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December 31, 1924

     On December 31, 1924, the Lifesaving Corps of Cross, stationed at the Cross Lighthouse, was hard-pressed to keep up with the number of incidents it encountered from the first minute of the 31st until the last stroke of midnight on the clock in Duncan Blood’s parlor.

     No shipwrecks were reported, no messengers came through with terrible news of a devastating event.

     But every hour on the hour, the Lifesaving Corps was pulling people out of the bitterly cold Atlantic water.

     The majority of those rescued succumbed to exposure, and others died as they were pulled into the boats. A few, however, survived their trial by water, and the tales they told were harrowing.

     They all, each and everyone, had been sleeping in their homes before waking, drowning in the ocean. And this statement was confirmed by the fact that all were in their bedclothes.

     Another curious item was the date.

     Each person agreed that it was the 31st of December, the last night of the year.

     Yet none of them agreed upon the year.

     Some folk claimed they were from as long ago as 1747, while others stated they had been asleep at home after watching the news on December 31st, 2028.

     These wet and tired travelers were whisked away into the depths of the Cross Historical Society, as were the members of the Lifesaving Corps. Only the Corps left the building, and when they did, their faces were white with shock and disbelief.

     When asked about those they rescued on the 31st of December, the answer was always the same:

     Who?

 

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December 30, 1862

The lands belonging to Duncan Blood are perhaps the most dangerous in all Cross.

Since 1628, and the chartering of the town by Ezekiel Blood, Duncan’s father, the property known as Blood Farm has always been a strange and violent place.

Few know how old Duncan is, or how many dark creatures live in the confines of his land. Locals know that Blood Farm is littered with corpses, and children are warned at a young age not to trespass on Duncan’s property.

But while the townsfolk know, and while Duncan goes to great efforts to maintain a fence and posted signs warning trespassers away, there are always those who will seek to gain entrance to places they should not.

Perhaps the worst year regarding trespassers occurred in 1862, shortly after Duncan traveled with the Federal army to do battle against the Confederate States. He was not there to keep the borders of his property safe, and so people from other towns came in to see if the stories of Blood Farm were true.

Many of them learned the stories were nothing but true.

By the end of 1862, the townspeople of Cross took it upon themselves to patrol the borders of Blood Farm. Strangers had been seen entering the town, but never leaving.

On December 30, 1862, a photographer – guarded by men and women armed with rifles and swords – discovered and documented the remains of 74 individuals. But these were only the victims they could find on the edges of the property. No one dared to go in any further.

Patrols were kept up until Duncan returned in 1865.

 

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December 29, 1865

     1865 was a difficult year for Cross. More than a few of the town’s men and boys had gone off to fight against secession, and some had not returned.

     While what would be known as the American Civil War (also conversely as the War of Rebellion and the War against Northern Aggression) ended in 1865, war itself had not ended. Sporadic fighting continued to take place out in the West between Federal troops and occasional units of secessionist fighters. In addition to this, the Indian Wars, which had necessarily slowed due to the fighting in the East, renewed themselves with a frenzy, as if the wars were making up for lost time.

     On December 29, 1865, a train with only one car pulled into the Cross station. And as if to match the single car, there was only one person waiting on the platform.

     Mr. Duncan Blood, recently returned from the southern battlefields, greeted an elegant and beautiful Chinese woman as she stepped from the train. He bowed low, then joined her for tea in the station master’s office and together he and the lady spoke softly in Chinese for a short time. As they conversed, a crowd of veterans gathered in the station. Men who had fought the British in 1812, the Mexicans in 1848, as well as the Indians in the West.

     When Duncan and the Lady finished, he walked her to the train, saw that she got on, and watched as the train pulled out of the station.

     As the men turned to leave, a young boy who had come with his father, asked Duncan who the woman was.

     “Jiutian Xuannü,” Duncan replied. “And she leads us all to war.”

 

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December 28, 1913

     Only a handful of times in Cross’ long history has Death sent his hearse into the town to gather up those who have missed their appointment, either through happenstance or machinations.

     But, as the citizens of Cross know, there is no escaping Death, not even when you have hidden yourself away in your home.

     The last time Death’s hearse made an appearance in Cross it was December 28, 1913, and the horses drawing the hearse were clad in the black finery of a Romanian funeral procession.

     The residents of Norwich Street could hear the hooves long before they saw the hearse. Each iron horseshoe rang out on the street, and every home that recognized the sound closed its windows and bolted the doors. The families within the buildings squirreled themselves away in basements and cellars, and they waited for the horses to stop.

     The hearse finally stopped at the home of Milton Surrey, a man who had bragged for years about his ability to remain hidden from Death’s long and piercing gaze. Death, though, had finally gone through the back accounts, and realized some folk, such as Milton, were missing.

     Within minutes of the hearse’s arrival at Milton’s home, his neighbors could heard him scream and beg as he was dragged from his cellar, out his front door, and down to the street. They heard him placed in the coffin, and the ringing of the casket-maker’s hammer filled the late December air.

     And as the horses’ hooves took up their steady, methodical beat upon the road, Milton’s former neighbors and friends continued to hear his muffled screams.

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Where do you write?

     This isn’t a metaphysical question.

     Take this as literal, because that’s what it is.

     We should all have a special place we can call our own when it comes to writing. It doesn’t matter if that place is your local coffee shop, or your dining table, or just the breakroom at work. So long as you have a refuge, you can retreat to for your writing.

     My own place is in the basement of my house.

     My youngest son and I share this space. We have our Lego bricks (in dozens of well-organized containers) on shelves and in drawers. My writing area, however, is not nearly as organized.

     I have my desktop and monitor crammed onto the desk. On top of the desk, behind the monitor, is a small bookshelf, onto which I have placed all my Steinbecks and some of my history books. Other books, graphic novels, militaria, and paperwork are scattered around. From where I sit right now, as I write this, I can reach out and grab a cold cup of tea, a cold mug of coffee, some bills, a fossil of a fish, and a statue of the Buddha. I can also turn off my portable heater, grab a book on the German army during the Weimar Republic, or turn on my shredder.

     All this is comfortable.

     All this is familiar.

     And it allows me to sink into my writing.

     I know where everything is for when I need it.

     If I feel like listening to music while I write or edit, the headphones are there. If I need names for characters, the names of authors leap out at me.

     This is what helps me write. This familiarity, this ritualistic pattern I follow when I make my way to my battered Victorian chair, sit down and prepare to shiver in the chill of the basement, my heater valiantly doing battle with the New England winter.

     Find your place, that safe place where you can create and forget everything but the passion you have for writing.

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December 27, 1923

     Cross is a town of curious events and strange people.

     A charter for the town was awarded in 1628, and the town has thrived ever since. Yet during nearly 400 years in existence, not a day or hour seems to have passed without something odd occurring.

     These events occasionally lead to death or result in the maiming of an individual. At other times, a strangeness makes its way onto the streets, pauses, then vanishes as quickly as it appeared.

     In 1923, the town of Cross suffered a series of suspicious fires. While some livestock was lost, the townspeople considered themselves lucky since no human was slain.

     On October 22 of that same year, the cat of Miss Rose McCullum, aged 16, was burned to death when the McCullum barn was destroyed by the arsonist.

     At the time, the police suspected Mr. Edward R. Berkley, aged 47, of setting the fires. There was no evidence to support the case against the man, and as he was a citizen of some renown and merit within the town, he was not pursued.

     Ms. McCullum did pursue the case, and she went and spoke with Duncan Blood about the issue.

     On the night of November 30, the unknown arsonist set fire to the McCullum home, and the building was a complete loss, although the family escaped unscathed.

     Once more Ms. McCullum was seen in the presence of Duncan, then she and her family went to Rhode Island to stay with relatives.

     On the evening of December 27, 1923, Edward R. Berkley, while walking from his shed to his home, burst into flames, setting part of the house on fire and dying despite repeated efforts to save him.

     No members of his family or their pets were injured in his demise.

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December 26, 1859

     Murder is nothing new. Nor is the effort some go to hiding the body – or bodies – of the slain.

     Mathias Cooper traveled from England in 1840 and found work on the marina in Cross, repairing the barrels on ships replenishing their stocks.

     One ship, in particular, the Sea King out of Newburyport, Massachusetts, preferred to have its barrels built and repaired by Mathias. His uncle Elbridge, it turned out, was the ship’s master, and after work, the two would drink long into the night.

     In 1859, inspectors from a shipping insurance firm from New Bedford, MA arrived to investigate the repeated loss of life aboard the Sea King. They were unable to ascertain anything from the folk at the marina, but the suspicions of the townspeople were raised.

     Gentle inquiries were made, and soon it was discovered that the Sea King had a habit of losing new sailors in Cross. These losses were chalked up to the wandering nature of most young men, but as the older members of Cross continued their investigation, they discovered a far more sinister practice.

     Mathias Cooper made at least one new, larger than normal barrel for the Sea King every time she put into berth.

     On December 26, 1859, nephew and uncle were questioned directly and with force, and the newest barrel was opened. The fresh corpse of an unknown sailor was removed from the barrel, and the body was given a decent burial in Cross Cemetery.

     Mathias and Elbridge Cooper were placed in the barrel, alive, and they were buried as well.

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