Posts Tagged ‘Blog Hop’

Love Bites 2020

Writing | Posted by David A Ludwig
Feb 14 2020

This time Katheryn Avila is hosting the seasonal Blog Hop, Love Bites 2020. I’m quite pleased to get my entry posted on Valentine’s Day, and wish you all a happy one!

With our choice of romance tropes as prompts, I’ve chosen to follow up on my Fantasy Fighter setting in 744 words–the events of the preceding New Years Revolution being particularly relevant to this scenario though there are no characters in common and either flash fiction should stand alone.

Brandon “Blades” Brown’s stainless-steel elevator plummeted past its fifth safety check point unimpeded. Thankfully he had grabbed a robotic gauntlet off his workbench before being driven into the elevator. He slammed the gauntlet into a corner and fired the grapple line through.

The stop was bruising, but at least they weren’t the paste in a steel sandwich. Hazuki Akiyama, the Japanese schoolgirl in the elevator with him, jumped off the ceiling and the walls to land back where she started unscathed.

Blades flexed his hand, looking past where his gauntlet was lodged in the wall to the doors of their off-kilter prison.

“Those aren’t opening any time soon.”

Hazuki sighed heavily, falling against the back wall and sliding to the floor. Either his calculated grapple shot or Hazuki’s ninja skills kept her movement from disturbing the dislodged elevator.

A pat down of his ripped t-shirt and jeans didn’t turn up any usable tech. He had his namesake roller blades on. Unfortunately, their limited arsenal wasn’t enough to take on the slime monster that chased Hazuki into his workshop, let alone the infamous Caldwell Keller backing it up.

“We’re in trouble,” Blades smiled at his pouty peer. “But I’m glad you came to me.”

Hazuki glared incisively back.

“I’d have ducked into an empty building if I could.”

“Oh, come on! You know I’m in love with you, right?”

“Hai, kimoi!” Hazuki nodded and scooted further from Blades with a disgusted grimace. “I’ve met your creepy robot of me.”

Blades slammed his head back into the wall and was relieved to find they did seem to be well wedged in the elevator shaft.

“That is not entirely my fault! I only designed her to fight like you, as a study, her personality…”

Hazuki’s harsh hiss hushed him. Blades changed topics.

“I guess Caldwell’s one of the bad guys now… Kinda regretting giving him security override privileges.”

Hazuki materialized a sparkling shuriken to roll over her fingers.

“He was always bad.”

“Right. Well, we need some way to get you out past him and the Biomass to real backup. The world needs you more, so I’ll buy time if I have to.”

Hazuki looked at him differently after that. Which made him feel more like he was about to die.

“Unless… Could your ninja magic disguise you as Habot?”

“Nani?” Hazuki’s eyes widened in a mix of incredulity and offense.

Blades raised his hands placatingly.

“You disguise yourself as Habot, I act like I don’t know what’s going on and we walk out right past them.”

Hazuki multiplied her shuriken into a fistful.

“Or we fight. Two on two. Easy.”

“I don’t have half my tech, and Biomass Delta is a hard fight even for Caldwell. Then Caldwell himself? The dude killed a god!”

Hazuki’s shurikens poofed as she popped to her feet.

“I’ve beat both plenty of times!”

Blades stood, putting his head higher than Hazuki’s.

“Not at the same time. I know how good you are, but do you really think Caldwell fought you seriously before? This time feels different. You were running from them.”

Hazuki held his eyes for a moment before snapping her fingers over her head and spinning on her toes. By the end of her pirouette she looked exactly like Blades’ mechanical model of her.

“You should probably hang off me a bit, to help sell that you’re Habot.”

Habot’s angry emote flashed across the face screen of the imitation, but she did as Blades suggested. Hearing movement on the other side of the doors, Blades lowered his voice to an aside.

“I’m not so bad if you’d give me a shot. If nothing else, I’m worth billions even if most of it is off the books Agency stuff.”

“The Akiyamas have been pillars of our community for generations.” Hazuki even nailed Habot’s synthetic voice. “We’re quite comfortable.”

Shadows ripped the steel doors from the elevator to reveal Caldwell Keller. Blades rushed to the grizzled mercenary with Hazuki dangling off him in a flawless impersonation of his bot.

“Caldwell! Man, am I glad to see you! One of my experiments must have overloaded, because everything just failed all at once! It’ll take forever to sort out why!”

“Mm-hm…”

Caldwell cracked his right knuckles then his left, studying the fake Habot. Hazuki flashed Habot’s smiley emote while looking up at their grey-haired adversary. The real Habot appeared behind Caldwell pointing at Hazuki with her crying emote flashing.

“Daddy?! That’s not meeeee!”

New Year’s Revolution 2020

Writing | Posted by David A Ludwig
Jan 24 2020

I almost ran out of time again, but also again have managed to put together an entry for the New Year’s Revolution 2020 Blog Hop, hosted by Cara Michaels.

The prompt this time was a story on the theme of New Year’s; Absolution, Evolution, Execution, Retribution or Revolution. My 744 words are from my Fantasy Fighter setting, and may indicate the shape of some of my flash fiction to come for this year. Make sure to check out the challenge link to find other entries in the comments!

                Johnny Treeman was out like a light, collapsed on top of his sheets in his broad collared metallic disco shirt and flare jeans. 2019 had been a heck of a year. Skipping the Agency shindig was a better call than he’d expected; he barely made it home after a single ginger beer at the grill down the hill.

                He couldn’t lift his head or twitch a finger. Distant booming fireworks announced midnight. The cacophony sounded muted to Johnny’s sluggish mind. He felt cold. He rallied to try and work his way under the covers.

                A meaty vise grip practically crushed the exhausted hero’s ankle before dragging him over the foot of his bed.

                “RETRIBUTION!” A terrifyingly familiar voice howled.

                Johnny’s floor splintered under his body, then the ceiling and finally a dresser crumbled around him as the dirty giant cudgeled the hero around his home. Johnny struggled to his feet, spitting blood and bracing for battle—more concerned about his assailant’s assault, than how the burlap shrouded fiend learned a four-syllable word.

                “You brought this on yourself, you know?” The sultry purr to Johnny’s left surprised him. “There will be no absolution for your sins.”

                “What sins?”

                Johnny adjusted his stance to encompass the extra enemy, cursing his persisting ponderous movement. The warm skinned fiery eyed Greek in his doorway was decked out in her finest dominatrix leather. Not a good sign. How did either of them get past Johnny’s security without waking him up?

                “The way you persecute poor Butch; always beating him then locking him up is unforgivable.”

                Johnny was in no condition to fight Butch Slade, even without Melantha Karahalios. Still, he couldn’t help one strident laugh.

                “That murdering dirtbag doesn’t deserve any better. You have that in common, I suppose.”

                Butch’s animalistic growl and wild eyes under his sack hood were more the level of articulation Johnny was accustomed to from his nemesis; the message unsettlingly clear given the hero’s present handicap.

                “I had a similar revelation.” Melantha’s laugh was lighter than Johnny’s had been. “You and Butch are more evenly matched than your win-loss ratio suggests. But when you get in trouble, your Agency friends bail you out. Butch has no one on his side. I find it criminal he hasn’t won even once.”

                “If he won, I’d be dead!”

                Johnny tried to keep Melantha talking while he looked for a way out. Butch was clearly waiting on his succubus ally draped comfortably in the doorway.

                “Things have been too simple for you heroes; calling in as much backup as you pleased in your pursuit of lone wrongdoers. My assistance is just the evolution Butch’s vendetta needed.”

                Johnny’s imperceptible creep toward his bedroom window was spoiled by his knees buckling, and he had to catch himself on the corner of his bed. Butch immediately imposed himself between Johnny and the window egress. Sadistic hunger burned in Melantha’s scarlet eyes.

                “Feeling groggy, Johnny? That totem of yours really is impressive. I thought enough tranquilizer for one grizzly bear in your drink would be enough, yet you staggered all the way home.”

                The hero’s eyes widened as the pieces came together. With her magic, Melantha could have been anyone in the bar.

                “That’s the beauty of these team ups; I thought I had failed in the execution of my plan when you made it into your stronghold.” Melantha nodded to Butch. “It turns out all your fancy defenses are just an alarm system to Butch—and I was able to assure him you wouldn’t hear it.”

                Butch stamped on Johnny’s foot to keep him from flying away at the impact of the brute’s oversized fist. Trying to burn his way through the drugs and the pain, Johnny latched onto Butch’s arm but was too far gone to find the elbow and break it.

                The musty mammoth lifted his foe easily into the air, before headbutting him down through the foot of his bed. Johnny’s barely recovered faculties were gone again. He didn’t need to worry about fighting Melantha and Butch at the same time. The sultry sorceress had already done her part and was content to gloat.

                “You can tell Aphrodite; this is the new normal. From now on, the bad guys team up too.”

                The demolished defender found himself grateful to be smashed through his window. Unlikely to be able to affect his landing, he still seemed safer sailing over the forest than among his allied adversaries.

                Viva la revolución.

Tipsy Santa 2019

Writing | Posted by David A Ludwig
Dec 20 2019

I don’t know if it was fatigue from National Novel Writing Month, the general busyness of the holiday season, or something else, but I had a lot of trouble coming up with something for this year’s Tipsy Santa Blog Hop, hosted by Ever Addams–even though the prompt of the writer’s choice of 1 of 4 alcoholic beverages is right up my alley.

Make sure to swing by her site to see the prompts, and in the comments below links to the other entries. Ultimately I decided to revisit a scene from the 34th episode of my super hero series, Maze Warrior, utilizing the Shochu and Baileys’ White Christmas cocktail in 744 words.

GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS

The powerful percussion of Sig Sauer shots reverberates through the almost empty shooting range from the center two booths. John Alexandra is a tall steely man with the weight of experience, methodically firing tight clusters for high value. In the twenty years since Reiko Sugiyama last saw him, he’s grown heavier with a distinguished beard bearing most of the grey acquired by his red-brown hair. In the next booth, Reiko is the unstoppable force to his immovable object, just as cool and precise but acutely aware how little her appearance has changed since they were rookies. Both wear safety glasses and earmuffs.

“I was surprised how Inoue-sama has opened up to you.” Reiko observes in her clear confident voice. “He was always very secretive with us.”

As their targets cycle out, John frowns at Reiko’s higher score.  Both prepare their Sigs for the next round with practiced prowess.

“It’s not as open a relationship as you may think! And it took a lot of work to even get this far.”

Their fifth silhouettes for the session come out similarly close to perfect scores, but John edges Reiko out overall. Both reload and decock their pistols before holstering them—John under his leather jacket and Reiko under her suit jacket. She returns her safety gear to the wall of her booth, then takes a moment to tuck loose strands of her ebon hair back into her elegant bun.

“Good shooting, John-kun. You’re even better than I remembered.”

They meet after cleaning their booths. Even in her heels, Reiko looks up to see John’s pale green eyes.

“Beating me is no small accomplishment.” Reiko smiles, feeling John’s eyes on her lips.

“I didn’t beat you by enough to count; that could have gone either way.”

“We’ll have to try again some time then.”

“You still haven’t seen Yasunobu Inoue since coming to the states; shall we head over? He’s usually home.”

Reiko shakes her head too vigorously before containing her surge of terror. The great exorcist is the last person she wants to see.

“No! I mean, I trust your reports.”

John shrugs and pushes open the door to the silent snow dusted parking lot.

“There isn’t much else to do today. Unless you wanted to go out for dinner or something.”

Reiko loops an arm through John’s familiarly.

“Dinner would be magnificent.”

John extricates himself to open the passenger door of his sensible SUV for Reiko.

Twenty minutes later they sit opposite one another in a small crowded downtown sushi bar with frosted windows. They are a few plates into the evening, each with a creamy brown iced drink in a martini glass.

“Now, what did you say these were?” John laughs as he runs a finger up the glass stem.

“Shochu and Bailey’s White Christmas. It’s like a Japanese White Russian; you’ll like it.”

John raises his glass for an appraising sip.

“Moments like this, it’s hard to believe we’re in the middle of a battle for the future of the entire world.”

Reiko sips her own drink while watching John.

“It’s too much to think about all the time. Everyone needs a break sometimes.”

John aspirates his drink and quickly sets it down.

“Twenty years ago, it would have been me telling you that! Why the more relaxed attitude now?”

Reiko runs a finger lightly around the rim of her glass.

“I don’t want to leave this world with any regrets.”

“Rei-chan…”

Reiko smiles reassuringly. She didn’t come for sympathy.

“After the Dark Emperor has been handled, I’m going to retire.”

Reiko signals for another round of drinks. John laughs and pats his stomach.

“I hope you’re not trying to get me drunk. It won’t be as easy as it used to be.”

“Challenge accepted.”

Though alcohol no longer affects Reiko at all, John concedes the match with his faculties largely intact. They leave his car behind to walk to her hotel room at the evening’s end.

“Won’t you come in?” Reiko angles herself to show where the top buttons of her blouse are undone.

He looks like he’s been stabbed, lowering his head and shoulders with genuine regret.

“Rei-chan, I can’t…”

“I know…” It’s Reiko’s turn to concede as she touches the gold band on his left ring finger. “She’s a lucky woman.”

Why hadn’t Reiko crossed over when that demon impaled her? Why did she come back if this is all that waited for her? Did she deny death for work?

Monster Mash 2019

Writing | Posted by David A Ludwig
Oct 23 2019

It took some doing, but my entry for the 2019 Monster Mash hosted by the Fab Four of Flash Fiction is done! Make sure to swing by Siobhan Muir’s website for the prompts and rules and links to the other entries. I’m looking forward to seeing what the others have written myself!

CASTLE ON HAUNTED HILL (747 Fantasy Fighter Words)

by David A Ludwig

Adrian Godard lowered his hood to survey the crumbling castle gate. Weathered and abandoned for centuries; the structure appeared far feebler than the broad-shouldered German appraising it. The entire edifice had an aura of ghastly frailty.

“Just great! Why’re you here, holy man?”

Adrian turned to face Caldwell Keller, the grey-haired mercenary drifter in his signature crimson leather duster. Caldwell ran a hand apprehensively through his wild mane. Two Japanese girls climbed the hill after the unkempt soldier. The smaller dressed in a childishly ruffled pink dress, while her scar faced companion wore a sinful French maid costume.

“Aw! The old lady said the castle was abandoned!” Little Hazuki Akiyama moaned.

Mifuyu Shizuka crossed her arms tightly and glowered at Caldwell. The drifter quickly put Adrian between them.

“I take it back, father! You’re not so bad.”

Hazuki scrutinized the angel of justice relief carving in the gate.

“Stupid endy en pekka chi morus etsu…”

“Do not read the Latin.”

Adrian placed a hand heavily on Hazuki’s shoulder. Her eyes widened dramatically.

“Is it cursed?”

“No,” Adrian led the way into the castle. “Your pronunciation is terrible.”

Mifuyu mistrustfully monitored their companions. The scarred medium had been more concerned about the company than the accommodations, even before the unwelcome gate encounter.

“I’m guessing you each need to stay until dawn?” Caldwell lit a cheap cigarette with a disposable lighter. “Can we just agree to stay out of each other’s way?”

Hazuki turned inquisitively to the exorcist.

“We just wanted somewhere fun to spend Halloween night! Are you staying too?”

Father Godard folded his arms inside his dark robe sleeves. His sanctimonious gaze burned Mifuyu like she was Caldwell.

“Most of the spirits will not reveal themselves before midnight, and the hour before dawn on All Hallow’s Day is the only time all can be exorcised.”

“Sounds fun!” Hazuki gave the priest a thumbs up. “We’ll help when the spooky stuff starts! For now, I wanna explore!”

Mifuyu could have enjoyed cavorting about the creaky castle with Hazuki had they been alone. Without the prying eyes. By the time they settled into their chamber, provisioned as the old woman promised, Mifuyu was jumping at shadows and ready to fight the wind. After dark every little movement echoed through the castle.

She pressed her fists over her ears, “I don’t like when he walks around at night.”

The crash of a toppled bookcase sent Mifuyu tearing vengefully after the offending audio’s origin.

Caldwell considered the avalanche of books, demolished shelves, and rot-runged ladder to blame for it all. The downed drifter fished out his flask and exchanged a glance with his shadow.

“I know, I know. She said I’d get the book at dawn.” He took a pull. “Can’t blame a guy for looking.”

Sparkling shurikens perforated the tomes around Caldwell and sprung a leak in his flask. As the tiny projectiles dissolved into starlight, Caldwell rolled to his feet evading Hazuki’s giant heart mallet.

“What’ve you done with Mifuyu-senpai?!”

“Haven’t seen her since we arrived. Could’ve gone without seeing you again, too.”

The magical girl switched her mallet for a wakizashi. Dodge left. Dodge right. Uppercut. Satisfying crunch on that one as he sent the little pest flying. She vanished into mist before coming in fast and low. Too fast. She caught him around the waist and slammed his face into the ceiling, then back into the ground.

Caldwell rose, wiping the blood from his face while flanking the girl with his shadow.

“Enough!” Father Godard sent Caldwell’s shadow scurrying with his zweihander of pure sunlight “It seems time you were finally parted with your demon, Caldwell.”

A multi-voiced scream shook the castle’s foundations.

Caldwell laughed harshly, “But it ain’t me you gotta worry about now…”

Hazuki’s heart dropped into her stomach. Was it midnight already? She’d been so enamored with the European architecture, sounds without sources, inconsistent spaces, movement just out of sight, and especially strange faces in the mirrors… She lost track of time!

Another of Mifuyu’s screams clawed through the castle. Hazuki counted at least six distinct voices. This was her fault. She should have stayed closer to her girlfriend. Father Godard dismissed his sword to grab his crucifix.

“That’s your friend, isn’t it?”

Hazuki nodded while scanning the room for liabilities. Suits of armor, placards of weapons, the fire pokers.

“You said the spirits can’t be defeated until an hour before sunrise?”

“Yes, why–?”

“We’ve got to hide all of the sharp objects!”

#TeamRPG Blog Hop: Enter Dor Maus

Writing | Posted by David A Ludwig
Feb 05 2019

The sages of a world on the brink cast a desperate spell, assembling an unsuspecting team of champions from our world to save theirs. #TeamRPG

Thanks to Cara Michaels, a team of writers have been assigned fantasy classes in order to explore the concept of #TeamRPG.

As one of those writers, these 339 words get my character into the world of Greylea.

The bus sunk, practically groaned, as he stepped up to pay his fare. He wasn’t tall, but he was robust. Wild red hair splayed out from his face and head like a mane framing his dark eyes, only one of which was engaged with what he was doing. He fumbled the coins to feed the machine. He whined fearfully. Had he saved enough?

“It’s okay, honey. Take your time.”

The bus driver was nice. It was late. No one was waiting on him. Nobody staring. He did have enough. He chuckled happily and it bounced around his chest up through his nose. The bus driver smiled at him. He shuffled back to a seat.

His clothes were a tattered assortment of things that hadn’t fallen apart yet, built up in layers until they puffed out like his hair. The thing in his arms was precious though. He had saved all month for the iron teapot that felt like home, and the thrift shop owner saved it for him.

As the bus lumbered through the night, he drifted off cradling his teapot.

He took a deep breath, practically squeaked, as he woke and stretched. He wasn’t tall, he couldn’t even see out over the lip of the teapot. Sitting back on his haunches, he leapt and pulled himself over the edge to look around. The bus looked much older than he remembered, especially with the roots and vines pulling it apart. It seemed bigger too. It would be quite a dash to get to the front. Was this right?

Terror.

The weasel’s fangs sank into his neck before he even got his bearings. The terrible sensation of growing. Then the weasel was the frightened one, hanging by its jaws from his bushy beard. He barked at it. The weasel released and scurried off.

Satisfied, he took up his teapot and the sturdy walking staff next to his seat with a nod. He decided to follow the little fairy that zipped by the bus window and see what he would see.

Image By Danielle Schwarz – Danielle Schwarz, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2802929

Also see drmagoo’s contribution to this adventure, and keep an eye out for the #TeamRPG hashtag!

New Year’s Revolution Blog Hop

Writing | Posted by David A Ludwig
Jan 27 2019

I recently had some trouble with my site that resulted in needing to have my #NYR2019 entry hosted over at Cara Michaels’ site. Now that my site is back online I figure I should post it here too–but definitely check out the extended Blog Hop and feel free to read my entry there or here.

As with the most recent Tipsy Santa and Monster Mash Blog Hops, my entry is another 746 words in my Fantasy Fighter universe, which you can expect to hear more about here on this site.

Cara even made this sweet title for my entry she hosted

ENERGY HORIZON
by David A Ludwig

The Agency spacecraft cut through the atmosphere like a knife. All this expedition to stop the apocalypse needed was drink service. Though Caldwell Keller supposed he should be grateful the golem wasn’t having any rations. The wolf-girl was easily consuming a double share.

Ahead the moon was looking big enough to land on. Caldwell detached the orange visored face mask from the collar of his Agency bodysuit. Fixing it in place he engaged the seal and tested the rebreather and HUD.

“You guys sure you don’t want one of these suits?” Caldwell turned back to his team. “Life support might be down when we get there.”

Wenona Grey was back in the wolf pelt skirt and wolf head helmet Caldwell first met her in. She bit him the time he made her try on real clothes. Her chair’s armrests were ravaged from her gripping them and snapping at things outside the shuttle.

For a so-called monster, Karl Victorien was the more sophisticated of the two. In fact, for being stitched from various dead parts, he looked pretty good in a silk three piece. Though, even he reverted to his earlier shirtless and shackled look for this mission. Karl’s huge arms were crossed stiffly, but at least he responded.

“No need to worry. Impressive as it is, your suit is merely a simulation of the aura mastery Ms. Grey and I utilize regularly.”

Caldwell shrugged and sat back as the auto-pilot brought them into the moon base hangar. What was left of it anyway. The place looked like a warzone—and not the kind Caldwell knew from before learning demons were real. By the time the team landed and disembarked their path was blocked by a dozen combat robots even the Agency would be jealous of.

 “We have a survivor!” Karl shouted, leaping between the body he spotted and their enemies. “Something has activated her aura…”

Caldwell grit his teeth as armaments materialized from the robots.

“Okay, Karl, take care of the survivor! Wenona and I—“

Caldwell was cut off by Wenona’s snarl. She swept her finger at the room of robots before pressing her hand to her chest with teeth bared.

“Seriously?” Caldwell watched his savage teammate lunge into the thick of the robots.

“It is better not to get in her way when she is like this.” Karl spoke while assessing his charge.

“Great. On our own already.” Caldwell looked at his shadow, which cocked its head in response.

Exploring the surviving facility was underwhelming. Every robot in the place was dealing with Wenona and there wasn’t much else intact. Life support was limping along at high mountain levels instead of the vacuum of space Caldwell had been worried about. Caldwell did get to kick down a hermetically sealed door with an eight foot tall being composed of flames and empty darkness behind it. That was a thing.

“I’m guessing you’re the one I have to beat to stop all this?” Caldwell wished he’d opened the door in some way he could have closed it again. “Huey, wasn’t it?”

The energy being’s eyes sparked ominously.

“I am Huītzilōpōchtli! I will burn the skies and boil the oceans of your pathetic world, until the flames of my rage have been quenched by the blood of sacrifices beyond count! Then the survivors may serve as my slaves.”

Caldwell cracked his neck and shook out his arms.

“’Yes’ would have been enough.”

As Caldwell settled into his fighting stance the world exploded. Battling a war god in a psychedelic flame vortex was a hallucinatory experience. The mercenary was taking a beating, though only a fraction of what his senses were reporting seemed to be real. His Agency suit was already blasted to shit; fortunately Caldwell was no slouch when it came to aura. Now he just needed any kind of an opening to finish this before that was gone too.

Real or not, the Mesoamerican pyramid rising behind his foe seemed as good an opening as he was going to get. It cast a long shadow. Caldwell’s own shadow emerged from that of the pyramid and ripped the heart from the back of the deity thrashing Caldwell to a burnt pulp.

The moon base slowly rematerialized around Caldwell, who managed a high five with his shadow before collapsing to his knees.

“Hah! That’s a ‘no’ to burning skies and boiling oceans!”

“In your life time.” Karl stepped into the boss chamber with Wenona.

“What did I say?”

Tipsy Santa Blog Hop

Writing | Posted by David A Ludwig
Dec 12 2018

We’ve got another Blog Hop ala the Monster Mash back in October with a comparatively long window to develop and refine a story in 750 words or less.

This time Ruth Long is the host, and man did this one give me trouble! My Fantasy Fighter universe was well received last time so I wanted to stick with that, but merely encouraging holidays and drunkenness without anything like the song prompt from last time eliminated options without inspiring anything particular. I fought hard for these 723 words and now look forward to reading the other entries.

SCHNAPPS

Sidestepping Santa’s savage swings was a delicate operation. Agent Treeman didn’t want to get crushed by the holiday throne, but he also had to keep Fatboy’s full attention so the kids and parents could flee.

“Graghbaghl!!!” the festive giant spit cottony pieces of his fake beard at his opponent.

Johnny Treeman powered through the nauseating waves of peppermint and vomit on Big Red’s heavy breaths and finally got the opening he was waiting for. The big man splintered his chair with an over extended sweep from the right. Johnny stepped in and delivered a brick breaking left hook to Fatboy’s liver.

Insanity shone from the mad giant’s eyes. Instead of going down or doubling over, he delivered a crushing double hammerfist the agent was barely able stop with a crossed forearm block. The cement under Agent Treeman caved like thin ice, but he just managed to keep his feet under the larger man’s weight.

“Help! Please!”

Eight hours ago, Johnny had been crammed into a technically heated bush plane with mail, packages and the senior agent code named Aphrodite.Even wearing his trim blue tactical snowsuit under his polar bear pelt it was a little cool thousands of feet into the predawn northern sky. How Aphrodite seemed so comfortable in her sleeveless sexy Mrs. Claus getup he didn’t venture to guess.

“He’s your arch nemesis!” Aphrodite’s words were less comforting than the sound of her loading her gift wrapped sniper rifle.

The veteran agent had received intelligence that the escaped dirt bag, Butch Slade, was in this part of the world. She grabbed Johnny and they set out immediately. The Santa costume might have been the third strangest thing Johnny had ever seen B.S. wearing, but there was no mistaking the fiend’s size or power.

“Naughgaghs!!!”

B.S. apparently heard the loading gun too. The giant picked Johnny up by his head with one hand, to charge Aphrodite with Johnny dangling along for the ride. Aphrodite dove and rolled out of the way. Johnny hooked his legs on the larger man’s arm and levered him through the post office wall into the street. The gathered townspeople reevaluated their idea of a safe distance from the disturbance.

“Seriously, who hires a nine foot tall Santa?”

Johnny pulled himself free from B.S.’s grasp and pinned the plastered profligate with an arm bar. B.S. beat his assailant against the ground wildly, but with a face full of snow had temporarily lost track of which direction was up.

“The suit has to be his own,” Aphrodite was unflappably analytic as ever. “There are enough empty bottles here he may have seen the chair and thought it was his too.”

The veteran’s shot split the icy air. B.S.’s face hit the snow and stayed down this time. Johnny maintained the arm bar and shook his head at the collapsed shell that had fallen back into the giant’s neck folds. As Johnny anticipated, B.S. sprang back to his feet with a roar. One thing he could definitely say; Agency missions were never dull.

“I’m going to try to finish this!” Johnny shouted. “Be ready if it doesn’t work!”

As the giant staggered around looking for the sniper, Johnny called on the full strength of his totem. With his own ursine roar, Johnny broke Santa’s arm. He then dropped to the ground and it was Johnny’s turn to lift B.S. The spirit of the polar bear was practically visible around Johnny as he squeezed the suspended behemoth for all he was worth.

Three more shots rang out in practiced rhythm and the giant finally went limp. Johnny dropped his nemesis and fell to his knees, completely exhausted. Soon the earth rumbling snores of the dirt bag started in slow and steady. A bottle of Rumple Minze wheeled through the air to stick in the snowbank next to Johnny.

“Hair of the dog?” Aphrodite emerged from the hole in the wall with another bottle. “Looks like even Butch Slade couldn’t finish all of this.”

“You know I don’t drink.”

Agent Treeman fell back into the snow, oddly comforted by his arch enemy’s discordant breathing, and watched upside down as trepidatious townsfolk crept closer in the wintery stillness.

“I used to be able to get through half a bottle on a good night,” Aphrodite sighed. “I guess we should have brought Caldwell.”