Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and fifty.
Tonight we present, The Tightened Braid: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 6.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Bear Crawling odcast.
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, master frontiersman and student of the occult, witnesses an unexpected demise.
The Tightened Braid: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 6 – A Sudden Death
As he tenderly prodded his fat lip, the young private seemed to find some relief in his admission.
“Fitz knew you were ducking him, right enough, so he sent a chum of mine, Patrick, to sit and play bully.
“Pattie could have done me the favour of not sprinting immediately away at the sight of you, but he’s never been much good at maintaining a lie, with that broad open face of his.
“Anyhow, you thought you were being smart by getting out and about, but that’s exactly what Captain Fitzhugh wanted. Your handsy friend Shea, amongst others, were quick enough to gossip, and so it was easy to quietly gather your doings from a mutually friendly third-party.”
The lad spit on the floor then, a mixture of mucus and blood.
“Word along the chain says that Fitz isn’t quite right these days – that he works harder than ever, but never sleeps, and seems most often moody and distracted. In truth, it is his worsening condition, as much as the implications of our recent journey, that drive me to divulge such information to you. I’m just a mud-stomper, and don’t know much of what happens above my head, but Pat and I grew up trading each other’s farm chores, and he gave me a look at the loot he was lifting from your room.
“I can not guess half their infernal functions, but you ought not hide things under the floor boards. You mustn’t have had any sisters with diaries when you were wee, but any twelve-year-old girl would have sussed your stash in a gnat’s wink.”
Blackhall, having returned to his position by the rented room’s door, frowned, but did not interrupt the boy’s narration.
“It was your trinkets you see: Fitz became aware you were prone to leaving them behind during your meanderings, so the longer off, the better to look over your toys. Has a few favourites, he does – that dagger of yours especially.”
Thomas cringed at the thought. He’d considered concealing the tools and talismans a calculated risk, as he knew little of the powers within the items he’d collected after the death of The Eremite. He had had no interest in suddenly facing off against an accidentally summoned djinn, while occupied with the business of remaining alive in the wildwood during an Upper Canadian winter.
Worse, the nature of his latest excursion had forced him to leave not only the stranger trinkets, but also the items he had practiced with for many years, for fear that the beast he and Shea had faced down might turn his own charms against him.
When he was sure the recital was complete, Thomas asked, “where am I most likely to find Fitzhugh at this hour?”
“At dusk? In his office, like as anywhere,” replied the lad, “I’ve inkling enough of your business to know I’ve no want to hang about, but – well, I do believe the captain had the best of intentions in invading your chamber.”
Blackhall allowed himself a small nod. “Perhaps, but it seems all too often that our man, Fitzhugh, thinks he’s more clever than he ought. Fortunately, there remains hope that he has not laid hands on all of my goods.”
While Thomas’ mind wandered towards the local tannery, the youth but shrugged.
“I’ve told you the truth now,” he said, “so I’ll thank you to release me without any further violence from your crippled, yet high strung, companion – I ask only that you make no mention of the sources of your information, and that you take your infernal gear and head back into the woods which delivered you.”
Wesley Shea, who had been watching the scene from behind lidded eyes, simmered at the comments regarding his temper and physical disposition. “Listen here, you flip cur, I’ll happily give your pilfering superior the same taste of palm that I gave ye. What right have you to -”
His rant was cut short by a sudden opportunity to carry out his claims, as the the entry was forced wide, and a haggard Fitzhugh rushed the room. The captain was clad in a pair of civilian trousers, and a loosely fastened coat, but it was the empty blaze of his pupils which most caught Thomas’ attention.
Though Blackhall was closest to the threshold, the swinging door had thrown him off balance, and it was the unstable Shea who first came into arm’s length.
“You will surrender yourselves to -” was as far as the intruder was allowed, before Wesley returned the favour of the interruption.
It was a stinging slap, though far from disabling.
The soldier did not take well to the insult, and motioned as if to draw a blade from his hip. Fitzhugh appeared surprised, however, when he discovered the weapon lacking. Instead, he squared his shoulder, and tackled the fingerless man. The pair fell to the floor with a terrible momentum, and their limbs took to the furious process of seeking purchase within each other’s defenses.
The struggle was frenzied, but, even as Thomas moved to intervene, Shea laid both his ragged hands upon his attacker’s collar and forced himself free of the melee.
Attempting to pursue his quarry, the military officer endeavoured to retake his feet, but, beneath his now gaping jacket, it was apparent his simple cotton shirt was greased with blood.
“Damnation,” said Fitzhugh – then, with a quiet gasp, he fell dead.
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