FP467 – Dmara and the Necropolis

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Dmara and the Necropolis

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


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

Tonight we find ourselves exploring a land ravaged by many plagues, a place both familiar and distant, at a time of endings.


Dmara and the Necropolis

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


Dmara had been born on the plain by the sea some five years after her parents’ landing.

In a prior life Ecem, her father, had worked in construction, and Guler, her mother, had been a teacher – then the world had begun to end. Neither had harboured any superstitions, so, when it became apparent that the northern isle, long emptied of humanity by a sweeping plague, had been left to allow its abandoned crops and untended cattle to grow riotous, they had departed their home on foot. Her mother had filled her satchel with books, while her father had gathered no more than necessary to sleep and eat until their arrival.

In the end he’d been forced to trade much of his limited supply to a starving man with a thin mustache who’d swapped a dinghy for a week’s worth of tuna mashed into cans.

Still, though the crossing had been rough, they had left behind the gunfire and looting that marked civilization’s passage into darkness.

That was not to say, however, that there were no dangers left to their existence. Though meat was plentiful on the island, the beasts who carried it upon their bones were greatly reluctant to give it over. Wild hog tracks marked the point of her northernmost adventures, and her parents’ most trusted source of holiday feasts, yet the swine were equally as hungry, and Dmara had once been treed for the better part of the day by a mother and her ravenous children.

There were also signs of the old world – rusting nails protruding from storm demolished ruins, places where wind and fire had left sheets of metal as sure as blades before tangling brambles blanketed the scene and set a trap for mislaid legs.

Worse were the dogs, brutish and patchy, their wolfen nature growing more brazen with each generation further from the leashes that had once held them. As a child she remembered her father scaring them off with little more than a pair of pans clanging together. Dmara even recalled times when they would make a parade of it, the child in her scavenged short pants chasing her sun-baked father about the yard’s perimeter while clanging a spoon upon a pot.

By the age of ten they no longer gave chase to the feral beasts, instead standing off against them with curse words and weapons ready. It was a waste of arrows to attempt to thin the pack. It was rare to retrieve the fired bolt, as the cur would flee as soon as injured, and they were all too aware of the aging state of the bow strings reclaimed from the dead society that had once ruled the territory.

The threat that ate at Dmara’s heart from her youngest age, however, was loneliness. There were no other children upon the island – they were not entirely alone, they had discovered, but the sort who’d also fled to this land were not the kind to easily trust. Distance, it was decided, was best – but the solitude of her existence chased Dmara across every page she read, every game of hide and seek she played with her favoured doll, every secret she whispered to no one under the soft glow of the night sky.

Escape was a notion constantly in her mind, for she understood they were not masters of these wilds, simply its inhabitants. She asked often of the route her parents had taken, in case she might one day reverse it and find someone to talk to, but homesteading was no easy business, and they found scant time, between labour and exhaustion, for such conversation.

In her sixteenth year it became apparent that there was no escaping Ecem’s cough. It was a building thing, too slow and long-lasting to be the sign of a simple cold, and her father would often nod to himself at the conclusion of each fit.

When he would catch sight of her worried face – the tightness about her eyes and the habit of chewing at her upper lip, both a reflection of her mother’s own customs – he would say, “no, fret not. When we left we knew there were risks in cutting ourselves off from the conveniences of the greater world, but, if I am honest, we never would have lived this long if we had remained. I have seen those I love to a better place, and if I can manage to die in my bed I’ll be a luckier man than most of the friends I once knew.”

Though his mattress was little more than hay, bailed by their own hands the previous autumn, he got his wish.

The burial ceremony was a simple one, but it did hold one irregularity: Having spotted the women with their shovels, their sole and distant neighbour, Mr. Dawson, made a rare appearance.

To Dmara the man seemed ancient. He had lived on the island before it had been wiped clean of human life, and had survived only through the coincidence of having been working afar at the time of its collapse.

They had been aware of his presence since those earliest days, but a lack of common language, and the old man’s propensity for privacy, meant they had crossed paths but a few dozen times in the entirety of Dmara’s life. Now, at perhaps that span’s lowest point, he appeared, a basset hound puppy trailing at his heels.

He approached silently, as he knew his words would mean nothing, but he extended a hand for her shovel and pushed her gently towards the dog. Though the beast’s eyes were hidden behind brown folds of furred skin, it danced in place, showing as much excitement as its stubby limbs would allow.

There’d been no such offer of assistance two years later when, after having her right calf opened by a froth-mouthed mongrel, Guler had said her goodbyes from the same bed that had held her husband.

Once she’d laid her mother beside her father, the notion had come to Dmara that there was no one left to keep her from her northern boundary, but the memory of her mother’s injury was still too fresh.

It was a week of silence that finally drove her to Mr. Dawson’s distant cabin.

As she approached she turned a dozen excuses for her intrusion over in her mind, but all were voided upon her arrival: She found the old man’s remains sprawled in his dooryard, and his hound howling from the gaping entrance of his cottage.

She could but guess how long the vigil had lasted by the prominence of the dog’s ribs.

Dmara had never known the animal’s original name. She called it Hadir, or, more simply, Had.

For a time the sole words she heard spoke aloud were her own, and usually: “Had, get out of there.”

Though the plot her parents had cultivated was now producing more than she could eat, its lone survivor made no effort to reduce its size. Sometimes she told herself it was because there would inevitably one day be, by land or sea, a visitor. Sometimes she simply acknowledged that it was better to keep busy and find herself with a surplus than run short and be pressed into scavenging the countryside during the cold months.

At night she dreamt of the boat – of pushing off and retracing her parents’ steps, but each time she landed her slumbering mind turned up only shattered homes and burning garbage along her route.

Here she had food, and a known routine – and, yes, loneliness.

She read, and when the books ran out, she scrounged paper and began to write her own. Dmara read them all to Had, but he was an easily pleased audience that offered little in the way of critique.

Then, on the first warm day of the third summer following her mother’s death, she heard a rumble upon the horizon.

Dmara was aware of the existence of machines. She had read of many, and in her youth they had often gone on what Ecem had called camping trips. In reality they were excursions to sift the remains of the old world and collect tools. Eventually belts snapped, batteries died, or the gas ran dry, however, and in each instance they had inevitably found it necessary to find or construct a manually operated replacement.

Yet the noise of the tilling engines her father had once operated were whispers when compared to this new sound. It was as though she felt the rumble as much in her feet as she heard its roar in her ears.

On the fifth day, the droplets upon the spout of her pitcher of morning water now trembling with the commotion, Dmara set out to discover the source of the disturbance.

Had followed.

Dmara had focused her recent hours on experimenting with frying patties of shredded potato spiced with chives and sea salt, and she bundled enough to carry her and her companion through several days of journey. She knew not how long she’d be, nor if she’d be forced to hide for some time to allow for a threat to pass.

They were sharing such a patty, and muttering about their aches at having spent the night in a stony field, when they first encountered the towering structures. Each ceased their chewing immediately.

Dmara and the NecropolisThe roar had become immense. Dmara had been forced to sheer a length of cloth into scarves, which she wrapped about both her and Hadir’s ears, to make their approach more bearable, but their progress had been slowed by creeping from fallen wall to thick-limbed oak in an attempt to keep themselves from sight.

Despite their precautions they had seen no sign of ravenous hogs, nor of Had’s feral cousins.

This close it became apparent that the calamity had not just one source but many – here were a horde of great maws that opened wide and scooped the countryside into a boxy throat whose jaws glinted with barbed spinners. Behind these tracked machines roamed yellow monstrosities that crushed the barren countryside with a single thick wheel, pressing anything that might have escaped the ravenous mouths into the muck.

In the third and final tier marched a row of towers, ten across, that stood over even the house-sized rollers. Dmara had seen buildings of similar heights in books, but she had never included any such in her own stories because she had, until that moment, been unable to entirely convince herself anything so large could truly be erected.

There was no speed in their advance, however, as the invaders apparently prized thoroughness over forward progress, and so Dmara sat patiently, chewing slowly at her potato and watching the giants dance.

A beeping began, nearly lost in the cacophony, and one of the towers lifted high. Beneath, no more than a quarter of its height tall, sat a pristine two-story house. Its exterior appeared to be constructed of brown brick, but its shutters were a crisp white, and its roof was covered in flat black tiles.

Dmara spotted the massive wheels that marked the tower’s source of locomotion as it crawled forward – then, like a mother bird having shifted upon her nest, it resettled just beyond the walls of its previous egg.

The cycle continued. The maws ate, the rollers flattened, and the towers gave birth. Sometimes they would stop and turn, creating corners to the useless neighbourhood that they would then continue to stitch with houses.

As she considered, the blockade of churning metal stretched from horizon to horizon.

Had began to whimper.

“Not now,” she replied, but an errant hand rose up to soothe the animal.

How far the houses extended beyond the line of iron, like a snail’s trail, she could not say, but if they were to continue their march – and she had no reason to believe they would not – then one day, one day soon, they would reach her home by the sea.

Ten towers forming an endless ten block stripe across the landscape would be enough to flatten everything her parents had worked for – and there was no chance of planting crops in a fresh field in time to survive the winter months.

She was still stroking Had’s right ear when she spotted the gap.

The maws and the rollers had judged a certain rocky outcropping, really no more than a high ridge of stone, too much of an obstacle to eat or flatten, and the tower in their wake had adjusted course as necessary.

Dmara had no interest in running the gauntlet of the machines, as the tide had already rolled over this little island, so she instead began to cast about in the underbrush that acted as their concealment. Finding a second such spine of stone, she climbed to its peak.

It was still a two day wait for the flood to overtake her and Had. The hound whined his way through the ruckus, but otherwise sat stoically at her side.

There’d been much to learn at the approach – less visible, much smaller vehicles seemed to act as ferries between the larger concerns, but eventually the noise became too much, and all she could do was hold Had to calm his quaking.

The towers loomed, rolled forward, settled their massive girth onto the freshly shorn and flattened land. At the base of their boxy corners she caught sight of another beast, low but long, that trailed hot blacktop in its wake, laying out a road even as the monolith to her left completed its delivery.

Finally the thing seemed to exhale then lift away, and she found herself in the calm of the wake of the grinding curtain.

Had danced from paw to paw as they descended from their stony island. Rather than set foot on the still-warm roadway, however, they tread the flattened grasses to the nearest front door. Inside all was pristine: Hardwood floors reflecting the trees that had once grown in the dirt upon which the structure stood, a chimneyless fireplace whose gray slate was echoed in the stone-upon-timber kitchen counter and island, and everywhere white walls carrying freshly baked panes of window glass.

The situation was not entirely without precedent in Dmara’s mind. Her father had told her of such sights, in the final years of the world’s collapse. Automated factories meant to replace the unsafe wreckage left in the wake of plague and warfare, the machines were thoughtless brutes meant to be fed a plan which they could carry out unattended across a week or month. Here their advance had somehow been engaged without proper instructions, and so they’d stamped a straight line of civilization’s shadow across the countryside.

It was obvious there was nothing here for her, but it was only in the silence provided by a shut front door that she realized escaping this barren necropolis would not be so easy as entering it.

There was no food here, and the tight rows of houses meant she’d have little room to grow some even if she had seed. The place was as good as a desert, and she had no idea how far she might have to go to reach its opposite boundary.

Worse, there had not been, as she’d hoped, any further clue as to how she might halt the march.

This was the first Dmara had ever truly felt cut off from her home, from her imagined route of escape, and her heart began to pound. She longed for someone to talk out the problem with. She wished to be calmed by her father’s sarcastic teasing or her mother’s exasperated tenderness.

The hound licked her hand, and she took some moist comfort in his effort.

He was mid-lather when his nose overrode his focus. Wheeling in place, Had began to bark and sprint from the hollow living room in which they’d been standing.

Pulling wide the handle at which the dog demanded exit, the woman came upon a scene so unlikely she slammed the door shut again.

There was no time to reconsider before the knock came.

The stranger was perhaps sixteen, her blond hair filthy but held in a tight knot fastened by a leather strip. She wore what Dmara suspected had once been a set of coveralls, but repairs and modifications had driven the gray fabric into a new existence. Pockets abounded, and where pockets would not fit she’d mounted metal rivets and clips to allow for carrying. The newcomer jangled with hanging wrenches, screwdrivers, and tools less familiar to the recluse’s eye.

Her cheekbones had been made sharp by lingering hunger, but she offered Dmara a welcoming smile.

Behind her stood a dozen more men and women, each dressed in scraps of the old world, each brandishing an array of scavenged equipment.

“Hello,” said the girl.

“Hello,” answered Dmara.

They would quickly realize these were the only words of understanding they shared, but the thread was enough to pull Dmara and Had out into the street to greet the rest.

Her discoverer seemed the youngest of the party, and the teen chattered endlessly at her elbow in a dialect that meant no more than bird song to the solitary woman, but Dmara’s need for understanding pushed the pair into a game of pantomime.

Dmara began with the most obvious step, an introduction. Pointing to herself she repeated her name twice, and the group echoed. Then she pointed up and over the receding spines of the construction towers with her left hand while pointing to herself with her right.

There was a brief bit of chatter among the tool-bearers, then they seemed to agree on a translation. The blond threw up a finger in an encompassing circle that included all of her companions, then she waved towards the horizon to the north. She kept waving.

They had clearly traveled a great distance.

This, to Dmara’s mind, explained the slight limbs and sunken cheeks that seemed as much a part of their uniform as their coveralls and tools. What was there to hunt or harvest along the endless streets? If they had come chasing the machines, as it seemed they must, then they would have had to have begun from some place beyond the houses, and their supplies must be nearly at an end – or, at least, their pockets seemed to carry more metal than food.

Having apparently conveyed the notion of distance, her new friend took up a new mime, pointing first in the direction of the rumble, and then placing a beaked hand to her mouth and chewing.

They must, Dmara concluded, be asking for food. She hesitated – but it was a brief pause. Opening her belt-hung sack, she handed across more than half of her remaining potato patties.

The blond girl’s mouth formed a surprised O, but the group fell upon the offering with lips upturned in a universal sign of gratitude. All attempts at conversation stopped until the strangers had completed licking the last of the crumbs from their dirt-encrusted fingers, then the self-appointed diplomat repeated the same actions of pointing and chewing, although the look of frustration on her face made clear she understood she wasn’t conveying her point.

Had, still at Dmara’s side, tilted his head.

Was she trying to say the group was intending on eating the machines? This seemed unlikely. Was she somehow referencing those gnashing engines that led the column? Was it something else? What the machines themselves ate?

What did, in fact, the invaders eat?

Dmara was aware that the world had once run on electricity. In her youth Ecem had shown her flashlights by which they could read at night, and for many years he had collected instruments that required an increasingly arduous search for batteries to maintain – clocks doomed to endlessly count to twelve, tiny screens playing out images in a language she didn’t comprehend, radios upon which her father would waste his night hours hunting for a voice that never spoke.

If the giants had come this far their own batteries, it stood to reason, must be colossal.

If the travelers had risked starvation to chase them this far, their reasons must be equally colossal.

What if there was still a world, somewhere, in which they had need of such power? Dmara could not picture it, frankly, but she did not care – if they needed the food upon which the monsters ran, then the monsters, it stood to reason, would stop.

Moving forward, she pointed to one of the girl’s wrenches, then to the machines. Finally, she tilted her head sideways and shut her eyes while pushing her tongue out slightly. It was a greater imitation of playing dead than she’d ever been able to teach Had, and the girl smiled her agreement while nodding her head.

Hope blossoming in Dmara’s stomach left her wanting to start chasing the slowly receding destroyers immediately. She signed the circle, then pointed in the direction of the threat, then, finally, she drew a thumb across her neck.

The hunters all nodded, but the girl added her own understanding – she set her head upon her hands and closed her eyes, then, as a separate action, awoke and repeated the miming of a sliced throat.

Night was close at hand, they would attack in the morning.

The teen, eyes widening, slapped her forehead with an open palm and pointed.

“Dmara,” she said, then, turning her finger towards herself, “Bex.”

Producing an axe, the tallest of the group entered the house from which they’d exited and set to tearing up the bathroom walls – apparently the wood from this portion of the construction being considered the easiest to remove for the effort – and then they set it aflame at the road’s center.

Dmara wondered how many such ash piles marked their path home.

As sleep descended upon the party – some breaking into groups of two or three to cuddle for warmth, others setting up solitary beds where they could be alone with their thoughts, Dmara considered the ridiculousness of the situation: Even though they were surrounded by hundreds of the finest shelters the previous age had to offer, it was still more comfortable to find a strip of grass and spend the night beneath the stars.

Bex, it seemed, was not yet ready to sleep. Settling into a cross-legged position, her back to the warmth of the guttering fire, she pulled back her sleeve.

Upon the pale pink flesh of her left forearm was a single black stroke. Bex rubbed at the marking, demonstrating its permanence, then lifted a single echoing finger. Dmara nodded even if she did not fully understand.

The girl pointed at the axman who’d gutted the bathroom, already snoring to their left, and held aloft four digits. Pointing at the oldest of the group – a woman with graying hair who seemed to hold suspicion of Had in her tight lips – Bex raised both hands to count ten.

Dmara repeated the counting – one, four, ten – indicating each member in turn, but then followed it up with a raised brow and a shrug.

Nodding, Bex pointed down the roadway, in the direction they’d come, and then at the mechanical devourers.

She repeated the motion once for herself, four times for the tallest, ten for the eldest.

Dmara nodded. This wasn’t their first hunt, and apparently each wore their expeditions as a mark of pride. Whatever they were using the power sources for – given their size she could only guess it was running whatever settlement they called home – the distance of their journeys was growing greater and greater.

More pressing to her mind, though, was a separate question: If they had no food now, and were apparently exhausted by the distance so far covered, could they survive the journey home?

She repeated the motion Bex had used earlier – the eating that indicated the machine’s batteries – then stood to feign carrying a heavy load on her back towards the strangers’ point of origin.

After a time Bex nodded, but her face held a frown. She mimicked the carrying, but inserted a stumble, rubbing her belly. Then, tongue lolling, she pretended to die. Finally she waved again as she had earlier.

Others would come to finish the carrying if, or more likely when, they starved along the road.

Dmara’s mind flooded with thoughts, but she could not seem to derive a reasonable way in which she could convey her notions through the frustratingly slow process of fluttering hands. As her mind attempted to make some order of the matter, Bex leaned close, wrapping her arms about her.

Shocked, Dmara sat rigid throughout the hug, then the girl retreated saying something in the language that made no sense. She was still trying to frame her wordless argument when the darkness and Had’s warmth at her side finally coaxed her into unconsciousness.

Dawn soon punctured an unusually cloudless sky.

A second bathroom was savaged, and a sack of water was passed about, straw extended. When it was offered to her, Dmara accepted, but she also turned out the last of her own supplies. It would have been easy enough for any of them to have snatched them in the night – or for the group as a whole to simply overwhelm her – and somehow the knowledge made parting with the last of her resources easier. If she were going to escape, she’d realized, it would only be with their help – and if they were going to, she realized, it would only be with her’s.

There was but a smattering of chatter between the hunters now, and what there was to understand was easy enough to read in their taut shoulders and pursed lips.

Dmara had decided she was going with them. The answer had not come easily, but if her sole chance to return to her home was to cast her lot with theirs. She could see no other way. Besides, if she did not learn their technique for disabling the beasts, she would, in a matter of weeks or months, no longer have a home.

Yet she had lingering concerns.

With a smile and a wave, she summoned Bex, and the flailing was enough to draw the attention of the rest of the group. She guessed they welcomed the distraction from what was to come.

Dmara drew a circle in the air intended to encompass the entire party, then, at its end, included herself in its radius. Finally, she pointed at the nearest tower and raised her brow, a motion which the girl seemed to accept as conveying the asking of a question.

Bex smiled and raised her hands, then caught herself. Turning to the graying women, she offered up a series of bright words. Though she hesitated in her delivery, the apparent leader gave a nod as she answered.

The teen repeated Dmara’s motion, and, with a smile, she too included the outsider before pointing at the distant tower.

Thus accepted, Dmara had but a final question before she was ready to depart. At least, she reflected, it was an easy one to convey: She pointed to Had and raised open, uncertain, palms. Bex looked to the dog, then reproduced the same sagging and exhausted motion Dmara had used the night before.

The worried woman raised an eyebrow in reply. Was carrying him really a reasonable suggestion?

Bex only shrugged, and the graying woman, whose expertise and experience Dmara knew she now relied upon, made no argument.

Instead she rose from her crouched position beside the fire and stamped out the last of the flame.

In moments they were on the road, the rumble increasing in their ears with every stride.

Soon each of the party produced matching cases from the depths of their pocketed coveralls. From within they retrieved a pair of orange nubs, no bigger than a pinky finger’s tip, which they snugged in their ears. At the realization that Dmara had no such case Bex took on a look of concern, but, understanding their use, Dmara was ready to deploy the same scarves that had carried her and Had through their initial crossing of the cacophony.

Though they had lingered in place throughout the night, the machines’ advance had not quickened. Whatever distance they had was more the result of the hunters wishing to stay outside the deafening roar than any progress in the endless construction.

It was an easy thing to reach the base of the nearest tower. Less so to linger at its edge, shoulders hunched, waiting for its rise.

Bex held Dmara back some ten paces, and Dmara, in turn, held back Had. In her free hand the blond girl held a wrench, and the rest of the party busied themselves checking and re-checking the locations of their equipment, a duplicate of the same wrench gripped at their side.

There came a shift in the grinding before them, almost unreadable to Dmara’s ear, but the line raised their empty hands to cover their nose and mouths, and so she followed suit.

Despite her held breath the stink that the tower’s movement unleashed penetrated her nostrils as if a spear. She was reflecting on her appreciation for their precaution of distance, when her friends rose as one and began storming forward.

They made for the house’s freshly constructed door, the frame of which they shattered with their approach, then half of the gathered began hammering at structure beneath the kitchen counter while the others sprinted to the upper level.

Dmara chose to stay with those heading to the second floor, as the direction Bex was heading seemed as good as any, and there she stopped at the sight of a westward-facing window. Beyond the gaping pane the nightmare image of the tower’s interior workings could be seen rising in slow inches.

Those who’d she’d followed shattered the glass then, knocking away the shards and maximizing the width of the hole.

She was quick footed enough to pull Had aside when the kitchen-delvers arrived, the long flat panel of the counter held between them. Setting themselves at the newly formed opening, they waited, as one, then hoisted the panel into the breach.

It’s long tongue landed in a gap in the tower wall, creating a slowly rising ramp. There was no pause as the hunters began to pile onto the bridge, one after another.

Bex helped hoist Had, who followed the tallest across with oblivious compliance.

If anything Dmara felt, as she mounted the platform herself, that she held more hesitation than the mutt.

She still could not help but look briefly up as she passed.

In the gloom overhead hung a series of spouts, in an array of six-by-six, and from each corner descended a metallic arm, their original exteriors lost to a film of dust the same colour as the bricks they stood poised to arrange.

Before she could see anything more, Dmara was across, Had at her side, and they were running again.

While the light beneath the rising hem had been dim, the tube through which they stooped, hand locked in hand, was absolutely black. Once they’d rounded the corner and begun to climb – the angle being not so steep that she had to gather the dog again, but certainly skewed enough that she felt a need to lean into its angle for balance – there was no hint of glint or glow to lead their way. There was no escape here – at least, not without the expertise of the hunters.

An unknowable distance ahead and above them, their low corridor began to shake, and a furious grinding began to descend towards them.

Around her the group chattered in clipped sentences. Did their tense tone mean they had miscalculated? What exactly did they aim to accomplish tramping along this bowel?

With a cooing word of satisfaction, apparently from the gray haired woman in the lead, the blind parade stopped. Without warning both of Dmara’s hands were free, and the disorientation of darkness and sudden freedom nearly sent her tumbling backwards. By the time she’d righted herself her ears were judging a race between the approaching rumble and the grunts and scrapes that marked tool work.

Then, when it seemed the impending roar could grow no louder, a sliver of glow appeared before her and slid from a thin crescent into a full moon. The wrenches each member had held ready, she could now see, had been used in unison to unbolt their escape hatch, and the necessity of their coordinated work became all too apparent as they fled onto a metal staircase.

Again they sprinted as crushed stone began to flood the compartment into which they’d entered, and none stopped until they were a good half-dozen floors higher.

Here the trill of their language bounced between them, at first on edge, and then saddened.

Though Dmara and her canine companion had made their exit, there was no sign of the tall axman.

They began an ascent of spiraling stairs, ducking in places to avoid protruding pipes and low-slung cables, their path illuminated by infrequent bulbs of plastic that cast a flat yellow light.

At the head of the long climb they came to a door. The markings on its face were unreadable to Dmara, but the red text on its surface made clear that this was an entrance that had once been considered both important and dangerous.

The handle would not give, but their leader had no patience for its resistance. Retrieving a gray hammer from her belt loop, she gave the lock three arcing blows before it surrendered.

Beyond was a narrow room stretched across the width of the tower. To their left stood a wall of screen faces, providing an endless stream of updates that seemed, if Dmara understood the iconography, not only about its own progress, but that of the eaters, the rollers, and the rest of the insects that buzzed between them.

Without a word, the hunters spread out, some running their fingers across the displays themselves, some removing panels beneath them and digging into the exposed electronics with a pocket-emptying array of tools.

Had took to sitting on Dmara’s feet as she turned her own attention to the window that ran along the opposite wall. Time and exposure to the elements had left a gray film on the outer glass, but the view was too familiar to Dmara to be misidentified.

There, on a low rise at the horizon, was Mr. Dawson’s homestead. It was the greatest height at which she had ever stood, but she was still left feeling that if she could but grow a few inches taller her own farm might be spotted beyond.

It was as she was on her tiptoes, her hungry eyes reaching for a glimpse of home, that the fortress shuddered once then let out a sound like an angry exhalation. It was only as they began to descend that Dmara realized they had still been rising. Their reversal, however, came at a much greater pace, and it seemed they dropped feet in seconds. Had looked to her and she set a reassuring hand to his jowls.

Around them work ceased. Even as the hunters stood, dusting their knees or turning to take in the view from the window, the tempest at the tower’s base ground to a halt. Silence seemed to flood in from without – first the hush of the grinding maws, then the squeal and crunch of the roller wheels halted, as too did the endless shuffling of stone, vegetation, and rubble between the workings.

Finally the hum of the monolith itself fell quiet.

The dim yellow bulbs winked off, replaced instead by infrequent, but strategically placed, stark spears of white light. This included above the exit, opposite their entrance, through which the group began to shuffle.

This second staircase was also of wrought iron, bolted to the tall column of the factory’s workings, but here most turns of the spiral provided access to a round hatch, and into these dim boltholes the north folk began to split and disappear.

Again Dmara found Bex at her elbow, leading her onward – downward.

When they had run short of stairs they came to a chamber larger than Dmara’s own home. Here were further consoles, as she had seen above, but their screens stood black and empty. Bex moved past them, approaching the far end of the room, and pulled open a square metal panel mounted at shoulder height. Within was an orange-handled lever. It took the girl setting both her feet against the wall to pull it wide, but then, beside her, a slab of the tower itself peeled away and fell open, creating a broad exit ramp.

Bex smiled as Dmara returned to the dirt, but she did not follow. Instead she sent the message of running in place, then pointed upwards. With a wave, the girl turned and disappeared.

Unsure of how long they’d be, Dmara quickly grew restless at the ramp’s foot. Had’s endless pacing was no help. Though they’d stopped the roar of the machines, the rumble in her stomach worked hard to fill the void.

Soon she decided upon an expedition of her own. Though his garden had run riot, Dawson’s raspberry bushes had survived the feasting birds well enough, and a bit of digging turned up some fat carrots she thought she might roast if she could borrow use of her new friends’ firestarter.

Half of the group had gathered at the ramp’s edge by the time of her return, two dozen blue cylinders having been stacked within the tower’s shadow, but the rest of the hunters remained at their labours.

It was as night fell, and their bellies filled, that she began the long act of laying out her plan to the assembled group. Often the slow process of arm flailing and dirt diagrams fell into meaningless chatter between battery collectors, and here she would pause and rub at Had’s sputtering snout.

In the end, however, with her plan unfurled, they all simply nodded.

Wildfires and the settling of the land would eventually wipe away any trace of the march of houses, and scavengers would one day strip clean the lifeless machines at the towers’ bases, but the line of monoliths – having attempted a flight of inches as the hunter’s did their work in the weeks following her proposal – would be forever be known as Dmara’s Teeth to the northerners who made the sacred journey south, and, as they reached the storehouse known as Dawson’s Outpost, they would each pay thanks to the gardens, and the hamlet that had grown up around them, that provided the means of their escape home.


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.

FP466 – Thirsty

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Thirsty

[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp466.mp3]Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)


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


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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Busy?” was all it had asked.

Her toes curled for warmth as she retrieved her cell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened!?” repeated Ira.

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

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

“What’s wrong with me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alton knocked again. “Hello?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He did, however, slam the door behind him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Freesound.org credits:

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

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

FP465 – The Long Tail

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

Flash PulpTonight we present The Long Tail

[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp465.mp3]Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)


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


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

Tonight we present a tale of pets and prey.


The Long Tail

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, of course,” he answered.

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course.”

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

At least, until Lewis arrived.

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

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

He was up early the next morning.

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

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

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

“I’m on the job hunt.”

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Payday? You found a job?”

“Uh,” he replied, “yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

Then the bag ran dry.

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

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

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

“Sure,” she replied.

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

“Sure,” she replied again.

“Thanks babe.”

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Freesound.org credits:

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

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

FP464 – The Irregular Division: Violations, Part 3 of 3

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

Flash PulpTonight we present The Irregular Division: Violations, Part 3 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Atheist Tiki Hour: Your Guide to a Secular Blast!


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 the Irregular Division encounters an unexpected presence.


The Irregular Division: Violations, Part 3 of 3

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


[Head, excerpts from the WIRED interview article “Like A Hole In the Him”, continued]

Mustard was almost to the door when I caught up to him. His body blocked most of the rectangle of light but I could see he’d set up a little nest beyond: He’d laid out a sleeping bag on the gray tiles and placed a tiny TV on top of a squat cardboard box. The rest of the windowless room was covered by shelves full of binders that had that blue and orange look of technical manuals

My shoes were squeaking on the cement of the factory floor as I danced, but Timothy’s heavy earmuffs, and the distraction of his young prize, meant he didn’t notice until something caught his attention in the darkness to his right.

His head swivelled and he squinted into the machine-filled shadows, then, continuing his spin, he spotted my drifting arm.

I didn’t think much of it – the music had me shuffling along at an oblivious bebop. I wasn’t thinking of Atlas, somewhere behind me and probably cursing my name for having taken off without warning. I wasn’t thinking of the weirdness around being assigned a gig that was so obviously a police matter.

I wasn’t even thinking about the boxcutter Mustard retrieved from his pocket as he placed himself between me and the child.

He turned, and I simply didn’t care.

He raised the blade, ratcheting it out with a series of flat clicks, and I just stood there nodding my head to the beat.

“Miles-” said another voice, and time stopped – no, that’s not right, time couldn’t provide me any such favour.

Forget the boxcutter. Fuck the boxcutter. Something I feared worse was coming and there was nothing I could do to stop it. No black magic jukebox could have saved me from the terror of that next word. Imagine me as one of those kids in a teen slasher flick – I’ve wandered into the spooky old house and the man with the machete has the drop on me as I stumble into the study. Suddenly Godzilla arrives.

My mother named me Milo, but my father was never the type to use a given title if he could find a nickname he preferred.

“- Davis.”

[Atlas, excerpts from Operation Pay the Pied Piper debrief, continued]

Though my enhanced optics gave me an advantage over both Smith and Mustard, my lack of familiarity with the structure meant I was forced to approach choke points with a certain amount of care. It was, after all, a military matter, and as such I gave the scenario the full weight of combat zone considerations.

If it wasn’t dangerous, I reasoned, they would have simply sent local law enforcement.

Unfortunately this delay may also have been the cause of our objective’s failure.


SmithI didn’t answer – the music wouldn’t let me – but it was enough of a shock to pull my head around in his direction.

My intended murderer didn’t hear the words, but he did see my reaction. He turned too – and so did his knife.

Then he said the last words he would ever utter.


“Mr. Slug,” answered my father.

That’s when Dad tased the hell out of him.

I watched the old man writhe after dropping to the factory floor. The music played on.

When the predator was finally still Dad moved towards me. He was also wearing a pair of industrial ear muffs, yellow and weirdly bright against the grubbiness of the hooded leather jacket he’s always worn.

Even under the mind numbing influence of the song’s rhythm I dreaded what would happen next. He approached the boombox, knocked aside by Mustard’s flailing, and I almost wished, in the tiny part of my mind that was still mine, that he wouldn’t be able to stop it – that I’d at least have brainwashing as an excuse to avoid confronting my father directly.

If there was any consolation it was that it at least seemed we’d get through the incident without any bloodshed.

Then, behind me, the door I’d entered by shattered.


I came upon the scene and discovered our objective in the grip of Mr. Mustard. Though there was a child in the area I judged him at a safe distance to engage in aggressive maneuvering. While initially upset at Smith’s ill considered reaction, I quickly realized that he’d likely both kept our target from escaping and prevented harm coming to the civilian.

Who knows what would have happened to the youth had he not been present.

In doing so, however, Head had put himself directly in the path of Mustard’s weapon, which was inches from his throat. I had no option but to aggressively react. I quickly subdued the scene, but there was unfortunate collateral damage.


Atlas had no problem ignoring the music’s charms. Later I realized that was exactly why we’d been sent: Whatever mechanism was causing the hypnotic effect must have depended on good ol’ fashioned human ears. She may not have my processing power – all of her limbs and enhancements hook directly into her meat where her original body was sheared away – but even her ear drums do some digital processing ahead of pushing their info into her nervous system.

I should have seen what happened next coming, but I’d been so concerned about returning to my old stomping grounds that I hadn’t considered the obvious: The military may have rebuilt her body better, stronger, faster than before, but her mind had been shattered by the death of her daughter just a few months previous.

Oh, they’d gotten her the best brain pokers money could buy, but their focus was entirely on getting her back into the field. Easy enough, given that her mental condition meant the field was all she wanted as well. Not because she’d recovered – no, because she had frustrations she wanted to work out. Memories she wanted to avoid.

Worse, was the gig: I hadn’t understood that she’d been boiling beneath her “Yes Sirs” until she was halfway across the room, but an unelected civilian suddenly at the top of the chain of command? Being sent to do a cop’s job? With specific orders not to detain a pedophile but to retrieve his aging cassette tape?

She could have broken his arm and called it a day, but, in retrospect, that was never going to happen.

The only upside was that Dad had disappeared when she’d entered. David Copperfield has nothing on that man – he has an ability to fade into the shadows that would leave Batman baffled and slightly jealous.


I was lucky to reach the pair quickly enough to save my partner.


Mr. Slug never had a chance. The noise from her throat – I can’t call it a scream so much as a Kaiju roar – was so loud it momentarily blotted out the boombox.

Then the car crash hit Mustard as he tried to get on his wobbling feet.

No – it was more like a rhino with a meat grinder strapped to its face slammed into him. It was so quick, so angry, that an outside observer might have assumed she’d popped a balloon full of ground beef and cherry Kool-Aid.

I think she’d always intended on destroying the tape instead of turning it over to Turtledove, but by the time she’d finished bludgeoning Mustard with the boombox she was literally just shoving shards of plastic into a jumble of goo that used to be a face.

All that was left for me to do was retrieve the kid and wait out by the car.


Despite my concerns over Smith’s reaction, and the failure to return the objective to command, I must report I was pleased with the results.

It was the first time I felt like we’d really worked as a team.


We were on the way home – back at the airport, waiting for a civilian flight east and coordinating the lies we intended to tell Wily in our debriefings – when I finally allowed myself to review my recording of Dad’s appearance. Maybe I was trying to convince myself that he hadn’t been there at all. That’s when I noticed the footage had been deleted. Someone had been rummaging around in my hardware – in what I considered my gray matter, frankly, since I didn’t see much of a difference even back then.

Someone had hacked my brain.

It was the first time I realized just how seriously fucked I was.


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.

FP463 – The Irregular Division: Violations, Part 2 of 3

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

Flash PulpTonight we present The Irregular Division: Violations, Part 2 of 3
(Part 1Part 2 – Part 3)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp463.mp3]Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)


This week’s episodes are brought to you by Six Stories Told at Night!


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 return to the near future, where the founding members of the Irregular Division – Milo Smith, AKA Head, the corporate thief with his brain hooked into a prototype computer interface, and Jennifer Glat, AKA Ms. Atlas, a military lifer whose body was augmented by science after massive combat injuries – find themselves in an increasingly upsetting meeting.


The Irregular Division: Violations, Part 2 of 3

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


[Atlas, excerpts from Operation Pay the Pied Piper debrief, continued]

Departing the initial meeting we were furnished a vehicle in which Colonel Wily drove us to the airfield. While enroute I raised a minor concern regarding the integrity of the chain of command. I was quickly straightened out.

[Head, excerpts from the WIRED interview article “Like A Hole In the Him”, continued]

Now, I’m not saying I’m a complainer. Atlas would, but I’m not. I like to think of myself as a vocal realist: An activist on the behalf of reality, if you will. That said, as we exited Atlas surprised me by, for the first time I could ever recall, immediately questioning Wily’s judgement.

The vehicle Dame Judy Dench had driven us in was still sitting along the mighty U that marked where the drive encountered the house, but she was lost somewhere else in Vlad Tepis’ summer villa. As such we were provided with – and by we I mean Wily – the keys to a Benz from, and I quote, “the motor pool.”

That’s what I’m talking about when I try to differentiate the level of wealth. Some folks have garages, some people even have car collections – Theodore Turtledove had a motor pool.

Anyhow, like I was saying, Atlas had questions. Sometimes it seems like her high-powered cyber vision only sees things in black and white, so having her wonder about matters beyond “how many people will be attempting to murder us” and “how many people will I be attempting to murder” struck me as unusual.

I’m not sure Wily noticed though. He hadn’t spent my hours locked in cushionless vehicles with her, nervously trying to kill time before it came time for something to try and kill you.

It’s funny – the Irregulars are sort of like family in that sense. Atlas isn’t the kind of person I would have picked up as a friend on my own, yet she’d become my wrongheaded sister. I might argue with her over how we conducted business, but, even then, I knew biting at her thumbnail was the only sign she’d ever allow of nerves, knew that the reason she preferred being busy was because the alternative was still sitting in an empty room mourning her dead daughter, knew that at some level she sort of wished they’d left her ragged body to bleed out in the field instead of turning her into a patchwork mix of woman and Terminator – and knew, especially, that asking even small questions meant she was carrying some large doubts.

Doubts like:

“How does a civilian find himself giving orders to military personnel?”

“What exactly is the nature of Mr. Turtledove’s business?”

“Will local law enforcement be involved in this operation? It seems, to me, to be more appropriately under their jurisdiction.”

Now, I had a lot of thoughts I wanted to share coming out of that meeting as well, but mine were mostly about the dead-eyed torso I’d spotted behind Theodore’s shower curtain.

Maybe her questions carried my own curiosity, or maybe I wanted to stoke that tiny spark of rebelliousness I thought I’d spotted in her tone – whatever the case I decided my questions would wait and instead backed my partner.

“No, seriously though, what is Turtledove’s involvement in this?” I asked.

“He knows people. We wouldn’t be on top of this thing without him,” replied Wily.

“So you’re saying he’s deeply connected in the world of pedophiles?”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying at all, and you know it.”

I was a lot more willing to chase the point than she was – I’m sure she felt even her minor questions were already a step to close to a court martial or some nonsense – but I didn’t get anywhere either. Wily’s a man so vague he refers to his mother as “a woman I knew once.”

The dodging annoyed me. Maybe it’s a hereditary thing, but it just made me want to dig harder.

It was a bit of a drive, and I got nowhere.

Finally I decided to drop my secret weapon: “What’s with the torso Turtledove has a straw stuck in?”

It was too big – too weird – a question to avoid entirely, but I suspect the reality is that Wily gave me a bit of an answer both to shut me up in the moment and because he knew that whatever I’d seen had been recorded in my monitoring software.

To paraphrase: Turtledove wasn’t just an elderly man, he was an ancient man. He’d aged along the cusp of technology for decades – limb transplants, nutrients baths, and hormone replacements had kept him alive and vigorous for over a hundred and thirty years. Now he was onto the newest development, parabiosis.

You should Google it, but the basics are all well understood lab techniques. Connect an old meat bag to a young meat bag and you can sort of turn them into one mega meat bag. Cycle the senior’s fluids into the junior and watch the miraculous results: A return of physical strength, rejuvenated mental prowess, and, most importantly, extended lifespan.

Turtledove’s pruned sidekick was a brain dead car crash victim whose family had rented him out to pay off his medical debt. The tubes, Wily pointed out helpfully, were so that he could be replaced once his meter ran out.

His approach wasn’t illegal. Though it might shorten his human battery’s life, so would have a career in the coal mines. Was it Turtledove’s fault that he was rich enough to use an obscure, and yes, perhaps distasteful, method to extend his life? His contacts and breadth of knowledge were exactly what made him such a valuable asset.

Or such was the argument the Colonel laid out the rest of the way to our plane.

I remember Atlas was quiet for that part of the conversation, simply nodding.


The flight into Capital City was short and conducted on a light jet. We landed at the commercial airport and were met in the parking lot by a man wearing civilian clothes and military regulation haircut. The decision was made that I would drive, as I often suspect Smith gets distracted with online nonsense while operating vehicles. I didn’t need the operation compromised by his crashing the car while watching the new Queen Sofia Esperon trailer.


While we were flying in I skimmed the video from the meeting to see if I’d missed anything, and it was only then that the name of our target fully connected: Timothy Mustard.

Oddly, I’d met him. He’d been something of a boogey man when I was a kid. Not long after we moved to Capital City he appeared one day at my Dad and I’s door. It was rare to get an unexpected knock like that, as we lived in an apartment and visitors usually had to call up first to be rung in, and I remember his thin face staring down at me over a huge brown-toothed grin when I answered.

He’d seemed very friendly. He’d seemed, in fact, like a kid at Christmas.

Then Dad put his hand on my shoulder and shuffled me out of the way. Ten minutes later I heard the deadbolt flipped shut and I was told not to speak to the man again – to, in fact, keep watch for his greedy eyes and be sure I was never caught out alone with him.

I was still thinking on that when Atlas pulled our gray sedan up along the curb.

I’d barely noticed that I’d arrived home.


While I will fight to the death to defend it, I do truly hate Capital City. I hate how close everyone is, how exposed you feel on its streets, and, most of all, the traffic.

It was then especially annoying that our assignment devolved, at that point, into aimless driving.


Our little plan was conspicuously missing a deadline. Usually these things are laid out with a bunch of specifics to be handled at oh-eight-hundred hours, or whatever the hell, but here we simply had a task with an address: Go to 403 Pine, retrieve a white audio cassette from one Timothy Mustard, convicted pedophile. The cassette would likely be unlabelled but a yellow smiley face sticker would be visible in the upper left corner of the B side.

We were not, under any circumstances, to listen to the recording.

About that last part: As far as I was concerned we might as well have been retrieving wax cylinders for one of Edison’s phonographs. I had no idea where I’d even be able to find a machine ancient enough to play such a thing.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I had to agree with Atlas. What the hell were we doing on this gig? There was no PR angle here, there was no mass panic to quell or patriotic points to be scored. If you stripped it right back it was like we’d been flown in to steal an ex-convict’s mixtape.

We’d been given a credit card against which we were supposed to pile up receipts for gas, food, and lodging as necessary. I was all for checking into the Capital Hilton when we arrived at Mustard’s and found he wasn’t there, but Atlas was, as far as she was concerned, on duty until we were back on a plane. I think the city was also getting to her. She just white knuckled the steering wheel and kept pushing us down side streets in an expanding figure 8 that brought us regularly past Timothy’s shabby little bungalow.

It wasn’t the greatest neighbourhood – it was flanked on one side by the last dregs of a slowly emptying commercial block, and on the other by an ever-expanding industrial park.

We batted theories as to why we’d been sent back and forth while we conducted our tour: Mustard’s house, past an empty building whose paint was still whiter where the KFC signage had once been, past Mustard’s again, then by a sprawl of chain-link fences, rusting barrels, and the sort of warehouses that are so large they don’t bother fixing the windows if a few up top get shattered.

Dusk settled in and so did boredom. If Atlas wanted to pace I’d let her, but I was increasingly sure we were better off getting a decent night’s sleep and knocking on his door the following day.

I’ll be honest, I was poking around on social media to see if any of my friends were still in the city when I spotted him.

We’d been given a picture – his mug shot – for reference, but it was my memory of that day at the door that hit me when we crossed his path. Jailhouse photography couldn’t have captured that filthy grin.

Here was Timothy Mustard, ancient and yellowing, out after dark with a boombox in one hand and a child of maybe eight holding the other.

Atlas had been making a left and I’d glanced out the window to the right. I’d had the pair in my sight for no more than three seconds total, but seeing him opening a maintenance entrance into one of the great brickwork buildings was enough to cause me to yell, “stop” and then leap from my seat.

I guess he just looked so old – so fragile – and the kid so young. I wasn’t really thinking I was in any danger.


Flash Pulp 463Smith’s sudden evacuation of the vehicle was, in some senses, a positive development, but again I was left in an awkward position due to a lack of clear operational boundaries. Was I in a position to violate local traffic laws? Could I have justified the legal or financial risk of simply exiting the car in the middle of the street in a high-risk Capital City neighbourhood?

I was forced to find some middle ground by reversing onto the street we’d just departed and then pulling to a stop at the curb. Head had, by then, disappeared into the factory, and knew I was several critical seconds behind.


Despite my shouting to stop, he didn’t hear me. He was wearing a pair of those construction-site industrial ear protectors – they were ridiculously oversized on his shriveled old man head. I didn’t know why he was wearing them, and, frankly, I was more caught up in the mystery of why the little mop-headed brat wasn’t even turning to acknowledge me.

His steps were strangely docile for someone of any age being led into the darkness of a black factory. You might see one on TV every now and then, but you can’t understand just how spooky those totally automated shops are until you’re walking the floor after dark.

There’s no glow from displays – there are no displays at all, no one would ever see them – and there are no lights unless you know where the switch is. I didn’t and Mustard didn’t seem to care. He was headed towards a rectangle of light on the far side of the floor – the door into the next area, where he’d apparently already prepared a nest.

So the bony-elbowed predator and his young prey drifted forward ahead of me, the roar of mechanical systems operating in the blackness to our right and that stupid boombox lost in their hum.

The problem with having a computer in your brain is that you stop carrying a phone. I really could have used a flashlight at that point. Trying not to think about what kind of thrashing metal pistons might be pumping beyond my vision, I made a dash for the silhouettes receding towards the exit.

I still don’t understand the technology behind it, but the moment my ear distinguished the music’s rhythm from the thumping of the machinery my brain kicked into autopilot.

It wasn’t that I blacked out – I knew where I was, who I was. I just – I wanted to stroll along to that tempo forever. I suddenly had all the affection in the world for that song. My heart lifted, my steps lightened. I’d have followed Mustard anywhere even though he still wasn’t aware I was a dozen steps behind him.

“No reason to be scared, I helped build this place. I kept a key,” he was telling the child, who, honestly, didn’t look like he was minding much at all.

For a moment we danced there in the dark, both terrifyingly out of control and blissfully unaware of the blood that was about to flow.


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.

FP462 – The Irregular Division: Violations, Part 1 of 3

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

Flash PulpTonight we present The Irregular Division: Violations, Part 1 of 3

[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp462.mp3]Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)


This week’s episodes are brought to you by Six Stories Told at Night!


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 return to the near future, where the founding members of the Irregular Division – Milo Smith, AKA Head, the corporate thief with his brain hooked into a prototype computer interface, and Jennifer Glat, AKA Ms. Atlas, a military lifer whose body was augmented by science after massive combat injuries – find themselves in an increasingly upsetting meeting.


The Irregular Division: Violations, Part 1 of 3

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


[Head: Excerpted from the WIRED interview article “Like A Hole In the Him”]

I should have realized we were a submarine in an outhouse the first time we were taken to meet Theodore Turtledove. This was back when it was just Atlas and I – the Lovesick Twins had survived the fall of Britain but were still having their brains descrambled by people with notepads and soothing voices.

Well, as descrambled as they were going to get, but that’s a story for another time.

Turtledove wasn’t the first vaguely sinister government-type we’d met, but Atlas’ background meant she was always “yes sir, nice to meet you sir,” and that seemed to satisfy them. My criminal record meant most of the ribbon carriers felt a need to take a poke at me.

Still, there are worse fates than being fed a nice lunch and shaking hands with old white guys – at least when the alternative is being sent into a combat zone. Thing is, we didn’t meet Turtledove in some nondescript weapon’s manufacturer’s strip-mall satellite office, nor any aerospace industry skyscraper filled with sensible shoes and salon haircuts. Both had happened a few times, mostly for the benefit of men in well-pressed business suits who maintained long friendships with men in well-pressed uniforms. More commonly we’d simply have some gray-haired starch-collar toured by us on one of the various bases at which we were housed.

You’ve got to remember, we were basically nomads at that point. The Irregular Division was barely even a thing.

A Skinner Co. ProductionTurtledove, though – Atlas and I were escorted to a black Escalade late one afternoon and told to get inside. Our own Major Nelson Wily was already in the passenger seat, but the driver wasn’t military. Her hair was short, but the crisp cut of her black suit and white silk blouse was decidedly private sector. The easiest shorthand is that she looked like a mean Dame Judy Dench, and she was obviously making too much money to be a government employee.

It was also clear she hadn’t achieved her position by playing chauffeur, but – well, she had the air of someone who’d gotten where they were by approaching matters with their own two hands. It wasn’t erratic, but she drove fast and with the confidence of that jerk who feels their business is more important than that of anyone else on the road.

[Atlas, excerpted from debrief of Operation Pay the Pied Piper]

We were picked up at oh-nine hundred and, despite repeated complaints by Smith regarding the hour, were promptly greeted by Major Wily and [REDACTED], a civilian with whom I was not otherwise familiar.

It was a two hour drive, and, despite repeated attempts by Smith to engage in complaints regarding the distance, I took the opportunity to power down and catch up on shut eye – as is my habit during any period of travel.


It’s odd, I find it hard to read a paper book in a moving vehicle, but I have no problem using my implant to browse the web for hours. I guess it’s a different sort of visualization.

I remember our arrival well because I thought it was funny that I was skimming an article about the latest Dracula reboot as we pulled up to that huge black gate.

Now, the rest of the place didn’t look like a vampiric lair. Frankly, it looked a lot more like a golf course – all rolling hills, strategically placed stands of trees, and a terracotta-coloured manor looming at the head of the driveway – but there was definitely something ominous, even while drenched in sunlight, about the slow opening of the black mass of spirals and dragons that regulated access to the grounds.

I suppose my concern should have been more for the guys with buzz cuts and assault rifles standing in the shadows behind the stone pillars on either side, but, weirdly, I’d gotten to a point where large men with guns were just another part of the scenery.


The perimeter was well defended, but the contractors were clearly civilian. Walmart-style camouflage patterns and sneakers under their makeshift uniforms led me to believe they were either private security or possibly even imported mercenaries. They were a little too casual in their stance for my liking, but it’s not my castle.


Dame Dench didn’t get out with us. She nodded to Wily, he nodded back, and when the Major stepped from the SUV we followed suit. There were three long white steps leading to a wraparound porch, atop of which were two more beef arms with bullet chuckers on black nylon straps. The main doors were double-wide, and the entrance hall did nothing to dispel the idea that I was strolling into the clubhouse of a highly paranoid golf course. Glass cases displayed random objects: Ancient daggers, shards of pottery with writing on them that probably meant something to someone but definitely not me, long tables with books carefully distributed across their surface to appear casually strewn, and a ceiling high enough to consume both floors of the condo I used to sublet back in Capital City.

There are levels to having money. I’ve had moments where I thought I had it made, back when I was borrowing sums from corporate accounts, but wealth on that scale – well, it requires a certain sort of attitude. You don’t come by it accidentally, and you have to wonder what exactly those who possess it did to find themselves atop such a hoard. In my experience there are three routes to that kind of income: Killing a lot of people, selling something that kills a lot of people, or inheriting it when one of the first two dies.


The front hall further deepened my conviction that we were not dealing with any sort of military personnel. There is no position at any tier of the armed forces, that I am aware of, that would allow for such extravagant decorating.


Our destination was a mostly-white room flooded in light by a half-dozen windows and two glass doors that exited onto a garden that looked liked a huge pain in the ass to weed.

Before us sat an ancient man on what I guess was a couch. I mean, it was a long piece of furniture with cushions, but when there’s that much hand carving and custom sewing involved I’m sure the salesperson refers to it as something with a loftier title. A settee maybe? I don’t know.

Anyhow, this was when we were introduced to Mr. Turtledove – or, really, Mr. Turtledove and his curtains.


The study was also well appointed, and it was there that we were introduced to an aging Mr. Turtledove. He provided the intelligence briefing.


Theodore himself was bald and thin-faced, but one of those people who survive into a phase of undecipherable age. I couldn’t have guessed if he was a slightly ragged sixty or a healthy ninety.

Those curtains though. They were hung from the ceiling with bronze chains that matched the earthtone highlights dotted around the rest of the room. I’m not talking screw-in Home Depot hooks, these things had been properly mounted. It reminded me of when I had my tonsils out as a kid. I had to share a room with this brat who’d broken both his legs and the only privacy I could get was by pulling at that green drape that was on a U track surrounding my bed.

His curtains formed a perfect little white box of mystery sitting directly beside Mr. Turtledove. Maybe the width and depth of a cat carrier, yet tall. It was clear this was not erected just for this visit, this was so necessary to the old man’s existence that they’d marred the ceiling’s paneling to hang it in place. I tried to convince myself it was his dialysis machine.

He didn’t refer to us by our names, he used our PR titles.

“Ms. Atlas and Head, welcome, welcome. It is good to see you escaped the English nastiness unscathed.”

Was the attack on Britain an act of war? A crime against humanity? A possible sign of the apocalypse? I might describe it as any of those things. “Nastiness” though?

We weren’t offered seats.

As Wily passed along his hellos from other folks in their shared circle of acquaintances I did my best to pry from a standing position. When Turtledove raised his right arm it became apparent that the curtain he was sitting beside had been tailored to be raised without bunching.

I’m a known pryer, from a long line of pryers. You ever poke around a bit at a funeral? The old man’s suit reminded me of undertaker tailoring; You know, how they cut the backs out of the suits or whatever to make dressing easier. The edges on Theodore’s otherwise finely crafted formalwear had been cut to allow access – or a connection – to something beyond the curtain.

If you’ve seen the media photos you know what I mean about Turtledove’s age, but they could never convey the sheen that always on the man’s skin, nor how his smile in motion looked like a skull unzipping.

I’d checked out of the conversation until his jaw pulled that awful trick and he said, “clever bunch, those spider cultists.”

To my mind, at that point, the Kar’Wickians were almost cartoonishly evil monsters, but before my brain could stitch together a clever rebuttal regarding the things I’d seen in the UK, Wily replied, “Yep.” and Theodore changed the topic.

“This thing in Capital City is also a ball of nastiness.”

Ever tried not to laugh in a library? I guess it’s the same thing when you need to pee in the middle of a service station desert. You just get so focused on that one thing it amplifies the problem and the whole situation starts spinning out of your control.

The longer it went unaddressed, the more I found I was getting that way about the curtain.

Was he worried we were going to covet his prized fish tank? Did he have a dozen hooded arachnid worshipers stacked in there like 1950s college kids piled into a phone booth? Was it a tumah? An attached twin?

Still, the mention of my home town set me back a bit. Exactly two years previous I would’ve likely been in Capital City crashed out on what we would mostly definitely have only called a couch, but instead there I was, loafing in daytime-Dracula’s million dollar living room while wondering what kind of medical condition was lurking behind door number one.

How had my life sunk so low?

It was about to get lower, however, as I checked into the conversation just long enough to hear Turtledove say:

“You will go to Capital City; you will find this pervert, Timothy Mustard; and you will take away his toy.”

All of his sentences were delivered in slow drips, like cold syrup, and I’ve got to admit, I’d planned on reviewing the whole thing via my implant’s recording when I could do so at double speed on the way home, or on the plane to whatever godawful place they were about to send us – but Capital City? That had been home once – and I’d heard that name somewhere, though I couldn’t quite place it.

Timothy Mustard – how could I have forgotten it?

All of that was just wind whistling through my empty skull as we exited though. We were standing, and it was the first time we’d really gotten close to Turtledove. He was old school and clearly expecting a handshake even if he wasn’t going to rise to do so.

It was then that I finally caught a glimpse through a crack in his curtains, and then only because I was watching the window behind him and trying not to think about how leathery his fingers felt.

Through that little slit I spotted a face. His eyes were open but engaged with nothing, his mouth was slightly askew but unmoving, and he was naked except for a large diaper that was that shade of blue indicating Serious Medical Business.

That wasn’t the odd thing to me though. If a body was going to fit in that tight little curtain box beside Turtledove it would have to be just a torso. There was no room for arms, no overhang that would allow for legs. He was strapped into some sort of rig – it reminded me of a kid’s car seat – and I don’t believe he could have remained upright without it.

There was also a bundle of tubes that seemed to loop around his chest from somewhere behind him. I thought at first that they were red, but it became clear when the colour started drifting that I was really looking at a crimson fluid moving through clear conduits.

I shook, the human bonsai stared at me over Turtledove’s shoulder, and we left.

Then things got weird.


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.

FCM29 – Truffle Snuffles

FCM29 – Truffle Snuffles
Welcome to Flashcast Minisode 029 – Truffle Snuffles
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(RSS / iTunes)

* * *

  • DNA detection
  • The anti-Fahrenheit 451 story
  • Mars
  • Mushrooms
  • * * *

    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.

    FPSE35 – Agent 021

    Welcome to Flash Pulp Special Episode #35.

    Flash PulpTonight we present Agent 021

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    (RSS / iTunes)


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


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

    Tonight we find ourselves awakening alongside an international man of mystery with a tragic secret.


    Agent 021

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


    FPSE35 - Agent 021


    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.

    FP461 – The Tooth Fairy, Part 3 of 3

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

    Flash PulpTonight we present The Tooth Fairy, Part 3 of 3
    (Part 1Part 2Part 3)
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    (RSS / iTunes)


    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 we hear the truth behind the nocturnal defanging that has been plaguing one Capital City neighbourhood.


    The Tooth Fairy, Part 3 of 3

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


    Capital City wasn’t what it used to be. There’d been a time when Lethe Park had been family sitcom set material, but Mulligan knew he was likely sitting on the exact same bench he’d occupied thirty years back. He shifted in an attempt to find some comfort on the rotting boards, and as he spoke his sneakered toes pushed the husk of a long-emptied dime bag in slow circles.

    “- so I asked, ‘Did you call the police?’ and they replied, ‘- to say what? Officer, someone’s stolen my teef?’ – I mean, I let it lie, but, honestly, yeah, that’s exactly what I’d say.”

    Dr. Ruth Hill, her brown hair in a short ponytail and her hands knit together on a simple black skirt, made no effort to interject. Her posture was as rigid as the lines of her thick-rimmed glasses, and her eyes were focused on the teens smoking on the nearby play structure.

    “It was the mention of stitches – well, the stitches and Sarah’s daughter’s perfect smile,” continued Smith. “Gave me a suspicion, you know. I’d talked to a few people who’d had their pearly-whites purloined, but there was something about the alignment of similarities with Jimmie Hobbs and his family; a strange lack of memory.

    “Looking for a clearer view on things I tracked down Jimmie’s wife. Jenny is an interesting woman. She looks a bit like she stepped out of a depression-era photo, which makes it surprising when you find out she laughs at the drop of a pun. I haven’t felt funnier in years.

    “You can see her braces when she howls. She works a factory job, but I guess they’ve got a good union. Excellent health benefits and all that, right?”

    Mulligan leaned forward, kicking the tiny plastic sack into the yellow grass, then he buried his fingers in his shaggy salt-and-pepper beard.

    “You know, at first I thought it was a sort of magic trick; some terrifying Germanic fairy tale come to life. Maybe a horrific forest imp come to snatch from the jaws of the living to build themselves some sort of, I dunno, tooth golem, or maybe a molar mansion.

    “Still, even when I realized there was nothing more than the mundane going on, there’s something to be said for the eerie image of a silent woman appearing after midnight. Of her having to be invited into the home by a loved one – very vampiric – and her hands pulling on snapping latex gloves as she hovers over the sleeping form of her intended victim.

    “Guess they don’t need to count backwards from ten if they’re already unconscious.

    FP461 – The Tooth Fairy, Part 3 of 3“I kind of get it though: How many hours do you spend in the chair with those folks? Maybe some of them you feel like you get to know. You see them in for their own suddenly missing teeth, or they’ve got a black eye, or a broken arm, and you ask what’s up.

    “Not a lot of places left these days that tend to serve a community, but most folks are happy enough to go to the closest dentist. They just want to get in and out. Yet it’s a very intimate situation, really, to be in someone’s mouth – to lie them back and prod some of their most sensitive areas with metal instruments.

    “Was that how you figured out Sarah was an addict?”

    Her gaze unmoving, Ruth Hill nodded. “Megan came in. She looked exhausted and she was wearing a sweater despite the summer swelter. I was going to keep my mouth shut, as teens tend to get into all sorts of scrapes, but when Sarah arrived to pay the bill she was clearly out of it. One of those users who sticks to weekends and off hours so it doesn’t interfere with her work. The kind that can justify occasionally beating their kid if they can still cover the bills and hold down a job.”

    “Why didn’t you just call the cops?”

    “Megan specifically begged me – so did Jenny. See, Megan would do anything for her mother. She worships the woman, considers her violence just a part of the disease. Jimmie, on the other hand, always treats Jenny great – it’s her kid who gets the brunt of it.

    “Neither wanted to see their loved ones doing jail time on drug or assault charges.”

    Mulligan nodded. “Sure, and maybe waking up toothless after an apparently particularly bad jag would set them straight, right?”

    Dr. Hill made no reply.

    “This isn’t the sort of trouble that I’m looking for,” continued Smith, “but if I figured it out someone else will as well.”

    In the old days, in the better days, the fear of discovery would have been enough.

    “I’ll have to be more careful,” said Hill,

    “You’ll have to stop entirely,” replied Smith.

    She shrugged, but made no further answer. Mulligan felt tired. There was no paycheck at the end of this search, not even the satisfaction of having come closer to his goal – no, here was just another human mess, awful at all angles.

    Hill cleared her throat. “I’ll deny everything if necessary, but I highly doubt Jenny, or Megan, or any of the rest will turn witness against me – even if they were willing to implicate themselves. Imagine the trust lost between husband and wife, mother and daughter?”

    These were hard days indeed, reflected Smith, then the man some called The Mute spoke three words in a language that hadn’t been heard aloud in two hundred years. The tattoos that criss-crossed his body like a cage took on a brief heat, and a look of confusion entered Hill’s eyes.

    Though Dr. Ruth Hill would maintain her practice till her hands could no longer hold her drill, it was the last Capital City would see of its Tooth Fairy.

    Exhausted, Smith began the long walk home.


    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.

    FC134 – Nazi Underpants

    FC134 - Nazi Underpants

    Hello, and welcome to FlashCast #134.

    Prepare yourself for: Positive uses for Snapchat, dinosaur purses, replica fingertips, Pony Island, and Old Man Mulligan

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    Pulp-ular Press:

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    Skinner Co. Announcements:

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    Also, many thanks, as always, Retro Jim, of RelicRadio.com for hosting FlashPulp.com and the wiki!

    * * *

    If you have comments, questions or suggestions, you can find us at http://skinner.fm, or email us text/mp3s to comments@flashpulp.com.

    FlashCast is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.