Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled A Lesson in Humility. Original writing prompt taken from https://www.writersdigest.com/prompts/antiquing-writing-prompt.
It was not a family reunion that should have ever happened. It defied the laws of God? Nature? Life itself? To think it none of this would have ever happened had I not been so covetous for fame. Such is the price to learn a lesson in humility.
I’m an author of very little renown, likely I’m nobody you’ve ever heard of but you may be familiar with my grandfather. If you’re a fan of his works you’ll know who I mean. I think about him daily.
Of course, he’d be easier to forget if I didn’t have to pass his grave daily. Admittedly, as convenient as it was, I shouldn’t have buried him so close to home. Loathe as I am to admit this, his fame haunts me. Appropriate, I suppose, as he did love to write about the supernatural.
I wanted to shoot a series of pictures of me using the technology my grandfather used when he wrote his novels and overlay that with shots of me using the tools we use today. It was supposed to be a kind of a tribute to him and his works. The design was to convey the notion that I was continuing his legacy. True, it was a bit exploitative but I’m not above doing things like that to increase my popularity. I’m sure my grandfather wouldn’t have minded. This is how I found myself at a local antique shop purchasing a teakwood desk and a metallic typewriter.
Almost out the door with one of my procured items literally in my hands, I saw something out of the corner of my eye something I now wish I had never seen. So enraptured I was with this object that I released the desk much to the surprise of the elderly, ashen-haired proprietor who was assisting me. Already struggling, the suddenness of my actions caused him to immediately lose grip of his end of the table. The table landed with a loud crash upon the floor narrowly missing his toes.
After profusely apologizing for my actions, which the good natured man accepted with only slight reservation, I was led to the item. Tucked away in the darkest corner of the store was a manuscript. It appeared to be floating in midair. Upon closer inspection, I quickly realized that it was lying atop a black pulpit.
How I was able to see it is a mystery. It was located at the opposite end of that poorly illuminated store. Was it the aforementioned illusion that captured my attention? Perhaps, but I don’t believe so. As ludicrous as it sounds, I believe I was beckoned by the tome itself.
I examined the manuscript. The tome’s thousands of yellow pages were bound together by a strange material that I first assumed was leather. After grabbing it I discovered that the cover was composed of some sort of hide that I had never seen or felt before. Thick metal clasps and straps composed of the previously mentioned hide kept the book shut.
“I thought I got rid of that thing,” the elderly man said. “Don’t know who brought it back or set it up like this.”
“It wasn’t you?”
“Nope, threw it away. One of my weekenders must have brought it back. They’re into weird stuff like that.”
“Why did you throw the book away?”
“Could never find a buyer. Shame too, that book has quite a history, ‘least if a crazed, disheveled, filthy young man with bugged eyes and white hair is to be believed. Not that I could ever trust a guy from San Francisco or any of those west coasters. Never trust anyone outside of New England, I always say.
Claimed something about a half-crazed Arab owning it, then a Pope banning it, think at some point a worm had it or something? Think the Salem Witch Trials were mentioned and at some point a Magician?
I dunno. All I know is he wanted to get rid of it and was only too happy when I offered to take it. Never could figure out how to get the damn thing open.”
To illustrate this, he grabbed the book from my hand and began fiddling around with the clasps to no avail. He then handed it back.
“Tried cutting the straps with the knife, tried sawing the clasps, but nothing worked. That’s why I threw it away. You can have it if you want.”
I nodded silently. My hands trembled. A mixture of apprehension and yearning enveloped my very being. It was not a matter of merely wanting the book. That would not adequately describe the emotions that I was experiencing. I yearned for it. I needed it. The book demanded that I have it. Even though, deep down, I feared it.
Silently, we finished loading the desk and the typewriter into the car. I did not even have the courtesy of thanking him for his assistance before I left the lot and began my drive back home.
Almost immediately I heard a strange sound. I moved my head towards the source, to the tome that I had purchased sitting next to me on the passenger seat. Shortly I realized that the sound was a gravelly voice emanating from the tome.
The hallucinations began shortly after. My senses were assaulted with grave and dire images so vivid it was almost as if I was witnessing everything right before my very eyes. Visions of sons killing fathers. Of decaying corpses littering the streets. Of wailing women lamenting the fallen. Of death. Of violence. Of destruction. Of mayhem and terror!
With each passing moment, the phantasmagorias became more gruesome! With each passing moment, they became more terrifying! With each passing moment, they became more infernal! I could see nothing but these horrors!
These visions haunted me! They mocked me! They consumed me!
I became increasingly more desperate. I yearned to apply a knife to my skull. I wanted to cut the images out of my brain. I would have done so had I the foresight of bringing one with me.
Madness nearly overwhelmed. I am unsure how I made it home.
The tome! Somewhere within its pages was the remedy I so desperately craved.
My very being became possessed by this notion. Leaving the table and the typewriter in my car, I rushed inside with book in hand.
The haste and desperation in which I left my car upon arrival at my home surely would have drawn the ire and scrutiny of neighbors had I any. Isolated and alone fifteen miles away from civilization, the home which I had inherited from my grandfather served as the perfect location to write distraction free. More importantly, it provided privacy from prying eyes.
After frantically unlocking my door, I ran inside and threw the book onto the kitchen table. I then feverishly searched for a means to open the clasps, ransacking my own drawers, cabinets, and shelves in the process.
Almost every object I owned, sharp or otherwise, that could be logically or illogically used to open straps or clasps were applied to that manuscript. Nothing worked. The visions continued to grow ever more relentless.
All the options I had available were soon exhausted. I sat in one of the kitchen chairs and began to weep, broken both physically and mentally. What could end this madness?
I heard a metallic click. The sound of pages unfolding and turning followed soon after. With trepidation, I removed my hands from my eyes and looked down. The manuscript was open.
It must have sensed my earnestness, my sincerity, the gravity of my dismal situation! The tome must have grasped my anguish, my pain, my sorrow! It doubtlessly chose to unfasten its clasps in an effort to assist! That’s why neither I nor the elderly clerk could open the book ourselves. The tome would only open when it deemed us worthy!
The passage it opened to must have contained the cure, I assumed, the panacea I desired! My eyes fervently consumed every word.
The tome was written in a language that I had never seen before. Lines and figures seemed to move before my very eyes. Was it fatigue or was it really happening? I cannot say. Somehow, even though it was written in a language I had never seen before, I comprehended everything.
Each word I read aloud. It was a macabre tale discussing the nature of life and death. It concluded with a rhyming couplet, the only one of its kind.
That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange aeons even death may die.
That is when I blacked out.
I’m not sure how much time passed before I regained consciousness. I awoke to find myself staring at the ceiling lying amongst the debris I had previously flung to the kitchen floor. The chair I was sitting in was partially lodged into the back wall.
When I managed to pull myself to one knee, a slow and deliberate process, I had recovered enough to become mindful of a putrefying smell. My hands covered my face as I ascended to my feet.
Breathing through my mouth proved to be difficult. It was almost as if the very air had become thicker and more putrid. The entire atmosphere had changed. I felt an atmosphere of death.
I was nauseated. Several times I nearly vomited.
I staggered to the table and bumped into it. The table shook but the book didn’t budge. My focus moved towards it as I gazed downwards. I could not believe my eyes.
Surrounding the book, forming sporadically on the table were small green flames. I placed my hand over them. They emitted no heat. I tried placing a hand on the book. My hand was immediately repelled.
At first I thought there was some sort of force field surrounding the tome, but upon further examination I realized a vortex had formed just above its pages. It had created a small and slow tornado. Slow being a relative term as the wind was quick enough to fend off my hand.
My attention turned elsewhere. Above the wind I heard another noise, barely perceptible at first, but it quickly grew louder, clearer, and most of all, angrier.
It was the sound of tormented pain, an anguished moan accompanied by dragging feet. And those sounds were getting closer to my home.
A sudden bang nearly made me leap out of my skin. Successive bangs followed, with each one more frenzied and violent. Whoever or whatever was out there wanted in desperately.
I was frozen with fear and trepidation. For a while, I stood there, dumbfounded, unable to move.
I denied any of this was happening. I convinced myself this was all a dream. I recited prayer after prayer begging to be released from this nightmare. It was futile.
Panic nearly set in. I wanted to run, to hide, to curl up into a ball and hope the problem vanished on its own. Logic eluded me. The only emotion I felt was the impulse to escape.
The fear soon subsided, albeit only slightly. In its place was a strange sort of curiosity. The peephole was beckoning. I had to answer its call.
Perhaps my anxiety was unfounded. Perhaps the individual outside was just an injured man needing assistance. Perhaps this whole affair was silly, a mere overreaction.
No, that wasn’t it. It was something else altogether that compelled me towards the door.
I needed to know who my adversary was.
I dragged myself both literally and figuratively to the door. It was the longest ten foot walk in my life.
Taking a couple of large breaths, I closed my eyes and moved my head toward the peephole. After one more moment of hesitation, I opened an eye and looked outside.
My blood ran cold. I felt myself go pale. A sickness, a revulsion, a queasiness came over me. I vomited on the floor.
Outside a putrefying and ensanguined man pounded on my door. His skin was a sickly green. His eyes, barely in his skull, were rolling around like tiny rubber balls. His mouth was agape and his tongue hung off to the side.
Green saliva dripped from his brown, rotting teeth. Tufts of dirty white hair sprung from the sides of his otherwise bald head. Parts of him, most notably his nose and his entire left hand, were missing.
His clothes were in tatters. There were rips and tears all over. They were stained with mud and dirt.
He had two large holes in his stomach and chest. A maroon fluid flowed from his wounds and dripped from his mouth.
I recognized him immediately. He was my grandfather. He had risen from the grave.
“Dear God in Heaven,” I said to myself as I frantically ran up the stairs towards my bedroom in order to access the gun safe where I stored my shotgun, “He’s back. I thought I’d only have to shoot him once.”
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