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Carryout: Fiction by Daniel C. Bartlett
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A Good Book: Fiction by Robert Pettus
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How I Shot My First Husband: Flash Fiction by Brad Rose
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Bobbie Gets Her Divorce: Flash Fiction by Robb White
Murder by the Numbers: Poem by Robert Jeschonek
A Pinch Point: Poem by Janna Rollins
Now I'm 64: Poem by Di Schmitt
Hard Work Damned on the Road to Extinction: Poem by Richelle Lee Slota
The Lonely Planet Guide to Death: Poem by Richelle Lee Slota
my mind: Poem by Meg Baird
the non: Poem by Meg Baird
giant cottonwood tree: Poem by Judith Nielsen
great orange orb: Poem by Judith Nielsen
and they are prancing: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
crows in our hayloft: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
spring kicks off its boots: Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
Necessity: Poem by Richard LeDue
A Reason to Put the Rent Up: Poem by Richard LeDue
Giving Up on Hope: Poem by Richard LeDue
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The Apartment Building: Poem by John C. Mannone
Disinfected: Poem by John C. Mannone
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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Robert Pettus: A Good Book

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Art by Michael D. Davis 2022

A Good Book

By Robert Pettus

 

Leaves fell peacefully from the roof down to the damp earth. It was autumn – mid-October. The air – though at this time of year mostly crisp – still periodically fluctuated back into the muggy swamp of summer, blasting a heated breeze into Harold’s still-burned, freckled face. This year, the summer had lasted longer than usual, pushing its way all through September and into October, but it was finally subsiding.

The leaves continued floating down. Tramping boot-steps from the roof shook the balcony on which Harold was reading, as if their weight might dismantle the seemingly fragile structure of the apartment building. Harold was leaning back, relaxed in his outdoor lounge chair, reading his book: The Master and Margarita, by Bulgakov. He loved everything about it. Humanoid, catlike demons romping though the city, decapitating people with their claws, decapitating people with public-transportation. It was a riot.

The boots continued stomping on the roof. The ladder in front of Harold, which was leaning on the cracked paint of his black balcony railing and leading up to the roof, shook as one of the gutter cleaners climbed down:

“I’ll be back!” he said, “I’ve got to go get it from the truck! I’ll be back!”

The ladder continued to shake, though the gutter cleaner still hadn’t come into Harold’s view. It was a tall roof. Cigarette ashes floated down with the continuously falling dry leaves, as if at any moment to alight them and set the building ablaze. They didn’t, though, they fell down just as apathetically as the foliage.

The gutter cleaner’s legs finally came into Harold’s field of vision. He was wearing big brown shit-kickers. It was no wonder he was shaking the whole building. Harold was surprised he didn’t fall through the roof. The apartment building was populated mostly by elderly people, Harold remembered. He would probably fall straight through the roof and into some old lady’s bathroom. She would shriek as he crashed into her shower, just like that lady in Psycho. Hell, an old lady probably wouldn’t survive a diving dropkick from a pair of shit-kicker boots. It would be very unlikely, to say the least. At that thought, a giggle – cracked and muffled by paranoia – escaped Harold’s quivering, sweaty lips.

The gutter cleaner made it to the ground without issue. Harold continued reading his book. He kept thinking about how easy it would be for him to kick the ladder out from the balcony as the gutter cleaner climbed back up. He would fall straight back down, right into the bed of his truck, a look of horrified shock on his face. Scared, but also comedic. It would be hysterical – like something the demons in The Master and Margarita might do. Just for kicks.

The ladder began shaking again as the gutter cleaner and his shit-kickers climbed back up to the roof:

“All right, I got it!” he said, “I’ll be back up in a second, hold your damn horses!”

The ladder shook once more. Harold extended his leg, thinking hard about whether or not he should create a little demonic mischief of his own. He then leaned forward in his lounge-chair, reaching to the ladder and grabbing it by its cold, hollow aluminum sides. His hands were sweaty. His heart was pounding. He was excited. Briefly lifting the ladder from the railing and beginning to push it forward, he saw the gutter cleaner’s forehead rise above the balcony floor. He quickly retracted his hands, sinking back into his lounge chair and burying his face in his book, using it as a shield. Squinting from beyond his manufactured literary-barrier, he could see the remnant marks of his sweaty palms on each side of the ladder. The gutter cleaner, now climbing past Harold’s balcony, noticed him this time:

“How’s it going?” he said nonchalantly, “Ladder’s wobbling a little in this wind, isn’t it?”

Without waiting for a response, he continued his ascent to the roof. The hammer dangling from his belt rapped loudly against the hollow ladder, clanging like an unwholesome dinner-bell. This irritated Harold. He winced – repeatedly blinking and rolling his eyes – struggling to maintain focus on his book.

Leaves started falling again. So did cigarette ashes. A shovel even fell down, wedging itself cleanly into the soft fall grass. It was rusty. Harold stared at it. It pierced the ground, as if that was what it was created to do.

Harold snapped back into reality. He started reading his book again. It was raining cash at the theater in Moscow. The cat-demon, Behemoth, sawed off a man’s head as part of a magic trick. A geyser of blood spurted from his headless neck, before Behemoth twisted the head back on – the formerly decapitated man miraculously returning to life.

 It was getting sunny outside. The bright light gave Harold a headache. He winced again. The roof continued to shake.

“That about got it?” said one of the gutter cleaners.

“Not quite,” said the other, “There’s a big clump of shit over here in this corner. Once we clear that out, I think we’re good.”

The shaking subsided. The gutter cleaners had moved to the far end of the roof. All was momentarily calm. Harold could read in peace. Clouds temporarily covered the sun. The air was comfortable.

The shaking started again, though this time lighter – more of a pitter-patter, as if a squirrel or a raccoon were on the roof. Harold ignored it. He liked animals.

It grew louder – scratching and stamping. It was directly above him. He still heard the voices of the gutter cleaners on the other side of the building. They were jovial, but the nearby scratching was irritating. Harold again winced. His temporarily dormant – though always present – headache returned.

The scratching and stamping drew closer, finally latching loudly onto the gutter directly above Harold’s lounge chair. The gutter bent and rattled; it nearly broke. A furry, purple leg momentarily swayed looping below the gutter. Harold saw it. He thought he must be hallucinating. He had a tendency to hallucinate. It was caused by his anxiety and paranoia, and it also caused even more anxiety and paranoia. It was a terrible cycle.

Not again…” He thought pathetically.

He shrank back in horror. Horrified of himself. He snapped up in his lounge chair, gripping the arm rests, looking around in terror for his invisible enemy. There was no one there. He forced himself to lay back and relax, a manic, wide-eyed smile on his face. He wrenched open his book, struggling to read; the ink on the pages seemingly smearing from his disturbed, blurred vision.

The scratching continued.

The gutter cleaners were walking back to the ladder, characteristically shaking the unstable building. It shook and shook. The scratching continued.

“Shit!” said one of the gutter cleaners, “That was a hell of a job! I wasn’t expecting anything like that. Those gutters were dirty as hell!”

They kept pace toward Harold. The scratching continued.

“Aw, hell. I know! You don’t ever think cleaning gutters is going to be much of a job, other than climbing up and down a ladder, that is – but man! Shit will tire you out sometimes; that’s a fact! You’ll learn that soon enough, once you get more experience under your belt.”

The steps continued. The shaking grew dizzying. The scratching continued. Harold could feel himself blacking out.

Harold briefly saw a cloudy, shifting, dirt-filled claw clutching tightly at the gutter above his head, scraping against the aluminum. Hallucinations.

The sun shone brightly in Harold’s face. It made him wince. His head throbbed.

Harold sat shaking. He closed his book; he couldn’t read. The book’s cover showed a demon-cat wrapping up and clawing at the full moon. It looked crazed and angry. The scrape of its nails – in Harold’s mind – sounded as if against aluminum. Harold blinked. He looked up to the gutter. The purple leg was still there, hanging lazily, but scraping in percussive rhythm against the gutter, as if intentionally creating abysmal music.

“Glad we’re finally done for the day!” said one of the gutter cleaners, as one of his shit-kickers lowered itself onto the top rung of the ladder.

The ladder shook. His other leg twisted around the side of the roof and also stepped into the top rung:

“Hell yeah,” he said, “Let’s get the hell out of here and go grab some brews! I know a place with good fried pickles! You worked hard today; it’s on me!”

The pair of shit-kicker boots continued their descent, rung after rung, from the top of the roof into Harold’s field of vision.

There was then a scuffle on the roof, followed by a pained, pathetic grunt.

Harold saw – through the legs of the first gutter cleaner’s shit kickers – the figure of the second gutter cleaner flying from the roof. He was thrown – like a line-drive shot between short and third – between two branches of the ancient tree in middle of the parking lot; its roots splitting up the asphalt as it continued its inevitable growth.

The gutter-cleaner’s skull cracked against its trunk. He fell to the ground. The small lizards that resided in the old tree scurried frantically into its interior.

The other gutter cleaner, halfway down the ladder – his boots still in Harold’s field of vision – turned around, bewildered.

He scrambled down the rest of the ladder, stumbling and falling face-first down the last four or five rungs. He collected himself in the grass and ran to his coworker, who was obviously dead; Harold could tell that easily from his elevated view – he didn’t need shit-kicker boots to notice that. Harold muffled another giggle. He all at once felt giddy, crazed, sick, and horrified.

“Wha… What?” The remaining gutter cleaner said. It was all he could muster. He knelt next to his fallen comrade, sobbing.

Harold was frantic. He looked for those furry, purple limbs. He listened for the scraping against the gutters. He saw nothing. He heard nothing. He was confused. He blinked and blinked again. He smacked himself in the head, as if to help him snap out of it. He continued smacking, harder with each unsuccessful attempt at mental escape. He closed his book with a thump and retreated into his lounge chair.

The scraping on the aluminum, as if waiting for Harold to sit down, started again as the furry purple leg showed itself.

This time, the creature climbed down from the roof. Numerous other purple legs appeared at every edge of the gutter, as if sprouting out of it.

A massive, shifting head appeared. The legs, it turns out, weren’t legs, but twisted, grotesque arms. It was a creature unlike anything Harold had ever seen. It looked happy; it seemed crazed. It started laughing.

Using its long claws, it pointed to the parking lot, where the gutter cleaner and his shit-kickers still knelt next to his dead friend. The continuous multiplying creatures, now lining the roof, did the same. They all giggled in unison. The demon nearest Harold climbed down onto his balcony, crawled into his lap, and gazed into his eyes.

The creature’s eyes were huge – far larger than human eyes. They shifted color, from blue, to red, to purple, to black. It opened its vacuous mouth. A rancid smell engulfed the balcony, swarming Harold. The creature spoke:

“I really do look like a hallucination! Note my shadow in the daylight!”

Harold looked to the floor of the balcony. There was no shadow. He gasped and tried to wriggle away, flailing around in the lounge-chair, chaotically extracting and retracting its foot-rest.

“Very well, very well!” said the demon, its grin extracting and retracting much like the lounge-chair, its dripping fangs bared, “I’ll be a silent hallucination!”

The demon disappeared. The surrounding echo of the harmonious giggles from the roof ceased. The surviving gutter cleaner, his blood-stained hands dripping, looked up angrily at Harold from the parking-lot. The initial shock wearing off; he was now fully realizing what Harold had done to his coworker.

Harold shrieked and retreated into his lounge-chair, lifting his book to his face to use as a shield. The sun shone through the waxy-thin, translucent pages, reigniting Harold’s headache. Harold winced and shrank further away – his lounge-chair again retracting – into a fetal-position. He buried his face in his book, suppressing a giggle.

 

End




Robert Pettus is an English as a Second Language teacher at the University of Cincinnati. Previously, he taught for four years in a combination of rural Thailand and Moscow, Russia. He likes writing, but he never found the time or the courage to try and regularly do it until quarantine forced him into a much more isolated lifestyle. He was most recently accepted for publication at Apocalypse-Confidential, Mystery Tribune, and The Green Shoes Sanctuary online journals. “A Good Book” is one of the stories he recently wrote.








If Charles Addams, Edgar Allan Poe, and Willy Wonka sired a bastard child it would be the fat asthmatic by the name of Michael D. Davis. He has been called warped by dear friends and a freak by passing strangers. Michael started drawing cartoons when he was ten, and his skill has improved with his humor, which isn’t saying much. He is for the most part self-taught, only ever crediting the help of one great high school art teacher. His art has been shown at his local library for multiple years only during October due to its macabre nature. If you want to see more of Michael’s strange, odd, weird, cartoons you can follow him on Instagram at mad_hatters_mania.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022