Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and eighteen.
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 encounters yet another surprise while attempting to remain alive amongst the homicidal paranoiacs of the Murder Plague.
The Murder Plague: Positioning, Part 2 of 2
Linwood’s claim that he was from some safe beyond nearly brought tears to my eyes, but there’s a voice that lurks at the rear of your skull after you’ve spent any time surviving the deadly overtures of a countryside full of lunatics – a sharp little bugger of a thing that’s eager to kick over your daydreams and pierce your hopes.
Frankly, that grating voice was often the only thing that kept me alive.
Mr. Baldy’s unilateral decision to stop and exchange hellos had also put me in a bad mood, which is probably why I reacted so poorly.
“From the far side of the quarantine? What luck, this truck doubles as a spacecraft,” I said, “why don’t you hop in, we’ll swing by your mother’s, and then take off. The lot of us should be sipping Mai Tais on the red planet before Martian dusk.”
The vehicle-less newcomer didn’t appreciate my suggestion, so he pointed his follow up directly at Baldy.
“We’re near my mom’s place. You might not believe I’m from over the wall, I can understand that, but…” He trailed off, and looked around us as if he feared someone might be sauntering over to listen. “You’re sure you’re not Feds, right?”
My companion nodded in response, and the nervous hitchhiker dug into the messenger bag that hung at his side.
“They’ve got you guys in the dark. No long distance, and very limited cell interaction. They are telling everyone that they’re doing their best to keep things working inside as well as possible, but its pretty obvious they don’t want anyone to get a phone call from their sister while she’s being stabbed – you know, stops folks from trying a rescue.” He came out with a flat touch screen whose backing seemed to have been duct-taped together. “I mortgaged my house to pay for this thing. It operates on military satellites, so it still functions properly. Like I said, we’re close to where I need to be. Come along, and then we’ll all leave together, you, me, and Ma. The GPS will get us back to the blockade in no time.”
“How far does it say you’ve got to go?” asked Baldy.
Without discussion, my driver opened his door.
My hands grew taught around the shotgun I’d taken away from the Walmart, but I kept my mouth shut. As I mentioned, it was always best to avoid showing your agitation.
I spent the majority of the ride trying to quiz details out of our new passenger, but his attention was on navigation. He’d pushed aside my maps as he’d climbed onto his seat, and his constant stream of directions soon had me feeling like a third wheel.
Mother Linwood’s home was at the edge of a residential cluster that was too small to call a town, but too populated to call nowhere. I was at least able to convince the others not to directly approach, but stop at the road and honk.
We stared down the row of pines for a while, waiting for something – anything – to happen.
There was no response.
“Try it again,” said our tourist.
“These days,” I said, “if someone isn’t answering a call, it may be better to simply leave them alone. If your mother IS still in there, she’s certainly not making it obvious. Personally, I think the house is abandoned, or we’d have been shot at by now. Well, abandoned, or an ossuary.”
“Oh, she’s in there,” Linwood replied. Reaching across my lap, he pushed ajar his exit, and dumped me onto the pavement, all in one motion.
They build those trucks high – I sprained my wrist while trying to break my fall, and the mama’s boy was well past me before I recovered.
“Come back, you moron, you’ll only get hurt,” I shouted, from my position on the turf.
His blood was pumping, and his eyes were blazing.
“You’re Feds!” he shrieked, “I knew it!”
The messenger bag bounced on his hip as he ran.
Mr Baldy had regained his composure at that point, and stepped from the truck to help me up. I think he only did it because he’d realized Linwood was infected.
Together, we watched the chubby man close the last ten feet to the cabin door. He yanked it open with a hoot of triumph, and imparted a final hand gesture in our direction.
He stepped backwards through the door, and then thunder clapped, and the left side of his face blew away like dandelion fluff in a strong wind.
Baldy, still at my side, panicked. As he ran for the truck, I dropped to my belly. It was the fact that he made it into the tall cab that convinced me Linwood had hit upon a tripwire of some sort.
I did something stupid.
I don’t recall stopping my sprint at any point, although I must have turned around – I only remember moving as quickly as I could towards the twitching body, and running back while attempting to wipe portions of the dead man’s jaw from the carrying strap of his satchel.
It was the GPS I was after, but, as my wheelman returned our rig to its original course, I found something more – a folding, black, case. Within the leather kit was a tiny bottle, and a sharp-tipped syringe. In some of the smallest cursive I can ever remember encountering, the label read “antitoxin.”
As we retook the highway, my companion and I had much to discuss.
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