Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and fifty-seven.
Tonight we present Coffin: Thirst, Part 1 of 2
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(Part 1 – Part 2)
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Quarter Bin
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, and Bunny, his irritated but abstaining apprentice, are asked to serve an eviction notice.
Coffin: Thirst, Part 1 of 2
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
The townhouse was center-left in a row of ten identical partners, and the short cement path leading from the sidewalk was in need of shoveling. The metal screen had protested extensively as Coffin pulled it further into the winter wind, but its howls were lost under his companion’s stream of profanity.
“So ####ing cold I could chip my toes off and use ’em to chill scotch,” she was saying, as Mercy Curry finally answered her insistent doorbell riding.
A week of sobriety had done much for Bunny’s awareness of the world around her, but little for her temper.
The home’s interior was lit only by cloud-filtered gray sunlight, and several of the windows were open to the frosty exterior. Still, Bunny’s stepping onto the black and red welcome mat adorning the front hall’s linoleum floor was like pushing her way through a wall of heat.
“The furnace is off, but the place is thickly insulated and we get some warmth from the neighbours on either side,” explained Mercy, as she led them into the kitchen. “I thought it was a good thing till I started having to cook on all four burners while the bread maker, Crock-Pot, and oven were also on – and never mind the cost. Thinking about this month’s power bill makes me want to cry – that is, cry more.”
Coffin cleared his throat and eyed a brimming saucepan of what appeared to be Campbell’s tomato soup.
“You’ve taken the boy to a doctor?” he asked.
“It was actually Doctor Coleman who recommended you,” the mother replied as she pulled a bubbling pan of cheddar-laden macaroni and cheese from the stove’s dragon-hot maw.
Coleman was a hack who operated the city’s cheapest walk-in clinic. She saw more patients in a month than a proper hospital MD would in a year, and Coffin had dealt with her twice in the past over ailments she’d been unable to explain.
She’d accepted the existence of gnomes surprisingly well.
As Mercy waved a green oven mitt across the cooling pasta, she added, “it says that it’ll go when it’s had its fill.”
“I used to say the same about my vodka habit,” muttered Bunny.
Will leaned against the counter and the hem of his leather jacket brushed, unnoticed, through a dune of flour.
“What you’re dealing with can be translated to ‘a house imp’ in English. It’s a floating sort of – not a possession, but an inhabitation. They’re supposed to keep moving, always snatching a little bit of food. They’re the reason you’ll have a meal every now and then that leaves you feeling hungry. Supposedly they’re especially fond of Chinese.”
To his partner, he added, “Blackhall had to deal with one that – er, let’s just hope this isn’t so bad a mess.”
* * *
Lamont’s room, on the second floor, was quiet and neat. Pushing open the door with her cooling pyrex tray, Mercy had lead the way, with Bunny and Coffin following close behind.
A muted TV in the corner was silently unspooling Godzilla, and a large Jaws poster watched over the bed in which the child lay wet cheeked and chewing.
Sweating now, Bunny gave an approving grunt to the boy’s taste in films, then turned her gaze to the youth himself.
“He looks thin for ten,” she said, “but not like cancer patient thin.”
Setting the macaroni on his dresser, Mercy handed across a soccer team photo saying, “Lamont’s in the middle. He plays goalie.”
“#### me,” replied Bunny. “Yeah, I guess you’re going to have to start moving a little quicker to stop the ball, kid.”
Before his apprentice could further insult their employer’s offspring, Coffin addressed Lamont directly.
“Swallow, then say ‘ahh’ – I want to chat with your visitor.”
Lamont nodded, his furrowed chin intent on preventing tears while strangers were about.
Leaning his head against his pillow, he widened his lips.
“Good, good,” echoed a screeching voice from within, “the Coffin is here. Is your alcoholic sidekick with you too, flatfoot?”
Will gave a half-turn, expecting his roommate to make her own reply, but Bunny held her tongue.
Misinterpreting his raised eyebrow, the imp continued. “Surprised I knew about her tippling? I get around – or at least I used to, if you know what I mean – but every goblin and grave dweller in the city says the same.
“Frankly, I’m astonished you even had time to come check on little ol’ me. As I hear it, the sky is falling around you – and, really, shouldn’t you be hitting the bricks? What you going to do here, John Law, reach in with your shiny hook and try to pull me out like one of your ghosts?
“Find a pier if you wanna go fishing, I’ll move when I’ve had my fill of Mercy’s amazing grub.”
In an only half-listening tone, Coffin replied, “it’s been a while since she’s had a drink.”
“Hey pal,” chittered the imp, “I’ve leached enough cheap whiskey from people leaving church basements to know there’s no such thing as an ex-alcoholic.”
The entity delivered the line with a tone so sugared it threatened his audience with diabetes.
Stepping close enough to pry the boy’s teeth wide, she peered within. There, at the bottom of his red and swollen throat, was a window looking in from the upper-corner of a well-appointed study.
The tormentor appeared to be a finely dressed man of slender build, with his long black hair pulled into a tight bun and his tweed suit jacket hung upon the leftmost of the two red velvet chairs that furnished the space.
This was the extent of his veneer of civility, however.
His face, from nose to chin, was encrusted with a mat of food, some apparently half-chewed, and his waistcoat was so caked with haphazard gluttony that its original colour was indecipherable.
Gobs of browning slop had been tossed across the dead-eyed painted portraits hanging on the wood paneled walls, and the bookshelf that dominated the right side of her view was covered in an array of boiled vegetation.
Seeing her disgust, the unrelenting transient gave a used car salesman’s smirk.
“It ain’t your smart mouth that bothers me,” said Bunny. “To me, you and booze are about the same ####ing thing – just a ####-gobbling parasite.”
“No, you know what really yanks my ####ing goat, you god#### Hungry Hungry Hipster? I’m never getting back the twenty years that I barely remember. I won’t experience those people or places or moments again, and I wouldn’t recognize them if I could because I was so ####ing wasted the first time through.”
“That’s nice, though I don’t much care to hear your -” began the demon, but it was Bunny’s turn to smile.
There was no joy in her grin, and as she began to talk over him her voice gathered a train’s momentum.
“Did I ask a question at some point, you vomit chewing Easy-Bake fondler? Cause what I’m telling you is that I’ve wasted two decades on fermented ####ing fruit juices, and I’m plenty in the mood to spend the next few days screaming down this brat’s throat if it’ll do him some good.
”You think you’re ####ing hungry? I got a flood of opinions you can chew on, ya greasy ####ing #### eater. Let’s start with the god#### spiral cluster#### that is your ####ty taste in decor…”
Ten minutes later Will and Bunny had shaken hands with the joyfully-teary Currys and were back on the street. He was carrying a set of dusty golf clubs he intended to pawn, and she a new-found sense of pride.
It was impossible to say where the imp had relocated himself to, but Bunny felt confident that the ringing in his ears would act as a lingering reminder of their authority.
It wasn’t the end of their troubles, but it certainly made the next fifteen minutes of sobriety easier.
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.
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