Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and eighty three.
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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, Harm Carter is told a tale of mechanical menace and human tragedy.
Flash Pulp 183 – The Murder Plague: Buggy, Part 1 of 3
Our strenuous rescue from the sharpshooter, and the sort of sleepless unrest you’ll get when someone is attempting to assassinate you, left us fatigued and eager for unconsciousness – once we’d extensively thanked our slab-armed liberator.
The strongman, Newton, had setup a small camp alongside a creek. The site was entirely sheltered from the road by a thick wall of trees, and we took turns sleeping, bathing in the mucky water, and keeping a watch for any roaming infected paranoiacs who might suddenly pop out of the bush like a game of rabid whack-a-mole.
After a quartet of raggedly snored symphonies, we gathered at the edge of the brook and, by the moon’s glow, did some accounting.
Jeremy, Minnie, and I, had little to offer beyond the empty gun I’d taken from Tyrone, whereas Newton displayed an array of tinned stews, a bright blue high-powered-flashlight, and a functional knowledge of the area.
It certainly appeared that we were getting the better part of the deal.
“I thought,” said Jeremy, “that all of the houses ‘round here were booby-traps? If so, where’d you find the cans? You had to get those somewhere, why are we sleeping on the dirt?”
More than looking a gift horse in the mouth, it seemed to me that the lad’s tone was smacking the nag in the teeth, but our host answered before I was able to say so.
“Let me tell you a story,” said Newton, laying his massive frame out on the grass. “Like I said, back before the engine quit, there were twelve of us. We all knew the situation, we’d stolen – uh, borrowed – the bus hoping to ride it straight to the military blockade. Everything was easy-peasy, until…”
He paused then, tossing a stone into the river. I remember it because I knew it was a sign that he was truly agitated; no hardened survivor of the Murder Plague, who isn’t distracted, makes unnecessary noise.
“I don’t wanna go through the whole list, but, after some politics, some infections, and some poor choices, it came down to me and Pam and Larry. Wasn’t so long ago that they were the ones sitting here. Anyhow, they got hungry, and we started arguing. They were pushing to try looting another place, but that was mostly how we’d lost the other nine, and I thought it was a better idea to just start walking and hope for the best, or, at least, a town.
“Now, there’d been this buzzing sound going by – it’s hard to describe, sort of a souped-up weed whacker. Of course, we’d avoided it, which was easy enough, since you notice it coming at a distance – and it’s always pitch black out when it blows by.”
“You don’t know what it looks like?” asked Minnie. It was a strong question, but she proposed it in the softest tone I’d heard from the teen. I rather think she’d taken quite a shine to our Hercules by then. Less approving was the scowl on Jeremy’s face.
“Well, no. I figure, if I can see it, it can see me,” Newton replied. “My point, though, is that we’d noticed it a bunch, but, despite it only showing up when it was night, those two idiots thought they’d go out to hunt grub in the dark. Larry was a bit of a goof, but Pam had her head on pretty straight generally, and I argued with her for quite a while before they left.
“I watched their backs disappear into the trees, then I was alone, for the first time since the outbreak. The minutes dragged on. I lost track of how long they were gone. I started sweating, pacing, and generally freaking out.
“Hours later, I heard Larry, laughing. He was pretty far off – across the road still – but he was celebrating with that annoying chicken chuckle of his: rubbing it in that they’d found treasure.
“However annoyed I might have been at the jerk, I was eager for a little grub in my belly.
“Then came the shriek; that maniac yard equipment sound.
“I don’t know what happened – maybe they thought their luck might hold, or that it was a patrol of some sort – maybe they couldn’t tell how much faster it seemed than before. In any case, it ended with them screaming. Larry kept asking for help, relentlessly, but Pam was just crying and squealing. She didn’t even sound human. I thought that the roaming buzz-saw noise was leaving, but it was just giving itself running room. It came by at full tilt, then – well, then there was nothing. Silence.
“When the sun came up, I went looking. Bits of them were spread out over a good half-mile of pavement. I found a duffel bag, with those stew cans in it, next to Larry’s severed hand. The bugs had already done quite a number on the stump.”
On that note of gore, he understandably stopped the recital, but Jeremy lept into the gap with a question.
“We must have driven by this spot in the Escalade, and I didn’t see a people smear anywhere?”
“I spent a good portion of the day tidying – and vomiting. You may have noticed the duffel wasn’t amongst my contributions.”
He pointed over the stream, at a sandy patch behind a cluster of immature spruce. I hadn’t noticed, up until then, how churned the area’s earth appeared, but I was pleased with my inadvertent choice of slumbering on the bank furthest from the burial site.
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