|Logo by Perry Constantine|
RUN, JACK, RUN
“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.