Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and forty-one.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Ladies Pendragon.
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 a new obstacle to remaining alive in a world dominated by a homicidal epidemic.
Flash Pulp 141 – The Murder Plague: Community, Part 1 of 3
The exhaustion from my initial foray into Murder-Plague survival was overwhelming, and, when sleep finally found me, I was out like a college freshman on the opening day of spring break. The rest did me good.
When I awoke, my immediate thought was for my wayward daughter.
I knew Doc Henley, rotting away in his living room, had little use for the Escalade he had once used to putter between his home and his practice, so I stepped into the crisp morning, noted that I had no paper awaiting me on the doorstep, then crossed the street. On my way, I caught a strong whiff of smoke, and had an opportunity to get a sunlit look at the blackened plank-teeth that made up the remnants of the residence five down from my own. I didn’t realize then how lucky I’d been that the place had guttered, instead of sharing its fiery bounty with its neighbors.
I started my search of the doctor’s bungalow by ransacking every room that didn’t contain the man I’d killed, then, once I was sure that it was the only option, I entered his death chamber. His corpse lay across his white leather couch, just as I’d left it, and he put up little fuss as I rifled his personal materials – even when we were forced to become more intimate than I was comfortable with. Now, so long after, I can still tell you with confidence that his keys were in the right-hand pocket of his khaki slacks.
The second excursion was nothing like the first. I’d learned my lesson, and didn’t allow myself to get caught up in the business of others. In truth, while passing the few pedestrians brave, or sick, enough to risk the sidewalks, I had a terrible urge to gun the engine – but I was just as worried that someone might take it as an act of war, and start tossing bullets my way in plague-fueled paranoid-reflex.
It’s also worth mentioning, however, that politeness seemed generally at an all time high, as a survival instinct. There were no tailgaters during Hitchcock’s – or, if there were, they’d been quickly eliminated via unnatural selection.
The house in which my daughter had been squatting was empty when I arrived. I loitered for a while, hoping she’d return, but it was obvious that Becky had taken everything of use and departed. I sat on her borrowed bed for a while, considering the situation.
Had Rebecca left because, somewhere in her infected brain, she knew that I would return, and she didn’t want to be responsible for my death? Or was she lurking, awaiting an opportunity to do me in?
Eventually the thoughts chased me home, where they were immediately displaced by an entirely different set of concerns.
When I’d stepped onto the roadway that morning I’d assumed the tickle at my nose was the smouldering pile down the street – as I approached, this poor reasoning was corrected by a wall of smoke marching out of the west.
I parked the Escalade on the pavement, facing east.
The issue was the wind. The smoke, and the flame, were being carried along by a stiff breeze, and, as I clambered over my rooftop with the garden hose, hoping to dampen things enough to keep my suburban castle safe, the exploding propane tanks of my neighbours’ barbecues provided a sort of “from the lightning till the clap” method of measuring the time I had till the fire was upon me. It was obvious within an hour of my return that the situation was getting out of hand.
As I stood on the soaked shingles, pondering my predicament, Mr Baldy came bursting from his home. Not his real name, of course, but I’d never introduced myself to the family on the side of the house opposite the Hernandezes’. As I raised a hand in greeting, I realized that he was alone – that is, without his wife or trio of sons. In response his own fingers went to a gun tucked into his belt, and it took no further encouragement to send me hurtling to the far side of the peak.
I was pleased when the next sound to reach me was his car starting, and not the clanking of a ladder.
Once he was well gone, I picked up my rubber spout and took stock of my corner of the apocalypse.
The air was getting thick, and dancing red was clearly visible beneath the gouts of black that blanketed the western horizon. Before I could decide it was a good time to follow Baldy’s exit, I noticed a cluster of five, prowling down the road like traumatized cats.
They moved slowly, with a motley array of weaponry in their fists, and their heads were constantly craning about to scan the surrounding doorways.
It says something about how quickly I’d become acclimatized to a terrible situation that I was surprised to see a group of people not occupied with attempting to kill each other.
With Baldy in mind, I damned my idiotic need for company, then bellowed a hello.
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