War in the Hollow: Dec. 4, ‘36

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I had no intention of taking any prisoners.

Shortly after killing the warden and the suicide of his companion, I spent a good deal of time going over maps I discovered in the house. They showed me the layout of this particular version of Cross. Not only where the buildings were, but the various places it connected with the Hollow. From what I could gather, these inhabitants made a practice of raiding into other worlds. Some were other iterations of Cross. Most were not.

My Cross was clearly marked.

“Duncan Le Sang. Morte 1922 Anno Domini.”

Someone, it would seem, had given them the wrong information.

While I had been sorely wounded in 1922, I did not die.

But still, they had waited a good fourteen years before deciding to raid.

Or, it had taken them fourteen years to lock down my town.

Whatever the reason didn’t matter.

They’d come into my town and killed a friend and the man’s son. My cousin, more importantly, had told me to kill them all, and so I would.

I awoke long before dawn, slung my Spenser, and made my way down the road. I had memorized the maps, and there was a great deal of ground to cover.

I turned down the first road on the right and made my way to what the maps had assured me was a train station.

And they were right.

It was a small affair. Nothing more than a rough siding. It was well-lit, and there was a group of men standing around it. They were uniformed and receiving coffee and biscuits from some young women.

When we saw one another, there was no doubt they knew who I was.

The air filled with shouts as the men tried to draw their weapons.

But they were slow, and I was not.

Both Colts cleared their holsters, and the thunder of the guns shook the stillness of the predawn air. Few of the men and none of the women were killed with the first shots, but they all went down.

I reloaded as I walked closer, the brass hot against my fingers as I plucked them from the cylinders and dropped them to the ground.

The wounded begged and pleaded, but I shot them where they lay.

I was there to kill.

Nothing more and nothing less.

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War in the Hollow: Dec. 3, ‘36

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I smelled bacon and coffee, fresh bread and tobacco.

I followed my nose for a spell, and soon I was moving parallel to a well-used road. The trees thinned, and I was forced to walk along the road’s shoulder, all-to-aware of the conspicuous figure I cut.

It wasn’t my weaponry or the fact that I had a pack on my back.

No, I could feel that I didn’t fit in, and I suspected there would be others who might notice my oddness as well. It might not be an overt observation, but they’d know it nonetheless.

Soon enough, I found the source of the good and wholesome smells.

A gatehouse, larger than most, stood on the left side of a road, a well-crafted, wrought iron gate stretching across to a stone pillar that was probably as old as I was. At the gate stood a warden, and in the doorway of the gatehouse, either his wife or a female servant. Both watched me with curiosity as if they were unsure as to what to do.

I was pleased to see that there were no telephone lines or any real way to signal for help, should they need it.

The wind shifted as I approached, carrying the rich scents of breakfast away from me, and as it did so, I saw the woman’s eyes widen before she shouted, “Pierre! C’est Duncan Le Sang!”

As she turned into the doorway, I snapped off a quick shot with the Spenser, the round catching her in the shoulder and spinning her around. She struck the door and left a broad swath of blood as she sank down in the doorway.

Pierre, the warden, drew a sword from his cane and charged at me, a look of rage tinged with fear upon his face.

A single shot from the Spenser tore through his throat, and he ran several more paces before he collapsed, his head nearly severed.

I walked to the woman, who managed to draw a small derringer from her blouse. Before I could fire, she placed it against her temple and whispered, “Vivé la Croix!”

The pistol’s report was dull and flat, but the weapon did the job.

I stood there for a moment, then stepped over her legs and into the gatehouse.

The woman, I discovered, made a damned fine cup of coffee.

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War in the Hollow: Dec. 2, ‘36

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I could smell war.

It is a scent to which I am finely attuned.

Armed and equipped to fight, I sat on the stonewall that runs along the border shared by Gods’ Hollow and North Road. I could see that my cousin Patience was right. The Hollow was different, as though a section of it was anchored.

In the distance, I heard the rumbling of machines and then, faintly, I caught the whinny of a horse.

It was time to go.

In a matter of moments, I was making my way across the field to the tree-line. My Colts were in their holsters, and my Spencer was in my hands. On my back was as much ammunition I could carry, and hate spurred me forward.

Over my long life, I have sacrificed a great deal for Cross, and I shoulder burdens few can even fathom. It is a choice I made, and I regret nothing.

I will not see my sacrifices be made useless, nor will I allow anyone to defile my town.

Especially not some thrice-damned bastard from the Hollow.

Within a quarter of an hour, I was deep in the woods, and I could hear the sporadic rattle of gunfire. As I drew closer to it, I heard men speaking in French. One man, older than the others, it seemed, chastising his audience about failure to keep a weapon clean and in proper working order.

Ahead, I caught sight of an opening in the trees, and as I stepped close, the rank odor of fresh blood assailed me. Soon, I was crouched down, rifle at the ready, and taking in the situation in front of me.

There were three men, sliding a fourth onto the back of a wagon. The fourth man was wounded, perhaps mortally so, and it was a soldier with a red cross on his arm who was reprimanding his compatriots.

Adjusting my position, I took aim at the medic, and I killed him first.

Before he had struck the ground, I’d killed the other two. The wounded man cried out as he landed on the bodies of his comrades.

Remembering my promise to my cousin, I stepped out of the woods and walked over to the wounded man.

Kneeling down beside him, I didn’t waste a bullet.

I smothered him instead.

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War in the Hollow: Dec. 1, ‘36

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Emma Coffin told me they’d come out of the Hollow and ambushed them.

Daniel, her husband, and their son, Connor, had both been gunned down as they struggled to free themselves from the car. Emma hadn’t moved. She’d been trapped in her seat, and it had saved her life.

The raiders, speaking in what she thought was French, made their way around the car, though she was unsure of what they were saying or of how they had even managed to attack. She thought she had heard the grunting of an animal, but she couldn’t be sure.

When they had taken her into town to see the doctor, and after we’d pulled the bodies of Daniel and Connor out, I could see the powder burns on their temples.

They hadn’t just been gunned down. They’d been executed.

As some from Black’s farm came in with tractors to pull the car back to the road, and Bobby Lake took the bodies into town in his wagon, I went back to my house and considered what I’d seen and what Emma had told me.

I poured myself a tall glass of bourbon, sat down in my library, and waited. Something about this was wrong.

The answer came close to midnight when I heard the voice of Patience Blood.  

It’d been six years since I heard my cousin’s voice. Six years since she’d had me lock her away in a family crypt so she could walk amongst the damned in Hell.

She whispered to me, her voice as lovely as ever, and when I closed my eyes, I could see her face and her hair, I could smell the sweetness of her, and I could remember our times together.

“They’ll bring war to Cross,” she told me.

“Who?”

“Some in the Hollow. They’ve anchored their own town to it, trapped it in such a way we’ve not yet learned.” She sighed, and in my memory, I saw her run her fingers through her hair, that cousin whom I’d adored. “You’ll need to go in, Duncan, and do what you do best. What you were bred to do.”

“Killing.”

“Aye, Duncan, killing.” She laughed then. A soft, beautiful sound that I missed dearly. “Kill them all, Duncan. Every last one of them.”

And I promised her I would.

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Madness: Nov. 30, 1867

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They stepped out of the Hollow with Union Jacks held high and hate in their eyes.

I don’t know who they were, or what version of Cross they might have come from, but it was plain to see by the froth around their mouths and their rolling eyes that they were mad, from the youngest child to the oldest man.

Mad and fit to kill.

Whether their anger was addressed toward me or merely any they might stumble upon, I neither know nor care.

I was there when they came out of the woods, and I stood on North Road as they made their way to the stonewall.

They shouted insults in the King’s English, and when they were close enough, they began to pick up stones and to throw them toward me. When they drew nearer, they armed themselves with heavier rocks and thick tree limbs.

They were in a hell of a state when they clambered over the stonewall and came for me, and whatever hopes I had of talking them down died in my chest as I saw the madness writ large upon their faces.

They were out for blood, and mine would do naught but whet their appetites.

I would like to say it was with reluctance that I drew the Colts that I took no pleasure in the killings, but that would be a lie.

There are some days when killing is what I need to do. It is the balm for an illness that has no cure.

That illness is time and sorrow, loneliness and rage.

I did not drag the killing out.

Each and everyone died quick, their brains blow out the backs of their skulls. To either their credit or the madness which gripped them, not a one of them ran.

As I stood in the cool morning air, steam rising off the cooling bodies, I reloaded my Colts and waited to see what would come out of the Hollow next.

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Flashback:

I forced myself to visit Aldrich’s studio today, much against my desire, but I am glad I did. When I arrived, I found Wayne Aldrich attempting to seduce a young woman. He was promising her fame and fortune, the ability to turn her into a star by capturing her beauty on film and sending it in to ‘film stars’ with whom he was familiar.

I can only imagine how many he has tried to do this with, and had the young woman not taken care of the situation herself, I would have been only too happy to beat him.

She was more than capable, however, as all reapers are.

The cold look she fixed upon him caused the words to die in his throat as he too understood with whom he was dealing.

Mortified at having me witness his depredation, and at having been emasculated so effectively by the reaper, Aldrich stormed about his studio, preparing for her portrait. She did not speak to me as we waited, and I took no umbrage with it. Reapers speak when they wish, not when we wish them to.

He scowled and grunted as he finished, then gestured impatiently for her to follow him in. She did so, and they were done in a few minutes. The reaper stood patiently by the desk as he dug out the ledger and slapped it down in front of her. She took a pen from the desk, opened the book to the proper page, and wrote down her information.

“March 27, Alaska.”

Setting the pen down, she smiled at me. “I am going to shake the world, Duncan Blood. Do you believe this?”

“Of course, I do,” I replied.

Her smile transformed into an expression of pure disgust as she looked upon Wayne Aldrich. In a voice colder than any I have heard, she spoke to him.

“You have outlived your usefulness.”

She left without another word, and only when the door closed did I realize that Wayne Aldrich had soiled himself.

I did not bother to hide my smile.

Reapers’ Portraits: April 1963

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Flashback:

I managed to successfully avoid any direct involvement with Wayne Aldrich for seven years. Consequently, I didn’t see any reapers until April of ’63.

I was at the Cross train station, having picked up a package that had been sent via rail to me when I saw the reaper standing on the platform. Cross is a progressive town and has always been so. The civil rights movement was not necessary. There was no segregation in Cross, a state of affairs the town had worked long and hard to maintain in the face of some of the country’s more virulent policies.

The young black reaper smiled at me, waved, and crossed the platform to me. He offered me his hand, and I shook it, wondering why the reaper looked familiar. He winked as if understanding my puzzlement.

“We had a fair time, you and I, before the Revolution,” he informed me.

“Ah. One of the raids into Canada?”

He nodded. “I’ve come for my portrait, as I’m sure you’ve guessed.”

I told him I had. We left the station together and slowly made our way to the studio.

“I’ll be putting out to sea shortly,” he said.

I raised an eyebrow and waited for him to continue. The reaper frowned and shook his head. “Deaths come in many ways, but this will be new to me.”

“Unpleasant?”

“Different, and, yes, I suspect it will be unpleasant.” He offered me an apologetic smile. “I’m not quite certain what will happen. How fast or slow it will be. It is a difficult thing to judge. I have spoken with some of my brethren, but they cannot offer me and assistance. They say there are too many variables, from the strength of the boat to the strength of the man.”

We reached the studio a moment later, and I asked the reaper, “When?”

“Three days. On the tenth.” He offered me his hand again. “Be well, Duncan. It is always a pleasure.”

I watched the reaper enter the studio and turned away, wondering what horror lay ahead.

Madness: Nov. 27, 1867

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He found his voice.

John Smith was a quiet man. He’d been quiet most of his life, speaking when spoken to and keeping his opinion to himself. He was a teetotaler and a man not given to flights of fancy. I knew him as a good man, and he lived a simple life.

John worked for the town, keeping the streets clean and removing the snow from in front of the train station during the winter months. On any given evening, you could find him in the parlor of the rooming house he lived in, a pipe in his mouth and the Bible on his lap. He could quote any passage he chose, and he could defend it as well, which was more than I could say about those who professed to follow the faith.

He was not a church-going man, preferring to spend his Sunday mornings with a cup of coffee and the aforementioned book. John Smith was a happy, quiet man, and I was always pleased to see him.

Until this morning.

He was found sitting in the center of North Road and Main Street. Around him, placed with their faces turned towards him, were six severed heads, and he was carrying on quite the one-sided conversation. I was coming into town to fetch more coffee when I came upon the scene. Several of the Coffin brothers were gathered ‘round him, keeping a growing crowd of curious boys away.

As I moved forward to speak with him, John saw me and snarled with rage. He sprang forward, knocking aside a pair of the heads, and it took myself and several other men to get a hold of him.

John screamed, informing all who could hear of the obscenities my mother had in store for me. We struggled for nearly five minutes, ending it finally when I managed to punch him hard enough in the temple to render him unconscious.

A short time after he was brought to the town jail, the bodies that the heads belonged to were found. The victims were unknown, their naked, headless bodies propped up in carnal positions upon the stonewall along the Hollow’s edge.

My mother, it appears, is getting creative.

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Madness: Nov. 26, 1867

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She declared herself defender of Cross.

Lydia Knott was five-years-old, and she lived with her grandparents at their home on Hart St. The home was close to Hassell Brook, which fed into the Cross River.

According to Daniel Knott, her grandfather, Lydia announced her new role at breakfast and then left the house, much to the bewilderment of her grandparents. When he went out to see what the child was up to, he found her harnessing a pair of turkeys to her small dogcart. She ignored his questions, climbed into the seat and in a voice of command he had never heard her use before, she told him to step out of the way.

He did so, without thought or question.

The turkeys pranced off and led the child away.

Concerned, Daniel shook off the daze her command had thrown him into and followed as best he could. Soon, he found her at the bridge, parked in the center.

He was about to approach her when one of the Coffin brothers arrived on the other side and started across. The boy called good day to both and continued walking toward them. Before Daniel could respond, Lydia snapped the reins, and the turkeys charged.

The Coffin boy raced back to the other side, the turkeys nipping at his calves and thighs.

“This is my post,” Lydia announced, “and I shall defend it to the last.”

Daniel told the boy to take the long way to my house, and so I was informed of the situation. By the time I arrived, she had successfully kept over half-a-dozen people from using the bridge. When I stepped onto the bridge, her eyes widened and filled with a depth of hate that surprised me. The turkey’s charged, and a hideous torrent of abuse spewed forth from the child’s lips.

I pulled both Colts and shot the birds dead. As they fell, still locked in their traces, the dogcart struck the bodies and was upended, launching the girl out of her seat. She hit the bridge heard, but in a heartbeat, she was up and running, blood streaming from her nose and scrapes on her forehead.

I did not kill the child.

Instead, I sidestepped her attack and let her run into the arms of her grandfather.

We burned the bodies of the birds, and the girl is in her room, screaming about the sanctity of Cross.

That is perhaps the strangest sentiment of all.

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Madness: Nov. 25, 1867

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She had a wild streak that cost her everything.

Melanie Throcke went by at a gallop, a gleeful smile on her face and a high note of madness in her voice as she yelled to me. Her chestnut mare was riding hard down the road, foam flying out around the bit and the mare’s eyes rolling in their sockets.

I’d been ignoring Melanie Throcke and her bad acts since she’d turned twenty the year before, and I had every intention of continuing the habit.

The scalps hanging from her saddle caught my eye and changed my mind.

By the time she was past my drive, I was following her backtrail. Spots of blood were easy to see in the dust, and by the time I reached the stonewall along the border of the Hollow and North Road, I found the bodies.

There were three women and two children, all natives, though I knew not to what tribe they belonged. I could see they’d died badly, and it didn’t please me.

I heard a groan from the Hollow, and when I looked up, there was a rough-hewn house a short distance away. A trio of men sat upon the front step, and their somber expressions told me they knew what had occurred.

They called out to me, and I motioned to them, and they left the house. They did not look upon the bodies, though they stiffened as they passed the corpses.

When the men stood beside me, one of the men asked, “Where did she go, Duncan Blood?”

“To her home. It’s where she always runs to.”

The men looked to me, their question unasked.

“I’ll bring you to her,” I told them, “and I’ll kill any who get in our way.”

With my Colts in my hands and our death songs in our ears, I led the way to Melanie Throcke’s house, to take back the scalps and to claim some of our own.

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