This short story was inspired by Lilyn G.’s post about OBSIDEO: A Prequel to Will Haunt You–Part 2. This is a work of fiction. Even though I am a librarian, I have yet to come across a haunted book.
But if I do, I’m ready.
I‘m a librarian. Specifically, I am a collection development librarian. I buy books for a living.
You’d think that would be easy, buying books. It’s not. First of all, there’s a selection criteria you’ve got to use; you can’t just buy anything that catches your eye. Then there’s how many copies you should order. You got to be able to predict what’s going to be a hit, what’s not, and make sure whatever you choose doesn’t piss off your boss, your director, and the library board.
Nope. Not easy.
My other responsibility is collection evaluation. People think librarianship is about books. That’s only a little part of it. Mainly, it’s about statistics, especially in a public library like mine. We keep statistics on each item in our collection. How often it’s been checked out, how many times it’s been damaged and replaced, that kind of thing. It’s all about space and keeping current and meeting our community’s reading needs.
Then there’s the donations. Book donations. Collection development librarians also have to deal with donations.
I hate book donations.
Wanna know a secret? Do you think your donated books are going to be part of a library’s circulating collection? Yeah, probably not. We don’t shelve donated books.
I know, I know. It sounds ungrateful. Here you are, giving us your used, tired, unpopular books, and we’re not on our knees, clasping our hands and saying, aw, thanks, you’re so awesome, you.
It’s like this. If you don’t want that book, chances are nobody else wants it, either. Libraries are short on space, and remember what I said about statistics? We’re not going to waste space on books nobody wants. My mantra is collection development is not hoarding.
So what do we do with donations? Sort them, trash them, and the few that are in good condition we sell at our Friends of the Library bookshop. It’s how we increase our budget.
Anyhoo, so there I am, on donation duty, and I’m going through this box someone left outside last night. It’s packed to the brim with a bunch of crap nobody wants–outdated textbooks, paperbacks with ripped covers and missing pages, that kind of thing. I’m about ready to toss it, but hidden down at the very bottom is a hardback. Looks to be in good shape. I pull it out.
This one is old, by the looks of it, maybe 19th century… bound in black leather with gold leaf and a gold embossed title. Umbra Regem. It looks kind of like a Bible. I sniff it… a little moldy, but there’s something else… something sweet, with a rotting undertone. Reminds me of a crypt I went to once, for a Walking Dead cosplay.
Umbra Regem. The Shadow King. I turn to my desktop and Google Shadow King.
Nothing. All I find is a bunch of hits about the T.V. show Legion and Marvel’s X-Men.
I’m persistent by nature, so I click in about three or four pages. No luck. I’m about to close out when a Reddit link at the bottom of the fourth page catches my eye.
DON’T READ IT.
Don’t read the link? The post? Nobody tells me what to do. I click on it.
Um, there’s a book called Umbra Regem, and… I know it’s going to sound crazy, but it’s haunted, okay? Seriously haunted. I got it out of one of those People’s Library book-stands you see all over the place. I’m all, is it a Bible, because it kind of looks like one. I flip through it, and it’s all in gibberish, but my boyfriend pulls it out of my hand and starts reading it. I’m all, how can you read that? And he’s all, it’s a book. I can read. I’m like, fuck you, but he’s too busy reading to hear me. He’s so into it that he doesn’t even look up when we walk home.
Then it gets really weird. All day, all night he’s reading. He stops going to work… I have to make him eat, make him shower, and check it, he even stopped going to the bathroom. I’m like, what is that smell? It was him. He shit up the chair. Who does that?
But that’s not the weirdest. The weirdest was how he started talking to himself. The only time he would get up was to stand in front of the mirror and talk to himself. At least, I thought it was to himself, but one time I walked in on him and I swear, as God is my witness, there was a man talking back to him, BUT IT WASN’T MY BOYFRIEND!!!
That’s when I tried to take it away from him. He got all violent and shit. He even hit me. My boyfriend’s a Quaker, okay? He doesn’t believe in violence. He wouldn’t even kill a cockroach. He’s all, we’re all God’s creatures, babe.
So I called his parents and his best friend, and we had an intervention. It was ugly, but we managed to get the book away from him. Had to pry it out of his hands.
That’s when he went crazy. He went into the kitchen, got a knife and stabbed his mother in her head. His father and best friend tried to stop him, but then there was so much blood… I grabbed the book and ran. Got in the car and thought I got away, but there he was, my boyfriend, standing in the middle of the road and covered in blood. “Give it back,” he was screaming. “Give me back my book.”
I ran him over and took the book to my parent’s house. The police came. He’s in some psychiatric facility for the criminally insane now.
I took the book to my parish priest and we burned it together. Seriously. I have pictures.
The next day it was sitting on the kitchen counter.
I took it back to the church, and we tried again. This time we ripped the pages out, cut them up, set them on fire, and mailed the ashes to the Vatican.
The next day it was lying next to me in my bed.
It wants me to read it, but I won’t. I’m not reading it. It’s evil. But I don’t think I can hold out. He’s calling me. He’s waiting… I think there’s only one way out for me.
I have to try to get rid of it one more time. I pray it works. But if you find it, don’t open it. Don’t read it. Get rid of it.
If you can.
Huh. The comments underneath were pretty much positive. Not bad… it’s no Candle Cove, but I liked it, and Six out of ten… keep writing.
I turn to the book. “You haunted, book?”
The book stares back.
I open a few pages to the verso. Its full title is UMBRA REGEM: The Shadow King by Augustus Magister. It was published in 1880 in Salem, Massachusetts.
I turn the page. Chapter One. I See You.
The lights flicker and dim. The temperature drops.
The next page is an etching of an older, overweight woman sitting in a room full of books. To her right is a desktop computer. A box stacked with old books sits at her feet. The caption underneath the etching is A Wasted Life.
It was the half empty Starbucks cup sitting next to the computer that cinched it. The picture was of me. Oh no. Hell to the no. My eye starts twitching.
“Oh, fuck you, dickwad. My ass is not that big.” I slam the book shut and reach for the supply box. One jar of salt and a gallon size Ziploc bag should do it. “You can be haunted all you want, but it is not cool to throw down with the personal insults. The job is sedentary. Sed-en-tar-y. I’m lucky if I get ten thousand steps a week.” I pour the jar of salt in the bag, dump the book in on top of it and seal it up. ” Oh, and one more thing. Fuck you.”
The lights brighten. The temperature warms up.
I grab my routing slips and stick one on the bag. Haunted, I write. Route to exorcism department, then burn. I cross out burn. Use for Halloween display.
N.B. I may be a librarian, but I’m not a collection development librarian. The views expressed belong to the character, not me.
Oh, and a shout out to my favorite Collection Development blog, Awful Library Books: Hoarding is not Collection Development.