Updated: Oct 13, 2022
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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?”
“Those are the only quandaries that matter.”
“It’s good to see there’s one nightwalker out here that hasn’t outlived his principles. Had I more time, I’d like to get to know you better. I’m afraid I never heard your name.”
“Marko…Lundy,” I offered. “Tell me. What is this task of yours?”
“I come from a family of murderers. And I’ve come here to kill you.”
“Kindred spirits,” I smiled.
“Yes. And I have been tasked with developing a chapter here for my family. To build a house that teaches the lessons my family has kept secret for generations. I don’t expect to find any pupils in the time I have left. But I may claim some land.”
“How much time do you have left?”
“I don’t expect long. Perhaps a week. I can feel it.”
“How can I help?”
“My code says I must hunt all nightwalkers, unless they are exempt by contract. And I must protect all men, unless they are exempt by contract.”
“You have come here to kill me,” I measured.
“I have. The rumors said a man in a tall hat was skulking around, where people had been found, drained of blood. Since the bodies were drained, I knew I had to find you. Either, you were a sloppy nightwalker, or you were a clever man. Either way. I’d have to kill you.”
“You wouldn’t be the first to try to kill me,” I challenged.
“I just might be the first to succeed.”
I laughed at that.
“It’s not in my nature to die without a fight. But I feel honorbound to help you.”
“Walk with me,” Richard insisted.
I helped him to his feet, and he brought me to the patch of strange grass.
We stopped at the border of the snow-white grass. He simply nodded to say that this is what he wanted. And I agreed.
He smiled as we walked into it.
I felt an inhuman chill course through my body. Like a dark wind of deepest winter had passed through my bones. But Richard didn’t seem bothered by it. Like he was familiar with the sensation.
“What is this feeling?” I shuddered.
I recovered from the chill, and Richard handed me a Flintlock revolver that was black in its wood and silver in its steel. The same skull on his pocket watch was burned into the wood of the grip.
I looked at it with renewed vigor.
“You are standing in a special plot of land. It’s been severed from the land of the living and the dead. Likely the result of some damned creature being tucked away beneath the soil that doesn’t belong in either realm. And this is all that can grow in that kind of soil. Gravegrass.”
I looked out at the grass.
Those high rows of sharp grass that were white as snow, and were held together with threads of crimson.
“What is it doing to us?” I asked.
“It has an effect on those who enter it. If you are mortal, you may escape death forever if you fall in it. And if you are immortal, you may finally die if you fall in it.”
I became gripped with a long-forgotten feeling.
“Now you are living as a man again,” Richard whispered.
“And what about you? You have nothing to fear if you fall in this place. You may go on living. If what you’re telling me is true.”
“I have everything to fear if I fall in this place. Just like you. Now, we are on equal ground as we hold these weapons.”
“What do you propose?” I demanded.
“We duel. Whoever remains standing will agree to bury the fallen here. And watch over them.”
“How do you know I’ll keep my promise? I’m a wanderer.”
“You’re a man, again. And a real man keeps his word.”
“How does this help you?” I asked.
It was a more heartfelt question than I expected.
“I will honor the code of hunting the nightwalker. And if I die here, you will finally find what you’re looking for.”
“And what is it that I’m looking for, exactly?”
“You want to set down roots. I can feel it. Why else would the same man be seen haunting towns and villages the way you have? There are plenty of animals to kill. You have no shortage of prey. I imagined that you risked everything because what you’re looking for can’t be found in the wilderness. People don’t make their homes in the woods. They make their homes with people.”
I closed my eyes and felt the unexpected truth of Richard’s words course through my veins. For a moment, I thought it would have been a better feeling to let his dying blood course through my veins.
“You are doing this for me?” I asked.
“In part. I can feel the weight you carry with you. Somehow, I expect this duel will remove the weight from around your neck. Whether you fall, or whether you walk away.”
I held still, and took a deep breath.
“This is a lot to consider.”
“Is it really? You have nobody waiting for you. At least you haven’t had that in a long time.”
“And you don’t have anybody, either?”
“My family are murderers. Dying is part of what we do. They will honor my passing as long as I died in search of blood.”
I looked down on the revolver, and it felt heavier with every word.
“You would have me build a house on top of this cursed land?”
“Such a house would be perfect, for a man like you.”
I couldn’t argue with that. A nightwalker could make a great home on cursed land. However, cursed land is not suitable for a house of the living.
“No house would last here,” I protested.
“I know of a tree that could be of great service to you. I found it in the deep woods, just on the eastern banks of the threaded lake.”
“It’s made of Corpsewood. An ancient tree that will grow back to its original size, so long as it has roots in the ground and men to feed off of.”
“Another nightwalker? And in the form of a tree that can repair itself? Sounds like a tall order. I wouldn’t willingly part with one of my limbs, even if I could grow them back.”
“It is the only timber that can be supported on this grass. Of that, I assure you.”
I pondered the idea of having a place to call home, or a suitable place to be buried. They seemed like trivial thoughts to someone like me, but the sudden thought that I’d have one or the other at the end of this duel appealed to me. In ways I’m still trying to understand.
“You’re trusting me with a lot of secrets.”
“You’re both nightwalkers lost in these woods. I thought it would be comforting to both of you. That you both didn’t have to be so lonely out here. So, do we have a deal?”
I took a deep breath.
“Let’s see who has it in them,” I smiled.
We both stood tall.
The resolve in Richard’s eyes remained strong.
“We’ll duel?” I asked.
“We shall,” Richard smiled.
We stood at the center of the plot, and looked into each other’s eyes. I wondered how my eyes had changed as I walked into the Gravegrass. Did they revert back to the deep brown I had taken for granted in my youth? Or were they even more deep a crimson than before, when I approached a victim?
Those questions hardly mattered. For Richard, the only change was that he looked more content. Those silver eyes that seemed to gleam like a polished headstone.
We turned our backs to each other.
We took ten paces.
We turned and aimed.
We held still for a moment, both of us staring each other down, with steel in hand. I had lived the last forty years as the looming shadow that was never at a disadvantage. I drifted from town to town, and was content to drink as carelessly as the men that lumbered out of the taverns every night. Only their drinking had bound them to the things that didn’t matter. Their pains, their taverns, their bottles.
My drink had given me freedom. From mortality, attachments, and purpose. There was no purpose to be gained from a life that would never end. And I believed there was a strange comfort in that thought. That the pleasures of living forever were enough.
But the words that Richard whispered rang true with me. They would have sounded empty had they been spoken by anybody else. But Richard had killed just as many men as me. I was sure of it. Maybe even more. I could feel the weight he carried with him as well. In his voice, and in his eyes.
I looked ahead, and saw that I was finally on common ground with someone. We shared a calling, a pain, and now a decision. What they never tell you about a duel to the death is that shadows are always darker in the fight. And we cast very dark shadows as we looked into each other’s eyes. Richard’s was a shadow bound by an ancient code. One that would follow him, even to death. And my shadow was wild and resistant, like a caged animal that was just set free.
Was this how every mortal had felt at the end?
I thought that I was free of that feeling.
The doubts and questions.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It was a far quieter sound than I was expecting.
I looked on as Richard had let his cloud of gunpowder fume from his weapon. And I saw that he dropped it in the Gravegrass. He looked on at me, as if he was proud. And I saw in his pale matchstick of a throat that he started to gasp and gurgle with crimson.
He struggled to stay standing, and I was glad for that. My speed was gone, and his strength was still there. I rushed to his side, so he didn’t fall into the embrace of the wintery grass. As I struggled to catch him, he smiled at me.
“I lost,” he whispered.
The dread of my actions was overwhelming, and I realized that the smell of Richard’s blood was like poison. It smelled like arsenic instead of copper, and I knew that there was nobody to blame but me. I had shot this man and he was dying because of me. The gravity fell over me like a terrible downpour of rain, and I felt the guilt gnaw at me.
The grass really had made me become a man again.
“I’ll bury you here. I promise,” I wept.
“And you’ll look after this place?” He asked.
“Yes,” I promised.
I looked into Richard’s eyes, and contentment washed over them.
“The dead are never far away,” he whispered.
Then he closed his eyes forever.
As soon as Richard let go of his hold on this world, I could feel my promise taking hold of me. It started with the burying of a grave. Had I been on any other patch of land, I would have been able to dig a suitable grave with my hands. All in a matter of seconds. But under this tainted earth, I was reduced to using a spade shovel I found around the corner.
Then I got to work.
I stepped outside the grass, and felt my warmth and powers return to me. And I rushed to the undertaker, and returned with a gift. I relived the undertaker of his finest coffin, and I put Richard into it. I lowered him into the earth, and felt a piece of me go with him. And with the same difficulty as I had dug the grave, I had moved the earth back over him. But this time, I saw how truly dead the land beneath the Gravegrass was.
It was sickly, and was riddled with pulsing pustules that reminded me of the organs of a human. When humans were still alive. The soil around them was leached white, and devoid of any signs of life. It was not a suitable place to let anything grow. But it occurred to me that this may be a suitable land for someone like me. A man setting down infernal roots just as this Gravegrass had.
Even as I buried Richard and I followed his instructions to find the tree, I had my doubts. But seeing the tree in the glow of the Harvest Moon, I had no doubts. For a moment, I simply stared at its crimson trunk and how the night had turned it into a towering predator. A man had walked into its clutches, almost as soon as I arrived. He seemed lost as he waved his lantern and tried to find his way back home. And just as he saw me, the soil had pulled him deep beneath the ground, and I could hear the sounds of bones snapping and blood being drained.
The man had been swallowed by the earth and coiled by the roots of this nightwalker. Like a nest of vipers that had claimed a rodent.
And it wasn’t hunger that made the man fall so quickly. It was the fact that I had seen him, and the tree had to act quickly in order to claim him. It knew we were both nightwalkers, and it knew that it had to act quickly to claim him first.
I realized that this tree was as much a nightwalker as I was. And it could coexist with me. A sentiment I could never share with anybody else. It was then that I resolved to build on the promise I had made to Richard. I would start building a house.
After making a peace offering, the tree started to see things my way, and offered its timbers to make the house. Perhaps it was more charitable than I gave it credit for. But that was all a nightwalker needed to build a home. An extension of grace went a long way.
I didn’t know it at the time I killed him, but Richard taught me that. And in his honor, I would fulfill his last request. Those are the only types of requests that matter, really.
I toiled endlessly to get the house made.
Whenever wood was needed, I would feed the corpsewood tree another man, and it would grow slightly. It would hiss at me whenever I took an ax to its timbers, but it didn’t raise a branch to attack me. It understood just as I did. It was one thing to eat your fill, but it was another to attract attention to yourself. We both had something to gain from the bargain. That was how I toiled for a year.
I gathered materials as a vampire, and I built the dwelling as a man.
And by the time it was done, I was immensely proud of what I had made.
My first honest labor in forty years, and it was a house to behold. Small in size, but gothic in form. And it was nestled on the land that I had buried my kindred spirit. Most people would be disturbed at the prospect of living in a haunted house. Perhaps rightfully so. But that also meant I had achieved one of the greatest pleasures a landowner could hope for.
I had all the time in the world to find out what a domesticated existence meant for me. I had won my life from Richard, and I planned to make the most of it. I had still hunted as needed, but only as needed. Whenever I felt the hunger to claim a soul, I found one. When I felt the hunger to expand my soul, I found a book. When I felt hunger to enrich my soul, I found logs to burn. In the hearth I made with my own two hands. Made from stones I purchased from the stonemasons that arrived in town, and that served as the heart of my home, and the grave of Richard Hive.
And for a time, that was enough.
I had made a life again.
People came and departed from Flint. Books opened and closed by candlelight. And fires burned and died in that hearth.
And for a time, there was peace.
Then I heard someone knocking on my door. I opened it to greet them, and they had a letter in hand. I took it gracefully, and realized that the perfect life was only a step further away than I imagined.
In my building of the house, I had acquired something of value. And now I had to keep it from humans. I struggled to find a solution, but a vagabond and parasite like me had precious few skills that could be relied on.
I was very good at running away from my problems, but that could have landed me in prison. And prison is more difficult for nightwalkers than it might seem.
I had been very good at killing useless humans and covering my tracks when they were dispatched. But men that disappear cause quite a commotion. And I had grown tired of wandering in the wilderness.
I wanted to stay here, and I wanted to throw humans off the scent.
There was but one option remaining.
I could become a landlord.
Gravekeeper, scholar, and now a landlord.
That is the story that built this house, and the story that binds every soul to this place. The story of the foundations of The Headstone House.
My humble home.
More info on The Headstone House
What if the monsters we feared, were in fact, our neighbors?
That is the question that gave rise to the most terrifying haunted house that you never heard of.
And it took far more than just one author to answer it. The premise inspired thirty authors to tell that story, together. The story of one monster being a neighbor to countless others.
So who is this monster?
His name is Marko Lundy, and he is a vampire (or nightwalker, as he’d prefer to be called). And he has been the proprietor of America’s most haunted house for 204 years.
The stories he has collected have been fragmented and fleeting for all this time, and now, they have finally been committed to paper.
Join us as we unravel this harrowing collection of supernatural sightings, monstrous creatures, and harrowing crimes. Told by a very old monster, and penned by very new authors. All at the peak of their powers.
Welcome to the story we all made together.
Welcome to The Headstone House.
Five stories are to be digitally released this October on Long Overdue Publishing’s website. The list of stories and authors you will find leading up to Halloween of 2022 include the following:
Gravegrass - By T.C. Pendragon
Cemetery - By Marius Crowley
Gathering - By Agatha Brennan
Chute - By Roslyn Price
Max - By C.W. Lochland