Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and thirty-nine.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Libr8: A Continuum 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.
Tonight, join us in the freshly empty home of Sidney Topesh, for a tale of creeping proportions – a story of rot, ruin, and restoration.
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
The house was empty.
It had taken six months of lawyer fees, and the complete estrangement of his three grown children, but Sidney Topesh finally had what he’d convinced himself he’d always wanted: Quiet.
He walked from his front door with his shoes on, tramping mud onto the rose-coloured carpet that had been Hillary’s choice for the living room.
The space was silent except for the clicking march of the brass and glass clock that had, nearly thirty years earlier, been Hillary’s mother’s wedding gift. It had always delighted him that she’d hated the thing. The usual noise – the TV’s constant rotation of daytime talk shows and CNN – had been unplugged, and the device’s broad black eye stared at him blankly.
Somehow it seemed to be waiting.
“She’s not coming back,” Sidney informed it with a chuckle.
His long established guesses regarding how much he might get for the beast at the nearest pawn shop would soon be tested – but not today. Today was for rest.
He moved through Hillary’s now-empty home office. The rug still held the shape of her desk’s rarely-shifted legs, and the mauve walls were marked by the outlines of the hung frames that had, until recently, protected the paint from the room’s flood of sunlight.
It was while mentally measuring for curtains, and the bar he planned on having installed, that he noted the rag-wearing man stumbling through the backyard.
“What the hell?” he asked, but the overhead fan provided no answers in its sweeping whispers.
Not having to put on shoes meant he really had only to step into the kitchen and out the back door to confront the vagrant, but he detoured to retrieve the baseball bat he kept in the front closet nonetheless.
The squat bungalow was far enough from town to be considered a country home, though the neighbours were still so close as to annoy its owner with their backyard barbeques and children’s birthday parties. Passing strangers were few.
By the time Sidney made his exit, the trespasser was headed towards the fence that separated his yard from the Parkers’. Without the sheen of the glass between them, he could see that the man was perhaps fifty, with silver hair and expensive loafers. His collared shirt was tucked in, but had been ripped at the shoulder, and his light brown slacks had been spattered with mud.
The wanderer asked, “can I come in?”
Feeling some safety in the distance between himself and the newcomer, Topesh responded with an inquiry of his own.
The unexpected guest began to close the gap. His pace was methodical, like a drunk who had to think hard about walking straight, and his left arm hung limply at his side as his right came up to shake hello.
Sidney watched the slow approach of the upturned palm for thirty nearly-silent seconds, then he changed his question.
“Why are you here?”
There was a pause before the intruder responded, and his nose seemed to shift, as if it were having difficulty remaining attached.
His answer was, “can I come in?”
At ten feet Sidney demanded he stop.
At five he began backpedaling himself.
At one he wished he’d simply turned to run.
Raising the bat over his head, the divorcé pushed out with his free hand and hoped that the apparent tweaker would simply keel over. The man’s momentum, however, meant Sidney slipped over the cusp of the ripped shirt and into contact with the intruder’s papery skin. For a moment the surface seemed to collapse with the pressure, drawing his fingers in, then the man’s eyes went from a look of dull distraction to one of panic.
Without warning the unwanted visitor began a staggering sprint towards the broad brown boards of the largely-ornamental fence, and, before Topesh might unfurl himself from his defensive crouch, disappeared between the hedges that lined the Parkers’ pool.
* * *
After fifteen minutes of staring from his kitchen window and getting no answer from Dalton Parker’s cell phone, Sidney decided he wasn’t calling the police. He’d booked off two weeks of vacation time to celebrate his legal victory, and, goddammit, he wasn’t going to waste them talking to bored cops about some hobo who was likely already napping in a ditch two towns over.
Still, there was no harm in locking the doors.
Over the next hour he poured himself an afternoon scotch, watered the windowsill greenery he wished would simply give in and die, and tidied the shoe rack in the closet. Sidney was unaccustomed to housework, but he expected messes would be minimal now that he wasn’t living with a herd of pigs.
The scotch, his cleaning efforts, and the vacuum left by the morning’s flush of adrenaline, were enough to lay him out on the couch. His eyelids seem to drop as quickly as the level of liquor in his tumbler, and, despite a strange itching in the pads of his fingers, the mantel clock’s measured ticking pulled him into a nap.
Three hours later he woke up blind.
He remembered terrible dreams – something about Hillary trying to scratch at his eyes – and could even feel where he’d reflexively set his palms to his cheeks to save his sight.
In his confusion, he called, “Corey? Wade?”
Before he attempted to summon Tessa, twenty and his youngest, he caught himself in his error.
Frankly, he didn’t want help from those parasites anyhow.
Taking in a deep breath, he stood. With a slow, prodding, pace, he made his way to where he believe he’d left the phone: In its base, on the main hall’s credenza.
It took five long minutes to discover it wasn’t there.
Normally a simple turn of his head would have allowed him to note that he’d forgotten it on the kitchen counter, but frustration clouded his memory, and his lack of sight robbed him of any satisfaction that he might have felt after sweeping the personalized pad of stationary and the empty phone charger onto the ground.
He did not notice the shattering of Hillary’s antique plaque-bound thermometer, which had also occupied the surface, nor the drop of mercury that landed on his wrist. He could not see the spread of apparent frost where it fell.
He’d shouted “Morons!” before he realized that the kids weren’t around to blame.
Sidney’s pounding pulse brought a terrible thought to mind: Had he had a stroke?
What were the signs again?
He realized his hands felt numb. His heart drummed a reminder to calm down.
With a hitching breath, he sat heavily on the hall rug and did his best not to panic.
He knew the Parkers weren’t home – or they hadn’t been, at least. Could he make it to their front door without breaking a leg? Would they even be back?
For the first moment in perhaps a decade, he wished Hilary was near.
With no warning, the world returned. Not the full crisp universe he was used to, but some semblance of light and shape.
Sidney, in another rare move, smiled.
Within fifteen minutes his vision was shifting and imperfect, but functional enough to find his misplaced phone.
He was standing beside the oak-topped kitchen island, considering the blob of gray-blue that appeared to be the unit’s buttons, when he noted the white spot on the back of his right wrist. His finger was drawn from the 9 of 911, and his well-trimmed nail prodded the ivory dot.
He still had no feeling in his fingers, but, even with his blurred perspective, it was obvious the tip was entering at least as deep as its cuticle.
There was no stopping panic now, and he jerked his hands apart. His over interest in not further injuring his right arm made him oblivious to the trajectory of his left, and it impacted with some force against the brass hardware of the cupboards.
What would have normally been a well-earned bruise became, instead, a blast of shattered hand spread across the wood and floor.
The sight of his destroyed appendage was too much, and Sidney’s mind sent him back into unconsciousness.
When he awoke the second time, he nearly thought it had all been a trick of brain chemistry during a midday nightmare. His vision was no more blurred than he might expect from any scotch induced nap, and the rest of his aches could just as easily be explained by the same.
It was when he looked down that the truth became unavoidable. There, though both hands looked otherwise fine, was that same white fleck.
Heading back to the credenza, he opened drawers till he located the high-powered magnifying glass Hilary had always kept around in case of a need she never had. The most use the thing had ever seen was when Wade, then aged 10, used it to scorch ants in the backyard.
Through the lense the blotch loomed huge, and it’s edges appeared to be moving. A single ghostly speck – given the magnification it could be no larger than a mite – lept from the edge of the snowy field and began to trundle towards his palm.
Leaning close, it was soon clear to Sidney the entire patch was made up of the miniscule nits. Though his sight remain smudged, it was just possible to identify tiny stalks that seemed to hold them together like sinew. Worse, as his inspection edged from the white and into the pink of his arm, the invasion did not stop – it simply altered colour.
Despite his control of the limb, his forearm was only his in appearance. Every hair and freckle was now replaced with a chain of these chameleon parasites.
This time, instead of the relief of unconsciousness, the stress – certainly greater than any he’d felt during the divorce proceedings – twisted Sidney’s stomach.
Falling to what once were his hands and knees, his mouth opened wide, emptying the contents of his interior. He did not see a return of the scotch and his morning’s toast, however: Instead the reflex pushed out the replica of his throat lining, then a mass of writhing red, blue, and green that seemed like a child’s efforts at sketching human organs.
They all seemed so dry; almost papery.
Despite his best efforts, his body would not allow his jaw to close as the tide slowly turned, and the mass of invaders began their slow march back to his maw.
Sidney found he no longer had the ability to cry as he watched a counterfeit lung drift past his teeth.
For a while he was left to simply lie on his side, his eyes locked on a view of the shattered thermometer and the scattered Topesh Residence stationary.
His hearing ceased to function, but returned perhaps an hour later.
The hall darkened.
Finally, as the clock on the mantel marked three a.m., he felt himself begin to rise.
Every part of his mind focused on the phone in the kitchen. He knew it was too late, but perhaps a message? Perhaps an apology?
Despite the exertions of what little humanity was left to Sidney, he began to stagger instead for the front door.
As he watched foreign, but familiar, fingers grasp the handle, a voice that was not quite his own tested itself by asking, “can I come in?”
Flash Pulp is presented by https://www.skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.
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