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Allan walked slowly down the quiet corridors of old books. His web search had lead him here: at this old, mysterious book shop. This was supposedly where he could find what he was looking for. Actually, first, he had to actually figure out exactly what he was looking for. He had a vague notion, at least: some type of occult book where he could read a creepy spell and make something supernatural happen.

The little shop had the typical dry, stale, woody scent of oldness that he had expected. The dusty air slightly irritated Alan's eyes. And it didn't help that the yellowish lighting in the place was dim and it required extra muscular effort from his peepers to see. He quickly grew tired of that burdensome searching, sighed, and headed to the sales desk at the other end of the shop.

The roundish, middle-aged woman at the desk, with her all-black attire, pale skin, bright red lipstick, and black-rimmed glasses seemed to Alan like the perfect person for such a job, at such a place.

"Excuse me," Alan said as he approached the desk. It took a few seconds for her to look up from her smartphone.

"May I help you?" she asked. Her tone was laced with a very subtle hint of annoyance.

Alan thought for a second about how exactly to word the weird, half-baked question that had been in his head. "Ummm. Soooooooo... basically I'm looking for books on the occult. Like, um, I dunno, like maybe something with... spells?"

"Spells?" the woman said. Her tone and the look in her eyes indicated a sense of "Oh boy this guy has no idea what he's doing or what he's getting into."

"Yeah, OK, I know it sounds, I dunno, weird. I just, I guess want to make something happen. Y'know? I want to dabble in this stuff, see if there's anything to it. Does that make sense?"

The woman narrowed her eyes at him. "I can point you to the correct section. But I am warning you: messing with the kinds of forces I think you're implying, it rarely goes well for a novice. Just sayin'. You usually cannot just 'dabble.'"

"So you're saying that you believe that all that stuff is real? Magic? Ghosts? Demons? The other side?"

The woman sighed. "Walk with me."

As Alan followed her, winding around a few rows of books, he asked: "So what's your name? I'm Alan."

"Miranda," she replied. They stopped at a section containing some fairly weathered books. He wondered just how old they were. The writing on some of the spines were in languages he didn't recognize, and some of those were written in non-Roman characters that he didn't recognize.

Alan grabbed one thick, black book and started to slide it out. Miranda snatched his wrist and held it.

"NOT. THAT. ONE." With his hand still grasping it, and her grasping his hand, she slid the book back in. He let go.

Alan awkwardly let his hand fall to his side. Miranda looked around at the shelf, then plucked a dark red book out. The title was in gold, something Latin he couldn't read. And there was a graphic of an eye, also gold, above the title. She flipped through it and sighed. "I probably shouldn't let you buy this one, either."

"I have plenty of money," Alan said.

"You mess with this book too much, money will be the least of your problems," Miranda said as she handed him the book.

Alan was not very concerned. He mostly expected nothing to happen.

Alan purchased the book and headed home. He got some take-out Thai food for dinner on the way. It had started raining by the time he got to the driveway of his little two-bedroom home.

"It was a dark and stormy night," Alan mumbled to himself as he carried the book and his dinner to his front door. He chuckled a little.

After he ate dinner, it was time to try it. "You always light candles, right?" Alan said as he lit some candles in his study. The shadows from himself and other furniture and various objects danced around on the walls. The sharp, stinging, but somehow satisfying scent of the match he had just lit spiced the air of the room. He tried to read through the book, but found it much too dark to see the words, with the fact that most of them were in Latin compounding the problem. He wondered how people ever read this stuff just by candle light. Perhaps real people didn't do that, and the actors on television and in movies just knew their lines. He sighed and turned on his desk lamp and pointed it at a blank, clean spot on the hardwood floor. (Alan was not the most organized fellow in the world.) He flipped through the book until he found a page that looked interesting.

The page's instructions that were in English told him to draw a red petagram on the floor. He happened to have a red Sharpie marker on his desk. It just had to be a pentagram. Why was it always a pentagram? He grabbed the marker but hesitated.

"How the hell am I going to clean that off my wood floor?" Alan asked nobody in particular. He stood in thought for a moment: Paint? Chalk? Draw it on a big sheet of paper? "Chalk!" Chalk should be an easy clean-up. He had some multi-colored chalk somewhere. He sifted through his trunk of old art supplies from college to find some. Fortunately, he indeed had red.

Alan knelt down on the illuminated spot on the floor. He carefully drew the red encircled pentagram as depicted in the book. "This is so cliché," he mumbled as he finished. He sat in the middle of it, Indian style, and placed the book in front of him, but outside the circle. Alan had actually taken one semester of Latin in college (on a dare). But his attempt to read the incantation was quite stilted anyway. As he got to the last line the floor began to feel warm. It could have been his imagination, right? After reading the final word his house creaked. It stopped his heart for a second and jolted his body. But he calmed down, telling himself that houses creak all the time. A loud whush outside indicated the wind had picked up. But wind happens all the time, too, of course. All of this was oddly-timed, though.

It occurred to Alan at that moment that he didn't actually know what the incantation was about, or what it was supposed to do. He thought about that Captain Picard facepalm meme image he liked to use to photo comment on stuff on Facebook. He grabbed the book, stood up, and looked at the Latin incantation again. That one semester of Latin sure was failing him. He sighed, retrieved his phone from his pocket, and went to Google's translation tool. As he fumbly began the task, he suddenly heard a loud BANG! from somewhere in his house. He was startled so much that he jumped and dropped his phone. It thumped and skidded across the wood floor for several feet.

At this point the question "What did I just do?" popped into his head.

He took a deep breath, calmed down, and picked up his phone. He blew out the candles and left the room to figure out what the loud bang had been. It didn't take long. In the kitchen, he saw that the stove hood, which had been loose, had fallen down. Damn. He would have to call the landlord the next morning. So all these things so far were explainable. But he was still quite anxious. On edge.

He took several deep breaths. Closed his eyes. Took in several more. His house creaked loudly again, raising his anxiety right back up to where it had been. He was now jittery as if he had just consumed a few cups of coffee. He thought of the movie Paranormal Activity, and other such things. He wondered, if he had conjured up some spook, if it would follow the pattern: mess with the person a while, doing little things, and then start raising Hell.

"But that stuff isn't real," Alan said to himself. He rolled his eyes and

WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?!?

Something in the dark nearby hallway had moved! It was subtle and in the corner of his eye, but SOMETHING moved! A person-sized something! He stared at the hallway, his heart pounding, his blood cooling, his breathing labored. He crept closer to the hallway for a better look. He found himself doing what stupid horror movie characters did all the time (and of course he would yell at them not to, as if that would stop them). "Hello?!" Then he sighed and that Picard facepalm image flashed in his mind again. Saying HELLO to a spook! "Dummy," he whispered. His trembling hand fumbled for the hallway light switch. He turned the light on. Nothing there but the hall closet and the doors to the guest bathroom and his bedroom.

He had an idea! He pulled his phone out and turned on the camera app. He began taking short videos as he walked down the hall, into his bedroom, the guest bedroom, the living room, and back to the kitchen, to his study. If there was a spook there, he'd capture it on video. But after doing that for about twenty minutes he had captured nothing. Nothing but perhaps his own stupidity. But he kept trying. After all, a video of an actual ghost or demonic entity would be pretty awesome to load up to social media.

Just when Alan was about to start recording another video, he got a phone call from "Unknown." He was so on-edge that his phone ringing startled him enough to make him drop it again. He took a deep breath, bent down, picked it up, and answered it in time. "Hello?"

"This is Miranda from the book shop, I got your number from your recepit. I implore you to bring that book back. It was a mistake to sell it to you."

"W-well, why?" Alan stuttered.

"I did some research into it after I got home. I was right to be worried about it. I really hope you haven't done anything yet with it."

"Ummm. Why?" Alan looked around to check if anything was amiss. The kitchen light switched off. The air turned cold. Uh-oh.

"The book's incantations summon demonic entities! Please tell me you haven't read anything from it yet!"

"Ummm, weeelllll...."

"DID YOU SUMMON ANYTHING?!"

"Um, kinda--"

Silence.

Then finally Miranda said: "What's your address? I'm coming over with a few of my own books."

"It's 867 Wood-"

Suddenly he heard her screaming. He held the phone away from his ear. On his screen he saw Miranda's face, even though he hadn't been using Facetime. Her mouth was open freakishly wide, her scream was shrill. The flesh started melting off of her skull, then suddenly the screen went black.

"Holy shit," Alan muttered. He pressed the home button. His phone was normal. Then: a Facebook notification appeared. "Your video has been uploaded." But he hadn't uploaded any videos. He activated his Facebook app. There, on his timeline, at the top, was a selfie video. His face in the video was terrified. He started screaming. The flesh on his face started decomposing, his eyes sinking in, then turning into dark little chasms.

"Holy fucking shit!" Alan said, his hand trembling so much he could barely hold the phone. He went to his news feed. Everybody in it was posting horrible things, and their profile pictures featured their heads in various states of decomposition. Like they were all dead. He saw pictures and videos posted of their pets skinned alive, mutual friends on fire, mutilated and hacked-up bodies, and one image even depicted a dead baby with a dagger in one of its eyes. When Alan saw that he tossed his phone across the living room.

Alan stumbled a bit, and fell sitting into one of the kitchen chairs. His heart - no - his whole body was pounding.

BING-A-LING! A new notification appeared on his phone. He swallowed in his desert-dry throat. He slowly walked over to the phone and looked down upon it. Facebook and Twitter notifications appeared and scrolled up the screen. "YOU'RE DEAD." "THE END IS NEAR." "WE WILL ENJOY YOUR DEMISE."

Alan was more terrified than he had ever been. His whole body trembled. "I'm sorry!" he yelled. "Please go away! I didn't know what I was doing!"

He looked around. Ghostly shadows streaked and melted across the walls. Whispers surrounded him, awful strained, evil voices uttering horrible, violent things.

"I'm getting the fuck out of here!" Alan yelled. He ran for his front door. But by the time he got to it, it was no longer there. He actually slammed into the wall where the door used to be.

"Oh man!" he whined as he backed away. "Oh god!"

He quickly swiveled around. He spied the sliding glass doors to the deck. But before he could bolt for it he saw something coming at him quickly from the hallway: a looming, dark figure, like something in a demonic black robe, came around the corner at the end of the hallway and rushed him.

Alan froze in terror, his heart feeling like it was going to explode, as it headed for him, the most evil, terrifying, angry growl he had ever heard booming against the walls and ceiling. Alan screamed until it was right on top of him. And then he screamed no more.

One more notification appeared on the screen to his phone. It was a popular meme image shared on social media, featuring the character Ron Burgundy, with the caption, in Impact font:

WELL, THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY



For In the Nodes of Madness: The 2015 Halloween Horrorquest

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