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!

        * * *

        Huge thanks to:

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        Pulp-ular Press:

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        Skinner Co. Announcements:

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        Mailbag:

        MMN10 – Ghostbusters (1984)

        Ghostbusters (1984)

        Join The Mob as we yammer over a viewing of Ghostbusters (1984)!

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        This show is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

        Spread the word!

          FP453 – Censors: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 3 of 3

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

          Flash PulpTonight we present Censors: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 3 of 3

          Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

          Download MP3
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          This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Melting Potcast!

           

          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 again under the watchful eyes of the Diamond Dogs, as one online investigator brings a decades-old mystery into the future’s blinding light.

           

          Censors: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 3 of 3

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

           

          Maritza stood in the chaos of the shared kitchen, her feet curling back and forth across the chill linoleum. As the coffee maker gurgled out its replacement for sleep, her mind wandered over the details of her mother’s letter in an attempt to replace the brutality of the images she’d just witnessed.

          Had the woman undertaken her research into the Collective Detective solely because she thought her daughter might help with the concerns that had lingered, nagging, at the back of her mind? Had she been waiting fifteen years for this opportunity?

          No, it seemed more like her to have done the reading and research because she was concerned about the group her daughter was involving herself with, just as she had originally stated when Maritza had divulged the fact during a brief trip home, four months previous.

          It had been her second visit in two years, and there hadn’t been much conversation between – yet the errant child now held a sneaking suspicion: That the instinct for concern that had caused her mother to sift through online reports, and yellowing news articles at the local library, was the same trait that had driven her to take on such miserable work to provide for her family in the first place.

          FP453 – CENSORS: A COLLECTIVE DETECTIVE CHRONICLE, PART 3 OF 3She had accepted her daughter’s departure for schooling just as she had accepted her position policing junk shots: It was what was best for MarMar.

          Standing in the hushed kitchen it struck the girl as strange that she might realize it all only now, when so far away and so out of touch.

          Then the coffee maker beeped.

          When again situated in front of her keyboard, Maritza cleared her head of personal concerns and attempted to reestablish the mantle of a detached collective contributor. Despite a persistent knot in her heart, it was not hard: She’d made amazing progress given the amount of time, and the next steps were tantalizing.

          Stout James’ account information brought up a thick cloud of social media misuse, and, just as her mother had predicted, a brief history of his photos having been tagged as offensive by strangers who’d been in search of help with their brightly animated collection games.

          Here, however, she hit a snag.

          The apparent murderer had used a data anonymizer to connect to the site, and, while it was an old form whose techniques had since been decrypted, the amount of computing power required to decode the stream would mean submitting a ticket for priority to the Collective as a whole.

          While she had followed the usual protocols – opening a fresh stub for the case and updating it with her findings as she progressed – she had found herself unusually protective of her search, and had operated in such a way as to hopefully draw no attention from her fellow detectives unless someone was bored and creeping the change logs.

          Inspiration hit as she weighed her options and scrolled, unthinkingly, through the timeline of filth. It was not the nastiness of the photo that drew her attention, but, instead, its normalcy.

          Here was an ebon-haired woman of perhaps forty, her carefully pinned locks and flowing purple dress, with simple yellow shawl, indicating the picture had been taken at some sort of formal event. She was flashing a broad grin and her left hand held a tall glass of champagne – there was something, though, in the way her right shoulder was cut short that left MarMar with the impression that perhaps there was a memory she had cropped out in an attempt to forget; That perhaps a good photo was too rare to waste despite the ex-husband or boyfriend who had once stood beside her.

          On a whim, and without stopping her mind’s juggling of how to approach the problem of Stout James’ encryption, she slipped the image into another search.

          The smile was not unique. The portrait had, at a time, been spread as widely as her mourning family might take it, and the missing woman, Callie Meadows, had apparently been beloved by all but the men in her life.

          Pleas for information led to a social media account, now a memorial, and a history of data provided by Callie herself. Again Maritza began chipping at the stone that surrounded the history of the assumed-dead woman, and the trail she had left across the internet of her era. It was easy enough to find an end date – the day Callie had been last seen was well recorded – but when to begin was a fuzzier notion. To be sure, MarMar settled on a window that extended out a year before the woman’s disappearance.

          The logs turned up a not-entirely-surprising link: Ms. Meadows had been active, shortly before vanishing, on Pair.com, a dating website. The image remained, in fact, her long abandoned profile picture even now.

          MarMar’s probing fingers dug deeper, recovering the records of her interactions and compiling a list of possible paramours. The connection seemed too strong to be coincidence, and she swept the rest of the data from her search like so much marble dust.

          A list of five names remained, and, among them, only one James: Her second last accepted invitation out, if her private messaging – no longer private – was any indication.

          If necessary Maritza determined she could track down the woman’s cellphone records and be sure, but she did not think it would be so. Instead she plucked at this new thread, crawling backwards into the profile, and inbox, of one James Pitts.

          Again she discovered his location was unable to be tracked to its root – the same anonymizer having been used to interface with the dating service as had been used to hide his identity from social media snoopers – but she had full access to the user in question, and she was beginning to suspect that might be enough.

          Here were missives to a dozen suitors, and, as MarMar tracked each name, a dozen missing women.

          She sat staring, with slow blinks, at her screen. Should the Pair.com people have noticed? Their software hadn’t been designed to track serial killers, and James had left a buffer between his arranged outings and the women’s actual disappearance – the dates listed in public police databases often indicated up to three or four weeks later.

          Yet the matches were far too consistent to be any sort of fluke.

          Now she submitted her request for a larger share of the collective’s processing power: Decrypting the address behind the account would lead her to him, and if anyone else noticed at this point they’d only be watching her cross the finish line.

          Maritza was exhausted. Her knees ached from her cross-legged position, and she’d had to lower the Thin White Duke to a whisper as even her ears felt tender. Despite her fatigue, however, she found she was furious. Furious that this man had gotten away with his crimes for so long, furious that he’d exposed her mother – HER NANAY – to his handiwork, furious that the elder Mercado had been forced to undertake such work to support her, furious that she hadn’t understood her mother was more than just a robot programmed to nurture until just then.

          Visions of SWAT teams danced in her head: Men the size of small buses battering their way through the crumbling door of some distant farmhouse, assault rifles raised and barrel-mounted flashlights piercing the musty darkness beyond. Stout James would no doubt be in his living room, sitting in an old chair, waiting. She began to hope he’d resist.

          She could not say where her daydreams ended and her actual slumber began, but the late hour worked to her advantage in at least one aspect. More than half of the Collective’s users were North American, and even the night owls among them had long dragged themselves to bed or nodded off at their keyboards. Even as Maritza snored, curled beside the laptop she’d given more room on her futon than herself, her request rocketed through the processing system.

          An editor by the name of DarshBoard spotted it first, having returned from a long lunch with a sack of samosas he’d intended on nibbling through while ignoring, at least for one more afternoon, the code review his boss had ordered.

          Suddenly finding something more interesting to fill his time, he granted the requested fastlane access and opened his messaging app. KabirToss was going to want to hear about this.

          An hour later Maritza’s body surrendered its game of Rock, Paper, Scissors: Sleep had briefly beaten coffee, but bladder had, in turn, overwhelmed sleep.

          Stumbling to and from the bathroom, she lifted the laptop from her mattress and prepared for a more expansive collapse. It did not come when her eyes landed upon the rapidly bubbling number atop her message queue, and the red text that indicated her inquiry had already been completed.

          Refreshing the case stub she found her simple notes had been clarified and expanded upon by a dozen fellow detectives.

          She discovered she was right about one thing: James had in fact lived on a farm. A quick map search determined it was nothing more than a ruin, abandoned for almost a decade..

          Still, the general consensus was that, given the lack of bodies found in relation to the missing women, some evidence was likely to be had from the plot’s fertile earth, and DNA likely lingered in its carpets.

          Yet there would be no SWAT teams. The local news had reported James death some seven years previous, a prostitute having stabbed him in apparent self-defense.

          Again Maritza was left to blink at her screen – then she reached for her phone.

          “Musta,” came the distant answer.

          She’d intended on some sort of – well, not speech, but at least something like an apology. A statement of her new understanding. Something witty and maybe a bit touching, but too much had happened in too short a period, and exhaustion had worn her nerves to snapping.

          Her mouth began to move with little influence from her brain. “I – I came so close, I almost got him. I mean, I did find him, I found Thick Jim, or Stout James, or whatever you want to call him, but he’s dead. He killed those ladies, just like you thought, and more, but he’s dead and I didn’t get there in time. We didn’t get there in time.”

          There was a pause on the line, a combination of mental processing and the delay of distance, then her mother replied, “but you will be able to call their families? Call their Nanays, if they still live, and let them know for certain who and what happened to their daughters?”

          “I think so.”

          Another pause.

          “Sometimes a warm word and a little closure is enough. It is good to hear your voice.”

          “Yeah,” replied MarMar, “it’s good to hear yours too.”

           

          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!

            FP452 – Censors: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 2 of 3

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

            Flash PulpTonight we present Censors: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 2 of 3

            Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

            Download MP3
            (Part 1Part 2Part 3)
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            This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Melting Potcast!

             

            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 re-join one of the Collective’s investigators, Maritza “MarMar” Mercado, follows a too-bloody, too-naked, trail of digital breadcrumbs.

             

            Censors: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 2 of 3

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

             

            Staring down the gray boxes of the Collective Detective’s sprawling archive, Maritza considered what she knew: The company her mother had worked for, AssignMe, and the brief window of two months in which she had been employed.

            It wasn’t much to go on, but “solving mysteries with no more than a ghost’s whisper is what the Collective does,” was a regular refrain from her friend and fellow contributor, Harrisment, and she knew a witness statement was far more than most cases they undertook began with.

            Besides, it wasn’t a lack that was generally the problem: She considered working with the Collective like being a marble sculptor – the shape of the solution lay in the data, but it was up to her to shave away the excess surrounding it.

            She started, as always, with every bit of traffic transmitted across the NSA’s snoop servers over the course of several years.

            Adjusting her timeline to cover the summer in question, MarMar did a simple search for the company’s website traffic. The engine began to chug away, retrieving logs and doing its best to feed it back to her via interfaces that would help make some sense of the flood. Webpages were a well-maintained protocol among the collective’s users, but she knew if the management system the company had used was custom she might be bogged down in having to reverse engineer the software necessary to display the stream of information.

            Casting a hopeful glance at Ziggy Stardust, pinned on poster paper to her wall, she rummaged in her desk drawer for a piece of gum and ignored the possibility of tedium on the horizon.

            The site provided email addresses – another protocol the project easily understood, its unencrypted nature making it especially easy to track. Attached to the requests for time off, excuses for late arrivals, and complaints regarding broken vending machines was the IP data for the facility. From there it took very little prodding to block out a decent range that encompassed everything traveling the company’s wires.

            She exhaled with a grin: The interface AssignMe had used to filter and tag offenders was all web-based, and, better yet, included individual usernames that were automatically rolled over into timesheets to determine how much the operators were owed on payday.

            There were dozens of Mercados in the database, but only one Alaiza whose records began and abruptly ended during the window in question.

            There was no result for a Thick Jim, however.

            Again MarMar narrowed her search, this time coming back with what her mind considered a single unbroken thread of data.

            Here her work truly began. She could not ask the computer to filter the job further, she would have to flip through the feed and identify the clues by hand.

            Still, it was a filthy river to be fishing in. College could be a lonely place, and she was not unacquainted with the occasional naughty picture, but the depths of depravity that unwound themselves from her laptop’s too-bright screen left her wanting another shower and a walk along empty streets.

            Six hours into her scrolling, with her bladder in increasing need of a break and her brain demanding coffee, she came across the image. It was not the first photograph mentioned in her mother’s letter – perhaps she’d blinked in her endless examination and somehow missed it. Here, instead, was the white chair, just as it had been described, and the axe handle apparently propping up the anonymous woman whose purple flank was turned away from the camera but all too visible against the gray pallor of her naked flesh.

            FP452 - Censors: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 2 of 3The name associated with the account was not Thick Jim, but Maritza’s time with the Collective had taught her that such tricks of memory were common. If anything, it was impressive that her mother, fifteen years after the incident, had retained Stout James as Thick Jim.

            That info brought up the shot she’d missed, and the one she had yet to reach. Having chiseled out the final nuggets, she almost regretted her success. She could understand how the first portrait had been missed: Its oddities were obvious to her, but only in retrospect, which, if she were honest, actually bolstered her respect of her mother’s perceptive nature. All too often it had worked against her during her youthful days of mischief, but now she realized the woman might have a knack for work among her fellow detectives.

            The final photo – the red and ragged form that had eventually led to Stout James’ account closing – was the sort of thing she might now assume was a still from some too-realistic horror film, some piece of gore porn circulated via online streaming rentals and listed alongside the Saw or Human Centipede movies under a title like “20 Genuinely Upsetting Cult Classics.”

            As unnerving as it was, however, it was the next phase that flushed MarMar’s sense of victory, replacing it instead with goosebumps across her forearms and a chill along her spine.

            Somehow she’d hoped that it WAS in fact a screen-grab from some strange film, or some project by a special effects artist whose work had gotten out of hand – perhaps, even, some random weirdness passed between fetishists visiting sketchy forums. There was nothing on the internet, especially nothing fifteen years old, that remained unique. Any image, once uploaded and left to settle, would likely blossom into a hundred copies strewn across servers by, at the least, spambots and inexplicable enthusiasts.

            Yet this trio of pictures, as exposed and lurid as they were, returned no results in a search for duplicates – had, in fact, no matches across the history of the entirety of the operating network as far as she could tell.

            These were no fakes, these were no mock-ups. Her mother’s intuition had been correct, and now the daughter was left to consider the consequences.

            She stood, gave Ziggy a nod, and shuffled towards the coffee grinder with heavy feet and a heavier head.

             

            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!

              FP451 – Censors: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 3

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

              Flash PulpTonight we present Censors: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 3

              Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

              Download MP3
              (Part 1Part 2Part 3)
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              This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Melting Potcast!

               

              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 join a prodigal daughter – but one member of the loose collection of electronic investigators that make up the Collective Detective – as she stands at the edge of a number of digital graves.

               

              Censors: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 3

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

               

              The letter arrived on a Wednesday but Maritza didn’t realize till Friday afternoon, when she found herself with a few moments to sift the dunes of junk mail and bills that had accumulated on the living room table. It was July, so there was little reason for the seven students who split rent on the rambling three-story-house to be discriminating about the flow: Come September careful sorting would again fall into place, to avoid the loss of loan payments or tuition receipts, but for now the envelopes simply collected like paper snow, to be examined only if you, say, happened to be waiting for someone to get out of the shower, and to be likely shoveled into the recycling tub at the next sign of an approaching party.

              In some ways the missive was no surprise at all: Putting pen on paper was typical of the elder Mercado. They’d feuded over calls – Maritza had tried to make clear she was fine with texting, email, or even social media interactions, but speaking into the telephone felt ancient and off-putting to the computer science major. It was otherwise always serious people who wanted to talk to her on the phone, people she owed money to generally, and so she’d been slowly trained into being adverse to using its voice functions.

              Besides, she was better in writing – funnier, wittier, more able to express how she felt. Yet her mother, equally stubborn, refused to engage on a technical level.

              Maritza’s frustration had only grown in the two years since she’d left home. The distance and cost were too great to justify moving back for the summer months, so she’d found a local job and declared her back-bedroom futon her sole haven. Since then communication with her stone-faced mother had become increasingly infrequent, and irritating, and it had been easier to simply let the gaps between attempts widen.

              There had perhaps been some distractions along the way as well: Two brief relationships, one with a housemate who’d dramatically departed the residence after her first semester of classes, and another with an arts student who’d talked a better game than he’d been able to maintain. Largely, however, her non-academic attentions had been absorbed by a project she’d originally encountered through her data structures professor.

              Since that conversation outside her lecture hall the Collective Detective archive had kept her awake and wearing dirty sweat pants on more occasions than she was willing to admit, and her assistance on several stubs had earned her a welcome spot on most open files.

              What caught Maritza off guard about the letter was that it was on the very topic that had consumed so many of her waking hours.

              “MarMar,” it opened, and the first three blocks of tight-packed fine-tipped writing that followed outlined a number of things that her daughter already knew: That the collective’s massive archive was the result of an accidental government leak of every internet interaction that had passed across the United States’ lines in the years of wiretapping the NSA had undertaken of its own people. She even went so far as to highlight a number of cases she had read about, though Maritza hadn’t been involved in any of them.

              Despite the interest in her area of fascination, the girl couldn’t help but feel vaguely annoyed that her mother hadn’t simply emailed her all of this if she’d apparently been spending hours online reading up on the organization anyhow.

              Then the bathroom door opened, and the letter was lost in her flannel pajama bottoms’ deep right pocket.

              It was twelve hours later, as she was gladly abandoning her blue work shirt and khaki pants on the floor of her bedroom, that the pages again crossed her mind. Pulling on an already-coffee-blotted Labyrinth t-shirt, Maritza flipped open her laptop.

              Selecting the icon that would bring her to her Collective Detective login, she punched out the letters of her username with a distracted forefinger – MarMar – even as she scanned the corners of her room for her discarded PJ pants.

              They’d landed in a ball beside her desk. With a trio of deft clicks she started playing Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, an album she’d been strangely obsessed with over the last week, then she retrieved the feat of penmanship.

              MarMar, I have been doing some reading, blah, blah, blah – and then it launched into a story she’d never heard before.

              Apparently her mother, broke and raising her daughter while awaiting the return of her husband from a money-making venture overseas, had once briefly found work in the most unexpected of areas: Online. A school friend had been recruited for a company that acted as both police and waste management for a number of popular social media networks. If someone reported an inappropriate image or post it was they who would swoop in, absorb the awfulness, and determine what action should be taken – mostly to ignore or remove it.

              The job itself sounded miserable, but the pay was better than most local, legal, professions.

              The Collective Detective: A Skinner Co. PodcastSo it was that, when her friend, who’d paused at the gate while walking back from her air-conditioned cubicle, had offered to put in a good word, Maritza’s mother had lept at the opportunity.

              She’d drowned in the filth of the world for two months, then quit.

              Until this point the text was full of her mother’s usual authoritative tone. This was not a personal conversation, it was a history teacher providing a lecture to her student. Here, however, her words softened and she caught Maritza again off guard: She asked for help.

              The woman had spent hours a day scrubbing the internet of soft or hard human anatomy being pleasured or abused in turns; she’d seen porn, pain, and penises inserted into every household object a desperate individual with a phone camera might pull from a closet.

              Yet what had truly upset her most were three specific images, all, she believed, taken by the same man.

              The first had simply been vulgar. A naked woman shot from neck to knees, her hand set provocatively in her lap as she sat in a large white chair. There was something about her skin tone, however, so gray in its shade, seeming so cold against the ivory cushions, that caught her eye.

              Over her shoulders stood a few tantalizing clues as to the setting in which the photo had been taken: A bottle of Jack Daniels sitting on top of a cheap TV stand to her left, and to her right – was that an axe? And, upon closer inspection, was that blood speckled on her shoulder?

              Time was not her ally in her inspection. She’d already spent too long analyzing what her manager would consider a simple case. The user would be issued a warning, the image automatically removed. It was his first offense, no further action was warranted.

              Still, the speckle of crimson had nagged at her. As she’d moused to the dialog that would carry out her judgement, and bring up the next nugget of smut or gore for consideration, she’d noted the username: Thick Jim – then the next junk in a kitchen appliance arrived.

              It was a month before the name popped up again attached to another grainy photo from a too-dark room, again set in the same white chair. This one had her legs crossed, and her body was turned as if to show off her surgeon’s implant work.

              The mother did not fully understand why Thick Jim’s snapshot had planted a hook in her mind, but she’d thought on the original photo more than once while little else in her universe of muck had stuck.

              The brunette – her face didn’t show, but her hair fell across her shoulders in great brown loops – seemed almost too at ease, as if she might melt out of the chair entirely. A tattoo on her left shoulder, a bird or perhaps stars – the aging witness could not quite recall – drew her eyes to the portion of the woman’s rib cage furthest from the camera. Was that a shadow or a vast purple bruise? Then her gaze clarified the shape that ran beside chair and woman: The same ax she’d seen in the background of the previous photo, now seeming to act as crutch beneath the woman’s shoulder.

              Except it did not seem she had settled her weight naturally against the handle – it reminded the viewer, more than anything, of the planks her neighbour had set in place to slow the collapse of his tilting fence.

              She wrote the name, Thick Jim, down, and tagged the photo as containing possible criminal activity. A quick check of his history showed that he had been a regular offender since their first encounter, each incident apparently reported by a user whose profile fell into the general frame of “busy body who made friends with random people on the internet so that they might assist them in collecting 10 goats for AgriCity.

              Perhaps it was this that had allowed him to slip by without a ban, instead having each picture taken down in turn.

              On her third interaction – her final interaction – his account was officially closed. She’d tagged his name to be forwarded to her should it come up again, and had been keeping a careful eye on the stacks of scrolling names. Watching specific people in the crowd was a practice strictly against company policy, which dictated all review procedures be more or less between strangers, yet the habit of such snooping was unofficially maintained by every gossipy grandmother and jealous boyfriend in the building.

              There were few other perks to the endless grind of sexual organs, mutilated animals, and penetrated flesh.

              There was no doubt of the violence in the last image. It was, in fact, only difficult to tell where exactly the organs splayed across the room had come from. There was the same cheap TV stand, now slick with blood, and though it did not seem to be the same Jack Daniels there, too, was a shattered bottle neck, its jagged end clogged with meat and what Maritza’s mother suspected to be organs.

              As the story unfolded the writing had lost its rigid form, becoming increasingly slanted as if its author hoped to outrun the unpleasant conclusion she had come to. There had been plenty of incidents in Maritza’s youth – stained clothes, school fights, lagging grades – over which the woman had criticized extensively, but, even as text, this was the closest her daughter had ever seen to her growing truly upset.

              This terrible momentum continued throughout her conclusion: Vomiting into the garbage can at her desk, the weight of the job and everything she’d seen seeming to suddenly come up with that morning’s eggs. Demanding the account be banned and the police informed, and standing over her manager’s shoulder as he’d okayed the request, then the brief joy of quitting before the weight of not knowing had finally settled over her.

              She had read a lot about this new project her daughter seemed so excited about, but now she needed to know something she had wondered for twenty years: Had Thick Jim, as she suspected, been a serial killer? Had he been stopped? Years of watching the news for some mention had left her with no satisfying answer.

              Could her estranged offspring do anything to solve these lingering mysteries?

              As she concluded her reading and allowed the sheets to return to their natural fold lines, Maritza replied, to her empty room, “yes, yes I can,” then she pressed enter to complete her – until then forgotten – connection to the archive.

               

              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.

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                FC130 – Nautical Disaster

                FC130 - Nautical Disaster

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                Hello, and welcome to FlashCast #130.

                Prepare yourself for: Terrifying nautical tales, zombie board gaming, Kevin Hart vs Prince, Houdini & Lovecraft – buddy cops, and Muddy York

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                Huge thanks to:

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                Pulp-ular Press:

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                Skinner Co. Announcements:

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                Mailbag:

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                Audio-dacity of Hope:

              • Download Reverse Crash
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                Backroom Plots:

              • FPSE33 – Singular
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                Also, many thanks, as always, Retro Jim, of RelicRadio.com for hosting FlashPulp.com and the wiki!

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                If you have comments, questions or suggestions, you can find us at http://skinner.fm, or email us text/mp3s to comments@flashpulp.com.

                FlashCast is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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