Black Petals Issue #86, Winter, 2019

Next Stop-Napper's Holler-Chapter 9
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Eric Roseman's Poem-Fiction by Jacob Austin
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Napper's Holler-Chapter 7-Fiction by A. M. Stickel
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Napper's Holler-Chapter 9-Fiction by A. M. Stickel
Not This Time-Flash Fiction by Roy Dorman
Our Neighbors, The Zombies-Fiction by Jon A. Park
The Art of Dream-napping-Fiction by Mark J. Kevlock
The Night Side of Eden-Fiction by George Rosas
The Sump-Fiction by Anthony Lukas
Tingles-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Winter's Gnome-Poem by Janet C. Ro
Saucer, Schmosser-Four Poems by Richard Stevenson

nappershollergrass.jpg

Grass

 

    

     “You use-ta be my best friend, Footy,” Junior Studdart mumbled into the ticklish grass under his chin, his green eyes focused on Chet Lightfoot and Dewie Starr. Their laughter scalded his ears.

     Tall Chet pushed tiny Dewie on the swing that hung from the old oak outside the Napper’s Holler schoolhouse. They ignored Junior, the snake in their Eden, where Chet was Adam, and pretty Dewie, Eve.

     Junior’s chubby left arm moved to the cloth lunch bag by his side, and felt for the apple. He stuffed the apple into his mouth and bit down hard. He recalled Father Joe’s latest sermon. The serpent won.

     Crack! “Ow! My arm!” Junior’s eyes glowed with satisfaction. Dewie lay on the grass under the swing, Chet bending over her. Junior knew she’d broken something more important than a friendship.

     When Junior joined the other children in a circle around blond Dewie and dark Chet, the latter jumped up and grabbed him by the collar. “I’m telling Teacher,” he grated through gritted teeth.

     “Redskin!” spat Junior, his face livid, his pink cheeks wobbling.

     “Cease and desist, Master Lightfoot, Master Studdart.” Teacher Edwin Thomas’ tattooed arms separated the two boys. Neither dared look up into his scarred face. “Timothy, go for Doc Starr. And step lively!”

     Freckled Timmy Sanders blanched. Then he ran as he never had before, his heart and lungs afire. This time Napper’s Holler students would surely walk the plank. Every bush he passed could hide Teacher’s pirate crew, ready to stuff children into bags, smuggle them out to sea, and drown them. Monsters would feast on their soft flesh and grind their bones. He tripped on Doc Starr’s steps and fell hard, the wind knocked out of him. He tried to yell for Doc, but no sound emerged.

     From inside the chapel near Doc Starr’s house, off-key singing assaulted Timmy’s ears, adding to his panic. His nose bloody, he gulped for air like a fish out of water while Ella June Ames, Father Joe’s old maid housekeeper, pushed her mop and belted out, “We are like the grass that fadeth, fadeth.” Then the ringing in the boy’s ears drowned her out, and his red-hued vision blurred to black.

     Timmy awoke on Doc Starr’s sofa, a rusty taste in his mouth. Instead of singing, he heard Dewie screaming and her pa sawing. He could smell blood. Mercifully, he passed out again.

 

     Later, at Dewie’s funeral, Timmy felt worse than Chet, who acted like Timmy was invisible. Instead, Chet stood behind his family and looked daggers at his enemy. Junior, raised by and standing with his mama’s family, the Hobbs, appeared unmoved. He scratched himself and kicked the grass. Slow-witted like his ma, Cassie Rae, he was growing into the meanness of his pa, Day Studdart. No one in Napper’s Holler ever mentioned Day Senior where Junior might overhear.

     The wake, held outdoors under the full moon, Napper’s Holler style, brought Timmy and Chet together. Chet tackled Timmy from behind to throw him into the grass, and stoically hunkered down next to the boy, who spewed forth undigested apple pie.

     “We were going to grow up and wed. But you and Junior put a stop to that, Tim. You owe me. You owe Dewie more.” Chet forced Timmy’s chin up, making his victim meet his flint-eyed gaze.

    “I thought pirates was after me, Chet. You heard Teacher’s sea talk. I ran and fell. I thought I died…” Timmy stammered.

     “I’ll make you wish you had died, unless you help me finish Junior,” Chet threatened. “Besides, maybe Junior made you fall.”

     “What can we do now he’s come into his powers, Chet?”

     “We need to find a way to put him under the sod, just like the Hobbs did his pa. Stupid Studdart doesn’t deserve to have powers. Father Joe’s turning folks into sissies. It ain’t like the old days. Teacher’s probably in cahoots with him.” Suddenly, Chet’s warrior anger dissolved into boyish tears. He pounded his fist into the grass.

     Moved, Timmy put a hand on Chet’s shoulder. Chet didn’t brush it away. “Swear in blood,” he sobbed, pulling a sliver of flint from a sheath on his belt. He cut his right hand’s palm, wincing.

     Timmy surrendered his matching palm. After the cut, the two spat into their palms, and then joined them. “Blood brothers forever,” they whispered. Nearby, an owl hooted. Overhead, tree branches rustled.

     Plop! Junior Studdart dropped from the tree onto the horrified pair. He pinned them under him, one of his heavy hands on each of their throats. “Aunt Suke used to say owl hoots mean someone’s about to die. It ain’t my turn, so it must be your’n.”

     Before the boys could react, a dark shadow blotted out the moon above them. “Enough, Master Studdart! Let them be. Go wash up, you two.” The three untangled themselves, Timmy and Chet shrinking from Edwin Thomas’ helping hands. Junior tried to crawl off into the shadows, but found himself drawn up by an ear. “Not you, me bucko! I’ve brought some holy water to wash away your foulness.”

     Junior began to squeal like a pig and flail his arms.

     “Don’t do it, Edwin.” Father Joe, who had spoken, materialized out of the darkness to one side of the teacher. Daddy Hobb, Junior’s silent maternal grandpa, stood on the other side. “He needs a proper exorcism. You can’t torture the evil out of him.”

     “I’d as soon send him to where the worm dies not as look at him,” replied Edwin Thomas, his disfiguring scars livid in the moonlight. “He already killed one innocent. Tonight there would have been two more.”

     “Hate is never a solution, Edwin. Remember, only forgiveness heals and saves. Like those who slew Our Savior, he knows not what he does.” Father Joe could feel his old friend’s arm muscles bulge and strain to break free. Holy water would inflict scars worse than Edwin’s on Junior’s already bruised face. They would not only burn soul deep, but could kill him in the burning.

     “Don’t make him even more of an outcast,” begged Daddy Hobb. “I promised Sukie on her deathbed I’d look after her sister Rosie’s grandson. As a baby he lost his mama, my only daughter…”

     “We can’t let him grow up to beget others of his ilk,” said Edwin Thomas, gripping Junior’s neck with such terrible strength that the boy went limp in his grasp. His squeals had subsided to animal whimpers. “He killed without remorse. His spawn would do likewise.”

     In the end, the three men dragged Junior to the chapel, and the howling arising from it that night was unlike any heard before or since in Napper’s Holler. Finished, Father Joe looked upon a sleeping red-haired child who was about to grow into attractive manhood. He shook his head sadly, and turned to face the stern determination of Edwin Thomas.

     “We agreed, Joe Murphy,” said the teacher. “Let justice be done.”

     “It’s like losing Junior’s mama, Cassie, all over again,” said Daddy Hobb, his shoulders sagging in defeat.

     “I’m sorry, Mister Hobb. We can’t take any chances,” said Father Joe. “Napper’s Holler will be safer for our women this way.”

     Doc Starr laid Junior on the same table where his child had died. He used chloroform. In one hour’s time, that which had made Studdart seed as abundant as grass was sacrificed for the sake of humanity. Dead Dewie’s sampler hung above Junior’s cot to welcome him awake. Amid grass and flowers, she had cross-stitched “Consider the lilies of the field.”

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