I wrote this for They have a word count limit of 666 words and I wanted to hit it right on. not too shabby for a first draft. I’ll probably go back and revise it one day.

Dan popped a watermelon Jolly Rancher into his mouth as he pushed past the painter’s plastic that protected his work area around the old linoleum table. Of all the rare books he appraised, most came in some kind of protection–plastic bags, humidified cases, sometimes simply wrapped in cloth.

This one came inside a battered gray fire safe.

It arrived on his doorstep this morning, without explanation, and now sat low and squat like a weather-worn monolith on the dingy white tabletop. With a weary sigh, he pulled down his dust mask, snapped on some latex gloves and opened the safe. The sharp tang of decay escaped from the case. He jerked his head away to keep from throwing up. He pushed the contents of his stomach back down, took a breath and looked back to the case. A note sat on top of the book.

The world must know, it read.

Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked.

He set the paper aside and opened the book carefully, delicately handling the flyleaf, noting its consistency. The pages were more like finely stretched, oiled leather than paper; their uneven edges ran rough like a row of crooked teeth. The text began without title or other ceremony in a firm, flowing script that reminded him of Arabic. Along almost every margin, notes were scribbled in faintly. Many were in the book’s native script; some were in Latin, some in Greek. Some looked like they were written in a proto-Germanic he’d seen before in his Historic Linguistics class. He narrowed his eyes as he tried to make out the words. He recognized a couple.


A chill rippled over his shoulders and he looked around briefly, looking for its cause–nothing. The plastic on the floor crinkled as his chair shifted and he turned his attention back to the book. He turned more pages, slowly at first, but the deeper he went into the book the faster he turned the pages, as if frantically looking for an answer to some unknowable question. As he flipped through, his eyes caught on some of the footnotes, words before him.


The first strains of the Moonlight Serenade jolted him from his panic. His breath came in hot bursts from under his dust mask, steaming his glasses. He looked down at the page, half of it filled with an illustration: some impossible mass of tentacles, eyes and mouths. The Jolly Rancher soured in his mouth and began an echo of nausea that threatened to overwhelm him. He shut his eyes tightly, gripped the table and swallowed hard. He opened his eyes and took deep, gasping breaths like a drowning man. Dark petals of terror unfolded in his mind and turned their face to him. Another chill quavered through him as he looked back to the pages and watched, appalled, as the script bled and swam before his eyes, finally forming words in English. They burrowed in through his eyes and into his brain.

The horrific.
The blasphemous.
The profane.
The true.

He stared at the page dumbly before slumping back in his seat. His eyes drifted lazily around the room as reality lifted her skirt and revealed to him the rotting, fetid tear that would engulf his understanding. Reaching out, he swept the book off the worktable and it tumbled noisily across the room before landing open on the floor.

There was a frozen moment of silence.

And then…

They started quietly, like the gentle shush and crackle of pages, then louder like waves, whispering the secrets of their dead. Louder still, like the shrill screaming of a pandemonium of birds. He covered his ears to shut it out, but couldn’t. It was inescapable. Finally, relief revealed itself. He reached out for the silver X-Acto knives, sitting idly in a coffee can. He grabbed them and put their sharp tips against his closed eyelids and then slammed his head against his worktable.


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