Black Petals Issue #103, Spring, 2023

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Editor's Page
BP Artists and Illustrators
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
All the Sky Is Waiting to Be Told: Fiction by Daniel I. Clark
Fire Sale: Fiction by Christopher Pate
Kregah: Fiction by Ron Capshaw
The Beauty of Machinery: Fiction by Hayden Seay
The Cold Sore: Fiction by Chris McGuinness
The Lake: Fiction by Harper Hargis
The Price: Fiction by Josh Hanson
The Tailbone Is Connected to the Hipbone: Fiction by Michael Fowler
The Thorn Tree: Fiction by Lawrence Buentello
They: Fiction by Tony Ayers
Work Experience: Fiction by Martin Taulbut
Burns: 3 Connected Drabbles by Hillary Lyon
Grandma Medusa: Flash Fiction by M. L. Fortier
I'm So Sorry, Computer: Flash Fiction by M. L. Fortier
Invasive: Flash Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
Jumper: Flash Fiction by Kurt Hohmann
Personal Things: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
The Good Doctor: Flash Fiction by Ron Capshaw
Another Tomato Invasion, Again: Poem by I. N. Shimabuku
Curse of the Crazies: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Ghosted: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Meteor Moon: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Halo Around the Sun: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Maker's Image: Poem by Bindi Lavelle
Specimen: Poem by Bindi Lavelle
Blood-stained Jupiter: Poem by Meg Smith
Cat Science: Poem by Meg Smith
Mortician's Powder: Poem by Meg Smith
The Pinups of the Afterlife: Poem by Meg Smith
Dark Gate Park: Poem by Meg Smith
A turntable fabricates hope during the apocalypse in 3 parts: Poem by Dennis Bagwell
Reverend Mother Munchausen: Poem by Sophia Wiseman-Rose
Whispers of Winter: Poem by Ashley N. Goodwin
A Man Is Nothing Without His Wife: Poem by Ashley N. Goodwin

Hayden Seay: The Beauty of Machinery

bp_103_beautyofmachinery_mong.jpg
Art by Jen Mong 2023

The Beauty of Machinery

By Hayden Seay

 

          Crisp air soared over the bay’s turquoise waters. Standing on a cliff’s edge, I watched sailboats float by. Fishers on small boats taught their kids how to catch bream. On another peninsula across the bay, a young couple strolled along the shoreline. Everything felt right on this perfect November day. I thought about everything: Life, love, the incredible breeze. I reflected on my past, and daydreamed about what the future might hold. As shadows grew and the horizon swallowed the sun, my soul felt cleansed. My mind pressured me to stay as the day faded away, my conscience gliding across the rippled bay to a happier place.

          The sudden roar of a boat snapped my mind back to reality. My friends are waiting for me, I thought. Stepping away from the cliff, a brisk walk led me off the beaten path to an almost hidden treasure: A tiny beach. Carefully stepping down the hill, I heard the cheerful laughs of my friends and smelled the sweet smoke of a fire. I crouched to avoid branches and measured my steps on labyrinthine roots. Emerging from the forest, my gaze settled on an island across the bay. The arrowhead-shaped isle contained the ruins of old homes, and I wondered about the folk who used to live there. As I pondered, I noticed a figure moving across the island’s shore: It seemed… Cold and inhuman, yet captivating.

          “Dan, you finally made it!” Mark yelled.

          “You were daydreaming at the overlook again, weren’t you?” Holly teased.

          “I couldn’t help myself, y’all know I love this place,” I laughed.

          It’s nothing, man. There’s all kinds of weirdos up this way, and the island always looks creepy. Put the two together and you’ve got a recipe for freaking out over absolutely nothing.

          Sitting down on a log, I grabbed a cheap beer. I cracked the can open and chugged.

          “Whoa, we’ve only got twenty of those for the three of us, so slow down a bit,” Mark said.

          “I’m sorry, I needed that,” I said between burps.

          “Are you alright?” Holly asked. “You never drink like that.”

          “I’m just fine, don’t worry,” I lied, still thinking about the figure.

          “Hey, remember the last time we were here?” Mark butted in. “It must’ve been July, and we had more people here, but we told some spooky-ass stories around this same spot. Let’s do that again.”

          “Hell, why not?” I said. Anything to take my mind off of what I saw.

          Across the bay, layers of yellow, orange, and blue illuminated the horizon. As Holly told her story about a sunken house, boats raced to the shore before darkness enveloped the bay. Those same guys, who know the ins-and-outs of the Tennessee River by heart, say if you dawdle on the bay too long after dark, a ghostly house will appear on the shore. While waiting in your boat, you start hearing things. Maybe your mom calls you for supper, or your long-departed ancestors want to meet you. So, you dock on the shore and stumble up the house’s rickety stairs to meet your doom.

          “Holly, you’ve told this tale a million times,” Mark said. “It’s good, but we need something a bit more scary.”

          “Let’s hear what you have to say,” Holly replied while opening another beer. “I live for terrifying stories.”

          “Yeah, I want something that’ll make me cry myself to sleep later tonight,” I said. Why do I say these things?

          “Alright, we love this park dearly, but it has a tragic past,” Mark started. “Years and years ago, there was a researcher in Chattanooga who got sick and tired of getting covered in ticks when he came up this way. Normally, you’d just deal with these things. Bug spray, permethrin, or whatever. This guy? The neurotic bastard reached out to the park rangers and spun a beautiful web of lies and pitched an idea: How about I build a robot to help take care of wolves and shit?”

          A robot? My mind replayed the image of the figure on the island. Every movement looked unnatural, yet fascinating. I’ve watched countless drunks stumble around, but none ever seemed as strange as this.

          “So, the head ranger brings it up with the right people, and the bigwigs thought it would be worth a try, saying ‘What could go wrong?’” Mark continued while the fire crackled. “The researcher started his work, and he eventually ended up with this sleek robot with a carbon steel blade he forged himself. Apparently it was a gorgeous machine with hues of black and silver, built too far ahead of its time. After hauling it up, he offered to do some kind of demonstration for the rangers and park visitors. Before he could even flip a switch… Fourteen people died in less than 30 seconds, the inventor included. Within hours, the Feds locked everything down.”

          “Holy hell,” Holly muttered. “What happened to the robot?”

          “No one really knows if this even happened, but my grandpa told me this story numerous times. He always emphasized how alluring the robot was.”

          The moon hung high above the bay, illuminating its cold waters. A gentle, chilly breeze rolled over the beach. Branches swayed and leaves swirled as they danced into the darkness. All of us sat silently, sipping our drinks and reflecting on Mark’s tale. If it really happened, surely the tiniest of inklings of information would have escaped to the outside world?

          “I’ve never told anyone,” Mark said. “But I saw the robot, on the other side of the park.”

          “No way,” Holly said with a nervous laugh.

          “Yeah, it’s been a few years, but I could’ve sworn I caught a glimpse of the thing watching me during a late-night hike. I walked up the big hill about a mile away, but I kept feeling like looking over my shoulder. It’s like those urges you get from time-to-time. You just have to do it.”

          “But you shouldn’t give in to such whims,” I interrupted.

          “Well, I did. When I stopped and looked, I saw the machine for a second,” Mark said. “Its movements were creepy, but the steel looked so beautiful in the moonlight.”

          “Did you ever tell your grandpa?” Holly asked.

          “I never said a word, but I think we should go on a little hunt tonight.”

          “Forget about it, let’s relax and enjoy the night,” I said.

          “You’re such a wimp, Dan,” Mark laughed. “You wanted a scary story, so let’s take a walk.”

#

          From the beach, the trail snaked around the bay’s rugged shoreline. The rocky path gave way to softer ground layered with pine cones and needles. The waves on the bay intensified as the moon ascended. The icy gusts chilled our inebriated bodies and souls. An unspoken tension choked us from our usual banter. Armed with only three 200-lumen flashlights, our trash, and whatever we might have in our backpacks, we pushed deeper into the woods.

          “We’ve got a few minutes or so before we reach the spot,” Mark slurred. “I doubt we’ll see anything, but we should be ready to bolt if anything terrifying happens.”

          “So, how do we ‘bolt’ from a robot with a penchant for killing?” Holly asked.

          “I’m with Holly, if we see this damned thing, we’re fucked,” I said.

          “Do y’all hear that?” Mark imitated the sounds of a rusted robot moving. “It’s really coming for us.”

          “Mark, stop right now,” Holly yelled.

          The two started bickering, and I delved into the deepest corners of my mind. Happy things, Dan. I closed my eyes and felt the sweet breeze again. All the angry words and shrill voices transformed into the sounds of ring-billed gulls squawking, wood burning, leaves crunching, branches snapping, and rusty metal creaking. My eyes opened and I checked my surroundings. I saw trees, bushes, and Mark groaning on the ground while Holly kicked dirt at his face.

          “Holly, we’ve got to go,” I said. “While y’all fought, I heard something metallic moving.”

          “I’m not done with him yet, I can’t believe we let him drag us out here,” Holly retorted.

          “It’s real, and it’s coming for us,” I screamed. “I hear the metal in the grass, the trees, it’s all around us!”

          “Are you for real?” Holly started freaking out.

          “Just run with me, we need to go.”

          We started running away while Mark struggled to pull himself off the ground. Realizing he wasn’t following us, I shined my flashlight towards where we left him. Covered in dust and debris, he stood still with a smile on his face.

#

          With less than two miles left, the trail flattened. Although muddy in the winter and spring, the dry ground provided an easy escape from the park. We’ll reach the exit, leave this hell, and never return.

          “Dan, did we do the right thing?” Holly asked. “Leaving Mark behind?”

          “I’m not sure beating him up was right, but neither of us need to deal with any of this,” I replied. “I just don’t understand why he brought us out here.”

          “It’s just a sick game, there’s no way something like that could’ve happened.”

“I saw something strange before I arrived at the bonfire,” I sighed.

          “What do you mean?”

          “Before you guys noticed me, I watched the island across the bay for a moment. Something creeped along the shoreline, almost like a robot.”

          “Do you think Mark’s tale is real?”

          “I don’t want to believe it, but I felt tempted by the figure.”

          Everything felt wrong. We could’ve just drank and left a bit after dark like we planned. But here we are, scared out of our minds in the woods on this bitter night. Mark’s still out there. Maybe he’s dead, or alive and still smiling. Holly and I ran away, scared for our lives. A death machine lurched across the forest floor. After everything that’s happened, I felt weak.

          “I need to rest, Holly, just for a moment,” I said, gasping for air. “I just can’t take anymore of this.”

          “I’m scared too, Dan,” she said. “But we can take a moment to breathe.”

          Both of us rested, sipping on water and catching our breaths. My feet burned with fiery pain, so I trotted in a circle until I bumped into something on the ground. Looking down, I discovered a human skull. As I screamed, a song of infinite metal creaks emanated from the forest. The pain felt unreal to my ears, unlike anything I’ve heard before. Falling to the ground, I writhed as I begged for the noise to stop.

          Just stop, please.

The noise dissipated, and I struggled to pull myself back together. Frantically shining my light while stumbling to my feet, my gaze settled on the glorious robot in a thicket. After all this terror, I felt… respect. Sporting a sleek silver and black design, I admired its perfection. Something so refined shouldn’t have existed back then. But the gorgeous machine stood before us, in all its glory.

          “Holly,” I uttered. “Look at how beautiful it is.”

“We’ve been running from this robot, but I want to wrap my arms around it,” she said while walking closer.

          The robot staggered past us, going back to where we left Mark. Feeling the urge to follow, I gave in and followed in its path.

          “We should go back to the beach,” the words spilled from my mouth with no resistance.

          “Let’s go.”

#

          On the beach, we found Mark sitting beside the rekindled fire.

          “Welcome back,” he told us. “I don’t appreciate the mild beating, but I’m glad you guys came to your senses.”

          “I drank a bit too much,” Holly said. “But I’m glad we’re back together.”

          I felt at peace, everything unified in harmony once again.

We’re safe now. Nothing can hurt us, anymore.

          Gazing into the bay’s abyss, I felt the frigid metal embrace me.

END






A writer by trade, Hayden Seay always looks for new stories to tell. A life-long resident of Chattanooga, Tennessee, he loves exploring nature and studying history. When he’s not writing, you can find him hiking in the woods or reading in a comfy chair with his cat, Franny. To read more of his writings, visit haydenseay.com.

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