Tag: Support

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.

197 – Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 5 of 6

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

Flash PulpTonight we present, Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 5 of 6.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp197.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, comes upon a discomforting bog of unnatural origin.


Flash Pulp 197 – Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 5 of 6

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


Thomas BlackhallThe fever blur of the swamp’s heat made the approaching bent figure of the old man seem spectral, but, as he neared the cusp that marked the edge of his bog, Blackhall was able to scrutinize his wizened frame. The newcomer’s face was lined like a spider’s web, his wrinkles having formed a connecting network that continued down his neck and below the maroon robe he wore. The garb had once been of handsome craftsmanship, but his shrunken stature had long left the hem trailing in the muck. About his collar was a string of beads, which held a pendant composed of an array of intricate golden loops. At the center of the coils rested an emerald of unlikely bulk.

To Thomas’ inspection, the elder’s skin appeared as if paper stretched thin over a bamboo frame.

Opening wide his hooded eyes, the intruder began ranting.

“He says, that his name is The Eremite,” translated Blackhall.

“Yes,” replied Sour Thistle, her teeth barred and her claws on full display, ”I speak Latin.”

“I apologize,” said Thomas, clearing his throat.

The Eremite did not let the interruption break his delivery.

After five minutes with barely a pause for breath, Blackhall took up a side dialogue with his traveling companion.

“All this talk of blood from our bowels and tears from our fingernails is certainly passionate, but I’ve the impression that he isn’t entirely aware he’s addressing an audience,” he said.

“Transients rarely make sense to me. You men die too quickly to ever have learned anything,” she replied.

His gusto spent, the orator took on a morose tone, but continued.

“He’s talking madness,” concluded Sour Thistle. “Something about his mother burning the eggs on the fire, and his brother stealing his portion?”

“What? Who’s that?” said The Eremite in muddled English, his eyes suddenly focusing on the murk around him.

Unwilling to wait for an answer, he turned. His form warped, then broke, tumbling into a cascade of woolly spiders, the large furry body of each appearing to convey an aspect of the warlock; Thomas first noted a red splash that seemed once cloth, then a single fat arachnid baring a golden pattern inset with brilliant green.

All skittered out of sight; some ascending towards the canopy, some disappearing within the undergrowth.

“This does not bode well for us,” said Sour Thistle, her hackles raised.

Then she was bitten.

Thomas’ boot found the jade-spined insect only seconds after its venom was laid, but his effort met with unexpected resistance. Instead of dashing the beast to pieces as he’d intended, the blow brought on a heavy crunch, which sent the thing speeding towards the fen.

“Hold still,” Blackhall told his ally, while eying the rapidly swelling infection just above her right fore-paw.

An angry red hive had taken hold at the site, and seemed to grow even under his examination.

“This will be painful, I apologize,” he said, giving no opportunity for complaint as he unsheathed his skinning knife, and dug it into her flesh.

It was a crude operation, and she keened her displeasure at his rough surgery, but it was swiftly completed. Although the ease with which his edge pierced the area of infection – given the occult nature of his subject – unsettled him, he held his tongue. A strong hand was all that was required to remove the core of the wound, but he knew that he had not been in time to entirely excise the contamination.

“I’ll be fine,” she said, as he cleaned his blade.

He examined the red which had splattered about the area, and the wolverine’s drawn snout, then raised an eyebrow. “No, I do not believe you will. This is no simple poison.”

Ignoring his words, she took a tentative step, and staggered.

“Perhaps after I rest a few moments,” she replied.

“No. You’ll wait here,” said Blackhall. “I’ve a conversation to hold with an old acquaintance anyhow.”

As he spoke, he reached deep within the folds of his great coat and retrieved a silver chain, upon the end of which rested a hook of remarkable craftsmanship.

“You possess The Crook of Ortez?” asked the lady of the forest. To Thomas’ ear, her voice had taken on no small wonder.

“It was given to me by the last of the line,” he replied. “Well, given may not be quite the right word. I shall return. Rest.”

With a final examination of his patient’s comfort, Blackhall righted himself. Taking in a deep breath of the cooler air, he stepped across the boundary, and into the marsh.

Shimmying the tall trunk of an unfamiliar breed of tree, to achieve access to the corpse of Archer, was a moist task of some exertion, but Thomas felt no sympathy for the cadaver as he cut its bonds and let it drop to the soggy earth below.

Rosy Red’s face had been largely eaten away by carrion feeders, and his gummy maw exposed by the steady gnawing of insects. Blackhall exhaled, then stooped to begin his discourse.

Dragging the chain’s barb along Archer’s putrid flesh, Thomas felt a tug, as if a hefty catch had taken hold of an angling line, and the frontiersman heaved upon the chain.

Before him stood the spectral shadow of a man he’d once known.

“Bloody Blackhall!? What brings you to this god forsaken witch tit of a hole?” asked the dead solider.

“The same thing that brought you here – Fitzhugh, and his damnable scheming,” Thomas replied.

“Ahh, I’m just having you about, I know well enough why you’re here. I’ve waited since that old bastard slit my throat, and let his flock consume my mules, for someone to come pull my stink from the treetops, although, I must admit, I wasn’t expecting him to send in a witch doctor.”

“He’s still a pushy bugger,” said Blackhall.

The apparition chuckled.

“Listen,” Thomas continued, “I’ve need of your help.”

“How so?” asked Rosy Red.

“This trinket can do more than just temporarily pull loudmouths from their graves, but it requires many hours to achieve a strength suitable to my requirements – and, given the likely approach of the swarm of life-suckers, time is not something I have. There is an alternative, however. Unfortunately, it’s an unpleasant one.”

Archer raised a shimmering hand to tap at his nose, and Blackhall briefly wondered if it seemed a luxury in light of his missing original.

“Remember that long haired Spaniard? The pygmy with the rapiers?” asked the phantom.

Thomas could hardly forget – after parrying a cluster of bayonets, the fellow had done in three of his platoon-mates. Archer had managed to disarm the man by using the butt of his rifle as a club, but at the cost of an opened leg-artery. If the daredevil hadn’t paused to gloat over his fallen opponent, Blackhall would never have had the opportunity to strangle him with his own locks.

“I find it difficult to disremember most of the things I did during our effort to stop the tiny emperor,” he replied.

“Dead or not, I recognize a debt when it’s owed,” said Rosy Red. “What are the terms?”

By way of answer, Thomas once again retrieved his blade. Bending low beside the corpse, he began to saw forcefully at the cadaver’s thigh. Removing a crudely-rounded patty of rotting skin and muscle, he laced it onto the hook’s intricate barb.

As it worked its way on, it became apparent that a force was wearing at the shade.

Blackhall completed his counsel.

“You’ll be bound where you died, and unable to move without great effort, at least until I remove your beef from the fetish – and there will be pain. The more I must use it, the greater the affliction. In fairness, you should know I mean to unfasten the heavens.”

“I’ve given enough, I suppose I can take a little,” replied Archer.

The memory of a doe-eyed senorita, lying wide-mouthed as her toddler uselessly grasped at her uncoupled arm, came suddenly to Thomas’ mind. He could not dismiss the smirk Rosy had delivered to him as the butcher strode from the scene.

“Indeed,” he said. “Now, where might I find -”

His ears had not ceased to strain since his last near-fatal encounter, and even his unpleasant labours had not driven away the warning that had been provided by the faltering stag he’d seen consumed – as such, he was not entirely taken by surprise when the telltale hum again filled the air.


(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.

196 – Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 4 of 6

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

Flash PulpTonight we present, Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 4 of 6.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp196.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, finds himself in the gloom of a fatal cloud.


Flash Pulp 196 – Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 4 of 6

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


BlackhallAt first the distance from Blackhall to the inky tendrils which had drifted from the verdant green of the forest made it appear as if thick smoke had come wending from some unseen flame. As it moved closer, however, purpose and cohesion became apparent: a firm lick of darkness first touched, then enveloped, the laggard of Sour Thistle’s bolting honour guard.

The brown furred weasel-cousin squealed in pain, and commenced thrashing.

It did nothing to slow the approach of the black mass.

“Follow,” was all Blackhall had opportunity to shout at the forest queen, then he shattered the still water with pounding legs, and, finding an acceptable depth, dived.

The bushman was quick to retrieve the talisman he’d long ago lashed about his neck with rawhide, and, popping the flat stone beneath his tongue, he breathed heavily of occult air. As the blue sky above his rippling view grew murky, he was relieved to find Sour Thistle close at hand, her hide swollen with the wet, but otherwise unharmed. Unknotting his trinket’s strand, they spent uncountable hours below, trading the stone between them.

The standoff wore at Thomas’ nerves, but, as time passed, he began to feel as if their position, while not permanently tenable, would at least hold against the threatening swarm. Even as such considerations ran through his mind, a fat ebon slug splashed down on the surface, and drifted in his direction. He could see the squirming shape clearly: A soot coloured, three-inch worm, not un-finger-like, which flexed and bloated as it struggled to bring its double set of fluttering dragon-fly appendages into action.

A leech, Blackhall realized, but worse – a winged leech.

His eyes were locked on the beast with fascination, and concern, but, whatever unnatural metamorphosis the thing had experienced to take its new form had also made it unsuitable to a life in the water. As Thomas watched, the parasite’s struggles ceased, and its glistening form became nothing more than floating detritus.

What followed was an afternoon of impatience. Although the pair of survivors made several attempts to simply walk to a point of safety, the swarm seemed intent to follow them, smothering the waves under their shadow.

In the end they were left in positions not so unlike those they’d had on shore – Blackhall standing, his shirt now flapping in the flow instead of the breeze, and the wolverine sitting, her claws playing impatiently with the muddy clay of the lake-bottom.

The thought of supper looming large in his growling stomach, Thomas began to consider a methodology of angling with his available instruments, which were few. He did not relish the idea of raw fish taken in with gulps of silty water, but Sour Thistle, he thought, might appreciate the freshness – and, given a protracted siege, he might have no alternative.

Could they last the night, he wondered? The week?

He looked up, and they were gone.

As his head cleared the surface, the final wisps broke westward – but they appeared dislocated and untidy, not a solid mass, but, instead, a speckled haze.

When once again upon solid ground, they surveyed their surroundings. The buck they’d seen break the wood-line, just prior to their escape, lay where it had fallen. Portions of its flesh had been eaten away, but most of its hide held – still, it’s bone structure was plainly visible beneath, as if the parasitic flock had suctioned its innards clean of blood, meat, and organs.

Sour Thistle’s guardians were there as well – the swiftest of the fishers had nearly made the sand when was overtaken. The collapsed fur recalled to Thomas’ mind a mink he’d purchased for his Mairi, but he was careful to keep the thought close.

“Should we bury them?” he asked.

“No, the carrion birds are our way,” she replied.

It seemed, to Blackhall’s eye, that there was a meager dinner left for the crows, but he again said nothing.

They spent the night at the lake’s edge, the frontiersman snacking on jerky from his reclaimed travel gear, and the lady of the forest cracking oyster shells fished from the mud of the shallows. The darkness invited little talk, as awareness of an impending threat depended heavily on their heeding the babble of the breeze. As dawn broke, however, and the smell of cooking bass lifted Sour Thistle from a sporadic slumber, Thomas continued the discussion he’d begun the day previous.

“It’s the flying plague I’ve come about. As regent of this domain, surely you must know their source?”

He tossed one of the seared fillets to the queen, who let it fall to the beach’s turf to cool. Her razor teeth had no concern for extra sand.

Under the cresting sun’s orange glow, the six cold fishers were barely visible, and yet Thomas noted Sour Thistles contemplation of their resting places.

“Our eyes will be eaten from our skulls before we arrive, but I will lead you none the less,” she replied.

Then their mouths were too busy with food for conversation.

* * *

The opening of their journey was largely spent retracing the route upon which Blackhall had approached, as the queen had chosen a remote location to rule her wild subjects from. The following days were taken at a careful pace, lingering as often by brook or river as possible, and always with ears cocked to the wind.

They did not encounter the swarm again until after they’d arrived.

Their destination became apparent to Thomas as the pair crested a wooded hill. Although it was still a good many miles off, and he could not see their true objective from the dense forest floor, he noted a cloud which remained unchanged, even as the branches about him rattled in gusts. As his view crept closer, he confirmed his suspicion that the thunderhead, gray against a sky filled with white fluff, was perfectly round in composition, no matter what the state of weather in the surrounding environs.

At the realization, Blackhall tutted to himself quietly, and Sour Thistle simply nodded.

Given the hush as she moved over long dried beds of pine needles, Thomas was unwilling to break the calm that had become the hallmark of their tour, but many questions alighted on his tongue in that moment.

Too many of his queries, he felt, were answered when they achieved the edge of the swamp.

The boundary between the spaces was plainly visible, and tight. The march of pines ceased, and heat seemed to bleed from the broad leafed plants, and thick vines, that marked the change in terrain. The damp air at the marsh’s brink set Thomas’ lungs to aching.

“I’d not expect to find such a sight anywhere this far north – if on this continent at all,” he said.

“It is the time to speak of the old man who lives within,” replied Sour Thistle. She’d come to a halt some yards away from the twisted landscape, and squatted now in the deep shadow of a fir tree. “The bloodsuckers are his. I have remained within my principality, and he in his own. There has been little confusion as to the perimeter. We have never spoken.”

With his eyes prying at the shade within, Thomas began to make troubling identifications.

“I believe that’s a cart – and those may be meatless asses, dead in harness.”

“Look harder, you’ve yet to find the worst of it,” the wolverine responded. “Have you examined the strange fruit which the thaumaturge harvests?”

The canopy above the bog was woven thickly between the trunks – another oddity for the frosty lands of the north – and it was only by craning into the swelter that Blackhall was able to uncover her meaning.

Strung by their feet, from the highest reaches, were the shapes of men. Their bodies, as well as their bindings, endured in various states of decay, and Blackhall’s view fell upon a nose-less face which he reckoned to likely belong to his former acquaintance, “Rosy Red” Archer.

“Squirrels have sung to me of the life drainers, though I had not encountered them myself until recently.” said Sour Thistle. “The incidents commenced sporadically, only to grow all too frequent. I know not why the ancient has become vengeful, but it is obvious all the same that his wrath has regularly breached our borders.”

With her tones still fading under the morass of insect song, a bent form stepped from the dim, as if summoned by her words.


(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.

194 – Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 6

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

Flash PulpTonight we present, Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 6.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp194.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, finds himself ensnared in a legal predicament.


Flash Pulp 194 – Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 6

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


Thomas BlackhallOn the second morning following his unplanned departure from civilization, Thomas Blackhall sat alongside a cottage hearth, with Layton, the Private who’d first lead him to his family dwelling. They’d arrived the afternoon previous, with the intention of Blackhall taking lodging for a final night of proper bedding in preparation for delving into the lands beyond the map’s edge.

Layton, a lad of twenty, had extracted his pipe – a fine piece purchased with a sizable portion of his enlistment bonus, and was smoking contentedly after a large breakfast.

“Likely my last furlough for quite some time,” he said, “I’m going to miss this place. Hopefully they won’t ship me far – and, to think, my Betsy will remain behind with that scoundrel, Green. Bah, although I will be surely mashed in our coming bout, I look forward to the meager chance of dispensing his comeuppance. I do fear, however, that I may not feel such when I find myself in the whiskey’d-hands of the old surgeon.”

From somewhere outside the shanty’s walls, Thomas could hear the youth’s father grousing at his cattle and crops, and the familiar sound pulled at his heart, as if the intonation were carried from his own home across the broad waters of the Atlantic.

He nodded.

Blackhall had received an earful of the boy’s situation while they’d marched through the tall trees, and he was now all too intimate with the lad’s concerns regarding one Betsy Russell, especially as they related to a certain enlisted man, a warrant officer named Green. A recent tussle over the maiden’s regard had left the pair of suitors with a scheduled bout of pugilism – a boxing match Layton knew he had no hopes of winning, but persisted in to maintain face.

Before Thomas could cut the forlorn lover short, he’d once again launched into lamenting his predicament.

While feigning interest, the frontiersman retrieved a small satchel from his traveling kit.

* * *

Two days earlier, after being placed under nominal arrest and escorted to an ostentatiously decorated hovel, Thomas had refused the plush winged-back chair he’d been offered, instead continuing to stand while he laid out his complaints at being roughly hauled away like a common drunk.

Captain Gordon Fitzhugh, who suffered the brunt of the berating, found himself smirking well preceding his being allowed an opportunity to reply.

“Ah, old Bowman is a likable enough lot. A bit superstitious, but who can blame him considering the fate of his lad. Well done, that – on your part I mean. The problem was eating at me for quite a while, and, honestly, each time the girl would come about my office begging for some hint of assistance, I’d oft think of you, and how it would be damned good to have your exotic skills at hand.”

As the captain talked, Blackhall had seen fit to use the army officer’s desk as a platform over which to first extract one of the fine Spanish papers he kept in a waxed pouch, and then apply, untidily, a ragged line of Virginian tobacco.

He made no effort to clean his scraps from the muddle of papers layering the well varnished oak.

“It still seems an oddly hard hearted bit of business to have me rousted,” he said, tearing the twisted-end from his finished work, and leaving the waste to fall amongst the mess.

“Perhaps it was not entirely Bowman’s idea,” replied the Fitzhugh. “Perhaps I noted your entry of the establishment, and knew you a man to rarely be in need of a barrel – at least, not unless you’ve come across, or against, something truly interesting. Whatever the case, we had a conversation, here in my office, which left poor Harold inclined to stand for his property.”

“Fine. To cut to it then, I’ve no interest in fetching milk for the Queen, and, if my accounting of our history is correct, it is you who owes me all of the favours anyhow.”

“I may have harangued that barrel maker into signing a complaint, but I’ll push it if you make me.”

“I think we’d both regret that.”

Fitzhugh took a sip of his scotch, then cleared his throat. “I’ve gone about this the wrong way, and I’m sorry. I know how the tally lies, but I ask for a final accommodation – and, before you refuse, hear me out.”

Digging through the ashy heap within the room’s fireplace, Blackhall found a particularly hardy coal, and lit his ragged cigarette. The captain took the action as acquiescence.

Wiping the damp remnants of his drink from his drooping moustache, the military man stated his case.

“At first it was just a few trappers willing to risk the hinterland – which, frankly, didn’t raise many eyebrows, as we lose those lads all the time. You watch them trot away with a canoe, and you can never assume you’ll see them again, unless you happen across them in town at some future date. It did reach a point, however, when the numbers ran strangely high. Then came the stories – in the Chippewa hunting territory it was said there was a breed of locust roaming the land, razing tracts of forest, and gnawing moose to the bone while still on their feet. Rubbage, I thought, but the reports persisted. I’ve dispatched six men now, in two groups, but have no word since their departure. It was “Rosy Red” Archer I sent out in charge of the second lot, and I ought have heard from the codger.”

Thomas had stood alongside “Rosy Red” when he’d earned his name, while breaching the walls of Ciudad Rodrigo. The man had an unpleasant aptitude with a bayonet, but was also known as greatly competent in all aspects of brutality.

“If the bush has done in Archer, I’m not sure what help I might be,” he replied.

“Don’t dunder about with me now,” answered Fitzhugh, “Will you do the job, or should I bottle you till dawn, to allow for further consideration?”

* * *

When Layton, who Blackhall truly felt some warmth for, had finally run his mouth dry, Thomas offered the favour he had pondered since they’d embarked on their journey.

“It may pain you to see your foe, Green, advance, but I hold a few of your Captain’s debts in my pocket, and I’d be pleased to cramp the old man’s hand with the letter writing required to earn your rival a promotion.”

“What? You’d see him a lieutenant?”

“I can not say what impact it may have on Ms. Russell’s affections, but at least a commission, and the risk of court martial, would restrain your competition’s ability to thrash your soft face into gruel.”

Layton nodded in consideration.

The necessary puppeteering, and paperwork, was only a minor revenge on Fitzhugh, but it seemed to add an extra serving of satisfaction to the bacon Blackhall’s stomach was still greedily digesting.


(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.

193 – Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 6

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

Flash PulpTonight we present, Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 6.
(Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6)
[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/skinner/FlashPulp193.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, encounters a reclining concern while visiting whisky-soaked civilization.


Flash Pulp 193 – Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 6

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


Thomas BlackhallBlackhall had been adrift in the western districts for some time, the route to his missing wife, Mairi, having been temporarily hidden from his scrutiny. It was with the hope that he might once again take up the trail that he’d set his ear towards any happening which seemed to be of an occult nature, and this tact is what lead him to the workshop of a cooper named Harold Bowman.

Perth was a bustling settlement, filled beyond capacity by farmers looking to supply, and inbound transplants waiting out various legal necessities before being allowed to claim their muddy plots. The same river that brought settlers, also carried whisky, and Thomas had heard it boasted in the Bucking Pony that they arrived in equal amounts, but it was only the drink that quickly found its way to the dirt.

Chronic unruliness necessitated authority, and, as such, the town was further bolstered by a strong military presence – as often cited as the cause of trouble as its solution – and, while bunking within their purview, Blackhall had walked a straight line, with his hat brim low, in hopes of remaining below notice.

It was at having avoided a well-decorated officer of his former acquaintance that Thomas wore a smile as he entered the saw-dust strewn works, a grin which was at first mistaken by Bowman as the token of a pleasurable encounter.

“In need of barrels, sir?” said the carpenter, “I make the strongest in these parts. Plenty tough to send home a trove of pickled fish, or a gold strike cleverly labeled as a barrel of pickled fish, or even yourself, should your dreams of a gold strike, or pickled fish, have been a bust. Let me know how many you lack, and I’ll let you know how long you can expect to wait.”

Thomas did then smirk in honest enjoyment, but it was short lived.

“While I may yet require such a stingy homecoming, I’ve not come for your labour, but, instead, your lad.”

The barrel-smith flattened his grin.

“What would you want with that layabout?” he asked.

“I believe I might help him.”

Ripping a crescent of nail from his index finger, the father spat the paring onto the floor.

“Fine,” he said, pushing aside a frayed green and white blanket which had been hung as a curtain across a darkened opening at the rear of the room.

To Blackhall’s first glance, the space appeared little more than a large closet, with a knitting woman in the corner to his left, and a ragged honeycomb of floor-to-ceiling shelves running along the wall to his right.

“Ms. Amelia Burton, once the sluggard’s intended,” said the establishment’s proprietor, by way of introduction.

The needles continued to clack as she gave a nod at their approach, but, as she finished her row, she set aside her work to curtsy from her stout furnishing, and Thomas felt compelled to provide a small bow in return.

“Mr. Bowman, I again request that you do not speak as if Christopher has passed. He may perish, surely, but I may also marry him yet, and I’d rather you not pass pronouncements till it’s come to one or the other.”

The target of her admonishment simply harrumphed in response.

“I do apologize at the interruption,” said Blackhall, “I’m no minister, but I believe it within my skills to help see you to the aisle. I’m here on the matter of your betrothed, and his condition.”

“Any solutions you might provide are welcome,” she replied, “but it’s been many a quacksalver and charlatan who’s given my Chris a thorough prodding, and none have yet brought him awake. After several hours of sweating, the last fellow claimed we’d a corpse equipped with a bellows, and declared the whole thing a fraud – which seemed quite the affront, as he had arrived in town with the intention of retailing a dysfunctional ointment claiming to cure baldness and syphilis.”

Her voice softened as she continued. “If only it were artifice – truly, my days are spent on the verge of joy or sorrow, with never a resolution. Despite his lack of nourishment, he does not die, but neither does he stir.”

A silence fell then, and the distant din of the street beyond drifted through the kinks in the building’s rough-hewn planking. Finally, Thomas broke the still with an inquiry.

“If it’s not too impertinent, I might ask as to where the lad is laid up.”

“Why, amongst yonder rack,” replied Amelia, pointing towards the motley array of slabs and brackets that dominated the opposing side of the room.

Following the line of her finger, Blackhall discerned an immobile forearm resting below a rusted saw, and a boot set askew upon a short piling of lumber scraps, salvaged for their fine grain and possible use as trim in future projects.

By squinting, and stooping slightly, Thomas began to see the outline of the enduring sleeper, as buried beneath a stacked grave of carpentry flotsam.

“How did it happen?” he inquired of the woodworker.

The ragged curtain taut in his fingers, Bowman scowled, shook his head, and remained mute.

“I’ve watched the structure rise around him,” said Ms. Burton, turning from the curmudgeon. “The longer it seemed he would slumber, the less concern Mr. Bowman was prone to show – and it was a decrease from an already short supply. Once this room had only a low bench for adornment, and it was upon it that they laid Christopher when they carried him here from the woods. Mr. Bowman constructed the first tier of storage atop it, during a period in which I was away soliciting assistance, and by the time I’d returned – empty handed – there was already a rickety tower overhead. As the months wore on, he continued his construction, and my pleas have changed nothing. I feel as if a life of accusing his son of laziness has driven all sympathy from his heart – as if this were simply another Sunday on which Chris has slept through the pastor’s sermon.”

“- and has he had nothing more than the ministrations of mountebanks then?” asked Thomas

“I’ve done my best, but, unmarried, I am barren of assets with which to obtain the services of a skilled physician. In truth -” she broke off with a glance to her intended in-law, then cupped her slender hand to Blackhall’s battered ear. ”As in the fairy stories of my youth, I have tried on more than one occasion to wake him with a kiss. Despite the sincerity of my efforts, I’ve seen little result. Hopefully you will not think less of me for the silly notion, or the impropriety, but I felt as if it were my responsibility to test all avenues.”

Rubbing at the three-day’s growth at his chin, Thomas squared his shoulders, and shrugged off his ashen great coat. Offering the crook of his arm, he escorted the premature dowager into the main room, and returned to his position, so that he was now speaking past the reticent craftsman.

“Perhaps if his father had not been so rushed to lose his child amongst his business, you would have had the opportunity to properly examine him.” Damning himself for the notion, Blackhall removed a fat sack of coins, and dropped it at Bowman’s feet. “Take what I’ll owe for the damages, and leave me what change you think your boy’s life is worth.”

Giving no further warning, the frontiersman grabbed up a heavy-headed mallet, which had previously rested five askew platforms above Christopher’s sternum, and swept the majority of the contents near to the lad onto the floor.

The work was not so different from wielding an axe, and with a series of deft strikes – each one accompanied by a gasp issued from the bloodless face of the senior Bowman – Thomas was able to free the slumberer from his timber-cocoon, all while avoiding the total collapse of the lofty storage.

Draping his snoring load on the heavy chair’s backing, Blackhall lay a hand forcibly upon his shoulder, and began pounding at him as if the beating alone would be enough to rouse the boy.

“Come now, sleeping beauty,” he muttered.

It was the third blow that brought up the desiccated fruit – after a spit, and a pop, what appeared to have once been a bite of crab-apple arced across the room and landed with little bounce at the threshold to the adjoining workspace.

With a snort, Christopher gave a yawn, then stood, his face contorted as if in a daze.

Blackhall steadied the boy with a firm hold on his shoulders.

“Was it the old woman then, offering you a snack?” he asked.

“Yes,” came the yawned reply, “Do you know her? A strange crone, that one.”

“Which way did she go?”

“I don’t know – I must have fallen asleep?”

Winded from his exertions, and his disappointment, Thomas steered the awoken to the seat that had so recently constituted Amelia’s post, and eyed the elder Bowman.

The man kicked back the sack of coins, and Blackhall stooped to arrange it in his pocket, as well as retrieve his coat, before exiting the establishment.

He was carried out on the sound of Ms. Burton’s joyful tears.

The following evening, as he sipped a cup of ale at the Bucking Pony, and made effort to think little of his woes, or his missing Mairi, Thomas wondered if he’d been too hard on the man, and if he’d possibly taken the girl’s words regarding callousness too close to heart without provocation. He dismissed the concern, however, when a pair of uniformed Corporals arrived, and informed him of his detainment under considerations of property damage, as levied by the town’s respected cooper.


(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:

Slap.wav by scarbelly25
00553 coughing man 2.wav by Robinhood76
thump_G_1.L.aif by batchku
AmishCountry.mp3 by acclivity
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Curtains Opening or Closing 2 (www.rutgermuller.nl).wav by rutgermuller
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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.