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

Anna Koltes: Meat Pie

106_bp_meatpie_seanokeefe.jpg
Art by Sean O'Keefe 2024

Anna Koltes

Meat Pie

 

“Meat pie, again?” I groan as Stepmother shoves a steaming lump of dough in front of me.

“The Master hasn’t sent us any vegetables yet,” she says tightly. “Be grateful for what you get, Daughter.”

I prod the fleshy mound with my fork, the pale, half-baked crust splitting open. Bright red lumps of mashed meat ooze out and I stifle a gag.

“Who is this one?” Brother asks as he shovels it down, meat juice trickling down his stubbly chin.

“The chunky kid from Wednesday,” Father replies. “That’s why it’s so tender.”

They laugh at this.

I shove the pie as far away from me as I can without sloshing the entire thing onto the tablecloth.

“I don’t get you, Sister. You grew up eating meat. Now you’re suddenly too good for it,” Brother says, already reaching for my abandoned plate. Bones crunch as he chews with his mouth half open. Across me, Father picks flesh from between his teeth. Stepmother slurps blood from a spoon.

I cross my arms. “It’s not that I’m too good for it, I just wish you wouldn’t kill everyone that comes through here right away.”

“Since when do you care?” Brother snorts, particles spluttering across the table.

“You used to love going hunting with us. That’s how you got so good with a crossbow,” Father remarks, his eyes shining with pride.

“Well, maybe I just lost my appetite,” I murmur, even though no one seems to hear me.

Stepmother watches me, her glare as icy as carving knives. Maybe she has already figured me out, read me as easily as one of her recipes. Maybe she knows exactly what I’m thinking.

But then she smiles, showing all the white points of her teeth. “Who wants dessert? I made tiramisu with real fingers.”

 

*

 

Father is right, I am good with a crossbow.

Out in the toolshed, I go about my routine inspection of my prized weapon. I slide my hand down the cold metal barrel, I check the flight groove for any signs of rust or debris, I strum back the arrow retention spring to make sure it’s taut. Brother’s voice rings in my ear every time.

The last thing you want is a jammed arrow when your kill is in the perfect range, that’s just embarrassing.

And it was embarrassing. Especially when your target laughs at you and calls you ‘a girl’.

I didn’t know it was an insult until then. But I never let it happen again. Especially because my family is always watching me.

They’re caring like that.

When I turned sixteen, I lost track of my kill count, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten any of them. What they look like. How fast or how slow they run. What items of clothing they wear. What shoe size they own.

It’s always the shoes that give them away. Big, deep footprints in the Deadfield. They might as well be holding a signpost. Come and get me.

We always do. It’s what they pay us for. It’s why they planted us out here in the Unlands generations ago. Our family keeps the Unlands safe, we guard the in-between. Shoot on sight. Do not engage. We keep out the intruders–the exiles and undesirables–from getting to the Dome.

Although the Dome does look pretty cool. Even if all I can see of it through the open weapon shed door is a pale violet orb. A glimmering slice in the far night sky. An unreachable aura of beauty, its constant hum pulsing through the soil.

What’s with the Dome? I used to ask. Why are they all trying to get there?

I don’t ask stupid questions anymore. The long scar that rips down the side of my face reminds me just how short my family’s patience can be.

Hitching the crossbow across my back, I tighten my boot laces and set out into the darkness of the Deadfield.

It’s my turn to be on Night Watch. Again.

A light blows out in the upper window of the house. Stepmother stands in her nightgown lurking in the shadow of the blinds.

I guess I should have eaten supper like a good girl.

 

*

 

Sometimes something happens fast on Night Watch. Other times, it’s like waiting for fingernails to grow.

You lose track of time, you get distracted and lose focus. Sometimes you wish someone would cross your path, someone oblivious, just for a hit of adrenaline.

The boy from yesterday drifts across my memory. His eyes. One green as emeralds, one blue as fire. Strange. I didn’t even know different colors of eyes existed. I liked looking at him, I realized with an uncomfortable start. I didn’t want to kill him.

Like so many before him, he wasn’t ready for the Unlands. Brother’s bullet had already torn through his spleen.

I made it pretty far though, didn’t I? He smiled as he died.

Which was also strange and almost as confusing as his last words. Usually people say Please and Don’t do it.

I’m almost nodding off to the repetitive song of cicadas and contemplations of dying boys when there’s a sound.

A rustle in the Deadfield. Made up of--unsurprisingly–dead grass, you can hear everything out here. If you’re paying attention and if it’s your job.

My fingers tighten on the crossbow from inside my camouflaged roof of grass. A shadow moves across the plains, a new boy running lightning fast.

Finally, a challenge.

My arrow slices through the grass.

Wait for it, Brother always says, as he listens with eyes pleasantly closed for the arrow to land into soft flesh with a satisfying squelch.

Aaand that’s suppertime.

But there is no satisfaction, not anymore. Maybe there never was, maybe the only satisfaction was seeing the impressed looks on Father and Brother’s face when I took down my first target a hundred yards away.

The running boy keeps on running. Was I that off, or did he actually dodge my arrow?

Impossible.

I line up a second arrow in the flight groove but the boy is already out of a comfortable range, even for me. I’m going to have to chase him down.

Laughter arcs across the night sky.

“You’re going to have to do better than that, asshole,” he yells.

He doesn’t know I can run faster than him, that I’ve been training for this my entire life. My legs cut through the Deadfield and soon I’m gaining on him. He doesn’t know about the traps.

When he falls into the Hole he lets out a shriek of agony. He doesn’t sound so cocky now.

I peer down. The twisted steel bars of the Hole crisscross in every direction, but somehow only his arm is stuck through, the rest of him writhing to get free. He looks up at me, and I stumble backwards.

His eyes are two colors: green and blue.

“What are you waiting for?” he taunts. “Finish it.”

 

*

 

Father and Brother are waiting for me outside the house in their pajamas.

They are already geared up in their knife belts. Stepmother stands cross armed in the doorway, framed by a cloud of steam drifting from the stove where a pot is boiling noisily. They say nothing and wait for dread to free my tongue.

“What happened?” I can’t help myself.

Brother snorts and Stepmother smirks. Father shakes his head. He expected more from me.

“Why did you let him go?”

“Let who go?” I ask.

Brother’s hands twitch on his knife belt. Father steps closer. “We know what you did, Daughter. Don’t play stupid.”

“You know what happened last time you disobeyed,” Stepmother reminds me coldly, her eyes scraping the scar on my face. “Well, Daughter? Do you have feelings for these boys?”

Feelings. A traitorous word spat out like gravel.

Brother’s face ripples with horror and Father’s eyes turn flat.

At least I still have the crossbow. Maybe that’s why they haven’t gone at me yet.

“You are changing. You are a woman now, a woman who wants things. You have become selfish,” Stepmother scolds, a cruel triumph in her voice.

Father cuts in. “Stepmother was hoping to prepare a nice big Sunday roast. Now all we have to eat is bone broth.”

My gaze snaps to the stove, and I think about blue and red eyeballs bobbing around in the boiling pot.

“He’s getting away,” Brother turns to Father, his voice a whine. “Please, Father.”

“You can still make this right,” Father tells me. He doesn’t have to add what happens next if I don’t.

At least the boy got a head start. I wish I could tell him it’s the best I could do.

 

*

 

The boy is nearly at the Dome when we catch up to him.

The trail of blood in the Deadfield made him easy to track. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to the Dome. The orb pulses, the hum of electricity reverberates deep in the ground, a blinding blueness that crescents the pale dawn.

“Please. Let me go,” the boy pleads, and part of me is disappointed.

I thought he would be more original.

He steps backward, the Dome just a few steps more. Brother’s knife cartwheels past his cheek, spraying the Deadfield red.

“Daughter,” Father says, a one word order.

Finish this.

The boy’s eyes find me, green and blue and frightened now.

My hand twitches on the crossbow, on the arrow that can end this and make the night as if it never was. But I have to know.

“There was another boy before, with your eyes.”

Blood trickles down the boy’s mouth. “You saw my brother? Is he dead?”

I don’t need to answer, he already knows. “Why do this? What’s in the Dome?” I ask.

“Daughter,” Father warns.

The boy shakes his head, maybe he doesn’t know, either. “They said it was a better place. A way out of here.”

“Son,” Father snaps, impatient. Another one word order, but Brother has no trouble following it.

He throws his knife but this time the boy is quicker to dodge, and the knife disappears into the Dome, sinking into wet blueness.

Brother charges at the boy, sending both of them hurtling into the void. The boy vanishes as soon as he touches the Dome.

But Brother.

Brother disintegrates. Microscopic fibers of him blend into the nothingness, merging with the Hum. Then he is gone.

Father blames me as he mourns. He orders me to go after him, to get him back. But we can’t follow him now. We are not like them, the ones who can leave this place.

Is that what happened to Mother, is that why Stepmother was sent here to replace her?

Father shakes his head. “Mother was a terrible cook.”

 

*

 

The new sun rises over the Deadfield by the time the world resets.

The sky stutters and dissolves and then it reappears. A swirly blue horizon peels over Unlands and the grass rustles across the still and barren plain. In the distance, the Dome hums.

The family sits down for breakfast. A new Son materializes, one who eats meat and likes to throw knives just like all the Sons before him.

“Can I take first Watch?” he pleads.

Father and Daughter and Stepmother smile. They are reborn. They are a happy family, a lucky family.

After all, the family that eats together stays together.




Anna Koltes' stories have been shortlisted in the Reedsy Prompt Contest and published in magazines like Dark Onus, The Caterpillar, The Colored Lens, Wyldblood Press, Arena Fantasy, and Daikaijuzine. She is based in Chicago where she talks about writing with her writing group and sometimes gets some writing done.