It was in the Geography section. I remember it being strange because of how old the book looked. It was something I would have expected to see in a museum, not in the public library downtown.
The day was hot, the windows in the stifling library cracked open to let in the slight breeze that blew outside. I was the only one in the library other than the receptionist that stood at the desk, talking loudly on the phone and blowing a bright pink bubble before snapping it.
I was searching for something, I wasn’t quite sure what. Just something to occupy my mind for the next half an hour or so as I waited for my bus to arrive. I had just missed my last one after my boss, a stingy old man who smelled of tar and cigarettes, held me back and told me that I needed to smile at the customers more. I left in a fume, pushing the door of the cafe open just in time to see my bus drive away.
So there I was, in the library at the edge of town, bored out of my mind. Geography had been an interest of mine in high school, before I had graduated and life had failed me. Now, the only interests I had were trying to stay awake during my long shifts at the cafe, to try to keep myself alive.
The gold leaf paint was peeling off the side of the book. My fingers brushed against the soft brown leather, cold and dry to the touch. I had been afraid to touch it at first. What if it had been a relic, something that a museum would want? What if it crumbled to dust under my fingertips? But my curiosity won out in the end and I pulled it from the shelf. It was lighter than I expected it to be, for a nearly 500 page volume. The front cover was slashed as if someone had taken a knife to it in anger, but the glittering gold title, Da Mortem Mihi was clear as day.
The pages were not paper. They were soft to the touch as well, stretchy yet pliable, so thin that at first, I was afraid to turn them. I didn’t understand the language that it was in, something that looked like Latin, but changed halfway through. The pages inside were nearly indecipherable. The ink was a strange crimson and as it went on, the handwriting became more and more frantic, whole pages sometimes covered in strange lines and curves. I caught a word here or there, but nothing that made sense.
It made me dizzy to look at it, a strange harsh metallic smell rising through the air around me. I braced myself against the metal shelves and closed my eyes, nausea rising in me. A strange sense of anger burned through me suddenly, white hot and flashing. I saw my boss’ face flash before me, his condescending glare and my fingers went through the shelf.
I fell forward, barely stopping myself from slamming headfirst into the metal. The book fell from my hand onto the floor and I scrambled up, glancing over at the receptionist. She hadn’t noticed anything and was still chatting on the phone. Apprehensively, I glanced at the shelf and nearly screamed with surprise.
Where I had been holding it, a hole was punched straight through. The metal was crumpled around the edges, warped as if it was paper. I stared at it for a moment, shocked. Did I do this? I had never done anything like it before. I put my hand gingerly in the hole and it fit perfectly.
Curiosity swept through me and I put my hand on the opposite shelf, gripping it with all my strength. My fingers ached and I pressed harder. If I had done it once, I could do it again. The metal creaked and groaned and shot through me. I put more of my weight into it and the shelf buckled under my weight, crashing to the ground.
I jumped back in shock, my back hitting the other shelf as books toppled to the ground, echoing through the otherwise silent library. Heavy footsteps sounded and I looked up just as the receptionist came over, scowling at me.
“I—I’m sorry,” I stammered. “I didn’t mean to do this. I’ll clean it up.”
“You better,” she scowled before storming back to the desk and her waiting call.
I examined the shelf, but to my disappointment, it wasn’t like the time before. No, the screws had just given out and the shelf had fallen from my mere weight. It was intact, the metal still smooth and whole. Whatever had happened before, it hadn’t happened again.
I sighed, brushing the hair out of my face as I knelt down, scooping the books into my hands. I had no clue which order they went in, so I piled them on the shelf, face burning in embarrassment. I just wanted to get out there as fast as possible and never return after this disaster happened.
I reached for the last book, then stopped, staring at it. It was the old book, Da Mortem Mihi. I was about to put it back onto the shelf, when it called to me. I can’t explain how exactly, it was like a whisper, an urge in the back of my mind. I had to pick the book up. I had to take it home.
The receptionist didn’t pay me a second glance as I left, book clutched in my hand as I got onto the bus. No one paid me any attention as I sat in the back, staring straight ahead, the book in my lap. Or they might have and I just didn’t realize it. My mind was a blur of images, of memories that I didn’t understand.
When I got home, I was drained. My entire body ached and my eyelids felt heavy as I stumbled forward, using the walls as support. I dropped everything on the ground, the book included as I collapsed to the ground and fell asleep, not even bothering to get to my bedroom.
My dreams were filled with blood and tears. I heard screaming and as soon as I ran toward the sound, it came from a different direction. My hands were sticky, sticky and warm, dried blood caked under my fingernails. No matter how hard I scrubbed, I could never get the blood out of my clothing, out of my skin, so I gave up. I’d never kill anyone though, I had never been the angry type. I was always the ‘take the insult and roll over’ kind. I would never hurt a soul.
I was a mess the next day at work. The book was in my backpack, but I couldn’t pay it any attention. I couldn’t pay anything any attention. Customers ordered and I prepared drinks, but I did it in a robotic way. How may I help you? Take the order down. Forced smile. It will be with you in a moment. Repeat.
I didn’t even notice when Robert, my shift partner, tapped on my shoulder. He looked as if he had been trying to get my attention for a while now, his face anxious and beaded with sweat. But I couldn’t care.
“The boss wants to see you,” he said.
I nodded, moving as if in a trance toward the door. I knew what was going to happen before it did, but I couldn’t react. I couldn’t feel anything but a strange empty hollowness inside of me.
The boss looked up from his desk as I entered the room, shutting the door behind me. His noisome smell of tar and cigarettes wafted over me and I tried not to gag.
“Marianne,” he said.
“Yes, sir?” I asked. I folded my arms over my chest and tried to seem as friendly as possible.
“We talked about this.” He stood up and I took a step backward. “You need to smile more. A girl like you needs to be happy.”
Anger burst through me as he said that. I hated him, truly hated him with everything in me. I hated his smell, the way he looked at me with beady eyes. I hated how he yelled at me and not Robert, how he always pulled me aside and no one else, the way his eyes roamed, the way that he smiled. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to punch him. So I did.
His eyes rolled back as my fist made contact with his face, an angry red mark spreading across his cheek bone. The impact knocked him backward, into his chair as it rolled, hitting the back wall. He looked scared, his eyes wide as he raised his hands, pleading for me to stop. But I didn’t. The anger wasn’t gone, the pent up rage and frustration and I had to let it go somehow. His face bloomed into colors, purples, blues, and reds as more punches landed and he screamed out a gargled plea as he spit out a mouthful of blood and teeth.
At last, he looked up at me, eyes wide and watering, blood dripping down his forehead and the side of his face. I should have felt pity. I should have felt guilt. But all I could was red hot satisfaction as I grabbed the letter opener, raising it high before plunging it into his throat.
Warm blood splattered across my face and shirt as I took a step back, watching as the scarlet liquid poured from the gaping wound in his throat. A thrill went through me, the feeling of floating, light and exhilarated.
“What happened? I heard a—” Robert burst into the room, skidding to a halt as he saw the corpse in the chair. Before I could realize what I was doing, the letter opener in my hand was raised, glinting in the fluorescent light.
Robert backed up, but I was faster. I lunged across the room and slashed it across his throat, a strange exhilaration flooding through me as his scarlet blood flowed across his apron and uniform.
It looked like a grin had been carved into his throat, a gaping mouth that leered and me and laughed as it cried, weeping scarlet and crimson onto the white shirt. I watched as his throat convulsed as he tried to say something, but only more blood spilled out.
I stumbled backward against the desk, bracing myself as my head swam. I felt light headed, dizzy as I stared at the two corpses, the two people who were alive mere moments ago, and now were dead, dead because of me. A laugh bubbled up inside of me and it grew until I was hunched over, unable to stop the grin that split over my face. It wanted me to kill, it wanted me. The something that crawled in the back of my mind, that raced through my blood, that grew, that twisted, that squirmed. It needed the blood and death, it hungered for it and it cried so I did too.
All of a sudden, it snapped back into reality. I had killed them, I had killed two people and I had to get out of there, quickly before anyone realized. Nausea suddenly overcame me and I retched onto the floor, my head spinning, sweat beading my forehead.
There was a line of angry customers at the counter, but I pushed through the crowd, ignoring the complains and whines as I burst through the door and onto the street. I ran down the street, past the bus stop, and into the library. I had to get rid of the book, for what it was turning me into. I had to get rid of it before it was too late.
Little did I know that it was already too late.
The receptionist looked up as I barged into the stifling library. She wasn’t on the phone this time, but she popped a large pink bubble, pulling the bright pink gum back into her mouth with her tongue.
“You again,” she said, lazily as if nothing could go wrong.
“Yes,” I panted. I slammed the book on the counter. “Take it, please.”
She looked confused, raising an eyebrow at me as she reached for it, moving to slide it toward the scanner.
As soon as she touched the cover, something sparked in me. She couldn’t touch the book. Only I could! It was mine, it would always be mine. Something screamed in the back of my head, urging me forward, bucking and digging inside of my mind until I moved.
It was over in a second. My hand was in her hair and then she was still, her head bashed in against the counter. Her blood spilled over the white stone as I let go and she slumped over the computer, scarlet pooling onto the ground as it slowly dripped off the keyboard onto the tiled floor.
I ran. I’m not proud of it, but I wasn’t proud of anything that I did, that I have done. I ran, toward the bus stop, not caring to hide the blood on my hands as I pushed the button to stop with shaking hands, practically sprinting into my apartment and slamming the door shut behind me.
I tried to get rid of the book. I burned it, tried to cut it into pieces but nothing worked. I flushed it down the toilet, threw it in the garbage. Nothing worked. Every morning, when I awoke, it would be on my nightstand again. Blood stained my clothes, my hands, everything that I owned. My entire apartment was drenched in it. A trail of corpses led every way I moved. Anyone who got in my way suffered the same way. The cleaner down the hall. The driver who cut me off this morning. The person who shoved me on the train. No matter who, I can’t stop myself.
It’s been that way for a long time. I don’t know how much time has passed, one month or two. I don’t know how many lives I’ve taken. Five, ten, fourteen, twenty? I’ve lost count a long, long time ago. But it’s all going to end now. I’m going to my parents’ cabin in the woods, far from here where no one will stumble upon me.
If you’re reading this, don’t go looking for me. Hopefully, no one will ever find me or the book, ever again.