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Flash Pulp 137 – Jabber, Part 2 of 2

5 Mar

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and thirty-seven.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present, Jabber, Part 2 of 2
(Part 1Part 2)
Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by the free audio-novella, Boiling Point.

Find out more at http://neilcolquhoun.com

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, Will Coffin must also face down the terrible maw of the Jabber.

 

Flash Pulp 137 – Jabber, Part 2 of 2

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Will Coffin eyed the geese paddling about the smooth surface of Capital River, and thought hard about ignoring the conversation. The flow of water had once been too fast here for the foul to comfortably lounge, but the new construction project down stream had done much to stymie the rush. He threw some bread crust to the eager beaks.

As he sagged against the black railing that hemmed the city park along the bank, the young man who’d been speaking set his elbow on the iron and leaned in.

“So?” the youth said, his breath smelling of hot-dog-cart mustard.

“I don’t know what you want from me, I’m just here to help the neighbourhood.”

The close-talker drew back from the response and adjusted his tie.

“Please. I understand why you maintain this folksy “just helpin’ folks, hyuck-hyuck” persona, but I am a man of understanding. I know you are the keeper of thirteen of the thirty-three relics known to exist. I also know that you are a man of some power, and influence. We are requesting an alliance.”

“I’ve seen crack dealers run this same scam.” Will replied. “To them, a friend today is a customer tomorrow. Your boss isn’t interested in politics, or corporate power, or whatever aspiration you figure you have with that poorly-tailored suit – he’s interested in your gooey mouth-meat; and mine; and everyone’s. I’ve read Blackhall’s book.”

“As have I – the man was a liar and a scoundrel – but, if you have such a distaste, why did you agree to come?”

“Your telemarketer tactics of calling me every fifteen minutes.”

“Persistence is the first step to success.”

Coffin cringed at the chestnut.

Coffin“I sympathize with your situation,” he said, “but the tongue you’re wagging is eventually going to be its lunch. You may not be able to understand that, given its ability to run off with your gray-matter, but its inevitable.”

“Oh, I’m not his slave – think of me as his, uh, manager. The Jabber is likely thousands of years old, but these aren’t the dark ages, he can’t just go around gorging on peasants. Someone has to keep him from eating everybody.” Will gave the man’s grin a hard look. The would-be broker continued, “- and uh, there are uses for an indestructible killer, uses by important people. Good people.”

He wasn’t sure if he believed it, but even the hint that the agent was acting of his own free will made it easier for Coffin to attempt to break his jaw. The force of his punch wasn’t the greatest portion of the impact, however, as the shaman had wrapped his silver chain about his knuckles, and the occult links – usually reserved for interaction only with disembodied spirits – caused a brief ethereal shadow to jump from the emissary’s shoulders, as if the concussion had nearly dislodged his living ghost from his flesh.

He collapsed to the asphalt that marked the park’s paths.

Turning his back to unconscious man, and the falling dusk, Coffin started up the squat hill towards the sharp-faced figure, which appeared near fifty, who’d watched the exchange intently. As Will neared, it did not rise from its splintered seat.

Dropping its lower jaw, it began to speak through a a gray quiver of barbs.

“Jubrun talbotin dallingar ed barimu.”

It continued on, and, as the shadows grew, so did the Jabber’s volume.

Soon the form stood on his bench, towering a head’s length over Will, and flecks of reddish liquid began to take flight from the thing’s lips, under the strength of its non-sense argument.

Coffin heard nothing of the hypnotic babble; he’d donned industrial level ear protection as he’d climbed the short rise. When he was satisfied that his modern defence was strong enough to stand the ancient problem, he lit a Zippo in signal.

Concern had crept into the Jabber’s raging eyes, and it turned at the flicker of a pair of worn jeans, and a Motley Crue t-shirt, entering into its circle of influence.

“You goat ####ing ###hole! I’ve heard about you ####-o – you eating tiny little babies tongues and ####? That’s god-####ed filthy, man! What kind of ####ing walrus tugger are you? Will told me you might have even ####ing killed my great-grandmother – ####ing bull#### you #### glazing feline ####er!”

Bunny, Coffin’s roommate, raised high the rum bottle she’d spent her wait with, then continued on in her rant.

The horror staggered.

Despite it’s best efforts to respond, the beast could make no arcane purchase against the polyurethane and plastic noise-canceling ear-muffs, and its ways were too deeply ingrained by time to make any other gambit.

By midnight – with hours spent by Coffin in an effort to turn away pedestrians from the apparent drunken, and screaming, couple – the creature had collapsed.

Will threw the crumpled form over his shoulder with a grunt, and they made their way to the river’s edge.

Draining the last of her liqour, Bunny asked, “What now?”

“Eight years ago I did a favour for a guy named Jim Bondo. He was a foreman working on an office building in the downtown core, and he’d come to the conclusion that his site was on an Indian graveyard or something. It wasn’t – he just had a lot of superstitious Germans on his crew, and that had attracted gremlins to the heavy machines – but I corrected the situation anyhow.” As Coffin spoke, his companion retrieved another bottle from the interior of her over-sized purse. “He’s huge in construction now, runs one of the biggest firms in the city – big enough that they got the contract for the new dam going in down stream. I figure waking up in a few hundred tons of concrete should occupy him for quite some time.”

It was a long walk ahead, and Will was happy to wet his throat when Bunny offered.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

Flash Pulp 136 – Jabber, Part 1 of 2

4 Mar

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and thirty-six.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present, Jabber, Part 1 of 2
(Part 1Part 2)
Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by the free audio-novella, Boiling Point.

Find out more at http://neilcolquhoun.com

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight we find Thomas Blackhall, student of the occult and master frontiersman, standing over a devilishly-tongued man.

 

Flash Pulp 136 – Jabber, Part 1 of 2

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Blackhall held the oil lamp high, letting the dim glow drag along the moist stone walls. It had been many months since he’d last seen the abandoned mine site, and the elements had worn heavily upon the timber works which kept the meager shaft from collapse.

Before him knelt a slight man, clothed in too-large pants and a motley sweater, who would have found himself hard pressed to bluff his age as above that of twenty-one. His forearms were bound at the small of his back with a long run of twine, and a wad of stocking had been forced into his mouth and held there in place by a wide strip of rag wound several times about his head.

Thomas scraped his nails over the stubble at his chin, and gazed down at the stooped form.

Until seconds previous, the figure had lain unconscious, and, now, the portion of Blackhall’s mind ruled by curiosity was tempted to observe what might follow.

The grubby muzzle began to moisten, and the captive’s jaw drew taut as he commenced gnawing at the interior of his facial bindings.

Blackhall filled his lungs and raised a boot to the man’s brow. With a grunt and a kick, the prisoner toppled backwards, plummeting from the stone precipice at which they’d lingered, and into the darkness of the vertical shaft behind him.

The silence of the fall was broken only by the occasional brush of cloth upon the rock face.

Thomas cast a wish into the hole that he might have a stick of dynamite to aid the conclusion of his deposit, then turned to make his way towards the exit.

* * *

Two weeks earlier, he’d been amongst the pines, three-days west of the small town of Sacrime, and preparing to bed down. The evening had been warm, so he’d let the fire gutter before moving a short distance from his camp to correct the complaints of his bladder.

His travels had him trailing at the banks of White River, which ran north and south, and, having finished marking a Spruce as his own, he crouched at the water’s edge to refresh his face and arms from the crisp flow.

That was when he noted the swing of the torch over the babble of the cascade.

Blackhall could not hear the dialogue of the naked, ancient, elder, who held aloft the beacon – the distance across the rush was too great – but it was obvious that the man was expounding at length as he conducted a parade of some fifty capering bodies through the unyielding forest shadows. The leader came to a brief halt as he stepped upon the bank, then he turned northward. As his chain of dancers came to the same location, they too turned, never breaking stride.

The shape and age of all involved varied wildly – some seemed but babes, barely old enough to walk, and others seemed too old to live amongst the wildwoods, much less to maintain the spastic cavorting which currently occupied them.

Thomas remained huddled low as he moved back into the treeline, then, with reckless speed, he collected the accoutrements of his encampment. Once he’d stuffed the last of his loose items into his bag, he slung his Baker rifile at his shoulder, and belted his sword.

Despite his absence, it was a simple matter to relocate the human column as the guide strayed little from the course of the waterway – it was more difficult, however, to intersect it.

BlackhallIt was a twelve-hour chase, during which Thomas was forced into increasingly inhospitable terrain in an attempt to remain hidden, even as the sun once again took the sky. The need for expediency in his rough passage left the frontiersman’s hands bleeding from the effort, and imparted two fresh gashes in his greatcoat which would require mending, but, finally, the old man broke his orientation, and started away from the shore.

As soon as the last of the succession had turned to follow, Thomas thrust into his mouth the stone he kept upon a rawhide loop about his neck, and dived beneath the cool torrent. The breathing trinket made his passage inevitable, but the strong current carried him well away from his intended landing point, and he was forced to recover ground to match the splintered tree he’d memorized as a landmark.

His mind and limbs ached with the fatigue of the pursuit.

Having to slow to mark the signs of his quarry’s passage, he rummaged about for something that might stopper his ears, but, in the end, he could manage only ripped ends from his tattered shirt with which to fashion shoddy plugs.

There was nothing he could do to assist the former residents of Sacrime when he came to the cave that had been the old man’s destination.

Within that lost hour, the Jabber had fed extensively – corpses littered the floor, and, in the furthest corner, a broad-chested man of forty took his last gurgling breath.

The beast, now a youth, leaned low over a woman, the last of the living, whose auburn hair fanned from her head to splay haphazardly across the stone, and whose eyes remained impassive over her chubby cheeks. The boy appeared to be telling a great tale while inspecting the quality of her teeth. Her lips were spread wide, and her neck tilted, as if a child demonstrating the healthy state of her tonsils.

As he neared, Blackhall had begun to hum to cover the sound of its rambling, but, as he stepped into the rocky shelter, with his sword drawn, he was brought up short by the flash of a bristling array of thorns projecting suddenly from the glutton’s still yammering maw – then the thing’s face lost its guise of humanity entirely, and it plunged its spines into the woman’s gaping cavity.

As it fed noisily upon her tongue, Thomas wretched.

He’d never encountered such a creature himself, but he’d heard of its methods while scouring the tomes of his father’s library. It was rejuvenated by its insatiable hunger for the knotted mouth-muscle, and had, as its primary tool of enticement, the ability to drive men to madness, or enslavement, with the nonsensical discourse it maintained.

He knew too that speech was its weakness – it was recounted that the only layman to have survived the approach of such a fiend had done so by providing an impassioned plea for his wife, over which he could not hear the beast’s ravings. After a crescendo of clashing utterance, the monster had fallen unconscious, and had been then submitted to fearful inspection at the hands of the church’s specialists. Every effort was made to end the abomination, but the might of horses tugged uselessly upon its limbs, and even blessed water seemed to have no means of starving its lungs. On the following rise of the full moon, it reawoke, and began to gnaw at the steel links that held it. It was only the voice of Monseigneur Lajoie, reciting script, verse, and even childhood poems, which finally brought the thing under control – and still at the cost of the five other attending brothers.

The Monseigneur had decided that it would be buried, and twenty days of well-manned digging were followed by ten days of filling – then the Jabber was forgotten by all but Lajoie, who recorded the incident and promptly retired from the clergy.

Blackhall was unsure if this was the same as that of the legend – it was impossible to know, given the longevity imparted by its grisly consumption.

He found his lungs.

It was dusk before the rant was complete, a tirade largely filled with memories of his Mairi – and before the horror once gain succumbed.

Thomas already had in mind his next destination, the abandoned shafts which lay to the east, and that it would be days of tough hauling, with a heavy load. He also knew, however, that he would not sleep that evening – at least, certainly, not in that cave of damned souls who’d drowned in their own blood.

He began to bind his foe.

In truth it was another three dawns – three long days of dragging – until he could summon the courage to once again slumber, and, when he did, he dreamt of the visage of the auburn-haired woman, as she was kissed so deeply by the kneeling form.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

Flash Pulp 121 – Spook: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1

24 Jan

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and twenty-one.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present, Spook: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1

Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by the free audio-novella, Boiling Point.

Find out more at http://neilcolquhoun.com

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, Thomas Blackhall tells of a haunting from his youth, as he experienced it.

 

Flash Pulp 121 – Spook: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Thomas Blackhall collapsed against an aspen at the edge of an open meadow, fatigue drawing him under, even as the noon-day sun blazed overhead. When he awoke, he found himself in the center of a half-circle comprised of a dozen children, all staring at him intently, by the light of the sagging moon.

They demanded to be entertained.

“A spook story!” the shortest shouted.

“No. Not a made up bit about ghosts,” broke in their leader, who’d obviously been nominated by his height, “a living one; a true one.”

With a shrug, Thomas rubbed at his eyes and straightened his posture.

“Listen, and I shall tell you a tale of both the living, and the dead.

“At the age of ten, my father began taking me to see his family in London, once yearly, for my birthday. Until then I’d never experienced the flurry of city streets and markets, and my eye was constantly wandering over those I thought of as greatly privileged to live amongst such wondrous sights. During my first journey, as we dismounted our carriage and walked the length of houses to my Aunt’s, we passed a pregnant beggar woman, her hands extended and her face pious. Without thought, my father produced an assortment of coins and placed them in her upturned palms. She appeared very pleased at his generosity.

“The strangeness began upon the next anniversary of my birthday, when, while retracing our route, the same beggar-ess stood at the corner. On this occasion as well, her womb bulged. Father repeated his act of kindness, seemingly oblivious to the duplication of the previous trip, but, as we moved out of the woman’s hearing, I joggled his elbow.

““She’s still pregnant, a year later!” I said, with all the naivete of a boy of eleven.

“My father, red creeping into his face at the prospect of explaining birthing intervals, changed the subject.”

Thomas BlackhallFor a moment, Thomas’ stomach interrupted his telling, responding loudly to its empty state. The children seemed to ripple and waiver before his eyes, and he ran his coat over his brow, wiping sweat from his fevered skin.

With an embarrassed grin, he continued.

“On the third year, Mother was too ill to have us depart, but, on the next, we once again made the expedition. As Pa conducted necessary business, my aunt turned me loose upon the market that held court at the northern edge of her block. With enough jingle in my pocket to keep me in jellied eels for the afternoon, I was left to roam with only the restriction that I should stay within a rigorous set of boundaries, the names of which flew from my mind as quickly as Aunt Charity could recite them.

“As I walked the streets of my approximated travel allowance, I came across a boy of my own age, his father churning away at a portable organ as the lad coaxed a small mutt through a repertoire of antics and athletics. I stood watching as long as my eel-coin held out, but, as the grinder began the third repetition of his barrel, his look was becoming one of expectancy, and my bankroll was exhausted. In truth I’d fallen in love with the white and black entertainer, and, as a boy of fourteen will, I was internally attempting to devise a method by which I might make the dog mine.

“Casting about for an excuse to linger, my mind came upon the oddity of the pregnant beggar, whom I proceeded to ask about.

““Well – there’s no shortage ‘round here of those who can’t keep their knees together, if that’s what you mean to imply, young master – but if its Pregnant Polly you’re looking for, she spends most of her time these days in The Miller’s tap room, just a ways down the lane.” He pointed in its direction.

“I hadn’t expected such a definitive response, and so, with a last longing look at the dancing canine, I felt compelled to follow the provided instructions.

“It was a short walk, and easy to spot Polly through the foggy glass – as there were no other pregnant women in the establishment with tankards of ale held in both hands.

“Funnily enough, it was the dog that held my thoughts in the days after. I didn’t think on the woman again until one night while casting lies into the fire with a gathering of my fellow countrymen. I was homesick, and they were weaving tales of the streets of their youths, stories I took in in a sentimental fashion, at least until the name of Pregnant Polly revived my long dormant memory.

“I can not remember the teller’s name, but I do recall the twisted smirk upon his face as he recounted the woman’s life.

“”She was with bairn at sixteen,” he said, “but it would never arrive, though she looked forever in her final month. At the age of eighteen, still unmarried, and perennially bulging, she was little wanted in her parent’s household, and she was set upon the streets. Unable to make a living, even as a bang-tail , she quickly turned to fleecing tourists in London markets. In truth, who would not find some coin for a beggared mother-to-be? Anyhow, her fame grew such that, when she finally drank herself into an early grave, they cut her open, and inside was a babe: one made of stone. The doctor said it had somehow mummified within her, a situation that was rare, but not unheard of, amongst the pages of his medical texts.”

“So it was that Pregnant Polly was forced to wander the streets, the living ghost of a mother that never was, with the corpse of her child haunting her every step.”

Blackhall fell silent then, awaiting a response from his audience. Without a word, each turned on their own time, and began to wander into the deep brush from whence he’d come. As the last reached the clearing’s edge, he seemed to fade into dissipating moonlight, even as dawn touched the horizon.

It was another hour before Thomas rose, and another day’s travel before he encountered civilization, where he collapsed into a month’s sick bed at his prolonged starvation. He would never be sure if the encounter had been in any way real, or nothing but the byproduct of his hasty consumption of tainted mushrooms during his desperate search for food.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License. Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

Flash Pulp 114 – The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3

7 Jan

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and fourteen.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This episode is brought to you by the Bothersome Things podcast.

It’s like eating a unicorn for dinner.

Find them at BothersomeThings.com, or find them on iTunes.

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, Blackhall participates in the end of the siege of the Elg Herra, and concludes much outstanding business.

 

Flash Pulp 114 – The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Moments after the departure of Thomas’ former companion, panic began to march through the beds at the edges of the rolling longhouse, and down the center aisle which held the iron bowls of flame that maintained the Moose Lord’s heat and cooking fires.

Blackhall could not translate the flurry of speech which surrounded him, but he could see that all were focused upon the small closets at the rear of the wagon which acted as the home’s latrines, and he moved quickly to scrutinize what he suspected was Marco’s work.

The cramped space stunk of spilled gin and the involuntary releases of death.

Within, his sockets bulging and his legs thrust straight, was the corpse of Mathus, the Elg Herran shaman. A length of folded cloth remained at this throat, the obvious instrument of his murder.

His body had been stripped of ornamentation, the fled Frenchman having rifled anything that might be of value, monetarily or mystically.

For a moment Thomas shut his eyes, rubbing at their dry and rasping surface with forefinger and thumb. Fatigue was heavy upon his shoulders, and the imagined spectre of Mairi’s dead face drifted up to him from the inky depths of his closed lids.

As he let out a long breath and once again opened his vision, Mairi’s aspect was replaced by that of Disa, who stood before him.

“Was it my Marco?” she demanded.

Blackhall confirmed the worst with a short nod.

“He also removed all that might have some worth from our shared bunk – including the ring he gave me in safekeeping till our ceremony of binding.” She spoke in husky tones, and a flash of despair crossed her face.

Before she might weep, the pregnant woman strode away.

* * *

The attack came at noon, and Thomas, who’d relocated to the roof of the rear-most in the procession, finally had his first close-viewing of the Presters, as a raiding party detached itself from the larger force and moved against his perch.

They came with fire in hand, and their dogs baying in the lead. The alabaster-skinned men huddled close behind the hounds, with leather shields held high to stave off arrow attacks, and those without torches toted long, rough-hewn logs on their shoulders, to act as pikes against a bull moose rush.

Blackhall’s unsettling plan had formed soon after the discovery of Mathus’ body, but the knowledge he intended to implement had come straight from the old man’s tongue, and he knew the shaman would gladly give anything to bring an end to the threat against his people.

Still, Thomas had kept up a stream of apologies as he’d conducted his grisly work – all the better to keep his gorge from rising.

Now, as the approaching contingent moved to catch their wheeled target, he set aside Marco’s cast-off gin bottle, which harboured the old man’s sight organs, and raised his Baker rifle. His targeting was arbitrary, as any of the encroaching assailants would have happily seen him dead.

The crack and roll of gunpowder filled the air, and the lead of Blackhall’s foes fell, his torch landing amongst the trampled grasses, forgotten.

Construction of the larger charm had been considerably less disgusting, although the moving of the fire bowl had been sweatier work. Once in place, Thomas had wound leather about a wooden lid, to hold it over-top a concoction he’d mixed within the basin itself.

With Asmund’s assistance, he sent the vessel tumbling to the ground.

The volume of the cauldron had allowed him more room for reagents than during his original demonstration to the old man, and, as the cedar covering shattered upon the ground, a misty feline of immense proportion rose up, nearly overtaking the height of the wagon itself.

The dogs ceased their forward movement with animal terror in their eyes. They turned and began to flee.

At the cowardice of their beasts, the pallid-men also pivoted, and the retreating mob was soon moved to panic as a cluster of mounted defenders arrived in response to the prearranged signal of the birthing of the ghostly cat-daemon.

Blackhall knew the phantasm would not remain corporeal long, only until the last of his whisky supply ran into the earth, but it was ample for his intentions. In short moments the riders had retrieved the fallen Prester corpse, and returned with it to Thomas’ station.

It was easy enough to extract the necessary blood from the cadaver’s weeping wound, and, once again taking up the gory gin bottle, the frontiersman mixed in the last component necessary for his preparation.

A man came running from the assaulting line, shouting to rouse his people. Blackhall noted another beside him – a familiar, hunched form, which he suspected to be Hakon.

Thomas BlackhallThomas could only guess what fearful words the traitor must have used to press the desperate plan after realizing that this might be his final attempt to lay low those who had spurned him. Nor, for that matter, did he know what volume of riches the Presters must have originally promised the defector to turn against his people – Blackhall wondered if it was a sum greater than that which had purchased the loyalty of his former friend, the voyageur.

Whatever oaths the Prester King now pawned in his own tongue, it was enough to rally his host, who moved forward as a mighty wall, driving the flood of frightened hounds before them.

Although it still stood, the summoned whiskey spirit’s form had begun to blur, and, despite its aggressive stance, its clawed hands had begun to dissipate in the breeze.

Blackhall implemented his closing scheme, tipping the now sealed gin bottle on its side, upon the roof, and setting his boot heavily through the glass, crushing the blind orbs within.

The rushing line fell forward, suddenly asleep upon the unyielding plain.

The pack, spooked by the apparition before them, and the swooning of their masters behind them, scattered as if a cloud burst, draining into the dry turf.

This left an odd moment: all those of Prester blood having suddenly collapsed, and their mongrels absconded, there were but two figures still standing amid the dense heap of slumberers. One stood at the forefront of the failed rush, and one stood in the rear, having been happy to let those he considered savages carry out the grim work of fighting.

A single arrow arced over the fallen sleepers, it’s flight strong and true – Marco was allowed no scream as its shaft passed through his traitor’s throat.

Blackhall turned to see Disa standing alongside him, a bow in her hands.

She spoke.

“I will tell little Marcus, or Ida – whichever happens to arrive – that he died defending us from the Prester siege.”

With that, she moved to re-take the ladder, disappearing once again into the depths of the longhouse.

The lone figure of Hakon had only made five steps when the simultaneous wrath of the multitude of long-stymied archers was unleashed, cutting him down mid-stride.

Seconds later, the grunting efforts of the harnessed buffalo had pulled the triumphant Elg Herra beyond bow range.

Blackhall turned to Asmund.

“They’ll sleep two full days, more than time enough for the caravan to make an orderly escape.”

“We should turn about to cut their throats,” said the Earl’s son, “but I’ve no stomach for butchery. Considering their intentions, we have been kind to them.”

“The dogs will not stay long from their master’s guiding hands, and it will not be so kind a fate if they have been too long in feeding their animals,” replied Blackhall.

The frontiersman stooped for his rifle, eager to be once again on the path that would lead him to Mairi, and yearning for the distance which would put him well away from the politics of others.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm. The audio and text formats of Flash Pulp are released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Flash Pulp 113 – The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 3

5 Jan

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and thirteen.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This episode is brought to you by the Bothersome Things podcast.

Come for the unsettling news, stay for the disturbing banter.

Find them at BothersomeThings.com, or find them on iTunes.

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, we find Thomas Blackhall ensnared in a trap formed of duty and the hungry mouths of curs.

 

Flash Pulp 113 – The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 3

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Blackhall expected panic, but instead it seemed it was only he and Marco who had little idea on how to conduct themselves during the attack.

The call of the war horns had turned hundreds of dogs upon the caravan, but within moments the flood was met by the first of the defenders: a group of three youths, each on a cow moose, drove hard against the deluge, their long clubs swinging heavily. The ragged gray and brown mob made short meals of the lot – the furry-tide seemed to simply rise and overtake them – but this slowing was enough to bring another twenty riders forward at a gallop, and the strengthening line brought the horde to a brief halt. Even then – while the center of the pack held at the sight of the fresh guardians, the pooling edges began to surround the group, so that soon they too would be drowned.

Thomas moved swiftly to the ladder, to begin the long run to his Baker rifle, stored alongside his nightclothes, but he knew it would be for not – that by the time it was in his hand, his friends amongst the Elg Herra would be laying bloody and half consumed by wolfen-snouts.

His re-entry into the home was brought short, however, by spotting the spindly-limbed Mathus, clambering, gargoyle-like, to the roof of the wagon nearest the conflict. His gray hair had taken to the wind, and Thomas could see the man’s scrawny arm holding aloft a turkey, which gobbled out its panic at finding itself in such a high position.

In his off-hand the shaman held a knife, which he drew, with force, across the fowl’s gullet.

Careful to keep the blood dripping well away from the wood of the frame, Mathus spoke words lost to the din, and sprayed the red warmth across the ground below. Within seconds a trail of flame began to project from the site of the sacrifice, a wall of heat that bent at the old man’s command to shield the line of mounted responders.

Before Blackhall could continue the retrieval of his weapon, he felt the wheels of the longhouse once again take motion, carrying the Moose Lords away from the site of combat.

The flaring barrier had held back the bulk of the assault, and now, with the advantage of surprise lost – and the rooftops bristling with archers – the canines began to flow about the conflagration’s furthest edges, maintaining their distance, but pacing the north-moving fleet from the safety of the tall grasses.

* * *

Having left able-bodied scouts atop each of the houses, the Earl judged that there was time enough to call council.

He sat at the head of the gathered, his cushions elevating him above the others clustered around the blaze of the iron bowl.

“Bring me some jerky and bread!” The leader opened, directing the demand at the boy who acted as his assistant and valet.

Before the lad could scramble away, the old man, Mathus, appeared at the circle’s edge, still swinging the limp-necked turkey.

“No. We’ll eat this tonight; if we’re still here long enough to taste it. There is nothing wrong with its flesh – and there’ll be no room for hunting if they opt to maintain the chase.” He flung the former-sacrifice at the boy, who hurried off to pluck and prepare the bird.

The arrival set off a rapid-tongued exchange between the advisor and his lord, in the language of the Elg Herra. Blackhall, unable to comprehend the roll and flow of the words, used the time to question the man to his right, his friend, and the Earl’s son, Asmund.

“Whose hands control the brutes that now skulk in our wake?”

“I rather suspect that Hakon the traitor has had no small role to play, but it is the Presters who raise the beasts.”

“The Presters?”

Thomas Blackhall“Yes – it is said that once there was a man, Prester John, who lead his people across the waters from a place of great persecution, to settle here on the plains – but they are no longer men by our reckoning. In winter they live as if bears, waking only to gorge upon the mushrooms which they cultivate by the summer moon – or upon their young, should supplies run short. The dogs they also shut away when the snows come, so that in the spring only the strongest remain.”

“It does not sound a pleasant life, but why would they seek to attack you?”

“Mayhaps their crops have been blighted this year; mayhaps a new leader has risen from within their ranks on the promise of our destruction. There has long been much enmity between us, as my own father laid low one of their King’s some time ago – or at least, we believe so, as he crawled away to die, and it is hard for us to identify the differences between the Prester Lords, as their mothers are always their father’s sister.”

A sudden question drew Asmund’s attention from the conversation and into the larger discussion which had sprung from Mathus’ entrance.

Finding no toehold amongst the alien language, Blackhall stood, deciding he might be of greater use amongst the roof-bound sentinels.

As he set his footing to prepare for his climb, Disa stepped to his side. She wore a simple, but well cut, dress, as preferred by most of the younger Elg Herra women, and the growing weight within her belly pressed at its constraint.

“Have you seen my Marco?” she asked.

In truth the frontiersman had had half a mind to ask her the same – the expectant father had disappeared soon after the attack, despite the limited privacy, and Thomas worried that he’d somehow found a corner in which to collude with his most constant companion, his gin bottle.

“No, I apologize,” was the best response he could make.

“Perhaps you’d be better served with this then,” she replied, extending a handful of the spiced flat bread which was a local delicacy. “I saved it for him, but I suspect he’ll have little appetite by the time he returns.”

Blackhall made his thanks and ascended. As he set the trapdoor in place, he noted the woman still at the foot of the ladder, her eyes moving slowly over the longhouse occupants, her left-hand upon her stomach.

* * *

The rolling siege drifted well into the night hours, and it was nearly dawn by the time Thomas crept out of the chill nocturnal wind, seeking a bed. His heart was heavy as he entered, as the watch had been filled with longing for his Mairi, and with the terrible knowledge that every moment he expended facing down the blockade was a moment lost from his search.

The greatest advice to come out of the council had been to rest while still able, and the soft snoring that surrounded his descent proved that many had taken the recommendation. As he moved from the final rung, however, Blackhall was startled to see a bent but familiar form nearby, and, while he watched, to observe his friend fling a sack from the nearest window. It was then that he realized the container was affixed to the end of a length of rope, which, in turn, was wound about a wooden projection along the window’s casing.

“Marco! What work is this? It was some hours ago, but I encountered Disa earlier: she was in search of you.”

“Ahh – you’ll have to make my apologies.”

“Apologies?”

“Yes – it is time for me to go. The Prester’s owe me much for keeping a careful eye on the wandering Princess Ida, and I’d rather collect than become a hound’s breakfast.”

“Betrayal?” was all Thomas’ tired mind could manage.

“Well, to be fair, I was considering taking the Earl with me, and I’m not. I suspect he’d fetch a tidy sum, but I think you’d make your best effort to stop me, and I’d hate to kill another civilized man, even if he does come from the wrong side of la Manche. Out of respect for you, and our friendship, I choose not to. Still, I believe I have enough within my travel bag to leave me well rewarded. Au revoir.”

With that, the voyageur wrapped the line about his forearm and plunged through the opening.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm. The audio and text formats of Flash Pulp are released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Flash Pulp 112 – The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3

3 Jan

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and twelve.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This episode is brought to you by the Bothersome Things podcast.

Come for the fresh news, stay for the disturbing aftertaste.

Find them at BothersomeThings.com, or find them on iTunes.

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, we find Blackhall once again amongst the Elg Herra, The Moose Lords Of The Northern Reaches, as he prepares to continue his search for his long dead wife, Mairi.

 

Flash Pulp 112 – The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Blackhall was dreaming.

It was snowing, but he couldn’t feel the cold. There was a crowd standing on the iced path, encircling something at their feet, beyond his vision. Dread filled his limbs as his mind’s eye pulled him closer, against his protestations. Somehow the clustered people did not part, and yet his view of the scene changed so that it was as if he was looking down at it from above. It became clear what had drawn the gathered.

Laying askew on the path was a body. He knew it somehow to be in part that of Ida, the Princess he’d recently seen murdered, and yet it bore the face of his wife, Mairi.

He awoke with a start, biting his lip hard to cut short his shout. Shaking the image from his vision, he was glad to note that he had not actually cried aloud, as the other sleepers about him continued their gentle weezings.

Crawling from the shadows that blanketed the furthest edges of the long house, Thomas moved towards the vast iron bowl that was maintained at every hour and provided the heat throughout the massive rolling home.

Sitting at its edge was the old man, Mathus. While Blackhall had enjoyed his time with the Moose Lords, there were few he’d met who he’d prefer to find tending the flames. As council to the Earl, Mathus had little time for conversation by day, but the frontiersman had come to learn that the gray hair and frail limbs concealed knowledge beyond the vagaries of how best to distribute bread, when to plant, and odd-making on calving.

“You’ve come to ask me again, have you?”

Thomas smiled at the lack of pretense.

“Well, in truth I awoke from an ill dream but surely there would be no better time to demonstrate some of your techniques.”

“I have yet to see you men of the east present anything but fast handed deceit, so why should I flaunt anything of the fantastic? Surely you are happy to place a trio of cups over-top a walnut, and claim it has disappeared?” It was Mathus’ turn to smile.

Thomas had been back and forth with the man since slaying the Lamia – a daemon which came by night to consume the children of the Elg Herra. It had not taken long for Blackhall to realize that the man carried deeply the shame of being unable to assist his people in their time of need, as his first attempts at learning from Mathus had been met with angry spittle flying from the old man’s toothless gums, dislodged by a language Blackhall still could not reckon. Persistence and humility were the frontiersman’s weapons of choice, however, and it did not take long for the joy of victory, mixed with the flattery of the new hero’s esteem, to begin to wear down the old man’s ire.

“No, sir, I can surely show you more than that.”

Thomas had awaited this moment, and he was prepared. Retreating to the bed which constituted his domain as guest, he reached into his battered travel baggage and pulled out a glass bottle, still a quarter-full of whiskey, as well as a rag.

He returned to the fire’s edge.

Taking a seat near the old man, he played the fire’s light through the glass and amber liquid, displaying his handiwork.

Thomas Blackhall“Inside I’ve set a slip of daisy paper with the necessary markings, as well as two drops of my own blood, a small bundle of spruce twigs, two strands of dead man’s hair and a pine beetle.”

Mathus nodded, watching intently. Blackhall was glad to see his wrinkled eyes seeming to now take his entreaty more seriously. The whiskey spirit was a simple conjuration, the second occult working he’d learned, but Thomas knew better than to take lightly any such undertaking.

“I buried this bottle by the light of the moon – it may be dug up any time after the first day has past, but it is best if done at night, when the stars are blotted by cloud.”

Covering the container in the rag, he rapped the vessel hard upon the iron ledge, shattering it within the cloth confines. Standing above the enwrapped wreckage, a handspan tall, was a vaporous figure, which seemed to have the form of a cat, but stood upon two legs. It hissed silently at the pair of onlookers and swung its misty fore-claws in aggravation.

“It will cause mischief if left unattended, but will naturally disperse if the whiskey is left to dry. It will take commands from whomever summoned it, but keep a close eye, as it would be just as glad to twist your needs to an unpleasant end. The man who taught me this was a jovial Prussian named Fredrich. He would often demonstrate his power after over-indulging, and his usual goal was to demand the little beast provide him further lager. I was not on hand for his death, but I may guess its details, as he was found early one Saturday, poisoned.”

Blackhall pushed the bundle into the flames, and, as he did so, the feline wisps of steam seemed to be lost to the night’s air.

Mathus had remained silent, but attentive, throughout.

“Do you have the inscription’s at hand?” he asked finally.

Thomas retrieved from his pocket a separate slip of daisy paper, upon which he’d written the runes.

With a gummy smile, the old shaman thrust the sheet deep into a sack at his belt.

“Yes. I believe there are things I might show you – and mayhaps more that you might show me.”

* * *

The convoy of massive wheeled houses, and the buffalo that drove them, had been called to a halt at the edges of a small, unnamed lake. The black beasts, as well as the Moose Lord’s long-limbed mounts, were being driven along the shore to be given an opportunity to quench their thirst during the final journey before the coming of snow.

“I heard they saw Hakon skulking at the furthest rim of the herd, yesterday,” said Marco, the voyageur who’d traveled westward with Blackhall. Despite it being well into the noon hour, the Frenchman creased his brow against the strength of the sun and the weight of his previous night’s drinking.

“With the majority of suspicion regarding the child-eater now on his shoulders, I have my doubts that he’d openly return to camp, even if he does occasionally attempt contact with friends and family.”

The men were atop the roof of the flagship of the wagons, the massive wooden construct referred to as “The Earl’s House”, watching the endless rows march past the water.

“In truth,” Thomas continued, “I did not ask you up here to discuss the local politics – I’m leaving.”

“So, the old man has shown you what you need?”

“No. He had many interesting talents to exhibit, but a method to bring my wandering Mairi home was not one of them – so it comes time to move further west. I’d be glad to have you with me, but I realize you must stay to tend to Disa, now that she is with child.”

Even as he spoke, from somewhere to the south came the long, low, note of a war horn. Within a beat, it was accompanied by another, then another – only to be drowned out, finally, by a thundering roll of barking.

Dog flesh began to pour from the tall brown grass that surrounded the stalled caravan.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm. The audio and text formats of Flash Pulp are released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Flash Pulp 098 – Up From The Depths: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1

25 Nov

Flash PulpWelcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Ninety-Eight.

Tonight we present Up From The Depths: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1
Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by the art of Michael Mongello

Have you always wanted a scantily clad Star Wars character hanging around your office?

Now you can have multiple!

Find those, as well as many other prints to purchase, at http://www.supermonge.com

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult arts, encounters a town of shambling monstrosities.

Flash Pulp 098 – Up From The Depths: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

The summer previous to his final migration westward, Thomas received word that his assistance was required at a mining operation in the sparsely populated northern stretch of Lower Canada.

The man who sought him out had heard of his reputation as it slipped from ale-heavy mouth to whiskey-sodden ear, and his distrust of the nature of Blackhall’s business was obvious as he made his request.

“You’ve dealt with the other-worldly before?” was the man’s abrupt opening.

It wasn’t his habit to answer the question openly, but the sling which held the interrogator’s right arm had piqued Thomas’ interest.

“On occasion.”

“I’ve been to the church, and they have no interest in what I have to say.” As the man spoke, his animated gestures sent gushes of barley brew to the inn’s floor. “It’s hell they opened in that mine to the north, and I expect someone better close it before it tears the world asunder.”

“It’s my understanding that it takes something more than a shovel to reach the devil’s playground,” replied Thomas, “but, first, might I inquire as to your name?”

“I apologize. My name is Teasdale, but the Englishman is what they called me these last ten months. Not so much based on my port of departure, but because I was the only anglo on a site full of francos.”

“What leads you to believe a group of earth diggers has opened the maw of the nether realm?”

“Until recently I was camp cook at a small iron operation to the north. Two dozen men and a whip cracker of a foreman. We were working a fresh shaft when I was sent southwards to gather the groceries, but upon my return I found the site in chaos. The tents and shanties had been knocked about as if hit by a storm, and the boys -” the grip which held his mug of lager began to tremble. “The fellas were on hand, but they were not the men I knew when I left.”

“What difference did you notice?” asked Blackhall.

“When I first arrived I saw a few of them wandering about, almost as if in a trance. It was only once I’d gotten closer that I noticed their stuttering walks and contorted faces. They – their limbs were muck covered, and as they approached a groaning gibberish emanated from their mouths.”

Teasdale smacked his dry mouth, then quickly wet it from his cup.

He continued.

“I’d no sooner stepped into his sight than I was rushed by Old Tim Steiner, a man I’ve passed many hours with over cards. It was he who chased me from the parcel, and it was during that flight in which I stumbled. A bad break, and still I made the travel in record time, even though I only thought to lighten my load of the provisions upon the second day.”

His damaged arm seemed to have little slowed his off-hand’s drinking.

Thomas raised an eyebrow.

“You doubt me, sir?” the former kitchen-master asked. “I do not make my assumptions in haste. There was no recognition in the eyes of Steiner – nor in any of the others which I noted as they gathered at Old Tim’s gibberish calls. If you’d but seen his ragged march or distorted countenance, you’d have no room for skepticism.” He spit on the floor. “Demon possessed, the bloody lot of them.”

* * *

So it was, after eight day’s rugged journey, that Blackhall found himself set high in a birch, observing the a cluster of men as they rummaged about the remnants of the camp’s structures. As he watched, a filth-encrusted man, of some girth, tottered towards the shattered lumber of a former shed, shoving aside the smaller man who’d long been hunkered there listlessly stirring the rubble.

Across a branch adjoining his perch, Thomas had carefully laid out the tools necessary to sustain fire if his Baker rifle became the only option. He had yet to cock his weapon.

At the crossing of dirt paths that would have constituted the site’s major intersection, a pair of legs lay unmoving, partially obscured behind a cold pile of cinders.

As he shifted his weight for a better vantage point, the tree limb beneath his left boot groaned and gave way. Although quick footwork saved him from any peril, the snapping did not go unheeded by the shambling men below.

The nearest, possibly Old Tim himself, speared Blackhall with a finger, then began to stagger in his direction.

His enthusiastic tones roused all surrounding, and shortly Thomas’ roost was encircled by a cluster of men – some with still bloody wounds, but all ensconced in grime – and yet the frontiersman did not put his rifle to bare upon them, nor unsheathe the silver-bladed sabre which was his usual retort to circumstances of the supernatural.

He understood now why Teasdale had felt such fear at their nearing; their manner seemed not like that of sane men, instead it was as if their higher faculties had suffered grievously.

It was then that he realized many in the group were, in low and mangled french, requesting assistance.

Slinging his rifle, Blackhall descended. Within moments he was distributing what rations remained in his pack.

* * *

By late afternoon,Thomas had begun to form a plan to rescue those of the men that he might. He could little guess what had happened in Teasdale’s absence, but he felt certain it was unlikely to be related to the preternatural.

In his review of the ruins, he found the still smoldering fire whose plume had helped him locate his destination, and yet now he was uncertain as to which, if any, of the mine’s survivors might have had the wits to light such a thing. They seemed docile enough once fed, but their speech was limited to even simpler phrases than Blackhall’s french would allow, and they held no answers as to what had transpired. What he had also found was a lack of food – what little might have been left after Teasdale’s departure was long consumed.

Although the bones of wild game scattered about did leave him to wonder.

* * *

Thomas BlackhallWell before he was forced to implement his desperate plan, answers arrived at the freshly stoked fireside, in the form of a limping Francophone by the name of Joseph. He’d approached with a double handful of partridge, and as the entirety of the camp had gathered in a circle about the fire, he quickly cleaned and set the fowl to spit.

Later, as they all licked the bird fat from their fingers, the newcomer finally ceased the delighted prattle he’d maintained as he worked, and delved into a deeper explanation.

“I was Teasdale’s assistant, and out getting berries up the hill when it happened – trying to stretch supplies, you understand. There was a sound from the throat of the shaft, like a belch, and a smell as if a musty hell, and then I collapsed. I do not know how much time might have passed while I slept, but it was dark when I rose. Everyone else had been closer than I, and most of them were still scattered about the ground. When my head was clear enough, I went down to find whoever I could.”

The storyteller paused in his tale, the idiot faces of his compatriots eager for him to continue the story they could little understand.

“After they all woke up, I realized how they were. Who knows how long they were breathing the released vapour – it crippled their minds. I knew it was up to me to get them south, so I went hunting, to find enough meat to carry us. Although the first day I came back I managed to keep them together, on the second one of them went searching in the buildings, with a flaming branch to act as a torch. He burnt down part of the bunks, and when I saw how black the smoke was, I came. I managed to get most of them, all except Pascal, away from the dynamite hut before it was too late.”

Thomas passed across his canteen, freshly filled at the nearby river, and Joseph drank heartily before continuing.

“I was trying to reach him when it exploded. That’s how my leg was crippled, a condition which has made it impossible for us to make our escape. At least the blast put out the flames.”

The conversation waned for a time before Blackhall ended the hush.

“Tomorrow I will do the hunting – after I have a looked over your trauma.”

Within the fire, a knot popped, throwing sparks against the night sky.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm. The audio and text formats of Flash Pulp are released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Flash Pulp 095 – Muck: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1

17 Nov

Flash PulpWelcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Ninety-Five.

Tonight we present Muck: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1

Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Ella’s Words.

Find the poetess’ work here.

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight we present a brief interlude in Thomas Blackhall’s river travels.

Flash Pulp 095 – Muck: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

Blackhall and his companion, Marco the voyageur, had been paddling and portaging for fifteen days, and, while Thomas had enjoyed much of the Frenchman’s conversation, his patience for the corn whiskey jug that seemed perpetually on hand was growing thin.

The two had pulled the fat-bottomed canoe onto another in the series of muddy banks that demarcated their progress, and, at the emergence of his perennial annoyance, the frontiersman had offered to walk the brush that surrounded the little camp in search of meat that might be roasted.

He’d let himself range far while enjoying the familiar rustling of the wind through untouched forest, and he’d found a security in his surroundings that he’d missed afloat and fighting the fast moving river. Game was sparse, but he’d encountered a mass of huckleberries that had him regretting his lack of a larger container than his palms in which to transport them. It was as he was lost in this consideration, and as his hands pulled berries from shrub to mouth, that he noted a thick line of destruction running through the brush at the patch’s furthest end.

His first thought was that some great bear had trampled through in preparation for its hibernation, but a further consideration of the path left him with an uneasy feeling. It appeared as if some man or animal had moved through the area with little regard for what lay ahead of it: a pine which lay in its course had had its ankle-thick branches snapped at the base, and a great rut of dirt had been agitated in its wake.

Blackhall was swift in putting his Baker rifle into his grip, but it was his sabre, which he’d left at the fire’s edge, that he longed for. He made good time through the darkening woods, despite the fallen autumn leaves protesting loudly at each footfall.

Marco watched Thomas’ entrance into the camp with heavy eyelids, and welcomed the returned with a lift of his whiskey.

“I’ve some work ahead, and it might be dangerous,” said Blackhall, as he hefted his sword. “I’d like your help, but it seems you’ve done yourself under.”

The voyageur cursed the frontiersman, the bottle, the river, the campfire, and his bladder.

“I was drunker than this the night I rode a nag full tilt down the nine mile road, blindfolded.”

He staggered to his feet, his hand going to the buck knife he carried at his belt.

“Où?”

* * *

Thomas Blackhall“It seems ridiculous, but it’s the golem of Prague. It was formed of clay and animated to defend its people from the cruelties of their time – or at least, that’s my best guess, from my readings.” Blackhall now regretted having roused his companion, but there was little he could do. He continued his explanation. “They say it eventually became too aggressive, and was locked in the attic of a synagogue.”

The trail had been simple enough to follow, as the towering form made no effort to alter its course for the sake of ease.

“It just sat there quietly?”

“It is a difficult thing to always hold a loaded pistol in your hand, day in and day out, and not find some need to fire it,” Blackhall replied. “Mayhaps it originally found its way here on some errand, or, feeling the pull that brings all of the world’s phantasms to this final emptiness in their end days, it somehow stowed away. It is impossible to tell. Neither can we say how long it has wandered these rugged lands with little purpose. I would guess that it has been quite some time.”

The thing watched them as they talked, standing as near the river’s edge as it might without risking its never-fired feet. While seeming nearly impervious, it had not moved through the land unscathed, and gouts of its arms and legs had been ripped away by its ill considered path.

“I think the monster wishes to bring an end to itself,” said the voyageur, puffing zealously on one of Thomas’ hand-rolled cigarettes.

Again, Blackhall wished he’d left the man alone with his drink.

“It understands it to be a sin to suicide,” he replied.

Never pausing for thought, the Frenchman moved to the figure and pressed his hands hard upon its shoulders, sending it tumbling backwards into the water.

He’d stumbled back to his jug well before Blackhall had finished watching the remains break up and wash down stream.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm. The audio and text formats of Flash Pulp are released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Flash Pulp 093 – The Elg Herra, Part 6 of 6

13 Nov

Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Ninety-Three.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Elg Herra: A Blackhall Tale, Part 6 of 6
(Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)

Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

This week’s episodes are brought to you by MT Starkey Short Stories.

Dark tales of shadowy doings in dimly lit rooms.

To find them, click here.

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, Blackhall finally reaches the home of the Moose Lords, where he must complete long standing business.

Flash Pulp 093 – The Elg Herra, Part 6 of 6

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

Blackhall’s first view of the longhouses came on the morning of his fourth day riding with the Moose Lords. The evening previous, the small band of travelers had met another mounted patrol, and the Elg Herra had spent a merry night conversing in their own tongue. As dawn broke, they’d kicked the ashes of the fire under, checked the lashings that held Kol’s body in place – now wrapped in the hide of his own saddle bags to stifle his musk – and departed.

Thomas was glad they’d waited till light.

The structures trundled as if massive beetles, the painted symbols on their oblong rooves exposed to the riders, who had approached from the peak of a gentle crest. Great treads marked their passage upon the plain, and, as Blackhall took in the behemoths, he noted that the shortest of the five had no less than sixteen wheels. They moved in an arrowhead shape; the lead and largest wagon was followed by three ranging in a wide row, then close behind those came a mass of black animals. The smallest, and nearest, of the wheelhouses brought up the rear.

“An impressive sight,” he remarked to Asmund.

“A welcome one,” the man replied. “The furthest, the one in the lead, we simply call “The Earl’s House”, although he is but one of its many occupants. The one at center we have named “Night”, as it serves only to allow those who must patrol in the dark hours an opportunity to slumber. On right and left are those we call Dusk and Dawn – they are home to many more Elg Herra. Our shortest house, the one which trails behind, is Relief; it carries lumber, tools, a forge, and the various necessities of maintenance.”

As they overtook the rearmost shadow, Blackhall tightened his coat against the chill wind blown from the spruce trunks that acted as wheel-spokes. Above the grinding complaints of the axle could be heard the occasional creak of shifting wood, familiar to any who had sailed upon a tall ship. However, soon after, both sounds were drowned by the roar of the hooves which gave the conveyance motion. A sea of buffalo moved at its head, the beasts harnessed into an orderly grid and maintained by a half dozen lithe daredevils.

“We call it dancing the squares,” said Asmund. “We value the dancers as we value warriors, and the tales of their bravery are often given equal time in tales of combat. They maintain and direct the beasts, giving them food and water even as we travel, and ensuring the security of both oxen and tack.”

Thomas watched a youth leap from the back of one frothing animal, take three quick steps along a taut leather line, and complete his journey by landing with splayed legs upon the shoulders of another. The boy smiled to see them pass, his fingers still busy working at some unseen kink in the rigging.

As they drew ahead, Blackhall took in the herd. If the grunting rows which pulled Relief had been a sea, then here was an ocean. Thousands more buffalo trampled flat the grasses, their order maintained under the eyes of a wide and moving ring of cow-moose mounted wranglers. Many of the watchers, both men and women, raised a hand in greeting to Asmund and Mord.

It was another half-hour before they overtook the Earl’s house.

* * *

The plan had been straightforward enough. Fifty-seven able bodies, each one the mother or father of a missing child, were sequestered in a single longhouse, in place of the fifty-seven innocents that made up the remainder of the community’s progeny.

“It is my understanding,” Blackhall had told the Earl, “that you contend with a beast known as the Lamia. I have heard her name invoked by mothers as a boogieman, but she was once well known, long ago, as a murderous hag who consumed infants in blind vengeance for the death of her own children, who were supposedly struck down by Hera. You would know her by her face, which unhinges into a monstrous expanse wide enough to insert a child whole.”

His words had been enough to bring the elder leader’s shoulders to sag, and to convince the man of his plan’s merit. It was a necessary trust, as Thomas felt it imperative that none but those involved should know, especially as only Mord and a hand picked second would be on hand to guard the true children, now tucked away in Relief. Blackhall had been sure to implant the defenders’ weapons with what little silver – a nearly universal poison to what the Elg Herra named mist-walkers – the community could turn up, but it had left his trap poorly armed.

The most difficult aspect of the preparation had been the covert modification of the half beds, so that grown forms might appear as if children, and yet still spring readily from the depths of the bedclothes to encounter the monster.

Thomas BlackhallThe charade of maintaining a strict watch over infants that were not on hand was wearing, and so it was almost with relief, on the third evening of his vigil, that Thomas finally heard the mid-night click-and-thud of a window being manipulated someway down the darkened hall.

“For Ida!” he bellowed, throwing off the heavy covering he’d laid over his oil lamp. It’s meager light was enough to allow the Elg Herra to leap to their stations, bodily barring each possible exit.

The crone was quick to react, and she immediately began to spider to the nearest shutter on all four of her gout-covered limbs. With a careless toss, she removed one of the window’s guardians, then reared on the stout woman who alone secured the opening.

With a desperate grunt, Thomas threw his saber. The lamia, seeing the inbound weapon, reflexively flinched, even though the sword had been cast on a clumsy arc. The projectile rebounded heavily off of the shutter and clattered to the floor. Blackhall, however, was quick behind his missile; his freed hand had closed immediately upon Ida’s dagger, gifted to him by her brother on the first long night of his duty, and, with his full momentum behind his arm, he plunged the short blade into the crone’s neck. A spurt of clotted, fetid blood ran over the sleeve of his greatcoat, and the hag fell, dead.

Marco, having closed the distance, spotted the outcome, and slapped Thomas’ clean shoulder with a smirk.

Only later would it be noted, with grim eyes, that Hakon could not be found amongst the ranks as the news spread beyond.

* * *

The sweet wine with which they’d ended the conference finally brought a smile to the old man’s face.

Blackhall cleared his throat.

“I can not keep both your daughter’s dagger and my clear conscience. It was Ida’s wish to pass on the blade to one of your people. Perhaps it would be best if it was kept in your care until the next heir is born.”

The Earl’s grin faded as he reached a hand to the jeweled hilt. With a careful hold he set it beside the cup from which he drank. After a moment the man reached forward, once again taking up the long stick with which he’d been stirring the fire. With an eye on the flames, he set to tapping a gentle rhythm upon the iron bowl which held them.

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm. The audio and text formats of Flash Pulp are released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Flash Pulp 092 – The Elg Herra, Part 5 of 6

10 Nov

Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Ninety-Two.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Elg Herra: A Blackhall Tale, Part 5 of 6
(Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by MT Starkey Short Stories.

One man’s vision of a post-apocalyptic yesterday.

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Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, Blackhall witnesses a trial by combat between Moose Lords.

Flash Pulp 092 – The Elg Herra, Part 5 of 6

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

Thomas was impressed with the speed at which the camp was broken down. The hide tents quickly transformed into saddle bags, filled with bulky gear the imprisoned had no opportunity to identify, and it seemed little more than ten minutes from intention to departure.

The day was spent in a forced march, with Blackhall and his voyageur companion lashed to the saddle of their youngest captor, Mord. The Moose Lords remained as silent as their long faced mounts during the trek, but twice they paused to allow their prisoners drink and a few mouthfuls of mealy bread.

The air had become crisp, and the horizon was marked by the red of a sinking sun, when the halt was called.

Mord disentangled the leashes’ end from the ring upon which they’d been tied, and motioned for the pair to sit, which they did gratefully. Dismounting, the tall man moved to their side, his eyes playing over the open plain that stretched before them.

“We’ve re-entered the domain – it is forbidden to eingvi outside of it,” the giant said, rubbing down his beast’s snout; he did not turn to his captives, but instead maintained a careful eye on Hakon as he spoke. The words seemed to hold the forced carelessness that Blackhall, as a former soldier, associated with impending combat, when fighting men’s lips often seem disconnected from the hearts resting hard in their stomachs.

The adversaries, casting off their long coats, had removed several items from within their baggage, and begun to dress. Their armour was ringmail of a type which recalled the stories of ancient knights to Thomas’ mind, although their design seemed to hew closer to the images he’d seen of the sword-warriors of the far-east.

During his slog, the frontiersman had made special note of the long wooden clubs held in place along the right hand side of each saddle. After a low exchange between Kol and Asmund, both lifted their weapons free of their bonds. The men’s armaments were of the same basic design: a bone-shaped cudgel at one extreme, the other tapered into a blade-like point, and a nub midway between. It was immediately obvious to Blackhall, even at a distance, that Asmund’s own carried considerable engraving about its surface, while Kol’s had but a few simple bands that ran its length.

As the duelists moved away from the larger group, Hakon put over a leg and dropped to the ground.

In turn, Mord let out a short breath and moved his hand away from his own bludgeon.

The moose seemed to fully understand the intentions of their masters; no longer did they move with the lumbering strides they’d employed throughout the day’s journey, but instead the beasts seemed to stalk through the tall grasses as if jungle cats. The men held tight the reins in their left hands, their clubs clutched low in their right. Man and animal moved northward at an ever tightening angle, until, with a bull grunt, the mighty racks turned inward in sudden collision.

In the opening seconds the beasts seemed evenly matched, their thick necks pressing hard upon each other. After a moment, however, it became apparent that Asmund’s mount was losing ground.

Three deciding events happened in quick succession: Asmund laid a heavy blow atop the skull of his opponents ride; simultaneously, Kol, seeing an opening in his extended form, thrust forward with his honed point; his mount, unsure of the source of the impact upon its brow, briefly disengaged its broad rack, sending Asmund’s own beast into a twisting frenzy in attempt to gain advantage. It was thus Kol who found himself over-reaching, and two tines of the bull’s thrashing rack found purchase between the rings of his armor and through the leather beneath, crushing bone and puncturing organ.

He fell from his saddle, his tumble cushioned some by the impinging tall grass, and both Hakon and Mord moved quickly to his side, their prisoners briefly forgotten.

A triple voiced song of low-toned mourning filled the plain.

* * *

Thomas BlackhallBy the time the trio returned their attentions to the men in their custody, Marco had cut himself free with a hidden blade, releasing also his companion. The Frenchman had, with hushed voice, argued for an attempt at further escape, but Blackhall had planted himself, and the voyageur had reluctantly stood alongside him.

Asmund only nodded as he noted their lack of bonds.

“It is just as well, but the Earl will wish your presence, will you still accompany us?”

“I shall, gladly,” said Thomas, “but I speak not for my friend.”

The pair exchanged a brief glance.

“Yeah, fine,” replied Marco.

Again, the day’s victor nodded. The Moose Lords had strapped their fallen comrade across his saddle, and now fastened his bridle to Mord’s own mount.

“Hakon,” the man was unable to suppress a light snarl at the summons, “- you shall double back and retrieve what goods you might from the supplies our travel mates left alongside the river’s edge, then make for the long houses in haste.”

Blackhall was quick to explain the need for his rucksack, sabre and Baker rifle, then the reluctant courier turned his mount once again east.

As he cantered into the distance, Asmund addressed Mord.

“I’ll sleep better knowing he’s away, but it may be trouble if he arrives first to tell his version of the tale alongside the iron fires,” he turned to the pair on foot. “It would be best if you rode with Mord and I. You may wonder why I do not offer up Kol’s bull, but it will allow none who is not Elg Herra to ride, and I would not see you injured in the attempt.”

* * *

Upon taking his position, Blackhall was immediately impressed with the difference in height between Asmund’s moose and the equines with which he was familiar. Within the hour he’d grown accustomed to the animal’s the long-limbed cadence, and had fallen into conversation with the man at the reins.

“It seems my neck is to carry the weight of Ida’s departure and death. I was not fond of the little man, but there was little I could do – my sister insisted. As is often the case, it is not the one who is missed that shoulders the blame,“ replied Asmund in response to the frontiersman’s questioning.

“I mean no offense, but – it seemed to me he was an unfit suitor, what drove her to such an unpleasant decision?”

“The hag. Two winters previous she entered the long house as the iron fires guttered and the moon rode high. As we slept, she split wide her jaw and fed Ida’s child, Hobart, into her gullet. It was only the boy’s final surprised cry which brought us awake, and, even then, only in time to watch the crone, her belly bulging, unhinge a window and plummet to the ground below. No man could make that fall and survive. Not a year later, with another three missing in the interim and guards at the ready, her second child, Asta, was also snatched up, while sleeping in her very arms.”

He paused, his hand rubbing at the back of his neck, then continued.

“The harridan moves with the hush of a hunting snake, and we did not know of the disappearance until the morn. After their death there was nothing which might console her. She spent a year weeping, then dried her eyes and did what no one else seemed willing to – went east to find someone who knows more of the mist-walkers than we.”

Thomas closed his eyes.

“I had not realized she was a mother.”

“Do you think it was a simple dispute regarding our direction which carried me into the distasteful position of fighting a man I’ve long held love for? No; we hold not the same concept of marriage, but as much as any man is bound to any woman, Kol was to my sister. He was the father of her children.”

The lament fell heavily from his lips, and they rode in silence until the night’s encampment.

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm. The audio and text formats of Flash Pulp are released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.