FP391 – Coffin: Weakness, 6 of 6

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Coffin: Weakness, Part 6 of 6
(Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)

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

(RSS / iTunes)

 

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

 

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

Tonight Will Coffin, urban shaman, and Bunny, his roommate and apprentice, find themselves rudely rebutted by a nymph.

 

Coffin: Weakness, Part 6 of 6

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

 

Anger, Will reflected, is supposed to be a young man’s game. No one takes a punk band over fifty seriously, and most aren’t interested in seeing two grandfathers beat each other bloody in a boxing ring – well, more than once.

Yet, here at the edge of Lake Clark, with his boots wet and his eyes grimy from too much worry and too little sleep, Coffin was decidedly angry.

Though he’d tried to convince himself it was having to depend on the pretentious owl to locate Jenny Greenteeth that was the source of his unrest, being so far from home had brought Will to finally admit, at least to himself, that it was the notion that his homicidal dead wife might suddenly be washed away like the spirits of the four drowned cadavers that had him agitated.

The moment of truth did little to better his mood.

CoffinNeither did the nymph’s reaction to his demand to surrender.

Her tiny form had surfaced readily enough, but so distant from the shore as to be nothing more than a speck on the horizon.

Jenny’s words had traveled well, however: “Gobble a chode you bloody Tin Star!”

It was also fairly easy to guess which fingers she was waving.

Coffin started to chuckle, and he recognized it as the same dry rattle Sandy had taken on before the end.

He shrugged it off and reached into the black leather satchel slung at his side.

Within lay a jeweled baton, atop which, to his apprentice’s eye, rode a tiny blizzard. The storm seemed held in place by several bands of gold laid across the clouds and snow in thin ribbons.

A flick of the wrist brought a point to the occult tool, its base extending suddenly to the form a staff.

From over his left shoulder, Bunny asked, “what in the Go-Go-Gadget #### is that?”

“The Winter Scepter,” replied Will. “As far as artifacts go, this is actually a fairly recent ancient one. The telescoping does nothing but make it more portable, and it’s just clever metalworking, nothing mystical.

”Watch this though.”

With a firm grip he pinned the water’s edge to the sand below, and the reaction was immediate.

A wave of ice moving at a sprinting dog’s pace began to roll across the surface, and even as practiced a swimmer as Jenny could not outrun its frigid clench.

It was a ten minute walk to the spot at which the nymph waited, her left arm aloft, mid-breaststroke.

“Shoulda brought some ###damn skates,” said Bunny.

Knowing full-well that her song would do nothing against Will’s defenses, Jenny replied, “taste Tartarus, frails.”

There was the rage again, crawling up Coffin’s back and pulling his belly tight. His boot heel twisted in the snow and his fingers dug deeply into his pockets.

Instead of a roar, however, his mouth formed the words, “I’m sorry.”

Both women raised a brow in surprise, but he continued.

“Given your history, trapping you tightly like this isn’t exactly something I’m excited about. I’m not saying you’re justified, but I understand your vendetta.”

The algae upon her chin had begun to frost as Jenny replied, “are you giving a ‘this is going to hurt me more than it is you’ speech? Because it seems easy to be remorseful about how delicious the fish in your net are, and, after the last job I did for him, I’m sure the owl has no more patience for keeping me around.

“Frankly, I would’ve rathered he did it himself, but, that’s never been that dainty fop’s style, so I’ve been left to die at the hands of lice.”

“Actually,” said Coffin, as he leaned low into her vision, “what I do next is going to depend very much on how you answer this question: Were you responsible for the disposal of the phantoms on behalf of the Kar’Wickians, and, if so, how?”

It was the first time Jenny had been in proximity of a non-drowning mundane human in hundreds of years, and she found she missed the other stupid faces the mortals made.

“No, I’d love to drive you mad and claim I made them disappear, but really the spider children’s representative simply passed on that Abe and Tina would ‘clean things up.’”

Standing, Coffin began to stride towards the distant rental car, but stopped to repeat himself.

“I really am sorry.”

Wonder had made the gathered emissaries careless, and it was clear even before he reached the shore that the treeline was brimming with wildlife come to witness his actions – which is why, when Wide Eye confronted him on the beach, the avian lord whispered.

“You let her live!?” he demanded, his four wings in constant motion.

Coffin shrugged. “You were so insistent that the last one was yours to deal with, I figured I’d leave you the pleasure. You’ve got about three minutes before the ice transmutes back to water.”

To Will’s mind the owl, as much as the bird hated acting publicly, could try his luck with Jenny Greenteeth: There were no more questions of secret rituals or unknown magicks or an arcane plague – the shaman finally had names to blame for the spectral disappearances, and now the hunt could truly begin.

He found himself whistling.

 

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.

Coffin’s theme is Quinn’s Song: A New Man, by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com/

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!

    FP390 – Coffin: Weakness, 5 of 6

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and ninety.

    Flash PulpTonight we present Coffin: Weakness, Part 5 of 6
    (Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)

    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

    (RSS / iTunes)

     

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

     

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

    Tonight Will Coffin, urban shaman, and Bunny, his roommate and apprentice, discuss the unfortunate history of nymphs.

     

    Coffin: Weakness, Part 5 of 6

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

     

    It was noon, and they were at Denny’s.

    “####,” Bunny was saying, around a mouthful of pancake, “so she couldn’t stop doing it? The incubus thing kinda makes sense then, I guess.”

    Turning from the window, Coffin winced. “Not a nymphomaniac, a nymph. Way back in the toga days they were a sort of nature spirit who’d live in rivers, streams, tributaries, fjords – basically every wet place you figure’d be worth taking a vacation photo at would have one.

    “Generally they manifested as shapely naked ladies, in their early twenties, who’d come ashore to sing and dance when visitors or worshipers arrived, but otherwise they maintained a dwelling within the depths of their swimming pool for privacy.”

    Lifting another wad of syrup and batter to her mouth, Bunny asked, “sounds like they’d be pretty popular, so where’d they go?”

    “Well, see, the nymphs were pretty into free love. They didn’t need it, like Valentine, but they were, uh, very welcoming to friendly shore-side visitors. The more civilized folks got, though, the less their spouses appreciated it.

    “Nymph culture was slow to change, mostly because they were so localized, and their reputation went from something akin to a regional deity to the mess dumped on sex workers.

    “I should be clear though: Their interest was really only in natural beauty. They danced because of the elegance of grass swaying in the wind, they rutted on the shore because that’s the way of the wild, and they sang because it called beasts and birds of all shape to their banks and kept them there in peace.

    “Still, as things got worse some of them tried to go clean – the lady who supposedly lobbed the sword at Arthur was probably a nymph – but I think they hoped pants and religion were fads.”

    “Me too, me too,” answered Bunny.

    Will shrugged, taking advantage of the interruption to sip at his coffee. Despite his best efforts to be patient, his eyes wandered to the window.

    There was nothing of note in the tightly stuffed parking lot.

    Frowning, he continued. “You’re familiar with the old ‘I read it for the articles line’? In those days sneaky husbands and unsatisfied wives would claim they were just ‘going to hear the nymphs sing.’ Maybe that’s what started the trade – whatever the case, there was no Top 40 back then, and the medieval nobles, sick of having their trophy spouses sneak off, began to improvise jukeboxes.

    “The real problem was that the nymph’s mystic song couldn’t help but bring a sense of soothing, even if weepily sung after having had their limbs clipped and being entrapped in tiny caskets.

    “Now, this isn’t something just anybody would know about, this is the sort of secret treat rich people like to save for their most special guests. You’d be lead into a well sealed room by a deaf servant and your host. and there’d be a decorated box with what looked like a fairly heavy trashcan upside down on top.

    “Your host would invite you to lie down on a lounge chair, priming you the whole time about what a wonderful surprise you were about to have, and the servant would lift the iron lampshade to reveal a young woman who’d lay out a tune so lovely it was like taking a mouthful of rave pills.

    “When the allotted period was up, the servant would drop the shade. The attendants were also in charge of punishment for lack of performance, but we don’t need to get into the abuses you can inflict on a head in a cabinet.

    “Immortality can be a rough gig like that, but even occult beings need to eat.

    “In the end they all starved to death.

    “Jenny though – Jenny was a fighter. Jenny gave up her home, the hardest thing for her kind, and set herself loose in the wilds; Let her hair grow long and tangled, let the muck of the river bottoms cover her skin, let decay and fish guts cling to her teeth. She hid like that for years, until even the memory of the slaughter of her people was forgotten, and her rage simmered.

    “She started trying to avenge herself.”

    “#### yeah,” said Bunny, “I’d go Rambo over that #### too.”

    Will nodded, but replied, “consider the flip side though: You’re strolling by the river and you hear a whisper. You stop and there’s a woman – or is it a woman? She almost looks like nothing more than a collection of lily pads and stones – a face hovering at the still surface. Maybe you don’t listen at first. Maybe you’ve got a strong aversion to getting wet, maybe you’re smart enough not to talk to entities speaking from ponds, maybe you just have no sense of curiosity.

    “Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter, because that slight, cheerless face begins singing, and suddenly everything is beautiful and calm. Suddenly you have no interest but in relaxing in the cool damp. Suddenly you’re drowning.

    “Beloved family pets taking a drink, children roaming alone, lovers skinny dipping – anyone that would make others share some of the pain.

    ”Eventually she gained a new reputation: As a killer. Even the mystical and the immortal need the occasional human disappeared.”

    Leaning back to bask in her victory over the forces of dough, Bunny asked, “so she’s some kinda supernatural hitman now?”

    “Basically.”

    In truth, however, Bunny already knew all this – she’d read the same texts Coffin was reciting from – but, even with his neck-cramping turns to peer out the window, it was the calmest she’d seen him in days.

    She did not mention that the tale explained nothing of the missing phantoms.

    The real question she wanted answered involved what exactly was in the worn leather messenger bag he’d taken to carrying. Before she might ask, though, a blur of movement to her left caught her attention. Beyond the dusty cream shades six dozen cats sat atop the sea of sun-baked cars.

    Noting her gaze, they began to wail.

    It was time to go.

     

    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.

    Coffin’s theme is Quinn’s Song: A New Man, by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com/

    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!

      FP389 – Coffin: Weakness, 4 of 6

      Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and eighty-nine.

      Flash PulpTonight we present Coffin: Weakness, Part 4 of 6
      (Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)

      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

      (RSS / iTunes)

       

      This week’s episodes are brought to you by Nutty Bites!

       

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

      Tonight Will Coffin, urban shaman, and Bunny, have an unpleasant discussion with an ancient owl.

       

      Coffin: Weakness, Part 4 of 6

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

       

      “He was not yours to punish,” said Wide Eye, his double set of wing joints ruffling in agitation.

      Bunny, Coffin, and the owl were standing on the chill pavement of a highway rest area while the Phantom Ambulance’s bulk provided little protection from the prying spring wind.

      It’d been a long night, even before receiving the summons from the gray and white avian noble, and Will had no patience for watching the freshly appointed monarch preen and legislate while there were tasks at hand to be accomplished.

      “If not mine, whose?” asked the shaman.

      “Mine,” answered the animal lord.

      Dawn was breaking all around them, but Will could only think that a new day simply meant a new set of problems.

      He grunted, saying, “Blackhall was very clear about the nature of my office. Something Pisky and I had in common was a lack of interest in politics, and I think it helped us get along just fine. Don’t test the pacts and I won’t.”

      “Is it the nature of your office to let one beast go free while removing the sole purpose for another’s existence?” asked Wide Eye, his neck rotating to indicate the ambulance and its arcane driver while never taking his gaze from Will’s. “Your process strikes at me as – slipshod.”

      “My process will strike you, full stop, if you don’t quit wasting breath and get every chatty sea gull and nosey turtle under your command churning the waters for Jenny GreenTeeth.”

      The bird’s disagreement came in slow gusts of wind, but his words held the weight of a being who’d wielded legions of bestial spies and warriors over thousands of years.

      “He was not yours to punish.”

      Bunny, though eager to be home and in her bed, felt a need to add, “it was kinda ####in’ harsh.”

      Will turned to the trees, his fingers playing across the links of the silver chain that allowed his communication with the dead.

      Things had been simpler when he’d been left to talk with his corpses.

      Finally, he cleared his throat.

      “Harsh?” he asked. “Harsh is an immortal rapist who manipulates his victims, using powers literally beyond human comprehension, to convince them they really are interested in spontaneous unprotected sex with a stranger who has suddenly appeared in their bedroom – and nevermind the four bloated cadavers waving their hands in the air like they’re tied to weighted chairs at the bottom of a river.”

      There was a long pause as the trio watched the sun flood the horizon in red and yellow light.

      Coffin“These are indeed dangerous times,” replied Wide Eye. “Our every subject has its attention on the water’s edge. I will find Jenny GreenTeeth, and, when I do, it is likely best that I let the sort who castrates one monster, while begging rides from another, deal with the matter in your own barbaric way.

      “Still, you do not know where the missing spirits of the dead have gone, do you? As a courtesy I have posted watch at your wife’s resting place – just in case, you understand.”

      Even to Bunny’s achingly tired ears the words sounded vaguely of a honeyed threat. The matter of the missing remnants was as close to a raw nerve as Bunny had ever seen Coffin display, and she braced herself for fireworks.

      She could not have anticipated his reaction, however.

      “Before you question my judgement you’d do best to remember who put her there and why,” Will replied.

      The ride back to town was a silent one.

       

      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.

      Coffin’s theme is Quinn’s Song: A New Man, by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com/

      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!

        FP388 – Coffin: Weakness, Part 3 of 6

        Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and eighty-eight.

        Flash PulpTonight we present Coffin: Weakness, Part 3 of 6
        (Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)

        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

        (RSS / iTunes)

         

        This week’s episodes are brought to you by Nutty Bites!

         

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

        Tonight Will Coffin, urban shaman, and Bunny, his recently sober apprentice, find themselves unexpectedly asking questions in a seedy boutique.

         

        Coffin: Weakness, Part 3 of 6

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

         

        “Well,” said Bunny, “you know what they say: ‘third porn shop’s the charm.’”

        The paramedic to her left grunted, but beneath its surgical-mask disguise its spiraling rows of teeth flexed and salivated. His eyes were fixed to a rental ad featuring a woman kneeling before a broad pair of hairy legs.

        Catching his gaze, Bunny winced.

        “It’s not what you think,” she said, “no one actually gets eaten in Flesh Eaters V.”

        Though perhaps it was indeed what had first drawn its attention, the truth was that the driver of The Phantom Ambulance had been caught wondering how it was that it had come an unknowable distance into this horrible dimension of delicious temptation only to find itself acting as chaffeur, between lewd dens that smelled of sweat and meat, for the very entity that denied it a meal.

        On the far side of the counter’s clouded glass, a woman with thick plugs in her earlobes and a look of boredom on her face shrugged at Coffin for a second time.

        “I’m not really supposed to discuss the customers,” she repeated.

        “I understand,” replied Will, “but I’m asking on behalf of the elderly woman who recently woke up to discover him at the foot of her bed. This guy would probably be browsing a lot of sleep fetish material.”

        Dragging her focus across his battered leather jacket, then his companions, the clerk bit her lip.

        Coffin pushed. “He’d be pretty though – too pretty, you’d think, to be lurking in a place like this. No offense.”

        She sighed.

        “Yeah, I know him. Valentine Giovanni. I actually figured it was a fake, and I respect a little flair – most people just stick to John Smith around here – but it’s how he introduces himself when you call his voicemail, and I’ve always just gotten his voicemail. He’s always quick to show though. Kind of, uh, disturbingly quick.

        “He definitely started on the sleep fetish thing but, well, the guys big on variety. I thought I’d seen it all till he started asking us to import foreign films that’d make my pupils bleed. In the end we weren’t even sure how legal they were, so we had to tell him we weren’t going to anymore. He still constantly comes in looking for something new though.”

        Her arm moved across her stomach as she spoke, and the ring-heavy fingers of her right hand wrapped themselves around the nautical scene depicted on her left forearm.

        After a moment’s pause she uncoiled and scrawled a phone number.

        “You didn’t get any of this from me. The owner would be pissed if they knew I was giving out details about such a big spending customer.”

        * * *

        It was Bunny who left the message.

        “Hi, this is, uh, Marilyn, on behalf of Ms. Flores. She’d like to extend a, er, financial opportunity. In exchange for certain, you know, services, that she feels you can provide.”

        Seconds after making his appearance in the 7-Eleven parking lot she’d suggested as their midnight meeting place, however, Valentine Giovanni was on to the fact that something was amiss.

        Perhaps it was the strange man in the surgical mask who wouldn’t stop staring at him from behind the wheel of his parked ambulance, perhaps it was the fact that the Marilyn, waiting at the center of the pool of light, was clad entirely in denim.

        CoffinWhatever the case, he first turned to leave, then, at the approach of running boots, began to fade entirely from existence – a maneuver he usually undertook only under the cover of darkness and in the privacy of an unexpectedly invaded bedroom.

        His crisp blue irises and finely lined cheekbones were nearly translucent when the Crook of Ortez, Coffin’s most constant tool, swung wide and planted its intricate hook deeply into his left eye.

        “Gah!,” he said, jerking forward and becoming again whole.

        “Get in the ####ing ambulance or I’ll poke the other,” suggested Bunny.

        Two blocks later, with the incubus clutching his wound and Will still clutching the attached chain, the story began to come out.”.

        “I needed money,” the night visitor was saying while trying to breathe through his pain, “I – the world has gotten strange in the last two hundred years, and I do not just mean the flux of mystic energies. You must understand that I am driven to see these things, I can not help myself. When the internet arrived, there was so much to see, to order, to hire and, eventually, to pay for.”

        “Uh,” said Bunny, “can a guy like you even get a credit card?”

        Giovanni sighed. “There are ways. There are people who will help those like me procure things not easily had. It is much more dangerous, however, to run up debts with those same sorts of people.”

        “Let’s see,” replied Coffin, “the news anchor wouldn’t want her career ruined by a sex tape, the trophy wife wouldn’t want her marriage interrupted, and I guess being outted as a gay Catholic school principal is a tough gig. How much were you asking for the blackmail?”

        “They – I do enjoy variety, but I was told – made – to record every victim. How much? As much as I owed, plus interest. Too much, I guess, since that scammer Pendleton got wind of the situation.”

        “What did that matter?” asked Bunny.

        “Pendleton had information, or he thought did. About the, uh, people I was working for.”

        She frowned. “So you killed him. Them.”

        “They – the people – did, yes.”

        It was Coffin’s turn to pose a question.

        “Who are they?”

        Even with one eye, Valentine’s gaze made it clear he thought it ridiculous for Will to even inquire.

        Standing, Coffin brought up his left hand, pulling Giovanni along with him. As the daemon grasped at the chain above, Will’s right deftly undid the button on the man’s well cut slacks and dropped them to the floor.

        Suddenly the shaman’s right hand was full of a new instrument Bunny had not yet seen. A bone handled pocket knife, with a blade of silver and a sharp series of serrated edges at its base.

        Placing the cold edge beneath Valentine’s rapidly retreating scrotum, Will repeated himself.

        “Who are they?”

        “The – merda – the damnable spider children, alright? They were the ones who hired Jenny GreenTeeth, they were the ones who hired the cleaners, and they were the ones who made me pay for it.”

        “I used to know a girl in high school we called Jenny GreenTeeth,” muttered Bunny, “she’s probably Jenny NoTeeth now though.”

        With the information out, and the joke made, the apprentice had expected an end to the ugly scene playing out on the bench opposite.

        Instead, Coffin brought up his knife and, with a sure flick of his wrist, removed the only tool the incubus had ever known.

        A meal or a morsel, the paramedic did not discriminate.

         

        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.

        Coffin’s theme is Quinn’s Song: A New Man, by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com/

        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!

          FC108 – The Elite Meatmen

          FC108 - The Elite Meatmen

          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/iTunes/RSS)

          Hello, and welcome to FlashCast 108.

          Prepare yourself for: tinfoil misuse, ancient erotic graffiti, licensed exorcists, a mechacat, and Coffin.

          * * *

          Huge thanks to:

          * * *

          * * *

          * * *

          * * *

          Audio-dacity of Hope:

        • Check out the new items on the store!
        • * * *

          Art of Narration:

        • Email Opop about Skinner Co. Ink at opopanax at skinner dot fm!
        • * * *

          Backroom Plots:

        • Coffin: Weakness (Part 1Part 2)
        • * * *

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

          * * *

          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.

          Spread the word!

            FP387 – Coffin: Weakness, Part 2 of 6

            Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and eighty-seven.

            Flash PulpTonight we present Coffin: Weakness, Part 2 of 6
            (Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)

            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

            (RSS / iTunes)

             

            This week’s episodes are brought to you by Every Photo Tells…

             

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

            Tonight Will Coffin, urban shaman, and Bunny, his recently sober apprentice, discuss a midnight encounter with a gasket baroness.

             

            Coffin: Weakness, Part 2 of 6

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

             

            The labyrinthine house smelled of potpourri and pine, and the deeper into its architecture that Bunny ventured, the surer she became that the smileless man who’d answered the door was, in fact, undertaking an elaborate prank.

            “We off to see Barnum’s Egress?” she asked, but Will was too distracted to bother faking a chuckle and the doorman didn’t slow in his navigation of the hardwood sea.

            Dining set islands gave way to shorelines of couch, then the couches themselves were crowded by towering library cliffs. Finally, they came to a stop in a land of Persian rugs.

            The gray-haired woman at the room’s center wore her wingback chair like a throne, but her only subjects seemed to be the multitude of oil paintings that covered the walls. No image was larger than six inches wide, and there was no buffer greater than a thumb’s width between them. Thousands of tiny faces stretched in uneven rows to the vaulted ceiling.

            As if playing his entrance in reverse, their guide disappeared backwards through the doorway, leaving his retreating heel taps and the tick of an out-of-sight grandfather clock to fill the void.

            “Ms. Flores?” asked Coffin, but Bunny was already busy inspecting the surroundings.

            “Rosanna, please,” she replied, her slender fingers dropping from a steeple to brush away the nonsense of formality.

            “Okay, Rosanna,” nodded Will. “Our mutual friend, the talking owl, has informed us you have a story to tell?”

            Coffin: A Skinner Co. Fantasy PodcastTheir hostess’ deeply lined face pulled into a soft chuckle, and Bunny couldn’t help but think that there’d likely been a time when droves of men had swooned over her smile.

            “It happened a month ago,” began Rosanna, with a warm but firm tone. “I sleep lightly these days, and steps at the foot of my bed is enough to bring me awake like a rooster’s song.

            “I was expecting it to be Curtis, but, oh, how I was wrong.

            “There was a man – a baby face at forty, or a rugged gent at thirty-five. Either way, I’ve always been a sucker for a strong jaw and needy lips. I told myself I was likely dreaming, but somehow knew I wasn’t.

            “Still, there was a burning between us from the moment I opened my eyes and I had no interest in denying it.

            “I’m eighty-four, but a lifetime of hard work and harder play has left me strong. I’m in no danger of falling and breaking a hip or cracking a rib, and I knew exactly what his eyes had in mind. I’m not ashamed to say I invited him beneath the sheets, nor to divulge that I treated him like a rodeo bull.

            “We were both sweating by the time dawn broke, but it was only because I had an early art gallery opening to attend to that I sent him away.”

            Rosanna paused in her telling, and Will could read by the set of her knees, and the heat in her gaze, that she was briefly lost in memory – then she shrugged.

            Clearing her throat, Ms. Flores finished her tale.

            “He didn’t use the door when he departed. He climbed out my bedroom window, but I doubt he even required that much effort – there’s a twenty foot wall around the estate, as you no doubt saw when you entered – and he was gone by the time I pulled back the curtains.

            ”A couple of weeks later I received the note, and the photos. He must have had a tiny camera hidden in his crumpled heap of bedside clothing.

            “The letter indicated a drop off point and warned me of what it would mean to my business and reputation if such images were leaked to the press. It wasn’t signed, but it smelled like him.”

            “How did you respond?” asked Coffin, but Bunny already had the answer.

            “She told him to go #### himself,” she replied.

            As Will had listened, his apprentice had been exploring the paintings and their inhabitants. Where he’d seen just canvas, she’d found a multitude of tiny lusting figures, each in a position that might have left the creator of the Kama Sutra blushing.

            “That’s about right,” said Rosanna with a smirk. “I did not build an empire on rubber gaskets by lacking an understanding of rough business. It wasn’t the amount though, it was the notion. I’ll plow a thousand miles for a carrot, but I won’t budge an inch for the stick, and that’s the way it’s always been.

            “I sent a note implying that my dating life could use the exposure. I kept the pictures though – I looked good in them, and so did he.

            “That was the last I heard of the matter until a few nights ago when a ragamuffin named Pendleton came by and asked that I join together with a few of his other clients in turning the tables on my visitor. I refused his offer too.”

            Coffin did not mention the corpses he had recently swam with – instead he simply gave a second nod, tucked his fingers into his pockets, and said, “thank you for your honesty. It seems we have an incubus with a money problem to locate.”

            As his feet chased his racing thoughts towards the exit, it was his accomplice who thought to turn and shake hands.

            In that lingering moment, Rosanna asked, “if you do find him, will you pass on that I would consider negotiating? I won’t pay his blackmail, but I’d gladly hire him to the house staff at twice the price.”

            Bunny’s mind struggled under the weight of four damp cadavers, but she’d come to like Rosanna.

            She said, “sure,” then left before the lie could linger.

             

            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.

            Coffin’s theme is Quinn’s Song: A New Man, by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com/

            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!

              FP386 – Coffin: Weakness, Part 1 of 6

              Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and eighty-six.

              Flash PulpTonight we present Coffin: Weakness, Part 1 of 6
              (Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)

              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

              (RSS / iTunes)

               

              This week’s episodes are brought to you by Every Photo Tells…

               

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

              Tonight Will Coffin, urban shaman, and Bunny, his recently sober apprentice, encounter a strange party at the river’s edge.

               

              Coffin: Weakness, Part 1 of 6

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

               

              Finding the spot had been fairly simple – the crown of the red balloon that he’d been told marked his destination was bobbing at the center of Nash Bay, one of the river’s calmer nooks – but, though the thaw had come early that spring, the water was still frigid enough to bite at Will Coffin’s skin as he forced his bare toes and jean-covered legs into the Lethe.

              Ten feet further along the shore, Bunny offered her encouragement.

              “Hurry the #### up, it’s as cold as Cheney’s heart out here.”

              In truth, Will was just as in a hurry as she was. Placing an ancient stone of arcane origin beneath his tongue, he tested its long-proven ability to provide air even when none existed, then slipped beneath the mirrored surface.

              Below, it became apparent that the marker was only the top most balloon in a cluster of ten. Pinned to a card table which was itself weighted to the riverbed, the rainbow-coloured column waved gently in the waters flow. There were four attendees at the party, each tied to a thick metal chair and wearing a plastic party hat.

              Coffin recognized but one, the blue-blazered woman who had, until recently, anchored the Capital City News at Six. Still, the note that had divulged their location had also included the identities of all involved.

              Digging into his pocket, the shaman wrapped his fingers in the Crook of Ortez, the mystic chain that allowed for communication with the dead – yet, as he feared, there was not a single apparition on hand to question.

              Will turned back, having seen all he’d come to see.

              As he reached for a towel, his jacket, a blanket, and his hot coffee, he asked his apprentice, “What do a TV news anchor, a Catholic school principal, a rich guy’s trophy wife, and a two-bit dabbler have in common?”

              Bunny could not help but notice the tone in his voice, and it struck her that in the past he would have asked the question with the cool detachment of a man who barely cared. Now she worried that perhaps he cared almost too much.

              “I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s a ####ty punch line,” she answered.

              Coffin“I knew the dabbler, Pendleton, a bit,” said Will. “He earned his money scamming people with cold readings, but he nearly managed to get one of those damned cursed monkey paws working in the late ’90s. I was just lucky to get it away from him before the thing scraped together the mystic juice to actually grant his wish.”

              “Do you know what he was hoping for?” Bunny asked with a raised brow.

              “Yeah, infinite more wishes, which, given the ‘one finger, one wish’ nature of that sort of talisman, means we’d end up with a gigantic simian hand growing ever larger on the horizon before it finally blots out the sun with its jungle of gnarled brown digits.”

              As Coffin finished the story a tight squadron of a dozen ospreys formed above the river and swept the opposite shore. As one they turned to cross in front of the pair, then, banking within feet of their audience, the birds drove skyward.

              “Sweet ####ing candy corn,” said Bunny, “that was a ###damn Tom Cruise flock of birds right there. Some real Top Gun ####.”

              “It’s good to know I can still impress,” replied a sleepy voice over her left shoulder.

              Turning, Bunny was somewhat comforted by the frown on Will’s face. At least she wasn’t the only one taken by surprise.

              With a preening ruffle of his furled wings, Wide Eye, animal lord and recently appointed regent of the area, hunkered low on a driftwood log.

              “Judging by your moist nature, you’ve seen the party?” asked the massive owl.

              “Yeah,” answered Coffin.

              “You have spoken with the dead then?”

              “No.”

              Bunny shuffled from foot to foot to fill the pause as Will stooped to lace his boots.

              It was the hulking fowl, however, who finally broke the silence.

              In a slow midnight tone, it said, “you will look into the matter.”

              Will’s shoulders became tight beneath his beaten leather jacket. “I hold an independent office. I do not work for you and you have no jurisdiction over what I deem worthy of my interest. As it happens, you’re lucky that I have nothing better to do.”

              It was Bunny’s newfound mental clarity that kept her from muttering, “bull####.”

              “We shall see,” replied the owl. “Go visit the woman mentioned in my note. Rosanna.”

              Spreading his broad wings, the animal lord made no effort to hide his departure.

               

              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.

              Coffin’s theme is Quinn’s Song: A New Man, by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com/

              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!

                FC107 – Opop Is Not The Traitor

                FC107 - Opop Is Not The Traitor

                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/iTunes/RSS)

                Hello, and welcome to FlashCast 107.

                Prepare yourself for: Angry angry hippos, dark hobbies, hot sauce, idea fodder, and Blackhall.

                * * *

                Huge thanks to:

                * * *

                * * *

                * * *

                * * *

                Audio-dacity of Hope:

              • Check out the new items on the store!
              • * * *

                Art of Narration:

              • Email Opop about Skinner Co. Ink at opopanax at skinner dot fm!
              • * * *

                Backroom Plots:

              • FP385 – Spawn: A Collective Detective Chronicle
              • FP384 – The Scarred Man: a Blackhall Tale
              • FPSE23 – The Myth of the Big Game
              • * * *

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

                * * *

                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.

                Spread the word!

                  FP385 – Spawn: A Collective Detective Chronicle

                  Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and eighty-five.

                  Flash PulpTonight we present Spawn: A Collective Detective Chronicle

                  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

                  (RSS / iTunes)

                   

                  This week’s episodes are brought to you by Every Photo Tells…

                   

                  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 bring you a tale of the Collective Detective, the loose band of online detectives who mine the depths of the accidentally leaked NSA archives to solve long cold crimes. In this episode we find Bug Byte, editor and film buff, taking in a digital ghost story.

                   

                  Spawn: A Collective Detective Chronicle

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

                   

                  Bug Byte was in the darkness of his home office, watching a subtitled French mystery movie and thinking on how fantastically cultured he was for doing so, when the bing came in. As his main machine was occupied with streaming the film, he slapped the shift key on his laptop till its screen saver surrendered his notification list.

                  Once his eyes adjusted to the glare of the white display, he discovered one of the new contributors had been busy. In just thirty minutes the newb had made a dozen large additions to a case Bug had considered dead in the water since the day it’d been created. Two clicks revealed it was the only entry Doubting Charlie had ever worked on.

                  “Eat deathray, spambot,” said the editor, but the black and white Frenchman in the fedora didn’t seem to get it.

                  Before Bug pulled up the tools to destroy the apparently fake user and its efforts, however, he took a moment to scan the text to determine if he might find a clue to help the developers tighten their filters.

                  Instead he was surprised to discover a ghost story still in the process of being told.

                  “You don’t need to hit publish constantly, the system saves a draft under your user files,” he wrote in the discussion page. Flagging the conversation into his high-priority queue, Bug sent the detective in the well-cut suit into reverse and watched the missed conversation flicker over the edge of a half-drank scotch.

                  Before he could set the sleuth back into action, a reply boop ricocheted from the speakers to his left.

                  Leaving the image of the enquêteur privé with his glass hovering before his lips, Bug read the short response: “Thanks.”

                  With the play button under his thumb, the editor shook his head and decided to quickly review the tale from the beginning.

                  “When I was thirteen I met this guy from the apartment building I lived in who also played Realms of Fantasy. At the time Realms was huge online because of the way real money was flowing through it, but Alexander Bottin was the sole person I knew who played. He was way older than me, twenty maybe, and sort of a jerk, but we usually had a lot of decent tips to swap, and I gotta admit that I felt like a badass having a common interest with a twenty-year-old.

                  “I only learned Alexander played because I’d been trapped in the elevator with his uncle and him. I always hit the close button when I saw that monster coming down the hall because he smells like shit. I don’t mean that as a metaphor either, he smells like actual human feces. Anyhow, as they came in Alex was talking about how he’d looted Shatter Tooth.

                  “Tooth was a high powered war hammer that, back then, you could sell for five or six hundred dollars on eBay.

                  “His uncle coughed and said, “shut the fuck up.” He didn’t care, but when I saw my fellow gamer later that week I got his username and told him about Sharlor, my healer. I admitted I was impressed that he’d scored his hammer, and he seemed impressed that Sharlor was two levels higher than his warrior, Chaney.

                  “It’s funny, because I still think of him more as Chaney than Alexander.

                  “Now, I don’t want to make it sound like we were constantly chummy and hanging out. Alex had this thing he’d do where he’d like grab my nose with one hand then bop it with the other and that was hella annoying. He was that guy who doesn’t understand how to make conversation so he’s awkward and kind of dickish instead, I guess.

                  “I was hard up for friends, but not that hard up. If I saw him in the mail area we’d chat over the latest expansion or where the good loot was dropping, but that was it – and, even then, half the time his uncle was there. I totally avoided him when that happened.

                  “I never learned his uncle’s name. He was a bent tree of an old man who always wore an over-sized floppy hat and huge dark glasses. Beyond that he was so ancient he’d aged into looking like a stereotype. Sort of like the angriest Popeye, but without the forearms.

                  “Worse, if he didn’t think anyone was watching, and Alexander pissed him off by dropping a flyer or something, he’d lay his cane as hard as he could across his calves. Chaney never wore shorts even during the warmest parts of summer.

                  “I remember that especially because it was August, and I was fourteen, when he died.

                  “He’d just found the Blade of Earth Cleaving and he was constantly bragging. If I’d found a sword worth three or four thousand dollars maybe I’d act the same.

                  Tonight we bring you a tale of the Collective Detective, the loose band of online detectives who mine the depths of the accidentally leaked NSA archives to solve long cold crimes. In this episode we find Bug Byte, editor and film buff, taking in a digital ghost story.“Honestly, by then I was sort of getting interested in other things, but Mom had seen me wave when we passed him so she told me the news going around the building: They’d taken Alex out on a stretcher earlier that week. He’d apparently fallen down the fire stairs and snapped his neck.

                  “I knew that was bullshit though. I knew he’d been murdered by his uncle. The Saturday before -”

                  Bug Byte frowned at the sudden conclusion.

                  With a sigh he reminded himself that he had two hours till he was due at work, and that his movie wasn’t going to watch itself. Still, he waited out the five minute autosave until he could continue.

                  “I knew that was bullshit though. I knew he’d been murdered by his uncle. The Saturday before the supposed accident I’d seen him in the mailroom with some special effects stuff he’d bought online. That was his other big hobby – he wanted to be a makeup guy in movies. Usually when he got new blood to try, or a prop knife, or whatever he was really excited about it, but this time it was like he was looking through the box. When I found him staring like that, I asked if everything was okay. He almost started crying, but he acted like he was suddenly fascinated by the address label. He said his uncle was insanely angry with him lately and he didn’t know if he’d be able to survive it much longer.

                  “The whole thing hit deep. I told Mom I was too sick to go to school the next day and spent my afternoon crying and wandering Realms. We’d never really played together, but we’d traded gear a few times, and, well, like I said, I was fourteen.

                  “I was hanging around the Silent Meadow, which is where we usually met because it was easy to access but almost always empty, when I saw him.

                  “He ran through the tall grass and permanent soft lighting, stop-”

                  This time Bug felt a need to fill the gap till the next save. Digging his well practiced hooks into the depths of the Collective’s archive crawling tools, he summoned the online memories of Alexander Bottin and his Realms of Fantasy account. The code to mine video games for data was in deep beta, but at least it was a start.

                  Then the update arrived.

                  “He ran through the tall grass and permanent soft lighting, stopped for two seconds in front of a dwarf, and they both disappeared.

                  “I exploded. At first I thought Mom had been wrong, and I ran down the two floors to his place.

                  “I’d never visited, but I figured he was in there playing and I was ridiculously happy to realize how wrong I’d been. It was the uncle who answered, though, and he didn’t bother taking off the security chain. I asked for Alex but he simply snarled and slammed the door.

                  “The next day, when I got back from school, I noticed a sign advertising a used computer taped to the laundry room wall. The address for inquiries was Chaney’s.

                  “I called the cops once, but nothing came of it.

                  “He’s got to be well over a hundred now, but whenever I visit Mom I purposefully go out of my way to pass Bottin’s. I haven’t seen him in years, but he’s in there. I think about saying something every time, but it’s always like it’s suddenly a decade ago and I’m just thirteen.

                  “I believe that miserable SOB murdered his nephew and managed to sell his gear, but I’ve never had any idea on how to look into it. Tonight I got a little drunk, and maybe a little nostalgic for the lands of my youth, so I did some searching around and it seems you’ve got a file here for Alexander Bottin, but it says he’s -”

                  Rarely did the Collective receive first hand testimony, but Bug had been an editor long enough to know not to trust anything that wasn’t straight from the archives.

                  It was even rarer that an answer was in hand before the relevant entries were even updated.

                  Bug Byte’s search chimed with results.

                  Opening the discussion page, he began to compose his response.

                  “You’ve waited this long, I suppose I shouldn’t keep you in suspense:

                  “Yes, Alexander Bottin is listed as a missing person, not a murder case. The police talked to his uncle once after an anonymous phone tip was made, but he claimed that Alex had run off. Given his age, if the cops hadn’t been as bored as they were they probably wouldn’t have opened the file at all.

                  “The dwarf was a guy named Richard Smyth, but both players were connected from the same address – Alexander’s modem.

                  “Interestingly, a search of that modem’s traffic shows that Uncle Bottin also signed up to handle all of his banking online that very week, a day after he ordered a new computer.

                  “Looking back a couple weeks at the local data, I see that the same IP made an order from an online prop house. Are you familiar with ultra-realistic silicone masks? They were just getting started back then, and FX guys were huge into them. Generic Old Man was one of the most popular models.

                  “I suspect Uncle Bottin’s Popeye style means he had no teeth, so, after murdering him, Alex probably left the body in an alley somewhere and the city hauled it off as an unidentifiable homeless John Doe. Then all he had to do was pull on the old guy mask and spread the rumour that he’d died so people would stop asking questions.

                  “He might’ve gotten away with it too if you hadn’t seen his digital ghost. I do wonder if he’s found life in that apartment, collecting his dead Uncle’s benefits checks, a special prison of its own though.

                  “Of course, that’s all guessing, but it should be easy to knock hard enough to pinch the geezer’s nose and see if it stretches.

                  “I’m a twenty minute bus ride away – care to mount up for one last adventure, priest?”

                  Nodding to himself, Bug sent the Frenchman into hibernate and hit send.

                  He didn’t have to wait long for a reply, but he was happy to see his efforts to sound sick, as he called in to work, weren’t wasted.

                  It was not, however, the last adventure for either.

                   

                  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!

                    FP384 – The Scarred Man: a Blackhall Tale

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

                    Flash PulpTonight we present The Scarred Man: a Blackhall Tale

                    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

                    (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 join Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, as he encounters an undying combatant by a lonely northern lake.

                     

                    The Scarred Man: a Blackhall Tale

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

                     

                    Blackhall met the immortal on the edge of a lake known by the few who occasionally wandered its shores as the Blue Sip. He’d seen naught but the intermittent chipmunk in his last three days of journey through the heavy undergrowth, and, in his stop, he’d been seeking nothing more than a moment of cool respite from his westward campaign to retrieve the dancing corpse of his dead wife.

                    The immortal, however, had been seeking nothing more than Blackhall.

                    Thomas had been considering the state of his preparations to break the hold of the hag who led Mairi through the shadowed wildwoods when the lumbering titan arrived.

                    He had dealt with giants and their ilk in the past, but never while standing naked in three feet’s water. Still, though the man was tall, and his musculature so over-large to be almost a caricature of human form, Blackhall soon realized he was no giant.

                    The stranger wore a cloak and carried a shotgun at his shoulder, which Thomas felt likely to be heavy and hot gear for the depth of the timber and harshness of sun. The interloper was in apparent agreement, as his first action upon arrival was to drop both.

                    “I was born as Nikanor, some three millennia past,” he said as he laid aside a sheathed blade too big to be a knife but too short to be a modern sword.

                    The sight of the weapon, even in being set aside, did little more than remind Blackhall of the distance to his own silver-edged sabre, which lay among his gear on the shoreside. It was too far – and the shotgun too close – for the frontiersman’s liking.

                    “I was born Thomas some few dozen years ago,” was the best the could find for an answer.

                    For a moment Nikanor looked puzzled, then a slow smile came to his ground sausage lips. His face appeared to have suffered and survived a half-dozen cleavings, and his skull was roughly misshapen with the scar tissue that had grown across the wounds.

                    “I know who you are, shaman,” he replied. “I have marched from the coast to meet you. Funny that it should be here, for my journey began, in many ways, in a very different bit of water – the Styx. My mother was a proud strumpet and a glory of her age. She was also a genius at the bargaining table. The gods of the time on the other hand, were naught but letches, and there came a day when Zeus himself came to our door.

                    “She turned him away a full three times, then offered herself up under two specific conditions.

                    “That is how her only child, a lowly army footman of sixteen, came to find himself dipped, much like Achilles, in the Styx – but Mother was well aware of the tales, and so demanded I be held by my hair. I have been bald since, but my heels are in grand order.”

                    As he spoke, the Greek had stripped back the loose cloth of his shirt to reveal a form that reminded Thomas most of a picture book knight. Instead of the gleam of full plate, however, the man was a mass of cratered sinew and flesh grown deep from the brutality of ten thousand traumas. Wound had healed atop of wound until the layering was so thick it stood tall from the bone and took on the aspect of a natural leather armour.

                    The thick cords of his neck, though still showing signs of damage, were considerably less worn, and it was to a long white defect that Nikanor pointed as he sat upon a fallen tree and said, “this was one of my first, a battle with a raiding warlord coming in over the northern border. I laughed every moment of the march, thinking I was invincible. Not quite – I am perhaps immortal, but I am still penetrable. I’d caught a ragged sliver of metal the rabble were calling weapons before I realized the difference. It hurt too – enough so that I killed at least fifty on the field as my reply.

                    “It healed in a day, but that day was agony.

                    “We patrolled again that spring, and for many seasons on – until we met the Laconians on in open meadow and I learned that I alone could not turn the tide of battle. Every man I had admired or dreaded, every friend I’d made in my brief career, every idiot I’d bickered with, was wiped from the Earth in a single encounter.

                    “Left for dead, my butchered body was only capable of standing two days after the scavenger birds had arrived to pull their dinner from my comrades’ cheeks.

                    “I could not return as the sole survivor of a massacre without being accused of cowardice, but I knew just one life. It did not take me long to create a new identity and reenlist, and the evidence of my wounds acted as all the biography I required. The cycle has repeated itself many times since.

                    ”Every pot of boiling oil, every flight of arrows, every dagger gash acted to toughen my skin. By the time I fought with the Scots against your countrymen I needed little more protection than to leave my flesh bare, for it took a man with a true arm of steel, and a clear opportunity, to pierce my scarred disfigurement.

                    “I rarely met the first, and I was too well practiced to allow for the second.”

                    No longer was Blackhall concerned about the proximity of his blade. The turn of the tale had set his mind casting ahead in search of its conclusion, and he did not like what he’d found.

                    http://www.skinner.fm/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Blackhall.jpgThe tone was too heavy, the setting too inevitable. He had killed before, and would again in self-defense, but his own time under the King’s command had long washed a taste for violence from his mouth.

                    “Niko,” he asked, “what was the other condition?”

                    Turning his gaze from a cloud on the horizon, the deathless man answered, “the other what?”

                    “You said your mother had two conditions, and that your immortality was but one of them.”

                    “Oh – the other was that Zeus remain human in shape. She was well read and had no interest in the legends of beasts and fowl.”

                    “The gods of antiquity truly were perverts.”

                    That got another smile from the old soldier, but it could not stop his momentum.

                    “None of the kings I helped rise to the throne remained,” he continued. “Their names are as forgotten as their kingdom’s borders. The maps shift like sands, and my travels have proven to me there is little more difference between peoples than the foods they have at hand and the god they pray to before eating it.

                    “Yet I’ve killed them all.

                    “Many things happen in such a span as mine. Many mistakes are made in rage or fear or a moment’s reaction. My condition allows no release from those errors, simply more opportunity to compound them.

                    “I have lost count at points – I am sure I have lived more than three thousand years – but it is in just these last twelve months that my agony has taken hold. Hired on to lay low some sheep thieves while waiting for the summer’s march, I set my shot into a figure in the dark and killed a boy of sixteen. It was meant to be just another victory, but – well, perhaps it is only because I have come so far from my youth that I can no longer remember its exact image, but I swear his face was my own at that age.

                    “Even before the arcane began to flow from the world I had come to the realization that there was little point in continuing. There is no end to the fighting, and all I’m left with is confusion. Please, do you have a method by which to end my misery?”

                    The words moved over the water with the weight of a voice that had seen the worst of three thousand years, and Blackhall found the damp suddenly all too chill.

                    Thomas’ mind landed in the streets of Ciudad Rodrigo, then flew to the death of his own wife, and finally came to rest on his growing guilt at the distance between he and his child.

                    If he was ever to be forgiven, could not, too, the evils of a being whose mettle might achieve so much good?

                    “Could I end you?” asked Blackhall, “yes, probably.

                    “Will I? No.

                    “I’ll instead come ashore, and we shall plan you a new life between mouthfuls of jerky. This existence I promise will provide remittance from your guilt if you are strong enough to manage it.”

                    “To what purpose?”

                    “To what purpose any birth? You say you are confused, well, so too are all bairns. I will say, though, that what I have in mind will be a truly great purpose – but, to begin, you will construct and stock a homestead of some size.”

                    “I have no idea how to farm.”

                    “Well, we are in luck in that regard, as your condition allows us plenty of time for you to learn.”

                    The conversation carried well into the night, and it would be but the first of a long acquaintance.

                     

                    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!