My Father’s History: 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.

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My Father’s History: Scratching

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The subtle, grating sound ate at his nerves.

‘I’m not certain when I became aware of I, 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 dead and 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.

‘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.’

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My Father’s History: 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.

‘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 as 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.’

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My Father’s History: 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, and one I appreciated.’

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My Father’s History: The Family

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They stood unmoving in the sunlight.

‘I found them in the morning. 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.’

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My Father’s History: 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. “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.’

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My Father’s History: 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 scarred the world before me.

‘I could not.

‘In the end, I stood up and made my way through the city. I did not look for signs of life, for I knew I would find none.’

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My Father’s History: 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 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 up 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.’

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My Father’s History: 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.’

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My Father’s History: 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.’

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