Tag Archives: Fantasy

FPSE30 – Sofia Esperon and the Bandits of the Wastes

Welcome to Flash Pulp, special episode thirty.

Flash PulpTonight we present Sofia Esperon and the Bandits of the Wastes

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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 venture out with Queen Sofia Esperon as she undertakes a perilous mission of mercy.

 

Sofia Esperon and the Bandits of the Wastes

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

 

A thousand harnessed cargo scorpions drove a straight line across the windswept desert, and, though the edges of the column were easily lost within the great sandscape’s grit-stained borders, Sofia Esperon, Queen of the Hundred Kingdoms, led them without concern from her position atop the foremost carapace.

This was not the ruler’s first venture across the Great Waste, and she faced the sun in a flowing collection of white robes that imitated the self-spun silks worn by the badlands’ mantis-people. Sharing a platform with her gently rocking wicker seat was Jondis Malhammer, the Viceroy of Miscar, a city of the southern provinces.

The humid vineyards and orange skies of Miscar were as alien to this land as the Viceroy to the unrelenting heat, and the thin-haired man was endlessly running his fingers through his dagger of a beard and complaining on the topics of dust, sun, and chafing.

To keep him from having an opportunity to speak, Sofia had taken to recounting her previous incursion through the area to her handmaid, Ida.

“Fifty years before my reign, when the Hundred Kingdoms first waged war against the mad wizard Kemrolth, the sorcerer attempted to open a portal to a hell dimension where the heart of the wastes now stands. Though the hole in the fabric of reality had been held wide only but a moment, the heat of the beyond was enough to incinerate the warlock and most everything within two-hundred leagues.

“Shant was the exception. It’s Mayor Queen, Meb, had spent her reign endlessly shoring up its walls, first with stone, then with iron, then, finally, with magicks.

“Though once a capital teeming with merchants of many lands, most of the original inhabitants, lucky to have survived, fled the city once they realized its supporting farmlands and rivers had been rendered to ash and dust. It was mostly the mantis-folk, outcast from their ancestral lands decades before but having found a warm welcome at Meb’s gates, who stayed on.

“Now it is mostly forgotten that this was not always where the green men of the dunes called home.

“A decade ago, when Mayor King Klim, third successor to Meb, sent an envoy to ask if I might provide assistance in exchange for an oath of fealty, I will admit I had little interest in this sandbox. As with any citizen of a state that warred with Kemrolth, however, the creation of the wastes are my stain to bear.

“Still, I have discovered since that it is a place full of wonders – as it would have to be, I suppose, to make it worth fighting to survive in such a place.”

Finally having detected an opportunity to inject himself, the Viceroy said, “well, they clearly aren’t doing much of a job of surviving, are they? Otherwise we wouldn’t have to be leading this relief convoy.”

“This is not a situation of their making,” replied Ida, “they found themselves at the mercy of powerful men beyond their control.”

The Queen’s brow creased, but, before she might provide her own thoughts on the matter, an enlarging speck on the horizon caught her attention.

Adjusting the eyeglass she’d had mounted onto her buck scorpion’s harnessed platform, she leaned forward. A group of a dozen mantismen had breached the skyline, their silks gleaming as brightly as the curved blades affixed to their forward pincers.

“To arms!” cried Malhammer. “Bandits approach!”

“Calm yourself, ser,” replied Sofia, her tone a cold wind in the hot sun. “There are many so-called bandit clans to be dealt with in our crossing, if you expend all your energies on these first you’ll be ragged by the time we reach Shant’s walls.”

Without shift in pace or direction, the rise and fall of their transport’s towering legs continued until the newcomers were within shouting range.

Though engulfed in the shadow of the lead beast alone, the group set itself in the column’s path and brandished its cutlery.

“We don’t want any trouble,” announced their leader, red paint smudged beneath his compound eyes, “but we’ve been long hungry.”

It was Sofia herself who replied.

“You must truly be starving to try and choke down a meal so much larger than your throat.”

The knot’s commander acknowledged the charge with but a shrug of his thin shoulders.

Turning to the Captain of the Royal Guard, Esperon laid out a series of precise commands, and the word was passed down the line. An arm of wood and rope swung wide of the third transport, and a cache of supplies, equal to those allocated to a dozen of Shant’s citizens, were lowered onto the dust.

Then, with a nod from the Queen, the caravan resumed its pace, and the bandits were soon only visible by the broad tan hunting shields they wore across their back.

Though Sofia caught a frown upon Malhammer’s face, she said nothing.

FPSE30 - Sofia Esperon and the Bandits of the WastesThe Viceroy was well distracted by a tale of his own hunting prowess when, as dusk fell across the dunes, a second sighting was made. On this occasion it was Ida’s stiff finger that brought the crook-handed strangers to their attention. At a dozen points the sands shifted, then hunters appeared from beneath the shields they’d used as a dust-covered roof to obscure their hiding holes. Their stalking spiders – no smaller than the hounds Esperon herself had preferred in the years when she’d been forced to pursue her own bear meat – took up a position of menace.

“Even after your kindness the fiends come to attack the hand the feeds,” exclaimed Jondis. “They have no respect for Her Majesty’s leniency!”

Without adjusting her position in her wicker seat, Sofia responded, “this isn’t the same group.”

There was a moment of silence as the Miscarian’s words caught in his throat, then the stripes of ocean blue paint that adorned this new cluster became clear in his view.

Red streaked the sky as the day’s light made its last goodbyes from beyond the drift-ridged horizon, and, this time without a word to the interlopers, Esperon again relayed her orders.

Within moments a second allotment of the supplies bound for Shant were measured to supply the bandits at hand and then lowered.

“You are a magistrate of greater tenderness than I,” muttered the Viceroy.

“If I wasn’t a woman of great patience you wouldn’t be here,” replied the Queen.

Heeding the edge in her voice, the Viceroy allowed darkness to fall across the advancing convoy in a hush.

In the deepest darkness, as the Queen and her party dozed, the true bandits arrived.

They made no noise, for their intention was not to communicate but to take – and so the Queen’s Captain did not bother to awaken her until dawn broke.

“We did our best to convince them otherwise, but, in the end, it was necessary to return their aggressions and cast them off bleeding or headless.”

“Hurrah! We’ve finally squashed some of these filthy bugs,” responded the Viceroy, the tale of violence and his morning tea having lent his tongue energy.

“If we’ve accomplished anything,” replied Sofia, “it is only in helping ease the raids on the previous bands we encountered, as these sort are as hard on them as they would have liked to have been on us.”

The march continued in silence until noon, when Shant came into view. Its red walls, as tall as the scorpions themselves, stood firm against the shifting terrain about it. Elephantine runes had been etched across its face, and encircled its gate, and the shadowy depths of each character held, in turn, a scrawling library of symbols.

“I see now why you felt this mission to be so critical,” the Viceroy told the Queen.

“No, you have seen nothing,” answered Sofia, “At every turn you have missed the simple fact that to help the city is to help its people, and to hurt its people is to hurt the city – and so I will give you the opportunity to learn.”

So it was that relief supplies were not all that was left behind upon Esperon’s departure, and Jondis Malhammer came to learn the truth known by those made to understand the nature of the Great Waste.

 

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.

FP439 – Spinning Yarns and Spinning Wheels

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Spinning Yarns and Spinning Wheels

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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 visit with friends from our distant past as they move ever forward into the future.

 

Spinning Yarns and Spinning Wheels

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

 

“A thousand harnessed cargo scorpions drove a straight line across the windswept desert, and, though the edges of the column were easily lost within the great sandscape’s grit-stained borders…”

From beyond the walls a single low horn gave a lingering, mournful bleet, and Asger set aside the rough-read magazine. The half-dozen children sitting cross legged about him gave up a simultaneous “Aww!”

“- but I haven’t HEARD Sofia Esperon and the Bandits of the Wastes before!” moaned Eydis, her fingers playing with her left braid. Asger recognized it as the girl’s habit when lying.

“There hasn’t been a Queen Sofia story published in the last ten years you haven’t heard twice,” he said. “Still, if you promise to stop fibbing, and if you’ll behave for your brothers and sister while we’re out hunting, I promise I’ll finish it before bed time.”

Haldor, two years Eydis’ younger but easily as large an Esperon fan, took a broad stance.

“I’ll make sure she does!”

He’d fashioned a sword from a length of pallet wood, but a raised eyebrow from Asger kept him from drawing it on the accused.

Heeding the warning, however, Haldor continued. “Why can’t you stay with us and finish it? You used to be with us always.”

This was a trickier question than Asger was prepared to answer. How could he explain the need for adventure – for accomplishment – that had filled the void where his childhood belief in the shaman’s magicks and the clan’s whispered tales of cultists in white had once resided?

The long room rocked briefly and the group shuffling towards the door was left to adjust their footing – then the chamber again settled.

“Every story has a beginning,” he said, “and I began with you, but -”

Having lost his opportunity to finish the thought, he turned as the entry opened with a blast of wind, and a stubby gangway landed.

Though Asger offered an “off you go,” the children of the Elg Herra had danced the distance to their beds before he’d finished the sentence.

Setting a hand on the lever to pull back the rampart, Danne, the keeper of The Nursery, shouted, “The Council approaches. Good luck.”

Then the passage retracted, and the door sprung back into place.

In the quiet seconds that followed, Asger flicked off the LED dome that lit the space and, standing in the dark, attempted to shake off the tension he felt building in his calves and stomach.

The hinges creaked, and his own platform arrived.

Grabbing the rope guides in both hands, he leapt the windy distance in a thick legged imitation of the children’s traversal.

As his eyes adjusted to the much brighter council chamber, he took in its occupants: Gunna, The Earl, wrapped in her handsewn furs; Klas, useless perhaps in his ceremonial role of shaman, yet still her most trusted councillor; and Lotta, Knut, and Ivar, who made up the standard hands at every hunting party. Asger, at that awkward age in which he had one foot in the cradle while the other moved towards his new station, had no doubt he ranked the lowest of the group.

“What’s the word?” he asked, as he took his place, cross legged, at the circle’s edge.

Asger had practiced this steady tone often, yet the Earl smiled gently at his delivery.
“A charge’n’go hauler,” answered Knut, the extended haft of his chosen weapon – a sledge with a flat striking hammer on one side and a toothy claw on its other – sprawled across his lap.

He was the oldest of those who’d actually depart on the hunting expedition, and the most likely to inherit command of The Moose, affording him rare privacy in his retirement if he could outlive Fast Foot Jenny, its current occupant.

On the floor between them, the Earl prodded a map showing their position against that of their target.

It meant little to Asger, but he’d learned to stare at it gravely for a time anyhow.

“Do we know what it’s carrying?” asked Ivar.

The Earl’s brow furled against the protestations of her tautly bound hair.

“Turkeys.”

Using a nod as cover, the neophyte did his best to hide his disappointment. Stories of unexpected treasures and fame-making artifacts were what had drawn him to his risky calling, and icy fowl, though essential, were neither. Yet, even in this mundane undertaking, there was danger aplenty.

They spoke for a time, then the double doors at the rear of the room swung wide, and the hunters were left to settle upon The Moose.

Atop the black SUV’s roof, where more often might be seen lights or shining chrome, Fast Foot Jenny had mounted the broadest bull rack the nomads had ever encountered along the roadside.

Asger had been at hand the day she’d made a rare stop to tend the roadkill. To be standing on solid ground often seemed a strange experience – the lack of rumble beneath his feet would forever feel wrong – but for a moment he had known stillness in the shadow of the oak under which the great beast lay rotting.
The breeze had stirred the branches and the smell of the sun-baked grain of a nearby farmer’s field had briefly won out against the stink of the corpse. Then the current had shifted, and the roar of the flies at work sowing eggs in the putrid flesh had again touched his ears, and they’d gotten to the venerated task at hand.

As it had always been – as they hoped it would forever be – they took what they could use and buried the rest.

Now, though swept back to cut the wind, the thick antlers made for an imposing approach. His calves again tense, Asger pushed himself to be the first to leap from the platform to the vehicle’s hood, then he had scrambled inside, his hands and feet moving with vigour if not practice.

Jenny cackled as he crouched low among the magazine images she’d glued about the cabin: Sunsets and beaches in the backseat, men exceptionally qualified as breeding stock in the front.

Within seconds the remaining three had joined them, Knut taking his traditional place in the passenger seat as Lotta and Ivar joined him in the rear. Then the warm glow of the council hall – its exterior as drab and mud spattered as any of the automated eighteen-wheelers that haunted the night highways – fell away as Fast Foot Jenny earned her name.

There was little to see beyond the tinted windows but hills, trees, and road, leaving only the shadows and the road ahead to draw Asger’s focus until they overtook their target.

Lotta, however, felt it best to spend the time berating Ivar.

“I’ll have none of your damned risks this time,” she was saying, “we need turkey, not heroes…” – and somehow the familiarity of her agitation brought some calm.

Yet, as the great whale finally came into view, Asger’s stomach knotted and his palms began to sweat.

The beast and its automatic driving software paid no heed to their approach.

“You’re up on latching duty, kid,” said Knut, and he set a hand against the hinged windshield.

FP439 - Spinning Yarns and Spinning Wheels In truth, Asger had been on latching duty for the previous three excursions, but he made no argument. Someday it would be someone else’s problem, but today he accepted it as his own.

The wind was high and the reinforced hood rumbled beneath his footing, but he drew the two hooks from their mounts above the headlights and set them deep on the monster’s bumper. Then the scavenging began.

Ivar was quick to conquer the lock, and a blast of cold hit the night air as he breached the hauler’s skin.

Within sat shelf upon shelf of boxes, and Asger knew each box in turn held a dozen turkeys – the entire load could have fed the Elg Herra for months if they’d a method of keeping them, but such gluttony would only lead to trouble. It was tradition to take only what they needed in the moment – only so much as to make such losses acceptable against the cost of security of each rig in the eyes of those who sent them sailing.

Still, they were a people with needs.

“Pop it’s batteries!” Lotta demanded of Ivar, and with some help from their companions they were onto the roof and dragging Moose’s engine-attached cables towards the forecabin.

Misfortune befell their venture before the pair’s careful progress had even managed to traverse the roof.

First came a warning message from the scouts peering from behind The Nursery’s blacked-out windows.

“Two minutes till traffic,” announced Knut, as he dropped his glowing screen into one of the many pockets that lined his slate britches.

Fast Foot Jenny, leaning well out from her position behind the wheel, motioned that they should hurry with the cargo, as they were still well under their limit. That, however, was when the second mishap inserted itself.

A box went loose, falling from the lip of the truck bed and bursting open upon its landing on The Moose’s hood. Yet, as it tumbled across the passenger side and into the darkness, Asger was left with all too clear an impression of its contents.

“They’re not turkey’s, they’re – they’re heads?” he shouted.

Knut frowned.

“Boy,” he said, “get the others.”

It did not register with Asger that his elder had pulled open the packet of tinder and matches that legends and tradition demanded they carry in case they should encounter their supposed ancient enemy.

The youth had never attempted the climb to the trailer-top before, but Knut’s able shoulders pushed him high enough to make it an easy enough mount – it was remaining in place that was the real trouble. The wind howled, and the treetops flew past his vision on either side. Each handhold forward was a battle, and each inch a victory.

Adrenaline had him grinning like a madman when the shooting began.

To his right, the cabin door swung wide, carrying Lotta over the road. The same momentum carried her up and over the window, then she was approaching his position with terrifying speed.

“GO GO GO,” she was shouting, as the roaring gale carried her towards The Moose.

A second round of gunfire erupted, and a bloody Ivar fell through her flapping exit, his body disappearing beneath the rig’s wheels.

Here was the adventure he’d yearned for – but at what cost? His friend?

A white mask and hood appeared at the unbuttoned door to remind him that he might lose more.

There was a moment of recognition, his childhood doubts disappearing in the wind. Had he not always been told the Kar’Wickians would come? And if the cultists were real, what then of the shaman’s chants, and what of –

His considerations ended there, as the spider-worshiper’s raised pistol was enough to encourage him to follow Lotta’s advice.

The tension so long present in his calves pulled him to his feet, despite the bluster, and a third outbreak of gunfire chased him across the rolling platform. Once he leapt, however, it was only the sturdy nature of Fast Foot Jenny’s antler mounting that saved him from a jellied end on the hardtop.

As he adjusted his grip and fought the gentle pressure of expertly applied brakes Asger watched as the freighter’s rear door, left wide, began to spew flame and smoke, and the mix of heat and Knut’s quickly built pyre was enough to disrupt its grisly cargo and send flaming heads tumbling onto the roadway.

Then the rolling abattoir, and its white-clad guardian, left behind the four survivors and disappeared over the horizon.

Five minutes later Asger was again in the quiet warmth of the council room, relaying his report, and an hour more found him returned to the nursery.

“A thousand harnessed cargo scorpions drove a straight line across the windswept desert, and, though the edges of the great column were easily lost within the great sandscape’s grit-stained borders…”, he began, yet, that evening, it was only his own tale the children wished to hear.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by 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

(RSS / iTunes)

 

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.

FP435 – Coffin: Wrong Tree

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Coffin: Wrong Tree

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Way of the Buffalo 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 recovering-alcoholic apprentice, must pay a call to a hairy situation in a suburban home.

 

Coffin: Wrong Tree

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

 

It was dusk as they arrived at the faux chateau surrounded by its moat of perfectly squared hedges.

“You know, it’s in these Leave it to Beaver houses that poor motherf#ckers such as ourselves get themselves murdered,” said Bunny.

“Maybe, but they offered cash and rent will soon be due,” replied Will. He gave the doorbell a second stab, but this time he left his finger on the button.

The entrance swung wide, and a tall man with a head full of tight black curls stared down at them from across the threshold.

“Yes?”

His gaze shifted from Bunny’s ragged jeans and denim coat to the Coffin’s thick leather jacket.

“We’re here about your son,” replied Will.

“I -” started the man, but he seemed to think better of it. His eyes had fallen upon a button pinned to the apprentice’s chest that read, “Make tacos, not war – unless someone tries to take your tacos.”

She was not unfamiliar with the conclusions such suburbanites might likely jump to, however.

“Yeah, yeah,” she said, “my friend looks like one of the kids from Grease fell into a bad horse habit and I look like I was rejected from a Whitesnake video twenty years ago and just couldn’t f#ckin’ let it go – but, what, did you expect a couple ###holes in velvet-robes? You figure that hobbit-fondler Gandalf is gonna tap at the door and blow you some goddamn smoke rings?

“Open up and let us in before your kid starts making the local sheep wranglers and burgermeisters nervous.”

Will winced at the delivery, but it seemed to be an alien enough reaction to convince the man that they were the mystics in question.

He stepped aside, saying, “I’m Martin.”

The front hall contained a tasteful selection of vases, filled with dried plants, and large nature photos, whose frames spoke of false age and a love of Pottery Barn.

They found the boy at a broad mahogany dining room table. His mother sat to his left, her lips tight, and, assuming no one sits that close otherwise, Bunny guessed the pushed-back chair to his right meant they’d interrupted a tense family conversation.

“Jackson,” said the father, “this is Will and Bunny. They clai- uh, they’re here to help you.”

Before the eighteen-year-old might reply, his mother extended a dry hand across the vast polished surface.

“Anita,” she said.

The coaxing kick she delivered to her son’s ankle, though well below the depths of the table’s surface, was hardly subtle, and the teen rose to repeat the round of palm grabbing.

“Thank you for coming, but I don’t-” began Jackson, until a second, firmer, kick landed.

As Martin retook his position flanking his son, Anita dug into the matter.

“We realized a month ago. I’ve been to every library and spent hours on Google, yet – well, there’s a lot of superstition and junk science, but no answers.”

Though Martin motioned towards a chair, neither the shaman nor his companion chose to sit.

“You say you realized a month ago, how long has it been going on?” Will asked Jackson.

“Apparently it’s happened six times,” replied Anita.

Bunny frowned.

Coffin raised a brow at the youth.

“Half a year? That’s quite a while to wait before seeking help?”

“So far he’s -” began Martin, and Bunny laughed.

“Stop interrupting like he’s f#cking Taylor Swift,” she said. “No wonder you had no clue until recently, kid probably didn’t want to open his mouth in case he caught some of the bullsh#t flyin’ through the air in his teeth.”

Anita and Martin sat, bolt upright, but Coffin could only shrug. He wanted to get paid, but also wanted to do it in a timely fashion.

It was Jackson who broke the silence.

“I need to show you something in my room,” he said, and, without making eye contact, or awaiting parental approval, he headed up the stairs. Anita and Martin moved to also stand, but Coffin shook his head twice and retrieved a long silver chain from his pocket. An intricate hook that looped and wound in on itself hung from its tail, and trapped upon the intricate curve was a plug of glistening meat.

FP435 - Coffin: Wrong TreeThough Will had no intention of using the arcane artifact, its off-putting appearance was enough to convince the parents to remain in place while Coffin and Bunny followed the slouching ascent.

At the top of the flight they took a left and entered a dustless room filled with evenly-hung posters.

The Coffin was formulating an attempt at a fresh start to the conversation when his eyes took in the chamber’s true nature.

Here was a poster of a fuzzy blue hedgehog hugging a rather well-muscled anthropomorphic lion, and next to it a hand-sketched image of a reclining bipedal fox.

Before either the mystic or his student could comment, the room’s owner’s voice landed as a mix of plea and anger.

“I don’t see what the problem is, I feed myself every time – I even learned to bake my own honeyed ham! – and I’ve never hurt anyone, why can’t they – why don’t you just leave me alone?”

Will’s eyes narrowed. “You’re pretty lucid under the influence? You’re sure you’ve got yourself under control?”

“Yeah.”

“Must be the Grecian strain.” replied the Coffin, his voice distant.

“Have you told them why it happened?” asked his apprentice.

“No,” answered Jackson. “They don’t want to hear it anyway. They just want the problem to go away.”

Bunny snorted. “Even if we yank your tail off the truth is you don’t need a f#ckin’ exorcist, kid, you need a family counselor.”

“You know,” said the shaman, his jacket creaking as he settled onto the nearest corner of the firmly-made bed, “folks with, uh, your sorts of interests are really the vestigial remnants of an ancient age. There was a time when the gods themselves, bunch of sex maniacs that they were, would come down in the form of goats or swans or bulls just to rut – and no one thought twice. Now they call you a furry, but back then they’d have signed you up for an obscure, but respected, holy order.

“I’ll make you a deal: Give me the name of whoever infected you with your lycanthropy and I’ll come around every full moon to ‘bring you to a safe place.’ Just don’t tell your parents that I’m dropping you off at a private club across town called The Fur Ball, and be sure to wear proper protection – oh, and that my monthly bill gets paid on time.”

 

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.

FP417 – Doll

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred and seventeen.

Flash PulpTonight we present Doll

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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 we present a tale of modern terror and psychedelic incidents, unfolding, before the astonished eyes of a mother and child, on a Capital City backstreet.

 

Doll

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

 

They were sitting in front of Fas’ Gas & Lotto, and Mom was thinking.

Cassandra knew this because Mom, as she often did, had said, “Mom’s thinking, Doll,” when she’d told her she had to pee.

The eight-year-old was aware she shouldn’t press the issue. Eventually her mother would either remember the question, or the girl would simply wait until a safer stop. She’d mapped out all the best places along the twenty block sprawl that was their nightly stroll.

It was tempting to slip away and ask Phil, the hard faced counter jockey who watched the 24-hour gas station, but Phil had a tendency to be mean to Mom, and, besides, her mother would grump if she were done thinking and didn’t have Cass at hand to soothe her.

Waiting to be dragged along by a flopping Raggedy-Ann arm was Cassandra’s best bet, and she had mastered patience in her long walks.

A blue car drove by. Mrs. Wilkerson pushed her shopping cart towards the south end. Mom thought.

After a time the woman stirred, but Cassandra’s brief prospect for relief was knocked back when her caretaker refilled her glass pipe and leaned away in an unsubtle act of subterfuge. Still, reflected the eight-year-old, at least she wasn’t burrowing in her arm with the unbent tip of a paper clip this evening.

The sight always left the girl quietly upset, however necessary her Mom insisted it was that she dig the gnits out.

Down the block and across the street, a newcomer with braids appeared. She was wearing a black suit. It looked fancy, but not quite a tuxedo. Cassandra had rarely seen anyone so dressed up.

Without thinking, she asked, “isn’t that the lady who asked to take our photo?”

“Mom’s thinking, Doll,” came the reply, and Cass was relieved it wasn’t accompanied by a sharp pinch as a reminder of the importance of silence.

Earlier in the week the stranger had stopped and held up a camera. That too had been a wondrous sight, as the girl had only ever seen people take pictures with their phones. She’d been embarrassed about her eye, though now the bruise was nothing more than a shadow of yellow and green.

“My name is Molly,” the photographer had offered, but she knew Mom had been too busy thinking to remember such a thing. When she was so lost in thought her mother rarely retained any of the conversations they had with passersby.

FP417 - DollThough Cassandra hoped she might again come and say hello, the woman disappeared into the shadows beside the Washeteria laundromat.

For ten minutes the street sat still, the buzz of distant traffic acting as the sole indication that time was passing, then the parade began.

From the Washeteria’s alley, a drummer in a suit not unlike the one she’d thought she’d seen the photographer in, came strutting at full processional pomp – yet his flailing sticks made no noise as they landed upon his snare.

Her jaw wide, Cass turned to her mother, but the woman’s focus was solely for her feet.

The girl knew better than to interrupt her thinking, but she was sorely tempted when the soundless bagpiper followed the drummer’s lead out of the laundromat’s lane way.

This second musician was dressed identically to the first, down to the same rubbery white mask, with unnecessary sunglasses and hairy black chops painted across the cheeks. She was far too young to recognize the metal band leader’s visage, but five more appeared, bumping between with the sidewalks as they held aloft the tail of a yellow and red Chinese dragon.

The hushed shifting of cloth was not enough to rouse her mother.

The beast made as if to catch and eat the mum piper, but, just as its mouth was about to close on the unnoticing performer’s puffing cheeks, a knight stepped from the alley, a mute cheering crowd of peasants behind her.

Cass knew the warrior with the braids cut through the rear of her disguise was a knight, as she wore a plastic breastplate over her suit jacket and carried a toy sword. The serfs, a group of ten distinguishable from the others in duplicate costumes by their corn sacks, flailed their arms in adulation as they trailed their defender.

For a moment Cassandra thought she spotted her own twin within the tumult of the small mob, but then the knight was upon the monster, and it was all the girl could do to not disturb her mother by cheering herself.

The dragon dived, the knight ducked. It swiped it’s tail, she swung her weapon. Plunging her blade deep, the champion slayed the beast’s fabric, and the parade disappeared beyond the corner.

Finally the street went silent, but still Mom observed her toes, thinking.

A hushed hour passed before she sobered up enough to realize her suddenly silent daughter had been replaced with a life-sized doll, accurate down to the gap toothed grin and a blackened right eye. The woman knew nothing of 3D printers, but, if she had, she would have recognized their work in Cassandra’s perfect plastic replica.

It would be dawn before she was sure she wasn’t simply high and hallucinating, and another six months before she could convince Cassandra, and The Achievers who had taken on her guardianship, that her daughter should come home, as she would now treat her like a real girl.

 

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.

FP400 – Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 – The Hag

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode four hundred.

Flash PulpTonight we present Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 – The Hag

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by The Mob

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, Thomas Blackhall – master frontiersman, student of the occult, and grieving husband – completes his tale regarding the beginning of the end, and the woman who stole his wife’s cadaver.

 

Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 3 – The Hag

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

 

Vengeance outweighed the woman’s grief, and the consolidation of her power began even before her boy’s reanimated body had fully let go of its living warmth.

Setting the child to dancing a shadow of a jig, she sent the riderless pony to town, as an omen of what would follow, then made her way west.

It was her intention that his cavorting would keep him close until such time as she discovered a method to properly raise him. However, a life filled with emergencies – shattered limbs, reluctant births, fickle curses – had left the Hag with a keen mind for priorities, and, as a python is said to eat an elephant, she began with the tail of her problem and moved ever forward to overtake her goal.

First she returned to any who had imparted wisdom to her custody, so that she might demand any secrets they had held in reserve. Though none of her former teachers furnished a solution for true resurrection, fraud, extortion, and flattery would eventually bring her a deep knowledge of the three forms of magic.

The school of the written word and inscribed sigil soon covered her body in images of power and deception. It was from an Egyptian book collector that she collected the pattern that imbues longevity, but it is only due to his phantom that I was able to pass that same design on to you.

She’d approached him as a broken soul in need of opportunity to correct her tragedy, and his own timeless greed for education made him too quick to sympathize. The Hag, however, was a woman who insisted on absolute discretion, as she demonstrated by slitting his throat and removing the flesh of his back.

Longevity is not invulnerability, as his ghostly lips later informed me.

I myself learned, in nearly two decades in the bush, that a life of endless walking leaves too much time to obsess; too much time to over-think. I can not imagine the effect magnified by a century’s span.

By the occasion on which she again crossed Ibsil, her transgressors were long dead – she cared not.

In exchange for his freedom, a mute friar locked high in a coastal tower had taught her many phrases of destruction. In his youth his transcription work had carried him across a decaying tome seemingly forgotten upon the shelves of his remote cloister. Unthinking, he had hoisted the volume and begun the penitent process of re-copying its text. It was under his breath that he whispered the tones that pushed out the monastery’s eastern wall, but he had, by then, already achieved the majority of his reproduction.

Even after the removal of his tongue, the memory of the index had followed him into the tiny room that marked the fate his brothers prescribed, and a lifetime’s confinement had left his recollections too close to his quill fingers.

Once his furtive letters were written, though, his freedom lasted as far as a mile offshore. Then, as a noose-tied-stone was lobbed overboard, the sloop he thought employed for his escape was revealed to be the vehicle of his demise.

The ruination of Ibsil began with a chortle and a word like a thunderclap.

Within seconds the streets were filled with those attracted to the noise and dust of the collapsing masonwork that was once the town’s church, and so The Hag spoke of plague, for those who would hide, and of fracturing, for those who could not.

Her tongue parted the gathered like a violent wave, and she formed corrupt sentences whose shapes and sounds called forth arcane energies to snap limbs, rupture eyes, and cleave architecture.

In a week she’d flattened every residence and stable, flushed out every farmhand and cellar dweller, and set flame to anything that might provide a safe haven she’d missed.

Finally, when the townspeople of Ibsil, ruined by contagion and violence, no longer had life enough to writhe on their own, she raised their shattered husks and set them to dancing for the supposed amusement of her son’s uncomprehending corpse.

This continued for a fortnight, with any unlucky enough to wander into the remote village joining the festivities, and it only stopped when the cadavers she most favoured began to tear and sunder under her rough treatment.

Yet her real desire, the secret of true resurrection, eluded her.

Centuries rolled beneath her feet. The world shifted about her, but the Hag, and her mystically preserved boy, continued on.

In time she fell in with the children of the Spider-God, the hooded Kar’Wickians. She was not one for friendship, but the arachnid’s spawn have many social advantages that her hermitry denied her. In exchange for her skills, and an occasional conjuring lesson, they provided her a great web of volunteers – for there was no shortage of restoration tales to authenticate, though most led solely to frustration.

Raiding ancient texts from the cult’s hidden library, she learned many of the rituals of symbolism, the most primitive of the magical schools but also extremely powerful in its elementary nature. It is much more than modest voodoo doll making. Though the age of artifact creation is distantly passed, it is said this symbolic art of material manipulation, in combination with rites from the written and spoken schools, were the forge by which the Crook of Ortez and its ilk were created.

Eventually she found her answer in one such relic, the Distilling Catafalque.

Now, there was perhaps an age when the world was so saturated with ethereal energies that the Catafalque might have taken the carrion of but three or four mystically-drenched dead to operate, but the arcane had begun to leech from the land, and naught but a few locations remained upon the globe that contained some power.

The hinterlands of the united Canadas was one such place.

I had met her twice before our final encounter. On the first occasion – well, I have publicly claimed innocence by stating that it was simple error that caused our paths to cross, but, in truth, I had come to snatch the Catafalque from her very hands. Rumours of her passage, and her collection of the dead to power the device, came from the mouths of phantoms and the whispers of the fading animal lords- but I had not comprehended the size of her rotting army, and fear had driven me off from that initial meeting.

It was not long after, however, that she took revenge at my interruption by snatching up my Mairi’s body to join her column.

I carried not but mundane tools into our final confrontation, out of concern that her attunement to the preternatural might signal my presence. The thousands of capering cadavers had aligned themselves into a whirling spiral, and I was left to creep, sweaty-browed, through the dancing rings. My pen is too weak to convey the anxiety of slipping between those exuberantly jerking, absolutely silent, figures.

Thomas Blackhall, a fantasy fiction podcast brought to you by the Skinner Co. NetworkAt their center stood The Hag, an orb of light in one hand while the other rest on the torn and muck-covered jacket of her unchanged son’s shoulder. She was watching as each thrashing puppet climbed, in turn, atop the black-veiled platform their lifeless shoulders had carried across the face of Europe, over the salt, and through the dense wildwoods. There was smoke at each closing of the plush curtains, but no further evidence of its sacrifice’s passing.

I let out no yip or call upon my assault: No, my very heart ceased to beat so that the noise would not arouse her.

It was a whisper I had mastered that lit the fuse of my explosive bundle, and even that was almost too much.

There was recognition in her face as the payload landed at her feet, but not time enough to react. Even in the last she attempted to shield the boy from the blast, and in so doing proved that I had right to worry: Though her belly was pulled asunder by the explosion, the bones of her cradling arms absorbed the force without yielding. Still, the tattoos that formed the greater portion of her defense were but simple ink in form, and so burned as easily as the rest of her skin.

The ritual, already in motion, went on.

Though I had dared not search beforehand, it was my deepest hope that Mairi had not yet entered that eternal slumber. My boots seemed to gain weight with each step – with each face that registered as not her own – but an uncountable period of running along the still-rollicking spiral brought me to the woman I had sought for long decades.

With wet cheeks, I pulled her from the line, and, in her place, I lay the Hag and her boy upon the platform.

I will confess again that I knew. I knew the pact she’d made with the Spider-God, I knew that there was not enough power left in the world, unless the abomination might find some weak soul with which to barter the last of its vitality to plant a seed that would bloom into invasion.

I knew, and that is why, even years before the encounter, I had begun my project of apology – and I do apologize, though I can not bring myself to regret the return of Mairi to my side.

We have two hundred years to correct my error. Now, to the extent of your title’s responsibilities – and those carried by the other branches of my now sprawling legacy – the matter is in your hands, Coffin.

Yours till victory, or the rise of Kar’Wick,

Thomas Blackhall

 

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.

FP399 – Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 – The Mother

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 – The Mother

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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 tell the tale of a mother outcast in a haunted world, and the strange roads down which her choices would lead her.

 

Understanding: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 – The Mother

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

 

In those dark times there was no gentle path for a solitary mother living a nomadic life, but the tricks and skills the woman had gathered through her youth were just as pliable beyond the boundaries of the county in which she was raised.

Menu3The old Roman roads were not so old when she began, and she slipped from the vineyards of the west to the steppes of the east just as a wind shifts and stirs at its own command.

Nona had bestowed a keen eye for comfortable hedges and the signs of a welcoming dooryard, but it was not long before the softest turf and sweetest bites of stolen pie were reserved entirely for her ever-growing infant.

There was little security in her position, and she received no small abuse from those villages that wished to claim a righteous position. Oft was the night that she slept fitfully on a spine bruised by flung stone. No family requiring her discreet service in dispatching an unwanted lump left by a lustful evening wished her to remain longer than necessary, and it was rare that a household besieged by supernatural threat was in any condition to host once she’d cast out the imp or phantasm that had assaulted it.

No matter the bramble or stolen hayloft in which they slumbered, however, the woman would not let her child slip into sleep without his hearing the refrain of her love. There was no joy without him, there was no road worth taking. A whiff of his infant skin was enough to drive the cow dung scent from any barn, and to make comfortable whatever awkward pose she might be required to maintain so that he might snore soundly in her arms.

In time, she herself took to wearing a triple-belt across her chest. The boy quickly learned to name and pluck those roots and petals that could be of use, and it was not unusual for the pair to pass a day without a meal they had not pulled from the wild dirt.

Yet, there were advantages to setting her own course. Few were the winter months she spent in snowy lands, and there was no rumour of arcane knowledge she could not chase.

There was an ancient deaf man who imparted the secret of how to entreat with the Animal Lords in exchange for an illumination trick she’d learned at thirteen, and an oracle on the shores of the western sea who recounted the ritual to summon a lightning elemental as barter for the skulls of a dozen murderers.

The Mother had simply made use of a long knife and the conveniently hung bandits that lined the highways as warning. She had not inquired as to the collection’s purpose.

In a damp Mediterranean necropolis she came across a chiseled inscription in a marble sepulcher. It required two years of learning a dead language, but she considered herself lucky in having a monk to blackmail over the problem of a village girl she’d formerly been called to aid.

It was this engraving from which she learned the art of raising the departed. Not their spirits, perhaps, but at least their corpses.

Here then, was a true secret, and from the age of six through eleven, the boy was shown a goodly life. It was an easy thing to terrify a town into a stiff fee by sending its recently interred citizens cavorting through the central square, and – be the tale vampires or ghouls or vengeful shades – the greater her reputation grew as an exorcist, the more plush their pillows became.

She began to take what Nona had refused – but not for herself, for the boy.

A renowned tailor found his daughter visiting his window as he cowered in his bed, and the lad found himself in a new suit of fine purple velvet. A cordwainer’s mother insisted on marching repeatedly from her grave to the local tavern, and the youth began to travel in supple leather boots.

By the eve of his twelfth birthday their bellies no longer went unfilled, and the child had taken to riding a small pony between preoccupations.

It was upon the back of the beast which he was perched when the townspeople of Ibsil rose up. Perhaps it was the boy’s display of finery in comparison to their own muck-covered rags that put the question of fraud in their mind, but, whatever the case, a close watch by soft footed deer hunters had turned out the woman’s proximity on the third afternoon of a beloved blacksmith’s rising.

The doting mother had become especially brazen in her methods, as the dead man in question had, in the year before his passing, crafted a sword of some reputation that her son wished to receive as reward for their supposed-intervention – but the daylight timing mixed with the nervous crowd to leave many at hand willing to lift stones against them.

Her leg’s were strong, however, and the pony well-shoed – nor was it the first flight of rocks she had endured. She was giggling by the time they reached the cart path bend that marked the township’s boundary, as there were but a straggle of hard-willed delinquents left at their rear, and those too busy attempting to find ammunition with which to maintain their barrage.

It was a last effort missile by a farmer’s son of especially thick arm that struck the little prince from his steed – but it was not the projectile itself that did him in, it was the short fall to the hard path below that snapped his neck.

All that came after was due to nothing more than a coincidence of angle and unconsciousness.

Surprised at their own success, and suddenly realizing just how far from the comfort of their homes they’d wandered, the pursuers scattered, leaving the grieving woman to weep over the broken body of her boy.

It is said that she did not stand again until she’d torn every strand of hair from her scalp in despair, and that those tufts that would eventually regrow would only come back as ivory as a bairn’s conscience.

Yet she did stand, for it came to her mind that if it were already within her ability to raise his husk, then surely somewhere the knowledge must exist to reunite his cadaver with his spirit.

So it was that her child became the first of what would become a long column of the dancing dead, though it would be centuries before my Mairi followed.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

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

Freesound.org credits:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

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

Freesound.org credits:

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

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

FPGE25 – Coffin: Wreck by Opopanax

Welcome to Flash Pulp guestisode twenty-five.

Flash PulpTonight we present Coffin: Wreck by Opopanax

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Mob

 

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 constant companion, attempt to reconcile regrets with a man whose past haunts him.

 

Coffin: Wreck

Written, Art, and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

A Skinner Co. Productio

 

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.