Jack Frost Comes to Town Again

In 1999 I wrote “Jack Frost,” a Delta Green adventure about horrors in the dead of winter in rural Alabama.

The road sign is plain and green, the sort mandated by state law and never supplemented with anything more decorative: “Willis, Ala.,” it reads, “Pop. 819.” State Highway 19 runs past the sign through deep forest and high hills. A long, narrow bridge stretches across an expanse of swampy water; always a land of endless natural waterways, the region was inundated with new lakes and streams after the Tennessee Valley Authority began damming up the rivers in a Depression-era economic booster project. A sliver of December moon is hidden, high overhead, beyond thick clouds, and the swamp and the hills and the trees are barely visible in its ghostly light.

The hills flatten out, slowly, gradually, and the forest thins to either side. Then, ahead, comes a yellow glow blinking in the air, the strobe of an ordinary street light to signal caution. Other lamps shine beyond it, silvery-pink and constant, illuminating the shop fronts of a handful of two-story buildings. The post office is easily seen and easily the finest structure, with sculpted concrete pillars of a classical design that seem ostentatious among the simple businesses of Willis. Christmas lights cheerfully blink red and green in windows and the limbs of trees.

Slowing for the blinking cautionary light, one can see silhouettes within a building near the road (“Hank’s House,” proclaims the shingle), the shadows of men and women gathered  for a nightcap, perhaps, before they join their families. But perhaps it’s a trick of the light  making shadows look like men and women. There is no movement to be seen, not in Hank’s House, not in the streets, nowhere but for the swaying yellow light. But there, ahead, on the covered sidewalk leading to Hank’s, someone is waiting.

Closer . . .

It is a man, perhaps 50 years old and heavy-jowled in worn denim overalls and a thick fleece coat. He seems to be waiting; certainly he is not moving. He does not look to the newly-arrived car. Closer: No fog of breath billows in the shadows from his opened mouth. His eyes stare, watching, empty, dry, and a strand of ice hangs unattended from his mouth. Then other men and women can be seen more clearly inside the tavern, sitting at drinks long since gone flat in the cool air or lying on the floor in strange positions, as if held in mid-step and then falling in that same pose to the ground. Outside, more shapes can be seen on the ground. A dog lay on its side, legs stiff and straight. Feathery clumps lay where birds fell in mid-flight to the earth. All are frozen through and through; all are dead with a cold that will not go away.

Looks like Jack Frost came down to town again.

After playtesting by volunteers from the Delta Green Mailing List and feedback from Delta Green’s creators, I submitted the adventure to Pyramid Online, Steve Jackson Games’ weekly online RPG magazine. Scott Haring, editor at the time, accepted it at once. (At that time they published for games other than GURPS.) It ran in two parts, on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, 1999. It got great reviews and ratings on Pyramid — for years, if I recall correctly, it was one of the top two or three highest rated articles on the site — and it occasionally had people saying it was the worst thing they’d ever seen. It was a fun, brutal, Investigator-killing campfire story of an adventure for cold winter nights.

That was almost 14 years ago. Since then Delta Green fan Paul Sudlow, just for his own amusement, took Pyramid’s text of “Jack Frost” and put it into a nice layout in the style that Daniel Solis created for Delta Green: Eyes Only and Delta Green: Targets of Opportunity. And I’ve been waiting for the right way to update and republish it ever since.

Along comes The Unspeakable Oath. In the Oath we run only new material, so “Jack Frost” won’t go in the magazine proper. But it occurred to me that it might make a nice reward for our 2013 subscription drive.

When we hit 450 subscribers, I’ll revise “Jack Frost” based on developments in the world of Delta Green and based, well, 14 years’ more experience writing scenarios. I’ll add new art and designs by Paul Sudlow and by some of the outstanding artists that work with us on the Oath and Delta Green these days. It’ll be a beautiful piece of work. And I’ll send it free to all subscribers.

Don’t stay out in the cold. Subscribe now — in PDF or in print with a free PDF of each issue — and if you know gamers who love Call of Cthulhu or Delta Green, encourage them to subscribe, too. The sooner we hit that milestone, the sooner Jack Frost comes round again.