Strangers in Cross: Jan. 23, ‘38

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He was a happy man who died screaming.

I’d had my suspicions regarding Steve Kirby’s predilections ever since he stopped working as a truck driver and took up manning the fountain at the Woolworths up the road in Pepperell. Each day, he would get in his car, drive to work, and come back into Cross late in the evening.

Any grown man that throws aside a good paying job to work serving ice-cream shakes to teenage girls is suspect, as far as I’m concerned. I was planning on discussing the situation with him at the start of the new year when the sudden arrival of the Hollow’s newest horrors distracted me.

I was moving along North Road, heading back toward the Hollow, when I heard a high-pitched screaming coming from a small cut in the woods opposite the stonewall. When I made my way into it, I saw Steve’s Packard. The back door was open, and the shrieking came from within.

Drawing my Colts, I came at the car from an angle, and when I reached the open door, Steve’s screaming face greeted me.

He was clawing at the seats and the glass, punching at the monster pressed against his chest and feeding on him. The creature was clad in the clothes of a young girl, one who had been no more than perhaps twelve or thirteen.

I could see what he had done.

What he had intended to do.

I lowered the Colts, and I waited.

Steve Kirby saw me, screamed my name and begged for my help.

I watched and enjoyed his suffering.

When the monster had eaten its fill, and Steve was dead in the back of the Packard, I put a pair of slugs into the creature’s chest and watched it slump down onto his corpse. For a heartbeat, it held its form, and then it collapsed upon itself.

It had turned out, I realized, to be a pleasant night.

Two monsters dead, and I’d only had to kill one of them.

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Strangers in Cross: Jan. 22, ‘38

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His hammer rang out strong and true.

It was a rare day when you couldn’t hear Richard Breton’s hammer striking some piece of iron into shape.

While he was neither particularly creative nor exceptionally imaginative when it came to working with metal, he was a solid workhorse of a man. He was stoic in demeanor, and he was possessed by a strong desire to keep silent.

I did not know the man well, he had been an equally silent and stolid youth, I knew he was a man who minded his business and who would set his work aside when a neighbor needed help.

I suspect that one of the monsters believed Richard would be easy prey. He was, after all, a man who lived alone and on the outskirts of town. A man who would readily help someone who seemed in need of aid.

The ravens led me to Richard’s smithy, and as I walked up to the open door, I found him standing at his anvil, holding up the head of a shovel and examining it. There was a fetid stink in the air, one barely hidden by the powerful scent of iron and hot coals.

Upon my arrival, Richard lowered the shovel and nodded to me. He thrust the head back into the coals for a moment, worked the bellows, and then extracted the head and returning it to the anvil. He lifted his hammer, struck the shovel’s head a few more times, and then dropped it into the vat of water close to his side.

Richard took a bit of cloth and wiped sweat from his brow. His nose wrinkled at the odor in the shop, and then he stepped outside to join me in the cold.

From his breast pocket, he took out a pouch of chewing tobacco. In silence, he fished out a pinch, tucked it between his lip and gum, and then glanced up at the cloud-filled sky.

When he put the tobacco away, I asked, “One?”

He shook his head, spat on the ground and replied, “Two.”

“Are you hurt?”

Again, the man shook his head. “Had my hammer.”

He spat again. “More of ‘em out there, Duncan?”

“A few.”

Richard grunted. “Hate the Hollow.”

I nodded.

Without another word, he returned to his work and I to the hunt.

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Strangers in Cross: Jan. 21, ‘38

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She should have kept the door closed.

Muriel Forsyth was the wife of Professor Stuart Forsyth, and I doubt there was a more pompous pair on the grounds of the Cross branch of Miskatonic University, which is saying something.

Stuart tended to take long trips down to New York City at least once a month, where he entertained prospective students at the Turkish baths. Muriel did the same from the comfort of her own bed.

I am a firm believer that each is welcome to their own way of living. However, she should have paid a little more attention to who she allowed into her rooms.

The ravens saw her walking arm in arm with a young man, and she seemed rather giddy at the prospect. Was it the novelty of taking a monster into her bed? Did she believe that she was going to engage in nothing more serious than a bit of fun in her boudoir?

She was sorely mistaken.

As was the monster.

When I went into the large, ostentatious house the Forsyths called home, I could smell a fetid odor mingled with blood. I followed my nose up the center stairs and then into the master bedroom.

Neither Muriel nor the monster had wasted any time.

Clothes were scattered from the threshold to the master bed, and there the abomination lay.

I couldn’t tell where the monster ended, and the woman began. Their flesh was entwined, ichor and blood smeared across the headboard and dripping from the sheets and blankets to the hardwood floor. The thing on the bed rippled, but nothing more came of it.

It was nearly dead.

I considered setting fire to the house, of purging the building, but then I thought of the books in the Forsyth library on the first floor, and then I considered Stuart’s expression when he found the remains of his wife.

Humming, I closed the bedroom door, locked it, and left the house, whistling to myself as I stepped out into the cold, January air.

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Strangers in Cross: Jan. 20, ‘38

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All he wanted was a little quiet.

Duke Iverson retired after fifty-eight years working on the railroad and after giving all the fingers on his right hand. He lived in a single room, easy prey for the monsters seeking to settle themselves in Cross.

Had the ravens not observed one of the creatures slipping into the boarding house where Duke resided, then it would have taken me much longer to track them all down. And, more than likely, I would not have found them all.

As it was, I went to the boarding house and spoke with Philomena Whyte, the widow who ran home, and asked her if she was letting out rooms to anyone other than Duke. She replied that she was not, and when she saw my face, she asked, “What’s in my home, Duncan?”

“Something that’s probably done for Duke,” I answered. “You best go out for a bit, Philomena. It’s liable to get messy.”

She raised an eyebrow at the last comment, but she didn’t argue as she pulled on her coat and wrapped a thick kerchief around her head. “Make sure it’s gone,” she said as she walked to the door. “I’ll be certain to give Duke a fair funeral, should it be needed.”

“Aye,” I called after her.

As the door clicked shut, I climbed the stairs to the third floor, made my way to Duke’s room, and rapped on the door with the butt of a Colt. There was a grunt of a response, which was a far cry from the bellowing invitation Duke usually issued, and I let myself in.

The creature, in the form of Duke Iverson, lay on the man’s bed, one of his railroad magazines clutched in his good hand and balanced with the remnants of the other. It was disturbing, the way the creature’s eyelids clicked and fluttered behind Duke’s glasses, and for a moment, I believe it thought that I might have been fooled.

That moment was short-lived, as was the monster’s time in Duke’s body.

As he began to rise from the bed, I pulled the trigger, putting all six rounds in the center of the monster’s chest.

It imploded upon itself, and before my ears stopped ringing, I was reloading the Colt.

There were still monsters for me to hunt.

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Strangers in Cross: Jan. 19, ‘38

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He drove his car like a bat out of hell, and he deserved to die.

Clint Banks was a man who had a fast car, and he drove it as though the devil was on his trail.

He killed more than one animal that way, and this evening, his reckless driving cost him his life.

I heard the crash around seven, and by the time I reached the site of the accident twenty minutes later, Clint had already gasped out his last.

He had been racing along North Road, chasing his own headlights and following the curve of the stonewall, the thin divider between Cross and Gods’ Hollow.

I sat down on the wall, lit my pipe, and contemplated the scene before me.

Clint was twisted in his machine, pinned in place by the steering column. He hung limply from his seat, goggles knocked askew and blood dripping in ever-slowing drops from his mouth. One eye was missing, and most of his teeth were embedded in the steering wheel, which lay at the base of the wall.

It seemed, from what I could gather, that one of the creatures had attempted to cross North Road back into the Hollow and that it had done so at the most inopportune of moments for both itself and Clink Banks.

That it was one of the monsters he had struck, and not some animal, was undeniable.

A man’s suit, gore-splattered and sopping wet with the creature’s black ichor, was spread out around the front end of the ruined machine.

As I enjoyed my pipe, a pleasant thought crossed my mind and brought a smile to my lips.

Clint would have seen a man crossing the road, and his last thoughts would have been mired in the belief that he was dying a murderer.

And all because he liked to drive fast.

Yes, that was a pleasing thought indeed.

Still grinning, I smoked contentedly and made my way home to the farm.

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Strangers in Cross: Jan. 18, ‘38

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Rose Franken was a kind woman with a sweet disposition.

I suspect that’s what killed her.

Rose was a recent transplant to Cross, a rare breed of person who came to the town and found that it was right for her.

She was a forward-thinking woman, and she lived on her own in a well-kept home on Olive Street. Rose worked at the Cross Branch of Miskatonic University, assisting in the library. She was, from what I recall, a woman of encyclopedic knowledge. If you were to ask her where a particular volume was and whether that volume was available, she would be able to put her hands upon it or tell you when it was due back.

Rose was one of the few people I enjoyed speaking with at the university.

I was prowling through Cross, searching for sign and waiting for the ravens to reach out to me to let me know if any of the monsters had been spotted.

As I walked along Washington Street, the ravens landed in the trees and bade me follow. I did so, drawing my weapons as they guided me onto Olive Street, landing on the roof of Rose’s home.

Some of her neighbors saw me and wisely drew their blinds.

When I reached her home, the front door was ajar, and I let myself in. A tea kettle whistled, its high, keening cry filling the air.

I approached the kitchen with caution, the hammers cocked on the Colts, anger growing in my heart.

When I stepped into the kitchen, I found Rose on the floor dead. The monster, in the form of an elderly woman I did not know, sat gasping in a chair, flickering in and out of the old woman’s shape. A pair of knitting needles had been driven through the thing’s left eye, and its black blood trickled down the cheek.

It was dying, and I had no intention of helping it along.

With its remaining eye, the creature watched me take the kettle off the burner and pour myself the tea Rose had readied. I carried the cup to the table, pulled a chair out, and sat down.

It took the monster nearly an hour to die, and I enjoyed the tea.

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Strangers in Cross: Jan. 16, ‘38

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Robert Bligh could make the violin sing.

Each night, regardless of the weather or the time of year, you could pass by his little shanty and hear him playing. He was, without a doubt, one of the finest musicians ever to be born in Cross.

The monsters took that from us.

I’d spent the day searching for the creatures, and I had come up empty. None of the ravens had spotted any of the thrice-damned things either.

No, it wasn’t until I was passing by Robert’s home, where the light was spilling out of his only window, that I saw him sitting in his chair.

He wasn’t playing.

Now, I’ve seen Robert sick with fever, and still, he’d be picking out a song on that violin. Even when he only had a few strings and a bow where half the horsehair was gone, he’d cause the glass in the window to vibrate with music.

Seeing him sitting there, not making a sound, told me everything I needed to know.

I went up to the door, forced the lock, and went into the single room house. Robert looked at me without surprise. The violin lay on the bed, as did a pile of clothes that had belonged to a woman.

Robert was an avowed bachelor, and he wasn’t in the habit of keeping company.

He smiled at me with the needle-teeth I had come to know so well and shrugged his shoulders.

As he rose up from his chair, I drew a Colt and put two rounds in his chest, knocking him back and down.

The creature screamed, squirmed, and collapsed upon itself, black bile seeping through the clothes and onto the floor.

I reloaded my weapon, snatched the violin and the bow from the bed, and set fire to the shanty.

When I reached home, I went down to my secret library, sat down in my chair, and played the violin as best I could.

I was a poor substitute for Robert Bligh.

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Strangers in Cross: Jan. 16, ‘38

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I was too late.

We tracked a pair of the creatures to the Windsor Farm to the west of town. Fred and Margaret Windsor were active in Cross’ Congregationalist Church. On more than one night during the week, you could find at least a handful of churchgoers at the Windsor residence, planning out dinners and trying to quietly reach out to those who might need a helping hand.

With the ravens perched in the trees around the farm, I entered the main house.

The Windsors and their company had been butchered.

They’d been flayed, their hides tacked to the walls, and the heads, fifteen of them, were stacked in a bloody, grinning pyramid in the center of the living room.

Throughout the house, I found piles of body parts. Hands in an armoire, feet in the commode. Genitals were piled high on the Windsors’ bed. Entrails were in looped in great coils from the banister’s newel post to the second floor and back again. In the root cellar, I found nearly all the remaining bones, and even those had been sorted.

All save the finger bones, that is.

Those were in the parlor and in front of the fireplace, where the ashes were cold and gray, I saw my name spelled out, over and over again.

I suspect it was meant to frighten me, to instill some sense of fear. The message I was to take away from it was simple enough.

Leave them alone and let them eat.

It was the same message they had tried to pass along through the learned fools at Miskatonic.

Well, if violence is their language, it was time I showed them that I spoke it too.

And I was a hell of a lot more fluent in it than they were.  

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Strangers in Cross: Jan. 15, ‘38

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The creatures despised water.

It was a fortuitous discovery.

I was on the edge of Blood Lake, following a trail left by a pair of the creatures. I found the occasional bodies of animals, each stripped of its fur and holes in their bellies, and I knew the creatures were feeding as they sought to find more sustenance and a place to hide.

I hoped to deprive them of both.

While they followed the shore of the lake, they did not appear to make any great efforts to avoid the water. Perhaps they didn’t know of its effects upon their flesh. I confess I was pleasantly surprised when I witnessed it.

I had a sawed-off shotgun with me, a keepsake from my time in the Great War. I had the bastard loaded with buckshot and a pouch full of shells on my hip.

When the creatures attempted an ambush, I was glad for the weapon. Not only for its ability to wreak havoc on a body close-by but for the fear it instilled in them.

The buckshot tore through them, sending a splattering of ichor and foul flesh out in a wide spray onto the snow. As the creatures attempted to recoup, I reloaded the shotgun and fired again.

Their shrieks echoed across the water, and they stumbled back and away, injured and seeking refuge.

I followed them, leaving a trail of spent cartridges in my wake.

One of them stepped into the water, and the sound that erupted from its fetid mouth was something I’d not heard before.

The creature stiffened, shaking violently for a moment before it collapsed into the water and vanished. Its compatriot tried to flee, but I drove it into Blood Lake with a pair of well-placed shots.

As it, too, disappeared beneath the water, an oily slick rose to the surface. Reloading, I waited to see if anything might crawl out. When nothing did, the ravens sang out from the trees, and I nodded my agreement.

It was good to see the monsters suffer.

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Strangers in Cross: Jan. 14, ‘38

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The wind whipped along the snow and carried the scent of blood along with it.

At the far end of the university’s property, the ravens had gathered around the caretaker’s house.

When I first caught sight of Enoch Hearth, I believed all was in order. He was as I had seen him on many a cold morning – standing in front of his truck, the blanket around the radiator, and a cup of hot water poised above the radiator.

It took me a moment to see that all was not as it should be, and I hesitated.

That hesitation, and the sudden cries of the ravens, saved me no end of trouble.

The creatures came out of the woods, and they had taken on the forms of bears. They charged at me, and I could only admire the amount of effort that had gone through to find half a dozen bears in Cross that weren’t hidden deep in their dens.

That admiration flickered and died even as I drew the Colts.

A .44 round can do damage, even to a full-grown black bear charging along.

What it cannot do is stop that bear when the animal is something other than itself.

Still, I was game to try.

The fight lasted a hell of a lot longer than I wanted it to.

Our battle raged for the better part of fifteen minutes, which is no small amount of time when you’re trying to stay alive.

The bears soaked up the bullets, and I spent a fair amount of time reloading. One of the bastards, a big one, took eight rounds before it went down, and then another two to split open the skull before the creature’s form broke down.

When I finished, I was nursing a score or so of wounds, one nasty bite in my left shoulder, and a terrible headache. As I was putting the last of my ammunition into the Colts, Enoch Hearth turned around, eyelids clicking left and right, and up and down.

I put two rounds into his head when he stepped toward me.

His body struck the snow, bursting apart as it did so.

Grimnir landed on the corpse, preened, and looked at me.

“Cross,” the raven spoke.

My shoulders sagged, and I shook my head.

The damned creatures had left the university’s grounds.

I needed more ammunition.

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