A corner of a backstreet which blended in completely with the black ashy covering that smothered the city; just a small pocket of mystery, hidden from the hustle and bustle of city life, except for those who knew where to look for it.
Why should it stand out as being anything special?
Maybe it was some higher force that drew me towards the second hand bookshop that day, some other supreme consciousness that was aware of my fate, even before I knew it myself.
I entered the store like a whirlwind, erupting from the noise of the street and landing in a pit of silence. Nothing stirred inside, it was as if, the atmosphere hung still…stagnant…waiting…
It was like taking a step back in time, and I was surprised that this place of seemingly historical secrets existed in parallel with the hub of activity just outside.
An elderly gentleman sat behind the only counter. A pair of half-rimmed spectacles perched precariously on the tip of his crooked pink nose, his glasses winking every now and then as they caught a glint of sunlight bouncing off of the window. His hair was white and in disarray, swaying with the gently scanning motion of his head as he gazed across the open pages of the book in his lap. He didn’t look up as I entered, continuing to stare down at his page, seemingly absorbed in the words and silence of the store.
I hunched my shoulders and cringed as each shuffling footstep I made on the marble chequered floor echoed through the silence, breaking boundaries of shadows which seemed to have come to rest inside the bookshop.
I paced the length of the shelves, not recognising any titles. Rows and rows of faint gold lettering scarred on the moth-eaten spines. I didn’t know what it was that I was looking for, but felt a definitive certainty that I would know it when I saw it.
I traced my index finger across the shelves as I wandered further towards the back of the bookshop, leaving my warm touch against cold leather bindings and faded dust jackets.
The farther I ventured, the dimmer the light became and I found myself squinting through layers of shadows. That was until I reached the back of the bookshop.
A single beam of light came in from my left, as if originating from nowhere. Little specks of dust floated like wishes in the golden light and littered the covers of a small bookcase of titles, the likes of which I had never seen before;
‘Dr. Richard Sneezum’s Satirical Guide to The Senses’, ‘Salt Storm in a Coffee Cup’, ‘How Many Molehills Does it Take to Make a Mountain?’, ‘All of The Answers You Never Knew The Questions To’, ‘Painting the Night Sky with Fireflies’, and ‘A-Z of The Things You Never Said’.
My hand lingered over the strange titles and I felt a strange warming sense within me that gave me prickly goose bumps over the surface of my skin.
A voice just behind me made me jump.
‘Excuse me miss, we are about to close, if you could please choose what it is you are looking for and make your final purchase’.
I smiled back embarrassed, and began to follow the elderly gentleman towards the till.
We were almost at the front of the store, when something caught my eye.
It was a black leather bound book, almost like a diary, with polished gold lettering on the front. It looked somehow out of place here, like a diamond in the rough, an ember amongst the ashes.
I reached out and grabbed it, clutching the book to my chest. Turning the book over in my hands, the leather felt strangely warm beneath the brush of my fingertips, as though it had only recently been touched, and yet the temperature inside the store was oddly cold.
I made my purchase, whilst the store keeper peered down curiously at me over his half moon spectacles. He looked expectant as I handed him the book and gave me an almost warning like stare as he handed it back in exchange for cash, and yet he said nothing.
I made my way home with a sense of urgency, with some, unknowing force being released within me as I held the book underneath my coat. I don’t know why I felt the need to conceal it, but I felt that I was meant to find this book, or the book was intent on finding me, and it was therefore for my eyes only.
Later that night, I lay in bed, with the book clasped between my hands.
It felt impossibly light, and the golden letters and gold leaf pages seemed to produce some kind of radiating glow in the soft darkness of my bedroom.
I flicked open the front cover and immediately felt a gust of wind rush through my face, flicking up my hair. Surprise and panic rose like bile in my throat and I slammed the cover shut. What the hell was that?!
With a steadying breath, I glanced around my room, oddly feeling as though I was being watched and opened the front cover again. There was no rush of wind this time, just a gentle glow emanating from the inside page, where there was no writing.
I flicked to the middle of the book and yet there was still nothing written there.
I stared stupidly at the page, confused, and then suddenly dumbfounded as ever so slowly, a thin scrawl began to work itself across the page.
‘I am lost. I am found. I am forgotten. I am un-renowned. Millions of leagues under the sea.
Perhaps you’d like to know what it was like to be me’. Ruth Ingrid Price
I was confused, and whispered the words over to myself, wondering what they meant.
As I did so, a small blob of ink appeared in the very centre of the page I was staring so hard at, and as I continued to gaze down, the mark got bigger and bigger, until it was no longer a blob of ink, but a moving picture between my hands.
I swallowed hard and moved the book closer to my face.
I watched, without blinking, as something appeared in the blurry, dripping watercolour that the book had created. An echoing voice began in a whisper, getting increasingly louder and thundering in my chest, making my skin prickle and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up on end.
‘The floorboards creaked and the shutters fluttered like trapped souls against the windows; the house had been waiting for me.’
As I watched, the house appeared. It leaned over on one side, where the collapsed roof had forced all of the weight to shrink in on itself. The grey bricks were dull and black, singed with smokes of the past, and hedges grew amongst the empty spaces that walls had once filled. Creeping vines of ivy invaded the privacy of the dark shadows inside the tumbling house, where spiders had made their homes away from the nonexistent gaze of the public. The chimney was sprouting moss, creating a perfect nest for passing birds, as they I watched them pitch on the collapsed roof, and loiter over the cap of the dead chimney.
Before I had chance to absorb any more of this scene, the pages flicked over my fingers, and stopped on another equally blank page as there had been before.
Once again, that eerie voice crept its way up my spine and whispered from the emptiness of the book.
He bared his teeth at me and growled.
‘You are nothing without me, NOTHING!’
His deep yellow eyes bore into me and seemed to strip my soul from my bones. His very appearance made my skin crawl and prickle all over.
‘All you are is thanks to me; all you have is thanks to me. If I hadn’t found you and brought you here you would be nothing, you would have nothing, you would be dead. You. Are. Nothing!’
I gripped my hands together and clenched my fists to try and stop them from shaking. I squeezed them so hard that it felt as though my knuckles would burst through my skin.
‘On the contrary, I would have everything- I would have my freedom’.
I glared back at those awful eyes, feeling a new strength building within me.
The scruffy landscape appeared once more, though this time there was a small candle flickering somewhere from one side. Curved cavernous walls appeared and cast even darker shadows across the dusk of my bedroom. The floor was littered with dead leaves, which rustled and crunched, as the outline of the figures appeared; shaggy, hulking shapes of shadowy gray, loping amongst black tree trunks, with eyes that burned like red coals in the gathering murk.
Beginning to feel increasingly uneasy and frightened of what else there was to come, the pages flicked forwards a final time.
‘‘I am lost. I am found. I am forgotten. I am un-renowned. Millions of leagues under the sea.
Now you will always know what happened to me.’ Ruth Ingrid Price
A small beach scene leaked onto the page before me; waves lolled against the side of the cobbled wall, licking into crevices made for crabs and shellfish. The steps alongside the wall tumbled into the sea, like a landslide of grey stones leading into the clear blue water. Bubbles of white froth fizzed at the bottom step, spitting salt onto the cracks in the stone, splitting them open for the fresh sea breeze to enter. A thick twisted rope lagged limply in the salty wind, as it hung alongside the crooked steps, entwined with green essence of seaweed.
There she sat, with the wind whispering through her hair, and the waves gently brushing against the edge of the shore and kissing her toes. Remnants of the last rays of the sun licked the top of the surf and glittered across the surface of the water.
She reached down and picked up a handful of sand, letting it trickle like memories through her open fingers, catching on the breeze and floating away across the beach.
Picking up a pebble she placed it in front of her lips and whispered a wish across the smooth surface. Pulling back her arm, she released it from the palm of her hand and sent it flying through the air, where it landed with a splash in the deep blue of the ocean. A small gold locket around her neck winked in the glow of the sun and flashed its engraving at me, it read; R.I.P.’
I slammed the book shut, not wanting to see anymore.
My room once again became encased in darkness, no moonlight shone in silver silhouettes through the window, and the silence of my room felt as though it was suffocating me.
My heart bumped menacingly against my ribcage, threatening to burst through completely.
I shuffled out of bed and went to the bathroom. Feeling sick, I leant over the sink and steadied myself. I turned on the tap, letting the colourless droplets swirl with my nightmarish thoughts into the sink, before I cupped my hands under the flow and splashed ice cold water over my face.
I glanced up at my distorted reflection in the mirror and screamed as I saw another face beside mine.
Her skin was pale and her cheeks were hollow, and her eyes were an icy pale blue.
She raised a single finger to her lips.
Around her neck was a small gold locket, engraved with the initials; R.I.P.