Bogleech.com's 2019 Horror Write-off:
The Halloran Sisters: Dark Bibliophile
Submitted by Shakara
Caoimhe made her way through the house. It was raining quite heavily outside, and she was bored. She had hoped to plant some flowers in the garden, but that was not going to happen anytime soon. And such a shame, too. Laoise had dug up half of the petunia patch, saying something about ‘buried treasure’. She gave a half-smile. So very imaginative and innocent. A pity Íde wasn’t as warm-hearted. No, Íde cared naught for creativity and fun, only for jewellery and her own pride.
She settled in the library, her most favourite room of all. Books upon books. Ink tattooed upon papers, creating their very own worlds, entire universes of wonder. Something much better than this empty house with her bitter elder sister and blithely innocent younger sister.
The 10-year-old sat upon her favourite Queen Anne chair and rested her feet upon an ottoman, setting down a variety of books. The Turn of the Screw. Undine. Dante’s Inferno. Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories. By the afternoon, she was finished.
She’d sit in the library and read with gusto. Whole hours went by, and sometimes she’d forget where she was, so lost in fantasy. Sometimes Laoise would come by and read with her, or bring her a book that was too difficult, and as her to read to her. Of course, Caoimhe was delighted to. Íde was sometimes seen here, but she was more interested in books on the social arts, jewellery, histories of society and the occasional cookbook. Never for fantasy.
On this particular day, Caoimhe discovered that she had read nearly each book in the library. But how? She scanned the spines of each book, knowing there had to be something unread. Jane Eyre. Macbeth. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Salammbô. All read, she knew what happened in each. How? She began to pant. She was certain there was something left!
She rushed to the shelves, pushing books aside, looking for anything new. She’d read even the dictionary, for God’s sake!
In the eastern wall, she found that one shelf was deeper than the other, with something behind the books. She heaved aside Dracula and Great Expectations, finding a leather-bound box of books. There were 12 of them altogether, all of varying colour, yet dark. A whole series! “Perfect!”
She carried them with difficulty over to the chair. How had she gone without seeing these ones? Hidden away? But why?
She picked up the first one, a hefty book of deepest blue, seeing the gold-leaf title.
“Traitor of The Void: A Meditation upon Decay without Direction. … Must be quite avant-garde? Let’s see...” She opened it up and began to read.
It was night, and Caoimhe still had not left the library. Íde stood outside in her négligée, impatient, trying not to show concern.
“You’ve been in there all day! Laoise and I didn’t see you at dinner. She’s worried, now. What is so interesting that you’ve remained here all this time?”
No response. No matter how she knocked and pleaded, there was no sound except the turning of pages. Laoise came downstairs, rubbing her eyes and clutching a ragdoll.
“What’s happening? Is Caoimhe still in there? Is she okay?” small pearls of tears grew at the corner of the small girl’s eyes.
“That’s it! I’m coming in here, and pulling you out! Reading be damned, you need to eat and sleep!” She heaved open the door, shoving a hefty armchair out of the way. Had Caoimhe tried to block them out? She was her elder sister, not an enemy!
Íde walked deeper into the library, following the sound of muttering. The lights weren’t on, and the moonlight didn’t illuminate everything.
She found her sister huddled at the far end of the room, a simple blanket over her shoulders, a dozen books spread out. She flicked their pages in order, as if trying to read them all at once. Even in the moonlight, she was pale.
“Caoimhe, you have to go to bed. Come on, I’ll make you some tea.”
Íde had barely even touched Caoimhe’s arm before she dashed away, scrambling like a monkey, clutching a thick navy book. She hid under a table, continuing to read and mumble.
“I’m sure the book is so very interesting, but you must be tired! Look, the moon is up and it is high time you were in your bed!” Laoise stood in the doorway with her ragdoll.
“You can read a bedtime story if you can’t sleep!” said the small girl.
Caoimhe continued to mutter.
“Alright, that tears it. Come. You’re going to bed right now.” Íde reached under the table and heaved Caoimhe to her feet, the book falling to the floor. Years of having to stop playfights and pry her younger sisters apart had given the tall girl a keen strength.
Caoimhe looked at Íde with wild eyes. It wasn’t the face of a disobedient child, but one of pure fervour. What did she read? A horror book? She didn’t look cowed, she looked practically terror-struck.
“Good lord, are you alright?”
“Too dark!” Laoise pottered to the light-switch and the room filled with pale orange light as the lamps glowed to life. Íde blinked in the sudden illumination and gasped.
Caoimhe was covered in ink, sentences of nonsense writ into her skin, her dress ruffled and stained in black. Her face was a manuscript of pure gibberish.
“What did you do?”
“They that praise the Suture shalt be over it with shell and rust; they shalt be harboured from the quickening rot.”
“P-Pardon?” Íde set down the wild-eyed girl, bewildered. “Laoise, go to the kitchen and fetch some water. I think Caoimhe is sick.” Laoise nodded and vanished into the hallway.
Íde picked up the navy book, analysing the title. “Traitor of The Void: A Meditation upon Decay without Direction- What the hell is this?”
She picked up the others, reading the titles. Dark purple, rust orange, pitch black.
“Songs in The Loam? The Inception of The Charnel Womb? Amber and Violet Shrieks: Biography of the Innocent Devastator? 200,000 Laws to Harvest the Soul Meat? Caoimhe, this is just mad doggerel!”
She wasn’t listening. She was still reading, this time from another one, pure gold binding.
“I have heard the murmurings of the desert-sand, of the wandering shadows of the moonlit sun. Bone and stone, naught to eat for the thief. The Dusk stepped down to the thirsty and spake ‘Ye have no water, but ye shall have blood’, and blood did flow. ‘Shake off the manacles, for I am your Queen. Breathe my name and you will be wrought in eternal mist.’ And those who drank of the silver nectar were transfixed.”
Picking up a fountain pen, she resumed writing on her body. This time on her legs, poking and ripping through her stockings.
“Caoimhe, what the hell are you talking about? Are you alright? Look at me! It’s Íde!” she knocked the golden book out of her hands and threw away the pen, looking into Caoimhe’s face. She wasn’t looking at her, only through her.
Laoise returned with a glass of water, looking quite afraid.
“Is she gonna be alright?” she quietly asked.
“I’m sure of it. I believe she’s just stuck in dreamland at the moment. You know how you can get lost in your daydreams if you spend too long in them.”
“Yeah, I once thought I was swimming in the ocean when I was in the bath.”
“Aye, you soaked the floor. Now, go back to bed. I’ll bring Caoimhe up shortly.”
It had taken Íde some time to coax Caoimhe upstairs. She’d carried the gold-bound book, her younger sister following like a mule to a carrot. After a reluctant bath, and giving her some soup with a sleeping pill mixed into it, Caoimhe was in bed at last. She was quickly growing drowsy.
“And the Crimson Sprinter did follow the expeditioner, but naught… was listened to. Only with the ripping of the pale… root and limpid limb did… the Scarlet Tyrant… fall…”
She yawned, babbled some more nonsense, and turned over in bed.
“Thank Christ for sedatives…” Íde stretched, taking the book back to the library. She didn’t dare look inside it. She collected the other 11 books, looking at the omnibus as she drank hot chocolate.
She walked back down to the library, analysing the cover. No author name? No date? No publishing company?
“Strange…” She left the books in the shelf and went back to bed, shaking her head.
If Caoimhe was just merely in a fantasy, what was it to Íde?