Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and fifty-eight.
Tonight we present The Flying Dutchman
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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 we find ourselves witness to dead men wandering the highways.
The Flying Dutchman
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
McGillicuddy’s General Store had stood on its roadside lot for nearly a hundred years. Marty McGillicuddy, thirty, was now its manager, but, before him, Pa McGillicuddy had worked the counter as a child under the supervision of its founder, Pops.
In truth, Pa could not quite allow himself to retire. Though he should have been having dinner with Ma by that dusk hour, he’d stayed on past his voluntary shift to finish telling his son of a twenty-year-past fishing trip - the old man rarely took vacations, so those few he’d allowed himself stood in vivid memory - but the recollection was put on hold as the store’s ancient bell rang twice.
Someone was at the pumps. Decades after it was fashionable, the station had continued to offer full service - it was tradition, and, even in these days of fully electric cars and automated recharging, the human touch remained important to both McGillicuddy men.
Most of their traffic was local: Decades back the highway had been so efficiently straightened the town was no longer needed, but there was still a large enough dead spot between Capital City and Riverside, for those unthinking enough to have forgotten to fuel up, that the shop had managed to stagger on.
Stepping into the evening heat, Marty pushed the vehicle’s “manual fill” button, hefted the connector, and flicked open the fueling panel. His eyes were on the horizon to his right, the sun having just set and the sky streaked with a thick red, yet he couldn’t remember if that meant sailors delight or take fright. Finally, when the magnets snapped into place to hold the transmission nozzle, there was little to do but loaf.
He turned left, intending to identify which local was out so late, and everything he’d eaten that day was suddenly working to escape his stomach.
At first he’d thought it was convertible - not a nice one, perhaps, but the sort of boxy job one of the townsfolk sometimes picked up to let the the wind run through their hair without leaving them bankrupt.
His mistake was quickly corrected when he spotted the face staring at him from the rear seat.
The stranger’s countenance had been withered and browned by exposure to sun and rain. His lips were pulled back hard against his teeth, as if locked in a madman’s grin, but it was apparent to Marty that the decapitated head’s skin had simply shrunk and pulled taut with time, revealing the smiling skull beneath.
Looking to the front seat Marty caught a flash of orange, and then the manual fill button beeped.
His mind largely focused on not vomiting, the attendant’s hand went to the connector, as it had dozens of times a day for years, and he pulled the lock free.
Without pause the engine began to whine. The boxy Volvo pulled forward, signaled a left-hand turn as it paused beside the empty roadway, then it fled over the horizon.
In the distance the Melkin’s dog began to bark, an echo of the normalcy that seemed to have otherwise abandoned the younger McGillicuddy. It was a full minute before Marty righted himself and returned to the interior of the store, but even as he moved his mind worked to sort the details of what he’d just witnessed.
Noting his pallor, Pa asked, “Grandmother Templeford make another pass at you?”
“I just - there was a headless dead man in that car.”
“Ah, so you’ve seen the Dutchman then.”
“The Dutchman, as I’ve heard it, was a soccer fan. That’s why he’s wearing the orange jersey. Maybe he was coming back from celebrating a game, maybe he was just heading home after a long night at the office - whatever the case, his car was on autopilot and coming down an off-ramp when - well, you know those cheese slicers with the little wire on the end? The bolts on a guide line around the highway signage had fallen and locked itself between the branches of a thick oak. Just the right height to take the top, and the Dutchman’s head, clean off.
“The GPS that ran the navigation was wired into an antenna on the roof, so the thing was immediately confused about where it was. Still thinking it was trying to get home, it got back on the highway and never stopped.
“I guess they pieced together what had happened after discovering his roof, but the head apparently managed to land in the backseat.”
Marty nodded, but did not interrupt.
“The long-haul truckers’ll tell you that it operates on instinct. Keeps it on the road, keeps it away from other vehicles, and fuels up as needed.
“Police cruisers have attempted to trail him a while, but every time they try to get close the collision sensors push up the car’s speed. By the time they get near they’re going so fast it’s not worth risking a second life to stop the damned thing, and I suspect its nomadic nature makes it easy for troopers to simply turn a head till its drifted into the next county and someone else’s area of responsibility.”
Collecting his push broom to keep his trembling hands busy, Marty asked, “Who’s paying for the juice?”
“Supposedly his wife. The way I heard it, he’s driving an all-too-sensible car, and it can go a mighty distance between having to touch a station. She only knows where he is when he checks in with a new gas up, but she’s always a step behind in her chase.
“In the meantime the Dutchman is out there, drifting along the night highways and crawling country roads as the flies seed his rotting flesh.”
The store fell to silence, the rows of soup cans and bagged chips finding nothing more interesting in the conversation than they had in any other across the previous century.
“So,” said Marty, “what were you saying about that pike?”
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.
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