The Book Burning In Hallowbrook

Submitted into Contest #182 in response to: Write a story where someone’s paranoia is justified.... view prompt


Fantasy Horror Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Trigger Warning: Body horror, violence, and gross imagery

The Book Burning In Hallowbrook

In the vast and unlit corridors of space and time, where the maker of all undulates and quivers, its unholy essence seeps into and tarnishes the very light that travels the galaxies in flashes of pure and instant chaos.

These rays skewer the fabric of reality and traverse the eons, mounting in malice, will, and hatred the longer and farther it travels. Impossibly fast and imperceptible, it hunts for sentience across the galaxy; to spread the knowledge that in this unending reality, we are but the insignificant mannerisms of chaos that choose to carve order in places where it should never be.

Reality wailed and resisted as this energy tore through its essence. In each civilization found, it planted a seed of chaos wherever it bounded across the surface before continuing on. Leaving behind hints of the ultimate reality as well as dark magical items of great power; an open invitation to the pleasures of inequality. Peaceful societies were wrought with greed and envy over time; unnatural moods and unwholesome predilections fell upon all thinking beings. All proceeded along and built themselves their own purgatories until they collapsed entirely through war or some other avoidable catastrophic event.

This evil barreled towards a beautiful green and blue planet, covered with a myriad of fantastical races. There existed the illustrious elves, one of the oldest races; the industrious dwarves with a penchant for crafting; Humans, whose variety was a boon to the success of everyone. Throughout its history there were wars and famine, but generally all were united against the immoral and felt goodwill towards each other.

This power reached this planet and smashed into it head on. It tore through a village, and all engulfed in its light convulsed and morphed into beasts of bulbous and rotted flesh. Becoming mere scar tissue of oozing masses and writhing monstrosities, each wholly unnattural and alien. The changes were instant and complete. A blink of an eye separated the idyllic countryside town and the hellscape it became. This power left as soon as it struck, the mark was made and it traversed back into the uncaring void with the promise of that comes intrinsically with eternity that it would return again someday, in some unknown age.

The carnage left in that small town was told far and wide. The regular army of the nearby capital was called and they put to death any of the horrid creatures they could find. Most were useless to oppose them and adorned a thankful look of finality in their eyes when their lives left them. Others crept into the nearby woods to haunt the dreams of children and elders alike for years to come, whether in sightings or rumors of sightings. The creatures of Oldtown marked the catalyst of a dark age to come.


All the members of the senate in Hallowbrook came to the swift conclusion that all items within the adjacent Oldtown village must be systematically destroyed. Theories and speculation were rampant in the town and governing body. Most assumed it was a new plague; others figured it was a curse of the land that fell upon them. In the hearts of a few was the suspicion that it was some magical attack from a rival nation. A thought that would've been unthinkable even just a week before.

Hallowbrook sent word to their army, untrained and largely ceremonial, to deal with the dismantling and disposal of all traces of the town and transformed inhabitants. Along with the message went several scholars and magically inclined folk to investigate. They marched through the woods, which was alight with new sounds that cried from the darkness and all had a sense that something lay at the peripheries of their vision; only to find nothing amiss when they'd work up the nerve to look. Once they arrived, their weariness was matched only by their astonishment and horror of the mutated bodies that scattered the ground.

The soldiers looked emotionally hallow, as if they've shunted their personalities to a deep and dark recess of their mind; seeking protection in ignorance. The scholars were filled with a macabre curiosity, hiding their repulsion behind a scientist's mask. Of these scholars was the librarian of Hallowbrook, James Tuttle. He approached a hut on the edge of town when he arrived. The soldiers outside were waiting with lit torches, ready to toss them and be done with this hellish place, but following orders regardless.

Inside he found it to be a simple two room abode with the usual furniture and instruments of a hunter. Various skins were strewn about and ready for sale. He dismissed the common goods and opened the door to what he assumed to be a bedroom. He soon wished that he let the soldiers torch the home first, for what he saw was a writhing and oozing mound of flesh slumped over a desk with a humanoid arm jutting out of it, iron quill in hand.

James recoiled, his hand covered his mouth and he retched instantly, the stench of the thing invading his senses. His eyes watered as he doubled backwards and fell flat, feeling the sickening pressure to faint. He starred on in abject horror, trying to find his voice to call out for help, but found it lodged in his fear. The thing lurched off of the stool and plopped with a squelch on the wooden floor. An eye drifted to the surface of its indescribable matter and stared at him in a wide-eyed look of fear.

It lurched forward and a muffled moan reverberated its frame. James screamed and felt his mind breaking to comprehend such a thing. It inched closer and closer, its one arm still clutching the quill. The arm dragged itself towards him, leaving melted and festering chunks of flesh in its path as it oozed closer. James was transfixed to its one pleading eye, the humanity in it so wrongly juxtaposed with its alien features. He backed away an inch before he felt his back press against the cold iron of a wood stove. The thing lurched forward, farther than James expected, and engulfed his foot, holding it fast!

James struggled, feeling its doughy flesh hold tight as if it were one solid mass of muscle. He grasped at the leg of the stove to pull himself away, but it greedily hugged him like mud. Its arm pulled out wide and its eyes turned to anger as the quill dove into James’s flesh. With that he finally found his voice and screamed in pain and terror, screamed for his sanity as he felt his mind splinter from this nightmarish encounter. The beast crudely carved strange and unholy symbols into his flesh, jagged and unintelligible.

With the completion of each vile shape, James saw flashes of the beyond, of unspeakable and incomprehensible terrors. He saw fate and inevitability. He saw the laws of the universe laid bare in terms unknowable. Five symbols were etched into his skin and five times he gazed upon the maker. He was lost in the final throws of the last weird etching when the beast died at his feet. He regained his senses and pulled himself away as hard as he could. The blood on his leg lubricated its exit with a sickening slurping sound as the hand lay limp against the floor.

James was thoroughly hyperventilating and fell against the bed in the room. A soldier burst in when he saw James limping to the bed from the doorway. He retched and then charged in, driving his spear in the dead thing, sticking it over and over. James only stared at his leg as his flesh knitted back together, scarring instantly where the deep wounds had been. He looked up at the guard, lost in his fury to dispel this creature from existence, winning back a measure of sanity with the satisfaction that such a being could be so thoroughly felled.

He scrambled to the room where the creature had been, ink spilling from an inkwell and dripping onto the floor, mixing with the ooze below. On the table was a simple leather-bound journal. James looked back, more guards at the door, beckoning for them both the get out so they can torch the place. The thought of this room burning, and the book going up in flames, filled him with a sense of unfamiliar dread, as if this cannot come to pass without great consequence. He swiped up the book and thought he felt it wriggling under his grasp, as if there existed some burrowing vermin underneath its covers. He stuffed it into his bag and ran away as soon as the building caught flame.

The guard inside had to be pulled out by his fellow soldiers, so frenzied he was that he had lost his instincts for self-preservation. When questioned, James only said he found nothing but the monster inside and felt the itch in his leg travel around his body. The village burned, one house at a time, until all that was left was a wasteland. The entire area felt dead when they arrived, and it looked it now.


Weeks passed and it was clear that none of the traditional thinking could point to any conclusive answers as to what had happened in Oldtown. James reported that he had nothing to add to the investigation that had already been said and returned to his post as the Hallowbrook librarian. He never mentioned the book, never let on that he poured over the book every night. At first he looked at it with fear and determination to discover hints at what had been wrought on his flesh, what had made it self-mend, but as time went on his fear and determination transformed into fascination and curiosity. The symbols within shifted before James's eyes and translated into a familiar language.

Each sentence offered a new truth about the way reality is and the underpinnings of how things work at their most basic levels. The book taught him the unifying gestures and desires of all lifeforms and the subtle ways they can be manipulated. The book groomed him to be able to rise to any station he dreamed of in this life. He began to spend most of his time in the restricted section of the library, reading and learning.

His assistant, Gilfry, a gnomish boy he had taken under his wing when he was young, picked up more of the slack around the library. He noticed changes in Mr. Tuttle, as he called him. He was quicker to anger than before and more curt with his conversations. Every time Gilfry would bring it up, he would only be dismissed, or reassured with saying that with how busy they've been he has had no time for rest. “Stop being so paranoid, Gilfry. Things are fine, boy, you’re just noticing how wrong everything is because you’re maturing.”, he’d say.

"It is true, I must admit.", Gilfry thought to himself; they had been uncharacteristically busy, especially in a town with such a low literacy rate as Hallowbrook. It seemed that half the town had learned to read, and swiftly. After a grueling day of stocking and checking out books, Gilfry went to let Mr. Tuttle know that he was leaving for the day.  As he approached, he heard muttering and rustling coming from the backroom. He approached quietly, and peered inside to found James with the curtains drawn by candlelight. He had his bony hands outstretched over a book on the table. To Gilfry's amazement, symbols and runes flowed from his fingertips, as if they were made of some syrupy material and dripped onto the cover of a popular fiction book. His eyes widened as he saw them seep into the text below.

It didn't make any sense, he knew that James never practiced magic; he was never able to. He used to tell Gilfry that he hoped in his next life, if he had one, that he'd be born with a natural affinity for it instead of being cursed to simply read about it. The gnome had to know what he was doing to that book, but with the sour mood that Mr. Tuttle had been in, he dared not risk stressing their friendship more than it has been. He’d need to lay eyes on it himself.  

He snuck out of the room and hid among the unsorted piles of textbooks, small as he was, and waited for a short while. He heard the familiar squeaking hinge on the back office door as James made his way to the front. He stared between the cracks in the piles and saw his mentor stroll lazily along the rows of books against the backwall. James caressed a tome in his hand as he walked; A tome that Gilfry noticed Mr.Tuttle was practically glued to for the past season or so. As he walked by, books shivered and jostled in their casings. James chuckled to himself and marked a note in his leather-bound tome and made way for the side exit before it closed and locked shut.

Gilfry waited five minutes and sped to the back office. He cursed himself for letting his  because he knew that something horribly strange was going on to Mr. Tuttle for a while! Ever since he came back from that nightmarish happening in the woods, he had acted slightly off and ever more so with each passing day. Something was terribly wrong and he needed to get to the bottom of it if there was any hope of saving the man who had rescued him from a life of squalor.

He opened the door swiftly, re-lit a candle that was close to being spent, and found the book on the table was a popular one titled, “The Tales Of Sir Edrick The Bold", practically a children's book. He'd read it before and gingerly flipped it open. The text inside shifted and reorganized itself, some words and symbols running to other pages like a mouse caught in sunlight. Gilfry couldn't believe his eyes. He ran his hands over it and felt a yearning to understand, a call to comprehend, and a desire to expand his mind.

"Isn't it wonderful?" James mused at the doorway. Gilfry startled hard and looked back at James. His face flashed a malicious expression, like someone whispered something deliciously wrong in his ears. Gilfry pressed his back against the desk, hands splayed out in innocence.

"Ah- There you are James! I was only just looking for you! I was..."

"Spare me, Gilfry, I've learned how to detect lies from even the most experienced swindlers."

He only shrunk at being outed so thoroughly. James placed a hand on his shoulder with a parental smile that grew ominously as he spoke, “I am the paragon of a new age of enlightenment, Gilfry. I have been chosen to lead us out of our caves of ignorance and into a new age of reality. I've been seeding these books with my thoughts and ideas to ease our way into this new era. The one on the table, you see, is rebecoming."

Gilfry looked back and noticed the book gyrating as the ones in the lobby did. "What are you talking about?! Who are you? What happened to James?!"

"There never was a James, dear boy, only an aspect of the maker with a mislabeled identity. I have rebecome myself. James is gone. Soon you will be gone too." James stretched his hand out and words and symbols oozed from his fingertips and hit the floor, crawling and scurrying about. One jumped and landed on his foot, staining his skin and crawling up his leg, with searing pain that felt like icy fire as it did.

Gilfry screamed in terror and threw the book on the desk at James which bounced harmlessly off of his chest. James only laughed as Gilfry scrambled onto the desk, the inky horror below followed him up. Gilfry scrambled away and kicked the candle at his lost friend. James dodged to side where it landed in a pile of parchment that lit fire nearly immediately.

James moved to put it out but found his shoes glued to the sticky substance on the floor. He pulled hard but the tar wouldn't give. Gilfry scrambled back and felt the curtain on his back, he stood up and tackled into it with all his might. He felt the glass cut and scrape against his arms and legs as he fell. The smoke in the room billowed out along with him. Inside he heard the maniacal laughing of a man, a thing, burning alive.

He spent the rest of his life with a scrawling tattoo on his foot and up his leg that he refused to talk about. It left him with a limp and a burning desire to find everyone who frequented that library. He meticulously stole and poured over all the books ever checked out by the populace of Hallowbrook. At first, he searched with fear and determination to discover what had been wrought on his flesh and had captivated his friend; later his desires transformed into fascination and curiosity.

January 28, 2023 02:47

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