Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Thirty-Five.
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It’s like Zoobilee Zoo, but with salty talk and no furries!
Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – 400 to 600 words brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight we present the second entry in our current Blackhall serial. We re-join our hero as he prepares to enter a house of haunted repute.
Flash Pulp 035 – The Last Ghost Story: A Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 3
Thomas Blackhall, and Porter the skeptic, rode along the dead-straight roadways of Perth, leaving behind the store fronts and wooden walkways to find a chill in the night breeze that ran amongst the long stretches of wheat.
“Your saddle seems a little loose to be conducting such an adventure,” Blackhall said.
“Oh, I’ve ridden after stronger spirits than those, no worries,” Porter replied, adjusting his grip on the reins.
“It may be my own liqoured tongue that has me pressing the point – but I must say that while we’re not likely to spy one this eve, I have encountered phantoms in the past.”
“Oh, I can count you amongst the believers, Master Blackhall? Then why would you propose to come along?”
“In part, it is because I have been told these lands are the last bulwarks for the preternatural, and I have interest to see if that includes the spirits of the dead,” Blackhall took a bite of jerky he’d fished from within his greatcoat, “but also, because ghosts are terrifying, and you’ll likely hurt yourself.”
“Oh, quite scary. Just remember that they’re literally ethereal. They may be able to get up a bit of a rattle, or some screaming – if you’re lucky, they may even toss about some tableware or a book, but they can’t easily injure you.”
“Huh,” replied Porter, taking the measure of his companion through squinted-eyes.
The conversation slid into silence.
* * *
Once they’d reached the entrance to the farmstead, they turned their horses onto the rutted path that lead to the Tyler’s dooryard.
The house was set well back on its generous plot, and it seemed to Blackhall that the ride along this shadowed lane took twice the time of their approach from town.
“How is it that Milly Tyler came to her end?” he asked.
“Her husband, Nelson, thought she’d made a cuckold of him – a tale likely whispered by his whiskey. Their land bore little, and Nelson had turned to drink while waiting for his crops to wither. One day he made the accusation, and laid her low with a shovel. He carried her into the house and dropped her in the kitchen.” Porter slapped at a persistent mosquito that hovered about his stubble-laden face. “After getting hold of some kerosene, he set the place ablaze, hoping to blame an accidental fire for consuming his wife. It was his bad luck that a wagon load of St James the Apostle’s Anglicans were on their way back from services. They spotted the smoke early on, and while Nelson wept and watched, they formed a bucket-line from the pond, singing their hymns. They managed to save most of the structure – I’ve heard the ground floor is black with soot, but that the upper has been mostly left as it stood when the constable came about to collect Nelson.”
The house was near now, a looming black casket against the moon.
Blackhall shook himself from his dread.
“Whatever we may find inside, remember to remain calm, and that Milly is no more able to harm you now than she would have been on her meanest day of life.”
The two men dismounted, hitching their rides to a gutted window pane.
Pushing open the smoke-blackened slab of the pine front door, the pair peered at the interior.
To the left, a hole in the wall, eaten there by the fire, allowed moonlight to flood the kitchen. It seemed little darker within than without. To the right lay a dim space that must have once been a sitting room. It now sat empty.
They shuffled inside.
Fingering a bit of curling wallpaper sagging from its place on the kitchen wall, Thomas spoke.
“The Anglicans must have worked quickly.”
He sought to keep his voice jovial, to prevent Porter from imbuing the place with fear.
“Let us check the upper story, and if no more fitting prize can be found, we’ll take a scrap of this paper to mark our passage,” Porter replied.
From overhead came a slam, as if a door had caught the wind.
Neither man spoke.
Porter took breath, turning to place his foot on the lowest step.
Allowing the wallpaper to return to its wilt, Blackhall followed.
Two rooms, and the narrow entrance to a linen closet, stood at the top of the stairs. One of the dust-filled chambers had obviously once been decorated in the bright colours of a nursery, and the other, the men assumed to be the shared bedroom of the former occupants.
Against the darkening of the soot on the ground floor, the spaces seemed to hold little menace.
As they reconvened at the head of the steps, Porter reached for the closet door, still in search of superior evidence.
Standing within, trisected by shelving, was the scarred and ruptured form of Milly Tyler.
She raised a single accusing finger at Porter.
The man bolted, taking the stairs three at a time. At the mid-point of the staircase, he tripped, tumbling the rest of the length.
“Wait!” Blackhall called, the form having disappeared.
Porter would have none of it, having sighted the writhing glow of Milly, now upon the spot she must have smouldered.
She began to scream.
He broke from the front door, rushing towards his mare.
The beast had heard the ruckus within, and reared in panic at the speeding figure.
With shrieking whinnies, both horses snapped their leads, bolting from the yard.
A moment later, Thomas stepped into the bite of the night air, reassuring words still on his lips. The banter died away as he came upon Porter’s body, the skeptic’s skull having been crushed at his mare’s startled kick.
A gust of wind slammed shut the marred pine door.
Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm. The audio and text formats of Flash Pulp are released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.