Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and seventy-seven.
Tonight we present Identification, Part 1 of 1
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Strangely Literal.
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 a chilling tale regarding a risky child in a neighbourhood of constant hazard.
Nathaniel Minor had been born with a curious inability to identify danger.
On a September Monday, at the age of ten, Nathaniel had selected his blue and white striped shirt – his favourite, and thus the first be worn after a weekend’s laundry – folded it neatly on his dresser, then tested the temperature by walking out onto the back deck in nothing more than the underpants he’d slept in.
An early-autumn chill drove him back inside, and into a warm pair of jogging pants.
After devouring a bowl of lucky charms, and planting a kiss on his Mother’s distracted cheek,
he was ready to march the three blocks to school.
As he closed the door behind him, Mrs. Minor provided her usual instructions. “Head straight there, no talking to strangers, no goofing around. Be good, love you, Nate. Bye.”
His initial stop came at the midpoint of the chain-link fence that marked the border between the sidewalk and the row of townhouses that marched alongside it.
He began digging through his bright yellow knapsack, and, as he did so, a burly Labrador Retriever he called Mumphrey came bolting through the sliding patio door of the nearest rental unit. Though the animal’s speed made it tough to identify why he thought so, Nathaniel was left with the impression that his visitor was in even more ragged a condition than usual.
Minor had decided to befriend the mutt earlier that summer, when he’d watched the red-brown canine step onto the small porch that lead to the backyard. There was something to the way the dog stood testing the air that reminded Nathaniel of himself, and he’d spent fifteen minutes in idle conversation with his new chum before settling on the name.
The child had also concluded that Mumphrey’s owners must sleep late, as the Lab seemed in constant need of food when he strolled by – why else would the four-legged beast leap against the fence while barking and generally causing a ruckus?
As he’d done every morning since, the boy retrieved the single slice of bologna from his sandwich, and, careful not to dirty his hand with mayo, he tossed it over the metal links.
Mumphrey ceased his intemperate barking to gobble down the processed meat, then he immediately returned to his assault on the barrier. Nathaniel, however, had already moved on.
At the corner the youth encountered Tobias Swanson, his constant companion since an incident the summer previous, in which the slightly older boy had pulled a sputtering Nate from too-deep water at the local beach.
Their conversation began as it had ended the afternoon previous, when they’d parted on the same spot.
“Maybe you’re right about absorbing his atomic breath,” said Tobias, “but King Kong would still be defeated by Godzilla’s physical attacks. He’s got, like, blades on his back and a huge biting mouth. What can King Kong do? Throw his own poo?”
Nathaniel shrugged. He did not have his friend’s love of giant monster films, but he always did his best to carry his part of the conversation.
“Kong is a great climber. He’d get up on top of a building and start chucking people and antennas and stuff.”
“Being hit in the nose by a guy in a business suit isn’t exactly going to stop Godzilla,” replied Tobias.
The debate continued for the rest of the long block, until they encountered a schoolmate known largely as Bull.
“You ladies headed to school?” he asked.
“Aren’t you?” asked Nathaniel.
“Nuh-uh, I’m sick. Mom called and told ‘em – but you ain’t going today either.”
The day before the start of classes, while loitering at the McKinley Playground, Bull had convinced the fearless boy to climb a massive elm. Tobias had been late in returning from his piano lessons, and, by the time he’d arrived, it had been necessary to scale the tree to its midpoint just to have his shouts of “come down!” be heard.
As Nathaniel finally dropped the last few feet to the ground, he’d found his friend weeping anxious tears. It was the sight of his worry that had turned Bull into an enemy of both.
When news of the incident had reached Mrs. Minor over a soothing pair of chocolate milks, she’d been quick to inform her son he was out of the tree climbing business, as well as that of talking to Bull.
To her son her word was law – and it was only this notion that had kept him safe against his peculiar defect.
“Great,” said Nathaniel, as he attempted to edge around his antagonist, “you enjoy hanging out with your mom. We’ve gotta go.”
The problem, of course, was that the apparent act of courage had simply goaded the ruffian further.
“No, I don’t think you heard me, you’re -”
Tobias put his arm out in an attempt to motion the obstruction aside, and Bull responded with his fist.
For a moment Nathaniel stood still, not quite sure how to react – then he caught the split in his comrade’s lip.
Although the violence had baffled him, blood was something his mother had ruled on: Blood meant finding an adult, or at least a phone, as quickly as possible.
He bolted for home.
“Hell no, you ain’t tellin’,” said Bull, as he began to follow.
The accidental daredevil’s speed was also his downfall. A full tilt run had left him with a cramp, and, as he neared Mumphrey’s home, he was forced to slow.
It was the sight of the half-open door, and the memory of his friend’s red chin, that compelled Nathaniel to clamber onto the chain link.
Close up the maroon vertical blinds he’d seen so often from the road were filthy, and the smell wafting from the interior reminded the schoolboy of his mother’s cooking on liver and onion night.
“I need to use your phone, my friend is bleeding,” Nathaniel told the shadows beyond the slats.
When he received no reply, he pushed inside, unaware of Bull jumping the fence behind him.
The attempted-rescuer entered the galley kitchen as the young thug slipped into the living room. The unit’s cooking space was nothing more than an L-shaped counter and a single-seated white-topped table, but there was a second exit, at the far end, which opened onto the front hallway. Much to Nathaniel’s disappointment, there was no phone on the wall to match the one hung in his own home, so he turned a quick eye over the greasy wallpaper and heavily scratched cupboard doors, then moved on to the opposite hall.
As he stepped through, Bull’s Nikes touched down on the dirt-covered linoleum.
Oblivious to the trail of mud which stained the stairs, Nathaniel decided to expand his search to the upper floor.
“Mumphrey?” he asked, as he climbed, but still he received no response.
He found a phone, finally, in the master bedroom. It stood on a small black nightstand beside the decaying carcass of its owner.
The room had been decorated in a variety of unicorn posters, a theme broken only by the black slab of television that had been hung alongside them. What lingered of their owner – a once rotund woman of forty – lay spread across the shimmering moonlight scene of her bedspread.
In many places her remains were little more than bones, as the Labrador, having emptied his dish a month previous, could not afford to be sentimental regarding his meals.
“That’s pretty gross,” Nathaniel said aloud.
It was then that Bull rushed the doorway – but, before he might tackle his target, his feet seemed to meet a terrible resistance at what his mind was observing.
The noise was enough to raise Mumphrey, who’d been dreaming of light and colour and meat in the coolest corner of its den, the bath tub.
The dog awoke hungry.
It paused briefly at its feeding room, to snort Nate’s mix of running sweat and deodorant, then it moved on.
Bull was nearly to the ground floor by the time the canine had picked up his urine-tainted scent, but, nonetheless, it was a tight race to the fence.
Still inside, Nathaniel closed the bedroom door against the noise, and, with a steady hand, dialed home.
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