Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and ninety.
Tonight we present Coffin: Weakness, Part 5 of 6
(Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 – Part 6)
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Bothersome Things!
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 roommate and apprentice, discuss the unfortunate history of nymphs.
Coffin: Weakness, Part 5 of 6
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
It was noon, and they were at Denny’s.
“####,” Bunny was saying, around a mouthful of pancake, “so she couldn’t stop doing it? The incubus thing kinda makes sense then, I guess.”
Turning from the window, Coffin winced. “Not a nymphomaniac, a nymph. Way back in the toga days they were a sort of nature spirit who’d live in rivers, streams, tributaries, fjords – basically every wet place you figure’d be worth taking a vacation photo at would have one.
“Generally they manifested as shapely naked ladies, in their early twenties, who’d come ashore to sing and dance when visitors or worshipers arrived, but otherwise they maintained a dwelling within the depths of their swimming pool for privacy.”
Lifting another wad of syrup and batter to her mouth, Bunny asked, “sounds like they’d be pretty popular, so where’d they go?”
“Well, see, the nymphs were pretty into free love. They didn’t need it, like Valentine, but they were, uh, very welcoming to friendly shore-side visitors. The more civilized folks got, though, the less their spouses appreciated it.
“Nymph culture was slow to change, mostly because they were so localized, and their reputation went from something akin to a regional deity to the mess dumped on sex workers.
“I should be clear though: Their interest was really only in natural beauty. They danced because of the elegance of grass swaying in the wind, they rutted on the shore because that’s the way of the wild, and they sang because it called beasts and birds of all shape to their banks and kept them there in peace.
“Still, as things got worse some of them tried to go clean – the lady who supposedly lobbed the sword at Arthur was probably a nymph – but I think they hoped pants and religion were fads.”
“Me too, me too,” answered Bunny.
Will shrugged, taking advantage of the interruption to sip at his coffee. Despite his best efforts to be patient, his eyes wandered to the window.
There was nothing of note in the tightly stuffed parking lot.
Frowning, he continued. “You’re familiar with the old ‘I read it for the articles line’? In those days sneaky husbands and unsatisfied wives would claim they were just ‘going to hear the nymphs sing.’ Maybe that’s what started the trade – whatever the case, there was no Top 40 back then, and the medieval nobles, sick of having their trophy spouses sneak off, began to improvise jukeboxes.
“The real problem was that the nymph’s mystic song couldn’t help but bring a sense of soothing, even if weepily sung after having had their limbs clipped and being entrapped in tiny caskets.
“Now, this isn’t something just anybody would know about, this is the sort of secret treat rich people like to save for their most special guests. You’d be lead into a well sealed room by a deaf servant and your host. and there’d be a decorated box with what looked like a fairly heavy trashcan upside down on top.
“Your host would invite you to lie down on a lounge chair, priming you the whole time about what a wonderful surprise you were about to have, and the servant would lift the iron lampshade to reveal a young woman who’d lay out a tune so lovely it was like taking a mouthful of rave pills.
“When the allotted period was up, the servant would drop the shade. The attendants were also in charge of punishment for lack of performance, but we don’t need to get into the abuses you can inflict on a head in a cabinet.
“Immortality can be a rough gig like that, but even occult beings need to eat.
“In the end they all starved to death.
“Jenny though – Jenny was a fighter. Jenny gave up her home, the hardest thing for her kind, and set herself loose in the wilds; Let her hair grow long and tangled, let the muck of the river bottoms cover her skin, let decay and fish guts cling to her teeth. She hid like that for years, until even the memory of the slaughter of her people was forgotten, and her rage simmered.
“She started trying to avenge herself.”
“#### yeah,” said Bunny, “I’d go Rambo over that #### too.”
Will nodded, but replied, “consider the flip side though: You’re strolling by the river and you hear a whisper. You stop and there’s a woman – or is it a woman? She almost looks like nothing more than a collection of lily pads and stones – a face hovering at the still surface. Maybe you don’t listen at first. Maybe you’ve got a strong aversion to getting wet, maybe you’re smart enough not to talk to entities speaking from ponds, maybe you just have no sense of curiosity.
“Whatever the case, it doesn’t matter, because that slight, cheerless face begins singing, and suddenly everything is beautiful and calm. Suddenly you have no interest but in relaxing in the cool damp. Suddenly you’re drowning.
“Beloved family pets taking a drink, children roaming alone, lovers skinny dipping – anyone that would make others share some of the pain.
”Eventually she gained a new reputation: As a killer. Even the mystical and the immortal need the occasional human disappeared.”
Leaning back to bask in her victory over the forces of dough, Bunny asked, “so she’s some kinda supernatural hitman now?”
In truth, however, Bunny already knew all this – she’d read the same texts Coffin was reciting from – but, even with his neck-cramping turns to peer out the window, it was the calmest she’d seen him in days.
She did not mention that the tale explained nothing of the missing phantoms.
The real question she wanted answered involved what exactly was in the worn leather messenger bag he’d taken to carrying. Before she might ask, though, a blur of movement to her left caught her attention. Beyond the dusty cream shades six dozen cats sat atop the sea of sun-baked cars.
Noting her gaze, they began to wail.
It was time to go.
Flash Pulp is presented by https://www.skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.
Coffin’s theme is Quinn’s Song: A New Man, by Kevin MacLeod of http://incompetech.com/
Text and audio commentaries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.
– and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.