FC110 – #OpRaleigh

FC110 - #OpRaleigh

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Hello, and welcome to FlashCast 110.

Prepare yourself for: Floridian crime, the Holy Grail, Operation Raleigh, personal vampires, and Coffin.

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Huge thanks to:

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Audio-dacity of Hope:

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    Backroom Plots:

  • FP397 – Coffin: The Hunger for Change
  • Racist Ice Cream
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    If you have comments, questions or suggestions, you can find us at http://skinner.fm, or email us text/mp3s to comments@flashpulp.com.

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      FP401 – Coffin: What’s Eating You?

      Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and one.

      Flash PulpTonight we present Coffin: What’s Eating You?

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

       

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

      Tonight we begin our slow approach towards Halloween with a tale of Capital City tricks and treats.

       

      Coffin: What’s Eating You?

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

       

      Coffin, urban shaman, and Bunny, his sobering apprentice, sat on the faux-wood plastic bench of a Capital City bus stop.

      It was the sort of chill spring afternoon that, to Will, always felt more like fall.

      His roommate’s thoughts were moving in a different direction.

      “Hey-zeus,” she said, “it’s cold as Kris Kringle’s nuts out here.”

      “I dunno,” answered Will, “perhaps it’s last year’s lazy raking job by the city workers, but I’d say it’d make for a solid evening in October.”

      Some days were better than others for the recovering alcoholic. Some were worse.

      Today was definitely worse.

      “Maybe it’s always been this dog-molestingly f#cking miserable outside and I didn’t notice it under the fermented potatoes’ heat,” she replied, her neck craning above her fully-buttoned denim jacket.

      Spotting a jaywalking woman wearing several layers of filth-blackened sweaters while pushing a shopping cart brimming with empty cans, Bunny reminded herself that she was supposed to be working on her perspective.

      “I guess if it wasn’t for my ass freezing to the seat this’d be some decent Michael Myers weather,” she added.

      “Who?” asked Coffin.

      “You know, the crazy Halloween f#cker with the knife and the mask.”

      “Sorry, you’ll have to be more specific, I’ve known a few Halloween crazies with knives and masks.”

      It was a rare thing, in those days, for Coffin to crack a joke – and rarer still for Bunny not to be able to tell if his comment was serious or not.

      “Halloween as in the movies, not as in the kiddie candy orgy,” she answered.

      “Oh, yeah,” said Will.

      The silence returned, and the bus did not arrive.

      “Have you read up on the candy man?” the Coffin finally asked his student.

      “Like, that crazy b#stard with a hook for a hand that appears if you say his name three times?”

      Will turned, his eyebrow raised.

      “Huh?” he asked.

      “Another movie – but, in that case, the answer is no.”

      Shifting to his left and seeing no approaching chariot, Coffin leaned back against the cold plastic, placed his hands in his pockets, and said, “this’d be a few decades back – a simpler era, if you believe the nostalgia. You know, back when the outfit options were mostly Dracula, Mummy, or Ghost.

      “Jarvis Beauford was the sort of old man who cared for nothing more than network news broadcasts, and, even then, simply as proof that the world was going to hell just as he kept telling those who’d listen.

      “Honestly, I can’t imagine there were many of those left by then.

      “He’d spent thirty years working for the city before I ran into him, and his major preoccupation was road kill.

      “Raccoon didn’t quite make it across the street while some van-wielding mother of seven was distracted by a screaming baby? Someone poison a stray dog because it wouldn’t stop wandering into their yard with thin ribs and an empty belly? Sixteen wheeler plow through, over, and around a fawn too fresh from the forest to realize it shouldn’t be wandering across the western highway?

      “Jarvis was the guy you called.

      “Best thing to wash away the stink of the day, he’d claim for the fifteen years he managed to keep his first wife, was a good dose of cheap beer. Hard to say if it was his liquid habits or his amateur taxidermy that finally pushed her away, but I’m guessing it was a little of both.

      “The western end of town was still in the middle of collapsing then, and it was mostly a jumble of cheap World War II housing filled with the usual mix of hollow-pocketed young families, bone-broke students, and those so old they talked about the place in terms of ‘back when it was nice.’”

      Bunny coughed and said, “so far the most unbelievable part of your story is that that neighbourhood was ever not full of craft beer drinking ###holes and greed-eyed yuppies.”

      Coffin leaned forward. “As I was saying, it was Halloween night in an age before grubby-fingered looters weren’t allowed to trick-or-treat after dark.

      “Jarvis had his light on, but it was grimy enough that he didn’t notice me standing in the gnarled mess of his rioting bushes when he shoved open the screen door for the kid in an unusually realistic E.T. costume.

      “”Trick or treat,” says the kid, as he catches some tossed confections.

      “”Little of both, maybe,” replies Jarvis, while grinning like he’s been gifted a tanker full of Milwaukee’s Best.

      “Beauford seems reluctant to let the moment end, but the lingering gets weird so finally he starts retreating – then the kid does something that takes us both by surprise: He unzipped his neck and chin to reveal a soft round face and a glowing mop of brown hair.

      “”I can’t wait!” says the delinquent, and he digs into his bag with both rubber-gloved hands.

      “Jarvis’ face is fighting with itself; he can’t seem to decide if he wants to stop the gluttony or if it’s the greatest thing ever. The grown man giggles, pans his view up and down the sidewalk, giggles again, does nothing.

      “I’m maybe ten feet away, but I can clearly hear the smacking of the boy’s teeth as he chews.

      Coffin“The candy man’s face drops. He can’t look away, but his giddy glee has become total confusion.

      “E.T. turns a little as he ducks down for a second sweet, and I can see the blood running down the front of his costume. I can see the gap where his lip has split to the gum line. I think he knew I was there and it was for my benefit. He even flashed a smile that pulled the slice wide, revealing the pearly whites beneath.

      “Then he stands up and in goes the next mouthful.

      “Now, you gotta understand that I was new to working alone at that point, and – well, before this recent explosion there was very little occult business to be undertaken beyond the occasional haunting. The season has its rep for a reason, though, even if it hadn’t meant much for two centuries.

      “Still, it’s the thinnest the veil gets, as they used to say on In Search Of…, and I’d read up on this wee bugger in a Blackhall tome.

      “Kids’d apparently summon the thing back when the world was brimming with mystic juice and people were willing to sacrifice a cat or two for a harvest festival urban legend. A shapeshifting imp – really just a trouble maker raised to play into the sick sense of humour they had when everyone was dropping dead of plague.”

      “- and people these days talk sh#t about violent video games,” said Bunny.

      Will snorted.

      “As it turned out,” he continued, “between the booze and the blood, that was about all old Jarvis could take. Poor bugger went over like a carp landing on deck.

      “I had to do something. I mean, it’s one thing to set a minor demon free to roam the streets out of curiosity, but it’s quite another to watch a guy in a dingy white undershirt flop to death on his porch.

      “No cell service back then, of course, so there I was, running around his wood paneled living room, knocking over empty Busch cans and tossing aside stacks of TV Guide in search of a phone.

      “You could read those walls as easily as the dog-eared copies of Penthouse Letters spread across the living room table. Here was a miserable man, wallowing in his mire.

      “How miserable? The kind that frames his divorce papers and hangs them on the wall.

      “The kind that has stuffed heads on plaques as the only type of other decoration in the space he most uses.

      “There were three long rows of decapitated animals. It looked like he’d placed them side-by-side, in the order he found them, starting at the door. When he’d completed the loop he’d simply nailed the next stapled-together fawn skull a level down and begun again. Raccoons, a variety of breeds of cats and dogs, deer of various sizes: I’m no expert in the field, but there seemed to be very little care for the condition in which he scraped them off the road. Some skin was so rotten you could see the foam padding beneath.

      “Then I toured the kitchen. Stacks of dishes, rinsed but left haphazardly on the counter – and a pot, the bottom of which smelled sugary sweet.

      “There wasn’t a phone near the table either, where I found the hammer and a shopping list.

      “Well, I didn’t know, as Beauford tossed a wad of hand-wrapped candy into the tyke’s pillowcase, that he’d spent hours crafting the soft taffy, nor that he’d been just as careful in inserting the shards of a number of shattered razors into the cooling goo. I didn’t, but the imp must’ve caught on somehow.

      “I don’t think it knew what would happen, but at that point I don’t think either of us were sweating Jarvis’ heart attack as I crept away to find a too-late payphone.”

      Bunny snorted and said, “perspective is a greasy f#cker like that.”

      The bus arrived.

       

      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!

        FCM019 – Roadtrip!

        FCM019 - Roadtrip
        Welcome to Flash Pulp Minisode 019 – Roadtrip!

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

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

        Freesound.org credits:

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

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

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          FP400 – Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 – The Hag

          Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred.

          Flash PulpTonight we present Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 – The Hag

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

           

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

          Tonight, Thomas Blackhall – master frontiersman, student of the occult, and grieving husband – completes his tale regarding the beginning of the end, and the woman who stole his wife’s cadaver.

           

          Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 – The Hag

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

           

          Vengeance outweighed the woman’s grief, and the consolidation of her power began even before her boy’s reanimated body had fully let go of its living warmth.

          Setting the child to dancing a shadow of a jig, she sent the riderless pony to town, as an omen of what would follow, then made her way west.

          It was her intention that his cavorting would keep him close until such time as she discovered a method to properly raise him. However, a life filled with emergencies – shattered limbs, reluctant births, fickle curses – had left the Hag with a keen mind for priorities, and, as a python is said to eat an elephant, she began with the tail of her problem and moved ever forward to overtake her goal.

          First she returned to any who had imparted wisdom to her custody, so that she might demand any secrets they had held in reserve. Though none of her former teachers furnished a solution for true resurrection, fraud, extortion, and flattery would eventually bring her a deep knowledge of the three forms of magic.

          The school of the written word and inscribed sigil soon covered her body in images of power and deception. It was from an Egyptian book collector that she collected the pattern that imbues longevity, but it is only due to his phantom that I was able to pass that same design on to you.

          She’d approached him as a broken soul in need of opportunity to correct her tragedy, and his own timeless greed for education made him too quick to sympathize. The Hag, however, was a woman who insisted on absolute discretion, as she demonstrated by slitting his throat and removing the flesh of his back.

          Longevity is not invulnerability, as his ghostly lips later informed me.

          I myself learned, in nearly two decades in the bush, that a life of endless walking leaves too much time to obsess; too much time to over-think. I can not imagine the effect magnified by a century’s span.

          By the occasion on which she again crossed Ibsil, her transgressors were long dead – she cared not.

          In exchange for his freedom, a mute friar locked high in a coastal tower had taught her many phrases of destruction. In his youth his transcription work had carried him across a decaying tome seemingly forgotten upon the shelves of his remote cloister. Unthinking, he had hoisted the volume and begun the penitent process of re-copying its text. It was under his breath that he whispered the tones that pushed out the monastery’s eastern wall, but he had, by then, already achieved the majority of his reproduction.

          Even after the removal of his tongue, the memory of the index had followed him into the tiny room that marked the fate his brothers prescribed, and a lifetime’s confinement had left his recollections too close to his quill fingers.

          Once his furtive letters were written, though, his freedom lasted as far as a mile offshore. Then, as a noose-tied-stone was lobbed overboard, the sloop he thought employed for his escape was revealed to be the vehicle of his demise.

          The ruination of Ibsil began with a chortle and a word like a thunderclap.

          Within seconds the streets were filled with those attracted to the noise and dust of the collapsing masonwork that was once the town’s church, and so The Hag spoke of plague, for those who would hide, and of fracturing, for those who could not.

          Her tongue parted the gathered like a violent wave, and she formed corrupt sentences whose shapes and sounds called forth arcane energies to snap limbs, rupture eyes, and cleave architecture.

          In a week she’d flattened every residence and stable, flushed out every farmhand and cellar dweller, and set flame to anything that might provide a safe haven she’d missed.

          Finally, when the townspeople of Ibsil, ruined by contagion and violence, no longer had life enough to writhe on their own, she raised their shattered husks and set them to dancing for the supposed amusement of her son’s uncomprehending corpse.

          This continued for a fortnight, with any unlucky enough to wander into the remote village joining the festivities, and it only stopped when the cadavers she most favoured began to tear and sunder under her rough treatment.

          Yet her real desire, the secret of true resurrection, eluded her.

          Centuries rolled beneath her feet. The world shifted about her, but the Hag, and her mystically preserved boy, continued on.

          In time she fell in with the children of the Spider-God, the hooded Kar’Wickians. She was not one for friendship, but the arachnid’s spawn have many social advantages that her hermitry denied her. In exchange for her skills, and an occasional conjuring lesson, they provided her a great web of volunteers – for there was no shortage of restoration tales to authenticate, though most led solely to frustration.

          Raiding ancient texts from the cult’s hidden library, she learned many of the rituals of symbolism, the most primitive of the magical schools but also extremely powerful in its elementary nature. It is much more than modest voodoo doll making. Though the age of artifact creation is distantly passed, it is said this symbolic art of material manipulation, in combination with rites from the written and spoken schools, were the forge by which the Crook of Ortez and its ilk were created.

          Eventually she found her answer in one such relic, the Distilling Catafalque.

          Now, there was perhaps an age when the world was so saturated with ethereal energies that the Catafalque might have taken the carrion of but three or four mystically-drenched dead to operate, but the arcane had begun to leech from the land, and naught but a few locations remained upon the globe that contained some power.

          The hinterlands of the united Canadas was one such place.

          I had met her twice before our final encounter. On the first occasion – well, I have publicly claimed innocence by stating that it was simple error that caused our paths to cross, but, in truth, I had come to snatch the Catafalque from her very hands. Rumours of her passage, and her collection of the dead to power the device, came from the mouths of phantoms and the whispers of the fading animal lords- but I had not comprehended the size of her rotting army, and fear had driven me off from that initial meeting.

          It was not long after, however, that she took revenge at my interruption by snatching up my Mairi’s body to join her column.

          I carried not but mundane tools into our final confrontation, out of concern that her attunement to the preternatural might signal my presence. The thousands of capering cadavers had aligned themselves into a whirling spiral, and I was left to creep, sweaty-browed, through the dancing rings. My pen is too weak to convey the anxiety of slipping between those exuberantly jerking, absolutely silent, figures.

          Thomas Blackhall, a fantasy fiction podcast brought to you by the Skinner Co. NetworkAt their center stood The Hag, an orb of light in one hand while the other rest on the torn and muck-covered jacket of her unchanged son’s shoulder. She was watching as each thrashing puppet climbed, in turn, atop the black-veiled platform their lifeless shoulders had carried across the face of Europe, over the salt, and through the dense wildwoods. There was smoke at each closing of the plush curtains, but no further evidence of its sacrifice’s passing.

          I let out no yip or call upon my assault: No, my very heart ceased to beat so that the noise would not arouse her.

          It was a whisper I had mastered that lit the fuse of my explosive bundle, and even that was almost too much.

          There was recognition in her face as the payload landed at her feet, but not time enough to react. Even in the last she attempted to shield the boy from the blast, and in so doing proved that I had right to worry: Though her belly was pulled asunder by the explosion, the bones of her cradling arms absorbed the force without yielding. Still, the tattoos that formed the greater portion of her defense were but simple ink in form, and so burned as easily as the rest of her skin.

          The ritual, already in motion, went on.

          Though I had dared not search beforehand, it was my deepest hope that Mairi had not yet entered that eternal slumber. My boots seemed to gain weight with each step – with each face that registered as not her own – but an uncountable period of running along the still-rollicking spiral brought me to the woman I had sought for long decades.

          With wet cheeks, I pulled her from the line, and, in her place, I lay the Hag and her boy upon the platform.

          I will confess again that I knew. I knew the pact she’d made with the Spider-God, I knew that there was not enough power left in the world, unless the abomination might find some weak soul with which to barter the last of its vitality to plant a seed that would bloom into invasion.

          I knew, and that is why, even years before the encounter, I had begun my project of apology – and I do apologize, though I can not bring myself to regret the return of Mairi to my side.

          We have two hundred years to correct my error. Now, to the extent of your title’s responsibilities – and those carried by the other branches of my now sprawling legacy – the matter is in your hands, Coffin.

          Yours till victory, or the rise of Kar’Wick,

          Thomas Blackhall

           

          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!

            FP399 – Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 – The Mother

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

            Flash PulpTonight we present Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 – The Mother

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

             

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

            Tonight we tell the tale of a mother outcast in a haunted world, and the strange roads down which her choices would lead her.

             

            Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 – The Mother

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

             

            In those dark times there was no gentle path for a solitary mother living a nomadic life, but the tricks and skills the woman had gathered through her youth were just as pliable beyond the boundaries of the county in which she was raised.

            Menu3The old Roman roads were not so old when she began, and she slipped from the vineyards of the west to the steppes of the east just as a wind shifts and stirs at its own command.

            Nona had bestowed a keen eye for comfortable hedges and the signs of a welcoming dooryard, but it was not long before the softest turf and sweetest bites of stolen pie were reserved entirely for her ever-growing infant.

            There was little security in her position, and she received no small abuse from those villages that wished to claim a righteous position. Oft was the night that she slept fitfully on a spine bruised by flung stone. No family requiring her discreet service in dispatching an unwanted lump left by a lustful evening wished her to remain longer than necessary, and it was rare that a household besieged by supernatural threat was in any condition to host once she’d cast out the imp or phantasm that had assaulted it.

            No matter the bramble or stolen hayloft in which they slumbered, however, the woman would not let her child slip into sleep without his hearing the refrain of her love. There was no joy without him, there was no road worth taking. A whiff of his infant skin was enough to drive the cow dung scent from any barn, and to make comfortable whatever awkward pose she might be required to maintain so that he might snore soundly in her arms.

            In time, she herself took to wearing a triple-belt across her chest. The boy quickly learned to name and pluck those roots and petals that could be of use, and it was not unusual for the pair to pass a day without a meal they had not pulled from the wild dirt.

            Yet, there were advantages to setting her own course. Few were the winter months she spent in snowy lands, and there was no rumour of arcane knowledge she could not chase.

            There was an ancient deaf man who imparted the secret of how to entreat with the Animal Lords in exchange for an illumination trick she’d learned at thirteen, and an oracle on the shores of the western sea who recounted the ritual to summon a lightning elemental as barter for the skulls of a dozen murderers.

            The Mother had simply made use of a long knife and the conveniently hung bandits that lined the highways as warning. She had not inquired as to the collection’s purpose.

            In a damp Mediterranean necropolis she came across a chiseled inscription in a marble sepulcher. It required two years of learning a dead language, but she considered herself lucky in having a monk to blackmail over the problem of a village girl she’d formerly been called to aid.

            It was this engraving from which she learned the art of raising the departed. Not their spirits, perhaps, but at least their corpses.

            Here then, was a true secret, and from the age of six through eleven, the boy was shown a goodly life. It was an easy thing to terrify a town into a stiff fee by sending its recently interred citizens cavorting through the central square, and – be the tale vampires or ghouls or vengeful shades – the greater her reputation grew as an exorcist, the more plush their pillows became.

            She began to take what Nona had refused – but not for herself, for the boy.

            A renowned tailor found his daughter visiting his window as he cowered in his bed, and the lad found himself in a new suit of fine purple velvet. A cordwainer’s mother insisted on marching repeatedly from her grave to the local tavern, and the youth began to travel in supple leather boots.

            By the eve of his twelfth birthday their bellies no longer went unfilled, and the child had taken to riding a small pony between preoccupations.

            It was upon the back of the beast which he was perched when the townspeople of Ibsil rose up. Perhaps it was the boy’s display of finery in comparison to their own muck-covered rags that put the question of fraud in their mind, but, whatever the case, a close watch by soft footed deer hunters had turned out the woman’s proximity on the third afternoon of a beloved blacksmith’s rising.

            The doting mother had become especially brazen in her methods, as the dead man in question had, in the year before his passing, crafted a sword of some reputation that her son wished to receive as reward for their supposed-intervention – but the daylight timing mixed with the nervous crowd to leave many at hand willing to lift stones against them.

            Her leg’s were strong, however, and the pony well-shoed – nor was it the first flight of rocks she had endured. She was giggling by the time they reached the cart path bend that marked the township’s boundary, as there were but a straggle of hard-willed delinquents left at their rear, and those too busy attempting to find ammunition with which to maintain their barrage.

            It was a last effort missile by a farmer’s son of especially thick arm that struck the little prince from his steed – but it was not the projectile itself that did him in, it was the short fall to the hard path below that snapped his neck.

            All that came after was due to nothing more than a coincidence of angle and unconsciousness.

            Surprised at their own success, and suddenly realizing just how far from the comfort of their homes they’d wandered, the pursuers scattered, leaving the grieving woman to weep over the broken body of her boy.

            It is said that she did not stand again until she’d torn every strand of hair from her scalp in despair, and that those tufts that would eventually regrow would only come back as ivory as a bairn’s conscience.

            Yet she did stand, for it came to her mind that if it were already within her ability to raise his husk, then surely somewhere the knowledge must exist to reunite his cadaver with his spirit.

            So it was that her child became the first of what would become a long column of the dancing dead, though it would be centuries before my Mairi followed.

             

            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!

              FP398 – Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 – The Maiden

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

              Flash PulpTonight we present Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 – The Maiden

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              Download MP3

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

               

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

              Tonight we present an occult fairy tale of sorts, as we enter an ancient forest to happen upon a bloody scene and an abandoned child.

               

              Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 – The Maiden

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

               

              Centuries ago, during the dark times, in a village whose name died with its last progeny, there was a girl of round face and bright eyes. Her mother had not survived her labour, and her father died, moments thereafter, of a despairing jump while attached to a short rope.

              Though orphans were not uncommon, the deceased parents had been well liked, and the tales told around their demise struck the community at large as particularly shocking.

              The arrival of Nona the Seer an hour after the culmination of events simply reinforced the tragedy. Nona had overseen the majority of successful births in the loose confederation of hamlets that made up the bairn’s home, but ill weather that had kept the midwife from plying her simple magics and root craft at the delivery – or even providing a calming leaf to chew, and thus sustain the mourning father through his grief.

              It is for these reasons, perhaps, that Nona lifted the babe from her abandoned swaddling, cut her tie to her dead mother, and carried her into the dusk.

              Some frowned upon the woman acquiring a ward, as it went against the nature of her station, but those who complained were equally often hushed with a reminder that the Seer’s bony wrists seemed ever-more frail at each visit, and that even she could not live forever – and, besides, it was better the girl fill the station rather than their own kin.

              The Seer’s position was enshrined in regional tradition. It was held solely by a woman of arcane knowledge and occult training – and, though she would be entrusted with the gathered secrets of the people she served, she must treat each nursling as her own, and thus never give birth herself.

              According to proper telling, as passed from parent to child by fireside, the title befell only a virgin.

              It was obvious by the girl’s eleventh year, however, that this was not entirely true.

              Life with Nona was a life on the road. Many was the night that they slept in humbly offered rough-timbered barns, and for the first four of the foundling’s years she was sustained on naught but goat’s milk. To Nona’s thinking each step between visits was an opportunity to collect reagents, and there was not a bush she would not pry apart, nor thistle she would not ransack, to fill the sacks hung diagonally across her chest by a trio of belts.

              Though none were labelled, Nona’s fingers never seemed to misstep when contriving a poultice or tincture.

              It was the girl’s own education, and slow memorization of where each ingredient lay, that made clear that her mentor sometimes imbibed the same concoction provided to daughters who’d planted a seed too early.

              Discretion, however, was also a large part of the girl’s schooling, and so she said nothing regarding her discovery.

              Tonight we present an occult fairy tale of sorts, as we enter an ancient forest to happen upon a bloody scene and an abandoned child.Before long the thin-limbed lass whose wide brown eyes seemed to reflect an unflinching depth beyond a natural understanding was known simply as the Maiden.

              She was taught the reading of runes, palms, and leaves; balms for rashes and burns; the skill, simpler in those times, of starting a flame with naught but a thought and a few arcane gestures. Her curiosity was insatiable, and, in those endless hours awaiting a delivery or the breaking of a fever, she would inquire after the traditions and superstitions of her hosts.

              None refused the Maiden the words whispered by their grandmothers to halt bleeding, cease drunkenness, or cure an aching head.

              Many were the maladies of the era that were incurable by prayer or patience, the dominant medicines of the time, and in a decade and a half few were the families who could not claim some assistance by “Nona and her Maiden.”

              All – having conveyed some otherwise secret knowledge to the girl – felt some kinship, and even ownership, in regards to the child. Her cheeks were pinched, and her head patted, well beyond a reasonable age for such.

              Many imparted the same wisdom in her ear: “Someday you too shall be like Old Nona, second mother to each one of us, and our grandchildren shall be your grandchildren. Tradition says it is so.”

              It was Nona who first spoke against her, though they all soon followed.

              On the evening of her sixteenth birthday she’d snuck from the birthing room of Adela Rose’s eighth child, and called Adela’s eldest, Marcus, to her side. The boy was but two months her elder, though she’d tended him through an infected broken arm at twelve. She’d held some fondness for him since.

              Despite the number, the birth was no quick affair, and the girl and boy had often found excuses to stand close in the quiet heat of the kitchen while the focus was elsewhere.

              The mess of the process was not enough to quench the desire pulling at her bones, and it was only noisily amongst the wheat that she finally mastered her need.

              Marcus put up a noble attempt at future interest, but the girl had never known a stationary life, and her lust had been kindled on the farmhand’s shoulders, not his mind. He’d seemed just as relieved as she at her departure, hours later, and she thought nothing but kind thoughts of the incident until the day she grew suspicious at her own lack of blooding, a regular reality since the age of fourteen.

              She herself had provided the diagnosis often enough to know the cause, but kept the insight to herself through another birthing, a leg amputation, and the lifting of a shaman’s curse.

              It was after the extraction of this last, a wolf daemon bound to a woodsman of notorious temper, that the girl let slip her secret.

              Nona had selected a field in which to camp beneath the clear stars, and the fire was there but for illumination, not warmth. The spirit had been pulled from its home with much howling, and the shattering of the woodsman’s jaw. Ignoring the blood and tears, the women had driven the phantasm forth, ending its victims unintentional string of homicides – though not before the man had left his own family shredded amongst their bedding.

              All told, the girl had thought her own troubles slight in comparison, and it was in this light that she had spoken – and why not? She had reckoned herself a match in intellect and skill to any in the area but perhaps Nona, and she had undertaken matters both physical and metaphysical that would likely ruin the psyche of the farmers and petty merchants she served.

              “The traditions!” Nona had replied. “Well, all is not lost. I will mix you up a snifter, and you’ll soon be fit for the position once again.”

              “Damn the traditions,” the girl had replied. “I did not ask for this position, but my sole request is a child of my own.”

              It was the single time she defied the woman, but it was enough.

              There was no solution in the hours of argument that followed, and the news soon grew that the pair had split.

              Within weeks there came to be no door friendly to the girl’s plight, and if it was a barn’s comfort she sought she had to be sure to depart before the cock’s crow.

              On those few occasions when she was not quick enough, or on which a response might be made to her knocking, the answer for the source of their cruelty was always the same: “There was a tradition to be maintained.”

              The girl, however, refused to yield her child.

              Under a half moon, on the banks of a glass-surfaced creek, she attended her own birthing, and yet she cut the child’s cord with as firm a hand as she cut her ties with the name of Maiden.

              In ten months’ time she was well upon the road, Nona buried of a broken heart, and the county decimated by a plague without a healer in place to check it.

              Soon she was known by but one, and he called her simply Mother.

               

              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!

                FP397 – Coffin: The Hunger for Change

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

                Flash PulpTonight we present Coffin: The Hunger for Change

                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 Earth Station One

                 

                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, discuss the occult danger lurking behind the counter of a wandering ice cream truck.

                 

                Coffin: The Hunger for Change

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

                 

                It was a Sunday, and Coffin and Bunny were sitting on a bus stop bench. It was still a little too early in the season to justify frozen treats, but the chiming tune of a persistent ice cream truck portaging between suburbs had summoned their empty stomachs to action.

                Bunny had a wagon wheel in one hand and a napkin, to catch the drippings, in the other.

                “F##k-bugger, the first of the year is always the best,” she was saying.

                Will nodded his agreement, but it was clear to his roommate that his mind was elsewhere.

                “Thinking about a cursed sundae from your youth?” she asked.

                It was enough to extract a twitch of a smile from Coffin’s lips.

                “No,” he replied, “well, not exactly. Notice that I leaned against the truck while waiting for our lunch?”

                This time it was Bunny’s turn to nod. “You did appear to be sauntering at an unusually jaunty angle.”

                Coffin: A Skinner Co. Fantasy Fiction PodcastCoffin said, “a few years before Sandy died, we fell into this situation down south. Some city-level newspapers had pulled together a string of kiddie murders, but the theories were all over the map.

                “Cannibals were a popular editorial choice, with Satanists close behind, but those were mostly just signs of the era.

                “The only consistencies seemed to be the apparent fact that the victims were all children, that their remains were found a few miles from where they’d disappeared, and that they were all stripped clean of flesh. Not – not perfectly. Not television-style bleached bone clean, but definitely “I’m done with this chicken leg” clean.”

                Pausing to toss his half-eaten waffle cone through the trash hoop, Will moved to the bus schedule, then glanced at his watch.

                “We weren’t quite sure what we were looking for,” he continued. “A werewolf? A wendigo? We were young and still had the patience to chase the wind.

                “Three weeks in – and with no more to show for our wandering than a backseat full of North Carolina bar receipts – we finally caught a break. Parents don’t like the details of their child’s last moments published, but when a six-ten hulk by the name of Darius suffered the same fate, the press, hungry for something to fill summer headlines, exploded.

                “The detail that really caught people was the speed. Darius’s wife noticed him missing just before dinner, and his picked-over carcass was found in a ditch outside Chapel Hill two hours later.

                “Takes a lot of hungry, hungry cannibals to eat a guy that big that fast.

                “It was no easy thing to raise the dead in those days, but he was fresh, and he’d died quite unpleasantly. We guessed at the route his corpse had taken, and, by walking between his last known location and the dump site, Sandy managed to use the Crook of Ortez to pull him into conversation.

                “To be fair, he didn’t make it that far from where he’d disappeared before his finale.

                “Anyhow, it was Darius who told us about the ice cream truck hermit.”

                The topic had done nothing to slow Bunny’s consumption, and her cookie sandwich was now but a sliver.

                “I don’t get it,” she said. “Magic is supposedly receding from the world?”

                “It is.”

                “- and you’ve said that most of the spooks and mooks haunting today weren’t noticeably around 70 years ago?”

                “Also true, most entities were wisps moving outside our vision even just a decade ago.”

                “So how the f##k does that explain an ice cream truck?

                “There’s no chance some taint-gobbling medieval wizard attempted to summon a converted Ford that clangs out Turkey in the Straw, and no Victorian Hell Club dandy motherf##ker ever thought, ‘s##t son, I need a banana boat FROM SATAN,’ so what the sweet f##k?”

                Taking a seat on the short bench and stretching his legs across the pavement, Coffin replied, “you know that saying, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same?’ It’s basically that.

                “Every generation of humanity thinks its so advanced, but everything is just a variation on a theme. Maybe it was once an eel hawker in Victorian England, maybe it was a samosa cart in Uttar Pradesh.

                “Darius’s story was probably the same as a thousand others, and none of them were particularly dependant on a time period. He was standing on the corner, it was nearly dinner and he was starving, but he wasn’t especially excited about the offerings in the oven. Along comes this happy tune and a huckster hawking treats.

                “Well, hell, Darius has a ten in his pocket, and there are no witnesses around to see him murder his appetite.

                “He wasn’t the only one to notice that fact, however.

                “The guy in the truck has a really impressive moustache, triple curled and well tended. He’s all smiles, but his patron doesn’t really notice much about him beyond the lip hair.

                “The hungry husband slaps down his ten and asks for a milkshake, so the guy behind the little window leans forward like he’s going to return his change – except he keeps leaning. He leans so far forward, in fact, his customer thinks he’s actually going to fall out – but somehow his torso seems to be stretching, his white smock distending with rippling ribs, and his hand closes around Darius’ mouth.

                “Then the big man’s snapped up and in like a cod fresh from the sea.

                “The mustachioed fella is nothing more than a lure of course – like the orb on an Angler fish – but the hermit is really more like the crab Sandy named it after. The phantom told us it’s like a chameleon skin that’s wrapped itself around the entirety of the truck, both inside and out. A dozen eyes watched him from the surface of the soft serve machine as he landed, and a dozen more likely watched the street for witnesses.

                “Even the tiny window ledge shifted forward to consume him, as Darius put it, ‘like a bottom lip.’

                “The floor looked like plastic matting, but was spongy and thick. Probably the main meat of the thing. The comfortable landing didn’t last long, though, as countless mouths opened in the leathery flesh, and the tinkling speakers kicked in to help cover the screaming.

                “Thing is, while he was scoping the neighbourhood to make sure his wife wasn’t going to hear of his caloric indiscretion, the dead man had put his hand on the truck’s side, all casual like. He’d noticed that it was warm and felt strange – like dog skin, even though it looked like white-painted metal.

                “He’d been too busy worrying about getting busted to think more of it than wiping his palm on his shirt and moving on.

                “Anyhow, I don’t know if the hermit sniffed out that we were onto him, or maybe Darius was finally just a satisfying enough meal, but the killings seemed to stop after that; well, at least in that area. Sandy – she was getting pretty obsessive by then. She had us spinning our wheels for months.”

                “Wait,” said Bunny, “that’s why you leaned? You never f##king found Johnny Monster-in-a-Box?”

                “Nope,” answered Will, as he stood to wave down the approaching bus, “but everything changes eventually.”

                 

                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:

              • Ice cream truck2.mp3 by 8767yy
              • 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!

                  FP396 – The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3

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

                  Flash PulpTonight we present The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, 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.

                  Download MP3

                  (RSS / iTunes)

                   

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

                   

                  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, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, finds himself in an unlikely conversation, with a fairy woman and a deaf man, on the lonely banks of the Malhousen River.

                   

                  The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3

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

                   

                  Blackhall’s limbs were heavy with memory and heartache as he pulled himself over the side of the tiny rowboat, yet the banshee’s song of tears would not relent.

                  It took Wyatt’s guiding hand to keep the frontiersman on course through the fog of sentiment that pooled on his cheeks, but it was not a distant journey to the stone on which she perched, head in hands.

                  A sleek limbed figure in a dress of archaic form, she looked as if a village girl lost some two-hundred years – it was only the bolt of anguish that accompanied each convulsion of her shoulders that marked her as otherwise.

                  The sound of Thomas’ knees collapsing upon the wet sand drew her gaze, and the curve of her brow betrayed her surprise at their arrival.

                  Still, though her eyes were red with use, the banshee’s spine braced, and chin stiffened, at the intrusion.

                  “Is this what it’s come to,” she asked her damp palms, “the hayseeds have rallied to accost me like some whisky-tongued roustabout?”

                  Her hushed tone broke the weight of emotion upon Blackhall’s spine, however, allowing him to push to the surface of his grief.

                  BlackhallWhile he could, he said, “not at all – though they do worry over what your despair portends. If hearing the sobbing of a banshee signals death, what then, they must wonder, does it mean for one of your kind to weep so long and so deeply? No doubt they believe the entire township is on the verge of depopulation by plague.”

                  “Always for you, always for you, damnable humans,” she replied, but her whisper was low enough to let him to stand without aid. “Why should I worry over their lot? The white-collar yonder has launched a multitude of prayerful curses in my direction: First wishing me away, then requesting my obliteration.

                  “Where is his concern for my anxieties? Does he not consider that I too may seek succor, or at least simple understanding?”

                  Desperate to be clear of the unblinking memory of Mairi’s slack face, Blackhall nodded, replying, “I’m sure the Father means well, but ‘tis an easy lesson to forget that charity means considering the flow of hard nature, and not just the metaphysical.”

                  Wyatt, unsure of how to add to the conversation, removed his hat and took a seat upon a tumbled log as if welcomed into any mundane stranger’s parlour. In truth, it was this act more than any of Thomas’ words that brought the banshee’s tone some patience.

                  “For five hundred years,“ she said, “I watched every birth and burial the Ó Braonáin family undertook. I wept silent tears of joy at the arrival of every bairn, and wailed a warning at the death of every drowned fisherman or tottering grandmother. I chased them from farm to salt and back again a dozen times, and never once did I fail in my craft.

                  “Yet this is where it ends. I followed the last transplanted branch of the clan over sea and up river. I watched his every struggling effort, and shared his joy at the hope that comes at a new start, even if it means a sore back and tired arms. Still, his fate was nothing more than a growth in his belly, and a moaning death before he might take wife and renew the line in this fresh soil.

                  “Now it is he who was planted: A year dead in the ground, buried under Father Stroud’s guidance.”

                  Her tone was thick but controlled, allowing Thomas to ask, “do you feel they treated the last of the Ó Braonáins unfairly?”

                  “No more than any else,” she answered, “- but what of me? Where should I go? What do I have? There is no one left to watch over, no one left to mourn. I can feel the drain of the occult from this world, yet I can not bring myself to despair any further.

                  “It would have been better to wither at home, where at least I knew the stones upon which I’d rot.”

                  Her gaze was locked on Thomas, as if he might have an answer, and, while her lips refused to tremble, he could see the pain of five-hundred-years of loneliness.

                  However, though he could but make out half her words, it was Wyatt who replied first.

                  “I spend most evenings in cloistered silence,” said the deaf man, his throat tight, “but I would be most pleased to come calling across the brook, or wherever else you might wish to meet. I have little to offer beyond lopsided conversation, but I would be happy to share my letters from beyond, and perhaps a taste of my dandelion wine, should you be so inclined. Moreover, if you have the patience to tell it to a man who needs much repeating, I would glory in the tales you’ve no doubt collected in your time on watch. There is no reason the Ó Braonáin line you knew can not live on in story.”

                  His words echoed Thomas’ thoughts. It was a temporary solution at best, but Blackhall knew that any lifeline was better than none to lungs and heart drowning in depression.

                  Nodding, he added, “- and I can no doubt convince the parish that the peace your company offers is worth a handsome payment, Wyatt.”

                  It was only then that proper introductions were made, but a night’s worth of conversation brought them to many matters: The foibles of men and women long deceased, the idiosyncrasies of penpals from distant lands, and even the seemingly endless march to Mairi.

                  By the hour at which dawn fell upon the trio, there was naught but laughter.

                   

                  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!

                    FP395 – The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 3

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

                    Flash PulpTonight we present The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 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

                    (RSS / iTunes)

                     

                    This week’s episodes are brought to you by The P.G. Holyfield Cancer Support Fund

                     

                    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, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, takes a relatively long trip across a relatively narrow river.

                     

                    The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 3

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

                     

                    From somewhere in the darkness beyond the river’s rushing water came the noise of sorrow and collapse.

                    From somewhere in the murk came the gurgle and crack of honest tears.

                    From somewhere in the gloom came death.

                    The crowd stiffened as one at the noise of the woman’s weeping.

                    “You look concerned, gentlemen,” said Blackhall. “Is this wail not why you stumbled from the comfort of your hearths?”

                    Gathering his shoulders, the priest motioned two thick-armed cow wranglers towards a shed at the edge of the churchyard, then the red-haired man stepped into the beam of the lead wobbling lantern.

                    “My name is Father Stroud, and it is indeed exactly why I’ve collected these men here. We’ll have this dilema out tonight, and we’ll have it honestly – but we need no charlatan mystic defrauding poor Wyatt and putting the rest of us at risk.”

                    “You’d like to see my credentials then?” smirked Blackhall. “Wyatt is only poor in the sense that you all underpay for the services he renders. I’ve asked him for nothing more than an afternoon’s conversation.”

                    “We all know what dangers lie out there,” answered Stroud, “if not money, then what is your hidden motive in interceding in the matter of the banshee?”

                    Before Thomas could answer, however, the dispatched farmers returned with a small white-washed rowboat on their shoulders.

                    With an inelegant splash, they dropped the craft in the shallows.

                    “Huh,” said Blackhall. “Was it your plan to fit the lot of us, lap upon lap, in this Sunday paddler? Such a dinghy will hold two at best. Perhaps, though, if you all tether yourself together I might drag you across the flow?”

                    “Obviously we can not all join you, but the community will have a representative at the table,” answered the priest.

                    “I think -” Thomas began, but Stroud raised a finger and culled a broad man by the name of Perry from the crowd.

                    With a shrug, Blackhall assured himself that his gear was still sitting on dry ground, but tugged his greatcoat over his shoulders. There was not but mundane survival amongst his bags, for he’d long relinquished his arcane tools to the care of a firmer guardian, but he would not, and could not, relinquish the braid and letter that rode within his coat’s breast pocket.

                    Setting his left hand on Wyatt’s shoulders, the frontiersman held up the five digits on his right, then pointed to the ground at his feet. Finally he took his position in the boat, opting for the lover’s perch so that Perry was left the oars.

                    The first rower was a strong man.

                    To Thomas’ mind it was as if approaching the heat of a black sun, or attempting to scale the height of a waterfall gushing naught but sorrow. There was a temptation to wave his gondolier off, or suggest he approach from some protracting angle, but Blackhall’s occult studies had taught him that it would only delay the inevitable.

                    Perry’s strong arms carried them half the distance, then the ferryman’s weeping for his eldest child, deceased some two years after a decisive kick from a startled bull, brought their trajectory about.

                    His momentum did not stop even when they’d reached the shore, and he was on his mare and into the darkness before any questions could be held to him.

                    Blackhall, An Occult Fantasy Skinner Co. Podcast“I think -” Blackhall began again, but Stroud again raised his finger, this time pulling a lanky parishioner by the name of Johan from the crowd.

                    Johan was lanky-limbed and sharp nosed, but he smiled at the news and bowed repeatedly to the priest as he approached the boat.

                    As he pushed off, he began to sing of the sunset tree.

                    The second rower, then, was a pious man.

                    “The twilight star to heaven,” sang Johan, “and the summer dew to flowers,” yet each splash of his paddles seemed to pick up weight.

                    “And rest to us is given,” he continued, “by the cool soft evening hours,” but it was for naught.

                    The emptiness of his home had struck him; his lack of child or wife. The emptiness of his late night comforts – that he he would someday find the right woman, that someday he would not sing alone – brought an ache to his lungs and a hitch to his throat.

                    He’d swung around fully before realizing he’d made any turn to the boat, but he made no attempt to right his course as the sound of the banshee’s mourning chased them back to their point of departure.

                    In a wavering voice, Perry excused himself to the silence of the sanctuary beyond.

                    “It’s no aspersion on his faith,” said Blackhall, “it’s just a matter of applicability. Prayer is no greater defense in this matter than it would be against the current of the stream.”

                    He paused then, awaiting the inevitable interruption, but Stroud made a point of holding his tongue.

                    “I think,” Thomas continued, “we’ll try Wyatt at the oars. It seems your pity and your piety have made you blind to his obvious strengths.”

                    The light was dim and flickering, making lip-reading a difficult undertaking, but the deaf man was quick enough to discern everything Blackhall’s nod was intended to convey, and he did not hesitate to take his place.

                    Within seconds they were off again.

                    Though he did his best to muffle the otherworldly sobbing as they approach, the repeated trips had also taken their toll on Thomas.

                    His mind had retreated – as it did as sleep approached, or he took a few cups with a friendly face, or his feet stumbled through the endless ferns and bramble – to the thought of his dead wife, Mairi.

                    At the halfway point it was only his teeth upon his lip that kept him from tears. The smell of autumn leaves came to him. The smell of a small fire in an English forest came to him, carrying memories of the lusty scrabbling reserved for lovers long parted.

                    Wyatt, oblivious, but whistled.

                    Christmas came next, Mairi’s fingers on his ever-shaking knee, the anxiety of their announcement welling in his throat, the warmth and love of the house they intended to fill further, the heat of her neck and the breathy scent of wine filling the darkness of a back-corridor linen closet.

                    Thomas howled, and the banshee howled.

                    He stood at her grave as they buried her. He stood at her grave as it was now, empty. He damned the hag who’d stolen her. He damned the woods that tore at her dancing dead feet.

                    He damned himself for ever having spent his short span anywhere but at her side.

                    Then the bow touched softly upon the shore.

                     

                    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!

                      FP394 – The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3

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

                      Flash PulpTonight we present The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, 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

                      (RSS / iTunes)

                       

                      This week’s episodes are brought to you by The P.G. Holyfield Appreciation Dept.

                       

                      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, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, chases dark portents into a small town on the river’s edge.

                       

                      The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3

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

                       

                      On a morning so fierce and dry it made even the greenest timber seem at threat of flaring up from simple exposure, Thomas Blackhall stumbled into the village of Malhousen.

                      He had been summoned over the mystic aspect of an apparent impending demise.

                      Malhousen proper was little more than a trading post facing down a small churchyard, but the two dozen families that populated the surrounding rocky lands were on friendly enough terms to call each other neighbour, and the occasional mail delivery seemed to indicate that the government agreed on the designation.

                      Still, visitors were a rare thing that far off in the bushlands, and there was no public house, nor inn, motel or tavern – as a field-tromping farmer had passed word to Thomas that any with interest enough to make the journey likely did so because they knew someone in the area well enough to board with them.

                      Blackhall: A Skinner Co. Fantasy Fiction Podcast“If you need a place to stay, though,” the muck-handed man with the broad straw hat had said, “I’m sure a few coins could clean mother’s sewing parlour for the evening.”

                      The offer had stood as long as it took Blackhall to explain what had brought him.

                      Strolling beyond the low white fence that separated the churchyard cemetery from non-hallowed turf, Thomas came to the river that had given the town its name, then cast off his gear with the tender concern of a man who’d just spent a full two weeks cursing at its weight.

                      Retrieving a small pouch from his breast pocket, he lay his great coat across his packs and sat upon the sandy bank to take in the current’s breeze. In time his fingers found a fine Spanish paper and stuffed it with tobacco, then, in more, the sun nuzzled the horizon.

                      Not being the Sabbath, there seemed to be only the church’s red-faced Scottish priest to glower at the stranger loafing away the afternoon.

                      At first, as his smoke had chased the water bugs downstream, Blackhall had thought that the cleric was simply the type to disapprove of all outsiders, but, by the hour at which his stomach began to call for supper, Thomas had decided the Scot likely knew why he was at hand, and that the holy man wanted nothing to do with his occult concerns.

                      It was his thinking that a true busy body could not be content to maintain a distance, but the priest had spent his day at just the distance necessary to be always aware of Blackhall’s position.

                      As Thomas began to consider what he was carrying that might appease his complaining appetite, a man exited from the trading post, walked the short breadth of its porch, then joined him on the riverbank via the fence-side route.

                      “I apologize,” said the prematurely-graying newcomer. “I’m Wyatt, the man who requested your presence. I would’ve joined you earlier, yet – well, you may’ve noted that business is sluggish, but what customers I receive depend on the regularity of my habits.

                      “I should also mention that my ears aren’t of much use. Though I could hear till my eighteenth year, they’re long gone now. It makes me poor conversation, as I talk too much about nothing and with little response. I’ve some skill at reading lips, but there are few here who will allow me to practice. They have fields to till and cows to slaughter, I suppose.”

                      “You’re sole occupation is running the store?” asked Blackhall, his words slow and clear.

                      The man raised his brow.

                      “The store?” repeated Thomas, his fingers waving in the squat shack’s direction.

                      “Oh, I act as middleman between those who grow beats and those who grow potatoes. The potato men come to me for their beats, the beat men come to me for their potatoes, and I make barely enough between them to taste either.

                      “In addition, the same boatman who collects the post brings up a selection of needles and dry goods that I resell. Despite my deafness I hear complaints over even that tiny profit.”

                      Blackhall nodded, and the shop keep smiled to have a friendly ear.

                      “The truth,” he continued, “is that I receive a child’s treatment because of my conversational difficulties. You’ve been a kind audience, but those who care for anything beyond inquiring about carrot seed often grow loud, which is a body posture as much as a tone, and neuter their language to a level more appropriate for a mush-headed bairn.

                      “It is usually those same folks who can’t scratch their own names, and thus can’t simply write out their orders and questions for prompt service.”

                      “It must be a lonely life,” Blackhall repeated until the man caught his meaning.

                      “It’s the postal counter that most keeps me in place,” replied Wyatt. “I’ve made a tangle of friends across the globe with those simple scraps of paper, and I collect more news than a dozen broadsheet hawkers. It was those same that gave me your name to search out when the matter of the death bringer raised itself.

                      “Still, as you can perhaps tell, I do long for the simple pleasure of seeing a face react, instead of outwaiting the slow transmission and careful composition of a letter.”

                      The conversation continued forward in little ways until dusk, but, due to their minor discussion, they did not note the departure of the flame-haired priest on his sagging, silent, pony.

                      By the time the frogs had begun to sing and dew was forming on the grass, Wyatt and Thomas were no longer alone.

                      Several men with lanterns, slurring courage and raising enough noise to find each other despite the wobbling of their illumination, began to gather about the white picket fence.

                      Their filth-kneed pants marked the crowd as farmers, but Thomas could discern nothing more as they took to shouting commands and demanding answers, simultaneously and without deference for his neighbour’s bellowing.

                      The priest was close behind.

                      It was as the Father moved to the forefront and raised his arms for silence, however, that there came, from beyond the river, the keening sound of death – a high and jittering wail that was no more dampened by the babble of men and water than would be a bullet.

                      Then the evening’s trials truly began.

                       

                      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:

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