Howdy, friends and neighbors. And total strangers, too, if you’re out there reading. All are welcome.
Ha ha, it’s ironic that I should quote “Poltergeist” (am I the only one who got that?) because, having just rediscovered one of my favorite horror comics this evening, and also given the fact that this week’s artist like monsters and such, I’ve decided to write a horror story tonight. If you’re squeamish, don’t worry. It’ll probably be a really silly horror story. But, I promise nothing. (Soundtrack shuffle from horror movies on, and away we go.)
Susan placed her key in the lock and listened to the familiar chatter of old tumblers moving into place. The library had been closed for over an hour but she often used the time after the readers, researchers and latchkey kids had gone as a time to peruse the stock on offer. Tonight she had been in the reference section – a clear favorite, for even she was not allowed to take those books home – brushing up on some Latin. Dead language, indeed; she thought it was beautiful. She’d taken it for three semesters in college, but when her brother, Charlie, was killed in a car accident, she’d come back home to live with her parents again and given up higher learning. Until she got the job at the library. Now she taught herself whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted.
Learning was not all she did, however. Before starting in on the Latin this evening, she had taken some time not to broaden her education, but to examine a book Charlie used to bring home time and again when they were teenagers. It bore the same name as their town along with a chilling subtitle – Tidesboro: A Haunted History. Among the articles in the book had been a particularly colorful anecdote about Eustace Cutler, one of the town founders.
It seems Cutler had been leaving this very library one evening (it was, after all, one of the oldest buildings in town, second only to the Presbyterian church on the other side of the square) when he was apparently struck down by a horse and carriage. After being trampled, Cutler had managed to crawl back to the top of the stairs, but no one found him there until the next morning and, by then, it was far too late. He had bled to death laying just outside the doors, his hands clutching the ornate carvings. Written in his own blood across the doors was the inscription, “ego ago hic iam.” Roughly translated, the phrase meant “I live here now.” It was said that his spirit had haunted the library ever since. This small phrase in Latin had led Sue to her tomes of learning, shaking off the fear of death, blood and ghostly visitations. But now, as she turned from the library doors, the horror of the ghost story came back to her.
A wind rose, blowing her hair around her face, and Susan was struck quite suddenly and maddeningly with the certainty of being watched. She stopped on the top step looking out onto the empty town square, lit only with scattered pools of yellow light from whatever streetlamps were still functional. She was not so foolish (or in shape, she often lamented) as to have walked the twenty-seven blocks from home to get to work, but her car, parked in the side lot of the building, seemed suddenly very far away.
Let this be a lesson to you, Sue, she thought. From now on, you stick to Latin. “Is anyone there?” she called out as a black shadow floated, unseen, across the door behind her. Hearing no response, she continued to not move. She looked this way and that, trying to see into the darkness, still not looking behind herself. Had she looked there, she would have seen how the doors seemed to breathe for a moment, how the shadows seemed to ripple.
Thinking that only the very stupid, beautiful but expendable girls in horror movies actually talked to themselves in a situation like this, Susan nonetheless stated out loud, “this is silly. I’m going to walk to my car and go home. There’s nobody here. Nobody but me.”
And then a voice behind her whispered, “operor non verto.”
She screamed and spun towards the sound. As she faced the doors, she realized too late that some part of her brain had managed to translate the phrase loosely as “don’t turn around.”
The shadow stole across the carvings on the library doors, filling in highlights with darkness and smudging the darkness into itself. There was a bestial growl and the doors themselves shook. A long, hideous face took shape atop the larger shadow. Its glowing eyes glared down at Susan and it’s skeletal nose and mouth were warped with a sneer.
“Stultus mulier!” the face shouted. “Ego orater vobis! Operor non verto!”
Unable to mentally translate so quickly, Susan simply turned to run, but was quickly engulfed by the shadow. Not merely a suffocating darkness, it took physical form and wrapped around her legs, tripping her as she fled down the stairs. She rolled over twice and smacked her head on the sidewalk, bringing more blackness and stars to her vision.
“Vos teneo mihi!” a voice hissed in her ear. “Vos lego meus fabula!”
“I don’t know you!” she screamed back, understanding some of what was said. It was a lie, though; she knew whose spirit haunted the library. “I haven’t done anything to you!” she protested, sensing the malevolent spirit’s disbelief.
“Vos suscitatio mihi!” the thing said, and she felt hot, rancid breath on the back of her neck. She turned her face toward the feeling and found herself face to face with a goggle-eyed zombie head, its mouth wide open as if to bite her.
“It’s not my fault!” she screamed. “What happened to you is not my fault!”
The face above her went suddenly slack, and the voice said, “ego teneo ut, Sue.”
She knew that. She knew what that meant. But she needn’t have translated mentally for, a moment later, the face melted into a much more familiar and palatable visage before repeating itself in English.
“I know that, Sue,” Charlie told her. “It wasn’t your fault that I was in my accident while you were away. You couldn’t have done anything even if you were here. I know that. I just had to make sure you knew that as well.”
“Charlie-bear,” she whispered as he smiled down at her. “I miss you so much.”
“I miss you, too, Sue-bee,” Charlie said, “but you need to get out of here before he traps you. Don’t stop for anything.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“It’s time to wake up,” Charlie replied.
Raising her head, Susan looked around herself. She wasn’t outside at all, but sprawled face first across her book of Latin in the reference section of the library.
“Asleep,” she muttered. “You fell asleep, you dope.” Closing the book and replacing it on the shelf, she mused on the dream she had just had. Of course it made sense that she would dream in Latin after studying it for the past hour. Of course it made sense that the ghost story she had read earlier would surface in the dream. But, Charlie… That part had been very real. And something she needed. She smiled to herself as she gathered her things and lingered for a moment soaking in the relief of not being outside on the cold ground.
“Thanks, Charlie-bear,” she said and started towards the front door. As she neared the front of the building, she heard a noise behind her. Something fell to the floor, hard. Turning, she saw a book laying in the middle of an aisle.
What was the last thing Charlie had said to her in the dream? It was already fading from memory, but it was something that nagged at her as she walked back to the stray book. Looking down, she felt a cold fear wash through her.
Tidesboro: A Haunted History lay at her feet.
“Requiescat in pace,” a voice said over her shoulder.
Okay, so it wasn’t a silly story at all. Sorry. I dabbled with the idea of having a happy ending, but then I decided (in my sleepless stupor) that I had set out to write a horror story, and it deserved a horror story ending. Feel free to let me know if this pisses you off. I’m going to bed.
See you in seven,