Tag: fantasy

178 – Nurture: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3

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

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present, Nurture: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp178.mp3]Download MP3
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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Words with Walter.


Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, finds himself amidst a wasteland.


Flash Pulp 178 – Nurture: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3

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


BlackhallThomas wiped his soot-dirtied palm across the hem of his greatcoat, and promised himself time for proper laundry should he ever again encounter the water necessary.

The frontiersman stood on a blackened plain, with a dry mouth and skin cracked from recent heat. He craved the leafy shade that the field of smoking stumps had once represented, but, more over, he longed to return to the journey which would bring him to his Mairi, and away from his current miserable chase – given his thirst, he wasn’t confident he’d live to see its end.

He’d been on the hunt for Silence Babb, and the damnable bairn, for half-a-fortnight, and, while the course was at first relatively simple, the ocean of flame which had risen up amongst the mid-Summer’s timber had, on the fourth evening, and for the full day following, entrapped him in a creek barely wider than his own shoulders.

His escape from the blaze was a near thing.

As he’d readied for his departure from the stream that was his haven, he’d had little idea that it might be his last sight of cool moisture. Almost worse was the fact that, although he could guess the general direction of the traveling-pair, the fire had consumed any marker indicating their actual passage.

Now, as his boots churned up ash and an occasional smouldering ember, he cursed his heart as a fool’s for ever having been sidetracked from the path of his beloved.

The temptation to strip off garments, and leave behind his tools, was strong under the added weight of the noon-sun, but, as he crested yet another cindered hillock, a minuscule buzzing reached his ears.

With a smile, he slapped at the mosquito which alighted upon his cheek.

* * *

Seven days earlier, Thomas had determined that none in Saltflat Township could account for the babe that the woman had carried into the midst of the hardscrabble residents.

Those who’d witnessed her wandering could find no good to say in regards to the lineage of the child, and all were quick to point to the chronic moral degeneracy so often attributed to the family as a whole. Despite their tales of faulty ancestry, however, none cast blame upon the elder Babbs for having turned his wayward offspring out, even if it meant sending his mewling heir with her – especially as the girl refused to divulge the identity of her suitor.

When Blackhall had made inquiries as to how Silence, a farmer’s daughter largely marooned upon her father’s acreage, had managed to secretly bring the pregnancy to term under the eyes of the surrounding prattle-tongues, and her own kin, the usual answer was a change of topic to the impropriety of the infant’s constant posture at her breast.

Most were so concerned with the supposed vulgarity of this public nursing that they gave no notice to the vacant aspect about the new mother’s eyes. If she appeared haggard, it was the opinion of those who did observe her fatigue, that it was true of all recently-minted parents, and doubly so for those who set themselves to raise an innocent without a proper spouse.

Thomas had cursed the priggish nature of the area’s inhabitants as he’d run to retrieve his kit from the horse-shed for which he’d overpaid to shelter in.

The conversation that set him afoot was a short one.

“Sir,” Helen Brooks, Silence’s favoured companion, had said in interruption of his stroll upon a country lane. “I have risked much by making my way to you, so I would beg you hear me out. My brother has spoken of your unnatural gifts, and I ask you to consider the case of the youngest Babbs.”

“Speak on,” was Thomas’ reply.

The girl had collected herself then, slowing her speech so as to prevent the need for a repetition of her plea.

“If she was expectant, I would have known. We were neighbours, and the truest of confidants to each other. She’s barely whispered sweet words to a boy, so I do not see how it would be possible that she’s lain with a man.”

“You said ‘were’? Are you no longer acquainted?”

“That is the crux of why I have sought you out. Gardner – he who recommended you – has just now returned home from a stop at the inn, where, he reports, he witnessed her exodus in a northerly direction. He says that many laid unkind words at her feet, and that she was weeping into her chest as she departed with her charge at her teat. I know better, however, for I have seen them together. Silence’s head was stooped so that she might speak to her bundle, which, by itself, is not so unusual, but it – I have heard it speak back to her. I might say, more accurately, command her, though its mouth was gorging at her bosom.”

As he was familiar with tales of such a torment, Blackhall’s interrogations had been rapid and rough-tongued, but his rudeness made those he’d questioned eager to set him about his route. He’d quickly found the broken grass that marked her wake, but, as he enumerated Silence’s possible symptoms, he was disappointed to find all other inquires answered only with ignorance.

The length of the protracted pursuit had come as a surprise, but, on the fourth day, he’d grown confident that he’d overtake the girl by nightfall. It was then that he’d caught the first whiff of smoke on the wind.

* * *

Crushing the avaricious insect, Thomas felt a warm slick of his own vital fluids spread across his fingertips. His eyes had become keen, and he turned slow circles, hoping to catch sight of whatever puddle the pest originated from. He well knew that no such bloodsucker would be found far from water, and his survey was rewarded by a shimmer below two charred, cross-fallen, pines.

Knocking off his hat, Blackhall ran for the pool – spring or standing water, he cared not.

His headlong rush was brought up short by the withered husk of a corpse, once human, now nothing more than a tightly-drawn graying skin, set roughly over an assemblage of bones. She lay largely in the pool that was his destination, and it took only the briefest investigation to ascertain that it was Silence, as a disordered, three-deep row of puncture marks surrounded her right nipple on all sides.

Waving away the swarm of mosquitoes gathered over their birthing puddle, Thomas lay his hat upon her rigid face, and pledged to return for a proper burial.

Although he’d been delayed by the conflagration, his find gave him confidence that the matter would soon be resolved. Two ruts moved away from the cadaver, and through the ebony dust, illustrating clearly the path of the crawling brute.

It was a hard decision to still drink from the damp sepulcher, but he knew it would be little use if he were to perish of dehydration before he’d made some small vindication of the murder.

Another three hours found him standing over his objective.

“Beast,” he managed, kicking at the tiny form.

In defiance of the imp’s size, Blackhall found his foot rebuked as if by half the heft of a full grown man. The unexpected bulk further encouraged the frontiersman’s fury, however, and in short order Thomas had the fiend pinned beneath his sole, at the neck – as he might a snake.

The skin of camouflage that was the suckling’s greatest strength was rendered ineffective by the flexing rows of reed-like straws that made up the savage hellion’s mouth, and by a clear view of the split eyes that were so often hidden against the tender skin of its victim.

“Shall I be eternally assaulted by such as I have no recourse to end?” asked Thomas, addressing the sky. He faced his captive. “As you’ve none of the allergy to silver which besets so many of your occult brethren, I’ll only put a pause to your wickedness – but, with the honour of dearest love to bind me, I’ll find some way to dispatch you, no matter how long the work takes. To begin, I’ll render you feeble for as many decades as it’ll take you to regenerate your armament.”

With that, he dug into the layer of ash, and retrieved a fist-sized stone. The shattering of the counterfeit child’s hollow teeth took many hours, and the binding, and dual burials, took several more.


(Part 1Part 2Part 3)


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.

FP162 – The Last Pilgrimage, Part 1 of 1

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

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present, The Last Pilgrimage, Part 1 of 1.

Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)


Tonight’s episode is brought to you by Jessica May’s birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mrs. President.


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 bring you a fantastic tale of travels, beliefs, and works.


Flash Pulp 162 – The Last Pilgrimage, Part 1 of 1

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


On his eighteenth birthday, Muggon went on the pilgrimage. His eldest brother had long fancied the journey, but, by the time he’d reached a proper age for it, he’d already found himself wed by way of a squalling bairn.

In truth, when the boy first set from the smattering of sod huts that had made up his young life, he was little excited for the path ahead. He’d never thought it would come to his living upon the road, and he’d never dreamed higher than a plot of earth to scratch at, and a wife to help eat the returns.

Yet, there was no choice. The land had run dry, and seemed to devour the rain as it fell – it came to him to make the fool’s journey of finding a god to pray to.

Standing at the crest of Bigfall Hill, he ran his wrist across his nose, and blinked away the results of his final goodbyes. In the distance he could see his mother alongside his brother and new wife. Their arms had grown tired from waving his departure, but they once again raised their hands, knowing this was their final opportunity before the hill swallowed him from view.

He would miss them, but was glad they could not discern his tears.

They were not the only he’d spill in the next year, as each inn and camp reeked of rumour without substance. Most had some word to impart of the gods, there were even those amongst the eldest who claimed to have been in the presence of one in their youth, but all provided directions based on a tale overheard by an cousin’s acquaintance’s butcher’s nephew, each of forgotten name.

Once in the world, it was tempting to drift into a new existence, but he inevitably found there was only a cold welcome for a wandering man of few means, and his experience came hard won. Two months after the first time he’d laid with a woman, and two-months-one-day after he’d first been forced to kill in self-defense, he met a trader who’d come from the Northlands of Dund.

The man wielded a beard of immense size, and his cloak looked as if every meal he’d ever trapped and eaten had been incorporated into its makeup.

“Yes,” he said, “I’ve seen the column with my own eyes. Three seasons ago I decided to ride hard south – there’s more demand where they’ve yet to be.”

“Do you know which it is?” asked Muggon.

The trader’s fingers disappeared within his riot of facial hair.

“Aggie The Sower.” he replied.

“Did… did you see any of his works?”

“Yes – hence why I’m here. The prayers of his pilgrims often leave all in better stead, not just the few. I’ve found when crops are plentiful and pantries are well stocked people’ve less interest in bargaining against my toothless scowl.”

To commemorate the event, Muggon purchased a small rattle from the merchant, hopeful that he would soon be home to share the bauble with his nephew.

As way of thanks, he did little haggling.

He’d heard of Aggie, often about the yearly fire on Bigfall Hill, on Dying Day, when the harvest was done and the spirits were said to roam. It was whispered that The Sower was one of the greatest of the gods, that his mighty fingers had once corrected the flow of waters as a child might alter a puddle to enhance the course of a twig-raft. From the hushed tones of friends and family, he had learned that the deity could see the future; could alter his size to such a proportion as to crush flat his hamlet of origin without thought; could even summon storms to shatter the landscape and drown any who did not believe in his supremacy.

These stories filled Muggon’s mind in the ninety days he spent overtaking his goal: the column.

A thousand souls shuffled, in packs, across the snow-dusted grass. He’d chased them from a place called Sur, whose inhabitants were still celebrating the return of a pilgrim of their own. Better still, to his ears, was the news that the god’s recent passing had been accompanied by the raising of a massive barn. The main-beam had been the heart of a thousand year old tree, and whose colossal girth had been set in place by Aggie’s hands, and his alone.

His third life began then – his plea was heard on the first day, but by those who acted as intermediaries. He was warned vehemently against approaching the gleaming saviour that lead the band, as any obstruction was ill regarded: each missed step was a delay not just from the current destination, but from all those beyond.

Order came from a council of sorts, comprised of those who’d furthest traveled, and some who had given up their prayers and sought only to continue the path of hardship, punctuated by celebration, that was the god’s shadow. Each sojourner knew their position, determined by the tasks necessary to reach their own home.

When Muggon first presented his request, he was informed after only a short time that he was five-thirty-seven. Unlearned in numbers, he hadn’t understood its meaning, but several moons upon the trek, and in the company of gamblers, taught him math and its uses, including the significance of the ever decreasing number that was his place in the sequence of works.

Arithmetic was not all, however. At each stop, it seemed he learned some new skill necessary to aid the pilgrim that had beseeched The Sower for assistance, so that the journey might be expedited. He learned of tillage, and animal husbandry, and the natural medicines. The god’s commands were law, and Aggie instructed his followers to their own best advantage.

Uncounted years later, while restoring a tower of ancient provenance – a structure that would allow great vantage for the onset of fires which ravaged the area each fall – Muggon was informed of news he’d been longing to hear.

“Three,” said Gon, his oldest friend. The speaker cleared his throat before adding, “but – The Sower has requested your presence.”

The news explained why the messenger had not grinned to bare the anticipated dispatch.

Muggon ran to respond.

In recent months the god had grown quiet in its march, and this newest summons did not seem to bode well to his disciple.

As was customary for private conversation, the column had fallen back some way, allowing the pilgrim to tread alone with his lord.

As he spoke, Aggie’s voice held crisp surety – as always.

“Jesus, man, you really came from the middle of nowhere. I figure we’ll be be two month’s over the average job completion time, and that’s just to get there.”

“I apologize!” Muggon replied, his lips pale.

“Relax, relax. Listen, the old atomic ticker’s only got about that long anyhow. We’re gonna make a run for your place, but I don’t know how much use I’m going to be once we get there.”

“I don’t understand?”

“What I’m trying to tell you is that I’ve only got enough juice left for a few more jobs, then it’s off into the sunset with me. Only so much one farm-bot can do, even in days like these. Sure been a pleasure helping you folks, though. Now, your the brightest lad I’ve seen in a while, and I figure the best thing doing at this point is to talk out your problem, see where you’re at, then I might be able to teach you how to fix it yerself.”

It took Muggon a moment to dissemble his saviour’s dialect, but, realizing what was being asked, he was pleased to finally have an opportunity to speak his prayer directly.

“The land about my people’s homes is barren. Please, have mercy, bring us water.”

“Yeah, yeah, got some rivers near by? Guess a lake is too much to hope for? What’s the water table like? You know what to watch for, for that sort of thing?”

What came next was a tutorship as rarely received. In the months that followed, Muggon’s mind was filled with every category of practical learning that had been otherwise forgotten. The first matter was the written word, as without it the man knew his mind could never contain the breadth and depth of the flow that overcame him.

He wrote the history of a terrible plague, and the savage madness that arose in its wake. He devised a calender, to Aggie’s specifications, and he charted many stars and their seasonal significances.

As his skills grew, he recounted the final pair of heroic acts carried out by The Sower. The first was the purification of a well by way of removal of poisons from within the turf – a feat which had required the construction of massive earthworks, and the transference of an artifact to an enclosed crypt, now posted with a warning to never again breach the seal, under dire consequence.

The second was establishing a standing orchard of many thousand trees, all with the intention of providing fruit which might curtail a terrible illness of nutrition which had befallen the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside. The time taught Muggon much about the rudimentaries of genetics, and the splicing and tending of timber.

In the end, The Sower made it as far as Bigfall Hill. He’d been busy imparting minutia regarding algebraic geometry, and his eager student, with his eyes and quill upon homemade parchment and makeshift tablet, had not recognized the approach as any different than the thousand such he’d seen before. It was only at the peak, with the village spread before him, that he realized he’d arrived.

It was Aggie who broke the silence.

“Well, Pard, this is my stop. Like I said, you ever happen to run by a Hokkaido Electric TU-13 power cell, feel free to run it on by. It’s an easy install, goes right in my mouth. Pop it down the chute and the internals’ll take it from there. Otherwise, think I’ll just take a rest – you though, better get cracking on that irrigation system. Won’t be nothing but kids play for ya.”

They were the god’s closing words. In the years to come, children would play at Aggie’s feet, and each Dying Day the still figure would stand guard at the edge of the fire, as the tales of The Sowers’ undertakings were told.

First, though, for the pilgrims, came mourning – and then, heeding their master’s last command, the work.

Muggon was happy to finally deliver the rattle he’d bought so many years previous, even if it was to his brother’s seventh-born. He was pleased too, to see how the people had fared, even under such circumstances. When the final strut was built, and the flow of nourishment redirected to flood the farmers’ thirst, he beamed with the knowledge that they would now prosper. Even with his labour, there was time for tale telling, and to teach his brother some of what he’d learned upon the road: of numbers, and barn raising, and tonics.

Then he’d stood to leave.

He did not cry this time – he knew he must find the holiest of relics, the battery of resurrection, and that, as he moved across the land, he must spread the wisdom of Aggie and the book of The Sower.

The column followed.


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.

Flash Pulp 112 – The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and twelve.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp112.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)


This episode is brought to you by the Bothersome Things podcast.

Come for the fresh news, stay for the disturbing aftertaste.

Find them at BothersomeThings.com, or find them on iTunes.


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 Blackhall once again amongst the Elg Herra, The Moose Lords Of The Northern Reaches, as he prepares to continue his search for his long dead wife, Mairi.


Flash Pulp 112 – The Chase: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3

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


Blackhall was dreaming.

It was snowing, but he couldn’t feel the cold. There was a crowd standing on the iced path, encircling something at their feet, beyond his vision. Dread filled his limbs as his mind’s eye pulled him closer, against his protestations. Somehow the clustered people did not part, and yet his view of the scene changed so that it was as if he was looking down at it from above. It became clear what had drawn the gathered.

Laying askew on the path was a body. He knew it somehow to be in part that of Ida, the Princess he’d recently seen murdered, and yet it bore the face of his wife, Mairi.

He awoke with a start, biting his lip hard to cut short his shout. Shaking the image from his vision, he was glad to note that he had not actually cried aloud, as the other sleepers about him continued their gentle weezings.

Crawling from the shadows that blanketed the furthest edges of the long house, Thomas moved towards the vast iron bowl that was maintained at every hour and provided the heat throughout the massive rolling home.

Sitting at its edge was the old man, Mathus. While Blackhall had enjoyed his time with the Moose Lords, there were few he’d met who he’d prefer to find tending the flames. As council to the Earl, Mathus had little time for conversation by day, but the frontiersman had come to learn that the gray hair and frail limbs concealed knowledge beyond the vagaries of how best to distribute bread, when to plant, and odd-making on calving.

“You’ve come to ask me again, have you?”

Thomas smiled at the lack of pretense.

“Well, in truth I awoke from an ill dream but surely there would be no better time to demonstrate some of your techniques.”

“I have yet to see you men of the east present anything but fast handed deceit, so why should I flaunt anything of the fantastic? Surely you are happy to place a trio of cups over-top a walnut, and claim it has disappeared?” It was Mathus’ turn to smile.

Thomas had been back and forth with the man since slaying the Lamia – a daemon which came by night to consume the children of the Elg Herra. It had not taken long for Blackhall to realize that the man carried deeply the shame of being unable to assist his people in their time of need, as his first attempts at learning from Mathus had been met with angry spittle flying from the old man’s toothless gums, dislodged by a language Blackhall still could not reckon. Persistence and humility were the frontiersman’s weapons of choice, however, and it did not take long for the joy of victory, mixed with the flattery of the new hero’s esteem, to begin to wear down the old man’s ire.

“No, sir, I can surely show you more than that.”

Thomas had awaited this moment, and he was prepared. Retreating to the bed which constituted his domain as guest, he reached into his battered travel baggage and pulled out a glass bottle, still a quarter-full of whiskey, as well as a rag.

He returned to the fire’s edge.

Taking a seat near the old man, he played the fire’s light through the glass and amber liquid, displaying his handiwork.

“Inside I’ve set a slip of daisy paper with the necessary markings, as well as two drops of my own blood, a small bundle of spruce twigs, two strands of dead man’s hair and a pine beetle.”

Mathus nodded, watching intently. Blackhall was glad to see his wrinkled eyes seeming to now take his entreaty more seriously. The whiskey spirit was a simple conjuration, the second occult working he’d learned, but Thomas knew better than to take lightly any such undertaking.

“I buried this bottle by the light of the moon – it may be dug up any time after the first day has past, but it is best if done at night, when the stars are blotted by cloud.”

Covering the container in the rag, he rapped the vessel hard upon the iron ledge, shattering it within the cloth confines. Standing above the enwrapped wreckage, a handspan tall, was a vaporous figure, which seemed to have the form of a cat, but stood upon two legs. It hissed silently at the pair of onlookers and swung its misty fore-claws in aggravation.

“It will cause mischief if left unattended, but will naturally disperse if the whiskey is left to dry. It will take commands from whomever summoned it, but keep a close eye, as it would be just as glad to twist your needs to an unpleasant end. The man who taught me this was a jovial Prussian named Fredrich. He would often demonstrate his power after over-indulging, and his usual goal was to demand the little beast provide him further lager. I was not on hand for his death, but I may guess its details, as he was found early one Saturday, poisoned.”

Blackhall pushed the bundle into the flames, and, as he did so, the feline wisps of steam seemed to be lost to the night’s air.

Mathus had remained silent, but attentive, throughout.

“Do you have the inscription’s at hand?” he asked finally.

Thomas retrieved from his pocket a separate slip of daisy paper, upon which he’d written the runes.

With a gummy smile, the old shaman thrust the sheet deep into a sack at his belt.

“Yes. I believe there are things I might show you – and mayhaps more that you might show me.”

* * *

The convoy of massive wheeled houses, and the buffalo that drove them, had been called to a halt at the edges of a small, unnamed lake. The black beasts, as well as the Moose Lord’s long-limbed mounts, were being driven along the shore to be given an opportunity to quench their thirst during the final journey before the coming of snow.

“I heard they saw Hakon skulking at the furthest rim of the herd, yesterday,” said Marco, the voyageur who’d traveled westward with Blackhall. Despite it being well into the noon hour, the Frenchman creased his brow against the strength of the sun and the weight of his previous night’s drinking.

“With the majority of suspicion regarding the child-eater now on his shoulders, I have my doubts that he’d openly return to camp, even if he does occasionally attempt contact with friends and family.”

The men were atop the roof of the flagship of the wagons, the massive wooden construct referred to as “The Earl’s House”, watching the endless rows march past the water.

“In truth,” Thomas continued, “I did not ask you up here to discuss the local politics – I’m leaving.”

“So, the old man has shown you what you need?”

“No. He had many interesting talents to exhibit, but a method to bring my wandering Mairi home was not one of them – so it comes time to move further west. I’d be glad to have you with me, but I realize you must stay to tend to Disa, now that she is with child.”

Even as he spoke, from somewhere to the south came the long, low, note of a war horn. Within a beat, it was accompanied by another, then another – only to be drowned out, finally, by a thundering roll of barking.

Dog flesh began to pour from the tall brown grass that surrounded the stalled caravan.


Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm. The audio and text formats of Flash Pulp are released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.