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Day 20

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She left another gift.

This time, it wasn’t a corpse, ‘though I wish it had been.

The ground shook, and a great cloud of dust and debris soared into the air not a quarter mile from our encampment.

All eyes turned to me and waited.

I finished my coffee, tossed the grounds into the fire, and got to my feet.

“Company?” Marius asked.

I shook my head. “We’re thin enough as it is. We can’t spread out, not with my mother around.”

Mikkelsen frowned. “I still find it difficult to understand how this young woman can be your mother.”

“She’s a version of her,” I explained again. “Perhaps not as foul, but just as strong and just as determined to put me in the ground.”

“Why?” Marius asked.

I shrugged. “She tried nigh on two centuries ago. I killed her. She’s been trying to repay me ever since. Get sharpshooters in the corners, bring the wounded in closer. If she’s around, she’ll go after the weak and try to draw you out.”

With my hammer in hand, I left the safety of the camp and walked toward where a dark dust cloud hung in the air.

When I reached it, I was glad to be alone.

A young giant sat in front of the remains of a windmill, picking his toes with a bit of wood. When he caught sight of me, he left his feet alone and tossed the wood off to one side.

“Blood?”

“Aye?”

“You have a hammer?”

My chest vibrated as the giant’s voice shook the air.

“Aye.”

“She said you had only your Colts.”

I smiled. “She didn’t know.”

He frowned. “I don’t like hammers.”

“Most of your kind don’t.”

He nodded. “They hurt. Will yours?”

“Without a doubt.”

The giant picked up a rock the size of my head and threw it lazily at me. I moved to one side as it rushed past, striking the ground behind me.

“Can you use it?” he asked, motioning toward the hammer.

“I can.”

“Well?”

“Would you care to find out?”

The young giant laughed and shook his head. “No. Not this day, Blood.”

He got to his feet and looked down at me. “Maybe when I’m bigger.”

“You feel the need, you come and find me. We’ll see how well we do.”

The giant let out another laugh and nodded. He went his way, and I went my own.

I had no doubt we’d meet again.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 19

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I told them to stop.

Sometimes, soldiers don’t listen.

Hell, most of the time, we don’t listen at all. And that was certainly the case.

We’d had some rough patches over the day. A few barricades thrown up across the road by Skratti and another by a pair of orcs who forgot that we weren’t to be trifled with.

But as we came up to a small brook, some of the scouts sent back word that there was a woman and a hound ahead of us.

I told them to stop where they were and to leave her be.

The men were infatuated by the sight of her, from what I learned.

She was young, dark-skinned and clad in wear they’d not seen before. Her dog was huge, and it listened to her as though she was its god.

Perhaps she was, though I’ve my doubts.

Of the two men who came to report to me, one of them left, making his way to his comrades to tell them not to approach the woman. His companion tried to leave. I didn’t like the look in his eyes, though, and so he was ordered to remain behind.

The young bastard turned to follow, and had Marius not taken hold of him; the young soldier would have died. For as Marius caught the man’s arm, shots were fired and screams followed.

A few men went racing forward, but more shots drove them back and down to cover.

With Marius holding the scout, I went ‘round the right flank on my own, searching for a way to get to the woman and the hound. The screaming intensified, another shot was fired, and then a deep growl rolled across the land.

When I reached the brook, the woman and her hound were gone.

She’d left the scouts behind.

All four were dead, and they’d died badly.

Each had been gut shot, and their hands torn off and piled to one side. Their pants had been pulled down to their ankles, and the woman had castrated each of them. Those, too, were piled up.

As I stood, my eyes caught a bit of blood off to one side. I moved closer and saw there was a message written on the side of a stone.

He’s told you I’m here. Now I’ve told you as well.

Mother.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 18

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I woke alone and confused.

For a moment, I could not see, and at first, I feared I was blind. How that might have occurred, I had no idea.

But when sleep cleared from my thoughts, I saw I was not blind but in a world of darkness. Sitting up, I reached for my Colts and found they were not there.

I was, I realized, naked.

The air was warm, and the place I was in was silent.

Crossing my legs beneath me, I waited.

I’m not certain how long it took for the place around me to brighten, but when it did, I found myself looking at a small patch of woods. There was nothing else. I sat on nothing, from what I could tell, and the branches and plants grew up from the same.

The heavy thud of large wings reached my ears, and soon, a raven landed in front of me.

It preened beneath a wing, and I waited.

Finally, the bird turned to look at me, both eyes bright, the feathers glowing with a dark beauty.

“I bring word from the All-Father,” the raven informed me.

“I could not be dressed for the message?”

The bird chuckled. “We are dreaming, Blood. The two of us together. You are not naked, and I am not a raven.”

“What are you?” I asked.

“Not a bird. Of that, I can assure you.”

I nodded. “What message?”

“The hounds approach from the south,” the raven stated. “The wyrm goes to rest in his lair. Your mother’s mark is upon it.”

The last sent an angry chill racing up my spine. “Is she here?”

The raven shook his head. “No. But she has been.”

“Hm.”

“There is more to tell,” the raven continued.

“My apologies.”

He ruffled his feathers, then said, “There is illness creeping toward you. While it will not touch you, Blood, it shall move like a scythe through your men.”

“My men?” I asked.

The bird chuckled. “Because you do not wish to see it does not make it so.”

“Aye, you’re right.” The soldiers were mine. From Mikkelsen down to the youngest private soldier. They would fight and die for me. And I would do the same.

The bird stretched out its wings but paused. “There are reapers coming. Listen for them.”

Without another word, the raven flew off, and I sank from my dream and back to sleep.

Soon enough, I knew, the fighting would begin anew.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 17

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A strange sight.

We came upon a large graveyard, one where the stones were upended and the earth churned. A large, iron door had been torn from its hinges, and a crypt was bereft of its occupants.

Mikkelsen set up a perimeter around the graveyard, for there was no other way forward but through it. With Marius at my side and my hammer in my hand, we moved forward. Marius held a cut-down saber, both edges sharpened and the point on it now barbed. In his free hand, he carried a small cudgel.

We needed to conserve ammunition and to kill as quickly and as quietly as we could.

The path led us deeper into the graveyard, and soon we discovered signs of a battle that was days, if not a week old.

The stink was horrific, and the maggots feasted upon the dead Skratti littering the ground.

Some were clad in Danish uniforms, others in the clothes of their kind. Few had succumbed to gunshot wounds, and all had been slain from behind.

I saw bones and old bayonets driven into Skratti backs. Heads were crushed in with chunks of stone. And the sign on the ground was too strange to read.

As we neared the center of the graveyard, we found Skratti with swords and spears embedded in them. Some lay dead with axes and maces near them.

Finally, as we climbed a short hill, there were Skratti, who had been killed by gunfire. Around them, though, were more bones and bits of metal.

Marius squatted down, picked up a piece of green-tinted metal, and shook his head before passing it over to me.

I accepted it, turned it over and saw it was a belt buckle made of brass. Emblazoned upon it was the black eagle of Prussia.

“Blood.”

I looked up and saw Marius walking toward a large cross set in fresh earth. Young trees had been planted around it, and newly cut greens lay upon the ground. Shining in the sunlight were bits of more metal.

In the center of the cross was a plaque written in beautiful German.

Here 100 Brave Danes Rest.

Marius and I left, pausing at the open crypt. I went up, closed the door, and read what was written in Danish upon it.

300 Prussians, Brave and True, Once Enemies but No Longer.

The dead had repaid a kindness.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 16

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Shrieking shattered the day.

I’d been sitting with Mikkelsen and enjoying a cup of brandy laced coffee when shrieking rent the air.

We went racing through the narrow lane that served as the divider in our small camp and came upon the sentries posted at the rough barrier we’d erected the night before.

“Klaus and Hermann went out a short time ago,” one of the sentries explained, his face pale and his knuckles white as he held his rifle close.

Mikkelsen looked at me, and I nodded.

“Get more men on the line,” he told the sentry who had spoken. To me, he asked, “Shall we follow you?”

I shook my head. “If it’s too much, I’ll come back for you. No need to spoil breakfast if it isn’t necessary.”

I climbed over the barrier and drew my Colts as I followed the lane.

The path was far from straight, and it was lined on either side by tall hedges. I’d no sooner gone a quarter mile when I caught the smell of cooking meat and hot coffee.

Pushing my way through a hedge, I made my way toward the smell and came upon a group of soldiers. They sat at a table and were served by an older man and his wife. There was little talking as the men ate and drank. Off to one side was a pile of gear and clothing. A few feet away were Hermann and Klaus. The men hung from a raised crossbar, naked and their hands bound to the bar.

Their legs were gone at the thighs. While tourniquets had been applied to the severed limbs, I could see that Klaus was dead. The shock had been too much for him.

There were nine men at the table. The host and his wife.

And Hermann.

I killed Hermann first, the round taking him clean through the left eye and ending his suffering.

I waited as the soldiers stood, expressions of rage on their faces. They drew pistols and bayonets while the host and hostess tried to step off to one side.

I put a bullet in each of them, the husband squealing and the wife screaming as they went down, clutching their bellies.

The soldiers rushed me and soon wished they hadn’t.

It took them only a moment to fear my Colts.

They all took a long time dying.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 15

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They failed miserably.

Marius and I had walked ahead, scouting through a small town whose inhabitants had either abandoned their dwellings or ended up as someone’s meal.

We were nearing the center of town when we heard a discordant hammering. While there seemed to be an effort to create some sort of rhythm, the hammer-wielder was failing.

Marius drew his rifle, and I, my Colts, and we passed down a narrow alleyway to find a large, open courtyard. A group of men stood outside a smithy, and they smiled at us with eyes that spoke more of hunger than they did well-wishes.

There was a single horse with them, and the beast’s eyes rolled with fear while one of the men gripped its harness tightly.

Another man pushed a saddle blanket a little farther down its haunches, hiding a bit of blood and what looked, for a heartbeat, like a bite mark.

“We have not seen anyone in a few days,” one of the men remarked as his companions stepped slowly out to either side of him.

“Is that so?” Marius asked, and as the words left his mouth, the wind shifted, carrying with it the rank stench of werewolves.

Marius wrinkled his nose at the odor, and I opened fire on the sons of bitches.

Rough cries and deep howls tore from their throats as they lept toward us. While they were still as men, they were no less dangerous.

They were hungry, and they would keep us alive until it was time for them to eat, of that I had no doubt.

Nor did I doubt that it would be a particularly unpleasant experience, and thus one I was eager to avoid.

They tried to flank us, but Marius and I knew our work.

The men were werewolves, but they were not soldiers. Not fighters.

We were.

The werewolves staggered back under the heavy punches of the .44s, and as my guns ran dry, I took up my hammer.

Marius, on the other hand, put his bayonet to good use.

There is, at times, a distinct pleasure in the cracking of bones and the shattering of teeth.

As we slew the werewolves outside the smithy, I enjoyed that pleasure.

I enjoyed it quite a bit.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 14

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I was wary.

For two weeks, I’d been tromping around a world that was and was not my own. I’d killed and fought trolls, Skratti, orcs, and I knew that worse would make their way toward us, or us toward them.

I’d seen the markings of the wyrm and the tracks left by hellhounds.

And after yesterday’s incident by the shore, I trusted no one.

I’d left the main body of troops behind. They were burying the remains of the fallen from the day before and burning the corpses of the Skratti. I told Marius and Mikkelsen that I’d patrol alone, let the men rest and recoup what little strength they could.

I’d spotted sign of the wyrm again and come across those of the hellhounds, too. I had no desire to encounter either group alone, but scouting needed to be done, and I was the hunter called by Grimnir.

It was my job, whether I wanted the damned thing or not.

When I caught sight of the soldier with a small carbine standing by the cannon, I stopped. I’d encountered two other solitary men in the past two weeks, and neither of those instances had turned out well.

I set my hammer down in the road, settled onto my haunches and took out my pipe. The man watched me with a dull, listless expression. He hardly blinked as I packed the bowl and lit the tobacco.

With the stem of the pipe in my teeth, I slipped the Colts out of their holsters and eased the hammers back. The metal cool and comforting against my thumbs.

“Hello,” I called.

The man nodded.

“What unit are you with?” I asked.

He frowned. “I don’t remember.”

It was then that I saw the gash in the side of his head. Dried blood had matted his hair and hidden the wound at first.

“I’m with a group of soldiers,” I told him. “We’re making our way along the shore, looking for the root of all this.”

The wounded man smiled. “It doesn’t matter. They’ll find you soon enough. They found us.”

“Where’s the rest of your men?” I asked.

He shrugged. “My name is Johann Ewald. I had a fiancé, and I was to be a carpenter.”

Johann lifted his carbine up, put the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

He collapsed, struck the cannon and lay still.

I put the Colts away.

Johann I could bury.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 13

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It was a trap.

Including Pedersen, we’d lost eleven men the day before, and three more were wounded. Their rations and ammunition were shared out, the weapons kept in reserve.

We decided to rest for a day. Not so much to mourn our dead, which we did, but to clean our equipment and gain some much-needed rest.

Patrols were sent out, and after noon one of them found the boat.

An old sergeant informed Mikkelsen, Marius and myself of the boat and the man sitting forlornly in it. The boat lay on the beach, the man looking out over the water.

None of it sounded right.

“He’s just sitting there?” Marius asked.

“Aye.”

“Take me to him,” I said, knocking the tobacco out of my pipe.

With my Colts on my hips and the hammer resting against my shoulder, I followed the sergeant out of our encampment. He glanced at me several times but said nothing.

I didn’t mind.

When we reached the road following the line of the beach, I saw the long boat ahead. As the sergeant had told us, a solitary man sat in it. The other four men of the scouting party were advancing on the boat, rifles at the ready and bayonets glinting in the sunlight.

“Come back here!” the sergeant ordered, but the men ignored him, weapons lowered.

Swearing, the sergeant raced after his men, but when he was within a few steps of them, he slowed down and straightened up. He drew his saber and fell into lockstep.

I stayed where I was.

Something wasn’t right.

The men reached the boat, and I saw the man in it turn to face them.

A heartbeat later, he exploded. Miniature Skratti landed on the heads of the soldiers and tore into their faces. Clawed hands were thrust into eye sockets and mouths, and not a single man fought back as they sank to the beach.

It took only a moment for the creatures to see me and to come racing across the road.

I struck the first one with the hammer and knocked its head off into one of its companions. It caused them to pause, and then I was among them. My boots broke bones, and my hammer shattered them.

When I finished, I gathered up the weapons and ammunition and left the bodies where they lay.

Graves could be dug in the morning.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 12

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It was a hell of a fight.

We’d missed the hellhounds and the wyrm, though we could see the devastation left behind by the dragon’s breath.

What we found instead were Skratti.

Too damned many of them.

Those wounded strong enough to shoot were left to guard those who could not, and Marius, Mikkelsen, and myself led three smaller units into the town. I took the center road with Pedersen and six others while Mikkelsen and Marius came in on either flank.

The Skratti hit us first, firing from a secured and fortified position in a house still smoking from the wyrm’s fire.

They were learning how to fight.

The accuracy of their fire had improved too, and I took a bullet to the left lung, which set me back a step or two.

As my body forced the lead back out of my flesh, Pedersen’s brains were splattered across my face as he leaned down to check on me.

I confess I became angry.

He’d been a good man, a fair card player, and a hell of a drinker.

I pushed Pedersen’s corpse off my legs, stood, and brought both Colts up to bear as I strode toward the Skratti position.

The heavy .44 caliber slugs tore out chunks of wall and slammed into the faces of the Skratti as they tried to bring their rifles to bear. I felt a few more bullets strike my legs, but my hate drove me on.

I clambered over a shattered wall, entered the house, and killed the wounded.

None were left alive when I finished.

When I exited the back of the house, I found one last Skratti trying to drag himself out of the garden. His legs were bloodied and useless, his eyes wide with fear and growing panic.

He was unable to look away as I emptied the casings from my Colts, put them in my pockets to reload later, and took my time reloading the pistols.

“Mercy,” the goblin whispered.

My Colts answered, a pair of rounds slamming into his chest.

Marius came into the garden as the Skratti breathed his last. In silence, the officer handed me something small. It was brightly polished on one side, the Blood family crest carved into it.

I held in my hand a matchbox, deftly crafted from a bit of Orc armor.

Blinking, I cleared my eyes and wiped Pedersen’s brains from my face. #Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 11

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They were happy, if not sober.

We came upon them after a day of hard marching and skirmishing. We’d fought off a handful of probing attacks from the Skratti and cut down a few bodies left strung up in the trees for us.

The Skratti, it seemed, had a peculiar delight in hanging women and children from their feet and blooding them like game.

It did not please us.

When we arrived at the small building, I expected some sort of firefight, but I can write with pleasure that this was not the case.

We found a group of ten men gathered in and around a small structure. The building, we soon learned, was the doorway to a fine cellar of beer and brandy, neither of which the men were allowing to go to waste.

Their commanding officer was passed out drunk, and his men were little better.

The common grave behind their building explained why.

From what I could tell, they were the sole survivors out of some two hundred men.

The common grave was not particularly large.

When they saw us, we were greeted and welcomed in, and when the strangers learned we would be establishing camp and setting up watch, they drank themselves into a stupor.

I didn’t blame them.

Pedersen and I walked the grounds of the area, reading the sign for what it was, a great story telling us what happened.

We could see troll prints and Skratti tracks. Obscenely large paw prints spoke of hellhounds, and the sight of a large drag mark sent a shudder along my spine.

Only a dragon left a mark like that, and the thought of fighting one of the great lizards was unpleasant enough to leave me with gooseflesh.

We did what every decent army does: we set up camp, put out our guards, and fortified our positions.

The new men awoke to the smells of food cooking and coffee brewing. We had them eat their fill before telling us anything of their story, and when they finished with their food, we listened.

Six days prior, they’d been attacked by Skratti in traditional garb.

The next day, the goblins were clad in the clothes of the dead.

Each day, the casualties worsened.

“Where to now?” one asked.

I finished my coffee, tossed the grounds out and sighed.

“We go looking for a dragon.”

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 10

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He wasn’t what he seemed.

We’d bivouacked in what had once been a library and kept a fifty percent watch through the night. The Skratti tried to slip in a few times when I was on watch; the roar of the Colts in the dead town had sent some of the goblins running after others were laid out in the road.

Pedersen, I learned, was a smith before the war, and he’s turned his hand to a bit of armor from the orc who challenged me. The man won’t tell me what he’s crafting, but it’s a damned pleasure to hear his tools working at the metal.

This morning, Marius and I left the safety of the camp to scout out the route to the armory and the supplies.

All seemed fine until we came to the armory and found a young soldier standing watch beside a pair of cannons. Marius was about to call out to the man when I stopped him, and we were both thankful I did.

The young man turned around and showed he had no face.

A piece of skin with ragged edges was stretched taut over the front of the skull and pinned in place behind the ears.

Whatever the soldier was, a man he wasn’t.

I stayed behind our cover, drew both Colts and stood up.

The soldier looked at me and unsheathed his saber.

I put two rounds into the soldier’s chest, and while the heavy .44 slugs sent him a step back, they didn’t stop him.

That took me aback for a moment.

I’ve put down godlings and gods with my Colts, and I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to meet a creature so little affected by lead and hate.

But there wasn’t much of a choice.

The men needed the ammunition and the food.

I slid the Colts home, took hold of my hammer, and walked down to meet the creature while Marius waited.

The creature’s sword was fast.

I was bleeding from a dozen cuts before I got in my first blow, which the creature tried to deflect with the sword.

The hammer snapped the blade off at the guard.

As the saber spun away, I smashed the hammer into the creature, lifting it off the ground and crushing its ribcage. It fell back, landed hard on the road, and lay still.

Stepping forward, I smashed its head with the hammer until the ground and I were splattered in blood and bone.

Best to be sure.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 9

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We seized the town.

The fighting was hard as hell.

The Skratti had occupied strong positions, and they were waiting for us. The road through town was the only way to the armory and the food stored nearby.

And we needed both.

Apparently, the Skratti knew it, too.

They took the high ground, putting down heavy fire that drove us to seek cover behind battered buildings and dead men.

While they kept us down, they brought in the orcs.

They were clad in armored plate and armed with cudgels, and they came out of the rubble swinging.

That was fine.

I came out swinging too.

Marius directed the snipers, pushing the Skratti back from the windows and rooftops. Mikkelsen and Pedersen had the younger men fix bayonets, and they followed me into the street.

The first orc came at me, laughing, skin grey and teeth green, tongue a disturbingly bright red. He called out to me in a language harsh and cruel and lifted his cudgel in both greeting and challenge.

I raised my hammer, and we stepped in close.

The orc could fight.

His comrades formed a half-circle around him, and my Danes a half-circle around me. A few rounds came in from the Skratti, but the shooters were quickly silenced.

When the orc spoke again, it was in a dialect of Norse I’d learned at my father’s knee.

“We could smell thee, Blood.”

“And how do I smell?”

“Like dinner.”

“Fair enough.”

Without any word or cry, we strode in and fought.

The bastard was good.

His first blow caught me in the left shoulder and knocked it out of the socket, sending me stuttering to the right and forcing me down to one knee. As he came in close, I shifted my weight away from his next blow and shattered his left knee, dropping him to the ground.

His orcs surged forward, but he waved them off with one hand while swinging at me.

I stepped up and away, slamming my hammer into my shoulder and putting it back in place.

The orc got to one foot, dragging his injured leg.

“If I die, they shalt murder all,” he hissed.

“If you die, we’ll kill them all.”

“A threat or a promise, Blood?” he asked.

“I don’t make threats.”

The hammer crushed his helmet and drove the iron into his skull.

I kept my promise.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 8

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We slept undisturbed.

And I found that to be most frightening.

At dawn, we broke camp. We counted 49 uninjured, 76 injured but mobile, and 13 stretcher cases. We’d had 18 die in the night.

We made a funeral pyre and laid the bodies of the dead upon it. The spare weapons and ammunition we loaded onto a wagon, and the artillerymen, with help, dragged their guns along.

I ranged ahead of the column with a pair of men in their late forties. They’d been hunters prior to the troll attack on the coast, and they knew the lay of the land. Once we left the relative safety of the city, we pressed on, sending out flankers to either side and passing through abandoned positions.

We found remnants of the dead but little else.

Whatever was eating the soldiers wasn’t leaving much behind.

Soon, we stopped and held a conference. We’d not seen any sign of trolls or other creatures, but there was plenty of sign of shod boots.

We agreed to move on in silence, rifles at the ready. The hammer hung on a long sling around my shoulder to my waist, where the head thumped rhythmically against my thigh. The dull thud of metal on flesh reminded me of the war drums of Abenaki and Iroquois, Huron and Mohawks, and it made me smile.

Those were men who knew how to fight.

My reminiscing stopped when we caught sight of men a short distance away. They watched without greeting as we came to a stop.

Something was wrong.

Then the wind shifted, and we smelled it.

Skratti.

Skratti clad in stolen uniforms.

The question as to whether they could use the rifles they’d taken was answered a heartbeat later went they sent a volley toward us.

We were fortunate that they were bad shots.

We were fortunate that we were not.

The hunters and I settled in behind cover, loosened our arms and took our time. We called out our targets and killed those Skratti who seemed most proficient with their rifles.

It didn’t take long for the others to run.

Several more died with bullets in their backs.

When the last of them slipped away, I sent the hunters back to bring the column up and to make keep an eye out for an ambush.

As I waited, I thought hard about goblins dressed as men.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 7

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The rattle of gunfire raised the alarm.

I was up and out of my bedroll in a heartbeat, Colts in hand, as the soldiers around me reacted with equal alacrity.

“Where did it come from?” Marius demanded.

A sentry pointed to the southeast. “Toward the edge of town.”

A frown creased Marius’ brow. “We cleared that area yesterday looking for wounded and bells.”

“Someone’s there,” I remarked.

“Or they were,” Pedersen sighed, lifting up his rifle.

“How many men do you want?” Mikkelsen asked as he walked over, flanked by two sergeants.

“Just Pedersen,” I answered. “Any more than the two of us, and we’ll attract too much attention.”

“Pedersen?” Mikkelsen asked. “Limp and all?”

I smiled. “Have you seen the way the man gets in and out of a house about to come down around his ears?”

“Aye, Blood,” Pedersen chided. “That’s for brandy and naught else.”

A rough chuckle went through the men within earshot.

“True,” Mikkelsen admitted. “Take no chances, though. Either of you.”

Pedersen and I nodded, and I picked up my hammer before we left the protective circle of our small encampment.

“Think we’ll find trolls?” Pedersen asked.

“Holed up in a cellar?”

“Aye.”

“No,” I stated. “But this hammer, heavy as it is, has worked. I see no need to get rid of it. Not when I can save ammunition.”

Pedersen grunted his agreement, and we moved on in silence. Neither of us made any noise as we passed through the debris-laden streets. As we reached the edge of town, I saw a fortified structure and glanced at Pedersen.

“It’s empty. Or it was yesterday when they checked,” he said.

We advanced upon the building, Pedersen chambering a round slowly as we neared the entrance.

Within, we saw a grotesque display of corpses. Seven men and a single creature the likes of which I’d not seen in some time.

“What in the hell is that?” Pedersen muttered.

I entered the building, crouched down beside it and turned the head from one side to the other.

“Skratti,” I answered. Goblins.

Pedersen spat and cursed behind me.

In a moment, he was helping me strip the dead of weapons and ammunition.

Where there was one Skratti, there were generally a hundred more.

Evening would be difficult.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 6

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My arms were tired.

I sat in an old campaign chair by the last of the braziers, the flames burning low and soft. The hammer, its head chipped and the handle stained with ichor, stood by me. Mikkelsen passed over a battered tin cup, and I took it with both hands.

It took a moment for my limbs to calm down enough, so I didn’t shake the brandy from the cup, and when I brought it to my lips, the liquor was one of the sweetest I’d tasted.

“A bit of honey added,” the man explained when he saw my appreciative expression.

“My thanks.”

“Our thanks,” Mikkelsen replied. He gestured toward the men sleeping around us in the growing light of the dawn. They were exhausted and with good reason. They had worked the cannons and their rifles well into the night.

Pedersen joined us, sinking down and grinning up at me as he held his hands out to the flames. There was a bit of a chill to the air, and with it was the soothing scent of the ocean.

“Twenty-three,” Pedersen stated.

“Hm?” I asked as I handed the cup back to Mikkelsen, who added more to it for me.

“Twenty-three trolls,” Pedersen said again. “That’s how many you killed last night.”

“How many we all killed,” I argued, accepting the cup back from Mikkelsen. I took a sip.

“I think there’d be some argument about that,” Marius observed as he joined us. He wore a tired smile. “You were the hunter, Duncan Blood. You went out beyond the walls and put the trolls down.”

I grunted my rough agreement. “It doesn’t mean the others shirked their duty.”

“No one is saying they did,” Mikkelsen said. “We know, though, that we’d not have lasted through the night without you. It was your plan that brought us to the morning. No one thought of the bells. No one would have kept the other trolls back while someone else went out to finish off the wounded.”

“There’s a reason All-Father sent a Blood,” Pedersen observed, spitting casually onto the ground. “And that’s because the Bloods are hunters through and through.”

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 5

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They’d gathered a great deal of bells.

Before night fell, the bells were strung along great lengths of rope, and the wounded could set the bells to ringing.

Outside the walls, we set up a trio of cannons with enough shot and shell to give the trolls a warm welcome. Short, narrow trenches were dug from the guns back to the walls, and I hoped the gunners would be able to make it back to safety.

I sat with Pedersen, Marius, and Mikkelsen. Great fires burned in braziers set along the walls. The men who could hold rifles were in their positions, as were the gunners. At my feet, resting between my boots was a large, heavy hammer.

“Most will come from the barrows east of town,” Mikkelsen said. “We had some from the bay. Do you think they’ll attack again?”

I nodded. “Someone knows you’re alive. They’ll want to finish the job.”

For the first time, the soldiers gathered around us were quiet.

All looked to me.

“There are other monsters,” Marius muttered.

“I know,” I sighed.

A bell rang out.

Then another, and in a heartbeat, all rang in a discordant chorus.

The trolls answered them.

Great bellows shook the earth and rattled stones and debris down from some of the nearby buildings.

From the east, the trolls slogged forward, eight of them. A glance to the bay showed another ten climbing out of the water, smashing through wharves and howling at the sound of our bells.

“Seems a tad more than you said,” I remarked.

“So it seems,” Mikkelsen replied.

“How fast can your men fire those cannons?” I asked.

Mikkelsen’s response was a wolfish grin. “My boys can load on the recoil, Blood. Watch.”

The gunners held their fire, as did the men on the walls. But when the trolls from the sea came close enough, those gunners let loose, and Mikkelsen hadn’t been lying.

I’d never seen gunners move at the speed of his men.

Every shot was true, and the trolls went down, legs destroyed. Within minutes, not a sea-borne troll was left standing. As the gunners retreated, the men on the walls opened fire, isolating the closest troll crawling toward us.

Hefting the hammer, I left the safety of the walls and went to greet the troll in my own way.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 4

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Pedersen hadn’t been lying.

The best walls were rubble.

We looked them over and finished off our brandy.

“You’re a Blood,” he stated.

“Aye.”

“Is it true?”

I chuckled. “Depends on what your mother’s been saying.”

He snorted a laugh. “Oh, I deserved that one. Right. Can you take a blow that would be death for another?”

“That’s true enough.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Like hell.”

Pedersen nodded. “Well then. The walls.”

“They’re worse than I thought.”

“This is better than most,” he retorted. “What do you want done?”

“We’ll put the bells in behind us. And we’ll have them ring out all night.”

“And when the trolls come?”

“We’ll kill them.”

“How?” For the first time, I heard real fear in his voice.

“Knees first. We’ll set up the cannons to aim at knees and ankles. Slow them a bit.”

“They’ll come after the cannons,” Pedersen mused. “Even with broken knees and shattered ankles.”

“I know. But we’ll keep ringing the bells. That’ll keep them from thinking too clearly. They’ll focus on the cannons, and we’ll pull back the gunners. I’d rather lose the guns than the men.”

Pederson grunted his approval. “What then?”

“When the men are safe and the bells still ringing, I’ll have you all pour down fire whenever you can. We’ll isolate the trolls, one by one.”

“Where will you be?” he asked.

“I’ll be out with the trolls.”

“You’ll be what?”

“With the trolls.”

“Won’t a troll kill a Blood?”

“Of If they catch me. That’s why you’ll all be firing. You’ll keep the other wounded trolls back, and I’ll kill them one at a time.”

“With what?”

I patted my Colts. “The revolvers to start. A few shots to the head will settle them down, but I’ll need something to finish them off.”

“What’s that?” he asked, his voice filled with bemused wonderment.

“A hammer,” I answered. “A nice, big hammer.”

Pedersen laughed. “Well, come then. There’s a smithy up the road a bit. I’m sure we can find something even Thor would be pleased to wield.”

“Let’s hope,” I said. “And mayhaps we’ll come across some more brandy.”

“It so happens,” Pedersen stated, “that I might know where some more brandy is tucked away as well.”

Grinning, we set off.

If I was going to die tonight, at least I’d be in good company.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 3

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They were drunk, and I didn’t blame them.

The short trip from the wreckage to the house being used as headquarters had been educational. I’d seen such devastation in the war of the rebellion after Sherman had marched through the South.

Similar, but not the same.

This was worse.

Sherman and his men hadn’t eaten horses or people.

Carcasses were strewn about the roads, houses shattered, and more than a few heads had been mounted on poles.

Death had been brutal, and fear had been the order of business.

From the equipment I saw scattered around, I gathered that at least a battalion had been destroyed trying to defend the place.

At the rough headquarters, I found the remnants of the battalion’s officer corps.

They sat around a table, drinking and smoking and eating food that should have been tossed to dogs days before. But given their situation, it didn’t appear they had much choice. They hid their fear and desperation behind loud talk and brazen laughter.

I stood off to one side and lit my pipe as Marius went to the commanding officer and reported my presence. The laughter stopped, and the officers took notice of me.

Marius leaned close to a man smoking a long Jäger pipe and said, “His name is Duncan, and the one-eyed god sent him.”

The officer stood up, wavering on his feet.

“What is your last name, sir?” the officer inquired.

“Duncan Blood,” I answered.

The officer stood his ground, but his companions stepped back.

“Blood?” the officer asked.

“Aye.”

He tried to draw on his pipe, choked on the smoke and coughed for a moment. When he regained control, he said, “I am Oberst Mikkelson, the ranking officer at this time.”

I nodded and waited to see what else the man had to say.

Mikkelson took a breath. “We offered up sacrifice last night. More to the point, Generalmajor Hendriks offered himself to the one-eyed god for a hunter. And he sent a Blood.”

“Aye. He sent a Blood. How many trolls?”

“Ten, we think,” Mikkelson answered. “Three of them came from the ocean, the others from the barrows on the outskirts of town.”

“How many did you kill?” I asked.

“Four.”

“Damn.” I drew on my pipe and asked, “Have you brought the troops back in?”

He nodded. “Those few we have in the area, they are gathering supplies, so we might make an effort to return to Fort Jäger and possibly defend ourselves long enough to form some plan of escape.”

I gazed up at the sky, judged the time and nodded. “I’d start calling your men back now, Oberst. Gather up whatever bells you can find, too.”

The men stared at me.

“Blood,” Mikkelson said, “why enrage them further?”

“The damage here,” I gestured around us, “this was not done by mindless trolls, Oberst. This was planned. They may return tonight with more of their kin, and if they do, it won’t be pretty. Not for any of us. Bells will make them forget their plans. Bells will make them little more than maddened beasts. I’d sure as hell rather fight trolls who are mad than those who are figuring the best way in.”

Mikkleson turned to Marius. “Find three horses and send out riders. I want everyone on their way back in the hour.”

To another man, Mikkelson commanded, “Take a squad, search every building and look at every church. Find the bells. Petersen,” Mikkelsen called, and a man holding a pair of bottles stepped forward.

“Sir?” Petersen inquired.

“Find the best walls and focus our work there.” Mikkelson looked at me. “I take it a smaller area with the bells would be best?”

I smiled. “Aye, that it would be. The trolls may throw a few boulders or two at us, but we’ll gun the bastards down.”

“That we will,” Mikkelsen agreed. “Petersen, show the Blood what we have for walls. I’m sure he’ll know best. The rest of you, with me. We will gather the wounded and prepare to move them to our refuge, wherever that might happen to be.”

I watched the Oberst leave with the men, and I turned to Petersen. He looked at me, and I saw the wisdom of old soldiers in his eyes.

The man chuckled, stepped forward and handed me a bottle. “I’ve not heard of a Blood who doesn’t drink.”

“And you won’t.” I opened the bottle and took a drink. “So, where are the best walls?”

“They’re rubble,” he shrugged. “But I’ll show you.”

“Fair enough. Lead on, Pedersen.”

“Straight to hell, if I must,” he sighed, and with a rolling, limping stride, he led the way.

Day 2

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It didn’t take long to find them.

They were searching through wreckage when I came upon them. They were soldiers, well-armed and ready for war.

I came with the smell of the ocean and burnt timber in the air. I kept my hands from the butts of the Colts, conscious of the attention the heavy revolvers drew from the gathered men.

One of them asked in good Danish, “Who are you?”

“The one-eyed god sent me.”

The man took a step back, glancing at his comrades, and a second man addressed me.

“Are you a hunter?” he asked, voice quavering.

“Aye.”

“Of what?”

“Monsters.”

“We did not think to hope,” the second man told me. “We offered up a sacrifice and heard nothing.”

“That’s the way it usually is if they answer at all.”

“Yes. My name is Marius,” the second man said. “What is yours?”

“Duncan.”

“And you’ve killed monsters before?” he asked.

“A few,” I answered. “What happened here?”

“Tell us,” one man grumbled. He stood off to one side; his head was bandaged and his left arm in a sling.

“You want proof?” I asked.

He nodded.

I turned my attention to the nearest building. I saw gouge marks down the wall and a bit of foul ichor as well. Leaning in, I took a sniff and repressed a gag.

“Damned foul,” I grunted. “Troll.”

I looked around. “There are no barrows around. Where the hell did it come from?”

The injured man grunted. “You know your business. We’ve no idea where it came from. Like most of the others, it arrived one night. This one laid waste to the buildings and ate the families inside.”

He gestured to a small grave. “That’s what’s left of thirty-six people.”

“Do any of you know why it started?” I asked.

The men shook their heads.

“Did you drive this one off?”

“No,” Marius told me. “We saw him well enough last night, but he took off running. We’ve not seen him since.”

“This is happening in more than one place?”

“All across the country,” Marius said. “For a month now. Whole towns have disappeared.”

I looked at the wreckage. “Are you the only ones searching for them?”

“No,” Marius replied. “The whole army is.”

“I suppose you’d best bring me to your commander then.”

We left the ruins and the dead behind.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Day 1

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I woke up in Denmark.

I’d gone to sleep in my bed. I remember having a glass of brandy and cleaning my Colts. Once the .44s were away and the night was done, I’d gone to bed. It had been 11:43 at night, October third, 1900.

When I opened my eyes, I was most certainly not in my bed.

I was upright, dressed, and the Colts were on my hips. My rucksack was at my feet and the sun shining on my face; when I finally managed to look around, I saw the ravens in the tree.

There was a score of them, if not more.

And the tree was the biggest ash I’d ever seen. The branches spread out for at least thirty feet and stretched twice that high into the pale morning sun.

A tall man, clad in gray robes and leaning on a long, dark staff, stood beneath the boughs and gazed upon me with his one eye. His gray beard was well-combed, and a broad hood sat upon his head.

“Welcome to Denmark.”

“I don’t remember asking to come here,” I replied.

A small smile appeared on his face. “Nor would you. You did not ask for assistance.”

“Who did?”

“Soon. For now, listen, and I will tell you how this is.”

I waited.

“We are not in your when, Blood. Nor even in your world. Here, beneath the branches of Yggdrasil, all worlds reach out to me. Men called and offered up sacrifice. They have asked for a hunter to save them, and I chose you.”

I shifted my stance and noticed the thick fog which formed a wall around the tree. In the distance, I heard the rumble of gunfire.

“Your mettle has been tested in Gods’ Hollow,” he continued. “I considered who best to send. Not a godling, but a hero.”

“What am I hunting?”

“Monsters,” the one-eyed god stated. “You are familiar with them all.”

“I was home.”

He remained silent.

“I had plans for today.”

“Do you plan on dying?”

I let out a laugh. “No.”

“Then don’t.”

“When do I go home?”

A broad, dangerous smile spread across his face. Merriment and violence danced in his eye. “When it is time. No sooner, and no later.”

The fog fell away. It took with it the god, the tree, and the ravens.

I was left upon a battlefield, standing among desolation and ruins.

I shouldered my ruck and went hunting for monsters.

#Denmark #supernatural #monsters #paranormal

Becky

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The Hollow brought him back to silence.

‘I walked into a glade that was familiar, which was strange for Gods’ Hollow.

‘While this place was familiar, it was not identical to anything in my memory.

‘I advanced with caution, the bear hunter’s rifle in my hands and every sense attuned to the possibilities of danger around me.

‘As I moved deeper into the glade, I saw a small cottage off in one corner. From the fieldstone chimney, smoke rose up in delicate tendrils. The door to the cottage was open, the windows too. Laughter drifted out into the glade. The laughter of a child and a woman. Soon, I reached the cottage. Stopping a fair distance away, I hailed the residents and waited as they went silent.

‘A young, pretty woman appeared in the doorway. She had a bird-gun in her slim hands, and she held it with the knowledge of one who is comfortable with violence.

‘She nodded to me, and I lowered my rifle. I smiled as she kept hers at the ready. A small girl joined the woman, and in the child’s eyes, I recognized the old woman I had killed a little more than a week earlier.

‘Through the vagaries of the Hollow, I had slipped into the past.

‘The girl whispered something, and her mother nodded. In a strong voice, the woman said, “My child has dreamed of you. Your name is Blood.”

‘I admitted that it was.

‘The woman lowered the bird-gun. “She tells me you’ve a skull and a journal and that in her dream, you stay here for a spell. Is this true?”

‘I told her the skull and the journal were true, but as for the time I spent with them, that was unknown to me. The woman smiled. “Becky says it’s true, and so it is. Come then, Blood. Dinner’s on the stove, and there’s a fresh pot of coffee brewing as well.”

‘I found the offer too inviting to resist, and with the rifle in the crook of my arm, I went into the cottage to see if the coffee was good.

‘I am pleased to write that it was.’

Beneath the Hollow

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The stairs led down and into death.

‘I found a door in the side of a hill, and after a moment’s hesitation, I opened it. I had seen, or so I thought, the worst and the strangest that Gods’ Hollow had to offer.

‘I was wrong, of course.

‘The stairs were well-worn in the center, dips having been worn into the stone from decades of use. When I reached the bottom of the steps, I discovered why.

‘Flameless torches hung in steel braziers, illuminating the broad hallway that stretched before me. Along either side, I saw the walls were textured, and upon closer examination, I discovered they were not textured. Instead, the skulls and bones of the dead had been embedded into the stone.

‘The sight of them rooted me to the floor as a fear grew in me that should I look down, I would find myself treading on the dead as well.

‘Still, when I forced my gaze downwards, I saw that there was nothing more than stone beneath my feet.

‘I drew a deep breath and considered my situation, half-expecting to hear the dead speak to me. This was the Hollow, after all.

‘They did not. Or, if they did, I was unable to hear them, and for that, I was grateful.

‘With growing confidence, I walked forward, eyes shifting from left to right, searching for a sign, though I knew not what it might be.

‘At the end of the hall, I discovered a small room, and within it, the bodies of three monks. One sat in an alcove, the other two stood at the wall. Each bore a nameplate. Stepping onto the dirt floor of the room, I read the names on the plates. The one closest to me bore the name Mal Blud, and a shiver raced through me.

‘Mal had been a relative, a cousin from my boyhood. As I gazed upon the remains, I heard the voice of the old woman in my ears. The reminder that I would find it on the ninth day.

‘It was the ninth day since I had seen her, and without a doubt, I knew what needed to be done.

‘Stepping forward, I relieved Mal of the burden of his skull and carried it with me out of the room. With the skull tucked under one arm, I retraced my steps, and soon I stood once more in the sunlight of the Hollow.

Scratching

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The subtle, grating sound ate at his nerves.

‘I’m not certain when I became aware of it, but when I did, I could not block the sound from my mind.

‘It rooted itself deep within my thoughts, and I, who have ignored the screams of the wounded and the dying on fields of death across the old world and the new, became fixated upon the noise.

‘Soon, I found myself searching for the source of the sound, and to my regret, I found it.

‘I followed a wide, well-worn path, deep ruts from untold numbers of wagons leading me on. As I went, the sound increased in volume, and a new element joined in. It was a soft moan, reminiscent of the wind through trees and across open water.

‘It was a discomforting sound, and not for the first time in Gods’ Hollow did I feel the urge to stop and turn myself around.

‘Curiosity drove me forward.

‘The path rose up a slight incline, and then, as I reached the peak, I found a scene that chilled the blood.

‘I saw coffins for as far as I could see. Coffins draped in flags, the colors of which were those of the new Republic.

‘The coffins were laid over open graves, and from within the depths of the boxes came the scratching and the moaning.

‘As I stood and stared, the rifle clutched uselessly in my hands, I could smell the dead. Rot hung heavy in the air, and I could picture, if not truly see, the sickening miasma lingering above the coffins.

‘The dead within them were not as strong as those who clambered up out of their graves in the cemetery, but I did not doubt that they might soon break free.

‘I debated my next course of action, and as I did, the wind shifted, carrying my scent down into the massive burial ground.

‘When it did, the moans became howls.

‘The coffins rocked back and forth, and on more than a few of them, the flags fell and fluttered into the graves.

‘The dead could smell me, and from the howling, I knew they were hungry.

‘Without turning my back to the trapped monsters, I fled and sought sanctuary from the madness of the Hollow.’

Hunting Bear

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They met in the forest and dealt in death.

‘I have hunted and killed most creatures on this earth, and I freely admit that I take a great deal of pleasure when it comes to killing people. Distinctly I remember the deaths of my parents, and whenever my hand hesitates, my heart does not.

‘Today, I met a fellow traveler in this place.

‘It did not end well.

‘He was dressed strangely, with a hunting rifle in his right hand and a dead black bear slung over his right shoulder.

‘The man smiled at me, and it was the smile that a predator bestows upon its prey.

‘I stopped a fair distance from him, and when he continued toward me, I held up a hand and shook my head.

‘He came to a standstill, and his smile broadened. I could see his hand tighten around his rifle and his body relax. He would drop the carcass as soon as he thought he could, and he’d try to put a bullet in me.

‘Of that, I had no doubt.

‘He called out to me, asking, “How are you, Friend?”

‘I told him I was fine, but I was no friend of his.

‘This didn’t cause him any discomfort. Instead, he chuckled and took a half-step forward, stopping only when I drew my pistol.

‘His eyes narrowed, and his smile became colder, cunning. It was the smile of the predator gauging the speed of his prey. With that false smile upon his face, he asked, “Would you shoot me?”

‘I nodded.

‘He raised an eyebrow. “A perfect stranger?”

‘As the last word slipped from his mouth, the man dropped his left shoulder and dumped the bear, bringing up his rifle.

‘But he was dead before he could pull the trigger.

‘He collapsed beside the bear, and for a moment, I stood there, waiting to see if the man would rise to his feet. When he didn’t, I moved closer, took his weapon and ammunition, and after a moment of consideration, used his own knife to cut off his head.

‘I set the severed head on the bear’s chest, placed its paws upon the bastard’s face, and hoped he could see it from Hell.’

Oracle

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His melodic voice filled the grove.

‘I was tired from walking.

‘The day was longer than it should have been. Perhaps as long as thirty or thirty-five hours. Far too much time for a single day. Still, I did not see much point in seeking a place to rest until the day had decided to put itself to bed.

‘When dusk finally made its appearance, I found a pleasant grove in which to settle down. There was a small stream that passed through it and sign that animals came to drink from it often.

‘I went to the stream and found the water to be sweet and potent. It brought a smile to my face as I settled back on my haunches. There were few places in Gods’ Hollow where I have sensed any sort of peace, and of them all, this grove was the finest.

‘I went about the process of making a fire, for while the day was warm, I knew the night would be cooler. It was as I touched flint to steel that I heard the voice. “Ezekiel Blood, I wondered if you would make your way here.”

‘I have grown used to my name being called out in the strangeness of the Hollow, and so it was without any great surprise as I looked around for the speaker.

‘The one who spoke, however, did cause me to sit in silence for a moment.

‘A creature I have never seen before spoke again. “Tell me, Blood, what do you feel here?”

‘I told him I felt peace. The creature nodded. “If you had not, I would kill you where you stand.”

‘It was not spoken as a threat or even as a promise. The creature spoke it as a fact, and I did not see a need to disagree with him. I had the sense that he could do it.

‘I waited to see if he would speak again, and he did. “What do you plan to do here, Blood?”

‘I told him I wished to eat and to sleep. When dawn came, I would leave the place as I found it.

‘He scratched his chin and asked, “What will you do if attacked?”

‘Nothing, I replied. I did not believe he would allow it.

‘A deep, resounding laugh filled the glade. “You are right. I would not. Eat, Blood, and sleep. You are safe here.”

‘It was a strange thing to hear, but it was appreciated.’

The Family

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They stood unmoving in the sunlight.

‘I found them in the morning.

‘I had come out of the woods and felt uneasy as I stepped onto the new ground. I crept forward, keeping to shadows and hiding as I could. I had an unshakeable feeling that I was walking towards a trap and that soon, something would try to kill me, as so many other creatures in this damnable place have.

‘Instead, I could see a curious familial scene.

‘My eyes came upon a child and his parents, a pony in its traces. The cart it was to pull was filled with stones.

‘None of them moved.

‘Nothing moved.

‘Crouching down, I saw ants on the upturned earth, and each of them looked to be a carven image. It was as though some master artisan had come through and left behind works of immaculate beauty.

‘But I knew it not to be so.

‘There was something terribly wrong around me.

‘I stood up and approached the family with caution. I could see fear in their eyes.

‘No, not fear. Terror.

‘Every breathing creature was aware of what was occurring around it.

‘As I examined the scene before me, I felt my legs begin to stiffen. My blood, ancient and strong, fought against it. Deep within, the struggle continued, but I knew I would lose this fight. I knew it as one knows the rising and the setting of the sun and the shifting of the seasons.

‘I considered killing the family and the pony, putting them out of their misery, but then I realized that this might not work. What if I struck at them and the blood leaked from them? How long would it take for them to die? Days? Weeks?

‘Longer?

‘I did not wish to make them suffer more.

‘Fighting the increasing weight of my limbs and the sluggish movement of my blood, I turned away and moved as swiftly as I could.

‘Around me, I heard the groaning of some beast. It was an angry, bitter sound and one I attributed to the creature which had imprisoned this world.

‘I did not linger to see what manner of monster could do such a thing.’

Laughter

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The sound of laughter poisoned the air.

‘It was a sickening sound. One I had heard from the lips of men who knew they were dying, and which turned the bowels of brave men to water,’ my father wrote.

‘I am still in Gods’ Hollow, and I doubt I shall ever find my way out. I am leery of even settling into any of the towns that I occasionally see. My dead wife, in her many forms, is still very much present in this abomination, and I would hate to be caught unawares by her. It is safest, I feel if I keep moving.

‘This afternoon, as I scouted for a place to hole up for the night, the laughter caught my attention, and so I followed it. I have found it is always better to do so in the daylight. At least then, I can better defend myself.

‘I found a tree standing alone, and from it hung five corpses. From their dead mouths came the laughter, and when I approached it, their mirth increased in volume. I came to a stop, clasped my hands behind my back, and waited to hear what the dead had to say.

‘It took them quite some time before they finished. When they did, one of them twisted on his rope, peered at me with empty sockets and said, “You are his father.”

‘Whose?

‘The dead men, in unison, replied, “Duncan Blood.”

‘I nodded, and the dead men stated, “He put us here.”

‘I asked why and the one who had spoken first answered, “Why not?”

‘This brought out gales of laughter as one of them stated, “He did not like the way we bred. He told us rape was unacceptable. Your son gelded us, and he was not gentle Ezekiel Blood. Not gentle at all.”

‘I shrugged, and they laughed again.

‘When I asked if this was all they had to say, the first speaker wheezed out a chuckle. “No. We hate your son. Tell him, if you see him, that we will have our revenge.”

‘I raised an eyebrow at the statement, considered it for a moment, and then went forward to the tree. As I crouched down beneath them, the dead men demanded to know what I was about, and I ignored them as I set fire to the tree.

‘They were no longer laughing when I settled down to watch them burn.

‘I will not have anyone threaten my son.’

Silence

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The silence burned his ears.

I do not know what version of Cross my father stumbled into, but it left the page stinking of smoke and smeared with ashes.

‘I was awakened to the smell of burning wood and the sight of what at first appeared to be black snow.

‘I have sent many a man and woman to their deaths by fire, and when the wind shifted ever so slightly, it carried to me the wretched stench of burnt flesh.

‘I broke my fast and girded myself for what I might find.

‘Nothing in my life could have prepared me for what I found only a hundred steps away.

‘The short trail led to a scene of utter destruction, the likes of which I have never seen in my long life.

‘For as far as I could see, there was nothing but a ravaged landscape. The air was thick with the hideous odor of roasting humanity, and smoke hung heavy in the air. I gazed upon a city that I did not believe could ever have existed. I have seen Paris and London, Berlin and Rome. All, it seems, could have fit within the charnel city before me.

‘Fires burned the tortured landscape, and there was nothing to hear save the crackle of flames.

‘There were no voices. Neither supplications for mercy nor the screams of the dying.

‘Silence.

‘There were no bodies to see, no sign of the residents, though their belongings were scattered about me.

‘I sat down where I was and tried to understand what it was that had scarred the world before me.

‘Where did the people go? Where were the pets?

‘I did not see a single dog or vagrant cat. There were neither insects nor were their birds.

‘My eyes fixed upon the distant fires, and I wracked my mind to make some sense of what I looked upon. Tried in some way to understand what might have happened here.

‘I could not.

‘In the end, I could do nothing more than stand up and make my way through the city. I did not look for signs of life, for I knew I would find none.’

Height

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The man stood amongst the gathered hay and stared.

‘I passed into a field of hay, the sheafs gathered into cones, all of which stood a foot taller than myself,’ my father wrote.

‘As I moved among them, picking out my path with care, the wind shifted and carried to me the smell of baking bread. I confess, my stomach grumbled at the sound, and when it did, the earth beneath my feet trembled.

‘The hackles rose on the back of my neck, and for a moment, I remembered the graveyard I had stumbled upon and the dead who had clambered out to try and feast upon me.

‘With this memory fresh in my mind, I slipped into a deep shadow, hiding between a pair of hay sheaves that had tilted in towards one another.

‘Crouching down, I drew the curious pistol, made certain that the rounds remained in its firing cylinder, and waited to see what made the earth itself shake.

‘I did not have to wait long.

‘A giant soon came into view and stopped but a short distance away from me. He wore spectacles on the bridge of his nose, the nostrils of which flared as he glanced around. The man towered above the sheaves, and he would have dwarfed me had I been fool enough to stand close to him.

‘He glanced around, his eyes passing over the place where I hid.

‘When he spoke, the air vibrated and my ears pulsed. “Little Blood,” the giant laughed. “I smell you. Come out and sit with me. I would have words with you.”

‘I did not respond. The smile faded from his face. “Blood!” he yelled, and birds took to wing, fleeing into the air. “I hunger, and your bones are what my recipe calls for!”

‘The old rhymes clambered from the depths of my memories, and I tightened my grip upon the pistol. I was no Englishman, but I had no doubt that my bones would serve this giant’s bread quite well.

‘He rambled and howled, and for a long time, I remained hidden. Finally, he gave up his demands and stomped back from whence he came.

‘I kept to the edges of the field and the pistol in my hand.’

A Temper

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Her hatred burned with every step he took.

‘I heard my wife’s voice today.

‘It was not from a woman who had been my wife in another version of Cross or in another time. No, it was the woman who I had married before traveling to the New World from England. The one I thought I loved.

‘Perhaps I did. Perhaps it was all illusion.

‘Regardless of the truth of the matter, or the lie, I heard her voice in Gods’ Hollow.

‘She was displeased.

‘The names she called me and the curses she hurled were neither original nor particularly witty, and so I shall not write them down here. I was more impressed with the discovery that she has somehow become part of the Hollow, though what part exactly remains a mystery still.

‘As she hurled her empty threats and vulgar taunts at me, I ignored her. How her spirit had managed to travel from my home in Cross to this place, I do not know. Or perhaps there is some bond between the two.

‘Should I ever leave this place, I will have to inspect it.

‘Walking along a narrow path, I noticed that the temperature was increasing. Uncomfortably so. In a short time, I found myself sweating, and as I paused to wipe the perspiration from the back of my neck, I heard my dead wife’s maniacal laughter ring out through the woods.

‘Within seconds, the first flames appeared among the fallen leaves.

‘Fire was one of the few things I knew would kill me. And my dead wife knew that as well.

‘With a curse of my own, I turned to leave and saw a wall of fire creeping toward me. It was too slow and focused to be natural, and I knew she was directing it.

‘My only escape lay in going forward.

‘And so, I did.

‘I sprinted into the smoldering leaves, kicked aside flames as they leapt out to bite into my flesh, and made all haste to anywhere that safety might be found.

‘It took a long time to find it, and when I did, I had been burned in more than one place.

‘As I tend to my wounds, I am reminded again of Duncan killing his mother, and it is a pleasant thought to reflect upon.’

Whispers

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The whispers thundered through the forest.

‘I heard a woman whispering,’ my father wrote, ‘and it was a terrible sound. One I could not ignore.

‘For half a day, I followed that whispering through the woods, and soon, I gave up hope of ever finding her. Shortly after midday, I came upon a small glen and an old woman sitting in a ladderback chair.

‘I paused at the edge of the glen and considered whether to approach her.

‘She, in turn, fixed her eyes on me, nodded, and called out, “Come, Ezekiel, you’ve kept me waiting long enough.”

‘I had no choice but to obey. Her words commanded me, and I stepped forward against my better judgement. Against any choice I might have had. Had she told me to run, I do not doubt I would have done so.

‘When I reached her, she stated, “Sit,” and so I sat. I am not afraid to admit that my heart was thundering in my chest. I cannot recall a time I was in another’s power in this way. Not even when I was a mere child.

‘She sensed my fear. “You shall come to no harm by my hand, Ezekiel Blood. I’ve waited nigh on a hundred years for you, as you bade me do. I was but a girl then. What do you see before you now?”

‘I answered that I saw an old woman, and she laughed. “Honest still,” she nodded. “It is good and just that it is so. I have the warning you gave to me. Will you hear it?”

‘I told her I would.

‘She closed her eyes. “Nine days hence you’ll find it. On the tenth, you find me. Leave them both where they can be found.” She opened her eyes and peered at me, one hand wrapped loosely around the handle of her cane.

‘She sighed. “You told me I would be an old woman when you came for the message and that you’d not remember it. Little did I know that it would be a century. I never married, Blood. I held the message in my heart, and so there was room for nothing else. Will you offer me compensation now?”

‘I told her I would and asked what she wanted.

‘She whispered her answer, and in the coolness of the afternoon, I killed her.’

Strange Sights

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The Hollow is filled with horrors and curiosities.

More often than not, they are one and the same.

This point was brought home to my father in an entry he titled, ‘The Waterfall.’

‘I know not where or when I am. The men I saw this morning looked strange yet almost familiar. I was not close enough to hear them, though I observed their actions and their fate.

‘It was difficult not to.

‘I had taken a seat beneath a fir tree, and I was well hidden and warm despite the weather. The sound of the waterfall was pleasant, and it offered a small bit of respite from the incessant marching that I found myself doing.

‘As I sat and considered the strange situation I am currently in, movement caught my eye, and I saw three men stride onto a narrow bridge over the falls. Two took up a position off to the left, and the third stationed himself on the right. They were dressed for the weather and were focused solely upon their task.

‘The two men chanted in tones that were indecipherable, and the third watched them. The water in the pond appeared to boil. Bubbles rose to the surface, popped, and hissed, releasing a noxious odor that I could smell from my place. Had I not been concerned about missing whatever performance was about to occur, I would have taken my leave of the place.

‘As it was, I stayed.

‘Within less than a minute, great black tentacles rose up from the depths of the pond and lashed out. They took hold of the pair of men and dragged them into the water, and neither man said a word. As they vanished beneath the surface, the remaining man tilted his head back, opened his mouth, and waited all of a heartbeat before another tentacle snaked out and burrowed into his mouth.

‘The tentacle disappeared into the man completely, and he stiffened as though frozen. Then, as I blinked, he burst apart, leaving nothing more than steaming meat and blood splattered about the bridge.

‘After a short time, I got to my feet and found a better place to rest. One a bit farther from the pond.

‘I had no desire to learn how far of a reach the tentacles had.’

Satisfaction

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Anger warmed his heart.

My father, while never violent to me, was not a gentle man. He had seen and done too much, and the death of his parents had hardened his heart. Never did I fault him for this. How could I? He is my father.

Still, I know him for what he is – a killer, and I am the same.

Much like he made me.

My father, though, is quicker to give his anger free rein.

‘I heard the familiar slap of harness against horseflesh and the jingle of brass,’ my father wrote. ‘Mingled in with these comforting sounds was the holler and cursing of men. The wind shifted, carried with it the smell of sweat and sawdust.

‘I followed a wide trail and soon came upon a rough camp where a group of men were working their horses. Together, men and beasts strove to clear lumber, and I was about to move on my way when one of the men saw me.

‘He called out in a tongue I did not know, and when I shook my head, he and the others laughed. The horses dropped their heads, flanks wet with sweat, thankful for the break in their work. The men, in turn, spread out and approached me, calling out to me and to one another, always laughing at my inability to respond. One of the men paused long enough to lift up a double-headed ax, and I smiled.

‘The men took no heed of my expression, though they should have.

‘I did not waste powder and ball on these fools. Instead, I picked up a small length of oak that had a sharp end. It would be more than enough.

‘The men laughed even harder at the sight of my chosen weapon and continued their approach.

‘They were fools.

‘The first one was gasping out his last before the others knew what was happening, and I felt the old joy again. The thrill of battle. Old war cries erupted from my throat, and soon I was awash their blood, tasting it in my mouth.

‘I killed the last of them as he tried to run, tearing his head from his neck and hurling it into the forest.

‘I freed the horses from their traces and enjoyed the beauty of the morning.’

Restless

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Not all of the dead sleep well.

This harsh fact was driven home to my father when he entered yet another fractured version of Cross.

‘I have seen my share of graveyards,’ my father wrote, ‘and I have laid entire towns in their graves. When I wandered out into this place, I could smell the wrongness in the air.

‘I came to a stop, and the hair stood up on the back of my neck, and my breath caught in my throat. My eyes darted around the place, searching for the threat, but I could see nothing.

‘Nothing that would cause me worry.

‘From what I saw, the church and the outbuildings were well-cared for, as were the headstones. I could read neither the dates nor the names carved into the granite, but that fact did not disturb me. I have not my son’s gift with languages.

‘Still, the air was pleasant, and the day was bright. I sat down on the grass, with clear fields of fire all around me, and shucked off my haversack. I had been hungry for some time, and this was the first opportunity to ease my hunger.

‘Satisfied that I would be granted some bit of peace, I prepared to enjoy a quick bite to eat before moving on.

‘I was not afforded that opportunity.

‘I had no sooner settled in than the smell of fresh-turned earth and rotten flesh assailed my nose.

‘The dead were climbing out of their graves.

‘There were clothes were in tatters, as was their flesh, and a keening wail pierced the bright sky as they opened their mouths. The teeth within were not those of men or women but rather of some beast I cannot name.

‘As one, the creatures paused, heads raised slightly to the air. The wind shifted, carried my scent with it, and a low, rumbling growl issued from their mouths. They turned to face me, jaws working slowly as they began a shuffling walk towards me.

‘I clambered to my feet, drew the pistol, and fired off a quick shot. While it struck the closest beast in the chest, it did not slow the monster down. Nor did the second shot.

‘Or the other four in the damned weapon.

‘Swearing and cursing, I put the pistol away and took to my heels.

‘I had no desire to be made a meal of.’

Town

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He was greeted as a friend.

My father has grown both weary and wary of the Hollow. From what I have read, it is difficult for him to tell the passage of time. This is a common ailment among those of us afflicted with long life, but he cannot judge the days or the weeks or even the seasons. There are some places where he steps out, and it is summer, or he might awaken in the grip of winter. He has experienced the future and the past, in both our own world and in that of others.

He is a man struggling to maintain his grip upon reality, a reality that is not what he believes it should be. As flexible as my father is, mentally, nothing could have prepared him for the Hollow.

I have lived most of my life near Gods’ Hollow, and I have hunted my fair share of creatures in its blasphemous depths.

He has not.

And while this most recent entry relates an amicable event, it nonetheless shows how strange it is for him.

‘The stonewall which occasionally appears along North Road is there once more,’ my father wrote. ‘Yet it is not intact at this time. There is an opening, wide enough for a man to pass through, but little more than that.

‘I went onto the road and turned toward home, with, I admit, a desperate hope to find my son. Yet the further I traveled, the more I saw this was not to be. The houses were abandoned, and when I reached my home, it had been burnt to the ground. I did not waste time there but turned and headed back to the Hollow.

‘I paused at a house, went round to the back and found a water pump. As I went to draw a drink, I saw a large dog standing off to the side. He raised his head, sniffed, nodded and looked me in the eye, saying, “You’re late, Blood. Where have you been?”

‘I answered I was in the Hollow, and the dog let out a short bark of amusement before saying, “You are not the Blood I was expecting then. You’ve a son?”

‘I told him I did.

‘The dog nodded. “Then it is he, I await. Drink and go in peace.”

‘I did so, wondering if the dog spoke of Duncan or some other from this place.’

Murderous Speed

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The Hollow has too many surprises.

My father was, according to his journal, ‘taken aback and set on my heels.’

‘I had spent a fair portion of the morning following a well-worn trail that gave me a hope that I might find some semblance of sanity and respite from the strangeness of this place,’ my father wrote.

‘I was bitterly disappointed.

‘When the trail came to an end, I indeed discovered a place of human habitation. I found a pair of men, and at first, I thought they were putting a horse through its paces in a curious carriage. This was an incorrect impression I learned a moment later as they rounded a corner and the dust settled.

‘What sort of an animal it was, I have no knowledge. Never, in all of my varied travels, have I seen such a creature. It was tall, easily eight feet if not taller, and it looked as though it was some manner of bird. The wings seemed ineffectual, but its legs propelled it at a speed that the finest of stallions would have been envious of.

‘I confess that I was struck dumb and still, yet so too were the men with the creature. They did not seem to expect any others.

‘All three of us regained our senses at the same time, and the man in the driver’s seat reached for a pistol.

‘I drew mine quicker, and for the first time, I had occasion to use the weapon.

‘It roared with the ferocity of a lion. The shot passed through the neck of the creature and into the chest of the man, sending him sprawling onto the ground, his pistol being deftly caught by his companion.

‘As that man tried to bring the weapon to bear, I fired again. The shot slammed into the man’s belly, causing him to drop his pistol. He collapsed to his knees tried to pick up the weapon again, but once more, I pulled the trigger.

‘The shot took off the top of his head.

‘I must say, I am enamored of this pistol.

‘I walked forward and took the dead man’s weapon, searched them both for more ammunition, and then cut off a bit of creature to see how it might taste.

‘It was tolerable.’

Gods

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He met a god in the Hollow.

For the first time, there was a tremor in my father’s letters.

‘I did not know at first what manner of creature stood by the waterfall I came across this afternoon,’ my father wrote.

‘I could smell nothing of it. There was no scent, almost as though there was a void around the creature. As I approached, angling so that I might not startle it, the creature turned and faced me.

‘There were no eyes that I could see, no mouth that could form the words that followed.

‘Yet that did not stop them.

‘They rang out around the small glade, echoing off the rocks and the trees, causing the water to spray up. The leaves on the branches rattled as the branches themselves shook and threatened to fall to the earth. “Blood, you have come far,” it stated.

‘I confirmed that I had. It chuckled, sat down on the ground and motioned for me to do the same.

‘Reluctantly, I did so. I do not deny that there was a horrific fear that gripped me. I had the urge to bolt with all the alacrity of a startled hare. Yet I sat and waited.

‘The creature nodded. “It is well you do not run. I am not hungry yet, but should you run before we are finished, Ezekiel, I will make a meal of you.”

‘I sat and waited and listened.

‘The creature scratched lazily at its chest. “You may survive this place, Blood, but it will take all of your wits. All of your determination. Do not falter. This is our place, our hunting ground. We have sown the beasts in the Hollow as one might in a field. These crops, they entertain and sustain us. You entertain us, as does your son. Stay alert, Blood, and you may yet see him.”

‘I could sit only in stunned silence. He nodded and sank down into the earth as though he had never existed at all.

‘In the brutal stillness of that place, I understood that I had forgotten what it was to be afraid.

‘The creature had reminded me.

‘It had given me a gift. It had returned my mortality to me, and for that,’ my father wrote, ‘I am thankful.’

A Decent Meal

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Kindness and a warning saved my father.

The entry was short and sweet.

‘I came upon the house early this morning,’ my father wrote. ‘I could smell bacon and eggs frying, and the odors reminded my stomach of what we had been lacking of late.

‘The man sat outside his house in his chair, his eyes fixed upon me as I approached him. When I was a fair distance still, I stopped and asked if he would mind sharing his bread with me.

‘Without hesitation at all, the man told me he would not mind at all and invited me forward. Within a few minutes, we were eating together, and he watched me with mild curiosity. Finally, when we had finished, and he set coffee to boil, he asked, “What manner of creature are you?”

‘The question was an interesting one. I told him I was a man and that I was from Cross. He had heard of men before but not of Cross. When I inquired as to what he considered himself, as he looked the part of a man to me, the stranger chuckled. “I’m a werewolf, Man, and while there’ve been stories of your kind before, I’ve never met one.”

‘I told him I’d not met a werewolf in my own world, though I had heard whispers of them.

‘He laughed and shook his head. “Friend, I’ll do more than whisper tonight when I change. ‘Tis a full moon, and I’ll be hunting. The deer are rutting and foolish in their ways. Eat your fill, Man, and then it would be best for you to be on your way. I’d hate to kill you after having such a pleasant conversation.”

‘I agreed that it would be a shame. As I finished eating, he packed me smoked meats and fresh water. “Head west,” he told me. “The deer are off to the east, so that’s where I’ll be hunting. You’ve a few hours to go until dark. P’rhaps the Hollow will shift you somewhere else before then, but I wouldn’t count on it.”

‘I didn’t.

‘With the man’s warning in my ear and his gifts of food in my haversack, I went on my way. The Hollow did not shift, I am sorry to say, but neither did the man come across my scent.

‘I was lucky,’ my father concluded, ‘and some days, that is all I can hope for.’

Ruins

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He killed them all.

My father came upon a set of ruins, and from them emerged a group of creatures that he believed had once been men.

‘I found the ruins deep in the Hollow as I sought for some other means of egress from this thrice-damned place. There was a sign attached to the ruins, but time and my own ignorance denied me the information it held.

‘I doubt there was anything pertinent to what hid within the depths.

‘Night was coming on, and I have always slept better with my back against a firm wall. I made camp, ate a bit of jerky and warmed some water over a small fire. By the time the sun had set, I was feeling better than I have in some time.

‘They ruined it.

‘I think that at one time, they were men, or at least descended from them. They lurked within the shadows far in the ruin’s center. Whether it was my fire or my mere presence that aroused their interest, I do not know.

‘What is important is the fact that they came out and came at me with abandon, a mistaken belief in their own superiority.

‘They were shambling wrecks, clad in tattered and poor cloth, sickly white flesh bulging in places where no flesh should. Their hands were large and misshapen, as were their faces. I could smell their stink as they clambered over rocks and howled out to one another.

‘I did not use my recently acquired pistol on these wretches.

‘Fire and my hatchet were more than sufficient.

‘They learned to fear the flames.

‘The stench of their flesh, singed and burning; of thick blood splashed across the ground with the rising moon reflected in it; all acted as a balm upon my tired spirit.

‘When I had finished with them, none remained. And though I had dulled the edge of my hatchet upon their bones, I gripped it still as I went in search of more.

‘I found no trace of any others. It was a pity.

‘I was in a mood to kill, and they had proved to be a pleasant distraction.’

Southern

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His anger grows.

I am close to halfway through my father’s final journal, and his anger is evident with every word. The violence in his letters is palpable.

‘I have grown to despise the Hollow. The years are wrong. The damned trees are wrong, and I have yet to find my way back to my own Cross.

‘This morning, when I broke my fast and set out for town from Gods’ Hollow once more, I discovered a stonewall running along the edge of the Hollow’s border. I approached it with caution. I have run out of powder and shot, and my rifle is little more than a club.

‘When I reached the wall, I climbed over it and began to follow a wide road, which I suspect is some iteration of North Road. The way was lined with severed heads. Some from white men, others Indians, far too many were black. It disturbed me to see them.

‘I had reached a curve in the road, and as I rounded it, I came upon a gentleman dressed in a gray uniform. He was humming a song with which I was unfamiliar, and he was mounting a pair of heads on poles. They had once belonged to children, and if they had not been twins, then they had undeniably been siblings. The heads, like so many of those I had passed, belonged to Africans.

‘The man turned upon hearing me approach, and when he spoke, his accent was thick, as though he had been raised in the Southern colonies. He narrowed his eyes, dropped his hand to the butt of a curious-looking weapon at his side, and asked me what business I had in Cross. I told him my business was my own, and I asked him the year.

‘The man’s eyes widened a tad, and he began to draw the weapon.

‘I did not let him finish. I slapped the weapon aside and struck him in the center of his forehead with a closed fist. The bones in my hand broke, but so too did his skull. It collapsed beneath the weight of my blow, and his eyes rolled up into what was left of his brains.

‘I have relieved him of his weapon and the ammunition belt he wore. I have taken a memento for my journal as well.

‘I enjoyed the kill.’

Nameless

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My father robbed the man of a name.

There is no date to accompany the photograph tucked between a blank page and one filled with the tight, conservative script of my father’s hand.

It seems that my father discovered several versions of Cross. None of which pleased him.

As I read what he had written, I could hear the anger in his voice.

‘I will be damned,’ my father began the entry, ‘if I will be subjected to the idiocies and vagrancies of every fool with a rifle.

‘I had no sooner exited the wood-line of the Hollow when the crack of a rifle alerted me to the presence of someone displeased with my arrival. Had he been a better shot, I would not have been afforded the opportunity to repay him in kind.

‘Still, he had enough sense to take shelter behind an elm as he reloaded, and I brought my own rifle up to fire. The tree he chose, however, was not nearly thick enough.

‘My shot took him in the leg, sending him stumbling out and into plain view. He dropped his ramrod, struggled to pick it up, and by the time he had, my second shot was rammed home and ready to fire. The report of my shot rolled across the open glade of the Hollow, and the ball tore through his shoulder, severing the limb from his body. I slung my rifle across my back and drew my hatchet.

‘Despite his wounds, my adversary struggled to reload his rifle.

‘It was of no use.

‘When I reached him, I kicked him in his wounded leg, stomped on the raw, wet socket of his missing arm, and asked him why he had shot at me. He replied that all Bloods were to be shot on sight. When I asked his name again, he refused.

‘I did not ask a third time. Instead, I put my hatchet to good use. By the time I finished severing his other arm, he told me his name, but I was in no mood to listen. I was focused on the task at hand, which was relieving the bastard of his remaining limbs.’

My father had struggled with his temper, I recalled, and I confess it brought a smile to my face to see that it troubled him still.

Unwanted

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The photograph took me aback.

It was a daguerreotype tucked between the pages of my father’s journal that I had found on the Hollow’s stonewall.

I had finished reading through some of the older journals, and I felt sufficiently prepared to see what my father had written after vanishing into the horrors of Gods’ Hollow.

I was wrong.

I had never expected to see my mother in a photograph, especially since I had killed her long before the advent of the art.

I lifted the image up out of the pages, the silver-plated copper cold and hard against my fingers. There was no madness in her eyes. No hatred in her face.

This was not the face of the woman who had attacked me on that dark morning. This woman was not frothing at the mouth, nor was she trying to drive a carving knife into my chest.

This was not the woman I would butcher when I was ten years old and wanting nothing more than to break my fast before beginning the day’s chores.

I held the daguerreotype a moment longer, then I set it down and read the entry that went with it.

‘I am unsure how to react to this encounter,’ my father wrote. ‘When last I saw my wife, Duncan had stabbed his mother to death, leaving her corpse on the table. She had attempted to kill him, but the boy was too quick. He is a Blood, through and through.

‘She gazed upon me as though she had seen a ghost, and when she regained her wits, she drew a pistol and fired at me. She is a far better shot than she was a century ago.

‘The round took me in the stomach, and as she tried to finish me off, the weapon jammed.

‘I did not rely upon a weapon, for I’ve killed my fair share with bare hands and little else.’

In silence, I reread my father’s entry.

It pleased me to know she was dead again. I killed my mother whenever I found her, and it was reassuring to know that my father was doing the same.

Still, I’d done enough reading for the night.

There was bourbon to be drunk and memories to forget.

1778

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Under the aegis of war, he had revenge.

During the American Revolution, many colonists took the opportunity to settle scores, line their pockets, and otherwise wreak havoc.

Years before the war began, my father was cheated by some men from the center of New York state. Responsibilities kept him in Cross, though the mistreatment rankled him some. When the war arrived, my father decided it was time to visit his vengeance upon his former business partners.

I remember him leaving at the time, telling me he would be back as soon as he could and to keep a weather-eye out for trouble. While both colonists and loyalists were raiding across our portion of Massachusetts, both sides steered clear of Cross. We’d shed the blood of patriots and king’s-men alike. It made no difference to us.

Cross would survive, regardless as to who ruled the land around us. So long as they let us be.

My father traveled up into New York and struck a bargain with a Mohawk chief by the name of Joseph Brant and a loyalist unit led by Major Walter Butler. My father offered his services as a soldier, though only for the raid against his enemies.

While Major Butler was unaware of my father’s reputation, the Mohawks were well familiar with it, and they were pleased to have my father with them as they made their way toward Cherry Valley. The men gathered around my father, and when Major Butler was not paying attention, my father let the Mohawks cut upon his flesh to show the gift nature had bestowed upon the Blood family.

In the early morning hours of November 11th, the war party arrived and attacked both the fort and the town located in Cherry Valley. While Major Butler had exacted promises from the Mohawks not to harm any of the noncombatants, my father refused to agree to such terms.

Harming them was why he had left Cross.

‘In less time than it takes to write this,’ my father entered in his journal, ‘I was within the town and at the house of Master Thomas Wells. I put it to the torch, and as he and his wife fled the structure, I slew them both. This one act sealed the fate of the town, as I hoped it would.’

He returned home in December, seven cured scalps on his belt.

He tossed them onto the table, poured himself a cup of tea and said, ‘Never cheat your business partners.’

1640, Wampanoag

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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.

The Dutch

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My father did not care for religion.

By 1607, my father had returned to the western world.

He made his way to the Netherlands, where he joined the Dutch armies as they fought against the Hapsburgs and Catholicism. It did not matter to him that the Dutch were Protestants. It did not matter that the Hapsburgs were Catholics. All that mattered was who was paying him more.

My father became skilled in the use of firearms at that time, more a testament to his obstinance than anything else.

For ten years, my father fought for the Dutch. He mastered the rough firearms of the time, and he learned how best to sail a ship and weather a storm on the open seas. He learned the finer points of the cannon, and he became knowledgeable in Greek and Latin, languages which would serve him well later in life.

At the end of the decade, he was aboard a Dutch privateer that found itself in a fierce battle with an English ship for a fat Spanish prize. The Spanish ship sank with all hands and her gold, and that set the fight into a fever pitch. By the time everything was finished, my father alone stood on the blood-soaked deck of the privateer. His Dutch comrades were dead around him, and there were a fair amount of English sailors breathing their last on the ship as well.

When the Englishmen attacked again, confident in their ability to kill one man, my father stood his ground. Three of the Englishmen were dead within moments.

Twice more, the sailors attacked, and each time they lost men.

My father records that the next man to approach him was the English captain. The man, according to my father, approached him weaponless and with arms outspread. The captain then offered my father a berth on his ship.

‘When I asked the captain what coin he offered,’ my father wrote, ‘the man responded, What coin will you have? I named my price, and he gave it.’

My father helped set fire to the Dutch privateer, taking only his weapons from the ship. He would, as far as the Dutch were concerned, be as dead as those he had sailed with.

Vanishing into the ranks of another army, like killing, was an easy task.

The Americas

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He taught them about war.

Sometime in the late fifteen hundreds, my father accepted the coin of the Spanish monarchy and traveled with a group of mercenaries to the New World. Where he fought did not matter to him, although in his journal from the year 1592, he does confess some curiosity as to what the New World might be like.

He was not impressed.

The men he served alongside were soldiers, like himself, and those he fought were soldiers of another kind. Both my father’s allies and his enemies were beneath him, and they knew far less about killing than they thought they did.

He taught them.

By this time, my father was using the name Ezekiel Blood (and I admit I do not know what his true name might have been, though I have been told that Blood is merely an anglicization of the Danish surname ‘Blod’).

My father records a night when a group of natives caught several of his party out where they should not have been.

The screams of the men rang out through the jungle, the men used as bait.

My father and the others knew it for what it was, and they went into the darkness.

In the jungle, my father could sense the presence of the natives as they kept pace with the mercenaries. The screams of the men were transformed into shrieks, cries for mercy being interjected during pauses that were all-too-short.

When my father and the others entered an open clearing where the captured mercenaries were being tortured, the natives attacked.

The natives, men and women, were armed and skilled in war.

Or so they thought.

My father struck one man down with the back of his hand, wrenched the native’s warclub free, and waded into the fight.

He was merciless, for he was paid to be so.

‘I showed them how to die.’

It is a simple line written near the end of the journal entry for that day, and it speaks volumes about my father.

There is only one more line in the entry, and it too is simple and to the point.

‘Three and Sixty Dead,’ my father noted. ‘My companions fear me.’

I suspect he was smiling when he wrote it down.

Business 

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My father had a talent for war. 

Most of what I know of my father has come from two places. The first is from his own lips. I was denied this source far too early in my long life. The second from the books he hid away. 

It is only this past year that I have discovered them, hidden away in a part of his study I had not known existed. I was surprised to find this place as I have lived here for almost four centuries, and I was confident that I knew all there was to know about the structure. 

Once more, my father has taught me a lesson. 

I was in his study, reminiscing when I noticed an irregularity with the far wall. It was closer than it should have been. When I examined it with greater care, I found it folded in upon itself, revealing several hundred journals.  

They were dated as far back as 1403, and the last one bore the year he went missing. 

I brought a cup of coffee and my pipe into the room, took down the earliest journal, sat down in my father’s rocker, and began to read. 

He was, I learned, bred for war.  

The journal, written entirely in Latin, described a series of battles. My father hired out as a mercenary, loyal to neither king nor crown.  

In one section of the journal, I found a drawing, the description above it telling of how my father took part in the destruction of a city in Italy.  

He was one of two men in a large tower, wheeled forward to the walls. When they were close enough, the other man lowered a bridge, and my father leaped onto the battlements. Armored and armed with an ax, he set about his business.  

He fought with abandon, delighting in the butchery, the fear and desperation of his opponents. He cast them down, both the living and the dead, into the streets below and battled his way to the gates. As my father broke into the gatehouse, he scalded the men with their own boiling oil, garroted the archers with their strings, and opened the gates. 

What had the citizens of the city done to warrant an attack? 

My father neither knew nor did he care. 

He was paid to kill, and killing’s a chore.  

Ezekiel Blood 

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He was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands. 

My father, Ezekiel Blood, had been born sometime in the fourteenth century, though I know not exactly when. From what I gather, he had been born in what is now Denmark, and both his parents had been Danes. 

When he was ten, his parents brought him to England. They were to pay a visit to where one of his ancestors had fallen in battle, and it was in this same place that he killed his first man. As his parents went into the town, my father chased after a pair of puppies racing along the roads. My grandparents had allowed him to do so and inadvertently saved his life. 

My father told me that he had caught up with the puppies in a small copse of trees, and it was from there, with the puppies on his lap, that he saw his parents slain. 

Somehow, the townspeople had learned of my family’s unique traits. Somehow, the townspeople knew that they were related to the men who, centuries earlier, had pillaged the town. 

As my father watched, his parents were pierced by pikes, pinned to the ground, and set aflame.  

It took them nearly ten hours to die. 

My father remained hidden, the rank stench of his own parents’ burning flesh heavy in the air. 

That night, when the townspeople butchered the charred corpses and sealed each portion in a separate container and spread out through the town, my father crept into town.  

He moved from house to house around the perimeter of the town for hours, patient and silent. In his small hands, he held a slim blade, and he killed hundreds. No one was spared. Not the aged nor the infirm, neither mothers nor suckling babes. 

All died at my father’s hands. 

When it was close to dawn, he began to set fire to the buildings.  

Few made it out of the flames alive. Those who did, he hunted down over the following months until not a single citizen of the town remained alive.  

With the puppies as his companions, my father stayed in England and learned about death. He traveled the country, ranged down into Wales and then up into Scotland, and finally over to Ireland. When his aging slowed at fifteen, he traveled across the English Channel to France, and from there, he made his way deeper into the Continent.  

Amongst the Gauls and the northern tribes, he found a religion he was familiar with, how best to use an ax and the finer arts of killing. 

My father was the finest of men. 

Company

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They sang on the shelves.

The books I’d taken from Langer’s were among their kin in my private library. They sang to one another in languages I’d never heard and others I barely understood. Occasionally, one would speak in a recognizable tongue, but even their conversations were upon subjects I could never comprehend.

Still, it was pleasant to hear them.

I sat in my chair and worked my Bowie knife over a whetstone. I had to put the edge back on it. I’d spent eleven hours cutting on Langer, and that time had left the blade dull and nicked in more places than one.

I smoked my pipe as I worked and tried not to think about the task that lay ahead of me. There were bodies in the barn, bodies brought from Miskatonic University and from Langer’s farm in Pepperell. Over the next few days, I’d be digging holes in the orchards and planting corpses to feed Jack’s saplings.

It was the least I could do for my friend.

At the thought of the apple tree, I glanced over at the shelf to where Langer’s skull stood. I’d taken it from him, seeing as how he didn’t need it anymore, and I’d let it boil over a fire made from the limbs stolen from my friend.

Langer’s skull had taken on a faint scent of applewood, and it was a damned fine smell.

It reminded me of Jack, of fine conversations, and the satisfaction of revenge.

“Blood!” one of the books called.

I looked up from my knife. “Aye?”

“Sing us a song,” the book demanded, and the others lent their voices to the request.

“A song?” I set the knife and stone down, tamped down my tobacco and replied, “I don’t know any that are fit for decent company.”

At this, the books roared with laughter, and the book that had spoken asked, “Who says we are decent company, Duncan Blood?”

“Fair enough.” I chuckled and cleared my voice.

I thought of the foulest marching song I knew and then let it fill the room.

The books knew it as well, and soon the house shook with our singing.

It was a fitting way to honor my friend and those soldiers I’d been forced to kill.

#trees #horrorstories

Langer

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I found him in his room.

The book’s directions, not surprisingly, had been dead on.

I didn’t bother kicking the door in. When I reached the top of the narrow stairs, the last few boards squealed, and the wood of the door splintered as Langer emptied all five shots from his pistol. I heard the clatter of empty casings on the floor and let myself into the room.

He sat in a chair, sword on the table in front of him and a box of cartridges open beside it. Langer fumbled with an older model Colt, his fingers failing him as he dropped his reloads onto the floor.

I drew my Colt, thumbed the hammer back and waited.

He glared at me, a sneer creeping onto his face, half-hidden by his beard. “I am not afraid to die, Duncan Blood.”

“I’ve no fear about killing you,” I answered. “But that’s not what this pistol’s for.”

His eyes flickered, darting from my face to the Colt’s barrel.

“The pistol is here to make you comply,” I continued. “You’ll put your revolver on the table and your hands on your knees.”

His sneer broadened. “No.”

I shot him in his left shin.

The deafening roar of the Colt in the confines of the room did not smother Langer’s howl of pain.

I cocked the hammer again, and he slammed his revolver onto the table, pushing it away from him, his face pale and his breath rushing in and out between clenched teeth.

“You killed my friend,” I said, drawing my knife with my free hand. “Had him cut down and his limbs scraped and shaved to weave a basket around your dead child.”

“Yes,” he snarled.

“You did it wrong and opened her flesh to whatever was lingering in the air.”

His hands twitched and moved towards his sword.

I shot him in the other shin.

Panting, he let his hands fall to his side.

Striding forward, I kicked the wounded man out of his chair, holstered my Colt and leaned over the old bastard.

“When I was young, I went to Quebec, and I fought the French and their allies, the Huron. I remember when the Iroquois would take a Huron prisoner and how they would torture him. They wanted to see how strong he was. How well he could withstand the pain. Some of them lasted for days. I doubt you’ll make it through the night.”

I was right.

#trees #horrorstories

A Trap

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He meant for them to be a trap.

It didn’t work.

I heard whispering behind a closed door, and when I forced my way in, expecting a pistol to be leveled at my chest, I found books instead.

It took me a moment to hear what they were saying and a breath or two longer to understand it.

They were speaking a mixture of Latin and ancient Greek, and what they were saying did not reflect kindly upon Tad Langer. His wife. Or his parentage, of which there was some doubt as to whether his father was or was not his mother’s husband.

I let out a chuckle at the last bit, and the books went silent.

“You understood us?” a voice asked from a shelf above the room’s desk. The question was posed in the King’s English.

“Aye, easily enough,” I replied in the same.

Another voice, deeper and farther from the first, asked, “Are you the one old Langer told us to wait for?”

“Did he give my name?”

“No,” the books stated in chorus.

“Huh.” I scratched my chin, then grinned. “I suppose it’s because he didn’t want you running off with me.”

“Running off with you?” The books laughed. “And you are….”

“Blood,” I answered. “Duncan Blood.”

The laughter ceased.

The first book cleared its voice. “Tell me, who is your father?”

“Ezekiel.”

Whispers raced through the library, and then the first book silenced them all.

“And your mother?” the first book asked.

“Dead,” I answered, “although she won’t stay that way.”

“Natural causes?” the first book ventured.

“If a kitchen knife is natural, then aye.”

A pleased sigh filled the room.

“He was right not to tell us,” the first book said. “We will run off with you. Or go, since running is something we cannot do. Will you return for us?”

“If you’ve a mind to go to my farm, then by all means. First, though, I’ve Langer to deal with.”

“He’s hiding in his room,” the first book stated. “There’s a secret door at the end of the hall. Push on the second knot in the pine on the left side of the doorframe. You’ll find the stairs there. He’s armed, by the way. A five-shot revolver and his sword. Not that you need to worry about either.”

“Thank you. I’ll be back soon enough.”

“Knife work, Duncan?” the first book asked.

“Aye. Knife work.”

#trees #horrorstories

Wrong

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It didn’t work.

I could have told Langer that without the death of Jack. As it was, his stupidity and hubris would cost him.

Just as soon as I found the bastard.

I entered the church that served as Tad Langer’s home. When I entered the main portion, I found a casket and flowers and the faint stench of decay lingering in the confined space.

I went to the coffin in the center of the room, swept the wreaths off the top and unlocked the lid. Drawing a Colt, I opened the casket and looked down upon the decomposing face of a young woman. Jack’s severed limbs had been trimmed down into thin slats and woven into a rough blanket.

Whatever magic Langer might have known, it failed him here.

Either that or something foul had claimed the woman and her soul, and thus there was nothing left to be brought back.

If that was the case, then he should consider himself lucky. An empty body with an open doorway is often a recipe for disaster.

Even as the thought crossed my mind, the dead woman’s eyes flickered.

Something had come in.

She opened her eyes, the irises milky and ichor seeping out with the ease of tears.

“Blood.” Her voice, thick with mucous, was painful to hear, her breath foul. “I know you.”

I cocked the hammer back, and she snarled.

“You killed me,” she hissed and tried to free herself from the woven blanket.

She couldn’t.

“You’re not the only one,” I told her.

“I didn’t deserve it,” she snarled.

“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it,” I replied.

“Do you know me?” she demanded.

“No. Don’t rightly care, either.”

Her face twisted into a hateful glare. “Samuel Olcott.”

My memory flickered, locked on, and I let out a surprised laugh. “I remember castrating you, Captain Olcott. I am sorry about your wife. She was an unpleasant part of the chore.”

“The slattern doesn’t matter!” the dead man shrieked. “I went to Hell without my manhood!”

“Looks like you’re going back the same way,” I stated and put two shots into the corpse’s head.

With the spirit of Olcott silenced, I chuckled and returned to my search.

Langer still needed to die, and he might even go the same way Olcott had.

#trees #horrorstories

Curiosities

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He was and wasn’t there.

It took me the better part of the day to kill or drive out the men who’d been defending Langer. When I reached the main house, I breached the door and found myself in what I can only describe as a tomb.

The bodies of the soldiers were gone, and judging by the bloody streaks through the main rooms, the wounded had dragged off the dead.

They were, as I had observed, good soldiers. They didn’t leave their dead behind.

I searched through each room, calling out as I went. I wanted Langer to know I was coming for him. I wanted him to have Jack’s remains ready for me, for I, like the soldiers, was going to bring my dead home.

When I opened the last bedroom door on the top floor, I did not find Tad Langer. I found something else.

The room beyond the door shifted as I stood on the other side of the threshold, watching from the hall.

A man who was and wasn’t there sat in a wicker chair and looked at me as I looked at him. Around him, parts of the furniture shifted as though someone was gently shaking it in and out of focus.

“Fångad.”

The word was faint, a mere whisper in the air, and it took me a moment to translate it.

Trapped.

I nodded. “I can see that.”

He smiled, shrugged, and said, “Jaja.”

Oh well, indeed.

I patted a Colt, and he shook his head. As I watched, he pushed his hand through his own chest, and nothing happened.

“I’m sorry,” I told him.

He chuckled. “Jaja.”

“Do you know where Langer is?”

“Kyrka.” His voice was fainter, the word more difficult to understand.

“The church?”

He smiled. Then, using his finger as though it were a gun, he placed it against his temple and mimicked pulling the trigger.

“You want me to kill him?”

The smile faded, and he nodded. He gestured toward himself and spoke. “Langer.”

 “Fire?”

He shook his head.

I hesitated, then said, “If you make it out, and you’ve a notion to, come to Cross. I’m Duncan Blood. There’s always coffee on and good tobacco. Better whiskey.”

The man gave a solemn smile, raised his hand in farewell, and I left him there, not quite in the world or out of it.

I hoped I’d see him again. He seemed a fine fellow and one more reason for Langer to die.

#trees #horrorstories

Tad Langer

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Tad Langer was no fool.

He was, I discovered the hard way, an old soldier and one who knew his business.

I admired that.

But it wouldn’t give him an easy death.

As Jackson had told me, Langer lived in Pepperell, Massachusetts, not far from Cross and too damned close as far as I was concerned.

When I arrived at his home, I was surprised to see it disguised as an old church. Off to the left was a second structure and another house set a bit farther back, and a burial ground to the right. I let my horse stay off to one side, protected by a copse of thick trees, and went to the end of Langer’s walkway.

Standing there, in the remnants of the first snowfall of the season, I caught a glimpse of sunlight on metal and stepped aside as a shot rang out.

The sound was crisp and clear, and it told me two things.

First, I’d not sneak up on the home.

Second, Langer was a good shot.

Had I stood still, the bullet would have taken me in the face, and that would have been a hell of a thing to recover from.

I took shelter behind an oak, patted the horse on the head and called out to the man.

“Langer!”

“Who wants to speak to the General?” a strong, young voice demanded.

I let out a sigh and shook my head.

“Tell him it’s Duncan Blood and that I want the tree’s wood back.”

There was silence for a few minutes, and then the man shouted, “He says you should go right back to Hell, Mr. Blood.”

I heard the chuckle of more than a few voices, and I nodded.

Sliding my rifle out of its holster, I chambered a round and then shouldered my haversack.

I stepped away from the horse, found a good spot in the copse of trees and set the barrel of the rifle on a limb. It took only a moment to find the window the man had shot at me from.

“Are you still there?” I asked.

“Aye,” the man answered, and I shot him through the glass. Gunfire erupted from the church and the house beyond.

Chuckling, I chambered another round.

I didn’t mind that Langer wasn’t alone in his home.

Not at all.

I had enough bullets for everyone.

And my knife for Langer.

#trees #horrorstories

Jackson Noble

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Apparently, he wasn’t.

I’d known Jackson for five years and considered him a friend. I’d seen him stand tall against some fierce and foul beasts that spilled out of the Hollow on a cold night in November.

When I caught up with him, he was sitting in front of his fireplace with a glass of brandy in hand and a pistol on his lap.

Only his eyes moved when I stepped into the room, one of my Colts at the ready.

“Jackson,” I nodded and took a seat across from him.

He offered a tired smile, raised the glass to his lips and drained the liquor. For a moment, he considered the snifter, shrugged, and then tossed it into the fireplace with barely enough force to clear the fender. As the snifter rolled to a stop, he looked at me.

“I take you’re here to exact some measure of revenge for a tree?” there was a dry, bitter tone to his words.

“Aye, that’s about the size of it, Jackson.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t shoot me when you stepped in.”

I offered him a grim smile. “I want the name of the man who you’re selling my friend to.”

Jackson raised an eyebrow. “You really did consider that damnable tree your friend?”

“I did,” I answered. “I’ll be planting a few of his saplings in his honor.”

Jackson paled. “I’ll not be food for a tree.”

“You’ve no choice in the matter. The only choice you have here, Jackson, is how you die. Fast and easy. Slow and hard. It’s up to you.”

He shook his head. “I didn’t think it would come to this.”

“You murdered my friend, and you’re selling his body. And you didn’t think it would come to this?” I laughed. “Did you know me at all, Jackson Noble?”

“I thought I did,” he whispered, licking his lips nervously, fingers twitching as they moved towards the pistol.

“Lift that pistol, Jackson,” I snapped, “and I’ll show you what it means to die hard.”

He stiffened and then pushed the pistol onto the floor, kicking the revolver away.

“Who am I looking for, and where does he live?” I asked.

“His name is Tad Langer,” Jackson answered. “He lives up in Pepperell. Duncan –”

I put a bullet in his right eye, and he slumped out of the chair.

I stood up and left the house.

Langer wouldn’t have a choice.

He’d die slow.

#trees #horrorstories

Beatrice

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She stood her ground.

I found her in the basement of her department.

I took a belly full of birdshot as well and was damned thankful she hadn’t thought to change the load.

She realized her mistake the moment I caught myself on the doorframe and brought one of the Colts up.

Beatrice broke the shotgun open as she stepped back and tried to reload.

But reloading on the move, and when you’re a target, is something that takes a hell of a lot of practice. Practice she’d never had.

The first slug from the .44 shattered the stock of the shotgun, sending splinters of wood into her side and arm. Blood sprang from a dozen minor wounds, and she dropped the weapon, trying to reach a door at the back of her office.

My second shot caught her in the belly and took her off her feet.

She landed hard on the floor and skidded a foot or so, her back against the heavy door she’d been trying to escape through. With her lips pressed together, she drew a knife from her bodice, but I was already there, kicking the blade from her hand and stomping down on her fingers, shattering them.

She meant to kill herself, and I meant to stop her.

I’d be the only one doing any killing.

I crouched down in front of her, cocked the hammer of the Colt and pressed the barrel against her shoulder.

“I’ll take you apart a piece at a time, Beatrice,” I told her, and she nodded.

She spat blood out to one side, smirked and asked, “Am I still pretty, Duncan Blood?”

“You would be if you hadn’t killed my friend.”

Beatrice shrugged.

“Otto named you.”

“Of course, he did,” she wheezed. “You want to know if there was anyone else.”

I nodded.

“Three more,” she smirked. “Two have gone on to bring the wood north. There’s a man who’ll pay fair price for the wood of a talking tree. Especially one as old as yours was.”

“And the last?” I asked, ignoring her comment.

“Jackson Noble.”

She laughed at the flicker of anger that passed over my face.

“Oh yes, your friend Jackson,” Beatrice grinned. “He’s the one who told us about the tree. Brought us to it. Will you kill him too?”

“What do you think?” I asked and shot her through the mouth.

Friend or no friend, Jackson would die.

They all would.

#trees #horrorstories

The Professor

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He tried to run.

Professor Otto Sturm entered the library, saw me and turned to leave.

I shot him through his left knee and dropped him to the floor.

As he tried to crawl away, I crossed the room and kicked him in his wound. He fainted from the pain as I secured the door.

I took the portly bastard by the collar and dragged him to the fireplace, where hot embers glowed, and the poker lay with its head buried among them.

Otto let out a weak groan as I cut open his pants leg from the hem to the injury, and then he shrieked as I slapped the poker against the bullet wound. The sound reverberated in the confines of the room, and the stench of singed flesh and burnt blood filled the air.

I put the iron back in the fire, settled myself into the chair and looked at the man.

“Mr. Blood,” Otto gasped, forcing a smile. “I think there’s been some sort of misunderstanding.”

“No. Not that I’m aware.” I cocked the hammers on the Colts, and he stared at them, unable to look away.

“Now,” I continued, “there’s been a murder on my farm.”

His eyes darted from the revolvers to my face, then back again. “I’m sure I know nothing of it. I am, however, quite willing to put the full resources of the university at your disposal. Perhaps together, we could unravel the mystery of the tree killer.”

I shot him through the other knee, but this time, he didn’t pass out.

He whimpered and babbled incoherently as I took the iron out and slapped it against the knew wound.

Otto vomited over himself – a collection of eggs, toast, and what looked like curdled milk – and begged me to stop.

“I suppose you’re realizing I didn’t mention the tree,” I remarked, returning the iron to the embers.

He nodded, sweat beading on his forehead.

“Who else was with you?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“Otto,” I whispered. “I’m not foolin’ here. I’m about to cut on you in ways you’ve never dreamed of. This will be something new for you, and I promise it’ll be something bad. Who else was with you?”

“Von Kampf,” he sobbed.

I nodded and blew out his brains.

As blood and gray matter sizzled on the embers, I went looking for Beatrice Von Kampf.

She needed to die.

#trees #horrorstories

Eldritch Flames

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Old magic and young fools.

They’re a terrible combination.

I know a few spells of my own, and one of them concerns the tracking of magic. Especially old magic.

There are some who deem it unwise to trace magic, and usually, I agree with them. But I needed to find who had knocked down The Tree.

Someone needed killing.

Standing at Jack’s corpse, I cut my palm and let the blood fall to the earth. When the first drop struck a blade of grass, I whispered the spell. My tongue was stung by the sharpness of the words, the bitterness of each letter as I spat it from my mouth.

When the foul language had been uttered, the path lay clear before me.

Footsteps, dozens of them, were illuminated upon the ground, black flames snapping up and outlining them. The tracks led through the grass, to the road, and off toward the Hollow.

I knew they wouldn’t end there.

I followed the flaming steps, each going out as I passed them. Within a short time, I was on North Road and following the tracks toward town. Keeping one eye on the Hollow and the other on my prey, I moved swiftly.

When I reached the Cross branch of Miskatonic, no one stood in my way. The guards knew better. I passed them by with a nod of greeting, and they looked away.

The wisest choice they could make.

The tracks led to a newer building, one that had been built as a private residence. Reaching the door, I didn’t bother knocking.

I kicked it in and drew both weapons.

A single line of footprints followed the stairs and into a small library.

The place stank of death and outrages committed upon flesh.

Of the people I was looking for, there was no sign.

Sitting down in a chair by the hearth, I drew my Colts and set them on my lap. The barrels were pointed toward the door, and my hands were on the weapons.

I had no intention of calling out a warning to whoever stepped into the room.

I’d know the culprit as soon as I caught sight of him.

And when I did, the Colts would express my displeasure.

They were far more eloquent than I ever could be.

#Trees #horrorstories

Murder

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Someone killed Jack.

I’d known Jack ever since I’d planted him as a sapling in 1803. There was a tang to his fruit that few enjoyed, and I’ll admit I wasn’t particularly fond of them either. Not until I started to press the windfall and kept it around for applejack.

It was how he got his name.

I’d walk and see him about once a week. Sometimes every other week, depending on the situation in Cross or the Hollow, or both.

It’d been a solid week since I’d last spoken with Jack, the conversation nothing more than an exchange of pleasantries, and there’d been no weather to speak of in that time.

When I came upon his remains, the stink of magic clung to the air.

Something had twisted and pushed the old apple tree down, and then someone else had taken axes and saws to his branches. All of which were missing.

I stood there for a bit and considered who or what might have done this to the tree.

Upon questioning the other trees, I learned they did not know what had happened. There was a fog over their collective memory, and even the dryads and other fey had been affected.

I knew it could not be my mother, regardless of which version might crawl out of the Hollow.

No, the magic was too strong. Too strong and too dark.

This was old magic, and only one group practiced its type in Cross.

The professors and students of Miskatonic University.  

They’d come onto my land, found the oldest tree in the lower orchard, and put him to death.

They’d murdered my friend.

More than likely for nothing more than his wood and the power a speaking tree had within its fibrous bones.

I looked long and hard at Jack’s mangled form and then made my decision.

I’d not work magic on the offenders. I could twist well enough without the need for arcane utterances.

And as for their limbs, well, I had plenty of handsaws and axes for that, too.

With my decision made, I turned and headed toward home.

There were tools to gather and fools to visit.

#trees #horrorstories

Aggravation

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Some situations are frustrating.

Recently, a branch of Miskatonic University has been built in Cross. It is an institution for which I have no love.

The Cross branch is located on a parcel of land a little too close to town for my liking and definitely not far enough from my home.

About mid-morning, a group of women arrived from the school.

They did not ask permission to come onto my land. They did not ask permission to go to the younger orchard and prowl about the trees. When I found them, they had apparently made up their mind to come and speak with me.

Mrs. Darling, whose husband was the dean of students, was the mouthpiece for this group, and speak she did.

“Mr. Blood, I presume?” She asked it in a coy manner that I found grating. Without meaning to, I rested my hands on the butts of the Colts.

I nodded. “I’m Mr. Blood. I’m a little curious as to why you’re on my land and wandering through my orchard.”

The ladies laughed as though I’d said something funny.

Mrs. Darling smiled with a kindness that betrayed her thoughts. She believed me to be a country bumpkin and that any sort of flattery would get her what she needed.

“Well, we were simply admiring your apples,” she began, and I cocked the hammers back.

The click of the hammers locking into place cut through her sentence, leaving her staring with some surprise.

“This is my orchard,” I informed her. “My land. My trees. My apples. You’re entitled to none of them. Not even a single windblown apple rotten through with worms. Now, I’ve no idea as to why you think you can come on my land or for what purpose, and I don’t care.”

“Mr. Blood,” she started.

“Finish that thought, Mrs. Darling,” I warned, “and I’ll beat the teeth out of your husband’s head.”

Her mouth clicked shut.

“You’ve a few minutes to get off my land,” I continued. “If you don’t, I’ll pistol whip each and every one of you. My trees like the taste of blood, Mrs. Darling, and I’ve a mind to bleed you.”

With horrified expressions, the women raced off, their faces pale and the stink of fear lingering behind them.

I eased the hammers of Colts down and wondered just how much trouble Miskatonic was going to be.

#trees #horrorstories

Silence.

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My mother had been silent for close to three years.

Along North Road, I found a new section of fence. More to the point, I found an apple tree growing up alongside it. From what I could see, the tree had been there for some time. The fruit was ripe, the tree was healthy.

Of course, the tree hadn’t been there the day prior. Nor had the fence, for that matter.

The new arrivals were on the Hollow side of the road, and few good things came from it.

I sat on the fence a few feet from the tree, took out my pipe, packed it, lit the tobacco and smoked for a short time.

The fence shifted a bit, and from the corner of my eye, I saw the tree move a hair’s breadth closer.

“Have you come far?” I asked the tree.

There was a moment of silence before the tree answered me.

“I didn’t think it was true.” The tree’s voice was young and feminine.

“What’s that?”

“That you spoke to trees,” the apple tree continued. “There was rumor, but most of us put it down to saplings telling tales.”

I chuckled.

We were quiet for a moment, then the tree spoke again. “I’ve been sent to tempt you.”

“That a fact?” I glanced over at the tree. “Your apples do look good.”

The vibrant green of its leaves brightened.

“Are you poisonous?” I asked.

“I am,” the tree replied with no small trace of pride. “One of my apples is usually enough to burn out a man’s stomach.”

“And my mother wanted me to partake?”

“She did.”

“And what do you want?” I asked.

“To be left alone,” the tree answered.

“I can’t let you stay at the fence,” I told the tree. “Too many children would be tempted. I’d not see them dead.”

“Nor would I,” the tree replied.

“I could move you to my lands,” I stated. “I feed my trees well.”

When the tree responded, there was a depth of hunger to the hushed tone. “Is it true you feed them meat?”

“I feed them humans,” I clarified. “Whenever a body comes along, I share the wealth. And when I transplant, well, there’s a body there to ease the transition.”

The tree shuddered and replied, “I am hungry.”

“Good. I killed a murderer last night.”

The tree sighed, and I stood up. There was a hole to be dug, a body to be planted, and a tree to be moved.

Life was good.

#trees #horrorstories

A fool.

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RG# 95-GP Records of the Forest Service General Subject Files Negative Number: 519436

There are times when the wrong person is chosen for the job.

It’d been 18 months since the explosion, and while I’d not found anybody, I knew the doorway was closed.

But the Hollow was still open.

One of the ravens spotted the man around noon and sent another bird to me. Martha and I left the house, picked up the trail of the stranger and with the dog’s nose and the raven’s guidance, we tracked the man to a lumber road up to the northwest. He was far from my land, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t trouble.

We went up the road a ways and then we saw him. The man was bent over, feeding brush to a small fire.

I am not a fan of arson, nor am I overly fond of arsonists in general.

Strolling towards him, I called out, “Cold, friend?”

The man jerked up and offered a weak frown. He cleared his throat and said, “What I’m doing is my own business.”

“As it should be,” I nodded. “But it looks like you’re about to set fire to the whole damned lot. The pines’ll go up quick. It’s been dry this season.”

“Just as it should,” the man declared. “I’m trying to burn a pest out.”

“Oh?”

“Yes,” he continued. “A man who stole his mother’s farm from her. Who killed his siblings to keep them from interfering.”

“Sounds like a right bastard,” I remarked.

He chuckled, bent over, and added more to the growing fire. “He is. I met his mother a few days ago, and she asked if I was willing to help the town. I was. She sent me through the Hollow with a charm to help me back.”

He patted his chest, and I glimpsed a cord around his neck.

“That a fact?” I asked.

“It is.”

“You know Blood’s farm is a little to the southeast,” I told him.

“It is?”

“It is.” I drew my Colts.

“How did you know this is for Blood?”

I cocked the revolvers. “Put the fire out.”

He shook his head, and I shot him in his thighs. The impact of the rounds knocked his legs out from under him and sent him crashing head first into the flames. As he screamed, I walked forward and used him to smother the fire.

Only when the last of it was out did I put a bullet in his head.

With the smell of burnt flesh and pine needles in the air, I kicked dirt over the embers and hated my mother a little more.

#trees #horrorstories

Openings.

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I found an entrance.

For a year since the death of the unknown girl, my mother’s been silent.

Yesterday, as I readied myself for bed, a raven arrived with word from Willow. There was, from what he was told, a bit of a ruckus on one of the islands.

This morning, the dogs and I set out for Blood Lake, and with my shotgun at the ready, we set off toward the island Willow had indicated. The ravens scouted ahead and soon returned with information regarding a doorway set into a hill.

When we reached the island, I began the trudge up to the top while the dogs took off ahead. It didn’t take long before Martha had returned.

“There’s a doorway for sure, Duncan,” the dog told me. “And it stinks to hell like your mother.”

I nodded my thanks, and as I crested the hill, I saw the doorway.

It was old, older than it should have been, and it sure as hell hadn’t been on the island a year earlier when I’d checked it.”

Moving closer, I saw Latin phrases carved into the stone. What I read turned my stomach, as did the deep stains in the grooves of the carvings.

Old magic had been worked on the stones and bound them to this place.

I returned to my boat, fetched a shovel, and went back to the doorway. For the better part of the day, I worked. I dug deep in front of the threshold, and then I gathered dead fall and built a rough trap. Much like a fish trap, I carved points onto wood and set the branches at a downward angle. Anyone who fell in would tear open their flesh trying to climb out.

As daylight weakened and edged on towards evening, I worked at the doorway. I loosened the keystone and, with a pair of cartridges for my shotgun, rigged up a tripwire of old thread.

Whoever passed through my mother’s door would bring the lintel down upon them, and should they survive to stagger forward, well, the pit would be waiting.

The dogs and I were hungry and tired as we made our way to the boat, the ravens taking flight to return to the rookery. As I pushed the boat off and began to row towards home, a dull thump greeted our ears. A scream followed, and the dogs and I had a good chuckle.

It’s always nice when your work is appreciated.

#trees #horrorstories

Silence.

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Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do.

I heard the scream. It would have been hard as hell not to.

A moment later, one of the apple trees told me there was a child by the white oak.

I ran as hard as I could.

The white oak lived far to the north, a safe distance from all entries on a normal day. But that didn’t seem to be the case today.

There was a second scream, one far more terrified than the first, and as I ran, I heard a long, wet snap.

No other screams sounded.

I heard the crash of animals in the brush and saw Martha and the two new dogs racing along beside her. All three had their ears back and their tails low. Above me, the ravens cried and sped.

When we reached the white oak, there was nothing save the splatter of blood on leaves and a single piece of paper.

“Blood,” the tree chortled. “Why did no one tell me your mother had returned from the Hollow? Is your father with her? I would have thought they would have come to see me together.”

“I didn’t know she’d come back from the Hollow,” I answered. “And as for Father, no, I’ve not seen him in well over a century.”

“She brought me a gift,” the white oak continued. “The little girl seemed quite confused.”

“I’m not surprised,” I answered, voice hoarse. I gestured toward the piece of paper. “May I?”

“Of course.”

The dogs sat down, and the ravens settled into nearby branches.

“Son,” the letter began, “it seems you’ve taken a notion to killing mine when they’re doing naught but my work. She wasn’t yours, I know, but she’ll feel like she was. I did not drug her as your father would have done in the old country. She was awake, and I am sure she suffered. Enjoy your dead child, my son. I hope you will join your siblings soon. Mother.”

I folded the paper and put it in my breast pocket.

“All is well?” the white oak asked.

“Well enough,” I lied. “I’ll be back soon.”

“I would enjoy that,” the tree chuckled, and I left with the dogs by my side.

I needed a hard drink, and I aimed to get it.

#trees #horrorstories

They were trapped.

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The trees were happy to help.

My mother had sent a pair of hunters from the Hollow.

Word spread that the men had come in through the lake, the hunters arriving in a canoe with their rifles and a pair of dogs.

They’d moved in quickly, ignorant of the trees and what they represented. While the men were careful not to leave a trail, they failed to pay heed to what was going on in the distance.

Slowly, the trees moved to fill in the gaps between themselves. Young and old, the trees made a wall around a large glade, and as the men and dogs crossed it, the trees tightened the circle.

A path was left for me, and I moved up it with all the care and silence the Abenaki had taught me as a boy. While I had my Colts on my hips, I had my Spencer in my hands. I had Martha with me, an old hound dog who’d seen more horrors than most men and lived to tell the tale. Her tail wagged back and forth as we moved, her nose to the ground.

“They’re talking dogs, Duncan,” she announced, tail fairly whipping to either side. “They might listen to reason.”

As I reached the barrier created by the trees, the wind shifted and carried mine and Martha’s scent forward to the hunting dogs, both of whom stopped and looked our way. The trees ceased their movement, and it was then the hunters realized their predicament.

I set my rifle in the crook of a tree to steady the barrel and took aim at the man on the left.

“Boys,” I called. “Why don’t you set those rifles down and move on with your dogs?”

The men swung towards my voice, and the dogs, as Martha had hoped, crept away.

They were reasonable hounds, after all.

“The bounty’s too high on you, Blood,” the man on the right replied. “Your mother’s offered a fair price for your head and the heartwood of any tree who interferes.”

I took my target’s head off and set my sights on the man who’d spoken. He brought his rifle up to his shoulder with the slow confidence of a killer and died a moment later, his brains exiting the back of his skull.

As his body slumped to the ground, the trees parted, and I slung the rifle over my shoulder. With Martha by my side, I went out to the bodies.

My trees needed to eat.

#trees #horrorstories

A fine shot.

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The man could shoot.

I had to give him credit for that.

I was out in a new patch of woodland, tending to some young trees. A bit of blight had been making its way through the white birch, and the dryads were worried about them. Normally, I’d not concern myself with the fears of dryads, but Willow asked it of me, and so there I was.

I was examining the base of a birch tree, and a dryad was peeking over my shoulder, occasionally resting her hand on my shoulder. A heartbeat later, a wall of roots snapped up and shoved me to one side as a bullet slammed into the wood. The crack of the rifle rolled through the forest as I leapt to my feet, drawing the Colts and looking for the shooter.

As my eyes scanned the woods, I saw the hole in the root wall. The damned thing was right where my head would have been.

I’ve recovered from headshots before, but if the bastard knew what he was doing, I doubt I would have had the chance.

None of the dryads were visible, but I knew they were there, and a moment later, they confirmed it.

The woods around me parted with the ease of dune grass before a sharp wind.

The root wall separated, and the roots returned to the earth.

Ahead of me, sitting in the fork of a pair of trees, was a pleasant-looking man. He was dressed in a uniform and held a shotgun and his walking stick in one hand.

“Herr Blood!” he called out cheerfully in German. “It seems you have some luck.”

I kept the Colts at my side and thumbed the hammers back.

“Sometimes,” I replied.

“You know,” he continued, “I owed your mother a favor.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” I tightened my grip on the revolvers.

“As was I. I told her I would give her one shot and only one.”

“It was a fine shot.”

“Thank you. I took that shot, Herr Blood, and you are alive.”

He stood up, broke the gun open and laid it over his shoulder. “I have paid my debt to your mother.”

“She’ll be angry.”

His smile broadened. “And my gun will be loaded.”

He tipped his hat and went on his way.

I lowered the hammers back into position, holstered the Colts, and turned my attention to the young birch.

There was still the blight to deal with.

#trees #horrorstories

She wasn’t invited.

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I was working in the apple orchard, tending to Elder, when word came from younger trees.

There was a woman on the property.

I glanced over to Elder.

“No, child,” he stated. “It’s not your mother. I’d feel her if it were. She has a distinct tread that shakes the foundations of this farm.”

Straightening up, I adjusted my Colts in their holsters. “Any idea?”

“No,” the tree answered.

“Where is she?” I asked.

Elder paused, then answered, “Not far from here. Along the wagon trail leading to the lower orchard. She’s come to a stop.”

A whisper ripped through the apple trees, and I heard one say, “She’s wrong.”

“Wrong?” I inquired.

“Yes.” Elder’s branches shook for a moment, casting a few loose leaves down. “She’s too warm, child.”

“Well,” I sighed. “Let’s see what she wants.”

I took my leave of the trees and made my way to the trail, and followed it a short way. Not more than a mile or so before I came ‘round a bend and saw her. She stood perfectly still and smiled at me in a pretty white dress. Her hat was perched upon her head, and she offered a low curtsy.

“Can I help you?” I asked, resting my hands on the Colts.

“I am a gift your mother sent,” the woman replied, and as I drew the .44s, she shed her skin.

A great beast, perhaps twelve or more feet tall, stepped forward, sun glistening off grey flesh and yellow, mottled eyes. Her mouth opened wide, not to reveal teeth but flames.

She sprang forward, leaping high in the air, arms outstretched and fingers adorned with talons.

The first few slugs tore through her hands, slammed into her chest, and destroyed the side of her face.

But the thing didn’t stop.

Fire billowed from her wounds, setting the grass aflame.

A quick shot took out her left kneecap and sent her tumbling to the ground. She twisted, reached for me with a shattered hand and left a trail of fire behind her.

Stepping away from the thing, I emptied the Colts into her head.

She shivered, groaned, and then lay still.

Young trees moved forward, dragging earth with them and pushing it over the flames.

I reloaded the Colts, watched the trees extinguish the fire, and wondered what my mother might send next.

#trees #horrorstories

A warning.

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She was waiting for me by the road.

It was 1871, and dreams of the war woke me far more than I cared to admit.

The sun had only been up for an hour or so when I saw her on the side of the road, about as out of place as a person could be. No one in Cross dressed so fine, not on a Saturday morning. There were no church fairs or celebrations I was aware of, nor was she anyone I recognized. The Hollow had been acting up of late, more so than usual, I should say, and so, I was a bit on edge. Add to that the lack of sleep, and well, you can understand why my hands drifted towards the Colts when I laid eyes on her.

A smirk appeared on her face as she took note of my reaction. When she spoke, her voice rolled through the land, echoed gently by the trees around her.

“So like your kind,” she said, “to fight first and seek peace later.”

“Humanity is like that,” I remarked, the butts of the Colts comforting in the palms of my hands.

“Bloods are like that,” she corrected. “Your father more than others, it would seem, and he, from what I was told, had outlived most of his kind. No mean feat, young Blood.”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I am Rowan,” she replied. She rested her hand on the tree she stood beside, then gestured across North Road to the Hollow. “I come from Gods’ Hollow, and I bring a warning from my kin to you and yours.”

“What’s that?”

“Your mother has been seen,” Rowan stated. “More so, she has been heard. Some of the elder trees have learned she intends to mount an attack on Cross. Whether it is your Cross or some other, I do not know, young Blood. We are warning as many as we can.”

“Why’s that?”

“She takes the heartwood of my kin for her spells.”

“Fair enough.” I took my hands off the Colts and folded my arms over my chest. “Do you know when?”

She shook her head. “Only that it may come and that you best be prepared. Of all whom I’ve spoken with, young Blood, you seem the readiest.”

I nodded my thanks at the compliment and watched her cross the road and into the Hollow. She moved gracefully across the field and vanished in the forest.

I headed home to clean my guns and speak to my trees.

Mother was coming to visit.

#trees #horrorstories

The Oak.

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They angered the tree.

Automobiles were just coming round Cross at the time, and more than a few were driven by absolute lunatics as far as I was concerned. I don’t know how many chickens, sheep, cats, and dogs were killed by the young men and women behind the controls, but there were too many.

More than that, the drivers occasionally took it into their heads to veer off the narrow country roads and drive over property that wasn’t theirs.

I’d spoken to a few, but they paid me little heed. They were from Boston Town most of the time, though a few came up from other parts of New England.

One Friday evening, as I was walking home on North Road, I saw tire tracks cutting through the side of the road, and several young oaklings were dead. The saplings had been shattered and churned up, and the great oak which had watched over them was furious.

“What are these things, Blood?” she demanded.

“A nuisance,” I muttered and squatted down by the oaklings. There was no hope of resurrecting them. “I’ll put a stop to it.”

The tree grumbled but said nothing in reply.

Straightening up, I asked, “Will you let me handle it?”

“If you speak to them first, then by all means, you will handle it,” she remarked. “If I speak to them first, well, then I will handle it.”

It was fair, as far as I was concerned, and I went on my way.

I’d nearly reached my home when I heard a thunderous crash on the road. Hurrying back up the drive, I came to a sight I’d not expected.

The oak was gone, as were the occupants of the automobile she had dragged down into the ditch. Blood trails led deeper into the woods, and a faint moaning and whimpering reached my ears.

A dry snap followed, and someone screamed.

“Those were my children.” The oak’s voice drifted out from the depths of the forest. “And you broke them.”

Another snap and a scream punched the air.

“I’m going to break each of you,” the oak continued, “until there is nothing left to break.”

I turned my back to the wrecked automobile and made my way home.

The oak had her business to attend to, and I wanted something hot to drink.

The screams faded, but the snapping didn’t.

#trees #horrorstories

Old Man Willow

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There aren’t many left, and for that, I’m glad.

The willows have haunted the waterways of New England longer than my family has been in Cross. My father told me tales of the local tribes beating back assaults by the trees and of others where the entire village was missing, victims of the willows.

It wasn’t until shortly after the War of 1812 that Old Man Willow arrived.

I’d recently returned home from serving aboard a privateer when I saw the willow by the Hollow.

I went home, ate, and made a note to check the tree in the morning. Willows, unbeknownst to most, move in the dark of night. They pull up their roots and creep across the land, their long fronds a whisper in the wind.

When I went round the next morning, he’d moved a solid two hundred feet closer to the house. The remains of a deer lay close by, and the birds were noticeably silent.

I returned home, fetched my rifle, lit a full lamp and carried both back to the tree.

Sitting down far enough from the branches, I loaded the rifle, set it across my knees and called out, “Morning, Master Willow.”

The willow remained silent.

“Let’s try this again,” I offered. “Morning to you, Master Willow. You’re nigh on close to trespassing on Blood lands.”

Standing up, I gave the lamp more wick and cocked the rifle.

“Now,” I said, holding the lamp high. “I’m not sure there’s enough oil here to finish you. I do know there’s enough to hurt you. Hold your tongue any longer, Master Willow, and I’ll throw this in the air and put a bullet through it when it’s about to strike. Oil spreads fast, faster still when it’s burning.”

“I need shelter,” the tree grumbled.

I sat down. “With a Blood?”

“Aye,” Willow said. “No place is safe. I have heard you offer refuge.”

“You’ve heard the truth.”

“What are the terms?”

“Don’t eat me or my guests,” I answered.

Willow chuckled. “Nothing more?”

“Nothing more.”

Upon occasion, he ate a guest or two, but I’d warned them.

What more could I do? He’d asked for refuge, and I’d granted it.

And mistakes happen to the best of us.

#trees #horrorstories

Augustus Avery

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I told him his sister was dead.

Augustus didn’t appreciate the information and demanded the right to go searching for her body.

I denied him.

I’d known Augustus since he’d been birthed and his father as well. Hell, I’d fought beside his grandfather when the man was just a boy and an indentured servant at that.

His father, grieving, warned his son to stay off my lands and tried to assure him that I spoke the truth.

Augustus didn’t listen.

He waited until he saw me headed into town before slipping onto my land. I didn’t find out about it until nearly six hours later, and by then, it was too late.

With my Colts on my hips, I went in after him, following his trail as it wandered to the north and west. He was headed far from where his sister had died, and while it was fine that he wouldn’t see the giants making bread from her bones, it didn’t bode well for him.

He was heading towards a particularly disagreeable weeping willow, one that disliked being disturbed by anything remotely human. I’d pulled members of the fey and even goblins out of the bastard’s clutches and buried more than a few fools who’d sought to camp beneath its canopy.

The tree went by the name Willow, and he was a damned deadly hunter. On more than one occasion, I’d had the opportunity to sit and watch him at his work, catching small prey that wandered in.

He made short work of them.

When I reached a clearing, I found evidence of Augustus. Some wood had been piled high, and his walking stick lay by it, as though he had gone into the woods for something and forgotten to come back.

His trail led straight toward Willow.

I hastened along the trail and found the tree at his work.

Willow stripped the last section of skin from Augustus and dropped it onto a pile of the same.

“Blood,” the tree greeted, and Augustus turned his head.

The man was still alive.

I drew the Colt and put a slug into his skull, splattering the tree with bone and brains. As Willow cursed me, I holstered the revolver and went back for the walking stick.

I had to go into town and tell Mr. Avery both his children were dead.

I was not looking forward to the task.

#trees #horrorstories

Conflict.

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Minnie Avery thought she knew better.

I’d been having a bit of trouble with some of the older elms on the eastern side of the property. A pair of giants had moved in, and they’d made themselves comfortable as their kind are wont to do. They found a bare patch in a valley deep enough to hide them on most days, and the stream that rolled through was enough to water their crops and give them a goodly supply of fish. On occasion, with my blessing, they went into Blood Lake and took their catch of merfolk, too.

Once the giants arrived, I made it a point to close off the road that led from the back orchard to the valley. When I did so, there was a bit of a scuffle with some of the elms. They’d lived close to the road for the better part of fifty years, and they occasionally snatched game foolish enough to traverse it. With the coming of the giants, the animals were scared off. To make matters worse, the giants had taken some of the deadfall and used it to fashion their utensils and cookware.

The elms, employing their saplings and a few sympathetic dryads, stole one of the giant cups. While they were seeking to transport it away, Minnie Avery came along with her fiancé and the trees and dryads were forced to stop where they were.

Minnie saw the giant’s cup and convinced her husband-to-be to take a picture of her in it.

Both, I suspect, thought it was great fun.

The giants did not.

From what I learned later, the giants assumed the couple had stolen the cup from them, and since Minnie had felt the need to be in a bit of their cookware, the giants obliged her and her fiancé.

I was working ‘round the elder tree and some of the tree’s saplings when word of Minnie reached me by way of one of my ravens. Leaving my work half-done, I hurried off toward the giants, but it was too late by the time I arrived.

The giants were gathered around their cookfire, adding potatoes and bits of apple to the cookpot while stirring the brew now and again. Off to one side was a pile of clothes and entrails.

The giants asked me to stay for dinner, but I declined.

I hadn’t finished my work with the elder tree.

#trees #horrorstories

The First Tree.

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The tree is older than I am.

Most of the apples that fall from it are bitter, and Elder, as the tree is known, enjoys that.

I can remember being so young that my father would carry me most days out to the orchard, and there, in the shade of Elder’s wide boughs, I would listen as man and tree conversed. As I grew, I soon took to speaking with Elder on my own. More so after my father vanished into the Hollow.

One day stands out more than most, and I made note of it. I’d returned from the South, the war of the rebellion having ended and President Lincoln being dead.

The trees had whispered to one another as I walked along the trail toward the orchard. Some of the younger apple trees greeted me, and I responded to their pleasantries with my own. Soon, I came to the far end of the orchard, where Elder alone stood and waited.

“You’re alive, Duncan,” Elder greeted, his limbs shaking with mirth and knocking a few of the apples on his boughs loose.

“I am,” I answered, sitting down in the grass. I took my pipe out, packed the bowl and lit it.

“You like to fight, don’t you,” the tree observed.

“I do,” I admitted. I leaned back on my elbows and looked up at the tree.

“I shall tell you a story,” the tree stated. “When I was a sapling, there were a great many of us. We grew our fruit, and the Abenaki would come and offer up their thanks. When your father arrived, my own parent and he spoke. The conversation was congenial, and they struck up a friendship. A few nights later, though, Englishmen from another colony assaulted the farm and sought to drive out your father. They burned my kin, and only I survived. Your father, Duncan, went out after the raiders.”

“What did he do?” I asked.

“What would you do?”

“Kill them all.”

The tree chuckled. “And so he did. The man who led the raid, his bones are nestled deep within my roots. Your father put him in the hole alive and made sure the man could breathe while he put me in upon the man.”

The tree shook a few apples loose and sighed. “It took the man some time to die.”

“But did you eat well?” I asked.

“Between you and your father, Duncan,” Elder replied. “I always eat well.”

#trees #horrostories

My Trees.

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My trees are old.

Some were planted by my father before my birth. Others I put in with him. More still, I put them down by myself, fertilizing them as my father had shown me.

The body of an enemy or a fool (more often one and the same) in the sapling’s bed.

I’ve hundreds of apple trees.

Most of them have been fertilized accordingly.

All my trees, I will confess, have the ability to speak. Others never do, but far too many never stop. The dryads do their best to deal with any issues I cannot help with – overactive squirrels and the occasional ghost beneath a tree – and they leave the more difficult issues for me to resolve.

It’s been a month or so now since I returned from the Hollow. The speakers reside on an island deep within Blood Lake, and the Thinker ship plies the water in between. All are happy, and, I confess, so am I. It’s a distinct pleasure to climb aboard Fengbo and travel around the waters. Easier, too, to check in on some of my islands. Occasionally, we pick up a traveler. We keep well away from the border with the Hollow.

Neither Fengbo nor the speakers wish to risk being transported back to their previous homes.

I do not blame them.

I have not thought much about my trees of late and only do so now because Fengbo brought the subject of them up.

We were nearing a dock when the Thinker spoke.

“I have spoken with naiads, Blood.”

“They’re foul creatures at times,” I advised.

The ship chuckled. “I do not doubt it. However, they said you took in trees at times. I do not quite understand.”

“My apple trees,” I explained. “They can speak. I’ve a few others that can as well. A Gallows Tree, a pair of willows near one of my ponds. A handful of others.”

“I’ve never heard of talking trees,” Fengbo stated. “I would enjoy learning more of them.”

“Well, my friend, I shall see what I can do.”

Now, sitting in my private library, I will pull down old journals and see what I have written over the centuries about my trees. It will be a good thing as I’ve forgotten a bit myself. I suspect that I’ll enjoy telling the tales as much as Fengbo will enjoy hearing them.

#trees #horrostories

Gao.

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I found them.

They were on a small bridge some two miles away from Gao’s home. The bearers of his palanquin were exhausted, muscles quivering with the effort they’d made to escape me. A small boy stood close by, sweat-plastering his hair to his forehead. He carried water for them, and all three stared at me.

“Set him down,” I ordered, and they did so.

“You’ve a choice,” I continued. “Stand and fight beside him and die or leave him to me and live.”

Neither the men nor the boy stayed.

They took off at a slow jog toward the distant hills.

“Come out, Gao,” I ordered.

A gunshot was the only answer I received.

The round ripped past my head and clipped my ear.

I drew my knife and moved forward as he kicked the panel open. He clambered out, hair disheveled, glasses skewed to one side, and a wild look on his face. The pistol in his hand was an old and heavy five-shot. His second shot showed me he had no idea how to control it.

The revolver bucked in his hand, and the shot went wild.

As the third and the fourth.

I was less than twenty feet from him when he panicked, turned the gun on himself and pressed the barrel to his temple.

He squeezed his eyes closed, screamed, and pulled the trigger.

The dull, dry crack of a misfire rang out.

His eyes snapped open, and he pulled the trigger again, not realizing he was putting the hammer down on spent casings.

Before he could try again, I was there. I yanked the pistol from his hand and struck him in the forehead, knocking him to his knees. I resisted the urge to smash his teeth in.

He’d need them for what was coming next.

“I can pay you, Blood,” he groaned, clutching at my legs. “I can make you rich.”

“Already am,” I told him, grabbing one of his hands. He struggled weakly as I tore a tie off his coat, looped it around his wrist and cinched it tight. I picked up a piece of wood, slipped it beneath the knot, and made a rough tourniquet.

“What?” he asked, and I struck him in the head again.

I took my knife, put it against his wrist and cut into the joint.

Gao screamed as I took the hand off and held it in front of him.

“Hope you’re hungry,” I told him. “Dinner’s on.”

#China #horrorstories

Hunting.

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The men had no fear.

They were old soldiers.

We didn’t exchange a greeting as I entered the room, nor did we issue threats.

As I crossed the threshold, the men rose from their seats, bowed, and attacked.

They were brilliant, and they were deadly. Knives appeared in their hands, and their attacks flowed through the room.

I have never been one for finesse, not when it came to fighting. I admired their skill, and I countered it with brute strength and black rage.

One man plunged his knife into my upraised hand, the blade painfully hot. He tried to retrieve his weapon, to drag it out of my flesh and bones, but I took hold of his wrist, used him as a shield against his fellows, and then drove the blade up and into his throat. He took a shocked step back, eyes full of confusion, and then blood exploded from the mouth and his nose.

His comrades never missed a step.

They moved over and around his body, ignoring his feeble attempts to regain control.

I drew the knife from my hand, flexed the injured limb and nodded with satisfaction as the wound began stitching itself back together.

Neither of the survivors paid it any mind. Instead, they launched a coordinated attack. They went high and low, on the flanks and above. All in an effort to drive me into a corner.

I maneuvered through all, slashing out when I could.

A moment later, my hand had healed well enough to hold the knife.

I switched the blade from one hand to the other, drew my own knife, and moved in.

They pressed their attack until I took the nose off one of them, and then their determination faltered. When it did, I drove one knife into a man’s eye, the blade scraping against his socket and striking the back of his skull.

He wavered on his feet, sagged to his knees, and then fell to one side, taking the knife with him.

I didn’t mind.

It was the one that had been put through my hand.

I looked at the remaining soldier. “Where is he?”

The soldier straightened up as his words raced through my mind.

“He is a palanquin,” the soldier said. “He seeks to escape to the docks, and from there, to a ship.”

I nodded.

“Will you make it quick?” the soldier asked.

“I will,” I told him.

And I did.

#China #horrorstories

Far enough.

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“You’ve come far enough.”

The man’s words issued from his mouth as he adjusted the round spectacles on his nose.

“I’ve not yet found Gao,” I answered.

He smiled. “You have.”

My hands dropped to the Colts. His eyes followed the movement, and fear danced within them for a moment.

“As you can see,” he continued, remaining in front of a large door, “I am no monster.”

“I’d disagree with that.”

He offered up a nervous smile. “I have an appetite for delicacy and a unique ability.”

“You can speak in both ways,” I concluded.

Gao looked surprised for a moment, then he nodded. “Astute observation, Mr. Blood. I should have expected no less. While I have never met one of your kind, I have heard quite a bit. I have heard you’ve partaken of human flesh yourself.”

“More than once,” I said, “and probably will again.”

“Hm, it is a delicacy, is it not?” he asked, smirking.

“It’s not. Sometimes,” I told him, “it’s what’s called for. The Iroquois taught us that.”

He frowned. “I do not know them.”

I smiled. “If you did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Now, you’ve a sight to answer for, Gao.”

“No,” Gao shook his head. “I do not. I will not answer to the likes of you for my culinary wanderings. You are nothing here, Blood, as you are nothing in any other realm to which you travel. Your mother has been here several times, in several forms, and she has warned me of you.”

I wrapped my hands around the butts of the Colts. “I don’t suppose my mother’s here now, is she?”

“No.”

“Shame,” I said and drew the Colts.

As the revolvers cleared leather and I thumbed the hammers into position, the man leaped back, the doors opening as he did so. They slammed shut as the first rounds hammered into the heavy wood.

From secret doors, unarmed men raced into the small courtyard, and the Colts thundered.

The slugs tore through faces and necks, and buried themselves in stomachs and groins.

Men died.

The men were nothing more than a delaying tactic. A living wall to protect a coward.

As blood pooled around my feet, I reloaded the Colts once more.

With my pistols in hand, I forced the door and gave chase.

It was time for Gao to die.

#China #horrorstories

A Contest

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He could fight.

I stepped into the open court and looked at the man seated in front of me.

“Blood,” he said, the thought piercing my mind. “It has been a long time since last we fought.”

“Has it?” I asked.

He inclined his head slightly. “A century, perhaps more.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Are we related?”

He smiled and showed me rows of triangular teeth. “No.”

The man stood up, pushed his sleeves up, and his skin glittered in the sunlight. “My name is Shayu. I have killed you before.”

“Fair enough,” I answered. “Time to return the favor, I suppose.”

Shayu’s smile broadened. “Let us see if you can.”

He was a blur and a hiss of moving fabric.

There was no time to draw the Colts. I barely had time to move away from his blows.

“You’re older and faster,” he remarked, lashing out with a kick that broke my nose. “Fortunately, so am I.”

Shayu struck me with a set of rapid punches to my chest, and I felt my heart stutter. “Gao wants to eat you, Blood. But you are mine. I alone shall feast on you.”

He kicked again, and I shifted my weight, allowing the kick to go past my head as I drew my knife. Shayu turned a singular, graceful motion and sent an open hand toward my face.

I caught it with one hand and took an eye out with the knife.

He let out a shriek of pain, clamping his free hand to his eye and staggering back as I let him go. Glaring at me, he watched as I flicked his own eye back at him. As he gathered himself, I set my nose.

Shayu sprang at me, but his blows were off. His depth perception was gone, while mine remained.

The punches were ill-timed, the kicks off-mark.

But my knife snapped out again and again.

He tried to side-step, and I reversed the blow of the knife, smashing into his teeth with the hilt of the weapon. Shayu went down to his knees, spitting blood and fragments of teeth.

“I hate you,” he told me.

“You’re in good company, then,” I replied and drove my knife up under his chin and into his brain. His remaining eye fixed on me, so I took my thumb and pushed it in.

He deserved no more and no less.

#China #Horrorstories

An Interview

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“What do you think to gain?”

Her voice was soft and pleasant. She sat in a chair, her maid at her side.

“Satisfaction,” I answered.

“By slaying my benefactor?”

I nodded.

“The benefactor of this city, our Master Gao?”

Dog scratched himself and asked in reply, “What of us who don’t benefit?”

The woman didn’t look at Dog. She ignored him as if he wasn’t there.

“What does it truly matter,” she continued, “if he eats a man or two here and there? There are a great many of you in your world and so few here. You should consider the devouring of one of your colleagues a compliment. Master Gao is extremely picky. He only eats the finest meat. I have heard he savors your friend still.”

“That a fact?” I asked and spat on the ground by my foot.

A flicker of disdain passed over her face as she nodded. “It is indeed a fact. Your friend fought well, so Master Gao says, and so his heart should be eaten last, not only as a delight but as an acknowledgment of your friend’s prowess.”

“He might choke on it,” I replied. “But my goal is to cut off his damned hands and stuff them down his throat.”

The maid’s eyes widened.

The woman frowned. “Is this the course you plot?”

“I’ve come from another world,” I told her. “I’ve tramped and killed my way to this place. To you. I know Gao is in here, somewhere, and I’m going to find him. When I do, he’ll suffer.”

“What then?” the woman asked, her voice sharp within my thoughts.

“Then I’ll burn this place to the ground, and whatever speakers are here, they’ll go free.”

“No,” the woman shook her head before she said to her maid, “Shin. Call them here.”

I thumbed the hammers of the Colts back, and as I prepared to draw them, Shin drew a long, thin knife from the sleeve of her gown and plunged it into the neck of her mistress.

The woman stiffened, eyes bulging out, and then slid limply to the ground.

Aloud, Shin asked, “You will save the speakers?”

“There’s a Thinker ship with others,” I told her. “You can come with us if you like.”

She nodded. “He is in the central chamber. He has called for his palanquin and looks to flee you.”

With that information, Dog and I entered the house and went searching for Gao.

#China #Horrorstories

They sought to block the way.

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They should have known better.

As Dog and I approached the building, a trio of men came out. They walked with confidence and kept their eyes on me as they did so. One man, with most of his shirt off, bowed low, and I heard his voice in my mind.

“Welcome, Blood,” he said, straightening up. “I offer you this courtesy. Leave now and fear no retribution.”

I looked at the three men, and I shook my head. “Not ‘til I’ve spoken with Gao.”

“Our master does not wish to be disturbed,” the shirtless man replied. “Especially not by the likes of you. If you do not go, he will feast on you as he did your friend.”

The three men smirked as one.

I shrugged and drew the Colts as the men sprang toward me.

They were fast, faster than any man I’d ever encountered before, and my shots missed.

I’m not fast. There’s no denying it. But I’ve been killing longer than they’d been alive.

I dropped to a crouch as the shirtless man sprang over me, and I led the next man, clad all in white, by a good bit before pulling the trigger.

The .44 caught him in mid-leap and caused him to crumple. He hit the courtyard hard, rolled, and lay still as Dog trotted toward him.

An angry shout from the last man was meant to distract me from the shirtless fellow, but I’ve played this game before. I had both Colts up when the shirtless man slammed into me, and he took both barrels up under his ribs.

The rounds blew out through his shoulders and took most of his lungs with them.

The last man sprinted toward me as his comrade collapsed, and I reversed my grip on the Colts. I side-stepped his outstretched hands and smashed the butts of the revolvers into his temple, cracking open his skull.

Dog returned, his muzzle damp with blood once more, and glanced up at me. “Shall I, Blood?”

I shook my head. “No. I’ve questions. Perhaps one of them will answer.”

“And if they don’t?”

“Then I’ll ask hard,” I replied and reloaded the Colts.

I took my knife out of the sheath, checked the edge and asked, “Who is with Gao?”

Neither replied and so took hold of the shirtless man by the hair.

When I was comfortable, I asked again.

And I asked hard.

#China #horrorstories

Walking through violence.

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Dog, for he had no other name, led me along the road and kept to the center. I did the same, Colts loose in their holsters, sword ready in its scabbard.

It was a good thing too.

Unlike those who lived along the wharf, the residents farther in weren’t afraid.

I was just meat to them.

Ahead of us, men and women and children spilled out of doorways and from alleys. The dog dropped back behind me as I drew the Colts. I thumbed back the hammers, brought the revolvers up, and called out a single warning.

The crowd broke into a sprint, and I started killing.

They packed themselves so tight against one another that the slugs from the Colts tore through multiple bodies. Piercing shrieks echoed in my head, and in moments, the Colts were dry.

There was no time to reload, so the Colts were holstered, and the blades came out.

As the sword finished its long, rasping breath from the scabbard, the enemy was upon me, and I showed them the lessons my father had taught me.

The sword screamed through the air, cleaving through limbs and taking heads off necks. My knife slipped into bellies and groins, punched into thighs and underarms.

I left the dead and the dying behind be, and the old dog tore out the throats of those who moved too much.

I was halfway through the crowd when the first of them broke. A man in front of me who had, only moments before, been filled with rage blinked and staggered back. He looked around, panicked, and shoved his way past his neighbors.

And like a crack in the damn, his fear spread.

People stopped, saw others near them die and die badly, and then fled.

I didn’t stop.

Those who hesitated died. I stomped on the heads of those who fell at my feet and slashed at the backs of those who ran.

Soon, I stood in the middle of the road, boots ankle-deep in blood. Dog sat upon the chest of a corpse, his muzzle wet and matted with blood. My own clothes were soaked through, and there were far too many cuts and tears in the garments.

I needed fresh apparel, a good cup of coffee, and something to eat.

I’d worked up an appetite, and Gao’s killing could wait a little longer.

#China #Horrorstories

They hid from me.

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It was the best defense they had, and it still wasn’t enough.

I rowed myself to the closest dock, and by the time I climbed up, the harbormaster came down to see me.

He and the two men with him were dead before they hit the water. Wiping my knife clean of blood, I followed the dock to the shore. I stood for a few moments and got my bearings. With the smell of the sea around me, I loosened the Colts in their holsters and looked for someone to question.

I saw nothing save an old dog, who sat and eyed me with benign curiosity.

He raised his muzzle slightly, sniffed the air and let out a dry chuckle.

“I was wondering when another Blood might show up.”

“When’s the last time one passed through?” I asked.

The dog scratched behind his ear, though for a moment and answered, “My sire saw one, and he lived to a hundred. I’m close to two hundred, myself, so it’s been a spell.”

“It would seem so.”

“I suspect you’re here for Gao,” the dog continued, “what that he likes to eat folk from the Hollow more than his own.”

My surprise must have shown, for the dog snorted out a laugh. “I’m old, Blood. I’ve been to your Hollow more than once, and I’ve smelled it on quite a few others.”

“Can you take me to Gao?” I asked.

“I’ll bring you as close as I can,” he replied. “But there’ll be hell to pay. They’ve known Bloods before. Killed a few and chased off a few others.”

“It’s been known to happen,” I nodded. “But I’ve a knack for sticking it out and staying alive.”

“Seems you do,” the dog said, yawning. He got to his feet, shook himself, and as he turned around, a single shot rang out from nearby.

The bullet ricocheted off a paving stone hear him and splintered, sending fragments all around us.

The Colts were in my hands and the sniper, who stood a short distance away, was hastily loading for another shot.

The heavy slugs of the .44s caught him in the chest and splintered the rifle’s stock. He staggered back and fell to his knees as his head snapped back as another pair of rounds slammed into his face.

“No,” the dog sighed. “They’re not fond of Bloods at all.”

“Fair enough,” I said, reloading the Colts. “They’ll like me less when I’m done.”

#China #Horrorstories

Waiting offshore.

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Fengbo sailed along smooth waters for days.

Liu and I cared for the men we had rescued, but two died, nonetheless.

As we sat on deck, with the evening sun shining upon us, Liu said, “It is alright, you know.”

I took my pipe out of my mouth, tamped down the tobacco a bit more with my thumb and asked, “What’s that?”

“Their deaths.”

I grunted my disagreement.

“No,” Fengbo stated, his voice rolling across the deck as the thinking ship trimmed his own sails. “He is quite right, Blood.”

“How’s that?” I asked, relighting my tobacco.

“This is not your world,” the ship told me. “So, you do not know their beliefs. They will be born again, better from their experiences.”

“And,” Liu added, “they died free. You rescued them, Duncan. They did not die as slaves.”

“Would that they hadn’t died at all,” I muttered around the pipe’s stem. “Would they could have killed a few of their tormentors.”

“That is not the fate for most,” Fengbo reminded me. “Few are those who survive and wreak vengeance upon their enemies.”

“The sooner I find Gao, the happier I will be,” I told them. “I have no love for how this land is run.”

Liu chuckled. “Neither do we.”

Silence fell over us, and then I asked, “Where will you go when Gao is dead?”

“We have discussed that,” Fengbo answered.

“We do not know,” Liu answered simply.

“Hm,” I said. “I know.”

Liu looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

“You’ll come back with me,” I stated, “if you want. I’ve plenty of land. Islands too. I’ve a hell of a lake, Fengbo, if you’d like to sail on it.”

“All of us?” Liu asked, surprised.

“All of you,” I nodded.

I was about to speak again when Fengbo said, “Look to the west.”

We did so, and as a low mist parted, we caught sight of the shore. Buildings crowded along its edge, and over the smell of the sea, I caught the stench of humanity.

“That is where Gao lives,” Liu muttered. “We can try to land tonight.”

I shook my head. “No. You’ll stay here, with the others. If Fengbo can tack in, I’ll get off close to land and find Gao on my own.”

“You will be alone,” Liu said. “You could die.”

“I could,” I agreed. “But I won’t.”

“How can you know?” Fengbo asked.

“Because I’ve more killing to do.”

#China #Horrorstories

They were barely alive.

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I entered the courtyard and was greeted by the stench of human waste and the groans of the dying. Half a dozen men were caged before me, suspended by their heads, their feet dangling above the ground.

I confess rage swept over me.

As I stormed toward the first cage, a guard came running from a doorway off to the right.

The Colts were in my hands before I knew it, and the guard was blown backward by the force of the slugs slamming into his stomach. His screams brought four more men out of the room, and they all fell, wounded like their comrade.

I had no interest in mercy.

Not for them.

I reached the first cage, found it was held closed only by a single thong, and opened it. It took me a moment to free the man, but I did, laying him on the ground. Around his head was the same type of square I’d freed Liu from.

A rifle roared, and I saw a man with a rifle standing, shocked by his comrades.

My shot took him in the groin and sent him shrieking to his knees.

I broke the lock on the wooden square around the man’s neck, and he climbed to his feet.

“Thank you,” he whispered, his voice shattered.

Together, we made our way to the other prisoners, freeing them. By the time the last was in the arms of his speaking brothers, another group of guards arrived. When they saw us, they went for their rifles, but there were only four of them.

The Colts thundered, and dust rose up as the freshly wounded men fell to the ground like the others.

“Go to the shore,” I told the speaking men. “There is a ship there and a friend. Are there any more prisoners?”

The men shook their heads.

“Good. I’ll be there soon enough,” I said.

I reloaded the Colts as the men made their way out of the prison, and I turned my attention to the wounded. Their thoughts assailed me, begged me to help them.

“You want my help?” I asked, drawing my knife. “Alright.”

I knelt beside the first man and dug the bullet out of his belly.

He died before I finished, and the others tried to crawl away.

It seems they didn’t want my help after all, but they got it just the same.

#China #Horrorstories

They were unpleasant.

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I stepped out into an open courtyard to find myself looking at a pair of soldiers. They carried no arms and appeared meek.

I distrusted them at once.

I went for my Colts, and the men opened their mouths far wider than they should have, revealing yellowed and cracked teeth, a forked tongue and blackened mouth.

As the Colts cleared leather, the men attacked.

Rolling flames of green and blue shot forth from their mouths, burning the air near me as I dropped to a crouch and snapped off a pair of shots. Both struck home, but as they did so, the sharp clang of lead on metal sang out.

The men tore off their shirts, revealing gray armor plating curving out of their flesh.

I rolled to one side, the sword clattering against the ground as I did so. Trying for another shot, the flames raced along my left arm, the pain searing as the fire bit through the cloth yet left it untouched.

I fired again, but the men moved in opposite directions, closing their mouths as they did so. While my shots missed, I had a moment of respite from the flames.

Only a moment.

The men came at me again, faster, mouths open and flames snapping at my flesh. My shots ricocheted off their armor.

One man reached up to steady himself as he stumbled, and I saw the fire breather’s weakness.

His underarm was pink. Unarmored.

I couldn’t wait for a shot.

I aimed for their heads, and the men split away again.

I holstered the Colts and drew the sword from its scabbard.

I slammed the blade into the arm of the first man to step out, both hands on the hilt of the weapon. There was no finesse. Only brute force.

He shrieked as the arm fell, and I reversed the blade, driving it into his exposed underarm and clear through his body. His partner stared at me in horror, and as he moved to attack, I yanked my sword out and kicked the corpse toward him.

He stumbled back, and I slashed at his face, blinding him. As the man opened his mouth again, I plunged my sword into it, the blade exiting the back of his neck.

I twisted the sword once, dragged it out, and wiped it clean. The pain from the burn gnawed at me, and I gave the bodies a kick as I left.

I have no love for fire.

#China #Horrorstories

They were unimpressed.

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With Liu bringing the freed man back to Fengbo, I passed through several rooms. Blood splatter stained the walls, and fragments of bones littered the corners. The fourth room I entered, they were there.

Six guards and their two servants.

They eyed me with disdain, and I could read the boredom on their faces.

They glanced at my weapons and drew their swords. The two servants stepped back and secured the exits to the room.

The thought they believed I might retreat brought a smile to my face, and I cocked the hammers on the Colts’ back.

There was no conversation between us.

They wanted me dead, and I wanted to kill them.

Violence was what we brought to the table, and I showed them what I had.

I killed the servants first, the revolvers thundering in the confines of the room.

My attack caught the guards by surprise, more from who I killed.

Raising their swords, they spread out in a circle. I let them get comfortable and watched how they planted their feet and the positions they assumed. These men were fighters, that was clear.

Perhaps they misunderstood the power in my Colts. Perhaps they just didn’t care.

Either way, it was a massacre.

The men charged as one, swords bright and flashing as they sped in. Several slashed against my chest and arms, but not a single blow budged me.

Two more men fell, their blood pumping out onto the floor. The wounds were fatal, and I stepped to one side as a sword passed through my stomach.

The guard grinned, and I shot him in the gut. When he stumbled back, he left his sword in me.

With the remaining three guards watching, I took the sword from my belly and tossed it aside. As the weapon clattered on the ground, they turned and raced for the doors.

The doors their servants had locked.

I shot each man in the back, and after I reloaded the Colts, I picked up one of the swords. Those few men still alive lay gasping in pain, eyes wide in terror as they watched me finish off the wounded.

I had speakers to rescue and no time to take prisoners of my own.

I picked up a scabbard, buckled it on, and broke down a door. With death behind me, I moved deeper into the prison.

#China #horrorstories

We docked in Hell.

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Fengbo eased himself into a dock near a large building that squatted above the dock like a malignant toad glaring down at the world. As the wind shifted, it carried the stench of filth and human suffering to us.

“Why are we here?” I asked. “Is this where we’ll find Gao?”

“No,” Fengbo answered, and his voice was filled with bitterness. “This is where you will find our brethren. Mouth-speakers who resist.”

“How many will we find, Fengbo?” Liu asked.

“I am not certain,” the ship replied. “Last week, I was forced to deliver twenty-three men. There is no way to determine how many have been killed and eaten.”

“We’ll find out,” I muttered.

Together, Liu and I left the ship.

As we climbed the long path that led from the dock to the front of the prison, I asked in a low voice, “Where the hell are the guards?”

“There are none for these places,” Liu answered. “At least not outside. There are not enough to pose a threat. The only guards we will find will be equal parts, jailer and butcher. They are more concerned with the preparation of meat than they are about caring for their prisoners.

I shook my head, and a moment later, we reached the main entrance. It was open a fraction, and I saw a single guard sitting with his back to the door. He was sitting on the ground, both boots off as he examined his feet.

I drew my knife and slid the door open. Without a sound, I crept up behind the man, covered his mouth with one hand, and then slipped the blade between his ribs.

I laid the dead man down, and Liu and I stepped through the secondary entrance to find a man before us. His face was composed, despite the fact that he knelt upon chains, that his legs were secured in a brace, and his arms outstretched on a pole, suspended by his thumbs.

He looked at us, and Liu whispered, “Brothers.”

The man’s eyes widened. “Brother.”

We freed him from his bonds, and I asked, “How many are still alive?”

“Perhaps ten,” he answered.

“Take him to Fengbo,” I told Liu. “I’ll gather the others.”

“Alone?” the stranger asked.

“Aye,” I nodded and drew my Colts.

With the .44s in my hands, I went looking for our brothers.

#China #horrorstories

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.

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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.

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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.

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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