Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and twenty five.
Tonight we present, The Angler: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Nutty Bites.
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, student of the occult and master frontiersman, awaits the arrival of a meal.
The Angler: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1
At the edge of White Creek, Miser Jenkins had taken up a hushed watch, with rod in hand. He’d spent the morning ignoring the fat flakes that drifted to the ground about him, as he knew that, despite the cold, the bass were just as in search of a meal as he.
The fisherman had acquired his stingy condition honestly, having had to save coin, and bread crusts, to pay for his passage to York. Thereafter, he’d simply never forgotten the habit, and his half-full wicker creel stood as testament to his persistence.
While allowing the fast moving stream to dance his bait, the old man had lost himself in consideration of the distances he’d come, but a fresh nibble at his line awoke him from his ruminations.
Patience, however, was Jenkins’ particular talent, and he held his position without excitement.
The sound of the flow running over the brook’s rocky protrusions remained steady, and a crow let his spectatorship be known from a nearby branch. Unflustered by the audience, and with only the slightest movement of his practiced hands, the miser gave his dead worm a tempting imitation life.
Finally, as an extravagant mound of snowy fluff touched upon the water’s surface and collapsed, the rod bent strongly, and the trap was sprung.
Seconds later Jenkins was triumphantly removing a wriggling specimen from his hook, and noting how, although no creek-catch is ever a feast in itself, this trophy seemed especially plump.
While still smiling, the victor turned and spotted a naked boy, some hundred feet away, staring downstream from the far bank. The newcomer’s eyes were wide, and his mouth down-turned.
The bald trees did nothing to hide the child’s tears from the crisp noonday sun.
“What ails you?” asked the fisherman.
The youth took a step backwards, setting a birch between himself and his interrogator.
Miser began a slow approach, speaking in reassuring tones, and gathering the opinion that the stripling was likely one of the Ojibwa encamped in the area. He did wonder, though, that he did not recognize the face, as he was on good terms with the locals of the tribe.
Then the weeping boy disappeared behind his thin barricade.
Curious, Jenkins bridged the stream at a point where three broad stones provided a hopping passage, and pressed on.
Upon arriving, he inspected the area, but could see no trace of the naked juvenile. The fallen leaves appeared undisturbed, and the water’s murmur covered any noises of flight.
Turning towards his basket, however, Miser was brought up short.
The boy was there, with both his hands wrapped around the satchel which contained Jenkins’ intended dinner. The angler once again set himself to hailing the stranger, but the lad’s pale bare-feet carried him rapidly into the woods.
“Hey now!” shouted Jenkins, his stride picking up fervency.
As he reached the site of his vigil, Miser caught a glimpse of bare shoulders ducking beyond a distant pine.
He gave chase.
The barren branches provided Jenkins visibility, but the grasping fingers also held back his thick coat, and snatched at his woolen hat. Twice he feared he’d lost the trail – on the first his transgressor’s nerve had broken, and he’d bolted from his hiding place beneath an evergreen, and, on the other, he’d simply caught sight of a leg as it topped a stone-pile.
Even in his indignant anger, as he climbed the second obstacle, Jenkins spared a thought for the pains the boy must be suffering, rag-less and under such duress. Between huffing exhalations, he resolved to share some of his bounty – once he’d beaten an apology out of the miscreant.
“Return my supper, you cheat,” shouted Jenkins, to no response.
Achieving the short summit, Miser was presented with an unexpected scene: The mouth of a cave was gaping some twenty feet away, and, at the midpoint between himself and the maw, a large dead stag lay rotting.
A pair of cedars stood as dying sentinels beside the opening, and, though it was expected that the season would be harsh for the timber, there was a discordance in the strained angles of their limbs which gave him pause.
Yet, though the shadowy cavern provided no better welcome, Jenkins was intent on his prize, and it stood as the likely hiding place upon the small plateau. He moved forward with a reluctant boot, but, before its twin could follow, the decaying deer appeared to burst.
The stranger rising from the gore-laden flap of animal hide was not what caused the majority of Miser’s concern, however – it was the lit dynamite, wrapped with gleaming wire, in the interloper’s grasp.
The rocky hollow gave a booming wail, to which the explosive-wielding man responded with a strong arm.
Even as the payload passed between the skewed cedars, the wide entrance shuttered itself, as if stone-lips slamming shut.
Before Miser could consider retreat, there was a rumble, then silence.
“I apologize for the surprise,” said the bomber, “I am Thomas Blackhall.”
“Jenkins, but you’ll pardon if I don’t shake your hand at the meeting, you seem to have some venison affixed to your forearm.”
“Apologies, as well, for my appearance. I’ve been lying within the foul beast for the last three nights, awaiting my opportunity.”
“Aye,” replied Thomas, as he scraped rancid meat from his sleeve. “The hill fiend was wary, and only allowed itself to yawn wide as you approached. It had forgotten about my presence, I feel sure, but such creatures don’t grind their way across the landscape for millenia without some cunning. Whatever the case, the scattering of the binding about my munition ended its slow hunt – silver is noxious to the things.”
Jenkins found a stone, a good ways apart from the deer carcass, and took a seat.
“It is too much for me, sir,” he said, “and I must confess I do not quite understand.”
“If you’d entered the cave, what you considered the roof would have rapidly descended, leaving you little more than a paste filling the gaps and crevices about the floor. Then, as the soil does, it would consume your remains over time, as your body naturally crumbled. Such is nearly what happened to my place of shelter. Although the stag did manage to escape, the ripping loss of his rear limbs was too much, and it was dead before long.”
“- but what of the boy?” asked Miser, with a rasp in his tone.
Blackhall retrieved a water-tight pouch from within his pockets, and began pinching tobacco into a fine rectangle of paper.
“A phantasm wrought by arcane instinct,” he replied. “For the stag it was a doe, for you, a thief; the right lure for the job. Return to your lost goods, they likely remain where you believe you left them.”
“What fiendish cunning!”
“It is interesting how often the need for sustenance teaches cleverness. I rather suspect it is the case that, in truth, it had no more intelligence than an arachnid spinning a web, and held no more malice than an angler upon a stream.”
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