In a box of mixed up secondhand books, something needs to stand out. This one did.
Its title, How to Disappear; Vanishment Made Easy, caught my eye at once, mixed in with cheap novels from the Fifties and various “How to do” guides. I pulled it out and ran my fingers over the cover. It was a colourless grey with the title in faded light black lettering. The author’s name, Freydrich Langhorn, was printed in bold Gothic print under the date of publication, 1887. It had that aroma that old books emit, one of times forgotten and age-worn mustiness.
“I guess the last person to own this was Lord Lucan,” I joked, handing my money to a young girl who’d obviously never heard of Lord Lucan.
“Why would you want to vanish?” she asked, glancing at the title.
“Why indeed?” I answered. “Don’t you think it would be something of an adventure, though?”
She looked at me in the way my mother used to when she caught me smoking or found a pack of condoms under my bed. I paid and turned to go.
“I guess I won’t be seeing you again,” she said. I admit that was cool. It made me smile. I made a mental note to ask her out sometime.
I opened the book that evening. Written inside was a list of names and dates, some written in beautiful script, others scribbled in pencil or ball-point. It was well travelled.
1889 Louis le Prince, Paris
1901 Y Hillis Addis, Mexico
1910 Dorothy Arnold New York
1914 F L Clark, Idaho
1938 Lloyd Gaines
1965 Abe Halkett
In the interests of posterity, I added my name: 2015 Jacob Weiz, London
It was a supposedly true account of the author’s life. Freydrich Langhorn was a German doctor who, in 1884, travelled to Africa to work as a missionary. The content bordered on racist; however, I assumed it was a book of its time, when Empires held sway.
In 1886, he became involved in a dispute with a local witch doctor who tried to poison him. Langhorn somehow wrote down the ingredients of the poison which was, he said, meant to make him vanish.
“…I recovered and returned to Europe in January of 1887. It was then that my symptoms became pronounced. I began to disappear, literally. I write this book as a warning. I have only my right hand and half my face remaining. When I am gone, will I exist? Will I be able to function? I do not know…”
As a horror book, it was reminiscent of Poe. As a book of nonfiction, I found it compelling.
An internet search of the previous owners found that each had disappeared. There were plausible explanations for all of them but it seemed too much of a coincidence.
I decided to try it myself.
The compound consisted of ingredients that were unavailable to purchase in my local supermarket. I became an avid online shopper. God bless Ebay and Amazon!
Langhorn hadn’t specified how the ingredients should be mixed or the quantity of ingredients, none of which were listed as poisonous— but to be certain, I applied the end results to a piece of fish which I gave to my neighbours’ cat.
It seemed to have no immediate effect. I was disappointed. I thought that perhaps there may have been something in this story but I began to believe that Langhorn had probably added this tale as a touch of melodrama. I put the book away and left it at that.
A few weeks later, I came across a poster at a local shop.
“Missing cat — Persian blue. Answers to the name of Salome…”
Later that day my neighbour called round to ask whether I had seen anything of her cat. I replied in the negative. “It’s very strange,” my neighbour said. “ She never wanders too far and I’ve not seen her for over ten days. Funnily enough, I still leave her milk out on the balcony when I go to work and when I come home the saucer’s empty. Perhaps it’s that black cat from down the road…”
Had it worked? If it had, then the cat would be invisible. It might even be in my apartment. I spent about half an hour trying to coax any sign, a meow here, a hiss there. Nothing.
I wondered what would happen if I tried it on myself… I concocted another batch and spent three sleepless nights wondering if I should take it or not. In the end I did. Nothing untoward happened and I began to forget about it, but when my neighbour called round a few days later to say that the milk in the saucer had not been drunk for several days, I failed to read the warning signs. That was four weeks ago. When my left foot vanished after three weeks, I put my vanishing on Facebook as a warning to others. It got 30,000 likes. Most thought I should sell the trick to David Blaine.
It was a slow process. Although I could feel my foot, I couldn’t see it. I thought it was temporary but then my thigh disappeared, followed by my elbow. I called in sick .
My girlfriend called one evening. I told her I didn’t have a penis. She never called back.
Four weeks have passed. I’m totally invisible. I thought it would be fun, you know, walking into places that you weren’t supposed to. It’s not, not now.
I can barely feel the parts of me that have vanished.
Dear reader, these words are written as a warning. My organs are failing and I can barely hold the pen. with Please excuse the scrawl but I am blind now. I put my vanishing on Facebook as a warning to others. I have over five hundred thousand likes now. My pen has fallen… my fingers are gone… my head is… confused… I… I…”
Alun Williams has been writing in forums including Zoetrope and Critter-Bar. Has had shorts and flash fiction published in a number of magazines and zines including Palehouse, Cafe-Lit and Blue Tattoo. Sadly not the New Yorker.