FP321 – The Cost of Living: Part 3 of 3 – Coffin: At Loose Ends
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and twenty-one.
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, Will Coffin, Urban Shaman, and Bunny, his tipsy companion, find themselves overseeing a grisly scene at a rural farm – as well as the end of the flute playing woman.
The Cost of Living: Part 3 of 3 – Coffin: At Loose Ends
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
Coffin stood by the broad glass facing onto his apartment’s balcony, his eyes locked on something beyond dawn’s glare. Deeper in the dwelling, on the far side of the book shelves that lined the residence’s main hallway and behind a closed door, his roommate was snoring away a bottle of Grey Goose.
There was a note between his fingers, scrawled in a familiar hand. Though Will had been standing in that same position when the paper had been slid beneath the front entrance, the old mute had already disappeared by the time he’d pulled it wide.
There’d been no point in waking Bunny, the retirement home mentioned in the letter wouldn’t be open to visitors for hours yet, and she might be quicker to corral out of the apartment if she was closer to sober.
Shifting from one foot to the other, he waited for the grinding of motors and barking of full-bladdered dogs that marked the city’s first stirrings.
* * *
Fourteen hours later Coffin and his tipsy companion were far to the north. Will had not bothered to introduce the farmer by name – he knew his former client preferred the distance. Still, the buzz-cut man had not said no to the shaman’s hurried request.
The landowner had called the space his barn, but the interior was something more akin to a garage adjoining an indoor scrap yard. The cavernous corrugated tin walls sheltered the husks of tractors, trucks, fridges and machined fragments that, to Bunny’s eye, could have belonged to anything.
Most importantly, though, it housed the a four-columned car crusher.
A windowless Volkswagen Bug rested on the metal base, its long-lost headlights offering no assistance to the rows of fluorescents overhead.
The Japanese woman stood at the halfway mark between the sacrificial platform and the pair who’d driven her to the remote location. The hem of pleated black skirt had dipped into the sawdust and sand that covered the floor, and she bent low to work away the dirt with her thin hands. Even in her stooping, it was obvious her motions were well practiced so as not to disturb the white sling she wore across her shoulder.
“Christ, this seems a little fucking harsh,” Bunny told her bottle of Captain Morgan’s.
She’d been on hand when her friend had used his trinket to call forth the dead man in the retirement home. Although he’d had his face largely chewed away, the apparition had wished to talk only about the flute playing volunteer who would often slip into his room and whisper to the cannibal in the bed adjacent to his own.
It had been one of the few times he had heard his bunkmate speak – possibly because he himself had been largely paralyzed by a stroke. Still, the invalid had been aware enough of his surroundings to overhear their talk of human flesh and its preparation. He’d been trapped with the secret for years, and it had taken his own death to be allowed the opportunity to tell it.
He’d been eager for further conversation when they’d left, but the lilting tune drifting from the game room had acted as reason enough to excuse themselves.
Bunny had not, however, been on hand when, after they’d managed to follow the sleight musician to her suburban duplex, Coffin had knocked and entered.
It was rare for Will to suggest she hang back for her own safety, and the drunk had not argued.
Fifteen minutes later he’d returned to the rented car with the woman in tow, and, without providing any explanation or chatter, had begun driving.
Now, with the generator roaring and the hydraulics anxious to be about their work, Coffin, his eyes focused on a distant scrap heap and his lips taut, nodded and asked, “do you have any final requests?”
The stranger’s lips twitched upward, but her cheeks grew warm and wet.
“I will dance for you,” she replied.
Coffin’s hand tightened around the arcane tool in his pocket, but he shrugged.
Unsure of what would come next, Bunny held the Captain close.
The lines of the skirt bowed, and from beneath its folds extended eight black legs – jointed, spider-like limbs with a finely-pointed nail at the end of each. Retrieving her flute from her bundle, the arachnid woman began to play. Her movements carried her through the small sanded clearing with delicate care, and her nimble swaying disturbed no dust.
Briefly, the delicacy of the choreography and the gentle sweeps of the musical scale were enough to blot out the engine’s roar in Bunny’s ears. The drunk was unsure if the honeyed rhythm was somehow getting to her, or if the rum had finally started to do its work, but she was pleased to see her friend’s face unsoftened as the song came to a close.
It was not so much the grotesque proportions of the woman’s unfurled body that disturbed her as the chittering sound the woman’s mouth had begun to form around her woodwind, and the toothy maw-stretching that had been necessary to allow it to do so.
As the dancer’s skirt descended and became again hushed, Coffin said only, “very beautiful,” and Bunny found nothing on her lips but her bottle.
Replacing her instrument, the woman turned, entered the passenger-side door of the rusted Volkswagen, and bowed her head.
“Wait, is that a god damn baby in there,” asked Bunny, her eyes on the now bulging sling across the woman’s neck.
Will answered by leaning to his left and depressing the large red button hanging from the ceiling above.
His companion had not seen the desiccated bodies, wrapped tight in intricate webs and affixed to every flat surface of the beige-walled duplex. She had not seen the faces of those who had obviously struggled against their bonds until they died of dehydration – nor had she seen the results that had followed, the shrinking of skin and drying of flesh that had prepared their bodies for the Jorogumo’s – the spider-woman’s – consumption.
They were spared any sight of the woman’s compression, but not of that which had resided within her bundle – first four, then eight, then a dozen hair-filled digits began to work their way at the gap between the descending roof of the Beetle and the resisting door. In the final seconds a fat red eye joined the scurrying legs of the woman’s arachnid brood – first it seemed to accuse, but it quickly bulged under mechanical pressure, then simply smeared with the crumpling metal.
When the machine was powered down, and the silence of the country evening filled the shop, Bunny finally asked, “sweet corn in crap, what the fuck was that?”
“It was better than the alternative, setting her on fire – in Japanese folklore -” began Coffin.
“No,” the bottle-wielder interrupted, “I mean why did the bogeywoman just walk under the newspaper all by herself?”
“Well,” said Will, “she lived for hundreds of years as the last of of her kind, and she knew she wouldn’t even be that if someone found out who she was.
“Even for a being like that it’s tough to be alone. That’s why she was chatting up that cannibal, but, like she told me back at her place, how long can someone discuss cooking? Especially with a cow?
”She’d been carrying those egg sacks around her neck for decades and as far as she knew they were never going to hatch. Even the old folks home – which must have seemed like a fridge full of wizened TV dinners – had stopped having any allure.
“Her loneliness stacked up. That’s what put her in the seat.”
Captain Morgan did a brief headstand, and the quiet returned.
Finally, Bunny said, “well, shit, I’ll have to start spreading some vicious gossip about that huge furry fucker living in the stairwell.”
Despite the scene before them, despite the unpleasant work of the day, and even despite his own dour nature, Will’s throat gave out a single surprised laugh.
Reaching for the light switch he replied, “I think I saw a dairy bar with a liquor license a few dozen miles back on the main road. I’ll buy you a shake.”
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