Lost children break my heart.
I have been lost many times in my life, and on more than one occasion, it was as a child. Well do I remember the fear I felt and the relief when my father or siblings found me.
I am no longer afraid to be lost.
But I am not a ten-year-old child, brought to Cross by her father.
I found James Wode dead at the head of Honor’s Path. His back had been flayed open, his spine removed. In his hands, he clutched a copy of Vivian Husker’s book, Where to go and what to see in Massachusetts.
According to Phineas Black, James Wode had arrived a short time earlier, accompanied by Wode’s daughter Anastasia. Wode and his daughter had been denied entrance to Honor’s Path via the Coffin Farm, and so they had tried their luck with the Blacks.
Phineas had refused them entry as well, but James Wode had returned and slipped in.
“I fear he took the girl with him,” Phineas told me.
“Aye,” I replied. I peered down at the dead man. His face was frozen in a mask of abject terror. I could only hope that the girl had died quickly.
I adjusted the Colts in their holsters, dragged James Wode’s corpse out into the open, and told Phineas to burn the damned book. With that said, I entered the woods.
I followed the path for a distance and then found it forked a short space after the tree that had eaten poor Cal Truscott. I knew myself to be on Coffin Farm, and I crouched down, peering at the trail, seeking sign of which way the child had gone.
She had taken the right fork, and at a run from what I could see.
The branches of the trees rattled, and I eased my Colts from their holsters.
Keeping to the edge, I started along the right fork and stopped when I saw the new horror the trees had set out for me.
Anastasia was dead. Something not human was wearing her skin and clothes, prancing about the path and throwing the child’s innards into the brush.
I put two rounds into its belly, and then another pair into its head.
Laughter rippled through the trees as I reloaded and left, wondering if they would be brave enough to try for me.