I came into the room with an eager anticipation of rest. It had been a long day, the air was pleasantly chilly and I had arrived back, hands rubbing enthusiastically as the rest of me greatly anticipated the comfort due on a languorous holiday. All I expected in the pleasant little house was a well-lit hearth of white marble, a deep armchair, some warming brandy, a good book and… apparently my friend, whom I had not realized had come back, and it seemed, had never even left the house. He was occupying my chair. The brandy wasn’t even there. The hearth was poor and dim.
Well, I asked him how he was. He stuttered out a reply he never finished. “Hold on,” he said. I walked over to him, disappointment in my soul. He was staring at a book. A poorly kept old thing with a shoddy cover and dodgy spine. The pages looked crinkled and nigh rigid. Sometimes he drew his hand forth and slid his fingers under the page, but never turned it. He moved the volume up and down a little, then left it and gave a little sigh. I asked what the matter was. He gave a sad little reply in a sad little tone.
“I can’t stop staring at it,” he said. “I, uh, I’ve been winking at it, so I never have to look away, really.” This made me stop dead in my tracks as I made my way to a table, intent on pouring for myself whatever was available. Ever so slightly nervous, I turned back to him. I went around the chair and there he was, looking like he was sore in the eyes, winking each eye at a time, at the pages of a book. The only thing which really went through my head was that he had gone mad, but in what way I couldn’t tell.
“The few times I broke the rhythm, it just got worse,” he staggered out.
“Well, what is it, man?” I asked as I bent around the side of the chair to get a look at his book. His eyes shot open and he yelled a harsh, “No!” He tensed up quite frightfully, as if he was really afraid. I took it that he was embarrassed, but that didn’t make much sense. I asked him what it was he was looking at.
“A man, coming towards me. He has a laurel and is draped in silk and cloth. He would look like a great, reverent Pan if he wasn’t so… like he is.” My friend had a hard time keeping his eyes on the page, but he was by no means prepared to stop. This little goatish fellow of his was keeping his rapt attention, but I knew not how.
“Is he in a scene?” I asked, taking a gulp of tepid alcohol.
“Some horrible forest or glade or plain, it… changed. To be perfectly honest, it isn’t him that is moving so much, I’m just afraid the place will become the house.” There was my answer. My friend almost lost his winking rhythm, so I stopped. I don’t think it mattered to him if I talked or not. I think it was a case of the image changing upon viewings. So no new viewings, no new image. I had had no experience here before, but I did think of what might be done. I could set the book alight, but it was in his hands. If I looked at it, I wondered if I could give him a break for a while, but dwelling upon this, I didn’t want to end up like him, if his madness be justified. I wanted to help my friend and if that meant playing along for the moment until I could get him to talk straight, that was fine by me.
I walked back in front of him. He squinted as I blocked the poor light. I proposed the idea that if we were to never look at the image again, it would never have the chance to completely change. He almost — almost — looked up at me.
“Now, here’s what we’ll do — keep your eyes on it! When I tell you to do so, clamp your eyes shut tight, do not loosen them. I will put my hands on the covers of the book, over your hands, and we will close it together. Then I will take it and then you can open your eyes. Is that all right with you?” My friend seemed unsure, he began a series of delayed stutters, but was desperate for an escape. He kept his eyes on the pages and told me, “Yes.” I put my hands forward slowly, I moved with them. It was at this point I began to feel just a slight apprehension rising within me. I could see some dark ink and yellowed page. I couldn’t make much out save for an ornate border. At this point I stopped. My eyes drifted, peering with dreadful curiosity not entirely conscious, against the baleful cry of my friend’s, “What in God’s name are you doing?!” I glimpsed, above that border, a leering face of eyes and sardonic, mirthless animal grin. It looked up at me, from beneath.
“He…he…he moved, I…” but I couldn’t finish. From the periphery of my vision I sensed my friend’s large eyes fixed dead upon me, his hand sliding slowly from his mouth and the issue of a lamenting apology.
Sean Hill is a writer based out of Dublin, Ireland and has been writing since he was very young. Sean remains somewhere in Dublin’s ancient streets as a writer of strange and fantastic things, with an especial love of turn of the century pulp horror and quaint, antiquarian ghost stories.