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FP467 – Dmara and the Necropolis

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and sixty-seven.

Flash PulpTonight we present Dmara and the Necropolis

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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 find ourselves exploring a land ravaged by many plagues, a place both familiar and distant, at a time of endings.

 

Dmara and the Necropolis

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

 

Dmara had been born on the plain by the sea some five years after her parents’ landing.

In a prior life Ecem, her father, had worked in construction, and Guler, her mother, had been a teacher – then the world had begun to end. Neither had harboured any superstitions, so, when it became apparent that the northern isle, long emptied of humanity by a sweeping plague, had been left to allow its abandoned crops and untended cattle to grow riotous, they had departed their home on foot. Her mother had filled her satchel with books, while her father had gathered no more than necessary to sleep and eat until their arrival.

In the end he’d been forced to trade much of his limited supply to a starving man with a thin mustache who’d swapped a dinghy for a week’s worth of tuna mashed into cans.

Still, though the crossing had been rough, they had left behind the gunfire and looting that marked civilization’s passage into darkness.

That was not to say, however, that there were no dangers left to their existence. Though meat was plentiful on the island, the beasts who carried it upon their bones were greatly reluctant to give it over. Wild hog tracks marked the point of her northernmost adventures, and her parents’ most trusted source of holiday feasts, yet the swine were equally as hungry, and Dmara had once been treed for the better part of the day by a mother and her ravenous children.

There were also signs of the old world – rusting nails protruding from storm demolished ruins, places where wind and fire had left sheets of metal as sure as blades before tangling brambles blanketed the scene and set a trap for mislaid legs.

Worse were the dogs, brutish and patchy, their wolfen nature growing more brazen with each generation further from the leashes that had once held them. As a child she remembered her father scaring them off with little more than a pair of pans clanging together. Dmara even recalled times when they would make a parade of it, the child in her scavenged short pants chasing her sun-baked father about the yard’s perimeter while clanging a spoon upon a pot.

By the age of ten they no longer gave chase to the feral beasts, instead standing off against them with curse words and weapons ready. It was a waste of arrows to attempt to thin the pack. It was rare to retrieve the fired bolt, as the cur would flee as soon as injured, and they were all too aware of the aging state of the bow strings reclaimed from the dead society that had once ruled the territory.

The threat that ate at Dmara’s heart from her youngest age, however, was loneliness. There were no other children upon the island – they were not entirely alone, they had discovered, but the sort who’d also fled to this land were not the kind to easily trust. Distance, it was decided, was best – but the solitude of her existence chased Dmara across every page she read, every game of hide and seek she played with her favoured doll, every secret she whispered to no one under the soft glow of the night sky.

Escape was a notion constantly in her mind, for she understood they were not masters of these wilds, simply its inhabitants. She asked often of the route her parents had taken, in case she might one day reverse it and find someone to talk to, but homesteading was no easy business, and they found scant time, between labour and exhaustion, for such conversation.

In her sixteenth year it became apparent that there was no escaping Ecem’s cough. It was a building thing, too slow and long-lasting to be the sign of a simple cold, and her father would often nod to himself at the conclusion of each fit.

When he would catch sight of her worried face – the tightness about her eyes and the habit of chewing at her upper lip, both a reflection of her mother’s own customs – he would say, “no, fret not. When we left we knew there were risks in cutting ourselves off from the conveniences of the greater world, but, if I am honest, we never would have lived this long if we had remained. I have seen those I love to a better place, and if I can manage to die in my bed I’ll be a luckier man than most of the friends I once knew.”

Though his mattress was little more than hay, bailed by their own hands the previous autumn, he got his wish.

The burial ceremony was a simple one, but it did hold one irregularity: Having spotted the women with their shovels, their sole and distant neighbour, Mr. Dawson, made a rare appearance.

To Dmara the man seemed ancient. He had lived on the island before it had been wiped clean of human life, and had survived only through the coincidence of having been working afar at the time of its collapse.

They had been aware of his presence since those earliest days, but a lack of common language, and the old man’s propensity for privacy, meant they had crossed paths but a few dozen times in the entirety of Dmara’s life. Now, at perhaps that span’s lowest point, he appeared, a basset hound puppy trailing at his heels.

He approached silently, as he knew his words would mean nothing, but he extended a hand for her shovel and pushed her gently towards the dog. Though the beast’s eyes were hidden behind brown folds of furred skin, it danced in place, showing as much excitement as its stubby limbs would allow.

There’d been no such offer of assistance two years later when, after having her right calf opened by a froth-mouthed mongrel, Guler had said her goodbyes from the same bed that had held her husband.

Once she’d laid her mother beside her father, the notion had come to Dmara that there was no one left to keep her from her northern boundary, but the memory of her mother’s injury was still too fresh.

It was a week of silence that finally drove her to Mr. Dawson’s distant cabin.

As she approached she turned a dozen excuses for her intrusion over in her mind, but all were voided upon her arrival: She found the old man’s remains sprawled in his dooryard, and his hound howling from the gaping entrance of his cottage.

She could but guess how long the vigil had lasted by the prominence of the dog’s ribs.

Dmara had never known the animal’s original name. She called it Hadir, or, more simply, Had.

For a time the sole words she heard spoke aloud were her own, and usually: “Had, get out of there.”

Though the plot her parents had cultivated was now producing more than she could eat, its lone survivor made no effort to reduce its size. Sometimes she told herself it was because there would inevitably one day be, by land or sea, a visitor. Sometimes she simply acknowledged that it was better to keep busy and find herself with a surplus than run short and be pressed into scavenging the countryside during the cold months.

At night she dreamt of the boat – of pushing off and retracing her parents’ steps, but each time she landed her slumbering mind turned up only shattered homes and burning garbage along her route.

Here she had food, and a known routine – and, yes, loneliness.

She read, and when the books ran out, she scrounged paper and began to write her own. Dmara read them all to Had, but he was an easily pleased audience that offered little in the way of critique.

Then, on the first warm day of the third summer following her mother’s death, she heard a rumble upon the horizon.

Dmara was aware of the existence of machines. She had read of many, and in her youth they had often gone on what Ecem had called camping trips. In reality they were excursions to sift the remains of the old world and collect tools. Eventually belts snapped, batteries died, or the gas ran dry, however, and in each instance they had inevitably found it necessary to find or construct a manually operated replacement.

Yet the noise of the tilling engines her father had once operated were whispers when compared to this new sound. It was as though she felt the rumble as much in her feet as she heard its roar in her ears.

On the fifth day, the droplets upon the spout of her pitcher of morning water now trembling with the commotion, Dmara set out to discover the source of the disturbance.

Had followed.

Dmara had focused her recent hours on experimenting with frying patties of shredded potato spiced with chives and sea salt, and she bundled enough to carry her and her companion through several days of journey. She knew not how long she’d be, nor if she’d be forced to hide for some time to allow for a threat to pass.

They were sharing such a patty, and muttering about their aches at having spent the night in a stony field, when they first encountered the towering structures. Each ceased their chewing immediately.

FP467 - Dmara and the NecropolisThe roar had become immense. Dmara had been forced to sheer a length of cloth into scarves, which she wrapped about both her and Hadir’s ears, to make their approach more bearable, but their progress had been slowed by creeping from fallen wall to thick-limbed oak in an attempt to keep themselves from sight.

Despite their precautions they had seen no sign of ravenous hogs, nor of Had’s feral cousins.

This close it became apparent that the calamity had not just one source but many – here were a horde of great maws that opened wide and scooped the countryside into a boxy throat whose jaws glinted with barbed spinners. Behind these tracked machines roamed yellow monstrosities that crushed the barren countryside with a single thick wheel, pressing anything that might have escaped the ravenous mouths into the muck.

In the third and final tier marched a row of towers, ten across, that stood over even the house-sized rollers. Dmara had seen buildings of similar heights in books, but she had never included any such in her own stories because she had, until that moment, been unable to entirely convince herself anything so large could truly be erected.

There was no speed in their advance, however, as the invaders apparently prized thoroughness over forward progress, and so Dmara sat patiently, chewing slowly at her potato and watching the giants dance.

A beeping began, nearly lost in the cacophony, and one of the towers lifted high. Beneath, no more than a quarter of its height tall, sat a pristine two-story house. Its exterior appeared to be constructed of brown brick, but its shutters were a crisp white, and its roof was covered in flat black tiles.

Dmara spotted the massive wheels that marked the tower’s source of locomotion as it crawled forward – then, like a mother bird having shifted upon her nest, it resettled just beyond the walls of its previous egg.

The cycle continued. The maws ate, the rollers flattened, and the towers gave birth. Sometimes they would stop and turn, creating corners to the useless neighbourhood that they would then continue to stitch with houses.

As she considered, the blockade of churning metal stretched from horizon to horizon.

Had began to whimper.

“Not now,” she replied, but an errant hand rose up to soothe the animal.

How far the houses extended beyond the line of iron, like a snail’s trail, she could not say, but if they were to continue their march – and she had no reason to believe they would not – then one day, one day soon, they would reach her home by the sea.

Ten towers forming an endless ten block stripe across the landscape would be enough to flatten everything her parents had worked for – and there was no chance of planting crops in a fresh field in time to survive the winter months.

She was still stroking Had’s right ear when she spotted the gap.

The maws and the rollers had judged a certain rocky outcropping, really no more than a high ridge of stone, too much of an obstacle to eat or flatten, and the tower in their wake had adjusted course as necessary.

Dmara had no interest in running the gauntlet of the machines, as the tide had already rolled over this little island, so she instead began to cast about in the underbrush that acted as their concealment. Finding a second such spine of stone, she climbed to its peak.

It was still a two day wait for the flood to overtake her and Had. The hound whined his way through the ruckus, but otherwise sat stoically at her side.

There’d been much to learn at the approach – less visible, much smaller vehicles seemed to act as ferries between the larger concerns, but eventually the noise became too much, and all she could do was hold Had to calm his quaking.

The towers loomed, rolled forward, settled their massive girth onto the freshly shorn and flattened land. At the base of their boxy corners she caught sight of another beast, low but long, that trailed hot blacktop in its wake, laying out a road even as the monolith to her left completed its delivery.

Finally the thing seemed to exhale then lift away, and she found herself in the calm of the wake of the grinding curtain.

Had danced from paw to paw as they descended from their stony island. Rather than set foot on the still-warm roadway, however, they tread the flattened grasses to the nearest front door. Inside all was pristine: Hardwood floors reflecting the trees that had once grown in the dirt upon which the structure stood, a chimneyless fireplace whose gray slate was echoed in the stone-upon-timber kitchen counter and island, and everywhere white walls carrying freshly baked panes of window glass.

The situation was not entirely without precedent in Dmara’s mind. Her father had told her of such sights, in the final years of the world’s collapse. Automated factories meant to replace the unsafe wreckage left in the wake of plague and warfare, the machines were thoughtless brutes meant to be fed a plan which they could carry out unattended across a week or month. Here their advance had somehow been engaged without proper instructions, and so they’d stamped a straight line of civilization’s shadow across the countryside.

It was obvious there was nothing here for her, but it was only in the silence provided by a shut front door that she realized escaping this barren necropolis would not be so easy as entering it.

There was no food here, and the tight rows of houses meant she’d have little room to grow some even if she had seed. The place was as good as a desert, and she had no idea how far she might have to go to reach its opposite boundary.

Worse, there had not been, as she’d hoped, any further clue as to how she might halt the march.

This was the first Dmara had ever truly felt cut off from her home, from her imagined route of escape, and her heart began to pound. She longed for someone to talk out the problem with. She wished to be calmed by her father’s sarcastic teasing or her mother’s exasperated tenderness.

The hound licked her hand, and she took some moist comfort in his effort.

He was mid-lather when his nose overrode his focus. Wheeling in place, Had began to bark and sprint from the hollow living room in which they’d been standing.

Pulling wide the handle at which the dog demanded exit, the woman came upon a scene so unlikely she slammed the door shut again.

There was no time to reconsider before the knock came.

The stranger was perhaps sixteen, her blond hair filthy but held in a tight knot fastened by a leather strip. She wore what Dmara suspected had once been a set of coveralls, but repairs and modifications had driven the gray fabric into a new existence. Pockets abounded, and where pockets would not fit she’d mounted metal rivets and clips to allow for carrying. The newcomer jangled with hanging wrenches, screwdrivers, and tools less familiar to the recluse’s eye.

Her cheekbones had been made sharp by lingering hunger, but she offered Dmara a welcoming smile.

Behind her stood a dozen more men and women, each dressed in scraps of the old world, each brandishing an array of scavenged equipment.

“Hello,” said the girl.

“Hello,” answered Dmara.

They would quickly realize these were the only words of understanding they shared, but the thread was enough to pull Dmara and Had out into the street to greet the rest.

Her discoverer seemed the youngest of the party, and the teen chattered endlessly at her elbow in a dialect that meant no more than bird song to the solitary woman, but Dmara’s need for understanding pushed the pair into a game of pantomime.

Dmara began with the most obvious step, an introduction. Pointing to herself she repeated her name twice, and the group echoed. Then she pointed up and over the receding spines of the construction towers with her left hand while pointing to herself with her right.

There was a brief bit of chatter among the tool-bearers, then they seemed to agree on a translation. The blond threw up a finger in an encompassing circle that included all of her companions, then she waved towards the horizon to the north. She kept waving.

They had clearly traveled a great distance.

This, to Dmara’s mind, explained the slight limbs and sunken cheeks that seemed as much a part of their uniform as their coveralls and tools. What was there to hunt or harvest along the endless streets? If they had come chasing the machines, as it seemed they must, then they would have had to have begun from some place beyond the houses, and their supplies must be nearly at an end – or, at least, their pockets seemed to carry more metal than food.

Having apparently conveyed the notion of distance, her new friend took up a new mime, pointing first in the direction of the rumble, and then placing a beaked hand to her mouth and chewing.

They must, Dmara concluded, be asking for food. She hesitated – but it was a brief pause. Opening her belt-hung sack, she handed across more than half of her remaining potato patties.

The blond girl’s mouth formed a surprised O, but the group fell upon the offering with lips upturned in a universal sign of gratitude. All attempts at conversation stopped until the strangers had completed licking the last of the crumbs from their dirt-encrusted fingers, then the self-appointed diplomat repeated the same actions of pointing and chewing, although the look of frustration on her face made clear she understood she wasn’t conveying her point.

Had, still at Dmara’s side, tilted his head.

Was she trying to say the group was intending on eating the machines? This seemed unlikely. Was she somehow referencing those gnashing engines that led the column? Was it something else? What the machines themselves ate?

What did, in fact, the invaders eat?

Dmara was aware that the world had once run on electricity. In her youth Ecem had shown her flashlights by which they could read at night, and for many years he had collected instruments that required an increasingly arduous search for batteries to maintain – clocks doomed to endlessly count to twelve, tiny screens playing out images in a language she didn’t comprehend, radios upon which her father would waste his night hours hunting for a voice that never spoke.

If the giants had come this far their own batteries, it stood to reason, must be colossal.

If the travelers had risked starvation to chase them this far, their reasons must be equally colossal.

What if there was still a world, somewhere, in which they had need of such power? Dmara could not picture it, frankly, but she did not care – if they needed the food upon which the monsters ran, then the monsters, it stood to reason, would stop.

Moving forward, she pointed to one of the girl’s wrenches, then to the machines. Finally, she tilted her head sideways and shut her eyes while pushing her tongue out slightly. It was a greater imitation of playing dead than she’d ever been able to teach Had, and the girl smiled her agreement while nodding her head.

Hope blossoming in Dmara’s stomach left her wanting to start chasing the slowly receding destroyers immediately. She signed the circle, then pointed in the direction of the threat, then, finally, she drew a thumb across her neck.

The hunters all nodded, but the girl added her own understanding – she set her head upon her hands and closed her eyes, then, as a separate action, awoke and repeated the miming of a sliced throat.

Night was close at hand, they would attack in the morning.

The teen, eyes widening, slapped her forehead with an open palm and pointed.

“Dmara,” she said, then, turning her finger towards herself, “Bex.”

Producing an axe, the tallest of the group entered the house from which they’d exited and set to tearing up the bathroom walls – apparently the wood from this portion of the construction being considered the easiest to remove for the effort – and then they set it aflame at the road’s center.

Dmara wondered how many such ash piles marked their path home.

As sleep descended upon the party – some breaking into groups of two or three to cuddle for warmth, others setting up solitary beds where they could be alone with their thoughts, Dmara considered the ridiculousness of the situation: Even though they were surrounded by hundreds of the finest shelters the previous age had to offer, it was still more comfortable to find a strip of grass and spend the night beneath the stars.

Bex, it seemed, was not yet ready to sleep. Settling into a cross-legged position, her back to the warmth of the guttering fire, she pulled back her sleeve.

Upon the pale pink flesh of her left forearm was a single black stroke. Bex rubbed at the marking, demonstrating its permanence, then lifted a single echoing finger. Dmara nodded even if she did not fully understand.

The girl pointed at the axman who’d gutted the bathroom, already snoring to their left, and held aloft four digits. Pointing at the oldest of the group – a woman with graying hair who seemed to hold suspicion of Had in her tight lips – Bex raised both hands to count ten.

Dmara repeated the counting – one, four, ten – indicating each member in turn, but then followed it up with a raised brow and a shrug.

Nodding, Bex pointed down the roadway, in the direction they’d come, and then at the mechanical devourers.

She repeated the motion once for herself, four times for the tallest, ten for the eldest.

Dmara nodded. This wasn’t their first hunt, and apparently each wore their expeditions as a mark of pride. Whatever they were using the power sources for – given their size she could only guess it was running whatever settlement they called home – the distance of their journeys was growing greater and greater.

More pressing to her mind, though, was a separate question: If they had no food now, and were apparently exhausted by the distance so far covered, could they survive the journey home?

She repeated the motion Bex had used earlier – the eating that indicated the machine’s batteries – then stood to feign carrying a heavy load on her back towards the strangers’ point of origin.

After a time Bex nodded, but her face held a frown. She mimicked the carrying, but inserted a stumble, rubbing her belly. Then, tongue lolling, she pretended to die. Finally she waved again as she had earlier.

Others would come to finish the carrying if, or more likely when, they starved along the road.

Dmara’s mind flooded with thoughts, but she could not seem to derive a reasonable way in which she could convey her notions through the frustratingly slow process of fluttering hands. As her mind attempted to make some order of the matter, Bex leaned close, wrapping her arms about her.

Shocked, Dmara sat rigid throughout the hug, then the girl retreated saying something in the language that made no sense. She was still trying to frame her wordless argument when the darkness and Had’s warmth at her side finally coaxed her into unconsciousness.

Dawn soon punctured an unusually cloudless sky.

A second bathroom was savaged, and a sack of water was passed about, straw extended. When it was offered to her, Dmara accepted, but she also turned out the last of her own supplies. It would have been easy enough for any of them to have snatched them in the night – or for the group as a whole to simply overwhelm her – and somehow the knowledge made parting with the last of her resources easier. If she were going to escape, she’d realized, it would only be with their help – and if they were going to, she realized, it would only be with her’s.

There was but a smattering of chatter between the hunters now, and what there was to understand was easy enough to read in their taut shoulders and pursed lips.

Dmara had decided she was going with them. The answer had not come easily, but if her sole chance to return to her home was to cast her lot with theirs. She could see no other way. Besides, if she did not learn their technique for disabling the beasts, she would, in a matter of weeks or months, no longer have a home.

Yet she had lingering concerns.

With a smile and a wave, she summoned Bex, and the flailing was enough to draw the attention of the rest of the group. She guessed they welcomed the distraction from what was to come.

Dmara drew a circle in the air intended to encompass the entire party, then, at its end, included herself in its radius. Finally, she pointed at the nearest tower and raised her brow, a motion which the girl seemed to accept as conveying the asking of a question.

Bex smiled and raised her hands, then caught herself. Turning to the graying women, she offered up a series of bright words. Though she hesitated in her delivery, the apparent leader gave a nod as she answered.

The teen repeated Dmara’s motion, and, with a smile, she too included the outsider before pointing at the distant tower.

Thus accepted, Dmara had but a final question before she was ready to depart. At least, she reflected, it was an easy one to convey: She pointed to Had and raised open, uncertain, palms. Bex looked to the dog, then reproduced the same sagging and exhausted motion Dmara had used the night before.

The worried woman raised an eyebrow in reply. Was carrying him really a reasonable suggestion?

Bex only shrugged, and the graying woman, whose expertise and experience Dmara knew she now relied upon, made no argument.

Instead she rose from her crouched position beside the fire and stamped out the last of the flame.

In moments they were on the road, the rumble increasing in their ears with every stride.

Soon each of the party produced matching cases from the depths of their pocketed coveralls. From within they retrieved a pair of orange nubs, no bigger than a pinky finger’s tip, which they snugged in their ears. At the realization that Dmara had no such case Bex took on a look of concern, but, understanding their use, Dmara was ready to deploy the same scarves that had carried her and Had through their initial crossing of the cacophony.

Though they had lingered in place throughout the night, the machines’ advance had not quickened. Whatever distance they had was more the result of the hunters wishing to stay outside the deafening roar than any progress in the endless construction.

It was an easy thing to reach the base of the nearest tower. Less so to linger at its edge, shoulders hunched, waiting for its rise.

Bex held Dmara back some ten paces, and Dmara, in turn, held back Had. In her free hand the blond girl held a wrench, and the rest of the party busied themselves checking and re-checking the locations of their equipment, a duplicate of the same wrench gripped at their side.

There came a shift in the grinding before them, almost unreadable to Dmara’s ear, but the line raised their empty hands to cover their nose and mouths, and so she followed suit.

Despite her held breath the stink that the tower’s movement unleashed penetrated her nostrils as if a spear. She was reflecting on her appreciation for their precaution of distance, when her friends rose as one and began storming forward.

They made for the house’s freshly constructed door, the frame of which they shattered with their approach, then half of the gathered began hammering at structure beneath the kitchen counter while the others sprinted to the upper level.

Dmara chose to stay with those heading to the second floor, as the direction Bex was heading seemed as good as any, and there she stopped at the sight of a westward-facing window. Beyond the gaping pane the nightmare image of the tower’s interior workings could be seen rising in slow inches.

Those who’d she’d followed shattered the glass then, knocking away the shards and maximizing the width of the hole.

She was quick footed enough to pull Had aside when the kitchen-delvers arrived, the long flat panel of the counter held between them. Setting themselves at the newly formed opening, they waited, as one, then hoisted the panel into the breach.

It’s long tongue landed in a gap in the tower wall, creating a slowly rising ramp. There was no pause as the hunters began to pile onto the bridge, one after another.

Bex helped hoist Had, who followed the tallest across with oblivious compliance.

If anything Dmara felt, as she mounted the platform herself, that she held more hesitation than the mutt.

She still could not help but look briefly up as she passed.

In the gloom overhead hung a series of spouts, in an array of six-by-six, and from each corner descended a metallic arm, their original exteriors lost to a film of dust the same colour as the bricks they stood poised to arrange.

Before she could see anything more, Dmara was across, Had at her side, and they were running again.

While the light beneath the rising hem had been dim, the tube through which they stooped, hand locked in hand, was absolutely black. Once they’d rounded the corner and begun to climb – the angle being not so steep that she had to gather the dog again, but certainly skewed enough that she felt a need to lean into its angle for balance – there was no hint of glint or glow to lead their way. There was no escape here – at least, not without the expertise of the hunters.

An unknowable distance ahead and above them, their low corridor began to shake, and a furious grinding began to descend towards them.

Around her the group chattered in clipped sentences. Did their tense tone mean they had miscalculated? What exactly did they aim to accomplish tramping along this bowel?

With a cooing word of satisfaction, apparently from the gray haired woman in the lead, the blind parade stopped. Without warning both of Dmara’s hands were free, and the disorientation of darkness and sudden freedom nearly sent her tumbling backwards. By the time she’d righted herself her ears were judging a race between the approaching rumble and the grunts and scrapes that marked tool work.

Then, when it seemed the impending roar could grow no louder, a sliver of glow appeared before her and slid from a thin crescent into a full moon. The wrenches each member had held ready, she could now see, had been used in unison to unbolt their escape hatch, and the necessity of their coordinated work became all too apparent as they fled onto a metal staircase.

Again they sprinted as crushed stone began to flood the compartment into which they’d entered, and none stopped until they were a good half-dozen floors higher.

Here the trill of their language bounced between them, at first on edge, and then saddened.

Though Dmara and her canine companion had made their exit, there was no sign of the tall axman.

They began an ascent of spiraling stairs, ducking in places to avoid protruding pipes and low-slung cables, their path illuminated by infrequent bulbs of plastic that cast a flat yellow light.

At the head of the long climb they came to a door. The markings on its face were unreadable to Dmara, but the red text on its surface made clear that this was an entrance that had once been considered both important and dangerous.

The handle would not give, but their leader had no patience for its resistance. Retrieving a gray hammer from her belt loop, she gave the lock three arcing blows before it surrendered.

Beyond was a narrow room stretched across the width of the tower. To their left stood a wall of screen faces, providing an endless stream of updates that seemed, if Dmara understood the iconography, not only about its own progress, but that of the eaters, the rollers, and the rest of the insects that buzzed between them.

Without a word, the hunters spread out, some running their fingers across the displays themselves, some removing panels beneath them and digging into the exposed electronics with a pocket-emptying array of tools.

Had took to sitting on Dmara’s feet as she turned her own attention to the window that ran along the opposite wall. Time and exposure to the elements had left a gray film on the outer glass, but the view was too familiar to Dmara to be misidentified.

There, on a low rise at the horizon, was Mr. Dawson’s homestead. It was the greatest height at which she had ever stood, but she was still left feeling that if she could but grow a few inches taller her own farm might be spotted beyond.

It was as she was on her tiptoes, her hungry eyes reaching for a glimpse of home, that the fortress shuddered once then let out a sound like an angry exhalation. It was only as they began to descend that Dmara realized they had still been rising. Their reversal, however, came at a much greater pace, and it seemed they dropped feet in seconds. Had looked to her and she set a reassuring hand to his jowls.

Around them work ceased. Even as the hunters stood, dusting their knees or turning to take in the view from the window, the tempest at the tower’s base ground to a halt. Silence seemed to flood in from without – first the hush of the grinding maws, then the squeal and crunch of the roller wheels halted, as too did the endless shuffling of stone, vegetation, and rubble between the workings.

Finally the hum of the monolith itself fell quiet.

The dim yellow bulbs winked off, replaced instead by infrequent, but strategically placed, stark spears of white light. This included above the exit, opposite their entrance, through which the group began to shuffle.

This second staircase was also of wrought iron, bolted to the tall column of the factory’s workings, but here most turns of the spiral provided access to a round hatch, and into these dim boltholes the north folk began to split and disappear.

Again Dmara found Bex at her elbow, leading her onward – downward.

When they had run short of stairs they came to a chamber larger than Dmara’s own home. Here were further consoles, as she had seen above, but their screens stood black and empty. Bex moved past them, approaching the far end of the room, and pulled open a square metal panel mounted at shoulder height. Within was an orange-handled lever. It took the girl setting both her feet against the wall to pull it wide, but then, beside her, a slab of the tower itself peeled away and fell open, creating a broad exit ramp.

Bex smiled as Dmara returned to the dirt, but she did not follow. Instead she sent the message of running in place, then pointed upwards. With a wave, the girl turned and disappeared.

Unsure of how long they’d be, Dmara quickly grew restless at the ramp’s foot. Had’s endless pacing was no help. Though they’d stopped the roar of the machines, the rumble in her stomach worked hard to fill the void.

Soon she decided upon an expedition of her own. Though his garden had run riot, Dawson’s raspberry bushes had survived the feasting birds well enough, and a bit of digging turned up some fat carrots she thought she might roast if she could borrow use of her new friends’ firestarter.

Half of the group had gathered at the ramp’s edge by the time of her return, two dozen blue cylinders having been stacked within the tower’s shadow, but the rest of the hunters remained at their labours.

It was as night fell, and their bellies filled, that she began the long act of laying out her plan to the assembled group. Often the slow process of arm flailing and dirt diagrams fell into meaningless chatter between battery collectors, and here she would pause and rub at Had’s sputtering snout.

In the end, however, with her plan unfurled, they all simply nodded.

Wildfires and the settling of the land would eventually wipe away any trace of the march of houses, and scavengers would one day strip clean the lifeless machines at the towers’ bases, but the line of monoliths – having attempted a flight of inches as the hunter’s did their work in the weeks following her proposal – would be forever be known as Dmara’s Teeth to the northerners who made the sacred journey south, and, as they reached the storehouse known as Dawson’s Outpost, they would each pay thanks to the gardens, and the hamlet that had grown up around them, that provided the means of their escape home.

 

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.

FP455 – The Haunting on Cedar Crescent

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and fifty-five.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Haunting on Cedar Crescent

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Glow-in-the-Dark Radio!

 

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 Ruben Clay, a man alone in his haunted house.

 

The Haunting on Cedar Crescent

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

 

For the fifty-first day Ruben Clay rose to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. The heating system had not yet kicked in, as Addie should have been twenty minutes from finishing her run, but the combination of his bladder’s pressing concerns and the wafting promise of caffeine was enough to push him out of the bedroom, down the short hallway, and into the bathroom.

The house, still technically in night mode, followed his movements with no more lighting than was necessary to maneuver, and the soft glow over the sink did little to break up the red stain of dawn creeping through the window.

“Good morning,” said Addie’s voice as he entered the kitchen.

She’d always been the one to tend the system, and she’d left the customized responses to keep him company while away for a two-week job training session in California. The few dozen phrases she’d sat and recorded into the white box in the basement, one Saturday afternoon in June, had been quickly forgotten upon her return – at least until fifty-one days previous. Summoning her voice had been the single alteration to her setup that he’d allowed himself.

“It’s going to rain today,” said one of the six weather clips, and, without being asked, the television – visible from the counter’s raised position atop a short trio of stairs – blinked on in the living room. Here, again, was Jonathan Miller, the morning guy, delivering the usual bad news from a too-loungey couch while flanked by a couple of interchangeable blond women who would be rotated out of service when they hit twenty-five.

Ruben hated Miller for having such an indecently bright smile at such an early hour, pitied the blondes for their cloying attempts to make a mark before their expiry dates arrived, and damned himself for letting the thing unspool for a full ten minutes before reaching for the remote.

He had never, and would never, understand what she’d seen in the show, and he remained convinced she’d watched it solely because it had been her father’s habit even back when Miller had only been able to afford one brunette and a bottle of peroxide.

Or so he’d used to joke. She’d never laughed, but that hadn’t stopped him from saying it.

The coffee was strong, but today that was just fine. For a time he sat in silence, listening to the hum of the house as the climate control applied flame and wind to rooms that no longer contained Addie – to rooms that never would again.

Eventually he stood, dressed for work, and prepared to depart.

As he pulled wide the door and prodded the alarm system to engage with a five minute delay, the house reminded him, “it’s going to rain today.”

He’d grabbed a jacket and locked the entrance behind him with two minutes still on the timer.

The downpour came late in the day, but it was more than simple rain – it was, in fact, the sort of thunderstorm seen but once or twice a spring; the sort of gale that leaves a week of downed trees and chainsaw-wielding city workers in its wake.

He returned to an unusually quiet house, a house whose mechanical tone stated, “there has been a power outage, please restore settings,” at regular intervals.

A Skinner Co. ProductionIt’d been fifty-one days since the teen in the red pickup had slammed into their Lexus, yet the ghost of her habits had haunted the place on automatic timers until that moment.

Ruben waited out an epoch in that doorway, his laptop bag in hand, his eyes stinging, and the place feeling as empty as he had ever witnessed it. Finally, when he could stand the strange voice’s coaxing no more, he made his way to the basement, and the small white box that acted as his home’s brain.

The display was asking a single question: “Begin new two-week training phase or restore saved program?”

To his surprise he lingered for an instant, then he thumbed the backup labelled Addie.

He spent the rest of the evening listening to the hum of the house breathing through its ducts, until exhaustion finally pushed him towards bed – or, really, the brief list of chores he needed to accomplish before allowing himself the respite of unconsciousness.

A second fleeting doubt hit him then. Wasn’t he just loading the coffee maker to avoid the smell of burning he’d awaken to otherwise?

Was he wiping away her existence with such thoughts?

He retrieved a fresh paper filter and dumped the mass of ground beans into the waiting hopper.

Was he trying to fool himself into thinking part of her was still alive as long as their shared home behaved like she was? Shouldn’t he reset the automatic timer and begin to recapture the house in small steps?

It was the first moment in nearly two months that he’d allowed such a notion to occur to him, but, even as he did, the lights at the far end of the house began to dim, the rooms falling hush around him: Time for bed.

The last of the glow lit his path down the hall, his shuffling feet dragging from another too-early morning.

Yet, though he’d only been able to briefly consider conducting the rituals necessary to clear her ghost from the house on that fifty-first day, tomorrow would be the fifty-second.

 

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.

FP442 – Biggest Fan

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and forty-two.

Flash PulpTonight we present Biggest Fan

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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 talk of Davy Jones, John Lennon, and fanaticism.

 

Biggest Fan

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

 

FP442 - Biggest Fan

 

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.

FP421 – Back on the Road

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Back on the Road

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Get Published

 

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 follow an aging Grizelda Henderson as she rides the Capital City public transportation system into adventure.

 

Back on the Road

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

 

Grizelda Henderson was on the Capital City 43rd, headed towards fifth street.

She was considering just how long it had been since she’d last been out of the home, but, then, where had she to go? Her preference for hard living, and her love of Middle Eastern women, had kept her from settling into a family of her own.

Now, however, her fool niece Hannah had gotten herself into a whole mess of trouble downtown, so at least she had a destination.

“Handihelper is your helpful friend!” said the Handihelper.

“Shut it,” replied its wearer.

Grizelda was a good ten years younger than most in Holly Acres, but she’d made full use of her body while she’d had it, and chronic arthritis had come to rest in her knees and shoulders. If it wasn’t for the bulky robotic skeleton that carried her, she knew it would have been impossible to mount the bus’ steps.

“Handihelper is your helpful friend!” the suit reminded her.

“Fuck off,” muttered Grizelda.

For the fiftieth time, she wished she’d had a chance to find the circuit to disable the cheery voice. The rig had been something of a miracle two-and-a-half decades earlier, when she’d first been introduced to the technology. It was, in fact, the exact same model she’d used overseas, when, instead of Auntie Grizelda, she’d simply been known as Lieutenant Henderson.

“Tenth street,’ announced the public transport’s automated driver. “We regret to inform passengers that the news feeds are reporting an ongoing hostage situation at the corner of Fifth and Maple. Please be advised that this may cause traffic issues and increased risk of bodily harm.”

Skinner Co. Presents Back on the Road, a Science Fiction audio storyLike the handihelper – or the General Motors Mark III Exoskeleton, as they’d known it back in her days of sand and oil – Grizelda considered herself a relic of a past age. Still, time had not stolen her mind, and she found some relief from her pains, and her long nights of insomnia, in field stripping and reassembling the suit.

Pulling apart arm joints, and voiding the warranty by inspecting the wiring, had provided her a greater sense of normalcy than tottering about the home’s linoleum floors in the greatly restricted hardware ever could.

“Two hours of continuous operation!” the excited technician had told the group gathered beneath the yellow Easter decorations in the cafeteria, yet she’d known the military grade batteries had been able to operate for five times that, and not at the turtle crawl at which the modified units were programmed to conduct business.

There had been an incident, near the end of her tour, in which she’d been pinned down, with three other infantry, in a mud and straw beehive house. The walls had been slowly disintegrating under continuous mounted-weapon fire, but PFC Ramos had lost everything below her right knee, and Stanwyck and Garcia had both blown their leg actuators in the panicked sprint from the sandy ditch that had been their previous shelter.

The mortars landing at their heels may also have been part of the problem.

During the tense standoff that followed, Grizelda learned more about jury rigging the Mark IIIs than she suspected the used car salesman of a tech would ever know – her continued existence, and the yearly birthday card from PFC Ramos, were all she needed for proof.

Now, though, few seemed to care about the slow wobbling of a women that age, and thus no one had bothered to ask after the large scarlet override – pried from a floor polisher in the depths of an unlocked maintenance closet – that she’d affixed, via duct tape, to the location above her right breast where her fruit salad of campaign ribbons had once hung.

“Handihelper is your helpful friend!” the suit repeated, and all ignored it, just as they did Grizelda herself.

The vehicle announced sixth street, and Lt. Henderson registered her intention to get off.

As she descended the stairs, she found herself chuckling. “Two hours of continuous operation? I’ll need less than ten minutes.”

Slapping the red button, she sprinted away.

 

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.

FP392 – Underachiever

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Underachiever

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Beer Trail

 

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 wayward youth, and the gun he considers his last recourse.

 

Underachiever

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

 

Theodore, sixteen, had bought the revolver a month earlier from a man named Bill. Bill had also been selling questionable televisions and grandmotherly dishware from the rear of his Econoline van, but it was just the pistol that the boy had been interested in.

His mother loved Theo and his sister, Abbie, dearly, which is why she worked such long hours at the Piggly Wiggly to compensate for the lack of support from their deadbeat father. The job, however, was also the reason she drank so much when she got home.

The mother and teen’s schedules rarely intersected, but in those brief moments – often when she’d just returned from a shift and he was about to depart for a cheap action flick at the multiplex – she had come to suspect something was awry.

She had not seen the weapon, but anxiety over what she might discover about her son had left the bulge in his right pocket un-confronted.

The night before the shooting had been a hot one, and the teen had watched the sunrise crawl up his wall while contemplating facing another round of bellowed insults from Mathew Barnes.

Barnes, a year older and a foot taller, had spent the better part of three semesters making Theo and Abbie’s walks to school miserable, and any change in route only seemed to bring new energy to the torment.

A Skinner Co. PodcastDespite their efforts to fight back, or surrender, or seek help, four weeks earlier the menace had moved from verbal to physical. Sick of hearing the imitation of Abbie’s stutter that his family was too poor to do anything about, the youth had made some choice comments regarding Mathew’s mother’s hygiene, her uncritical choice in lovers, their shared lineage, and the possibility that, despite the time paradox, Theo may have in fact been his father.

As Barnes had been flanked by two of his better friends, venting cost the big brother several bruised ribs, a twisted knee, and a bloody nose.

Still, a cruising patrol car pulled aside to see what was going on, and, when silent Mr. Acevedo – who’d caught the tail end of the incident while walking home with his first coffee of the day – was asked who started it, the finger was pointed at Theo.

Theo, hand on pistol, again passed Mr. Acevedo in the hallway that morning. As always, the balding handyman had struck him as distant and alien. The same internal blinders that made the boy unable to see the similarities between his own life and that of the man who lived in the same building, in the same neighbourhood, in the same city, had left Theo feeling there was but a single solution – that left him feeling as if he were alone in solving the problems with Barnes.

Moments later, when Barnes had raised his hand high and brought his palm down across Abbie’s left cheek in response to the girl telling him to b-b-b-b-blow her, Theo found himself reacting with a full fist and a scream.

That might’ve been the end of Mathew Barnes, and Theo’s life as a free human, were it not for a sudden intervention.

The saviour was not, however, Abbie’s estranged father as summoned by his mother, it was not uniformed officers called in by Mr. Acevedo, it was not even Mathew’s crew arriving to defend their fellow goon.

A single white van peeled around the corner, its side-door sliding wide to reveal a figure: A besuited man with a pasty white face and thick black mutton chops. Below the stranger’s handlebar mustache projected a multi-barreled rotating canon.

It began to spin.

The first three shots fired from Theo’s pistol simply seemed to warp the space around the machine gunner, but the final trio landed across his chest, causing spiderweb cracks at the impact points.

Before the boy could fully comprehend that he’d slain a television screen, the flood of PVC-skinned sumos began.

From the building’s rear pathway, from the loading bay that lead to the trash room in the basement, from the neighbouring towers, a hundred figures, each with a face identical to that of the man in the van, erupted into view.

The clones, Theo realized, were just masks, their necks tucked into inflatable plastic suits that made them all equally round – then there was a rubbery impact at his shoulder that sent him stumbling towards an approaching balloon belly.

The sumos were giggling, and, within a dozen playful impacts, Theo could not resist but joining in. He did not notice the pistol disappear in the melee, nor would he ever wonder about where it had gone.

His nemesis did not have it so easily. As Matthew had buffeted others, so too was he now buffeted. Nothing more than a pinball in a deluge of bumpers, he lost all control of his direction, his self-control, and his bladder.

From beneath a dog pile of a half-dozen inflated Achievers, a truce was extracted from the tormentor – a truce that he would never dare break.

Abbie, who’d set adrift her online plea for help some four weeks earlier, could only clap.

 

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.

FP368 – Park Right

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Park Right, Part 1 of 1

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Download MP3

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Every Photo Tells…

 

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 a tale of superheroism and traffic, as seen from the dash of a slightly beaten Honda Accord.

 

Park Right

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

 

Mort sat behind the wheel and idly finger-drummed to the Rush song whispering from the radio. He’d turn it up, but he knew Tillie would object.

Instead, he did some complaining of his own.

“I read a theory on the internet that it’s a modified combat vehicle. If I parked a modified combat vehicle in the middle of the street you can believe someone would do something about it.”

Tillie looked over from her Twitter post.

“Like what?” she asked. “Tow it? You think there’s a wrecker in this town brave enough to get that close?”

Glancing at her furious thumbs, Mort risked edging Geddy Lee up a little louder.

“The cops should get involved,” he muttered to his window. “It ain’t like he’s got a license for the thing.”

“If the cops in this city could do anything about guys like him then he wouldn’t need to be here in the first place. Besides, having him around makes me feel safe.”

Mort frowned. “What’re we even waiting for? Another bank robbery? There’s no goddamn bank on -”

His rambling was interrupted by the arrival of a dozen figures, in leather pants, who appeared from the alley running between a shop whose sign simply read “CONVENIENCE” and a bar that had yet to open for the day.

The thick-armed men, all wearing buzzard masks, surrounded the low black car that was the source of Mort’s ire.

* * *

“Listen, all I’m saying is that my cousin can get us a gun that’ll knock down a small house. Why don’t we just climb onto a building and -”

A Skinner Co. Science Fiction PodcastThe squat scavenger was cut short by the leader of the flock.

“If your ideas were worth anything, Orlando, you’d be picking the head gear. Shut the hell up and get in line.”

The thugs moved shoulder-to-shoulder, blocking the road machine from Mort and Tillie’s view, as well as that of the three block snarl behind them.

“Orlando sort of has a point,” said Tallahassee, as he rearranged his flopping beak. “We could just wait till he gets back and -”

“Nope,” answered Daytona, one of the few birdmen who’d previously encountered their foe. “I ain’t paid enough. You want me to put on this goofy canary face? Fine, I would’ve worn a mask anyway – but you want me to fist fight some crazy sumbitch with access to an arsenal of technologies that probably violates international weapons laws? Fuck that, I’ll go back to pantyhose and liquor stores.”

The wing leader stood from his stooped position and ran a double check on his remote detonator.

His face lit green.

Lifting his arms and flapping his imagined feathers threateningly at the still-staring Mort, he told his companions, “quit talkin’ and get walkin’. Any second now our employer is going to make his bioengineered exit, and we do not want to be standing here when the chase starts.”

* * *

Tillie watched the vultures melt into the alley.

“We’ve got to tell him!” she said.

“I could leave a note?” replied Mort.

“This isn’t a ‘I dinged your bumper but had to run, here’s my number,’ kind of situation. What if he thinks it’s just a flyer?”

“Surely he’s been bombed before, I mean, he’s always parking this beast around town, he’s got to know what’s going to happen?”

Mort turned to Tillie and was disheartened to realize she was doing the eyebrow thing.

Knowing if he didn’t move first she’d likely climb up on the hood and wave the lamp jawed hero down as he came sprinting, Mort fished a yellow sticky pad from the glove box.

Pushing open his door, he said, “I’ll be right back.”

It was twenty feet to the carbon-black machine, but every step left Mort feeling as if the air was growing denser.

Fifteen feet and he wanted to puke.

Ten and he noted that his hands were shaking.

Five and he couldn’t find any spit in his mouth.

Finally he was close enough to peer unsuccessfully into the murky tint of the thick windows.

Lifting pen to paper, he wrote: BOMB BENEATH and applied it to the dim glass, then, considering the angle of approach, he wrote it again and circled to the opposite side.

His bases covered, he paused for a moment as Tillie raised her cellphone through to his Honda Accord’s dirty windshield and captured his deed for posterity. When he was sure she had it, he took five rapid steps forward.

It was a bird’s scream that stopped him. A block away, a massive condor took to the sky, its wings two planes of night against the gray sky. The eastward bound shadow passed briefly over the car, over Mort, over the snarl, and disappeared behind the skyrise horizon.

Even before Mort could again take up walking, however, a new spot formed amongst the clouds, dropped to a hundred feet, then cruised on a cushion of flame to the spot where the monstrous bird had originated.

The jet, like the car, seemed made of edges and darkness.

“Probably doesn’t even have a goddamn pilot’s license,” muttered the note dropper.

Within seconds the summoned aircraft rose and gave chase.

Mort offered a “lot of good that does traffic,” but Tillie’s attention was already elsewhere. He guessed she was probably tweeting these newest photos.

So much for his moment of triumph.

As he lifted his left foot, an engine roared to life behind him.

He’d identified the cause before he realized the consequences: Autopilot to drive it home of course. Didn’t that mean the dick could’ve moved the thing at any point? Or at least left it roaming in circles?

It was as he thought, “oh yeah, what about the bomb?” that the explosion happened.

* * *

Seconds later, the car was silent except for the fading baseline of Tom Sawyer. Still, Tille could not yet convince herself to open her eyes. The thought that she’d just somehow killed her husband weighed too heavily on her lashes, and so long as she did not look the possibility was not a reality.

She was startled, then, by the slam of a door.

“A hover jet?” said Mort, “Do you know what kind of shit I’d get from the FAA?”

Maybe it was the adrenaline, maybe it was the fact that he’d nearly died while trying to save her hero, or maybe she’d actually come around to seeing his point of view – whatever the case, Tillie leaned in close and shut him up with a hero’s reward.

 

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.

FP367 – Proud Mary

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Proud Mary - A Skinner Co. Podcast

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and sixty-seven.

Flash PulpTonight we present Proud Mary, Part 1 of 1

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Download MP3

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Every Photo Tells…

 

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 the tale of Caesar Riley – a lover, fighter, and sailor – as he discovers new lands at the distant borders of Los Angeles.

 

Proud Mary

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

 

Proud Mary

 

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.

FP362 – Chances

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and sixty-two.

Flash PulpTonight we present Chances, Part 1 of 1

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Download MP3

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Skinner Co. store!

 

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 future stories of Cornelius, and the tragic tale of his mother, Marilee.

 

Chances

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

 

Cornelius the First had always been a sickly boy.

His presence in any classroom was ever notable due to his unshakable dry cough, and his sallow skin seemed to stubbornly refuse any aid from sunlight or nutrition.

Every day his brown bagged lunch contained a tuna or salmon sandwich, a well considered array of vegetables, and enough money for milk taped to a lovingly crafted note. Every day he would crumple the note, toss it in the garbage, and buy himself a coke.

Secretly, Mr. Cabada, Cornelius’ homeroom teacher, blamed the soda for the boy’s condition. The rest of the staff simply shrugged, assuming his lot in life lay in accounting.

By his eleventh birthday, however, any such existence appeared unlikely. He was missing more class than he was attending, and his relationships with his fellow students extended no further than the occasional “Get Well Soon” art project.

It was luck, then, that he was in attendance, seated in his often necessary wheelchair, the morning the ceiling erupted.

Leaky gas pipes and budget cuts would eventually be identified as the culprit, but thoughts of blame were far from Cornelius as adrenaline and willpower pushed him from his awkward, but fortunate, position at the edge of Ms. Shen’s music class.

Ms. Shen herself, who’d until recently been standing at the blackboard, had not been so favoured. From his vantage point Cornelius caught the last twitching, then decline, of her right leg.

Still, the toppling of metal, stone, and tile left the majority of what remained of the room coated in dust, sparing the boy the extent of the disaster. Pulling the nearest coughing form from beneath a hundred pound sliver of roof beam, he placed the girl – Adrianne Hazel, who had spent fourth grade calling him Pornelius – in his chair, then he reached for the next. Stacking his classmates three high, he managed to save a dozen injured children by the time the first responders arrived to deal with the increasingly dense smoke and flame.

As latex gloved hands and whirring news drones began to flood the scene, Cornelius collapsed into his seat.

His mother arrived moments after a paramedic, intending congratulations, had noticed the boy’s passing.

Taking in his clearly ill body, and tasked with inspecting a dozen more petite corpses, the coroner quickly released Cornelius to his hero’s funeral.

The grainy images of ruin captured by the flock of drones, looped endlessly on every cable news channel, had made him famous, and the swarming clouds of tiny quad rotors that took in his sun drenched burial doubled his reputation.

Marilee, his only family, was well familiar with weeping and pitying attention, as many had been touched at the sight of her son’s plight even before the rescue.

Her appearance on Oprah 3.0 was enough to sway popular opinion, pushing through a major education and infrastructure bill that would supposedly prevent any such future incidents. It was also then that she drew the attention of New Youth Limited.

NYL had recently obtained the sole corporate American human cloning license, and, though the product was still quite expensive, a marketing boy wonder quickly pitched the idea of a pro bono project for a worthy cause.

Chances: A Skinner Co. PodcastThe media again went wild the day Marilee accepted.

Calls and emails from lab coat wearing technicians suggested that they could subtly alter their collected DNA, leaving the outcome looking more like a close twin than an exact duplicate. She insisted otherwise.

She would have Cornelius, but a different Cornelius – Cornelius the Second.

Just as the boy always had, they did what she demanded.

The second child lasted four years longer than the reality show that revolved around his life. By the age of five, however, he was no longer novel, and his bookish habits were not cute enough to maintain his viewership. Even as he sickened, the program was cancelled.

By nine, two years ahead of his predecessor’s decline, the familiar signs were already well in place.

Pity, and the responding officer’s familiarity with their once beloved television show, again swayed the investigation – or lack thereof.

Though entertainment reporters announced the passing with stoic faces, the second funeral was considerably less well-attended than the first.

Marilee purchased Cornelius the Third herself, using the last of her saved syndication money.

The lab techs could only look at each other and shrug when she entered. A paying client was a paying client

History seemed destined to repeat itself until, at the age of seven, the new Cornelius, living in relative obscurity in a California duplex, displayed intelligence beyond his age and bravery to rival his original.

The sickness had begun to take hold again, but the boy, always a voracious reader, now had access to chronicles his identical brothers simply hadn’t had.

At eight he could watch his previous self grow at the pace of one episode a week, and he could read the online media reports about his habits at eleven that had been publicized after his original death. His mother had many of these printed out and handy, just in case a visitor should ask about her problems.

It was summer break, and most of his mornings were spent seeking the backwater cable reruns that kept his mother from having to find a day job. Cross-legged on the carpet, with the screen nearly pressed against his nose, he analyzed his precursors for any clue to change his seemingly inevitable course.

Things unraveled the Tuesday his televised mother delivered a salmon sandwich to his televised duplicate just as he re-read a finger-worn fluff piece about Cornelius the First. It claimed his favourite TV show was something long off the air, that his favourite pastime was people watching – which remained true – and that his favourite sandwich was salmon or tuna.

It was not that he hated salmon and tuna, but neither was his favourite. He ate them because it seemed important to his mother.

TV Mom’s smile was still lingering in the air when lunch arrived on the usual blue-trimmed plate.

He looked at the quad-sliced white bread, then to Marilee’s face.

With a squint to his eye he said, “I’m ok, thanks.”

“Not feeling well?” she asked.

“I’m ok. I just don’t want it,” he answered.

Marilee would realize later that it might have been nothing more than a child’s random and passing concern if she’d let it go, but, in the moment, her eyelids fell low and her lips pulled tightly into a solid shelf.

“Eat it,” she said.

He thought he heard both surprise and anger in her tone – and so began a siege that lasted nearly two days.

She shouted, he shrugged. He could not turn up the source of her poison, but her rage was all the proof he needed. It helped though, when the hunger truly began setting in, that he seemed more spry, and that the headache – the constant and unending throb that counted the seconds of his day – had stopped.

Allowed to think again, he wondered how it was he had never considered simply saying no – but then, he supposed, neither had his doppelganger siblings.

Finally, having skipped another supper, Marilee lost what remained of her control. The blow across his cheek was awkward, but delivered with the full force of an adult’s swing.

Immediately he knew the bruise was something Cornelius the First and Second had never had, and he wore his difference with pride.

With his fingers still on the ever-growing welt, he sprinted from the house and towards the convenience store phone from which he would call Child Services.

 

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.

FP356 – Heroes

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Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and fifty-six.

Flash PulpTonight we present Heroes

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Nutty Bites

 

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 move briefly into the future, where code monkey Arturo Proto will receive an unexpected visit from musician, and goblin king, David Bowie. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious though any resemblance to real David Bowies, living or dead, is purely intentional.

 

Heroes

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

 

Arturo Proto had owned every Bowie album well before the visit – had, in fact, spent long hours working on the MRI3 itself while listening to his idol’s output.

The piano plonks opening Life on Mars? still reminded him of the imaging problem from the last half of the second year, and the bassy grind of I’m Afraid of Americans was forever linked in his mind with the two-weeks’ worth of all-nighters that had preceded the device’s first testing.

Bowie was but one of ten celebrities to enter the neural scanner during an online publicity campaign set-up by General Electric and the Rolling Stone, but he was the only one Arturo had cared to meet. Though Proto wasn’t project lead – he was an equal member of its eight-person programming team – his manic hours and enthusiasm had earned him his choice of when he wished to be at the console during the visits.

Surrounded by a phalanx of twenty-something assistants, the ancient Ziggy Stardust had drifted into the lab behind a pair of thick sunglasses. His sleek cuffed black suit left just his thin lips and slow gait to give away his true age, but the wheeling and flocking of his adherents was tightly controlled by his sing-song whisper.

Proto had been surprised at the number of questions.

“Mr. Bowie would like to know what feature differences there are between this and the previous generation of device,” a pencil-skirted woman with a bob haircut would ask, notepad in hand – then, even as a tech would volunteer to take her aside for a full answer, a man sporting a three piece suit and an ironic moustache would inquire, “Mr. Bowie would like to confirm that there will be no interactions with the iron in tattoo ink.”

Before the afternoon was out the lab had somehow become infected with their pharaoh-like treatment. It had not helped that Proto stammered through every simple instruction, nor that he’d teared up when he’d received a pixie smile in response to his declaration that he’d spent most of his working life listening to the subject’s musical catalogue.

The pop star’s fatal car crash came nearly six months after the visit.

A half-decade, and four largely unrelated projects later, Arturo was sitting on a plain wooden stool under On an Ale Horse’s spotlight. The dive bar had gone long enough without renovations to be able to call itself retro, and the patrons, working at their domestic draughts with resolute throats, paid little notice to the string of amateurs taking to the low stage.

There was something in Proto’s delivery, however, that was different.

His voice wavered and skittered around the notes, and his guitar strumming was numb fingered at best, but there was a rhythm to his acoustic flailing that dug into the professional drunks’ ears.

He sang of afterlives, outer space, and needs that would never be met. In a haze of heat and alcohol Arturo’s songs, practiced until then only in the second guest room of his otherwise empty suburban home, blurred together, and yet each time he attempted to step down from the platform the evening’s aspirants would encourage him to return in their place.

It was the first night of his new identity. Like Stardust becoming Alladin Sane becoming The Thin White Duke, Proto used every success that followed to bury the corporate burnout he’d become. Now he was simply Prototype. Sold out bars became sold out local festivals, and online sales soon meant he would never again have to worry about project cancellations, office politics, or performance assessments.

Two months later he introduced the song Franciscan Park, and he was no longer just a sensation on the Capital City scene.

The meeting took place in a downtown lawyer’s office. Entering had required braving concentric rings of administration people, but they were all too eager to push Arturo towards the topmost floor. They struck him as aware of his coming, which was worrying because he had but the vaguest idea of why he had been invited to the expanse of leather and wood.

After being ushered through a final oaken door, however, Proto briefly stopped breathing. The man waiting behind the desk was not the thin-faced elf of Bowie’s youth, nor the knowing ancient who’d shuffled into the lab. This was a composite of the many men who’d once been Davey Jones – a sort of Bowie Prime.

“I… I thought you were dead?” stammered Arturo, his arms unthinkingly moving to cover his all-white wardrobe as if a child caught parading in his father’s clothes.

A Skinner Co. Podcast“I am not living,” said the pale android in the velvet Victorian waistcoat, “I am an artificial avatar known as RoBowie. I had myself built to stand as guardian to my estate – I didn’t relish the idea of being sold into a Coca Cola commercial. I’ll take my immortality where I can get it.”

Arturo frowned, “if you’re not Bowie, then why do you keep referring to him as yourself?”

“I thought it would be funny.”

The room settled to silence, during which Proto unabashedly gazed at the machine’s subtle seams, then the robot’s eyelids clicked twice.

“Do you know why we’re here?” it asked.

“I’m hoping it’s because you like Franciscan Park,” answered Arturo, but he could no longer maintain contact with his interrogator’s lens-glass gaze.

“Well, in a sense – but the root of the thing is really your habit of stealing office supplies, you naughty boy. Worse, the code package you stole wasn’t even complete.

“The software you pinched was crude compared to the version that runs my operating system, and its limited programming only allowed for finite musical combinations. Other than the name, which you clearly changed, the song you tried to claim by retitling Franciscan Park is an identical match for catalogued composition #544694, The Unfading Lament.

“We were surprised when the tune, poorly transcribed by one of your fans, turned up in a lyrics database.

“The thing is, the rhythm structure had fingerprints all over it.

“Now, when you walked away with a backup of the last version of the artificial intelligence simulation project you couldn’t have expected anyone to know you’d hook it into an equally stolen copy of your MRI3 work, but what you weren’t aware of is that General Electric had sold the exact same idea to a number of high profile investors a decade before either undertaking had gone into production. Development actually escalated after its supposed cancellation and your departure, but in a much more classified facility.

“Perhaps with good reason though – right, Sticky Fingers?”

With the legal weight of an immortal pop star and an international corporation hovering on his shoulders, Arturo deeply missed the simplicity of a life of debugging.

His mind flailed in an attempt to find an escape.

“I promise I’ll wipe the setup and shutdown my servers,” he said, “it was nothing, a few songs -”

“Nothing, nothing tralalala!” answered the suddenly standing machine, “You stole my brain, Arturo – my brain! How many simulated mes are virtually running around in boxes in your basement?

“Don’t bother trying to remember, the SWAT team will be able to answer me in less than ten minutes.

“Think of the nauseating imagery – thousands of enslaved Bowies squirming endlessly in the darkness of digital space – think of the global headlines.

“I was not a spiteful man, however, and I cannot deny that some of my own best ideas started as other people’s. We’ve decided not to run your name through the mud by suing over Franciscan Park.”

Proto’s thoughts staggered to keep up, and with a thick tongue he asked, “so I’m not going to jail? But you want me to keep quiet? I can do that, I promise.”

“No, no,” replied RoBowie, “we already have press conferences booked for you. Taking responsibility in front of the media will be your punishment, but think of Franciscan Park’s notoriety: A little controversy never hurts sales, I assure you.”

With only a hint of a whir, the avatar’s latex cheeks moved into a Cheshire grin, and glee slunk into its tone.

“What a fantastic platform from which to announce my comeback.”

 

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.

FP349 – Regulations

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Regulations

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 Bourbon Lounge podcast!

 

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.

In tonight’s tiny tale of futuristic competition we question boundaries and swing at a possibly unsporting sports event.

 

Regulations

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

 

A Skinner Co. PodcastEvery spectator in Howard J. Lamade Stadium was on their feet except the eldest, Wallace Hart.

Mitchell, his son, looked down from his standing ovation and frowned.

“Come on, Pa!” said the forty-eight-year-old, “even you have to cop to the fact that that was amazing.”

The old man simply shrugged.

“He just saved us a grand slam with a fourteen foot jump, straight in the air,” continued Mitchell, “can’t you just admit that’s pretty spectacular?”

With a moist clearing of his throat, Wallace replied, “boy, seeing some punk with cybernetic springs in his heels snatch a pop-up is as exciting as watching a bunch of high-powered hydraulics assemble a minivan back at the Ford plant.

“They should start calling it the Machine League and stop pretending it has anything to do with the original game.”

“Oh yeah,” said Mitchell, as he joined the throng in returning to their seats, “it was better when it seemed to take six days to finish at a run apiece.”

Retrieving his gallon of soda, the jersey-wearing son prodded his father and pointed beyond the centerfield fence.

“Hey, Dad, check it – yes, over there, with all the gray hairs: It’s a three-decade-long game from your time!”

Snorting at his own joke, Mitchell took a pull on his beverage as a busload of late-arriving grandparents shuffled into their seats.

“I understand playing to maximum potential, but sometimes rules are there for a reason,” replied Wallace, a grandfather himself. “Deregulation changed this from a sport to a science experiment. Look at that opening crack, when the Robinson kid rounded the first two bases in less time than it took you to realize he’d hit the ball – at that point why not simply go to a top-speed dragster exhibition?

“Better yet, if he wins MVP do they give it to him or the doctor that cut off his legs and replaced them with those carbon fibre pistons? Doesn’t the pit crew that’s maintaining him deserve some credit?

“You can call ’em coaches, but I’ll call ’em what they are: Mechanics.”

Before Mitchell could answer a two hundred mile an hour pitch blew past the plate, ending the current hopes of the titanium-boned batter and the trio waiting twitchily on the stadium’s bases.

As silence descended over the crowd the Little League World Series prepared to enter its second inning.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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.