Categotry Archives: Blackhall

FP493 – Well-Worn Paths: a Blackhall Chronicle

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Well-Worn Paths: a Blackhall Chronicle

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Chrononaut Cinema Reviews!

 

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 cross and re-cross the Canadian wilderness, as if an echo of another time.

 

Well-Worn Paths: a Blackhall Chronicle

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

 

Elizabeth Blackhall had been snatched from the London social scene at the height of her marriageability. She had boarded a ship at her father’s summons not because he asked, but because he’d signed her mother’s name as well, in exactly her mother’s script, and she knew that his constant search for obscure mysteries had either lead to the sort of extreme drunkenness ascribed to the peoples of Lower Canada, or some infection of mind or body had overcome his sanity.

She had planned for a trip no longer than necessary to retrieve her aging progenitor, and had maintained this notion at the forefront of her mind as her ship pushed down the icy St. Lawrence, past the Quebec’s grim ramparts and into the increasingly shabby wilderness.

FP493 - Well-Worn Paths: a Blackhall ChronicleIn time she came to another supposed city, Cornwall, which seemed little more than an expanse of industrial grime smeared across the shoreside for six dozen paces, but she would also, at that point, willingly confess that the site of so much unkempt land had, since their entrance through the mouth of the river, frayed her sense of a speedy endeavour. Everything here seemed named after some point she had rather be visiting, but, despite her years of separation from their firm gazes, she remained her parents’ daughter and did not hesitate when stepping down onto the splinter-planked dock.

This had been a military camp once. Her father could not help but riddle his letters with such digressions, filling the pages with the things he’d learned rather than what she’d like to hear – of his own health and undertakings.

Well, the last post, traceable to this same shabby port, was clear enough sign of his wellbeing.

She had written ahead in preparation, a friend having unexpectedly suggested a man he knew, Smith, of unlikely integrity for such a rough and tumble backwater, and the two-masted trader that had carried her proposed-guide’s acceptance had been chased down the river by December’s final freeze.

It was only now, with April still blowing cold winds and but a worn-mariner’s promise that the ice would be broken up by the time of her arrival, that she’d risked the transatlantic journey.

Her guide’s instructions had been worryingly vague, but each point seemed to prove out true as she worked through them:

“Come the spring there are endless lads along the docks looking to pinch what they might from the first crews of the season, before the codgers have grown tired of their begging young faces. Offer one of the ragamuffins a coin and lay the moniker of Smith upon his ears, if he should answer with my given name toss him the copper and be patient for my appearance.”

The selection of scamps was plentiful, as predicted, and “Montgomery” soon came back as a reply. Within moments she had been collected, and within hours she was on the road north, such as it was.

While Elizabeth chafed at her supposed chaperone’s constant concern for her well being, a brief incident that evening, outside a squat hotel in the rural town of Ottawa, put a rest to his anxieties. Though she had worn the crinolines and bodices of a socialite in search of a matrimonial match, her bloodline’s history of strong stomachs and rebellious actions had long ago taken deep hold of her body and mind. She was as likely, her friends would confess, to be found tossing dice in some rat-infested warren as sweeping through the figures of a quadrille in a grand ballroom.

It was a ruffian sporting a deer-hide jacket and leggings who initiated the episode. At the sight of the pair of wary travellers mounting the steps to their place of rest, the man had, in a slurred bur, snatched the coonskin cap from his head, and began to declare his love.

“Rarely has such a fine sight crept across my vision,” he’d begun, and Elizabeth let slip a roll of her eyes that made clear her lack of interest.

Instead of backing down, however, the man reached out his left hand, grasping her forearm even as he pressed the dead raccoon to his heart in a profession of desire.

Three things happened at once: His friend, equally drunk but clearer of mind, set his palm upon his lusty companion’s shoulder and called for calm; Montgomery, reaching within the simple black wool jacket that kept away the cold of the road, produced a pistol; and, Elizabeth’s slender hand touched the thin-cuffed sleeve in his grasp. A blade had appeared in her long fingers, and its tip swept across the intruder’s hat.

All four watched as the ringed tail fell free of its owner’s headgear and drifted to the ground.

Blackhall’s voice was light but even as she spoke. “Unhand me, sir, or it will be your own tail next.”

At the words Smith’s weapon disappeared into a deep pocket, and they were shortly after resting comfortably in their rented rooms.

So it was that, unified in purpose, the remainder of the journey, first upon horseback and then within a shallow-drafted boat creeping across lake and river, moved swiftly and without complication beyond the usual bug bites and threat of wildlife that all marching into the north encountered.

There the trouble truly began.

It was a surprise to discover her father was not mad. Her traveling companion had, on occasion, provided tales of their time together, mostly revolving around the small settlement towards which they’d journeyed, but he admitted freely that Blackhall Senior had kept many secrets and rarely explained his motivations. She had attributed Smith’s lack of willingness to confess to her father’s madness as a sign of his respect.

It was a greater surprise to discover that her mother had returned from the dead.

For a year the dutiful daughter maintained this improbable life, but Blackhalls are hard pressed to live by the rules of another, even of their own blood. In time the novelty of her mother’s return faded and the old rhythms of their relationship, though now heavily imbued with mysticism and a great work they refused to discuss with her, fell back into place.

Elizabeth was a woman now, however, and her parents, distracted with whatever matters had called them to establish this shabby lake-side settlement, had little time or patience for the priorities of a bird used to flying free.

On a quiet May night, with snow still lingering in the deepest shade, she wrote two letters of affection to her dearest friends: Montgomery, who she referred to her as her beloved uncle, and Mother Gran, the hard-knuckled ancient who maintained both supplies and law within the growing village while Thomas and Mairi worked at their hidden plans.

She wrote no note to her busy parents. They had had opportunity enough to hear her reasons.

It was her father, however, who found her, two weeks later, nearly starved and her left leg shattered.

“The thick Canadian weald is no place for an amateur to attempt self-schooling in bushcraft,” he’d said, as if just another aside in one of his dispatches, then he’d bent low to kiss her forehead and gauge her wound.

Once healed she spent the intervening year in cultivating just such an education.

On her second attempt she’d made it as far as the Cornwallian docks when she spotted Smith. He’d deduced she’d use a familiar port, but his rush to intercept her flight had cost him a black eye at a bandit’s hand and a rasping cough that drained all palour from his face.

Concern for her clever friend, especially as he fell into fever, meant turning back once again – this time to escort the sickly man to the untender mercies of Gran’s medicinal knowledge. Upon this journey, however, Elizabeth swore off leaving any further notes, suspecting that the tip off had been how Montgomery had gotten his start.

When Uncle Monty was sufficiently recovered she announced a fishing trip she would be undertaking, alone, and then departed a third and final time on a rose-dusted June morning.

She’d made it a mile into the thick southern woods when she caught sight of a glowing beacon. Unable to shake the curiosity of her progenitors, Elizabeth had pressed towards its source.

There she came upon a clearing where thin black fingers rose through the spring grass in memoriam of some long-past forest fire. At the meadow’s center stood her mother, Mairi. The dead woman, her appearance oddly stitched and not quite human since her resurrection, blazed with a sourceless light.

“You are right to have complained,” she said, her voice carrying across the green carpet as if her blue lips were brushing Elizabeth’s ear. “There were matters that required our attention here, and here alone, yet you have been heard. Your father – he’s too proud to say it, but he has only a few years left. If you will come with us of free will we will find a home where your needs are met, as are ours, and where we can share some brief span together again as a family.”

So it was that the Blackhall’s settled, for a time, in Capital City, with a history of rebellious daughters facing the Canadian wilds, undaunted, already well established.

 

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.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP471 – Beneath: a Thomas Blackhall Chronicle, Part 2 of 2

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Beneath: a Thomas Blackhall Chronicle, Part 2 of 2

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download MP3
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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Gatecast!

 

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, at long last, we discuss the dead of Otter Rapids.

 

Beneath: a Thomas Blackhall Chronicle, Part 2 of 2

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

 

Blackhall’s words began with the slow momentum of a man groping through memories, and he paused often to sip at his pine tea while it remained hot.

“In the crook of a river’s bend there was a small town of perhaps a hundred heads called Otter Rapids – well, a hundred if you were generous and cast a wide net around the hunt cabins and bush farms that collected their mail in the town’s sole commercial establishment.

“Though all trade flowed through the docks adjacent to the Globe – a venture serving as harbour, weighmaster, inn, public house, post office, and general store – the clay in the land and the fur in the weald was abundant enough to draw a steady stream of grain croppers and pelt collectors.

“Some of them had even made a success of it, and thus the township had been born fifty years previous.

“Now, operating the Globe was a supposed wise woman, Rhine Ande and her husband, Howard. Howard was the sort who made his way with a strong back and stronger opinions, though he rarely considered, until after her passing, that these opinions were little more than a parroting of his wife’s words.

“In truth it was but one of the many ways in which her husband was the result of her molding, but it was a beneficial bond for both.”

Blackhall paused in his telling as a single great knock came at the makeshift cabin door, but an upright raft of timbers bound together with tightly woven reeds. The wood trembled at the impact of the visitor’s declaration of arrival.

Sour Thistle let out a low growl, and, though Thomas at first mistook it as a sign of anger, he soon realized she was simply conveying that the intrusion would be tolerated.

Beyond the swinging entrance stood a bear of immense size. Upon its back it wore a harness of leather and wood that held aloft a platform. In turn, upon the platform had been laid a selection of firewood.

The sight pained Thomas. There were few left of the old nobility – Sour Thistle stood as a rare example of one of the survivors of the years of creeping madness – and he could not blame her for wishing to council against war. Yet Blackhall knew well enough that it was he himself who’d ended the lineage of the Bear King, and that there was no hope of seeing that gleam of intelligence in these ursine eyes – this beast who had been reduced to pack animal.

As her servants stoked the fire, Sour Thistle asked, “how did you come by this tale? The pen of some distant fabulist?”

“No,” answered Thomas, “Most I read of Howard’s journal, the rest, well, the rest I tell you first hand – but we’ll get to that.

“Rhine’s interests, as her husband recorded in his simple scratch, were as varied as the operations housed beneath the Globe’s roof. At the lack of a local broadsheet she became the source of official news flowing up river, and her shop shelves maintained an irregularly robust collection of tomes on farming, histories, and philosophy. Having set up keeping at the head of a gateway to the north had provided some interesting finds in those decades of nameless drifters and fleeing blaggards.

“Here in she found words of healing, cursing runes, and much beyond her self-taught ability to decipher.

“The results of these mystic tools were what she considered just another prong in her efforts to gain capital. Fear of superstitious reprisals kept her from brazen advertisement, but if a member of the community she deemed discrete were in need, and had the coin, she would often approach with a hex to stiffen wilting crops or a sigil to chase wolves from the edges of the lonely clearings in which the dirt-tillers lived.

“It was Rhine’s central tenant that though she acted in self-interest, in the end her actions brought betterment to the community. If she held a morality, it was that. Any she did not help had been given the opportunity, and if the coin was so important to them clearly it was within their right to keep it.

“Speaking of coin, at that time there was a great demand for bodies in the city of Kingston. A hub of education, the surgical schools and their students were more than willing to pay a decent dollar for a cadaver on which to practice.

“Though Otter Rapids’ graveyard was a simple affair in a clearing not far from the community’s single church, which itself rested directly across the muddy street from the Globe, high and heavy fences had been commissioned from Robert Tunsel, the town smith. His specialty was horseshoes and kitchenware, but the man approached the project with gusto.

“While it is not uncommon to wish some protection from the probing paws, and hungry bellies, of wild carrion feeders, this wall was intended to keep a much larger beast out.

“Two years earlier the Collins had buried their eldest daughter, a girl of sixteen who’d perished after startling a horse who’d bucked in instinctive fear. Her crushed skull had not been enough to dissuade a pair of riverborne bodysnatchers from collecting her up, one moonless October night, and carrying her chill body downstream.

“Eight months later the death of Mr. McGrath, the end result of a long bout with failing lungs, had seen a similar breach. The families, finding only each other to commiserate with, had pooled their funds to erect the barrier.”

Blackhall paused again, sipping at his tea, then continued.

“Hard to say how such a thing fit into Rine’s notion of self-interest fueling community betterment, but it is a strangely human foible to ignore all that does not support one’s own notions.

“It soon did become a communal concern, however, when the fires of typhus spread through town. No medicine, mundane or mystical, could touch the natural infection that swept up the river. Fingers were pointed, salves were applied, the old remedies were trotted out by Rhine and country wisemen alike.

“All efforts were futile.

Blackhall“Fever sheds were erected, and any knowledge of the coffin ships was denied by those whose names were landed upon as likely sources. The Irish of the area, often cited as the source, were so well integrated with the families they had arrived to be reunited with that it became impossible to extricate the newcomers – even those with the longest stead grew sick.

“In the end it mattered not who the source of the diseased lice that spread the plague. More than half of the once vibrant and growing community fell ill, and, in the end, Rhine was among them.

“Worse, though the disease would soon arrive within the limits of Kingston itself, and as many bodies as the surgeons might ever have call for would soon be at the disposal of their earth-encrusted fingertips, in those early days Otter Rapids stood as a treasure trove of human flesh.

“The fiends were quick and quiet, their methods as varied and clever as the attempts to stop them. At first simple guards were posted, but with the demands of the harvest already being split by the ailing population it was no small thing to spare an able body to stand guard for the night.

“Even with such precautions taken, the flow did not cease. One sentry claimed to have been knocked flat, likely by an oar. Another spoke of his water skin being tainted with some slumber-inducing tincture, though many suspected it was simply whiskey and the man had only poisoned himself. Distracting fires ensued, strange whispers in the distance pulled sentinels into goose chases, the sound of an approaching bear threatened.

“Whatever the diversion, the cadavers were retrieved at nearly the pace they could be buried, and no change from public cemetery to private gravesite, nor rocky coverings, nor human intervention seemed capable of stopping it.

“In truth, the spread of typhus was such that soon after there were few left unexhausted enough to attempt to try.

“Howard, however, born with the luck of a stronger constitution than most of his neighbours, and with the stubbornness of a man who’d had the fortune to never encounter an obstacle he could not overcome, was determined to keep his wife safe at any cost.

“Now, that is not to say that he too did not suffer the fate of so many of his customers and acquaintances, yet when Rhine first fell ill he poured over her books, his rough education being pressed to its limit as he attempted to locate some rite or elixir that might pull her from the grave’s edge.

“Though the couple had been among those lobbying for the fever sheds, he chose instead to tend her at home, in her own bed. Between his reading he collected cold river water to cool her forehead, and the supply of pemmican and pickles that had been the major source of their seasonal traffic ran dry as he did what he could to coax them down her throat.

“In the end he was able to accomplish little beyond extending her suffering. Even as he felt the fever building within his own limbs he held her hand and watched her final exhalations. Even as the chills ran up his spine and through his limbs he dug her grave. Even as the sweat of exertion and malady churned in with the muck he pulled from her resting place, he knew he was breathing his last.

“He’d considered a simple plot alongside their rambling clapboard shop, yet the proximity to the riverway – and the nearness to the body snatchers’ picks – convinced him the communal graveyard was a spot more likely to bring her peace.

“Howard did not stop there, however. For the final words of his diary, as I found it open within their buttoned-tight store, laid out the concerns he had around his wife’s eternal slumber being disrupted, and his plan to stop any such intrusions.

“Though he’d dug the hole himself, he offered up a barrel of Liverpool salt to the Henleys – a local family who’d had the good fortune to otherwise survive the plague unscathed – to finish the job.

“Now, you must recall that this was a time of rapid internment. Worries over spreading disease and, frankly, making way for the next to fall, meant that holes were dug and filled as fast as the shovels might fall.

“Though Otter Rapids never quite reached the point of mass graves or funerary pyres, the situation on the ground was one of rot and woe.”

Though her crinkled nose and bright eyes told Blackhall clearly that his host was, at this point, deeply invested in his tale, she took a moment to interrupt his telling.

“Imagine it,” she said, “all that delectable meat being left to spoil – above ground or below, it matters not, your people should learn the beauty of a feast upon death.”

“Well,” answered Thomas, “we do often do hold a commiserating meal, but it is largely considered bad manners to feast upon the dead. Besides, disease was rampant enough at the time, there was no need to exasperate the situation by spreading it through a belly full of Uncle Bill.”

The Lady of the Forest chuckled. “Call me at your next such venture, I will gladly lend my teeth in assistance of your disposal problems.”

Attempting a half-grin that spoke of too much experience with such calamities to allow for any true black humour to show through, Blackhall continued.

“Given the great rate of collapse and interment the Henleys can hardly be blamed for not questioning why they found themselves, upon having filled over Rhine Ande’s grave, with no small amount of redundant dirt still left in Howard’s pile.

“Further, in light of the man’s loss, and the sickness pillaging the beds and fields of Otter Rapids, the Henleys might also be forgiven for not questioning further the disappearance of the man who had hired them.

“The truth likely lay dormant for a day before being quite literally uncovered.

“You may note that I have provided little information about the body snatchers plaguing the town. I can not even truly tell you their names – when I met them, they had very little to say on the matter.

“Here’s what I do know: When I arrived upon the scene I was long delayed but finally answering a summons to inquire about the matter of the missing cadavers. You must recall that, at the time, there were many theories about the disappearing corpses – most of which assumed some witchcraft or mystic aspect.

“The friend who had summoned me, unfortunately, had passed early in the spreading disaster, and perhaps it was Alfred’s demise – and the worries about his final resting place – that finally drew me to the area.

“Whatever the case, it was no arcane matter that first caught my eye, it was simply my habit of traveling the wildwoods on foot. Meals can be few and far between in such a venture, so my stomach was on constant alert for game. It was this hope for a full belly that pulled my gaze to the canoe hidden on the east bank of the river, its hull covered over with a number of downed spruce branches.

“From the craft I simply followed a trail of churned mud and snapped twigs that led me directly to the graveyard – though not without encountering a fair share of danger upon the way.

“I discerned what happened almost immediately, as the answers had been laid out like the breadcrumb trail of a child’s story. Having been forced into association with a few bodysnatchers in my time, their techniques were already familiar to me. They often, as was the case here, concentrate their efforts in a shaft beginning directly above the head of their intended victim. Though the broadsheets carry cartoon images of men having laboured to turn back the grave digger’s work, in truth it’s much easier to simply draw a single chute, shatter the uppermost portion of the coffin, and drag their prize upwards.

“With this savings in labour a successful shovelman can carry off three or four loved ones without risking the light of dusk or dawn.

“This too was the case above the Ande grave, and it was clear that one of the two partners in crime had been forced to step down into the hole for leverage in driving the blade of his shovel against the coffin-top.

“The man had the look of a habitant far from home. His red toque, heavy woven jacket, and variety of leathers told me he was likely a huntsman who’d turned his skills in silent forest-running towards creeping into graveyards.

“He was no longer silent, however. He began moaning loudly as soon as I came into sight.

“Worse still, Howard was also at hand.

“You see, though the mourning husband could not save his dying wife, he had come across a rite of resurrection, or, at least, of infection. I know you have dealt with plagues of the dead in the past – the gnashing of teeth, the rotting flesh, the milky eyes and stumbling, waving limbs.

“Yet Howard had not invoked the curse upon his wife. No, instead he had, knowing her slumber would be disturbed, prepared the symbols of ritual upon his own flesh. Who knows how long he had lain, yet alive, as the Henleys laid their spoonfuls of dirt upon his lid, but he must have been still breathing when he set Rhine beneath, placed a first layer of soil, then cast his own box into the hole and prepared as if for slumber.

“His trap, of course, was a success – though I found him, some four days later, still caught in the pinewood, he had done no small damage to the nearest intruder’s leg. The man had bled out and been feebly resurrected without ever being able to escape the tunnel into Howard’s prison.

“It was a grisly sight. Much of Howard’s grasping hands had been shredded upon the jagged hole in his tomb, but he’d feasted well in the moments before his victim’s return.”

Sour Thistle, licking her teeth, raised a brown-furred brow. “So you say, then, that Rhine’s notion of self-interest did, in the end, benefit the community? It seems as such, at least, as I have never found much further threat in anything I’ve eaten.”

Blackhall, realizing he’d been speaking more to the fire than his friend, raised his head.

“No, you misunderstand me. When Howard went into the ground more than half the town was still in good stead. Though those closest to its heart had fallen to fever, some had recovered; others had simply avoided the illness altogether.

“For the sake of clarity I have unfolded these events in the format of a sensical discovery, but it is not as if I was not already aware of the wandering cadavers as I crept into the remnants of the town. It was there, too, that I saw self-interest in action; the crush of ravenous neighbours thrashing in attempt to climb each other and consume a babe that had been tossed by doomed parents onto a shack roof, the arguments of tooth and shattered nail over those scraps of meat that the decaying mob did manage to turn up.

“It was among them that I spotted the man that must have been the pinned robber’s partner, as he too wore leathers of a courier des bois, and I pegged him as the likely source of contamination to the village at large. No doubt he had attempted to pull his partner from the pit – either so they might flee, or so that he might dispose of the trail of evidence that would lead to him.

“Whatever the case, their self-interest, combined with the Andes’ own, was enough to kill every inhabitant but the lobbed babe.

“It was while collecting supplies that I came across Howard’s journal, and it was with the book in my pocket and the babe in my left arm that I set my torch to the brush upwind and burned flat everything between myself and the river.”

Silence fell in the small shack, then the great wolverine nodded.

“There was little reward in a situation that called for taking such time and risk,” said the queen, and a knot in the flaming log before them popped.

“Even less so for the babe I carried downstream.”

“I believe I understand now.”

The last of the pine tea drained into Blackhall’s gullet.

“Then we prepare for war,” he answered, and the true thrust of their conversation began.

 

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.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP470 – Beneath: a Thomas Blackhall Chronicle, Part 1 of 2

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and seventy.

Flash PulpTonight we present Beneath: a Thomas Blackhall Chronicle, Part 1 of 2

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download MP3
(Part 1Part 2)
(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Weekly Podioplex!

 

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 visit with old friends, both human and otherwise.

 

Beneath: a Thomas Blackhall Chronicle, Part 1 of 2

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

 

It’d been two years since Thomas Blackhall had worn a pair of snowshoes. Not coincidentally, it had also been two years since he’d departed the frontier of the Canadian north and set up a house whose study window overlooked the Lethe, and whose grounds received only enough snow each year to remind him to tell his child some tale of his wilder days.

These indications of time’s passage were important to Thomas largely because he had so little of it left.

Blackhall’s lungs were burning, his back slick with sweat beneath the thick black beaver coat he wore, and yet the great rackets upon his feet continued their rise and fall, and the smile upon his face refused to give out.

He missed the solitude, the sense of focus, the clarity of the dangers at hand. His days and nights were now filled with planning, politics, and grasping what few moments he still had with his Mairi. Yet, though it might be argued he was losing time to his slow progress even now, all of these things fell away to the simple and immediate necessities of surviving in the wilderness: Raise your left foot, put it down. Now do the same with your right. Ignore that rising pain in your calves, as you’ll only lose heat pausing to rest – and is that a wolf shadowing your progress some twenty yards to the rear?

The cabin, when he finally came to it, was of the simplest log construction. The roof was tall, but only because such had been necessitated by its lack of chimney.

There was but a single hole, high above, through which the smoke of the fire within rose.

It wasn’t that his host had no concept of grandeur, it was that she did not care for the rough constructions of men: The valley no doubt pleased her aesthetics, but the lodgings, fit for his frail human form, had likely been – to her mind – the equivalent of equipping a natural palace with an outhouse. Necessary for her guest, perhaps, but not worth dwelling upon.

As Thomas tromped down the valley’s slope his question regarding a possible companion was finally answered. A wolf, the coat along her spine a steely gray but her belly as white as the snow through which she trotted, made herself known by taking a seated position upon his tracks and issuing a single low howl that rolled across the vale.

A brace of fishers shuffled from beneath low-slung pine branches and burrows within the powder. Blackhall counted twenty among the honour guard as he approached, and, though the four legged beasts might have been manageable by boot alone if taken one at a time – and if his boots were perhaps not strapped into the caribou leather and ash pine platforms that currently kept him afloat – he knew there was little he could have done against twenty of the gnawing beasts, especially without a rifle or even the saber he once wore at his side.

Within the shack he found two blankets laid out by the fire, and upon the furthest, hunkered low on her haunches and watching the door through the flames, sat the Lady of the Woods.

“Welcome,” she said, her words delivered through fangs still decorated with the red remains of the mourning dove whose bones and feathers sat neatly collected to her left. “You are late.”

Blackhall smiled. “Yes, I’ve gotten slow in my time away, and as it happens they’ve yet to run a train this far north.”

“Oh,” she answered, “let them try. Your fellow perambulating picnics will learn the folly of sullying my view if they attempt to lay down one of their metal ribbons and drive a smoking behemoth into my domain.”

“You speak as if you’ve considered the subject before, and yet I thought you’d retreated to a quiet life of reflection?”

“Yes, and I have reflected on how much fuller I would be, and how better fertilized my grasses would find themselves, were I to encounter a team of axe-wielders and pick-swingers within the shade of my pines.”

Thomas, still grinning, slipped off the beaver coat and laid it out opposite the former dove to dry, then he lowered himself to the waiting quilt.

From beyond the breach in the roof a parade of black-eyed raccoons soon followed, peering briefly into the hole, then delivering a thick, well-chewed tree limb onto the fire below. The impacts sent sparks dancing, and, though the timber had been stripped of the snow under which it’d rested, the smoke increased briefly as the outermost layer of frost was sent into sizzling fits at the flame’s heat.

“Do you hunger?” asked the Queen of the Northlands, but Blackhall gave a polite shake of his head. Though he had eaten wild game for the vast majority of his time stomping across Upper and Lower Canada, it still unnerved him to watch his friend summon meat to her table in order to be sacrificed. The apparent joy with which most of the victims – be they quail, buck, or salmon – offered themselves up only further upset his appetite.

“No,” he answered, “though I would not, admittedly, turn away a hot beverage with which to fight back the cold. I had forgotten the taste of jerky, and the salt I’ve consumed since stepping from the comfort of my study, and Mairi’s company, will likely carry me through till I return across the border.”

Sour Thistle snorted once, and he thought it likely that she smelled the lie on his words, but was too gracious a host to say otherwise.

“So to the matter at hand then?”

“I suppose.”

“- and you insist on carrying out your mad plan?”

“What other option do I have?”

“Cut your losses.”

“Cut my losses? Do you not see that my losses are everything? I’ve damned a planet to death.”

The smoke settled and the flame grew. A row of squirrels, nimble despite their winter coats, came streaming through the rooftop hole and along the ceiling in a display of natural acrobatics. At the lead was a gray-furred beast with a small tin cup hanging from one cocked arm, and the half dozen who followed each carried a ball of snow as they scaled the knots and moss-filled gaps. Setting the dishware at the fire’s edge, the head of the parade stopped to watch its followers place their collected flakes within. Once complete the apparent leader chattered twice and the posse scattered.

Even as the frizz-haired cooks clambered again onto the ceiling, the tumult gathering in the trees reached Blackhall’s ears.

“You must look at the greater whole,” said Sour Thistle, and Thomas was not quite sure if it was meant as rejoinder to their conversation or simply a delay as the next step of her hospitality was implemented.

A single crow touched down, negotiating the hole and the flame’s heat with a sloping angle of approach and tight wing control that Blackhall’s history as a huntsman could not help but note with an approving eye – if only because he was not currently attempting to eat the newcomer.

The bird placed a single twig of pine in the cup, then it took to the air, two cracking strokes carrying it into the wind above the shack. A second avian of equal skill set down, dispensing another twig, and then another and another.

As Blackhall’s cup of pine tea came to a boil he considered his words.

“I find it funny that you, above all, are counseling peace.”

Though her friend smiled through his delivery, Sour Thistle’s eyes narrowed as she replied.

“I kill, yes, but I do it out of need. The need of my kingdom, or simply the need for food.”

“Technically I’m not killing anyone.”

“No, you set your sights on a greater crime: Politics.”

He took a long sip, his mug lingering on his lips.

Finally he set it in his lap, holding it with both palms, and said “let me tell you a story.”

He began.

 

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.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP439 – Spinning Yarns and Spinning Wheels

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and thirty-nine.

Flash PulpTonight we present Spinning Yarns and Spinning Wheels

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Melting Potcast!

 

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 visit with friends from our distant past as they move ever forward into the future.

 

Spinning Yarns and Spinning Wheels

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

 

“A thousand harnessed cargo scorpions drove a straight line across the windswept desert, and, though the edges of the column were easily lost within the great sandscape’s grit-stained borders…”

From beyond the walls a single low horn gave a lingering, mournful bleet, and Asger set aside the rough-read magazine. The half-dozen children sitting cross legged about him gave up a simultaneous “Aww!”

“- but I haven’t HEARD Sofia Esperon and the Bandits of the Wastes before!” moaned Eydis, her fingers playing with her left braid. Asger recognized it as the girl’s habit when lying.

“There hasn’t been a Queen Sofia story published in the last ten years you haven’t heard twice,” he said. “Still, if you promise to stop fibbing, and if you’ll behave for your brothers and sister while we’re out hunting, I promise I’ll finish it before bed time.”

Haldor, two years Eydis’ younger but easily as large an Esperon fan, took a broad stance.

“I’ll make sure she does!”

He’d fashioned a sword from a length of pallet wood, but a raised eyebrow from Asger kept him from drawing it on the accused.

Heeding the warning, however, Haldor continued. “Why can’t you stay with us and finish it? You used to be with us always.”

This was a trickier question than Asger was prepared to answer. How could he explain the need for adventure – for accomplishment – that had filled the void where his childhood belief in the shaman’s magicks and the clan’s whispered tales of cultists in white had once resided?

The long room rocked briefly and the group shuffling towards the door was left to adjust their footing – then the chamber again settled.

“Every story has a beginning,” he said, “and I began with you, but -”

Having lost his opportunity to finish the thought, he turned as the entry opened with a blast of wind, and a stubby gangway landed.

Though Asger offered an “off you go,” the children of the Elg Herra had danced the distance to their beds before he’d finished the sentence.

Setting a hand on the lever to pull back the rampart, Danne, the keeper of The Nursery, shouted, “The Council approaches. Good luck.”

Then the passage retracted, and the door sprung back into place.

In the quiet seconds that followed, Asger flicked off the LED dome that lit the space and, standing in the dark, attempted to shake off the tension he felt building in his calves and stomach.

The hinges creaked, and his own platform arrived.

Grabbing the rope guides in both hands, he leapt the windy distance in a thick legged imitation of the children’s traversal.

As his eyes adjusted to the much brighter council chamber, he took in its occupants: Gunna, The Earl, wrapped in her handsewn furs; Klas, useless perhaps in his ceremonial role of shaman, yet still her most trusted councillor; and Lotta, Knut, and Ivar, who made up the standard hands at every hunting party. Asger, at that awkward age in which he had one foot in the cradle while the other moved towards his new station, had no doubt he ranked the lowest of the group.

“What’s the word?” he asked, as he took his place, cross legged, at the circle’s edge.

Asger had practiced this steady tone often, yet the Earl smiled gently at his delivery.
“A charge’n’go hauler,” answered Knut, the extended haft of his chosen weapon – a sledge with a flat striking hammer on one side and a toothy claw on its other – sprawled across his lap.

He was the oldest of those who’d actually depart on the hunting expedition, and the most likely to inherit command of The Moose, affording him rare privacy in his retirement if he could outlive Fast Foot Jenny, its current occupant.

On the floor between them, the Earl prodded a map showing their position against that of their target.

It meant little to Asger, but he’d learned to stare at it gravely for a time anyhow.

“Do we know what it’s carrying?” asked Ivar.

The Earl’s brow furled against the protestations of her tautly bound hair.

“Turkeys.”

Using a nod as cover, the neophyte did his best to hide his disappointment. Stories of unexpected treasures and fame-making artifacts were what had drawn him to his risky calling, and icy fowl, though essential, were neither. Yet, even in this mundane undertaking, there was danger aplenty.

They spoke for a time, then the double doors at the rear of the room swung wide, and the hunters were left to settle upon The Moose.

Atop the black SUV’s roof, where more often might be seen lights or shining chrome, Fast Foot Jenny had mounted the broadest bull rack the nomads had ever encountered along the roadside.

Asger had been at hand the day she’d made a rare stop to tend the roadkill. To be standing on solid ground often seemed a strange experience – the lack of rumble beneath his feet would forever feel wrong – but for a moment he had known stillness in the shadow of the oak under which the great beast lay rotting.
The breeze had stirred the branches and the smell of the sun-baked grain of a nearby farmer’s field had briefly won out against the stink of the corpse. Then the current had shifted, and the roar of the flies at work sowing eggs in the putrid flesh had again touched his ears, and they’d gotten to the venerated task at hand.

As it had always been – as they hoped it would forever be – they took what they could use and buried the rest.

Now, though swept back to cut the wind, the thick antlers made for an imposing approach. His calves again tense, Asger pushed himself to be the first to leap from the platform to the vehicle’s hood, then he had scrambled inside, his hands and feet moving with vigour if not practice.

Jenny cackled as he crouched low among the magazine images she’d glued about the cabin: Sunsets and beaches in the backseat, men exceptionally qualified as breeding stock in the front.

Within seconds the remaining three had joined them, Knut taking his traditional place in the passenger seat as Lotta and Ivar joined him in the rear. Then the warm glow of the council hall – its exterior as drab and mud spattered as any of the automated eighteen-wheelers that haunted the night highways – fell away as Fast Foot Jenny earned her name.

There was little to see beyond the tinted windows but hills, trees, and road, leaving only the shadows and the road ahead to draw Asger’s focus until they overtook their target.

Lotta, however, felt it best to spend the time berating Ivar.

“I’ll have none of your damned risks this time,” she was saying, “we need turkey, not heroes…” – and somehow the familiarity of her agitation brought some calm.

Yet, as the great whale finally came into view, Asger’s stomach knotted and his palms began to sweat.

The beast and its automatic driving software paid no heed to their approach.

“You’re up on latching duty, kid,” said Knut, and he set a hand against the hinged windshield.

FP439 - Spinning Yarns and Spinning Wheels In truth, Asger had been on latching duty for the previous three excursions, but he made no argument. Someday it would be someone else’s problem, but today he accepted it as his own.

The wind was high and the reinforced hood rumbled beneath his footing, but he drew the two hooks from their mounts above the headlights and set them deep on the monster’s bumper. Then the scavenging began.

Ivar was quick to conquer the lock, and a blast of cold hit the night air as he breached the hauler’s skin.

Within sat shelf upon shelf of boxes, and Asger knew each box in turn held a dozen turkeys – the entire load could have fed the Elg Herra for months if they’d a method of keeping them, but such gluttony would only lead to trouble. It was tradition to take only what they needed in the moment – only so much as to make such losses acceptable against the cost of security of each rig in the eyes of those who sent them sailing.

Still, they were a people with needs.

“Pop it’s batteries!” Lotta demanded of Ivar, and with some help from their companions they were onto the roof and dragging Moose’s engine-attached cables towards the forecabin.

Misfortune befell their venture before the pair’s careful progress had even managed to traverse the roof.

First came a warning message from the scouts peering from behind The Nursery’s blacked-out windows.

“Two minutes till traffic,” announced Knut, as he dropped his glowing screen into one of the many pockets that lined his slate britches.

Fast Foot Jenny, leaning well out from her position behind the wheel, motioned that they should hurry with the cargo, as they were still well under their limit. That, however, was when the second mishap inserted itself.

A box went loose, falling from the lip of the truck bed and bursting open upon its landing on The Moose’s hood. Yet, as it tumbled across the passenger side and into the darkness, Asger was left with all too clear an impression of its contents.

“They’re not turkey’s, they’re – they’re heads?” he shouted.

Knut frowned.

“Boy,” he said, “get the others.”

It did not register with Asger that his elder had pulled open the packet of tinder and matches that legends and tradition demanded they carry in case they should encounter their supposed ancient enemy.

The youth had never attempted the climb to the trailer-top before, but Knut’s able shoulders pushed him high enough to make it an easy enough mount – it was remaining in place that was the real trouble. The wind howled, and the treetops flew past his vision on either side. Each handhold forward was a battle, and each inch a victory.

Adrenaline had him grinning like a madman when the shooting began.

To his right, the cabin door swung wide, carrying Lotta over the road. The same momentum carried her up and over the window, then she was approaching his position with terrifying speed.

“GO GO GO,” she was shouting, as the roaring gale carried her towards The Moose.

A second round of gunfire erupted, and a bloody Ivar fell through her flapping exit, his body disappearing beneath the rig’s wheels.

Here was the adventure he’d yearned for – but at what cost? His friend?

A white mask and hood appeared at the unbuttoned door to remind him that he might lose more.

There was a moment of recognition, his childhood doubts disappearing in the wind. Had he not always been told the Kar’Wickians would come? And if the cultists were real, what then of the shaman’s chants, and what of –

His considerations ended there, as the spider-worshiper’s raised pistol was enough to encourage him to follow Lotta’s advice.

The tension so long present in his calves pulled him to his feet, despite the bluster, and a third outbreak of gunfire chased him across the rolling platform. Once he leapt, however, it was only the sturdy nature of Fast Foot Jenny’s antler mounting that saved him from a jellied end on the hardtop.

As he adjusted his grip and fought the gentle pressure of expertly applied brakes Asger watched as the freighter’s rear door, left wide, began to spew flame and smoke, and the mix of heat and Knut’s quickly built pyre was enough to disrupt its grisly cargo and send flaming heads tumbling onto the roadway.

Then the rolling abattoir, and its white-clad guardian, left behind the four survivors and disappeared over the horizon.

Five minutes later Asger was again in the quiet warmth of the council room, relaying his report, and an hour more found him returned to the nursery.

“A thousand harnessed cargo scorpions drove a straight line across the windswept desert, and, though the edges of the great column were easily lost within the great sandscape’s grit-stained borders…”, he began, yet, that evening, it was only his own tale the children wished to hear.

 

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.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

Extra: Jessica May – The Tightened Braid (Blackhall’s Theme)

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Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult

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This song is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

FP416 – Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall Chronicle

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and sixteen.

Flash PulpTonight we present Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall Chronicle

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Green Light, Red Light

 

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, Mulligan Smith, private investigator and lifelong resident of Capital City, finds himself drawn to the edge of civilization by one Molly Blackhall.

 

Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall Chronicle

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

 

There were no windows in the room, only empty expanses of bare plywood nailed onto a sloppily erected frame. To Mulligan’s left was a door, to his right a simple table holding a camping lantern that acted as the sole source of light. Beneath him was a creaking wooden chair to which he’d been zip-tied, and before him sat the man with the gin-blossomed nose he’d come to think of as Red Parka.

He knew that just beyond the walls was a view to steal the breath from a Capital City Morlock such as himself, but it did him little good.

Red Parka shifted on his stool, settling the hunting rifle across his lap into a more comfortable position.

There was rarely any magic in Mulligan’s job, and here was the epitome of the mundane: He’d often wondered if this was how he might perish, in some dingy hovel at the hand of a man with petty reasons and a terrible need for a shower.

From beyond the crookedly hung door, in the room that made up the other half of the shack, there came a trio of knocks.

Smith could hear Blue Parka, the one who’d tazed him, rise to answer the summons.

“Yeah?”

“I’ve lost one of my tourists, have you seen an idiot in a hoodie stumbling around out here?”

Smith knew the woman’s voice, longed, in fact, to hear it say just a few more words, but Red Parka’s arms stiffened at the intrusion, and the gun barrel hovered above his knees.

It would do no good, Smith knew, to drag Molly into the calamity.

She’d been the one who’d summoned him to the Arctic Circle. They’d been introduced when he’d had need of a bush pilot on a previous job, and she’d been impressed enough with his work to ask for assistance when the small community of Suinnak had charged her with rum running.

Her email had been as straight to the point as Blackhall herself.

I realize chasing bootleggers sounds a bit ridiculous to a fellow who can walk a block and pass three bars and a booze megastore, but these folks generally see limited supplies, and a sudden bump in the market can cause a lot of havoc. I’ve been the only one in and out lately, so they figure I must be the source, and I haven’t been able to spot any amateur moonshiners while waiting for my court date.

I hate to have to ask – and I think you know it – but I could really use some help.

In truth, Molly’s face, and his trip north, had floated to mind more than once in his idle hours parked outside cheap motels and heavily-curtained bungalows, and he’d been eager to be of assistance.

“I haven’t seen him,” answered Blue Parka.

There was a pause, and Molly lost the majority of the politeness in her voice.

“I heard he was coming here to visit,” she insisted.

Red Parka had the stock of his weapon under his arm now, the barrel endangering the ground midway between Mulligan and himself.

“Nope,” said Blue Parka, “probably best to go back to your plane and wait to see if he shows.”

The door closed. Smith felt his shoulders relax.

At least she’d be safe.

When he’d arrived, a day earlier, it had been an easy enough thing to locate the real origin of the free-flowing liquor. His filing cabinets at home were filled with letters from his ex-police-sergeant father that provided advice along the lines of, “it takes money to catch money,” and he’d known exactly how to begin the search.

FP416 – Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall ChronicleLocating the most notorious drunk in town had only taken three sets of questions, and, as the PI had told Molly when he’d retrieved his bribe from his travel bag, it wasn’t as if the community was about to be overrun with 18-year-old single malt Talisker scotch.

She’d grown red faced and angry when he’d handed the cup to a fellow obviously killing himself with such.

At the first drink, the man had denied knowing anything about locals involved in distilling.

At the second, both men were chuckling, and Molly joined them in a sullen cup.

At the third she too was laughing, as Mulligan laid out his usual jokes and admitted, sheep facedly, that he rarely drank.

At the fourth, the interviewee, still denying he knew anything, did admit it was better booze than the locally made stuff.

When they’d reduced the bottle by half, the private investigator had found his feet suddenly, thanking his host for his time.

“Perhaps you could top my glass before you go?” the drunk had asked.

“Sorry, I need to save some reward for someone who can help,” Smith had replied.

The tippler’s face went to war with itself for thirty seconds, twisting between resolve and thirst, then the man had stood to point at the shack on the hill.

Smiths’ victory was quickly forgotten, however, as Molly landed on a decision that seemed to have been hovering at the edge of her mind for a while, and dragged him back to the cabin she occupied when visiting the remote hamlet.

Two hours later, half-sobered and sweating from exertion, she’d apologized for growing angry over tweaking the old lush’s weakness to dig for an answer.

“We Blackhalls have always had a temper,” she explained.

They’d fallen asleep soon after.

Awaking to her satisfied snoring had given him the chance to creep up the hill and be tazed.

He’d expected to find a still – instead, seconds before being electrified, he’d discovered just a spout to collect snow and a pot-bellied stove that struck the PI as a fire hazard, especially in an all-wood shanty.

That’d been half an hour ago, but now there was a hitch in his chest as he realized the distance between them was so close that he could hear her muttering as she followed the thin trail down the hillside.

“Oh,” she was saying, “I’m-a go back to the goddamn plane…”

In the next room, Blue Parka returned to murmuring. He’d been at it when Smith had originally arrived, and until this second interruption the chanting had been the only relief from Red Parka’s thick mouth-breathing.

Smith returned to the impossible task of finding some leverage that might keep him out of a shallow permafrost grave.

He considered using his increasingly angry bladder as an excuse to attempt to run, but he doubted he’d make it far from Red Parka’s rifle given the barren white slopes that surrounded the hut.

Blue Parka’s droning stopped, and Mulligan’s bladder doubled its demands.

He had little interest in finding out what the pair had in mind once done singing for the day.

It was apparently just another interruption, however.

“You gotta see this,” called the crooner, “there’s a – I think it’s a wolverine? – out front. Bring the rifle.”

Red Parka stood and pulled the door shut behind him.

Through the flimsy barrier Smith heard Red Parka ask, “is it dancing?”

“Maybe it’s rabid?”

The slamming of the outside exit cut off any further conversation.

Breathing heavily, the PI began to thrash in his bonds. The chair went over sideways, but did not break. The zipties dug into his ankles and the flesh of his wrists, but did not give.

Still, it was shouting and gunshots from the far side of the cabin that brought his flailing to a halt.

Then the air filled with the scream of a chainsaw.

As he lay askew on the rough planks, the tip of a high-speed cleaver pushed through the wall and sliced downward in a long diagonal stroke.

Two more incisions followed, and the splinter-edged triangle fell inward.

Molly Blackhall said, “so, sometimes you’re out in the woods and some bloody beavers start lodging up on the river you figured you could use to exit. I keep this Mama Jama to clear the runway, as it were.”

“You shouldn’t have come back,” answered Mulligan, “they’re armed with worse than chainsaws. If that animal hadn’t come along…”

“Oh, she’s part of the plan too.”

“You have a pet wolverine?”

“It’s not a pet, it’s more like a friend,” she replied. “Anyhow, talk less, escape more.”

She did him the favour of using a knife to remove his bonds.

Still, the PI could not resist a final peek into the adjoining room to see the product of the seemingly neverending incantations. He thought the man had been simply whistling while he worked, but the only changes he could spot in the plain chamber were the location of the barrel, which was now at the center of the floor, and the nature of what it held.

Then he was again being pulled along by Molly’s insistent grip, though this time through the ragged hole and down the hill.

White powder crunched underfoot. The mountain range on the far horizon watched impassively. Behind them echoed more shouts, and more gunshots, and perhaps even a gravel-throated chuckle.

It was at that moment Mulligan Smith realized he was in love, but he would be left wondering, for a long while afterward, how the Parkas had transformed a barrel of snow melt into wine.

He would not see the pair again, nor would the people of Suinnak, but the discovery of the supply – and the signed confession they nailed to the Game Warden’s office before they departed – were enough to clear Molly for a brief southward vacation.

 

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.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP407 – The Plague Wagon: a Blackhall Tale

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and seven.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Plague Wagon: a Blackhall Tale

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Hugh J. O’Donnell’s The City

 

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 hear the whispered tale behind the black ambulance said to haunt the backroads of Capital County.

 

The Plague Wagon: a Blackhall Tale

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

 

The trio stood before the Stunted Rooster, a public house not far north of the Capital City county line, and whispered to each other in the muted shouts of drunks stumbling home after quenching a Saturday night’s thirst.

In truth, Greene knew Cooper only because the man occasionally shoed his horses, and knew Rimbault not at all beyond his hasty self-introduction, but, as is often the case when confronted with the unexpected, the knot of men had become fast friends when brought up short on the Rooster’s veranda.

Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occultShrugging at the merchant and blacksmith, Rimbault said, “I’ve heard of the thing – they call it the Plague Wagon. It’s said to be an ambulance of sorts, operated in service of the rich. The families on the west side of the city, their wealth knowing few bounds in regards to matters of beloved daughters and prodigal sons, apparently keep an enclave of witch doctors and wild-eyed surgeons sequestered along the coast, where the air itself also carries healing properties. This carriage is intended to ferry them across the highways and backroads with utmost speed and comfort.

“Death the leveller indeed, but they do do their damndest to save themselves.”

There was little detail to remark upon in the coal-coloured ambulance, beyond the monochromatic theme of its jet-black curtains, wheels, and woodwork, yet it left its viewers with the unpleasant notion that there was no surface upon which to safely rest their eyes.

Having apparently oriented himself along the hand drawn map between his fingers, the driver again set the vehicle to forward.

The ebon Shire horses at its head gave their audience no attention as they passed.

“Yesss,” replied Cooper, his voice slow, as if speaking were helping draw out some memory from the depths of the recent alcoholic flood. “My boy, Billings, made mention of it after returning from a season in the lumber camps. As he related the tale, I seem to recall there is a unique strain of illness, highly deadly but easily transferred.

“Eventually nodules the size of an egg raising from their arms, and likely to burst at the slightest disturbance – it is the character of the contagion that any flesh thus touched then begins to boil in a similar nature, planting the illness anew.

“The weight of these tumors upon the chest and neck is the cause of death, as they inevitably smother the sufferer.”

“I pity for the passenger who must roll through these rough roads,” said Rimbault, his eyes still following the retreating wheels.

“I pity highwayman who attempts to waylay them,” snorted Cooper.

“If you must pity someone,” said Greene, “pity the driver, whose called upon to act as a sort of nurse in the transaction. It’s said to often be a poor fellow who is ill in some way himself, or someone so destitute that his family needs the money more than the man. I’ve heard each trip is well paid, but few hired survive more than three such expeditions.”

“Oh, where did you hear that?” asked Rimbault.

“Well, in all honesty, though I have enjoyed your renditions, I was given an evening’s dissertation on the topic by Bill Gelbert the milner, who said he’d heard it from a Smith. He told the tale as we both sheltered from an unexpected storm at the Ox and Mule. The thunder was heavy and it seemed an appropriate topic to fill the time between cups.”

“Funny,” said Cooper, ”I’d swear it was a Smith from which Billings took his account as well.”

There was a pause then, as the slow-trotting carriage rounded a distant corner.

Finally, in a too-loud tone, Rimbault announced, “plenty of Smiths in the world I suppose,” then lit his pipe. He did not add his following thought, which was that anyone wandering the countryside spreading stories should have thought to give a false name early in the proceeding.

His companions made no notice of the redness in his cheeks, nor the smirk on his lips, as they likely assumed both to be the result of ardent spirits.

The trio nodded in unison before exchanging goodnights, each now eager for the comforting warmth of their beds – and so it was that Thomas and Mairi Blackhall were able to undertake excursions, in the pleasance of each other’s company, without fear of catching the eye or interest of any who might wonder at the funerary rot that tainted the woman’s smiling face.

 

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.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP400 – Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 – The Hag

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred.

Flash PulpTonight we present Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 – The Hag

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Mob

 

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 – master frontiersman, student of the occult, and grieving husband – completes his tale regarding the beginning of the end, and the woman who stole his wife’s cadaver.

 

Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 – The Hag

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

 

Vengeance outweighed the woman’s grief, and the consolidation of her power began even before her boy’s reanimated body had fully let go of its living warmth.

Setting the child to dancing a shadow of a jig, she sent the riderless pony to town, as an omen of what would follow, then made her way west.

It was her intention that his cavorting would keep him close until such time as she discovered a method to properly raise him. However, a life filled with emergencies – shattered limbs, reluctant births, fickle curses – had left the Hag with a keen mind for priorities, and, as a python is said to eat an elephant, she began with the tail of her problem and moved ever forward to overtake her goal.

First she returned to any who had imparted wisdom to her custody, so that she might demand any secrets they had held in reserve. Though none of her former teachers furnished a solution for true resurrection, fraud, extortion, and flattery would eventually bring her a deep knowledge of the three forms of magic.

The school of the written word and inscribed sigil soon covered her body in images of power and deception. It was from an Egyptian book collector that she collected the pattern that imbues longevity, but it is only due to his phantom that I was able to pass that same design on to you.

She’d approached him as a broken soul in need of opportunity to correct her tragedy, and his own timeless greed for education made him too quick to sympathize. The Hag, however, was a woman who insisted on absolute discretion, as she demonstrated by slitting his throat and removing the flesh of his back.

Longevity is not invulnerability, as his ghostly lips later informed me.

I myself learned, in nearly two decades in the bush, that a life of endless walking leaves too much time to obsess; too much time to over-think. I can not imagine the effect magnified by a century’s span.

By the occasion on which she again crossed Ibsil, her transgressors were long dead – she cared not.

In exchange for his freedom, a mute friar locked high in a coastal tower had taught her many phrases of destruction. In his youth his transcription work had carried him across a decaying tome seemingly forgotten upon the shelves of his remote cloister. Unthinking, he had hoisted the volume and begun the penitent process of re-copying its text. It was under his breath that he whispered the tones that pushed out the monastery’s eastern wall, but he had, by then, already achieved the majority of his reproduction.

Even after the removal of his tongue, the memory of the index had followed him into the tiny room that marked the fate his brothers prescribed, and a lifetime’s confinement had left his recollections too close to his quill fingers.

Once his furtive letters were written, though, his freedom lasted as far as a mile offshore. Then, as a noose-tied-stone was lobbed overboard, the sloop he thought employed for his escape was revealed to be the vehicle of his demise.

The ruination of Ibsil began with a chortle and a word like a thunderclap.

Within seconds the streets were filled with those attracted to the noise and dust of the collapsing masonwork that was once the town’s church, and so The Hag spoke of plague, for those who would hide, and of fracturing, for those who could not.

Her tongue parted the gathered like a violent wave, and she formed corrupt sentences whose shapes and sounds called forth arcane energies to snap limbs, rupture eyes, and cleave architecture.

In a week she’d flattened every residence and stable, flushed out every farmhand and cellar dweller, and set flame to anything that might provide a safe haven she’d missed.

Finally, when the townspeople of Ibsil, ruined by contagion and violence, no longer had life enough to writhe on their own, she raised their shattered husks and set them to dancing for the supposed amusement of her son’s uncomprehending corpse.

This continued for a fortnight, with any unlucky enough to wander into the remote village joining the festivities, and it only stopped when the cadavers she most favoured began to tear and sunder under her rough treatment.

Yet her real desire, the secret of true resurrection, eluded her.

Centuries rolled beneath her feet. The world shifted about her, but the Hag, and her mystically preserved boy, continued on.

In time she fell in with the children of the Spider-God, the hooded Kar’Wickians. She was not one for friendship, but the arachnid’s spawn have many social advantages that her hermitry denied her. In exchange for her skills, and an occasional conjuring lesson, they provided her a great web of volunteers – for there was no shortage of restoration tales to authenticate, though most led solely to frustration.

Raiding ancient texts from the cult’s hidden library, she learned many of the rituals of symbolism, the most primitive of the magical schools but also extremely powerful in its elementary nature. It is much more than modest voodoo doll making. Though the age of artifact creation is distantly passed, it is said this symbolic art of material manipulation, in combination with rites from the written and spoken schools, were the forge by which the Crook of Ortez and its ilk were created.

Eventually she found her answer in one such relic, the Distilling Catafalque.

Now, there was perhaps an age when the world was so saturated with ethereal energies that the Catafalque might have taken the carrion of but three or four mystically-drenched dead to operate, but the arcane had begun to leech from the land, and naught but a few locations remained upon the globe that contained some power.

The hinterlands of the united Canadas was one such place.

I had met her twice before our final encounter. On the first occasion – well, I have publicly claimed innocence by stating that it was simple error that caused our paths to cross, but, in truth, I had come to snatch the Catafalque from her very hands. Rumours of her passage, and her collection of the dead to power the device, came from the mouths of phantoms and the whispers of the fading animal lords- but I had not comprehended the size of her rotting army, and fear had driven me off from that initial meeting.

It was not long after, however, that she took revenge at my interruption by snatching up my Mairi’s body to join her column.

I carried not but mundane tools into our final confrontation, out of concern that her attunement to the preternatural might signal my presence. The thousands of capering cadavers had aligned themselves into a whirling spiral, and I was left to creep, sweaty-browed, through the dancing rings. My pen is too weak to convey the anxiety of slipping between those exuberantly jerking, absolutely silent, figures.

Thomas Blackhall, a fantasy fiction podcast brought to you by the Skinner Co. NetworkAt their center stood The Hag, an orb of light in one hand while the other rest on the torn and muck-covered jacket of her unchanged son’s shoulder. She was watching as each thrashing puppet climbed, in turn, atop the black-veiled platform their lifeless shoulders had carried across the face of Europe, over the salt, and through the dense wildwoods. There was smoke at each closing of the plush curtains, but no further evidence of its sacrifice’s passing.

I let out no yip or call upon my assault: No, my very heart ceased to beat so that the noise would not arouse her.

It was a whisper I had mastered that lit the fuse of my explosive bundle, and even that was almost too much.

There was recognition in her face as the payload landed at her feet, but not time enough to react. Even in the last she attempted to shield the boy from the blast, and in so doing proved that I had right to worry: Though her belly was pulled asunder by the explosion, the bones of her cradling arms absorbed the force without yielding. Still, the tattoos that formed the greater portion of her defense were but simple ink in form, and so burned as easily as the rest of her skin.

The ritual, already in motion, went on.

Though I had dared not search beforehand, it was my deepest hope that Mairi had not yet entered that eternal slumber. My boots seemed to gain weight with each step – with each face that registered as not her own – but an uncountable period of running along the still-rollicking spiral brought me to the woman I had sought for long decades.

With wet cheeks, I pulled her from the line, and, in her place, I lay the Hag and her boy upon the platform.

I will confess again that I knew. I knew the pact she’d made with the Spider-God, I knew that there was not enough power left in the world, unless the abomination might find some weak soul with which to barter the last of its vitality to plant a seed that would bloom into invasion.

I knew, and that is why, even years before the encounter, I had begun my project of apology – and I do apologize, though I can not bring myself to regret the return of Mairi to my side.

We have two hundred years to correct my error. Now, to the extent of your title’s responsibilities – and those carried by the other branches of my now sprawling legacy – the matter is in your hands, Coffin.

Yours till victory, or the rise of Kar’Wick,

Thomas Blackhall

 

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.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP399 – Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 – The Mother

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 – The Mother

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Melting Potcast

 

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 tell the tale of a mother outcast in a haunted world, and the strange roads down which her choices would lead her.

 

Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 – The Mother

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

 

In those dark times there was no gentle path for a solitary mother living a nomadic life, but the tricks and skills the woman had gathered through her youth were just as pliable beyond the boundaries of the county in which she was raised.

Menu3The old Roman roads were not so old when she began, and she slipped from the vineyards of the west to the steppes of the east just as a wind shifts and stirs at its own command.

Nona had bestowed a keen eye for comfortable hedges and the signs of a welcoming dooryard, but it was not long before the softest turf and sweetest bites of stolen pie were reserved entirely for her ever-growing infant.

There was little security in her position, and she received no small abuse from those villages that wished to claim a righteous position. Oft was the night that she slept fitfully on a spine bruised by flung stone. No family requiring her discreet service in dispatching an unwanted lump left by a lustful evening wished her to remain longer than necessary, and it was rare that a household besieged by supernatural threat was in any condition to host once she’d cast out the imp or phantasm that had assaulted it.

No matter the bramble or stolen hayloft in which they slumbered, however, the woman would not let her child slip into sleep without his hearing the refrain of her love. There was no joy without him, there was no road worth taking. A whiff of his infant skin was enough to drive the cow dung scent from any barn, and to make comfortable whatever awkward pose she might be required to maintain so that he might snore soundly in her arms.

In time, she herself took to wearing a triple-belt across her chest. The boy quickly learned to name and pluck those roots and petals that could be of use, and it was not unusual for the pair to pass a day without a meal they had not pulled from the wild dirt.

Yet, there were advantages to setting her own course. Few were the winter months she spent in snowy lands, and there was no rumour of arcane knowledge she could not chase.

There was an ancient deaf man who imparted the secret of how to entreat with the Animal Lords in exchange for an illumination trick she’d learned at thirteen, and an oracle on the shores of the western sea who recounted the ritual to summon a lightning elemental as barter for the skulls of a dozen murderers.

The Mother had simply made use of a long knife and the conveniently hung bandits that lined the highways as warning. She had not inquired as to the collection’s purpose.

In a damp Mediterranean necropolis she came across a chiseled inscription in a marble sepulcher. It required two years of learning a dead language, but she considered herself lucky in having a monk to blackmail over the problem of a village girl she’d formerly been called to aid.

It was this engraving from which she learned the art of raising the departed. Not their spirits, perhaps, but at least their corpses.

Here then, was a true secret, and from the age of six through eleven, the boy was shown a goodly life. It was an easy thing to terrify a town into a stiff fee by sending its recently interred citizens cavorting through the central square, and – be the tale vampires or ghouls or vengeful shades – the greater her reputation grew as an exorcist, the more plush their pillows became.

She began to take what Nona had refused – but not for herself, for the boy.

A renowned tailor found his daughter visiting his window as he cowered in his bed, and the lad found himself in a new suit of fine purple velvet. A cordwainer’s mother insisted on marching repeatedly from her grave to the local tavern, and the youth began to travel in supple leather boots.

By the eve of his twelfth birthday their bellies no longer went unfilled, and the child had taken to riding a small pony between preoccupations.

It was upon the back of the beast which he was perched when the townspeople of Ibsil rose up. Perhaps it was the boy’s display of finery in comparison to their own muck-covered rags that put the question of fraud in their mind, but, whatever the case, a close watch by soft footed deer hunters had turned out the woman’s proximity on the third afternoon of a beloved blacksmith’s rising.

The doting mother had become especially brazen in her methods, as the dead man in question had, in the year before his passing, crafted a sword of some reputation that her son wished to receive as reward for their supposed-intervention – but the daylight timing mixed with the nervous crowd to leave many at hand willing to lift stones against them.

Her leg’s were strong, however, and the pony well-shoed – nor was it the first flight of rocks she had endured. She was giggling by the time they reached the cart path bend that marked the township’s boundary, as there were but a straggle of hard-willed delinquents left at their rear, and those too busy attempting to find ammunition with which to maintain their barrage.

It was a last effort missile by a farmer’s son of especially thick arm that struck the little prince from his steed – but it was not the projectile itself that did him in, it was the short fall to the hard path below that snapped his neck.

All that came after was due to nothing more than a coincidence of angle and unconsciousness.

Surprised at their own success, and suddenly realizing just how far from the comfort of their homes they’d wandered, the pursuers scattered, leaving the grieving woman to weep over the broken body of her boy.

It is said that she did not stand again until she’d torn every strand of hair from her scalp in despair, and that those tufts that would eventually regrow would only come back as ivory as a bairn’s conscience.

Yet she did stand, for it came to her mind that if it were already within her ability to raise his husk, then surely somewhere the knowledge must exist to reunite his cadaver with his spirit.

So it was that her child became the first of what would become a long column of the dancing dead, though it would be centuries before my Mairi followed.

 

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.

Coffin’s theme is Quinn’s Song: A New Man, by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com/

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP398 – Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 – The Maiden

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 – The Maiden

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Melting Potcast

 

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 present an occult fairy tale of sorts, as we enter an ancient forest to happen upon a bloody scene and an abandoned child.

 

Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 – The Maiden

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

 

Centuries ago, during the dark times, in a village whose name died with its last progeny, there was a girl of round face and bright eyes. Her mother had not survived her labour, and her father died, moments thereafter, of a despairing jump while attached to a short rope.

Though orphans were not uncommon, the deceased parents had been well liked, and the tales told around their demise struck the community at large as particularly shocking.

The arrival of Nona the Seer an hour after the culmination of events simply reinforced the tragedy. Nona had overseen the majority of successful births in the loose confederation of hamlets that made up the bairn’s home, but ill weather that had kept the midwife from plying her simple magics and root craft at the delivery – or even providing a calming leaf to chew, and thus sustain the mourning father through his grief.

It is for these reasons, perhaps, that Nona lifted the babe from her abandoned swaddling, cut her tie to her dead mother, and carried her into the dusk.

Some frowned upon the woman acquiring a ward, as it went against the nature of her station, but those who complained were equally often hushed with a reminder that the Seer’s bony wrists seemed ever-more frail at each visit, and that even she could not live forever – and, besides, it was better the girl fill the station rather than their own kin.

The Seer’s position was enshrined in regional tradition. It was held solely by a woman of arcane knowledge and occult training – and, though she would be entrusted with the gathered secrets of the people she served, she must treat each nursling as her own, and thus never give birth herself.

According to proper telling, as passed from parent to child by fireside, the title befell only a virgin.

It was obvious by the girl’s eleventh year, however, that this was not entirely true.

Life with Nona was a life on the road. Many was the night that they slept in humbly offered rough-timbered barns, and for the first four of the foundling’s years she was sustained on naught but goat’s milk. To Nona’s thinking each step between visits was an opportunity to collect reagents, and there was not a bush she would not pry apart, nor thistle she would not ransack, to fill the sacks hung diagonally across her chest by a trio of belts.

Though none were labelled, Nona’s fingers never seemed to misstep when contriving a poultice or tincture.

It was the girl’s own education, and slow memorization of where each ingredient lay, that made clear that her mentor sometimes imbibed the same concoction provided to daughters who’d planted a seed too early.

Discretion, however, was also a large part of the girl’s schooling, and so she said nothing regarding her discovery.

Tonight we present an occult fairy tale of sorts, as we enter an ancient forest to happen upon a bloody scene and an abandoned child.Before long the thin-limbed lass whose wide brown eyes seemed to reflect an unflinching depth beyond a natural understanding was known simply as the Maiden.

She was taught the reading of runes, palms, and leaves; balms for rashes and burns; the skill, simpler in those times, of starting a flame with naught but a thought and a few arcane gestures. Her curiosity was insatiable, and, in those endless hours awaiting a delivery or the breaking of a fever, she would inquire after the traditions and superstitions of her hosts.

None refused the Maiden the words whispered by their grandmothers to halt bleeding, cease drunkenness, or cure an aching head.

Many were the maladies of the era that were incurable by prayer or patience, the dominant medicines of the time, and in a decade and a half few were the families who could not claim some assistance by “Nona and her Maiden.”

All – having conveyed some otherwise secret knowledge to the girl – felt some kinship, and even ownership, in regards to the child. Her cheeks were pinched, and her head patted, well beyond a reasonable age for such.

Many imparted the same wisdom in her ear: “Someday you too shall be like Old Nona, second mother to each one of us, and our grandchildren shall be your grandchildren. Tradition says it is so.”

It was Nona who first spoke against her, though they all soon followed.

On the evening of her sixteenth birthday she’d snuck from the birthing room of Adela Rose’s eighth child, and called Adela’s eldest, Marcus, to her side. The boy was but two months her elder, though she’d tended him through an infected broken arm at twelve. She’d held some fondness for him since.

Despite the number, the birth was no quick affair, and the girl and boy had often found excuses to stand close in the quiet heat of the kitchen while the focus was elsewhere.

The mess of the process was not enough to quench the desire pulling at her bones, and it was only noisily amongst the wheat that she finally mastered her need.

Marcus put up a noble attempt at future interest, but the girl had never known a stationary life, and her lust had been kindled on the farmhand’s shoulders, not his mind. He’d seemed just as relieved as she at her departure, hours later, and she thought nothing but kind thoughts of the incident until the day she grew suspicious at her own lack of blooding, a regular reality since the age of fourteen.

She herself had provided the diagnosis often enough to know the cause, but kept the insight to herself through another birthing, a leg amputation, and the lifting of a shaman’s curse.

It was after the extraction of this last, a wolf daemon bound to a woodsman of notorious temper, that the girl let slip her secret.

Nona had selected a field in which to camp beneath the clear stars, and the fire was there but for illumination, not warmth. The spirit had been pulled from its home with much howling, and the shattering of the woodsman’s jaw. Ignoring the blood and tears, the women had driven the phantasm forth, ending its victims unintentional string of homicides – though not before the man had left his own family shredded amongst their bedding.

All told, the girl had thought her own troubles slight in comparison, and it was in this light that she had spoken – and why not? She had reckoned herself a match in intellect and skill to any in the area but perhaps Nona, and she had undertaken matters both physical and metaphysical that would likely ruin the psyche of the farmers and petty merchants she served.

“The traditions!” Nona had replied. “Well, all is not lost. I will mix you up a snifter, and you’ll soon be fit for the position once again.”

“Damn the traditions,” the girl had replied. “I did not ask for this position, but my sole request is a child of my own.”

It was the single time she defied the woman, but it was enough.

There was no solution in the hours of argument that followed, and the news soon grew that the pair had split.

Within weeks there came to be no door friendly to the girl’s plight, and if it was a barn’s comfort she sought she had to be sure to depart before the cock’s crow.

On those few occasions when she was not quick enough, or on which a response might be made to her knocking, the answer for the source of their cruelty was always the same: “There was a tradition to be maintained.”

The girl, however, refused to yield her child.

Under a half moon, on the banks of a glass-surfaced creek, she attended her own birthing, and yet she cut the child’s cord with as firm a hand as she cut her ties with the name of Maiden.

In ten months’ time she was well upon the road, Nona buried of a broken heart, and the county decimated by a plague without a healer in place to check it.

Soon she was known by but one, and he called her simply Mother.

 

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.

Coffin’s theme is Quinn’s Song: A New Man, by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com/

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

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