Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Forty-Six.
Tonight: Sap: A Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3
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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 we begin a three part serial featuring master frontiersman, and student of the occult, Thomas Blackhall. In this opening chapter, we find our hero already in the process of being accosted with troubles not of his making.
Flash Pulp 046 – Sap: A Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3
“Nine-years past, I fell in love with a girl named Annie Henley. I was little more than one-and-twenty, and, frankly, I’d barely been off my Da’s parcel. She was like a wisp of silk when she moved, all limbs and grace.” As the speaker paused to re-light his pipe, Thomas Blackhall shifted in his chair, taking the measure of his patience against the volume of ale remaining in his glass.
“I -” Blackhall began, but the man’s victory-cough cut him short.
“As I was saying: in those days, I spent many of my hours in reflection on her composure and complexion. There was little chance for us to interact however, as the only times at which we might congegrate were at Sunday services. I did make many an attempt to woo her in that stifling environment, but her father had little love for me, and he soon hardened her against my approaches.”
The man, who’d briskly introduced himself as Wilfred Eleutherios before landing heavily upon the chair opposite Blackhall, paused to trade positions between pipe and drink.
“One mid-summer night, I had taken as much as my fevered-imagination could bare. Slipping into the still hours, I made my way from the porch, across the field, and into the darkness. As I walked the ditches and cart paths, I gathered wild flowers by moonlight – when I reached her home, my hands were bursting with the evidence of my love.
“After much creeping and peeking, I came upon the window I believed to be her own, and gave a gentle rap. My care in selection proved through, it was indeed her chamber, and after a moment her face swam into view behind the darkened glass. Her beauty was untempered by the shadows. I extended my offering, whispering her name, but I must have startled her, as she immediately took to shrieking.
“With no small amount of panic in my veins, I turned back towards the fields – and just in time, as I heard the stuffing of her Father’s muzzle-loader at my heels. My bouquet left scattered across the lawn, I reached the wheat just as Old Man Sutherland let forth with his musket. I was unscathed, bodily, but my britches did not weather the encounter well.”
Blackhall, who’d nearly found himself at slumber’s door, now gave a thin lipped smirk at the idea of the intruder being threatened with gunfire.
“With my heart broken and my trousers moist, I took the slow route home. Breaking from the road to stumble down to the bank of Granary Creek, I rinsed my laundry in the clear waters. Selecting a wide rock upon which to enumerate my laments, I set about waiting for my pants to dry in the night breeze.”
Wilfred attempted a straighter attitude against his chair.
“I have told few of what followed, it’s my understanding that you’ve some experience with the weird. The barkeep, Sam, is one of the few who’s heard my tale in full, and he’s also the one who suggested I might talk to you – and well he should, considering how much of my drinking coin has built this place.”
He emptied his mug.
“I was not long in my wailing when the old woman and her strange parade happened upon me. They walked in single file, some three or four dozen, but it’s my memory that she was the only one to speak, and as she went, they went behind her: a perfect shadow of her movement through the brush and timber.
“I had not heard her approach, my awareness was lost in tears. I must have appeared quite a portrait, with only the long hems of my shirt to hide my shame and my nose thick with snot.
“She said to me: “What then of you?” and her accent was at first so thick that I could hardly understand the words. Something in the silence that followed drove me to tell my tale, and, as I finished, I once again found myself weeping.”
Blackhall’s heavy eyelids grew taut, his hands pressed flat upon the rough wood of the tavern’s table. His change in attitude went unnoticed by the inebriated storyteller.
“Did you happen to notice a woman of thirty, brown haired, with a scar across her right eye that prevents her eyebrow from fully regrowing?” asked Thomas.
“I must admit, it was dark, and long ago. I have little recollection of any face but the old hag’s, which shall not escape my memory,” the drunk replied. “I waited many evenings by the creek, but I have never again looked upon her.”
With a nod, Blackhall bid the man continue his story.
“As I completed my tale of woe, the woman turned, and without word, a man stepped forward, offering up the bundle he’d been carrying upon his back. From deep within a packing of sawdust that must have made up half the fellow’s burden, she pulled forth a slim vial of red liquid.
“”An elixir of love that will ensure your woman’s affections for ten years – three-thousand, six hundred and fifty-two days of joy,” she said, a dry giggle slipping into her voice. With that, she moved on, her throng trailing behind in their strange mirror-pantomime. It was an encounter of such singular peculiarity that there was no doubt in my mind that the concoction would work in my favour, and I had little time to worry on it, as it was not but three days till the arrival of one of the Church’s summer picnics.
“I was concerned that my presence would bring remembrances of our nocturnal confrontation, but there was no recognition in the eyes of any of the Sutherlands. It was a simple enough matter to happen by her briefly unattended glass at the height of the festivities. Concerned about the rules governing the elixir’s use, I was sure to be the first she spotted upon taking a drink – as they say is a necessary step in the bite of Cupid’s arrow, you understand – whatever the case, after she finished that cider, her heart was mine.”
Wilfred grinned, his eyes clouding with memory.
“Her father was not pleased, but there was little he could do given the strength of her convictions. By harvest we were married, and as a gift, he allowed us a plot at the corner of his land. Her Mother had passed many years previous, and when the old codger finally joined her, we moved into the main house. It’s there that we’ve spent these last seven years in bliss.
“It is nearly a decade now though, and I fear for the life I have built with her.”
Silence settled upon the table, as both men were momentarily distracted by thoughts of loss.
Wilfred gave his throat a long clearing, spitting upon the pinewood floor.
“I ask you now, will you help?”
Blackhall stood, and with a motion to Eleutherios to remain seated, he disappeared up the stairs at the rear of the great room. After a moment he returned, now wearing his heavy coat and carrying his Baker rifle over his shoulder. His attentions seemed to be focused on the leather satchel that hung low under his arm.
“Will that be necessary?” Wilfred asked, eying the weapon.
“Likely no more than this,” he replied, pulling back his coat to reveal his worn cavalry sabre. “I have little in life to call my own however, and what I do have is worth the effort of keeping close at hand.”
Thomas hoped the man might have a cart to carry them to his home, but was happy enough to let his feet lead him along in silence. The lack of conversation was a necessity, as his companion required the full strength of his perception to maintain his balance under the unsure weight of his drink. As their tread shook the morning dew from the grass, Blackhall rummaged about in his satchel, combining powders and slick waxes.
As they entered the Eleutherios’ dooryard, Wilfred finally broke the silence.
“There’s not much there-in that might harm her?” he asked, considering the flecked amber lump that had been formed of pinches from the frontiersman’s unlabeled envelopes.
“The strongest item used is a shaving of mermaid scale, but in truth, the majority of the construct is pine gum.”
The drunkard’s eyes went briefly agog, but Thomas refused to allow himself a smile.
Before they’d topped the porch’s steps, the door swung wide, a dimmed oil lamp revealing the form of the former Miss Henley.
“I was worried,” she said, stepping into the crisp night air, and Wilfred’s arms.
Before proper introductions might be made, Blackhall moved directly into business.
“I have something for you,” he said, extending the wad of sap and exotic reagents.
The woman turned her face from the offering to her husband.
“Make her eat it,” Thomas told the man.
“Chew it up,” the drunk eagerly insisted.
“Have you restored her condition? Do I have yet another decade of beatitude?”
“Nay,” responded Blackhall, his focus stuck upon the woman. “I’ve shortened her sentence by a year.”
The restive quality that had long dominated Annie’s eyes now evaporated, replaced with something sharper.
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