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Unwanted Attention

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We did our best to avoid them.

We saw the other ship only an hour so after we’d raised our anchor and put Zhao in the water. Those on the other ship waved and hailed us, their shouts echoing through my mind.

Our Thinker, whose name is Fengbo, crowded on his sail and tried to tack away.

It didn’t take long for the other crew to realize something wasn’t right. For a moment, a brief, sweet moment, I hoped they’d let it lie.

They didn’t.

They came ‘round hard to starboard and sailed after us, moving in behind us to cut off our wind.

“Are they sailing a Thinker?” I asked Fengbo.

“No,” he replied, “but I’ve seen that style before. It’s fast, and I’m old. They’ll catch us soon.”

Defeat filled his words.

I gave the rail a pat and said, “Keep yourself steady. I’ve work to do.”

Liu and I went to the aft of the ship, and I laid down on the deck. Liu did the same.

“Load the clips for me,” I said, “and we’ll see if we can’t keep them honest.”

Liu frowned, confused, but he loaded the clips nonetheless.

I slipped the first clip in, chambered a round, and sighted on the nearest target. It was a white woman, laughing and pointing to us as she kept her hat pressed down with her free hand.

I let my body fall into the rhythm of Fengbo’s movements, and as we rose up on the crest of a wave, I took her hat and the top of her head off. Brain and blood exploded over her companion’s face, and he clawed at his eyes as he tumbled overboard. Their dingy, bouncing along beside the ship, crushed him beneath its prow.

For a heartbeat, the chasing ship slowed.

Then the crew yelled and tried to put on more sail, and so they chose to die.

Again and again, I fired the rifle. Some died while others tumbled into the water.

The last few scrambled into the dingy, and after I reloaded my rifle, I focused on the small craft. The boat looked as though it had seen better days, and with three men crammed in, the vessel rode low.

As they cast off and fumbled for the oars, I took aim at the boat. Shot after shot went into the hull, and after the fourth bullet struck the side, the wood split open, and the water swept in.

The men, we saw, never learned how to swim.

#China #Horrorstories

Aboard Ship

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Soaking wet, we climbed aboard the Thinker.

I’d had a hell of a time keeping the pistols dry, and Zhao had carried the rifle and its ammunition. Liu had led us straight on and helped us get up the side and over the gunwale.

As soon as I stood on the deck, I could feel the vibration of the ship.

It might be made of wood and tar and iron, but it was a living creature I had climbed aboard. Of that, I had no doubt.

Liu reached out and rested his hand on the gunwale, motioning for me to do the same. I did, and I felt the pulsating life against my flesh.

“Hello, Thinker,” Liu whispered, and he introduced us all.

A slight voice, hardly more than a bit of whistling wind, reached my ears.

“A Blood?” the voice asked. “It has been a long, long time since I’ve had a Blood aboard me. Welcome, friend. Will you do me a kindness?”

“If I can,” I answered.

“Beneath my deck, there is a room, my mistress,” the ship spat the last word, “resides within. She knows something has happened, but I feign ignorance. She is fearful and will not leave.”

“We’ll take her out,” I stated, drawing my knife.

“She is strong,” the ship warned. “Be wary.”

I went to take the lead, but Zhao moved in front of me and hurried to the ladder that led below deck. Liu and I hastened to keep up with the man.

Zhao reached a closed door, grasped the handle and threw it open.

He staggered back, a long, graceful knife protruding from his chest.

As Zhao crumbled to the floor, I sprang forward, my own knife in hand. A woman sat in a chair, a look of hatred and disgust upon her face. A powerful scream struck my mind, caused me to stagger, but it did not stay my hand.

She tried to rise up from her seat, and I caught her by the front of her shirt. The woman reached up to one of the ornate buns on the side of her head and drew a knife. No sooner did the metal gleam in the well-lit room than I buried my blade in her neck.

The woman stiffened, the knife fell from her hand and clattered to the floor, and I cut the rest of the way through her throat.

Blood spurted from the wound, and she toppled over to the floor.

We left her where she lay.

We had a friend to bury.

#China #horrorstories

Down to the Sea

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I hate the Hollow.

I hate how many different worlds it connects to and how I can’t destroy it.

And I hate how big some of these places are.

The Angry Sea, as Liu calls it, is a prime example.

We traveled to the outskirts of the town I’d found them in, and we made our way along a narrow trail. It curved down, doubled back on itself and soon opened onto a cove that stretched out to a sea the color of amber. A ship lay close by at anchor, and Liu nodded to it.

“With that, we will be able to travel to Gao,” he stated, and the three of us hunkered down. I could see a dozen men at least aboard the ship, and while I wasn’t worried about the men, I was concerned about something a bit more practical.

“Three of us can’t sail a ship that size,” I remarked. “Not with any success.”

“True,” he said and flashed me a grin of yellow, stained teeth. “But that ship, my friend, is a Thinker.”

I frowned, and Zhao chuckled.

“There are ships, and then there are Thinkers,” Liu continued. “Old ships, older than most of these towns. The Thinkers were found here and there, raised up on blocks and left. Thinkers, my friend, can sail themselves. They are alive, in a way. Only the wealthy have them. Only a Thinker can sail into the Port of Chang’e, where we will find Gao.”

“Will the ship work with us?” I asked.

Liu and Zhao nodded.

“They have no love for those who cannot speak,” Liu stated. “Those men have imprisoned the Thinkers, binding them with spells.”

“Well,” I said, shrugging the rifle off my shoulder and stretching out prone on the ground. “I suspect we can break some spells.”

I looked out over the iron sights, found my first target standing at the rear of the ship, and pulled the trigger.

The sound of the shot rolled out across the water as the man tumbled off and splashed into the water. His shipmates raced around, trying to see where the shot came from, and I killed four more of them in their panic.

One of the men got the bright idea to go over the side, and I counted six more who followed.

I reloaded the rifle and took my time killing those in the water.

When I finished, we went down to the water and swam out to meet the Thinker.

#China #Horrorstories

Interesting

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They were quite a sight.

I came upon the pair of men as I moved through a back alley and found them behind a house.

They were images of misery with great squares of wood locked around their necks, and as I approached, they moved aside.

I paused a fair distance away and asked, “What the hell is this?”

“It keeps us from fleeing,” one of the men spoke, and I was surprised his words issued from his mouth.

He nodded, as did his companion. “Yes, we do not speak with our minds. Only our mouths.”

“You can both speak?” I asked.

“No,” the man stated. “Well, we could. Zhao, though, would not stop speaking once they captured us. So, they took his tongue and ate it in front of him.”

Zhao looked down as he settled into a seated position on the ground.

“That a fact?” I asked.

They nodded.

“Why are you locked up like this?”

The man answered, “Because we speak with our mouths. We are chattel. Nothing more.”

“They’re going to eat you?” I asked.

The men nodded again.

“These,” the man said, tapping the wood around his neck, “mark us for what we are. If we try to run, our deaths will be slow. If we accept our fate, we will die quickly.”

“You don’t have to die at all,” I remarked.

The man frowned. “No one will help us.”

“I’m not from around here,” I stated, “and I don’t give a damned what is or isn’t acceptable.”

I stepped forward, crouched down and looked at the lock on the back of the wood around Zhao’s neck. Nodding, I drew a Colt and said, “Cover your ears.”

Both men did so, and I pulled the trigger. The iron lock shattered and sprang open. As Zhao cast aside the wood, I stood up and freed the other man.

After a moment, they stood before me.

“I am Liu,” the man told me, and they both bowed. “Where are you headed?”

“I’m on my way to kill Gao just as soon as I find him,” I replied.

Liu smiled. “We can lead you, though the way will be difficult.”

“It always is.”

Liu led, and Zhao and I followed.

#China #Horrorstories

Small Talk

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I came upon the outskirts of a town and met a group of men eating.

They were not pleased to see me.

“What do you want?” one of the men asked, gesturing with a chopstick as his words rumbled through my thoughts.

“Gao,” I answered. “I need to speak with him.”

The men chuckled and shook their heads.

“No,” the one man said, “Gao will feed on you and then upon us for sending you to him. Go and leave us in peace.”

I felt the urge to reply in an unpleasant and impolite way, but I held my tongue and stilled my hands. My anger had gotten the better of me lately, and I didn’t like it.

“Why do you need to speak with him?” the man asked before I’d gone more than a step.

I turned back to face them. “He killed a friend and took some home to cook.”

“Why are you so concerned?” The man shook his head while his friends looked on. “You are worth little, if not nothing. You should be thankful your friend filled Gao’s belly.”

One of the others must have spoken, for the man nodded.

“Yes, Tsing is right,” the man smiled. “Gao might be pleased if we brought him fresh meat.”

I put my hands on the Colts. “Think about what you’ll say next and what you think you want to do.”

“I know what we want to do,” the man said, putting down his chopsticks and getting to his feet. “We want to kill you, little pig, and bring your flesh to Gao. He’ll pay us well.”

The man reached behind his back and brought out a curved knife.

I drew a Colt and put a round in the center of his chest.

He stood there for a moment, blood spreading across his shirt and darkening the silk. The knife fell from his hands, and he sat down with a hard and heavy thud. His comrades watched as he reached up, touched the stain, and then slipped off the back of his seat and lay on the ground.

“Anyone else fancy taking me as meat for Gao?” I asked, drawing the other Colt.

The men shook their heads, their faces noticeably pale.

“Good,” I said, and while I had a strong mind to feed their friend to them, I left them to their meal.

Still, I was in a town. Someone, I hoped, would let me know where that bastard was.

Or they wouldn’t, and I’d need to finish my chores.

I was fine with either one.

#China #Horrorstories

A Trap Sprung

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Something wasn’t right.

The man slept propped up on a bit of wood. To the left stood a tall tree of a species I’d not seen before. Behind him were a thinner pair of the same.

The grass twisted beneath my feet as though trying to gain purchase on my boots.

I took out my pipe, packed the bowl, and retrieved my matches from a pocket.

The branches of the trees rustled, and the grasses’ efforts to take hold of the leather quickened.

I struck the match, and the world went still.

Bringing the flame to the bowl, I let the fire flicker for a moment before I drew down and let the tobacco burn. As the smoke curled up, the grasses fell back, and the trees ceased their movement.

“You know,” I observed, “it’s a damned shame that you’ve tried to snare me.”

The large tree on the left shook, creaked and twisted toward me.

“Who are you?” it asked, his voice a harsh, hollow sound that battered my ears.

“Duncan Blood,” I answered, and the grass pressed itself to the earth.

The younger trees leaned closer to the elder.

The elder tree chuckled. “Is that so?”

“Aye.”

“Spit on the ground, youngling,” the elder tree stated, “and I’ll know the truth. I’ve seen many a man with pistols like yours and claims to the same. The spit tells the truth, though.”

I took the pipe stem from my mouth and obliged the tree.

Blades of grass dipped into the saliva and then pulled away.

The elder tree straightened up. “Damn my bark. You are a Blood. And pure at that. We are well met, Blood.”

I nodded, then pointed to the sleeping man. “He looks alive.”

“He was,” the elder tree chuckled. “Thirty or forty years ago. Our sap keeps him preserved. More than a few have stopped by. Most to see if they could rob him. All get too close.”

“I imagine that works well for you.”

The elder tree laughed, its branches shaking. “That it does. We felt the vibrations of a battle this morning. I take it that was you?”

“Aye, it was.”

“And who did you kill, youngling?”

“Demigods and priests,” I answered.

In a soft voice, it said, “Oh, you’re as pure as they come.”

I snorted.

The tree laughed. “Not your morals, Blood. Your skills. Go and finish your chores.”

With a nod, I went on my way.

#China #Horrorstories

The Attack

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I should have known there’d be priests.

I’d gone a mile from the shrine when the priests attacked.

There were four of them, and they fought a damned sight better than the gods they served.

The men came out of a small building on the edge of the road, and when they did, they attacked. No warning. No bluster. Nothing at all.

And that was fine by me.

They meant business, and it looked as though they knew it too.

I drew the Colts, but the men were quick. Their movements flowed in a fighting style I’d never seen before. I managed to get off a pair of shots but did nothing more than wound one of them, which left me to the mercy of the others.

Their strikes were coordinated, fast, and hurt like hell.

The first blows broke my left ribs, the next round knocked my right eye from its socket and crushed the bone around it. My nose was smashed across my face, and blood exploded down my mouth.

But the man in front of me stumbled, tripping on his own entrails as they spilled out of the gaping hole where his lower back had been. The other wounded man tried to help while the remaining two continued their assault.

One of the men reached out and latched onto my throat with an iron grip, so I slammed a Colt up into his underarm and pulled the trigger twice. He stared at me, his arm falling from his body and dropping from my throat.

The last man ignored the fate of his comrades and nearly killed me.

He placed a kick on the side of my head that sent me spinning to the ground. As my loose eye bounced against my cheek and pain electrocuted my body, he came in for the kill.

The man leaped into the air, pulling his legs up and then extending them straight down for a blow that would have collapsed my chest.

But I had the Colts.

I fired off a shot that caught him square in the neck and took his head off his shoulders. Still, I had to roll away as the body came down, legs still prepared to kill.

Grunting at the pain, I got to my feet and saw the other three priests trying to rise.

I put a bullet in each of their heads.

In the deafening silence, I reloaded my Colts, and sat down on the ground beside the headless corpse.

It would be a long time to heal.

#China #horrorstories

Embittered Gods

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The bastard lied.

I have to admit, there’s a bit of grudging admiration for him.

He’s the first one in a long time, though, who sent me to a place he thought I was going to die.

When I came upon the shrine, I knew he’d sent me on a wild goose chase. With a sigh of reluctance, I took the Colts out. The rifle I’d taken from the dead soldiers was fine, but when it came to dealing with a god, well, the Colts were the only things for it.

The ground shook, and the trees trembled as I approached the shrine and passed beneath its entrance. Ahead of me, the shrine stood waiting, and as I drew closer, the doors slid open.

I could barely see them. They were hints upon the ground, slight shadows of creatures best left unseen. Had the sun not been shining, I might not have caught even a glimpse of them.

As it was, the sun stood high.

I planted my feet, and I called out to them.

“I need directions to the next town.”

Whispers raced around me, but none answered my question. Instead, I heard promises of pain and torture, descriptions of vile acts performed on still-living flesh.

I’d get no answers from these.

I let my eyes flicker over the grounds, marking where I saw the shadows. I realized a moment later I could see them better from the corners of my eyes, though I did not enjoy the sight.

They were large, twisted creatures. Distorted mouths and too many limbs. Loose flesh and oozing holes from which dark eyes peered.

No, they’d not answer my questions.

I thumbed the hammers back on the Colts and then gave the gods a choice.

“Let me leave, or I’ll cut you down.”

Their laughter was louder, and they surged forward.

The Colts roared.

The slugs tore through the flesh and severed limbs from bodies, heads from necks. Stunned and horrified, the gods paused their assault.

I didn’t.

I fired all twelve rounds, and as I reloaded, the remained gods fled to their shrine.

I stalked over the corpses of the dead, and as I approached their haven, the doors slammed shut. I put another pair of rounds through them, and a shriek of agony pierced the air.

“East!” one of them screamed, the word barreling through the world. “Go east!”

So, I went east.

#China #horrorstories

A large surprise.

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My belly was full, and my wits were sharp.

I had a fair supply of Or fruit in my bag, and I didn’t mind the discomfort of the added weight. Not when it meant I had food.

I walked out of the hills and onto a stretch of land. As I walked east in the hope of finding another town, I came upon a man and a large stone statue.

The statue towered over the seated man as the man smoked a long, thin pipe, and my eyes shifted from him to the statue.

The statue was weathered and battered. The face on his belt was as impressive in its gruesomeness as the one on its head.

I came to a stop a fair distance from them and asked, “How far to the next town?”

The man let out a long stream of smoke, and his thoughts slipped into mine.

“You have a day’s travel, perhaps more, if you follow your easterly path.” From a pocket, he withdrew a scroll, glanced at it, and then smiled. “I don’t think you will have to worry about it, Blood. I’ll be taking you in for your bounty.”

“Best to leave off. It’ll save us both time.”

He shrugged, and the statue drew its sword.

There was a hissing as its massive joints ground against one another, and the eyes on the belt opened. The creature yawned, chuckled and asked a question I did not understand in a voice that shook my bones.

Once more, the seated man gestured toward me, and the statue lumbered forward.

I don’t know if they expected me to run or at least retreat, but I did neither.

Instead, I drew my Colts, and I let them talk.

The first two shots caught the statue in the chest, but the rounds only ricocheted off. Both the man and the statue laughed, but that laughter died as I put the next few shots into the creature’s open mouth.

I could hear the bullets slamming about, destroying whatever passed for innards.

The smile froze on the man’s face as the statue fell to its knees, wavered, and then tumbled over onto its side.

I walked up, put the barrels of both Colts in its mouth and emptied them.

Sliding the revolvers back into their holsters, I drew my knife and turned on the dumbfounded man.

“Now,” I said softly, “let’s talk about how to get to town.”

He told me everything I wanted to know.

#China #horrorstories

Hungry as hell.

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I was hungry.

Since I didn’t know what I could and couldn’t eat in this place – I’d made mistakes regarding food when I was much younger – I went looking for a shop.

I found it in the form of a small building about a dozen or so miles from where I’d encountered the soldiers on the bridge.

When I entered the building, I was greeted by a tall, thin man seated behind a counter. On the walls to either side were jars on narrow shelves and dried meats hanging from the ceiling. The man nodded, smiled, and asked in their penetrating way, “How may I help you?”

“I’m hungry,” I answered, ignoring his surprise when I used my mouth to speak. “I’d like to purchase some food for the road.”

He blinked at me, then his eyes widened in recognition.

“You’re the one they’re looking for,” he told me, a note of awe in his words.

“Probably,” I replied dryly, “unless there’s another person wandering around who happens to speak through his mouth. Now, I’m wondering if I might get some food.”

He reached down, and my hand dropped to the butt of the Colt. Instead of bringing up a weapon, he held a scroll. His hands trembled as he released the string around it, unrolled the paper and turned it to face me.

I couldn’t read the language it was written in, but a wanted poster is easily understood, regardless of the language.

I saw a well-done drawing of myself, and I looked angry as hell.

“So,” I said, letting go of the pistol. “You’re not going to sell me any food.”

He shook his head and put the scroll down. “It is not worth my life.”

“I don’t blame you.”

My stomach growled, and as I turned to leave, he said, “The fruit of the Or tree is a soft yellow. It is filling and sustaining.”

Glancing over my shoulder, I asked, “Is it in season?”

He nodded. “It cannot be missed. The trees are tall, the fruit hangs low, and the birds gather around it.”

“Thank you,” I said and made my way out of the building.

With my stomach still growling, I wondered who had drawn my face so well, and I went in search of the Or trees.

The fruit, I soon discovered, was as sweet as fresh honey.

#China #Horrorstories

Fugitive

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They wanted to take me back.

I had finished stripping down, cleaning, and reassembling my newly acquired rifle when the scout stumbled into my camp.

“If you’ve a mind for some tea,” I told him, “you’re welcome to sit. If you think I’ll stand up and go anywhere, I’ll put a bullet in your gut for your trouble.”

A moment later, his shaky voice sounded in my head.

“You’re to be brought back to the city,” he told me. “They know you’re hunting Gao, and we’re to stop you.”

I shook my head. “Get on back to your commander and tell him I said to leave me in peace. If he pushes the issue, I’ll kill everyone in my way. Gao needs to die. No one else.”

The soldier’s eyes flickered to my rifle. When I didn’t pull the trigger, he turned and bolted from my campsite.

Soon, I was on the path.

I’d gone no further than a mile or so when I came to a river. A pair of soldiers stood at the head of a long, narrow footbridge, across which more soldiers were moving. When the two soldiers saw me, they brought up their rifles and opened fire.

I killed them both.

On the long, narrow footbridge, the soldiers brought their own rifles up, but I dropped down behind a bit of deadfall, sighted in on the first man and killed him. The man beside him swore, tried to avoid the body of his comrade and ended up in the river instead. Others behind the corpse pushed forward, and I cut them down. A few tried to climb over their dead and failed. The soldiers continued to fire, trying to pin me down, but my position was good, my line of sight fine.

Some men attempted to get into the river, but the current swept them away. The men on the bridge were pinned down.

Finally, after almost half an hour, the men ceased firing and hunkered down. A man at the far end remained standing, gesturing and slapping soldiers with the flat of his saber.

He brought the weapon up once more, clearly trying to drive his men forward, and I put a bullet in his left eye. As he collapsed to the bridge and tumbled into the river, his men stood, turned around, and went back the way they’d come.  

And as they went on their way, I went on mine.

Gao was waiting.

#China #Horrorstories

Gunfight

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I woke up rested.

When I bade Liu Sanjie goodbye, there was no response. The entire cemetery, I noticed, was silent. The air was absent of birdsong and the voices of insects.

I was alone with the trees and the dead.

Life was as it should be.

I adjusted the Colts in their holsters and made my way out of the cemetery.

I’d gone less than a mile before the birds returned with force. Their song tore through the air and shook me as wind slammed into my chest and threatened to push me back.

While the birds sang, the air settled into a gentle breeze, and crickets added their voices to the cacophony around me.

The noise brought a smile to my lips, but the smile didn’t last long.

In less than a hundred yards, as I turned down around the right side of a grassy hill, I spotted a group of soldiers. Ten of them dressed in cotton uniforms and armed with rifles and long-handled grenades.

I came to a stop when I saw them, and the ten looked at me.

One stepped forward and, in the strange manner of the people here, spoke directly into my thoughts.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

“A traveler,” I answered. “Nothing more and nothing less.”

“Where is your passport?”

“I don’t have one,” I admitted. “You’re the first to ask. Where would I get one?”

“Back in the city,” he stated. “We will escort you there.”

I shook my head and planted my feet. “I’ve been there. I don’t much care for it. I’ll be on my way if you don’t mind.”

The men unslung their rifles, and the leader glared at me.

“I am not giving you a choice,” he snapped. “You are coming to the city with us, and we will see who you are.”

“You want to know who I am?” I asked, lowering my hands to my Colts. The soldiers cocked their rifles.

“My name is Blood,” I snarled and drew the Colts.

The impact of my name stunned them, and before they could fire, the Colts thundered.

None of them escaped.

The leader died last, a hole in his head and his face pointing to the sky.

I reloaded the Colts and robbed the dead for their coins and what little food they had. I took a rifle and as much ammunition as I could carry.

With the rifle slung on my shoulder, I stepped over the dead and went on my way.

#China #horrorstories

Stories

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I heard her singing.

I’d been walking for some time, and night was coming on. After the incident at the tea shop, I’d managed to find a place to buy some food, and I had avoided others since. But I was growing tired, and I was more than eager to put my first day in this version of the Hollow behind me.

I entered what was undeniably a cemetery. I’d seen enough to recognize one when I saw it, and this place was most definitely a home for the dead.

Massive crypts, each sunk deep into long hills, were festooned with ornate carvings, and as I walked along a well-kept path, I searched for one to rest by.

When I heard her singing, I knew I’d found the spot.

Her crypt was clean and cared for, her voice rolling out from behind the stone and wrapping the world in comfort and calm. The sound of her words soothed my bones and bade me sit.

I did so.

When she finished her song, she spoke.

“You hear the dead,” she stated.

“Occasionally,” I admitted.

“I am Liu Sanjie.”

“Duncan Blood.”

There was a pause and then a soft, musical laugh. “Oh, I’ve not heard a Blood speak since I was alive.”

“When was that?” I asked, taking my pipe out and packing it.

“Long, long ago,” she sighed. “You sound tired, Blood.”

“Aye,” I replied, tucking the pipe into my mouth and striking a match. I lit the tobacco and, as the smoke curled up, added, “More tired than I’ve been in a long time.”

“Will you rest with me?”

“Aye,” I answered. “If you’ll let me.”

“Yes,” she said. “None will harm you here. We do not allow it. The dead keep this place, Blood.”

“What is this place?” I asked, curious.

“Nothing more than where our bones lie,” she answered. “Still, it is ours, and we will not have its sanctity ruined with violence. Do you bring violence here?”

“I am violence.”

Liu Sanjie laughed, and the sound brought a tired smile to my face.

“That you are,” she said. “But not here, and you never with me.”

“I know you?” I could not keep the surprise from my voice.

“Not yet,” she replied. “But I remember when we met and how you felt in my arms as I sang to you. Listen now, and forget your violence.”

I closed my eyes, smoked my pipe, and did my best to forget.

#China #horrorstories

Impolite

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I found myself lost in the city for too long, and finally, I came across a tea shop. I didn’t know if I had anything I could trade for something to drink, but it was worth a shot.

When I entered, I found a trio of men engaged, I assume, in a silent conversation. All three turned to face me, and one fanned himself. A smile spread across his face, and his question slipped into my thoughts.

“Who are you?”

“A traveler,” I answered. “Looking for a drink and the way out of the city.”

“What coin do you offer?” he asked. “It does not seem like there is much.”

“There isn’t,” I confessed. From the pocket of my waistcoat, I retrieved my watch and the watchchain. I had a single fob made of coiled silver around a dog’s tooth. The tooth had a heart of gold, as had the dog whose tooth it had been. I stepped forward, took the fob off and placed it, the watch and the chain on a small table.

The man with the fan moved to them, nodded and said, “I have not seen a pocket watch like this in some time. The tooth, though, is of no matter.”

A different voice spoke in my mind. “Dogs are foul animals. It is bad enough that you are here. Take that filth out.”

I looked at the other men to see which of them had spoken. One, arranging containers of tea, paid no attention to me. The other, resting his arm on the edge of a counter, sneered at me.

Reaching out, I picked up the tooth and slid it into my pocket.

“I can give you a drink,” the man with the fan said, “and some coins for the watch. Both will serve you well.”

“Give him nothing,” the man at the counter offered.

“Chu, enough!”

Chu laughed. “I will not, not for this dog lover.”

I crossed the room and stood in front of Chu.

“What will you do?” Chu asked. “If you can strike me, I will double –”

I drove my knee into his groin and dropped him to the floor, where he curled into a ball and vomited.

I looked at the other men. The one organizing the tea still ignored me. The fan-wielding man smiled.

“I will get your tea, your coins, and,” he glanced down at his colleague, “double the amount from Chu’s purse.”

I nodded, and Chu crawled out of the room.

It never pays to be rude.

#China #horrorstories

Disingenuous

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All I wanted were directions.

It didn’t take too long from Sun Yee’s house for me to find my way into a town. At first, the few people I saw hurried away from me, and soon I found myself walking along high walls and long roads. Clouds drifted in front of the sun, and soon, I couldn’t get my damned bearings. All I wanted was a way to Gao’s place of business or out of the thrice-damned town.

Either one was acceptable.

As I searched for someone or something to help me along my way, I spotted a pair of men following me. I found a good spot with a strong wall and a sharp drop, put my back against the stone, and waited.

I nodded to the men and settled my hands on the butts of the Colts.

The men glanced at the revolvers, chuckled and spoke in the curious, silent way Sun Yee had communicated with me.

“Where are you going?” one of them asked.

“Either to the house of Gao, the silk merchant, or out of this town if he’s not here.”

“He’s not here,” came the response.

“Then directions out would be greatly appreciated,” I informed them.

The men stepped out slightly, giving each other room.

They stood loose and ready, and they had the unmistakable air of men who know how to fight.

I had no doubt both were lethal with their hands.

They, however, didn’t appear concerned about me.

That was fine.

“We’ll be happy to give you directions,” one of them told me, and I could feel his thoughts squirming in my mind as though he was seeking some point of entry. Some way to control me.

The sensation was reminiscent of an itch that couldn’t be scratched.

“Get out of my head,” I snapped.

One of the men jerked his head back as though he’d been slapped.

Perhaps he had been.

“Come,” the other man said, and I felt something tugging on my brain, trying to force me to walk.

“No,” I answered, and I drew the Colts.

The men died with their eyes wide, pools of disbelief.

The thundering roar of the Colts echoed off the walls, and as the bodies cooled, I went in search of the exit.

#China #horrorstories

In the Hollow

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I walked for hours.

I entered the Hollow from North Road, climbed over the stonewall, and headed east.

At noon, the land dipped into a wide valley populated with trees the likes of which I’d not seen before. I paused at one, touched the bark and found it the same as that which had been left in Pratchett’s home.

I soon found a path made of cobblestones and lined with odd stone carvings. Strange birdsong filled the air, and curious insects hummed past my head.

I loosened the Colts in their holsters.

When the valley leveled out, I saw a home that reminded me of those I’d seen in China years earlier. The path I was on passed by the home, but a walkway led to the front of the home, and so I followed it.

I stepped up onto a small porch, knocked on a deeply carved wooden door and waited for an answer.

It came almost a moment later, echoing curiously in my head. “Enter.”

I gave the door a cautionary push, and it swung wide.

The smell of strong tea led me deeper into the home, and as I passed along well-polished floors, I found another open door. Within the room, a woman lay on a couch and observed me with cool unaffected eyes.

“You are a stranger here.”

Her words echoed in my thoughts, and her mouth remained still.

“Aye,” I spoke aloud.

She smiled. “And you cannot speak properly.”

I chuckled. “I suppose not if this is the way you speak.”

“It is. What brings you here, stranger?”

“I’m hunting a killer,” I told her. “An old friend said the silk was from this place.”

The woman frowned. “May I see it?”

I took it out of the wax envelope I kept it in and handed it over.

She opened the envelope, sniffed it and nodded. “Your friend is correct. This is of my realm. It is created by the worms of Gao. He has a taste for flesh.”

She motioned to her feet, and I saw how small they were. “He murdered my husband and took my feet. Will you kill him?”

“Aye.”

“I will give you anything if you bring me his head.”

“You can have it for nothing,” I told her.

“What is your name?”

“Blood.”

Her eyes widened. “I am Sun Yee. We are well met, Blood.”

I nodded and left the house.

I’d had enough of talk.

There was a man to find and a head to collect.

#China #horrorstories

The Body

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Someone butchered my friend.

I’d not heard from Pratchett for the better part of a week, which was unlike the man. Every few days, he’d stop by the farm to see what was going on with me and ask to see the orchard.

I never let him, of course. It was too dangerous. He’d heard the trees speak before, and he’d stumbled and cut himself on a root.

The damned trees got a taste of his blood and liked it. I barely got him out of the orchard without having to set it on fire.

At first, when I didn’t hear from him, I thought he might have gone on a book buying trip. He was a collector and would often go to New York City or even as far as Chicago. But he would always ask if there was anything I wanted him to look for.

Finally, on Friday evening, I went into town and the small home he owned on Olive Street.

He was home, but he was dead.

I found most of him in the parlor. I’m not sure where his torso was, but the charred remains of the rest of him were there to be seen, his head propped up on a wicker box as though waiting for me to arrive.

Perhaps he was.

I scoured the home, looking for any sign of who might have killed my friend, and I found it.

Upstairs, in Pratchett’s bedroom, one of his books was missing. It was an old volume on Chinese myths and legends. He kept it by his chair and read from it frequently.

I searched a bit more in the room and found a bit of silk and a scrap of bark.

In silence, I gathered them up and went home. I brought them into the barn, to the aged door with the sigils carved into it, and slid the bark and the silk beneath the wood.

“Hello, my love,” she whispered, and the door groaned as she settled against it.

“Hello.” It pained me to hear her voice, no matter how dangerous she was.

“Do you love me?” she asked.

“I do love you.”

She sighed. “These things, you want to know where they are from, yes?”

“Aye,” I whispered, my voice hoarse.

“The Hollow, of course.” She paused. “Will you let me out now?”

My heart thundered in my chest. “I can’t.”

“I know. Go. The Hollow is still, and you can hunt.”

I left her, gathered up my Colts, and set off for the Hollow.

#revenge #horrorstories

April 30, 1948

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The dogs are leading me home.

No one is left alive.

We arrived at a village today, and the headhunters came out to greet us. Men and women and children. Old and young. They had rifles and pistols, shotguns and axes.

We had teeth and lead, steel and hate.

It was a storm of violence.

I am at home in the chaos of battle. The world slows for me, and everything is laid bare. I walk through the center of the storm, and I see everything. At times, I can see a slug leave a barrel and know where it will hit.

This fight was one of those times.

I moved through the violence and the carnage.

I watched as dogs tore apart humans and buildings, watched humans butcher dogs.

And through it all, I killed.

My Colts ran dry, and there was no more ammunition to feed them. The rifle became nothing more than a glorified club, which I shattered on a man who tried to beg for his life. I wrenched an ax from a woman and used it until the head of it became lodged in another woman’s chest.

When all was said and done, I stood alone in the middle of the town.

The world returned to its normal speed, and only Champ remained.

I turned and faced him, the dog’s fur matted with blood and one of his eyes missing. He let out a pained chuckle.

“I’ve never seen your like before, Blood,” he told me. “I hope to never see it again.”

I nodded. “Where’s the rest of the pack?”

“Tending to the wounded,” the dog answered.

“And the headhunters’ dead?” I asked.

“Feeding our pups.”

“Fair enough.”

Silence fell over us for a minute. I looked down at myself. My clothes were shredded, and I was soaked in blood. “I must look a sight.”

“That you do,” Champ admitted. “You’re a frightening man, Duncan Blood.”

“Aye,” I sighed. “So I’ve been told.”

“Home is just beyond the last house,” Champ said. “Think you’ll be back this way?”

I shrugged. “Devil knows, my friend.”

Champ nodded. “So he does. I am glad to call you my friend, Blood. I suppose we’ll see each other in Hell.”

“That we will.”

The dog stood up, tail wagging, and went on his way.

With the stench of blood in my nose, I headed toward home and a pot of fresh coffee.

#horrorstories #dogs

April 29, 1948

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“I’ll kill them both.”

She stood with the shotgun held loosely in her hands. The dogs at her feet whimpered but didn’t move as we circled around her. The pack kept their distance, and I did the same. My rifle was still slung over my shoulder, the Colts in their holsters.

The dogs had sniffed her out and brought me to her, and there was an undeniable danger about the woman. I had no doubt she would shoot the dogs, but I don’t believe she knew what would happen to her if she did.

“Let them go,” I told her, “and you can go your way.”

She smirked at me. “Who do you think you are to say such a thing to me? Do you believe you have some sort of authority because you run at the head of a pack on two legs instead of four? You’re not even worth as much as a dog is to me.”

I smiled. “Let the dogs go.”

“Discard your weapons, and perhaps I will.”

A low grumble of discontent rippled through my pack as I took off the rifle and the Colts, laying my weapons on the ground in front of me.

“Fool,” she laughed and kicked both dogs, sending them racing off to the shelter of my pack. She brought the shotgun up to her shoulder. “It’s not hard, killing a man.”

“No,” I agreed and sprinted toward her.

The grin never left her face. Not as the shotgun roared, nor as the slug hit me in the breast.

The bullet caught me midstride and turned me halfway round, but I spun the rest of the way myself.

Her smile faltered, fell, and she took a fearful step back as she tried to break open the weapon and reload it.

When she realized she couldn’t in time, she snarled, reversed the shotgun in her hands and swung it at me.

Wheezing, I dipped below the blow, came up close to her and slammed the heel of my hand into her chin. The force of the blow lifted her off the ground and sent her to the earth. She struggled to keep hold of the shotgun, but I kicked it away from her, and she lay still.

“Do it,” she hissed. “Kill me when I’m defenseless.”

“I’m not going to kill you,” I replied, spitting blood onto her dress. “But the dogs will.”

I took a step back, and my pack lunged forward.

They took their time, and that was fine.

She shouldn’t have kicked the dogs.

#horrorstories #dogs

April 28, 1948

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They thought they were hunting us.

We’d found the small village after butchering the headhunters, and as we moved from house to house in the night, I killed everyone I found.

They, like the men and women I’d executed earlier, were headhunters. I found rooms filled with their trophies. Some collected only the heads of women, others only blonde-haired men. In one house, only children.

I was considering putting the town to the torch when a dog reached us and was escorted in by Champ.

“She has news,” Champ stated.

“What news?” I asked, giving her a bit of jerky.

The dog ate, licked her chops and answered. “There are hunters coming from the estate. They’re bringing a pack with them and hunting for you.”

I frowned. “Will I have to fight the pack? If so, I’d rather leave.”

Her tail thumped on the floor, and she tilted her head up. “No, they will not. I bear a message.”

I nodded, and she spoke.

“’We run with Blood,’” she stated. She looked at me. “Will you wait here?”

“Aye.”

“We will lead the hunters here,” the dog said. “Will you kill the hunters?”

“Aye.”

I gave her another piece of jerky, and the dog raced off. I settled myself in the upper window of a house, removing a single pane of glass from which to fire from. The dogs hid in the lower levels and among the outbuildings, and we waited.

I sat far enough back so the barrel of my rifle couldn’t be seen.

Less than an hour later, they arrived.

There were four horsemen and easily two dozen dogs. I saw the female who’d come to me with the message. As I readied my first shot, I noticed how the dogs shied away from the horses, and a moment later, I saw why.

A dog drifted too close to the lead horse and received a brutal kick for its trouble.

As the rider laughed, I put a bullet through his chest.

Within a minute, all four of the men were dead. The dogs attacked the horses, dragging them down to the ground as my own pack launched themselves into the fray.

By the time I reached the first floor and left the house, the horses were dead, and the dogs were eating.

When the dogs saw me, they raised their bloodied snouts to the air, howling their greetings.

It was, I saw, a beautiful day.

#horrorstories #dogs

April 27, 1948

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I killed them all.

The sun rose and burned the night’s cold from the land. As the mist curled and wrapped around the world, the dogs and I moved forward. None of them howled. None of them bayed.

There were close to a hundred of us, and they flushed the headhunters out for me.

We moved through fields that reminded me of Pennsylvania and Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia. Splitrail fences and sunken roads, stonewalls and battered bridges.

The headhunters tried to run, but it was an exercise in futility.

I had rounds for the Colts, and the morning’s calm was split with the thunder of the .44s. Men and women tried to stand their ground, and the dogs dragged them to the earth. Throats were torn out, and the headhunters were disemboweled. Others stood, then ran, and they were hamstrung for their efforts.

More than a few didn’t bother standing. Didn’t bother with any sort of hesitation.

They ran, and I pulled the triggers.

I cut them down, and my ears rang, and my shoulders ached.

I walked among the dying and finished them. There was no mercy in this act.

My dogs were hungry, and they needed to eat.

A score or so of headhunters took shelter in an old house, and the dogs lay down in the grass, waiting for me.

Rifle shots came from the windows, but the shots were ill-placed. Fear caused mistakes, and mistakes gave me an advantage I didn’t need on the worst of days.

The headhunters ran out of ammunition before I was halfway to the door, and when they did, they charged at me. Rifles were held high like clubs, others had knives.

Those with the blades died first, the heavy slugs of the Colts knocking them off their feet and sending them sprawling to the ground. Those with the rifles were clumsy, their blows easy to dodge, and when the Colts ran dry, they went into their holsters, and the knife came out.

By the time I was done in the yard, blood-soaked my clothes, and I tracked it into the house.

I broke down doors and stabbed men and women to death.

Others I beat to death, and the last I strangled in the kitchen, breaking his back as I pressed him against the sink.

Behind me, the dogs ate, and they ate well.

#nature #horrorstories #dogs

April 26, 1948

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April 26, 1948

She came looking for me.

Word of the Der Vershclinger spread quickly through this realm, and ere the second day had passed, I was being hunted.

Or so they thought.

My pack has grown, and there are a dozen dogs of various breeds and ages around me at any given time. We’d hunkered down in a pleasant spot. There was water and fresh fowl, and we all took the time to breathe and enjoy the fine air.

The roar of a shotgun shattered the peace, and in the distance, dogs howled.

They were not cries of pain but rather of warning.

Someone was coming.

A few more shots were let off, and as the wind shifted, I heard a high, furious voice screaming my name.

I drew my Colts, rested them on my lap with the weapons in hand, and I waited.

I heard the dogs coming closer, some of them crashing through the underbrush while others led the prey into the trap.

“Where is he?” a woman demanded, and her question was punctuated by another shot. I heard the distinct click of a weapon being reloaded, and I waited.

“Where is the fiend who butchered by mate?”

At the last word, I glanced to the left at the scalps stretched out and drying in the sun. I smiled and then fixed my gaze on the main path.

Champ came racing down it, his tail wagging, and he paused only long enough to chuckle and say, “She’s fit to be tied, Blood.”

Before I could respond, he was gone, and the shotgun roared.

The woman stepped into the small glade where we made camp, and she stared at me. Her hands went to reload the shotgun, but when I lifted the Colts, she froze. I cocked the pistols and kept them centered on her.

“Good morning,” I said.

She glared at me. “You killed my mate.”

“Who was that?”

“Der Vershclinger,” she hissed. “Do you deny it?”

“No. In fact, his scalp’s in the center of the rack.

Her eyes flickered to it, back to me, and she opened her mouth, screaming.

I put a shot through her mouth and blew the back of her neck out.

She wavered for a moment, hands desperately trying to load the shotgun, and then she fell back, hitting the ground with a thump.

The dogs came out, tails wagging.

“Leave the scalp for Blood,” Champ ordered, and I watched as the dogs settled in to eat.

#nature #horrorstories

April 23, 1948

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I don’t know his name, and I hated him.

We saw him as night settled onto the land, the last of the day’s light seeping into the horizon. I couldn’t make out his face, only his silhouette as he sat astride his charger. I could smell tobacco and gunpowder. Old, familiar smells.

Horse sweat and saddle leather drifted along the breeze, as did the all-too-familiar stench of death.

For a long moment, I watched him, hands on my Colts. Finally, just before the wind shifted, I heard him chuckle.

“I know you. Enjoy, Blood.”

As my name reached my ears, he touched his heels to the charger’s flanks and off the horse went.

“Something’s wrong,” Champ growled, and he, Marie, and Felicia darted away toward the rise the man had vacated.

No sooner had the dogs gone over the small hill than a great howl went up. It was a sound filled with desperation and sadness, and when I raced up the hill after them and looked down, I saw why.

The dogs stood around a large hole, one filled with an abomination.

Human and canine body parts were strewn about. Arms and legs stripped of flesh, chest cavities torn open, and hearts missing. Even in the dying light, I could make out the hideous marks of saws upon bones and joints.

Someone had harvested the humans and dogs.

And none of them were old.

I was gazing upon the wreckage of children and puppies.

Blazing hate churned my stomach and caused me to grind my teeth together.

“What in the hell is this?” The question was rhetorical, but Champ answered it nonetheless.

“Der Verschlinger,” Champ growled. “The Devourer. I did not think he was still alive.”

“He’s a monster,” Felicia stated her voice low. “The headhunters pay tribute to him, and in some places, they worship him as a god.”

“That a fact?” I asked, taking out the Colts and checking the loads.

“Aye, Duncan,” Champ answered.

“That’s fine.” I slid the Colts back into their holsters.

“Gods can die, too.”

#nature #horrorstories

April 24, 1948 

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We hunted him for hours. 

The dogs and I gave chase, but the god moved at a teasing pace. He kept just ahead of us, always making certain we could see him.  

I know he could have slipped away at any time, and he thought, I’m sure, that he was driving me mad. 

Quite the opposite. The longer he drew out the chase, and calmer I became. 

With a word from me, the dogs left, and I chased after the god on my own. Der Verschlinger laughed and called to me, told me I was a fool for hounding him. He made promises of a long and painful death, but only after I was run down into the ground.  

He didn’t know what was coming. 

His horse was skittish.  

A tree branch snapped ahead of him, and the horse jumped. Not the stalwart steed one expected a god to use as a mount. It gave me an idea, and I put it into effect a short time later. 

As we descended a small rise, I spotted a rough shelter and a trio of dogs.  

I knew it for what it was. 

Stopping, I drew both Colts and put two well placed shots on either side of the horse’s forelegs.  

The horse reared up, threw Der Vershclinger, and took off down the path.  

It was then Champ arrived. 

He and a score of other dogs descended upon the god and chased him into the shelter. They surrounded it and waited for me.  

I took off the rifle, made sure the knife was loose in its sheath, and drew both my Colts. With the heavy revolvers in my hands, I went into the shelter and found the god standing there, back against the wall. He glared at me, but his anger was nearly smothered by the fear in his eyes. 

“I’ll butcher you,” he swore.  

I shook my head. “Maybe some else, you might have, but not me. It’ll take a hell of a lot more than what you have to kill the likes of me.” 

“Let me go. You’ve no reason to hold me here.” 

I raised an eyebrow. “You left a pit full of children and puppies. I’d say that’s more than enough reason.” 

He started to argue, and I shot him in both knees. As he went down, I put two more slugs in his belly, another pair in his shoulders, and then two in each thigh. He collapsed to the ground, writing, and I put the guns away. 

It was time for knife work, and to add a god’s scalp to my bag. 

#nature #horrorstories 

April 22, 1948

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They swarmed out of the ground.

We’d been moving through a forest, the dogs ranging ahead and falling back as they were wont to do when they stopped close to a small rise.

A heartbeat later and the earth was thrown aside, revealing one of the finest hides I’d ever seen.

Men raced out of the revealed doorway, bringing their guns up as they came out. One of them called for my surrender, and the Colts answered.

I stood my ground, feet wide and the Colts thundering in my hands.

The first to die was the one who had wanted my submission. He, as far as I could tell, was the one in charge, and so he died with the top of his head missing.

His death caused the others to hesitate for a fraction of a second, and that was all I needed.

Those who tried to bring their weapons to bear went down with holes in their chests and their bellies. Those who tried to run were herded back by the dogs, all three of the canines deftly avoiding the haphazard, panicked firing of the would-be killers.

The men I saw as I gunned them down were soldiers.

But they weren’t skilled, and they were afraid.

As they should have been.

To their credit, not one of them tried to surrender, and they mastered their fear as they saw their bullets punch through my legs and stomach.

Realizing that their guns had little effect upon me, the last few decided upon a desperate bayonet charge as I reloaded the Colts.

The dogs raced forward, tripped up the men, and as the soldiers stumbled and tried to right themselves, I killed them all.

The dogs and I stood still, taking stock of the situation. Several of the men were wounded, and rather than waste any bullets, I picked up one of the rifles and gave the dying men the bayonet. Dirty work, to be sure, but practical.

In the still aftermath of the fight, I went from corpse to corpse, gutting them and pulling out the bits the dogs preferred.

I cleaned up as best I could, and I smiled. The sun was up, the day was warm, and the men were dead.

Humming to myself, I took out my skinning knife and harvested my scalps.

When I finished, the bag was heavy on my hip, and the bitter tang of blood hung in the air.

Yes. It was a good day.

#nature #horrorstories

April 21, 1948

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They shouldn’t have run.

The pair of men were headhunters, of that I was certain. Champ had sniffed them out, and he had excitedly added that there was a pair of dogs with the men.

Champ had no sooner relayed this information to me than the two men popped their heads up over a line of rocks, brought up their weapons and opened fire.

They were not fine shots.

They weren’t even good shots.

In fact, if they’d been my father’s sons, he would have taken a birch switch to their hides for such bad shooting.

I, on the other hand, didn’t mind at all.

I brought my rifle up to my shoulder, and when I did, the men ran.

That was a poor decision.

Champ and I gave chase, but no sooner had we reached halfway up the hill than the men cried out in dismay. Someone screamed, and then there was a lone shot followed by the howling of dogs.

When we reached the crest, there was a hell of a scene before us.

The two men had lost their footing and gone down a rough section of rock. One man’s head was split open like the fabled ripe melon, and the other’s legs were twisted almost backward beneath him. Bones protruded from his trousers, and it wasn’t much of a surprise to see the barrel of his rifle in his mouth. Most of his brains were blown out across the stones behind him.

Off to one side stood a pair of dogs. One black, one white, and both happier ‘n hell to see Champ. The trio raced around, baying and yipping and calling out to one another, and finally, with their tongues lolling and their tails wagging, I was introduced.  

Marie and Felicia were dogs Champ was well-familiar with, and he’d had a litter of pups with each. They were as close to family as he could get. The females, like Champ, knew of my kind and were pleased to learn they were more than welcome to travel with me.

As the dogs chatted and caught up, I went through the packs of the dead men and found a fair supply of jerky and dried corn. It wasn’t much, but it would help, as would the ammunition. I was running short on rounds for the Colts, and the rifle was almost dry.

The only thing the men didn’t have was tobacco.

That was a damned shame.

#nature #horrorstories

April 20, 1948

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Champ and I waited out the storm.

Since neither of us enjoyed being wet, and since the pheasant was good, we spent the rest of the day and all the night in the comfortable warmth of the cave.

I wasn’t surprised to learn he knew most of my story – it is remarkably similar across the various worlds and times – but he was most interesting to me.

All the dogs in this place could speak. It was a trait they were born with.

A fair portion of his race was free, a smattering had voluntarily aligned themselves with various groups of people, and there were even one or two packs that helped the trees hunt for fresh meat. There were others, though, who had been taken as pups and enslaved to the headhunters. Champ had come from this last group.

As dawn broke and the sun shined upon the sodden landscape, Champ and I emerged from the cave.

“You never said how you gained your freedom,” I stated, adjusting the sling of the rifle.

“Hm? Oh, well,” Champ chuckled, biting at a flee on his hindquarters. “My master had an accident.”

“Did he?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Seems he fell into a trap laid by another hunter.”

“And you didn’t?”

The dog grinned at me. “I’m smart enough not to step in traps. And not to warn any rotten son of a bitch who might.”

The wind shifted, and Champ raised his head. His grin widened, and he glanced at me. “Looking to add more scalps to your bag?”

“Of course.”

The dog led the way, and soon we reached the edge of a lake, and not far from us, I spotted a canoe. One man reclined at the stern while the other crouched in the bow, a rifle in his hand.

I slipped a Colt out of its holster and didn’t bother to muffle the sound of the hammer being drawn back. As both men turned to look at me, I shot each in the chest. They both died with looks of surprise on their face. The man in the bow tumbled into the lake as the sound of the shots rolled out over the water.

As I holstered the weapon, I let out a curse and shook my head.

“What?” Champ asked.

“I’ve got to get wet,” I explained, gesturing toward the canoe. “I want my scalps.”

With the dog’s laughter in my ears, I slogged out to the bodies and took my due.

#nature #horrorstories

April 19, 1948

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I’d been caught in a hard rain.

Shortly after I’d broken camp, the rain had started, coming in at a slant as the wind drove it across the land. Branches were snapped off older trees, and younger trees were torn up by the roots and cast into the air.

It was a hell of a way to start the day.

I fought for about an hour through the storm, hoping to come out the other side of it, but I finally gave it up for a lost cause. Instead, I looked for a place to hunker down, start a fire and wait the damned thing out.

On the edge of a bit of a glade, I found a rough cave set in a hillside. The remnants of a fire were against one wall, and there was plenty of room for me to set back and let myself dry off.

There was a fair bit of dried wood around, though not so much that I could start a raging fire. If I was smart, I could make the fire last the day.

I had no intention of being foolish.

I set flint to steel and soon had a fair bit of a fire going.

What I didn’t have was food. I’d been planning on doing a bit of hunting as I’d seen mallards the day before and heard them calling out to one another before I finished breaking my fast.

My stomach growled and reminded me it was empty, and I wondered – not for the first time – why it was I could take a bullet to the chest and heal within minutes, but I couldn’t stand missing a meal or two.

Movement outside the cave caught my eye, and I spotted a bird dog standing there, watching me. The poor thing was soaked to the skin, but when I called for it, the dog took to its heels.

With a sigh, I took out the tobacco I’d taken from the man I’d killed the day prior and set about packing his pipe. The damned thing smoked better than my own.

A few minutes later, the dog reappeared.

This time, he had a pheasant in his mouth.

He came into the cave, dropped the bird by the fire and sat down.

“Food for some warmth, Blood?” the dog asked.

“Aye, that sounds more than fair. What’s your name?”

“Champ,” he replied. “And I hate the rain.”

“That makes for two of us,” I agreed and picked up the bird.

As the rain and wind hammered the world, I plucked the fowl and smoked my pipe.

The day was getting better.

#nature #horrorstories

April 18, 1948

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He was a damned fine shot.

The bullet went clean through my chest and out my back, and I don’t mind saying it hurt like hell.

The impact sent me tumbling down a slight ridge, and that saved me a bit more pain, although the fall itself was nothing pleasant.

As I rolled to the bottom, limp as one shot through the chest ought to be, I heard the fading echo of the shot. When I reached the end of my unexpected journey, I sat up, spat blood and was thankful the bullet had gone through and through, painful as it was.

My bones and flesh stitched themselves back together as I crawled away, curving back towards where the shot must have come from. Each movement was a lesson in pain, and that pain cleared my head.

I couldn’t go after the bushwhacker angry.

Angry would get me hurt, and I might do something rash.

It had happened once or twice before.

I reached the spot where I thought he might have been, and when I angled myself up another small rise, I saw him.

He stood at the top, scoped rifle over his shoulder as he looked for my body. As he did so, I watched the man remove a pipe and a pouch of tobacco, and he packed the bowl slowly and methodically, as though he had all the time in the world.

When I crept up behind him, I slipped my knife from its sheath. With the weapon in my hand, I waited as he fished out his matches and let out a sigh.

“Where did that damned body fall?” he asked no one in particular.

“Here,” I whispered, and as the man turned around, his eyes wide with surprise, I drove my knife into his belly. The pipe fell from his mouth, and I caught it with my free hand, spilling nary a leaf of tobacco.

His hands wrapped around my wrist, and I twisted the blade. He let out a long, low groan and sank to the stones, and I went with him.

“You’re a headhunter,” I remarked.

The man nodded as his breath came in short, ragged gasps.

“I don’t bother with the heads. Just the scalps.”

I drew the knife from his belly, knocked the hat off his head, and sawed his scalp off while he begged for me to stop.

I didn’t listen.

Instead, I lit his pipe and smoked it while he died.

I’ve no love for bushwhacking bastards.

#nature #horrorstories

April 17, 1948

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The bag of scalps is heavier.

I’d been working my way along a road, trying to figure out how many more of the headhunters I could kill before it was time to go home. It was close to midday when I saw one of the bastards set up alongside the road with his dog and ready to bushwhack someone.

When I was close enough, I slid my rifle off my shoulder, eased a round into the chamber, and rested the stock on a tree limb. I waited a bit to see what would happen; as I did, I heard the man and the dog begin to speak.

“This is foolishness,” the dog growled.

“The hell it is,” the man responded. “Word is there’s a man in these parts. Scalp-taker.”

“He’s more than a man,” the dog replied with something akin to tiredness. “He’s a Blood. When will you get that through your thick head?”

“Huh, that’s funny. Who’re you bound to, mutt?”

“You,” the dog stated, and the venom in that word could have struck the man dead.

“Me,” the man chuckled. “Bound you are, through and through.”

“Aye,” the dog agreed. “’Til death do us part.”

“Don’t make it seem like we’re married, you piece of filth,” the man snapped and backhanded the dog, causing my finger to tighten on the trigger.

The wind shifted as the dog recovered himself. As it did, my scent was carried to the hound, and his tail thumped once in the dirt. Then, the dog eased himself to the ground, resting his muzzle on his paws.

“You ought not to have struck me,” the dog observed. “Wasn’t a wise thing to do.”

“I’ll do what I want when I want,” the man grumbled. “And when the time comes for me to put you down, I’ll make a stew out of your damned bones. The ones that talk taste the best.”

“So you people say,” the dog said. “I doubt you’ll get to taste me, though I might end up tasting you.”

“The hell’s that supposed to mean?”

“That you’re a fool. Isn’t he, Blood?”

I pulled the trigger and took off the top of the man’s head. His body slumped off to one side, and the dog stood up.

“Would you care to eat?” the dog inquired as I ejected the casing and picked it up.

“Not today. I’ve a few to kill.”

“More than a few. Enjoy your killing.”

I left the dog to his master’s brains and whistled as I walked.

#nature #horrorstories

April 15, 1948

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“If it talks, it tastes better.”

The voices brought my Colts into my hands. I eased the triggers back, and I waited.

It didn’t take long before I spotted a pair of men moving at a slow, methodical pace along a narrow game trail. They carried a pole between them, and from it hung a small bear. As I watched, I saw blood drip from the animal.

The bear was still alive.

“Should have killed it out in the field,” the man at the front stated.

“You know how it is,” the man at the back said, “the ones that talk if we field dress ‘em, the meat gets too tough. Best way is to bleed and dress ‘em right at camp.”

The man at the front glanced over his shoulder at the bear. “He’s young. Won’t be too gamey.”

“That’s a fact,” his companion nodded.

I’d seen and heard enough. Without showing myself, I called out, “Best to put the bear down and get on your way.”

The men came to a stop, and from where I was, I could see their knuckles tighten on their weapons.

“Don’t think so,” the man in the back asked. “We got ‘em fair and square. We’ll eat ‘em too. We’re willing to share. T’ain’t like we got ourselves a human.”

They were headhunters.

They were armed.

And they’d injured a talking bear.

All good reasons for them to die.

I stood up and kept my Colts leveled on them.

The men seemed surprised at the sight of the pistols.

“You’ll set the bear down nice and slow,” I told them, the guns unwavering in my hands. “Then you’ll drop your weapons and head back the way you came.”

The men grinned at me. The man at the fore called to his companion, “Looks like we’ll be eating better than we thought. And we’ll have a new head for the collection.”

The men were quick, dumping the bear and bringing their guns up in the space of a heartbeat.

But my Colts were drawn, and the hammers cocked.

The trees shook with the thunder of the revolvers, and the men staggered back, their own shots going wild as they went down.

I went to the bear and cut him loose, checking his wound as I did so. It was a bleeder, but nothing too serious. I bound the wound, took my scalps and went on my way.

When the bear woke, he’d be hungry.

At least there was fresh meat for him.

#nature #horrorstories

April 14, 1948

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“Blood!”

The sound of my name brought me up short and caused my hands to go for the Colts. I’d nearly drawn the heavy revolvers when I saw who had called to me.

A boy looked out from the window of a small home, and a woman sat on the ground outside the doorway, paused in her weaving.

I let the Colts drop back down and nodded a greeting.

“What word from Cross?” the boy asked.

“How do you know of Cross?” I could not keep the surprise from my voice.

The boy, instead of answering, giggled and ducked back into the darkness of his home.

The mother smiled at me and bade me sit.

Settling down across from her, she spoke in a soft, beautiful voice.

“We have been here since the beginning,” she explained.

“Of what?”

“Everything.”

I processed the information.

“We do not see many of your kind anymore,” she continued.

“People?” I asked.

She offered up a polite smile and a small laugh. “No. Bloods. We see more people than we wish to. Bloods, however, are truly rare. It’s been long and long since any found the passage on your home. Your cousin Patience Blood did, of course. She visited for great stretches of time. Is she still in Hell?”

The thought of it caused me to wince, but I nodded. “Aye, she is.”

“She’ll tire of it eventually,” the woman confided. “And when she does, she’ll wreak so much havoc the dead will be glad to see her go.”

I smiled at the image.

“Why are you here, Duncan Blood?” the woman asked. “Your place is the Hollow, not this.”

“This isn’t the Hollow? I thought it was?”

“No,” the woman replied, “though your mother has found her way in. She has come in to twist the minds of the headhunters, but she cannot twist them to her will.”

“Where will I find her?”

“You find only her voice here,” the woman informed me. “She is not so strong as to bring a body through.”

“Ah.”

The woman smiled. “You are free to hunt still, Duncan. The hunters have bred too much. I would be obliged if you could thin the herd for me.”

“That I’d be glad to do. They irritate me some.”

The woman leaned forward and winked. “You are not alone in this.”

I laughed and got to my feet. There were still scalps to take.

#nature #horrorstories

April 14, 1948

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They shot first.

The trio of headhunters stood a good distance from me on a solid piece of high ground. When the wind shifted, I could smell them for what they were. Their dogs, unlike their brethren from the day before, didn’t run away from them so much as they ran toward me. As the second of the two dogs came to heel by my side, I heard the unmistakable sound of hammers locking.

“Move, Blood,” one of the dogs growled. “Their better shots than you think.”

I took the dog at his word and dove behind a boulder as the riflemen opened fire.

Pulling my own rifle off my shoulder, I chambered a round, sighted along the barrel and waited a moment.

The men above me were good, but they were treating me as prey.

I was a hunter, and I’d been hunting men longer than they’d been alive.

The rifle bucked against my shoulder, and the first of the men dropped. One of the men hesitated, and the third man, wearing some sort of soft cap, barked an order at the other.

I put a round in the man’s head, and he and his cap went down.

The third man ran over the hill before I could get a shot off.

“He’ll run home to his mother,” one of the dogs stated. “Or, mayhaps he’ll run off to yours.”

“That won’t work out so well,” I observed.

The dogs chuckled, and we walked up the hill together. They sat down beside the bodies, and one of the dogs, who had a white and brown coat, asked, “Would you do us a kindness, Blood?”

“If I can.”

“We’ve a sister who slung her litter,” the dog continued. “She could do with some meat.”

“What would you like?”

“Innards, if’n you would,” the dog laughed.

With a nod, I took out my knife and field dressed both bodies. I tied the innards up in a dead man’s jacket and then wiped my hands off on the pants of another.

While the other dog took hold of the knotted end, the white and brown dog’s tail thumped enthusiastically.

“Know you the way?” he asked.

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Why not?”

“Because I aim to kill everyone I find.”

The dog laughed, offered me a quaint bow, and then trotted off alongside his friend.

I watched them for a moment and then headed off along the trail of the one who’d run.

#nature #horrorstories

April 13, 1948

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They seemed happy to see me.

That was a mistake.

The dogs knew who I was as soon as they laid eyes on me. The hackles raised upon their necks, and both dogs bolted.

They knew what was coming.

The father and his three sons, however, stood there, oblivious to the danger. They overestimated their abilities and most certainly underestimated my own.

That was fine.

I could smell blood on them. The heavy, copper tang, and I knew it wasn’t animal blood they’d stained their hands with earlier in the morning.

These were manhunters, and they thought they had a bit of sport in front of them.

They were well-dressed and well-mannered.

“Stranger,” the father called. “Would you sit with us?”

“No.”

They chuckled and glanced knowingly at one another.

“No?” the father asked. “Come now, it seems only right you join us since you scared away our dogs. You can sit with us until they return.”

“They’ll not come back, not so long as I’m here,” I told them.

The youngest of the sons laughed and asked, “Why is that?”

“They know who I am,” I answered. “Knew it when the wind shifted and brought my scent to them. They’re probably halfway to whatever you call home. Taken many heads this morning?”

My question caught them off guard, and their knowing looks were replaced by uncertainty.

“What do you mean by that?” the father asked.

“I’m no fool,” I said, “though I might look the part at times. I know what you are. Surprised you don’t know me. I’d wager you’re not in my mother’s employ, else you’d have opened fire by now.”

The hunters’ hands gripped their weapons tighter.

“No,” I smiled, “you’re just killers. But in the end, that’s alright too. We’ve all the butcher’s bill to pay. Even you. So, I’ll ask you this. Have you brought silver for your fare?”

“Fare?” the father asked, his voice tight. “Where in the hell do you think we’re going?”

I drew both Colts before the hunters could bring their weapons to bear. My revolvers roared in the forest, and I killed them all.

Ignoring the heat of the casings, I reloaded my pistols and holstered them. There’d be more headhunters of that, I was certain. Whistling, I drew my knife.

It was time to scalp the bastards.

#nature #horrorstories

April 12, 1948

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Well, that wasn’t nice.

The forest had given way to an open field, and I’d no sooner gotten into it before someone dropped an artillery round.

I heard it coming in, and, having an abundant familiarity with war, I dove for cover.

The round impacted a short distance ahead of me and shook the earth. As dirt fountained and rained back down, I waited to see if I was the target or if someone was merely shooting for the hell of it.

After a few minutes, I got to my feet, brushed myself off and continued on my way.

It was less than a minute before another round was sent my way. With an angry curse, I threw myself into the nearest dip of land.

This shot landed closer, though on the opposite side of the first.

The bastard was bracketing me.

I shrugged off the rifle, chambered a round and tried my damnedest to see where the fire was coming from.

I had no luck.

There was only one way to try and pinpoint where the cannon was, and that required me to present myself as a target once more.

I didn’t think the gunner would get me, and even if he did get close, I’d probably get some shrapnel.

But I didn’t want to spend the night waiting for my body to push metal out as I stitched up clothes that were more patches than whole cloth.

Muttering under my breath, I got to my feet and started once more on my path. When the shot went off, I was looking. Far off to the right, I saw the ground flutter, the distinct sign of camouflage reacting to a cannon’s recoil.

Again I threw myself down, but I kept my eyes locked on the location of the gun. As the earth shuddered beneath me, I lined up my weapon and let off four quick shots.

The response was instantaneous.

The cannon thundered, and rounds slammed into the earth. Above the ringing of my ears, I heard the cries of men and horses, and when I finally got to my feet, I saw a team of horses bolting with their cannon and their crew.

I let off a few more shots, but the distance was too great.

Part of me was tempted to follow and kill every one of them, but I’d still not found the person collecting scalps or putting a knife in my mother.

Both were far more important than the cannon and her crew.

#nature #horrorstories

April 11, 1948

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The world was silent.

No birds and no animals. Not even the wind stirred the leaves upon the branches.

Had I not heard the beating of my heart and my boots upon the ground, I might have believed death had finally taken me.

But I did hear those things and, near the end of day, I heard her.

“I found your father.”

The Colts were in my hands before I could scarce take another breath. I peered around the forest, up into the trees, and down to the ground.

There was no sign of her.

“Not the right father, of course,” my mother continued, “but anyone will do. And this one, he was nearly as tough as your father.”

“Come out,” I said. “Sit a spell. We’ll have a bit of a chat.”

Her cold, brittle laugh filled the air and stung my ears. “Last time I tried to speak with you, you gutted me on the table.”

“I’ve no table,” I reminded her. “Although there’s a bare spot or two that should work fine. We can pick up where we left off.”

“I’d rather not.”

“Then why’ve you come?” I asked.

Her voice came from multiple directions, leaving me unaware as to where she truly stood. If she stood at all.

“I thought,” she said, her voice growing grim and vile, “you might like to see your father’s bones. I caught him unaware. And when I spoke, he was too slow. He had great big guns like yours, but he wasn’t nearly as quick with them. Not nearly at all.”

“Where is he?”

“You’ll see him soon enough.” My mother laughed. “You would have seen the bones and moved on. Now, at least, you’ll see them and know them for what they are.”

“Come with me,” I said through clenched teeth. “Let us speak with my father.”

She did not answer.

Instead, birdsong filled the air, as did the anxious chittering of squirrels.

With Colts still in hand, I made my way along the path, and true to her word, there were bones on the side of it. Whether they were my father’s or not, I do not know.

I did not stop to bury them.

He was dead whether they were buried or not.

#nature #horrorstories

April 10, 1948

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There was no peace.

This tree, unlike the last I’d spoken with, had no sympathy for the plight of others. The tree was hungry, and I was food.

Or so it thought.

The tree was damned big, and I don’t recall having seen its like before. But there it was, as big as life, and it saw in me a meal.

I took little time to try and dissuade it of that idea.

I tried to skirt ‘round to one side, but thick, powerful roots punched up through the earth and intertwined with deadfall and saplings to prevent my passage. No matter which way I turned, the tree locked me in.

I suspect it was having some fun, much like a cat toying with its prey.

I wasn’t something to be toyed with.

The tree wanted me to approach it, and so I did. I drew my Colts, and the tree let out a bellowing laugh.

“I know what you are,” the tree started, and I shot it.

Roots and branches snapped as the tree cursed me in a language I didn’t know.

The tree was old, and it was fat. I ducked, smashing branches and clutching roots as I emptied the Colts into it. The tree’s powerful scream of anger and pain made blood pour from my nose and leak from my ears.

I reloaded the pistols and watched with satisfaction as dark sap seeped from the tree’s body.

“How dare you?!” the tree screeched, and I fired all twelve rounds into the tree again.

The branches shuddered, and the roots smashed down to the earth, deadfall leaping into the air from the impact.

Passages appeared in the living wall behind me.

I reloaded the Colts, dropped them into their holsters and pulled the rifle off my shoulder.

“Leave,” the tree gasped. “Go.”

I brought the rifle up to my shoulder, sighted in on the cluster of leaking holes left by the Colts, and I fired again, and again, and again.

With the last shot, the tree’s heartwood shattered, and the sap sprayed out for a split second before dying down to a trickle.

Trees are difficult to kill. My father taught me this when I was just a boy. The speaking trees are the strongest, the most determined.

But he taught me how to kill them all the same.

Killing, my father always said, was a chore and nothing to shirk from.

So I don’t.

#nature #horrorstories

April 9, 1948

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I recognized the house.

The sight of the structure caused my feet to stop and my heart to ache. I’d last seen the building in 1877. A branch of the Coffin family had lived there for several decades, and I remembered, quite clearly, setting the bricks in place and building the house for them.

They’d been dear friends, and when they vanished, I’d been heartbroken.

Miles and Ruth Coffin, four children and a pair of dogs.

A hole, and nothing more, could be found on their property.

I searched for over a week and delved into the Hollow to see if there wasn’t any trace of them.

There’d been nothing.

And here the building was. Destroyed, like the family.

Around me, the trees rustled, and a large tree off to the right shook itself awake. I dropped my hands to the Colts, and the tree spoke.

“There’s no need of that, Blood,” the tree said. “We’ve no quarrel with you. There’s been word spread by some of the fey of what you’ve been up to. Good riddance, too.”

I let go of the Colts.

“You look old enough to remember the house,” I ventured.

“Aye, Blood, I remember it well enough. Like your proverbial manna from heaven. We were starving. A rot had taken hold of the strongest of us, and soon, we were like to die. Animal flesh is not nearly as wholesome as a man’s. We were praying, a thing not often done with my kind, and our prayers were answered. The house arrived,” the tree murmured.

Around me, the younger trees shook with excitement at the recitation of what appeared to be a familiar and oft-told tale.

“We did not slay them,” the tree continued, “despite our hunger. There were babes, and to take a parent was to condemn them to death. My own parent would sooner have torn up its roots than do that. Still, we watched them for three days. At the end of the third day, we heard gunshots, and the dogs bolted from the house. I was sent in since, as a sapling, I could still move about. I found the bodies together. I pulled them down, and we ate.”

“And did you all survive?” I asked, glancing around.

“No. For others, the food was too little too late. But I wanted to live.”

“Sometimes,” I glanced at the house, “that’s all you need.”

#nature #horrorstories

April 8, 1948

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They were decoys.

I’d been following a narrow river for the better part of the day when I caught sight of a trio of men. They were on the righthand bank, two sitting down and the third leaning against a tree for which I had no name. I could hear birds in the trees, animals in the undergrowth, and the gentle whisper of the water.

But nothing from the men.

They were silent, and they were still.

Their clothes were a good forty years out of fashion, and while this might not normally strike me as odd in an odd place, today it did.

Something was wrong.

I moved to the right so I would pass the men with a wide berth, and as I drew nearer to them, they turned to face me.

Their motions were stiff and unnatural, as though they were mechanical in nature, and it had been far too long since their gears and pulleys were oiled.

Dead eyes rested in their sockets, and tired cheeks pulled weary smiles up onto their faces.

A man in a straw hat opened his mouth to speak, and the trees struck.

It is my good fortune that there were only a few trees, as well as my good fortune to be an obstinate son of a bitch. Literally.

The roots snapped out of the ground, trailing earth and worms behind them as they reached for me.

As they did so, I drew the Colts and opened fire.

The roots recoiled, many of them severed and seeping a black ichor. The ground shook beneath my feet, and the trees, four of them, tried to move toward me.

I moved farther away, eyes darting to each and every tree I saw, assuring myself that they were not waiting to trap me.

Several more roots lanced out, but these suffered the same fate as the first.

In a moment, the echoes of the shots were fading, and the severed tips of the roots lay on the ground. The injured roots twisted and coiled like cobras, waiting to see if they could strike.

They could try.

After a few minutes, the roots retreated, and the trees sulked. I reloaded the Colts, slid them into the holsters and took the rifle off my shoulder.

I shot each of the decoys in the head, destroying them.

The trees shuddered, and I turned and left them there.

Had I kindling, I would have burned the bastards down.

#nature #horrorstories

April 7, 1948

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They thought I couldn’t see them.

They hung from the trees, looking like nothing more than moss and vines. They hid in the darkness of structures long abandoned and offered as sacrifice to the forest.

I was a meal and nothing more as far as they were concerned.

But they didn’t know who I was or what I had been created to do.

I took the rifle off, chambered a round and lay it on the ground in front of my feet. In silence, I widened my stance, drew both my Colts and cocked the hammers back.

I looked into their hiding places, and I spoke in a loud and clear voice. I wanted there to be no misunderstanding between us.

“When I was a child of four, a goblin spat in my eyes and wiped the veil that separates our two worlds,” I told them. “I’ve seen you ever since, and I’ve no fear of your kind. No particular like either. You’ve a choice, and I suggest you choose well. Let me pass, or I’ll butcher every last one of you.”

I spat on the ground and grinned at them.

“There’ll be no quarter asked,” I stated, “and there sure as hell won’t be any given.”

The vegetation came to life as they launched themselves toward me.

Long and thin, short and squat, goblins of every kind. They carried rough weapons and wore cast-off clothes. Their skin was mottled and their eyes wild. I could smell their stink and the bloodlust that poured from them.

And I smiled as I brought the Colts up.

The pistols roared, the heavy revolvers a beauty and a comfort in my hands. The fey exploded beneath the onslaught, slugs tearing through them and sending them crashing to the earth.

Iron and hate, centuries of practice.

I couldn’t miss at this range, and when the Colts went dry, I dropped them in their holsters and snatched up the rifle.

Five more shots and the rifle was nothing more than a club, and so I used it as such.

The fey tried to flee, and I chased them down, beating them down into the earth, their bones crunching beneath my feet, their blood spraying across my face.

A few tried to surrender, and I put the boots to them.

My word is good.

No quarter asked and no quarter given.

#nature #horrorstories

April 6, 1948

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“You’re new.”

The voice stopped me, and I dropped my hands to the butts of my Colts.

The voice laughed. “Those won’t do a damned thing to me, Blood.”

I couldn’t pinpoint where the voice came from. The words wrapped and twisted around me, and my hands tightened on the guns.

“You know my name,” I stated.

“I’ve known you a long time. All sorts of versions of you,” the voice replied. “Some good. Some bad. All hell on wheels. That’s part of you all the way down to the curious soul of yours, Blood.”

I relaxed my grip. “How many of me?”

“How do you count the ants?” the voice laughed. “You don’t. I don’t count Bloods either.”

I smiled. “Because we’re like ants.”

“Interesting ants,” the voice added.

“Where are you?” I asked, letting go of the Colts and folding my arms over my chest.

“All around,” the voice sighed. “I travel through the trees. Along their roots and across their branches. I’m as fixed as they are, though, and can only go as far as they grow. Some years, that’s quite a bit. Others, well, others I’m kept within certain limits.”

“You’re a spirit?”

“I am now.”

I expected bitterness in the voice, but there was nothing more than acceptance.

“I was a man once. Longer ago than I care to remember. I had a wife and children, a farm and good things,” the voice sighed. “But I came here to seek my fortune. There was word that through a tunnel, there was more land, and I was greedy. My avarice drove me forward, and it took all I had away from me. I died alone here, and there was naught I could do about it.”

“Is there something I can do?” I asked.

There was a long pause, and when the voice spoke, it was with a tone of astonishment.

“A merciful Blood,” the voice whispered. “I’d not thought to see one of you merciful. Strange days indeed. Yes. Look upon my bones.”

The leaves of the trees rustled, and I followed the sound to his remains.

Nothing more than his skull and a few long bones. They were yellow with age, and they looked forlorn upon the soft leaves.

“Do you want to be buried?” I asked.

“No, Blood. Merely to be remembered.”

“Tell me your name,” I said, and he did.

Tom Willow.

Long dead, but long I’ll remember.

#nature #horrorstories

April 5, 1948

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The screams are all too common here.

I have heard a wide variety of screams within the depths of this place. Some have been human, and some have belonged to animals.

The trees are hungry here, and I do my best to avoid them when I can.

Today, as I traveled along a narrow trail, I heard a scream from ahead. I quickened my pace, kept an eye out for waiting roots and low hanging branches, and made my way toward the scream, which ended as suddenly as it had begun.

As I neared the place I thought the sound had originated from; I heard a great and heavy rustling as though the trees were being shaken.

In a moment, I saw why.

Ahead of me, in the strange and curious light of the day, I saw a body. It hung a good thirty feet in the air, a long, single whiplike branch wrapped around the dead man’s throat.

From where I stood, I watched as more branches slid down, coiling around the body. Casually, almost lovingly, the tree stripped the corpse. Clothing fluttered down to a pile near the base of the tree. When the body was bare, its grotesque nakedness on display for the hunger of the forest, the tree began to feed.

Branches burrowed into the flesh, and the body shook. The branches pulsed, expanding and retracting as the mass of the corpse was reduced. Soon, the victim was nothing more than a husk of skin and bones. The branches wrapped around it, pulling the corpse into a fetal position before finally bringing it into the upper canopy of the tree.

As the branches parted, I caught sight of dozens of similar fetal orbs.

I drew my knife and removed a single match from my pack.

I started along the trail again, and when I drew abreast of the pile of clothing, I felt a branch caress the back of my neck.

I dropped into a crouch and slashed the branch with my blade. While the branch snapped up and away, I popped the matchhead with the nail of my thumb and dropped the burning match onto the pile of clothes and dried leaves.

Flames sprouted up, and I moved away from the tree.

Its branches tried to slap out the fire, but it was too late.

The flames devoured the tree as easily as the tree had devoured the corpse.

#nature #horrorstories

April 4, 1948

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I’m not fond of these trees.

I spent a fair amount of time in the Pacific during the last war, chasing after Japanese troops as they starved to death in the jungles once their commanders had abandoned them. Trees had guided me then, as had some of the fey of those islands. Most times, nature and her children were kind to me, or at least neutral in the war.

These trees, they were not.

They loitered about the paths and the old metal railings. Moss hung from them, and a curious stink reminiscent of rotting flesh filled the dank air.

I came to a stop in a strange place, deciding it was time for a bit to eat and perhaps, if I was lucky, a bowl from my pipe.

Luck wasn’t with me.

I’d no sooner settled down on the center of the path, the rifle at the ready when the trees made their move.

Roots slipped free of the leaf debris on the forest floor, and moss shuddered as branches reached down.

I think the trees were expecting me to panic. I suspect that their mere movement had sent men running before.

“Touch me, and I’ll rip you out until your taproots see the sun,” I told them, adding tobacco to my pipe.

The roots and the branches stopped.

From a distant shadow, a single voice spoke.

“Who are you?”

“Never you mind,” I replied, taking out my matches. “Just understand what I said was no idle threat.”

Several of the branches quivered and moved closer.

I put my pipe away and got to my feet, slinging the rifle over my shoulder.

A root raised its head like a water snake and launched itself at me. I caught it, wrapped the damned thing around my forearm and started to pull.

One of the nearby trees, no thicker than my forearm, shivered, and I pulled harder.

Other roots paused in their advance as though the gathered trees were biding their time, waiting to see if my threat was good.

It was.

My own muscles tore, and my flesh was shredded as I pulled the god-damned tree out by its roots and then cast it, squirming, to the ground.

With my body stitching itself back together, I kicked the dying tree and began my journey once more.

I’d find a spot to smoke where there weren’t any damnable trees.

#nature #horrorstories

April 3, 1948

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Gas doesn’t work.

Oh, sure, it burns like hell, and it leaves me in a right foul mood.

But it doesn’t put me down. It didn’t in the Great War, and it sure as hell wasn’t going to now.

No, I was too angry for that.

The spring for the trap was well-hid. Had the trap not been old, I would have suffered far more than I did.

I heard the coiled spring click and leapt back as the gas canister launched into the air only a few feet from where my next step should have been. As the canister spun lazily in the morning sun, the metal gleamed, and then the gas hissed out.

A great, billowing cloud of yellowish-brown smoke spewed into the forest, and I dropped to a crouch as I drew my Colts.

I didn’t think the hunter I was after would be foolish to use so simple a trap, but someone did.

And they were going to pay.

Holding back coughs as mucus poured from my nose and my eyes watered, I waited.

The sound of someone muttering reached my ears, and a moment later, I saw a soldier making his way through the gas. He had a rifle at the ready and a gas mask to protect himself.

“Probably just an animal,” he said to no one I could see. There was a pause as he came to a stop. “Well, it’s not my damned fault Johann sets the triggers the way he does. Now we’re out another damned grenade.”

The soldier tilted his head to one side, and I realized he was using some sort of radio within the mask. If I used the Colts, the person on the other end would hear them.

I didn’t want anyone to know I was coming. Not yet.

I put the Colts back into their holsters and drew my knife. The soldier turned away from me, his shoulders and rifle sagging.

“Yeah, I’ll reset the damned thing,” the soldier grumbled.

When he did, I slipped the blade in between his ribs. There was a gasp as the mask caught his last breath, and then the man dropped to the ground with a thud.

I stripped him of his rifle and his ammunition, dragged his body off the trail and removed the gas mask. I found the radio he was using, but the wires ran from his throat to just behind his ear.

I tore the wires out, cast them aside, and chambered a round into the rifle.

There was still hunting to do.

#nature #horrorstories

April 2, 1948

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The tower had an unwelcome surprise.

I dared not leave the area around the pool, not if I wanted to find out who had been murdered and eaten and – more importantly – what had done it.

I spent a sleepless night beneath the bows of a tree that didn’t particularly care for my company. It spent the better part of the evening complaining and muttering about not having had a decent meal. Finally, just to get it to stop its bellyaching, I took the feet out of the shoes and fed them to the tree.

Begrudgingly, the tree quieted down, and I was able to at least let my body, if not my mind, rest.

When the sun came up in the morning, I was ready to go, and the tree was happy to see me leave.

There are few trees that I’ve had an urge to burn, but this was definitely one of them.

The dead woman’s shoes had a distinctive tread, and so I backtracked her trail for several hours until I came to a tower standing in the middle of this new forest. From where I stood on a slight rise, I could see numbers marching up the right-hand side. At the top, there was debris and wood.

The woman’s trail came from the tower, and so I went down.

When I reached the structure, I found an iron ladder set into the side. I climbed the ladder to the top of the tower, and once there, I saw the unknown woman had moved aside some of the debris.

The sun shined down and illuminated the interior of the tower.

I was impressed.

Someone had been busy.

Dozens of heads stared up at me. Most were rotting and well past recognition. There were a few, those closest to the top, which had a fair amount of meat and definition.

I recognized one of them.

Old Tom Landry. He’d gone missing the month before while working on his tractor.

He hadn’t been anywhere near the Hollow, which meant something was coming off my land to hunt people in my town.

That was something I couldn’t abide by.

I pushed the cover back and climbed down the tower.

I don’t know if the woman had been dragged out of my Cross, but I knew the hunter was near its trophies.

It would make the hunter easy to find.

I loosened the Colts in their holsters and went looking for a path.

I had a head to collect.

#nature #horrorstories.

April 1, 1948

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The screams filled the forest.

I’d been pruning back some of the older apple trees at the far end of the orchard when the screams brought me up short. The noise took myself and the trees by surprise, and as I raced toward the sound, the dryads raced ahead of me, leaping from tree to tree, traveling by root and by branch.

Soon, I reached a section of my land I’d not set foot in for close to a century, and the temperature plummeted. No longer was I in the brisk, cool air of an April morning.

The temperature was closer to that of February, despite the lack of frost on the ground.

One of the dryads sprang from an old oak, and I skidded to a stop on the old leaves.

Her eyes were wide, her bark-like skin pale with fear. The long willow strands that served as her hair whipped about her face.

“Something is wrong, Blood,” she whispered and pointed farther in. “Something is terrible. We will go no closer.”

I’d seen dryads face down bears and men with fire.

I was morbidly curious as to what might set them back on their heels.

“Straight on?” I asked.

She gave a single nod and stepped out of my way.

I hurried along the slim path as it descended into a gulley, and I found myself looking upon a small tunnel made of stone and cement. A date was stamped into the material.

1823.

I had no memory of the place. Nor of ever having built it.

A wail rolled out of the opening.

I plunged down into the water, scattering a school of fish, and walked through the cold water into the darkness of the tunnel. The sound of my splashing echoed off the walls, and I saw a dim light at the far end. As I drew closer to it, bits of flesh and clothing drifted past me. Finally, a wide section of scalp – the hair blonde and bloodied – sailed past, and then I was through the tunnel.

I found myself in a pool similar to the one I’d just left. But the date stamped above it read 1832 instead of 1823, and as I turned to get my bearings, I realized the sun was wrong. It was a tad too bright and coming from the wrong direction.

On the shore near me lay flayed bones and a pair of women’s shoes, the feet still in them.

It was a hell of a way to start the month.

#nature #horrorstories.

Hunting Mother Day 31

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He was an interruption.

The man stood, air rushing in and out of the wreckage of his face. Beyond him lay the path home, and I was ill-tempered at being delayed. As I came to a stop before him, he reached behind his back and retrieved a long, bone-handle skinning knife.

When he spoke, his words were low and long, the syllables slipping away from him but clear enough to understand.

“You can’t go home, Blood.”

I’ve an issue with pronouncements. Especially when they involve me.

“You’d best step aside,” I told him, dropping my hands to the butts of the Colts. “I plan on having coffee in my own parlor tonight.”

The man laughed and shook his head. “I’ve come to collect your tongue. Your mother’s request.”

“Huh.”

“You are not the first Blood I’ve dealt with,” he told me, shifting the knife from one hand to the other, the movements lazy and casual.

“That how your face got so pretty?” I inquired.

If he could have sneered, he would have. “A lucky shot. I took his tongue. And the tongues of those before him as well.”

“And you aim to take mine as a gift for my mother.”

He nodded and sank into a fighting crouch. “I am quicker than you can ever hope, Blood.”

“Maybe you are.”

I drew both Colts and fired from the hip as he sprang toward me.

I wasn’t aiming at his face or his chest.

Instead, I shot for the hands. His skill with a blade was obvious, and I suspected he might try to switch the knife from one hand to the other in mid-leap.

One slug tore his left hand off at the wrist, the other shattered the knife, sending steel spinning into his chest and his ruined mouth.

He gagged on his own blood as he fell backward and to the side, trying to cradle his damaged arm to his chest.

There was no point.

I shot him in both ankles and then both knees. The pain pinned him to the ground, his shattered joints denying him the ability to flee.

I stepped closer as he held up his good hand, blood spurting from the left wrist. He muttered a word vaguely similar to mercy.

But I had none.

I aimed at his belly and put two more rounds in his guts. Then, as he writhed on the ground, I sat down.

I had plenty of time to watch him die.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 30

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I found the path home.

I could smell my Cross on the air. A mixture of the sea, apples, and violence.

I stopped in the center of the path, took out my pipe and packed it with a celebratory grin.

My grin didn’t last long.

I’d no sooner lit the tobacco and gotten a fine smoke from it when I heard a soft scuffle of shoe upon dirt. Looking up, a chill raced through me.

A short distance away, a child stood upon the path.

His clothes were strange, but that was no surprise. I’d seen all manner of dress on my travels. But it wasn’t his apparel that caught my attention.

No, it was the simple fact that I was looking at myself.

In the boy’s left hand, he held a dinner pail. I suppose it could have carried his dinner in it or any other item the boy might have found necessary to pack, but it worried me some. Something dark dripped from it and stained the dirt.

“Ahoy,” I called.

The child shifted his pail from one hand to the other and replied in a wary tone, “Ahoy.”

“Have I permission to pass?” I asked.

A smile played across the child’s face for a moment. “If you like.”

I approached him warily, knowing full well what I could do as a child.

As I neared him, I saw a long knife tucked into his belt, and his face had a fine spray of drying blood upon it. He stood still, his hand never straying towards the hilt of his blade.

“Your dinner seems to be leaking,” I informed him.

“My trophy,” the child corrected. “Not my dinner.”

“Trophy?”

He nodded. “Would you like to see it?”

“Aye, that I would,” I replied and stepped a bit from him. I rested one hand upon the butt of a Colt.

The child squatted down, set the pail in front of him, and undid the latch. When he opened it, my mother’s face stared up at me.

Her eyes were wide, and her mouth was twisted into a howl. The flesh of the neck was jagged and raw from where the boy had sawed it off.

“Have you many of these?” I asked.

“Eight,” he said with pride. His face grew grim. “I hate her.”

“Our mother is a foul beast.”

The child smiled. “I hate her.”

I winked, relit my pipe, and we went our separate ways.

It was good to know another hunter wandered the wilds of the Hollow.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 29

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I heard laughter among the dead.

I’d been following my nose for a good fifteen minutes when I heard the laughter of children. Being in a cemetery, the sound made me pause for a moment. Laughter in a cemetery in the Hollow is generally something to be wary of.

Then, of course, there’s always the exception that proves the rule.

This was the latter.

I came upon a family sitting within the confines of a fenced-in plot. They had a small table well decorated with food and good, fine food at that. My mouth watered, and my stomach growled, a sound that alerted the diners to my presence.

The laughter trailed off as all five turned their attention to me, and I saw wariness in their eyes. These weren’t fools, and I liked them for it.

I folded my arms over my chest, keeping my hands well away from the Colts. This seemed to relax the people a bit, and I nodded by way of greeting.

“How is this place?” I asked.

“Safe enough,” the oldest woman replied. She adjusted her shawl. “So long as we remain in here.”

“The plot?” I asked.

As one, the residents nodded.

“You don’t leave?” I inquired.

“Not unless forced to,” the oldest woman stated.

“And father will not allow that to happen,” the youngest child added from another woman’s lap.

I glanced at the headstone and the plague upon it, but I couldn’t decipher the language.

“My son keeps us well fed,” the oldest woman informed me. “And when we must, we hide.”

I went to ask another question, but something nearby spooked them, and they vanished before me.

A look around revealed a tired old hound who sat down beside me. “They’ve been dead close to ninety years, Blood. It’s the great-grandson who comes now and lays out their food. Makes sure it’s fresh each day. Someday, they might understand they’ve passed. But no one’s forcing it. Will you?”

I shook my head. “I make enough ghosts.”

“Aye, that you do.”

“Will they be back?” I asked.

The dog nodded, scratched behind one ear with tired grace, and let out a sigh. “Soon as I leave, they will. I bother them, though I know not why.”

I gave the dog a pat on the head and left.

It was not my place to steal the food of the dead.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 28

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The dogs howled.

I heard them from a fair distance, and then I heard the gunshots.

There is little that moves me quicker than the sound of crying children and howling dogs.

I broke into a run and was glad I did. As I cleared a rise, I saw smoke rising from chimneys and a church tower with a bell in it. Below that, in a small, natural amphitheater, men and dog times were gathered.

Some of the dogs pulled at their traces, trying to escape. Others lay or sat, despondent.

The men walked among them, pistols in hand and gunning down the lead dogs.

When the wind shifted, the dogs tilted their heads as one and let out one long, mournful cry.

My name came from the throats of dozens of dogs, and the Colts came out of their holsters.

The men turned toward me, expressions of surprise as they stood in the snow. One of them had enough wits to try and bring his pistol up.

He was too slow and my hate too fast.

The Colts roared, and the men went down.

The bell rang in the tower as I drew my Bowie knife and cut dogs free.

“Reload, Blood!” a husky ordered. “We’ll free our kin.”

I did as the dog bade and reloaded my Colts.

Men and women emerged from the houses, children as well.

All were armed with pistols and swords, axes and knives.

Fear and anger were stamped on their faces, but they lacked the wits to run. And run they should have.

I moved forward, boots punching through the snow as the freed dogs tore through traces. I looked for those men and women armed with rifles, and I gunned them down. Bullets flew past me, and several found their marks in my limbs, but I’ve been shot more times than I can remember, and it takes a bit more than a slug to put me down.

A great deal more.

Some of the dogs were hit, others raced past me, attacking their tormenters and dragging them down.

In the end, it was the fear of the dogs that sent the people running.

Soon, I alone stood with the dogs. I reloaded the Colts once more, and the husky which first spoke nodded.

In the stillness of the day, I wiped the tears from my eyes, walked among those dogs with fatal wounds and gave them the final mercy.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 27

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The wind gave voice to the dead.

I found myself in a cemetery that stretched for as far as I could see. No matter how high the hill I climbed, the graves continued into the distance.

Manicured grounds and winding roads, deep lakes and shallow pools. All of it beautiful, and none of it for the living.

I was a trespasser, and I felt it deeply with every step I took.

I’d been walking for the better part of an hour when the wind picked up. As it coursed among the stones, I heard them.

The dead.

Mine and those I had no claim to.

I could pick out voices, individual words. At times, I heard my name.

It was cursed and praised, damned and longed for.

None of it was easy to hear.

What was worse, however, was they didn’t know I was there.

I heard Adelaide’s voice, and her sweet words hooked into my heart and pulled. It was an effort to keep my feet on the path and not go looking for her grave.

A short time later, I heard my sister and my brother, the pair of them laughing and singing as we were wont to do on Sundays when the rest of the town was at meeting.

I did not hear my father’s voice, and for that, I am thankful.

It meant – I hoped – that he was alive still, in the Hollow, despite our centuries apart.

A short while before nightfall, I realized I’d not make it out of the cemetery before dark, which meant I’d need to find a good place to hunker down for the night.

It came a short time later and in the form of a crypt with the name ‘Lee’ carved in bas relief upon the lintel. The door, fashioned from hardwood and bound with iron, was secured with a padlock and one which looked sturdy enough to keep back the dead.

I settled down, put my back to the wood, and took out my pipe.

In the growing darkness, I smoked and listened for the familiar amongst the strange.

This time, it came from the crypt behind me. A soft, sweet voice singing an Irish lay I’d heard during the Great War.

It brought up memories both painful and joyous and carried me back to years gone by.

I remembered my soldiers and our dogs and the brotherhood we shared.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 26

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“They won’t let you leave.”

The voice stopped me.

Turning, I looked into the flowering trees I’d been passing by only a moment before.

A young woman stood a short distance away, clad in a long dress and holding onto one of the branches. Had I not heard her voice, I would not have known her as a version of my mother.

I spat on the ground and slipped my rucksack off one shoulder, allowing the pack to swing round and hang in front of me. I undid the clasp on the front as I spoke.

“What makes you think so?” I asked.

“The trees listen to me,” she said after a moment. “Everything does. Well, everything does now.”

“Didn’t before?”

“You know better,” she snapped. “My own Duncan was wretched. I drowned him in his tub when he was four.”

“Well, you’re a peach of a mother then, aren’t you.” I slipped my hand into the rucksack, found the damp bit of cloth I was looking for, and held onto it. “I’m going to kill you in a moment.”

She let out a laugh and shook her head. “I have the trees, Duncan Blood. My trees.”

I saw her squeeze the branch she held onto, and the orchard shivered from the tips of their branches to the depths of their roots, the ground rumbling beneath my feet.

“Your trees?”

She nodded.

“That a fact?”

My mother glared at me. “You’ll find out soon enough.”

I drew my hand out of the rucksack and held the prize up for her to see.

“A sapling?” she laughed. “And what will you do with that?”

Squatting down, I scooped out a bit of earth and set the sapling with its protective wet cloth around its gentle roots into the fresh ground. White tendrils pierced the fabric and burrowed into the earth.

The flowering trees stiffened.

“What?” my mother began, but no sooner had she spoken than the flowering trees acted.

Roots erupted from the ground, piercing her feet and legs, curling through the dress as it darkened with blood. Branches lashed out and took hold of her arms and head.

My mother screamed and howled, raging against her sudden imprisonment and pain.

“The trees have no master,” I informed her.

She tried to speak, but the branches and the roots pulled in opposite directions.

A heartbeat later, my mother fed the trees.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 25

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They laughed at me.

I caught sight of the poles and used them as landmarks as I made my way through the low, rolling hills stretching towards the mountains in the distance. I’d been in the Hollow for twenty-five days, and it was time to start looking for a way home. Being trapped in the Hollow was rarely enjoyable, and this trip was similar in that regard.

The distant mountains appeared somewhat familiar, and I had high hope of finding a doorway or some such once I reached them.

There was, of course, the small problem of making it to them without engaging in some sort of fight. I wasn’t worried about my chances, but I was a trifle bit concerned with spending any more time than absolutely necessary in the damned place.

As I moved along, I heard birdsong and insects I was unfamiliar with. They were pleasant voices, a cheerful backdrop to the horror of the previous three and a half weeks.

When I got closer to the poles, I saw the remains of a crate attached to one and one in its entirety attached to the other. It was then that the wind shifted.

 Laughter broke out, and it came from the poles.

I let my hands drop to the smooth comfort of the Colts and made my way forward.

“Another Blood!” a voice declared, and a mad, rolling laugh followed.

From the broken crate came a weaker but no less insane voice.

“Blood does for Blood. Mother does in son, son does in mother. Love and family.”

The madness in the voices caused me to draw the pistols and cock the hammers back.

At the audible click of the weapons being primed, the laughter stopped.

I took a step closer and saw the remnants of a skull in the broken crate and a fresher head in the other.

The eyes of the fresher head rolled toward me, intelligence and madness blazing from the rotting orbs.

“Have you come to finish us off, Blood, as you did your brother in his ship?” the head demanded.

In a heartbeat, I knew these to be my mother’s creatures.

“Who put you there?” I asked.

“You did,” the weaker voice replied. “You said you’d come back and finish us.”

I looked from one to the other and then holstered my pistols.

“Guess I lied,” I answered and continued on my way.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 24

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The wind howled through the rigging.

The sight of the ship didn’t sit right with me.

I don’t know how long it’d been there, but I know it hadn’t been tossed up willy-nilly by a storm. There was no water as could be seen, but the ship had been made fast to a stone plinth not fifty feet from me.

I was about to turn away from the curious vessel when I caught sight of the name on the bow.

Adelaide.

My back stiffened for a heartbeat, and then I stepped closer to the edge of the waterless shore. There, on the stern, was the ship’s home port.

Cross, Mass.

It took me only a few minutes to get down to the ship and then half a dozen more to climb up the vessel’s side.

I made my way past the debris of years and forced the door that led to the lower deck.

Skeletons with shattered heads greeted me, and I stepped over them and their cast-off weapons. The remains formed a rough path that led to the captain’s quarters.

This door was harder to breach, but in the end, it opened.

There I sat.

Or what was left of me.

A desiccated form that was undeniably me sat in a great carved chair, Colts in his hands and his hands on his desk. The hair was gray and grew long past the shoulders, the beard the same. One eye was missing, burned out.

I stepped closer and saw a metal, circular frame had been driven into the center of his stomach. The flesh around it had been seared, and I could see straight through to the back of the chair.

I leaned forward, and the hands on the Colts tightened their grip.

I looked at the ruin of my own face and saw the one eye glaring at me. The captain opened his mouth, and I saw the tongue was gone. Burned out. Still staring at me, he mouthed a single word.

Bullet.

I nodded, took a round from my belt and loaded the Colt in his right hand.

His arm trembled as he brought the pistol up and placed the barrel against his temple.

The Colt roared.

I took my Bowie knife out and removed the captain’s head. I carried it with me to the upper deck, placed it among some old leaves and deadfall, and set fire to the ship.

I watched it burn from the shore, and I wondered how long he’d been waiting for me.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 23

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She spoke, and she died.

I saw her standing at the back of a skirmish line, dressed in a man’s clothes and speaking sharply in Russian.

It was when I heard her voice, carried on a fetid wind, that I knew her for who she was.

Another incarnation of my mother.

Regardless of form or age, there is a tone to her voice that is unmistakable.

I slipped Amir’s rifle from my shoulder and took my time loading it. My mother wandered up and down the skirmish line, ordering her men to keep an eye out for me. Word had reached her of the butchering of some Cossacks and the subsequent feast of the trees I’d met the day before.

When the rifle was loaded, I loosened the Colts in their holsters, braced Amir’s rifle in the crook of a tree, and took aim upon my mother’s head.

I pulled the trigger, and the top of her skull vanished in a spray of bone and blood, hair and brains. The nearest soldier was bathed in them, and to his credit, the man didn’t panic.

None of them did.

That was fine.

I was in the mood for a fight.

As they located by position, I reloaded the rifle and killed the man who had taken charge. The round took him in the throat, and he staggered around bleeding for a moment.

The soldiers around him wavered, unsure of how to proceed.

My third shot killed a man who bent down beside the corpse of his comrade, and it was then the soldiers saw where I was.

They aimed their rifles and let off a volley that amounted to sound and fury and little else.

Slinging Amir’s rifle, I drew the Colts and waded into the fight.

I didn’t bother shooting at those who ran or those who stood and stared.

No, I focused my attention on those men busy reloading.

They could think, and so they had to die.

A pair of heavy slugs nipped the side of my head, tearing away part of my ear while a third shot punched through my left cheek, shattering teeth as it passed through.

I’ll admit, it hurt like hell.

When I spat out the shards and killed the men who’d shot me, the others realized who I was.

They wavered, cast down their weapons, and tried to surrender.

Rarely am I interested in prisoners.

Today was not one of those days.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 22

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We knew each other, and we knew each other well.

The tree stood in the center of a small graveyard, and in the windless day, the branches bent toward me.

I stopped well out of reach, wary of the limbs and the roots I knew lay hidden beneath the earth. I took my pipe out, lit it, and waited.

I’d shaken off the pursuing Cossacks from the previous day, though it’d not been easy. Eventually, I’d left a trail of bodies behind me, ambushing those who wandered too far from the safety of the herd. I managed to put Amir’s rifle to good use.

I left the weapon slung over my shoulder and the Colts in their holsters. None of them would do well against the tree. Nor its brethren who I could see in the distance.

Finally, after several minutes of futile effort, the tree relaxed.

When it spoke, the ground rumbled.

“You’re smarter than some of your siblings,” it stated.

“At times,” I admitted.

The tree chuckled. “And it seems you’ve had dealings with my kind, Blood.”

“Of course, I’ve trees of my own. Apple trees, mind you, but they’re a finicky orchard, and they like their meat prepared a certain way.”

In the distance, the other trees stilled their branches as though they were listening to me.

“You’ve Trees?” it asked, a tone of surprise in its deep voice.

“Aye.”

“Hm, you’re the first of your kind, I’ll give you that.”

It was my turn to be surprised. “No other Blood’s had trees?”

“Nay,” the tree stated. “In fact, the few times your mothers have passed through, they’ve spoken loudly of the damage you and yours have done to our kind.”

I snorted. “My mother lies as easily as she breathes and with as little control.”

The tree laughed. “It’s why we feast upon her when we can.”

“Glad to hear it,” I grinned.

“Have you any meat?” it asked.

“No, but ’bout five miles back, there’s a fair amount. Men and horses.”

“Lay you claim to them?”

“Nope.”

“We’ll send saplings after them,” the tree murmured. Then in a louder voice, it added, “We are well met, Blood. Will you stay as we break our fast?”

“Why not?” I smiled. “Hell, I’ll even help bring the harvest in.”

With the tree’s laughter shaking the earth, I waited for the saplings to arrive.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 21

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Sometimes, you just need to run.

My mother’s voice woke me from a light sleep. As I’d slept, the wind had picked up, and I found myself on the edge of a large forest. It was a far cry from the small house I’d bedded down in.

Sitting up, with my Colts in hand, I listened again for her wretched voice.

It didn’t take long for her to speak again.

“You’ve come far, Duncan.”

The words rolled through the woods and assailed my ears. The slight echo to her voice told me she wasn’t near enough for me to kill.

Reluctantly, I slid the Colts into their holsters and went about the business of starting a fire for my morning coffee.

“Did you not hear me?”

It was the smug tone of laughter in her voice that prompted a response.

“How could I not?” I asked. “Breaking glass sounds better than you.”

Her angry laugh rippled through the air. “I’ve seen you die a thousand times.”

I set the water to boiling, took out my pipe and packed some tobacco down. “That a fact?”

“I’m looking forward to the thousand and first.”

I lit the pipe and reclined a bit. “Sure you are. I’ve killed you a few times.”

She didn’t respond.

“Nothing quite as spectacular as the first,” I continued. “There was fear that first time. A rush of adrenaline I’ve not quite been able to match. ‘Course, I was only a boy.”

“I hate you.”

The trees shivered and bent with her hatred.

I chuckled, let out a stream of pipe smoke and nodded. “Feeling’s mutual, Mother.”

“I’m going to watch you die,” she snarled.

The ground shook, and I looked up.

A great dust cloud roiled across a large field, and a heartbeat later, I heard them. Hundreds of hooves pounded the earth. Then, from the dust, they emerged.

Horsemen with banners and lances.

When they caught sight of me, they let out a long and powerful cry.

I stood up, pulled on my rucksack and used my coat to pull the pot off the fire. I cursed the heat, dumped the wasted brew onto the flames, and turned my back to the enemy.

I sure as hell didn’t have enough ammunition for them all, and above the pounding hooves, I heard my mother urging the riders on.

With their weight of numbers, the riders would fear her more than me.

It was time to run.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 20

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The corpse was a trap.

Whether they knew me, or they simply knew human nature, I don’t know. Don’t particularly care, either.

The Hollow shifted again, and I found myself in a place roughly familiar to my own. Oh, the sun was a bit off, and there wasn’t a damned landmark I recognized, but at least the day seemed to be moving at the proper speed.

I’d finished a short meal and was on my way again when I came to the body. It was in poor condition and laid out on a board. I’m not sure if someone had intended to bury the dead or if they had left it out, but there it was for all the world to see.

There was nothing close to the board. No trees, no buildings. Nothing unusual. No sign that I might be walking into a trap.

It was well laid.

I moved off toward the left. Not too far that I couldn’t get a good look at the body, not too close to actually touch it. I’ve seen plenty of bodies, but I have what can be considered an almost professional interest in them.

I glanced at the corpse as I passed by, and the trap was sprung.

The shot came from the body itself. A crossbow bolt with a wire attached to one end.

The bolt slammed into my thigh, and I felt the head open in the flesh.

I came to a stop and drew both Colts, ignoring the blossoming pain in my leg.

The wire went taut, and a trio of beasts stood up.

The creatures were small with dark gray skin. Silver eyes and noseless faces, black teeth ground to points. They wore rags and bones, and brass hoops hung in their obscenely long ears. In their hands, they held short, obsidian knives, and the wire anchoring me to the trap disappeared into the remnants of the corpse.

“Cut me loose, or I’ll cut you down,” I told them.

The creatures let out low, growling laughs and sprang at me.

I cut them down.

Before the roar of the Colts died out, all three were dead on the ground.

A fourth rose up from the corpse, cut the wire, and slipped back into its hide.

I limped out of range of the trap, sat down, and pushed the bolt the rest of the way through. I waited long enough for the wound to heal and reloaded my Colts.

I hate the Hollow.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 19

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The earth and the darkness shook.

I’d left the god’s home and found myself in a war.

I don’t know whose war or why they were fighting, but it was a war, nonetheless.

Men and women spoke in English, and the sounds of their rifles and machine guns were familiar and foreign all in the same breath.

It didn’t matter. Not in the end.

I kept low to the ground and soon found myself in a system of trenches. I smelled overturned earth and caught a hint of poison gas. Blood and filth, offal and desperation hung in the air. The echo of last breaths filled the trenches and sent a real shiver of fear dancing along my spine.

I’d been in bad spots before, but this one was terrible.

Something wasn’t right.

I’d no sooner entered the trenches than I was confronted by a creature I’d never seen before.

He was gaunt and pale, black eyes wide and gray skin pulled too tight across his high cheekbones. He was clad in uniforms once worn during the Great War, and his head was protected by a helmet from the same time. In his long, thin hands, he held an unsheathed sword and a blackjack, and when he saw me, he let out a hideous squeal of joy.

He lunged forward, and I blew his brains out.

The thunderous roar of the Colt was distinct and recognizable in the cacophony, and it brought about an instant silence near me.

I heard running feet, the rattle of swords and the chambering of rounds, and in a moment, they were upon me, and they were damned quick with their swords.

In the confines of the trench, I fought them back. I fired the Colts until they were dry, and then I used them as clubs until I got hold of an old persuader. Whoever had made the weapon had done well. At one point, it had been an ax handle; now, it had an iron head with spikes driven through it.

And the damned thing worked fine.

I beat them to death as they came toward me. Jaws were smashed, and heads caved in. Ribs crushed and chests destroyed.

They continued to press on toward me until I was walking upon their won dead and driving them back.

As I slew my enemies, explosions rocked the battlefield, and I grinned.

At times, my chores are a pleasure.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 18

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The god called to us.

We’d fought our way through the dead, survived the day, found a place to hole up and waited to see if the Hollow would change with the coming of dawn.

It did.

Dawn, however, was short-lived.

In the rising and setting of the sun, we were able to discern the shape of a building close to where we’d taken shelter. Without a word, the five of us set off for it. It looked far sturdier and far more secure than our present location.

With weapons ready, we moved out, a group of men long familiar with war and its needs.

By the time we reached the building, I was on point, Amir’s hand on my left shoulder and the others following suit. We had no desire to be lost within this place. There was something wrong, even for the Hollow.

Darkness enveloped us as I readied a Colt and took the handle of the door in my free hand. For a moment, I hesitated, and then I heard it.

A whisper.

A beckoning.

An undeniable calling.

My mind screamed for me to let go of the handle and to lead us into darkness, but my body refused to obey.

I led us inside.

We stepped into a narrow hall dimly lit by gaslights set within niches, the blue light of the flames reflected in the high polish of the wood floor. As we moved further in, the door closed behind us.

Without the ability to refuse the barely audible call, we made our way to a tall, narrow door at the far end.

When I opened the door, the voice was clear and strong.

“Bloods in my house.” The words echoed.

She sat wrapped in furs, four eyes fixed upon us. “I thought I sensed you here.”

None of us could speak.

“Tell me, Duncan,” she continued, “why have you led them here?”

I could not have lied if I had wanted to, and I didn’t.

“I was called,” I told her.

She nodded. “Yes. They have come to their just reward.”

“And I?”

“Your chores are not yet finished,” she said, her voice gentle. “Amir, give him your rifle.”

I turned and accepted the weapon and ammunition from my brother.

“Go then, Duncan,” she said, “your chores are waiting.”

I said my goodbyes, received their well-wishes, and I left my brothers to their reward.

Mine would wait.

There was still killing to be done.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 17

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The Hollow shifted.

As we slept, the Hollow moved, and we woke up in a building different than the one we’d fallen asleep in.

We broke our fast in silence, and by the time we were ready to leave, the sun had finally revealed itself. The orb was lower and wider than it should be, and the air of this Hollow felt wrong.

We all noticed it, but none of us remarked upon it. I could see the knowledge in my brothers’ faces as easily as they could see it in mine.

I checked the loads on my Colts, and they checked on their rifles as well as the long, curved blades sheathed at their sides. When we finished with our preparations, we moved out at a slow and steady pace.

There was an unnatural stillness to the world, and I realized there was a lack of birdsong or any other animal sound for that matter. Even the dirt beneath our feet was barren of ants.

We’d not gone more than a few miles before the path we followed dipped down and curved, a harsh, hot wind rising up to meet us. A sickly odor hung upon the air, and I drew both Colts. My brethren held their rifles at the ready.

The path straightened out and came to a pond of still water.

The wind shifted, and the smell of putrid flesh assailed us.

As I watched, the water rippled and shifted. A malevolent sigh escaped from it, and a pair of small figures clambered clumsily from a set of caves. They stopped and stared at us. Then, their jaws slackened, and they moaned.

It was a terrifying sound, and as it issued forth, I heard it repeated again and again and again.

Around us, more of the small shapes appeared, the stench of decaying meat nearly overwhelming us. I brought up my Colts and pulled the triggers. The closest body stumbled back but didn’t go down.

Amir raised his rifle, fired, and the closet body’s head exploded.

The small form fell with a splash into the water.

“Undead,” Amir stated, and we fell back.

The five of us picked our shots as we retreated and as scores of the creatures appeared from more caves.

Against the undead, all you can do is shoot well and conserve your ammunition.

So that’s what we did.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 16

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They were hunting.

We met by chance at the top of a wall. Neither they nor I belonged to the abandoned city, but we were all pursuing the same game.

Our mothers.

We spoke in a pantomime that reminded me of my first conversations with the tribes who lived close to Cross when my own mother still lived. Through gestures and rough sounds, we were able to communicate our situations and our goals.

When we realized that they aligned, it was decided that we should break bread together.

While the men were able to converse readily in their own tongue, I was forced to do little more than little and try to piece together the conversation.

They set water to boil for tea, and they brought out well-seasoned cakes to go with it. By the time the tea was ready, I could understand some of what the men were saying. And by the time I finished my first cake, we were fluent.

“So it is with brothers,” a man named Amir told me.

The others nodded their agreement.

“There were more of us, at one time,” Amir continued, “but the Hollow and the mothers have taken their share.”

“How long have you been hunting?” I asked while cleaning my Colts.

The oldest of the men smiled. “I have been in the Hollow for two hundred years, and just when I believe it is time for me to return to Cross, I kill another. The prey is too sweet. Too joyous.”

Amir sipped his tea. “We are the last of our families. We have seen fathers and siblings slain. We will kill our mothers.”

“I’m the last as well,” I answered.

“And your mother, do you hunt her here?”

“In a way,” I replied. “I slew my mother on the kitchen table when I was a boy. The others I kill, well, I know they deserve it.”

The men stared at me.

“You killed her?” Amir’s voice was low and heavy with unmistakable awe.

“It was all I could do.”

The men looked at one another. Amir nodded and asked in a hushed tone, “Will you tell us the tale?”

I refilled my tea as a soft wind blew in from the east and told them of how I butchered my mother on the kitchen table.

It was a fine night for storytelling.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 15

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She was harder than the rest, but she still died.

I came across the trenchworks as the sun crept up over the horizon. Some damned sentry sent a few shots my way, and for a bit, we exchanged fire as I made my way towards his position.

No sooner had I put a round through his head than another soldier pinpointed my position and engaged me in another fight.

I killed him too, eventually, but it set off a pattern that continued for the better part of the day. I could have gone around the trenchworks, of course. There had to be some way to avoid them. But after those first two fights, well, my dander was up.

I worked my way through the trenches, taking a few hits here and there and realizing I’d be putting my sewing kit to good use whenever I made camp. Would that my clothes could mend themselves the way my flesh and bones did.

By dinner time, I was hungry and angry, and I wanted the damned sun to set.

But the sun wasn’t setting, I wasn’t getting happy, and I sure as hell wasn’t eating.

I paused near a corner, reloaded the Colts, and went into the next branch.

My mother stood there, dressed for war and just as surprised as I was. In her hands, she had a pair of revolvers, blued steel and triggers back.

But her surprise cost her.

My Colts roared a heartbeat before hers, and she stumbled back. One round clipped her shoulder, and the other took off her lower jaw.

Hate blazed in her eyes as she caught her balance, and despite the blood gushing from her wounded face, she brought her pistols up.

Both rounds took me low in the belly, but there was too much hatred to stop me.

I put another pair of slugs in her chest and sent her to her knees. As she struggled to bring her pistols back to bear, I stepped forward and kicked her in the chest, knocking her backward. Blood and pain pumped out of my gut, and I stood over her, my blood mixing with hers.

With my guns in my hands, I watched and waited for her to die.

She fought it, and I stepped on her arms, pinning them down.

Rage filled her eyes, and she squeezed the triggers until the guns dry fired.

“Aye,” I nodded, “there’s the mother I know.”

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 14

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I found her house.

The building was tucked into a glen, and the sun glowed in the windows. It was a place of beauty and stillness, and I could feel my mother’s wrath seeping from every board.

I went into the house with my Colts drawn.

Cold anger seethed in my guts and raced along my limbs. I had no doubt the woman was waiting for me, and I was certain she had something foul planned for our reunion.

It didn’t matter that she hadn’t birthed me. We were kin, and she had the same hate as my natural mother had.

If she got a choice, this Mistress Blood would cut me as quick as my own had tried.

The floorboards creaked beneath my boots, and the temperature rose the farther in I went. A dim light filled the house, and I made my way with caution. I would not put it past my mother to set traps in her own abode.

I checked each room, and corpses occupied them all.

I counted twenty-one altogether. Twenty-one versions of me. I don’t know if they came to kill her or if they were merely trophies from successful ambushes.

But they were dead, and I wasn’t.

And I had no plans on joining them.

I found the stairs at the back of the house, crept up and passed down a long hall. The doors here were closed and sealed, all save one at the far end.

It was there I found her.

She sat in the middle of the room I had seen in the compact the day before. In her hand, she held the stereograph in her hands and muttered as she looked.

“Where did he go?”

I brought the Colts into position and waited.

She swore, took down the stereograph and set it on her lap. In the stillness, she turned toward me, and I saw her empty eye sockets.

Her nostrils flared, and she tilted her head up.

The fingers on her right hand twitched, and she reached to a cabinet beside her. I watched as she slid a drawer open, selected a card and brought it up. She quickly replaced the one in the viewer with the new image, and she gasped.

“No,” she hissed and drew a pistol from her lap.

But she was slow, and I’ve been killing for centuries.

I put six rounds into her chest and then two more through her empty sockets when I finished.

I wasn’t taking chances with my mother.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 13

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It was a hard fight.

It would have been worse if there’d been no warning and if I had been forced to see Cain die.

The men attacked once I was a good quarter-mile into the woods. Perhaps they thought it meant I was too far away to retreat.

They were wrong.

I had no intention of retreating.

The rifle fire came in hard and heavy, and a pair of shots took me in the right thigh, shattering the bone and putting me down even as I drew my Colts. I took shelter behind a large oak and did what the bushwhackers did not.

I took my time, and I aimed.

The men were skilled, but they weren’t patient. They laid down solid covering fire, and one of them tried to flank me.

The slug from my Colt took him in the eye and blew the back of his skull out.

The gunfire let up for a minute and then picked up its volume. Bullets slammed into the oak tree and sent shards of wood and bark scattering overhead.

But my leg had healed, and I was ready to go.

When another man made a rush for me, I shot him twice in the belly. His screams put his friends in a panic, which was fine with me.

The fire became sporadic, and one of the men crawled out towards the wounded man. I shot the would-be rescuer in the stomach for good measure.

The firing stopped, and the men argued about what to do as their gut-shot friends howled. I slipped off to the right, keeping to the larger trees and watching my wounded.

The fear of being shot kept the others behind their cover and allowed me to flank them.

There were five more of the men, all facing toward the oak I’d been behind. One of the two wounded men had gone silent, either from the pain or shock.

It didn’t matter.

His friends would be joining him soon enough.

One of the men turned, saw me, and I shot him through the throat for his trouble.

The others turned, and one of the men shouted, “He’s here!”

“Kill him!” The order came from a great distance.

The men didn’t succeed.

My Colts roared and jumped, and in moments, I alone lived.

I walked toward the man who had yelled and saw a compact mirror by his open hand. In it I saw a well-decorated Victorian room, then the mirror broke.

But not before I’d seen my mother.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 12

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“They won’t do a damned thing.”

My hands rested on the butts of the Colts as I took in the sight of the man before us. He was old, aye, but far older than he looked.

He gave me a nod, sat down, and put his stick across his lap. “Sit.”

I hesitated, then decided it wouldn’t hurt to sit a spell. Cain and I had been on our feet for the better part of thirty hours if I was judging time correctly, and I had no reason to believe I wasn’t.

The pup crawled into my lap, curled into a ball and promptly went to sleep.

The man across from me took a pipe out of his bag, packed it with tobacco and lit it.

“You’re looking for Mother,” he stated.

“Aye.”

“How many have you come across?”

“Just the one so far,” I told him.

The man sighed. “Just as I thought. I couldn’t quite remember the day, you see.”

I didn’t, but I waited to see what else he might say.

“Cain’s but a pup,” the man continued, “and there’s only a hint of white in your hair, I imagine.”

“Aye.”

The man smiled. “You’ll meet another mother tomorrow. Early in the morning, if my memory serves me well. She’ll come gunning for you, and they’ll be a handful of men with her, pulling the triggers. It’ll hurt.”

“Getting shot usually does,” I said and disliked how tight the words were when they came out.

“It’s time for Cain to leave you,” the man added.

I stiffened and looked down at the sleeping dog. “You can’t have him.”

“I already did,” the stranger said softly. “Centuries ago. He’ll die if you take him tomorrow. She’ll make a point of killing him. One of her men will shoot the pup in the belly, and he’ll die badly.”

“How long have you been here?” I asked.

He smiled. “I’ve been in and out of the Hollow for a long time. When I came in today, though, the memory of the fight returned, and I knew where I had to be. Let the dog come with me. Let him live.”

I eased the pup off my lap, and as he shook the sleep away, my older self called to him, and the dog went.

I’d be alone, but at least Cain would live.

How could I argue with that?

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 11

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He sentenced me to death.

I heard him long before I saw him.

We entered an abandoned town, the buildings made of smooth stone and the road lined with woven carpets. Cain trotted along beside me, ears and tail up, nose twitching as he sought out the crier.

As we walked, the crier stopped and then started up a moment again.

In a clear, strong voice, the unseen man called up my first crime, the murder of my mother. He continued to the raids against the Abenaki and the Wampanoag tribes.

With the recitation of each killing and act of violence, he pronounced my death. He had yet to reach my fourteenth birthday when I finally found him.

He stood upon a carpet against a smooth wall, a scroll of some sort in his hand. When he saw me, he faltered and went silent.

I took my pipe out of my pocket, packed some tobacco and lit it. Once the embers were fairly glowing, I let the smoke slip out from around the pipe’s stem and curl up and away from me.

“Seem’s you’ve a long list there,” I stated.

The man swallowed, and his head bobbed once. His fingers twitched on the edges of the scroll, and then his eyes darted to my guns.

He knew what they were.

“You’ve been ordered to be put to death.”

Cain sat down beside me, tail thumping in the dry dirt with a lazy rhythm.

“I’ve heard. What price has she put on my head?”

“There is no price,” the man scoffed his disgust at such a suggestion apparent on his face and in his voice.

“Then what’s the reward? Surely there’s something to compensate for risking your life.”

“There is no risk. The righteous shall triumph over the wicked.”

“Really?”

He nodded.

“Still, what’s my mother promising.”

“Salvation.” His eyes glinted with fanaticism.

 “I might be just that.”

The man dropped the scroll and reached for the inside of his tunic.

By the time the scroll struck the carpet, both Colts were drawn. Their thunderous blasts rolled along the road and vanished into the town.

Blood sprayed across the wall behind the man, and he collapsed, a pair of holes in his chest and gaping exit wounds in his back.

I went forward and took the scroll.

It would make for interesting reading.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 10

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They looked like trouble, and they were.

A thick fog had come and forced Cain and me to hunker down. Moving through it was pointless. I’d no desire for the pup to break a leg or worse, so I smoked my pipe, and the dog slept on my lap.

After a few hours, I heard the jingle of tack, and the fog dissipated.

Five men, all a-horse, were less than a hundred yards from me while a sixth man sat on the ground, his back against a large tent.

I could smell roasting goat, freshwater, and horse manure. The men looked at me, disgust and mockery on their faces.

“Duncan Blood,” the horseman on the far right called out.

“Aye.”

“Your mother brought you to us,” the horseman continued. “She has brought you here to die.”

“That a fact?” I asked. Cain growled, and I set him on the ground before I took to my feet.

The speaker spat on the ground. “It is. We’re to put a hole in your belly and eat you.”

“And which mother told you that?” I asked, resting my hands on the butts of the Colts.

“All of them.” The horseman laughed, and his companions joined him.

I let my eyes rove over the band and saw with satisfaction that none of them were carrying firearms.

“She said we should watch out for those things on your waist,” the horseman said. “They are some sort of weapons. They look like clubs.”

“They’ve been used as such,” I admitted, drawing them out. “But they won’t be today.”

“Go,” the horseman ordered, motioning toward the river with a braided quirt.

“Why?”

“We like the hunt,” he told me. “And we are bored.”

“I don’t,” I responded, “and I’m not.”

The horseman made a clicking sound, and his horse turned toward me.

I raised the Colts up, and the gathered men laughed.

The laughter stopped when I pulled the triggers.

The horses screamed in fear, and the men howled in agony as the heavy slugs tore into them. The man at the tent tried to run, but a took the top of his head off.

Still screaming, the horses ran, leaving their dying riders on the ground behind them.

I reloaded the Colts as I walked toward the men, Cain circling around me, ears back and growling.

The horseman tried to speak, and I shot him through the mouth.

I was tired of his voice.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 9

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It frightened me.

Cain and I stumbled upon it as I was looking for a place to bed down for the night. We’d had an uneventful day, and I was fine with that. I’d neither seen nor heard from any version of my mother or those foolish enough to do her bidding.

The day had been, without a doubt, a long and pleasant walk.

We’d seen a fair amount of animals I’d never laid eyes on before, and Cain had raced after more than a few of them. He always returned, tail straight and head up, a bit of a swagger to his walk, as though he’d shown the offending animal that he was in charge.

And who knows, perhaps he was.

What frightened me about the falls and the stream was the utter silence around them.

They made no sound, not until Cain and I were upon stones lining the stream’s banks.

There was animal sign. Tracks leading up to the water and then leading away. No sign of violence.

No sign of man.

We stood there for a short time, and then Cain promptly laid down on his belly, crossed his forepaws and then rested his chin upon them.

The pup had made the decision for me.

I set about the business of making camp, and when I had a fire going and coffee brewing, I sat down beside the dog. He wagged his tail once, closed his eyes and went to sleep with a small snort of content.

The peace of the place frightened me.

There was no violence. No danger. I could not sense any beast creeping up, nor could I hear the jingle of harness or weaponry.

Cain and I were alone.

The peace was unlike the Hollow, and I waited to see if some god was watching me and seeking to converse.

But I was in a strange safe haven, and nothing sought to disturb us. I took out my Colts and my kit, and I began the soothing ritual of cleaning the Colts.

Soon, the smell of coffee and gun oil filled the air, and the dog snored beside me.

And for a short time, the Hollow was good.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 8

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They were lazy.

We came upon them before noon, the sun beating down and cooking the Hollow, the men’s rifles stacked off to the right. The scrape of their shovels and their bitter complaints were muffled by the heat, but only a little.

“She told us we could eat them,” one of the men muttered.

“No, she didn’t,” the other snapped. “She said we couldn’t eat them. We’s to stay hungry for her boy.”

The first man snorted his disgust, coughed, then turned his head to one side and pressed a finger against his nostril. He blew a long, yellowish stream of mucus onto the ground and then turned back to his work.

“I’m hungry,” he stated, wiping his nose with the back of his hand.

The second man sighed. “I’s hungry too, dummy. Ain’t gonna eat ‘til we kill ‘im, so, let’s get to goin’.”

“This was to be him,” the first man complained, slapping one of the corpses with the flat of his shovel.

“And the moon’s supposed to be the sun,” the second drawled. “Don’t mean a damned thing ‘til it does. We get her boy killed, well, we can eat like kings. Heard he’s from outside the Hollow. They’s always got lots of fat on ‘em, even when they look like they don’t.”

The first chuckled. “’Mm, you speakin’ gospel truth there, Hank. Preachin’ it.”

“To the choir, John,” Hank laughed.

Cain and I watched a little longer as the men scraped dirt over the corpses of the two men. As the pup took a seat, I did the same, sliding a Colt out of its holster. The dog and I waited as the men hummed a few hymns, and then, they turned around.

They had their shovels on their backs, and they were about to step off toward the rifles when they spotted Cain and myself.

The men came to a stop.

“How long you been there?” Hank asked.

“Long enough,” I answered.

John cleared his throat. “How long’s that, friend?”

“Long enough to know it’s my mother keepin’ your stomachs empty.”

The men dropped their shovels and sprinted for the rifles.

I shot each through the lower back, sending them tumbling to the earth and squealing in pain.

“Finish it,” Hank snarled.

“No. Get your rifles and finish it yourselves.”

With the dying men’s curses heavy in the air, Cain and I left them to die.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 7

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Cain didn’t like the look of it.

Neither did I, but there was a storm coming.

The pup let out a low growl that was more anger than fear, and I took the coach gun out of the rucksack as I hunkered down. We looked at the old schoolhouse up ahead, and I wondered why it put us on edge.

With a sigh, I picked up the dog and slipped him into my shirt. His head poked out the front, and he bared his teeth as we went.

I reached the door and took a quick peek inside through a window.

Desks were arranged in orderly rows, and primers were set at each one. There was even wood stacked in the fireplace, ready for a match.

But there was no sign of any teacher, nor of any students.

I thought about trying to find another place to bed-down, but another glance to the sky showed the dark, racing clouds. I had no desire to spend the night shivering and wet, and I doubt the pup wanted it either.

With a sigh, I climbed the single stair and opened the door.

As I crossed the threshold, the building shook. Dust drifted down from the rafters, and pieces of chalk tumbled from the blackboard to smash upon the worn plank floor. Cain set to howling, and a moment later, a dozen other voices joined his mournful cry, silencing him.

But while the pup went quiet, the cries of the others rose in volume.

Glancing around the room, I saw them.

Children, half-intangible, chained to their desks. A schoolmaster at the front of the room was likewise chained to his podium. Their eyes were sunken into their heads, and their faces cadaverous. They turned their sunken visages to me, and they held out their hands, the chains rattling pointing to the blackboard.

Forcing myself to look closer, I saw words written in Latin and Greek, Aramaic and Arabic, and it all had the stink of necromancy about it.

Again, the schoolmaster gestured to the board, and I nodded.

I brought the coach gun up and pulled the triggers.

The shot shattered the blackboard, and the room went silent.

The dead were gone.

As the storm struck, I put match to the wood in the fireplace. In a moment, Cain and I were settled in, waiting for the storm to pass.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 6

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She shouldn’t have touched my dog.

The woman stood a short distance away from me, holding Cain, my new pup. The dog was calm, though if he had any inkling as to who was holding him, he would have died of fright.

She didn’t look like my mother, but when she spoke, and the hate flashed in her eyes, I knew who she was.

“You’ve come far enough, Duncan,” she told me, sitting down on a nearby piece of deadfall and fixing her glare upon me.

“That a fact?” I asked. I didn’t bother going for the Colts. She’d snap the pup’s neck soon as I reached for them, and I didn’t want that. Better she take a bit of my flesh than harm the dog.

My mother gave me a wicked grin as she stroked Cain’s head. “It is. We’ve things to do here, and we can’t do them with you wandering about.”

“Who’s ‘we’?”

“You know damned well,” she snapped, and the dog whimpered. Her grin returned. “Quite a few of us have sought refuge in the Hollow.”

“From me?”

“You. Or, if we’ve managed to kill you, we’ve had your father to contend with.” She shrugged. “Sometimes it’s your sister. Others, your brother. On rare occasions, it’s your wife.”

I hid the pain that flared up at the thought of Adelaide.

“Why are you here?” I asked instead.

“I gutted your father one morning,” she smiled. “A much younger version of yourself was hot on my heels when I escaped into my Hollow. I was pleased to meet so many of my sisters.”

The woman set Cain down, and the dog promptly went off to one side to make water.

“Now,” she said, straightening up. Her hand flickered, and I caught sight of a small pistol as she drew it from her dress.

But I’d expected as much from her. She was my mother, after all.

My own Colts cleared their holsters, and I threw myself to the left as I fired. Her bullet passed through where my head had been a heartbeat before, but mine found their mark. Both struck her in the chest, and the spray of blood and bones from her back was crisp and clear in the morning light.

For a moment, she remained upright, then her eyes rolled back, and she tumbled to the side.

Cain trotted to me and licked my face.

He’d grown used to the sound of guns.

He was a hell of a good dog.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 5

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I awoke to whispers.

I’d bedded down in a small cave with my new puppy for company. When I opened my eyes, the dog was pressed against my chest, and my shirt was wet. Whatever was whispering had scattered my new pup badly. For a moment, I considered putting him in my rucksack, where he’d weathered the fight between myself and the rat-folk, but this was worse.

Leaving him in my shirt and ignoring the rapidly cooling fabric, I drew my guns and went deeper into the cave, following the whispers.

The voice soon took on a distinct tone, but the language was undecipherable. I’d not heard it’s like before.

At the far end of the cave, I found a wall of draperies, and I cautiously pushed my way through them.

I was glad I left the puppy in my shirt.

The room I entered was neat and tidy. A selection of knives and edged weapons hung in a pleasant array upon the walls, and across the room, posed upon an overturned bucket, was a head.

The eyes opened and peered at me. A dull green tongue flicked out, moistened the lips, and then the severed head spoke.

“She set me as a warning,” the head told me.

“My mother?”

“Our mother,” the head laughed. “She was displeased with me. Said my tone reminded her of you. It does not go well for those who remind her of you, Duncan Blood.”

“Evidently not.”

The dog whimpered, and the head licked its lips again.

“I’m hungry,” it said pointedly.

“I’ll feed you your own eyes before you touch my dog.”

The head scowled at me. “Selfish.”

I cocked the Colt, and the head rolled its eyes.

“You’re a warning?” I asked.

It nodded. “Go home, or one of our mothers will slay you. Leave your head as a warning for some other kith or kin.”

“She killed a friend.”

“They’ve all killed friends,” the head laughed. “Too many to count. What does it matter in the end?”

“Nothing and to no one,” I answered. “And what about you?”

The head frowned. “What do you mean?”

“How long can you live like that?”

“For as long as I can speak,” it answered, and I pulled the trigger.

The puppy shook against my chest as brains dripped down the wall.

I soothed the dog, and we left the cave.

Sometimes, the messenger needs to die.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 4

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The Hollow always surprises.

A narrow trail that dipped down into a slim valley led out to a field of carnage, one I was well-familiar with.

I’d seen plenty of similar sights during the Great War, although I admit I wasn’t expecting to see such a one in the Hollow.

The stench of death was ripe, and it was accompanied by the skittering of feet. I couldn’t see any corpses, but that wasn’t a surprise. There could be hundreds half-buried in the churned earth past the tank. Thousands just below the surface.

The sound of feet was familiar, too.

A black head with bright eyes and twitching whiskers popped up from the tank and peered at me.

It was the biggest damned rat I’d ever seen.

I suspect it might have been as tall as myself if it stood on its hind legs. The thing opened its mouth, and yellow teeth, broken and chipped, could be plainly seen.

As I watched, it crawled out of the tank and in its forepaw was a battered brass horn.

I drew my Colt and thumbed the trigger back.

The rat snarled at me, brought the horn up to its muzzle and blared out a note even as the slug from my Colt tore its throat out. The rat slumped down, blood pumping from the wound as the horn clattered down the tank’s side.

The earth rumbled beneath my feet, and all about me, the earth twisted and roiled as rats by the hundreds broke free. Noses twitched as they smelled the fresh blood of their comrade, and they drew forth bayonets and long knives.

My pleasure at seeing them without firearms was short-lived.

A rattle of chains caught my ear, and when I turned to look, I saw a team of rats maneuvering a 75mm cannon into position.

As the bladed rats raced towards me, I gunned down the artillery team.

But it was only the briefest of respites.

Another crew leaped up to take their place, and I was forced to move backward, firing as I went.

The rats tried to rush me, seeking to overwhelm me with their numbers.

The Colts thundered.

The rats soon stumbled over their own dead, and I retreated into the valley, pausing long enough to gun down the few rats ambitious enough to follow.

It was time to find another way to my mother.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 3

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They tried to bushwhack me.

I’ve never taken kindly to being bushwhacked. Nor have I suffered any long-term ill effects from it either.

The shot clipped me in the back of the head and sent me tumbling to the ground.

I’d been on the move for about half the morning, and the bastards had hidden themselves well. I don’t think they were hunting for me specifically. No, I think they were just out looking for prey, but they got a tad more than they bargained for.

I heard them calling to one another in Spanish, and as the blood dried on the back of my head, I took cover.

Laughter rolled down the hill, reverberated off the rocks, and gave me one hell of a headache. As I tried to ignore the discomfort, a voice I’d not heard in some time called out to the bushwhackers.

It was my mother, and she was asking if they knew who they’d shot.

The men confessed they did not, and so she told them.

By the time my name left her lips, I was up and moving, keeping rocks and trees between myself and the shooters.

A silence fell over everything, and only a rising wind hid the sound of my feet from the men who’d shot me.

I was halfway to the hill when I heard my mother order the men to go after me.

A quick look revealed ten men moving in a wide line down the hill. Above them, I caught sight of four more, one armed with a rifle and waiting to see if I would pop back up.

I would. Just not where they expected.

As the men moved down the hill, I went up. It didn’t take them long to realize I wasn’t dead, but by then, I was at the top, and both Colts were drawn.

The men didn’t ask for quarter.

I killed the rifleman first as his compatriots drew their pistols. But they were slow, and I was angry.

The Colts roared, and the men died.

I stood my ground at the top of the hill and gunned down the others as they tried to flank me. Death hung heavy in the hot air, and my mother screamed at me from the heavens.

Soon, my mother went silent, and only the cries of the wounded remained.

I took the rifle, and the ammunition from the dead rifleman reloaded my Colts again and made my way down the hill.

I wasn’t interested in prisoners.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 2

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I found them on the edge of town.

I’d spent the night in one of the houses, getting a few hours of sleep and making sure I was ready for whatever the day might bring.

Or, rather, as ready as I could be.

The Hollow rarely made things easy.

The sun had risen in the south for some ungodly reason, and I found seven men standing by an open box as the morning light illuminated the town.

They had rifles with them, but they’d stacked the weapons off to one side as they peered down into the box. A few of them chuckled, but their good humor vanished as they caught sight of me approaching them. I don’t know if any of them had helped to butcher Emma, but they were suspect all the same.

I stopped a fair distance from the men, rested hands on the butts of the Colts, and nodded good morning to the strangers.

“Can we help you?” the man in the center asked.

“Depends,” I answered. “I’m looking for the fellow who murdered my friend, and my mother, too.”

The men shifted uneasily where they stood, eyes flickering from the box to me.

“Well,” the center man began, stroking his chin. “Don’t know as we killed anyone lately. And as for your mother, who might she be?”

“Mistress Blood.”

Smiles crept across their faces.

“Ah,” the center man nodded. “No, we didn’t kill anyone, though we drained a pig yesterday. She did squeal a bit, I’ll give you that. And as for your mother, well, she’s the one what sent us the pig. Your mother, she said you’d come and that we were to give you a welcome.”

The men sprinted for their rifles, but my Colts were already clearing leather.

The revolvers roared, and each man went down.

None of them were dead, though.

I didn’t want them dead. Not yet.

They were game as hell, though. Each was trying to get to their weapons, but I took my time going from one to the other, breaking fingers before gathering up the rifles. I took the weapons to the box and found myself looking down at a puppy. The sight of the dog irked me some, and I suspect they meant it harm.

With the dog tucked into my coat, I went back to the wounded men and asked where my mother was.

I confess I asked hard.

None of them lived long enough to tell me.

#horrorstories #mother

Hunting Mother Day 1

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The Hollow never disappoints.

I’ve left care of the farm to Abel Coffin. He’s only sixteen, but he’s the strongest of that line in a long time. He knows better than to go above the first floor of the house and to stay out of all the buildings save the barn. While he doesn’t understand the orchard, the orchard doesn’t mind him, which goes a hell of a long way.

He’s wearing a revolver, too, and I admire that. He’s brought the right tool for the job.

I’ve done the same

The Colts are on my hips, where they’re supposed to be, and I’ve brought a coach gun with me as well. Plenty of food in my ruck and a blanket to bed down with. I don’t sleep nearly as much as I used to, but I still need the occasional hour or two to let my body rest.

And I suspect I’ll need it.

I went into the Hollow through the lake, taking a small sailboat across and stopping off once at the Child’s house to leave some supplies. It’s easier to get back to that island than it is the farm if the Hollow has a mind to keep me a bit.

If my mother’s really running rampant, then I suspect it’ll be hard going.

Who knows how many of her I might encounter?

Regardless, I plan on putting each and every one of them down.

When I reached the far side of the lake, I made the boat fast in a small cove and set off into the Hollow. The temperature remained much the same, though the day lengthened unnaturally. After nearly eighteen hours of walking and the sun never shifting, I climbed a slight rise. When I crested the top, I found myself looking down into the remnants of a town.

I wasn’t another version of Cross. Of that, I was fairly certain.

Still, I took no chances as I advanced upon it. I’ve been bushwhacked before, and it’s none too pleasant.

The first two buildings were empty, but the third held the fresh remains of Emma Sharpe. She was nailed, inverted, to the far wall. Her throat’d been cut, and, from what I could tell, the blood’d been drained. Hardly a drop had been spilled.

In the dirt and dust around the body, I found bootprints, and I knew things would be a damned sight messier when I found whoever was helping my mother.

Of that, I was certain.

#horrorstories #mother

February 28

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She went in and never came out.

October 2nd, 1962, Emma Sharpe and I were walking outside of her home on Norwich Street. It’d been a quiet summer and fall, and I’d had a bit of time to get to know her. She was a transplant from New London, Connecticut, and she had settled down nicely. We’d met at Butler’s Books and hit it off straight away.

The home she lived in once belonged to a member of the Black family, and he’d died badly in the garage one day in ’39. I’d found his body and gathered it up.

There wasn’t enough to fill a pillowcase.

I didn’t share that with Emma, though I did tell her about the death.

“We should go inside,” Emma declared.

“For coffee?”

She let out a sweet laugh. “The garage.”

“Another day,” I told her, glancing at the building. “It’s a bad place.”

Emma looked at me with surprise. “Are you afraid to go in?”

“Aye,” I lied. “Let’s have a cup of coffee.”

“You’re not afraid,” she stated after a moment. “I can see it in your eyes. I don’t think you’re afraid of anything.”

“There’s plenty,” I told her.

“Alright,” she said. “Coffee it is.”

Then she winked, gave me a playful kiss, and darted for the garage, laughing as she did so.

She was, I’m sorry to say, faster than me, but not faster than whatever was waiting in the garage.

Emma threw open the door, sprang into the darkness, and screamed as the door slammed closed behind her.

I put my shoulder into the door, tearing my shoulder out of the socket even as I knocked the door out of the frame.

But I was too late.

Emma was gone, and the stink of blood hung in the air.

I found the light switch and flipped it on. The garage was bare and swept clean. No sign of bird or beast. Not a speck of dust or bit of dirt.

Yet on the far wall, a message had been written in blood.

‘I wonder, will she taste as sweet as her laughter?’

I didn’t need to see the signature beneath the question.

I know my mother’s handwriting well.

In silence, I turned off the light and put my shoulder back into its socket. I left the door hanging from its broken hinge and made my way home.

I had weapons to clean and a rucksack to pack.

On the morrow, I’d hunt my mother in the Hollow.

#love #horrorstories

February 27

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I knew her, but she didn’t know me.

It was the spring of 1960. Thirty years since I’d seen Charlotte Caisson, or at least since I saw a version of her.

The last vestiges of snow had melted, and mud was creeping up along North Road. I kept to the edge of the road and saw her when I peered into the Hollow.

Her hair was different, and she wore a rough uniform of sorts. A medal hung ‘round her neck, and I wondered, for a moment, what she did to win it.

On her hips, she wore a pair of pistols I recognized.

Colt .44s, the butts worn smooth from decades of use.

They were my guns.

When she saw me, her eyes narrowed, and her hands dropped to the revolvers with a speed I admired. Her gaze flicked from my face to the pistols and back again.

But there was no recognition there.

I took a chance and kept my hands away from my Colts. I folded my arms across my chest and nodded to her.

“Charlotte.” Her name rolled across the Hollow, and she stiffened when she heard it.

“Who are you?” She spoke in high German, and it was flawless.

“Duncan Blood.”

She took a step back, and even from my place by the wall, I saw her knuckles tighten on the pistols.

I smiled at her. “You’re not the Charlotte I knew.”

Some of the tension eased from her shoulders, but she kept her hands tight upon the guns. “Nor are you the Duncan I knew. You’re older.”

“Did you take the guns from him?”

She let out a snort of laughter. “From Duncan Blood? No. He left them in my care. He said he wouldn’t need them. Not where he was going.”

A note of sadness slipped into her words, and pain tinged her eyes.

“Where was he going?”

“To Hell,” she answered.

I raised an eyebrow.

“His cousin. Your cousin, too, I suppose. She called to him.”

“Patience?”

“You know of another who could get you to travel willingly to Hell?”

I shook my head.

“Neither do I,” she sighed. Charlotte let go of her guns, ran her fingers through her hair and asked, “Do you still live alone?”

“Let’s just say there’s no human company. None living at least.” I hesitated, then smiled. “Would you care for dinner?”

“I would,” she said. “If there’s breakfast to follow.”

I promised her there would be.

#love #horrorstories

February 26

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She made me sad.

Danielle Kipling’s sweet nature was a gift to the citizens of Cross. She was never without a smile on her face, never without a kind word for someone. Any room brightened when Danielle walked into it, and there wasn’t a soul in the town who didn’t smile back when they saw her.

Her parents had passed when she was young, and she and her sister were raised by a loving, if somewhat strict, aunt. Danielle was, from what I understood, a little touched. A hint of madness, though nothing unbearable.

I don’t think Danielle wanted anything more than to be loved by an artist. 

In January of 1909, a young artist by the name of Keith Macomber moved to Cross and took up residence in a small apartment several buildings up from the Cross Historical Society. Starting in March, I often saw Danielle walking along the road and up to his home. He was, I learned, a young man recently returned from Paris, where he had studied under some formidable masters whose names I never cared to learn. 

Keith was not a man I was fond of. There was something off about him, and I disliked the way he looked at women in general when he was out and about the town. And, when he spoke to me, I wanted nothing more than to knock his teeth out of his mouth.

On December 10, I saw Danielle walk up to his building, but she was noticeably absent the following two days. Then, on December 13, her sister Doris came into the Society. Danielle had not come home, and it was unlike her to stay out.

I told Doris I would look into it, and she left for home to await her sister’s return.

I went directly to Keith’s apartment and forced the door. What I found was disturbing. 

Keith Macomber was dead, which was no loss as far as I was concerned. 

He was, however, seated in a chair with his hands nailed to the table, and his eyes gouged out. They and his tongue were on a plate in front of him, and Danielle was singing softly to him, her eyes wide and her expression one of pure madness. 

There is only one cure for that form of insanity, and I applied it as mercifully as I could. She died easily, and in her last moments, I hope she believed he loved her. 

#love #horrorstories

Flashback!

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Hello! Here’s a little flashback to the history of Ezekiel Blood, Duncan’s father. I’ll be releasing Ezekiel’s history as a paperback soon.

1640, Wampanoag 

My father taught me to kill. 

‘Killing is a chore.’  

That simple statement is one that has remained with me for close to four centuries, and while killing is occasionally enjoyable, my father spoke the truth.  

I learned this in 1640. 

I was close to my twelfth birthday, and I had already slain my mother at the table several months earlier.  

We were having trouble with the Wampanoag tribe that lived within a day of us, and they had decided to raid Cross. They had killed a pair of brothers working in their field and chased myself, my sister, and my brother into the garrison house which – at the time – stood between our property and that of the Coffins. With my father and the elder Coffins at the firing-ports, we held the Wampanoags off until they grew tired of attacking us. 

We did not wait long to visit our revenge upon them. 

My father brought me and some of the older Coffin boys and men to the Wampanoag village.  

Our attack was swift. 

We set fire to their outbuildings, destroyed the food they were setting in for winter, killed several of the men and took the remaining eighty-one Wampanoags prisoner.  

My father recorded it succinctly. 

‘I was right to bring Duncan with me on this raid. He has a steady hand for one so young, and he had no remorse when putting the torch to the village. Would I not have to train him in this fashion, but I am afraid it is for the best.  

‘These prisoners shall illustrate a point to the other tribes, for I have asked their war chiefs to send me representatives. With these emissaries on the banks of the Cross River, they shall learn that we shall not falter. Duncan, as my son and as a child of this place, shall show them that our children are strong.’ 

I remember the day well. 

I helped to bring the prisoners out to the center of the river, and with the representatives of the other tribes watching, I helped drown the Wampanoag men, women, and children we had taken prisoner. 

Killing is a chore, one my father taught me not to shirk from. 

#horrorstories #history

February 24

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Vengeance and hunger. 

I’d known the Mason family since the first of them arrived in 1740 and settled down in Cross. Most of them weren’t worth much, but Dot, she was as fine a person as could be.

Dot Mason learned how to operate an arc welder during the Second World War. From 1942 to 1945, she worked at a plant in Boston, helping to manufacture parts for various ships. 

When the war ended in August of 1945, Dot eventually returned home to Cross, where she picked up part-time work at several local garages.  

It was at the Olive Street Garage that she met her future husband, Adam Pogan.  

The two were wed in 1946, and by 1947, she had given birth to a pair of sons. On May 14, 1948, Adam was taken arrested for drunk and disorderly after beating Dot severely. Less than a week later, Adam and the boys vanished. The bank foreclosed on the house, and Dot was forced to return to part-time work while living in a rooming house. 

There was a sadness to Dot, and she never remarried. On more than one occasion, I offered to give her a hand, but she never accepted it. Now and again, we met for coffee, but nothing more. We were friends, and I watched her age, as I do everyone.

She remained in Cross, and most people assumed it was in the hopes of her boys returning to her. Eventually, she passed and was buried in Cross Cemetery in 1997. 

On March 18, 2004, her former property was sold again, and the new owners cleared away the brush and debris that had been there since Dot had lived in the home. 

Beneath the debris, a door was discovered. One that I’d helped her build.

It was made of steel and set into concrete, and not only was it padlocked, but it was also welded shut. 

Eventually, the door was removed, and the new owners descended into a small bomb shelter. 

Inside, they found the mummified remains of Adam Pogan and the twin sons.  

Autopsies revealed that the boys had died of blunt force trauma to the head, while Adam had starved to death.  

The bones of the children were broken and gnawed upon. 

A sealed envelope was found tacked above the far wall, and in it was a note. 

He killed my sons because they cried when they were hungry. 

#love #horrorstories

February 23

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Imelda Mae was a brilliant artist. 

She was one of the few female artists invited to teach at the Cross branch of Miskatonic. Imelda and my wife, Adelaide, became good friends over the years, and she was often at the farm for coffee.

As an artist, Imelda’s use of colors and space were a wonder. There were times when viewers felt as though they could reach out and touch her subjects, whether those subjects happened to be still-lifes or – her preferred – the portraits of children. 

While Imelda was unmarried and childless, she was able to draw upon a deep, maternal vein within herself. From there, she painted with a poignancy few could match. 

Imelda’s private studio was in an isolated old barn off Northwood Road. 

At all hours of the day and night, she could be found working in her studio, one canvas or another in the process of being completed. Imelda never minded an interruption, nor did she ever turn away a hungry guest or inquisitive student. She always showed any who asked how she went about preparing her paints and cleaning her brushes the best way to use light to draw out the subtle nuances of a piece of still life. 

Imelda Mae was one of the university’s finest acquisitions in the art department, and she blended in seamlessly with the other staff members. 

It was shocking to all, then, that Imelda vanished on February 15th, 1931.  

Concerned that she might have injured herself, several of her students hurried over to her home and never recovered from what they witnessed there. 

In a room over her studio, they found where Imelda mixed her paints and what she mixed them with. 

Ground bones were in a small mortar and pestle while blood was carefully gathered into sealed containers.  

The half-finished portrait of a child stood by her work table. On the floor was a pile of bloody children’s clothes, which matched those upon her painted subject. 

On the counter was a small index card which read, Nathan, age 5, taken in Boston. 

Sitting here, in the Child’s house, I’m still saddened over how vile she was.

Still, she was Adelaide’s friend, so I drowned the murderess.

It was better than she deserved.

#love #horrorstories

February 22

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Her art was death.

Ani Hitaki managed to make it from Kyoto, Japan, in 1948, and I met her at the end of ’49 when she was working in Boston Towne. My Japanese is rough, as is anyone who isn’t born to it, but it was tolerable enough for her and me to converse. She expressed her displeasure with her current employment, and on the spur of the moment, I offered her a place to stay.

In exchange for room and board, and whatever spending money she might need, she would come and keep my books for me. Aside from my journals, there’s a great deal of unnecessary paperwork for a farm, and I had better things to do than filling out tax forms and other such nonsense.

When Ani wasn’t working, she was carving. I kept her in a good supply of bones, and she carved them down into Netsuke – miniature figures of men and women, houses and animals. Just about whatever caught her fancy.

She kept up a steady correspondence with people all over the world. It didn’t matter who. In the course of this letter writing, some of them learned she was a carver, and they asked for samples of her work.

Ani happily mailed them out, and soon, the correspondence from the recipients of the Netsuke ceased writing.

And with good reason.

Ani had poisoned them.

She poured all her anger and hatred into those carvings. The pent-up rage of seeing her country destroyed by itself and others around it.

Ani and I lived together for 62 years, but we never knew each other in the biblical sense of the term. We were friends, good friends at the end, and I was saddened when she passed.

Eventually, some bright detectives around the world linked the Netsuke together. They found Ani’s signature on them and then slowly traced them back to the United States, then to Massachusetts, and finally, to Cross.

I had to pretend to be my own grandson, as I’ve done in the past. I told them that I remembered her as a sweet old woman who lived close by. I explained, too, that none of Ani’s carvings or tools remain.

But that was a lie.

I’ve a few of her carvings here, in the Child’s house. They’re beautiful pieces, and I can feel Ani’s hate emanating from them.

It’s a good feeling.

#love #horrorstories

February 21

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She devoured the flock.

Paul Black came ‘round in the morning, his face white and his hands trembling. Paul had fought with the Marines at Belleau Wood, and I’d known him a long time. The idea that something might frighten him so was disturbing.

Sitting in my parlor, I got some whiskey and hot coffee into him, and it settled his nerves some.

“My flock is gone, Duncan,” he told me, his voice hoarse. “All thirty-two sheep. Meat’s spoiled, too.”

“What got at them?” I asked, getting ammunition for the Spenser.

He shook his head. “Don’t know. I saw shoe prints in the mud and claw marks in the flesh. Looks like a man might’ve done it, but I pray like hell I’m wrong.”

I nodded. “Where?”

“North pasture,” he replied and finished his drink. “Don’t think I can look at it again. Not yet.”

“No shame in it,” I told him. “You head home. I’ll stop by when I find who did it.”

We left my house together and went separate ways once we reached the road. I traveled at a good pace out to his North pasture, and I could smell death long before I saw it.

The sheep hadn’t just been butchered. They’d been savaged.

There was neither rhyme nor reason to the killing. Some had bites from them. Most did not. There weren’t even any signs that the killing had been done for pleasure.

I found the tracks Paul had mentioned, and I followed them to the tree line. Bits of blood and flesh were splattered on leaves and bark, and soon I heard wheezing. I brought the Spenser up to my shoulder and eased forward.

What I found was a young woman, her clothes were splattered with blood, and there was a dull look in her eye. She looked at me, tried to speak, and I saw her tongue had been torn out at the root.

Then, her gaze focused, intensified, and she let out a low, deep growl.

She sprang at me with arms outstretched, and where there should have been fingers were long claws instead.

I put a round through her throat, and it took her head clean off her shoulders.

But she didn’t die.

Her mouth worked silently, her eyes locked on mine.

With a sigh, I put the barrel against her forehead and blew her brains out.

She was dead, but Paul was still out thirty-two head of sheep.

#love #horrorstories

February 20

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She died badly.

Mae Finch was sweet and kind, and the death she got sure as hell wasn’t one she deserved.

When I came home from Korea in ’53, I wasn’t looking for company. I spent most of my time on the farm, arguing with the older apple trees and trying to keep the younger ones in line. Whenever I go away for a bit, the trees get angry. They’re spoiled, and if they don’t have fresh meat when they want it, well, they’re liable to complain.

I’d just left them and decided a beer down at the VFW would do me right when I stopped at the train station to say Dan Fleming. Mae Finch was stepping into the station from the platform at the same time. Her smile was beautiful, and I asked her if she had eaten dinner. She replied she hadn’t, and so I forwent the beer for a whiskey.

Mae was taking a position at Miskatonic. She’d done some work in ancient languages, and the university had offered her a bit of a bonus and a raise if she would go and work for them. I didn’t state my dislike for the school or that I thought it was a poor idea. She was a woman, after all, and she didn’t need a babysitter.

We met for the next month or so, dinner mostly, and she told me of the work they had her doing. Translations of Arabic and Aramaic. Exciting work for her. I could see it in her eyes, hear it in her voice.

Then, she missed a dinner.

No note, no message of any sort.

She didn’t show.

And that wasn’t like her.

I went ‘round to Miskatonic in the morning.

According to the watchman, there’d been no record of Mae leaving, which made both of us concerned. The watchman had been around long enough to know what happened at the school.

Together, we went to the department of ancient languages, made our way up to the third floor, and found the door shattered.

From what I could make out, there were at least three bodies in the room. The heads were in a rough triangle facing one another on a desk. The walls, floor, and ceiling were coated in flesh and blood, bones and sinew.

All the bookshelves in the room were empty, and a single word was carved into the wall.

“Mine.”

I’ve yet to find the killer, but when I do, I’ll carve Mae’s name on his heart.

#love #horrorstories

February 19

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They died on the porch.

I don’t know who they were or where they came from, and that tends to be the case with a great deal of the dead and dying I find in the Hollow.

It was March of ’35, and I was missing Adelaide far more than usual. So, rather than sit at home and stew in my own sadness, I oiled the Colts and set out for the Hollow. More often than not, there’s something in there worth killing.

I wasn’t wrong this time.

About a hundred yards in from the stonewall on North Road, I saw a quaint little house. It was well-kept with a fair garden around it. The clapboard siding had a fresh coat of white paint, and the bricks on the chimney’s top had recently been repointed. Someone cared a great deal for the home, and it showed.

As I climbed over the wall and kept my eye on the house, I saw the front door open. A pair of men staggered out, tried to right themselves with help from the porch’s railing, and failed spectacularly. Both men went over the rails and slammed into the earth, an act reminiscent of sailors who’d yet to get their sea legs.

They writhed and twisted on the ground, clawing at the trimmed grass and making hideous noises.

When I got close enough, I saw why.

Their throats had swollen, and their faces were red. A yellowish-green mucus seeped from their eyes and noses while blood-tinged bile leaked from their mouths. They stared at me, and a moment later, their eyes exploded. The men convulsed and then stopped.

I stepped over the bodies and knocked at the door.

“Hello?” A surprised woman’s voice greeted the knock.

“Mornin’. Name’s Duncan. Might I come in?”

She hesitated a moment before answering, “Yes.”

I let myself into the home and found a woman sitting in a small alcove. “Are they dead?”

I nodded.

“Do I need to kill you?” she asked.

“I hope not.”

She peered at me for a moment. “Did their eyes explode?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. I didn’t like the way they looked at me.”

“Fair enough.”

“You here to kill?” she asked, eyeing me.

“Not you.”

She nodded and went back to her book. “I have coffee on if you’d like a cup.”

I took a seat across from her and waited.

Who am I to turn down a cup of coffee?

#love #horrorstories

February 18

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Her story is curious.

I keet her photo among the others in the Child’s house. I’d never known her, not really, but she had an affection for me all the same.

The Black brothers, Thomas and Arnhem, were on their way home when they found a dead horse and an overturned hearse on North Road. The animal appeared to have been dead for at least a week, but they knew that wasn’t the case. They had taken North Road not six hours earlier.

With the discovery of the hearse and the carcass, they made their way to my home and informed me of the situation. As they went home for weapons, I left my coffee and went out to see what the fuss was about.

I found the scene much described. When I tried the door on the hearse, I discovered it unlocked and so opened it to find the coffin within on its side. The coffin, nothing more than rough pine, was light and easy to move, and so I dragged it out onto the road and righted it. The Black brothers and a dozen other young men appeared soon after. They were underclassmen from Miskatonic who had yet to truly learn about the horrors of the Hollow.

That was about to change.

The Black brothers stood by me while the students focused on the coffin. They came to an agreement that they should open it and see if the corpse had aged as much as the horse. I advised them not to.

Instead, they pried the top off the coffin and had a look.

A woman lay in poor cloth and did not appear dead.

The young men were disappointed and soon decided to each take a snip of her shirt as a memento. Before I could stop them, the students were reaching in.

It was a poor decision.

Tentacles exploded from her chest, and she screamed victoriously. Each black tentacle latched onto a student and dragged him into the coffin, cramming each one in behind the other until the lid snapped closed.

The Black brothers ran for home, and I was left to muscle the onto the stonewall on my own.

I could hear her eating in the coffin, but I left her be. I’d told those boys to leave her alone, and they hadn’t.

She visits, now and again. A pale face pressed against the glass of the second-floor windows.

I wave, and she smiles.

She’s a sweet girl.

#love #horrorstories

February 17

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Miskatonic asked for help.

It’s not often that the university asks for assistance. Rarer still is when I agree to lend a hand.

The university had sent a pair of students to my home. They were young men, fear-filled and bandaged. According to them, they had been in the theology department when a carved stone box had arrived from Palestine.

One of their friends managed to finagle the box open and suffered for their curiosity. When it was opened, a woman climbed out.

In a heartbeat, she was devouring one student’s face. The others tried to intervene, but she’d beaten them back easily. As she had all others who were sent against her.

When they’d fled, she had laughed and promised to eat her way through town.

It was more the threat to my town than anything else that moved me. In a short time, I gathered extra ammunition and my Bowie knife before going out to climb into their automobile.

When we arrived at the school, the theology building had been cordoned off, and there were a few townsfolk with bird guns and hunting rifles. They were men who had served in the Great War and others who had fought the Spanish.

I greeted them with a nod, loosened the Colts in their holsters and cocked the hammers back.

I entered the building with the knife drawn and held down to my side. In a few moments, I passed by a corpse stripped down to bare bones, the innards cast off to one side. Soon after that, another pair of bodies lay against the wall, and bloody footprints turned into a nearby room.

The woman was in there, scooping the eyes out of a skull and popping them into her mouth.

She grinned at me, set the head down, and walked to me. The moment her hands touched my shoulders, I drove the knife up at an angle into her chest. The blade slid beneath the sternum, and she tried to pull back, a look of horrified shock on her face.

I twisted the knife, jerked it hard to the right, and then pushed it down, opening up her whole belly.

She lasted about a heartbeat longer and then collapsed. Unrecognizable organs spilled out, stinking and wet on the floor.

I didn’t worry about that, though.

Killing was my work, and my work was done.

#love #horrorstories

February 16

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She wasn’t quite human.

She was neither fey nor demon, but some creature I’d not met before.

How she got into my house and into my bed, for that matter, were questions that were never answered.

She never gave me time to.

When I crossed the threshold to my room and saw her sprawled out on my bed, cigarette in hand, I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t smell the cigarette, despite a cloud of smoke lingering near the ceiling. A raw sexuality exuded from her, but she wasn’t a succubus.

Far from it.

She was something worse.

The stranger sat up in bed, put the cigarette out, and I found I couldn’t move. It was as though my feet were bolted to the floor. My legs would not obey me, but my hands did.

As she eased out of the bed, her movements graceful and seductive, her dressing gown fell away and revealed a smooth, unblemished body of an undeniable beauty. And as my eyes fixated upon her flesh, I saw it. A slow, undulating coil moving just beneath the surface of her skin.

She wasn’t alone in her body.

The stranger licked her lips. Not in an attempt to tease or entice me, but as one would upon seeing an especially savory meal.

I drew the Colts from their holsters and fired but only winged her as she sprang out of the way.

Black blood splattered onto the floor, and the room was rocked again by the roar of the heavy pistols. She sprang at me, but despite my mutinous legs, I was able to crouch and let off another pair of shots. One clipped her thigh, and the other blew out her right knee, sending her into a crashing roll as she landed.

The stranger tried to stand up but dropped down again.

She flashed me a grin full of dull gray, triangular teeth, and I blew her brains out across the floor.

Thousands of worms spilled out of the gaping wound, and my legs obeyed me once more.

I spent the better part of an hour stomping the damned things into the floorboards, then pouring boiling water across the seams.

I’ve no doubt they’ll be a few in my breakfast in the morning, but so long as they leave my coffee alone, I don’t mind.

I don’t mind at all.

#love #horrorstories

February 15

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She thanked me for her grave.

I’d gone out to Tod Island to make sure it was free of interlopers from the Hollow, and I found a young woman’s body.

She was dead, though only recently so. And I couldn’t see a damned thing wrong with her.

I scouted around a bit and discovered she’d made a bit of shelter and a fine one at that. She’d built it out of deadfall and long grass against a boulder, and she’d left an opening just large enough to crawl through. Once inside, I found a musette bag and the dead embers of a campfire. Above the firepit was a partially covered hole, one that would have kept the weather from getting in while letting the smoke from the fire out.

Whoever she was, she’d been smarter than most.

In her shelter, I emptied her musette bag and saw a bit of food, a change of clothes, and a journal. Upon opening the journal, I saw it was in a language I didn’t know, but there was a photograph of the young woman. She looked into the camera without anything hidden behind her eyes. In their depths, I could see her knowledge of betrayal, and I wish I’d known who she was and why she’d come to my island to die.

I put the photograph in my breast pocket and went back out to where her body lay. The ground beside her was soft, the air filled with the sweet smell of lilacs and the buzzing of bees.

Without hesitation, I began to dig with my hands.

It took a long time to dig her grave, but I succeeded and covered her face with her spare shirt. I didn’t bother speaking any words over her body. There was no need. I hadn’t known who she was or whether she was fair or foul.

I did know she needed a decent burial.

When I finished placing the dirt over her corpse, I gathered up what stones I could find, and I built a cairn upon the grave.

As I stepped back, the woman’s ghost appeared.

She said not a word as she approached, finally coming to a stop before me. She offered up a beautiful smile, took my face into her cold hands, and kissed me gently upon the lips before slipping away into the stillness of the day.

For a moment, I stood there, lips numb.

Then, I wiped the dirt of her grave from my hands and made my way to the shore.

#love #horrorstories

February 14

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My dead and missing are not always silent.

I remember, back in ’36, when 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. 

After the raiders had left, rescuers had found Emma and taken her into town to see the doctor. Later, when we 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.” 

I promised her I would. 

If I close my eyes, I can picture her, see her mad grin spread across her face.

And even now, as I remember this, I strain to hear her voice, but it’s been a long while since my missing spoke.

I’m afraid it’ll be longer still.

#love #horrorstories

February 13

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It’s been decades since I spoke with her.

Sitting here, in the Child’s house and looking out at a storm creeping over the horizon, I recall that time with perfect clarity. Grimnir, in his massive Raven form, had fixed his one-eye upon me and spoke a single word.

“Hollow.” 

There was no urgency behind the name, but the fact that Grimnir spoke was enough to move me out of my chair and back into the house. By the time I finished strapping on the Colts and returned to the porch, he was already gone.  

I didn’t bother with my truck or with saddling one of the horses.  

The walk would help me brace myself for whatever I would find. 

I was wrong. 

When I caught sight of Gods’ Hollow, a second wall stood a short distance from the stonewall, and my heart thundered against my chest.  

I recognized the new wall, though it was far longer than the last time I had seen it.  

Some of the bricked openings had fresh mortar; others were single, solid slabs of marble.  

There was a name inscribed on each, faint and only visible when the light of the sun struck it full on. There were no dates, and there didn’t need to be.  

I could remember each one, and why wouldn’t I? 

I was looking at the wall of my dead. 

These were not the graves of random folk or monsters, criminals or neighbors.  

No, these were the graves of my loved ones. Relations and friends. Some I had put down myself, out of need and nothing more.  

Some had been taken from me by others. A few had been claimed by old age. 

But only a few. 

I climbed over the stonewall and walked to the one grave more important than all the others.  

Adelaide’s. 

I sat down beside my wife’s grave and rested my forehead against the cool marble. 

Time passed, and soon, I heard her sweet voice come from the depths.  

“Duncan,” she sighed. “Why didn’t you wake me?” 

My own voice was raw and broken when I spoke. “I did not wish to disturb you.” 

“You never do,” Adelaide laughed. “I met your son.” 

I could not speak. 

“He is well,” she continued. 

“Is he?” I whispered. 

“We all are, Duncan,” she told me. “The dead have no more worries.” 

And here, in the gathering darkness, I remember her words and weep.

#love #horrorstories

February 12

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Some of them loved too hard.

Robin Llewelyn tracked me down in the winter of ’34 when I was hunkered down on one of my islands. I’d left the running of Blood Farm to a few of the Coffins, who I could trust not to get themselves killed, and I was hunting down the remnants of a band of goblin pirates who were plying Cross River on small ice skiffs. Each day, they’d retreat to Blood Lake, and I finally located the island they were operating out of.

Robin, whom I’d met a year earlier, had become enamored of me and wrote to me now and again. She had pressed the issue of coming to see me, and I told her there was little enough time for it. I was busy.

How she found me on the island, I don’t know.

She never said. Nor did she give me much time to ask her, though I tried. She always made an effort, usually successfully, to pleasanter topics.

After about a week of her living in a small cabin with me, preparing meals and having the fire going when I came back from hunting the goblins, she asked a question I did not wish to answer, ‘though I did.

“Duncan,” she asked coyly. “Will you marry again?”

“No.”

Anger flashed across her face. “What do you mean?”

“It’s a simple enough answer. No.”

“I came here to be with you,” she started.

I shook my head. “And I told you not to. How you came to this place, or how you found me, are mysteries I’ll no longer inquire about. I made you no promises, Robin. I made it clear when we met that I’d no interest in a marriage. Or anything, really. There is too much upon my heart already.”

She reached behind her back and drew out a long skinning knife.

“Duncan,” she said, her jaw twitching, “we’re meant to be together, either in this world or the next.”

“No. We’re not.”

Robin held the knife up. It was steady in her hand, and the mixture of hate and love in her eyes burned.

“I will eat your heart,” she whispered. “We’ll be together then.”

She rushed me from across the room, and I didn’t bother drawing my Colts. Instead, I caught her arm, twisted it, and drove the blade up and into her heart.

I keep her photo with the others to remind me of the forms love can take.

#love #horrorstories

February 11

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We met in the Hollow.

It was May of 1930, and there was word that something in the Hollow was taking prisoners. Clothes and belongings had been found scattered along North Road, as well as an abandoned automobile. Not exactly the type of thing a person leaves behind.

At least not willingly.

I went into the Hollow on a Monday morning, tracked the prints of an animal I didn’t know and came to a small house. From within it came the sound of a woman singing, and I drew my Colts as I approached the door.

Through a window, I saw a tall, graceful woman, dancing alone and singing to herself.

I confess I was smitten by her.

With my Colts still in hand, I rapped the butt of one on the door and waited for it to be opened.

She did so a moment later, her eyes widening slightly at the sight of Colts. I introduced myself and asked if I could come in.

“I’m Charlotte Caisson,” she told me and invited me into her home.

Soon I was seated in a small, delicate parlor with a blue teacup in hand. The tea was sweet, and I sipped at it politely as we spoke.

“Have you seen any strangers come through the Hollow?” I asked.

She laughed, nodding. “It’s the Hollow, Mr. Blood. Everyone’s a stranger.”

I chuckled.

“Yes, there have been a few strangers, but nothing terrible.” She bit the corner of her bottom lip as though she wanted to ask me a question, and then she shook her head. “Have you come far?”

“Only from North Road in my Cross.”

She brushed an errant strand of hair back behind her ear. “I was about to fix something for dinner. Would you care to stay?”

I told her I would.

The day passed by slowly and pleasantly, and by the end of dinner, we were on a first-name basis. By evening, we were sitting on the settee together. And by nightfall, well, there’s no need to write about that.

That night and the following day were exceptional, and when I told her I had my farm to check on, she pressed this photograph and a letter into my hand. She knew as well as I that the Hollow would shift.

When I reached home, I opened the letter and read, “I’ll take no more from your Cross.”

She never did, and I’m glad.

It would have hurt my heart to kill her.

#love #horrorstories

February 10

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So little remains.

In January 1890, I was trapped in the Hollow for the entirety of the month. During that time, I met and then buried Marcus Blood, my son.

Before his death, Marcus told me of his life and what happened to his mother, Elizaveta Krova.

Elizaveta was a Russian who had been my intellectual superior in every way. She was as long-lived as I, and our meeting had been by chance in early 1852 when she was visiting relatives in Boston.  

Our time was unfortunately brief and, it seemed, productive. 

Marcus had been born in Siberia on November 19, 1852, and his aging reflected his parentage. He showed me a photograph he had of her, one taken in 1901. 

I remember how surprise had been evident upon my face and how Marcus had nodded and offered up a stark and bitter explanation to me.  

In 1917, in the midst of the Great War, there had been a revolution in Russia. Groups of soldiers and citizens had risen up against the monarchy and waged a civil war that slaughtered thousands. Marcus and his mother had managed to escape via the port of Archangel, and they had made their way to Cross.  

When they arrived in town, they traveled by way of the North Road, heading towards my farm. She knew they would be safe there despite the fact that I was not in Cross at the time.  

The North Road took them by Gods’ Hollow, and a storm drove them to take refuge within it. They had no sooner done so than they were attacked by a creature with the body of a man and the head of a wolf. While they managed to fend him off, Elizaveta’s throat was torn out at the end, far more than she could heal from. His mother had died in his arms. 

He had been searching for a way out of the Hollow for 37 years. 

I remember walking with my son, and finally, asking the question which was gnawing at my heart. 

“Why didn’t she tell me?” 

“She didn’t want you to think I was a burden,” my son had replied. 

“Family is never a burden.” I had handed the photograph of his mother back to him. I did not wish to stain it with my tears. 

Her picture is with me now, and I remember all of them.

Remember them, for they are far too important to forget.

#love #horrorstories

February 9

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I never knew her. But I keep her photo still.

“I loved you.” 

She was dressed in a man’s tuxedo and a top hat. In her left hand, she held a martini, and in her right, a snub-nose .38. In her eyes, there was sorrow that spoke of years of longing. 

Her hand was steady, and I knew that she, of all the people I had met in my long life, could kill me.  

I let my hands remain at my side, not a single muscle twitched as I looked at her.  

“I’m sorry,” I told her. “I don’t know who you are.” 

The words struck her with the force of a blow, and the hammer pulled back on the pistol. 

I didn’t move. 

“You’re not the first,” she snarled. 

“I don’t doubt that,” I agreed. “And more’s the pity for it.” 

She blinked, and her lips settled into a firm line for a moment.  

“You pity me?” she hissed. 

“Pity you?” I shook my head. “Myself. I can see your passion, and I’m saddened that I never knew.” 

Her eyes narrowed. “I’ll kill you, Duncan Blood.” 

“I can see that. You won’t eat my heart, though. There’d be no joy in it for you.” 

The pistol trembled in her hand. “Will you apologize for what you did?” 

“To you?” 

She nodded. 

“No.” 

The pistol steadied. “Why?” 

“Because I didn’t do it,” I told her. “A version of me did, and I suspect he suffered for it. But it wasn’t enough. Not nearly. So you’ve come here, to the Hollow, and you help to hunt me down.” 

She sipped her drink. “Do you know why I’m wearing this?” 

I looked at the tuxedo, and my shoulders sagged. “You were left at the altar.” 

“Would you have done that?” she whispered. 

“No,” I admitted. “I’ve only married once. Had only one son with another, I would have wed. It hurts too much. I shouldn’t have done it at all.” 

“You shouldn’t have married at all?”  

I shook my head, and tears stung my eyes. 

“You cry?” 

“Aye.” 

“I’ve killed you twenty-three times, Duncan Blood. But you’re the only one who’s wept for his dead. You wouldn’t have left me at the altar.” 

“No.” 

“You’d have stayed with me while I aged, and you did not.” 

“Aye.” 

She finished her drink and shot herself in the chest, and tumbled to the floor.  

I gathered her in my arms and held her until I died.  

There was nothing more I could do. 

#love #horrorstories

February 8

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I have too many memories.

Nothing reminds me of this fact than this place, and I wonder, at times, why it is I come here.

Nettie Sands had been a sweet young woman and one I paid attention to. I couldn’t do more than have coffee with her now and again. The passing of Adelaide was still too raw some twenty years later.

One day, she missed our meeting for coffee, and so I went in search of her.

I found Nettie’s remains by the stonewall on North Road. There wasn’t much left of her, mostly charred bones and a pile of innards that never should have seen the light of day. Her shoes were cast off to one side, and her dress – bloodied and soiled – was crumpled on the ground a short distance away.  

The ones who had killed her and who had eaten most of her were on the other side of the wall. There were eight of them, three adults and five younglings. They were roughly humanoid, more reptile than anything else, and they were clad in clothes that closely resembled those favored by the Romani. 

These creatures did not know me, and so, they did not run when I climbed over the stonewall.  

Instead, they called out to one another and came towards me. Knives appeared in the hands of even the youngest, and the sight of them brought a smile to my face. 

I brushed back the sides of my coat and revealed the smooth, well-worn grips of my Colts. As the creatures drew near, I drew the pistols and cocked back the hammers all in one, smooth motion. 

The clicking of the hammers as they locked into place was a sound that at least one of the creatures was familiar with, and as it opened its gray-green mouth to shout a warning, I opened fire. 

The Colts roared in the obscene stillness of the Hollow and echoed off the trees lurking on the edge of the rolling grass. When the sound of death finished its victorious lap around me, all eight of the creatures were dead. 

They’d killed Nettie Sands, a beautiful young woman who was the sweetest soul I’d ever encountered. Killed and eaten her on a warm August day. 

Here, in the Child’s house, I look upon her face and try to forget the memories of that day.

I never succeed.

#love #horrorstories

February 7

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I remember the journey home.

Through the shadows, word had come, whispering of illness, and through the shadows, I raced home.

Traveling in such a way is dangerous at the best of times, doing so when distracted is near suicidal.

But the fey had found me in Europe during the war, and they had passed the word to me of Adelaide’s sickness.

Here, in the comfort of the Child’s house and looking out from his island out over the broad expanse of Blood Lake, I can remember that trip without anger. Without the keen desperation, I had felt at the time. I had torn through the shadow world, still wearing my kit, still wrapped in the garments of war.

The creatures that lurk in those shadows between one world and the next kept their distance from me, at least on the trip home. They knew better, and I was armed with my Colts. The creatures knew what iron and hate could do in my hands.

I came into my home, through the closet in the bedroom I shared with my love and found her sick abed.

I could smell the death in the room, and I could see it in her eyes.

In the hallway, I heard the soft, unmistakable tread of a Reaper.

They were giving me time.

I shucked off my kit, washed my hands and face, and sat down beside my wife, holding her against me. Neither of us spoke. She was too far gone to put forth the effort, but she smiled as I held her.

She slid her hand up and pressed it against my heart, and her smile broadened.

We stayed like that for almost an hour, and then the door opened, and the Reaper walked in.

The Reaper appeared as a child, a girl no older than nine or ten. She smiled at me with sadness and comfort and then came to a stop beside the bed.

“Do you need more time, Duncan Blood?” the Reaper asked in a soft, lilting voice.

“Is she in pain?”

The Reaper nodded.

“No,” I whispered. “We’ve had time enough.”

“Hold her,” the Reaper commanded, and I did so.

The girl stepped forward, reached out a small, delicate hand, and caressed Adelaide’s cheek.

The light left my wife’s eyes, and I was alone with her corpse.

I buried her in the family plot and returned to war.

There was naught else for me to do.

#love #horrorstories

February 6

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Of all the women I’ve loved, I only ever married one.

Adelaide McCutcheon was the most beautiful person I’ve ever known, and I doubt I’ll see her like again.

She had been born a slave, and in February, shortly before she and her family were freed by Federal troops, her master deafened her.

She overcame this, and by the time I met her in the winter of 1899, she was a stunningly beautiful and intelligent woman. Adelaide worked as a librarian at the Cross Library, shelving and managing the library’s financial affairs.

On the evening of December 7th, when we were returning from dinner, I heard a commotion not far from us and rather too close to the library for my comfort. Adelaide, while she didn’t hear the ruckus, plainly saw the folk gathering and then fleeing the scene.

We watched as a young man stumbled towards the library, a haversack on his back and his face a pale mask of pain. He collapsed to the ground and vomited bile and blood into the snow, and as we neared him, I heard the whispering.

Foul voices filled with hatred and spewing such hideous thoughts that I ground my teeth together and clamped my hands over my ears.

Adelaide was unaffected, and she led me forward.

The young man tried to get to his feet, but his eyes rolled wildly in his head, and he pitched forward, dead, as he collapsed onto his side. Books spilled from his haversack, and it was from them that the hideous whispers issued.

When Adelaide looked to me, I mouthed, “The books.”

She nodded in understanding and swept them back into the haversack. She hoisted them onto her back, and together we trekked to my home. Down in my secret library, we set the books aside, locking them away where they would not be heard. Not until I’d built a special room for them.

Neither Adelaide nor I ever discovered the origin of the books, and it was something we discussed in the few short years given to us as husband and wife.

She helped me design the secret library’s silent room, and it is there that all troublesome books eventually go.

Sometimes I go into the whispering books, and they ask a single question.

When will Adelaide return?

They miss her as much as I do.

#love #horrorstories

February 5

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I was terribly lonely.

Following the War of the Rebellion, those long years traversing the South and fighting monsters rather than secesh, I keenly felt my solitude. It’d been decades since I’d spoken with any kin, and I’d buried far too many friends and family.

I wanted companionship, though I was as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs when I thought about romance.

There’d been a few women whom I’d shown some interest in, but none of any caliber like Isabelle Cooper. Not until I met Genevieve Marsh.

Genevieve was originally from Concord, New Hampshire, and she came to Cross as so many of the writers on the Sentinel did: by way of tragedy and looking for peace.

She found it for a short time.

When she settled in Cross and found work at the Sentinel, she began by following up stories along North Road. I would see her, and occasionally she would stop in for a cup of tea, always marveling at my solitary existence on the farm. She even expressed dismay when she learned about how I had fought in the War of the Rebellion.  

After one such conversation, she told me there had been word of a child crying out along the border of North Road and Gods’ Hollow, and I told her it would be wise to avoid the area for a spell. She knew how dangerous it was, but she felt a responsibility when it came to investigating rumors of injured children. 

I argued against it, but she was insistent. 

I attempted to accompany her, but she would not allow it. I feigned acceptance, and after I bade her farewell, I hastily strapped on the Colts and loaded the Spencer. By the time I made it to the road, I could just see her moving to the stonewall. As she placed her hands upon it, the stones grabbed hold of her.  

I don’t know what type of beast it was, only that it wrenched her right arm out of its socket and stuffed it into its maw. Her screams shook the trees to their roots, and I took careful aim with the Spencer.  

The first two rounds ricocheted off the thing’s head. The third took her squarely in the temple and blew her brains out. 

I try to remember her smile and not the creature cursing me as it dragged her corpse into the Hollow.

#love #horrorstories

February 4

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The photograph is all I have left.

The glass is broken, a bitter reminder of how I had found the photo, of the horror that had greeted me that morning.

Isabelle Cooper had been beautiful, with a sharp tongue and a sharper wit. In the winter of 1858 and the spring of ’59, I’d been courting her. And courting her something fierce. There’d been a few other young men in town chasing after her, but she favored me, of that there was no doubt.

I looked young, only around sixteen years of age, but I had my farm and the Blood lands. Blood Lake, too, was mine, and there were few elders in town who dared to cross me. A few knew who I was and how old.

The knowledge of my age was the only fact to sour me on the idea of marriage to Isabelle. I knew I would outlive her, and on the morning of April 2nd, I went to her home on Washington Street to speak with her.

I would tell her my secret, tell her how old I was. I would tell her I was there when her father was born some fifty years earlier. Of how I had fought beside her grandfather in Stonington, Connecticut against the British in the War of 1812, and how I had stood over the body of his dying father when Loyalists raided in 1781.

I’d known her family since they’d arrived in Cross before the start of the Revolution, though I’d taken pains to hide my identity and age over the years.

But with Isabelle, I would bare my soul. I would lay it out before her and let her make her choice.

I’d faced death and horrors, but the idea of being rejected by Isabelle Cooper as some sort of monster left me shaking, throat dry, and belly in knots.

When I reached Washington Street, clouds rolled across the sky. A great bank of storm heads, thunder shaking the earth and lightning filling the air. And as I beat through the rain towards her home, it vanished.

In the blink of an eye, only the foundations remained, and the storm raced off.

I was left soaking wet and standing in front of what had been her house. A few feet away, glinting in the morning sun, was the photograph.

For years I tried to forget her, and did, for a while.

But how do you forget a woman you loved and wished to marry?

#love #horrorstories

February 3

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She was dangerous and half-mad.

Her name was Patience Blood, and she was a woman I loved dearly.

Patience was the product of a father poisoned by lead and a mother to whom the fey spoke. 

She was my cousin, the elder by ten years, and the universe revolved around her as far as I was concerned. My Uncle Nathaniel would come and stay for months on an island, and he would bring both Patience and his wife with him. He would run ‘round the island, naked as the day is long, screaming at God to try and strike him down. My Aunt Elizabeth would sit at the water’s edge, lean close to it, and listen as the merfolk broke the surface and whispered secrets no human should ever hear.

Patience would run wild on our land. My father, when he was still in Cross, would shake his head at the madness of the family, but he let them each do as they would.

As for me, when my chores were finished, I followed Patience like a lovesick puppy. She taught me how to move through the woods, how to speak with the fey, and how to listen to the damned as they marched from one place in Hell to another. 

Her father vanished in 1901, and her mother slipped into the water and joined the merfolk a year after. Patience drifted from place to place, often journeying deep into Gods’ Hollow, the same place where my father vanished.

I last saw her in 1930, when she walked out of the Hollow. There was a strangeness to her then. The way she spoke was frightening, almost devoid of emotion as she related her tales. Her smile was true, though, and when she asked me to walk with her to the family burial ground, I felt an old and almost forgotten thrill. 

At the graves of our ancestors, I helped open a small crypt half-buried in a hill. Once there, she gave me a kiss goodbye and this photograph. Patience disappeared into the crypt’s darkness without a word. I sealed the door closed behind her the same way. 

Sitting here and holding her image, I can recall the hours I spent outside the crypt, hoping she would change her mind. Hoping she would come home to me.

She never did.

Sometimes, late at night, as I lay sleepless in my bed, I can hear her walking with the damned. 

#love #horrorstories

February 2

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She was hungry, mad, and beautiful.

Sitting in the Child’s house, with pipe lit and the smoke curling up around me, I look at the box upon the table in front of me. The wood is old, inlaid with silver, and no larger than my hand. My fingers tremble as I slip the locks up and take the long lock of deep black hair from it.

The hair is sleek, warm, and delicate upon my skin, and I think of her and the door.

The door I’ve not opened since 1784 when last I closed it.  

The door is in the oldest barn, a relic of centuries past. Rarely do I venture there, for the creature behind the door still lives. Still hungers. 

And I cannot bring myself to kill her. 

I found her when I was sixteen, long before the nation existed. She was on the edge of Gods’ Hollow, bathing in the waters of a small, vernal pool. Her skin glowed in the sunlight, shined upon her bright, sharp teeth, and drowned in her pure black eyes. 

I watched as she washed blood off her mouth and bare chest, her long black hair hanging in damp locks. She saw me, laughed, and licked her full lips with a forked tongue which would later speak the greatest of lies in the sweetest of whispers. 

I can remember her embrace, the graceful terror of her teeth upon my throat, and the way she shuddered within my arms. We spent long hours and nights that passed too quickly by that pool.

And then, one day, we left the pool together.

I brought her home with me, snuck her to my room and hardly slept for days. None knew she was there, not until she slew my uncle Obadiah and ate him.

My father was out, and I was alone with a half-eaten corpse.

Heartbroken, I bound her in iron and dragged her screaming to the barn. With my own knife, I carve the sigils into the wood, and with my own blood, I sealed them. 

I placed her in the unlit room and freed her of the chains. On my back, I bear the scars of her teeth and nails. My ears bled from the rage which spewed from her mouth. 

Occasionally, I return to the barn, and I listen and speak with her. Always she asks to be freed. Always I deny her. 

She tells me she loves me still, and I say the same. 

It is a painful truth we both speak in darkness.  

#love #horrorstories

Lost Loves

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I’ve lived with a broken heart.

Despite my age, or perhaps because of it, I’ve fallen in love more than once. Too many times, as far as I’m concerned.

Only once did I take a wife, though, and of all those I miss, it is my sweet Adelaide I miss the most.

By the mid-1600s, I’d reached the appearance of a young man of fifteen years. Not exactly appealing to a woman, though I turned the head of more than a few girls who appeared to be my own age. They never understood why I turned my attention and focus to work rather than more amorous activities.

How could I, when I was fifty years old and looked as though I’d yet to breach the walls of puberty?

By the mid-1700s, I’d aged physically enough to be noticed by young women, most of whom did not live in Cross. Those few young ladies in Cross knew to stay away from the Bloods and the Coffins, and with good reason. Wherever we were, trouble followed.

Over the decades and centuries, there would be the occasional woman from Cross who would look beyond this warning. More often than not, my partners came from other towns and countries. Occasionally, they came from Gods’ Hollow itself.

I have buried more than a few of my partners, been forced to imprison others, and several I’ve had to put down.

It gets harder each time, and I’ve no desire to let anyone into this world of mine.

Blood Farm is a place of horror, and I am in the company of monsters. I feed corpses to my trees, give sanctuary to giants and trolls, and fight with creatures that straddle the worlds.

I am old, and I am tired, and there’s a lifetime of killing left ahead of me.

What kind of world is that to bring someone into?

Besides, I’m set in my ways. Decades alone will do that, I suppose.

In the morning, I’ll travel out to the island where Child had kept his home. After he passed, I brought the mementos of my dead loves to the house, and I smoke the pipe Child carved for me all those years ago.

In the solitude of the island, I’ll think about my dead and perhaps find a measure of peace.

If peace is what I’m meant to have.

#love #horrorstories

10:11 AM January 1, 1931

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He stared at the phone as it rang.

We sat in his office at Miskatonic. I smoked my pipe, and John Hawthorne sat in silence.

The phone rang, sharp and punctual.

Neither he nor I made any move to answer it.

John watched the phone, and two minutes later, it went silent. His hands trembled as he took out his own pipe, packed it, and lit it. His teeth clattered against the stem of the pipe, and the bowl bobbed with the gait of a mad horse.

“What can I do, John?” I asked.

A weak smile appeared. “There’s nothing you can do, Duncan. It’s my own damned fault. I knew what could happen.”

The phone rang again, and John swore.

After three minutes, it stopped.

“I’ll have to answer it soon,” he whispered.

“You’ve answered it once?”

John nodded. “Shortly after I opened the book. The phone rang, and even as I translated the warning on the first page, I was answering the call. It was too late.”

“Where’s the book now?”

He tapped his desk. “Top drawer. Locked, of course. Doesn’t do any good.”

“No,” I sighed. “Usually doesn’t.”

The phone rang, and John jumped in his seat, the springs creaking and the wood groaning beneath the shock of it. Sweat beaded upon his brow, and after four minutes, the phone ceased its ringing.

“Have you bound it?” I asked.

“Yes,” he murmured. “Silver locks. You’ll take it?”

“I will.”

“And keep it safe?”

I smiled. “Yes, John, I’ll keep the book safe. There are others like it.”

He plucked a pocket square from his suit coat and dabbed at the sweat. John returned the square to the pocket, took out a key and unlocked the top drawer. From it, he withdrew a thin volume. The book was locked with silver clasps, each one intricately carved. The binding itself was a wonder to behold, the leather tooled in a fashion I’d not seen before.

And the book stung my fingers as I took it, the leather cold and the silver sharp to the touch.

The phone rang, John set his pipe down and answered it.

“Hello?”

The word left his lips, and he slumped forward, dead.

I stood up, tucked the book beneath my arm, and left the office.

It was time to bring the book home and to keep it safe, just as I’d promised.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural

9:43 AM January 1, 1931

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Higgins Barrow was a miserable bastard.

He delighted in the torment of others.

Higgins developed a technique designed to inflict emotional injury to others, and he taught this to select students at the university using wards of the state.

Two months ago, I learned of this, and it took me less than a day to confirm it.

Doctor Allen Rigby made a profit on the side by renting out the feeble-minded in his care at the sanitarium. Since Higgins returned the wards without any physical marks on their bodies, Rigby was satisfied that he was doing no wrong.

At first, Rigby refused to speak with me. It was only after I threw his assistant down a flight of stairs and broke all the fingers on Rigby’s left hand that he began to talk. He showed me the contract he had with Higgins and even a large sum of cash which Rigby hadn’t yet deposited.

I stuffed the money down Rigby’s throat and watched him choke to death.

I found Higgins in his office at the university reading a proof of his newest work. He started to speak, but I didn’t let him.

Twice I punched him in the face, the second blow rendering him unconscious. And although he was heavy, I managed to get him back to the farm without interruption.

When he came to, we were in one of the rooms I generally keep closed off. I had bound him naked to a chair, and in the semidarkness, I waited.

“My mind is too strong,” he chuckled. “You can’t break me with torture.”

“I’m not going to do anything,” I told him.

He grinned. “You’re a weak man, aren’t you. The stories about you are merely that. Stories.”

“Mm. Possibly.”

I lit my pipe and smoked.

He was about to speak again when they came into the room.

Dark shadows peeling away from the walls. They whispered and crept closer. Long and paper-thin, hands cold and eyes dead. I saw the gooseflesh rise on Higgins. One of the shadows leaned in and whispered in his ear.

Higgins’ eyes widened, and he shook his head. The others crept close, long fingers trailing along his arms.

I stood up, and as I closed the door behind me, I heard Higgins let out a long, low whimpering, “No.”

It turns out he wasn’t difficult to break at all.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural

9:30 AM January 1, 1931

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Bitterness consumed Frank Cunningham.

He moved to Cross about a year ago, taking a position at Miskatonic as an assistant professor of early magic in the Balkans. Part of his credentials, he told me, was a practical understanding of Eastern European magic.

While we weren’t friends, we were fair acquaintances. I was not averse to having a beer or two with him in the tavern. We would exchange stories of our travels, and while he listened to mine, I don’t think he believed them.

And that was fine with me. It suits my purposes fine if certain people believe I’m little more than a man with an active imagination.

As for myself, I believed everything Frank said, and the folks at Miskatonic should have as well.

Less than a month ago, I saw Frank in the tavern. He had whiskey instead of beer, and he was drinking hard.

When I asked if he was well, he shook his head.

“They’ve stolen my books, Duncan,” he told me.

I took a seat beside him. “Who has?”

“The members of the board authorized the librarian and his ilk to seize them,” Frank stated.

I considered his situation for a moment and then asked, “Do you want help getting them back?”

Frank shook his head. “No. I had every intention of leaving the books to the school when I died. They’ll have to pay, though, for taking them instead of waiting.”

I motioned for a beer, and the barman brought me one. To Frank, I asked, “Will you demand money?”

“No.” He took out a tall, slim book and showed me a list of names and a blank space to sign. Frank set the book on the bar, took out a fountain pen and smiled. “Will you hold this for me after I sign it?”

I nodded, my stomach queasy from the raw magic pulsating from the book.

“Thank you.”

Frank leaned forward, and with a flourish, signed his name. He lifted his whiskey, finished it, and vanished.

I’m not sure where he went, only that he didn’t go alone. The librarian and his three assistants vanished, as did the two board members who had approved of the theft.

When I wonder where they are, I think of the Balkans and their monsters.

The book, I’m pleased to say, is locked away.

I don’t need anything crawling out.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural

8:44 AM January 1, 1931

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His courage did him no good.

Jake Riley was a brave man. One seemingly without fear.

He had heard of the fate of the Archers, and he told the board members of Miskatonic that he wanted their job.

He was hired on the spot.

Over the next month or so, I heard about some of the books he retrieved. A few were purchased from places deep in Europe. Places where it wasn’t necessarily safe to travel. But he returned each time, laden with books.

Come September, he was in full swing. He’d go out once a week and return with a book or two, and then, mid-month, he vanished for a week.

When he returned, he was haggard, worn, and foolish.

On Monday morning, I saw him walking towards the university. He carried a large, curious book, and I followed along at a fair distance. There was something off about the book, and it set my teeth on edge to be near it.

As he drew nearer the school, Jake stumbled. He nearly went down to the road, but he caught himself, and a pair of nearby students helped to steady him. I overheard Jake say he was headed toward the library with the book, and they took it upon themselves to help him make his way there.

The wind shifted slightly, and I could smell sickness pouring off him. In the morning light, I caught a glimpse of sweat upon his brow, and his face paled noticeably. He bent his head toward the book as though it spoke to him.

Perhaps it did.

The trio reached a building, and Jake bade them stop. I saw him offer up an apologetic smile, and then he drew a carving knife from his overcoat.

The blade flashed in the sunlight, and Jake cut the students down. As they lay dying on the steps, he set the book upon top riser, knelt beside and cried out in a tongue I did not know.

A heartbeat later, he bared this throat and opened it over the book.

Blood washed down upon it, and the world shook as I sprinted up and threw my coat over the book. I snatched it up and felt it writhe in my arms.

It’s bound now, imprisoned here in my library. Denied its sacrifice, the book sulks and waits for me to die.

It’s not the only one, and like everyone else, it’ll have a long time to wait.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural

8:10 AM January 1, 1931

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Their books betrayed them.

Lawrence and Rebecca Archer took a job they shouldn’t have. They became book buyers for Miskatonic. They were aggressive in their quest to obtain certain volumes, and soon they were unwelcome in the book world.

They heard rumor of my collection, but neither was foolish enough to approach me. The couple knew what fate lay in store for those who did.

Because of this, I thought I would need to pay only the slightest bit of attention to their activities.

I was wrong.

They didn’t enjoy taking ‘no’ for an answer. So much so that they ended up breaking into the home of Oscar Lorde. Oscar had gone off to visit his daughter in Providence and had a bad fall and died a few days later. When word reached Cross, Lawrence and Rebecca forced their way into Oscar’s home and stole his fine collection of books on arcane lore.

It was a poor decision.

Oscar had been a fair hand at magick. He’d had a bit of natural ability and an affinity for the fey, so they had taught him that which he didn’t have at birth.

Oscar had put spells of protection on his books. When Lawrence and Rebecca kept several for themselves, the spells were triggered.

From what I’ve been able to gather – and what the fey have told me about those books of Oscar’s which are now in my collection – Lawrence and Rebecca sat down to enjoy some of their own books.

As they settled in and enjoyed the evening, Oscar’s magick awoke.

The Archers’ prized books, kept in a nearby secretary, slowly shed their bindings. Leather and coarse string slipped down and made their way across the rug. The leather and the string curled up and around the legs of the chairs, stitched themselves together, and then bound the thieves in their seats.

Legs to legs and arms to arms, the husband and wife struggled to free themselves, but to no avail.

Leather wrapped around their heads, binding their chins as the cloth had for old Jacob Marley. The couple could moan and whimper, but naught else.

String stitched eyes closed, lips shut, and nostrils tight.

Husband and wife suffocated in their seats, as all book thieves should.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural

7:29 AM January 1, 1931

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I told him not to play it.

Professor Asa Bruchac taught music the first two years the Cross branch of Miskatonic was open. His skill at the piano was undeniable and remarkable.

His morals were not.

His foul temperament and his peculiar tastes left much to be desired.

Like most of those employed by the university, I spent a fair amount of time avoiding them. Two years ago, however, I learned of the school’s acquisition of a large book of music. The volume had been compiled in the 18th century, and I remember my father speaking of it with the Coffins, back before the longevity drained from that family line.

There were songs in the book that best not be played. Music that could tear flesh asunder and grind bone to dust.

I suspect the learned folks at Miskatonic wanted to see if those rumors were true.

As much as I disliked Bruchac, I went to the university and paid him a visit. I told him about the dangers of the book and how it would be best if he didn’t play a single song from it. He sneered at me, of course, and informed me he would be playing that evening.

I decided not to go too far from the school.

Crossing the street, I settled down in a patch of woods, lit my pipe, and waited.

The afternoon passed and settled into evening. A dozen or so guests arrived at the university’s small conservatory. As the doors opened and closed, I could hear the faint sounds of a piano being tuned.

At seven o’clock, the last of the guests arrived, and a few minutes later, the conservatory trembled.

It didn’t last long. Perhaps ten seconds. Perhaps less.

It was long enough to bring the building down.

I was the first to the rubble, and I managed to pull three survivors out before students from the school arrived. Together, we saved six and recovered the bodies of all save Bruchac. He’d been crushed by the largest piece of the conservatory, and it would take far longer to retrieve his remains.

As night closed in, I slipped off to one side and found the book I’d told him to leave be. It was large and ungainly, but I bound it closed and carried it home.

There are some songs that aren’t meant to be heard.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural

7:12 AM January 1, 1931

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Miskatonic opened a door best left closed.

Someone in the fledgling Miskatonic library learned of a book purchase I’d made, and they intercepted its delivery.

The courier was waylaid on the train from Boston, the station master finding the man unconscious in the restroom and his bag stolen. When the man came to, he handed a letter of introduction to the station master, and it was then that the master sent for me. The letter of introduction confirmed who the stranger was and what he had been carrying from Boston.

I had discovered the existence of a book in Somerville, and I had arranged for its purchase. The book was a rare, Arabic edition of a text on mad prophets, and it was known to damage – quite severely – those who read it. While I didn’t mind anyone at the university suffering, I couldn’t abide the thought of an innocent reader perusing the shelves and coming across the book.

With my Colts on my hips and anger in my heart, I left the injured currier in the care of the station master, and I went to Miskatonic.

I passed through the gates, made my way to the library, and forced my way in. Several students tried to stop me, but it’s difficult to say no when you’re staring down the barrel of a .44 Colt.

The book, they told me, was being examined by an interim library, and it was then that we heard the scream.

The students fled, and I went to the sound of screaming.

It stopped sharply, but not before I found the source.

The noise had come from behind a closed door, and with Colt in hand, I opened the door and entered the room.

Where the librarian had gotten off to, I didn’t have the slightest idea. I was more concerned with the man and child sitting and reading. The man looked up, and I knew the Colt wouldn’t work.

I slid it into the holster and waited.

After a moment, the man stated, “He was rude, so we ate him.”

“Sounds fair,” I observed.

The child smiled at me.

“We are finishing our lessons, Mr. Blood,” the man stated, turning a page. “We will be with you soon.”

I gave a nod, stepped out of the room and closed the door.

There are some men you fight and some who just aren’t men.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural

7:00 AM January 1, 1931

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The first students of the Cross branch of Miskatonic University arrived in August.

I wasn’t pleased when the land was sold, and the university came in. We’ve had a love-hate relationship for the past ten years or so, and I doubt it will get any better. The professors and administration leave a lot to be desired, especially when it comes to the gathering of items and books for their school.

In the first week that they were here, Mr. Sherwood Babcock, a young man sent to help prepare the school, introduced himself to me, hinting – strenuously – that he knew my age and a bit of my history. He then inquired as to the location of a book in my collection. A book he most certainly shouldn’t have known about.

Few know that I own one of the magicked copies of the Malleus Maleficarum, the Hammer of Witches. My copy had been torn from the hands of Increase Mather as he lay dying in August of 1723. My father, Ezekiel Blood, had been the one to take it from the bastard.

These thoughts rose up as Mr. Babcock sat in my parlor, sipping my brandy and smiling.

“So,” the man said, “we were hoping you would be willing to part with it. Donate it, as it were, to the university. We would be certain to take care of it.”

I finished my brandy and motioned towards the tea-table on my left, where my Colts lay.

“Do you see yonder revolvers, Mr. Babcock?” I asked him.

He nodded, his smile never leaving his face. “I do. I’ve heard something of your skill with them, too.”

“You’ll see what I can do with them,” I told him, my voice cold and harsh, “if you poke too much into my business.”

The man stiffened. “Mr. Blood, I don’t think you understand.”

His mouth snapped shut as I slipped a Colt free.

“It’s time for you to leave.”

“The book,” he managed to whisper, his eyes locked on the Colt.

I shook my head. “Leave with your life, or not at all.”

When he stood, he drew a pistol, his face pale and his hand shaking.

His shot went wild, and I gunned him down.

I buried him in the orchard, where the trees could feast upon him.

Others from the school have joined him since, and I suspect they always will.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural

6:30 AM January 1, 1931

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Mary Stewart vanished in 1862.

I’d been away, of course, fighting the secesh during the war of the rebellion. When I returned, I learned of her disappearance. Mary had always been a quiet and reserved woman. She’d been widowed when her husband, Anthony, had been killed in a bad fall from a horse. She had sought comfort in books, and most days, she could be found reading in her front parlor, the sun shining upon her. Most evenings, one could see her, lamp lit and still with book in hand.

She and I would speak of the merits of some books, and the poor qualities of others, on those rare occasions when she ventured out of her home.

I found it strange that she should have vanished and went to investigate.

Upon entering her home, I was dismayed to see that none had cared for it. Dust had settled on every surface, and it was most noticeable in her parlor. Everything looked as it should, except for one item.

A single book lay on the floor, a corner of fabric protruded from its gilded pages.

I picked the volume up and read the title.

Laqueus et Lector.

The Snare and the Reader.

The leather of the volume was curiously warm in my hands, and I opened the book as I set it down upon the table.

A rush of hot air and a gasp followed, and Mary Stewart screamed for help.

Reaching into the book, I grasped her hands and dragged her out. She tumbled to the floor, and I snapped the volume closed.

She lay there, panting as I took a dusty shawl off the back of her chair and bound the book within it.

With that done, I turned and looked upon her.

She was thinner, paler. Her eyes were wide, and there were scars upon her bare arms. Her clothes were in tatters, and there was a rank, violent odor about her.

Shaking, Mary got to her feet, swept her long and ragged hair out of her eyes and cleared her throat.

“Thank you, Duncan,” she whispered hoarsely. “I seem to have to have read a little too much.”

I nodded. “Would you like me to draw you a bath?”

“Yes, but the book,” she shivered.

I set the book on the floor, drew a Colt, and put a single round through it.

The house shook, the book bled, and then Mary had her bath.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural

6:20 AM January 1, 1931

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He trapped them to save them.

Moses Abernathy was a man of god, though I don’t know which particular god he worshiped. I’ve met my share, and none of them are worth my devotions.

Moses, on the other hand, he’d found his particular god, and he was dedicated to a life of salvation. He put his money where his mouth is, as the saying goes, and he worked hard among the sick and the poor. Moses lived up to his namesake as well, leading many people up from the depths of poverty or from the brink of death. I admired his dedication and his piety.

Moses was a man who lived in a spartan fashion. His only vice was the collection of books. Some were small, others large, and he kept them all on organized shelves, which he cleaned on a regular basis.

As he aged, his library grew. By the time he reached 92, he had little more than a bedroll and his few sets of clothes. He took his meals with the writers of The Sentinel.

On his last morning, I found Moses sitting with a bemused smile as he watched the journalists at their work.

“Today is my day, Duncan,” he told me as I sat down with him.

“Is it?”

He nodded and took the key to his home out of his pocket, placing it on the table between us. “You’ll look after my books?”

“Aye, if that’s what you want.”

“It is. They’re more than books, you know.”

The journalists stopped their work and focused on us.

“Are they?”

“Yes,” Moses sighed. “They’re all those I couldn’t save. The old and the young, men and women. I teased their souls out of their dying flesh and eased it into the pages of those books. They’re alive, in their own way. Dreaming, mostly.”

He looked at me and smiled. “Only those who wanted it, mind you. And they were surprisingly few.”

“How few?” I asked.

He closed his eyes, paused and then answered, “There are 322. I helped the first, my younger brother, in 1812. I was nine, and he was seven. I visit him, on occasion. And a few others. No more, though. No more. I’m ready, Duncan. Quite ready.”

Moses Abernathy smiled and died at the table.

His books have their own alcove in my library. Occasionally, I speak with them. But mostly, I leave them to their dreams.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural

6:10 AM January 1, 1931

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She kept a list that damned her.

Emily Vassar worked as a teacher and never married. She traveled throughout the small towns of New England, never spending more than a year or two in each place.

She never wore out her welcome, far from it. She was considered one of the finest teachers to ever step foot into a one-room schoolhouse.

When she returned to Cross, I was none too pleased to see her. She’d begun her teaching career in Cross, and she had come to my home more than once in an effort to recruit me to attend. Not everyone in Cross is aware of my age or how my looks bely my experiences.

After a year of teaching, she pulled up stakes as it were and made her way out to the western portion of Massachusetts along the New York border.

When I crossed paths with her near the train station, she was more than a little surprised to see me, especially since I looked as though I hadn’t aged a day. When she questioned me, I feigned stupidity and claimed to be my own grandson, which she accepted.

Later that evening, she came to the farm and asked to enter. She carried with her a small travel bag, one she said she was unwilling to leave in her rented room. Emily asked to speak with either my father or grandfather, saying she would like to offer her services as a tutor if needed.

I told her services were not needed and kindly bade her leave.

She tried to force her way into the house, and in the scuffle that followed, she dropped her bag, and the lock sprang open. A small book tumbled out and opened to the center, and it was there that I saw a list of names.

Martin Fry, age 13 – quinine, 1844.

She scrambled for the book, and I punched her in the back of her head, stunning her. I snatched up the book and saw name after name of murdered children.

All poisoned with quinine.

She started to speak, and I grabbed her by the hair. Emily screamed as I dragged her into the kitchen and bound her to a chair. In the medicine chest, I found quinine and gave her the first of many draughts.

It took her a day and a half to die.

Hers is the final entry in the book, a reminder of the lives she stole.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural

5:53 AM January 1, 1931

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Louisa Schuler had an eye for books.

I usually saw Louisa in Von Epp’s Books, shopping for a particular title. It was often one she knew nothing about.

“I have a feeling, Mr. Blood,” she would tell me with a knowing smile.

She would move among the shelves, hand gliding across the bindings, and invariably she would stop upon a title and pluck it from its brethren. The book could be a solitary copy, or it might be one of a dozen.

Whatever it was, the book was important to her.

On a Friday morning, I went into Von Epp’s and Kristoph von Epp was in a state. He’d not seen Louisa for the better part of the week, and this was unusual for her. I only succeeded in calming him down when I promised I would go directly to her home on Olive Street and make certain she was well.

When I reached her small, well-kept house, I saw that the situation was bad.

All the curtains were drawn, and there was no smoke coming from the chimney, despite the chill of the day. A knock on her door did not receive an answer, nor did the ringing of the bell.

I tried the handle, only to find it locked, and I drew my Colts as I went around the house. Every curtain was drawn, and only silence greeted me as I knocked upon the glass and called to her. The neighbors peered out, and I waved them away as I reached the back of the house.

The back door was locked too, but I did not hesitate to force it open.

The smell of death smashed into me, trying to shove me out.

I pushed my way into the kitchen, past an unfinished meal and a stack of books on the table’s center. In the dim light of the hallway, I followed the stench to the parlor and found Louisa on the floor.

She was dead, stripped bare and bound by thread to the floor. Her slight frame was pierced a thousand times, and miniature boots had left bloody prints from her corpse to the book at her side.

Gulliver’s Travels.

As I lifted the book from the floor, a single Lilliputian tumbled out, rapier in hand.

I ground him beneath my heel.

The book is with me now, and every year or so, I give it a shake. When a Lilliputian emerges, they meet the same fate as the first.

Little bastards.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural