Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
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I’ve done something terrible. Or great. I’m not sure which.
This isn’t exactly my story. It’s the story of a girl named Arianna, a friend at my school. My only friend at school, actually, and even then I’m kind of stretching the term. I’m not popular. Neither is she. Or wasn’t, anyway. But she’s not going to tell the story, so you get my outsider perspective on it.
Arianna and I hung out because no one else liked us. In her case, it was pretty standard high school stuff. She was unattractive and poor, so she was a convenient target for those who needed one. And high school’s got a lot of people in search of victims.
I’m an outcast because I’ve got a problem. I steal stuff. I don’t exactly want to. It’s just a compulsion. Some people eat an entire bag of chips in one sitting. I take small objects when the owner isn’t looking. Sometimes I get caught, and after that happens a couple of times, word gets around. Once you’re known as the klepto, you’re basically cut out of all circles.
I’m not blaming them, honestly. Every once in a while, someone would try to befriend me. And it’d last until something of theirs went missing, and they realized everyone else was right. Then I’d be alone again, sitting at home looking at the phone I took or the pen or the notepad, wondering why I do this to myself.
Arianna, I never took anything from. With everyone else, there was always this feeling of ‘They’ll never miss this’ or ‘they can get another one.’ She couldn’t. She was always in thrift-store clothes, and not the good ones, either. Her backpack was ratty, with tears in the fabric and broken zippers. It had one pen in it and one mechanical pencil which I’d swiped off a teacher’s desk for her. It might’ve been the first gift I ever gave to someone who wasn’t in my family. It felt weird.
So that was us, two losers. We talked some, but mainly we just stuck together so we weren’t alone. It wasn’t great, but it was fine. We didn’t see each other over the summer, but I figured that she’d be there same as always when school let back in.
But I was totally wrong. Arianna showed up for the first day of school different. Like cheesy rom-com makeover different. She got off of the bus in this flirty dress, looking like a million bucks. Clearly a brand new dress, and she had on makeup and new shoes too. For the last couple of years, I don’t think I’d ever seen her wear anything but jeans and the same pair of old boots, so this was a complete transformation.
And she was turning heads, too. Guys were staring, girls were staring. But the first one to say anything was Cynthia, our local blonde-and-preppy mean girl. As Arianna was walking past, Cynthia said, “Looks like somebody finally started shopping in the girls’ section of Goodwill.”
Arianna stopped, turned and slapped her directly across the face. Before Cynthia could say anything, Arianna said, “Apologize.”
And Cynthia, standing there with one hand to her cheek, said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
The really weird part was, it sounded sincere. I looked around to see what everyone else thought, but the buzz of conversation was all:
“Can you believe Cynthia did that?”
“What a bitch.”
“I can’t believe she’d try that with Arianna.”
These were the same people who’d shunned her for every day of high school so far. Now they were acting like she was queen of the popularity club. Clearly, I’d missed something big over the summer.
I caught Arianna at her locker before first period to ask her what was up.
“Oh, you know,” she said. “My family came into a little bit of money.”
“Yeah, no, you look great,” I said. “But everyone’s treating you completely differently, too.”
“People are shallow,” she shrugged. And yeah, sure, but this was way more than that.
She was popular now. And not just in certain cliques, either. Everyone liked her. Kids nodded and waved in the halls. The teachers clearly thought highly of her. Even the principal greeted her by name. None of it was fawning, and it wouldn’t have been weird if I hadn’t known her previously. It wasn’t like this last year. She was a pariah, and now suddenly everyone was acting like she’d always been their favorite person.
I’ll be honest. It kind of pissed me off. It was like, I’d always stood by her, and now suddenly they were all claiming that they’d always been there, too. And that’s not exactly fair. I didn’t stand by her so much as I sheltered with her, but whatever. Feelings aren’t always rational.
So I suffered through a couple of days of this, and it wasn’t even like she was ever mean to me, or dismissive of me. It was just that now she had choices, and I still only had her. So I got jealous, and a little bit bitter, and I did what I always do to make myself feel better: I stole something.
We were at lunch, and she was turned away from the table to talk to some guy, I don’t even know his name. Good looking, probably on the crew team, whatever. She was busy with him and not looking at me, so I leaned down and quietly unzipped her brand new backpack.
The first thing that struck me was how new and crisp everything was. Fresh, clean notebooks, the corners unbent. No bent-up, half-used spiral notebooks like she’d always had before. Six pens, all in different colors, gathered in the outside pocket. It was a little thing, but it just really showed how different everything was for her.
And in with all of those sparkling new notebooks was what looked like an old journal, bound in black leather with three interlocking rings stamped on the front. The tops of its pages were yellowed, it was tied shut with a black ribbon, and overall it just looked interesting. And hating myself a little, I took it out of her backpack and slipped it into mine.
I didn’t look at it then, obviously. I just straightened back up, trying to look like I’d been tying my shoe, and returned to my lunch. Arianna never noticed. She was still talking to Brayden, or whatever his name was.
All day long, I wondered about that book, but I didn’t want to take it out where anyone could see me. If word got back to Arianna, that would be it; then I wouldn’t have anyone. So I kept it hidden until I got home that night, and even then I didn’t take it out until my parents had gone to bed.
The book was old, that much was clear from the outside. The leather was well maintained, but worn. The stamped circles were stained where something had spilled on them. And the ribbon was frayed at the edges and felt delicate in my hands. Once I opened it, the pages were yellowed and ragged at the edges, but the ink on them was dark, black and completely unfaded.
The book was full of symbols, some sort of language I didn’t recognize. And yet as I flipped the pages, something told me that I knew what the symbols meant. Power said one, preceding several pages of instructions. Command, said another. Harm. Erase. Overlook. Consume.
I closed the book before it could tell me more. The symbols rustled in my head like living things, fledglings straining to leave the nest. I tied the ribbon around the book and I put it back in my backpack, planning to sneak it back into Arianna’s bag the next day at school.
That night, I dreamed of the book. I dreamed of the Power incantation and what it would give me. Popularity. Friendship. Money. Success. And all it would take was a small commitment, a minor piece of myself, and a small thing that no one would miss. In my dream, it was a dog whose throat I slit for the blood, but even in the dream the image wavered and shifted, flickering to human form, the lie too great to sustain.
I awoke sweating, tangled in my sheets. My phone told me that it was barely two in the morning, and I could feel the pull of the book from across the room. I could do it now. I could take the power. The sacrifice would be easy to obtain at this time of night.
I rose from my bed and took the book from my backpack. I carried it out to the woods behind my house, and walked deep into the forest. When I was far enough in, I took a stick from the ground and dug a shallow hole at the base of a tree. I buried the book there, covering it back up with dirt and stamping it down, and then I walked unsteadily home.
I got lost on the way, turned around in the forest at night. I found myself back at that tree a dozen times or more. But finally, as dawn began to break, I escaped from the trees and made my way back home.
Exhausted and ill-rested, I was totally unprepared at school the next day for Arianna’s onslaught.
“Where is it?” she greeted me, grabbing my backpack and tearing it from my shoulders. “What did you do with it? Thief! Bastard! Where is my book?”
She tore through my backpack, papers and books flying everywhere. A crowd gathered to watch, but no one stepped in to help. This was Arianna, after all, their new favorite person, and I was just the same klepto I’d always been.
When my backpack was empty, she turned to me again in a frenzy. “What did you do with it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I insisted.
In a rage she shoved me. I stumbled backwards, tripping over my backpack and hitting my head on the ground. I tasted blood, but before that even fully processed she was on me, hair flying and nails clawing at my face.
“Lies! Liar! I’ll tear your tongue out!”
She tried, too, levering my mouth opening and slicing at my lips, cheeks and gums as I resisted. By the time the security officer pulled her off of me, my face was a bloody mess, and as I cleaned up in the bathroom I just counted myself lucky that she hadn’t gone for my eyes.
That was Friday. They took Arianna away to some sort of juvenile detention; they first called for her parents to pick her up from school, but they never answered. When the school sent someone to her apartment, there was no sign of them. They think her parents might have left her, but I think about the Power ritual and I wonder what Arianna sacrificed for it.
She’s missing now. I went to see her on Sunday, hoping that maybe some time away from the book had calmed her down, and she wasn’t in the room that she should have been in. There was a symbol on the back of the door, written in what I’m certain was dried blood. It said Overlook, and my mind throbbed in recognition. The staff at the detention center didn’t seem to see it.
I think I did a good thing, separating Arianna from the book. The words written inside were horrible, stealing away people’s self and soul. I think it was a good thing for the world, even if it was a terrible thing for Arianna. And even though it was a terrible thing for me.
I haven’t had any more dreams since I buried the book. But I haven’t had a restful night’s sleep, either. I keep sleepwalking, waking up to find myself outside and heading for the forest. If I slept long enough, I know what tree I’d wake up to find myself under. Or worse, wake up in my own bed, hands filthy from digging and that black book clutched to my chest.
I almost hope Arianna comes to reclaim the book. I’d take her to it, I think. It’s good that she doesn’t have it, but is it any better that I do? I’ve never been good at resisting temptation.
Check out Micah Edwards’ collection of published anthologies and novella, now available on Amazon.com:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css_animation=”” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” angled_section=”no” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_column_text][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_column_text][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_column_text][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
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