Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and twenty two.
Tonight we present, Coffin: Food for Thought.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Jimmy and the Black Wind.
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, urban shaman, Will Coffin, and his soggy roommate, Bunny, encounter an arcane predator.
Coffin: Food for Thought, Part 1 of 1
By the age of fifteen, Mila Da Silva’s learning impediment had left her in a classroom surrounded by children half her age. The rural school she’d been attending had no budget to allocate to her special needs, and her parents had little money to invest in giving her a better education.
On Mila’s sixteenth birthday, Rosalia Da Silva, her mother, decided the embarrassment was enough, and that her wide-eyed child could be taught nothing more.
The trouble began three months later, while the pair were on a day trip to the nearby ruin of a former church. Decades previous, well after being decommissioned, the building had burned to the ground. The stone walls still stood, however, and the open air of the interior made for an agreeable picnic spot.
As Mother Da Silva searched a battered paperback for her dog-eared page, Mila walked the stone pathway which marked the main aisle of the former holy site. n
Drifting through a door-less arch, the girl began counting off the weathered graves which lay at the rear of the building. She wandered the rows for some time, but consistently lost her tally at twelve.
The occult parasite did not care about the significance of the location; it knew only what it required to survive. Instinct and necessity had informed its decision to spring from its long slumber, but, eve as it settled into the innocent’s flesh, it knew it had made a fortunate leap.
As her fingers traced the cold name of a dead man, Mila paid no notice to the itch above her left ear.
Shortly after, Rosalia completed her chapter, and rose with a satisfied burp.
* * *
Headaches became a regular complaint for the girl, and Oscar Da Silva’s patience quickly wore thin. He’d long wished for a second child, but had never tried, for fear of receiving another like his first, and his animosity found focus in his daughter’s sobbing moans.
Mila increasingly spent her days in her room, and she passed the the hours watching Sesame Street or crying.
Her dreams became unpleasant. In her youth she’d been a sound sleeper, but weekly, then nightly, she would raise the Da Silva household with her wailing.
In the beginning, the nightmares took the form of memories from her schooldays. Most often it was the intrusion of the mocking laughter of young children into an otherwise benign scenario: She would be sitting at the kitchen table, counting how many cards made up one of Rosalina’s solitaire pyramids, when a whispered taunt would seem to come from behind her. Turning, a horde of children stood, pointing. As she made eye contact, the snickers would begin, and the slumberer would find herself surrounded. She might push through the crowds which lined kitchen, or which lounged, with dangling feet, on the brown counters, but she would locate no respite until she awoke.
When the grace of consciousness was finally granted, it came with an unstoppable lungful of air escaping her throat like a steam-whistle.
* * *
Mila’s understanding of her independence was limited, but, at the stroke of midnight on her eighteenth birthday, she crept from the house. Her hitchhiking was endorsed by a well meaning, but misguided, farm hand, and, before sundown, she was in Capital City.
She’d once visited the metropolis in her youth, and she’d been confident that she’d retained enough to allow her to move easily between the glittering mall and the building full of rooms at which they’d stayed on her expedition with Mom and Pop.
It was a hard lesson for her that the beds weren’t free, and her confused questions went un-tolerated by the hotel security staff.
By dawn her feet were tired and her eyelids heavy. Sitting on a bench, she nodded off. When she awoke, her luggage was gone.
Twelve months of street dirt formed a caked nest over the wriggling protrusion that projected from above her ear, and the fattening parasite grew to the size of a yellow thumb-tip.
The new friends Mila made paid little attention to her cycle of shrieking and weeping – many of them were engaged in their own personal battles, and felt ill suited to judge. Like most of her new comrades, she medicated herself heavily with cheap vodka, but it was she alone who witnessed the hallucinations which began to assault her waking hours – soon she found herself at constant war with insects that went otherwise unseen by her fellow indigents.
One December evening, as she loitered outside the Salvation Army outpost on Seventh Street, she was approached by a rail-thin man. She’d seen him around previously, but they’d never spoken directly.
“Rug-bone was telling me you were having some funny dreams,” he said.
“Yeah,” she said. Her head was aching at the time, and it made it difficult to focus.
“Think you could repeat ‘em to a guy I know? I heard you were a tough case, but I think he might be able to help. He’ll still pay for a decent dinner, even if he can’t.”
She didn’t bother raising her hopes beyond a burger, but that seemed reward enough.
* * *
They met in a Wendy’s. She’d always liked the pigtailed mascot a lot more than Ronald McDonald, and they’d left the choice up to her.
Mila had been displeased to learn what a dirty talker the woman who joined them was, but the man in the leather jacket, which her companion had introduced as Coffin, was polite, if quiet. Oddly, when the pair had entered, the illusionary beetles, whose chittering had become her constant soundtrack, and whose unrelenting approach had often made it impossible for her to eat, disappeared.
This had left the girl feeling especially sad. The pain in her skull was becoming overwhelming, and she was sure she’d begin howling shortly, as it was her only release, but she knew, from Long experience, that such a shriek would push away her well-wishers.
“Tell me about your dreams,” said Coffin.
“They’ve gotten badder and badder,” she replied, focusing hard on the words, and away from the misery that inhabited her skull. “The ones that are nice are when I get a rope, and put it around my neck and jump from the edge of the parking structure on third street. Thinking about it makes me scared, but it’s always so peaceful in my dreams. The bad ones – sometimes I’m sliding down the staircase at my grandma’s house, and I get near the bottom and someone’s put a bunch of razorblades in the banister, and I can’t stop, and I can feel my legs and belly all cut up, but there’s nothing I can do, ‘cause the blood just makes me slide faster.
”Sometimes its Papa hitting me – he punches me over and over in the same place, and it aches so much, and Mama is always at the door telling me I’m a bad person. He stops if I cry loud enough. He tells me he’s sorry, and asks if I wanna come home. Then, when I say yes, he slaps me again, and Mom laughs.
“Most of the time I’m lying in the alley though, and the dogs are eating me, and it hurts, but I don’t care anymore, I just want to be dead.”
Across he booth, Coffin nodded, and his partner nodded.
“Do you remember when it started? Was there a pain on your scalp somewhere?” he asked.
It was too far back, and she couldn’t recall. She shrugged. Her burger was done, and Mila began to wonder when the strangers would finally tell her they couldn’t help, so that she could leave behind the stares of the four-member family on the far side of the dinning area.
Coffin tried a different question. “Can I have a quick look at your head?”
Although Mila felt some consternation at the idea, as she’d been wearing, for some time, a beanie to hide her lack of a bath, she consented.
“It’s called a Suicide Maggot. Part of a larger hive, but the rest are probably centuries dead. Who knows how this one managed to turn up. If you don’t catch it early, it’ll burrow down and start feeding on your cerebrospinal fluid. Puts little hooks into your gray-meat and pulls your strings until you off yourself – usually in a manner of its suggestion, which means no damage to your noggin. It’s basically a parasite that makes your brain try to reject your body like its a shoddy organ transplant.
“They aren’t strong enough to win out while you’re alive, but if you’d tied off to that car park and jumped, it would’ve stolen your cranium as soon as you were cold and alone. They’re the size of a flea when they start, but, after adequate feeding, they’ll make off with your skull, like a hermit crab.”
None of the explanation made sense to Mila, and she wasn’t sure if this meant she was now free to go. The pain was becoming tremendous, and she didn’t want to upset these people, who obviously meant well.
“The solution’s pretty simple, you can either dunk your head in a bathtub for a couple hours, or try some Chinese cupping – either way, its oxygen will run short, and the bugger will extract itself in search of air. Back in the day, they used to just grab em with tongs and yank, but that wouldn’t do your thought processes much good.
“In an odd sense, it’s almost best that you were so neglected, although I’m sure that’s little comfort when you’re sleeping on a bench. If they’d pulled it, you’d have been a vegetable. On the other hand, had someone cared sufficiently, they might have found me years ago – this thing must be the size of a fat man’s thumb.”
“What?” asked the lost Da Silva.
The woman with the whisky breath leaned forward and placed a hand on the girl’s own.
“He can kill the grubby mind-####er,” said the drunk, “then, when the screaming’s over for good, we’ll see about getting you some new chums, and a warm bed. Your gonna be okay.”
For the first time in years, Mila’s tears stemmed from joy, and not agony.
Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.
Text and audio commentaries can be sent to email@example.com, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.
– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.