Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and ninety-five.
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, Harm Carter finds a home for himself amongst the infected maniacs.
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
The door to the house on Washington was open, but not too open. The driveway was abandoned and the garage left gaping at the street. The backyard faced onto other cookie-cutter suburban homes, but the front had a wide view of a playground that provided no place to hide. The exterior had the look of factory aged faux-brickwork, and the hedges had been painstakingly maintained before having run riot during the plague times.
It was exactly what I was searching for.
At first, though, I walked past it.
Now, I should clarify, it wasn’t as if I was strolling about like a grandmother on her way back from Sunday service. The madness of Hitchcock’s Disease had fully gripped my mind by then, and I managed forward momentum only through slow progress and carefully affected casualness.
I thought the rules had changed since entering the city. While hidden riflemen were an issue in the country, anyone crazy enough to shoot a stranger on sight was also too scared to give away their position so easily. So long as I wasn’t rushed by a knife-wielding maniac, I reasoned, I’d be OK.
That’s not how Hitchock’s works, of course – it was always more important to worry about the smiling man with extended hand than the risk that a slasher film villain would come barreling onto the street – but the viral fear running amok in my veins couldn’t consider that far.
Anyhow, I went around the block, moving cautiously, but not so cautiously that I appeared paranoid. Or so I hoped. Everything seemed a threat. A recycling bin brimming with plastic bottles, no doubt forgotten at the roadside during a panicked evacuation, became an improvised explosive device. The abode on the corner, whose door was slamming against its protruding deadbolt with every tug and thrust of the wind, was obviously a deathtrap bristling with shotguns and poisoned broken glass.
Every window contained a watcher, and every useful item I passed was clearly set there to lure me into danger. In my mind my chosen neighbourhood was against me, but I was smart, and sober, and sane, and I would use this clarity to kill any one of those murderous bastards who might attempt to show their heads.
This mix of anxiety and twisted justification carried me back to the molded-cement stoop of 276 Washington.
I did not pause in my approach, as I worried it would give extra time to anyone inside. Despite the fact that the house met the careful criteria I’d worked up during my walk, any delay was an excuse to envision a thousand threats, and my stomach was a knot. I was well into convincing myself that the whole thing was a trick when I finally entered the front hall, but, when I flipped the deadbolt it was like erecting a wall to keep the world out.
I immediately began to fear whatever might lurk beyond the barrier more than whatever might lurk on the second floor.
Moving through a small sitting area, I ignored the staircase and beelined to the kitchen. I located a stout knife, and, after some cupboard fumbling, a flashlight. I searched the ground level, then searched it again. I descended into the unfinished basement – largely used for storage – and turned over the boxes of Christmas decorations and photo albums. Just in case.
When I returned to the main floor, I searched it again. While arguing with myself about being trapped inside, I shuffled around the living room furniture to block the french doors that lead to the back patio.
Finally, I climbed the stairs.
Seven doors. Subtract two, as one was an open closet that had clearly been raided for blankets in a hurry and the other was a laundry room that stood empty in the gloom. The entry on my left I revealed a wall dominated by a slightly risque poster of a woman washing a sports car, and a number of logos and pictures from a number of bands that I’d likely complain about if I were to ever hear their music. I popped my head in and the place was a mess of clothing dunes and forgotten soda cans. Turning back, I scanned the bathroom, then encountered a home office that looked like it had never been fully unpacked despite being used regularly. Next came a nearly antiseptic bedroom, with a plush bed and a flatscreen on the opposing wall. I assumed it was the parents. The final chamber belonged to a girl of perhaps nine. There was a large framed picture of the family on her shelf, but I wasn’t terribly interested anymore as it didn’t seem as if any of them were on the cusp of leaping out to stab me.
Of course, my inspection hadn’t been about trying to piece together who these people were – no, I was allowed only to think in terms of traps and advantages. Could I use that lamp as a weapon? Perhaps I could rig it to the windows somehow to electrify the pane? Was that a murderer in the closet? No, it was just a Halloween mask hung on hook – but could I use the guise somehow? Was there some worth in a scarecrow? Perhaps as bait?
– and so it went until I noticed the spidery fellow.
From the shelter of the pink curtain I could see a square of 6 backyards – my own, the two on either side of my little plot, and most of those belonging to the three houses that faced us.
The creeper moved slowly. He’d peep over the fence, scan the windows of the house, then pull himself over. He was methodical about it, and every enclosure took at least ten minutes to clear. I can’t say exactly what he was seeking, but I suspect food. I did see him try one patio, but it was locked. Rather than shatter the glass and draw attention, he’d simply turned to analyze the next residence.
He’d made it perhaps a third of the way across the lawn directly behind my own when he disappeared.
The turf seemed to fall away beneath him, and I caught a brief flash of aqua blue ceramic tile, then the spring that held up the plank’s hinge must have snapped back into place. There was not a disordered blade of grass, and, even having just seen the trap door magic trick, I didn’t entirely believe it had taken place. At least, I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the screaming.
The potato sack sound of his landing made it obvious that the pool was drained – and rather deep.
It was then that I realized I likely had a neighbour.
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