Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and seventeen.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Jimmy and the Black Wind.
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, while making his way through the legions of paranoid infected, finds himself caught up in a series of awkward introductions.
The Murder Plague: Positioning, Part 1 of 2
It’s an odd thing to introduce yourself to your neighbour when you are both miles from home, and you can’t be entirely sure they haven’t murdered someone. Worse still, it was soon obvious that Mr. Baldy, who presented himself as Virgil Gratey when I admitted I couldn’t recall his proper name, knew much more about my affairs than I knew of his.
I also learned at that time that it was very difficult to identify a smirk from a sneer on Gratey’s rat-like face.
The view of the open road that the tall truck provided had, at first, seemed optimistic, but, as we continued on encountering neither sign of humanity, nor an end to the road, our spirits began to deflate.
Getting off the highway was an unpleasant proposition – it felt as if every house we passed was thick with paranoid eyes, and like any deviation from the stretch of smooth pavement might leave us lost and unable to find our way back. We had collected together plenty of maps and atlases before leaving our friends at the makeshift Walmart shelter, but I’ve rarely enjoyed trying to read one of those flapping monstrosities while I’m being shot at.
For a time we didn’t speak. I avoided communication for hours, largely by appearing alert for any sort of threat that might have been rigged along the gravel shoulder by an infected bumpkin afraid that passing vehicles were intending on stealing their carefully arranged supplies of canned beans.
Boredom, however, eventually lead to conversation.
“I’m afraid I’ve never mastered small talk,” I opened.
“Yeah, I noticed,” Baldy replied.
I tried to chuckle it off – and that’s when I admitted that I didn’t know what I ought to call him – at least, not aloud.
It was perhaps twenty minutes later, while he was recounting having dated the sister of Catarina, my former housekeeper, when our discussion was suddenly sidetracked.
Frankly, I almost welcomed the interruption when it arrived – the memory of the shallow grave I’d buried my poor chef in was sitting heavily in my throat by then.
Gratey was saying, “she was a nice enough woman, but her love of reality television was abrasive,” when we spotted a man waving at us from across the double-ditched grassy divide which separated the lanes. The fellow was standing beside a stalled Nissan truck, and his arm motions were quite emphatic.
Immediately, Mr. Baldy began to slow.
I accidentally asked, “are you serious?”
It was obvious he was, though, as, by then, we were already largely across one of the dirt access paths that were once so fondly camped on by police looking to rack up a budget cushion through speeding tickets.
The stop was the beginning of many mistakes I feel Gratey made – I can only assume because he’d been so sheltered within the safety of the store. It reminded me of the war, actually, in the way the new guys often seemed to think they’d have the situation licked in an hour, and be home pinching their loved one’s bottoms by early the following week. Those were the names I worked hardest to avoid learning.
At least my companion thought to bring the rig to a halt at a distance.
“I’m out of gas,” the man said to our open windows. “I had some reserved, but I got – I got in a car chase, I guess. There was a tiny woman. She was old, with a sharp face, and her gray hair in a bun. She wasn’t driving anywhere, she’d just been waiting – waiting for me. Damn near t-boned me from a crossroad, and might have accomplished it if I hadn’t been changing lanes at the time. She tore after me though, you can see my bumper’s pretty ragged from her having at me. Wait, you guy’s aren’t feds, are you?”
“No,” replied Baldy, raising an eyebrow.It was another mistake – everyone wandering around in the Murder Plague was constantly measuring those around them, but it was always best to keep your uncertainty to yourself.
“Yeah, yeah, course not. Sorry, I’m a little discombobulated, I’ve never had to – I’ve never killed anyone before. In the end she wouldn’t let up, and I gave her a good punt with the passenger side door. Figured I’d put her in the ditch, but I didn’t see the electrical pole. That post went through her hatchback like a baseball bat through a loaf of bread. It sounds stupid now, but I stopped. Tried to see if she was OK. I swear to god, with blood running down her chin, and her chest impaled on the steering column, she still managed to spit at me and tell me that I’d never take her foof. I don’t know what she meant by foof – her mouth was pretty full of bodily fluids and car at that point, but I suspect she meant the poodle that I’d spotted whimpering on the grass, maybe thirty feet from the crash. There wasn’t much I could do for the pup. Maybe I should have killed it too, but I didn’t have the heart – I just drove. Got so distracted, thinking about that stupid mutt, that my tank went dry.”
“What’s your name?” asked Mr. Baldy.
“Linwood,” was the reply. I wasn’t sure if it was his first or last, but it was easy enough to remember, which I was thankful for.
Anyhow, I had more pressing questions.
“Why would you think we were Feds?”
Linwood, a roundfaced man who looked like he’d spent the majority of his life in an office cubicle, bit at his lip and ran his fingers through his hair. I remember the brown curls being damp with sweat, and his fingers shaking as he did so.
“I’m, uh, I’m here to find my Mom. I knew it was illegal, and I never meant to hurt anyone, but I’m from the outside – from beyond the quarantine line.”
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