The book burned a hole in Derek’s conscience since he’d stolen it from the library. No matter how hard he tried justifying his actions, it was all for naught. Derek knew not why he’d stolen it, but the compulsion had been irresistible.
Now the book lay in the back of his closet wrapped in an old towel. He wished he could shut it out of his mind too. The book had brought him nothing but unrest and nightmares. He’d wake in a sweat, terrified of God-knows-what and always with the sensation of dreaming something important which slipped away as his conscience woke.
Derek glanced out the window; fog descended and with it silence. Foggy days always made him feel suspended in time and place, disconnected from reality, the physical world hovering somewhere between the dream state and death; the ultimate peace. But not today. Today he feared the fog, as if it wanted to attack him. It was that damn book.
Derek glanced up the stairs, his gaze beyond the landing, his mind on the book in the dark corner of the closet.
“All right,” he said, “all right, I’m coming.”
After much grunting and rummaging, Derek retrieved the book from its prison. He tucked it under his arm, still in its terry-cloth wrap and brought it to the kitchen, turning on every light in the house. He unwrapped it.
The book was still in good condition; maybe if he returned it, no one would know it had left the library. He ran his fingers over the leather cover and, with a deep intake of breath, opened it.
Derek frowned, he’d expected to see the illustrated old cottage, but the page was blank. He flipped through the pages and his heart raced; the whole book was blank.
He was about to shut it, beads of cold sweat on his face, when a picture formed. Derek watched open-mouthed as it came to life.
A young boy stood in the forest, fractured moonlight shone through the tall trees. Dressed in a tunic and sandals, the boy trudged through dead leaves and mossy ground. He didn’t stumble or trip, though the forest was dark; he knew the way.
The boy approached a shack, and a strange quiet hung in the air. Derek’s heart raced as broken images of long-ago nightmares flared in his mind. The boy, alert and uneasy, clutched a silver dagger on his belt. Something was wrong, the world felt strange, and Derek screamed at the boy to run.
The boy didn’t hear Derek’s warning, nor did he run. Instead, he opened the ramshackle door and entered. Moonlight shone through the tiny windows and the remnants of a fire glowed in the corner. Smoke billowed into the boy’s eyes. Derek felt the sting in his own.
The darkness took shape, lumps appeared on the floor, against the walls. The room stank of blood; Derek covered his nose. The boy approached the embers and lit a torch made of stick and cloth. He bent by the nearest mass and passed the light over it. The boy jumped back. Sightless eyes and blue lips gaped up at him. He swung the makeshift torch around, the dark lumps now bloody corpses in the light.
Derek screamed and shut the book. He’d known all along what the boy would find: the mangled corpses of his murdered family.