Black Petals Issue #101 Autumn, 2022

Editor's Page
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
BP Artists and Illustrators
Dig Deep, the Therapist Said: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Dinner Club: Fiction by Mark Jabaut
God of the Winds: Fiction by Scáth Beorh
Head Pot: Fiction by Spencer Harrington
His Deadly Muse: Fiction by Roy Dorman
Patrick Hatrick: Fiction by Bruce Costello
Squawking Chimes: Fiction by Robert Pettus
The Courier: Fiction by Billie Owens
The Midnight Sonata: Fiction by David Hopewell
The Wolves are Coming: Fiction by Mauri Orr Stone
Abduction: Flash Fiction by Laura Nettles
I'm Your Garlic:Flash Fiction by Ron Capshaw
Ho/Ma:i - (Ho-maaa-ee): Flash Fiction by Rani Jayakumar
Mona Wants to Die, but She Lets the Weather Decide:Flash Fiction by Riham Adly
The Cookie Crumbles: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
The Right Knife: Flash Fiction by David Barber
A Devilish Matter of Disinvitation: Poem by Carl E. Reed
Abhor the Light!: Poem by Carl E. Reed
Shadow House-A Writer's Retreat: Poem by Carl E. Reed
Accursed Personae: Three excerpted Poems by Isaac Stackhouse Wheeler
Remember When We Watched "Kill Bill" Together: Poem by C. Renee Kiser
I Die, You Die: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
Northbound Train: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
The Haunted Liquor Cabinet: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
The Candlelight Killer: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Wooden Soldiers: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
The Curse of Verse: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
When a Star Dies: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker

Spencer Harrington: Head Pot

Art by Noelle Richardson © 2022

Head Pot

Spencer Harrington



This here’s my message in a bottle. It’s gonna be a race to see who’s gonna die first, this phone or me. Looks like this thing is recording, so when and if somebody finds me, they’ll know why I’m here. Only person who might know where I am is Cletus, and he ain’t gonna say nothin’ to nobody.

Best way to begin is to talk about the Mississippian people. You ever heard of ‘em?

Betcha haven’t. And you probably call yourself an educated person!

Here in Mississippi and Crittenden counties even dumb asses know the native peoples that lived by the river. We live in a particular part of Arkansas. Cross the river in Memphis and you’ve got tourists, Beale Street, and dry-rub barbecue. But here we walk the fields and stumble over old Indian potsherds.

Mississippians were the first folk who grew corn in our part of the US before there was a US. Let’s say 800AD until the Spanish showed up. Lived by the river and ate well: fish, duck, squash and beans. They built large towns and were ruled by chiefs who got buried in mounds with lots of pretty decorated pottery.

And that’s where me and Cletus come in. Don’t nobody know how and where these Indians lived like Cletus Wright. Black as the night that fella, and he’s got himself six kids. He gotta hustle to make a living. His people been workin’ these fields by the river since before the war between the states, so maybe that’s how he knows every inch of land. Certainly knows more than all those holier-than-thou archaeologists claiming what he and I do is bad business. They call it grave-robbin’. I say the opposite.

You see, Cletus finds me pottery from what’s left of the old burial mounds, and I put it in my museum. We’ve been working together now going on 25 years, and thanks to me he’s done bought himself a house and some land.  And thanks to him I got the finest Mississippian collection in the world. Period. That state archaeological museum over there by Wilson ain’t got nothin’. Plus, at my museum they get to see real burial mounds. I got two of ‘em right on my property.      You climb up ladders and when you get to the top you can stare down a hole I dug right to where the skeletons are. I rigged some lights inside so the people can see ‘em.

Not sure whether it’s the graves that bothers the archaeologists, or it’s my collection that makes ‘em jealous. Whatever…there’s bad blood.

I was real generous to that state archaeologist Dr. Wooters. He came over to study my artifacts…said he was goin’ to publish ‘em in this or that journal. Instead, he wrote somethin’ nasty in the Democrat-Gazette. Guess he reckoned me a redneck fool who don’t read the newspaper.  Wrote there was dust and dead flies in my museum display cases. Well, maybe there are! Bastard doesn’t realize museum’s my second job after I finish my mail route. I’m a one-man show, ticket-taker and tour guide.

Maybe ‘cause I don’t have degrees like him he don’t respect my life teaching about these Mississippian people. I’ve lived and breathed their history since I was seven years old and my pap plowed up arrowheads and potsherds by the hundreds. Cletus jokes I’m the reddest white man he knows!

Then Wooters goes and calls my burial mound display “ghoulish” or some such nonsense. Embarrasses me in front of all my neighbors! Me! A tax-payin’ educator! Well, let me tell you Dr. Wooters, in these United States I get to do with my property what I want. If the Lord gives me a way of makin’ a little extra money off my land, I’m takin’ advantage.

Another thing: That pottery ain’t doing nobody good buried. Worse, those chisel plows and land-levelin’ machines farmers use around here chewin’ it all up. Even the archaeologists say so. Every year there’s less and less to dig.

So it was peculiar when Cletus appeared two nights ago with a head pot. He’d been digging that evening, knees of his overalls all covered with mud. Cletus now got gray on his temples jes’ like me, but his gray likely come from havin’ six kids. My gray come from jes’ bein’ old and livin’ alone.

Now, head pots are the rarest Mississippian pottery.  Most are busted up in some way ‘nother, and I’ve collected a few that are all cracked or missin’ an ear. But this one’s in perfect shape, still dirty with moist, black earth.

I stand with Cletus in my doorway lookin’ at the pot, turnin’ it over in my hands. It’s bigger than a softball and was painted, though now most of the paint’s gone and jes’ its terra-cotta color remains. It’s a portrait of an old chief. It’s got wrinkle lines traced on his forehead and under his eyes. They’re five piercing through each ear, like a display rack for the earrings that must’ve dangled from each side of his head!

“This thing real?”

Stupid question. I trust Cletus 100%.

He nods.

“Fuckin’ crazy! Where’s you find it?”

“Next to 44, jes’ south of Helena. Road done destroyed the tomb,” he says. “But part of it still there. Sunk my probe in deep, hit somethin’ solid. Then started diggin’.

Cletus’ probe is an old automobile antenna. Now and again I come with him. He likes goin’ out at night, after it rains and the earth is soft. But mostly he jes’ rings my bell nighttime and if I like what he’s got I pay him cash. It’s a dance we been doin’ for years now.

“Well, well… Cletus, man, this your lucky day!”

We both know he’s hit the jackpot, but he don’t look happy. In fact, he look shaken up.

“Probably more there,” he says. “But I jes’ left it alone. Somethin’ didn’t feel right.”

He must be jokin’ me. Cletus Wright, pass up a loaded tomb? Never!

“What’s wrong with you Cletus? Think that burial has a hoodoo curse?”

 I’m smilin’ at him and even through his dark skin I can see him blush.

“Nah…I’m jes’ not goin’ back, that’s all.”

“Well alright. That’s your call. What you want for it?”

He don’t wanna bargain. He’s makin’ like he jes’ wanna unload the piece. Strange. I go to the strong box under my bed and return with $5000 cash. Now I know you thinkin’ that’s a lot of money for a postman to have lyin’ around but let me tell you this: I live simple. My house is nothin’ but an overgrown trailer. Cletus’ house is bigger and nicer than mine. And anythin’ less than $5000 for this pot would be robbery. He knows it and so do I. I don’t want to mess up a good business relationship by bein’ cheap.

Cletus gets in his truck and drives off.

I can’t believe this perfect head pot is sittin’ right here on my kitchen table.

Incredible. It’s like it’s got a life of its own! I don’t wanna touch my old chief. So, I jes’ let him sit there, right where I eat breakfast every mornin’. And I imagine his little slit eyes watchin’ me, and his little bump nose breathin’. It’s like havin’ a little friend around, so I talk to him. Crazy, I know, but nobody’s around and it’s what I feel like doin’. It’s how we become acquainted.

I don’t move it over to the museum, even though I keep everythin’ there. This pot I want for myself. And it sits on my kitchen table until one late Monday afternoon, not two weeks from when I bought it from Cletus, I get a knock at my door. And who’s standing there but some slim little man jes’ a hair over five feet tall. He’s dark complexioned, has long, straight jet-black hair braided into a ponytail.

 “You the fella with that beautiful head pot…the one Cletus sold you?”

How he know this? Cletus don’t go blabbing our business, that’s for sure.

“Well, if I am, what’s it to you?” This little brown man’s freakin’ me out. He talks like we do ‘round here, but I’ve never seen him before.

“I can see the pot right there on your table,” he says. “Glad it’s safe. But you and Cletus gotta put it back where you found it.”

“Who’re you?” I ask. “Somebody from the government?”

“Oh no!” He shakes his head. “Jes’ a neighbor. We’ve never met, but I’ve lived here all my life.”

“You tellin’ me you been livin’ here and I don’t know you? Impossible. I know all the white and black folk ‘round here.”

“I’m neither,” he says, smilin’. “Like I said, I’ve always been here, and you jes’ never seen me!”

If he lives ‘round here I would’ve seen him. He looks different from everyone, would’ve stuck out! The man’s wearing a neat khaki unform like he some sort of repairman or work for a national company. He’s younger than me and Cletus, but I can jes’ see crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes.

“Why you want me to return the pot?”

“’Cause it ain’t yours. Belongs to a chief dead 800 years.”

“How you know?”

“I know lots of things.” He’s holdin’ my gaze nice and steady.

“Well maybe that’s true. But I got lots of stuff in my museum belonged to chiefs. Why you care about this pot?”

“‘Cause I think you know it’s got power. ‘Cause it belonged to the most important Mississippian chief. ‘Cause certain things need to stay buried.”

“Aw c’mon man,” I say, waving my hand. “You an’ Cletus fillin’ my ear full of hoodoo shit. What’s goin’ on? This a great piece. People deserve to see it.”

“But you ain’t showin’ it!” he says. “You don’t wanna show it. ‘Cause you’re feelin’ something different, same as Cletus.”

“How you know Cletus?”

“Like I said, I know lots of things.”

I’ve about had enough of this, tired of him not telling me how he know what he know.

“Look…appreciate you comin’ ‘round. Appreciate your advice. Let me do some thinkin,’ talk to Cletus.

“I know you gonna do the right thing,” he says. “You have yourself a good day.” He makes a little bow and walks away. I can’t see a car parked anywhere. He jes’ walks out my driveway and onto the state road.

So after that I call Cletus. No surprises there. Cletus ain’t never seen a little brown man. Cletus not spoken to anyone about the pot. Cletus feelin’ strange about the pot. Then I ask him where precisely he found it. He says jes’ after the mile marker on 44 headin’ into Helena. I tell him I’m goin’ over there to check it out. He says go ahead but says he ain’t comin’. I goof with him and tell him he’s chickenshit. He says nothin’.

I ain’t too keen to go stompin’ on state land in broad daylight, even though most of the traffic on the road is tractors. Like I said, I know everyone around here and the one thing everyone have in common is they nosey. They see you and they wanna come ask what you doin’ and why you doin’ it. So, I aim to go at night. But that means other problems: I’m gonna need to use my high beams and flashlight to check the place out.

Simple curiosity drivin’ me. Why everyone freakin’ out about this head pot?  Damn thing feels different, like it livin’ and breathing. I got nothin’ like it over at the museum. Except I still ain’t put it in the museum. Little brown man is right: I’m not puttin’ it there. 

You see, these relics is all I got in the world, a little slice of ownership of this place. Every day I see evidence Indians were here, so every day I live the past. And by now I feel kinship.

Well, a day later I’m drivin’ in my old Ford pickup on 44 at nine-thirty in the evening. It’s a black, black night. No moonlight, the crickets soundin’ like they some loud, drunk orchestra. I pass the mile marker and pull over onto the shoulder, which isn’t much on these state roads. Forty-four is a raised up about four-five feet on this stretch, so my truck is leanin’ a bit. I cut the engine but keep the high beams burnin’ and snap on my flashlight. I stumble down the incline into a field overgrown with Leadplant and walk maybe 100 yards by the side of the road. I can see up ahead where Cletus been diggin’.

I pass my flashlight over the holes. Cletus went at this place like a gopher. There’s earth and lots of potsherds everywhere in a semi-circular area stretching about 30 feet from the road. I start feeling a little stupid, like I jes’ wasting my time out here in the dark staring at holes. But I see a big hole in the center and a way of walking around the other pits to get to it. I want to see what’s inside that big hole. So, I make my way, careful as I can. This here tomb is way bigger than those I got on my property.

I’m getting’ closer, but then the ground gives out under me. I must fall 10 or 15 feet into the ground. I hear this low woosh sound of movin’ earth and I feel it coverin’ my body like some kid bein’ buried in sand at the beach. It don’t feel that bad, to be truthful. The earth is heavy on my body, but not too heavy. Sort of like a weighted blanket.

I must be in some sort of air pocket ‘cause I’m still breathin’. Ain’t much space to move and the oxygen’s gonna run out soon. I can pull out my cell phone. I try callin’ Cletus but there’s no reception under 10 feet of earth.  Flashlight app’s workin’ though. I’m in the old chief’s burial chamber, and he’s laid out right next to me, like we husband and wife settlin’ in for a long sleep. His bones are shiny and white, jes’ like the skeletons in the burials at my museum. And he feels familiar ‘cause we’ve met before, and I know what he looked like.

Spencer Harrington's fiction has appeared in The Nonconformist, Night Picnic, The Lowestoft Chronicle, and Pangyrus.

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