Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Twenty-Four.
Tonight’s story, The Charivari: A Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3
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Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – 400 to 600 words brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
This evening we bring you the finale of our current Thomas Blackhall serial. In this chapter, we open with gun fire.
Flash Pulp 024 – The Charivari: A Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3
The snap and flare of the Brown Bess brought Thomas to one knee, his ams preparing his Baker rifle with mechanical reflex.
His finger lay on the trigger, his heart sure he would once again have to end a man. It would be the first time since the sun drenched porticoes of Ciudad Rodrigo, and the war against the little dictator.
As the musket’s echo rolled from the clearing, a momentary stillness settled.
Mitchum Melbain broke the silence.
The naked youth had moved from the trees, his skinny legs fish-belly white in the moon’s glow, sobbing as he ran.
At this series of shocks, some amongst the hooded mob stepped back, seeking the safety of the forest’s shadow.
As the boy approached, the man who’d spent the evening berating the house began to issue commands. Another white satchel appeared in the musketeer’s grasp.
Thomas’ grip steadied.
The entrance to the cabin swung open.
The door had been built wide and tall, and yet the widow Bigelow was forced to stoop as she stepped from her home.
Squinting, she spoke:
“Is that you under there, Sam Allen – with your missing pinky, and one leg to too long – firing upon my cottage? It has been many a year since I’ve taken you over my knee, but by the grace of the Lord and the thousand chariots of his hoary host, I’ll send you to Nancy in such a condition she’ll be spoon-feeding you the baby’s millet for the next month.”
All force seemed to have left the gunman’s hands, weapon and satchel hung uselessly at his sides.
“You’ve shot and shattered the china platter given to me by Arthur’s Mother, on the morning of our marriage: Is your anxiety over my reputation lessened by the destruction of my service dish?”
The woman moved forward, her riot of gray hair a trailing cloud.
“If not, I believe I still have a half-dozen plates in good enough condition to meet your tastes.”
She stopped, placing her hands upon her hips, squaring her stance no more than an arms length from the mob’s leader. Her cotton gown rustled with the breeze. The man had flipped the bottle of gin he carried, and was now twisting at the neck of his makeshift club.
“It’s terrible enough,” she continued, “that you’ve come skulking onto my homestead after the witching hour, but must you all play at ghosts as well? In my day it was the reproached who felt a need to cover their shame during a charivari, not the gathered.”
Mitchum, muddied from his stumbling approach, finally reached the woman, falling to his knees and clinging at the hem of her nightclothes.
She extended a hand to stroke his head, lifting his face to look upon her own.
“It will be all right, my love. A quick spanking and these naughty boys will be soon off to their beds.”
“How dare you, harlot! How dare you corrupt one so young, how dare you speak to us as you would errant children!” The ragmen’s voice had once again found his throat.
“Ha! Without my walls to muffle your rantings, it all comes clear!” In her tone, Blackhall could hear the satisfaction of a puzzle solved. She began to point at the gathered masks. “Edward Smith? Willy Templer? Is that Sanderson the younger or elder under there? Arthur would not be pleased to see you behaving so.”
Their leader stepped forward, attempting to regain lost ground. His new position forced him to crane back his neck to meet the widow’s eyes.
“How dare the name of an honourable man such as Arthur Bigelow touch upon the lips of such a strumpet as would set up in his very house, unmarried, with a boy some four decades her junior!”
Despite his bluster, when the leader of the ragmen turned for affirmation, he found his small army huddled amongst the shadows of the treeline.
“Mitchum is a full two years older than you were when you married Chelsea Thompson and threw away your dowry on that fool’s errand you call an Inn. Yet lie not to me, Morton Van Rijn, this has little do with with whom I bed – it is my still you’ve come to smash, and like as not, you’ve carried that gin bottle as false evidence to place this ruckus at the feet of Constable Melbain’s ruffians.”
Thomas watched the remains of the mob disperse as if smoke on the wind, leaving only the rooted gunman and the visibly sharking Van Rijn to stand against the woman and her weeping beau.
“I! You! Arthur!” With his free hand, Van Rijn ripped at the confines of his mask, his breath coming in ragged gasps once his red face was exposed to the night’s air.
“Bring not my departed husband into this conversation again. I care not if you’ve sainted the wagon rut he attempted to run from the river to this field, ardent spirits would not be my business if your society had not taken it upon itself to whisper so about my time with Mitchum. Despite my service, no longer will the town entrust me with the suckling bottles for their babes – fine, then I shall supply the suckling bottles for their public houses. It is not easy to live as a marked woman of age, but I will not stand to be accosted by busy-bodies.”
The inn-owner howled, raising his glass club in a vicious arc.
For the first time that evening, Blackhall saw a look of fear cross the widow’s face.
The crack of shot once again filled the hollow amongst the trees.
A damp stain began to spread along the trouser-legs of the nearly forgotten musketeer. Dropping his weapon, he ran from the clearing.
With care, Van Rijn lowered the remains of his club, the shattered neck having opened a gash upon his palm.
A hundred yards away, Blackhall’s arms had once again found their training, and were busy slamming home a fresh load. Even as he worked the Baker rifle, his eyes remained fixed upon the moonlit trio.
The widow, her composure regained, leveled a finger of exile at the nearest pines, her gaze locked upon Van Rijn.
Slowly the man turned, the ruined pillowcase dropping from his grasp and onto the field below.
Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm. The audio and text formats of Flash Pulp are released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.