FP458 – The Flying Dutchman

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and fifty-eight.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Flying Dutchman

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Glow-in-the-Dark Radio!

 

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 ourselves witness to dead men wandering the highways.

 

The Flying Dutchman

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

 

McGillicuddy’s General Store had stood on its roadside lot for nearly a hundred years. Marty McGillicuddy, thirty, was now its manager, but, before him, Pa McGillicuddy had worked the counter as a child under the supervision of its founder, Pops.

In truth, Pa could not quite allow himself to retire. Though he should have been having dinner with Ma by that dusk hour, he’d stayed on past his voluntary shift to finish telling his son of a twenty-year-past fishing trip – the old man rarely took vacations, so those few he’d allowed himself stood in vivid memory – but the recollection was put on hold as the store’s ancient bell rang twice.

Someone was at the pumps. Decades after it was fashionable, the station had continued to offer full service – it was tradition, and, even in these days of fully electric cars and automated recharging, the human touch remained important to both McGillicuddy men.

FP458Most of their traffic was local: Decades back the highway had been so efficiently straightened the town was no longer needed, but there was still a large enough dead spot between Capital City and Riverside, for those unthinking enough to have forgotten to fuel up, that the shop had managed to stagger on.

Stepping into the evening heat, Marty pushed the vehicle’s “manual fill” button, hefted the connector, and flicked open the fueling panel. His eyes were on the horizon to his right, the sun having just set and the sky streaked with a thick red, yet he couldn’t remember if that meant sailors delight or take fright. Finally, when the magnets snapped into place to hold the transmission nozzle, there was little to do but loaf.

He turned left, intending to identify which local was out so late, and everything he’d eaten that day was suddenly working to escape his stomach.

At first he’d thought it was convertible – not a nice one, perhaps, but the sort of boxy job one of the townsfolk sometimes picked up to let the the wind run through their hair without leaving them bankrupt.

His mistake was quickly corrected when he spotted the face staring at him from the rear seat.

The stranger’s countenance had been withered and browned by exposure to sun and rain. His lips were pulled back hard against his teeth, as if locked in a madman’s grin, but it was apparent to Marty that the decapitated head’s skin had simply shrunk and pulled taut with time, revealing the smiling skull beneath.

Looking to the front seat Marty caught a flash of orange, and then the manual fill button beeped.

His mind largely focused on not vomiting, the attendant’s hand went to the connector, as it had dozens of times a day for years, and he pulled the lock free.

Without pause the engine began to whine. The boxy Volvo pulled forward, signaled a left-hand turn as it paused beside the empty roadway, then it fled over the horizon.

In the distance the Melkin’s dog began to bark, an echo of the normalcy that seemed to have otherwise abandoned the younger McGillicuddy. It was a full minute before Marty righted himself and returned to the interior of the store, but even as he moved his mind worked to sort the details of what he’d just witnessed.

Noting his pallor, Pa asked, “Grandmother Templeford make another pass at you?”

“I just – there was a headless dead man in that car.”

“Ah, so you’ve seen the Dutchman then.”

“Who?”

“The Dutchman, as I’ve heard it, was a soccer fan. That’s why he’s wearing the orange jersey. Maybe he was coming back from celebrating a game, maybe he was just heading home after a long night at the office – whatever the case, his car was on autopilot and coming down an off-ramp when – well, you know those cheese slicers with the little wire on the end? The bolts on a guide line around the highway signage had fallen and locked itself between the branches of a thick oak. Just the right height to take the top, and the Dutchman’s head, clean off.

“The GPS that ran the navigation was wired into an antenna on the roof, so the thing was immediately confused about where it was. Still thinking it was trying to get home, it got back on the highway and never stopped.

“I guess they pieced together what had happened after discovering his roof, but the head apparently managed to land in the backseat.”

Marty nodded, but did not interrupt.

“The long-haul truckers’ll tell you that it operates on instinct. Keeps it on the road, keeps it away from other vehicles, and fuels up as needed.

“Police cruisers have attempted to trail him a while, but every time they try to get close the collision sensors push up the car’s speed. By the time they get near they’re going so fast it’s not worth risking a second life to stop the damned thing, and I suspect its nomadic nature makes it easy for troopers to simply turn a head till its drifted into the next county and someone else’s area of responsibility.”

Collecting his push broom to keep his trembling hands busy, Marty asked, “Who’s paying for the juice?”

“Supposedly his wife. The way I heard it, he’s driving an all-too-sensible car, and it can go a mighty distance between having to touch a station. She only knows where he is when he checks in with a new gas up, but she’s always a step behind in her chase.

“In the meantime the Dutchman is out there, drifting along the night highways and crawling country roads as the flies seed his rotting flesh.”

The store fell to silence, the rows of soup cans and bagged chips finding nothing more interesting in the conversation than they had in any other across the previous century.

“So,” said Marty, “what were you saying about that pike?”

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

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    FCM27 – Not So Much Pumpkiny

    FCM27 - Not So Much Pumpkiny
    Welcome to Flashcast Minisode 027 – Not So Much Pumpkiny

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  • Mega Wet Wipes
  • Ashley Madison Bill Blackmail
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    Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

    Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

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      FPGE29 – For a Good Time Call

      Welcome to Flash Pulp Guestisode #29

      Flash PulpTonight we present For a Good Time Call

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      This week’s episodes are brought to you by Call Me Bliss!

       

      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, as our narratrix is still recovering from her recent dental misadventure, we are incredibly pleased to present a creeper by Bliss Morgan!

      Thank you so much, Bliss!

       

      For a Good Time Call

      Written by Bliss Morgan
      Narration by Bliss Morgan
      and Audio produced by Jessica May

       

      The text of tonight’s episode is available at CallMeBliss.com

       

      Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

      Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

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      Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

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        FPSE34 – The Portly Detective

        Welcome to Flash Pulp Special Episode #34.

        Flash PulpTonight we present The Portly Detective

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        This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Mob!

         

        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 ourselves on a brief detour, and discover what happens when Jurd can’t shake the notion that he should write a certain scene after finishing one of the lesser Philip Marlowe novels.

         

        The Portly Detective

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

         

        Skinner Co.

         

        Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

        Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

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          FP457 – Go On

          Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and fifty-seven.

          Flash PulpTonight we present Go On

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          This week’s episodes are brought to you by Gatecast!

           

          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 ourselves in a lesser-known Las Vegas casino as Mercutio Rogers, professional crooner, prepares to take the stage.

           

          Go On

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

           

          Thirty seconds into Here’s That Rainy Day the jaguar had Mercutio’s skull in its jaws.

          Another thirty and his corpse was nothing but a limp toy being hauled around the stage by the malnourished, but triumphant, cat.

          It was the 1950s, and Mercutio Rogers was little more than a one-hit-wonder, so the venue had been small. Mercutio’s manager had demanded he sing a ballad at the beast, borrowed from a show over at The Flamingo, and, knowing it was the only way he’d put a dent in Dean Martin’s audience, the crooner had agreed.

          The fencing ringing the footlights had been hastily erected, and by the time it was properly breached by the predator’s owner, and his tranquilizer gun, those few audience members unfortunate enough to have been in attendance – and to have been stunned into silence at the attack – had witnessed the consumption of most of Mercutio’s smooth-toned throat.

          Somewhere at the back of the house the lights were raised, a panic ensued, and even the diehard gamblers obliviously stumbling from the bar to the blackjack tables were shown the door. The Vegas PD arrived, tutted for a while, then carted his body away.

          His mother, an English professor from Connecticut, was no doubt called and informed of her son’s demise. A man with a bucket arrived to mop away the congealing stain that would be the last mark the twenty-three-year-old would leave upon the stage, then he too departed.

          Finally, in a move unusual for Vegas even in those early days, the lights went out.

          Mercutio witnessed it all.

          Being dead and left in the dark was easily the most terrifying experience of his evening, and that included having watched both his killer and cadaver escorted from the building. It took an hour in the shadows for the ghost to cease his shivering, and another three for him to truly believe he was gone. Larger movements came but with great concentration, yet his position, sprawled across the stage, gave him a clear view of the morning shift shuffling through the doors. Dice needed to be tossed, cards dealt, and booze dispensed – the death of one B-list troubadour did little to slow Vegas’ appetites, much less stop them.

          Cindy Delano, who he’d met briefly in the tiny management-provided dressing room, approached. The hem of her sequined cocktail dress, her uniform at any hour, trembled slightly at the prospect of belting out a show tune on the very spot her former work acquaintance had been mauled to death, but Mercutio knew he’d only spotted her hesitance because he was a fellow professional background-noise provider.

          “Don’t worry about it,” he told her, as she crossed the lights, but Cindy did not pause.

          “Hello and welcome to the Moonglow Motel and Casino, everybody!” she said, her dress aglow as she made her practiced half-turn.

          Again the deadman noted her reluctance: Her tone did not contain the vigour he had previously hated to hear at 9am, yet, despite it meaning he was minimizing his own death, he found himself telling her, “it’s okay kid, I don’t mind.”

          He did, however, feel a slight pang as the four-piece offstage backing band opened on “If I Were a Bell.” At that moment the thought that his voice would never again be heard by an audience seemed to outweigh even the loss of his shabby apartment, his terrier Franky, and his favourite velvet suit.

          He dueted, but, unaware she was singing with a partner, Cindy left little room for his interjections.

          A Skinner Co. ProductionIt wouldn’t be the last time he’d try a melody that went unheard. As the fifties rolled over into the sixties the skirts shortened and the sets grew longer. Sometimes, when he recognized the chorus, he would simply sing along from his splayed position upon the stage, and, as he was front row for every set and most of the acts rarely changed their lineups, it was rare that he did not know the song in question by the third night of its performance.

          On other occasions, when the only sound to fill the great room was the bing and chime of the increasing army of slot machines, he would force himself upright and launch into one of the classics. Yet, no matter how loud he bellowed, no matter how perfectly he hit his notes, he could not turn a single head; could not catch a single ear.

          One quiet Tuesday he realized the room was empty. It remained empty throughout the following Wednesday, and then, upon Thursday morning, a dozen men in overalls descended upon his scenery with pushcarts.

          It took them a further two days to strip the gaming equipment, fixtures, and carpets.

          The weekend was otherwise spent in darkness, the room having been designed as windowless so that its occupants would not realize just how many hours had been spent on tossing dice and pulling greasy levers.

          While he had noted that both undertakings had slackened in recent days, it was upon the following Monday that Mercutio realized the true extent of his predicament: It was then that the grinding sound of machinery began somewhere beyond his vision, and within moments the flailing arm of a mechanical beast had ripped through the eastern wall.

          By sunset the Moonglow was little more than a pile of rubble being readied for the trucks that would haul it away.

          In his youth Mercutio had been terrified by a tale of Roman soldiers, long dead, marching across the British countryside. It had not been the phantoms themselves that had kept him awake at night, his blankets pulled high against his nose – no, it had been the notion, imparted by the witness’ account, that the men had been only half visible, their lower portions having been lost to the depths of dirt and rubble that had buried the highway upon which the legionnaires marched.

          Long had been the evenings on which he considered the idea that perhaps the world was massively haunted by such ghosts; that perhaps, in the ancient places of the world, there teemed beneath their feet an entire metropolis of the dead, forever wandering through a darkness of worms and dirt.

          Once the remnants of the Moonglow were removed, however, Mercutio found himself not buried, but instead floating some feet above the ground.

          For a month he was left to consider the desert’s chill nights and blazing days, then construction began anew and his fears returned. Would he find himself in a maintenance closet? On the tiles of a gin joint’s bathroom? Would he be pinned in a wall when not actively attempting to stand?

          Fortunately, the new owners of the plot were constrained on either side by the Moonglow’s more successful neighbours, and were thus forced to build up rather than out. In the end the footprint of the new establishment, The Hideaway, was not so different than the shabby row of drive-up motel doors it replaced. The floor had dropped, to provide greater foundation, but the stage had also raised, leaving Mercutio more or less in the same unnoticed position in the spotlight he had occupied at the time of his death.

          The carpets were uglier now, however, and the slot machines bedecked with blinking lights. The table games were in another area entirely, well out of his line of sight, but the acts the expanded setup attracted were equally gaudy.

          A family of motorcyclists installed a metal sphere, for a two week engagement, and spent their evenings nearly avoiding each other as they conducted tightly choreographed loops. Two dozen showgirls backed a second-string Rat Pack member singing songs of nostalgia that had been new in Mercutio’s day. An endless parade of comedians came and went, their names and faces changing almost nightly but their jokes mostly staying the same.

          The years rolled on with Mercutio in attendance for every show – and often providing his own a capella musical accompaniment.

          As with the Moonglow, The Hideaway’s star rose and fell. The carpets wore thin, and so did the entertainment. By 1982 the rooms were still packed, but now because the one-armed bandits were so cheap. The stage was still full, but simply because the management refused the cost of installing a proper audio system to pipe in canned music.

          It was this same thriftiness that caused the aging equipment powering the footlights to grow dangerous through their endless jury-rigging to keep them running. The fire began in the darkness beneath the platform, and had spread to the interior of the flimsy walls before it became clear what was happening.

          Equally outdated fire safety regulations did the rest, and a hundred nickel slot players were left to choke and collapse.

          Their first moments in this afterlife – or, at least, afterdeath – brimmed with smokey terror and confusion, yet, even as they realized the pain had passed, Mercutio cleared his throat and welcomed them with the opening bars of Here’s That Rainy Day.

           

          Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

          Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

          Freesound.org credits:

          Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

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

          Spread the word!

            FC132 – Parrot PTSD

            FC132 - Parrot PTSD

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            Hello, and welcome to FlashCast #132.

            Prepare yourself for: The Last Dragon, the Mob Book Club returns, Awake Dating, GT Snow Racers, and Muddy York

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            FP456 – Joe Monk, Emperor of Space: The Ladder

            Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and fifty-six.

            Flash PulpTonight we present Joe Monk, Emperor of Space: The Ladder

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            This week’s episodes are brought to you by BoopQuest!

             

            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 Joe Monk, the last human and future Emperor of Space, standing in a swamp at the edge of the known universe.

             

            The Haunting on Cedar Crescent

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

             

            As the boxy shuttle touched down, Joe Monk – one-day Emperor of the vast stretches of void and the specks that litter it – patted the multiple pockets of his orange and blue jumpsuit in search of the plastic cubes the locals considered currency. He tipped as heavily as his expense account would allow.

            It seemed only fair, the cabbie was actually a runabout from the export station further into the sun’s orbit, and their approach to the shanty town had made it clear there was no chance of a random fare heading back the other way.

            The round being that piloted the taxi had been silent the entire trip, yet as soon as the craft lifted off Monk was missing its quiet thereness.

            At the edges of the development it was difficult to differentiate what was wild growth and what was constructed shelter. With materials in short supply the inhabitants had taken to burrowing into the massive trunks that rose from the knee-high water, and scattered ladders had been nailed into the hardwood to build skewed platforms on especially stout low branches.

            From behind reed mats strung across otherwise open windows he noted large eyes marking his progress

            Soon, however, he was passing the homes’ inhabitants with increasing regularity. They were thick-limbed bipeds, their arms overlong for Joe’s liking. Their stout bodies were covered in a short layer of fur – enough to keep them warm during the planet’s chill night cycle, but not so long as to hide their lack of the dangling bits that Monk associated with romance.

            While several nodded as he passed, there was enough potential in their muscled shoulders that the human’s simple instincts had him wishing he still carried a weapon. He’d lost the right when he’d been promoted out of his position as an agent of the law for the Council of Ten Stars.

            The timber and scrub thinned, giving way to rough-hewn stilt houses. Here was a brown-haired giant dipping barrel legs into the water from a crude porch; here was an almost identical colossus using ropes to clamber up one of the wide trees to collect the fruits in its mist-veiled heights; here was a nearly perfect copy of the other two napping in a ragged hammock patched with moss.

            FP456 – Joe Monk, Emperor of Space: The LadderMonk was beginning to spot the subtle differences between the locals. Though there seemed little sign in variation in the length of their fur, they’d taken to shaving their faces and arms in elaborate patterns. Ahead of him stepped a tall-necked Goliath with trimmed bands of broadening width climbing its biceps, and an inverted pyramid of slashes under its ostrich-egg eyes exposing the gray skin beneath. Further along Joe encountered another who’d cut an intricate series of labyrinthine spirals onto only the left side of their face. It did not take a former lawman to note the tight loops must must have required close and careful upkeep.

            Between the fern fronds and tin-sheet roofs Joe caught sight of the tower that had guided his landing, and the sound of machinery began to grind through the insect song.

            Now he began to see signs of black market activity: Lovely but inexpensive gems harvested from the mine and sold, unbeknownst to the suits that had set up the operation, upon porches and small slat-sided booths – at least until the inventory wranglers could arrive and realize the worth of what was slipping through their security nets; Sickly green ration blocks broken down into stews with a hefty dash of local vegetation despite strict corporate policy against such experimentation; Versions of the identical giant dressed in sliced tarps, their fashion meant to imply a sexuality that their naked forms were incapable of. Though briefly tempted to stop and speak with these members of the oldest profession, if only to determine what kind of services a race without apparent genitalia could offer to satisfy the others of its kind, Monk pressed on towards the mechanical roar.

            Finally, with his boots soaked and his jumpsuit slowly filling with muck-laden water, the last human reached the heart of the remote mining settlement.

            The rocket had settled as a single stacked tower and its fuel tanks jettisoned to be scavenged to form portions of the housing surrounding him. Two modules had also been deployed, likely in the final stages of descent, to act as outbuildings of a higher quality than anything the neighbourhood’s architects had, given their meager materials, been able to construct.

            To the left of the column stood the cap to the open mouth of the mine, the cage elevator and winch system having arrived as a prefabricated whole, and to the right stood a similar shelter, though this half the size of the pit entrance. Its smell was acrid and clung to Monk’s nostrils and tongue, but it was a familiar reek – this was not his first encounter with the sort of trap intended to gather local animal life to be mashed into component parts and reconstituted into what the suits considered useful forms ready for labour.

            As he watched a four-legged beast, likely having been lured this far into the camp by food scraps, approached the stench of pheromones and mating musk. Having appeared on its eastern side, an iris no larger than a watermelon slid open and awaited its arrival with endless patience, and before Monk could think to hiss at the compound-eyed animal, to perhaps save it from a gluey fate, the last of its pale green tail disappeared into the enticing tube.

            “Dammit,” said Joe, really only to himself, and he was forced to wonder if he was already just as late in assisting the labour force shuffling about behind him.

            Shrugging, he made his way towards a similar iris, this one his own size and dominating the face of the central spire.

            Inside he encountered the first non-natural lighting he’d seen since arriving. No doubt the mine below was also lit with bulbs strung from the rocket’s core, but apparently there was no energy to spare from the craft’s nuclear heart to light the village that serviced the rock crusher.

            The rooms inside were low, segmenting the tube to maximum efficiency. The bottom-most chamber was dominated by a ring of chutes, and Joe knew that if he’d arrived on market day there’d be a crowd of the giants, each carrying a basket, bag, or simply a cloth spread wide to catch their weekly allotment of the food blocks he’d spotted earlier in his inspection. Wedged between two of the chromed channels stood a ladder, but the chamber above was locked. Still, the very reason Monk had been reassigned from his law enforcement position was the cracking of a similar door – one that had been the entrance to a black market garment factory that turned out to be the property of a Planduckian ambassador’s son-in-law. The arrest had been upheld, though the fine was little more than a slap on the wrist, yet the Council of Ten Stars had quickly come back to Monk with the offer of a promotion.

            It was only once behind his new desk that he’d realized how limiting his position truly was. He’d been raised in the silence of space, and being trapped on the core worlds, to vote once a week and spend the rest of his time in expensive restaurants in hopes of being seen by social scene columnists, had felt like a step down even if his pay had increased. It was not for a lack of information coming to him – rumours of improper operations abounded – yet how was he to take action when everyone around him was ordering freshly slaughtered shelmdon smothered in lemon sauce?

            In the end he’d told Macbeth he was heading out for a weekend of fishing on the second moon, then he’d used his new found wealth to buy a berth on a trawler headed rimward. The complaint file he’d taken with him was simply the most recent to arrive, and may as well have been selected at random.

            The lock popped with a satisfying electronic chirp, and the room above had the unsettling look of a surgery. There was a reclining table at the room’s center, large enough to hold the form of one of the mine labourers, and above ran a series of tracks and thick-cabled manipulation claws. The edges of the room were lined with tanks: More of the bodies slowly being formed from the fauna captured in the adjacent module. The tubs also seemed to drain into the chrome chutes he’d seen earlier. No doubt any nutrients left unused in the creation of new bodies was being processed, compressed, and delivered to the hungry mouths below.

            For safety reasons – those of the technicians who’d constructed the craft, certainly not his own or the beings it built to labour – the next hatch up had a transparent window, and here Monk had to halt: He was not equipped to enter the bulk cryogenics chamber, he hadn’t thought to pack sub-zero gear while landing in a humid swamp.

            Still, the telltale signs of Space Brains were all over the room.

            Space Brains, of course, were the press’ sneering term for the frosted neurons of a great many races. Each sentient faction, at some point in its development, attempted to combat death through cryogenics, and it was generally before gaining enough awareness of the space beyond their own solar systems to enter the greater empire. Maintaining other people’s grandparents was an expensive business, and contracts were often formed with corporations looking for cheap labourers, generally to operate under unpleasant conditions. Any excess body mass would be cut away, keeping only the neural core, and then a factory rocket could be fired at any backwater in the universe to pile up resources until such time as a freighter was sent around to retrieve them.

            Of course each entity was given an option, upon defrosting, to re-enter cryosleep, but the yes/no interface screen also included a running tally of their bill, and a warning regarding service outages if the total amount went unpaid for too long a window.

            Technically such labourers were paid for their time, and it was a frequent talking point of the pro-Space Brain lobby that a non-company body could be purchased on the free market, but the statistics indicated it was almost an impossibility to save for even the lowest quality replacement while already making regular payments on their current body. Reconstitution was, of course, also invoiced.

            Worse, the modular bodies, so foreign from the various races’ originals, were often of shoddy design and prone to rapid disintegration. The climates into which they were sent rarely eased the process.

            That said, Monk knew this operation to be below galactic standard in almost every way. Minimum housing necessities had not been met – though rent would no doubt be extracted from each worker’s pay – and any work site of this size was obligated, under galactic law, to have at least a dozen non-indentured oversight foremen to maintain safety standards and proper corporate conduct.

            Yet who wanted to ship away from their kids for a year or two on a copper-rich mudball? The distances involved meant a lack of supervision – or inspections – in exactly the places they were needed most. Though such locations were ripe for citation, which low-level inspector had the budget for such explorations, or the job security to indict the same interests that filled the Council’s pockets?

            This abandonment also meant Monk didn’t have any shirt lapels to grab and immediately blame – but he had an idea on how to fix that part of the problem at least.

            Back on Prendax Prime the cost of a meal at the chop house preferred by the majority of ministers – say a sweet Klebnarian porterhouse and a bitter Jandaxian whiskey, always signed-off on as necessary expense to cabinet business and thus covered by the taxpayers – was such that it was often jokingly stated you could live a year on belter pizzas for what an afternoon in a Prendax eatery would pull from your pocket.

            That said, while they’d taken Monk’s gun, they’d also, at least, given him a credit chip.

            Stepping from the cold metal floor to slowly settle back into the swamp muck, Joe reached into the depths of his jumpsuit and pulled out the only other item of value his new post had provided him: A small notepad with his position’s seal across the top and a tight block of legalese at its base.

            Across the front of the top sheet Monk simply scrawled, “Closed for labour violations,” then he slapped the self-adhering slip to the right of the iris he’d just exited.

            Though few in the camp could read English, the block of text at its bottom, translated into the dozen most common languages, clearly set out that whoever held the pad carried galactic authority, and Joe’s hooked thumb did the rest. He did not allow another worker to enter the mine head, instead pointing to the note, then back to camp. These were unmistakable signs in any language, and, besides, there was little eagerness to dispute his claim.

            Finally, nearly twenty Earth hours after touchdown, he was sure the last of those below had ridden the cage to the surface module. It had required going down himself, to shout and prod through the small spaces, and it was only his experience of having been raised in the limiting confines of his ship that had kept the claustrophobia of the place from weakening his knees.

            By the time he’d completed his roundup he’d gathered a decent surface crowd, including the being he’d come to think of as Left-Side – he or she with the intricately shaven spirals. With little else to do with their sudden free time, the throng seemed happy to help with his undertaking, and Left-Side soon became a fast friend in getting the others organized.

            It took a dozen of them to pull the elevator’s cage free of its confines, but it was intended for deep-shaft operations and there was plenty of slack with which to entwine the trap module’s stink. A sound like laughter came from between the teeth of Left-Side and the rest as the button was pressed and the cable tightened its loops, eventually collapsing the outer walls of the protein gatherer. Then the high-powered winch – built to tote heavy loads of ore – pulled the crumpled unit across the muck, halting only once the damaged capsule was firmly lodged in the mine’s open maw.

            Monk had considered doing similar to the central tower, but he dare not risk the frosty sentients inside.

            The damage was well beyond the automated systems, so the computer had likely already launched a request for a repair crew. By the time the call center had issued a work ticket, however, he would have placed his own request to the Council’s law enforcement arm, and arrests would be made as the specialists touched down. He felt for the maintenance people, but they wouldn’t be imprisoned long: They were union, and the technician’s guild’s lawyers were to be feared. The shark-faced litigators of Fendex would quickly point out that the tool jockeys were simply following orders, and a game of hot potato would begin. Monk doubted it would climb so high as the boardroom responsible, but the stress of the litigation might better the quality of the next instant colony.

            He would see at least. Joe planned on finding out not long after it was planted.

            There was, though, a lingering pang of guilt regarding the amount of baked flat-bread the shuttle who had delivered him was about to begin shipping between the station and the camp, as it would still be a while before there was anyone at hand who could afford the return trip. He resolved that he’d simply have to tip well for every delivery.

            He was, after all, the newly appointed Deputy Minister of Labour.

             

            Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

            Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

            Freesound.org credits:

            Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

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

            Spread the word!

              FP455 – The Haunting on Cedar Crescent

              Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and fifty-five.

              Flash PulpTonight we present The Haunting on Cedar Crescent

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              This week’s episodes are brought to you by Glow-in-the-Dark Radio!

               

              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 visit Ruben Clay, a man alone in his haunted house.

               

              The Haunting on Cedar Crescent

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

               

              For the fifty-first day Ruben Clay rose to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. The heating system had not yet kicked in, as Addie should have been twenty minutes from finishing her run, but the combination of his bladder’s pressing concerns and the wafting promise of caffeine was enough to push him out of the bedroom, down the short hallway, and into the bathroom.

              The house, still technically in night mode, followed his movements with no more lighting than was necessary to maneuver, and the soft glow over the sink did little to break up the red stain of dawn creeping through the window.

              “Good morning,” said Addie’s voice as he entered the kitchen.

              She’d always been the one to tend the system, and she’d left the customized responses to keep him company while away for a two-week job training session in California. The few dozen phrases she’d sat and recorded into the white box in the basement, one Saturday afternoon in June, had been quickly forgotten upon her return – at least until fifty-one days previous. Summoning her voice had been the single alteration to her setup that he’d allowed himself.

              “It’s going to rain today,” said one of the six weather clips, and, without being asked, the television – visible from the counter’s raised position atop a short trio of stairs – blinked on in the living room. Here, again, was Jonathan Miller, the morning guy, delivering the usual bad news from a too-loungey couch while flanked by a couple of interchangeable blond women who would be rotated out of service when they hit twenty-five.

              Ruben hated Miller for having such an indecently bright smile at such an early hour, pitied the blondes for their cloying attempts to make a mark before their expiry dates arrived, and damned himself for letting the thing unspool for a full ten minutes before reaching for the remote.

              He had never, and would never, understand what she’d seen in the show, and he remained convinced she’d watched it solely because it had been her father’s habit even back when Miller had only been able to afford one brunette and a bottle of peroxide.

              Or so he’d used to joke. She’d never laughed, but that hadn’t stopped him from saying it.

              The coffee was strong, but today that was just fine. For a time he sat in silence, listening to the hum of the house as the climate control applied flame and wind to rooms that no longer contained Addie – to rooms that never would again.

              Eventually he stood, dressed for work, and prepared to depart.

              As he pulled wide the door and prodded the alarm system to engage with a five minute delay, the house reminded him, “it’s going to rain today.”

              He’d grabbed a jacket and locked the entrance behind him with two minutes still on the timer.

              The downpour came late in the day, but it was more than simple rain – it was, in fact, the sort of thunderstorm seen but once or twice a spring; the sort of gale that leaves a week of downed trees and chainsaw-wielding city workers in its wake.

              He returned to an unusually quiet house, a house whose mechanical tone stated, “there has been a power outage, please restore settings,” at regular intervals.

              A Skinner Co. ProductionIt’d been fifty-one days since the teen in the red pickup had slammed into their Lexus, yet the ghost of her habits had haunted the place on automatic timers until that moment.

              Ruben waited out an epoch in that doorway, his laptop bag in hand, his eyes stinging, and the place feeling as empty as he had ever witnessed it. Finally, when he could stand the strange voice’s coaxing no more, he made his way to the basement, and the small white box that acted as his home’s brain.

              The display was asking a single question: “Begin new two-week training phase or restore saved program?”

              To his surprise he lingered for an instant, then he thumbed the backup labelled Addie.

              He spent the rest of the evening listening to the hum of the house breathing through its ducts, until exhaustion finally pushed him towards bed – or, really, the brief list of chores he needed to accomplish before allowing himself the respite of unconsciousness.

              A second fleeting doubt hit him then. Wasn’t he just loading the coffee maker to avoid the smell of burning he’d awaken to otherwise?

              Was he wiping away her existence with such thoughts?

              He retrieved a fresh paper filter and dumped the mass of ground beans into the waiting hopper.

              Was he trying to fool himself into thinking part of her was still alive as long as their shared home behaved like she was? Shouldn’t he reset the automatic timer and begin to recapture the house in small steps?

              It was the first moment in nearly two months that he’d allowed such a notion to occur to him, but, even as he did, the lights at the far end of the house began to dim, the rooms falling hush around him: Time for bed.

              The last of the glow lit his path down the hall, his shuffling feet dragging from another too-early morning.

              Yet, though he’d only been able to briefly consider conducting the rituals necessary to clear her ghost from the house on that fifty-first day, tomorrow would be the fifty-second.

               

              Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

              Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

              Freesound.org credits:

              Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

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

              Spread the word!

                FP454 – The Broken Circle: a Mother Gran Story

                Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and fifty-four.

                Flash PulpTonight we present The Broken Circle: a Mother Gran Story

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                Download MP3

                (RSS / iTunes)

                 

                This week’s episodes are brought to you by Glow-in-the-Dark Radio!

                 

                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 revisit old friends dealing with new, unexpected visitors.

                 

                The Broken Circle: a Mother Gran Story

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

                 

                There came a time, well after the majority of Mother Gran’s family had fled the dried silver mines and the plummeting cost of wheat, when she was left to tend her acreage with the help of only fresh-faced Montgomery Smith and Ellen, her youngest granddaughter at twenty-two.

                Smith had been a boon to the operation. Though by no means the burliest labourer the farm had seen, he had single-handedly cleared the brush and oak back to the lake that bordered the property, and his aid in the harvest meant having to depend little on the stipend provided by her distant benefactor, Thomas Blackhall.

                It was Blackhall who had sent her Smith, and in exchange for the man’s dedication and the paying of a personal debt she had agreed to hold onto volumes of knowledge and artifacts beyond her comprehension. Gran herself was not unfamiliar with the arcane, but hers was a bush education gleaned from family knowledge and the passing wisdom of the occasional vagabond riding the rails through the wilderness. It was just enough schooling to understand the dangers of the items she possessed, and to respect the risk she undertook in keeping them.

                Their pact had included an agreement that she would not pry into her obligation, and she held to the terms till the day Kenton Sweet arrived.

                The stranger appeared as she was setting a meat pie upon her windowsill, and she watched from behind the curtain’s shadow as Sweet shuffled through the gate and passed the main house without attempt to raise awareness as to his arrival.

                Both Smith and Ellen were occupied; he doing his best to fumble his way through a chair repair in the work shed, and she collecting dandelions so they might press them for spring wine.

                The pair had been making eyes at each other for the better part of the year, and the aging grandmother often found herself wishing they’d discuss the matter openly instead of pining in their separate silences. She had little patience left for the dallying nature of the age’s courtship.

                Ellen’s parents had been brought low by a cholera outbreak in Montreal, and the girl had been shipped to the fresh air and field work of Gran’s plot at the age of ten. She’d been there to see the collapse of the nearby town, and the subsequent sowing of their family to the wind. She’d also been there to witness the arrival of Smith himself, carrying news and calling in those debts owed to Blackhall.

                It did not take long for Montgomery to settle. Though young he had seen military service, like many of the overly-excitable and under-parented boys of his era, and the trio’s post-meal evenings were spent in a friendly rhythm of exchanged tales while gathered about the fire: First Mother Gran telling of her youth or some local fairy story; then Smith speaking of his oceanic crossing – where a fellow rifleman had taught every rat on the ship to come to his whistle – or some bit of midnight foolishness he and his comrades had gotten into while vigorously defending the whiskey stills below certain southern public houses; then, finally Ellen would speak of the events of the day in lands both distant and not so distant. She’d befriended, years previous, a mustachioed train engineer by the name of Hanson, and often she would leave a fresh pie, wrapped in old newspaper, at the hilltop watering station, where, in exchange, he would deposit as many broadsheets and penny dreadfuls as he’d been able to collect since his last installment.

                Though no longer obligated to wear his uniform Smith took the duties he’d sworn to Blackhall with the earnestness of any soldier lifting a rifle, and Gran sussed early on that this was why, though they sparred amicably on points of history or whose turn it was to handle the dishes, the young man maintained a certain distance from Ellen’s approaching affection.

                It’d been four years since his arrival, but it was only three weeks since Ellen had stolen a kiss from him behind the barn, and the pair had been warming themselves on their supposed secret since.

                At least this had brought a sliver of a grin to Gran’s face – it was a fool’s joke to think anything might happen within her borders that she was not aware.

                She had, for example, spotted Kenton immediately upon his arrival.

                Maintaining eighty acres was rough work, but harvests could be completed with the help of hired labour and the rest of the season managed by focused dedication. Such effort was not uncommon in hard times, and a body on the roam who knew anything about field work would be aware of such a farmer’s preoccupation.

                From her position behind the half-cocked drape, Gran suspected this was such a visitor. She too could hear the hammering and swearing emanating from the remote work shed, and, even further beyond, Ellen’s stooping form, in yellow spring dress, was clearly visible against the field of green.

                Sweet was creeping along the siding of the small garage in which the widow’s husband had stored their beloved show buggy, the interloper’s right hand in his pocket and his left held out before him as if it might somehow deflect the gaze of anyone he happened to encounter.

                FP454 - The Broken Circle: a Mother Gran StoryDespite her years Gran had never been a woman with much interest in rest. Hoisting hay bales and wrangling swine had kept her wiry limbs taut, and chasing game and running the night fields had kept her feet light.

                He did not hear her approach, yet he greatly felt the sting of her broom handle landing across his left calf and then his right elbow. The impact upon his arm was enough to draw his hand from his pocket, and, though she had sharp eyes on his grip, she was pleased to find it empty.

                “Stand down,” said the stranger, “My name is Sweet – Kenton Sweet – and I am but a simple farmhand come looking for a bit of work in this lush slice of Eden.”

                Gran’s toothless gums only acted to exaggerate the raspberry her lips formed in response. “Pfft – Mayhaps I’ve spent the better part of my years scratching at this patch of swamp dirt, but I know a bloody skulker when I see one, ye bloody skulker.”

                She had noticed immediately the half-time swing of the hammer in the work shed, then the cessation entirely of its morning-long rhythm – yet Sweet had not. Smith, who’d revealed himself a watchful man notwithstanding his flip nature, had no doubt spotted her crossing of the yard, as it had been only the intruder from whom Gran had wished to obscure her approach.

                Montgomery’s reaction had come so quickly that he was still clutching his cudgel as he cleared his throat, drawing the lurker’s attention, but Gran could not be sure her young friend had spotted the stranger’s fingers again drawing into his right pocket.

                “Hey!” she said, her broom handle prodding his shoulder in warning, but at that same moment Sweet, reacting to the sight of Smith’s sudden hammer-carrying appearance, yanked forth a well-worn pocket pistol. Surprise and fear guided Sweet’s instincts and, as his firearm’s mechanism dropped into the breech it was only the stick’s nudge that saved Blackhall’s agent from ending his brief life with a third nostril.

                Yet it was also, however, just enough of an adjustment that Ellen, approaching the gathering from behind with her basket full of daisies, received the startled shot just above her right eye.

                By reflex entirely unconcerned with differentiating between revenge and self-defense, Smith’s hammer landed at Sweet’s temple even before Ellen had fully collapsed.

                Then his weapon tumbled from his grip, and his violence was instantly forgotten as he loped to her side with a keening throat.

                Silence fell. In the distance the same bugs buzzed, and the same birds cawed, and the same waves lapped gently at the lakeshore. The noon sun would soon be relentless in its assault upon the grass and dirt, and the moon would continue to hover over the horizon, eager to bring darkness to the land.

                In that moment, Gran felt the weight of every day she’d known: Every hour she’d laboured against the land, fought against the small minds and quick hands of the local drunks, turned back threats beyond the simple comprehension of the townsfolk who’d shunned her before abandoning their birthplaces entirely.

                Perhaps it was the frustration of not having killed him herself – perhaps it was the sorrow of watching Ellen’s too-young blood soak into the earth that had sustained her for so long – but, whatever the case, Gran, for the first and only time, betrayed the trust Blackhall had invested in her.

                At seeing her collect her tools Smith assumed she’d set herself to scratching out her granddaughter’s grave, but by midday her work proved she was after a hole already dug. Swinging high the iron nails and cedar logs that made up the cellar’s roof, she descended into the cavern in which she had hidden her burden.

                She wept and laughed and searched under the creeping light of the afternoon sun and the hollow glow of the moon’s rise, then she encountered a slip of paper whose edges were rung in skulls and sprouting saplings. Her church Latin was rusty, but the instructions were largely decipherable.

                By that time Smith had carried Ellen’s form to the house, no doubt to wrap her in linens and gush his too-closely held adoration for the girl, but Sweet’s body, cold and staring, remained where it had fallen.

                Morning was breaking at the edge of the yard as she washed her hands and face in water collected from the rain barrel, and the chill damp helped ease the sting about her exhausted eyes. She rarely slept more than a few hours most evenings, but those brief minutes were one of life’s pleasures she greatly looked forward to.

                Still, she would rest easier once her work was done.

                Standing beside the dew-dappled corpse, parchment in hand, she ran her tongue across her lips and began her recitation. Her toothless nature, however, lent certain consonants a mushy resonance, and thrice she was forced to repeat a word once she’d belatedly realized its correct pronunciation.

                Kenton’s Sweet’s form began to buck, his wound knitting itself shut even as his flailing form snapped and reformed his spine repeatedly. Searing white light gushed from his eyes, and the sound of wind howling across a damned plain rolled from his throat. With the closing of her oration his thrashing dwindled, as did the blaze and roar, but Sweet continued to writhe, and his mouth began to form a much more human screaming.

                Gran had prepared for such. Sweet’s pistol was refilled and ready within the broad pockets of her mud-spattered dress.

                Recognition, and pleading, came into his eyes as she approached, but she did not hesitate in firing squarely upon his forehead.

                He twitched once and was dead.

                She allowed herself the space of a single breath, reached across the better part of a century to briefly touch the memory of her mother chiding her that a thing worth doing was worth doing right, then began her second reading.

                Her diction was clearer, and her tongue moved more surely across the words, yet there came a moment, among a tangle of ‘U’s and ‘L’s, in which her jaw gnashed and gnarled, and she knew she had broken hard from the intention of the text.

                Still, she was closer to finished than beginning, and she was unsure of what might result from leaving the job half done.

                This time as Sweet came about there was no chance for screaming – instead blood drained in gouts from his mouth and nose, thick with a porridge of the poorly reformed brain matter that had surrounded her bullet.

                Worse, her exhaustion had led her to skip a critical step, and she had not reloaded the weapon in question. As Kenton took to all fours and splashed scarlet across the muck, she retrieved her shovel and laid it heavily across his neck.

                In moments Gran was fully collected and ready for the third attempt, and her oration was as smooth as the night breeze running its fingers through the tall grass.

                Again the light appeared, but this time its intensity was a glow instead of a torrent, and the round shot with which she had penetrated his skull rolled gently down the bridge of Sweet’s nose as he sat upright.

                His eyes were confused, but appeared otherwise human.

                “Kenton?” asked Gran.

                “Yes?” replied the resurrected man.

                “Any aches and pains? Any lingering concerns?”

                “No aches or pains, but many lingering concerns. How is it that I came to be seated here? My last memory is of -”

                Then she hit him again with the shovel and finally took to digging a grave.

                It was not that she thought it the right thing to do – it was not that she thought it the just thing to do – yet she certainly found it to be the most satisfying of the choices presented to her. There would be much to explain to Blackhall at his next arrival, but, in all fairness, surely he would not want a known murderer wandering about claiming he’d had a resurrection ritual practiced upon his corpse a number of times before his escape?

                Gran could not say what the bushman’s response would be, but in the short term she did not care: There was one last repetition of the rite to carry out, and then a long nap ahead of her. Once all was right again she could worry about all that was wrong in the correction’s wake.

                With aching yet silent feet she approached the farmhouse and the lovers sheltered within.

                 

                Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

                Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

                Freesound.org credits:

                Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

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

                Spread the word!

                  FC131 – Finntastic

                  FC131 - Finntastic

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                  Hello, and welcome to FlashCast #131.

                  Prepare yourself for: Running to the Q, Civil War, sinking ships, Veronica Belmont & The Fictional Follicle Face Off results, Chinese daleks, the Doc Azrael finale, and The Collective Detective!

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