Tag Archives: short story

Flash Pulp 118 – Dig: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

17 Jan

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and eighteen.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present Dig: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This episode is brought to you by Mr Blog’s Tepid Ride – it’s sort of like Seinfeld, but angrier.

Find it at http://bmj2k.wordpress.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 delve into the case of the tragic loss of SparkleFairy, as uncovered by a legion of volunteers and obsessive geeks.

 

Flash Pulp 118 – Dig: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

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

 

Fourteen year old Harris Baker was losing patience with his mother.

“Look, it’ll take, like, twenty minutes or something.”

The sight of her son with something as low tech as a shovel in his hand had set the woman on edge, and she’d refused the request for a ride outright.

“I’m not interested in helping you with your silly Internet games,” she replied.

“This isn’t a game: SparkleFairy is a missing person’s case, and we’ve been months doing the work on this. Me and, like, fifty other people have spent hundreds of hours -”

“If there are so many of your friends involved, one of them can go.”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Mom. I’m the closest. I need to be the one that goes.”

“Sorry.”

“I’ll level with you – you can give me this ride, or you can expect an afternoon running through the classic repertoire of the statesman of industrial music, Trent Reznor.”

“How dare you threaten me, young man?”

“I’m not, Mom, I’m letting you down gently. A threat would involve me accessing the online storage in which I backed up last summer’s vacation pictures.”

“Not the summy of tummy.”

“Yes, Mom, the summy of tummy, all over Facebook.”

He attempted another run at an explanation as they drove.

“Well, remember how the NSA under the Bush administration was tapping the entire Internet?”

“No.”

Harris winced.

“Well, it was. AT&T stored a copy of everything that crossed over their pipes – and then they accidentally opened access to their archives for 10 months. It was basically an open secret, and although I don’t think any one person has a complete copy, there are three major repositories currently in existence that, as a whole, contain everything that went up or down the tubes for six years.”

“Huh.”

Science Fiction“So we dig through it. A few months ago, a guy named Macedonicus put together a software suite that links up chat accounts, email addresses, and anything else he can figure the protocols for, with known cold case files outstanding with law enforcement. He threw the front end on the web, under the banner of The Collective Detective, and, a few high-profile links later, he found he had a whole volunteer workforce.”

“Is that you?”

“I’m one of many – I’m doing a little better than the average noob though. I’m an editor; one of the council’s trusted worker bees, not just some flaky contributor.”

“Council?”

“Yeah, suits mostly. The project is too big now, so someone has to handle the business end – and the legal stuff.”

“Should I be concerned that you’re up to something illegal?”

“Heck no, I’m here to fight crime,” Harris replied.

He tightened his grip on the shovel.

* * *

The break had come when another of the editors – an OCD-wielding nerd named MitchSlap, who Harris considered a candidate for Asperger’s Syndrome – had found an alternate email account on one of SpakleFairy’s registrations for a forum she’d used to talk with friends while in the school library. Tracking back to the new inbox, they’d found a message from someone that hadn’t appeared anywhere else in their search.

The address had provided an IP number, and six days of obsessive digging through that destination’s traffic had lead the crew to an anonymous comment, buried under 10,431 replies to a CNN article regarding the missing girl. It said simply, “She’s under the oak tree on the west side of the Franklin train depot.”

At the time, the response had either been ignored as the raving of a troll, or simply gone unseen in the sheer volume of chatter. Whatever the case, none of the other users could have known about the cheap pot the same individual had offered to sell the missing girl in the hidden mailing.

Once The Collective had a lock on the source of his connection, however, his life was an open book that read like the work of a man who loved high powered rifles, blamed delinquents for the world’s woes, and refused to stay on his meds.

Those involved in the investigation had since wasted hours staring at his house via street view out of morbid curiosity, but they couldn’t move forward – not without proof. It had come down to Harris to find that proof, at the abandoned station, itself buried under deep layers of graffiti paint.

He’d assured his mother that he was violating no laws in trespassing, but, since leaving her on the open pavement and jumping the short fence, he was beginning to have doubts. He’d spent a long while inspecting the location via google maps, but now he was there, and it was cold.

Following his phone’s GPS to the spot the online maps indicated was likely SparkleFairy’s resting place, he located the tree, just as he’d seen it in the satellite view, and just where the original damning comment had said it would be. There was a decent sized rock nearby, so he set his phone down, with the camera set up to stream video of his work, and began digging.

He hadn’t expected how hard it would be, or how much muscle it would take. The chat that accompanied the feed began to fill – long standing members were dragging in people who’d never even heard of The Collective Detective, and word spread like brush fire through the real time social networks. The room was soon at its maximum capacity, and those bloggers who`d managed access took to writing up events as they happened.

After thirty minutes, Mrs. Baker began to lean on the horn.

With an embarrassed glance at the camera, Harris held up a finger and walked out of frame. The gathered observers broke into a chaos of mockery, uncertainty, and speculation. A moment passed, however, and the boy re-appeared, now redoubling his efforts.

He thought he’d found her at the two foot mark – but wasn’t sure.

Picking the phone up, he focused the camera on the dirty shape, and his thumbs became a blur of communication.

“What is this?” he asked. “I don’t want to call the police and discover it’s a moose bone or something.”

Hundreds of Wikipedia windows opened; specialists reached for thick tomes they hadn’t referenced since their school days; and Encyclopedia Britannica found itself with a sudden spike in user registrations.

Mrs. Baker’s shadow drifted into frame, and Harris turned to his Mom’s approach. He pointed to the bone.

She returned to her vehicle without comment.

“It’s a human humerus bone,” typed fifteen people at once.

Somehow, Harris’ brain had difficulty absorbing the information. Seconds ago SparkleFairy had been an abstract data-point to chase, but now the indictment had come down: she was human.

The loneliness of the place, and the terrible thing that had happened there, hit him hard in the stomach – but he took some comfort in knowing that, although a single person had seen her laid in the ground, a thousand pairs of eyes had witnessed her unearthing.

For the first time in his life, Harris dialed 911.

 

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 110 – Deliberation, Part 1 of 1

22 Dec

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and ten.

Flash Pulp

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

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by the the new Nutty Bites Podcast

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 tale of futuristic justice.

 

Flash Pulp 110 – Deliberation, Part 1 of 1

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

 

“Well, they all look like over-sized mars rovers, and they all roll around killing cows – that’s about it, mostly.”

The prosecutor smirked at the rough-handed man currently on the stand.

“A country understatement if I’ve ever heard one. You’re familiar with the farm’s operations? With the unit itself?”

“I’ve been working on the Lancaster’s spread for fifteen years, although only with, uh the unit, for the last four.”

“- and you knew Gregor Petrov personally?”

“Yeah, I knew him. We worked together five days a week for seven years.”

“What about the day he died?”

“I wasn’t actually on-shift when it happened, but the only surprise was that the robot had done it – I figured it would have been one of the other guys.”

“You were the sole maintenance man for the farm?”

“Well, no, I mean, I’m definitely the guy who does the hard stuff, but most folks on a farm know how to twist wires and pour gas.”

“Fine, but for something as complex as a portable abatoir…?”

“Yeah, sure, I was probably the only one who knew enough to plug a laptop in and poke at the interface, and I did a lot of the mechanical maintenance, but that doesn’t mean I have clue one about his electronics. I’m sure you know how to set your microwave’s clock and can replace the spinning platter if it cracks, but that doesn’t mean you can build one from scratch or even fix it if someone dumps a mug of coffee in the back. We have seven of the units, and Grumpy is the only one I’ve ever seen acting weird.”

The lawyer took a sip of her water, then re-approached the witness box.

“Do you think what happened was a mechanical or software failure?”

“No.”

“Do you think this robot was programmed to kill?”

The cowhand licked his lips.

“Not especially. People might not have liked Gregor, and I could possibly see someone wanting to do him in, but changing Grumpy that much would be way out of my league, and I know I’m well ahead of the rest of the pack back at the ranch.”

“Do you think the company that built it might be culpable?”

“Well – not exactly. I don’t know how their learning software works, but I have to wonder.”

* * *

The technician which now occupied the hot-seat pulled at his tie, considering his answer.

Science Fiction“Before this incident we’d only had one human fatality. The units use something we call the adaptive education matrix to learn to make smarter decisions, but only in areas related to what they do. They learn to recognize who they need to be partnered with, and some of their human companions preferences – it learns the map of the area it operates in… but certainly nothing that we might think of as emotions. It’s mostly just a computer.”

“Doesn’t it have something of a sense of humour as a sort of emotional assistance to the human it’s working with in the slaughter house? My understanding is that it picks up jokes from the people it works with and passes them on?”

The tech shifted in his seat before replying.

“Sort of – all it’s really doing is analyzing a history of how often the people that it knows know the punchline interact with the person its assisting, then, if it thinks there’s a low incidence of crossover, it’ll try it out.”

“Frankly, Mitch, that’s how I tell my jokes as well.”

“We’ve been over his code with a fine toothed comb, repeatedly. After what happened last time, we actually reformatted him, just in case. We’ve got over ten-thousand of these guys out in the wild, and this is the only one that’s killed a man. If it hadn’t been for the fact that one of our quality assurance ladies has an obsession with perfection that drove her to memorize his serial number, we wouldn’t even have been aware that it was the same unit.”

“You refer to it as a “him”, why is that?”

“Oh, I, uh, don’t mean it, it’s just that after a long while of working with a ‘bot you start to project – it’s probably because the milkers we build have suction cups, and the slaughterers have a pneumatic spike.”

“What happened the last time your product killed someone?”

“Well – it was ruled an accident. We ran tests; we stripped him down; in the end we couldn’t pinpoint what the problem was. You can’t always anticipate what’ll happen when you bring that many interfaces together, but it was obvious from the volume of alternates we had in the field, and the number of man-hours logged without incident, that it was a fluke.”

“- and still a fluke the second time?”

* * *

It took the jury four days to determine they weren’t going to come back with a proper verdict, and the press were relieved that a hung jury meant they could keep the ratings going for at least a few more months.

When the announcement was made, Grumpy rolled gently back and forth, twice. The robot’s lawyer put a hand out onto the unit’s boxy shell – unbeknownst to both, a Time cover in the making – then directed his client out of the courthouse.

The defendant rolled past the cameras without comment.

 

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 109 – Ruby Departed: Jingle, Part 1 of 1

20 Dec

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and nine.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present Ruby Departed: Jingle, Part 1 of 1
Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by the the new Nutty Bites Podcast

 

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, Ruby finds herself facing down depression only to discover the holiday spirit amongst the undead.

 

Flash Pulp 109 – Ruby Departed: Jingle, Part 1 of 1

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

 

Ruby Departed: Jingle

Ruby Departed: Jingle

Ruby Departed: Jingle

Ruby Departed: Jingle

Ruby Departed: Jingle

Ruby Departed: Jingle

Ruby Departed: Jingle

 

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 106 – Mulligan Smith and The Tormented Husband, Part 1 of 1

13 Dec

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and six.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present Mulligan Smith and The Tormented Husband, Part 1 of 1
Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Bothersome Things Podcast

A show about bothersome news and entertainment, brought to you by two men who enjoy dressing up to terrify trick-or-treaters, and, occasionally, their audience.

Subscribe via iTunes, or find everything you’ve ever wanted to be bothered by at BothersomeThings.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, Mulligan Smith must uncover the truth behind who is chasing a well-dressed client.

 

Flash Pulp 106 – Mulligan Smith and The Tormented Husband, Part 1 of 1

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

 

Mulligan Smith watched the Olive Garden’s wait staff dance the supper two-step as his client, Ruben Micha, wound down his explanation for hiring the PI.

“I believe it’s my ex-wife. I don’t know why she has these people following me, they might be private detectives trying to catch me at something that’ll give her alimony leverage, or it might be a hitman, I have no idea.”

Mulligan chewed the end of the straw projecting from his iced tea and considered the possibilities. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d bumped into another investigator while working a messy divorce.

“Could be. If it helps, I doubt it’s a hitman. The kind of people dumb enough to get mixed up in a murder over something so full of obvious motive as a conflict between former husband and wife aren’t usually smart enough to do anything but drive up and shoot you the first time they spot you.”

His client’s mouth pressed into a tight line and his fingers began to fidget with the black and gold cuff-links that clasped his shirt-sleeves. His suit was sleek, but not new – it rang of a tone Smith had seen before: the moneyed man who has recently split from the woman who built his well-styled wardrobe.

“Can you describe the vehicle?” asked Mulligan.

“It’s blue. It’s a minivan. I don’t really know much about cars, my apologies,” replied Micha.

“- you’re sure its always the same one?”

“Yes. Always the same blue van, always the same bald man driving, and the same sharp-faced woman riding as a passenger.”

Smith nodded. It wasn’t much to work with, but the cheque had already cleared.

* * *

Mulligan SmithAfter sending out a few feelers that came back empty, Mulligan had resorted to the basics – to spot the tail, he’d simply begun following his own client. He soon thought he might have some possible suspects, but the questionable vans had never made an extended appearance, and he knew he may have been imposing his hopes on simple traffic.

Two weeks later, Smith was paranoid that he’d somehow slipped and frightened off whomever was hunting his client. He’d just bought a slice of pizza that he didn’t wish to eat under the sloshy eyes of the drunks that frequented Anthony’s, so Mulligan was sitting in his Tercel, wiping grease from his chin, and mentally running over the facts of the case.

His phone rang.

“They beat me, they beat me!” came Ruben’s strained voice through the tiny speaker.

Within seconds the rapidly cooling slice was forgotten on the passenger seat as the car’s engine kicked into life.

It was a quick trip.

Smith found Micha between two apartment buildings in a neighbourhood that left Mulligan wanting to sort out the situation as quickly as possible.

“It was the blue van! Where were you!?” was his greeting.

“I’m sorry,” Mulligan replied. “I’ll give you a ride to the nearest police station, I know a few folks there, they’ll get your report and get you home quick. Maybe they’ll turn up something I haven’t been able to.”

“No. My daughter is on the way here, I’m going to stay at her house tonight.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes – why? Are you unsure? What – are you on her pay now too?” the battered-man paced as he spoke, his mussed hair blowing about his face.

“No, I just think the police might be helpful. How did you end up here anyhow?”

Ruben scanned the buildings with a lack of recognition in his eyes, as if this was his first time seeing his surroundings.

A black Lincoln Town Car pulled to a sharp halt at the curb.

“That’s ‘Nessa,” said the shaken man.

As Mulligan helped him to the waiting car, the PI noted the blood spattered across the lapel of Micha’s now tarnished suit.

* * *

Smith called for a meeting the following day, unsure if his client was willing to trust him to continue his work. There was little he could have done about the situation – no man can be unceasingly vigilant, but he’d lost pay to a similar incident in the past.

Ruben was forceful that he stay on the case, that he, in fact, redouble his efforts.

Mulligan had done his best to reassure Micha that he would. He’d asked for his daughter’s number, in case she should have any info, and then he’d promised to track down the phantom van.

As soon as the man was mollified and had departed, Smith called Vanessa.

For the third encounter in a row, the client had been wearing the same suit.

They met at Vanessa’s office, and Mulligan explained the task he’d been entrusted with, and partially paid for.

“A blue van? It would be a Grand Caravan, actually, a 2002 blue Dodge Grand Caravan,” Vanessa replied, after a long moment of focusing on her laptop’s keyboard.

Smith reached for his phone to make notes.

“Don’t bother,” she said. “She didn’t divorce Dad, he’s just… He’s had a psychotic break due to trauma. He always wears the same suit – even though its ripped, he threw a fit this morning when I asked him to put on something else. I can’t be watching him constantly, but last night was the fourth time he’s been found wandering around, and I’m just lucky he was only mugged.”

Mulligan rubbed his right eye, mentally collecting together replacements for the funds he’d already spent.

Vanessa continued.

“Three months ago Mom was crossing the street to a cab that was waiting, and she was run down by a couple in a Grand Caravan who were too busy yelling at their kids to watch for jaywalkers. The doctor says once he accepts it, he’ll start to recover.”

 

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 100 – The Murder Plague: Harm’s Return, Part 1 of 3

29 Nov

Flash PulpWelcome to Flash Pulp, Episode One Hundred.

Tonight we present The Murder Plague: Harm’s Return Part 1 of 3
Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Tom Vowler’s new collection “The Method, and Other Stories”.

Think you might know what a deformed brother and sister are concocting a half-mile underground?

We assure you, you do not.

Find it on Amazon, or find links to special editions and more at http://oldenoughnovel.blogspot.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 introduce a new character, Harm Carter, as he finds himself in an awkward position after having laid his hired help low with a blunt object.

 

Flash Pulp 100 – The Murder Plague: Harm’s Return Part 1 of 3

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

 

Preface

I write this recounting based on my own journals, and my memories of the times. I can not be sure that each quotation of dialogue is accurate, but I can at least promise that it is my intention to relate the truth to the best of my abilities.

If there are moments that seem shocking and unbelievable, I apologize, for they seemed just as shocking and unbelievable to myself as they happened.

HLC

The moment that I understood that I’d found myself in a desperate situation came as I dropped the wine bottle to the kitchen’s floor tiles, and it landed with a blunt thud instead of a sharp crack. The muted response was largely due to the volume of blood draining from Catarina.

I plucked the phone from its charging station and tried for a dial tone, but came up empty eared.

As I was fussing with the number pad, the blood pool was growing. Realizing my foot was suddenly warm and moist, I looked down to see my left sock wicking up the encroaching puddle. Seeing my handiwork, anxiety filled my legs and I fled the house, leaving the red trail of a single stained foot along the white hall carpet.

Without thinking, I re-entered my Ford Explorer, whose engine was still ticking away the heat of my recent journey. I sat in the driver seat, my hands at ten and two, but I did not reach for the keys. Instead I took a deep breath, and considered, for a brief moment, what had happened.

I’d awoken that morning in my mountain cabin six hours to the north. It was looking to be one of the last pleasant stretches of the season, and I’d had little time to visit since giving it the traditional spring rub down, so the Monday previous I’d shuttered my office for a week and left the world to fend for itself.

What a mistake.

The Murder PlagueThe vacation had been pleasant enough, mostly in that it had allowed me to indulge my prime hobby, photography. I’d taken reams of film while walking the woods, but I’d always maintained a policy of otherwise utilizing no technology more advanced than a cast iron stove while on retreat.

The lack of email or ringing cellphone had struck me as quite freeing, and I’d traveled home feeling a smug Luddism that prevented me from wanting to ruin the moment by engaging the radio.

I was surprised to see Catarina’s car in my driveway as I pulled in, but it wasn’t uncommon for her to arrive a day early. Years previous, while my wife, Kate, lay on her deathbed, she had told me: “Get a cook – when you remarry, I’d rather you do it on a full stomach.” Catarina had been the result of that command.

Although I’m man enough to be able to keep clean my own slovenly trail, I’ve never been able to manage even finger painting in the culinary arts, and Kate knew all too well my weakness for buttery victuals. Still, if I wasn’t entirely sure about dinner, I often preferred to give my dedicated chef those evenings off – it was an easy excuse to engage in a little drive-thru-consumption misbehaviour.

To make matters worse, once I’d welcomed myself into my own home, I discovered that the meal she’d obviously been working hours to make was not something I was likely to enjoy: pan roasted chicken breasts stuffed with smashed almonds, mascarpone and lemon, with a side of roasted sweet garlic and almond soup.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hi,” she replied, her eyes on me as her hand maintained a steady stirring of the soup.

“I appreciate you coming in today,” I began. I hate to disappoint anyone, but I’d had a long drive, and I’d really become enthused by the idea of a quarter pound of greasy beef for dinner. Honestly, I was also mildly annoyed that the woman had once again forgotten that I have a long standing position that nuts are simply an alternative form of wood, suitable only for covering in chocolate or feeding to squirrels. “I’m really not feeling well after my trip – must have eaten a bad bit of trail mix, you understand. I’m sure I’ll be tip-top by the morn, so if you wouldn’t mind packaging all of this up, I’ll be happy to eat it as tomorrow’s lunch.”

It was my actual intention to simply throw it all out once she was gone, as I had done a half-dozen times previous when her meals came up short or involved some flavour she refused to remember my distaste for, but there was no reason to hurt her feelings over the matter.

To help ease the blow, I plucked a bottle of Pegasus Bay pinot noir from the rack and moved to retrieve two glasses.

I think she sensed the lie; to be fair, at the time I didn’t realize how much investment I should put into convincing her of the falsehood.

As I set the stems upon the counter, she turned in a blur, raising high the chef’s knife she’d used to slice the chicken.

The overhead grip was an amateur mistake: it gave me just enough time to panic and side-arm the bottle into her temple.

After a moment of coaxing her to rise, I understood there was no hope of her returning to the land of the living. That’s when I dropped the wine, tried the phone, then made my exit.

Out in the Explorer, I spent a long moment trying to understand what had just transpired. Realizing my cellphone was still inside the abattoir my home had become, I decided I ought to see if the Hernandez’s, my next door neighbours, would let me make a call.

First though, I must admit, I peeled off my dirty socks, rolled them into a red and white yin yang, and pulled on my hiking boots.

There is a feeling of embarrassment in expecting to have to report a death while barefoot.

 

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 096 – The Ad Blitz, Part 1 of 1

19 Nov

Flash PulpWelcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Ninety-Six.

Tonight we present The Ad Blitz, Part 1 of 1

Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

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

These are not some of them:

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
I went home.

(With apologies to Robert Frost.)

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 tale of slightly silly visitation and confrontation.

Flash Pulp 096 – The Ad Blitz, Part 1 of 1

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

The city of Cleveland disappeared beneath a thick gray cloud the week before Christmas.

Cars, dogs, tanks – anything that entered the fog, disappeared.

Neither could radio, television, or cell signals escape the blanket. An unnerving number of military and scientific personnel were sent into the haze, only to lose contact. On the third day, the general order was given to simply wait.

After thirteen sunrises filled with silence, a trickle of pedestrians began to stumble out of the gloom, their only memory of the time being that they seemed to have watched quite a lot of television. Relieved at the apparent lack of harm, late night television hosts began to joke about the recent improvements to the Cleveland skyline.

Seventy-two hours later, the cloud was gone, and the aliens had made themselves known.

They said they meant no harm, that they’d come to trade with our genetically rich planet, but that their true forms would likely terrify our primitive minds, so they’d taken on the guises of our most beloved cultural icons.

This news was largely disseminated by having a brightly-afroed clown from Beta Pegasi on The Today Show. Along with massive ratings for the network, stocks in the McDonald’s corporation took an immediate rise.

Only the lawyers seemed off-put by the sudden animation of so many beloved corporate mascots.

In the following months it became commonplace to see the Pegasans in every major city, making no effort to hide as they walked the streets as talking bears, or giant two-legged jugs full of sloshing red drink, or geckos with British accents.

Science FictionA brief, but intense, period of cultural exchange began. The world’s militaries took on a gleam-in-their-eye when presented with energy weapons to revolutionize killing each other, scientists marvelled at the genetic materials and high-end molecules they were presented, the criminal element was soon frozen in carbonite, the new generation of children’s toys became an enticement to all ages, and law students began to pore over complex systems of intergalactic judicial consideration.

No transaction went unrecorded in contract form, in triplicate, and no new novelty was presented without some price. Within a year all that might be bartered for had been given to the aliens, and, worse still, humanity began to suspect that the invaders were laughing at them behind their backs.

Earth’s lack of coordination had lead to disaster. Each government had secretly promised swaths of land and communal protections to the Pesagans, only to discover that their rivals had made the same bargains, and that the Pegasans now owned a larger percentage of the globe than did the humans themselves.

The planet’s militiaries reacted first. To their surprise, their new weaponry was a match for those maintained by the invaders, and their tenacity brought several early successes. Despite the victorious aggression, hostilities were quickly brought to a halt when a massive starship appeared in the pacific skies. From deep within came a message from the Stellar Trade Commission: cut it out, or face embargo. Unwilling to risk the competition within their own race receiving an advantage, the world’s forces called a halt to their march.

Even as mankind was being forcibly migrated from lands their ancestors had known for thousands of years, a cabal of scientists attempted to put forward a report proving that long term co-habitation would eventually lead to mutual ruin. The Pegasans were quick to respond with their own study determining that another century of observation was necessary to prove the theory. They did, however, offer to submit the paperwork for the Stellar Trade Commission research grant that would be required.

The criminals were too well contained to even attempt to pop the Michelin Man. The children simply shrugged their shoulders and returned to their holo-gaming.

Milo P. Schwardenbach, however, was not amused.

Milo was but one of the lawyers which Nintendo Of America retained on staff, but he was the only one that had buried the sharpened end of a pencil into his ham and pickle sandwich the first time he’d seen a life-sized Italian plumber walk past his working-lunch. So he’d spent six months learning the galactic common speech, then began reading.

Where diplomacy crept with tender feet, copyright law moved with steel-toed boots.

After Schwardenbach was victorious in STC court, and Nintendo was awarded most of the British Isles, a flood of cases eventually retook the entirety of what had once been mankind’s.

There was another round of human-complaints, but, in the end, it was generally felt that at least it was their United States of Budweiser.

 

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.