FP415 – Coffin: Moving, Part 3 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and fifteen.

Flash PulpTonight we present Coffin: Moving, Part 3 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 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.

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Earth Station One podcast

 

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

Tonight, Will Coffin, urban shaman, and Bunny, his increasingly sober apprentice, eat pancakes and aid a man haunted by his past.

 

Coffin: Moving, Part 3 of 3

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

 

The Denny’s stood at the low tide between breakfasting retirees and office workers on a panickedly short lunch break. Only three other booths were occupied, beyond the trio of customers clustered in the corner, and one of those appeared to be the store’s manager entertaining himself with online trivia instead of instructing the waiter in heavy eyeliner to clear the last of the Grand Slamwich wreckage.

Bunny gave the kid a nod, and the kid nodded back.

“Napkins?” he asked.

“Nah, I’ll take some of the s##t water you folks call coffee, and maybe a two buck pancake stack?”

“We’re only supposed to sell the cheap plates as a side.”

Bunny raised a her brow and shrugged. Coffin waved off the topping-up of his mug, and their interviewee, one Douglas Holloway, continued to gently weep into the collar of his polo shirt.

When they were once again alone, the crying man worked at clearing his throat, then asked, “how did you find me?”

“How badly do you want to be free of -” began Coffin, but Bunny overrode the statement.

“His ex put us in touch with yours,” she said to Holloway, “but don’t worry about that. We’ll get to the haggling and details, just give us the rundown on your wife and girlfriend.”

To Bunny there was something familiar in Holloway’s stunned yet exhausted face that left her with the impression that he’d simply been waiting for this particular dam to break.

“Arlene died five years ago,” replied the widower. “It was eighteen months after we were married, and we were infatuated with each other till the end. We’d known she had a fight in front of her when we went down the aisle – her chemo meant all of her wedding photos were hairless – but she was the sort of person who was strong enough not to wear a wig.

“We were the classic goofballs-in-love couple, content just to be close to each other; to hold each other. She seemed magical, and I always assumed somehow that that would win us the war.

Coffin: A Occult Serial Fiction Podcast “It didn’t.

“She died at home. I did my damndest to make it as comfortable and peaceful as possible, but by the end there was a miniature hospital set up in our living room. It was like a pocket universe in there, an eternity of listening to her ragged breathing over constant Law & Order reruns. I still change the channel as soon as I hear that damned theme. When she let go I was at the bed’s edge, holding her hand, and she was surrounded by her sisters. I thought it was the hardest moment I’d ever have to survive through, but that I’d done the right thing.

“My first notion was to move away from the memories, but two years later I was in the same bungalow, alone with our mortgage and our corgi, Sycamore. Every time I stepped onto the living room carpet I could feel the anxiety of those last days creep in, but I hadn’t finished paying the bills for high powered narcotics and medical staff.

“Even if I couldn’t escape, things changed around me. I spent a lot of hours at the kitchen table with work I’d taken home, just to avoid the rest of the house. If I wasn’t working, Sycamore and I patrolled the block. Despite my evasions, or more likely because of it, I got promoted. I made new acquaintances around the neighbourhood.

“The second January after Arlene’s death I met Selena. I wasn’t looking to. I’d spent so long focused on the next set of reports, and the next patch of sidewalk ahead of me, I hadn’t realized how far I’d gone with my head down.

“I was re-tying a shoelace outside the local Starbucks when she exited with a white chocolate mocha. One of the tallest ladies I’d ever seen, and with a smile as friendly as a children’s television show host.

“She said ‘excuse me,’ because she walked near me while I was hogging the sidewalk and she’s the sort of person who’d rather be polite than annoyed.

“As she’s adjusting course though, she reaches into her pocket and retrieves a dog treat shaped like a bone. Sycamore sits, which is a trick that I’d forgotten Arlene had taught him, and she tosses him the mini-femur.

“That dog was all the family I’d had for two years, and I loved it like a child, but for whatever reason it’d never struck me to carry treats with me. It sounds kind of stupid, but it was just different than anything I’d known until then. Somehow that brought my chin up.”

The tale paused as the narrator was distracted by his audience straightening in their seats. Before he could turn to identify what had roused them, however, the waiter strolled by at a near trot, a plate tucked tight to his side, out of sight of his trivia master manager.

With a twist of his wrist the low mountain of pancakes slid across the largely empty table, stopping just short of Bunny’s coffee.

There was no opportunity for a thank you before he was beyond hearing range.

“Don’t stop now, Dougie,” said Bunny, while twirling her syrupy fork encouragingly, “we haven’t even gotten to the spooky s##t.”

“We dated for six months,” answered Holloway. “A lot of movie theaters, diner dinners, and dog parks with Sycamore. When we started spending the night together it was always at her apartment. Eventually I moved the dog dishes and I almost sort of forgot that I had another home.

“Then I got a funny letter: I’d accidentally paid off my mortgage while I wasn’t paying attention.

“Now, it’s not like I’d ever forgotten Arlene, but I’d had some time away. Selena loves renovation shows, and we kind of jointly arrived at the idea that we should do some repair work before putting the shack on the market and maybe looking for a fresh place together. Thing is, the more effort we sunk into projects, the more it began to feel like a new house – our house.

“One night we were both exhausted from a day of basement drywalling, and we decided to just sleep in my, uh, our, uh, the old bed – the bed that was there – instead of heading back to Selena’s.

“I woke around three in the morning thinking I heard someone talking in the dark. I pulled on pants and went down the hall to the living room, and for a second I thought I saw Arlene’s face.

“Now, I should be clear, it wasn’t a huge ‘Arlene, is that you!?’ moment, it was more like thinking you see a person standing in a corner, then realizing it’s actually that robe you draped over a chair with the shadow of a lamp behind it that looks like a head.

“The only thing out of place was that Sycamore was sitting perfectly upright in the middle of the carpet, but I was so tired I assumed that I’d heard him growling at dreams and went back to bed.

“With the seal off, so to speak, we spent more and more nights there. We were already investing the majority of our evenings tag teaming plumbing, or hoisting hammers, so why leave?

“When we first, uh, made love in the old house, I later awoke thinking I heard Selena crying. I actually prodded her until she responded with a clearly still sleeping “no.”

“It happened again the next night, then everything went smoothly for about a week.”

“The calm before the s##t storm,” said Bunny, through a mouthful of fluffy batter.

“Yeah, then the screaming started. I couldn’t see where it was coming from, it just chased me from the sheets, then around the house. I kind of stopped when I was rampaging along the hallway for a second loop, because – well, it’s incredibly terrifying, but after a bit you lose steam when you can’t see the source of your panic.

“Selena, wearing only my stained work t-shirt, comes running, and suddenly she’s slapped across the face, hard. It kept going, like someone clapping to count time, and then gained momentum into a hail storm.

“I’d never seen her cry before.

“I followed her through the door, but she was in her car and on the street before I could catch up. Her place was close enough to walk, but it was cold, so I decided to risk going back inside to pull something on. Besides, I needed to get Sycamore.

“Everything was silent when I re-entered. I whistled for the dog, but he didn’t come. I found him in the living room again, sitting at attention.

“The call came before I was done packing. Everything had changed for me in the moment I’d seen Selena with that dog treat, and everything had changed for her in the moment she’d been chased from the house by an invisible hurricane. She was clearly having difficulty making sense of what had happened, but it seemed to her that it was my fault.

“While I was sitting there at the edge of the bed, crying, I heard laughter. I knew that giggle. Without even realizing I’d fully accepted all of the implications, I started a screaming match with a ghost.

“‘How could you do this?’

“‘How could you? I’m dead!’ she shrieks back.

“‘You had it easy, I was the one who had to keep living” – and on and on.

“At some point the door slammed shut, and I somehow fury’d myself to sleep.

“The alarm clock woke me for work, and I went in on automatic. Tried texting Selena, but she ignored it. I ignored the ignoring by staring at reports. I went home.

“While I was watching Sycamore sniff around the backyard I heard Arlene say, ‘I’m sorry.’

“That was – I dunno, three months ago? Since then it’s just been crying, every night. Sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s her. I’d like to try and reach out to Selena again. I miss her – but at the same time, the woman I loved, whatever is left of her, is somewhere in that house. I swear, some nights the bed shifts with her weight.

“I want to move on. I want her to move on. I just feel so guilty.”

Washing away the pancake crumbs with a deep pull of coffee, Bunny said, “in a situation like this, it’s really nobody’s fault. You can’t blame Selena for running off after getting in a one-sided slap fight with Sue Richards, and you can’t blame Arlene for being pissed she’s been trapped in your empty living room until you started f##king another lady in her bed – but you also can’t blame yourself. You didn’t know she was lingering around until she was furious enough to get all Amityville about s##t.

“We think your ex-wife needs to date and we know just the fellow. He’s also into Law & Order and cuddling. He currently has a thing for a lady named Laila, but all you sentimental motherf##kers have the same problem: You need to learn to move on.

“Actually, Laila’ll probably be looking for a new place soon, you should meet her. You might make a nice couple.”

In unveiling her solution, Bunny did not delve into the complicated game of telephone that was communication between the dead. Adding to Dougie’s sense of guilt would not get him any closer to moving, which was clearly the opening step.

In the end, Holloway agreed acting as dating coach to his dead wife was worth at least a nicely pawnable ratchet set, and Coffin had to nod in agreement.

Matchmaking was not his usual sort of work, but rent was due.

 

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!

    FP414 – Coffin: Moving, Part 2 of 3

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and fourteen.

    Flash PulpTonight we present Coffin: Moving, Part 2 of 3
    (Part 1Part 2Part 3)

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    This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Earth Station One podcast

     

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

    Tonight, Will Coffin, urban shaman, has a brief conversation with the remnants of the woman he married.

     

    Coffin: Moving, Part 2 of 3

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

     

    It was chill as Coffin stepped onto his balcony, and the leaf husks of the philodendron that Bunny had attempted to grow, a month earlier, rattled in the wind.

    Had he been neglectful in not making more appearances? No, he told himself, he’d simply been busy – but, then, Sandy had also been busy once.

    His dead wife, on the pavement eighteen floors below, grunted.

    Rolling his shoulders, Will asked, “how’s the afterlife?”

    There was a long pause before Sandy’s shattered jaw murmured, “you always were terrible at small talk,” into the unyielding cement.

    “Must be going well if you’re not even trying to murder me,” he replied.

    Silence, then, “you’re not worth the effort,”

    “Huh,” said Will, but he couldn’t help but crack a smile. There were many reasons to fear Sandy’s apparition, but her skill at delivering the cold shoulder was not one of them.

    Coffin leaned over the railing. She could have heard him whisper, even at that height, and the slab walls and platform of the balcony echoed with her every crush-lunged breath. Nonetheless, he squinted through the bitter wind to make out her twisted form.

    He counted a dozen skipping inhalations, and a dozen moist and whistling exhalations, before she gave up her hush.

    “Any news?”

    At another time he probably would have just invented something. The matters he conveyed were trivial at best: He could easily fake calls on the two birthdays he’d missed and stitch those falsehoods with the same old arguments Sandy’s family were constantly re-chewing – but he didn’t.

    Things were changing. She’d always been so sure when she’d worn the jacket and held the chain, and he envied it.

    He knew, however, that her certainty had also been her downfall.

    FP414 - Coffin: Moving, Part 2 of 3“I’ve been too busy to call around. I’m sorry,” he said. It was a vague sort of statement, and intentionally so.

    With the dragging effort of a winded marathoner, Sandy’s left arm, the bones at her wrist projecting through her torn skin, rose, and her palm set its heel firmly on the pavement. She began to drag her motionless legs towards the apartment block’s foundation.

    “Too occupied with your new sidekick?” she asked.

    “The ogre’s amok out west, the city seems to be overrun with Kar’Wickians, and someone’s dispatching ghosts without my assistance.”

    “Which one am I supposed to be able to help with?” she asked, as the fingernails of her right hand came loose on a particularly jagged ridge of mason work. Yet still she climbed.

    “None,” he answered, and, as she scaled the second through fifth floor, he recapped his encounter with Laila Hamilton.

    When he’d completed his recitation, she asked, “didn’t you say there were Kar’Wickians in the city?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Didn’t you say the ogre was up and the dead were going missing?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Why are you working this thing then?”

    It was his turn to fall quiet.

    At the twelfth floor he changed the subject.

    “You understand what I need then?”

    “Yeah,” replied Sandy, not stopping in her attempt to scale the building and murder her former husband.

    “Sandy, I’m sorry,” he said.

    “So you’ve said,” she replied.

    “It was for your own good,” he said.

    “So you’ve said,” she repeated.

    With a gap where her front teeth should have been, she bit her lip, then continued. “Don’t get weak kneed now, you put that jacket on yourself. If you were going to start second guessing I would’ve appreciated if it happened before I landed.

    “Will, if you can’t handle this business pass it on and join me at the bottom.”

    There was a pause then, and suddenly her ascent stopped. Her decades-old plunge played itself back at triple speed, and she once again returned to her place of rest.

    “Go buy some belated birthday cards and I’ll ask around,” she concluded.

    He turned, eagerly pawing at the sliding screen with chilled fingers.

     

    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!

      FP413 – Coffin: Moving, Part 1 of 3

      Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and thirteen.

      Flash PulpTonight we present Coffin: Moving, Part 1 of 3
      (Part 1Part 2Part 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 Earth Station One podcast

       

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

      Tonight, Will Coffin, urban shaman, and Bunny, his vodka-dependent apprentice, encounter the strange tale of Laila Hamilton, wife and secret nuzzler.

       

      Coffin: Moving, Part 1 of 3

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

       

      Laila Hamilton was maybe thirty. Black hair clipped down to a stout Afro, but otherwise left to its own means. She was nearly in tears, but she kept her chin tight and the tension mostly in her hands.

      It wasn’t the sort of job Will Coffin would normally take on, but rent was due even if the mystical seams of the city seemed to be coming undone around him.

      Bunny, his currently sober roommate and apprentice, had also insisted.

      “I’d hate-ta ####in’ see you have to offer up the tight jeans treatment to the guy at the front office,” she’d explained while offering no financial support of her own.

      The bored looking kid in too-much eyeliner poured their coffees and pulled a notepad from his Denny’s apron.

      “Can I get you something to eat?” he asked.

      “More ####ing napkins,” answered Bunny, her eyes on the wrung and torn serviette the client was working over with both clenched hands.

      Snapping his pad shut in a way that conveyed as much obscenity as anything that drifted out of Bunny’s mouth, the waiter departed.

      “What do you want to know? Can’t you just go over and fix it?” the woman asked the shredded tissue before her.

      “There’s a process,” said Coffin. “For example, what exactly do you plan on using to pay for -”

      Bunny cleared her throat, blotting out the statement, and replaced it with, “start barfing from the beginning and tell us everything that happened.”

      Nodding, Laila took a breath, held it, exhaled. “I like to watch old Law and Order episodes as I’m falling asleep. They’re constantly running on one of the deep cable channels, and there’s something homey to them. I know they were old even then, but my Dad always had them on when I was a kid dozing on the couch.

      Coffin: A fantasy fiction Flash Pulp podcast from Skinner Co.“Anyhow, my husband, Orlando, he’s not such a fan. He’s not much of a fan of anything these days, really. I keep it way down, and I set a timer so the TV isn’t blathering uselessly into the dark, but Orlando still moved the set over to my side of the bed so I could turn it down a couple more notches.

      “It’s a queen-sized mattress, but he only uses the lip of the distant edge.

      “If I thought he’d bother coming closer if I kept the thing off I’d go to bed in silence, but he was sleeping way over there well before I started allowing myself a little murder in the evenings.”

      Will was surprised to see the server return with a stack of fresh napkins, and the trio paused as he laid them on the table.

      He did not hover, he simply laid the stack at Laila’s fingertips and said, “let me know if you need me.”

      To Coffin’s eye it appeared this small act of kindness pushed Laila as much towards tears as anything she’d related so far in her story.

      The tale continued.

      “There have been a few nights in the last couple years when Orlando drifts across the bed. I get my hopes up that it’s the sparking of something new, but usually he’s just looking for a bit of pokin’ and proddin’, then he’s back to snoring on the opposite end of the continent.

      “Maybe a month ago, the Law is done and the Order has arrived. They’re trying to figure how they can bust a murderous grandmother despite having their best evidence thrown out, and I’m fighting to stay awake for the conclusion. You know how it is: You’re so tired you don’t even realize you should simply give in and be unconscious. I’ve got half my face buried in the pillow and I’m spending more time focused on keeping my eyelids cracked than the jury’s reactions to closing arguments.

      “I was sort of drifting in and out of it, missing snippets and then catching myself dozing, and I remember thinking it was really nice that Orlando had come to hold me. When we were kids that’s how we curled-up, his arm on my belly and his leg over mine.

      “That’s when I realized there was no one there: I could feel the weight on my stomach and thigh over the blanket, but I could hear Orlando wheezing at his usual distance.

      “You’re dreaming, I told myself, then I fell asleep.”

      There was a pause as a fresh napkin began to suffer.

      “It happened again maybe a week and a half later, but – well, I’d been thinking about it a bit, but I couldn’t make up my mind as to if I’d been imagining the whole thing.

      “That second time, I kept my eyes closed, but I let my palm drift over the blanket to where I could feel the heft – and there was something there. Not a hand, only a chill spot. I lay like that for maybe a half hour, no longer near sleep but not sure what to do next. Then the weight disappeared, and the cold too.

      “It happened again the next night, and the next. If I snuggled into the feeling, it would shift against me, but moving my arm would leave me with nothing more than frosty goosebumps. Every now and then I’d brush up against something though – my guest seemed to get more solid as the visits went on.

      “A week later I awoke holding no one, and it was nice.”

      “Slow workin’ Casanova of a #### monster?” asked Bunny.

      The question was aimed at Coffin, but it was Laila who replied.

      “I – I Googled some things before Martin gave me your names. If it’s a sexy demon type it’s not really showing it. I couldn’t find any good cuddle beasts, online, that matched the profile though.

      “That’s why I’m here.”

      Coffin nodded. It wasn’t the sort of job he’d normally take on, but rent was due.

       

      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!

        FC115 – Mulligan’s Slurpee

        FC115

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        (Download/iTunes/RSS)

        Hello, and welcome to FlashCast 115.

        Prepare yourself for: Creepy ’90s doctors, fixing racist bus ads, flower guns, Kar’WickCon 2015, and The Irregular Division.

        * * *

        Huge thanks to:

        * * *

        * * *

        * * *

        * * *

        Backroom Plots:

      • FP411 – The Irregular Division: In The Beginning
      • FP412 – The Irregular Division: Eye of the Sturm und Drang
      • * * *

        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!

          FP412 – The Irregular Division: Eye of the Sturm und Drang

          Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and twelve.

          Flash PulpTonight we present The Irregular Division: Eye of the Sturm und Drang

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          Download MP3

          (RSS / iTunes)

           

          This week’s episodes are brought to you by Get Published

           

          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, the public has its first encounter with the government-assembled group of misfits who would one day become known as the Irregular Division.

           

          The Irregular Division: Eye of the Sturm und Drang

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

           

          Fragment One:

          March, Year One
          Source: Verbal Debrief Following Operation Pancake Grid

          Adviser: Major Nelson Wily
          Subject: Corporal Jennifer Glat, AKA Ms. Atlas

          Wily: Okay, it’s recording. Just give me the rundown of how you saw the operation unfold. Who knows, maybe kids will be listening to this at a museum exhibit someday.

          Atlas: Uh huh.

          Following a two week period of downtime I was collected from a West Coast VA facility to meet in an administrative office in a Capital City hospital. Special Operative Head and I were formally introduced, and he was provided with a rundown of the situation. He was sarcastic and questioning. He challenged the plan, and insinuated that my daughter’s recent death would cloud my judgement.

          I’d like to go on record as saying that, while I appreciate the opportunity to lead this unit, I feel that Head is not up to what was envisioned when the surgeons scraped what was left of me off of that floor in Aleppo.

          I admit to an outburst that may have been peppered with a mild threat or two.

          Wily: [unintelligible coughing]

          The Irregular Division, a science fiction/fantasy Flash Pulp podcast brought to you by Skinner Co.!Atlas: The situation was brought under control, and we were briefed on a fast moving scenario in New York state.

          We were told a computer security expert by the name of Morris Fulbright had taken down essential components of the electrical grid, and that the operation zone, including New York City itself, was in total darkness. Fulbright had anonymously released a statement that the flaw he’d found in the public utility’s software had allowed him to run portions of the network at extreme heats until they burnt out. He also claimed he was working on behalf of a larger organization, although no evidence of that was found.

          Intelligence intercepted the message before it got too far on the net, and the brains were hoping to turn the GDCF into a PR win by sending in a small strike force to subdue the what they termed a “cyber-terrorist.”

          Eager for hearts and minds, the man responsible for the death of my daughter and I were sent to collect, as we were told, “a computer nerd from his plush suburban home.”

          I recall one of the tech guys in the office telling us there was no way Fulbright could know we were coming, as the technology to break the encryption he’d used to anonymize himself was classified.

          Despite the secrecy, however, it’s my understanding that the time and location was somehow misplaced so that a single news helicopter was on the scene to witness our arrival.

          * * *

          Fragment Two:

          July, Year One
          Source: [redacted].com/rambling/Operation-Flapjack-Grill

          Author: Head

          Title: Action Squad, Go!

          Body:

          I get it. On paper it looks perfect: They’ve got this guy with a prototype computer interface stapled to his brain and a vet that military doctors and cyberneticists have remade into the world’s first death dealin’ cyborg. The IT expert and the muscle, just like in any spy flick.

          It’s funny on screen when the murder droid threatens to crush their geeky backup, but less so when you’re the backup.

          There wasn’t much space to move around in the gun truck either. Strange how quickly you start unthinkingly using that sort of slang: Gun truck.

          Anyhow, that’s when I realize that, as pissed as she is, and as much screaming as she’s doing at me, Atlas isn’t really moving. I finally understood that she was sitting in a [redacted], and that she likely didn’t want to break away from her charging plug.

          Still, the longer we sat in that tiny space the more I wondered how many extra percentage points on her battery meter my life was worth.

          With everyone stuck in the deep dark, civilian cell service was down, but there was a mesh of military drones overhead providing a connection as fast as anything AT&T has on offer. I was internally Googling possible escape routes from that model of tactical vehicle when the buggy came to a sudden stop.

          “Go, go, go,” says the Major, and Jenny – she really likes it when I call her Jenny – was up and away.

          “Remember that Atlas is in command on the ground. Listen to her if you want to stay alive,” says Wily, and I’m thinking listening to her may be the least safe thing I’ll do that day when the door slams shut behind me.

          Now, I’d gotten pretty used to my neural pipeline by then, and I’d already fallen into the habit of flipping between social networks when nervous. Apparently we weren’t the only ones with service, as the major sites began to flood my feeds with updates on the second surge.

          Over a hundred hard working line men and women, fried with their hands in boxes that were only ever damaged in their reporting software. Fulbright was one sneaky bastard.

          A sneaky bastard with a television feed, as well, as he was apparently watching the news chopper’s feed as Atlas peeled away the front of his house.

          That’s when the poop hurricane – the shite-nado, if you will – really began.

          * * *

          Fragment Three:

          March, Year One
          Source: TNTV.com/2047/03/NY-State-Power-Hostages

          Author: December Hook

          Title: New York State Powerline Terrorist Attack Thwarted

          Dramatic footage captured by a Total News Television helicopter seems to show a military special operations force invading the Blooming Grove home that we now know to be the epicenter of the state-wide blackout.

          A declassified communique, provided by anonymous military sources, indicates that the home’s owner, Morris Fulbright, released a rambling and incoherent message in which he claimed sole responsibility for the attack, and also specified that he was working alone to avenge a list of grievances that, as the source remarked, “can only be classified as being the figments of an unbalanced mind.”

          Grainy footage shows government forces on the scene, believed to be led by Jennifer Glat, the soldier the press dubbed “Ms. Atlas” after a series of miracle surgeries replaced the majority of her charred muscle mass with high-powered electronics.

          Unbeknownst to the operation, inside the house, Fulbright, who’d created a virus to fool utility overseers into believing a number of powerline assets had been physically damaged, had just forced a reboot of systems which went on to kill three dozen workers and injure over eighty others. Several remain in critical condition.

          Anticipating a response, the accused cyber-terrorist had planted several pounds of improvised explosives at all exits of his household, and, as the strike team leader pulled open the front door, the madman was waiting with detonator in hand.

          Although the explosion seemed to have left the woman’s right arm shredded at the elbow, the video shows her prying the brass knob from her dangling hand, then lobbing it into the building. Reports confirm that the missile lodged itself several inches into Morris Fulbright’s chest, killing him instantly.

          An unnamed military spokesman referred to the effort as “a triumph” and remarked that it was unlikely that this would be the last we’d see of The Irregular Division.

          This journalist, for one, is glad to have them watching over us.

           

          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!

            FCM021 – Chicken Chip Cookies

            FCM21 - Chicken Chip Cookies

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

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              FP411 – The Irregular Division: In the Beginning

              Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and eleven.

              Flash PulpTonight we present The Irregular Division: In the Beginning

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              This week’s episodes are brought to you by Get Published

               

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

              Tonight we introduce The Irregular Division, the newest, and final, thread of the Flash Pulp universe. Here it all begins to come together – and here it all begins to unravel.

              Please be forewarned that this episode contains scenes of violence and strong language intended for mature audiences.

               

              The Irregular Division: In the Beginning

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

               

              July, Year One
              Source: [redacted].com/rambling/First-Date.html

              Author: Head

              Title: Our First Lunch Meeting

              Body:

              So, apparently this blog is now considered government property, along with the rest of me. As such, I’ve been instructed to post my version of how our little family came together. I suspect that means they want me to tell you the happy tale of Operation Pancake Grid, but that’s not what I’m going to do.

              In my mind, and maybe in yours if anyone other than the NSA ever bothers to read this, everything started at the McDonald’s in Tucson.

              Given the layout, I could’ve been walking in the same store I’d visited in San Fran for breakfast or on the outskirts of Vegas for lunch. I came in the door beside the counter, and worked hard to ignore the squealing from the ballpit while I ordered. Once I had another Big Mac in my hand I hustled around the ordering slab and took cover behind some plastic foliage. My ass was just starting to numb up on the formed plastic bench when the cast of a heart-warming sitcom about non-nuclear families took the booth across from me. The little girl couldn’t have been fourteen yet, but she spoke with the firm tone of a self-assured authority.

              “I don’t care what Mom says, Dad, I don’t want to move again, and it’s not fair to make me go somewhere I can’t visit you.”

              Dad, his well pressed suit looking a little out of place in the house of the Golden Arches, tightened his grip on his partner. The partner was really the wacky breakout character of the group: bright friendly eyes and black wiry hair on every inch of exposed flesh made him look like an old timey grizzled prospector.

              “Hun,” says Dad, “you know we love you to pieces, but there’s nothing the court will let me do. You need to be a little older before they’ll let you decide where you want to be, and even in this day and age they’d still rather you tag along in a war zone with your Mother than let you stay with an old gay married couple.“

              See, the problem is that I wasn’t in a position to use any public internet access. Normally I would’ve just logged in wirelessly and forgotten the world around me as my mouth drowned in secret sauce, but I knew certain unpleasant fellows would be ringing me up for an audience before I’d even hit Google. There was definitely something compelling about the girl’s oratory though, she’d’ve been a general, a politician, or a CEO given the time.

              At a My Little Pony pitch, she started, “I don’t give two shits about those asshats from court. You actually listen to me. You actually care about –“ then Dad interrupted.

              “Whoa, hold on. Your Mom might not take a lot of input, but if you seriously think she doesn’t care about you, you need to pull your head out of your butt. She does have a set of standards she lives by, whatever the hell they may be, and for better or worse she’s trying to raise you to them. Mike and I love you, but so does your Mom, just in a different way.”

              For a moment all mouths were full and conversation paused.

              A smiling maw broke out of Prospector Mike’s face tribble.

              “Hey,” he said, “she never moves for long, and both of you should calm down and cut her some slack, it’s not like she’s actually going overseas this time. I don’t think she can be blamed for heading to the coast to recoup, not all that unreasonable considering most of her body EXPLODED.”

              Father and daughter simultaneously took a tight lipped sip of cola.

              Dad cleared his throat, saying, “Listen – “ and that’s when everything went to shit.

              With my back to the wall, and my seat opposite the door nearest the washroom, I had no problem noticing the beaten black pickup truck roll to a halt at the curb. Made gigantic by its oversized tires, its shadow seemed to stretch right through the glass. The two hillbillies who took long steps down from the cab would have made Bo and Luke Duke piss themselves if they’d caught them out behind The Boar’s Nest. They made no attempt to hide their 12 gauges.

              I reviewed all of this from under the table, of course. If anyone had been observing my booth they might have seen something akin to a blow up doll half doing the wave as it slid out of sight at high speed. I’d brought my burger with me in the hope that my tray would simply look deserted. Honestly, it was instinct once my brain registered a black vehicle coming to an abrupt stop, but after checking over what exactly I was dealing with I wasn’t convinced it had anything to do with me. They didn’t strike me as dressed up enough. That said, I’d also kind of envisioned using the rear door as an exit in case anyone did find me, and hadn’t really thought through that they might not enter from the front of the store.

              All of this happened within the span of a breath, and it was only as I watched their denimed knees scuffle past me awkwardly that I was sure they hadn’t noticed my duck and cover.

              I named them by the condition of their jeans.

              “Where is he?” shouted hole-in-left-leg.

              “Fucked if I know,” replied frayed-at-cuffs.

              Hole-in-left-leg went running to where the row intersected with the main serving area.

              As he rounded the corner and into the Playland he parted a sea of panicked murmurs with his a repeated and plaintive cry of “Fuck!”

              Frayed-at-cuffs began to pace the short length from the bathroom to the third booth in, obstructing any ideas I might have had of making a go at the exit, and bringing a repeated “Hurk!” intake of breath from Dad every time he passed.

              “Would you cut that shit out!” Frayed-at-cuffs demanded, his voice cracking.

              The Irregular Division: A science fiction Flash Pulp podcast from Skinner Co.“Hey listen –“ began Prospector Mike.

              “WHAT!? WHAT!?”

              I was leaning a bit now, trying to see what was going on, and I made out that Frayed had gotten a handful of the girl’s hair and was pressing the shortened shotgun barrel against her temple.

              “Listen –“ it was Dad’s turn now, “her mom is going to be here soon to pick her up and we don’t want any trouble and if you simply move on we’ll just sit here quietly and wait for her and everything will be ok because –“

              Dad’s mouth had lost it, and it was obvious Frayed had decided a simpler solution might be had by simply swinging the barrel of his cannon around. It was then that Mike decided to make a play, flying off his bench and around the table even managing to push over Frayed without plugging Dad. That was the end of his luck though: As the hick landed heavily on his ass his shotgun let go. Down went Mike, missing a chin. That was also when the goon decided to look left, directly into my eyes. He jumped to his feet.

              “TEDWARD! TEDWARD GET YER ASS –“

              Dad started wailing.

              “SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” screamed Frayed, once again pressing the barrel of his gun against the girl’s temple. “TEDWARD! HE’S –“

              At that point I frozen with the knowledge that I was absolutely fucked. I was staring at the murderous farmer, waiting for Tedward and the hole in his jeans to swing back from where the food is served, and I remember feeling a bead of sweat fall on my hand. I remember stupidly thinking it was raining.

              Then the exit turned into a ball of glass and heat and light.

              In the video it’s as if she just appears, a pistol the size of a small East Asian nation in her hand.

              She looked at me. She looked at the hick. She looked at Tedward, somewhere in the wings beyond my perspective.

              She said, “Michael? DAN? Nancy!?” in the order of surprised; upset; angry.

              Frayed suddenly unfreezes long enough for his trigger finger to reflexively operate, and the top of Nancy’s head disappears.

              Everything until then had felt like a rollercoaster, with the chain of events moving along much faster than even I could compensate for, but the world stopped at that second.

              I know that all of the local recording devices bit it – that only those who were there heard the cybernetically amplified howl the media calls the “banshee’s scream” – but you don’t want a recording. Imagine the sound a humpback whale might make going through a meat grinder, impart to it the unknowable grief of a mother losing her child before her very eyes, and then amplify it to the point that .76 seconds of exposure leaves every customer and counter jockey in the restaurant stone deaf and bleading from their ears.

              That’s when my memory stops, but my questionably-borrowed neural rig just dumbly kept gobbling up whatever my glazed gaze fell upon.

              Deeply in shock I began to list to the left. Still, I have video of Mom – Ms. Atlas – closing the distance between her and Frayed like a rabid gazelle. The speed is such that you can barely see her arms move as she rips off his right leg at the socket, a stabilizing combat boot, peaking from below her sensible slacks, resting on his groin.

              The spray of blood across my face is the last thing I witnessed before I thankfully fell into darkness.

              Five days later I awoke, like the rest of the store patrons and staff, in a military hospital having my eardrums replaced by government surgeons.

              Unlike the rest of the patrons and staff, however, there were two generals standing over me wanting an audience and an explanation – then they suggested that I might not go to prison over my stolen brain chip if I teamed up with their vengeful mother of a public relations disaster.

              That, to me, is the day the Irregular Division formed.

               

              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!

                FC114 – Total Murder Chicken

                FC114 - Total Murder Chicken

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                Hello, and welcome to FlashCast 114.

                Prepare yourself for: Cinematic folklore, shaking it off, action adventure Poltergeist, retirement franchises, and The Murder Plague

                * * *

                Huge thanks to:

                * * *

                * * *

                * * *

                * * *

                Backroom Plots:

              • FPSE25 – Cloak
              • FP410 – The Murder Plague: Recoil
              • * * *

                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!

                  FPSE25 – Cloak

                  Welcome to Flash Pulp Special Episode 25.

                  Flash PulpTonight we present Cloak

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                  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 we tell a brief super-heroic tale from the pulpy pages of Capital City’s funny books. A story of bumbling newsmen, space avengers, and true villainy.

                   

                  Mouthy

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

                   

                  Bruce Clark was collecting his jacket and snapping shut his laptop as his date, Margot Cranston, watched him over her smirk. It was nearly midnight, so the main floor of the Daily Bulletin was empty except the lovers, but the newsman was in a hurry to be away.

                  “We’ll catch a quick bite to eat,” he was saying, “head back to my place for a, uh, a few moments, then I’ll scoot you home before he -”

                  Beyond the frosted glass of the front entrance the elevator dinged.

                  The hallway filled with two bursts of muttering, one low, one aggravated, then the door swung wide.

                  Lee Cranston, Margot’s husband, shuffled across the threshold.

                  His face was red, his cheeks damp. He turned his head away from the adulterers, unable to meet their wide-eyed stares.

                  Margot found her voice, taking a step forward.

                  “I’m so sorry, Lee. I didn’t want you to find out like this.”

                  Her husband made no reply, so she continued.

                  “Even you have to know things have gotten bad. It’s to the point where you’re away all night, every night, drinking – then, when you finally drag yourself from bed the next day, you’re an utter mess.”

                  “I have loved you so,” offered the injured man.

                  “- and I have loved you, but it’s not enough! You’re always missing. You’re always distracted. You’re always focused on ‘heading to have a few with the boys.’ When you disappeared from your sister’s wedding reception in June… well, that’s when I met Bruce.”

                  “My own sister’s wedding?”

                  “You were drunk and in a gutter for three days! I thought you might be dead!”

                  “What makes this chump better?”

                  “He’s a journalist! He’s got a job! He’s a good man!”

                  The shadows beyond Lee’s left shoulder shifted, and the menace that was the Blood Manticore stepped forward. Hefting a gnarled energy weapon of his own malevolent design, the recent prison escapee welcomed himself into the intimate scene.

                  Margot and Bruce returned to their state of stunned surprise, but Lee simply continued his heavy breathing and shoulder heaving.

                  “Oops,” said the Manticore, his lion’s face pulled into a tight grin, “do not let me interrupt.”

                  Skinner Co.: Makers of fine fantasy, horror, and science fiction podcasts“What?” asked Bruce. “Why are you here? Did you bring a hitman, Lee? I didn’t even know she was married!”

                  The villain chuckled and prodded Lee’s spine with the broad muzzle of his cannon, insisting, “I said go on.”

                  Lee turned, his voice having found fresh strength, and repeated his question.

                  “How do you know he’s a good man? I’ve read his articles and most of them are excuses to complain about high taxes and the poor people he has to step over when he exits his neighbourhood.”

                  Behind him, the monster’s scorpion tale danced with eager curiosity.

                  Taking a deep breath, Margot’s lips flattened, as Lee knew his wife’s lips did whenever she’d come to a hard decision.

                  “Well,” she replied, “you know that I’ve had a history with Rocket Strongman. Bruce and I were together during that blimp tour that went out of control, and it was just as he ran to lock himself in the bathroom, pretending to vomit, that Rocket Strongman appeared. The same sort of thing happened when the lunar invaders tried to turn the city into a private zoo. There’s so much love in the eyes behind that mask, and, well, he’s always so flirtatious.

                  “How can I think he’s a good man? Well, honestly, I – I believe that Bruce is Rocket.”

                  The woman wheeled on her lover suddenly, whispering loudly, “save him!”

                  The reporter’s forehead dropped into his rising palms. “We’ve talked about this. I’m in news, I work long hours, when would I even have time? I’ve told you already that it’s just a coincidence that you’ve never seen us together.”

                  “Coincidence?” answered Lee, his voice seeming to gain heat, “It’s not coincidence. When there’s danger you sprint away so quickly Margot doesn’t even realize why you’re gone.

                  “I’ve known for a long time – well, a couple months, but it’s felt like forever. I realized when you were trapped together on the Hilton’s rooftop during Zombie Ape’s attack on the city. I – ”

                  Cranston looked from the newsman’s clean-shaven jaw to the gaping barrel of the Blood Manticore’s matter disassembler.

                  With a shrug, he gave up his secret.

                  “Margot, I’m sorry, but I’m Rocket Strongman. That’s why we’re here. Old Bloody here discovered my secret, and thus my weakness: You.

                  “I’ve known, but I’ve been unable to do anything about it. It’s been killing me. I damn near actually did start drinking. If I’d said anything, though, it would’ve given away my identity.

                  “Besides, I thought it would be the best thing for you. You were happier than you’ve been in a while, and I’ve always worried that you’d get hurt. You weren’t the one struck by the meteor, you don’t need to carry that responsibility.

                  “You mentioned my sister’s wedding – you didn’t find it odd that my disappearance and supposed binge happened to coincide with the Condor Crisis? I mean, I was finding feathers all over the apartment for days after I got home.

                  “Still, I should have told you.”

                  Silence descended on the room as Margot’s face shifted under the stresses of processing this new information.

                  Finally, Bruce asked the Manticore, “will you kill us all now?”

                  “Are you kidding me?” replied the beast, “Pushing my luck with a fight at this point would be an amateur mistake. It’s just when you learn these sorts of juicy tidbits that we villainous folk seem at highest risk of memory-erasing blunt force trauma, or, worse, an accidental death. I’m a mastermind, I play the long game: Outing Rocket Strongman to the press while destroying his marriage will do nicely.

                  “Have a bad night, y’all.”

                  After deploying his signature red smoke screen, they watched his shadow stroll away beyond the frosted glass.

                  Bruce turned his attention to the strongman. “Aren’t you going to chase him? None of the windows in this building open and I didn’t hear the elevator, so the stairs are the -”

                  As Clark spoke, Margot stood from her perch at the desk’s edge and approached her droop-shouldered husband.

                  “I’m sorry,” she said.

                  “I’m sorry,” he replied.

                  Much to the Manticore’s pleasure, and to the final detriment of Margot Cranston’s relationship with Bruce, the Daily Bulletin’s readers were well aware of Lee’s identity come the morning.

                  Yet, five years later, when an errant transmorphing beam passed through Archimede’s Gem and into the glass factory in which The Evil Twins had Margot’s tour trapped – the very moment she became Ms. Transparent – she was still gladly wearing her husband’s ring.

                   

                  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!

                    FP410 – The Murder Plague: Recoil

                    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and ten.

                    Flash PulpTonight we present The Murder Plague: Recoil

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                    This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Forum

                     

                    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 attempt to survive another encounter on the streets of Capital City alongside our hero, Harm Carter, a victim of the homicidal paranoia that infects the city’s inhabitants.

                     

                    The Murder Plague: Recoil

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

                     

                    Let’s talk, for a moment, about gunfights – and, more specifically, about gunfights at a time when a solid portion of the population has been infected in such a way as to think they’re the new Gary Cooper in town.

                    In my more adventurous years, as a young man on foreign soil, I’d occasionally found myself firing the rifles Uncle Sam kept handing me. I have never been a master shot, but, honestly, the technique we employed in dispensing ammunition across the countryside was often more a matter of statistics than precision.

                    All that to say: Even before Hitchcock’s disease convinced every grandmother to hide a revolver in her purse and every Saturday hunter that he should find a bell tower to climb, I’d already survived the lottery that is the high-velocity exchange of projectiles on more than one occasion.

                    Even then, I recall, a week or two into my own madness, encountering a darkened baseball diamond. Nothing overwrought, just a neighourhood lot with a chain-link backstop, two benches, a plywood concession stand, and a playground set off to the side to keep the local softball team’s kids entertained while they were swinging bats.

                    A cargo truck had been stationed in the outfield, and a tall-legged canvas tent had collapsed onto second base. Bottles of water waited on open palettes, and a stack of folding chairs sat, un-deployed, not far from the vehicle.

                    The scene rang of an aborted attempt at a governmental emergency response. Perhaps they’d tried setting up an evacuation point – I couldn’t tell what had happened to disappear all involved, but there was definitely a feeling as if the hulking rig had been vacated with haste, like a landlocked Mary Celeste.

                    Flash Pulp's The Murder Plague: A science fiction fantasy podcastIn search of supplies, I’d been crawling along the garden path between a two-car garage and a bungalow that’d had every one of its windows thoroughly shattered. I remember thinking the fluttering of the lace curtains blown through the living room’s missing bay window quite beautiful as I sat watching for any movement in, or across from, the park.

                    Feeding yourself when all is paranoia is a tricky matter. I’d spent the previous weeks stepping into booby traps, and there was no greater bait than the rations I suspected were abandoned to the feral grass.

                    Still, my stomach’s rumbling was a persuasive counter-argument, so the debate lasted a surprising while.

                    An hour into my vigil a cloud bank fought the moon for dominance of the sky, and my brain chemistry shifted from wait to run. Stooping low, I sprinted, full-tilt, from my location to the shelter of the metal bumpers lining the diamond’s car-less gravel lot, then along the wooden outfield fence and into the relief camp’s shadow.

                    From that distance I could see more signs of sudden passage – papers spread around the disordered turf and medical paraphernalia toppled near the thick rubber tires – but I could also make out the flat brown packaging that indicated a stack of MREs in the rear of the flatbed.

                    Things were going really well until I stepped onto the back of the truck.

                    The two-story houses on the far side of home plate all looked to have been picked from the same catalogue. Most were undamaged, and each one sported equally dark windows and closed garages at the end of paved driveways.

                    From the second floor of the third home from the right, however, a blinking light of death took to looking for me. Someone was waving a silenced automatic weapon in my direction.

                    Muzzle flash wasn’t my only sign of danger, though: The exploding bottles of water to my right were also a pretty good indication. I went over the truck’s side backwards, like a Navy diver enters the drink, but I landed like a drunken albatross in high wind.

                    Yet there was no chance to complain about my injured spine, as the winking flare was already busy conducting heavy duty body-work on the Army’s chariot.

                    Now, I wasn’t without my own means, but I was as well off chucking rocks at that distance as I was using a pistol. That did not stop me, however, from pulling my automatic from its pocket and making the first noises of the night.

                    At the least, I figured some excitement in the shooter’s direction would do little to steady their aim.

                    While throwing away my bullets, I ran. I hustled past the guest team’s bench, the surface splintering under the flicker, and made a dive for the concession stand.

                    There was definitely a proper door to the shack, but it was around back and I didn’t have the time. Instead, I plunged head long into the large hinged flap that would normally be pinned up to indicate the stand was open for business, hoping all the while that it wasn’t locked.

                    It was definitely locked.

                    The panic in my feet was such, though, that it didn’t really matter. The spinning slats of wood they rotated into place to hold the sheet down snapped under my impact, and the hatch gave way far enough to deposit me firmly on the cement slab that made up the floor.

                    There were two people already sheltering inside.

                    The man was maybe twenty-five. His hair had been close-cropped at some point, but it’d been quite a while since he’d seen a razor. He was dressed in jeans and a dark blue t-shirt, but I could have easily pictured him in a uniform before the collapse set in. She was maybe eighteen, wearing black stretch pants, a thick gray sweater, and a ponytail that seemed to bounce in defiance of the misery around her.

                    When I think on that moment I’m always slightly relieved I didn’t kill them, but, honestly, if I hadn’t emptied my weapon ahead of my arrival I’d likely have done exactly what the disease insisted.

                    They ran then, out the door I hadn’t used. There was a half eaten sandwich on the ground, a small guttering candle, and a harness with three grenades strung across it.

                    I didn’t wonder, then, how the pair had managed to stick together without murdering each other. I did wonder how anyone could possibly forget such useful equipment when departing, but I was too far distant from ordinary human perspective to understand that sort of surprise anymore.

                    Whatever the case, I stopped consideration of the matter twenty feet into their escape, when the fellow’s head blossomed three red stitches.

                    The woman did not pause, but she did scream as she doubled her speed and disappeared between a white Escalade and a maroon Mini Cooper across the way.

                    There must have been more twinkling from the second floor rifleman, as the SUV’s rear window shattered, but the block settled into silence once the runner was safely in the shadows.

                    I was left to wait and consider.

                    It’s hard to know where my will to survive stopped and the disease began. I obsessed about the grenades – how I might use them to defeat the deadly light blinking in the distance – but, the truth was, there was no hope I could cover the ground and remain free of some copper and lead marbling. My logical mind won that argument at least.

                    My brain worked every corner, rattling every scrap of material I had at hand, but there’s the reality of combat in a nutshell: It’s good to be fast, and it’s good to be accurate, but it’s not always enough.

                    In the end the madness decided on making a run for the truck. I can see now that I would have been just as dead as the t-shirted lad no further than ten yards from my shelter, but there was a strange commonality between the Murder Plague and being a contestant on Jeopardy. Tension makes the solution harder to see, and there is a constant need to do something. Sometimes that meant anything.

                    Loading another clip into my marble thrower, I did my best to steady my hand, and stood.

                    As I’ve said, there’s too much randomness in a firefight for my liking, but there are some rules that seem to hold. One is that chucking bullets will lead to bullets being chucked back at you. This scales all the way from a small bank robbery to the invasion of a Middle Eastern nation. If you’re going to do unto others you either have to massacre them all or accept the same kindness.

                    Even as I pulled back the hatch and let fly with my peashooter, the blinking became a brief nova, then portions of shredded flower-print curtain and beige house-siding began to rain across the lawn.

                    Deciding that was the perfect time to shop, I beelined to the brown bags, grabbed a double armful, and made for the same garden path that’d brought me there.

                    I’m glad I never came across the girl again. I suspect – no, I believe – that she acted out of revenge, meaning she wasn’t sick but a simple, angry, innocent. I’m also not sure I would have survived a second encounter: Even sane she’d thought to do what her lover hadn’t, bring some grenades.

                     

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

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

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