Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and seventeen.
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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, after a brush with death, Harm Carter briefly enjoys a family reunion.
Flash Pulp 117 – The Murder Plague: Caretaking, Part 3 of 3
My relationship with my daughter, Rebecca, had long been rocky. Our grief at Kate’s death had carried us down two very different paths, but they had both ended at a similar destination: I chose to blame myself, and she did the same, following it up with the kind of verbal lashing that only a thirteen year old, with a justifiable excuse, can lay down. Oh, there’s nothing I could have done to stop the cancer, but I’d finished the burial with a two week attempt to climb out of my depression on a ladder fashioned from vintage Merlot bottles, and Becky was left to fend for herself.
The thing is, I didn’t really notice the resentment until I’d grown tired of waking up with a case of what my Pa used to call the Irish flu. I’d been too embarrassed of my condition to let Rebecca witness much of my stumbling, and, when I finally decided to engage in a little sobriety, I found my girl was no longer the princess I’d knew. She became a fiery crusader for something akin to the resurrection of the temperance movement, blamed me for the decadence of capitalism, and began to spend more and more time with a new friend she’d met who felt likewise, after her own father had beaten her mother into six months of physical rehabilitation.
After release from the hospital, on the proceeds of her divorce, the woman and her daughter had relocated into a neat white two-story house, and it was there that Becky had spent most of her slumber parties, and did the majority of her growing up. It wasn’t easy to spend half a decade feeling as if I was being compared to a rage-happy, poker-wielding, wife-beater, but it certainly kept me largely sober.
It was especially tough, as Ms. Robbins, the survivor, was an abnormally nice lady. She often sent my wayward daughter home with cookies, and they always tasted as if they were sugared by pixies and baked in sunshine.
When I’d decided I needed a week at the cabin, Rebecca had required no convincing to call Dinah to ask her mother. Before I left, I’d formulated a plan to hopefully buy back some of the Robbins’ esteem, with the gift of a handsome grandfather clock, purchased at an antique store I was familiar with along my route. I’d been so eager, I’d made the stop on my way in, and the monster had sat in the back of the Explorer for the length of my sabbatical. Unfortunately, upon my return I’d encountered the results of Hitchock’s, and the would-be-heirloom passed out of my hands and into someone’s backyard pool, along with the rest of my stolen truck.
My four hour walk to the Robbins’ house had been quiet, however, as the ten year old who’d made off with my vehicle seemed the last person, other than myself, ridiculous enough to venture out after dark during a homicidal apocalypse.
The march had given me plenty of time to think.
If she was infected, Rebecca would eventually attempt to kill me. She might even if she was healthy. There was some chance that I could subdue her, then find a way to keep her alive by force feeding, but if she was sick, I’d become sick too – assuming I wasn’t already. What if she was fit and fine, and I accidentally contaminated her?
What if she was already dead?
One of the main things they’d taught me in my army days was not to wander around shouting hello. I’d managed to explore the entirety of the Robbins’ main floor before I discovered Rebecca, standing at the head of the flight of stairs that lead to the second.
At first, she stayed at the top, and I remained at the bottom.
“Hi. I missed you. Are you okay? Where’s Dinah?”
“I’m fine – have you been to the basement?”
“No?” I hadn’t flipped on any switches while conducting my search, and the only light was directly above her on the landing. The shadows obscured her face. “Are you sure you’re all right? Where are the Robbins?”
“I missed you too.” She brushed back her hair, and smiled. She hadn’t smiled at me in five years – I had to cough to cover that I was tearing up. “and the cabin too – It was a bit surprising, actually. I was thinking maybe in the spring you could take me up to open it with you?”
I longed for that shack, and I’d just left that morning. It seemed like a lifetime ago, but it was actually at least five – two of which had ended in my own self defense.
I was thinking of what I’d had to do to my cook, Catarina, specifically, and I recall selfishly wishing I could grab up Becky, permanently borrow a car, and head back into the hills.
“Remember when we used to go fishing, Dad?” she asked, her feet dipping down a step.
“Of course I do, ragamuffin,” I replied.
I could also recollect my discovery of George Hernandez earlier, in the evening. He’d been hanged dead with the contents of his own tackle box.
“We should get out of here now,” I continued. “Things aren’t safe. We can drive up tonight, grab some supplies on the road, and bury ourselves in snow up at the lodge. We can deal with what’s left of the world after the melt.”
She took another step, excited and beaming.
“Sure! We don’t need to go shopping, though” she replied, “I’ve got plenty of supplies – in the basement.”
That was the last I could take. She’d made it that far without me, she’d have to continue to do so, at least for a little while.
“Okay, great. I’ll go check on those, and be right back.”
I bolted for the door.
There was no other option – she was infected. I could stay and somehow continuously talk my way out of whatever death-trap she’d concocted in the basement, all the while trying not to think too hard on what exactly she’d done to the house’s other occupants, but in the end I’d only become as sick, and that wasn’t a situation I could accept. I might be able to forgive her a few unintentional murders, but I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself.
After a few blocks I realized she hadn’t bothered to chase me. Really, it saddened me somehow.
It took me six hours to walk home, the majority of which was spent swinging between elation at Becky’s continued survival, and utter despair at our predicament. It took another two hours to finally clean up to the mess I’d left in the kitchen.
I dug Catarina a shallow grave under the rising sun, took a shower, locked the doors, turned on the alarm, and bawled myself to sleep.
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