Black Petals Issue #102, Winter, 2023

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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 Woods: Stuck in Transit

102_bp_stuck_in_transit_jmong.jpg
Art by Jen Mong 2023

STUCK IN TRANSIT

By Michael Woods

 

“That’s where I saw it,” he said, pointing above the golden arches. “The big one. Me and my old man, eating Big Macs out the side of the restaurant when it exploded up there into that death rainbow.”

          “Do you remember what it was?” I asked Noel.

          “What? The meteor?” I heard him say through my earpiece. He glanced at me through his fish-bowl helmet. Sweat dripped down his raised eyebrow.

          “No, no, the Big Mac.”

          “Oh,” he said. He clambered past the overgrowth on the street, stomping crushed limbs and maroon flowers. His machete tapped one of the intact windows. The fast-food restaurant made him look tiny like he would’ve been all those years ago. Inside, vines, spores, and trees burst out of the building like an unkempt terrarium.

“You know,” he continued. “I was about eight years old when it happened. I can’t say what was in it or how it tasted. It was good, though. I remember that. Last meal I had with Dad.”

“Beef?”

“Yeah, beef. Believe it had two patties. Maybe three.”

Never had beef.

“Jesus. Three? We really did have everything, didn’t we?”

Noel didn’t answer.

“I heard Dome 76 has cows,” I said, hacking away at contorted vines blocking our path onto Main Street.

“And swimming pools,” Noel added.

“The hell they do,” I said. “The richest in our dome doesn’t even have a private bath.”

We were approaching a cluster of decommissioned vehicles in the middle of the road.

“Trust me, I know a guy on the inside,” he said. “He’s the one who hooked us up with this delivery. And if you’re good—or agree to give me a little bit of your share—I’ll tell ya what we’re hauling.”

Noel shrugged his shoulders, moving the steel case strapped to his back. He winked at me.

There's no way he knows.

The cars had aggressive vegetation piercing from every direction. In the driver’s seat sat a red bush.

“Who’s this man on the inside?” I asked him as I heaved myself on top of the car’s hood. The metal bent beneath my weight. My protective suit made it hard to maneuver over the windshield. The cargo hanging from my shoulders dug into my lower back as I hopped onto the roof. The kit on my thigh wobbled. I sheathed my machete to tighten it.

“Might be the president himself for all you know,” Noel said. He grabbed my hand and I pulled him onto the top with me. He repaid the favor by being an anchor for my arm as I descended the trunk. “I’ll give you a hint as to what it is. It’s something old. Real old.”

“Pre-collision?”

“Way further back.”

“The Constitution?”

“Nah, they already have that in there with them.”

“Well, it's gotta be something political, right?” I asked. “After all, it’s going to the commander-in-chief’s granddaughter.”

“You’ll see.”

I could hear him smirking through the comms.

Sweat dripped down my back. Moisture pooled all around my rubber suit. It was 100% sealed: nothing could get in or out.

My socks squished inside my boots as I crumpled over beaten plants already severed weeks ago. Our path was commonly taken by other couriers. It was an easy delivery. The only thing we had to do was keep a sharp mind, follow Main Street, and hack away at some of the re-growing weeds. Easy money.

“Can’t wait till you see it. Their whole dome is like a pre-collision world. Got stores, factories, movie theaters, parks, pools, restaurants, candy stores, office buildings, and even libraries. It’s something,” Noel informed me.

“That’s what you heard from your guy. I don’t believe it.”

Noel wiggled his blade in the air as if to tell me, “Believe me or not. You’ll find out.”

There was a glow in the corner of our eyes that caught both of our attention. A tree grew from the cracked sidewalk. Its bark radiated a bright neon. Its branches slumped across the road, weighed down by its increase in nutrients. Its limbs swollen as if pumped with steroids, barricading our path. Decorating the ends were mangled leaves resembling nothing indigenous pre-collision.

“How? This wasn’t here a week ago. The other couriers at the hub said it got bigger, but they would’ve let us know if it were impassable,” Noel said.

He closed in to inspect the tree. Its glow bounced off the lens of Noel’s helmet. He reflected it like a beacon—one of those lighthouses I read about. He turned to me, letting the purple light from his glass shine brilliantly onto mine.

“There’s no way we can chop this,” he said, then slung his hacking tool into one of the branches. It barely made it past the bark. When he yanked it out, liquid oozed from the wood. He wiped the blade on one of the misshapen leaves.

“Can we climb it? Or go around?” I asked.

Our heads craned upwards. The branches were tangled together, towering at least three stories high.

“If we go around that way,” Noel said, aiming his machete to the right side of the street. “We’ll have to cut through the dense brush. Our blades will dull before we can make it halfway through.”

I walked to the left side. The vegetation was thick over there, too. I couldn't see a yard inside. Flowers blooming spores and thorns like knives lined the outside of the greenery.

“So that's it then,” I said.

Noel crouched, following the roots of the tree. They sprouted back out from the concrete and into the windows of a bus just inside the wall of plants.

“No,” he said. His tone was a lot quieter. “We can backtrack and cut through the zoo. It’ll bring us back onto Main. A lot closer to our destination, too.”

“What about the spores?”

“That’s why we wear this gear, kid.”

He raised himself from what he was inspecting. He came by me, nudging my elbow, encouraging me to turn around.

“Don’t look,” he warned.

Of course I had to.

In the bus were dark plants, blistering with leaves and fruits. Each seat was occupied by a clump of weeds. I felt goosebumps travel down my forearms. It was like they were watching me. Looking at us investigating their tree.

As I turned I peeked at the text on the side of the bus: ELDER CARE TRANSPORTATION. Under it were two spherical helmets connected to two protective suits. Inside their chests were roots the size of street lamps. Machetes were suspended in the air by vines, their boots were broken apart, stems growing out from their soles.

“I told you not to look. They tried cutting around. They didn't pay attention to where they were stepping.”

We journeyed back over the cars and across the McDonald’s. Noel led me up a street and into a parking garage. It was engulfed by a cloud of yellow.

“You ready?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

We ascended the first floor. People who parked their cars here never imagined it would be the last time they drove. They left behind tons of scrap metal, turning the lot into a junkyard, succumbed by nature.

We walked over roots sprawling over the entire floor like spider webs. Parts of the second story above us collapsed ages ago. Wood from the undergrowth on that floor concealed the gaps like a scab.

Every other minute I had to wipe the amber dust from my helmet. By the time we got on the other side of the garage, our suits were coated in half an inch of yellow.

“Here it is,” Noel said, facing the entrance of the zoo.

We found a trail not overtaken by foliage. It led us to a grizzly bear exhibit.

“Have you ever seen one?” Noel asked.

“In a book.”

The opening where spectators used to look though was smashed. Thorns and poison berries found a home in the bear cave.

There was an exit large enough for us to squeeze through at the far end of the walkway. We hacked through vines until we made our way into the reindeer pasture. Almost every speck of soil was occupied by some species of vegetation. We hopped a railing back onto concrete near a concession stand. It was less crowded.

“Hard to imagine a horde of people here,” I said.

Noel didn’t respond.

His feet were bricked. He was gazing at something in the middle of our path.

Through the tint of yellow, an animal was facing us. Its mighty antlers spread majestically to each side, adorned by crimson flowers. As we crept nearer, we noticed a system of roots spread from the reindeer’s body like veins. This system entrapped the animal, the foliage embedding itself inside of its flesh, pumping blood through the stems and vessels. Its fur was unrecognizable, it had been completely overtaken by the invasive species.

We stood dumbly in front of the poor creature. I stared into its eyes.

“Noel,” I said. “I think…”

I didn’t want to finish what I thought.

The reindeer’s eyes flickered from Noel then to me.

From me to Noel.

Me.

Noel.

Me.

Noel.

          “It’s alive,” he said.

          “Does that mean—” I whispered, but was cut off.        

“You’re beautiful,'' he said to the reindeer. “You must’ve been like this for a while.”

Noel shifted the machete in his hand. With all his strength he swung his blade into its nape. He tried several more times until its head lopped off onto the ground.

Its eyes were still.

Amber spores attached themselves to the open wound beneath its severed head, and within a matter of seconds, flowers sprouted.

Its body was still upright, supported by the vegetation. Its neck wound was being healed by a series of roots from both inside and outside its body, sealing the traumatic amputation.

But still, its eyes were at peace.

“Come on,” Noel said. “We’re almost there.”

We ventured through several other pits until the outskirts of the zoo opened up to a parking lot. Across from that, a sliver of Main Street was in view.

The rear exit was too good to be true. An archway with a sign atop it read, THANK YOU FOR VISITING, PLEASE COME AGAIN!

It was the easiest path we had so far until I saw there was a gaping hole between us and the way out.

“Looks like it gave way from all the rooting underneath,” Noel said. He took off his metal pack.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Can’t make this jump with these things weighing us down.”

I followed suit, gently placing down the shipment.

“I’ll jump over first then you toss me the two cases,” he instructed.

He put away his machete, walking back for a running start. He began with a jog that evolved into a sprint, then cleared the distance with ease.

I gazed into the abyss. It was deep enough to snap ankles.

“Hey, don't sweat it, kid. It's cake,” he assured me. “Now fling the Gutenberg over here.”

I had his case in my arms.

Gutenberg. There’s no way,

It felt a lot heavier.

Noel laughed into the comms. “Told ya it was old.”

“Is it really a Gutenberg Bible? In here?”

A real piece of pre-collision history. In my hands. Something I’ll help preserve for generations to see.

A smile found its way into the corners of my cheeks.

I spun around, building momentum, tossing the sacred text over the chasm and into Noel’s arms.

A perfect catch.

I repeated the technique with my case: a success, also.

When both were safely across, I copied Noel with a running start.

I cleared it, landing in a crouch. But as I straightened up, concrete gave way from under my right foot. Before the zoo was able to swallow me whole, Noel took a hold of my wrist, pulling me back up to the surface.

I thanked him and went to brush myself off when I felt an unusual sensation on my knee. It was cool like air was meeting my sweat-soaked skin. I glanced down to discover my suit was torn.

“Shit!” I exclaimed, throwing my palm over the breach.

“Noel!” I pleaded.

I attempted to undo the pouch strapped to my thigh, but sweat trickled into my eyes, obscuring my vision.

I heard Noel unfastening his pouch.

Everything was coated in yellow. Every part of this hell was absorbed by a cloud of spores. Visions of the reindeer flooded my mind.

My breathing drowned out Noel’s voice telling me to be calm.

At last I felt pressure around my knee. He was wrapping me with the repair kit. He used his entire roll, securing the opening.

He lifted me and wiped my helmet clean with his glove.

“Kid, listen to me. You’re okay. You’re alright. I got you patched up.”

He swallowed hard.

I blinked profusely to clear my eyesight.

He was right. A black band was tightly tied around my leg. Somehow he got there in time. I didn’t feel anything there.

 No air.

 No roots.

A laugh escaped me in relief.

“Put your pack on,” Noel said. “Smooth sailing from here.”

The parking lot was mostly bare. Still yellow, but bare, nonetheless.

The end of the lot attached to Main Street. Surrounding the exit, wherever there was a hint of soil, trees erected dozens of feet in the air, creating a familiar wall.

Noel took the lead. He hobbled up the pavement between the green, natural barrier.

Near the top, he turned to me whistling.

“You should see the view, kid,” he said. “I can see the top of Dome 76 from here.”

He gifted me a hopeful expression.

As I made my way up, Noel was darkened by a shadow. Behind him, something massive neared. Its body pushed a car to the side as it pierced its way through debris like a bulldozer. It was a grizzly, already implanted by a million spores. Patches of its fur were replaced by flowery petals, roots dragged across the ground from its flesh, leaking blood, leaving red paw prints.

Its eyes were manic. With one swift motion, it lifted its massive claws, knocking Noel across the street. He let out a painful yell as he bruised across the asphalt.

I attempted to go after him, but the bear came my way. It blocked the exit so I retreated further back into the lot. It didn’t pursue me. It let out agonizing breaths as it limped towards the zoo. Its bright petals dimmed as it disappeared in the distance.

I rushed towards Noel's bent body. His hands were grasping at his helmet. I heard his whimpers in my ear.

“R-repair kit. Please…” he said.

I undid my pouch, unrolling my band.

“Where’s the breach?” I asked him.

He rolled over towards me. There was a massive fracture in his helmet. Plumes of yellow were being sucked between his fingers.

“Is it bad, kid?” he asked.

I tilted my head to see through his lens, just beneath his gloves.

There was a flower blooming on his cheek, turning red, already soaking up blood.

“N-no. It’s fine,” I said.

“Don’t lie. I can feel it, you know,” he said, letting out an exhausted chuckle.

“Noel. Move your hands. Let me wrap you.”

I raised the band.

He sighed.

His hands lifted from his helmet then shoved my band away.

More spores dug into his flesh, instantly beginning the process. Their roots connected with his veins, planting deep inside his face, blooming exotic plants foreign to our planet. They struck through his skull, pierced his tongue. Anywhere there was a living cell, it was a space to occupy.

“Don’t let me live like this,” he groaned. “Please, kid. You know what you have to do.” The last order his brain gave his muscles was to point at the machete sheathed to my side.

His helmet was garnished to the brim with a basket of brilliant colors. Vines twirled out from his mouth, thorns from his ears, petals from his eyes, and bushes thickened from his cheeks. The pressure built up, pressing leaves against the glass of his helmet, eventually leaking out of the crack. A small flower, pumped with blood, opened up and released a breath full of spores.

His arm fell to the road.

I stepped back watching his life exist in the flora.

I closed my eyes, producing my blade.

I aimed for his neck.

Thwack.

Roots already spread to his torso. I couldn't get a clean cut.

Thwack.

          My vision blurred.

          Thwack.

          This time with tears.

          Thwack.

          I’m not a butcher.

          Thwack.

          It’s not meat.

          Thwack..

          They're just plants.

          Thwack.

#

          Noel was right, Dome 76 wasn’t too far away. Somehow I managed to drag myself down Main Street, lugging his case on the front of my chest, and mine on my back.

          It was magnificent. Maybe Noel did know a guy. Maybe we were delivering a Gutenberg.

          At the front of the dome’s gate, men with guns wearing protective suits approached me. Asked me a bunch of questions, but I didn’t hear them. I flashed them my papers. They saw the president’s name so they eagerly let me through. A pair ushered me into a tube where the sanitization process began. I was sprayed with a variety of chemicals, dozens of times. Then in another tube, I was blown by harsh winds until dried.

After I was scanned as not being contaminated, a man opened the first door for me. After I entered and it was sealed shut, I was in pitch black. Then somewhere, some guy pressed a button and two titanic gates crept open before me, revealing where the wealthiest lived.

          It was the world pre-collision. It was one of the cities I’ve read about. So clean. So many people bustling around in the streets. I took off my helmet. The air washed my face clean.

Another armed man led me to a car—a working car. He took my cargo and placed it in the trunk.

          We drove down the street where people ate, played, and laughed on the sidewalk. Men in suits discussed business, every other person held a cup of coffee, kids ate hot dogs and kicked soccer balls on freshly cut lawns. Businesses were lined up, selling their products under occupied apartment buildings.

 To my amazement, I even saw a McDonald’s.

The scent of coffee and freshly baked goods left us as we veered off into a residential area.

Every house was identical: a garage, two stories, gray roof tiles, and walls lined with red bricks. We made a right. There was a community swimming pool people were gravitating towards. At the end of the road, there was a building that stood out from the rest.

“We’re here,” the driver said to me.

We were parked in front of a mansion. Bigger than I’ve ever seen in my dome.

The driver went to the trunk, retrieving the two metal packs. I held them by their straps. They were warm in my hands.

“Okay, make the delivery. I’ll be waiting here to take you back to the front gate.”

I hiked up the long driveway. Their decorative potted plants mocked me on the front porch.

I knocked on the door.

It slid open. A youthful girl frowned when she saw it was me. She scanned me up and down.

“I have a delivery to this address,” I said.

“You’ve been sanied, right?” she said.

“What?”

“Sanitized. They sanitized you right?”

“Yes.”

“Then lemme see!” she said, bouncing up and down on the tip of her toes.

I knelt, setting the weathered cases before her. I unlatched their clasps, hesitating for a moment, hovering my hand over Noel’s.

“Hurry, please,” she prodded.

I flipped the lids.

I couldn’t make sense of it.

“What is this?” I said to myself. “Bullshit! What is this?”

I flung the contents to her feet. A shirt unfolded over her socks. Followed by a pair of shoes, sunglasses, and a skirt.

          Clothes.

“Hey stop!” she demanded. “Do you have any idea how much pre-collision designer costs?” She shoved me onto her well-kept lawn.

A pair of sunglasses.

She reached into her pocket producing a handful of bills, tossing them my way, not even counting the amount.

“Now go back to the decrepit dome you came from!” she said.

Shoes.

I picked myself up and hobbled back over to the road. My driver chuckled. People on their way to the pool swept past me. They gawked at my condition. The sidewalk was alive. Men were shirtless. Women were in bikinis.

Something felt odd. There was a pain in my knee.

I undid my wraps.

Peeled back the rupture in my suit.

A flower.

I took off my gloves.

More people pushed me aside

I agitated the petals with my finger.

It produced a wind of amber into the air.




Michael Woods: “Thank you so much for accepting my short story. I know writing is a continuous learning process where you fail constantly and receive dozens of rejection letters as the result, so I'm so very grateful for you to be the first person to believe in my work. I promise it'll only improve from here.”


 


Glad to help, Michael. Don’t be a stranger…Ed