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Lost in Cross: 1870

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Cross is a place of horrors.

I have not yet become inured or deadened to the horrors that slip out of the shadows in Gods’ Hollow, or the fetid creatures lurking on Honor’s Path. Nor, for that matter, have I accepted the fact that my mother – whom I killed at our kitchen table when I was still a boy – lurks as a ghost in my home and as a living and breathing flesh within the confines of the Hollow.

Ennis Hack vanished in the winter of 1867 when he had come into town to write a bit of fiction about New England. He had taken a room with the Hutchinson family off Washington Street, and then, one fine, brisk morning, he had lit his pipe and set off for a stroll.

He never returned.

A soft snowfall hid his tracks, and it was assumed that the town had had its way with him.

The Hutchinson family, being good people, packed up his belongings and set them aside in their attic. They did not know if the man had family of his own and if the man’s kin, at some point, might show up to claim it.

It was not his family who showed up to claim it, but Ennis himself.

I met with him at the house for the family sent for me. He was a careworn man, ragged and wary. His story was plain and brutal.

He had heard a child crying from the Hollow, and not knowing the history of the place, he had gone in to help it.

Ennis never found the child, and he almost didn’t find his way out of the Hollow. He had been walking for the better part of three years, and he refused to speak of what he saw, with whom he spoke, or what he had been forced to do.

When he gathered up his things and finished a cup of hot coffee, he looked at me and shook his head. I raised an eyebrow, and he flashed a smile of broken, black teeth at me.

“Your mother doesn’t like you, Duncan Blood,” he told me.

“That’s fine,” I answered. “I don’t much care for her either.”

He chuckled, nodded, and got to his feet. “She said you killed her once.”

I nodded. “I aim to do so again.”

“Good,” Ennis replied. “She deserves it.”

With his bag in one hand, the man left the house without looking back, and I was amazed my mother had let him live.

Wonders will never cease.

#horror #fear

Lost in Cross: 1869

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I don’t have much when it comes to forgiveness.

Allen Cuthbert learned this, and I only wish I had been able to show him how truly angry I was.

The situation robbed me of that opportunity.

Somehow, Allen Cuthbert got it into his fool head to become a guide for those wishing to explore the mysteries of Honor’s Path. On several occasions, I wanted to brain him and leave him for dead on the tracks.

Danielle, his daughter, was the only person who held me back from this.

She was a delightful child, a sweet young creature who had a magnificent singing voice, and while she rarely smiled after her mother’s death, she still sang. Granted, the songs were a tad mournful, but they were beautiful, nonetheless.

After the publication of Vivian Husker’s book, several people managed to find their way to Cross, and they had even gotten as far as Honor’s Path, where they were promptly slain by whatever hellish creatures thrive beneath the path’s poison soil.

Allen Cuthbert saw there was money to be made by an intrepid fellow, and so he took Danielle with him on his forays into the Black and Coffin farms, always seeking some new route to Honor’s Path.

He found it.

This morning, as I saw with Phineas Black and enjoyed a cup of coffee laced with whiskey, Allen came stumbling and shrieking from the woods. He collapsed before we could reach him, and Phineas wanted to send for a doctor.

I told him, no, and I slapped Allen Cuthbert awake.

The man screamed when he saw me, and then he babbled that his daughter had been taken, that she was gone into a tree. My blood ran cold when I heard that, I knew what it meant. I demanded to see where, and the man refused.

Refused to take me to where his child had gone missing.

I broke his legs, shattered his teeth, and then dragged him by his hair back to the path. Phineas Black caught up with me and handed me a mallet and spikes.

Allen screamed and wept the entire time, and when we arrived at the tree, I searched for any sign of the girl.

There was none.

I nailed him to the tree and blindfolded him.

I didn’t want him to see them coming.

I didn’t want him to know when he was going to die.

#horror #fear

War in the Hollow: Dec. 2, ‘36

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I could smell war.

It is a scent to which I am finely attuned.

Armed and equipped to fight, I sat on the stonewall that runs along the border shared by Gods’ Hollow and North Road. I could see that my cousin Patience was right. The Hollow was different, as though a section of it was anchored.

In the distance, I heard the rumbling of machines and then, faintly, I caught the whinny of a horse.

It was time to go.

In a matter of moments, I was making my way across the field to the tree-line. My Colts were in their holsters, and my Spencer was in my hands. On my back was as much ammunition I could carry, and hate spurred me forward.

Over my long life, I have sacrificed a great deal for Cross, and I shoulder burdens few can even fathom. It is a choice I made, and I regret nothing.

I will not see my sacrifices be made useless, nor will I allow anyone to defile my town.

Especially not some thrice-damned bastard from the Hollow.

Within a quarter of an hour, I was deep in the woods, and I could hear the sporadic rattle of gunfire. As I drew closer to it, I heard men speaking in French. One man, older than the others, it seemed, chastising his audience about failure to keep a weapon clean and in proper working order.

Ahead, I caught sight of an opening in the trees, and as I stepped close, the rank odor of fresh blood assailed me. Soon, I was crouched down, rifle at the ready, and taking in the situation in front of me.

There were three men, sliding a fourth onto the back of a wagon. The fourth man was wounded, perhaps mortally so, and it was a soldier with a red cross on his arm who was reprimanding his compatriots.

Adjusting my position, I took aim at the medic, and I killed him first.

Before he had struck the ground, I’d killed the other two. The wounded man cried out as he landed on the bodies of his comrades.

Remembering my promise to my cousin, I stepped out of the woods and walked over to the wounded man.

Kneeling down beside him, I didn’t waste a bullet.

I smothered him instead.

#horror #fear #art

War in the Hollow: Dec. 1, ‘36

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Emma Coffin told me they’d come out of the Hollow and ambushed them.

Daniel, her husband, and their son, Connor, had both been gunned down as they struggled to free themselves from the car. Emma hadn’t moved. She’d been trapped in her seat, and it had saved her life.

The raiders, speaking in what she thought was French, made their way around the car, though she was unsure of what they were saying or of how they had even managed to attack. She thought she had heard the grunting of an animal, but she couldn’t be sure.

When they had taken her into town to see the doctor, and after we’d pulled the bodies of Daniel and Connor out, I could see the powder burns on their temples.

They hadn’t just been gunned down. They’d been executed.

As some from Black’s farm came in with tractors to pull the car back to the road, and Bobby Lake took the bodies into town in his wagon, I went back to my house and considered what I’d seen and what Emma had told me.

I poured myself a tall glass of bourbon, sat down in my library, and waited. Something about this was wrong.

The answer came close to midnight when I heard the voice of Patience Blood.  

It’d been six years since I heard my cousin’s voice. Six years since she’d had me lock her away in a family crypt so she could walk amongst the damned in Hell.

She whispered to me, her voice as lovely as ever, and when I closed my eyes, I could see her face and her hair, I could smell the sweetness of her, and I could remember our times together.

“They’ll bring war to Cross,” she told me.

“Who?”

“Some in the Hollow. They’ve anchored their own town to it, trapped it in such a way we’ve not yet learned.” She sighed, and in my memory, I saw her run her fingers through her hair, that cousin whom I’d adored. “You’ll need to go in, Duncan, and do what you do best. What you were bred to do.”

“Killing.”

“Aye, Duncan, killing.” She laughed then. A soft, beautiful sound that I missed dearly. “Kill them all, Duncan. Every last one of them.”

And I promised her I would.

#horror #fear #art

Madness: Nov. 30, 1867

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They stepped out of the Hollow with Union Jacks held high and hate in their eyes.

I don’t know who they were, or what version of Cross they might have come from, but it was plain to see by the froth around their mouths and their rolling eyes that they were mad, from the youngest child to the oldest man.

Mad and fit to kill.

Whether their anger was addressed toward me or merely any they might stumble upon, I neither know nor care.

I was there when they came out of the woods, and I stood on North Road as they made their way to the stonewall.

They shouted insults in the King’s English, and when they were close enough, they began to pick up stones and to throw them toward me. When they drew nearer, they armed themselves with heavier rocks and thick tree limbs.

They were in a hell of a state when they clambered over the stonewall and came for me, and whatever hopes I had of talking them down died in my chest as I saw the madness writ large upon their faces.

They were out for blood, and mine would do naught but whet their appetites.

I would like to say it was with reluctance that I drew the Colts that I took no pleasure in the killings, but that would be a lie.

There are some days when killing is what I need to do. It is the balm for an illness that has no cure.

That illness is time and sorrow, loneliness and rage.

I did not drag the killing out.

Each and everyone died quick, their brains blow out the backs of their skulls. To either their credit or the madness which gripped them, not a one of them ran.

As I stood in the cool morning air, steam rising off the cooling bodies, I reloaded my Colts and waited to see what would come out of the Hollow next.

#horror #fear #art

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Flashback:

I forced myself to visit Aldrich’s studio today, much against my desire, but I am glad I did. When I arrived, I found Wayne Aldrich attempting to seduce a young woman. He was promising her fame and fortune, the ability to turn her into a star by capturing her beauty on film and sending it in to ‘film stars’ with whom he was familiar.

I can only imagine how many he has tried to do this with, and had the young woman not taken care of the situation herself, I would have been only too happy to beat him.

She was more than capable, however, as all reapers are.

The cold look she fixed upon him caused the words to die in his throat as he too understood with whom he was dealing.

Mortified at having me witness his depredation, and at having been emasculated so effectively by the reaper, Aldrich stormed about his studio, preparing for her portrait. She did not speak to me as we waited, and I took no umbrage with it. Reapers speak when they wish, not when we wish them to.

He scowled and grunted as he finished, then gestured impatiently for her to follow him in. She did so, and they were done in a few minutes. The reaper stood patiently by the desk as he dug out the ledger and slapped it down in front of her. She took a pen from the desk, opened the book to the proper page, and wrote down her information.

“March 27, Alaska.”

Setting the pen down, she smiled at me. “I am going to shake the world, Duncan Blood. Do you believe this?”

“Of course, I do,” I replied.

Her smile transformed into an expression of pure disgust as she looked upon Wayne Aldrich. In a voice colder than any I have heard, she spoke to him.

“You have outlived your usefulness.”

She left without another word, and only when the door closed did I realize that Wayne Aldrich had soiled himself.

I did not bother to hide my smile.

Reapers’ Portraits: April 1963

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Flashback:

I managed to successfully avoid any direct involvement with Wayne Aldrich for seven years. Consequently, I didn’t see any reapers until April of ’63.

I was at the Cross train station, having picked up a package that had been sent via rail to me when I saw the reaper standing on the platform. Cross is a progressive town and has always been so. The civil rights movement was not necessary. There was no segregation in Cross, a state of affairs the town had worked long and hard to maintain in the face of some of the country’s more virulent policies.

The young black reaper smiled at me, waved, and crossed the platform to me. He offered me his hand, and I shook it, wondering why the reaper looked familiar. He winked as if understanding my puzzlement.

“We had a fair time, you and I, before the Revolution,” he informed me.

“Ah. One of the raids into Canada?”

He nodded. “I’ve come for my portrait, as I’m sure you’ve guessed.”

I told him I had. We left the station together and slowly made our way to the studio.

“I’ll be putting out to sea shortly,” he said.

I raised an eyebrow and waited for him to continue. The reaper frowned and shook his head. “Deaths come in many ways, but this will be new to me.”

“Unpleasant?”

“Different, and, yes, I suspect it will be unpleasant.” He offered me an apologetic smile. “I’m not quite certain what will happen. How fast or slow it will be. It is a difficult thing to judge. I have spoken with some of my brethren, but they cannot offer me and assistance. They say there are too many variables, from the strength of the boat to the strength of the man.”

We reached the studio a moment later, and I asked the reaper, “When?”

“Three days. On the tenth.” He offered me his hand again. “Be well, Duncan. It is always a pleasure.”

I watched the reaper enter the studio and turned away, wondering what horror lay ahead.

Madness: Nov. 27, 1867

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He found his voice.

John Smith was a quiet man. He’d been quiet most of his life, speaking when spoken to and keeping his opinion to himself. He was a teetotaler and a man not given to flights of fancy. I knew him as a good man, and he lived a simple life.

John worked for the town, keeping the streets clean and removing the snow from in front of the train station during the winter months. On any given evening, you could find him in the parlor of the rooming house he lived in, a pipe in his mouth and the Bible on his lap. He could quote any passage he chose, and he could defend it as well, which was more than I could say about those who professed to follow the faith.

He was not a church-going man, preferring to spend his Sunday mornings with a cup of coffee and the aforementioned book. John Smith was a happy, quiet man, and I was always pleased to see him.

Until this morning.

He was found sitting in the center of North Road and Main Street. Around him, placed with their faces turned towards him, were six severed heads, and he was carrying on quite the one-sided conversation. I was coming into town to fetch more coffee when I came upon the scene. Several of the Coffin brothers were gathered ‘round him, keeping a growing crowd of curious boys away.

As I moved forward to speak with him, John saw me and snarled with rage. He sprang forward, knocking aside a pair of the heads, and it took myself and several other men to get a hold of him.

John screamed, informing all who could hear of the obscenities my mother had in store for me. We struggled for nearly five minutes, ending it finally when I managed to punch him hard enough in the temple to render him unconscious.

A short time after he was brought to the town jail, the bodies that the heads belonged to were found. The victims were unknown, their naked, headless bodies propped up in carnal positions upon the stonewall along the Hollow’s edge.

My mother, it appears, is getting creative.

#horror #fear #art

Madness: Nov. 26, 1867

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She declared herself defender of Cross.

Lydia Knott was five-years-old, and she lived with her grandparents at their home on Hart St. The home was close to Hassell Brook, which fed into the Cross River.

According to Daniel Knott, her grandfather, Lydia announced her new role at breakfast and then left the house, much to the bewilderment of her grandparents. When he went out to see what the child was up to, he found her harnessing a pair of turkeys to her small dogcart. She ignored his questions, climbed into the seat and in a voice of command he had never heard her use before, she told him to step out of the way.

He did so, without thought or question.

The turkeys pranced off and led the child away.

Concerned, Daniel shook off the daze her command had thrown him into and followed as best he could. Soon, he found her at the bridge, parked in the center.

He was about to approach her when one of the Coffin brothers arrived on the other side and started across. The boy called good day to both and continued walking toward them. Before Daniel could respond, Lydia snapped the reins, and the turkeys charged.

The Coffin boy raced back to the other side, the turkeys nipping at his calves and thighs.

“This is my post,” Lydia announced, “and I shall defend it to the last.”

Daniel told the boy to take the long way to my house, and so I was informed of the situation. By the time I arrived, she had successfully kept over half-a-dozen people from using the bridge. When I stepped onto the bridge, her eyes widened and filled with a depth of hate that surprised me. The turkey’s charged, and a hideous torrent of abuse spewed forth from the child’s lips.

I pulled both Colts and shot the birds dead. As they fell, still locked in their traces, the dogcart struck the bodies and was upended, launching the girl out of her seat. She hit the bridge heard, but in a heartbeat, she was up and running, blood streaming from her nose and scrapes on her forehead.

I did not kill the child.

Instead, I sidestepped her attack and let her run into the arms of her grandfather.

We burned the bodies of the birds, and the girl is in her room, screaming about the sanctity of Cross.

That is perhaps the strangest sentiment of all.

#horror #fear #art

Madness: Nov. 25, 1867

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She had a wild streak that cost her everything.

Melanie Throcke went by at a gallop, a gleeful smile on her face and a high note of madness in her voice as she yelled to me. Her chestnut mare was riding hard down the road, foam flying out around the bit and the mare’s eyes rolling in their sockets.

I’d been ignoring Melanie Throcke and her bad acts since she’d turned twenty the year before, and I had every intention of continuing the habit.

The scalps hanging from her saddle caught my eye and changed my mind.

By the time she was past my drive, I was following her backtrail. Spots of blood were easy to see in the dust, and by the time I reached the stonewall along the border of the Hollow and North Road, I found the bodies.

There were three women and two children, all natives, though I knew not to what tribe they belonged. I could see they’d died badly, and it didn’t please me.

I heard a groan from the Hollow, and when I looked up, there was a rough-hewn house a short distance away. A trio of men sat upon the front step, and their somber expressions told me they knew what had occurred.

They called out to me, and I motioned to them, and they left the house. They did not look upon the bodies, though they stiffened as they passed the corpses.

When the men stood beside me, one of the men asked, “Where did she go, Duncan Blood?”

“To her home. It’s where she always runs to.”

The men looked to me, their question unasked.

“I’ll bring you to her,” I told them, “and I’ll kill any who get in our way.”

With my Colts in my hands and our death songs in our ears, I led the way to Melanie Throcke’s house, to take back the scalps and to claim some of our own.

#horror #fear #art

Madness: Nov. 24, 1867

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He was nameless.

The man wandered into town from North Road around mid-morning. He had a small smile on his face and a distant look in his eyes. He stank of death and madness, and when he turned his gaze upon those around him, they fled.

I was sitting outside the train station, smoking and enjoying the warmth of the sun. I’d had a particularly difficult night in the orchard, and I’d fought creatures which had crept out of the roots of the apple trees.

Still, the man’s curious, almost shambling gait caught my eye, and I loosened my Colts in their holsters. The weapons had seen a great deal of work of late, but that wouldn’t stay my hand.

The man came to a stop in front of the train station and grinned at me. I nodded to him and waited to see what, if anything, he might say.

For several minutes, he stood in silence, doing nothing more than licking his lips and tapping his fingers on the sides of his thighs.

“Tell me, Duncan,” he said, his low voice barely reaching my ears. “Are you still fond of eggs?”

I eased the Colts out of their holsters and set them on my lap, the barrels pointing at him.

“I do.”

“As do I,” the man nodded. “As do I. You eat them poached?”

“Any way I can get them,” I responded.

“I like mine scrambled,” he laughed and ran toward the train station.

He lowered his head and slammed into the brick wall, striking it with enough force to split his head open and spill his brains out onto the sidewalk.

He collapsed and lay there, twitching out his last in the morning light.

I holstered the Colts, looked at the body, and wondered when it would stop.

#horror #fear #art

Madness: Nov. 23, 1867

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She stepped off the train alone and wearing a crown of thorns.

Blood had seeped into the collar of Mary Tyrell’s dress and stained her lips. Some of the blood was her own, most of it was not.

When she saw me standing on the platform, she stopped and smiled, her teeth stained black. She stretched out her arms to me, and I shook my head.

Mary tried to speak, but when she did so, her tongue flopped out of her mouth, great chunks of it missing, bits of flesh pattering onto the platform. Her words were mangled, her supplications lost. She took a step forward, and I drew both Colts, cocking the hammers on each.

Confusion and anger, lust and pride warred with one another on her face, and she stepped back toward the train.

The conductor closed the door and locked it.

The man was missing an eye, and at least half his face had been torn from his skull.

When she discovered she had been locked out, she screamed and smashed her head against the glass, which cracked and splintered but did not break.

She whirled around and charged, a hideous howl erupting from her throat as she sought my destruction.

I ducked below her clumsy attack and struck her in the stomach with my forearm, driving her back. In her bright green eyes, I sought some sort of sign that the Mary I knew was still there, but I saw only madness and hatred. Murder was in her heart.

She lunged for me again, and I pulled the triggers.

The heavy slugs of the Colts tore through her belly and slammed into the side of the train even as the windows were coated with a fine mist of her blood.

She staggered toward me, and I fired again.

The bullets tore out the rest of her belly, snapped her back and sent her tottering over to the left. She managed to remain upright for a moment longer before she collapsed, a misshapen pile of meat stuffed into a dress.

Mary Tyrell let out a single moan as I knelt beside her.

I holstered the pistols, took her head onto my lap, and comforted her as best I could.

#horror #fear #art