My father tried to save him.
In August of 1700, the man arrived in the center of town, close to the Hall Garrison. He was disheveled, slurring his words and dragging a leather bag behind him in the dirt. At first, some of the townsfolk believed him to be mad. Others that he was possessed. Finally, a few decided the man had come from the Hollow and that he needed to be put back as soon as possible.
My father believed none of these things.
‘Though I was close to seventy at the time, I still appeared as no more than a thirteen-year-old boy. I would remain that way for another thirty years.
We approached the stranger together as the man came to a stop in the center of town, and as the wind shifted and carried our scent to him, he lifted his head, nostrils flaring. He stared at us and asked, “Which of you is Duncan?”
“I am,” I answered, and the man gazed upon me with horror.
“I cannot,” he whispered, shaking his head. “I cannot.”
“Cannot what?” my father asked.
The man pulled the leather bag to him, and it was then we saw the bag’s long drawstring was stitched to his stomach. Blood leaked down his belly as he lifted his shirt, and he screamed as he tore the bag open.
He retrieved a book, damp and foul with ichor, from the confines of the bag and held it up.
“They will not release me,” the man whimpered. “They say I must kill the boy.”
My father shook his head. “Give me the book, man. I will help you. I swear it.”
The stranger struggled with the book, clasping it with both hands as the dripping volume shook in his grasp.
My father stepped closer, his own hands outstretched to take the burden from the stranger.
Yet as he did so, the man’s back arched, his mouth opened, and he vomited his innards. He collapsed to the earth, a steaming abomination, eyes pleading as he died.
The people of Cross kept their distance as my father, and I worked. We cut the man’s clothes, wrapping them around the book before lifting it.
Together, we brought the book home, dried it out, and put it away.
Even now, as I gaze upon it, it whispers new deaths to me, and I smile at the damned thing’s creativity.