July 29, 1938

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The room stank.

It was a cloying smell reminiscent of desperation and terror.

My footsteps rang out on the old wooden steps, and when I reached the table in the center of the room, I saw I was in an operating theater. It reminded me more of a school, though, and a closer look at the skeleton near the table – and the diagrams on the wall – showed the truth of this line of thought.

I was about to leave when my mother’s voice filled the theater.

“Do you know what this room is, Duncan?” Her words were a snarl, hatred dripping from every syllable, venom in each thought.

I didn’t answer as I took the first step toward the exit.

“This is where your children die.”

Her statement stopped me in my tracks, as I’m sure she knew it would.

“My children.”

It wasn’t a question.

I’d had a son once, so it was perfectly reasonable that other versions of myself would have fathered children along the way. Who knew how far into the future the Hollow threw this place or how far back. There were too many paths that line of thought could follow, and to do so would threaten my sanity.

It took me a moment to gather my thoughts, and it was only then that I realized she was speaking still.

“So many of them die screaming,” she was saying.

“I’m sure they do,” I said, biting off each word. I forced myself to take a step toward the exit.

When she spoke again, there was the faintest hint of surprise and disappointment in her voice.

“Where are you going?”

I didn’t answer.

“I want to tell you what happened,” she continued. “Are you a coward? You know, I believe I could scream like them if you like. I probably could mimic their little voices too.”

I knew what my mother was trying to do.

But I wasn’t going to be swayed.

I’d promised Patience.

My sister would set things right.

I straightened my back. “I’m sure you could,” I told my mother. “Just as I’m sure Patience will have a few words for all of you when she’s ready.”

There was the slightest hesitation before my mother spoke again. “She’s still here?”

I smiled. “Oh yes. And she’s waiting.”

“For what?!”

Smiling, I left the room without answering, and I enjoyed the growing panic in her voice.

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July 28, 1938

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“You have a fondness for dogs, Mr. Blood.”

“Aye, that’s a truth.”

My hands were on the butts of the Colts, thumbs on the hammers.

The knuckles on her hands whitened, and a low whine escaped from the throat of the hound. I kept my eyes locked on hers, and in turn, she didn’t look away.

“I’m going to kill this dog soon,” the woman said. “Just as soon as my husband returns. Neither of us expected to see you. We heard you were looking for your mutt, and we happened to find this one only this morning. We were, in fact, planning on butchering it later on and having one of its haunches for dinner this evening.”

“When is your man returning?”

“Soon,” she smirked. “I suspect he’ll run you through with that damned sword he’s always carrying, and I’ll be forced to listen to him crow about how right he was to wear it, but it will be worth it. Of that, I’m quite certain.”

“A sword won’t do much,” I stated.”

She laughed. “I know. But it will keep you in place, at least for a moment, and that will be long enough for me to get the shotgun out from under my settee. You know, Mr. Blood, you’re a bit older than most of those we see here. I would have thought someone with your age and experience wouldn’t have been so foolish as to be sentimental about a dog.”

“I’m sentimental about a great many things,” I replied. “They usually get someone killed.”

“Someone you care about?”

“No. Someone I couldn’t care less about. People like you.”

She opened her mouth, and I drew the Colts, the steel whispering against the leather, the hammers clicking into place. Before she could kill the dog, I put a pair of slugs through her mouth and blew her brains out across the wall.

The hound sprang past me, slammed into a man entering the room, and tore the man’s throat out. Blood sprayed across the walls, and the gentleman’s sword clattered uselessly to the floor. The man quivered, and his heels thumped on the floor for a moment before the dog stepped back, chewing noisily on the piece of flesh it had torn free.

“Good luck, Duncan Blood. I’d join you, but I feel a need to make a meal out of these two.”

I didn’t blame the dog. I’d do the same.

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July 27, 1938

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The clink of flatware on plates stopped when I stepped into the room.

Fifteen people sat around a long, rectangular table. A trio of well-dressed waiters stood off to one side, and eighteen sets of eyes fixed themselves upon me. A gamut of emotions flickered across their faces. I saw fear and shock, hatred and desperation.

In the end, all the emotions melded into one, and that was terror.

From what I could see, not a single one of those dining were armed.

Oh, they had their silverware and their dishes, but none of them looked as though they could wield the items in front of them as weapons.

None of them had the look, the one that said they’d do whatever it took to survive.

I drew my Colts, and one of the waiters began to speak.

I shot all three of them, quick shots to the chest that sent them tumbling into the wall, the heavy .44 caliber slugs tearing through flesh and bone to bury themselves in the horsehair plaster.

One of those at the table, a Japanese man, turned to the man on his left and hissed in Japanese, “How is he in here?”

Before the man could answer, I put a bullet into his forehead, splattering the questioner with blood and brains.

“Because I am,” I stated. I slipped the Colts back into their holsters as another man began to beg.

I shook my head, drew my knife, and opened it with a flick of the wrist.

“What do you want?” the Japanese man asked, his voice trembling as he removed his glasses.

“Nothing,” I told him. “Not a single damned thing.”

“He lies.” My mother’s voice came from the corpse of the man seated at the table. “He wants violence and death. Pain and suffering. He is Duncan Blood, and he will not know peace until he has murdered the world.”

“Not the world,” I told her. “Just you.”

The corpse didn’t speak again, or, if it did, the words were lost beneath the screams of the others in the room.

I cut my way through them, butchering them whether they sat and begged or tried to run.

I wasn’t there to murder, but I sure as hell was there to kill.

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July 26, 1938

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The whisper of steel against steel was no deterrent.

The house was madness, a glimpse inside the twisted worlds in which my mother and all her iterations lived.

Stairs that led up invariably opened onto basements. Windows looked into the earth doors collapsed in upon themselves. The farther I traveled, the more the house tried to trap me.

I had given up searching for Turk. I would find him when I wasn’t looking, and so, I wasn’t looking.

I was hunting.

I stepped into a large room and found four men in the middle of practicing with fencing foils. They turned their attention to me. None of us spoke.

I dropped my rucksack to the floor, left the Colts in their holsters, and drew my pruning knife.

The men chuckled, saluted with their swords, and advanced.

There is a tremendous difference between a duel between gentlemen and a fight.

I’m neither a swordsman nor a gentleman. I’m a fighter and a killer.

Killing’s a chore, one that I do well.

The men were quick, stabbing and slashing with their swords.

But I can take pain.

The first stab pierced my left shoulder, and as the man tried to draw the blade out, I slammed my fist onto the thin steel, bending it out of shape and forcing him to let go. As he stepped back, attempting to retreat to the wall where a great many other foils waited, I opened him from one side of his belly to the other. Blood soaked his fencing gear, and he scrambled to catch hold of his intestines as they spilled out onto the floor.

He failed, and then one of the other men got tangled in one of the coils, slipped, and fell.

The remaining two men lost their nerve and tried to flee.

I didn’t let them.

I hamstrung one man, sending him sprawling to the floor, and then I caught the fourth with the tip of the blade, which dug into the bone of his arm, spinning him around. He lashed out with his sword, missed, and died as I leaned in and tore his throat out with my teeth.

The man slumped to the floor as I finished off the hamstrung man and the other who had yet to free himself from the tangled knot of innards.

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July 25, 1938

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I followed the sound of barking into a hall of death.

Neither Turk nor any other dog was in the long hall that I stepped into.

I found myself alone with a long line of display cases, each of them holding the charred remains of a man. Attached to each case was a bronze plaque that noted the day, year and time of the resident’s death. Along either wall were rows of jars, and closer inspection showed that these too were marked. Some of them stretched as far back as 1711, and they all had one thing in common.

They were all of them me.

It had been strange enough when I entered the house and discovered the remains of the alternate versions of myself hanging, gutted and waiting to be eaten. It was stranger still to see how long these people had been hunting me.

How long my mother had been guiding them.

I’d not heard from her in some time, and while I didn’t mind the absence of her grating voice, it did add an extra layer of discomfort. I’d killed a few versions of my mother, and I hope to kill a few more before I eventually go the way of all flesh, but the sight of all of the dead was a stark reminder of the focus and determination of this little group of apostles my mother had gathered to her.

Part of me wanted to destroy the gathered remains, but I chose not to.

My sister, Patience, had been adamant regarding her desire to destroy the house, and so I would refrain from doing any more damage than absolutely necessary.

I poked around the hall for a short time, hoping that there might be some storage or display of the weapons the other Duncans had used.

There wasn’t.

I still had plenty of ammunition for the Colts, my knife was sharp, and I’d killed more than a few with my bare hands.

I crossed the length of the hall to the exit, paused, and raised a hand in farewell to the dead gathered before me.

I wouldn’t avenge them all, but I’d keep stacking bodies all the same.

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July 23, 1938

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I’m still not sure what in the hell he was wearing.

When I entered the room, still tired from butchering the wounded the day before, the man looked at me with surprise apparent in his eyes. For a split second, we stared at each other, and then he slapped the visor down over his eyes, adjusted the nozzle he was holding and sprayed a foul liquid at me.

The instant the fluid struck me, my clothes smoldered, and my skin burned. I’d suffered the effects of gas during the Great War, and that sensation was the only one I could compare the new burn to.

It was decidedly unpleasant.

What was stranger still was the fact that the nozzle and hose were attached only to the mask he wore.

I drew my Colts on the run, throwing furniture aside and into the path of the liquid.

Everything was destroyed by it.

It was as though acid was being vomited by the man.

That was proven a moment later when I put a round through his chest.

The bullet exploded out his back, and wherever his blood struck the walls, it ate through the plaster and whatever else it came into contact with.

My own skin struggled to recover from the injuries, and so I put another slug into his gun.

His muffled scream forced a spurt of acid from the nozzle, and acid pumped out of his belly. It burned his skin, bringing up great blisters that popped and oozed yellowish pus. He sank to the floor, unable to move as his acidic blood ate through his body and into the floor.

The man was game, though, I’ll give him that. Despite the pain, he was in and the fact that he was undeniably dying, he tried to spray me with the acid once more.

I let him get it into position before I shot him in the throat.

He tumbled onto his back, legs kicking spasmodically as his heart pumped out the last of his life onto the floor.

I shook my head, reloaded the Colts, and looked around to see if there was a sewing kit or a fresh shirt.

Mine, like the dead man on the floor, had seen better days.

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July 22, 1938

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I hate trap doors.

The damned floor gave out underneath me and dropped me into a hell of a spot.

There were at least a dozen men in the room, and while they weren’t packing any sort of firearms, they were soldiers, and they weren’t afraid.

Not of death, and not of me.

Which, I suppose, was fine because I wasn’t either.

It took me about a half-second to take stock of the situation. The men were young, healthy, and interrupted in the middle of several games of pool. A few of the soldiers held pool cues, and in the space of a single breath, the men acted.

They rushed me as I drew both Colts, some of the men pausing to snatch up pool balls or cues.

There was no false bravado from them. For a moment, all that was audible in the large room was the thud of footsteps on the floor.

But only for a moment.

The Colts roared, and some of the men went down while the others reached me. They swarmed over me even as I pulled the triggers, killing those closest to me. One man leaned in close as my right Colt went dry, and I bit the nose clean off his face.

Even then, the silence remained unbroken.

Pool cues were broken across my head and back, and one of the bastards managed to shove one clear through my stomach. I took hold of the blood-slick wood, held it, and gouged his eyes out before someone hit me upside the head with a ball. With my vision swimming, I dug my pruning knife out and set to work on anyone foolish enough to get too close.

At some point, I lost track of time, and before I knew it, I alone was alive in the room.

I pulled the broken stick from my belly and got to my feet. As my body stitched itself back together, I saw that more men had come to assist the first I had come upon.

I counted thirty-nine dead, and by the blood trails out of the room, there were more than a few wounded as well.

I wiped my guns down, reloaded them, and spit fragments of teeth onto the floor. Teeth took longer to grow back, and they hurt like hell when they did.

I confess I was in a bad mood, and so I went looking for the wounded.

I wanted them to know just how angry I was.

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July 21, 1938

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We drank all night.

Her name is Patience Blood, and she is my older sister.

Neither of us is certain whether my father – from my world – is her father or whether we are merely siblings by way of the convoluted timelines and realities which converge within the Hollow. Regardless of the how, we are both satisfied with the what.

We are kin.

Close to dawn, she opened a door that led into a bedroom and pointed out a sleeping man. He was dressed in hospital garb, seated in a cane-back wheelchair, and his hospital bed was behind him, undisturbed.

“Who’s that?” I asked as she handed me a fresh stein of beer.

“My husband,” she answered, lighting a fresh cigarette. “I’m not quite certain what they’ve done to him, but I told them if he dies, then I’ll tear this house down, brick by brick.”

I took a drink, raised an eyebrow and asked, “How did they respond?”

She shrugged, closed the door, and we returned to our seats. “They leave us be. Occasionally, I hear them creeping around outside the door, and I go out and have a word or two.”

“Hm. And what do they say?”

“Not much,” she grinned. “They yell for a moment or two.”

“Why’s that?”

“I throw them out the window across the hall. It’s a good five stories down,” Patience told me. “None of them survive.”

“How long will your man live like that?”

Sadness flitted across her face. “Too long, I’m afraid.”

“How long has it been?”

She frowned and considered the question. “Eighty-three years or so.”

We were quiet for a short time, and then she spoke again.

“I miss him,” she stated. “We could talk with one another. He didn’t mind me not growing old while he did.”

“How long can he live like that?”

“Too long,” she answered and finished her cigarette. She tossed the remnant into the fire before she lit another. “When you find Turk, you’ll find the speaking system they use. Let me know.”

“I will,” I told her. “Shall I come back for you?”

She shook her head. “No. I’ll kill my man and then destroy the house. I think I’ve been here long enough, and I know for damned sure that this place has.”

I nodded, raised my stein, and took a drink. There was nothing for me to say.

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July 20, 1938

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The song was bold, the singer proud.

Her voice woke me as the words rolled down the hallways and reverberated off the walls. I felt no need to draw the Colts.

I could sense no magic in the tune, no malice in the singer.

Still, I’d learned too many lessons the hard way in my long life.

I checked the loads of the pistols, loosened them in the holsters, and made certain the pruning knife was at hand. With that done, I took a drink of water to slake my thirst and went in search of the singer. I was hopeful, perhaps foolishly so, that the singer might be able to provide me with some directions as to how to reach my dog so Turk and I might leave the house and the damned Hollow all together.

The woman was only a few doors down, and when I knocked upon the closed door, she paused long enough in her singing to call me in.

The doorknob turned easily, and I stepped into the room.

She was a handsome woman, a cigarette in one hand and a stein of beer in the other. Her right leg was crossed over her left in a decidedly unladylike fashion, and I took a liking to her immediately.

She gave me a nod, waved towards a chair and asked, “Do you want beer, Duncan Blood?”

“Will it kill me?” I asked, sitting down.

She snorted, winked, and replied, “Only if you’re a damned sight weaker than all your kin.”

“I should do fine then.”

She nodded, and a stein appeared on the small table beside my chair. Beads of condensation formed on the stein as I lifted it to my lips and took a long draught of the sweet brew.

The singer tapped the ashes of the cigarette onto the floor, narrowed her eyes and stated, “You’re going the wrong way.”

I waited, and she continued a heartbeat later. “You’re looking for Turk.”

I nodded.

“Don’t,” she said. “The house doesn’t want you to find him. Don’t look for him, and the house will look for something else to do.”

“The house is alive?”

She snorted. “Of course it is. Damned place is having fits with you tromping around inside it. Just walk, Duncan, and you’ll find Turk.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes. Now drink your beer and light your pipe,” she said. “It’s not often I get to visit with family.”

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July 19, 1938

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This place is a warren.

I’ve not seen a set of stairs for nearly a day, and at first, I thought I’d be pleased.

I’m not.

I’m completely turned around. There aren’t any windows on this level, and every five minutes, it seems, there’s a turn to take. Either left or right.

Several times, I’ve doubled back only to find myself in a new corridor. Everything changes as soon as I turn a corner.

I took an apple out of my rucksack and was eating it when I came upon a curiosity. Five paths stretched out before me. There was nothing different from any of them as far as I could see. So, I stood in the center, finished my apple and took the far left. It was as good as any.

I’d not gotten much more than a dozen steps down the hall when it curved sharply to the right and opened onto a small room. I’m not sure which surprised me more, the room or the woman sitting on the desk.

She held a death mask in her hand, and when she looked up, she didn’t seem overly concerned to see me. I opened my mouth to speak, and she placed the mask upon her own face.

In a blur of motion and with a hideous grown, she transformed in front of me.

The body of a large man tore through her clothes, and her hair tumbled down from her head as her skin grew up and around the edges of the mask. In a moment, the creature stood naked in front of me, body quivering with rage. The plaster mask remained the same immobile object, blood trickling down from the edges.

I barely had time to duck as the creature grabbed for me, arms passing through the air above my head as I drew my Colts. I was knocked back by a kick to the groin that caused pain to explode through my stomach and sent bile up into my throat, but I didn’t lose hold of my guns.

The creature raised a large foot to stomp on me, and I put two slugs into its chest, which did nothing more than cause it to hesitate.

With a bitter curse, I raised the pistols higher and squeezed the triggers again.

The mask exploded, the creature shuddered, and then it too exploded, covering me in trembling globs of dying flesh.

For an hour, I cleaned my guns and wondered what I might find next.

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