Black Petals Issue #102, Winter, 2023

Home
Editor's Page
BP Artists and Illustrators
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
Betterment Day: Fiction by Malik Mandeville
Bridget Magnus: Fiction by Dean Patrick
Cemetery Road: Fiction by Richard Brown
I Quit: Fiction by Michael Stoll
Ivory Tower: Fiction by Aron Reinhold
Letter from a Poison Pen Pal: Fiction by Hillary Lyon
Neck of the Woods: Fiction by Harris Coverley
No Angels: Fiction by Kilmo
It's A Dry Heat: Fiction by Roy Dorman
Requited Love: Fiction by Travis Mushanski
Stuck in Transit: Fiction by Michael Woods
Cold Yearning: Flash Fiction by Kat Sandefer
I Married a Zombie: Flash Fiction by M. L. Fortier
Snack Time: Flash Fiction by Zvi A. Sesling
The Boy Who Loved Bolt: Flash Fiction by Ron Capshaw
The Cutting Room: Flash Fiction by Karen Schauber
Dirty Blue Bandana: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Bidee Bodee, Bidee Beaux: Poem by Thomas Fischer
Blood of Whitechapel: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Rotten to the Core: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Seque into Shadows: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Sensitivity to Light: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Boo Hag: Poem by Richard Stevenson
Paranormal Parasites: Poem by Richard Stevenson
Huggin Molly: Poem by Richard Stevenson
In the Morgue of Memory: Poem by Hillary Lyon
Unexpected Culinary Opportunity: Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
OI (Oo-ee): Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
Plant Eater Gone Carnivorous: Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
They Shouldn't Be There: Poem by Daniel G. Snethen
The Needle Spins: Poem by Rp Verlaine
Cold: Poem by Rp Verlaine
The Sleepwalker: Poem by Rp Verlaine

Michael Stoll: I Quit

102_bp_iquit_mdavis.jpg
Art by Michael D. Davis 2023

I Quit

 

By Michael Stoll

 

          Asshole.

          Dickhead.

          Motherfucker.

          Prick.

          Each one of these had been used to describe Joe Whitehead Jr., owner and manager of Whitehead’s Grocery in the small town of Daniels, Arkansas.

And having been a victim of Joe Whitehead Jr.’s abuse, Seth Elwood agreed that the shoe fit.

Seth had been grateful to get the job at Whitehead’s Grocery, at least initially. He was not a very good student in school. That would be an understatement; he was a D-average student at best – not college material in any sense of the word. It didn’t help his cause that he was mildly handicapped. He was born with congenital kyphosis, making him what many have called a “hunchback,” though his particular deformity was in no way comparable to Quasimodo.

But he was sure his life was worse. Seth never felt normal, and whereas Quasimodo spent his formative years and most of his adult life hidden in the bell tower of Notre Dame Cathedral, out of sight and out of mind, Seth was condemned to spend his life in the terrifying hell that is the American public school system. A good day only involved other kids staring at him and pointing their judgmental fingers as they whispered silently to each other.

The bad days, on the other hand, varied. A minor bad day involved other kids “rubbing” his “hump” for good luck. He could tolerate it, though it was certainly unwelcome, as was any attention to his deformity. The moderate bad days involved kids slapping his “hump” for good luck.

But that was small potatoes compared to high school – the time when he was most self-conscious. He hoped and prayed that when he became a freshman (albeit an older freshman due to repeating fourth and seventh grades), some sense of maturity would set in among his classmates; that all of the years they had been in school together would finally get them used to seeing his “hump” without giving him trouble for it. And for the first two weeks, his prayer seemed to be answered. Sure, the occasional student cast a sideways glance at him, but as a whole, the issue seemed resolved, and Seth figured he could start anew.

Then came the day of the first football game of the season. Seth was getting books out of his hallway locker when a beautiful girl approached him, smiling. He had seen her only once before and was charmed by her chestnut hair that flowed over her shoulders. But he was a realist and immediately wrote her off as too good for him – well out of his league. But this time, she was looking right at him and smiling. There was no one else between them. His heart beat a little faster and he smiled back. He could feel his cheeks warm as they reddened and his hands felt clammy. She continued smiling as she got closer. After a deep breath, he decided to introduce himself.

“Hi! I’m Seth!” he said excitedly, extending his right hand to her. She flinched backward, giving him a disgusted look. She then turned her head away from him and smiled again as a tall, handsome guy, likely a senior, wearing a school football jersey walked past him, putting his arms round her and planting a kiss on her lips. Seth felt his cheeks get hot with embarrassment.

 “Hey baby!” the football player said, giving the girl another kiss. He then glared at Seth, a look of disdain and disgust crossing his face. “Who the hell is he?”

“I don’t know,” she replied, looking at him with equal disdain. “He tried to introduce himself to me.”

“Did he really?” the football player asked, casting what looked like the “Evil Eye” at Seth.

“He did!” she replied emphatically. Seth began to feel uneasy.

“Away, foul beast!” the football player yelled. Several nearby students stopped and turned their attention to what was going on. Seth felt panic rising up inside.

“I said away, foul beast!” the football player yelled again. He grabbed Seth by the top of his head and slammed his face into the locker. A loud metallic clang rang out as Seth’s head struck the locker door. The observing students laughed as Seth tried to shake loose the stars that flashed before his eyes.

“How dare you prey upon the fair maiden!” the football player yelled, again grasping Seth’s head and slamming it into the locker. Seth stumbled backwards, feeling dizzy as the students continued to laugh. He reached out for something, anything, to help him maintain his balance and inadvertently grabbed onto the top of a girl’s blouse, his hand slightly touching one of her breasts.

“Pervert!” she screamed as she slapped him with full force. Seth stumbled and fell forward, hitting the floor chin first. The other students roared with laughter. Those that had not yet pulled out their phones were doing so, snapping pictures and recording videos as Seth tried to get up and shake off the pain.

“I vanquished the beast, my fair lady!” the football player said with a laugh.

“My hero!” the girl responded.

“What a loser!” someone else said as the gathered crowd of students dispersed.

So much for high school being different.

 

***

 

The football player incident was the first of many. Eventually the bullying and poor grades resulted in Seth dropping out of high school at 17. He knew he would never take the SAT or ACT, and getting his GED would be a challenge, though not impossible.

And it was with the goal of finding a full-time job while trying to earn his GED that Seth applied to Whitehead’s Grocery, a grocery store that was large enough to meet the needs of Daniels, but not yet big enough to expand beyond the town. He was hired to work in the deli department as a meat slicer. It was not the most stimulating job in the world – all he had to do was to ask the customer what they wanted, how much they wanted, and adjust the width of the requested slice before packaging it – but he was grateful to have a job.

Or at least he was, until Joe Whitehead Jr., who had inherited the store from his father after never ever having to start at the bottom and work his way up, made it clear what kind of boss he was.

“Are you working, or just daydreaming, Humpty Dumpty?” Joe liked to yell if he thought Seth was working too slow. He was a short, stout man, maybe five feet tall at best, with a receding hairline with long black graying hair around the sides. When he accused Seth of being too slow, Joe meant not running, jumping, or doing anything that resembled rigorous exercise. The man demanded unreasonable productivity, as if the $10 per hour was worth the effort.

Still, Seth tolerated the abuse, if only for the purpose of keeping his job. After all, until he could get his GED, this was probably the best he could expect.

But as time went on, things did not get better. Seth continued to work for Joe, albeit grudgingly, with minimal improvement in pay. He was coming up on his fifth year with Whitehead Grocery, still slicing meat in the deli (now for $11 per hour) and having yet to find time to work on getting his GED. All the while, Joe Whitehead Jr. had continued his abusive streak, still calling Seth “Humpty Dumpty.” Seth had continued to remain a loyal employee, but others (at least those with better futures than Seth) quit shortly after they started. They always confided in Seth – perhaps because he was not threatening – and the complaints were always the same; always going back to Joe Whitehead Jr.

Asshole.

Dickhead.

Motherfucker.

          Prick.

          Seth could hardly agree more. But then again, what could he do about it?

          On a cool October morning, as the store was preparing to open, Seth was in his usual place behind the counter of the Whitehead Grocery deli. He had made sure the front display case was stocked and that he knew where each deli selection was placed for easy access. He double checked the slicer so he knew it was clean and ready to go. It was like every other day.

          Joe Whitehead Jr. was making his rounds and berating several employees, as was his custom. When he came to the deli, he didn’t hold back.

          “The ham at the end of the second row is crooked!” he yelled much louder than necessary. Seth reached into the case and adjusted the ham so it was no longer crooked as Joe stared with a seemingly intense hatred. If he stared any angrier, his eyes might burst from their sockets.

          When Seth was done, Joe walked up to the display case and lowered his head so he was eye-to-eye with the ham. He then raised his head and gave Seth what could only be described as an “eat-shit-and-die” look.

          “Don’t fuck it up again, Humpty Dumpty!” Joe demanded as he turned around and continued his inspection of the grocery store. Seth forced a smile and nodded his head, stifling the urge to strangle the little prick.

          The doors opened and the usual crowd of customers came in. As they came to the deli counter, Seth prepared their orders accordingly, readjusting if necessary. He never dared eat any excess deli slices – Joe Whitehead Jr. insisted that excess slices be added to the next order of the same meat.

          The day wore on and it was soon 3:00 in the afternoon. The day was busier than usual and Seth had not been able to eat a full lunch, just sneak in a few bites here and there. He was hungry and tired, but he still had another five hours left on his shift, and Joe Whitehead Jr. didn’t like it when his employees chose eating over working. Seth was sure that Joe had cameras everywhere, constantly watching everything his employees did.

          Seth went into the back, hoping to finish the peanut butter and jelly sandwich he brought from home, when he heard the hand bell at the deli ding for his attention. Sighing, he went back to the counter.

          “Can I help you?” he asked, not looking up as he grabbed a sheet of parchment paper and a plastic bag with Whitehead Grocery printed on the side.

          “I’ll have a quarter pound of oven-roasted turkey and a half-pound of honey ham, please,” the woman on the other side of the counter said.

          “How thin do you want…” Seth began and paused as he looked up. There before him was a woman he recognized – a beautiful woman with chestnut hair that flowed over her shoulders. She was a few years older, but he recognized her all the same.

          “I’m sorry?” she asked.

          He paused, then replied, “I’m sorry, how thin do you want that cut?”

          “Just regular sandwich slice,” she said, smiling. As he reached into the display case and pulled out the turkey, Seth wondered if she didn’t recognize him. He tried not to glance at her as he sliced a quarter-pound of turkey. When he was done, he nonchalantly packaged it and handed it to her, then removed the ham from the display case. After slicing a half-pound, he packaged it up as well.

          “Anything else?” he asked as he handed her the ham, hoping the answer was no.

          “No, that will do… oh, wait!” she said. Seth cringed, hoping it wasn’t because she remembered him.

          “Yes?” he asked nervously.

          “Sorry, but could I please get a half-pound of your Swiss cheese?” she asked.

          “Absolutely,” he replied, relieved. He pulled the Swiss cheese from the case and set it on the slicer. He went to grab a sheet of parchment paper as a man walked up to the deli counter toward the woman. Seth glanced up quickly and recognized the man to be the football player from that fateful day in high school.

          “Hey baby,” the man said as he kissed the woman. Seth began to panic, walking to the slicer with parchment paper and placing it beneath the blade. As he began to slice, he began to breathe heavily, hoping and praying he could fill the order without them recognizing him. He was so nervous that he almost nicked his thumb on the blade. Once the order was sliced and weighed, Seth placed it in a bag and handed it to the woman, trying not to look at them.

          “Is there anything else?” he asked, not making eye contact.

          “Away, foul beast!” the man yelled with a laugh.

          The woman gave him a mild smack on the chest.

“Devin, what was that for?” she asked.

“Don’t you remember, babe?” he replied. “This was the weirdo that tried to talk to you in high school!”

“Of course, I remembered, but I didn’t want to point it out! How could I forget that?” she asked, pointing a finger at Seth. They both laughed.

“We’re just messing with you!” he said to Seth. “Sorry I beat you up. I hope there’s no hard feelings.”

As he usually did, Seth forced a smile, even though he felt like breaking the man’s neck before crawling in a hole to die. “None at all. I forgot about it.” All lies.

“Good to see you again,” the man said with false sincerity. Seth could hear them talking softly as the two of them walked away. “He still looks like a freak,” he heard one say. “Thank God we don’t look like that,” the other said.

Seth stood there flabbergasted. He looked around and his heart sank. He knew that some people’s past came back to haunt them, but he always thought those people deserved it. He had never wronged anyone, nor had he ever harmed anyone in any way. He didn’t deserve the pain he felt at that moment. To say it was unfair would be an understatement.

As if to rub salt in the wound, Joe Whitehead Jr. decided to make his grand entrance – another inspection from the czar to make sure the peasants were toiling so that his will be done!

And Seth clearly wasn’t toiling.

“Get your ass to work, Humpty Dumpty!” Joe yelled. “Right the fuck now!”

“Yes sir, sorry sir!” Seth replied. While his tone was sincere, his intention was not. It was right then and there that he made his decision.

It was time to quit.

When the doors closed that evening and the rest of the staff went home, Seth asked to speak to Joe, who agreed to talk in his office.

“What do you want, Humpty Dumpty?” Joe asked as he sat down at his desk in the backroom office. It was clear from his tone that he was in no mood to talk.

“I’ll be quick,” Seth said as he sat in the chair directly in front of Joe’s desk.

“Thank God for that!” Joe said.

“For starters, I want to thank you for employing me for the past five years,” Seth began. He knew he was lying about being thankful, but hoped things could end on a good note. “That being said, it’s time I move on. So, I quit!”

Joe gave him a confused look, then laughed. “Oh, that’s rich! And do what? Why the hell are you wasting my time?”

Seth took a deep breath, trying to keep his temper. “I’m not wasting your time, Mr. Whitehead. I am sincerely quitting.”

Joe laughed again. “Well, what a relief! You were a shitty employee!”

“I’m going to be going now,” Seth said as he stood up in the hopes of getting out quick.

“Stay right the fuck here!” Joe yelled. Seth knew he was not compelled to do so, but turned and sat back down.

“Do you know why I hired you?” Joe asked angrily. “It was because I wanted a freak show attraction! Go see Humpty Dumpty the Deli Freak! That’s the only reason you got a job to begin with! Just know that when no one wants to hire a deformed freak like you, don’t even think about crawling back to me for a job, you mutant fuck! You will never be welcome here!”

Seth held his tongue as he stood up and turned to leave the office.

“Away, foul beast!” Joe said.

Seth turned around and glared at Joe, his cheeks burning red with anger. “What did you say!?”

“I said, ‘Away, foul beast!’” Joe replied. “It’s from Shakespeare, or one of those other fucking literary homos! I don’t know!”

Joe was barely able to finish the statement when Seth suddenly grabbed him by the back of his hair and pulled him up to eye level with him. The two stared into each other’s eyes – Seth with a look of pure rage, Joe with a look of surprised fear.

“Come with me!” Seth growled as he exited the office, dragging Joe by his hair. Joe protested, both angry and afraid, as he tried to free himself from Seth’s grip. As he struggled, and at one point even tried to scream, Joe remembered that no one else was in the now-closed building. Despite Joe’s efforts, Seth would not let go; he refused to be deterred by the man he hated with every fiber of his being.

“Let me go, you freak!” Joe shouted as he struggled. “Right now, you are assaulting me! I will have you arrested and I will press charges! They’ll send your freak ass to prison!”

“Almost there,” Seth said as he continued pulling Joe along. Joe glanced around, his heart beating, and realized they were close to the deli counter, the place where Seth had spent almost every day for the past five years. Joe jerked his head hard in an effort to free himself, but Seth responded by pulling Joe’s hair even harder in a manner that twisted his neck, sending a jolt of pain through Joe’s body before falling to his knees in front of the deli counter.

“Get up!” Seth yelled as he pulled Joe by the hair again, lifting him to his feet. Seth then pulled him around the counter toward the meat slicer.

“What are you doing?” Joe screamed.

“Do you know how to work a meat slicer?” Seth asked, forcing Joe’s face into a position where his chin rested on the top part of the slicer’s back plate.

“Let me the fuck go!” Joe yelled as he tried to push his head back towards Seth. Seth pushed harder on the back of his head, keeping it into place.

“Do you know how sharp a meat slicer blade is?” Seth asked as he switched the meat slicer on. The blade came to life with a whirring sound. “Well, do you!?”

“You don’t have the fucking balls!” Joe said, trying to be defiant, but only coming across as scared.

“Here’s how sharp it is!” Seth yelled. Grabbing hold of the handle, he pushed the blade to the left, cutting into the front part of Joe’s chin. Joe screamed as the sharp blade sliced into his flesh, splattering blood onto the wall. Seth pulled Joe’s hair, raising his head as blood poured from the wound on his chin.

“Do you know how wide the blade on a meat slicer can cut?” Seth asked as he adjusted it for a wider cut. He shoved Joe’s head, left side down, onto the back carriage so he could watch what was about to happen. Joe screamed as Seth pushed the blade towards him, slicing off his left ear and part of the left side of his face. More blood splattered as Seth once again pulled Joe’s head up from the meat slicer.

“I know you’re losing blood, but you need to know one thing!” Seth yelled into Joe’s remaining ear. “Every other employee in this store wants to do to you what I am doing now!”

Joe tried to respond, tried to plead and reason with Seth, but the blinding pain stymied his tongue. Seth positioned Joe’s head face first on the back carriage, then shoved the blade full force, slicing first into Joe’s nose. Joe screamed as the blade sliced through the cartilage, leaving a blood gushing hole where his nose used to be. Seth pushed Joe’s face harder down and sent the blade into the right side of his face. The sound of blade meeting bone resonated as Seth pushed harder, grinding out slices of Joe Whitehead Jr. cold cuts. When the machine finally clogged and could cut no more, he switched it off and let Joe’s body slump down to the floor.

Seth looked at the bloody mess and began to laugh. For years, he had been considered the beast; the one to be slain. But now before him lay the real beast, dead and impotent.

For the first time in his life, Seth felt normal.


Michael Stoll is a former historian and journalist looking to break into the fiction writing scene. His influences include Clive Barker, Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Bentley Little. He currently resides in Rogers, Arkansas, with his wife and son.