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Mr. Linden's book
Mr. Linden lived in the old, Victorian-style house at the end of Wellstone lane. The roof was overgrown with moss and the remains of leafs from past autumns still littered the lawn. Most of the windows were either broken or boarded up with slabs of graffiti-tinted wood and the wraparound porch was in dire need of paint. Mr. Linden himself was old and decrepit. He’d been widowed at thirty, young as such things go. He had a head full of snow-white hair that was often unkempt and lacked the wrinkled, speckled skin that plagued most of the elderly. Many of the neighborhood children made up fanciful stories about his life. In one, he was an escaped mental patient and in another, a murderous recluse who only went out at night to satisfy his vicious needs. Of course, Emma never believed a single word of it. To her, Mr. Linden was a mystery. So, on the summer of 1999, she decided to do the unthinkable; Emma walked up the cobblestone path, cracked and brown from age, fully intent on paying him a visit. She had the excuse she would use memorized down to the last word and in her excitement, knocked much too raucously. The great oak door opened with a sound of rusty, metal hinges scraping together and twin orbs of pale blue stared out at her.
The single word was said with a harsh, grating voice that hinted of disuse. Emma couldn’t stop herself from staring; here stood Mr. Linden, the man rumored to be everything from an ax murderer to a wizard in disguise. The door opened a little wider and Mr. Linden squinted against the invading sunlight.
“May I help you?” he asked.
Emma nodded, reminding herself to take a deep breath.
“Yes Mr. Linden. You see, I heard about your library from Mrs. Davidson, down at the bookstore, and I was wondering if I could-”
“I don’t lend out my books.”
“Oh, well, I wouldn’t have to take them home. I could read them here.”
Mr. Linden looked out at the street before shifting his glance to Emma.
“My books aren’t for reading.”
The door slammed with enough force to rattle the porch. Emma hadn’t thought him strong enough to even manage shutting the door but it seemed there was more to Mr. Linden than a bent posture and frail bones. When she made it back to the road, she couldn’t resist one last peek at the house. The attic window had been shattered years before and now stood empty but for old-fashioned curtains that billowed furiously in the wind. Behind it stood the silhouette of a man. Emma felt her skin prickle and turned away at once. Every night after that Emma dreamt of a cavernous library guarded by ghosts. She’d wake up in a cold sweat and not remember the frowning face or warning words of a man nearing death.
The night after Mr. Linden died, Emma received a package. Her name and address were stamped across it in bold, red letters. At the very top was a letter, also bearing her name. The writing was in some form of calligraphy and utterly neat. It said:
- Miss Emma,
As I have no heir to bestow this burden upon, I am forced
to ask of you this great favor. Enclosed in this package is
a book from my personal library. All others have been
donated. It is imperative that you guard it from any who
Would wish it harm and that you refrain from ever reading
it. I understand this may seem unfair or rather confusing
but believe me, it is for the best that you control any urge to
read this book.
- Mr. Linden
P.s. I trust you to keep this book
secure. What it contains has no price.
Emma read it twice and still couldn’t believe that Mr. Linden had entrusted her with something of his. The aforementioned book was a hardcover with no title and no image. Besides that, however, there didn’t appear to be anything strange about it, certainly nothing dangerous or life threatening. Emma laid back in bed and stared at the blank cover for several minutes. The letter had clearly stated that she was not to read it but surely there couldn’t be anything awful enough in the book to prevent her from taking a peek. Just a peek… nothing else. She opened the book to the first page and narrowed her eyes to focus on the words. The font was terribly small and badly printed but she could make out the letters and that was enough. She read about an enchanted forest in which the trees were continuously changing until the unlucky people who got lost inside became victims of unimaginable deaths. Emma set the book down beside her and shut her eyes. It was only nine but for reasons she couldn’t imagine, she’d become immensely drowsy. Emma drifted off to sleep unaware that the book had begun to sprout leafy vines that continued to grow until they covered her entire bedroom like poison ivy. One vine wrapped around her ankle and a slow, meticulous process began. Due to an ancient magic beyond human understanding, the vines were able to drag Emma within the pages of the book so that she awakened on the lush floor of an innately evil jungle. She had a moment of disorientation but the location was painfully obvious to recognize. Trying not to panic, but failing miserably, Emma thought back to what she’d read. She could only remember one thing, perhaps the most vital; no one who wandered into this forest ever got out. She curled up on the ground as wave after wave of terror passed over her. Shivers wracked her frame and useless tears coursed down her cheeks. She remembered Mr. Linden, leaning against the doorframe of his house with a look of understanding about him. He had warned her about the book. Now it was too late. Oh, how she wished she had listened. Now all she could was wait. Wait for the trees to shift, for the sun to hide below the horizon. Wait until she had nothing left to look forward to but death and the peace it promised.