Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and ninety-seven.
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 meets his theoretically murderous neighbour.
The Murder Plague: Fencing, Part 3 of 3
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
She was maybe forty, with hair that had likely been short-cropped a few weeks previous, but was hanging shaggily across her brow by the time she pushed open the shed’s green doors.
She moved along the lawn like a cat, keeping tight to the fence and stopping to test the air whenever an unexpected noise ricocheted down our little alley of backyards.
I was sure she was The Carpenter.
My eyes ached from a lack of sleep, and my legs were stiff from my all-night vigil, but I felt vindicated somehow. Here was a clever someone deep in their homicidal delusion, and I was staying one step ahead. Nevermind that I hadn’t thought much of the shack before she’d stepped from it, I’d known someone would appear by dawn and here she was.
The woman did not check on the now no-doubt-dead fellow at the pool’s bottom, however. No, instead she hustled to my fence – our shared fence – and hopped over. It was as she made the jump that I realized there was a gun belt on her hip.
She paused when she discovered the patio entrance barricaded, but only long enough to slip in through a basement window that I hadn’t realized was open.
Moments later a bellowing hello ascended from the depths, and continued to be repeated throughout the ground floor.
My mind raced. Had The Carpenter seen me at my lookout? Perhaps someone so ingenious couldn’t actually be mad – perhaps she was sane, just as I considered myself, and she hoped to form some sort of alliance.
The shouting stopped as she mounted the flight to the second story, and I guessed that she’d considered that any further yelling would only unnecessarily give away her approach – that if I was going to answer, I would have by then.
Still, she came, and I grew increasingly certain she knew exactly where I was.
There was no place to hide. The bed was a child’s, and too low to the ground to fully cover me. The closet was crammed tight with brightly coloured craft-making kits and forgotten halloween costumes. Worse, if she did happen to be insane, neither spot would provide give me a chance to swing my blade in my defense.
In the end, when she entered, I already had my hands raised and my open palms clearly showing.
Now, you must understand that the infection is a self-reinforcing idea. You’re paranoid about appearing paranoid, so you do your best to act normal – except, of course, that there’s a murderous apocalypse outside your door and you probably SHOULD seem rather nervous.
I said, “well, hello.”
“Oh, uh, hi,’ she replied.
The astonishment on her face caught me off guard: Didn’t she know I was waiting?
In truth, misunderstood motives were the heart of the sickness.
Her fingers were on her gun belt, but I think my demeanour slowed her. Clearly I was hiding an unexpected surprise if I was so calm about being exposed, right?
I was no longer guessing at her intentions, however, as my corrupted brain had moved into a dance for survival. It decided flattery was my best option for extracting information.
“I’ve been observing your work,” I said, “you’ve got a brilliant set up over there. It was like watching a magic trick unfold when that fellow disappeared.”
Almost as if to underline the statement, the shattered ruin lying in the dark at the bottom of the pool began screaming again. I suppose the pain must have caused him to black out for a time.
The assumed Carpenter raised a brow at me. Her conversational tone was punctuated by the muffled pleading from across the way.
“It isn’t mine, actually,” she said. “Barry and Rhonda were always waiting for the end of the world, and I guess they finally got it. Rhonda vanished a couple days into their construction efforts, but Barry managed to last a few weeks before accidentally impaling himself in the middle of the night with a swinging pickaxe-thing he’d rigged above his bedroom door.
“Honestly, I was just over there collecting some of their food stash when I noticed you in my house. I knew the shed’s shotgun had already been set off, so I pushed the corpse all the way inside and hid. He didn’t smell terribly good, but he had a can of tuna in his pocket which made for a nice snack.”
I hadn’t recognized her from the scattered family photos that now seemed to stare at me. Her face had hardened and her stomach was now taut.
Worse, The Carpenter had been dead all along. As if the ghost of his madness, only his traps had lingered.
In retrospect, I think she was trying to goad me into an excursion. Maybe her confidence was up due to my raised hands. Maybe she hoped that I would head in and engage another of the pitfalls, thus making her scavenging that much easier.
Maybe it’s just tempting to make myself believe there was a threat.
“Frankly,” she continued, “I thought it was you who’d fallen into the Mortenson’s swimming hole. That’s why I came back.”
Whatever the case, there was no ulterior motive, no clever plan that had brought her directly to my perch – it wasn’t crazed genius, it was simply bad luck.
She leaned towards the window to peer at the dying man’s premature burial, and her touch slipped briefly from her pistol’s grip.
The bread knife I’d found in the kitchen dropped cleanly from my left shirt sleeve.
Was she infected? Likely, but I didn’t give her the chance to prove it.
Then the house was mine.
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