Gods’ Hollow Journal, January 27, 1890: Company

I had finished making camp for the night when I heard a voice hail me from the woods, asking if they could approach. I answered they could and kept my knife close at hand. My ammunition was precariously low.

The stranger entered the small clearing and smiled. He was older than me and clad in the attire of an Indian from the West. His speech was fluid and strong, and when he was only a few feet from me, he stopped and asked if he could join me for my meal. He had food of his own, and he was willing to share.

“Company,” he told me, “is hard to come by at times.”

I nodded my agreement and made a fire so we might warm ourselves.

Soon the flames stood high and beat back the oncoming darkness as the sun set in the Hollow. I took out what little food I had, and he did the same. Wordlessly, we prepared a fine meal, and we ate it quickly. When we finished, I banked the fire and asked the man his name.

He smiled at me.

“I am He Who Walks, and I am your brother.”

“How is our mother?” I asked him.

He shook his head. “Not mother, but father. Your mother has no love for me, and she hunts for me when she can.”

My brother leaned forward and asked, “Is it true that you killed her when you were a boy?”

“For the most part. I wish she would have stayed dead.”

He chuckled and nodded. “So do we all.”

“How long have you been here?”

He shrugged. “A thousand years? Maybe more, perhaps less. I do not know. It is hard to tell.”

“What do you do in the Hollow?”

My brother smiled. “Answer me this. What would you do if you were forever in the Hollow?”

“I’d kill my mother,” I replied.

“That is what I do,” he confided.

“How many have you killed?”

“Not nearly enough,” he answered.

I nodded. It could never be enough.

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Gods’ Hollow Journal, January 26, 1890: Alone

I am alone again.

It is not a difficult situation for me to be in. I have outlived most of my relations and all the friends of my childhood. Still, after spending such a long time in the company of the Akatuyians, it is strange for me to walk the varied paths of Gods’ Hollow by myself.

Occasionally, I hear voices. Rarer still is when I see the person, or animal, which has uttered the noise.

It seems that I am a marked man, and it is not unusual for me to find a body or two. Often, there is a note left with the corpses, the usual tripe from my mother, proclaiming death and pain for whoever might give me succor.

I pity those I find, for they assisted some version of me, and for that, I am thankful. Each body is merely added to the butcher’s bill each iteration of her will pay.

My thoughts were traveling along these lines when I heard a rustling in the bushes ahead of me. With the shifting of the wind, I caught the rank odor of both man and beast, and I drew my Colts as the creature stepped into view.

For a moment, I couldn’t decide if it was animal or man, but when it moved, I saw it was a curious combination of both. It was man and bear, and it wanted my death.

I was slightly perturbed when I put two rounds through its chest, and the beast only stumbled on its way to me. Forced to sidestep out of the way, I shot it again, this time twice in the back. The creature screeched at me in a language I didn’t understand and came at me with a speed I did not believe it possessed.

In the end, I put all twelve rounds in the damned thing, and I still had to club it to death with the butts of the pistols.

Its brains leaked out as I stood up, legs slick with the creature’s black blood.

Holstering my Colts, I wiped the brains off my face and spat the same from my mouth as I started my walk towards home again.

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Gods’ Hollow Journal, January 25, 1890: Stillness

A soft, gentle creaking gave us hope that we had come close to some sort of boundary with my Cross.

Instead, the sound ushered us into an open glade in which we found only death.

Dozens of large, rough wooden tripods stood on a wide swath of land, and from each tripod hung a man. The men were dead, perhaps no more than a few hours, but dead they were. They were dressed as Turks, but the placards around their necks were written in the King’s English.

“To Aid Duncan Blood is to Court Death.”

My mother, of course.

What had these men done to help me? Had they fed some version of me? Had they given me clothes, or perhaps a place to sleep? Had they merely given me directions to some other reality or another when?

Their deaths had been brutal. These men had been strangled to death by their own weight. No quick drop and a broken neck. They had suffered, as my mother had intended them to suffer.

I looked at those around me and saw the unspoken question on their lips. Was death what awaited them as well? Since we had left their camp, the Akatuyians had been pared down. There was scarcely more than a score of them left and I saw the fear growing in their eyes.

To die was a part of life, this they knew. But the dead men before us had been tortured, and they had suffered.

All because of me.

I turned and faced the Akatuyians.

A man named Sergei stepped forward, his eyes flicking toward the bodies. “We can go no further, Duncan. We few wish to live.”

I nodded and smiled at them. “My home is open to you, should you change your minds and find a way out of the Hollow.”

No more words were spoken. I crossed through the glade of hanged men, listening to the creaking of the bodies. I did not look back.

Instead, I focused on the path ahead and tried not to think of my son and those who had died.

I failed.

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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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