Stories from the Sentinel: October 1874

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She was peculiar.

Annie Smith had always been a strange individual.

When she was born, she came out chewing on what remained of her twin, and the doctor wasn’t certain if the blood she was awash in was her mother’s or her sister’s.

She had a tendency to eat her meat raw when she could get it, which was far more often than her parents liked.

By the time she was a young woman, she was entertaining several suitors from as far away as Connecticut and as close as Pepperell.

Her father chased them off.

She had, he once told me, a hungry look in her eye.

Unfortunately for the staff of the Sentinel, a great many pets vanished from Cross in September of 1874, and more than a few tongues were set to wagging because of it. Annie was seen speaking to those same animals, for she had a way with them. And, when she got them alone, she had her way with them.

At the end of September, her parents died. Her father shot her mother, and then he turned the pistol on himself.

Few of us were convinced of the murder/suicide of the elder Smiths. I especially didn’t believe it, since her parents’ tongues were missing when the bodies were found.

Within a week, a child from Pepperell vanished. By the end of ten days, a pair of babies were stolen off a train as it wound its way out of Boston, the mother found with her throat slit. One of Annie’s neighbors reported the sound of a cat screaming one October weekend, and the information was relayed to me.

When I reached the house, I kicked the damned door in.

I found her in the parlor, a look of surprise on her face.

The Colts roared and bucked in my hands, and the woman staggered back toward the hearth. In the embers of the fire, I saw the bones of children, and I pulled the triggers again.

Her guts were blown out, and she sagged to the floor.

For a moment, she knelt there, and then, with a smile, she pulled meat out of her own stomach and thrust it into her mouth.

I watched for a moment as she dug out the remnants of her evening meal and tasted them again, and then I blew her brains out.

When I left, I set fire to the house, and all of Cross came out to watch it burn.

#horror #fear #art

Stories from the Sentinel: 1874

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He was of the Hollow and mad.

The Soldier came stumbling out of the Hollow on a fine Spring day, screaming in a language none of us could understand. He was covered in blood and gore, and his body shook with that peculiar tremor that only a soldier can understand.

The man had seen too much, and it might well have been a mercy for him to have died before leaving the Hollow.

As it was, he didn’t.

A group of ladies from the Presbyterian Church had been out for a ride when they stumbled upon him, and they took it upon themselves to bring him into town.

He was brought to the doctor, where at least they were able to give him something to calm him for a bit. Unfortunately, the ladies discussed their discovery with everyone they met, and the men and women at the Sentinel had to scramble to contain the story.

They did a fine job of it, spinning a tale that made it seem as though he was an immigrant from Boston who had lost his way.

This was as far from the truth as one could get, and the ladies were adamant that they had found him.

They pressed the issue, and, with great effort, they managed to get into the doctor’s office just as the Soldier was coming out of the thickest part of his sedation. One woman, Mrs. Madeline Ruth, put a calming hand on his shoulder and lost her index and middle fingers.

The Soldier had bitten them clean off, and no one was able to get them out of his mouth before he swallowed them, bones and all.

I was called in at that point, and the ladies were finally convinced that they should forget the Soldier ever existed.

I brought him home and did what I could for him, but it wasn’t much. He lived in a small hut on an equally small island in Blood Lake, and he screamed every day for twelve more years.

When the ravens told me he was silent, I rowed out and checked on him, but the Soldier was dead. There wasn’t a mark on him, and he was propped upright against a tree, staring into the sunrise.

All of his fingers were gone, chewed down to naught but nubs.

The bones were scattered at his feet, and there was a broad, peaceful smile on his bloody, bearded face.

Well, at least he died happy.

#horror #fear #art

Disaster and Calamity: Loss

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Flashback to 10/18/19

Disease and disaster are never easy to overcome. Invariably, we lose something of ourselves.

In 1912, this was driven home when a strange illness afflicted residents of Elm Street and only Elm Street. Seven people came down with the disease. Rather, seven young men between the ages of 18 and 23.

The young men lived in a pair of boarding houses, each across the street from the other. On Saturday, the men woke up, prepared to go to work, and ate their morning meals. They were, by all accounts, hale and hearty at seven in the morning. By 7:30, all were struck low, screaming and clawing at their faces.

Of the seven men, only one of them, Alexander Keel, survived the experience. While his unfortunate co-victims died screaming in agony, Alexander took the drastic step of cutting his entire face off.

Surprisingly, he survived the massive shock to his system through the valiant efforts of the local Red Cross and a pair of doctors who had learned their trade fighting the Indian Wars. Eventually, when he was well enough to communicate again, Alexander was asked why he had mutilated himself.

His answer was simple and to the point.

“Better alive mutilated than dead and whole.”

I would have to agree.

Disaster and Calamity: Inferno

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Flashback to 10/17/19

In all honesty, I thought Jonathan Coffin had died in 1867 when fire tore through the small home he kept on an island in Blood Lake. Part of my reason for this belief was the length of time in which the fire burned: 72 years.

It was a smokeless, terrible fiend which could not be approached for fear of death. I forbade any attempts to examine the flames and threatened the Cross Branch of Miskatonic University with several lawsuits (which, it turns out, is the best way to repel any interest they might have in a subject).

On a warm day in October, I noticed that the fire no longer burned on what had become, not surprisingly, known as Fire Island by some of Cross’ less than imaginative residents.

As soon as I discovered the absence of flames, I set sail for the island and saw immediately that there were other intrepid investigators as well. I later learned that they were graduate students from Miskatonic, whose curiosity drove them forward.

It also cost them their lives.

I was pulling into the lee of the island when I heard gunshots. By the time I reached the students, I found all five of them dead, and Jonathan Coffin sitting in front of his home.

Luckily, Jonathan recognized me, and he allowed me to approach. I asked him where he had been for the past seven decades, and he shrugged.

“Don’t know,” he replied, “but it was hotter ‘n Hell.”

Well, I suppose he was right about that.

Stories from the Sentinel: 1872

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Possession can happen to the best of us.

This was not the case with the Widow Claudette Joyce.

She was a wretch of a human being, and despite her wearing the black of a widow, she was more than pleased the day her husband, Jack, blew his brains out in front of her.

He had left her with a tidy sum. Enough to keep her comfortable into her golden years. He had made certain, however, that her own burial plot was on the other side of the cemetery from his.

Jack needn’t have worried.

It was the Widow’s habit to have her footman harness the horse to the dog-cart, and then, she would take it out to North Road. Once there, she proceeded to race along the road until the horse was foaming at the mouth, his eyes rolling in his head.

On more than one occasion, she nearly ran a person down, and I suspect she was responsible for at least one boy’s death in 1871.

I was returning from a late dinner with a friend one evening, and I saw the Widow sitting atop the stonewall, looking out into the depths of the Hollow. Neither the horse nor the dog-cart was anywhere to be seen, and it was curious to see the woman without them.

Keeping a fair distance back, I called out to her, and she turned and smiled at me.

The Widow was not herself.

“Duncan,” my sister said, her voice strained against the harsh vocal cords of the Widow. “You’ve grown up.”

It took a moment for me to speak. “I have.”

She smiled, and despite the wretchedness of the Widow’s features, it was my sister’s smile which shined upon me.

“I don’t like this woman,” she said after a moment. “She’s foul.”

“That she is.”

“She thinks a great deal of herself.”

I nodded. “I’m not surprised.”

She turned away and looked into the Hollow. “I’m trapped here.”

I remained silent.

She shook her head. “Beaten and murdered, and I still can find no peace.”

A smile formed on her lips again. “I love you, brother, dear.”

I went to answer, and Widow Joyce screamed.

I was covered in a fine mist of blood a moment later, my sister having exploded out of the Widow’s chest.

As the body toppled over the wall and into the Hollow, I wondered why my sweet sister was condemned to Hell.

#horror #fear #art

Stories from the Sentinel: 1870

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Thomas Moore didn’t believe a word the Sentinel printed.

He should have left the stories alone.

Thomas’ daughter, May, had married into the Coffin family in ’45. By 1868, Thomas was living with them and causing Allan Coffin no small amount of grief. His father-in-law was, by nature, it seemed, a cantankerous son of a bitch who couldn’t leave well-enough alone.

In 1869, Thomas learned about a fairy ring where more than a few wayward strangers had vanished, and he wanted to investigate it himself. When he sought information from the library, he was told that no such stories existed. Adamant that they did, he stomped off to the Sentinel and demanded the knowledge he sought.

They granted him access willingly – he wasn’t the first person to throw such a fit – and he was furious when there was nothing to confirm what he had heard.

From that point on, Thomas Moore was hell-bent to learn the truth.

For a full year, the staff at the newspaper was one step ahead of the old man. In January of 1870, they slipped, and he got the jump on them.

Thomas learned of a dog wandering along North Road. A dog that called out to people by name and traded insults with them.

Ecstatic that he was about to learn the truth, he rushed out of the house and made his way to North Road. Allan Coffin was out working on clearing some deadfall away from the barn when May told him what had happened.

Rather than chasing after him, Allan came to me, and I sent him home to his family.

I had a better chance alone than with company. Especially when I wasn’t sure what might be waiting.

I needn’t of worried.

Thomas Moore’s body was stretched out on North Road, his eyes wide and his mouth agape. I don’t know how he was killed, but I know whoever did it lifted his scalp and removed the crown of his skull. His brain had been scraped out, and the January wind whistled around the cavity.

I stood there for a few moments, then I hooked a tether around the man’s ankles, tightened it, and began to drag him back towards Coffin Farm. To my left, on the stonewall, was a small terrier. Its tail thumped happily, and its tongue lapped at Thomas’ brains splattered around its muzzle.

#fear #horror #art

Stories from the Sentinel: 1869

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He was left alone with madness.

Abraham Zephyr had worked on the Cross Sentinel since its founding. He had the distinct ability to discern the truth of a situation and to create the finest, subtlest lies to hide it behind. Not a single story of his was ever called into question. No doubts were ever raised.

If Abraham Zephyr wrote the story, then the Sentinel’s readers felt comforted.

To this day, the cause of his illness is shrouded. His subsequent madness after the incident left him bereft of the ability to tell us.

I know that he had gone out for a walk, and nothing more.

He was not investigating a story, following up a lead, or convincing a witness that they hadn’t really seen a giant feasting on their sheep.

No, Abraham had risen, dressed, eaten his breakfast, drank his customary two cups of coffee, and informed his housekeeper he was taking his morning constitutional. So, with cane in hand, he had set out for North Road.

Abraham was no fool.

He would not have walked close to Hollow, nor would he have investigated anything peculiar. At least he wouldn’t have done so alone.

Several people saw him along the road, and there was word that he might have been headed toward either the Black Farm or Coffin’s. He was well-known at both.

Neither of those families saw him, and he would not have trod along Honor’s Path and risked an attack.

So, what happened to my old friend?

There is only one small clue, and that was discovered at the old Cross Cemetery.

He was found wandering the road not far from it, and when I went to search for someone to punish, I went into the cemetery where some of my less than noble kin lie buried.

I found Abraham’s cane plunged nearly a foot into the earth in front of an unmarked stone, and it set a chill in my stomach.

The stone marked my Uncle Abel’s plot, and not a blade of grass grew upon that cursed man’s grave. He had been a bastard, and I’d used a hammer to shatter his skull when I was thirteen.

I’ll come back after dinner with a shovel, just to see how much of him’s grown back, and learn how much work I’ll have to do.

#horror #fear #art

Stories from the Sentinel: 1868

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The Hollow is never safe.

Behind even the most innocent of sights lurks a darkness best left unplumbed.

In 1868, a trio of young men from Nashua, New Hampshire made their way into Cross. Who knows how they heard about our town, or why they bothered to come when they did, but that is neither here nor there.

They came into Cross, followed North Road to the stonewall separating it from the Hollow, and decided it would be best to go over the wall and into the Hollow.

It was, of course, a poor decision.

One of the young men made it out of the Hollow and over the wall, crashing into a carriage driven by Pastor Vincent Elwood, newly arrived to Cross. He was dismayed by the young man’s story, and the fact that the man could stand there, his skin flayed from his body, and recount what had occurred.

The young man died a few moments after finishing his tale, and it was with this skinless corpse that the pastor drove pell-mell into town.

As some of the townsfolk tried to calm the pastor, Julius Rex, one of the senior writers at the Sentinel, set out for the Hollow.

I wish he had stopped to get me.

I found Julius’ hack on North Road, but there was no sign of the newspaperman.

With my Colts in my hands, I slipped into the Hollow and followed the bloody tracks of the young man who had escaped. They led back to a small copse of young fir trees, and it was there that I found the seamstress.

Three bodies lay cast aside to her left, clothing, and belongings to the right. In front of her, spread out on the ground, was a patchwork quilt the size of which could easily cover a giant. As I watched, she stitched Julius’ hide into place.

Her movements were quick and deft, not a single stitch out of place. I counted at least thirty skins, and I suspected she might need more. She looked like a woman with a purpose.

The wind shifted, and she paused, her nostrils flaring as she looked over at me.

Her lips curled into a snarl, and she vanished. Quilt and all.

Why she didn’t try and claim me for her quilt, I don’t know, but I’m thankful all the same.

I think I would have had a hell of a time killing her.

#horror #fear #art

Stories from the Sentinel: 1867

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I was sweet on her.

Genevieve Marsh was a bright young woman, and I counted myself lucky when she smiled at me. Mind you, I looked little more than a young man of sixteen or seventeen, not exactly the age to inspire ideas of romance in such an individual.

My appearance would change shortly after the autumn of 1870, but at that time, well, few outsiders could believe me capable of doing anything more than bringing in the cows.

Genevieve was originally from Concord, New Hampshire, and she came to Cross as so many of the writers on the Sentinel did: by way of tragedy.

When she settled in Cross and found work at the Sentinel, she began by following up stories along North Road. I would see her, and occasionally she would stop in for a cup of tea, always marveling at my solitary existence on the farm. She even expressed dismay when she learned about how I had fought in the War of the Rebellion.

After one such conversation, she told me there had been word of a child crying out along the border of North Road and Gods’ Hollow, and I told her it would be wise to avoid the area for a spell. She knew how dangerous it was, but she felt a responsibility when it came to investigating rumors of injured children.

I argued against it, but she was insistent.

I attempted to accompany her, but she would not allow it. I feigned acceptance, and after I bade her farewell, I hastily strapped on the Colts and loaded the Spencer. By the time I made it to the road, I could just see her moving to the stonewall. As she placed her hands upon it, the stones grabbed hold of her.

I don’t know what type of beast it was, only that it wrenched her right arm out of its socket and stuffed it into its maw. Her screams shook the trees to their roots, and I took careful aim with the Spencer.

The first two rounds ricocheted off the thing’s head. The third took her squarely in the temple and blew her brains out.

The creature cursed at me for spoiling the meat and dragged her corpse into the Hollow.

I watched it slouch away into the forest, then I turned and slouched my way home.

#horror #fear #art

Disaster and Calamity: The Storm

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Flashback to 10/11/19

It lasted for three days and kept all Cross indoors. Rain was driven against the windows and the doors, and the wind blew hard enough to collapse roofs and blow away lean-tos.

When the storm ended at the stroke of two on Thursday afternoon, a rider was sent for me. After listening to the boy, I saddled my horse and rode hard into town. There, at the Historical Society, I met with several of the members who confirmed the truth of the boy’s statement, and then directed me to a small field off Olive Street.

With the Cross Militia forming a perimeter around the field, I alone entered it to examine the storm’s unwanted harvest.

Stretched out in the grass, lay a cluster of dead men. Who they were, where they had come from, and why the storm had cast them into Cross were all questions that would never have any answers.

Over the next few days, more bodies would be discovered, but singly or in pairs. All were unknown.

As we gathered them up, we noticed the men had been killed by bullets and by shrapnel. There were powder burns and even saber cuts. By the time the bodies were buried on one of the islands in Blood Lake, I was certain that the storm had originated from somewhere in Gods’ Hollow, and that for an unknown – and unknowable – reason, the dead had been torn from a battlefield in one world only to be deposited in ours.

We’ve not had another storm like it, and I have a terrible feeling that we’re due for another soon.