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FP419 – Sgt. Smith and Son in Inheritance, Part 2 of 3

Sgt. Smith and Son in Inheritance

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and nineteen.

Flash PulpTonight we present Sgt. Smith in Inheritance, Part 2 of 3
(Part 1Part 2 – Part 3)

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Neverland 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 we see off an old friend.

 

Sgt. Smith and Son in Inheritance, Part 2 of 3

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

John Smith and Ezra Doss walked on, under elm bough and bright stars and the morning’s dawn. They lost the rails in places, bringing terror to their hearts that was matched but by the triumph of again stumbling across the rotting metal that marked their path.

Three days they marched, sleeping under the summer moon just long enough to be awoken with the sure thought that the Dead Queen was close at their heels.

Legs aching and eyes gritty from exhaustion, both boys fell to tears when they spotted the first stranger either child had seen in years. The round faced woman was naught but twenty feet from the tracks, showing through a halo of green foliage, and it was only once the youths were upon her that they realized she was occupied with fence mending.

“Where’d you tykes come from?” she asked with a smile, her rough gloves wiping away their tears. “Ain’t nothing out there but trees and trouble. I suppose you must be runaways? You fellas leave a couple panicked parents back in Spruce Falls?”

Neither Smith nor Doss had any notion of where Spruce Falls might be, but they nodded in unison.

“Come, my husband, Mr. Delaney, is about to heave a berry pie from the oven, and I’m afraid if we don’t help him eat it he’ll spend the next two days lazing and bellyaching. Once we’ve had your assistance with that chore we’ll pay you in kind with a ride back to town.”

The gray haired woman then ushered them to a table, asking no questions regarding Smith’s missing tongue, and fed them two slices for every one cut by Mr. Delaney, to which the aging farmer playfully complained.

As John cleared the plates, the married couple took to harnessing their beasts and buttoning down the house for a brief excursion.

Though Smith did not see it, it was then that Ezra pocketed another stolen trophy.

After an hour’s wagon ride through low hanging trees, they came to a cluster of houses set beside a broad river, and in it a plain whitewashed building simply marked CONSTABLE.

Sgt. Smith and Son in InheritanceA brown-haired boy of perhaps seventeen was just pushing through the door, but the Delaneys stopped him with a wave.

“These two’ll need a word with Mr. Severin,” said Mrs. Delaney, and it was enough to send the messenger back inside.

Ezra offered a quick thank you, and lept from the wagon’s edge.

Smith, frustrated, not for the first time, that his lack of tongue could not offer up his true sentiments, leant across the clapboard and shook both Delaneys palms with grateful vigour.

The Constable had not appeared by the time they had turned their cart and made for home.

John smiled at Ezra.

Doss smiled at Smith.

The one-day sergeant would often wonder afterward if perhaps their entire relationship had not been built on such miscommunications. He had grinned at their freedom, but Ezra, reaching into his pocket, was smirking at his prize.

In his palm was a folding knife, its handle made of stag horn except where the locking mechanism was bolted, with brass plates, at the tip.

This second act of theft, following on the revelation that Ezra had snatched the supposedly-mystical coyote mask before their departure, was too much for Smith – with no tongue with which to express himself, the ten-year-old’s fist clenched.

“We better get moving before the Constable actually arrives,” said Doss, and it was only the fact that the boy stood two inches shorter that kept John from punching him.

Setting his legs in such a way to make clear his half of the conversation, Smith stood, waiting.

“Idiot!” responded Ezra, and he turned. Sprinting down the boardwalk, the thief disappeared between an inn and its neighbouring grocery.

Smith thought it likely he’d come running back within the hour, as he’d done on those occasions when they’d angrily parted ways over a contested game of Hide-and-Seek or Coffin. It would be the last he’d lay eyes on him until both were young men, however.

Perhaps it was the lack of tongue, or perhaps the scars scrawled in specific patterns across the youth’s back, but Constable Severin took rare pity on the boy.

When no parents came knocking, and no reports of missing mutes filtered from distant detachments, the Constable left the orphan to sleep in the office’s rarely used second cell. Severin found the child’s silence meant most forgot he was at hand, but the lad’s worth was proven when his quiet observation noted the tiny pistol William Salter unstrapped from his ankle upon his fifth drunk and disorderly detention.

Severin had learned to fully ignore the man’s rantings about targeted harassment all too well, and it was Smith handing across a hastily scrawled message that put both beyond range before Salter could deploy either barrel of his Dillinger.

In the years that followed, Smith would gain an education in police work, rail riding, and the true nature of the world outside the Dead Queen’s domain, but it was only once he’d crossed the southern border, into America, that he made effort to prove his existence.

It was a long fight with bureaucracy, especially as what origin information he did provide was entirely fabricated, but, in the end, those behind the red tape preferred to document one more John Smith than let an able body walk as a ghost among them.

Once arranged, the mute thought no more on his early days. Though he tried his luck at many occupations, none seemed so interesting as his first – still, it was a newspaper article that, in many ways, pinned the lawman’s badge upon his breast that he would wear till the day he died.

A murder had taken place to the east, a scandal sheet novelty from Capital City. A socialite known as Mother Beatrix had had her throat apparently slit by her husband, a thin-faced drunk. What made the item of interest was that it had happened at a party, in full view of the guests. The drunk had swaggered into the midst of a costumed affair, gathered in a rough sack all items of value displayed on shelves and in nooks, then he’d stifled Mother Beatrix’s ongoing complaints about his intoxicated hooliganry by laying the blade of a stag-handled knife across her neck.

Witnesses would later swear that Mr. Beatrix was, in fact, in a east-end club at the time, and his belly too heavy with scotch to have overtaken a flight of stairs, much less Mother Beatrix.

What started as a vague suspicion became a secret compulsion, as collected in notebooks piled deep with press clippings. Some mentioned the stag-handled knife, many did not. Most often there was simply a discrepancy of locations: Reports of two versions of the same murderer, one oblivious, the other homicidal.

So began a slow simmering chase, yet Smith could not stop the velocity of his course. He fell in love, married, had a son. Through hard work, and perhaps some gentle blackmail, John rose through the ranks of law enforcement, his skills and quick pencil work carrying him where his tongue could not.

He worked hard to keep his first lifetime – that of Ezra, the Dead Queen, and the secrets his tongue had been removed to keep – separate from that of his second, but the doppleganger deaths continued on every five or six years, and each fed his obsession as if gas to flame.

Though he’d named his child Mulligan in an attempt to bless the boy with a new beginning after the generations of Smiths that had been muffled at the Dead Queen’s command, he could not help but teach the child to collect each scrap of paper handed to him by his father. It was not lost on the man that he had taken up the very sort of training regime involving hidden and obtuse lore, that he had so hated when he himself was a child.

In time he found that he was not forgotten. On a quiet street, decades after Smith had thought his mind had let go of the details of the Dead Queen’s stare, a girl the age of his own son had approached him with a message.

“We are glad to see you well, Mute. Surely now you realize that the magic you thought dead has, in truth, returned to the world.”

It was not the words, but the fact that the girl’s demeanor was so true to that of her great-grandmother, the Dead Queen, that convinced Smith. They talked and wrote for some time, and many old ills were forgiven on either side.

Despite his hopes, however, they had no more knowledge of Ezra, nor the coyote’s cloaking face, than he.

On occasion, in the years leading to his retirement, Smith would walk the edges of a crowd gathered at a murder scene and think, just briefly, that he’d caught sight of Doss’ now aging face – yet always the visage would fade from the gawkers well before the sergeant could navigate the wall of bystanders.

In his final years, his wife long dead and his friends well established, Smith took his greatest joys from discussing petty matters with his only child. His letters were copious, and Sunday brunches of Eggs Benedict were the norm.

It was with a strange tingle of excitement that the old man received a text from his son that read, “Do you know anything about a wooden coyote mask? I’ve got something interesting under the west side of the Lethe bridge.”

Hating to waste words that were not on paper, the ex-policeman had called a cab without bothering to reply.

He found nothing but discarded Smirnoff bottles and the gurgle of the river on the bank beneath the bridge until he turned at the sound of approaching footsteps.

Along came Mulligan, the black hoodie he’d worn as his uniform since the death of his mother zipped tight, yet, as he stepped close, there was a knife in his hand.

Smith knew it to be the blade he had seen Ezra produce on that warm August morning. It would be the second last earthly sight of the old man’s life.

His eyes lifted from the horn grip, still lodged in his belly, to the man he had thought his child – but now the hood was filled with naught but a coyote mask and a gloating chuckle.

Smith’s legs, those reliable spindles that had carried him from the distant shore of the Winipekw and across many a cold Capital City sidewalk while on patrol, gave out, and he rested for the final time.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP418 – Sgt. Smith in Inheritance, Part 1 of 3

The Wooden Coyote Mask

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and eighteen.

Flash PulpTonight we present Sgt. Smith in Inheritance, Part 1 of 3

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Neverland 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 we delve into the knotted history that would one day make Smith a Police Sergeant, a dedicated father, and a haunted man.

 

Sgt. Smith in Inheritance, Part 1 of 3

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

The resort on the banks of the Winipekw had long ago separated itself from a world concerned with wars and plague. What had once been the town of Hearse had both contracted and decayed, leaving but the massive lake house, and a cluster of out buildings that rose and fell with the passing decades.

In young John Smith’s time, he knew every one.

His games of hide and seek, played with the single other child at hand, a boy by the name of Ezra Doss, had known little respect for the tool sheds and barnyards that housed the equipment that fed the majority of the retreat’s residents, though they’d shown some care for Mr. Madison and his swinging blacksmith’s hammer.

Doss and Smith, eight and ten respectively, had learned in time that they had much in common, though they rarely thought to pass notes on such topics. Smith’s parents had promised a quick return after a month’s voyage to the south, but he had not seen them since the age of five. Ezra’s mother had also departed on the sole transportation in or out, the supply boat that moored once monthly.

She too had promised a quick return and not met her guarantee.

“I’d have abandoned me too, if it meant living in this place,” were Ezra’s lone words on the matter.

John had spent his entire life between the sprawling walls and surrounding timberlands, his only outside contact coming from the steady inflow of books and news journals demanded by the woman the forty or so inhabitants of the Winipekw’s shores called the Dead Queen.

Though Smith was a mute, Ezra had been happy to have a guide about the place upon his arrival at the age of six. They’d been cast together since, as those who were meant to act as communal babysitters in their parents’ absence were happy enough so long as the pair entertained themselves and kept up with their lessons.

There was much to see beneath the monolithic roof beams and along the rough-stone patios. Cruel looking farm implements lurked in the barns, robins nests and raccoon hutches at the edges of the tended lawn, and, on the top most floor, in a highly restricted but little observed library, stood a series of glass cases containing artifacts of mystic origin – supposedly.

By ten the someday policeman had decided the magical nature of these ancient tokens was nothing more than a legend tended to by a group of religious fanatics. The Dead Queen, sitting always by her fireside even on the stickiest summer days, was nothing more than an invalid, and the only subjects of worth in his years of tutelage were the reading skills that had taught him of the outside world, one Allan Quatermain or Three Musketeers adventure at a time.

It was a bitter pill to think Smith had had his tongue cut free by the old woman, his supposed teacher and keeper, to safeguard arcane words that had no power.

The Wooden Coyote MaskThe relics were not without their entertainments, however. It was easy for a youth of that age to lose his gaze in the gleam of the silver dagger’s wicked blade, and there was a mask of wood, carved to appear as if a coyote’s face, whose empty eyes seemed to follow the viewer at any angle.

“Keeps better track of us than any of these blind-idjit adults do,” Ezra had often commented.

Though Smith had long heard tales that the knife might summon duplicates of anyone whose blood it tasted, or that the canine face could transform to mimic whomever its wearer desired, the boy had discovered a different truth when he’d lifted high the glass and experimented with each.

No twins came at his sliced finger, and no mirror displayed anything but the ornate disguise when the cur’s visage was donned.

It was then that John came upon the notion that his guardians were in fact captors, that they had likely done away with his and Ezra’s parents, and that their plans were nefarious at best.

Even the apparently rotting woman all called the Dead Queen was likely just a convalescent infected with the sort of disfiguring illness that the pulp novels often considered a sign of a corrupted mind.

So it was, at ten, that Smith – knowing full well that the ship’s master would not transport any load that would ruin his regular contract – had begun to patrol the outer woods, looking for any sign of life beyond the compound.

After a week’s fruitless hunting he’d literally stumbled across the overgrown rail tracks that had once acted as the ruined town’s lifeblood.

What followed was a months’ planning and rationing. Tins of crackers crept quietly from the kitchen, and uncooked potatoes went, uneaten, into a hidden cloth sack.

Every note on the subject Smith scrawled on paper scavenged from the back of books and the notebooks in which he did his school work, and each missive was carefully burnt shortly after writing. Even then, he dared only pass his ideas to Ezra when deep enough amongst the pines to be sure of their solitude.

“Better than my intention of murdering the captain and stealing his freighter,” Doss had chuckled when Smith revealed his proposal.

There’d been no question that the boys would depart together.

Later, when he realized the depths of his mistake, the getaway’s mastermind would admit that, though he’d convinced himself it was the one chance to save the other lad, he’d likely been simply too afraid to trek into the unknown without company.

Smith’s last sight of his childhood home came as he exited a rear door under a low-hanging August moon. The weeds and grass beyond the creaking screen seemed awash in silver, and the insects that buzzed at their approach hummed as if carrying the electricity of their excitement.

Though their escape seemed likely to end abruptly under the snap and crack of a decaying rail trestle, and again when they fought their way across a river whose current nearly carried them from history entirely, they did not stop until dawn – and still just long enough to open wide a cracker tin and demolish the crumbs within.

It was then that Ezra revealed his pilfered memento, the stolen coyote mask, and the real trouble began.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FC118 – Protection Cheese

FC118 - Protection Cheese

FC118 - Protection Cheese

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Hello, and welcome to FlashCast 118.

Prepare yourself for: Painted faces, roaming chainsaw/knife fights, the evil eye, interdepartmental fighting, and The Achievers

* * *

Huge thanks to:

* * *

* * *

* * *

    Mailbag:

  • Send your comments and trivia answers to comments@flashpulp.com!
  • Big thanks to Emby and Jax for their commentaries – and congrats to Nutty!
  • Where to leave FlashCast feedback, or Flash Pulp feedback, as per Janelle‘s demands.

* * *

Backroom Plots:

  • FP417 – Doll
  • Watch Project Muddy York’s progress via the Skinner.FM sidebar
  • * * *

    Also, many thanks, as always, Retro Jim, of RelicRadio.com for hosting FlashPulp.com and the wiki!

    * * *

    If you have comments, questions or suggestions, you can find us at http://skinner.fm, or email us text/mp3s to comments@flashpulp.com.

    FlashCast is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

    FP417 – Doll

    FP417 - Doll

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and seventeen.

    Flash PulpTonight we present Doll

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    Download MP3

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    This week’s episodes are brought to you by Green Light, Red Light

     

    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 modern terror and psychedelic incidents, unfolding, before the astonished eyes of a mother and child, on a Capital City backstreet.

     

    Doll

    Written by J.R.D. Skinner
    Art and Narration by Opopanax
    and Audio produced by Jessica May

     

    They were sitting in front of Fas’ Gas & Lotto, and Mom was thinking.

    Cassandra knew this because Mom, as she often did, had said, “Mom’s thinking, Doll,” when she’d told her she had to pee.

    The eight-year-old was aware she shouldn’t press the issue. Eventually her mother would either remember the question, or the girl would simply wait until a safer stop. She’d mapped out all the best places along the twenty block sprawl that was their nightly stroll.

    It was tempting to slip away and ask Phil, the hard faced counter jockey who watched the 24-hour gas station, but Phil had a tendency to be mean to Mom, and, besides, her mother would grump if she were done thinking and didn’t have Cass at hand to soothe her.

    Waiting to be dragged along by a flopping Raggedy-Ann arm was Cassandra’s best bet, and she had mastered patience in her long walks.

    A blue car drove by. Mrs. Wilkerson pushed her shopping cart towards the south end. Mom thought.

    After a time the woman stirred, but Cassandra’s brief prospect for relief was knocked back when her caretaker refilled her glass pipe and leaned away in an unsubtle act of subterfuge. Still, reflected the eight-year-old, at least she wasn’t burrowing in her arm with the unbent tip of a paper clip this evening.

    The sight always left the girl quietly upset, however necessary her Mom insisted it was that she dig the gnits out.

    Down the block and across the street, a newcomer with braids appeared. She was wearing a black suit. It looked fancy, but not quite a tuxedo. Cassandra had rarely seen anyone so dressed up.

    Without thinking, she asked, “isn’t that the lady who asked to take our photo?”

    “Mom’s thinking, Doll,” came the reply, and Cass was relieved it wasn’t accompanied by a sharp pinch as a reminder of the importance of silence.

    Earlier in the week the stranger had stopped and held up a camera. That too had been a wondrous sight, as the girl had only ever seen people take pictures with their phones. She’d been embarrassed about her eye, though now the bruise was nothing more than a shadow of yellow and green.

    “My name is Molly,” the photographer had offered, but she knew Mom had been too busy thinking to remember such a thing. When she was so lost in thought her mother rarely retained any of the conversations they had with passersby.

    FP417 - DollThough Cassandra hoped she might again come and say hello, the woman disappeared into the shadows beside the Washeteria laundromat.

    For ten minutes the street sat still, the buzz of distant traffic acting as the sole indication that time was passing, then the parade began.

    From the Washeteria’s alley, a drummer in a suit not unlike the one she’d thought she’d seen the photographer in, came strutting at full processional pomp – yet his flailing sticks made no noise as they landed upon his snare.

    Her jaw wide, Cass turned to her mother, but the woman’s focus was solely for her feet.

    The girl knew better than to interrupt her thinking, but she was sorely tempted when the soundless bagpiper followed the drummer’s lead out of the laundromat’s lane way.

    This second musician was dressed identically to the first, down to the same rubbery white mask, with unnecessary sunglasses and hairy black chops painted across the cheeks. She was far too young to recognize the metal band leader’s visage, but five more appeared, bumping between with the sidewalks as they held aloft the tail of a yellow and red Chinese dragon.

    The hushed shifting of cloth was not enough to rouse her mother.

    The beast made as if to catch and eat the mum piper, but, just as its mouth was about to close on the unnoticing performer’s puffing cheeks, a knight stepped from the alley, a mute cheering crowd of peasants behind her.

    Cass knew the warrior with the braids cut through the rear of her disguise was a knight, as she wore a plastic breastplate over her suit jacket and carried a toy sword. The serfs, a group of ten distinguishable from the others in duplicate costumes by their corn sacks, flailed their arms in adulation as they trailed their defender.

    For a moment Cassandra thought she spotted her own twin within the tumult of the small mob, but then the knight was upon the monster, and it was all the girl could do to not disturb her mother by cheering herself.

    The dragon dived, the knight ducked. It swiped it’s tail, she swung her weapon. Plunging her blade deep, the champion slayed the beast’s fabric, and the parade disappeared beyond the corner.

    Finally the street went silent, but still Mom observed her toes, thinking.

    A hushed hour passed before she sobered up enough to realize her suddenly silent daughter had been replaced with a life-sized doll, accurate down to the gap toothed grin and a blackened right eye. The woman knew nothing of 3D printers, but, if she had, she would have recognized their work in Cassandra’s perfect plastic replica.

    It would be dawn before she was sure she wasn’t simply high and hallucinating, and another six months before she could convince Cassandra, and The Achievers who had taken on her guardianship, that her daughter should come home, as she would now treat her like a real girl.

     

    Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

    Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

    Freesound.org credits:

    Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

    – and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

    FC117 – Sasquatch Hearts

    FC117 – Sasquatch Hearts

    FC117 – Sasquatch Hearts

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    Hello, and welcome to FlashCast 117.

    Prepare yourself for: Organ transplants, biased wifi, Putin’s occult undertakings, Mac & Cheese, and Project Muddy York.

    * * *

    Huge thanks to:

    * * *

    * * *

    * * *

    * * *

    Backroom Plots:

  • Watch Project Muddy York’s progress via the Skinner.FM sidebar
  • * * *

    Also, many thanks, as always, Retro Jim, of RelicRadio.com for hosting FlashPulp.com and the wiki!

    * * *

    If you have comments, questions or suggestions, you can find us at http://skinner.fm, or email us text/mp3s to comments@flashpulp.com.

    FlashCast is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

    FC116 – Ridiculous Gold

    FC116 - Ridiculous Gold

    FC116 - Ridiculous Gold

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    (Download/iTunes/RSS)

    Hello, and welcome to FlashCast 116.

    Prepare yourself for: Florida, book herpes, celebrities doing terrible things, ’80s movies, the better cut of Top Gun, and Mulligan Smith.

    * * *

    Huge thanks to:

    * * *

    * * *

    * * *

      Mailbag:

    • Send your comments and trivia answers to comments@flashpulp.com!
    • Big thanks to Nutty, Doc Blue, and Dr. Jones for their commentaries!
    • Where to leave FlashCast feedback, or Flash Pulp feedback, as per Janelle‘s demands.

    * * *

    Backroom Plots:

  • FP416 – Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall Chronicle
  • * * *

    Also, many thanks, as always, Retro Jim, of RelicRadio.com for hosting FlashPulp.com and the wiki!

    * * *

    If you have comments, questions or suggestions, you can find us at http://skinner.fm, or email us text/mp3s to comments@flashpulp.com.

    FlashCast is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

    FP416 – Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall Chronicle

    Tonight, Mulligan Smith, private investigator and lifelong resident of Capital City, finds himself drawn to the edge of civilization by one Molly Blackhall.

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and sixteen.

    Flash PulpTonight we present Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall Chronicle

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

    Download MP3

    (RSS / iTunes)

     

    This week’s episodes are brought to you by Green Light, Red Light

     

    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, Mulligan Smith, private investigator and lifelong resident of Capital City, finds himself drawn to the edge of civilization by one Molly Blackhall.

     

    Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall Chronicle

    Written by J.R.D. Skinner
    Art and Narration by Opopanax
    and Audio produced by Jessica May

     

    There were no windows in the room, only empty expanses of bare plywood nailed onto a sloppily erected frame. To Mulligan’s left was a door, to his right a simple table holding a camping lantern that acted as the sole source of light. Beneath him was a creaking wooden chair to which he’d been zip-tied, and before him sat the man with the gin-blossomed nose he’d come to think of as Red Parka.

    He knew that just beyond the walls was a view to steal the breath from a Capital City Morlock such as himself, but it did him little good.

    Red Parka shifted on his stool, settling the hunting rifle across his lap into a more comfortable position.

    There was rarely any magic in Mulligan’s job, and here was the epitome of the mundane: He’d often wondered if this was how he might perish, in some dingy hovel at the hand of a man with petty reasons and a terrible need for a shower.

    From beyond the crookedly hung door, in the room that made up the other half of the shack, there came a trio of knocks.

    Smith could hear Blue Parka, the one who’d tazed him, rise to answer the summons.

    “Yeah?”

    “I’ve lost one of my tourists, have you seen an idiot in a hoodie stumbling around out here?”

    Smith knew the woman’s voice, longed, in fact, to hear it say just a few more words, but Red Parka’s arms stiffened at the intrusion, and the gun barrel hovered above his knees.

    It would do no good, Smith knew, to drag Molly into the calamity.

    She’d been the one who’d summoned him to the Arctic Circle. They’d been introduced when he’d had need of a bush pilot on a previous job, and she’d been impressed enough with his work to ask for assistance when the small community of Suinnak had charged her with rum running.

    Her email had been as straight to the point as Blackhall herself.

    I realize chasing bootleggers sounds a bit ridiculous to a fellow who can walk a block and pass three bars and a booze megastore, but these folks generally see limited supplies, and a sudden bump in the market can cause a lot of havoc. I’ve been the only one in and out lately, so they figure I must be the source, and I haven’t been able to spot any amateur moonshiners while waiting for my court date.

    I hate to have to ask – and I think you know it – but I could really use some help.

    In truth, Molly’s face, and his trip north, had floated to mind more than once in his idle hours parked outside cheap motels and heavily-curtained bungalows, and he’d been eager to be of assistance.

    “I haven’t seen him,” answered Blue Parka.

    There was a pause, and Molly lost the majority of the politeness in her voice.

    “I heard he was coming here to visit,” she insisted.

    Red Parka had the stock of his weapon under his arm now, the barrel endangering the ground midway between Mulligan and himself.

    “Nope,” said Blue Parka, “probably best to go back to your plane and wait to see if he shows.”

    The door closed. Smith felt his shoulders relax.

    At least she’d be safe.

    When he’d arrived, a day earlier, it had been an easy enough thing to locate the real origin of the free-flowing liquor. His filing cabinets at home were filled with letters from his ex-police-sergeant father that provided advice along the lines of, “it takes money to catch money,” and he’d known exactly how to begin the search.

    Tonight, Mulligan Smith, private investigator and lifelong resident of Capital City, finds himself drawn to the edge of civilization by one Molly Blackhall.Locating the most notorious drunk in town had only taken three sets of questions, and, as the PI had told Molly when he’d retrieved his bribe from his travel bag, it wasn’t as if the community was about to be overrun with 18-year-old single malt Talisker scotch.

    She’d grown red faced and angry when he’d handed the cup to a fellow obviously killing himself with such.

    At the first drink, the man had denied knowing anything about locals involved in distilling.

    At the second, both men were chuckling, and Molly joined them in a sullen cup.

    At the third she too was laughing, as Mulligan laid out his usual jokes and admitted, sheep facedly, that he rarely drank.

    At the fourth, the interviewee, still denying he knew anything, did admit it was better booze than the locally made stuff.

    When they’d reduced the bottle by half, the private investigator had found his feet suddenly, thanking his host for his time.

    “Perhaps you could top my glass before you go?” the drunk had asked.

    “Sorry, I need to save some reward for someone who can help,” Smith had replied.

    The tippler’s face went to war with itself for thirty seconds, twisting between resolve and thirst, then the man had stood to point at the shack on the hill.

    Smiths’ victory was quickly forgotten, however, as Molly landed on a decision that seemed to have been hovering at the edge of her mind for a while, and dragged him back to the cabin she occupied when visiting the remote hamlet.

    Two hours later, half-sobered and sweating from exertion, she’d apologized for growing angry over tweaking the old lush’s weakness to dig for an answer.

    “We Blackhalls have always had a temper,” she explained.

    They’d fallen asleep soon after.

    Awaking to her satisfied snoring had given him the chance to creep up the hill and be tazed.

    He’d expected to find a still – instead, seconds before being electrified, he’d discovered just a spout to collect snow and a pot-bellied stove that struck the PI as a fire hazard, especially in an all-wood shanty.

    That’d been half an hour ago, but now there was a hitch in his chest as he realized the distance between them was so close that he could hear her muttering as she followed the thin trail down the hillside.

    “Oh,” she was saying, “I’m-a go back to the goddamn plane…”

    In the next room, Blue Parka returned to murmuring. He’d been at it when Smith had originally arrived, and until this second interruption the chanting had been the only relief from Red Parka’s thick mouth-breathing.

    Smith returned to the impossible task of finding some leverage that might keep him out of a shallow permafrost grave.

    He considered using his increasingly angry bladder as an excuse to attempt to run, but he doubted he’d make it far from Red Parka’s rifle given the barren white slopes that surrounded the hut.

    Blue Parka’s droning stopped, and Mulligan’s bladder doubled its demands.

    He had little interest in finding out what the pair had in mind once done singing for the day.

    It was apparently just another interruption, however.

    “You gotta see this,” called the crooner, “there’s a – I think it’s a wolverine? – out front. Bring the rifle.”

    Red Parka stood and pulled the door shut behind him.

    Through the flimsy barrier Smith heard Red Parka ask, “is it dancing?”

    “Maybe it’s rabid?”

    The slamming of the outside exit cut off any further conversation.

    Breathing heavily, the PI began to thrash in his bonds. The chair went over sideways, but did not break. The zipties dug into his ankles and the flesh of his wrists, but did not give.

    Still, it was shouting and gunshots from the far side of the cabin that brought his flailing to a halt.

    Then the air filled with the scream of a chainsaw.

    As he lay askew on the rough planks, the tip of a high-speed cleaver pushed through the wall and sliced downward in a long diagonal stroke.

    Two more incisions followed, and the splinter-edged triangle fell inward.

    Molly Blackhall said, “so, sometimes you’re out in the woods and some bloody beavers start lodging up on the river you figured you could use to exit. I keep this Mama Jama to clear the runway, as it were.”

    “You shouldn’t have come back,” answered Mulligan, “they’re armed with worse than chainsaws. If that animal hadn’t come along…”

    “Oh, she’s part of the plan too.”

    “You have a pet wolverine?”

    “It’s not a pet, it’s more like a friend,” she replied. “Anyhow, talk less, escape more.”

    She did him the favour of using a knife to remove his bonds.

    Still, the PI could not resist a final peek into the adjoining room to see the product of the seemingly neverending incantations. He thought the man had been simply whistling while he worked, but the only changes he could spot in the plain chamber were the location of the barrel, which was now at the center of the floor, and the nature of what it held.

    Then he was again being pulled along by Molly’s insistent grip, though this time through the ragged hole and down the hill.

    White powder crunched underfoot. The mountain range on the far horizon watched impassively. Behind them echoed more shouts, and more gunshots, and perhaps even a gravel-throated chuckle.

    It was at that moment Mulligan Smith realized he was in love, but he would be left wondering, for a long while afterward, how the Parkas had transformed a barrel of snow melt into wine.

    He would not see the pair again, nor would the people of Suinnak, but the discovery of the supply – and the signed confession they nailed to the Game Warden’s office before they departed – were enough to clear Molly for a brief southward vacation.

     

    Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

    Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

    Freesound.org credits:

    Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

    – and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

    FCM022 – Strawberry Fanta

    FCM022

    FCM022

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    FP415 – Coffin: Moving, Part 3 of 3

    Coffin: A Occult Serial Fiction Podcast

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and fifteen.

    Flash PulpTonight we present Coffin: Moving, Part 3 of 3
    (Part 1Part 2Part 3)

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    This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Earth Station One 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 increasingly sober apprentice, eat pancakes and aid a man haunted by his past.

     

    Coffin: Moving, Part 3 of 3

    Written by J.R.D. Skinner
    Art and Narration by Opopanax
    and Audio produced by Jessica May

     

    The Denny’s stood at the low tide between breakfasting retirees and office workers on a panickedly short lunch break. Only three other booths were occupied, beyond the trio of customers clustered in the corner, and one of those appeared to be the store’s manager entertaining himself with online trivia instead of instructing the waiter in heavy eyeliner to clear the last of the Grand Slamwich wreckage.

    Bunny gave the kid a nod, and the kid nodded back.

    “Napkins?” he asked.

    “Nah, I’ll take some of the s##t water you folks call coffee, and maybe a two buck pancake stack?”

    “We’re only supposed to sell the cheap plates as a side.”

    Bunny raised a her brow and shrugged. Coffin waved off the topping-up of his mug, and their interviewee, one Douglas Holloway, continued to gently weep into the collar of his polo shirt.

    When they were once again alone, the crying man worked at clearing his throat, then asked, “how did you find me?”

    “How badly do you want to be free of -” began Coffin, but Bunny overrode the statement.

    “His ex put us in touch with yours,” she said to Holloway, “but don’t worry about that. We’ll get to the haggling and details, just give us the rundown on your wife and girlfriend.”

    To Bunny there was something familiar in Holloway’s stunned yet exhausted face that left her with the impression that he’d simply been waiting for this particular dam to break.

    “Arlene died five years ago,” replied the widower. “It was eighteen months after we were married, and we were infatuated with each other till the end. We’d known she had a fight in front of her when we went down the aisle – her chemo meant all of her wedding photos were hairless – but she was the sort of person who was strong enough not to wear a wig.

    “We were the classic goofballs-in-love couple, content just to be close to each other; to hold each other. She seemed magical, and I always assumed somehow that that would win us the war.

    Coffin: A Occult Serial Fiction Podcast “It didn’t.

    “She died at home. I did my damndest to make it as comfortable and peaceful as possible, but by the end there was a miniature hospital set up in our living room. It was like a pocket universe in there, an eternity of listening to her ragged breathing over constant Law & Order reruns. I still change the channel as soon as I hear that damned theme. When she let go I was at the bed’s edge, holding her hand, and she was surrounded by her sisters. I thought it was the hardest moment I’d ever have to survive through, but that I’d done the right thing.

    “My first notion was to move away from the memories, but two years later I was in the same bungalow, alone with our mortgage and our corgi, Sycamore. Every time I stepped onto the living room carpet I could feel the anxiety of those last days creep in, but I hadn’t finished paying the bills for high powered narcotics and medical staff.

    “Even if I couldn’t escape, things changed around me. I spent a lot of hours at the kitchen table with work I’d taken home, just to avoid the rest of the house. If I wasn’t working, Sycamore and I patrolled the block. Despite my evasions, or more likely because of it, I got promoted. I made new acquaintances around the neighbourhood.

    “The second January after Arlene’s death I met Selena. I wasn’t looking to. I’d spent so long focused on the next set of reports, and the next patch of sidewalk ahead of me, I hadn’t realized how far I’d gone with my head down.

    “I was re-tying a shoelace outside the local Starbucks when she exited with a white chocolate mocha. One of the tallest ladies I’d ever seen, and with a smile as friendly as a children’s television show host.

    “She said ‘excuse me,’ because she walked near me while I was hogging the sidewalk and she’s the sort of person who’d rather be polite than annoyed.

    “As she’s adjusting course though, she reaches into her pocket and retrieves a dog treat shaped like a bone. Sycamore sits, which is a trick that I’d forgotten Arlene had taught him, and she tosses him the mini-femur.

    “That dog was all the family I’d had for two years, and I loved it like a child, but for whatever reason it’d never struck me to carry treats with me. It sounds kind of stupid, but it was just different than anything I’d known until then. Somehow that brought my chin up.”

    The tale paused as the narrator was distracted by his audience straightening in their seats. Before he could turn to identify what had roused them, however, the waiter strolled by at a near trot, a plate tucked tight to his side, out of sight of his trivia master manager.

    With a twist of his wrist the low mountain of pancakes slid across the largely empty table, stopping just short of Bunny’s coffee.

    There was no opportunity for a thank you before he was beyond hearing range.

    “Don’t stop now, Dougie,” said Bunny, while twirling her syrupy fork encouragingly, “we haven’t even gotten to the spooky s##t.”

    “We dated for six months,” answered Holloway. “A lot of movie theaters, diner dinners, and dog parks with Sycamore. When we started spending the night together it was always at her apartment. Eventually I moved the dog dishes and I almost sort of forgot that I had another home.

    “Then I got a funny letter: I’d accidentally paid off my mortgage while I wasn’t paying attention.

    “Now, it’s not like I’d ever forgotten Arlene, but I’d had some time away. Selena loves renovation shows, and we kind of jointly arrived at the idea that we should do some repair work before putting the shack on the market and maybe looking for a fresh place together. Thing is, the more effort we sunk into projects, the more it began to feel like a new house – our house.

    “One night we were both exhausted from a day of basement drywalling, and we decided to just sleep in my, uh, our, uh, the old bed – the bed that was there – instead of heading back to Selena’s.

    “I woke around three in the morning thinking I heard someone talking in the dark. I pulled on pants and went down the hall to the living room, and for a second I thought I saw Arlene’s face.

    “Now, I should be clear, it wasn’t a huge ‘Arlene, is that you!?’ moment, it was more like thinking you see a person standing in a corner, then realizing it’s actually that robe you draped over a chair with the shadow of a lamp behind it that looks like a head.

    “The only thing out of place was that Sycamore was sitting perfectly upright in the middle of the carpet, but I was so tired I assumed that I’d heard him growling at dreams and went back to bed.

    “With the seal off, so to speak, we spent more and more nights there. We were already investing the majority of our evenings tag teaming plumbing, or hoisting hammers, so why leave?

    “When we first, uh, made love in the old house, I later awoke thinking I heard Selena crying. I actually prodded her until she responded with a clearly still sleeping “no.”

    “It happened again the next night, then everything went smoothly for about a week.”

    “The calm before the s##t storm,” said Bunny, through a mouthful of fluffy batter.

    “Yeah, then the screaming started. I couldn’t see where it was coming from, it just chased me from the sheets, then around the house. I kind of stopped when I was rampaging along the hallway for a second loop, because – well, it’s incredibly terrifying, but after a bit you lose steam when you can’t see the source of your panic.

    “Selena, wearing only my stained work t-shirt, comes running, and suddenly she’s slapped across the face, hard. It kept going, like someone clapping to count time, and then gained momentum into a hail storm.

    “I’d never seen her cry before.

    “I followed her through the door, but she was in her car and on the street before I could catch up. Her place was close enough to walk, but it was cold, so I decided to risk going back inside to pull something on. Besides, I needed to get Sycamore.

    “Everything was silent when I re-entered. I whistled for the dog, but he didn’t come. I found him in the living room again, sitting at attention.

    “The call came before I was done packing. Everything had changed for me in the moment I’d seen Selena with that dog treat, and everything had changed for her in the moment she’d been chased from the house by an invisible hurricane. She was clearly having difficulty making sense of what had happened, but it seemed to her that it was my fault.

    “While I was sitting there at the edge of the bed, crying, I heard laughter. I knew that giggle. Without even realizing I’d fully accepted all of the implications, I started a screaming match with a ghost.

    “‘How could you do this?’

    “‘How could you? I’m dead!’ she shrieks back.

    “‘You had it easy, I was the one who had to keep living” – and on and on.

    “At some point the door slammed shut, and I somehow fury’d myself to sleep.

    “The alarm clock woke me for work, and I went in on automatic. Tried texting Selena, but she ignored it. I ignored the ignoring by staring at reports. I went home.

    “While I was watching Sycamore sniff around the backyard I heard Arlene say, ‘I’m sorry.’

    “That was – I dunno, three months ago? Since then it’s just been crying, every night. Sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s her. I’d like to try and reach out to Selena again. I miss her – but at the same time, the woman I loved, whatever is left of her, is somewhere in that house. I swear, some nights the bed shifts with her weight.

    “I want to move on. I want her to move on. I just feel so guilty.”

    Washing away the pancake crumbs with a deep pull of coffee, Bunny said, “in a situation like this, it’s really nobody’s fault. You can’t blame Selena for running off after getting in a one-sided slap fight with Sue Richards, and you can’t blame Arlene for being pissed she’s been trapped in your empty living room until you started f##king another lady in her bed – but you also can’t blame yourself. You didn’t know she was lingering around until she was furious enough to get all Amityville about s##t.

    “We think your ex-wife needs to date and we know just the fellow. He’s also into Law & Order and cuddling. He currently has a thing for a lady named Laila, but all you sentimental motherf##kers have the same problem: You need to learn to move on.

    “Actually, Laila’ll probably be looking for a new place soon, you should meet her. You might make a nice couple.”

    In unveiling her solution, Bunny did not delve into the complicated game of telephone that was communication between the dead. Adding to Dougie’s sense of guilt would not get him any closer to moving, which was clearly the opening step.

    In the end, Holloway agreed acting as dating coach to his dead wife was worth at least a nicely pawnable ratchet set, and Coffin had to nod in agreement.

    Matchmaking was not his usual sort of work, but rent was due.

     

    Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

    Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

    Freesound.org credits:

    Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

    – and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

    FP414 – Coffin: Moving, Part 2 of 3

    FP414 - Coffin: Moving, Part 2 of 3

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and fourteen.

    Flash PulpTonight we present Coffin: Moving, Part 2 of 3
    (Part 1Part 2Part 3)

    Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

    Download MP3

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    This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Earth Station One 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, has a brief conversation with the remnants of the woman he married.

     

    Coffin: Moving, Part 2 of 3

    Written by J.R.D. Skinner
    Art and Narration by Opopanax
    and Audio produced by Jessica May

     

    It was chill as Coffin stepped onto his balcony, and the leaf husks of the philodendron that Bunny had attempted to grow, a month earlier, rattled in the wind.

    Had he been neglectful in not making more appearances? No, he told himself, he’d simply been busy – but, then, Sandy had also been busy once.

    His dead wife, on the pavement eighteen floors below, grunted.

    Rolling his shoulders, Will asked, “how’s the afterlife?”

    There was a long pause before Sandy’s shattered jaw murmured, “you always were terrible at small talk,” into the unyielding cement.

    “Must be going well if you’re not even trying to murder me,” he replied.

    Silence, then, “you’re not worth the effort,”

    “Huh,” said Will, but he couldn’t help but crack a smile. There were many reasons to fear Sandy’s apparition, but her skill at delivering the cold shoulder was not one of them.

    Coffin leaned over the railing. She could have heard him whisper, even at that height, and the slab walls and platform of the balcony echoed with her every crush-lunged breath. Nonetheless, he squinted through the bitter wind to make out her twisted form.

    He counted a dozen skipping inhalations, and a dozen moist and whistling exhalations, before she gave up her hush.

    “Any news?”

    At another time he probably would have just invented something. The matters he conveyed were trivial at best: He could easily fake calls on the two birthdays he’d missed and stitch those falsehoods with the same old arguments Sandy’s family were constantly re-chewing – but he didn’t.

    Things were changing. She’d always been so sure when she’d worn the jacket and held the chain, and he envied it.

    He knew, however, that her certainty had also been her downfall.

    FP414 - Coffin: Moving, Part 2 of 3“I’ve been too busy to call around. I’m sorry,” he said. It was a vague sort of statement, and intentionally so.

    With the dragging effort of a winded marathoner, Sandy’s left arm, the bones at her wrist projecting through her torn skin, rose, and her palm set its heel firmly on the pavement. She began to drag her motionless legs towards the apartment block’s foundation.

    “Too occupied with your new sidekick?” she asked.

    “The ogre’s amok out west, the city seems to be overrun with Kar’Wickians, and someone’s dispatching ghosts without my assistance.”

    “Which one am I supposed to be able to help with?” she asked, as the fingernails of her right hand came loose on a particularly jagged ridge of mason work. Yet still she climbed.

    “None,” he answered, and, as she scaled the second through fifth floor, he recapped his encounter with Laila Hamilton.

    When he’d completed his recitation, she asked, “didn’t you say there were Kar’Wickians in the city?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Didn’t you say the ogre was up and the dead were going missing?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Why are you working this thing then?”

    It was his turn to fall quiet.

    At the twelfth floor he changed the subject.

    “You understand what I need then?”

    “Yeah,” replied Sandy, not stopping in her attempt to scale the building and murder her former husband.

    “Sandy, I’m sorry,” he said.

    “So you’ve said,” she replied.

    “It was for your own good,” he said.

    “So you’ve said,” she repeated.

    With a gap where her front teeth should have been, she bit her lip, then continued. “Don’t get weak kneed now, you put that jacket on yourself. If you were going to start second guessing I would’ve appreciated if it happened before I landed.

    “Will, if you can’t handle this business pass it on and join me at the bottom.”

    There was a pause then, and suddenly her ascent stopped. Her decades-old plunge played itself back at triple speed, and she once again returned to her place of rest.

    “Go buy some belated birthday cards and I’ll ask around,” she concluded.

    He turned, eagerly pawing at the sliding screen with chilled fingers.

     

    Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

    Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

    Freesound.org credits:

    Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

    – and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.