FP332 – Moderation, Part 1 – Temper: a Blackhall Tale
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and thirty-two.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Black Flag TV
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, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, finds himself on the wrong end of a chase.
Moderation, Part 1 – Temper: a Blackhall Tale
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
Blackhall’s mind scraped along a Spanish road, though the exhaustion it remembered in his legs was all too real. How long had it been since he’d fought in the King’s service? How long ago had he vowed to kill any farmer’s son or inheritance-less third child that Napoleon might throw against him?
Why did it matter?
To his mind the Spanish road was as endless as the sunset with which his memory had lit it.
He trudged on, for he knew one boot chasing the other was the only escape he had, yet he could not outpace his considerations.
Where had he been when his Mairi needed him? Had he been at her side, or distracted with other men’s wars? What had he been chasing?
The sun pushed roughly at the edges of his hat brim, working hard to claw at the grit of his exhausted eyes.
Had he had so wide a brim in Spain? Certainly not.
It was amid this thought that his hand slipping on the prodding splinters of a fallen spruce brought him back to reality.
The damnable ivory squirrel was still there, pacing his slow ascent of the rocky Canadian hillside.
So too did the dogs remain below, baying as their noses gave up his every move.
Whatever lead he’d made by pressing on through the night had been defeated by the hounds’ keen and eager instincts.
* * *
The trouble had begun on the morning previous.
Thomas had returned, exhausted, to the cache that contained the majority of his worldly goods. Deep in the wilderness, he’d originally chosen the location as a prime place to clean the game he sought, and, to allow for freer hunting, he’d strung his burdens high in a maple.
It was only the drum, which he’d hung separately due to its awkward size, that the intruders had managed to release before his arrival.
With a muffled grunt of frustration, he’d dropped the unskinned buck that had been intended to serve as a gift of venison during his approaching appointment, then surveyed the situation.
Beneath the unlucky teen who’d been selected to scale the height lingered a single man, though the call and cackle of at least five more filtered through the brush. Blackhall guessed they were in the process of attempting to locate he himself, for the slave dealer who stood below the perched delinquent was all too familiar.
The frontiersman had tattooed him with the skin of another some months earlier.
Convinced this was no coincidental encounter in the wildwoods, Blackhall had released his saber and crept as near as he dared, for his rifle’s powder bag had run empty and his resupply was hanging overhead.
Fortunately, the pair’s preoccupation with his belongings was ample distraction to allow a close approach. Both sets of eyes were locked on the working of the his pocket knife as the boy leaned over the pilfered instrument to saw at the rope that held the heavy pack.
It would have been a simple matter for Thomas to wait out the drop then run the catcher through, but thoughts of Spain, and his dead wife, had begun to haunt him of late.
Instead, he’d watched the descent, then laid the man low with a blow from his sword’s hilt.
At the sight of the sudden assault, and the collapse of his unconscious companion, the climber had nearly lost his roost. Despite his young age, Blackhall was dismayed to see the youth’s tenacity in staying aloft while also retaining the drum.
He winced, as well, at the loss of the few feet of rope that had been all his already too heavy pack had allowed him – but there was no time to further lament his missing tools, mundane or mystical, as the cacophony of the bloodhounds was already approaching.
Within the hour the flapping-jowled beasts had pushed him to the banks of a lean and nameless river, and, for the thousandth iteration, he’d cursed his pursuer’s theft. The artifact’s arcane ship could have carried him to safety in but moments – and yet the power inherent in their stolen good had not been enough to placate the thieves.
Still, he was not without recourse, and he’d set the stone he wore as a pendant on a length of rawhide upon his tongue. The talisman had allowed him passage beneath the river’s surface, giving him space, but a toothy stretch of rapids had forced him from his haven, and his pursuers had only to walk the flow’s edge to sniff out the grassy bank he’d pulled himself onto.
Furthermore, his moisture-heavy clothes had not assisted his subsequent pace, and even the mystic artifacts he carried had not been spared the damp. He’d made little distance before the first approach of the snowy-hued squirrel, though he’d rebuked its mimed offer.
* * *
The trinkets and tokens, now dry, weighed upon him as he pressed against the downward pull of the hillslope, yet he knew none at hand would provide immediate escape.
He could give them the drum. It would be a loss, but it was not the key to the return of his wife – that lay, he felt, amongst the relics of undeciphered power. Their purpose escaped him, but these he would not relinquish.
The dogs broke through a line of foliage, below, and a shout of recognition went up from the hunting party.
Blackhall could run no further.
Again the silver squirrel circled, its chittering and limb-leaping now frantic.
There was no denying death a victory – not in this primeval setting, and not in his fatigued state – and had he not done as much as any man might to save the stalkers’ lives?
It would be but one more question for his catalogue.
Thomas nodded, finally, and the rodent gave a satisfied hiss before disappearing into the boughs of the nearest spruce.
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