January 8, 1931

The Great Depression began with the crash of the New York Times Stock Exchange in October of 1929, and no place in the western world was left untouched by the occurrence.

This included the town of Cross, Massachusetts.

While the pain of the financial collapse was not felt as keenly in Cross as in other places, it was nonetheless felt.

Mr. Otto Jones, formerly of Idaho, moved to Cross in 1930 to live with his sister on her small farm. Otto was a kind and generous man, and an avid hunter. His ability find game kept not only himself and his sister supplied with meat, but some of their neighbors as well.

Like his sister, Otto was a stranger to the town, its customs, and the places one should not tread.

While he knew that Gods’ Hollow was not a place to trespass in, he did not consider hunting to be trespassing.

In January of 1931, Otto realized great flocks of Canadian geese would spend days in Gods’ Hollow. He knew that he could fire rounds quickly enough to bring down a fair few and that the meat from those birds would go a long way to helping some of the poorer families stretch out their dinners.

On January 7, Otto went to Gods’ Hollow and shot dozens of birds. That evening, he and his sister plucked and dressed them, then on January 8, they delivered them to their Church in Pepperell. The fresh meat was gratefully received, and the birds were distributed to those families in need.

The first person who ate of the flesh was the local pastor in Pepperell when he had a bit of it for his afternoon lunch.

He was dead by four o’clock.

By the time the church realized the meat was poisonous, 19 people had died.

Remorse claimed Otto, and he blew his brains out in Gods’ Hollow that same evening.

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December 29, 1865

     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

     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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What We Bring to the Table

     We are a collection of our experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Each of these informs our decisions, both conscious and subconscious, and when we create, they are the subtle currents beneath our words.

     With this in mind, we should think about who and what we are when we write.

     Your experiences, the sum of who you are at the moment that you begin to write, these are what you bring to the table.

     Don’t be afraid to place them all out to be seen. Place your childhood fears in one section, your accomplishments in another. Have everything laid out where you can see it and reflect upon it. And sometimes, that reflection will be the most difficult aspect of writing.

     It takes courage to examine yourself, which is why so few of us do it – myself included. There are dark corners within the human heart that none of us wish to probe, but to be a better writer, to be the best writer you can be, well, that requires us to dig a little deeper. To drag those painful memories and experiences out into the open, and to lay them out on the table.

     When you have your table set, and you’re prepared to write, look at yourself, see what will work and what will not, and don’t be afraid to delve deeper into your psyche.

     There is greatness in what you have experienced, in what has molded you.

     Bring it to the table and create.

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December 14, 1895

     Billy Neville left Cross at the age of 13 aboard his father’s ship, Cross Winds. The ship sank off the coast of Sumatra in 1875 with the loss of all hands.

     Billy’s mother was devastated when news reached her of the fate of her husband and son, and she went mad with grief. Her brother, William – after whom Billy was named – promptly placed his sister in an asylum, collected the insurance money from the loss of the ship, and retired to the house that had once belonged to his sister and brother-in-law.

     Billy’s mother slowly died of malnutrition and neglect, but William invested the insurance money wisely and lived comfortably as the years passed.

     Unbeknownst to William, his nephew Billy was still alive. The boy was rescued by Batak warriors on their way to battle against the Dutch forces in Sumatra. For years Billy sought to return home, traveling with a small monkey, his sole friend.

     Eventually, Billy found a ship to work on, and he made his way across the Pacific, moving ever closer to California. When he reached the States, Billy and his pet traveled across the country. For years he had sent letters to his mother, but never had he received an answer.

     Fear grew in him that something terrible had happened to her, and when he arrived in Cross on December 14, 1895, Duncan Blood told Billy what had transpired, and Billy and his monkey went home to see Uncle William.

     Billy and his pet lived at the home for another 42 years, but his Uncle William vanished that December night.

     Some of the neighbors recalled seeing Billy the next morning, bringing a sea chest out to his uncle’s wagon, the monkey’s small paws dyed a darker stain of brown as the creature sat upon his shoulder.

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December 13, 1903

     Marceline Leon’s imagination was terrible to witness.

     Her dreams were the stuff of nightmares, and if she told them to you, in her soft, sweet voice, you would wish she hadn’t.

     Born in 1895 to a French family which consisted of the mother, father, three daughters, and four sons, on the outskirts of town. Marceline spoke both French and English passably well, enough to terrify the listener.

     Her words crafted images, and breath breathed life into the visions.

     Between 1898 and 1902, six people were hospitalized, four more placed in sanitariums, and at least three committed suicide, all because of what Marceline spoke of.

     She would whisper into people’s ears and pour out her fears. In a matter of moments, those fears would become realized.

     Goblins and trolls, giants and wicked kings. The stuff of fables and myths, they would vanish once blood had been drawn.

     On December 13th, 1903, Marceline screamed from her room at the top of the stairs, howling about the presence of a great and dark goblin beneath her bed.

     When her parents reached the room, Marceline and her two sisters were gone. Blood was splashed across the walls, and trails of the same lead beneath the bed, vanishing into the shadows.

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December 12th, 1872

     Born on January 1, 1855, James Madison Whitmore never felt as though he belong fully in Cross. His parents were both active participants in the First Congregationalist Church, and they attempted to instill in James the same faith and religious convictions they held.

     James, however, was fascinated with tales of the orient. When he read of Russia and the power it held, his interest in the world far from the borders of Cross only increased.

     He was a remarkably intelligent child, and as he grew older, whatever he put his mind to, he accomplished. By the age of 10, James could speak Latin, Greek, French, and Portuguese. His parents, hoping that their son might one day take up the mantle of missionary work, allowed him to study Russian and Arabic.

     Concerned with his son’s physical safety, Mr. Whitmore employed the services of several combat hardened veterans of the Civil War to train his son in the use of firearms and swords. Not surprisingly, James became an expert shot, and was undefeatable when armed with a cavalry saber.

     On his 17th birthday, without a word to anyone, James Madison Whitmore vanished. His sword and a few belongings were missing, but there was no letter or explanation of any kind.

     His parents believed, firmly, that James was in the Orient, proclaiming the word of Jesus Christ to those who had not yet heard it.

     On December 12, 1872, a letter arrived from James, the envelope bearing any number of curious stamps upon it. His parents brought it to church, where they hastily opened it and showed the photograph James had included. Happily, his parents started to read it to the congregation, and his mother and several others fainted moments later.

     “My dearest mother and father,” James wrote, “I am in the employ of the Khan, and have executed 300 men, women, and children to date.”

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