December 10, 2011 by JRD Skinner
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and twenty seven.
Tonight we present, Close, Part 1 of 1.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Saturday B Movie Reel 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, we present a chiller tale of conversion, communication, and cataclysm.
Close, Part 1 of 1
“Get back in here and let me hold you,” said Bradley Owens.
He’d slept poorly, as his dreams had been filled with the sound of snapping bones, and Nora Rhodes, his girlfriend, was attempting to console him while adjusting her suit-jacket at the bedroom’s full length mirror.
“I’m really sorry about your nightmares, monkey. I’m getting worried about you – you should see Doctor Henley.”
“Nah, I’m fine,” he replied from the bed. “It’s only happened since you got back from Canada, so maybe my brain is telling me it’s time to trick you into a wedding.”
“Why don’t you call in sick and catch a nap? Watch some Price is Right?”
“Hey, we can’t all be oil tycoons, and I’ve got bills to pay.”
In truth, his call center employment covered little of his expenditure – it was Nora’s progression onto the lower rungs of Shell’s management ladder that paid the majority of the couple’s debts.
“I can spot you some cash for your half of rent, sugar daddy,” she said. ”You should just quit anyhow, and accept my job offer as full time gigolo.”
Her smile was enough to finally make Bradley sit up.
He threw back the sheets in invitation.
“Aww, I was just kidding.” she replied, “I’ve got meetings about the northern project. Perhaps you ARE all right for work, though?”
He chased her to the door and kissed her goodbye.
* * *
In the early hours of the following Thursday, Owens was brought awake through the agitation of a repeated poke to his chest. He hadn’t moved at first, thinking it was another strange dream, but the prodding persisted.
The couple were spooning beneath their white comforter, making it impossible for Bradley to visually confirm what his tactile senses appeared to be telling him: That Nora’s ribs were shifting beneath the surface, and rearranging themselves about her spinal cord.
He jerked away.
“What’s wrong, monks?” came Nora’s sleepy voice.
He didn’t reply, and her breathing soon returned to its slumbering rhythm.
Once confident that she would remain asleep, he crept to the couch and pulled the decorative Navajo blanket over his cold legs.
* * *
He’d fallen asleep rehearsing his conversation, but, in the day light, he felt his claims seemed stupid. Instead, he sheepishly answered Nora’s questions by saying that he’d been disturbed by a nightmare, and had thought a change of rooms might help.
After the second night of such behaviour, she made him a doctor’s appointment.
* * *
A week later, they were nibbling pancakes at the breakfast table.
It was rare that Nora had an opportunity to sample her boyfriend’s cooking, and she was working hard to enjoy it. Still, she was impressed at the effort.
The pills must be helping,” she said, “you look sharp today – not too often that I’m lounging in my PJs while you’re all put together and ready to face the world.”
Henley had been more than happy to prescribe Bradley a tub of Ambien, and they’d briefly given him respite, but the idea of what might be happening during his unconscious hours had begun to haunt his waking thoughts.
Even as he watched her eat, he wondered if the flexing in her neck was the result of her chewing, or a secret transformation taking place beneath her skin.
Having finished washing the cookware, making the bed, and sweeping the kitchen floor, the infrequent-chef approached the small round table they’d picked out together, at IKEA, and stated his intentions in a single exhalation.
“You’re wonderful and I love you, it’s all me, but things are fucking weird and I can’t handle it anymore – goodbye.”
He was closing the door behind him before Nora could muster a reply.
* * *
By Saturday, Bradley’s friend, Miguel, was considerably less friendly, and Miguel’s couch was seeming considerably less comfortable.
As he staggered from a shift he’d only taken to avoid having to deal with Miguel’s girlfriend, the heavy-hearted call center employee attempted to clear his head, and considered his immediate options: A quarter-hour wait would put him on a bus back to the un-orthopedic sofa, but a half-hour wait would send him towards the nearest movie theater.
When Nora pulled up to the curb, some ten minutes later, he was still standing at the stop, undecided.
“Hi,” she said.
He turned, and a smile briefly lit his face – then he reversed a step.
“Hey,” he replied.
They both silently watched as a red hatchback passed.
“I miss you,” said Nora, once the vehicle’s taillights had disappeared around the corner. “I don’t – I don’t want you to think of it as a bribe, but I’d already bought them before you left, and they’re non-refundable.”
She produced a folding pamphlet, inside of which were two tickets for a Carnival cruise to tour the Alaskan coast.
He shuffled the paperwork around for a moment, but no words seemed to come to his lips.
His considerations were cut short by the Eighty-Five Express’ screeching tires.
“Let me think about it,” he answered, mounting the steps that would take him back to the cramped couch.
While he stared into the knotted hair of the whisky-smelling homeless woman in next seat, he made up his mind. He’d never seen the pacific, and his memories were fuzzy now. They were likely just bad dreams – and, besides, he missed her.
* * *
The doctor’s pills served Bradley well the first night, and a day’s worth of champagne consumed while walking about the ship had left Bradley feeling warm and comfortable.
His manic need to explore, combined with his early call to drink, had left him exhausted by supper, and the pair had finally retreated to the balcony on their private suite.
It was the first time, besides their quick fade into unconsciousness the night previous, that they were alone in the cabin.
Falling into old patterns, Bradley pulled off his shirt. At odd times throughout the day, he’d caught whiffs of Nora’s perfume on the salty breeze, and the liquor had deadened the remainder of his inhibitions.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “We haven’t really talked about anything – you seemed so confident about leaving.”
“I missed you,” he replied.
Nora stood for a moment, biting her lip, then turned.
“I feel crusty,” she said. “I need a shower. Make sure you’re sure while I’m gone.”
When she returned, he was nude, and passed out under the sheets. Dropping her towel, she crawled into bed beside him, and turned out the light.
* * *
As they slept, Bradley’s hand found its way about her belly. Over time, his body shifted itself from habit, until he was holding her close.
He awoke suddenly, with his chest aching as if he’d been punched.
He pushed away from her, with a moan, but his hand encountered a gooey mass where he’d expected solid ribs – he was reminded of childhood experiences with Play-Doh as his fingers sunk into her back.
Before he could retreat, he felt a tearing as the pliable flesh seemed to snag against bone, and the bed was suddenly filled with a warm gush of liquid.
The couple lept to their feet, both now fully awake.
Nora’s flesh hung as if empty. Her bone structure had been greatly compacted, so that only her shoulders and hips gave her width, and her flapping husk moved like damp cloth in a high wind as she began weeping.
“What the hell!?” asked Bradley.
“I thought you knew!” she replied, “I thought you were fighting for us! I mean, the changes were so obvious – you never wanted to talk about it, so I figured you were nobly trying to fucking deal with it. I may not understand what’s happening, but I know I love you!”
He could not hear her response through his panic.
As she approached, seeking comfort, he backed away, until he found himself against the sliding balcony door. Unthinking, he opened it, and continued his slow escape.
When he could retreat no further, she closed the distance with her spindle-arms bowed and grasping.
The sharp prod of cartilage, and the feeling of being smothered in a blanket of loose skin made damp be the sea mist, was enough to throw Bradley’s mind into a frenzy. In attempting to disengage from her, however, he found himself falling through the air.
His descent was stopped in a cold splash.
Bradley’s body tensed at the shock, and he realized he was sinking into the frigid waters.
His mouth filled with the taste of salt.
A pinching hand closed around his own, and, seconds later, he felt Nora’s strength pull him to the surface.
As he gasped for breath, he drew her close, seeking her warmth amongst the frothing chill of the ocean.
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