Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and forty-four.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Gatecast.
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, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, finds himself ensnared.
That Which Remains: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3
At the edge of a copse of spruce, Thomas Blackhall and Wesley Shea were hunkered beneath the weight of a shared bearskin. The watch had left the brown fur covered in a thick layer of snow, so that they seemed little more than a bump in the terrain, but Thomas knew too well that their scent alone was enough for the huntress.
Across the barren sweep of frozen river upon which they faced, a woman stepped from the treeline.
She slid from the branches, unmindful of their pull on her naked flesh, and began to close the distance on exposed feet. It struck Thomas that her body could be that of any hardworking mother in her thirties – neither beautiful, nor unsightly. If it were not for her empty face, and leaden skin, he might be coaxed to come to her aid with a proffered coat.
As it was, he raised his Baker rifle, making the necessary motions in slow turns, in the hope that he might avoid unsettling his frosty blanket.
The far embankment dropped sharply before touching the water, and her calves threw up glittering clouds as she mechanically descended the slope, and stepped onto the ice.
Blackhall could clearly see the madness smoldering behind her eyes then, though it did not seem to touch the rest of her form. His hesitation dissipated even as he shook off his mitt and set his finger against the biting metal of the rifle’s trigger.
As instinct settled his sights, his mind blanked, and his breathing slowed.
Despite his request, however, his hands refused to fire.
* * *
Three nights previous, after their conference with the ailing Ethan Wright, Blackhall and his lone-thumbed acquaintance had held an urgent discussion beneath the stars. They paid little heed to the silent boy who tended their rented sleigh as they probed the questions their recent visit had raised.
“It’s a abhorrent thing,” said Shea, as his palms moved to wick away the tears which appeared on his cheeks.
Thomas had not expected the man’s depth of reaction, but he did not press regarding the change.
Instead, he said, “you heard tales in your youth, no doubt, of the succubus who comes by night to excite and entice. Undeterred by their plundering nature, the tellings are often sensual, and I’ve no doubt that many boys of a certain age secretly hope to summon such a visitation – I know, for one, that I foolishly did.
“The reality of a thing is often much different than the daydream. Worse, I suspect a madness has descended upon that which we might but faintly call “her.” It is a plague of fury endemic to the occult kind in these closing days of mysticism.”
“I can not pretend to understand half of what you say,” replied the gently weeping Shea. “Is there further risk to Ethan? Is there some solution to his sickness?”
Before answering, Blackhall breathed foggily into his collar, and considered his words. “Your friends’ physical escape was luck, and I can not be sure that any action on our part will be of aid to his collapsing mentality, but, yes, there is work we must carry out.”
“We?” asked his companion, his voice hardening, “It is not I who rides with rifle or saber. It is not I who has experience with the hidden world. What use will I be? Shall I wiggle my stumps to distract the fiend? Shall I dance a jig on my toe-less hooves?”
“I apologize if I have been evasive on the subject, thus far,” said Thomas. “It was in an attempt to avoid embarrassment. I have heard rumours, amongst the shop patrons and brew-slingers of Perth, that perhaps your poor penmanship was not the sole result of your extended wander through the cold.”
Shea could only nod.
* * *
Days of hunting, such as the injured man had not undertaken in years, had then begun. Beyond the shack which had been Wright’s base camp, Thomas’ practiced gaze quickly caught the undisguised trail of broken pine-limbs, and disturbed snow, which the succubus had left in her wake.
The real issue was in estimating her course – no easy task when dealing with a madwoman – and finding a proper location at which to head her off.
They’d chosen their site carefully, and laid their plans well.
It was a hard thing for Shea to remember, though, as the uncovered woman made her way through the white gusts and drifting banks. She seemed so disconnected from her surroundings, that, fleetingly, she appeared to him almost as if a ghost, passing over the landscape, but never of it.
The illusion was shattered as she plunged through the treacherous surface of the river.
Despite Blackhall’s reassurances, Shea had been sure the gap they’d worked from the ice would freeze well before the woman appeared – or that, worse, that she would somehow circumnavigate their planning and appear behind them. Thomas would only say that the weight of their prey was not fully demonstrated by her frame, and that he had utmost confidence in the cloth tarp they’d stretched onto a wooden frame, and laid across the open water.
“The madness will blind her,” was the last he’d spoke of it, and he’d been right.
Leaping from his position beneath the bearskin, Shea made a quick approach towards the flailing defiler. As the imp attempted to pull herself clear of the frigid stream, he stepped as near as he might dare, and set a boot upon her fingers.
Hers were the thrashings of a rabid animal, without logic, and yet it was a difficult task, for a man of such gentle nature, to carry out. In those seconds of incertitude, Thomas’ words came to him: That escape would surely mean a suffocating death at her grasping fingers. By focusing on the dragging indentations her nails were marking up on the ice, Shea found the lesson easier to recall.
It helped, as well, to turn in his hammering jig and see his traveling companion staring blankly at the altercation.
“Oh, it’s a nasty bit of business all right,” the dancing man said, only to himself, “but I do know the bitterness of having the briefest event weigh on every moment of the future – of having something stolen from you which you can not recover. Ethan may not feel the rest of a full night for many a year, and, perhaps in stomping you under, I’ll be robbing myself of a few winks, but I suspect, eventually, we’ll both slumber better for it.
“Rest now in the chill and I will make the end quick.”
It was an earnest promise, but the struggle continued for hours, nonetheless.
Without the assistance of the sun, the raper’s increasingly fatigued writhing was not enough to stem the re-encroaching ice from enclosing about her stony belly, so that the fingerless man, with fumbling palms and exhausted posture, was able to work the silver saber through her flesh, and free the shallow-breathing Blackhall.
Days later, the pair rode together, with their silent driver, back into Perth. Even as the team of horses came to a halt upon the slushie street, Thomas spied the loitering private who awaited his return. The lookout had lapsed at his post, and was currently distracted with a young nursemaid, but the frontiersman no longer felt the need to avoid whatever summons the lad might bring.
He was ready to move on.
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