Tag Archives: short

Flash Pulp 135 – Influence, Part 1 of 1

1 Mar

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

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present, Influence, 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 we tell a chiller tale, regarding Clifton Wade – a man who finds himself in a tenuous situation.

 

Flash Pulp 135 – Influence, Part 1 of 1

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

 

Clifton Wade leaned against the exit, his eyes locked on the ground, and the sliver of light that was the only illumination in the tiny room.

His breathing seemed to bounce from the ceramic tiles and close walls, in perfect time with the metronome tapping of the dripping sink. He whimpered in the darkness of the bathroom, his left hand solidly locked on the brass knob, and his right on the white, plastic, light switch.

Flooding the room with fluorescence was tempting – so much so that his fingers were sweating. He knew, however, that he couldn’t; if he flicked on the glowing tubes, he would be unable to tell if a shadow passed over the far side of his meager barricade.

Fearful tears stung his eyes.

There was little he agreed with his Mother-in-law on, but now, as he wished himself invisible, her words rose to taunt him.

“Cliffers, you should have that doody-mouth washed out with soap.”

In the apartment beyond, a latch rasped, and the sharp click of a suddenly-released handle brought his lungs to a halt. He brushed aside the pink bathrobe, hanging down the back of the door from a white hook, and pressed his cheek to the cheap plywood.

At first there was nothing, but, after a moment, a dragging tread began to shuffle across the carpet, approaching his hidden position.

The glimmering thread, at his feet, dimmed – grunting snuffling filled its place, and he clenched against the urges of his bladder. Long seconds were measured by the ever-leaking faucet.

With a final snort, the sounds moved further along the hall, and the faint sheen returned to the tiles.

He knew it was only a brief respite.

* * *

ChillerIt had started an hour earlier, while he’d been sharing a breakfast of bran flakes with his wife of twenty years, Vanessa.

“Maybe we could consider looking into a nice place for your mom to go to? I don’t mean like a home with meanie nurses and rude neighbours – I could get a second job and swing one of those fancy golf villas in Florida? Like that pamphlet we got in the mail?” he’d said.

“Oh dear, sweetie! How in the heck can you even start talking like that? Mama doesn’t know any place but ours!”

“Honey-bunches, when you first asked if she could move in, you said it was just going to be for a bit.”

“Darnit: “The keys to patience are acceptance and faith. Accept things as they are, and look realistically at the world around you. Have faith in yourself and in the direction you have chosen.” Mama sent me that quote – I don’t remember who it was by, but it’s on Facebook – and she’s absolutely gosh darned right.”

“I have shown patience – but she… she always tells us what to do. I don’t like spending my evenings watching The Bold and The Beautiful. I don’t want to learn to knit! I don’t like that she picks out what we wear! I don’t think it’s appropriate that she makes me a packed lunch every day for work, and that it always includes stuff I repeatedly ask not to have! I don’t like bananas, however much potassium she may think I’m deficient of!”

“She’s just trying to do what’s good for you.”

“Honestly, honey, I love you, but – she kind of scares me.”

“Jeepers! You’re impossible when you’re like this. Let’s wait till Mama’s here, she always knows best, she can talk some sense into you.”

“Oh, #### off,” he’d replied.

It had just slipped.

Vanessa wasn’t a child – she didn’t say “I’m telling” – but he knew she’d thought it. He could read it on her cockamamie face.

* * *

There was a knock

“Mamas gotta number two. Please don’t be in there much longer, Cliffers. Poopy, or get off the pot, as they say.”

Clifton decided he had no choice but to face his fear.

Picking the knife up from the counter, he blew a kiss towards his wife’s punctured corpse. Her body was smeared in a mixture of Mr Bubble and blood, and lay awkwardly on top of the rubber-ducky patterned bath-curtain which she’d ripped down as he’d chased her into the tub – but he could see none of it in the dark.

He turned the door handle.

 

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 133 – Sgt. Smith and The Rescue, Part 1 of 1

23 Feb

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

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present: Sgt. Smith and The Rescue, Part 1 of 1

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(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Flash Pulp on iTunes.

It’s where the magic happens.

To subscribe, 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, Mulligan’s father relates the tale of a sudden promotion during his early days in law enforcement.

 

Flash Pulp 133 – Sgt. Smith and The Rescue, Part 1 of 1

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

 

Mulligan,

Let me tell you how I became Sheriff of Mill County.

It was 1956. Things were different back then.

Mill County was a tiny office up north, but they needed the help – there was the sheriff, a good and reliable man, his wife, Ellie, who covered dispatch, Neddy Thompson, Whisky Taylor, and myself.

Ellie was six months pregnant, Neddy was too young to know the difference between his sidearm and his brain, and I was a mute. Worst off, though, was Whisky. Back then you didn’t think of drunks like you do now. People drank, and Taylor was one of those guys who rode out on the macho routine. We didn’t treat him as we should of – that is, with treatment – but he knew all the local riff-raff by their first name, and his hard drinking and stiff breath left everyone looking at him like he was John Wayne. In general it didn’t do to question his slurring too much.

One Sunday morning, though, Whisky and I were out staring at the pavement passing under our wheels, when we received an excited shout from the radio.

“Shots fired at 884 Maple.”

Until then the closest I’d ever gotten to a shots fired call in Mill County was the occasional complaint about someone poaching pheasant in the off-season. Those, at least, we could pass onto the game warden.

On went the lights, and down went the pedal.

Saturday was always a busy night, down on the drag – that’s when the farmers and factory boys would slosh between the two bars that hunkered across from each other at the town’s major crossroads. The Sheriff and Neddy were sleeping off a hard night’s drunk-wrangling, and the nearest alternate back-up was an hour away.

We made a hard stop in front of a one-story bungalow, and Whisky says “I’ll go round back”.

Then I was alone on the dusty cloth seats of the Chevy Bel Air.

Well, hell, my lack of a tongue meant I couldn’t yell a warning as I was approaching the house, but they knew plenty well we were there, as my wobbly partner had felt no need to spare the siren. Stupidity in the line of duty was my bread and butter at that age, so I strolled up the walk like I owned the place. I hadn’t even drawn my gun when I got the warning.

“Hey, you. Yeah, you, broke-mouth – you stay back, or Lady Fillmore will have plenty to complain about.”

I’d gotten to know Dina Fillmore via previous disturbance reports, and Lady wasn’t the term I’d have used to describe her. The wife of Bobby Fillmore – who ran one of the gin joints I mentioned previously – she was known as a stickler, and her ability to find fault in every person, and situation, she encountered, was the stuff of beauty-salon legend.

It was well understood, however, that she was largely passing on the bile fed to her by her own husband, who often left her in such a condition as to require the steady hands of the beauticians to cover her injuries.

I backed up to the road, figuring I’d put the car between myself and the revolver that the voice was waving from behind a curtain.

While I was still taking cover, there came the sound of a scuffle, then a shot. My weapon was definitely in my hands by then, but there wasn’t much I could do. If I kicked in the door, I’d likely just catch a bullet in the belly, and the drawn shades made it impossible to know what was going on inside.

I started tapping out a Morse code update for Ellie, as quick as I could, trying to tell her to wake the Sheriff. It was so painfully slow.

Before I was done, Whisky came stumbling over the fender.

“Bobby shot me!”

He showed me his arm – it was bleeding, but barely, and his tone was one of indignation, not massive internal injury. I wondered then, and I wonder now, if he maybe just cut himself in his panic to get out of the line of fire.

“Either of you jerks comes waltzing up here again and I’ll start aimin’ straight,” came the voice from the house.

We didn’t have many options – we couldn’t even lean on the local firemen, as they were just an all volunteer squad of chicken-pluckers from the packing plant. We kept the rubberneckers in their houses, and waited for someone with a higher pay-grade to arrive at the scene and make a decision.

Whisky tried screaming a bit of a dialogue back and forth, but the gunman would have none of it. The sound of Dina’s complaints came shredding through the window screen, but, at that distance, her voice was nothing but a string of pleading shrieks.

Despite his complaints, Whisky refused to leave the scene. I suspect he was mostly concerned about his long-term reputation. It didn’t shut him up any.

The Sheriff was pretty blurry eyed when he pulled-up, with Neddy in tow, and when I beeped to let Ellie know, she told me, very seriously, to take care of him.

“Galdang, galdang,” he said.

“C’mon out, Bobby,” said the Sherrif.

“Screw you,” replied Fillmore.

The Sheriff raised his aviators, and gave his eyes a good rub. That’s when the waiting began.

The day grew warmer, then colder. We sat in the car to rest our legs; we stood up and paced. We put on jackets, and took turns refilling our two thermoses of coffee from the Chinese place on Elm. Eventually some highway guys, from Walmont, came to help out – they brought donuts, and joined us in our vigil.

The boys kept trying to talk to him, but the later it got, the more we became worried about his intention to end the situation with a bullet. Neddy was sure it was going to be in Dina, but I’d suspected for a while that the whisky-dispensor’s shack was soon to be the odd-man-out – that the town had one bar too many for the size of the market – and it seemed to me that he was working himself up to ending his problems at his own hand.

I passed about a few notes saying as much, and, despite a round of jibber-jabber from Neddy, which included a suggestion he go home and retrieve his own hunting rifle, the Sheriff decided he was going to sweet talk his way into the house.

After a long hour of creeping and gentle conversation, he was in.

Nothing more happened till dawn.

There were no cellphones then, and, as stupid as it was, we didn’t really think to leave many messages with dispatch. It was just a case of nothing going on, and not thinking it through.

Both patrol cars were off the lot, so Ellie came in the family sedan that they’d invested in for after the baby’s arrival. She didn’t stop for the mail box, or the neighbour’s picket fence – she barely even stopped for the porch. We should have been at hand to prevent her from such a stupid thing, but she was so fast, even for being so pregnant.

I’d never thought of her as a big woman, but she’d been born into raising a cow herd on her parent’s plot, and she swung her belly like a wrecking ball as she bounded up the steps.

Lack of sleep, and the kind of high-powered chemicals that make a woman’s body fit to house a child, gave her voice a level of command usually reserved for ranking celestial beings and four star generals.

“Bobby Fillmore, you step out onto this porch immediately.”

If I were him, I’d have swung the door wide while begging for redemption.

Ellie was a woman ahead of her time – she’d always insisted on uniform slacks to work in, and wore a pair of Doc Marten boots, just like those of us who rode around in the cruisers.

The still unborn Avery, who would eventually come out weighing eight pounds and ten ounces, gave her the extra momentum necessary to kick through the locked door, revealing the captor within.

He may have been a suicidal nutter, but he’d been raised at a time when it was impolite to point a loaded gun at a pregnant woman – or maybe he just didn’t think a woman of her size, and state, would be a problem – whatever the case, he held the weapon across his chest as he addressed her.

“What?” he said.

She didn’t bother responding, she just laid him low with a swift kick.

As Bobby writhed on the floor, she snatched up his pistol. She disappeared further into the house for a moment, then we saw her coming back, directing her husband like an errant child, and pulling Dina along behind her.

Whisky was yelling from where he’d stationed himself as a lookout, but, by then, he’d decided his wound was probably fatal, and had taken to openly drinking away the pain of his already healing scab.

Neddy and I rushed in, but the fight was basically over. We handcuffed Bobby and hauled him away.

In the end, the fallout was that the Sheriff quit. He told me he couldn’t risk doing his job if it put Ellie in the danger of someday attempting another rescue. Whisky was offered pension if he retired early on his supposed gunshot wound, and Neddy was deemed too young – and eager to retrieve his rifle – to take on the mantel. That left me.

For for three weeks, I was the new interim sheriff in town. Before proper elections could be held, however, the powers-that-be juggled things, and the highway patrol out of Walmont were extended to cover the area.

With half of the town’s major problem centers closed while Fillmore was serving time, I couldn’t blame them.

My brief term made a great resume point, though – and I’d had enough of backwaters – so your mom and I were soon on our way to Capital City.

Anyhow, enough of one old man’s prattling, Jeopardy isn’t going to watch itself.

Love,
Dad

 

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 125 – Ruby Departed: Local Hero, Part 2 of 3

2 Feb

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

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present, Ruby Departed: Local Hero, Part 2 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Walker Journals.

Undead Boy Scouts may attempt to consume your brain-matter. You’ll need more than a pocket knife and a knots badge to be prepared.

Find all the tips you’ll need to survive the zombie apocalypse at http://youtube.com/user/WalkerZombieSurvivor

 

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 Departed stops for a beverage and a conversation, as the zombie apocalypse continues on about her.

 

Flash Pulp 125 – Ruby Departed: Local Hero, Part 2 of 3

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

 

[Text to be posted Monday]

 

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.

Many thanks to Wood, of Highland & Wood, for the intro bumper. You can find their podcast at bothersomethings.com

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

Flash Pulp 122 – Mulligan Smith and The Custodian, Part 1 of 1

27 Jan

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

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present, Mulligan Smith and The Custodian, 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, Mulligan Smith, PI, finds himself in a principal’s office for the first time since his youth.

 

Flash Pulp 122 – Mulligan Smith and The Custodian, Part 1 of 1

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

 

Mulligan hadn’t been inside a principal’s office since the age of fourteen, when he’d been on the receiving end of Christopher Nelson’s fist. This particular office wasn’t that different than the one he’d last been in, it seemed to contain the same bookshelf, the same wilted houseplant, and the same battered carpet. Even the whitewashed cement block walls felt all too familiar.

“You understand that this isn’t something I usually do,” Principal Philips was saying. Her suit was prim, if a little old, and there was a red button with yellow text exclaiming “Read, Dang It!”, pinned to her lapel.

Smith nodded, and she continued.

“I mean, we do a police check when they sign on, to be sure they aren’t a sex offender, and Jackson’s record is spotless. Normally I’d never consider bringing in a private investigator – honestly, you’re the first one I’ve ever met.”

“Not that I’m ungrateful for the money,” Mulligan replied, “but, if Mr Evans is only part time, why not just fire him?”

“Well – it’s simply that he’s so good at it. He manages to accomplish about the same, in a few hours on the weekend, as what old Kevin gets done in three days of trundling around behind his cart,” as she paused, she tapped her nose with her index finger, “- and, besides, he works for almost nothing. Frankly, it’s the budget money he’s saved that’s allowing me to hire you. Really, it’s not even like he’s done anything wrong, he’s just – he’s odd.”

* * *

The situation became increasingly complicated as Mulligan began poking around.

It required almost no effort to determine that Evans had a day job as a cosmetic surgeon, and an expensive one. His clients left enthusiastic comments on his website, and his work had been featured repeatedly in the local paper – usually relating to pro bono work he’d carried out on an underprivileged burn victim.

Smith also hit upon an article naming Jackson Evans, MD, in a “win a date with a local eligible bachelor” charity auction. The PI had wondered aloud what such an apparently driven, and well off, fellow was doing single at the age of forty-eight.

Mulligan’s attempt at calling the organization for a new client in-take exam was politely refused with an offer to add his contact info to the extensive waiting list. If there was a line up for the operating room, it seemed unlikely that the doctor was carrying on his weekend work for the extra pay, and, if money was out, the motivations shrank to sex, drugs, power, or revenge.

He preferred when it was money.

* * *

After two wasted weekends of passive observation, Smith decided it was time for a conversation. He tracked Evans down in a third grade classroom, where the man was sitting in silence, with glassy eyes, on a chair intended for an eight-year-old.

“Reminiscing about the old days?” asked Mulligan.

As he waited for a reply, he kept a lock on the man’s pupils, and wondered if the blank look might be an indication of an unsavory addiction.

Clearing his throat, the doctor stood and tucked the yellow plastic chair under the desk at which he’d been resting.

Mulligan Smith“I was just taking a moment – I’m about done my shift.” The janitor collected himself. “Are you one of the parents? I haven’t seen you around the school before. Do you have permission to be here? I’m sorry, but only authorized personnel are allowed on the premises during weekends.”

“Mrs. Philips is aware of my presence.” Internally, Mulligan chided himself for allowing the janitor to pull rank, then made a move to retake the conversational high-ground. “I’m actually here to ask you a few questions. Consider it an employee satisfaction survey, Jackson.”

“Fine,” replied Evans.

Every response was dispensed in the same flat tone, and Smith began to understand what the Principal had meant by odd – it wasn’t that he was eccentric, it was simply that the man was utterly humourless.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way, but why are you working here?”

“Why does anyone work anywhere?”

“Well, Dr. Evans, mostly they do it for the money.”

The interviewee raised an eyebrow at the mention of his alternate occupation.

“Is there something wrong with the fact that I have another job?”

“No, but it does bring me back to what I was inquiring: why are you wiling away your Saturdays trawling the primary yard for rotting apple cores, and changing out fluorescent bulbs, instead of cutting open middle-aged housewives with poor self esteem?”

“For love.”

“Love?” Smith asked, mentally weighing the need to file a police report. “Love of the job?”

“No, the love of the boy who sits at this desk.”

Mulligan sighed.

“Uh, care to explain?”

“I’ve worked long hours my entire life. I thought I was doing what was best, really, but when Kayli asked for a divorce, I knew exactly what she’d say: that I was always busy, always preoccupied. I apologized, but she didn’t care by then, she wanted cash – and Jayce. The lawyer she hired was good enough to get her both.”

The PI interrupted the account with an exclamation which immediately felt inappropriate, given his surroundings.

“Sorry, continue,” he said.

“Custody’s pretty stringent. I get to see Jayce once a month, and alternating birthdays. Instead, I come here, and work myself raw so that I can have a few moments to stare at his blotchy paintings,” Evans motioned towards a wall of airplane pictures carried out in bright primary colours. “- or to linger at his desk and wonder if he ever sits there thinking about me.”

As Evans turned to hide the tears draining down his cheeks, Mulligan retreated from the room. His final report, combined with Principal Philips’ budgetary concerns, would ensure the custodian his position for as long as he wanted it.

 

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 117 – The Murder Plague: Caretaking, Part 3 of 3

15 Jan

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and seventeen.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present The Murder Plague: Caretaking, Part 3 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This episode is brought to you by Dancing Ella’s Words.

As Marianne Moore once said “Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads.”

Find Ella’s poems and prose at http://dancingella.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, after a brush with death, Harm Carter briefly enjoys a family reunion.

 

Flash Pulp 117 – The Murder Plague: Caretaking, Part 3 of 3

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

 

My relationship with my daughter, Rebecca, had long been rocky. Our grief at Kate’s death had carried us down two very different paths, but they had both ended at a similar destination: I chose to blame myself, and she did the same, following it up with the kind of verbal lashing that only a thirteen year old, with a justifiable excuse, can lay down. Oh, there’s nothing I could have done to stop the cancer, but I’d finished the burial with a two week attempt to climb out of my depression on a ladder fashioned from vintage Merlot bottles, and Becky was left to fend for herself.

The thing is, I didn’t really notice the resentment until I’d grown tired of waking up with a case of what my Pa used to call the Irish flu. I’d been too embarrassed of my condition to let Rebecca witness much of my stumbling, and, when I finally decided to engage in a little sobriety, I found my girl was no longer the princess I’d knew. She became a fiery crusader for something akin to the resurrection of the temperance movement, blamed me for the decadence of capitalism, and began to spend more and more time with a new friend she’d met who felt likewise, after her own father had beaten her mother into six months of physical rehabilitation.

After release from the hospital, on the proceeds of her divorce, the woman and her daughter had relocated into a neat white two-story house, and it was there that Becky had spent most of her slumber parties, and did the majority of her growing up. It wasn’t easy to spend half a decade feeling as if I was being compared to a rage-happy, poker-wielding, wife-beater, but it certainly kept me largely sober.

It was especially tough, as Ms. Robbins, the survivor, was an abnormally nice lady. She often sent my wayward daughter home with cookies, and they always tasted as if they were sugared by pixies and baked in sunshine.

When I’d decided I needed a week at the cabin, Rebecca had required no convincing to call Dinah to ask her mother. Before I left, I’d formulated a plan to hopefully buy back some of the Robbins’ esteem, with the gift of a handsome grandfather clock, purchased at an antique store I was familiar with along my route. I’d been so eager, I’d made the stop on my way in, and the monster had sat in the back of the Explorer for the length of my sabbatical. Unfortunately, upon my return I’d encountered the results of Hitchock’s, and the would-be-heirloom passed out of my hands and into someone’s backyard pool, along with the rest of my stolen truck.

My four hour walk to the Robbins’ house had been quiet, however, as the ten year old who’d made off with my vehicle seemed the last person, other than myself, ridiculous enough to venture out after dark during a homicidal apocalypse.

The march had given me plenty of time to think.

The Murder PlagueIf she was infected, Rebecca would eventually attempt to kill me. She might even if she was healthy. There was some chance that I could subdue her, then find a way to keep her alive by force feeding, but if she was sick, I’d become sick too – assuming I wasn’t already. What if she was fit and fine, and I accidentally contaminated her?

What if she was already dead?

One of the main things they’d taught me in my army days was not to wander around shouting hello. I’d managed to explore the entirety of the Robbins’ main floor before I discovered Rebecca, standing at the head of the flight of stairs that lead to the second.

At first, she stayed at the top, and I remained at the bottom.

“Hello, Dad.”

“Hi. I missed you. Are you okay? Where’s Dinah?”

“I’m fine – have you been to the basement?”

“No?” I hadn’t flipped on any switches while conducting my search, and the only light was directly above her on the landing. The shadows obscured her face. “Are you sure you’re all right? Where are the Robbins?”

“I missed you too.” She brushed back her hair, and smiled. She hadn’t smiled at me in five years – I had to cough to cover that I was tearing up. “and the cabin too – It was a bit surprising, actually. I was thinking maybe in the spring you could take me up to open it with you?”

I longed for that shack, and I’d just left that morning. It seemed like a lifetime ago, but it was actually at least five – two of which had ended in my own self defense.

I was thinking of what I’d had to do to my cook, Catarina, specifically, and I recall selfishly wishing I could grab up Becky, permanently borrow a car, and head back into the hills.

“Remember when we used to go fishing, Dad?” she asked, her feet dipping down a step.

“Of course I do, ragamuffin,” I replied.

I could also recollect my discovery of George Hernandez earlier, in the evening. He’d been hanged dead with the contents of his own tackle box.

“We should get out of here now,” I continued. “Things aren’t safe. We can drive up tonight, grab some supplies on the road, and bury ourselves in snow up at the lodge. We can deal with what’s left of the world after the melt.”

She took another step, excited and beaming.

“Sure! We don’t need to go shopping, though” she replied, “I’ve got plenty of supplies – in the basement.”

That was the last I could take. She’d made it that far without me, she’d have to continue to do so, at least for a little while.

“Okay, great. I’ll go check on those, and be right back.”

I bolted for the door.

There was no other option – she was infected. I could stay and somehow continuously talk my way out of whatever death-trap she’d concocted in the basement, all the while trying not to think too hard on what exactly she’d done to the house’s other occupants, but in the end I’d only become as sick, and that wasn’t a situation I could accept. I might be able to forgive her a few unintentional murders, but I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself.

After a few blocks I realized she hadn’t bothered to chase me. Really, it saddened me somehow.

It took me six hours to walk home, the majority of which was spent swinging between elation at Becky’s continued survival, and utter despair at our predicament. It took another two hours to finally clean up to the mess I’d left in the kitchen.

I dug Catarina a shallow grave under the rising sun, took a shower, locked the doors, turned on the alarm, and bawled myself to sleep.

 

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.

Many thanks to Wood, of Highland & Wood, for the intro bumper. You can find their podcast at bothersomethings.com

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

Flash Pulp 116 – The Murder Plague: Caretaking, Part 2 of 3

13 Jan

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and sixteen.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present The Murder Plague: Caretaking, Part 2 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This episode is brought to you by Dancing Ella’s Words.

Enjoy the cream of Viennese culture, but without the jet lag – or the TSA grope down.

Find her work at http://dancingella.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, Harm Carter is forced to make a sudden stop, during the apocalypse.

 

Flash Pulp 116 – The Murder Plague: Caretaking, Part 2 of 3

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

 

I was three blocks shy of getting on the highway when it struck me: a brick. Well, to be fair, it ricocheted off the passenger-side door.

I’d been turning at a corner, and the action on the cross street had been hidden from me by the darkness and a row of poorly-maintained hedges. The slab wasn’t the only thing to impact the car, either – its target was close behind. His shorts were billowing, and his t-shirt looked as if it had been designed by an unstable Bonobo, but there’s something pathetic, and mildly endearing, about the way a ten year old can plaster his pudgy face across a window that you just won’t see when a grown man does the same.

The woman behind him – the irate lobber – came pumping down the street, her legs short, but vigorous, and her arms extended in a way that made it clear she was on a mission to strangle. Collecting himself, the lad yanked at the handle and hopped into the passenger seat.

In response, I gunned the Explorer’s engine.

I wasn’t considering where we were going, I just wanted to put some distance between my passenger and Grabby.

There’s something off-putting about seeing any child out after dark, and this was my first taste of basic violence on the open street. For the umpteenth time that night, I was shaken. The problem with a virus that turns everyone around you into a homicidal lunatic is that there’s never really a moment to relax.

Well, I mean, one of the problems.

The Murder PlagueI took a left, then a right, then a left – just to be sure the choke-ist wasn’t going to make a horror film villain’s sudden reappearance out of the shadows – then I paused at a red light.

I turned to my fare and asked his name.

“Tobias, sir,” he replied.

I’ve always been a sucker for a civil tongue.

“Well, Tobias, did you happen to know your intended throttler?” I asked.

“Yes, she’s my oldest sister.”

I nodded, my brain running over the possibilities of where I might drop him off. I’d seen the local fire department in action recently, or, at least, what was left of them, so I wasn’t keen to entrust him to their axe-happy hands. I’d also guessed that the police were likely just as badly off, but with guns.

Before I could summon the wits to ask him if he had any family who wouldn’t murder him, his face dropped, and tears began to dampen his vulgarly coloured tee. He thrust out his arms in a simple gesture I’d seen a hundred times from Rebecca, when she was a little girl. Physics has yet to calculate the force of gravitation that a child in need can generate on a heart – even a heart like the one propping up an old ruffian such as myself.

“Come now,” I said.

I reached across the console with a hug.

Later into things, I met a woman who’d set up her car as if she’d had engine trouble. She’d go so far as to get some passing fool to stop and stick his head under the hood, then she’d slam it down on them and finish the job with a flat-head screwdriver. After stuffing the poor schmuck in a nearby culvert, she’d roll their jalopy into a treed gully across the road, wipe her bumper clean, and start the whole process over again. When I asked her, at gun point, how she could possibly explain such a thing, she told me it was because she was sure they’d all intended on making off with the aqua Nissan hatchback.

Oddly, that was exactly my intention.

My point, however, is that, even despite the complex paranoia that is brought on by the plague, children are simple, and they seek simplicity.

Two things happened at the same time: the image of my neighbour’s youngest came to mind, her fingers entangled in the fishing line I’d found her father strangled with; and I felt Tobias’ weight shift awkwardly in my hold.

My ribs suddenly feeling exposed, I pushed the boy away, unbuckled my belt for freer access – or possibly due to a sudden attack of claustrophobia – and, in my sudden need for space, accidentally dropped my foot solidly onto the gas.

As the acceleration pushed him into his seat, I identified his weapon of choice: a thick Swiss army knife, the longest of the blades extended. It was either rusty, or blood encrusted.

I slammed on the brakes, hoping it might stun him into dropping the thing. He barely winced as he bounced off the glove compartment, then he came at me over the gear shift.

What could I do, kill him? As I struggled with his raised hand, the crude string of suggestions he made regarding my heritage made it pretty clear he wouldn’t stop unless I did.

After a moment of consideration, I made a hard choice.

I stepped out of the car.

Well – I suppose that sounds a little more elegant than the reality. I popped open the door and fell out, backwards, as the Explorer continued on at a power-walker’s pace.

Rather than chase me onto the road, little Toby decided he rather liked the feel of the steering wheel. It was stop and go at first, but after a moment he gained in confidence, and started to swing the truck into a wide turn. He didn’t seem terribly concerned about the well-manicured front yard he tore up along the way.

I began to run.

It was a near thing, but I lost him after he blindly bulled through a row of mahogany-stained pool fencing, and landed himself in the shallow end of someone’s cement pond.

Still, I didn’t stop moving until I’d reached the babysitter’s house.

 

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.

Many thanks to Wood, of Highland & Wood, for the intro bumper. You can find their podcast at bothersomethings.com

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

Flash Pulp 115 – The Murder Plague: Caretaking, Part 1 of 3

10 Jan

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and fifteen.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present The Murder Plague: Caretaking, Part 1 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This episode is brought to you by Dancing Ella’s Words.

As Oscar Wilde famously said: “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”

Find her work at http://dancingella.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, Harm Carter takes a moment to seek sanctuary while considering his difficult situation, and attempting to avoid assassination at the hands of any passing stranger.

We’d also like to take a moment to thank Highland & Wood for their excellent audio intro – you can find their podcast, Bothersome Things, at bothersomethings.com

 

Flash Pulp 115 – The Murder Plague: Caretaking, Part 1 of 3

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

 

It’s hard to explain how I felt once I was back on the road. It was as if I was part of a great ballet – or, really, as if I was at a costume ball, with all of the dancers masked, and each moving to their own rhythm.

Was the man across from me at the stoplight an infected lunatic plotting to bury his wife in a backyard flowerbed, or was he simply a harried fellow out to pick up a quart of milk? Was the lady deep in conversation at the corner really discussing the cost of a sausage with the vendor, or was she attempting to determine if her dinner had been poisoned by a plague-ridden paranoiac?

I’ve never been much of a religious man – doubly not-so once Kate died – but, after a few blocks of aimless driving, I realized shock had my hands shaking at the wheel, and, at that moment, the rolling bell of a heavenly summons came peeling from a house of prayer to my left.

I wasn’t raised Catholic, but, in that instant, I was willing to grasp at any higher power that might have me.

Pulling into the parking lot that fronted the gray-faced building, I found all of the spaces empty, and yet the broad wooden doors were pinned open.

Honestly, I don’t know what I expected inside – I do recall feeling some relief that I hadn’t encountered a crowd of parishioners, as they would have likely turned into a riotous brawl before the communion was delivered. What I did find, instead, was silence and vacant pews.

As was tendency in my schoolboy days, I took a seat on the rearmost bench.

I was stalling, I suppose – I knew I needed to get to Rebecca’s babysitter’s, but I wasn’t keen on what I might discover there. It was the inevitable that had me tripped up – what if I did find her, alive but as sick as the rest?

The problem was a drain my mind couldn’t quite finish circling on its own, and I would have likely spent a few hours in further consideration if it wasn’t for the priest’s interruption.

He was a short man, and I hadn’t noticed him standing behind the lectern; or possibly he’d moved to the position while my brain was off wandering. His hair was wild, but his face – it seemed as if his face had been molded by a lifetime of smiling, as if he could do little else, even in those deadly times, after having formed such a long standing habit.

“You look troubled,” he said, his practiced voice easily carrying down the long red carpet of the center aisle.

“Well, to be fair, these are troubling times,” I replied.

“What is weighing on you?” he asked. It struck me as a bit of a personal question for such a great distance – but, on the other hand, I could only imagine the kind of confessions he must have been hearing at that point, and didn’t blame him for wanting to maintain the separation.

“Oh, just tough decisions to be made, I suppose.”

He nodded, apparently taking more from my words than I’d meant for him to.

“Yes, it is a time full of tough decisions,” he answered. Even as he said it, he continued to maintain that empty imitation of a smirk, and it was then that I realized his hands had been out of sight, below the pulpit, for the length of our brief discussion.

The Murder PlagueBack in my fighting days I knew a fellow who’d been a stand up comedian before his chronically-broke status had forced him to enlist. I only found him funny when we were under fire, and the more determination the other side demonstrated, the faster he would spit out gags.

He was killed when he strayed into a bullet, while imitating a goat.

There was something about the clergyman’s expression that reminded me of that joker – a mix of intense panic layered under a survival instinct of good humour.

I cleared my throat.

“Actually, you’ve helped me make my choice. Many thanks, Padre.”

I stood.

“I have?” He was surprised at the news, but, for a moment at least, I think his smile became genuine.

“Yes, sir – and I’m off to do something about it.” I started edging past the bulletin boards and abandoned collection baskets, wondering if his improved mood would last for the duration of my exit.

His arms remained fixed, and his hands remained hidden.

“A final bit of advice then, to carry with you as you go,” he interrupted, his grin collapsing. “Sometimes the only choice is the lesser of two evils.”

Frankly, it was that sort of simplistic advice that had put me off of churches in the first place.

I waved in agreement, then hustled through the vestibule and down the short flight of cement steps, pleased to see the street empty of pedestrians.

I was in the middle of a hearty round of self-congratulations regarding my narrow escape as I reached my car door – and that’s when I heard a single gunshot echo from the still-gaping entranceway.

 

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

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

Big thanks go to Highland & Wood for the audio introduction – you can find their fantastic Bothersome Things podcast at bothersomethings.com

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

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 111 – Marked, Part 1 of 1

27 Dec

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and eleven.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present Marked, 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 priorities, misunderstandings, and apocalypse.

 

Flash Pulp 111 – Marked, Part 1 of 1

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

 

When Emmett Mender entered the world, his grandmother, on his father’s side, was the only one in the waiting room to raise an eyebrow at the oddly shaped birthmark on the back of his right hand. Carolyn, Emmett’s mother, had suffered a long and difficult pregnancy, and so it was to both parents that the blemish seemed nothing when measured against the joy of a successful delivery.

Still, as proud father Michael paraded the freshly scrubbed newborn through the room, there had been that gray and bushy eyebrow, askew.

Emmett’s childhood brought on the occasional misadventure: he broke an arm at ten, while climbing a neighbours apple tree to pilfer some of their harvest, and he’d once been caught with an unpaid-for chocolate bar in his sweater’s front pocket while departing a 7-Eleven. Otherwise, his youth was quiet, and the pleased parents found him an affectionate boy.

Despite the happy times, Michael began to notice an increasing change in his own Mother. She’d always been a sweet woman, but Grandmother Mender’s tongue had recently become sharp, and most especially in the presence of her grandchild. She made no secret that she considered his chocolate theft a life-long stain for him to prove against. Her church attendance tripled in fervor as well, although she seemed to have little patience for the mercy that was preached there.

Two weeks after his fourteenth birthday, Emmett refused to accompany his parents to their weekly Sunday dinner at his grandparents, stating that he had no interest in spending more time re-listening to the litany of complaints that always seemed to flow from his grandmother’s mouth as soon as he breached the door.

It was only three days later that Grandma Mender collapsed, convulsing; a day after that she was diagnosed as having a terminal cancer invading her nervous system.

Emmett attempted to visit while she was in the hospital, but he did not find any closure in the trips, as the old woman was deeply unconscious throughout. He decided instead to try reconciliation with his grandfather.

“I know things haven’t always been great, but -” was as far as he’d gotten before the old man had laid his leathery palm heavily across the boy’s face.

“This is your fault,” as well as the slap, was the only reply he would get.

No one could have known it at the time, but Grandfather Mender’s breakdown had begun the moment he’d watched his wife tumble sideways to the floor. She’d been interrupted mid-sentence, and the complaint she’d been voicing regarding her hooligan grandson would never be completed.

The disease worked quickly, and within a month the family was gathered about her grave, weeping and mourning – all but Emmett, who’d been told by his father that it might be best if he were to remain home.

Kar'WickWhile Carolyn and Michael often attempted to play-down his grandfather’s implications, the burden was a heavy one for the teenager to carry, and he began to ease his load with the assistance of the varied spirits he found in his parent’s liquor cabinet.

As soon as the casket was out of sight, Grandfather Mender had taken up his wife’s pious scheduling. He spent most waking hours in the Lord’s house, tending the fires he would then unleash at the continued Sunday meals. Not a week went by in which he did not berate son and daughter-in-law regarding the significance of the mark that adorned Emmett’s hand.

It was Michael’s encouragement that brought about the final meeting; he had no way of knowing how badly his father’s psyche had shattered. To work up his courage Emmett had secretly spent the morning sipping at a flask of vodka, and, by the time he arrived at his grandfather’s table, his tongue had worked itself into belligerence.

The old man was quick in accusing him of being a work of Lucifer, and the boy’s expletive-laden reply did little to prove otherwise.

“Lord, aid me!” the old man shouted, leaping across the serving dishes with his steak knife in hand.

He would never fully clear the over-cooked roast, however. The table began to buck under him, and the beams of his aging home groaned at the birthing strain of the forgotten deity, Kar’Wick. In the end, all would know the same fate, in the shadow of the Spider-God’s gnarled carapace.

 

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.