Updated: Oct 13
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By: T.C. Pendragon
A grave is where you go to end a story. And the more stories that end, the more headstones you find. I suppose if you build a house atop the headstones, it becomes a place that welcomes those that are already dead. And if you listen closely to the walls, you can hear the cold pulse that still runs through them. And all the stories they carry. I lived in a house like that for 204 years. The Headstone House, I called her. And I know all her stories. This is but one.
October 31st, 1819.
That was the night I arrived in Flint, Michigan.
It was the night the Headstone House was born. And it was the night that Richard Hive died to make its foundations.
On that night, Flint was hardly a village at all. It was a cluster of small cabins, all with a smokestack burning, and filled with fur trappers. The gentle crackling of cinders and sloshing of ale were illuminated by the soft light of wax candles, and the burning of the Harvest Moon.
This may have been a time for revelry in towns like this.
But nobody dared walk into the darkness without someone to accompany them. Not with the corpses being found every day, and the ghastly stories being told every night.
Everyone had their own superstitions about what haunted the woods. Perhaps an ancient monster did not take kindly to its forest being cut down. Perhaps the moon had rekindled the hearts of the animals and turned some of them into monsters. But the truth was much more dangerous than they could fathom.
The monster that haunted their woods and drained their men into shriveled husks was walking among them. Drinking their ale, listening to their stories, and waiting for one more to step outside the light of the cabins and into the welcoming embrace of darkness.
That monster was me.
I had traveled between the settlements that were scattered across the Territory of Michigan for seven years. A nightwalker, like me, could find a great bounty of men, just by following the columns of smoke and paying a visit to the local tavern.
They would drink their ale and tell their stories, and I would watch and wait.
When the ale or stories ran out, one of them would stumble into the darkness and try to find their way home. It was the perfect time to claim one of them. It was a simple game that I had grown quite fond of winning. But fewer men were wandering the shadows every night. The taverns had grown brighter, and the stories told inside them became darker.
Killing half the trappers in the township will do that to a community. As much as I understood, and even relied on their fear, this had become quite the inconvenience.
Not because I was running out of towns. They cropped up like weeds in those days. But I started to see strangers scattered among the crowd. Men who were drinking less and watching more closely. Men dressed in black and were especially attentive to the arrival of strangers. They didn’t feel the need to drain their bottles, or listen closely to the stories. They had heard the stories before. And judging from the strange weapons they carried, they knew how the story would finally be brought to an end.
Every town that lost a man suddenly gained a Watchman. A hunter of nightwalkers that could discern calculated fact from deceptive fiction.
Flint was no different.
I always took my leave of a town like that. When the risk suddenly outweighed the benefits of staying. But I knew that anywhere I would go, I would soon run into a town with more men waiting. I had made quite the journey across the territory, and Flint was the last town for miles that wasn’t touched by the hunt.
Leaving now meant someone would follow me, and someone would be waiting for me. And looking at the bar that night, I knew that someone had already taken note of my presence and began questioning my humanity.
He was wearing a far more expensive jacket than anybody else in the tavern. And while he kept it much cleaner than any of the tradesmen huddled around the tables, he had far dirtier boots than any of them. He had clearly looked after himself meticulously, but he had traveled quite a long way.
I knew I was found before he turned around, but I thought there was a chance to do away with him. He seemed quite thin in his clothing, and he did not see me come in. I lingered in the corner, at an empty table, and watched him as he simply stared ahead.
After an hour, he turned around, and I saw he had a full, dark beard. His expression was calm and contemplative. Hardly the expression of a man who was shaken by fear or dulled by ale. His rising from the table was silent and reserved. He left three glittering coins, and didn’t bother to hear the answer from the tavern keeper.
Perhaps this would have been easier than I thought.
I waited a full minute before taking my leave.
And when I crossed from the yellow light of the tavern into the crushing darkness of All Hallows’ Eve, I felt a chill for the first time in years. Both of us were hunting for each other. A true glimmer of fear for a nightwalker was rare indeed.
There were not many places to hide in those days, when Flint was still finding its footing. There was a set of lumber pews beset by a cross, a few cabins with tanning racks, and the local undertaker. The timbers that they had gathered had taken on the shape of what the town needed. Faith, shelter, and eternal rest.
But that was not what a Watchman would want.
If this Watchman was as smart as he looked, he would have steered clear of the familiar hovels, and places where he knew that I had claimed lumberjacks before. The moment you felt safest was the moment that we would claim you. That’s how it had always been.
There was only one more place he could possibly be hiding. Where everyone in the township was afraid to venture. To the darkest portion of the woods.
The White Grass.
I took the long walk to the Threaded Lake, and made no sound as I traveled. Everything was silent as it passed under my feet. Nightwalkers can do that, if they’re careful. No twigs snapped, no mud sloshed under the soles of my shoes, and no animals made a sound. If any crossed my path, they scurried away as quietly as they could. My secret was safe with them.
Then, as I entered the caress of the Threaded Lake, I found the patch of pale blades that haunted the woods. That unholy spit of land where nothing could grow. And just outside of it, I found the Watchman.
He was standing at the edge of the pale grass, far away from any human eye or ear to detect him. It was a haunted place that had no life growing in its borders. It wasn’t even watered by any rain when I had visited it before. The grass itself seemed to be untouchable by anything living, and welcoming of anything that was already dead. Truly, it was a place that was welcome for a man that had wandered this far away from town. And to a nightwalker seeking out an enemy to kill.
His curious, silver eyes continued staring ahead, hypnotized. He almost looked hopeful as he became entranced by the insidious grass. I almost pitied him, entertaining delusions that I would let him have a second chance at hunting me down. In doing so, he gave me the chance I needed to dispose of him.
Perhaps that’s where you find second chances.
Where nobody is looking.
I felt my steps grow even lighter on the ground, and my body hovered above the earth. Like a soul leaving its body, I became weightless and silent. Untethered from the natural world. I crossed through the trees like the wind, and let myself land just behind him.
No sound was made.
My fangs grew sharper, and my fingernails extended an inch on every finger. The taste of salt had lingered on my tongue, and I felt myself overcome with the desire to claim him. It was no longer a calculated plan to find him. Now that he was here, he was mine to claim.
I could feel his breath as he took each one. Raspy and small.
I could feel the blood pulsing in his veins. Faint and thin.
I could feel him close his eyes. Sweetly and softly.
I coiled my fingers around his throat, and my jaws extended past my lips. There was no going back. For me or him.
I closed my eyes and savored the taste of…
I opened my eyes, and saw that a strange musket pistol was staring me down. Someone had gotten the drop on me.
Nobody had gotten the drop on me. Not in 160 years.
“I know you’re there,” The Watchman whispered.
I was pleasantly surprised by his calm observation. The only person who could feel my presence was one who had seen the pattern before, and knew they were on the other side of it. A killer’s instincts had alerted him to danger.
“I’ve been traveling for years. You’re the first one that has ever felt my presence.”
He turned around to face me, and I saw that he was an entirely different man in the darkness than he was in the light. A man who would kill me with no hesitation. It was still the same man, surely. And another surprise was hanging from his coat. A silver pocket watch. One I did not hear ticking before we both made our journey to this spot. Usually, I can hear the faint mechanical clicking of every gear. A broken watch, perhaps? It was hanging off of his coat, in plain view. Sterling silver. Emblazoned with a skull and engraved with a phrase in latin.
MORTUI NUMQUAM PROCUL SUNT
Truly dangerous to be carrying such a watch on your person, lest a man with harder hands a harder life tries to take it from you.
“So, it is true. A nightwalker has descended on this place.”
“That’s a name I haven’t heard in a while. You must be one of the lucky few to have heard the truth about what we can do,” I mused.
He should have been terrified or apprehensive to speak with me. But instead, I saw the gleam of curiosity in his silver eyes.
“I can’t place your accent. Ukrainian?”
He spoke softly, like he had a secret to hide. But the light wheezing that rattled off the final word of his sentence led me to believe that he was weaker than he let on. I honed my vision and saw that his heart was barely beating. Hardly fitting to drain a man so close to the end of his life. My etiquette improved as my appetite abated.
I’m lucky that I didn’t claim him when I did. A man with sick or diseased blood could corrupt a nightwalker, and leave them vulnerable.
“Polish,” I smiled. “What brings a man with one foot in the grave so far?”
“You noticed? I find it oddly comforting. I’ve been traveling for a while now, and I should be finding this place disturbing, but everything about it is familiar.”
I looked at this man closely and I saw that he seemed devoid of life. His skin was pale, his veins were varicose, and he seemed like a stiff breeze could have knocked him over. The journey from the tavern had certainly taken a great deal out of him.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
I had no idea why I asked that question.
“Richard Hive,” he confirmed.
“This place is comforting to me as well. I cherish my privacy, and you’re the first one to find me. But I must ask. Why is it comforting to you?”
Richard let the hammer fall on his gun, slowly. And then he lowered his weapon.
This would normally be the moment that a nightwalker would rip out Richard’s throat. But something in his eyes made me want to hear his answer.
“It reminds me of home.”
I looked at Richard, and saw that he was about to topple over, so I extended my hand.
"Would you like to sit down? You must be weary from the walk.”
“That’s very kind of you.”
Richard put his pistol into his coat.
“It’s my good deed for the day.”
“Are you stretched so thin that you only have the time for one good deed per day?”
We walked over to a set of logs that stood straight up, and were mired in the dirt. It may not have been the lavish furniture that either of us hoped for, but it was exactly what we needed.
“I’m afraid so,” I answered.
Richard shook like a leaf in the wind when he finally took a seat.
“You mentioned that this place reminds you of home. Where is it you hail from?”
“Detroit,” Richard smiled.
“And how does this place remind you of home?”
“Surely you can feel it. This place draws men like us to it, like flies to a corpse. It’s violent, strong, and built on so much death.”
“And you came here, in your condition? All the way from Detroit?”
“It’s an affliction that runs through the men of my family. I’m afraid I don’t have much longer.”
The taste on my tongue was transmuted. From anticipation to relief. And then from relief to pity.
“And yet you came all the way here. By foot?”
“I came to this place by the kindness of strangers. They let me ride in their wagon for most of the journey. But now I’m here to complete my final task.”
“And what is your task?”
“I’m afraid it’s not that simple. I have a code I must honor. And it conflicts with my task.”
“Is there any way I can help?”
“Why would a nightwalker care about a dying man’s moral quandaries?”