Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and seventy-nine.
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, Will Coffin, urban shaman, and Bunny, his apprentice, discuss old dead friends with the Lady of the Northern Reaches.
Coffin: The Drop of the Shoe, Part 3 of 4
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
They’d sent no word, as Will had known it to be unnecessary. Those who remained of the Lords and Ladies which once held domain over the primeval lands were a reclusive lot, but news of a death amongst their ranks would carry on the song of every mourning sparrow and in the howling of every lamenting family hound.
“I’ll wait here,” was the extent of their driver’s statement upon their second stop, but Bunny suspected that the shark-faced man would rather sit in silence than encounter the likely wrath of the occult nobility awaiting them in the abandoned motel’s husk.
Still, it was in the arcane ambulance’s nature to be forgotten as soon as it had passed, and no one questioned its right of way or meteoric pace. She did not relish the thought of having had to try to explain a dead raccoon in the back seat to a highway patrolman, nor having the blood on the upholstery to the rental people.
Stepping across rusting mattress springs and the scattered remains of a shattered television, Bunny and Coffin entered the collapsing shoreside resort. They found Sour Thistle not in her usual place, but at a window overlooking the snowy calm of the frozen lake.
“How many times have I gazed upon this pond? Have I mentioned before that Blackhall and I used to meet at this same spot? There was no construction then – those few who walked these shores knew enough to move through my realm on tender feet. Now I’m lucky not to be run down by an eighteen wheeled rig while chasing my breakfast.”
Her attendee, the Dead Faced Man, stood in the corner and said little. His rotting mask was beyond expression, but Coffin suspected the former swindler could not be terribly pleased to see the man who he deemed responsible for ending his career as a lawyer and the life he had made for himself in Capital City.
Fortunately, Will didn’t especially care.
“I’m sorry for the loss of your associate,” he told the wolverine.
Dropping her mystically over-sized fore paws to the rotting carpet, the Lady of the Northern Reaches gave a welcoming nod to both Bunny and Coffin, then set her rump beside a recently erected card table at the room’s center.
Without comment, her lackey stepped into the hall.
Once the trio were alone a snarl entered Sour Thistle’s voice.
“Do not hand me your cool condolences, reaper, you forget that I have seen you in tragedy before. You must have quite liked the sticky-fingered bandit to work so hard at calm.
”I had known Pisky some seven centuries. I can not say I liked him, but that does not mean we were not friends. Perhaps you can not understand, given the short spans afforded to you temporary bags of meat, but I assure you that two beings do not need to find moments of laughter or shared interest when faced with the commonality of a slow starvation.
“A death of a hundred years can forge a bond deeper than any correspondence or childhood memory.”
For the first time since they’d discovered the murder, Will struck Bunny as agitated.
“It wasn’t just Rocky Raccoon you know,” replied Coffin. “There were several spirits in the area that seem to have been – erased. There’s nothing more than a stain where they once rested.”
A series of slowing clicks came from deep within Sour Thistle’s throat, and Bunny briefly wondered if perhaps she was about to witness an occult throw down.
Instead the forest queen lowered her head and nodded, saying, “there is murder, and then there is murder. I apologize, Coffin, and appreciate your concerns.
“Do the records of your office include the account of how that idiot and I survived those desperate days when the energies were at their lowest and there was little to sustain beings of our nature? There were many emergencies of course, but it was truly Pisky who made what most consider the bleakest decades livable.
“For a generation I survived solely by having my scouts on constant alert for brain-poisoned fairies and feral-eyed gnomes. Half-dead themselves, they were tidbits that provided only enough to hold me to the next meager meal.
“Then Pisky arrived.
“He’d tracked one of the foolish lake monster myths to a pool in the northwest. The territory’s tenant was ill with the red plague, though we did not know it – we knew simply that he was absent, which was all the justification for poaching that we required.
“Until then Pisky had been clever enough to get the better end of every deal between us, so I thought him likely onto something when he came to me for help.
“His mind was sharp, but his teeth were no match for my claws.
“In those days you’d barely infected these lands, and there were still pockets, even starving as it also was, that a titan such as the hydra could hide its bulk.
“We cornered it in a muddy bay, really little more than a lakeside swamp, and the contest lasted three days.
“Two heads in place of every one, as legend says, and it had already sixteen at its command. Its neck meat was glorious, and my appetite was boundless.
“When it was finally so top-weighted that it’s shattered legs could no longer think of escape, we collected our first harvest – some six hundred heads – and ate them between deep gulps of the cold clean water. In time our agents actually purchased the dirt and lay a barn overtop its form, but there was a certain sort of revelry to those early open-air picnics.
“We slept with full bellies that winter, and I swear I have never tasted blood so sweet since.”
With the tale told, all eyes fell to the tabletop.
It was the queen who broke the silence, and Bunny couldn’t help but notice how chatty the old dame was being. It left her wondering if perhaps she was stalling the process of having to see the body.
“Do you know who to hold accountable?” asked Sour Thistle.
Coffin replied, “I’ve a discreet private investigator looking into the ownership of the place, but I think it’s pretty obvious.”
“The festering disciples of the arachnid? Do they not understand their ultimate reward is oblivion?”
“You can still have a lot of fun with unlimited power between now and the end of the world.”
“It’s true then that they consumed him?”
“Partially. There’s still plenty left to gnaw on.”
“The dead queen will wish to hold the feast in her northern castle, will you attend and taste of his flesh?”
Sour Thistle gave a sound that was half sniff and half snort.
Somewhere a crow aired its grievances to the winter air, then the room was filled only with the misty wisps that marked the trio’s breathing.
Finally, Will’s shoulders fell.
“I meant no disrespect,” he answered, “I’d go, but I don’t think I could choke down my portion.”
“It is not your refusal that worries me,” said the ancient beast, “it is your mood. Do not overreact in this, William.”
Coffin’s posture stiffened and his battered leather jacket rose at his neck like the fur of a confronted cat.
Despite his demeanour, however, his voice was still and empty.
“Hey, if you wanted self control you should’ve talked to the Mute.”
With that their palaver ended, and Bunny and Will exited to discover the casket already transferred into the RV that would carry Pisky to his ultimate destination.
It was a long and silent ride home.
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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