Estimated reading time — 28 minutes
The bell above the door rang noisily as I entered the bookshop. My hopes of just browsing through the books without attracting the attention of a well-intentioned but usually annoying clerk were immediately dashed. I hate to be bothered while perusing the shelves. But upon closing the door and getting my first glance at the shop itself, I decided that due to the smallness of the shop and the type of books it contained, I was more likely to have to search out the proprietor myself if need be.
The shop was hard to find, and even more difficult to understand. While bookshelves covered nearly every wall from floor to ceiling, they were all completely empty. The only volumes I could see were the twenty or so that were displayed on a long wooden table in the middle of the room, along with just a few more that were on what I supposed passed for the counter where business was transacted.
As I crossed the shop to look at the volumes on the table, I noticed how dim the lighting was, and how old everything seemed to be. This building had housed some sort of shop for a long time, and the wood and fixtures were definitely showing their age. It was just the kind of shop that I loved to find. In my search for rare and unusual books, I find shops like this one usually hold the greatest treasures.
All of the books were bound in leather, which was very encouraging to me. While leather does not necessarily mean a rare or valuable book, it certainly piques my interest. I traced my fingers along the surface of the books admiring the craftsmanship of the leather bindings and the titles etched in them.
“May I help you?” a voice asked just behind my right shoulder.
Startled, I turned very quickly and nearly spilled several of the books off the table.
“Please be careful, sir,” the voice said again. “These books are quite valuable.”
The voice belonged to a short, elderly man, dressed in a black suit that was probably as old as he was. Bald, and slightly hunched over, he looked every bit the book store owner.
“Sorry,” I said as I straightened the books. “I didn’t hear you come up behind me.”
“That’s quite alright, sir,” he said as he extended his hand to shake mine. “My name is William Gilcrist.”
“Pleased to meet you,” I said, shaking his hand. “Alistair Frye.”
“Welcome to my shop, Mr. Frye.”
“Thank you. I must say that your selection of books is quite limited given all the shelf space you have.” I immediately regretted saying that, as I might very well have insulted him. However, if I had, he seemed not to care.
“As I‘ve gotten older, Mr. Frye, I’ve found my taste in literature has become, well, more specialized. I have sold or given away the majority of my inventory and retained only the volumes that have special value to me. They have become more of a personal collection now.”
“I take it they are still for sale?”
Gilcrist looked at me with a nervous smile.
“Oh, yes! But may I say that the prices are quite steep.”
“Rarity and collectability are seldom inexpensive”, I said as I turned back to the book-laden table.
“I had a hard time finding your shop. It is quite well hidden among all these side streets and alleyways,” I said as I picked up the topmost book on the table.
“Rarity and collectability may sometimes require extra effort as well, don’t you think Mr. Frye?”
“Very true, Mr. Gilcrist, very true.”
I wasn’t long into examining the books on the table when I started to notice a pattern in the subjects of the books. Each of them seemed to deal with what I would call the darker side of humanity. There were many volumes about murders, torture in the Middle Ages, and several volumes about famous (or should I say infamous) crimes and their perpetrators. While I never held much esteem for this genre of literature, I must admit that, rather ashamedly, I was curious about the contents of these books.
“I am more than a little surprised at the subject matter of these books, and maybe even more surprised that these are the only books that you chose to hold on to out of your entire collection,” I said to the shop keeper.
“Mr. Frye, in spite of what the literary community may think of this type of literature, I have always been fascinated by the subject of man’s inherent capability to bring harm to others. Man’s inhumanity to man, as they say.”
His eyes seemed to brighten as he spoke of this, and I found myself beginning to feel a twinge of apprehension about continuing this conversation. I took a half step towards the front door of the shop.
“Please, Mr. Frye, don’t be put off by my affection for these books. I assure you it is merely a hobby of mine, not a lifestyle. I only read about these subjects. I don’t participate.”
As he said this, his face took on a friendlier aura; his smile was genuine and reassuring. “Come. Let me show you some of my treasures.”
* * * * * *
After what must have been a half-hour or so, I was tiring of Gilcrist’s endless sales pitch about his valueless but admittedly intriguing books. I found myself actually having some desire to read some of the books, but not enough to pay the exorbitant amounts of money he was asking for them. The subject matter alone brought on some degree of hesitancy on my part.
“Mr. Gilcrist,” I said, interrupting his latest soliloquy on a book about unsolved murders in Europe. (I believe that was the subject, for my mind had started wandering some time back.) “While your collection is certainly interesting, I find them somewhat morbid and also very expensive. I believe I am ready to take my leave and to thank you for your time.”
Gilcrist looked disappointed and somewhat ….well….frightened, as strange as that seemed to me.
“Oh no, Mr. Frye! Please remain a short while longer, as I have one more book I would love to show you. I believe you will find its subject matter as well as its asking price to be quite attractive.” Gilcrist turned and began to work his way toward the counter in the rear of the shop.
“Really, Mr. Gilcrist, I don’t think I would be interested.”
“Please, Mr. Frye. Indulge an old man for just a few moments longer.”
I found both the look on his face and his genuine excitement to be enough to convince myself that a few moments more would not inconvenience me that much. It was very apparent that he did not get many opportunities to show off his rather meager collection.
“Very well sir, one last volume.”
His gleeful reaction was such that, while I value my time very much, I knew I had made the right decision in humoring Mr. Gilcrist for a few more moments.
He removed a leather-bound volume from a back shelf that until now had completely escaped my notice. As he brought it to me to look at, he carefully wiped away any dust from the cover and with a great amount of care, placed the book on the table.
“This book is the prize of my collection,” said Gilcrist. “I keep it on the back shelf to protect it from those who may not realize its value. I trust you, however, Mr. Frye. Please take a look.”
The book was bound in very expensive-looking brown leather. It also had a leather strap with a bronze buckle so that the book could be securely closed. While still in quite good condition, it was obvious that the book was very old and had been handled frequently. However, there was no title to the book, either on the cover or on the binding. I was quite puzzled by that, and it must have shown on my face, as Gilcrist picked up my thoughts right away.
“The title is on the opening page. You’ll have to undo the buckle to discover what it is.” While I found having to do as he asked to be somewhat tedious, I had gone this far, so I undid the buckle and strap to open the book.
Mr. Gilcrist was nearly giddy with excitement.
* * * * * *
The title of the book was “Acts of Vengeance.”
What struck me the most is that the title – as was the rest of the book, as I would soon discover – was handwritten. I was amazed that a book of this size, which consisted of what had to be nearly a thousand pages, was totally written in longhand. Being a connoisseur of valuable books, it was apparent to me that this book was a journal or diary of some sort. My interest in this book was increasing by the moment.
“I must admit that this book is very unusual,” I said, turning to Mr. Gilcrist. “How is it that you came by it?”
“I purchased it when I was a young lad and I have had it in my possession for a very long time,” Gilcrist said.
“Well, it certainly is curious. I will have to say again that the subject matter is of little interest to me, but the book itself would be a great conversation piece to add to my personal collection.”
Gilcrist agreed. “I can assure you, Mr. Frye, that the book will be a welcome addition to your library. Would you have any interest in purchasing it?”
Taking up the book and examining it again, I replied, “Yes, Mr. Gilcrist, I believe I might. If your asking price isn’t too steep.”
Gilcrist took a moment to think about how to begin the negotiation. Finally he offered up a price that was half of the price he was asking for every other book in the shop.
“That is a very reasonable price, Mr. Gilcrist. Maybe too reasonable. I can’t help but feel I would be taking advantage of you.” I said, knowing full well in my mind that I would pay much more for this book if need be. I was developing a sort of attachment to it.
“Nonsense, Mr. Frye. You would be doing me a great service. I have been the proprietor of this shop for a very long time, and I am in hopes of retiring soon. It would be of great comfort to me to know that the book is in the hands of someone who will take care of it and treasure it for what it is.”
“I can hardly refuse then, can I?”
“I have a bag left to put it in,” he said as he took the money I gave him and stuffed it into the pocket of his suit coat.
“That isn’t necessary, sir, I have my satchel here. It will protect it very well until I return home. I am very grateful for your time and your generosity.”
Gilcrist looked at me with a look of both relief and sadness.
“It is I who am grateful, sir. You have placed my mind at ease much more than you will ever know. Good day.”
“Good day to you, sir,” I said as I turned and opened the door. I remember the little bell over the door singing out again as I exited the shop. However, this time I found it to be not quite so annoying.
* * * * * *
As Gilcrist watched the door to the shop close behind Alistair Frye, he could feel it begin to happen. His part in this nightmare was nearing completion. After decades of frustration, he had finally finished. He felt terrible for Mr. Frye, but that emotion was far outweighed by the relief he was experiencing.
Gilcrist made sure the door was locked and slowly turned to walk to the rear of the shop. He passed through a curtain leading to the back room, which had long since ceased to be a storage room. It was his living quarters and had been for many years.
He walked up to an old dresser with many old photographs on top of it. A tear came to his eye as he looked upon the faded photographs of his wife and family for the last time. They had all passed away long ago. Gilcrist had outlived them all. Not surprising at all, given the fact that Gilcrist was almost two hundred years old. Lovingly touching each photograph, Gilcrist spoke very softly.
“Please forgive me. I had no choice.”
Gilcrist turned away, removed all of his torn and tattered clothing and went to sit in an old chair, the fabric of which had worn thin with age. Tears began to pour from his eyes as he fearfully realized what would happen next.
“At last this is over. God forgive me.”
Gilcrist began to moan as the pain began. Almost tolerable at first, but as the seconds passed by his groans turned to screams. His body began to shrivel as if all of the moisture it contained was being slowly drained out. His skin began to mummify and his eyes shrunk back into his head
His arms and legs twisted into horrible angles, and his chest and stomach receded until his backbone was visible from the front. Still screaming, Gilcrist began to fall apart, his jaws falling open in a horrible gaping maw.
As his screams finally began to fade, he managed to repeat once more, “At last…”
Five minutes later, Gilchrist was gone, his body reduced to nothing more than an unrecognizable mound in the seat of the old chair.
A mound of dust and bone.
* * * * * *
I quite forgot about the book for a short period of time. I brought it back home to my townhouse and placed it next to my reading chair in the library. Then, due to my life becoming completely unraveled, I spent very little time reading at all.
My wife Grace chose that time to announce that she was leaving me. I was nearly overcome with shock at the news. I knew full well that our marriage was by no means perfect, but I had no inkling that she thought it imperfect enough to dissolve it. There were pressures on our marriage since the beginning. My long hours at the accounting firm where I was employed, my passion for books, which Grace deemed ridiculous, her constant absence from home, working at various charities throughout the city, and most damaging of all, our marriage was childless. Not because we were unable to have a child, but because Grace would have none of it. I had resolved myself to never being a father, and it still remained an open sore of resentment between us.
I tried to speak to Grace on several occasions about the possibility of saving our marriage, but she was immovable on the subject. She kept to her room, only emerging to leave the house. One night upon returning home from work, she and everything she considered hers, was gone. I sat alone in the dark all that night, trying to decide what I would do now. I finally determined that the best course of action for me….was to hate her.
* * * * * *
The carriage pulled up in front of the two-story brick building located just off the main square of the city. The sign over the door read “D. Crosse, Accountant.” That would be Damien Crosse, my employer. A likeable enough fellow, but a bit full of himself for owning the most well-known accounting firm in the city. What was not well known is that Damien Crosse knew very little about accounting. He had inherited the firm from his father, and if not for the expertise of his employees, the doors would have been shuttered long ago.
Just as I have for a thousand other mornings, I entered the front door and made my way to my desk, situated in the very back corner of the room. My desk was away from any window or door. I had become accustomed to this spot because I could get far more work done. I seldom was disturbed. On this particular day, that was not to be the case.
It was late afternoon and I was doing very well with lessening my workload. I like to have a clear desk when I leave for the day. Suddenly, I sensed someone standing at the front of my desk. Raising my head from my work, I was startled by the sight of Damien Crosse staring down at me, his arms virtually loaded with papers and ledger books.
“Sorry, Mr. Crosse, I was lost in what I was doing and I didn’t realize that you were standing there,” I said as I nervously rose to my feet.
That’s quite alright, Fry,” he said as he took all the documents he was carrying and loudly dropped them on my desk. “I appreciate employees who are so involved in their work.”
“Thank you, sir.” I was developing a bad feeling about what was going to happen next.
“Which is exactly why I have chosen you to finish this large project for me. Mr. Danford expects all of his accounts to be in order for a presentation to a potential buyer by Monday morning. They are quite a mess, I’m afraid,” Damien said, obviously enjoying himself. “I’m sure that it will take the rest of this evening and most of the weekend to complete.”
“But, but, Mr. Crosse,” I stammered, “I have commitments for this weekend which have long been in the planning.”
“I’m sure you do, Frye,” he said, obviously bothered by my objection, “but I have made this commitment to Mr. Danford, and it is one I intend to fulfill. My hope is that your commitment, and shall I say dependence, on your employment here is equally as important to you. After all, it’s not like you have a wife or family to go home to.”
Instantly, I was both ashamed and infuriated. How dare he bring up my home life and use it as a weapon against me in this battle of wills?
“Mr. Crosse! I am appalled!” I yelled.
“Yes, yes, I’m sure you are,” Crosse said as he began to turn away. “The question is, Frye, how appalled are you? Enough to end your employment here, or not?”
Resisting every urge to pummel Crosse for his unbelievable behavior, I sat back in my chair. Given my present situation, which Crosse was well aware of, I could not refuse.
“Very well, Mr. Crosse,” I said with my eyes down, “I’ll finish the project.”
“I knew you would, Frye,” he said with his usual arrogance, “I knew you would. Now as you can see, while you were making a much bigger issue out of this than it should have been, everyone else has gone home. Here is the key to the front door. Let yourself in and out as much as you need to in order to finish the work this weekend. Now lock the door behind me when I leave,” he said, getting his coat. “My new lady friend awaits me in the carriage outside.”
I followed Damien to the front door to lock up as he asked, my hatred for the man nearly boiling over. As he stepped through the door, I saw the carriage that awaited him. As the carriage driver opened the door for him, I caught a glimpse of the woman that was waiting for him. She nodded ever so slightly when she saw me, with a wry smile that clearly demonstrated her air of superiority. Damien Crosse leaned over as he sat down and gave her a kiss. His new lady friend was my wife, Grace.
* * * * * *
I instantly flew into a rage. I began to throw papers and ledgers from all of the desks. I sent lamps and inkwells flying against the walls. I wanted to do so much more damage, but eventually, I just sank down to the floor and wept. How long I was there, I don’t recall, but I eventually left to begin what would be a very long walk home. I left the front door to the accounting firm wide open when I left, hoping that one of the more nefarious people who wander the street at night would find their way in and wreak more havoc upon Crosse’s offices. It would serve him right.
I arrived at my home in the middle of the night. Exhausted, I sat down rather heavily into my reading chair in the library, determined to drink myself into a stupor. Before I could accomplish that, however, I noticed the book I had purchased at the book shop. For some reason, it stood out to me, even though it was nearly buried in a pile of books I had yet to read. Maybe it caught my eye because of the title. “Acts of Vengeance”. How appropriate, for on my long walk home, I had been deliberating on how I would seek vengeance and retribution from both my harlot wife, and that bastard ex-boss of mine, Damien Crosse.
I removed the book from the pile and held it for a moment. I was anxious to discover what was written inside, but for some unknown reason, I was hesitant to do so. It was almost as if it would be a point of no return for me, should I open this book. I continued to hold the book without opening it. Eventually, after much thought, my curiosity began to outweigh my trepidation, and I opened the book.
Upon first inspection, the book seemed to be normal and not at all unusual, albeit well worn. However, I did notice that it had no print date or copyright. Even more strangely, it did not list the author’s name anywhere. I found that very odd. The title page simply offered up just that, the title. “Acts of Vengeance” was clearly handwritten, in a very strong and exaggerated style of calligraphy.
I found the page that followed most intriguing. It held several lines of what I determined to be a language I was not familiar with. There were various angled but straight lines, along with other symbols I did not recognize, and was unable to decipher. I considered this to be a puzzle to be solved later as I wanted to explore the rest of the book.
As I turned the pages, I found the book to be divided into many sections, each written in distinctively different handwriting. Some sections were in cursive and some printed. Some easy to read, some almost illegible. I turned back to the beginning of the book and began to read the first section.
As I read, I was astounded to find that it was the full account of a man that had sought revenge against a neighboring landowner who he accused of stealing food from his barns. It was very apparent by the wording that he used in telling his story that it had happened a long time ago. The story was complete in every detail, up to and including the gory retelling of how the man had exacted his revenge by finding the man out working his fields, and running him through dozens of times with a pitchfork. The delight the author took in this vengeful act was very apparent by his writing, while I found myself sickened by his grim tale. He even signed his writing. Horace Black.
While I was taken aback by the story, I became fascinated enough that I had to read the rest of the chapters. Each one was a grisly tale of vengeance authored by the person who exacted their revenge. As I read, I began to have my own thoughts of vengeance against those who had wronged me. Morbid fantasies filled my mind as I considered seeking justice against them. However, I knew that I was not cut of that cloth. Violence just wasn’t in me.
I read a few more of the chapters — those that were legible — and found myself becoming physically ill as I read how people had gone to great and violent lengths to get back at those who had wronged them.
Without realizing it, I had read all night. The sunlight was just inching its way across the floor as I came to the last entry in the book. Exhausted, I considered saving it for another time, but my mind was far from being capable of sleep, so I decided to read it after all.
* * * * * *
This last entry was by far the most disturbing. The author wrote of how his siblings had conspired to cheat him out of his rightful inheritance. He had shown little interest in the family business, instead choosing to pursue a degree in literature. This infuriated his brothers, who considered him lazy and unworthy of a share of the family fortune. Using deception and unscrupulous lawyers they were successful in denying him his share.
Something in his mind snapped. Betrayal and vengeance drove him beyond the limits of what he thought himself capable of. His entry went on to describe how, one evening, soon after the betrayal, under the guise of reconciling with his brothers, he arranged to visit them in their inherited mansion. While appearing to be sincere about mending the rift in the family, his motives were much more sinister.
About halfway through dinner, the drug he had managed to slip into their food began to take effect. The drug was not meant to kill, but rather to incapacitate. The brothers were not able to move, but remained fully conscious. The author taunted them and laughed in their faces. He tortured them with their own dinnerware until they were bloody and torn. Then in one last, ultimate act of vengeance, he set fire to the room. He stayed as long as he could, watching the flames lick at the flesh of his brothers, their eyes wide with terror. He laughed maniacally as he left the house, more than a little disappointed that he would not be able to watch them burn.
How horrible! This entry was by far the most diabolical and disturbing. It occurred to me that each entry was worse than the one before in terms of how gruesome the murderous acts were. I was glad to be done with the book. As I began to close it, I noticed that the last entry, like many of the others, bore the signature of its author. As I read it, sheer terror took over my every thought. I had met this murderer just a short time ago. The author’s name was William Gilchrist! The proprietor of the book store!
* * * * * *
As soon as I recognized the author’s name, a jolt like a powerful electric current coursed through my body! I wanted desperately to jump out of my chair, but I found myself unable to move. The pain was excruciating! I resigned myself to the fact that the pain had rendered me motionless except for the violent spasms that every muscle in my body was experiencing. My only hope was that this seizure, or whatever it was, would be short-lived. My mind had remained very clear through this ordeal so far, but that was soon to end.
I became disoriented. Not dizzy, rather, but unable to maintain my thought processes. I could no longer concentrate. It was as though my thoughts were no longer my own. A montage of pictures and ideas swirled before my eyes, which were tightly closed due to the pain I was in. The thoughts in my mind were horrible! My mind was creating terrible visions of the stories of vengeance I had just read. They were rapidly appearing in my mind’s eye with startling and vivid detail! It was if I was witnessing all of the brutal murders that had taken place in the book!
That’s it! In some mystic way, the book has to be the cause of this! If I can just get away from it, I can remove myself from this nightmare! With every bit of strength and will I could muster, I tried to force myself to release the book which was still open in my hands! But however hard I tried, I could not let go! Fighting through the pain, I lifted the book from my lap. What I saw nearly drove me beyond the limits of my own sanity! The words in the book had turned red as if they were written in blood. There were rivulets of red running down the pages, dripping off the bottom of the book and landing in my lap as large, awful, drops!
Once again, I attempted to throw the book away from me, but I could not. It was if the book was glued to my hands, when in fact it was much worse. I began to scream as I realized that I was not gripping the book; the book was gripping me! The leather cover of the book had somehow grown over my fingers and hands and engulfed them almost up to the wrist. I was virtually a prisoner of the book.
The pain grew more and more intense until I felt myself losing consciousness. Trapped in a dreamlike state, the visions of murder and torture became incredibly vivid. Gruesome and bloody deaths kept repeating in my mind, each one more horrible than the last. It was if I was witnessing each death from above, and as I watched, I found my attitude towards them changing. I began to be less offended by them, and actually started admiring some of the ingenuity that went into some of them, and also took some amount of joy in the sheer viciousness of the crimes.
As I watched, something incredible began to happen. As each scenario played out in my mind, I noticed that the murderer in each of the visions was somehow becoming familiar to me. His back was always towards me, so I had not recognized him before. Now, however, in one last blood-soaked vision, the murderer turned to look at me. I screamed in pure terror. It was like looking into a mirror. My face was twisted into the most terrifying, maniacal smile. I realized that the familiar figure in all of these diabolical acts had been me! And just before I passed out I saw that the victim of my butchery in this last vision had been Damien Crosse.
* * * * * *
I am not sure how much time passed before I woke up. However, judging by my ruddy appearance and aching muscles, it had been quite a while. I prepared a light breakfast and went into the bathroom to make myself somewhat presentable. Halfway through shaving, I realized that I did not really have any reason to actually be presentable, since my wife was now gone and I am certain that my actions at the accounting firm had resulted in my termination.
As I thought about my present circumstances, I sensed a growing fury inside of me. I had done absolutely nothing to deserve what was happening to me. All my years of fidelity to my wife and loyalty to my employer had been thrown away like so much garbage! I stood to lose everything I had worked so hard for. My career, my marriage, even my dignity! No one could take that away from me, no one!
As I stroked the last bit of shaving cream off my face, the glint of the straight razor caught my eye. I held it in front of me and admired the ivory handle and the brightness of the blade. It was so beautiful. I was taken with the idea that while the razor was designed to be a useful tool, it was also a dangerous and effective weapon.
As I continued to look at it, I began to picture in my mind how the razor could certainly be a perfect instrument of justice and revenge. Looking into the mirror, I noticed the dark circles under my eyes, the disheveled look of a broken man, and the evil smile of someone who had just realized what he must do.
* * * * * *
I was becoming quite accustomed to the dark, both the dark of the night, and the ever-darkening condition of my soul. I reveled in it as I crouched in the shrubs outside Damien Crosse’s mansion. I am sure when he purchased it, he gave no thought to the fact that living outside the city and a long way off the road would be a considerable help to anyone who may wish him harm. I had no problem approaching his house unseen. The remoteness of the property, and the darkness which I now so enjoyed, made it very easy.
I waited for several hours, watching for the lights to go out in the house. As the hour grew later, they were extinguished, one by one. Now, only one light in the upstairs bedroom remained lit. I had somewhat of a working knowledge of the house, as I was often called here to bring work to Damien on the days when he did not want to come in to the firm. When the last lone light went out, I approached the back of the house and proceeded to work on opening the rear entrance. Not being well-versed in burglary, it took me longer than I would have liked. I worked with great care and caution, and eventually, the lock opened.
I stood in the entranceway for a few moments, not because I was unsure or even afraid, but because I wanted to prepare myself for the deed I had come to perform. I took several deep breaths, and shook my arms and legs to loosen them. Then, with razor in hand, I stepped across the threshold.
* * * * * *
I was being so careful to be cautious and quiet that it seemed to take an eternity before I reached the bottom of the staircase leading upstairs. I was getting so close. I didn’t want to make a mistake now and ruin my opportunity for vengeance. As I placed my foot on the bottom step, the wood creaked faintly. I froze in terror and waited without moving a muscle until I was sure that the sound had not awakened my prey. I took another step, this time placing my foot as close to the end of the step as possible. Grasping the railing of the staircase as tightly as I could, I climbed the stairs at a painstakingly slow pace.
I hesitated at the top of the stairs, suddenly realizing that I had never been in the upstairs of the house. Which room was Damien’s bedroom? My confidence began to waver, as I had no desire to search all the rooms while attempting to avoid detection. After a few moments, I collected my wits and realized that I could determine where the bedroom was by remembering the last light to go out in the house. It only made sense that it would be the right room. Knowing where that light had been, I was able to find my way to what I believed to be the correct door.
I put my ear against the door and listened for several minutes. It was hard to hear anything because my heart was pumping so fast that all I could hear was my own blood rushing through my veins. Willing myself to calm down, eventually I was able to hear someone snoring in the room.
This was the moment I had been waiting for! There was no turning back. I could hardly contain myself as I reached for the doorknob. I pulled my hand back quickly to cover my mouth.
I had this insane urge to laugh! I was about to commit the ultimate act of evil, and I was going to enjoy every second of it. Finally, I was ready. I slowly turned the doorknob and entered the room ever so quietly.
* * * * * *
The bedroom was pitch black. Long, heavy fabric curtains cut off almost all of whatever light was trying to enter through the window. I stopped just inside the doorway to allow my eyes to adjust to the dark. In just a few moments I was able to make out where everything was in the room. The large four-poster bed was directly across the room from where I stood. Straight razor in hand, I proceeded ever so slowly towards the bed.
Damien Crosse was fast asleep, snoring annoyingly. I was thankful for the noise, as it would help to cover up any sounds I might make as I crossed the room. After what seemed to be hours, I finally stood above him next to the bed. He was sleeping on his back and very conveniently had his throat exposed to the night.
This was it. This was my moment of revenge. This is where I exacted vengeance upon the man who had cost me everything. Still, I hesitated. Not because I was having second thoughts or because I had grown afraid. No, it was because I wanted to enjoy every second of taking this man’s life. I had envisioned this moment in my mind many times. Now I wanted to make sure I did this right. I wanted him to feel the pain. I wanted him to suffer. Most importantly, I wanted him to know who his killer was. I wanted him to know it was me.
I bent over him low enough to hold the razor just a hairsbreadth from his throat. I had to time this perfectly. Damien was a large man, and should he begin to struggle, this could all go horribly wrong. I placed my other hand a few inches above his mouth. My intent was to clamp down on his mouth just before I drew the razor across his throat.
My hands were shaking in anticipation. I had to strike now. I slammed my hand across his mouth while at the same time pushing down with all my strength to keep his head in place. His eyes flew open, focusing on me almost immediately. I could see so much in his eyes. The recognition of who I was, and the terror of realizing what I was about to do.
Damien began to kick at me and strike at my face. I would have no more time to savor the moment. I must strike. I drew the razor across his throat. I have never seen so much blood. It sprayed out like a geyser, covering both him and me. Instincts drove me to jump away from him, for just a second. Miraculously, he rose from the bed, hands to his throat and he tried to run, but his body was already failing him.
Recovered from the initial shock of what I had done, my anger consumed me.
“DIE, YOU BASTARD!” I yelled as I slashed at him again. The blade hit his face, cutting through his left cheek and exiting through the right. I began to slash wildly, as he stood helplessly in front of me.
“YOU TOOK MY WIFE!” SLASH!
“YOU TOOK MY CAREER!” SLASH!
“YOU TOOK MY WHOLE LIFE!” SLASH!
I suddenly realized that my blows were no longer striking anything. I was flailing the razor in the air. Completely out of breath, I stopped. Damien lay on the floor between me and the bed. His face and hands were sliced to ribbons. Fingers and eyes were missing, the blood pooling on the floor around his head. I had done it. I had killed the man who ruined me. I had taken my revenge.
* * * * * *
I stood in the dark for what seemed a long while, but probably was only a few moments. I can only describe what I was feeling as pure ecstasy. I felt no remorse or fear. For the first time in my life, I felt like a man. Like I had accomplished something. I felt complete. Then everything was shattered with one sound
“Damien?” a female voice said. “Are you alright?”
I spun around to find the silhouette of a woman standing in the doorway of the bedroom. Dressed in a flowing nightdress with a lit candle in her hand was my wife, Grace!
We both recognized each other at the same instant. Her first reaction was to retreat back into the hallway in an effort to run away down the hall. My first reaction was to smile and take a moment, however brief, to revel in the idea that my revenge was not yet complete. This was more than I could hope for.
It must have been quite a sight, Grace running towards the stairway, one hand holding up the hems of her nightdress while the other held on to the candle lamp to light her way. And I, one hand stretching out to grab her, and the other hand brandishing the straight razor. Her screaming at the top of her lungs, while I called to her to stop. I must admit, I was laughing as well.
I caught up to her at the top of the stairway and grabbed her by the back of the neck. As I spun her around, she tried to strike me with the candle lamp. She missed and only succeeded in spraying us both with hot wax. Neither of us noticed the pain.
“Stop, Alistair, stop!” she pleaded with me. “You can’t kill me, you just can’t!”
“Oh, but I can,” I replied.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked, choking back tears and gasping for breath.
“How can you ask me that question?” I yelled back at her, spittle splashing onto her face. “You treated me like garbage our whole married life! You only wanted what my salary could get you. When that wasn’t enough, you left me for that… that…. dead man in the other room! And now I find you living in his house! Are you sleeping in his bed, too?”
“No, Alistair!” she cried. “I am only – oh, poor Damien!”
“SHUT UP!” I yelled, bringing her face closer to me as I tightened my grip on her throat. “I have no desire to hear your excuses or your pleas for mercy. Your words mean nothing to me, as mine have meant nothing to you for years.”
I brought the razor up to her face and pressed it up against her cheek.
“The only thing that matters to me now is that you pay the price for your disloyalty and infidelity.” I leaned forward and kissed her. It was a hard, violent kiss. A kiss goodbye.
I shoved her backwards as hard as I could. She had no time to react. She landed hard on her back, her head snapping back violently against the step. I heard her neck snap, her screams ending abruptly. She continued to roll down the steps, finally coming to rest at the bottom of the staircase, with her body broken, and her arms and legs at impossible angles. As I looked at her lying there, I was struck with sadness. A sadness that her suffering was over so quickly.
I did not want this night to end. I had no idea that vengeance and murder could be so… joyful… or fulfilling. Before leaving, I made sure that there was no one else in the house, such as a butler or a maid. Regrettably, I found no one. I left the house of Damien Crosse that night knowing that I had exacted the ultimate revenge on those who had wronged me.
* * * * * *
I returned to my home just before dawn. I had discarded the razor in the sewers on the way. I proceeded to build a fire and burn all the clothes I had worn that night. I would leave no evidence of ever being in the Crosse home that night.
I sat at my desk in the library and pondered about what I had done. The more I thought about it, the happier I became. My vengeance was complete, and I was ecstatic about it. As I sat there, I found myself drawn to the book that had started this journey into murder. Remembering what happened the last time I handled it, I was hesitant to pick it up. However, my curiosity finally got the best of me.
Very gently I picked up the book. This time there was no pain or disorientation. Rather, there was more of a calming, but invigorating effect. The cover of the book did not envelop me again. However, there was a feeling of oneness, of joy and accomplishment. I flipped through the now-familiar pages, remembering some of the written accounts as I saw them. Eventually, I came to William Gilchrist’s gruesome account of his act of vengeance. I was no longer repulsed by his actions. Instead, the story of his revenge gladdened me. I could now relate to what he had done. In some strange way, we were now brothers, albeit murderous brothers.
I was about to close the book when I noticed a change in the pages. Terror reclaimed me as I saw that Gilchrist’s story was no longer the last one in the book! There was another entry, and as I began to read it I instantly began to shake uncontrollably. This cannot be! This new story was mine! It was the written account of every horrible atrocity I had committed in the Crosse house! Every grisly detail was written down! It was all in my handwriting and my signature was on the last page!
My mind began to spin and I felt as if my actions were no longer my own. I began to thrash about uncontrollably in my chair, eventually falling to the floor, frothing at the mouth. I tried to scream, but my throat was so constricted in fear, I could not.
The book fell from the desk, landing open directly in front of my face. To my horror, the pages began to turn, working their way to the front of the book. I was physically and mentally trapped. I could not move, and I could not look away. Finally, the pages stopped turning. I realized that the book was now open to the page that contained the strange language and symbols. The lines began to blur and change. I could not look away.
The lines started to become recognizable. The words began to appear in English. I was afraid to read them, afraid of what they might say. My fears, it turned out, were well-founded. I felt as though I would lose whatever fragile grip I had on my sanity as I read:
Vengeance has been exacted
On those who deserve it most
Doled out by the spirits of this book
To whom you have played host
Many are they that deserve this fate
As many are those who have died
Where and when will vengeance strike next
The spirits and the book will decide.
It was clear to me now what had happened. I had been, and woefully still am, possessed by the book to carry out its plan to kill those who it decided had committed evil! I was no more than a tool of this horrible spirit!
At the same time I realized this, it became clear that I was never going to be released from this horror. I was doomed to obey the wishes of whatever spirit this was and would be forced to do his bidding!
I lay on the floor of my library for a very long time as I lamented the effect this would have on the rest of my life. After many hours of resisting the power of this spirit, I realized my efforts were futile. With mind, body and soul, I gave in to the spirit of the book. I knew what I must do.
* * * * * *
The bell above the door rang annoyingly as I entered the old bookstore. I had never known that this book store existed until I just felt the need to come to this side of town. Being a
collector of rare books I was excited to come across this tiny shop.
Just as I began to look over the small inventory that the shop had to offer, I was interrupted by the appearance of a very old man, nervous and shaking.
“Welcome to my shop,” the old man said.
“I am the proprietor… Alistair Frye.”
Credit: G.L. Bouwman
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