April 15, 1875

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They weren’t native to Cross.

Hell, they weren’t native to anywhere or when I had seen.

I found them in a stretch of Hassel Brook that passed from my land and beneath a section of North Road. Like most unexpected creatures and objects that showed up in Cross, I kept my distance as I observed them.

As I smoked my pipe and considered what to do about the situation, the sharp clip of a horse and the soft jangle of harness and tack caught my attention. When I glanced toward the sound, a horse and buggy came into view. The mare was a fine-looking creature, and the man driving the buggy was bloated and worthless from what I could tell.

He had an imperious expression, a paunch that strained his ill-fitting suit, and the air of someone who has not had to earn his bread with his hands.

The man pulled the buggy up short and was about to speak to me when his eye caught the curious fish in the stream. His small eyes widened, and he spoke in a high voice that sounded as though he was forcing each word through his nose.

“Are those fish yours?” he asked.

“No,” I answered.

“I’d like to buy one,” he continued as if I hadn’t answered. “Fetch one for me.”

I raised an eyebrow and remained silent.

He frowned. “Did you hear me, boy?”

I nodded.

“Then do as you’re told,” he snapped.

I took the pipe out of my mouth, spat on the ground and replied, “No.”

He sputtered angrily for a moment longer, but when I refused to budge, he climbed out of the carriage and waddled over to the stream. Kneeling down, he reached in, tried to catch one of the fish, and tumbled in.

He didn’t come up.

As soon as he was in the water, the fish attacked.

The water churned into a bloody froth, but within seconds, there was nothing but a fine mist of blood dissipating in the stream, and man and fish were gone.

The mare snorted, and I nodded my head in agreement.

Climbing into the buggy, I turned it around and headed home.

The horse, no doubt, was hungry and needed a good rubbing down.

Who wouldn’t after hauling the fat bastard around?

#horror #fear

April 14, 1875

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He reeked of bad meat and spoiled milk.

And he fought like a son of a bitch.

The bullets from my Colts were useless, striking home without causing the bastard to suffer any ill effects.

I, on the other hand, had to watch out for that damned sword.

He wielded it with the fury of a demon and the grace of a dancer. I had no doubt that healing from a wound by that blade would be difficult.

He had ambushed me on my own drive, and neither myself nor any of those upon my farm had been wise to his presence.

The earth shook with every blow that landed on the ground, and trees planted by my father two hundred years earlier were hewn in half with wild blows.

I tried to slip past the man to reach my house, but he kept me from it. High, hollow laughter escaped his mouth and hung in the trees, grating on my nerves and causing me to grind my teeth. Reversing my grip on the Colts, I prepared to use the butts of the pistols to beat him to death if such a thing could be accomplished.

Before I could strike, a whistling filled the air.

For a heartbeat, it was a solitary noise, but then it was joined by others, each followed by a hard and heavy thunk.

The man before me seemed to sprout arrows.

Long, well-fletched shafts that caused him to stumble to a halt. Black smoke drifted out around the arrows, dissipating before it reached the tops of the trees.

In a moment, the man vanished, and the armor collapsed with a clatter.

From the shadows along the sides of the drive, the wild strangers from the day before appeared. In their hands, they held longbows, quivers slung at their waists. They moved in silence to the pile of armor, and one of the men produced a bag.

With quiet efficiency, they picked up each piece of armor and then sealed the bag closed.

They left as quietly as they had arrived, and I reloaded my pistols.

It was time for coffee and a drop of whiskey.

#horror #fear

April 13, 1875

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They called to me.

It was a strange, beckoning sound that reverberated through my lands. I could feel it rise up from the ground beneath my feet and sing from the stones themselves. My trees shook with it, and it caused the weeping willows to pause in their wanderings.

Crouching down, I put the palm of my right hand upon the well-trodden path of my drive and felt the pulse of the sound.

With the direction of it firmly fixed in my mind, I set off for the source, and I was not in the least surprised to discover it came from a small valley deep in the heart of my lands.

A rough camp had been established there, and a group of men the likes of which I’d not seen before awaited me.

Their signal issued forth from a bowl set in front of the headman, and when I stepped out in front of them, he nodded to me and bade me sit.

I did so, my hands near the hilts of the Colts.

When he spoke, his words sounded only in my mind, his lips refusing to move.

“Duncan Blood,” the stranger said, “we are well met.”

“Are we?” I asked.

The men around me smiled.

“We are,” the headman stated. “If not, I believe there would be a great deal of violence, and none of us would survive the encounter.”

I nodded. “Sounds like truth.”

“I am here to ask your permission,” the headman continued. “We are hunters, and we’ve followed our prey from our home to yours.”

I considered the statement for a moment. “They came on the ship.”

“They did.”

“And a fool let them out.”

A bitter look flashed across the man’s face. “Yes.”

“What will you do with your prey?”

The headman offered a grim smile. “We’ll kill those that need killing.”

I nodded, smiled, and got to my feet.

“Stay as long as you like,” I told him and left them to their business.

#horror #fear

April 12, 1875

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They have an affinity for my lake.

And for me as well, although I could do without the last.

I was coming back on the western shore, reflecting on the current situation in town, when I heard my name called. Looking towards the speaker, I saw a young woman sitting at the edge beside a large stone.

Neither of them had been there a few moments before.

I stopped where I was and waited to see what would happen.

“Will you come and sit with me?” she asked. Her voice was high with a hint of steel and something darker nestled in its depths.

“No,” I answered, taking out my pipe and lighting it.

“You’re being rude,” she scolded.

I nodded in reply.

A frown flickered over her face.

“Come and sit with me,” she ordered, and my body jerked a quarter of an inch forward.

I took the pipe stem out of my mouth and spat on the ground, shaking my head.

“Now, Duncan Blood,” she commanded.

It took all of my strength to resist the urgency in her voice, but I managed it, though I confess it set my brow to sweating and my skin to crawling. I didn’t reach for my guns, fearing that if I did so, it would cost me too much of an effort, and I would find myself marching to join her.

Behind the strange woman, the water shimmered.

In a strained voice, I stated, “You ought not to use magic this close to the lake.”

She scoffed at me. “I’ll use it when and where I like, Duncan Blood. In a minute, I’ll use it to tear your heart out and sacrifice it to myself.”

“I wouldn’t try.”

She laughed, a sweet and pleasant sound in the cool April air, and when she did so, they appeared.

Long, gleaming black tentacles snaked out of the water and coiled around her before she realized what was happening. Her form flickered and twisted as she tried to escape, but she was in the grasp of an Elder God.

One drawn to the thrum of magic in the air.

As its grasp tightened, her own broke, and I was able to take a step back. The woman uttered a mangled scream and then was silent, pulled into the darkness of the lake.

I left the God to its meal and went in search of one of my own.

#horror #fear

April 11, 1875

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It was the strangest damned sight I’d seen in a long time.

I can understand how an island might spring up overnight. These things happen, as do a great many others in Blood Lake. But this, this was new.

I sat on the shore of the lake, the water lapping at the sand as I smoked my pipe and stared out at the man. He was sitting on a raised platform made of bamboo, of all things. It was rough looking and weathered. Long poles stretched out in front of him, curving and forming an ‘X’ from which a net was suspended, the bottom of it in the water. Ropes, tied to the poles, vanished into the mute shadows around the man.

The man was curious in appearance. Like his platform, he was weathered. He sat in the little shade offered by the thatched roof above him, and he wore an expression of infinite patience.

To one side of his platform, there was a small boat, and behind him, there was another with her sail out.

As I smoked, I considered what to do. If he was only a fisherman, well, I’d let him be. Most of the creatures that had escaped the box from the derelict ship were far more than what they appeared.

Before I could think much more on the subject, there was a ripple in the water. I knew what that subtle movement meant, and of their own accord, my hands went for the Colts.

The fisherman was quicker.

He stretched his arms out, and for the first time, I saw the ropes were part of him. With a snarl of triumph, he jerked his hands up, the ropes hissing and the bamboo poles bending in as they snapped up. The net came with them, and trapped in it was a large merman screaming obscenities in his own tongue.

The fisherman laughed and quick as a spider, the bamboo poles spun and twisted, wrapping the merman tightly in the confines of the net. The merman’s screams of anger were transformed into shrieks of pain as the net cut into his flesh, blood spilling out as the fisherman pulled the merman closer.

As the net crushed the merman, the fisherman’s mouth opened impossibly wide, his jaw dislocating as he prepared to eat his meal.

Relighting my pipe, I smiled.

There are always too many merfolk in the lake.

#horror #fear

April 10, 1875

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They sprang from the darkness, blades catching the moonlight.

I neither heard nor saw them until they were upon me, and had I been anyone else, I would have been dead.

It was the whistling of the blades and the glint of moonlight upon steel that made me spring back, and had I not done so, I would have felt that pure steel bite through flesh and bone and sinew.

It would not have been pleasant.

They were mute as they pressed the attack, waves of cold rolling off of them and numbing my flesh, slowing me down, though not nearly enough for them to gain an advantage. Still, there wasn’t enough time to draw the Colts. My attackers seemed well-aware as to what the weapons were capable of.

But I had my Bowie knife and the will to use it.

The creatures who attacked me were clad in curious armor, and each had a bladed weapon. One used a spear of sorts and the other a sword, and both of them were put to good use. The creatures worked in tandem, their movements fluid and deadly. Soon, I was bleeding from half a dozen small cuts that struggled to heal themselves as I fought. The cut flesh stung, and I could feel a toxin burning through my blood, seeking a way to stop my heart.

As my skin blazed, a cold and ferocious anger settled over me. I’ve never been appreciative of those who’ve tried to bushwhack me.

The one with the spear lunged forward in an effort to create an opening for his comrade to strike, and instead, he allowed me the opportunity to attack. I took hold of the spear’s haft, went low and drove the Bowie knife straight up and into his groin. The stranger bent over me, hot stinking fluid exploding over my hand. I twisted the blade once, then jerked it out, ducking as the other creature slammed the sword down into his wounded comrade.

Without pause, I thrust my shoulder into the stomach of the sword-wielder, shoved his chin up with my free hand and rammed the Bowie knife into his exposed throat with enough force to crush his larynx.

In a moment, the bodies vanished. I was alone, and all that remained of the creatures were their weapons.

That and the stinking ichor soaking my clothes.

#horror #fear

April 9, 1875

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I could hear them eating.

I’d been making the rounds of my islands, as I am wont to do in good weather when the sound of bones breaking and flesh tearing rolled across the water.

At first, I thought perhaps the merfolk had gotten their hands on a deer foolish enough to get too close to the edge of an island, but as I narrowed in on the noise, I realized something was wrong.

It was lasting too long.

Merfolk would have made short work of even the largest of deer, and as there was no thrashing about in the water, my initial supposition had to be wrong.

Guiding the canoe across the lake, I honed in on Devil’s Island, home to the largest of my burial grounds. It was where I buried bodies that couldn’t be gotten rid of safely or – worse – might decide to return.

Pulling in at the short pier that extended from the shore, I made the canoe fast, climbed out, and drew both Colts, pulling the hammers back. The wind shifted slightly and brought with it the rank odor of rotting flesh and the sweeter scent of freshly turned earth.

I followed the trail up to the first part of the burial ground and found a scene of chaos.

Graves had been opened, and rotten clothes were scattered about the piles of fresh earth. Bones littered the ground, and as I walked forward, the sound of eating grew louder.

I found the culprits a moment later.

A pair of men, clad in clothes of black and white, with packs on their backs and wide-brimmed hats on their heads, sat close to one another, devouring the remains of one of my cousins. Despite the foul nature of their meal, the men were surprisingly clean, although when they turned to face me, I saw strips of putrid flesh clinging to their cheeks and soiling their lips.

For a moment, they looked at me and I at them, and then they turned their attention back to their meal.

They had no interest in the living, and I had none in the dead.

There were plenty of corpses on Devil’s Island. Nearly two hundred years’ worth.

Holstering my Colts, I returned to my canoe and wondered how many they might be able to eat.

#horror #fear

April 8, 1875

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It was an unearthly sound.

Not unpleasant, but strange. Something, I confess, I’d never heard before.

The notes drifted into my bedroom, slipping past the window and curling around me as I lay on my back, staring at the ceiling and listening. There was a curious sensation in my body, as though the music was attempting to cajole me to my feet and bring me to a place that I may not want to go.

Well, I’ve visited a great many such places in my life, and if one more was going to kill me, so be it.

I took my time getting dressed, and I enjoyed a cup of coffee before I buckled on the Colts, slid my Bowie knife into place and, for good measure, picked up a scattergun as well. Thus armed, I went out into the backyard and followed the music to its source.

It took me the better part of an hour, and I was unsurprised to find the sound was originating from a small stream that fed into Blood Lake. Near a large and twisted tree, three women sat playing instruments I did not recognize.

When they saw me, their eyes widened in shock, and they stopped playing.

An easy stillness settled over us, and for the first time, I realized the birds were silent in the trees around us.

I don’t know what the women were. I don’t know if they were alive or dead, or, perhaps, creatures of some other realm. That they had their origins in the box that had been so foolishly opened, I had no doubt.

After a moment, I chuckled, shook my head and stated in Japanese, “I think I like your music.”

One of the women giggled, and in a heartbeat, all three were playing again.

The music was powerful, rippling through me as I sat down on the ground and rested my scattergun across my lap. I paused, then took out my pipe, packed the bowl and lit the tobacco.

As the smoke curled up from the briar and escaped between my lips, I grinned.

There are far worse ways to spend an April morning.

#horror #fear

April 7, 1875

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Hatred rolled off the house in sickening waves.

I sensed it the moment I stepped onto the narrow, hardpacked drive that led from North Road up to the small, abandoned house. The building, which had never been larger than a glorified woodshed, was the home of Emma Watts, a lonely old widow who had resided there for the better part of thirty years. She was rarely seen in town, getting all her food from the forest and her small garden.

She was self-sufficient and touched in the head.

But there was no malice in her.

The hatred coming from her home was wrong.

So too was the open door.

When I reached the front of the house, I had both Colts drawn. Whether they would do anything against what might be in Emma’s home, I didn’t know. But I was sure as hell going to find out.

I nudged the door open a little further with my boot and let my eyes adjust to the gloom inside the building. At the far end, near Emma’s cot, I saw him.

Bits and pieces of the Japanese man were translucent, a sure sign that he wasn’t part of the world. At least not any longer. When he turned his head and fixed his gaze on me, the hate boiled the air around him.

He neither spoke nor gestured toward me.

Instead, he stood up in a single, graceful motion and drew a sword.

I didn’t wait.

The Colts roared, shaking the thin walls of the house and catching the thing in front of me by surprise. Great white chunks were blown out his back, and when he staggered forward, he sagged, body collapsing from the missing pieces. He sank to his knees and tried to crawl forward, and I shot him in the head twice, blowing away half of his skull.

Still, the man came on.

With an impressed grunt, I blew his head clean off his shoulders and then stomped the rest of it into the worn floorboards of Emma’s home.

A moment later, he broke into mist and seeped into the cracks, leaving me alone in the house.

I searched for Emma, but there was no sign of her. When I left the house, I put it to the torch.

She no longer had a need for it.

#horror #fear

April 6, 1875

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She stood in silence.

I found her standing alongside a length of Hassel Brook, which cut along the southwestern corner of my land. Soft fog drifted up around her feet, caught in the folds of her parasol, and lingered, briefly, upon her.

I didn’t know what manner of creature she was, only that she’d come from the ship that had so recently run aground.

This fact alone caused me to draw one of my Colts and thumb the hammer back, ever so softly.

Still, the click of it locking in place caught her attention, and she turned to face me.

Her face was beautiful, almost delicate, and the wickedness in her orange eyes was more appealing than it was disturbing. She kept her hands tucked inside the voluminous sleeves of her garment, and when she spoke, it was with a voice of strength and power.

“Where am I?” she asked.

“America,” I answered. “Cross, Massachusetts.”

She raised an eyebrow in a sharp arch. “It is a new place for me. I have not left the shores of Nihon before. Tell me, are there many of you here?”

“More ‘n I like at times,” I admitted.

She licked her lips, and I caught sight of teeth both sharp and foul in appearance.

The weight of the Colt was comforting in my hand.

“I have never eaten such pale flesh before,” she mused. “Do you think you taste much the same?”

“There’s never been any difference I could tell,” I told her.

She laughed, revealing far too many teeth for a human head. “That is good. It has been too long since I had a decent meal.”

Before I could respond, her head sprang from her shoulders. While her body remained perfectly still, her head flew towards me, mouth widening like a viper’s and her eyes blazing.

I brought the Colt up at the last minute, and before she could veer away, she impaled herself on the barrel. Her teeth shattered upon the steel, and I offered her a smile of my own as I pulled the trigger.

Bones and brains and hair exploded out of the back of her head, and her skull slipped to the ground, bouncing once as her body trembled and then collapsed.

I left the skull where it lay and walked to the corpse.

The silk of her clothes was perfect for cleaning the Colt.

#horror #fear