FP271 – Coffin: Balm, Part 1 of 3
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and seventy-one.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Way of the Buffalo 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 drunken roommate, find themselves speaking with a dead man beside a lonely Nevada highway.
Coffin: Balm, Part 1 of 3
“Keep an eye out for landmarks,” said Coffin.
“Landmarks?” replied his tispy traveling companion, Bunny, “It’s a goddamn desert! Take a left at the sand and bushes, but be sure to stop when you hit the sand and bushes – careful, though: If you see the ####ing sand and bushes, you’ve gone too far.”
The pair’s temporary escape from Capital City had continued southward onto the morning-lit highways of Nevada. Coffin, behind the wheel of the rented Ford Focus, frowned at her response.
“You’ve been more of a smartass than usual lately, something you want to talk about?” he asked.
“Yeah, the same two things I’ve been nagging you about since we got on the jet plane – where the #### are we going, and why the #### are we going there?”
As he’d done each previous time she’d asked, Coffin began chewing at his thumbnail.
“Fine,” he replied, ”you’re going to meet my first.”
“What? Christ, I don’t need to know that much about your sex life.”
“No, my first ghost.”
Though she’d met many of Will’s acquaintances, Bunny could hardly call any of them close friends of his – at least not in the traditional sense. Receiving calls from distant family was one of the few times he had the courtesy to leave the room when answering the phone, and, on those occasions, he was sure to shut himself away in his room.
The personal nature of his confession, and the unusually soft tone in which he’d delivered it, left her silent.
A few miles later she waved a hand at the faded red pole that marked their turn, but Will had already seen it.
The Focus wasn’t built for off-roading, but they hadn’t gone far into the scrub when Coffin cut the engine. His rough-seamed leather jacket creaked as he turned towards Bunny, and his eyes locked on hers.
“Listen, this fellow’s from another time. He can get – excited.”
“Are you seriously ####ing telling me to be a good girl while we’re at Grandpa’s house?” asked Bunny.
Will’s lips twitched.
“No, this guy has been solidly of the same disposition for two hundred years, he could use a dose of modern habits. Just try to be patient.”
With that, one of Will’s hands went to the car door, and the other touched the silver chained talisman which rested within his well-worn pocket.
The man in the stetson had already righted himself by the time they exited the car.
Before she could complain about the unseasonal heat, Bunny found herself laughing.
“It’s a ghost! It’s a cowboy! It’s a friggin’ ghost cowboy!”
If her left hand hadn’t been occupied by a bottle of Fireball whiskey, she might have clapped.
The phantasm wore a close cropped beard, and a gun belt under his stained shirt and ragged vest.
“Hey pardner!” shouted Bunny.
“Simmer down,” said Coffin.
“You the rootin’ tootin’-est?” she asked. “How’s your fast draw?”
The apparition wiped at his chin with a gloved hand and gave her a hard look.
“Holy ####, you’ve got a lot of jingle in your jangle, pilgrim,” she continued, as she staggered closer. The motion, however, seemed to interfere with her commentary.
“Shit, I’m out of Roy Rogers jibber-jabber,” she confessed.
Despite the admission, the dead cattleman drew his weapon.
Suddenly, Bunny was no longer smiling.
She raised the bottle to her lips and swallowed hard. “Hey buffalo ####er, you keep pointing that spook gun at me and you’ll wish you’d died a pacifist.”
It was then that Coffin stepped in. “Ambrose, I’m surprised you’d draw on a lady.”
“Lady?” asked the spectre, as he holstered his weapon, “only a lady of pleasure, at best. To what do I owe the intrusion? Have you returned to once again attempt to solve my problems?”
“Yes,” said Will. “Though, this time, you apparently actually asked for it – or so I was told by the northerners.”
“I suppose I did.”
The cowpuncher paused to tip his brim to Bunny, and the lush raised her drink in reply, though she didn’t meet his stare.
“Coffin,” began the shade, “I’ve seen many things from my resting place – I’ve seen ‘em light the sky with nuclear fire, and neon. I’ve seen pavement pressed over the landscape, and I’ve seen men and women on their last legs as their debt-ridden husks carried them out of Vegas.
“Last spring, though, I was witness to a happening worse than any other I’ve encountered in my long camp.
“A beast of a car pulled up – bigger than any I’ve seen so close. Out pops a wiry maniac – a lad of twenty-five, cackling like he’s just made his fortune in the city. Except, of course, this is the middle of nowhere, and the girl following him out onto the dirt isn’t so sure about his attitude.
“I figured at first I might be about to witness one of the few acts of human congress that hasn’t changed much since my time, but, once they’re at my feet, the lass ain’t so sure. Her boy won’t stop laughing, and no one’s telling any jokes.
“She took a step back towards their vehicle, but he wrapped his hand in her blond hair, and threw her in the dirt.
“Then he had a knife in his hand.” Ambrose cleared his throat. “Hell, I drew on ‘em. Yelled a bunch and kicked sand. Course, he saw none of it, just kept sawing that wicked blade across her throat and rambling about the police.
“Eventually he jumped up, like he’d finished a good night’s sleep, and started digging. About halfway through, though, he started weeping and accusing her of abandoning him.”
Bunny exhaled cinnamon into the morning air, but held her tongue.
It was a moment before the shade found his own.
He raised his milky gaze to the blazing sun.
“She’s been here with me since,” he finally said, ”and I need you to take her home.”
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