Category: Chiller

FP466 – Thirsty

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and sixty-six.

Flash PulpTonight we present Thirsty

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Gatecast!

 

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 seek to quench an endless thirst and learn the risks of bending low to the stream.

 

Thirsty

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

 

Extracting herself from the couch was no easy matter. The build team was about to reveal the house they’d constructed for the Taylors, a family of ten whose youngest suffered from a tragic skin disease, so Ira’s attention was divided between the glowing screen and his failing attempts to cover for the fact that, behind his glasses, his eyes were welling at the tenderness of it all.

Amalia, however, was a master of escape. Swapping in a throw pillow for her lap, she managed to settle her boyfriend without upending the bowl of Cheetos resting on the sofa’s arm, nor awakening Mr. Bungles, the Labrador Retriever sleeping at her feet.

“Everything okay?” asked Ira, his gaze lost behind the reflection in his lenses.

“Yeah,” she replied, her phone slipping into her pocket, “I just need the phone charger and something to drink.”

It was technically Ira’s charger, as she’d long ago misplaced her own, but, if she were honest, her battery was still brimming.

“Grab me an orange Fanta while you’re there?”

“Sure.”

Heading down the short hallway that led away from their apartment’s living room, she swung right into kitchen’s stark fluorescent glow. While it was true that her throat was dusty, it was actually an unexpected text that had sent her towards the chill black and white linoleum.

“Busy?” was all it had asked.

Her toes curled for warmth as she retrieved her cell.

Pulling open the fridge door she grabbed a pair of Fantas and considered the previous weekend. Ira had been called back to his mother’s home to move through the dance of supplication necessary to keep her co-signing his students loans, and boredom had driven her online. It had been a conversation about the closing of a local pub that put her into a back and forth with Alton Pierce, but it was his shirtless profile picture that had caused her to send him a direct message.

“You local?” had turned, over the course of two hours, into a meeting – a meeting that had, over forty further minutes, concluded roughly on his kitchen table.

Her thirst might have been what had pulled her from the couch, but the memory of his flexing abs was what caused her to hesitate in responding.

She regretted the incident, or so she’d been telling herself since, but now, with Ira limp on the couch and Bungles snoring on the hardwood, her thumbs hovered over the onscreen keyboard.

Stalling, Amalia opened her bottle and took a long sip, then the calamity of the family’s arrival at their new home finally drew her back into the hall.

Though she did not reply, neither did she delete the question.

The second message arrived three days later. She was at work, bored and willing the clock to swing its hour hand around to five, when Alton said, “I need to talk to you.”

In truth, Amalia had been thinking about him. Not constantly, but in these quieter moments, when her brain was desperate for something fun – something exciting – to attach itself to. Still, she was glad he’d broken the silence first. There was something satisfying in being wanted.

She smiled, having missed the connection with that morning’s events.

It’d been dark when she’d risen and stumbled into the bathroom. Her cubicle position, third stop in designing the company’s Excel charts, did not demand much in the way of physical presentation – so long as she avoided band t-shirts and ripped pants no complaints would be raised. Yet, as she’d rubbed a hand across her forehead in an attempt to wake herself, she’d heard a series of tiny, almost imperceptible snaps. When she’d lowered her palm, she found it filled with her right eyebrow.

Her fist had closed, instinctively hoping to unsee what had happened, and in doing so she’d felt the grinding of each strand into powder.

As the fingertips of her free hand touched her remaining brow each hair gave way with a pop and drifted down onto the white counter.

A full sixty seconds of panic set in, and her feet dug into the plush brown mat Ira had set before the bathroom mirror. She’d had to work hard not to give in to the alternating temptations of shouting for her boyfriend’s help or simply letting out a loud string of “fucks” in reaction to the mess of the situation.

Amalia had a bus to catch, however, and so, after that initial shock, she’d stopped herself from worrying about the why and had to focus instead on some sort of solution. The result was a six-minute YouTube tutorial that worked well with the materials sitting under her sink, and a ride to work caught just in time.

Three hours after the incident, with no coworkers questioning her sudden new styling and a promise to herself to up her vitamin A, she’d almost forgotten the scare.

Still, her lack of eyebrows dampened her enthusiasm to chat up Alton – at least for the moment.

She rose the following day to the smell of eggs and bacon cooking. Amalia shared only one day off a week with Ira, Saturday, so they often took turns rising early enough to make coffee and an extravagant breakfast for the other. Frying protein was her preference, but he was a bigger fan of her waffles.

Crawling from beneath their overstuffed ivory duvet she raised an arm to brush her hair from her face. The black strands shattered at her touch, falling in thick clumps as if her finger was a blade, and her throat locked with surprise. Amalia watched as the bundles hit the pillow with a plume, as if the bed was covered with a thick dust – but upon closer inspection she realized the soot was, in reality, the result of her locks crumbling upon impact.

Amalia was bald by the time she stumbled into the kitchen, having been unable to stop herself from checking the entirety of her skull – and discovering the same reaction across her now-barren scalp.

Worse, she found it wasn’t her only hair she was worried about – she was thirsty, so thirsty. Instead of answering any of Ira’s questions, at her entrance she simply tilted her mouth beneath the sink’s chrome fixtures and began to fill her belly with cold clean water.

Finally, when her thirst seemed quenched, she came up for air.

“What happened!?” repeated Ira.

FP466 - Thirsty“I don’t know,” she answered. Having taken care of her need she moved close for his comfort.

He hesitated only for the briefest of seconds before wrapping her in a hug, saying, “I hope it’s not communicable, but I guess it doesn’t matter much anyhow. We can be bald together.”

“What’s wrong with me?”

“I’m not sure, but we’ll head to the clinic. I’m sure they’ll have an answer. Besides, you seem fine beyond, you know, the obvious, so hopefully it’s just a nutritional thing.”

Her face buried in his shoulder, Amalia’s voice cracked as she asked, “what if it’s cancer?” – but she would not allow herself tears.

“Whatever it is,” Ira answered, “we’ll work through it together. Still, generally people lose their hair because of the treatment, not the illness. Waking up looking like Captain Picard isn’t the first symptom of any form of cancer I can think of.”

They decided, after a time, to finish their meal before heading out to see a doctor. The line was usually long, and at least she would have a full stomach. It was after her third cup of coffee, as Amalia used Ira’s shoulder to balance while pulling on her right shoe, that the knock came.

It was rare that salespeople made it this far up the building before being ejected by the rental agent, a smartly dressed woman whose eyes patrolled the lobby from her glass-walled office, but occasional cable company reps or tenacious Girl Scouts were known to slip the dragnet.

“Who is it?” she asked, unwilling to surrender her wobbling position to check the peephole.

“It’s Alton. I need to talk to you about – you know, about what happened last weekend. I may have, uh, given you something that night.”

“Wait,” said Ira, “is this guy saying – did you sleep with him?”

Her brain wanted to run, but instead her mouth said, “I am so sorry.”

Her boyfriend’s face moved rapidly through a number of possible responses, but eventually his quivering lip gave way to bared teeth.

Alton knocked again. “Hello?”

“To hell with this,” said Ira. “To hell with him.”

Ira – Ira who made soup every fall and froze it in individual servings to easily thaw when she caught a cold, Ira who had patiently taught her the butterfly stroke at the Y, Ira who felt so uneasy at heading to sleep without telling her that he loved her that he occasionally woke her expressly for the purpose – Ira took on that set of his cheeks that meant he’d made an unpleasant decision.

“To hell with you,” he said, disappearing into their bedroom.

He returned with Bungles’ leash, a plastic bag hastily stuffed with clothes, and his cellphone’s charger.

Passing by Amalia he spat out, “to hell with all of this. Take what’s yours and be gone by Monday.”

Then he pulled open the door and whistled for Mr. Bungles, who exited with a wagging tail that spoke of an expected walk. Alton’s eyes went wide at his appearance, and for a moment the interloping stranger seemed share the same thought with Amalia: Would Ira hit him?

Instead her departing ex-boyfriend only shrugged, repeating, “Monday.”

He did, however, slam the door behind him.

Without thinking through her instinct, Amalia slapped the deadbolt into place and retreated to the far end of the apartment – to the depths of her – their – his bed.

If Ira wished to return he had a key, if not – well, she needed time to think somewhere away from Alton’s renewed knocking and conversational attempts.

Silence finally found her, fifteen minutes later, when she heard Mrs. Clark’s buzzsaw voice in the hall. The words were indistinct, but Amalia knew what her neighbour wanted, because it was always the same thing: Quiet.

She would likely also threaten police intervention. This had worried Amalia once upon a time, back when the woman had first complained over the volume of their viewing of Love Actually, but she had eventually come to think of it as simply how Mrs. Clark ended conversations.

“That paint colour clashes – it’d be a shame if I had to call the police!”

Despite the new hush, Amalia’s mind continued to thrash its way through a steady cycle: How could she have let this happen? Was there any way to convince Ira to take her back? Was that what she wanted? Would she have cheated on him if she was entirely happy? Then she’d conclude that yes, her act was simply one of selfishness not a cry for help, and she’d question how she could have let it happen all over again.

She thought, she paced, she planned; give him time to cool then tell him how important he was. Better yet, show him.

After a day of churning considerations and exhausting despair the thought gave her enough hope to cling to that she might sleep, but, as she was drifting into unconsciousness, she finally fully processed Alton’s words. He had answers to what was happening to her hair, but any conversation they needed to have she wanted over with as quickly as possible. Besides, she hadn’t checked for messages in hours – perhaps Ira had sent something?

It was enough to drive Amalia from her sheets and through a sleepy-eyed search for her phone, and, after five servings of tap water chugged from Ira’s Jurassic Park mug, the hunt ended at the kitchen counter.

Her battery was dead, and, of course, the charger was gone.

Step one in taking ownership of her situation, Amalia resolved, would be either finding her missing cord or buying a new one – but in the morning. Now the weight of the day seemed to rest entirely on her eyelids, and she wanted nothing more than sleep.

Nothing more, that is, until shortly after three that morning.

She’d been dreaming of a desert of salt. In the distance, over the horizon, she saw sails – but no matter how far she marched she could not reach them, nor the water on which she assumed they sailed.

Finally her mind could no longer mask the reality of her thirst, and she woke.

The heat of Amalia’s nightmare had caused her to push away all coverings, and she stood unimpeded. She made it so far as the darkened kitchen without incident, but the act of brushing the switch was too much for her fragile fingers.

As she watched the white plastic nub passed through her pinky and lodged at the midpoint of her ring finger, then the severed digit tumbled to the ground, splashing into a sandy powder.

She stepped backwards, wishing to pull away from the sight, and her left shoulder landed on the door frame with little resistance. The unevenly painted corner sheared away her arm as if it were a broom parting cobwebs.

Amalia fell to her knees, but these too betrayed her, the impacts sending flakes of leg into the air and forming cracks across her calves. She attempted to crawl forward then, but her crumbling hands turned the effort into a fight to prevent the impending crush of her face landing upon the linoleum.

When Ira returned, that Monday, he found only another mess to clean.

 

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.

FP465 – The Long Tail

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and sixty-five.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Long Tail

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Chrononaut Cinema Reviews!

 

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 pets and prey.

 

The Long Tail

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

 

Lewis had always lived his life as a man trapped by the tides. His father had provided him a body strong enough to keep himself afloat, but neither parent had been able to impart wisdom enough to make him head for shore.

Now, standing at the rear of the stripmall pet shop with Irena at his side, he had never felt so far out of his depths.

She wore her hair in a short black bob that hovered over her black suit jacket, which was in turn matched by a black skirt, and the outfit completed by a pair of knee-high black boots. The only spot of white in the arrangement was a patch of white collar at her throat, and yet the rise of her cheeks and the point of her jaw made her look immaculately precise, as opposed to a funeral mourner.

They had been seeing each other for the better part of the year, though it was only in the last six months that he’d begun to invest a little more in new jeans and shirts with buttons. He’d even largely ceased flirting with the bartender at O’Gobbler’s.

Despite the knot in his stomach, his mouth swung open and his spiel began rolling out.

Thrashing forward had been the only way he’d ever lived.

“Hey, babe, I was thinking – well, remember what I was joking about a couple of weeks ago?”

They’d been lying in his bed at the time, sweating into the darkness as they caught their breath. He’d said, “you should just move in, you know?”

Though he’d been there a dozen years, he’d never considered sharing the loft he rented with any visitor till just that moment, and the thought had escaped his lips before he’d fully turned it over.

He’d felt her smile, her neck on his arm, and she’d nuzzled his jaw, but the room had remained silent until both had drifted into sleep.

“What do you think of this one?” she posed instead of replying, an amber nail against the glass. The kitten she was pointing at was mostly paws, its white toes stark against the rest of its black coat.

“All kittens are cute, right?” answered Lewis, “That’s basically their job.”

Again her lips slid upward into a smile, yet her eyes seemed to hold questions.

“What were you saying?” she asked as she waved over the bored teen at the counter.

“Well, I was thinking – you know, maybe you really could move in? Or I could go to your place, I guess.”

The smile held, as did the lack of answers in her eyes, then the teen arrived and used a ring of keys to retrieve the ball of fur.

Having raised the issue was exposing enough, Lewis had no interest in pressing the point with the mop-headed stranger so close at hand.

She straightened. “Will you always take care of this cat?”

FP465 - The Long TailHe tensed, wishing that she’d just, this once, give him a straight reply instead of edging about his words and leaving him to wonder where he was at. Rather than let frustration sink in, however, he held his tongue. The water was too deep to be drowning in his own mistakes – there was something in the question he knew, if only on an instinctual level, that was critical to the answer he would receive.

“Yeah, of course,” he answered.

Her head tilted briefly, then her smirk gave way to flawless teeth.

“Okay, I’ll pay and then we can get some boxes. We can figure out most of it this weekend, but there are a few things I’ll want from my old place before then.”

* * *

Two months later she was calling from a brown-furniture-on-a-brown-carpet-accented-by-brown-curtains hotel room in Pittsburgh. Work had her on the road quite often, but her regular distance did little to negate the sudden bouts of fierce intimacy that were the hallmarks of her affection.

He could hear her occasionally sipping at her tall glass of milk as she listened to his responses.

“Yep,” Lewis was saying, “all good here.”

In truth, however, he was struggling to come up with his half of the rent. While, in the three months of their cohabitation, she’d only climbed the ranks of the drapes distributor at which she worked, he had just been fired from his job wrangling a UPS truck. He’d told his mom his boss was a dick who’d been out to get him since his first day. He’d told his friends that he couldn’t be too mad about the whole thing, as he hated the job and he really had stolen the packages he was accused of scooping.

He told Irena nothing – at least not until he had a way to make up his missing funds.

“You know,” she said, her voice a hum tickling his ear even across the wires and airwaves,”If there was something you could tell me. I’m happy to help in any way I can.”

It was tempting to say yes, and he knew if it had been any of his previous relationships he absolutely would have – yet with Irena it was different. She was making more money than him, but it wasn’t just his notion of manhood that was rankled; there was something, too, in the way she so breezily departed for the airport, so easily rented a car to carry her out of town.

There was definitely fondness there – moments of intense closeness while talking on the couch, her head in his lap, and even a few bite marks along his neck from when things grew even closer – but these flashes of heat were only deepened by her comfort with distance.

He had never been so close to a woman like her, and he knew somehow – by her laughter during the boxing matches which he bet too heavily upon, by the fact that she was the only woman he’d ever met who shaved her legs with a straight razor, by her gentle teasing whenever he was struck by a cold – that to admit he needed her help was to lose her. Maybe not today, he knew she cared enough to carry him, but eventually and inevitably.

“Really, everything’s all good,” he replied.

“Okay, just be sure you’re looking after Canary.”

“Of course.”

She never said goodbye, their conversations were usually curtailed by her tone – affectionate but receding.

After the click, however, he recalled her reminder and shook out a meal for the cat.

* * *

His rent money came that month on the back of a guy who’d only introduced himself as Little Earl. There’d been nothing particularly interesting about the man’s size – if anything Lewis thought he should have been named Medium Earl – but so long as the cards kept pulling money from his pocket Lewis was happy to call him whatever he liked.

The back table at O’Gobbler’s had been a last ditch effort. Lewis had played some poker online, but he’d never gone so far as to bet with real money. He did not consider that this was only because credit card companies’ were reluctant to issue him any plastic. He resisted returning long enough to hand over Little Earl’s well-thumbed bills to Irena, and to confess his lack of of employment, but that next morning, after convincing himself he would finally get on with job hunting, he landed again at the bar rail.

With just under two hundred left of his victory fund, once his Coors was removed from the tally, it struck him that he’d feel a lot better about his job hunt if he could pad his egg some more.

There was no sign of Earl, in any shape or size, and only one of the four tables behind the Employees Only door was occupied. The two bearded men at its edges were exchanging lazy words and half-hearted card tosses. There was no money on the table.

At least, until Lewis arrived.

Less than two hours later – and that only because of Lewis’ breaks to retrieve a fresh beer and strategize uselessly while staring at the news unspooling on the TV over the bar – he was down to his last pair of twenties.

Despite the noon hour he spent the rest of his day cursing himself and wandering the city aimlessly. To his mind the only greater sin than having lost his cash would be to return before Irena so that she would think he’d wasted his day sitting around at home.

He was up early the next morning.

It seemed important that he leave well before she was due at work.

Hearing the slide of the hallway closet, and the squeaking of his shoes on the tile, however, Irena stepped out from the kitchen and caught him at the door. She was wearing only his off-gray sweater and a glitter in her eye.

With a raised brow, and a twitch of a smile at the edge of her lips, the woman asked, “where are you off to?”

“I’m on the job hunt.”

Her gaze raked his need of a haircut, his facial stubble, the ripped denim over his right knee, but her tone remained sweet and light. “In that shirt?”

As if he’d always intended to, Lewis extended a hand and lifted out his only suit jacket.

“Blazer over t-shirt is in these days,” he replied.

She leaned in close, as if she were about to deliver a kiss, and the tips of her bob brushed his cheeks – yet, despite his puckering, she instead gently bit the tip of his nose. Then she turned, moving down the hallway on swaying hips.

* * *

Six weeks later he was still wearing the jacket. He’d managed to play his forty into four hundred, and that was enough to convince Lewis the change of wardrobe had brought him luck.

His opinion did not shift when the four hundred drifted away in a run of bad hands, but it certainly got the credit when, a few days later, he managed to put himself over the thousand mark.

So life continued for six weeks. The waves only grew. The highs were huge, and there were moments when he had more money in his pocket than he’d ever held with a regular job. The troughs were equally as massive, however, and eventually he finally bottomed out.

Irena was already home when he arrived back at their shared apartment. She was curled up on the bed, one of her black and white movies unspooling on her laptop as she dipped a hand into her popcorn bowl with enthralled regularity.

“Hey, babe,” he’d said, pulling off the blazer, “I, uh, you know I hate to ask, but could I borrow maybe a hundred bucks til payday?”

She slapped the pause button, her features taut – yet there was still a hint of a smile upon her lips.

“Payday? You found a job?”

“Uh,” he replied, “yeah.”

There was a long silence in the room, then Canary jumped up onto the bed and mewled.

“Of course,” answered Irena, then, with a pat of the space beside her, she continued, “come watch this, it’s almost done.”

Though he’d intended the lie to somehow relieve pressure, in truth it only made him feel a need to work twice as hard at the tables.

By the time she left for a two-week training stint in Cleveland he barely noticed her departure. Panic had settled into his bones. The hundred had gone quickly, but he’d been lucky in finding a fellow – everyone simply called him Squint – who had, with some haggling, lent him a grand. Even after a couple of defeats this had allowed Lewis to cover another month’s worth of rent, but after that his losses had come hard and fast. He felt as if he was attempting to sprint up the down escalator.

He began to return home just long enough to sleep, and his departure was only slowed by Canary curling himself about his leg to ask for food.

Then the bag ran dry.

“Hopefully I’ll have some cash to spare tonight,” he’d told the cat, but that day was no more lucky than the last.

Irena called that night, and there was amusement in her voice as she mentioned that she’d been trying to reach him all evening.

“Sorry, this new job has me pretty busy. Training and stuff, you know.”

“Sure,” she replied.

“Do you mind if I use that twenty on the dresser?”

“Sure,” she replied again.

“Thanks babe.”

“How’s the cat?” she asked, but he was already gone.

* * *

The session went so well, Irena told him, that they requested she stay back to help the with following group of staff from her office, due the next Monday. She never presented it as a question – there was a purr of affection in her voice as they spoke, but there seemed to be little concern about the distance between them.

He, on the other hand, was consumed with his own troubles.

Squint had also had some recent bad luck, and he wanted his money back – every bite-sized loan, with interest. Five grand was a total beyond Lewis’ grasp at the best of times, and the rent clock was ticking.

The argument began outside O’Gobbler’s, but Lewis’ usual tactic – of simply walking away and ignoring the problem – did not work. Squint stayed at his elbow, his demands growing louder and more insistent.

Lewis had spent five minutes, that morning, searching for Irena’s straight razor before realizing she had packed it. He’d settled, after a hunt through the kitchen drawers, for the paring knife from the countertop block that had come with her move.

The alley had seemed a safe shortcut. It was midday and the sun was bright for the hundred steps or so – but he had not reckoned on the way the stone walls cut off all street noise, or how Squint’s breath had suddenly smelled so close.

His mind was jumbled as to which had pulled their blade first. He thought he’d reacted to Squint reaching into his jacket, but perhaps Squint had been suspicious of the motions which Lewis used to show his pockets were empty.

Well, almost empty. Squint took one broad swipe at his face, narrowly missing his neck, and Lewis reacted with an upwards thrust that was actually intended to bring his weapon into view.

He left the handle protruding from the moneylender’s belly as he sprinted from the brick canyon.

There was no time to feed the cat when he got home – no time for anything but to scribble a short note and toss the majority of his dresser drawer into a gym bag.

Riding the bus as far as west as it ran, he found a truck-laden parking lot adjacent to a greasy spoon diner and offered half of the contents of Squint’s track pants for a ride to the coast.

The rest of the money was still enough to carry him through four weeks of eating bagged chips and hiding in a flop motel room. Most of the residents of Moto Pines were permanent, but few paid any attention to the newcomer. They had arrived at the two-story building, just off an otherwise unremarkable section of highway, because they had problems of their own that consumed them.

Still, it was impossible not to occasionally bump into each other while grilling hot dogs on the second-floor walkway, or stumbling up the adjoining stairs in a whiskey haze. Lewis found himself remarkably lonely, and in need of funds. He couldn’t call Irena – it was too likely the attempt would be traced back to him by the police – but he could, at least, accept Mr. Gizal’s invitation to his regular Thursday night poker game.

These were not the sharks of Lewis’ old waters, and some of the skills he’d learned had stuck. By the time he’d exited, three-hours later and stinking of cigar smoke, the fugitive’s pockets were a hundred dollars heavier.

Fumbling for his key, he did not recognize Canary at first sight. He thought, perhaps, someone had dropped a black purse at his door – then he had spotted the ribs protruding from the bundle of fur.

Even then recognition eluded him. His thought was simply to get to his phone and call management to remove the dead cat on his welcome mat.

It was dark as he entered, the smell pushing him towards the dial and away from the light switch, but the glow that had slipped between the curtain crack highlighted Irena’s green eyes.

“I asked for only one thing,” she said, her voice calm.

Yet in the black glove of her left hand her straight razor swayed like an eager tail, and he thought he heard her hiss as he stood.

There was no time to consider it, however, as there ended Lewis’ struggles.

 

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.

FP458 – The Flying Dutchman

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and fifty-eight.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Flying Dutchman

[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp458.mp3]Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Glow-in-the-Dark Radio!

 

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 find ourselves witness to dead men wandering the highways.

 

The Flying Dutchman

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

 

McGillicuddy’s General Store had stood on its roadside lot for nearly a hundred years. Marty McGillicuddy, thirty, was now its manager, but, before him, Pa McGillicuddy had worked the counter as a child under the supervision of its founder, Pops.

In truth, Pa could not quite allow himself to retire. Though he should have been having dinner with Ma by that dusk hour, he’d stayed on past his voluntary shift to finish telling his son of a twenty-year-past fishing trip – the old man rarely took vacations, so those few he’d allowed himself stood in vivid memory – but the recollection was put on hold as the store’s ancient bell rang twice.

Someone was at the pumps. Decades after it was fashionable, the station had continued to offer full service – it was tradition, and, even in these days of fully electric cars and automated recharging, the human touch remained important to both McGillicuddy men.

FP458Most of their traffic was local: Decades back the highway had been so efficiently straightened the town was no longer needed, but there was still a large enough dead spot between Capital City and Riverside, for those unthinking enough to have forgotten to fuel up, that the shop had managed to stagger on.

Stepping into the evening heat, Marty pushed the vehicle’s “manual fill” button, hefted the connector, and flicked open the fueling panel. His eyes were on the horizon to his right, the sun having just set and the sky streaked with a thick red, yet he couldn’t remember if that meant sailors delight or take fright. Finally, when the magnets snapped into place to hold the transmission nozzle, there was little to do but loaf.

He turned left, intending to identify which local was out so late, and everything he’d eaten that day was suddenly working to escape his stomach.

At first he’d thought it was convertible – not a nice one, perhaps, but the sort of boxy job one of the townsfolk sometimes picked up to let the the wind run through their hair without leaving them bankrupt.

His mistake was quickly corrected when he spotted the face staring at him from the rear seat.

The stranger’s countenance had been withered and browned by exposure to sun and rain. His lips were pulled back hard against his teeth, as if locked in a madman’s grin, but it was apparent to Marty that the decapitated head’s skin had simply shrunk and pulled taut with time, revealing the smiling skull beneath.

Looking to the front seat Marty caught a flash of orange, and then the manual fill button beeped.

His mind largely focused on not vomiting, the attendant’s hand went to the connector, as it had dozens of times a day for years, and he pulled the lock free.

Without pause the engine began to whine. The boxy Volvo pulled forward, signaled a left-hand turn as it paused beside the empty roadway, then it fled over the horizon.

In the distance the Melkin’s dog began to bark, an echo of the normalcy that seemed to have otherwise abandoned the younger McGillicuddy. It was a full minute before Marty righted himself and returned to the interior of the store, but even as he moved his mind worked to sort the details of what he’d just witnessed.

Noting his pallor, Pa asked, “Grandmother Templeford make another pass at you?”

“I just – there was a headless dead man in that car.”

“Ah, so you’ve seen the Dutchman then.”

“Who?”

“The Dutchman, as I’ve heard it, was a soccer fan. That’s why he’s wearing the orange jersey. Maybe he was coming back from celebrating a game, maybe he was just heading home after a long night at the office – whatever the case, his car was on autopilot and coming down an off-ramp when – well, you know those cheese slicers with the little wire on the end? The bolts on a guide line around the highway signage had fallen and locked itself between the branches of a thick oak. Just the right height to take the top, and the Dutchman’s head, clean off.

“The GPS that ran the navigation was wired into an antenna on the roof, so the thing was immediately confused about where it was. Still thinking it was trying to get home, it got back on the highway and never stopped.

“I guess they pieced together what had happened after discovering his roof, but the head apparently managed to land in the backseat.”

Marty nodded, but did not interrupt.

“The long-haul truckers’ll tell you that it operates on instinct. Keeps it on the road, keeps it away from other vehicles, and fuels up as needed.

“Police cruisers have attempted to trail him a while, but every time they try to get close the collision sensors push up the car’s speed. By the time they get near they’re going so fast it’s not worth risking a second life to stop the damned thing, and I suspect its nomadic nature makes it easy for troopers to simply turn a head till its drifted into the next county and someone else’s area of responsibility.”

Collecting his push broom to keep his trembling hands busy, Marty asked, “Who’s paying for the juice?”

“Supposedly his wife. The way I heard it, he’s driving an all-too-sensible car, and it can go a mighty distance between having to touch a station. She only knows where he is when he checks in with a new gas up, but she’s always a step behind in her chase.

“In the meantime the Dutchman is out there, drifting along the night highways and crawling country roads as the flies seed his rotting flesh.”

The store fell to silence, the rows of soup cans and bagged chips finding nothing more interesting in the conversation than they had in any other across the previous century.

“So,” said Marty, “what were you saying about that pike?”

 

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.

FP457 – Go On

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and fifty-seven.

Flash PulpTonight we present Go On

[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp457.mp3]Download MP3

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Gatecast!

 

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 find ourselves in a lesser-known Las Vegas casino as Mercutio Rogers, professional crooner, prepares to take the stage.

 

Go On

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

 

Thirty seconds into Here’s That Rainy Day the jaguar had Mercutio’s skull in its jaws.

Another thirty and his corpse was nothing but a limp toy being hauled around the stage by the malnourished, but triumphant, cat.

It was the 1950s, and Mercutio Rogers was little more than a one-hit-wonder, so the venue had been small. Mercutio’s manager had demanded he sing a ballad at the beast, borrowed from a show over at The Flamingo, and, knowing it was the only way he’d put a dent in Dean Martin’s audience, the crooner had agreed.

The fencing ringing the footlights had been hastily erected, and by the time it was properly breached by the predator’s owner, and his tranquilizer gun, those few audience members unfortunate enough to have been in attendance – and to have been stunned into silence at the attack – had witnessed the consumption of most of Mercutio’s smooth-toned throat.

Somewhere at the back of the house the lights were raised, a panic ensued, and even the diehard gamblers obliviously stumbling from the bar to the blackjack tables were shown the door. The Vegas PD arrived, tutted for a while, then carted his body away.

His mother, an English professor from Connecticut, was no doubt called and informed of her son’s demise. A man with a bucket arrived to mop away the congealing stain that would be the last mark the twenty-three-year-old would leave upon the stage, then he too departed.

Finally, in a move unusual for Vegas even in those early days, the lights went out.

Mercutio witnessed it all.

Being dead and left in the dark was easily the most terrifying experience of his evening, and that included having watched both his killer and cadaver escorted from the building. It took an hour in the shadows for the ghost to cease his shivering, and another three for him to truly believe he was gone. Larger movements came but with great concentration, yet his position, sprawled across the stage, gave him a clear view of the morning shift shuffling through the doors. Dice needed to be tossed, cards dealt, and booze dispensed – the death of one B-list troubadour did little to slow Vegas’ appetites, much less stop them.

Cindy Delano, who he’d met briefly in the tiny management-provided dressing room, approached. The hem of her sequined cocktail dress, her uniform at any hour, trembled slightly at the prospect of belting out a show tune on the very spot her former work acquaintance had been mauled to death, but Mercutio knew he’d only spotted her hesitance because he was a fellow professional background-noise provider.

“Don’t worry about it,” he told her, as she crossed the lights, but Cindy did not pause.

“Hello and welcome to the Moonglow Motel and Casino, everybody!” she said, her dress aglow as she made her practiced half-turn.

Again the deadman noted her reluctance: Her tone did not contain the vigour he had previously hated to hear at 9am, yet, despite it meaning he was minimizing his own death, he found himself telling her, “it’s okay kid, I don’t mind.”

He did, however, feel a slight pang as the four-piece offstage backing band opened on “If I Were a Bell.” At that moment the thought that his voice would never again be heard by an audience seemed to outweigh even the loss of his shabby apartment, his terrier Franky, and his favourite velvet suit.

He dueted, but, unaware she was singing with a partner, Cindy left little room for his interjections.

A Skinner Co. ProductionIt wouldn’t be the last time he’d try a melody that went unheard. As the fifties rolled over into the sixties the skirts shortened and the sets grew longer. Sometimes, when he recognized the chorus, he would simply sing along from his splayed position upon the stage, and, as he was front row for every set and most of the acts rarely changed their lineups, it was rare that he did not know the song in question by the third night of its performance.

On other occasions, when the only sound to fill the great room was the bing and chime of the increasing army of slot machines, he would force himself upright and launch into one of the classics. Yet, no matter how loud he bellowed, no matter how perfectly he hit his notes, he could not turn a single head; could not catch a single ear.

One quiet Tuesday he realized the room was empty. It remained empty throughout the following Wednesday, and then, upon Thursday morning, a dozen men in overalls descended upon his scenery with pushcarts.

It took them a further two days to strip the gaming equipment, fixtures, and carpets.

The weekend was otherwise spent in darkness, the room having been designed as windowless so that its occupants would not realize just how many hours had been spent on tossing dice and pulling greasy levers.

While he had noted that both undertakings had slackened in recent days, it was upon the following Monday that Mercutio realized the true extent of his predicament: It was then that the grinding sound of machinery began somewhere beyond his vision, and within moments the flailing arm of a mechanical beast had ripped through the eastern wall.

By sunset the Moonglow was little more than a pile of rubble being readied for the trucks that would haul it away.

In his youth Mercutio had been terrified by a tale of Roman soldiers, long dead, marching across the British countryside. It had not been the phantoms themselves that had kept him awake at night, his blankets pulled high against his nose – no, it had been the notion, imparted by the witness’ account, that the men had been only half visible, their lower portions having been lost to the depths of dirt and rubble that had buried the highway upon which the legionnaires marched.

Long had been the evenings on which he considered the idea that perhaps the world was massively haunted by such ghosts; that perhaps, in the ancient places of the world, there teemed beneath their feet an entire metropolis of the dead, forever wandering through a darkness of worms and dirt.

Once the remnants of the Moonglow were removed, however, Mercutio found himself not buried, but instead floating some feet above the ground.

For a month he was left to consider the desert’s chill nights and blazing days, then construction began anew and his fears returned. Would he find himself in a maintenance closet? On the tiles of a gin joint’s bathroom? Would he be pinned in a wall when not actively attempting to stand?

Fortunately, the new owners of the plot were constrained on either side by the Moonglow’s more successful neighbours, and were thus forced to build up rather than out. In the end the footprint of the new establishment, The Hideaway, was not so different than the shabby row of drive-up motel doors it replaced. The floor had dropped, to provide greater foundation, but the stage had also raised, leaving Mercutio more or less in the same unnoticed position in the spotlight he had occupied at the time of his death.

The carpets were uglier now, however, and the slot machines bedecked with blinking lights. The table games were in another area entirely, well out of his line of sight, but the acts the expanded setup attracted were equally gaudy.

A family of motorcyclists installed a metal sphere, for a two week engagement, and spent their evenings nearly avoiding each other as they conducted tightly choreographed loops. Two dozen showgirls backed a second-string Rat Pack member singing songs of nostalgia that had been new in Mercutio’s day. An endless parade of comedians came and went, their names and faces changing almost nightly but their jokes mostly staying the same.

The years rolled on with Mercutio in attendance for every show – and often providing his own a capella musical accompaniment.

As with the Moonglow, The Hideaway’s star rose and fell. The carpets wore thin, and so did the entertainment. By 1982 the rooms were still packed, but now because the one-armed bandits were so cheap. The stage was still full, but simply because the management refused the cost of installing a proper audio system to pipe in canned music.

It was this same thriftiness that caused the aging equipment powering the footlights to grow dangerous through their endless jury-rigging to keep them running. The fire began in the darkness beneath the platform, and had spread to the interior of the flimsy walls before it became clear what was happening.

Equally outdated fire safety regulations did the rest, and a hundred nickel slot players were left to choke and collapse.

Their first moments in this afterlife – or, at least, afterdeath – brimmed with smokey terror and confusion, yet, even as they realized the pain had passed, Mercutio cleared his throat and welcomed them with the opening bars of Here’s That Rainy Day.

 

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.

FP449 – Unlocked

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and forty-nine.

Flash PulpTonight we present Unlocked

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Freelance Hunters!

 

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 encounter an unexpected series of visitors.

 

Unlocked

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

 

The rear door of the chugging hatchback opened with a hushed click, and Tori Garza, thirty-eight, felt her Honda shift and tilt under the mountainous stranger’s settling weight. She’d known something like this visit was coming, yet the newcomer had caught her sitting in the driveway as she waited for her two children to finish filling their pockets with electronics, gum, and beloved formed-plastic figures.

The invaders eyes’ were covered in the thick black plastic of a style that wouldn’t have been out of place on a blind man, and his brow was lost beneath the low-hung brim of his maroon flat cap.

Across the street, in front of the Mitners’ empty house – Peggy being at work and Anthony having taken their little ones out for an afternoon of overpriced pizza and ancient videogames at the local Chuck E. Cheese – stood a second intruder. Though he too wore tinted glasses, his bald head was exposed to the sun and his dark jacket a little too tight to be buttoned without making the bulge beneath his left armpit noticeable.

“If you’re here to murder me then get it over with before the kids come out, please,” said Tori, but, though a cold blade did come up to touch the side of her neck, she received an answer even more horrifying than that which she’d expected.

“No, I wasn’t hired to kill you, I was hired to ruin you,” said Mr. Backseat, and he tilted his head toward the window. The man in the black nylon jacket began to shuffle towards her front door. “My associate is a fellow of especially low moral fiber, though I suppose I shouldn’t talk out of school on the matter given the questionable nature of my own shaggy philosophy. Still, when it comes to executing tykes there’s no one as excited, or as skillful, at the job.”

“You won’t get away with this,” she replied. His brow stiffened at her tone. The fear he’d heard before placing the weapon to her neck was suddenly gone – now that the mother knew she herself was in no immediate danger, she seemed calm. Was she as cold as his client, who’d employed the pair to murder his own children?

Mr. Backseat wouldn’t have called the chill along his spine fear – he might have laughed it off as something like professional admiration if he’d thought on it at all – but his attention was on his partner’s slow progress.

His gloved hand tightened its grip on the knife’s handle nonetheless.

He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, but YOU won’t get away with this. You’re going to claim two large men did it while you were forced to sit and watch, but there will be no prints, no unsightly signs of violence. No one is going to believe you. Better yet, if you resist or attempt to stop us, I get to rough you up a little. I hold a degree in applying self-inflicted injuries and a doctorate in ensuring only those witnesses I want are on hand.

“Remember, especially in light of the lack of spectators, that if you should attempt any heroics I will be forced to make it look like a murder/suicide. I think we can agree that such an outcome would be disappointing for all involved.”

As the fisherman expects a tug on his line when he knows a potential meal is nibbling at his bait, the cap-wearing man instinctively expected some physical response – a twitch, knuckles whitening on the steering wheel, perhaps a slow move to unbuckle her belt – but he received no such satisfaction.

Instead Tori simply sat and watched the front door.

The intended murderer knocked twice, ignoring the bell entirely, and there was a pause both in the car and upon the stoop as he awaited some reaction from inside.

It was Luther, five, who answered. He was small for his age, his brown eyes too big for his tiny face. He might be a heartbreaker someday, if he lived that long, but he currently reminded his mother of nothing so much as one of the characters from the saccharine mangas his older sister, Selina, obsessed over.

Those within the car could not hear the transaction between child and intruder. The man in the backseat braced his arm and tightened his legs, his reflexes working to keep the situation under control should the boy’s mother attempt to run, scream, or otherwise provide some warning to the too-friendly kindergartener.

She did not.

The killer’s lips moved into a wide grin as he offered his hello, and Luther’s response seemed short and welcoming. Reaching out a smooth-skinned hand, he wrapped his fingers around two of the visitor’s thick digits, then, with little more than a glance at his waiting mother, showed the stranger into the house.

“It’s fine if you want to cry,” said the blade-holder. “The officers will expect it one way or another, though they may think you’re faking it.”

“I’m fine,” answered Tori. Her words floated out on a breeze, as if she were instead more concerned with formulating a mental grocery list or what movie to rent to fill up her newly-single evening.

“Are you?” asked the professional, his occupational pride pushing him to press his weapon further into her flesh. A single droplet of blood drained along its stainless steel edge.

“Are YOU?” replied the woman, her eyes finally coming to focus on the black plastic across the bridge of his nose. It seemed to him in that moment as if she could see through the tint as clearly as the windshield before her.

That was when his plan began to fall apart.

It began with music – familiar, yet he couldn’t place it. Behind his sunglasses, the goon stiffened.

Every orifice of the house was forced wide. Screens were popped from their frames and doors were left swinging to the wind. Even through the Honda’s glass the thick rhythm of Casio keyboard and guitar began to overwhelm the hardened intruder.

As human forms began to splash from the home’s now gaping mouths, the ruffian’s hand, distracted, slipped away from its tight position against his victim’s skin.

Men, women, children – even a dog in a custom-crafted uniform – began to tumble onto the grass, their landings quickly turning into an ongoing frolick. Some took each other’s hands and formed rings, dancing to the thick percussion of the tune. The shorter among them ran circles in and out of such gatherings, and the tallest took to a hand waving dance that bordered on a war strut.

Each one wore a small paper sign set upon a string about their neck.

“Witness!” it said.

Still the flood continued.

Two dozen figures turned into a count of nearly a hundred, and finally the man in the black nylon jacket reappeared. He was held aloft, his arms and legs bound to one of Tori’s kitchen chairs, his sunglasses lost somewhere within the shadows of the darkened home.

Luthor led the parade that carried him onto the lawn, his arm flailing with a wooden spoon counting out the music.

A Skinner Co. ProductionThe man in the backseat was suddenly certain that he was, in fact, suffering an aneurysm and end-of-life hallucination, or that his youthful indiscretions with high-powered narcotics had finally come back to haunt him with an atomic-level flashback.

It was neither case, but his trepidation was distraction enough to allow Tori to unbuckle and slip from her seat, joining her son in his victory march.

Though she wore the plain jeans and pink hoodie she’d intended to sport at the mall, Selina was there as well, her own oversized disguise bouncing about on her capering head. Otherwise each shape – tall, small, round, or slender – wore the same outfit: A cheap black suit and a rubber mask displaying a pasty face sporting large black mutton chops.

Two weeks previous the despondent mother had wept upon her keyboard as she crafted her plea: Would The Achievers help in such a mundane, yet so threatening, situation? She had read Internet whispers that the group might, but she had not even truly believed in their existence until the first of the volunteer vigilantes had arrived: A college student of twenty-three, her mask out of sight and a sleeping bag beneath her arm.

What had been a slow moving and lonely divorce, filled with threatening late night phone calls and tears carefully hidden from her children, had then turned into an unexpected two-week sleepover. The basement floor had become a game of slumbering Tetris, the laundry room an industrial operation cheerily handled by more hands than Tori had ever housed previously, the oven a constant source of handcrafted stews and homemade breads.

Without warning the assailant still seated in the Honda recalled where he had encountered the music before: It was the extended theme to a show his father had watched religiously, Law & Order.

The sirens he heard soon after were not from the soundtrack, however, but by then the dancing mob had disappeared, leaving two duct-taped monsters, a memory stick containing Mr. Backseat’s unknowingly recorded blatherings, and a story the police would never believe.

 

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.

FP446 – Hell

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and forty-six.

Flash PulpTonight we present Hell

[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp446.mp3]Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Chrononaut Cinema Reviews!

 

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 find ourselves witness to a silent nightmare.

 

Hell

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

 

Bernard Holtz believed in the concept of Hell, but not in the specific place of flame and damnation that he’d done his best to ignore from the age of five till twelve, when his mother had insisted on blowing his Sunday mornings on unyielding hardwood pews.

As a child he’d pictured a stony, cavernous place, with open pits of fire and pitchfork wielding centaurs, but it had only been later in life that he realized this was more the result of his youthful cartoon viewing habits than his exposure to any minister’s murmurings.

Now, at fifty-six, he knew with certainty that the clergyman had been wrong – that hell was a more personal thing.

The owner of locker 249, on the second floor of Trinity High School, had somehow spilled a large volume of apple juice while their combination lock was still firmly in place. At his initial discovery of the sugary leak Bernard had issued a courteous note for Principal Abrams, who had, in turn, left a scrawled sheet in his mail cubby claiming she would have a word with the homeroom teacher responsible.

Holtz’ second note had received a repeated promise to check in with the responsible parties, and his third had gone unanswered.

So here he was, his mop doing little to combat the smell of fermenting cider that reeked from the chemistry labs, at the north end of the hall, through to Mrs. Mclellan’s postcard-adorned social studies room.

Cutting the lock off would require a fourth note, but he held out hope that staff and students would begin to lodge complaints during the daylight hours, pushing Abrams to okay the work request.

With a snort he asked himself, again, who he was to be answered: Just the night janitor, haunting the halls when those that believed they owned the place were unaware he even existed.

He wasn’t the only ghost though.

It began, as it often did, as he shuffled out of the elevator intended for wheelchair access to the upper classes.

The outside doors did not rattle. The glass had been replaced by thick metal years earlier, and the security system was, due to ever changing district standards, in a perpetual state of being upgraded.

Still, the boy entered, his face burning with fury.

Bernard paused, locking his fingers about the handle of his mop to stop the wheeled bucket’s momentum.

Martin, sixteen and wearing baggy combat fatigue pants beneath a white t-shirt, raised the hands that should have contained his father’s AR-15 and shook them vigorously in the direction of the adjoining hall, beyond Bernard’s line of sight.

FP446 - HellIt didn’t matter, the janitor knew exactly what lay the other way: A darkened stretch of bench seating often used as the rallying point for the school’s teams to gather their equipment and mascot suits for a road game. Bernie also knew it was currently empty.

His arms still trembling from gunfire, Martin approached.

The teen was screaming, but the custodian could hear none of it.

Bernard’s gripped tightened, and the cracked texture of his mop’s ancient wooden handle was enough to remind him of where he was – of who he was.

Beyond the school’s walls the moon crested and the night birds called their lovers. Bernard’s car sat cooling in the same corner of the parking lot it had occupied for a dozen years, and the wind swept weathered cigarette butts across the shadowed pavement.

Martin’s fury blazed, his eyes wide and his mouth trading between a death’s head grin and a bellowing stream of demands and accusations that went unacknowledged.

“Face it, face it,” said Bernie, and his words bounced along the hollow halls.

With a shrug, the boy shouldered his weapon and reached beneath his jacket, retrieving the six inch blade his father had kept in the garage for skinning game.

The mop head landed on the green tiles with a tentacled splat, and Bernard worried away the day’s worth of sneaker dirt, dropped gum, and teenage oils.

Martin continued his back and forth, shouting and swinging and killing.

While he could make some headway on the grime, there was nothing Bernard could do for the boy. Not now.

It had been seven years since the assault. Seven years since he’d loaded his weapon in the cab of his rusted-out pickup, bought with money collected from hucking neighbours’ hay bales; strapped on a half-dozen knives; and plunged through the double doors with the intention of sharing his misery.

No amount of gunfire could make his fellow students understand the pain of his drunken mother’s constant criticism, nor the strange feeling of mourning he held over his never-present father. In truth he had not even fully understood these emotions himself, but he did know he could make their families as broken as his own, and in that moment it had seemed enough.

Watching the phantasm retrace his last steps, Bernard was again left to ask where the others were. Martin had killed nine: five members of the Trinity Badgers waiting for a ride to the district finals, a young couple exiting the library, and the pair of stoners who’d managed to stop the violence, but who’d bled out on the same floor across which Marty’s brains had leaked after the skateboard’s impact.

Bernard hard never seen the others. Wherever they had gone, they were not here – no, this hell contained only himself, his mop, and the boy – and the boy never even noticed him.

Martin collapsed to the floor and again spent his final seconds thrashing, fighting something Bernard would never see.

Was he left to witness these things because Marty was his own son? Bernard knew not – but he did know what hell was.

He trembled, and the night wore on.

 

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.

FP441 – Deliver Me From Evil

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and forty-one.

Flash PulpTonight we present Deliver Me From Evil

[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp441.mp3]Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Melting Potcast!

 

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 there’s a man outside. He’s coming up the walk. Are you ready?

 

Deliver Me From Evil

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

 

FP441 - Deliver Me From Evil

 

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.

FP438 – Tony Dibbs Knows Fear

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and thirty-eight.

Flash PulpTonight we present Tony Dibbs Knows Fear

[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp438.mp3]Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Melting Potcast!

 

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, with perhaps the faintest bit of a smirk and a dash of fanservice, we revisit the worst Actual Psychic Cop on the Capital City police force.

 

Tony Dibbs Knows Fear

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

 

Tony Dibbs, Actual Psychic Cop, was standing in a QwickMart aisle, beside a wall of potato chips, doing mental math.

Was it worth stopping the sixteen-year-old shoplifter currently scooping ring pops into his pockets as the counter jockey shouted lottery numbers into the phone?

He knew by instinct that it was not, but Tony hated to let an opportunity pass unexplored.

With the deft skill that had come from long experience with such intrusions, Dibbs skimmed the boy’s mind as a poker cheat might shuffle a deck with an eye for aces. He found plenty of ring pops, but nothing worth blackmailing the child over.

He could have run the kid in, or at least given him a stern talking to, but, while it may have saved the shop’s owner a few rubles, Tony couldn’t see the advantage in wasted time and paperwork.

Besides, perhaps one day the kid would really screw up, and then they’d have something worth talking about.

Bending low enough that his shabby gray trenchcoat swept the floor, the policeman stooped to retrieve the heftiest plastic sack of M&Ms he could locate on the shelf. Personally he preferred his candies to be made of beef and in the shape of steaks, but Dibbs knew, as only he could, that his commander had a secret weakness for the candy-coated chocolate.

FP438 - Tony Dibbs Knows FearsFinally, approaching the counter, the cop’s mind turned to why this particular fellow had been selected to work the night shift. His thick arms spoke to the well-used weight rack his family had kept in their garage. Those same limbs also displayed a history of cheap tattoos left to fade under a relentless sun.

His name tag read “Jose.”

Dibbs knew the name was a lie. He also knew, without having to dig deep, that the man’s eldest brother had been arrested for murdering twin hatchetmen from an opposing gang, and that the act of violence had been but one in a seemingly endless count of cousins and uncles being stabbed, bludgeoned, or buried in secret.

When a boy, the clerk had fought off an attacker till the man’s features were smeared and limp, but it had been the final straw that had pushed him into seeking a new life on the northern side of the border.

Yet, though the minimum wage hulk had brushed elbows with assault and murder, Dibbs was unconcerned.

Like a bear, he knew the man was more afraid of him than vice versa.

“Listen,” Tony said to the supposed Jose, “I forgot my wallet in the car, so you’re going to cover this for me.”

The big man chuckled at the notion until Dibbs asked, “what’s so funny, Francisco Javier?” – then the laughter stopped.

“Who are you?” asked Francisco, his face now taut.

“All you need to know is that I’m a cop, a psychic cop, in fact,” answered Tony, and he waved his ID at such a speed as to back up his point without allowing the clerk a chance to read his name.

Fear flooded the undocumented worker’s mind – fear followed by rage. Yet Dibbs drank it in like a six pack of Coors, knowing full well which emotion would win.

He threw the M&Ms on the counter and added, “I’ll take ten – no, twenty – picks for tonight’s lottery as well.”

Francisco’s hands were trembling slightly, but his voice was smooth and well controlled. “Fine. Any specific numbers, Mr. Psychic?”

“Nah, doesn’t matter, I’m not paying for it.”

They stood in silence until the printing was done and the exchange made, then, scanning the candy, the counterman asked, “how could a cabrón as sweet as you ever need something so sugary?”

“Oh, it’s not for me, I can’t stand ‘em,” replied Dibbs, “they’re for my commander. The best part is that I get brownie points for thinking of him, while at the same time he gets to suffer with the knowledge that his wife has him on a diet he’d rather we not know about.”

In his time as a policeman Tony had found himself in many situations reeking of panic and desperation, but he himself had never been particularly concerned. He did not fear the thieving teen, nor the tattooed foreigner, nor even the metal-pierced bikers who ran the meth trade on the south side of town: To know them, as he thought only he could, was to master them.

From behind came the sound of a throat clearing, and for perhaps the first time in the entirety of his adult life, Dibbs was surprised by another human being.

Turning on a startled heel, the Actual Psychic Cop found himself face to face with what should have been a non-threat: A man of medium height and slight build, his hair a mess, and his black hoodie rumpled.

The stranger took a long draw from the Slurpee in his hand.

No matter how hard Tony strained, there was nothing to be heard of the newcomer’s thoughts, and that’s when the man who had always known everything discovered one fact he was unaware of: This blankness, this void of knowledge where he’d always found an open book, terrified him.

“Who are you?” asked Dibbs, and the question felt foreign on his lips.

“Did you hear that?” announced the stranger, his voice raised, “this fella is a policeman.”

He spoke not to the others at the counter, but the teen who was now quickly emptying his pockets back into a box of Ring Pops.

Satisfied, the hoodie-wearer returned to the business at hand.

“Capital City PD’s supposed psychic, huh?” he asked, “A few of Dad’s chums have mentioned your ‘reputation,’ though it sounds like you’re making enough on the side that you should be able to pay for your own goods, Mr. Dibbs. I’d hate to have to pass on this video I’ve been recording to your superiors. Especially after that crack about the chocolate.”

Seconds later, empty handed, Tony was back in his car. It would not be his last encounter with Mulligan Smith, though few of their future run-ins would end so peacefully.

 

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.

FP437 – Hurdles

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and thirty-seven.

Flash PulpTonight we present Hurdles

[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp437.mp3]Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Gatecast!

 

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, as the change of seasons brings the classic tales to mind, we hear of the current and future inhabitants of a house with a tragic past.

 

Hurdles

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

 

Rosalee Holt had been carrying the weight of her burden for three months, and if she didn’t offload it soon she’d be an endless joke around the office – as if she wasn’t already.

Giving her make up a final check in her BMW’s rear-view mirror, she sighed and pushed wide the car door.

Her client awaited her on the curb.

“Hi Seth,” she said, “ready to see your dream home?”

Seth Prince tugged at the rolled sleeve of his button-down and replied, “oh, I’ve been ready to see it for a long time, it’s paying for it that I’ve been worried about.”

They turned towards the house as they spoke. The third floor was dominated by a parapet, the middle by a series of round windows, and the ground floor a massive, peeling, white porch.

“I hope you convinced the seller to knock off a few bucks to cover re-painting,” said Seth.

“If this place was any cheaper they’d be paying you to take it,” replied Rosalee. She was all too aware that the dry chuckle that followed rang hollow, but, to cover her concern, she adjusted her blazer and stepped onto the cobblestone driveway.

“Originally built in 1920, this is a carry over in the Victorian style…” she began, and Prince was left to chase her words through the entrance.

FP437 - HurdlesThe tour about the lower floor – parlour, front hall, kitchen, dining room, and an ornate, if small, bathroom – went smoothly. It always did.

As they mounted the stairs, Prince filled the air with small talk regarding his mother.

“She hates clutter. Has ever since the accident. I was only fourteen at the time, but after Dad died, and she was injured, she refused to have anyone over anymore. I guess I get a special pass because I’m her son, but she’s the sort who’d rather invite you out for dinner, and pay the bill, than have you come over and seeing smudges on the plates or a cobweb in the corn-”

Upon the topmost step sat a child, of perhaps five, wearing only a sagging pair of jockey shorts. Though his edges seemed indistinct, and it was hard to focus clearly upon his details, it was obvious that his lungs hitched as he sobbed, and his ribs rippled with his angst.

Yet his wailing made no sound.

Standing but an arm’s length away when the child had come into view, the pair turned to each other. Rosalee’s eyes were wide, though Seth noted she seemed more concerned about his reaction than the gaunt newcomer. He shrugged.

The child seemed to find much sport in this, as his mouth stretched into a smile full of broken teeth as he sprang to his feet. He clapped, and again his display was without noise – then he scurried away at top speed, appearing to giggle as he disappeared through the nearest of the hall’s doorways.

There were five such entrances breaking up the passage’s floral wallpaper, and at the far end, opposite the landing, a second set of stairs led higher still.

Holt pushed forward.

“This is a library, I’m not sure how much use it is to your mother though,” she said, her arm giving a grand sweep. She’d intended to add a flourish in revealing the impressive collection of antique shelving and the sturdy mahogany desk that dominated the center of the chamber, but instead she was left feeling as if a magician’s apprentice demonstrating that the boy had disappeared.

“Actually,” replied Prince, “Mom loves reading and has quite a collection. She has been filling rickety shelves for years, in fact, which is why I was excited to see these photos in the online listing.”

Rosalee attempted to pull on a smile at the response, but instead settled for taking her own turn at shrugging.

They moved on.

“This could be a TV room, though you’d need to have service installed. All of the moldings are original to the house’s construction and -”

A parade trailed from the empty room across the hall. Seven forms, no taller than the boy who’d been upon the stairs, came into view, their faces indistinct but for their flashing jaws. In utter silence they formed a circle about their visitors, and their mouths began to work at a soundless tune.

The ring of held hands began to shift left to right, and the scene played out for a full minute – then the children collapsed in a heap, their mouths bobbing with hushed laughter.

Closing her eyes, and taking in a deep breath, Rosalee stepped over the mute cacklers and continued the tour.

The third floor was dominated by the parapet and a space that was really nothing more than an attic converted into a bedroom at some distant point in the house’s apparently horrific past.

A single window opened onto the steepled space, and the dying light of the day stretched across the dust that had settled on the slat floor.

Though the tour had achieved its final room, Holt asked that her companion wait. Within moments a new sort of procession formed. Though their eyes and mouths held no solid form, Seth recognized the dancing children as they approached, each shuffling through the door and collapsing upon their knees and bowed backs as they passed into the low-ceilinged chamber.

Finally, as their death throes played out about her feet, the real estate woman finished her pitch.

Her eyes were heavy as she gazed upon the fallen forms.

“I have tried to sell this house a dozen times. Most don’t believe what they’re seeing, but none have ever given me a callback or even asked to return to record this place’s shamblings. I did try to get a TV crew in here once, but the kids – I think they have some sort of understanding of what’s going on. They’ve never hurt anyone, they’ve never made a sound – just as I told you – but… well, you’ve seen it now. You understand where I’m coming from.”

“Yeah, but do you – do you know where THEY come from?” asked Prince.

“This used to be an orphanage, way back in the unregulated glory days. The woman who ran it took off and told the kids she’d be back in three days – told them to feed themselves from the pantry and not let any police see them or they’d be broken up and taken to the clink.

“At least, that’s what I read. The news reports from the time figure they made the mistake of mixing some potent rat poison into a stew of leather shoes and half-rotten carrot tops they were trying to make.”

Some of the dead upon the planks began to tremble, but it was difficult for either of the living to discern if they were again playing out their dying moments, or if the mention of their sad fate had set them to weeping.

“Well,” answered Seth, “my Mom, who would not believe you about these ghosts if you told her thrice, raised me as a single mother. She was there every night at the kitchen table, doing her damndest to help me – be it with my grade five geometry homework or with my bar exam last year.

“The wreck may have blinded her, but, now that her efforts – our efforts – are starting to show results, at least it means I’ll be able to pay her back a little.”

 

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.

FP433 – The Sad Death of Lord Northrop Saggyface

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and thirty-three.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Sad Death of Lord Northrop Saggyface

[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp433.mp3]Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Human Echoes 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 tell a tale of friendship and terror, in the classic style.

 

The Sad Death of Lord Northrop Saggyface

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

 

The first time Titus Bitok noticed something was amiss, he was conducting a sweeping battle across his room’s rug and into the cliff faces of his rumpled bed. The empire’s forces had been hiding beneath the comforter all along, and the small band of rebels in their shag-floored fortress had little hope of surviving unless Johnny Strongarm could use his bit of twine to repel down the sheets and warn his friends.

That’s when Lord Northrop Saggyface entered the scene. The dog, taller than the boy despite the fact that both were the same age of five, brought a quick end to the wall of hard-backed novels that formed the resistance force’s compound’s western defenses, then the beast was into the crawlspace and out of sight.

Seconds later Ayah Bitok, Titus’ mother, burst through the door. Her hair was free of the scarf she’d left the house in, and her mouth had taken up the tight line that usually meant Dad had said something mean that she wanted to pretend hadn’t happened.

She asked, “are you okay?”

In truth he was a little annoyed at having to repair his base, but the boy commander shrugged it off. He owed Lord Saggyface a few favours, and he could see no gain in getting the mutt in trouble.

“Yep,” he replied.

He did not notice that she was sweating as she departed – nor that she took the unusual step of closing the door behind her.

The invasion resumed.

* * *

That Saturday night, Titus slipped his babysitter’s dozing gaze and crept into his bedroom.

Generally the race to see if she’d fall asleep before thinking to put him to bed resulted in his treating himself to a movie starring aliens, people with laser cannons, or car chases – all three if he was especially lucky – but this evening he’d set himself a special goal.

FP433 - The Sad Death of Lord Northrop SaggyfaceThough his mother had done away with most of the traces of his father about the house, she’d set aside a stack of ancient horror comics, noting that they were actually intended to be the child’s by way of grandfather.

“A much better man, and it is only too bad you did not have the chance to meet him before his passing. He was always eager to hold you,” she’d said.

Still, though she’d fanned the ghoulish covers of his inheritance, she’d set his estate high on her closet’s shelf, deeming them too terrifying for a youth his age.

This had been no obstacle at all once Cynthia had arrived. Dragging her to the park, to the store, to the ducks, and then home again, he knew he’d exhaust the chain-smoking woman who lived in the other half of their duplex.

He’d been patient through a half-dozen dragging snores, then, with a cat’s stealth, he’d shifted a chair and retrieved his prizes.

It was just after midnight of that evening that Lord Saggyface stepped from the cubby and stood, the bulk of his broad gray fluff projecting into the room, while his head joined Titus beneath the glow-lit sheet that hid the undertaking from any who might stumble through the door.

Titus spent some fifteen minutes softly reading aloud to the dog’s bobbing tongue, then a noise the reading boy could not make out drew Northrop’s attention to the window.

With childhood reflexes, the light was extinguished and the the exterior darkness flooded the room. Saggyface’s gentle panting became the only sound, then came the grind of a shifting pane, and a grunt from beyond.

The beast opened his throat and took to roaring, and Titus began to shout for him to be quiet while attempting to collect his stolen goods.

Cynthia, roused from her nap, burst through the entry with ragged lungs, inundating the room with light and kicking off a week’s grounding.

* * *

Titus could not help but notice the tension creeping into the quiet moments of the next seven days. When Cynthia had come around for Sunday tea, the boredom of the afternoon had been broken up by the first fight the boy had ever witnessed between the woman and his mother.

They did not speak throughout the march of days, and more than once Titus caught Ayah closing the blinds against the sound of their neighbour coughing and lighting another cigarette out on the sidewalk.

A mere fifteen minutes after his Thursday night bedtime, the screen door swung against the outer wall, and the house fell silent. Titus, taut with the boredom of his punishment and the pacing of his mother, had been already been hard-pressed to fall asleep, but now, with the child’s increasing surety that he was alone in his home, his feet began to wiggle.

He wandered into the bathroom, Lord Saggyface shuffling along behind him, and no voice raised an objection against the fact that he was out of bed.

He wandered into the kitchen, his mouth half-open and ready to deliver his excuse of needing a glass of water, but again no objections came.

Through the glass patio door that looked onto over the yellow grass of their back lawn, Titus noticed movement in the shadows.

It was his mother, and she was hoisting a shovel.

His curiousity suddenly outweighing his caution, Titus slid back the exit.

Stepping onto the turf with barefeet, he approached the short trench that had been dug alongside the rear fence.

“Mum?” he asked.

Ayah turned, clearly startled, and the boy wondered briefly if her raised brows might avalanche into anger over his violation of curfew.

Instead she seemed to take his measure, then sighed.

“My Love,” she said, “did you hear the dog bark the night Cynthia was over?”

She dropped a load of muck on her growing pile as she spoke.

“Yes,” replied Titus. He hated to rat out his friend, but he also knew he wasn’t the only witness.

The digging stopped.

“You heard Saggyface?”

“Yes, Mum, he was crazy over whatever was at the window. He was jumping and barking, that’s why I was busted with my – uh – those comics.”

Somewhere on the street a car door slammed. Neither noticed.

“You’re saying you saw Lord Northrop?”

“Yeah, I think he liked the smell of the old pages so he was sort of reading with me.”

“Did – did Cynthia mention any of this to you? Ask you to say it?”

“What? No, I just – I just heard the dog barking? I mean, it’s like the only thing he’s good at anyhow, what’s the surprise?”

A third voice joined the conversation then, and not a welcome one.

It’s tone was thick and slurred.

“Oh, I heard the barking Ayah, it’s why I left. Not tonight though, not tonight. I’m surprised you were so quick to get another mutt – figured you as more sentimental, but then, look how quickly you forgot me, eh?”

“Dad?” asked Titus, but he did not mean it as a question of identity – he knew perfectly well who the man was – he meant it more as an inquiry into why his father was holding a broad-hilted knife.

“I was trying to do you a favour by not going to the police, you heartless butcher,” said Ayah

It was the most directly the boy had ever heard his mother speak against the man.

Titus, however, had long grown sick of the old man’s habits.

“Dad,” he said, “everytime you come around, someone cries. I cry, mom cries – I’ve even seen the lady next door cry over some of the things you’ve said and done.

“I can’t let you do it anymore. Go away, or I’ll make YOU cry.”

Though it was an effort to keep his knees from knocking, Titus worked hard to take on his best Johnny Strongarm stance. He needed Dad to believe, because he really wasn’t sure how he could make good on this threat otherwise.

His father raised his knife and smiled.

“No more tears – come here, boy,” he said.

That’s when Lord Northrop Saggyface gave his final charge. He held no form on this occasion, his assault consisted of only howls and barks long reserved for the man who’d too often silenced him with a boot, but it was enough.

It was a small back yard – barely ten feet between Cynthia’s privacy fence and that belonging to the Mainas next door – and the shovel’s long handle made it easy to close the distance when their assailant turned to try and catch sight of the beast.

Ayah did not stop swinging until Titus had grabbed the dropped knife and tossed it clear of the melee.

An hour later, with all safe, it would be up to the police to find it where it fell: Atop Lord Northrop Saggyface’s already decaying corpse.

 

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.