Freshwater, 1880

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The stream hadn’t been there the day before.

While it wasn’t unusual for the features of the Hollow to change, it was out of the ordinary for them to change so drastically.

I could see the water from North Road, and I was wondering what sort of hellish creature might live within its depths when a group of men rode up in a buckboard. The man driving it brought the horses to a stop, and they gazed out longingly at the water.

“Hey boy,” the driver called. “Who owns this land?”

“It owns itself,” I replied, taking my pipe out and packing it. “You’d do well to keep going.”

The men laughed and climbed down out of the wagon. There were six of them altogether, and as the driver hitched the team to the stonewall, he said, “It’s a hot and dusty day. We’ll have ourselves a drink. I’m sure the ‘land’ won’t mind.”

The men chuckled and climbed over the wall, and I shrugged as I lit my pipe.

They were halfway to the water when I decided it might be educating to see what happened to them. I made myself comfortable and smoked and waited.

Their voices carried as they joked with one another about the land and water, as well as the idiocy of young men. I raised an eyebrow at the last comment, but I kept my tongue.

The men reached the water, knelt down at its edge and took off their hats. They rolled up their sleeves and splashed the water over themselves, drinking their fill. It was as they drank that I saw movement in the trees along the bank.

It took me a heartbeat to realize it was the trees moving.

They leaned out over the men, one of whom noticed at the last moment, but then it was too late.

The trees’ branches snapped down, grasping the men and thrusting them into the water. The men fought for their lives, splashing and thrashing about, but there was nothing they could do.

Not against the Hollow.

I unhitched the horses, climbed into the wagon, and drove it home.

There was no reason to wait for survivors.

The Hollow wouldn’t leave any.

#horror #fear #paranormal

Fruit of the Vine, 1878

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She entered the Hollow without fear.

I’d not seen much of Kent Mast since his dandelion bride had emerged from the Hollow some six years prior.

At first, I kept an eye on him, concerned about what the strange creature might do to him. After a year or so, I stopped worrying so much. Whenever I did see them, the couple seemed helplessly and hopelessly in love.

I did my best to leave them be. There was no reason for me to skulk around their home, especially when all of Cross was under my care.

Today was the first day I’d seen Kent Mast’s wife without her holding his arm.

I was walking along North Road, Colts loose and ready in their holsters when I caught sight of Mrs. Mast standing by the stonewall. Worry rippled through me, and I reached for my revolvers. The movement caught her eye, and she turned her head, smiling at me.

“Duncan Blood,” she greeted. “You have no need for your weapons. Kent is at home and quite safe. He is waiting, eagerly, for me to return.”

I didn’t quite believe her, but I let go of the Colts all the same.

“Things are well?” I asked.

She nodded. “Better than well, Duncan.”

She returned her gaze into the Hollow. “Do you see that vine there?”

Mrs. Mast pointed toward a large pine tree whose lower branches were festooned with curiously thick vines.

“I see them.”

“I am here to fetch joy,” she told me, smiling. “I’ll be but a minute.”

As she climbed gracefully over the wall, I reached for my Colts again.

She laughed and shook her head. “Nothing will dare to harm me here, Duncan.”

Mrs. Mast stepped down into the Hollow and walked with confidence toward the pine. In a moment, she was there, pushing past them, and, in a heartbeat, the vines fell back as though they were a curtain.

A sharp cry rang out and my Colts cleared leather as Mrs. Mast stepped back through the vines. In her arms was a small child.

Surprised, I holstered the Colts and took the child from her so Mrs. Mast could climb back onto the road. When the babe was in her arms again, Mrs. Mast smiled.

Gazing down into the child’s eyes, she said, “This is Joy.”

And I suppose the child was.

#horror #fear #paranormal

Bad Meat, 1875

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The Hollow doesn’t like signs.

In the first few years of my life, my father attempted to warn strangers away from Gods’ Hollow. The local tribes already knew better than to wander around in the place, and so, too, did some of the residents of Cross. Others, though, seemed to make a habit of going in when they shouldn’t.

So, my father would put up signs warning of dangers. No sooner had he attached the sign and turned his back than the warning was gone.

After a decade or so, he gave it up as a bad job best left unfinished.

Following in my father’s footsteps, I don’t bother with signs. I do make it known that I don’t like strangers nosing about the Hollow.

Still, people don’t listen.

Word came to me that an elk had been spotted in the Hollow, and that was a bad sign for some folks in Cross. There were a few men who fancied themselves hunters. For regular animals, these men were no doubt well-equipped.

But they would be woefully unprepared for anything that lived in the Hollow.

By the time I reached the stonewall at North Road, it was already too late.

Ethan and Silas Gauvin were hauling a field-dressed elk over the wall. There was a fair-sized pile of innards half a dozen feet in, and the grass around it was trampled and soaked with blood.

“Best to put it back,” I told them, and the men laughed at me.

“What do you know, boy?” Ethan asked. “Nothing. You don’t know a damned thing.”

“I know you’ll want to put that back,” I remarked. “It’s not fit to eat.”

The men laughed even harder at my statement and wiped tears from their eyes as they shouldered their burden and headed toward their home on Gordon Way.

I looked back into the Hollow and wondered how bad it would be.

Well, it turned out to be pretty bad.

They cooked up some of the elk for dinner, and by the time they were done, the bad meat struck.

When I found them later that night, I saw the brothers had vomited out their stomach and their intestines. They’d even managed to pull their lungs out of their chests.

I don’t know how they could have eaten the meat. It stank.

But then again, those boys couldn’t cook worth a damn to begin with.

#horror #fear #paranormal

Dandelions, 1872

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He was young and foolish.

Or so I thought.

Kent Mast was 18 and alone in the world. He’d lost both parents and three sisters to fever the previous winter, and while he struggled to put food on the table, he never gave up hope that true love would one day find him.

More times than I care to count, I found him stopped with a dandelion in his hands and blowing the seeds into the air. Never did I reprimand or chide him. I had helped to bury his family, and there was steel in the boy. Any fool could see it.

Still, I thought it peculiar that a young man of 18 was still making wishes.

Today, sitting on the stonewall which separates the Hollow from North Road, I was looking out into that damnable place when I was hailed by Kent.

I nodded a greeting in return and used my penknife to clear out the tobacco in my newest pipe. Kent was humming a cheerful tune as he leaned on the wall, then bent over and plucked a dandelion from the Hollow side.

Before I could stop him, he closed his eyes and then blew the seeds into the Hollow.

“There’s a fair spread, Duncan,” he observed, tucking the stalk of the dandelion into his breast pocket. He waved a farewell and went on his way.

I was about to put the penknife away when there was a soft rumbling sound.

Looking out into the Hollow, I saw several of the dandelion seeds touch down on the soil, and where they did so, a deep gray fog hissed up from the earth. The fog twisted and turned in upon itself, and a moment later, it formed into a solid shape.

A stunning young woman stood before me. In a voice soft and sweet, she asked, “Where is the lonely man who wished for me?”

I cleared my throat and asked, “Mean you any harm?”

She laughed and shook her head. “Nay, Duncan Blood, only to see if we might make each other happy.”

I took the creature at her word and told her where Kent lived.

She thanked me and stepped quickly after him.

I waited a short time and then slipped away, wary of the dandelions around me.

I had enough trouble without someone trying to make me happy.

#horror #fear #paranormal

Overgrowth, 1871

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Grant Miller always thought he knew better.

I’d known the man ever since the war of the rebellion had ended. He had been a traitor to the Union, though there was no way to prove it. There was a slight twang to his words, and while that certainly isn’t enough to condemn a man, some of his comments were.

Occasionally, when he’d had a little too much to drink, he’d mention Bleeding Kansas and the good fight that had been put up try and keep the place free from ‘interference’ as he liked to call it. There were other comments, too. One day, I heard him mention how he missed the easy money of running down black folks – free or slave – and hauling them back in irons for the bounties.

Yes, plenty of times, I thought about gutting the bastard and leaving him rotting in my woods.

Still, I’d not done it, and it turns out I didn’t have to.

Back in ’67, I’d told him to leave the Hollow well enough alone, and he had laughed and told me to run along and play with my toys.

It seems that Grant had a penchant for gathering interesting plants from the Hollow and bringing them home to his small place off Lake Street.

From what I can see, it was a poor decision on his part.

I was on my way back from a bit of business in Pepperell and taking Lake Street toward North Road when I glanced over at Grant’s to see if the man was outside and whether or not I really wanted to be polite.

Well, Grant was there, but his home wasn’t. And there wasn’t that much of Grant to speak of either.

In fact, from what I could see, Grant’s skull, a leg bone, and a hip were all that remained. Oh, his shoes were there, and a tin pan, but that was all. The house had been destroyed, stripped apart and dispersed to places unknown. The overgrowth, a collection of natural and unnatural plants and saplings, were spread out as far as I could see, and they murmured and grumbled, sounding like an animal with an upset stomach.

Perhaps it was.

Grant Miller had been a right son of a bitch, and I can’t imagine there was anything good about him.

Not even to eat.

#horror #fear #paranormal

Wildflowers, 1868

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The Hollow is a hateful place.

I saw the man and child from the road, and I don’t know if they were strangers on the road to Cross or strangers from the Hollow wandering around the open field. Either way, they were in danger.

He was carrying a load of branches on his shoulder and holding the little girl’s small hand in his own large one. I called to them and bade them come to the stonewall.

Neither of them understood me, and when the man answered, it was in a language, I did not know.

As I climbed onto the top of the wall, the man and child each took a nervous step back, as though they were wary of strangers.

I dropped down into the Hollow and saw the field was fairly covered in off-white flowers, the stalks of grass a strange, hunter green.

And as my mind registered these facts, the field came alive.

The grass lashed out at me, each strike bitter and sharp, sending jolts of pain through my feet. Far across from me, the child screamed, and the man howled, dropping his load of branches as he snatched the child up and cradled her in his arms.

I took several staggering steps toward them, but even as I did so, some of the flowers bent their heads and touched the man’s trousers. Purple flames exploded in the fabric and raced up them. The man turned around to try and flee, but the grasses pinned him into place. The girl screamed in his arms, and he twisted back to face me, desperation on his face.

I could see what he planned to do, and, ignoring the pain, I sprang toward them, sprinting across the ground.

With a howl, he threw the girl, and she sobbed as she struck the earth and rolled. Her sob became a scream, and she raced to me. The grass snapped at her, and her smock smoldered from the flowers.

As I thundered across the grass, the girl leapt to me, and I caught her as the man was pulled to the ground.

Cradling her against me, I sprinted for the safety of North Road and cleared the stonewall in a single leap.

The girl is alive and silent, and in the morning, I’ll find her a home.

Then, well, I’ll see how the Hollow likes kerosene.

#horror #fear #paranormal

Hawthorn Tree, 1860

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The tree was almost as old as I was.

The Hawthorn tree was close to fifteen feet wide and the same in height. It had lived for nearly two centuries along the border of the Hollow, its great, thorned branches overhanging both Hollow and Cross.

It was a pleasant marker, one that told me that I was soon to be home whenever I saw it.

Today, though, today was different.

The tree wasn’t there.

I could see where it had been. There were bits of broken branches and leaves scattered about the hardpack of North Road. The earth, where the roots had been sunk deep, was freshly churned.

I hunkered down beside the spot, touched the cool dirt with my fingers, and then straightened up as a single shot rang out through the cool morning air.

A piteous wail followed the crack of the weapon, and I broke into a run, wishing to hell that I’d brought my new Colts with me. Still, I had my knife, and there were few problems I couldn’t solve with that piece of steel.

In a matter of moments, I came upon a strange sight. A man wearing a tall hat and holding a rifle with a bayonet affixed to the end of it towered over another man who was sprawled out on the ground. The man on the road had been gutshot, and his face said it plainly.

The man with the hat lifted his rifle, turned it easily in his hands and drove the bayonet through the wounded fellow’s right knee.

At the sound of my approach, the armed man turned and grinned at me, his eyes a solid dark green, his teeth brown and tinged with black. There were fresh scrapes across his harsh features and a wild rankness to him that invaded my nostrils.

When he spoke, the man’s voice rumbled as though coming up from his feet before boiling out of his mouth.

“He’s wounded me, Blood,” the armed man grumbled. “Broke branches and chipped bark, torn leaves and trampled roots. I’ll have my vengeance.”

Before I could reply, he thrust the bayonet into the other man’s left knee.

The wounded man screamed for mercy and for help, but the tree made flesh, and I both ignored him.

With a nod, I stepped to one side and watched with interest as the Hawthorn went to work.

#horror #fear #paranormal

Lilies of the Valley, 1859

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His faith did not protect him.

Minister Josiah van Doren was a regular in Cross.

For several years, he had made his way through at least once a season, attempting to drum up congregants for his church in Westford. Since Cross has never been known for its faithful, he generally found the townsfolk a hard sell.

In 1859, he came into town and stopped in at the post office when I happened to be jawing with the postmaster. The minister was in a state. For the first time, he had heard the name my father had given the Hollow. At first, Minister van Doren had believed it was God’s Hollow, but someone had disabused him of that idea and so informed him that it was Gods, plural.

He was having none of it.

The minister was attempting to gather men to put the Hollow to the torch. I told him it was a bad idea, and he scoffed at me, telling me that he would take no advice from a man not yet out of his teens.

I admit I look young for my age. How could he know that I was nearly 230 years old and not the fifteen I looked?

Still, I volunteered to go with him, if for nothing more than to see how the Hollow would deal with him.

No one else took him up on his offer.

The minister was surprisingly quiet on the walk out to North Road and even quieter when we reached the stonewall. We stood there, looking into the Hollow, and then he whispered, “Are those Lilies of the Valley?”

I looked at the flowers, nodded and said, “Best to leave them be. If you’re aiming to set the Hollow ablaze, I’d do it now.”

He ignored me and put his hands on the stonewall, leaning toward the flowers. “They’re beautiful.”

“They’re poison.”

The minister crawled over the wall and reached for the nearest flower, which seemed to arch itself toward his hand.

He smiled and then shrieked as the flower seized his hand.

Others coiled around his wrist, burrowing into his skin and dragging him the rest of the way in. The ground roiled, erupted, and then opened wide enough for the man to disappear.

I stood at the wall until his muffled screams faded and the white blossoms on the flowers took on a reddish hue.

#horror #fear #paranormal

Flowers, 1857

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Picking flowers in Gods’ Hollow is never a wise decision.

Lucy Stone found this out in the worst of ways.

Lucy and her husband Francis came to Cross by way of Pepperell in 1854. By the winter of ’56, they welcomed the birth of their first child, Annabelle. Francis’ work often took him as a solicitor often took him as far afield as New York City, leaving the mother and young child alone for weeks on end.

Lucy was a strong woman and took this all in stride. Often, I would pass her on North Road close to the Hollow, where I would see her admiring the flowers growing beyond the stonewall that separated the Hollow from the rest of Cross. More than once, I told her that she would do well not to go after any blooms that she found interesting, and she assured me that she would refrain from such an activity.

This morning, I saw that she did not.

Her mad laughter ripped through the air, cutting through the fog as I stopped at the wall. The Hollow, sensing my presence, caused the mist to part and showed the woman and child to me.

That is, it showed me what was left of the child’s body and the woman’s sanity.

Lucy was seated beside a rose bush of incredible breadth and beauty, the roses had their petals spread wide, and each was disturbingly vibrant. Around Lucy and spread across what I took to be a pile of rags, dozens of the petals had fallen.

It took me a moment to realize that the rags were the remains of the child.

The clothes were torn and bloody, and scraps of flesh and bits of bone were scattered amid the roses. Lucy Stone’s face was smeared with her daughter’s blood, and she had clawed her own eyes out.

The wind shifted as I stood at the stonewall and brought my scent to the woman.

Her laughter stopped, and she crawled towards me, mewling like a sick kitten.

I stood my ground, the woman licking her lips in eager anticipation as she pulled herself up onto the stone wall.

In silence, I reached out, took hold of her head, and I snapped her neck.

As her body tumbled back into the Hollow and the fog closed over once more, I made my way home, hating the smell of roses.

#horror #fear #paranormal

April 30, 1875

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I woke up in a house that was not my own.

Sitting up, I looked about me and found the house was curiously built, reminiscent of the few I had seen in Japan and, more recently, those that had cropped up in Cross and the Hollow.

For a moment, the silence threatened to overwhelm me, and the fear that I had been struck deaf attempted to rise up.

I crushed the fear, gathered my wits about me, and forced myself to understand that silence was not the same as the inability to hear.

Turning around, I inhaled sharply.

An old man sat across from me, a curious headpiece atop his crown. He nodded to me, and his voice rang out strong and true in my thoughts.

“Duncan Blood,” the man stated. “It has been a long month.”

I nodded my agreement, not bothering to hide my dislike of being in a home that was not my own. He smiled, not unkindly and said, “You are in my thoughts. You are neither here nor there. You exist in the space between worlds.”

“Am I asleep?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No. You’re here. With me. Should someone walk into your bedroom, they will find your bed empty.”

I frowned. “You could have asked.”

“Would you have come?”

“Nope.”

The man chuckled. “I did not think so.”

I made myself as comfortable as I could. “What’s this about, then?”

“We have hunted the last of the creatures set loose upon your town,” the man informed me. “Those that have needed killing, they have been killed. Those that needed to be put back, they have been put back.”

“And what about the ones I’ve given sanctuary to?” I asked.

He smiled. “They will remain here, with you, as you have told them they could.”

I nodded. “What about you?”

“We are returning home,” the man replied. “This is not our place. Not our world. We belong in Nippon. We wish to be among our own.”

“Fair enough.”

“We are well met, Duncan Blood,” the man told me, pressing his hands together and offering a short bow. “We may well meet again.”

Before I could respond, I was plunged into darkness. When I could see once more, I was in my room, and the sun was setting on the last day of April.

Smiling, I stood up and went down to the kitchen for a glass of beer.

#horror #fear #paranormal