Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and seventy-two.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Way of the Buffalo Podcast.
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, Will Coffin, urban shaman, and Bunny, his tipsy companion, exchange tales of, and with, the dead.
Coffin: Balm, Part 2 of 3
The phantasmic cowhand, having been exhausted from the effort required to stand tall, had returned to the awkward sprawl of his death.
It seemed impolite, to Bunny, to loiter around a man with his face pinned to the dirt, and so she’d drifted, with her whiskey bottle, to sit on the hood of the gray rented Ford.
With a shrug, Coffin followed.
“What’s his deal? Why’s he here?” asked the drunk, in a tone meant to be covert.
“That’s the question,” replied Coffin. “Ambrose is from a time when men were supposed to be wrasslin’ bears and chewing iron, not dealing with their emotions and having any idea why they were constantly looking moodily at the horizon. Something’s keeping him here, but he’s not talking about it – may not even be aware of what it is.
”He’s an aberration. No ghost should be able to linger so long. His water ran dry a over a century ahead of anyone considering running a highway by here, but he hasn’t gotten any less stubborn since.
“I’ve researched his genealogy, tracked down the burial site of the man who killed his brother, brought out some cold beer. Way back in the day, we even tried a horse. Had to rent the beast, and a trailer to haul it in. The guy only let us go with his stuff because Sandy hinted we were filming a version of Lady Godiva’s naked ride.”
Bunny snorted, and Will allowed himself a grin.
“We were young, and it was the ‘70s,” he continued, “people did that sort of thing. ”
The mention of his dead wife, and his introduction of the ghost, was as close to opening up to Bunny as Will had ever come, and this was perhaps why she suddenly found herself speaking of the husband she’d been forced to kill.
“One time Tim borrowed a camcorder from a pal of his; Wanted to make a home movie he was already calling Tail from the Darkside. I won’t get into the details of his plan, but that #### wasn’t happening. I may’ve failed high school biology and physics, but even I know the human body wasn’t meant to twist like that.
“Still, I didn’t want to get my ass kicked, because I didn’t think giving me a wallop would do much more than make it worse before he’d even begun, so I did the only thing I could think of.
“I licked his armpit.”
Coffin’s brow peaked.
“Yeah, sure.” said Bunny, “You’ve gotta realize three things – One: No one expects an armpit lick; Two: It’s tough not to laugh at having your armpit licked; Three: It’s also just as tough to turn around and try and #### your armpit licker.
“Hell, I’d been drinking Wild Turkey all day anyway, so my mouth was too numb to notice how ####ty he tasted.”
Her shaking hand, which had once held a bloody frying pan, now raised the spiced liquor.
The desert had dried Bunny’s lips, but it could not keep the moisture from her eyes.
“Where’s this girl anyhow?” she finally asked, as she ran her denim jacket’s forearm across her cheeks.
“Well,” said Coffin, “you’ve probably heard the old story about the quiet hitchhiker who gets picked up in the middle of nowhere? The next day the driver has to go back to where they dropped off their passenger, and they discover a forlorn parent who tells them that it was their kid who’d died, tragically, the year previous?”
“Sure,” replied Bunny, from around the mouth of her drink.
”Yeah, that actually happens sometimes. She’s out cruising at the moment. A depressed phantom gets the energy together to thumb a ride, then they’ve got to remain intensely focused and hope they manage to make it home. It’s a painful process for them, and most snap back to their death site sooner than the ride’s done. Certainly confuses the good samaritan.”
The sun had gained height and heat, and the two dozen feet of brush and sand that lay between themselves and the prone apparition had begun to shimmer.
Without further discussion, the trio sank into their own considerations.
* * *
They were still silently staring into the haze when a shadow flickered past Bunny’s vision, and a second form came to be abruptly lying between the Focus and the cattleman. The twenty-something was wearing an unzipped black sweater, a blue tank top, and black stretch pants. Everything below her neck was slick with blood.
Will was quick to unfurl the silver chain from his pocket and let the intricate hook at its end dangle, but, before he might use the talisman to lift the newcomer from her resting place, the stolid oldtimer rose. Approaching the woman, he bowed low, and offered his hand.
She took it in her translucent own, and the two stood together briefly as she whispered something in his ear which neither Will, nor Bunny, could make out. Ambrose’s reply was clear enough, however: “No, no, Allison, it’s just this blasted warmth is all. Have a safe journey home – and think of me, when you might.”
The strain of remaining upright so soon after her attempted escape was obvious on the girl’s face as she turned away from her companion, so Coffin deftly brushed the arcane charm against her wrist.
They exchanged introductions as he lead her to the car.
* * *
Twenty minutes later, Allison was cheerily taking questions from Bunny, who had taken a seat in the back so that Coffin could maintain a grip on his occult tool while driving.
“How the #### do you manage to hitchhike while looking like you caught a Heinz factory explosion to the chest?” asked the lush.
“I learned to only try it at night,” replied the spectre. “I can zip my sweater and cover most of the mess. The guys – it’s always guys – need to keep their eyes on the road mostly anyhow. There was an evening where a geezer tried to get fresh with me, but I gave him have a gory peek, then let myself fall away. I thought it might stop some poor woman from being stuck in a jam in the future.”
As she spoke, the pattern of slashes across the meat of her neck seeped and shifted.
Bunny prodded further. “Why you trying so hard to find a ride?”
“I just want to go home. See my parents. I left on bad terms – well, I was never on good terms with them, I suppose, but I still miss them.
“Ever make it?”
“Nope. The further I went, the harder it got. I never made it much beyond halfway to Elko. I can’t even tell you how much I appreciate you guys giving me a lift.”
Bunny finished her whiskey and asked, “what were you doin’ out in the middle of nowhere?”
Allison’s grin deflated.
“I was with my man, Shane. I thought he was magic – but, really, I was an idiot. We weren’t living together, but I was considering it. He drove a limo for the Shaved Kitty Cabaret – a strip club in the south end of Vegas. To keep things fresh a lot of peeler establishments shuffle their dancers around, and Shane spent most of his working hours driving between there and L.A. or San Fran.
“He wasn’t supposed to have anyone with him while he was chauffeuring, but the talent were generally too busy enjoying the complimentary champagne to complain about us being upfront listening to old Tupac live recordings.
“Shane had convinced me that he was a man on his way. He’d gotten the ear of some big money in Los Angeles, and was running trailer crystal into the city. I know how bad that sounds, but – well, death gives you a perspective you maybe didn’t have when you were alive.
“Truly, I didn’t fully understand how deeply he was in it – all I could see was a guy with hot abs and a wallet full of cash. Well, usually full of cash. I only realized how huge his own meth habit had become when we were fighting during the drive back because he couldn’t afford to stop for a Big Mac on the way.
“Tired out, and refusing to talk to him further, I fell asleep with my head against the window, and then we were stopped, and Shane was laughing and laughing. Half unconscious, I stumbled from the car, and he was calling me over to a big pile of nothing. I wanted to leave, but part of me was just glad he wasn’t still mad, because he’d been so quick to get angry. Should have put two and two together there as well, I guess. Anyhow, when I realize there was nothing to see in the dark, I tried to leave, but he – he didn’t let me.
“After I was dead, I couldn’t stop crying.
“Ambrose had to walk over and hold me, and I was too much of a mess to help him lift me, so it couldn’t have been easy. He waited there till dawn, and even when he went back to his spot, he kept talking to me. He explained my situation, and tried to guess at what might free me. He was so formal – but so sweet.
“It wasn’t the last time I blubbered. Sometimes we’d crawl across the ten or so feet of sand and grab each other like we were drowning – it was easier to keep from falling back when we were wrapped together.”
The shade was so lost in her retelling that she failed to notice as Coffin adjusted his course away from her original destination, and towards Las Vegas.
Nor did she note that the knuckles he’d wrapped around his mystic trinket were white with strain.
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