The attack came without warning, and from a place I had inspected myself only a few minutes prior.
From behind me, I heard the cry of some of my comrades and the firing of rifles. There was no screaming. Nothing more than the rattle of gunfire.
Marcus and I raced back to find a man seated on the ground, the bodies of six men and two women in front of him. As the wind blew his scent toward us, several around us vomited and fell back, unable to stand the stench. Even I, who had lived through the charnel houses of the war of secession, balked at that odor.
It was death at its worst. Death when a thousand bodies swelled and rotted in the evening twilight of a summer’s day.
And this stranger stank of it.
From his belt hung skulls and desiccated body parts. He paid us no mind as he looked upon the dead gathered around him.
As I drew my pistols, he raised his head, and I stiffened for a moment, then slid my Colts back into their holsters. He nodded and got to his feet.
“It was their time,” he said, his voice rolling out over us and pressing home the stench. “None can argue with that.”
Marcus started to raise his rifle, and I shook my head.
The man smiled at us. “Listen to your father, Marcus Blood, he has met my siblings before. He shall meet them again.”
The man’s smile faded as he looked upon my son. “Duncan, I would speak with you.”
Fear grew in my belly as I walked the short distance to the man.
“I have seen him in the Hollow for many years.” The man said gently. “His time has almost come. This is a warning I do not give to many. Make your peace.”
The man turned and left me, the bones rattling against him, and as I turned to face them, I found all their eyes on me, the same unspoken question in their minds.
“He is the reaper of the Hollow,” I told them. “All we can do is bury our dead.”
And so, with the terrible knowledge in my heart, we dug the graves and buried our dead.
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