Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and sixteen.
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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, Harm Carter is forced to make a sudden stop, during the apocalypse.
Flash Pulp 116 – The Murder Plague: Caretaking, Part 2 of 3
I was three blocks shy of getting on the highway when it struck me: a brick. Well, to be fair, it ricocheted off the passenger-side door.
I’d been turning at a corner, and the action on the cross street had been hidden from me by the darkness and a row of poorly-maintained hedges. The slab wasn’t the only thing to impact the car, either – its target was close behind. His shorts were billowing, and his t-shirt looked as if it had been designed by an unstable Bonobo, but there’s something pathetic, and mildly endearing, about the way a ten year old can plaster his pudgy face across a window that you just won’t see when a grown man does the same.
The woman behind him – the irate lobber – came pumping down the street, her legs short, but vigorous, and her arms extended in a way that made it clear she was on a mission to strangle. Collecting himself, the lad yanked at the handle and hopped into the passenger seat.
In response, I gunned the Explorer’s engine.
I wasn’t considering where we were going, I just wanted to put some distance between my passenger and Grabby.
There’s something off-putting about seeing any child out after dark, and this was my first taste of basic violence on the open street. For the umpteenth time that night, I was shaken. The problem with a virus that turns everyone around you into a homicidal lunatic is that there’s never really a moment to relax.
Well, I mean, one of the problems.
I took a left, then a right, then a left – just to be sure the choke-ist wasn’t going to make a horror film villain’s sudden reappearance out of the shadows – then I paused at a red light.
I turned to my fare and asked his name.
“Tobias, sir,” he replied.
I’ve always been a sucker for a civil tongue.
“Well, Tobias, did you happen to know your intended throttler?” I asked.
“Yes, she’s my oldest sister.”
I nodded, my brain running over the possibilities of where I might drop him off. I’d seen the local fire department in action recently, or, at least, what was left of them, so I wasn’t keen to entrust him to their axe-happy hands. I’d also guessed that the police were likely just as badly off, but with guns.
Before I could summon the wits to ask him if he had any family who wouldn’t murder him, his face dropped, and tears began to dampen his vulgarly coloured tee. He thrust out his arms in a simple gesture I’d seen a hundred times from Rebecca, when she was a little girl. Physics has yet to calculate the force of gravitation that a child in need can generate on a heart – even a heart like the one propping up an old ruffian such as myself.
“Come now,” I said.
I reached across the console with a hug.
Later into things, I met a woman who’d set up her car as if she’d had engine trouble. She’d go so far as to get some passing fool to stop and stick his head under the hood, then she’d slam it down on them and finish the job with a flat-head screwdriver. After stuffing the poor schmuck in a nearby culvert, she’d roll their jalopy into a treed gully across the road, wipe her bumper clean, and start the whole process over again. When I asked her, at gun point, how she could possibly explain such a thing, she told me it was because she was sure they’d all intended on making off with the aqua Nissan hatchback.
Oddly, that was exactly my intention.
My point, however, is that, even despite the complex paranoia that is brought on by the plague, children are simple, and they seek simplicity.
Two things happened at the same time: the image of my neighbour’s youngest came to mind, her fingers entangled in the fishing line I’d found her father strangled with; and I felt Tobias’ weight shift awkwardly in my hold.
My ribs suddenly feeling exposed, I pushed the boy away, unbuckled my belt for freer access – or possibly due to a sudden attack of claustrophobia – and, in my sudden need for space, accidentally dropped my foot solidly onto the gas.
As the acceleration pushed him into his seat, I identified his weapon of choice: a thick Swiss army knife, the longest of the blades extended. It was either rusty, or blood encrusted.
I slammed on the brakes, hoping it might stun him into dropping the thing. He barely winced as he bounced off the glove compartment, then he came at me over the gear shift.
What could I do, kill him? As I struggled with his raised hand, the crude string of suggestions he made regarding my heritage made it pretty clear he wouldn’t stop unless I did.
After a moment of consideration, I made a hard choice.
I stepped out of the car.
Well – I suppose that sounds a little more elegant than the reality. I popped open the door and fell out, backwards, as the Explorer continued on at a power-walker’s pace.
Rather than chase me onto the road, little Toby decided he rather liked the feel of the steering wheel. It was stop and go at first, but after a moment he gained in confidence, and started to swing the truck into a wide turn. He didn’t seem terribly concerned about the well-manicured front yard he tore up along the way.
I began to run.
It was a near thing, but I lost him after he blindly bulled through a row of mahogany-stained pool fencing, and landed himself in the shallow end of someone’s cement pond.
Still, I didn’t stop moving until I’d reached the babysitter’s house.
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