It is as if I am waking from a long and uncomfortable slumber full of half-known dreamscapes full of fragments of long lost knowledge. I have been in a daze, I don’t know how long – I remember shadows, sounds, disorientation. I remember sounds, too – normal, everyday sounds of traffic and conversation, but with a strange discordant piping under it, nearly imperceptible but always there, at the corners of the world.
“An Innocent Book”
I walked along the frozen streets of Providence, winding my way between snowbanks and parked cars, aimless and without direction. It was a typical New England winter and the bitter cold winds blew between the buildings with a dark music, almost beautiful in it’s haunting simplicity. To temporarily escape the biting cold, I stepped into a small unremarkable shop; it’s grimy windows were covered in frost and decades-old advertisements, but the door was unlocked and the establishment was lit by several flickering fluorescent bulbs, indicating that even in the midst of the winter gale the store was open to shoppers.
As soon as I entered, I was immediately hit by that particular smell common to old libraries and ancient bookstores, of dry pages and dust and knowledge. An elderly gentleman nodded at me cheerfully from behind the antiquated register and then went back to looking at the dog-eared paperback he was reading, paying me little attention as I browsed through the disorganized stacks of magazines, old textbooks, and science fiction classics with no goal in mind beyond warming my chilled body.
My feet seemed to guide me subconsciously however, and I soon found myself in a long-forgotten corner of the store, thumbing through bizarre books of illustrations, from coffee table books of bizarre ancient ruins to portfolios of grotesque medical deformities. There was a terrifying folio attributed to Pickman that I regret ever opening, which sat next to a thick book of abstract art that made my head hurt if I stared at it too long. Finally, I pulled a tome with a typical glossy bookstore cover where a huge, tentacled beast stared at me from the cover. ‘The Art of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos’ was a heavy, thick, and dusty tome with a cover that betrayed it’s well-used status, obviously a book that had been thumbed through hundreds of times by dozens of people.
How it had made it’s way to this small bookstore and what it’s story was until this point I could never know, but I somehow knew that it’s journey must continue with me. I took it to the register and passed several wrinkled bills across the timeworn counter. The owner nodded and smiled, putting my newly acquired purchase in a common plastic retail bag, and I was on my way, back into the cold and snowy streets.
When I finally arrived home from my wanderings I was chilled to my bones and ached from the prolonged exposure to the elements, but even through my discomfort my focus was solely on the book. I sat in my ragged recliner and opened the book to a random page, ‘The King in Yellow’ staring back at me from the page, a strangely shaped yellow sigil seeming to glow in the dim afternoon light. I turned pages at random as pictures of tentacles, ghouls, bizarre characters and terrifying landscapes passed before my eyes. It was just a simple book of illustrations, I told myself – illustrations inspired by the bizarre writings of a local author. But if there could be nothing sinister in this simple tome, then why did it hold my fascination so deeply? Why did it fill me with some unknown dread?
It was a on a page deep within the book, almost all the way to the back, where I found a detailed image of horror that took up a full two-page spread. Stuck between these pages, which the book informed was a painting called ‘Azathoth’ by artist Uwe Jarling, was a single sheet of parchment paper, thin and brittle and scorched at the edges. It was hand written in a language I cannot recognize, with sigils hand-drawn with a malevolent precision, symbols that made me feel disoriented and uneasy if I looked at them for more than a few seconds.
I don’t know what it is or how it came to be stuck between the pages of this book, but it fills me with a cold dread that I cannot shake. I tried to return to the book shop to ask about it, but I must have gotten turned around during original snowy excursion, or else the landscape had changed with the addition of new layers of snow and ice since my original trip. Whatever the reason, I could not find my way back to that strange book shop in Providence, and I now believe that if I searched for that grimy storefront for ten more years I would not find it. Not unless it wanted to be found.