FP324 – Mulligan Smith in From Beyond
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and twenty-four.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Aboard the Knight Bus
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 present a tale in which Mulligan Smith, private investigator, stumbles into an unlikely conversation with the dead.
Mulligan Smith in From Beyond
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
They’d left the sliding door open, and, from somewhere in the sprawl of townhouses and bungalows beyond the balcony, the smell of burgers cooking on an open grill had invaded the apartment. The day-long breeze that seemed to be rolling the sun slowly over the horizon also spared the occasional gust strong enough to toss the white curtains into a haze of lace, and every surge carried the smell of roasting meat further into the silent residence.
The occupants, Trish Adams, a thirty-four-year-old customer service representative for American Airlines, and Scott Clark, a thirty-eight-year-old mechanic and her live-in boyfriend, were leaning heavily over the living room’s broad glass-topped table. The small zen garden that normally filled the surface had been moved to the kitchen counter, as had a collection of guitar magazines and the vintage bottle containing essential oils and diffuser sticks. Now the space was occupied by only a tablet, and the display’s glow was all that stood against the shadows that had begun to creep from underneath the retro-styled couch and its matching chaise lounge.
The couple were not using the furniture, however.
Like eager teens they’d shuffled up to the expanse on their knees, their socked toes digging into the Kashmir rug and their trembling fingers only brushing the screen.
They had used the same approach on each of their previous spirit raisings.
The app that acted as their medium was a simple one: A brown rectangle filled from left-to-right with the alphabet, yes/no options, and, in the bottom corners, indicators for “hello” and “goodbye.” In the center, beneath the pair’s unguided hands, a representation of a planchette wiggled across the digital Ouija board.
Their breath was shallow and their eyes were locked on the device. On the common grass below the balcony, a pair of dogs began a loud and sharp shouting match, and the pointer stopped, aimed at the faux-wood background.
Scott whispered, “do you think -,” but his jaw locked at the largely expected knock.
With popping knees, he stood and answered. Behind the chain-locked front door stood a thin-faced man in a black hoodie.
“There was this old gent who held the entrance for me, so I didn’t ring up. I thought it’d be rude to turn him down, he had to brace himself against his cane to keep from being pushed over.” It was as close to a greeting as Mulligan offered, but it was enough to carry him into the seance area.
Trish remained in her stooped stance.
“Haven’t learned your lesson yet, huh?” inquired the private investigator. He worked hard to keep the smirk out of his voice, but failed.
The customer service rep gave a noncommittal smile, saying, “it was Scott’s suggestion.”
“Oh, bullshit, you were just as curious as I was,” said her boyfriend, as he reached for the dimmer switch on the plum coloured wall.
The room brightened, and Smith asked, “- and what did the phantoms say? No, wait – don’t tell me, I’ll tell you.
“For my first trick, however, I will reveal secrets to amaze and astound: For example, the three grand you told me you sent to the supposed ‘Urban Scholarship Federation’, of Dee-troit, wasn’t the only ‘donation’ you made, was it?”
Trish’s gaze lingered on the now-dark tablet as she spoke. “So I guess you’re sure now that the Urban Scholarship Federation wasn’t a real thing?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. The fact that they were asking you to wire transfer them cash via Western Union should have been a hint,” replied Mulligan, “but that’s not what I asked.”
“Nevermind, though, with my newfound psychic detective powers I’ll answer for you. You sent out two other sums – they were much smaller, and to private individuals, so you didn’t mention them in the hopes of not looking like morons for being burned three times before realizing it.
“At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. It’s better than the incredulous alternative.
”Now, you might think that I just dug up some receipts, or that I’ve peeked into your bank accounts, so let me tell you about a dead boy named Martin, a poor lad of fourteen who died of malnutrition because he kept secretly giving his already-meager supper away to his little brothers. Those unlucky kids, all seven of them living in that tiny house – and the shame of their mother not even noticing his slow starvation as she drank herself through a brewery’s worth of Milwaukee’s Best.”
Scott’s jaw had gone slack, leaving Trish to ask the question, “you – you found Martin’s family?”
Smith blinked. He exhaled. He blinked again.
“You really still believe?” he asked.
“No – I mean, you obviously don’t,” she replied, “but they knew so much about us! They knew about Uncle Kenneth’s cancer, our birthdays – Martin himself told us he’d talked to my Grampy on the other side!”
Mulligan shrugged. “You told them those things yourself, the moment you accepted the app’s request to access your social network data.
“Your favourite apparition, Martin, is only a ghost in the machine. He never really existed, and neither did any of the other poltergeists you were supposedly chatting with – and who all seemed to have mysterious money problems back in the living world.
“For my last trick, I’ll tell you what the Ouija was whispering to you just before I came in: Absolutely nothing, unless you were psyching yourself out. I know this because I was on hand yesterday when the police visited the Motor City college kids who wrote the spirit board program. My gas mileage ain’t going to be cheap, either.
“They were the ones pretending to be Martin and the rest.
“The pseudo-spooks were pretty careful about who they used their back door on – they apparently just wanted decent meals and tuition, not to be greedy – but you weren’t alone in being suckered.
“Still, I, uh, hate to say it, but there isn’t a ghost of a chance of you getting your cash back.”
Scott winced, and Mulligan told him, “frankly, it was a long drive back and I had time to think of a hundred more of those. I can keep going for hours before I have to give up the ghost, I mean, unless you want to just pay me.” The detective pulled a printed invoice from his pocket as he spoke.
Finally standing, Trish made for the front hall – and her cheque book.
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