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

Craig Shay: The Bathroom Light

Art by Bernice Holtzman © 2022

The Bathroom Light


Craig Shay



“Doom is the House without a Door −

‘Tis entered from the Sun −

And then the Ladder’s thrown away,

Because escape − is done −”

− Emily Dickinson


It is calling me across layers of distorted time, needling at my senses through an endless void of formless frenetic static, dragging me again through the grass into its formaldehyde abyss, and singing me towards a nightmare of destruction.

 I was outside alone at dusk trying to avoid the wrath of another disappointing report from the school. It had already become too much and I was old enough to know where I stood in the social hierarchy of it all. I was at peace letting the catastrophe of my academic career sink peacefully down with the dead dreams of the people around me.

Night arrived in a hurry, wrapping itself like a plastic bag inducing asphyxiation. Did everyone know this town was haunted but me? The new season had sprung itself upon us and it was time to start wearing a sweater. Beckoning me from the corner of my eye was a steady pulse of vibrant bluish light emanating from a side window of the house across the street. I noticed this light for the past few nights while outside. As the sunset slowly kissed the tired eyes of the town descending into a world of shadows the steady pale blue light came alive, a somber muted  projected from a room towards the back of the house. Why did no one else see it or take notice? I felt cursed for having been the only one.

The next evening, I noticed the blue light again streaming from the same window of the house across the street. I wasn’t sure if anyone was still living there. The place was a rental and changed tenants quite often. At this point the house was rundown and always gave off a dark vibe when I looked at it for too long, as though there were faces looking back at me from within the windows. There was something in its past that was unresolved, something that afflicted everyone who came close to or lived in it, including myself. I had many dreams of the house, sometimes horrible ones of a family that lived there years ago. What did they do there? What was buried beside the house? In my dreams, I was always finding bodies lying in the ground behind and around the property; some were dead and some were dying. Had it been a portal where the undead gathered at night? The soul of the house was restless. The dreams persisted.

There was a tall tree in the front yard that stood over a hundred feet high with large tentacle-like branches. I had a vision of a girl who once lived there long before my parents had even moved here. She was on that swing. I used to see everything that was there before I was even born, and like I said, the whole town was haunted. The torn yellow wallpaper in the kitchen, the sound of the backdoor closing, newspapers on the floor and windows, the dark corners within the mudroom, and then the basement, where I was never sure what happened, since I couldn’t see through the cloud of darkness engulfing the property. There were many nights when the insomnia was overpowering.

I even saw a ghost of the girl on the swing. These apparitions always presented themselves when I was alone. She appeared one afternoon out of nowhere as she locked eyes with me. As I went to speak to her, she jumped off the swing and ran into a shadow. It happened so fast I believed it to be a waking dream. That’s the only way I explained it to myself. In that moment I felt reality melt away as an unknown fear swirled about my head. I remember how dizzying the scenario was and how my eyes briefly turned to static, and my hands had no feeling. I had temporarily dissolved.   

The red house was very quiet tonight. There was a car parked behind the maple covered in pollen. It was an old car that looked ready for the junkyard. The house was almost always completely dark, and the lawn grew knee high. Mail had been accumulating in the box outside and there were a few phonebooks resting on the sun-baked porch, but no sign of life.

I was familiar with that monstrous tree which I also had nightmares about; I remembered climbing it many summers ago when I was younger when a kid named Jorge lived in the house. He sometimes rode his bike into our yard and would stare at the ground for a long time as though he were possessed. We were “friends” and used to ride bikes around the neighborhood. His mother was very grateful that I was kind to him since he did not have many friends and was in a self-contained classroom at school. Jorge could climb trees pretty well and had climbed the tall tree and gotten up pretty high, higher than I’d seen anyone else. I remember Jorge’s mother yelling at him when she realized where he was, “¡Vamos Jorge, bájate ahora!” Then Jorge became frozen some forty feet up. His mother asked me to go up after him towards that place where Jorge was perched to try and help him down. I didn’t want to climb up there, especially not that high. I thought for sure Jorge was going to fall and seriously injure himself, if not die, and I knew I’d get hurt too. Even though I was terrified I started to climb. As neighbors gathered to watch, I had to reassure Jorge it was okay to climb down, which he eventually did, and then fell about twenty feet and broke his arm. They moved out not long after and new tenants moved in.

The light from the house across the street hummed and buzzed along with the cicadas and the sonorous flow of highway traffic. At dusk it looked like something from a black and white film. Perhaps that’s why the bluish light was so appealing, like the light of a film projector expanded out as an elongated trapezoid on the overgrown lawn. It was a spinning projection from another world, a steady and static light which beckoned me to see it.

   I took the basketball in my hands and punted it high into the air. It landed in the tall grass across the street. Now I had a reason to go and investigate. The ball landed close to the tree. I crept through the grass and picked it up. I was closer to the light now, but it was still too far to see inside the window. All the details which I could not see from across the street were now well defined. The house was dark and lifeless except for the bright light.

I stepped onto a low branch of the tree and climbed out a few feet trying to look inside, but from the position I was in I could only see the tiles inside what looked like a bathroom. I kept climbing, but the leaves covered my sight, and no clear details could be seen. I climbed down, picked up the basketball and positioned myself against the side of the house. I was soon in the frame of that fluid blue beam and saw it moving as though something were flying across the light source. The picture it beamed onto the grass resembled abstract art, as though a raw naked picture were emblazoned onto the still grass. Like a symbol from another world, it was communicating its message in slow formless shadows, as though holding onto ancient and mysterious clues, which defined and reformed existence. It held my contemplation and I studied it, determining it to be a warning sign from an unseen world.

Slowly I stepped closer to the window with my back against the house, a thief in the night. The window was about seven feet off the ground, and I had to step on the basketball to hoist myself up in order to peer in. I listened closely. There were no sounds, only a faint steady buzzing. I pulled myself up using the frame of the window as an anchor as my sneakers scraped against the shingles. I held my body into position while doing a type of gymnastic pushup and I was able to look inside at the brightness of the blue light. Suddenly, I felt my arms collapse under the weight of my body; down I fell onto the basketball, causing my torso to spring violently to the ground. There was dirt and grass in my face and pain shooting through my arm, but I had already begun to sprint across the yard and into my parents’ driveway, running without thinking, a steam-powered machine galloping free and unbridled away from the light. I bolted up the steps inside my house and dashed into my room, closing the door behind me. I maneuvered under my bed where I sat in disbelief for several minutes as the dazzling flashbacks had already started to reappear across the movie screen in my mind.

It was a discovery I wished I hadn’t made. The blue light from the window was a reflection of the solid blue bathroom tiles, a blue sink, a blue toilet and blue tub inside a bathroom. Only what surrounded the light bulb were many flies, causing the light to flicker and blink. When I had poked my eyes into the frame of the window, I saw something, something unexpected and shocking. What I saw inside was a normal bathroom, but with what appeared to be a human foot sticking out of the water at the edge of the tub. The foot was pale white, almost grey. A colorless foot, like I remembered from museum statues, those Greek and Roman figures muscular and lifeless. The foot was solid and heavy, plump and still, cold and bloodless. The rest of the body was unseen behind a curtain.

My heart and lungs were on fire from running so fast and trying to process what I had seen. A foot? A body? A corpse? I had curled into a ball underneath my bed attempting to erase the image from my brain, but it remained there clawing and pecking like a vulture. I had turned all the lights on in my room because I was too terrified to be alone in the dark. My arm hurt too. I wasn’t sure if it was broken. I couldn’t ball it into a fist without flinching

 I gently opened the blinds of my bedroom window, sickened with grief. The blue light was still there on the lawn across the street. It was probably a body. But whose? Whatever happened to Oscar? I thought to myself. It was probably Oscar’s mother. The memory was already overwhelming. I hadn’t seen Oscar for some time; he’d been suspended from school for selling drugs and then went to live with his father in another town.

I wasn’t sure whether it was Oscar’s mother I saw in the tub. It was somebody dead. The pictures in my mind returned and would not leave. I turned on the Sega Genesis console and started mindlessly playing whatever game was in it, anything to distract me. I played for hours, until everyone in the house was asleep. Then I looked out my bedroom window again and saw it. It was even brighter now. I contemplated going back outside to get another look, a better look.

I darted across the street with my arm wrapped in a sling, holding the empty garbage can. I felt like a burglar, but nobody cared. I turned the garbage can upside down outside the window. I stopped before looking in; the glass was hot like a spotlight, or police light. I’d had an encounter with a police car a month ago while walking home late from a party. I felt that same intense fear rippling through my body, like electronic lights had been sent into my brain in waves of static, making me frozen and incapacitated. It was an amplified stillness which coursed through my mind, reverberating with horrifying images and scenarios. The police officer had questioned me about where I was coming from, which I had to lie about and not let on that I had been drinking with other minors. There was violence in the officer’s commands. Now petrified with that same level of fear, I moved away from the window.

The closer I was to that light the more I realized that I didn’t want to see that tingling image of horror, Death’s handiwork gone completely unnoticed by the neighbors. It was a discovery for someone else to make. Not me. I’d seen a dead person at a funeral last summer. That empty shell of a body looked so disrespected in the frilly casket. It was a waxy doppelganger of the person I’d known. I was aghast by that horrible smile that the mortician had created. It was a poorly concealed smile. It was the grim smile of a corpse vacant of life. It was the grinning smile of a skull, laughing to itself because it knew the cards fate was holding. But

the walls broke away

in the calm

the toed foot

hovering in the glow

a church-like silence

the white skin

and brown water

all at once

murdering my mind

I stepped off the garbage can and back home. Before going inside the house, I quietly crept into the adjacent neighbor’s yard and opened their cellar door a crack. There was always a cooler which contained uncountable beer cans floating in lukewarm liquid. They never knew how many beers were missing.

      The rest of the night I stayed up and drank with all the lights on in my bedroom. I didn’t dare go to the blinds, though I knew the blue light was there,  waiting patiently. I eventually drank myself to sleep, woke up, and went to school. Two days passed. I was outside again as the evening painted the sky a reddish purple. I heard the buzz of highway congestion, of earth-shaking trucks and roadsters, and the endless commuters passing through on their way home from their miserable employment. It was starting to feel colder. Leaves were gathering in colorful piles in the corner of the driveway and floated down upon me as I stood in the driveway. I’d had to remind myself to put on a sweatshirt tomorrow night. Out of nowhere, I noticed confusion across the street. Someone was banging on the door of the maroon house. Then several police cars and an ambulance pulled up and all hell broke loose. Family members arrived and screamed and broke down crying. Police taped off the driveway. It unfolded like a movie. Finally, I saw Oscar arrive and collapse in tears onto the hood of his mother’s brown car.

They took Oscar’s mother out in a large black body bag on a stretcher and loaded her into a quiet ambulance. Only its blue lights flashed on all the houses in the neighborhood. The police didn’t stay very long. The house was a frequent place of drug activity. Oscar’s mother was a waitress and would often call out for days, so nobody thought anything was wrong that she did not show up to work for nearly a week. I saw Oscar and he walked over and told me that his mother was a heroin addict and that she’d had an overdose about a week ago. It was like a dream, really, or an accident. This wasn’t the place it used to be when I was younger. I didn’t know what an O.D. was or what addiction meant. Oscar said that he thought her boyfriend had killed her and asked if I’d seen his red Pontiac around. I didn’t recall seeing the car.

The next night the bathroom light was off, and I never saw it on again, but a nightmare was waiting for me behind the curtains of a thousand rooms. It was in the cherry blossoms opening before me, their pithy material falling away into the wind. It was here, and now I know it is everywhere, a hungry villain attuned to my fears. It is in a thousand shoeboxes of vanishing photographs. “Can you see me now?” the ghost girl asks beyond all glimmering illusions, “I am in the drops of rain as you bicycle below.”

Craig Shay’s writing has appeared in many publications both in print and online. Most recently his fiction is forthcoming in Sirens Call and his poetry has appeared in The American Journal of Poetry and The Stickman Review. He teaches Literature courses at SUNY College at Old Westbury. Instragram: _writing_craig_shay

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