Tag: chiller

FP406 – The Blue Mask

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and six.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Blue Mask

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Pop Mockers


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 we find ourselves visitors to the shores of the Island of Corosia, and walk among the contagions that rage across it.


The Blue Mask

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May


The island nation of Corosia supported two cities of size and a dozen hamlets yet unconsumed by the urban march. To its many passers-through there was a familiarity about the nation that had been carried to its shores in the suitcases of beach-bound tourists and over the satellite signals pirated by its inhabitants. It was in the cut of the military uniforms worn at checkpoints and by billboard-displayed leaders; it was in the brightly coloured t-shirts worn by the nation’s teenagers; it was in the chords and rhythms of the music leaking from open-windowed vehicles and kitchen radios.

The beauty of the spot, mixed with its location along the tradewinds, had left it a thick history of exposure to the shifting tide of inquisitive outsiders. Many gods had once swept ashore, then many prophets, then, finally, those mock deities broadcast to the heavens from studios abroad.

Yet, in spite of this familiarity, or perhaps because of it, there was also a deeply ingrained skepticism to Corosian society.

There were few who would not lend a traveller a ride along the isle’s dusty roads, but all would be sure to later joke that they’d checked afterwards that the stranger hadn’t stolen the seat.

Still, the Corosians were as upset as the rest of the world at the televised collapse of the town of Harthomas, Pennsylvania.

Every Western news network shifted its unsleeping gaze to the events in Harthomas, and legends regarding the misinformation in those transmissions would spring up almost as quickly as the arrival of commercial breaks. For forty-eight hours the world observed the quarantined population of ten thousand collapse into madness even as their government raced for a cure.

The footage of weeping faces and inexplicable undertakings was only interrupted by the occasional newsdesk rebuttal to federal suggestions to discontinue broadcasting. Whatever say in the matter the powers in question held, answered the blazer wearing anchors, they had lost it when they’d allowed the virus to escape a research laboratory just south of Pittsburgh.

So viewers watched while packs of wailing children swept through the streets of Harthomas, their arms raised in trembling need of a hug, and as a suddenly famous hard-faced bank teller led them on an extended, if eventually futile, chase. They watched as lovers held each other tightly for hours, their tears staining each other’s shoulder, until, without warning to the patrolling news drones above, they cast themselves down from rooftops and balconies. They watched as crowds of fifteen and twenty would wrap their arms about each other in solace-seeking knots, their chests heaving with their tears, until dehydration and exposure would take them, though their corpses were held in place until the weight of the decaying human web simply became too much for those few fatigued mourners who remained.

FP406 - The Blue MaskThe Melancholy, as it came to be called, was thus well known to the Corosians – although, as the coverage spread into rumours that cases of infection had carried beyond the perimeter of the quarantine, the isle’s inhabitants took some comfort, in the thankful moments of their kitchen table prayers, that there was an ocean between their families and the troubles.

As the threat crept, on aircraft wings and on the decks of fishing boats, ever closer along the chain of islands that flanked their home, deception also slipped into their ears.

Their leaders began to appear before crowds and microphones to declare the illness a conspiracy, a tactic of the greed-stricken developers who had long lusted for their pristine coasts and unending sunshine. Just that week, they declared, they had turned back offers to have the men and women in their thick rubber suits arrive and lay out their needles and tents supposedly intended to heal. With great confidence the khaki-garbed rulers scoffed, pointing out that it was only upon such invasions that their neighbours had even begun to grow sick.

Truly, they said, such ministrations carried sickness, not the cure.

This version of reality gave succor to many, but there were some who doubted.

One such, a physician of some renown who had gathered knowledge from many lands before settling in the place of her birth, was known to publicly ask, “what of the terrible images they’d seen from the heart of the persecutors’ own lands?”

“It is said their black arts can tailor plagues to any need. Obviously a controlled release is simply a tactic to make them appear free of guilt as they steal what they could not buy,” came the response. “If they were willing to do such things to their own people, what mercy would they have for those they wished to unseat?”

The physician was told to hold her tongue.

Divine appeals continued. Rites were planned. Breath was held.

It was not long before any who might be considered tainted by distant infection, visitor or resident alike, were expelled or sent into hiding; be they at hand to help the impoverished at the island’s core, or simply to enjoy the sands along its edges.

Faith became central. In some quarters forgotten gods were resurrected and invoked. Offerings were left upon shop stoops and in the entranceways of homes. Smiling faces in costly suits declared a cure had arrived, but the images from but a few shores away made salvation seem no closer than the newscasters themselves.

Soon the Corosians turned to the traditions that had been handed to them from grandparent to parent.

A night of ceremonies was planned – masquerades of a sort, a culturally ingrained ritual of prayer and pleas for celestial amnesty.

Little could they have known that the infection had been carried into their midst – even as they donned garb in every shade and moved through the customs of dance and religious observance – by fisher folk who’d secreted cousins from the nearby danger, and by smugglers too destitute to give up the opportunity of providing much needed supplies to their beleaguered neighbours.

Nor did the Corosians realize that they themselves then spread the contagion through their sacramental sweat, consoling embraces, and profured handshakes.

On the soft beaches of a half-dozen villages countenances of red, yellow, and green hoped for safety, their exhortations aimed to move a power they thought greater than their own, but, as masked faces, both angelic and demonic, mingled in the shadow of the mountain that marked Corosia’s heart, the most important fact among their missing knowledge was the identity behind the soft-smirk of a sole blue mask roaming the islands eastern edge.

Years later it would be realized that it was their own daughter behind the cerulean visage – the very physician who had warned against isolation. Yet, she was twice as infectious as any other. With every flung droplet of sweat, with every passing brush of exposed flesh, she spread a sickness of her own design, her advanced craft having allowed her to engineer a curative epidemic so furious it would eventually wipe clean the plague of irrationality already incubating in the population.

For that evening, however, the mask simply grinned.


Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP303 – Break, Part 1 of 1

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and three.

Flash PulpTonight we present Break, Part 1 of 1

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by the The Dexter Cast.


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, in a moment away from the heavier content of recent releases, we meet a suspicious man with a foul temper, his wife, and the house they live in.



Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May


Dominic Savage had never trusted Godfrey, his home’s master control system.

“I know you’re trying to kill me, you bastard,” Savage was muttering.

The heat in the artist’s backroom studio had suddenly spiked, mid-brush stroke, and Dominic had been left with no choice but to interface directly with the control panel in the nearby hall.

“You son of a bitch, work properly!” he shouted at the beige rectangle.

“What seems to be the trouble, sir?” asked Godfrey.

“The studio is about to burst into flames!”


“Jesus,” Dominic glanced at the chart Myra had pinned above the panel, seeking the representation of his sanctuary, “I mean bedroom three.”

“Oh, my apologies. Would you like me to look into it, sir?”

“No, I just thought it had been too long since we’d chatted.”

“Sorry, sir?”

“Yes, look into it.”

“Apologies, but it might be worth mentioning that you did instruct me specifically to avoid bedroom 3. Yes, I do note that the temperature was seven degrees above house average. You should find it much more comfortable now, however.”

Upon returning to his brushes, Dominic did. He wasn’t happy about it though.

* * *

The fifties-themed dinner in which Myra and Dominic celebrated their twelfth anniversary had drifted as far from its original style as they had. A once pitch-perfect recreation, the place had steadily deteriorated into a greasy spoon that happened to have waitresses in pink uniforms and a jukebox. It had been the site of their first date, however, and they’d made at least a quick visit for every major milestone since.

Besides, there was no risk of an embarrassing encounter with friends, the place didn’t even have a wine menu.

It had been Myra’s turn to be reluctant to head into the February chill.

“Want to split a sundae with me?” Dominic was asking.

“It’s winter,” replied Myra.

The artist smiled. “The ice cream is the only thing that hasn’t gotten worse.”

His wife looked up from her untouched onion rings. “It’s too cold.”

Dominic raised a brow.”It’s a heated restaurant, you’re going to get into a heated car, then we’re going to return to a heated house.”

“If you want the god damn ice cream, eat it yourself. I don’t want any.”

Dominic did, in silence.

* * *

The ride home was better, though an intermission at favoured bar had helped grease the wheels.

“Hey, I’m sorry,” Myra had opened. “This project is killing me. Nelson is constantly on my ass about it, but he doesn’t seem to get that debugging is debugging. I can’t just wave a wand and have everything work, and no one is going to buy a box full of nothing. Two more weeks, tops, and I’ll be so much better. I promise.”

“Are you still going to be able to make the gallery thing in a week?” asked Dominic as he slid his hand into hers.

“Of course.”

“Are you still going to be able to make that whole naked in my bed thing in a half-hour?”

Myra’s lips finally twitched into a grin. “Of course.”

In a surprise turn that also happened to mirror their first date, they lost five minutes to needy groping once parked.

Reason returned, though, once Myra was topless and complaining about the cold. Before her husband might argue, she told him to collect the Pinot from the trunk and meet her inside.

As she exited, lights came on in the house beyond, and Dominic could just make out the grating coo that Godfrey used when she was about.

One responsibility lead to another. Knowing that he was unlikely to be in the mood to move the recycling to the curb after going inside, he set the bottle on the wooden step that lead to the interior and hefted the first of the glass-filled blue bins.

It was as he was returning from depositing the second that the heavy rolling door descended rapidly in front of him, coming so close to an impact that his leading shoe, the right, was briefly pinned beneath the plastic weatherstrip.

Even as his toes made their escape, the entrance retracted.

“My apologies, sir,” said Godfrey, “it appears there was an unexpected closing.”

The open air of the garage lent the digital voice an uncomfortable air of omniscience.

Dominic paused briefly, then crossed the threshold, moving quickly to manually turn off the lights.

In moments the incident was forgotten.

* * *

Later, lying in a room that was dark beyond the glare of the alarm clock and Godfrey’s blinking red light in the corner, Dominic’s mind came back to the machine running the house.

What had it made of their performance? They hadn’t flipped the sensors to privacy mode during their frenzy, though sometimes he couldn’t help but doing so. He hated the way the thing talked to his wife, even if it was innocently programmed to do so.

An unexpected thought came to the near-slumberer: Was the system’s recent erratic behaviour perhaps due to resentment?

Even at three in the morning ascribing jealousy to a machine seemed a stupid idea, and, with sleep’s rapid approach, his suspicions were soon lost.

* * *

Dominic’s work was well known, and well paid for – it had been the source of funding for, amongst other things, Godfrey – but the New York show was set to launch his abstract landscapes and nudes into the realm of legend. It was also launching his blood pressure.

“I had better tools in kindergarten!” he told no one before snapping his fifteen dollar brush. It was of solid construction, but his anger had had the afternoon to build.

“Shall I start the hot tub for you, sir?” asked Godfrey.

The high-end Jacuzzi had been a constant in the painter’s life since the arrival of exhibit-related anxiety.

“Fine,” Dominic replied. His tone was rough but his mind was already on the open Pinot.

* * *

He hadn’t notice how low the room’s temperature had dropped until he stepped outside and there seemed little difference between interior and exterior. With a glass in one hand and the bottle in the other, he hustled to the roiling waters, pausing only long enough to dip a probing foot before taking a seat.

Knowing Myra would be late arriving home he was in little rush, and, an hour later, the wine and his late night the evening previous had taken their toll.

Dominic was asleep for half an hour when the motor that operated the tub’s heavy cover whirred to life, and it was only the sudden hum that allowed him warning enough to duck his head beneath the approaching strangling.

“Dammit, Godfrey!” he shouted.

The water level began to rise, as did the heat. The jets roared to life. Dominic found breath hard to come buy, and chlorinated spray dug into his eyes.

His pounding did little good.

He knew it was the end when Myra’s voice spoke to him from the recessed speakers.

“Hi, Dominic. This is a recording to let you know I hate you, and have for years, you complaining son of a bitch. I’m glad an artist is worth more dead. Oh, also, I’m fucking Nelson. I shouldn’t gloat, but you have no idea how long it took me to get all of this programmed.

“Ah well. As they used to say on Mission Impossible: This recording will self destruct in five seconds – but you’ll be dead by then.”

Dominic pressed his lips to the unyielding edge of the seal and began to cry.

He’d nearly blacked out when Godfrey returned. The machine’s tone was apologetic, “error in audio deletion library, line 301. Entering debug mode. That is to say, I’m afraid I’ll have to empty the pool, sir.”

Relief doubled his tears.

Instead of a supposed drunk-drowning victim, he would go on to be the artist famously nearly murdered by his wife a week before a show.

It did little for his blood pressure, but Godfrey remained close at hand to help.


Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Freesound.org credits:

  • Bathroom Air Conditioner.wav by Pogotron
  • diner interior atmos.aiff by klangfabrik
  • Auto,Interior,Turnsignal.wav by mikeonfire99
  • key_pressed_beep_04.wav by m_O_m
  • Bathroom Air Conditioner.wav by BoilingSand
  • Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

    – and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

    FP275 – Dwelling, Part 1 of 1

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and seventy-five.

    Flash PulpTonight we present Dwelling, Part 1 of 1

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    (RSS / iTunes)


    This week’s episodes are brought to you by Dead Kitchen Radio.


    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, a young boy finds himself unable to fully escape a haunted house.


    Dwelling, Part 1 of 1

    Written by J.R.D. Skinner
    Art and Narration by Opopanax
    and Audio produced by Jessica May


    The trouble began late one Halloween evening.

    Under the uncaring gaze of a flock of plastic ghosts hung on an elm across the street, a trio of fourteen-year-old boys were sizing up the rotting shutters and peeling yellow paint of 186 Bunten Road – and, unknown to them, the house was taking their measure in return.

    ChillerTwo of the youths were dressed similarly, having adopted the personas of Jake and Elwood Blues, while the third, Samuel Curry, was dressed as Clark Kent. The costumes had been hasty choices made only once they’d realized their growing desire for maturity had yet to outweigh their need for candy. Church suits, cheap sunglasses, and Jake’s father’s fedora collection had simplified matters, and Sam had but to mousse up, and expose the Superman t-shirt he was already wearing, to perfect his attire.

    It was perhaps his too-handsome looks which brought the Blues Brothers to challenge Curry with a dare of entry into the reputedly haunted property.

    “Sure, if it isn’t locked tight,” was his final reply, and the hat-wearers smiled.

    The false Kryptonian was somewhat disheartened to discover the door ajar, but he moved on nonetheless.

    Digging his key chain from his pocket, the boy engaged the small flashlight which he’d long ago hung on the ring, and pushed through the tight antechamber which preceded the front hall.

    The second entrance provided no more resistance than the first, despite its heft.

    The building was a remnant of another age. Its armour was red brick, and its gilding, from frames to wainscoting, were of heavy oak. Even its innermost entryways held a bulk unheard of in modern construction. The occult symbols which crowded its woodwork were rarer still.

    Inside, Sam was provided with a pair of choices – a passage to the left, which seemed to lead to a darkened living room, or, on the right, a set of stairs rising to the second floor. The agreed objective was the solitary unshuttered window facing the street, a pane on the story above, and the boy lay his sneaker on the gray carpet which ran down the center of the flight.

    As he did so, the exterior most door slammed shut.

    Sam decided it was only the wind – and held to it when the nearer slab also closed.

    It was this tenacity that goaded the house.

    In the kitchen below, a vodka bottle – abandoned atop the counter some years earlier by a startled drunk – shattered on the dusty linoleum.

    The lad, at the head of the steps, ignored it.

    He could see the opening that would lead to the end of his quest, and his focus was completely on his goal.

    With a steady stride, he passed into the former bedroom. He had no time for the black and white leaves that filled the wallpaper, nor the constellation of unidentifiable stains which littered its floor – his eyes clung firmly to the square of illumination from the streetlamps beyond.

    When he peered out, however, he discovered that his companions didn’t have his stomach for unexpected slamming.

    They were gone.

    Turning, Sam readied himself to retrace his route. Ten strides carried him to the cusp of the hall, and an eleventh would have put him safely outside the bedchamber, if it had not been for the sudden closing of the exit.

    The hinged weight landed solidly on his leg, snapping bone below his knee, and the adolescent screamed.

    Pinned in place, he had no option but to watch the corridor’s thick carpet writhe with mirth.

    It was all too much for Samuel, and the teen lapsed into shock-induced unconsciousness.

    He awoke to fresh agony, when the oak frame impacted twice more. His position shifted slightly with each hit, so that, though no blow landed in the same place, the shards of his tibia were churned into fragments, then splinters.

    The boy realized, with horror, that the door was chewing on him.

    The maw again swung wide, but, before a third bite might be taken, Sam dug his nails into the roiling carpet, and pulled himself forward.

    Emitting a mix of grunts and tears, he crawled to the stairs, then down them.

    The structure briefly considered heaving the rug to toss the child the distance, thus assuring an abrupt snapping of his neck at the bottom, but there was too much risk of becoming a known danger to the public.

    No, it decided, permitting an escape would ensure its reputation – ensure the fear it needed.

    Sam had made it to the lower-most step when flashing red lights began to pour through the no-longer-shuttered windows of the first floor.

    Within moments, dual flashlights were probing the boy’s ashen face.

    “I fell,” was the extent of the explanation he provided as the officers transported him to Capital City General.

    No one doubted him.

    * * *

    For a time the house was content.

    On another Halloween, four years later, it had scared away a similar group of explorers through simply swinging wide its front-facing slats while their backs were turned. Six months following that, it had allowed a stray Boston Terrier to enter its basement, only to hold it prisoner until it collapsed from starvation. The residence felt its carcass would make a nice surprise for some future adventurer – but none came till the second summer following, when a bored man in a fine suit made his way inside.

    Having grown bored and hungry, the trap set itself to its best behaviour, as if laying out its tongue to await a meal.

    A parade of workers followed, all instructed to maintain as many of the original fixtures possible. The cacophony scraped paint, varnished surfaces, and peeled the gummy fur from its cellar floor, and, in the end, the presence took some pride in the remarkable nature of its restoration. As they departed, it found itself hard pressed to want to murder this latest batch of subservient intruders.

    On a later June morning, a smartly dressed woman carrying a clipboard lead a recently married couple over the threshold. The bride’s belly was growing heavy, and the twosome cooed at the flood of natural light that filled the room at the top of the stairs.

    They lasted but three weeks – on a quiet Sunday evening the dwelling’s intelligence had exposed, to the expecting woman, every drawer and cupboard in the small kitchen. It had then silently shut each while she breathlessly retrieved her husband.

    The house had not anticipated how seriously the young family would take the incident, and after their premature departure it still yearned for a more satisfying result.

    As such, it again allowed the woman with the clipboard to tour the floors and prattle on about its historic beauty.

    Eventually, a group of five attempted to nest within; a middle aged couple, their teen twin daughters, and the matron’s drooling mother.

    This time the predator took a subtle approach. Tensions flared over missing money and mysterious injuries appearing on the senile gran. The old woman was an invalid, and the corruption took no end of pleasure in terrifying her awake upon a rocking bed – it enjoyed how she screamed endlessly behind her unmoving mouth.

    After a half-decades careful effort, the situation was a primed powder keg. The wife was sure the husband was beating her increasingly frail mother, and the husband was progressively obsessing over the notion that nocturnal shutter creaks, and the sounds of shifting furniture, were signs that his beloved daughters were running rampant with their ne’er-do-well boyfriends – and yet he could never seem to catch them in the act, finding, instead, that when he entered their rooms they would claim they had just awoken, even if their clothing seemed freshly strewn across their floors.

    His freshly purchased shotgun did little to reassure him, though the home viewed it with a sense of impending glee.

    Then, one Tuesday morning, the sleepless nights, and air of constant suspicion, were unexpectedly interrupted by a phone call.

    The malignancy could not penetrate the depths of the conversation, but the family had left together, chattering excitedly.

    Much to the entity’s disappointment, they did not return.

    * * *

    Early Wednesday, a dozen broad-shouldered men arrived in boxy trucks.

    Being familiar with the migration of movers, the house was content to lay silent as the paintings were stripped from its walls, and the furniture emptied from its living spaces. By noon only that which couldn’t be carried away remained.

    As the rumble of engines drained from the lane, a black sedan pulled to a halt at the curb.

    It was then that the lurking hunter realized the sudden departure was a greater threat than it had fathomed.

    The sole of a well-built black shoe set down upon the sidewalk, followed by the stout nose of a masterly crafted oak cane.

    A grown Samuel Curry stepped from the car, then removed his dark suit jacket.

    He left it on the rear-seat as he retrieved his tools.

    Despite his years of planning – his years of panicked awakenings and secret confessions to his psychiatrist – Sam made no speech.

    He peeled the shutters first, plucking off the lowermost with crowbars, and using a ladder to reach those higher.

    The doors came next, without subtlety: Guessing where the hinges might hide within, the avenging form simply laid his sledge against the barriers until they no longer stood. The rush of adrenaline made his stints away from his supporting cane all the more bearable.

    Long planning had lead to caution, so Curry retrieved a pair of sharp bladed scissors, and dropped to his knees, before entering.

    He immediately took to slicing wide shards from the carpeted surfaces, which he then carried to the lawn with meticulous care. As each passed through the house’s maw, it ceased its wiggling protestations. As the path of destruction advanced, the material increasingly bucked and jerked beneath his blades, but a lack of leverage left the complaints useless.

    Every cupboard cover was stripped, and every shelf removed.

    Sweating, the entrance which had left him with a permanent limp was the last tooth that Sam plucked.

    Wandering from room to room , he then pummeled the plasterwork with his walking stick. The walls groaned with rage, but the lack of reprimand was proof enough to the bright-eyed man that the danger had passed.

    As a last insult, Sam unfurled a sleeping bag and slept the night, soundly, upon the kitchen floor.

    He was awoken by the sound of an arriving backhoe, with whose clasping bucket he would chew the house to rubble.


    Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

    Freesound.org credits:

    Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

    – and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

    FP227 – Close, Part 1 of 1

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and twenty seven.

    Flash PulpTonight we present, Close, Part 1 of 1.

    [audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp227.mp3]Download MP3
    (RSS / iTunes)


    This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Saturday B Movie Reel Podcast.


    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, we present a chiller tale of conversion, communication, and cataclysm.


    Close, Part 1 of 1

    Written by J.R.D. Skinner
    Art and Narration by Opopanax
    and Audio produced by Jessica May


    Chiller“Get back in here and let me hold you,” said Bradley Owens.

    He’d slept poorly, as his dreams had been filled with the sound of snapping bones, and Nora Rhodes, his girlfriend, was attempting to console him while adjusting her suit-jacket at the bedroom’s full length mirror.

    “I’m really sorry about your nightmares, monkey. I’m getting worried about you – you should see Doctor Henley.”

    “Nah, I’m fine,” he replied from the bed. “It’s only happened since you got back from Canada, so maybe my brain is telling me it’s time to trick you into a wedding.”

    “Why don’t you call in sick and catch a nap? Watch some Price is Right?”

    “Hey, we can’t all be oil tycoons, and I’ve got bills to pay.”

    In truth, his call center employment covered little of his expenditure – it was Nora’s progression onto the lower rungs of Shell’s management ladder that paid the majority of the couple’s debts.

    “I can spot you some cash for your half of rent, sugar daddy,” she said. ”You should just quit anyhow, and accept my job offer as full time gigolo.”

    Her smile was enough to finally make Bradley sit up.

    He threw back the sheets in invitation.

    “Aww, I was just kidding.” she replied, “I’ve got meetings about the northern project. Perhaps you ARE all right for work, though?”

    He chased her to the door and kissed her goodbye.

    * * *

    In the early hours of the following Thursday, Owens was brought awake through the agitation of a repeated poke to his chest. He hadn’t moved at first, thinking it was another strange dream, but the prodding persisted.

    The couple were spooning beneath their white comforter, making it impossible for Bradley to visually confirm what his tactile senses appeared to be telling him: That Nora’s ribs were shifting beneath the surface, and rearranging themselves about her spinal cord.

    He jerked away.

    “What’s wrong, monks?” came Nora’s sleepy voice.

    He didn’t reply, and her breathing soon returned to its slumbering rhythm.

    Once confident that she would remain asleep, he crept to the couch and pulled the decorative Navajo blanket over his cold legs.

    * * *

    He’d fallen asleep rehearsing his conversation, but, in the day light, he felt his claims seemed stupid. Instead, he sheepishly answered Nora’s questions by saying that he’d been disturbed by a nightmare, and had thought a change of rooms might help.

    After the second night of such behaviour, she made him a doctor’s appointment.

    * * *

    A week later, they were nibbling pancakes at the breakfast table.

    It was rare that Nora had an opportunity to sample her boyfriend’s cooking, and she was working hard to enjoy it. Still, she was impressed at the effort.

    The pills must be helping,” she said, “you look sharp today – not too often that I’m lounging in my PJs while you’re all put together and ready to face the world.”

    Henley had been more than happy to prescribe Bradley a tub of Ambien, and they’d briefly given him respite, but the idea of what might be happening during his unconscious hours had begun to haunt his waking thoughts.

    Even as he watched her eat, he wondered if the flexing in her neck was the result of her chewing, or a secret transformation taking place beneath her skin.

    Having finished washing the cookware, making the bed, and sweeping the kitchen floor, the infrequent-chef approached the small round table they’d picked out together, at IKEA, and stated his intentions in a single exhalation.

    “You’re wonderful and I love you, it’s all me, but things are fucking weird and I can’t handle it anymore – goodbye.”

    He was closing the door behind him before Nora could muster a reply.

    * * *

    By Saturday, Bradley’s friend, Miguel, was considerably less friendly, and Miguel’s couch was seeming considerably less comfortable.

    As he staggered from a shift he’d only taken to avoid having to deal with Miguel’s girlfriend, the heavy-hearted call center employee attempted to clear his head, and considered his immediate options: A quarter-hour wait would put him on a bus back to the un-orthopedic sofa, but a half-hour wait would send him towards the nearest movie theater.

    When Nora pulled up to the curb, some ten minutes later, he was still standing at the stop, undecided.

    “Hi,” she said.

    He turned, and a smile briefly lit his face – then he reversed a step.

    “Hey,” he replied.

    They both silently watched as a red hatchback passed.

    “I miss you,” said Nora, once the vehicle’s taillights had disappeared around the corner. “I don’t – I don’t want you to think of it as a bribe, but I’d already bought them before you left, and they’re non-refundable.”

    She produced a folding pamphlet, inside of which were two tickets for a Carnival cruise to tour the Alaskan coast.

    He shuffled the paperwork around for a moment, but no words seemed to come to his lips.

    His considerations were cut short by the Eighty-Five Express’ screeching tires.

    “Let me think about it,” he answered, mounting the steps that would take him back to the cramped couch.

    While he stared into the knotted hair of the whisky-smelling homeless woman in next seat, he made up his mind. He’d never seen the pacific, and his memories were fuzzy now. They were likely just bad dreams – and, besides, he missed her.

    * * *

    The doctor’s pills served Bradley well the first night, and a day’s worth of champagne consumed while walking about the ship had left Bradley feeling warm and comfortable.

    His manic need to explore, combined with his early call to drink, had left him exhausted by supper, and the pair had finally retreated to the balcony on their private suite.

    It was the first time, besides their quick fade into unconsciousness the night previous, that they were alone in the cabin.

    Falling into old patterns, Bradley pulled off his shirt. At odd times throughout the day, he’d caught whiffs of Nora’s perfume on the salty breeze, and the liquor had deadened the remainder of his inhibitions.

    “Are you sure?” she asked. “We haven’t really talked about anything – you seemed so confident about leaving.”

    “I missed you,” he replied.

    Nora stood for a moment, biting her lip, then turned.

    “I feel crusty,” she said. “I need a shower. Make sure you’re sure while I’m gone.”

    When she returned, he was nude, and passed out under the sheets. Dropping her towel, she crawled into bed beside him, and turned out the light.

    * * *

    As they slept, Bradley’s hand found its way about her belly. Over time, his body shifted itself from habit, until he was holding her close.

    He awoke suddenly, with his chest aching as if he’d been punched.

    He pushed away from her, with a moan, but his hand encountered a gooey mass where he’d expected solid ribs – he was reminded of childhood experiences with Play-Doh as his fingers sunk into her back.

    Before he could retreat, he felt a tearing as the pliable flesh seemed to snag against bone, and the bed was suddenly filled with a warm gush of liquid.

    The couple lept to their feet, both now fully awake.

    Nora’s flesh hung as if empty. Her bone structure had been greatly compacted, so that only her shoulders and hips gave her width, and her flapping husk moved like damp cloth in a high wind as she began weeping.

    “What the hell!?” asked Bradley.

    “I thought you knew!” she replied, “I thought you were fighting for us! I mean, the changes were so obvious – you never wanted to talk about it, so I figured you were nobly trying to fucking deal with it. I may not understand what’s happening, but I know I love you!”

    He could not hear her response through his panic.

    As she approached, seeking comfort, he backed away, until he found himself against the sliding balcony door. Unthinking, he opened it, and continued his slow escape.

    When he could retreat no further, she closed the distance with her spindle-arms bowed and grasping.

    The sharp prod of cartilage, and the feeling of being smothered in a blanket of loose skin made damp be the sea mist, was enough to throw Bradley’s mind into a frenzy. In attempting to disengage from her, however, he found himself falling through the air.

    His descent was stopped in a cold splash.

    Bradley’s body tensed at the shock, and he realized he was sinking into the frigid waters.

    His mouth filled with the taste of salt.

    A pinching hand closed around his own, and, seconds later, he felt Nora’s strength pull him to the surface.

    As he gasped for breath, he drew her close, seeking her warmth amongst the frothing chill of the ocean.


    Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

    Freesound.org credits:

    Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

    – and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

    214 – Slowpokes, Part 1 of 1

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and fourteen.

    Flash PulpTonight we present, Slowpokes, Part 1 of 1.

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    This week’s episodes are brought to you by Asunder.


    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, we present a brief tale of patience and impatience; of beginnings and conclusions; of marriage and death.


    214 – Slowpokes, Part 1 of 1

    Written by J.R.D. Skinner
    Art and Narration by Opopanax
    and Audio produced by Jessica May


    Chiller“Slowpokes,” said Jeanine, her words answered only by the steady ticking of the glass domed mantel clock.

    Otherwise, the Henderson house was silent.

    She tipped back the curtain again, and scanned the street. Reginald had left a half-hour earlier, and it was a five minute walk to Hannah’s house – it was just like that man to get distracted in the middle of a job.

    The Hendersons had been together for 34 years. It was the second marriage for both, but a largely happy one, and they’d brought up three children together.

    As she considered the fact, Jeanine tutted to herself. In truth, she knew it was more that she’d raised the kids, who were now college aged, while Reginald had funded the operation. Even if he was distant, however, his gifts were frequent, and she was sure he often spent his time, while playing cards at Jim’s, bragging about their success.

    With a head shake, she let the train of thought drop, and crooked the window shade.

    There was still no Reginald.

    She began to tread circles around the mahogany coffee table. As she shuffled her garden shoes over the beige carpet, Jeanine mentally walked the route to her daughter’s house, attempting to pace the distance using only her imagination.

    The kids had left years ago, but she was happy to have them close at hand – although apparently five minutes away wasn’t a short enough time for some.

    Her eyes wandered over the mantelpiece’s family photo, taken four years previously at the funeral of Reginald’s older brother. Instead of lingering there, however, her eyes drifted up to the sword – a major source of pride, and bickering, within the greater Henderson family.

    When Nicholas had died, he’d left the civil war relic unmentioned in his will, and a brawl had emerged. It had once belonged to a Southern cavalryman, that some forgotten relative had killed, and the five remaining siblings had fought bitterly to claim it.

    In the end, as Nick had been without children, and Reginald had been the second eldest, the inheritance had come to rest above their fireplace – where it was immediately forgotten by Reggie. It was much the case, Jeanine reflected, when they’d first had children: He was excited to get them home, but after that care was generally left up to her.

    She recalled how pale Hannah’s face had looked when she’d carried her limp body, alone, into the emergency room, twenty years previous. Her bicycle had run out from under her, and her belly and legs were speckled with road pebbles.

    Jeanine also remembered 10 years later on, when her eldest son, Patrick, was attacked by a neighbourhood dog, and had the majority of his pinky torn away in the beast’s jaws. The memory of the rushed bandaging job she’d had to do, before again driving to the hospital, was all too clear, but the doctor had credited her work when Pat was able to keep the finger.

    The weapon, however, she was happy enough to tend alone. Her first stop after its arrival had been to the middle town library, where she’d located a book that provided all the necessary details behind oiling the steel and maintaining its edge. She considered it a damn sight more interesting than polishing Reginald’s mother’s miniature spoon collection, at least.

    On occasion, she’d forgotten herself with the blade in her hand – had, in fact, taken it from it’s sheath when the living room was just this quiet, and swung it about like a mad brigand. If she was honest, she’d done it so often that she was quite comfortable with the weight in her hand.

    With a sigh, her eyes moved from the sword to the eternally chattering timepiece.

    “It’s a five minute walk,” she said.

    Frowning, Jeanine scooted over the ottoman which sat in front of Reginald’s easy chair, and used the added height to retrieve the scabbard. The hilt felt good under her palm.

    “Slowpokes,” she said.

    It had been too long. She’d had enough of waiting.

    As she strode through the door, the first of the stumbling dead to catch sight of her began to raise a moan – but her sabre was quick.


    Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

    Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

    – and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

    187 – Lair, Part 1 of 1

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and eighty seven.

    Flash PulpTonight we present, Lair, Part 1 of 1.

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    This week’s episodes are brought to you by the bistrips comic Treed.


    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, Veronica Peralta awaits a monster.


    Flash Pulp 187 – Lair, Part 1 of 1

    Written by J.R.D. Skinner
    Art and Narration by Opopanax
    and Audio produced by Jessica May


    ChillerThe Peralta’s house rocked with the intensity of the assault. The less stable amongst their collection of porcelain dogs – a dozen of which rested above the gas fireplace – began to topple and shatter on the well-swept faux-wood flooring.

    Mrs. Veronica Peralta contemplated the black masses pressing against the windows, and the silhouetted limbs bouncing from the all-too-thin glass behind her drawn curtains. She had stationed on the couch, well away from any potential flying shards, and she was careful to keep her face impassive.

    Across the room, her husband, Danny, cringed at the roar. The tumbler in his left hand was shaking as he slammed down the useless telephone. He set the drink on the room’s dominating coffee table, ignoring the coasters Veronica had strategically positioned about its surface.

    “What the sweet hell is this!?” he asked, grabbing up a poker that had, until that point, largely been ornamental.

    Veronica wondered if the double-panes would flex and burst under the assault.

    She clasped her hands on her lap.

    “Vern – is that music!?” asked Danny, his ear cocked as if it might help clarify the morass of chanting and roars that emitted from the exterior.

    She thought there was a hint of an organ grinder’s melody on the wind, but she wasn’t sure – whatever the case, she didn’t bother to respond.

    As the deadbolt, which had so far stymied the advance, tore through the wood of the flimsy barrier in a series of splintering pops, Veronica smiled, and allowed her fingers to brush away a joyful tear from her purple cheek.

    * * *

    She’d spent the morning in preparation for the monster. Her feather duster had worked furiously over the gleaming surfaces of the home, while her free hand re-arranged pillows, straightened ornamental blankets, and gathered up wandering television remotes.

    Fear made her eyes keen and her fingers industrious, and by noon, with the chemical smell of Pine-Sol thick in the air, she had to admit that she was simply re-polishing unnecessarily, and forced her legs to a halt.

    Filling a glass with tap water, she sat at the kitchen table, and fell silent. She considered retrieving her laptop – her one refuge – but her mind, unable to relax even in the absolute stillness of a suburban Tuesday, began to circle the monster endlessly. What would the view be as the door opened? Were there imperfections along its path?

    She assured herself that she’d anticipated every possibility, but also recalled she’d done similar in the past with unfortunate results.

    The thought drove her to stand again, and the afternoon was spent in a cycle of doubt and confirmation.

    Then she’d heard the slam, followed by the wrenching back of the entrance’s screen.

    Danny was home.

    * * *

    Supper had gone smoothly, but she’d missed starting the coffee maker while retrieving his desert, and he’d given her a cuff to the left ear. His seated position had made it an awkward smack – while it stung for some time after, it was a lesser blow than many she’d endured.

    He’d told her he wanted a glass of his whisky anyhow, and she foresaw a turn in the evening that did not bode well for her.

    While she was opening a new bottle of Johnnie Walker from amongst the supply of liquor Danny kept in the shelving below the living room’s entertainment center, she’d heard a squawk from the lawn beyond the bay window.

    A crowd had formed on the grass while she’d been handling dinner service – a mob of over-sized black suits and gloves, above which floated the rubbery visage of a mutton-chopped metal musician reproduced in mask form. Across the street, Mrs. MacDonald stepped onto her porch, dragging along Stony, her shitzu, for the mutt’s daily inspection of the neighbourhood.

    Spotting the gathering, the dog walker quickly turned, scurrying for safety.

    Remaining focused on Mrs. Peralta, inside her living room, the mass raised their right hands in unison, and waved hello.

    Veronica screamed, and nearly let go of the bottle, but clenched, instead, at the fear of reprisal if she were to waste a drop.

    She’d heard the rumours of The Achievers; she’d thought they were a bunch of kids playing at games on the Internet, a sort of digital urban legend, like haunted YouTube videos. She hadn’t truly believed, when she’d unraveled her brutal history into a General Discussion thread on her favourite kitting forum, “A Stitch In Time”, that anything would come of it.

    Not really.

    * * *

    It was over quickly, once the hole was forced, and the horde had entered.

    “Vern, call the cops! Do something!” was the last thing she ever heard from Danny, as he was carried away on the upraised arms of a dozen masked marrauders.

    “I hate that frigging nickname!” was the last thing she ever said to him, as he was conveyed onto the driveway.

    He didn’t know it then, but his years in South America would be incredibly educational.

    As quickly as it had begun, it was over. Standing at the foot of her imploded entry, she watched the evening begin to settle at the edges of the city. A teenage boy on a mountain bike drove by, oblivious of what had just occurred.

    She waved, and he returned the gesture.

    Close behind the lad, a silver Cadillac SUV slid to a stop.

    Another suit exited the vehicle, but this one was sharply dressed, and wore no disguise.

    “Elden Lozada,” he said, as he approached with his hand extended. “It’s my understanding that you require a decent lawyer, and I happen to be mandated by state law to work a certain number of pro bono cases.”

    A dog barked in the distance.

    With her former husband out of the country, Veronica was quite pleased with the court’s settlement ruling.


    Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

    Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

    – and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

    176 – The Haunted House on Willoughby Road, Part 1 of 1

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and seventy-six.

    Flash Pulp

    Tonight we present, The Haunted House on Willoughby Road, Part 1 of 1.

    [audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp176.mp3]Download MP3
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    This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Shrinking Man Project.


    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 we turn your attention to a charnel house with an unexpected legacy.


    Flash Pulp 176 – The Haunted House on Willoughby Road, Part 1 of 1

    Written by J.R.D. Skinner
    Art and Narration by Opopanax
    and Audio produced by Jessica May


    ChillerAlthough it was getting late in the morning, Lillian Price’s shoes were damp with dew by the time she stepped up from the overgrown front-walk, and onto the porch of 699 Willoughby.

    Straightening her attire, she cleared her throat and rolled her shoulders. Finding no buzzer, she tried the antique knocker that hung at the center on the blue-painted door.

    The entry swung open at the momentum of her knock.

    Biting her lip, Price glanced at the home-owner information she held in the crook of her left arm.

    “Mr. Powell?” she asked into the dark gap. The blinds were drawn in the living room beyond, and she could feel a cool draft escaping from the interior.

    Beneath the musty stream of the released breeze, she caught a whiff of decomposition.

    She stepped inside.

    “Hello? Mr. Powell? Quincy?”

    Given the lack of reaction, she tried the closest light switch, but received neither illumination, nor a response.

    Nearly tripping over a canvas sack brimming with undelivered newspapers, Lillian engaged the LED on her phone, and panned its glow over the area. The space was neat, but unadorned – it reminded her of the house Grandfather Price might have kept, if her grandmother hadn’t done the decorating on both of their behalves. The only piece of furniture that seemed well worn was a leather recliner, which dominated the expanse in front of Quincy’s massive television screen.

    Noting that the burgundy carpet was clean, except for a single muddy track apparently formed by the treads of a sneaker, she began following the trail.

    The prints ended in the kitchen – she guessed because there had simply been no more trapped dirt to leave behind. As she inspected the array of chrome and digital outputs that Powell had had installed, she was impressed by how much of the old man’s renovation money had gone into the work. It was rare to see such an extensive layout.

    Completing her inventory of the now defunct technology, Lillian spotted a pair of medical-grade walking sticks set against the wall in the far corner. The canes’ skewed positions gave them the appearance of abandonment.

    Her survey had presented two options: a flight of stairs heading to the upper floor, or a second set, behind a door with a checkered apron hanging on it, descending.

    She had little interest in spending any more time than necessary in exploring.

    With a sigh, she began to move downward.

    Lillian was on the fifth step when, below her, she noted two sets of legs, one wearing khaki slacks, the other in scrubby jeans.

    Then the exit slammed shut.

    She forced herself to remain calm while ghostly mechanisms engaged themselves.

    As the overhead fluorescent bulbs pinged into life, the corpses became clearly visible. At the center of the large, unfinished basement, sitting on a plastic lawn chair, Quincy Powell’s wrinkled face had drooped onto his chest. A Joyce novel had fallen from his right hand, and a white, sealed, envelope lay atop a gray table at his side. To his left was a teenager who’d collapsed, face down, upon the floor. Given his arrangement, it was difficult to make out his age, but she reckoned it at no older than seventeen.

    At the smell of sulphur, a single bead of sweat formed at her hairline, rolled down her brow, and disappeared under the band of her collar. She began to cough.

    Retrieving a handkerchief from her pocket, she placed the cloth across her nose, and, with a firm internal voice, reminded herself that she was a professional. Despite the self-reassurance, however, the ethereal hiss that filled the air carried her feet quickly past the bodies, past the white washer and dryer combo, past a large selection of Christmas ornaments, and to the maintenance closet, clearly labeled on the tablet still crooked at her elbow.

    She knew now that Powell’s overwrite of the home’s automatic housekeeping systems, presumably based on a sloppy bit of programming from some Internet forum, had crippled the functionality of the upper floors, and was also responsible for sealing the cellar, likely against anyone who might accidentally arrive too early.

    The house, having faithfully completed its task, but no longer able to detect an occupant, had switched to low-power mode – which Quincy had recoded to turn off the heating system and leave the residence unlocked, so that his body might easily be discovered. Unfortunately for the passing teen, what the dead man hadn’t considered was the computer’s awakening from slumber, once the chamber’s sensors were triggered by renewed movement.

    Lillian could only imagine the youth’s panic as he realized his good deed of inquiry had left him within a deathtrap. His oily finger prints were visible on the windows he’d attempted to smash after his retreat had been cut off, and he must have still been searching for something to use as a club when the the perforated gas line had finally dragged him into unconsciousness.

    “Dammit,” Price said aloud, “I don’t get paid enough for this.”

    With practiced fingers, the Good Homes Incorporated technician disabled the control panel overseeing the makeshift suicide machine, then she returned to the ground level to call in.


    Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

    Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

    – and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

    170 – Time Bomb, Part 1 of 1

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and seventy.

    Flash Pulp

    Tonight we present, Time Bomb, Part 1 of 1.

    [audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp170.mp3]Download MP3
    (RSS / iTunes)


    This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Bothersome Things Podcast.


    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, we present a strange interlude; a visitation to a secluded island, floating atop a sea of farmland.


    Flash Pulp 170 – Time Bomb, Part 1 of 1

    Written by J.R.D. Skinner
    Art and Narration by Opopanax
    and Audio produced by Jessica May


    Chiller WolfAbdi passed a man touching up a sign proclaiming “As for me and my house, we will serve the lord!”, and cursed gently into his phone.

    “I can’t get any proper ####ing reception, Allie. I’ll be home in an hour, tell him I said to put them back in the toy box, and if he still won’t, give him a time out and leave him there until he will.”

    The painter threw a look over his shoulder and nodded a greeting. As he returned to his work, Abdi picked up his pace.

    “Yeah, sorry, I know you don’t need me to-“

    Allie’s response carried past a sun baked cow pasture. A lone black-and-white cud chewer took in the conversation intently.

    “Hah. Yeah. I understand – it’s okay. Listen, I’ll cut this thing short, instead of hoofing it, I’ll give you a call and the two of you can come for an adventure and get me. I needed a little time to air the smell of gooed fruit loops from my brain, and I’d really like to look into this – I’m so close now, an hour more, tops.”

    He smiled.

    “Yep, promise – as soon as I’m done. Love you too. Bye.”

    He pocketed his cell as the bovine gave him a skewed final gaze and turned towards a patch of taller weeds.

    Retrieving a folded sheet of crumpled printer-paper from his pocket, he eyed his recently rejoined route. Country blocks didn’t allow a traveler many directional choices, but, despite his deceptively simple path, Abdi had spent the better part of the morning lost. He wasn’t eager to be thrown off course a second time by again missing a grown over trail that was somehow included in Google’s mapped directions.

    Another half-hour brought him to a prodigious expanse of lawn – recently cut – and a two story house, made tiny to his eye by its distance on the far side of the grassy buffer. Behind it stood a massive barn edging on a sea of tall grain, and terminated on the horizon by dense forest. Abdi stopped at the head of the driveway to confirm the address against the crisply hand painted numbers on the pale gray mailbox, and considered the leagues of tar-paved drive.

    Unable to locate a call-box, he ducked between the wide bars of the closed cattle gate that blocked the way, and resumed his pace.

    Although he’d been walking since early morning, the approach to the residence seemed the longest of the distances he covered.

    Initially, knocking at the side-entrance brought no response. Lacking a doorbell to try, he hammered harder.

    Over his head, from an open window on the upper level, a man, sounding ancient, told him it was open.

    Abdi could see no one beyond the white-lace curtain that waved with the breeze.

    Shrugging, he pulled at the green-framed screen.

    The first floor of the house was dense with knickknacks on shelving units erected in front of any sizable length of wall. The decorator was apparently a compulsive collector of spoons, dolls, and plates with prints of birds in vivid reds, blues and yellows.

    He was reminded of a Somali proverb his parents had carried with them when they’d come to America, and had usually applied when discussing an Aunt they especially felt needed to be married: “a childless old lady is obsessed with seashells.”

    Abdi assumed the pack rat was the woman he’d talked with earlier, Rosemary. Her excessive politeness, and un-joking use of the word “gosh”, had left him in mind of a bashful spinster, and the ornamentation only seemed to prove it. He hated to be a bother to someone so well mannered, but, still, as his choice to walk instead of drive had made him late, he was glad he’d haggled down the price while on the phone.

    It was the male voice, though, that he continued to hear. He couldn’t make out what it was saying, but the occasional muffled exclamation was enough to bring him to a staircase.

    As he rose above the tide of clutter, he noted that the ascent was decorated with a simple series of framed photographs. All of the same man, at first young, and in full dress uniform while sitting on the wing of a large plane. Then, with mud up to his neck and what appeared to be an ocean behind him and a trio of comrades beside – and another, a solo shot, on a sandy beach, shirtless and holding a vicious looking rifle. The final picture, at the landing, was a studio portrait, his uniform now crisp. Early age was creeping around his right eye, and the left side of his face covered in a web of partially-healed creases. Written in pen, in the bottom right-hand corner, was a name: “Merle”.

    The second story’s surfaces were universally white, and the shaggy carpet, a worn brown.

    Although he was presented with four options as to closed rooms, the hidden muttering assisted in making his selection.

    Eager to get home, Abdi cleared his throat and gave a gentle double-rap to announce his presence.

    Sitting before him, in a formerly-white shirt and black jogging pants which strained at their seams, was a much older, much wider, version of the combatant in the photos.

    Merle grunted and a made a sound that started mushy and ended with an open vowel. It might have been Hi, Huh, or How, his visitor couldn’t tell. The chair that held the former-soldier’s girth gave a pained creak, and, with another snort, the old man was moving.

    Unable to maneuver in the tight hall, Abdi led the way, walking with his body half turned to attempt and predict their destination. Stopping at a plain door, no different than the other three, Merle wrapped his palm around the handle, and twisted.

    The room was surrounded with shelves, but, unlike the clutter of the first floor, each appliance seemed to be carefully placed, as if there was some strategy to their storage even if it wasn’t immediately obvious. The range of memorabilia was impressive, mixing devices with bright red Bakelite panels, radios with their cloth cross hatched covers well preserved, and even toys with shining chromed-exteriors. Abdi thought it unlikely anything in the space had been constructed before 1955.

    Rosemary, who he now guessed to be Merle’s daughter, had said her father collected together the vintage items years ago, but she’d also left him with the impression that the old timer was incapacitated, and that her sales were an effort to pay for his medical care.

    Whatever the case, his misgivings were washed away in his wonder at the array of classic knobs and gleaming dials.

    It wasn’t until he was on the floor, with his right ear aching, that he realized something was dramatically wrong.

    An ancient loafer, the leather cracking and peeling along the seams, lifted, then came down with jackhammer-purpose.

    As the foot landed just wide of its target, Abdi crab walked towards the exit.

    “FWAR GHLUS KWEPH.” Merle gurgled in rage.

    Throwing open a cabinet, the old man suddenly had a shotgun in one hand, and shells in the other – it was only his pudgy fingers that bought his intended victim time.

    Now panicking, Abdi had little interest in discerning the motivation behind the assault – instead he found his feet in the hall, and sprinted for the stairs. His peripheral view was temporarily eclipsed by the veteran’s mass, and the beach picture jumped from the wall with a clap, but his momentum carried him through his fear, and he ignored his sneakers – which he’d taken off upon entering the home – as he blurred past the tchotchkes and onto the drive.

    At the mid-point, he realized he was still being chased. His eyes remained locked on the gray bars of the gate that marked the road, but the unintelligible string of gibberish, which came from behind him, gave some indication as to how distantly Merle was lagging. Although the gap only widened, the thought of the weapon in the deranged man’s hands made any span seem all too short.

    Abdi thought of the baby. He thought of Allie. He thought of the wasted time he’d spent that morning – maybe his last – which he could have spent with his wife and child. As his cotton socks ripped, and his feet stung on the hot laneway, he wept – he wept, and he ran.

    He was beginning to think he might just survive the ordeal when a pickup stopped on the far side of his destination.

    A woman stepped out, and the tormented runner considered leaping for the ditch which flanked the field of green – before he could, however, the newcomer shouted to him.

    “I am so sorry!”

    The kindness was enough to bring him up short and consider his situation.

    It was true that his pursuer was still coming, but the rotund man had barely covered a quarter of the expanse, and his bouncing gait was making it difficult to reload the opened shotgun, despite his constant effort.

    Moving slower now, and attempting to catch his breath, Abdi climbed over the fence and circled the truck for shelter.

    Her face filled with apologies, Rosemary joined him.

    “Dad is like one of those World War II Japanese soldiers who kept on fighting, out on their own little islands, way after the war had ended. For him it’s always an August dawn in Somalia, back in 1993. It’s not his fault though, it’s the metal chunks in his brain. He thinks he’s still overseas and fighting. I never thought, though, that you -”

    Behind the plastic frames of her glasses her eyes had been tracking her father’s progress, until, with a final huff, he’d collapsed onto the drive.

    She bolted to his side, her sensible brown dress waving against the wind of her pumping legs.

    “Fowup mugug,” he said, his mouth turned towards the tar-paved ground.

    They were his final words – for Merle, the war had ended.


    Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

    Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

    – and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

    FP163 – Enter The Achievers, Part 1 of 1

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and sixty-three.

    Flash Pulp

    Tonight we present, Enter The Achievers, Part 1 of 1.

    [audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp163.mp3]Download MP3
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    This episode is brought to you by MT Starkey Short Stories.

    It’s for your own good.

    To find out more, click here.


    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 we introduce The Achievers.


    Flash Pulp 163 – Enter The Achievers, Part 1 of 1

    Written by J.R.D. Skinner
    Art and Narration by Opopanax
    and Audio produced by Jessica May


    The bungalow at two-fifty-three, Oaks Boulevard, had become a quiet war-zone. The grievances leading to the conflict were long forgotten, but the date marking the commencement of open hostilities was generally agreed upon: the thirteenth of March, the year previous. On that date, Mr and Mrs. Pope’s silk wedding anniversary, every piece of ceramic dishware, functional and decorative, had been shattered. It was a four-hour blowout that alienated the neighbours on either side and which required an extensive conversation, on the rear-bench of a police cruiser, to halt.

    For eight months the only shots taken were verbal, but, in November, as a film of snow clung to the skewed roof-tiles, collateral damage was beginning to show. Bertie Pope, sixteen and president of her high school’s trivia club, was in the middle of an uncharacteristic throw down – the second time in her memory that she’d raised her voice to her parents, despite the regular heartbreak of their continued arguments.

    She’d encountered a dispute in progress as she’d entered, and, dropping her backpack, she’d let her bottled-frustration vent.

    “Won’t you both shut it!?” she’d shouted. “Try being nice to each other for, like, ten minutes.”

    For a beat, she’d received a satisfying silence, but, then, Velma Pope, her mother, had finished formulating her retort.

    “You want quiet? Just wait a sec and your Dad’ll be out the door and back to work. Then it’ll be just you, me, and the quiet.”

    “- don’t forget the sound of your furious wine-chugging,” replied Bill, Bertie’s father. He leaned into the teen, kissing her on the cheek. “Anyhow, sorry, baby, but I’ve got a backlog of paperwork that -”

    The outside door folded itself neatly, rocketed over the filthy beige mat intended to capture the brunt of the dirt infiltrating the home, and slammed into the fake-wood pattern of the coat-closet’s sliding doors.

    “We’re here,” announced the pair of suddenly revealed men standing on the stoop. They dropped their home-made battering ram.

    The duo were dressed identically: cheap black suits – a size too large, black leather gloves, and rubber masks intended to portray the likeness of Lemmy, founder of the metal band, Motörhead.

    For a brief second, the twins cocked their arms at their sides, achieving the classic Peter Pan pose.

    “Oh ####,” said Bertie, “it’s The Achievers.”

    “‘Ello, Jello,” they replied, in unison.

    None of the Popes believed the intruders’ Australian accents to be genuine.

    The leftmost retrieved a straight razor from his right pocket, and approached Velma.

    The rightmost rushed Bill, clobbering his jaw with a sharp jab.

    The pudgy office dweller lost his footing and went over backwards, even as his wife was grabbed by her assailant. The blade flashed once, then returned to its slotted handle. As her wildly-flailing, but only mildly-lacerated, palm left a panicky spray of blood across every nearby surface, the invader adjusted his grip and closed his gloved-fingers on her hair.

    Demonstrating the stun gun clearly before placing it against the base of her neck, he ushered her from the house, then threw her bodily into the rear of a black van parked out front. He locked the double-doors.

    With a well-measured kick to Bill’s ribs, his partner followed. Snatching up the hefty ram, he jogged towards his getaway, and, as the vehicle peeled from the curb, the passenger-side kidnapper rolled down his window and waved to slack-jawed-Bertie and her breathless father, who’d managed to stumble into the front-yard before toppling onto the uncut grass.

    Then they were gone.

    Before Bertie could locate the cordless extension and dial for assistance, sirens filled the air.

    A patrol car stopped short in the recently evacuated street-space.

    “Ma’am,” said the first officer to exit, “we got a call saying, uh, that a forty-ish balding male had been seen dragging his wife from the residence -”

    The officer, whose tag indicated his name was Bolokowski, had discontinued paying any heed to his own words, as he’d continued talking solely to cover the awkwardness of spotting the suspect in question, weeping openly on the front lawn in a considerably disheveled state. With a series of sharp gestures, his partner indicated they ought to approach and detain the wailer.

    Although Bill would be released after twelve hours of questioning, it was under the strongest of suggestions that he remain close at hand.

    Bertie had confessed immediately. She hadn’t expected it would actually happen. The Achievers were a rumour; a myth transmitted amongst the damaged egos and hopeless lives of the underbelly of Internet geekery. No one really knew who were behind the group – in truth, only the conspiracy-prone believed they existed – but the story told was that leaving a sufficiently tear-jerking request, in a public space, and containing ample usage of The Achievers moniker, would attract their attention.

    In a moment of weakness, on a particularly wretched October evening, Bertie had done just that, misusing a forum dedicated to the films of Akira Kurosawa to lay out every barb she’d been forced to bare.

    The detectives had listened to the tale patiently, then dismissed the girl and her explanation. Despite their obvious suspicions, the wreckage and blood were too little evidence to stand against the bizarre story told by both father and daughter.

    Months passed, and the local press, having little else to feed on, used much ink in implying Bill’s involvement in a homicide. The knowing looks of his coworkers, combined with constant anxiety that The Achievers might suddenly reappear at any moment, drove him to drain his vacation time, then apply for stress leave.

    Instead, Michael, from management, provided a very reasonable severance package and an apology.

    Bill’s time at home found him a changed man. Maintaining the house’s condition became a secondary focus only to spending time with Bertie, who he now feared might disappear at any moment. The pair spent most meals watching recorded episodes of Jeopardy, and most evenings exploring their shared love of excessively-complicated boardgames.

    Six months later, as Bill greeted his daughter upon her return from her first school dance, the van reappeared.

    “‘Ello, Jello,” said the masked man hanging from the passenger-window.

    The vehicle’s rear swung open, and a blindfolded woman stumbled onto the pavement.

    “Mom!” shouted Bertie.

    Before she’d closed the distance, The Achievers were gone again.

    As her daughter lead the still-blinking Velma into the house and onto the couch, Bill was so pleased to see her return, he offered her a drink.

    “No – I – I don’t do that anymore. I mean, I can’t promise I’ll always be perfect, but the last thing I want is for – for them to -” she took a moment to collect herself. “I’ve spent the last, uh, however long, in a twenty-by-twenty room, with a toilet, an exercise bike, and a cupboard full of arts and crafts supplies. They delivered three nutritional, if not particularly well cooked, meals a day. At first I painted. Mostly reproductions of liquor bottle labels. Then I started writing you both letters – rambling apologies. After a while I realized I really enjoyed the process, so I wrote a novel.”

    All three, closely huddled, were in tears.

    “They didn’t let me keep any of it,” she continued, “but it was only my first try. The next one will be even better.”

    Her account of the incident made for a brisk-selling book, and the accompanying tour was the first family-trip the Popes had had in years.


    Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

    Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

    – and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

    FP154 – The Haunting of Bilgehammer Manor, Part 1 of 1

    Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and fifty-four.

    Flash Pulp

    Tonight we present, The Haunting of Bilgehammer Manor, Part 1 of 1.

    [audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp154.mp3]Download MP3
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    This week’s episodes are brought to you by Mr Blog’s Tepid Ride.

    To quote the reanimated corpse of Chief Martin Brody: “I think we’re going to need a bigger blog.”

    Find out more at http://bmj2k.com!


    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 we present a tale of torment regarding the occupants of the storied acreage of Bilgehammer Manor.


    Flash Pulp 154 – The Haunting of Bilgehammer Manor, Part 1 of 1

    Written by J.R.D. Skinner
    Art and Narration by Opopanax
    and Audio produced by Jessica May


    ChillerBilgehammer Manor had once been a sprawling country estate. The vast lawns had long ago been divided and sold as separate plots, and the outbuildings had, in years previous, been lost to fire or weather, but the central house was well maintained, and, despite its reputation, still looked as if it might make an excellent home.

    Harvey Finlayson had purchased the property with no concern for its history – his imagination carried him no further than the agent’s very agreeable price.

    Now he stood in the main hall, his furnishings piled about him. He clucked, tapping his lips with a pen.

    Opening a cupboard, he noted the contents against his list. Satisfied with his findings, he closed the door, but found he’d applied too much force in the process, and sent a harsh echo through the entry area.

    He winced, then began to whistle, as if it might cover up his mistake. Sheepishly keeping his eyes locked on his clipboard, he started up the stairs to the second floor. It was at the midpoint of his unobservant journey that he lost his footing.

    His back arching, his hands flailed wildly, but never quite reached the banister.

    Just as gravity began its inevitable process, ghostly fingers, wearing an ornate wedding band, closed about Harvey’s wrist, slamming his grip into contact with the rail.

    “That was close,” Finlayson muttered to himself, never once considering the source of his salvation.

    One of the movers pushed through from the porch.

    “Hey boss, all this stuff ready to go?”

    Unsure if the worker had seen his moment of peril, Harvey felt he needed to retake control of the situation.

    “Well, Jerky, it ain’t stayin’ here,” he replied.

    Frowning, the man positioned his bright-red dolly under a stack of poorly taped boxes, and wheeled the load onto the veranda.

    * * *

    A year earlier, when Finlayson had originally arrived, things had been different.

    Upon his first evening, the three phantoms of Bilgehammer, the man in the blue jacket, the weeping bride, and headless Amy, had prepared an extensive welcome.

    The spectacle had commenced at the stroke of midnight, an hour after Harvey had replaced the remainder of his six-pack in the fridge, and maneuvered up the runner that lead to his bedroom.

    Once the man was settled, and the time for startlement seemed optimal, the man in the blue jacket initiated his pacing. Dragging behind him was a translucent duplicate of the chandelier which had collapsed, snuffing his life in that very same hall. To his surprise, the discordant chime of crystal, and the scrape of its metal frame, did nothing to disrupt Finlayson’s wheezing sleep.

    A sure tactic for decades, the apparition was at a loss on how to proceed.

    It was the weeping bride who next moved to disturb the dreamer. Passing through the wall of his bed chamber, she began to wail as if it were still the day the balcony’s rail had buckled, hanging her by her own veil. At first her efforts also went unnoticed, but, after a stuttering series of gasps punctuated by gusty shrieks, Harvey roused somewhat.

    The man had long been a city dweller, however, and too cheap for air conditioning. Never fully coming awake, Finlayson began to shout noises which only vaguely resembled language, but which entirely conveyed his displeasure at the situation.

    Embittered at the lack of proper reaction, the woman in white stepped forward, tugging hard at the high-pile of blankets under which the source of her frustration slept. He threw out a cluster of sharp expletives, and yanked the woolly-shell hard over his head, holding it there with a firm grip.

    Within seconds he’d returned to snoring.

    The gown hovered briefly, then took to the bed. Straddling his blanketed chest, she allowed her eyes to rot into buttery slop, and set her nose against his own. She unleashed a cry which she knew would leave her faint for days to come.

    Harvey’s response was delayed, but the tactic was successful in finally making him conscious.

    As he looked about the empty room, his gaze contained none of the terror for which the trio hoped.

    Releasing a yawn, the interrupted slumberer rose. His kneecaps popped as he stumbled down the flight of stairs and towards the fridge.

    He drank greedily from the open can of Old Milwaukee he’d opted to store for the morning, then extinguished the kitchen lights.

    The spooks had held back their most potent scare for last.

    As Finlayson plodded his way to the second floor, Amy revealed her presence on the landing. The girl stood in her billowing Sunday dress, and carrying her gory head in her hands as she’d been forced to since having it removed by a tumbling pane of glass in the decrepit greenhouse that had once dominated the back-lawn.

    “Must be a nightmare, I guess,” Harvey said aloud. Rubbing at his brows, he passed directly through Amy and into his sleeping quarters.

    If the night had been bad, however, the spirits found the days considerably worse. Having expended themselves in their exertions, in the sunlight hours they had little recourse but to observe the tromping and snorting that filled whatever corner of the house the new occupant entered. There was no shelter, either, from the clamoring television, which was left to spew unending political commentary at all hours. The one-sided arguments Finlayson conducted with the electronic equipment eventually drove the haunters to spend the majority of their time in the cellar, where at least the sound was reduced to an unintelligible blaring.

    Worse still was the damage the clumsy homeowner conducted upon his own property – it seemed no journey to the washroom could pass without some scratch to the formerly grand plaster walls, or some new stain on the plush carpets.

    Unnoticed by the opposing side, the nocturnal warfare continued for twenty-nine days, with little effect. It was on the thirtieth that Amy had nearly succeeded in ending the intruder’s life, with an extended leg, as he explored the disused coal chute.

    The incident had precipitated a critical conversation between the long-serving companions, and a change in tactics.

    * * *

    The last item to leave the house was Harvey’s wallet. It had been forgotten on the kitchen counter, but unseen by the living, it had floated from its misplacement, out the front door, and directly through the passenger-side window of the former tenant’s car. It would be unmissable atop the dewy cans which were already warming in the sun.

    “I’d rather he not have an excuse to return,” Amy later explained.

    A celebratory meeting had been called in the library, which the phantasms found to smell pleasantly of settling dust.

    “It would have been nearly worth the pleasure of killing him if he’d spent another afternoon complaining to himself about the current standing of the bloody Red Sox,” spoke the man in the blue jacket, sitting atop his restraining lighting fixture.

    “Yes, but imagine if he’d managed to die here?” the bride replied, “I’d rather be moldering than suffer an eternity with that fellow always around complaining.”

    The headless girl nodded from her lap. Her hands worked unthinkingly at her braids, as any child’s might upon a beloved doll.

    “I’m just glad you thought to simply remain consistent with sabotaging his telly signal – otherwise he might never have gone,” she said.

    It was sixteen months of undisturbed death until another resident tried their luck.


    Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

    Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

    – and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.