December 9, 1905


     No one has seen the child’s face.

     Since 1876, there have been 17 railroad accidents with trains that have stopped at the Cross Station. The fatalities have been high; the survivors marred with hideous injuries.

     And at the scene of each incident, whether it was in Worcester, Massachusetts or Bangor, Maine, Washington, DC or Jacksonville, Florida, those few individuals who remained unscathed asked after the girl.

     She is described as pretty and polite, a child riding to see her family and holding on tightly to a beloved doll. The child has given her name as Sarah, Melanie, Rose, and Cherie, to name but a few. She has spoken in the perfect English of the Queen, and the bitter, sharp bite of the New Yorker. At some periods, she has spoken only German or French, Russian or Polish.

     Her clothes are always immaculate, expensive but not tawdry. Despite her apparent youth, she speaks with a maturity well past her years.

     Only one picture of her exists, and her back is to the camera. This image was taken on December 9th, 1905, shortly before the train left the Cross Station.

     In less than eight hours, the majority of the people in the car were dead, and the girl was missing.

     At present, the Cross Station continues to serve the commuter community, and each station master is taught the history of the unknown girl. While they do not know what the child looks like, they know she carries the doll, and it is the doll they look for.

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A Silver Anniversary


     “Why the hell is the radio playing at seven thirty in the morning?!” Frank screamed, pulling the sheets over his head.

     Celeste didn’t answer him.

     In fact, Frank couldn’t even hear her breathing.

     He sat up, hope racing through him.

     Frank frowned.

     Celeste wasn’t dead, just up and about somewhere in the house. Frank inhaled, smelled the stench of his oxfords and felt the heat of the room. Muted sunlight drifted in through the open curtains, the bedroom spotlessly clean save for the trail of clothes he had left the night before. He could hear the radio playing on the first floor.

     Frank swung his large fat legs over the side of the bed and stretched.

     The radio’s playing, he thought in amazement.

     He had told her never to play that thing when he was home. Cheerfully Frank stood up, grabbing his bathrobe from the closet and pulling it over his fat frame. Now he had an excuse to hit her. Normally, Celeste never gave him one.

     But today, today seemed different. Frank could feel it.

     Feels like a good day, he thought, rubbing his hands together. Whistling he put on his slippers, ran his hands through his balding hair, and headed out of the bedroom.

     Halfway down the stairs Frank paused.

     The smell of roses and mothballs hung in the air.

     Frowning, Frank continued on his way, stopping beside the door into the den.

     It isn’t the radio, he thought, it’s the record, player.

     Over the speakers came the sound of Mick Jagger singing about how all of his love was in vain.

     Frank’s frown deepened. I’m really going to have to work up a sweat.

     Slow steps brought him to the kitchen, where his breath hissed out in amazement.

     Hundreds of white candles burned on every available surface. The smell of roses washed over him, accompanied by a sharp, piercing chill. Black cloth hung over the windows as well as the door to the living room. Celeste stood at the sink wearing her wedding gown.  The fabric was held together precariously by safety pins. She washed something, humming along with the Stones, her back to Frank. On the table, a crystal vase housed two dozen long dead roses in cloudy water.

     Frank surveyed the scene before him, shaking his head. Maybe I can get her committed.

     “Good morning, Frank,” Celeste said. She kept her back to him, still scrubbing away.

     “What the hell are you doing?” he demanded. He cracked his knuckles, anticipating the first blow.

     “Washing the frying pan,” she answered.

     “I don’t see my breakfast on the table, Celeste.”

     “And you won’t.”

     Frank blinked, opened his mouth several times then managed to ask, “What?”

     “I said, ‘And you won’t.’ Are you going deaf?” she asked sweetly, “Or has the fat finally seeped into your ears?”

     Frank shook his head in disbelief. “You can’t be talking to me.”

     “But I am.”

     “I’m going to.”

     Celeste didn’t let him finish. “Go, Frank. Get out. Now while I’m giving you the chance.”

     “The hell I will,” he snapped. “This is my house. What I say goes. Now get out of that damned dress, get those candles out of here, turn off that music, and cook me some damned breakfast!”

     He raised a foot to step in.

     “Don’t,” she said coldly, straightening up. “Do not step into my kitchen, Frank, because you will never, never leave it alive. Do you understand me, Frank?”

     Frank brought his foot back to the carpet of the hall, eyeing the tile of the kitchen.

     “Do you know what I cooked this morning while you lay sweating in that bed?” she asked, draining the water from the sink.

     Frank, stunned, remained silent.

     “I cooked up something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a coin in my shoe,” she said, laughing. “And do you know what I thought of? I’ll tell you, Frank, what I thought of. I thought, and none too fondly, of the many times you’ve beaten me, raped me, and all of the other pleasantries you’ve seen fit to bestow upon me.”

     “You’ve been talking to that women’s shelter, haven’t you?” he snarled.

     “No,” Celeste smiled, turning around to face him. “I found an old cure-all in my great-grandmother’s cookbook.”

     Frank gasped and clutched his chest, a shooting pain lancing through him.

     “Oh no, Frank,” she whispered. “You won’t get away that easily.”

     She walked forward and helped him into the kitchen, easing him into his chair.  He sucked desperately for breath.

     “This isn’t right,” he hissed, looking at her fearfully.

     “What?” she asked.


     Celeste no longer wore the haggard mask of twenty years of fear and overeating. The gray had vanished from her soft brown hair. Her straight back, free from its previous hunch, no longer revealed her years of physical suffering. Fingers were no longer twisted with arthritis. Her breasts, absent of the sagging of age, stood with the vitality of youth.

     I don’t know her, Frank thought.

     Celeste stood with pride, her hazel eyes shining. Her lips, full and red, smiled playfully, her face now well-defined and attractive. On her flat stomach she splayed her thin, graceful fingers. Celeste wore an expression of satisfaction and pleasure.

     Smiling, she stepped back to the sink and took up the large black cast-iron frying pan. She dried it with a red checkered dishtowel.

     “I found that cookbook this morning, cleaning out the basement like you told me to do. And there was the recipe, the first one I opened to. I can’t really describe it, Frank, but I knew it would do what I wanted. What I needed it to do.

     “I found the candles from my sweet sixteen and had something old,” she said, smiling. “I peeled a scab off of my forehead, supplied by one of your more recent displays of affection, and I had something new. I took a lock of what little hair you have left and had something borrowed. The coin,” she said and tapped her right foot, “is a wheat penny.

     “And the something blue,” she said, winking, “that’s the secret part. The special part.

     “I cooked it up in wine and roses, dear Frank, and this is what occurred.”  She motioned to herself with the frying pan. “What do you think?”

     “I think that I’m still dreaming,” he whispered.

     “Good dream or bad dream, Frank?” she asked.


     “Well,” she said, grinning, “we can’t have you sitting on the fence like that.”

     She blew him a kiss.

     From the crystal vase the roses leaped, thorns biting into his ample flesh as the stems bound him, hand and foot, to the chair. As he opened his mouth to scream buds plunged in, gagging him.

     “There,” she said, leaning back against the counter-top. “All set to go, aren’t you, Frank.”

     Frank whimpered, praying that he could wake up and beat the hell out of her right there in bed.

     But he did not wake up, and he did not hit her. He sat in the chair, tied down by roses.

     Celeste hummed along with “The Midnight Rambler” as it came across the speakers. Finishing with the pan she set it down on the stove, dropping the dish towel into the sink. She walked by Frank, patting him on the head as she left the kitchen. A few minutes later she returned with an armload of old newspapers.

     “You know,” she said as she knelt down beside him, “tomorrow’s our twenty-fifth anniversary. Our silver anniversary. Not that you’ll see it.”

     Celeste laughed, spreading the papers out around him on the kitchen floor.

     “Blood is so hard to clean off between the tiles.” She stood and pinched his cheek playfully.

     Celeste walked back to the counter, opening a drawer and pulling out a box of black plastic trash bags. She took the cleaver down off of its hook.

     “You know,” she said, turning to face him, “I feel really good about myself, Frank.”

     She set the bags and the cleaver on the table.

     “It’s too bad. This is what I looked like when I was sixteen. You missed out.” She cocked her head to one side and patted her behind, giggling.

     “Oh God, Frank! I am so happy! I’m going into Boston for the day, and then I’m taking a train to, well, anywhere. I’ve got the bank card, and there’s an old friend out west who’ll give me a hand getting re-settled.”

     Frank listened in fear, pain dancing along the fatty flesh of his arms and legs. He threw up into the roses, and was forced to swallow the burning bile.

     Celeste’s eyes blazed in the candlelight. “I had so many dreams, Frank, and I smothered them for twenty-five years. But not anymore.”

     She smiled. “I suppose that you’re wondering what I’m going to do.”

     Frank nodded painfully.

     “Well, Frank, when I remembered all of your gentle caresses this morning, I realized you hit me the most over meals. ‘It’s not cooked enough!’ Whack! ‘It’s cooked too much!’ Whack! ‘It’s cooked!’ Whack!” Celeste grinned. “Get the picture, Frank?”

     She lifted the frying pan up off of the stove, holding it pensively as if testing the weight. She nodded in satisfaction. “Yes, I think that this will do. Quite nicely actually.”

     Moving her hips suggestively, Celeste walked forward, swinging the pan from left to right. Stopping inches away from him Celeste’s smile fell off of her face.  She lifted the pan up into a batter’s position.

     “I know that it’s not silver, Frank,” she whispered, “but we’ll work with what we’ve got.”

     The pan came crashing down.

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December 8, 1840


     Patience Coffin is the earliest known Cross resident to have been photographed prior to a peculiar event.

     Patience was a young woman of 23, recently wed into the Coffin family, and of good breeding. She and her husband, Abel Coffin, met during a social gathering in Boston. Initially, her family thought of him as a poor country fellow and were not inclined to encourage his courtship of Patience. When it was discovered that he was a wealthy landowner, and well-educated, they changed their tune.

     She and Abel were wed in 1839. In 1840, she was photographed in Boston.

     On the afternoon of December 8, 1841, Patience and the maid, a young girl from an Irish family, walked together toward the center of Cross, but neither ever arrived.

     When they did not return by dinner, Abel Coffin rode out in search of them, concerned that some mishap had occurred.

     What he found did not set his heart at ease, but instead, it drove him to seek the counsel of Duncan Blood.

     Abel had found, on the side of the road in a small bit of grass, a faery ring. The mushrooms were large and misshapen, twisting around one another in some places and reaching to the sky in others. But despite their curious formations, there was no doubt as to what they were part of.

     In the center of the ring, the bonnets of both Patience and the maid could be seen.

     As the two men approached the ring, the mushrooms withered and died, trapping the women within.

     Along the stretch of the North Road that passes by Patience’s Glen, muffled drums and pipes are often heard.

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The Cajun Tap, 1919


     The bus stopped in a small town called Cross, and Hank Rivers decided he’d gone far enough. He tipped his hat to the driver, shouldered his sea-bag, and stepped out. Once on the sidewalk, Hank took out his pipe, packed it, and lit it.

     As the smoke curled up from the bowl and escaped from the corner of his mouth, Hank glanced up and down the street. A few Fords, all older models, were parked at the curb. But like all the New England towns he had passed through, after 6 PM the center of town was battened down like a destroyer ready to ride out a storm.

     Hank sought out a place to drink and was relieved to see a sign for a watering hole.

     The faded, wooden sign hung from a rusted iron swing pole affixed to a brick wall near the mouth of an alley. Hank could make out the carved images of a mug of beer and a bottle of whiskey, and three words engraved above them.

     The Cajun Tap, he read. Then, with a shrug, he adjusted his sea-bag and made his way to the sign.

     When he reached it, Hank saw a flight of narrow stairs leading down below street level. A dull, orange tinted light seeped out of a large rectangular window set high in an ancient, dark wood door. Hank descended the stairs and caught a glimpse of a small brass plate engraved with the word, Knock.

     He rapped on the center of the door twice.

     It opened a moment later, and an old man who looked like death warmed over stood in the doorway. He wore a battered bowler hat that was ragged and threadbare with age. The man’s blue eyes were sunk deep within their sockets, and lines spread out to either side of his thin face from the corners of his eyes and mouth. He had on a pair of dungarees held up by stained red suspenders, and the boon-dockers on his feet looked older than Hank. The sleeves of a collarless shirt had been rolled up to the elbow, revealing thick scars on the man’s pale flesh.

     “What do you want?” The old man asked in a heavy Louisiana accent.

     “A drink and a meal, if you have them,” Hank answered.

     The old man leaned forward a fraction, his nostrils flared, and then he nodded.

     “Come on in,” the man said, stepping aside. “Straight to the back, you’ll find the bar. Booths are private.”

     “Can I get a booth?” Hank asked.

     The old man chortled and said, “What’s your name, son?”


     “I’m Louis Crowley, Hank,” the old man said, closing and locking the door behind them. “And we’ll see if you warrant a booth when you’ve finished your drink at the bar.”

     Hank shrugged and walked along the length of a slim, dark aisle. He could make out the booths on either side, but the angle of the lights above each hid the occupants from view.

     The sound of murmured conversations rose and fell around him.

     At the end of the aisle, the room opened to face a long bar with seven unoccupied bar stools. The bar itself was a long piece of planking that, judging by the scars upon its surface, looked as if it had come from an old battleship. Bottles and jars and glasses cluttered a series of shelves, and candles threatened to gutter out in old ship’s lamps that hung from the exposed beams of the ceiling.

     “Sit down, Marine,” Louis said, going around to the back of the bar.

     Hank set his sea-bag down on the floor, placed his hat on the bar, and settled down on a stool. “How’d you know I was a Marine?”

     “I’ve an eye for your breed,” Louis said. “What’re you drinking?”

     “Whiskey,” Hank answered. He took his pipe out of his mouth and knocked the ashes out into an old brass ashtray.

     The old man chuckled, nodded and said, “Course it’s whiskey.”

     “Good drink for a thirsty man,” Hank said, grinning.

     “Only drink for a Marine, so’s I been told,” Louis replied. He took a dark bottle and a large tumbler down from their respective shelves and poured Hank a healthy dose of strong smelling liquor.

     “Damn if that doesn’t smell fine,” Hank said, nodding his thanks as Louis slid the glass in front of him. The old Cajun left the bottle uncorked on the bar as Hank took a long drink.

     “Tastes as good as it smells,” Hank announced.

     “Glad to hear it,” Louis said, adding a little more to Hank’s glass. “Where’ve you been?”

     “Up and down the coast,” Hank said. He glanced around the bar, and for the first time, he noticed the curious decorations. A wide array of weapons hung from or were supported by old belaying pins. Hank saw bayonets and swords, trench knives and bowie knives. Pistols and rifles ranging from old muskets to Lee-Enfields and a Maxim machine gun. Hank shook his head and said, “Damn. That’s a hell of an arsenal you’ve got.”

     Louis nodded. “Friends leave them on their way through. Which brings me back to my question, Hank. Where’ve you been?”

     Hank looked at the old barkeep. “I told you –”

     Louis cut him off with a shake of his head.

     “I asked it wrong,” the old man muttered. “Here, what took you so long, Marine?”

     The question chilled Hank to the bone, and his hand trembled as he reached for his whiskey. He managed to empty the glass without spilling any and set the tumbler back on the bar top. Hank felt sufficiently fortified, and he asked, “What in the hell are you talking about?”

     “The wheat field,” Louis said, refilling Hank’s glass.

     A wave of brutal memories crashed over Hank and threatened to drown him with the images of violence. He saw his friends mown down on either side of him by German machine guns. The Marines leaning forward as if they walked into a high wind as they moved through the golden wheat. Over the staccato bursts of the machine guns, Hank heard men screaming in pain, others shouting in English or German.

     He gripped the edge of the bar, squeezing it with both hands, and shook his head.

     “How,” Hank asked in a harsh, rasping whisper, “in God’s name do you know I was there?”

     Louis looked at him not with sympathy or compassion, but admiration.

     “I’ve only met a few men,” the old man said, “who carried on as you did.”

     Louis reached beneath the bar and extracted a large, new grocer’s ledger. The year 1918, Vol. II was stamped in gold-leaf on the marbled cover.

     “Been a long time,” the old man said, “since I needed more than one ledger for a single year.”

     Hank watched as Louis laid the ledger on the bar and flipped it open. The old man turned several pages, nodded and cleared his throat.

     “Gunnery Sergeant Henry “Hank” Rivers. Killed in the wheat field, sixth of June, 1918. Despite death, Gunner Sergeant Rivers led the charge into Belleau Wood. Vanished before collection.”

     Without a word, his mind spinning, Hank reached up with surprisingly steady hands and unbuttoned his shirt. He slid his arms out of the sleeves and folded the garment before he placed it on the bar. Then, with Louis standing impassively in front of him, Hank stripped off his undershirt.

     He looked down at his chest and saw a trio of small, neat circles, one above each nipple, the third between them both. With his left hand, Hank reached behind him and felt the edge of a gaping exit wound.

     Hank sighed and picked up the whiskey. While Louis put away the ledger, Hank finished his drink. With the liquor gone, he put his shirts back on and asked in a soft voice, “How is this possible?”

     Louis shrugged. “I don’t know. Some few can do what you did, but it is a rare feat. I do know that you’ve led them on a merry chase for which they’ll surely call you out on.”

     “I don’t understand any of this,” Hank murmured. “Who’s been looking for me?”

     “The Valkyrie, Marine,” Louis said, pouring the last of the whiskey into the tumbler. “You’re due in Valhalla. Well, past due.”

     “How do you know all this?” Hank asked, confused. “What is this place?”

     “I’ve been around a long time, Hank,” Louis said. “And as for what this place is, that’s easy. This is my bar and a way station for Valhalla.”

     Behind him, Hank heard the door to the bar thrown wide, and the sound of boisterous female voices filled the air. Men cheered from the darkened booths and Louis smiled.

     “Well,” the old Cajun said, “looks like your ride is here, Marine.”

     Before Hank could respond, a firm hand gripped his arm, and a woman said over his shoulder, “Gunnery Sergeant Rivers. You are a pain in the ass.”

     Still, in shock at what had transpired, Hank laughed and said, “Yeah. That sounds about right.”

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On the Page


     I have an issue with communicating effectively.

     Over the course of two decades my wife has struggled to get me to understand that just because I’m thinking about something, it doesn’t mean that anyone else is following that same line of thought. Or, if I’m done with a conversation, that doesn’t necessarily mean the other person is finished with it.

     This issue – and I know this won’t come as a surprise – has carried over to the written word, and it is still a problem I struggle with.

     When I write longer works, I tend to be more organic in my approach. Events unfold, characters develop. While I may have seen a particular resolution to a problem thousands of words earlier, it doesn’t mean I made mention of it. There’s no groundwork for a reader to fall back on and say, Oh, yeah, I remember that!

     This has led to some rather lengthy rewrites when it comes to editing work, and as I progress with my writing, I am attempting to create less deus ex machina scenarios.

     My editors and readers have been wonderful in helping me with this, and I’m hoping to save you years of struggle and frustration by telling you this: if you want a reader to know about it in the end, make sure you put it in the story before that point.

     Let’s look at it this way: Character A, on page 255 of a 260-page book, suddenly pulls out a .38 caliber pistol and frees himself from the villain, thus saving the day.

     Great, we all love to see the hero win.

     There are only a few questions that should be answered before this scene is written: first, does Character A have any familiarity with firearms; second, where did Character A obtain said firearm from; and third, and perhaps most important, is this in keeping with Character A’s, well, character?

     If you mention, or seed, your story with a few well-placed references to Character A’s high school days of target shooting, great. You’ve established a background in firearms for that character. Then, if you say the character has in his possession his father’s old service revolver or perhaps managed to acquire one as a gift or in a sale, you show that the character has the weapon. And, finally, does Character A have the wherewithal to point a loaded firearm at someone and be prepared to pull the trigger?

     These are all important aspects of a character that need to be put down on the page, long before you reach the climax of your work.

     As I said, I learned this the hard way, and I know you’re a hell of a lot smarter than me.

Keep writing!


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December 7th, 1899


     In Georgia, in February of 1865, young Adelaide McCutcheon was deafened by her master shortly before she and her family were freed by Federal troops.

     Adelaide was a child of stunning intellect, and as she grew older, she matured into a beautiful woman. As Adelaide she traveled north, she found that while her heritage could be an issue, it was not always so.

     The most accepting town, she discovered, was Cross, and she settled there. She found work at the library, shelving and managing the library’s financial affairs.

     On December 7th, 1899, she was returning from a dinner out with Duncan Blood, her new suitor, when a commotion began near the restaurant.

     A young man carrying a haversack staggered up the street. His face was pale and set in a visage of pain. Others near him fell away, vomiting into the snow.

     Duncan clamped his hands over his own ears as he and Adelaide approached the young man. They watched as the stranger’s eyes rolled up and he pitched forward, the haversack opening and books spilling out onto the ground.

     Adelaide quickly swept them back into the bag, and together she and Duncan brought the books to his home. In the safety of his library, Duncan could hear the books whispering, and what they told him turned his stomach.

     A second, smaller library was soon built as an addition onto his home, and the books were placed within the safety of its soundproofed walls. Adelaide became the librarian of the whispering books and took the last name of Blood as she and Duncan were wed.

     There has been no other librarian since her death, and any who are invited into Duncan’s home are advised to stay away from the door.

     Beyond it, the soft whispers of madness can be heard.

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     Several years ago, I made the transition from part-time freelancer to a part-time ghostwriter. While I’ve discussed working within the constraints of someone else’s ideas concerning good writing, I haven’t talked about all the particulars.

     And I can’t in a short format such as this.

     What I can do, however, is take them one at a time.

     Today’s focus is pacing.

     I had a terrible time with pacing originally. Personally, I want a story to develop in a certain way. More organic than formulaic. I think most of you reading this can agree with that. Writing out a specific iambic pentameter for chapters leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Especially when you’re a fan of letting your characters grow and change with the story.

     And that is all well and good when you are doing your own thing. I have plenty of stories where the development of a character or the climax of the tale takes a long time to achieve.

     If you’re working as a ghostwriter, then you need to think about pacing. You need to set your pacing so that you can put it on a graph where A stands for action, and B stands for anything else. Basically, when you lay out your chapters in front of you, you should have a rhythm, like so: A B A B A B…

     Ad nauseum ad infinitum, as the Romans were wont to say.

     Should you find yourself working as a ghostwriter and creating thrillers of any sort, keep this pacing in mind. Rev the engine, let it idle; rev the engine, let it idle. Not only will this keep your readers excited, but it’ll make your boss happy too.

     And, best of all, it can help you with your own writing.

     Speaking of which, time to do a little more of my own.

Keep writing!


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December 6, 1919


     The Sawyer family worked as woodcutters, traveling wherever their work took them, but never straying far from Cross for more than six months to a year at a time.

     Because they traveled to remote portions of New England, the Sawyer men often left the women and children home. The women would take in sewing work or do occasional work in the fields during a particularly heavy harvest season.

     In 1915, when the men were in Worcester County, Gillian Sawyer began to ‘show.’ It seemed that her husband had gotten her with child shortly before he left with his brothers and father. Six months later, the Sawyer men returned, and just in time. On September 1st, 1915, Silas Thomas Sawyer was born.

     Silas was a happy, bright, and attentive child, forever following his grandfather and father around the home. When the men would leave for their work, the child would be inconsolable for days afterward, his smiles few and far between until the men returned.

     In October of 1919, the Sawyer men returned, their pockets fat with money from their work. The women had also done well. There were more than enough funds to keep the family comfortably well into the spring when work would pick up again.

     On December 6th, 1919, the headless corpses of the Sawyer family lay stretched out in the snow of the front yard. Their heads were mounted on poles behind them.

     Yet two of the dead men were strangers. Men never seen in Cross before, and who were without identification.

     And there was one member of the Sawyer clan missing: Silas.

     The police found small shoe prints in the snow, and a zig-zagging trail behind them, which the police believed was made by the head of an ax.

     The tracks led into the forest, and no trace of the boy has been discovered.

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December 5, 1900


     Luke St. Germaine and his wife Olivia emigrated from Montreal to Cross in 1884. They worked a small parcel of land for Duncan Blood, and kept to themselves, except for Sundays, when they would ride into town to attend services at the Catholic Church.

     By 1899, the St. Germaines were a known quantity in Cross. People would nod hello, and Luke and Olivia would do the same. Most nights, when the weather was pleasant, Duncan could be found sitting on the porch of the couple’s small home, enjoying a pipe and conversing easily in French.

     On Wednesday, December 5, 1900, Luke was found frantic in his field. He was clad only in an undershirt and pants, his feet bloody and raw as he snapped at his horses and urged them on.

     Around him, a better part of the field had been transformed into churned earth.

     When he questioned as to what had occurred, he motioned towards the house, refusing to waste breath on explanations.

     Olivia was on their bed, a soft smile on her lips and her eyes closed. She wasn’t breathing, nor was there any heartbeat, but the woman didn’t seem dead.

     A letter beside her, written on vellum and in beautiful script, said, “Monsieur St. Germaine, her heart is in the field. Find it, and she will be yours again.”

     Luke worked himself to death in the fields, and when he passed, his body and Olivias were placed in a crypt erected by Duncan.

     The crypt stands beside the field, and within it Olivia is still perfectly preserved beneath the glass lid of her coffin.

     Her heart remains hidden, and no one knows how it was done, who did it, or why.

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The Horror of Shirley Jackson


     One of my favorite dedications by an author is the one written by Stephen King for his novel Firestarter. In it King states that the book is dedicated, “to Shirley Jackson, who never had to raise her voice.”

     If you have ever read any of Shirley Jackson’s books or short stories – The Lottery, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and The Haunting of Hill House to name a few – you know that King spoke the truth. The subtle terror Jackson wove through her stories was enough to leave you wondering if you were mad, if she was mad, or if you even existed at all. You doubted everything you saw, whether it was the tranquility of the New England village you drove through on a Sunday afternoon, or if you should really accept a cup of tea from a neighbor.

     Shirley Jackson was, in a word, magnificent.

     Not only was she a master of terror (and for an excellent explanation of the difference between terror, horror, and the ‘gross out,’ please read Stephen King’s On Writing and Danse Macabre, two excellent works on both the craft of writing and horror in literature), she was also a master of humor. There is a pair of books about her family and their time in Vermont. The two books, Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons, are pieces that show the breadth and depth of her abilities.

     Shirley Jackson’s works are subtle, with plots and characters that are believable enough to keep you thinking for decades, which I feel was the point.

     Stephen King was absolutely correct when he said she never had to raise her voice. It’s up to us to listen for what she’s saying, and to try to understand what she means with each carefully chosen word.

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