Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and sixty.
Tonight we present, The Murder Plague: Barriers, 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, Harm Carter and his travel-mates must make a hard decision before suddenly finding themselves with few options.
Flash Pulp 160 – The Murder Plague: Barriers, Part 1 of 1
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
We were shooting down the road like a greased eel amongst the groping hands of country-fair attendees, when we spotted a goliath by the roadside.
He had his thumb popped to the east, and a bored expression on his face, as if it weren’t likely that any passers-by would just as soon run him down as pick him up. I suppose if I had the physique of a well constructed Victorian-era strongman, I too might have had a little more confidence while loitering amongst the homicidal infected.
Another problem with a virus which turns everyone around you into a paranoid maniac is that you spend a lot of time second guessing your decisions. We spent ten minutes in silence, as we attempted to reassure ourselves of our own logic.
“We should try and talk to him,” said Minnie. I’d brought the Escalade to a halt at the crest of a hill, well away from the stationary traveler, and I was fairly confident that he hadn’t noticed us.
“Balls to that,” replied Jeremy. “Were you not paying attention back at the gas station? Why would we ever want to risk further exposure to those friggin’ nutters?”
Despite his callous tones, I was inclined to agree with him. Even if the wayfarer wasn’t sick, I was too out of patience for another seismic change in the world. A fatigue sets in after your second murder scene of the day.
“Maybe we’ll just wave,” I said. “I hate to ignore a fellow survivor, but I’m sure he’ll understand, given the circumstances.”
When he did spot our approach, he started flailing both arms, vigorously.
If he saw our return greeting, it was as a blur. I had us up to top speed by that point, as I thought he might impart a few bullet holes in our bumper as a parting gift for spurning him.
The countryside was a smear of farmhouses, fields, and fencing – the rustic beauty seemed unmarred, except as we passed a single abandoned Greyhound bus, with its tall tinted windows broken out, and its silvery husk left in a field to fend against the insistent sun.
We hadn’t slowed when we hit the ambush, almost a mile further down the road.
As we passed over the spike-strip, I veered left, sending the behemoth Escalade sliding sideways, over a ditch and into some homesteader’s forgotten harvest. As the vehicle became perpendicular, our seat-belts encouraged us to do likewise. I don’t remember much about the crash itself, but I was certainly pleasantly surprised to discover we had come to a stop in the farmer’s field with only our faithful steed as a casualty.
There we sat, waiting for the universe to settle. To my left was a patch of soybeans, pressed flat by the unexpectedly un-shattered glass. To my right was the sky. Once I was fairly convinced of both, I unbuckled, and my companions did the same.
Adrenaline – and the elation that comes when your brain realizes that it has somehow survived the latest mess you’ve put it through – made us thick and unthinking.
As we climbed onto the upturned passenger door, I caught a sudden plunk over the wibble-wobble of the still-spinning tires. I don’t know how to describe it in any better way than as a plunk.
Now, listen: this wasn’t a plonk, or a plop, or a thud; this plunk was no random result of our impact, and the plunk and I were no strangers passing each other by under odd circumstances.
Nay. I knew this plunk.
“Uh, did you hear that?” asked Minnie, testing her balance to see if she might stand for a better view.
I shoved her over backwards, sending her into the greenery and muck below, then, as Jeremy opened his mouth in question, I nudged him too.
He’d barely had time to accuse my mother of an unorthodoxed style of animal husbandry when my suspicions were confirmed. While I was in the middle of my own descent, the familiar plunk repeated itself.
“Someone is shooting at us,” I noted, brushing the muddy results of my landing from my knees.
I recognized the sound all too well, as I was on hand when similar noises had sent a favourite chess partner home from our extended overseas engagement with Uncle Sam’s traveling mud-huggers.
After a few long moments of silent continued-existence, my comrades had taken on the numb look that’s common to amateur targets – I must admit, nevertheless, that I was quite pleased with myself for having picked the right side to land on.
“Our mad-person,” I said, “has set up their kill zone quite well. We would have been ducks in a row, if we’d remained on the road. It’s quite lucky that we flipped the beast, really.”
“We’re dead,” replied Minnie.
“No, no,” I assured her, “when night falls, we’ll make for the treeline. I’m sure we’re not far from some formerly-occupied farmhouse where we might help ourselves to a pickup truck with a wide-range of amusing bumper stickers.”
“What if Assassination Jones over there has night vision?” asked Jeremy.
I must say, I hadn’t thought of that. It had been my first assumption that the perpetrator was a local deer hunter gone amok, but the setup’s precision and planning gave the new consideration a lot of weight.
There was something else as well: if it were a greenhorn murderer, I would have expected them to waste more ammunition. They were professional enough to hold off for a meatier bulls-eye.
Lacking options, we tried to find a comfortable seating arrangement. Unfortunately, soybeans offer up very little cushioning.
As the sun dipped out of sight, Minnie became assertive about her interest in departing. I don’t blame the poor girl for getting restless, as even a wall the size of an Escalade can begin to feel tiny when it’s all that stands between you and the afterlife. That said, I maintained my opinion that we’d have better odds with as much dark as possible, and she begrudgingly agreed.
Even at its blackest, though, I wasn’t willing to start running about, willy-nilly. That said, night vision isn’t perfect, and especially not the sort that you might pick up at a Wal-Mart. Taking off my jacket, I draped a few billowing-taunts beyond the engine’s border.
“Plunk,” replied our nameless assailant.
At least, on that occasion, I managed to hear the crack of the invisible stalker’s weapon, rolling towards us from somewhere to the west.
That settled, we once again took up our seating.
Not long after, Jeremy began to cry.
It was after midnight when, wiping away a thick string of snot, he spotted our salvation. The abandoned bus was headed our way. Well, moving, yes, but ever so slowly – so much so, in fact, that I thought at first the whole thing was an optical illusion.
As it neared, however, we made out why: the strongman was the only thing motivating the Greyhound along. He’d flipped open the underside baggage doors, and was using them as a handle to push against, leaving the bulk of the bus as a shield. We were fortunate to be on the far-side of the raised asphalt.
His cycle was thus: push, push, push, adjust the steering wheel, rest, repeat.
He came into conversation-range well ahead of being in safe-to-do-anything-about-it-range.
“You people are jerks,” he said. “I’ve got blisters on my hands from the first time I had to push this stupid thing across this stupid field.”
“Why didn’t you just drive it?” asked Jeremy.
“If this thing’s engine was working, do you think I’d’ve been trying to hitch over the hill from Lee Harvey Oswald?”
“Well, to be fair,” I said, maybe feeling a little defensive about my deciding vote, “thumbing a ride doesn’t really seem the most brilliant idea either.”
“This whole area is full of friggin’ nutbar recluse survivalists and farmers. Every one of these houses is a landmine on top of a bear trap that’s been rubbed down with poison. Trust me, I know – a dozen of us originally stepped off this thing. The road was the only place we WEREN’T slaughtered.”
At that point he started pushing again, and it didn’t seem polite to interrupt him with further chatter.
Once he’d finally eclipsed the shooter’s view of our little fort, we sprinted the ten yards between us. Minnie took up position at his open door, and Jeremy and I leaned into the one that was now at the rear.
Although we made much better time than he had alone, it was still dawn before we’d moved into safety, and nearly noon when we’d finished heaping high apologies – and thanks.
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