's 2013 Horror Write-off:

"The Book"

Submitted by Anonymous

My friend Joe was always the adventurous type. We spent our summers exploring the rural countryside of Combington, a little town my grandmother lived in, and whose house I lived in during the summers. Joe lived near her, on a small farm with his mother and two older brothers. He was only a year older than me, and there weren't many other children in Combington, so we had little choice but to be friends or be bored.
Joe and I went everywhere together. We explored the countryside, exploring old farms, caves, even a mine once, anything mysterious and interesting. Well, almost anything. There was this one house. Something about the house was just... off. Unsettling. Troubling. We were fearless, but neither of us could work up the courage to enter the house. Rumor had it that it was haunted, but that wasn't why we didn't go in. Neither of us were ever scared of a ghost, and I never even really believed in them anyways. Still don't. I wish it had been a ghost in that house. A ghost would have a million times better than what we found in there. A ghost, at least, was human at one point. A ghost is relate-able. This wasn't.

I was nine years old when we finally worked up the courage to enter the house. We had explored almost everything else of interest at that point, and we were both a little ashamed that we were scared of a “haunted” house. We got to the house at around nine o' clock in the morning. The area around it was barren. Totally devoid of anything organic. Just dirt and stone. Everything else was overgrown with life, but life avoided this house. In hindsight, we should have taken life's advice. Joe entered the house first. It was half collapsed. Neither of us knew how old it was or who built it or who had owned it. Joe entered the house first. It was mostly plain, with a few pieces of broken wooden furniture scattered about. We noticed a trap door near the center. I was hesitant to go down at first, fearing that the ladder would snap under my weight and I would be trapped with whatever horror dwelled down there. But Joe told me he went in the house first, so I had to go down the trap door first.

The first thing I noticed was the smell. It wasn't rancid, just... wrong. It was like nothing I had smelled before, or would smell after. It was foreign. Alien. I immediately wanted to climb back up the ladder, but, seeing that I hadn't yet been attacked by a ghost or some other creature, Joe felt it was safe to come down, and I didn't want to look like a chicken by running away. The basement was also plain, completely empty. Except for it. It lay just a few feet from the ladder. It had avoided the decay that the rest of the house had suffered from somehow, looking completely pristine. Some primal curiosity possessed me, and I approached it and picked it up. It was a book. The recognitions stopped there. Everything else about it was strange, unsettling, just plain wrong. The smell, the texture, the color, the shape, everything about it was off. Joe and I stared at it, for who knows how long, before he took it from my hands. I didn't resist. He looked at it hesitantly for a few minutes, before opening it. Who knows what he saw. I don't know how long he stared at it for. He never flipped the page, and his eyes didn't seem to move. He just stared, and then closed the book, set it back where it was, and proceeded back up the ladder. I followed without a word.

It felt like we only spent a few minutes in there, but when we left the house, the sun had begun to set. Joe changed after that day. He became much more quiet, and seemed to be troubled by something. We never talked about the book after that day. But I think we both suspected that it had caused Joe's change in character. He seemed to be more easily frightened. He didn't often mention it, but occasionally he would complain of feeling as though there was something... underneath his skin. Moving. But every time he would look, there was nothing. Yet the feeling persisted. I began to notice it was becoming more difficult to remember Joe's features. Even when I was with him, something about him seemed slightly fuzzy, like I couldn't make out the details of his face, even when I looked right at him. After that summer, I never saw Joe again.

It wasn't that I didn't ever return to Combington. I did. But Joe disappeared. His family didn't move. He just disappeared. From everything. I went to his house and asked his mother where he was. She looked at me confused, then told me that she had only ever had two sons, and had never seen me before. When I asked my grandmother about it, she didn't seem to know either. And I couldn't find the house after that. I couldn't even remember where exactly it was. All I remember from that day was exploring it, not walking to or from it. All references to Joe or the house ceased to exist. I couldn't even remember his face anymore. I spent that summer puzzled, alone, and fearful. I began to have nightmares too. It was the same dream every time. I would be alone, outside of the house. I would know that I didn't want to see what was in the house, but I would venture in each time. I would go down the ladder just like before, but this time there would be no book. Only Joe. He would be lying there, naked and writhing, as thousands of maggots and worms writhed in and out of his body. They burrowed deep inside, making thousands of holes in his skin. A trypophobes nightmare. But the strangest thing was that they weren't eating him. They were removing his insides, making piles of his flesh and organs surrounding him. He would scream constantly in pain, begging me to help him, threatening me, trying to crawl for me. I would only stare at him, before the trap door shut behind me, and I was plunged into darkness and then woke up. These nightmares grew in regularity as I grew older, until by the time I was nineteen every night was plagued by these dreams. I could no longer sleep because of them.

The nightmares of Joe haunted me. I was constantly exhausted, but I was terrified of sleep, and I would quickly be woken up by the dreams if I did. I dropped out of high school, and began wandering aimlessly hoping to find the house again. I knew I wouldn't find it in Combington, it vanished with Joe. I don't know why I searched for it. I guess I felt it was my only option at that point. Maybe I could save Joe. Maybe I could stop the dreams. I wandered from place to place, until one night, a week after my nineteenth birthday, I found it again. It looked exactly as it had in Combington. I found it in the middle of the woods in a small town, not unlike Combington, but it had kept itself hidden this time. Or perhaps it appeared there because I was there, and it had finished with Joe and wanted me next.

I went into the basement once more, and just like before the book sat there waiting. But it was different this time. The book had absorbed Joe's flesh and innards. On the cover were his eyes, staring at me. Below a mouth clacked its teeth at me. Wrapped around it was a collection of muscle, fat, and intestines, a living binding. From it dripped a seemingly endless amount of blood, pus, and urine, which was soaked back up like a sponge. The smell was almost intolerable, but at least it wasn't as unsettling like the first time. As disgusting as the book was, I still felt an inner urge to read it. I slowly and hesitantly approached it, carefully lifting it up so as to avoid being gnawed on by its mouth, and read it. The page I flipped to was covered in some strange alphabet, some alien incantation, which almost whispered to me in its foreign tongue. I couldn't understand any of it of course, but it disturbed me greatly.

I don't remember what happened next, only that I awoke in the middle of a dirt road, wondering if it had just been another dream, another horribly graphic and realistic dream. I grew very paranoid, thinking some unknown thing was watching me from just outside of my sight, watching, waiting, hunting, preparing to feast. I began to feel things scratching and biting at me when I wasn't looking, gnawing on my extremities when they were out of sight. It began as a very light nip, like a mosquito, that felt as though my mind was playing tricks on me. But I know it wasn't my mind. My dreams of Joe ended.

Instead, I replaced Joe, but I was being torn apart by insects and centipedes, clawing and ripping and tearing my skin off. Only my skin, flaying me in the most long, horrible, and drawn out process possible. These dreams lasted for what felt like years, as they slowly removed my skin. I would eventually wake up, but each time I fell back asleep, the insects began where they had left off. One day, I didn't wake up. For what felt like an eternity, the creatures worked, removing what remained of my skin. Then I watched as they dragged the book over, and attached my skin to it, creating a patchwork abomination of human flesh and skin. It clacked its teeth excitedly as the insects performed their work.

Then the mass of insects writhed over to me, and began tunneling into my body. They made a nest out of me. Then I began to move once more. Not of my own volition. The insects seemed to move my body, while I could only watch. Something shuffled out of the shadows as well. Joe's skin, filled with maggots and worms. I don't know if it still had a consciousness. I suspect through the book's dark power it did, but it could only watch, like me. We became its servants, gathering food for the books. Our victims could not resist. They were the only ones who saw us. Once targeted by the book, they were forgotten by the world. It didn't matter whether it was broad daylight or the darkness of night. John and I, or at least what remained of us, and the seething mass of insects, subdued, captured, and dragged the book's victims back to the ruined house. The insects and worms slowly tore them apart and fed them to the book, leaving them fully alive and aware the entire time. They screamed, but they could do nothing to stop it. I wanted to fight against it, but I was completely unable to. I could only watch as they suffered.