Category: The Murder Plague

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)

 

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.

185 – The Murder Plague: Buggy, Part 3 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and eighty five.

Flash PulpTonight we present, The Murder Plague: Buggy, Part 3 of 3.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp185.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by the bistrips comic Treed.

 

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 fellow survivors of Hitchcock’s Disease, find themselves once again on the cusp of a difficult decision.

 

Flash Pulp 185 – The Murder Plague: Buggy, Part 3 of 3

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

 

The Murder PlagueWhat do you do with a temporarily unconscious homicidal child? Keeping the flashlight on her eyes, I silently wished I’d brought my empty pistol, and resolved to bluff, if need be.

Frankly, I was tempted to tip her rig, rip out a few of the important bits, then retreat to the seclusion of Newton’s camp – with luck, she might’ve simply wandered off to pester some other cutthroat.

As Jeremy and I stood in silence over the girl, oddly, I suddenly found myself in the middle of just another night. It’s funny what your mind will do when drowning in stress.

There was a chill on the wind, and a rustle in the trees, but that wasn’t quite it. Maybe it was the resurgent crickets, or the feeling of standing in the dark, amid the open countryside. I looked up at the stars and took in a lung full of crisp air, and for a brief moment, I wasn’t having to consider murdering a seven-year-old.

Then she said “Snerk,” and began thrashing against the racing buckles that had held her in place during her airborne acrobatics. With the light still in her face, it was easy to make out the jagged row of exposed teeth between her snapping mandibles. She’d filed them down with something, but poorly – the gaps and misshapen points had given the young Ms. a jaw like a cartoon shark.

Minnie, who was much closer in age to the child than she was to Newton, hustled from behind us, towing the strongman by the hand.

“Be quiet or I’ll put a bullet in you,” I said to our apparent captive, hoping she wouldn’t notice my lack of a weapon, much less spare ammunition.

It wasn’t exactly the sort of threat I’d used in my years of parenting, but it brought the flailing to an end.

“What now?” said Minnie.

“Your boyfriend should cave in her skull,” snarled Jeremy, “- gonna need to unbuckle her helmet first though.”

Well, we’d been on the road for a while, but even I found the statement shocking.

“You can’t seriously be advocating for the death of a juvenile?” I said.

“No – for the death of a murderer. What else do you suggest?” he replied.

There was another while of standing; and crickets; and the night’s breeze.

Finally, when it became obvious to Jeremy that we weren’t going to supply a response, he turned on the big man.

“What’s it going to be? Maybe we tie her up, and leave her here to starve, or to be discovered by another nutter? What happens to her then? Just as bad as killing her, isn’t it? Or we can let her go, see if she can’t find some more healthy, innocent people to slaughter?”

“She’s infected, but what’s YOUR excuse for murder?” asked Newton

“That crazy killed your friends. Survival is what will separate us, in the end. You need to punish her – to make it right.” was Jeremy’s sullen reply.

At that point, Minnie, while still holding the giant’s meaty paw, interjected.

“You may not be infected, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a psychopath,” she said.

“Screw you.”

The teen continued, despite the insult.

“If you’re so excited about seeing this kid killed, you do it.”

There was another pause, and our prisoner’s feral eyes kept trying to pry beyond the edge of my blinding beam. She likely believed she was dead, no matter who won the argument.

“Fine,” said Jeremy.

Part of me wanted to intervene, but I just couldn’t puzzle another solution to the problem.

Was he sick?

In truth, I rather believed our gasbag would step down, begin to wind himself up for the dirty work, then shrug and commence moping. Thirty seconds, I thought, and we’ll clear from the scene and continue along our miserable way.

That’s not what happened, though.

Approaching the go-kart, he made a move to reach for its driver. At the same instant, the intended victim punched the ignition, hoping to restart her vehicle. Seeing her motion, Jeremy lunged to restrain his prey, and she closed her bristling mouth on his forearm. The jalopy, responding to her summons for action, turned its engine over once, then the combustion climbed out of the engine, down an apparently leaking fuel-line, and the rig burst into flames.

The girl was screaming around her clenched fangs, but she refused to let go, and most of her attacker’s clothes were burned away before I could grab him by the scruff and yank him from the inferno.

I dragged him onto the roadway, while Minnie retrieved my dropped lantern. He hadn’t been trapped long, but the heat was immense, and the majority of Jeremy’s chest and face had more in common with scorched steaks than the young man we’d known.

Fear was driving us then – fear that the ruckus and blaze would draw attention from some other corrupted assailant. With Newton propping up the injured lad’s far shoulder, we stumbled back through the woods, not stopping until we’d returned to the sheltered site at which we’d lazed the day away.

We spent the night taking turns watching over the blistered husk of our companion, occasionally soaking a shirt in the stream so we might drip water down his rasping throat, but, by dawn, it was obvious he was a lost cause.

As the sun rose, Jeremy rattled his final gasp.

Soon after we buried him, along with what remains we could collect from the ashes of the lethal machine, in the same sandy turf as Newton had laid down his other former associates.

Minnie and I wept as we said our goodbyes.

 

(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.

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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.

184 – The Murder Plague: Buggy, Part 2 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and eighty four.

Flash PulpTonight we present, The Murder Plague: Buggy, Part 2 of 3.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp184.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by the The Flash Mob on Facebook.

It’s like a game of Twister with a thousand participants.

Find it here

 

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 accompaniment must weigh the choices presented by a world full of homicidal psychotics.

 

Flash Pulp 184 – The Murder Plague: Buggy, Part 2 of 3

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

 

The Murder Plague“So,” said Jeremy, his hands wringing the hem of his t-shirt like a professional sponge cleaner well on his way to a personal record, “you’re saying you just sat there, listening to your friends being killed?”

“There was nothing I could,” replied Newton, his face moist from his recounting. “I mean – honestly, I did try setting up a barricade on the road, once I was done cleaning up the pieces, figured he’d smack into it in the dark, but – well, it came by, then stopped. Sounded as if it went around.”

“You didn’t even watch it happen!? You could of jumped the bastard!”

“It was pitch black, I would have probably caught a bullet in the belly or an axe to the face.”

Minnie placed a hand on the weeping man’s sizable bicep, and Jeremy stalked to the furthest edge of the camp to glower at us from the clearing’s edge, while muttering to himself.

The day largely passed that way – which, frankly, was fine by me, as it was a change of pace from ducking live ammunition and madmen’s ill intentions.

I spent the day lounging in the sun and ignoring small talk.

Finally, as supper neared, and Jeremy’s stomach’s complaints grew loud enough to overcome his bent nose, we reconvened over some open cans of unheated Dinty Moore.

We chatted around mouthfuls, which eventually lead to consideration of future plans.

“Tomorrow we should start trying to hitch out of here,” said Newton. “We aren’t going to find any help locally, and if we can hook up with another group, we could be at the government blockade in a day or two.”

Minnie nodded her agreement. I couldn’t help but notice how closely she’d positioned herself to our new companion.

“Yeah. There’s safety in numbers. At least if we see a bunch of people together, we know they aren’t infected.”

“Unless,” replied Jeremy, “they’re a bunch of looting-rapist-murderers, or everyone gets infected and it turns into a twelve-way shoot-out.”

“We should certainly watch for any drug addled, baby murdering, ne’er-do-wells,” I said, “but, it seems to me, it’s a slim chance that we’ll run across a barbarian horde amongst the cow patties. I think we ought to go for a stroll. We’ll have to find a way through the woods for a bit, to avoid our rifle-toting friend up the road, but I don’t relish thumbing a ride with a potential Norman Bates. We can stick to the trees after we’re around him, and walk till we find a suitable vehicle, or, better yet, some space-suit wearing government fellows.”

Jeremy dropped his empty container of meatball stew.

“Before we run away, we should destroy the death machine. Make it right for those folks wannabe-Charlie Atlas here abandoned.”

The sun set while we went from debate to argument, and it was only the sound that stopped us.

Quite a lot happened at once: Minnie hugged Newton, Jeremy went crashing into the forest that blocked our view of the road, and I grabbed the flashlight.

I was unenthusiastic about chasing the hooligan through the dark, especially when I dared not use the light-source in my hand, but I had some ideas regarding what he might encounter, and I couldn’t figure any other option that didn’t require digging another hole in the site’s makeshift burial ground.

It’s approach became a cacophony as I busied myself with dodging aggressive branches, but, even as I arrived, the thing’s engines began to fade into the distance.

However, I was pleased to find Jeremy, lying on the grading at the edge of the road, still alive. I believe the idiot thought he was hidden. I suppose he can’t be blamed, there was no moon, and, below the pine-tops, the world was nothing but murk.

As I helped him to his feet, there was a change in the nature of the fading shriek. It took us a moment to realize it had turned around.

Scrambling to the timber, I stage whispered that we should waste no time with greetings. Jeremy would have none of it, however, and he simply returned to his prone posture. The clamour was approaching too quickly for a reasoned argument, and before I could muster any words that might convince him to run, it was on top of us.

There was nothing to see – the night was opaque – but it was imperative that I wait as long as possible for maximum effect.

When I guessed it could be no further than ten feet off, I flicked on my light.

I was wrong, it was a good twenty away, but its speed was such that it flung itself into my beam.

We caught a glimpse of what looked oddly like a large steel insect, then the rig plunged down the far ditch, flipped once, and went silent.

While we sprinted towards its landing spot, Jeremy scooped a set of goggles from the pavement.

“Was there a bloody Wal-Mart special or something? Where did these hillbillies all get night-vision?”

The beast of legend was a home-made go kart. A collection of kitchen knives, farm implements, and lawnmower blades, had been affixed to the running boards, and nails driven through its tin hood, giving it the look of a metallic porcupine with flaking yellow skin.

At the wheel – with her nose bleeding onto her denim jacket – I was unsurprised to find a stunned seven-year-old.

 

(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.

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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.

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183 – The Murder Plague: Buggy, Part 1 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and eighty three.

Flash PulpTonight we present, The Murder Plague: Buggy, Part 1 of 3.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
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This week’s episodes are brought to you by the The Flash Mob on Facebook.

Like discovering a clown car under your bed – a clown car full of hugs.

Find it here

 

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 is told a tale of mechanical menace and human tragedy.

 

Flash Pulp 183 – The Murder Plague: Buggy, Part 1 of 3

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

 

The Murder PlagueOur strenuous rescue from the sharpshooter, and the sort of sleepless unrest you’ll get when someone is attempting to assassinate you, left us fatigued and eager for unconsciousness – once we’d extensively thanked our slab-armed liberator.

The strongman, Newton, had setup a small camp alongside a creek. The site was entirely sheltered from the road by a thick wall of trees, and we took turns sleeping, bathing in the mucky water, and keeping a watch for any roaming infected paranoiacs who might suddenly pop out of the bush like a game of rabid whack-a-mole.

After a quartet of raggedly snored symphonies, we gathered at the edge of the brook and, by the moon’s glow, did some accounting.

Jeremy, Minnie, and I, had little to offer beyond the empty gun I’d taken from Tyrone, whereas Newton displayed an array of tinned stews, a bright blue high-powered-flashlight, and a functional knowledge of the area.

It certainly appeared that we were getting the better part of the deal.

“I thought,” said Jeremy, “that all of the houses ‘round here were booby-traps? If so, where’d you find the cans? You had to get those somewhere, why are we sleeping on the dirt?”

More than looking a gift horse in the mouth, it seemed to me that the lad’s tone was smacking the nag in the teeth, but our host answered before I was able to say so.

“Let me tell you a story,” said Newton, laying his massive frame out on the grass. “Like I said, back before the engine quit, there were twelve of us. We all knew the situation, we’d stolen – uh, borrowed – the bus hoping to ride it straight to the military blockade. Everything was easy-peasy, until…”

He paused then, tossing a stone into the river. I remember it because I knew it was a sign that he was truly agitated; no hardened survivor of the Murder Plague, who isn’t distracted, makes unnecessary noise.

“I don’t wanna go through the whole list, but, after some politics, some infections, and some poor choices, it came down to me and Pam and Larry. Wasn’t so long ago that they were the ones sitting here. Anyhow, they got hungry, and we started arguing. They were pushing to try looting another place, but that was mostly how we’d lost the other nine, and I thought it was a better idea to just start walking and hope for the best, or, at least, a town.

“Now, there’d been this buzzing sound going by – it’s hard to describe, sort of a souped-up weed whacker. Of course, we’d avoided it, which was easy enough, since you notice it coming at a distance – and it’s always pitch black out when it blows by.”

“You don’t know what it looks like?” asked Minnie. It was a strong question, but she proposed it in the softest tone I’d heard from the teen. I rather think she’d taken quite a shine to our Hercules by then. Less approving was the scowl on Jeremy’s face.

“Well, no. I figure, if I can see it, it can see me,” Newton replied. “My point, though, is that we’d noticed it a bunch, but, despite it only showing up when it was night, those two idiots thought they’d go out to hunt grub in the dark. Larry was a bit of a goof, but Pam had her head on pretty straight generally, and I argued with her for quite a while before they left.

“I watched their backs disappear into the trees, then I was alone, for the first time since the outbreak. The minutes dragged on. I lost track of how long they were gone. I started sweating, pacing, and generally freaking out.

“Hours later, I heard Larry, laughing. He was pretty far off – across the road still – but he was celebrating with that annoying chicken chuckle of his: rubbing it in that they’d found treasure.

“However annoyed I might have been at the jerk, I was eager for a little grub in my belly.

“Then came the shriek; that maniac yard equipment sound.

“I don’t know what happened – maybe they thought their luck might hold, or that it was a patrol of some sort – maybe they couldn’t tell how much faster it seemed than before. In any case, it ended with them screaming. Larry kept asking for help, relentlessly, but Pam was just crying and squealing. She didn’t even sound human. I thought that the roaming buzz-saw noise was leaving, but it was just giving itself running room. It came by at full tilt, then – well, then there was nothing. Silence.

“When the sun came up, I went looking. Bits of them were spread out over a good half-mile of pavement. I found a duffel bag, with those stew cans in it, next to Larry’s severed hand. The bugs had already done quite a number on the stump.”

On that note of gore, he understandably stopped the recital, but Jeremy lept into the gap with a question.

“We must have driven by this spot in the Escalade, and I didn’t see a people smear anywhere?”

“I spent a good portion of the day tidying – and vomiting. You may have noticed the duffel wasn’t amongst my contributions.”

He pointed over the stream, at a sandy patch behind a cluster of immature spruce. I hadn’t noticed, up until then, how churned the area’s earth appeared, but I was pleased with my inadvertent choice of slumbering on the bank furthest from the burial site.

 

(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.

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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.

FP160 – The Murder Plague: Barriers, Part 1 of 1

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and sixty.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present, The Murder Plague: Barriers, Part 1 of 1.

[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp160.mp3]Download MP3
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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Walker Journals

It’s vaguely like the Diary Of Anne Frank, but with zombies instead of Nazis.

Find them all at youtube.com/walkerzombiesurvivor

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 travel-mates must make a hard decision before suddenly finding themselves with few options.

Flash Pulp 160 – The Murder Plague: Barriers, Part 1 of 1

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

The Murder PlagueWe were shooting down the road like a greased eel amongst the groping hands of country-fair attendees, when we spotted a goliath by the roadside.

He had his thumb popped to the east, and a bored expression on his face, as if it weren’t likely that any passers-by would just as soon run him down as pick him up. I suppose if I had the physique of a well constructed Victorian-era strongman, I too might have had a little more confidence while loitering amongst the homicidal infected.

Another problem with a virus which turns everyone around you into a paranoid maniac is that you spend a lot of time second guessing your decisions. We spent ten minutes in silence, as we attempted to reassure ourselves of our own logic.

“We should try and talk to him,” said Minnie. I’d brought the Escalade to a halt at the crest of a hill, well away from the stationary traveler, and I was fairly confident that he hadn’t noticed us.

“Balls to that,” replied Jeremy. “Were you not paying attention back at the gas station? Why would we ever want to risk further exposure to those friggin’ nutters?”

Despite his callous tones, I was inclined to agree with him. Even if the wayfarer wasn’t sick, I was too out of patience for another seismic change in the world. A fatigue sets in after your second murder scene of the day.

“Maybe we’ll just wave,” I said. “I hate to ignore a fellow survivor, but I’m sure he’ll understand, given the circumstances.”

When he did spot our approach, he started flailing both arms, vigorously.

If he saw our return greeting, it was as a blur. I had us up to top speed by that point, as I thought he might impart a few bullet holes in our bumper as a parting gift for spurning him.

The countryside was a smear of farmhouses, fields, and fencing – the rustic beauty seemed unmarred, except as we passed a single abandoned Greyhound bus, with its tall tinted windows broken out, and its silvery husk left in a field to fend against the insistent sun.

We hadn’t slowed when we hit the ambush, almost a mile further down the road.

As we passed over the spike-strip, I veered left, sending the behemoth Escalade sliding sideways, over a ditch and into some homesteader’s forgotten harvest. As the vehicle became perpendicular, our seat-belts encouraged us to do likewise. I don’t remember much about the crash itself, but I was certainly pleasantly surprised to discover we had come to a stop in the farmer’s field with only our faithful steed as a casualty.

There we sat, waiting for the universe to settle. To my left was a patch of soybeans, pressed flat by the unexpectedly un-shattered glass. To my right was the sky. Once I was fairly convinced of both, I unbuckled, and my companions did the same.

Adrenaline – and the elation that comes when your brain realizes that it has somehow survived the latest mess you’ve put it through – made us thick and unthinking.

As we climbed onto the upturned passenger door, I caught a sudden plunk over the wibble-wobble of the still-spinning tires. I don’t know how to describe it in any better way than as a plunk.

Now, listen: this wasn’t a plonk, or a plop, or a thud; this plunk was no random result of our impact, and the plunk and I were no strangers passing each other by under odd circumstances.

Nay. I knew this plunk.

“Uh, did you hear that?” asked Minnie, testing her balance to see if she might stand for a better view.

I shoved her over backwards, sending her into the greenery and muck below, then, as Jeremy opened his mouth in question, I nudged him too.

He’d barely had time to accuse my mother of an unorthodoxed style of animal husbandry when my suspicions were confirmed. While I was in the middle of my own descent, the familiar plunk repeated itself.

“Someone is shooting at us,” I noted, brushing the muddy results of my landing from my knees.

I recognized the sound all too well, as I was on hand when similar noises had sent a favourite chess partner home from our extended overseas engagement with Uncle Sam’s traveling mud-huggers.

After a few long moments of silent continued-existence, my comrades had taken on the numb look that’s common to amateur targets – I must admit, nevertheless, that I was quite pleased with myself for having picked the right side to land on.

“Our mad-person,” I said, “has set up their kill zone quite well. We would have been ducks in a row, if we’d remained on the road. It’s quite lucky that we flipped the beast, really.”

“We’re dead,” replied Minnie.

“No, no,” I assured her, “when night falls, we’ll make for the treeline. I’m sure we’re not far from some formerly-occupied farmhouse where we might help ourselves to a pickup truck with a wide-range of amusing bumper stickers.”

“What if Assassination Jones over there has night vision?” asked Jeremy.

I must say, I hadn’t thought of that. It had been my first assumption that the perpetrator was a local deer hunter gone amok, but the setup’s precision and planning gave the new consideration a lot of weight.

There was something else as well: if it were a greenhorn murderer, I would have expected them to waste more ammunition. They were professional enough to hold off for a meatier bulls-eye.

Lacking options, we tried to find a comfortable seating arrangement. Unfortunately, soybeans offer up very little cushioning.

As the sun dipped out of sight, Minnie became assertive about her interest in departing. I don’t blame the poor girl for getting restless, as even a wall the size of an Escalade can begin to feel tiny when it’s all that stands between you and the afterlife. That said, I maintained my opinion that we’d have better odds with as much dark as possible, and she begrudgingly agreed.

Even at its blackest, though, I wasn’t willing to start running about, willy-nilly. That said, night vision isn’t perfect, and especially not the sort that you might pick up at a Wal-Mart. Taking off my jacket, I draped a few billowing-taunts beyond the engine’s border.

“Plunk,” replied our nameless assailant.

At least, on that occasion, I managed to hear the crack of the invisible stalker’s weapon, rolling towards us from somewhere to the west.

That settled, we once again took up our seating.

Not long after, Jeremy began to cry.

It was after midnight when, wiping away a thick string of snot, he spotted our salvation. The abandoned bus was headed our way. Well, moving, yes, but ever so slowly – so much so, in fact, that I thought at first the whole thing was an optical illusion.

As it neared, however, we made out why: the strongman was the only thing motivating the Greyhound along. He’d flipped open the underside baggage doors, and was using them as a handle to push against, leaving the bulk of the bus as a shield. We were fortunate to be on the far-side of the raised asphalt.

His cycle was thus: push, push, push, adjust the steering wheel, rest, repeat.

He came into conversation-range well ahead of being in safe-to-do-anything-about-it-range.

“You people are jerks,” he said. “I’ve got blisters on my hands from the first time I had to push this stupid thing across this stupid field.”

“Why didn’t you just drive it?” asked Jeremy.

“If this thing’s engine was working, do you think I’d’ve been trying to hitch over the hill from Lee Harvey Oswald?”

“Well, to be fair,” I said, maybe feeling a little defensive about my deciding vote, “thumbing a ride doesn’t really seem the most brilliant idea either.”

“This whole area is full of friggin’ nutbar recluse survivalists and farmers. Every one of these houses is a landmine on top of a bear trap that’s been rubbed down with poison. Trust me, I know – a dozen of us originally stepped off this thing. The road was the only place we WEREN’T slaughtered.”

At that point he started pushing again, and it didn’t seem polite to interrupt him with further chatter.

Once he’d finally eclipsed the shooter’s view of our little fort, we sprinted the ten yards between us. Minnie took up position at his open door, and Jeremy and I leaned into the one that was now at the rear.

Although we made much better time than he had alone, it was still dawn before we’d moved into safety, and nearly noon when we’d finished heaping high apologies – and thanks.

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.

FP157 – The Murder Plague: Democracy, Part 3 of 3

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

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present, The Murder Plague: Democracy, Part 3 of 3.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp157.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 


This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Nutty Bites Podcast.

Find out more at http://nimlas.org!

 

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 must contend with the sudden death of an acquaintance, as well as the gunman who did her in.

 

Flash Pulp 157 – The Murder Plague: Democracy, Part 3 of 3

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

 

The Murder PlagueI’ll admit it – Johanna was the closest to a post-apocalyptic friend that I’d had up until that point. Not that we talked much, I suppose, but she’d quickly took up a hose when it looked like my house was likely to burn down, and that sort of thing tends to make me like a person.

“Whoa, hello Sheriff!” said Jeremy. The ill dressed hooligan was smiling.

We were all watching Tyrone, who was holding the handgun firmly at his side. It was a slightly more pleasant alternative to staring at the leaking carcass of our former companion.

“She was infected,” the old man replied.

“Hell yeah,” agreed the former Presidential-nominee. “I bet if we’d gone back there to look at the guy she clubbed to death, she would have used it as a chance to take out another one of us.”

Honestly, the shock of witnessing sudden death wasn’t what had me on my heels, it was the casual justification that followed. I’d forgotten that these people had been at the business of surviving the Murder Plague longer than I had. The cabin was like an ancient memory, as if it were something I’d known as a child – not just a few days earlier – and it seemed to me then that the extra week of enduring Hitchcock’s had turned my fellow humans into monsters.

Minnie stepped in then, carrying the light of hope.

“What the sweet crippity-crap are you yammering about?” she asked. “You have no proof, you just murdered her! You’re no better than they are!”

She was a brave girl to be shouting at a man with a pistol, especially one who had already proven his willingness to use it.

“Shut it,” replied Jeremy, “Let the adults talk.”

I cleared my throat, trying to get my feet.

“There aren’t any children anymore,” I said.

Tyrone pointed the death-dealer in my direction.

“She was working with Paul – imagine that, my own boy, trying to kill me. Not at home? Where else would he be? Coming to find me, of course. No other way about it. You two were in there way too long for it to be otherwise – long enough to plan. Where is he? Where’s Paul!?”

Having a gun aimed at you is an uncomfortable experience. Like a game of twister in reverse, your entire body wants to contort away from the one spot that would mark the passage of the bullet.

“Dammit,” said Jeremy, conceding his error.

The former grandfather, realizing just how close we all were, took a step back – that’s when a face appeared between the ads for scratch tickets. He was a big guy, with meaty cheeks, and his skull was clearly visible through the multitude of skin flaps on his forehead. The stranger put a bloody hand on the window, and suddenly I wasn’t the one in the line of fire anymore. While I was busy scraping my palms and knees on the pavement with a rushed dive, Minnie scooped up a jug of blue windshield washer fluid.

After several pops in quick succession, the weapon clicked on an empty chamber. The teen let fly with both arms, crushing the codger’s nose.

To Jeremy’s credit, he thought to try for a grab before Tyrone could pull any more rabbits from beneath his sweater.

Imitating the moves of a TV wrestling champ, the youth managed knock away the ordnance and entrap his elder in an awkward headlock. For a moment, the senior stopped struggling, and the situation seemed under control.

There was nothing we could do for the interloper.

I stooped to pick up the barren armament, and asked, “well, what now?”

“I vote we leave him,” replied Minnie. “Like Alyssa. Just get in the car and go.”

“He just killed someone!” shouted Jeremy.

“Two someones,” I corrected.

“So, you were wrong on Johanna,” said the girl, “- but this time you’re sure, so it’s OK to execute him?”

“Hey – I never said I was wrong about her, for all we know she infected him,” responded the captor.

“You’re on his side,” announced his captive.

Trying to hold onto someone who’s vehemently opposed to the idea is a much tougher bit of business than cop shows would have you believe. Four flailing limbs can make brutal clubs. The senior’s illness gave him the energy of a man a quarter his age, and one who’d been doped up on pharmaceuticals and thrown into a gladiatorial arena at that. Jeremy couldn’t maintain his grip.

Once free, Tyrone lunged for the door’s gray metal handle, danced over the store’s original occupant, and absconded inside.

No one was interested in giving chase, but, as we watched through the ragged holes in the safety glass, we soon realized it would have been a short pursuit anyhow.

Instead of breaking towards the washroom, as Johanna had done, he ran through a gray entrance marked “Employees Only” – towards the stock room.

I didn’t get close enough to investigate, so I don’t know how the shop’s first resident had rigged it, but, if Tyrone hadn’t sprouted an inverted axe handle from the top of his skull, it would have simply looked as if the old man had come to a sudden stop. I suppose the idea had been that any looters would make directly for the supplies, but the hoarder’s suspicions hadn’t considered that a traveller’s bladder might take precedence above their stomach. At the appearance of Johanna, he’d been forced to take matters into his own hands.

Even then, it didn’t prove he’d been sick – at best, it proved he’d been greedy.

We rummaged around and found three jerrycans, which we filled to the brim with fuel. None of us felt like snatching up any snacks – it wasn’t the corpses, it was the fact that we couldn’t be sure that the trapster hadn’t poisoned everything he didn’t want to eat.

Call us wasteful if you like, but we took another vote then, and pyre won out over burial.

We were a long ways away before the burning station’s column of smoke disappeared from my rear-view mirror.

 

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.

FP156 – The Murder Plague: Democracy, Part 2 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and fifty-six.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present, The Murder Plague: Democracy, Part 2 of 3.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp156.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 


This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Nutty Bites Podcast.

Find out more at http://nimlas.org!

 

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 pulls into a roadside gas station, and must convene a jury of his peers.

 

Flash Pulp 156 – The Murder Plague: Democracy, Part 2 of 3

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

 

The Murder PlagueOnce back on the road, we were making good time on the highway when the Escalade’s fuel light came on. I had to ask myself a pressing question: when does looting simply become salvaging? If trapped in the middle of a contagion that transforms friends and family into paranoiac homicidals, is it an ethical issue to run off with a bag of Frito’s and a tank of gas?

The reality – given my operation of a vehicle which I’d borrowed from an acquaintance whom I’d personally ended – was that I’d already made my decision.

As such – and at the vocal insistence of my companions’ bladders – I pulled over at a deserted parking lot of a Gas’N’Go.

I tugged the keys from the ignition and made my way to the glass door. Not terribly excited about the the idea of being shot for plundering, I peered between the scratch ticket advertisements, and followed it up by shouting for service.

None appeared.

My preference would have been to wait it out a moment, but, behind me, I could hear my cohorts stuck in an urgent two-step jig, so I gave the handle a tug. I was surprised when the entrance opened with a cheery bing.

Up until that point, my fellow travellers had watched my prodding with trepidation and locked knees, but, unwilling, or unable, to hold on any longer, Johanna pushed me aside to brave the interior.

As she moved past the Doritos display rack, I shrugged and returned to the pumps.

Across the pavement, I heard Tyrone let out a snort as he surveyed the scene.

Jeremy was still at the vehicle as I twisted off the gas cap. His eyes seemed to be tracking a tennis game taking place between the store’s entry and the highway.

Finally, he said “I’m going around to the rear. Listen, in case I need help.”

“Well,” I replied, “I think you’re probably a big enough boy to -”

“Haw. Haw,” he interrupted, “I mean I may start yelling if there’s some sort of psycho thinking my need to piss is somehow a plan to slowly drown them.”

He trotted around the building’s vinyl-sided corner.

“I’d kill for a cigarette,” said Tyrone. As the blocky numbers tallied the cost of fuel I had no intention of paying for, we watched Minnie, still dancing from foot-to-foot by the gas station’s door. I assumed we were both busy placing silent bets with ourselves regarding her fortitude. “I quit thirty-five years ago, but it seems like a waste of will power, considering the state of the world. Want to head in with me, once my knees are stretched out, and help an old man reach for a pack?”

He smiled at me – the only time I saw him do so.

Still squeezing the handle, I thought of Johanna, and her hidden flask.

“Suppose,” I replied, “we make it to the military blockade. Maybe it takes us weeks, months even, but somehow we all manage to cross over, and, better yet, there’s a vaccine, or even a cure, waiting. There you are, stretching out on a free army cot, a hot meal in your belly and your thinking you’ve made it. Then the news comes down that the routine physical you just took detected a big black gob of cancer in your left lung. You don’t want to be that schmuck, do you?”

There was an edge in his eyes that piqued my curiosity about his response, but I never heard it – that’s when Minnie started screaming.

Johanna had exited the store, and her floral print dress was now slick and crimson.

Stepping in her direction, I tried to suss out where or how she might have been hurt. Jo had her arms out, almost as if to say, “will you look at this mess?” Before I’d halved the distance, she turned towards the still screaming teen, and that’s when the girl finally shut up. She was too busy swinging her fist to be slowed by unnecessary noise making.

As I pulled Minnie away, Jeremy reappeared.

Never one to rush to judgement, he shouted “She’s snapped!”

“No I haven’t – there was a man back there… While I was sitting there he suddenly burst through the door. I’ve never been so afraid in my life.” I couldn’t tell if she was in shock or not, but it was certainly the longest I’d ever heard her speak in a single breath. No longer caring who saw, she retrieved her rye and emptied the container. “I don’t even know how I did it, I hit him with the toilet cover, I guess, and he went into the mirror, and his head was sprinkling everywhere. As we hit each other all the cuts sprayed like we were shaking out a wet towel full of blood.”

She needed a hug, but I’ve never been one for initiating human contact – I should have though.

“How can we know that’s true!?” shouted Jeremy. His cheeks had gone red with the excitement, and his words were accompanied by vigorous arm flailing. “The guy was probably trying to find help, and she had a spazz out. She’s infected, and we should leave her here.”

“Well, fortunately, El Presidente, it’s not your decision alone. I’ve had to do some pretty ugly things in the last few days, and I believe her story. I say she comes.”

“I won’t get in the truck if she’s coming,” said Jeremy.

“You’re a free man.” I replied. I turned to Minnie. “- and your vote?”

The girl rounded on the silently weeping drunk.

“I’m sorry I hit you. I just panicked. I believe your story, though.”

Wheeling towards Tyrone, I was hopeful about the results of the headcount.

I was very surprised to see the codger holding a pistol, but I was more so when Johanna’s face disappeared with three sharp pops.

 

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.

FP155 – The Murder Plague: Democracy, Part 1 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and fifty-five.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present, The Murder Plague: Democracy, Part 1 of 3.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp155.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 


This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Nutty Bites Podcast.

Find out more at http://nimlas.org!

 

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 explores the interior of a companion’s son’s home, while considering his future in a land brimming with homicide.

 

Flash Pulp 155 – The Murder Plague: Democracy, Part 1 of 3

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

 

The Murder PlagueThere’s not much in the way of conversation starting after you and some friends have abandoned a bound paranoiac-madwoman, even if she was sick and likely to murder the lot of you.

Still, I suspect the thoughts of the five of us remaining in the Escalade spun around the same few questions: when was she infected? How was she infected? Were we now infected too?

Well, maybe all minds except Jeremy’s. That boy rarely had anything on his mind beyond the interior of his pants and his own position in the world.

After an hour’s driving, he broke the silence.

“So, uh,” he said. As he spoke, I remember him undoing his seat-belt and lifting himself off the leather so he could tug at his over-sized t-shirt. I also remember wondering how he’d managed to wrangle the passenger-side spot. Old man Tyrone didn’t look terribly comfortable wedged in back, between the ladies, and I felt like a chauffeur to the trio – with the middle row missing, it seemed like they were sitting at the far end of a football field. I could only guess where the former owner had stashed the rogue bench, as peculiar objects often went missing during the time of Hitchcock’s. “We should nominate a leader. I think we all agree that, as the strongest dude here, I should probably be it.”

“This isn’t a game of schoolyard red rover,” I replied. “We don’t need a team captain.”

Two days prior my discharge from Uncle Sam’s marching penguins, I’d been directed to kill a sixteen-year-old looter. The sole person to issue me an order from then, till the plague, was Kate, and cancer ended that chain of command well before the young hooligan’s suggestion that he might elect himself as a tinpot President.

“My boy lives a half mile down from the next right-hand turn,” said Tyrone.

I have to give the codger credit for knowing when to change the subject. I wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth or not – it struck me as odd that he he hadn’t mentioned anything until we’d gotten so close, but, in retrospect, I can’t blame him for avoiding answers.

I rounded the corner.

The house had a big yard, slightly overgrown, and various children’s toys seemed to float on its surface, half-submerged in the greenery. There were no lights behind the windows of either floor.

“Don’t think anyone is home,” said Johanna.

Minnie cleared her throat.

“You guys can go poking around all you like, but I’m not going in. Leave me the keys, though.”

I killed the engine, watching Tyrone’s rheumy eyes in the mirror as he sized up the shadowy front-porch.

“OK then,” I said, “This decision is simple enough – we break into two groups: everyone going in, get out.”

There was a pause, during which nobody moved, then, for some bloody reason, I opened my door.

The real surprise came next, however. It was just me and Johanna.

“It’s really appreciated,” shouted Tyrone, from behind the glass.

I damned my mother for raising her son so well.

Johanna cocked an eyebrow, but said nothing. She did crack a bit of a smile when she noticed me dropping the Escalade’s starter into my pants-pocket.

What else was there to do?

We walked down the cobble-stone path that split from the driveway and took the double tread up onto the welcome mat. Out of sight of the rest of the group, my companion snuck a flip of her flask, then offered me some of the same.

It was tempting, but I declined. As she raised another tipple, I alternated between the brass knocker and the buzzer. No one responded.

Tucking away her thirst, Johanna tried the lock and found no resistance. I followed her inside.

Across from the entry, sitting on a buffet below the flight of steps leading to the second floor, was an ancient answering machine. The only source of light in the room was the digital counter, which was blinking five. I would rather have avoided it, but, while I was still fumbling for a switch, she hit the barely visible play button.

The device gave a few metallic clicks, then started talking.

“Paul, Maggie,” said Tyrone’s voice. “It’s, uh, Tuesday, 9AM. I’m not liking the looks of the neighbourhood. Your dear old dad is coming to visit. See you soon.”

As it was a Tuesday, the communique must have been at least a week old.

There was a flat beep, then a woman’s suburbanite mutter. As she spoke, I managed to locate a row of dimmers and flooded the entrance area – which included the living room to the left and the kitchen to the right – with illumination.

There was a fat dead dog at the bottom of the stairs.

“Hi,” said the machine. It sounded as if she were calling from a moving vehicle. “Nick was telling me about the birthday invitation you guys sent last week. I’ve just got a few quick questions, if you could give me a call back.”

She left her number, but my memory isn’t as reliable as a cassette tape.

We went around the couch, ignoring the tidy stack of magazines and remotes on the coffee table at its center.

There was a large fireplace beside the flatscreen, so I picked up a poker, and Johanna followed my lead by grabbing a solid metal ash-pan. There wasn’t much else of interest, nor in the little office that adjoined the space, nor in the dining room that lead off of that.

The litany of missed calls continued.

“It’s pretty rude not to give some simple answers,” opened the third message. “Nick is, uh, really upset that he doesn’t know what’s going on. You better call me.”

Our exploration brought us to the kitchen’s other access, and our path at that point inevitably lead back to the canine cadaver. It looked in rough shape. It’s dark brown fur contained streaks of dried blood, but the thick coat also hid the exact nature of its injuries from view. Fortunately, it didn’t smell terribly rotten yet.

I spent a moment guessing if Tyrone would be offended at my idea of using one of the canvas grocery bags, which were hanging on a hook beside the pearly white microwave, to collect up some canned goods.

The box gave another beep.

“Listen to me. I’ve driven by your house twice now, and I can see you moving inside. ANSWER MY CALLS.”

I decided to skip the pillaging and move directly to the second floor. Keeping my eyes firmly on my feet, I took the steps two at a time. Johanna was right beside me, close enough that I could tell it was rye she’d been drinking, and we moved in unison.

Neither of us made it beyond the baby gate which barred the opening to the upper hallway.

There was a lot of someone, or someones, spread around the carpet.

“Beep,” announced the phone-minder.

“I’m coming over,” said the woman. Then she hung up with a clunk.

“Why did she kill the dog too?” asked Johanna, as we made our way back onto the porch.

“She didn’t,” I told her. “The mutt’s what made the mess. Poor pooch probably hid under a bed while it was happening. Then, days later, once there was nothing usable left to eat, it must have tried to jump the gate, breaking its neck in the process.”

Before climbing into the vehicle, we agreed to tell Tyrone the house was empty.

 

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.