Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and fifty-one.
Tonight we present, The Tightened Braid: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 6
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Groggy Frog Thai Massage.
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, finds himself fleeing his place of rest.
The Tightened Braid: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 6 – Absolute Corruption
The trio stood staring at the corpse which lie, face down, on the floor of Thomas’ close-walled lodging.
“I couldn’t have,” said Shea. His voice was small, but fell heavily onto the space’s silence.
Events began to move quickly then.
“It would be best if we relocated to Jansen’s tanning shack, immediately,” Blackhall replied, as he grabbed up his Baker rifle and saber.
The main room was populated by a dozen diners, and a smattering of drunks. It seemed as if each took a moment to cast a raised brow toward the quickly exiting men, but Thomas felt no need to explain the sounds of struggle which had emanated from his chamber. Instead, he provided only a wave to the barkeep, as he seated his hat and pushed through to the winter’s early night.
Cold had kept most of the settlement’s inhabitants as near their fires as they could manage, and the snow drifts and blackened shops provided little welcome beyond the public house’s warm windows.
As he laid a boot into the darkness, Thomas held onto the hope that his temporary landlord’s professional pride would overcome his curiosity, and prevent him from intruding upon the corpse occupying his abandoned bunk.
He took some comfort in the fact that it was a short excursion, through moon-shadowed wooden alleys, to the edge of town.
The tanner’s plot was pungent with soaking flesh and strong abrasives, bringing the cluster of hurried travellers to a halt well away from its rough facade. The powder was ankle deep, and piling ever higher as they waited, but the hesitation gave the young private, who had so recently disclosed the sordid nature of his captain’s doings, an opportunity to once again find his voice.
“Well,” he said, “I think it’s time I say good night.”
“They’ll assume you played a part in the murder of Fitzhugh,” replied Blackhall.
“You know well enough that I did not,” spat the lad. “Your man here has fattened my lip such that I believe they’ll understand my circumstances.”
“I’m sorry – I’m sorry for all I’ve done. I’ve never before been such a fellow,” interjected the fingerless Shea. His neck grew short, and his shoulders rolled in agony. “I’ve never meant no being harm, and yet…”
The youth’s brow softened. “Cry not – my mother would give me worse for an improperly set table. I’ll say as little as I can, for as long as I can, but I dare not be caught up further in this madness. I’m not built to fight devils, and I’ve no want to receive the same fate as poor Fitz.”
“Might you continue to lend your aid?” asked Thomas. “I’m not pleased to seek help, but the loss of my tools is a dire thing. Worse yet, while I don’t intend offense to our friend here, his sobbing does not bode well for the strength of his nerve.”
Though he appeared lost in his weeping, Shea bristled at the remark.
“What right have you, Blackhall, to speak ill of me – you who have left me wretched; No, even as I say it, I know that I am wrong. I could have lived with killing the harpy on your behalf, which was all you truly asked – but, not the captain: It is too much.”
As if summoned by the mention, a form came staggering around the distant corner, and onto the backstreet which had been their final exit from town. For a moment the drooping moustache hovering over the upturned jacket collar seemed a mirage, but, as the figure neared, he became unmistakable as the supposedly deceased Fitzhugh.
Shea’s eyes again welled at the discovery, and he rushed the soldier with a tongue jabbering in relief.
“My god, you’ve given me a fright. I apologize for my brash maneuvers, and wish you only well, sir – we believed you dead!”
His eager greeting was countered by the bone-handled knife which snaked from Fitzhugh’s pocket and across the absolved murderer’s throat.
As life began to flow from the dying man another newcomer arrived. He was dressed in a lumberer’s stocky coat and worn boots, but there was no missing the fury in his eyes, nor the thick military man’s moustache which he bore. From beneath the sleeve which covered his right arm leaked a trail of blood, and each heavy step marked the ivory ground with a spray of crimson.
Though Shea recognized the second Fitzhugh immediately, his slick palms could do little to staunch his own wound’s flow, and, before he might even turn to warn his companions, his knees gave out. With his cheeks still damp, he fell forward.
He would not rise again.
Understanding that there was no further time to argue, Blackhall bolted towards the tannery. The ragged entrance gave only the briefest resistance to his flying shoulder, and he found some luck in that the object he sought – a small oak drum, bearing a freshly stretched skin and a ring of leaves engraved about its base – was upon a workbench close at hand.
As he regained the road, the sound of lashed horses drifted from somewhere beyond the oncoming twins, and, on the same wind which carried the cracks, also came another Fitzhugh’s voice, profanely urging on the nags in harness.
With a final prodding shout at the transfixed private, Thomas held tight his regained instrument, and made for the woods.
The youth did not follow.
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