Black Petals Issue #106 Winter, 2023

Home
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

Gene Lass: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

106_bp_weesmallhours_jesselliott.jpg
Art by J. Elliott 2024

In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning

 

Gene Lass

         

Randy woke. He put his feet into his slippers by feel and trudged through the dark to his office bathroom down the hall. He always used his office bathroom in the middle of the night so he didn’t wake his wife.

          In the living room, he scratched his belly, enjoying the cool dark, remembering the way. There were no Legos underfoot, no dog toys to trip on. Those were all gone a long time ago.

          Reaching the bathroom, he turned on the light with one hand and flipped his penis out of his pajama fly with the other. He could have done that in the dark, too, but having the light on kept him from peeing on his legs and feet, or maybe the wall. It also made sure he was awake. He hated the dreams where he dreamed he had to pee, and did, then woke up panicking that he had wet himself. Sometimes when he was too tired, he’d fall asleep again and have a second dream, or even a third, in which it happened again. Better to just turn on the light and verify he was awake and pointed in the right direction.

          Finishing, he flushed, tucked himself away, and turned to wash his hands.

          “Hello Randy.”

          There was a man sitting on the edge of the sink. Medium-tall, thin, dark hair combed back from his face, he was dressed in a white seersucker suit with a white shirt and cream-colored tie. He spoke quietly and casually.

          “You should consider killing your wife. Really. Talk to you soon.”

          And with that, in the space of a second, he smiled slightly, became translucent, then transparent, and faded away.

          Randy blinked, looked down at his feet, saw his brown slippers on the beige tiled floor, and wiggled his toes. He looked up. The man was still gone. He washed his hands, laughed nervously, and went back to bed.

          Two nights later, Randy got up in the middle of the night again, thinking as he often did that he was too young to do it, just 45. Too much coffee during the day.

          Assuming the position again, he sighed and voided his bladder. He tilted his head back, closed his eyes, and felt the pressure draining from him. Sweet relief.

          “Hello Randy.”

          A hand shoved him brusquely between his shoulder blades. He lurched forward, spraying urine on the lid of the toilet, the wall, and his foot. He caught himself on the wall with one hand and was shoved again. He fell awkwardly onto the toilet, shock stopping the flow as he looked at the man before him. The same man, now in a powder blue suit, so faintly blue it was barely discernable. His shirt was a hint of pink. He wore a grey tie. His eyes appeared to be red-rimmed with black. The man looked down.

          “Thank you for not soiling my suit. I can’t say you’ve had the same luck. If those bottoms didn’t need washing before, they do now.” He clapped his hands lightly, snapped his fingers, then grabbed the hand towel from on top the counter and tossed it lightly onto the floor.
          “As you can see, I am quite real. I am not a dream. You can see me, you can hear me, your towel has been moved. Kill your wife.” He looked down again. “Perhaps after you change your pants.”

          Randy looked down. His urine stream had started again, arcing onto the floor. Embarrassed, he sat up so the stream went in the bowl. When he looked up, the man was gone.

          The next night, he didn’t go to the office bathroom. He trudged quietly to the master bath, closed the door gently, and turned on the light. He scanned the room. He was alone.

          He did what he needed to, bracing himself against the wall behind the toilet with one hand, just in case. When he finished, he tucked himself away, flushed, and turned toward the door.

          Still alone.

          He took two steps toward the sink and quietly washed his hands, making sure to use the correct bar of soap, not the decorative scented soap in the shell-shaped dish to the right of the sink. He made that mistake once, years before. Never again.

          “Randy.”

          He whipped his head to the left and right, looking over both shoulders. He saw nothing. His pulse raced and he broke into a sweat.

          “I’m still here.”

          There, in the mirror in front of his face, was the man. Just his head, in the space in the mirror where Randy’s reflection should be.

          “Here I am. I’ll always be with you, Randy, every night. Until you kill your wife. Do it now. Go into the kitchen, pull a knife from the drawer – I suggest that nice 6-inch one you carve pumpkins and turkeys with – and do the job. She’s still asleep, lying on her side. Put the knife up to her temple and lean on it. It will slide right in. It’s sharp. She may not even wake up. Put her down and get some sleep. I’ll be waiting until you do.”

          “No,” Randy said weakly. Surprised by his own voice, he shook his head and cried louder, “No! NO!”

          The man faded from the mirror and Randy heard another voice, from the other room.

          “Hon, you okay?”

          “Huh? Yeah, fine. Just going to pee. Saw one of those centipedes behind the toilet. Be right there.”

          “Okay. Can you check the heat? I’m cold.”

          “Sure yeah. Let me wash my hands.”

          The next day, Randy barely drank any liquids. Two cups of coffee – just enough to stay awake – and a little bit of water. Another glass of water with dinner, then nothing. That night, he didn’t wake up at all. When he woke the following morning, it was as if he had been born again.

          He went to the kitchen, made the coffee, poured himself a cup, and put bread in the toaster. Soon Sherri would wake up and shower before heading to work, and he’d be working in his home office, alone.

          He remembered reading that coffee, in significant amounts, could affect your mind, creating hallucinations. Maybe he should switch to tea like Sherri had told him, though two cups a day seemed to be far too mild for anything like that. He didn’t even have a history of hallucinogen use to warrant random flashbacks. Regardless of whatever had been the cause of his problem, it seemed to be over, and for that he was glad.

          That night, Randy woke, used the office bathroom and washed his hands, still watchful for the man in the suit. Seeing and hearing nothing, he went back to bed, enjoying the coolness that had set in on the mattress while he was gone, and the contrasting warmth of his wife next to him. He relaxed and drifted off, smiling slightly as he went to sleep.

          He dreamed, his dreams following the path they did on any other night, through snippets of the day he had just lived through, past bits of television and the internet still smoldering in his brain, to moments of his youth and bits of wonder and absurdity far short of James Joyce, Little Nemo, or Lewis Carroll. The path continued until he found himself clearly and solidly at one moment, a real moment he had forgotten.

          He and Sherri were standing at a door. A white door. The door of their new home. He was about 30, she was 29, and she held their blonde, toddler son Christopher as Randy fumbled in his pockets for keys. Based on Sherri’s dress and Christopher’s little suit with short pants, they had just come from church.

While Randy patted and dug through his suit pockets, Christopher, bored, reached out and grabbed the area of Randy’s neck exposed above his shirt collar. The boy’s hands had the shockingly powerful grip baby hands do, causing Randy to flinch and push the hand away.

“Don’t pull at Daddy,” Sherri chided. “Did you leave them in the car, hon?” she asked.

“Don’t think so,” Randy replied, wondering if he did, thinking he didn’t, then hoping he didn’t. The day was already hot. He didn’t want to spend an hour or more outside, waiting for an expensive locksmith.

Just then, Christopher grabbed Randy’s neck again, this time digging his nails in, almost certainly drawing blood. Randy yelped, reached back, and grabbed the toddler’s hand. He brought it in front of his own face to look at it. The nails weren’t very long, but long enough to need a trim and do some damage.

He curled the fingers around into a little fist, then squeezed the fist hard enough to leave nail impressions in the little palm.

“Eh!” Christopher whined, pulling back his tiny arm.

“It doesn’t feel good, does it? It hurts! Don’t do that to people!” You little bastard, he added, silently. Serves you right. Then he found his key.

Randy woke with a start, gagging. The sheet was pulled over half of his face, filling his mouth, making it hard to breathe. His mouth felt dry from the sheet soaking up all the moisture, but his face was wet with drool. He pulled the sheet away, wiped his face on the back of his wrist, and frowned as hot residual pain throbbed at his neck where Christopher scratched him, though it was nearly two decades ago.

The pain faded as he rolled to his back, panting, trying to calm himself down. The dream wasn’t very frightening, but he did feel guilty, remembering how he vengefully wanted Christopher to feel pain in his tiny hand. Yes, it was to teach him a lesson, but also he did it because he was angry. He wanted to hurt the boy, to punish him, to get even. That was wrong, and for that he was ashamed. Deep shame is what woke him, not pain.

He exhaled hard into the night, trying to find the cool air in the dark. The soothing air that would return him to sleep.

If I feel bad, it means I loved him, he thought. If I feel bad it means I’m a good man. I know right and wrong. I love my wife and family.

The scratches on your neck felt like thorns, didn’t they? Said another voice in his head. A calm, not unpleasant one.

As a matter of fact, yes.

Thorns. Like a crown of thorns.

Yes. Fitting. Poetic. Yes. Just like that.

I am the thorn. I was there. I am there now, scratching at your neck. Deny me, fail me, and you’ll never sleep peacefully again. Rest will be something you can’t even remember. Kill your wife.

No.

Kill your wife.

Randy laid on his back, his eyes wide. The room was silent, save for his own rapid breathing.

Kill. Your. Wife.

Sleep escaped him the rest of the night.
          I’m losing my mind, he thought. God help me, I’m losing my mind.

The next day, he sat at his desk, sipping tea. It became progressively cooler, and he sipped it less, but he still sipped it. He took little notice of the passage of time, absent-mindedly aware of his heart beating and the fact that he was breathing. He simply thought, and sipped, and stared at the top of his desk, at his folded arms as he leaned on them, and out the window.

Around noon he gulped the tea, looked at his computer monitor, and finally did some work.

For the rest of the day, he drank and ate what he wanted, knowing he’d be up at night. It was inevitable. The torment was inevitable. As certain as the reaper at the end of days. He braced for it the way he once braced for the impact, and the sick jarring thud, the second before he was in a car crash in his 20s. Bracing didn’t keep it from happening, but it lessened the damage.

That night, around 1:00, he woke again and trudged to the office bathroom. On the way, he pinched himself to keep the urine in until he reached his destination. He arrived and looked into the bowl as he voided his bladder.

Finishing, he looked up and over his shoulder. The man in the cream suit was there leaning on the edge of the sink, smiling.

“Hello, Randy. Another rough night?”

A chill ran down Randy’s spine, and at the same time, a clawing feeling ran from just above his left nipple, down into his stomach, where it became nausea.

“Had better,” he said, tucking his member away. He flushed without looking, keeping his eye on the stranger. Not quite a stranger.

“So, you know what you must do. Go do it. Put your pillow over her head and lean for a while. Think of something else until she’s gone. Or put your longest screwdriver over her heart and give it a good rap with a rubber mallet. The one in the front closet. Go grab one of her old Xanax out of the medicine cabinet, take it, and tomorrow say you remember nothing. You might get off.” He smiled more widely. “I can make sure you do.”

Randy’s heart pounded hard, then harder until he felt it in his ears.

“You need me.”

The man cocked an eyebrow.

“You need me to do it. You can’t. You can’t kill her, but you need her dead. I don’t know what she’s going to do, or when, but I bet it’s soon, and you don’t want it to happen. You really don’t. So you want her gone, and you want me to do it because you can’t.”

Randy smiled.

“That makes her important, and by proxy, me, too. I love my wife. You can’t have her. Even if I never sleep or piss in peace again. Never. So you can fuck right off.”

The visitor’s smile faded, replaced by a sneer as his face and even his eyes became redder.

Without uttering a word, he disappeared, leaving behind the smell of burnt matches.

Randy sighed and washed his hands.

 

 

Gene Lass has been a professional writer and editor for 30 years, working in all forms of media, from books and magazines to blogs. He has written, edited, or co-written more than a dozen books of nonfiction, as well as eight books of poetry. His most recent book of poetry, “American”, featuring work from four different artists, was an Amazon best seller, ranked #60 in the category of American poetry. His fiction has appeared in multiple publications, including Electric Velocipede, the Albatross, KSquare, Coffin Bell Journal, Schlock! and Black Petals. His short story, “Fence Sitter” was nominated for a Best of the Net award in 2020.