Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and thirty-nine.
Tonight we present, Coffin: Condolences, Part 1 of 1
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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, Will Coffin, urban shaman, takes his roommate to a bar of ill repute, to meet a man with a volatile history.
Flash Pulp 139 – Coffin: Condolences, Part 1 of 1
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
Three weeks after she’d moved in, Will Coffin boarded a city bus with his perennially drunk roommate, Bunny, and escorted her to the only bar he frequented, Dorset’s.
As the behemoth lost momentum and opened to disgorge them at their location, Will chose his words carefully.
“I need you to be very quiet,” he said.
“Huh?” she replied.
Bunny had spent most of the trip occupied with a crossword she’d dug out of some previous passenger’s discarded newspaper, and, while her eyes still roved between the clues and the playing area, Coffin suspected the majority of the available boxes were in little danger of being solved.
He tried again.
“We’re here to meet an old fella. He’s excitable, and you need to remain very still.”
“Does he #### magic like the rest of your friends?”
“He’s not a friend, he’s a client,” he replied. “A sad man – a suicidal fext. I need you to behave, please.”
The spidery tracts left by drink, which ran across Bunny’s cheeks, flushed with annoyance.
“Why did you bring me if I’m just going to be a pain in your ###?”
Will touched his thumb to his throat and scratched.
“If I had left you at the apartment, after a bit of vodka you’d accidentally rip a hole between our dimension and one of infinite terror, at which point everyone’s eyes would be eaten by giant moths, as their feet were being devoured by the burrowing of worms.”
“Holy ####, is that even possible?” Bunny asked, her puzzle forgotten.
“Maybe, maybe not.” He coughed, then added, “don’t touch my stuff.”
His lined face made it difficult to tell if he was smirking.
The short walk brought them to the red-brick facade of Dorset’s. Inside was a darkened main room, with tables scattered about its center, and booths lining three of the walls – the final wall, opposite the door, was dominated by a long run of oak. Behind the bar stood an array of cheap liquor bottles, each in a varying stage of consumption, and Dorset, the owner, as squat as his building.
Will waved to the proprietor as he entered, and the man raised a hand in reply.
Coffin had never seen the place with the lights up, and he thought it was probably to his benefit. Smoking had been banned from the interior for years, but the tavern had retained the scent of the thousands of ghostly cigarettes who’d met their end there.
He approached an already occupied booth, and urged his companion to sit before scooting onto the bench after her.
The occupant, an aging gent with short gray hair and a sharp face, nodded at Coffin’s arrival, and the two exchanged pleasantries in a tongue beyond Bunny’s comprehension.
Despite the language barrier, she could tell that whatever good-humour Will had entered with was soon forgotten.
The client swallowed a mouthful of beer, and locked eyes with Bunny.
“When I was but a boy, my mother made me carry about a portion of my afterbirth, under my left arm. Do you know what that does to a person?”
“Gives him a wicked stench? I dunno,” she replied.
“No – I am a fext, or became one, at least. A Slavic tradition.” He finished his drink, and signaled Dorset at his station. “I am immortal, well, nearly – the list of items which might kill me is short. In my youth, years ago, I fought in wars. I was a man of bravery and recognition, or so I thought. At the age of forty – although I looked twenty at the time – I charged a cannon battery, with a broken-bladed dagger, and killed all who would stay still long enough. I was drunk at the time, but I doubt any of the dead were beyond nineteen.”
The old man rolled his cup along its bottom edge, shadowing the moist circle of condensation that marked its placement.
“What is bravery when no normal blade or bullet can cause you harm?”
“She’s not -,” began Will, only to be interrupted.
“I apologize, my name is Colonel Andrik Korda. I was not expecting such lovely company at my funeral, but I appreciate any friend of Mr Coffin’s.”
“Kind of a ####ty location for a wake – who died?” asked Bunny, brushing back a tangled strand of hair.
“I will. The rest of the guests have yet to arrive. Your friend, he is helping me to do so.”
“Why?” she pressed.
“It pays well,” muttered Coffin.
“I have been here over four-hundred years. I am tired,” said the fext.
Dorset deposited another chilled serving, then stood waiting as the old man retrieved a five-dollar bill from his ratty suit jacket. To ease his search, Korda removed a pristine flintlock pistol from his pocket, and set it down on the table.
Bunny’s eyes moved from the weapon to the establishment’s owner, and back again, but the barkeep did nothing but wait patiently for his due.
Will used the opportunity to return to business.
“It arrived just yesterday,” he set a glass sphere, the width of a nickel, upon the table.
As Dorset returned to his position, to deal with the pressing demands of a blond man in a plaid coat, Andrik eyed the ball.
“It does not seem like much,” he said.
“I have been given every reassurance that it will survive being fired. Just don’t over-powder your pistol.” replied Coffin.
The ancient soldier picked up the bullet that would be the instrument of his destruction, and watched Bunny’s warped shape through its curved surface.
“Four-hundred years is a long ####ing time,” she said, “surely there’s something worth going on for?”
Will turned to her then. His face was impassive. but his eyes worked hard to strangle her words.
Korda also looked the woman over, but a different sort of passion seemed to enter his gaze.
“Well,” said Coffin,“Mrs. Davis’ hands are not entirely unfamiliar with killing either, her former husband can attest to that.”
The news did little to negate the embers stoking in the would-be suicide’s psyche. He smiled.
Will pushed on.
“Why don’t you tell her about what you did during the mid-‘80s.”
Whatever aspirations had awoken in the colonel were snuffed.
“It was a different war – a different place. The chemicals of South America were broad and beautiful. I do not know how many died so that I might powder my nose.” Korda shrugged. “Car bombs are quite a bit more effective when you can simply drive them into the offending party’s living room, look them in the eye, wave, and then detonate the trigger.”
There was a moment of silence.
“Anyhow,” Coffin said, standing. “The rest of your mourners will be here shortly, so we’ll pay our respects and get moving along. I have your payment, and you have my thanks – and condolences.”
Will exchanged a handshake with the dying man, then departed, with Bunny in tow.
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