Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and seventy-three.
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 mouthy companion, escort a ghost into Las Vegas.
Coffin: Balm, Part 3 of 3
At noon Bunny was sitting in a bar named Jimbo’s, at the southern end of Vegas.
Despite having run dry of whiskey while north of the city, she had not intended on entering the establishment.
An hour earlier, while parked across from a squat pink-plastered bungalow, Will had pushed her out of the rented Focus with fifty bucks and a request that she purchase a shovel. The bored looking teen behind the nearest 7-11 counter had given her the most likely location to find the tool: A Home Depot, some five blocks away.
Except for the occasional liquor run, Bunny had rarely been left to wander in the real world since meeting Coffin. Still, the nature of their current business had her wanting nothing more than to be done with it, and she’d moved quickly along the heat-baked sidewalk while providing a mumbled, yet foul-mouthed, commentary on her surroundings.
Almost as if to spite her mood, the stroll had revealed a surprisingly nice suburb, and the hardware store appeared freshly planted. She’d departed the checkout line with a solid shovel, and a twenty for change.
It was only then that she noticed the sports bar hanging from the end of a neighbouring plaza, and encountered a series of entwined coincidences that would change the trajectory of her life.
The first stepped from his dusty chevy to pull wide the watering hole’s glass-fronted door. Thin-faced and slouch shouldered, Bunny’s distant eye had convinced her he was a perfect match for her dead husband, Tim.
With the tool in one hand, and the other sweating heavily around the Jackson in her pocket, she’d followed him inside.
There, with a beer cooling her palms, and air conditioning on her face, she observed the nodding back of the stranger’s head from the depths of a cavernous booth. She’d been doing fine until he’d started tapping the bar’s trim along to Bob Seger’s declaration of love for old time rock and roll.
“Exactly your sort of bull####,” she said to no one but herself.
Her eyes stung as she staggered to her feet, and every step she took spanned a memory.
The early days came first: Dancing to this very song while ducking to avoid the low hanging ceiling in their first apartment’s basement living room; Sharing bottles of Smirnoff and smoking joints on the balcony of their second place, while watching the sun sink away and rise again.
Her vision was a blur when she halved the distance to the bar, but her focus was solely on the time Tim had climbed a fence to defend her honour against a hooligan kid who’d been badmouthing her from the far side.
It had been gallant, even if the idiot had accidentally broken his leg on the way down.
She touched the Tim-a-like’s shoulder, and suddenly her mind returned to the kitchen of their final apartment, with the smell of iron and sulphur in the air, and her belly burning from a knife wound.
Without wanting to, she remembered the blade in her own hand, and the heavy thud of his fall after she’d buried it in his brow.
She’d cried then too.
“The fuck’s your problem?” demanded the startled stranger, as he spun on his stool.
A coincidental choice of words, but the same response she’d received whenever Tim had found her weeping – usually due to his own handiwork.
If there was anything familiar in the man’s face, it was the drunk’s common hunger to be left alone with their can of Busch, and nothing more.
Leaving her glass half-full on the counter, Bunny made for the exit.
* * *
Will Coffin, standing on the cement doorstep of the bungalow with the silver chain in his hand, was being questioned by the specter at the tip of his occult leash.
Allison was asking, “shouldn’t we wait till your partner gets back?”
The dead girl had directed them to the right home easily enough, and the parked stretch-Hummer, with its custom hot tub, had reassured Coffin that her meth-craving ex-boyfriend was indeed living there, and home.
After Bunny’s departure, however, the phantom had provided endless excuses as to why the visitation was a bad idea.
In the end he’d had to pull her from the car.
He knocked again.
“No,” he replied. “There’s too much chance at play in this kind of surprise party, and Bunny tends to startle people.”
Coffin had never been a fan of the heat, and his leather jacket was little help under the relentless sun. He was eager to be on his way, but he made conversation as he measured the entry’s thickness against the weight of his boot. “How did he manage to afford this place?”
“It’s a rental, but between the limo and the drugs he makes decent bank. You’re definitely not going to kick your way in, he’s got a bunch of deadbolts.”
“Well then,” said the shaman, as he jiggled the arcane links, “how about you spook on in there and open them from the other side?”
* * *
As it happened, Shane was expecting a different sort of company. His long term habit had finally pushed him into unmanageable depths, and he’d barely been able to park his technically-still-on-the-job limo before he’d bolted shut his front door and took to his couch with a pilfered supply of his addiction, and an abruptly-shortened shotgun.
He couldn’t tell if the banging from outside was real or not, but he’d cracked a window to let out any errant fumes, and crept into the hallway.
Upon arrival, he was fairly convinced that the translucent arm which came reaching for the locks was a hallucination.
The sleight fingers worked the chains and knobs, and there was something he recognized in those chewed, but somehow delicate, nails.
“Hell, this must be the best I’ve ever had,” he said, but the flood of chemically induced paranoia made it a hollow victory.
As the entrance swung wide to reveal the girl he’d buried deep and a lanky man in a biker jacket, Shane’s mind continued to argue it was all a figment of his imagination – but his hand raised high the barrel of his gun.
Coffin took a single step into the shadows of the home’s interior, then froze when he realized he was caught in the line of fire behind Allison’s insubstantial form – but, before the junkie could shoot, Allison began to babble.
“You killed me! You left me beneath the sand to rot!”
“How can you be pissed that I killed you if you’re here complaining at me?” replied Shane.
“I’m a ghost, asshole!
“- or you’re just my fucking delusion – whatever the case, it can’t be that bad if you’re here bitching.”
The girl was wailing now, and the fist with which she held the entrance’s handle slammed the slab’s weight repeatedly against the jamb. “You don’t know what it is being locked in the sun like that, lying like I’m dying forever.”
Shane’s trigger hand steadied, though his voice did not. “What the fuck is your problem!? I may as well kill you twice, you fu-”
“#### gobbling donkey fondler!”
Bunny didn’t give the gunman a chance to respond. With the momentum of five blocks of growing anger behind her swing, she lay the flat of the shovel across the peak of his skull.
The murderer reeled, and dropped his weapon, but he briefly kept his feet.
“MY problem!?” asked Bunny, as she set her grip wide behind her shoulders, “I’ll give you a ####ing problem.”
Her second stroke snapped the metal scoop from the wooden shaft, and left Shane unconscious on the floor.
It was only once Will touched her neck that she stopped beating the man with the shattered stem.
For a moment there was just the sound of ragged breathing, then Bunny turned to face her traveling companion.
“I’m impressed,” said Coffin.
“Hell, I know a couple fighting from five-hundred ####ing yards,” she replied. “and I could see your back at the door. Figured you must be in trouble to be letting them carry on like that.
“From there – well, Christ, every one of these idiots I’ve known is the same: They’ve got a thousand latches, but they crack the glass to vent their stink – and there ain’t a drunk alive who hasn’t mastered crawling through a window from having locked their keys inside their place so often.”
Though her cheeks were wet, she couldn’t help but let out a laugh. She dropped her club.
“####, I couldn’t just let him kill you. I’m all the ####ing friends you got, and I can’t afford the funeral.”
Behind him, at the chain’s furthest length, waited Allison.
The spirit sniffed, and Coffin sighed.
“I’m sorry this wasn’t your solution, but I hope there’s a little satisfaction in it for you,” he said. “I think it’s best if you take a bit to gather yourself, and you’ll likely want a some privacy with your cowboy.
“We’ll be there soon.“
As he finished Will let go of the talisman, and, before the phantom might resist, the returned pull of her resting place overcame her.
“You thought pummeling this douche jockey would bring her closure and let her go?” asked Bunny, as her roommate retrieved a pair of gloves from the interior of his coat, and stooped towards the unconscious body.
“Nah, but I’ll certainly feel better when we dig up her corpse and lock it in his trunk for the highway patrol to find.” Coffin pulled the Hummer’s keys from Shane’s pocket. “We’re going to need another shovel, though.”
“Might have been easier to just drive her home.”
“Oh, we’ll try that too, but It won’t help – it never does. Person like that longs to go back, but they didn’t get dead by having a family that cared. They know what they want, but they don’t know what they need. Like I’ve said, often the best I can do is provide a distraction.”
* * *
They were nearly out of the city before Bunny spoke again.
“I think we should get some ice – a big pile of ice.” As she said it, she pointed at a passing gas station whose freezer brimmed with white bags.
“Ice?” asked Will.
“Yeah. Maybe it’s just another of your distractions, but – well, the girl and her bronco buster seem to complain a lot about the heat. Might be nice to fill the hot tub for them, at least till it all melts. Besides – I dunno, I have this idea that maybe what they’re looking for is each other. Is that a possibility? I don’t know all the Casper rules yet.”
“Now there’s an interesting thought,” said Coffin, as he pulled the wheel around.
It would be a long time before she would let him forget how right she was.
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