FP266 – All Things Being Equal, Part 1 of 1
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and sixty-six.
Tonight we present All Things Being Equal, Part 1 of 1
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This week’s episodes are brought to you by All Things Geek.
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, Capital City finds itself in need of a hero.
All Things Being Equal, Part 1 of 1
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
The news had drawn Madeline to the river’s edge.
In those days, breaking news was a rare event in Capital City, and so, when she’d realized the bridge-jumper pinned beneath the camera’s gaze was only blocks away, she’d hurried to leap on her ten-speed, Galahad.
As she’d unplugged her cellphone from the charging cord on the kitchen counter, her mom had asked, “Maddy, where you going?” and she’d replied, “to the bridge.”
Madeline felt some guilt at intentionally not mentioning the gathering crowd and unfolding drama, but the girl had known her mother would be quick to deny her the adventure.
Now, she was finding it difficult to continue to hold her tongue.
“Careful, you don’t want to go in with her. Half of ‘em survive the fall, but they at least get a chance to prepare themselves,” stated the nearest officer, at whose back she was staring. “Even then, they always pick up a few broken bones on impact.”
The figure at the center of the affair endlessly paced a metal beam at the structure’s brink. Though the span was blocked at either end, the suicidal pedestrian sometimes neared to a point just feet from Madeline – so close, the girl thought, that she could almost reach out and pull her to safety.
It was close enough, certainly, to hear the ragged woman’s sobbed pleas.
“I’ve tried everything,” she said. “Everything! Why won’t anyone help me?”
Madeline had, in fact, come to help, but, much to her frustration, the police weren’t letting her through. It annoyed the girl that her experience as a hero meant so little. A year previous, when she’d been ten, she’d managed to save a man’s life.
She’d found him in a double rutted back-lane running off of Gibraltar Road, crumpled between a huge green compost bin and a white-paneled shed.
He’d started at her approach, and she could see his oversized black suit was wet with blood.
“Are you OK?” she’d asked.
She’d gotten used to watching men fall down when dad was still living with them, but the blood was something new.
At the sight of it, Madeline had bitten her lip, and repeated her question.
“Are you OK?”
“No, not really,” was the man’s reply, but his voice had sounded younger than she’d expected. Turning his head had obviously been a difficult chore, but his eyes had swept left, then right, taking in the full length of the dirt lane’s scrubby bushes and unpainted fences. Maddy had found herself doing the same.
There was no one else at hand.
The man had righted himself then, using the shed for leverage and support.
His fingers painted a red fan on the plastic siding.
“You don’t happen to have a cell, do you?” he’d asked.
This was the moment she’d dreamed of as she’d run Galahad through puddles and over curbs, and it almost seemed too easy that the solution would simply pop from her pocket.
Nonetheless, it was no easy thing for the man.
The call was short, but the wait was long.
She kept him talking. He refused to answer any questions about why he was there, but he was happy enough to discuss the manga InuYasha, an unexpected common interest.
Still, the pain had been intense, and he’d wept as his friends pulled their black van to a stop, but he’d said it: He’d said that she’d saved his life.
He had also extracted a latex mask – a caricature of a man’s face, with huge sideburns and a wicked grin – from the interior of his coat. It was far too big for her, but she sometimes liked to put it on and stare at herself in her room’s star-stickered mirror.
Then he’d given her a phone number.
“If you ever need help – serious help – you text there.
“I might not answer, but someone will.”
She’d never used the digits. She hadn’t had a reason to until she wrote, “there’s a lady on the Lethe bridge, and no one’s DOING anything!”
For fifteen minutes she split her focus between the small message screen, and the bawling woman.
In despair, she sent a follow-up: “You said you would help me!”
Another half-hour passed.
The conflicted had taken to sitting, and creeping her ragged jeans towards the edge of the steel lip that was her too-short seat.
With tears of frustration in the corners of her eyes, Madeline began shouting at the reluctant officer.
“You’ve got to do something, damn it!”
She knew he’d been trying – that he’d been complaining about the lack of a boat on the scene moments before – but her anger at the situation demanded a target.
“There are protocols. We’re doing everything we can,” he replied. “You just stay calm, li’l lady – or are you a lady? That was some mighty strong language for someone so young.”
“Wait till you hear the language I’ll use if you don’t do something.”
“Listen, we’re trying to lock her up as quickly as we can, but -”
A hush fell over the spectators, causing the bing from Maddy’s pocket to echo like a cough in a library.
The source number was blocked, and the message said simply, “We’re coming.”
Suddenly, Maddy was the last thing on the cop’s mind.
After surveying the river, he turned to his partner.
“Fuck me,” he said,”it’s The Achievers.”
Once they’d been little more than Internet myth, a group of anonymous vindicators responding to cries for help from the lost and forgotten.
Recently, however, they’d grown more brazen.
A dozen swan boats, each powered by a latex-faced metalhead wearing an oversized black suit, appeared from beyond the waterway’s curve. A tarp was affixed, with taught nylon rigging, to the birds’ sleek white necks, so that a broad expanse of blue stretched between them. At the center of the surface lay, apparently jokingly, a pair of throw pillows.
As the masked invaders peddled ever to the left, the assembled raft was locked in perpetual rotation, and moved forward only because the river carried it along.
“God damn Busby Berkeley film,” said the officer.
“Oi! Come on down, the water’s fine!” shouted the temporarily-nearest Achiever.
Above, the despondent form stiffened.
“It’s OK – we’ve done the math!” coaxed the mask, his tone now more serious.
Seconds lingered. There were no more pleas as the jumper stared from her perch. To Maddy, it felt as if the impending-suicide was simply waiting for the illusion of help to dissipate.
The girl only had Galahad and her phone, but, again, it would be enough.
Everyone’s focus was on the boats below, or so they later claimed, as none stepped forward when asked by the press to identify who had thrown the aging hunk of plastic.
It was a good toss, which landed squarely in the wailer’s cloud of light-brown hair. With a notable thud, the cell ricocheted from her frozen skull, clattered against the steel rail, then dropped onto the makeshift safety net.
The woman was close behind.
The suits moved quickly, to secure her in one of the boats, before slicing the ropes that connected them.
With a wave, The Achievers pull-started the small black engines affixed to their waterfowls, then sped out of sight.
Finally, grinning, Madeline knocked back Galahad’s kickstand and turned towards home.
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