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FP449 – Unlocked

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and forty-nine.

Flash PulpTonight we present Unlocked

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Freelance Hunters!

 

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 encounter an unexpected series of visitors.

 

Unlocked

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

 

The rear door of the chugging hatchback opened with a hushed click, and Tori Garza, thirty-eight, felt her Honda shift and tilt under the mountainous stranger’s settling weight. She’d known something like this visit was coming, yet the newcomer had caught her sitting in the driveway as she waited for her two children to finish filling their pockets with electronics, gum, and beloved formed-plastic figures.

The invaders eyes’ were covered in the thick black plastic of a style that wouldn’t have been out of place on a blind man, and his brow was lost beneath the low-hung brim of his maroon flat cap.

Across the street, in front of the Mitners’ empty house – Peggy being at work and Anthony having taken their little ones out for an afternoon of overpriced pizza and ancient videogames at the local Chuck E. Cheese – stood a second intruder. Though he too wore tinted glasses, his bald head was exposed to the sun and his dark jacket a little too tight to be buttoned without making the bulge beneath his left armpit noticeable.

“If you’re here to murder me then get it over with before the kids come out, please,” said Tori, but, though a cold blade did come up to touch the side of her neck, she received an answer even more horrifying than that which she’d expected.

“No, I wasn’t hired to kill you, I was hired to ruin you,” said Mr. Backseat, and he tilted his head toward the window. The man in the black nylon jacket began to shuffle towards her front door. “My associate is a fellow of especially low moral fiber, though I suppose I shouldn’t talk out of school on the matter given the questionable nature of my own shaggy philosophy. Still, when it comes to executing tykes there’s no one as excited, or as skillful, at the job.”

“You won’t get away with this,” she replied. His brow stiffened at her tone. The fear he’d heard before placing the weapon to her neck was suddenly gone – now that the mother knew she herself was in no immediate danger, she seemed calm. Was she as cold as his client, who’d employed the pair to murder his own children?

Mr. Backseat wouldn’t have called the chill along his spine fear – he might have laughed it off as something like professional admiration if he’d thought on it at all – but his attention was on his partner’s slow progress.

His gloved hand tightened its grip on the knife’s handle nonetheless.

He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, but YOU won’t get away with this. You’re going to claim two large men did it while you were forced to sit and watch, but there will be no prints, no unsightly signs of violence. No one is going to believe you. Better yet, if you resist or attempt to stop us, I get to rough you up a little. I hold a degree in applying self-inflicted injuries and a doctorate in ensuring only those witnesses I want are on hand.

“Remember, especially in light of the lack of spectators, that if you should attempt any heroics I will be forced to make it look like a murder/suicide. I think we can agree that such an outcome would be disappointing for all involved.”

As the fisherman expects a tug on his line when he knows a potential meal is nibbling at his bait, the cap-wearing man instinctively expected some physical response – a twitch, knuckles whitening on the steering wheel, perhaps a slow move to unbuckle her belt – but he received no such satisfaction.

Instead Tori simply sat and watched the front door.

The intended murderer knocked twice, ignoring the bell entirely, and there was a pause both in the car and upon the stoop as he awaited some reaction from inside.

It was Luther, five, who answered. He was small for his age, his brown eyes too big for his tiny face. He might be a heartbreaker someday, if he lived that long, but he currently reminded his mother of nothing so much as one of the characters from the saccharine mangas his older sister, Selina, obsessed over.

Those within the car could not hear the transaction between child and intruder. The man in the backseat braced his arm and tightened his legs, his reflexes working to keep the situation under control should the boy’s mother attempt to run, scream, or otherwise provide some warning to the too-friendly kindergartener.

She did not.

The killer’s lips moved into a wide grin as he offered his hello, and Luther’s response seemed short and welcoming. Reaching out a smooth-skinned hand, he wrapped his fingers around two of the visitor’s thick digits, then, with little more than a glance at his waiting mother, showed the stranger into the house.

“It’s fine if you want to cry,” said the blade-holder. “The officers will expect it one way or another, though they may think you’re faking it.”

“I’m fine,” answered Tori. Her words floated out on a breeze, as if she were instead more concerned with formulating a mental grocery list or what movie to rent to fill up her newly-single evening.

“Are you?” asked the professional, his occupational pride pushing him to press his weapon further into her flesh. A single droplet of blood drained along its stainless steel edge.

“Are YOU?” replied the woman, her eyes finally coming to focus on the black plastic across the bridge of his nose. It seemed to him in that moment as if she could see through the tint as clearly as the windshield before her.

That was when his plan began to fall apart.

It began with music – familiar, yet he couldn’t place it. Behind his sunglasses, the goon stiffened.

Every orifice of the house was forced wide. Screens were popped from their frames and doors were left swinging to the wind. Even through the Honda’s glass the thick rhythm of Casio keyboard and guitar began to overwhelm the hardened intruder.

As human forms began to splash from the home’s now gaping mouths, the ruffian’s hand, distracted, slipped away from its tight position against his victim’s skin.

Men, women, children – even a dog in a custom-crafted uniform – began to tumble onto the grass, their landings quickly turning into an ongoing frolick. Some took each other’s hands and formed rings, dancing to the thick percussion of the tune. The shorter among them ran circles in and out of such gatherings, and the tallest took to a hand waving dance that bordered on a war strut.

Each one wore a small paper sign set upon a string about their neck.

“Witness!” it said.

Still the flood continued.

Two dozen figures turned into a count of nearly a hundred, and finally the man in the black nylon jacket reappeared. He was held aloft, his arms and legs bound to one of Tori’s kitchen chairs, his sunglasses lost somewhere within the shadows of the darkened home.

Luthor led the parade that carried him onto the lawn, his arm flailing with a wooden spoon counting out the music.

A Skinner Co. ProductionThe man in the backseat was suddenly certain that he was, in fact, suffering an aneurysm and end-of-life hallucination, or that his youthful indiscretions with high-powered narcotics had finally come back to haunt him with an atomic-level flashback.

It was neither case, but his trepidation was distraction enough to allow Tori to unbuckle and slip from her seat, joining her son in his victory march.

Though she wore the plain jeans and pink hoodie she’d intended to sport at the mall, Selina was there as well, her own oversized disguise bouncing about on her capering head. Otherwise each shape – tall, small, round, or slender – wore the same outfit: A cheap black suit and a rubber mask displaying a pasty face sporting large black mutton chops.

Two weeks previous the despondent mother had wept upon her keyboard as she crafted her plea: Would The Achievers help in such a mundane, yet so threatening, situation? She had read Internet whispers that the group might, but she had not even truly believed in their existence until the first of the volunteer vigilantes had arrived: A college student of twenty-three, her mask out of sight and a sleeping bag beneath her arm.

What had been a slow moving and lonely divorce, filled with threatening late night phone calls and tears carefully hidden from her children, had then turned into an unexpected two-week sleepover. The basement floor had become a game of slumbering Tetris, the laundry room an industrial operation cheerily handled by more hands than Tori had ever housed previously, the oven a constant source of handcrafted stews and homemade breads.

Without warning the assailant still seated in the Honda recalled where he had encountered the music before: It was the extended theme to a show his father had watched religiously, Law & Order.

The sirens he heard soon after were not from the soundtrack, however, but by then the dancing mob had disappeared, leaving two duct-taped monsters, a memory stick containing Mr. Backseat’s unknowingly recorded blatherings, and a story the police would never believe.

 

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.

FP447 – The Murder Plague: Turnabout, Part 1 of 2

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and forty-seven.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Murder Plague: Turnabout, Part 1 of 2

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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 we return to Capital City where Harm Carter, father and former military man, has been contending with the homicidal paranoia inducing illness that is The Murder Plague.

 

The Murder Plague: Turnabout, Part 1 of 2

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

 

Here’s the thing about Hitchcock’s. Even as an incredibly sick, sometimes feverish, death-dispensing maniac, you are absolutely convinced that you are the only person on this planet-sized carousel who truly has their situation under control.

You’re hiding in an attic, and you’ve got scraps of paper pinned up on every surface. You spend your days with a flashlight – red filtered, as looted from the home of the dead or fled survivalist down the road – scanning the sheets of paper you’ve pinned to the insulation and roof beams. You’re using the red filter because it’s less noticeable than a white glow, despite the fact that it’s broad daylight outside and there are no windows in your attic.

You trace and retrace the colour-coded dots and scratches you’ve drawn, with pencils stolen from an abandoned school bag, and though the mess of lines and circles has begun to blur and smudge, though the heat has you sweating like a drug mule getting ready for an intercontinental flight, though you keep chuckling to no one but yourself, you feel like the king.

No one, you convince yourself, will ever break the code you’ve used to map out your routes, caches, and traps. No one, surely, could ever come up with such a clever system without leaving a hint or trail. No one is as smart, as careful, as PREPARED, as you are.

At night the only thing you hold closer than the section of map you’ll need for that evening’s expedition is the handgun you plan on using to defend your secrets.

Jokes on you, of course, because the neighbourhood you consider your kingdom is infested with plenty of other fools who also think they’re royalty.

Sometimes the attacks are straight forward, and your survival, if you could admit it to yourself, is just luck. A gunshot rings out and you tell yourself you’ve escaped unharmed because you’re too fast to hit. A large woman with a machete and silent feet does her best Queen of Hearts imitation, and you tell yourself you’ve avoided the grave by knowing to bring a gun to a knife fight. Invaders break into your sanctuary while you are away, and you convince yourself that you’ve defeated the ambush they set by having left semi-hidden rat-poisoned food about the lower floors – and never mind that they might have waited till safely home to snack.

At some point, just before another dateless dawn, you’re almost done scratching Xs across the hand drawn chart of places you’ve cleared out for supplies, and, as you’re tugging at a garage door in search of gasoline or sharp-edged tools, you nearly get taken out by a log trap. A dozen trees, which you’ll later realized were stripped from a local schoolyard before being piled high in the quiet darkness, come rolling at you, and you damn near have your knees snapped backwards and your rib cage trampled by tumbling pines before you can leap left. Lobbing a Molotov onto the roof you wait till the attempted murderer stumbles from his haven and you end the wannabe Boy Scout with your pistol. You don’t think twice about having slain a frumpy man in a Star Wars t-shirt and thick-rimmed glasses. You don’t think twice about the pencil smudges on his fingers. You don’t think twice about the red-filtered flashlight he happens to be carrying.

You simply collect what you can use, shrug at the death of another challenger to the crown, and move on.

I – I simply collect what I can use. I simply shrug at the death of another challenger to the crown. I move on.

In the end the hardest aspect of the Murder Plague is not dealing with the corpses, traps, and scenes of violence, it’s in knowing that it was not some other carrying out these actions. I was not some passive observer staring at my hands as they locked around a stranger’s neck. It’s your fingers, your palms, your squeezing and struggling against the final jerks and snorts and twitches – but you have no control.

FP447 - The Murder Plague: Turnabout, Part 1 of 2Maybe a week and a half after nearly being rolled flat like the Pillsbury Doughboy cornered by the Swedish Chef, I was creeping along one of the zig-zag paths I used to return to my shelter when I caught sight of something unusual: A dog barking.

Oh, my paranoia about the feral packs roaming the neighbourhood was already long standing – Were they being trained and controlled by someone else? Would they rush me for my supplies? Could the plague itself affect them? – but generally we’d had an understanding familiar to elevator passengers in a more civilized time: I pretended they didn’t exist, and they pretended I didn’t either.

The thing was, this mutt, a little Yorkshire Terrier that could have used a bath and a seven course meal, was yapping and yapping and yapping at the red door across the street. Now, it was a very quiet time. The sound of gunfire was increasingly distant, probably due to a decreasing population of people to shoot at, and the car engines were rare. There were no songs wafting through the air from a distant block, there were no trash talkers playing basketball on some other street, there were no couples arguing about dinner, the kids, or the bills. Any noise could get you killed, so every noise was suspect.

Yet here was this pooch yammering his heart out.

Given how many real humans I ended in my haze, it’s still strange that I’m struck by shame when I admit that I almost killed him. I was worried about his drawing attention, and my infected mind was so survival focused that it was already formulating the argument that I could use the extra meat.

Never mind that I had six months worth of cans already stacked in the attic, and another couple years’ worth scattered in holes at all corners of my hand-sketched map.

I stepped forward and reached into my right pocket for my tanto-bladed pocket knife. I raised my boot with the intention of pinning the fur ball down beneath the thick sole while I conducted my butchery.

The red door flew open and a bloody one-person SWAT team burst through the opening. The dog sprinted away under the gate to my right and my pistol was in my grip before I even had both feet back on the ground. This wasn’t just some slovenly gun fetishist buying equipment online before the collapse, however: I knew this armour. This wasn’t some hillbilly in a gas mask, this was someone who’d been bestowed the tinted bubble helmet and face mask the military had developed to deal with improvised explosives and ravenous undead.

I got one shot off, which landed with a flat thwack and little other effect, but the mountain of black tactical gear had breached the exit with a taser at the ready. They offered a shocking response.

My fire had nudged their aim, at least, and the electrodes landed askew on my looted rambler jacket. The first jolt hit just as I was peeling the thing off, and fight lost the battle to flight: I was halfway to the corner before my assailant had even tossed down their weapon.

What followed was something like a magic trick.

In my boot wearing days I was not entirely unfamiliar with such gear. More than once I’d had to wade through unpleasant business in a similar too-hot, too-heavy, and too-constricting style of getup. Even with the extra years under my belt I should’ve easily been able to outrace that younger version of myself.

I was aiming for the little blue house at the end of the street. I knew if I could make it that far – theoretically easy-peasy, given the clunky nature of my pursuer – that I’d probably be okay.

Putting a curb-parked soccer mom minivan between myself and the newcomer, just in the off chance that they should decide on a more lethal means of dealing with the situation, I turned my head to see how big a lead I’d widened up. I had maybe a hundred feet of pavement and fifteen feet of dying lawn to cover till I was safely away, and that’s when the miracle happened.

My pursuer dropped one foot at normal speed, then the second at twice that, and was suddenly up to a Corvette’s sprint. Somehow I doubled my own pace, but it damn near wasn’t enough.

As I cleared my objective’s white picket barricade my stalker scaled the hood of the van and left a trail of divots along the roof, and as I gulped a final breath of air and turned the door handle, my hunter went directly through the fence.

I slammed the entrance behind me and hustled to the sliding patio exit at the home’s rear.

It’s likely that not knowing what was beyond the closed entrance, while chasing a homicidally infected maniac through a largely abandoned neighbourhood, was enough to give the incredibly nimble hulk a second of pause, and that’s the only reason I had time to get clear and draw my lighter.

I’d been carrying that damned sparkler for weeks – just the usual sort of kids’ cake topper – but my fingers were so slick with sweat I damn near dropped the zippo.

Then it was lit, and I could hear the door on the far side of the building being kicked open, and I tossed my tiny pyrotechnic display.

The gas oven, unlit but otherwise fully engaged, had done its work well, and the resulting explosion was enough to finish my climb over the back fence.

When I returned to a vague sort of sensibility I stood. If there was anything left of my foe it would be worth scavenging: Especially if I could manage to get the blood off of that armour.

I was too clever to rush in, however. I hunkered down, listening and waiting. What if the intruder had survived somehow? What if the explosion and subsequent fire attracted an inquisitive local? If the riot squad really was dead then whatever kit they’d been carrying wasn’t going anywhere, and it was rare that such tempting bait presented itself to help flush out my neighbours.

As dusk hit, and the house’s embers guttered in its former basements’ rec room, I crept onto the street. There seemed to be nothing but me, the crickets, and the distant barking of a triumphant mutt who’d either found an un-spilled garbage can or the fresh remains of some unfortunate Capital City citizen.

Of course, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned, one of the problems with paranoia is that it’s never the things you could possible have calculated for that will get you. A man can spend his life in a Faraday cage to prevent death by cellphone radiation, but it’ll inevitably be the spouse whose sick of his lifestyle who buries him with a butcher blade in his back.

I mean, when I approached “the body” it was still sprawled out on the road pavement, where it had apparently landed on its back. It’s left leg was missing – well, missing isn’t the proper word perhaps, as a kevlar-wrapped chunk had clearly landed across the picket fence. I suspect the door must have sheared it off and tossed it in a different direction than the rest of the meat.

All that to say: The limb was thoroughly unattached, which is why, I’m sure you can see, I assumed that my victim, who had apparently been lying unmoving for at least two hours, was dead.

She let me get as far as the helmet, and then her eyes popped open.

I said “Jennifer?” and that’s when Ms. Atlas, current member of TV’s The Irregular Division and former comrade-at-arms, hit me.

 

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.

FP442 – Biggest Fan

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and forty-two.

Flash PulpTonight we present Biggest Fan

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

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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 talk of Davy Jones, John Lennon, and fanaticism.

 

Biggest Fan

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

 

FP442 - Biggest Fan

 

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.

FP436 – The Glorious: Dancing Dust

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and thirty-six.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Glorious: Dancing Dust

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

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Gatecast!

 

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 hear a tale of music and murder from the halls of Valhalla.

 

The Glorious: Dancing Dust

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

 

Though there was no true end to Valhalla’s horizon, Leroy “Cutter” Jenkins had found himself at the western border of the day’s battle. The walls were cement and stripped bare by some ancient fire, and Cutter thought it likely he was hiding in a snippet of battlefront from some crumbling Eastern European warzone.

Though the rooftops were alive with snipers, these lower middle floors, offering no view and little tactical advantage, had been left to gather dust in the lingering afternoon light.

As he shuffled through the cupboards in search of any hidden discovery that might bring some novelty to his never-ending cycle of war and death, he became certain of an unfamiliar rhythm throbbing at the edge of hearing.

This was not the rolling explosion of tank fire or landing artillery, nor the staccato of a heavy machine gun pinning down one of the day’s defeated. It was not the drum and fife of the marching, and it was not the chop of helicopter blades overhead.

His ears had been so long drowned in the sounds of combat that it took his mind a full minute to comprehend the noise, and in so doing he was so surprised at its source that he spoke aloud to no one.

“I’ll be damned if that isn’t rock and roll,” he told a box of cereal whose thick-charactered label he could not read.

In seconds he’d entered the hallway with the look of a starving man stumbling towards a supermarket. There, however, he righted himself. The crack of a high powered rifle rolled through the shattered windows, and a half century of undying conflict sent his limbs into well-practiced maneuvers.

At this more cautious pace, he pushed on.

It took him ten minutes to find the door – one floor up, one apartment over. If he had been in any other position he might not have heard it, and now, as he considered the dark peep hole centered in the blank wooden face of the entry, the volume dipped noticeably.

Was the entrance booby trapped? Was the whole thing a clever ploy to lure wanderers into an improvised explosive? Perhaps pushing through would set off a chain of detonations that would slide the whole building onto its nearby companion.

Yet, with a sigh, Leroy settled on the notion that it was not his first death, and that he could not reasonably hope that it would be his last.

He knocked – though after he moved to the leftmost side of the opening.

It was Jenkins’ expectation that he would receive gunfire as a response, and, judging by the music’s sudden stoppage and the whispering that followed, it was a long moment before he could be sure it wouldn’t be the answer those inside chose. Finally, however, the entrance cracked enough to allow the barrel of an AK-47 to make an appearance in the otherwise silent hallway.

“Name’s Leroy,” he said. “Sorry to interrupt, but I noticed your music while raiding the cupboards upstairs. First song I’ve heard in years that wasn’t pushing me to march somewhere or attack something. I – in my time we had something called Saturday night Rock ‘n’ Roll, you know?”

He was running out of words to speak into the weapon’s mouth, and the suspicion that he had made a regrettable choice had begun to climb his spine, when the barrier swung wide.

There were two women inside, their hair black and their eyes brown.

“I am Leylo, and this is my wife, Feynuus,” said the nearest, the assault rifle in her hands steady and unerringly aimed at his chest. She wore a loose collection of flowing cloths whose mix of dark purples and deep blacks stood in sharp contrast to her companion’s bright yellows and scarlet reds.

They seemed intent on reading his reaction to the welcome, and it was then that Jenkins deployed perhaps the reflex he had found most essential to survival in the endless churn of Valhalla: He smiled.

Though Leylo hesitated, Feynuus was quick to return the gesture, and, before her defender might say otherwise, the woman turned and lifted a circular slab of plastic to an electronic mouth open and waiting between a pair of speakers.

While the compact disc was something slightly ahead of his time of death, the unaging marine knew Saturday Night Rock ‘n’ Roll when he heard it.

FP436 - The Glorious: Dancing DustThe waning afternoon light broke across the balcony and landed on the ugly green rug that dominated the living room. The legless couch and a pair of worn high-backed chairs had been pushed aside, to provide plenty of dance floor, and the sun seemed to luxuriate at having the full run of the space.

Leroy had known such ugly carpets in his time – had dug his socked feet into a few with the woman who would become his wife – and so it was that everything foreign felt somehow familiar.

Closing the door, Leylo lowered her weapon and moved to Feynuus’ side. Her finger danced across the volume knob, and the music dipped low enough to allow for conversation.

Cutter, however, knew that his best chance came at leading that discussion.

“None of the units I’ve been through had electricity,” he said.

“When we first arrived we spent months hunting for working batteries,” replied Feynuus. “These actually come from a slice of Kuwait an hours walk to the east.”

“It was clearly worth your efforts,’ replied Jenkins, his head bobbing to the beat, and they again exchanged smiles. “Did you know each other before your deaths? I mean, were you married before you arrived?”

“Yes,” said Leylo, but nothing more.

Decades of experience had left Leroy with the knowledge that his next question could go as badly as ending his day of living, being asked to leave, or being frowned at for being rude. It had also often been, however, the key to a understanding a new friend.

In a place where no victory mattered, no wound lasted, and no loot followed you into the great dining halls once the crows cawed, such bonds were all he had found that might last.

“I’ve heard the stories of many of the dead here, but it’s rare for a married couple to arrive together. How did it happen?”

Leylo frowned, and her knuckles found a tighter grip on her rifle, but it was Feynuus who spoke.

“I – I was married once before. Asad was a fisherman, and we carved an unhappy existence by the sea. He had little interest in me, and I had none in him, but it was what was expected and I was raised to keep my head covered and my eyes down.

“When I was but eighteen, Asad gave his life to the waves. A storm took him, and his brothers, and I was abandoned with nothing more than a hut and a hungry belly. Praise all the powers that I did not also have a child to starve at my side.

“Though I felt little love for my dead husband, there were few positions worse for a woman, in the town in which I was raised, than that of a widow. Those who were married wanted no reminder of tragedy, and those who were not had no interest in what they considered a failed and tainted bride.

“There were few who might visit, and, once the condolences ceased, fewer still who might consider me friend.

“I was left to fade away in an empty home, with an ancient CD player and a ragtag collection of discs that only served to remind me of a dead man. My days were spent in search of food, and my nights were spent in silent loneliness – that is, until my cousin, distantly departed to South Africa, sent on a small package. She’d heard of my position, and recalled my love of dance, and so had sent on some music she thought I might enjoy.

“Drums and flute and guitar all achieved something exciting of a sort I had not heard before, but I knew too that such music would not land on friendly ears in such a proper place, so it was that I listened only alone and after dark, with all doors and windows buttoned tight.”

Finally Leylo let slip a reluctant smile.

“That is how I found her,” she said, “sweating from the heat of dance and a shut up house. I had never married, and was never afraid to speak my opinion, and this was too much weighing against me to be considered a member of the community – and yet I persisted.

“By day I fished alone while laughing at the idea that it was a man’s work, and by night I sought the one who might join me in sharing my small, but earned, life.

“It was a coincidence of having grounded my boat further down the surf than normal, and having to walk through the shadows cast by her forlorn cage. I have long loved afrobeat, but thought myself the only soul in town with the ears for it. Perhaps it was the solitary hours upon the waves, knowing I would go unmourned if I were to follow the likes of Asad beneath the waves, but that leak of rhythm I heard escaping from her enclosed balloon was enough to draw me to knock on a stranger’s home.”

Feynuus giggled and set a hand on her lover’s arm.

“I was not a stranger, we had grown up on the beach together, but never, I admit, as more than acquaintances.”

“Whatever the case,” answered Leylo, her fingers settling over those of her wife, “I knocked. I knocked, and we danced, and I went home at dawn thinking I had very rarely had so much fun.

“I worked hard not to think of her shimmies and shakes while exhaustedly casting my nets the next day, but my fatigue was no resistance to the float and fluff of her bright gliding fabrics. I returned the following day, and danced until I literally asked for but a moment to sit down, and fell asleep, shabbily, in the corner.”

The fingers entwined.

“That was the first night you slept over.”

“It would not be the last. Yet – well, a love such as ours was greatly frowned upon. I spent a month resisting her lips, and it was as I departed one dawn, in search of my own bed and then to cast out my tiny craft, that she pushed the door shut as I opened it.”

“To our minds,” said Feynuus, her attention on Leroy’s face as he leaned into the dusty apartment’s warming sun, “we were married from that day on.”

Cutter only nodded. He’d heard of a thousand rituals meaning the same thing since his arrival in Valhalla, and held no rites as lesser than his own.

“I moved in then, relocating the meager inheritance of useless hunting weapons and harvest tools left me by my father,” continued Leylo, “and we were happy for a time – yet soon the complaints began. First the whispers about our music, and then the whispers about our ways, and then the stones hurled through our windows.”

Feynuus nodded. “The warmth and passion that had always been missing with Asad burst forth from my heart, and I found it truly difficult to keep hidden. Yet, even my small joys seemed a hook to their eyes.

“To their minds, worse than a widow was a happy widow, and even more contemptible than a happy widow was a woman who realized she was no widow at all.

“On a Tuesday I attempted to purchase eggs from a neighbour, and found my meal lobbed at me with much cursing. On a Thursday the same man, a childhood friend of Asad’s, caught me out in the market and took to replacing his chicken’s spawn with rocks from under foot.

“I was quick to retreat, but my eye was greatly swollen from a glancing blow. Leylo was little impressed when she returned. She worked hard to better my mood, but my feet had no strength that eve, and I spent a tearful night in her arms.

“The next morning she rose before I did, and sought out Asad’s chum to have words. I’m sure she taught him some new ones, then she headed again to sea.

“Likely her barbs sat ill with the fool all day, as, when evening fell, he knocked upon our door – and he was not alone. The crowd, no longer content to whisper, pulled me from the home they had previously coaxed me into, and dragged me through the dirt I had once shared with the corpse I could not love.

“There were speeches, and proclamations, and threats – all, I can see now, intended not as a warning or lesson to myself, but simply as a righteous intoxicant to work themselves up to what they saw as the traditional solution – the only solution – for errant women such as myself.

“With the sun setting at my back, and the dust before me dancing in reds and yellows under the churn of the mob’s feet, the first stone flew.

“Then the music began.

“It seemed strange, then, to hear it so loud. It had always been a secret shared between us, meant to be kept low and in the dark, and yet here the drums rolled forth across the yard, and, as if under the influence of the keyboard and guitar’s fury, the door peeled wide.

“There was my love, Leylo, holding her father’s otherwise useless inheritance.

“The weapon had not been fired in years, but she knew its working – and the gathered murderers shortly did as well.

“She was not the only one who had come armed, however, and within seconds the air filled with gravel and metal flying from hands and weapons on both sides. I did my best to return as much of the earth as found me, but it was no good.”

Cutter had experience enough to know that even awakening in the Halls of the Glorious could not soften the memory of a traveller’s death, and he took a moment to inspect the balcony as the pair moved into an embrace.

“A tough situation,” he said, his words bouncing from the closed door.

“Aren’t they all,” Feynuus finally answered, her weapon forgotten at her side, “but I take some small comfort in having to spend an eternity with my wife,”

“- and without a single one of those bastards in sight,” finished Leylo with a chuckle.

Outside, the eternal staccato of combat continued, but inside, sweating from exertion and warmth, the trio heard only the thrum of their shared dance until the ravens called them to feast.

 

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.

FP434 – Mulligan Smith in Slice of the Pie

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and thirty-four.

Flash PulpTonight we present Mulligan Smith in Slice of the Pie

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Human Echoes Podcast!

 

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 our private investigator hears the tale of Jimmy Two-Slices and his legally dubious pizza parlour.

 

Mulligan Smith in Slice of the Pie

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

 

It’d been a hell of a day, and Mulligan wanted nothing more than to sip his slurpee in calm silence.

Walmart Mike, occupying the passenger seat as it nosed its way through downtown Capital City, had other thoughts.

The old man moved to arrange hair he no longer had, then chuckled to himself.

“Your fake paraplegic reminds me of an old pal of mine, Jimmy Two-Slices.

“Jimmy ran a pizza place out of a little house that’d been renovated into a restaurant three owners back. The only thing that changed when he moved in was that he painted every surface, inside and out, tomato-sauce red.

“Now, I say Two-Slices ran the establishment, but it wasn’t exactly like he owned it, if you know what I mean. The deed was in the pocket of fellows higher up the chain, he was just managing.

“I was there for the grand opening, and the food was crap. Tasted like I was eating cardboard slathered in rotten pepperoni. Didn’t matter much though, because, the way the suits saw it, the less business he did the better.

“See, most of what went in and came out of the shop was just on paper. Every Wednesday was a supposed bumper crop of sales. I mean, Jimmy was lucky if he shifted a couple of pies through the door, but the situation went a long way towards covering the inexplicable tax income for quite a number of broken-nosed mouthbreathers.

“Thing is, there wasn’t an evening when I’d wander in there that Jimmy wasn’t singing along to some whiny country song and tossing dough he’d probably never sell. That’s why they called him Two-Slices, by the way: If you were stupid enough to order one, he’d always double it for you because there was so much extra lying around.

“It was quiet though, because most of the boys couldn’t stand his taste in music. I’ve never cared one way or another, so I’d go in when I needed ancient cold coffee and a moment alone. I remember being in there one time, gnawing on a wedge of sand smothered in cheese and watching the flies gather on the windowsill, when a couple lads from the far side of town tossed a brick through the front window.

“Jimmy starts giving the kids what-for, figuring they’re just a pair of a-holes from the block, but we both knew better when a bottle of Smirnoff with a smokey chaser followed.

“Professional job too. Most amateurs overfill their cocktails, which causes no more fuss than a bunch of splashed stink and maybe a small puddle of flame, but these guys knew to give it some room to breathe – as professional as French protesters.

FP434 - Mulligan Smith in Slice of the Pie“My first thought was to get out the door. The flaming gas was making its way across the tomato-coloured floor and counter like a frat boy at a bordello: Hot, heavy, and likely to burn down in seconds.

“Yet there’s Two-Slices shouting ‘Help me!’ and, the thing is, he meant it. That’s when I knew he was in trouble.”

Despite himself, Mulligan raised a brow.

“The Molotov wasn’t a big enough hint?” asked the PI.

“Nah, that’s the cost of doing business. It’s like this: I go on shift at Walley World you know I’m workin’ hard for my minimum wage, but it’s still just a job. I like the people and the paycheck, but if some guy came in with a gun I wouldn’t be getting into a wrestling match over it. If some meathead with a fist full of fire were to try and torch the place I wouldn’t be toastin’ my buns tryin’ to save the friggin’ jogging pants.

“Jimmy though, he’s got his apron off and he’s trying to smother the heat. Well, what if he succeeds? That place wasn’t worth more than the change in my pocket, but I wasn’t about to have my reputation crapped on by having it get around that I hoofed it when Two-Goddamn-Slices stayed to beat back the inferno.

“We got it under control, but there was plenty of smoke damage by the time we were done, and a couple uniforms came around to check what was what.

“‘Just a little problem with the oven,” says Jimbo, and they look from the glass on the floor to the brick and up to the scorch marks nowhere near the kitchen.

“Hell’d be serving Dairy Queen before those guys volunteered for paperwork, though, so they shrugged and took off.

“Still, those up the ladder were not pleased. Better in some eyes to have shepherded the insurance claim through the courts than to have drawn the eyes of even a couple street-walking blueboys.

“It wasn’t two weeks after that that the news came down, though they waited a few months before actually applying the torch, you know, to avoid suspicion. In the end, the near-miss actually gave them some cover, as they could pull in folks who’d swear to the oven already having issues. They even had a legit repairman come in and sign off on the thing once Jimmy was done repainting, just so they could wave his report in front of the judge.

“I wasn’t there for the roast, not my bag, but I heard about the tears Jimmy was leaking when the fire crews arrived. I remember thinking it was a shame too, because, even when he knew it was going to end, he kept on pushing his pies, and he was actually getting pretty damn good at it. He’d even started showing up early to pummel the dough, and the sauces had all started being handmade.

“Got to the point where I wouldn’t even groan when he handed me across a helping.“

The old man paused and smiled at the memory.

Mulligan, his slurpee now empty, slid up the highway’s on-ramp.

“So, are you trying to say that sometimes even when you try you can’t win?’ he asked. “I guess it’s being realistic, but maybe wait for a day when I haven’t lost an insurance fraud paycheck?”

“No, what I’m saying is you gotta consider the flip-side. There’s this idea out there that crime is all cash and ladies with questionable morals, but the truth is – and I know you know it – you don’t rob a chump of his twenty bones because you’re looking to get rich, you do it because you need a sandwich to fill your empty gut. You think those ladies with supposedly questionable morals are there because the pay is good and their dates are gentlemanly good times? No, but everyone’s gotta eat, or, worse, feed their family.

“So one fake wheelchair jockey managed to slip past a Smith: It sucks, but probably not as bad as whatever convinces a fella to spend his entire life looking over his seated shoulder so he can earn enough to cover his shitty apartment’s rent.

“Now quit your whining and I’ll buy you some dinner. I know a place. It may not be the greatest you’ve ever tasted, and the paint may make you feel like you’re trapped in a ketchup bottle, but Jimmy Jr. won’t let us leave hungry.”

 

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.

FP433 – The Sad Death of Lord Northrop Saggyface

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

Flash PulpTonight we present The Sad Death of Lord Northrop Saggyface

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Human Echoes Podcast!

 

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 tell a tale of friendship and terror, in the classic style.

 

The Sad Death of Lord Northrop Saggyface

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

 

The first time Titus Bitok noticed something was amiss, he was conducting a sweeping battle across his room’s rug and into the cliff faces of his rumpled bed. The empire’s forces had been hiding beneath the comforter all along, and the small band of rebels in their shag-floored fortress had little hope of surviving unless Johnny Strongarm could use his bit of twine to repel down the sheets and warn his friends.

That’s when Lord Northrop Saggyface entered the scene. The dog, taller than the boy despite the fact that both were the same age of five, brought a quick end to the wall of hard-backed novels that formed the resistance force’s compound’s western defenses, then the beast was into the crawlspace and out of sight.

Seconds later Ayah Bitok, Titus’ mother, burst through the door. Her hair was free of the scarf she’d left the house in, and her mouth had taken up the tight line that usually meant Dad had said something mean that she wanted to pretend hadn’t happened.

She asked, “are you okay?”

In truth he was a little annoyed at having to repair his base, but the boy commander shrugged it off. He owed Lord Saggyface a few favours, and he could see no gain in getting the mutt in trouble.

“Yep,” he replied.

He did not notice that she was sweating as she departed – nor that she took the unusual step of closing the door behind her.

The invasion resumed.

* * *

That Saturday night, Titus slipped his babysitter’s dozing gaze and crept into his bedroom.

Generally the race to see if she’d fall asleep before thinking to put him to bed resulted in his treating himself to a movie starring aliens, people with laser cannons, or car chases – all three if he was especially lucky – but this evening he’d set himself a special goal.

FP433 - The Sad Death of Lord Northrop SaggyfaceThough his mother had done away with most of the traces of his father about the house, she’d set aside a stack of ancient horror comics, noting that they were actually intended to be the child’s by way of grandfather.

“A much better man, and it is only too bad you did not have the chance to meet him before his passing. He was always eager to hold you,” she’d said.

Still, though she’d fanned the ghoulish covers of his inheritance, she’d set his estate high on her closet’s shelf, deeming them too terrifying for a youth his age.

This had been no obstacle at all once Cynthia had arrived. Dragging her to the park, to the store, to the ducks, and then home again, he knew he’d exhaust the chain-smoking woman who lived in the other half of their duplex.

He’d been patient through a half-dozen dragging snores, then, with a cat’s stealth, he’d shifted a chair and retrieved his prizes.

It was just after midnight of that evening that Lord Saggyface stepped from the cubby and stood, the bulk of his broad gray fluff projecting into the room, while his head joined Titus beneath the glow-lit sheet that hid the undertaking from any who might stumble through the door.

Titus spent some fifteen minutes softly reading aloud to the dog’s bobbing tongue, then a noise the reading boy could not make out drew Northrop’s attention to the window.

With childhood reflexes, the light was extinguished and the the exterior darkness flooded the room. Saggyface’s gentle panting became the only sound, then came the grind of a shifting pane, and a grunt from beyond.

The beast opened his throat and took to roaring, and Titus began to shout for him to be quiet while attempting to collect his stolen goods.

Cynthia, roused from her nap, burst through the entry with ragged lungs, inundating the room with light and kicking off a week’s grounding.

* * *

Titus could not help but notice the tension creeping into the quiet moments of the next seven days. When Cynthia had come around for Sunday tea, the boredom of the afternoon had been broken up by the first fight the boy had ever witnessed between the woman and his mother.

They did not speak throughout the march of days, and more than once Titus caught Ayah closing the blinds against the sound of their neighbour coughing and lighting another cigarette out on the sidewalk.

A mere fifteen minutes after his Thursday night bedtime, the screen door swung against the outer wall, and the house fell silent. Titus, taut with the boredom of his punishment and the pacing of his mother, had been already been hard-pressed to fall asleep, but now, with the child’s increasing surety that he was alone in his home, his feet began to wiggle.

He wandered into the bathroom, Lord Saggyface shuffling along behind him, and no voice raised an objection against the fact that he was out of bed.

He wandered into the kitchen, his mouth half-open and ready to deliver his excuse of needing a glass of water, but again no objections came.

Through the glass patio door that looked onto over the yellow grass of their back lawn, Titus noticed movement in the shadows.

It was his mother, and she was hoisting a shovel.

His curiousity suddenly outweighing his caution, Titus slid back the exit.

Stepping onto the turf with barefeet, he approached the short trench that had been dug alongside the rear fence.

“Mum?” he asked.

Ayah turned, clearly startled, and the boy wondered briefly if her raised brows might avalanche into anger over his violation of curfew.

Instead she seemed to take his measure, then sighed.

“My Love,” she said, “did you hear the dog bark the night Cynthia was over?”

She dropped a load of muck on her growing pile as she spoke.

“Yes,” replied Titus. He hated to rat out his friend, but he also knew he wasn’t the only witness.

The digging stopped.

“You heard Saggyface?”

“Yes, Mum, he was crazy over whatever was at the window. He was jumping and barking, that’s why I was busted with my – uh – those comics.”

Somewhere on the street a car door slammed. Neither noticed.

“You’re saying you saw Lord Northrop?”

“Yeah, I think he liked the smell of the old pages so he was sort of reading with me.”

“Did – did Cynthia mention any of this to you? Ask you to say it?”

“What? No, I just – I just heard the dog barking? I mean, it’s like the only thing he’s good at anyhow, what’s the surprise?”

A third voice joined the conversation then, and not a welcome one.

It’s tone was thick and slurred.

“Oh, I heard the barking Ayah, it’s why I left. Not tonight though, not tonight. I’m surprised you were so quick to get another mutt – figured you as more sentimental, but then, look how quickly you forgot me, eh?”

“Dad?” asked Titus, but he did not mean it as a question of identity – he knew perfectly well who the man was – he meant it more as an inquiry into why his father was holding a broad-hilted knife.

“I was trying to do you a favour by not going to the police, you heartless butcher,” said Ayah

It was the most directly the boy had ever heard his mother speak against her ex-husband.

Titus, however, had long grown sick of the old man’s habits.

“Dad,” he said, “everytime you come around, someone cries. I cry, mom cries – I’ve even seen the lady next door cry over some of the things you’ve said and done.

“I can’t let you do it anymore. Go away, or I’ll make YOU cry.”

Though it was an effort to keep his knees from knocking, Titus worked hard to take on his best Johnny Strongarm stance. He needed Dad to believe, because he really wasn’t sure how he could make good on this threat otherwise.

His father raised his knife and smiled.

“No more tears – come here, boy,” he said.

That’s when Lord Northrop Saggyface gave his final charge. He held no form on this occasion, his assault consisted of only howls and barks long reserved for the man who’d too often silenced him with a boot, but it was enough.

It was a small back yard – barely ten feet between Cynthia’s privacy fence and that belonging to the Mainas next door – and the shovel’s long handle made it easy to close the distance when their assailant turned to try and catch sight of the beast.

Ayah did not stop swinging until Titus had grabbed the dropped knife and tossed it clear of the melee.

An hour later, with all safe, it would be up to the police to find it where it fell: Atop Lord Northrop Saggyface’s already decaying corpse.

 

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.

FP416 – Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall Chronicle

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and sixteen.

Flash PulpTonight we present Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall Chronicle

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Green Light, Red Light

 

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, Mulligan Smith, private investigator and lifelong resident of Capital City, finds himself drawn to the edge of civilization by one Molly Blackhall.

 

Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall Chronicle

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

 

There were no windows in the room, only empty expanses of bare plywood nailed onto a sloppily erected frame. To Mulligan’s left was a door, to his right a simple table holding a camping lantern that acted as the sole source of light. Beneath him was a creaking wooden chair to which he’d been zip-tied, and before him sat the man with the gin-blossomed nose he’d come to think of as Red Parka.

He knew that just beyond the walls was a view to steal the breath from a Capital City Morlock such as himself, but it did him little good.

Red Parka shifted on his stool, settling the hunting rifle across his lap into a more comfortable position.

There was rarely any magic in Mulligan’s job, and here was the epitome of the mundane: He’d often wondered if this was how he might perish, in some dingy hovel at the hand of a man with petty reasons and a terrible need for a shower.

From beyond the crookedly hung door, in the room that made up the other half of the shack, there came a trio of knocks.

Smith could hear Blue Parka, the one who’d tazed him, rise to answer the summons.

“Yeah?”

“I’ve lost one of my tourists, have you seen an idiot in a hoodie stumbling around out here?”

Smith knew the woman’s voice, longed, in fact, to hear it say just a few more words, but Red Parka’s arms stiffened at the intrusion, and the gun barrel hovered above his knees.

It would do no good, Smith knew, to drag Molly into the calamity.

She’d been the one who’d summoned him to the Arctic Circle. They’d been introduced when he’d had need of a bush pilot on a previous job, and she’d been impressed enough with his work to ask for assistance when the small community of Suinnak had charged her with rum running.

Her email had been as straight to the point as Blackhall herself.

I realize chasing bootleggers sounds a bit ridiculous to a fellow who can walk a block and pass three bars and a booze megastore, but these folks generally see limited supplies, and a sudden bump in the market can cause a lot of havoc. I’ve been the only one in and out lately, so they figure I must be the source, and I haven’t been able to spot any amateur moonshiners while waiting for my court date.

I hate to have to ask – and I think you know it – but I could really use some help.

In truth, Molly’s face, and his trip north, had floated to mind more than once in his idle hours parked outside cheap motels and heavily-curtained bungalows, and he’d been eager to be of assistance.

“I haven’t seen him,” answered Blue Parka.

There was a pause, and Molly lost the majority of the politeness in her voice.

“I heard he was coming here to visit,” she insisted.

Red Parka had the stock of his weapon under his arm now, the barrel endangering the ground midway between Mulligan and himself.

“Nope,” said Blue Parka, “probably best to go back to your plane and wait to see if he shows.”

The door closed. Smith felt his shoulders relax.

At least she’d be safe.

When he’d arrived, a day earlier, it had been an easy enough thing to locate the real origin of the free-flowing liquor. His filing cabinets at home were filled with letters from his ex-police-sergeant father that provided advice along the lines of, “it takes money to catch money,” and he’d known exactly how to begin the search.

FP416 – Mulligan Smith in Skipping a Beat: a Molly Blackhall ChronicleLocating the most notorious drunk in town had only taken three sets of questions, and, as the PI had told Molly when he’d retrieved his bribe from his travel bag, it wasn’t as if the community was about to be overrun with 18-year-old single malt Talisker scotch.

She’d grown red faced and angry when he’d handed the cup to a fellow obviously killing himself with such.

At the first drink, the man had denied knowing anything about locals involved in distilling.

At the second, both men were chuckling, and Molly joined them in a sullen cup.

At the third she too was laughing, as Mulligan laid out his usual jokes and admitted, sheep facedly, that he rarely drank.

At the fourth, the interviewee, still denying he knew anything, did admit it was better booze than the locally made stuff.

When they’d reduced the bottle by half, the private investigator had found his feet suddenly, thanking his host for his time.

“Perhaps you could top my glass before you go?” the drunk had asked.

“Sorry, I need to save some reward for someone who can help,” Smith had replied.

The tippler’s face went to war with itself for thirty seconds, twisting between resolve and thirst, then the man had stood to point at the shack on the hill.

Smiths’ victory was quickly forgotten, however, as Molly landed on a decision that seemed to have been hovering at the edge of her mind for a while, and dragged him back to the cabin she occupied when visiting the remote hamlet.

Two hours later, half-sobered and sweating from exertion, she’d apologized for growing angry over tweaking the old lush’s weakness to dig for an answer.

“We Blackhalls have always had a temper,” she explained.

They’d fallen asleep soon after.

Awaking to her satisfied snoring had given him the chance to creep up the hill and be tazed.

He’d expected to find a still – instead, seconds before being electrified, he’d discovered just a spout to collect snow and a pot-bellied stove that struck the PI as a fire hazard, especially in an all-wood shanty.

That’d been half an hour ago, but now there was a hitch in his chest as he realized the distance between them was so close that he could hear her muttering as she followed the thin trail down the hillside.

“Oh,” she was saying, “I’m-a go back to the goddamn plane…”

In the next room, Blue Parka returned to murmuring. He’d been at it when Smith had originally arrived, and until this second interruption the chanting had been the only relief from Red Parka’s thick mouth-breathing.

Smith returned to the impossible task of finding some leverage that might keep him out of a shallow permafrost grave.

He considered using his increasingly angry bladder as an excuse to attempt to run, but he doubted he’d make it far from Red Parka’s rifle given the barren white slopes that surrounded the hut.

Blue Parka’s droning stopped, and Mulligan’s bladder doubled its demands.

He had little interest in finding out what the pair had in mind once done singing for the day.

It was apparently just another interruption, however.

“You gotta see this,” called the crooner, “there’s a – I think it’s a wolverine? – out front. Bring the rifle.”

Red Parka stood and pulled the door shut behind him.

Through the flimsy barrier Smith heard Red Parka ask, “is it dancing?”

“Maybe it’s rabid?”

The slamming of the outside exit cut off any further conversation.

Breathing heavily, the PI began to thrash in his bonds. The chair went over sideways, but did not break. The zipties dug into his ankles and the flesh of his wrists, but did not give.

Still, it was shouting and gunshots from the far side of the cabin that brought his flailing to a halt.

Then the air filled with the scream of a chainsaw.

As he lay askew on the rough planks, the tip of a high-speed cleaver pushed through the wall and sliced downward in a long diagonal stroke.

Two more incisions followed, and the splinter-edged triangle fell inward.

Molly Blackhall said, “so, sometimes you’re out in the woods and some bloody beavers start lodging up on the river you figured you could use to exit. I keep this Mama Jama to clear the runway, as it were.”

“You shouldn’t have come back,” answered Mulligan, “they’re armed with worse than chainsaws. If that animal hadn’t come along…”

“Oh, she’s part of the plan too.”

“You have a pet wolverine?”

“It’s not a pet, it’s more like a friend,” she replied. “Anyhow, talk less, escape more.”

She did him the favour of using a knife to remove his bonds.

Still, the PI could not resist a final peek into the adjoining room to see the product of the seemingly neverending incantations. He thought the man had been simply whistling while he worked, but the only changes he could spot in the plain chamber were the location of the barrel, which was now at the center of the floor, and the nature of what it held.

Then he was again being pulled along by Molly’s insistent grip, though this time through the ragged hole and down the hill.

White powder crunched underfoot. The mountain range on the far horizon watched impassively. Behind them echoed more shouts, and more gunshots, and perhaps even a gravel-throated chuckle.

It was at that moment Mulligan Smith realized he was in love, but he would be left wondering, for a long while afterward, how the Parkas had transformed a barrel of snow melt into wine.

He would not see the pair again, nor would the people of Suinnak, but the discovery of the supply – and the signed confession they nailed to the Game Warden’s office before they departed – were enough to clear Molly for a brief southward vacation.

 

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.

FP415 – Coffin: Moving, Part 3 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and fifteen.

Flash PulpTonight we present Coffin: Moving, Part 3 of 3

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

 

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 increasingly sober apprentice, eat pancakes and aid a man haunted by his past.

 

Coffin: Moving, Part 3 of 3

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

 

The Denny’s stood at the low tide between breakfasting retirees and office workers on a panickedly short lunch break. Only three other booths were occupied, beyond the trio of customers clustered in the corner, and one of those appeared to be the store’s manager entertaining himself with online trivia instead of instructing the waiter in heavy eyeliner to clear the last of the Grand Slamwich wreckage.

Bunny gave the kid a nod, and the kid nodded back.

“Napkins?” he asked.

“Nah, I’ll take some of the s##t water you folks call coffee, and maybe a two buck pancake stack?”

“We’re only supposed to sell the cheap plates as a side.”

Bunny raised a her brow and shrugged. Coffin waved off the topping-up of his mug, and their interviewee, one Douglas Holloway, continued to gently weep into the collar of his polo shirt.

When they were once again alone, the crying man worked at clearing his throat, then asked, “how did you find me?”

“How badly do you want to be free of -” began Coffin, but Bunny overrode the statement.

“His ex put us in touch with yours,” she said to Holloway, “but don’t worry about that. We’ll get to the haggling and details, just give us the rundown on your wife and girlfriend.”

To Bunny there was something familiar in Holloway’s stunned yet exhausted face that left her with the impression that he’d simply been waiting for this particular dam to break.

“Arlene died five years ago,” replied the widower. “It was eighteen months after we were married, and we were infatuated with each other till the end. We’d known she had a fight in front of her when we went down the aisle – her chemo meant all of her wedding photos were hairless – but she was the sort of person who was strong enough not to wear a wig.

Coffin: A Occult Serial Fiction Podcast “We were the classic goofballs-in-love couple, content just to be close to each other; to hold each other. She seemed magical, and I always assumed somehow that that would win us the war.

“It didn’t.

“She died at home. I did my damndest to make it as comfortable and peaceful as possible, but by the end there was a miniature hospital set up in our living room. It was like a pocket universe in there, an eternity of listening to her ragged breathing over constant Law & Order reruns. I still change the channel as soon as I hear that damned theme. When she let go I was at the bed’s edge, holding her hand, and she was surrounded by her sisters. I thought it was the hardest moment I’d ever have to survive through, but that I’d done the right thing.

“My first notion was to move away from the memories, but two years later I was in the same bungalow, alone with our mortgage and our corgi, Sycamore. Every time I stepped onto the living room carpet I could feel the anxiety of those last days creep in, but I hadn’t finished paying the bills for high powered narcotics and medical staff.

“Even if I couldn’t escape, things changed around me. I spent a lot of hours at the kitchen table with work I’d taken home, just to avoid the rest of the house. If I wasn’t working, Sycamore and I patrolled the block. Despite my evasions, or more likely because of it, I got promoted. I made new acquaintances around the neighbourhood.

“The second January after Arlene’s death I met Selena. I wasn’t looking to. I’d spent so long focused on the next set of reports, and the next patch of sidewalk ahead of me, I hadn’t realized how far I’d gone with my head down.

“I was re-tying a shoelace outside the local Starbucks when she exited with a white chocolate mocha. One of the tallest ladies I’d ever seen, and with a smile as friendly as a children’s television show host.

“She said ‘excuse me,’ because she walked near me while I was hogging the sidewalk and she’s the sort of person who’d rather be polite than annoyed.

“As she’s adjusting course though, she reaches into her pocket and retrieves a dog treat shaped like a bone. Sycamore sits, which is a trick that I’d forgotten Arlene had taught him, and she tosses him the mini-femur.

“That dog was all the family I’d had for two years, and I loved it like a child, but for whatever reason it’d never struck me to carry treats with me. It sounds kind of stupid, but it was just different than anything I’d known until then. Somehow that brought my chin up.”

The tale paused as the narrator was distracted by his audience straightening in their seats. Before he could turn to identify what had roused them, however, the waiter strolled by at a near trot, a plate tucked tight to his side, out of sight of his trivia master manager.

With a twist of his wrist the low mountain of pancakes slid across the largely empty table, stopping just short of Bunny’s coffee.

There was no opportunity for a thank you before he was beyond hearing range.

“Don’t stop now, Dougie,” said Bunny, while twirling her syrupy fork encouragingly, “we haven’t even gotten to the spooky s##t.”

“We dated for six months,” answered Holloway. “A lot of movie theaters, diner dinners, and dog parks with Sycamore. When we started spending the night together it was always at her apartment. Eventually I moved the dog dishes and I almost sort of forgot that I had another home.

“Then I got a funny letter: I’d accidentally paid off my mortgage while I wasn’t paying attention.

“Now, it’s not like I’d ever forgotten Arlene, but I’d had some time away. Selena loves renovation shows, and we kind of jointly arrived at the idea that we should do some repair work before putting the shack on the market and maybe looking for a fresh place together. Thing is, the more effort we sunk into projects, the more it began to feel like a new house – our house.

“One night we were both exhausted from a day of basement drywalling, and we decided to just sleep in my, uh, our, uh, the old bed – the bed that was there – instead of heading back to Selena’s.

“I woke around three in the morning thinking I heard someone talking in the dark. I pulled on pants and went down the hall to the living room, and for a second I thought I saw Arlene’s face.

“Now, I should be clear, it wasn’t a huge ‘Arlene, is that you!?’ moment, it was more like thinking you see a person standing in a corner, then realizing it’s actually that robe you draped over a chair with the shadow of a lamp behind it that looks like a head.

“The only thing out of place was that Sycamore was sitting perfectly upright in the middle of the carpet, but I was so tired I assumed that I’d heard him growling at dreams and went back to bed.

“With the seal off, so to speak, we spent more and more nights there. We were already investing the majority of our evenings tag teaming plumbing, or hoisting hammers, so why leave?

“When we first, uh, made love in the old house, I later awoke thinking I heard Selena crying. I actually prodded her until she responded with a clearly still sleeping “no.”

“It happened again the next night, then everything went smoothly for about a week.”

“The calm before the s##t storm,” said Bunny, through a mouthful of fluffy batter.

“Yeah, then the screaming started. I couldn’t see where it was coming from, it just chased me from the sheets, then around the house. I kind of stopped when I was rampaging along the hallway for a second loop, because – well, it’s incredibly terrifying, but after a bit you lose steam when you can’t see the source of your panic.

“Selena, wearing only my stained work t-shirt, comes running, and suddenly she’s slapped across the face, hard. It kept going, like someone clapping to count time, and then gained momentum into a hail storm.

“I’d never seen her cry before.

“I followed her through the door, but she was in her car and on the street before I could catch up. Her place was close enough to walk, but it was cold, so I decided to risk going back inside to pull something on. Besides, I needed to get Sycamore.

“Everything was silent when I re-entered. I whistled for the dog, but he didn’t come. I found him in the living room again, sitting at attention.

“The call came before I was done packing. Everything had changed for me in the moment I’d seen Selena with that dog treat, and everything had changed for her in the moment she’d been chased from the house by an invisible hurricane. She was clearly having difficulty making sense of what had happened, but it seemed to her that it was my fault.

“While I was sitting there at the edge of the bed, crying, I heard laughter. I knew that giggle. Without even realizing I’d fully accepted all of the implications, I started a screaming match with a ghost.

“‘How could you do this?’

“‘How could you? I’m dead!’ she shrieks back.

“‘You had it easy, I was the one who had to keep living” – and on and on.

“At some point the door slammed shut, and I somehow fury’d myself to sleep.

“The alarm clock woke me for work, and I went in on automatic. Tried texting Selena, but she ignored it. I ignored the ignoring by staring at reports. I went home.

“While I was watching Sycamore sniff around the backyard I heard Arlene say, ‘I’m sorry.’

“That was – I dunno, three months ago? Since then it’s just been crying, every night. Sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s her. I’d like to try and reach out to Selena again. I miss her – but at the same time, the woman I loved, whatever is left of her, is somewhere in that house. I swear, some nights the bed shifts with her weight.

“I want to move on. I want her to move on. I just feel so guilty.”

Washing away the pancake crumbs with a deep pull of coffee, Bunny said, “in a situation like this, it’s really nobody’s fault. You can’t blame Selena for running off after getting in a one-sided slap fight with Sue Richards, and you can’t blame Arlene for being pissed she’s been trapped in your empty living room until you started f##king another lady in her bed – but you also can’t blame yourself. You didn’t know she was lingering around until she was furious enough to get all Amityville about s##t.

“We think your ex-wife needs to date and we know just the fellow. He’s also into Law & Order and cuddling. He currently has a thing for a lady named Laila, but all you sentimental motherf##kers have the same problem: You need to learn to move on.

“Actually, Laila’ll probably be looking for a new place soon, you should meet her. You might make a nice couple.”

In unveiling her solution, Bunny did not delve into the complicated game of telephone that was communication between the dead. Adding to Dougie’s sense of guilt would not get him any closer to moving, which was clearly the opening step.

In the end, Holloway agreed acting as dating coach to his dead wife was worth at least a nicely pawnable ratchet set, and Coffin had to nod in agreement.

Matchmaking was not his usual sort of work, but rent was due.

 

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.

FP412 – The Irregular Division: Eye of the Sturm und Drang

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and twelve.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Irregular Division: Eye of the Sturm und Drang

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Get Published

 

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, the public has its first encounter with the government-assembled group of misfits who would one day become known as the Irregular Division.

 

The Irregular Division: Eye of the Sturm und Drang

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

 

Fragment One:

March, Year One
Source: Verbal Debrief Following Operation Pancake Grid

Adviser: Major Nelson Wily
Subject: Corporal Jennifer Glat, AKA Ms. Atlas

Wily: Okay, it’s recording. Just give me the rundown of how you saw the operation unfold. Who knows, maybe kids will be listening to this at a museum exhibit someday.

Atlas: Uh huh.

The Irregular Division: A science fiction Flash Pulp podcast from Skinner Co.Following a two week period of downtime I was collected from a West Coast VA facility to meet in an administrative office in a Capital City hospital. Special Operative Head and I were formally introduced, and he was provided with a rundown of the situation. He was sarcastic and questioning. He challenged the plan, and insinuated that my daughter’s recent death would cloud my judgement.

I’d like to go on record as saying that, while I appreciate the opportunity to lead this unit, I feel that Head is not up to what was envisioned when the surgeons scraped what was left of me off of that floor in Aleppo.

I admit to an outburst that may have been peppered with a mild threat or two.

Wily: [unintelligible coughing]

Atlas: The situation was brought under control, and we were briefed on a fast moving scenario in New York state.

We were told a computer security expert by the name of Morris Fulbright had taken down essential components of the electrical grid, and that the operation zone, including New York City itself, was in total darkness. Fulbright had anonymously released a statement that the flaw he’d found in the public utility’s software had allowed him to run portions of the network at extreme heats until they burnt out. He also claimed he was working on behalf of a larger organization, although no evidence of that was found.

Intelligence intercepted the message before it got too far on the net, and the brains were hoping to turn the GDCF into a PR win by sending in a small strike force to subdue the what they termed a “cyber-terrorist.”

Eager for hearts and minds, the man responsible for the death of my daughter and I were sent to collect, as we were told, “a computer nerd from his plush suburban home.”

I recall one of the tech guys in the office telling us there was no way Fulbright could know we were coming, as the technology to break the encryption he’d used to anonymize himself was classified.

Despite the secrecy, however, it’s my understanding that the time and location was somehow misplaced so that a single news helicopter was on the scene to witness our arrival.

* * *

Fragment Two:

July, Year One
Source: [redacted].com/rambling/Operation-Flapjack-Grill

Author: Head

Title: Action Squad, Go!

Body:

I get it. On paper it looks perfect: They’ve got this guy with a prototype computer interface stapled to his brain and a vet that military doctors and cyberneticists have remade into the world’s first death dealin’ cyborg. The IT expert and the muscle, just like in any spy flick.

It’s funny on screen when the murder droid threatens to crush their geeky backup, but less so when you’re the backup.

There wasn’t much space to move around in the gun truck either. Strange how quickly you start unthinkingly using that sort of slang: Gun truck.

Anyhow, that’s when I realize that, as pissed as she is, and as much screaming as she’s doing at me, Atlas isn’t really moving. I finally understood that she was sitting in a [redacted], and that she likely didn’t want to break away from her charging plug.

Still, the longer we sat in that tiny space the more I wondered how many extra percentage points on her battery meter my life was worth.

With everyone stuck in the deep dark, civilian cell service was down, but there was a mesh of military drones overhead providing a connection as fast as anything AT&T has on offer. I was internally Googling possible escape routes from that model of tactical vehicle when the buggy came to a sudden stop.

“Go, go, go,” says the Major, and Jenny – she really likes it when I call her Jenny – was up and away.

“Remember that Atlas is in command on the ground. Listen to her if you want to stay alive,” says Wily, and I’m thinking listening to her may be the least safe thing I’ll do that day when the door slams shut behind me.

Now, I’d gotten pretty used to my neural pipeline by then, and I’d already fallen into the habit of flipping between social networks when nervous. Apparently we weren’t the only ones with service, as the major sites began to flood my feeds with updates on the second surge.

Over a hundred hard working line men and women, fried with their hands in boxes that were only ever damaged in their reporting software. Fulbright was one sneaky bastard.

A sneaky bastard with a television feed, as well, as he was apparently watching the news chopper’s feed as Atlas peeled away the front of his house.

That’s when the poop hurricane – the shite-nado, if you will – really began.

* * *

Fragment Three:

March, Year One
Source: TNTV.com/2047/03/NY-State-Power-Hostages

Author: December Hook

Title: New York State Powerline Terrorist Attack Thwarted

Dramatic footage captured by a Total News Television helicopter seems to show a military special operations force invading the Blooming Grove home that we now know to be the epicenter of the state-wide blackout.

A declassified communique, provided by anonymous military sources, indicates that the home’s owner, Morris Fulbright, released a rambling and incoherent message in which he claimed sole responsibility for the attack, and also specified that he was working alone to avenge a list of grievances that, as the source remarked, “can only be classified as being the figments of an unbalanced mind.”

Grainy footage shows government forces on the scene, believed to be led by Jennifer Glat, the soldier the press dubbed “Ms. Atlas” after a series of miracle surgeries replaced the majority of her charred muscle mass with high-powered electronics.

Unbeknownst to the operation, inside the house, Fulbright, who’d created a virus to fool utility overseers into believing a number of powerline assets had been physically damaged, had just forced a reboot of systems which went on to kill three dozen workers and injure over eighty others. Several remain in critical condition.

Anticipating a response, the accused cyber-terrorist had planted several pounds of improvised explosives at all exits of his household, and, as the strike team leader pulled open the front door, the madman was waiting with detonator in hand.

Although the explosion seemed to have left the woman’s right arm shredded at the elbow, the video shows her prying the brass knob from her dangling hand, then lobbing it into the building. Reports confirm that the missile lodged itself several inches into Morris Fulbright’s chest, killing him instantly.

An unnamed military spokesman referred to the effort as “a triumph” and remarked that it was unlikely that this would be the last we’d see of The Irregular Division.

This journalist, for one, is glad to have them watching over us.

 

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.

FP411 – The Irregular Division: In the Beginning

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and eleven.

Flash PulpTonight we present The Irregular Division: In the Beginning

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

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Get Published

 

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 introduce The Irregular Division, the newest, and final, thread of the Flash Pulp universe. Here it all begins to come together – and here it all begins to unravel.

Please be forewarned that this episode contains scenes of violence and strong language intended for mature audiences.

 

The Irregular Division: In the Beginning

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

 

July, Year One
Source: [redacted].com/rambling/First-Date.html

Author: Head

Title: Our First Lunch Meeting

Body:

So, apparently this blog is now considered government property, along with the rest of me. As such, I’ve been instructed to post my version of how our little family came together. I suspect that means they want me to tell you the happy tale of Operation Pancake Grid, but that’s not what I’m going to do.

In my mind, and maybe in yours if anyone other than the NSA ever bothers to read this, everything started at the McDonald’s in Tucson.

Given the layout, I could’ve been walking in the same store I’d visited in San Fran for breakfast or on the outskirts of Vegas for lunch. I came in the door beside the counter, and worked hard to ignore the squealing from the ballpit while I ordered. Once I had another Big Mac in my hand I hustled around the ordering slab and took cover behind some plastic foliage. My ass was just starting to numb up on the formed plastic bench when the cast of a heart-warming sitcom about non-nuclear families took the booth across from me. The little girl couldn’t have been fourteen yet, but she spoke with the firm tone of a self-assured authority.

“I don’t care what Mom says, Dad, I don’t want to move again, and it’s not fair to make me go somewhere I can’t visit you.”

Dad, his well pressed suit looking a little out of place in the house of the Golden Arches, tightened his grip on his partner. The partner was really the wacky breakout character of the group: bright friendly eyes and black wiry hair on every inch of exposed flesh made him look like an old timey grizzled prospector.

“Hun,” says Dad, “you know we love you to pieces, but there’s nothing the court will let me do. You need to be a little older before they’ll let you decide where you want to be, and even in this day and age they’d still rather you tag along in a war zone with your Mother than let you stay with an old gay married couple.“

See, the problem is that I wasn’t in a position to use any public internet access. Normally I would’ve just logged in wirelessly and forgotten the world around me as my mouth drowned in secret sauce, but I knew certain unpleasant fellows would be ringing me up for an audience before I’d even hit Google. There was definitely something compelling about the girl’s oratory though, she’d’ve been a general, a politician, or a CEO given the time.

At a My Little Pony pitch, she started, “I don’t give two shits about those asshats from court. You actually listen to me. You actually care about –“ then Dad interrupted.

“Whoa, hold on. Your Mom might not take a lot of input, but if you seriously think she doesn’t care about you, you need to pull your head out of your butt. She does have a set of standards she lives by, whatever the hell they may be, and for better or worse she’s trying to raise you to them. Mike and I love you, but so does your Mom, just in a different way.”

For a moment all mouths were full and conversation paused.

A smiling maw broke out of Prospector Mike’s face tribble.

“Hey,” he said, “she never moves for long, and both of you should calm down and cut her some slack, it’s not like she’s actually going overseas this time. I don’t think she can be blamed for heading to the coast to recoup, not all that unreasonable considering most of her body EXPLODED.”

Father and daughter simultaneously took a tight lipped sip of cola.

Dad cleared his throat, saying, “Listen – “ and that’s when everything went to shit.

With my back to the wall, and my seat opposite the door nearest the washroom, I had no problem noticing the beaten black pickup truck roll to a halt at the curb. Made gigantic by its oversized tires, its shadow seemed to stretch right through the glass. The two hillbillies who took long steps down from the cab would have made Bo and Luke Duke piss themselves if they’d caught them out behind The Boar’s Nest. They made no attempt to hide their 12 gauges.

I reviewed all of this from under the table, of course. If anyone had been observing my booth they might have seen something akin to a blow up doll half doing the wave as it slid out of sight at high speed. I’d brought my burger with me in the hope that my tray would simply look deserted. Honestly, it was instinct once my brain registered a black vehicle coming to an abrupt stop, but after checking over what exactly I was dealing with I wasn’t convinced it had anything to do with me. They didn’t strike me as dressed up enough. That said, I’d also kind of envisioned using the rear door as an exit in case anyone did find me, and hadn’t really thought through that they might not enter from the front of the store.

All of this happened within the span of a breath, and it was only as I watched their denimed knees scuffle past me awkwardly that I was sure they hadn’t noticed my duck and cover.

I named them by the condition of their jeans.

“Where is he?” shouted hole-in-left-leg.

“Fucked if I know,” replied frayed-at-cuffs.

Hole-in-left-leg went running to where the row intersected with the main serving area.

As he rounded the corner and into the Playland he parted a sea of panicked murmurs with his a repeated and plaintive cry of “Fuck!”

Frayed-at-cuffs began to pace the short length from the bathroom to the third booth in, obstructing any ideas I might have had of making a go at the exit, and bringing a repeated “Hurk!” intake of breath from Dad every time he passed.

“Would you cut that shit out!” Frayed-at-cuffs demanded, his voice cracking.

The Irregular Division: A science fiction Flash Pulp podcast from Skinner Co.“Hey listen –“ began Prospector Mike.

“WHAT!? WHAT!?”

I was leaning a bit now, trying to see what was going on, and I made out that Frayed had gotten a handful of the girl’s hair and was pressing the shortened shotgun barrel against her temple.

“Listen –“ it was Dad’s turn now, “her mom is going to be here soon to pick her up and we don’t want any trouble and if you simply move on we’ll just sit here quietly and wait for her and everything will be ok because –“

Dad’s mouth had lost it, and it was obvious Frayed had decided a simpler solution might be had by simply swinging the barrel of his cannon around. It was then that Mike decided to make a play, flying off his bench and around the table even managing to push over Frayed without plugging Dad. That was the end of his luck though: As the hick landed heavily on his ass his shotgun let go. Down went Mike, missing a chin. That was also when the goon decided to look left, directly into my eyes. He jumped to his feet.

“TEDWARD! TEDWARD GET YER ASS –“

Dad started wailing.

“SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” screamed Frayed, once again pressing the barrel of his gun against the girl’s temple. “TEDWARD! HE’S –“

At that point I frozen with the knowledge that I was absolutely fucked. I was staring at the murderous farmer, waiting for Tedward and the hole in his jeans to swing back from where the food is served, and I remember feeling a bead of sweat fall on my hand. I remember stupidly thinking it was raining.

Then the exit turned into a ball of glass and heat and light.

In the video it’s as if she just appears, a pistol the size of a small East Asian nation in her hand.

She looked at me. She looked at the hick. She looked at Tedward, somewhere in the wings beyond my perspective.

She said, “Michael? DAN? Nancy!?” in the order of surprised; upset; angry.

Frayed suddenly unfreezes long enough for his trigger finger to reflexively operate, and the top of Nancy’s head disappears.

Everything until then had felt like a rollercoaster, with the chain of events moving along much faster than even I could compensate for, but the world stopped at that second.

I know that all of the local recording devices bit it – that only those who were there heard the cybernetically amplified howl the media calls the “banshee’s scream” – but you don’t want a recording. Imagine the sound a humpback whale might make going through a meat grinder, impart to it the unknowable grief of a mother losing her child before her very eyes, and then amplify it to the point that .76 seconds of exposure leaves every customer and counter jockey in the restaurant stone deaf and bleading from their ears.

That’s when my memory stops, but my questionably-borrowed neural rig just dumbly kept gobbling up whatever my glazed gaze fell upon.

Deeply in shock I began to list to the left. Still, I have video of Mom – Ms. Atlas – closing the distance between her and Frayed like a rabid gazelle. The speed is such that you can barely see her arms move as she rips off his right leg at the socket, a stabilizing combat boot, peaking from below her sensible slacks, resting on his groin.

The spray of blood across my face is the last thing I witnessed before I thankfully fell into darkness.

Five days later I awoke, like the rest of the store patrons and staff, in a military hospital having my eardrums replaced by government surgeons.

Unlike the rest of the patrons and staff, however, there were two generals standing over me wanting an audience and an explanation – then they suggested that I might not go to prison over my stolen brain chip if I teamed up with their vengeful mother of a public relations disaster.

That, to me, is the day the Irregular Division formed.

 

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.