Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and fifty-five.
Tonight we present The Murder Plague: Rat
(RSS / iTunes)
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, Harm Carter discovers an unexpected labyrinth lurking in the basement.
The Murder Plague: Rat
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
Once infected I wasn’t just another homicidal maniac – no, I was an incredibly well trained homicidal maniac.
The poor buggers around me had quite a problem on their hands.
Take for instance the woman in the maple-brown house, two blocks to the east, who’d turned her basement into a rat’s nest of chicken wire tunnels.
I’d stumbled across the thing after finding nothing more than crumbs and well wishes in her pantry. Now you must keep in mind that, till that point, the dwelling presented like any other of its abandoned neighbours. Upper-middle class. Slightly dusty. Echoing and full of pictures of people I didn’t know. The hardwood floors and caramel-toned walls showed no signs of violence – simply disuse – so I pushed on towards the basement in the hopes of finding a forgotten gun rack or emergency kit.
Such wishful thinking ended on the stairs, however. You couldn’t even reach the bottom of the wooden steps without being forced to your hands and knees to descend any further. From my position at the mouth I could see that the opening was no more than three feet high, and that the route seemed to branch right at an upturned Christmas tree some twenty paces in.
There was also a stink I was too familiar with, the nose-fillingly sweet smell of human decomposition.
I did not relish, nor consider, the idea of plunging, face first, into that tangle of garbage and required tetanus shots – until I spotted the assault rifle.
It was some hobbyist’s heirloom, an AR-15 that had been so extensively modified it would have allowed a toddler to take out a police station. I almost missed it in the darkness of the tunnel, as it was leaned into a corner formed by a blue filing cabinet repurposed as a supporting beam. It appeared as if it had been laid out to be easily snatched by someone approaching from deeper within, but not to be seen by anyone at the entrance.
In fact, it looked as if the rifle would have been entirely hidden had it not had slid slightly from its resting place.
The picture stood clearly before me: The house, quiet and truly abandoned above; the gun, so close and so damnably handy to have when everyone is trying to murder you, (or, frankly, when you’re trying to murder everyone,) and that syrupy decay-stench that you convince yourself no one could live with, so it must be the homeowner dead and rotting in a distant branch of his or her human-sized ant colony.
Would a desperate accountant in a three-piece suit have ignored the fire of paranoia in his brain and crept in, believing he was clever to have pulled together the puzzle pieces? I think so. It’s what I’ve heard the psych people call a loss proposition: Like a raccoon with their hand in a vending machine, we’re wired to refuse to let go of anything we believe we have a grip on.
I did not, however, duck down. I did not even harumph.
I simply backed away on feet as sneaky as I could make them.
I haven’t read any studies, but my feeling is that those in uniform are less likely to buy scratch tickets. Training and hard experience had taught me that when it seems as if the stars have aligned before you it’s highly likely that you’ve actually just noted the imminent approach of a train.
Fear pushed her to finally say something. It was the only thing that ever pushed us.
It wasn’t much of a ploy though.
“Help?” she whimpered, “I’m stuck under a fallen pile of paint cans. I promise. Please help?
The density of the steel loops and carpet samples and newspaper walls made her sound like a lonely ghost at the bottom of a well.
I could have walked away, of course – simply avoided the house in the future – but, for all my talk of training, I was as sick as the rest,and I’d also been taught not to ignore a problem when you have a solution at hand.
She started shrieking when I shattered a side window and began flooding a window well with her garden hose, but the nest of wire protruded right up to the glass. I assume somewhere in that dank hole there was at least one drain, but it was quickly clogged by trash.
I spent the remainder of the day lurking at the top of the stairs, but I guess fear held her till the very end. As far as I know the AR-15 drowned with her.
There are nights, though, when I wake fighting the dead weight of paint cans on my legs and an ever increasing tide of water on my chicken-wire bound face.
Flash Pulp is presented by https://www.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 firstname.lastname@example.org – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.
– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.