FPSE16 – The Wagging Tongue
Welcome to Flash Pulp Special Episode Sixteen.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Nutty Bites
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 hear a two-fisted tale of superheroics and mundane errors.
The Wagging Tongue
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
The floor of Little Texas was awash in overturned chairs, broken novelty steins, and blood. Most of the scarlet could be attributed to the two broken-handed meth addicts who’d decided to rob the downtown bar and grill without shoes.
They’d made quite a mess during the threatening phase of their operation, their sawed-down shotguns acting as handy clubs to scatter the taproom’s signature glasses, but neither had considered that they might have to undertake a hasty retreat through the field of debris – at least until the Celestial had appeared.
Striding through the swinging double doors as if she had not, seconds previous, been dealing with a terrorist threat in Karachi, the woman ignored both gunmen as she’d scanned the room with her wide-spectrum vision.
It was only once she spotted Clinton Webb that she raised her ivory gauntlets. Despite their best efforts to sprint through a side exit, the would-be bandits had found their weapons removed with such force that their malnourished fists shattered under their effort to retain them.
A followup thrust of the Celestial’s gravity-based powers had left the pair unconscious, and the heroine sneering at Webb.
Now, as she moved to depart, the establishment’s cook shouted, “thank you!”
The dishwasher, a portly alcoholic who’d seen five holdups in his time, wept, “praise Jesus – and you, Celestial!”
Clint, standing close enough to a blond patron in a black pencil skirt and broad shouldered jacket to be heard, simply muttered, “go fuck yourself.”
“You know her?” asked the stranger, with one well-groomed brow raised.
“Yeah,” replied the forty-year-old bartender. “The first time I was saved by the Celestial I was eighteen and on a date. She steps from her nova portal thing and just stares at me the whole time she’s chastising the mugger. Hell, I only had twenty bucks, I almost would’ve rathered he just took it.”
The woman on the stool had been sharp enough to keep her hand on her drink as the hooligans had entered, and her pint of Stella Artois was one of the few to survive the affair. She sipped on it as she asked, “she doesn’t like you?”
“You could say that. For the last twenty years any time she makes a newspaper cover – and when doesn’t she – I get a copy of it, hand delivered to my door. I went backpacking in Europe, decades ago – you know, during The Shadow Uprising? – and it didn’t matter how filthy of a back alley hostel I stayed in, the Capital City Daily was always waiting for me.
“At one point, when I was maybe thirty-three, thirty-four, I got lost while camping in Ontario with some friends. I got separated and wandered for a few hours before falling and getting my leg wedged between two stones. I did my best to yell for help, but I eventually passed out from the pain. When I come to, the next morning, there was a full-colour Sunday edition, waiting beside me, talking about the time she’d punched the Creeping Evil across a three mile stretch of the city and directly into a jail cell.
“The worst part? She didn’t actually come to get me till lunch. She waited till some small-town news people had arrived at the park entrance, then she carried me to safety and lectured me for fifteen minutes in front of the camera.
“Thing is, I’ve only actually caught her delivering it once. For years I wasn’t even sure she was the one doing it – I thought maybe she had some sort of crew of cronies doing her dirty work, but it’s her all right.
“Remember the time she fought Commandant Oblivion to a stand still on the roof of the Richards Building? Seven straight hours of floor-at-a-time punching? The papers had already laid out two possible prints for the outcome, and they hit go as soon as she finally knocked him down.
“I remember the headline,” said the one-woman-audience, “‘Celestial Risks Everything to Save City,’”
Clint nodded. “I bet she had to steal an issue from a the printing company’s loading bay to get it that early. I don’t watch the news, though, so I didn’t know what was going on. I was just up earlier than normal because of my neighbour’s yappy Shih Tzu and happened to be headed into the hall when she arrived.
“Her costume was shredded, and her mask was missing entirely. She held out the paper, her hand shaking just slightly, then dropped it straight-arm.
“It was so soaked in her blood that I couldn’t have read the article if I’d wanted to.”
The woman shook her head. “I know a thing or two about the Celestial’s enemies – we’re talking international dictators and ninja assassins – and I’ve never seen her bothered over any of it. Whatever you did to piss her off must have been pretty hideous.”
The police had not arrived, nor had the meth-heads awoken. The canned honky tonk music had returned to its normal levels, and the cook was busy righting chairs.
Taking it all in, then eyeing up the figure on the stool, Clint said, “it happened when we were kids.”
“Wait, are you going to tell me her origin story?”
“Origin story? No, besides, everyone knows that young Selma Cygnus was bitten by a radioactive alien that turned her into the mighty force for justice that is the Celestial – it’s right in her reality show’s intro.
“This was years before that, when we were both maybe twelve. She was just weird Selma from next door back then. Me and a pal of mine were messing around in my backyard, shooting cans with my pellet gun, and she hops the little fence between our places and starts giving me guff about how dangerous the thing is. We didn’t like each other, even then, but I think she had a bit of a crush on Ralph.
“Anyhow, her dog is there, old brute by the name of Horace, and when I start yelling at her to get back to her own place it hops up on the fence with its front paws and starts barking at me.
“It was stupid. I didn’t believe, somehow, that the gun could really do any damage. Without thinking I shot the mutt. Of course, the only thing I could see on the bloody thing was its head, so that’s where I hit it. We all just stood there, watching it pant and drain away into the gravel of her driveway.”
There was a lingering silence that was eventually replaced with the arrival of a patrol car’s swelling sirens.
Clint expected the rolled bundle the following day, but was surprised to discover that the headline was largely unrelated to the Little Texas incident.
Instead the bold print read, “Meet The Man Who Shot the Celestial’s Dog.”
He did not recognize the name of Madeline Lawrence, the reporter credited in the byline, but he knew she must have been the friendly ear at the bar.
It would be years before he was no longer recognized on the street as a canine assassin, but it was, at least, the final time his constant savior delivered the news.
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