185 – The Murder Plague: Buggy, Part 3 of 3
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and eighty five.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the bistrips comic Treed.
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, Harm Carter, and his fellow survivors of Hitchcock’s Disease, find themselves once again on the cusp of a difficult decision.
Flash Pulp 185 – The Murder Plague: Buggy, Part 3 of 3
What do you do with a temporarily unconscious homicidal child? Keeping the flashlight on her eyes, I silently wished I’d brought my empty pistol, and resolved to bluff, if need be.
Frankly, I was tempted to tip her rig, rip out a few of the important bits, then retreat to the seclusion of Newton’s camp – with luck, she might’ve simply wandered off to pester some other cutthroat.
As Jeremy and I stood in silence over the girl, oddly, I suddenly found myself in the middle of just another night. It’s funny what your mind will do when drowning in stress.
There was a chill on the wind, and a rustle in the trees, but that wasn’t quite it. Maybe it was the resurgent crickets, or the feeling of standing in the dark, amid the open countryside. I looked up at the stars and took in a lung full of crisp air, and for a brief moment, I wasn’t having to consider murdering a seven-year-old.
Then she said “Snerk,” and began thrashing against the racing buckles that had held her in place during her airborne acrobatics. With the light still in her face, it was easy to make out the jagged row of exposed teeth between her snapping mandibles. She’d filed them down with something, but poorly – the gaps and misshapen points had given the young Ms. a jaw like a cartoon shark.
Minnie, who was much closer in age to the child than she was to Newton, hustled from behind us, towing the strongman by the hand.
“Be quiet or I’ll put a bullet in you,” I said to our apparent captive, hoping she wouldn’t notice my lack of a weapon, much less spare ammunition.
It wasn’t exactly the sort of threat I’d used in my years of parenting, but it brought the flailing to an end.
“What now?” said Minnie.
“Your boyfriend should cave in her skull,” snarled Jeremy, “- gonna need to unbuckle her helmet first though.”
Well, we’d been on the road for a while, but even I found the statement shocking.
“You can’t seriously be advocating for the death of a juvenile?” I said.
“No – for the death of a murderer. What else do you suggest?” he replied.
There was another while of standing; and crickets; and the night’s breeze.
Finally, when it became obvious to Jeremy that we weren’t going to supply a response, he turned on the big man.
“What’s it going to be? Maybe we tie her up, and leave her here to starve, or to be discovered by another nutter? What happens to her then? Just as bad as killing her, isn’t it? Or we can let her go, see if she can’t find some more healthy, innocent people to slaughter?”
“She’s infected, but what’s YOUR excuse for murder?” asked Newton
“That crazy killed your friends. Survival is what will separate us, in the end. You need to punish her – to make it right.” was Jeremy’s sullen reply.
At that point, Minnie, while still holding the giant’s meaty paw, interjected.
“You may not be infected, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a psychopath,” she said.
The teen continued, despite the insult.
“If you’re so excited about seeing this kid killed, you do it.”
There was another pause, and our prisoner’s feral eyes kept trying to pry beyond the edge of my blinding beam. She likely believed she was dead, no matter who won the argument.
“Fine,” said Jeremy.
Part of me wanted to intervene, but I just couldn’t puzzle another solution to the problem.
Was he sick?
In truth, I rather believed our gasbag would step down, begin to wind himself up for the dirty work, then shrug and commence moping. Thirty seconds, I thought, and we’ll clear from the scene and continue along our miserable way.
That’s not what happened, though.
Approaching the go-kart, he made a move to reach for its driver. At the same instant, the intended victim punched the ignition, hoping to restart her vehicle. Seeing her motion, Jeremy lunged to restrain his prey, and she closed her bristling mouth on his forearm. The jalopy, responding to her summons for action, turned its engine over once, then the combustion climbed out of the engine, down an apparently leaking fuel-line, and the rig burst into flames.
The girl was screaming around her clenched fangs, but she refused to let go, and most of her attacker’s clothes were burned away before I could grab him by the scruff and yank him from the inferno.
I dragged him onto the roadway, while Minnie retrieved my dropped lantern. He hadn’t been trapped long, but the heat was immense, and the majority of Jeremy’s chest and face had more in common with scorched steaks than the young man we’d known.
Fear was driving us then – fear that the ruckus and blaze would draw attention from some other corrupted assailant. With Newton propping up the injured lad’s far shoulder, we stumbled back through the woods, not stopping until we’d returned to the sheltered site at which we’d lazed the day away.
We spent the night taking turns watching over the blistered husk of our companion, occasionally soaking a shirt in the stream so we might drip water down his rasping throat, but, by dawn, it was obvious he was a lost cause.
As the sun rose, Jeremy rattled his final gasp.
Soon after we buried him, along with what remains we could collect from the ashes of the lethal machine, in the same sandy turf as Newton had laid down his other former associates.
Minnie and I wept as we said our goodbyes.
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