A Trap

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He meant for them to be a trap.

It didn’t work.

I heard whispering behind a closed door, and when I forced my way in, expecting a pistol to be leveled at my chest, I found books instead.

It took me a moment to hear what they were saying and a breath or two longer to understand it.

They were speaking a mixture of Latin and ancient Greek, and what they were saying did not reflect kindly upon Tad Langer. His wife. Or his parentage, of which there was some doubt as to whether his father was or was not his mother’s husband.

I let out a chuckle at the last bit, and the books went silent.

“You understood us?” a voice asked from a shelf above the room’s desk. The question was posed in the King’s English.

“Aye, easily enough,” I replied in the same.

Another voice, deeper and farther from the first, asked, “Are you the one old Langer told us to wait for?”

“Did he give my name?”

“No,” the books stated in chorus.

“Huh.” I scratched my chin, then grinned. “I suppose it’s because he didn’t want you running off with me.”

“Running off with you?” The books laughed. “And you are….”

“Blood,” I answered. “Duncan Blood.”

The laughter ceased.

The first book cleared its voice. “Tell me, who is your father?”

“Ezekiel.”

Whispers raced through the library, and then the first book silenced them all.

“And your mother?” the first book asked.

“Dead,” I answered, “although she won’t stay that way.”

“Natural causes?” the first book ventured.

“If a kitchen knife is natural, then aye.”

A pleased sigh filled the room.

“He was right not to tell us,” the first book said. “We will run off with you. Or go, since running is something we cannot do. Will you return for us?”

“If you’ve a mind to go to my farm, then by all means. First, though, I’ve Langer to deal with.”

“He’s hiding in his room,” the first book stated. “There’s a secret door at the end of the hall. Push on the second knot in the pine on the left side of the doorframe. You’ll find the stairs there. He’s armed, by the way. A five-shot revolver and his sword. Not that you need to worry about either.”

“Thank you. I’ll be back soon enough.”

“Knife work, Duncan?” the first book asked.

“Aye. Knife work.”

#trees #horrorstories

Wrong

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It didn’t work.

I could have told Langer that without the death of Jack. As it was, his stupidity and hubris would cost him.

Just as soon as I found the bastard.

I entered the church that served as Tad Langer’s home. When I entered the main portion, I found a casket and flowers and the faint stench of decay lingering in the confined space.

I went to the coffin in the center of the room, swept the wreaths off the top and unlocked the lid. Drawing a Colt, I opened the casket and looked down upon the decomposing face of a young woman. Jack’s severed limbs had been trimmed down into thin slats and woven into a rough blanket.

Whatever magic Langer might have known, it failed him here.

Either that or something foul had claimed the woman and her soul, and thus there was nothing left to be brought back.

If that was the case, then he should consider himself lucky. An empty body with an open doorway is often a recipe for disaster.

Even as the thought crossed my mind, the dead woman’s eyes flickered.

Something had come in.

She opened her eyes, the irises milky and ichor seeping out with the ease of tears.

“Blood.” Her voice, thick with mucous, was painful to hear, her breath foul. “I know you.”

I cocked the hammer back, and she snarled.

“You killed me,” she hissed and tried to free herself from the woven blanket.

She couldn’t.

“You’re not the only one,” I told her.

“I didn’t deserve it,” she snarled.

“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it,” I replied.

“Do you know me?” she demanded.

“No. Don’t rightly care, either.”

Her face twisted into a hateful glare. “Samuel Olcott.”

My memory flickered, locked on, and I let out a surprised laugh. “I remember castrating you, Captain Olcott. I am sorry about your wife. She was an unpleasant part of the chore.”

“The slattern doesn’t matter!” the dead man shrieked. “I went to Hell without my manhood!”

“Looks like you’re going back the same way,” I stated and put two shots into the corpse’s head.

With the spirit of Olcott silenced, I chuckled and returned to my search.

Langer still needed to die, and he might even go the same way Olcott had.

#trees #horrorstories

Curiosities

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He was and wasn’t there.

It took me the better part of the day to kill or drive out the men who’d been defending Langer. When I reached the main house, I breached the door and found myself in what I can only describe as a tomb.

The bodies of the soldiers were gone, and judging by the bloody streaks through the main rooms, the wounded had dragged off the dead.

They were, as I had observed, good soldiers. They didn’t leave their dead behind.

I searched through each room, calling out as I went. I wanted Langer to know I was coming for him. I wanted him to have Jack’s remains ready for me, for I, like the soldiers, was going to bring my dead home.

When I opened the last bedroom door on the top floor, I did not find Tad Langer. I found something else.

The room beyond the door shifted as I stood on the other side of the threshold, watching from the hall.

A man who was and wasn’t there sat in a wicker chair and looked at me as I looked at him. Around him, parts of the furniture shifted as though someone was gently shaking it in and out of focus.

“Fångad.”

The word was faint, a mere whisper in the air, and it took me a moment to translate it.

Trapped.

I nodded. “I can see that.”

He smiled, shrugged, and said, “Jaja.”

Oh well, indeed.

I patted a Colt, and he shook his head. As I watched, he pushed his hand through his own chest, and nothing happened.

“I’m sorry,” I told him.

He chuckled. “Jaja.”

“Do you know where Langer is?”

“Kyrka.” His voice was fainter, the word more difficult to understand.

“The church?”

He smiled. Then, using his finger as though it were a gun, he placed it against his temple and mimicked pulling the trigger.

“You want me to kill him?”

The smile faded, and he nodded. He gestured toward himself and spoke. “Langer.”

 “Fire?”

He shook his head.

I hesitated, then said, “If you make it out, and you’ve a notion to, come to Cross. I’m Duncan Blood. There’s always coffee on and good tobacco. Better whiskey.”

The man gave a solemn smile, raised his hand in farewell, and I left him there, not quite in the world or out of it.

I hoped I’d see him again. He seemed a fine fellow and one more reason for Langer to die.

#trees #horrorstories

Damn.

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There were a lot of them.

More than expected, and it didn’t please me. Langer had almost a full platoon of troops with him, and they were fine soldiers.

None of them panicked.

None of them let off hasty shots.

No, they were well-disciplined troops, calling out to one another in Swedish.

Which was perhaps the only mistake they made.

Someone assumed I couldn’t speak the language, but when you’ve lived for close to three hundred years, well, you get bored.

While I hadn’t spoken the language in some time, it only took a short while for me to regain fluency. Especially since I was listening and not trying to converse.

I heard a call out for two groups to flank me from either side. A wise move and one that would have worked on just about anyone else. And, to be honest, it would have put me in a rather challenging position had I not heard them clear as day.

As it was, I gave my horse a slap and sent him home before I slipped across the road unseen.

The men who remained in the houses continued to put well-aimed fire on the copse of trees they thought I occupied. The others fanned out, four to each side. They moved with practiced ease through the underbrush and the trees. The men were undeniably skilled, and I watched them with both admiration and sadness.

They were going to die, and I would lay their deaths, along with Jack’s, at Langer’s feet.

I lay my rifle on the ground and drew the Colts. With the hammers cocked, I watched and waited.

It didn’t take long.

In a rush, the men erupted from the woods on either side of the drive and charged what they thought was my position. The shooting from the house stopped, replaced by the men firing into the copse of trees.

Without standing up, I took aim, and I gunned them all down from behind.

Once more, the men in the house showed their true worth.

Not a damned one of them hesitated.

They expressed their rage with a thunderous roar of fire on the copse of trees, still believing I was there.

As their brethren bled out in the road, I reloaded my Colts, put them in their holsters, and took up the rifle once more.

Sighting along the barrel, I took my time. I wanted each shot to count.

And they did.

#trees #horrorstories

Tad Langer

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Tad Langer was no fool.

He was, I discovered the hard way, an old soldier and one who knew his business.

I admired that.

But it wouldn’t give him an easy death.

As Jackson had told me, Langer lived in Pepperell, Massachusetts, not far from Cross and too damned close as far as I was concerned.

When I arrived at his home, I was surprised to see it disguised as an old church. Off to the left was a second structure and another house set a bit farther back, and a burial ground to the right. I let my horse stay off to one side, protected by a copse of thick trees, and went to the end of Langer’s walkway.

Standing there, in the remnants of the first snowfall of the season, I caught a glimpse of sunlight on metal and stepped aside as a shot rang out.

The sound was crisp and clear, and it told me two things.

First, I’d not sneak up on the home.

Second, Langer was a good shot.

Had I stood still, the bullet would have taken me in the face, and that would have been a hell of a thing to recover from.

I took shelter behind an oak, patted the horse on the head and called out to the man.

“Langer!”

“Who wants to speak to the General?” a strong, young voice demanded.

I let out a sigh and shook my head.

“Tell him it’s Duncan Blood and that I want the tree’s wood back.”

There was silence for a few minutes, and then the man shouted, “He says you should go right back to Hell, Mr. Blood.”

I heard the chuckle of more than a few voices, and I nodded.

Sliding my rifle out of its holster, I chambered a round and then shouldered my haversack.

I stepped away from the horse, found a good spot in the copse of trees and set the barrel of the rifle on a limb. It took only a moment to find the window the man had shot at me from.

“Are you still there?” I asked.

“Aye,” the man answered, and I shot him through the glass. Gunfire erupted from the church and the house beyond.

Chuckling, I chambered another round.

I didn’t mind that Langer wasn’t alone in his home.

Not at all.

I had enough bullets for everyone.

And my knife for Langer.

#trees #horrorstories

Jackson Noble

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Apparently, he wasn’t.

I’d known Jackson for five years and considered him a friend. I’d seen him stand tall against some fierce and foul beasts that spilled out of the Hollow on a cold night in November.

When I caught up with him, he was sitting in front of his fireplace with a glass of brandy in hand and a pistol on his lap.

Only his eyes moved when I stepped into the room, one of my Colts at the ready.

“Jackson,” I nodded and took a seat across from him.

He offered a tired smile, raised the glass to his lips and drained the liquor. For a moment, he considered the snifter, shrugged, and then tossed it into the fireplace with barely enough force to clear the fender. As the snifter rolled to a stop, he looked at me.

“I take you’re here to exact some measure of revenge for a tree?” there was a dry, bitter tone to his words.

“Aye, that’s about the size of it, Jackson.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t shoot me when you stepped in.”

I offered him a grim smile. “I want the name of the man who you’re selling my friend to.”

Jackson raised an eyebrow. “You really did consider that damnable tree your friend?”

“I did,” I answered. “I’ll be planting a few of his saplings in his honor.”

Jackson paled. “I’ll not be food for a tree.”

“You’ve no choice in the matter. The only choice you have here, Jackson, is how you die. Fast and easy. Slow and hard. It’s up to you.”

He shook his head. “I didn’t think it would come to this.”

“You murdered my friend, and you’re selling his body. And you didn’t think it would come to this?” I laughed. “Did you know me at all, Jackson Noble?”

“I thought I did,” he whispered, licking his lips nervously, fingers twitching as they moved towards the pistol.

“Lift that pistol, Jackson,” I snapped, “and I’ll show you what it means to die hard.”

He stiffened and then pushed the pistol onto the floor, kicking the revolver away.

“Who am I looking for, and where does he live?” I asked.

“His name is Tad Langer,” Jackson answered. “He lives up in Pepperell. Duncan –”

I put a bullet in his right eye, and he slumped out of the chair.

I stood up and left the house.

Langer wouldn’t have a choice.

He’d die slow.

#trees #horrorstories

Beatrice

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She stood her ground.

I found her in the basement of her department.

I took a belly full of birdshot as well and was damned thankful she hadn’t thought to change the load.

She realized her mistake the moment I caught myself on the doorframe and brought one of the Colts up.

Beatrice broke the shotgun open as she stepped back and tried to reload.

But reloading on the move, and when you’re a target, is something that takes a hell of a lot of practice. Practice she’d never had.

The first slug from the .44 shattered the stock of the shotgun, sending splinters of wood into her side and arm. Blood sprang from a dozen minor wounds, and she dropped the weapon, trying to reach a door at the back of her office.

My second shot caught her in the belly and took her off her feet.

She landed hard on the floor and skidded a foot or so, her back against the heavy door she’d been trying to escape through. With her lips pressed together, she drew a knife from her bodice, but I was already there, kicking the blade from her hand and stomping down on her fingers, shattering them.

She meant to kill herself, and I meant to stop her.

I’d be the only one doing any killing.

I crouched down in front of her, cocked the hammer of the Colt and pressed the barrel against her shoulder.

“I’ll take you apart a piece at a time, Beatrice,” I told her, and she nodded.

She spat blood out to one side, smirked and asked, “Am I still pretty, Duncan Blood?”

“You would be if you hadn’t killed my friend.”

Beatrice shrugged.

“Otto named you.”

“Of course, he did,” she wheezed. “You want to know if there was anyone else.”

I nodded.

“Three more,” she smirked. “Two have gone on to bring the wood north. There’s a man who’ll pay fair price for the wood of a talking tree. Especially one as old as yours was.”

“And the last?” I asked, ignoring her comment.

“Jackson Noble.”

She laughed at the flicker of anger that passed over my face.

“Oh yes, your friend Jackson,” Beatrice grinned. “He’s the one who told us about the tree. Brought us to it. Will you kill him too?”

“What do you think?” I asked and shot her through the mouth.

Friend or no friend, Jackson would die.

They all would.

#trees #horrorstories

The Professor

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He tried to run.

Professor Otto Sturm entered the library, saw me and turned to leave.

I shot him through his left knee and dropped him to the floor.

As he tried to crawl away, I crossed the room and kicked him in his wound. He fainted from the pain as I secured the door.

I took the portly bastard by the collar and dragged him to the fireplace, where hot embers glowed, and the poker lay with its head buried among them.

Otto let out a weak groan as I cut open his pants leg from the hem to the injury, and then he shrieked as I slapped the poker against the bullet wound. The sound reverberated in the confines of the room, and the stench of singed flesh and burnt blood filled the air.

I put the iron back in the fire, settled myself into the chair and looked at the man.

“Mr. Blood,” Otto gasped, forcing a smile. “I think there’s been some sort of misunderstanding.”

“No. Not that I’m aware.” I cocked the hammers on the Colts, and he stared at them, unable to look away.

“Now,” I continued, “there’s been a murder on my farm.”

His eyes darted from the revolvers to my face, then back again. “I’m sure I know nothing of it. I am, however, quite willing to put the full resources of the university at your disposal. Perhaps together, we could unravel the mystery of the tree killer.”

I shot him through the other knee, but this time, he didn’t pass out.

He whimpered and babbled incoherently as I took the iron out and slapped it against the knew wound.

Otto vomited over himself – a collection of eggs, toast, and what looked like curdled milk – and begged me to stop.

“I suppose you’re realizing I didn’t mention the tree,” I remarked, returning the iron to the embers.

He nodded, sweat beading on his forehead.

“Who else was with you?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“Otto,” I whispered. “I’m not foolin’ here. I’m about to cut on you in ways you’ve never dreamed of. This will be something new for you, and I promise it’ll be something bad. Who else was with you?”

“Von Kampf,” he sobbed.

I nodded and blew out his brains.

As blood and gray matter sizzled on the embers, I went looking for Beatrice Von Kampf.

She needed to die.

#trees #horrorstories

Eldritch Flames

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Old magic and young fools.

They’re a terrible combination.

I know a few spells of my own, and one of them concerns the tracking of magic. Especially old magic.

There are some who deem it unwise to trace magic, and usually, I agree with them. But I needed to find who had knocked down The Tree.

Someone needed killing.

Standing at Jack’s corpse, I cut my palm and let the blood fall to the earth. When the first drop struck a blade of grass, I whispered the spell. My tongue was stung by the sharpness of the words, the bitterness of each letter as I spat it from my mouth.

When the foul language had been uttered, the path lay clear before me.

Footsteps, dozens of them, were illuminated upon the ground, black flames snapping up and outlining them. The tracks led through the grass, to the road, and off toward the Hollow.

I knew they wouldn’t end there.

I followed the flaming steps, each going out as I passed them. Within a short time, I was on North Road and following the tracks toward town. Keeping one eye on the Hollow and the other on my prey, I moved swiftly.

When I reached the Cross branch of Miskatonic, no one stood in my way. The guards knew better. I passed them by with a nod of greeting, and they looked away.

The wisest choice they could make.

The tracks led to a newer building, one that had been built as a private residence. Reaching the door, I didn’t bother knocking.

I kicked it in and drew both weapons.

A single line of footprints followed the stairs and into a small library.

The place stank of death and outrages committed upon flesh.

Of the people I was looking for, there was no sign.

Sitting down in a chair by the hearth, I drew my Colts and set them on my lap. The barrels were pointed toward the door, and my hands were on the weapons.

I had no intention of calling out a warning to whoever stepped into the room.

I’d know the culprit as soon as I caught sight of him.

And when I did, the Colts would express my displeasure.

They were far more eloquent than I ever could be.

#Trees #horrorstories

Murder

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Someone killed Jack.

I’d known Jack ever since I’d planted him as a sapling in 1803. There was a tang to his fruit that few enjoyed, and I’ll admit I wasn’t particularly fond of them either. Not until I started to press the windfall and kept it around for applejack.

It was how he got his name.

I’d walk and see him about once a week. Sometimes every other week, depending on the situation in Cross or the Hollow, or both.

It’d been a solid week since I’d last spoken with Jack, the conversation nothing more than an exchange of pleasantries, and there’d been no weather to speak of in that time.

When I came upon his remains, the stink of magic clung to the air.

Something had twisted and pushed the old apple tree down, and then someone else had taken axes and saws to his branches. All of which were missing.

I stood there for a bit and considered who or what might have done this to the tree.

Upon questioning the other trees, I learned they did not know what had happened. There was a fog over their collective memory, and even the dryads and other fey had been affected.

I knew it could not be my mother, regardless of which version might crawl out of the Hollow.

No, the magic was too strong. Too strong and too dark.

This was old magic, and only one group practiced its type in Cross.

The professors and students of Miskatonic University.  

They’d come onto my land, found the oldest tree in the lower orchard, and put him to death.

They’d murdered my friend.

More than likely for nothing more than his wood and the power a speaking tree had within its fibrous bones.

I looked long and hard at Jack’s mangled form and then made my decision.

I’d not work magic on the offenders. I could twist well enough without the need for arcane utterances.

And as for their limbs, well, I had plenty of handsaws and axes for that, too.

With my decision made, I turned and headed toward home.

There were tools to gather and fools to visit.

#trees #horrorstories