Category: Thomas Blackhall

FP394 – The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3

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

Flash PulpTonight we present The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The P.G. Holyfield Appreciation Dept.

 

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, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, chases dark portents into a small town on the river’s edge.

 

The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3

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

 

On a morning so fierce and dry it made even the greenest timber seem at threat of flaring up from simple exposure, Thomas Blackhall stumbled into the village of Malhousen.

He had been summoned over the mystic aspect of an apparent impending demise.

Malhousen proper was little more than a trading post facing down a small churchyard, but the two dozen families that populated the surrounding rocky lands were on friendly enough terms to call each other neighbour, and the occasional mail delivery seemed to indicate that the government agreed on the designation.

Still, visitors were a rare thing that far off in the bushlands, and there was no public house, nor inn, motel or tavern – as a field-tromping farmer had passed word to Thomas that any with interest enough to make the journey likely did so because they knew someone in the area well enough to board with them.

Blackhall: A Skinner Co. Fantasy Fiction Podcast“If you need a place to stay, though,” the muck-handed man with the broad straw hat had said, “I’m sure a few coins could clean mother’s sewing parlour for the evening.”

The offer had stood as long as it took Blackhall to explain what had brought him.

Strolling beyond the low white fence that separated the churchyard cemetery from non-hallowed turf, Thomas came to the river that had given the town its name, then cast off his gear with the tender concern of a man who’d just spent a full two weeks cursing at its weight.

Retrieving a small pouch from his breast pocket, he lay his great coat across his packs and sat upon the sandy bank to take in the current’s breeze. In time his fingers found a fine Spanish paper and stuffed it with tobacco, then, in more, the sun nuzzled the horizon.

Not being the Sabbath, there seemed to be only the church’s red-faced Scottish priest to glower at the stranger loafing away the afternoon.

At first, as his smoke had chased the water bugs downstream, Blackhall had thought that the cleric was simply the type to disapprove of all outsiders, but, by the hour at which his stomach began to call for supper, Thomas had decided the Scot likely knew why he was at hand, and that the holy man wanted nothing to do with his occult concerns.

It was his thinking that a true busy body could not be content to maintain a distance, but the priest had spent his day at just the distance necessary to be always aware of Blackhall’s position.

As Thomas began to consider what he was carrying that might appease his complaining appetite, a man exited from the trading post, walked the short breadth of its porch, then joined him on the riverbank via the fence-side route.

“I apologize,” said the prematurely-graying newcomer. “I’m Wyatt, the man who requested your presence. I would’ve joined you earlier, yet – well, you may’ve noted that business is sluggish, but what customers I receive depend on the regularity of my habits.

“I should also mention that my ears aren’t of much use. Though I could hear till my eighteenth year, they’re long gone now. It makes me poor conversation, as I talk too much about nothing and with little response. I’ve some skill at reading lips, but there are few here who will allow me to practice. They have fields to till and cows to slaughter, I suppose.”

“You’re sole occupation is running the store?” asked Blackhall, his words slow and clear.

The man raised his brow.

“The store?” repeated Thomas, his fingers waving in the squat shack’s direction.

“Oh, I act as middleman between those who grow beats and those who grow potatoes. The potato men come to me for their beats, the beat men come to me for their potatoes, and I make barely enough between them to taste either.

“In addition, the same boatman who collects the post brings up a selection of needles and dry goods that I resell. Despite my deafness I hear complaints over even that tiny profit.”

Blackhall nodded, and the shop keep smiled to have a friendly ear.

“The truth,” he continued, “is that I receive a child’s treatment because of my conversational difficulties. You’ve been a kind audience, but those who care for anything beyond inquiring about carrot seed often grow loud, which is a body posture as much as a tone, and neuter their language to a level more appropriate for a mush-headed bairn.

“It is usually those same folks who can’t scratch their own names, and thus can’t simply write out their orders and questions for prompt service.”

“It must be a lonely life,” Blackhall repeated until the man caught his meaning.

“It’s the postal counter that most keeps me in place,” replied Wyatt. “I’ve made a tangle of friends across the globe with those simple scraps of paper, and I collect more news than a dozen broadsheet hawkers. It was those same that gave me your name to search out when the matter of the death bringer raised itself.

“Still, as you can perhaps tell, I do long for the simple pleasure of seeing a face react, instead of outwaiting the slow transmission and careful composition of a letter.”

The conversation continued forward in little ways until dusk, but, due to their minor discussion, they did not note the departure of the flame-haired priest on his sagging, silent, pony.

By the time the frogs had begun to sing and dew was forming on the grass, Wyatt and Thomas were no longer alone.

Several men with lanterns, slurring courage and raising enough noise to find each other despite the wobbling of their illumination, began to gather about the white picket fence.

Their filth-kneed pants marked the crowd as farmers, but Thomas could discern nothing more as they took to shouting commands and demanding answers, simultaneously and without deference for his neighbour’s bellowing.

The priest was close behind.

It was as the Father moved to the forefront and raised his arms for silence, however, that there came, from beyond the river, the keening sound of death – a high and jittering wail that was no more dampened by the babble of men and water than would be a bullet.

Then the evening’s trials truly began.

 

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

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

Coffin’s theme is Quinn’s Song: A New Man, by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com/

Freesound.org credits:

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

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

FP384 – The Scarred Man: a Blackhall Tale

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

Flash PulpTonight we present The Scarred Man: a Blackhall Tale
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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Glow in the Dark Radio

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight we join Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, as he encounters an undying combatant by a lonely northern lake.

 

The Scarred Man: a Blackhall Tale

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

 

Blackhall met the immortal on the edge of a lake known by the few who occasionally wandered its shores as the Blue Sip. He’d seen naught but the intermittent chipmunk in his last three days of journey through the heavy undergrowth, and, in his stop, he’d been seeking nothing more than a moment of cool respite from his westward campaign to retrieve the dancing corpse of his dead wife.

The immortal, however, had been seeking nothing more than Blackhall.

Thomas had been considering the state of his preparations to break the hold of the hag who led Mairi through the shadowed wildwoods when the lumbering titan arrived.

He had dealt with giants and their ilk in the past, but never while standing naked in three feet’s water. Still, though the man was tall, and his musculature so over-large to be almost a caricature of human form, Blackhall soon realized he was no giant.

The stranger wore a cloak and carried a shotgun at his shoulder, which Thomas felt likely to be heavy and hot gear for the depth of the timber and harshness of sun. The interloper was in apparent agreement, as his first action upon arrival was to drop both.

“I was born as Nikanor, some three millennia past,” he said as he laid aside a sheathed blade too big to be a knife but too short to be a modern sword.

The sight of the weapon, even in being set aside, did little more than remind Blackhall of the distance to his own silver-edged sabre, which lay among his gear on the shoreside. It was too far – and the shotgun too close – for the frontiersman’s liking.

“I was born Thomas some few dozen years ago,” was the best the could find for an answer.

For a moment Nikanor looked puzzled, then a slow smile came to his ground sausage lips. His face appeared to have suffered and survived a half-dozen cleavings, and his skull was roughly misshapen with the scar tissue that had grown across the wounds.

“I know who you are, shaman,” he replied. “I have marched from the coast to meet you. Funny that it should be here, for my journey began, in many ways, in a very different bit of water – the Styx. My mother was a proud strumpet and a glory of her age. She was also a genius at the bargaining table. The gods of the time on the other hand, were naught but letches, and there came a day when Zeus himself came to our door.

“She turned him away a full three times, then offered herself up under two specific conditions.

“That is how her only child, a lowly army footman of sixteen, came to find himself dipped, much like Achilles, in the Styx – but Mother was well aware of the tales, and so demanded I be held by my hair. I have been bald since, but my heels are in grand order.”

As he spoke, the Greek had stripped back the loose cloth of his shirt to reveal a form that reminded Thomas most of a picture book knight. Instead of the gleam of full plate, however, the man was a mass of cratered sinew and flesh grown deep from the brutality of ten thousand traumas. Wound had healed atop of wound until the layering was so thick it stood tall from the bone and took on the aspect of a natural leather armour.

The thick cords of his neck, though still showing signs of damage, were considerably less worn, and it was to a long white defect that Nikanor pointed as he sat upon a fallen tree and said, “this was one of my first, a battle with a raiding warlord coming in over the northern border. I laughed every moment of the march, thinking I was invincible. Not quite – I am perhaps immortal, but I am still penetrable. I’d caught a ragged sliver of metal the rabble were calling weapons before I realized the difference. It hurt too – enough so that I killed at least fifty on the field as my reply.

“It healed in a day, but that day was agony.

“We patrolled again that spring, and for many seasons on – until we met the Laconians on in open meadow and I learned that I alone could not turn the tide of battle. Every man I had admired or dreaded, every friend I’d made in my brief career, every idiot I’d bickered with, was wiped from the Earth in a single encounter.

“Left for dead, my butchered body was only capable of standing two days after the scavenger birds had arrived to pull their dinner from my comrades’ cheeks.

“I could not return as the sole survivor of a massacre without being accused of cowardice, but I knew just one life. It did not take me long to create a new identity and reenlist, and the evidence of my wounds acted as all the biography I required. The cycle has repeated itself many times since.

”Every pot of boiling oil, every flight of arrows, every dagger gash acted to toughen my skin. By the time I fought with the Scots against your countrymen I needed little more protection than to leave my flesh bare, for it took a man with a true arm of steel, and a clear opportunity, to pierce my scarred disfigurement.

“I rarely met the first, and I was too well practiced to allow for the second.”

No longer was Blackhall concerned about the proximity of his blade. The turn of the tale had set his mind casting ahead in search of its conclusion, and he did not like what he’d found.

http://www.skinner.fm/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Blackhall.jpgThe tone was too heavy, the setting too inevitable. He had killed before, and would again in self-defense, but his own time under the King’s command had long washed a taste for violence from his mouth.

“Niko,” he asked, “what was the other condition?”

Turning his gaze from a cloud on the horizon, the deathless man answered, “the other what?”

“You said your mother had two conditions, and that your immortality was but one of them.”

“Oh – the other was that Zeus remain human in shape. She was well read and had no interest in the legends of beasts and fowl.”

“The gods of antiquity truly were perverts.”

That got another smile from the old soldier, but it could not stop his momentum.

“None of the kings I helped rise to the throne remained,” he continued. “Their names are as forgotten as their kingdom’s borders. The maps shift like sands, and my travels have proven to me there is little more difference between peoples than the foods they have at hand and the god they pray to before eating it.

“Yet I’ve killed them all.

“Many things happen in such a span as mine. Many mistakes are made in rage or fear or a moment’s reaction. My condition allows no release from those errors, simply more opportunity to compound them.

“I have lost count at points – I am sure I have lived more than three thousand years – but it is in just these last twelve months that my agony has taken hold. Hired on to lay low some sheep thieves while waiting for the summer’s march, I set my shot into a figure in the dark and killed a boy of sixteen. It was meant to be just another victory, but – well, perhaps it is only because I have come so far from my youth that I can no longer remember its exact image, but I swear his face was my own at that age.

“Even before the arcane began to flow from the world I had come to the realization that there was little point in continuing. There is no end to the fighting, and all I’m left with is confusion. Please, do you have a method by which to end my misery?”

The words moved over the water with the weight of a voice that had seen the worst of three thousand years, and Blackhall found the damp suddenly all too chill.

Thomas’ mind landed in the streets of Ciudad Rodrigo, then flew to the death of his own wife, and finally came to rest on his growing guilt at the distance between he and his child.

If he was ever to be forgiven, could not, too, the evils of a being whose mettle might achieve so much good?

“Could I end you?” asked Blackhall, “yes, probably.

“Will I? No.

“I’ll instead come ashore, and we shall plan you a new life between mouthfuls of jerky. This existence I promise will provide remittance from your guilt if you are strong enough to manage it.”

“To what purpose?”

“To what purpose any birth? You say you are confused, well, so too are all bairns. I will say, though, that what I have in mind will be a truly great purpose – but, to begin, you will construct and stock a homestead of some size.”

“I have no idea how to farm.”

“Well, we are in luck in that regard, as your condition allows us plenty of time for you to learn.”

The conversation carried well into the night, and it would be but the first of a long acquaintance.

 

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

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

Freesound.org credits:

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

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

FP358 – Thirst: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 2

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Thirst: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 2
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This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Quarter Bin

 

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, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, is dogged by madness as he attempts to give breath to a dying girl.

 

Thirst: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 2

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

 

Long years of dealing with the Canadian wilderness’ lurking calamities, both natural and arcane, had Blackhall’s body taut and aching. It was well into 1849, and his march through the pines and over the tall grasses had especially left the injury in his leg throbbing at a greater volume than normal.

Still, while his limbs begged for a respite, his thoughts raced.

Though the absurdly well-appointed tea room in which he rested had many points of commonality with the parlour his mother had used to receive afternoon callers, his mind could not remain within its purple-and-white wallpapered boundaries, and he damned its errant wanderings.

Here sat a father with tears in his eyes and misery wetting his brow, and yet he could think of naught but the proximity of his dead Mairi – yes, even as the final strands of the fantastic gathered in the hinterlands to disappear for eternity, all was Mari, always.

There had been feverish moments in the deep brush in which the flat breathing stone tethered by rawhide about his neck had been his only indication that his occult undertakings were anything but madness, and that his transience was anything other than a manifestation of his refusal to accept his wife’s death, and he had wondered if she was his form of hydrophobia? Was he as rabid, in his own way, as the mystic beasts whose intellects had crumbled in recent days?

Had he given up his tools for safekeeping until the appropriate time because he could no longer trust himself?

He could not remember.

Yet here was Cecil Carter – wearing Sunday finery on a dusty Wednesday and weeping into a handkerchief elegant enough to appear on any Parisian boulevard – begging for his assistance.

With effort Blackhall brought his mind back to the conversation, but his timber-roughened hands remained crassly locked about the mouth of his thin-handled China teacup.

“She does not but scream in a single and constant tone,” Carter was saying, “but it is not her voice, and her chest labours ever more, as if her very breath has, too, been supplanted. There is a thing that resides within her. I know it sounds fantastic, but what I at first thought a hallucination persists – horribly persists.

“I can not say how long Courtney will do the same.”

A merchant who’d fallen in love with the Albertan plains, Cecil was a figurehead rancher on an expanse of land run by a stout-limbed Irishman named McCabe. It had been McCabe’s entreaty, made ardently a days’ journey to the south, that had convinced Thomas to board the launch that would carry them upriver to the frontier manor house.

Blackhall coughed a very dry cough, then said, “your man provided more than enough detail, sir. Given your state of panic, and my pressing concerns, I think we’d both be best served by moving directly to your daughter’s bedside.”

Standing, Cecil arranged the tapered ends of his moustache with practiced fingers and lead the way.

Thomas spent the time crossing the large house with some small attempt at regaining the civilities of his former life.

“I have read of such a thing in German texts, but I’ve never heard mention of one so foolish as to choke its host. It is my hope that the matter will be quickly resolved, and your Courtney returned unharmed.”

Internally, however, he was again railing against his own behaviour. How long had it been since he’d dispatched a letter to his own little one, Lizzy? Little one no more, perhaps, but he was so close to Mairi – if not for these perpetual distractions.

June sunlight flooded the room whose paint was white, whose bed clothes were white, whose plushly hung draperies were white. Outside, beyond the thick rope of river that ran across the property, was a view of a distant mountain ridge. Inside, atop the frosted bed and hillock of ivory pillows, was a pale girl of ten.

Her mouth was wide, as were her eyes, and her lungs gasped at a runner’s sprint.

From the shadows behind her trembling lips came a keening as unnatural as any Thomas had ever heard. The note might be expected from an injured and frightened cat, but it had no place in a child’s maw – and never so constant nor unending.

Stepping forward Blackhall’s mind fell silent for all but the girl. Wiping aside three sweat-stained hairs clinging to her brow he peered into her tortured throat.

The room within had formerly been regal. A single throne rested against the opposite wall, and a broad hall stretched between. Well crafted tables had once sat at intervals across the stone floor, but most had been shunted aside or upturned, and many of the chairs resided in a ragged pile to the right of Thomas’ vision. No single seat seemed any longer whole.

BlackhallThe master of the place had not noticed his intrusion. The old king stood before an immense fireplace, his tattered crimson robes dragging in the guttered ashes. His chest was largely bare, but he still wore the ringed metal of a swordsman’s armour.

At the clearing of Thomas’ throat, he turned.

His eyes were as wide as the girl’s, as was his mouth. Even in his movement he did not cease his endless scream.

A shattered chair leg projected from his left-breast, near his shoulder, and a second stood firmly upright in his pierced belly. He had used the resultant blood to lay sloppy paint across his cheeks.

Had the pain of his condition caused the being to attempt to carve out his misery? It was impossible for Blackhall to tell: There was no reason on the imp’s lips, only a rage-filled froth.

It was but the height of the portal that prevented a successful attack when the bedlamite took up a length of charred log and made to lob it towards his onlooker.

Thomas, however, did not relish giving the madman a second attempt.

Moving too quickly to draw protests from her father, Blackhall dug deep into the snowy warmth and pulled the girl free, then set hastily for the door.

He had forgotten the heat and smell of salt that accompanied a sick child against his ribs.

Courtney wore just a white nightgown, but it’s protection was more than sufficient in the sun’s stiff glow. To her dazed mind there seemed no end to the sky’s blue.

Pulling the rawhide from his neck and placing the disc of stone on her tongue, Thomas provided simple instructions.

“Gape your mouth as if you were receiving a Christmas pudding and let the river’s fury within. When necessary close to catch your breath, but then return to your flooding.”

Carter arrived only in time to watch his offspring forced below the water’s surface.

Within sixty seconds his questions had turned to beratements, and at double that he began screaming for McCabe’s assistance in wrestling Thomas to the ground.

Despite the fury at his back, Blackhall remained locked on the girl’s face. Calmness had stilled her thrashing, and her arms had taken to helping him fight the torrent.

It was as the Irishman arrived that it became apparent that, though an honest foot beneath the stream, Courtney’s respiration was easier than at any moment in the last two weeks. From within the clear flow her renewed face cast a smile at the trio.

Thomas could not say if the imp had drowned or instinct had forced it into relocating, but her inhalation upon breaking the surface was whole and clean.

To Blackhall, Mairi seemed suddenly close – and so too did Elizabeth, his daughter.

As Cecil continued screaming about the near murder of his girl, Thomas again took up his long tread.

 

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

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

Freesound.org credits:

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

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

FP332 – Moderation, Part 1 – Temper: a Blackhall Tale

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Moderation, Part 1 – Temper: a Blackhall Tale
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp332.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Black Flag TV

 

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, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, finds himself on the wrong end of a chase.

 

Moderation, Part 1 – Temper: a Blackhall Tale

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

 

Blackhall’s mind scraped along a Spanish road, though the exhaustion it remembered in his legs was all too real. How long had it been since he’d fought in the King’s service? How long ago had he vowed to kill any farmer’s son or inheritance-less third child that Napoleon might throw against him?

Why did it matter?

To his mind the Spanish road was as endless as the sunset with which his memory had lit it.

He trudged on, for he knew one boot chasing the other was the only escape he had, yet he could not outpace his considerations.

Thomas Blackhall, Master Frontiersman and Student of the OccultWhere had he been when his Mairi needed him? Had he been at her side, or distracted with other men’s wars? What had he been chasing?

The sun pushed roughly at the edges of his hat brim, working hard to claw at the grit of his exhausted eyes.

Had he had so wide a brim in Spain? Certainly not.

It was amid this thought that his hand slipping on the prodding splinters of a fallen spruce brought him back to reality.

The damnable ivory squirrel was still there, pacing his slow ascent of the rocky Canadian hillside.

So too did the dogs remain below, baying as their noses gave up his every move.

Whatever lead he’d made by pressing on through the night had been defeated by the hounds’ keen and eager instincts.

* * *

The trouble had begun on the morning previous.

Thomas had returned, exhausted, to the cache that contained the majority of his worldly goods. Deep in the wilderness, he’d originally chosen the location as a prime place to clean the game he sought, and, to allow for freer hunting, he’d strung his burdens high in a maple.

It was only the drum, which he’d hung separately due to its awkward size, that the intruders had managed to release before his arrival.

With a muffled grunt of frustration, he’d dropped the unskinned buck that had been intended to serve as a gift of venison during his approaching appointment, then surveyed the situation.

Beneath the unlucky teen who’d been selected to scale the height lingered a single man, though the call and cackle of at least five more filtered through the brush. Blackhall guessed they were in the process of attempting to locate he himself, for the slave dealer who stood below the perched delinquent was all too familiar.

The frontiersman had tattooed him with the skin of another some months earlier.

Convinced this was no coincidental encounter in the wildwoods, Blackhall had released his saber and crept as near as he dared, for his rifle’s powder bag had run empty and his resupply was hanging overhead.

Fortunately, the pair’s preoccupation with his belongings was ample distraction to allow a close approach. Both sets of eyes were locked on the working of the his pocket knife as the boy leaned over the pilfered instrument to saw at the rope that held the heavy pack.

It would have been a simple matter for Thomas to wait out the drop then run the catcher through, but thoughts of Spain, and his dead wife, had begun to haunt him of late.

Instead, he’d watched the descent, then laid the man low with a blow from his sword’s hilt.

At the sight of the sudden assault, and the collapse of his unconscious companion, the climber had nearly lost his roost. Despite his young age, Blackhall was dismayed to see the youth’s tenacity in staying aloft while also retaining the drum.

He winced, as well, at the loss of the few feet of rope that had been all his already too heavy pack had allowed him – but there was no time to further lament his missing tools, mundane or mystical, as the cacophony of the bloodhounds was already approaching.

Within the hour the flapping-jowled beasts had pushed him to the banks of a lean and nameless river, and, for the thousandth iteration, he’d cursed his pursuer’s theft. The artifact’s arcane ship could have carried him to safety in but moments – and yet the power inherent in their stolen good had not been enough to placate the thieves.

Still, he was not without recourse, and he’d set the stone he wore as a pendant on a length of rawhide upon his tongue. The talisman had allowed him passage beneath the river’s surface, giving him space, but a toothy stretch of rapids had forced him from his haven, and his pursuers had only to walk the flow’s edge to sniff out the grassy bank he’d pulled himself onto.

Furthermore, his moisture-heavy clothes had not assisted his subsequent pace, and even the mystic artifacts he carried had not been spared the damp. He’d made little distance before the first approach of the snowy-hued squirrel, though he’d rebuked its mimed offer.

* * *

The trinkets and tokens, now dry, weighed upon him as he pressed against the downward pull of the hillslope, yet he knew none at hand would provide immediate escape.

He could give them the drum. It would be a loss, but it was not the key to the return of his wife – that lay, he felt, amongst the relics of undeciphered power. Their purpose escaped him, but these he would not relinquish.

The dogs broke through a line of foliage, below, and a shout of recognition went up from the hunting party.

Blackhall could run no further.

Again the silver squirrel circled, its chittering and limb-leaping now frantic.

There was no denying death a victory – not in this primeval setting, and not in his fatigued state – and had he not done as much as any man might to save the stalkers’ lives?

It would be but one more question for his catalogue.

Thomas nodded, finally, and the rodent gave a satisfied hiss before disappearing into the boughs of the nearest spruce.

(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

 

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

Freesound.org credits:

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

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

FP319 – The Cost of Living: Part 1 of 3 – Mistaken Natures: a Blackhall Chronicle

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and nineteen.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Cost of Living: Part 1 of 3 – Mistaken Natures: a Blackhall Chronicle
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp319.mp3]Download MP3
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(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

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

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, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, comes to the aid of a young boy caught up in a nightmare.

The Cost of Living: Part 1 of 3 – Mistaken Natures: a Blackhall Chronicle

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

Thomas BlackhallHe was at the cusp of civilization when the priest rode him down.

“Thomas Blackhall?” asked the red-faced youth from his shabby saddle.

To Thomas’ eyes the cleric seemed nearly as winded as his nag.

Despite being but two day’s travel from his destination – an appointment in the wildwood with a creature that, should he encounter it, would have likely made the lad doubt this collar – the frontiersman felt such a laboured trip deserved an honest answer.

“Yes?” he replied.

The rider opened his jacket wide to make his already-noted position all the more obvious. “I am Father Stanton. The Willards were kind enough to set me on your path. I have come far and must confess, I would have been truly heartbroken to have lost you amongst the pines.

“I – we – need your help.”

Blackhall’s boot drifted from the hunting trail he’d nearly escaped before the interruption, but he inquired, “who is we?”

“Father Sterling and myself. Well, no, I should really say a lad of twelve. He lies now in a small cabin – or, more truly, a small hell – to the east. If the wind is friendly and my mare holds out we can be there by dawn.”

“Damnation,” Thomas muttered as he turned back towards the muddy rut.

* * *

There was plentiful time for conversation as the horse huffed along its course.

“Sterling is a man operating under God’s grace, but still a man,” Stanton had finally confessed. “He made certain late night claims over surplus donations of altar wine. I was, er, taken with his tales of vigorous defenses of faith, and I must admit that perhaps my gusto involved us more deeply in this affair than either of us now would have liked.

“When we arrived, there was but the boy and his mother – the Soons are well known as the only Chinese family in the territory, and no doubt the other five have fled to a neighbouring home for the duration. It was such a helpful acquaintance that brought the news to our small parish, and it was as the frightened-face woman implored me that my interest in the world beyond men’s senses, and my enthusiasm for Father Sterling’s stories of spiritual warfare, overwhelmed my humility. When I agreed to help I did not realize how sorely prepared I was for the undertaking.

“It was also my interest in the world beyond men’s senses that likely carried your name from a penitent’s lips to my ears.

“The child shakes, I was told – shakes and weeps and begs to be released from Lucifer’s thrashing. How could I have denied such a summons?

“We departed that afternoon and unmounted well after the moon had risen. My companion believes the stripling’s Oriental nature may be at fault for our failures. I do not hold that any sinner should have the barbarism of their upbringing held against them, however.

“Sterling was not receptive when, three days and no sleep into our undertaking, I suggested we consult you before you were past our reach.

“He will not be pleased to see my success.”

From there the conversation shifted into a recital of Sterling’s apparent history of exorcisms which did nothing to impress Thomas.

It was a relief to Blackhall when they tied off outside a thick timbered cottage – at least, until they entered.

The priest’s minced words had given him no inkling of what truly lay inside.

A stout table had been upended at the center of the room, and young Soon’s limbs wound with rawhide. The leather bucked with his convulsions, and the too-warm air stank of sweat and human excrement – obviously originating with the naked child, the floor was covered in the same, as were the shoes and pant legs of Father Sterling.

In the corner sat a woman in flowing red robes of a cut Thomas did not recognize. Over one shoulder and across her chest she wore a white sling, in which he surmised a newborn currently slept. She appeared to pay no heed to the proceedings as she pursed her neat lips and played a lilting counterpoint to the scene’s brutality on a slender flute.

Her hems rested just clear of the slick of waste, and the bairn made no noise at the sound of its brother’s tumult.

The heat of the stove did little to ease the oppressive closeness of the stink and the looming character of the poorly lit walls. Blackhall’s thoughts seemed to catch on the notes of the low-toned tune, and his mind grew heavy with the troubling tableau before him.

Gray-haired Sterling, after a brief outburst at their arrival, knelt to press a cross firmly against Soon’s birdcage chest and continue his ecclesiastical chanting.

With but ten minutes of observation, Thomas needed to see no more. He turned on the pair of clergy.

“This is no supernatural incursion,” he told them, “this is St. Vitus’ Dance, a disorder known to modern science for its spasms and uncontrolled moods. I have read on the condition, for you are not the first to make such occult presumptions, and have even encountered it while touring the London infirmary with another preacher – a selfless fellow who actually understood how to do some good in the world – though, in truth, there was naught for it but to soothe the suffering girl’s jerking and allow her rest.

“You, however, have starved and frightened a confused child for days, leaving him in the reek of his own feces and shouting Latin at him like Babylonians speaking in tongues. You assume a barbaric imperfection, yet it is you who has left a youth requiring medical treatment in circumstances more appropriate to an ancient torture chamber than a sick room.

“I will leave your horse with the Willards and send word from the adjoining neighbours’ that you will require transport. Retrieve your beast when you have cleaned up your mess and put about a collection for this convalescence. Otherwise, keep your victim fed and clothed – if you can manage it – and he will be fine.”

With a hard, if confused, glance to the still-performing woman, he departed.

Despite his correct diagnosis, Thomas did not know to look for the signs that gave away the swaying musician’s ruse, and he could not save the boy from the pain that lay in store once the remorse-filled men of the cloth retreated.

It was not long after a carriage came to collect the churchmen that the song ceased, and the horror revealed its true nature to the last of the Soons.

(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

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

Freesound.org credits:

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

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

FP318 – Pinch: a Blackhall Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and eighteen.

Flash PulpTonight we present Pinch: a Blackhall Chronicle, Part 1 of 1
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp318.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Shadow Publications

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, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, is confronted by a one-handed man with a tale of loss.

Pinch: a Blackhall Chronicle

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

Thomas had risen before dawn, eager to see an old friend and return to his hunt, to discover that a visitor awaited him in the great room of the inn at which he’d taken up temporary lodging.

As the stranger flagged Blackhall over, the woman who ran the establishment – a mother of four who’d been left too soon by a soldiering husband – stood sleepy eyed at the fireplace, trying to will the embers into a greater flame. Thomas briefly considered ignoring the newcomer’s summons and to instead wander hastily out of the sleepy scene, but the handless stump with which the man signaled was difficult to overlook.

Working off the straps he’d just finished arranging and then setting down his baggage and rifle, Blackhall sat.

Sensing the frontiersman’s aggravation at the delay, the round-faced caller raised his early cup of hops and said, “oh, I assure you, this digression is worthy of your time, Mr. Blackhall.”

“Name’s Meriwether Tristram. My cousin in Perth wrote to tell me of you once he’d caught wind of my – situation.

Thomas Blackhall“You see, one Sunday I’d arisen to breakfast only to realize my meager cupboard was empty. Worse still, I’d spent the last of my coin on quenching Friday night’s thirst, and, though I laboured greatly at the Mill in New Branston, there was no hope of fresh pay till the Wednesday following – anyhow, hunger and a long sleep drove me from bed that morn, but I still had plenty of shot for my musket. It was my search for venison, north of the cluster of shanties that make up the so-called town, that lead me to a stretch of spruce that I did not recognize from previous expeditions.

“I could hear a stream on the far side of the stand and I was considering spending a period amongst the foliage to see what passed when I noticed a set of white stones arranged in a strange pattern upon the ground nearby. A closer examination, of course, presented the fact that they were not rocks at all, but the skeletal remains of a foot. There was no sign of the rest of the body, but I did spot a trinket resting in close proximity to the detached ankle.

“I assumed it to be silver, though I now highly doubt it. Its surface is engraved with curious care, an arrangement of loops and strokes that seems to deepen as you look them over, and its sizing – well, you shall see.

“Now, let me make it plain: Other than the scrollwork, the dimensions were not outside of the ordinary for a thick ring – that is why I kept it. For my distant girl.

“Well, I mean, I may have attempted to sell it first, but even then the proceeds were to be obtained with my intended in mind. The few I inquired with, however, had little interest, and I knew that there were others nearby who would be quick to call for the bauble against debts owed – unfortunate pinches about the dice table have left me with more creditors than friends. As such, I dispatched it to my wife.

“Or, truly, my would-be wife; even previous to our betrothal I worked the camps in hopes of collecting adequate funds to purchase a plot large enough for a cow and a field of corn, and so my intentions continued though my empty-pocketed status kept us apart.

“Anyhow, I parceled it up and sent it, by trusted courier, homeward.”

Thomas cleared his throat while Meriwether took a moment to wet his own.

“For what period have you been in search of your fortune?” asked Blackhall.

“Well, at this and at that for the last dozen months.”

“- and how much have you garnered for your farm?”

“You must understand, I’ve yet to find the gambit that will truly make my name. Currently, sir, my possessions extend only to the small traveling case of clothes that resides in my room, and the willingness to put my back into future labours.”

“Seems a shame to expend such effort without a result to show for it. Perhaps the dice are not your friend.”

“I have had some bad luck, it’s true – though it hardly matters now. She called the wedding off. A month after my missive I received a note, with my love token returned. I thought at first that the issue was impatience or another fellow, for the attached explanation made little sense to me at the time. It spoke of a curse – both on the ring, and on our love. Half was true, at least.

“My sole consolation was that the news came on a Friday. As it happened, I’d changed occupation from miller to lumberman, and, as my new position came with a week-ending payday, I was flush enough to hold the head of my sorrows below a steady flow of ale.

“It was a night of singing and weeping. It was the sort of occasion on which friendships are made and broken, sweeping oaths are professed then forgotten, and many mugs are broken by accident or design.

“The ring remained in my pocket throughout those hours of lament, but, on my stumbling route back to my bunk, my fingers came upon the accursed thing.

“My memory is piecemeal at best, but I recall noting with some amusement that the metal seemed to stretch about my stocky fingers. It was with some amazement, then, that I found myself able to expand it so wide that it might act as a bangle around my wrist, but my experiments were cut short by the attentions necessary to capture a few hours sleep in a company bed after having ditched a scheduled day’s labour.

“Despite my circumstances the foreman had no pity for me – admittedly, it may not have been my first such sabbatical, although it was certainly my most justified. Whatever the case, my call to rise was an unpleasant one. It did not help, I suppose, that I appeared more attentive to the sting in my arm than the bull-mouthed man’s words. Still, there was no time to investigate the source of my affliction before I was tossed up on a wagon bound for town.

“I am not unfamiliar with slumbering through an unexplained ache, and the rocking of the wheels quickly pulled me back under. Besides, although persistent it had not yet grown so painful as to be all encompassing.

“Not, that is, until I awoke in a heap on the ground, with the cart trailing away in the distance. Stevenson, the driver, had gathered a dislike for me after a misunderstanding, on an earlier occasion, regarding the number of aces in a certain deck of cards we’d been, er, inspecting.

“‘You were howling in your sleep, it was scaring the horses,’ he shouted back, but he was gone before I could collect myself enough to make a reply.

“At least he had the decency to drop me at a signpost that indicated my position in relation to town. I wasn’t within sight of the local pub, but I was in the proper county.

“Realizing my recent gin soaking would hardly win me friends amongst any decent folk with functioning noses, and feeling as if I’d perhaps injured my arm in my tumble, I crept into a nearby barn with the intention of continuing to nap away the last of my wobbling remorse.

“Now, understand: Come into town looking rough and smelling of cow dung, they’ll assume you’ve been hard at work, but, come in looking rough and smelling of the lower shelves, they’ll assume you’re a roustabout who’s never held a shovel in his life.

“Anyhow, I could not rest. In attempting to reach the upper loft I came to realize that my right hand was not just numb from the fall or the spirits, as I’d assumed. I had no control of my fingers, and no sense that there was anything attached beyond my elbow.

“Working back my jacket and shirt sleeve, I found the ring, just as thick but now approximately the size of a malnourished crab apple. I note this because, as you can see, I carry the weight of my drinking habits with me, and my arm is considerably meatier than an apple’s width.

“You see, the damned thing had contracted while I was sleeping. It’s ever tightening circumference had cinched my flesh like a corset, then worse, and I’d accidentally anesthetized myself against the procedure.

“There was no blood, but the agony increased with my sobriety. In short order I was weeping in the corner of a swept pig pen, with only the sound of snapping bone and grinding metal to keep me company.

“I pawed at the ever-tightening band, but I could not even rise to take up the woodpile axe at the edge of my vision – and a good thing too, as, in my state, I would’ve just as likely displaced the entirety of my arm.

“I was come upon the following day by a maid come to milk their Bess. I’d become senseless in my uncomfortable position, and the family’s sheepdog had taken to gnawing on my now detached extremity – a fact that was discovered as the gal’s father carried me house-ward.

“It was the same fellow who located the blasted ring, again the size at which I’d originally discovered it, and slipped it in my pocket for safekeeping.

“Since then I’ve dared to touch it only to bind it more securely.”

Having concluded his tale, Tristram’s remaining fingers went to his jacket front to retrieve a small bundle wrapped in a well-used handkerchief.

Blackhall raised a brow at the parcel, but said nothing.

Tristram did not let the silence hang long.

“I was hoping,” he said, “ that you could perhaps return my hand – for surely, if there is magic enough in this world to remove it, there is also ample to form another?”

Thomas exhaled, considering his words. Finally he replied, “many things are possible, but what you ask is not one of them.”

Without pause, as if he had already guessed at the answer, Meriwether pressed on. “Then mayhaps it would be worth some coin to you?”

Pulling apart the hasty knot, Blackhall exposed the charm in question to the still morning air.

“I recognize this piece,” he said, “It was constructed for – er – softer meats. Not to pass through bone.

“At some point in the distant past it no doubt amassed a hefty purse for a medicine man wandering about sod-hut farms, but, though it cost you much to carry, I’m afraid it will earn you little. I, for one, will give you nothing worth more than a freshly filled stein and the safety of not having to deal with it further.”

Tristram frowned, saying, “I do not understand.”

“In the days before this enlightened age – well, let us simply say that not all bulls are meant to breed.”

There was a silence between the men, then a nod from the one-handed visitor. At the sign, Thomas collected the ring, laid payment across the bar, and made note to the proprietress that there was enough extra to make it worth tapping a keg for his peer.

Even as Blackhall moved towards the exit, the next of the day’s patrons stumbled across the threshold.

“Too my future fortune then,” smiled Meriweather, as he waved down the newcomer and reached for an empty cup in which to set his dice.

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

Freesound.org credits:

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

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

FP314 – The Long Haul: a Blackhall Chronicle, Part 3 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and fourteen.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Long Haul: a Blackhall Chronicle, Part 3 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp314.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)

 

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

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, confronts another ending in his journey.

 

The Long Haul: a Blackhall Chronicle, Part 3 of 3

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

 

Blackhall did not recall his first two attempts at waking.

The world gathered some substance in the third, however, even if it was of a spidery sort and prone to throwing snow flakes into his eyes.

He was surprised to find he was already speaking.

“…while I was wandering the Austrian mountains,” he mumbled to completion.

From somewhere beyond the shards that slid across the night sky, James Bell said, “fully understandable, given the circumstances. How could you have known?”

Thomas did not know.

As such, he asked, “apologies, what was I saying?”

It was Clara who replied. “You were telling us of the disappearance of Mairi.”

Blackhall tried hard to lift his arms, suddenly convinced that if he did not manage the task he and his companions would tumble to the earth below.

Despite his lack of success, his ears picked up the familiar drumbeat and he relaxed.

“Yes – yes,” he said. “When word of my missing wife reached me, I relented my arcane studies and made immediately for home. It was an anxious trip, and I’m certain the horses that carried me were little impressed with my passage – though they were likely thoroughly grateful to see me aboard a ship and away from their backs.

“Hmm – have I explained the circumstances of the discovery?”

Thomas Blackhall, Master Frontiersman and Student of the Occult“No, sir,” replied James. Thomas noted concern in his voice, and spared a thought in hope that the man was not too cold in his journey.

Surely they would encounter civilization soon?

Attempting to soothe his passenger, Blackhall continued, “of course not, of course not, for in those first moments none understood the depth of what had happened.

“When Jessamine Cooper’s grave was opened, the eyes of accusation turned towards her husband, Leander. The people of the community would trust him to sharpen their blades and mend their barrel hoops, but not with a debt over ten pence. The man had a knack for converting his family funds into wine, and Jessamine’s death was almost seen as a release for the poor woman.

“She was buried with the single item of worth she’d been able to retain, and her children – grown, broad shouldered, and with no more faith in their father than a stranger might have had – stood vigil at her burial to ensure the engraved silver cross about her neck was laid into the ground with her.

“You can understand the confusion then, when, some eight months later, the relic was found amongst the churchyard hedges.

“An abrupt exhumation took place, with Leander on hand and flanked by the local sheriff, but the results simply deepened the trouble.

“Not only was Jessamine’s jewelry disturbed, her grave was empty.

“Concerns regarding theft turned to fear of a more sinister perversion. Rumours flew that the estranged husband had wandered off with his wife’s corpse, but those close enough to see the man’s reaction had little doubt that he was just as surprised as the rest gathered around the gulf.

“That’s when my former playmate, Dewhurst, set fly his missive. He knew of my interest in the occult, and assumed it might be an instance in which my assistance was required.

“He could not have understood how pressing the summons truly was.”

Thomas’ sigh brought in what he hoped was a whiff of smoke. Perhaps it was an end to his journey? Somehow the ache in his arms had transferred to his ribs and skull, yet he pressed on.

“I was months late to discovering the whole yard opened by the townsfolk, and not a grave still full. They hadn’t bothered to fill the open pits that marked the missing dead. Not a corpse with meat on it was left to lie.

“I knew all too well the reason.

“Her name was lost well before we walked the earth; her years have been extended by artifice. I encountered her by accident, earlier in the year, having come to test a ritual I would later find was useless. We were in the cemetery of a hamlet, a town only notable for a spate of cholera deaths that had laid low a sizable portion of its population.

“It was raining. I’d chosen the storm to cloak my rite, assuming that my business would not be welcome if discovered, but, when I arrived, it seemed as if the place were alive with manic gardeners. They paid me no mind as I passed between them, and, though covered in mud from their planted knees to their blank-eyed faces, the crowd of mayhaps five hundred moved in near silence and with careful precision. It was while watching this process that I realized most were in a state of decay, and some were moving despite missing limbs and maggot-ridden wounds.

“They used just bare hands and their lack of pain for their tools, but with that many labourers what matter was it? They extracted the sod carefully, digging below the wormy dirt with wriggling fingers, then shifting the grass in wide patches. Once the soil beneath was exposed, however, their restraint was lost. With flailing arms they attacked the muck, pulling away great heaps in an effort to release their fellow corpses.

“Stumbling into the hag was an accident – striking her, doubly so. I had expected another slack jaw as I approached her back, but, when she turned about, not a foot from myself, and opened her mouth to release the beginning of an incantation better forgotten, I reacted – er – with force.

“Panicked, I ran.

“I had not considered the ramifications of the incident until my summons and return.

“Maybe it was simple pride that propelled her – I have no doubt, though, that most who’d encountered her in the past had moved to swell her ranks, so perhaps it was a desire to maintain the secrecy of her march.

“How she transported her legion across the channel I can not say, but I knew what I would find upon returning to my father’s estate – for it is there that the Blackhalls have long buried their dead. The hag would not be content to rob the local boneyard and miss her prize: My wife.

“I did the work myself, every stroke seeming to pound as does the drum. Would it have been worse to find Mairi still there, with rot having set in to those so fine features?

“Each shovel-full carried tears with it to the surface, and the further my boots sank beneath the turf the surer I became.

“The coffin remained, its lid shattered, but within there was naught but loose dirt.

“My Mairi had not waited – could not wait – for my return, so now I follow.”

It was only then, with his tale told, that he realized the drumming he was hearing was in fact the passage of horses, and the creak of the Green Ship really that of a sleigh.

Clara seemed to read the surprise on his face. She said, “it was a fierce job, hauling you through the woods as you babbled, but your navigation had held true, and we were lucky to come across a lumberman along the route you’d traced. He claims we’re not far, and that there’s a doctor in camp who will either fix you or give you whiskey enough to ignore the pain.”

She leaned close before continuing.

“We collected your drum and travel goods – they act as your pillow. I have but an inkling of what makes your baggage so heavy, but I do not wish to know more than that.”

Scooting back, she placed her hand over James’, and the travellers fell to silence.

Despite the physician’s prognosis of a six week recovery, Blackhall returned to his chase in one.

(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

 

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

Freesound.org credits:

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

    FP313 – The Long Haul: a Blackhall Chronicle, Part 2 of 3

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and thirteen.

    Flash PulpTonight we present The Long Haul: a Blackhall Chronicle, Part 2 of 3
    (Part 1Part 2Part 3)
    [audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp313.mp3]Download MP3
    (RSS / iTunes)

     

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

     

    Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

    Tonight, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, finds himself at the edge of exhaustion while attempting to navigate his companions through the frosty wilderness.

     

    The Long Haul: a Blackhall Chronicle, Part 2 of 3

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

     

    The distraction of Blackhall’s words did not last long against the increasingly insistent wind.

    Despite the Bells’ best efforts, the gusting air seemed to find every shirt seam and push aside every mislaid blanket corner. Worse yet, the greater the speed at which Thomas attempted to carry them to safety, the greater the rolling of The Green Ship, and the more it was necessary to expose tender fingers and bluing hands to steady themselves.

    Blackhall’s scrutiny swept the horizon with the persistence of a lighthouse beacon, but there remained no sign of a smokey column nor a civilized break in the brackish sea of timber upon which they rode.

    BlackhallAfter some four hours of unfaltering drumming, Thomas’ arms cramped at the continued exertion. If it were not for the simple fact that any change-up would likely send them tumbling through the bristling limbs and to the unwelcoming earth below, he would have gladly shared the labour – even with the malnourished and gaunt-eyed Bells.

    Supposing they did survive such a fall with minimal wounds, however, Blackhall doubted his belligerent shoulders and aching forearms would stand the climb to begin the journey anew.

    There was nothing for it but to continue, and to hope.

    Clara’s concerns were largely for James, and James’ largely for Clara. Given the arcane resources he’d demonstrated in their rescue, Thomas had begun to suspect that the couple thought him somehow indeFATigable, and, in truth, the frontiersman wished he had one more trick to pull from his collection that might assist them.

    It only made his cadence heavier to know he did not.

    As they sailed over a rising cluster of spruce, James spoke of the plans they would enact at their return to populated turf, but a particularly abrupt roll of the bow left him with a smile of reminiscence on his lips.

    “I do believe this is as harrowing a ride as the one we enjoyed on our wedding eve,” he told his bride.

    Clara blushed briefly before her memory summoned the incident in question.

    “Ah, yes,” she said, turning to Thomas as if an explanation was suddenly necessary. “We’d been lent the doctor’s nimble buggy for the occasion of our ride from chapel to threshold, and Father insisted we be lead by Praetorian, a stallion of his land that was little use for work but paid its way in Saturday night betting at the local public house.

    “We were not half-way home when the brute caught sight of a lynx on the trail – then there was naught for it but to hold each other tightly and hope that our first evening of matrimony would not be our last.”

    More interested in somehow loosening the knot in his shoulder than the conversation, Thomas absentmindedly replied, “a harrowing enough day at the best of times, as I recall.”

    “Ah,” said Clara, “so you ARE married then?”

    Shaken from his painful preoccupation, Blackhall again allowed his pace to slow. The slackened meter did nothing to ease his aches, yet he cleared his throat and said, “I knew a man who was asked the same question once.

    “I heard the tale when consulted as to if I could help his wife.

    “Did your grandmother ever whisper against a scoundrel with the notion that he had hold of some dead man’s coins? “

    The Bell’s shook their heads as they blew meager warmth into their cupped hands.

    Thomas continued.

    “This fellow, Bartholomew, stood over six feet and had the sort of smile that made you feel his friend however long you’d known him. He’d married young after a passionate romance, but his handsome features lead him oft into temptation. There was not a lonely maid or unhappy housewife in the county who did not look him over fondly, and he did bask in their attentions.

    “His work as a carpenter regularly called him far from home to lay crossbeams or repair rooves, and it was in these times that his will was at its weakest, for the maidens of the surrounding climes saw only the thickness of his arms and none of the invisible bindings of his union.

    “It was during one such job, some repair work on a listing barn, that he finally surrendered himself. His paranoia, however, was immediate, for it soon came out that his flame had a sister in his hometown, and, unaware that he had other obligations, his soft-limbed lover was eager to join him there to continue their all-too-hasty courtship.

    “While explaining his troubles, that evening, to the mate who usually acted as his aid, and who knew more of his situation than any other, the suggestion arose that he might try a pair of deadman’s coins – that is, the coins laid across the eyes of the deceased to supposedly pay for his journey across the Styx.

    “The help-mate’s grandmother – and my own – had often levelled the accusation that such tender was capable of blinding a spouse to infidelity if placed in their drink, and, it so happened that, in the very house they were staying, an uncle was on display to collect condolences before his internment – in fact, it was the very damage to the cattle shed on which they worked that had set the man low.

    “At their departure, Bartholomew brought away more than just his agreed-upon payment.

    “Of course, as was their tradition on every previous occasion, his wife had kept anxious watch for his return, and ran into the field to greet him.

    “Two months later, with his mistress safely installed in her sister’s home, he was finally discovered. While collecting wild strawberries to jar, a quiet footed widow had stumbled across a tryst amongst the tall grass.

    “Bartholomew rose in a panic. Though a weak man, he never intended direct harm to his wife. He did love her, in his way, but his reason was captive to his instincts.

    “With barely a word to his still-naked paramour, he rushed home.

    “Placing the stolen tokens in his wronged wife’s dandelion wine, later that afternoon, was all that saved him. At the same moment she took her first sip, some ten miles off the berry-hauling grandmother was nearly trampled by a team of horses. She survived with only a weekend’s recovery – a fortunate thing, considering her age – but all memory of her expedition was wiped from mind, and she carried an aversion to jams for the rest of her days.

    “Bartholomew nearly threw over his affair then, but the lusty promises made in secret missives from his spurned concubine were too much, and, instead, he derived a plan to sooth his loins while maintaining his household.

    “Telling her they were meant to bring luck, he affixed the charms to the base of her favoured tin cup. As she sipped from it each morning, it would renew her artificial myopia – and, perversely, each time she finished her draught and spotted the devices, she would be reminded of him.

    “That is, until the following year. In the interceding time Bartholomew had grown brazen, going so far as to carry on even in the out structure that acted as his shop. He did not know that, in a rare turn, his wife had decided to bring him his noontime meal.

    “I suppose the fates, or whatever mystic body governed the magic, could find no other escape for the philanderer. The moment she pushed wide the door the poor woman was immediately and without cause struck truly, and permanently, blind.

    “Unheard by the screaming, panic stricken, wife, his lover retreated for the final time, uttering the same words you had – though with greater disbelief.

    “‘So you ARE married then?’

    “I suspect that it was the same working that kept his wife unaware that prevented any in the area from breaking the girl’s heart with the truth of the matter.”

    Though their lips trembled only from the cold, the disdain and disappointment was obvious in the Bells’ eyes.

    Unexpectedly, Thomas moved to defend him. They did not notice his weakening tone.

    “He was a rogue it’s true, but when I passed through, a year later, they were still happily married. He had abandoned his old ways – because of guilt, yes, but also due to the simple fact that his wife’s state was, at least in the beginning, largely one of hopelessness. Her care meant that he could no longer roam and build, and he was forced to turn his hand to the land. An untrained body does not know how to make its way through this world without its primary sense. Every chair, step, hot stove, and forgotten broom was now a threat.

    “There was something more though. I believe the enormity of his transgression passed into his mind in that moment, causing a transformation that no lesser shock could have managed.

    “A new tradition formed. With careful hands she fashioned simple sandwiches at the warmth of their kitchen window, then she would proceed with tender strides towards the entrance of their home. From her perch she would sing a tune of her youth, a warbling song of spring and foolish love, and he would come in from the fields, grateful for the meal.

    “I should add, as well, that I was told the story from her own lips. He could not forgive himself without confession, though it says much of her fortitude and grace that she found it in her to grant him pardon.”

    Despite Blackhall’s quiet intonation, James smirked at this conclusion, pulling his wife tight to him. Clara’s gaze, though, remained firmly on the straining face of the ship’s captain.

    “There is something in the curl of your lip that tells me there is more to the tale,” she said.

    Thomas made his best effort to shrug.

    His mind was too soaked with fatigue to make any more happy reply than, “I know his conversion was an honest one as he was truly broken when she tumbled into the well some six months after my visit. The news that he’d laid a pistol to his temple at her burial came as an honest shock.”

    There passed two hundred yards of silence, then another cramp set in. The depth of this new pain was too much for Blackhall to bare and reflex drew his arms sharply to his body. The Green Ship halted it’s progress as it unfurled, but its startled passengers were less lucky.

    It was not a pleasant descent.

    (Part 1Part 2Part 3)

     

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    FP312 – The Long Haul: a Blackhall Chronicle, Part 1 of 3

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and twelve.

    Flash PulpTonight we present The Long Haul: a Blackhall Chronicle, Part 1 of 3
    (Part 1Part 2Part 3)
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    This week’s episodes are brought to you by Glow-in-the-Dark Radio

     

    Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

    Tonight, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, finds himself transporting a pair bound for a new life – if they can stay warm long enough to see it.

     

    The Long Haul: a Blackhall Chronicle, Part 1 of 3

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

     

    Leaving behind many troubles, Thomas had been forced into a long journey with two companions who were unprepared for the wintery undertaking. The warm air brought in by a passing blizzard had abandoned them, and the temperature had begun a treacherous descent. To pause even briefly under the snow-heavy pines would likely mean their end, but Blackhall was a man of no ordinary means. With some effort of coordination he’d been able to seat his charges within the confines of the Green Ship, an arcane relic whose driving engine was a drum empowered to form the barren branches above into a rolling sea of greenery, and a vessel to carry them.

    Thomas Blackhall, Master Frontiersman and Student of the OccultThe longship’s soaring transit offered little shelter from the wind and drifting precipitation, however, and the Bells had just each other and a set of blankets to fight the encroaching chill.

    Thomas knew that if the couple were to avoid the loss of fingers, toes, or worse, it would be by spotting a smokey column on the horizon.

    Conversation was their last ward against shivering, but thanks and amazement only carried the Bell’s discussion so far. Soon, despite the fantastic events they had left behind, talk sank to the mundane. Still, James and Clara, their tongues greased from their narrow escape, seemed to chatter endlessly as Blackhall worried himself with the rhythm.

    He’d been fatigued well before their sudden departure, and his shoulders still ached with his inbound voyage, but the frontiersman, understanding all too well the perils of such an underprepared excursion, considered that the alternative was likely silent fear, and, as such, did his best to encourage the waste of energy while providing as scant input as possible of his own.

    After ranging over likely sources of assistance once civilization was re-achieved, the conference lapsed into a broader debate regarding the status, both marital and financial, of various friends and cousins. The topic of relations was much on Clara’s tongue, and it was with that hook which she attempted to more-fully draw out Thomas.

    “- and what of you, sir? Have you a wife awaiting your return?”

    Blackhall’s mind drifted to his capering Mairi and her own trek. He was forced to remind himself that even this damnably slow passage was yet another aspect of his chase, then he banished the image of his dead wife from his thoughts.

    His drumming slowed, and the swell and sway of the limbs that carried the ship grew calm.

    At a speed better suited to a summer afternoon’s fishing expedition, he said, “my arms tire, but disembarking is a trick I’d rather only attempt once. Let me tell you a tale of marriage and fidelity, while I briefly savor a slackened pace.

    “Not but two years ago, in the fall, I met an old man named Erikson, a scrawny necked plow-wrangler living at the edge of a place barely known as Clifford, some miles east. The community consisted of perhaps four dozen souls, at maximum, and the timing of my appearance found them all in great sadness over the death of Mrs. Erikson.

    “There was not a fireside in the place that was not made dimmer by her passing, and, though most were quick enough to ladle me a spoon of broth or share an end of bread, there was no joy to be had in the lake-hugging village.

    “It wasn’t an easy thing to behold, those leaning huts and moping children, and nature itself, in its autumnal glory, seemed to feel the same: The leaves fell from the maples as if fiery tears.

    “Now, I’d come not for its hospitality, mind you. I’d set out on word that a pair of huntsmen, fellows by the unlikely names of Hargo and Muse, had intention to ply their trade in the area.

    “You see, I’d just arrived from the nearest town of Mikleson, which too had had a recent death. There they’d seen to the final rest of a boy of eighteen, and, once paid, they’d quickly struck out for fresh soil to churn. So survive vampire hunters and their ilk – even in these enlightened days.

    “Clifford’s plans to improve their meager cemetery were often on the lips of the locals, but death is an inconsistent, and unfortunate, reminder, and I suspect they wanted as little to do with the patch as necessary when they might forget its presence.

    “There were no more than twenty plots laid out in that strange garden, but all without stone markings, so that the engraved wood that had been used gave better indication of the age of the burial, by its rotting nature, than the hardly legible carvings indicating names and dates.

    “With the populace in mourning black, their heads covered and their faces long, I’ve no doubt that Hargo and Muse thought their luck bright. Their profession is not one conducted any longer in open air, but instead relegated to secret dealings with grieving family or concerned community members.

    “It was not long before rumour of midnight returns and mysterious illnesses had shot through every keyhole and passed over every supping table.

    “Hargo and Muse required three days of haggling to convince Erikson to pay over their fee, and at no small tithe to his whiskey.

    “The first time I’d met with the old man his eyes had been dewey and his fingers prone to trembling at the mention of his wife’s name.

    “By the time negotiations were complete his gaze was clear and his hands steady.”

    Thomas’ own fingers had grown numb from the unceasing blast from the north, but the lessened pace, and remembered anger, had eased the knots that had gathered about his neck and spine.

    His palms fell with renewed purpose as he continued.

    “It’s an easy enough trade, if you’ve the stomach to lie to the recently bereaved and mutilate the dead – beyond that it requires little more skill than ditch digging.

    “I can but imagine that Mrs. Erikson – the only surviving image of which portrayed a woman of sharp nose and boney countenance – provided something of the perfect archetype of their profession.

    “On the final night of the business, when every home’s lamps had been extinguished and the bairns lay deep in their dreams, the entrepreneurs lifted high the shaved spruce that acted as gate arm to the small cemetery and carried in their tools.

    “The moon, unwilling to pay witness to the sight, had pulled a swath of cloud across its gaze, and the meager lantern’s work was made all the more difficult in their liquored grasp. How many sanctuaries had they crept into under such pretence? I can not say, but certainly enough that the thought of cutting out the heart of a grandmother did not cap their levity.

    “Hargo was a blond man of medium stature. I believe he intended his suede coat to provide something of the air of a gentleman, but its poor patchwork and mismatched thread colourings did nothing to sell the notion. Muse stood taller by a head, a thin-faced man whose lips were far too close to the termination of his chin. It was he who spoke loudly of a fair-limbed daughter of the village, a girl who would one day certainly be beautiful, but who was, in truth, too young to be mentioned in such a tawdry dialogue.

    “Still, they quieted when it came to squinting at the poorly-chiseled placards, and, by the time Hargo was preparing to raise high his shovel and begin the process of disturbing the bed of decaying foliage that lay across Mrs. Erikson’s slumbers, dread had clearly descended.

    “The spade’s plunge was halted by the whispers and moans.

    “Again, I can not say how often the pair had carried out their commissions, but I can assure you it was the first occasion in which the leaves upon each mound began to writhe and leap.

    “Then there was no reason for the men to dig, for it seemed that the dead had saved them the effort by rising from their graves to meet them.

    “I doubt either will ever return to their craft, but I had little chance to quiz them on the topic as that was the last I, or any of the people of Clifford – most of whom were by then wiping the mud from their pants and the mirth-filled tears from their eyes – saw of the scoundrels.

    “It was the widower himself laughing loudest.

    “They had underestimated Mrs. Erikson’s playful nature, but I had sat and listened to the tales. When her love of mischief was plainly clear I drew up the plan and proposed it to her husband, who thought it would be exactly the sort of tomfoolery that would have left his beloved cackling – and exactly the sort of tomfoolery that had drawn the woman so close to the hearts of the townspeople.

    “Though the pair of charlatans had failed to settle any lingering dead, or even collect their supposed reward, it was their efforts that inadvertently slew the keening air that had lain so heavily over the hamlet.”

    The reminiscence had left Blackhall craving the taste of tobacco and Spanish paper, but he knew he’d rested too long in the telling. The grins upon his passenger’s lips carried him some warmth, but it was the frosty prodding at the collar of his great coat, and the unnatural whitening about the edges of his passenger’s ears, that brought up his cadence.

    The craft began to rock and buck under the renewed beat, leaping ever towards the crisp, empty, horizon.

    (Part 1Part 2Part 3)

     

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

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

    FP287 – Grip: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and eighty-seven.

    Flash PulpTonight we present Grip: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3
    (Part 1Part 2Part 3)
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    This week’s episodes are brought to you by Subversion.

     

    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, master frontiersman and student of the occult, Thomas Blackhall, finds himself witness to a murder, and a mystical metamorphosis.

     

    Grip: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3

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

     

    James Bell sat naked, holding his wife. Though her countenance was now several shades darker than it had been but the morning before, he took some solace in the fact that it was still Clara’s squeaking snore that emanated from the transformed face buried in his chest. The couple had been forced to nestle close beneath the three itch-inducing wool blankets that had been nailed to the floor at their lowest edges, especially as the second gale of the morning set to rocking the shanty’s timbers, but James had found no respite under the unwavering gaze of the family of ebon-skinned corpses that leaned awkwardly against the opposite wall. Four weeks on the run had hardened his sensibilities, but not to such a point as to be able to stare down the dead.

    The slat roof and splinter-filled walls had no doubt once sheltered a double row of beds, but all furniture had been removed from the long building except a single stool, upon which squatted their current guard, the youngest of the Wheeler brothers.

    Elijah Wheeler, catching Bell’s envious glance at the musket which rested across his knees, gave his prisoner a goading smile.

    “You want the weapon? Come and try me. I grow chill, even beneath this donated finery, so perhaps a scuffle will warm me. Better yet, once I’ve done you in, I’m sure your wife will gladly provide ample heat.”

    The wind gusted, and an unfilled knothole amongst the planks howled its outrage at the cold.

    Unable to hold his tongue, James replied, “you speak loudly for a man thoroughly pummeled, just the evening previous, by a woman thrice his age.”

    Standing, with gun in hand, Wheeler approached his prisoner with puckered face and heavy boot. Before he might repay Bell with a kick, however, he noted a flicker of motion at the corner of his vision.

    The cadavers had been left as a warning after the family – Scots heading north to a homestead they’d seen only on paper – had attempted an escape. The brothers had found their carrion amongst the pines, stiff and huddled uselessly against the sleet.

    Since their retrieval, the bodies had occasionally briefly warmed to the point of regaining pliability, only, at dusk, to refreeze in whatever state they were left by weight, gravity, and the Wheeler’s comedic whims.

    BlackhallIt was Elijah’s short assumption that this shifting was simply the process again renewed, but his illusion was shattered when the shadow of the youngest, a girl of five who had once had ginger hair, stretched and giggled.

    The shades of the remaining three appeared then, though their faces did not match those of the bodies they had left behind. Upon passing unhindered through the cabin’s latched door, they gathered to raise fingers of accusation.

    As the specters approached, Elijah Wheeler began to weep.

    * * *

    Earlier, Thomas Blackhall had stood at the edge of the former lumber camp, with his Baker rifle hung on a nearby branch, and his stance set firmly in the powder’s depths.

    Above his head he’d swung a silver chain of arcane provenance, and with each loop of the ornate hook at its end the storm about him had worsened.

    The frontiersman’s skull ached with lack of sleep and nicotine, but the fury at the loss of his pouch had been further deepened by the death he’d witnessed only hours earlier, and he refused to acknowledge any fatigue.

    Still, it was with some satisfaction that he’d observed the approach of the homesteaders phantasms.

    As they’d cleared the treeline, the apparitions had made no effort to approach the buildings within which they’d once sheltered – instead their curiosity lead them towards the man who’d summoned them.

    “Have you come then, sir, to avenge our metamorphoses? Our murders?” the bearded ghost that led them had asked.

    “No, I have come to beg a favour – and to apologize for what I must do,” Blackhall had replied.

    * * *

    The storm had kept the elder Wheelers in their shared bunkhouse, and near to the cast iron stove which had consumed the rest of the camp’s furnishings.

    As their younger brother stood watch, they passed the time with cards and extravagant lies, which they punctuated with complaints regarding the lack of punctuality on the part of their business associates, though the southern slave traders had yet several hours to make their appointed arrival time.

    Brian Wheeler, with his fingers stained from the ink he’d busily applied the night before, was laying a four of clubs upon the table, and speaking loudly of a pair of siamese twin prostitutes he’d known in a lesser Boston district, when the girl again made a sudden appearance.

    Neither men noticed her, however until she loudly exclaimed, “I’ll eat your eternal soul!”

    The pair stood, startled at the noise.

    “Grrrr,” she added, clawing the air theatrically.

    If it were not for her translucence, and frostbitten extremities, the men might have been tempted to guffaw.

    Instead, they bolted, and made it nearly ten paces from the building’s lowest wooden step before noting the weapons leveled at them.

    Five minutes earlier, when Blackhall had asked Clara if she could shoot if needed, she’d replied, “it will not be the first time I’ve killed a man – in honesty, it won’t be the first time this month – but I only do so when the need is unavoidable.”

    Thomas had raised a brow at the comment, but he’d handed across his Baker rifle nonetheless.

    Now, with the trio captured, and his arm aching from its constant rotation, he was glad of her steady hand.

    He was finding his own considerably less reliable.

    Having closed the distance, Blackhall was eager to have his possessions returned, and to feel again Mairi’s braided lock within his palm.

    Addressing the eldest Wheeler, he said, “sir, I have come for the goods stolen by your brother on the morning previous. I have asked him directly, but he refuses to cease his keening long enough to provide a clear answer.

    ”Return my pouch now, or I will provide a true reason to weep.”

    The man pointed to the shack he’d just abandoned, and Thomas, with a nod of his cap to the gathered spirits, allowed the silver trinket to wind its way about his sleeve. As the winds dissipated, the forms of the departed farmers seemed to shift, then disappear.

    When Blackhall finally returned from the Wheeler’s quarters, smoke billowed behind him.

    Tossing James the finest garments he’d been able to locate for the couple, Thomas spoke a single flat word to his captives.

    “Strip.”

    It was the steel behind Clara’s smile, and the rise of the muzzle of her weapon, that convinced them.

    Within moments the Wheelers found themselves strapped prone in the same shackles which had so recently held the Bells.

    “I do not have your skill with calligraphic conjuration,” said Blackhall, as he entered the room with the girls’ remains in his arms, “but I’ve a fair bit of practice skinning game, and the Jesuit who taught me to sew was a master.”

    What followed then was a bloody hour with knife and needle.

    Once the operation was complete, and each brother’s back held a transplanted flap of skin under a tight grid of thread, Thomas stepped to the open air, needing to clear his lungs of the stink of iron.

    The Bells awaited him.

    They’d been efficient in the tasks they’d been asked to accomplish, namely transporting the remaining carcasses to the same structure as held the Wheelers, and to set the remaining of the camp’s buildings alight.

    “I wish there was some better news I might deliver,” said Thomas, his gaze moving between the couple’s altered faces. “I believe I may be able to return you to your birth state, but it will not be a pleasant process, and the scars will remain with you for the rest of your life.”

    It was James who replied, though Clara’s insistent grip on his arm seemed a confirmation that she agreed with his sentiment. “There are many things I have seen this day that I can not explain, but we owe you a debt beyond measure, and I feel perhaps we owe you at least some small confession.

    “In truth, though these are certainly not the guises we expected to wear throughout our lives together, perhaps these will better serve. A warrant awaits us to the south, where the corpse of my inebriate father moulders. It was Clara’s too-true aim which put him there, but, if she had not done so, it is unlikely I would be here to offer this tale.”

    Thomas only shrugged and retrieved a burning plank from the ruins which had housed the couple.

    Once the temporary prison was thoroughly aflame, Blackhall released the manacle pins and let the Wheelers free to stumble, naked, into the snow, where they came up short at the sight of the armed Bells.

    No longer were the brothers recognizable as the pale skinned bandits who’d so recently waylaid Arseneau’s sleigh.

    Reaching into the depths of his pouch, Thomas produced a fine slip of paper, and a pinch of tobacco. As he spoke, his fingers began their ritual of construction.

    “You let the majority of your hostages die, then spoil the operation with a bit of petty thievery. This whole undertaking reeks of little men overreaching.

    “What now, though? I’ve taken your inkman’s thumbs, to prevent any future craftsmanship, but I believe there is some justice in leaving it simply at that.

    “In all likelihood your compatriots will arrive well before the fires die down – considering the cost of traveling such a great distance, they are almost certainly anxious to recoup their investment in this enterprise. I’m sure they’ll be happy enough with such a collection of hardy replacements, even if one of you is short some digits.”

    Blackhall paused to roll his tongue across his creation, and to lend a meaningful eye to the brothers’ transformed disposition.

    “On second thought,” he said, “you might attempt an escape amongst the trees.”

    With a steady hand he set the end of his cigarette to the farmers’ pyre, lighting his vice’s tip.

    After a satisfied exhale he nodded his hat to the frantic trio, then motioned for the Bell’s to join him at the clearing’s edge.

     

    (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 comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

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