Chapter 8: Library
John couldn’t sit still. If he did, he felt himself sinking into the floorboards, putting down roots. The last thing he wanted was to become a part of this twisted place.
Several times, he passed by the stairs. Neither he nor Anna had yet ventured up there. At the thought of those unexplored floors overhead, John felt a weight pressing down. Up there, the wind slithered. He could hear it whistling and moaning, and he imagined the dust caught in its current forming shapes like children while doors opened and slammed shut.
He realized he’d stopped moving. That’s when those lapses in logical thought occurred, when he was still. Just focus on walking. Focus on the rhythm of your own steps, and block out the others. In his diligence, John became familiar with the layout of the first floor. He paced back and forth along his own trail, scraped out of the dust by countless repetitions.
Eventually he grew bored of the same track over and over again, and altered course through a room he’d not yet entered. It was a library. There John was distracted momentarily by the books, whose worn spines and yellow pages threatened to crumble at his touch. The titles varied, ranging from the mundane to the fanciful. He paid none of them any significant attention until he came to a black, monstrous volume set apart from the rest. His footsteps ceased and, driven by some unknown internal force, he pulled the tome gingerly from the shelf. The leather-bound cover felt crusty and was mottled with brown stains. John let the book fall open in his hands, and couldn’t suppress a gasp.
The inked outline of a boy stared wide-eyed at him from the page. The figure was naked, but more shocking was the gaping hole in the boy’s stomach.
John quickly turned the page, only to be met with more gruesome illustrations. Each one was accompanied by foreign passages. John couldn’t read any of it, but the sickening imagery made him glad he couldn’t. What is this? he wondered, unable to tear his eyes away. His fingers were ice as he mechanically flipped the fragile pages, which seemed eager to lead him deeper into their macabre secrets. It was almost as if—
John looked down to his side, fully expecting to see something there. There was nothing, of course. The heavy book drew him once more, calling attention to its depictions of death. The current illustration was of a child being held over a corpse by a cloaked figure. The cloaked one was in the process of pulling a knife across the child’s throat, and a dark splash of ink spread from the wound and onto the corpse beneath. There was nothing else, but a mold stain on the paper created an ominous shape in the background.
John slammed the book shut. He didn’t need to be looking at stuff like that. It awakened feelings he thought Anna had killed months ago. He tried to return the book to its place, but it caught on the lip of the shelf and slipped out of his hand, landing on the floor with a menacing thud. John glared at it, but didn’t dare touch it again. Leaving the monstrous thing where it lay, he went in search of his wife.
He found her in one of the mansion’s front rooms, looking out the window toward the village. Dusk was approaching, and the mansion’s shadow crawled down the hill to swallow the smaller buildings.
“There’s a man watching us,” Anna stated when John stood beside her.
John squinted in the direction Anna was looking, but couldn’t make out anything in the wells of darkness that were flooding Hallowdale.
“I’m ready for this to be over,” his wife announced.
“You’re only deciding this now?” replied John. “Tomorrow we’ll be out of here. Hopefully they haven’t sold our room at the resort.”
Anna shook her head. “I don’t want to go there. I want to be home.” She stiffened suddenly. “He’s coming.”
John looked, but still couldn’t see—wait, there he was, marching up from the village.
“I don’t feel like talking with the locals,” Anna groaned. “Will you deal with him?”
Before John could answer, she was gone, and the stranger was at the front door a minute later. John recognized him as the same man who’d visited that morning.
“You again,” John greeted.
“Me again. I realize things were a bit strange earlier. Sorry about that. My name’s Alexander, and like you, I’m just a visitor here.”
“Well, it’s good to know we’re not the only ones dumb enough to get lost out here.”
“I don’t think it’s your fault,” Alexander consoled. “Anyway, I hear you’re heading out with the truck tomorrow.”
“Good. The sooner you get out of this place, the better. In fact, the reason I came up here was so I could convince you to spend the night somewhere else.”
“Why? There’s nothing wrong with this place.” Aside from that book, but he doesn’t need to know about that. Or the thing I felt last night.
“That’s what you’ve told me,” Alexander said, “but from what I’ve heard down in the village, I think it’s only a matter of time. Look, those people have lived beneath this house for years. If they think you should get out, I’d advise you to listen to them.”
“And what do they say is wrong with it?” John demanded.
“They won’t say exactly, but I’ve done some research on my own and I have a pretty good guess. I believe you and your wife aren’t alone in there.” He hesitated. “Judging by the look you just gave me, you know exactly what I’m talking about.”
John caught himself. “Alright, you got me. I wasn’t completely honest with you this morning. I just didn’t want to acknowledge—but come on! An oddly dressed—no offense—stranger knocks on my door first thing in the morning asking how my night went; I wasn’t about to be very forthcoming!”
Alexander stopped him. “I understand. You’re scared and unreasonable.”
“Never mind. Just get your wife and come with me. I’ve made arrangements with one of the villagers. They’ll take you in and make sure you’re on that truck tomorrow.”