Category Archives: Blackhall

FP396 – The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and ninety-six.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Earth Station One

 

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, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, finds himself in an unlikely conversation, with a fairy woman and a deaf man, on the lonely banks of the Malhousen River.

 

The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 of 3

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Blackhall’s limbs were heavy with memory and heartache as he pulled himself over the side of the tiny rowboat, yet the banshee’s song of tears would not relent.

It took Wyatt’s guiding hand to keep the frontiersman on course through the fog of sentiment that pooled on his cheeks, but it was not a distant journey to the stone on which she perched, head in hands.

A sleek limbed figure in a dress of archaic form, she looked as if a village girl lost some two-hundred years – it was only the bolt of anguish that accompanied each convulsion of her shoulders that marked her as otherwise.

The sound of Thomas’ knees collapsing upon the wet sand drew her gaze, and the curve of her brow betrayed her surprise at their arrival.

Still, though her eyes were red with use, the banshee’s spine braced, and chin stiffened, at the intrusion.

“Is this what it’s come to,” she asked her damp palms, “the hayseeds have rallied to accost me like some whisky-tongued roustabout?”

Her hushed tone broke the weight of emotion upon Blackhall’s spine, however, allowing him to push to the surface of his grief.

Flash Pulp - A Skinner Co. PodcastWhile he could, he said, “not at all – though they do worry over what your despair portends. If hearing the sobbing of a banshee signals death, what then, they must wonder, does it mean for one of your kind to weep so long and so deeply? No doubt they believe the entire township is on the verge of depopulation by plague.”

“Always for you, always for you, damnable humans,” she replied, but her whisper was low enough to let him to stand without aid. “Why should I worry over their lot? The white-collar yonder has launched a multitude of prayerful curses in my direction: First wishing me away, then requesting my obliteration.

“Where is his concern for my anxieties? Does he not consider that I too may seek succor, or at least simple understanding?”

Desperate to be clear of the unblinking memory of Mairi’s slack face, Blackhall nodded, replying, “I’m sure the Father means well, but ‘tis an easy lesson to forget that charity means considering the flow of hard nature, and not just the metaphysical.”

Wyatt, unsure of how to add to the conversation, removed his hat and took a seat upon a tumbled log as if welcomed into any mundane stranger’s parlour. In truth, it was this act more than any of Thomas’ words that brought the banshee’s tone some patience.

“For five hundred years,“ she said, “I watched every birth and burial the Ó Braonáin family undertook. I wept silent tears of joy at the arrival of every bairn, and wailed a warning at the death of every drowned fisherman or tottering grandmother. I chased them from farm to salt and back again a dozen times, and never once did I fail in my craft.

“Yet this is where it ends. I followed the last transplanted branch of the clan over sea and up river. I watched his every struggling effort, and shared his joy at the hope that comes at a new start, even if it means a sore back and tired arms. Still, his fate was nothing more than a growth in his belly, and a moaning death before he might take wife and renew the line in this fresh soil.

“Now it is he who was planted: A year dead in the ground, buried under Father Stroud’s guidance.”

Her tone was thick but controlled, allowing Thomas to ask, “do you feel they treated the last of the Ó Braonáins unfairly?”

“No more than any else,” she answered, “- but what of me? Where should I go? What do I have? There is no one left to watch over, no one left to mourn. I can feel the drain of the occult from this world, yet I can not bring myself to despair any further.

“It would have been better to wither at home, where at least I knew the stones upon which I’d rot.”

Her gaze was locked on Thomas, as if he might have an answer, and, while her lips refused to tremble, he could see the pain of five-hundred-years of loneliness.

However, though he could but make out half her words, it was Wyatt who replied first.

“I spend most evenings in cloistered silence,” said the deaf man, his throat tight, “but I would be most pleased to come calling across the brook, or wherever else you might wish to meet. I have little to offer beyond lopsided conversation, but I would be happy to share my letters from beyond, and perhaps a taste of my dandelion wine, should you be so inclined. Moreover, if you have the patience to tell it to a man who needs much repeating, I would glory in the tales you’ve no doubt collected in your time on watch. There is no reason the Ó Braonáin line you knew can not live on in story.”

His words echoed Thomas’ thoughts. It was a temporary solution at best, but Blackhall knew that any lifeline was better than none to lungs and heart drowning in depression.

Nodding, he added, “- and I can no doubt convince the parish that the peace your company offers is worth a handsome payment, Wyatt.”

It was only then that proper introductions were made, but a night’s worth of conversation brought them to many matters: The foibles of men and women long deceased, the idiosyncrasies of penpals from distant lands, and even the seemingly endless march to Mairi.

By the hour at which dawn fell upon the trio, there was naught but laughter.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://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.

Coffin’s theme is Quinn’s Song: A New Man, by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com/

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

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Filed under Blackhall, Flash Pulp

FP395 – The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and ninety-five.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by The P.G. Holyfield Cancer Support Fund

 

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, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, takes a relatively long trip across a relatively narrow river.

 

The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 3

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

From somewhere in the darkness beyond the river’s rushing water came the noise of sorrow and collapse.

From somewhere in the murk came the gurgle and crack of honest tears.

From somewhere in the gloom came death.

The crowd stiffened as one at the noise of the woman’s weeping.

“You look concerned, gentlemen,” said Blackhall. “Is this wail not why you stumbled from the comfort of your hearths?”

Gathering his shoulders, the priest motioned two thick-armed cow wranglers towards a shed at the edge of the churchyard, then the red-haired man stepped into the beam of the lead wobbling lantern.

“My name is Father Stroud, and it is indeed exactly why I’ve collected these men here. We’ll have this dilema out tonight, and we’ll have it honestly – but we need no charlatan mystic defrauding poor Wyatt and putting the rest of us at risk.”

“You’d like to see my credentials then?” smirked Blackhall. “Wyatt is only poor in the sense that you all underpay for the services he renders. I’ve asked him for nothing more than an afternoon’s conversation.”

“We all know what dangers lie out there,” answered Stroud, “if not money, then what is your hidden motive in interceding in the matter of the banshee?”

Before Thomas could answer, however, the dispatched farmers returned with a small white-washed rowboat on their shoulders.

With an inelegant splash, they dropped the craft in the shallows.

“Huh,” said Blackhall. “Was it your plan to fit the lot of us, lap upon lap, in this Sunday paddler? Such a dinghy will hold two at best. Perhaps, though, if you all tether yourself together I might drag you across the flow?”

“Obviously we can not all join you, but the community will have a representative at the table,” answered the priest.

“I think -” Thomas began, but Stroud raised a finger and culled a broad man by the name of Perry from the crowd.

With a shrug, Blackhall assured himself that his gear was still sitting on dry ground, but tugged his greatcoat over his shoulders. There was not but mundane survival amongst his bags, for he’d long relinquished his arcane tools to the care of a firmer guardian, but he would not, and could not, relinquish the braid and letter that rode within his coat’s breast pocket.

Setting his left hand on Wyatt’s shoulders, the frontiersman held up the five digits on his right, then pointed to the ground at his feet. Finally he took his position in the boat, opting for the lover’s perch so that Perry was left the oars.

The first rower was a strong man.

To Thomas’ mind it was as if approaching the heat of a black sun, or attempting to scale the height of a waterfall gushing naught but sorrow. There was a temptation to wave his gondolier off, or suggest he approach from some protracting angle, but Blackhall’s occult studies had taught him that it would only delay the inevitable.

Perry’s strong arms carried them half the distance, then the ferryman’s weeping for his eldest child, deceased some two years after a decisive kick from a startled bull, brought their trajectory about.

His momentum did not stop even when they’d reached the shore, and he was on his mare and into the darkness before any questions could be held to him.

Blackhall, An Occult Fantasy Skinner Co. Podcast“I think -” Blackhall began again, but Stroud again raised his finger, this time pulling a lanky parishioner by the name of Johan from the crowd.

Johan was lanky-limbed and sharp nosed, but he smiled at the news and bowed repeatedly to the priest as he approached the boat.

As he pushed off, he began to sing of the sunset tree.

The second rower, then, was a pious man.

“The twilight star to heaven,” sang Johan, “and the summer dew to flowers,” yet each splash of his paddles seemed to pick up weight.

“And rest to us is given,” he continued, “by the cool soft evening hours,” but it was for naught.

The emptiness of his home had struck him; his lack of child or wife. The emptiness of his late night comforts – that he he would someday find the right woman, that someday he would not sing alone – brought an ache to his lungs and a hitch to his throat.

He’d swung around fully before realizing he’d made any turn to the boat, but he made no attempt to right his course as the sound of the banshee’s mourning chased them back to their point of departure.

In a wavering voice, Perry excused himself to the silence of the sanctuary beyond.

“It’s no aspersion on his faith,” said Blackhall, “it’s just a matter of applicability. Prayer is no greater defense in this matter than it would be against the current of the stream.”

He paused then, awaiting the inevitable interruption, but Stroud made a point of holding his tongue.

“I think,” Thomas continued, “we’ll try Wyatt at the oars. It seems your pity and your piety have made you blind to his obvious strengths.”

The light was dim and flickering, making lip-reading a difficult undertaking, but the deaf man was quick enough to discern everything Blackhall’s nod was intended to convey, and he did not hesitate to take his place.

Within seconds they were off again.

Though he did his best to muffle the otherworldly sobbing as they approach, the repeated trips had also taken their toll on Thomas.

His mind had retreated – as it did as sleep approached, or he took a few cups with a friendly face, or his feet stumbled through the endless ferns and bramble – to the thought of his dead wife, Mairi.

At the halfway point it was only his teeth upon his lip that kept him from tears. The smell of autumn leaves came to him. The smell of a small fire in an English forest came to him, carrying memories of the lusty scrabbling reserved for lovers long parted.

Wyatt, oblivious, but whistled.

Christmas came next, Mairi’s fingers on his ever-shaking knee, the anxiety of their announcement welling in his throat, the warmth and love of the house they intended to fill further, the heat of her neck and the breathy scent of wine filling the darkness of a back-corridor linen closet.

Thomas howled, and the banshee howled.

He stood at her grave as they buried her. He stood at her grave as it was now, empty. He damned the hag who’d stolen her. He damned the woods that tore at her dancing dead feet.

He damned himself for ever having spent his short span anywhere but at her side.

Then the bow touched softly upon the shore.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://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.

Coffin’s theme is Quinn’s Song: A New Man, by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com/

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

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Filed under Blackhall, Flash Pulp

FP394 – The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and ninety-four.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by The P.G. Holyfield Appreciation Dept.

 

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, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, chases dark portents into a small town on the river’s edge.

 

The Weeping Woman: a Blackhall Tale, Part 1 of 3

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

On a morning so fierce and dry it made even the greenest timber seem at threat of flaring up from simple exposure, Thomas Blackhall stumbled into the village of Malhousen.

He had been summoned over the mystic aspect of an apparent impending demise.

Malhousen proper was little more than a trading post facing down a small churchyard, but the two dozen families that populated the surrounding rocky lands were on friendly enough terms to call each other neighbour, and the occasional mail delivery seemed to indicate that the government agreed on the designation.

Still, visitors were a rare thing that far off in the bushlands, and there was no public house, nor inn, motel or tavern – as a field-tromping farmer had passed word to Thomas that any with interest enough to make the journey likely did so because they knew someone in the area well enough to board with them.

“If you need a place to stay, though,” the muck-handed man with the broad straw hat had said, “I’m sure a few coins could clean mother’s sewing parlour for the evening.”

The offer had stood as long as it took Blackhall to explain what had brought him.

Strolling beyond the low white fence that separated the churchyard cemetery from non-hallowed turf, Thomas came to the river that had given the town its name, then cast off his gear with the tender concern of a man who’d just spent a full two weeks cursing at its weight.

Retrieving a small pouch from his breast pocket, he lay his great coat across his packs and sat upon the sandy bank to take in the current’s breeze. In time his fingers found a fine Spanish paper and stuffed it with tobacco, then, in more, the sun nuzzled the horizon.

Not being the Sabbath, there seemed to be only the church’s red-faced Scottish priest to glower at the stranger loafing away the afternoon.

At first, as his smoke had chased the water bugs downstream, Blackhall had thought that the cleric was simply the type to disapprove of all outsiders, but, by the hour at which his stomach began to call for supper, Thomas had decided the Scot likely knew why he was at hand, and that the holy man wanted nothing to do with his occult concerns.

It was his thinking that a true busy body could not be content to maintain a distance, but the priest had spent his day at just the distance necessary to be always aware of Blackhall’s position.

As Thomas began to consider what he was carrying that might appease his complaining appetite, a man exited from the trading post, walked the short breadth of its porch, then joined him on the riverbank via the fence-side route.

Blackhall: A Skinner Co. Fantasy Fiction Podcast“I apologize,” said the prematurely-graying newcomer. “I’m Wyatt, the man who requested your presence. I would’ve joined you earlier, yet – well, you may’ve noted that business is sluggish, but what customers I receive depend on the regularity of my habits.

“I should also mention that my ears aren’t of much use. Though I could hear till my eighteenth year, they’re long gone now. It makes me poor conversation, as I talk too much about nothing and with little response. I’ve some skill at reading lips, but there are few here who will allow me to practice. They have fields to till and cows to slaughter, I suppose.”

“You’re sole occupation is running the store?” asked Blackhall, his words slow and clear.

The man raised his brow.

“The store?” repeated Thomas, his fingers waving in the squat shack’s direction.

“Oh, I act as middleman between those who grow beats and those who grow potatoes. The potato men come to me for their beats, the beat men come to me for their potatoes, and I make barely enough between them to taste either.

“In addition, the same boatman who collects the post brings up a selection of needles and dry goods that I resell. Despite my deafness I hear complaints over even that tiny profit.”

Blackhall nodded, and the shop keep smiled to have a friendly ear.

“The truth,” he continued, “is that I receive a child’s treatment because of my conversational difficulties. You’ve been a kind audience, but those who care for anything beyond inquiring about carrot seed often grow loud, which is a body posture as much as a tone, and neuter their language to a level more appropriate for a mush-headed bairn.

“It is usually those same folks who can’t scratch their own names, and thus can’t simply write out their orders and questions for prompt service.”

“It must be a lonely life,” Blackhall repeated until the man caught his meaning.

“It’s the postal counter that most keeps me in place,” replied Wyatt. “I’ve made a tangle of friends across the globe with those simple scraps of paper, and I collect more news than a dozen broadsheet hawkers. It was those same that gave me your name to search out when the matter of the death bringer raised itself.

“Still, as you can perhaps tell, I do long for the simple pleasure of seeing a face react, instead of outwaiting the slow transmission and careful composition of a letter.”

The conversation continued forward in little ways until dusk, but, due to their minor discussion, they did not note the departure of the flame-haired priest on his sagging, silent, pony.

By the time the frogs had begun to sing and dew was forming on the grass, Wyatt and Thomas were no longer alone.

Several men with lanterns, slurring courage and raising enough noise to find each other despite the wobbling of their illumination, began to gather about the white picket fence.

Their filth-kneed pants marked the crowd as farmers, but Thomas could discern nothing more as they took to shouting commands and demanding answers, simultaneously and without deference for his neighbour’s bellowing.

The priest was close behind.

It was as the Father moved to the forefront and raised his arms for silence, however, that there came, from beyond the river, the keening sound of death – a high and jittering wail that was no more dampened by the babble of men and water than would be a bullet.

Then the evening’s trials truly began.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://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.

Coffin’s theme is Quinn’s Song: A New Man, by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com/

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Blackhall, Flash Pulp

FP384 – The Scarred Man: a Blackhall Tale

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and eighty-four.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Scarred Man: a Blackhall Tale

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)

 

This week’s episodes are brought to you by Glow in the Dark Radio

 

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 join Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, as he encounters an undying combatant by a lonely northern lake.

 

The Scarred Man: a Blackhall Tale

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Blackhall met the immortal on the edge of a lake known by the few who occasionally wandered its shores as the Blue Sip. He’d seen naught but the intermittent chipmunk in his last three days of journey through the heavy undergrowth, and, in his stop, he’d been seeking nothing more than a moment of cool respite from his westward campaign to retrieve the dancing corpse of his dead wife.

The immortal, however, had been seeking nothing more than Blackhall.

Thomas had been considering the state of his preparations to break the hold of the hag who led Mairi through the shadowed wildwoods when the lumbering titan arrived.

He had dealt with giants and their ilk in the past, but never while standing naked in three feet’s water. Still, though the man was tall, and his musculature so over-large to be almost a caricature of human form, Blackhall soon realized he was no giant.

The stranger wore a cloak and carried a shotgun at his shoulder, which Thomas felt likely to be heavy and hot gear for the depth of the timber and harshness of sun. The interloper was in apparent agreement, as his first action upon arrival was to drop both.

“I was born as Nikanor, some three millennia past,” he said as he laid aside a sheathed blade too big to be a knife but too short to be a modern sword.

The sight of the weapon, even in being set aside, did little more than remind Blackhall of the distance to his own silver-edged sabre, which lay among his gear on the shoreside. It was too far – and the shotgun too close – for the frontiersman’s liking.

“I was born Thomas some few dozen years ago,” was the best the could find for an answer.

For a moment Nikanor looked puzzled, then a slow smile came to his ground sausage lips. His face appeared to have suffered and survived a half-dozen cleavings, and his skull was roughly misshapen with the scar tissue that had grown across the wounds.

“I know who you are, shaman,” he replied. “I have marched from the coast to meet you. Funny that it should be here, for my journey began, in many ways, in a very different bit of water – the Styx. My mother was a proud strumpet and a glory of her age. She was also a genius at the bargaining table. The gods of the time on the other hand, were naught but letches, and there came a day when Zeus himself came to our door.

“She turned him away a full three times, then offered herself up under two specific conditions.

“That is how her only child, a lowly army footman of sixteen, came to find himself dipped, much like Achilles, in the Styx – but Mother was well aware of the tales, and so demanded I be held by my hair. I have been bald since, but my heels are in grand order.”

As he spoke, the Greek had stripped back the loose cloth of his shirt to reveal a form that reminded Thomas most of a picture book knight. Instead of the gleam of full plate, however, the man was a mass of cratered sinew and flesh grown deep from the brutality of ten thousand traumas. Wound had healed atop of wound until the layering was so thick it stood tall from the bone and took on the aspect of a natural leather armour.

The thick cords of his neck, though still showing signs of damage, were considerably less worn, and it was to a long white defect that Nikanor pointed as he sat upon a fallen tree and said, “this was one of my first, a battle with a raiding warlord coming in over the northern border. I laughed every moment of the march, thinking I was invincible. Not quite – I am perhaps immortal, but I am still penetrable. I’d caught a ragged sliver of metal the rabble were calling weapons before I realized the difference. It hurt too – enough so that I killed at least fifty on the field as my reply.

“It healed in a day, but that day was agony.

“We patrolled again that spring, and for many seasons on – until we met the Laconians on in open meadow and I learned that I alone could not turn the tide of battle. Every man I had admired or dreaded, every friend I’d made in my brief career, every idiot I’d bickered with, was wiped from the Earth in a single encounter.

“Left for dead, my butchered body was only capable of standing two days after the scavenger birds had arrived to pull their dinner from my comrades’ cheeks.

“I could not return as the sole survivor of a massacre without being accused of cowardice, but I knew just one life. It did not take me long to create a new identity and reenlist, and the evidence of my wounds acted as all the biography I required. The cycle has repeated itself many times since.

”Every pot of boiling oil, every flight of arrows, every dagger gash acted to toughen my skin. By the time I fought with the Scots against your countrymen I needed little more protection than to leave my flesh bare, for it took a man with a true arm of steel, and a clear opportunity, to pierce my scarred disfigurement.

“I rarely met the first, and I was too well practiced to allow for the second.”

No longer was Blackhall concerned about the proximity of his blade. The turn of the tale had set his mind casting ahead in search of its conclusion, and he did not like what he’d found.

http://www.skinner.fm/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Blackhall.jpgThe tone was too heavy, the setting too inevitable. He had killed before, and would again in self-defense, but his own time under the King’s command had long washed a taste for violence from his mouth.

“Niko,” he asked, “what was the other condition?”

Turning his gaze from a cloud on the horizon, the deathless man answered, “the other what?”

“You said your mother had two conditions, and that your immortality was but one of them.”

“Oh – the other was that Zeus remain human in shape. She was well read and had no interest in the legends of beasts and fowl.”

“The gods of antiquity truly were perverts.”

That got another smile from the old soldier, but it could not stop his momentum.

“None of the kings I helped rise to the throne remained,” he continued. “Their names are as forgotten as their kingdom’s borders. The maps shift like sands, and my travels have proven to me there is little more difference between peoples than the foods they have at hand and the god they pray to before eating it.

“Yet I’ve killed them all.

“Many things happen in such a span as mine. Many mistakes are made in rage or fear or a moment’s reaction. My condition allows no release from those errors, simply more opportunity to compound them.

“I have lost count at points – I am sure I have lived more than three thousand years – but it is in just these last twelve months that my agony has taken hold. Hired on to lay low some sheep thieves while waiting for the summer’s march, I set my shot into a figure in the dark and killed a boy of sixteen. It was meant to be just another victory, but – well, perhaps it is only because I have come so far from my youth that I can no longer remember its exact image, but I swear his face was my own at that age.

“Even before the arcane began to flow from the world I had come to the realization that there was little point in continuing. There is no end to the fighting, and all I’m left with is confusion. Please, do you have a method by which to end my misery?”

The words moved over the water with the weight of a voice that had seen the worst of three thousand years, and Blackhall found the damp suddenly all too chill.

Thomas’ mind landed in the streets of Ciudad Rodrigo, then flew to the death of his own wife, and finally came to rest on his growing guilt at the distance between he and his child.

If he was ever to be forgiven, could not, too, the evils of a being whose mettle might achieve so much good?

“Could I end you?” asked Blackhall, “yes, probably.

“Will I? No.

“I’ll instead come ashore, and we shall plan you a new life between mouthfuls of jerky. This existence I promise will provide remittance from your guilt if you are strong enough to manage it.”

“To what purpose?”

“To what purpose any birth? You say you are confused, well, so too are all bairns. I will say, though, that what I have in mind will be a truly great purpose – but, to begin, you will construct and stock a homestead of some size.”

“I have no idea how to farm.”

“Well, we are in luck in that regard, as your condition allows us plenty of time for you to learn.”

The conversation carried well into the night, and it would be but the first of a long acquaintance.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://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.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Blackhall, Flash Pulp

FP358 – Thirst: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 2

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and fifty-eight.

Flash PulpTonight we present Thirst: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 2

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download MP3
(Part 1Part 2)
(RSS / iTunes)

 

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, Thomas Blackhall, master frontiersman and student of the occult, is dogged by madness as he attempts to give breath to a dying girl.

 

Thirst: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 2

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Long years of dealing with the Canadian wilderness’ lurking calamities, both natural and arcane, had Blackhall’s body taut and aching. It was well into 1849, and his march through the pines and over the tall grasses had especially left the injury in his leg throbbing at a greater volume than normal.

Still, while his limbs begged for a respite, his thoughts raced.

Though the absurdly well-appointed tea room in which he rested had many points of commonality with the parlour his mother had used to receive afternoon callers, his mind could not remain within its purple-and-white wallpapered boundaries, and he damned its errant wanderings.

Here sat a father with tears in his eyes and misery wetting his brow, and yet he could think of naught but the proximity of his dead Mairi – yes, even as the final strands of the fantastic gathered in the hinterlands to disappear for eternity, all was Mari, always.

There had been feverish moments in the deep brush in which the flat breathing stone tethered by rawhide about his neck had been his only indication that his occult undertakings were anything but madness, and that his transience was anything other than a manifestation of his refusal to accept his wife’s death, and he had wondered if she was his form of hydrophobia? Was he as rabid, in his own way, as the mystic beasts whose intellects had crumbled in recent days?

Had he given up his tools for safekeeping until the appropriate time because he could no longer trust himself?

He could not remember.

Yet here was Cecil Carter – wearing Sunday finery on a dusty Wednesday and weeping into a handkerchief elegant enough to appear on any Parisian boulevard – begging for his assistance.

With effort Blackhall brought his mind back to the conversation, but his timber-roughened hands remained crassly locked about the mouth of his thin-handled China teacup.

“She does not but scream in a single and constant tone,” Carter was saying, “but it is not her voice, and her chest labours ever more, as if her very breath has, too, been supplanted. There is a thing that resides within her. I know it sounds fantastic, but what I at first thought a hallucination persists – horribly persists.

“I can not say how long Courtney will do the same.”

A merchant who’d fallen in love with the Albertan plains, Cecil was a figurehead rancher on an expanse of land run by a stout-limbed Irishman named McCabe. It had been McCabe’s entreaty, made ardently a days’ journey to the south, that had convinced Thomas to board the launch that would carry them upriver to the frontier manor house.

Blackhall coughed a very dry cough, then said, “your man provided more than enough detail, sir. Given your state of panic, and my pressing concerns, I think we’d both be best served by moving directly to your daughter’s bedside.”

Standing, Cecil arranged the tapered ends of his moustache with practiced fingers and lead the way.

Thomas spent the time crossing the large house with some small attempt at regaining the civilities of his former life.

“I have read of such a thing in German texts, but I’ve never heard mention of one so foolish as to choke its host. It is my hope that the matter will be quickly resolved, and your Courtney returned unharmed.”

Internally, however, he was again railing against his own behaviour. How long had it been since he’d dispatched a letter to his own little one, Lizzy? Little one no more, perhaps, but he was so close to Mairi – if not for these perpetual distractions.

June sunlight flooded the room whose paint was white, whose bed clothes were white, whose plushly hung draperies were white. Outside, beyond the thick rope of river that ran across the property, was a view of a distant mountain ridge. Inside, atop the frosted bed and hillock of ivory pillows, was a pale girl of ten.

Her mouth was wide, as were her eyes, and her lungs gasped at a runner’s sprint.

From the shadows behind her trembling lips came a keening as unnatural as any Thomas had ever heard. The note might be expected from an injured and frightened cat, but it had no place in a child’s maw – and never so constant nor unending.

Stepping forward Blackhall’s mind fell silent for all but the girl. Wiping aside three sweat-stained hairs clinging to her brow he peered into her tortured throat.

The room within had formerly been regal. A single throne rested against the opposite wall, and a broad hall stretched between. Well crafted tables had once sat at intervals across the stone floor, but most had been shunted aside or upturned, and many of the chairs resided in a ragged pile to the right of Thomas’ vision. No single seat seemed any longer whole.

Thomas Blackhall, Master Frontiersman and Student of the Occult - PodcastThe master of the place had not noticed his intrusion. The old king stood before an immense fireplace, his tattered crimson robes dragging in the guttered ashes. His chest was largely bare, but he still wore the ringed metal of a swordsman’s armour.

At the clearing of Thomas’ throat, he turned.

His eyes were as wide as the girl’s, as was his mouth. Even in his movement he did not cease his endless scream.

A shattered chair leg projected from his left-breast, near his shoulder, and a second stood firmly upright in his pierced belly. He had used the resultant blood to lay sloppy paint across his cheeks.

Had the pain of his condition caused the being to attempt to carve out his misery? It was impossible for Blackhall to tell: There was no reason on the imp’s lips, only a rage-filled froth.

It was but the height of the portal that prevented a successful attack when the bedlamite took up a length of charred log and made to lob it towards his onlooker.

Thomas, however, did not relish giving the madman a second attempt.

Moving too quickly to draw protests from her father, Blackhall dug deep into the snowy warmth and pulled the girl free, then set hastily for the door.

He had forgotten the heat and smell of salt that accompanied a sick child against his ribs.

Courtney wore just a white nightgown, but it’s protection was more than sufficient in the sun’s stiff glow. To her dazed mind there seemed no end to the sky’s blue.

Pulling the rawhide from his neck and placing the disc of stone on her tongue, Thomas provided simple instructions.

“Gape your mouth as if you were receiving a Christmas pudding and let the river’s fury within. When necessary close to catch your breath, but then return to your flooding.”

Carter arrived only in time to watch his offspring forced below the water’s surface.

Within sixty seconds his questions had turned to beratements, and at double that he began screaming for McCabe’s assistance in wrestling Thomas to the ground.

Despite the fury at his back, Blackhall remained locked on the girl’s face. Calmness had stilled her thrashing, and her arms had taken to helping him fight the torrent.

It was as the Irishman arrived that it became apparent that, though an honest foot beneath the stream, Courtney’s respiration was easier than at any moment in the last two weeks. From within the clear flow her renewed face cast a smile at the trio.

Thomas could not say if the imp had drowned or instinct had forced it into relocating, but her inhalation upon breaking the surface was whole and clean.

To Blackhall, Mairi seemed suddenly close – and so too did Elizabeth, his daughter.

As Cecil continued screaming about the near murder of his girl, Thomas again took up his long tread.

 

(Part 1Part 2)

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://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.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

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