on the horizon in rolling hills. It made you believe in magic, if only for a day.

Regaining my composure, I headed into town. The town in that fog felt eerie to step inside. It’s funny, you would have expected Arcata to be a haunted cove. A dreary place with a Lovecraftian cult of Dagon its population, and yet it was quite the opposite. Dozens of houses with walls of every color lined the streets.

Bars, boutiques and bodegas surrounded a town center full of every walk of life. Travelers, hobos, street performers and more. All of them sat in the cool air with laughter and song in a world where time stood still, for no one had anywhere to be. It was a decade since I sat among them last, yet even now I felt at home.

I went into a dive bar and dropped a ten on drinks. I cashed out my vacation hours to be here and I intended to make the best of it. After a couple pints of Great White I wandered around town. The beer helped me relax and soon I was making conversation with the locals. An Old Traveler by the name of Trashcan and I became fast friends. He had stories and a reputation in town and I had cigarettes with an ear to listen. He smoked off an old glass pipe in a swirl of colors. I politely declined to which he shrugged, cross-legged on the park bench.

“So, what brings you to town if you don’t smoke?”

Humboldt County was the center of the marijuana export known as the emerald triangle. Arcata was the center of that. Me not smoking must have raised an eye.

I knew good and well however that Idaho labor would be testing me the second I stepped back home. I pulled out a Pall Mall and smoked that instead.

“Camping.”

“Camping.” He parroted with a look of suspicion. “You crashing on the beach for a spell, finding a hippie chick or two?”

I breathed the smoke into air nonchalant. “Actually I'm going to Neverland.”

The hobos face went cold with eyes narrowed. “How do you know about that?”

His response surprised me. It was a secret spot for sure yet by no means was it considered hostile. I tried to bring back the jovial air we had before with a laugh. “I was a street kid before I found work in Idaho. It’s not like the place is haunted.”

Trashcan did not find me funny. Not at all. “You don’t want to go there.” He put away his pipe, stuffing the smokes I gave him into his beanie. “Not anymore.”

“No disrespect, but two states is a long ways to drive, any reason why?”

He ignored the question, stood up and grabbed his bag. “Town’s a great place to be. You got money. Get a hotel. Hit the bars. Get yourself a girl and stay here.

But stay out of the Forest, especially there. He don’t want no one there at all.”

I was about to ask who but he turned his back and left, wandering into the crowd alone. A face like someone walked across his grave.

Despite his misgivings, I was not about to be sent home by a stranger. Probably wanted the spot for himself for all I knew. I might not be the traveling type anymore, but provided I respected the place I had as much right to be there as any. The rest of the day I walked around and hit the bars until finally I did get a cheap motel. It was a long drive and I needed the rest before the hike.

The next morning was coffee and muffins. Soon after I hit the Safeway and got some food for my pack. Cliff bars, jerky, Gatorade and the like. Walking through the aisles sent me back. It was just a few years ago a kid with blonde dreads was filling a drug rug hoodie with whatever he could steal. I didn’t miss my hair rotting in the rain, yet I certainly missed the freedom.

It was by noon I began the trek. Behind the College there were hiking trails mixed with the campus grounds. Vacationers would wander the woods taking in the sights, yet the further you went in the less company you’d find. After a mile the forest even ate the trail.

The Arcata Redwoods is one of the few rainforests in America. A world primordial with ferns and leaves glowing crimson in the sun. Husks of giant trees you could climb like an ant over branches. Birds calling and everywhere teeming with life. It had a way of making you feel so small with troubles far away.

Living in these woods before I knew the way well enough. Any time I got lost I’d find a landmark and regain my footing. A rope bridge over a ravine. A dead hollowed-out tree with a seat carved in the bark. Even there, man had left their mark, if you only knew where to look.

Sitting in a patch of moss I caught my breath. I grabbed some food, chewing thoughtfully, considering my progress. If I remembered right, it was only a couple more miles. My boots were muddy and my back was sore. The office life had taken its toll, and I was by no means used to all this hiking. Still, I kept in high spirits, realizing in the midst of fog and trees I was actually happy.

It was then I looked around and something caught my eye. One of the trees I thought had carvings in it. On further inspection I learned that I was right. A series of hieroglyphs carved into the bark of a lone redwood. Defacing one of these ancient trees while alive is considered an act akin to sacrilege. However, this graffiti was different. No Heart with a lover’s name, obscenity or “was here.” Instead, it was a series of hieroglyphs. Three diagonal lines slashed in a quick succession. It was followed by a circle. Finally, there was another circle with two arrows carved pointing back where I came. If memory served the message was clear. This is not a safe place. There is nothing to be gained. Hit the road.

I would have turned around right then and there if not for my memories before. As I said, I was not a stranger to these woods. Once there was a gang of us. Lost boys high and drunk, swinging from the trees like we were born for it. Now it was only me. What friends left who didn’t overdose or die in violence were screwing each other over for another hit of meth. Even still. I would not be turned away. For years I wandered and earned the right to be here.

I would be lying if I said there was no fear in my heart. The smallest voice that said to listen. I stuffed it down, of course. Far too stubborn to pay it any mind. I strapped my bag to my back and soldiered on.

It was only another hour. I found the ravine cutting through and broke from the tiny path I’d tracked. The water shimmered in the setting sun but anyone from around here would tell you it wasn’t safe to drink. It was something about the flora. Its roots bled deep in the water and while it tasted sweet, they said it drove you mad. Still the little dribble marked the way just as it did before. The author of that message was, of course aware of this, having put his sign so close. A mile up that ravine and I’d arrived.

Through a clearing in the forest deep was a weave of rope and wood. Ladders tied from branches high. Lines for tent and hammock alike wrapped around the tree trunks. There was even the remains of the swing we made from a skateboard. That board had shattered, splintered throughout the camp. Even then it was just as I remembered. Never-never land.

I lay down my pack, reminiscing on days when I had not a care in the world. Dancing around a fire, my brothers and I. In that moment we thought we’d live forever. Or maybe we didn’t think on life at all. Perhaps it was all the better.

Sitting there with a bottle of rum, I thought of my old friends. One died from an overdose, hiding from an angry father. Another wandered on his own to where his family stayed. Another still was raising a son he knew wasn’t his. Infidelity swept under the rug like so many times before. The last now walked the world alone, having burned every bridge from everyone he ever loved. Lampwick blind to anything except his immediate gain and the shatter in his pipe. And then there was me. The loser kid with a big mouth and bigger dreams. Threw them down the drain for a desk job whittling away my years in quiet desperation. Still madly in love with a woman who even then had one eye and foot always out the door. Sitting there alone and drinking, I felt the biggest fool of all.

And that was when it hit me. Any wood, especially this one was always abuzz with life. A cacophony of birds, the creak of giant branches in the wind, stories above. The ravine abuzz with the path it travelled. Now there wasn't a sound.

Not hardly a sound but no noise at all. No birds, no rustle of wind through the leaves. Nothing.

My own breath resounded in my chest as I could hear my heart beat inside my ears amidst the silence. The worms of fight or flight slithering in my guts as I listened for something, anything proving I was sane.

While my ears gave cause for alarm my eyes had followed suit. The shanty town my friends and I built years ago formed a circle with a flat within its center. Lighting fires was an invitation for getting robbed. Men from all walks of life roamed these woods and not all were friendly. Even so we’d sit around the center, share our food with stories of what fun we’d have tomorrow. Even if we did light a fire, it would have been years ago. No reason for the center of a rainforest to have a patch of nothing in its core. Dirt as dead as coffin nails, surrounded by a ring of fungal spores. A faerie circle. Every nerve in my body screamed to leave, yet looking up at the sky I found that the sun had one finger left on the horizon. If these woods were dangerous before, then nightfall would be all the worse. With a heavy heart and trembling hands I opened my bag and began setting camp.

-

At midnight there was rustling among the leaves. The silence broke. The wind wailed in the night air with the hoot and howl of all manner of wildlife, calling for blood and judgement. It was then past in the tree-line a silhouette took shape in the dark. A form of man yet twisted with branch and leaves splintered and creaked with every footstep. It glided among the trees, surrounding the camp in swooping circles, a cat toying with its prey. A pair of glittering orange eyes glared down at a yellow tent. The creature hung above this affront, eyes blaring all the brighter. Its very presence screamed without a word. “How dare you enter these hallowed grounds. How dare you defile it with your presence.”

Finally, it made its move. It dove into the tent with its claws slashing, again and again. The animals roared in approval as the Man of the green slashed, slaughtering my campsite, tent and bag alike.

It was with every ounce of luck and answered prayer that I had lived to witness this. Curled in a ball cowering beneath the roots. Laying my decoy, I escaped beneath the ancient trees to hide. A rat inside its little burrow. Through the smallest hole I left for air I watched the attempt on my life. Thankful it was only my belongings it destroyed. The Green man thrashed and tore. Breaking every piece of plastic. Scattering any metal, leaving only the fiber cords which trees claimed as their own. Devoured by the undergrowth and vines like grasping hands, rotted to a mulch in sacrifice.

I thought I had escaped it. Trembling there afraid, my hope against hope that I outsmarted nature’s avatar. And yet as dawn broke, and I crawled forth from my hole, I learned I could not have been farther from the truth. Looking there upon the tree in which I hid were the words written in moss-GET OUT

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Art by Bernice Holtzman 2024

Logan Williams is an amateur author of crime horror and the paranormal. He finds his work therapeutic and hopes to one day make stories full time.