Black Petals Issue #105, Autumn, 2023

BP Artists and Illustrators
Mars-News, Views and Commentary-Chris Friend
Cards Fiction by Gene Lass
Barfly: Fiction by Gene Lass
Case Study: Fiction by Martin Taulbut
Delivery: Fiction by David Kloepfer
Joy (noun): a source of delight: Fiction by Noah Levin
Master of Dream: Fiction by Ash Ibrahim
Nightshade: Fiction by Adam Vine
Red Popsicles: Fiction by Caitlyn Pace
Temporally Closed: Fiction by J. Elliott
The Mansion Dwellers: Fiction by Robb White
Time for a Change: Fiction by Lamont A. Turner
Bernie's Friends: Flash Fiction by Phil Temples
Death Visits the Sapling Trust: Flash Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
Monster: Flash Fiction by Zvi A. Sesling
Sleep: Flash Fiction by Kurt Hohmann
Welcome, Ghouls: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Ode to Chateau Marmont: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Cadaver Dogs: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Phases of the Moon: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
The Darkest Octave: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Green Man Standing: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
The Day That Mary Went Away: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
The Northern Migration of Souls: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
Gone West: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
If I Scream: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
Witchery: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
Carry On: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
The Song of the Dead: Poem by Ben Huber

Martin Taulbut: Case Study

Art by Henry Stanton © 2023

Case Study


By Martin Taulbut


A steady flow of customers kept her busy all day at the shop. Ellie was glad of the distraction.  Occasionally, she caught Jessie glancing over at her, concerned. Would her friend understand? she thought. Jessie was thirty-eight, just a year younger than Ellie.  The other shop girls were much closer in age to Joe’s quarter-century. Perhaps. But Ellie couldn’t bring herself to confide fully. It wasn’t embarrassment – she knew her friend wouldn’t judge, at least not openly. It was the sense that if she shared her troubles, it would solidify them, and force her into a conclusion.

Once her shift was over, Ellie hurried into the Edinburgh streets, leaving Jessie to cash. As she passed a newspaper kiosk, the grim press headlines confronted her. “Britain Stands by Poland” read the Express. The Manchester Guardian went with “Russia and Germany – Non-aggression Pact to be signed.”  Her own concerns seemed so petty in contrast. She felt even worse.

She reached Fountainbridge. As she passed the Palais de Danse, the previous evening’s festivities flowed back to her.  It was like the old days, when she’d started courting Joe, and just for a moment, things were good again.  The dancing too, may have played its part.  (Her talent and vocation until the engagements dried up.  Audiences wanted fresh faces, explained the agents. She recognised their lust as they ogled the youthful girls behind her).

And now she entered their lodging-room.  The unmade bed took up half the interior space.  At the bottom of the bed was a weathered packing trunk covered in green leather, used for storing clothes. There was a bottle of gin on the dresser, and next to that, a couple of glasses, one with a smudge of her red lipstick still on the rim.  Automatically, Ellie reached for the gin, then stopped herself.  As she sat on the edge of the bed, she realised quite clearly. There were four people in their relationship.  Ellie, Joe and the monsters they became when intoxicated.  When a drink or two lubricated kisses and kind words, there was one Joe and Ellie.  When drink unleased cruel tongues and fists, there was another.  How long would it be before, like Hyde, those beasts sprang free without the need of elixir to coax them out?

She made herself a cup of tea instead. 


Neumann stood outside St. Andrew’s House, his nerves jangling. The new building’s monolithic stone façade and endless black windows intimidated him.  Which was rather the point, he supposed.  To Neumann’s untrained eye the style seemed more appropriate to Il Duce’s Rome than Colville’s Edinburgh.  Still, P. had instructed him to attend.  And P. was the principal, Neumann a mere assistant. 

He tightened his grip on his satchel and made for the entrance. 

As Neumann struggled with the heavy bronze doors, through their glass panels he saw a dapper man of about thirty-five emerge from a corridor and cross the entrance hall.  It was P., in his double-breasted pin-stripe suit, his hair beautifully oil-slicked. 

“I see you found us all right, old man,” smirked P, as he admitted Neumann. “You have the footage?”

“Yes, of course sir,” stuttered Neumann. 

“Excellent,” said P.  “I’ll be your Virgil.”

P. led him through the deserted hallways, past vacant offices. “We’re rather understaffed,” he said.  “Delays in opening. Then conscription.  Inconvenient.  Still, it assures us privacy. Ah, here we are.”

The two men came to a stout oak door. P knocked twice.


They stepped through into the room beyond, which was lit by a single, shadeless electric lamp.  In the middle of the room stood a cine-projector, sitting on a box covered by a tartan blanket.  P’s attaché case sat in front of the box. The projector pointed at a white sheet pinned to the left-hand wall.  Three folding chairs had been set up facing the makeshift screen.  A man in his mid-fifties, in military uniform and cap, with a moustache so bristling it could have stood for Parliament, sat in one of the chairs.  He was reading the final pages of a transcript, frowning at a diagram showing the cauldron in cross-section. 

The seated man turned to scrutinise them.  His gaze made Neumann self-conscious.  Who was this young, overweight interloper, with his spectacles and dandruff? 

But then the military man’s scowl softened.  Sliding the report back into a manila folder, he stood up, acknowledging the younger men. 

“Ah.  Dr Neumann.” His accent had an Aberdonian croon. “Colonel Stanley MacLeod.  Read your report on the cauldron, the ‘Pair Dadeni’. Am I pronouncing that right?”

“Yes, Colonel Macleod,” said Neumann. 

“Good, good,” said the Colonel. “Let’s crack on.”

Neumann nodded eagerly and approached the projector.  From his satchel, he produced a film reel.  Clipping it into place, he switched the projector on.  Its motors whirred, the spool turned. and the title card flashed up: Ministry of War (Most Secret). The main feature. 

(Absurd to think of it that way, Neumann knew, but there it was.  When was the last time he’d been to a picture house proper?  Ah yes, last year.  The Lady Vanishes.  With Agatha, one of the new girls, recently transferred as a lab assistant.  He’d bought her some Maltesers.) 

The flickering, silent images showed a sterile countertop, with a cage atop it. A syringe and a small squat bottle, labelled with a skull-and-crossbones, sat on the tray.  Inside the cage, a pair of white rodents scampered about in the straw.

Now a pair of thick rubber-gloved hands, belonging to a man wearing a white lab coat, appeared in the frame. His head was out of shot.  The man in the lab coat filled the syringe from the bottle. He opened the top of the cage, pulled out the first mouse, injected it. The animal squirmed, quivered, then stiffened. Laying the motionless mouse on the steel tray, the man repeated the technique with the second rodent.  It too jerked for a moment, then lay still.  He placed it beside its fallen comrade. The technician prodded both mice with the tip of the needle. They did not respond, but remained flat on their backs, paws pointed at the ceiling. 

Cut to new scene.  Here the technician stood beside a spherical iron cauldron, three feet across and almost five feet deep.  Again, his face excised by the camera angle.  The technician held the tray over the cauldron.  With a pair of metal tongs, he conveyed the mice, one by one, into the utensil.

“New recipe from Woolton,” murmured P. 

No-one laughed.  Neuman focused on the film. 

The technician stirred the liquid in the pot, before dipping the tongs into the fluid and pulling out a mouse.  He laid it on a tray, then did the same with its brother.  Lifting the tray, the technician moved in front of the cauldron, displaying the prone rodents to the camera.  A paw twitched.  Then another.  One of the mice trembled and righted itself; the second followed suit.  Both mice remained frozen for a moment, their tails swishing, cheeks grinding, noses quivering.  The technician laid the tray down next to their cage, opened it, and lifted them, tenderly, into its interior.  He moved aside.  In the final shot, the mice scampered through the straw, seemingly none the worse for wear.

(Just as the lights were dimming, Neumann had leaned over to whisper to Agatha, but his movement must have startled her: the box of Maltesers went flying, sending chocolate balls cascading in the air or skittering under seats.  An elderly matron with a fox-fur scarf seated in the row in front of them tutted, brushed Maltesers from her lap and glared at them.  Conversation on the walk home had been polite but stilted.  There was no second date.)

P. switched off the projector. “Colonel, I hope this convinces you.  Given recent developments, we—”

“Yes, yes, Harold,” interrupted MacLeod. “You’ve shown it works on mice.  But does it work on men?”

P. smiled. “Excellent question, Colonel.  Neumann…?”

Now for the H-certificate movie, thought Neumann.  Producing the second reel, he swapped the reels over and clicked the switch.

On the screen: a poor, grey figure gasping, bewildered, as a trio of burly technicians dragged him from the cauldron.  No soundtrack, but Neumann didn’t need it.  His mind supplied the panicky hubbub, the curses from the staff as they restrained the poor man.  The rope-marks around his neck were still fresh.  A crime of passion, the press had said.  Neumann didn’t think of himself as squeamish. His training as a pathologist and work at the lab meant he’d seen plenty of corpses, but he shuddered still.  The man struggled against his rescuers, his mouth opening and closing. 

“He spoke?” said Colonel MacLeod.

Neumann shook his head. “A peculiarity of the power: it leaves the resurrected mute.” 

The man’s name was Thomas. Ryan Thomas.  Neumann looked away from the screen as the Webley came into view.  A flash from the revolver, twice, thrice.  Peace.

P. switched off the cine-projector.

MacLeod nodded.  “All right. Anything else?”

“We have some supplementary notes,” said P. “Neumann?”

Neumann cleared his throat.  “Yes.  Well.  There was a delay in one of the follow-up tests with the mice.  The technician had completed the euthanasia stage when an urgent telephone message came through for him. When he returned from dealing with it, he found the mouse scurrying about with its brethren. right as rain.”

“So, immersion’s unnecessary?” muttered MacLeod. 

“Exactly,” said Neumann.  “Proximity alone is sufficient.  It might take a little longer…”

“Good God,” muttered the Colonel.  “Well, we have a decision to make, gentlemen.”

P. gave a wry smile, glancing at Neumann.  “Sir?  I thought we’d already agreed on destruction.”

“Let’s hear what the doctor has to say first,” said MacLeod. “Ensure a fresh perspective.  What’s your view, Doctor Neumann?  The cauldron could offer us bottomless manpower.  A boon to our overstretched empire.”

“To any empire,” broke in P.  “Not just red, white and blue.  Red, or brown.  Or yellow.”  

Neumann swallowed.  “Uh.  Well, to be honest Colonel.  I disagree with you.  We can’t allow the Pair Dadeni to fall into enemy hands.”

The Colonel raised his eyebrows.  Nodded.  “It seems I’m outvoted.  I’ll defer to your expertise, doctor.  Destruction it is.  I’ll leave you to make the arrangements, Harold. Doctor Neumann, I’ll await your verification.”

Bewildered, Neumann looked at P.  MacLeod chuckled.

“Ah, you haven’t told him, Harold,” said the Colonel. 


A little past nine o’clock, she heard whistling from the close, then footsteps. They stopped outside the door. Joe. His key scraped at the lock and the door opened. Her boyfriend breezed in, carrying a bundle swaddled in newspaper. The scent of salt and sauce, mingled with the aroma of fried fish, wafted across the small room. He plonked the food down on the dresser. She could smell cigar smoke and the heavy tang of spilled Guinness on his clothes. And the merest hint of cheap perfume.

“Brought us supper,” he said, taking off his hat.  

Ellie kept her voice level. “Where have you been, Joe?”

“Christ.  Can’t a man have a few drinks—”

“With her, I suppose,” she said, flatly.  “What did you tell the poor cow?  That you loved her?”

“Not this again,” said Joe. “I told you before—”

“I saw you,” said Ellie.  “Giggling away at your nonsense in the saloon bar!  Think you’re Max Miller, Joe Mitford, do you?  Well, this is your last engagement.  I want you out.” 

He laughed then.  Laughed right at her.  “You’re kidding me on.” 

“It’s my name on the rent book, Joe,” she said. She was shaking. Grief and fear fought for her attention. “You can stay—” 

His laughter died.  His fist lashed out.  Ellie fell against the dresser, hurting her back.  He laughed at her again.  And there was the bottle of gin, just sitting there.  She grabbed it, panicking.  But Joe was quicker: he rushed her.  Ellie felt his hands around her throat, choking, squeezing.  Her arms flailed, scratching at his face, but he persisted.  She kicked out, desperate: her shoe came off—



Thump. Thump.

At some point, he must have fallen asleep.  Neumann came to, lying above the covers on his bunk, still fully dressed, sweating slightly.  He’d not even managed to draw the blind.  Through the carriage window, blackness.  The rhythmic clatter of the wheels on the tracks as the train raced North. 

Thump.  There it was again.  The noise that had woken him.  He struggled from his bunk, slipped his boots on, and peered out into the corridor.  A young, fair-haired guard was advancing down the passage.

“Anything I can do to help, er…?”

“William, sir. Nothing to worry about sir,” said the guard.  “Just a routine check.  You can go back to bed.”

Neumann wasn’t so sure.  He stepped into the aisle.  “Oh, I didn’t mean to offend you, William.  I’m sure you can handle it, of course.  But…bear in mind I’m here…?”

“Right-o, sir,” said William.

More banging: there was no mistaking the origin of the noise this time.  It was coming from the freight compartment.  Neumann followed William: the guard took out his bunch of keys, unlatched the door, and stepped into the storage space beyond, switching his torch on.  A sallow circle of light passed over the bulky crates, cases and trunks, briefly ruining their mystery, before letting them sink back into obscurity.  There was Neumann’s box.  And beside it, a slightly larger trunk, its green leather skin scratched and bruised.  Newer dents, bulges and thin splits too, marked its face.

THUMP.  THUMP.  The lid of the larger green chest buckled outwards.  Something was striking it from within.

“Bird’ll got in or something,” muttered William. “You…you behind me, sir?”

“Right behind you,” muttered Neumann. 

He was acutely aware of his vulnerability.  No Ministry training in firearms or Jiu Jitsu for him.  He rolled his newspaper into a tight cylinder, praying for what…a Daddy Long-Legs?

Now William was leaning forward.  He fumbled with the first latch holding the lid of the green case shut, and it sprang open.  Crouching, he repeated the action with the second latch: it released.  And the final, the middle latch.  The lid burst open.  The guard jumped back, dropping his torch.  It rolled across the luggage compartment floor, illuminating a painted rocking horse, a cello case, some squat mail sacks.  And in the shadows, something stirred.  A short and slight figure unfolded itself from the depths of the trunk, untangling its limbs, struggling to get upright.

At last, the guard located his torch and swung its pale circle of light back toward the green trunk.  The torchlight panned upwards: past grey stockings (she was missing one shoe) and a floral dress, spattered with patches of dried blood, and onto the thin, elongated face of a woman in early middle-age with a bob haircut.  She stared at them with confusion.  As she tried to step forward, the woman stumbled on the side of the case, and fell.  Her mouth opened and shut, gasping, but no voice emerged.

“Christ…miss, are you all right miss?” said William.

Stepping to the woman’s side, the guard struggled to assist her to her feet.   Failing, he snapped at Neumann:

“Give me a hand, man!”

That broke the spell.  Neumann was still shaking, but adrenaline overrode his cowardice.  As he took her arm, and together with William, managed to help her to stand, he felt her skin, cold to the touch.  An awful sickly-sweet aroma invaded his nostrils. By the dim glow of the guard’s torch, he saw her wounds. A necklace of black, purple and pink bruises decorated her long, thin neck. The woman’s jaw moved again, but no sound came out.

And then Neumann realised. She’s not breathing.

He recoiled, relinquishing her arm. “Oh…”

“What are you playing at?” barked William. “We have to help her, man!”

But the woman seemed to be forming her own plan. She broke free from the guard’s grip and stumbled past them to the corridor. Neumann watched her stagger down the narrow passageway and tilt her head upwards, searching for something. Reaching out, she seized the communication cord.

William let out a sharp rebuke. “Here, miss, that’s for emergencies…”

She pulled.

There was an awful squeal as the brakes were applied. Neumann tumbled forward, hurting his shoulder as he collided with the luggage compartment door. The train’s electric lights flickered madly. Neumann saw the woman gaze at him as she reached for the door. The lights failed again. When they came on, the carriage door hung wide open to the elements, banging in the wind.

The woman was gone.

“…what in the name of the wee man…” murmured William.

The power of the Pair Dadeni, thought Neumann.       


As she drew closer to the tenement block, Ellie began to feel strange, as if in prelude to a fever: a fizzing at the base of her skull, her limbs not her own.  Her pace slackened and then stalled at the entrance to the close.  She looked up: her apartment curtains were still drawn. 

She entered the block and ascended the stairs to the first-floor landing.  Imagine him sweating as he dragged the green trunk down here!  She reached their door. They had no knocker; the previous tenant had taken it with them.  Joe kept promising to fix it.  Ellie rapped on the wood.  Silence.  Well then.  Again: she hammered at the door with her fists.  From the room, she heard a series of coughs, then a woman’s sleepy, plaintive murmur. 

Joe’s voice grumbled: “All right, all right.”

A scrape as the bolts drew back, the door opened…Joe.  He froze, staring at her, his mouth gaping.  An involuntary squeak escaped his lips.  He clutched at his chest.  His terror, his guilt almost made her feel sorry for him.  Almost.

Smiling, Ellie stepped across the threshold. As she shut the door behind her, she heard Joe’s floozy began to scream.

It was good to be home.

Martin Taulbut lives in Paisley, Scotland, and is a member of the Shut Up and Write! Glasgow Group. His previous short stories have appeared in Psychotrope, Scheherazade, Albedo One, Black Petals and Mycelia.

Henry Stanton's fiction, poetry and paintings appear in 2River, The A3 Review, Avatar, The Baltimore City Paper, The Baltimore Sun Magazine, High Shelf Press, Kestrel, North of Oxford, Outlaw Poetry, PCC Inscape, Pindeldyboz, Rusty Truck, Salt & Syntax, SmokeLong Quarterly, The William and Mary Review, Word Riot, The Write Launch, and Yellow Mama, among other publications. 

His poetry was selected for the A3 Review Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the Eyewear 9th Fortnight Prize for Poetry.  His fiction received an Honorable Mention acceptance for the Salt & Syntax Fiction Contest and was selected as a finalist for the Pen 2 Paper Annual Writing Contest.

A selection of Henry Stanton's paintings are currently on show at Atwater's Catonsville and can be viewed at the following website  A selection of Henry Stanton’s published fiction and poetry can be located for reading in the library at

Henry Stanton is the Founding & Managing Editor of The Raw Art

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