It all started with a book.
It didn’t look terribly out of place–it was a book store after all–and Andi’s eyes just slid right over it at first. But something drew them back.
It was a thick book, more than twice the width of the books around it–and tall as well. It took almost the entire height of the shelf where most of the section had a hands width of clearance at the very least.
What she could see of the spine was dark, some sort of leather perhaps. Certainly not any of the highly processed material that made up most of the rest. It had a feeling of age as well. Perhaps it was just the slightly worn, cracked look to the spine.
It didn’t have a title on the spine either, nor writing of any sort. That wasn’t too unusual, there were plenty of books down here that didn’t–it just wasn’t as common back then. But then again, it was strange that the proprietor hadn’t put some sort of label on the shelf then. She had on other shelves with untitled books, why would this one be different?
That’s odd, she thought, reaching out to grab it. As her hand neared the shelves, a sudden feeling flashed through here, an almost electric feel akin to that feeling on the first drop of a roller coaster. It was so sudden, she didn’t even have time to react, just there and gone in a flash.
She paused with one hand on the spine of the book, trying to understand.
The closest she had ever felt was an earthquake. Those happened sometimes–it was California after all. But this had been different. There was none of the back and forth shaking, no sounds of shifting all around her. Just a quick drop and then nothing again.
And it had happened right when she had reached for that book.
Carefully dropping her hand to her side, she looked at it again. It was strange, she didn’t doubt that. Leather cover, no title, no label… It didn’t quite fit in. But it didn’t look particularly special either. Just an older book, down basement of a second hand bookstore.
Even more carefully, she reached out her hand again.
She hesitated a moment, worrying, what if something worse happens? She couldn’t shake the idea, despite how mad it seemed to the rational part of her mind. It was just a book. It couldn’t do anything.
With a deep breath, she grabbed it.
She waited. One. Two. Three.
Releasing a breath she hadn’t even realized that she’d been holding, she tugged on the book.
It didn’t want to come out, but that was more a function of how heavy it was rather than any further supernatural activity on the part of the book. In the end, she had to lean back a bit, getting gravity into play before she could really get it to move.
When it did come free, it came suddenly. She pitched backwards, losing her grip on the book, flailing, trying to catch something, anything to break her fall. She only half managed, catching the shelves behind her, falling into an awkward pose halfway between a crouch and sitting on the floor.
As she held herself there, a slow movement caught her eyes. The book. It was tilted wildly, still somehow on the shelf, being held in place by its neighbors, but not well. Even now, it was sliding slowly–accelerating–any moment it would break free…
There was nothing she could do but watch. Time seemed to flow oddly, the book sliding out of place achingly slowly while at the same time far too quickly for her strained muscles to react.
And then it was free. Falling, falling. Her eyes tracked it to the floor, watched it twist in the air–the movement seemed strange to her, although she couldn’t say why. It landed flat on it’s back, perfectly level on the floor.
The sound echoed, bouncing off floor and ceiling, barely dampened at all by the books all around. Andi froze, still half sitting in that awkward pose. Surely the noise would be enough to summon the librarian.
Andi considered bolting. She already wasn’t supposed to be down here–you weren’t supposed to be down in the basement without an escort. But Morris–the old lady who owned the bookstore, at least so far as Andi could tell–had been helping another customer. And she knew Andi, if not well. Granted, she wasn’t overly fond of her for one and didn’t move particularly well for the other. But she was fanatical when it came to care of the bookstore, and with a noise like that…
Instead, Andi held her position, craning her neck towards the stairs. If she heard anyone coming…
But there was nothing. She waited ten seconds. Twenty. Half a minute.
Snap out of it, she mentally chided herself. If Morris was coming, she would be here already.
Really, she couldn’t have been sure of that. But it sounded good and it was enough to get her moving.
Shifting her weight, feeling the strain of holding such a strange position even for just that briefly, Andi sat on the floor directly in front of the book.
Oddly, it had fallen almost perfectly. It was laying front up, lined up with the shelf. It almost looked like it was waiting for her–waiting for her to open it up…
Stop that, she thought. It’s a book.
It wasn’t any less strange on the floor though than it had been on the shelf. The same leather made up the rest of the cover as she had expected, although on the corners there were angled bands of some sort of dull, dark reddish yellow metal. Perhaps protecting the corners?
Really strange though, there was no title. No author. No writing of any kind.
At least nothing that Andi recognized as writing. After a moment, she realized that there was a design cut into the leather, inlaid with some sort of gray metal so thin that it was barely even visible in the lowered lights.
Trying to get a better look, she reached out. She hesitated a moment before grabbing it, but only a moment. In a single smooth motion, she lifted it up into her lap.
The first thing she realized was that the book was heavy. She could feel it weighing down on her, like the biggest textbooks she’d ever had to deal with back in college. It wasn’t painful, but it wasn’t particularly comfortable either.
The second thing she noticed was the pattern. The thin filaments in the cover weren’t easy to see at an angle–but looking right down on them, catching the light they almost seemed to glow with a reflected silver light.
The symbol was nothing that she recognized, all swooping curves and complicated intersections. It looked vaguely organic in both its complexity and the lack of straight lines, although it wasn’t as tangled as a lot of the diagrams she remembered from those same college days.
Huh, she thought. Well, might as well see what’s inside.
She was surprised to realized that she didn’t even really have a guess for what it might contain. She supposed it could be anything really, perhaps some old family genealogy or an old textbook on mathematics. The books in the basement weren’t well sorted in the best of times–the barcodes took care of that–so it really co0uld be anything.
The last thing she expected though was a blank page.
The page was old, yellowing slightly and thicker than she was used to, with gold leaf around the edge. But other than that, it was completely blank and featureless.
She turned the page.
Blank. Blank. Blank.
Shifting, she started flipping through the pages more quickly now.
It can’t all be…
But there was nothing. Less than ten seconds later she reached the end, flipping the last page.
The entire book was blank.
She sat back, feeling almost like she was deflating.
Well that sucks.
She still didn’t have the faintest idea what she had been hoping for, but after all that trouble–the feeling of falling, actually falling, the almost-summoning of old lady Morris–she just felt like the universe owed her. But apparently no one had told the universe that. For all her work, the book was little more than one of those glorified fancy blank diaries you could pick up for overly inflated prices at the bookstore down the block.
She stood, lifting the book with her. It seemed to get heavier as she lifted it, but no unmanageably so. As she changed the angle, the light danced on the treads of silver lighting up different parts in turn, giving it an almost electric feel.
It was pretty. But not pretty enough. She was still mildly annoyed–irrationally, she had to admit–for it being being blank.
She lifted it to the shelves, intending to return it to where it had come from…
But the spot was gone.
She looked side to side, sure that she’d just fallen further to the side than she realized, but there was nothing. There were a few openings here and there, but nothing nearly wide enough for the behemoth of a book she held in her hands. She knew it had been on the top shelf, but even looking on the others, there was nothing.
She tried to remember what the books on either side had looked like.
One of them had been tall but thin, with a white spine she thought. There were two or three that matched that description on the top shelf, but none even beside a small opening.
The other side had been colored hadn’t it? Blue maybe?
But there weren’t any blue books next to the white ones. She just stared at the shelves, unsure exactly what she was waiting for. A spot to open up? Some answer in the sea of spines?
Shaking her head, she mentally chided herself. Just leave it. There were spots large enough–even for this book–she just had to be a little creative. Perhaps if she laid it on its side? She choose a likely spot, turning the book.
Shoving it into place, it just barely didn’t fit. One of the sides was just a bit too tall. She pulled it back and tried again. Again, not a fit–the divider was in the way. Once again. Not quite, there was a support in the back of the shelf that she could barely even make out from the front.
This was ridiculous.
Andi glanced at her watch and very nearly swore. Somehow she’d wasted the better part of a half an hour with the stupid empty book. She had a train to catch and if she didn’t leave soon…
Spying a spot she hadn’t tried yet, she gave an almighty shove.
There was a brief feeling of resistance, but she pushed though.
Then, there was nothing. The book slid into place as evenly as if it had been made just for it. The books beneath it lines up perfectly, so much so that if she hadn’t known better, she might have thought the librarians had purposely left the space for it.
But she didn’t have time for that, she had to get home. If she didn’t leave now, it would be half an hour before the next train was through and she’d never be able to catch the bus back to her neighborhood. Public transportation helped with some things–like not having to find parking in the city–but there were certain costs.
As she gathered up her bag and headed back up the stairs–quietly so as not to attract the attention of Morris–she glanced back only one. Despite the inadequate lighting and the distance, she could quite clearly make out that horizontal stretch of brown leather.
Stupid book, she muttered. And then she was gone.
Her ride home started as uneventfully as public transit ever was in the city. There was the usual collection of oddballs and the overworked, all heading home after a long day. The entire ride though, she couldn’t get that book out of her mind.
What was it doing there? Surely Morris wouldn’t have shelved a book without cataloging it, and what was the point of shelving a book at all if it didn’t have any content. Sure, there were all sorts of random older books in the bookstore basement–that was the entire reason she’d headed to this bookstore in particular rather than the one closer–but usually there was some sort of quality control.
Somewhat strangely, she could still picture the cover though in her mind. The silver filaments, almost invisible in the half light of the basement, but glowing when they caught the light. The unusual part was that she wasn’t usually a visual person. She tended more towards a more abstract feel of the world and often even dreams in abstracts.
She was lost in her own thoughts and the thoughts of that book when she suddenly realized that the man in the seat across from her was staring at her. Immediately–out of long years of habit–she dropped her eyes. She could still fell him looking though, still feel those eyes on her.
He had been tall–she thought at least–folded into the seat rather than sitting comfortably. He had been thin as well, in a nice black suit, but with no obvious briefcase or other items sitting on the seat beside him. His face was strange only for the lack of emotion it showed. He was watching her, but that was it. No small, no stare, nothing at all.
After what felt a long moment, she glanced over again at him, dropping her eyes again though immediately. He was still watching her.
It was an odd sort of look too. Not sexual in nature–that was far more common than most wanted to admit–nor was he staring, so much as just… looking. It was hard to describe, but it felt more like he was watching her, waiting for something.
Waiting for her?
Waiting for what?
Surreptitiously, she looked up towards the front of the car instead. At some point, it had mostly cleared out. There was another woman down at the far front of the car, but she appeared to be asleep with headphones in. Andi of course couldn’t see the upper level of the car, but that didn’t matter much. If the bottom was so empty, the top would be as well.
She wasn’t particularly sure why she was considering it in the first place. It wasn’t impossible for it to be so empty–it was getting late after all. But there was something about that man…
She glanced over at him again, but he wasn’t there.
Looking up, not caring if he noticed, she looked at the front then the back of the car. All she caught was the last vestiges of a man walking through the back door into the car behind. She couldn’t be absolutely sure it was the same man–although the coat could have been a similar color–but it had to be right?
Without even thinking about it, she rose to follow him. She was out the door before her mind caught up with her. What are you doing?
She ignored herself, continuing towards the back of the train.
The next car had a few more people, perhaps half a dozen. The man was nowhere to be seen. He could have gone up to the upper level… but for some reason she doubted it.
The door at the far end of the car clicked shut.
That settled it then.
Next car, much the same story. She was running out of train. There was only one more car, wasn’t there?
She hesitated before the last car, her hand on the release. What exactly was she doing? What was she going to do when she actually caught up with him? Ask him why he had been watching her? Just stare at him?
Before she could talk herself out of it, she pulled the door open.
The last car was nearly empty again. Just and older Chinese looking gentleman who glanced up at her when she came in, nodded once quickly, then looked away.
But the man wasn’t there.
Slowly, she walked down the length of the car. She looked side to side, checking all of the seats–as if he even could have been hiding in one of them, at his height. At the end of the car, she took the stairs up. Still nothing. It appeared as if he had vanished into thin air.
Briefly she considered the possibility that he had gone to the upper floor, coming back down when she had followed him. The center aisle was open; she might have been able to see him. But on the other hand she knew it was more than possible to lean out of the way. He could easily have been heading back towards the front of the car–but why?
With a start, she realized that she’d left her bag on the seat where she’d already been sitting. After years living in the city, she thought that she had trained herself never to do that. One strange night had apparently been enough to overcome hose years of practice though.
Quickly retracing her steps, she thought she’d figured it out. that must have been the man’s plan all along. He would distract her, get her to follow him. Then when she was gone… But that would require that he knew she would leave her bag. Under what normal circumstances could a plan like that possibly work?
She glanced up when she felt the train slow and heard the announcer. They were stopping at a station just one up from her own stop. She wasn’t going to have time to figure out what was up with that man. If only he hadn’t taken her bags…
She made it back just as the train started to move again. To her eternal surprise, the bag was still there on the seat. She glanced around. Just the old woman, still sleeping and another younger boy–high school age, but no older–who was carefully looking anywhere but at her. No sign of the man.
So what had the man been up to?
It didn’t matter though; this was her stop.
Stepping off onto the platform, Andi looked around one last time.
There he was.
Sitting right in the seat she had been up until a few minutes ago, watching her through the window. The man was there, sitting as completely calmly and expressionless as if he’d been there the entire time.
This time Andi stared back. What was his problem?
They were still watching one another when the train started rolling again, heading off south. She turned to follow, but moments later he was gone.
Luckily, the bus ride actually was uneventful. A handful of minutes later and she was walking up the back stairs to the third floor.
More than anything, she felt tired. She really hadn’t done much, but it had been a long day. She opened her door just in time to be ambushed by her cat Eos. She must have been feeling lonely. Either that or hungry. Cats…
Going to the bathroom to giver her some food, Andi dropped her bag by the door. She still couldn’t help but wondering what that man had been up to–especially when she knew he’d come back.
“Eos…” she called out when the cat didn’t come running. That was odd. Eos had a bottomless pit of a stomach, she was always hungry.
Heading back out into the living room, she heard a hiss. What?
She turned the corner and found Eos standing there with her back arched and fur puffing out as far as it would go. Given the extensive quantities thereof, it was a rather impressive display. But what was worse twas the target of her aggression.
“Son of a…” Andi sword.
The book was back.
She didn’t know how it had followed her. Quite frankly it was impossible. She knew to the very core of her being that she’d left it on that shelf in the bookstore. She distinctly remembered watching it as she left.
But there it was, sitting as calmly as you please on her living room floor. it was mostly out in the open, a bit still inside of the bag. Her bag. The one that she’d had with in the bookstore, on the train, and on the bus. She knew she hadn’t put it in there, but that paled in the face of the incontrovertible evidence. It was there. It was here now.
And it had spooked Eos to no end.
Andi knew better than to ignore her cat’s instincts. Fair enough, they were often completely wrong. and the things that a cat would consider a threat would be something that might bother a human. But on the other hand, neither man nor beast should have had a problem with that book, yet there it was.
Andi reached down and picked Eos up, trying to calm her. “What is it kitty?”
Eos of course said nothing.
“It’s just a book,” she said, trying to calm herself as much as the cat. Honestly, she was starting to doubt that herself, but that was no reason to worry the cat.
She took a step closer and got a nice scratch on her arm as a result. Dropping the cat out of surprise, she watched it run off into the bedroom, running as if the devil itself were after her rather than a simple book.
“Silly cat,” Andi said, suppressing the urge to follow. Instead, she took a step towards the book. The light played off the cover as it had before, looking almost like it was writhing like it a pit of silver snakes. Strange all around.
She took another step forward, reaching down to pick up the book. It was just a book after all.
The earth didn’t shake, there was no feeling of falling. Either that had been all in her mind or it only happened once. Really, that didn’t bother Andi. It had been a disconcerting feeling to being with.
There really was no reason that she should have–she knew the book was blank–but she flipped open to the first page.
No longer blank.
She didn’t know how she could possibly have missed it before, but the same silver threads embedded in the first page were embedded here as well. Catching the overhead light in the hallways, it glittered much as the cover had, only with slightly less so. It was possible that she couldn’t have seen it in the dimmer light of the bookstore basement. At least it explained why the book had been shelved–at least it had something in it, even if it was purely gibberish.
She flipped page to page. Each one of them had a swirl of silver now, glimmering faintly in the light. Page after page of them. She couldn’t tell for sure, but she thought that they were all different. There were subtle differences from one to the next, a different turn here or a double twist there. She found herself watching them closely, studying the twists and turns in depth.
Turning page after page, she felt a sudden pain. She jerked her finger back. A paper cut. It actually didn’t hurt quite as much as normal, perhaps because of the thicker paper. It was bleeding though, just a trickle at first. She jerked her finger up to her mouth, but not quite quickly enough. A single drop fell, glittering in the light.
It splattered against the page, a red star on the silver thread.
She had shifted as the drop fell, trying to pull the book out of the way of the falling droplet. That was it, that must have been it.
Because when the drop hit the page, there was a flash of silver. The same flash of silver that she’d been seeing when the book caught the light.
Except she was pretty sure that she hadn’t moved the book. At least not that much. And if she had, wouldn’t she have shifted back when it was clear the movement was futile? That should have made the silver shine again, shouldn’t it have?
Unsure exactly what to think, she stared at the spot of blood on the page. Her blood. The fact that her finger was still throbbing with the paper cut and still bleeding didn’t even really cross her mind. It almost seemed to be shrinking, turning brown before her very eyes. Blood didn’t work like that. It didn’t matter how many strange things she’d see in the past few hours, she knew that.
With a sigh of frustration, she slammed the cover of the book shut. It closed with a resounding clap–a satisfying sound given … everything.
Tomorrow. She’d take the book back tomorrow. She didn’t have the slightest idea how she was going to explain to Morris how she’d ended up with–heck, she didn’t even know herself. But all of that could wait.
Putting the book down on the table, she was about to turn. But something on the cover caught her eyes. The silver filaments were flickering now. She wasn’t even surprised anymore that it didn’t seem to have any bearing on how the light was interacting with it.
Stranger still, she thought there were words. They weren’t quite clear–not yet–but from time to time,s he thought she could make out individual letters. They appeared to be Latin letters, but so far none of them were sticking around for more than a few moments. Just as she would get a glimpse of one, it would fade, only to be replaced by two more.
She stared. Memorized.
The book was strange. Fascinating. Frustrating. It was almost like it was trying to tell her something.
The sound from Eos was one of the most unearthly hisses she’d ever heard from him. He was staring at her now–no, he was staring at the space just beside her. Above the book.
“What is it, kitty?” she asked.
Eos glanced at her, then back at the same spot. She hissed again, only a bit less violently.
“Stupid book,” Andi muttered under hear breath.
She picked Eos up, turning to put herself between her and the book. The cat didn’t calm immediately, but at least she wasn’t hissing again. She tried to look around Andi, but Andi wouldn’t let her. She took her over to the bedroom, shutting her away. The book was getting enough on her nerves without a paranoid cat helping matters.
Despite herself, she went back. She didn’t want to deal with it, not tonight, but she felt called back.
Sitting back at the table, the impossibility of the whole situation took yet another step strange. The silver threads in the cover had stopped flickering. So far as she could tell, they were in the same pattern, but a new subset of them were lit up, more than she had ever seen at one time before.
Strangest of all, they said something. There was a title now–and what was more, she could read the it. Perhaps the lighting was catching the silver just right and perhaps the very threads themselves had moved. She really couldn’t have said–and really, did it matter? What was one more strange thing on top of a whole mountain of the weird.
What did matter was that she could read it. It was in a old looking scripted font, the letters barely recognizable as akin to their more modern cousins, but with only a little work, she could make out two words.
“I’m going to bed.”