The Book

The cover of the book bore no name, nor location and its remaining pages (that had not been torn out or despoiled by the galvanic ink-strokes of some frenzied penmanship) were yellowed and brittle as if soaked and left to rot some aeon ago. Most beguiling was its front cover; what must have once been brown is now black and cracked, bearing the look of a thing that has been burned. The forlorn volume, I discovered on the bottom of a shelf within the parlour of a roadside antique shop. The owner of the shop; a woman in her later years bade me exchange nothing for the book and even offered that I had made some error in its purchase; yet something about the sorry, blackened leather pulled at me in the same way a malformed teddy bear begs for salvation from the shelves of a toy shop and the depths of its dead, glass gaze.

 

Back on the road, the reek of the burned leather became apparent and the anticipation that appeared to emanate from the cursed volume dogged me on my journey home. The thought of the thing was blurring my judgement along with the sudden tumult that hammered down in a spiteful tattoo upon the surface of my umbrella. Someone had tried to extinguish this book;  to cast it to dust with righteous flame….but had failed.

 

When I returned home, I lit the lamps and fire against the rain and wind that had become a frozen, spectral wail outside, whistling its corpse-breath through the gaps in the stone. I must admit I gave a cry as three white things like the grotesque wings of some demonaic insects fluttered from the book’s pages as the scorched leather squealed its sudden breach. Heart racing and all too aware of the rustlings and creaks from the trees that thronged the east wall of my home, I bent and retrieved three tattered photographs that lay face-up on the floor; their surfaces dully reflecting light in a miasma of long-dead eyes.

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Exposure to the flames that had rent their host, the photographs were difficult to decipher at first, yet this confusion gave way to an eerie puzzlement; the edge of a wooden bridge peering through a haze of undergrowth and a gate in much the same repose. Both of them, whilst neither evocative in their execution, carried in them a strange sense of abandonment, of melancholy, of forgotten places and, combined with the terrible wail of the night, filled me with an errant dread.

The last one was different, the side of a stone church beneath a faded white cloud in a summer sky; yet, again, like its mates, carried with it a beguiling ache of passing time. There was something else about this final image too; one side of the church’s steeple had crumbled, yet did not pertain to the natural  collapse that we can attribute to age. No, the gaps in the steeple where stones had been omitted in a repulsive obliqueness that smacked of the presence of some terrible giant that had simply leaned down and carelessly bitten a chunk from the side of this ancient edifice.

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Perturbed by my discoveries, a feeling of anticipation close to wonderment befell me as I turned back to the pages of the book. As I have mentioned previously, most of them were torn or blackened by criss-crossing lines of ink in some madman’s scrawl. The remaining were yellowed and, as I had suspected pertained to the conventions of some diary. Below is what I could decipher from the scrawled, archaic print that ravaged those ancient pages.

Date: [indecipherable – by my own eyes I believe that the initial digits are 19]

We found it, WE FOUND IT!! [Blacked out] Lily and I; by our feet and our wits alone. Across the hidden bridge and along endless weed-choked passages. Before god, I can now say the  legend is finally proved true!

 

As I read this passage, the lamps of my home seemed to flicker in the ghoulish mimic of a sudden terror that afflicted me at these words. For I too, had heard speak of a legend in these far flung hills and whilst every aeon of my soul  begged me not to read on; I was compelled to do so.

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 We took the north west road through [blacked out] and threw caution to the faded warning signs between the rusted coils of barbed wire. There it lay, that fabled place, its lands that  rise in bilious mounds that appear more akin to some pagan barrow lands than the ancient sepulchres they represent. The memory of [blacked out] and the terrible wonders we saw there that, as I write seem like childish nightmare, yet I know they were real. I KNOW.

Below the entry was a mark, a pale cube where, presumably affixed to the page was one of the photographs. Looking closely, the shots themselves carry that faint over-exposure of a long time ago.  

More of the relentless  black lines cover the following pages of the book until they abruptly halt and another entry in the same hand peers from the kaleidoscopic, ink-bound madness.

I dream of it. I dream of what I saw. I dream of what we saw. In that pale kirkyard between the trees whose only disciples drive their twisted roots into the earth or feed their squalling young beneath the fading eaves of its crumbling surrounding buildings. Every leaded window of each smaller residence that flanked the church, of which were few, bore naught behind but a spider-webbed darkness.  Lily cries at night as she too recalls the pale monstrosities we saw walk in that ancient place; the pale fingers that reached from their entombment and those eyeless holes that seemed to leer with a demoniac malevolence as they lurched from their graves with some nightmarish hunger. We fled then, back over that crumbling bridge and back through the field, all the while the echoes of their terrible , hollow feet rattling against the stone floor of that long-silent mausoleum. Lily cries out in a sleep from which she will not be roused as she dreams of it too…those things we saw, those yellowed bones that rose from their tombs like men…

There is nothing else in the pages of that accursed book, no name, no further exploration of what appears to be a madness that has gripped its author, or some elaborate and ill-conceived joke. For those of us who live here know what is said to have dwelled here, back in some far flung time of yore. Had I myself not been privy to taking long walks in the wider hills and the acquirement of folklore; my interest in this book have waned to perhaps even mockery of its unknown author.

Yet I too have heard stories of this nightmarish enclave where the dead do not rest. I have read passages in bound and ancient books that speak of something that arrived from the seas on foul black wings, that took residency in a once proud bell-tower; its unholy spirit so acrid, so corrosive that its mere presence burned through the very rock. The wood carvings and tapestries tell some fable of a benighted village lost to the forests, its people lost to this winged black shadow, unable to rest, their barrows growing fat with every passing year, bones of beast and man alike.

These stories are oft dismissed as some folk malady, some superstition, yet the passages in this book and its accompanying photographs now burn some terrible brand upon my own consciousness and leave me bereft of sleep as much as answers.

Some long forgotten and ancient hollow where houses stand hollow and a once pious monument now leans, blighted by the mark of some ancient, accursed thing and the dead do not rest.

I have heard a name, one that does not stand out amongst its ilk in the area. I have heard it whispered in the restricted study areas of libraries and betwixt the choking fumes of false righteousness after mass.  

Though I dare not speak it, thus some poor student of intrigue may find these words and attempt to follow my own, terrible discovery. For it is not mere coincidence that I hear the beat of terrible wings through the roar of the weather and the eldritch click of ancient bone on ancient bone. The blackened book and its triage of craven images lie amongst the coals of the fire now, stubborn black and still formed. I dare not leave this place, nor face the nameless things that, I have no doubt, my curse of inquisition has damned me too, to face.

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About Matt Wesolowski

Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. He is an English tutor and leads Cuckoo Young Writers creative writing workshops for young people in association with New Writing North. Wesolowski started his writing career in horror and his short horror fiction has been published in numerous magazines and US anthologies. Wesolowski's debut novella ‘The Black Land‘ a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013 by Blood Bound Books and his latest horror novella set in the forests of Sweden is available in 'Dimension 6' magazine through Coeur De Lion Publishing. Wesolowski was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at 'Bloody Scotland'; Crime Writing Festival 2015, his subsequent debut crime novel 'Six Stories' will be available through Orenda Books in the spring of 2017 View all posts by Matt Wesolowski

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