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Art by Mark Evans

My Christmas Story 

by Steve Hockensmith

Urias Smythe
Smythe & Associates Publishing, Ltd.
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York

Dear Mr. Smythe:

Season’s greetings to you, Mrs. Smythe, and all the little Smythelings! I hope my stories have helped you put a few extra presents on the tree for them. All my brother and I could afford to exchange last year were pats on the back and an extra helping of beans for our “feast,” so the money you’ve sent my way for my stories will make Christmas 1893 a merrier one indeed.

Thank you also for sending along the latest Smythe’s Frontier Detective. (And what a pleasure it is, I must say, to finally have a permanent address it could be sent to.) The issue was a real ripsnorter, as usual, and it was a thrill to see me and Old Red—or at least the rather, shall we say, embellished versions of us your illustrators favor—gracing the cover once again. You might want to remind said illustrators, however, that my brother is neither nine feet tall nor as strapping as a stevedore. Quite the opposite, in fact. I appreciate, however, that they have, by way of compensation, made me twelve feet tall and as musclebound as Samson before he saw the barber. Our cowboy attire remains as colorful as ever, I see, but at least this month the red-and-white Stetsons, vests, and boots make us look like a pair of Santa’s less-heralded helpers. His reindeer wranglers, perhaps?

I read your accompanying note about next year’s Christmas annual with the utmost interest. I reckoned I couldn’t help you out with a story, though, as Old Red and I tend to have the kind of yuletide that’s memorable less for cheer and miracles than deprivation and boredom. We haven’t had a family to celebrate with in six years, and in that time our Christmases have been spent (one might say endured) pinching our few remaining pennies as fiercely as Ebenezer Scrooge so that we wouldn’t starve before the spring roundups. Fond as they might be of my brother and me, your readers probably wouldn’t derive much holiday merriment from “A Grub-Line Drifter Christmas” or “The Miracle of the Abandoned Shack” (the miracle being that we found it before we froze to death).

Fate, however, stepped in yesterday to supply the very holiday tale you sought—which is why this is shaping up to be a twenty-page letter rather than a Currier and Ives card. I don’t know if my Christmas story will bring much (in the words of the old song) joy to the world. But . . . well, you asked for it. READ MORE



Dragons-Mark-FinalArt by Jason C. Eckhardt

The Dragon's Mark

by Keith Hann 

There is a creature of Celtic legend whose wail, it is said, can shatter glass, turn one’s hair grey, and wake the very dead. I speak, of course, of our dear landlady, Mrs. Hudson. One lazy summer eve in Baker Street, as I lay near-dozing in my chair, the late night calm was shattered by just such a wail. I jolted awake, flinging my copy of the Evening Standard into the air and nearly tumbling out of my chair. My first sight was of my friend and companion, Sherlock Holmes, evidently roused from a similar repose.

That poor, put-upon Scotswoman had occasion to let loose many such wails over the years, for the work of Holmes is often singular in its scope, a parade of the picaresque, the grotesque, and the decidedly queer. Such effronteries are hardly conducive to the well-being of a staid, stolid Presbyterian. But as I gathered my wits, her keen filled the air once more. Indeed, I became aware that it had never truly ceased, that she paused only for breath before descending again into incoherent shrieks. Holmes and I moved as one, together dashing to the door.

I reached it first. Racing to the staircase, I saw Mrs. Hudson at the front entrance, the door open onto the street, and she struggling with some unknown attacker. I hurtled down those seventeen steps some three at a time, my thoughts only of getting to grips with the reprehensible creature who could assault a woman in her own home.

The moment I reached the bottom I flung myself at the assailant. Seizing the man, I hurled him with all my might into the wall. He flew into the umbrella stand with a heavy thump, sprawling senseless.

It was then that I noticed all the blood. Mrs. Hudson stood there, all atremble, covered in a blotchy crimson veneer. Mouth agape, she stared at our now-subdued intruder, saying nothing. I too froze, my mind at once ordering me to assist our dear landlady, to examine the intruder, to determine the origin of all this blood, to lower my fool fist, which I only then noticed was still raised to strike.

Into this chaos sprinted Holmes. He flew past, dressing gown trailing like a cape, moving with alacrity to our unwelcome guest.

“Watson, see to Mrs. Hudson! I shall handle our friend.”

The essential decisions made, my mind snapped out of its lassitude and my medical training took command. The amount of blood was considerable, though not yet life-threatening. My first order of business was to staunch the flow. I dashed a cloth off a nearby end table and began searching for the cut or cuts which had precipitated such an effusion. The patient appeared to be in shock.

I interposed myself between our landlady and the form on the floor. “Mrs. Hudson, focus upon me. Where are you hurt?” Her dress was torn, but I could see no injury as of yet. Behind me I heard the sound of tearing cloth.

“I do not believe Mrs. Hudson is the victim here, Watson.”

I turned. Holmes peered intently at the unconscious form of our intruder, using a torn shirt sleeve to sponge away the blood from the man’s face. READ MORE


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