Black Petals Issue #102, Winter, 2023

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

Hillary Lyon: Letter from a Poison Pen Pal

Art by Sophia Wiseman-Rose 2023

Letter from a Poison Pen Pal


Hillary Lyon



Dear Ms. Janine,

How are you? I am fine. I hope you are well. The weather here is hot and cloudy, like always. Did it snow last winter? I miss the change of seasons.

Janine looked at the letter on her desk and rubbed her blood-shot eyes. How long had she waited to hear from Danny? And this blather is what she receives. She picked the paper up to continue reading the awkward, childish print scrawled on blue-lined notebook paper.

I remember you have a birthday coming up real soon! They won’t let me send you presents—or anything physical, for that matter. But I am allowed to send messages—so I have a surprise for you!

Janine closed her eyes and took a deep, calming breath. Patience, she reminded herself, is a virtue. Or so she’d been told. She continued reading.

It’s this: Your husband Bernard went missing ten years ago today and still nobody—not the police, not the FBI, not the preacher, not your neighbors, not his sister, not your grown son—have any idea where he went. Or what happened to him. I’ll tell ya what really went down, ‘cause I saw everything and I KNOW.

The ice cubes in Janine’s glass settled with a muted thunk. She reached for the bottle on the corner of her desk and poured herself three more fingers of gin.

Bernard tripped and fell down an open manhole in the middle of downtown as he crossed the street—jaywalking!—on his way to lunch at a greasy spoon diner. He broke his neck when he hit the ground. Workers replaced the manhole cover without looking below, so—

Just kidding!

Janine took a long sip of her gin. She held her glass aloft and continued reading.

He actually ran his car off the old McClellan Bridge on his way home from work, got trapped in there and drowned. Just like what happened to that campaign worker in the 1960’s, in Massachusetts. He flailed and panicked and passed out as the cold dark water rose.


The condensation on the outside of Janine’s glass dripped over her fingers, pooling on her desk. She set the glass down on a coaster and with her damp hand smeared the water in an arc across her desktop. It was slow to evaporate.

Seriously, he got tired of you and your dull conversations and your post-menopausal body and your boring tuna casseroles so he just took off—whoosh!—with that pert young thing he met at the office. You know, the red-headed receptionist with the modeling portfolio and ample, uh, trust fund.

Happy Birthday, Janine!

Janine knew none of this was true, but she was curious as to what Danny would say. Often he would tell on himself, let it slip that he was making things up. What was that old expression? Janine smiled as she remembered: Give him enough rope, and he’ll hang himself. Much like her missing husband did.

I saw him take off with her, myself. In her springtime-yellow 1966 Mustang convertible. Her fiery hair trailing in the breeze like a conqueror’s flag, his wide-mouthed smile brighter than her vintage ride’s chrome bumper. Passports in the glove-box, they were on their way to—

“No, Danny, you didn’t see this. For one time in your wretched existence, can you quit being such a liar?” Janine muttered and scowled. She closed her eyes and tightly gripped the pencil in her left hand. Soon she heard the lead tip scritching against the notebook paper.

Okay, so I made up something more exciting than what really happened. So sue me!

“Oh, I’ll do worse than that to you,” Janine grumbled, “if you’re not up front with me. Spill the beans!” She slugged the gin and immediately reached for the bottle again. The scratchings resumed.

I, ah—jeez, I don’t know what happened to Bernard. I didn’t see where he went then, and I don’t see him anywhere now.

Janine grunted; she wasn’t surprised by this, as Danny had previously proved to be an unreliable witness—but he was the only spirit who never failed to answer her call; the more reputable ones dismissed her queries. She was surprised, though, that this time he admitted he didn't know anything.

For real, I didn’t mean to waste your time, I’m just so damn lonely here—and your birthday’s this week, so I thought maybe you'd like a diversion, like some company—

“No,” Janine hissed, “that would be what YOU want, because you’re stuck in Hell and you’re bored!” Clutching her glass, Janine swallowed the last of her gin. The ice cubes clunked en masse against her lips and teeth. “I want the truth!”

She slammed her empty glass down on the desk. Her patience was at an end. “I want you to lead me to evidence! Real, true, indisputable, honest-to-God evidence!” Danny ignored this command and went on with his self-indulgent patter.

—some conversation. That would be my birthday present to you.

The scratching on the notebook paper intensified.

Hey, here’s a fun game—you and me, we’ll play like we’re detectives in an old-timey black and white movie and team up, work together—like, say, Nick and Nora Charles, or The Ghost and Mrs. Muir—to track Bernard down and solve this—

Janine put her pencil down. The lead was worn to a flat nubbin, and the splintered wood encasing it was now tearing the notebook paper with each word. She flexed her fingers, relaxing her almost-cramping hand. Danny didn’t know squat, and that made her smile. She wadded up the paper and tossed it into the trash can beside her desk.

Maybe next year, around her birthday, she’d again use this automatic writing trick to contact Danny for information regarding Bernard, as spirits were supposed to see, to know, everything that happened in the mortal world. It was obvious to her now that they didn’t—that was just good advertising. Working with Danny felt more like she’d been a sucker for the old bait-and-switch.

Maybe next year, though, Danny would have figured out what really happened to Bernard. Maybe next year he could tell her where the old guy is located—which is buried under the azalea bushes in her backyard. Maybe Danny would prove himself, finally, to be a dependable, all-knowing spirit—one she could employ to rectify other troubling situations in her life. Maybe not.

Hillary Lyon holds a Masters in English Literature, and what did she do with that? She founded and for 20 years acted as senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. Her short stories, drabbles, and poems have appeared in numerous print and online publications. She's lived in Brazil, Canada, France, and several states in the US; she currently resides in southern Arizona. Hillary also creates illustrations for horror, sci-fi, and pulp fiction sites.