Friday, August 19, 2016

The Evil Book

The Evil Book
Bobby Derie

It was springtime in the dark lands. Poisonous flowers blossomed, blood-sucking insects swirled in their mad mating dances and screamed out their chittering cries, sharp-beaked birds filched ripe berries from among the thorny bushes, and the snow was melting on the mountains of doom, swelling the streams that trickled down to the pestilential swamp that bordered upon the bitter sea. In his stone tower, built on a foundation of ancient, blood-caked stones on an islet in the middle of that strange, treacherous river, the would-be-prophet worried over her manuscript.

"It's harder than it looks," she spoke aloud. The worn brown skull on his mantle said nothing, but a shadow flickered in its empty sockets. "It is very easy to say, 'oh that is an evil book,' but what really is evil when you get down to it?"

Books filled most of the shelves, and were stacked in piles upon tables and chairs around the first floor; even the narrow, crooked stairs that led to the second floor were lined with their fair load of tomes, leaving only a thin path between them that permitted her to pass by. The only surface without books downstairs was the work-table, and that is because it was where she had determined to assemble the book.

The prophet suffered, she knew, from a certain pragmatic nature which rather undermined the evocative nature of her work. When she had set out at the task to create the evil book - not just an evil book, but the evil book, the kind of thing that would be whispered about for centuries and cause the doom of generations of necromancers and innocent souls, if not nations and, with luck, the entire world - she had immediately begun to draw up a list of desirable characteristics, and begin to study and work out how, exactly, the book should be constructed and what should go in it.

This had entailed a period of long study, including a protracted internship at the university library and an internship with a local bookmaker. Durability was one of the key things she'd been keen on, and this demanded a few experiments with regards to which materials were most resistant to water, mold, and fire; she'd even published a monograph on the subject which had been short-listed for an academic award, though she had lost out to a doctoral student who had spent three years learning how to properly bake Sumerian cuneiform tablets. The prophet did not begrudge him the acclaim.

In the end, she'd decided on rather traditional vellum and leather. Granted, human vellum and leather - and only the first twenty leaves or so were from virgins, because she got tired of checking after hitting the syphilis victim - and she'd boiled the glue down from human bones - which had taken quite a bit of work; there was a shed around the back of the tower which she'd built to handle all the chemicals as far as tanning and whatnot, and she'd had to build it to catch the breeze or else she couldn't breathe in there. Experiments with using sinew to bind had been a bust - it looked rubbish - and she'd gone for silk. Not, silk spun by blind spiders in darkness or any of that, because sourcing that would have been a nightmare, and she'd already put most of her student loans into this project as it was; she'd settled on silk thread used by certain oystermen who hadn't switched to nylon yet. She'd also managed to use quite a bit of polished bone for the spine and fittings, which she thought looked well, no matter how traditional iron or gold might have been.

She'd left off the traps for now - you had to reapply poison, since it went bad, and all of the sheer mechanical options were prone to wear and had to be reset by hand- and assembled the dummy book; a full-sized mockup, basically - which sat on the work table in front of her. It was to be her inspiration.

Unfortunately, that was about when the writers block had hit.

What do you put in an evil book?

Most of the books in her tower were grimoires of one sort or another, and she had initially conceived of a sort of greatest hits album, a compendium of the powers of darkness. A brief survey had quickly revealed that even an index to the existing demonologies would take over a thousand pages, and involve much cross-checking and redundancy. Few of the witches and warlocks of old, it seemed, had been content to verify their work by consulting with someone else. More than a few of the better, more systematic ones were actually written by The Other Side, as she tended to think of the holy water-and-thumbscrew crowd. Actually, they had better indices to forbidden arts than most of the actual necromancers did.

The prophet had briefly flirted with practical manuals on poisons, weapons of murder, engines of war, how to brew drugs and that kind of thing, because the various anarchist manuals and guerrilla warfare pamphlets were usually dubious, but it was debatable whether mere criminality constituted evil, at least in her mind. Worse, it was the type of information that tended to go out of date rather quickly. Strategy and tactics of warfare too would probably be received a trifle too enthusiastically. Marketing flittered up briefly in her brain, but this was merely lying writ large as far as she was concerned.

No, sheer practicality wouldn't do. It would lack the je ne sais quoi of true evil. She needed to get creative. She stared at the blank pages before her.

"Any ideas?" She asked the skull again. The runes carved into the skull made her forehead itch in sympathy. "Oh, you're so helpful."

She consulted her notes again. These were, more or less, all the things that had come to her in her visions - the creeping episodes when she opened herself to the infinite, and things answered. The diary of her travels in various cults, their initiations and forbidden rites; the formulas that worked. Some of it was obscure even to her; even on a good day the prophet needed something to dull her senses to the floating consciousnesses, just to get through the day. Fortunately, no one at university cared if she smelled a little funny or refilled her "tea" from a thermos that smelled like thyme, basil, and kerosene. In one particularly lucid episode she'd roughed out a sort of outline - figuring it would be easier if she could figure out the structure of the thing. There were headings for Sex Rites, and Prophecies; Forbidden Feasts, and Incantations After Death; a True History of the World and the Cosmology of the Old Ones.

It all seemed rather too prosaic. It was the sort of thing a comic book writer might have come up with, but they would have done it in four colors, with some underground comix guy doodling obscene alien figures in the margins. Hieroglyphs that made boys get strange erections when they saw octopi, Sigils that burned the brain of whoever opened a random page...

She felt herself slipping then, another episode coming on. The prophet eased herself to the floor, hoping this would prevent her from spilling anything on the manuscript as her jaw locked up and the lake of piss in her bladder seemed to freeze into a solid block that would never pass. Snakes danced down her spine as she quivered on the rough flagstones of the tower, eyes rolling into her head as the unseen things re-familiarized themselves with the primitive neural system they were colonizing once again.

This is all wrong. Was her last coherent thought for a while.

Cold alien logic seemed to swamp her understanding. There was this perfect image in her mind of what the book should - must be - a sort of programming document for evil. A system of systems, each page, each paragraph, each word and rune and diagram designed not to offend, but to fulfill a terrible purpose. She saw the illusion of time vanish before her, the infinite spiderweb of dark knowledge a single black spiral. But how the hell was she supposed to write that?

Without conscious thought, her hand grabbed a quill. And began to write.

Consciousness came to the prophet shortly after pain. Her hand was a frozen, withered claw, the calluses worn off and locked around the broken quill. The arm it was attached to didn't feel much better. Hunger clawed at her stomach, and she began to tremble in that weak, shuddery, fevered way that said her blood sugar was low. The smell and unpleasant squishiness in her pants told her she was laying in her own filth. Her head hurt, and arc of pain across her forehead. Gingerly, she tried and failed to get up off the floor - she had been asleep on her side, the writing arm numb and dead, and her hair and face seemed glued to the stone work. She shifted and gave another effort.

With a sticky, painful, hair-pulling exertion she tore herself free of the floor. Her numb right arm felt rubbery and senseless. She looked at the black scab on the floor, long gray hairs embedded in it, and gingerly reached up a hand to touch her scalp - and screamed at the open wound there. Well, at least I know where the blood came from. Then the pins and needles her her arm, and she began to flail around at the long-delayed pain.

It was quite a while before she was quite fit for anything.

When, eventually, she returned to the work table, she found that the dummy book lay open. Its pages were covered by her careful scrawl. She flipped idly through it. There were pieces that had been literally cut out of some of the books around her. Illustrations. Random letters. Yet it all seemed to fit. Her eyes lit on a word here or there that seemed to just have the right meaning. A few things she recognized from her copious notes, but not her outline. She turned to the beginning, and found that the first three pages consisted entirely of an elaborate book curse, one that drew the eyes and prepared one for the great revelations ahead...

There were little obscene doodles in the margin. It was, she knew, a sexual position you could only undertake with a corpse, and had certain necromantic usages that not many people knew. On the skull, next to the bloated pecker poking through the eye socket, was a number in brown ink. She took this to be a page number, and turned to it. The illustration on that page included a skull with a cantrip connected with the practice on the first page...and another number. She flipped through a few few more. It quickly became obvious that the text had at least one code enciphered within it - she recognized the outlines of a treatise on necromancy and necrophilia, sort of filling in the spaces between things, connected to them by numbers...

The prophet closed the book. Out in the dark lands, sharp-beaked birds were singing. It would need editing.


No comments:

Post a Comment