Welcome to Flash Pulp, Guest-isode 10.
Tonight we present Leap Year: a Blackhall Tale, by Threedayfish
This week’s episodes are brought to you by The New Mob.
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.
Unfortunately, due to a major hardware failure at Skinner Co. headquarters, we will be unable to provide you with tonight’s scheduled Ruby Departed episode. Instead, with many thanks to the always listening Threedayfish, we present a tale of unnatural aging.
Leap Year: a Blackhall Tale, by Threedayfish
Blackhall was sitting on a chair at an inn that had recently been partially rebuilt due to a storm a month or so ago. The renovations were obvious from the differing hues of the wood used to restore what was once lost. It was here that the master frontiersman listened to the troubles of a local farmer who went by Joeseph. The man was large and tan, and may have appeared intimidating if it weren’t for the air of gentleness about him. He had a father’s face, Blackhall thought. Outside another vicious downpour raged again, to the unease of the owner, and had left many of the patrons, Blackhall and the stranger included, unwilling occupants of the half new establishment. Over the sounds of the wind and rain, the man named Joseph relayed his woes:
“I’ve heard much about you master Blackhall. They say you deal in things unnatural. I know not your price, but I would ask your help whatever the cost. It is my daughter Sophia. She is the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen but she is cursed. She was born on a leap day, and she does not seem to age, but every four years. She’s been on this earth for six years, nearly seven years, but hardly looks older than one. She has the faculties of any her age, but not the physical stature. If it is in your power, I would have you lift this malediction on her growth. As a father, I would do anything to care for my daughter, but as a man in this wild part of the world, I cannot hope to protect her at the rate she is developing. I’m not sure I can even hope to live to see her wedded”.
Blackhall sipped at the ale which had been purchased by the farmer to make their acquaintance. “Are you a widower?” he asked
“Aye, my beloved Delilah died giving birth to my daughter. She had been growing weaker by the final stages of her pregnancy, and it was a harsh winter. It was a close thing for Sophie, when she departed her mother’s womb, it was believed she was a stillborn. She did not appear to be breathing and the midwife swore that no pulse could be found. However, I got her to cry after I pinched her, perhaps a bit too hard. I didn’t want to lose my child and my wife in the same day so that is why I caused her discomfort. I tell you, her wails were like a chorus of angels to me”
As the farmer spoke, he noted a strange stillness in the frontiersman. Finally, Blackhall spoke “Where is Sophia now?”
“She is on the farm with her brothers. My oldest is one-and-twenty and is responsible enough that I am not overly worried. I curse this tempest all the same. I had hoped to bring her back a present. Her birthday is either today or tomorrow. It’s hard to say seeing as how—” the farmer cut himself short as Blackhall suddenly stood.
“We must go, storm or no. I believe you may have more troubles on your hands than an underdeveloped daughter ” The going was not easy. While the farmer knew a cut through the woods where the foliage might protect them from the worst of the rain, the wind still made falling limbs a hazard and with only a lamp to guide them through the darkness, their footing was often treacherous. The father also took no comfort in Blackhall’s refusal to share his suspicions with him. Eventually, and with many cuts and scratches, they reached the farm. While unseasonably warm, it was winter, and so the fields were bare and the log cabin clearly visible, it’s windows shone with dim candlelight. Blackhall began to quickly make for the shelter, leaving the father to play catch up. He was the first to enter, and by the time the farmer arrived he could hear the sobs and Blackhall’s voice asking
“Where is she?”
No audible answer was given, but Joeseph heard the sound of a sword being drawn and of rapid feet on stairs. Afraid, he gave pursuit passing by his crying son who sat in a corner away from the stairs. Blackhall had already entered Sophia’s room when the man was only halfway up the steps, but before the he could beg Blackhall to spare his daughter, he saw the form of the frontiersman being flung from the room accompanied by a terrible scream.
“He’s mine!” screeched a voice that seemed more animal than human. Out from Sophia’s room stepped a girl of at least sixteen years. The farmer couldn’t believe it. The girl was the spitting image of his late wife Delilah on their wedding day. Beautiful, except she had a single freckle just behind her left eye, just like his darling Sophia.
The young woman, turned to look at him. Where there was hatred suddenly turned alarmed, even afraid.
“Father…I thought…the storm—” suddenly a bloody blade erupted from the girl’s chest where her heart was. The spray of red that hit Joseph was scalding hot and caused blisters wherever it landed. The girl shrieked and writhed, gripping at the sabre in a vain attempt at survival. The steel vanished as quickly as it had appeared, and the beauty died before she hit the ground. Staring in horror and confusion at the corpse of the young woman who appeared to have replaced his infant daughter, Joeseph looked up to see his oldest son wielding a bloody hay knife.
“I’m sorry” he said, tears in his eyes “She—she was not human father. We—I—she made me lie with her” Joseph was speechless and uncomprehending, “She came to me with the storm and asked me to follow her. I felt my will somehow desert me, for I had chores to do with the weather drawing near. John had wanted something, but she whispered in his ear and he ran away, frightened by whatever she said,” the trembling son indicated the young boy who was sobbing downstairs “Then we were in her room. I know not why I felt so compelled to—to…” the young man seemed incapable of continuing and sank to his knees. After young John was put to bed with Abraham, the eldest by his bedside at John’s insistence, Blackhall explained to Joseph what Abraham was too ashamed to by his hearth.
“From what I’ve heard and seen this night, I believe that your wife was plagued by an incubus. It may even be that her growing weakness and death was due to the demon’s nightly visits. Sophia was not your daughter, but a cambion. A half demon spawned from the union of an incubus and a human mother. It takes seven years for a cambion to mature. Her curse was not due to her untimely birth on leap day, but her parentage that caused her apparent lack of aging. Once matured, her demonic appetites and nature came to be and she enchanted your firstborn into bedding her. I am truly sorry for what you and your sons have suffered tonight.”
Blackhall waited for a response, but the man who sat before him seemed broken. Finally Joseph said “I owe Midge, our midwife, an apology. I was unkind to her on the day of Sophia’s birth, but it seems that she had the right of it. I should have buried that curse seven years ago. Go now sorcerer. This has been a black day for me and my sons, and I can’t hold back this feeling that you are to blame, unjust as that may be. Be gone so I may mourn” Blackhall saw that the gentleness in the father’s face was replaced by a sorrow that may never heal, and without a word departed, never to darken the farmer’s doorstep again.
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