Black Petals Issue #105, Autumn, 2023

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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

Adam Vine: Nightshade

105_bp_nightshade_jelliott.jpg
Art by J. Elliott 2023

Nightshade

Adam Vine

 

 

The house floated between the redwoods like it was being offered upon the palm of the forest. The flowers had taken most of it. Even from the road, its ruin was apparent.

Coals burned in his chest to see it again.

They both stood quietly for a moment, his sister contemplating the rusted gate at the head of the short gravel drive. His fingers instinctively squeezed the handle of the fixed-blade knife at his belt, then rose to touch the withering iron of the gate. He swallowed.

“Ready?” his sister said.

He nodded. “Let's get it done.”

She placed the key in the lock and forced it to turn. The gate exhaled and fell open.

They approached the house.

The bushes had grown over the porch. The Nordic-style A-frame eaves, still garishly bright with the colors his grandmother had painted them in his mind's eye, in this reality now drooped like tired shadows from the mist.

All around them, that small white flower bloomed where its vines climbed through the long-shattered windows and up the familiar walls.

“Jesus,” his sister muttered. “Did it look this bad last time, or is it just me?”

“Not just you. It’s growing faster,” he said.

She paused as she reached for the front doorknob.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” he said.

With the same set of keys, she unlocked the front door. “I want to come with you.”

“You know that's not how it works,” he said.

She breathed in her nose and out her mouth, slowly, and nodded.

He gave the door a push. It didn't budge. “Damn.”

“You need the machete?” she said.

He kicked the door once: WHAM. It budged a little. “Not if I can help it.”

He kicked it again. The fibers sealing the other side shut tore free, and it swung open.

The interior of the house was dark, filled with shapes that seemed to recoil as the dim evening light penetrated its depths. He turned on his flashlight and gave the foyer a cursory scan.

There it all was. His grandmother's furniture was as they'd left it; all ornate antique wood, lost paintings and decorative China preserved by the flowers, shadows, and dust like a wreck frozen at the bottom of the ocean. He knew no one had been here since the last time they'd come.

Trembling, he stepped over the threshold. His sister's hand on his shoulder stopped him. "Wait. I want to say this before you go in there.”

“Say what?” he said.

“That it's going to be alright. No matter what they show you. It will be okay. And if you feel like you want to turn around, listen to that feeling. I'll be right here if you need me.”

“I know you will,” he said, and leaving her, entered.

The house was exactly as he remembered it: lying corridors and sharply sloping ceilings, a nostalgically sweet scent. His grandmother's easel still stood in the middle of the first room, bearing a painting of he and his sister as children, only half-finished.

The coals in his chest flared as he approached the easel and ran his fingers along its edges, careful not to touch the painting itself. His grandmother had started working on it that day… the day he'd eaten the berries. The day when the doctors forced him to drink a mixture of charcoal and water until he’d puked his guts out to prevent his stomach from absorbing the poison. The day he almost died.

He could hardly remember those events outside of this half-finished image. He had only been a child. His sister, three years older, had either dared him to eat the berries or perhaps only pointed them out to him. Either way, as soon as he'd shoved a handful of the tiny midnight-colored fruits in his mouth, she'd ran inside to tattle on him.

But dad knew every shrub. His father had seen the black stains of the juice on his lips, and immediately identified the berries were fatal. He had ran outside to double check and saw the white flowers and that was all it took.

His grandparents had helped dad load him into the car, and they'd raced back up the dusky, one-lane highway to civilization. The nearest hospital was in Santa Rosa - forty minutes away. The taste of the charcoal was the one thing he could remember. They'd had to bribe him to drink it. It tasted like death.

The rest of the living room beyond the easel had all been forever sealed by the white flowers and their infinite coils of vine.

He moved onto the kitchen. Out beyond the double glass sliding doors, the creek flowed swiftly through its canyon of redwoods and mist. The back deck where his grandfather used to sit and smoke before the machines breathed for him was all but invisible. There were only the flowers and their vines coiling up the suspension wires as if through empty air.

He didn't bother going outside. Instead, he went upstairs to the heart of it.

His chest tightened as he saw the runners all growing from that single source: the second-floor guest bedroom, where the flowers and vines had originated.

Just a little farther, he told himself. Keep going. One foot in front of the other. It’s almost done.

The guestroom was a triangular, corner bedroom tucked under the eaves of the house. But where once there had been twin beds, portraits of Jesus, the black lacquered nightstand with its porcelain figurine of the Japanese fisherman, now there were only vines.

The vines had totally entombed the guestroom. They climbed up every ceiling plank, over every vague shape that had once been the furniture he'd slept on as a child.

In their center, a single stem sprouted up through the floorboards. Its thorns were as large as kitchen knives.

And from that stem grew the bulbs. Not the little flowers that grew downstairs and outside the house. These bulbs were closed, colossal; as white as funerary stoles, folded neatly as if awaiting him.

In thirty years of searching, they had never discovered why the flowers grew here, or if they grew anywhere else in the world. He and his sister had spent countless hours scouring every possible source of information, barking up every tree, asking every question they knew in their hearts would likely never be answered. She was of the opinion it was impossible for this apparent subspecies of the Solanaceae plant to only grow here, at the place that had once been their grandparents’ house. There was nothing special about this house, this creek, this forest. What happened to them could've happened to any other family.

But he didn't know. She wasn't the one who came inside to feed them. She hadn't seen what he had seen.

It wasn't her life that had been traded for.

The humongous bulbs stirred as he walked slowly toward them, like paintings coming alive before the eye as the viewer realizes their meaning.

He unbuttoned the knife from its sheath and drew it. He used it to hack a thorn off the nearest vine. The thorn was razor-sharp, but he had to use it, and not the knife. Lifting his shirt, he hesitated before dragging its tip over his left pectoral muscle and making a deep cut.

The thorn bit cold into his chest. He gasped. The myriad other scars there made him remember that this too would pass; that it needed to hurt for the process to work, for the bulbs to open.

He cupped his hand to soak up as much of the blood as he could, held it out over the nearest bulb, and squeezed.

Crimson pattered the silk-white outer petals. The bulb yawned and opened.

A flower as tall as he was bloomed before him. He took a few steps, made another quick cut, and opened a second bulb; then a third, a fourth, a fifth, until he stood in a world of white petals that filled the room from floor to ceiling.

Take a deep breath, he told himself. He opened his eyes, and there they were.

The faces of his loved ones were there, suspended like eidolons inside the flowers.

Dad.

Grandma and grandpa.

All the aunts, uncles, and others he'd lost.

But they weren't lost. He knew where they were. They were right here, exactly as they had appeared when they were alive, every detail of them perfectly preserved - or perhaps, remembered - within these moribund petals.

And not only their faces, but his memories of them.

Their family picnic in the fairy circle.

The hike at Shell Beach.

Fishing and camping in the Sierras.

The time the creek had flooded, and the house and surrounding forest had drowned in raging, knee-deep mud all the way up to the road.

His grandmother painting by the pot-bellied stove.

A young boy wandering through a redwood grove, curiously stuffing his face with berries.

It was all here. All they had traded so he could live.

The coals in his chest burned into an inferno, rising to constrict his throat, his mouth, his eyes. Tears came and he let them fall.

“Why? Why me?” he wondered aloud. “Why am I here, instead of them?”

The vines snaked out as they always did, gently wrapping around his body. They were careful not to cut him anymore. His feet lifted off the floor and they raised him up, embracing him in the glow of their smiles, and he knew the answer.

It was love.






Adam Vine was born in Northern California. By day, he is a senior writer at a game company. He has lived in five countries and visited forty. When he is not writing, he is reading something icky, training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or playing the guitar. He lives in the California Wine Country with his wife, Hilary and their highly energetic goldendoodle, Frodo.





J. Elliott is an author and artist living in a small patch of old, rural Florida. Think Spanish moss, live oak trees, snakes, armadillos, mosquitoes. She has published (and illustrated) three collections of ghost stories and three books in a funny, cozy series. She's currently writing (and illustrating) a ghost story novel, Jiko Bukken, set in Kyoto, Japan in the winter of '92-'93. Episodes on Amazon's Kindle Vella. Paperback and eBook coming late this summer (2023). 

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