Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and thirty-four.
Tonight we present, The Murder Plague: Run Around, Part 1 of 1.
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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 enjoys a brief respite from being hounded by the diseased and paranoid, before again being presented with unwanted decisions.
The Murder Plague: Run Around, Part 1 of 1
Well before dusk, and on a stretch of highway sided by nothing more aggressive than withered soy plants, I brought the truck to a halt. After Linwood’s ranting demise, it was tough not to feel as if an infected paranoid might leap up from the muck, and, convinced we were at hand to steal his coveted dirt, come charging on with an assault rifle, or a sword, or even an ill-intentioned dull razor.
I needed the break badly, though – a break, and a bit of distance from Mr. Baldy’s increasingly repugnant mouth-breathing.
At that point, we’d discussed our recently discovered antitoxin into a dead-end. Was it a cure, or an unsprung trap left behind by a feverish maniac? If we chose the path of hope, when was it best used as a vaccine or an antidote? Which of us was most deserving of the remedy?
My memory of Doc Henley’s gurgling death did little to bolster my confidence in the hand-labeled vial.
So we stood in silence, and picked at our cans of chunky beef stew with our fingers. Despite being chilly, the fact that we were still alive made the meal quite delicious.
It was a disappointment when we were interrupted.
Our ears had been tweaked to any engine noises that might be approaching, or even to footsteps, but the kid’s walk was only a rustle in the wind.
She came over the side of the ditch with her teeth bared and her arms out, like a zombie in a homemade horror movie, but she hadn’t planned it terribly well, and we froze a moment, watching her stubby legs pumping.
I could have ended it immediately, but even under those hard circumstances, I couldn’t kick a four-year-old.
The worst of it was her outfit. She was overdressed for the weather. Her red parka hood was zipped tight about her face, so that only her gnashing buck teeth were visible, and she had to cock her head slightly to be able see what was directly in front of her. Her snow pants were a matching shade, and it was really her pink boots which gave away her gender.
I was back in the cab first, and I spent a good ten seconds shouting at my weasel-faced companion before he decided to join me. It was too late, though. As Baldy regained his seat, the girl climbed onto the side-board.
Knowing she had too much torso to slam a door on, I stepped out of my own, and we began a Benny Hill chase scene. I hit the pavement, followed close behind by my scrambling associate, and then our toddling assailant.
Her determination was greater than her coordination, and I suspect her well-padded coat saved her a few broken bones during her tumble from the tall vehicle.
I couldn’t help but smile to see her pop up with unabated vim – but then, I’d also gained some distance by that point.
There’s a certain childish joy in escaping a threat you know is a minimal hazard. We sprinted as if children bolting from the yard of an old man whose window we’d just smashed with a baseball.
We shouldn’t have laughed, I suppose, given her very serious homicidal intent, but it was too much, too soon, and the swish-swish-swish of her baggy leggings put me in mind of grade school mischief.
It was when we realized that she wasn’t going to tire that I stopped chuckling.
I’d lead the chase in a circle, with the intention of returning to the safety of the truck, but, with a quarter of the distance left, my bare-pated acquaintance was huffing raggedly, and complaining about a cramp.
The tiny predator pulled back her hood, revealing clumps of unwashed straw-blond hair, and a pair of freckled cheeks. Her jaw clenched rhythmically with every step, and my fatherly instincts briefly had me concerned she’d bite off her own tongue in her frenzy.
With Baldy losing ground rapidly, I took stock of the situation. The only item at hand was my half-full tin of stew, but it was hefty enough.
My throw put a red line across the girl’s forehead.
The last of the fun was gone from it – once safe inside our rolling shelter, the risk was no longer immediate, and we were again forced into having to make decisions.
“The antitoxin?” I asked. I was talking to myself, but, between his exhalations, I received an unwanted response from my fellow escapee.
“Are you willing to gamble on killing that baby? What happens if we get Hitchcock’s in the process? We’d be out of drugs, and out of luck. The GPS says we’re a day’s ride from the blockade. We’ll power on down the road, and send the military to help.”
My uncertainty must have shown in my face, because he added, “If they can’t do it, we’ll get a hold of some medical supplies, and come back ourselves – if there even is such a thing as a cure.”
I listened to the feral thudding at the passenger-side door, and considered how I might feel about pinning a homicidally fearful toddler while attempting to inject it with something that might bring death.
There were no certainties in those times, only probabilities.
She was too busy making a racket to notice my approach, and the needle was in her before she realized.
Ten minutes later, as I was wrapping her in blankets, my patient was weeping, but docile. I exited a final time, to retrieve the forgotten remainder of my dinner, and offered it over. She held it close, though she refused to eat.
As we pulled away, I decided against ruining my triumph by mentioning that I’d been bit.
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