FP158 – The Lilly Belle: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and fifty-eight.
Tonight we present, The Lilly Belle: a Blackhall Tale, 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, Thomas Blackhall, student of the occult and master frontiersman, finds himself at the site of a lonely tragedy.
Flash Pulp 158 – The Lilly Belle: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 1
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
Blackhall stood at the edge of the Atlantic, the turbulent air snatching the hem of his greatcoat. As the sea smashed itself upon the rocks at his feet, his boots grew slick from the spray.
The clouds from the east were thick and hateful.
His arm was extended against the gale, high above his head, and, at its end, he swung a silver chain on which was affixed a hook of intricate craftsmanship. With each revolution of the fetish came a blast of wind, and, in turn, each gust drove the roiling waters to further frenzy.
The wide brimmed hat, which served Blackhall well as guard both against the sun, and the chill of early Spring, took flight from his close-cropped scalp, ensnaring itself amongst the scrub brush at his back. He did not cease his occult goading of the storm.
Beneath the gloom of the thunderheads, the hulk of The Lily Belle lay plainly visible, some two-hundred yards from the coast. It’s masts and canvas were aflame, and its angle of list spoke plainly of emergency and ruin.
Setting his stance against the increasing howl of the squall, Thomas watched as a pair of launches attempted to make for his position, heaving wildly, and seeming oddly out of sync with the crest and fall of the surf. They’d halved the distance before the disaster: nearly in unison, both were carried high in the air, then spun about sideways, disgorging their occupants into the frigid depths.
It required no imagination on Blackhall’s part to see that the stony outcroppings, laid bare by the rolling troughs, were unnavigable by even the most proficient of the struggling swimmers.
Closing his eyes, he maintained the cadence of his trinket’s rotation, coaxing ever-greater wrath from the tempest.
* * *
A month earlier, he himself had been a passenger in The Lily Belle’s hold.
The journey was a long one, and he spent it eager to set foot on the turf of Lower Canada – to begin the search for his stolen love, Mairi. The ship, as befitted the cost of fare, was filled to capacity with the grubby faces of destitute farmers, all living in hope that they would reach a land of promise and wealth, as painted by their politicians’ promises.
Blackhall had found little conversation amongst either the pew-warmers, or the drunks, but the ship’s cook – a squinting fellow, who looked as if he’d seen the arrival and retreat of the Roman occupation – happily shared what knowledge he’d managed to gather regarding the tall pines and teeming streams of the north.
The ancient man, who spoke of his extensive experiences only in the third-person, and always ascribed himself the name Marigold, had provided much comfort when Thomas found his fortitude tried by the stink of the lower berths.
It was on such an evening of alleviation that his new friend had confided his own secret desire.
“Marigold’s been in this ghastly rocking horse for nigh five years, and a good dozen leaky sieves afore this one. He’s no interest in another scuttle over the horizon. It’s his last voyage – once load’s delivered, it’s a plain white house in St. Andrews, and all the fish he can eat till the day he’s buried.”
“Will you not miss home?” Thomas had asked.
“No – it’s not been thus since the death of Abigail,” replied the hash-master.
“Well then, will you not miss the brine?”
“It’ll be close enough, and what has it got Marigold thus far? It’s stolen his leg, and the time he might have otherwise had with his wife.”
Pulling back a ragged length of trouser, the man demonstrated his sole point of pride. Beneath the worn cloth was a handsome length of wood, bound tightly at his misshapen knee. The stout oak had been well varnished, to proof it against the constant moisture that was the nature of his occupation, but before the stain had set, a labyrinthine series of images had been etched across its surface.
“‘Tis the story of my life,” the amputee explained, after Thomas had taken up a long moment of inspection. “It begins at the base, with the twisted face of Marigold’s first skipper – a pig that man was – and here, where lumber turns to flesh, is the loss of Abigail.”
“You’ve left yourself little room for old age,” noted Blackhall, completing his scrutiny.
“Mayhaps a replacement is in order, from amongst the pine, once the new life has begun.”
When they’d finally reached a view of land, however, their intentions had gone awry. The Captain had planned to sail on to Quebec City, but the St. Lawrence, the mighty vein which carried to the heart of the virgin territory, was thick with ice, and deemed impassible for weeks to come.
They’d anchored at the mouth, hoping for a sudden thaw, but the wait was too much for Blackhall, who longed to be onto his chase. He was instead turned loose in the wildwood.
The subsequent weeks were made somewhat easier by the mystical charms he’d collected on the European continent, and about his home isle, but the majority of his survival came to the labour of his arms and the sweat of his brow. It was tough work acclimatizing himself to the fowl and fish of the foreign wilderness, but a month’s effort had given him confidence in the foraging skills instilled by the Jesuits, and hardened in his days of soldiering.
He was considering breaking from his northward direction – to move further west, and away from the ready bounty of the ocean – when he’d made his grisly discovery. As he’d settled into a bed of recently tanned hide, he was surprised to note a gleam in the distance.
Journeying into the shadows, towards the source of the illumination, he was brought up short by the broad expanse of darkened water, and, standing at the ocean’s edge, his nose caught the stench of rot.
The light was the ghostly image of a ship, every plank aglow with spectral radiance, being tossed high upon a memory of rough water. Despite the placid wake, two shuttles detached themselves, and began cresting waves invisible to Thomas’ gaze, dipping below the murky plane as oft as they appeared above. Even as the remnants of the crew and passengers took flight, the wreck’s masts groaned a final time, and disappeared beneath the waterline.
At the mid-point of the escape, the ethereal boats had toppled and gone under. As Blackhall watched, helpless to assist, a scattering of phantasms desperately made for the shore, but each was soon submerged and lost from sight.
For Thomas, a restless night followed.
As dawn broke, the source of the fetid smell became apparent. The rocky bay had collected up the remains of some three dozen men, women, and children, and the elements, as well as the carrion feeders, had worked hard at their anatomies. The sun had reached its zenith by the time Blackhall had closed his grip around a salty pant-leg, and met unexpected resistance. The bloat had made Marigold unrecognizable, but there was no match in the world for that singular prosthesis.
He could not say what had driven the Lily Belle from its original course – perhaps the intended settlers had harried the Captain from his anchor, feeling that any point of firmity was as welcoming as another. Whatever the case, they’d never made their destination.
Although his palms bled, and his fingers wept puss from their blisters, all at the effort he invested to give the release of proper burial, the scene repeated itself again the next eve.
Spray alone could not be blamed for the damp which touched Thomas’ eyes that hour.
Three long days of preparation were necessary,and so it was, on the third dusk, that he summoned the fury of the storm. In truth, the savage weather was but a byproduct of so foricbly drawing back the veil between the sturdy earth and the intangible beyond, but the nearness of the realities gave new strength to the restless dead, so that they might touch that which had called to them from such a separation of sea and sky.
His hat forgotten, and his arm aching from the expenditure necessary to keep his talisman aloft, the lone survivor of the ship’s passage marked each pilgrim’s landing.
As they set hand or foot upon the shore, they seemed to sigh, and dwindled to a mist which, heeding not the flurry, diffused unhurriedly across the stout terrain.
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