Black Petals Issue #98 Winter, 2022

Richard Brown: Bells in the Woods

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Worm Food-Fiction by Michael Dority
Bells in the Woods-Fiction by Richard Brown
The Smiling Dead-Fiction by Guido Eekhaut
Beneath-Fiction by Samantha Brooke
The Reality Engine-Fiction by M.T. Johnson
Bug-Fiction by David Starobin
The Family Upstairs-Fiction by Ally Schwam
Hoola-Fiction by Lamont A. Turner
The Barber Shop-Fiction by Roy Dorman
On the Corner of 15th and Jackson-Fiction by Kat Vatne
Prisoners-Fiction by Paul Lee
Twinkles-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Party-Time Trio-Flash Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Shadowed Soul-Flash Fiction by Jess Boaden
5G Generation-Poem by Joseph Danoski
Creature of Habit-Poem by Joseph Danoski
Joe Schmoe & Jayne Doe-Poem by Joseph Danoski
The World-Poem by S. Wiseman-Rose
Exquisite Corpse-Villanelle-Poem by S. Wiseman-Rose
Edwardian-Poem by S. Wiseman-Rose
Bloody Fingers-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Pathway Down-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Another Red Nightmare-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
The Avenue of Pines (Re-visited)-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Lover's Meadow-Poem by Brielle Amick
Scarecrow in Female-Poem by Meg Smith
Regards to Buzzards-Poem by Meg Smith
Failed Conjuring-Poem by Meg Smith
Missing Among Wildflowers-Poem by Meg Smith
Lords of Extinction-Poem by Meg Smith

98_bp_bellsinthewoods_hlyon.jpg
Art by Hillary Lyon 2022

Bells In the Woods


Richard Brown

 

  

          The tub sat in a clearing, off to the left of the trail as you hiked toward Crystal Falls. Jan saw it clearly, about seventy feet from the tub. It crouched alone, surrounded by nothing but dirt and small rocks. No vegetation grew in the clearing, even though the entirety of the forest was famous for its lush ground cover. The tub was an old-fashioned claw-footed design, made of pristine porcelain. Jan could only just make out the long, thin, metal pipe jutting up from the foot of the tub. It looked to be six and a half feet tall, with a gooseneck at the top, curving down to end in a showerhead the size and shape of a giant Hershey’s Kiss – the kind Jan often saw at Christmastime.

          Jan couldn’t figure out how it had ended up here. There were no roads nearby, not even access roads used by rangers and firefighters. There was no way for anyone to haul this tub out here… and for what reason? It looked new, if quaint, and in good working order, but there was no water supply to it, and no one to use it if there was! This part of the trail…of the forest… was deserted, and had been for ten months, at least, since the new road was laid.

          The mystery of the tub pulled at Jan’s natural curiosity, and she found herself crossing the gravelly landscape toward the tub to investigate. The faint aroma of strawberries caught her nose as soon as she stepped off the trail, and as she neared, lavender intertwined its soothing fragrance, relaxing Jan.

          She stood by the tub and looked in. She could see naught but polished porcelain, but she stared for several long minutes. Then she knelt.

          She caressed the low-slung belly of the tub and, with her other hand, reached for the spigot to run the water. Nothing happened.

          Jan stood, and removed her down vest, followed by her fleece jacket. She lovingly untangled her ponytail from the hair-tie through which it was knotted. She unbuttoned her flannel shirt, pulled off her thin tank-top, and unclasped her bra. She continued shedding her clothes until she was fully nude, and then she stepped into the tub, and slowly sat, as though settling into a hot bath.

          The instant Jan’s naked bottom touched the cold, dry porcelain, the faint tinkling of bells filled the air in the small clearing. Bells like you find on cat toys.

          While the old man paused to sip his iced tea, the young men who were his audience gaped at each other, then at him. They were a cute couple, the old man thought. Familiar and comfortable with each other, but still freshly in love. He estimated their relationship at about a year old.

          The dark-haired one finally spoke. “She stripped and took a dry bath in a tub in the middle of the woods?” he asked. “Is she here? Can we ask her about this?”

          “Jan’s dead, sonny.”

          They both looked sad and sympathetic. Nice boys, the old man thought.

          “She died in that tub,” he continued. “I was hiking with her that day. Jan was my wife.”

          “What happened?” they both asked in unison.

          “The bells grew louder, and…fiercer. Like the cat that was playing with the toy was a bobcat, and it blamed the toy for taking its tail. Then Jan started screaming. I couldn’t do anything. I had taken that first step off the trail with her, but had been unable to move after that. I just stood there, frozen in place.

          The screaming finally died away after about half an eternity, and I began to feel the pull toward the tub. It surprised me, though, and I took a step back, which put me back on the trail, and the spell broke. I hurried back down the trail and told my story to the ranger. I could tell he didn’t believe any of it, but he went up there to check it out. He said he didn’t see any tub, or any sign of Jan.”

          “So what do you think happened?” came the whispered question from the blond-haired young man.

          “I think it only appears, and calls, to couples. I think that whatever jingles those bells wants one of the partners to see what happens to their loved one. It’s happened before. I know that because the tub did fill after my Jan started screaming. I saw some of the bigger cuts, the slashes, even from that far away.”

          “That’s enough! Let’s go, Jason. This old man just wants to scare us. Just having some fun with the gay boys, aren’t you, you phobic old-timer?” the dark-haired lad said.

          “Yup. I know that it sounds like that. You two enjoy your walk. I urge you to run if you start smellin’ strawberries, though. It ain’t the season for ‘em.”

          Jason hesitated, and asked in a low tone, “How do you know it happened before? Just because the tub started to fill—"

          “It’s a deep tub, sonny. My Jan was a petite gal. Ain’t no way she had enough in her to overflow that tub.”

          “Enough…?” they asked in unison again.

          “That tub filled with blood. You enjoy your walk, now. And you fight like hell for each other, okay? Don’t you just stand there.”

          The old man slouched on the bench, dropped his chin to his chest, lowered his straw fedora over his eyes, and said no more.

#

          Four miles up the trail, the argument raged on between the lovers. “Have you looked around? There are trees and bushes everywhere! There’s no barren clearing like what he described!” said the brunette.

          “All I’m saying is—"

          The sweet, relaxing aroma flooded their nostrils at the same moment that they each saw the ivory gleam through the undergrowth. 

          Jason thought about his feet, then, and how they wouldn’t move.


Richard Brown is a multi-genre author who has contributed to Black Petals twice before (issues #91 and 96), and is currently working on two novels – a dark psychological thriller, and a young adult fantasy/adventure. He and his Guide Dog haunt the Pacific Northwest, rain or…well, rain.

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