Bad luck killed Cal Truscott.
Cal had a fair hand as a tin-smith. He could fashion just about anything anyone needed from the metal, and he offered up a decent price for his work too. Where he came from originally, he never said, although I detected a bit of a southern tint to his language.
Regardless of where he came from, he was pleasant company, and I never minded chatting with him.
He made a habit of walking about the farms, seeing if there was anything a body might need. It was a good way for him to drum up business and to remind people of his presence in town.
Occasionally, Cal was known to wander off the beaten path for a spell. This meant wandering along paths and trails most of those in Cross never ventured upon, let alone knew existed. Somehow, he learned of Honor’s trail, but he didn’t quite believe the stories surrounding it. Still, he wasn’t a foolish man, so he made sure to arm himself when he went out to explore it.
From what I could see of his tracks, Cal kept to the edges of the trail. He had heard of how the others had vanished from the center of the path, and it’s my belief he thought there might be sinkholes about. The fact that there might be something living that was creating those sinkholes never seemed to cross his mind.
Cal had been gone for two days before his landlord found me and passed the information along, and by then, I knew it was too late. Having seen the fate of Herman Kane and knowing what I did of Honor and her mother, there was no doubt in my mind that if I found Cal, he’d be dead.
I wasn’t wrong.
He had made it further than Herman, though only by a hundred feet or so.
The tree must have taken Cal by surprise.
I found his face protruding from the burl of a chestnut tree. His eyes were missing, his mouth pinched open by the bark, and his tongue black and extended. Something had plucked his teeth from his gums, and tendrils of wood had hooked into his lips, pulling them back to reveal the abomination that had once been his mouth.
As I stood there, the tree groaned, shifted, and pulled his mouth even wider.
A chuckle emanated from the dead man, and a single word.