Tag Archives: Robert A. Hoyt

New Titles & Upcoming Schedule

Just a quick announcement to let you know we have some new titles available for purchase from our webstore as well as from Amazon.  They will also be available shortly from Barnes & Noble and other e-book outlets.

Cat’s Paw

by Robert A. Hoyt

($4.99)

The Mountain at The End Of The World upon which a bird sharpens its beak is down to where one more beak-wipe will eliminate it, and thus bring about the end of the universe. The only ones who can save us are… a bunch of stray cats.

This isn’t your children’s bedtime story.  It has been described as “Watership Down meets the Terminato”r as well as “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — on acid”.  Check it out!

 

Be Careful What You Ask For

by Amanda S. Green

($0.99)

All she’d ever wanted was to get out of the dead end town she’d lived in all her life.  Well, that and find a job that wasn’t as much of a dead end as the town.  Perhaps even find someone to share her life with.  Then Alexander Reed  walked back into her life just as suddenly as he’d walked out years before.  There’d been a time when she’d have done almost anything to be with him.  Now he offered her the chance to do exactly what she’d been wishing all her life.  But at what cost?

 

For Conspicuous Valor

by Darwin A. Garrison

($0.99)

In Conspicuous Valor. Darwin A. Garrison gives us a wonderful science fiction short story with a believable main character who would rather be doing anything but playing with her younger sister. Until, that is, her daydreaming results in danger for her baby brother and a well-deserved dressing down by her uncle. In an attempt to prove herself, she sneaks out the next morning, only to find herself hip-deep in trouble she’d never expected and having to find a way out to save not only herself but her family as well. Whether she has the strength and determination to do it is a question she has to answer — and she’s not sure she can.

 

In the Absence of Light

by Sarah A. Hoyt

($0.99)

In this short story, Sarah A. Hoyt takes us to a time when space travel has many of the same sort of tales that sea travel did several centuries ago. So these monsters really exist or are they just the figments of overly active imaginations? The crew and passengers of the the Amadryad will all too soon learn the answer to what happened to those who’d traveled on the the Tenebras, the first colony ship to Tau Centauri as well as learning if the drifters are real or nothing more than tales meant to frighten people so they don’t look too closely at what is really happening.

 

Night Shifted

by Kate Paulk

($0.99)

The unexpected is commonplace when you work the night shift at the local convenience store. But even that doesn’t prepare you for the Buffy-wanna be who walks through the door and all the trouble she brings with her.

 

The Blood Like Wine

by Sarah A. Hoyt

($0.99)

In the French revolution rivers of blood flowed. From the blood evil arose. Ancient evil engulfed Sylvie. Now in a twentieth century of fast cars and faster living, she must try to expiate evil and recapture her lost love.

 

Here is a list of our upcoming novels.  We will also be publishing at least two short stories a month.  So check our website often for new titles.

November 2011

 ConVent
Kate Paulk

ConVent is proof that Kate Paulk’s brain works in wonderfully mysterious ways.  If there is a plot further from her novel Impaler, I can’t think of it.  When I asked Kate last night to give me a quick synopsis of ConVent, she emailed this:  A sarcastic vampire, his werewolf best buddy, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. The “Save the world” department really messed it up this time. Just so you know, that pretty much sums up the book which is one of the most fun reads I’ve had in a very long time.

 

Quick Sand
C. S. Laurel

When a dying man rings his doorbell, secrets from Professor William Yates’ past rise up, which threaten his relationship with Brian Quick, his reputation and his life.  Caught in the quicksand of his past, he has to solve the murder to get free.

 

Quick Change Artist
C. S. Laurel

In this story, Professor William Yates’ gets more than he bargains for when he wakes up with a snake tattoo, a pierced tongue and an even bigger surprise. It turns out a serial rapist who answers his description EXCEPT for having those, has kidnapped him and made him match. Bill and Brian interview “ink artists” and various one night stands to find him.

 

December 2011

A Flaw in Her Magic
Sarah A. Hoyt

In A Flaw of Her Magic, Sarah A. Hoyt gives us her take on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. This time, Austen’s England is populated with weredragons, werewolves and magic.

 

Nocturnal Serenade
Amanda S. Green

In this sequel to Nocturnal Origins, Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

 

January 2012

Scytheman
Chris McMahon

Book 2 of the Jakirian Cycle, Chris’s wonderful fantasy, begun in The Calvanni.

 

Demise of Faith
Ellie Ferguson

Murder and dirty cops make for a very bad week for Liza Ashe as she tries to learn the truth about her father’s death.

 

February 2012

A Deadly Paws
Elise Hyatt

This is the first of the Orphan Kitten Mysteries by Hyatt.

A litter of kittens in a bag getting dropped on the lawn of any family can be expected to create some stir.  But when the litter is dropped on the devil strip of the Goldport, Colorado,home of a creatively eccentric family, what ensues is a murder investigation, a fun romp, and a new all absorbing passion for kitten rescue.

 

Skeletons in the Closet
Ellie Ferguson

Every family has its skeletons they’d prefer stayed hidden in that proverbial closet. That’s especially true when it comes to Lexie Smithson’s family. The only problem is, her family’s skeletons are all too real and they refuse to stay in the closet. It not only plays hell with her home life, but what’s a girl to do for a love life when those old bones start rattling and demanding attention?

 

March 2012

Sword of Arelion
J. T. Schall

Book 1 of a new fantasy series.

 

Hell Bound
Sarah A. Hoyt

Since Claudia Neri’s fiancé died under mysterious circumstances, she’s not been herself.  So when she starts seeing his ghost and getting signs he’s still around, she thinks she’s going insane.  The truth turns out to be far more distressing and will include and archangel, several ancient gods and blood sacrifice.

 

April 2012

Rye Crisp
Sarah A. Hoyt and Amanda S. Green

Alicia Rye learned long ago that life was never as simple or “normal” as those shows you see on TV. Divorced – and boy had her ego taken a beating over that. Not because she was divorced. No, because she’d been a fool to marry Howard for so many reasons – working to provide for herself and her cat, she finds her life once more intersecting that of her ex-husband as she investigates why his boss suddenly lit up like a Roman candle. As if that’s not enough, she has to deal with other, inherited troubles of the sort “normal” folks didn’t worry with – like the Vane, a ghost who has decided she’s his new best friend and who refuses to move on to the afterlife and a fire elemental that really wants to burn her bridges while she’s on them.

 

Musketeer’s Confessor
Sarah D’Almeida

Book 6 of the Musketeer’s Mystery series.

 

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New Titles Now Available

 

I love it when things work quicker than I planned.  We have three new short stories available today on Amazon and soon to be available from Barnes & Noble as well as our own webstore.  I’ll be honest, we figured it would take the other outlets until tomorrow to take the stories live, so they weren’t going up at Naked Reader until tomorrow…well, that’s changing and as soon as the tech guy has his coffee, he’ll be putting them up later this morning.  Any way, enough rambling.  Here are the new short stories and a list of other titles to expect in the next week.

Be Careful What You Wish For

by Amanda S. Green

($0.99)

All she’d ever wanted was to get out of the dead end town she’d lived in all her life. Well, that and find a job that wasn’t as much of a dead end as the town. Perhaps even find someone to share her life with. Then Alexander Reed walked back into her life just as suddenly as he’d walked out years before. There’d been a time when she’d have done almost anything to be with him. Now he offered her the chance to do exactly what she’d been wishing all her life. But at what cost?

The Blood Like Wine

by Sarah A. Hoyt

($0.99)

In the French revolution rivers of blood flowed. From the blood evil arose. Ancient evil engulfed Sylvie. Now in a twentieth century of fast cars and faster living, she must try to expiate evil and recapture her lost love.

Night Shifted

by Kate Paulk

($0.99)

The unexpected is commonplace when you work the night shift at the local convenience store. But even that doesn’t prepare you for the Buffy-wanna be who walks through the door and all the trouble she brings with her.

Coming later this next week are several more wonderful titles:

Cat’s Paw

by Robert A. Hoyt

Described as “Watership Down meets the Terminator” and the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — on acid”, this is by no means a children’s book.  Written by Robert when he was just 13 (and even then more mature than I’ll ever be), Cat’s Paw is one of those books you’ll laugh at even as you’re scratching your head and going back to see if you really did read what you think you just did.  You can find a snippet from it here.

For Conspicuous Valor

by Darwin Garrison

For Conspicuous Valor is a wonderful science fiction short story by Darwin.  He gives us a believable main character who would rather be doing anything but playing with her younger sister.  Until, that is, her daydreaming results in danger for her baby brother and a well-deserved dressing down by her uncle.  In an attempt to prove herself, she sneaks out the next morning, only to find herself hip-deep in trouble she’d never expected and having to find a way out to save not only herself but her family as well.  Whether she has the strength and determination to do it is a question she has to answer — and she’s not sure she can.

Absence of Light

by Sarah A. Hoyt

In this short story, Sarah takes us to a time when space travel has many of the same sort of tales that sea travel did several centuries ago.  So these monsters really exist or are they just the figments of overly active imaginations?  The crew and passengers of the the Amadryad will all too soon learn the answer to what happened to those who’d traveled on the the Tenebras, the first colony ship to Tau Centauri as well as learning if the drifters are real or nothing more than tales meant to frighten people so they don’t look too closely at what is really happening.

Check back next week for more news about our upcoming titles, including ConVent by Kate Paulk, a series of short stories by Dave Freer and much, much more.

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Cat’s Paw by Robert A. Hoyt — snippet 1

Robert Anson Hoyt is one of those writers other writers could easily hate.  He’s young and talented and, well, more than a little warped.  How else can you describe a writer who can think up such things as vampiric shopping carts (Bite One, Get One Free) or sentient dinosaurs who build spaceships or champion ecological causes (The Last Voice)?  Cat’s Paw, which NRP will be bringing out later this month, is Robert’s first novel.  It’s all about a drunken cat, a totally p-o’d bird with the unfortunate name of Happy and the end of the world.  And, no, this is not your child’s bedtime story.  This is a twisted and entertaining and, imo, wonderful piece of satire.  It also proves that cats really do rule over humans, we just haven’t figured it out yet!

Edited to add: As with all snippets, this is not the final edited form.  The final edited book is with the editor it is assigned to and with layout designer.

Extended Eternity

Many humans know there is a mountain at the end of the universe to which a bird flies every thousand years to sharpen its beak, until the end of the mountain comes, and thus the end of eternity.

What few know, however, is that a rather unimaginative power-that-once-was had, in a fit of originality, named the bird Happy.

Thusly, the bird also had the sort of monumental chip on its shoulder which could only come from spending several billion years with the name Happy. To add insult to injury, it was also the dullest grey bird in existence, which seemed to it a disgraceful state for a creature of its stature.

And, more the worse for humanity, is the entire fate of the universe was in its wings.

***

It was about half past noon at the end of the universe, and a sort of pale light which had no discernible source poured in, flowing into the air like warm butter in spongecake.

Happy was within sight of the mountain, which was not a very great distance, because, at this point, the mountain was little more than a pebble rooted in semi-existent turf. The Bird landed and, with great ceremony, bent over, scraping its beak until it sent up brilliant white sparks which died with little pops.

Somewhere behind Happy’s mad little red eyes, his brain could process the idea of the universe ending. That was fine by him. Overall, he hadn’t been too impressed with the universe to begin with, and several millennia had not improved his opinion.

Casually, the way one might realize they had forgotten to buy cabbage on their last trip to the market, he remembered his most recent master would be dead by now. It would be time to find another one.

Fortunately there were always creatures ready to provide shelter for an innocent-looking, harmless grey bird.

Not that this made him feel any better.

After five minutes, he was contented with his beak’s edge, and took a quick look at remainder of the mountain.

Only one more trip there. Just as well, my wings are getting tired, he thought. A malevolent little smile decorated his drab features. Serve them right to find themselves nonexistent. Humph…Happy.

At the end of the universe, something was listening — in an equal state of discontent. Anyone present would have been certain the wind was swearing.

The trip back would prove to be filled with extensive grudge-keeping on Happy’s part. And after so much time, The Bird was very good at keeping a grudge.

***

One thousand years later, Mr. Beaconcaw stepped out into the dawn rising over the city. Or at least what passed for dawn in his much befuddled mind. From a technical point of view, there were no stars; but then again, there was also no sun. However, the faint red traces at the horizon signaled the possibility of it rising, and a dyed-in-the-wool pigeon hobbyist is up before the chickens.

His penthouse apartment had a lovely rooftop loft. Mr. Beaconcaw was in possession of a fortune of the sort of undefined size which suggested he could buy a small city, so the landlords just sent him regular bills, thoughtfully adding their tip to it so he wouldn’t have to bother himself about it.

Fortunately, he never noticed, since he was also in possession of the sort of mind that would buy a small city, and then shortly thereafter misplace it somewhere among candy wrappers and stale bread.

He only really cared for his pigeons. Or anything vaguely pigeon-shaped.

His newest acquisition was an extremely boring bird in a cage which appeared to have been pieced together by a master rust craftsman. It seemed as old as time itself, and was his latest and most single-minded interest.

He walked slowly to each pigeon cage, sloshing coffee about as he attended to the various birds. Thanks to the caffeine-soaked food he owned some of the most alert pigeons in the country.

But he attended to the grey bird with extra care. As far as his failing eyesight could determine, he was looking at a solid grey pigeon, a valuable and beautiful bird.

As far as the bird was concerned, he was looking at a large absentminded lump of food.

Mr. Beaconcaw was now to the point where the bird took enough regular chunks out of him that it really had no need for other means of feed. But today he got a bitten finger for a different reason.

There was a clink of an opening cage, a piercing scream which woke up a city block, and a solid thud as a coffee cup hit the ground, falling down so straight not a drop was spilt.

A very disappointed pigeon hobbyist watched as far as his failing eyesight would allow as his new bird flew out of sight. For a second he nursed his bleeding finger. Then, bending, he picked up the coffee mug, took a sip of stone cold. pigeon feed infused coffee and then turned around and very quietly walked down the stairs, having forgotten why he was looking at the sky.

It was a lovely day for the universe to end.

***

Tom was spending what he considered to be a very productive morning in the dumpster behind Penne Pizza. Penne Pizza was not your classy eatery — cockroaches often turned it down over hygiene issues — but Tom was not a classy cat. It was a dumpy building which gave the impression of having been drawn in pencil and much smudged, with a cracked cement facade and a clientele list that was very similar to the college frat house assignments. Saturday night encased the building in a visible cloud of alcohol fumes.

It was this smell that attracted Tom, a disreputable-looking cat with a white mark on his chest that could have been a cravat. Granted, it would involve wishing very hard, and squinting harder.

Tom also liked beer. He didn’t think about why. He just told girl cats that he drank to forget.

But then, being as he had started drinking beer four weeks after birth in the dumpster his mother had birthed him in, he had forgotten just shy of everything.

Sometimes, when he finally passed out from a pleasant stream of alcohol, he was thankful for that much. The nightmares he had while inebriated were enough to make a fellow take to the bottle.

Carefully he worked through the beer bottles, his black and white fur acquiring a fine layer of dust, while Tom gained the interesting world view held by a cat who had long since departed sobriety.

It was eight ‘o’ clock, and the beginning commuters for Broxton, Colorado, were flooding the sidewalks.

It was Tom’s favorite time of day, since the rest of the feral cats around the city were hiding in dark corners catching oversized city rats — unless the rats happened to catch them first. This meant that Tom was free to enjoy the beer leftover from those in the city who had no reservations about drinking liquor in vast quantities.

Halfway through managing to stick his tongue completely into a lovely bottle of Guinness, Tom suddenly sensed a newcomer in his alley. He also caught on the newcomer was female.

Pulling his tongue out of the bottle, Tom looked her up and down. She was a beautiful white Persian, who looked like someone who had gotten lost in her mind and couldn’t find anyone to ask for directions.

She had a faux diamond collar, which as a cat either meant you were an indoor cat or you were a hard case; in the former, because your owner didn’t want you lost, and in the latter, so you would never run out of people who you could beat up over eyeballing you.

Tom immediately decided on indoor, if only because trying to imagine her in a fight was like imagining a small, dense rock as an Olympic sprinter, and then only if everyone else got a head start.

She was, however, definitely Tom’s type. Not that this was hard, since his type ranged between animate and inanimate objects, and — on one memorable occasion – both. But she was a cute, uncorrupted bit of fluff, a state which he hoped to change.

Tom abandoned the beer bottle. Sitting up, he made a half-hearted attempt to groom himself, up until the point as realized this was impossible.

Dizzily, he sidled up beside the girl cat.

In as sultry a manner as an extremely drunk cat could, he spoke.

“Hello kitten. Need some help?” His tone implied the word help had several contexts.

For a moment, she continued to look intensely at nothing, and then turned to acknowledge the extremely tipsy apparition standing in front of her train of thought.

“Do you know where the mountains are? I don’t see any out here.” Her question took Tom by surprise. He wasn’t used to geography anywhere near foreplay. The gears in his head ground to a nerve-racking full stop, as lust met trivia head on.

In the middle of the collision, another fact cut in. He was beginning to become aware of an unpleasant smell about her which he recognized all too well. It had a disappointing tone to it, best defined as a bucket of cold water in the face.

Edgily, he answered the question. “You would be referring to those big blue lumps in the distance, right?”

She looked in the direction of his outstretched paw, and brightened up.

“Oh, those aren’t very big; I’ll be there by the end of the day. I would have thought this business would be harder. Thank you.”

Something about the words “this business” had caused the bits of Tom’s brain which managed his love interests to tell him to cut his losses. His alcohol impaired nose almost had a fix on the smell he recognized. Against his better judgment, he forged on.

“You don’t get out much, do you? Mountains aren’t known for being small. They are, however, several miles away. Exactly why do you want to go there, anyway?” Suddenly, the smell clicked into place. His amorous ideas shattered painfully.

After a second he added, “And more importantly, are you pregnant?”

***

Eye sat on the carved throne at the head of the cave. Around it, ten foot thick columns supported a cavernous ceiling like giants holding up the sky. Carefully hewn statues of creatures not seen since the dawn of time ringed the cave, staring at the mass of followers.

Eye was ancient. The scars about his body bulged on layers of muscle unnatural for a cat of his age. His blood-ringed sightless eyes shone an unnerving red in the darkness. But then, vision would have been an unnecessary distraction to Eye, considering his impossibly accurate hearing.

He listened studiously to the chanting of his followers, bouncing off the walls of the cave, and forever telling him what the room looked like.

Indeed, it was better than sight — he could feel the room around him. He waited patiently for the hymn to end, and then rose to his feet in the silence.

It was a massive motion, like ten thousand mountain ranges rising in chorus.

He towered above his audience; easily four or five times the size of anyone present. When he spoke, his voice battered the walls like a cannon, hard and metallic; No trace of compassion tainted his speech.

He did not speak above a low growling whisper, but everyone heard him.

“Brethren. You all now know I destroyed the royal family, their proud King and their arrogant Queen, and put to death four of the royal princes with my army so they might no longer hinder us,” The crowd nodded, and a general sound of agreement, in a low, deep, growl echoed.

“One of my loyal followers has brought news of the fifth. Talon, step forward,” A beautiful Cornish Rex materialized out of the shadows behind him. Eye could sense the minute light reflecting off of the brown and black tortoiseshell fur that made her glinting golden eyes startling in the blackness.

He felt the air shift as she bowed deeply “You summoned me, lord?”

“What of the prince? Have you dealt with him as bidden?”

“Yes, my lord. With him, we have disposed of the last of the princes.”

“Well done, Talon. I shall see to a reward for you.” He turned his head to face his audience, and with a new passion began “And yet I see in your hearts that still are unsatisfied. Some among you even dare to doubt I deserve to rule above the royals…” He smiled.

It was an incredibly unpleasant smile, which chilled your heart and made you wish you had lived a much better life.

“…And say I should have dealt with them myself, to prove that I was worthy. To which, I reply that you needn’t wait any longer – the last of the royal line will come here, and I will eradicate them myself. When I am done, I will crush all those who dared to oppose me as well.”

He noted those who shuffled, weighed every echo of those who coughed, before finishing his speech. They would find guards waiting at their doors, and be taken publicly as an example.

“Rest assured, the noble lineage of the brothers will live, and with the end of the Royals, the bird which shall destroy the universe will fly unopposed. Our long awaited rise will come, and we shall recreate all things again as it pleases us,” He paused for a second. Time stood still, and the air itself seemed to be anticipating the next thing he would do. Finally, his voice came, more quietly than before.

“I dismiss you, Brothers — I shall summon you again, when the Royals arrive.” And he turned his back to the assembled congregation.

In a voice like the crack of doom, the cats replied “Hail Eye, Seventh Lord of the Bird.” It was an ancient tradition, and the age made itself felt as it was spoken. The sound echoed off the walls and returned joined with the harmonics of more ancient voices. As the last trace of resonance died the acolytes filed out swiftly and silently.

When the throne room was empty, Eye called out to his adviser.

“Beak, come to me.” From the shadow beside him stepped an incredibly old Manx cat, its flesh withered by the ravages of age and disease, its voice cracked and dusty.

“Lord?”

“I have listened carefully of the prince’s last hour. Keep an eye on the female whom the prince impregnated. Never let her out of your magic’s sight. I must know everything she does now. The prince has told her to return to the mountain — he didn’t know we had destroyed the palace. He’ll have sent her there for safekeeping, among the servants whom we killed. Tell me all that occurs.” He turned away as Beak departed.
“Talon, come.”

“My lord?”

“Despite what I said there is no use my fighting a pregnant female; at best it takes my time, and I doubt it will calm those in the order who are insufficiently loyal — I’m depending on you to arrange an accident for her. It must, however, look as though you were not involved, to avoid unnecessary upheaval. Beak will be most obliging in keeping you abreast of her movements. I can gloss it over in my court, and then I will put you to the task of destroying those disloyal elements. When we rebuild the world, you shall see your just reward.” Talon bowed deeply, touching the floor, and then disappeared into the inky blackness without a sound.

Eye sat alone, listening blindly in the darkness.

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Wow, We’re Almost One Year Old!

Later this month, NRP will celebrate it’s first anniversary.  Well, to be honest, it will be our first anniversary of going live.  We’d been in the planning stage for much longer.  But we’re excited and we’re hoping you are as well.  To help celebrate our birthday, we’ll be giving you, our readers, gifts so keep checking back for more details.  For now, I can tell you that we’ll be giving away some of our titles as well as discounting others.  There may be a contest or two for free copies of upcoming titles or for red-shirting in others.  Check back later this week and next for all the details.

I’m also pleased to announce that we will be publishing 12 more short stories by the wonderful Dave Freer.  We’ll be bringing out two short stories a month, starting in September.  The first will appear the week of September 5th, so mark your calendars.

Our titles this month run the gamut from science fiction to mystery to fantasy to the wildly imaginative worlds that exist in Robert A. Hoyt’s brain.  We have the first digital edition of Firefight, a novel by Thomas Easton first published in 1993.  Quicksand is the second novel in the Quick mystery series by C. S. Laurel.  Family Obligations is a fantasy short story by Stephen Simmons.  Cat’s Paw by Robert A. Hoyt is as funny as it satiric in this tale of a reluctant hero’s attempt to save the world.

Look for all of these titles the middle of the month.

And don’t forget to check back to see what sorts of surprises we have in store for you to celebrate our first anniversary.

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Christmas Campaign by Robert A. Hoyt

This first appeared a couple of years ago on Robert’s Live Journal.  That’s when I knew he’d be a force to reckon with and that I wanted him on my side…or in front of me, but never, ever behind me as you’ll soon understand.  Here is the first chapter of his version of The Twelve Days of Christmas.  I’ll post another chapter later today and daily until Christmas.

 

***

Christmas has traditionally been a time of innocence and goodwill. The sort of time which makes cherished childhood memories. A time of family, friends, and fun.
… and, for the nations of the world, a time of abject terror.

The North Pole has a dark side that the tourists never see. Now it has burst into the open, and the jolly old elf himself is holding the world hostage. Join Captain Mesner and his crack team of soldiers as they journey to the most inhospitable place on the face of the planet to battle an enemy most people don’t even believe exists. You may never see the season the same way again.

‘Twas the night after Christmas
And all through the pole
Not a creature was living
Not one single soul…

Chapter 1: Twelve Gunners Gunning

I pulled my snow camo parka strings tight against the freezing wind, slapped the rifle butt with a smart click, and swung it around behind me. My team looked at me expectantly, as I pulled out a projection map and shone it on the snow.

I shook my head. I hoped that the bird that flew us in here at least made it to the staging ship off the coast, but with half the pole to fly over, I wasn’t optimistic. This was a hell of a place to get stuck.

That latently pedophilic SOB had spotted us. Intelligence about being able to “fly in under radar” had been tripe. I’d lost three out of fourteen men before we’d even hit the ground.

Red and green flak. He’d shot at us with red and green flak. My whole life, I’d let a demented international blackmailer with a sense of humor like THAT deliver unsolicited gifts to my me and my kids. Was I nuts?

No. Like the rest of America, I hadn’t had a clue, of course. Well, now I had a chance to deliver a little gift to him. I held the map steady and pointed with my other hand.

“All right, gentlemen, we’re here. The compound is surrounded by primary defenses in the form of a stone wall, alarms, barbed wire, electricity, and minefields. And of course, the weather up here.” I said, grimacing into the freezing snow. “There’s a weak point in the defenses, however, right here.” I pointed at an area with a straight shot between two minefields and a thinner portion of wall. “The bad news is, we can expect heavy opposition, and we have to assume they know that we’re here right now. Since we can’t count on the element of surprise, we’re going to have to be all the more exact in our maneuvers.”

One of the men, Hawkins, raised his hand.

“Captain Mesner, sir? Where do we find Mr. Kringle?”

I stood up, turned off the map, and tucked it into my belt.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know. This compound is the only location that could be identified by recon, and it’s anyone’s best guess where Kristopher is actually hiding. We suspect that his recent threat of delivering bombs directly into people’s houses has caused an understandable tightening of procedure. Part of our job is to determine where he is now.” He nodded, unsatisfied but prepared.

“Any further questions?” I asked. No one spoke.

“All right, then, form up. Remember, failure is not an option here. If we don’t swing this, then a lot of innocent people are going to die, and the world infrastructure is going to be at this guy’s feet. Mr. Thyger?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Let’s knock.”

* * *

It was a beautiful explosion. George Thyger was the best demolitions man in the United States. He didn’t just blow things up. He did pyrotechnically assisted matter relocation as elegant as “Moonlight Sonata” and twice as loud. The elves were dumbfounded, for a moment, to find that a portion of their defensive wall had gone missing.

Unfortunately, it was a very short moment. All of the men fired their rifles, just as sixteen small hands went to an equal number of disproportionately large guns and incendiary devices of various stripes. Elves did not look the way I had expected. Stocky, muscular, rather like short bodybuilders, but armed to the teeth. It was a wonder that our bullets didn’t hit grenades and make them blow up.

And when the shooting subsided, it became clear that we had set off every single alarm apparently ever produced. The freezing air rang with a din of clangs and claxons so tremendous that it was an effort not to cover your ears. It choked out even the snow swept wind, redubbing the whole world to its own tune. I gave up on trying to shout above it, and waved the men forward.

I could still only see the dim suggestion of a building, but it was enough to judge direction. Thyger had blown a hole right where we needed it, but an advancing column of elves, already with guns drawn, said that our way through was quickly getting blocked. Those alarms must have honeycombed the building, too.

No time to think. There were minefields on both sides, probably in conflicting patterns so they would be harder to guess. One side almost certainly spelled doom. I dove to the right and fired. I hit the ground, unsure as to whether I was alive. The elf that I shot was not so lucky. His body fell to the left, into the minefield. At that moment, something sprang out of the ground to about head height. Something cubical, with a diabolical head on a spring.

And then exploded, sending a deadly ring of shrapnel through the air.

Jack in the Boxes. Bouncing Betty Jack in the Boxes. This HAD to be some kind of illness. I rolled back onto the path, threw my rifle onto my back, and drew my pistol. In close quarters combat, there was no point using ammunition I might need for long range later. More or less entirely by hand signal, I directed my men foreword. You don’t get a team of the best soldiers without them being bright enough not to get themselves killed in a minefield firefight.

Leaving a swath of jolly green corpses in our wake, we advanced into the compound. The blinding snow was starting to clear as we got closer. The building was made of crimson stone, Cut into high walls on all sides, forming a “U” shape. Each corner had a tower on it. Graile, the tech expert, spotted a an interface box nearby. He shot off the lock, pulled out a handheld computer and plugged in.

The alarm died, leaving behind just the blowing wind and a somewhat spooky echo.

“Alarm systems disabled, sir.” Graile said, giving me a signal, “But a silent alarm of some kind also seems to have gone off, and I can’t get a fix on where it connects.”

I nodded. So we could expect company. Well, that didn’t surprise me all that much. What worried me was that it had been far too easy to get in here. Even with Thyger, we couldn’t have broken into our OWN base that easily. The iron grip this guy had on world stock markets meant that he was neither underfunded or foolish, and he’d need to be one or the other for it to be this easy. We were missing something.

And as the thought finished forming, I saw a flicker of movement in a tower.

I didn’t even have time to scream a warning before Pearson dropped dead.

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