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Jacks

Appleseed Johnny meets Jack Frost meets Jack the Man with the Lantern.

“Harvest is over,” says Frost, and the lips of his smile are tattooed.

“They’ll slaughter the winter cows soon enough,” says Johnny, peeling a Gala with a paring knife. He tosses the long red ribbon over his shoulder. “Let them have their bonfire first.”

“I love bonfires,” protests Frost. “I love it when they gutter.”

“Not all fires die,” says Jack the Man with the Lantern. In his hand a pumpkin glows, its heart a hellborn ember.

“To the harvest, anyway,” sighs Appleseed, and pours three shots of cider.

Illinois

The British artillery doesn’t even reach the fort walls. The brigade lacks scaling ladders, so Appleseed’s safe on the wall, watching. In the distance, the Shawnee sit: there’s nothing else to do.

“You didn’t try too hard,” he says, “to stop me.”

“No.”

“I saved twelve families, bringing them here.”

“They’ll be cold enough, in time.” Frost smiles. “But their deaths would have changed the Ohio campaign–kept the Shawnee useful. Now, they won’t be able to use the colonies’ conflict with the Empire to preserve their independence.”

Appleseed shivers.

“Why freeze farmers,” murmurs Frost, “when I could shatter a nation?”

Indiana

“Hey, it’s Apple Jack!” calls Farmer Ethshire. “Got any more of that cider?” Ethshire’s grinning, winking, but Appleseed’s face is grey and tight.

“Shawnee,” he shouts as he lopes in. “Shawnee and the British, get your family to Fort Stephenson, now!”

Ethshire’s eyes go wide, but he’s looking past Appleseed. Appleseed turns back to see a winter wind in August, tearing stalks of wheat from the ground and carrying them, frozen, sharp as glass. In flight, one becomes arrow. It drives through Ethshire’s heart.

Jack spits two appleseeds at the ground where he falls, and makes for the farmhouse, and hopes.

Ohio

There are two Jacks; the one with the tattoos is Jack Frost. The tattoos were not his idea.

The other one is called Apple Jack, or John Chapman, or Chaplain, or sometimes Appleseed. Appleseed is barefoot, but his soles are tough. He wears a sinner’s sackcloth. He is running.

“Why can’t you understand,” pants Appleseed, “that what you kill on Earth you defile in Heaven?”

Frost Jack lazily draws a fractal on the bark of an oak tree. It explodes from the heartwood; Appleseed dodges splinters.

“Leaves fall,” says Frost Jack. “Water freezes. A beginning demands an end.”

Appleseed runs harder.

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