Black Petals Issue #100 Summer, 2022

Editor's Page
Mars-Chris Friend
BP Artists and Illustrators
Baby, You're the Best: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
The Darkest Day:Fiction by Richard Brown
They Feed on Light:Fiction by Kilmo
Step Eight: Fiction by Paul Lubaczewski
Reunion:Fiction by Gene Lass
Highwayman's Trousers:Fiction by Michael W. Clark
The Dutiful Hit:Fiction by Jay Flynn
Flight of Fantasy: Fiction by Martin Taulbut
He Asked Me to Do It: Fiction by R. A. Cathcart
Lagniappe: Fiction by Michael Stoll
No Spark, No Flame: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
The Bathroom Light: Fiction by Craig Shay
Dave Jenkins, Flayed: Flash Fiction by Brian Barnett
Beauty Sleep: Flash Fiction by Simeon Care
Head Games: Flash Fiction by Philip Perry
Hurry Home: Flash Fiction by M. L. Fortier
You'll See, She Said: Flash Fiction by Robb White
Captain Yeah-Way: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Attic Notes: Poem by Michael S. Love
Exit Strategy: Poem by C. Renee Kiser
You Can Pretend: Poem by C. Renee Kiser
Gold Star: Poem by C. Renee Kiser
Conflict of Interest: Poem by David C. Kopaska-Merkel
Recording: Poem by David C. Kopaska-Merkel
Litha: Poem by Christopher Friend
Sleeping Beauty: Poem by Christopher Friend
It Began with Violence: Poem by Donna Dallas
Rocking Zebra Déjà vu: Poem by Donna Dallas
Circle: Poem by Donna Dallas
Love is a Ghost: Poem by Donna Dallas
Together: Poem by A. N. Rose
Silence: Poem by A. N. Rose
Dead at 21: Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
House Centipede: Poem by Daniel G. Snethen

Gene Lass: Reunion

Art by KJ Hannah Greenberg © 2022


By Gene Lass


          The 30th reunion of the Brookdale West Class of 1990 was expected to be unlike any in class history. The 5th was described by one of the attendees as, “Same bullshit just 10 lbs. heavier.” The 10th and 15th were distasteful networking opportunities. The 20th and 25th were cancelled due to lack of interest.

          Thus, the 30th would be distinctive just for occurring, but also because attendees were now mature enough to have gotten over conflicts of the past. They also had something to look forward to: Class member Hugo Carlson would be attending. The founder of his own robotics firm, Carlson had just won the Nobel Prize for Physics. He had never attended a reunion before, having been an unpopular nerd in school, but for this reunion not only did he say he would come, he would like to speak.

          The night of the reunion, Carlson arrived on time, dressed semi-formally with slacks, a sport coat, and his signature bow tie over a t-shirt. He mingled with the crowd, shaking hands with some, and signing a few autographs before taking the stage for his keynote address, which would be the most memorable in the school’s history.

          “Hello Class of 1990. I’m sure most of you remember me, even though I look a little different now, as do many of you. If not, my name is Hugo Carlson. Because of the work I did with my robotics company, Boz, I just won the Nobel Prize for Physics.”

          The room erupted in applause and cheers. Carlson smiled and nodded, then gestured to a presentation screen behind him.

          “Thank you. The handshake logo you see here on the screen and on my t-shirt is the Boz logo, which I adopted (or stole) from the inside art from the Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” album. I was never a huge music person, but it represents perfectly the spirit of Boz as a company: making connections between people and helping humanity through the use of robotics.

          “I was presented the Nobel Prize primarily because of Boz’s development of micro and macro robots to process radioactive waste safely to prevent meltdowns, and even after a meltdown or containment event has occurred. Our large robots safely move the physical material, while our nano robots, which can also be deployed by robots, process the material on a molecular level to make it safe 100 to 1000 times faster than previously possible.”

          There was applause again. Carlson gave a bigger smile and nodded again. “That was Boz’s greatest success, but what I came here to talk to you about today was our…—my—greatest failure. What I haven’t talked about until today, what you haven’t seen in the media, is my diagnosis. I have stage 4 metastatic cancer in my lymph nodes and bones.”

          The image on the screen behind Carlson changed, now showing a classic video game screen.

          “When I got my diagnosis, my specialist Sidney Coleman told me that cancer is like Pac-man. We all remember Pac-Man. Little Pac-Man cancer cells go through our bodies all the time, gobbling things up. Our immune systems fight them off. The cells get to be a problem when they gobble faster than we can fight them, and then, like Super Mario, they grow and gobble more. Cancer metastasizes when it clears a screen and goes on to gobble in other parts of the body.

          “Hearing that analogy, I determined that what the world needs to fight this disease is ghosts. You remember them…”

          The screen changed to show a video ghost attacking Pac-Man, who shriveled up and faded away.

          “Inky, Pinky, Blinky, Clyde, and Sue, the Pac-villains. They chased the Pac-family relentlessly around the screens through every successive game in the series. They never quit, returning even after Pac-Man chomped a power pill and fought back.”

          The screen changed again, showing a microscopic view of a pinwheel-shaped object.

          “So I built this. That’s a picture of my first cancer-fighting nanobot. I call it a c-ghost, or Clyde, because Clyde was my favorite.” He smiled and the crowd laughed.

          “Clyde was designed to go through the body, assisting the immune system in hunting down and eliminating cancer cells before they take hold, and after. And because cancer can shift and move throughout the body, traveling and metastasizing, so can my ghosts. This would in effect cure and prevent cancer. Except…”

          The screen changed again to show the Pac-Man Game Over screen.

          “It doesn’t work. I’m going to die. While my ghosts can find and eat cancer cells, cancer can spread and grow faster than I can employ ghosts. In theory a combination of radiation and chemotherapy with the bots could prove effective, but the chemo and radiation also damage the bots. At some point that balance of therapies may be found, but by then I will be dead.

          “A diagnosis like this makes a person look back at life, which is why I’m here today.”

          He looked across the crowd at his graduating class. So many faces.

          “I have a lot of memories of school. I’ve known some of you since kindergarten. There are very few of you I could call friends. Or even friendly. Most days in school the most I could hope for was vague indifference toward me, King Nerd. What I usually got was hostility, mockery, and acts of violence.”

          He looked at individual faces in the crowd.

          “Tyson, my neighbor, the soccer star. You never physically hurt me, but you gave me hell in the hallway and on every bus ride for three years. You also tormented a retarded girl when you couldn’t get enough reaction or entertainment out of me. Fuck you.

          “Craig Kinney. You used to stop by my lunch table every day, no matter where I sat, to amuse your friends by analyzing my lunch. My lunch was the same every day: Pepperoni slices, 2 cookies, small pretzels, and a fruit rollup. I could barely eat because you made me feel like my food was somehow morally or ethically wrong, and I was wrong to eat it. Some days I just threw it away uneaten even though I was starving. Fuck you.

          “Tim Hayden. You followed me and my few friends around throughout the school, making rude comments you could only say because your hulking friends protected you. You once told me I should kill myself because I couldn’t toss a basketball through a hoop even once. You said it again when you thought my plaid shirt and Toughskin jeans weren’t stylish enough. On my best day of school, my friend Glen tried to kill you by pushing you down the stairs after you made the mistake of saying something to us while on your own. I always regretted that you lived. I wanted to see you broken at the bottom of the stairs, but you grabbed the railing and saved yourself. It’s a shame.”

          He looked at the crowd again. They looked back, many of them gape mouthed.

          “In the interest of being adults and letting bygones be bygones, I shook hands with each of these gentlemen tonight, and with several more of you. Just like on the Boz logo, I was reaching out, shaking hands. But clearly I haven’t forgotten the past. It still bothers me.”

          The screen changed again, showing the pinwheel nanobot once more.

          “Which is where my ghosts come in. Because even though my nanobots couldn’t save me, that doesn’t make them useless. You see, they can’t eat cancer fast enough in a Stage 4 case like myself. But in a healthy person the problem is, they can’t be turned off. They need to eat, and they don’t want to come out. They become an artificial autoimmune disease, and I gave it to each of you I shook hands with tonight.

          “Not only can my bots not be turned off, but due to their intended ability to shift when cancer shifts, and hunt down the cells anywhere, they could attack anywhere in your body. Right now they could be stripping the marrow out of your bones, or pooling in your heart, weakening the aorta. Or attacking your brain or optic nerve. By the time you go home tonight your prostate may be riddled with holes like swiss cheese.

          “What is certain is that by dawn tomorrow, all of you will be dead. And that is the reason I came here tonight. The only comfort I have is knowing that while I’ll be dead soon, you’ll die before me, in agony.

          “Thank you and good night.”

Gene Lass has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in all areas of publishing, from books and magazines to blogs. He has also released six books of poetry to date, including the most recent, Ghosts, his second collaboration with artist Jennifer Paige Davis. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Electric Velocipede, KSquare, The Albatross, Black Petals, Coffin Bell Journal, Schlock, and Every Day Poems. His short story, “Fence Sitter” was nominated for Best of the Net 2020.

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