Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and fifty-one.
Tonight we present, Coffin: Zonbi, 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, Will Coffin, urban shaman, and his tipsy roommate, Bunny Davis, receive reports regarding another practitioner of the occult arts.
Flash Pulp 151 – Coffin: Zonbi, Part 1 of 1
“What the #### was that guy’s deal?” asked Bunny, spitting a sunflower husk into the Eats and Treats’ trash barrel.
“He never sleeps.” replied Coffin.
“Huh? The ####?”
“He asked me to do it. He’s better off this way.”
“Was he serious, about the zombie?”
“Yeah, I think so. He’s generally pretty twitchy, but he looked especially rough today.”
The conversation had been a short one. Apparently the insomniac had been wandering about the south end of town, in the pre-dawn hours, when he’d come across a member of the undead. Unsure of how to proceed, the sleepless man had done the only reasonable thing: moved directly away, as quickly as possible.
The idea of informing Will had come the next morning.
Rising from the bench that made up his place of business, Coffin sauntered to the bus-stop. His crude-mouthed roommate trailed behind.
It was a poor time of day to push a vehicle through the city’s congested arteries.
Fifteen minutes into the ride, having replenished her fluid levels from a water bottle full of vodka, Bunny once again took up the subject.
“So, uh, what are we expecting? Is it anything like Return of the Living Dead? Tim used to love that ####ing movie, but I need a chunk bitten out of my ### like I need dental work by Godzilla.”
“Well, it’s not really -” his sentence was cut short by the look in his companion’s eyes. “What?”
“I – if all this other #### is real, if I gotta deal with ghosts and ####ing zombies, is… is Godzilla real too?”
Before responding, Coffin forcefully rubbed his eye with the palm of his hand.
“No.” He expelled a lungful of air through his nostrils. “There are varieties of zombies – it’s a bit of an umbrella term. I won’t know what exactly we’re dealing with until we arrive, but I’m guessing we’re not about to encounter a bunch of undead, 1980s-style, punk rockers.”
“Don’t be a smart ###.”
“I’m just saying we need to wait and see.”
* * *
Finding the wandering corpse in question was a simple enough matter, as Bunny wasn’t interested in asking after the lined-faced men who spoke only French to Coffin, and who consistently pointed him towards a particular paint-flecked townhouse.
As they approached, she noticed that all of the window screens had been ripped out, but their frames left in place – to her mind, combined with the black curtains beyond, it gave the rental the impression of lidless eye sockets.
Coffin thrust hard at the sharded edges of the plastic-hole that was once a doorbell, and a grating buzz emanated from somewhere in the interior.
“Maybe he’s sleepin’?” suggested Bunny, after five minutes of wobbling back and forth on the creaking front step.
Will had at the buzzer a second time, and his persistence brought results.
From within came the sound of a sliding chain-lock.
“Who you think you are!?” The stranger’s blond hair clumped in dirty tangles, and he wore only baggy black shorts. His chest sported an array of tattoos, which Coffin busied himself studying.
“This guy ain’t dead,” muttered Bunny. She reconsidered her flippancy, however, when her eyes adjusted to the patterns of black ink woven over the man, “ – oh ####, is he some sort of voodoo master?”
“Be gone,” the door-holder replied. The gap began to close.
“I’m Coffin.” Will brushed his thumb against the stubble at his chin. “Your fake Haitian accent is terrible, stop it. Show me the zonbi.”
“Uh, Coffin? Like, from the other side of town?”
“Yes – and who are you?”
“They call me, uh, le Roi de la Mort.”
Will raised an eyebrow.
“Seriously? Fine. I’ll call you Roy. Show me, Roy.”
His shoulders slumping, the self-crowned King of the Dead lead them inside. The ground level was well maintained, but Bunny felt no remorse at tracking dirt over the plush carpet. She whistled when she spotted the living room’s massive television, and the leather furniture it was surrounded by.
The basement was another matter.
Lying on a beaten brown couch, set flush with the far cinder-block wall, was a tall man, covered in grime. His eyes were open, and affixed upon the exposed duct-work that ran along the low-roof.
“Get up.” ordered Coffin, but the zombie seemed not to hear.
“Holy ####ing fairy testicles,” said Bunny. She was un-enthused with the odour of the place.
“OK, great, you’ve had the tour, now get out,” replied the home’s owner.
Coffin spoke directly to Bunny.
“There’s nothing magical about any of this, what we’ve got here is a social issue. This poseur has convinced his Haitian neighbours that he’s a Bokor: a sorcerer,” he pointed at the couch’s occupant, “- and this guy’s getting the short end of the stick. He’s convinced because they’re convinced.”
“How you figure? Mr Stare-y here looks pretty ####ing enchanted to me,” replied Bunny.
“Mostly the tattoos. Feels like there’s a lot of these guys lately – pseudo-mystics branded with badly translated Chinese characters and Germanic runes to look like they know what they’re doing. They catch wind of a few key ideas from someone who should know better than to talk to them, and then they set up shop scaring cash out of anyone gullible enough to believe them.”
Roy began to back slowly towards the wooden stairs that lead to the first floor.
Turning on him, Coffin cleared his throat. The counterfeit conjurer ceased his movement.
“I knew a guy who used to travel with the Grateful Dead. He was mostly just a new-ager, but he’d gotten hold of a tool, the work of an old wizard named Rousseau. Rousseau was a scribe, back when written spells still worked, but he required a method of correcting his labours, as ink was tough to come by – especially when you were grinding it out of bat gizzards and three weeks worth of gathered herbs. In the end his solution was to craft, well-” Will reached into his coat, retrieving a short length of ornate brass, with what appeared to be a glistening sponge upon its tip. “- this. It absorbed his errors. After he was done, he could just squeeze out the valuable ink and re-use it.”
Bunny shook her head.
“I don’t get it, I thought you said these unicorn molestors were playing pretend?” she replied.
“Blondy is, but the imitation-ghoul believes it. He probably tried to resist at first, ask for help when he could, but most of these folks are from Haiti’s boondocks, only here to work a factory job for a few years so they can return with enough money to set up something decent at home. We’re talking manual labourers doing back breaking work on fourteen-hour shifts, and for a lot of them, their faith is their strength, which includes the concept of the zonbis. As for the other locals – I mean, look at him, there aren’t a lot of people well versed in French or Creole around here, and, if this musty stumbler approached you, you’d probably figure he was just a jabbering homeless guy. Jack someone up on hallucinogenic drugs and hold them hostage for a few weeks in a world where everyone shuns them, and their mind goes a bit. He likely fought it, but now he believes.”
As they spoke, the man’s face remained ever-blank.
Bunny drained her tainted water bottle.
“The #### do we do then?”
“Convince him of something new. As I was saying, I got this fancy little stick from a Deadhead. He bartered it for a little help with his lung cancer. I couldn’t cure him, but – well, anyhow, when he wasn’t playing guru, he made his money as a tattoo artist. He told me this thing was fantastic when he’d pooch his line-work.”
Coffin waved the device across Roy’s chest, and a large swath of inscription disappeared. Within seconds the illustrations were fully replaced with bare skin, and the material at the end of the short handle dripped with black liquid.
Will turned, and was pleased to see he held the bewitched man’s attention.
“C’est fini,” said the shaman. “Allez!”
As if awakening from a long dream, the released stood, then approached the stairs with quickening steps. He was running by the time he disappeared from view.
“Do you know how much getting all of those hurt? Or how much it cost?” complained Roy.
“Probably more than it’s going to cost to get your carpets cleaned once I’m done purging my brush. Hope your landlord got a deposit.”
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