Black Petals Issue #107, Spring, 2024

Home
Editor's Page
BP Artists' Page
BP Guidelines
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
(After) Life is What You Make It: Fiction by Richard Brown
Gauche Cuisine: Fiction by Gordon L. Stewart
Here's to Forgetfulness: Fiction by Roger Johns
Insights Into the Trajectory of Human Cetacean Communication: Fiction by Andre Bertolino
Mal Ojo: Fiction by M. N. Wiggins
No Dark: Fiction by Bill Dougherty
Overtime: Fiction by Dennison Sleeper
A Cut Above the Rest: Fiction by Roy Dorman
Resemblance: Fiction by James McIntire
Sign of the Times: Fiction by Liam A. Spinage
The Attic Party: Fiction by Michael Fowler
The Renovators: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
The Balance: Flash Fiction by Rick McQuiston
Bawk Dark: Flash Fiction by Michael C. Jessen
The Incident With the Mismatched Man: Flash Fiction by Charles C. Cole
Radio Tower: Flash Fiction by Blair Orr
Take Me With You: Flash Fiction by Steven French
Slippery: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Where Dead Babies Come From: Poem by Nolcha Fox
302 Asylum Avenue: Poem by Joseph Danoski
Another Story: Poem by Joseph Danoski
Home Repairs: Poem by Joseph Danoski
A Creepy Leap Year: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Funeral Memorial: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
BatGrl: Poem by Casey Renee Kiser
Twin Flame: Poem by Casey Renee Kiser
Shadow Play: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
Dark Ride: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
Leviathans of the Void: Poem by Christopher Hivner
Sunbursts: Poem by Christopher Hivner
Into the Eyes: Poem by Anthony Bernstein
Airtime: Poem by Peter Mladinic
Gloria: Poem by Peter Mladinic
The Sorcerer: Poem by C. Walker
Frozen Eve: Poem by C. Walker

Bill Dougherty: No Dark

107_bp_nodark_jelliott.jpg
Art by J. Elliott 2024

NO DARK

 

By Bill Dougherty

 

          “Only the dead like the dark.”

                             ~ The Living’s Book of the Dead

 

          Marsha Hunter felt her legs buckle but somehow held her balance when she entered Amy’s room. On the floor, her twenty-two-year-old daughter resembled a terrorized two-year-old as she clutched a pastel rainbow bedspread tightly under her shivering chin. Her thick brown hair looked as if she lost a hair-pulling contest.

It was morning. The bed was a disaster, the sheets torn off, books scattered on the floor, the sheer white curtains ripped from their hooks, and worst of all, Amy’s collection of old records with favorite songs like the Beatles' I Want to Hold Your Hand and Neil Diamond’s Red, Red Wine, laid in pieces in every corner of the room. Marsha loved that music, and her daughter did, too.

          “No dark.” Amy’s voice sounded hoarse.

          “I’m here, baby.” She stooped down and hugged her daughter.

          Amy lunged, grabbed two large handfuls of dark hair, and yanked her mother’s face close.

          “No dark.”

          “I know, honey. We’ve been through this before.”

          They had. Therapy did little to resolve a crisis that continued to gobble up her daughter’s psyche. She understood the problem. So did Amy. Therapy was an effort to learn to cope for both of them. They could tell the therapist part of the truth but not all of it. If they revealed their secret, there was no way the therapist would let them stay together.

Even as a small child, Amy was afraid of the dark. That fear increased tenfold by fifteen. At twenty-two, panic attacks paled when compared to the compulsive terror that gripped her each time the sun went down. She didn’t sleep. She begged her mother to let her live in the South Pole, where there was light for six months. During the day, she slept as soundly as a newborn. Not even a massive thunderstorm that rattled windows stirred her from slumber.

          Then sunset came. Even if she slept soundly, her eyes blasted open, and she had to force herself to blink. No place was safe. Not a closet, car, or even behind locked doors and windows. She didn’t want to be around people.

          “No Dark.”

          “I understand.”

          Amy let go and, like a blind person, traced her fingers over her mother’s forehead, eyes, nose, ears, and lips and even tapped on her teeth. Then, a big hug followed.

          “It’s okay,” Marsha said.

The worst was over—until the sun went down again.

 

###

 

Amy sat on a black, comfy leather chair, her legs pulled under her chin and nibbled at the knee of her gray sweatpants. Her feet toe wrestled. Her fingers interlaced, and her knuckles turned white.

          Doctor Jenny Russell adjusted her yellow business suit to be more comfortable in the chair, just like the one her patient sat in. She wore bright, cheerful colors on the days she saw Amy.

          “I feel like you’re keeping me at a distance. It’s hard to break through if you won’t help.”

          “I don’t like the color,” Amy said.

          “Black?” Russell looked at their chairs. Then she caught a glimpse of her stringy, black hair. “I hope you don’t think I’ll change my hair color.”

          Amy shrugged.

          “Why are you afraid of the dark?”

          “Because.”

          “That’s not an answer.”

          She chewed on the cloth of her sweat suit at the knee. It left a wet spot. Her mother washed it every night while Amy sat in a tub, scalding her skin red.

          “I’m worried. You’re losing weight. You won’t go out at night. You’re Nyctophobic.”

          “What’s that?”

          “You’re afraid of the dark.”

          “I’m not afraid of the dark.”

          “You’re not?”

          “No, I’m afraid of what’s in the dark.”

          “What’s in the dark that can hurt you?”

          Amy’s eyes widened. Doctor Russell could not mistake the stark fear, the unspeakable dread, and the absolute panic that came with knowing the answer to that question.

While Russell wore loose clothes to cover her large frame, she suddenly felt her white blouse was too tight. She unbuttoned the top three buttons and rubbed her throat. The tense, fear-laden air tasted of sweat, a sickening sourness that caused acid to leap from her stomach to the back of her throat and burn. She stood, walked to a water cooler, took a white cup, filled it, and drank. She refilled it three times before nodding at Amy.

“Would you like a drink?”

Amy shook her head. “I want to go home now.”

          “It’s only four-thirty.”

          “It’ll be dark soon.” Amy’s head tilted, and her eyes lost focus.

          From terror to acceptance. What or who was terrorizing this poor girl? 

 

###

 

Amy sat stiffly in her usual spot, close to an uncovered lamp with a burning hundred-watt bulb on a creaky nightstand. Sweat dribbled over her face. She’d tucked the rainbow bedspread under her chin. The twin bed was the same one she’d had since she was ten. The bed and nightstand were her shark cage. She spoke softly, small words a child might use. Except that she knew children didn’t say such things.

          Only the dead like the dark,

          In the grave, not the park,

          With stones, and names, and years gone by,

          He wakes to make this child cry.

          Tears fell, drops rolling along cheeks and mixing with hot sweat. It dribbled into her mouth. She licked her fear.

          Rap. Rap. Rap.

          The sound of knuckles on her window caused her to jump. She refused to look. Sheer curtains couldn’t protect her. Tying several of them together to increase the thickness didn’t work, either.

          Rap. Rap. Rap.

          Any harder and the window would break, and what was in the dark would come into the light, and she would have to face it.

          She sprang to her feet, grabbed the twin mattress, feeling the strength of a woman twice her size, and threw the bedding at the window. It landed, leaned forward, and covered every part of the glass. The noise stopped. She collapsed into her spot, grabbed her bedspread, and curled up with her knees under her chin.

          “No dark,” she whispered. Then, her mantra.

          Only the dead like the dark,

          In the grave, not the park,

          With stones, and names, and years gone by,

          He wakes to make this child cry.

 

###

 

The next day, Amy was unable to sleep. She paced the house while her mother was at work. To the kitchen, the living room, her bedroom, and then to her mother’s bedroom. A picture laid face down on top of an old storage box in the corner. Dust covered the frame. It appeared out of place with the rest of the spotless room. She turned the picture over. Her mom and dad. She recognized the photo. Her shriek bounced off the walls. She raced to her room, dove into her shark cage, and grabbed the bedspread. A bright sun blared through the window. She turned on the uncovered lamp. While rocking back and forth, she stuck the bedspread between her lips and sucked on it.

 

###

 

Marsha found her still rocking at five o’clock. She lifted her daughter, all dead weight, and carried her to the shower. After undressing the two of them, Marsha sat Amy in the shower stall and had to move her arms and legs to wash. When they finished, Amy stood. It was easier to put a bushy blue towel around her. She combed her hair and hummed. Her little girl rocked.

          She put her head next to Amy’s. They looked in the mirror. Years of fear aged her daughter. Streaks of gray entwined in her dark hair. Amy’s eyes bore circles from the loss of sleep. The skin slacked from no exercise. She spoke little, ate less, and read nothing. Television scared her as if something would jump from the screen. And there was no chance she’d enter a dark theater for a movie.

          “You didn’t sleep today, did you?” Her tone was reassuring and warm.

          Amy shook her head.

          “Maybe you’ll sleep tonight.”

          A violent head shake answered her.

          “We’ll see.” Marsha stroked her daughter’s hair.

          Amy frowned.

          The supper table was quiet. Amy picked at mashed potatoes and forced down a couple of string beans but wouldn’t consider the pork chop. Always the optimist, she dutifully covered the plate with plastic wrap, and the dish went into the refrigerator, hoping she might eat during the day. She eyed leftovers from the last three days while setting the new plate on a glass shelf. She pulled out the oldest, a small plastic tub with spaghetti, and poured it down the garbage disposal. Their third disposal in two years. She wondered why she bothered to cook. If Amy’s eating habits didn’t change, she might end up cooking for one. She shivered.

          With the kitchen clean, Marsha guided Amy to her room. It looked no different than when her daughter was ten. She didn’t want to remember those days, didn’t want to think about her husband’s abuse. The drinking. The rage. Part of the reason Amy was in therapy. It was just the two of them, and that was fine. They were better off. Weren’t they?

          Tucking her in, Marsha put the bedspread under her chin, as she had done all her daughter’s life. It was a good habit and one of a few treasures to cling to in hard times. By morning, Amy would be between the nightstand and the bed. It was a little thing to tuck her in. Little things mattered. If she couldn’t help her daughter, take away her pain, then by God, she’d love her as much as she could.

          The smile came freely. Marsha received a frown in return. It was enough. She kissed Amy’s forehead. The uncovered lamp was on, a powerful version of a nightlight. She closed the bedroom door as she left.

 

###

 

Thunder rattled the bedroom window and woke Marsha. She lay in bed and listened. Rain drummed against the roof and side of the house. A flash flickered through the window. She counted, the same as she’d done since she was a little girl. The storm was six miles away. Her bed was warm and cozy. She nestled herself deep, enjoying the feel. Sleep caressed her. As she started to doze, a thunderous crash of glass shocked her eyes wide open. Amy’s blood-curdling scream followed.

          She sprung from the bed and raced to her daughter’s room. She tried the door. Locked. Amy never did that. After three painful shoulder slams, the door gave way. Rain spattered through the broken window and soaked the beige carpet. Carefully stepping around broken glass with bare feet, Marsha looked out the window. Water rolled down her face. She peered into the bleak night as it tried to consume her daughter.

          She leaped over the glass and out of the bedroom. The long T-shirt to the knees tried to trip her as she darted out the front door. Huge drops pelted her face and chest. She knew where to find Amy. Her daughter was always with her father.

 

###

 

The cemetery was only a quarter mile away. When Marsha reached the gate, the soaked T-shirt stuck to her skin.

Marsha wondered if it was time to move far away from this cemetery.

But moving wouldn’t change anything. And she didn’t care if anyone saw her. They might stop and ask what was wrong. And they’d never believe her.

The lock on the gate was open. Some things didn’t change. It required elbow grease to nudge the entrance open to squeeze through. The heavy cast iron jammed every time it rained. Lightning flashed while she had her hand on the metal. Marsha jumped.

“Why are you doing this?” she screamed into the night.

Hair matted against her face and over her eyes. She shoved it back and stumbled down the cemetery’s main road. The gravel was loose and jabbed her feet. Marsha ignored the pain, pressing forward until reaching Frank’s Court.

Her husband always said he’d be buried here.

She turned left, and her jog turned into a sprint. After passing a maple tree, she slid on the grass and stopped next to the grave marker. Leaning on the maple tree was a shovel.

Just like always.

Marsha grabbed the shovel and jammed it into the new dirt.

The mud was sloppy and heavy. Her T-shirt darkened the deeper she burrowed. A loud clunk said she reached the end.

Marsha knelt. Her hands and the rain cleared the rest of the dirt. There was a brass plate on the coffin. The scratches were terrible, but the name was legible.

Frank Hunter.

Marsha broke a nail working open the casket. A whoosh sound spewed, and a blast of air blew her nightgown.

Amy lurched forward. She gagged and then screamed.

“Get them off. Please.”

Marsha used her hands to clear cockroaches, worms, spiders, and, the worst, little white grubs. They fell from Amy’s filthy dark T-shirt into the casket full of muddy dirt.

Amy grabbed her mother and pulled her close. The first time Marsha dug her up, her daughter screamed when some maggots crawled on her. They didn’t bother Marsha anymore. She rocked her child. Anger welled.

“Why, Frank? Why? You started this when she was ten when you were alive. You sick bastard. The state sent you to prison. God sent you to hell. You’re dead. Leave us alone.”

Marsha rocked Amy as her daughter sat inside her father’s coffin, the rain pouring down, the two bawling with relief.

Mud rolled off the skeletal hand as it rose and grabbed Amy’s shoulder. Her high-pitched scream crashed the night. As she struggled, Frank’s large skull rose above his hand. His slimy eyeballs rolled up and showed grayish white. The jawbones squeaked as they moved.

“You stole Amy. She belongs to me.”

Marsha and Amy shrieked.

“She doesn’t need therapy. She needs to be with her father.”

His voice rumbled in the pouring rain. Amy pulled free. Marsha felt her daughter drag her away. The casket door slammed shut. After fifty feet, they slid on muddy grass. Marsha turned back.

“No, mom.”

She crept forward; Amy latched to her arm. They peered down and watched beads of water roll off the dark casket and Frank Hunter’s brass plate.

“No more therapy,” Amy said. “It won’t help.”

“Okay.”

“We need to move.

“It won’t do any good.”

“You have to make him stop.”

Marsha hugged her daughter. They sobbed while rain dripped off them. As the crying vented, the storm ceased, and dawn awoke. The sun brought hope.

 

###

 

Only the dead like the dark,

          In the grave, not the park,

          With stones, and names, and years gone by,

He wakes to make this child cry.

The sun dipped below the horizon. The dark returned.

Rap. Rap. Rap.

Amy screamed.

W. F. Dougherty’s short story collection, The Darker Side of Golf, was self-published with Trafford Publishing in 1999 and sold four hundred copies.  His novel, Hidden Treasures, placed second Place in the 2007 Florida Writers Association Lighthouse Book Awards Young Adult Category. In 2012, his short story “Squeeze Play” placed third in the Jesse Stuart Prize for Young Adult Fiction at the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival, Harrogate, TN. Another short story, “Can I Borrow Your Arm,” based on the true story of the survivors of the Japanese hell ship Shinyo Maru, was published by www.ashandbones.com in their Memorial Day 2015 edition.

Site Maintained by Fossil Publications