Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and sixty-eight.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Haywire.
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, Will Coffin, urban shaman, and Bunny, his wobbly compatriot, find themselves watching a race.
Coffin: Infrastructure, Part 1 of 3
Nicholas Gretz, in a dirty pair of loose-tongued sneakers, eyed the murky pavement before him. Beside him roared a maroon 1965 Chevelle, which shivered under the forces its idling engine pushed through the bodywork of the car.
Nicholas had come to see a race.
Although he stood on the blacktop, the man had no fear of oncoming drivers. In a former life the road had been a highway, but, decades ago, its hazardous contours had caused it to be unhooked from the network that carried vacationing families and heavy-haul transports. The broad ditches had grown thick with underbrush, and the spruce and oak that lined the run sagged over the cement like weeping mourners, crowding the abandoned asphalt.
It hadn’t seemed so remote when he’d exited the new interstate. It had taken some searching before he could wheel gingerly onto the proper mud track, but, when he’d exited the driver’s seat and stretched his legs, he could hear far-off traffic – now, the close-walled lane was dominated by the rumble of the V8.
It was five minutes after midnight.
The evening had brought on a strong moon, but a brewing storm made it difficult for the light to find its way through the trees. Despite the conditions, Nicholas felt as if his gaze could trace every crack and pothole from his position to the turn, a short mile away.
He’d walked the place enough in the daytime that it might have even been true – he certainly needed no assistance to spot Lena.
At the distant corner, a girl of eighteen, whose long bleached hair shone against the dim, drifted from the scrub, and took her station at the center of the bend. She wore a men’s white t-shirt, over a ragged pair of jeans, and her thin wrist was laden with a cascade of glowing neon bracelets; pink, green, and purple.
Nicholas remembered watching that same delicate wrist intently as they’d stood waiting for her mom’s red Buick in the parking lot of Cowan’s roadhouse.
She’d been working. He’d been loitering.
“Lena!” he shouted. There was no answer; no look of recognition.
The girl raised her illuminated bangles, and the Chevelle’s rumbling thickened.
Gretz had once been a racer. He’d driven a 1987 Buick Regal.
At 12:11, a brown Ford pickup truck had approached in the northbound lane, and, without thinking, the girl dropped her hand to indicate they should wait, but, instead, had set free the finely-machined steel.
The air filled with the howl of controlled explosions and youthful disregard, then, with its departure, the Chevelle deposited a smoking layer of quickly-vapourising rubber in its wake.
Its headlights made no impression on the deep shadows, but its flame-hued rear bumper was somehow easily visible against the gloom.
Even in the roar, Nicholas recalled how a ‘65 Chevelle had seemed like a relic, and how quick he’d been to tell Dylan such.
For Gretz, time slowed.
At the half-mile mark he could see Lena’s face turn to horror, and her neon flailing become panicked.
There’d been some question as to her heart’s preference, but the concern in her round eyes was clearly intended for the Chevelle. Within, Dylan had made an attempt to pull onto the soft shoulder, but his delayed reaction came too late.
The truck didn’t appear – the driver had spent the rest of his life learning to eat and write with his left hand, but had otherwise survived – and yet the noise was just as real as the original impact. The momentum of the pick-up’s heavy work-engine was enough to deflect the still-turning Chevelle, so that the muscle car’s back-end jumped from the concrete, and the vehicle twisted into the treeline.
Upon liftoff, however, the rear bumper carried with it Lena’s jaw and skull, sending her airborne in a radiant arc.
She landed in exactly the spot he’d watched her rise from.
From within the tangle of bush and timber that had grown along the road’s edge, a soft glimmer played on the leaves, and Gretz realized he was witnessing the afterglow of the wreck’s blaze.
He began to walk in its direction.
At the halfway point, he passed the race’s two other observers.
“I want to respect your privacy, and all that bull####,” said Bunny, “but Oregon’s nights are ####ing cold. Could you shuffle a little faster?”
Coffin, standing beside her, swung high his arcane silver chain, and kept his focus on the flickering ghost lights that were once a burning car.
Nicholas’ memory had no trouble filling in the blanks. His legs faltered as he moved beyond where he’d wrestled the Regal to a stop, but pressed on.
He worked hard to ignore the girl’s broken form as he pushed through the ferns and prodding branches.
Finally, standing beside the shattered Chevelle, he retrieved a mashed wad of ten dollar bills from the depths of his jeans’ pocket.
Then, as he’d been instructed, he tossed the money into the wreck’s phantom flames.
The race had kept him awake at night; Had pulled him from his bed; maybe had ruined his two attempts at marriage. He thought of the bleached blond girl with the supple wrist.
He began to weep.
“You win,” Nicholas told the dark, but the destruction had already begun to fade.
Seconds later, Lena followed.
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