FP342 – Coffin: Shifter, Part 3 of 3
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and forty-two.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Dead Ends
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, discover the truth regarding the werewolf factory.
Coffin: Shifter, Part 3 of 3
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
The teenage werewolf had used the term ‘factory,’ but Bunny hadn’t understood the implications until they were idling alongside the brick and glass exterior of a hundred-year-old warehouse on the west side of Capital City.
To ease the anxiety of the drive she’d taken to free associating a list of every type of alcohol she’d ever consumed, starting with her earliest stolen sips of Popov. She’d been amazed at both the size of the catalog and her ability to recall any of it, but the red brick shadows had stolen any amusement she’d provided herself.
She said, “you realize this is the ####hole every ‘70s movie mob boss used to kill the flunkies who’d failed them, right? I mean, hell, I’m for busting some ghosts and all that ####, but these sorts of places are usually union.
“I’m as happy to kick Slimer’s ass as the next person, but I don’t #### with union guys.”
Outside, two men in white hooded sweaters pushed open a side door and scurried to the gate that held the ambulance at the road. Once they’d unfurled the lock and chain, the pair paced the front wheels to the yawning maw of a loading dock.
Bunny did not enjoy watching the building swallow the vehicle whole, nor was she encouraged to see the rusting metal shutter roll down behind them.
“Now what?” Coffin asked the nearest of his paramedic captives. “Do they usually come to you, you to them?”
“They will arrive for the gurney,” answered the demonic mimic from behind his bloodied mask. His face had paled beyond the simple pastiness Bunny had noted at their first meeting.
Even as he spoke, another ivory clad duo appeared from within a grimy-windowed office in the rear of the warehouse, but the newcomers’ patient tread gave Will and Bunny a moment to survey their situation.
The structure could have been any poorly maintained factory from the era before electronics. Its cement floor was stained with ancient grease, and the massive chamber’s paint had peeled to such an extent that there was more bare stone showing than lizard green. The roof was held aloft by visibly splitting timber, and in places the tiling had given up under the weather’s pressure.
Despite the conditions, Coffin counted at least twenty frost-uniformed figures labouring among the shipping containers, industrial equipment, and work benches that lined the walls.
Beside the lopsided office leaning in the corner stood a series of twelve thick cubes, each four feet high by seven feet deep and faced with a porthole hatch. Over each entry was a panel of glass that, at least for the moment, seemed to look only into darkness.
Jeffrey, the boy they’d saved, had called the array “the kennels.”
The center of the space was dominated by a long assembly line. Bunny – though tempted to point out she’d often seen the same sort of chrome rollers used to shuffle off beer cases full of empties – had been cut short by the discovery of something unexpected. At the line’s head, posed in such a variety of states of distress that it reminded her of an art college student’s tableau commenting on the nature of beast and man, stood at least six dozen translucent werewolves.
“###damn,” she said, “it’s the DTs. I knew this was gonna ####in’ happen. I’m too ####ing sober and I’m seeing ####.”
As she spoke the ambulance’s doors swung wide, and the smell of rotting meat flooded the sterile pocket of medical equipment.
Inspecting the greeters, another snatch of teen-wolf’s description returned to Bunny: “The cultists all dress alike. Bulky white hooded sweatshirts, oversized white or light grey track pants with elastics at the ankle, and the sort of semi-disposable sneakers you can buy at Walmart for less than the cost of a Big Mac meal. Their hoods are usually pulled low over their eyes, and their mouths are covered by a filter mask – the kind of thing people on TV wear while dry walling. The mask has a plastic white grill on its front, and it projects from their faces, almost like an animal snout.”
Coffin’s reaction, however, was to drop his right hand into the pocket that held the Crook of Ortez – the occult talisman whose very purpose was to raise the dead – while his left came up to scratch his chin.
“So,” he said, “this is what you Kar’Wick worshiping spider-fondlers are wearing these days? Not exactly the cloaks and robes of yesteryear, is it?”
“Fuck,” answered the baritone voice on the left, “it’s the Coffin.”
“Call Barger,” replied the soft soprano on the right.
“Who?” asked Will.
The pair spun and began to sprint away without further discussion.
“That’s right you run, you ####in’ Island of Dr. Moreau rejects,” shouted Bunny – then, to Will, she added, “I see they’ve heard of us. Maybe this won’t be such a pain in the ass after all.”
In reality the news of their arrival landed amongst the cultists in one of two ways: Approximately half of the group summoned a sudden trajectory towards the opposite emergency exit, while those who remained produced a glistening throng of identical six-inch stilettos.
Their daggers’ thin blades were silver, and their hilts were wrapped in rough red cloth.
It took seconds for the attackers to close the distance, but it was a wide enough gap to introduce another surprise: The captive paramedics stepped from their vehicle and placed themselves at Coffin’s side.
They’d removed their cloth surgeons masks, and their jaws flared with the freedom. Their gaping twelve inch mouths revealed descending rings of teeth, both with a blue worm-like tongue thrashing at the spirals’ center.
If it were not for the cracked canines across the cheek of the rightmost, Bunny would not have been able to tell the thin-limbed men apart. Still, she was happy that they were facing the approaching mob and not herself.
After a quick search for a weapon, she came up empty, so, sidling slightly behind the nearest EMT, she did her best to look mad. In light of her sobriety, it took little effort.
The violence was brief.
The carnivore in need of dental work was able to shatter the knife-arm of the lead man, but the white-clad Kar’Wickian at his side found purchase in the monster’s belly with his blade.
At the sight of his injured comrade, the silent shark-faced driver howled. The noise, a warbling shriek that echoed with the frustration of a thousand years spent stranded and starving on a plane of existence it had never asked to visit, was enough to slow the advancing wall of thugs – then the werewolves were on them.
Coffin had taken up position astride the rear of the ambulance, and the Crook of Ortez cut a steady arc through the air about his head. The tools influence, with the strength lent to it by the moist plug of flesh caught at the center of its complex hook, was enough to raise the spirit of each of the sixty-eight wolfen victims.
The motley collection of former street sleepers and abandoned teens could not have explained how it was that their corporeal existence had been suddenly restored to them, they knew simply that it was an opportunity for revenge, and they took it.
Then, for a time, there was only ripping flesh and the screams of the dying.
Before the ethereal beings of ragged fur and yellow claws could fully dismember their prey, however, Coffin lowered his talisman, ensnaring the Crook’s velocity in his palm.
Those who would soon be corpses fell instantly, and the smell of freshly spilt blood, mingling with the laboured final breaths of those unfortunate enough to still be living, was all that marked the passage of the apparitions.
Will could not tell if their quickly fading howls reflected frustration or joy, but the answer would have to come later – there were more important matters at hand.
He levelled a finger at the remaining paramedic, who was now rocking the form of his fallen companion in his arms. “I’ll decide if your friends’ sacrifice is enough to keep you from joining him later. You’ve got ten minutes to help yourself to the buffet, then we’re going to need a ride home.”
Bunny was already two steps ahead as he began to move towards the kennels.
She had no interest in waiting around to watch the snacking.
The tiny cells that had been used to hold those the factory workers had infected with lycanthropy were, unfortunately, empty.
Still peering into one of the dark viewing ports, Coffin said, “the same full moon that made Jeffrey change must have marked the harvest time for their last batch.”
“####,” replied Bunny. A dozen “hairy situation” jokes came to mind, but none of them seemed appropriate.
The silence from biting her tongue, though, only meant having to listen to the vigorous wet snapping that was emanating from behind her.
She suggested they check the office, but, before she’d finished rifling the desk, the rolling shutter at the far end of the floor let out a groaning complaint and retracted.
She expected a SWAT team, or at least six minivans full of cultists, but instead a single black BMW pulled confidently onto the cement and parked adjacent to the emergency vehicle. Three passengers exited. Each wore a suit, one carried a pistol.
“Stay here,” said Coffin, so, even as he moved to meet the newcomers, the drunk returned to her search.
“Even cultists gotta have a stash of J-####ing-D, right?” she asked the stacks of paperwork and rotting technical manuals that littered the space. As if by request, the next drawer revealed, beneath a perfectly arranged set of white sweats, an unopened bottle of Wild Turkey.
The gray-haired woman wearing the most expensively cut of the suits did all the talking.
“Will Coffin?” she asked.
“The Coffin is fine,” he replied.
Her fingernails were a natural pink, but gleamed with expert care.
His hands remained deeply planted in the worn pockets of his leather jacket.
“I was wondering when you’d stumble across this little operation,” she said. “I’ve heard you’re a man who can be reasoned with. A man who understands that his title comes with some discretion – and some benefits.
“Now, I am not blind to the history of animosity between our organizations, but we are no longer a mere cult – I mean, really, what is a cult? A bunch of people gathered together to work towards a shared purpose? The concept certainly sounds like a business to me – and that’s what we are now: A business. In the last year this operation alone took in over three million dollars.”
Will raised a brow, but said nothing. The woman continued.
“You doubt me? The hides are the big ticket item, of course, but they are also the easiest to ship. Fur is murder, but it’s not illegal. You would be hard pressed to convince any customs people that the dog-faced skins we ship to Chinese medicine men are anything more than rabbit-based knockoffs.
“We waste no part of the were-buffalo, though. The whole process is carried out on a tray so that even the blood can be collected for use in sacred texts – at a thousand dollars a vial.
“You should see the line in action: From the sound of the enchanted bolt gun down to a skeleton at the end of the conveyor belt in under ten minutes.
“Anyhow, my point is that I understand the nature of death and taxes.
“As I said, this is a profitable venture, but profit is meant to be shared. I recognize that you have some claim to this market, and I’d much rather pay taxes than wage death.
“If you will accept a yearly sum of one hundred-fifty thousand surely there is no reason for us to continue this passé war against you and your slovenly sidekick?
“Take the money and leave that slum you live in, Mr. Coffin.”
“The Coffin,” he insisted. His right hand was again wrapped round with the Crook of Ortez, and his left now moved to a deep pocket in the interior of his jacket.
She snorted. “You will be IN a Coffin if you don’t – is that smoke?”
Even from across the broad floor, Bunny recognized her cue. “####ing suits! Kill three of you sons of dog ####ers and five more’ll come around in your place suing for damages. Burn your ####ing #### down though – well, that’s a ####ing matter for the cops, and just the ####tiest sort of industry regulation, ain’t it? And what you think they’ll make of these bits of dead albino-dressing mother####ers on the ground?
“I’m pretty sure that ####’s gonna require a #### ton of paperwork. You may have to work the weekend.
”Still wasn’t worth a bottle of Turkey to set, but desperate times and all that ####.”
“What are two more bodies if we’ve already got to explain this many?” replied the woman.
“Forget it, just shoot them,” the suit told her underlings. She then turned.
The pistol raised, and the Phantom Ambulance roared to life with its sirens in full effect. Jackknifing backwards, the full force of its thick engine – meant for high speed response and emergency reaction – pinned the gunman to the BMW’s passenger-side wheel.
There was a brief grinding of gears, but, before the vehicle could align itself for a second hit, the two remaining Kar’Wickians abandoned their gurgling associate and dove for their car.
If they had not left the gate wide they would not have made it.
“Did you just burn everything that might tell me where to look for these jackasses?” asked Coffin, as he gave a nod to the idling, and re-masked, paramedic.
“Nope,” replied Bunny, who retrieved a thick sheaf of paper from the waistline of her jeans.
For a moment the pair stood, side by side, watching the flames gather along the office’s makeshift ceiling.
When it began to climb into the splintered rafters, Coffin asked, “Dorsets?”
Bunny shrugged. “Nah. Maybe later, maybe not. At the moment I feel like James Brown after a twelve-hour angel dust concert. I need a ####ing nap.”
Seconds later they were back on the road and headed home – but, she reflected, at least they didn’t have to stop for traffic lights.
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