4:50 AM January 1, 1931

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He considered himself an artist.

I never got the bookbinder’s name, and I never cared to.

He came to Cross shortly after the war of the rebellion, and he set up shop close to Von Epp’s Books. Several times, I saw him in the bookstore and overheard him inquiring as to damaged books. He was, from what I could gather, seeking to purchase them from either the store or from nearby residents.

He was entirely too keen on gathering them.

Margaret von Epp, who was helping to run the store at the time, asked him why, and he responded that he was a bookbinder by trade and an artist by design. His attempts to flirt with the young woman fell miserably flat, and he left the store with anger on his face.

Later that night, word came to me that Margaret was missing, and I was asked to help search for her.

I remembered the bookbinder’s awkwardness around her and the anger with which he left the bookstore. Rather than go into the woods to seek Margaret out, I went to where the stranger had set up his shop, and I was glad I did.

The tools of his trade were out for anyone to see, but he was not with them. I could hear him arguing with someone, and so, following the sound of his voice, I arrived at a back room.

He was arguing with Margaret von Epp, who was bound to a chair, her dress and undergarments cut away to reveal the bare flesh. She was gagged, her eyes full of fury as she glared at him. In his hand, he held a grease pencil as he squatted down in front of her, debating the merits of her inner thighs and wondering, aloud, which one would serve better as a binding for his collection of love poems.

His musings stopped when I put the barrel of a Colt against the base of his neck and cocked the hammer. In silence, he freed Margaret, who got to her feet.

“The book’s on the table,” she told me, her voice low with rage. “Can you bind it?”

“Aye,” I answered.

She nodded, and modesty be damned, she left the house.

The bookbinder didn’t.

I bound the book in his skin and gave it to her as a gift.

The book sits now on a shelf reserved for those bound in human skin, a pleasant reminder of Margaret von Epp.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural

4:30 AM January 1, 1931

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She became proficient in seduction.

Charlotte Giles had always been an attractive young woman. At the ripe age of seventeen, she was wed, and by eighteen, she was miserable.

Charlotte began spending a good portion of her time at Von Epps Books. Her husband, Malachi Evers, was as handsome as she was attractive, and he was a right bastard. He wanted a wife for the sake of having one, and he kept her as one might keep an unwanted dog. Malachi gave her a small bit of money to keep her out of his presence, and he was quite pleased that she was at the bookstore.

He shouldn’t have been.

By the age of nineteen, Charlotte realized that what she truly wanted was power and that her appearance and knowledge would enable her to be as powerful as she desired.

She managed to get her hands on a volume that taught her the art of seduction. Rumor reached me that there was something living in the book, a creature feeding off her passions. The more passion she enjoyed, the stronger it became, and the stronger the creature became, Charlotte’s power grew.

She no longer visited the bookstore. Instead, she used her allowance for tickets into Boston, where she seduced men – regardless of age – and butchered them at their climax.

I learned of her activity when she turned twenty-one, and the creature in the book told Charlotte to try her hand with me. It told her that I was worth more than all of the others combined.

She came to me on a cool October evening, inviting herself inside with a surety that she’d not had only a few years earlier.

She mistook my appearance, as so many did, and thought I would be easy to take to bed.

I was not.

We were in my parlor when she tried to take me by force, and I placed the muzzle of a Colt against her temple. She reached for the pistol, and I blew her brains out.

I took her body to her home and found Malachi drunk in bed. I laid Charlotte beside him and bound him to the corpse. I retrieved the book and then set the bed on fire.

Malachi’s screams drowned out the angry complaints of the book, and even now, as I drink my bourbon, the book continues to complain.

Oh well.

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4:05 AM January 1, 1931

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I remember Goody Dunston.

She was kind, and she was sweet. She’d buried two husbands and eight children, as well as all three of her brothers. The fever had burned through her family shortly after she wedded David Dunston, and she spent two weeks burying her dead. I know because I helped.

She, like so many others, sought her refuge in religion. Goody did not place her faith in the hands of any man, but rather she began to read. Her father had allowed her to learn her letters, and in her hour of need, she put that learning to good use.

I lent her a great many books, helped purchase more for her, and connected her to collectors willing to let her peruse their collections.

In one volume, the title of which I’ll not write here, she found damnation.

The man who owned the book warned her about its properties, never believing she would be foolish enough to follow any of the steps outlined within.

But then, he was not a grieving mother. A grieving mother presented with the opportunity to bring her dead back.

He allowed her to visit at any time, even going so far as to give her permission to enter his house when he was not home. His servants were amicable, and they were more than happy to help the kind woman whenever she arrived.

One morning, when Goody knew he would be out, she went to his home with the items needed for the spell she wished to cast. Later that same night, I rushed from my farm to his home and found the horror Goody had stumbled upon.

I could hear her screams from down the lane, the man’s servants weeping by an old oak tree. The man’s pale face and fearful eyes greeted me as I reached the home. He gestured towards the open door, and I went in, armed and ready for hell.

It was worse than I feared.

Goody was the room.

Her flesh was stretched across the walls and the floor, her face spread over the ceiling. She’d gone blind, thankfully, and could not see the nightmare she had become. Her words were gibberish, but I could hear the pleading in the tone.

With a broken heart, I drew my knife and set about my chore.

It was hard and bloody work.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural

3:53 AM January 1, 1931

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He had tried to steal a book.

Charles Bruce of New York City had heard of some of my books. He had dipped into dark places and conversed with creatures best left unmentioned, and he had come away with a desire for books, not his.

I don’t think whoever he spoke with cared for the conversation. Or for Charles, for that matter. If they had, they wouldn’t have sent him towards me.

I had finished the rough shelving for the expansion of the hidden library, and I was sitting in the chair, enjoying a bit of brandy and the warmth of the fire. There was no need for a lamp. The ghosts hadn’t found their way down to the library yet, and even if they had, none of them were a match for me.

It was well after midnight when I heard the whisper of a shoe on the stairs and then caught sight of Charles in the dim light thrown by the dying fire. The look of avarice on his face was unmistakable, and his hands trembled with excitement as he peered at the shelves. Several times, he reached out, then snatched his hand back. He shook his head and focused on the titles, refusing to touch the bindings. Not from a fear of the books themselves but of his desire to own them.

He was so intent upon the books, so focused, that he never saw me sitting in the chair. He never heard the knife glide out of the scabbard.

Charles came to a stop a short distance away, his back to me as he leaned forward to read the titles. I heard him inhale sharply and saw his body stiffen.

He’d found a book he was interested in.

I waited to see what he would do next, to see what, in turn, I would have to do next.

He reached for the bookshelf, paused, and then took hold of one of the volumes. He eased it down with a lover’s care and opened the book.

It was then the book whispered, and Charles turned around, snapping the book closed and staring at me in surprise.

The surprise transformed into shock as I drove my Bowie knife deep into his belly. He tried to pull away, but I took hold of his shirt and pulled him closer.

“Why?” he whispered.

“I was about to ask you the same,” I answered, and I twisted the knife.

He shouldn’t have touched my books.

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3:30 AM January 1, 1931

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The book is hard to hold.

She’s trapped inside it, and I’ve not been able to set her free.

It was 1853, and I was sweet on Charity Coffin. Despite my appearance of a lad of 15 years, I had more than two centuries behind me, and that woman fascinated me. She had a sharp wit and was a deft hand with a rifle. She could outshoot her sons and her husband, as well as most men in town.

Charity would flirt with me, but flirt and nothing more. I’d like to say I admired her for it, but I wanted the woman, plain and simple.

Still, I respected her, and so it never went beyond playful banter when we were alone.

1n 1853, Cross had suffered through a bad year with the crops. Winter would be tight, especially if we lost any more of our supplies to the weather. Charity found an old spellbook written in German in the Von Epp bookstore, and she purchased it. From what I gathered after, she studied it for the better part of a month, slowly gathering what she needed for a spell.

A spell to save the town.

The things she did, though, well, they should never have been done.

A child was stolen from a poor family outside of Pepperell, and the altar at the First Congregationalist Church up in Nashua, New Hampshire, was shattered.

A few other items went missing too, and I made all haste to the Coffin Farm. Mr. Coffin and the boys were out hunting, looking to lay in a good supply of venison for any bad times.

Charity was home alone, and when I found her, she was in the kitchen.

The remnants of a child burned in the fireplace, and the parts she’d needed simmered in a pot on a nearby hook. A knife made from the altar lay bloodied on the table, and there was a wild, fearful look on Charity’s face. The book she’d bought from the von Epps lay propped open on the table beside the knife.

I snatched up the weapon and cleaved her breast in twain.

A heartbeat later, I was alone in the kitchen. The remains of the child were gone. The fire was out.

Charity had vanished.

The book was closed, and from it, I heard her begging for mercy.

I could not, and cannot still, give her what she seeks.

And it makes me drink all the more.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural

3:10 AM January 1, 1931

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He deserved to die.

Ethan Sawyer’s appetite for books was as big as he was. He had no control, as far as I could see, and there were rumors from some of the dealers in other towns and cities about his behavior.

None of the rumors were good.

There was even word that he was associated with Miskatonic University in Arkham. I’ve a poor opinion of the school, one that’s gotten worse since they’ve established a branch here in Cross.

At the time, though, that wasn’t a worry. Merely his appetite.

Dan Reams was a small collector in Cross, a man who had plain, happy books. There were one or two gems in his collection, but they were few and far between. He didn’t brag about his books, but those who knew, knew, and I was one of them.

That’s why I was surprised when I saw Ethan Sawyer walking away from Dan’s small home, holding a book I knew Dan would never sell.

It was a history of Cross, written by his father and signed by every member of the Cross Historical Society. The book had been a gift from the society upon his father’s untimely death. There were three copies of the title, and in its leather binding, many of Cross’ mysteries were explained.

None of which Ethan Sawyer needed to know.

When I saw Sawyer, I hastened up to Dan’s and found the man dead, brained with a heavy brass candlestick.

I left Dan where he lay and chased after Ethan Sawyer.

Ethan hadn’t gotten far, and when he heard me, he broke into a shambling run.

But he was fat and ill, and he didn’t get more than a half dozen yards from me before I caught hold of him and snatched the book from his damp clutch.

Stuffing the book into my coat, I pushed Ethan down, and he fell onto his back, striking his head against the cobblestones. He stared up at me, face pale and eyes wide, lips trembling with fear.

“I only wanted the book,” he gasped.

“It wasn’t yours,” I answered, and I kicked the bastard to death.

Dan Reams had no family to pass the book on to. He was the last of them all.

His book is here now, with me, tucked in amongst the good and the bad, just as we all are.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural

3:00 AM January 1, 1931

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Katrina von Epp was wicked.

I’ve known a fair few to practice magick, and most of them I counted as my friends.

This was not the case with Katrina.

There was a foul streak through her, from the time she could walk to the last breath she drew.

I’ve no quarrel with someone using their skills to earn a bit of coin. Or more than a bit of coin, for that matter. When Katrina put her magick to making money, I wished her the best.

When she started helping others harm and murder the innocent, well, that’s when my attitude changed.

She, unlike most of her family, discovered my secrets. Katrina did so in the foulest of ways, sacrificing children plucked from the womb and devouring the souls of the unwitting.

It was early in 1840 when she came to me, seeking congress and wanting to conceive a child.

The feeling was far from mutual, and I sent her on her way.

Later that night, the first of the assassins came.

Dark creatures armed with blades who thought they could slip into my house.

My house, where I’ve prowled the halls for the better part of two centuries. Where the dead listen for intruders and where monsters are still barred behind doors not opened in decades.

I killed them all, their corpses twisting into smoke and slipping down between the wide pine floorboards.

Less than an hour later, at the striking of midnight, another came in. He was larger than the others, towering over me as I sat in my chair and looked up at him. He leered at me, salivating and whispering in Latin. Katrina had promised my flesh to him. He was going to drag my corpse into the kitchen and feast upon my living body for as long as I lasted.

When he came forward, I drew my knife and jointed the bastard. As he lay on the floor, dying and bleeding black blood, I asked him how he’d been summoned, and he told me of the book Katrina von Epp had acquired from Paris.

I paid her a visit a short time later. She was, to say the least, surprised.

That expression is on her face still, her head on the shelf alongside the book she’d used.

#books #horrorstories #supernatural

2:45 AM January 1, 1931

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Booksellers should know better.

The Von Epp family ran a successful bookstore for decades in the center of town. Eventually, through no fault of their own – not really – the business eventually failed. And while there were several members of the family who truly knew books, there were a few who paid them no mind.

These were the worst of them.

Karl von Epp fancied himself a collector, though he often bought facsimiles of the worst sort. I had no sympathy for him when he wasted his own money, but when he dipped into the family’s coffers, I often stepped in.

It was only a few months after the Whiskey Rebellion that his younger sister, Elsbeth, came to me and reported her brother’s acquisition of a haunted tome on the history of Charles and Mary. The dealer from whom her brother had purchased the book had told him it would bring the family good luck, and it would whisper the future to them.

Unfortunately for Karl, it did inform him of the future, but as to good luck, well, that’s really a matter of opinion.

He took to gambling because the book was telling him what would come to pass.

Karl’s winnings increased, and he and the book would disappear into Boston Towne.

Which is where the trouble started.

Karl took to spending more time in the city than he did minding the store, and while that worked out well for his sister – she ran the shop far better than he ever could – there was the growing fear that he was gambling with the family’s future.

One evening, he returned with his face still flush with the thrill of his victories. He spoke of the large quantity of monies he had won and how furious his defeated opponents had been.

The book failed to inform him the losers had followed.

I’d been visiting his sister Elsbeth at the store when Karl returned, and I was still there when the men came in.

They were armed with truncheons and knives.

Karl wet himself a split second before they attacked.

When the men moved on Elsbeth and myself, I took the fight to them. Three of the four died on my knife. I strangled the fourth.

The book is here, bound in a slipcase and muffled.

As it should have been in the first place.

#books #horrorstories

2:30 AM January 1, 1931

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The book argues.

I found the book shortly before the start of the Whiskey Rebellion, and at first, I thought the man who owned it was mad. Mind you, that didn’t bother me much, not since I’ve seen plenty of madness to go ‘round.

Still, he was holed up in a ramshackle hut off North Road with a fine view of the Hollow from his front door. His English was strange, his mannerisms curious, and when I saw him on a Monday morning, he was standing outside his hut and yelling at the book.

The volume was propped open against a stone, the title page facing the man, and the stranger was pointing his finger at it, telling it to shut up.

As I said, I first thought him mad. At second thought, however, I suspected he came from the Hollow and that perhaps the book did as well. If that were the case, the likelihood of the book actually speaking increased exponentially.

I was armed only with a walking stick at that point as I’d no desire to get in a fight of any sort. I was young, though, and foolish, and instead of leaving the man be, I called out to him to see what the matter was.

He saw me, growled, and charged.

It was not the response I’d expected.

In a heartbeat, I had my stick up and stepped aside as he rushed me. I brought the stick down once, hard on the back of his neck and sent him sprawling to the ground. He tried to get to his feet, drawing a knife from his boot as he did so. I told him to put it away, but the man ignored me and slashed at me.

I broke his wrist with the stick, and then, when he tried for the knife with his remaining hand, I crushed his temple with the stick’s iron end.

It was then that I heard the book.

It told me I shouldn’t have killed him.

It’s been saying that for over a century.

And the damned thing is saying it now.

I don’t bother telling it to shut up. That only makes it louder.

Instead, I open a fresh bottle of bourbon, pour myself a drink, and ask the book a simple question.

“Do you think I should have killed him?”

The outrage in its voice suits me just fine.

#books #horrorstories

1:59 AM January 1, 1931

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Some books are merely an annoyance.

The German opera book had been donated to the Cross Social Library. No one knows by whom or why, although I suspect it was done more as a way to harass the librarian than anything else.

The librarian at the time, Ms. Foster, wasn’t known for her personality. Or her kindness. Or anything, for that matter. She was a foul-tempered woman who worked at the library, making sure no one enjoyed the books they borrowed. She held onto the post for thirty-two years, and that was mostly because people were too afraid of arguing with her over the job. It paid enough for her to live in a small apartment above the tavern, and she ate her meals in the tavern, too. Unlike her, the tavernkeeper was a lover of literature, and I suspect it was he who donated the book.

The tavernkeeper, Heinrich Kalt, enjoyed opera, and so it would make sense that this book had come from him.

It also arrived at the library on the day he passed away from old age.

I’d been in the library, admiring some of the newer books, when Ms. Foster stormed out of her office, hands pressed against her ears. For a moment, there was silence, and then I heard it, the sound of a deep baritone singing in German.

The power of the voice shook the windows and rattled my teeth, and it was worth it.

Ms. Foster’s expression was one of utter dismay.

She stumbled toward me and spoke, although I admit I feigned ignorance of what she was saying. Eventually, she took me by the arm and dragged me outside.

“It’s on my desk,” she wailed, glancing worriedly at the library.

“What about your desk?”

“There is a book in German on my desk,” she snapped, eyes alight with anger. “I need you to remove it, Duncan Blood, and find something to do with the damned thing before I burn it and the whole library down around it.”

With a nod, I went in and collected the book, which went silent as soon as I touched it.

“Take it home,” she ordered. “I don’t want to see it again.”

I nodded, tucked the book under my arm and went home. Every so often, I take it out, open the pages, and listen as Heinrich sings.

#books #horrorstories