by Elliott Hayes
Marvin stood outside the library and paused for reflection. His whole life had been leading up to this one moment. Everything he had worked for hinged on what he might find inside. He had failed once before, but he was sure this time, he could feel it in the air. The atmosphere almost crackled around him, the flesh on his ears and the side of his face tingled like the prickly pain you get from fine ice-cold rain.
Sixty years of fear had lead him to this place. Sixty years of pain and doubt. Pain brought on by the memories of his childhood, from the corruption of an innocence that only the young possess. Doubt over whether or not any of it was real, whether it had ever actually happened. But he knew it was real, there was no doubt in his mind right now. He raised a hand to his face and traced the scar that lay there with the tip of a long boney finger.
It was real alright, he had followed its ghastly trail for sixty years, and in that time had seen things he dared not believe, for to believe them would be tantamount to madness, and he feared the grip of madness on his brain as much as he feared the thing that he would find inside that library. He knew that if he were ever to stop and think about it from the point of view of a rational human being the tentacles of madness would creep slowly into his brain and take hold and never let go.
So he kept rationality at arm’s length, and filled the forefront of his consciousness with hatred and disgust, emotions that drove him on and kept him teetering on the ledge between reality and insanity (with an emphasized tilt towards the latter).
He had only seen it once, when he was six years old. That's when he had gotten the scar. He guessed now he had only survived the encounter by miracle and though for a while he had thanked God for saving him he knew in his heart that was not the case. God had nothing to do with any of this. He had seen what it was capable of first hand as a boy, and again thirty years later. Now, another thirty years on, it was back, and it was doing it again. God was nowhere to be seen. As usual.
The wind picked up and he turned the collar of his overcoat upwards to protect from its icy bite. It was time to go inside. He tried to summon the will to move his feet but he was rooted to the spot. The last words of the psychic echoing in his mind, "It's a book, an evil, joined together. Kill the book!" he tried not to think about what happened to her, to put it to the back of his mind, but she kept pushing her way to the front again, her mouth wide open in a silent scream, eyes bulging out of their sockets. He kept telling himself he hadn't seen that hand, that it was his imagination, or the remnants of a dream, but he knew better. He knew that the fingers he had seen wriggling inside her mouth had really been there, that when they protruded from that gaping orifice and reached upwards over her nose, pressing inwards and crushing her skull in on itself he hadn't been dreaming. Not at all. He had been witnessing a manifestation of that other world, the one she was able to visit, the one It was from.
He forced the image from his mind and headed up the steps. As he placed his hand on the library door he paused for a moment and took a breath, noticing the smooth varnish on the wood beneath his fingers. This made him smile, some normality amid such madness. He gave the door a push and as it swung silently inwards he took the last breath of fresh air he would ever take as a human being and entered the building.
Inside was just a library. It looked like a library, smelled like a library and was as quiet as... well you get the picture. This surprised him, and made him feel uneasy. For a moment he allowed himself the briefest hope that the psychic had got it wrong. Surely he should be walking into a vast fiery cavern, with cliffs dropping off into lakes of molten lava, punctuated with the shrieks of demons and the stench of burnt hair and decomposed flesh. The psychic had sent him to a library, an actual library with no hint of evil, It couldn't possibly live here. Then he remembered what had happened to her and he knew that was just wishful thinking. But surely this was what he wanted. His entire existence had been about finding and destroying the thing that had devastated his life. He pulled back his shoulders, puffed out his chest and with a renewed sense of purpose walked up to the reception desk.
There was no one in attendance. He looked around, suddenly sure It would be behind him. The library appeared empty. Huge bookshelves rose up almost to the ceiling, which was punctuated with skylights here and there. Access to the higher books was via tall ladders that ran along the floor on wheels, he was more than familiar with the system having spent many hours in libraries over the years, researching the occult and its creations. There was a smaller room on the right with the sign "CHILDREN'S LIBRARY" over the door. A poster on the door drew his attention. It depicted a scene from Little Red Riding Hood. The Big Bad Wolf was in grandma's bed dressed in grandma's nightgown and Little Red was stood at the foot of the bed. The wolf was grinning a very toothy grin. The caption beneath read simply WHO'S AFRAID?
"I am," was the answer that popped instinctively into Marvin's head, followed immediately by the idea that perhaps this was meant for him, it surely wasn't there for the children. Then he remembered what It had done to him as a child and he wondered if maybe it was.
"Down to business," he muttered quietly to himself, looking around once more to ensure his words hadn't disrupted anyone, or anything. The last thing he wanted now was to draw its attention.
The psychic had told him exactly where to look. The book was in the Special Reference section out back. He looked along the dim corridors of shelves and thought to himself, "yeah, it would be." and set off cautiously down one of the aisles. He tried to move silently, but the floor was of polished wood and he could hear each contact of shoe heel as if it were ringing in his ear. What's more the years were taking their toll and his attempts at stealth caused his bones to creak and joints to crack, each time echoing back to him in the deathly silence of this huge hall.
By the time he reached the Special Reference section his heart was racing, there was a line of sweat on his brow and he felt exhausted. He wondered what the hell he was thinking coming here alone. If it were to catch him he would surely be killed. The severity of his circumstances dawned on him for the first time and his throat made a dry clicking sound as he tried to swallow. He raised his hat, wiped away the sweat and screwed his eyes up and rubbed the tear ducts with his middle fingers.
As he opened his eyes the creature was right in his face, its eyes pulled back into slits, flaps of skin hanging where its mouth should be, the stench of the dead invading his nostrils. He recoiled taking a deep breath so as to scream and as he did so he could taste it’s disgusting decay. Instead of screaming he dry heaved, took another breath and fainted.
The creature looked down at the old man lying on the floor. It knew who he was. It had known he was coming. It had felt his every move since they first met sixty years earlier. But it did nothing. He was exactly where it wanted him to be. It backed away and faded into the shadows. It had no visible mouth so to speak of, but had it had one, it would have been smiling.
Marvin awakened uncertain of where he was. He puffed and groaned as he worked his way into a seated position when his whereabouts finally dawned on him. The memory of coming face to face with that thing spurred him to his feet. He stood up as quickly as his aching parts would allow, breathing short rapid breaths and looking nervously around in case it reappeared. He tried to focus on his purpose for being in this place and began looking around the Special Reference section for the book in question. He found himself drawn to a shelf recess where a large hardback lay. As his fingers curled around the binding he knew it was the one, the book appeared normal but felt anything but. Despite the hardback cover the book felt soft to touch and yielded slightly under the pressure of his fingers like shiny leather over a thin coat of marshmallow, (human flesh), the thought popped into his head before he could stop it. He pushed the thought away and wondered how the book could be the lifeblood of the creature. Perhaps it was a spell book, maybe the whole thing was cursed, afraid of the answer yet driven to succeed he opened the front cover.
He immediately felt the power within the book take a hold over him. He drew a sharp inwards breath and held it, frozen, unable to let go of that thing in his hands, unable to move, unable even to breath out. The pages were filled with sketched images, draw in pencil, it seemed, and not particularly well done. His heart filled with dread as the images began to take shape. Their edges becoming sharply defined before bulging outwards like some twisted pop-up book for demons. The shapes became real. Writhing, twisting tendrils of flesh and bone that looked like reptilian fingers. Each one ended in a forked tongue that flickered and licked like a snake looking for food. The tip of one of these tongues found its way into his nostrils and up into his nasal passages, another squirmed into his mouth, flickering across his tongue and down his throat. The fear and repulsion he had originally felt were suddenly replaced by panic. In his mind he was screaming, thrashing wildly to be free, but he was frozen still, aware of everything, like a patient on an operating table who's a little short on anesthetic.
He felt himself being drained. He was being sucked dry. His skin began to shrivel, his lips pulled back from his mouth in a permanent zombie-like grin, as did his eyelids revealing bulgeous, staring eyeballs. The skin on his nose rotted away and the stench of decomposed flesh became overwhelming.
The last human thought to run through his mind before he died was that it had him. A dawning realization that it had beaten him, and taken his soul for itself. And then he was gone. His human consciousness replaced with nothing but anger and bitterness over what he had become. No longer a man but a slave to evil, a servile creature that would carry out its bidding for as long as It lived. He would be its bitch, delivering fear into the minds of its prey so that It may feed in order to survive.
Little did he know that its next cycle, thirty years from now, would be its last. It would have been little consolation.