July 16, 2010

Bookworm

I know the date on the post says Friday, but I haven't yet gone to bed, and so it's still technically Thursday for me. Today has been filled with learning a new craft, (Hardanger Embroidery), cleaning my storage room so I can have my personal library back before school starts, price comparison shopping at three different stores for a project I'm doing for my paying job, and dealing with a personal crisis. If you're of a mind, sending some prayers on behalf of my family would be appreciated very much. In the meantime, please enjoy this little horror story that was written in 1997. --Anne
 
The Bookworm
 
Lavinia paused for a moment after entering the bookstore. It was very dim inside, making it difficult for her eyes to adjust from the bright light outdoors. She had only a few minutes to look around before she needed to get back to work, but it was nearly Scott's birthday and she didn't have a gift for him yet. The hand-lettered sign in the shop's window had caught her attention. It read, "YE OLDE BOOK SHOPPE: ANTIQUE BOOKS."

Scott had a large collection of old books. Perhaps she could find him something here. Once her eyes had adjusted, Lavinia began to browse the shelves. The shop was hung with cobwebs in the corners and a thick layer of dust lay everywhere. Very little sunlight managed to penetrate the front windows. She pulled one likely looking book from the shelf, and was instantly enveloped in a cloud of dust. Sneezing, she retreated from the area. She opened the book only to realize that it wasn't written in English, or any other language with which she was familiar, and replaced the book on the shelf to continue her search.

By the time she reached the rear of the grungy little store, Lavinia was almost certain that she did not want to purchase anything here. The entire collection seemed to be either foreign, or else so common a title that she was sure Scott already owned a copy. The store was hot and stuffy. The cramped aisles had covered Lavinia's immaculate white blouse with smudges of dust and dirt. She turned to leave the unpleasant place when a man suddenly appeared, blocking her path to the front of the store. "Can I help you, Miss?" Lavinia jumped and a small scream escaped her.

"Sorry Miss, I didn't mean to frighten you. Having some trouble finding what you want?" The speaker was an old man, probably in his sixties. He was balding, the fringe of remaining hair a dirty grey. He stood at least a head shorter than Lavinia's five feet two inches, not counting his stooped stance. His clothing consisted of a pair of scuffed-up black dress shoes, faded-out dungarees, and a tattered shirt that had once been blue. All in all, he blended into the shop very well. Lavinia calmed her speeding heart.

"I was looking for a book for my fiancé Scott, but your collection here..." she waved her hand at the shop, "doesn't seem to suit my needs." The old man nodded towards the back wall. "The best books are all in the back room. If you'd care to take a look, I'm sure you'll find something for Scott's birthday." Lavinia nodded and moved toward the back room. She suddenly wondered how the old man had known the gift was for Scott's birthday. She turned to ask him, but the man had vanished as suddenly as he had appeared.

Lavinia shrugged and continued into the back of the store. There was no door, but a piece of grey satin hung across the opening, shredded into vertical strips. The badly frayed strips and the strings had been left dangling, so it felt very much like pushing through a spider's web. Once though the door she found herself in a much cleaner, more open room. A ceiling fan rotated lazily, providing needed circulation. The room was quite dimly lit and Lavinia wondered how anyone could read in the shop. She began to browse the shelves. These at least, were free of dust. Lavinia had moved perhaps halfway around the room when it happened.

She saw a slight movement out of the corner of her eye and turned, thinking the proprietor had followed her. It was not the proprietor. It was gruesome. Dripping with a silvery slime, it was gray-green in colour, and nearly seven feet tall. It looked very much like a slug. The small black eyes gleamed with its evil intent. Towering over her slight frame, it advanced, gliding over the polished marble floor. Lavinia stood frozen, her eyes locked in its alien gaze. Scenes from old movies flashed in Lavinia's brain, and words from half-forgotten sound tracks echoed in her ears. "Whatever you do, don't look at it," a very popular line in horror films, and extremely applicable to the current situation. It was, however, too late. She was already looking at it, and found herself unable to move, as a sparrow is hypnotized by a snake.

 'Just before it becomes the snake's lunch', she thought wryly. As if in response, the creature before her chuckled, a terrible sound, for all that is was not very loud. Its mouth split open, not a pretty sight. "Yesss," it hissed, "Lunch. Or perhapsss a midnight sssnack. You are young. You resissst with all your might, but you will isss not ssstrong enough to overcome me. Yours sshall be the final life I drink.

"I feel your fear growing. Good. That makess me sstronger. Sstark raving terror isss ssso deliciousss to me." Lavinia could feel her fear too. It flooded over her in great waves, breaking over her and washing around her body. She couldn't breathe. Her heart raced. She tasted her fear, acid in her mouth, and knew that she would die soon, to feed this creature. It wriggled in ecstasy, without breaking their locked gazes.

"First, the fear, then to sssuck out the living essence of you. I sshall leave you a dried hussk, my dear, and then I will be complete. Then I sshall be able to ssspawn." Lavinia's brain screamed, "NO!" but her body remained immobile. She couldn't betray humankind to help this creature spawn more slugs, to prey on men in their turn. She exerted all of her will, knowing that if she could break her gaze from it, even for a moment, she would be free, and able to run. Her will trickled from her like sand dribbling between her fingers. She was entirely under its control.

The slug-like being extruded a long, thin tendril. Consumed with horror, Lavinia watched it inch toward her. After an eternity it reached her. And touched her. The tip of it pierced her skin, entering her body. She felt all of the moisture in her body begin to rush toward the insertion point. She felt her heart flutter to a stop, having no more blood to circulate. Incredibly, she still lived, horribly aware of every inch of her body, and every drop of the fluids draining from her. The pseudopod retracted as Lavinia's body crumbled to dust, as all of the Bookworm's victims did. The hunched old man entered the room, eyes downcast for his own safety. He picked up Lavinia's clothing and shook it out, then swept the remains of her body through the door into the front of the shop.

* * * * *
 
Scott leaped for the phone the first instant it rang. It was probably only his mother calling to wish him a happy birthday, but his hope soared that it could be some news about Lavinia. The last three weeks since her disappearance had been terrible. They'd eaten lunch as usual, then parted to return to their workplaces. After lunch, he'd watched Lavinia until she turned the corner, and then she had apparently dropped off the face of the earth.

"Hello?"

"Scott? Detective Lummer. We have a lead on Lavinia's disappearance. She was seen entering a bookstore a few blocks away from the restaurant. The woman who owns the bakery across the street says she saw a young woman go into the bookstore, and never come out. She's not sure that our photo of Lavinia is the girl that she saw, though. Could you bring some other pictures down, so we can get a more positive identification?"

Scott agreed, got the address, and hurried on his way. Detective Lummer and his partner introduced him to Stella, the owner of a small but cheerful pastry store. When she saw Scott's photographs, she became certain that the woman she had seen was Lavinia.

"Aye, that's the one. Went right in, she did, but never come out no more. None of the young ones did, they never come out no more." The pair of detectives crossed the street to the bookstore, Scott trailing in their wake. The door to the shop was open, hanging feebly by one hinge as it attempted to perform its function and fill the portal. The main room of the shop was filthy. Dust and cobwebs filled every corner and surface. There were a few books here and there on the shelves, most of them mouse-eaten, and not worth much.

It was evident that this had once been a bookshop, and it appeared that it had not been used for quite some time. A general miasma of neglect and disrepair hung heavily in the old store. Scott couldn't imagine what could have induced Lavinia to enter the place. He watched the detectives prepare to enter the back room. Detective Lummer motioned for Scott to move to one side of the opening where the tattered grey silk still hung. As he carefully stepped toward the detective, he felt something small and hard under his foot. Peering down, he saw what was probably the only shiny object in the entire shop. Scott picked up the object to examine it more carefully. It was Lavinia's engagement ring!

Scott's heart lurched. She had most certainly been in the shop, but why had she removed her ring? The three men moved into the back room. The shelves here were entirely empty. The ceiling fan's motor whirred, but the blades were all snapped off at the base. The beautiful marble floor was free of dust, but completely covered with fragments of smashed eggshells. Very large eggshells. The entire mess was covered with a thick viscous fluid; vaguely silvery in colour, very like the sticky trail a slug leaves behind as it creeps along a garden path...