FP340 – Coffin: Shifter, Part 1 of 3
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and forty.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Libr8: A Continuum Podcast
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 unusually sober roommate, must contend with a distraught mother, unquenched thirst, and a teenage boy going through unexpected changes.
Coffin: Shifter, Part 1 of 3
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
Bunny was ten feet from being an ex-ex-drunk. She was feeling like she was getting the hang of giving things up, and she had just the whiskey in mind to quit quitting.
The problem was that there was a woman waiting with one arm on Dorset’s oak-plank bar. Her neatly ironed purple-cloth raincoat and sleek black handbag did not belong under the establishment’s dim lights.
The stranger would have been nothing more than a curiosity to Bunny if she hadn’t looked into her eyes, then directly over her shoulder to Coffin’s face. It was obvious she recognized them.
Not just Coffin – them.
“What?” asked Bunny, only to wince at her own abruptness. If she was getting a reputation as something other than a liquor-head she’d have to ease a little more into the patter. “I mean – what can we do for you?”
Brushing chunky blond highlights from her eyes, the woman began, “I, uh, Jeffrey, my son – he’s fourteen – went missing -”
Bunny’s patience was instantly lost, and she said, “we don’t do missing people cases.”
She’d almost simply said, “we don’t do living people cases,” but she knew, from experience gained while sitting on the now-nothing-but-ash bench in front of the Eats’N’Treats, that Coffin had a specific aversion to teenage runaway cases.
“Even when there’s some mystic reason to bother,” he’d said, “it takes forever. Worse, you almost always end up locating some weeping long-haired ghost in a highway side ditch, and their problems are so entangled it takes another forever just to pry them out.”
The thirsty drunk was five feet from being able to order from Dorset in a tone reasonable for the place’s hush, and the blocking interloper looked like enough of an iced-green-tea sipping yoga addict to topple over backwards if she were to simply football-straight arm into her.
Bunny took a step forward.
“No,” said the woman she was now thinking of as Downward Dog, “he’s back now. The problem is that he’s – uh -”
The forward motion had carried Bunny within range for the woman to lay a french manicured hand on the frayed collar of her denim jacket, and the pleading mother set her glossed lips close to Bunny’s long-unshowered ear.
“He’s a werewolf,” she finished. “Not, like, always, but the moon, you know – he’s locked in the bathroom right now. He won’t stop howling.”
Dozens of late night viewings of The Howling flashed through Bunny’s mind, as well as every bruise from Tim she’d ignored with a viewing An American Werewolf in London.
Finally her mind landed on the vaguest of memories, one of her oldest, when her grandfather had taken her out for a rare treat: A midday matinee rerun of Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolf Man. Afterwards the shadow of every tree lining the heat-baked road, even in the afternoon sun, had seemed to conceal a hairy faced gent with vicious fingernails.
“Well, ####, that’s different,” she said. “Lead on to this wannabe Michael J. Fox.”
* * *
Bunny commandeered the passenger seat of the Subaru, but it was Coffin who mentioned that they’d need to make a quick stop at their apartment – and that he’d need some cash upfront to cover expenses.
The conversation turned to fees from there, and Bunny could tell from her roommate’s tone that the shaman thought the outing was easy money. By the time he’d extracted the necessary background information, and they’d settled on a price, the Outback was sitting in a Whole Foods parking lot.
“Wait here,” he’d told Stephanie, the fretting mother, as he pocketed a twenty and stepped from the SUV.
Bunny’s sneakers beat his feet to the pavement.
“You hardly bothered haggling her past the signed Banksy print she says she has in her living room,” she said once they’d crossed through the automatic glass doors, “and you barely sounded surly while doing it. I swear, if I were to raise my hand in a high five right now you might even ####in’ do it – which must mean you think this job is easy-peasy, and that you know some skeezy-#### pawnbroker who pays big for art.”
“Sort of like the term ‘the common cold’, ‘werewolf’ is really a catchall name for a whole slew of curses and other types of mystical transmittable diseases. I haven’t encountered many, but the most common is definitely what’s referred to as European Lycanthropy.
“If that’s what li’l Jeffrey has then there are a few options. There are some weird ones, like hitting him on the head with a knife or shoving nails through his hands.
“You can use silver, of course, but that’ll cure them right into a grave.
“Actually, most of the old ways were only survivable about half the time. Blackhall came up with a decent technique though, later in life, that uses wolfsbane.
“I’ve had some success using it before.”
They quieted as they passed a father wrangling a cart and three braid-pulling daughters, then Bunny asked, “so how do we do it? Throw him a squeaky toy and rub his tummy with wolfsbane while he’s distracted?”
Coffin stopped to reach for a package of lean ground beef. Instead of replying, however, he said, “I noticed that you left Dorset’s without wetting your throat.”.
Bunny raised a brow. “Oh, you going to start schooling me on that too?”
“I try not to influence your drinking one way or another.”
“Well, I believed you till you said that, but that’s some quantum physics #### right there, isn’t it? I mean, by saying that you’ve admitted that you’re observing, and if you’re observing it’s because you’ve got a pony in the race.
“I can’t see why you’d be worried that I get enough vodka down my throat, so clearly it’s the other option, that you’d rather I didn’t do it at all.
“Hell, my brain ain’t entirely ####-addled, it’s been obvious for a while that under your detached cool-guy jacket you’ve been of the ‘she’s got to figure it out for herself school.’
“Well, to be clear – and you should definitely be observing this part – I prefer that school to the alternative.
“Mostly because it means you’re going to leave me the #### alone about it.
Coffin allowed himself a smirk. “Quantum physics, huh? You been reading some of the books from the hallway shelf?”
“I ain’t just a hot piece of ### and a head full of brilliant ####ing ideas.“
They’d reached the checkout, and, spotting a crust of relish on her Deep Purple t-shirt, Bunny spit on her forefinger and began rubbing at the stain.
* * *
Stephanie’s bathroom was no more than a foot shorter than the guest room Bunny had overtaken in Coffin’s apartment. It was easily equally as wide.
Despite being the sole owner of the townhouse, Downward Dog had handed across a thick cluster of keys and plastic charms, then opted to wait in the Subaru.
If it wasn’t for the smell, Bunny might have thought her claim that the boy was in the bathroom was mistaken – or that he’d escaped.
The leftmost pale green wall was covered in thick-framed photos, most featuring, in some way, Stephanie herself, that had been arranged to mimic the form of a windswept leaf. A fence of brightly coloured hair care products were neatly arranged behind the chrome gooseneck faucet, but otherwise the granite counter was bare.
“Holy ####,” said Bunny, “this place smells like – uh – ####.”
On the far side of the room, partially obscured by a wraparound silk shower curtain, stood a bulky claw tub.
After Bunny’s declaration something within had begun to snarl.
Holding his breath, Coffin strode into the space and pulled back the shower curtain.
It was not a pretty sight within.
With a hand over her nose, Bunny said, “Ma had a dog once that did that. Little yappy thing that was ignored on the couch when she was around, but if she even just went to the store for a pack of smokes it’d start shitting everywhere. Separation anxiety or whatever.”
“Prison inmates do the same thing,” answered Coffin. “The feeling of being trapped and away from their loved ones pushes them to it just for any sort of attention.”
The opening at the tub’s top had been covered with clear packing tape, and the gum beneath each strip webbed with silver chains, earrings, and bangles.
Perhaps it was pain of pressing against this no-longer-decorative barrier, or perhaps it was simply an inescapable reaction to being left too long without other options, but, for whatever reason, the beast’s bowels had let loose – and so he had been left within the iron kennel to howl and roll in his own filth.
Worse, in ways the form of the wolf still held echoes of the boy. Beneath the mat of excrement its arms, though wiry with muscle, were thin, and the texture of its coarse sandy-brown hair reminded Bunny of a teenager’s too-soon attempt at a moustache.
Uninterested in remaining any longer than necessary in the windowless chamber, Coffin retrieved the newspaper-wrapped nugget of ground meat that he’d portioned from the larger slab, and rolled it in the powdered contents of a small paper envelope that he produced from the depths of his jacket.
Moving quickly – so as to keep all of his fingers – he dropped the fatty ball through a breathing slit near the boy’s head, produced a dark-handled pocket knife, then, with stiff arms, positioned himself above the stink.
He did not have long to wait. Despite the defilement of its prison, the long wolf muzzle sought out the flesh with an eager tongue.
The reaction was not immediate, but it was rapid when it came. A sound that put Bunny in mind of teeth being ground together began to emanate from his hips and elbows and knees. The pointed snout retracted, and the receding hairs moved with such rapidity that each follicle was left with a pinprick of blood in its place.
The keening of a kicked dog turned guttural, then edged into the weeping of a teenage boy.
“Holy ####, eat that Rick Baker,” said Bunny.
Coffin brought down his knife.
The keen blade passed through the tape in one long sweep, and he dropped the tool, forgotten, into the muck as he grabbed at the base of the naked boy’s neck.
Again risking his digits, Will plunged the first and middle fingers of his free hand down the boy’s throat.
The raw beef and poisonous wolfsbane were ejected across the pictorial leaf before Jeffrey could be guided to the toilet, but a steady stream of brightly coloured Cheeto goo soon followed.
Once the youth ceased his vomiting, and had offered teary-eyed thank yous, Coffin asked, “how’d it happen? Your mom, honestly, says you generally get dramatic then run away. Did you meet something in an alley, or what?”
Wiping a fleck of orange from his sharp chin, Jeffrey replied, “fuck that. Mom just wants everything to be cool – that’s all she ever wants.
“I saw those kids, though… those… cultists or whatever… the ambulance… oh fuck, the ambulance…”
The former wolf bent over, and a second round of liquid Cheetos flooded the porcelain bowl.
Coffin’s rusted-gate voice no longer carried the pleased echo of an easy job as he said, “tell me everything.”
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