Black Petals Issue #96, Summer, 2021

Lover
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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

bp_96_lover_blanch.jpg
Art by Darren Blanch 2021

LOVER

by N.G. Leonetti

 

“This is good,” the young man said, and Ray pulled off the highway and down a dirt path that led into the woods. Pine needles crackled underneath the Chevy’s tires, and the last dying rays of the sun faded out into obscurity.

          “Care to tell me your name?” Ray said, his seatbelt already unbuckled.

          “Well, what do you want it to be?”

          Ray laughed. How many times had he heard that line before?

          “How about ‘Sugar’?” Ray said. He thought for a moment and smiled. “I skipped dessert.”

His latest pick-up was young, way younger than anyone he had ever been with before. He dug around in his left pocket, making sure the condom was still there, feeling the crisp plastic crinkle against his palm.

          A giggle: “Sugar it is!” He took off his tank top: bare chest, sun-kissed skin, ribbed with muscles, well-defined shoulders, and a bellybutton ring. Ray looked down at Sugar’s crotch, saw it swell with excitement. He felt himself getting excited too.   

          After a brief hesitation, Ray jerked forward, jamming his tongue into the transient’s mouth. He was met with wet, passionate kisses, minty, delicious. He originally wanted to take his time with this one, but it had been so long since the last time. At this moment, Ray’s self-control was about as substantial as the fading sunlight.

          Sugar’s hands eagerly explored Ray’s body. Long, nimble fingers pulled at his belt buckle, then his zipper.

          The car windows fogged over.

          A loon cried somewhere in the distance.  

 

          “Well, that was nice, Ray.”

          “Yes, it was,” Ray said, slipping on a black dress sock. “We should do dinner next time I’m in town.”

          “When will that be?”

          Ray shrugged. He checked himself in the rearview, slicked his graying hair back the best he could with moist palms. “With a job like mine? I travel often. It could be as soon as next month.”

          “A job like yours,” Sugar said, rolling the words around in his mouth. “What is it you do again?”

          “Sales,” Ray said simply.  

          Then shock as something registered in his brain, fingers digging into the steering wheel, panic so pointed and sharp at either temple it could have been an icepick.  

          Did he say my name?

          As if reading his mind, Sugar said, “Something wrong, Ray? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

          Ray turned slowly and stared the guy straight in the face. The young man’s impeccably white teeth shined in the dome light, sharp, practically vampiric. His blond hair was still messy from their romp session. He was beautiful.

          Sugar raised his eyebrows, waiting for Ray to respond.

          “What is this?”

          “What is this, congressman?” Sugar’s smile widened. He said, “payday.”

          Ray felt more panic wash over him, fever-warm and stagnant, like wastewater. However, he checked himself. He would not give this little man the satisfaction. No way. He wiped at his eyes and stared down at his crotch, still swollen, and tried to get himself under control.

          “Payday,” Ray repeated.

          “Yes,” Sugar said. He stretched his arms in front of himself, tapping his fingers on the dashboard, letting out a much-too-long yawn. “And let’s get this over with soon, shall we? I’m tired. It’s been a long day.”

          “A long day of what?” Ray said. “Selling yourself?”

          “Oh, god! Please spare me the insults, Mr. No-Gag-Reflex. I have a short fuse, and it’s even shorter when I’m tired. Don’t test me.”

          “Or else what?” Ray said.

          “Or else I’ll beat your ass, Congressman. Then I’ll call the police and tell them you raped me.”

          Ray laughed. “You think they’ll buy that!” He was on the verge of hysterics. This was his worst nightmare, and he knew that in the end he would be at the mercy of this punk.

          “I know they will, for a fact.” The prostitute pointed a finger into his mouth, making like he was going to make himself puke. “I swallowed you, Ray. Remember? One good poke at the back of my throat and all the evidence they need will come spewing up. A good amount of it, too!” He ran his tongue over his lips.

          “You’re disgusting.”

          Again with the holier-than-thou crap? People in glass houses, Ray,” he said shaking his head, tsk tsk.

          The congressman felt a dull ache in his right temple that would inevitably blossom into a migraine if he didn’t find a quick way out of this situation. This was bad – a predicament he would never put himself in again. But how in a million years did a street hooker walking the alleys of Atlantic City recognize a newly minted politician from Georgia?

          I don’t know, smarty-pants, he thought. Maybe from the shit you pulled in order to get yourself the gig in the first place? Maybe all the publicity, CNN’s and MSNBC’s constant airing of your anti-gay tweets, your highly publicized marriage to one of the country’s most prominent female televangelists? Maybe your face all over the cover of a best-selling book about “Christian Living”? Maybe, just maybe, you’re not in high school anymore, and you’re being plain reckless. You’re not blowing your best friend behind the bleachers and then chalking it up to being a little too drunk.

          Maybe you’re in the Big Time now.

          But isn’t that what you always wanted?

          To be known, established, looked up to? Big league?

          Again, like he was reading Ray’s mind, Sugar said, “You want to know how I know about all this, right? It’s killing you that some loser like me has any idea about politics, about who’s running the country. And that’s something you’re going to have to deal with on your own because it doesn’t matter. What matters is what I want, and what you are going to give me.”

          “Which is?” Ray arched an eyebrow.

          Sugar tilted his head back dreamily and smiled. “A million dollars.”

          “A million dollars?”

          “Yep, and this is a cash-only establishment, baby.”

          “Sugar,” Ray rolled his eyes, “or whatever the hell your name is – I don’t have a million dollars. Not even close. And if I did, I couldn’t give it to you in cash. This isn’t like the movies.”
          “Oh, stuff it!” Sugar said, sitting up straight, his smile dissolving into a maw of utter rage. “Don’t talk to me like that! Like I’m some kind of idiot! I know this isn’t like the movies, smartass. My life has been an absolute train wreck for no other reason than being born. I’m sick of pieces of garbage like you getting away with murder and all the rest of us having to eat shit. You are a hypocrite, Congressman,” he spat. “And I’m karma, here to collect. Now pay up!”

          As if suddenly coming to a decision, or rather resolved to one, Ray shook his head, pursed his lips. “Sorry, I can’t.” He threw his hands up in the air and actually laughed. “I don’t have it! Honestly!”

          “Well,” Sugar said, “you better figure something out fast. I might be a piece of ass, but I’m an expensive piece of ass, and I always have my bases covered.” He slid his phone from his pocket.

Sugar tapped away at the screen without saying a word, and Ray frowned. “What? Is that supposed to scare me?”

“It should,” Sugar said.

“Why?”

“Because I’m calling your wife right now, silly.”

Acting on reflex, Ray slapped the phone from Sugar’s hand. Just as quickly, Sugar returned the favor by slashing Ray’s arm with a box cutter.

Jesus!” Ray screamed, grabbing his arm, jaw dropped, a mangled expression of pain and fear on his face. He lifted his palm away from the bloody gash, hand coated in crimson as dark as death. “You, you!” was all that he could say.

“Yes,” Sugar said, “me.”

“You’re bluffing,” Ray said, managing a semblance of composure. “You don’t have my wife’s number. How could you have her number! It’s an impossibility.”

“Try me,” Sugar said, never lowering the blade as he picked up his phone. “I mean business, Ray. The sooner you realize that the better. Also! That little love bite on your arm is nothing compared to what I’m willing to do, so do not test me. Got it? Nod your head and keep your pretty little mouth shut.”

Ray nodded.

“How could I have your wife’s number? Well… is this it?” Sugar turned the screen toward Ray and watched the color drain from his face in the corpse-green glow.

“Now you get it,” Sugar said. “Now you know that this bad bitch is serious. A seventeen-year-old bad bitch, to be exact.”

“This is a nightmare,” Ray said, his mouth completely devoid of spit. His tongue felt practically mummified.

“Your worst nightmare, baby,” Sugar winked. “Oh, but Ray, don’t be so down. At least you got a good lay out of it! I hope it was the best of your life, considering it will be the most expensive.”

“Please,” Ray said. He felt himself losing control again, despair creeping up on him like a bad habit. He pushed it down as hard as he could. He hadn’t worked this hard for some child to take it all away from him.

Child, he thought with utter horror. Could this get any worse?

He cleared his throat.

“Please,” he said, more firmly this time, “give me some time to figure this out. I will get you as much money as I can. A million, man, I don’t know about that, but I promise it’ll be worth your while. I just need some time.”

Sugar began to trace a figure eight in the air with the blade, as if he were trying to hypnotize Ray with it. The box cutter was getting dangerously close to his eyeball, and he was already pressed against the driver’s side window. There was nowhere else to go.

“You have exactly one hour, or I spill everything to your beloved and the rest of the world.”

“I know that you’re not–”

One. Hour. Now take me back to my corner.”

Ray nodded. He started the car. He reversed down the forsaken path, the one that Sugar had promised would offer complete secrecy.

As he drove on, Ray noticed that the guy had failed to buckle his seatbelt. Ray always secured his seatbelt as soon as he got into any car, and he taught his children the importance of doing the same. His kids were well-behaved and respectful, and he rarely got mad at them. However, if they forgot to buckle their seatbelts, he would blow his top. Years back, he had lost his older brother in a car accident. Ten years back, to be exact. Greg, always the black sheep, was going ninety down U.S. 1., high on enough cocaine to cover Kilimanjaro, and he lost control of the car. When the EMTs arrived, a 750 of Jack was gripped so tightly in one of his lifeless fists that they needed pliers to pry his fingers open. That image was burned in Ray’s memory.

No, sir, the kid’s not wearing a seatbelt… and this baby doesn’t have airbags. It’s an oldie but a goodie, after all. Just about a classic.

He glanced over at the cocky little prick next to him. Sugar was bouncing in his seat like a little kid.

He is a kid, Ray thought. He hesitated for a moment before looking ahead and tightening his grip on the steering wheel.

He was in control now.

 

When the Chevy made impact with a thick pine tree, the hood of the car collapsed effortlessly, as if it had been constructed from nothing more than tinfoil and toothpicks.

Damn shame, too, Ray thought. He loved that car.

Sugar’s delicate body was hurled through the windshield at cannonball speed and splattered into a sticky mess all over the trunk of the tree.

Ray was in shock. He felt as if he had been submerged in a bath of ice water – every hair on his body stood up, he was hyperventilating, soaked in sweat, and his heart was pounding against his chest.

Aside from this, he was fine. A bump began to emerge in the middle of his forehead where he had knocked it against the steering wheel, his right knee was tender and would bruise later for sure. But he was okay.

He unbuckled his seat belt, swung open the damaged car door with a sick crunch, and stumbled away from the wreck. Shaking and summoning all his strength, he lifted himself from the forest floor, pine needles biting into his palms, and backed away from the collision.

How long until I know whether or not the thing is going to explode? he thought, putting a hand to his chest, willing his heart to slow down.

His plan was simple: he would report the car stolen. He didn’t have to worry about his prints: it was his car, after all. As far as not telling his wife he had gone up to the New Jersey house… they did have a fight just before he left for the conference. Not a big fight, but a fight, nonetheless. The Conservative Commission Conference met at a Hilton in Delaware and from there it only took a ferry ride across the Delaware Bay and short drive up the Garden State Parkway to get to their summer cottage. She would believe him, and so would everyone else.

He would get away with this.

He was in control.

Close by, he heard the crunch of dead leaves.

Shit,” he whispered, hoping to God it was a deer or a squirrel or a woodchuck, or something. The last thing he needed was to be spotted by some piney out here in no-man’s land. Although, the odds of that happening were pretty slim, though – pineys kept to themselves, mostly.

He scanned his surroundings: tall pine trees went on forever into the darkness. The moon was so bright and full, though, that it broke through the seemingly impenetrable woods effortlessly.   

There was nothing.

Just woods, desolation.

He shrugged.

He could smell gasoline. He toyed with the idea of setting the car on fire. That would eliminate any incriminating fluids that may be found on (or in) Sugar’s body. He could also drag the boy’s body deep into the woods and let the animals have him.

Probably my best bet, he thought, and safer. He wouldn’t have to worry about a potential forest fire.

He limped around the side of the car. His knee was beginning to throb. He may have done more damage than he initially thought.

That’ll be another lie.

Sugar looked, well, mushy. He slid down the tree, leaving a black trail of blood that began where he made impact. Bones piercing through muscle, skull completely pulverized, a puddle of blood pooling around him, arms and legs blown from sockets and sagging in stretched skin…

His death had been violent, ugly.

Ray had done some pretty messed up things in his life. Nothing like this, though. He had never killed anyone before.

The shock was beginning to subside. The smell of gasoline commingled with Sugar’s blood, guts, and shit sent glass shards up Ray’s nose and into his brain. He felt green. Before he knew it, a geyser of half-digested meatloaf, pommes frites, and cabernet spewed from his mouth and splashed the side of what was left of the body. Ray vomited again and dry-heaved for a while until he got himself together. He needed to finish this before the sun came up.

Minding his knee, he reached down for one of Sugar’s ankles. He began dragging the body into the woods. It was lighter than he expected, possibly because everything from the jaw up was still stuck to the tree, like a piece of chewed bubblegum.

Again, the sound of crunching leaves.

Ray let go of Sugar’s ankle and yelled, “Who’s out there!”

In response, he heard a jingling, like windchimes in an autumn breeze.

Then, laughter.

No, not laughter. A tittering, a teeheeing.

Someone is messing with me, Ray thought. They saw everything, saw me dragging the corpse from the car, and I am absolutely screwed!

He panicked, trying desperately to think of something to do, waiting for the police sirens to sound in the distance.

He looked around wildly. The woods were thicker out here, virgin, with pine trees as tall as skyscrapers. He was utterly on his own, in the middle of nowhere, with a dead body, and a prayer.  

I’m in over my head.

He took a deep breath. He had to try, at least try to save himself and get the hell out of this mess.

He scanned the woods again, squinting his eyes hard, willing them to adjust to the darkness.

More jingling, a titter, a flash of color.

And the thing revealed itself.

Glowing eyes stared back at him, maybe thirty feet away. He could only make out the eyes and the vague shape of a head peering from behind a tree.

          Ray felt his bladder give.

          “What is that?”

It could have been a mountain lion – a big mountain lion – standing on its hind legs, waiting for him to make his move. But as the shape of the thing continued to resolve itself out of the darkness, it began to look less feline and more human. Long, thick cords emerged from its head, and a hand – dead white and apparently human – was pressed firmly on the tree it hid behind.

          It has to be human, he thought. What else could it be?

          He had to make his move. His freedom was slipping further away from him each second.

          He shouted, “Please, help! My friend and I had a terrible accident! We need help!”

          The thing did not move for what felt like forever. It stared at Ray, never blinking. Finally, it lifted a wormy white hand from the tree and lowered its body down to the ground. Supporting itself on its four long, bowed limbs, it lumbered toward him like a child mimicking a cat. As it got closer, the identity of the creature came into greater focus: the ropey things on its head were part of a hat, emerald-green, the kind that jesters wore at Renaissance fairs. The green cords ended in rusty bells, the source of the jingling. It wore a body suit speckled in mirrored, diamond-shaped plates and a black, velvety mask that only covered the upper portion of its face. Its lips pressed together like two leeches engorged with blood, and as they spread apart, a mouth full of fangs so sharp they could have been honed with a steel rod. A long rope of drool extended from its lips to the forest floor.  

          It moved through the brush on all fours, closer now, maneuvering naturally. The bells jingled and the thing laughed – tittered – and Ray’s blood froze in his veins.

          He couldn’t move. And even if he could, where would he go? He was in the middle of nowhere with the remains of a dead prostitute at his side.

          And then the creature spoke.

          It uttered one word that made Ray snap out of his paralysis and run faster than he had in his entire life, knee be damned.

          It said: “Lover!”

 

          Ray found his way back to the long, lonely strip of highway and ran faster than he had in a very long time. Ray was on the wrong side of forty. His exercise primarily consisted of long walks and an occasional round of golf. His soft white belly, and its propensity for extending further beyond his belt buckle with each passing year, gave this away. Whether fueled by adrenaline, or fear, or shock, Ray ran hard and kept running until he felt like his heart would explode.

          He slowed to a jog after about a mile and finally allowed himself to stop, hands on his knees, sucking in air. He hadn’t seen a single car. He wasn’t even sure whether he was going in the right direction. All he knew was that he would keep going for a hundred miles, a thousand miles, if it meant never having to see that thing again.

          The sun was coming up. The limpid blue of dawn offered no comfort; rather, the misty air, the impenetrable forest on either side of him, and a murder of crows feasting on carrion made everything that much more foreboding.

          And not a car in sight!

          He checked his Rolex: almost six a.m.

          As the highway curved, a wave of relief washed over him.

He noticed a path – no – a driveway up ahead.

          “Thank the Lord!” he bellowed. 

          Sure enough: a long, narrow driveway led to an old cabin nestled in the woods. He made his way toward the dwelling. The windows were dark, but that was okay. It was still early, and there was a welcoming wisp of smoke rising from the chimney.

          Whoever lives here must still be asleep, he thought, the rotted porch yawning under his feet.

          He banged rapidly on the screen door with his fists.

          “Hello! Is anyone home? I’m hurt! I’ve been in an accident! Please!

          He banged and banged, but no one came to the door, and there was no noise coming from inside.  

          He wondered if the cabin could be abandoned.

          Impossible, he thought. The chimney!

          Tentatively, he opened the screen door, and a rain of rust poured down from the ancient closer.

          He stepped inside. The air was stale, moldy. Everything was covered in cobwebs. The place looked like it had been vacant for more than a decade. In the exact center of the room, however, a fire burned merrily in a woodstove. It glowed and crackled as if it had been recently stoked.

As his eyes grew accustomed to the dim room, he noticed the walls were plastered in hundreds, maybe even thousands of faded photographs of children. At first, it seemed like they were smiling, but as he got a closer look, their faces held expressions of what could only be described as hysterical terror.  

          “What the hell is this?” Ray said, running a sweaty palm through his hair.

          He felt himself losing control.  

          He heard a jingling in the distance.

          Then a titter.  

 

N.G. Leonetti’s horror stories have been published in Bewildering Stories and October Hill Magazine. He resides in South Jersey where he teaches college writing. He is married to the poet, Maria Provenzano.

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