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

Mauri Orr Stone: The Wolves are Coming

Art by Wayne F. Burke © 2022


By Mauri Orr Stone


Night was falling when the alarm went off.

After a moment of astonished disbelief, everyone’s recognition of the situation kicked in.

Then the scramble began. It had been so long since the last attack that no one remembered the protocol. Clear the people? Secure the doors? Turn on the floodlights? Close the gate? Set the traps? Which step came first in the prescribed process, which second?

I half expected the alarm would stop shortly. Certainly, this had to be a false one. But it wasn’t.

We had grown lax in these intervening years and had carelessly let our defenses down.

The alarm was deafening, contributing to an increasing sense of panic, and everyone’s agitation grew. It compounded panic with confusion. Where to go? What to do? Where are my loved ones?

The alarm’s constant blaring drowned out everyone’s words. I was expecting our leader’s announcement over the loudspeaker. To hear his voice give an authoritative command would calm everyone. But it didn’t come, and chaos continued.

I called out to my group of guards, but to no avail. The alarm was drowning out all sounds, so I signaled to them with my hands. It was still light enough that Kal and Zeb saw me and came running.

¨Men, we’ve got to get out there,” I managed to make myself heard over the blaring alarm. ¨We’ve got to get the traps set and secure the gate.¨

This task would require more than the three of us, but time was of the essence, and too much time had already passed. The wolves would be nearing the gate in a matter of minutes.

I was a young child when they last attacked. I still remembered it. Because of that attack. I have dedicated my life to protecting our people from another.

¨We’ve got to get to the gate. Now!¨ I cried out to my guards, and when we began running, a band of four Minervi guards joined us. Any help they could lend would be appreciated. Their smaller size, though, would keep them out of any contact fighting we might engage in with the wolves.

¨Welcome, ladies!” I called out to them over the alarm.

¨That’s Minervi to you,” the guard who seemed to be their leader snapped at me, slighted, I imagined, by my referring to her band as ¨ladies.¨ True, we had suppressed gender terms in the Guard and had been calling the female guards ¨Minervi¨ for some time, but in a situation as dire as this, whose mind could negotiate all the rules our current governing body had imposed on us?

People were running in toward the protection of the compound as we ran out against them toward the gate. We encountered a band of Anyi, dressed in Guard uniform like us, but clearly identifiable by the symbol Anyi wear to indicate their ancestral heritage. They were congregated in a huddle and, I presumed, would join us. But they hesitated. They waved for us to stop.

¨We can’t stop, guards,¨ I cried, but the Anyi insisted. We slowed our pace to hear them out.

¨What?¨ I bellowed.

The leader of their group directed himself to me and asked, ¨What is in this for us? Why are we going to protect you who brought us in only to serve you all those years ago?¨

My ire rose.

¨Out of the way!” was all I could respond, incredulous at his absurdity before our impending danger. He caused us to lose precious time. I motioned to my men and the Minervi to continue toward the gate.

¨The wolves are coming!¨ I called out our long-unheard rallying cry, and as we continued to the gate, I couldn't help but think, ¨Ingrates! You live well here. The wolves would never accept you as members of their society.¨

We approached the gate. It appeared to be unmanned and wide open. Why had no one already closed it? There certainly must be guards on duty here. Through the gate, we could see a dense evening fog forming at the tree-line beyond the clearing. This was not good, since fog only refracts the floodlights. It would be hard to see distinctly when the host of wolves emerged from the woods.

We could already hear their howls as we finally reached the gate.

¨Kal, cut the alarm. Turn on the floodlights! Minervi, get the traps! Zeb, find the control to close the gate!¨

Things seemed to be falling into place, until I heard Zeb yell, ¨The control isn’t working!¨

Not wanting to waste more time, I ran through the gate frame to pull on the door manually. I was surprised to see two guards there already pulling on it with all their might.

They looked up at me, faces sweaty from exertion, and said in unison, ¨The door won’t close!¨ Their voices betrayed a tinge of panic.

Not doubting their assessment, I still could not resist giving it a try myself. The three of us pulled on it, but the massive door was stuck in place.

¨Hasn’t this gate been serviced properly?¨ I could not help asking, but was really just thinking out loud.

¨Yes!¨ both men replied. Then one of them said, ¨We close and open it on a daily basis. It worked earlier today!¨

¨Keep trying,¨ I barked out and ran back through the gate to the control panel.

Zeb was there and looked up at me when I entered. ¨Chief, I’ve managed to set it to close, but it’s inoperative. Something’s overriding the control panel.¨

¨Will we be able to close it?¨

Zeb’s calm demeanor made me realize why we had been working so well together all these years.

¨Very doubtful,¨ he replied, as he continued to push buttons.

We picked up the transmitter that communicates with the main compound, but it, like the gate, was not working.

The wolves’ howling interrupted us. It was growing ever louder. I had to think quickly. The wolves would run through the open gate. Because we had always had traps set before the gate, I surmised the wolves would suspect as much and simply leap over them through the opening. We could trick them, though, if we set the traps right inside the gate so that at least some of the leapers would fall.

I walked out of the little control room to find what had shaped up to be my charge.

¨Minervi, the traps!¨ I belted out, as I left the room, but the Minervi had already taken it upon themselves to start laying them before the door.

¨No!¨ I shouted. There was no time for scolding anyone over a major chain-of-command breach.

¨Set them inside the door," I shouted. The authority in my voice led them to follow my order without any hesitation or expectation of an explanation, and they immediately started picking up the traps they had laid out.

The howling, growing louder and louder, was nerve-racking, especially emerging as it did from the darkness before the gate. I was starting to worry that the lights, like the door, wouldn’t work.

¨Kal, get those floodlights on!¨ I hoped the fog was far enough away to allow us some visual range of the clearing. I went back into the control room to find out what was taking him so long.

In a cubicle next to the control room, Kal was standing before a panel of innumerable switches. As I came in, I heard him turn on at least three before he found the right one, but when he did, it only made things worse. The dispersed light created an eerie white wall of fog.

We would not see the wolves approaching through it.

Then it happened. The first attack.

The Minervi had gathered all but one of the traps. Their leader rushed out through the gate to get the last one. A disconcerting lull then fell over the howling, and the Minervi leader paused. Suddenly, like a bullet, a formless streak shot out of the white wall, knocking her to the ground. Her throat ripped out in a microsecond, she literally did not know what had hit her.

The guards who were pulling on the door were well trained for such fighting and dispatched the attacker almost as quickly with their lance-clubs.

¨Cut the lights!¨ I commanded. It was what had led this wolf directly to our guard.

¨A kamikaze scout,¨ I observed. ¨I don’t know if they can see that the gate is open or not, but we need to finish setting those traps and get back to the compound. There’s nothing more we can do here.¨

We quickly finished setting the traps inside the door, and in the darkness, we began our return to the compound. The wolves had stopped their howling, and a somber silence had fallen over my charge.

Halfway back, two troublesome things occurred almost simultaneously. First, we heard at least one, maybe two of the traps engage. The wolves were entering. Second, the compound’s floodlights came on. They were blinding, and I wondered who on earth would do this to us. Surely they knew the danger those lights put us in.

When we reached the door to the compound, a group of people was standing before it.

¨Get inside! The wolves are here!¨

But the group didn’t move. It was the Anyi.

¨Out of our way!¨ I cried out to them, and they did make room for us to get to the door. Each member of my charge passed through—the three Minervi, the two gate guards, and Kal and Zeb.

I looked questioningly at the Anyi when it was my turn to enter.

¨We are going to negotiate with the wolves,¨ their leader explained.

I was at a loss to reply and said simply, ¨You can’t negotiate with a wolf.¨

¨On that point I beg to—¨ I slammed the door on his misguided explanation.

¨Misguided?¨ I thought, or thinly veiled ambition? What kind of a deal could they negotiate with wolves?

Not two seconds had passed when we heard the first scream. Then a thud against the door and more screaming. I could hear a faint ¨Let us in¨ through the heavy door, but it was too late. Their deluded ambition sealed their tragic fate.

Once inside, we were greeted by other guards. The civilians were already ensconced in the bunkers.

¨What announcements has our leader made?¨ I asked.

¨None,¨ they replied.

¨None?¨ I asked in disbelief. ¨What’s wrong?¨

¨We don’t know. The door to his command post is locked, and no one’s responding when we knock and call at the door.¨

¨Has no one called him over the intercom system?¨

Of course they had. The guards are not remiss in their duties.

¨The phone system is dead,¨ the guard in command said, ¨and when we listen in through the intercom, we can only hear muffled sounds, like someone’s holding a hand over the speaker.¨

¨We’ve got to get in there. Someone might be holding him hostage,¨ I replied.

Right then, a loud bang on the outer door jolted us all.

The blow had been so hard that it seemed to have shaken the door loose. That door was impenetrable, or so we all believed.

Everyone stopped talking. We were all looking at the door when, in the hushed atmosphere, we heard a creak. Could it be? The door was bolted mechanically, but it was budging! It wasn’t clear how, but it was beginning to be opened.

There was another loud, impatient bang, followed by another loud creak.

¨Guards,¨ I cried, ¨keep the door protected and be prepared to do battle. My band, follow me.¨

We ran past the guards coming to the door and headed toward the main hall, the one that leads to the commander’s post. We had to reach him, had to protect him. He’s the leader of our civilization.

We reached the long hall and ran towards the commander’s post at the end of it. We tried the door. It didn’t budge.

Zeb looked at me and observed in his calm way, ¨Curiously, the emergency seal has been activated. That should make it all but impossible to open.¨

Impossible? No, there were ways to get past the seal. I still remembered when they constructed the commander’s post. I was a nosy child who hung around the site and listened in on the builders' conversations and instructions.

We heard loud noises start to echo down the hall. Had the wolves gotten through?

¨We need a lever. There’s a spot on the door where the seal can be broken. Once broken, the door can be pushed in.¨

While everyone scrambled to find some kind of device that would serve as a lever, Zeb and I stayed at the door, feeling for its concealed Achilles’ heel. The noise in the hall continued to echo.

It would have been a waste of breath to tell everyone to hurry and put undue pressure on them. We were all in the same situation.

Within a couple of minutes, one of the Minervi ran up to me with some type of metal bar. It looked like she had peeled it off a door frame. It was perfect.

After another minute, Zeb found the spot. Between the two of us, we slipped the corner of the bar into the indentation. It didn’t quite fit, and I had to stay my impulse to hammer it in, which would surely have failed.

Zeb’s calm saved the day. He nudged the corner in ever so slowly until we heard a barely perceptible escape of air.

¨Got it,¨ he declared with a bit more emotion than he usually displayed.

¨Let’s get this door opened!¨

We identified which side the hinges were on and pushed, three people at a time.

The door budged, but only very slightly, so we stopped for a second and forced the metal bar completely through the broken seal, between the frame and the door. The door gave some more, but it still felt incredibly heavy, and the echoing noises in the hall grew louder.

¨We can do this, crew! Push with all your might!¨

We added two more pushers, and the door gave, but still not enough for us to get in. I looked through the opening, hoping I’d see our leader safe, but expecting to see him possibly deceased on the floor or held by some enemy force.

I couldn’t see him at all, yet despite the echoing noise in the hall, I could hear sounds somewhere in the room. It was like a muffled whispering, but I managed to make out what sounded like someone saying, ¨They’re entering my room. What should I do?¨ But these words seemed illogical. Our leader shouldn’t be communicating with anyone but us. Who was saying these things?

¨Push! It’s opening!¨ I cried out jubilantly. We managed to open the door another foot or so, enough room for me to squeeze through. Zeb was close behind.

Our leader was not deceased on the floor. In fact, he was nowhere to be seen. The chamber appeared to be empty, except that we could still hear the muffled whispering we had heard when we first pried the door open. I had never been inside the post after it was completed all those years ago, so we would have to locate the whispering—and fast. It was a large chamber with six side doors, each ajar.

The noise in the hall was growing louder. I hoped it was our people because I couldn’t hear any growling or howling. Still, things were moving so fast that if it weren’t our people, those of us here would soon have to fight to the death.

Zeb ran to one end of the doors, I ran to the other to find the muffled voice.

There had been no violence in the chamber. Everything was arranged neatly, as would have been expected. I looked through two doors and found no one. Then Zeb came to me with a peculiar expression on his face, one atypical of his usual calm.

¨Come,¨ he summoned.

We went to the first door Zeb had checked. He said nothing, just pointed.

The expression on his face and the silence that had fallen over the chamber were unnerving. I approached the door cautiously.

From the doorway I could see someone inside. It was our leader. His back was to me, and he was holding some type of communication device in his hand. On the control panel before him, books had been piled haphazardly over the intercom. This led to only one interpretation: Our leader was trying to prevent anyone outside the chamber from communicating with him.

I stood there and observed, not yet comprehending the situation. It felt like time had stopped. He had to have heard us, yet he seemed oblivious to our presence. He was huddled over the device in his hand, trying to muffle his words with his other hand and speaking only as loudly as he needed to in order to be heard by whoever was at the other end.

Then he began whispering into the device, ¨Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.¨

¨Commander?¨ I interrupted. He turned halfway around to see who had spoken.

¨They want to come in,¨ he told me in a confidential and almost conspiratorial way. I had not seen our leader for years and never up this close. His decrepitude took me aback. His eyes were glazed over, and there was a far-away, disconnected expression on his face. Turning his squinty eyes toward us, he showed no glint of recognition as to who we were.

¨I’m doing what they’re telling me to do,¨ he explained.

I saw the intercom covered with books to prevent us from hearing him. The control panel was at his disposal. There was no one else in the chamber. He had been the one who overrode the gate. He had turned the floodlights on as we approached the compound. He had allowed the compound’s door to be pried open. He had sealed off the command chamber. He was responsible for getting our Minervi guard killed. He was responsible for the massacre of the Anyi, who, despite their misguided idea, had long served honorably as guards.

With as calm a voice as I could muster and holding back with all my might the anger growing in me, I asked, ¨And who are they?¨ My face started burning, and I could feel the hair on the back of my neck prickle.

¨Why, the wolves.¨

My anger welled up uncontrollably. I could see all my years protecting our people, who had forged a civilization like no other. We were the envy of all the others, who futilely tried to emulate us and always wanted to come live with us. We had advanced more than any other civilization ever had. And this sad excuse of a being before me, this age-addled imbecile—a perfidious idiot who had projected to his people the empty image of a . . . leader—had brought it all crashing down.

I looked back at Zeb. He looked strangely different—eyes reddening and whiskers sprouting on his face. I looked down at my own hands and saw bristly hairs emerging from the pores laid bare by imposed body shaving under this leader’s rule, denying them their true gender function. My fingernails were forming thick, sharp points. My vision was transforming, too, and focused sharply on this sorry shell of our former leader.

¨What are you going to do, Chief,¨ Zeb asked. My reply required no thought:

¨Kill him.¨

Mauri Orr Stone, a soon-to-be-retired teacher from Louisiana, has been on a writing hiatus for too long.  His last published work—the poem “The Dead Days”—was published here in Black Petals.

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