FP327 – Of the Old School
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and twenty-seven.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Parsecs!
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 of the generation gap, creeping terror, and childish misadventure.
Of the Old School
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
She didn’t enjoy talking to people – especially folks she didn’t know – but Octavia Archer was determined to offload some Thin Mints.
Sometimes that required patience.
“I’m of the old school,” Mrs. Hemming, her current prospective-customer, was saying through a thin-lipped mouth, “but it strikes me that a girl your age shouldn’t be out running around by herself.”
The girl thought, “should I be off learning to cook instead?” but said nothing.
The pair were standing in the front hall of a Victorian-style house that smelled of dust, with the scout holding a bag full of cookies and the old woman grasping two boxes of the sweets while peering into a velvet change purse.
Octavia had often heard urban legends, mostly ghost stories, about the residence, but the girl’s mother had taught her to know that no one could afford such a palace without having some money, even if the place did appear to be collapsing in slow motion.
As the young Archer was preparing to clear her throat in impatience, a train entered the hall. Its approach came in jerky inches, and its choice of direction looked to be largely decided by the coincidence of its orientation after impacting on the floral print of the opposite wall.
“Is that a robot?” asked Octavia.
It moved like a cheap Christmas present her little brother would love, but the two foot high and three foot long engine was made of wood and brass ornamentation. It was painted in a mint green, with gold accents, and its domes and chimney were entwined in an intricate pattern of carved loops. While the thing’s rubber wheels rolled across the oak floor she heard a tick-tick-tick which put her immediately in mind of the baseball cards she sometimes saw in kids’ bike’s spokes.
“Not as you’re used to,” responded Hemming, “My toys were built using ancient techniques, not electricity. As you can see, there’s no plastic involved. Except for his rollers, there’s nothing involved that my mother couldn’t have accomplished in her day.”
At the sound of her voice, the locomotive began a wide turn, seeking its builder.
“There’s also a whistle that I wrought with my own hands, but he never uses it.”
“Huh,” said Octavia. “I’ve got change for a twenty if that’s all you can find.”
Hemming turned from her creation to the girl. Her lips flattened and her nose twitched, but her eyes sparkled.
“Most children have forgotten how to be polite in the last two decades,” said the woman. “Nevermind, though: Come with me, I’ve got a jar with some extra paper money in the basement, but I’m afraid I’ll need you to grab it for me – I’m not as nimble as I was.”
Without waiting for an answer, she departed. It was the sort of house that swallowed noise, and, after turning a corner, the tinkerer seemed to have been absorbed by the rotting walls.
“Tick, tick, tick,” said the approaching train.
* * *
The basement appeared to have been fully furnished once, but the side rooms that the youth passed on her way to her supposed payment were now filled with carpentry tools, work benches, and pencil-scrawled diagrams.
Some of the spaces contained more automatons: A half-cabinet/half-man construction whose aimlessly swinging arms looked, to Octavia, like a Rock’em-Sock’em Robot without a partner; a crudely-carved dog that crawled with the same painful inching as the train above, but whose spindly unmoving legs the Girl Scout decidedly did not like; and a series of three boxes that she thought of as moving sculptures – a waving flower, a writhing snake, and a woman’s arm.
It was the limb that made the girl stop. The flower looked to be largely made of felt, and the snake was built from a series of overlapping cloth rings that gave the thing cartoonish scales. The arm, however, was slender, smooth, and absolutely realistic.
Octavia did the math, decided she could simply cover the two missing boxes out of her own allowance, and began to reverse.
“Thank you, thank you, you can pay me later,” she announced, but her hostess had disappeared into yet another chamber filled with tools.
Uninterested in waiting for her return, the girl ignored the pathetic imitation of a mutt that had begun to follow as she made her way to the stairs.
From within her increasingly distant room, Hemming was saying, “I’m of the old school. Survival skills were important then. You youth, you’re all too couch-bound to run, too used to the safety of your carefully padded existences to recognize danger.”
The girl was nearly to the bannister when the train rolled its last. Octavia had left the door at the top open, and as the machine’s cow catcher cleared the first step, it let fly with its whistle. It’s flight was not long, nor graceful, and its descent was largely spent bouncing end-over-end with increasing momentum.
It stopped when it came up against the stone and mortar wall, but not until its oak frame had split and its brass bells had scattered.
Within the wreckage was also the ruin of a man. His left arm had been chipped away, as with a chisel, and his right had been bound tightly to his chest so long ago that his body had grown around the leather and chrome of the belt. Beside him lay the panel that had made up the bottom of his conveyance, and the girl noted a small window that she assumed enabled him to claw at the floor. It was his sole form of transportation, for, where his legs ought to have been, he had only flailing stumps topped in pink scar tissue.
He attempted to say something to Octavia as he died, but his tongueless mouth summoned just whistles and clicks.
“I think he was trying to warn you, but he stopped you instead,” Hemming said into the girl’s right ear.
Octavia did not always agree with her mother, but she knew one thing about the woman: She was of the new school, and she had raised her daughter to be so as well.
The pepper spray cleared the girl’s pocket before her intended attacker could raise her axe from her shoulder, and the modern science of desmethyldihydrocapsaicin flooded the woman’s eyes and nose.
In the time it took to leap the train wreck and sprint out the front door, Octavia had already begun to shout directions to the 911 operator on the other end of her cell phone.
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