Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and seventy.
Tonight we present Coffin: Looking Down, Part 1 of 1
(RSS / iTunes)
This week’s episodes are brought to you by We Are Not Here To Please You
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, Will Coffin, urban shaman, tells a tiny tale of woe to his unusually miserable apprentice, Bunny.
Coffin: Looking Down
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
Bunny was furious with her nose and everything around it.
She was sure pancakes, fry grease, and the cologne of the guy two booths over, were giving her a migraine.
“F##k Denny’s,” she said.
Will looked up from the club sandwich pictured on his menu and shrugged.
“It’s cold. You’d prefer to hang around on a bench with snow in your shoes and no feeling in your fingers?”
“How is anyone supposed to know we’re here?”
For a moment the bar she normally would have been sitting in came to mind, and Bunny nearly opened her mouth to follow up on the conversation – the problem, of course, was that the bar reminded her of good stories and dancing with the three Steves and every other excuse she’d ever used to get drunk.
She might have complained about how hard she was finding sobriety. She might have told Will about the monstrous figures that sometimes seemed to shimmer at the edge of her vision. She might have launched into the actually rather eloquent argument for permanent drunkenness that she’d written and re-written in her head while shaking and sweating beneath her sheets.
Soon, she reckoned, but not yet. Instead, she repeated herself.
Coffin took in the way she was picking at the skin beside her thumbnail, the bobbing of her leg, and the utter lack of focus she was showing the menu.
He asked, “have you found the Morrow diary?”
Beneath the table the tap-tap-tap of her bouncing boot heel ceased.
“Nope,” she replied, “I’m still gnawing my way through the clusterf##k littering the hallway bookshelves.”
Will scanned the post-lunch stragglers for anyone close enough to overhear, then started to read the details listed beside the Philly Melt.
Nodding, he said, “it opens in July, 1972, and it starts pretty boring.
“Conrad, its author, talks about buying a second car, the scores of his kid’s little league games, and enjoying the occasional cigar. That’s about as exotic as his tastes get. He loves his wife, his son, and his train set – in that order.
“The set was one of those old-school affairs setup on multiple tables. H.O. scale countryside and green felt as far as the eye can see. He called it Macropolis. Based on what he describes I assume the thing absorbed most of his basement. Twice he mentions knocking out walls to make room – once before the death of Agnes, his wife, and once after.
“His description of how it started put me in mind of Victorian London, but with more steam trains plodding through rows of fake trees.
“Agnes seemed nice, although I only have what he wrote to go on. She must have been a patient woman to have put up with that level of nerdery. There are a few scattered reviews of drive-in movies they saw with Dean, their kid, snoozing in the back, and they tended to spend their Saturday nights drinking gin and tonics together while playing cards with friends in the kitchen.
“She got sick in early August, and she was dead by mid-October. ”
Coffin paused there, as a server had arrived. Her name tag declared the pixie-cut wearing teen’s name to be “Carrie.”
“Ah, f##kin’ Denny’s,” muttered Bunny, her eyes quickly dropping back to her menu.
“What can I get you today?” asked Carrie, but Will caught the twitch in her smile.
Decisions were outside of her current capability, so Bunny turned on the girl. “What’s the least s##tty thing you sell? Actually, gimme the second least s##ttiest as well, I need options.”
With a grace that Coffin thought spoke well of her, Carrie ducked forward and jabbed a finger at the photo of a towering burger.
“That’s definitely not shitty,” she said.
“Fine,” answered Bunny, “I’ll take three.”
Frowning, Will considered her order, then his wallet.
“Just coffee,” he told the teen.
Bunny’s mind was already elsewhere. She’d taken to listing every individual item in the restaurant and internally telling it to f##k off.
The lights were too bright and the cutlery was too loud and sobriety was just too goddamn hard.
Once Carrie was beyond earshot, Coffin asked, “you covering lunch today?”
Though her roommate was still well down the list, the obvious implication that her ass was broke was enough to convince Bunny to jump ahead.
Her face puckered, and Will prepared his ears for an extended auditory assault.
An in-breath was as far as her retort went, however. She hadn’t paid for a meal in months, and she knew it. She had one friend left, and she was about to compare him to the worst sort of cattle rapist.
She felt her eyes grow wet. She was suddenly only mad at herself.
Her chin sagged, her shoulders collapsed, and she asked, “the f##k’s the point of anything anyway?”
Coffin cleared his throat.
“The diary restarts in February ’74,” he said. “Conrad was still mourning, and there’s no more mention of little league games. I think he started writing again for the same reasons he re-focused Macropolis: He was seeking direction.
“His project, he’d decided, would mirror the town he and Agnes grew up in. Sometime in 1973 he tore down pseudo-London entirely and started laying out the massive black-iron train engines of the 1940s.
“The notes become obsessive: Plans for how to approach what wasn’t built, ways he could modify hobby shop figures to fill in for people he once knew, scrawled listings for upcoming swap meets that seemed likely to yield useful architecture.
“It gets so bad that I was almost surprised when Dean is mentioned a few months in. Until then it was as if he’d died too, or at least like he’d been sent to live with a distant relative.
“He only received one line of notice – that they’d stopped at a farm, on the way back from a rummage sale where Conrad had scored some bungalows, and the kid had convinced him to let him have a dog.
“The mutt, which Dean named Beagle Bailey, actually gets a few more footnotes after that, but once he’s housebroken both he and the boy fade into the background again.
“Late in the summer, while buying a stack of teeny bicycles from the trunk of a station wagon parked at the edge of a farmers’ market, a toothless grandmother looks over at him from her lawn chair and pegs him instantly.
“‘What is it?’ she asks, ‘dead child?’
“He didn’t wonder how she knew till later, but he answers, ‘wife.’
“The page following that is ripped out, but the results are obvious.
“The next entry is two days later, and he’s talking about ‘the process.’ Macropolis has a new Mayor, he reports, Mr. Madigan. Mr. Madigan is a short man – well, shorter even than his tiny friends – who wears a top hat and sports a thick white painted beard.
“Mr. Madigan is named after the real Mr. Madigan, and his appearance is as close as Conrad can recall from his childhood. More impressively, the new Maddigan has quickly taken to helping with the construction of his town.
“Upon being provided with sewing scissors, for example, the miniature mayor takes to trimming the cloth and felt shrubberies. A police force of three quickly follows, then the Morrow family doctor, the teen who Conrad envied for working the soda fountain counter, and as many of the man’s classmates as he can remember.
“The classmates, children really, need teachers, and the teachers need a principal, and the principle needs a maintenance crew – and the cycle continues until one morning Conrad wakes to discover a train has hit Glen Herbert from third grade.
“Now, the impact itself wouldn’t have been so bad, but the Macropolans’ hand motions make it clear that Glen had been sent flying from the edge of the table. I can only assume Beagle Bailey figured it was a bug he was chewing.
“Conrad erects a plexiglass wall around the outside of his fiefdom, zones and develops a graveyard, then organizes a funeral so the people of Macropolis can gather to say goodbye.
“A week later, though, he gives in to temptation and builds a new Glen. Still, by the way it reads, he was plenty angry with Dean for having let the dog into the basement in the first place.
“With a bit of work he gets a fountain setup at the center of town. He builds a post office, then organizes a theoretically functional postal system. There’s really very little the mailmen can do, given that none of the town’s inhabitants have functional fingers or writing implements, but everyone in Macropolis seems pleased to have something to do.
“The incident with Glen Herbert kept him from ever animating any dogs, but the memories of a big black Tom that used to howl outside his window brings him to create a few cats to prowl the thumb-wide alleys.
“Making them speak was beyond him – probably beyond me too, if I’d ever been able to track down the ritual he’d obviously ripped out.
“Anyhow, he couldn’t help himself. Like a train barreling down the tracks he ran his memory right to the end of the line. The second last figure he painted and brought to life was Agnes at sixteen.
“He couldn’t talk to her, like I said, but she seemed to understand his lopsided conversations all right, and he would often find himself passing the hours simply watching her.
“It still wasn’t enough though. He placed a perfect replica of his own boyhood home, then he began painting a mini him.
“The last few entries are rough. Conrad grapples with the fact that he built a perfect simulation of everything he wanted that he’ll never be able to enter. Less than a week after his project was complete, Morrow put a gun in his mouth while standing at the cusp of this creation. I guess it says something that the papers reported that Dean found the corpse two days later.”
Three burgers and a coffee arrived, and there was a beat of silence as Carrie did her best to politely toss the food onto the table and sprint away.
Finally, once she’d collected her bread and beef in a row, Bunny asked, “what happened to the little b#####ds? Is there a pint-sized Stepford sitting forgotten in some basement?”
“No,” answered Will. He blew on his coffee. “They must have crawled down the corpse and scattered. Maybe they’re living in the walls of the house, maybe they spread out across the neighbourhood, or maybe the dog got ‘em.
“It was actually Dean who gave me the book, and it was the last of Macropolis he had.
“He was in his mid-twenties when I visited, but he’d started a family of his own in the same house: Him, his wife, their own young son, and old man Beagle Bailey, who was asleep by the door. Dean had sold or given away everything that hadn’t run off, and said I was the only person who’d ever come around asking – till then he’d just believed his dad was a nutter. I think my showing up made Dean hate him slightly less, at least”
“Sweet weeping dog balls,” said Bunny, “what the f##k was the point of that story? Which are you telling me, to stick a gun in my mouth or that I’ll never achieve my dreams? F##king f##k, man.”
“No, I’m saying instead of building a fantasy in your mind that you can never achieve you should buy a goddamn dog and start moving on.”
For a moment the air was filled with the noisy entry of a trio of college boys in too-tight t-shirts, then, with a sigh, Bunny pushed one of her pearl-white plates across the table.
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.
Text and audio commentaries can be sent to email@example.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.