Black Petals Issue #103, Spring, 2023

Home
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

Tony Ayers: They

bp_103_they_davis.jpg
Art by Michael D. Davis 2023

They

by Tony Ayers

 

I

 

          They overfill their pockets with trail mix, beef jerky, loose beers, and cigarettes before scampering to their stolen car. An hour passes on the road, spent in silent consumption. 

          They see a red barn that looks like a painting against green shrubbery and its surrounding tall grass. The barn's metal roof reflects the setting sun onto their twenty-year-old jalopy, a car a few years older than them. 

          "This barn will do," the driver says. They pull into the crushed stone driveway, and the driver buries the car deep in the weeds behind the barn. Sounds of grass tugging at the undercarriage come to a halt. The car sputters and dies. They struggle to open the doors, must force themselves out, and then trudge to a small white door at the back of the barn. Hay abounds, and the three climb a small ladder to the top of the mound and spread out with food and drink. The dark-haired one pops open a beer can, stirring the other two and falling asleep after guzzling it down.

          A door sliding below wakes the three, and they are on high alert until the voices fade into the distance and become inaudible. "We need another car," the driver says. The other two nod, and the dark-haired one begins his descent, complaining about the hay itching his back. 

          "Hay itches me too," Feral adds more matter of fact than intended. The driver doesn't provide his opinion and slinks off to the car to fetch anything if left. When he returns, they go to the road and walk alongside it until a man waves from his car, which forces them to the creek in a hurry. They walk barefoot across stone, grass, and mud; sooner than they suppose, they come upon a woman unloading groceries into her house. Moments later, the woman pedals away, and the boys descend upon her property. 

          "Go inside and grab the keycard," the driver instructs. The other two boys disappear, and before he can hack the control panel, he hears glass shatter and rustling, and the pair come back with the keycard. The three pile into the vehicle. The driver slides back the SUV's seat and then adjusts the rearview mirror when it settles on the female cyclist. "Quiet, she's behind us." The boys slink down in their seats but are still otherwise. The woman walks past them, places her house key against the lock, and then enters and closes the door behind her. The boy's breath rate increases, so the inner glass becomes foggy. Moments later, she exits and locks the deadbolt from the outside. She glances briefly at the car as she passes them and pedals away from their sight. 

          "She saw us," Feral concludes.

          "Likely," Dutch agrees.

          "Whose turn?" The driver asks.

          "Feral's." Dutch states. 

          They back out, and Feral jumps from the car when they see her. She tries to pedal away, but Feral overcomes her and stabs her as she pleads.

          "Look at all that ham juice," Dutch teases his bloodied friend as he enters the SUV.  

          "We need another vehicle," the driver mutters and zooms off. 

 

 

II

 

          They speed down this road, take a left and then a right, and find over the next half hour that the sum of their existence is a series of arbitrary left and right turns. Forests, fields, and trailer homes line each side of the road. They grunt at each other and point off to the sides at deer but otherwise see nothing alive.

          Their SUV pulls even with an intersection that buttresses a highway. "But did she know, know?" the driver asks the pair. Dutch turns around and looks to Feral, who unequivocally nods yes, and then he turns back to the driver. 

          "Yeah, she knew." 

          The driver turns on the navigation system. He drags his finger across the screen and observes a series of white lines intersecting green swatches of land.

          There's some kind of town fifteen minutes to the northwest." He rubs his finger further past the town, but the screen returns to empty green lands cut up with nameless roads, so he gives up.

          "Should we look?" Dutch asks, holding up a wrapped phone. The question hangs for an eternity, and then their prudence runs its course.

          "We just have to be careful," Feral appends.

          "Might be better to drive on still," the driver suggests, but it's to no avail.  

          They see no traffic and find parking between two similar vehicles in an open lot overlooking a river. The three walk the main street and find closed storefronts whose owners are nowhere in sight. There are no birds in the cloudless sky." Why is it so dead?" Feral asks no one in particular. They discover an electronics store with an open sign hanging on the door and dodge into it. The bell rings upon entering.

          "Hello," the driver walks to the desk where an elderly man is working. "Where is everyone?” His hand rests on his knife butt stuffed in the front of his trousers. The elderly man places his spectacles on his nose and scrutinizes the three. He renders a wry smile and turns his radio down.

          "Who's everyone?" the elderly man snarks and returns to his device, which consists of a few metal cogs and wires. Scanners and other electronic devices crackle in the background. He cautiously stands up from his chair and enters the backroom behind the curtain.

          Feral's inquisitorial eyes follow him and then land on a desktop with a keyboard. "Does this computer work?" Feral shouts to the elderly man and sits down in the chair.

          "It has an os," the elderly man yells from behind the curtain. He returns with a flux tube and squeezes it onto the corner of the contraption. Soldering the flux, he adjusts his light above.

          "Check social media first," the driver says to Feral. He checks all their posts, feeds, and shorts but finds none of their posts. He then navigates to the live feeds on various news outlets and scrolls through the many posts, but the live landing on Mars seems to be the only thing people are talking about.

          "Nada." Feral begins typing addresses directly into the browser, only coming up to inform the driver of the negative. 

          The driver stares down the elderly man and exits the store; he peruses the empty street; no cars are driving around or parked on the road. He paces the empty sidewalk and feels the wind blowing through the loose fence separating the river from the town. He gazes around once more before returning to the store. 

          "Check that old group account," the driver says to Feral, who is still behind the computer typing. They click on a photo of Feral, Dutch, and Red standing on a rock cliff looking pensive over a gorge. He grabs the mouse from Feral and scrolls down the photograph's comment section. A weeks-old comment from Jazzstars53 reads, "why are you doing this? Pls stop." Then the bell rings above the door, and Dutch exits. The driver grabs the unwrapped phone behind them and realizes it's unplugged. The elderly man laughs at this and retreats into the curtain behind them.

          "Nothing at all?" Feral says weakly.

          Get up." The driver grabs Feral, who is frozen. His chair stops as if caught on something, so the he lets go. The driver gets one step away from the door before the shockwaves send him flying through the window and into the darkness enveloping him.



III


         
Breathing smoke and ash paper, fire licks the edges of the windows, and debris cascades in the wake of smoke billowing from the store. A flaming shoe burns before him and begins diminishing by the moment. "I am so sorry, man. I should have just said something when I suspected." Dutch continues to drag the driver from the carnage. Someone is shouting commands, but they cannot locate who it is amongst the smoke and rubble. Looking towards the distant corner, they see a figure dart behind the building and peer back at them before slinking away permanently.

          Someone with a bullhorn shouts, "Just give up."

          "I am sorry, driver. About Red, Feral, everything and everyone." Bullets kick up dirt in front of them, and leaves and branches fall on them from the trees above. A guy crouching atop one of the adjacent buildings seems fixed on them. The store is one big flaming hole flanked by empty facades of the other storefronts. Taking fire from everywhere, they crawl into a slight dip in the fence and find cover. 

          "I spied a hole in the fence earlier." The driver flicks his head in the direction of the hole. "Follow me into it." The driver stands up wobbly and soon feels burning from a bullet slamming into his side. He drops as if someone had kicked out his legs. Rolling towards the fence, the driver grabs the wire and drunkenly pulls himself forward. He slips, recomposes, and feels the wetness of blood seep into his crotch and legs. The opening presents itself just as another shot nicks him in the neck and then he hears screaming as he and Dutch free-fall down the hill.

          Their limbs flail and slam into the brush, stones, and tall grass, and the ancient branches stab at them until they face plant into the cold stream below. 

          Water tumbles them with an uncommon ferocity allowing them only intermittent breaths that they struggle for. Their wading seems endless, and they lose each other but find another again as if by miracle. It's dusk again before they come entirely out of the water.

          "I am dying," the driver confesses while watching Dutch limp and retie his bandana around his calf. His wincing does something to the driver that is visible to both of them. 

          "When?" 

          "Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man."

          "Not if these matches will light." Dutch strikes another match and drops it onto bark shavings, freshly scraped by his knife. It sparks and spits a little, and Dutch kneels down in discomfort and blows lightly on the immature flame. It goes out before catching hold.

          "No regrets." The driver stares at Dutch, struggling to rustle another match from the end of his knife. The driver reaches into his pocket for the phone he had grabbed and notices the screen is black; he boots it on with the hope it will work. Dutch protests; the driver waves him off. "It's all good, brother; just one more post about our adventure." He doesn't inform Dutch of their frozen accounts or reposts removed for violating various content policies. He had understood this was a possibility and therefore had pushed videos of their adventures to the dark web hoping their legend would live on.  

          "We maybe have one more in us." Dutch starts lighting shavings and blowing on the sparks once again. The driver finds the phone on in his hand through no effort of his own. Ten percent battery remains. He hesitates over the social media applications, opens the camera, and starts recording. He focuses the camera on Dutch, who seems to have gotten the fire going.

          "What do you want to say?" Dutch stares at the fire, transfixed and contemplative, and walks over to the driver to grab the phone.

          "Are you scared to die?" he asks his supine friend. 

          "No," the driver retorts but then relents. "A little bit. Death feels smoother than I thought it would. It's like I'm on this stream carrying me to some place it knows. All I have to do is just let it take me." He adjusts the shirt sticking out of the back side of the bullet hole. He meets Dutch's eyes across the low fire. "What about you, friend?"

          "All this is about what I thought," Dutch says in a selfie and then hands the camera to the driver, who takes over filming. "I didn't think we would last this long, though." The boys start laughing. Clutching their stomachs, they continue laughing through their pain and better judgments. The battery goes down to one percent before the driver turns the camera off and uploads the video, just as the phone powers down forever. The driver hands the phone back to Dutch.

          "Is it worth keeping on us?" Dutch asks, "Not just for tracking?"

          "That's so invasive, bro." The boys start laughing again. “I don’t want some old fuck flipping through our phone." Recovering from his laughing fit, Dutch stands tall, cocks his arm back, spins around in a bit of dance, and throws the phone into the water. He then offers the driver some trail mix as he stokes the fire. The driver shakes him off. Dutch removes his bandages and lays them on rocks to dry. His wound is shiny and wax-like in the light of the flame. He feeds the fire with some driftwood. And somewhere between night and day, he falls asleep. 

          When he awakes, he sees the driver staring at him. He's not blinking. "Are you alive?" He pauses knowingly. "Before I put you in the stream, I want you to know that I am only taking your shirt off as a bandage for my wound. And your pants to replace my holy ones." He undresses the driver down to his underwear and contemplates the driver's knife. It feels weighty in his palm before he drops it into the river and watches it sink to the bottom. Dutch slings his dead friend over his shoulders but hesitates to throw him in; finally, he slips in the water with the driver's hardened body and rides him along the gentle current into the daylight somewhere in the distance. 



IV

 

          Dutch hops the rail and finds himself among daily commuters riding the train. He spies a man reading a print-style newspaper. The front page displays a photograph of a group of space travelers under a white pop-up tent hanging out on Mars. "Can I read that after you, mister?"

          "Sure. That something, huh," the suit-wearing man says, pointing at the photograph. "A helluva trip just for a picnic!" He laughs.

          "Yeah," Dutch returns, thumbing the loops in his pants. He soon forgets the guy and everything else in the world ticks by one telephone poll after another. 

          He exits the train knowing the papers contain no mentions of their adventures, and walks into a vintage clothing store off 42nd street. He's cold, so he buys two sweatshirts, insulated underwear, warm socks, jeans, high-top sneakers, a winter cap, and bandanas for his week-old flesh wound. He places the merchandise down on the counter more from knowledge of stories than habit. The girls behind the counter laugh.

          "Isn't this store fucking awesome?" One says as she ecstatically scans each item with her gun. He stoically nods, but a smile does escape his lips.

          "Can I put these on here?" he asks, holding up the clothing.

          "That's so twentieth-century," she laughs. "It's like everyone's natural instinct after they purchase clothing. Everyone does it."

          He walks around aimlessly within the city's maze and under an overcast of anonymity. He tries a fried fish sandwich containing onions and berries and drinks an alcoholic beverage that he's only read about on his phone. When the day falls, he sleeps in a homeless encampment under the metropolis’ overpass.

          One day, he decides to walk to the river and, upon reaching it, becomes so overwhelmed with memories of their adventure that he breaks down and cries for hours. Thoughts of Feral and Red bombard him, and the driver's dead face haunts him to the end of each cry of absolution. "Your ghost must be on the river today, buddy," he breathes.

          He becomes lost on the way back to his cardboard box. And no matter what route he takes, he stares at the signs wondering why he can’t find the way. Then hears a "psst." He looks around but notices only posters and under-construction signs, so he ambles forth. 

          "Psst, psst. Darkboy2071. Over here." He freezes, still unsure of the source. "Psst. Darkboy2071. Walk to the fliered wall." Dutch complies and notices a small hand reaching out to him behind the boarded-off doors. "We thought that was you." Dutch grabs the extended hand, pulling him inside the enclosed building. There is a group of people inside the enclosure on their devices, busily typing and chatting amongst themselves about posting content to different media platforms. 

          "The Persean hero has arrived!" The smallish man announces to the group of people. He begins applauding, which pulls the other people away from their devices. The people surround him and grab at his hands, shirt, and pants—some pinch his skin as if to take a literal piece. "Can we see it? " one of them pokes his leg where a scar now exists. 

          "He's a true hunter," someone around states. 

          "I can't believe it's you!" a petite girl exclaims, wiping tears from her big dark eyes while holding onto his arm.

          "What's going on?" Dutch asks the surrounding crowd, too tired to speculate. 

          "You're what's going on! Don't you know you're the one?!" 

          Dutch shakes his head no and stares at the crowd of Uploaders encircling him like a dream he envisioned long ago.

          "I freakin love episode 27, where you chase down the Official through the field. The way he begs as you cut him with your knife...chills," the girl makes googly eyes at him. The people murmur, and some agree that 27 was one of the better episodes of the 'Adventures of They.' 

          "27, 34, and the driver death episode are the most viewed videos on the platform," the smallish man states. "But truthfully, they are all so good it's been a privilege to post them."

          Dutch takes a deep breath; he hearkens back to the beginning of all this with him staring out at the stars amongst the silent rustling of Red, Feral, and the driver. The scenes become so overwhelming that he runs from the crowd before they can see him cry. The last thing he hears before exiting into the unknown future is—"67 gut jobs has gotta be a record!"

Tony Ayers is a professional writer in New York. He lives with his wife and two sons in South Orange, New Jersey. HIs stories have been featured in Quibble, Close to the Bone, and Yellow Mama among others.

Site Maintained by Fossil Publications