Black Petals Issue #92, Summer, 2020

The Black Petals

BP Artist's Page
Mars-Chris Friend
Misty Page-A Game of Chess
Sean M. Carey-Chilled Bones Under Lovely Skin
Roy Dorman-Death in the Round Room, Part IV
Lael Braday-Magical Perspective
Matt Spangler-Master Smasher
Lena Abou-Khalil-The Nowhere Man
Grace Sielinski-'Port
Gavin McGarvey-The Black Petals
Marc Dickerson-Theater is Dead
C. S. Harbold-The Whispering
Dean Patrick-Vincent's Warning
Doug Park-We Get Him Together
Joseph Hurtgen-Worlds to Conquer
Mickie Bolling-Burke-The Bringer of Darkness
Aaron Hicks-The Last Days
Cindy Rosmus-Out of Juice
Matthew Wilson-Endless Men's Hate
Michael Steven-Hell Rift
Sean Goulding-Hypnagogic
David C. Kopaska-Merkel-In the Land of Giants
Loris John Fazio-The Thing in the Woods
Loris John Fazio-The Beggar Knows
Richard Stevenson-Peg Leg
Richard Stevenson-The Alkali Lake Monster
Richard Stevenson-The Green Man

Art by Hillary Lyon 2020

The Black Petals

Gavin McGarvey


They were what first drew me to it, and, also, what repelled me from it. The Black Petals. Black petals, unusual for all that, but there was something more, something malignant.  The petals stood out in stark contrast to the stems and leaves which stood so delicate, stood with so much grace and all in the purest ivory white. 

My first instinct was to reach out to it, but something stayed my hand. And, when my children ran to grab hold of it on first sight, I sent them back to the house and banned them from the garden.

It was our second Christmas back in my childhood home which we had inherited from my parents a few years before.  Mr Slater, my next-door neighbour, was not the prime reason for my reluctance to move back in, but the irascibility of the old man next door certainly gave me pause for thought.

I still remembered the way he patrolled his back garden, garden fork in hand watching and waiting for any stray ball to fly over his hedge.  When one came his way, he would pause, not that he would consider for a moment returning the toy to the child, no, this pause was so you would have time to watch as he speared it and threw it into his incinerator.  As he did so, his mouth twisted into an evil grin.

The only other thing, aside from ruining the games of children, that seemed to make him happy were his plants.  From morning to night, he was in constant attendance on them.  The only thing that would induce him to part from them were the increasingly exasperated cries from his wife calling him for his evening meal.

What she can ever have seen in him was beyond me.  In every respect, she seemed the exact opposite.  Where he was cruel, she was kind; where he was selfish, she was the soul of open-hearted generosity; where he lurked in his lair, she embraced the world. 

Perhaps it was this tension that kept them both together and apart.  Nevertheless, in the few months after we moved in, raised voices next door told the story of a marriage under strain.  When word spread that she had left him, few expressed surprise, the question was rather what had kept her with him so long. 

It was around that time that the flowers first appeared.  Initially, they seemed small and delicate, but as they gained in strength, they took control, became dominant, crushed and crowded out the other plants.  I assumed the old man would have sought to rid himself of this plant, which for all its strange beauty had a virulence that threatened to vanquish all that was once good in that garden. 

Instead, he seemed to take pride in this interloper.  I heard him describe it to a visitor as being of his “own invention”.  The fact he had a visitor didn’t pass without remark and with hindsight this was the beginning of the end.

Our neighbour couldn’t keep his new discovery to himself, and the visitor was the result of a string of victories in shows and competitions as Mr Slater criss-crossed the country to exhibit his creation and revel in the attendant glare of publicity.

Ironically, we rarely saw him in his garden now, and something kept us out of our own too.  I’d banned the kids, didn’t even know why I’d done it, but I now found myself reluctant to venture there myself.  I wasn’t sure if the petals for all their beguiling countenance, didn’t give off some sort of odour, something acrid and at odds with the excitement they elicited for a now steady stream of people who passed by the front of his house to gawp at this phenomenon. 

Mr Slater revelled in the attention they gave him, but drew the line when people tried to grab a memento of the plant.  His ferocity in the defence of these plants was something to behold, and the police had to be called on more than one occasion.  Without the counterbalance of his wife’s restraining influence there was something feral about his nature, and he would not hesitate to strike out at anyone who came too close to his precious plant.

It was this obsession that was his undoing in the end.  He lacked either the will or the inclination to rein in this plant.  It grew increasingly rapidly, taking over not only his own but the gardens of ourselves and his other neighbours.  I tried to speak to him on one occasion, but he seemed to stare straight through me and closed his front door without a word. 

It was only when he’d been absent for a week that we dared to venture into his garden to look for him, and there he was.  His face was horribly contorted, and his body completely enmeshed by the plant, the plant that had been his pride and joy.

When the police came to remove the body, they tested the plant to see if it harboured any poison.  They returned when the lab report showed traces of human DNA.  Digging down to the roots they uncovered the body of his wife; despite the strangle marks on her neck it seemed as if she were sleeping peacefully and there were traces of a smile on her lips. They buried them together.  We burnt the plants.

Gavin McGarvey is an English teacher, working at a grammar school and starting to write some short short stories.  In terms of influences, he says, “I am trying to produce a cross between M.R.James (his favourite writer) and Fredric Brown (A great writer, but his misogyny is a bit much for me).  He is 46 and living a humdrum suburban life, but is still playing guitar and writing when he’s not being a dad and all that type of thing.  He was born in Belfast, but is not really enamoured by the idea of nationality.  He’s written a few music reviews and opinion pieces, but wants to try and produce a collection of short stories. 

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