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.