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 www.pulpmachine.blogspot.com 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 www.pulpmachine.blogspot.com).
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!
‘THE ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS SAINT’
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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