Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and twenty eight.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Nutty Bites 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, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, finds himself playing a troubling game, while recounting a troubling tale.
The Draw: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 2
“It’s a miserable thing, moving through the snowy woods on foot, with the spruce looming out of the darkness as if the ghosts of giants,” said Blackhall.
He was seated in the front room of an inn, with an untouched ale at his elbow. As Thomas talked, her rearranged the cards in his hand – despite his efforts they held no better value, whatever the configuration.
The partially nude man across the table stroked his pale goatee and nodded. He smiled.
Anders Flaks had made no secret of his confidence at the opening of the game, having declared himself the seventh son of a seventh son, and the offspring of a coupling of his mother and a horseshoe besides.
Blackhall had not questioned how the horseshoe had fathered six others, but the claims were testified to by a string of drunks, leaning ponderously over their cups, who were seated in a distant corner. They had all suffered substantial loses in pursuit of the gambler’s bulging purse, and, as his fortunes had mounted, they’d been responsible for demanding the removal of his jacket and shirt. Although no deceit was thus uncovered, Flaks’ winnings had continued to grow.
Thomas finally relented and exchanged two cards.
“The cabin I came upon was a ragged affair.” he said. “I knew it to be the residence of Susannah and Stanley Fulton, as I’d received ample warning along the road that the Fultons – although shabby due to Stanley’s long absences at the northern lumber camps – were the last friendly fire before a long stretch of swampland. Even at a distance, the lopsided roof’s lack of care was obvious. From within the meager barn, a cow vocalized its extensive complaints, and, as I approached, I discovered a winter sledge which was heavy with wares that had apparently been torn open by the trio of canines which had met me at the treeline.
“It’s well enough, I suppose, that the brutes were well fed, and not looking for a meal.
“The horse-team was nowhere to be seen, though it seemed obvious the process of unloading the goods was cut short. I considered then that a bandit might be lurking, but the snow about the sled revealed only dog tracks.”
His opponent had forgotten his turn at the tale, and Blackhall took the opportunity to wet his tongue before continuing.
“The windows were dark, but, when I tested the door, it gave way easily,” he said. “Within was a woman – beautiful until a musket ball had marred her eye and tooth. She was naked and sitting upon a chair by the cold hearth. As the sun had long abandoned me, I worked up a flame in a scavenged lantern and pushed further into the charnel house.
“Within the chamber which made up the only other room in the house, I found Stanley Fulton, hung with a twisted sheet. He’d left a short note, which read, “My dearest Susannah has betrayed me, but I have gone too far in recompense, and now regret my action. On arriving home on this eve, I discovered her with a stranger upon our bed. As I loaded my weapon, the man made effort to flee, and his distance was such that my first shot went wild. In truth, my transgressor may have been the devil incarnate, as the blast was enough to rile the horses, whose chilled and brittle tack gave way at their sudden start. The naked runner was caught between their leathers, and, as I took my last sight of him, he had somehow pulled himself onto the back of the leftmost mare. If I am to be consigned to hell, allow me at least to greet him at the gates as he arrives, so that I might provide him the same welcome I extended my wife.””
Sitting up, Flaks exchanged a single card.
“A terrible scene indeed,” he said, ”but perhaps she only found what she deserved. It sounds, though, as if the rascal had quite a near escape.”
“Aye,” replied Thomas, “He was lucky to have found such as Mrs. Fulton, and lucky in his departure.”
“You must have been quick to make your own exit?” asked Anders.
“I had few choices. It was too late to make camp elsewhere, and I’ve no fear of the dead.”
“You didn’t put them outside then?”
“It was their house, after all,” replied Blackhall, “and I’d no interest in waking to find them half-eaten.”
“Whatever the case, it was cozy enough once I’d lit a fire and moved Susannah. At dawn I rose and closed the door tightly behind me, as the ground’s too frozen for burials, and a pyre might go against their wishes.”
The pair fell silent then, as another round of bidding was turned away by Flaks, the dealer, and the tricks were played in short order.
Thomas took only one.
When all was counted, the frontiersman had lost a sum larger than the late Stanley might have hoped to earn in a week.
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