Black Petals Issue #107, Spring, 2024

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(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

Liam A. Spinage: Sign of the Times

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Art by John Sowder 2024

Sign of the Times

Liam A Spinage

 

<Click>

 

<Click> <Click> <Click>

 

Mickey_G! is getting pretty desperate. Only half an hour til his livestream “Celebrities Unmasked!” and he doesn’t have enough content.

 

He won’t just make things up, his subscribers wouldn’t buy it. They’re as discerning in their trash content as he is. So, he clicks.

 

<Click> <Click> <Click>

 

Mickey_G! clicks on the bait so you don’t have to: his weekly roundup shows his fans all the celebrity gossip they didn’t have time to consume themselves. He’s somehow accumulated over a hundred thousand followers: many of his more devoted fans are other influencers.

 

To his left - out of camera shot, obviously, is a large stack of pizza boxes. To his right - likewise out of shot so that his livestream followers only see the good bits of his flat - is a heap of discarded energy drink cans. Between his lips - always, it seems - is his trademark vape mod which continuously bellows forth a noxiously sweet cloud of strawberry bubblegum smoke.

All is right in Mickey_G!’s world, if only he can find something else worth reporting on in the next half an hour.

 

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Secrets of the Stars! 12 celebrity tattoos you didn’t know about! Number 12 will really get under your skin!

 

Now Mickey_G! isn’t really into ink himself - he just has the one tattoo of a hooded cobra on his arm - but the bait works. He’s hooked. He’s aware that he’s the fish in every clickbait scenario, but he hopes to find a bigger fish at the end of this line: something to draw his followers in just as it has drawn him in.

 

<Click>

 

He’s clicked enough to know how these work. The first few will be people he hasn’t heard of: uninspiring minor reality stars that everyone has already forgotten. It’s the last few photos that will count. It’s the anticipation that works up the dopamine, it’s the background adverts that pay for this drivel.

 

<Click>

 

Just as he expected. Who in the heck is Phaisyle? That’s a pretty distinctive name but he has no recollection of it. If he had more time, he’d fall down a research rabbit hole that might last for hours. That’s where the pizza and the energy drinks come in and that’s also why the discarded relics of his high-octane online life still litter the periphery of his workspace.

 

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More utter unknowns. Coronis, Phaedo, Eudora, Cleeia. They don’t even have tattoos that are that odd or interesting. He’s still holding out for an A-lister on the last page. Preferably with one of those Japanese kanji tattoos that they think means ‘peace and harmony’ but actually means ‘superficial wanker’. That ought to get a good enough laugh from his devoted followers. Hell, at this late stage he’ll settle for a Z-lister. These people so far aren’t even in the celebrity alphabet.

 

<Click>

 

He doesn’t find that, though. What he finds is much more interesting. If he wasn’t so hyper focused, he’d have noticed something else too. There’s no advertising on this site surrounding the lines of text and the pictures of these nobodies with their roses and their tigers and their hearts decorating their flawless skin. The right third of the screen - usually devoted to them - shows only a dark void where black stars are rising through the artwork or moons are circling over alien skies.

 

Stranger still!

 

It’s a welcome change from the ubiquitous ‘next’ sign, he’ll give it that. Not that he’s seen anything particularly strange thus far.

 

<Click>

 

Haita Shepherd!

 

He has no idea who that is, but that doesn’t seem important now because wow, just look at that kooky tattoo design. He’s never seen anything like it. It’s presented as an animated gif rather than a photograph, focused heavily on the design: it doesn’t show the celebrity’s face or even much of the surrounding skin. So much for Celebrities Unmasked! It has a vague resemblance to a biohazard sign - which would be a heck of a statement as a tattoo now he thinks about it - but it’s only half the pattern. It rotates vaguely as he watches it, rapt with interest, a little one way and then back, as if the flesh it’s tattooed on is undulating, flexing…it’s impossible to tell what part of the body it’s on but it feels instinctively like it’s on a chest, over the heart. It’s hard to tell because the yellow of the design doesn’t really work with the cream of the flesh, except that it kind of does stand out, mainly by virtue of it being unusual rather than purely from the contrast of palette choices.

 

It’s exquisite. It’s singular. It’s unique. He leans in closer to the screen, hypnotized by its intricacy. Even as a static image, it’s remarkably unsettling for reasons which he can’t quite fathom but which prick continuously at his subconscious, igniting neural pathways deep within his brain that have so far been gathering metaphorical dust.

 

Neurons fire and synapses fry as Mickey_G! experiences a hundred thousand sensations all at once. His ears fill with a low ringing sound. His pupils are so wide you could drive a bus through his eyes right into his gray matter. The saccharine sensation of his vape mod merges with the coppery tang of blood in his mouth as his taste buds overload and pop in a mass of tiny explosions. Mickey_G! barely notices. He feels alive. So alive. Ecstatic, elated, euphoric: he's simultaneously blissed out and hyperactive.  This is life as it was meant to be lived. This is ASMR taken to the max. It's better than any drug he's ever taken, and he's taken them all, often with celebrities he's later exposed as addicts.

 

The first thing he thinks is this: if that's the sensation he gets just from looking at it, imagine what it would be like to feel like this all the time by having it emblazoned in his flesh. The second thing he thinks is this: other people need to see this, feel this. Everyone deserves to feel this high.

 

He has ten minutes before he goes live. Slurp. Suck. Puff. Deep breath. He knows what to do now. He knows how to really wow his followers and get more besides. Maybe this will be the break he needs. Go viral. Start bringing in the big bucks. He types in the teaser title for the upcoming stream:

 

“You’ll never believe this weird tattoo design I found! Watch me ink it live! Midnight tonight! Be there!”

 

That should draw the crowd in.

 

---

 

DevilDonna666 is first to show up on his feed, as she usually is, bang on the stroke of midnight. From what Mickey_G! can gather, she’s some kind of graphic designer. She's shared some amazing pictures on Insta and DeviantArt. She’s one of only a few of his followers whose content he actively follows back. She’s been tuning in since the early days and has never missed a livestream. He can see her raise a pierced eyebrow as she sees his topless torso amid the vape haze. Good. Let them wonder. Hopefully, with her background, she might be able to offer some insight into the strange design of this tattoo, but that can wait until his masterpiece is over.

 

Next up is GangreneGoat, another old hand who is a bass guitarist in a Norwegian deathcore metal band. Mickey_G! tried listening to their debut album once. Pretty good technically, but the garbled and grunted lyrics were incomprehensible and would have been even if they were in English. Not his style, but he appreciates the craft.

 

Then a few other of his regulars tune in: he glimpses down at the ticker showing the number of current live viewers, while trying to maintain professionalism and mystery in front of the camera and dealing with a quickening pulse and blood slowly dribbling from his nose, ears and the corners of his mouth. He’ll wait until he has a few more. In the meantime, he’s enjoying the comments in the live chat, not that he will get round to addressing or responding to them.

The ticker clocks over to 1000. Not bad for the start of a livestream. Figures always increase as people tune in later. FOMO is the best clickbait.

 

It’s showtime.

 

Mickey_G! aims for an enigmatic smile for his audience, but what they actually get is the biggest shit-eating grin the internet has ever seen. It's all he can do to speak a few introductory words without speaking too fast or slurring.

 

"Hello, helllloooo, hello, it's your main man Mickey Gee here with some amazing content for you tonight. Guaranteed to blow your mind!" He manages a knowing wink. This is his usual intro, but this is one of the rare instances when he totally believes his own hype. His viewers can tell, they're absolutely lapping this up because they know he's genuine. Their faces are lined with anticipatory intrigue and their eyes filled with worshipful wonder.

 

They ain't seen nothing yet.

 

Mickey_G! doesn’t own a tattoo gun: he’s improvising. What he does have - as previously mentioned - is a growing pile of greasy mostly empty pizza boxes, a similar pile of energy drink cans and his signature monster vape mod. He’s convinced - utterly convinced - that this is all he needs.

 

“So, people, have I got a treat for you tonight! Your man Mickey Gee has been surfing on stranger shores of the web this week! Braving the cloud waves! I found the weirdest thing! Y’all need to see this! I’d show you the image, honestly, I would, but this is going to be so much better. Trust me.” He sounds vastly more excited than he normally does. There are no looks of concern among those faces of his audience that he can see on his second screen, only rapt attention.

 

Mickey_G! picks up one of the empty cans and rips it in half with his bare hands. He smiles at the camera and through it to the multitude in the world beyond, then casually discards one half of the can over his shoulder, leaving a jagged silvered edge jutting from the fist formed from his now-bleeding right hand as he raises it aloft in triumph before lowering it to the waiting flesh of his perfect, tanned, hairless chest. Then, without hesitation, he starts cutting away, outlining the lines of the tattoo into his own skin, going deep to make the design visible to his viewers even as he struggles to maintain focus with his mind blurring and his hand bleeding and his arm shaking and his heart pumping and his pulse racing. The serrated edge of the improvised blade glistens under the harsh glow of his lamp with silvery reflected light and the deep red of his own heart blood. He imagines it looks just like the most extreme of GangreneGoat’s videos.

 

He nearly passes out. A glimpse shows his audience figures are soaring by the second as he finishes the markings and brings the secondary camera in for a close up to reveal the full impact of the sign upon his raw flesh, continuously wiping away blood so that they can gaze upon its full glory.

To crown off his achievement, Mickey_G! picks at the tiny bundles of hard leftover cheese which have coalesced on their own greasy stains on the box lid of his most recent pepperoni feast, coaxing them into a quasi-molten state using the subpar heat from his supercharged vape mod. It's difficult to maintain concentration, what with his senses roaring from both pain and pleasure, but eventually he manages to drip enough hot yellow-gray cheese onto his gaping chest wounds. There's no additional pain from this move: he has at this stage felt everything he's ever going to feel. He’d love to see what the reactions are at this point, but something thicker than his vape haze is blocking his vision. Dark stars beckon at the corner of his vision, reeling his senses further and promising death and disaster.

For one brief moment, he hesitates, but it’s way too late now. The design is complete.

Mickey_G! slumps back into his designer red and white ergonomic chair, barely conscious and rapidly losing blood. His viewing numbers have rocketed to over thirty thousand, the shares and comments coming in faster than his bloodshot eyes can keep up with. He smiles one last enigmatic smile at those who have watched his disquieting transfiguration and his eyes close with a painful serenity as he passes into oblivion. The camera remains live, focused on the sign emblazoned on his breast where flap the tatters of his ragged flesh.

---

 

That’s the end of the story for Mickey_G! Unfortunately, it’s only the beginning of the end of the real story.

 

Bizarre horrifying death streamed by YouTuber!”

 

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This is what happens if you take things too far!”

 

<Click>

 

12 homemade tattoos gone wrong! Number 12 will drive you insane!”

 

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“Like and share!”

 

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OMG! Have you seen this?”

 

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Liam A Spinage is a former philosophy student, former archaeology educator and former police clerk who spends most of his spare time on the beach gazing up at the sky and across the sea while his imagination runs riot. Occasionally, this imagination has been known to spill out onto paper.

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