Peace

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The smell of lilacs hung in the damp air.

I pushed through a heavy fog and came upon a farmhouse.

All about the home and its barn were great lilac bushes. They towered above the buildings, their out-of-season blossoms hanging low to the ground.

As I approached the home, a sense of calm settled over me. My body rebelled against it, and my hand went instinctively to the handle of my war club. The place was too quiet. Too peaceful.

I doubted all of it.

The sound of singing, soft and sweet, reached my ears.

The song pulled me to the barn, where I stopped and peered into the dim interior. There, seated on a stool in the nearest stall, was a young woman. She was clad in white and held a young child to her chest, allowing the babe to suckle. When the woman looked up, she smiled. Her teeth were sharp and white, her eyes stitched shut, but neither of those could shatter the beauty of her face.

“Duncan,” she said, and my name was music as it slipped past her lips. “It is a long time since we met.”

“I don’t remember you,” I confessed.

“Of course, you don’t,” she smiled. “And that is neither here nor there. I remember you, and I remember what you have done.”

I tightened my grip upon the club. I’d killed mothers and suckling babes before, and while I did not relish the idea, I would not shrink from my chores.

Her smile broadened into a grin. “No, you’ve done nothing wrong to me, Duncan. Quite the opposite. Had you not cut out my eyes and sewn the lids closed, I would not be here today with our daughter.”

The last word caused my breath to catch in my throat.

The woman nodded. “My past is your future, Duncan. And when we first meet, it is violence and pain. I will eat the better part of your leg as you cut out my eyes, and it is only then that I will truly see the world. You will nurse me to health, and we will fall in love. For a short time. It will be strange for both of us, and it will not last, as it should not. But we will give the world our child, and she is more than the world deserves.”

With that, the woman peeled back the fabric around the babe and showed me, my daughter.

I doubt I will ever see such beauty again.

#supernatural #paranormal

Lost

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I’m not sure where I am.

I know I’m in the Hollow. Of that, I’ve no doubt. But how close I might be to my lake, I don’t know.

I’ve been lost in the Hollow before, and it’s never pleasant. More than once, I’ve slipped into a Cross that was not my own, and those times have been more difficult than any others.

A heavy fog lay upon this island, and I’ve spent most of the day moving carefully. I can hear things in the wind. Whispers from half-glimpsed trees. I’ve an urge to go and see what they might know, but there’s an odd scent in the air, and I don’t trust it. Until I know it’s not the trees or any other creature on this island; I’ll keep my own counsel.

Despite the strangeness of this place, I am comfortable. My knife is against the small of my back, and the war club thumps off my leg, bringing forth memories of my youth. I can well remember going to war with the Abenaki, of traveling through deep forests and along river banks on our way to French Canada. I can remember bringing war to raiders and exacting vengeance upon the same. The killing head on my war club is dented and scarred, but the polish on it shines whenever there is light.

Blood and war have made it beautiful.

My Colts, as always, rest upon my hips. The revolvers sit low, tied down to my thighs and loosened in their holsters.

I catch the scent of smoke, and soon, the fog dissipates, and I find myself on a road. A short distance away, I see the dark smoke that speaks plainly of a house fire.

Soon, I reach the building, and amid the roar of the fire, I hear a voice.

It is a man’s voice, and he is begging.

Moving closer, I can see him as he claws his way out of the burning structure. One arm is gone, as are his legs. He is little more than a charred corpse as he uses his remaining fingers to grasp the grass and pull himself forward.

For a moment, I can only look and wonder.

Then I see the name on the post box.

Blood, Duncan.

Though his eyes are gone, he turns his head toward me as I draw the Colts. He gives a single, pained nod, and the pistols roar in my hands.

Whoever set the fire needs to die. And they need to die hard. #supernatural #paranormal

Damn.

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They fought like hell.

There was no time to get the Colts out.

The troops swarmed out of the ruins, armed with torches and cutlasses. Whoever they were, they knew how to deal with my family and me.

Cut off a limb and cauterize the wound. Takes a helluva long time to recover from that.

I had no doubt those heavy cutlasses would be aimed at joints and that the torches burning brightly in the cloud-dimmed land would serve to immobilize me for the killing blow.

I had my war club in hand when they came sprinting toward me. They were young men, each in the prime of his life. Their eyes blazed as brightly as their torches, and there was a fierce eagerness to destroy me in their every movement.

The first to reach me had his cutlass raised overhead, his face a mask of fanatical loyalty and devotion. On his lips was my mother’s name, and it died in his mouth as I shattered the side of his skull, sending shards of it into his brain.

He dropped and his comrades, surprised, stumbled over his body.

It was the only opening I needed.

I didn’t bother with the Colts or with the Bowie knife.

I’d killed plenty of men before with the war club, and I’d gone raiding with it when I was just a boy. At the knee of my father, I had learned to kill, and I was going to show these men that I’d learned my lessons well.

Every blow I landed struck a joint.

Knees were crushed, shoulders knocked out of sockets, hips destroyed.

Men were left paralyzed and howling around me.

I stepped on bodies and piled the same around me. Men struggled to reach me, and I shattered rib cages and jaws, collapsed orbital sockets and ruptured groins.

I was here to deal death, and they thought they were there to do the same.

It didn’t take them long to realize they needed to survive.

But by then, it was too late.

I left the wounded screaming on the ground, and I chased down those trying to escape.

When I finished, I dragged the living to the ruins, and with their cutlasses, I crucified them to the wall.

I scalped the living and the dead alike, and when I finished, I set them all afire.

I’ve no mercy for any who wish to burn me.

#supernatural #paranormal

A Challenge

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He challenged me.

The house had, by all appearances, been on the island for some time. I suspect the soldier standing at the doorway had been waiting for just as long.

When he saw me, his nostrils flared, his eyes brightened, and his fingers tapped against the sides of his legs.

His English, though heavily accented with German, was easy enough to understand.

“I am your death, Duncan Blood.”

I stopped, spat on the ground and peered at him for a moment. Then, in German, I asked, “That a fact?”

“It is,” he answered in kind.

“I don’t rightly feel as though I want to die now,” I stated. “Fact of the matter is, I’ve a bit of work to do yet. Check in a few hundred years from now, and perhaps I’ll be willing to oblige you.”

The man chuckled and shook his head. “Your mother said you were the worst of them. I can see why. You’ve no respect for your elders.”

“That’s not true,” I answered. “I’ve plenty of respect for my elders. You’re just not one of them.”

He smiled and took his right hand from behind his back.

The soldier held a long knife, his hand completely encased in a ball of bright steel. Spikes of varying sizes protruded from the ball, and I wondered what he thought it was going to do against the likes of me.

So, I asked him.

“I’ll crush your bones, young man,” the soldier replied. “Then I will gut you and use your innards as garland for the house.”

I drew my own knife, and as we advanced upon one another, his movements became smoother and graceful. He was a man born to the blade.

I wasn’t.

But I can sure as hell use one.

The man lunged forward, and I planted my feet. I took the thrust of his knife into my left shoulder, felt the blade grind against bone and sever the joint as the spikes punched into my skin. The soldier twisted and grinned, but I’d already switched the knife from one hand to the other, and pain destroyed his grin.

He glanced down and saw the Bowie knife buried to the hilt in his groin.

He slid off the blade, dead before he hit the ground.

I used his own knife to take his scalp and stretched the skin on my rucksack.

Soon, I hoped, I’d add more hair to the collection.

#supernatural #paranormal

Brutality

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Rarely have I been so savage.

I have left the dogs at home. The ravens too.

Too many islands have sprung up at the edge of the lake, which itself has grown. The merfolk and the naiads fear to go into this new place, and I do not blame them.

As I paddled across the water, I saw creatures lurking in the depths. A few rose up to see me, to peer at me with eyes of deep purple and mouths like nightmares. They neither knew me nor feared me, which I took as a good sign. Had either been the case, I doubt my travels would have gone so smoothly.

As it was, I landed on a large island and took stock of what I had. My ruck was packed for close to a week’s worth of hiking. I had a fair amount of ammunition for the Colts, my Bowie knife, and my warclub.

The island was larger than I’d been on in some time. Perhaps the largest to ever appear from the Hollow, and I had no doubt as to who was behind it.

Deus Canum might have been preventing my mother from leaving Gods’ Hollow, but he wasn’t stopping her from helping the Hollow to spread.

Not that it needed much assistance.

I’d walked for about half an hour when I heard the steady thrum of a body of troops marching in unison. A few moments later, I caught sight of the soldiers.

Like the other troopers I’d recently faced, these men wore uniforms I was unfamiliar with and carried rifles both new and strange. Their swords, though, I was all too familiar with edged weapons.

When the troops caught sight of me, they were called to a halt in French. They spread out and, at the order, charged across the small field at me.

None of them shot at me.

I can’t say the same.

I emptied the Colts, the revolvers thundering and tearing the air as the slugs tore through the charging troops.

When the men reached me, I was ready. Bowie knife in one hand and warclub in the other.

It was blood and violence, pain and terror.

They beat me with the rifle stocks, and I gutted them with the knife. Some stabbed with bayonets and knives, and I crushed their skulls. They grabbed hold of my arms, and I bit out their throats.

They died by the dozens, and when I killed the last of them, I went looking for more.

#supernatural #paranormal

Unknown

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The island was new.

It is not unusual for islands to appear at the northern edges of Blood Lake. Or on the western edges, either, for that matter.

Normally, they were small bits of land. Perhaps an acre or two in size.

This one, which appeared in the early hours of the day, was huge.

All of Blood Lake had expanded with the island, and from where I sat in the boat, the lake stretched farther than I had ever seen it.

The ravens had returned with a report of the island. They didn’t see anyone, nor did they happen to notice any birds or wildlife. The island, Edgard told me, smelled wrong.

I left the dogs at home, howling on the shore as I paddled away. If the island were as bad as the ravens had hinted at, it was best that I go alone. I could survive. The dogs might not.

I’d buried enough dogs in the past few days. I had no desire to bury anymore.

When I reached the island and dragged the canoe up onto the shore, I was struck by the silence of the place.

I was, I realized a heartbeat later, the only living creature upon it.

Of that, I had no doubt.

But just because there wasn’t anything living didn’t mean there wasn’t any danger.

I drew both Colts, double-checked the loads, and then stepped out along a well-worn path.

As I went, I passed discarded equipment. Bits of harness, canteens, tools to clean rifles. A few rounds of a make I’d not seen before, and kit much the same. I came across a few pieces of paper, but it was printed in a language so strange it hurt my eyes to read them.

I soon came upon spots of desolation. Burned grass and shattered trees, iron shrapnel and broken rifles. Charred flesh and blackened bones soon greeted me as well.

Soon, the desolation became wider, oases of unblemished grass becoming rarer.

Finally, I came upon a town.

Little was left of it, and those few buildings that still stood were mocking obscenities of what they had once been.

I didn’t need to see my mother’s name scrawled across a door to know I was looking at her handiwork.

I stood in silence for a short time and then turned and retraced my steps to the shore.

There was nothing I could do.

#supernatural #paranormal

King Phillip’s Island

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He was the fastest I’d ever seen.

We were back on King Phillip’s Island, and the fighting was hard.

The new troops had learned the lesson their compatriots had not. Dying in battle was better than dying at my mother’s hands.

Once more, we stood on the field, but neither the troops nor the Kinderzähne ran. They stood their ground and gave as good as they got.

I lost count of the number of dogs killed and wounded, of the ravens shot from the sky, and the bullets that slammed into me.

My clothes were nothing more than blood-soaked tatters, and I’d run out of ammunition for the Colts. I had my warclub in hand and the broken stock of a rifle in the other.

I was in the midst of the troops, pinned between a pair of them with bayonets keeping me in place. A pile of bodies was growing around me, and the men with the bayonets were afraid to let go.

They were right to be afraid. They’d get nothing close to a gentle death from me.

The sensation of steel scissoring through your innards is as curious as it is painful, and I was looking forward to making both men intimately aware of it.

As a Kinderzähne bounded over the nearest corpse, I smashed its head in with the warclub, and as brains and blood splashed over me, I saw the dog.

It was almost a blur as it leapt a trooper trying to bring his rifle to bear on it.

But the dog was too damned fast.

When it landed, the dog twisted and lashed out, its muzzle clamping down on the man’s knee and tearing it out.

In moments, dozens of other dogs of the same breed spread out over the field, driving the soldiers and surviving Kinderzähne into a small copse of trees.

My tormentors tried to run, dropping their rifles and stumbling over the corpses of their comrades.

It was of no use.

I tore the bayonets out and hunted them down.

I was denied vengeance as dogs and ravens assaulted the men.

Still leaking blood, I led the way to the copse. As the men and Kinderzähne hid, I took out my matches, found one that wasn’t damp with my blood, and set fire to the nearest tree.

As the flames spread, we waited to see how long it would take them to run.

I’m pleased to say it wasn’t long at all.

Punishment

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My mother does not accept failure.

We landed on King Phillip’s Island in the far northern portion of Blood Lake.

The naiads and merfolk had agreed to a truce, and so they had helped guide the flat-bottomed bateau from the old boathouse to the island. Brutus and his comrades had been in one, some of Miriam’s in a second. I’d gone forward in my own canoe, ammunition and my warclub, my sole companions.

The naiads and the merfolk, like the dogs and the ravens, wished to drive the Kinderzähne and any of my mother’s troops from our lands. The ravens had discovered a camp of both on King Phillip’s Island, and they had reported back to me.

I had spoken with the queen of the merfolk and the council of elders from the naiads. Our plan was simple. I would land with the dogs on the southern shore of the island. From there, we would drive the troops and the Kinderzähne back until they were on the edge of the island. There, the enemy would have a choice to fight or seek refuge in the water and attempt to escape to the Hollow.

They would not make it.

Merfolk and naiads would be waiting.

The enemy would be drowned, and their flesh would feed the merfolk.

When we landed, I took the center, and Brutus anchored the right wing. One of Miriam’s hounds anchored the left. With the dogs strung out between us, we moved forward through the long grass.

Soon, we came into contact with the enemy, but only the Kinderzähne stood their ground.

The troops ran.

The howls of the dogs served as a chorus to the death chant of my Colts as we butchered the Kinderzähne.

As we fought, the ground shook, and the screams of dying men drowned out the sounds of battle.

At first, I thought the men had reached the water, but as we crested a short rise, I saw the troopers laid out in the grass. Their deaths had been quick, though I doubt painless.

My mother’s voice ripped through the air.

“Cowards.”

As much as I hate her, I have to admit I felt much the same way.

I’ve no use for cowards.

No Blood does.

In the cool breeze that sprang up, the dogs and I dragged the corpses to the water’s edge.

The merfolk still needed to eat.

#supernatural #paranormal

An Envoy

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He was damned dapper.

After the demi-god’s destruction, we had a few quiet days. Not so quiet as to allow the dogs of Deus Canum to leave, but quiet enough so that we didn’t have to worry about an attack on the farm.

As our fourth day of relative peace began, sounds of fighting rolled across the lake and made their way to me. I’d no sooner finished my second cup of coffee and was considering where to hunt next when a knock sounded at the back door. When I opened it, I found Edgar there, preening beneath his right wing and glancing over at me. 

“Bit of a curiosity, Duncan,” the raven stated.

The sentence took me aback. “A curiosity?”

The bird nodded. “We checked on the gunfire, turns out it’s, well, it’s difficult to explain.”

Now, I’ve never seen him at a lack for words. Nor did I ever expect to. 

“I’ll confess,” I told him, “you’ve piqued my curiosity, Edgar. What’s going on?”

“You’ve a guest,” the bird answered. “He’ll be here shortly.”

The barking of dogs distracted me, and as I turned to look, I saw a pair of hounds come bounding in from a lake trail. Their tales whipped back and forth, and their tongues lolled out of their mouths. I was about to ask what in the hell was going on when the answer stepped out after them.

He was a big dog. Not as tall or as thick as Brutus, but he was close in height. He wore a three-piece suit with a top hat and a beautiful jaeger pipe clutched between his teeth. When he reached me, the dog offered a low bow.

“Mr. Blood,” the dog greeted. “I am Lord Erasmus, and I am afraid our ship ran aground passing through the lake. As I am sure. You heard there is a bit of gunplay right now.”

“I heard it.”

The dog smiled, and the pipe danced in his mouth. “We seem to have run into a small platoon of soldiers, ostensibly under the command of your mother, and they opened fire. We should make short work of them. I was sent along to apologize and to ask might we have the dead?”

“By all means. Enjoy it.”

Lord Erasmus bowed again. “Many thanks, Mr. Blood.”

As the dog took his leave, I was left with one question.

How in the hell did that pipe stay in his mouth?

#supernatural #paranormal

The Demi-God

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He came from the Hollow.

How my mother managed to summon a demi-god and get him to do her bidding is a question best left unanswered. I’ve seen the spells she casts, and I know the blood magic she works. None of it is good, nor has it ever been.

This demi-god strode out of the Hollow, bellowing my name in a voice that shattered stones and shook the earth. By the time he reached my drive, I had a headache and a fair head of steam built up. My Colts were in hand, and the animals had scattered. The demi-god’s voice was too powerful, and so they’d taken Jimmy Elroy and the pups away with them.

On either side of the drive, the trees leaned toward one another, weaving their branches together and sending the demi-god’s voice back to him. Apparently, he disliked the sensation as much as I did, and by the time he reached me, he was muttering to himself behind a wooden face.

“Your mother would have words with you, stepson,” the demi-god stated.

I raised an eyebrow and cocked the hammers back. “I’m not your son, step or otherwise, and I don’t much care what my mother wants.”

The demi-god took a step forward. “You’ll do as your told, child.”

My thumbs settled on the hammers of the Colts and eased them back. “You best run along to your wife ere she tugs on those apron strings and brings you back.”

The snarl in his voice caused leaves to curl above us.

“You, child, shall learn respect and to call me father.”

As the last word left his lips, the Colts thundered.

Round after round slammed into the demi-god, blowing chunks of wood-like flesh from him. Dull brown ichor seeped from his wounds, and he stumbled back, surprised at the attack and the power behind the .44s.”

“No,” he gasped and tried to shield himself from the slugs. He only succeeded in offering up his arms for sacrifice, and I took them gladly. One was blown off at the elbow and the other at the shoulder. As he looked down at his severed limbs and tried to comprehend what he had experienced, I reloaded the Colts and walked forward.

The demi-god looked up as I put the barrels of both Colts against his forehead.

“I have a father,” I told him and pulled the triggers.

#supernatural #paranormal

Assassination

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She tried.

To say I was tired after the battle of North Road would be an understatement. I wanted nothing more than to take a shot of brandy, strip off my blood-soaked clothes and get a decent night’s rest.

I got the shot of brandy without any sort of interruption.

The night went downhill from there.

I finished the brandy, made certain Jimmy Elway was safe with the dogs and Octavius and made my way up the stairs. Some of the ghosts were fairly active, prowling the halls and banging doors they’d no right to be banging. Several of my relatives – uninvited guests who I’ve not given the opportunity to leave – were catcalling and making a nuisance of themselves.

I figured any sort of sleep was likely to be thin and less than restful.

When I reached my bedroom, all the noise stopped.

The second and third floors were listening, and I found out soon enough why.

I opened the bedroom door, stepped across the threshold, and discovered I wasn’t alone.

I don’t know who she was, but she was most assuredly one of the prettiest women I’d seen. She wore an ivory dress and a mantle that matched, and she smelled of sweet decadence. Her eyes, when she looked upon me, were a deep violet, the color of which I’d never seen before, and I doubt I’ll see again.

When she smiled, she showed teeth fashioned from steel and a forked tongue that danced across them.

Her words were soft and subtle, tempting and terrifying, all in one breath.

“Duncan Blood,” she murmured.

“Aye.”

“You’re more a boy than a man,” she observed.

“Seems that way at times,” I admitted.

Her nostrils flared, and she flashed a devastating smile. “Oh, but you’re old. Older than me. I can smell it.”

I nodded.

“Do you know why I’m here?” she asked, shedding her mantle and shaking out her hair.

“Death.”

She winked. “For one of us.”

She undid the tie at her waist and drew a long knife from the folds of her gown.

I drew my pruning knife from the small of my back and snapped open the curved blade.

There were no pleasantries. No hatred. Merely flashing blades and spraying blood. She was quick, though not quick enough.

She fought well, and she died hard.

I wish I’d gotten her name.

#supernatural #paranormal

North Road

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It was a damned hard fight.

I don’t know where my mother found the men, but they sure as hell knew their business.

I recognized neither the weapons nor the uniforms of the men laid out along the road, but I knew them for what they were.

Soldiers, just as the messenger had said.

And, not surprisingly, the Deus Canum had spoken true.

These were fighters brought in by my mother.

Part of me wanted to see if they would parley, and perhaps we could come to some sort of truce. One look at the men, however, told me that was an impossible goal.

They were soldiers tasked with my destruction. Nothing save death would turn them away from it.

I’d left my rifle at home. Instead, I was wearing the Colts slung low and loose in their holsters. Hanging from the belt were two weapons I’d not used in a long time. An old hatchet, the blade of which had tasted French blood in upstate New Hampshire first, and a warclub gifted to me by an Abenaki woman who was sweet on me. She’d given me the weapon with the polished and ball-shaped killing head despite my having killed her husband in battle.

Had I looked older than twelve, she might have tried to give me a little more.

When we stepped out of the woods, my mother’s soldiers saw us and began to fire.

The dogs dashed out, racing hellbent for leather. Some of them fell, cut down by the accurate fire of the men, but many more made it to the first line. As they did, troops from behind the hedge poured out, their voices raised to battle, and the fight began in earnest.

I don’t know how many times I fired and reloaded the Colts, but soon enough, they were back in their holsters. In my hands, I held the hatchet and the warclub, and I waded into the fight.

Bullets and blades bit deep into my flesh, but the fight continued.

Soon, my shirt was soaked with blood – mine and the soldiers – and the men began to run from me. The dogs hounded them back into the Hollow, where they would face my mother’s wrath for their failure.

The wounded lay upon the road, begging for mercy, and I gave them the mercy they deserved.

By night’s end, my hatchet was dull, and my arms were sore.

#supernatural #paranormal

Bad Luck

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The night went poorly.

On an island close to shore, we’d managed to find half a dozen more of the Kinderzähne, but they’d prepped a trap that the dogs didn’t discover until it was sprung.

Three dogs plummeted down a tiger trap, and not a one of them survived. The fall was longer than expected, and the Kinderzähne had sharpened the spikes at the bottom. The death may have been quick, but it sure as hell wasn’t painless.

I made certain the Kinderzähne didn’t die easy either.

By the time we finished up on the island and made our way back to the farm, night had fallen. Some dogs joined Miriam and Octavius in the barn where the two of them were holed up, thick as thieves as they made plans, and others came in and lay down wherever they could find room. Those allied to the Deus Canum remained outside, happy to sleep in a dogpile and get some rest.

I went to the front parlor, poured myself some bourbon and set about cleaning the Colts. It was a calming, peaceful routine. By the time I’d finished with the revolvers, it was well past midnight, and I decided to stretch out in the parlor rather than make my way up the stairs. I doubted my bed would be free of dogs, and I didn’t want to argue about who was going to sleep where.

As I lay down on the floor, I closed my eyes and thought about the other islands we’d search for in the morning. I’d just finished a yawn when the door snapped open, and a dog bolted into the room. It landed on a low settee and lay on its side for a moment, tongue lolling out as it panted.

I sat up and looked at the dog as it slowly focused on me.

“Duncan?” the dog asked.

“Aye,” I answered, hiding my dismay.

“I have a message from Deus Canum,” the dog stated, its voice shaking with awe at the memory.

“Speak.”

The dog nodded. “The wall on the North Road is breached, and your mother makes the most of it.”

“Do you know what’s being sent through?”

“Soldiers,” the dog answered. “Killers.”

I grunted and got to my feet. “I suppose they’ll want to meet the same.”

Without another word, I slipped the Colts into their belt.

There was killing to be done.

#supernatural #paranormal

Foolish

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It wasn’t a good place to hide.

Why they thought so, well, I can’t answer that. None of us could.

The ravens had spotted the nest first, and when they brought Octavius and myself to it, well, I understood why we’d such a helluva time finding the damned Kinderzähne.

They slept in trees.

They were wise enough to stay away from the speaking trees and from those that were marked by the dryads. Had we not had the ravens with us, though, it would have been a long time ere we found them.

Once the ravens spotted the first nest, well, the rest was easy.

The birds spread out over my lands and Blood Lake. As they did so, Octavius went back, found some of the dogs and had them spread the news.

Soon, dozens of dogs could be heard howling and barking, yipping and yapping as they made their way to me. In a matter of minutes, I was surrounded by them, even the speaking dogs thrilled with the sight before them.

A single Kinderzähne sat in the nest on the tree’s top, and it knew that death had come for it.

As the dogs raced around the tree, greeting the creature in their own way, Brutus came up beside me.

“Yon Kinderzähne knows it is time to die,” the great dog observed.

“Aye,” I nodded, “that’s a fact.”

We stood in silence for a moment.

“They don’t fight when they’re cornered like this,” Brutus stated.

I glanced at him. “No?”

He shook his head. “You’ll appreciate this, Blood if you’re anything like your kin.”

I watched the Kinderzähne stand up, stretch, and then draw a long, thin knife from behind its back.

“Ah, this is a strong one,” Brutus murmured approvingly.

The Kinderzähne took off its shirt, tossed it down to the dogs who tore into it, and then placed the tip of the knife against the center of its breast. Even from where I stood, I could see the dark blood well up around the blade’s tip.

The creature let out a high, sharp laugh, plunged the blade into its chest and pushed down.

For a moment, the Kinderzähne stood still, then it dropped the knife, took hold of either side of its opened torso, and pulled.

The creature’s innards spilled out into the tree limbs, and the Kinderzähne tumbled after it.

Brutus was right.

I appreciated it.

#supernatural #paranormal

Monstrous

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The dog was one of the largest I’d seen.

He was, I would learn later, one of their champions. A hound blessed by Deus Canum himself.

And the Kinderzähne were terrified of him.

I’d gone out hunting the little bastards, word was they’d gotten into what was left of the Elroys’ hen house, and when they finished, well, there wasn’t a bird to be found. Better than more people, I suppose, although there are some people I wouldn’t have minded exchanging the hens for.

As it was, the dogs and I put up a cordon around the house, and the ravens settled in to keep an eye on them. I was about ready to go in, Colts loaded and in hand, when the champion arrived.

The other dogs parted for him, and several whimpered in appreciative awe. The hound towered above the others, and when he stopped in front of me, we saw eye to eye.

“My name is Brutus,” the dog stated and inclined his head ever so slightly.

“Duncan.”

“Aye, I knew who you were when the wind shifted,” the dog stated. “I’ve met a few of your kith and kin in the Hollow, Duncan Blood. It is always a pleasure.”

I raised an eyebrow and waited for Brutus to continue.

“I have heard there are some of the Kinderzähne in the property,” he said, nodding toward Elroy farm.

“A fair few,” I agreed.

The dog grinned, some of his great incisors broken and chipped. “Excellent.”

“Need a hand?” I asked.

Brutus shook his head. “While I have often enjoyed fighting alongside Bloods and Coffins, I do not require assistance today. I have fought the Kinderzähne, and while they are entertaining, they are not difficult.”

Without another word, the dog trotted off toward the farm. Behind us, the other dogs closed ranks, and I holstered the Colts. I found a high point on the stonewall that wrapped around the Elroys’ land and made myself comfortable.

From where I sat, I could see everything.

Brutus took his time.

The Kinderzähne howled at his approach and did their best to run. Some sought safety in the house, others in the barn. A few raced toward the far edge of the property, and they were the first to die.

Brutus lived up to his name, and I enjoyed every moment of it.

#supernatural #paranormal

Pushing Back

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They didn’t know what to do.

The dogs were everywhere.

No matter where the Kinderzähne appeared or how they tried to leave my lands, they were turned back by the dogs. The canines and the ravens worked together; the weeping willows pulled up their roots and strode along the streams and marshy areas around the lake, searching. They drove the Kinderzähne toward the dogs, and the dogs herded those they didn’t kill toward me.

And I waited.

I sat on a wall I’d built with my father in 1692, smoking my pipe, rifle in my arms and Colts on my hips. I’d left a canoe on the bank, and the dogs would push the Kinderzähne toward me. The creatures would race for the canoe, only to discover I’d driven a length of iron through the bow, pinning it to the bank.

The canoe was bait and nothing more.

Naiads lurked in the shallow water, and they drowned those Kinderzähne who tried to swim away. Those who didn’t were kept in place by the dogs, and I took my time with my shots.

Each was clean, a single round through the head.

Today, I killed thirty-three of the little bastards, and from what I can tell, there’s a hell of a lot more of them out there. How they’re getting in, I don’t know, but I suspect my mother and the Hollow have something to do with it.

Tomorrow, we’ll start checking the islands along the Hollow side of Blood Lake. From there, we’ll work toward the Hollow itself.

Today though, the naiads are still bringing bodies back to shore. The dogs and I will drag them in to the old apple trees and feed them.

I’ll not see good meat go to waste.

Not when my trees are hungry.

#supernatural #paranormal

Wisdom

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They were too damned quick.

I’d lost three people in as many days to the Kinderzähne.

The ravens had a difficult time spotting them from the sky, and Miriam’s dogs had a hell of a time keeping the damned things’ trails. The Kinderzähne were quick and could leap from tree to tree.

Some of the Kinderzähne had been killed by trees. A pair by some dryads.

Too many still roamed free.

As did my mother. Or whatever iteration of her was prowling the edge of the Hollow and snatching up those creatures unaware of her presence.

All in all, 1900 was turning into a miserable year.

I found the old dog sitting patiently in my room, which didn’t surprise me. I left the door open, and dogs old and young were wont to wander in. Only Miriam and a handful of others spoke.

As did this one, it turned out.

I sat down in my rocker, poured myself a short sniff of brandy, and was about to enjoy it when the dog spoke.

“You haven’t fought the Kinderzähne before.”

“No,” I agreed, taking a drink. “I certainly haven’t.”

“The trick,” the dog continued, scratching lazily at one of his ears, “is not to chase them.”

I finished the brandy and waited.

“They like the chase,” the dog told me. “They like the thrill of it. They know a few will die. But that’s what makes it exciting. You’ve got to trap them.”

“How?” I asked.

“Ignore them.”

I raised an eyebrow.

The dog chuckled. “Oh, don’t let them wander. Not by any means. Set the ravens loose and the younger dogs too. But you stay here. Plant yourself in the orchard or beneath a willow, and wait. Smoke your pipe. Read a book. They’ll come to you.”

“And what of my mother?” I asked.

The dog snarled. “She’ll not leave the Hollow when I’m here.”

“And why is that?”

The old dog bared his teeth and stood up. In perfect Latin, he replied, “Deus Canum.”

With that, he left the room, his steps silent upon the floor. For the first time, I felt the weight that had been in the room. The power that faded with the dog’s steps.

Deus Canum.

God of Dogs.

P.S. Several weeks ago, you may have noticed that I didn’t post for some time. My oldest son died unexpectedly. These past three weeks have been tremendously hard, and they have left my wife and me with a huge financial burden. While he was 28, our son had not made any plans for burial, etc. Friends of ours started a GoFundMe to help pay for some of the costs, but the original amount posted is only half of the total cost.

If you have read these stories and enjoyed them, I hope you might be able to donate even a couple of dollars to help with the funeral and burial costs. If you can’t help, even just sharing the link would be extremely helpful.

Thank you again.

https://gofund.me/5f2dad9e

Innocence

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Lea Blackwell walked out of her home and never returned.

The Blackwells were an old family. Truth Blackwell had come along with my father to settle Cross in 1628, and he had been one of the few my father never killed. The man’s family had done well, and I was as familiar with his descendants as I was with him. By 1900, there were only a handful of Blackwells in the area, and Lea was one of them.

She had served as the schoolmarm for years, never marrying nor doing much more than teach and read, which was a fine life as far as I could see. With her passing, the last of Truth’s direct line would be gone, and it would be another mark in the history of Cross.

Lea provided a room for the schoolmarm, and it was from this woman, Juliette Evans, that I learned that lea had not come back from her short walk.

I’d neither seen nor heard anything from my mother or the Kinderzähne for close to a week. I knew it didn’t mean they were gone, and it was to them my thoughts first went when Ms. Evans brought the news.

I hurried out to North Road, where Lea liked to walk, and found her tracks. They were clear and unmarred, and they led off into my land. There was a small game trail she had followed, and I could see where she had paused now and again, the soil pressed down beneath a heel, a bit of crushed debris. Here and there, a thread had caught on bark.

I soon tracked her down to the edge of Blood Lake, close to where an old pier stretched out.

In one of my boats, a group of Kinderzähne sat. They smiled at me, blood staining their teeth and flecked across their clothes.

Of Lea Blackwell, there was no sign.

One of the Kinderzähne stood in the boat, offered a bow and then cupped his hands around his mouth.

“She was as sweet and delicate as your mother promised, Mr. Blood,” the child called.

The Colts cleared leather, and the air filled with their thunder.

But it was no use.

The Kinderzähne had gone overboard and slipped away, unharmed.

With my Colts in hand, I went out to the boat they’d been in and saw Lea’s remains. There was naught but hair and bones.

I reloaded the Colts and wondered how much more I could hate my mother.

#supernatural #paranormal

Fire

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We were too late.

I saw the smoke rising, and there was no question as to whether it was a chimney or a house fire. The dark, churning clouds screamed house fire, and so I ran to it.

Some of the dogs raced ahead and beside me while Octavius thundered toward the smoke.

The structure belonged to the O’Rourke family, recent transplants from Boston Towne, and dead from what I could see.

I came to a stop by Octavius as the dogs fanned out and some of the ravens settled into the trees, their sharp eyes searching for survivors and for those who might have set the house ablaze.

“This smells wrong,” Octavius muttered.

I glanced at him, and when I did, one of the dogs trotted up on unsteady feet. In its mouth, the dog carried a letter, and when he presented it to me and I accepted it. The dog took another shambling step and then collapsed, seizing for a split second before he died.

My fingertips stung as whatever was on the letter burned my flesh with a deep and hateful poison.

I opened the letter as Octavius peered over my shoulder.

“Read it aloud, Duncan,” the donkey said. “There are none of us here who can read.”

I nodded, cleared my throat, and began.

“My Dear Son,” the letter greeted, “it is my hope that you are suffering as you read this. You know full well that I have butchered the family within these walls and that I will, at some point, be feeding them to my dear Kinderzähne. I trust you feel the poison, although it will not do more than discomfort you. I believe that the death of the dog will harm you more. Yes, I know that you are running with dogs, as you always did as a child. Filthy creatures.

“Rest assured, this family died badly. I took their intestines with me as I left, and they didn’t die until I lit the flames a short time later. Tonight, I might make some sausages. As I recall, they were your favorite.

“Mother.”

Miriam came and sat beside me. “There are bodies inside and a blood trail out the back.”

“Don’t go inside. I’ll bury them.”

“We’ll keep you company, Duncan,” Miriam replied.

I took out my pipe, packed it, and lit the tobacco.

I sat down beside Miriam, and Octavius did the same.

All we could do was wait.

#supernatural #paranormal

Hunting

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The pack came out.

The dogs spread across my lands and worked with the ravens.

Octavius kept an eye on everything from the house, helping to coordinate the efforts of both dogs and ravens. He kept the peace between bird and beast and made sure to offer up a sane and calm voice for Jim Elroy. The boy still spent most of his time in the front parlor, but he did it out of bed and in the company of Miriam’s pups.

I roamed my land, listening to the complaints of the trees and the occasional ghost who made its presence known. Edgard stayed with me, occasionally taking to wing and soaring above me to let others know where we were.

I was listening, with shrinking patience, to the ghost of a man named Remember Grace as he bemoaned the fact he could no longer work his land. Remember had been dead for two hundred years. My father and I had shot him and put him in the ground, still breathing, knowing that if we didn’t, he’d go and eat another neighbor or two. Whatever madness had struck him while alive had left the man when dead. It was a pity. He’d at least been interesting when we were hunting him down.

Sane, he was as dull as a Sunday preacher.

I was pleased when Edgard landed on my shoulder and whispered news of the Kinderzähne.

Two of Miriam’s pack had cornered one of the creatures in a house on the island of Less. It was a good-sized bit of land at the top of the lake, close to the Hollow when the wind was right. Or wrong, depending on how you looked at it.

I took my leave of Remember and made my way to the shore. I found a canoe, climbed in, and paddled for the island. When I reached it, several more dogs were coming out of the lake, stepping onto the shore and shaking themselves dry.

Without a word, we followed the trail that led to the island’s single house and found it cordoned off by the dogs.

In the darkness beyond, I heard rustling and drew the Colts.

I needn’t have bothered.

The Kinderzähne rushed out and was seized by the dogs before I could pull the triggers. The creature’s screams were cut short as the other dogs raced in and joined the feast.

For a long time, the sound of tearing meat filled the air.

#supernatural #paranormal

An Accord

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The speaking dog is a rarity now.

I’ve brought a few out of the Hollow over the decades, but the ability to speak doesn’t last more than a generation or so. When I do meet them on my lands, they tend to be transplants, much like Octavius, or double-edged blessings like Edgar and some of his raven kin.

Octavius was sleeping in the front parlor, Jim Elroy was still abed in the study, and the raven dozed on the back of a chair when a soft barking caught my attention. When I followed the sound outside, I saw a small mixed-breed pup, no older than three or four months, dart away along the trail leading to Blood Lake.

With my Colts, I took off after the dog.

I made good time down the trail and soon caught sight of the dog as it was joined by a littermate. Within moments, they met with a third, and then a fourth and fifth. They trotted along the trail, tails wagging as they playfully nipped at one another. In a short time, we were at the shore, and the pups raced off into the brush on either side of the trail, leaving me with their mother, who was looking out over the lake.

She turned and glanced over her shoulder at me, nodded, and then stepped down from the stone she’d been on.

“Duncan Blood,” she said, sitting down.

“Aye. We’ve not met.”

“No. I’m Miriam.”

“A pleasure.”

She eyed me for a moment. “Something’s come to Cross.”

I nodded. “I was set to look for you today; see if you mightn’t help.”

“Do you know what these are?”

I shook my head.

“No, I suppose not. You are not from my when, nor are you even from my world. My Duncan Blood is well familiar with these creatures.” She paused, scratched an ear, and then resumed the conversation. “They are Kinderzähne, and they’ve eaten my mate and two of our pups. Will you help me kill them?”

“Aye.”

“May I keep my pups with you?”

“Aye,” I smiled. “I’ve a boy at the house who’s in need of good company, and I think your pups will be just that.”

“They need the same,” Miriam stated. “Once they’re safe, I’ll call the pack.”

“You’ve a pack?” I asked, surprised.

“If I could open the Hollow, Duncan Blood, I’d have an army.”

And that would be something to see.

#supernatural #paranormal

Trespassing

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I don’t much care for trespassers.

I do my best to stay off other people’s property, and I appreciate it when they do the same. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it usually helps them keep hold of life and limb.

Some learn it the hard way.

The two men duck hunting on the shores of Blood Lake sure as hell did.

There’d been no sign of the children who weren’t children, though the trees and the dryads were still talking about them. And if the trees were, well, it meant that the creatures were still about.

I was carrying heavy. My Colts were slung low on my hips, loose in their holsters, and the Gewehr in my arms. I’d even bothered to pack my ruck and sling it. I had rations and rounds to last for a few days if I caught the trail.

All I caught were two fools.

Like most I find wandering the shores of my lake or squatting out on the islands, these two weren’t from Cross. The wind carried their voices to me, and I heard the sharp tone of the New Yorker in their words.

A sudden cry broke the air, and a flight of ducks took to wing. One of the hunters stood, brought his shotgun up, and then he died.

One of the children who weren’t children exploded up out of the water, teeth barred and hands grasping. It latched onto the standing man’s neck, blood coursing down from its mouth as its serrated teeth shredded the man’s flesh.

The other duck hunter remained frozen in fear, unable to move.

I had the Gewehr shouldered, and as I fired, the duck hunter stood.

The bullet meant for the creature struck the man in the skull and exited his left eye, crashing into the skull of his dying compatriot.

As I chambered another round, the creature dove into the lake and vanished beneath the water.

I stood alone on the shore with corpses and nothing more.

I went to the bodies and stripped them both down, leaving their belongings for goblins to salvage. As for the men, I found some rope in their bags and fashioned a sling to drag their bodies down to the nearest path.

Later, as evening came, they would feed the trees.

As for myself, I knew that if I wanted to find the creatures, I’d need the dogs.

If the dogs even wanted to be found.

#supernatural #paranormal

Beets

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Octavius was nearly as old as me.

According to the donkey, we’d met in New France in January of 1753, where he was attached to a small militia unit of Canadians. Animals who spoke were not a rarity, nor were they afforded any sort of courtesy.

The Duncan Octavius met did not agree with such a philosophy, and he left a dozen men bleeding out in the January snow.

We’d traveled a bit, up and down the length and breadth of New England, but he managed to stumble into the Hollow one day, and that was all it took. He’d met a few other versions of myself, and he’d run into my mother more times than he cared to remember.

I understood completely.

We jawed long into the night, and when I finally fell asleep in my chair and he on his side stretched out in front of the fireplace.

The rapping of a raven on the door woke me.

Opening it, I found Edgar. “Duncan.”

“Did you find something, Edgar?”

“Elroy’s farm. Young Jim is in the beet field by himself this morning,” Edgar stated.

My shoulders sagged, and I nodded. “No sign of the rest of the family?”

“Not even smoke from the chimney.”

“Alright,” I said. “I’ll put on the Colts and head over. My thanks, Edgar.”

The raven nodded once and turned away.

“Bad news?” Octavius asked, the floorboards creaking as he got to his feet.

“More than likely,” I answered. “Jim Elroy, the youngest of the Elroy family, is in the beet field by himself. I’ve never seen any Elroy in the field alone.”

“Want company?”

“I’d appreciate it.”

We left the house together, the donkey walking on my right.

It took us a little over half an hour to reach the Elroy farm. Edgar was perched in a nearby elm, his sharp eyes watching. Jim Elroy had a machete in hand and worked at topping a beet with a dull and dazed expression.

“Jim,” I called as we approached.

The boy hesitated, lowered his machete, saw my face, and began to wail.

I bade Edgar stay with the boy, and I went into the house with guns drawn.

There was no need.

The other six members of the Elroy clan were dead, half-eaten. A pair of children who were not children lay on the floor near them, the tops of their heads across the room.

Jim had topped them as neatly as he topped a beat.

#supernatural #paranormal

From the Hollow

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He spoke well.

I wasn’t sure how many of the little bastards were out there, running loose around my lands on my islands. The ravens were out looking, and even a handful of goblins were keeping a weather eye open.

But there’d been no word. No sign for three days.

And then, of course, there was.

I came across a man I didn’t know, a man I never would know.

He’d been stripped naked, nailed to the side of a barn close to the Hollow, and his legs stripped of meat. The remnants of a fire stood off to one side, and the unmistakable odor of cooked human flesh hung in the air, curling around the barn as though it had nowhere to go and no desire to leave.

Unfortunately, the man was still alive.

How he had managed to last through such abuse, I do not know. But I do know he wouldn’t survive it. The legs had been tied off, but his eyes had death in them. His face was gray, his lips blue. He looked at me and tried to speak.

I could see what he wanted.

I put my hand over his eyes, drew a Colt, and shot him in the temple. His body sagged forward, head lolling on his chest.

A cough caught my attention, and I turned to see a small boy, one of the creatures, atop a donkey. The boy held a stick and grinned at me.

“Will you come with me, Mr. Blood?” the child asked. “Or will I take you?”

As the child/thing spoke, the donkey turned to look at me, its eyes narrowing.

“Blood?” the donkey asked.

The child/thing’s eyes widened at the donkey’s voice, and I nodded.

“Good,” the animal sighed and bucked the creature off his back.

The creature hit the ground running, darting into a clump of bushes and vanishing as I sent off two quick rounds after him. They smashed into his lower back and cut the creature in two.

I turned my attention to the donkey.

“My name is Octavius,” the animal informed me. “And you are Duncan Blood. Is this Cross or Bloodtowne?”

“Cross.”

“It would be,” the donkey muttered. He cleared his throat. “Well, would you put an old friend up for the night?”

“Are we old friends?”

“Older than you know,” the animal replied. “Fix me a coffee with some applejack, and I’ll tell you the tale.”

I nodded, reloaded the Colts, and led the way home.

#supernatural #paranormal

Bait

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They sprang the trap too soon.

The cries of calves caught my ear, as it was supposed to.

I’d been traveling along one of the backroads on the eastern side of my lands, Colts on my hips and a new rifle over my shoulder. Fraulein Litz in Germany had sent an 1888 Gewehr and ammunition to me.

The rifle was beautiful and sleek and a distinct reminder of her dangerous beauty.

The rifle had a good feel to it, and when it was tucked into my shoulder, it was damned near impossible to miss.

Given the fact that the little bastards had scattered on the island before I could bring the Colts to bear on them, I thought something with a little more range might do the trick.

Rather than drawing my Colts at the sound of the crying calves, I chambered a round into the ’88 instead. With the rifle at the ready, I followed the road until I came to a section of fencing and a young girl holding a pair of calves.

The girl smiled her sharp and wicked teeth and then tore into the throat of the nearest calf. Blood sprayed out around her, and from either side of the road, a pair of children raced.

But they’d set themselves up too far from me.

The monsters on the left leapt towards me in a sickening, froglike manner, and I shot the first through the temple. The impact sent him spinning into his comrade, and they tumbled to the earth. As the still living creature sought to disentangle himself, I chambered a fresh cartridge as I swung the rifle ‘round to the other two, dropped to one knee and fired off another shot.

The beast pitched forward, and his comrade hesitated, her pigtails bouncing.

She blinked, the brass casing caught the sun as I ejected it, and before she took another breath, she was stretched out on the ground beside the other, bleeding out on the road.

The second monster on the left got to his knees and died there, slumping over as the .88’s round tore through his throat.

The girl with the calves had finished with her butchery.

“I’m still hungry, Mr. Blood,” she said, and I shot her in the belly.

I went to ask her a few questions, but she tore her own tongue out at the root.

I lit my pipe and sat beside her, smoking as she died.

#supernatural #paranormal

School

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They were rowdy and quicker’n hell.

I tracked them for two days and finally found them on an island in Blood Lake. I could hear them from the lake itself, and when I landed and climbed the small hill to the island’s top, I found them there.

A house I’d not seen before stood a fair distance away, and a group of 13 children sat or stood around tables. A woman was there with them.

None of it was right.

The children didn’t move properly; their gestures and looks too fast. When they spoke, it was in whispers and in a language I did not know.

As I approached them, I kept my hands near the Colts.

The children put the books down and got to their feet. They smiled, teeth too small and too sharp. Their fingers twitched, and their lips trembled.

The teacher stepped forward, her grin twice the size of theirs and her teeth just as small and just as sharp.

“Have you come to join us, Mr. Blood?” the woman asked. Her words rolled off her tongue as though she was speaking with a forked tongue, and perhaps she was.

“Not if I can help it,” I replied, resting my hands on the Colts.

The children giggled.

“That’s not polite, Mr. Blood,” the woman scolded. “Your mother did warn us of your manners, however.”

My spine stiffened, and my grip tightened on the revolvers. “That a fact?”

The children nodded their heads vigorously, and the woman laughed.

“It is indeed,” she confirmed. “Your mother said you would be most difficult to kill but not to antagonize.”

“Which are you here to do?” I asked.

“Both,” the woman said, the smile never leaving her face. “If we can manage. Kill if we can only have one.”

She snapped her fingers, and the children sprang in every direction.

The Colts cleared leather, and the children were gone, vanished into the grass as the teacher charged at me, her hat blowing off. Her mouth had opened, and rows of teeth could be seen.

The Colts thundered and took her square in the chest, knocking her back. She caught herself and continued forward, spewing blood.

I put six more rounds into her before she went down.

She was gasping when I reached her, but my boots put a stop to that.

A friend of my mother is no friend of mine.

#supernatural #trees #paranormal

Brutality

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The tree was angry.

I’d finished putting in a new section of fence along North Road when word came to me that there was an older tree who was displeased.

I thought it might be something foolish. Children climbing the branches, dogs marking the trunk.

I was wrong.

When I arrived at the tree, I found it to be more than a little out of sorts.

Someone had murdered four people, taken their heads, and buried them in the tree’s roots. The surest way to plant ghosts.

The ghosts themselves stood on either side of the tree, a pair of couples watching me with lackluster eyes and a listlessness only the newly dead had.

I would get no information from them.

“Have you put irons on your legs?” the tree demanded.

I paused, hands on the butts of my Colts. “Came as quick as I could. Know who did this?”

The tree snorted in derision. “By name? Of course not. Only the Bloods and the Coffins are worth knowing. They were not your kin.”

“Who were they?”

“Children but not children,” the tree answered.

I peered at him, waiting for the inevitable, drawn-out continuation.

It came nearly a full minute later.

“I tasted the earth when they came near and paid them little mind,” the tree stated. “They were forest folk, of that I am certain. They reminded me of someone, ‘though I cannot recall who.”

“Someone you were friendly with?” I ventured.

“I am friendly with you, Blood, and no one else,” the tree hissed. “They are not worthy of my time or of my patience. They are nothing more than a side of beef on a late August evening.”

I glanced at the ghosts who were still wandering about. “They won’t leave, you know.”

“I know,” the tree spat. “Not until they’re damned good and ready.”

“Did the children but not children leave you the bodies?”

“No,” the tree grumbled. “And I’m hungry.”

I nodded.

“Right. I’ll see what I can find. Keep a raven nearby and send it along when you’ve more news for me.”

The tree muttered its agreement, and I left its small glen.

Children but not children.

Ghosts left behind to torment a tree.

Something had a long memory, and it’d been nursing a grievance for a while.

Time to find who it is.

#supernatural #trees #paranormal #books

Day 36

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“I hate you.”

It was a phrase I was well familiar with.

I stood in a large library, the stink of the wyrm heavy in the air.

The Colts were reloaded and in my hands. I’d not waste any time drawing them as I knew the wyrm would be waiting.

I was not wrong.

The wyrm’s voice echoed from the shadows of the shelves, difficult to pinpoint as they raised the fine hairs on the nape of my neck.

“You’re in good company,” I replied, squaring my shoulders and waiting. “There’re a great many who feel the same.”

A book tumbled off to the left, but I paid it no mind. This was the wyrm’s home, after all, and who knows what he was capable of.

“Oh, I know,” the wyrm snapped. “Your mother is one of your finest detractors.”

“No real surprise there,” I remarked.

The wyrm snarled, and the soft hissing of his body as it undulated across the floor filled the library.

“Do you know why I hate you?” the wyrm asked.

“No.”

“Do you want to?”

“If it’ll set your mind at ease before I kill you, then speak.”

The wyrm chuckled. “Such bravado, Blood.”

I did not offer a reply.

“I hate you because I am blind,” the wyrm snapped. “Had you simply died, my eyes would not have been taken from me.”

“I don’t see as that’s my fault. Of course, at least I can see that it’s not my fault.”

The wyrm howled and struck a bookcase, knocking its contents onto the floor.

“Tell me, wyrm,” I said, bringing the Colts up and bracing myself. “Would you like me to stay a while and read to you?”

The wyrm exploded through a shelf, books and torn pages raining down upon the ravaged head of the beast. I could see the flames boiling in its mouth, and the Colts thundered.

One round passed through his open mouth and exited through the left eye while the second destroyed its jaw. Blood sprayed outward as the wyrm slammed into a wall. It struck the floor, rolled, and gathered its coils beneath it, but the revolvers filled the air with the sounds of death.

Slug after slug tore into the great beast, the .44s carving out huge chunks of flesh. Our blood and our hatred as dangerous as the lead itself.

I put 48 rounds into the bastard, and I only wish my mother had gotten her share too.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 35

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Wulf found the wyrm’s lair.

The tower stood atop a hill, its curved wall facing the sun, shutters wide and shooters in the windows.

Wulf took a round through his shoulder, but he returned to the hospital and spoke of what had occurred.

I took only my Colts with me and struck out along the trail to the place where the wyrm waited.

As soon as I was in view, the windows were thrown wide, and things that were not quite men took up positions in the windows. They had rifles and scatter guns, and a trio crowded into each window while a dozen more exited the entrance and spread out. The creatures on the ground formed a firing line, and the steady click of rounds being chambered was a decadent symphony to my soul.

I drew the Colts, and a man stepped out into the doorway.

He wore a long cloak and a golden chain of office around his neck. From his sleeve, he removed a scroll, unrolled it, and looked at me. “Be you Duncan Blood of Cross, Massachusetts?”

“Aye,” I answered.

“Committer of matricide, homicide, and infanticide?”

“Aye.”

The man nodded and cleared his throat.

“Be it known to all gathered here that this man, Duncan Blood of Cross, son of Ezekiel, has confirmed his sins to this court. It does please us greatly to pronounce the sentence of death upon him, and we shall rejoice with the destruction of this murderer.” The man finished the scroll, rolled it once more, and put it away. He gazed upon me with an expression that was half disdain and half ridicule. “Have you anything to say, Blood?”

My Colts spoke for me.

The blood-blessed rounds tore through his chest and throat, leaving wounds that burned blue as he staggered back.

The men around him and in the windows hesitated, unsure of what to do and sickly fascinated by the blazing injuries.

The hesitation cost them.

My Colts roared in the stillness as I cut down the creatures in the windows, sending their bodies tumbling out the frames and onto their companions below. Panic swept over those on the ground.

My revolvers went dry, but I reloaded as the creatures fired off badly aimed shots.

When the Colts were heavy again, I went back to killing.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 34

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We spent the night casting bullets.

Wulf and Mikkelsen helped me weigh the powder, and as we neared the time to cast the bullets, the firing caps set off to one side and waiting with the patience of their kind, there was a knock at the door.

Wulf drew his knife and opened the door.

Marius stood in the doorway, his face pale and unhealthy. When he spoke, his voice raw and hardly above a whisper, he said, “There’s someone to see you.”

“At the front?” I asked.

Marius shook his head. Through clenched teeth, he stated, “He appeared in the room and asked to be brought to you.”

The words caused my companions to look at me.

“Let them in,” I said and drew my own knife.

A strange approximation of a man entered the room as Marius stepped aside and fled.

The scent of cinnamon and nutmeg filled the air, and the door closed of its own accord. Wulf kept his blade out and backed away, the weapon trembling in his hand.

The creature before us had black holes for eyes and a face that would not move. When he stepped forward, the body shook beneath the fur robes as though the joints didn’t hold quite together.

He reached out with both arms, the hands hidden in the sleeves. In a hoarse, brutal voice, the creature whispered, “Bring knives forward for the bloodletting. Place cast bullets in the copper pail.”

“Why?” I asked.

He turned his face to me once more. “You hunt the wyrm.”

Wulf stepped closer, the cast bullets placed in the copper pail. He held his knife as the stranger set the bowl on a nearby table. The creature beckoned to Mikkelsen, and the man obeyed.

In a moment, all four of us were gathered around the bowl.

“Hands over the bowl, cut your palms,” the stranger ordered, and as a heaviness filled the air, we did so.

Our blood splattered down upon the bullets, and as it did, the stranger spoke in a soft whisper that shook the walls and rattled the foundations.

The stranger looked at me.

“Blood and hate make these strong. Bring rum to hell, Duncan. I’m tired of drinking alone.”

The creature slipped out the door, closing it behind him, the last few words ringing in my ears and telling me who he’d once been.

Pedersen.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 33

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They were an abomination.

I came upon an abandoned village, one that reeked of death and desperation, madness and hatred.

It stank of the wyrm.

There weren’t more than a dozen houses and a single general store.

Only the store was occupied.

One-half of it had once been fully stocked with canned goods, clothes, and all the odds and ends one needs to survive as a farmer in Denmark. The other consisted of an eatery, in which I found four soldiers.

They sat at a table, the remnants of a great feast before them. Empty barrels of beer and bottles of schnapps littered the tables and floor around them, and they watched me with a bored curiosity.

Their swords leaned against the table, but the men seemed to pay little mind to the weapons.

I didn’t like the looks of the men, nor did I much care for the squalor around them.

Something was wrong.

“Where is he?” I asked.

Their answer was less than I’d hoped for and more than I wanted.

They stood up, pushing their chairs back, the swords tumbling and clattering to the floor.

And then the men joined.

They became an amalgamation of a man.

Too tall for the room, the four-headed beast leaned over, arms tearing at clothes and casting them away. Four mouths spoke at once, but I understood none of what they said, only the gleeful spite behind the words.

Hands joined and formed massive crooks, each tipped with bloody nails and broken bones.

I didn’t bother with the Colts.

I wasn’t in the mood.

I took the hammer from my belt and went in swinging.

Whatever the creature was, it had believed itself to be invincible. And perhaps against some other, it might be.

But I am not some other.

I am a Blood, and for those such as this abomination, I am death.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Once more, I would like to thank everyone for their kind words and messages. They have meant a great deal to me and will continue to as my family, and I move on from this tragedy.

I miss my son terribly, and I know I will do so every day. I am told the pain will lessen, and I believe this.

All I can do is move forward and keep him with me.

Thank you again.

Nick

Day 31

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The scarecrows were once men.

I approached with all the caution that stock-still men deserved.

I don’t know when they died, but it hadn’t been recent. Their skin was stretched taut, and their eyes sunken in. They wavered ever so slightly in the hard breeze coming in off the nearby inlet.

A good look at the land around them showed something wasn’t right.

The wind blew a little more, and the edge of a door was revealed.

As I crouched down to get a better look, a score of doors was thrown open. Snow exploded into the air, and the scarecrows tumbled down as Skratti scrambled up onto the field.

These were not nearly as coordinated as their brethren. They wore their own, rough-made clothes, crude weapons formed from cast-off iron and steel.

They did not know my name.

They didn’t see me as a threat.

They learned.

I moved slow and steady, drawing the Colts and firing from the hip as I got into a solid fighting stance. The heavy .44s tore through the Skratti, some slugs taking out two or more as the creatures bunched together.

The thunder of the Colts rolled across the field, and the slugs drove the Skratti back. Some slipped into their bolt holes, slamming doors down behind them. Others tried to get away and were cut down, the .44s blowing out their chests as the rounds exited.

As I reloaded, a handful of Skratti charged at me, and they regretted the decision instantly.

When the last died, gasping in the bloody, churned snow, I reloaded the Colts again. Stepping over the bodies, I went on my way.

There was still a wyrm to kill, and I meant to kill him.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 30

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It snowed and silenced the world.

This morning, I left my rescuers in the care of the Wulf and several others who had arrived from the hospital. I’d cleaned my Colts and loaded them, wiped the hammer down, and found some clothes that were not charred tatters.

With orders for them to return to the fortified hospital, I went out hunting on my own.

The world was silent.

No birds sang; no animals called out.

Only the sound of my boots punching through the thin crust of the snow filled the air.

I didn’t mind.

I’d hunted in the Hollow when the weather had been colder, and the dead littered the ground. I’d slept in beaver dams as a boy when the Mohicans were on the hunt and among the dead at places like the Wilderness and Chancellorsville. I’d known the bitter cold of Valley Forge and the bite of the same when we crossed into Trenton and gave the Hessians a rude Christmas gift.

As I walked, I came upon a great set of fieldworks, one that had been empty for some time. Perhaps even from the beginning of the attacks.

I paused at a deep trench and looked at a pair of huts, one of which had a door hanging from one hinge.

I listened and heard not a thing.

Still, I drew both Colts and cocked the hammers back, unconcerned about the noise.

I doubted anyone – either friend or foe – was here.

I searched the entire fieldworks and found them abandoned. All the supplies had been hauled away. Nothing, save a pair of spiked field pieces, had been left behind, and that pleased me. Aside from the one broken door, the encampment was in fair condition. A clear sign that someone had retired in good order. They had not been driven from it.

I did not find any graves or any sign of a medical tent having been set up.

Whatever unit had been stationed here had retreated.

Perhaps I would find them in another position, warm and strong against the cold.

Or I might find them butchered in a mass grave.

It was war, and I’d find out one way or another.

I always did.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 29

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Evidently, I’d been wounded.

The men had thought me dead, and I suppose I had been closer to death than before.

I remember going out alone and finding wyrm sign. The trail had led down through thickets and over stones, into the depths of a narrow gorge, and out into a small glen.

After that, I have no memories.

The men who found me, the ones who dragged my body into the safety of a house they’d turned into a small fortress, told me the rest of the tale.

They had heard the sounds of gunfire and hastened to it. When they drew close, they saw the wyrm and me facing off. The Colts roared, matching the wyrm’s own ferocious cries. The slugs hit him and drove him back, but his skill with his breath was something to behold.

The wyrm protected himself with the fire, and as I reloaded one of the Colts, he attacked.

His tail lashed out and snapped both my knees, and even as I emptied the Colts into his belly, he bathed me in flames.

The men, not knowing who I was, and fearing the wyrm might turn upon them next, assumed I was dead and remained in hiding.

I was not dead, and the wyrm had more to fear from me or anyone else.

The men told me of a great, one-eyed raven, its feathers white with age.

The raven dove one the wyrm and struck it a blow across the head, tearing out one eye and ripping open the mouth.

Howling, the wyrm gave up its assault on me and fled for the safety of the forest.

The raven called out sharply to the men, its cry commanding and fierce.

They knew it wanted them to come for me, and so they did.

When I heard their story, I thanked them and asked them to send a runner for my men, which they did.

I am nearly healed, and when I’m done, the wyrm will die.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 25

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They died hard.

They were dressed like men, but they didn’t die like them.

I’d left the hospital, armed with my Colts and hammer.

They bushwhacked me about a mile from the hospital, the first two rounds catching me in my chest and knocking me back. Whatever they were using was powerful as hell and blew a lung – and its ribs – straight to hell.

I was still wheezing when they approached me, apparently sure they’d put me down.

They’d hurt me, that’s for certain.

But they hadn’t put me down.

The shooters realized I was still alive, and as they went to chamber rounds into their rifles, I drew both Colts.

The roar of the revolvers filled my ears, and the weight of them in my hands helped me climb to my feet.

The shooters had fallen back a few steps, one casting aside his rifle, the breech having been shattered by a .44 slug.

Grinding my teeth as my ribs regrew and knitted themselves together, the other shooter brought his rifle up and took a bullet in the throat for his trouble.

Dark gray blood exploded across his unarmed comrade, and the two of them charged at me, weapons forgotten. They were too angry.

I understood that completely.

I emptied the Colts into the shooters, and while the slugs slowed them down some, it didn’t stop them.

That was fine with me.

My lung had healed; the Colts went into their holsters; and the hammer into my hands.

The first blow knocked dislocated one fellow’s jaw, and the second collapsed the left side of his comrade’s face, the eye shooting out and striking me in the chest.

There was no time to laugh at the absurdity of the wandering orb.

They meant to kill me, and I meant to do the same to them.

Their hands struck like iron, breaking bones and deadening muscles with every blow.

But no sooner had the blows been delivered than feeling returned and bones healed.

They weren’t so lucky.

I destroyed knees and hips, shoulders and sternums.

Still, they fought on.

Finally, I knocked one to the ground and caved in the back of his skull.

That did the trick.

In a moment, his comrade was dead with him.

My clothes were soaked with my blood and theirs, and I needed fresh clothes.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 24

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It was a place of refuge.

The hospital had survived longer than any other building, and it had been defended by the wounded and the dying.

I’d been in the lead, scouting the road and keeping an eye out for the wyrm’s tracks. He’d slipped away during the fight with the creature at the barn, but I had no doubt we’d come across him sooner rather than later.

As it was, one of the guards atop the hospital roof put a bullet between my legs when I rounded the corner of the road and brought me to a stop.

Wulf, directly behind me, laid his rifle on my shoulder. “Give the word, and he dies.”

“Wait.”

One of the men at the hospital called out, “Human?”

“Of a sort,” I answered.

Some of the men behind me chuckled, as did a few along the roofline. A raven landed beside the shooter, who nodded and asked, “What’s your name?”

“Duncan.”

“Family?”

“Blood.”

The raven let out a harsh laugh, and there was a collective sigh of relief from the guards. They set down their weapons and straightened up. It was then I saw the bandages and the slings. The man who had shot at me was missing his left foot.

“How many do you have?” he asked.

“Not enough,” I replied.

He nodded, and the main door opened.

Wulf took his rifle off my shoulder and went back to inform the rest of the column of the situation.

When I reached the door, a man in a wheelchair rolled out to greet me. He was old, perhaps in his 70s, but his grip was firm.

“I am Dr. Cassel. Welcome to our haven.”

“My thanks.” The wounded gathered in the courtyard.

“How is it out there?” Dr. Cassel inquired.

“About as bad as you might think,” I answered.

He nodded. “What brings a Blood to Denmark now?”

“Grimnir.”

“Ah,” he murmured. “I had hoped he would send someone for us. I am thankful it is you.”

“So am I,” I admitted. “Have you room enough to spare?”

“I could fit a battalion within this place,” he sighed. “But the few you see are all there are. You are welcome to join us.”

I nodded. “We’ll all be happy for the safety of walls.”

“We will be happy for the company. Are you thirsty?”

“Do you have coffee?” I asked.

“What man doesn’t?” the doctor asked.

“Fair enough,” I chuckled and followed him into the courtyard.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 23

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She wasn’t my mother, but she sure as hell fought like her.

We were on the trail of the wyrm, and we were careful.

I’d broken the men into teams. Three men to each. Two equipped with rifles, one with pistols. The rifles to keep the wyrm at bay, the third man to run like hell. I expected casualties, but I wanted to keep them as low as I could.

I’d not throw away anyone’s life.

The smoke from a burning building rose into the air and warned me that something wasn’t right.

Leading the way with Wulf beside me, we reached a small barn, the top of which was smoldering, and in the second-floor window stood a woman. She gazed down at me with a face barren of expression.

“Did she do it?” Wulf asked.

“Aye,” I nodded. And before another word could escape my lips, she shattered the glass and screamed.

The sound struck us like a blow, knocking Wulf over and driving me to my knees. I felt blood trickle from my ears and dribble from my nose.

With a grunt, I grabbed hold of Wulf by the collar of his jacket and dragged him back. Marius and Mikkelsen took him from me, and I spat blood as I climbed to my feet.

The woman stepped out of the window and dropped like a stone, landing standing up.

She stretched out her hands, and I drew my Colts.

The woman hummed, and lightning danced along her fingers. Her pitch rose, and the colors of the lighting changed from dull blue to bright white. She stretched out her arms, opened her mouth, and I pulled the triggers.

The slugs slammed into her chest, pushing her back as the lightning shot from her hands, setting the trees around us ablaze. Lightening crackled in her wounds and raced around her mouth.

I shot her again, the bullets smashing into her throat and tearing it open.

The lighting within her devoured her flesh and melted her eyes. The stench of burning hair assailed us.

She stepped forward, and I shot her in the head.

She staggered another step, sank to both knees, and tried to crawl.

Holstering the Colts, I took my hammer and brought it down upon the base of her neck, the lightning burning my hands.

It hurt like hell, but it was worth it.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 22

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One man survived long enough to tell us what happened.

Wulf and I stood in a small tent, going over a rough map of the area he and his men had just escaped from. Mikkelsen was there, Marius, too. The wounded had been taken to the house Wulf had so successfully defended, and there they would receive treatment better than what we had provided.

I had picked up the trail of the wyrm once more, but it had vanished into a marsh area that I had no desire to go into alone. Nor any desire to bring men with me. A place such as that is ripe for an ambush.

I was proven right.

A trio of young men had sought to impress me by going out and finding where the wyrm’s lair might be.

I wish they had not.

Cries of horror and fear broke up our meeting and hastened our footsteps.

When we reached the front of the camp, we found the sentries gathered around a man who was little more than charred skin. A glance along the path showed bits and pieces of burnt flesh, a sure sign that he had struggled to us on his own.

One of the sentries reached for him, took hold, and then howled in terror as the burnt man’s flesh came away in his grasp.

I pushed the men aside and knelt near the dying man.

With a groan of agony, he turned his head to face me. His words, brittle and weak, pushed past his blackened teeth.

“We found the wyrm.”

“Old or young?” I asked.

“Looks like a boy.” His body tightened, pulling him into a fetal position as he shrieked. Panting, he continued. “Killed as boy. Tortured as wyrm.”

His eyes focused on my Colts, and I nodded, drawing one and cocking the hammer back.

“He wants you,” the man hissed.

“Aye. Ready?”

“Yes.”

I brought the Colt up and put a single bullet through the dying man’s brain.

“They wyrm wants you?” Wulf asked.

“Aye,” I nodded, reloading the revolver. “And he’ll get me.”

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 21

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They were hard men.

The sound of gunfire caught the attention of the scouts, and they felt it significant enough to take me away from my tracking. I’d caught sign of the wyrm, and it was fresh.

But the men mattered more than the wyrm did.

Leaving the trail behind, I followed the scouts back to a small fortification. It was a hasty structure, one that had previously served as a homestead of some sort. Stones, broken artillery caissons and various other detritus of war had been heaped around the walls to help fend off the attackers.

Skratti, similar to the enemy we’d faced before, surrounded the house, but there was something different.

A goblin, no larger than a child of ten or eleven, sat atop an overturned apple barrel. He was dressed in fine clothes, the threads of which glistened in the sun. He ate an apple, and he directed the fighting.

He was smart too.

He wasn’t throwing his troops at the building, but he was keeping up a steady fire on the pair of windows and door he could see. As some of the Skratti kept shooting, others began to spread out in a slow pincer move that would wrap the house in a circle.

I had no doubt the goblin would set fire to the building then and kill all who tried to get out.

It’s what I would have done.

As he took another bite from the apple, we opened fire.

The shots ripped through his ranks, and mine took him clear in the back of the head. The slug passed through his neck, exited his mouth, and the apple exploded in his hand.

The goblin fell off the barrel, and the men in the house charged out, finishing off the surviving Skratti with bayonets and pure hate.

We joined up and stood over the bodies of our enemies, and one man with a great dark beard offered his hand.

“Wulf,” he greeted.

“Duncan,” I replied, and we shook. “How long?”

“Two days here,” Wulf answered. “Three before at the depot not four miles back. We left most of our company there.”

“Hungry?”

He flashed me a grin as feral as his name and stated, “We could eat.”

“Good.” To my men, I said, “Get some food. I’ll start the coffee.”

Wulf took a flask from his pocket. “For the coffee.”

He and I would get along just fine.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 20

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She left another gift.

This time, it wasn’t a corpse, ‘though I wish it had been.

The ground shook, and a great cloud of dust and debris soared into the air not a quarter mile from our encampment.

All eyes turned to me and waited.

I finished my coffee, tossed the grounds into the fire, and got to my feet.

“Company?” Marius asked.

I shook my head. “We’re thin enough as it is. We can’t spread out, not with my mother around.”

Mikkelsen frowned. “I still find it difficult to understand how this young woman can be your mother.”

“She’s a version of her,” I explained again. “Perhaps not as foul, but just as strong and just as determined to put me in the ground.”

“Why?” Marius asked.

I shrugged. “She tried nigh on two centuries ago. I killed her. She’s been trying to repay me ever since. Get sharpshooters in the corners, bring the wounded in closer. If she’s around, she’ll go after the weak and try to draw you out.”

With my hammer in hand, I left the safety of the camp and walked toward where a dark dust cloud hung in the air.

When I reached it, I was glad to be alone.

A young giant sat in front of the remains of a windmill, picking his toes with a bit of wood. When he caught sight of me, he left his feet alone and tossed the wood off to one side.

“Blood?”

“Aye?”

“You have a hammer?”

My chest vibrated as the giant’s voice shook the air.

“Aye.”

“She said you had only your Colts.”

I smiled. “She didn’t know.”

He frowned. “I don’t like hammers.”

“Most of your kind don’t.”

He nodded. “They hurt. Will yours?”

“Without a doubt.”

The giant picked up a rock the size of my head and threw it lazily at me. I moved to one side as it rushed past, striking the ground behind me.

“Can you use it?” he asked, motioning toward the hammer.

“I can.”

“Well?”

“Would you care to find out?”

The young giant laughed and shook his head. “No. Not this day, Blood.”

He got to his feet and looked down at me. “Maybe when I’m bigger.”

“You feel the need, you come and find me. We’ll see how well we do.”

The giant let out another laugh and nodded. He went his way, and I went my own.

I had no doubt we’d meet again.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 19

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I told them to stop.

Sometimes, soldiers don’t listen.

Hell, most of the time, we don’t listen at all. And that was certainly the case.

We’d had some rough patches over the day. A few barricades thrown up across the road by Skratti and another by a pair of orcs who forgot that we weren’t to be trifled with.

But as we came up to a small brook, some of the scouts sent back word that there was a woman and a hound ahead of us.

I told them to stop where they were and to leave her be.

The men were infatuated by the sight of her, from what I learned.

She was young, dark-skinned and clad in wear they’d not seen before. Her dog was huge, and it listened to her as though she was its god.

Perhaps she was, though I’ve my doubts.

Of the two men who came to report to me, one of them left, making his way to his comrades to tell them not to approach the woman. His companion tried to leave. I didn’t like the look in his eyes, though, and so he was ordered to remain behind.

The young bastard turned to follow, and had Marius not taken hold of him; the young soldier would have died. For as Marius caught the man’s arm, shots were fired and screams followed.

A few men went racing forward, but more shots drove them back and down to cover.

With Marius holding the scout, I went ‘round the right flank on my own, searching for a way to get to the woman and the hound. The screaming intensified, another shot was fired, and then a deep growl rolled across the land.

When I reached the brook, the woman and her hound were gone.

She’d left the scouts behind.

All four were dead, and they’d died badly.

Each had been gut shot, and their hands torn off and piled to one side. Their pants had been pulled down to their ankles, and the woman had castrated each of them. Those, too, were piled up.

As I stood, my eyes caught a bit of blood off to one side. I moved closer and saw there was a message written on the side of a stone.

He’s told you I’m here. Now I’ve told you as well.

Mother.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 18

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I woke alone and confused.

For a moment, I could not see, and at first, I feared I was blind. How that might have occurred, I had no idea.

But when sleep cleared from my thoughts, I saw I was not blind but in a world of darkness. Sitting up, I reached for my Colts and found they were not there.

I was, I realized, naked.

The air was warm, and the place I was in was silent.

Crossing my legs beneath me, I waited.

I’m not certain how long it took for the place around me to brighten, but when it did, I found myself looking at a small patch of woods. There was nothing else. I sat on nothing, from what I could tell, and the branches and plants grew up from the same.

The heavy thud of large wings reached my ears, and soon, a raven landed in front of me.

It preened beneath a wing, and I waited.

Finally, the bird turned to look at me, both eyes bright, the feathers glowing with a dark beauty.

“I bring word from the All-Father,” the raven informed me.

“I could not be dressed for the message?”

The bird chuckled. “We are dreaming, Blood. The two of us together. You are not naked, and I am not a raven.”

“What are you?” I asked.

“Not a bird. Of that, I can assure you.”

I nodded. “What message?”

“The hounds approach from the south,” the raven stated. “The wyrm goes to rest in his lair. Your mother’s mark is upon it.”

The last sent an angry chill racing up my spine. “Is she here?”

The raven shook his head. “No. But she has been.”

“Hm.”

“There is more to tell,” the raven continued.

“My apologies.”

He ruffled his feathers, then said, “There is illness creeping toward you. While it will not touch you, Blood, it shall move like a scythe through your men.”

“My men?” I asked.

The bird chuckled. “Because you do not wish to see it does not make it so.”

“Aye, you’re right.” The soldiers were mine. From Mikkelsen down to the youngest private soldier. They would fight and die for me. And I would do the same.

The bird stretched out its wings but paused. “There are reapers coming. Listen for them.”

Without another word, the raven flew off, and I sank from my dream and back to sleep.

Soon enough, I knew, the fighting would begin anew.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 17

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A strange sight.

We came upon a large graveyard, one where the stones were upended and the earth churned. A large, iron door had been torn from its hinges, and a crypt was bereft of its occupants.

Mikkelsen set up a perimeter around the graveyard, for there was no other way forward but through it. With Marius at my side and my hammer in my hand, we moved forward. Marius held a cut-down saber, both edges sharpened and the point on it now barbed. In his free hand, he carried a small cudgel.

We needed to conserve ammunition and to kill as quickly and as quietly as we could.

The path led us deeper into the graveyard, and soon we discovered signs of a battle that was days, if not a week old.

The stink was horrific, and the maggots feasted upon the dead Skratti littering the ground.

Some were clad in Danish uniforms, others in the clothes of their kind. Few had succumbed to gunshot wounds, and all had been slain from behind.

I saw bones and old bayonets driven into Skratti backs. Heads were crushed in with chunks of stone. And the sign on the ground was too strange to read.

As we neared the center of the graveyard, we found Skratti with swords and spears embedded in them. Some lay dead with axes and maces near them.

Finally, as we climbed a short hill, there were Skratti, who had been killed by gunfire. Around them, though, were more bones and bits of metal.

Marius squatted down, picked up a piece of green-tinted metal, and shook his head before passing it over to me.

I accepted it, turned it over and saw it was a belt buckle made of brass. Emblazoned upon it was the black eagle of Prussia.

“Blood.”

I looked up and saw Marius walking toward a large cross set in fresh earth. Young trees had been planted around it, and newly cut greens lay upon the ground. Shining in the sunlight were bits of more metal.

In the center of the cross was a plaque written in beautiful German.

Here 100 Brave Danes Rest.

Marius and I left, pausing at the open crypt. I went up, closed the door, and read what was written in Danish upon it.

300 Prussians, Brave and True, Once Enemies but No Longer.

The dead had repaid a kindness.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 16

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Shrieking shattered the day.

I’d been sitting with Mikkelsen and enjoying a cup of brandy laced coffee when shrieking rent the air.

We went racing through the narrow lane that served as the divider in our small camp and came upon the sentries posted at the rough barrier we’d erected the night before.

“Klaus and Hermann went out a short time ago,” one of the sentries explained, his face pale and his knuckles white as he held his rifle close.

Mikkelsen looked at me, and I nodded.

“Get more men on the line,” he told the sentry who had spoken. To me, he asked, “Shall we follow you?”

I shook my head. “If it’s too much, I’ll come back for you. No need to spoil breakfast if it isn’t necessary.”

I climbed over the barrier and drew my Colts as I followed the lane.

The path was far from straight, and it was lined on either side by tall hedges. I’d no sooner gone a quarter mile when I caught the smell of cooking meat and hot coffee.

Pushing my way through a hedge, I made my way toward the smell and came upon a group of soldiers. They sat at a table and were served by an older man and his wife. There was little talking as the men ate and drank. Off to one side was a pile of gear and clothing. A few feet away were Hermann and Klaus. The men hung from a raised crossbar, naked and their hands bound to the bar.

Their legs were gone at the thighs. While tourniquets had been applied to the severed limbs, I could see that Klaus was dead. The shock had been too much for him.

There were nine men at the table. The host and his wife.

And Hermann.

I killed Hermann first, the round taking him clean through the left eye and ending his suffering.

I waited as the soldiers stood, expressions of rage on their faces. They drew pistols and bayonets while the host and hostess tried to step off to one side.

I put a bullet in each of them, the husband squealing and the wife screaming as they went down, clutching their bellies.

The soldiers rushed me and soon wished they hadn’t.

It took them only a moment to fear my Colts.

They all took a long time dying.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 15

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They failed miserably.

Marius and I had walked ahead, scouting through a small town whose inhabitants had either abandoned their dwellings or ended up as someone’s meal.

We were nearing the center of town when we heard a discordant hammering. While there seemed to be an effort to create some sort of rhythm, the hammer-wielder was failing.

Marius drew his rifle, and I, my Colts, and we passed down a narrow alleyway to find a large, open courtyard. A group of men stood outside a smithy, and they smiled at us with eyes that spoke more of hunger than they did well-wishes.

There was a single horse with them, and the beast’s eyes rolled with fear while one of the men gripped its harness tightly.

Another man pushed a saddle blanket a little farther down its haunches, hiding a bit of blood and what looked, for a heartbeat, like a bite mark.

“We have not seen anyone in a few days,” one of the men remarked as his companions stepped slowly out to either side of him.

“Is that so?” Marius asked, and as the words left his mouth, the wind shifted, carrying with it the rank stench of werewolves.

Marius wrinkled his nose at the odor, and I opened fire on the sons of bitches.

Rough cries and deep howls tore from their throats as they lept toward us. While they were still as men, they were no less dangerous.

They were hungry, and they would keep us alive until it was time for them to eat, of that I had no doubt.

Nor did I doubt that it would be a particularly unpleasant experience, and thus one I was eager to avoid.

They tried to flank us, but Marius and I knew our work.

The men were werewolves, but they were not soldiers. Not fighters.

We were.

The werewolves staggered back under the heavy punches of the .44s, and as my guns ran dry, I took up my hammer.

Marius, on the other hand, put his bayonet to good use.

There is, at times, a distinct pleasure in the cracking of bones and the shattering of teeth.

As we slew the werewolves outside the smithy, I enjoyed that pleasure.

I enjoyed it quite a bit.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 14

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I was wary.

For two weeks, I’d been tromping around a world that was and was not my own. I’d killed and fought trolls, Skratti, orcs, and I knew that worse would make their way toward us, or us toward them.

I’d seen the markings of the wyrm and the tracks left by hellhounds.

And after yesterday’s incident by the shore, I trusted no one.

I’d left the main body of troops behind. They were burying the remains of the fallen from the day before and burning the corpses of the Skratti. I told Marius and Mikkelsen that I’d patrol alone, let the men rest and recoup what little strength they could.

I’d spotted sign of the wyrm again and come across those of the hellhounds, too. I had no desire to encounter either group alone, but scouting needed to be done, and I was the hunter called by Grimnir.

It was my job, whether I wanted the damned thing or not.

When I caught sight of the soldier with a small carbine standing by the cannon, I stopped. I’d encountered two other solitary men in the past two weeks, and neither of those instances had turned out well.

I set my hammer down in the road, settled onto my haunches and took out my pipe. The man watched me with a dull, listless expression. He hardly blinked as I packed the bowl and lit the tobacco.

With the stem of the pipe in my teeth, I slipped the Colts out of their holsters and eased the hammers back. The metal cool and comforting against my thumbs.

“Hello,” I called.

The man nodded.

“What unit are you with?” I asked.

He frowned. “I don’t remember.”

It was then that I saw the gash in the side of his head. Dried blood had matted his hair and hidden the wound at first.

“I’m with a group of soldiers,” I told him. “We’re making our way along the shore, looking for the root of all this.”

The wounded man smiled. “It doesn’t matter. They’ll find you soon enough. They found us.”

“Where’s the rest of your men?” I asked.

He shrugged. “My name is Johann Ewald. I had a fiancé, and I was to be a carpenter.”

Johann lifted his carbine up, put the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

He collapsed, struck the cannon and lay still.

I put the Colts away.

Johann I could bury.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 13

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It was a trap.

Including Pedersen, we’d lost eleven men the day before, and three more were wounded. Their rations and ammunition were shared out, the weapons kept in reserve.

We decided to rest for a day. Not so much to mourn our dead, which we did, but to clean our equipment and gain some much-needed rest.

Patrols were sent out, and after noon one of them found the boat.

An old sergeant informed Mikkelsen, Marius and myself of the boat and the man sitting forlornly in it. The boat lay on the beach, the man looking out over the water.

None of it sounded right.

“He’s just sitting there?” Marius asked.

“Aye.”

“Take me to him,” I said, knocking the tobacco out of my pipe.

With my Colts on my hips and the hammer resting against my shoulder, I followed the sergeant out of our encampment. He glanced at me several times but said nothing.

I didn’t mind.

When we reached the road following the line of the beach, I saw the long boat ahead. As the sergeant had told us, a solitary man sat in it. The other four men of the scouting party were advancing on the boat, rifles at the ready and bayonets glinting in the sunlight.

“Come back here!” the sergeant ordered, but the men ignored him, weapons lowered.

Swearing, the sergeant raced after his men, but when he was within a few steps of them, he slowed down and straightened up. He drew his saber and fell into lockstep.

I stayed where I was.

Something wasn’t right.

The men reached the boat, and I saw the man in it turn to face them.

A heartbeat later, he exploded. Miniature Skratti landed on the heads of the soldiers and tore into their faces. Clawed hands were thrust into eye sockets and mouths, and not a single man fought back as they sank to the beach.

It took only a moment for the creatures to see me and to come racing across the road.

I struck the first one with the hammer and knocked its head off into one of its companions. It caused them to pause, and then I was among them. My boots broke bones, and my hammer shattered them.

When I finished, I gathered up the weapons and ammunition and left the bodies where they lay.

Graves could be dug in the morning.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 12

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It was a hell of a fight.

We’d missed the hellhounds and the wyrm, though we could see the devastation left behind by the dragon’s breath.

What we found instead were Skratti.

Too damned many of them.

Those wounded strong enough to shoot were left to guard those who could not, and Marius, Mikkelsen, and myself led three smaller units into the town. I took the center road with Pedersen and six others while Mikkelsen and Marius came in on either flank.

The Skratti hit us first, firing from a secured and fortified position in a house still smoking from the wyrm’s fire.

They were learning how to fight.

The accuracy of their fire had improved too, and I took a bullet to the left lung, which set me back a step or two.

As my body forced the lead back out of my flesh, Pedersen’s brains were splattered across my face as he leaned down to check on me.

I confess I became angry.

He’d been a good man, a fair card player, and a hell of a drinker.

I pushed Pedersen’s corpse off my legs, stood, and brought both Colts up to bear as I strode toward the Skratti position.

The heavy .44 caliber slugs tore out chunks of wall and slammed into the faces of the Skratti as they tried to bring their rifles to bear. I felt a few more bullets strike my legs, but my hate drove me on.

I clambered over a shattered wall, entered the house, and killed the wounded.

None were left alive when I finished.

When I exited the back of the house, I found one last Skratti trying to drag himself out of the garden. His legs were bloodied and useless, his eyes wide with fear and growing panic.

He was unable to look away as I emptied the casings from my Colts, put them in my pockets to reload later, and took my time reloading the pistols.

“Mercy,” the goblin whispered.

My Colts answered, a pair of rounds slamming into his chest.

Marius came into the garden as the Skratti breathed his last. In silence, the officer handed me something small. It was brightly polished on one side, the Blood family crest carved into it.

I held in my hand a matchbox, deftly crafted from a bit of Orc armor.

Blinking, I cleared my eyes and wiped Pedersen’s brains from my face. #Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 11

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They were happy, if not sober.

We came upon them after a day of hard marching and skirmishing. We’d fought off a handful of probing attacks from the Skratti and cut down a few bodies left strung up in the trees for us.

The Skratti, it seemed, had a peculiar delight in hanging women and children from their feet and blooding them like game.

It did not please us.

When we arrived at the small building, I expected some sort of firefight, but I can write with pleasure that this was not the case.

We found a group of ten men gathered in and around a small structure. The building, we soon learned, was the doorway to a fine cellar of beer and brandy, neither of which the men were allowing to go to waste.

Their commanding officer was passed out drunk, and his men were little better.

The common grave behind their building explained why.

From what I could tell, they were the sole survivors out of some two hundred men.

The common grave was not particularly large.

When they saw us, we were greeted and welcomed in, and when the strangers learned we would be establishing camp and setting up watch, they drank themselves into a stupor.

I didn’t blame them.

Pedersen and I walked the grounds of the area, reading the sign for what it was, a great story telling us what happened.

We could see troll prints and Skratti tracks. Obscenely large paw prints spoke of hellhounds, and the sight of a large drag mark sent a shudder along my spine.

Only a dragon left a mark like that, and the thought of fighting one of the great lizards was unpleasant enough to leave me with gooseflesh.

We did what every decent army does: we set up camp, put out our guards, and fortified our positions.

The new men awoke to the smells of food cooking and coffee brewing. We had them eat their fill before telling us anything of their story, and when they finished with their food, we listened.

Six days prior, they’d been attacked by Skratti in traditional garb.

The next day, the goblins were clad in the clothes of the dead.

Each day, the casualties worsened.

“Where to now?” one asked.

I finished my coffee, tossed the grounds out and sighed.

“We go looking for a dragon.”

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 10

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He wasn’t what he seemed.

We’d bivouacked in what had once been a library and kept a fifty percent watch through the night. The Skratti tried to slip in a few times when I was on watch; the roar of the Colts in the dead town had sent some of the goblins running after others were laid out in the road.

Pedersen, I learned, was a smith before the war, and he’s turned his hand to a bit of armor from the orc who challenged me. The man won’t tell me what he’s crafting, but it’s a damned pleasure to hear his tools working at the metal.

This morning, Marius and I left the safety of the camp to scout out the route to the armory and the supplies.

All seemed fine until we came to the armory and found a young soldier standing watch beside a pair of cannons. Marius was about to call out to the man when I stopped him, and we were both thankful I did.

The young man turned around and showed he had no face.

A piece of skin with ragged edges was stretched taut over the front of the skull and pinned in place behind the ears.

Whatever the soldier was, a man he wasn’t.

I stayed behind our cover, drew both Colts and stood up.

The soldier looked at me and unsheathed his saber.

I put two rounds into the soldier’s chest, and while the heavy .44 slugs sent him a step back, they didn’t stop him.

That took me aback for a moment.

I’ve put down godlings and gods with my Colts, and I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to meet a creature so little affected by lead and hate.

But there wasn’t much of a choice.

The men needed the ammunition and the food.

I slid the Colts home, took hold of my hammer, and walked down to meet the creature while Marius waited.

The creature’s sword was fast.

I was bleeding from a dozen cuts before I got in my first blow, which the creature tried to deflect with the sword.

The hammer snapped the blade off at the guard.

As the saber spun away, I smashed the hammer into the creature, lifting it off the ground and crushing its ribcage. It fell back, landed hard on the road, and lay still.

Stepping forward, I smashed its head with the hammer until the ground and I were splattered in blood and bone.

Best to be sure.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 9

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We seized the town.

The fighting was hard as hell.

The Skratti had occupied strong positions, and they were waiting for us. The road through town was the only way to the armory and the food stored nearby.

And we needed both.

Apparently, the Skratti knew it, too.

They took the high ground, putting down heavy fire that drove us to seek cover behind battered buildings and dead men.

While they kept us down, they brought in the orcs.

They were clad in armored plate and armed with cudgels, and they came out of the rubble swinging.

That was fine.

I came out swinging too.

Marius directed the snipers, pushing the Skratti back from the windows and rooftops. Mikkelsen and Pedersen had the younger men fix bayonets, and they followed me into the street.

The first orc came at me, laughing, skin grey and teeth green, tongue a disturbingly bright red. He called out to me in a language harsh and cruel and lifted his cudgel in both greeting and challenge.

I raised my hammer, and we stepped in close.

The orc could fight.

His comrades formed a half-circle around him, and my Danes a half-circle around me. A few rounds came in from the Skratti, but the shooters were quickly silenced.

When the orc spoke again, it was in a dialect of Norse I’d learned at my father’s knee.

“We could smell thee, Blood.”

“And how do I smell?”

“Like dinner.”

“Fair enough.”

Without any word or cry, we strode in and fought.

The bastard was good.

His first blow caught me in the left shoulder and knocked it out of the socket, sending me stuttering to the right and forcing me down to one knee. As he came in close, I shifted my weight away from his next blow and shattered his left knee, dropping him to the ground.

His orcs surged forward, but he waved them off with one hand while swinging at me.

I stepped up and away, slamming my hammer into my shoulder and putting it back in place.

The orc got to one foot, dragging his injured leg.

“If I die, they shalt murder all,” he hissed.

“If you die, we’ll kill them all.”

“A threat or a promise, Blood?” he asked.

“I don’t make threats.”

The hammer crushed his helmet and drove the iron into his skull.

I kept my promise.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 8

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We slept undisturbed.

And I found that to be most frightening.

At dawn, we broke camp. We counted 49 uninjured, 76 injured but mobile, and 13 stretcher cases. We’d had 18 die in the night.

We made a funeral pyre and laid the bodies of the dead upon it. The spare weapons and ammunition we loaded onto a wagon, and the artillerymen, with help, dragged their guns along.

I ranged ahead of the column with a pair of men in their late forties. They’d been hunters prior to the troll attack on the coast, and they knew the lay of the land. Once we left the relative safety of the city, we pressed on, sending out flankers to either side and passing through abandoned positions.

We found remnants of the dead but little else.

Whatever was eating the soldiers wasn’t leaving much behind.

Soon, we stopped and held a conference. We’d not seen any sign of trolls or other creatures, but there was plenty of sign of shod boots.

We agreed to move on in silence, rifles at the ready. The hammer hung on a long sling around my shoulder to my waist, where the head thumped rhythmically against my thigh. The dull thud of metal on flesh reminded me of the war drums of Abenaki and Iroquois, Huron and Mohawks, and it made me smile.

Those were men who knew how to fight.

My reminiscing stopped when we caught sight of men a short distance away. They watched without greeting as we came to a stop.

Something was wrong.

Then the wind shifted, and we smelled it.

Skratti.

Skratti clad in stolen uniforms.

The question as to whether they could use the rifles they’d taken was answered a heartbeat later went they sent a volley toward us.

We were fortunate that they were bad shots.

We were fortunate that we were not.

The hunters and I settled in behind cover, loosened our arms and took our time. We called out our targets and killed those Skratti who seemed most proficient with their rifles.

It didn’t take long for the others to run.

Several more died with bullets in their backs.

When the last of them slipped away, I sent the hunters back to bring the column up and to make keep an eye out for an ambush.

As I waited, I thought hard about goblins dressed as men.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 7

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The rattle of gunfire raised the alarm.

I was up and out of my bedroll in a heartbeat, Colts in hand, as the soldiers around me reacted with equal alacrity.

“Where did it come from?” Marius demanded.

A sentry pointed to the southeast. “Toward the edge of town.”

A frown creased Marius’ brow. “We cleared that area yesterday looking for wounded and bells.”

“Someone’s there,” I remarked.

“Or they were,” Pedersen sighed, lifting up his rifle.

“How many men do you want?” Mikkelsen asked as he walked over, flanked by two sergeants.

“Just Pedersen,” I answered. “Any more than the two of us, and we’ll attract too much attention.”

“Pedersen?” Mikkelsen asked. “Limp and all?”

I smiled. “Have you seen the way the man gets in and out of a house about to come down around his ears?”

“Aye, Blood,” Pedersen chided. “That’s for brandy and naught else.”

A rough chuckle went through the men within earshot.

“True,” Mikkelsen admitted. “Take no chances, though. Either of you.”

Pedersen and I nodded, and I picked up my hammer before we left the protective circle of our small encampment.

“Think we’ll find trolls?” Pedersen asked.

“Holed up in a cellar?”

“Aye.”

“No,” I stated. “But this hammer, heavy as it is, has worked. I see no need to get rid of it. Not when I can save ammunition.”

Pedersen grunted his agreement, and we moved on in silence. Neither of us made any noise as we passed through the debris-laden streets. As we reached the edge of town, I saw a fortified structure and glanced at Pedersen.

“It’s empty. Or it was yesterday when they checked,” he said.

We advanced upon the building, Pedersen chambering a round slowly as we neared the entrance.

Within, we saw a grotesque display of corpses. Seven men and a single creature the likes of which I’d not seen in some time.

“What in the hell is that?” Pedersen muttered.

I entered the building, crouched down beside it and turned the head from one side to the other.

“Skratti,” I answered. Goblins.

Pedersen spat and cursed behind me.

In a moment, he was helping me strip the dead of weapons and ammunition.

Where there was one Skratti, there were generally a hundred more.

Evening would be difficult.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 6

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My arms were tired.

I sat in an old campaign chair by the last of the braziers, the flames burning low and soft. The hammer, its head chipped and the handle stained with ichor, stood by me. Mikkelsen passed over a battered tin cup, and I took it with both hands.

It took a moment for my limbs to calm down enough, so I didn’t shake the brandy from the cup, and when I brought it to my lips, the liquor was one of the sweetest I’d tasted.

“A bit of honey added,” the man explained when he saw my appreciative expression.

“My thanks.”

“Our thanks,” Mikkelsen replied. He gestured toward the men sleeping around us in the growing light of the dawn. They were exhausted and with good reason. They had worked the cannons and their rifles well into the night.

Pedersen joined us, sinking down and grinning up at me as he held his hands out to the flames. There was a bit of a chill to the air, and with it was the soothing scent of the ocean.

“Twenty-three,” Pedersen stated.

“Hm?” I asked as I handed the cup back to Mikkelsen, who added more to it for me.

“Twenty-three trolls,” Pedersen said again. “That’s how many you killed last night.”

“How many we all killed,” I argued, accepting the cup back from Mikkelsen. I took a sip.

“I think there’d be some argument about that,” Marius observed as he joined us. He wore a tired smile. “You were the hunter, Duncan Blood. You went out beyond the walls and put the trolls down.”

I grunted my rough agreement. “It doesn’t mean the others shirked their duty.”

“No one is saying they did,” Mikkelsen said. “We know, though, that we’d not have lasted through the night without you. It was your plan that brought us to the morning. No one thought of the bells. No one would have kept the other trolls back while someone else went out to finish off the wounded.”

“There’s a reason All-Father sent a Blood,” Pedersen observed, spitting casually onto the ground. “And that’s because the Bloods are hunters through and through.”

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 5

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They’d gathered a great deal of bells.

Before night fell, the bells were strung along great lengths of rope, and the wounded could set the bells to ringing.

Outside the walls, we set up a trio of cannons with enough shot and shell to give the trolls a warm welcome. Short, narrow trenches were dug from the guns back to the walls, and I hoped the gunners would be able to make it back to safety.

I sat with Pedersen, Marius, and Mikkelsen. Great fires burned in braziers set along the walls. The men who could hold rifles were in their positions, as were the gunners. At my feet, resting between my boots was a large, heavy hammer.

“Most will come from the barrows east of town,” Mikkelsen said. “We had some from the bay. Do you think they’ll attack again?”

I nodded. “Someone knows you’re alive. They’ll want to finish the job.”

For the first time, the soldiers gathered around us were quiet.

All looked to me.

“There are other monsters,” Marius muttered.

“I know,” I sighed.

A bell rang out.

Then another, and in a heartbeat, all rang in a discordant chorus.

The trolls answered them.

Great bellows shook the earth and rattled stones and debris down from some of the nearby buildings.

From the east, the trolls slogged forward, eight of them. A glance to the bay showed another ten climbing out of the water, smashing through wharves and howling at the sound of our bells.

“Seems a tad more than you said,” I remarked.

“So it seems,” Mikkelsen replied.

“How fast can your men fire those cannons?” I asked.

Mikkelsen’s response was a wolfish grin. “My boys can load on the recoil, Blood. Watch.”

The gunners held their fire, as did the men on the walls. But when the trolls from the sea came close enough, those gunners let loose, and Mikkelsen hadn’t been lying.

I’d never seen gunners move at the speed of his men.

Every shot was true, and the trolls went down, legs destroyed. Within minutes, not a sea-borne troll was left standing. As the gunners retreated, the men on the walls opened fire, isolating the closest troll crawling toward us.

Hefting the hammer, I left the safety of the walls and went to greet the troll in my own way.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 4

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Pedersen hadn’t been lying.

The best walls were rubble.

We looked them over and finished off our brandy.

“You’re a Blood,” he stated.

“Aye.”

“Is it true?”

I chuckled. “Depends on what your mother’s been saying.”

He snorted a laugh. “Oh, I deserved that one. Right. Can you take a blow that would be death for another?”

“That’s true enough.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Like hell.”

Pedersen nodded. “Well then. The walls.”

“They’re worse than I thought.”

“This is better than most,” he retorted. “What do you want done?”

“We’ll put the bells in behind us. And we’ll have them ring out all night.”

“And when the trolls come?”

“We’ll kill them.”

“How?” For the first time, I heard real fear in his voice.

“Knees first. We’ll set up the cannons to aim at knees and ankles. Slow them a bit.”

“They’ll come after the cannons,” Pedersen mused. “Even with broken knees and shattered ankles.”

“I know. But we’ll keep ringing the bells. That’ll keep them from thinking too clearly. They’ll focus on the cannons, and we’ll pull back the gunners. I’d rather lose the guns than the men.”

Pederson grunted his approval. “What then?”

“When the men are safe and the bells still ringing, I’ll have you all pour down fire whenever you can. We’ll isolate the trolls, one by one.”

“Where will you be?” he asked.

“I’ll be out with the trolls.”

“You’ll be what?”

“With the trolls.”

“Won’t a troll kill a Blood?”

“Of If they catch me. That’s why you’ll all be firing. You’ll keep the other wounded trolls back, and I’ll kill them one at a time.”

“With what?”

I patted my Colts. “The revolvers to start. A few shots to the head will settle them down, but I’ll need something to finish them off.”

“What’s that?” he asked, his voice filled with bemused wonderment.

“A hammer,” I answered. “A nice, big hammer.”

Pedersen laughed. “Well, come then. There’s a smithy up the road a bit. I’m sure we can find something even Thor would be pleased to wield.”

“Let’s hope,” I said. “And mayhaps we’ll come across some more brandy.”

“It so happens,” Pedersen stated, “that I might know where some more brandy is tucked away as well.”

Grinning, we set off.

If I was going to die tonight, at least I’d be in good company.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 3

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They were drunk, and I didn’t blame them.

The short trip from the wreckage to the house being used as headquarters had been educational. I’d seen such devastation in the war of the rebellion after Sherman had marched through the South.

Similar, but not the same.

This was worse.

Sherman and his men hadn’t eaten horses or people.

Carcasses were strewn about the roads, houses shattered, and more than a few heads had been mounted on poles.

Death had been brutal, and fear had been the order of business.

From the equipment I saw scattered around, I gathered that at least a battalion had been destroyed trying to defend the place.

At the rough headquarters, I found the remnants of the battalion’s officer corps.

They sat around a table, drinking and smoking and eating food that should have been tossed to dogs days before. But given their situation, it didn’t appear they had much choice. They hid their fear and desperation behind loud talk and brazen laughter.

I stood off to one side and lit my pipe as Marius went to the commanding officer and reported my presence. The laughter stopped, and the officers took notice of me.

Marius leaned close to a man smoking a long Jäger pipe and said, “His name is Duncan, and the one-eyed god sent him.”

The officer stood up, wavering on his feet.

“What is your last name, sir?” the officer inquired.

“Duncan Blood,” I answered.

The officer stood his ground, but his companions stepped back.

“Blood?” the officer asked.

“Aye.”

He tried to draw on his pipe, choked on the smoke and coughed for a moment. When he regained control, he said, “I am Oberst Mikkelson, the ranking officer at this time.”

I nodded and waited to see what else the man had to say.

Mikkelson took a breath. “We offered up sacrifice last night. More to the point, Generalmajor Hendriks offered himself to the one-eyed god for a hunter. And he sent a Blood.”

“Aye. He sent a Blood. How many trolls?”

“Ten, we think,” Mikkelson answered. “Three of them came from the ocean, the others from the barrows on the outskirts of town.”

“How many did you kill?” I asked.

“Four.”

“Damn.” I drew on my pipe and asked, “Have you brought the troops back in?”

He nodded. “Those few we have in the area, they are gathering supplies, so we might make an effort to return to Fort Jäger and possibly defend ourselves long enough to form some plan of escape.”

I gazed up at the sky, judged the time and nodded. “I’d start calling your men back now, Oberst. Gather up whatever bells you can find, too.”

The men stared at me.

“Blood,” Mikkelson said, “why enrage them further?”

“The damage here,” I gestured around us, “this was not done by mindless trolls, Oberst. This was planned. They may return tonight with more of their kin, and if they do, it won’t be pretty. Not for any of us. Bells will make them forget their plans. Bells will make them little more than maddened beasts. I’d sure as hell rather fight trolls who are mad than those who are figuring the best way in.”

Mikkleson turned to Marius. “Find three horses and send out riders. I want everyone on their way back in the hour.”

To another man, Mikkelson commanded, “Take a squad, search every building and look at every church. Find the bells. Petersen,” Mikkelsen called, and a man holding a pair of bottles stepped forward.

“Sir?” Petersen inquired.

“Find the best walls and focus our work there.” Mikkelson looked at me. “I take it a smaller area with the bells would be best?”

I smiled. “Aye, that it would be. The trolls may throw a few boulders or two at us, but we’ll gun the bastards down.”

“That we will,” Mikkelsen agreed. “Petersen, show the Blood what we have for walls. I’m sure he’ll know best. The rest of you, with me. We will gather the wounded and prepare to move them to our refuge, wherever that might happen to be.”

I watched the Oberst leave with the men, and I turned to Petersen. He looked at me, and I saw the wisdom of old soldiers in his eyes.

The man chuckled, stepped forward and handed me a bottle. “I’ve not heard of a Blood who doesn’t drink.”

“And you won’t.” I opened the bottle and took a drink. “So, where are the best walls?”

“They’re rubble,” he shrugged. “But I’ll show you.”

“Fair enough. Lead on, Pedersen.”

“Straight to hell, if I must,” he sighed, and with a rolling, limping stride, he led the way.

Day 2

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It didn’t take long to find them.

They were searching through wreckage when I came upon them. They were soldiers, well-armed and ready for war.

I came with the smell of the ocean and burnt timber in the air. I kept my hands from the butts of the Colts, conscious of the attention the heavy revolvers drew from the gathered men.

One of them asked in good Danish, “Who are you?”

“The one-eyed god sent me.”

The man took a step back, glancing at his comrades, and a second man addressed me.

“Are you a hunter?” he asked, voice quavering.

“Aye.”

“Of what?”

“Monsters.”

“We did not think to hope,” the second man told me. “We offered up a sacrifice and heard nothing.”

“That’s the way it usually is if they answer at all.”

“Yes. My name is Marius,” the second man said. “What is yours?”

“Duncan.”

“And you’ve killed monsters before?” he asked.

“A few,” I answered. “What happened here?”

“Tell us,” one man grumbled. He stood off to one side; his head was bandaged and his left arm in a sling.

“You want proof?” I asked.

He nodded.

I turned my attention to the nearest building. I saw gouge marks down the wall and a bit of foul ichor as well. Leaning in, I took a sniff and repressed a gag.

“Damned foul,” I grunted. “Troll.”

I looked around. “There are no barrows around. Where the hell did it come from?”

The injured man grunted. “You know your business. We’ve no idea where it came from. Like most of the others, it arrived one night. This one laid waste to the buildings and ate the families inside.”

He gestured to a small grave. “That’s what’s left of thirty-six people.”

“Do any of you know why it started?” I asked.

The men shook their heads.

“Did you drive this one off?”

“No,” Marius told me. “We saw him well enough last night, but he took off running. We’ve not seen him since.”

“This is happening in more than one place?”

“All across the country,” Marius said. “For a month now. Whole towns have disappeared.”

I looked at the wreckage. “Are you the only ones searching for them?”

“No,” Marius replied. “The whole army is.”

“I suppose you’d best bring me to your commander then.”

We left the ruins and the dead behind.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 1

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I woke up in Denmark.

I’d gone to sleep in my bed. I remember having a glass of brandy and cleaning my Colts. Once the .44s were away and the night was done, I’d gone to bed. It had been 11:43 at night, October third, 1900.

When I opened my eyes, I was most certainly not in my bed.

I was upright, dressed, and the Colts were on my hips. My rucksack was at my feet and the sun shining on my face; when I finally managed to look around, I saw the ravens in the tree.

There was a score of them, if not more.

And the tree was the biggest ash I’d ever seen. The branches spread out for at least thirty feet and stretched twice that high into the pale morning sun.

A tall man, clad in gray robes and leaning on a long, dark staff, stood beneath the boughs and gazed upon me with his one eye. His gray beard was well-combed, and a broad hood sat upon his head.

“Welcome to Denmark.”

“I don’t remember asking to come here,” I replied.

A small smile appeared on his face. “Nor would you. You did not ask for assistance.”

“Who did?”

“Soon. For now, listen, and I will tell you how this is.”

I waited.

“We are not in your when, Blood. Nor even in your world. Here, beneath the branches of Yggdrasil, all worlds reach out to me. Men called and offered up sacrifice. They have asked for a hunter to save them, and I chose you.”

I shifted my stance and noticed the thick fog which formed a wall around the tree. In the distance, I heard the rumble of gunfire.

“Your mettle has been tested in Gods’ Hollow,” he continued. “I considered who best to send. Not a godling, but a hero.”

“What am I hunting?”

“Monsters,” the one-eyed god stated. “You are familiar with them all.”

“I was home.”

He remained silent.

“I had plans for today.”

“Do you plan on dying?”

I let out a laugh. “No.”

“Then don’t.”

“When do I go home?”

A broad, dangerous smile spread across his face. Merriment and violence danced in his eye. “When it is time. No sooner, and no later.”

The fog fell away. It took with it the god, the tree, and the ravens.

I was left upon a battlefield, standing among desolation and ruins.

I shouldered my ruck and went hunting for monsters.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Becky

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The Hollow brought him back to silence.

‘I walked into a glade that was familiar, which was strange for Gods’ Hollow.

‘While this place was familiar, it was not identical to anything in my memory.

‘I advanced with caution, the bear hunter’s rifle in my hands and every sense attuned to the possibilities of danger around me.

‘As I moved deeper into the glade, I saw a small cottage off in one corner. From the fieldstone chimney, smoke rose up in delicate tendrils. The door to the cottage was open, the windows too. Laughter drifted out into the glade. The laughter of a child and a woman. Soon, I reached the cottage. Stopping a fair distance away, I hailed the residents and waited as they went silent.

‘A young, pretty woman appeared in the doorway. She had a bird-gun in her slim hands, and she held it with the knowledge of one who is comfortable with violence.

‘She nodded to me, and I lowered my rifle. I smiled as she kept hers at the ready. A small girl joined the woman, and in the child’s eyes, I recognized the old woman I had killed a little more than a week earlier.

‘Through the vagaries of the Hollow, I had slipped into the past.

‘The girl whispered something, and her mother nodded. In a strong voice, the woman said, “My child has dreamed of you. Your name is Blood.”

‘I admitted that it was.

‘The woman lowered the bird-gun. “She tells me you’ve a skull and a journal and that in her dream, you stay here for a spell. Is this true?”

‘I told her the skull and the journal were true, but as for the time I spent with them, that was unknown to me. The woman smiled. “Becky says it’s true, and so it is. Come then, Blood. Dinner’s on the stove, and there’s a fresh pot of coffee brewing as well.”

‘I found the offer too inviting to resist, and with the rifle in the crook of my arm, I went into the cottage to see if the coffee was good.

‘I am pleased to write that it was.’

Beneath the Hollow

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The stairs led down and into death.

‘I found a door in the side of a hill, and after a moment’s hesitation, I opened it. I had seen, or so I thought, the worst and the strangest that Gods’ Hollow had to offer.

‘I was wrong, of course.

‘The stairs were well-worn in the center, dips having been worn into the stone from decades of use. When I reached the bottom of the steps, I discovered why.

‘Flameless torches hung in steel braziers, illuminating the broad hallway that stretched before me. Along either side, I saw the walls were textured, and upon closer examination, I discovered they were not textured. Instead, the skulls and bones of the dead had been embedded into the stone.

‘The sight of them rooted me to the floor as a fear grew in me that should I look down, I would find myself treading on the dead as well.

‘Still, when I forced my gaze downwards, I saw that there was nothing more than stone beneath my feet.

‘I drew a deep breath and considered my situation, half-expecting to hear the dead speak to me. This was the Hollow, after all.

‘They did not. Or, if they did, I was unable to hear them, and for that, I was grateful.

‘With growing confidence, I walked forward, eyes shifting from left to right, searching for a sign, though I knew not what it might be.

‘At the end of the hall, I discovered a small room, and within it, the bodies of three monks. One sat in an alcove, the other two stood at the wall. Each bore a nameplate. Stepping onto the dirt floor of the room, I read the names on the plates. The one closest to me bore the name Mal Blud, and a shiver raced through me.

‘Mal had been a relative, a cousin from my boyhood. As I gazed upon the remains, I heard the voice of the old woman in my ears. The reminder that I would find it on the ninth day.

‘It was the ninth day since I had seen her, and without a doubt, I knew what needed to be done.

‘Stepping forward, I relieved Mal of the burden of his skull and carried it with me out of the room. With the skull tucked under one arm, I retraced my steps, and soon I stood once more in the sunlight of the Hollow.

Scratching

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The subtle, grating sound ate at his nerves.

‘I’m not certain when I became aware of it, but when I did, I could not block the sound from my mind.

‘It rooted itself deep within my thoughts, and I, who have ignored the screams of the wounded and the dying on fields of death across the old world and the new, became fixated upon the noise.

‘Soon, I found myself searching for the source of the sound, and to my regret, I found it.

‘I followed a wide, well-worn path, deep ruts from untold numbers of wagons leading me on. As I went, the sound increased in volume, and a new element joined in. It was a soft moan, reminiscent of the wind through trees and across open water.

‘It was a discomforting sound, and not for the first time in Gods’ Hollow did I feel the urge to stop and turn myself around.

‘Curiosity drove me forward.

‘The path rose up a slight incline, and then, as I reached the peak, I found a scene that chilled the blood.

‘I saw coffins for as far as I could see. Coffins draped in flags, the colors of which were those of the new Republic.

‘The coffins were laid over open graves, and from within the depths of the boxes came the scratching and the moaning.

‘As I stood and stared, the rifle clutched uselessly in my hands, I could smell the dead. Rot hung heavy in the air, and I could picture, if not truly see, the sickening miasma lingering above the coffins.

‘The dead within them were not as strong as those who clambered up out of their graves in the cemetery, but I did not doubt that they might soon break free.

‘I debated my next course of action, and as I did, the wind shifted, carrying my scent down into the massive burial ground.

‘When it did, the moans became howls.

‘The coffins rocked back and forth, and on more than a few of them, the flags fell and fluttered into the graves.

‘The dead could smell me, and from the howling, I knew they were hungry.

‘Without turning my back to the trapped monsters, I fled and sought sanctuary from the madness of the Hollow.’

Hunting Bear

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They met in the forest and dealt in death.

‘I have hunted and killed most creatures on this earth, and I freely admit that I take a great deal of pleasure when it comes to killing people. Distinctly I remember the deaths of my parents, and whenever my hand hesitates, my heart does not.

‘Today, I met a fellow traveler in this place.

‘It did not end well.

‘He was dressed strangely, with a hunting rifle in his right hand and a dead black bear slung over his right shoulder.

‘The man smiled at me, and it was the smile that a predator bestows upon its prey.

‘I stopped a fair distance from him, and when he continued toward me, I held up a hand and shook my head.

‘He came to a standstill, and his smile broadened. I could see his hand tighten around his rifle and his body relax. He would drop the carcass as soon as he thought he could, and he’d try to put a bullet in me.

‘Of that, I had no doubt.

‘He called out to me, asking, “How are you, Friend?”

‘I told him I was fine, but I was no friend of his.

‘This didn’t cause him any discomfort. Instead, he chuckled and took a half-step forward, stopping only when I drew my pistol.

‘His eyes narrowed, and his smile became colder, cunning. It was the smile of the predator gauging the speed of his prey. With that false smile upon his face, he asked, “Would you shoot me?”

‘I nodded.

‘He raised an eyebrow. “A perfect stranger?”

‘As the last word slipped from his mouth, the man dropped his left shoulder and dumped the bear, bringing up his rifle.

‘But he was dead before he could pull the trigger.

‘He collapsed beside the bear, and for a moment, I stood there, waiting to see if the man would rise to his feet. When he didn’t, I moved closer, took his weapon and ammunition, and after a moment of consideration, used his own knife to cut off his head.

‘I set the severed head on the bear’s chest, placed its paws upon the bastard’s face, and hoped he could see it from Hell.’

Oracle

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His melodic voice filled the grove.

‘I was tired from walking.

‘The day was longer than it should have been. Perhaps as long as thirty or thirty-five hours. Far too much time for a single day. Still, I did not see much point in seeking a place to rest until the day had decided to put itself to bed.

‘When dusk finally made its appearance, I found a pleasant grove in which to settle down. There was a small stream that passed through it and sign that animals came to drink from it often.

‘I went to the stream and found the water to be sweet and potent. It brought a smile to my face as I settled back on my haunches. There were few places in Gods’ Hollow where I have sensed any sort of peace, and of them all, this grove was the finest.

‘I went about the process of making a fire, for while the day was warm, I knew the night would be cooler. It was as I touched flint to steel that I heard the voice. “Ezekiel Blood, I wondered if you would make your way here.”

‘I have grown used to my name being called out in the strangeness of the Hollow, and so it was without any great surprise as I looked around for the speaker.

‘The one who spoke, however, did cause me to sit in silence for a moment.

‘A creature I have never seen before spoke again. “Tell me, Blood, what do you feel here?”

‘I told him I felt peace. The creature nodded. “If you had not, I would kill you where you stand.”

‘It was not spoken as a threat or even as a promise. The creature spoke it as a fact, and I did not see a need to disagree with him. I had the sense that he could do it.

‘I waited to see if he would speak again, and he did. “What do you plan to do here, Blood?”

‘I told him I wished to eat and to sleep. When dawn came, I would leave the place as I found it.

‘He scratched his chin and asked, “What will you do if attacked?”

‘Nothing, I replied. I did not believe he would allow it.

‘A deep, resounding laugh filled the glade. “You are right. I would not. Eat, Blood, and sleep. You are safe here.”

‘It was a strange thing to hear, but it was appreciated.’

The Family

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They stood unmoving in the sunlight.

‘I found them in the morning.

‘I had come out of the woods and felt uneasy as I stepped onto the new ground. I crept forward, keeping to shadows and hiding as I could. I had an unshakeable feeling that I was walking towards a trap and that soon, something would try to kill me, as so many other creatures in this damnable place have.

‘Instead, I could see a curious familial scene.

‘My eyes came upon a child and his parents, a pony in its traces. The cart it was to pull was filled with stones.

‘None of them moved.

‘Nothing moved.

‘Crouching down, I saw ants on the upturned earth, and each of them looked to be a carven image. It was as though some master artisan had come through and left behind works of immaculate beauty.

‘But I knew it not to be so.

‘There was something terribly wrong around me.

‘I stood up and approached the family with caution. I could see fear in their eyes.

‘No, not fear. Terror.

‘Every breathing creature was aware of what was occurring around it.

‘As I examined the scene before me, I felt my legs begin to stiffen. My blood, ancient and strong, fought against it. Deep within, the struggle continued, but I knew I would lose this fight. I knew it as one knows the rising and the setting of the sun and the shifting of the seasons.

‘I considered killing the family and the pony, putting them out of their misery, but then I realized that this might not work. What if I struck at them and the blood leaked from them? How long would it take for them to die? Days? Weeks?

‘Longer?

‘I did not wish to make them suffer more.

‘Fighting the increasing weight of my limbs and the sluggish movement of my blood, I turned away and moved as swiftly as I could.

‘Around me, I heard the groaning of some beast. It was an angry, bitter sound and one I attributed to the creature which had imprisoned this world.

‘I did not linger to see what manner of monster could do such a thing.’

Laughter

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The sound of laughter poisoned the air.

‘It was a sickening sound. One I had heard from the lips of men who knew they were dying, and which turned the bowels of brave men to water,’ my father wrote.

‘I am still in Gods’ Hollow, and I doubt I shall ever find my way out. I am leery of even settling into any of the towns that I occasionally see. My dead wife, in her many forms, is still very much present in this abomination, and I would hate to be caught unawares by her. It is safest, I feel if I keep moving.

‘This afternoon, as I scouted for a place to hole up for the night, the laughter caught my attention, and so I followed it. I have found it is always better to do so in the daylight. At least then, I can better defend myself.

‘I found a tree standing alone, and from it hung five corpses. From their dead mouths came the laughter, and when I approached it, their mirth increased in volume. I came to a stop, clasped my hands behind my back, and waited to hear what the dead had to say.

‘It took them quite some time before they finished. When they did, one of them twisted on his rope, peered at me with empty sockets and said, “You are his father.”

‘Whose?

‘The dead men, in unison, replied, “Duncan Blood.”

‘I nodded, and the dead men stated, “He put us here.”

‘I asked why and the one who had spoken first answered, “Why not?”

‘This brought out gales of laughter as one of them stated, “He did not like the way we bred. He told us rape was unacceptable. Your son gelded us, and he was not gentle Ezekiel Blood. Not gentle at all.”

‘I shrugged, and they laughed again.

‘When I asked if this was all they had to say, the first speaker wheezed out a chuckle. “No. We hate your son. Tell him, if you see him, that we will have our revenge.”

‘I raised an eyebrow at the statement, considered it for a moment, and then went forward to the tree. As I crouched down beneath them, the dead men demanded to know what I was about, and I ignored them as I set fire to the tree.

‘They were no longer laughing when I settled down to watch them burn.

‘I will not have anyone threaten my son.’

Silence

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The silence burned his ears.

I do not know what version of Cross my father stumbled into, but it left the page stinking of smoke and smeared with ashes.

‘I was awakened to the smell of burning wood and the sight of what at first appeared to be black snow.

‘I have sent many a man and woman to their deaths by fire, and when the wind shifted ever so slightly, it carried to me the wretched stench of burnt flesh.

‘I broke my fast and girded myself for what I might find.

‘Nothing in my life could have prepared me for what I found only a hundred steps away.

‘The short trail led to a scene of utter destruction, the likes of which I have never seen in my long life.

‘For as far as I could see, there was nothing but a ravaged landscape. The air was thick with the hideous odor of roasting humanity, and smoke hung heavy in the air. I gazed upon a city that I did not believe could ever have existed. I have seen Paris and London, Berlin and Rome. All, it seems, could have fit within the charnel city before me.

‘Fires burned the tortured landscape, and there was nothing to hear save the crackle of flames.

‘There were no voices. Neither supplications for mercy nor the screams of the dying.

‘Silence.

‘There were no bodies to see, no sign of the residents, though their belongings were scattered about me.

‘I sat down where I was and tried to understand what it was that had scarred the world before me.

‘Where did the people go? Where were the pets?

‘I did not see a single dog or vagrant cat. There were neither insects nor were their birds.

‘My eyes fixed upon the distant fires, and I wracked my mind to make some sense of what I looked upon. Tried in some way to understand what might have happened here.

‘I could not.

‘In the end, I could do nothing more than stand up and make my way through the city. I did not look for signs of life, for I knew I would find none.’

Height

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The man stood amongst the gathered hay and stared.

‘I passed into a field of hay, the sheafs gathered into cones, all of which stood a foot taller than myself,’ my father wrote.

‘As I moved among them, picking out my path with care, the wind shifted and carried to me the smell of baking bread. I confess, my stomach grumbled at the sound, and when it did, the earth beneath my feet trembled.

‘The hackles rose on the back of my neck, and for a moment, I remembered the graveyard I had stumbled upon and the dead who had clambered out to try and feast upon me.

‘With this memory fresh in my mind, I slipped into a deep shadow, hiding between a pair of hay sheaves that had tilted in towards one another.

‘Crouching down, I drew the curious pistol, made certain that the rounds remained in its firing cylinder, and waited to see what made the earth itself shake.

‘I did not have to wait long.

‘A giant soon came into view and stopped but a short distance away from me. He wore spectacles on the bridge of his nose, the nostrils of which flared as he glanced around. The man towered above the sheaves, and he would have dwarfed me had I been fool enough to stand close to him.

‘He glanced around, his eyes passing over the place where I hid.

‘When he spoke, the air vibrated and my ears pulsed. “Little Blood,” the giant laughed. “I smell you. Come out and sit with me. I would have words with you.”

‘I did not respond. The smile faded from his face. “Blood!” he yelled, and birds took to wing, fleeing into the air. “I hunger, and your bones are what my recipe calls for!”

‘The old rhymes clambered from the depths of my memories, and I tightened my grip upon the pistol. I was no Englishman, but I had no doubt that my bones would serve this giant’s bread quite well.

‘He rambled and howled, and for a long time, I remained hidden. Finally, he gave up his demands and stomped back from whence he came.

‘I kept to the edges of the field and the pistol in my hand.’

A Temper

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Her hatred burned with every step he took.

‘I heard my wife’s voice today.

‘It was not from a woman who had been my wife in another version of Cross or in another time. No, it was the woman who I had married before traveling to the New World from England. The one I thought I loved.

‘Perhaps I did. Perhaps it was all illusion.

‘Regardless of the truth of the matter, or the lie, I heard her voice in Gods’ Hollow.

‘She was displeased.

‘The names she called me and the curses she hurled were neither original nor particularly witty, and so I shall not write them down here. I was more impressed with the discovery that she has somehow become part of the Hollow, though what part exactly remains a mystery still.

‘As she hurled her empty threats and vulgar taunts at me, I ignored her. How her spirit had managed to travel from my home in Cross to this place, I do not know. Or perhaps there is some bond between the two.

‘Should I ever leave this place, I will have to inspect it.

‘Walking along a narrow path, I noticed that the temperature was increasing. Uncomfortably so. In a short time, I found myself sweating, and as I paused to wipe the perspiration from the back of my neck, I heard my dead wife’s maniacal laughter ring out through the woods.

‘Within seconds, the first flames appeared among the fallen leaves.

‘Fire was one of the few things I knew would kill me. And my dead wife knew that as well.

‘With a curse of my own, I turned to leave and saw a wall of fire creeping toward me. It was too slow and focused to be natural, and I knew she was directing it.

‘My only escape lay in going forward.

‘And so, I did.

‘I sprinted into the smoldering leaves, kicked aside flames as they leapt out to bite into my flesh, and made all haste to anywhere that safety might be found.

‘It took a long time to find it, and when I did, I had been burned in more than one place.

‘As I tend to my wounds, I am reminded again of Duncan killing his mother, and it is a pleasant thought to reflect upon.’

Whispers

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The whispers thundered through the forest.

‘I heard a woman whispering,’ my father wrote, ‘and it was a terrible sound. One I could not ignore.

‘For half a day, I followed that whispering through the woods, and soon, I gave up hope of ever finding her. Shortly after midday, I came upon a small glen and an old woman sitting in a ladderback chair.

‘I paused at the edge of the glen and considered whether to approach her.

‘She, in turn, fixed her eyes on me, nodded, and called out, “Come, Ezekiel, you’ve kept me waiting long enough.”

‘I had no choice but to obey. Her words commanded me, and I stepped forward against my better judgement. Against any choice I might have had. Had she told me to run, I do not doubt I would have done so.

‘When I reached her, she stated, “Sit,” and so I sat. I am not afraid to admit that my heart was thundering in my chest. I cannot recall a time I was in another’s power in this way. Not even when I was a mere child.

‘She sensed my fear. “You shall come to no harm by my hand, Ezekiel Blood. I’ve waited nigh on a hundred years for you, as you bade me do. I was but a girl then. What do you see before you now?”

‘I answered that I saw an old woman, and she laughed. “Honest still,” she nodded. “It is good and just that it is so. I have the warning you gave to me. Will you hear it?”

‘I told her I would.

‘She closed her eyes. “Nine days hence you’ll find it. On the tenth, you find me. Leave them both where they can be found.” She opened her eyes and peered at me, one hand wrapped loosely around the handle of her cane.

‘She sighed. “You told me I would be an old woman when you came for the message and that you’d not remember it. Little did I know that it would be a century. I never married, Blood. I held the message in my heart, and so there was room for nothing else. Will you offer me compensation now?”

‘I told her I would and asked what she wanted.

‘She whispered her answer, and in the coolness of the afternoon, I killed her.’

Strange Sights

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The Hollow is filled with horrors and curiosities.

More often than not, they are one and the same.

This point was brought home to my father in an entry he titled, ‘The Waterfall.’

‘I know not where or when I am. The men I saw this morning looked strange yet almost familiar. I was not close enough to hear them, though I observed their actions and their fate.

‘It was difficult not to.

‘I had taken a seat beneath a fir tree, and I was well hidden and warm despite the weather. The sound of the waterfall was pleasant, and it offered a small bit of respite from the incessant marching that I found myself doing.

‘As I sat and considered the strange situation I am currently in, movement caught my eye, and I saw three men stride onto a narrow bridge over the falls. Two took up a position off to the left, and the third stationed himself on the right. They were dressed for the weather and were focused solely upon their task.

‘The two men chanted in tones that were indecipherable, and the third watched them. The water in the pond appeared to boil. Bubbles rose to the surface, popped, and hissed, releasing a noxious odor that I could smell from my place. Had I not been concerned about missing whatever performance was about to occur, I would have taken my leave of the place.

‘As it was, I stayed.

‘Within less than a minute, great black tentacles rose up from the depths of the pond and lashed out. They took hold of the pair of men and dragged them into the water, and neither man said a word. As they vanished beneath the surface, the remaining man tilted his head back, opened his mouth, and waited all of a heartbeat before another tentacle snaked out and burrowed into his mouth.

‘The tentacle disappeared into the man completely, and he stiffened as though frozen. Then, as I blinked, he burst apart, leaving nothing more than steaming meat and blood splattered about the bridge.

‘After a short time, I got to my feet and found a better place to rest. One a bit farther from the pond.

‘I had no desire to learn how far of a reach the tentacles had.’

Satisfaction

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Anger warmed his heart.

My father, while never violent to me, was not a gentle man. He had seen and done too much, and the death of his parents had hardened his heart. Never did I fault him for this. How could I? He is my father.

Still, I know him for what he is – a killer, and I am the same.

Much like he made me.

My father, though, is quicker to give his anger free rein.

‘I heard the familiar slap of harness against horseflesh and the jingle of brass,’ my father wrote. ‘Mingled in with these comforting sounds was the holler and cursing of men. The wind shifted, carried with it the smell of sweat and sawdust.

‘I followed a wide trail and soon came upon a rough camp where a group of men were working their horses. Together, men and beasts strove to clear lumber, and I was about to move on my way when one of the men saw me.

‘He called out in a tongue I did not know, and when I shook my head, he and the others laughed. The horses dropped their heads, flanks wet with sweat, thankful for the break in their work. The men, in turn, spread out and approached me, calling out to me and to one another, always laughing at my inability to respond. One of the men paused long enough to lift up a double-headed ax, and I smiled.

‘The men took no heed of my expression, though they should have.

‘I did not waste powder and ball on these fools. Instead, I picked up a small length of oak that had a sharp end. It would be more than enough.

‘The men laughed even harder at the sight of my chosen weapon and continued their approach.

‘They were fools.

‘The first one was gasping out his last before the others knew what was happening, and I felt the old joy again. The thrill of battle. Old war cries erupted from my throat, and soon I was awash their blood, tasting it in my mouth.

‘I killed the last of them as he tried to run, tearing his head from his neck and hurling it into the forest.

‘I freed the horses from their traces and enjoyed the beauty of the morning.’

Restless

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Not all of the dead sleep well.

This harsh fact was driven home to my father when he entered yet another fractured version of Cross.

‘I have seen my share of graveyards,’ my father wrote, ‘and I have laid entire towns in their graves. When I wandered out into this place, I could smell the wrongness in the air.

‘I came to a stop, and the hair stood up on the back of my neck, and my breath caught in my throat. My eyes darted around the place, searching for the threat, but I could see nothing.

‘Nothing that would cause me worry.

‘From what I saw, the church and the outbuildings were well-cared for, as were the headstones. I could read neither the dates nor the names carved into the granite, but that fact did not disturb me. I have not my son’s gift with languages.

‘Still, the air was pleasant, and the day was bright. I sat down on the grass, with clear fields of fire all around me, and shucked off my haversack. I had been hungry for some time, and this was the first opportunity to ease my hunger.

‘Satisfied that I would be granted some bit of peace, I prepared to enjoy a quick bite to eat before moving on.

‘I was not afforded that opportunity.

‘I had no sooner settled in than the smell of fresh-turned earth and rotten flesh assailed my nose.

‘The dead were climbing out of their graves.

‘There were clothes were in tatters, as was their flesh, and a keening wail pierced the bright sky as they opened their mouths. The teeth within were not those of men or women but rather of some beast I cannot name.

‘As one, the creatures paused, heads raised slightly to the air. The wind shifted, carried my scent with it, and a low, rumbling growl issued from their mouths. They turned to face me, jaws working slowly as they began a shuffling walk towards me.

‘I clambered to my feet, drew the pistol, and fired off a quick shot. While it struck the closest beast in the chest, it did not slow the monster down. Nor did the second shot.

‘Or the other four in the damned weapon.

‘Swearing and cursing, I put the pistol away and took to my heels.

‘I had no desire to be made a meal of.’

Town

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He was greeted as a friend.

My father has grown both weary and wary of the Hollow. From what I have read, it is difficult for him to tell the passage of time. This is a common ailment among those of us afflicted with long life, but he cannot judge the days or the weeks or even the seasons. There are some places where he steps out, and it is summer, or he might awaken in the grip of winter. He has experienced the future and the past, in both our own world and in that of others.

He is a man struggling to maintain his grip upon reality, a reality that is not what he believes it should be. As flexible as my father is, mentally, nothing could have prepared him for the Hollow.

I have lived most of my life near Gods’ Hollow, and I have hunted my fair share of creatures in its blasphemous depths.

He has not.

And while this most recent entry relates an amicable event, it nonetheless shows how strange it is for him.

‘The stonewall which occasionally appears along North Road is there once more,’ my father wrote. ‘Yet it is not intact at this time. There is an opening, wide enough for a man to pass through, but little more than that.

‘I went onto the road and turned toward home, with, I admit, a desperate hope to find my son. Yet the further I traveled, the more I saw this was not to be. The houses were abandoned, and when I reached my home, it had been burnt to the ground. I did not waste time there but turned and headed back to the Hollow.

‘I paused at a house, went round to the back and found a water pump. As I went to draw a drink, I saw a large dog standing off to the side. He raised his head, sniffed, nodded and looked me in the eye, saying, “You’re late, Blood. Where have you been?”

‘I answered I was in the Hollow, and the dog let out a short bark of amusement before saying, “You are not the Blood I was expecting then. You’ve a son?”

‘I told him I did.

‘The dog nodded. “Then it is he, I await. Drink and go in peace.”

‘I did so, wondering if the dog spoke of Duncan or some other from this place.’

Murderous Speed

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The Hollow has too many surprises.

My father was, according to his journal, ‘taken aback and set on my heels.’

‘I had spent a fair portion of the morning following a well-worn trail that gave me a hope that I might find some semblance of sanity and respite from the strangeness of this place,’ my father wrote.

‘I was bitterly disappointed.

‘When the trail came to an end, I indeed discovered a place of human habitation. I found a pair of men, and at first, I thought they were putting a horse through its paces in a curious carriage. This was an incorrect impression I learned a moment later as they rounded a corner and the dust settled.

‘What sort of an animal it was, I have no knowledge. Never, in all of my varied travels, have I seen such a creature. It was tall, easily eight feet if not taller, and it looked as though it was some manner of bird. The wings seemed ineffectual, but its legs propelled it at a speed that the finest of stallions would have been envious of.

‘I confess that I was struck dumb and still, yet so too were the men with the creature. They did not seem to expect any others.

‘All three of us regained our senses at the same time, and the man in the driver’s seat reached for a pistol.

‘I drew mine quicker, and for the first time, I had occasion to use the weapon.

‘It roared with the ferocity of a lion. The shot passed through the neck of the creature and into the chest of the man, sending him sprawling onto the ground, his pistol being deftly caught by his companion.

‘As that man tried to bring the weapon to bear, I fired again. The shot slammed into the man’s belly, causing him to drop his pistol. He collapsed to his knees tried to pick up the weapon again, but once more, I pulled the trigger.

‘The shot took off the top of his head.

‘I must say, I am enamored of this pistol.

‘I walked forward and took the dead man’s weapon, searched them both for more ammunition, and then cut off a bit of creature to see how it might taste.

‘It was tolerable.’

Gods

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He met a god in the Hollow.

For the first time, there was a tremor in my father’s letters.

‘I did not know at first what manner of creature stood by the waterfall I came across this afternoon,’ my father wrote.

‘I could smell nothing of it. There was no scent, almost as though there was a void around the creature. As I approached, angling so that I might not startle it, the creature turned and faced me.

‘There were no eyes that I could see, no mouth that could form the words that followed.

‘Yet that did not stop them.

‘They rang out around the small glade, echoing off the rocks and the trees, causing the water to spray up. The leaves on the branches rattled as the branches themselves shook and threatened to fall to the earth. “Blood, you have come far,” it stated.

‘I confirmed that I had. It chuckled, sat down on the ground and motioned for me to do the same.

‘Reluctantly, I did so. I do not deny that there was a horrific fear that gripped me. I had the urge to bolt with all the alacrity of a startled hare. Yet I sat and waited.

‘The creature nodded. “It is well you do not run. I am not hungry yet, but should you run before we are finished, Ezekiel, I will make a meal of you.”

‘I sat and waited and listened.

‘The creature scratched lazily at its chest. “You may survive this place, Blood, but it will take all of your wits. All of your determination. Do not falter. This is our place, our hunting ground. We have sown the beasts in the Hollow as one might in a field. These crops, they entertain and sustain us. You entertain us, as does your son. Stay alert, Blood, and you may yet see him.”

‘I could sit only in stunned silence. He nodded and sank down into the earth as though he had never existed at all.

‘In the brutal stillness of that place, I understood that I had forgotten what it was to be afraid.

‘The creature had reminded me.

‘It had given me a gift. It had returned my mortality to me, and for that,’ my father wrote, ‘I am thankful.’

A Decent Meal

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Kindness and a warning saved my father.

The entry was short and sweet.

‘I came upon the house early this morning,’ my father wrote. ‘I could smell bacon and eggs frying, and the odors reminded my stomach of what we had been lacking of late.

‘The man sat outside his house in his chair, his eyes fixed upon me as I approached him. When I was a fair distance still, I stopped and asked if he would mind sharing his bread with me.

‘Without hesitation at all, the man told me he would not mind at all and invited me forward. Within a few minutes, we were eating together, and he watched me with mild curiosity. Finally, when we had finished, and he set coffee to boil, he asked, “What manner of creature are you?”

‘The question was an interesting one. I told him I was a man and that I was from Cross. He had heard of men before but not of Cross. When I inquired as to what he considered himself, as he looked the part of a man to me, the stranger chuckled. “I’m a werewolf, Man, and while there’ve been stories of your kind before, I’ve never met one.”

‘I told him I’d not met a werewolf in my own world, though I had heard whispers of them.

‘He laughed and shook his head. “Friend, I’ll do more than whisper tonight when I change. ‘Tis a full moon, and I’ll be hunting. The deer are rutting and foolish in their ways. Eat your fill, Man, and then it would be best for you to be on your way. I’d hate to kill you after having such a pleasant conversation.”

‘I agreed that it would be a shame. As I finished eating, he packed me smoked meats and fresh water. “Head west,” he told me. “The deer are off to the east, so that’s where I’ll be hunting. You’ve a few hours to go until dark. P’rhaps the Hollow will shift you somewhere else before then, but I wouldn’t count on it.”

‘I didn’t.

‘With the man’s warning in my ear and his gifts of food in my haversack, I went on my way. The Hollow did not shift, I am sorry to say, but neither did the man come across my scent.

‘I was lucky,’ my father concluded, ‘and some days, that is all I can hope for.’

Ruins

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He killed them all.

My father came upon a set of ruins, and from them emerged a group of creatures that he believed had once been men.

‘I found the ruins deep in the Hollow as I sought for some other means of egress from this thrice-damned place. There was a sign attached to the ruins, but time and my own ignorance denied me the information it held.

‘I doubt there was anything pertinent to what hid within the depths.

‘Night was coming on, and I have always slept better with my back against a firm wall. I made camp, ate a bit of jerky and warmed some water over a small fire. By the time the sun had set, I was feeling better than I have in some time.

‘They ruined it.

‘I think that at one time, they were men, or at least descended from them. They lurked within the shadows far in the ruin’s center. Whether it was my fire or my mere presence that aroused their interest, I do not know.

‘What is important is the fact that they came out and came at me with abandon, a mistaken belief in their own superiority.

‘They were shambling wrecks, clad in tattered and poor cloth, sickly white flesh bulging in places where no flesh should. Their hands were large and misshapen, as were their faces. I could smell their stink as they clambered over rocks and howled out to one another.

‘I did not use my recently acquired pistol on these wretches.

‘Fire and my hatchet were more than sufficient.

‘They learned to fear the flames.

‘The stench of their flesh, singed and burning; of thick blood splashed across the ground with the rising moon reflected in it; all acted as a balm upon my tired spirit.

‘When I had finished with them, none remained. And though I had dulled the edge of my hatchet upon their bones, I gripped it still as I went in search of more.

‘I found no trace of any others. It was a pity.

‘I was in a mood to kill, and they had proved to be a pleasant distraction.’

Southern

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His anger grows.

I am close to halfway through my father’s final journal, and his anger is evident with every word. The violence in his letters is palpable.

‘I have grown to despise the Hollow. The years are wrong. The damned trees are wrong, and I have yet to find my way back to my own Cross.

‘This morning, when I broke my fast and set out for town from Gods’ Hollow once more, I discovered a stonewall running along the edge of the Hollow’s border. I approached it with caution. I have run out of powder and shot, and my rifle is little more than a club.

‘When I reached the wall, I climbed over it and began to follow a wide road, which I suspect is some iteration of North Road. The way was lined with severed heads. Some from white men, others Indians, far too many were black. It disturbed me to see them.

‘I had reached a curve in the road, and as I rounded it, I came upon a gentleman dressed in a gray uniform. He was humming a song with which I was unfamiliar, and he was mounting a pair of heads on poles. They had once belonged to children, and if they had not been twins, then they had undeniably been siblings. The heads, like so many of those I had passed, belonged to Africans.

‘The man turned upon hearing me approach, and when he spoke, his accent was thick, as though he had been raised in the Southern colonies. He narrowed his eyes, dropped his hand to the butt of a curious-looking weapon at his side, and asked me what business I had in Cross. I told him my business was my own, and I asked him the year.

‘The man’s eyes widened a tad, and he began to draw the weapon.

‘I did not let him finish. I slapped the weapon aside and struck him in the center of his forehead with a closed fist. The bones in my hand broke, but so too did his skull. It collapsed beneath the weight of my blow, and his eyes rolled up into what was left of his brains.

‘I have relieved him of his weapon and the ammunition belt he wore. I have taken a memento for my journal as well.

‘I enjoyed the kill.’

Nameless

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My father robbed the man of a name.

There is no date to accompany the photograph tucked between a blank page and one filled with the tight, conservative script of my father’s hand.

It seems that my father discovered several versions of Cross. None of which pleased him.

As I read what he had written, I could hear the anger in his voice.

‘I will be damned,’ my father began the entry, ‘if I will be subjected to the idiocies and vagrancies of every fool with a rifle.

‘I had no sooner exited the wood-line of the Hollow when the crack of a rifle alerted me to the presence of someone displeased with my arrival. Had he been a better shot, I would not have been afforded the opportunity to repay him in kind.

‘Still, he had enough sense to take shelter behind an elm as he reloaded, and I brought my own rifle up to fire. The tree he chose, however, was not nearly thick enough.

‘My shot took him in the leg, sending him stumbling out and into plain view. He dropped his ramrod, struggled to pick it up, and by the time he had, my second shot was rammed home and ready to fire. The report of my shot rolled across the open glade of the Hollow, and the ball tore through his shoulder, severing the limb from his body. I slung my rifle across my back and drew my hatchet.

‘Despite his wounds, my adversary struggled to reload his rifle.

‘It was of no use.

‘When I reached him, I kicked him in his wounded leg, stomped on the raw, wet socket of his missing arm, and asked him why he had shot at me. He replied that all Bloods were to be shot on sight. When I asked his name again, he refused.

‘I did not ask a third time. Instead, I put my hatchet to good use. By the time I finished severing his other arm, he told me his name, but I was in no mood to listen. I was focused on the task at hand, which was relieving the bastard of his remaining limbs.’

My father had struggled with his temper, I recalled, and I confess it brought a smile to my face to see that it troubled him still.

Unwanted

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The photograph took me aback.

It was a daguerreotype tucked between the pages of my father’s journal that I had found on the Hollow’s stonewall.

I had finished reading through some of the older journals, and I felt sufficiently prepared to see what my father had written after vanishing into the horrors of Gods’ Hollow.

I was wrong.

I had never expected to see my mother in a photograph, especially since I had killed her long before the advent of the art.

I lifted the image up out of the pages, the silver-plated copper cold and hard against my fingers. There was no madness in her eyes. No hatred in her face.

This was not the face of the woman who had attacked me on that dark morning. This woman was not frothing at the mouth, nor was she trying to drive a carving knife into my chest.

This was not the woman I would butcher when I was ten years old and wanting nothing more than to break my fast before beginning the day’s chores.

I held the daguerreotype a moment longer, then I set it down and read the entry that went with it.

‘I am unsure how to react to this encounter,’ my father wrote. ‘When last I saw my wife, Duncan had stabbed his mother to death, leaving her corpse on the table. She had attempted to kill him, but the boy was too quick. He is a Blood, through and through.

‘She gazed upon me as though she had seen a ghost, and when she regained her wits, she drew a pistol and fired at me. She is a far better shot than she was a century ago.

‘The round took me in the stomach, and as she tried to finish me off, the weapon jammed.

‘I did not rely upon a weapon, for I’ve killed my fair share with bare hands and little else.’

In silence, I reread my father’s entry.

It pleased me to know she was dead again. I killed my mother whenever I found her, and it was reassuring to know that my father was doing the same.

Still, I’d done enough reading for the night.

There was bourbon to be drunk and memories to forget.

1778

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Under the aegis of war, he had revenge.

During the American Revolution, many colonists took the opportunity to settle scores, line their pockets, and otherwise wreak havoc.

Years before the war began, my father was cheated by some men from the center of New York state. Responsibilities kept him in Cross, though the mistreatment rankled him some. When the war arrived, my father decided it was time to visit his vengeance upon his former business partners.

I remember him leaving at the time, telling me he would be back as soon as he could and to keep a weather-eye out for trouble. While both colonists and loyalists were raiding across our portion of Massachusetts, both sides steered clear of Cross. We’d shed the blood of patriots and king’s-men alike. It made no difference to us.

Cross would survive, regardless as to who ruled the land around us. So long as they let us be.

My father traveled up into New York and struck a bargain with a Mohawk chief by the name of Joseph Brant and a loyalist unit led by Major Walter Butler. My father offered his services as a soldier, though only for the raid against his enemies.

While Major Butler was unaware of my father’s reputation, the Mohawks were well familiar with it, and they were pleased to have my father with them as they made their way toward Cherry Valley. The men gathered around my father, and when Major Butler was not paying attention, my father let the Mohawks cut upon his flesh to show the gift nature had bestowed upon the Blood family.

In the early morning hours of November 11th, the war party arrived and attacked both the fort and the town located in Cherry Valley. While Major Butler had exacted promises from the Mohawks not to harm any of the noncombatants, my father refused to agree to such terms.

Harming them was why he had left Cross.

‘In less time than it takes to write this,’ my father entered in his journal, ‘I was within the town and at the house of Master Thomas Wells. I put it to the torch, and as he and his wife fled the structure, I slew them both. This one act sealed the fate of the town, as I hoped it would.’

He returned home in December, seven cured scalps on his belt.

He tossed them onto the table, poured himself a cup of tea and said, ‘Never cheat your business partners.’

1640, Wampanoag

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My father taught me to kill.

‘Killing is a chore.’

That simple statement is one that has remained with me for close to four centuries, and while killing is occasionally enjoyable, my father spoke the truth.

I learned this in 1640.

I was close to my twelfth birthday, and I had already slain my mother at the table several months earlier.

We were having trouble with the Wampanoag tribe that lived within a day of us, and they had decided to raid Cross. They had killed a pair of brothers working in their field and chased myself, my sister, and my brother into the garrison house which – at the time – stood between our property and that of the Coffins. With my father and the elder Coffins at the firing-ports, we held the Wampanoags off until they grew tired of attacking us.

We did not wait long to visit our revenge upon them.

My father brought me and some of the older Coffin boys and men to the Wampanoag village.

Our attack was swift.

We set fire to their outbuildings, destroyed the food they were setting in for winter, killed several of the men and took the remaining eighty-one Wampanoags prisoner.

My father recorded it succinctly.

‘I was right to bring Duncan with me on this raid. He has a steady hand for one so young, and he had no remorse when putting the torch to the village. Would I not have to train him in this fashion, but I am afraid it is for the best.

‘These prisoners shall illustrate a point to the other tribes, for I have asked their war chiefs to send me representatives. With these emissaries on the banks of the Cross River, they shall learn that we shall not falter. Duncan, as my son and as a child of this place, shall show them that our children are strong.’

I remember the day well.

I helped to bring the prisoners out to the center of the river, and with the representatives of the other tribes watching, I helped drown the Wampanoag men, women, and children we had taken prisoner.

Killing is a chore, one my father taught me not to shirk from.

The Dutch

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My father did not care for religion.

By 1607, my father had returned to the western world.

He made his way to the Netherlands, where he joined the Dutch armies as they fought against the Hapsburgs and Catholicism. It did not matter to him that the Dutch were Protestants. It did not matter that the Hapsburgs were Catholics. All that mattered was who was paying him more.

My father became skilled in the use of firearms at that time, more a testament to his obstinance than anything else.

For ten years, my father fought for the Dutch. He mastered the rough firearms of the time, and he learned how best to sail a ship and weather a storm on the open seas. He learned the finer points of the cannon, and he became knowledgeable in Greek and Latin, languages which would serve him well later in life.

At the end of the decade, he was aboard a Dutch privateer that found itself in a fierce battle with an English ship for a fat Spanish prize. The Spanish ship sank with all hands and her gold, and that set the fight into a fever pitch. By the time everything was finished, my father alone stood on the blood-soaked deck of the privateer. His Dutch comrades were dead around him, and there were a fair amount of English sailors breathing their last on the ship as well.

When the Englishmen attacked again, confident in their ability to kill one man, my father stood his ground. Three of the Englishmen were dead within moments.

Twice more, the sailors attacked, and each time they lost men.

My father records that the next man to approach him was the English captain. The man, according to my father, approached him weaponless and with arms outspread. The captain then offered my father a berth on his ship.

‘When I asked the captain what coin he offered,’ my father wrote, ‘the man responded, What coin will you have? I named my price, and he gave it.’

My father helped set fire to the Dutch privateer, taking only his weapons from the ship. He would, as far as the Dutch were concerned, be as dead as those he had sailed with.

Vanishing into the ranks of another army, like killing, was an easy task.

The Americas

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He taught them about war.

Sometime in the late fifteen hundreds, my father accepted the coin of the Spanish monarchy and traveled with a group of mercenaries to the New World. Where he fought did not matter to him, although in his journal from the year 1592, he does confess some curiosity as to what the New World might be like.

He was not impressed.

The men he served alongside were soldiers, like himself, and those he fought were soldiers of another kind. Both my father’s allies and his enemies were beneath him, and they knew far less about killing than they thought they did.

He taught them.

By this time, my father was using the name Ezekiel Blood (and I admit I do not know what his true name might have been, though I have been told that Blood is merely an anglicization of the Danish surname ‘Blod’).

My father records a night when a group of natives caught several of his party out where they should not have been.

The screams of the men rang out through the jungle, the men used as bait.

My father and the others knew it for what it was, and they went into the darkness.

In the jungle, my father could sense the presence of the natives as they kept pace with the mercenaries. The screams of the men were transformed into shrieks, cries for mercy being interjected during pauses that were all-too-short.

When my father and the others entered an open clearing where the captured mercenaries were being tortured, the natives attacked.

The natives, men and women, were armed and skilled in war.

Or so they thought.

My father struck one man down with the back of his hand, wrenched the native’s warclub free, and waded into the fight.

He was merciless, for he was paid to be so.

‘I showed them how to die.’

It is a simple line written near the end of the journal entry for that day, and it speaks volumes about my father.

There is only one more line in the entry, and it too is simple and to the point.

‘Three and Sixty Dead,’ my father noted. ‘My companions fear me.’

I suspect he was smiling when he wrote it down.

Business 

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My father had a talent for war. 

Most of what I know of my father has come from two places. The first is from his own lips. I was denied this source far too early in my long life. The second from the books he hid away. 

It is only this past year that I have discovered them, hidden away in a part of his study I had not known existed. I was surprised to find this place as I have lived here for almost four centuries, and I was confident that I knew all there was to know about the structure. 

Once more, my father has taught me a lesson. 

I was in his study, reminiscing when I noticed an irregularity with the far wall. It was closer than it should have been. When I examined it with greater care, I found it folded in upon itself, revealing several hundred journals.  

They were dated as far back as 1403, and the last one bore the year he went missing. 

I brought a cup of coffee and my pipe into the room, took down the earliest journal, sat down in my father’s rocker, and began to read. 

He was, I learned, bred for war.  

The journal, written entirely in Latin, described a series of battles. My father hired out as a mercenary, loyal to neither king nor crown.  

In one section of the journal, I found a drawing, the description above it telling of how my father took part in the destruction of a city in Italy.  

He was one of two men in a large tower, wheeled forward to the walls. When they were close enough, the other man lowered a bridge, and my father leaped onto the battlements. Armored and armed with an ax, he set about his business.  

He fought with abandon, delighting in the butchery, the fear and desperation of his opponents. He cast them down, both the living and the dead, into the streets below and battled his way to the gates. As my father broke into the gatehouse, he scalded the men with their own boiling oil, garroted the archers with their strings, and opened the gates. 

What had the citizens of the city done to warrant an attack? 

My father neither knew nor did he care. 

He was paid to kill, and killing’s a chore.  

Ezekiel Blood 

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He was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands. 

My father, Ezekiel Blood, had been born sometime in the fourteenth century, though I know not exactly when. From what I gather, he had been born in what is now Denmark, and both his parents had been Danes. 

When he was ten, his parents brought him to England. They were to pay a visit to where one of his ancestors had fallen in battle, and it was in this same place that he killed his first man. As his parents went into the town, my father chased after a pair of puppies racing along the roads. My grandparents had allowed him to do so and inadvertently saved his life. 

My father told me that he had caught up with the puppies in a small copse of trees, and it was from there, with the puppies on his lap, that he saw his parents slain. 

Somehow, the townspeople had learned of my family’s unique traits. Somehow, the townspeople knew that they were related to the men who, centuries earlier, had pillaged the town. 

As my father watched, his parents were pierced by pikes, pinned to the ground, and set aflame.  

It took them nearly ten hours to die. 

My father remained hidden, the rank stench of his own parents’ burning flesh heavy in the air. 

That night, when the townspeople butchered the charred corpses and sealed each portion in a separate container and spread out through the town, my father crept into town.  

He moved from house to house around the perimeter of the town for hours, patient and silent. In his small hands, he held a slim blade, and he killed hundreds. No one was spared. Not the aged nor the infirm, neither mothers nor suckling babes. 

All died at my father’s hands. 

When it was close to dawn, he began to set fire to the buildings.  

Few made it out of the flames alive. Those who did, he hunted down over the following months until not a single citizen of the town remained alive.  

With the puppies as his companions, my father stayed in England and learned about death. He traveled the country, ranged down into Wales and then up into Scotland, and finally over to Ireland. When his aging slowed at fifteen, he traveled across the English Channel to France, and from there, he made his way deeper into the Continent.  

Amongst the Gauls and the northern tribes, he found a religion he was familiar with, how best to use an ax and the finer arts of killing. 

My father was the finest of men. 

Company

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They sang on the shelves.

The books I’d taken from Langer’s were among their kin in my private library. They sang to one another in languages I’d never heard and others I barely understood. Occasionally, one would speak in a recognizable tongue, but even their conversations were upon subjects I could never comprehend.

Still, it was pleasant to hear them.

I sat in my chair and worked my Bowie knife over a whetstone. I had to put the edge back on it. I’d spent eleven hours cutting on Langer, and that time had left the blade dull and nicked in more places than one.

I smoked my pipe as I worked and tried not to think about the task that lay ahead of me. There were bodies in the barn, bodies brought from Miskatonic University and from Langer’s farm in Pepperell. Over the next few days, I’d be digging holes in the orchards and planting corpses to feed Jack’s saplings.

It was the least I could do for my friend.

At the thought of the apple tree, I glanced over at the shelf to where Langer’s skull stood. I’d taken it from him, seeing as how he didn’t need it anymore, and I’d let it boil over a fire made from the limbs stolen from my friend.

Langer’s skull had taken on a faint scent of applewood, and it was a damned fine smell.

It reminded me of Jack, of fine conversations, and the satisfaction of revenge.

“Blood!” one of the books called.

I looked up from my knife. “Aye?”

“Sing us a song,” the book demanded, and the others lent their voices to the request.

“A song?” I set the knife and stone down, tamped down my tobacco and replied, “I don’t know any that are fit for decent company.”

At this, the books roared with laughter, and the book that had spoken asked, “Who says we are decent company, Duncan Blood?”

“Fair enough.” I chuckled and cleared my voice.

I thought of the foulest marching song I knew and then let it fill the room.

The books knew it as well, and soon the house shook with our singing.

It was a fitting way to honor my friend and those soldiers I’d been forced to kill.

#trees #horrorstories

Langer

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I found him in his room.

The book’s directions, not surprisingly, had been dead on.

I didn’t bother kicking the door in. When I reached the top of the narrow stairs, the last few boards squealed, and the wood of the door splintered as Langer emptied all five shots from his pistol. I heard the clatter of empty casings on the floor and let myself into the room.

He sat in a chair, sword on the table in front of him and a box of cartridges open beside it. Langer fumbled with an older model Colt, his fingers failing him as he dropped his reloads onto the floor.

I drew my Colt, thumbed the hammer back and waited.

He glared at me, a sneer creeping onto his face, half-hidden by his beard. “I am not afraid to die, Duncan Blood.”

“I’ve no fear about killing you,” I answered. “But that’s not what this pistol’s for.”

His eyes flickered, darting from my face to the Colt’s barrel.

“The pistol is here to make you comply,” I continued. “You’ll put your revolver on the table and your hands on your knees.”

His sneer broadened. “No.”

I shot him in his left shin.

The deafening roar of the Colt in the confines of the room did not smother Langer’s howl of pain.

I cocked the hammer again, and he slammed his revolver onto the table, pushing it away from him, his face pale and his breath rushing in and out between clenched teeth.

“You killed my friend,” I said, drawing my knife with my free hand. “Had him cut down and his limbs scraped and shaved to weave a basket around your dead child.”

“Yes,” he snarled.

“You did it wrong and opened her flesh to whatever was lingering in the air.”

His hands twitched and moved towards his sword.

I shot him in the other shin.

Panting, he let his hands fall to his side.

Striding forward, I kicked the wounded man out of his chair, holstered my Colt and leaned over the old bastard.

“When I was young, I went to Quebec, and I fought the French and their allies, the Huron. I remember when the Iroquois would take a Huron prisoner and how they would torture him. They wanted to see how strong he was. How well he could withstand the pain. Some of them lasted for days. I doubt you’ll make it through the night.”

I was right.

#trees #horrorstories

A Trap

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He meant for them to be a trap.

It didn’t work.

I heard whispering behind a closed door, and when I forced my way in, expecting a pistol to be leveled at my chest, I found books instead.

It took me a moment to hear what they were saying and a breath or two longer to understand it.

They were speaking a mixture of Latin and ancient Greek, and what they were saying did not reflect kindly upon Tad Langer. His wife. Or his parentage, of which there was some doubt as to whether his father was or was not his mother’s husband.

I let out a chuckle at the last bit, and the books went silent.

“You understood us?” a voice asked from a shelf above the room’s desk. The question was posed in the King’s English.

“Aye, easily enough,” I replied in the same.

Another voice, deeper and farther from the first, asked, “Are you the one old Langer told us to wait for?”

“Did he give my name?”

“No,” the books stated in chorus.

“Huh.” I scratched my chin, then grinned. “I suppose it’s because he didn’t want you running off with me.”

“Running off with you?” The books laughed. “And you are….”

“Blood,” I answered. “Duncan Blood.”

The laughter ceased.

The first book cleared its voice. “Tell me, who is your father?”

“Ezekiel.”

Whispers raced through the library, and then the first book silenced them all.

“And your mother?” the first book asked.

“Dead,” I answered, “although she won’t stay that way.”

“Natural causes?” the first book ventured.

“If a kitchen knife is natural, then aye.”

A pleased sigh filled the room.

“He was right not to tell us,” the first book said. “We will run off with you. Or go, since running is something we cannot do. Will you return for us?”

“If you’ve a mind to go to my farm, then by all means. First, though, I’ve Langer to deal with.”

“He’s hiding in his room,” the first book stated. “There’s a secret door at the end of the hall. Push on the second knot in the pine on the left side of the doorframe. You’ll find the stairs there. He’s armed, by the way. A five-shot revolver and his sword. Not that you need to worry about either.”

“Thank you. I’ll be back soon enough.”

“Knife work, Duncan?” the first book asked.

“Aye. Knife work.”

#trees #horrorstories

Wrong

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It didn’t work.

I could have told Langer that without the death of Jack. As it was, his stupidity and hubris would cost him.

Just as soon as I found the bastard.

I entered the church that served as Tad Langer’s home. When I entered the main portion, I found a casket and flowers and the faint stench of decay lingering in the confined space.

I went to the coffin in the center of the room, swept the wreaths off the top and unlocked the lid. Drawing a Colt, I opened the casket and looked down upon the decomposing face of a young woman. Jack’s severed limbs had been trimmed down into thin slats and woven into a rough blanket.

Whatever magic Langer might have known, it failed him here.

Either that or something foul had claimed the woman and her soul, and thus there was nothing left to be brought back.

If that was the case, then he should consider himself lucky. An empty body with an open doorway is often a recipe for disaster.

Even as the thought crossed my mind, the dead woman’s eyes flickered.

Something had come in.

She opened her eyes, the irises milky and ichor seeping out with the ease of tears.

“Blood.” Her voice, thick with mucous, was painful to hear, her breath foul. “I know you.”

I cocked the hammer back, and she snarled.

“You killed me,” she hissed and tried to free herself from the woven blanket.

She couldn’t.

“You’re not the only one,” I told her.

“I didn’t deserve it,” she snarled.

“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it,” I replied.

“Do you know me?” she demanded.

“No. Don’t rightly care, either.”

Her face twisted into a hateful glare. “Samuel Olcott.”

My memory flickered, locked on, and I let out a surprised laugh. “I remember castrating you, Captain Olcott. I am sorry about your wife. She was an unpleasant part of the chore.”

“The slattern doesn’t matter!” the dead man shrieked. “I went to Hell without my manhood!”

“Looks like you’re going back the same way,” I stated and put two shots into the corpse’s head.

With the spirit of Olcott silenced, I chuckled and returned to my search.

Langer still needed to die, and he might even go the same way Olcott had.

#trees #horrorstories

Curiosities

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He was and wasn’t there.

It took me the better part of the day to kill or drive out the men who’d been defending Langer. When I reached the main house, I breached the door and found myself in what I can only describe as a tomb.

The bodies of the soldiers were gone, and judging by the bloody streaks through the main rooms, the wounded had dragged off the dead.

They were, as I had observed, good soldiers. They didn’t leave their dead behind.

I searched through each room, calling out as I went. I wanted Langer to know I was coming for him. I wanted him to have Jack’s remains ready for me, for I, like the soldiers, was going to bring my dead home.

When I opened the last bedroom door on the top floor, I did not find Tad Langer. I found something else.

The room beyond the door shifted as I stood on the other side of the threshold, watching from the hall.

A man who was and wasn’t there sat in a wicker chair and looked at me as I looked at him. Around him, parts of the furniture shifted as though someone was gently shaking it in and out of focus.

“Fångad.”

The word was faint, a mere whisper in the air, and it took me a moment to translate it.

Trapped.

I nodded. “I can see that.”

He smiled, shrugged, and said, “Jaja.”

Oh well, indeed.

I patted a Colt, and he shook his head. As I watched, he pushed his hand through his own chest, and nothing happened.

“I’m sorry,” I told him.

He chuckled. “Jaja.”

“Do you know where Langer is?”

“Kyrka.” His voice was fainter, the word more difficult to understand.

“The church?”

He smiled. Then, using his finger as though it were a gun, he placed it against his temple and mimicked pulling the trigger.

“You want me to kill him?”

The smile faded, and he nodded. He gestured toward himself and spoke. “Langer.”

 “Fire?”

He shook his head.

I hesitated, then said, “If you make it out, and you’ve a notion to, come to Cross. I’m Duncan Blood. There’s always coffee on and good tobacco. Better whiskey.”

The man gave a solemn smile, raised his hand in farewell, and I left him there, not quite in the world or out of it.

I hoped I’d see him again. He seemed a fine fellow and one more reason for Langer to die.

#trees #horrorstories

Tad Langer

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Tad Langer was no fool.

He was, I discovered the hard way, an old soldier and one who knew his business.

I admired that.

But it wouldn’t give him an easy death.

As Jackson had told me, Langer lived in Pepperell, Massachusetts, not far from Cross and too damned close as far as I was concerned.

When I arrived at his home, I was surprised to see it disguised as an old church. Off to the left was a second structure and another house set a bit farther back, and a burial ground to the right. I let my horse stay off to one side, protected by a copse of thick trees, and went to the end of Langer’s walkway.

Standing there, in the remnants of the first snowfall of the season, I caught a glimpse of sunlight on metal and stepped aside as a shot rang out.

The sound was crisp and clear, and it told me two things.

First, I’d not sneak up on the home.

Second, Langer was a good shot.

Had I stood still, the bullet would have taken me in the face, and that would have been a hell of a thing to recover from.

I took shelter behind an oak, patted the horse on the head and called out to the man.

“Langer!”

“Who wants to speak to the General?” a strong, young voice demanded.

I let out a sigh and shook my head.

“Tell him it’s Duncan Blood and that I want the tree’s wood back.”

There was silence for a few minutes, and then the man shouted, “He says you should go right back to Hell, Mr. Blood.”

I heard the chuckle of more than a few voices, and I nodded.

Sliding my rifle out of its holster, I chambered a round and then shouldered my haversack.

I stepped away from the horse, found a good spot in the copse of trees and set the barrel of the rifle on a limb. It took only a moment to find the window the man had shot at me from.

“Are you still there?” I asked.

“Aye,” the man answered, and I shot him through the glass. Gunfire erupted from the church and the house beyond.

Chuckling, I chambered another round.

I didn’t mind that Langer wasn’t alone in his home.

Not at all.

I had enough bullets for everyone.

And my knife for Langer.

#trees #horrorstories

Jackson Noble

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Apparently, he wasn’t.

I’d known Jackson for five years and considered him a friend. I’d seen him stand tall against some fierce and foul beasts that spilled out of the Hollow on a cold night in November.

When I caught up with him, he was sitting in front of his fireplace with a glass of brandy in hand and a pistol on his lap.

Only his eyes moved when I stepped into the room, one of my Colts at the ready.

“Jackson,” I nodded and took a seat across from him.

He offered a tired smile, raised the glass to his lips and drained the liquor. For a moment, he considered the snifter, shrugged, and then tossed it into the fireplace with barely enough force to clear the fender. As the snifter rolled to a stop, he looked at me.

“I take you’re here to exact some measure of revenge for a tree?” there was a dry, bitter tone to his words.

“Aye, that’s about the size of it, Jackson.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t shoot me when you stepped in.”

I offered him a grim smile. “I want the name of the man who you’re selling my friend to.”

Jackson raised an eyebrow. “You really did consider that damnable tree your friend?”

“I did,” I answered. “I’ll be planting a few of his saplings in his honor.”

Jackson paled. “I’ll not be food for a tree.”

“You’ve no choice in the matter. The only choice you have here, Jackson, is how you die. Fast and easy. Slow and hard. It’s up to you.”

He shook his head. “I didn’t think it would come to this.”

“You murdered my friend, and you’re selling his body. And you didn’t think it would come to this?” I laughed. “Did you know me at all, Jackson Noble?”

“I thought I did,” he whispered, licking his lips nervously, fingers twitching as they moved towards the pistol.

“Lift that pistol, Jackson,” I snapped, “and I’ll show you what it means to die hard.”

He stiffened and then pushed the pistol onto the floor, kicking the revolver away.

“Who am I looking for, and where does he live?” I asked.

“His name is Tad Langer,” Jackson answered. “He lives up in Pepperell. Duncan –”

I put a bullet in his right eye, and he slumped out of the chair.

I stood up and left the house.

Langer wouldn’t have a choice.

He’d die slow.

#trees #horrorstories

Beatrice

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She stood her ground.

I found her in the basement of her department.

I took a belly full of birdshot as well and was damned thankful she hadn’t thought to change the load.

She realized her mistake the moment I caught myself on the doorframe and brought one of the Colts up.

Beatrice broke the shotgun open as she stepped back and tried to reload.

But reloading on the move, and when you’re a target, is something that takes a hell of a lot of practice. Practice she’d never had.

The first slug from the .44 shattered the stock of the shotgun, sending splinters of wood into her side and arm. Blood sprang from a dozen minor wounds, and she dropped the weapon, trying to reach a door at the back of her office.

My second shot caught her in the belly and took her off her feet.

She landed hard on the floor and skidded a foot or so, her back against the heavy door she’d been trying to escape through. With her lips pressed together, she drew a knife from her bodice, but I was already there, kicking the blade from her hand and stomping down on her fingers, shattering them.

She meant to kill herself, and I meant to stop her.

I’d be the only one doing any killing.

I crouched down in front of her, cocked the hammer of the Colt and pressed the barrel against her shoulder.

“I’ll take you apart a piece at a time, Beatrice,” I told her, and she nodded.

She spat blood out to one side, smirked and asked, “Am I still pretty, Duncan Blood?”

“You would be if you hadn’t killed my friend.”

Beatrice shrugged.

“Otto named you.”

“Of course, he did,” she wheezed. “You want to know if there was anyone else.”

I nodded.

“Three more,” she smirked. “Two have gone on to bring the wood north. There’s a man who’ll pay fair price for the wood of a talking tree. Especially one as old as yours was.”

“And the last?” I asked, ignoring her comment.

“Jackson Noble.”

She laughed at the flicker of anger that passed over my face.

“Oh yes, your friend Jackson,” Beatrice grinned. “He’s the one who told us about the tree. Brought us to it. Will you kill him too?”

“What do you think?” I asked and shot her through the mouth.

Friend or no friend, Jackson would die.

They all would.

#trees #horrorstories

The Professor

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He tried to run.

Professor Otto Sturm entered the library, saw me and turned to leave.

I shot him through his left knee and dropped him to the floor.

As he tried to crawl away, I crossed the room and kicked him in his wound. He fainted from the pain as I secured the door.

I took the portly bastard by the collar and dragged him to the fireplace, where hot embers glowed, and the poker lay with its head buried among them.

Otto let out a weak groan as I cut open his pants leg from the hem to the injury, and then he shrieked as I slapped the poker against the bullet wound. The sound reverberated in the confines of the room, and the stench of singed flesh and burnt blood filled the air.

I put the iron back in the fire, settled myself into the chair and looked at the man.

“Mr. Blood,” Otto gasped, forcing a smile. “I think there’s been some sort of misunderstanding.”

“No. Not that I’m aware.” I cocked the hammers on the Colts, and he stared at them, unable to look away.

“Now,” I continued, “there’s been a murder on my farm.”

His eyes darted from the revolvers to my face, then back again. “I’m sure I know nothing of it. I am, however, quite willing to put the full resources of the university at your disposal. Perhaps together, we could unravel the mystery of the tree killer.”

I shot him through the other knee, but this time, he didn’t pass out.

He whimpered and babbled incoherently as I took the iron out and slapped it against the knew wound.

Otto vomited over himself – a collection of eggs, toast, and what looked like curdled milk – and begged me to stop.

“I suppose you’re realizing I didn’t mention the tree,” I remarked, returning the iron to the embers.

He nodded, sweat beading on his forehead.

“Who else was with you?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“Otto,” I whispered. “I’m not foolin’ here. I’m about to cut on you in ways you’ve never dreamed of. This will be something new for you, and I promise it’ll be something bad. Who else was with you?”

“Von Kampf,” he sobbed.

I nodded and blew out his brains.

As blood and gray matter sizzled on the embers, I went looking for Beatrice Von Kampf.

She needed to die.

#trees #horrorstories

Eldritch Flames

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Old magic and young fools.

They’re a terrible combination.

I know a few spells of my own, and one of them concerns the tracking of magic. Especially old magic.

There are some who deem it unwise to trace magic, and usually, I agree with them. But I needed to find who had knocked down The Tree.

Someone needed killing.

Standing at Jack’s corpse, I cut my palm and let the blood fall to the earth. When the first drop struck a blade of grass, I whispered the spell. My tongue was stung by the sharpness of the words, the bitterness of each letter as I spat it from my mouth.

When the foul language had been uttered, the path lay clear before me.

Footsteps, dozens of them, were illuminated upon the ground, black flames snapping up and outlining them. The tracks led through the grass, to the road, and off toward the Hollow.

I knew they wouldn’t end there.

I followed the flaming steps, each going out as I passed them. Within a short time, I was on North Road and following the tracks toward town. Keeping one eye on the Hollow and the other on my prey, I moved swiftly.

When I reached the Cross branch of Miskatonic, no one stood in my way. The guards knew better. I passed them by with a nod of greeting, and they looked away.

The wisest choice they could make.

The tracks led to a newer building, one that had been built as a private residence. Reaching the door, I didn’t bother knocking.

I kicked it in and drew both weapons.

A single line of footprints followed the stairs and into a small library.

The place stank of death and outrages committed upon flesh.

Of the people I was looking for, there was no sign.

Sitting down in a chair by the hearth, I drew my Colts and set them on my lap. The barrels were pointed toward the door, and my hands were on the weapons.

I had no intention of calling out a warning to whoever stepped into the room.

I’d know the culprit as soon as I caught sight of him.

And when I did, the Colts would express my displeasure.

They were far more eloquent than I ever could be.

#Trees #horrorstories

Murder

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Someone killed Jack.

I’d known Jack ever since I’d planted him as a sapling in 1803. There was a tang to his fruit that few enjoyed, and I’ll admit I wasn’t particularly fond of them either. Not until I started to press the windfall and kept it around for applejack.

It was how he got his name.

I’d walk and see him about once a week. Sometimes every other week, depending on the situation in Cross or the Hollow, or both.

It’d been a solid week since I’d last spoken with Jack, the conversation nothing more than an exchange of pleasantries, and there’d been no weather to speak of in that time.

When I came upon his remains, the stink of magic clung to the air.

Something had twisted and pushed the old apple tree down, and then someone else had taken axes and saws to his branches. All of which were missing.

I stood there for a bit and considered who or what might have done this to the tree.

Upon questioning the other trees, I learned they did not know what had happened. There was a fog over their collective memory, and even the dryads and other fey had been affected.

I knew it could not be my mother, regardless of which version might crawl out of the Hollow.

No, the magic was too strong. Too strong and too dark.

This was old magic, and only one group practiced its type in Cross.

The professors and students of Miskatonic University.  

They’d come onto my land, found the oldest tree in the lower orchard, and put him to death.

They’d murdered my friend.

More than likely for nothing more than his wood and the power a speaking tree had within its fibrous bones.

I looked long and hard at Jack’s mangled form and then made my decision.

I’d not work magic on the offenders. I could twist well enough without the need for arcane utterances.

And as for their limbs, well, I had plenty of handsaws and axes for that, too.

With my decision made, I turned and headed toward home.

There were tools to gather and fools to visit.

#trees #horrorstories

Aggravation

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Some situations are frustrating.

Recently, a branch of Miskatonic University has been built in Cross. It is an institution for which I have no love.

The Cross branch is located on a parcel of land a little too close to town for my liking and definitely not far enough from my home.

About mid-morning, a group of women arrived from the school.

They did not ask permission to come onto my land. They did not ask permission to go to the younger orchard and prowl about the trees. When I found them, they had apparently made up their mind to come and speak with me.

Mrs. Darling, whose husband was the dean of students, was the mouthpiece for this group, and speak she did.

“Mr. Blood, I presume?” She asked it in a coy manner that I found grating. Without meaning to, I rested my hands on the butts of the Colts.

I nodded. “I’m Mr. Blood. I’m a little curious as to why you’re on my land and wandering through my orchard.”

The ladies laughed as though I’d said something funny.

Mrs. Darling smiled with a kindness that betrayed her thoughts. She believed me to be a country bumpkin and that any sort of flattery would get her what she needed.

“Well, we were simply admiring your apples,” she began, and I cocked the hammers back.

The click of the hammers locking into place cut through her sentence, leaving her staring with some surprise.

“This is my orchard,” I informed her. “My land. My trees. My apples. You’re entitled to none of them. Not even a single windblown apple rotten through with worms. Now, I’ve no idea as to why you think you can come on my land or for what purpose, and I don’t care.”

“Mr. Blood,” she started.

“Finish that thought, Mrs. Darling,” I warned, “and I’ll beat the teeth out of your husband’s head.”

Her mouth clicked shut.

“You’ve a few minutes to get off my land,” I continued. “If you don’t, I’ll pistol whip each and every one of you. My trees like the taste of blood, Mrs. Darling, and I’ve a mind to bleed you.”

With horrified expressions, the women raced off, their faces pale and the stink of fear lingering behind them.

I eased the hammers of Colts down and wondered just how much trouble Miskatonic was going to be.

#trees #horrorstories

Silence.

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My mother had been silent for close to three years.

Along North Road, I found a new section of fence. More to the point, I found an apple tree growing up alongside it. From what I could see, the tree had been there for some time. The fruit was ripe, the tree was healthy.

Of course, the tree hadn’t been there the day prior. Nor had the fence, for that matter.

The new arrivals were on the Hollow side of the road, and few good things came from it.

I sat on the fence a few feet from the tree, took out my pipe, packed it, lit the tobacco and smoked for a short time.

The fence shifted a bit, and from the corner of my eye, I saw the tree move a hair’s breadth closer.

“Have you come far?” I asked the tree.

There was a moment of silence before the tree answered me.

“I didn’t think it was true.” The tree’s voice was young and feminine.

“What’s that?”

“That you spoke to trees,” the apple tree continued. “There was rumor, but most of us put it down to saplings telling tales.”

I chuckled.

We were quiet for a moment, then the tree spoke again. “I’ve been sent to tempt you.”

“That a fact?” I glanced over at the tree. “Your apples do look good.”

The vibrant green of its leaves brightened.

“Are you poisonous?” I asked.

“I am,” the tree replied with no small trace of pride. “One of my apples is usually enough to burn out a man’s stomach.”

“And my mother wanted me to partake?”

“She did.”

“And what do you want?” I asked.

“To be left alone,” the tree answered.

“I can’t let you stay at the fence,” I told the tree. “Too many children would be tempted. I’d not see them dead.”

“Nor would I,” the tree replied.

“I could move you to my lands,” I stated. “I feed my trees well.”

When the tree responded, there was a depth of hunger to the hushed tone. “Is it true you feed them meat?”

“I feed them humans,” I clarified. “Whenever a body comes along, I share the wealth. And when I transplant, well, there’s a body there to ease the transition.”

The tree shuddered and replied, “I am hungry.”

“Good. I killed a murderer last night.”

The tree sighed, and I stood up. There was a hole to be dug, a body to be planted, and a tree to be moved.

Life was good.

#trees #horrorstories

A fool.

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RG# 95-GP Records of the Forest Service General Subject Files Negative Number: 519436

There are times when the wrong person is chosen for the job.

It’d been 18 months since the explosion, and while I’d not found anybody, I knew the doorway was closed.

But the Hollow was still open.

One of the ravens spotted the man around noon and sent another bird to me. Martha and I left the house, picked up the trail of the stranger and with the dog’s nose and the raven’s guidance, we tracked the man to a lumber road up to the northwest. He was far from my land, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t trouble.

We went up the road a ways and then we saw him. The man was bent over, feeding brush to a small fire.

I am not a fan of arson, nor am I overly fond of arsonists in general.

Strolling towards him, I called out, “Cold, friend?”

The man jerked up and offered a weak frown. He cleared his throat and said, “What I’m doing is my own business.”

“As it should be,” I nodded. “But it looks like you’re about to set fire to the whole damned lot. The pines’ll go up quick. It’s been dry this season.”

“Just as it should,” the man declared. “I’m trying to burn a pest out.”

“Oh?”

“Yes,” he continued. “A man who stole his mother’s farm from her. Who killed his siblings to keep them from interfering.”

“Sounds like a right bastard,” I remarked.

He chuckled, bent over, and added more to the growing fire. “He is. I met his mother a few days ago, and she asked if I was willing to help the town. I was. She sent me through the Hollow with a charm to help me back.”

He patted his chest, and I glimpsed a cord around his neck.

“That a fact?” I asked.

“It is.”

“You know Blood’s farm is a little to the southeast,” I told him.

“It is?”

“It is.” I drew my Colts.

“How did you know this is for Blood?”

I cocked the revolvers. “Put the fire out.”

He shook his head, and I shot him in his thighs. The impact of the rounds knocked his legs out from under him and sent him crashing head first into the flames. As he screamed, I walked forward and used him to smother the fire.

Only when the last of it was out did I put a bullet in his head.

With the smell of burnt flesh and pine needles in the air, I kicked dirt over the embers and hated my mother a little more.

#trees #horrorstories

Openings.

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I found an entrance.

For a year since the death of the unknown girl, my mother’s been silent.

Yesterday, as I readied myself for bed, a raven arrived with word from Willow. There was, from what he was told, a bit of a ruckus on one of the islands.

This morning, the dogs and I set out for Blood Lake, and with my shotgun at the ready, we set off toward the island Willow had indicated. The ravens scouted ahead and soon returned with information regarding a doorway set into a hill.

When we reached the island, I began the trudge up to the top while the dogs took off ahead. It didn’t take long before Martha had returned.

“There’s a doorway for sure, Duncan,” the dog told me. “And it stinks to hell like your mother.”

I nodded my thanks, and as I crested the hill, I saw the doorway.

It was old, older than it should have been, and it sure as hell hadn’t been on the island a year earlier when I’d checked it.”

Moving closer, I saw Latin phrases carved into the stone. What I read turned my stomach, as did the deep stains in the grooves of the carvings.

Old magic had been worked on the stones and bound them to this place.

I returned to my boat, fetched a shovel, and went back to the doorway. For the better part of the day, I worked. I dug deep in front of the threshold, and then I gathered dead fall and built a rough trap. Much like a fish trap, I carved points onto wood and set the branches at a downward angle. Anyone who fell in would tear open their flesh trying to climb out.

As daylight weakened and edged on towards evening, I worked at the doorway. I loosened the keystone and, with a pair of cartridges for my shotgun, rigged up a tripwire of old thread.

Whoever passed through my mother’s door would bring the lintel down upon them, and should they survive to stagger forward, well, the pit would be waiting.

The dogs and I were hungry and tired as we made our way to the boat, the ravens taking flight to return to the rookery. As I pushed the boat off and began to row towards home, a dull thump greeted our ears. A scream followed, and the dogs and I had a good chuckle.

It’s always nice when your work is appreciated.

#trees #horrorstories

Silence.

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Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do.

I heard the scream. It would have been hard as hell not to.

A moment later, one of the apple trees told me there was a child by the white oak.

I ran as hard as I could.

The white oak lived far to the north, a safe distance from all entries on a normal day. But that didn’t seem to be the case today.

There was a second scream, one far more terrified than the first, and as I ran, I heard a long, wet snap.

No other screams sounded.

I heard the crash of animals in the brush and saw Martha and the two new dogs racing along beside her. All three had their ears back and their tails low. Above me, the ravens cried and sped.

When we reached the white oak, there was nothing save the splatter of blood on leaves and a single piece of paper.

“Blood,” the tree chortled. “Why did no one tell me your mother had returned from the Hollow? Is your father with her? I would have thought they would have come to see me together.”

“I didn’t know she’d come back from the Hollow,” I answered. “And as for Father, no, I’ve not seen him in well over a century.”

“She brought me a gift,” the white oak continued. “The little girl seemed quite confused.”

“I’m not surprised,” I answered, voice hoarse. I gestured toward the piece of paper. “May I?”

“Of course.”

The dogs sat down, and the ravens settled into nearby branches.

“Son,” the letter began, “it seems you’ve taken a notion to killing mine when they’re doing naught but my work. She wasn’t yours, I know, but she’ll feel like she was. I did not drug her as your father would have done in the old country. She was awake, and I am sure she suffered. Enjoy your dead child, my son. I hope you will join your siblings soon. Mother.”

I folded the paper and put it in my breast pocket.

“All is well?” the white oak asked.

“Well enough,” I lied. “I’ll be back soon.”

“I would enjoy that,” the tree chuckled, and I left with the dogs by my side.

I needed a hard drink, and I aimed to get it.

#trees #horrorstories

They were trapped.

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The trees were happy to help.

My mother had sent a pair of hunters from the Hollow.

Word spread that the men had come in through the lake, the hunters arriving in a canoe with their rifles and a pair of dogs.

They’d moved in quickly, ignorant of the trees and what they represented. While the men were careful not to leave a trail, they failed to pay heed to what was going on in the distance.

Slowly, the trees moved to fill in the gaps between themselves. Young and old, the trees made a wall around a large glade, and as the men and dogs crossed it, the trees tightened the circle.

A path was left for me, and I moved up it with all the care and silence the Abenaki had taught me as a boy. While I had my Colts on my hips, I had my Spencer in my hands. I had Martha with me, an old hound dog who’d seen more horrors than most men and lived to tell the tale. Her tail wagged back and forth as we moved, her nose to the ground.

“They’re talking dogs, Duncan,” she announced, tail fairly whipping to either side. “They might listen to reason.”

As I reached the barrier created by the trees, the wind shifted and carried mine and Martha’s scent forward to the hunting dogs, both of whom stopped and looked our way. The trees ceased their movement, and it was then the hunters realized their predicament.

I set my rifle in the crook of a tree to steady the barrel and took aim at the man on the left.

“Boys,” I called. “Why don’t you set those rifles down and move on with your dogs?”

The men swung towards my voice, and the dogs, as Martha had hoped, crept away.

They were reasonable hounds, after all.

“The bounty’s too high on you, Blood,” the man on the right replied. “Your mother’s offered a fair price for your head and the heartwood of any tree who interferes.”

I took my target’s head off and set my sights on the man who’d spoken. He brought his rifle up to his shoulder with the slow confidence of a killer and died a moment later, his brains exiting the back of his skull.

As his body slumped to the ground, the trees parted, and I slung the rifle over my shoulder. With Martha by my side, I went out to the bodies.

My trees needed to eat.

#trees #horrorstories

A fine shot.

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The man could shoot.

I had to give him credit for that.

I was out in a new patch of woodland, tending to some young trees. A bit of blight had been making its way through the white birch, and the dryads were worried about them. Normally, I’d not concern myself with the fears of dryads, but Willow asked it of me, and so there I was.

I was examining the base of a birch tree, and a dryad was peeking over my shoulder, occasionally resting her hand on my shoulder. A heartbeat later, a wall of roots snapped up and shoved me to one side as a bullet slammed into the wood. The crack of the rifle rolled through the forest as I leapt to my feet, drawing the Colts and looking for the shooter.

As my eyes scanned the woods, I saw the hole in the root wall. The damned thing was right where my head would have been.

I’ve recovered from headshots before, but if the bastard knew what he was doing, I doubt I would have had the chance.

None of the dryads were visible, but I knew they were there, and a moment later, they confirmed it.

The woods around me parted with the ease of dune grass before a sharp wind.

The root wall separated, and the roots returned to the earth.

Ahead of me, sitting in the fork of a pair of trees, was a pleasant-looking man. He was dressed in a uniform and held a shotgun and his walking stick in one hand.

“Herr Blood!” he called out cheerfully in German. “It seems you have some luck.”

I kept the Colts at my side and thumbed the hammers back.

“Sometimes,” I replied.

“You know,” he continued, “I owed your mother a favor.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” I tightened my grip on the revolvers.

“As was I. I told her I would give her one shot and only one.”

“It was a fine shot.”

“Thank you. I took that shot, Herr Blood, and you are alive.”

He stood up, broke the gun open and laid it over his shoulder. “I have paid my debt to your mother.”

“She’ll be angry.”

His smile broadened. “And my gun will be loaded.”

He tipped his hat and went on his way.

I lowered the hammers back into position, holstered the Colts, and turned my attention to the young birch.

There was still the blight to deal with.

#trees #horrorstories

She wasn’t invited.

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I was working in the apple orchard, tending to Elder, when word came from younger trees.

There was a woman on the property.

I glanced over to Elder.

“No, child,” he stated. “It’s not your mother. I’d feel her if it were. She has a distinct tread that shakes the foundations of this farm.”

Straightening up, I adjusted my Colts in their holsters. “Any idea?”

“No,” the tree answered.

“Where is she?” I asked.

Elder paused, then answered, “Not far from here. Along the wagon trail leading to the lower orchard. She’s come to a stop.”

A whisper ripped through the apple trees, and I heard one say, “She’s wrong.”

“Wrong?” I inquired.

“Yes.” Elder’s branches shook for a moment, casting a few loose leaves down. “She’s too warm, child.”

“Well,” I sighed. “Let’s see what she wants.”

I took my leave of the trees and made my way to the trail, and followed it a short way. Not more than a mile or so before I came ‘round a bend and saw her. She stood perfectly still and smiled at me in a pretty white dress. Her hat was perched upon her head, and she offered a low curtsy.

“Can I help you?” I asked, resting my hands on the Colts.

“I am a gift your mother sent,” the woman replied, and as I drew the .44s, she shed her skin.

A great beast, perhaps twelve or more feet tall, stepped forward, sun glistening off grey flesh and yellow, mottled eyes. Her mouth opened wide, not to reveal teeth but flames.

She sprang forward, leaping high in the air, arms outstretched and fingers adorned with talons.

The first few slugs tore through her hands, slammed into her chest, and destroyed the side of her face.

But the thing didn’t stop.

Fire billowed from her wounds, setting the grass aflame.

A quick shot took out her left kneecap and sent her tumbling to the ground. She twisted, reached for me with a shattered hand and left a trail of fire behind her.

Stepping away from the thing, I emptied the Colts into her head.

She shivered, groaned, and then lay still.

Young trees moved forward, dragging earth with them and pushing it over the flames.

I reloaded the Colts, watched the trees extinguish the fire, and wondered what my mother might send next.

#trees #horrorstories

A warning.

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She was waiting for me by the road.

It was 1871, and dreams of the war woke me far more than I cared to admit.

The sun had only been up for an hour or so when I saw her on the side of the road, about as out of place as a person could be. No one in Cross dressed so fine, not on a Saturday morning. There were no church fairs or celebrations I was aware of, nor was she anyone I recognized. The Hollow had been acting up of late, more so than usual, I should say, and so, I was a bit on edge. Add to that the lack of sleep, and well, you can understand why my hands drifted towards the Colts when I laid eyes on her.

A smirk appeared on her face as she took note of my reaction. When she spoke, her voice rolled through the land, echoed gently by the trees around her.

“So like your kind,” she said, “to fight first and seek peace later.”

“Humanity is like that,” I remarked, the butts of the Colts comforting in the palms of my hands.

“Bloods are like that,” she corrected. “Your father more than others, it would seem, and he, from what I was told, had outlived most of his kind. No mean feat, young Blood.”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I am Rowan,” she replied. She rested her hand on the tree she stood beside, then gestured across North Road to the Hollow. “I come from Gods’ Hollow, and I bring a warning from my kin to you and yours.”

“What’s that?”

“Your mother has been seen,” Rowan stated. “More so, she has been heard. Some of the elder trees have learned she intends to mount an attack on Cross. Whether it is your Cross or some other, I do not know, young Blood. We are warning as many as we can.”

“Why’s that?”

“She takes the heartwood of my kin for her spells.”

“Fair enough.” I took my hands off the Colts and folded my arms over my chest. “Do you know when?”

She shook her head. “Only that it may come and that you best be prepared. Of all whom I’ve spoken with, young Blood, you seem the readiest.”

I nodded my thanks at the compliment and watched her cross the road and into the Hollow. She moved gracefully across the field and vanished in the forest.

I headed home to clean my guns and speak to my trees.

Mother was coming to visit.

#trees #horrorstories

The Oak.

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They angered the tree.

Automobiles were just coming round Cross at the time, and more than a few were driven by absolute lunatics as far as I was concerned. I don’t know how many chickens, sheep, cats, and dogs were killed by the young men and women behind the controls, but there were too many.

More than that, the drivers occasionally took it into their heads to veer off the narrow country roads and drive over property that wasn’t theirs.

I’d spoken to a few, but they paid me little heed. They were from Boston Town most of the time, though a few came up from other parts of New England.

One Friday evening, as I was walking home on North Road, I saw tire tracks cutting through the side of the road, and several young oaklings were dead. The saplings had been shattered and churned up, and the great oak which had watched over them was furious.

“What are these things, Blood?” she demanded.

“A nuisance,” I muttered and squatted down by the oaklings. There was no hope of resurrecting them. “I’ll put a stop to it.”

The tree grumbled but said nothing in reply.

Straightening up, I asked, “Will you let me handle it?”

“If you speak to them first, then by all means, you will handle it,” she remarked. “If I speak to them first, well, then I will handle it.”

It was fair, as far as I was concerned, and I went on my way.

I’d nearly reached my home when I heard a thunderous crash on the road. Hurrying back up the drive, I came to a sight I’d not expected.

The oak was gone, as were the occupants of the automobile she had dragged down into the ditch. Blood trails led deeper into the woods, and a faint moaning and whimpering reached my ears.

A dry snap followed, and someone screamed.

“Those were my children.” The oak’s voice drifted out from the depths of the forest. “And you broke them.”

Another snap and a scream punched the air.

“I’m going to break each of you,” the oak continued, “until there is nothing left to break.”

I turned my back to the wrecked automobile and made my way home.

The oak had her business to attend to, and I wanted something hot to drink.

The screams faded, but the snapping didn’t.

#trees #horrorstories

Old Man Willow

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There aren’t many left, and for that, I’m glad.

The willows have haunted the waterways of New England longer than my family has been in Cross. My father told me tales of the local tribes beating back assaults by the trees and of others where the entire village was missing, victims of the willows.

It wasn’t until shortly after the War of 1812 that Old Man Willow arrived.

I’d recently returned home from serving aboard a privateer when I saw the willow by the Hollow.

I went home, ate, and made a note to check the tree in the morning. Willows, unbeknownst to most, move in the dark of night. They pull up their roots and creep across the land, their long fronds a whisper in the wind.

When I went round the next morning, he’d moved a solid two hundred feet closer to the house. The remains of a deer lay close by, and the birds were noticeably silent.

I returned home, fetched my rifle, lit a full lamp and carried both back to the tree.

Sitting down far enough from the branches, I loaded the rifle, set it across my knees and called out, “Morning, Master Willow.”

The willow remained silent.

“Let’s try this again,” I offered. “Morning to you, Master Willow. You’re nigh on close to trespassing on Blood lands.”

Standing up, I gave the lamp more wick and cocked the rifle.

“Now,” I said, holding the lamp high. “I’m not sure there’s enough oil here to finish you. I do know there’s enough to hurt you. Hold your tongue any longer, Master Willow, and I’ll throw this in the air and put a bullet through it when it’s about to strike. Oil spreads fast, faster still when it’s burning.”

“I need shelter,” the tree grumbled.

I sat down. “With a Blood?”

“Aye,” Willow said. “No place is safe. I have heard you offer refuge.”

“You’ve heard the truth.”

“What are the terms?”

“Don’t eat me or my guests,” I answered.

Willow chuckled. “Nothing more?”

“Nothing more.”

Upon occasion, he ate a guest or two, but I’d warned them.

What more could I do? He’d asked for refuge, and I’d granted it.

And mistakes happen to the best of us.

#trees #horrorstories

Augustus Avery

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I told him his sister was dead.

Augustus didn’t appreciate the information and demanded the right to go searching for her body.

I denied him.

I’d known Augustus since he’d been birthed and his father as well. Hell, I’d fought beside his grandfather when the man was just a boy and an indentured servant at that.

His father, grieving, warned his son to stay off my lands and tried to assure him that I spoke the truth.

Augustus didn’t listen.

He waited until he saw me headed into town before slipping onto my land. I didn’t find out about it until nearly six hours later, and by then, it was too late.

With my Colts on my hips, I went in after him, following his trail as it wandered to the north and west. He was headed far from where his sister had died, and while it was fine that he wouldn’t see the giants making bread from her bones, it didn’t bode well for him.

He was heading towards a particularly disagreeable weeping willow, one that disliked being disturbed by anything remotely human. I’d pulled members of the fey and even goblins out of the bastard’s clutches and buried more than a few fools who’d sought to camp beneath its canopy.

The tree went by the name Willow, and he was a damned deadly hunter. On more than one occasion, I’d had the opportunity to sit and watch him at his work, catching small prey that wandered in.

He made short work of them.

When I reached a clearing, I found evidence of Augustus. Some wood had been piled high, and his walking stick lay by it, as though he had gone into the woods for something and forgotten to come back.

His trail led straight toward Willow.

I hastened along the trail and found the tree at his work.

Willow stripped the last section of skin from Augustus and dropped it onto a pile of the same.

“Blood,” the tree greeted, and Augustus turned his head.

The man was still alive.

I drew the Colt and put a slug into his skull, splattering the tree with bone and brains. As Willow cursed me, I holstered the revolver and went back for the walking stick.

I had to go into town and tell Mr. Avery both his children were dead.

I was not looking forward to the task.

#trees #horrorstories

Conflict.

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Minnie Avery thought she knew better.

I’d been having a bit of trouble with some of the older elms on the eastern side of the property. A pair of giants had moved in, and they’d made themselves comfortable as their kind are wont to do. They found a bare patch in a valley deep enough to hide them on most days, and the stream that rolled through was enough to water their crops and give them a goodly supply of fish. On occasion, with my blessing, they went into Blood Lake and took their catch of merfolk, too.

Once the giants arrived, I made it a point to close off the road that led from the back orchard to the valley. When I did so, there was a bit of a scuffle with some of the elms. They’d lived close to the road for the better part of fifty years, and they occasionally snatched game foolish enough to traverse it. With the coming of the giants, the animals were scared off. To make matters worse, the giants had taken some of the deadfall and used it to fashion their utensils and cookware.

The elms, employing their saplings and a few sympathetic dryads, stole one of the giant cups. While they were seeking to transport it away, Minnie Avery came along with her fiancé and the trees and dryads were forced to stop where they were.

Minnie saw the giant’s cup and convinced her husband-to-be to take a picture of her in it.

Both, I suspect, thought it was great fun.

The giants did not.

From what I learned later, the giants assumed the couple had stolen the cup from them, and since Minnie had felt the need to be in a bit of their cookware, the giants obliged her and her fiancé.

I was working ‘round the elder tree and some of the tree’s saplings when word of Minnie reached me by way of one of my ravens. Leaving my work half-done, I hurried off toward the giants, but it was too late by the time I arrived.

The giants were gathered around their cookfire, adding potatoes and bits of apple to the cookpot while stirring the brew now and again. Off to one side was a pile of clothes and entrails.

The giants asked me to stay for dinner, but I declined.

I hadn’t finished my work with the elder tree.

#trees #horrorstories

The First Tree.

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The tree is older than I am.

Most of the apples that fall from it are bitter, and Elder, as the tree is known, enjoys that.

I can remember being so young that my father would carry me most days out to the orchard, and there, in the shade of Elder’s wide boughs, I would listen as man and tree conversed. As I grew, I soon took to speaking with Elder on my own. More so after my father vanished into the Hollow.

One day stands out more than most, and I made note of it. I’d returned from the South, the war of the rebellion having ended and President Lincoln being dead.

The trees had whispered to one another as I walked along the trail toward the orchard. Some of the younger apple trees greeted me, and I responded to their pleasantries with my own. Soon, I came to the far end of the orchard, where Elder alone stood and waited.

“You’re alive, Duncan,” Elder greeted, his limbs shaking with mirth and knocking a few of the apples on his boughs loose.

“I am,” I answered, sitting down in the grass. I took my pipe out, packed the bowl and lit it.

“You like to fight, don’t you,” the tree observed.

“I do,” I admitted. I leaned back on my elbows and looked up at the tree.

“I shall tell you a story,” the tree stated. “When I was a sapling, there were a great many of us. We grew our fruit, and the Abenaki would come and offer up their thanks. When your father arrived, my own parent and he spoke. The conversation was congenial, and they struck up a friendship. A few nights later, though, Englishmen from another colony assaulted the farm and sought to drive out your father. They burned my kin, and only I survived. Your father, Duncan, went out after the raiders.”

“What did he do?” I asked.

“What would you do?”

“Kill them all.”

The tree chuckled. “And so he did. The man who led the raid, his bones are nestled deep within my roots. Your father put him in the hole alive and made sure the man could breathe while he put me in upon the man.”

The tree shook a few apples loose and sighed. “It took the man some time to die.”

“But did you eat well?” I asked.

“Between you and your father, Duncan,” Elder replied. “I always eat well.”

#trees #horrostories

My Trees.

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My trees are old.

Some were planted by my father before my birth. Others I put in with him. More still, I put them down by myself, fertilizing them as my father had shown me.

The body of an enemy or a fool (more often one and the same) in the sapling’s bed.

I’ve hundreds of apple trees.

Most of them have been fertilized accordingly.

All my trees, I will confess, have the ability to speak. Others never do, but far too many never stop. The dryads do their best to deal with any issues I cannot help with – overactive squirrels and the occasional ghost beneath a tree – and they leave the more difficult issues for me to resolve.

It’s been a month or so now since I returned from the Hollow. The speakers reside on an island deep within Blood Lake, and the Thinker ship plies the water in between. All are happy, and, I confess, so am I. It’s a distinct pleasure to climb aboard Fengbo and travel around the waters. Easier, too, to check in on some of my islands. Occasionally, we pick up a traveler. We keep well away from the border with the Hollow.

Neither Fengbo nor the speakers wish to risk being transported back to their previous homes.

I do not blame them.

I have not thought much about my trees of late and only do so now because Fengbo brought the subject of them up.

We were nearing a dock when the Thinker spoke.

“I have spoken with naiads, Blood.”

“They’re foul creatures at times,” I advised.

The ship chuckled. “I do not doubt it. However, they said you took in trees at times. I do not quite understand.”

“My apple trees,” I explained. “They can speak. I’ve a few others that can as well. A Gallows Tree, a pair of willows near one of my ponds. A handful of others.”

“I’ve never heard of talking trees,” Fengbo stated. “I would enjoy learning more of them.”

“Well, my friend, I shall see what I can do.”

Now, sitting in my private library, I will pull down old journals and see what I have written over the centuries about my trees. It will be a good thing as I’ve forgotten a bit myself. I suspect that I’ll enjoy telling the tales as much as Fengbo will enjoy hearing them.

#trees #horrostories

Gao.

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I found them.

They were on a small bridge some two miles away from Gao’s home. The bearers of his palanquin were exhausted, muscles quivering with the effort they’d made to escape me. A small boy stood close by, sweat-plastering his hair to his forehead. He carried water for them, and all three stared at me.

“Set him down,” I ordered, and they did so.

“You’ve a choice,” I continued. “Stand and fight beside him and die or leave him to me and live.”

Neither the men nor the boy stayed.

They took off at a slow jog toward the distant hills.

“Come out, Gao,” I ordered.

A gunshot was the only answer I received.

The round ripped past my head and clipped my ear.

I drew my knife and moved forward as he kicked the panel open. He clambered out, hair disheveled, glasses skewed to one side, and a wild look on his face. The pistol in his hand was an old and heavy five-shot. His second shot showed me he had no idea how to control it.

The revolver bucked in his hand, and the shot went wild.

As the third and the fourth.

I was less than twenty feet from him when he panicked, turned the gun on himself and pressed the barrel to his temple.

He squeezed his eyes closed, screamed, and pulled the trigger.

The dull, dry crack of a misfire rang out.

His eyes snapped open, and he pulled the trigger again, not realizing he was putting the hammer down on spent casings.

Before he could try again, I was there. I yanked the pistol from his hand and struck him in the forehead, knocking him to his knees. I resisted the urge to smash his teeth in.

He’d need them for what was coming next.

“I can pay you, Blood,” he groaned, clutching at my legs. “I can make you rich.”

“Already am,” I told him, grabbing one of his hands. He struggled weakly as I tore a tie off his coat, looped it around his wrist and cinched it tight. I picked up a piece of wood, slipped it beneath the knot, and made a rough tourniquet.

“What?” he asked, and I struck him in the head again.

I took my knife, put it against his wrist and cut into the joint.

Gao screamed as I took the hand off and held it in front of him.

“Hope you’re hungry,” I told him. “Dinner’s on.”

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Hunting.

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The men had no fear.

They were old soldiers.

We didn’t exchange a greeting as I entered the room, nor did we issue threats.

As I crossed the threshold, the men rose from their seats, bowed, and attacked.

They were brilliant, and they were deadly. Knives appeared in their hands, and their attacks flowed through the room.

I have never been one for finesse, not when it came to fighting. I admired their skill, and I countered it with brute strength and black rage.

One man plunged his knife into my upraised hand, the blade painfully hot. He tried to retrieve his weapon, to drag it out of my flesh and bones, but I took hold of his wrist, used him as a shield against his fellows, and then drove the blade up and into his throat. He took a shocked step back, eyes full of confusion, and then blood exploded from the mouth and his nose.

His comrades never missed a step.

They moved over and around his body, ignoring his feeble attempts to regain control.

I drew the knife from my hand, flexed the injured limb and nodded with satisfaction as the wound began stitching itself back together.

Neither of the survivors paid it any mind. Instead, they launched a coordinated attack. They went high and low, on the flanks and above. All in an effort to drive me into a corner.

I maneuvered through all, slashing out when I could.

A moment later, my hand had healed well enough to hold the knife.

I switched the blade from one hand to the other, drew my own knife, and moved in.

They pressed their attack until I took the nose off one of them, and then their determination faltered. When it did, I drove one knife into a man’s eye, the blade scraping against his socket and striking the back of his skull.

He wavered on his feet, sagged to his knees, and then fell to one side, taking the knife with him.

I didn’t mind.

It was the one that had been put through my hand.

I looked at the remaining soldier. “Where is he?”

The soldier straightened up as his words raced through my mind.

“He is a palanquin,” the soldier said. “He seeks to escape to the docks, and from there, to a ship.”

I nodded.

“Will you make it quick?” the soldier asked.

“I will,” I told him.

And I did.

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Far enough.

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“You’ve come far enough.”

The man’s words issued from his mouth as he adjusted the round spectacles on his nose.

“I’ve not yet found Gao,” I answered.

He smiled. “You have.”

My hands dropped to the Colts. His eyes followed the movement, and fear danced within them for a moment.

“As you can see,” he continued, remaining in front of a large door, “I am no monster.”

“I’d disagree with that.”

He offered up a nervous smile. “I have an appetite for delicacy and a unique ability.”

“You can speak in both ways,” I concluded.

Gao looked surprised for a moment, then he nodded. “Astute observation, Mr. Blood. I should have expected no less. While I have never met one of your kind, I have heard quite a bit. I have heard you’ve partaken of human flesh yourself.”

“More than once,” I said, “and probably will again.”

“Hm, it is a delicacy, is it not?” he asked, smirking.

“It’s not. Sometimes,” I told him, “it’s what’s called for. The Iroquois taught us that.”

He frowned. “I do not know them.”

I smiled. “If you did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Now, you’ve a sight to answer for, Gao.”

“No,” Gao shook his head. “I do not. I will not answer to the likes of you for my culinary wanderings. You are nothing here, Blood, as you are nothing in any other realm to which you travel. Your mother has been here several times, in several forms, and she has warned me of you.”

I wrapped my hands around the butts of the Colts. “I don’t suppose my mother’s here now, is she?”

“No.”

“Shame,” I said and drew the Colts.

As the revolvers cleared leather and I thumbed the hammers into position, the man leaped back, the doors opening as he did so. They slammed shut as the first rounds hammered into the heavy wood.

From secret doors, unarmed men raced into the small courtyard, and the Colts thundered.

The slugs tore through faces and necks, and buried themselves in stomachs and groins.

Men died.

The men were nothing more than a delaying tactic. A living wall to protect a coward.

As blood pooled around my feet, I reloaded the Colts once more.

With my pistols in hand, I forced the door and gave chase.

It was time for Gao to die.

#China #horrorstories