Black Petals Issue #88, Summer, 2019

Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Chapter 14
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
A Place of His Own-Fiction by Dorian Sinnott
Blood on the Riviera-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Chapter 13-Fiction by A.M.Stickel
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Chapter 14-Fiction by A. M. Stickel
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Chapter 15-Fiction by A. M. Stickel
Next Stop: Napper's Holler-Conclusion-Fiction by A. M. Stickel
Red Dress-Fiction byTrisha McKee
The Dead Are Not Lonely-Fiction by A. L. Hodges
The Taxidermist is Hatching-Fiction by Michael Mulvihill
This Isn't You-Fiction by J. David Thayer
Love River Forever-Poem by Hicham El Qendouci
Fire Rages from Her Fingertips-4 Poems by T. B. Kelley
Sheepsquatch-3 poems by Richard Stevenson





     “Miss Jess?” Razi, this summer’s problem child, stood on the tent house stoop. In her ragged Camp Piney sweatshirt and baggy brown shorts, the youngster eyed her counselor from under a tangled mat of greasy brown curls. She smelled like sulfur, her bloated belly contrasting with stick-thin limbs.

     “Come on in, Razi.” She’s a misfit, just like I was, thought Jess, almost smiling in relief. Thank goodness it’s not Mama and brother Jason yet.

     Jess remembered her fellow campers’ taunts of  “Toad face!” and “Inbred!” and worse: “Your bro-ther’s a ree-tard.” It wasn’t her fault the males of her line inherited the looks, the females, the brains. At ten, Jess had wondered how campers she’d never met before knew her secret. Mama Julie had conceived Jason and her at fourteen in her only intimate encounter. Brother John, like her Jason, moved by his ugly sister’s despair, remedied it in the way their line always had. The doctor then saw fit to free Pine County of future such ‘mistakes.’ Snip, Snip! and John had lit out, heading back to the woods above Napper’s Holler. But Mama had used her brains to survive.

     Eleven-year-old Razi shuffled her dirty tennis shoes on the cement floor, grinning, hands behind her back, too-round tummy sticking out. “I ain’t even gonna make you pick.” She showed Jess her right palm, which cradled a tiny wriggler. “Lookkit!”

     “Go put the funny pollywog back in the lake, Razi child. Take a shower and change. Your mom will be here soon to get you.” Don’t know why your mama refused to let you ride the bus with the others. With extra tutoring and better hygiene you’d make any mother proud. I wish Jason had your smarts.

     Razi’s critter reminded Jess of what her own body had expelled in a hot spring hidden from the rest of Camp Piney. Jason’s son, wrapped in moss, was tucked under a big tree beside living waters. After she prayed over the malformed fetus, she vowed to revisit those waters and commune with his spirit daily. Her visits helped her walk the dark path of pain and loss. The hot soaks in the tree’s shade revived her.

     I’m an employed college student at seventeen. I’ll earn enough so I can change my face and look normal and find a doctor to help Jason. At least I’ll be able to put food on the table for us when Mama can’t anymore.

     “This purty ain’t out’n the lake, Miss Jess.” Razi, who called everything “purty,” stared in awe at the slimy critter with the oddly sharp snout, too small to be an actual pollywog.

     But what else could it be?

     Plop! It was the counselor’s turn to stare. Another pollywog, coated in bloody slime, had landed between Razi’s shoes. The girl quickly stooped to pick it up. As she hunkered down, several more dropped from between her legs. She squealed with delight.

     “You know you oughtn’t go in the water without a buddy, especially since you haven’t even passed ‘pollywogs’ in the baby pond. Are you still wearing your wet bathing suit under your clothes?”

     “I warn’t in the big water all summer. I’m scairt o’ the Cold Deep.”

     “Then how’d you get those pollywogs in your clothes, young lady?”

     “They ain’t out’n m’ clothes, Miss Jess. These purties come out o’ me! Kin we get a cup and save ‘em, please? Don’t want ‘em to die.” Razi began sniffling. Salty tears cleared paths down her grubby face.

     “There, there...” Her own eyes brimming, Jess patted Razi’s back, dumped her bowl of craft beads and thread, and scooped the tiny creatures into it. She added water from the corner fire bucket.

     “Oh, Razi, I bet the other campers played a nasty joke on you. Stay here, honey. I’ll go fetch the nurse. We three need to be out before the cleaning crew comes, but I promise we won’t leave before you do.”

     Razi looked stricken. “What ‘bout Gish?” She pulled down her shorts and held the bowl between her legs. “Best bring me the fire bucket, Miss Jess. I feel more a-comin…lots more.”

     “Who’s Gish, Razi? Aren’t you too old for make-believe friends?”

     “Gish’s my Night Friend. He taught me to go in water. Tol’ him I was afeared o’ the lake ‘cause Ma says boys pee out baby seeder in the Cold Deep. In the dark, I dint see him. He had a funny, croaky voice. I thought he was a magic frog.”

     “What do you mean, Razi? I always checked campers at ‘lights out’. You couldn’t have gone anywhere. You probably had a dream.”

     Jess helped Razi straddle the bucket. As the child strained to empty herself, her extremities blue with cold, her forehead grew clammy, her belly flatter.

     “First night I woke up near the smelly water, I heard Gish in the tree. He asked t’be friends. He said I’d be warm and safe in his water.”

     “How’d he get you to go into the water, Razi?”

     “I’d jest wake up at his tree nights and there I’d be—in a little deeper each time. First it was toes, then ankles, then knees, and then waist. It stunk bad, but felt so nice I warn’t scairt. Gettin’ out, he’d talk me back t’ shore. All I had t’ do was follow his voice.”

     “Did he ever come in the water with you, Razi?”

     “Uh-uh. I alus woke up in water with him in the tree. Leastways, I heard his voice come from there. He swore he’d watch over me.”

     “I wish you’d told me sooner, Razi. When you feel better, show me where you think you went. Maybe it’s the spring I found this summer.”

     “Mebbe. Wish I was there now. It’s so cold and dark in here. Hold me?”

     “It’s not that dark, Razi honey. Shhh! Rest your head on my shoulder. I’ll carry you down the hill to the nurse.” Jess started to wrap the girl in her own blanket. Before she could finish, Razi sighed and went limp, her pupils fixed and dilated. Jess laid the body gently on her cot. She closed the moist, glassy eyes.

     SPLASH! The bucket of energetic pollywogs, some already tadpoles with rudimentary limbs, mesmerized Jess. Suddenly dizzy, she sat atop it. Splitting her pants with their sharp-nosed exit, bloody spawn spurted from between her own thighs.


     Shadow interrupted the light behind Jess. “Mama?” Gish croaked, bracing her against his green and brown bulk until she stopped shuddering and gave a final gasp to release her imprisoned spirit.

     A single tear marred her son’s smile as he watched their tiny progeny clamber from the bucket to devour her remains and embed themselves in his back. Once matured, they would gnaw their way out. The storm that erased his webbed tracks welcomed his dripping seed into the world’s waters and waiting wombs. Survivors would have her face and intelligence, his instincts and fertility.

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