Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and thirty-four.
Tonight we present, Coffin: Debts, Part 1 of 1
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Tonight, Will Coffin, with his drunken companion in tow, must discuss a vital matter with a remnant of the dead.
Flash Pulp 134 – Coffin: Debts, Part 1 of 1
Will Coffin, and his acquaintance, Bunny, stood at the edge of an empty lot.
Weeds had broken through the cracked pavement which otherwise smothered more than half of the space. At the rectangle’s center sat three low cement pillars, whose exteriors were covered in graffiti that might have been recognized as tribal art in any other age.
Insects hummed invisibly in the grass tufts, and the sun baked Coffin within the heavy leather of his jacket.
“Fifteen years ago,” he said, “this was a convenience store. Those columns were the foundation that held up the roof. If I squint, I can almost still see the freezers that used to be wedged between them.”
Bunny nodded, not quite sure why her roommate had coaxed her so far from her vodka and coke.
“What happened?” she asked, hoping to hurry the trip along.
Will stepped from the sidewalk, crushing a fresh sprout of thistle beneath his boot-heel.
“Well, it burnt down. Electrical failure – poor wiring mixed with a bunch of melted ice cream and a stack of Zippo-lighter-fluid.”
“Oh. I thought it was going to be some god—-ed hell-beast with flamin’ feet, or the ghost of some arsonist —-ing hobo.”
“No. My interest largely came after.” Coffin rubbed the sweat from his palms onto his jeans, then dipped his hand into his pocket. “First though, do you see anything out of the ordinary?”
“Well, you ain’t terribly —-ing normal, but the rest is just an empty lot.”
He puckered his lips and let out a breath.
“There’s a girl who died here. Adele. She was eleven. Her Mom used to come by and leave her wreaths on the third of every June, the day it happened. There was a lot of public outcry at the time – everyone knew the store was a hazard, but it was cheaper for the owner to pay the occasional fine than to undertake repairs.”
“She’s been a great source of information for me – easily the most reasonable phantasm I’ve ever met.” He squinted. “Doesn’t mean I haven’t had to bargain. The kinds of things I need to squeeze out of these leftovers are rarely fun to discuss.”
Bunny continued to look puzzled, and Coffin realized he was stalling. He pulled his silver chain from his coat, letting the intricate hook trawl through a patch of prickly greenery.
After a moment, there was a tug on his hand. With a wrench, he plucked a pale girl into view, as if he’d pulled her from the lot’s craggy earth.
“Holy —-,” said Bunny. “Oh – sorry, I forgot you’re a —-ing kid.”
“I’m -” said the ghost.
“She’s -” said Will.
“Sorry,” continued Coffin, “I’m used to the days when I had to translate for your Mom. This is Bunny, a friend of mine. She can apparently see you without requiring an artifact.”
“Very nice to meet you.” The girl turned her smoking eyes towards the new comer. “You don’t need to worry about your language; I’ve certainly heard worse from the vagrants that squat here after dark. I may look young, but it’s been many years since I was searching for Benjamin, and got pinned in old man McWerter’s store.”
“Benjamin?” asked the stunned drunk.
“My little brother. I thought he was still at the candy rack, so I ran in – I only found out later that McWerter had carried him to safety through the back.”
As she spoke, Adele’s skin blackened and flaked away, carried from her body by currents that were the result of unseen heat. Exposed underneath, eternally, was renewed flesh.
“Twelve —-ing monkeys on an — -zeppelin,” said Bunny.
The combusting child raised a scorched eyebrow.
“My apologies,” replied Will, “- she’s new to the world.”
Coffin sat, unmindful of the bushes, or passers-by. He leaned against the nearest paint-splattered pillar, and made himself comfortable.
He waved a hand at Bunny, and she joined him..
“How’s your Mom?” he asked Adele.
“She’s alright. I guess a chatty grandmother died in the tub, on the floor below her, and they haven’t gotten bored of swapping their stories yet.”
“I’ll let her know that your brother got that job I mentioned last time. He’s started as an assistant engineer, but, considering his degree, in a couple of years he’ll be doing more design work on the cars, and less double-checking of other people’s math. He bought a dog with his first paycheck – named it Addie.”
“Wow. Thanks for sharing, but you haven’t even asked me your favour yet.”
Coffin swallowed, considering his words.
“We’ve known each other a long time. There’s another piece of news I haven’t given you, but I wanted you to hear it before the crews roll in. They re-sold the lot last month. In the morning they’ll be bringing in equipment to start moving dirt on a new McDonald’s.”
The dead child made a sound no living throat could – a mix of a giggle and a groan.
Tears sizzled, then evaporated, on her cheeks.
“What happens after?” she asked.
“I’m sorry,” he replied, “I don’t know.”
“Will – can you stay and talk till they come?”
“I owe you that much.”
It was the same service he’d provided her the first time she’d died – although, then his windpipe had been seared from the heat of dragging her from the building.
It troubled him little to appear as if a muttering vagrant, when the workers arrived with the dawn.
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