Black Petals Issue #106 Winter, 2023

BP Editorial Page
BP Artists and Illustrators
BP Guidelines
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

Justin Alcala: Thrice in One Sitting

Art by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal © 2024

Thrice in One Sitting

Justin Alcala

One witch can do more harm than a thousand common thieves,Silas Fear-The-Lord Doddridge recited along the road to Pontybridge village. It was a dreadful afternoon in New England, but three facts rolled Silas out of his inns bed on this wet autumn day. First, as the Malleus Maleficarum stated, Those who deny the reality of witches are only helping the devil in his work. Second, Pontybridges representative mentioned in the note that they would pay the witch-hunter in advance for services provided. Third, the demand for witch hunting shrank since the last few misunderstandings, and the destitute Silas Fear-The-Lord Doddridge had nowhere to stay.

Without these three facts, Silas wouldnt return to Cumberlands farming community in haste. Pontybridges villagers were a superstitious lot, whose old-world beliefs of fairies and bogeys taxed Silass patience. They blamed hobgoblins for lightning strikes, giants for their dry loch, and sluagh when dogs dug up graves. Most irritably, nothing ever came of Silass inquiries into Pontybridges claims. So, when the towns latest letter reached Silas, his doubts ascended in the order of precedence. 

Six dead in Pontybridge. One witch suspected. The Lord calls for Silas Fear-The-Lord Doddridges divine services once again—money upfront. -Fiadh OConnor

Silas sighed as the village built from crooked sticks atop a muddy hill grew along the horizon. 

Well, OLord,Silas said, crossing himself. I thank ye that therell at least be sustenance.


So, what beast befouls your village this time, Brother OConnor?Silas asked Fiadh OConnor as the witch-hunter dipped soda bread into a bowl of stew. Fiadh, squat and bald like a frog, hung up Silass wet cape and long brim hat next to the hearth.

You think Im acting the maggot, Brother Silas,said Fiadh. But honest to God this time its true.” 

Such claims reached my ears when the Púca kidnapped Mistress Kelly.

Infidelity aint no laughing matter.” 

And when the werewolf befouled the churchyard?

No one ever seen bear dung before.

My point, Brother OConnor—” Silas finished the last of his bread bathed in stew — “is that youve wasted many of my days when I could do Gods work in Lynn or Medford. The witch epidemic flourishes posthaste, and Satan rejoices in distractions.” 

But we do have a witch this time,said Fiadh as he collected a jewelry box from his splintered cupboard and presented it to Silas. And this time, we can pay.

Silas Fear-The-Lord Doddridge patted his lips with a napkin, then opened the box filled with English guinea, Spanish dollars, and Pine-Tree shillings. His eyes sparkled in the firelight. 

You collected this in earnest?Silas asked, closing the top. 

That is our late Lady Brennans inheritance to her husband, secured by Father Walsh.” 

And might I ask why it would go to my cause instead of its proper recipient?” 

We aint fond of giving charity to murder-hungry witches.” 

Brother OConnor,Silas pushed his bowl away before folding his hands atop the table. I am a thorough man. Perhaps you should start at the beginning.” 

Gladly. It wasnt but a summer ago when young Lady Brennan returned to Pontybridge with a husband, the stranger named Tadhg. They moved into the vacant Brennan cottage along the Limingdover Woods west of town, cutting wood and selling goats milk. Lady Brennan was a Godly woman, and we assumed her family made the match in Plymouth. Still, Tadhg was a batty one who wore his clothes inside out. He spent his first day in Pontybridge hanging up iron trinkets and washing his doors in salt. Lady Brennan brought him to church, but he wouldnt sing. She introduced him to the congregation, but hed only nod.” 

Being aloof does not make one a witch, Brother O’Connor.” 

Fair enough, and Tadhgs eccentricities were tolerable until last week. Thats when Lady Brennan confessed to Father Walsh during Penance that she hadnt had a wink of sleep. A womans scream jarred her awake in the middle of the night, and she hurried to stir her husband. But Tadhgs spot was empty. She waited in dismay, which increased tenfold when Tadhg returned to bed with an axe. When she inquired of his whereabouts, the young fellow only said Cursed.” 

I assume Father Walsh told you this after Lady Brennans death?

The Sacramental Seal is the absolute duty of priests to hear without disclosing unless in the most harrowing of circumstances.” 

Of course. Any village woman missing or corpses discovered?” 

Well, no.

Brother OConnor, ever listen to an injured does shrill?” 

Aye, but it wasnt a deer that slew Lady Brennan two nights later. Tadhg stumbled into town square with his wifes lifeless body in arms, speaking in tongues.

Did the woman suffer wounds or signs of injury?

Her body was unblemished besides a few scratches along the ears, but the look of frozen terror on her face is a memory Ill take to the grave. Not only that, but when we investigated Tadhgs home, all the goats lay dead and woundless in the yard.” 

Ah yes, five goats, judging by your correspondence?” 

Aye, the elders argued a lack of evidence, so we let Tadhg go home. But the town is unsettled. They smell a witch, so I brought in an authority on the matter. If you deem Tadhg clear of witchcraft, it might settle the tension. But, if hes hexed Lady Brennan, then a hanging it will be. All we ask for is proof.

I will visit this Tadhg at once to deem whether he is victim or assailant,Silas stood, collecting the coin box and placing it into his satchel. In the meantime, if you have a spare bed, please make it up. Gods work takes time.

Good luck getting a word out of the fellow. Hes quiet as a snake—a most cursed snake.” 

That is for The Almighty to decide.” 


Three evening crows cawed at Silas from atop wet branches. Pontybridges west end sat dingy and sparse, Limingdover Woods scowling in its backdrop. The Brennan home, an A-shaped timber cottage with a thatch roof, clung to the forests shore with only a branch-fenced yard between. Silas heard Tadgh before he saw him, as the storm didnt deter the widow from chopping wood in his yard. Emboldened by his position and doubtful of OConnors claims, Silas approached the young man with his hands under his sodden cape, gripping his satchel. Tadgh, a brawny specimen with a bearded jaw that could chew iron, split logs with a single thrust. He ignored Silass approach.

God’s grace upon you,Silas greeted. Tadgh eyed Silas, but kept dividing the lumber. I am Silas Fear-The-Lord Doddridge, and I come at the bequest of your village in search of answers to the untimely death of your wife. You have my condolences.

Tadgh planted his axe into a tree stump. He traded stares with Silas. 

I must be blunt, Master Tadgh,Silas said. They accuse you of witchcraft, and should you not be forthcoming, it may cost your life. Now, I am a patient man, and I understand your hesitation, but if there was a time to speak, by Gods grace, let it be now. Who slew your wife?

Tadgh straightened his back. He looked over his shoulder, watching rain drown the forest. With a sober expression, he pointed at the wood line. 

Someone from the wilds?asked Silas. 

Tadgh grunted.


Tadgh spit, then shrugged. 

Speak man. How did they kill her?

Tadgh opened his mouth, then paused. He cleared his throat, tilted his head, then in a monotone voice said, Cursed.”

Ah yes, there was a curse?


Three? As in the holy trinity?” 

Tadgh nodded, plucked his axe, then lined up another log.

Come, you must give me more. Your salvation depends upon it. Was there one rogue or three? Perhaps this trio poisoned the drinking well?Silas paused, waiting for a response. Youre going to be hung, Master Tadhg, if you cant divulge further.

Tadgh swung his axe down, splitting more kindle. Silas moved his attention to the woodland. A white prick of light shimmered in the thickets distance. 

Is there a witch in the woods?Silas raised a brow at Tadgh. The power of the Church can aid you.

Tadgh wiped his brow with his forearm, then swung again. Silas felt the heat rise in his cheeks. 

You fool. I only wish to bring justice, but if you will not give answers, then justice will be done upon you. I shall not squander my time further and bid you farewell.” 

With a dramatic thrust of his cape, Silas walked away, taking measured steps in case Tadhg leaned into the witch-hunters bluff. Tadhg did not. Halfway out of the west-end of Pontybridge, Silas stopped under the only tree that kept its beard of leaves, and studied the Brennan home. Chopping echoed as the sky bruised, all evening light sinking into the earth. 

There is darkness afoot, OLord, though I lack the evidence to prove it.Silas pressed his back on the tree, removing the jewelry box and counting the coins. All Mighty, your work is ceaseless, and I shall not be denied proof of such wicked transgressions. If you wish thee, I shall wait.” 

Silas emerged from the trees canopy an hour after the chopping died down. Shadow painted Pontybridge, and Silas guided himself by the sparse fireplace glow undulating from Tadghs home. Silas crept his way to the fenced yard window, where Tadgh prepared supper. The woodsman laid a plated colcannon on his table beside a plume, ink vial, and parchment. Notes with the unfamiliar words bean sídhe spread by an empty cup. Silas watched as the kettle frothed over into the hearth, sizzling on the embers, but Tadgh paid it no mind. Silas attempted a closer look in search of poisons or witch ingredients along the shelves, but stumbled in the mud, thudding his knee into the houses shingle. He hurried to his feet, then peered inside, but Tadgh ignored the commotion. Instead, the woodsman sat himself in a chair, and with his hands over his face, wept. 

So, hes mortal after all, OLord,Silas whispered. Are those tears of sadness or remorse?

As if in response, a female cry of woeful agony wailed from the forest. Jolted from the surprise, Silass heart drummed from his chest. A copper flavor clung to his mouth. Lightheaded by excitement, the witch-hunter leaned on the window. Inside, Tadgh continued to sob. Silass vision hazed as he conceded concealment and rapped on the glass. Tadgh didnt respond. Silas cried out, but a shortness of breath graced Silas only with a rasped whisper. Silas used the cottage as a crutch and guided himself to the front door. His spine stiffened and stomach wrenched when, from inside the woods, the approaching form of a luminous woman sobbed but a stones throw away.

B-b-be gone, witch.Silass trepidation helped him stammer out words, brandishing the cross around his neck. By the grace of God, I renounce thee claim on this land.

The woman extended beyond the last line of timbers. Her exposed features sharpened, and Silas noticed a crimson fountain in her eyes. Adorned in rags and crowned in a wild tangle of hair, the woman kept a dagger in her hands. Along her cheek, an eternal wound exposed a row of teeth.

I said be gone bawd of Satan,Silas wielded his cross. I banish thee back to Hell.” 

The woman stretched her lips wider than any mortal should have. With a screech, the white mistress cried out a mourners antiphon. Silas felt the scream as if it were a winter gale blowing through his bones, numbing his limbs. Shaking, he reached for the front doors bell string, but the weary fragment of rope snapped in his fingers. With a torpefied fist, he pounded on the door, rattling the iron horseshoe nailed at the center. Still the woman keened, but Silas refused to cast his eyes behind him. He abraded the doors surface, a sharp ring in his ears, but before the woman reached him, the entrance gave way.

Silas fell into the warmth of the cottage, dropping at the feet of Tadgh. His coins spilled from his satchel, rolling along the floor. The young woodsman raised the witch-hunter from the ground, then shut the door. A trembling Silas took in concern on Tadghs face as the woodsman placed his hands over Silass ears.

Release me,said Silas, slapping Tadghs hands away.  

How many times?asked Tadgh, staring at the witch-hunter’s lips.

What mean thee?

How many times did she scream?For the first time, Silas noticed Tadghs unchanging pitch in voice, void of intonation. Silass eyes widened and relief washed over his conscience as he recalled clues overlooked.  

By The All Mighty, you’re deaf.” 

Please answer me. How many times?Tadgh cupped his hands over Silass ears again.

My sweet young man, youre no witch,Silas wriggled his head from Tadghs grip, a grin rising from his face. Youre a victim. I know it now, as I know the truth of resurrection. We must get to Master OConnor and profess your innocence. Then we shall burn down these woods.

Please take notice at once.Tadgh shook Silas by the shoulders. This curse is something I know well. Whether once at midnight, or thrice in one sitting, if the woman of the woods cries three times, one will perish. Now, how many times did she scream?”  

Tadgh didnt get a response. From his view, the witch-hunters drunken smile turned upside down into an eternal yawn as he clawed at his ears. Silass eyes rolled in the back of his head, his neck folded, and his body went limp in the woodsmans arms. It was the same look stained on Tadghs wifes corpse. The woman of the woods was unyielding in her pursuit. Shed followed Tadhg from Plymouth to Medford and Gloucester, too. She would never let Tadgh be happy, and anyone caught between, would listen to her song.


My name is Justin Carlos Alcala and my pronouns are he and him. Born and raised in Chicago, I now live with Bigfoot in the mountains of North Carolina, where I teach and write. In the past twelve years, I’ve published five novels, plus dozens of stories in American literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. Readers have compared my writing style to authors like Terry Pratchett, Andrew Smith, and Christopher Moore.