Tag: frontier

FP398 – Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 – The Maiden

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and ninety-eight.

Flash PulpTonight we present Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 – The Maiden

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Melting Potcast


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 we present an occult fairy tale of sorts, as we enter an ancient forest to happen upon a bloody scene and an abandoned child.


Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 – The Maiden

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May


Centuries ago, during the dark times, in a village whose name died with its last progeny, there was a girl of round face and bright eyes. Her mother had not survived her labour, and her father died, moments thereafter, of a despairing jump while attached to a short rope.

Though orphans were not uncommon, the deceased parents had been well liked, and the tales told around their demise struck the community at large as particularly shocking.

The arrival of Nona the Seer an hour after the culmination of events simply reinforced the tragedy. Nona had overseen the majority of successful births in the loose confederation of hamlets that made up the bairn’s home, but ill weather that had kept the midwife from plying her simple magics and root craft at the delivery – or even providing a calming leaf to chew, and thus sustain the mourning father through his grief.

It is for these reasons, perhaps, that Nona lifted the babe from her abandoned swaddling, cut her tie to her dead mother, and carried her into the dusk.

Some frowned upon the woman acquiring a ward, as it went against the nature of her station, but those who complained were equally often hushed with a reminder that the Seer’s bony wrists seemed ever-more frail at each visit, and that even she could not live forever – and, besides, it was better the girl fill the station rather than their own kin.

The Seer’s position was enshrined in regional tradition. It was held solely by a woman of arcane knowledge and occult training – and, though she would be entrusted with the gathered secrets of the people she served, she must treat each nursling as her own, and thus never give birth herself.

According to proper telling, as passed from parent to child by fireside, the title befell only a virgin.

It was obvious by the girl’s eleventh year, however, that this was not entirely true.

Life with Nona was a life on the road. Many was the night that they slept in humbly offered rough-timbered barns, and for the first four of the foundling’s years she was sustained on naught but goat’s milk. To Nona’s thinking each step between visits was an opportunity to collect reagents, and there was not a bush she would not pry apart, nor thistle she would not ransack, to fill the sacks hung diagonally across her chest by a trio of belts.

Though none were labelled, Nona’s fingers never seemed to misstep when contriving a poultice or tincture.

It was the girl’s own education, and slow memorization of where each ingredient lay, that made clear that her mentor sometimes imbibed the same concoction provided to daughters who’d planted a seed too early.

Discretion, however, was also a large part of the girl’s schooling, and so she said nothing regarding her discovery.

Tonight we present an occult fairy tale of sorts, as we enter an ancient forest to happen upon a bloody scene and an abandoned child.Before long the thin-limbed lass whose wide brown eyes seemed to reflect an unflinching depth beyond a natural understanding was known simply as the Maiden.

She was taught the reading of runes, palms, and leaves; balms for rashes and burns; the skill, simpler in those times, of starting a flame with naught but a thought and a few arcane gestures. Her curiosity was insatiable, and, in those endless hours awaiting a delivery or the breaking of a fever, she would inquire after the traditions and superstitions of her hosts.

None refused the Maiden the words whispered by their grandmothers to halt bleeding, cease drunkenness, or cure an aching head.

Many were the maladies of the era that were incurable by prayer or patience, the dominant medicines of the time, and in a decade and a half few were the families who could not claim some assistance by “Nona and her Maiden.”

All – having conveyed some otherwise secret knowledge to the girl – felt some kinship, and even ownership, in regards to the child. Her cheeks were pinched, and her head patted, well beyond a reasonable age for such.

Many imparted the same wisdom in her ear: “Someday you too shall be like Old Nona, second mother to each one of us, and our grandchildren shall be your grandchildren. Tradition says it is so.”

It was Nona who first spoke against her, though they all soon followed.

On the evening of her sixteenth birthday she’d snuck from the birthing room of Adela Rose’s eighth child, and called Adela’s eldest, Marcus, to her side. The boy was but two months her elder, though she’d tended him through an infected broken arm at twelve. She’d held some fondness for him since.

Despite the number, the birth was no quick affair, and the girl and boy had often found excuses to stand close in the quiet heat of the kitchen while the focus was elsewhere.

The mess of the process was not enough to quench the desire pulling at her bones, and it was only noisily amongst the wheat that she finally mastered her need.

Marcus put up a noble attempt at future interest, but the girl had never known a stationary life, and her lust had been kindled on the farmhand’s shoulders, not his mind. He’d seemed just as relieved as she at her departure, hours later, and she thought nothing but kind thoughts of the incident until the day she grew suspicious at her own lack of blooding, a regular reality since the age of fourteen.

She herself had provided the diagnosis often enough to know the cause, but kept the insight to herself through another birthing, a leg amputation, and the lifting of a shaman’s curse.

It was after the extraction of this last, a wolf daemon bound to a woodsman of notorious temper, that the girl let slip her secret.

Nona had selected a field in which to camp beneath the clear stars, and the fire was there but for illumination, not warmth. The spirit had been pulled from its home with much howling, and the shattering of the woodsman’s jaw. Ignoring the blood and tears, the women had driven the phantasm forth, ending its victims unintentional string of homicides – though not before the man had left his own family shredded amongst their bedding.

All told, the girl had thought her own troubles slight in comparison, and it was in this light that she had spoken – and why not? She had reckoned herself a match in intellect and skill to any in the area but perhaps Nona, and she had undertaken matters both physical and metaphysical that would likely ruin the psyche of the farmers and petty merchants she served.

“The traditions!” Nona had replied. “Well, all is not lost. I will mix you up a snifter, and you’ll soon be fit for the position once again.”

“Damn the traditions,” the girl had replied. “I did not ask for this position, but my sole request is a child of my own.”

It was the single time she defied the woman, but it was enough.

There was no solution in the hours of argument that followed, and the news soon grew that the pair had split.

Within weeks there came to be no door friendly to the girl’s plight, and if it was a barn’s comfort she sought she had to be sure to depart before the cock’s crow.

On those few occasions when she was not quick enough, or on which a response might be made to her knocking, the answer for the source of their cruelty was always the same: “There was a tradition to be maintained.”

The girl, however, refused to yield her child.

Under a half moon, on the banks of a glass-surfaced creek, she attended her own birthing, and yet she cut the child’s cord with as firm a hand as she cut her ties with the name of Maiden.

In ten months’ time she was well upon the road, Nona buried of a broken heart, and the county decimated by a plague without a healer in place to check it.

Soon she was known by but one, and he called her simply Mother.


Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Coffin’s theme is Quinn’s Song: A New Man, by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com/

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP394 – The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and ninety-four.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)
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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The P.G. Holyfield Appreciation Dept.


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, chases dark portents into a small town on the river’s edge.


The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May


On a morning so fierce and dry it made even the greenest timber seem at threat of flaring up from simple exposure, Thomas Blackhall stumbled into the village of Malhousen.

He had been summoned over the mystic aspect of an apparent impending demise.

Malhousen proper was little more than a trading post facing down a small churchyard, but the two dozen families that populated the surrounding rocky lands were on friendly enough terms to call each other neighbour, and the occasional mail delivery seemed to indicate that the government agreed on the designation.

Still, visitors were a rare thing that far off in the bushlands, and there was no public house, nor inn, motel or tavern – as a field-tromping farmer had passed word to Thomas that any with interest enough to make the journey likely did so because they knew someone in the area well enough to board with them.

Blackhall: A Skinner Co. Fantasy Fiction Podcast“If you need a place to stay, though,” the muck-handed man with the broad straw hat had said, “I’m sure a few coins could clean mother’s sewing parlour for the evening.”

The offer had stood as long as it took Blackhall to explain what had brought him.

Strolling beyond the low white fence that separated the churchyard cemetery from non-hallowed turf, Thomas came to the river that had given the town its name, then cast off his gear with the tender concern of a man who’d just spent a full two weeks cursing at its weight.

Retrieving a small pouch from his breast pocket, he lay his great coat across his packs and sat upon the sandy bank to take in the current’s breeze. In time his fingers found a fine Spanish paper and stuffed it with tobacco, then, in more, the sun nuzzled the horizon.

Not being the Sabbath, there seemed to be only the church’s red-faced Scottish priest to glower at the stranger loafing away the afternoon.

At first, as his smoke had chased the water bugs downstream, Blackhall had thought that the cleric was simply the type to disapprove of all outsiders, but, by the hour at which his stomach began to call for supper, Thomas had decided the Scot likely knew why he was at hand, and that the holy man wanted nothing to do with his occult concerns.

It was his thinking that a true busy body could not be content to maintain a distance, but the priest had spent his day at just the distance necessary to be always aware of Blackhall’s position.

As Thomas began to consider what he was carrying that might appease his complaining appetite, a man exited from the trading post, walked the short breadth of its porch, then joined him on the riverbank via the fence-side route.

“I apologize,” said the prematurely-graying newcomer. “I’m Wyatt, the man who requested your presence. I would’ve joined you earlier, yet – well, you may’ve noted that business is sluggish, but what customers I receive depend on the regularity of my habits.

“I should also mention that my ears aren’t of much use. Though I could hear till my eighteenth year, they’re long gone now. It makes me poor conversation, as I talk too much about nothing and with little response. I’ve some skill at reading lips, but there are few here who will allow me to practice. They have fields to till and cows to slaughter, I suppose.”

“You’re sole occupation is running the store?” asked Blackhall, his words slow and clear.

The man raised his brow.

“The store?” repeated Thomas, his fingers waving in the squat shack’s direction.

“Oh, I act as middleman between those who grow beats and those who grow potatoes. The potato men come to me for their beats, the beat men come to me for their potatoes, and I make barely enough between them to taste either.

“In addition, the same boatman who collects the post brings up a selection of needles and dry goods that I resell. Despite my deafness I hear complaints over even that tiny profit.”

Blackhall nodded, and the shop keep smiled to have a friendly ear.

“The truth,” he continued, “is that I receive a child’s treatment because of my conversational difficulties. You’ve been a kind audience, but those who care for anything beyond inquiring about carrot seed often grow loud, which is a body posture as much as a tone, and neuter their language to a level more appropriate for a mush-headed bairn.

“It is usually those same folks who can’t scratch their own names, and thus can’t simply write out their orders and questions for prompt service.”

“It must be a lonely life,” Blackhall repeated until the man caught his meaning.

“It’s the postal counter that most keeps me in place,” replied Wyatt. “I’ve made a tangle of friends across the globe with those simple scraps of paper, and I collect more news than a dozen broadsheet hawkers. It was those same that gave me your name to search out when the matter of the death bringer raised itself.

“Still, as you can perhaps tell, I do long for the simple pleasure of seeing a face react, instead of outwaiting the slow transmission and careful composition of a letter.”

The conversation continued forward in little ways until dusk, but, due to their minor discussion, they did not note the departure of the flame-haired priest on his sagging, silent, pony.

By the time the frogs had begun to sing and dew was forming on the grass, Wyatt and Thomas were no longer alone.

Several men with lanterns, slurring courage and raising enough noise to find each other despite the wobbling of their illumination, began to gather about the white picket fence.

Their filth-kneed pants marked the crowd as farmers, but Thomas could discern nothing more as they took to shouting commands and demanding answers, simultaneously and without deference for his neighbour’s bellowing.

The priest was close behind.

It was as the Father moved to the forefront and raised his arms for silence, however, that there came, from beyond the river, the keening sound of death – a high and jittering wail that was no more dampened by the babble of men and water than would be a bullet.

Then the evening’s trials truly began.


Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Coffin’s theme is Quinn’s Song: A New Man, by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com/

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP384 – The Scarred Man: a Blackhall Tale

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and eighty-four.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Scarred Man: a Blackhall Tale
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp384.mp3]Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)


This week’s episodes are brought to you by Glow in the Dark Radio


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 we join Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, as he encounters an undying combatant by a lonely northern lake.


The Scarred Man: a Blackhall Tale

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May


Blackhall met the immortal on the edge of a lake known by the few who occasionally wandered its shores as the Blue Sip. He’d seen naught but the intermittent chipmunk in his last three days of journey through the heavy undergrowth, and, in his stop, he’d been seeking nothing more than a moment of cool respite from his westward campaign to retrieve the dancing corpse of his dead wife.

The immortal, however, had been seeking nothing more than Blackhall.

Thomas had been considering the state of his preparations to break the hold of the hag who led Mairi through the shadowed wildwoods when the lumbering titan arrived.

He had dealt with giants and their ilk in the past, but never while standing naked in three feet’s water. Still, though the man was tall, and his musculature so over-large to be almost a caricature of human form, Blackhall soon realized he was no giant.

The stranger wore a cloak and carried a shotgun at his shoulder, which Thomas felt likely to be heavy and hot gear for the depth of the timber and harshness of sun. The interloper was in apparent agreement, as his first action upon arrival was to drop both.

“I was born as Nikanor, some three millennia past,” he said as he laid aside a sheathed blade too big to be a knife but too short to be a modern sword.

The sight of the weapon, even in being set aside, did little more than remind Blackhall of the distance to his own silver-edged sabre, which lay among his gear on the shoreside. It was too far – and the shotgun too close – for the frontiersman’s liking.

“I was born Thomas some few dozen years ago,” was the best the could find for an answer.

For a moment Nikanor looked puzzled, then a slow smile came to his ground sausage lips. His face appeared to have suffered and survived a half-dozen cleavings, and his skull was roughly misshapen with the scar tissue that had grown across the wounds.

“I know who you are, shaman,” he replied. “I have marched from the coast to meet you. Funny that it should be here, for my journey began, in many ways, in a very different bit of water – the Styx. My mother was a proud strumpet and a glory of her age. She was also a genius at the bargaining table. The gods of the time on the other hand, were naught but letches, and there came a day when Zeus himself came to our door.

“She turned him away a full three times, then offered herself up under two specific conditions.

“That is how her only child, a lowly army footman of sixteen, came to find himself dipped, much like Achilles, in the Styx – but Mother was well aware of the tales, and so demanded I be held by my hair. I have been bald since, but my heels are in grand order.”

As he spoke, the Greek had stripped back the loose cloth of his shirt to reveal a form that reminded Thomas most of a picture book knight. Instead of the gleam of full plate, however, the man was a mass of cratered sinew and flesh grown deep from the brutality of ten thousand traumas. Wound had healed atop of wound until the layering was so thick it stood tall from the bone and took on the aspect of a natural leather armour.

The thick cords of his neck, though still showing signs of damage, were considerably less worn, and it was to a long white defect that Nikanor pointed as he sat upon a fallen tree and said, “this was one of my first, a battle with a raiding warlord coming in over the northern border. I laughed every moment of the march, thinking I was invincible. Not quite – I am perhaps immortal, but I am still penetrable. I’d caught a ragged sliver of metal the rabble were calling weapons before I realized the difference. It hurt too – enough so that I killed at least fifty on the field as my reply.

“It healed in a day, but that day was agony.

“We patrolled again that spring, and for many seasons on – until we met the Laconians on in open meadow and I learned that I alone could not turn the tide of battle. Every man I had admired or dreaded, every friend I’d made in my brief career, every idiot I’d bickered with, was wiped from the Earth in a single encounter.

“Left for dead, my butchered body was only capable of standing two days after the scavenger birds had arrived to pull their dinner from my comrades’ cheeks.

“I could not return as the sole survivor of a massacre without being accused of cowardice, but I knew just one life. It did not take me long to create a new identity and reenlist, and the evidence of my wounds acted as all the biography I required. The cycle has repeated itself many times since.

”Every pot of boiling oil, every flight of arrows, every dagger gash acted to toughen my skin. By the time I fought with the Scots against your countrymen I needed little more protection than to leave my flesh bare, for it took a man with a true arm of steel, and a clear opportunity, to pierce my scarred disfigurement.

“I rarely met the first, and I was too well practiced to allow for the second.”

No longer was Blackhall concerned about the proximity of his blade. The turn of the tale had set his mind casting ahead in search of its conclusion, and he did not like what he’d found.

http://www.skinner.fm/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Blackhall.jpgThe tone was too heavy, the setting too inevitable. He had killed before, and would again in self-defense, but his own time under the King’s command had long washed a taste for violence from his mouth.

“Niko,” he asked, “what was the other condition?”

Turning his gaze from a cloud on the horizon, the deathless man answered, “the other what?”

“You said your mother had two conditions, and that your immortality was but one of them.”

“Oh – the other was that Zeus remain human in shape. She was well read and had no interest in the legends of beasts and fowl.”

“The gods of antiquity truly were perverts.”

That got another smile from the old soldier, but it could not stop his momentum.

“None of the kings I helped rise to the throne remained,” he continued. “Their names are as forgotten as their kingdom’s borders. The maps shift like sands, and my travels have proven to me there is little more difference between peoples than the foods they have at hand and the god they pray to before eating it.

“Yet I’ve killed them all.

“Many things happen in such a span as mine. Many mistakes are made in rage or fear or a moment’s reaction. My condition allows no release from those errors, simply more opportunity to compound them.

“I have lost count at points – I am sure I have lived more than three thousand years – but it is in just these last twelve months that my agony has taken hold. Hired on to lay low some sheep thieves while waiting for the summer’s march, I set my shot into a figure in the dark and killed a boy of sixteen. It was meant to be just another victory, but – well, perhaps it is only because I have come so far from my youth that I can no longer remember its exact image, but I swear his face was my own at that age.

“Even before the arcane began to flow from the world I had come to the realization that there was little point in continuing. There is no end to the fighting, and all I’m left with is confusion. Please, do you have a method by which to end my misery?”

The words moved over the water with the weight of a voice that had seen the worst of three thousand years, and Blackhall found the damp suddenly all too chill.

Thomas’ mind landed in the streets of Ciudad Rodrigo, then flew to the death of his own wife, and finally came to rest on his growing guilt at the distance between he and his child.

If he was ever to be forgiven, could not, too, the evils of a being whose mettle might achieve so much good?

“Could I end you?” asked Blackhall, “yes, probably.

“Will I? No.

“I’ll instead come ashore, and we shall plan you a new life between mouthfuls of jerky. This existence I promise will provide remittance from your guilt if you are strong enough to manage it.”

“To what purpose?”

“To what purpose any birth? You say you are confused, well, so too are all bairns. I will say, though, that what I have in mind will be a truly great purpose – but, to begin, you will construct and stock a homestead of some size.”

“I have no idea how to farm.”

“Well, we are in luck in that regard, as your condition allows us plenty of time for you to learn.”

The conversation carried well into the night, and it would be but the first of a long acquaintance.


Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP318 – Pinch: a Blackhall Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and eighteen.

Flash PulpTonight we present Pinch: a Blackhall Chronicle, Part 1 of 1
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp318.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)


This week’s episodes are brought to you by Shadow Publications

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, is confronted by a one-handed man with a tale of loss.

Pinch: a Blackhall Chronicle

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

Thomas had risen before dawn, eager to see an old friend and return to his hunt, to discover that a visitor awaited him in the great room of the inn at which he’d taken up temporary lodging.

As the stranger flagged Blackhall over, the woman who ran the establishment – a mother of four who’d been left too soon by a soldiering husband – stood sleepy eyed at the fireplace, trying to will the embers into a greater flame. Thomas briefly considered ignoring the newcomer’s summons and to instead wander hastily out of the sleepy scene, but the handless stump with which the man signaled was difficult to overlook.

Working off the straps he’d just finished arranging and then setting down his baggage and rifle, Blackhall sat.

Sensing the frontiersman’s aggravation at the delay, the round-faced caller raised his early cup of hops and said, “oh, I assure you, this digression is worthy of your time, Mr. Blackhall.”

“Name’s Meriwether Tristram. My cousin in Perth wrote to tell me of you once he’d caught wind of my – situation.

Thomas Blackhall“You see, one Sunday I’d arisen to breakfast only to realize my meager cupboard was empty. Worse still, I’d spent the last of my coin on quenching Friday night’s thirst, and, though I laboured greatly at the Mill in New Branston, there was no hope of fresh pay till the Wednesday following – anyhow, hunger and a long sleep drove me from bed that morn, but I still had plenty of shot for my musket. It was my search for venison, north of the cluster of shanties that make up the so-called town, that lead me to a stretch of spruce that I did not recognize from previous expeditions.

“I could hear a stream on the far side of the stand and I was considering spending a period amongst the foliage to see what passed when I noticed a set of white stones arranged in a strange pattern upon the ground nearby. A closer examination, of course, presented the fact that they were not rocks at all, but the skeletal remains of a foot. There was no sign of the rest of the body, but I did spot a trinket resting in close proximity to the detached ankle.

“I assumed it to be silver, though I now highly doubt it. Its surface is engraved with curious care, an arrangement of loops and strokes that seems to deepen as you look them over, and its sizing – well, you shall see.

“Now, let me make it plain: Other than the scrollwork, the dimensions were not outside of the ordinary for a thick ring – that is why I kept it. For my distant girl.

“Well, I mean, I may have attempted to sell it first, but even then the proceeds were to be obtained with my intended in mind. The few I inquired with, however, had little interest, and I knew that there were others nearby who would be quick to call for the bauble against debts owed – unfortunate pinches about the dice table have left me with more creditors than friends. As such, I dispatched it to my wife.

“Or, truly, my would-be wife; even previous to our betrothal I worked the camps in hopes of collecting adequate funds to purchase a plot large enough for a cow and a field of corn, and so my intentions continued though my empty-pocketed status kept us apart.

“Anyhow, I parceled it up and sent it, by trusted courier, homeward.”

Thomas cleared his throat while Meriwether took a moment to wet his own.

“For what period have you been in search of your fortune?” asked Blackhall.

“Well, at this and at that for the last dozen months.”

“- and how much have you garnered for your farm?”

“You must understand, I’ve yet to find the gambit that will truly make my name. Currently, sir, my possessions extend only to the small traveling case of clothes that resides in my room, and the willingness to put my back into future labours.”

“Seems a shame to expend such effort without a result to show for it. Perhaps the dice are not your friend.”

“I have had some bad luck, it’s true – though it hardly matters now. She called the wedding off. A month after my missive I received a note, with my love token returned. I thought at first that the issue was impatience or another fellow, for the attached explanation made little sense to me at the time. It spoke of a curse – both on the ring, and on our love. Half was true, at least.

“My sole consolation was that the news came on a Friday. As it happened, I’d changed occupation from miller to lumberman, and, as my new position came with a week-ending payday, I was flush enough to hold the head of my sorrows below a steady flow of ale.

“It was a night of singing and weeping. It was the sort of occasion on which friendships are made and broken, sweeping oaths are professed then forgotten, and many mugs are broken by accident or design.

“The ring remained in my pocket throughout those hours of lament, but, on my stumbling route back to my bunk, my fingers came upon the accursed thing.

“My memory is piecemeal at best, but I recall noting with some amusement that the metal seemed to stretch about my stocky fingers. It was with some amazement, then, that I found myself able to expand it so wide that it might act as a bangle around my wrist, but my experiments were cut short by the attentions necessary to capture a few hours sleep in a company bed after having ditched a scheduled day’s labour.

“Despite my circumstances the foreman had no pity for me – admittedly, it may not have been my first such sabbatical, although it was certainly my most justified. Whatever the case, my call to rise was an unpleasant one. It did not help, I suppose, that I appeared more attentive to the sting in my arm than the bull-mouthed man’s words. Still, there was no time to investigate the source of my affliction before I was tossed up on a wagon bound for town.

“I am not unfamiliar with slumbering through an unexplained ache, and the rocking of the wheels quickly pulled me back under. Besides, although persistent it had not yet grown so painful as to be all encompassing.

“Not, that is, until I awoke in a heap on the ground, with the cart trailing away in the distance. Stevenson, the driver, had gathered a dislike for me after a misunderstanding, on an earlier occasion, regarding the number of aces in a certain deck of cards we’d been, er, inspecting.

“‘You were howling in your sleep, it was scaring the horses,’ he shouted back, but he was gone before I could collect myself enough to make a reply.

“At least he had the decency to drop me at a signpost that indicated my position in relation to town. I wasn’t within sight of the local pub, but I was in the proper county.

“Realizing my recent gin soaking would hardly win me friends amongst any decent folk with functioning noses, and feeling as if I’d perhaps injured my arm in my tumble, I crept into a nearby barn with the intention of continuing to nap away the last of my wobbling remorse.

“Now, understand: Come into town looking rough and smelling of cow dung, they’ll assume you’ve been hard at work, but, come in looking rough and smelling of the lower shelves, they’ll assume you’re a roustabout who’s never held a shovel in his life.

“Anyhow, I could not rest. In attempting to reach the upper loft I came to realize that my right hand was not just numb from the fall or the spirits, as I’d assumed. I had no control of my fingers, and no sense that there was anything attached beyond my elbow.

“Working back my jacket and shirt sleeve, I found the ring, just as thick but now approximately the size of a malnourished crab apple. I note this because, as you can see, I carry the weight of my drinking habits with me, and my arm is considerably meatier than an apple’s width.

“You see, the damned thing had contracted while I was sleeping. It’s ever tightening circumference had cinched my flesh like a corset, then worse, and I’d accidentally anesthetized myself against the procedure.

“There was no blood, but the agony increased with my sobriety. In short order I was weeping in the corner of a swept pig pen, with only the sound of snapping bone and grinding metal to keep me company.

“I pawed at the ever-tightening band, but I could not even rise to take up the woodpile axe at the edge of my vision – and a good thing too, as, in my state, I would’ve just as likely displaced the entirety of my arm.

“I was come upon the following day by a maid come to milk their Bess. I’d become senseless in my uncomfortable position, and the family’s sheepdog had taken to gnawing on my now detached extremity – a fact that was discovered as the gal’s father carried me house-ward.

“It was the same fellow who located the blasted ring, again the size at which I’d originally discovered it, and slipped it in my pocket for safekeeping.

“Since then I’ve dared to touch it only to bind it more securely.”

Having concluded his tale, Tristram’s remaining fingers went to his jacket front to retrieve a small bundle wrapped in a well-used handkerchief.

Blackhall raised a brow at the parcel, but said nothing.

Tristram did not let the silence hang long.

“I was hoping,” he said, “ that you could perhaps return my hand – for surely, if there is magic enough in this world to remove it, there is also ample to form another?”

Thomas exhaled, considering his words. Finally he replied, “many things are possible, but what you ask is not one of them.”

Without pause, as if he had already guessed at the answer, Meriwether pressed on. “Then mayhaps it would be worth some coin to you?”

Pulling apart the hasty knot, Blackhall exposed the charm in question to the still morning air.

“I recognize this piece,” he said, “It was constructed for – er – softer meats. Not to pass through bone.

“At some point in the distant past it no doubt amassed a hefty purse for a medicine man wandering about sod-hut farms, but, though it cost you much to carry, I’m afraid it will earn you little. I, for one, will give you nothing worth more than a freshly filled stein and the safety of not having to deal with it further.”

Tristram frowned, saying, “I do not understand.”

“In the days before this enlightened age – well, let us simply say that not all bulls are meant to breed.”

There was a silence between the men, then a nod from the one-handed visitor. At the sign, Thomas collected the ring, laid payment across the bar, and made note to the proprietress that there was enough extra to make it worth tapping a keg for his peer.

Even as Blackhall moved towards the exit, the next of the day’s patrons stumbled across the threshold.

“Too my future fortune then,” smiled Meriweather, as he waved down the newcomer and reached for an empty cup in which to set his dice.

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

198 – Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 6 of 6

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and ninety-eight.

Flash PulpTonight we present, Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 6 of 6.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp198.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)


This week’s episodes are brought to you by Pendragon Variety.


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, master frontiersman and student of the occult, Thomas Blackhall, must face an insidious airborne threat, as well as disappointment.


Flash Pulp 198 – Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 6 of 6

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May


Thomas BlackhallAs the roar of the insects approached, Blackhall hoped his traveling companion, Sour Thistle, was sufficiently sheltered, and lofted high the silver chain which dangled from his moist palm. The denizens of the fen also understood the imminent threat, and their sudden hush only amplified the approaching drone.

Tossing his hat to the muck, Thomas set his boot upon its wide brim, and clenched his teeth.

He was unaccustomed to the extra load Archer’s pound of flesh had added to the hook, but, even as he began to wheel the length of shining links over his head, he could feel the vigour the dead man’s weight brought to the talisman in the air about him.

Inky tendrils crept through the tall trunks of trees too exotic for Blackhall’s identification, and he knew his time was short.

Somewhere beyond the fetid heat of the swamp, the sound of thunder rolled across the forest.

“Tis for you, Mari,” said Thomas, only to himself.

He redoubled the speed with which he twisted his charm.

A new cacophony took hold then, rising from beneath the black cloud – it sounded as if the howl of a dying wolf entwined with the screams of a bairn come too early, all projected from the heavens above. To the north of the marsh, the sky seemed to ripple, then rend, and even the unchanging thunderhead which shaded the jungle mass transformed at the pressure.

It began to rain.

The winged parasites were well within sight of Blackhall by then, but the building gale had temporarily set them astray, and the dark coils moved in unsure billows, which looked, to Thomas’ eye, as if an imitation of the writhing obsidian bodies of the leeches themselves.

While the fetish felt to have taken on impossible heft, the skyward void grew broad at Blackhall’s efforts, and the wind ratcheted from a whisper to a wail.

The corpses The Eremite had anchored in the canopy, began to rock with the gusts, their dangling arms shaking in the rush. The temperature dropped rapidly, the vacuum sucking the heat away with a greedy chill.

Under the whip and pull of the rising storm, the swarm was broken apart as if tossed on a raging sea. While their wings struggled furiously to keep their relative position, the blow became too much for many – some fell to the earth, their flight organs snapped beneath the strain, but most blasted between the trunks, their wet bodies bursting as they slapped against the swaying timber.

Undisturbed by the maelstrom, the spirits of the dead men overhead pulled themselves from their rotting shells, and came tumbling to the mud.

As they gathered, about him, Blackhall maintained his labours, unwilling to cease until he was sure he’d done in the aberrant flock. Finally, however, with his coat slick with impacts, and the trees greasy with death, he allowed his arm rest.

He inspected the troop of phantasms which he’d raised as a byproduct of his exertion.

“It’ll be a hearth and a proper burial you’ll all want, but perhaps I could offer a taste of vengeance as well? I seek the old man.”

Many babbled nonsense driven by fear, and others started upon questions unanswerable in the moment, forcing Thomas to add gravity to his tone.

“I’ve a friend at the bog’s edge which requires immediate attention, a ritual that will take hours in itself, if her fever does not kill her. I’ve no interest, though, in being struck down as a I flee, so I must deal immediately with this hermit. You will indicate his location, or by all you hold holy, I’ll be sure you hang about in this damp hell for time beyond ken.”

A boy of eighteen caught his eye, not with a flapping tongue, instead with flapping hands. The lad, who Thomas suspected to be of one of the parties sent by Fitzhugh, pointed past his right shoulder.

“I’ve not beheld such a display since abandoning my exile to Eboracum,” said The Eremite, standing not ten yards away. “Who has sent you? Are you a minion of the spider god? Or perhaps he who now claims the name of Caesar? No, unlikely after so long – another sage then? Maltrusis? Acanthus?”

“You appear more alert than when at our previous crossing,” replied Blackhall.

The thaumaturge winced.

“I grow old. I fear sometimes I wake in places I have not meant to travel to. It seems less and less that I am myself.”

Blackhall moved his hand away from the silver sabre at his hip, and instead retrieved the small waxed pouch which contained his final letter from Mairi, as well as the implements of his sole vice. A few amongst the specters licked their blue lips at the sight, but none were willing to close the distance to the speakers.

It took focus to keep his fingers steady as he prepared his cigarette, but Thomas’ voice was strong.

“Few survive from your age – there are certainly none in the old world. I have met beings of ancient origin, but no man such as yourself.”

“None still live across the sea?”

“Perhaps you’ve held out secret hope that a companion of old would stumble into your hermitage, but in truth you are likely the last. Surely you must know of the dying? While the arcane runs deeply through these lands, it is not so back home. I believe I’ve encountered much for my age, but I have seen naught as taken by the measure of what I have thus far encountered in this colonial hinterland.”

Realizing he had no flame with which to ignite his construction, Blackhall tucked away the preparation for later use.

The magus nodded, adjusting his robe as he considered. He then straightened as far as his bowed spine would allow.

“I appreciate the news, but now I believe our conversation is at an end,” he said.

“You’ve driven beast and forest spirit from their territory,” Thomas continued, “if you do not submit, you will be done in by those far more powerful than I.”

“I was lucky to have surprised the regent at my doorstep, I do admit,” replied The Eremite, “but even with my lovelies smeared about the grove, I’ve ways of holding back those who overstep their reach.”

“Is that how you turned back the witch?”

“The witch?”

“A woman, old, though not near so as yourself, with a column of the dead behind her, cavorting in mockery of the living?” He was careful to make no mention that the parade of corpses contained his own beloved wife.

Slipping an ornate dagger, shimmering with arcane brilliance, from the interior of his sleeve, The Eremite did not reply. Instead his too-long vestments swept silently over the bog’s muck, sliding as if a snake upon its belly.

With the violent weather dissipating, the spirits at Blackhall’s back rapidly began to lose density, but stood firm enough to cuss their murderer loudly. Their shouts were drawn short, however, by a rapidly descending snarl.

The force of collision was enough to startle Thomas into retreating a pace. The brown assemblage, which had dropped onto the timeworn hermit from the thick matte of vegetation above, became a sphere of thrashing teeth and claws.

Once her opponent seemed thoroughly broken, Sour Thistle stepped aside to admire her handiwork.

“I summoned assistance,” she said, “but I could not hold back given the climate’s turmoil. In truth, I believed you eaten by a fiend.”

She then collapsed.

The heat of her infection was notable as he approached, and it was uncomfortable to lay his hand on her blazing fur.

Wasting no time in contemplation, Blackhall turned on his heel and moved to The Eremite.

The old man was alive, but badly twisted. His robes made it difficult to tell if his left arm had been entirely severed, or only torn far from its stump, but there was no doubt about the gaping condition of his belly.

“I was in a town to the south, and there was a boy there who’d eaten of a poisoned apple. This does not sound as if your design, it must be the hag – have you seen her?” demanded Blackhall.

“Given your hand in my dispatching, why should I reply?” asked The Eremite.

“I will give you an option – tell me, or, in spite of your reclusive desires, I will stand about here making boorish conversation until you’ve died. Then, I shall raise you up, and continue to do the same.” Thomas let slip the silver chain as he spoke. “Should my friend perish before you answer, the consequences will be considerably less polite.”

“Yes, I saw the hag. I repelled her assault easily.”

“Did you now? When do you recall beginning to suspect your senility?”

The Eremite spat blood into the air. “I am not senile.”

“Mayhaps your leeches drift across the land of their own will? Perhaps you wander your hermitage ranting as a matter of normal course? You have outlasted many – accept your end with dignity. Which way did she depart?” asked Thomas.

“I suspect west, but we did not sit about discussing our plans for the future.”

“I need better than suspicions,” replied the frontiersman, but the old man was too dead to hear it.

After a moment’s frustrated consideration, Blackhall returned his occult trinket to its place of keeping.

He knew he had a long job still ahead.

The fierce swelter had done Sour Thistle’s fever little good, and it was only with much strain that Thomas managed to relocate her unconscious form to the cooler airs of the outer forest.

It was then that he received his first surprise. In his absence the boundary had become populated by a broad array of woodland inhabitants, all peering anxiously into the murk of the tainted mire. Unsure of his welcome, given the reposing state of the lady the beasts had come to serve, Blackhall approached a pair of knobby kneed moose, and laid down the wolverine.

He considered it a tricky thing to utilize enough vigour to shake her awake, without raising the ire of his audience, but with a hardy wrist he managed to bring Sour Thistle about.

“I can help,” were his opening words.

“I shiver at the cold,” she replied.

“You’ll need a greater chill if I’m to carry out my ritual.”

He struck upon a plan then.

With a squad of able-fingered raccoons to assist his efforts, he quickly had the rotting men of the trees brought down, and cut free of their bindings. At Sour Thistle’s fading instruction, they made short work of affixing the lines to the entangled cart Thomas had spotted on his arrival at the mucky terrain.

The forest spirit was again in stupor when he lifted her into the wagon, but she’d left clear guidance to her adherents.

As Blackhall knotted the last of the cord, in hopes of greater stability for his standing position in the flat bed of his conveyance, he noted the beasts had already begun to scour the track.

Then commenced one of the strangest rides of Thomas’ long memory.

Some of the lashings had been frayed, so that a single strand might be held in the clenched mouths of a team of half-a-dozen scampering minks. At times a bull moose would lead, with an array of lesser creatures flanking his sides, at others Blackhall marked a pack of wolves managing the load alone.

At the head of the column strode the shimmering visages of the dead men, their ghostly light guiding the way through the whipping branches. A blanket of wild things moved at their feet, tearing clear protruding stones and sealing ragged holes before leaping aside to let the thundering wheels pass.

It was not for their illumination, however, that Blackhall had again taken up the Crook of Ortez. Thomas could feel the intensity of his companion’s malady, and all he could provide as succor was the cold, and rain, drawn on by pulling near the netherworld.

Standing astride the bucking platform, he maintained his sterling hook aloft, and summoned the wrath of the tempest.

An hour into their desperate run, their right fore-wheel splintered at a bad landing, but without upset to his regent, an adolescent black bear stepped to the axle, and took its bulk onto his shoulder. A brother was soon beneath the far side, lifting the orphaned hoop from the ground, and progress continued until the rear also gave way, leaving the raft moving entirely upon the rolling spines of an ever-swapping procession of carriers.

The journey which had taken Blackhall days was managed by the bestial train within hours – but, even then, Thomas was not sure their expedience would be enough.

When they finally arrived at the somber opening of the ice cave, Blackhall’s arm ached with exertion. Still, he was quick to leap from his transport and lift up the blazing weight of Sour Thistle.

Although it felt as if she baked the skin of his head and neck as he toted her, the unnatural conflagration was no match for the eager cold of the frozen grotto, and, his hands thus freed, Blackhall turned his attentions to curing, rather than maintaining.

It was a dusk, and a dawn, and a dusk, before he stumbled from the den, the fool’s smile of success on his lips.

Those who’d assisted in his victory had disappeared to their own grounds, but, as if in their wake, sat the boy, Layton, who’d first shown Thomas the frigid shelter.

“Came up for Ma, and I heard, uh, singing. I thought it was you, so I figured I’d wait in case you required assistance. Didn’t want to bust in on you though,” said the lad, offering up the glow of his lamp against the darkness.

“It’s good to see you again – I thought you’d be off by now?” replied Blackhall, taking a seat on a flat stone cropping.

“Another week, they say. I feel the noose drawing tight.”

Thomas nodded at the response, retrieving the cigarette he’d produced ages earlier.

“I’ve thought further on your problems. I’ve just discovered the bodies of a number of Britishers who’ll require decent burial, and who better to send than the freshly minted lieutenant who woos your girl? I believe I’m certainly owed favours enough, at this point, to have a say in appointing the expedition. Better yet, I’ve also recently recalled a woman of considerable patience, and the heart of a caretaker, who might do well with lodging upon your land so that she might set up house with her fellow, and tend your mother. Her drowsy man would be well suited to learn discipline under your father’s farmyard tutelage as well.”

From the spark of the lantern, he lit his vice, and pondered his Mairi’s place under the burgeoning tract of stars.

From within the cavern, the echos of a racking snore became audible.


(Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)


Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

195 – Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 6

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and ninety-five.

Flash PulpTonight we present, Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 6.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp195.mp3]Download MP3
(RSS / iTunes)


This week’s episodes are brought to you by View From Valhalla.


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, master frontiersman and student of the occult, Thomas Blackhall, tells the story of an unlikely race, to a prickly, and improbable, audience.


Flash Pulp 195 – Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 6

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May


Thomas BlackhallA further two days of slow travel found Blackhall sitting on the shore of a nameless lake, with the sun strong overhead, and his gear resting just above where the gentle slope broke from grass to sand. Tossing a flat stone, he watched it skip once, lose its equilibrium, and disappear below the still surface.

His companion, who he’d encountered at the water’s edge, swatted aside a horsefly as she awaited an answer.

“Yes, Layton was a bit of an odd duck,” said Thomas, “- but you’ve got to understand, we do things differently. My thrust though, isn’t so related to his flamboyant pursual of Ms. Russell, as it is to your point regarding awe in the world. I agree that the dying time is no pleasant business, and it does my heart violence to see your like fading and twisted – but there remains much to find wonder in. The day I departed the Laytons’ farmstead, for instance, the boy asked me to partake of an odd ritual with the intention of soothing his mother, who is ill with the long sickness, and complains bitterly of the heat.”

Trying another cast, Thomas lost count of the hops before his platter exhausted its speed and sank. The wooded approach to the shore had been burnt low some seasons previous, and a meadow had appeared in the timber’s stead. At the treeline, which Blackhall guessed to be a hundred yards off, a row of sentinels, their weasel heads bobbing and weaving, kept careful watch on their queen’s temperament.

He did not relish the idea of irritating the half-dozen sharp-toothed fishers, that constituted her honour guard, and he made firm effort to demonstrate his relaxed posture.

“We tromped over the fields and through the forest,” continued Blackhall. “Layton had grown up amongst those stands, and, as we trekked, he explained that he was but a lad when his father had come across our destination while hunting deer meat against an approaching winter. Two hours work brought us to a hillock, and an increasingly sharp climb. Near the apex stood a black opening, and within, a cave. It was a slippery navigation, largely downward, but, as we came to a point where I thought we’d lose the last of the light filtering in from the mouth, he stopped. We’d come to a branch in the tunnel, and the main body of the shaft became vertical in orientation, so that it was impossible to explore it further without rope, lantern, and courage. Fortunately, our objective lay in the other possibility, a gently sloping portal of perhaps twenty feet in length, which terminated as neatly at its end as if it had been pressed into the rock with a chisel. Even in the dim, the floor glittered.”

Thomas paused to let fly with another projectile, and to attempt to gauge his audience’s level of interest. It was difficult to judge the disposition of such an entity, but, as wolverine or forest spirit, Sour Thistle’s attention seemed to be firmly upon his recounting.

She nodded at him, and he finished the story.

“It was cold below – an extended stay would have lost me my nose – but it was certainly not mystic in nature. It was the simple work of dark and stone and depth. After some time, and clever consideration on how to utilize the frosty cavern, they had taken to carrying out buckets of spring water, to fill the pockmarked divots in the slab floor. At first as a novelty, and then, when Mother Layton fell ill, as a method of easing the woman’s pains.

“Handing me a canvas sack, he located a hammer they’d left for convenience, and started pounding at the icy pools. Soon we were both well weighted, and young Layton gave me a broad grin.

“”Usually,” he said, “I manage to chill a pitcher large only enough for Mother. Perhaps, now that I have your assistance, Father might also find relief from the heat – although, given your aged legs, he may only get enough for a sip or two by the time you arrive.”

“With that, the boy made off running, leaving behind the echo of his laughter.

“Hell, I was grinning too when we broke from the entrance and onto the hill side. I’m a man who, by his nature, must move through the bush with a careful eye. My belly depends upon it. I’d forgotten what it was to stretch my limbs and test my reflexes against the blur of suddenly rearing spruce, and stony outcroppings.

“My boots felt as if they were moving faster than my feet, and while rampaging down the rugged slope I knew I might up-end for a rather brutal descent, but it did little to slow my pace. Layton had youth and familiarity with the route, but I’ve seen my share of turf, and our chase was a good one. He’d taken us in at a leisurely pace, and I realized then he’d been saving our muscle for the challenge of the return. By the end of the marathon, my focus was naught but branches, cramping thighs, and a spreading chill across my back, where the load had rested for the majority of the endeavour.

“Half the haul melted, and went to slake the thirst of the plants along the way, but it is a difficult thing to describe the reward I found in the pleasure which overtook Ma Layton’s voice as she accepted her ice water. The thought of the woman, dying there in her little room, but so overjoyed at a chill on her throat, was a satisfaction – and a wonderment – which moved me, and had naught to do with the unnatural.”

Sour Thistle nodded, her eyes alive with an intelligence which seemed, to Thomas, eerie against the savage form in which she’d manifested.

“I see your point, Mr Blackhall,” said the wolverine, in guttural, dancing, tones. Sour Thistle scratched at her ear. “Who won the race?”

“It was a near thing, but I’d say our contributions were equal.”

“Come, come,” chuckled the beast.

Thomas snorted at his own pride.

“He made first fall on plowed field, but I was but an arm’s length behind.”

Sour Thistle snapped her snout twice, and assumed what appeared, to Blackhall, to be a smile.

“You have been honest with me, sir,” she said, “and I hold your actions in honour – although I somewhat lament the loss of a quality meal. You’ve obviously strayed far to find me here, so ask now what you-”

Her rasping words were cut short by the descent of a broad-winged harrier, which landed on the grasses near to its mistress and commenced trotting on its clawed feet as it squawked its news. It’s message delivered, the bird again took flight, heading rapidly eastward.

Blackhall saw the sentinels on the hill begin running then, moving to be by the side of their queen even if they did not yet have orders. It was all a loss, however – as they decamped, a roaring hum filled the air.

A buck burst from the forest edge, swathed in a layer of damp, writhing, ebony.

As Thomas watched, it seemed to first shrink, then collapse in a skeletal heap.

For a moment, he longed for the dark of the cave to hide in.


(Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)


Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Freesound.org credits:

rbh Waves Lake Medium 01.wav by RHumphries
rbh crickets birds quietday.wav by RHumphries

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.