Black Petals Issue #99, Spring, 2022

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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

Mack Severns: Elm Mills

bp_99_elmmills_kjhannah.jpg
Art by KJ Hannah Greenberg 2022

Elm Mills

 

Mack Severns

 

          “Here we are,” Amber said to Graham. “Welcome to Elm Mills.”

          Graham rolled down the window and took in the scenery. The verdure on both sides of the gravel drive shimmered with the bright colors of an exaggerated Spring. Everything shouted life. Even the mushrooms and fungus seemed products of beauty. But the most noted characteristic of the land belonged to the giant elms shrouding the property from the rest of the world. And to think this was Kansas.

          “This place is so right, girl.” He looked at her and smiled. “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in California anymore.”

          “I love it here. I wish I could live here like Nana did when she retired. Said they were the best days of her life.”

          “This will be yours one day, right?”

          “My great Aunt Georgina inherited the land after Nana died. But after Georgina dies, I will be the heir because she never had kids.”

          Graham saw a portion of the cabin up ahead tucked behind clumps of foliage. “Nice. It looks like one of those handmade log cabins that Jeremiah Johnson would build.”

          “Who’s that?”

          “Jeremiah Johnson. Robert Redford. Surely you’ve seen it?”

          “No. I’m a girl. Why would I watch a mountain man movie?”

          Graham shifted in his seat to face her as the tires crunched over the pebbles. “So check it. A long time ago there was this dude named Jeremiah Johnson who served in war. After the war, he didn’t like people anymore. He decided to go up into the mountains and live with the grizzly bears. He used an ax to build himself a cabin. It was kick-ass.”

          “This was built with the same primitive tools,” Amber said. “Probably around the same time Jeremiah Jackson built his.”

          “Johnson.”

          “Whatever.”

She whipped the Jeep Cherokee into an opening in the thicket. She killed the engine and released her seatbelt. When she popped her door, Graham felt the morning air, brisk with the scent of wildflowers.

          He got out and stretched, then looked at the old structure.  Large, but simple. It appeared to be a monumental set of Lincoln Logs slapped down in the middle of the Midwest landscape. He noticed a hammock stretched between two medium-sized elms behind the cabin. Graham visualized frolicking in it with Amber, swinging in the breeze, stark naked under a quilt. He considered saying something along the lines of snuggling in it with her, but decided against it. This was the first time meeting her in person. It took eight months of internet chat to get here. Why jeopardize such a beautiful endeavor?

          “I used to swing in that thing when I was a little girl,” she said, as if telepathic. “Feel like unpacking now?”

          “Can we do it later? I’m kind of drained from jetlag.”

          “Of course.” She dug in her pocket and pulled out a key. “Let’s go in.”

          Graham followed her through the threshold. The first thing he experienced was the smell. It reminded him of an old library book. That historical musk. Then the floor squeaked under his feet.

Amber drew back some curtains to let the sunlight fill the room. “There’s no electricity. Sunlight by day. Lamplight by night. Jeremiah Johnson.”

“Cool with me,” he said. The cabin looked on the inside as it did on the outside: still and simple. Wooden furniture with basic cushions. Wool blankets. A dusty bass mounted on the wall, with an ancient lure hanging from its mouth. An old book sitting on the dining room table. A huge, worn book—something straight out of the Wild West courtrooms, the title written in gold bold: Genealogy of North American Trees.

“Kind of cozy in here,” Graham said. “I like it.”

“Lie down and rest if you want. I’ll bring the cooler in and get lunch ready. I’ll wake you if you fall asleep.”

“I’ll just sit down for a minute. I’m fine. I can help you with lunch.” He sat down on one of the wooden sofas and leaned back into some of the most comfortable cushions he had ever pressed against in his entire life. “This is so good.”

Amber walked into the kitchen area and began to inspect the insides of the cabinets. “Sucks not having a fridge. We usually eat canned goods out here. But that’s not really legit in a log cabin. We can go fishing later and grill up our catch, if we catch any.”

“Dude, I’m a fishing guru. Hank Parker ain’t got shit on me.”

“Who’s that?”

“Nevermind. I’d love to go fishing. What does the great state of Kansas have to offer?”

“Channel catfish. Flathead. Bass. Crappie. Bluegill. The Ninnescah has them all. But we also got our own lake on a sandpit. The water is so much fresher. The sand filters it.”

“How big is this place?”

“About ninety acres. I’ll show you all of it later.” She came out of the kitchen. “Do you remember what we talked about the other night? Wild bud versus homegrown?”

“Yep. I’m still hydroponics all the way. Why do you ask?”

“Elm Mills is a special place.” She smiled and stepped toward him. “The plants here are special. The trees. The grass. The vines. And the bud.” She held out her hand. A nugget of glistening green herb adorned with orange fibers filled her palm. “Wild Elm Mills weed. Wanna try it?”

“Hell—yes.”

Amber walked over to the table and sat down, interrupting a beam of light emanating from a window. The beam lit the left side of her body, creating a theatrical chiaroscuro effect, giving her the essence of a living Caravaggio painting as she ground the bud between her fingers. Her short figure dealt her curves, evident in the white V-neck stretching over her chest. Her large eyes and cheekbones tapered down into a small pointed chin. Her thin lips matched the pale hue of her face. Her dirty blonde hair glowed like an angel’s halo.

It had been a long eight months since Graham had found Amber by chance on social media. He was shocked to see that a girl of such beauty was single. Her unconventional pictures intrigued him. Most girls Graham knew posted pictures of themselves with their girlfriends drinking martinis like they were the cast of Sex and the City, standing next to witless boyfriends. Not Amber. She posted photos of trees and bugs, old highways and truck stops.

Graham had figured her for an environmentalist, the hippy chick. That’s cool and all. But her eyes suggested a rebellious conduct that the tree-hugger did not typically possess. A mystery of sorts, right up Graham’s alley. And he did everything in his power to keep her interest in him.

Graham was kind of an unconventional fella himself, a soft-spoken man who had that 90210 face, but a grunge wardrobe and unkempt hairstyle. He spent most of his time watching movies and smoking grass—and trying to avoid his stern father. He was highly intelligent, and the ladies thought he was cute, but most thought he was gay because of his feminine mannerisms. Graham was hardly gay. Wasn’t a day gone by that he wasn’t on Pornhub watching the crudest intercourse. But poor Graham just couldn’t seem to find that one, that perfect girl, peculiar and sexy. And then there was Amber.

He found that they had similar interests, such as movies, nature, and getting high. It came to pass that not a night went by that they didn’t correspond in the wonderful galaxy of cyberspace. They would have met much sooner if Graham didn’t live in Cali, and Amber in Kansas. When Amber suggested he come stay a weekend at her family cabin, he borrowed his mother’s credit card (with vows unto death he’d pay it back) to purchase a round trip airfare to the Heartland. Now he just had to play his cards right.

“You ready?” she asked, holding a joint between her fingers.

Graham had zoned out while staring at her sitting in the light beam. He snapped back to reality and said, “After you.” He walked over to the table as she lit the joint with a book of matches.

The bud smoking commenced: Puff, puff, cough, pass.

Amber was right. The weed was exceptional, ridiculous, unlike anything Graham had ever smoked. The shit hit him good after about five pulls. His senses became overly acute, particularly his hearing. He wasn't sure, but he thought he heard something large outside bang against the cabin. Possibly a swaying elm. On a calm day, though?

“What do you think, Jeremiah Johnson?”

His attention focused back to her. A large vein ran down the middle of Amber’s forehead. He wondered if the vein had been there all along. Was it in the profile pictures, or did she have it at the airport?

“My head feels like a helium balloon.” He touched his face. “I bet if it wasn’t attached to my neck, it would float up and touch the ceiling.”

Amber exploded into laughter, followed by Graham. They laughed so hard they could barely catch their breath. Afterward, Graham realized he had no saliva in his mouth. His palette felt like an inverted turtle shell when he ran his tongue over it. Next, he became aware of the thudding in the center of his chest. Then the swishing of the internal plumbing in his guts. The tightening of his scrotum. His moving scalp. His body became a separation of autonomous parts.

“You all right?”

He exhaled and nodded. “I’m zooted. Got cottonmouth.”

“I’ll go get the cooler. We got water, soda, beer. Whatever you want.” Amber started to get up.

“No, I’m good. I’ll get it in a minute. Let’s just chill.”

“Okay,” she said. She sat back in her chair and crossed her arms, pressing her breasts upward. “What do you want to talk about?”

Graham glanced at her cleavage. He wanted to do a double take, but was paranoid she might take him as a pervert. “I’m, uh . . . not a hundred percent sure right now. I can barely see straight.” His eyes scanned the room and rested on the large book in the center of the table. “That book looks heavy. And old.”

“I love that book.” Amber leaned forward and flipped it open. A detailed illustration of some type of evergreen appeared. “Sweet. A Florida Yew. One of the rarest trees in America. It’s extremely endangered. We’ve got one here at Elm Mills.”

“No way. It’d die during the winters, right?”

“Not this one. It’s special. We have many unique trees here, some not even recorded by the Audubon Society. Some that are one of a kind.”

Graham gazed at her, caught somewhere between her beauty and the mystic nature she spoke of.

“Do you have a favorite tree?” she asked.

His mind went to the dense forests in the lush places overseas, like the Amazon rainforest. He thought of the palms in the Caribbean. And then it popped in his head like a sudden internet ad. He did have a favorite tree. His folks used to take him to Colorado for vacations. He remembered climbing a particular tree that smelled so fresh, so wonderful that he took some of its sap home with him in a sandwich bag.

“A Colorado Blue Spruce. They’re beautiful. And they smell fantastic.”

Amber’s eyes lit. “No way. I love those. They’re coniferous trees that grow fifty feet tall and have four-inch cones. We got a few that are lively here. They love to see me.”

What the hell was that supposed to mean? Graham didn’t ask. He just nodded and smiled. In the moment he didn’t care what she said—he wanted to lean across the table and kiss her.

She stood up. “I want to show you something. Are you up for a walk?”

Graham had been weed-stuck in time and space, but her words freed him. He jumped up. “For sure, my lady.”

He followed her outside. The sun had already climbed in the sky. And what a pristine, blue sky it was. They circled around to the back of the cabin, then crossed a hand-built wooden bridge stretching over a thin stream. Amber led the way through a pathless forest of mighty elms teeming with life. In California, Graham was used to all the pigeons and seagulls, and all the birdshit they left behind. But the birds fluttering from tree to tree above his head glimmered in the streaks of light, from yellows to blues to oranges, some with iridescence.

“This place is like an enchanted forest in a movie. They could have filmed Lord of the Rings here, or Harry Potter,” he said. “You ever think about leasing out a section to Hollywood?”

“Wait until you see where I’m taking you. It’s even cooler’” she giggled. “It’s up ahead.”

“Is it the Fountain of Youth, here in Kansas this whole time?”

“You’re stupid. Hey, what kind of music did you say you like?”

How could she forget? They had talked about it dozens of times. Oh, well. “Here lately I’ve been on a Tom Petty kick. Why?”

“It could come in handy one day,” she said, and then stopped to face him. She stepped into him and pressed her lips on his. Graham felt the poke and sensual movement of her moist tongue. She pulled back and smiled.

Graham said nothing. All he could do was stare at her, bug-eyed.

“Well, do you wanna see?” she inquired, still smiling.

He finally blinked and said, “Well, yeah.”

She turned and continued walking through the woods. Graham followed closely, mentally praying that she would whip around for round two, and then some. He considered taking on the role of the man, grabbing her by the arm, spinning her around into his body, and pulling her to the ground, like some forest porno video. But he was too chickenshit.

While he fantasized, the large elms suddenly ended, and a new forest began. The grass under his feet changed to a brighter, almost emerald green. An eclectic display of trees spread out before his eyes, all shapes and sizes. A variety of dazzling leaves flickered in the breeze; colored blossoms flaunted their beauty as if in a competition.

“Dude, it's like a magical forest within a forest,” he said softly.

“Like the Sargasso. A sea within a sea,” she added.

He pointed at a tree as wide as a truck and as tall as a four-star hotel. “What the hell is that?”

“That’s a sycamore hybrid. His name is Edwin.”

He pointed to another tree, tall and lean with silver bark. “And that one?”

“He’s part River birch. That’s Bowden.”

“You named them all?”

“Kind of.” She smiled. “Hey, come over here.” Amber led him deeper into the sensational woods.

“How did these trees get here?”

“My great grandmother planted the old ones, the bigger ones. But Nana and Georgina planted the majority. I’ve planted about a dozen myself. The younger ones—I’ll show you.”

“You mean you went and got the seeds and dug the holes?”

“Yeah, I guess you could say that.”

The two walked a little farther until they came to a cluster of saplings. “Are you ready to see something that is going to blow your mind?” Amber leaned toward one of the small trees and began snapping her fingers and stomping her foot on the ground. She started singing: “Oh I heard it all before, so don’t knock down my door. I’m a loser and a user, so I don’t need no accuser, to try and slag me down, because you know where I’ll be found, when I come around.”

“Dude, are you singing Green Day to the baby tree?”

“So go do what you like, make sure you do it wise. You may find out that your self-doubt means nothing was ever there. You can’t go forcing something if it’s just not right.”

Graham thought the wind picked up when the saplings began to move, swaying left and right. But he felt no breeze.

“No time to search the world around, ‘cause you know where I’ll be found, when I come around.”

Graham’s jaw dropped. The saplings swayed independently to Amber’s song, like rebellious youth at a rock concert. Not just the saplings, but other larger trees around them.

When I come around.”

A large Autumn Blaze tree contorted its large branches like a stationary ballerina, shedding some of its brilliant red leaves. A Magnolia rattled so violently its massive yellow flowers dropped to the ground.

Amber started dancing, clapping and twirling through the saplings. “Come on, Thomas! That’s right, Tucker!” She looked at Graham. “Come on, you! Dance with us!”

She darted over to him and grabbed his hands, pulling him into the excitement. The joy was contagious, and he found himself swaying with her rhythm. The two  pranced through the dancing trees. She let go of his hands and veered off to circle around a large cottonwood.

“This is amazing,” Graham shouted.” He hopped about like a child filled with sugar. “These trees, these trees are alive! I mean, they’re really alive!”

The two clapped and danced as they meandered through the swaying thicket until they were out of breath. Amber took Graham by the hands. “I told you Elm Mills is a special place.”

The two kissed, beautifully, urgently. Hands stripped his shirt from his body. Off came her shirt. They dropped to the ground, flesh caressing flesh. And right there under the dancing trees, Graham and Amber made love of a historical kind.

#

Graham awoke around dusk. He sat up with sluggish movements and looked around. The woods stood still. He saw that he was naked. No, it had not been a dream. But where was Amber?

He floundered to his feet. “Amber?” He said, anxiety brewing in his gut.

“Behind you.”

He turned to see her standing next to a cluster of colorful leaves. He started toward her. “How long was I out?”

“Most of the day.” She motioned to him. “I want to show you something else.”

“Look, I know we smoked something. But we danced, and then we—didn’t we?”

“Yes, we did.”

“The trees danced with us?”

“Yes, they did.”

The jubilant happening was now a bizarre memory to Graham. It couldn’t be possible. “Did we take some acid, also, or something?”

“No. It was Elm Mills weed.” Her face seemed somber.

“What’s wrong?” he asked as he approached slowly. She was perspiring, and her shirt was covered with dirt.

“I’m a little sad. That’s all. It’s nothing.”

“Why are you sweaty and dirty?”

She pointed to her left. Graham’s eyes followed to a hole in the ground, a fairly large hole the size of a hula hoop, with a massive mound of dirt next to it.

“Will you help me plant another tree?” she asked.

“Okay,” he said, his brow furled. He walked over to the hole and looked inside. It was deep, about four or five feet. He turned back to look at her, but instead saw a swinging shovel an instant before it bashed his face.

The blow buckled his legs and shot him backward. Graham’s body crashed to the ground. He grabbed his face, but before he could even moan, the shovel hammered down on his left knee, causing a bone to snap. His right knee followed suit, and this time Graham let out a curdling shriek.

His vision, although blurred and spotted, focused on Amber standing above him, a shovel held above her head. “I’m sorry, sweet Graham. But I can’t kill you.” She circled around him. “The ground needs you alive.”

She dropped the shovel and knelt by him. Graham spit some blood from his mouth, along with a tooth. He watched her as she lifted a knife. “Why?” came from his mouth, almost a babble.

“I’m sorry, but I’ve got to make sure there’s enough blood. The blood activates the soil, and your body becomes the seed. This will be quick.” She sliced fast with the serrated blade, opening tissue on his thighs. Graham gave a pathetic whimper and flinched.

Amber dropped the knife, then embraced him. “I love you.” She stroked his hair as she held him. Graham didn’t fight. Instead. he gazed at the forming moon as his body went into shock. The trees around them seemed to droop, as if listening, watching.

She let go and pushed his body, rolling him into the hole. Graham dropped like a stone and landed on his back. Amber straightened up. He could now see her face in the fading light. She looked so beautiful. So lovely.

She picked the shovel up and plunged it into the mound of dirt. As she dropped the first load on his body, he began to fade in and out of consciousness. “You will come back, sweet Graham. You will have a new life, with lots of friends. They will be so happy to have you, and you them.”

Another scoop of soil landed on Graham’s chest.

“I will come visit you. We will dance together. It will be perfect.”

Graham began to weep.

“Just close your eyes, dear. Let it take you. When you awake, you will know bliss. You will be happy. You will have peace like the others.”

Amber’s lovely face faded, and so did Graham.

#

The dew in the grass wet their feet as they walked. The young couple stopped and embraced, a glorious forest surrounding them. She kissed him, then backed up.

“Here we are. Watch closely.” She twirled around to face some saplings. The young woman snapped her fingers and tapped a foot. “She’s a good girl, loves her mama, loves Jesus, and America too. She’s a good girl. She’s crazy about Elvis, loves horses, and her boyfriend too.”

The young man smiled and snapped his fingers as well.

“And it’s a long day, living in Reseda. There’s a freeway runnin’ through the yard. And I’m a bad boy, ‘cause I don’t even miss her. I’m a bad boy, for breaking her heart.”

One sapling out of the bunch began to sway. Amber matched its motion, rocking back and forth. The boy stopped smiling and snapping.

And I’m free, free fallin’. Yeah I’m free, free fallin’.”

The little tree jerked as if trying to escape the ground and jump into her arms, whipping its delicate branches about. A few more of its kind joined in the festivities, swaying and dipping to the lyrics.

The girl clapped and stomped her feet. “That’s right, boys. Tear the roof down!”

The boy took a few steps back, his eyelids peeled back.

She reached out and stroked a branch. “I told you I’d come back.”




Mack Severns is a studio artist from San Diego, who loves the great outdoors.



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