Saturday again, and time for another instalment of the Horror Short Story, The Book, from my collection, A Sinister Six.
Last time, JEFF REINHART had forced his way into DR MONTE HILTON’S home and was explaining why the book he had found was troubling him. Against his better judgement, Dr Hilton decided to let Jeff stay and began to talk to him about his delusions.
On to today’s segment…
“I have to shout to hear myself over those damn voices.” He had lowered his voice; it came out like gas through a released valve.
“Can you hear the voices now Jeff?”
“Yes.” It came out almost as a whimper. He dropped his knees and clutched sides of his head.
“What are they saying?”
“The same thing they always say. They want me to read the damn book.”
“Have you been reading it?”
“Well, yes. Obviously.” He held his hands wide. Can’t you tell?“But I don’t want to read anymore!” He was now slamming his fists into his knees: a full blown tantrum.
“Then don’t read it,” said Monte. It was his turn to open his arms. Simple as that.
“But it wants me to. It needsme to.”
“Why does the book need you to read it Jeff?”
“Because it wants to get out! It wants to get out!”
“There’s nothing in the book, is there Jeff?” To make his point Monte reached over and took the book. Holding the covers in each hand he opened the book and shook it several times. “See? Nothing”
“Not like a bookmark doc, I’m talking about inthe book, inside it. In the words and sentences.”
Monte pulled the book down onto his lap and turned back the cover. Jeff moved before Monte could stop him. In one stride he was across the room. He slammed the book shut and put his hand on it, pressing it down into Monte’s thigh.
“Are you mad?” Jeff said. “Why would you do that?”
“I want to see what’s in the book. If there is something to see, then I want to see it. If there’s nothing there, then I want you to go home. Now sit back down.” He indicated the seat, and Jeff sat back down. “Thank you. Now, what do youthink is in the book, Jeff?”
“Something evil, doc.” Jeff seemed to sink deeper into the chair, moving as far away from Monte – and the book – as possible. He pulled his knees up to his chest again. “Don’t read it, doc. Destroy it. Just let me leave first.”
“Do you think it would help if I destroyed it?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know.” Jeff had chewed a hole in the knees of his jeans and continued to pull on the loose threads he had created. “It might,” he said after a moment.
“Fine.” Monte stood up and moved to the desk. Pulling open one of the drawers, he removed a box of matches. Jeff stood up and held out both hands, palms towards Monte.
“You’re going to do it now? Here?”
“Yes Jeff. That’s exactly what I’m going to do.” Moving back to the chair, Monte picked up the book and tossed it into the fireplace. He slid the box open and produced a match, which he struck.
Jeff started towards the door, but Monte stepped in front of him. “Let me go, doc!” He looked frantic as he tried to push past Monte.
“When you’ve seen me destroy it. Then you can go.”
Jeff did not want to be near the book when it was destroyed, that much was clear. When Monte didn’t move, Jeff threw a half-hearted punch. Monte slipped it easily, but in doing so, created enough room for Jeff to dart past, and he headed into the hallway and towards the front door.
“Jeff!” Monte called out as his patient threw open the front door and disappeared out into the night. Closing and locking the door behind him, Monte blew out the match as it burned to his fingers. He returned to his office and looked at the book lying in the fireplace. It lay exactly where it had been moments earlier. He struck another match and knelt down, moving the match to one of the curled corners of the book. He held it there for a moment and watched as the edges began to darken, then he pulled the match away and blew it out.
The book had changed somehow. The colours on the cover were now clearer. They seemed to outline a dark shape that twirled and writhed. As he adjusted his position, different shapes became visible. He could not make out the shape, but it was clearly there. How had he missed it before? Monte picked up the book and returned to the chair.
Staring at the book in his lap, there were now clearly defined shapes visible on the cover, although they did not describe any form that he knew. They seemed to writhe and toil, and as the light caught them, they seemed to move across the cover, up and down the spine, and as he turned the book over, onto the back cover.
He was, for the moment, unsettled. He brushed the book off his knees and onto the floor, and he sat staring at it. It was just a book. The dark cover was once again still. Could just be the light, thought Monte, a trick of the light. That was surely it, and the longer he sat staring at the book, the more he convinced himself that’s what it was. He was an educated man, and the ludicrous prattling’s of a clearly demented man were not enough to shake Doctor Hilton’s nerve. He scooped up the book and sat back. It did look like there were shapes moving on the front cover, bestial forms that moved over and through each other. Their seemingly perpetual motion resisted the efforts of Monte’s eyes to latch on to anything and twice he blinked and rubbed his eyes, seemingly unable to clear them. The book was embossed. That was what his mind told him – a black cover with raised black markings – yet when he passed his fingers over the markings, he was surprised to find the book perfectly smooth. Smooth and cold. Even the corner that he had scorched was cold to the touch.
He placed the book over on the desk. He should probably destroy it, but he also wanted Jeff to witness the book’s destruction. It could form a useful part of his treatment. Destruction could wait until tomorrow. He left the book on the corner of the desk and moved to the door, looking back once before he turned off the light.
Okay, so that’s part one completed. Let me know your thoughts so far. Next time, Dr Hilton’s curiosity gets the better of him…