December 30, 1862

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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

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     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

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     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?

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     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

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     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

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     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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December 24, 1914

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     The holidays, it is said, are a time for miracles.

     For wounded German troops returning from the Eastern Front during the First World War, such a miracle occurred on the morning of December 24, 1914.

     At 7:37 am, immediately after the departure of the northbound Boston & Maine commuter train, a strange locomotive rumbled into the Cross station. As amazed residents watched, the tracks shifted to adjust to the new train’s gauge, and the engine came to a staggering halt.

     When the doors opened, surprised German soldiers and nurses stepped out onto the platform.

     Seeing the desperate need of the troops, the Cross citizenry sprang into action. Homes were opened to the wounded, and operating theaters were set up in the train station, town hall, and in the First Congregationalist Church.

     By the time evening fell, not a single soldier had died.

     As the Germans were being cared for and fed, welcomed into homes to celebrate Christmas, a young German officer stood beside Duncan Blood. Matthew Dube, one of the train station’s porters, paused at the ticket counter, exhausted from the madness of the day. As he leaned against the marble, he heard Duncan murmur something unintelligible, and the German officer nodded.

     “I’m not for either side, despite what they say from their pulpits,” the officer said in perfect English. “I am quite content to let them sort it out by themselves. Everything works out in the end. It always does.”

     Matthew watched as the officer shook Duncan’s hand, turned, and went back to the platform. When the officer stepped onto the train, all its doors closed, and it faded from view.

 

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December 23, 1941

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     This unfortunate picture was taken at 10:14 am on December 23, 1941.

     Mr. Jonathan Rivell and his 12-year-old son, Thomas, were looking for interesting subjects for Mr. Rivell’s new hobby – photography. Thomas, an avid swimmer, was in the water, attempting to see if there might not be a far more enticing picture that could be taken of the shore.

     As the father and son prowled along the edge, one near the water and the other in it, they heard a sweet, beautiful voice raised in song. While they were unable to understand the words, the melody drew them on toward the curve in the shore which marked the end of the public’s access to Duncan Blood’s land. Beyond the protrusion in the photograph, no one, not even the police, dared to cross.

     There were dark creatures in Duncan’s lands, and in the waters of Blood Lake as well.

     Instead of stopping and returning the way they had come, the two Rivells continued toward the outcropping.

     Mr. Rivell felt there was something magnificent approaching them, something wondrous. Thomas felt the same.

     As the boy was treading water, the father readied the camera, and when the singing grew louder, he raised the camera to his eye and prepared for the shot.

     He took the photograph a moment after the singer appeared, his horror forcing his reaction.

     From descriptions Mr. Rivell gave to the police, and later to Duncan, it was decided that Thomas was snatched by a naiad.

     The boy’s body was never recovered, nor was the naiad’s song heard again.

     Mrs. Rivell left Jonathan, and he spent the rest of his life wandering the shores of Blood Lake, searching for some sign of the thief who had stolen his child.

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December 22, 1925

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     In 1920, Frau Issa Gewitter emigrated from Germany to the United States after her husband, a German veteran of the Great War, was slain during the Munich uprising in 1919. By 1921, Issa found her way to Cross, where she became the nanny for the Anderson family on Norwich Road.

     Mr. Paul Anderson and his wife, Ellen, traveled extensively, and on most occasions, they were unable to bring their three daughters with them. During these times, Issa had full run of the home, and she made certain that the children and the structure were well cared for.

     Mr. Anderson was a successful author, writing under several different pseudonyms. One of his passions was collecting rare weapons. His most prized firearm was a Browning Automatic Rifle, gifted to him in 1916 shortly before the United States’ entry into the Great War. Like many collectors, Mr. Anderson had an ample supply of ammunition for his firearms, including the Browning.

     On the morning of December 22, 1925, a heavy snowfall had fallen over Cross, ensuring that there would be little travel on the roads.

     It was at 7:13 am that the first of the goblins attacked the Anderson house.

     Issa Gewitter had survived four years of war, and a devastating battle in her home city of Munich. She was not flustered by the sudden assault, despite the hideous appearance of the assailants.

     Instead, Issa put the Browning to good use. With the children loading magazines and passing them to her, Issa is said to have slain at least 32 of the goblins, and wounding many more.

     When her employer returned and asked where the ammunition for the Browning had gone, his daughters pointed to the pyramid of heads in the backyard.

     To this day the skulls of the goblins are mounted on the corners of the home, and this photo of Frau Issa Gewitter hangs above the fireplace of the Anderson house.

 

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What Motivates You?

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     What motivates you?

     This seems like a straightforward question, and I suppose for some people, it is.

     For myself, this is an extremely difficult question to answer. Answering it, truthfully at least, requires intense soul-searching, which I’m not exactly a fan of.

     But, using myself as an example, I’ll give some of the basics.

     First, there’s the undeniable need for me to write. And that is a brutal truth: I have to write. It doesn’t matter if it’s a poem, a short story, a longer work of fiction, or a piece of nonfiction. I have the need to write. This need has been there since I was 9 years old and listening to my mother and stepfather argue. It was there when I sat in class – drawing, and writing – and being too much the antagonist and futile rebel to pay attention to what the nuns were trying to teach me.

     In high school, I met Mr. Richard White, a patient, intelligent author, and journalist who taught my English class of hormonal and testosterone-fueled students. He taught us how to craft our sentences and how to form our paragraphs into coherent stories, whether they were fiction or to deliver the news in a succinct fashion.

     My writing has always been a way to release the tension within myself, although I didn’t always see it as such. I harbored dreams, of course, of becoming a famous writer, someone as successful as Stephen King, or at least with the cult-like adoration of Lovecraft fandom. I wanted to create worlds where people could escape reality, just like I did when I was younger (and still do when I write).

     At this point in my life, as a husband, a father of three, and approaching the half-century mark, I don’t want to be famous anymore (although a healthy royalty check would be appreciated). What I want, what I need, is to create a place where the reader can seek refuge. We all desperately need to forget about the troubles and issues that we face in reality. I want my readers to find that in my stories. I want them to pick up the book, or click on the link, and read a story that takes them away, if only for a few minutes, where they don’t have to worry about the bills, or illness, or the ten thousand other problems and irritations that creep up in daily life.

     That’s my motivation.

     What’s yours?

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