Flash Pulp 036 – The Last Ghost Story: A Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3
Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Thirty-Six.
This evening’s episode is brought to you in part by Mr Blog’s Tepid Ride – One man’s rants on television, society, and the ridiculously gaping plot holes in reality – all peppered with a peculiarly in-depth knowledge of the history of Superman.
Find it at: bmj2k.wordpress.com
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.
Tonight we hear the conclusion of our current serial, as told by Thomas Blackhall himself.
Flash Pulp 036 – The Last Ghost Story: A Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3
“He must have twisted away in the final moment, for the blow that struck Porter down had landed at the rear of his skull, and there was still hope for an open casket.”
Thomas Blackhall paused a moment in his story, sipping from his ale.
“Knowing it would be a few hours until anyone might make it out to the house, I dragged him inside. I had no interest in returning only to find his nose or cheek had gone missing down some fox’s gullet.
“I was doing my best to keep things orderly, but it was an awkward position – should I drag him by the arms and risk getting some of him on me, or by the heels and risk leaving some behind? In the end I removed his coat and wrapped it about his head and neck. It was just as well, it was becoming increasingly difficult to meet his steady gaze. I’ve as strong a stomach as anyone who kills and cooks his own meals, but it was quite a wound, and it was still the face of a man staring back at me.
“Anyhow – no matter where I placed my hands, his sag was awkward. By the time I’d reached the mid-point of the stairs, my breathing was laboured, and his limp form made it impossible to find a single posture in which I might remain steady.
From across the table, O’Connor, the half-pay Sergeant, interrupted.
“Up the staircase?”
“There was a hole in the kitchen’s wall, and at the smell of blood a fox or coyote would just as gladly go round than knock,” Blackhall replied.
“But what of Milly?” Bigs Calhoun asked.
“I was half way up when the woman made her presence once again known – there was a slam and rattle as she moved vigorously about the upper floor.
“I will not repeat my language here, but in defense of my conduct, I would argue it is difficult for any gentleman to maintain his composure while carrying the dead body of an acquaintance up a staircase.
“My outburst seemed to bring her up short, and I laid Porter down in the former nursery, unmolested.
“I was quick to retreat, I admit. Closing the door, I made a plea to the air to leave the man be as a guest until I’d returned to take him away. Then I departed.
“Outside, I’d not passed the sitting room window to move down the lane, when I heard a thrashing and thumping. Returning to the door, I pushed my way inside, and there, in no little disarray, lay Porter.”
“Harlot! She’d already killed him once!” said O’Connor.
“Frankly, I had little patience for her behaviour, but I no more blame her for the death of the man than I do you – or, I should say, I blame you just as much.”
“What? He may have been set upon his course by our chatter, but we can hardly be blamed for the outcome!” Bigs’ mug tottered dangerously as he spoke.
“Milly held no weapon upon our encounter either,” said Blackhall.
“If she’d never sent the man into a panic, he’d certainly be alive today.” O’Connor replied.
“- and if you’d held your tongue?”
Neither man had a reply to that, but Thomas was not happy to let the point lie.
“I was here much of the evening before our introduction, and any in the barroom with ears had little choice but to hear the prattle of your mouths. It seems likely to me that there was a time when a check upon your wagging tongues might have gone far towards keeping the whisper of cuckold from Nelson Tyler.”
Thomas took a long pull of his drink, his eyes drifting from one table-mate to the other.
“Now you have remorse, and surely in the morning to follow – but in a month? In a year? I tell you this story not so that you might forget the parts that shame you during the thousand re-tellings you will no doubt undertake, no, I tell you this story so that you might recall to sometimes shut your bloody mouths.”
The room, even though packed, had long fallen silent at Thomas’ telling, and his words carried to every wandering ear.
“Upon once again entering the house, I retook the stairs, and made a second attempt at palaver with Milly.
“She did not appear.
“I moved to the top of the flight, hoping to secure some bargain of safe-keeping, but she provided no notice that she heard or cared. I began to descend the steps and there was an impact between my shoulders – I twisted to save my balance, but it was for naught: it was my turn to roughly ride the staircase to its terminus.
“I landed heavily on the much maligned corpse.
“That’s when I heard him yelling. As I righted myself, he stood above me in the entrance, your man Porter: just as in life, but half as opaque and twice as angry.
““That will be quite enough!” he shouted, passing through me and fading from my eye as he took the steps two at a time. In short order there was a woman’s scream, then the bedroom door slammed shut, flew open, slammed again.
“Then all was silence.
“I asked the air several questions, but to no reply. After another struggle with the body, the remains of Porter were once again deposited in the nursery, this time without problem. As I passed down the stairs, I believe I heard voices from the closed door beyond the hall, I wonder if Milly might now regret her lack of hospitality – who knows how long Porter’s spirit may linger.
“It’s my hope that a proper burial will allow him rest.
“It was a long walk back, but as dawn crept upon the land, I was lucky to meet a boy on the road. For the promise of a second breakfast, he was happy enough to let his donkey pull us both into town. From there, there is little you do not know: Constable Bunting brought the body to Father Mitchell, and both men can see the work of accident plain enough.”
“What of Milly?” O’Connor asked, unable to meet Blackhall’s eyes.
“Upon my exit I took a moment to observe the linen closet in which we’d first discovered the woman. There was naught left behind but a babe’s blanket, slightly moth eaten. I assume her pregnancy was little obvious when the rumours of her infidelity flew, but by the nature of her fixation upon that closet, and the adjoining nursery, I suspect if you lay the cloth down in her grave, she too shall rest. I do not say ‘you’ lightly. I shall be again passing through in a year, and would not enjoy being forced to speak of my suspicions as to the source of the gossip that lead Milly to her woe. The blackened cottage reeks of fire and death now, and I would hate to have to spend so long making a speech within – should I find the cloth still mouldering.”
Thomas emptied his mug and stood.
“Now pay bar-master Stern your outstanding debt, and run along home to hope that burial is enough, and that Porter does not catch you out some evening, telling tales.”
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