Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and fifteen.
This episode is brought to you by Dancing Ella’s Words.
As Oscar Wilde famously said: “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”
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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 takes a moment to seek sanctuary while considering his difficult situation, and attempting to avoid assassination at the hands of any passing stranger.
We’d also like to take a moment to thank Highland & Wood for their excellent audio intro – you can find their podcast, Bothersome Things, at bothersomethings.com
Flash Pulp 115 – The Murder Plague: Caretaking, Part 1 of 3
It’s hard to explain how I felt once I was back on the road. It was as if I was part of a great ballet – or, really, as if I was at a costume ball, with all of the dancers masked, and each moving to their own rhythm.
Was the man across from me at the stoplight an infected lunatic plotting to bury his wife in a backyard flowerbed, or was he simply a harried fellow out to pick up a quart of milk? Was the lady deep in conversation at the corner really discussing the cost of a sausage with the vendor, or was she attempting to determine if her dinner had been poisoned by a plague-ridden paranoiac?
I’ve never been much of a religious man – doubly not-so once Kate died – but, after a few blocks of aimless driving, I realized shock had my hands shaking at the wheel, and, at that moment, the rolling bell of a heavenly summons came peeling from a house of prayer to my left.
I wasn’t raised Catholic, but, in that instant, I was willing to grasp at any higher power that might have me.
Pulling into the parking lot that fronted the gray-faced building, I found all of the spaces empty, and yet the broad wooden doors were pinned open.
Honestly, I don’t know what I expected inside – I do recall feeling some relief that I hadn’t encountered a crowd of parishioners, as they would have likely turned into a riotous brawl before the communion was delivered. What I did find, instead, was silence and vacant pews.
As was tendency in my schoolboy days, I took a seat on the rearmost bench.
I was stalling, I suppose – I knew I needed to get to Rebecca’s babysitter’s, but I wasn’t keen on what I might discover there. It was the inevitable that had me tripped up – what if I did find her, alive but as sick as the rest?
The problem was a drain my mind couldn’t quite finish circling on its own, and I would have likely spent a few hours in further consideration if it wasn’t for the priest’s interruption.
He was a short man, and I hadn’t noticed him standing behind the lectern; or possibly he’d moved to the position while my brain was off wandering. His hair was wild, but his face – it seemed as if his face had been molded by a lifetime of smiling, as if he could do little else, even in those deadly times, after having formed such a long standing habit.
“You look troubled,” he said, his practiced voice easily carrying down the long red carpet of the center aisle.
“Well, to be fair, these are troubling times,” I replied.
“What is weighing on you?” he asked. It struck me as a bit of a personal question for such a great distance – but, on the other hand, I could only imagine the kind of confessions he must have been hearing at that point, and didn’t blame him for wanting to maintain the separation.
“Oh, just tough decisions to be made, I suppose.”
He nodded, apparently taking more from my words than I’d meant for him to.
“Yes, it is a time full of tough decisions,” he answered. Even as he said it, he continued to maintain that empty imitation of a smirk, and it was then that I realized his hands had been out of sight, below the pulpit, for the length of our brief discussion.
Back in my fighting days I knew a fellow who’d been a stand up comedian before his chronically-broke status had forced him to enlist. I only found him funny when we were under fire, and the more determination the other side demonstrated, the faster he would spit out gags.
He was killed when he strayed into a bullet, while imitating a goat.
There was something about the clergyman’s expression that reminded me of that joker – a mix of intense panic layered under a survival instinct of good humour.
I cleared my throat.
“Actually, you’ve helped me make my choice. Many thanks, Padre.”
“I have?” He was surprised at the news, but, for a moment at least, I think his smile became genuine.
“Yes, sir – and I’m off to do something about it.” I started edging past the bulletin boards and abandoned collection baskets, wondering if his improved mood would last for the duration of my exit.
His arms remained fixed, and his hands remained hidden.
“A final bit of advice then, to carry with you as you go,” he interrupted, his grin collapsing. “Sometimes the only choice is the lesser of two evils.”
Frankly, it was that sort of simplistic advice that had put me off of churches in the first place.
I waved in agreement, then hustled through the vestibule and down the short flight of cement steps, pleased to see the street empty of pedestrians.
I was in the middle of a hearty round of self-congratulations regarding my narrow escape as I reached my car door – and that’s when I heard a single gunshot echo from the still-gaping entranceway.
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