Sunday, December 23, 2012



Nicholas Saint wasted no time as he left the infarmary.   Had this been any normal situation, even though normal for Saint meant the world was teetering on the precipice of destruction, he would have taken time to organize himself, to prepare for what lay ahead.  But this was different.  This was Caruthersville, Ohio.

Saint entered into one of the buildings north of the Workshop, a playful name for the compound’s primary structure given it over the years as Saint’s librarians collected tales and anecdotes of Santa Claus.  The building he currently occupied, however, resembled an  Iroquois Indian longhouse.  What it was inside, however, proved more garage than domicile.

Vehicles of varying descriptions lined the walls and filled the floor of Saint’s Motorlodge.   Most resembled machines outsiders would recognize to some degree, from bicycles to automobiles  and beyond.  Some defied modern technology, however, such as the conical white pod on the far left, two black scalloped wings arching out of its sides.  And others were exactly what they appeared to be, but so much more.  Like the exquisitely crafted crimson and gilded sleigh that held its place of prominence in the center of the lodge.  Saint’s pride and joy, the sleigh was held in high esteem by all, not only for the legends and truth associated with it, but the story behind how a man truly could guide a sleigh at night through the sky.

Even though that journey was just days away, Nicholas Saint walked past his guilty pleasure for travel and to what appeared to be a  red walled additional room jutting out from the back wall of the lodge.   The room was about ten feet in height and approximately seven feet across, extending six feet out into the lodge.  The front appeared to be a solid wall, except for a seam that ran from top to bottom.  

Normally, two attendants would be present to assist their benefactor, but Hieronymous’ call for a Round Table meeting went out as Saint walked from the barn to the lodge.  Left to his own devices, Saint approached the box, pushed a switch depressed into the left side of it, and stood back.   Noiselessly, twin doors on the front of the room opened to reveal one of Nicholas Saint’s most astounding achievements, nearly rivaling the sleigh and glowing reindeer.

The Pogo, so named for its partial resemblance to the child’s toy that came into vogue around the time Saint developed his latest technological miracle, looked to be nothing but a red pole with horizontal handles at the top and black boots, at least the front half, attached to its base.  Before Saint stepped into the room, he reached inside his red coat with his left hand.  In his fingers when he pulled it out was a small silver box, no markings or labels on it.   Saint pushed one end of the box with his fingers, sliding it open, and then lifted it to his lips, letting the two white pills inside it fall into his mouth.   Replacing the box, Saint grinned as he remembered the first time he had tried out the Pogo and why Hieronymous had devised and given everyone ‘Pogo Pills’ after that. 

Slipping the box back into his coat, Nicholas Saint walked straight ahead into the cabinet like room.  He slid first his right foot, then his left into the boot like stirrups and took hold of the handle with both hands.   Taking a breath, he squeezed the left handle hard, pressing a switch inset on its underside.   Gears and cogs ground around him as from each side jerked two golden halves of a capsule.  The two pieces came together, a sharp whoosh of air and a loud snap indicating they were sealed.  Closing his eyes as he always did riding the Pogo, Nicholas Saint squeezed the right handle, activating a second switch.  A mechanical squeal and a sound much like thunder later, a hatch opened up beneath the golden capsule holding The Saint of Adventure and the Pogo fired into the specially constructed reinforced pneumatic tube beneath it.

As the capsule torpedoed through the tube, Nicholas Saint calculated how many stops he would have to make between the North Pole and Caruthersville.  Although the Pogo tubes were on every continent and even some uncharted land masses on the globe and most connected to the others, the first leg from the hidden enclave wasn’t a straight line to anywhere except a departing depot in a hidden fortress in Siberia.  From there, Saint would enter a chamber literally lined with over one hundred Pogo portals and take one to Anchorage, then from there to New York, and finally on to Caruthersville.   Even with the changing from tube to tube, he would be in Ohio long before any other means of transport could get him there, thanks to the almost inconceivable mechanism by which the pneumatic tubes worked.  Except for the sled.  But that was only used one night a year.  No exceptions.  Not even Caruthersville, Saint thought.

The small Ohio town haunted Nicholas’ thoughts as his Pogo collided with the cushion of air meant to stop the capsule without destroying it at the Siberian end of his ride.   Wasting no time with pleasantries, although he knew he should have, with the natives from the Village assigned to man this post, Saint climbed into the capsule bound for Anchorage and was off again, his mind still on Caruthersville.

Two days before Christmas, 1922.  Leon Jarvis, a young man who’d given his all and then some at the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918, was the resident Santa Claus of Caruthersville, Ohio even then.  Many considered Leon addled or made simple by his time in the War to end All Wars, but Saint always knew it was something more than that.  He’d gone to war a boy with dreams of glory and returned a man with scars time wouldn’t heal and a need to hang onto hope every day thereafter.  And hope for Leon Jarvis was found in every aspect of Christmas.

It was Leon who sent the jingle to Nicholas Saint in 1922, but in no way was Leon alone in his devotion to the holiday, at least not until then.   No, Caruthersville was known far and wide as “Santa’s Hideaway,” transforming every year right after Halloween into a postcard’s vision of a Christmas village.  It was what had drawn Nicholas there many times, allowed him to make Leon’s acquaintance and recruit the young veteran as one of Santa’s helpers.   Bette and Nicholas had even spent time alone there, allowing themselves to be away from the Village, but wanting to feel that closeness, that same atmosphere somewhere else.  They found it in Caruthersville.

Children.  That was what had caused Leon to use the radio device Saint had given him a few months before to contact the Village.   A week prior, Leon reported, he’d heard parents talking about waking up in the middle of the night to find their boys and girls, all under the age of 18, awake.  Awake and dancing.  Hopping around like fireflies and frogs, Leon had said.  It was a few at first, two or three, but as each day passed, more and more reports came in of children dancing in their homes at night.  The strangest aspect had been that all of the children didn’t know why they were dancing and could not stop on their own.   And, Leon said, they all to a child said they only remembered a song, a tune that each thought he or she had dreamed.

As Nicholas disembarked in Anchorage, his eyes misted over as he thought about that night,  how his body, as near to human perfection as possible according to many, even ached with exhaustion and battle fatigue.  The greatest conflict he’d ever faced, the very reason that he felt he’d been allowed to live as long as he had, had finally ended just three days before Leon’s jingle.  It had been War, plain and simple, Saint reminded himself as he entered the capsule bound for New York.   A War with the whole world at risk that most of its population never even knew about.

And fortunately Saint and his companions, those who walked away alive, had proven victorious.   Beings and creatures that many thought only populated children’s stories and mothers’ disciplinary legends stood toe to toe, each casting their lot either with Saint or with one as evil as The Man Called Claus was good.  And though he shook hands with Death itself and endured tortures and agonies no one could imagine, Nicholas Saint walked away, wounded, but alive, leaving his dreaded foe mired in darkness and shrouded in blessed mistletoe.

So, when Leon’s plea for help came in, saying that now everyone in Caruthersville was anxious, that children and their parents no longer slept, they simply sat up at night waiting for whatever caused them to climb out of bed and dance.  Boys and girls complained of hearing the music even when awake the two days before Leon had contacted Saint, and that they had to fight not to dance in the broad daylight. 

Saint told Leon himself that it was indeed something he and his teammates would check out, that someone would be en route to Caruthersville as quickly as possible.  He’d sent Jack on ahead then, just as he had now, only then more out of plan than convenience.  Icy devil, as Black Peter called him, or not, Frost definitely had a charm that garnered him much grace and luck in all the years Saint had known him. 

Hours after Jack had left, one of the first to ride the Pogo, Saint was with Hieronymous Virginia tending to the animals of the Village’s bestiary injured in the War when a sudden, horrifying thought occurred to him. 

There had been no music during the War.  As a pastime or a weapon.  Not one note from across the battlefield.  Bette had mentioned it, noting that their opponents never went into battle as an army without music, never until this final conflict.   Nicholas agreed with her, but foolishly overlooked it as unimportant, as meaningless in light of the blood shed and the stakes at hand.  But, then, as he tended to the broken wings of turtle doves that had proven instrumental in the final battle, Bette’s observation picked at him again.  No music.   And, he recalled, the one responsible for the music every time before, his body was not among the dead nor one of the prisoners that Saint hoped to rehabilitate. 

No music.  And no Piper.


Logo by Perry Constantine



“There!” P. Paul Plumley shrilled, his own thickly fleshed left hand pointing out across the crowd at Jack Frost.  Every head turned sharply, almost in unison, to glare at Caruthersville’s newest visitor.  The mayor bellowed, “There’s one of them who promised to help us before, to save our children!  And on the day they’re returned, he is here! Do you know what that means?”

Frost did not wait for Plumley to provide the likely accusatory answer to his own question.   “Wait!” he shouted, his satiny alto voice echoing along the winter breezes blowing around him.  “I mean no harm!”  Even as he spoke the words, Jack realized he now stood, his legs apart, both arms at his side, bent at the elbows, each hand rolled into a fist.  The instinctive reflexes of a soldier threatened, Nicholas Saint had called it, this nearly involuntary stance Frost assumed when danger loomed.  As the troop of uniformed young people moved as one in a straight line toward him, their parents, grandparents, relatives, and friends also turned, every single one aiming themselves at Jack Frost.

“I’m only here,” Jack offered, trying to delay what seemed inevitable, “because someone called us.  For help. “  The regiment of young men and women marched on, their steps slow, but steady, nearly mechanical.  The citizens of Caruthersville flowed more freely, trickling together into a steady stream of gnashing teeth, angry eyes, and bared fists, all fueled by ten years of absence, hatred, and misunderstanding.  “Listen,” Frost snapped, an icy edge rising in his voice as his own frustration mounted. “Someone called for help.  Someone called Nicholas Saint!”

As the words tripped over his cold lips, Frost knew his mouth had once again overloaded his good intentions.  What had been irritation and distrust in the eyes of the population of Caruthersville transformed instantly into unbridled rage and fury. 
Everyone brimmed with anger, bloodlust coloring their cheeks.  From a kindly crooked elderly woman whose head resembled a large dried apple to Torley Wixson, a nearly four hundred pound brute of a man that Frost recognized, the foreman of the Caruthersville Foundry who, ten years ago, bragged he could juggle three I-beams with his massively muscled arms.  All of them only wanted one thing now.   Vengeance.

“Hell ‘n’ Icicles!” Frost swore as a sea of humanity flooded toward him.  He tried to keep his eyes on the contingent of uniforms, still moving like a small juggernaut toward him, but was distracted by an entire citizenry descending upon him.

With no intention to fight those he knew to be good people, rightfully hurt and angry, Jack spun deftly on his heels to beat a retreat, to descend deeper into the town and get his bearings.  If memory served, he knew where to go to await reinforcements. As he turned, however, he realized there was no escape.  The ocean of Ohioans had surrounded him, a lone island awaiting a hurricane of pain. 

Frost’s right hand slid into his black trench coat with practiced ease, his gloved fingers tickling the butt of the silver and red pistol nestled away in its shoulder holster.  As he gauged the coming onslaught, Jack decided none of the settings on the modified firearm developed by Saint’s own team of diminutive weapon smiths were right for this battle.   Lethal force was obviously out of the question and there were simply too many possible targets to make any of the other options successful, not to mention that there was no time to load or reload.  Not with the first wave of Caruthersville’s own bearing down on him.

Wixson was first, the mountain of muscle charging at Frost like a rabid mastiff.   Jack bent backward, his right hand dropping to the ground for support, to avoid Torley’s boulder like right fist.  Pivoting on his hand, Jack lashed out with a pointed kick to Wixson’s ankle, eliciting a howl of agony from the foundry worker.  Wasting no time, Frost leaped up, his entire body airborne, and whirled, his other foot catching Wixson on the chin.   The behemoth in a red plaid shirt and denim overalls groaned out loud and pitched backward into the wall of his fellow townsfolk, three of them crushed to the ground under his unconscious bulk.

“Apologies, friends,” Jack said, his words wasted as he landed on the snowy ground, once again crouched for a fight.   He’d not wanted to hit, much less knock out Wixson or any of the hundreds of people now desperate to beat him into the ground.  But that, Frost knew as he swerved to avoid a swinging walking stick and delivered two flat handed blows to people on each side of him, pushing them back, was a moot point.  He would have to fight this entire misguided town if they were to ever have peace.  And if he was to minister to another widow ever again as well. 

Jack ducked his shoulder and bolted forward, his back to the courthouse.  He knew no help lay for him in that direction, only Mayor Plumley and the militant marchers.  One, two, three people gave way to his rush ahead, lungs expelling breath and curses as he ran over them.   The trick was not to throw punches or kick anymore than necessary.   These weren’t gangsters or minions of madmen, Jack kept telling himself as he shrugged off grabbing hands and ducked smashing blows.  These were housewives, teachers, storeowners, and farmers.  Distraught parents who weren’t about to lose the blessing they’d just somehow magically received. 

A heavy boot rocketed into Jack’s midsection, bending him over, every breath in his body vomiting outward in a cloud of frigid vapor.  Before he could right himself, innumerable arms snaked around his own, jerking him up off the ground.  Bodies pressed against Frost, the pungent mixed fragrance of sweat, perfume, and Christmas spices nearly overwhelming him as men and women hit him, buffeting him back and forth.  

Feeling himself being jostled into the air and turned horizontally, held above the heads of his captors, Jack weighed his options quickly.  The instincts of the man he must have been before Saint freed him from his icy prison, for they had been with him since that day, nagged him, telling him that the identities of those against him did not matter.  They were his enemies and for that they deserved only to die.  Fighting those innate urges, Jack’s mind hurriedly moved to what he had learned in his new life.  Not simply philosophies concerning justice and doing right and preserving life at all cost, but more importantly, ways to fight, to defend oneself when necessary.

Jack knew that he could free himself as he was pulled back down into the morass of limbs, voices of all pitches assaulting his ears with epithets like ‘Liar!’ and ‘Child thief!’  Bending his head forward and shielding his face as best he could, he contemplated exactly how to do that, using a skill learned from Saint himself, one that he’d consciously not yet used this day.  Strength every human could tap, but not many knew how to.  Muscular manipulation.

“Your body is your own.”  That mantra repeated over and over in Jack’s head as he kicked out gently, just to push people back from him, and  then pulled his legs up against his chest.  Less of a ball, more of a coiled spring of flesh and bone.  “As your own,” Saint’s voice continued to play in his thoughts, “it is the machine.  Your mind is the power.  Your mind makes your heart beat, your blood boil, your stomach rumble.   Nothing in your body can work independent of your mind.  Every cell, every iota you consist of, has to bend to the power of your mind.  Even your muscles.”

Blow after blow hammered down on Jack Frost’s back.  His hands cradled his face as he lay in the snow, his body trembling.  Not from cold or fear or even pain, but from sheer, complete, total concentration.   Every muscle in his body tightened because his mind told it to.  When a punch crashed into his left side, his muscles took the brunt, tightening like steel.  A high heeled shoe kicked his left shoulder, its toe collapsing against what might as well have been granite.  The assault on Jack Frost continued unabated, everyone around him taking their shot at the man rolled up at their feet.  None of them noticed the tremor rocking his body, just barely contained, until the right moment.

“Pick him up!” Someone demanded.  “Make him look at those he couldn’t save!” a woman derided.  “Filthy charlatan!” yet another abuser raved. 

Rough hands grasped hold of Frosts’s shoulders and ankles, trying to again yank him from the ground.  Someone rumbled between curses that he was ‘heavy as an anvil now’ and even more people pushed in on him, their hands and arms lent to help.  His body still in an odd fetal position, the throng managed to get him an inch into the air.  “He’s shaking,” a tenor voice with the rasp of a smoker chided, “quakin’ in those fancy duds of his.”  Again, new hands and legs entered the exercise, determined to lift their prisoner to whatever doom awaited him.

“Wait!”  A fence rail of a man, his long twig like fingers tangled in Jack’s hair, shouted.  “He’s sayin’ something!  The iceman talks!”  Leaning a rather exaggerated ear closer to Jack’s head, his face still hidden in his hands, the gangly man smirked, “What is it, iceman?  What do you have to say for yourself?”

“I’m sorry,” Jack Frost whispered sincerely.

Bodies erupted backwards in all directions as Frost unfurled his body suddenly.  Just as Saint had taught him, Jack had focused all his energy into every sinew of his being, tightening them, building up tension from the white haired top of his head to the bottom of his feet.  And he’d held it, restrained it, letting it mount until every muscle in his body threatened to tear out of his skin.  When the crowd was triple what it had been when he initially went down, Jack Frost simply stopped focusing.  He let go.

Although there was no thundering rumble, it was an explosion nonetheless.  Men and women cried and swore as they were thrown backwards.  Dirt and snow filled the air in small clouds as Frost slammed hard back onto the ground, so much energy released that he now stood in a hole, a small furrow dug out around his feet.  Again ready to fight, Jack Frost stood, nearly fifty of Caruthersville’s own either unconscious or senseless on the ground, all courtesy of the full body punch Frost had just delivered. 

Jack looked around, his eyes saddened by what he’d been forced to do.  Saint and the others would understand, that was of no concern.  But, as he looked at the men and women laying on the ground around him, and those beyond the dazed and confused, still standing, but staring in disbelief, he felt them.  Their grief.  Their anguish.  Emotions that stirred something in Jack, something from the man he once was, a man he still didn’t know.

“Now,” Jack shouted, his words sharp and quick, “if you’re all ready to listen-“

Frost’s own words froze in his throat as something filled his ears.  Something he’d not heard in ten long years and that no one else around him seemed to hear.  Except the poker faced, emotionless men and women in uniforms, their heads nodding in unison as they marched through the crowd toward Frost.

It was music.

Friday, December 21, 2012


Continuing its serialization of Tommy Hancock's THE ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS SAINT featuring Santa Claus and company viewed through a Pulpy prism, Pro Se Productions proudly presents Day 4 of this novella, featuring stunning art work by David L. Russell!

Logo by Perry Constantine


Jack Frost hated surprises.

He’d despised the phenomenon of being caught unawares vehemently from the first time he’d opened his eyes.  Not birth mind you, Jack had no memories of that.  Or childhood.  Or much of anything before the pale white lids hiding his nearly translucent blue eyes fluttered and opened back in 1890. His entire body drenched in freezing water, remnants of the spit of ice he’d somehow been frozen in clinging to his skin like barnacles on a ship hull.  The array of faces he on his back found himself staring up at had been a rather pleasant surprise for his first one. What followed, however, was as far from pleasant as he was from his true origins.

There were many things Jack did not know, even to this day.  Who he actually was or why he’d been in the ice or how he’d ended up dressed in the garb of a Colonial American soldier.  He had no understanding of how people he’d met, even on that first day, had memories of meeting someone like him, name, face and all, in the past, but someone altogether different in other ways.  A whirlwind of confusion and conundrums, that’s what Nicholas Saint had called it after chasing Jack halfway around the world.   Through warzones, bars, and nearly literal hellholes, Saint had pursued Jack, a man lost in a world with only a land deed shoved in his pocket that gave him his name and a single memory that that name was indeed his.  As hard as Jack pushed in that first year of living again in a world he neither wanted nor remembered, Nicholas Saint fought just as hard to keep him alive.  To make him want to live.  And to give him purpose.  That had impressed…and surprised Jack.  Enough that he threw what little lot he had in with Saint and Bette and even that crotchety old sprig of aggravation and irritation, Hieronymus Virginia, among others.  

So, Frost mused as he pulled the 1932 Phaeton Touring Car into Caruthersville, apparently not all surprises were patently evil. 

The one he’d received just a few hours ago, however, was at the least disconcerting and inconvenient.   After a long day in New York City of bringing orphans as much joy as a blue eyed gentleman with hair and skin the color of pure snow bearing handcrafted toys could, Jack had decided to enjoy the company of others in need.  Particularly a rather young, extremely intriguing widow, her dear departed husband lost in a plane crash somewhere over Africa.  And enjoying his evening with her he was indeed doing when the rather unique, exquisite watch that adorned his wrist began to hum, the crystalline face of the timepiece glowing a bright white.  Excusing himself from the widow’s embrace, knowing that she’d be tasting the strange coolness of his pallid lips on her cherry red cupid’s bow mouth for hours, Frost cursed his bad luck, renewed his hatred for unexpected interruptions, and excused himself.  

What he learned when he reached the street and used the pine cone shaped device Bette had given him to contact the Village via radio only added fire to Jack’s thoughts on revelations and bombshells.  It also pushed him as if the Devil himself were on his heels to the nearest air strip.  One of the thousands around the world that dropped everything when someone dropped the name ‘Nicholas Saint.’

Jack saw the Caruthersville Court House rise in front of him as he drove into the downtown area.  He remembered the last time he’d been in this rather nice, humble little town.  The last time they’d all been there.  The day the children vanished.

Wary in part because it was his nature to be so, but also keenly aware that he was one of a handful whose rather unique face would not be welcome in Caruthersville, Jack turned right onto a side street before actually breaching the town square.    Caruthers Park spread out on his left and Jack pulled the car into the graveled parking lot there and killed the motor. 

He’d picked up the Phaeton at the T. Nash Auto Garage in Cleveland.   Another benefit of working with a man like Saint was the ability he had to create a whole chain of garages that wound its way across the United States just so he, Jack, and others would always have a place to go and acquire transportation of the four wheeled variety.  He’d enjoyed the trip to town in the Phaeton, its convertible ragtop down, the crisp winter air teasing Jack’s skin.   Nothing felt better to Jack Frost than the cold, not because he particularly remembered always liking it, but more to do with some sort of response to being encased in ice like Nature’s own museum display for Providence knows how long.

Climbing out of the car, Jack took a moment to absorb the surroundings.  He shoved his black gloved hands into the deep pockets of the pitch black trench coat he wore over a tailor made suit, fedora, vest and tie included, of the same color.   Bette Saint had only told him that the only townsperson in Caruthersville that hadn’t wished them dead ten years ago had used a radio device Nicholas had left with helpers often, one far beyond its time and of his own invention, and had sent a ‘jingle’, a summons for help.  He was closest, Bette had explained, and therefore reconnaissance and information gathering fell to him until Nicholas arrived.  Jack was content with that, knowing that he’d be far more effective than that filthy dolt Peter. So, he was in town now and, as always with towns like this one, the best place to start would of course be the heart of the settlement.   Main Street.

 A wave of unwanted nostalgia washed over him like dirty water as he walked deeper into the tiny wooded enclave near the heart of the city.   He’d almost forgotten, he realized, that Caruthers Park was where he and the others had retreated to that day.  The last time they were in Caruthersville.  As he passed the cobblestone circle at the center of the park ringed with wrought iron park benches, Frost closed his eyes.  He could still see them, Nick, Bette, himself…all of them back to back and surrounded by those benches.  And scores of murderous, mindless children.

It was early so it was no surprise that he was alone in the park.  What did startle Jack a bit, though, was the sight that greeted him when he exited the manmade thicket onto Main Street, just across the street from the Courthouse.

People.   Not early morning shoppers rushing for that last Christmas gift or modern Bob Cratchitts desperate to get to work to please their versions of Scrooge.  A crowd, a massive throng filling the yard and steps and even the street in front of and around the courthouse.  Faces mingling together into a blanket of sparkling eyes and odd smiles, all looking the general direction of the courthouse steps, at the bottom.   All adult faces, Jack Frost sadly noted.

Atop the stairs was a face Jack recognized.  Mayor P. Paul Plumley, a man whose appearance fit his name.  Pear shaped, Plumley’s egg like head sat on no obvious neck, just seemingly buffeted back and forth between two meaty shoulders.  His wide bulbous blue eyes perched on chubby cheeks, his mouth turned up into a wild grin.  Four strands of faded red hair wrestled each other atop his speckled pate as the wind teased his scalp.   Something was off, Jack knew it right away, about the Mayor.  It was his clothes.   A tacky red and green plaid suit, loud enough to serve as a Christmas tree in any department store.   The suit Plumley wore ten years ago.  The one he swore he’d never wear again the day that every citizen except one swore off Christmas forever. 

Feeling an odd sensation of sudden warmth on the back of his neck, his own personal warning system, Jack walked toward the courthouse.  He gently pulled his right hand from his coat pocket and tugged his fedora down to hide his face more.  He then slid his black gloved hand inside his coat.   It was an instinctive reflex anytime a situation felt out of the ordinary.   And this one qualified even more as Jack looked around, his eyes taking in the Main Street businesses, the streets, everything.   Empty.  No cars at all.  No one crowding the stoop or filling the oversized spittoon outside Garrett’s Barber Pole or bustling into McAfee’s Family Discount Store.   No one anywhere else other than the courthouse.  Most of the population of Caruthersville flooded about the courthouse, a sea of murmuring humanity.

“-day would never come,” whined Mayor Plumley as Jack reached the outer edge of attentive listeners, all eyes front.  “When we, nearly a decade ago to the day, watched as our children were spirited away!  Our hearts were shattered, our lives destroyed, our town forever changed!  And all because of Christmas!” Jack winced at the barbs he knew were coming next and suddenly felt very conspicuous.  Plumley did not disappoint.

“I know many of us,” he woefully whimpered, ”blame ourselves for placing our faith in people who claim to represent hope, good and purity only to learn that they were the very reason tragedy struck our humble village!” Rumbles rose from the gathered citizens.  “I will admit that even I did not believe until the end, until our very future marched into nothingness before our eyes, that our supposed saviors were indeed the reason for our despair!”  Plumley’s eyes darted to whatever was at the base of the steps below him and Jack noticed his smile grew even wider and more intense.  “And now,” his voice became filled with genuine emotion, strangled with tears, “as if a present for our willingness to shun the lie of Christmas, to punish those who truly caused our great sadness, our children have returned!”

Plumley’s impassioned words nearly brought Jack Frost leaping into the crowd to unravel the mystery, his mind struggling to grasp what he’d heard.  That impulse was quelled, however, more by the roiling assembly of cheering and clapping onlookers pushing back toward him than by any sense on his part.    The crowd parted, opening up a view of the snow covered foot of the courthouse steps, so everyone could see what Plumley, still talking, was touting as ‘a true miracle’.  And what Jack Frost saw chilled even his icy blood.

Lined up in four rows stood people in gray militaristic uniforms in front of the courthouse steps.  Young men and women, some probably not even over eighteen yet Jack estimated.  Some skinny, some muscular, some with short hair, some with long.  But all clothed in the same style of uniform and all wearing a blank, almost doll like expression on their faces.  Faces that even ten years later Jack Frost recognized, primarily because he saw them almost every time he slept, haunting his nightmares.

And every single of one of them stared straight ahead, their glazed eyes focused, staring straight ahead as they lifted their arms, each one extending an accusing finger.  All aimed at him.

Jack Frost hated surprises. 


Amazing Stories, the world's first science fiction magazine, opens for Beta Testing of Phase 1 on Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013.

Hancock included as One of Fifty+ Writers Sign On to provide genre-related content!

Experimenter Publishing Company
Hillsboro, NH
December 21, 2012


Pro Se Productions Partner and Editor-in-Chief Tommy Hancock announced today that he along with more than 50 other writers from around the blogosphere would help launch the Beta Test of Phase 1 of the return of Amazing Stories on Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013!

Amazing Stories was the world's first science fiction magazine.  Published by Hugo Gernsback, the Father of Science Fiction, the magazine created the genre's first home and was instrumental in helping to establish science fiction fandom – the fandom from which all other fandoms have evolved.

The magazine itself ceased publication in 2005; in 2008 the new publisher, Steve Davidson, discovered that the trademarks had lapsed and applied for them.  The marks were finally granted in 2011.

Phase 1 introduces the social networking aspects of the site and the Blog Team, more than 50 authors, artists, collectors, editors, pod casters, designers and bloggers who will address 14 different subjects on a regular basis – SF, Fantasy & Horror literature, anime, gaming, film, television, the visual arts, audio works, the pulps, comics, fandom, science and publishing. 

Hancock stated, "Of course, with my interest in Pulps, a lot of my focus will be there, both Classic and New.   But I'll also cover a few other topics salient to Pop Culture that interests me, including old time radio, penny dreadfuls and dime novels, adaptations of classics, and more."

Those wishing to participate in the Beta Test should request an invite by emailing the publisher, Steve Davidson.

Thursday, December 20, 2012



Logo by Perry Constantine


“Now, Hieronymus,” chided the mountain of a man, his frame of six feet four inches and nearly three hundred hardened pounds casting a shadow over his oldest friend, “It’s unlike you to be vague.”

“Only as unlikely, Nicholas Saint,” grated Hieronymus Virginia, his neck craned nearly in a U shape to see the face above him, “as it is for one of your miracle medical treatments to render some unique mutation, some strange variation on what should be!”  Realizing his voice had gone from natural gravel to frustrated screech, Hieronymus ran his right hand through what little hair he had.  “I’m sorry, Nicholas,” he nearly whispered, his voice returning to its usual scratch, “truly I am.   It’s just very nearly Christmas and other than my rounds here, Oedipus Sidney’s broken his arm again trying to improve the cargo loader for the sled.  And…”

“Relax, Hi,” he gently lay a ham of a hand on Virginia’s shoulder, a rather delicate looking shoulder that in actuality was as strong as an iron bar.  “Regardless of the season, you are the hardest working body in the Village.  And even you have to flail and fluster at times.  So,” changing subjects with a chuckle as he raised his hand to his face, his fingers teasing the closely trimmed white beard nuzzling his chin, “our boy’s developed something new, has he?  I’ll wager,” he bet as he crossed the barn toward the stall Hieronymus had exited, “that it has to do with the new salve I gave you to use.”

Hieronymus nodded.  “Yes, quite.  I’m not certain if its due to any one factor, but the mixture of genetic material from anglerfish and fireflies-

“Yes,” Nicholas Saint interrupted, his hand grasping the stall door, “I was afraid something might be off.  But the effect on damaged cells blended with that bioluminescent material on ruptured organs could not be ignored.”

“Oh,” Hieronymus Virginia laughed, “it was effective, true enough, set the tear in his liver right to healing almost immediately.  But,” he chortled, “it also made sure this brute of a fellow won’t ever be ignored again, either.”

Nicholas Saint stood in the gateway of the spacious stall and looked at the infarmary’s sole occupant.  Two of Hieronymus’ tribesmen had found the creature horribly wounded and dying on a jagged boulder of ice a mile beyond the Village eight days prior.  No one could explain how the bleeding beast ended up in the midst of the Arctic Ocean, but one thing had been clear.  It had fought whatever attacked it with every ounce of strength and bravery an animal, or human for that matter, could muster.  His antlers, once as wide and beautiful a rack as any, were scratched and scarred, three points broken off, not as if they’d been stuck in something and broken, but as if they’d been ripped away.   Saint and Hieronymus both spent three solid days tending the creature, treating open wounds, performing three surgeries, and applying Saint’s vast knowledge of medicine and genetics, two of the fourteen fields he was the world’s leading expert in, even though that fact was unknown to almost every single person on the planet.  

Now, thanks to that as well as the genetically engineered restorative feed and fluid the patient had been consuming, the magnificent reindeer stood just a few feet away from Saint, five feet tall at its shoulder. Even though bare spots dotted its hide, hints of a healthy sheen could be seen in its lustrous, thick coat.  Strips of leather soaked in liniment that would prompt bone growth bound both antlers.    The animal before Nicholas Saint, just barely alive days before, turned to look at the man to whom it owed its life.

And its face glowed.  Its long muzzle, nose, eyes all glowed.  Bright red light poured off the deer’s head, like crimson flickers of flame.

A whistle escaped from Nicholas Saint’s lips, a whistle that Hieronymus heard as a lilting word.  It was one of the many eccentricities associated with the man named Saint, one that he actually had no control of.  Whenever his mind was engaged in a challenge, one that immediately defied explanation or held no answer, Nicholas would often whistle.  Somehow, unexplainable even by himself, those whistles, tune and all, would be clearly understood by those in the room around him.  And this oddity was one many were glad to hear because when Saint whistled at a challenge or especially when in trouble, that meant that he’d already happened on how to work, think, or fight his way out of it.

The whistle this time said one word, one of Saint’s favorite expressions.  “Intriguing.”

Hieronymus harrumphed.  “Such a master of understatement you are, Mister Saint.”

Ignoring the jibe, Saint approached the deer, his right hand out, palm flat facing the animal.  “Easy, lad,” Saint murmured soothingly.  “Nick’s not going to hurt a single shining hair on your head.”

“You’ll find,” Hieronymus said,  “that the light emanating from the creature gives off absolutely no radiant heat.  It is illumination, pure and simple.”  Bemused, Virginia raised an average white eyebrow as Saint’s hand brushed the deer’s muzzle, the animal only retreating by a step, then nuzzling against the offered appendage.  Saint had that effect on nearly every animal Hieronymus had ever seen him encounter, even beasts many believed to not be of this planet or plane.   Nicholas Saint usually never knew an enemy when it came to animals and children.

Saint patted the deer as it if were an antlered Saint Bernard and the animal responded in kind, first rubbing its head against Saint’s open hand, then gently pushing beyond that and attempting to burrow against his chest.  Saint chuckled, his unusual laugh rumbling up from his diaphragm and out into the open in a cheery burst.   “My, friendly lad, aren’t you?  Yes, you’ll make a nice addition to the paddock.   A nice addition indeed.”

“Need I remind you,” Hieronymus warned in the fatherly tone he sometimes took with his benefactor and best friend, “that you already have a full stable and more than enough for the nearly useless runs you make with the eight you have now.”

“Yes, yes,” Saint countered, “this I know.  But no matter. We won’t introduce him to the paddock until you’re sure he’s ready. He’ll need all his strength to deal with the games reindeer play.”

“Besides, “Virginia continued on as if Saint had never spoken, “there’s still tests to be ran on this...unique feature.  It seems restricted to the head when he is awake but he literally glows from nip to noggin when he sleeps.”  Fatherly gave way to learned man of science, even though the only schooling Hieronymus had ever received had been on the ice floe he currently called home.   “That indicates that when he is aware, he has some sort of control over it.  With time, he could possibly be taught to isolate it even more or even eliminate-“

“No,” Saint said sternly as he looked at Hieronymus, his hand still petting the deer, “there will be no eliminating it.   So much gets taken away that is special in the world today, Hieronymus.  This lad here, he’s special, he has something no other of his species has.  We won’t be taking that away unless it proves harmful to him.  So run the standard battery of examinations. “  He looked back at the magnificent specimen before him, its red light around its face already lessened, centered more around its muzzle now.  “But we’ll not be seeking a cure for this phenomenon, not just yet.”

Hieronymus Virginia raised a wizened hand and opened thin lips to retort, but a blast of static noise emanating from something resembling a brass French horn attached to the pinnacle of the barn roof above them gave him stay.   Both men turned their attention to the speaker, the deer raising its head in curiosity as well.  They waited as the static died away, a buzzing silence of three or so seconds, then an audible click.  

“Nick,” the lilting alto voice called from the speaker, “Nick, are you in there?”

Saint smiled even though the voice he thrilled to every day seemed tense, urgent.  Hearing her speak, just hearing her breathe always made the man known to many as ‘Earth’s Best Hope’ warm inside like a schoolboy enamored with the girl next door.  “Yes Bette,” Saint replied, shouting out of habit even though he knew the receivers hidden in the barn walls would pick his voice up clearly, “Just checking up on-“

“Nick,” the single word cracked like a terse whip, capturing his full attention, “We just received a Jingle.  From one of the Helpers.  Top priority.”

Saint nodded, even though she couldn’t see him, and as he was wont to do, placed his right index finger to the tip of his nose.  This indicated to all around him that he was processing, that he had instantly gone into a sort of deep thought, a ‘Miracle Moment’ his wife called it. 

“A helper?” Hieronymus said tentatively.   That was a designation he’d not heard in-he hesitated, his broad forehead furrowed in calculation- nine years, 11 months and 21 days.  Not that the people in all walks of life around the world that Saint had once commissioned to assist him in his protection of the world, many of them for their entire lifetimes and some even passing it onto their children, had been told to stand down or were no longer needed.   But the threats to the world and the injustices meted out in the last decade seemed tamer, less intense than they had…before She died.  Saint and his close associates, Hieronymus included, had been able to deal with the occasional mad scientist, power hungry ruler, or alleged otherworldly presence that popped up. 

The slight man’s entire frame trembled with something akin to fear, respect, and disgust at the thought of Her and those who gathered at her feet, clung to her cloak tails.   That had been the reason the Helpers had been commissioned originally, well back into the last century, to deal with the insidious, clever way that She and her minions worked their wicked ways.   It was child’s play-no pun intended- to spread Helpers around the globe, having them work in the guise of imitators, men and women costuming themselves in Saint’s publicized image,  standing on street corners, working in department stores and schools, and doing good.  In more ways than anyone ever knew.

“Understood,” Saint said.  His voice was different, the resonant timbre the same, but a certain chill had crept into it.  An edge, hard and razor sharp. Ready for anything.  “I’m on my way back to the Workshop now.”

“Nick,” Bette said, her voice still insistent, but tinged with a hint of sadness.  “The Jingle.  It came from Ohio.  Caruthersville.”

The ruddy, healthy red of Nicholas Saint’s cheeks paled for only a moment at the words from the speaker.  Memory ambushed him in broad daylight as it often did in his deepest dreams at the mention of the small picturesque town in Ohio.  Mothers shouting.  Fathers cursing.  A strangled mix of melody and notes in the air.  And not a child in sight.

Saint spoke as he charged out of the stall and across the infarmary.  “Who’s near Ohio, Bette?”

“Peter’s somewhere in the Midwest,” came the reply, “and then there’s Jack.   He’s in New York, helping orphans and…”she hesitated…“ministering to widows.”

Hieronymus harrumphed, trying to drive away his own feelings of unease.  “Whatever he does with defenseless widows can in no way be considered ‘ministering’.”

Again, Saint ignored his friend.  He was already gone at least in mind and spirit, beyond the infarmary, outside of the ice floe, boot deep in whatever horror he was on his way to face, whatever adventure was about to consume his life.   Hesitating at the barn door, he said, “Contact them both. Get them to Caruthersville.  I’ll take the Pogo and meet them there.”  He took a breath.  “And, Bette.  Tell them to be careful.  It’s not like everywhere else.  We’re not welcome in Caruthersville.  Especially so close to Christmas.”

“All right,” answered Bette, her voice softening.  “Be safe, Nicholas.”

Hearing the click of the radio transmitter going dead, Nicholas Saint glanced back over his shoulder, his eyes absent the twinkle that he was known for far and wide.   “Convene a Round Table, Hi.  Everyone in the Village attends.”

The diminutive man nodded, then said, “Even Krampus?”

Nicholas Saint nodded.  “Yes, everyone.   You and Bette make sure we’re ready.”

As somber as an undertaker, a position he’d often held in the past for his own people and fallen comrades, Hieronymus Virginia asked, “And even if we are, what then?”

“Pray,” Nicholas Saint said simply.  “Pray we don’t have to be.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Logo Designed by Perry Constantine


To the naked human eye, and by 1932 that had amounted to honestly maybe at the most eight people as far as the world at large knew, there was nothing at the North Pole.   Swirling torrents of snow, lashing out like tendrils from some unseen frozen beast at the waters of the Arctic Ocean.  Waves of water eternally fighting to cap and crest despite the frozen grip that sheets of ice, some possibly as old as the planet itself, held them in.  No great unseen mountain range laced the area popularized by explorers and adventurers who considered it the Holy Grail of expeditions.   No hidden plateaus harbored ancient life heated by some unknown source.  The North Pole was simply a dot on a map amidst a frozen ocean, horrible wintry storms, and masses of ice shifting and floating atop a fluid foundation, pushing and even sometimes crashing into one another.   To anyone flying over in an airship or unlucky enough to float far enough north for their sailing vessel to become icebound, The North Pole was barren of land and life. 

That is not to say that there were not wonders and beauties of nature to behold.  Descriptions made by men such as Peary, Byrd, and Amundsen filled the papers after each of their journeys northward, marvelous details about ice floes as long as the state of California and icebergs larger than the Rock of Gibraltar, rising and falling in the Ocean as if some terrible sea god were down below pitching them about.   And then, as in any area new to man’s musings, there were the oddities, formations that simply had no explanation, but were somehow accepted as appropriate for their location for that fact.   Like what some had referred to as ‘ice coves.’ 

Essentially ice floes fathoms thick beneath the water, ice coves sported massive frozen walls, rising high into the sky and some more than a hundred feet thick by most estimates.  Although most of them had a single edifice protruding like a frigid finger waving at the heavens, some floes had three or four walls, each one more than a hundred feet tall, and most of them leaning in on one another, forming a sort of pyramid or dome over whatever might lie inside.   One of Peary’s Inuit guides, Seeglo, told fantastic tales of entire lost tribes living within these coves, of things never witnessed by human eyes alive and sometimes squirming or even flying out of these icy enclaves.    But no reports ever came back of such things, from Inuit tribesmen or their Caucasian employers.

That might have been in part due to the fact that none of them ever went far enough to see what truly lay atop the Arctic Ocean nearest the Pole.    Amundsen, Ellsworth, and Nobile came very close in their fly over in 1926, but even from their vaulted view from the airship Norge, they were blind to the true mysteries the Pole held.  Blind in part because of how well  Nature always hides her own secrets, but also due to the fact that they, learned men they may have been, simply were not prepared for certain truths.

The largest floe by far in the entire region had either never been seen, though one could not understand how it would be missed, or more likely was lumped in with all  of its brethren, even though it was literally miles longer and its walls a good thirty stories high at the point they curved inward, sealing themselves into a sort of conical dome.  In terms of location, it floated atop the true northernmost point of the ball of mud, water, and humanity known as Earth and even in the years when it would be discovered, would simply be regarded as a natural wonder of the world, the largest decorative ice cube forever afloat in the cocktail that was the Arctic Ocean.  Some would even jokingly cast a name upon it  in scientific reports and academic journals in the mid and late 20th Century.  They would call it ‘Santa’s Village’ with a wink and tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Were those scientists and researchers ever to burrow in deep enough or by chance catch a whiff of smoke that would lead them to an egress, even a crack in the protective dome of ice over the floe, then they’d learn what very few people have.  They’d learn that even comments made in jest are actually sometimes fact.

In actuality, the floe was more an island of ice, its glacial roots running so deeply beneath the water’s surface that they scraped the ocean floor.  Its entire mass covered nearly thirty acres of water.  Surrounded by the emptiness of nearly constant winter and frigid ocean outside of it, the interior of the natural dome was nearly full to bursting.  Full of buildings of varying descriptions, from longhouses made of caribou hide draped over frames of bamboo imported from India to more traditional houses and out buildings that one might see on a Midwestern American farm or dotting the English countryside.  All of the buildings stood sentry around a central structure, one that owed something to various architectural influences, but was also as unique as the naturally hewn cove that hid it.

Clearly the largest structure within the ice bound compound, it served as equal parts central headquarters, production and manufacturing facility, and primary residence for the progenitor and manager of this clandestine operation.  Its appearance reflected its schizophrenic utility, the front façade being very much in the style of a Swiss Chalet.  Richly hued British Columbian red cedar logs crisscrossed atop one another .  Windows of hand blown glass, six on the first floor, three on the second and two on the third looked out at all before them like ever open eyes.   The forest green shingled roof ran the full length of the building, coming to a point just above the center of the structure.  Its length, nearly three hundred feet across from corner to corner, was the only oddity to the welcoming face put forth by this most extraordinary construction.   To hold what all truly lived, breathed, and happened within those walls, however, commanded enormous amounts of space.

The embrace of the red cedar logs continued beyond the façade, running the full length of the structure, nearly 500 feet.  Just behind the wooden walls, though, were sheets of steel riveted together to form an inner shell, a casing for the work and wonders that went on nearly year round.    Home to approximately thirty different souls at any given time, the living quarters resided in about the first third of the building.  Nearly all the rest of it, at least the first two stories left behind the homey scents of bread baking and the earthy colors of brown and crimson and emerald that hugged the walls and floors of the home, giving way to gun metal gray walls, work tables, and machinery of the strangest sort.  Large, massive constructs with claws, grapples, and other appendages, but not ran simply by an engine, not at all in some cases.  Each of these strange machines, regardless of size, had at least one egress in its hull, about four and a half feet tall, an egress where a man or woman stood, their hands and feet, and sometimes even their heads attached to the device in some way, its movements mimicking theirs as they moved.  Cutting wood, picking up completed projects, packaging them in brightly colored boxes of all sorts, and many other duties.

The tables lining the floor were full as well, full of half completed dolls and unvarnished pop gun barrels and so many other wonderful childlike items in some stage of creation.  And at these tables stood a cadre of workers, similar in stature and appearance to their companions manipulating the machines.   All of them short, most of them slender, and each of them wearing a sort of full body jumpsuit the color of fresh clover.  Some wore their hats of the same color with white trimming rimming their foreheads and covering their ears, but most did not when inside the workshop.  The air around them inside the building was kept a constant temperature thanks to the innovations of their benefactor, so wearing the hats when diligently working often left the diminutive people with a sheen of sweat coating their brown flesh, skin the color of burnished almonds.

And all of this, the work, the living, the entire function of this veritable city within a life size snow globe, all of it was overseen by one man.  Often down on the floor getting his hands dirty or watching and monitoring from his open aired center of operations that occupied the entire third floor, his quarters included, the genius behind what unfolded on this phenomenal glacier was in neither location on this particular day.  The man responsible not only for the unbelievable marvels that allowed nearly five hundred people to not only survive, but live comfortably in an ice mountain, but also for many innovations that those in the outside world had taken for granted for nearly a century, was not even in the ‘Workshop’ as everyone had come to call it.  He was outside, forty feet from the rear of the building walking slowly through the wide open red doors, the decorative white deer heads adorning their fronts hidden, of a circular red barn topped with a gray thatched roof.

“So,” he said, his jocular bass voice rumbling up softly from his broad chest as he entered, “how is the patient this morning?”

He stood, his large rugged hands on his hips, his well-defined arms jutting out to his sides.  Even beneath the thick red wool coat he traditionally wore and the white T-shirt under it, thick cords of muscle were evident, running and wrapping about his arms like iron links of chain.  His eyes, the blue of pure glistening water, took in the whole of the ‘infarmary’ as it had come to be known.  This barn served as the place where lost and injured animals found either on the few landmasses within a hundred miles of the Pole or on the journeys he and those within his charge sometimes made came to recover and heal, to live and survive if he and those he’d specially trained had anything to say about it.

Stalls lined the barn’s circular walls all the way around.  The large open area in the midst of the building was a mix match of hay bales, feed sacks full to brimming, and three long metallic tables for surgeries and, when nothing at all could save the hurt and injured, explorative autopsies.  His eyes did not dwell on the tables long, his least favorite part of the infarmary.  But they had been useful just a week prior, in saving the life of the barn’s sole animal occupant at this point.

“He’s fine,” came a raspy response to the question.   The wooden gate on a stall on the right slid open soundlessly and the owner of the gruff tone, a malady he’d had since he spoke his first words according to his family, stepped into the open.  He was shorter than most of his people, barely three and a half feet tall.  He was thinner, too, like a wizened pine fencepost with spindly legs and arms.  He wore the jumpsuit like his brethren did, but atop it sat a tailor-made white linen coat, much like any other doctor would wear.  His almost square head bore no cap and barely any hair atop it, simply a few wispy strands of snow white lying languidly in various directions.  

Carrying a leather bound book, he wrote notes in it hurriedly with a nubbin of a pencil as he crossed the floor toward the new arrival.  Making his final period with a flourish, he slammed the book shut as he walked, pencil somehow inside it, and gingerly dropped it on the second surgical table as he passed by.  “Recovering as the other strays of his kind that you managed to salvage did,” rattled the little man as he shuffled up to the larger man.   “Mostly, that is.”

Return for Part 2 of Chapter 2 Tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Pro Se Productions, a leading Publisher of New Pulp and Heroic Fiction, announces the release of a FREE online novella featuring a character that debuted from Pro Se in December 2011.

The Adventures of Nicholas Saint, created and written by Tommy Hancock, first appeared as a novella preview in Pro Se Presents #5 (December 2011).  This story takes the legend of Santa Claus and puts a decidedly Pulpy twist on the entire concept.   A long lived pioneer of many disciplines, most notably genetic science, Nicholas Saint protects the world from his outpost hidden on top of the globe.  Known as Santa Claus to generations- how this came about is as yet an untold story, but one Hancock insists will be shared-Saint uses that identity to not only spread charity once a year, but to defend the world from mad scientists, strange villains, eager despots and most notably, the most evil malevolence in the world, one that children all over the world know and adore.

"There are," Hancock states, "many a riff on Santa and his elves, Mrs. Claus, and so on.   I've always wondered, though, what Santa would look like if he were Pulped up and, as much as possible with such a story, he and his were brought into a more realistic setting-as realistic as the world of Hero Pulps can get and still preserve the essence of the legend, anyway.  Everything that we know to be Santa-and even things that we have forgotten that relate to the legend-are built into Nicholas Saint.  The chance to play, also, with another legendary pantheon of sorts- the bad guys of the tale- is a hoot, too.  I think Pulp fans will find much they like within 'The Adventures of Nicholas Saint' and we at Pro Se are more than glad to share it with them."

The debut novella finds Saint and his companions drawn to a small Ohio town, one that ten years earlier was the scene of tragedy and Saint's greatest personal failure.  Now, seemingly with a second chance, Saint returns to put right what was made wrong before, only to learn that horror and evil he thought vanquished may likely be alive and well and thirsty for his blood.

At least 2,000 words of the novella will be posted at from 12/18/12 through 12/31/12.   Early in 2013, the novella will be collected into a print volume with new material added and published by Pro Se Productions with a newly rendered cover by David L. Russell (A cover that will debut this week on

Featuring the cover of Pro Se Presents #5 designed and created by Sean E. Ali, Pro Se Productions gives you- THE ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS SAINT!

Prodigal Return

Harley Tyler clamped his calloused, work hardened hands over his rather delicately shaped ears as he ran, his bare nubs of nails digging into his leathered skin.  Even that reinforced by the big band bass drum pounding of his heart threatening to burst inside his chest didn’t drown out the music.   He dove into the tree lined alley between the Widow Cosgrove’s home and the Flannery Family abode, Mike Flannery still not back yet from his late morning milk deliveries.  As he clumsily crashed into the hardened dirt path, worn away years ago by children who no longer played anywhere in Caruthersville, he cast his fear riddled blue eyes skyward.  The bare dogwoods that the Widow had planted alongside her house back when she wasn’t widowed and the Flannery home didn’t yet exist seemed to glare down at Tyler, shaking their barren limbs at him.  Chastising him for even trying to run.

Tyler might have lain there on his back, captivated by his own troubled imagination, until his pursuers caught up to him and rent him from pillar to post had it not been for that blasted music.  It crept on the subtle winter breeze that haunted the small Ohio town from November clear into March each year, teasing its way into Harley Tyler’s head.   Not anything he would have ever called music before, Tyler considered as he clambered back up to his feet, his right one already dropping into a dead run as his left one struggled to fall in step. 

He exploded from between the two houses into the open and frantically looked left to right, trying to get his bearings in the only town he’d ever known.   One street over on Main, the stately granite County Courthouse loomed to his right, rising three full stories above the antebellum houses before him.   Plotting his course as he crossed the street between The Jenkins place and Molly’s Gingerbread Tea Room, once the regal Malone estate before the Great Crash touched even Caruthersville, Tyler tried to block out the murderous melody in his mind.   Will it away.  Ignore it.  Pray that it was simply the hallucination of a broken hearted old man.  But it wasn’t.  It was there.  Just like it had been ten years before.

The music carried no real tune, just discordant blasts and errant bleats of a horn thrown together haphazardly, one seeming to add power to another in an angry cadence.  But Harley Tyler knew the terrible power it held, the ensnaring enchantment it cast.  It was the backdrop of his nightmares for the last decade, the way it tangled itself in the wind and wafted across town.  How it made adults cringe yet made children smile and giggle.  And dance.  Children danced to it, their tiny feet shuffling and skipping, their hands in the air, twirling and spinning.  They danced to it because they couldn’t help it.  Even those strong enough to realize what was happening was wrong, like Harley’s own Jimmy, the ones who reached out with begging hands to their parents to hold on to them, to make them stop, simply could not resist.  At least, Harley thought desperately as he moved alongside the wall of the Tea Room pressing his angular body against the cold brickwork, it wouldn’t take any others.   There hadn’t been a child over the age of one year old in Caruthersville for the last ten years.

Glancing around the corner, his eyes searching for his destination, Tyler  heard what he sought before he saw it.  Faint, almost nonexistent, but there. His eyes caught up, finding the spot, two blocks past the courthouse to the right.  Traffic was light, after all it was an early December morning.  Too cold to rummage around for morning coffee at the local diner and the stores weren’t even open for Christmas shopping until ten.  He could make it, he was sure of it, even with the blasted music rising to a crescendo.  As if it somehow knew he was hearing something else.

Footfalls.  Behind him, trailing him like they had since before sunrise.  But also to both sides of him now.  Divide and conquer.  A new strategy.  Steps, heavy, deliberate, and in time with one another.  Moving, marching as one.  All dancing to that infernal music.  And all to keep him from his self appointed round.

Tyler lowered his head, ready to bolt like his grandfather’s angus Bull did the day Cousin Ian lost his right eye and his left boot nearly thirty years ago.  He leaped forward, his right hand instinctively clinging to his side, holding the only thing that meant anything to him now even closer to his body than his leather belt held it.   His feet never touched the ground as more than a dozen hands grappled him from behind.   Some clawed him like talons, others tangled in his thinning gray hair, one slapped him viciously across the mouth, ending the yell for help already rising in his throat.    He struggled as his pursuers, now his captors tugged and pulled on him, dragging him away from the street. Back toward the Tea Room.  And the old unused smoke house left over from the Malone years.  Harley Tyler moaned through the feminine fingers locked over his mouth.  The throng of men and women holding him hostage never made a sound more than breathing.  All he could hear was that hellish, horrible song.  Lowering his head in despair, Tyler knew that all hope was lost for Caruthersville.  And maybe the rest of the world.

As his eyelids fluttered in defeat, something suddenly shimmered in the corner of his eye.  A face.   Drawn, empty, expressionless, just like every single young face that first appeared hours ago outside of his farmhouse window, banging on the doors, shattering glass with their unfeeling fists.  But this one, this tow headed fair skinned face was not one he’d seen then.  He’d not seen it other than in fading photographs in ten years.  Ten years of regret, remorse, and soul killing loneliness.

“Ben?” Tyler garbled through the flesh and bone gag over his lips.  Turning his head as much as he could, he saw the young man again.  Hollow cheeks, sunken milky green eyes, a blank, vacuous stare.  But there was more.  A hodge podge line of freckles running over the bridge of his nose, the tell that he’d been his mother’s boy.  A slight hook shaped scar just above his upper lip where the setting hen clipped him when he was eight and curious enough to stick his head in the coop.  And the ears,  almost feminine shell like commas on the side of his nearly oblong head.  The same ears Harley saw every time he passed a mirror. 

Harley shook his head back and forth violently, pushing against the woman’s hand over his mouth.  Working his jaw up and down, he bit whatever finger he could get in his mouth.   The taste of blood filled his mouth as his teeth broke skin.  No yelling, no shrieking, just finally the release of the hand from over his face, as if it was simply the right reaction to a negative action, not someone about to bite her finger off.

“Ben!” Harley shouted, tears rimming his aged eyes.  “Ben, it’s me! Your father!”  As the desperate plea fell from his lips, Harley Tyler knew it would go unanswered.  Whatever had taken his son and all the other children over five away from Caruthersville ten years ago Christmas had also snatched from Ben and the others every ounce of personality and will power they’d ever had.   They were little more than fleshy puppets now, somehow Tyler sensed that.  Marionette soldiers being yanked around by someone.  And tied around their arms, legs, their very minds like a string nothing could break was that incessant melody. 

But the music was quieter in Harley Tyler’s head now.  It began fading when he discovered his son was one of the mindless multitude chasing him like hounds on a rabbit since he’d finished the letter concealed under his shirt and held tightly by his belt.   It was still there, more of an irritating buzzing than the droning of doom it had been.  But another sound replaced it, a more welcome one.  The only beacon Harley Tyler had left to follow.

The ringing of a bell.  Not a death knell like the funeral toll sounded for his beloved Rebecca three weeks after Ben was taken.   But lighter, almost a tinkle more than a peal.  Like jingle bells.

Turning his head to the right, Harley determined Ben was not one of the young people who had hold of him.  As he looked, he saw others he thought he recognized, but also something else.  Regardless of sex, size, or any other factor, each of his captors had two things in common.  The same glazed over eyes and lifeless faces that his son displayed.  And gray outfits, almost like military uniforms with muted purple epaulets on the shoulders and stripes of the same purple down the sides of the thick wool slacks. 

Knowing there was at least one or two people in this throng between he and his son, Harley Tyler tucked his chin against his chest, closed his eyes, and bunched his shoulders, tugging so hard that the two or three people holding him pressed a little closer against him.  Taking a breath so deep he felt its weight in his feet, Harley Tyler prayed silently that his son and Ben’s sainted mother would forgive him.  Then he erupted. 

Slinging himself backwards, Harley roared like a caged bear.  The crowd that had closed around him like a fist suddenly splintered, bodies falling all directions.  Nearly flat on his back, Tyler realized at least two, if not more of his attackers were beneath him.   Hoping Ben wasn’t one of them, Harley fought until both of his arms were raised up near his head.  Then with an echoing grunt, he shoved both arms bent at the elbow backwards.  His right elbow cracked against someone’s nose, cartilage breaking with a bloody squish.  The damage done by the left, knocking the breath out of someone under him, was not as satisfying, but proved sufficient.   Where there had seemed to be hundreds of arms and hands of iron before binding him, now nothing remained except still bodies wrapped in wool uniforms and the spell of the music they followed. 

Harley threw himself forward, then pushed his body upright and began running again, fighting the nearly overwhelming urge to stay and check on Ben, to force him away from this madness.  Knowing that would be pointless and would only result in his being captured again and likely killed, Harley Tyler crossed the street.  Like Lot’s wife, however, he was unable to resist and glanced back, never breaking pace.  Ben was gone, as were most of his companions.  The few that remained seemed disconnected, confused, unable to choose to retreat or give chase.  That didn’t matter to Harley.  He barreled beyond the court house, aimed like a bullet for the corner two blocks away.  And for the man ringing that bell.

As he passed Garret’s Barber Pole and Caruthersville’s only news kiosk,  Harley shouted at the man on the corner ringing the bell with one hand while holding a milk pail with the other.  He vowed that he’d never pick on Leon Jarvis again for dressing up and asking for donations for the poor, even though the entire town of Caruthersville hated him for it every December.  Harley ripped his shirt open as he ran, a single button flying in the air, and yanked the enveloped letter out into the open.  The man turned, the red pointed hat with the white fur brim sitting cockeyed on his large head nearly falling off.  He yanked the white bushy false beard hiding his pronounced jowls off his chin to say something when Tyler was less than twenty feet from him.

Harley Tyler never heard what Leon said.   The sound of a blade slicing air around him and then burying itself in his back was the last thing Harley Tyler ever heard.

“Harley!”  Leon Jarvis shrieked in his whiny alto timbre.  Dropping the bell and bucket, he rushed to Harley’s side as he fell face forward just ten feet away.  Looking about frantically for someone else to handle this, Leon, finding no one, fought a shudder at the sight of a gilded dagger in Tyler’s back and knelt beside him. 

Harley Tyler pushed himself up, leaning on his left arm he’d bent up under his body as he fell.  Barely able to support himself, he thrust his right arm into the air, nearly punching Leon in the face with the envelope clutched in his dying fingers.   “Get this…” Harley Tyler pleaded, his final thoughts exactly what they’d been the last ten years, of saving his son, “Get…this letter….to Santa Claus.”

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