Black Petals Issue #97, Autumn, 2021

Hunting Ground
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A World of Sensations-Fiction by Michael Dority
Goddess Deva-Fiction by David Starobin
Hunting Ground-Fiction by N. G. Leonetti
Love Letters-Fiction by S. J. Townend
No Content Available-Fiction by Richard Brown
Phantom Smell-Fiction by Daniel G. Snethen
Predatory Peepers-Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
The Visit-Fiction by B. E. Nugent
The Working Man-Fiction by Christopher Hivner
The Extermination-Fiction By Dominique K. Pierce
Win-A-Burger-Fiction by Glenn Dungan
Counting Time-Flash Fiction by Ramon F. Irizarri
Terry and the Techo-Frog-Flash Fiction by Hillary Lyon
The Epistolean-Flash Fiction by Harris Coverly
Labelled Rocks-Flash Fiction by Holden Zuras
Along Side of the Road-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Beneath the Weeping Willow-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Half-Life-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Liquid Darkness-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Lost-Poem by Carl E. Reed
Succubus Seductress-Poem by Carl E. Reed
The Crime of Frankenstein-Poem by Carl E. Reed
Brother's Keeper-Poem by Cassandra O'Sullivan Sachar
Razor Beak-Poem by Jessica Heron
The Fall of Vampire Hunters-Poem by Matthew Wilson

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Art by Sean O'Keefe 2021

HUNTING GROUND

by N.G. Leonetti

 

After…

His head ached, and his memory was hazy, like he had just awakened from a night-long bender of cheap whisky sours.

But Charlie didn’t drink the night before. As a matter of fact, Charlie hadn’t had a drink for forty years, and the night before was a milestone of his staunch sobriety. He remembered dinner at his favorite restaurant with his wife, a rare steak, mashed potatoes, lots of bread and a side-salad, two or three glasses of ice-cold Pepsi…

Racking his brain, he remembered going to bed shortly after they got home, kissing Diane goodnight, lying down, forgetting to take his blood-pressure medication…

He remembered waking up briefly, rays of moonlight shining through his bedroom window, curtains rustling in the breeze, clutching his chest, tightness…

Then he fell back to sleep.

Now, he was here. He grew more aware of his surroundings and felt the first of many tinges of fear crawl across his cold skin: he was in a hollow, surrounded by thick trees, a trail head directly in front of him that wound into the woods.

Charlie surveyed his arms and hands and gasped: his skin – his liver-spotted and saggy skin that drooped from arthritic bones – was healthy and sun-kissed, bristled with black hairs, forearms thick with muscles; and his tattoo, the one his buddy Jack gave him in the Navy with anchor and rope and sailor cap, looked absolutely pristine, as if the ink was still drying.

The clothes he wore were brand-new but very much dated: tight Levi’s, his favorite pair of Saint Laurent patent-leather ankle boots that he bought in France, and a black mock turtleneck tucked into his jeans with the sleeves rolled up.

His belly was gone, and he could see his abs rippling under the knit material. His chest stuck out in two hard mounds of muscle. He saw the rectangular bulge in his right pocket. He didn’t have to investigate to know it would be a pack of unfiltered Marlboros.

He was young again.

At least fifty years younger.

Next to him, a six-pack of Rheingold – the go-to beer of his youth. 

“What in the hell–” his voice, now strong and far from being atrophied from the trials of old age, caught in his throat, and then broke into a scream.

 

Before…

The girl wore an orange ribbon in her hair that matched her sweater, which he thought made her look even younger than she was for some reason. She stood in front of the Ferris wheel, licking pink cotton candy, seemingly waiting for someone.

He stared up at the yellow and green monstrosity that carried jolly children in passenger cars.

Look at them, he thought, jamming hands into Levi’s, the pair that fit so well around his perfectly proportioned bottom half, and a full pack of fresh smokes in his right pocket. Crammed together in those pods, so many children screaming at their mommies and daddies, “Look at me, mommy! Look at me, daddy!”

He thought about the pictures in his favorite book, The Discovery of the Holocaust: black-and-white photos of so many malnourished people being forced into cattle cars, forced to wear the mark, forced to take that last ride to the fate awaiting them at the end of the tracks…

He thought about children being ripped, literally ripped from their mommies and daddies, screaming just as enthusiastically as the ones he saw now that were so blinded by their idiotic enjoyment.

 Oh, they have no idea how lucky they are.

He ambled toward the girl, the sleeves of his turtleneck shirt rolled up, his forearms covered in thick, veiny muscles, tattoo a few years old but still looking fresh. Black hair slicked back and held firm with Brylcreem, chiseled cheekbones and a crooked smile that made the ladies melt. His eyes were icy blue most of the time.

Except in the moonlight.

They turned black like blood does in the moonlight.

As he got closer to her, he could get a better view of her tongue as it twirled around the spun sugar. His heart felt like it was rising up into his throat. He was practically panting and had to take a few deep breaths, dry his sweaty palms on his thighs, smooth the stray hairs back behind his ears.

He had knelt down, dusting his boots off with a handkerchief, the ones that made him just about a foot taller, when she approached him.

“Excuse me,” she said tapping his shoulder. He slowly rose, his eyes scanning every part of exposed flesh below her swing skirt and gaped for a moment as their eyes met.

She giggled, plucking off a piece of cotton candy and letting it melt on her tongue.

“Better close your mouth before it gets stuck that way,” she said.

He snapped his jaw shut and smiled. “Sorry,” he said, “you just startled me is all.”

“I startled you?” she said.

“Well, yes,” he said, “you and those beautiful peepers.”

She rolled her eyes, but not unkindly. “Well,” she said, “me and my beautiful peepers spied a pack of smokes in your right pocket and were wondering if we could bum one if you would be so kind.”

“Of course.” He pulled the pack of Marlboros from his pocket. “They’re unfiltered,” he said as he tapped a cigarette out for her. “Hope that’s all right.”

“Just fine,” she said and smiled.

He handed the cigarette to her, waited for her to put it between her lips, and lit it. She coughed a bit at first, obviously unaccustomed to the harsh smoke, and then exhaled a blue cloud. She held her cotton candy out to him.

“Want some?”

“Sure,” he said, taking the paper cone from her and biting down on a particularly moist spot that she had been licking. “What’s your name?” he said.

“Cherie,” she said, taking a much lighter drag from the cigarette this time. “You?”

“Bob.”

Bob?” she said, raising an eyebrow. “That’s all?”

“That’s all,” he said.

“Well, Bob – what do you do?”

“Sales,” he said simply.

“Oh yeah?” They began to slowly walk toward the midway, the sounds of pyramids made of cans being smashed apart with rubber balls, bean bags being tossed, apples bobbed, and the wheel of fortune spun. A man on stilts stood before a crowd, juggling bowling pins effortlessly beneath the Crazy Mouse as its cars swung side to side on rickety tracks.

“Yep,” he said. “I sell Bibles mostly.”

“You don’t look at all like a Bible salesman,” she said.

“What exactly does a Bible salesman look like?” he said with a smirk.

“Not like you,” she said. “You’re in such good… shape.”

“Well,” he said, “I’m a boxer too.”

“Really?” she said, obviously impressed.

“Yep. Amateur as for right now, but I do hope to go pro once I get a few more wins under my belt.”

She ran her sugar-stained fingers up his arm, lightly squeezing at his forearm then his bicep. “You’ve certainly got the body for it.”

“Thanks,” he said. He patted her ass, and she playfully skipped to the side and smacked his chest.

“You better watch it,” she said. “I’m no floozy now, so don’t go thinking any unsavory thoughts.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he said.

“Well,” she said, tapping his crotch with a finger, “that’s a shame.”

He gently took her hand and put her fingers in his mouth, sucking the sweetness off each one of them.

“I got a sixer back at my car if you’re thirsty?”

“I’m absolutely parched,” she said. 

The sound of the crowd faded as they made their way into the parking lot.

 

After…

Charlie cracked open his first beer in forty years and drained it in three gulps as he slowly walked down the path, not knowing what else to do.

These woods were like nothing he had ever seen before: eerily silent with not a cricket chirp or hoot of an owl or rustle of leaves in earshot. The trees were thick and shimmered with spooky iridescence when the moonlight hit them just right, and the dirt he treaded upon was an inky black that reminded him more of ash than earth. He let the empty can of beer fall to the ground and immediately pulled the tab from another.

Charlie knew he was dead and wasn’t as frightened as he expected he would be. There was something peaceful about the way he felt, his surroundings. The quiet was more comforting than anything else, and the air tasted so clean and crisp as he inhaled it.

There was the beer too, obviously – that unforgettable feeling of euphoric numbness as it washed over his neurons was like an old friend.

As minutes turned into hours, and he walked deeper into the woods, that pleasant ache of strong leg muscles being utilized after so many years, he finished off his last beer. Now pleasantly drunk, he waited for what was to come next. He most certainly was in heaven, after all: he was enjoying the vibrancy of his youth, getting drunk off his favorite beer, and enjoying the peaceful bliss of nature. The only other thing that would make things perfect would be a piece of ass.

“Excuse me, handsome.”

Charlie turned, startled by the sudden break in the silence.

The woman stood before him, wearing nothing but a smile, and her body defied perfection. Something about her seemed familiar, eerily familiar, but he didn’t care: he had a hard-on so sturdy he could hang a full load of laundry from it.

“What can I do for you, miss?” he said as he began to unbutton his pants.

“You wouldn’t happen to have a smoke, would you?”

“As a matter of fact,” he said, reaching into his pocket with his free hand. He took a fresh smoke from the pack and held it out to her. She took it from him and put it between her pouty, red lips. He lit it for her. As she took a drag, he wrapped his arms around her and began kissing her neck, tasting the sweet skin as he nibbled at it. She giggled and wrapped her arms around him, pressing her breasts up to him. It felt so good to hold a woman.

“You like it rough, baby?” he said and grabbed a handful of her long, blonde hair. He tugged at it playfully and decided to see how far he could take it before she began to panic. So, he bit her neck, so hard he drew blood.

She kept giggling.

Damn, he thought, she must really enjoy the pain. Everyone has their breaking point, though.  

He pulled harder at her hair and a tuft of it came out in his fist. He frowned. He didn’t pull that hard. He tried to back away from her, but she held him tight, not ready to let go. Her grip was as firm as concrete.

“Hey!” he said and that taste of skin and fresh blood, so delicious a moment before, turned putrid like rancid deli meat in his mouth. He frantically began pushing away from her, and when that didn’t work, he slammed his fists down onto her head as hard as he could. He heard a sickening crunch after his sixth or seventh blow, and she let him go.

A corpse stood before him, one that was good and rotted. The left side of her skull was caved in, and her eye sockets brimmed with maggots as they feasted on her jellied eyeballs. Her mouth was partially ripped away, exposing black stumps where her teeth had once been. The rest of her nude body was grey and green, dappled with mold, some parts shredded up, most likely from wildlife. He had seen this happen many times before. He would visit them, the special ones, after he stashed them away, deep in the woods. Animals would get to the bodies relatively quickly, and they usually went for the intimate parts first. But that was okay: he didn’t always need to have the usual way to get his rocks off. It was when they began to putrefy, however, that it just wasn’t possible. He tried, lord knows he tried, but the smell was just too much, even for someone like him who liked some stink with his sushi.

“Maybe this ain’t the good place after all,” he said.

The dead woman pointed a moldering finger further down the path.

“Go further.”

He nodded, backing away. He turned and quickly made his way down the blackened path, every so often glancing over his shoulder. The dead woman never lowered her hand, never deviated from the spot she stood in, a smile forever inscribed in the place where her lips should have been.

 

Before…

He had been talking to her for a long time. Pacing back and forth, every so often raising his voice to a fever pitch and then bringing it back down to a simmer.

The orange ribbon, the one she wore so prettily in her hair, was now around her throat so tightly her neck was constricted to half its size.

“You probably just think I’m a loser, though, right? A fuck up?” he said. “Hell, maybe I am those things.”

He threw his arms up.

“But out here? Out here, I’m the boss.” He looked down at the empty can of beer he held, crushed it, and lobbed it at the left side of her head where it rebounded off her temple and into the brush.

He could still hear the carnival in the distance: the gleeful hollering of children coalescing with all the other joyful noises. Part of him was still there, standing below the Ferris wheel with the beautiful girl as they chatted and shared her cotton candy. He’d ask her if she’d like to go to the drive-in sometime, get a steak dinner…

He would introduce her to his parents, and his father would get drunk and make inappropriate comments, and his mother would blush and make excuses for the old man as he poured beer after beer down his gullet…

They would go steady for a year, take a trip to Barbados, and he would propose to her under the Caribbean sun…

He would run for local office – councilman or maybe even mayor – while managing his father’s restaurant, while she made their home and carried his baby…

They would grow old together, and it would be a happy life…

“It’s your fault, y’know?” He said, putting his pants back on. “You came on too hot, baby. Got to learn to pump the brakes.” He laughed. “I mean, I know I’m handsome and all, but there is something called tact, self-control.”

He finished getting dressed, slipped his shoes back on, and stared at his latest mistake.

“Don’t you worry your pretty little head, though,” he said. “I’ll be back to visit, probably in the next few days. You won’t be lonely for long.”

He covered the body the best he could with branches and dead leaves. He then pulled a small bottle of castor oil from his back pocket and sprinkled some of it around and over everything, which would dissuade the wildlife, at least for a little while.

He whistled “That’ll Be the Day” as he made his way back to the car.

 

After…

The trail ended and the trees opened up to a field of tall grass. The moon was so white it hurt to look at for longer than a moment. The grass parted as he stepped through it, lazily falling back into place. Nothing moved, nor made a sound.

He had to walk through another small patch of woods, tripping over himself as the tall trees engulfed the moonlight and finally ended up where he was meant to be all along:

The corrugated metal, rusted from so many years of disuse and neglect, towered over him like ominous, prehistoric beasts. He felt eyes on him, but saw no one, and the only sound he heard was his breath as it caught in his throat. The beer had helped calm his shaky nerves after his encounter with the corpse girl, but he had sobered up since then and hadn’t stumbled upon anything to ease his nerves since.

He slowly made his way down the midway. He didn’t want to, even tried to stall himself at one point, but it was as if an invisible hand was pushing him forward – he had no choice but to walk.

Finally, he came to it: the octagonal monstrosity that seemed to stand in the center of everything else. The Ferris wheel was the biggest he had ever seen, twinkling in the moonlight like stardust.

He looked over his shoulder, feeling eyes on him, feeling the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. He threw his hands up in the air.

“Fuck this! Alright, what now, huh? Am I supposed to be scared of all this? Is this my comeuppance? Takes a lot more than a zombie bitch and broke-down carnival to scare me, asshole! Let’s get this over with! Stop stalling and dole out my punishment!”

He saw something flicker in his periphery. Turning quickly to the left, Charlie watched as one of the million turbo bulbs on the Ferris wheel quivered to green life. More followed suit, until the entire ride was set ablaze in neon brilliance.

The ride began to move.

Everything that happened next happened fast.

All of the rides came to life, shattering his senses with techno-colored brilliance. He watched as the Crazy Mouse whipped its empty cars from left to right as they rode the rickety track, heard bells buzzing as non-existent people won prizes at the shooting gallery, smelled the buttery goodness of popcorn as dried kernels exploded. Calliope music.

And he saw them lumbering toward him, emanating from the mist. He could immediately smell the decay, even from where he stood – a scent that he could never forget from so many long nights with his Beloved Dead. He pieced the situation together in his head like some sort of giant, demonic jigsaw puzzle: the things making their way toward him – obviously rotting corpses – he could already see were mostly female. (Charlie did kill a few young men during his most prolific period. Not because he was attracted to them; rather, he needed to switch up his M.O. when the pigs came a little too close for comfort.)

Nodding his head, he said, “So this is it. How original!” Charlie let out an insane laugh that died in the still air as soon as he cut it off. “What comes next? Are they gonna feed on me, over and over again, like I’m some sort of Prometheus? Hah! You uninspired idiot!”

As Charlie babbled, he made his was up the steel stairwell to the Ferris wheel and climbed into one of the cars as it lulled by. “Well, I may as well get comfortable then, huh?” He rested his back against the hard plastic, throwing his legs up on the cushioned seating, and threw his head back, laughing again as he was lifted into the night. “If I am Prometheus,” he said, “let this rusted hulk ride be my rock! Come and get me, mother fuckers!

The things had made their way onto the platform of the ride, wrapping their sinewy, maggot-eaten bodies around the supports and spokes and crawling toward him with acrobatic precision. One, in particular – a young girl with an orange ribbon in her hair – was coming fast, much faster than the rest.

“I remember you,” he said, glancing down at her. Half of her face was eaten away, and the other half plastered into a badger-snarl. “Cherie, baby! We had fun didn’t we, honey? Come back for seconds?”

The corpse clawed its way up the side of the car. When her head appeared, he lazily kicked at it and laughed at the look of surprise. “Takes a lot to scare me, sweetheart. I was hell on earth before my libido went. I was a monster!

With supernatural agility, the corpse girl flipped herself into the car. A rain of maggots showered off of her head and onto his lap. She spider-walked the brief distance between them and was on him before he could think what to do next. She had crawled up his lap, leech-like, her stench so offensive but also so welcoming, and sunk a maw of razor-sharp teeth into his shoulder. She tore a big chunk of flesh and muscle off and threw her head back, gnawing on the raw meat with hungry glee.

He grinned – she was exactly where he wanted her: distracted. What she did to him hurt, hurt like hell, but Charlie was good at compartmentalizing pain. He wrapped his hand around her waist and pushed her hard toward the other side of the car, smacking her skull on the railing. A look of confusion and then fear crossed her face, and he was on her.

Charlie had the corpse flipped around and leaning over the edge of the ride in no time.

As he began to unbuckle his pants, he muttered to himself, “Even in hell, I’m the boss.”

 

Now…

A few months later, Diane received the rest of Charlie’s pension.

$50,000.

“Just in time for summer, dear,” she said, staring lovingly at the picture of her husband on her bedstand. He was such a handsome young man.

It was more than enough money to put in that pool they had promised their grandchildren in the last few years. Her daughter and son-in-law, Lynn and Sam, came over the next night to browse catalogues and help her decide which company she should choose.

They eventually settled on Orange Ribbon Pools and Spas. The reviews and – even more importantly – the prices were exactly in line with what she was looking for.

It was an unseasonably hot April. The day the young men began digging the trench, the temperature clocked in at just over eighty-degrees, and it wasn’t even noon yet. She poured them all large glasses of iced tea with extra sugar and promised them lunch.

Diane was watching The View when she heard the first shouts from the backyard. She lifted off the couch, minding her creaking knees, and made her way toward the racket.

As the kitchen opened up into the sunroom, she saw two of the young men running from the already sizable hole in the yard. One had his hand up to his mouth, which was spewing regurgitated iced tea all over the lawn. The other had a look of wide-eyed terror on his face. His sun-kissed skin had gone ghost-white.

“What’s going on?” Diane said, opening the door that led into the backyard, heat hitting her face in nauseating waves, her temper rising to meet the temperature. “Are you trying to cause a scene? I have neighbors!”

“No, ma’am,” the young man who oversaw the project said to her, standing above the yawning pit. “Ma’am, I… well, I honestly don’t know what to say, and I hope to Christ that this is some sort of sick joke.”

“What are you talking about?” she said, slowly making her way toward him. “It’s too darn hot for me to be outside today. The heat is just torture on my knees.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but,” he spread his arms out in front of him and shook his head slowly, “if this is for real, we need to call someone, the cops or something, ASAP.”

Soon she was beside him, looking down into the pit. At first, it took her eyes a moment to adjust, and she assumed the things scattered in the dirt, the things that looked like bones, were just – what? – roots?

It wasn’t until she saw the skull sitting on top of the hill of dirt to her left that she realized, yes, in fact, she was staring at bones, and they were most certainly human, poking out of the soil like a morbid crop of root vegetables ready to be harvested.

 

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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