Black Petals Issue #94 Winter, 2021

Death by Midnight
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Basement Dweller-Fiction by Justin Swartz
The Beating of Their Wings-Fiction by Brian Maycock
Does the Bogeyman Live Downstairs?-Fiction by Clive Owen Barry
Dark Little Boxes-Fiction by C. M. Barnes
Death by Midnight-Fiction by Charlie Cancel
Forearmed-Fiction by Jan Cronos
Inconceivable-Fiction by Rich Rose
The Wolf's Den-Fiction by J. B. Polk
Treachery-Fiction by Ramon F. Irizarri
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The Opal Ring-Fiction by Michael Dority
Flora and Fauna-Flash Fiction by Roy Dorman
Gnaw-Flash Fiction by Tony Kidd
Mad Money-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Madonna of the Damned-Flash Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Special Teeth-Flash Fiction by KJ Hannah Greenberg
The Death Set-4 Poems by Hillary Lyon
Five Haiku-Poems by C. D. Marcum
Misanthrope-Poem by Donna Dallas
The Wish Tree-3 poems by Christopher Hivner
Nebulous-3 poems by Juan Manuel Perez
The Sphinx at Night-5 Poems by Meg Smith
Nameless-Poem by David Barber

94_bp_deathbymidnight_jthompson.jpg
Art by John Thompson © 2021

Death by Midnight

 

by Charlie Cancel

 

Of course there is a gun. And of course it will be fired and people will be killed. But, before that, let us first understand the circumstances.

A new, garishly decorated liquor store had appeared on Second Avenue, and so Hoffman went there. Displayed like bowling pins near the register was the Dom Perignon. But the price — two hundred dollars a bottle — made him choke. But look there, next to it, arranged just as dramatically, was Dom Perignon Jr. — and for only eight dollars a magnum. The bottles were pink. Hoffman had never been aware of a Dom fils but Blanche had insisted on champagne, any champagne, saying, "There's nothing like the pop of the cork — the splort! — especially at midnight." And so he ordered ten bottles to be delivered in time for their New Year’s Eve party that night. For Blanche must have her splort.

After a half-day at the office, he arrived home, where a dance song from the '80s blared on the stereo, and the champagne had been delivered. It sat on the kitchen counter — but one bottle was missing. When his wife sailed in, singing along with the song and holding an empty champagne flute, he knew what had become of the bottle.

"Has the maid finished the canapés?" she sang.

"I don’t know, darling."

"We simply must have canapés!" she sang.

He went to his home office, locked the door, and some time later emerged to take a shower and then a nap. He awoke and dressed and then the doorbell rang.

It was the Coulters. Always lethally timely and lethally dull.

After they had been seated and served the champagne junior, Blanche prodded Hoffman about the virtual slideshow. Had he had time to get it ready? Yes, of course, he had. Then why in god’s name wasn’t it playing?

Hoffman had not had the time, nor the inclination. So, in what he felt was a display of proactive paternal duty, he asked his oldest son, Jack Jr., to put together the slideshow to run on the flatscreen in the living room. Blanche’s sister Sally had done a virtual slideshow July 4 past, and, on an extra-large TV screen she had dragged to the park and situated next to the picnic table, it played scenes from her 17-year marriage, including first date pics, her wedding — of course — numerous vacations, to France, the Grand Caymans, Nigeria, and innumerable selfies, as well as, rather graphically, the birth of her three children.

Blanche was not to be outdone. And this was the year they had carved two vacations out of their salaries — to Miami and to Wellfleet. The trip to the Cape had been nothing more than a weekend getaway but it had made Blanche happy, as the Cape was ecstatically, gloriously camera-ready.

Jack Jr., earlobes festooned with what appeared to be checker pieces, wondered aloud: "Do you really want it to play for five fucking hours?"

"Language, Jack, and yes, your mother does."

"Blergh. Where are the pics?"

"My desktop. You'll find them."

In the living room, the Coulters were two verses into that Dexy's Midnight Runners song, and Hoffman thought the champagne must be very good, so he poured himself a flute. It was then that he caught the spelling on the bottle he had not noticed before: Don Perignome Jr. There was an illustration of a tippling garden creature on the label. So that explained that.

"Stuffed mushrooms!" his wife sang from somewhere.

Very well, thought Hoffman, too late now. The first sip was execrable. But by the seventh, he didn’t notice.

The Michaels arrived next — vegans, the very worst type of guest — and then the Niederkorns, dressed for a zombie costume party they would be leaving early to attend later.

"Darling," his wife said, after asking for more champagne, "open the bottle like you did on our wedding night. Use your marvelous saber."

So, Hoffman took out his old saber — an elongated letter opener, really — and, holding the bottle just so, struck at its cork. The old blade must have still been pretty sharp, and he had probably held the bottle the wrong way — because, just after he thrust purposefully, manfully, at the cork, the tip of his thumb sailed across the room artfully and decidedly into the crudités. Which was fine as long as the Michaels hadn't noticed.

"Come. Dance with me," Mrs. Niederkorn said — Hoffman couldn't recall her first name — and took him by the hands. In a stunningly form-fitting dress, painted pale and with some sticky substance in her hair, she resembled a decaying demimonde. He was glad for it, since the blood from his bleeding thumb only added to her ghastly motif.

Near midnight, the party was in full swing, with the Howells having a row in the bathroom and the Coulters espousing the virtues of libertarianism to whoever lingered near the Swedish meatballs. But then Blanche appeared and prodded Hoffman with his bloodied toy saber and demanded the slideshow. So, Hoffman went to his son’s room and demanded the same. The teen looked up from his glowing world and said he would fucking send it wirelessly in just a minute.

Satisfied, Hoffman blended back into the party, just as a Cyndi Lauper masterpiece made everyone rush to the designated dancing area.

And then the virtual slideshow began.

At first, there were pictures of an ocean and a beach and a theme park. But then came the picture of the woman in red latex with a matching leather whip. And then the oily ménage a trois of midgets in heavy makeup. Hoffman realized quickly that these were not the vacation pictures. Indeed, these were from another folder on Hoffman’s desktop, one which he had neglected to tuck away. These were pictures with which Hoffman had a relationship that we must describe in some way, so let us choose just the one word that will carry with it all we need to know: jismy.

Behind him, another cork exploded, its gushing foam splashing audibly on the floor.

Blanche, squiffed to the tips of her dangling diamond earrings, seemed unfazed. "Oh darling," she said, "at this rate, you shall never cure your carpal tunnel syndrome."

Hoffman considered an apology. He considered an explanation. But then, on the screen, emerged his favorite, his most astonishing photo. He had used his middling Photoshop skills and affixed his head atop the body of a faun. There were several of these, but this was his favorite, in which a golden sun dazzled through leaves of birch and oak and, by a dappled brook, he was passionately coupled to a giant-eyed hentai character wearing a veil. He sighed and grew aroused. He could no longer hear the bleat of Billy Idol nor the squeals of the crowd announcing the birth of a new year. They would never understand the succor of the impossible, the comfort of the untouchable. How much each of us needed a gilded forest, such a place in which such dreams, if only for the briefest of moments, could come true.

          It was then that Mr. Farquarson, who lived across the hall in 5B, took out the aforementioned gun and shot everyone. His in-laws had been visiting and he had not had a chance to be alone in a month.

 

Charlie Cancél is a Jersey-born, half-Puerto Rican actor/writer/poet/IT technician. He has had work published in Blunt, Sniplits, Huffington Post, and Pulp Modern Flash. He lives in Bayside, Queens, with his family and is currently finishing a novel. Follow him on Twitter: @urbanurbane.

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