Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Sixty-Eight.
Tonight, we present Koyle’s Ferry: A Blackhall Tale, Part 2 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.
In the second chapter of our current serialization, we obtain a glimpse of a younger Thomas, even as our hero is carried further off-course by the hands of fate, and John Koyle.
Flash Pulp 068 – Koyle’s Ferry: A Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 3
Other than what he carried with him, rituals, promises and habits were all that Thomas Blackhall had to guide him through the primeval forest.
Even as he was pitched through the furious water, a combination of the three were again what saved him.
Years earlier, well before his journey to recover Mairi, or his encounter with the ferryman, he’d stood on a small hillock outside the city of Parma, a dead boar at his feet. As he’d shouldered his spent rifle, he’d thought himself the saviour of a frail woman of no less than eighty, and, given the tusks and speed of the rushing beast, he’d expected a look of thanks, or even fear, upon his approach – instead he’d seen naught but glee.
His understanding of the local form of Latin had been poor, and the woman’s vernacular was rapid fire. She seemed to have questions, but he could only shrug. After a moment she’d raised her shoulders in exchange, then begun to fold back a thick woolen sleeve.
Working free her forearm, she’d plunged it deep into the dead beast’s throat; with a sharp tug, and a moist pop, an ornate woven sack had come spilling from between its jaws.
Despite his earlier considerations, it was Blackhall who stood flummoxed. The woman had wasted no time in rummaging through the sack, a steady stream of indecipherable commentary pouring from her lips as she inventoried with nimble fingers. Turning on Blackhall, she’d pulled free a roughly hewn rawhide necklace from amongst her spoils, a milky stone dangled from its loop.
She’d thrust it at him.
“No worries, I’m glad to have been of assistance,” he’d replied, sure she understood none of it.
Shaking her head at his ignorance, she’d dropped the stone into her mouth, then begun inhaling and exhaling dramatically while miming as if swimming.
The show was enough that he’d accepted the token on her second offering. Having settled accounts, she had turned on the boar, delivering a swift kick to the corpse’s belly, then galloped down the slope at a speed he’d known he could only hope to match with the most agile of horseflesh.
It was the next day, after he’d spent the morning exploring the bed of a nearby stream with the stone lodged firmly in his sealed mouth, that he’d begun to understand the extent of the gift he’d received.
In time he grew used to using the artifact to expedite his fishing, and it had long become habit to grasp for the stone at the point of any submergence.
Still, as he rushed through Ophelia’s rapids, he would have had little chance to reach for his token if it had not been for the water tight container in the breast pocket of his great coat; the container in which the yellowing final letter from his wife rested alongside his sheaf of smoking papers.
In his half-conscious state, the bobbing package, plucked by the current, felt as if the fingers of Mairi herself, attempting to snatch him from an unwelcome dream. The tug pulled him from the deepest black, although his body had little left to give as he struggled to place the milky stone between his jaws. The rock in place, he swallowed around it, clearing his mouth of water in spite of the belly-full he’d already involuntarily drank.
Panic was the enemy then – he knew enough to save his strength for such a time as he might require it, but, even with his breath recovered, his muscles longed to fight the current; to kick free to the shore. By force of will he waited, patient against the tumbling darkness of the encompassing water.
His perseverance was rewarded.
Without warning he found himself ensnared in a net of fallen dead pines. His position was awkward – he was well below the surface – and yet he was glad to have solidity onto which to grasp. With only a brief pause, he began to pick a careful route amongst the jagged ends, climbing the wavering branches.
As he neared the surface, his hand encountered another surprise: where he had expected a thick protrusion of pine, he came away instead with a pliant human arm. He broke the surface, even as he had hold of the aberration with his free hand, and was taken aback to see there was naught attached to the appendage.
He cast it into the stream.
The flow immediately carried it once again into the waterlogged barricade.
Taking a moment to breath naturally, his gaze moved over the length of the obstruction which had halted his progress. His eyes encountered many patches of coloured cloth caught in the wooden spines.
Turning towards shore, he found himself facing the rotting visage of a woman. Maggots had taken root amongst her cheeks, writhing nubs indicating the progress of their consumption.
It was the low growling beyond, however, which left him longing for the Baker rifle he’d left in the ferryman’s indelicate care.
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.