Gods’ Hollow Journal, January 24, 1890: Death

There is no simpler way to put it.

Today saw more death than I would have liked, and our numbers have been cut down to twenty-one.

We came upon a small, open area ringed with trees and the sweet smell of the ocean. Seabirds called from the sky, and the sun shined upon us. All was right and perfect in the world for a few moments, and then it changed.

The creature sprang at us from the ground, camouflaged and nearly indistinguishable from the soft grasses. Even now, as I write this, I am unsure as to how large it might have been, or what it might have been.

All I know is that it was ravenous.

Huge hands reached out and snatched up whomever it could grasp, stuffing it into its maw. I glimpsed teeth and tongues and things for which I have no name but which will surely feed my nightmares for years to come.

No sooner had it closed its mouth than it opened it and spat out the bones of the victim.

There was no salvation for any once that mouth was shut.

We shot at it, stabbed it. We attempted to set the damned creature on fire, but nothing worked. Even as we fell back and sought a way to escape, it continued feasting upon us.

In the end, we did not defeat it. Nor did we even escape from it. Instead, it ate its fill and lost interest in us.

Without a sound, it turned its back and vanished into the earth, leaving us to pile high the bones of our dead as a warning to any who might pass this way after us.

As we left this field of death, I heard my mother’s voice on the wind and heard how our suffering pleased her.

One death is not enough for her.

Not nearly enough.

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Gods’ Hollow Journal, January 23, 1890: Hubris

For the briefest of moments, I thought we had stumbled into Cross.

I was surprised and stunned, a bitter joy welled up within me, and I prepared to call out to the survivors that we had arrived, and then I stopped.

As my comrades gathered around me, forming a tight circle, looks of concern appeared on every face. I confess it did on mine as well.

There was something fundamentally wrong about the place in front of us. It wasn’t that we were in a cemetery. I am too familiar with death to find it ever disturbing in that sense. It wasn’t the snow or the cold wind rustling the trees around us.

All these were common to us.

It was only when the wind died down that I realized what it was.

I heard the dead, and I was not the only one.

Beneath our feet, the dead screamed and begged. The frozen ground shuddered, and some of the grave markers moved. Among the begging and the screaming, I heard something else. Something far worse.

There were other voices. Dark and deep, they were occasionally hidden by the sound of digging and we all of us knew that creatures beneath the snow were coming for us. There was a hunger to their words, a hatred. They would not kill us quickly. Pain, I could tell, was as joyous to them as the act of killing was and we were their next targets.

We fell back the way we came, but we did so in good order, moving in groups in order to provide cover should we need it.

I can only say that I am thankful the creatures did not appear.

The Hollow has more horrors to offer us, I am sure.

But my Colts are ready, and the rage and sorrow for the loss of my son drives me forward, and in the end, I’ll kill anything that steps in my way.

And I’ll enjoy it.

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Gods’ Hollow Journal, January 22, 1890: Trapped

It was a cunning trap, one which would have claimed me had I not been called to the center of our small column moments before the storm struck.

We had come upon a curious contraption, one which looked as though it should have been on part of a train rather than sitting isolated in the woods in front of a small house. It was of fairly new construction, and the bright blue paint on its sides stood out in the pale morning light. We could smell the snow on the air, and we knew there was a storm coming.

Isaiah hastily gathered up the weak and the wounded, ushering them into the safety of this structure. It was then that the center of the column came under fire, and I rushed back to assist Bram with the securing of our flanks and our rear guard.

No sooner did I reach the middle than the storm hit. As per our custom, we hunkered down where we were to wait it out.

For almost an hour, the storm raged, more sound and fury than actual snow, but still, it kept us rooted to our spots.

Finally, when the air cleared and we could stand upright once more, we were pleased to see that the season was right and that we were still in the forest. Too often, we had come out of the storms to be in places entirely different.

Our pleasure was short-lived.

As we withdrew to the contraption in which Isaiah and the others had sought shelter, we came to a stop and gazed with dismay upon it. The paint was long gone, the wood weathered. Glass no longer remained in the frames, and there were trees growing where none had been before.

Wordlessly, I climbed into the confines and searched it. I found old signs of a battle. Spent cartridges and splintered wood. I also found a single word carved into the back wall.


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Gods’ Hollow Journal, January 21, 1890: Without Remorse

My mood is foul. I have lost my child, and though I knew him only for a matter of days, the agony is horrific.

My comrades here do not attempt to encourage a sense of false cheer. They too have lost. Some far more than myself. Bram lost his wife and four sons. Isaiah watched his own wife executed for the crime of protecting their daughter from the Tsar’s soldiers. The list, I am afraid, goes on.

I know that I will survive my grief. That will never be a question for me. I have lost a great many people I cared for, simply never a child. I did not, in all honesty, believe I could produce a child. Perhaps it is only with another who shares my curiously twisted heritage. Some perversity of nature which is, thankfully, exceptionally rare.

No, I do not ever doubt that I will survive grief.

It is others who perish when I grieve.

We were fired upon early this afternoon. Multiple rifles from a variety of locations. The unseen assailants killed three more of my comrades, bringing our strength down to sixty-eight. As my friends sought cover, I looked down at the dry ground and felt the wind at my back. From my knapsack, I removed flint and steel. Without a word, I struck it and watched with satisfaction as sparks leaped from the flint to the forest floor. Smoke curled up from oak leaves and I blew upon them, whispered to them, and watched the flames flourish, a physical manifestation of my anger and loss.

Within moments the fire raced down a long, thin break, built up and then, driven by the wind, sped towards our unseen enemy.

When we retreated to a safer course no bullets chased us, although the screams of the dying followed us for miles.

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Gods’ Hollow Journal, January 20, 1890: Loss

When we passed through the storm, the world was different. Strange. There was a smell to it that reminded me of Boston and New York City, London and Berlin. Odors reminiscent of industrialization and power, neither of which were comforting to me.

There were fences of a sort I had never seen before, boot tracks in the snow that caused the hackles on my neck to stand tall. We spread out, alert, and searching for an enemy we could not see but felt certain was near.

My son found them.

Rather, my son found what was left by them.

He was with several others, moving forward, fearless. In the stillness of the Hollow, I heard it. A soft, delicate click when Marcus stepped down. He raised his foot to see what it was, and the earth beneath his feet exploded with a hidden charge.

My son’s torso landed close to me, half his face missing, brain exposed, and his jaw trying to produce words for which there was no air. His remaining eye fixed on me and then the light of life left it.

I knelt beside the remains of my son, remembering what the reaper had told me.

How could I make peace with my son’s death?

How could any parent?

A fresh storm descended upon us, separating the living from the dead and denying me even the rough salve of burying my child.

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Gods’ Hollow Journal, January 19, 1890: Explanations?

The Hollow offers far more questions than it does answers.

We discovered the ditch shortly after we began our travels for the day.

Steam still rose from the bodies as we drew up on either side of them, and in a vain effort to see if any were still alive, several of us descended into the ditch. We searched for signs of life, but there were none. The steam was produced by the rapid cooling of their flesh.

Whatever had killed them had occurred within moments of our arrival, and we could not fathom what had done the deed. There were no marks on the dead. Not a single one. They were armed and well-equipped, a military unit similar to those put forth by both sides during the war between the states.

Yet there were no gunshot wounds, no bayonet marks. Nothing except limp bodies and faces frozen in terror.

Had they died of fright? I knew it was possible. Anything is possible, as the Hollow so easily proved, but what could have done it?

I was the last to climb out of the ditch, pausing to examine one last corpse. It was a young man, perhaps no older than twenty, and as I leaned close, I saw an image burned into his eyes.

It was of a great beast, its skin a deep red, and its seven eyes a curious silver. From its mouth extended a trio of long appendages, similar in shape and design as an octopus’. As I stared at the image, I felt a rumbling beneath my feet and the bodies writhed around me, as though preparing to rise up and whisper their deaths to me.

I hastened out of the ditch, and all of us scrambled away to a nearby hillock, where we could look down at what was occurring.

The bottom of the ditch deepened, the dirt of its walls first trickled, then cascaded down upon the bodies. Within moments, the corpses vanished as did the ditch. Nothing was left except freshly turned earth.

I don’t know which concerns me more: the fact that some beast slew the men, or that the Hollow decided to swallow the corpses whole.

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Gods’ Hollow Journal, January 18, 1890: Surprise

The attack came without warning, and from a place I had inspected myself only a few minutes prior.

From behind me, I heard the cry of some of my comrades and the firing of rifles. There was no screaming. Nothing more than the rattle of gunfire.

Marcus and I raced back to find a man seated on the ground, the bodies of six men and two women in front of him. As the wind blew his scent toward us, several around us vomited and fell back, unable to stand the stench. Even I, who had lived through the charnel houses of the war of secession, balked at that odor.

It was death at its worst. Death when a thousand bodies swelled and rotted in the evening twilight of a summer’s day.

And this stranger stank of it.

From his belt hung skulls and desiccated body parts. He paid us no mind as he looked upon the dead gathered around him.

As I drew my pistols, he raised his head, and I stiffened for a moment, then slid my Colts back into their holsters. He nodded and got to his feet.

“It was their time,” he said, his voice rolling out over us and pressing home the stench. “None can argue with that.”

Marcus started to raise his rifle, and I shook my head.

The man smiled at us. “Listen to your father, Marcus Blood, he has met my siblings before. He shall meet them again.”

The man’s smile faded as he looked upon my son. “Duncan, I would speak with you.”

Fear grew in my belly as I walked the short distance to the man.

“I have seen him in the Hollow for many years.” The man said gently. “His time has almost come. This is a warning I do not give to many. Make your peace.”

The man turned and left me, the bones rattling against him, and as I turned to face them, I found all their eyes on me, the same unspoken question in their minds.

“He is the reaper of the Hollow,” I told them. “All we can do is bury our dead.”

And so, with the terrible knowledge in my heart, we dug the graves and buried our dead.

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