Black Petals Issue #96, Summer, 2021

Ky'thagra's Big Day
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Dark Resurrection-Fiction by Michael Hopkins
A Dip in the Pool-Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Far Down in the Credits-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Guilt Trip-Fiction by James Flynn
Ky'thagra's Big Day-Fiction by Devin Marcus
Larger Prey-Fiction by Richard Brown
Lover-Fiction by N. G. Leonetti
Ort's Last Undertaking-Fiction by Taylor Hood
Sail Away-Fiction by Chris Allyne
Sleeping Again-Fiction by Russ Bickerstaff
The Poison Doorway-Fiction by Dionosio Traverso Jr.
The Tick Bite-Fiction by Robb T. White
Bake Sale Inspiration-Flash Fiction by Samantha Carr
Hotel with Full Amenities-Flash Fiction by William Kitcher
Reincarnation Jeopardy-Flash Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Sex Fiend-Flash Fiction by Karen Bayly
Witches' Sabbath-Poem by Mike Collins
Blood-Poem by Mike Collins
Death's Pornography-Poem by Mike Collins
Temptation-Poem by Mike Collins
Painting Light-Poem by Mike Collins
Dark Waltz-Poem by Marilyn Lou Berry
The Last Victim of Vlad the Impaler-Poem by Mehmet Akgonul
The Bravest Ant-Poem by Mehmet Akgonul
Ain't Alien Spores-Poem by Richard Stevenson
Giant Goldfish-Poem by Richard Stevenson
Igopogo-Poem by Richard Stevenson
Megamouth Has Cavities-Poem by Richard Stevenson

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Art by Mike Knowles © 2021

Ky’thagra’s Big Day

 

Devin Marcus


Ky’thagra sat in the waiting room, hands folded primly in her lap, as the mime-dancers mounted the stage on the little TV in the corner and BŁzrael comforted her from the fractured sky above.

          “Come on, sweetie, you’re ready for this.  You’ve been practicing for so long, and you’ve gotten so good.  Don’t be scared.”  His tentacles undulated a serene, calming heart in the chalky void of space surrounding him.  Galaxies were swept aside and annihilated in the gesture, and Ky’thagra had to smile.

          She brushed her hair to one side and replied without voice, through the quinquagintacentillion or so light years between them, “I know, I know.  But you only get more scared when somebody tells you not to be, you know?  The absence of pressure is in itself a pretty stressful experience.”  She told herself that American Idol meant nothing to a being whose twitches alone salted the soil for thousands of civilizations, that she had indeed practiced a whole bunch.  It didn’t help.

One of the producers walked by her and gave her a reassuring smile.  “You’ll do great out there, Sarah.”  Ky’thagra stretched the physical remains of Sarah into a rictus of pathos and replied, “Sincerely, I can’t thank you enough for giving me this chance, Mr. Trice.  I promise it’ll be a performance to die for.”  BŁzrael boomed a chuckle.

          Mr. Trice laughed to himself as well, casting a wistful eye up to the ordinary ventilation he still saw affixed to the ordinary ceiling.  “Odd choice of words there, but who am I to argue with the talent.  I knew you had something special the moment I set eyes on you.  You’re ready for this.  Don’t be scared.”  Having had his say, Mr. Trice drifted off to chat with the other contestants.  One of them, Ky’thagra was amused to note, held out a book for him to sign as he approached.  “These humans are a lot of fun,”  she giggled, and people in the waiting room turned to look at her curiously.

          BŁzrael nodded in agreement, insomuch as his incomprehensible form could nod.  His body, little more than a series of flesh bubbles, mouths, and dead branches, pulsed with goodwill.  Pieces of the ceiling drifted through space with him, a little peephole into the infinity they and they alone shared.  She, BŁzrael, and the billions of others, all children of the Goat with a Thousand Young.  But, at the end of the day, that tiny taste of home was little more than a phone-a-friend, an emergency contact.  There was no way around it.  She was nervous.

          Although her Sarah form remained inert, Ky’thagra began to wring her cosmic hands, feeling them shake as though she’d caught cold.  “BŁzrael, what if I mess up out there?  What if I go out there and just make a fool of myself in front of the entire population of Earth?  What if it’s so bad, even Mom hears about it?  What if…”

          “Shhh.”  A grapnel, foetid with funghial growths and stinking of the void, detached itself from his writhing mass and stayed her lips.  “That doesn’t matter, because it won’t happen.  Mom won’t care.  You’re going to go out there, you’re going to do great, and that’s all you need to concern yourself with.  Come on, how did you get here?  Hard work and dedication.  And that’s what will show on that stage.”

          Ky’Thagra thought back to poor little Sarah Grandman, whose ill-planned ritual had alerted her to Earth’s existence in the first place.  Sarah and her stupid little friends now drifted more or less comfortably through her consciousness, their bodies reduced to rags and twigs.  Earth hung low on the tree, ripe from crust to core, and even Kqannth had been forced to admit that she had gotten there first.  Fair forfeit.  It was her plaything, and she’d decided to try something new with it.

          “Were you there to hear my audition?”  Ky’Thagra asked shyly. 

          BŁzrael laughed a deep belly laugh.  “Oh, I was there all right.  Gracious me, humans are so quick to be awestricken!”

          Ky’Thagra and Sarah began to titter as well.  “So you saw the guy before me…”

          “The guy dressed like a penguin!”  BŁzrael’s mirth grew as the universe surrounding him rang with unholy music.  “What did he do again?”

          “He…He…” Sarah’s eyes started to water, and her cheeks began to ache from smiling.  “Oh my, he…pulled out his lasso…and…started dancing…”

          “…And fell flat on his ass!” 

          Sarah howled uncontrollably, slapping her thighs and bowing her head.  A young couple sitting next to her clapped their hands to their ears and came away with blood.  Some twelve blocks away, a dog keened once, twice, then fell on his side, dead.  A bird simply melted, leaving little but a steaming black-and-purple scuzz dripping from the telephone wire. 

          She straightened up, wiping her eyes as the young man beside her rushed to the bathroom.  “Oh, I needed that.  Oh, I definitely needed that.”

          “Intervention’s not over yet, hotcakes.”  BŁzrael’s tone grew serious.  “I saw your audition too, you know.  What was it you sang?  Something by Puccini, I think?”

          Ky’Thagra’s eyes clouded as memory prevailed.  Ancora un passo, from Madame Butterfly.”  Sarah hadn’t been a pretty girl; rather doughy, in fact, like a failed batch of bread destined never to rise.  She barely even fit into the floral dress Ky’Thagra had chosen.  The producers and judges mustn’t have thought much of her when she’d entered the room.  But then she’d started singing, and, oh!  Every heart in the room quivered and broke.  Her voice was delicate, suggestive, rich, reminding the bubble-brained female judge of her first kiss, the cameraman of the first time he drove his father’s car, and Mr. Trice of that hand job from his secret gay lover while his wife visited family in Idaho.  The video had garnered millions of views; she’d checked.  “Sarah Grandman” even made the national news circuit, anchors laughing dull laughs and speaking vague, sunny predictions of her future as an artist, even before the show officially aired.  Ky’Thagra had, in fact, summoned the voice of none other than Rosina Storchio, the original actress in the 1904 play, from the junkyard of time.  Mr. Cowell had remarked on how different she sounded when she sang versus when she spoke, and Sarah hadn’t responded beyond a polite curtsy and a calculated, awkward smile. 

          BŁzrael spoke up.  “It was beautiful.  A stroke of genius.  I’m being honest here, I teared up a little too, and you know I pride myself on being stoic.  Today’s the easy part.  Just get up there, and do what you’ve been waiting to do all day.  Knock ‘em dead, kid.”

          “Sarah!” called a stagehand.  “Sarah Grandman, you’re on in five!”

          Ky’Thagra took a deep breath.  “Well, I guess that’s me.  Thank you, BŁzrael.  I’m glad we were able to talk.”

          A mouth, distended and colorless, stretched through the vastness of space to plant a kiss on her cheek.  “You’ll do great out there.”  Retracting, it took the void with it until all that remained above her head was once again the dull plaster and ceiling fan of the backstage waiting room.

          She grinned, clenched her hands in determination, and stood from her chair, leaving the dozens of hopeful superstars behind in their crowded little room.  A man with a makeup kit jabbed randomly at her face as she strode forward, then frowned to himself and shrugged noncommittally, drifting off to fulfill some other menial task.  Sarah almost tripped on a massive cord on the floor, and a tech guy called over, “Sorry!”  She waved a hand in forgiveness as she cut forward.

          Eventually she found herself at the wings of the theater, looking out at the mime-dancers finishing their act, to uproarious applause.  They were sweaty through their white face paint but beaming.  One of them flashed a look at her as if to say, “I can’t believe we really did it!”  She mimicked silent applause back to him.

          “Sarah Grandman, is it?” came a voice from behind her.  She turned to see a pair of young, handsome men in glittering tuxedos and incandescent smiles behind her.  The one on the right, whose smile stood out all the more against his beautiful ebony skin, extended his hand.  “Pete Graham.  It’s a pleasure to meet you.”  Bemused, Ky’Thagra met his hand and pumped it.

          The gentleman on the left, sun-bleached hair coiffed into a massive pompadour, followed suit.  “And I’m Ian Yeshem-Wells.”  Ky’Thagra shook. 

          “This your first time in front of a live audience?” asked Pete.  Sympathy rested gently in his chestnut eyes, and Ky’Thagra thought it such a pity that the same eyes would be swimming with blood in a few short minutes.  “Don’t worry, they’re primed for you.  We put the mimes out before you as a sacrificial lamb.  After three minutes of silence, they’ll be so thrilled to hear somebody sing.”

          Ian nodded.  “In my experience, the folks out there came to be impressed and inspired.  All they need is a decent performer to feel justified in doing so, and from what we’ve heard, you’re a little more than a ‘decent performer’.”

          Ky’Thagra found Sarah’s cheeks turning rosy, and she quickly turned her gaze downwards.  “Oh, you’re just saying that,” she sputtered in her most demure voice.

          Pete grabbed her shoulders and straightened her up.  “No, we’re not.  We’re here to find amazing artists; we don’t bother with anything but.  Word of God says you’re tapped to go at least until episode 12, so as long as you stand out there and give the producers something to work with, you’re good to go.”

          “Don’t be too nervous, either.  There’s a lot we can fix in post.”  Ian winked, a golden leprechaun with a private joke that you were lucky to be a part of.

          “All right, we’ve got to get out there and introduce you.  Remember, just relax and enjoy yourself.”  With a final twinned grin, Pete and Ian stepped onstage after the retreating mimes.  Ian spoke up first.  “Well!  I’m pretty sure they silenced any nonbelievers out there!  Weren’t they great!”  Thunderous clapping and a scattered “woo-hoo!”  Pete pointed at the judges.  “What did you think, Simon?  Stunned into silence?”

          As the judges gave their verdicts, Ky’Thagra posed on the fringe, that awkward line between the quiet sanctuary of backstage and the exposed vivisection of the stage.  Nothing, nothing she’d experienced could have prepared her for this.  BŁzrael had helped, but that knot was still there.  What if Mom did find out, and what if she didn’t approve?  She’d never been one for frivolity or artistry, preferring the direct, arterial approach for herself.  And the incomprehensible retribution she imagined paled in comparison to the simple sound of human laughter, keen and mocking.  Sharpened to a razor’s sheen on embarrassing home videos and humiliating photographs.  Ready to cut and slice.  The vast silence of space had never felt so welcoming.

          “…And now, for your listening pleasure, a lovely young lady from Arkham, Massachusetts.  Give it up for Sarah Grandman!”

          Her legs dragging like concrete shoes, Ky’Thagra waded out onto the glossy wood floor to thunderous applause.  The lights above were so bright, they blinded her simple human eyes, and she found herself squinting out through the glare.  Next to her, Pete clapped a hand over her shoulder and shook her.  Ripples echoed down through her knees.  “Hey, how you doing there, Sarah?”

          Her tongue clicked in the back of her throat, and she found herself unable to speak.  She coughed, wiped her mouth, and simply gave a shy simper in response. 

          “Come on, now, the mimes were our last act!” belted Ian.  The audience responded with good-natured laughter.  Beneath the merriment, Ky’Thagra thought she heard something dark and empty, like wind blowing through a corpse’s eye sockets.

          Ky’Thagra stumbled out a response.  “I’m…doing well.  I suppose.  A bit nervous.”  At that, she gave a short cackle.  “A lot nervous, if I’m telling the truth.  You see, I’m not used to being in front of a crowd like this at all.  Back home, the biggest audience I had was my brother, BŁ…Buddy.”

          Simon showed his pearly whites from the judges’ table.  “Sweetheart, there’s no need to be nervous.”

          “I know, but…” Her eyes had finally adjusted.  Looking up, back, beyond the huddled dark mass of people, was an empty chasm of nothing.  And floating there, her fur speckled with the light of a million dying stars captured within, was Shub-Niggurath.  The Goat With A Thousand Young. 

          And not just her.  BŁzrael floated by her, barely a speck to her majesty but still big enough to burlesque a “surprise!” at Ky’Thagra.  And surrounding him, the horde sat restless.  Ish’kar was there, his millennia fingers holding up a homemade “Go, Sis!” sign.  Yann was there, yellowed papyrus skin flapping gently as he waved his abyssal legs in uncontrollable excitement.  Even Kqannth sat by.  His elbows dripped with rotted mother’s milk as he reclined, extending a grudging thumbs up.

          “Mom…Guys…” she whispered.  Loudly enough to pick up on the mic, apparently, as Ian asked pointedly, “Your family out there watching?”  Pete gave a nearly imperceptible twitch to the cameraman as he frantically scouted out the audience for any sign of family.  She wondered whether they would have to intersperse footage of a random audience member at this point for dramatic effect, then realized that it wouldn’t matter in the slightest.

          Ky’Thagra nodded to him, then turned her eyes back to the stars.  “Yes, my family is out there right now, watching.  I didn’t think they would come.  But they all did.  They’re here to support me.”  She dabbed a tear from her eye; Shub-Niggurath did the same.  “This one is for you.”

          The bubble-brained judge spoke up as Ian and Pete slunk unobtrusively offstage.  “So what is it you’re going to be performing for us tonight?”

          Ky’Thagra breathed deep.  BŁzrael and Pete had been right; all she had left to do was relax and enjoy herself.  “Tonight, I will be performing for you, for the world, Brown Note from The King in Yellow.   Please, enjoy.”

          The anticipatory applause died away, and Ky’Thagra closed Sarah’s eyes.  She stood for a moment.  Somewhere, deep within Sarah’s feeble esophagus, a hum began to rise like bile.  Ky’Thagra opened her mouth ever so slightly, saliva still spanning her lips in a glistening spider web.  The audience coughed politely, patiently waiting for the song to start.  Little did they know, the end had already begun. 

          The first was a stage light, flickering slightly in the top right of the theater.  It shimmered for a moment, flame on a dying candle, before its feeble glass casing could save it no longer and it imploded, showering glass down onto the unfortunate sound guy underneath.  Immediately following, Simon brought a finger to the corner of his eye inquisitively and saw a smattering of blood on the tip.

          Next was the audience member, some unlucky fool in G32.  The hearing aid he wore in his left ear melted into sizzling plastic and copper wiring, dripping its way down his ear canal like a lover.  His screams were silenced; in the presence of the Brown Note, all other sounds were nothingness.  The cameraman felt something clatter on his shoes.  He looked down to see his teeth smiling back at him.

          In his falling away from the camera, home audiences would be able to see a fixed image of Sarah Grandman on stage, unmoving and merciless.  Which pleased Ky’Thagra, for the next was Sarah herself.  As her mouth opened wider and wider, her fingers began to curl into the backs of her hands.  The snap of bones couldn’t be heard as Sarah’s spine began to follow suit.  

          Next was the stage.  The curtain behind Ky’Thagra caught flame, gentle at first, then quickly growing into a rage, burning so hot they bypassed red and white and blue and settled instead on stygian.  If one’s eyes weren’t immediately stricken blind, one would have been able to see the swirling arms of nebulae in the licks of fire.  Pete’s eyes began dribbling down his face as the backstage crew behind him scattered like cockroaches.

          The note was reaching its full potency now.  Simon’s face was a crimson Pollock painting.  Bubble-brain watched in shock as her humerus and scapula simply crumbled to dust, her sockpuppet arm now sat uselessly near the buzzer.  Deeper in the audience, panic was ensuing.  A woman and her child clawed their way out into the foyer before both turning back (to search for the husband, perhaps) and instantly calcifying into a biblical pillar of salt.  The gentleman behind them clutched at his throat as his tongue wormed its way down into his stomach.  Grown impossibly long, it reached its destination and began the laborious job of proceeding back out through his chest.

          Those beyond the immediate confines of the old theater were not spared either.  Miles away, the Earth split open and swallowed a long swath of suburban Chicago.  Bangladesh, long tempting fate in its delta, was finally, irretrievably reclaimed by the water.  The mountains rose from their eternal seats and laid waste to China.  Birds sprouted extra eyes and beaks until, crippled by the weight, they plummeted to the ground below.  The sky turned a murky brown and the clouds chewed up the airplanes.  In a general and literal sense, the world was ending.

          Back at the theater, Sarah’s performance was nearly finished.  Her head was now touching the small of her back.  The audience before her was packed to the brim with the dead.  Above it all, BŁzrael let out a loud cheer.  Shub-Niggurath beside him crowed her pride.

          Sarah’s body began to shake.  It jittered left and right, the vibrations of the Brown Note too eternal for such a flawed vessel.  After a few seconds, it simply exploded like a piŮata, spattering the sizzling curtain behind her.  The performance was over.

          Ky’Thagra emerged from the desiccated leavings of Sarah Grandman to the clapping and shouting of her family.  She freed the last of her five hundred thousand needle-thin legs from the meat sack and left the mortal plane behind, running straight past the remains of the theater’s crumbled ceiling until she landed straight in the Goat’s waiting arms. 

          “We’re so proud of you,” whispered Shub-Niggurath.  Her fur felt like home against Ky’Thagra’s rusted iron face.

          Ky’Thagra nestled deeper as her innumerable siblings followed in for hugs and kisses.  Her eyelids began to droop, and she stifled a yawn.  BŁzrael beside her gave a loving kiss.  “You’ve had a big day, little sis.  Sleep now.  We can all talk about this when you’re awoken again.”

          Ky’Thagra nodded her agreement as her eyelids slunk down her face.  When she entered the realm of the dreaming, her mind and heart were abuzz with the thrill of the stage and the love of her family.

 

 

Devin Marcus is an editor by day living in Portland, Oregon with his lovely cat, Titan.  He works as the Short Story Editor for Aphelion Magazine and the proofreader for Nightmare, Lightspeed, and Fantasy Magazines, and if you have any cool things to tell him or share with him, you can find him @DubbleOhDevin. 

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