Tag Archives: ghost story

FP437 – Hurdles

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

Flash PulpTonight we present Hurdles

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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, as the change of seasons brings the classic tales to mind, we hear of the current and future inhabitants of a house with a tragic past.

 

Hurdles

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

 

Rosalee Holt had been carrying the weight of her burden for three months, and if she didn’t offload it soon she’d be an endless joke around the office – as if she wasn’t already.

Giving her make up a final check in her BMW’s rear-view mirror, she sighed and pushed wide the car door.

Her client awaited her on the curb.

“Hi Seth,” she said, “ready to see your dream home?”

Seth Prince tugged at the rolled sleeve of his button-down and replied, “oh, I’ve been ready to see it for a long time, it’s paying for it that I’ve been worried about.”

They turned towards the house as they spoke. The third floor was dominated by a parapet, the middle by a series of round windows, and the ground floor a massive, peeling, white porch.

“I hope you convinced the seller to knock off a few bucks to cover re-painting,” said Seth.

“If this place was any cheaper they’d be paying you to take it,” replied Rosalee. She was all too aware that the dry chuckle that followed rang hollow, but, to cover her concern, she adjusted her blazer and stepped onto the cobblestone driveway.

“Originally built in 1920, this is a carry over in the Victorian style…” she began, and Prince was left to chase her words through the entrance.

FP437 - HurdlesThe tour about the lower floor – parlour, front hall, kitchen, dining room, and an ornate, if small, bathroom – went smoothly. It always did.

As they mounted the stairs, Prince filled the air with small talk regarding his mother.

“She hates clutter. Has ever since the accident. I was only fourteen at the time, but after Dad died, and she was injured, she refused to have anyone over anymore. I guess I get a special pass because I’m her son, but she’s the sort who’d rather invite you out for dinner, and pay the bill, than have you come over and seeing smudges on the plates or a cobweb in the corn-”

Upon the topmost step sat a child, of perhaps five, wearing only a sagging pair of jockey shorts. Though his edges seemed indistinct, and it was hard to focus clearly upon his details, it was obvious that his lungs hitched as he sobbed, and his ribs rippled with his angst.

Yet his wailing made no sound.

Standing but an arm’s length away when the child had come into view, the pair turned to each other. Rosalee’s eyes were wide, though Seth noted she seemed more concerned about his reaction than the gaunt newcomer. He shrugged.

The child seemed to find much sport in this, as his mouth stretched into a smile full of broken teeth as he sprang to his feet. He clapped, and again his display was without noise – then he scurried away at top speed, appearing to giggle as he disappeared through the nearest of the hall’s doorways.

There were five such entrances breaking up the passage’s floral wallpaper, and at the far end, opposite the landing, a second set of stairs led higher still.

Holt pushed forward.

“This is a library, I’m not sure how much use it is to your mother though,” she said, her arm giving a grand sweep. She’d intended to add a flourish in revealing the impressive collection of antique shelving and the sturdy mahogany desk that dominated the center of the chamber, but instead she was left feeling as if a magician’s apprentice demonstrating that the boy had disappeared.

“Actually,” replied Prince, “Mom loves reading and has quite a collection. She has been filling rickety shelves for years, in fact, which is why I was excited to see these photos in the online listing.”

Rosalee attempted to pull on a smile at the response, but instead settled for taking her own turn at shrugging.

They moved on.

“This could be a TV room, though you’d need to have service installed. All of the moldings are original to the house’s construction and -”

A parade trailed from the empty room across the hall. Seven forms, no taller than the boy who’d been upon the stairs, came into view, their faces indistinct but for their flashing jaws. In utter silence they formed a circle about their visitors, and their mouths began to work at a soundless tune.

The ring of held hands began to shift left to right, and the scene played out for a full minute – then the children collapsed in a heap, their mouths bobbing with hushed laughter.

Closing her eyes, and taking in a deep breath, Rosalee stepped over the mute cacklers and continued the tour.

The third floor was dominated by the parapet and a space that was really nothing more than an attic converted into a bedroom at some distant point in the house’s apparently horrific past.

A single window opened onto the steepled space, and the dying light of the day stretched across the dust that had settled on the slat floor.

Though the tour had achieved its final room, Holt asked that her companion wait. Within moments a new sort of procession formed. Though their eyes and mouths held no solid form, Seth recognized the dancing children as they approached, each shuffling through the door and collapsing upon their knees and bowed backs as they passed into the low-ceilinged chamber.

Finally, as their death throes played out about her feet, the real estate woman finished her pitch.

Her eyes were heavy as she gazed upon the fallen forms.

“I have tried to sell this house a dozen times. Most don’t believe what they’re seeing, but none have ever given me a callback or even asked to return to record this place’s shamblings. I did try to get a TV crew in here once, but the kids – I think they have some sort of understanding of what’s going on. They’ve never hurt anyone, they’ve never made a sound – just as I told you – but… well, you’ve seen it now. You understand where I’m coming from.”

“Yeah, but do you – do you know where THEY come from?” asked Prince.

“This used to be an orphanage, way back in the unregulated glory days. The woman who ran it took off and told the kids she’d be back in three days – told them to feed themselves from the pantry and not let any police see them or they’d be broken up and taken to the clink.

“At least, that’s what I read. The news reports from the time figure they made the mistake of mixing some potent rat poison into a stew of leather shoes and half-rotten carrot tops they were trying to make.”

Some of the dead upon the planks began to tremble, but it was difficult for either of the living to discern if they were again playing out their dying moments, or if the mention of their sad fate had set them to weeping.

“Well,” answered Seth, “my Mom, who would not believe you about these ghosts if you told her thrice, raised me as a single mother. She was there every night at the kitchen table, doing her damndest to help me – be it with my grade five geometry homework or with my bar exam last year.

“The wreck may have blinded her, but, now that her efforts – our efforts – are starting to show results, at least it means I’ll be able to pay her back a little.”

 

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

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

Download MP3

(RSS / iTunes)

 

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