My Father’s History: Oracle

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His melodic voice filled the grove.

‘I was tired from walking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘It was a strange thing to hear, and one I appreciated.’

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My Father’s History: The Family

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They stood unmoving in the sunlight.

‘I found them in the morning. A child and his parents, a pony in its traces. The cart it was to pull was filled with stones.

‘None of them moved.

‘Nothing moved.

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

‘But I knew it not to be so.

‘There was something terribly wrong around me.

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

‘No, not fear. Terror.

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

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

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

‘Longer?

‘I did not wish to make them suffer more.

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

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

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

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My Father’s History: Laughter

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The sound of laughter poisoned the air.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Whose?

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

‘I nodded. “He put us here.”

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

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

‘I shrugged, and they laughed again.

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

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

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

‘I will not have anyone threaten my son.’

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My Father’s History: Silence

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The silence burned his ears.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Silence.

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

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

‘I could not.

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

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My Father’s History: Height

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The man stood amongst the gathered hay and stared.

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

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

‘The hackles rose on the back of my neck, and I slipped into a deep shadow, hiding between a pair of hay sheaves that had tilted in towards one another. Crouching down, I drew the curious pistol, made certain that the rounds remained in its firing cylinder, and waited to see what made the earth itself shake.

‘I did not have to wait long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Father’s History: A Temper

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Her hatred burned with every step he took.

‘I heard my wife’s voice today.

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

‘Perhaps I did. Perhaps it was all illusion.

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

‘She was displeased.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘My only escape lay in going forward.

‘And so, I did.

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

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

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

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My Father’s History: Whispers

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The whispers thundered through the forest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I told her I would.

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

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

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

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

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My Father’s History: 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 and 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.’

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My Father’s History: 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.’

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My Father’s History: 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.

‘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 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.

‘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.’

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