Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and twenty-one.
Tonight we present, Spook: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1
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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, Thomas Blackhall tells of a haunting from his youth, as he experienced it.
Flash Pulp 121 – Spook: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1
Thomas Blackhall collapsed against an aspen at the edge of an open meadow, fatigue drawing him under, even as the noon-day sun blazed overhead. When he awoke, he found himself in the center of a half-circle comprised of a dozen children, all staring at him intently, by the light of the sagging moon.
They demanded to be entertained.
“A spook story!” the shortest shouted.
“No. Not a made up bit about ghosts,” broke in their leader, who’d obviously been nominated by his height, “a living one; a true one.”
With a shrug, Thomas rubbed at his eyes and straightened his posture.
“Listen, and I shall tell you a tale of both the living, and the dead.
“At the age of ten, my father began taking me to see his family in London, once yearly, for my birthday. Until then I’d never experienced the flurry of city streets and markets, and my eye was constantly wandering over those I thought of as greatly privileged to live amongst such wondrous sights. During my first journey, as we dismounted our carriage and walked the length of houses to my Aunt’s, we passed a pregnant beggar woman, her hands extended and her face pious. Without thought, my father produced an assortment of coins and placed them in her upturned palms. She appeared very pleased at his generosity.
“The strangeness began upon the next anniversary of my birthday, when, while retracing our route, the same beggar-ess stood at the corner. On this occasion as well, her womb bulged. Father repeated his act of kindness, seemingly oblivious to the duplication of the previous trip, but, as we moved out of the woman’s hearing, I joggled his elbow.
““She’s still pregnant, a year later!” I said, with all the naivete of a boy of eleven.
“My father, red creeping into his face at the prospect of explaining birthing intervals, changed the subject.”
For a moment, Thomas’ stomach interrupted his telling, responding loudly to its empty state. The children seemed to ripple and waiver before his eyes, and he ran his coat over his brow, wiping sweat from his fevered skin.
With an embarrassed grin, he continued.
“On the third year, Mother was too ill to have us depart, but, on the next, we once again made the expedition. As Pa conducted necessary business, my aunt turned me loose upon the market that held court at the northern edge of her block. With enough jingle in my pocket to keep me in jellied eels for the afternoon, I was left to roam with only the restriction that I should stay within a rigorous set of boundaries, the names of which flew from my mind as quickly as Aunt Charity could recite them.
“As I walked the streets of my approximated travel allowance, I came across a boy of my own age, his father churning away at a portable organ as the lad coaxed a small mutt through a repertoire of antics and athletics. I stood watching as long as my eel-coin held out, but, as the grinder began the third repetition of his barrel, his look was becoming one of expectancy, and my bankroll was exhausted. In truth I’d fallen in love with the white and black entertainer, and, as a boy of fourteen will, I was internally attempting to devise a method by which I might make the dog mine.
“Casting about for an excuse to linger, my mind came upon the oddity of the pregnant beggar, whom I proceeded to ask about.
““Well – there’s no shortage ‘round here of those who can’t keep their knees together, if that’s what you mean to imply, young master – but if its Pregnant Polly you’re looking for, she spends most of her time these days in The Miller’s tap room, just a ways down the lane.” He pointed in its direction.
“I hadn’t expected such a definitive response, and so, with a last longing look at the dancing canine, I felt compelled to follow the provided instructions.
“It was a short walk, and easy to spot Polly through the foggy glass – as there were no other pregnant women in the establishment with tankards of ale held in both hands.
“Funnily enough, it was the dog that held my thoughts in the days after. I didn’t think on the woman again until one night while casting lies into the fire with a gathering of my fellow countrymen. I was homesick, and they were weaving tales of the streets of their youths, stories I took in in a sentimental fashion, at least until the name of Pregnant Polly revived my long dormant memory.
“I can not remember the teller’s name, but I do recall the twisted smirk upon his face as he recounted the woman’s life.
“”She was with bairn at sixteen,” he said, “but it would never arrive, though she looked forever in her final month. At the age of eighteen, still unmarried, and perennially bulging, she was little wanted in her parent’s household, and she was set upon the streets. Unable to make a living, even as a bang-tail , she quickly turned to fleecing tourists in London markets. In truth, who would not find some coin for a beggared mother-to-be? Anyhow, her fame grew such that, when she finally drank herself into an early grave, they cut her open, and inside was a babe: one made of stone. The doctor said it had somehow mummified within her, a situation that was rare, but not unheard of, amongst the pages of his medical texts.”
“So it was that Pregnant Polly was forced to wander the streets, the living ghost of a mother that never was, with the corpse of her child haunting her every step.”
Blackhall fell silent then, awaiting a response from his audience. Without a word, each turned on their own time, and began to wander into the deep brush from whence he’d come. As the last reached the clearing’s edge, he seemed to fade into dissipating moonlight, even as dawn touched the horizon.
It was another hour before Thomas rose, and another day’s travel before he encountered civilization, where he collapsed into a month’s sick bed at his prolonged starvation. He would never be sure if the encounter had been in any way real, or nothing but the byproduct of his hasty consumption of tainted mushrooms during his desperate search for food.
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