Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and thirty-nine.
Tonight we present Spinning Yarns and Spinning Wheels
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Melting Potcast!
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 we visit with friends from our distant past as they move ever forward into the future.
Spinning Yarns and Spinning Wheels
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
“A thousand harnessed cargo scorpions drove a straight line across the windswept desert, and, though the edges of the column were easily lost within the great sandscape’s grit-stained borders…”
From beyond the walls a single low horn gave a lingering, mournful bleet, and Asger set aside the rough-read magazine. The half-dozen children sitting cross legged about him gave up a simultaneous “Aww!”
“- but I haven’t HEARD Sofia Esperon and the Bandits of the Wastes before!” moaned Eydis, her fingers playing with her left braid. Asger recognized it as the girl’s habit when lying.
“There hasn’t been a Queen Sofia story published in the last ten years you haven’t heard twice,” he said. “Still, if you promise to stop fibbing, and if you’ll behave for your brothers and sister while we’re out hunting, I promise I’ll finish it before bed time.”
Haldor, two years Eydis’ younger but easily as large an Esperon fan, took a broad stance.
“I’ll make sure she does!”
He’d fashioned a sword from a length of pallet wood, but a raised eyebrow from Asger kept him from drawing it on the accused.
Heeding the warning, however, Haldor continued. “Why can’t you stay with us and finish it? You used to be with us always.”
This was a trickier question than Asger was prepared to answer. How could he explain the need for adventure – for accomplishment – that had filled the void where his childhood belief in the shaman’s magicks and the clan’s whispered tales of cultists in white had once resided?
The long room rocked briefly and the group shuffling towards the door was left to adjust their footing – then the chamber again settled.
“Every story has a beginning,” he said, “and I began with you, but -”
Having lost his opportunity to finish the thought, he turned as the entry opened with a blast of wind, and a stubby gangway landed.
Though Asger offered an “off you go,” the children of the Elg Herra had danced the distance to their beds before he’d finished the sentence.
Setting a hand on the lever to pull back the rampart, Danne, the keeper of The Nursery, shouted, “The Council approaches. Good luck.”
Then the passage retracted, and the door sprung back into place.
In the quiet seconds that followed, Asger flicked off the LED dome that lit the space and, standing in the dark, attempted to shake off the tension he felt building in his calves and stomach.
The hinges creaked, and his own platform arrived.
Grabbing the rope guides in both hands, he leapt the windy distance in a thick legged imitation of the children’s traversal.
As his eyes adjusted to the much brighter council chamber, he took in its occupants: Gunna, The Earl, wrapped in her handsewn furs; Klas, useless perhaps in his ceremonial role of shaman, yet still her most trusted councillor; and Lotta, Knut, and Ivar, who made up the standard hands at every hunting party. Asger, at that awkward age in which he had one foot in the cradle while the other moved towards his new station, had no doubt he ranked the lowest of the group.
“What’s the word?” he asked, as he took his place, cross legged, at the circle’s edge.
Asger had practiced this steady tone often, yet the Earl smiled gently at his delivery.
“A charge’n’go hauler,” answered Knut, the extended haft of his chosen weapon – a sledge with a flat striking hammer on one side and a toothy claw on its other – sprawled across his lap.
He was the oldest of those who’d actually depart on the hunting expedition, and the most likely to inherit command of The Moose, affording him rare privacy in his retirement if he could outlive Fast Foot Jenny, its current occupant.
On the floor between them, the Earl prodded a map showing their position against that of their target.
It meant little to Asger, but he’d learned to stare at it gravely for a time anyhow.
“Do we know what it’s carrying?” asked Ivar.
The Earl’s brow furled against the protestations of her tautly bound hair.
Using a nod as cover, the neophyte did his best to hide his disappointment. Stories of unexpected treasures and fame-making artifacts were what had drawn him to his risky calling, and icy fowl, though essential, were neither. Yet, even in this mundane undertaking, there was danger aplenty.
They spoke for a time, then the double doors at the rear of the room swung wide, and the hunters were left to settle upon The Moose.
Atop the black SUV’s roof, where more often might be seen lights or shining chrome, Fast Foot Jenny had mounted the broadest bull rack the nomads had ever encountered along the roadside.
Asger had been at hand the day she’d made a rare stop to tend the roadkill. To be standing on solid ground often seemed a strange experience – the lack of rumble beneath his feet would forever feel wrong – but for a moment he had known stillness in the shadow of the oak under which the great beast lay rotting.
The breeze had stirred the branches and the smell of the sun-baked grain of a nearby farmer’s field had briefly won out against the stink of the corpse. Then the current had shifted, and the roar of the flies at work sowing eggs in the putrid flesh had again touched his ears, and they’d gotten to the venerated task at hand.
As it had always been – as they hoped it would forever be – they took what they could use and buried the rest.
Now, though swept back to cut the wind, the thick antlers made for an imposing approach. His calves again tense, Asger pushed himself to be the first to leap from the platform to the vehicle’s hood, then he had scrambled inside, his hands and feet moving with vigour if not practice.
Jenny cackled as he crouched low among the magazine images she’d glued about the cabin: Sunsets and beaches in the backseat, men exceptionally qualified as breeding stock in the front.
Within seconds the remaining three had joined them, Knut taking his traditional place in the passenger seat as Lotta and Ivar joined him in the rear. Then the warm glow of the council hall – its exterior as drab and mud spattered as any of the automated eighteen-wheelers that haunted the night highways – fell away as Fast Foot Jenny earned her name.
There was little to see beyond the tinted windows but hills, trees, and road, leaving only the shadows and the road ahead to draw Asger’s focus until they overtook their target.
Lotta, however, felt it best to spend the time berating Ivar.
“I’ll have none of your damned risks this time,” she was saying, “we need turkey, not heroes…” – and somehow the familiarity of her agitation brought some calm.
Yet, as the great whale finally came into view, Asger’s stomach knotted and his palms began to sweat.
The beast and its automatic driving software paid no heed to their approach.
“You’re up on latching duty, kid,” said Knut, and he set a hand against the hinged windshield.
In truth, Asger had been on latching duty for the previous three excursions, but he made no argument. Someday it would be someone else’s problem, but today he accepted it as his own.
The wind was high and the reinforced hood rumbled beneath his footing, but he drew the two hooks from their mounts above the headlights and set them deep on the monster’s bumper. Then the scavenging began.
Ivar was quick to conquer the lock, and a blast of cold hit the night air as he breached the hauler’s skin.
Within sat shelf upon shelf of boxes, and Asger knew each box in turn held a dozen turkeys – the entire load could have fed the Elg Herra for months if they’d a method of keeping them, but such gluttony would only lead to trouble. It was tradition to take only what they needed in the moment – only so much as to make such losses acceptable against the cost of security of each rig in the eyes of those who sent them sailing.
Still, they were a people with needs.
“Pop it’s batteries!” Lotta demanded of Ivar, and with some help from their companions they were onto the roof and dragging Moose’s engine-attached cables towards the forecabin.
Misfortune befell their venture before the pair’s careful progress had even managed to traverse the roof.
First came a warning message from the scouts peering from behind The Nursery’s blacked-out windows.
“Two minutes till traffic,” announced Knut, as he dropped his glowing screen into one of the many pockets that lined his slate britches.
Fast Foot Jenny, leaning well out from her position behind the wheel, motioned that they should hurry with the cargo, as they were still well under their limit. That, however, was when the second mishap inserted itself.
A box went loose, falling from the lip of the truck bed and bursting open upon its landing on The Moose’s hood. Yet, as it tumbled across the passenger side and into the darkness, Asger was left with all too clear an impression of its contents.
“They’re not turkey’s, they’re – they’re heads?” he shouted.
“Boy,” he said, “get the others.”
It did not register with Asger that his elder had pulled open the packet of tinder and matches that legends and tradition demanded they carry in case they should encounter their supposed ancient enemy.
The youth had never attempted the climb to the trailer-top before, but Knut’s able shoulders pushed him high enough to make it an easy enough mount – it was remaining in place that was the real trouble. The wind howled, and the treetops flew past his vision on either side. Each handhold forward was a battle, and each inch a victory.
Adrenaline had him grinning like a madman when the shooting began.
To his right, the cabin door swung wide, carrying Lotta over the road. The same momentum carried her up and over the window, then she was approaching his position with terrifying speed.
“GO GO GO,” she was shouting, as the roaring gale carried her towards The Moose.
A second round of gunfire erupted, and a bloody Ivar fell through her flapping exit, his body disappearing beneath the rig’s wheels.
Here was the adventure he’d yearned for – but at what cost? His friend?
A white mask and hood appeared at the unbuttoned door to remind him that he might lose more.
There was a moment of recognition, his childhood doubts disappearing in the wind. Had he not always been told the Kar’Wickians would come? And if the cultists were real, what then of the shaman’s chants, and what of –
His considerations ended there, as the spider-worshiper’s raised pistol was enough to encourage him to follow Lotta’s advice.
The tension so long present in his calves pulled him to his feet, despite the bluster, and a third outbreak of gunfire chased him across the rolling platform. Once he leapt, however, it was only the sturdy nature of Fast Foot Jenny’s antler mounting that saved him from a jellied end on the hardtop.
As he adjusted his grip and fought the gentle pressure of expertly applied brakes Asger watched as the freighter’s rear door, left wide, began to spew flame and smoke, and the mix of heat and Knut’s quickly built pyre was enough to disrupt its grisly cargo and send flaming heads tumbling onto the roadway.
Then the rolling abattoir, and its white-clad guardian, left behind the four survivors and disappeared over the horizon.
Five minutes later Asger was again in the quiet warmth of the council room, relaying his report, and an hour more found him returned to the nursery.
“A thousand harnessed cargo scorpions drove a straight line across the windswept desert, and, though the edges of the great column were easily lost within the great sandscape’s grit-stained borders…”, he began, yet, that evening, it was only his own tale the children wished to hear.
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.