Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and forty-three.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Ladies Pendragon.
Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight, Harm Carter finds himself suddenly in a trust-building exercise, while attempting to avoid the homicidal urges of Hitchcock’s Disease.
Flash Pulp 143 – The Murder Plague: Community, Part 3 of 3
I drove the Escalade north, skirting the city, and pulled to a stop at Grant’s overlook. The spot was poorly maintained at the best of times, and park services had obviously been abandoned early in the ongoing cataclysm. The open, cracked, cement wore a crown of tall-grass, and the picnic table, along with its adjoining trash barrel, stood as lonely islands amongst the growth.
Jeremy, the first out, was eager to exit the vehicle and hunker down on the peeling bench. Alyssa, the blond woman, who I’d originally thought was Minnie’s mother, was the last to leave. She seemed to be lost in thought while scrutinizing my face, and it was only once she realized the teen-aged girl was already on the pavement that she also slid across the leather seats and dropped her slender legs to the ground.
I must admit, there was a temptation to simply roll up my window, wave a merry goodbye, and depart the area. We’d gotten this far without anyone making an effort to impale another with some makeshift weapon, and I was hesitant to risk breaking the streak.
Still, I let the engine die, then tucked the keys into my pocket. The doctor had attached a thin Swiss Army Knife to the chain, and I fumbled with it while I strolled to the group. I wasn’t eager to see if its tiny blade, and quite a bit of gumption, would be enough to overcome the strangers I’d found myself surrounded by.
We conducted a second round of introductions, more formally this time, then spent a moment in silence, watching the east end of the city as it was eaten by fire. I couldn’t process that the distant smoke was the cast off of the flame below – it felt as if I was watching my existence drifting high into the blue, where it was blown away in stringy-wisps.
It was Johanna who broke the silence, with a “Jeepers.”
I hadn’t had much opportunity to talk to the old girl at that point, and I didn’t know what to make of her floral print dress and utilitarian haircut. I hadn’t learned of her hidden flask yet.
“Well, we have a ride, just like you wanted,” Jeremy said, turning to Tyrone.
I wasn’t sure if it was a threat, or an assumption.
The codger harrumphed.
“You’ve been wanting to take a drive to this forgotten make-out spot?” I asked, raising an eyebrow at the odd pairing.
“What? No I mean -” It was Minnie, the teenager, who cut Jeremy short.
“Can we get a lift?” The girl used her interjection into the conversation as an excuse to get away from the slathering hugs that Alyssa had made repeated attempts to wrap her in.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure I could say no – to buy time, I mentioned that it didn’t strike me as likely that any specific corner of the apocalypse would be less exciting than the others.
“We want to head to the army roadblock at the state line,” she replied.
Now, you have to understand that the concept of a military blockade held a lot of implications in my mind. I’d spent no few hours walking the perimeters of such outposts, often while the starving folks I was on hand to protect moaned at the gate. As I stared down at the angry red patch creeping over the city, though, I was nothing but welcoming to the news that somewhere the old uniforms still held some starch.
Before I had a chance to grow misty-eyed with patriotism, Alyssa broke in.
She’d positioned herself by the now open trunk, and I couldn’t see what she might be holding in her fist.
“I don’t think we should go with him,” she spat, attempting to lock her free-hand’s fingers around Minnie’s elbow. “He just wants to take her away from us!”
Her traveling companions exchanged a glance that told me they’d come to the same conclusion that I had – the high tone she was using brought to mind the sort of squeaking self-assurance that a child gets when they think they’re in command of information unknown to anyone else.
Alyssa caught the pity in her friends’ eyes.
That’s when she beaned me with my own can of StarKist tuna.
It hurt, certainly, but I was glad that the puck-like container was what she’d come up with, and not, say, a handgun.
As I cradled my bleeding temple, Alyssa snatched up a a bottle of Ragu, raised it in a two-fisted grip, and rushed me.
It was Minnie who tripped her.
We had no rope, but the doc had left a varied collection of cellphone chargers in his glove compartment, and, as Jeremy and I used their retractable chords to create restraints, the others held her in place.
It was while watching her shrink in my rear-view mirror, writhing and screaming atop the picnic table, that I realized I was stuck with them: not because I liked them, but because I needed people around me willing to do the same if, and when, I too went over the edge.
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