Black Petals Issue #99, Spring, 2022

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Editor's Page
Artist's Page
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
Are You Full? Fiction by James Kompany
Bunker-Fiction by Ron Capshaw
Buy Here, Pay Here-Fiction by Kim Bonner
The Church of the Coyotes Who Would be Wolves-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Elm Mills-Fiction by Mack Severns
Hearts in the Gutter-Fiction by Lamont Turner
Midnight Espresso-Fiction by David Starobin
Spider Bite-Fiction by N. G. Leonetti
Test Tube Babies-Fiction by Kilmo
Witches' Jubilee-Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Biter: A Love Story-Flash Fiction by Harris Coverley
New Mail-Flash Fiction by Eddie D. Moore
Reasons Not to Wake Up a Sleeping Beggar in the Morning-Flash Fiction by Marcelo Medone
While I was Frozen-Flash Fiction by K. A. Williams
Woodshop for Werewolves-Flash Fiction by Mark Jabaut
Bruja-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
First Light-Poem by Jeffrey Park
Soul Music-Poem by Jeffrey Park
Stalker-Poem by Jeffrey Park
Zombies in Space-Poem by Jeffrey Park
Bleeding Senses-Poem by Jess Boaden
I'd Like to Speak to the Manager-Poem by Carl E. Reed
The Woods (Behind My House)-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Nocturnal Mode-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
When I Find You-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Ethereal-Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Fall-Poem by Mike Edele
Death-Poem by Mike Edele
Where Will You Be-Poem by Mike Edele
Giant Cockroach-Poem by Richard Stevenson
The Allegewi-Poem by Richard Stevenson
Tokoloshe-Poem by Richard Stevenson
The Ghoul-Poem by Richard Stevenson

Kim Bonner: Buy Here, Pay Here

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Art by Noelle Richardson 2022

BUY HERE, PAY HERE

 

By Kim Bonner

 

Pastor Kenny didn’t want to stop for slushies. All that sugar, it would make the kids hyper and the parents would blame him, and there went his chance for promotion to Assistant Director of Youth Outreach.  Already, the weekend had been a disaster, with the barely pubescent members of “Team Flamingo” losing every single activity over the Jump 4 Jesus retreat. Two kids were sent home early after contracting poison oak. Bleary-eyed parents arrived at midnight to pick up their daughter who’d complained of homesickness. Another couple had been discovered fornicating in the equipment shed and were summarily ejected from the program, which was a shame because they were the only athletic members of Team Flamingo.

Kenny’s resolve held until the gas gauge plummeted without warning from the half-full mark to empty and the kids resumed their incessant mewing for a pit stop.  He gripped the duct-taped steering wheel and swerved off the expressway into a gas station with a missing “G” on its sputtering neon sign. Color posters of flavored ice drinks alongside discount cigarette ads festooned the front window. The kids squealed and dug in their bags for change while Kenny filled the tank and pretended to protest.

“Promise, we’ll get smalls! It’ll only take a minute.”

“Five minutes, guys. We have to be at the church parking lot by nine,” he called as the kids scampered through the front door, held open by a lean, pockmarked man wearing a bandana and a leather vest.  Tattoos snaked up both of his arms from wrist to shoulder. When one of the girls chirped a thank you, he eyed her up and down, settling his gaze on her chest.  Kenny frowned. Best practices in youth safety dictated that he stay with the kids. He tucked his polo shirt, emblazoned with his name, title and the church logo, into the waistband of his khakis and walked to the entrance. As he stepped over the threshold, Kenny gingerly nudged aside a syringe and a used condom with his sneaker. 

 The kids crowded around a chipped Formica counter while they mixed blue and cherry slushie mix together in thirty-two ounce cups. Kenny saw more than a few brand-new “Jump for Jesus!” t-shirts already stained. A withered hot dog rotated on a warmer next to a microwave dotted with fingerprints and smeared mustard.

“I thought you said small, guys.” Kenny shook his head in feigned disapproval. The cool adult, the one who let them stop for snacks. They ignored him.

Biker man paid for a six pack and left, holding the door open for a couple in their early twenties, both barefoot, with sunken, hollow faces. The store clerk, thin and wiry, peered at them over an issue of Entertainment Weekly. His male pattern baldness seemed a cruel joke in contrast to the generous smattering of pimples dotting his cheeks and nose. A nametag that read “Joey” hung unevenly from his shirt pocket.

He frowned. “You have to wear shoes in the store.”

“Don’t have any,” the man replied. “Can we use your bathroom? The ones outside are out of service.”

Joey stifled a yawn. “Sorry. Employees only.”

The woman stared at her feet, which were caked with dirt. The man looked at Kenny with eyes the color of coal dust.

“They got you too. I can see them,” he said. “But you didn’t finish the deal.”

“Let’s go guys,” Pastor Kenny stammered.

As the kids filed toward the counter, the man drew his hand out from his waistband, producing a dull stainless steel revolver. Red ribbons danced around the man’s feet, flickering in and out of view under the fluorescent bulbs.

“Open the register.”  He gestured at his companion. “Lock the door.”

The scarlet streamers undulated over to caress Kenny’s cheek as if in recognition. “Long time no see, Kenny. We’ve been looking for you.”

“Does anyone else see them?” Kenny whispered to no one in particular. The security cameras and corner mirrors only showed Kenny violently twitching while the robber swatted away an invisible insect from his thigh.

“You heard him, open it up,” the woman shouted. Kenny saw her mouth was littered with yellow, decayed teeth.

Joey’s nametag dangled precipitously on a bent clasp. “We only keep a hundred in the register. I don’t have the combination to the safe.”

“Not my problem,” the man replied.

The kids shrieked at the first shot, which he fired at the video camera and missed. He turned around.

“Everyone on the floor. Except you, preacher man. You and me, we’re the same, ain’t we? But you cut out on them. You still have yours.”

Kenny’s eyes flickered to the ribbons, which had encircled the man’s head and twisted into a knot. “Of course we’re the same.  We’re children of God. He watches over everyone. He even has his eye on the tiny spar—"

“We both got The Dread.”

One of the girls started crying.

“Please, let the kids go,” Kenny stuttered, remembering that robbery etiquette demanded that he, the adult in charge, request the children’s release. But he could feel them coming for him, coming to collect an overdue payment for a careless, childish wish, spoken aloud in a moment of weakness.   

“I will fear no evil.” Kenny mouthed the words but he didn’t believe them.

The clerk thrust a wad of money from the register toward the man. “Here, here.”

“This ain’t shit,” the man said, his eyes black in surrender.

An older couple rattled the door from outside. The husband banged his fist on the glass, demanding entry and use of the inside facilities. His wife saw the gun. Her mouth formed an “O,” but the door mostly muffled her shrieks. Kenny thought she looked rather like a mute bird trying to sing.

The man spun toward Kenny. “Tell those brats to shut up and empty their pockets. “Laney, go get it from them.”

Laney snatched crumpled bills and loose change from the kids’ outstretched hands. They’d dropped their slushies when the shooting started and the floor ran red and blue with a thickening pool of liquid syrup.

“Let’s pray about this,” Kenny said. His voice dropped to a whisper. “They might go away if we do. They have before.”     

The man looked Kenny up and down. “How long you been running?”

Kenny recoiled. “A long… since high school.”

He imagined how weak he must look, nose running and tears dotting his sunburned, still plump with baby fat, cheeks. The Dread hissed up through the floor and drew him in a lover’s embrace. Kenny howled when they squeezed his spongy belly. His ribs cracked.

“Pastor Kenny, I’m scared,” one of the twins said.

The man turned his attention back to the clerk. “Your wallet too,” he said.

“Please, man, I have to pay rent this week.”

“Not anymore.”   

Some of the kids screamed when the gun popped. Others clung to each other, mute.  The clerk’s head struck the counter on his way down, a dull thud like a pumpkin hitting concrete.  He slid to the floor. Laney ground her teeth and picked at her face while the acrid stench of gunpowder wafted through the store.

“Let’s get out of here,” she pleaded. “Those old people are gonna call the cops.”

“Pastor Kenny, Meredith can’t breathe.”

Kenny spun around. One of the girls sat hunched over, wheezing.

“She needs her inhaler. Let her go,” Kenny pleaded. He bent over and clutched his shattered ribs in agony as The Dread wriggled in and out of his ear canal.

“They found you,” the man said. “Still want to pray?”

Kenny’s voice faltered. “Um, yes.” He braced his hands on his thighs. Hunched and quivering, he began. “Let’s pray. Dear Lord, I ask you to shine your blessings down on these two people, your children, who have lost their way. I implore you to show them that through your divine mercy, they can be beacons of light and that through Christ, all things are possible.  And please help Meredith breathe. Amen.”

“Amen,” the children murmured automatically.

“That was truly lovely,” The Dread agreed.

“That was nice,” Laney said. “You believe that? We’re beacons of light?”

The clerk let out his death rattle and expired.

“I surely do,” Kenny said, but he could feel them hollowing the rest of him out, piece by piece. Their recompense.  

The Dread took a break from stroking his internal organs. “Good times, Kenny. Buy here, pay here, remember?”

A bargain struck between a willing seller and an eager buyer would seem an equitable transaction. Terms negotiated. Price set. Handshakes all around. No high pressure sales tactics, no tedious credit checks or pretend trips to consult with the manager to approve a better interest rate. Just business.

But when examined, Kenny had discovered, the transaction always benefitted one party disproportionately. The low down payment belied the astronomical end cost. And the product? Well, had he not obediently initialed the waiver of warranty, the As Is disclaimer in bold print and large font, the release and indemnification clause that required him to pay in full regardless of satisfaction with his purchase?

I thought it would feel different.

“Tough shit, Kenny. Now be a good boy and open wide,” The Dread replied.

With the low down payment made and the instant gratification of walking off the lot with a supernatural can of whoop ass, Kenny had sauntered, no strutted, through the last months of high school. Yearbook season proclaimed him Most Likely to Succeed, Most Popular. The student council secretly recounted the votes four times. But it was Kenny’s name they grudgingly emblazoned on the acrylic trophies.

Still.

“I don’t actually feel any different. I don’t feel like a winner, you know? Like the guy who comes in first. I just feel like, me,” he’d said, twisting a tissue in between his fingers.

“Your payment is four days late. If it happens again, we accelerate your note,” the ribbon had murmured.

Kenny pressed on against the cold clamp of The Dread while Meredith’s wheezes became shorter and less frequent. “Psalm 119, verse 105, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.’ Like the bible song goes, this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. The kids were just singing it in the van. Just now. We’re on our way home from Bible camp.”

“Meredith isn’t breathing, Pastor Kenny.”

“Sucks to be Meredith, don’t it?” the man said. “We all got our crosses to carry.”

Kenny mustered a deep breath and shouted, ”In the same way let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your faith in heaven. Matthew 5 verse 16.” 

That verse had kept them away once, when he’d felt them the next town over after he’d chickened out on his end of the bargain and the luster of the plastic trophies and yearbook notables were long dimmed. After he’d reasoned that it was just a stupid piece of paper and after all, both sides had benefitted and no harm, no foul, let’s all move on and forget it ever happened. Community College, then Bible College. Doing good works later in life always made up for youthful bad choices, right? He only felt the teensiest bit hollow, just a bit prone to melancholy when he thought too long about his missing parts and whether they were still looking to collect the rest. Surely the bargain had worked out in the end.  If anything, he was entitled to a refund. Payment after payment, and yet here he stood, still fat, unpopular, and lonely.                 

Laney clicked her rotted teeth together. “I don’t have a light left to shine.”

“God loves all of his children equally. Whatever you’ve done, he forgives you. All you have to do is accept Jesus Christ into your heart as your personal savior,” Kenny said.

“Your heart tastes like chicken,” The Dread replied.

“I went to Sunday school when I was a kid,” Laney croaked. “I got to sing in the Christmas pageant one time.”

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden,” Kenny whispered.

Laney set the money on the counter. She wept.  “I can’t.” She tore at the skin on her lip until it bled and her tears mixed with the blood.

“I’m going. Keep the money. I swear I won’t rat,” she said.

The man glanced at her indifferently. He shot her in the midsection while The Dread fluttered just above the ice cream display. The shot shattered the door to the milk case.

 She gaped at him, looked at the crimson stain spreading on her abdomen. “Bwft,” she rasped. “Why?”

As sirens wailed in the distance, he jerked the gun toward the kids.

“Sing the song,” he said.

Most of the kids were crying. Others whimpered. All of them looked at Kenny when the man issued the order. Kenny flinched when Laney succumbed to gravity, staggered to one knee, then two, her mouth slack. She crawled across the floor, clawing as she went, reaching for something, anything, to explain why.

Sorry, Laney. We all got our crosses to carry.

“Go ahead. It’s going to be all right,” Kenny told them.

The Dread rippled along the kids’ heads. “It’s really not, you know.”

Haltingly, the kids sang.  They gaped, glassy eyed, at Kenny, when they finished, “…let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” Kenny nodded at his flock. The cool adult. Most likely to succeed. Brave, even.

Laney lay sprawled on the floor, facedown in a mishmash of dust, peanut shells and dried beer.

When the kids finished singing, the man motioned at them with the revolver. “Get out. Take Meredith too.”

The kids scuttled to the doors, slipping and sliding in the slushie trail. Two older teenagers drug Meredith in between them, her lifeless arms draped across their shoulders.

“Let’s pray together now,” Kenny said. “Me and you. My God turns my darkness into light. Psalm 18 verse 28. The light keeps them away. It has before. They couldn’t find me for almost five years.”

“Cheater,” The Dread hissed.

“My step daddy used to come to my room to pray with me every night,” the man said. “That’s why they came to me, you know? I guess I called them. I don’t pray anymore.”

“Why did you stop praying?” Kenny asked.

“My step daddy liked my company a lot.”

Kenny swallowed. “I…”

“Save it,” the man said. “I just wanted it to stop, you know? For him to go away.” He snorted. “He went away, alright. That’s a body that won’t ever be found. They tore him apart in front of me. I liked it.”

Kenny tried to take another deep breath but his lungs had filled with fluid. He wanted to take the man’s hand, comfort him, and pray for solace. Instead, he said, “What was it like? Going all the way through with it? Not having a… you know.” His voice shook.

The man shrugged. “Not bad at first. But then they never left.  It’s like they get off watching me do bad shit and not even care about it.” He gestured toward Laney’s body. “I don’t even know her last name. I was getting dope off her. When you’re loaded you don’t notice them as much.”    

“I’m sorry for you,” Kenny said.

The man waved the revolver dismissively. “I ain’t looking for pity. I just want to be done with it. I got enough bullets to do you too, ‘less you want them to finish you off.” He paused. “I’m not enjoying this, you know.”

The phone behind the counter rang, perhaps the police calling to negotiate. Kenny laughed. Easy terms. No tricks. No hidden fees.

The man cocked his head to the side, sizing up Kenny one last time. “Before we end this, tell me, preacher man, how does a guy like you get The Dread?”

Kenny felt them rip away the last chunk. Paid in full. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Blue lights flashed in the parking lot. He imagined Meredith huffing on her inhaler. Or maybe she was dead. It felt odd not to care. He supposed that one of those stupid kids had probably wished for something at the slushie counter. Buy here, pay here. Better hope they don’t follow you home, kid.

“I guess I wanted someone to like my company a lot,” Kenny said.

The first responders found the store quiet but for the rattle and hum of an ancient air conditioning system and the flicker of fluorescent lights. Joey the clerk lay where he’d fallen, his eyes still open. Laney’s blood mingled with the slushie mix and filth on the floor.

Pastor Kenny looked peaceful in repose underneath the Horizon Honey Bun cardboard kiosk. The man had helped himself to a cold one before shuffling off his mortal coils next to a crate of discount cigarettes. The Dread moved on, their ledger back in the black.

 

Kim Bonner’s work has previously appeared in Yellow Mama ("The Grove") as well as the Flying South Literary Journal and the Barely South Review. One of her essays is featured in a 2021 anthology published by the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. She is a native of Florida.

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