Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Fifty-One.
Tonight we present The Boot Brigand, A Mother Gran Story, Part 1 of 1[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp051.mp3]
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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 open on the small community of Hearse, home of Mother Gran, already in the midst of a puzzling crime wave.
Flash Pulp 051 – The Boot Brigand, A Mother Gran Story, Part 1 of 1
The rural town of Hearse, lying within the boundaries of Bigelow County, on the banks of Lake Winipekw, was well populated, but poorly planned. Each spring its streets worked their way into a gooey muck under horse hoof, cartwheel and human heel.
This gave Lawrence Tupper a special role in the community, as he was the only cordwainer, cobbler and shoe-importer in the area. His shop’s stock was largely of his own creation, but he was happy to maintain a corner at the rear of the store for those who felt the need to emulate the fashions of the south and east.
It was well understood, although largely by Buppy Tupper, Lawrence’s wife, and her cadre of chatterers, that those who did chase such fashions either did little walking in Hearse, or had foolish notions regarding the condition of the local roadways.
So it was that the first incident of theft largely gained notoriety in its discussion on the Loyalist’s Veranda, as the gathered turned to Mrs. Tupper, and her expertise in footwear, to shed some light on such an odd occasion.
She was happy to share her views.
“Mr Bellham is one of Tupper polish’s earliest devotees!”
Mrs. Pilfer, Buppy’s perennial rival, took a hard sip of her pekoe.
“Are not Mr. Bellham’s boots imported from the eastern districts?” she asked.
“Why, you know, the polish is derived from a formula of my husband’s own creation,” Buppy said, “His genius is so great he could make even those shoddily made Eastern fashions look as if they were worth risking a stay under Constable Wills’ hospitality.”
The gathered women nodded.
* * *
On the occasion of the seventh reported theft, Mrs. Tupper was less inclined to discuss her husband’s relation to the crimes.
“I maintain that it is only an indicator of the quality of my husband’s work,” she said, in response to a pointed question from Mrs. Pilfer. “I also find it likely to be the work of a monomaniac. It is an utter disgrace that the Constable has conducted so little action on the matter.”
Mrs. Madison, who was always willing to raise a hand against Mrs. Pilfer, and who also sat as Buppy’s current favoured euchre partner, spoke over her cup.
“Mayhaps it’s crazy old Mother Gran who has been wandering again in the night.”
Gran was one of Mrs. Tupper’s choice topics, and her eyes lit up at the opportunity to entwine the subjects.
“I’d say it’s likely – very likely, in fact. Mayhaps the old woman is making a stew of them, or sewing them together to form a dress.”
The gathered ladies tittered.
“Heh, yes, or possibly it is Mr Tupper himself, in an attempt to stir up a demand for business,” said Mrs. Pilfer.
The ladies quieted, suddenly intent on their tea.
* * *
Ella entered the front room, taking a seat alongside the silent form watching the window. The old woman’s eyes were cast towards the setting sun, gathering in the dusk, and through the silence, Mother Gran stretched out a hand, which the girl met with her own. As the expanse of red drained into black, Gran turned to face her daughter’s daughter.
“Wilemina Pilfer told me today that Mrs. Pilfer heard Mrs. Tupper accuse you in connection with the recent outbreak of stolen footwear,” said Ella.
“Yes.” Ella’s face was overrun with the concern a girl of sixteen maintains over social matters.
The elder woman turned once again to the window, squinting against the growing shadows.
After a moment she smacked her toothless gums together, her attention returning to her granddaughter.
“If you should encounter Wilemina Pifler upon the morrow, it might be worth a moment to give the girl the idea of tying bells about many of the boots rubbed down in Tupper’s new blackened sugar coating.”
“Won’t the thief simply remove the bells before absconding with the shoes?”
Gran smiled again, and the girl knew to question the wisdom of her elder no further.
“Can I help you with the drying this evening?” Ella asked instead.
The old woman rose from her chair.
* * *
It was a day before Ella might transmit the suggestion, and another before it had found its way to Mrs. Pifler’s ear, to be presented to her compatriots as if it had been a plan of her own conception. The women were split upon the wisdom of the ploy, but after discovering the following morning that the few boots that had been belled had gone untouched, while Mrs. Madison’s own husband’s had gone missing, the chimes gained a reputation for being a ward against theft.
It was shortly after midnight on that third day that the truth began to come clear. Horace Madison, with a hunger to match the thirst he’d demonstrated at Sarah Melbain’s Inn, was selecting a plate from amongst the evening’s dinner scraps. His hands refused to hold steady after his night’s activities however, and it was with some effort that he finally managed to lay down a thick layer of butter over his raggedly sliced bread.
There came a tinkling from his porch.
Two weeks previous, he’d flagged down the train and taken a journey south, returning with a fine pair of thick-soled black leather boots. Intent on displaying his purchase, he’d had his second youngest daughter, Jessica, shine them to a bright sheen before that evening’s expedition to the ale house. Upon his return home, however, he’d found the soles to be muck covered, and rather than risk his own balance in an effort to clean them, he’d set them upon his secluded veranda to dry.
Still, he was mindful of his sister-in-law’s words regarding the loss of his brother’s boots, and was sure to affix a bell about the laces.
After a brief entanglement with the furniture, he exited the house.
From his steps he could see nothing, but his prized footwear had disappeared, and the sound of bells drifted to him from amongst the trees to the south.
“It’s a ghost!” he shouted.
The thudding involved in his hastened departure had roused Horace’s eldest, Michael, who stepped down from the entrance.
His father turned to him.
“My boots! It’s a ghost! Go get Wills!”
With that, the man went stumbling into the tall grass, and the boy ran for his pony.
* * *
Despite his lead, it was easy enough for the Constable to follow the trail left by the inebriated elder Madison. As he pushed through the wilderness, Wills was not alone; he had allowed Michael to follow along, but only once he’d dissuaded the boy from retrieving his father’s shotgun by pointing out that it would be of little use against a spirit.
The route often pushed through heavy brush, and the pair found themselves occasionally forced to break a new trail reasonable enough for sober men. It was an hour’s prickly work before they finally came within range of Horace’s profanity-laden shouting.
Following the noise, they stepped into a clearing dominated by a thick dead oak, standing eighty feet high. At its base raged Michael’s father, his arms outstretched to the sky, his cussing unbroken by his realization of the arrival of his offspring.
As he approached, Wills made out the source of the man’s agitation: although any leaves had long abandoned the oak, its foliage had been replaced with a dozen pairs of soles, each set on a jagged branch-end. High above his head, clinging close to the trunk, two fat raccoons chittered at the intruders.
“They almost ate my face!” Horace said when Wills drew close. The elder Madison pointed at a broken tree-limb stretched upon the ground, and the constable inferred that the beasts must have turned hostile upon the man’s initial attempt to climb the oak to retrieve his shoes.
Noting the downed branch was not entirely barren, Wills plucked the boot from its end. Holding it against the moonlight for inspection, he could see that its surface had been licked clean to the leather.
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.