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

Martin Taulbut: Flight of Fantasy

Art by KJ Hannah Greenberg © 2022

Flight of Fantasy

By Martin Taulbut


Max seemed happy enough to follow Lorimer outside, at first. Upon seeing what awaited them on the patio table, though, the little boy’s face fell. A clear folder labelled ‘English.’ A pencil case. Nothing else.

‘Where’s the laptop, Uncle James?’

‘Somewhere safe,’ said Lorimer. Unbuttoning the folder, he pulled out a brick-coloured jotter, opened it and laid it down on the table. ‘Here we are…’

‘I’ll get my tablet,’ said Max.

Lorimer stepped in front of his nephew.

‘No,’ he said. ‘We’re doing this now. Remember? You promised. If you could play your flying game this morning, we’d finish your homework now.’

‘Just ten minutes,’ protested Max. ‘Five minutes.’

‘Sit down, Max.’

Parking himself, his nephew picked up a stubby grey pencil without enthusiasm. Max stared glumly at the neat, childish sentences confronting him.

‘Good lad. Now. Where did we leave off?’

Max read the opening passage. ‘Timmy was on holiday with his Mum and Dad and his wee sister Gemma and their dog Marley. One fine sunny day, Timmy took Marley for a walk to the beach.’

‘Good!’ said Lorimer. ‘And what happens next?’

‘They see a mysterious island and go to it and have an adventure.’

‘Ye-es, that’s what we talked about, but remember, you have to write a bit more than that? Remember? Your teacher wanted more ‘wow’ words.’

Max looked unconvinced. He leaned forward, his elbows on the glass, and began to write:

They looked at the cyan water. Suddenly Marley began to bark and suddenly Timmy realised they could see an island. So they swam over to it and found some treasure.

‘Can I get my tablet now?’ asked Max, plaintively.

Lorimer laughed. ‘E for effort, mister! See, you have to show the reader what’s happening. How do they get across to the island?’

‘They-’ Max’s eyes darted about the patio and potted plants, searching for enlightenment. ‘They swim across.’

Lorimer shook his head. ‘No, Max, that’s silly, isn’t it? It’d be too far for them to swim, wouldn’t it? Timmy and Marley? Could you swim that far?’

‘I can swim!’ protested Max. ‘Without my wings. Daddy taught me last year.’ He looked annoyed at the slight on his character.

‘I know you can swim,’ said Lorimer. But Timmy and Marley…well, it’ll be a long, long way. Especially for wee Marley, he’s a puppy.’

‘He could do a doggy paddle,’ giggled Max. To illustrate, he curved his hands into paws and flapped them while he stuck out his tongue. ‘Yap, yap, yap-’

‘Yep, that’s good,’ said Lorimer. ‘But maybe…I don’t know, they find something like a, a-’

‘A plane!’ shouted Max. ‘A seaplane. A DeeCeeThree! Like in our game-’

‘That’s not very likely, is it?’ said Lorimer. ‘Finding a sea-plane-’

Max pouted. ‘But it’s my story, Uncle James.’

Lorimer sighed. ‘…All right.’

He glanced at his phone. Quarter to twelve. They needed to speed things along. Leaning forwards, Lorimer used the eraser to scrub away Max’s last sentence. He blew the fragments of rubber from the paper. Probably as neat as he could hope for.


Now, where were the rest of the notes? He clipped open the folder and pulled out some loose sheafs of paper. Someone had marked these up already, in blue ballpoint pen. Ideas, perhaps? He skimmed the first one.

…he stood on the crumbling, whitewashed steps overlooking his brother’s back garden. He shivered in the chill dawn mist: above him, mottled grey clouds scabbed over the sky. A pair of smallish, brown birds pecked at the stale crusts, arranged like lights on a landing strip on the lawn. (Wrens? Sparrows? His father would have known). Their bright chirrups cut into him. Gulls screamed. He looked up and saw them circling, fresh from the river. Why had he come out here? To breathe for one last time, before everything collapsed. Not to feel: he felt enough, dull dread overwhelming everything.

How many sleeps until the doctors’ final diagnosis confirmed his culpability? Five. Four. Three. Two- 

My God, let Maxie be ok.

The shriek of the gulls was louder now. Within their squall, a separate note emerged. A distorted call, broken up and muted by the wind. As if-

‘’cle ’ames!’

One of the gulls broke away from the flotilla and began to descend. As it swooped down, its outline sharpened.

It wasn’t a bird.

The legs, the arms, that pale little face, that dark fringe. Protruding from the shoulders, sinewy, twisted canopies of gristle and bone beat relentlessly.

‘Look at me Uncle James!’ shrieked Max. Each remorseless, hateful flap of the things violating his back made the little boy’s face twitch in pain. ‘I can fly!’

Shaken, Lorimer looked up from the page. Who had written this? He turned to Max, but his nephew’s chair was vacant. Turning, he saw the boy was on the grass, arms extended, whirling around in imitation of a helicopter.

‘Look at me Uncle James! I’m spinnin’, I’m spinnin’, I’m spinnin-’  

‘Hey. Hey. That’s enough now,’ Lorimer said sternly.

But Max wouldn’t stop. ‘I’m spinnin’, I’m spinnin’, I’m spinnin’-’

‘C’mon now,’ Lorimer said, raising his voice. ‘Let’s get this over with.’

Max pouted. ‘But I was just playing, Uncle James.’

‘And you can play later,’ said Lorimer. He heard the note of exasperation in his own voice, the dog on the leash. ‘As soon as we finish your homework.’


Pouting, Max trudged towards the patio table and sat down. He picked up the little grey pencil and leaned over the paper.

‘Hey, you’ve rubbed it all out, what I wrote!’ protested Max. ‘That’s not fair.’

‘So you could add your sentence in, remember? They found a boat-’

‘A seaplane!’

‘All right, they find a seaplane. Write that down. In your own words. Best handwriting, remember.’

With the wearied labour of a monk illuminating a manuscript, the little boy etched the page.

‘Great. Brilliant. And then what do they do?’

‘They fly it across to the island,’ said Max.

‘Fab. Excellent. Write that down next.’

Little by little, the paper filled up with text. Lorimer glossed over the neglect of capitalisation and the cavalier punctuation. Get all the bricks in place, then we can worry about the decoration afterwards. Maxie’s flourishes made him proud. The loops-de-loop. The leap from the plane, Timmy carrying the little dog Marley in his arms (there was only one parachute on board). Heart-warming. Now they were at the treasure chest itself.

‘And they cracked it open and inside all the precious stones were there, gold and green emeralds and cyan sapphires and bloody red rubies-’ Max giggled, then stopped, suddenly solemn. ‘I’d better take that out. It’s a bad word.’

‘Not in this context,’ said Lorimer. ‘I mean remember your ‘wow’ words, Maxie. You want to describe things for your readers, you can’t expect them to fill in the gaps.’

Max frowned again. ‘I think I should take it out anyway.’

His nephew leaned over the table, earnestly scrubbing out his mistake and redrafting. When he finished, the little boy looked up, beaming. ‘There. Done. Can I play on my tablet now, Uncle James?’

‘Hold on,’ said Lorimer. He pointed out the absent capitals, the missing periods, and commas. ‘We need to sort these out, don’t we?’

‘Aw,’ Max said. ‘Can’t you do it, Uncle James?’

Lorimer was about to refuse, but then saw the boy’s face, full of hope. He nodded, then quickly went through the passage, making the edits.

‘All right….’

In the meantime, Max had moved away from the desk and begun to whirl round on the grass again. Once more, Lorimer felt his temper flaring:

‘Max! Stop that right now! Get your bottom back in that seat!’

Max stalled in flight. His mouth gaped. Tears appeared at the corners of his eyes. Lorimer felt sick.

‘C’mon now. C’mon,’ said James. Softer now. ‘C’mon.’

‘You fright-ed me, Uncle James,’ Max said.

‘It’s just…you were being so silly…’ Lorimer offered lamely.

Max’s damp face crumpled. ‘I was playing, Uncle James. It’s not a school day. I’ve done all that, you said I could play if I finished this last bit-’

‘Aw, I’m sorry, Maxie,’ Lorimer said. He went over and gave the wee boy a cuddle.

How skinny the boy was: Lorimer felt his nephew’s bones.

‘…But you need to do an ending, remember? A twist that’ll make people go ‘whoah, Max Lorimer’s written a really tip-top story there-’

Here Max tried to interject, but his uncle ploughed on:

‘-And it is really good, your Mummy and Daddy and Granny will be really pleased, and I’m really pleased. But just this last bit, ok?’

‘’kay,’ said Max, dabbing at his damp cheeks with his sleeve.

‘…so how do they get home? May-be…maybe Marley’s digging for a bone-’ Lorimer squatted on his haunches, scrabbing at the grass. ‘-and he digs them a tunnel to freedom…’

Max giggled, brightening.

‘You’re so silly, Uncle James. Wait. I know what they could use...’

Before Lorimer could stop him, the little boy jumped up and ran across the grass, towards the garage. Lorimer wasn’t worried. After The Big Clear Out a few years back, they’d installed a couple of cupboards to stow the bladed tools away. Nothing left but old toys and some leisure equipment. Wasn’t there an old inflatable dinghy there? That would be it.

He focused on making the corrections, trying to forge his nephew’s script. That looked better. There must be usable notes here somewhere. As he flicked through the jotter, a folded piece of paper fell out. He bent down, picked it up and opened it up. That same blue ballpoint ink.

…Lorimer awoke, drenched in sweat, to the screams of seagulls. Christ. What a nightmare. The back bedroom of his brother’s home was stuffy and overheated. This side of the house trapped the summer sun’s rays, focusing them into his quarters. He’d taken to leaving the top windows open, to provide some ventilation at least. But the curtains hung lifeless and stiff, unmoved by any breeze.

Throwing off the duvet, he swivelled around and sat on the edge of the bed. He remembered the promise to his brother the night before, to help Max with his homework. Maths this time. No problem. Maths was a doddle. Maths was fun!

Weak, high-pitched squabbling drifted through the open window:

‘You didn’t!’ A little girl’s voice, his niece Jade. Aggrieved, with all the imperious weight of a slighted, older sibling.

‘I did!’ Maxie, vehement, with all the indignant soft power of a frustrated younger sibling.

‘It was completely and totally out of battery…’

Lorimer hurried to pull on his clothes. A car door slammed as he shucked the T-shirt over his head. As he drew the curtains, he saw his brother Michael plod away from the vehicle. One of the newest electric models: with the silence, you didn’t get much notice.

Lorimer raised his hand: his brother reciprocated with a distracted nod  

And then

he was on the kitchen steps again, watching Max. His nephew was whirling across the lawn, arms extended like helicopter blades.

‘I’m spinnin,’ I’m spinnin,’ I’m spinnin’!’ shouted Max. ‘Watch me, Uncle James, watch me!’

Darkness shrouded the garden. Still the gulls cried out.

Max’s twirling slowed. The little boy kept dropping his left arm and pressing his fingers to his lumbar, wincing. He puffed to a halt, brow wrinkling, the cheeky grin collapsed.

‘I’m a dizzy doggy, Uncle James,’ said Max. ‘Bow. Wow. Ow. Ow-’

And Lorimer found himself standing on the lawn behind Max, looming over the boy. His nephew was hiding his face, curled up tight to protect himself against monsters. Lorimer reached out to touch his nephew’s shoulder-

‘Max? I-’

Max screamed. Bloodied stumps burst through the boy’s shoulder blades, swelling, expanding, and widening.

The grotesque parodies of wings spread across the garden, stained with blood. Sobbing now. It wasn’t clear where it was coming from, boy or man or-

‘Uncle James!’ called Max. ‘Look what I found!’

‘That’s great,’ murmured Lorimer. ‘…Is it a treasure chest?’

Metal scraping on concrete, followed by a tinny clang, made him look up. Lorimer turned. Bit by bit, Max was dragging an old trampoline from the garage. The thing was beyond neglected. Its springboard mat, slung over its hexagonal frame, was filthy. Grime, splashes of spilled oil and smeared birds’ droppings stained its blue tarpaulin. A thick layer of orange rust coated its legs, with the springs securing the mat to the frame in even worse shape. Still Max persisted, hauling the apparatus out onto the driveway. Lorimer jumped up quickly and hurried over to his nephew.

‘Whoa, whoa!’ he said. ‘What are you doing?’

‘Can I have a go, Uncle James?’ pleaded Max. ‘Please?’

‘…mm, I don’t know Max. It looks dangerous. Maybe we should wait until your daddy gets here.’

‘Aw. That’s ages,’ complained Max. He paused, thoughtful for a moment. ‘We…we could do it on the grass. And you’ll be watching me, a riz-ponsible adult. Please?’

Max gazing up at his uncle with pleading eyes. And that did it.

‘…all right. Just a wee shot-’ 


‘-And you’ll have to be careful, okay? Promise?’  

The little boy nodded eagerly.

Between them, they dragged the ancient trampoline onto the grass. Lorimer pushed its legs into the ground, trying to make it level. Behind him, Max stood in his socks, hopping impatiently from one foot to another.

‘…There,’ said Lorimer, straightening up.

Max clambered onto the mat: the coils strained.

As Lorimer watched, his nephew stood up and started to bounce. Gently at first: then growing bolder, leaping higher. A steady rhythm of squeaks spilled from the springs. As the boy built up speed, twisting and tumbling, bouncing higher, the pitch changed. Anxiety welled up in Lorimer. What if they snapped?

‘Watch me, Uncle James! Watch me!’ shouted Max with glee. ‘I can do a forward roll, see?’

‘C’mon now,’ muttered Lorimer. ‘…that’s too much Max, c’mon.’

‘Aw, that’s not five-’

‘Finish up now,’ said Lorimer.

‘Aw,’ said Max. He gave a final flourish, an impressive pirouette and then-

-as he came down, stumbled, missed the mat, and smacked down hard, striking his head as he fell. For a moment, both uncle and nephew froze. Then the little boy sat up and began to wail. Lorimer rushed over, feeling sick.

‘Max!’ His own voice sounded like a stranger’s. ‘Maxie! Are you all right?’

‘It hurts,’ sobbed the little boy. He put his hand up to the base of his skull. Tears streamed down his cheeks. ‘It’s all sore…Oww…’

Christ, what were you supposed to do? Move them, not move them? Panic rising, Lorimer reached for his mobile. Christ. Still on the glass-topped table. He rushed over, snatched it up and dialled 999, running back to re-join Max.

The little boy had been sick. Tar-coloured vomit and toast crumbs pooled on the lawn beside him. More stained the front of his T-shirt. Precious little scrambled egg, Lorimer’s brain noted, idly.

‘…Emergency services, which service do you require? Fire, Police or Ambulance?’

‘…Ambulance, an ambulance!’ said Lorimer, voice quavering.

And in the skies above, the gulls circled and screamed.

Martin Taulbut lives in Paisley, Scotland, works in public health and is a member of the Shut Up and Write! Glasgow group. His previous short stories have appeared in Albedo One, Psychotrope and Scheherazade.

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