Category: The Murder Plague

FP259 – The Murder Plague: Capital City, Part 1 of 1

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and fifty-nine.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Murder Plague: Capital City, Part 1 of 1

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Nutty Bites 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, Harm Carter loses himself in a city besieged by the paranoia inducing effects of The Murder Plague.

 

The Murder Plague: Capital City, Part 1 of 1

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

 

The Murder PlaguePanic can carry your feet incredible distances, and I was deeply lost in a nameless suburb before my mine ran dry.

My backstreet marathon hadn’t given me any better idea of where I might be, but it did provide a general impression of how the contagion had rippled through the city.

It was a silent thing, back in Mass Acres. Everyone simply locked their doors and went quietly mad – not so, in Capital City, as was made evident by the junk mail, and lawn ornament wreckage, which littered the sidewalks.

For example, when my adrenaline subsided, and my paranoia retreated to a general low-level terror, I noted a consistent bit of hooliganism.

You see, the neighbourhood I was touring had unmistakably been constructed by the same company throughout – if the mirrored two-story homes hadn’t made it clear, the consistent theming along the curbside would have. Every corner was adorned with an ornate faux-Victorian lamp, and every driveway had an identical wrought-iron-styled plastic mailbox at its end. It would have been a model community, if trash-bag mountains hadn’t gathered along the grassy edges, only to be ripped into, at a later date, by stray mutts.

I didn’t think much of the first of the exploded mailboxes. After a half-hour of additional wandering, though, I began to mark an irregular pattern. The original was a solitary act of vandalism on its block, but, as I progressed, I spotted a twin, then triplets.

Now, it’s the nature of the illness to notice everything. It’s also a symptom that everything seems to be sneaking up on you with a knife behind its back, but, still, you become unusually observant.

“Hoodlums,” I thought, but, as the density of the incidents increased, and their boldness obviously grew, I couldn’t ignore the worried voice which whispered constantly in my ear.

Tire tracks had peeled away from many of the decapitated pillars, and I was convinced that those responsible were thugs; true monsters, roaming the area looking for trouble to cause, and innocently-insane pedestrians to harass.

Worse, while some doors swung wide and empty, and no yard remained manicured, I felt uncomfortably certain of the occasional curtain-twitch, but the back-to-back-to-back fences left me with little place to hide. To my embattled brain, it was walk or die.

The sporadic executions grew thicker. Eventually, I came to a series of homes, painted in soft earth tones, that had their greeney torn up by marauding tires, and every one of their poles beheaded.

Despite the evidence of rain and weather upon the scattered letters and fliers, I was sure the brutes were close – and I wasn’t wrong.

I found them around the next turn.

It’s hard to say what the motivation was – perhaps the nutter had thought the postman was attempting to deliver anthrax – but, whatever the case, the plague had driven one of the local homeowners to rig a handgun within their mailbox, and they’d done a solid job of it.

There was a behemoth of a white convertible cadillac beside the trap, which had idled till its tank emptied. The backseat was likely brimming with plastic Pepsi bottles at the beginning of the run, but the pair of corpses had been industrious, and, by the time I encountered them, there were only a few scattered on the rear floor-mats. The other components for their simple explosives had been left sitting on the dash.

The driver-side door was swept wide, and its occupant lying on the pavement, not twenty feet away. His eyes were blank, and his cheeks were hollow with advancing decay. He wore a black hooded sweatshirt, but I couldn’t make out the skateboard company’s logo through the blood. His shoulder had caught the bullet, giving him a bit of a chance to crawl away, but his partner, slumped against the windshield, wasn’t so lucky. His right eye had been vaporized and no small amount of his brain matter hung from the vehicle’s fuzzy dice.

Both looked to be about twelve.

They were joyriders, and nothing more, likely abandoned by crazed, or dead, parents. It becomes difficult, upon reflection, to begrudge anyone even the most miscreant joys, when considered against the backdrop of Hitchcock’s.

“Walk or die”, said my sick mind – so I did.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

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

FP240 – The Murder Plague: Responsibility, Part 3 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and forty.

Flash PulpTonight we present, The Murder Plague: Responsibility, Part 3 of 3.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Lifestyle Jazz.

 

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, Harm Carter finds himself caught between a crazed sheriff and an armoured combat vehicle.

 

The Murder Plague: Responsibility, Part 3 of 3

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

 

The Murder PlagueMr. Baldy’s first instinct seemed to be to follow the sheriff into the apartment building, but, in a rare of fit of reason, he instead turned to me and asked what I thought we should do.

As he spoke, the girl in his arms began to squirm.

While I considered my response, the armoured vehicle turned onto the roundabout fronting the tower. As it slowed, its roaming weapon ceased its circling patrols and focused its accusing finger directly at us.

I was quite familiar with the model of transport, as my final army posting had been warming the interior bench of just such a buggy. I knew it required at least one driver and one gunner to be operating as it was, and a homicidal crew wouldn’t last long in so tight a space.

It was oddly comforting, in a way, but my thoughts had taken an odd path: I was increasingly convinced that I was at risk of never being able to find my way back to Becky – or worse, that these men would harm her, if they could.

Despite my concerns, I said, “they aren’t infected.”

We waited until they’d rumbled to a halt in the guest parking space that must have once been regularly occupied by pizza delivery cars. Once stopped, the beetle’s recessed loud speaker whined briefly, and a voice that could be no older than twenty-one asked, “is this the entirety of your group?”

I wondered briefly if he was reading from the same sort of suggestion card that we used to be issued; the kind filled with helpful phrases for dealing with exotic locals, although I suspected his was something closer to a flowchart for dealing with the murderously insane.

Baldy replied, “there’s another guy, but he took off when you came around the corner.”

He still hadn’t learned the value of important information, so I added, “-and he’s crazy.”

To which the youth behind the armour replied, “yeah, that’ll happen.”

Before he could find the next step on his chart, Weaver made his re-appearance, some five floors up. Actually, he may have been on the balcony a while; it was really only his scream of, “gimme back my mother, you thieving bastards,” that drew our attention.

Despite his statement, he wasn’t in much mood to bargain, as he made clear by tossing two flame-topped bottles onto our visitors’ chariot. Although the impact of the Molotov cocktails threw glass and liquid flame in every direction, we’d kept our distance from the imposing transport, and it saved us from injury.

Unsurprisingly, however, the driver wasn’t terribly impressed with the sheriff’s guerrilla recycling effort, and the vehicle’s engine roared with his displeasure. He had little sympathy for the building’s once well-maintained decorative flower bed as he pulled away from the pavement and found the quickest route back to the road.

As they ran, the thing’s cannon tracked upwards, but the violence I anticipated never arrived. They simply drove off, with a flaming roof.

For a moment silence descended, then the toddler returned to weeping. Baldy looked as if he were ready to join her.

We couldn’t see Weaver, as we’d sheltered under the lip of the lobby canopy, but it was difficult to forget that he was up there.

It must have been the girl that drew his attention, as he suggested we, “ought to come out where he could see us.”

To move forward, into the open, seemed a sure way of relieving ourselves of the burdens of the world, but I didn’t much like the idea of retreating into the potential house of horrors that the apartment building represented.

The longer we took in thinking about it, the more I became sure the sheriff had retreated from the balcony, and would be arriving behind us shortly.

I panicked briefly, feeling as if I were on a rapidly deflating life raft, and then the clatter returned.

It wasn’t like the original, cautious, approach – watching the abrupt turns, I cringed at the brutality their seat belts must have been absorbing. They paused on the street, swung backwards, and sent their tail barreling in our direction.

Until the last second, I wasn’t sure if they would stop short of running us down. As it was, we were forced to step back as the rear hatch split wide.

The owner of the young voice reached out with waving hands, while shouting, “get in, get in,” from behind his full-body hazardous materials combat-suit.

I’d like to say that, in a moment of clarity, I pushed Baldy and the child inside, then ran, because I thought I was a danger to them. It’s not true, though.

I did it because I was convinced the stranger in the black suit would permanently take me away from Becky – I did it because the sickness had taken hold.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

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

FP239 – The Murder Plague: Responsibility, Part 2 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and thirty-nine.

Flash PulpTonight we present, The Murder Plague: Responsibility, Part 2 of 3.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Pendragon Variety.

 

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, Harm Carter finds himself the hostage of a scheming lawman.

 

The Murder Plague: Responsibility, Part 2 of 3

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

 

The Murder Plague“You, sir, have the intelligence of a lobotomized chimp with a penchant for model glue,” I informed Mr Baldy.

I knew it would have made little difference if he hadn’t attempted to flee our crashed vehicle, but I was losing patience.

“Weaver hasn’t shot us yet,” he replied.

Although he his argument was somewhat valid, we would find out why we’d been spared soon enough.

With a wiggle of his department-issued shotgun, Sheriff Weaver said, “you will stay close together, and you will stay directly in front of me. I’m very familiar with the route: The only danger is in disobeying orders.”

I knew the statement to be as solid as a dead man’s handshake, but I kept my silence. It takes a madman to think he has any sort of existence, within the cloud of the murder plague, under control.

Instead I asked after the child. A quick inspection of her arm had convinced me that it was, at the least, badly sprained. While there was no bone protruding, I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn it was broken.

She did her best to remain calm and quiet, but, even when she wasn’t wailing, there was moisture in her eyes, and her chin suffered bouts of trembling.

“There are appropriate medical supplies at the apartment,” was Weaver’s reply.

At that point I spun on my heel and took in the trees and open fields that surrounded us.

As was so often the case in my days of uniform modeling for Uncle Sam, there was nothing for it but to start marching.

Baldy and I carried the toddler, so that we might make a decent pace. It was the division of labour which brought on problems.

My time toting the girl was largely spent wandering through memories of Becky at the same age. On a warm August morning, when she was four, Rebbecca came to show me a “pretty bug” she’d found while roaming the backyard. The bee had landed on her palm, and, as I moved to shoo it away, Becky defensively closed her hand. She’d spent the rest of the day forcing me to search cupboards, closets, and couch cushions, for any lurking, stinging beasts.

It was one of the few occasions in her life that she asked me for help.

As Baldy undertook his turn, my time was largely spent listening to his complaining. I believe he was attempting to bargain with the crazed sheriff, but it sounded like a litany of reasons he was living in an unjust universe.

My bit finger throbbed, my legs ached, and my back was sore: I finally interrupted my weasel-y companion’s diatribe.

“If this were a fair world, I wouldn’t find myself on a death march with the fellow who couldn’t be bothered to trim his hedges for the nearly-a-decade that he was my neighbour.”

Baldy’s rodent jaw snapped shut, but only briefly.

“Who the hell are you to talk about caretaking?” he replied, “I couldn’t help but notice how piss-poor a job you did of raising your daughter after your wife died. They had to hire an extra recycling guy just to haul off your wine bottles, and you’re supposed to be a god damn war hero. Screw you and your well-groomed yard, where’s your lawn, or your daughter, now?”

“Where ever she is, I raised her to take care of herself, and I’m sure she’s above ground – can you say the same?”

His cheeks reddened, and I knew I was right in my long-held guess that he’d been forced to dig shallow graves for his family.

It was a rough-tongued bit of work, but I wasn’t feeling entirely myself.

Weaver interrupted our exchange.

“All walk, no talk,” he said.

The road continued, and the sky darkened. The passing houses became suburbs, and the suburbs eventually sprouted residential towers. None of the streets were lit, and many of the glass-fronted plaza stores had been opened to the world with bricks, and yet we saw no one living.

We did skirt several abandoned crime scenes – a pair of nyloned legs protruded from the bed of a red pick up truck, a herculean man had been pinned to a beige bungalow with a fireplace poker, and a teen rotted in the parking lot of the McDonald’s from which she’d stumbled after apparently being poisoned. At least, that’s my guess, as the weather had done little to wash away the slug-trail of vomit behind her.

As dawn broke, we were firmly within the borders of Capital City.

“We must be close to the blockade?” I asked.

I should mention that, before exiting the truck, I’d considered attempting to hide our recently acquired GPS in a satchel, but, in the end, I wasn’t willing to risk Weaver confiscating our escape route. I’d stashed it beneath my seat.

Still, I’d spent plenty of driving hours staring at the blinking box, and I was sure of my estimate.

“The river is the quarantine line,” replied the lawman.

I didn’t yet recognize the back alleys and side-streets through which he lead us, and, I admit, for a moment I thought that perhaps Weaver really was headed out of the catastrophe.

My hopes were done in when we stopped at the gaping doors of a stout apartment building’s lobby. The balconies above had wept rust onto the cement walls, and wilted plants stood before many sliding entrances.

I wondered how many corpses were decaying within, and how many units might be rigged with bullets or bombs. I had no interest in entering, though I felt increasingly sure that was our captor’s aim.

Baldy had been carrying our bundle, and I turned to take her. If we were going in, it would better her odds.

That’s when I heard it.

Have you ever witnessed an armoured vehicle in action?

It’s not like on the big screen, where a tank can burst through a wall with little warning. They’ve come a long way since my days of tin-can touring, but there’s a grinding approach to that much metal that they’ll never make silent.

The gray people-carrier didn’t seem to care for concealment, anyhow, as it pulled into view. Even three blocks down, I could see the rotating sweeps of its roof-mounted peashooter.

“I’m a god damn genius,” said Weaver. “I knew those sumbitches had drones. They got out here P.D.Q., though, didn’t they.”

As the steel beetle halved the distance between us, the sheriff sprinted into the depths of the lobby.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

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

FP238 – The Murder Plague: Responsibility, Part 1 of 3

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

Flash PulpTonight we present, The Murder Plague: Responsibility, Part 1 of 3.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Pendragon Variety.

 

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, even as he nears the edge of the homicidal madness that surrounds him, Harm Carter’s travels come to a sudden stop.

 

The Murder Plague: Responsibility, Part 1 of 3

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

 

The Murder PlagueHaving a toddler in the cab of the truck considerably lightened our moods – although, I will admit, it may have also been the fact that her lack of desire to murder us was proof that there was an antidote for the sickness.

I made good time behind the wheel, and was again thankful for such an orderly catastrophe. If there were eyes staring out from the occasional clumps of housing, they were content enough in their paranoia to let us pass, and we saw no other moving vehicles.

The GPS was guesstimating that we were two hours from the military blockade when our little companion broke her silence.

“Orange,” she said.

I was surprised at such a clear voice coming from such a grimy face.

“What?” asked Baldy.

“Orange,” repeated the girl.

In my daughter’s youth, Kate and I would make the long trip to the cabin in two stints. We’d swap at the halfway point, and each take a swing at keeping Rebecca happy. Six hours can be an eternity to a child, but she couldn’t be bothered with movies, and she didn’t care to hear a story, or cuddle her faithful sidekick, Baron Koala.

All Becky wanted to do is play I Spy.

I took a quick inventory, and pointed out that there was a brightly coloured plastic fob, emblazoned with the name of a trucking company, on our scavenged keys.

She nodded, and eyed me expectantly.

Instead of searching for a suitably shaded object, I asked her what her name was, but there was no chance to answer before the truck lurched.

Now, the only thing my own father ever did quickly in a car was brake. If I was unfortunate enough to be in the passenger seat at the time, he would always try to ease my whiplash by putting a hand out in front of my chest: Never actually touching me, but almost there just in case the belt should somehow suddenly cease to exist – as if his thirty miles an hour of momentum might pitch me through the window.

When we hit the caltrops, I found myself doing the same thing to our young passenger.

It did little good when the tires on the driver’s side went gummy, and the rig began to slide.

A telephone pole halted our forward motion, abruptly.

I don’t know that I became unconscious, but there are certainly a few seconds I can’t account for. Eventually I noticed that Mr. Baldy was shouting something, and hammering at his door in an attempt to escape. It was only locked, but he was too stunned to realize.

The girl’s survival was a bit miraculous, but I could tell that her right arm was in no condition to be used by the way she was holding it, and the tears on her cheeks.

As I unbuckled, Baldy finally found the proper button, and his exit swung wide.

It was then that I began to wonder if he was attempting to get us killed.

I lost sight of my acquaintance as he stepped away, but I could clearly hear the response he received. A stranger said, “I am Sheriff Weaver. You will immediately vacate the vehicle and lie down on the ground with your limbs spread.”

The instructions were followed by a flop, which I suspected was Baldy’s face approaching the pavement at an unpleasant speed.

“There’s an injured child in here,” I said through my cracked window.

An official sounding shotgun ratcheted, and Weaver’s drawl replied, “the kid can stay standing up after you’re out.”

My legs were kicked from under me as I descended from the sideboard, but the tyke was left alone to stand and weep.

Frankly, despite my rat-faced ally’s complaints of mistreatment, and the sobs of the little one, it was somewhat reassuring that we weren’t executed by the sheriff after he’d determined there weren’t any armed menaces within our former transport.

As he completed his inspection, he let us retake our feet, and Baldy lifted the wailing preschooler.

I recall wondering if he was using her as a shield.

Once we were face-to-face, as opposed to face-to-boot, Weaver seized the opportunity to clarify the situation.

“We’ll be walking together for a while, so you should be aware that I am here to help. Be warned, however, that if you do not allow me to assist you, I will be forced to shoot you.”

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

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

FP234 – The Murder Plague: Run Around, Part 1 of 1

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

Flash PulpTonight we present, The Murder Plague: Run Around, Part 1 of 1.

[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp234.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Geek Radio Daily.

 

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, Harm Carter enjoys a brief respite from being hounded by the diseased and paranoid, before again being presented with unwanted decisions.

 

The Murder Plague: Run Around, Part 1 of 1

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

 

The Murder PlagueWell before dusk, and on a stretch of highway sided by nothing more aggressive than withered soy plants, I brought the truck to a halt. After Linwood’s ranting demise, it was tough not to feel as if an infected paranoid might leap up from the muck, and, convinced we were at hand to steal his coveted dirt, come charging on with an assault rifle, or a sword, or even an ill-intentioned dull razor.

I needed the break badly, though – a break, and a bit of distance from Mr. Baldy’s increasingly repugnant mouth-breathing.

At that point, we’d discussed our recently discovered antitoxin into a dead-end. Was it a cure, or an unsprung trap left behind by a feverish maniac? If we chose the path of hope, when was it best used as a vaccine or an antidote? Which of us was most deserving of the remedy?

My memory of Doc Henley’s gurgling death did little to bolster my confidence in the hand-labeled vial.

So we stood in silence, and picked at our cans of chunky beef stew with our fingers. Despite being chilly, the fact that we were still alive made the meal quite delicious.

It was a disappointment when we were interrupted.

Our ears had been tweaked to any engine noises that might be approaching, or even to footsteps, but the kid’s walk was only a rustle in the wind.

She came over the side of the ditch with her teeth bared and her arms out, like a zombie in a homemade horror movie, but she hadn’t planned it terribly well, and we froze a moment, watching her stubby legs pumping.

I could have ended it immediately, but even under those hard circumstances, I couldn’t kick a four-year-old.

The worst of it was her outfit. She was overdressed for the weather. Her red parka hood was zipped tight about her face, so that only her gnashing buck teeth were visible, and she had to cock her head slightly to be able see what was directly in front of her. Her snow pants were a matching shade, and it was really her pink boots which gave away her gender.

I was back in the cab first, and I spent a good ten seconds shouting at my weasel-faced companion before he decided to join me. It was too late, though. As Baldy regained his seat, the girl climbed onto the side-board.

Knowing she had too much torso to slam a door on, I stepped out of my own, and we began a Benny Hill chase scene. I hit the pavement, followed close behind by my scrambling associate, and then our toddling assailant.

Her determination was greater than her coordination, and I suspect her well-padded coat saved her a few broken bones during her tumble from the tall vehicle.

I couldn’t help but smile to see her pop up with unabated vim – but then, I’d also gained some distance by that point.

There’s a certain childish joy in escaping a threat you know is a minimal hazard. We sprinted as if children bolting from the yard of an old man whose window we’d just smashed with a baseball.

We shouldn’t have laughed, I suppose, given her very serious homicidal intent, but it was too much, too soon, and the swish-swish-swish of her baggy leggings put me in mind of grade school mischief.

It was when we realized that she wasn’t going to tire that I stopped chuckling.

I’d lead the chase in a circle, with the intention of returning to the safety of the truck, but, with a quarter of the distance left, my bare-pated acquaintance was huffing raggedly, and complaining about a cramp.

The tiny predator pulled back her hood, revealing clumps of unwashed straw-blond hair, and a pair of freckled cheeks. Her jaw clenched rhythmically with every step, and my fatherly instincts briefly had me concerned she’d bite off her own tongue in her frenzy.

With Baldy losing ground rapidly, I took stock of the situation. The only item at hand was my half-full tin of stew, but it was hefty enough.

My throw put a red line across the girl’s forehead.

The last of the fun was gone from it – once safe inside our rolling shelter, the risk was no longer immediate, and we were again forced into having to make decisions.

“The antitoxin?” I asked. I was talking to myself, but, between his exhalations, I received an unwanted response from my fellow escapee.

“Are you willing to gamble on killing that baby? What happens if we get Hitchcock’s in the process? We’d be out of drugs, and out of luck. The GPS says we’re a day’s ride from the blockade. We’ll power on down the road, and send the military to help.”

My uncertainty must have shown in my face, because he added, “If they can’t do it, we’ll get a hold of some medical supplies, and come back ourselves – if there even is such a thing as a cure.”

I listened to the feral thudding at the passenger-side door, and considered how I might feel about pinning a homicidally fearful toddler while attempting to inject it with something that might bring death.

There were no certainties in those times, only probabilities.

She was too busy making a racket to notice my approach, and the needle was in her before she realized.

Ten minutes later, as I was wrapping her in blankets, my patient was weeping, but docile. I exited a final time, to retrieve the forgotten remainder of my dinner, and offered it over. She held it close, though she refused to eat.

As we pulled away, I decided against ruining my triumph by mentioning that I’d been bit.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

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

FP218 – The Murder Plague: Positioning, Part 2 of 2

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and eighteen.

Flash PulpTonight we present, The Murder Plague: Positioning, Part 2 of 2.
(Part 1Part 2)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp218.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Jimmy and the Black Wind.

 

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, Harm Carter encounters yet another surprise while attempting to remain alive amongst the homicidal paranoiacs of the Murder Plague.

 

The Murder Plague: Positioning, Part 2 of 2

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

 

The Murder PlagueLinwood’s claim that he was from some safe beyond nearly brought tears to my eyes, but there’s a voice that lurks at the rear of your skull after you’ve spent any time surviving the deadly overtures of a countryside full of lunatics – a sharp little bugger of a thing that’s eager to kick over your daydreams and pierce your hopes.

Frankly, that grating voice was often the only thing that kept me alive.

Mr. Baldy’s unilateral decision to stop and exchange hellos had also put me in a bad mood, which is probably why I reacted so poorly.

“From the far side of the quarantine? What luck, this truck doubles as a spacecraft,” I said, “why don’t you hop in, we’ll swing by your mother’s, and then take off. The lot of us should be sipping Mai Tais on the red planet before Martian dusk.”

The vehicle-less newcomer didn’t appreciate my suggestion, so he pointed his follow up directly at Baldy.

“We’re near my mom’s place. You might not believe I’m from over the wall, I can understand that, but…” He trailed off, and looked around us as if he feared someone might be sauntering over to listen. “You’re sure you’re not Feds, right?”

My companion nodded in response, and the nervous hitchhiker dug into the messenger bag that hung at his side.

“They’ve got you guys in the dark. No long distance, and very limited cell interaction. They are telling everyone that they’re doing their best to keep things working inside as well as possible, but its pretty obvious they don’t want anyone to get a phone call from their sister while she’s being stabbed – you know, stops folks from trying a rescue.” He came out with a flat touch screen whose backing seemed to have been duct-taped together. “I mortgaged my house to pay for this thing. It operates on military satellites, so it still functions properly. Like I said, we’re close to where I need to be. Come along, and then we’ll all leave together, you, me, and Ma. The GPS will get us back to the blockade in no time.”

“How far does it say you’ve got to go?” asked Baldy.

“Twenty-five miles.”

Without discussion, my driver opened his door.

My hands grew taught around the shotgun I’d taken away from the Walmart, but I kept my mouth shut. As I mentioned, it was always best to avoid showing your agitation.

I spent the majority of the ride trying to quiz details out of our new passenger, but his attention was on navigation. He’d pushed aside my maps as he’d climbed onto his seat, and his constant stream of directions soon had me feeling like a third wheel.

Mother Linwood’s home was at the edge of a residential cluster that was too small to call a town, but too populated to call nowhere. I was at least able to convince the others not to directly approach, but stop at the road and honk.

We stared down the row of pines for a while, waiting for something – anything – to happen.

There was no response.

“Try it again,” said our tourist.

“These days,” I said, “if someone isn’t answering a call, it may be better to simply leave them alone. If your mother IS still in there, she’s certainly not making it obvious. Personally, I think the house is abandoned, or we’d have been shot at by now. Well, abandoned, or an ossuary.”

“Oh, she’s in there,” Linwood replied. Reaching across my lap, he pushed ajar his exit, and dumped me onto the pavement, all in one motion.

They build those trucks high – I sprained my wrist while trying to break my fall, and the mama’s boy was well past me before I recovered.

“Come back, you moron, you’ll only get hurt,” I shouted, from my position on the turf.

His blood was pumping, and his eyes were blazing.

“You’re Feds!” he shrieked, “I knew it!”

The messenger bag bounced on his hip as he ran.

Mr Baldy had regained his composure at that point, and stepped from the truck to help me up. I think he only did it because he’d realized Linwood was infected.

Together, we watched the chubby man close the last ten feet to the cabin door. He yanked it open with a hoot of triumph, and imparted a final hand gesture in our direction.

He stepped backwards through the door, and then thunder clapped, and the left side of his face blew away like dandelion fluff in a strong wind.

Baldy, still at my side, panicked. As he ran for the truck, I dropped to my belly. It was the fact that he made it into the tall cab that convinced me Linwood had hit upon a tripwire of some sort.

I did something stupid.

I don’t recall stopping my sprint at any point, although I must have turned around – I only remember moving as quickly as I could towards the twitching body, and running back while attempting to wipe portions of the dead man’s jaw from the carrying strap of his satchel.

It was the GPS I was after, but, as my wheelman returned our rig to its original course, I found something more – a folding, black, case. Within the leather kit was a tiny bottle, and a sharp-tipped syringe. In some of the smallest cursive I can ever remember encountering, the label read “antitoxin.”

As we retook the highway, my companion and I had much to discuss.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

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

FP217 – The Murder Plague: Positioning, Part 1 of 2

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and seventeen.

Flash PulpTonight we present, The Murder Plague: Positioning, Part 1 of 2.
(Part 1Part 2)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp217.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Jimmy and the Black Wind.

 

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, Harm Carter, while making his way through the legions of paranoid infected, finds himself caught up in a series of awkward introductions.

 

The Murder Plague: Positioning, Part 1 of 2

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

 

The Murder PlagueIt’s an odd thing to introduce yourself to your neighbour when you are both miles from home, and you can’t be entirely sure they haven’t murdered someone. Worse still, it was soon obvious that Mr. Baldy, who presented himself as Virgil Gratey when I admitted I couldn’t recall his proper name, knew much more about my affairs than I knew of his.

I also learned at that time that it was very difficult to identify a smirk from a sneer on Gratey’s rat-like face.

The view of the open road that the tall truck provided had, at first, seemed optimistic, but, as we continued on encountering neither sign of humanity, nor an end to the road, our spirits began to deflate.

Getting off the highway was an unpleasant proposition – it felt as if every house we passed was thick with paranoid eyes, and like any deviation from the stretch of smooth pavement might leave us lost and unable to find our way back. We had collected together plenty of maps and atlases before leaving our friends at the makeshift Walmart shelter, but I’ve rarely enjoyed trying to read one of those flapping monstrosities while I’m being shot at.

For a time we didn’t speak. I avoided communication for hours, largely by appearing alert for any sort of threat that might have been rigged along the gravel shoulder by an infected bumpkin afraid that passing vehicles were intending on stealing their carefully arranged supplies of canned beans.

Boredom, however, eventually lead to conversation.

“I’m afraid I’ve never mastered small talk,” I opened.

“Yeah, I noticed,” Baldy replied.

I tried to chuckle it off – and that’s when I admitted that I didn’t know what I ought to call him – at least, not aloud.

It was perhaps twenty minutes later, while he was recounting having dated the sister of Catarina, my former housekeeper, when our discussion was suddenly sidetracked.

Frankly, I almost welcomed the interruption when it arrived – the memory of the shallow grave I’d buried my poor chef in was sitting heavily in my throat by then.

Gratey was saying, “she was a nice enough woman, but her love of reality television was abrasive,” when we spotted a man waving at us from across the double-ditched grassy divide which separated the lanes. The fellow was standing beside a stalled Nissan truck, and his arm motions were quite emphatic.

Immediately, Mr. Baldy began to slow.

I accidentally asked, “are you serious?”

It was obvious he was, though, as, by then, we were already largely across one of the dirt access paths that were once so fondly camped on by police looking to rack up a budget cushion through speeding tickets.

The stop was the beginning of many mistakes I feel Gratey made – I can only assume because he’d been so sheltered within the safety of the store. It reminded me of the war, actually, in the way the new guys often seemed to think they’d have the situation licked in an hour, and be home pinching their loved one’s bottoms by early the following week. Those were the names I worked hardest to avoid learning.

At least my companion thought to bring the rig to a halt at a distance.

“I’m out of gas,” the man said to our open windows. “I had some reserved, but I got – I got in a car chase, I guess. There was a tiny woman. She was old, with a sharp face, and her gray hair in a bun. She wasn’t driving anywhere, she’d just been waiting – waiting for me. Damn near t-boned me from a crossroad, and might have accomplished it if I hadn’t been changing lanes at the time. She tore after me though, you can see my bumper’s pretty ragged from her having at me. Wait, you guy’s aren’t feds, are you?”

“No,” replied Baldy, raising an eyebrow.It was another mistake – everyone wandering around in the Murder Plague was constantly measuring those around them, but it was always best to keep your uncertainty to yourself.

“Yeah, yeah, course not. Sorry, I’m a little discombobulated, I’ve never had to – I’ve never killed anyone before. In the end she wouldn’t let up, and I gave her a good punt with the passenger side door. Figured I’d put her in the ditch, but I didn’t see the electrical pole. That post went through her hatchback like a baseball bat through a loaf of bread. It sounds stupid now, but I stopped. Tried to see if she was OK. I swear to god, with blood running down her chin, and her chest impaled on the steering column, she still managed to spit at me and tell me that I’d never take her foof. I don’t know what she meant by foof – her mouth was pretty full of bodily fluids and car at that point, but I suspect she meant the poodle that I’d spotted whimpering on the grass, maybe thirty feet from the crash. There wasn’t much I could do for the pup. Maybe I should have killed it too, but I didn’t have the heart – I just drove. Got so distracted, thinking about that stupid mutt, that my tank went dry.”

“What’s your name?” asked Mr. Baldy.

“Linwood,” was the reply. I wasn’t sure if it was his first or last, but it was easy enough to remember, which I was thankful for.

Anyhow, I had more pressing questions.

“Why would you think we were Feds?”

Linwood, a roundfaced man who looked like he’d spent the majority of his life in an office cubicle, bit at his lip and ran his fingers through his hair. I remember the brown curls being damp with sweat, and his fingers shaking as he did so.

“I’m, uh, I’m here to find my Mom. I knew it was illegal, and I never meant to hurt anyone, but I’m from the outside – from beyond the quarantine line.”

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

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

192 – The Murder Plague: Open Hours, Part 3 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and ninety-two.

Flash PulpTonight we present, The Murder Plague: Open Hours, Part 3 of 3.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp192.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Shrinking Man Project.

 

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, Harm Carter discovers the truth regarding the interior of an apparently occupied former place of commerce.

 

Flash Pulp 192 – The Murder Plague: Open Hours, Part 3 of 3

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

 

The Murder PlagueMy left leg demanded I back out of the doorway, but my right insisted that I lunge for the girl in an attempt to save her from whatever lurked in the store’s interior. While I was still mediating, most of my decisions were made for me.

A pair of retirees stepped forward with hunting rifles at the ready.

“There’s only two of them,” Grandma said over her shoulder. While she launched into a stage-whispered argument with someone beyond my line of sight, her partner indicated that I ought to move closer to Minnie, and out of range of the entrance’s sensor.

I complied, although I must admit that I was keeping an eye on the teen’s knife-hand.

“Where’s the other?” asked Grandpa, waggling his barrel with practiced insistence. Given his stance, I guessed he was, at some point in his past, a fellow graduate of Uncle Sam’s two-booted finishing school.

“Well, that’s a complicated question,” I replied, trying for a tone several notches in tension below his own. “He’s dead – I left him moments ago, around the corner, with a fairly large hole in his neck. Now, while I realize that does not immediately bode well for my companion here, I should say, in her defense, that she’s never appeared infected, and that she’s under quite a lot of stress lately.”

The rifleman harrumphed. “Haven’t we all?”

With a gasp, Minnie took in a double lungful of air, preparing, I thought, for a protracted scream.

She did not.

“Listen,” she said, turning on me. “I appreciate that you’re trying to help, but I did not leave a mother####er dead in this parking lot because I’m “under quite a lot of stress”. That grabby bastard went for my zipper as soon as you were out of sight. I’m not sick, and I’m not just in a ####ty mood. It could have happened while I’d been riding a rainbow unicorn in Candy Land and I’d have done the same thing over – twice.”

She realized, then, that she was punctuating her remarks with thrusts of her still bloody blade.

Neither Gramps, nor I, could muster a reply.

“Come here, hun,” said the silver-haired woman, shouldering her weapon and wrapping an arm around the girl.

They disappeared into the dim interior of the store, and I followed.

Behind our greeters stood a second line of defenders, a motley bunch awkwardly holding looted wares from the sporting goods department. They seemed relieved to be able to lower their armament unfired.

The massive open space had been transformed into a small, covered, shanty town. Most of the racks were re-purposed into makeshift tents, their skins a collage of pinned together t-shirts and sweaters; or billowing layered sheeting; or taut plastic tarps.

From beneath many peered the eyes of children, or the occasional mutt.

I couldn’t help but notice that, even if he’d slung his gun, Pappy was sticking close.

“Am I wrong in thinking you spent a little time overseas?” I asked him, figuring I’d rather be chaperoned by an acquaintance.

“Nope.”

“What’d they discharge you at?”

“Lieutenant.”

“Why’d you stay home?”

“An injury.”

Given his apparent agitation over discussing personal topics, I decided to change my approach.

“You keep pets?”

“Yep.”

“The uh, odour in here isn’t exactly an ocean breeze, but it’s not an internment camp either – and yet, I didn’t notice any dogs wandering the lot, how do you, uh, keep it so tidy?”

“We let ‘em squat in a corner of the maintenance area, then bag it and collect it on the roof. Actually, we use it as part of our SOS for passing planes and helicopters. There’s a herd of cats in the back, nearly feral now I guess. We don’t see ‘em much, but we got a place we pile the litter deep – helps keep the smell down.”

“So,” I said, motioning towards his compatriot, whose arm was still draped over Minnie, “where are we headed?”

“The maintenance area,” he replied, “if we’ve got to shoot you, we’d rather the mess all in one place.”

“Oh. Do you think that sort of thing will be necessary, then?”

“Not my call. There’ll be a vote.”

Pushing through a set of swinging double doors, we came to a semi-circle of folding chairs, set on the barren concrete of the stockroom.

A half dozen faces observed our entry, and they didn’t appear friendly.

They wanted an explanation of our presence, and I gave an overview of our adventures, with occasional interjections from Minnie. I was careful to throw the weight of my opinion behind the girl’s account of her crimson state, but I must confess: although I suspected she was healthy, I couldn’t be sure. I did realize, however, that if the inquisition thought her infected, it would put my own state under heavy suspicion.

Once we’d satisfied their historical questions, a slight faced man with a wreath of short hair ringing his bald pate asked, “So, what are your intentions?”

Without hesitating, I laid out my plan.

“Well, if you’re agreeable, I’d like to get a hold of the keys to that transport outside, and maybe a fill up before I go, if you don’t mind. From what I can glean you’re looking for rescue, but Uncle Sam helps those who help themselves. Detach the truck and let me drive it out of here – I’ll ride it straight to the blockade, and my first priority will be to get a helicopter out here to pick everyone up.”

It was a long shot, but even if I had to settle for staying a while, it was my thinking that at least I’d have planted the seed. I couldn’t have planned what happened next.

Mr Baldy stood.

“Carter, you always were an aloof bugger. It doesn’t sound like you’ve gone any more off your rock than usual, though.”

I had to squint to recognize him in his unshaven state, but it dawned on me that this man had once been my neighbour – the previous time I’d seen him, he was fleeing his home, even while I attempted to save my own from burning. We’d never exchanged words, and, frankly, after our last encounter, I’d rather suspected he’d murdered his family.

He continued.

“We’ve known for a while that someone would have to go. We pushed the crazies out once, but we can’t risk their return – or worse yet, infection running through the store – and the shelves are getting emptier every day. To be sure he doesn’t forget his obligations, and to increase his odds, I’ll go with him.”

The group murmured consent, some going so far as to reach out and touch his hands in thanks.

“The sooner off, the better,” I said, afraid any delay might lead to a sudden change of minds, or a call for a more trusted driver.

Minnie cleared her throat.

“I’d like to stay,” she said, pointedly not looking at me. “I’ll try to find a way to earn my keep – I’m good with animals, so maybe I can help with the cats somehow.”

I won’t lie, I felt a pang at the turn.

As the gathered debated, she faced me, to explain.

“You’ve been nice, but there’s safety in numbers – and, well, after you left me with Newton… I’m not sure you’re the best travel buddy.”

Before I could come up with a response, the small council came to a decision.

“Fine,” said Mr Baldy.

They’d already prepared supplies, in case of an emergency evacuation, and we were on the road within an hour.

With a bit of experimentation in moving, then replacing, the burnt van-husks that acted as corks to the parking lot’s exit lanes, I was feeling much more confident in my admittedly rusty rig-wrangling skills, and it was some consolation to my wounded ego to see Minnie wipe away a tear as we hugged our goodbyes.

I couldn’t know then how well the girl would actually make out, and, I must say, as we departed, I felt some concern that I may have just left an infected killer amidst a gaggle of strangers, or a vulnerable teen amongst an unfamiliar horde.

Still, as my babysitter and I accelerated, it was difficult to argue with the pull of the engine, the blue sky, and the speeds achievable on the open stretches of deserted highway.

 

(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

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

191 – The Murder Plague: Open Hours, Part 2 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and ninety-one.

Flash PulpTonight we present, The Murder Plague: Open Hours, Part 2 of 3.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp191.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Shrinking Man Project.

 

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, Harm Carter tries his hand at grand theft auto.

 

Flash Pulp 191 – The Murder Plague: Open Hours, Part 2 of 3

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

 

The Murder PlagueAs we retreated to the relative safety of the trees, to try and find a reasonably comfortable patch of dirt to camp on before the light of the sun had fully abandoned us, I began to feel as if something was amiss – I thought it might be a wafting undertone on the breeze, or possibly just the aftershock of watching a fourteen year old stomp a grown man to death, but I was wrong on both counts.

We slept fitfully, and rose eager to claim a vehicle.

The first car alarm we tripped was the tensest moment of the morning. We must have disturbed a dozen more during our search, but, after the initial squawk, the lack of response gave us the confidence to quicken our pace – and, frankly, to begin to behave stupidly.

Here’s what it boiled down to: you’re facing the door of a Dodge Grand Caravan. Is it locked? Well then smash the window with your trusty truncheon – I was using the butt of my unloaded pistol, which had largely only been an unpleasant souvenir up until that point. Is there a key under the floor mats? How about on top of the sunscreens? Are there some snacks in the glove compartment, or candy in the cup-holders? Great, search complete – now, choke down your sense of disappointment and move on to the next one.

The only interruptions in the process came when occasional speeding travelers would enter from the west and exit to the east, never slowing in their progress along the highway.

Given their consistency, following their lead seemed a safe bet once we finally found a conveyance.

My theory was that it would be better to start near the meth-head’s body, and work our way towards the store. We wouldn’t have to approach the corpse after a long day in the hot sun, and it would also give Minnie a chance to forget her recent ordeal by throwing herself into the hunt.

It was probably with that thought in mind that I kept myself from scolding Newton when he started to mess about, eventually setting the girl in one of the blue shopping carts and wheeling her in wide circles around the pavement.

In truth, it was good to hear her laugh.

By noon we’d run out of windows to smash, and had taken up seating on the Walmart’s curb, with bagged fertilizer, outdoor furniture, and tacky lawn ornamentation to our left, and silent Coke machines to our right.

“Well, we may not have a ride yet, but there’s got to still be plenty to eat on the shelves,” said Newton. “Lots of daylight too, so hopefully we’ll be able to see all right. I call dibs on all the Pringles.”

I’d been surprised by how intact the storefront had remained, and it seemed to promise sugary riches within. I also had it in my head that we might locate a few bicycles, but I was weighing the pros and cons of the idea, and didn’t want to mention it yet.

Instead, I said, “before we consider any sort of junk food haze, we ought to finish searching the outside. There may be some sort of employee parking around back.”

Newton licked his lips.

“Great, but let’s move it along OK?” he replied, jumping up.

His meaty hands wrapped about the steering bar of his cart of choice.

“Your chariot awaits, madam,” he said.

Minnie smiled, and allowed herself to be lifted into the buggy. As he set her down, the man’s thick arms made her appear even younger than she was.

“You go towards the highway, and we’ll take the side closer to the trees,” he told me, and, before I could respond, they were off.

Figuring he was hankering for a meal, and with the bedding department somewhat in my own mind, I returned to prowling.

It was one of the few times I’d been alone since leaving my burning home.

To my left was a fence, and, on the far side, the ditch that ringed the property. Beyond that lay a stretch of yellow-grassed turf, then the gravel shoulder of the highway. I was anxious to be on that road, but less so to be seen by anyone who might happen to be passing down it while I was so plainly visible.

My sense that something was off reached a peak while I crept along the grey wall, and, as I came to the shop’s rear, I realized exactly what the source of my agitation was: An engine sound, on the roof of the building, which had been largely muffled by its position beside a metallic stack of inert air-conditioning units.

I immediately guessed it as a generator.

Better yet, my new view gave me an idea on how the thing was being powered – a large transport truck was backed partially into one of the loading bays, and sealed in with a crust of Mad Max-style fortifications. Un-constructed entertainment units, computer desks, and flat-panel televisions had all been salvaged for the task – the gaps were even sealed with re-purposed plush animals.

It didn’t strike me as the work of a single person – and, if it was, it seemed too ill defended to be built by one of the paranoid infected. I would have expected barb wire, or a limb-removing booby-trap.

A stuffed monkey grinned at me cheekily from the tallest portion of the barricade, and I returned his smirk.

Excited to share my discovery with my traveling companions, I rounded the next corner.

There, lying beside his upturned cart, was Newton. His neck looked as if it had been assaulted by pack of wild ferrets, the obvious work of an amateur butcher with a short, blunt, blade.

Stooping, I closed his dull eyes. I owed him that much, at least, for bringing the greyhound to our rescue.

Where was Minnie? Snatched by an unknown assailant? Or had she committed the act?

Was she infected?

I found myself afloat on a sea of questions, with no sign of hard answers to land upon – so I simply kept moving.

Unsure of my objective, but feeling like I couldn’t just abandon the girl to a terrible fate, I followed the dollops of blood that moved steadily away from the deceased strongman.

They marched directly to the building’s main entrance. I made efforts at stealth as I attempted to peer through the glass, at what might lie beyond, but as soon as I moved within range of the sensor, the automatic portal swept wide, revealing Minnie within.

She stood at the center of the vestibule, with her right-forearm bloody, and the pilfered knife still in her hand. Through her tears, she screamed at me.

“I had to! He tried – he -”

Her explanation was cut short by a hiss, as the interior door also slid open.

 

(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

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

190 – The Murder Plague: Open Hours, Part 1 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and ninety.

Flash PulpTonight we present, The Murder Plague: Open Hours, Part 1 of 3.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp190.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Shrinking Man Project.

 

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, Harm Carter and his traveling companions find hope, as well as a stranger.

 

Flash Pulp 190 – The Murder Plague: Open Hours, Part 1 of 3

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

 

The Murder PlagueIt seemed to me, as I marched through the forest alongside my pair of companions, that I had somehow become the odd man out.

Worse yet, my misgivings regarding the age gap – Minnie being fourteen, and Newton, at a guess, thirty – were stymied by a duo of unavoidable facts. One: that it was a free apocalypse, and, having seen her friends murdered, as well as attempt to murder her, that the girl could do what she wanted. Two: that I was probably only so riled about it as she was of such an age, and, uh, fiery disposition, as to remind me greatly of my own wayward daughter, Rebecca.

There’s a great temptation, when those around you are on the constant lookout for a virus whose primary symptom is homicidal paranoia, to keep all unpleasant thoughts to oneself – but, by avoiding showing my annoyance, I came off feeling like someone’s uncle trying too hard to demonstrate his youthful vigor to a younger generation.

Anyhow, there we strolled, Newton gallantly taking the brunt of our passage through the brush, Minnie laughing over-heartily at his flat jokes, and I trailing in the rear.

Sticking to the woods may have saved us a head on collision with wandering maniacs, but it also made progress tediously slow. Still, better to be bitten by insects than madmen I suppose.

To pass the time, I’d been counting the number of flattened mosquitoes I’d left in my wake, but my tally was lost when, an hour before dusk, we suddenly came to a broad expanse of pavement.

I believe it to be the largest Walmart I’ve ever encountered, but my memory may be coloured by what lay on the far side: We’d finally come across a major highway.

Between road weary travelers, and the local, if diffuse, population, that particular patch of nowhere was deemed a profitable enough stretch to commercially colonize, and I silently thanked the profiteers for their craven decision.

Spanning the parking area were dozens of potential rides, laid out in rows like a used car lot.

“What do you think?” Minnie asked Newton.

“Hmm,” said the big man, hunkering at the edge of an oak’s shade.

I took it to mean “hurrah for transportation, but where are all of the drivers?” – and I had to agree.

Stroking my chin, I said, “my feeling is that we wait for nightfall, then locate a vehicle old enough that I might manage hot-wiring it; or, better yet, one abandoned with the keys in the ignition.”

Then we all nodded, and considered ourselves pretty clever – until the codger started yelling.

“You bunch by the trees, stop gawking and give a fella a hand.”

It’s unnerving to have an invisible stranger address you from afar at the best of times, but, given our recent experience with the persistent sniper, I was especially enthusiastic in my search for the source of the demand.

Atop the wild grass, some distance further along the edge of the cement, was a bobbing red and white baseball cap.

“Hurry, I’m pretty messed up over here,” said the hat.

It was my feeling that if the speaker had had a gun and poor intentions, he would have been considerably less conversational, so I opted to break away from our cover and into the trench.

Minnie, and then Newton, were quick to follow. The altered position made it clear that the exit lanes had been barricaded, by Minivans positioned to form a wall, then smashed to ensure their immobility. Given the massive ditch that otherwise surrounded the place, I began to wonder if we might have to make our getaway in the style of Steven McQueen in the Great Escape, but my considerations were quickly knocked aside by the talking shamble that lay before me.

Or, actually, nearly before me. I came to a stop ten feet away from he who’d summoned us, but I can’t claim it was forethought – the snail’s trail of blood is what did it. He’d come from somewhere across the road, likely the shuttered Dunkin’ Donuts which stood as the only other building of note in sight.

Whatever the case, I was hard pressed to immediately explain his missing left foot.

“It hurts real bad,” he said.

“What happened?” I asked.

A few yards behind me, Newton had halted, rooting Minnie at a safe distance.

The mustachioed man wiggled the red bill of his cap, then set the whole thing back on his head, as if he were a small town mechanic about to explain the cost of a particularly severe repair.

“Well, I was across the way with Selma and we were thinking we’d try and see if we might find food and smokes, or that maybe there was information left over from when the Wally World was an evacuation point. We saw that someone setup those wrecks to keep folks out, but we figured there was coffee left at the donut place, and she, she…” his explanation became lost amongst his tears, and it was finally too much for Minnie, who broke free and rushed to the injured.

Frankly, I was surprised he was so coherent, considering his apparently relatively fresh amputation.

Continuing to cry, Selma’s beau took Minnie’s hand in his own. Newton and I were rapidly closing the distance even as he continued.

“She was gonna murder me. Her thoughts were whispering it for days, but I reckoned I was just hearing the meth. Then she cuffed my leg to a booth and abandoned me with only a dozen god damn stale croissants to snack on. I showed her.” From beneath his muck-encrusted plaid shirt, the storyteller brought up a gory folding knife, miming his escape while maintaining his grip on the teen. He smiled. “Staggered on for a while, but I don’t know how long I’ve lied out. Must’a slept here last night, though.”

Somehow he’d managed to tourniquet the wound with a green and white bungee cable.

Maybe it was my and Newton’s approach, or perhaps it was Minnie trying to pry herself from his grasp, but his face sharpened.

In a flat voice, he said, “you too, huh?”

His first stabbing swing was a miss, but, before he could properly bring his weapon around, his captive began to stomp wildly. We were immediately beside her, but, as we endeavoured to intervene, her simple white sneaker had a shattering confrontation with her assailant’s neck.

There was a snap, followed by a brief silence.

While Minnie wept, and Newton cooed, I searched the body for keys.

I found nothing more than a half-eaten puff pastry, but, in my distraction, I missed the girl pocketing the dead man’s blade.

 

(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

 

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