Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Last to Leave.

A reckless burst of wind slipped against my shutters as I nestled in for the night. My dog Horace, not one to be such a light sleeper, had already turned in for the evening. Honestly, I was surprised that the blustering force outside wasn't keeping him awake. If anything, he was out of character.

Upon turning my reading lamp low and rocking backwards in my chair, I scanned the library around me. Even in the soft light that struck each and every book's spine, I could still make out their names. Carroll, Stevenson, Chaucer, Eliot... these were my comrades in arms; my friends. Their pens were as the mighty claymore, slicing the mind's eye into a million minuscule parts and reshaping thoughts into each author's own singular image. These men and women I could respect. Alas, each of these wordsmiths had long since crossed the mortal realm into the vast unknowing. Here I was, the last to leave.

Rising from my seat to return this evening's adventure to its rightful place upon the shelf, I nearly tripped over Horace. Nary a whimper or gruff escaped from his jowls. If only I could submit to sleep as easily; I was envious.

As I turned away from my bookcase, I heard a slight movement at my library door. Nothing of particular note or clarity, just a simple scuffing back and forth. Like a handful of thistle scratching against a windowpane, it was noticeable, but faint. I called out...

"A hot poker for your ribs!"

Alas, the noise continued, though this time it grew somewhat louder. My instincts told me that some degree of tomfoolery was afoot. Had my home been breached? Did hooligans intend to strike me down in cold blood and relieve me of my possessions? I called again...

"Do not flounder. With hellish strength I will strike!"

Swiftly, I reached to the hearth and grabbed my fire iron. The coals had grown dim, but still had life in them yet. As such, the searing rod would give any man reason enough to retreat. A fine striking weapon indeed; should even the mighty Beelzebub try to enter, his thorny self would have cause for alarm!

The scratching on the door continued as I crept closer. Steadily, my free hand reached for the doorknob. Just as I was about to make contact, the somber chafing suddenly stopped. With eagle like agility, I parted the door and shoved my poker through. The darkness now thoroughly punctured with my iron, I opened the door fully to see my foe. Yet, there stood but an empty hallway and my mother's old painting of a Thanksgiving feast. I took note of how the painting's colors seemed to have faded slightly, then pressed onward. Looking left, then right, I perused the depths of my corridor. My mind must have been playing tricks on me. Or, perhaps I required some traps for the mice, who would have me fall dead from paranoia. Those rodents, ever the sly devils. Lowering my poker, I turned around to reenter my library. In hindsight, I wish I had kept on walking into my hallway.

Before me, without a squeak nor strike of lightning, stood a cloaked specter. Perhaps two and a quarter meters in height, it towered over my now humbled frame. Shroud in fibrous crimson linen, I could not make out a face. Its chest did not rise and fall as a man's chest would. The life in the room quickly evaporated; the already dim coals in the fireplace shrunk to mere specks of orange and yellow. The warmth in the room had all but vanished. My own breath became visible, which eerily seemed to mingle with the misty vapor surrounding my visitor. A damp fog encircled the library, leaving me with little ability to see. As the bellow on a pipe organ, this creature spoke to me.

"Do you long for yesterday?"

How could I be prepared for such a strange inquiry? I grasped at the phantasm's cloak, with little ability to reply.

"Do you long for yesterday?"

The chime of my grandfather clock suddenly clanged, startling me to the bone. The hair all across my body stood at full attention. I muttered nearly incoherently.

"B-b-but... I, eh I... I do not... k-k-know how, how t-to answer."

The erubescent wraith seemed to tilt its head to the side, then spoke once more.

"Your friends are all dead. Your coals are dead. Your dog is dead. You... are dead."

Terrified, I reached for dear Horace. Placing my hand to his wet nose, I realized that it was not wet at all. His lips were white, his torso frigid. Poor Horace... my companion had indeed passed on. Had the room not been so glacial, I undoubtedly would have wept. I stood to my feat and locked gazes with the guest of death, whom spoke again.

"We must go."

The apparition seemed to glide across my floor, never taking a step. With the smooth grace of a swan, it floated towards the exit.

"Follow me."

I kept asking myself -- had I passed away in my reading chair? Was my corporeal form now a feast for the worms? How long before someone would discover me? Would my library become my tomb? Faced with little alternative, I accepted my fate and followed the red shroud away. Yet, I was frightened of what might come next. Why could I not stay here, surrounded by what I know best? The tales all around me were good enough for comfort. With a warm fire, there was an eternal sustenance to be had here. Instinctively, I made a choice.

As I passed by my Davenport desk, I quickly reached inside its largest compartment for my old tinder box. With great dispatch, I flung my hands against the flint and struck a clutch of matches. Set ablaze, the sulfurous stench the matches produced caused my nose to tingle. The phantom seemed to turn its head over its shoulder to inspect what I had done. Too late for him, indeed. With great velocity, I flung the staunch flame at his cloak. No sooner had the fire made contact did his blood-soaked garment erupt in furious anger. Spreading all over the veiled monstrosity, the fire was simply too powerful to stop. As the ethereal horror twisted in torment, the cloth wrapped over its structure melted away. Through the smoke and glistening embers, the burning carcass revealed itself to be but a hollow skeleton. This was no human frame, though. Scattered about the bony visage were gristly lumps of calcified plating. Shards of cartilage and other quills of osseous matter jutted at random. Whatever my now lifeless visitor had been, it must surely have existed in sheer agony. Perhaps I performed it a favor.

No sooner had the fire captured the revenant did it fall to ash. As I approached the pile of dust, it seemed to drop between the boards of my floor, sifting through the cracks like tumbling sands in an hourglass. Without warning, a massive gushing force slammed my library door shut. The fog lifted and I could feel the temperature rising ever slightly. Once nearly out, the coals in the hearth rose to a cherry color.

It was as if the mysterious ghost had never come at all.

Surely, I must have been dreaming. Returning to my reading desk, I sat in my plush chair once again. The only remedy was to calm my nerves and awake in due time. And so I did, leaning back in my chair once more... to sleep within a dream.

I awoke to the chiming of my clock. Each bell struck like the echo in a cavern, forever reverberating in a hollow flutter. The coals in the fire were still warm. Horace rested upon the floor, not having moved. My lamp was still low, as I had left it. Gathering my strength, I lifted up from the chair and made for the library door.

Turning the knob, I pushed the entryway open.

There was no painting in the hallway waiting for me. In fact, there was no hallway at all. As if staring at my own image in a mirror, there stood an exact duplicate of my library, only emulated in an exact reflection. Across the length of the mirrored library stood another door. Galloping forth, I raced to that door and flung it open. There too, another library, this time matching my own original room.

And another door leading to a mirrored room.

And yet another room matching my original library.

I found myself trapped in an ever-looping cycle of endless libraries, only mirrored from one to the next. And in every room, Horace slept the eternal sleep, never stirring to life.

What had I done...

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