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I heard my mom calling me, but I saw no reason to respond. I hated my family. They were all so annoying. I was the middle child and the only girl in my family. My parents hated me so much. They always ignored me. It got really old after a while. I flipped over on my bed and turned the page of my book. It was really good so far. I had started it that morning at school, and I was about ten pages from the end. I’d always loved reading; I had started when I was about four or five, so my love of literature had been developing for quite a while.
“Right now, Leah!”
This always happened. My mom always insisted on eating together. It just didn’t seem necessary. Honestly. But my mom always insisted. Always. I thought I had been listening to her too much lately. I was letting her boss me around. Besides, dinner was never anything incredibly special. I could possibly understand her astonishing need for family togetherness if we were having company or some big fancy meal, but not for pre-cooked chicken patties and canned vegetables thrown together in the microwave.
“Leah, I’m going count down from ten, and if you’re not down here by the time I get to one, you’re grounded!”
Geez, she treated me as if I were younger than my ten-year-old brother! I was thirteen years old, for heaven’s sakes! I was not a child! And as for the grounding, it wasn’t as if I had anything to be grounded from. It wasn’t like I had any friends. The only people from my school who had talked to me in the past few years had been the teachers and staff. Maybe—maybe— the occasional word from someone my age during a group project or something. But otherwise, nothing else. I shook my head and tried to concentrate on my book. I had to finish it soon. It was due back to the library the next day. The last time I hadn’t finished a book was in kindergarten when my one and only friend’s dog ate the last few pages of my first chapter book.
“Ten, nine, eight… ”
Okay, that was just insulting. I speed-read the last page of my book (which had a great ending, by the way), then dumped it and the rest of my borrowed books into my library bag, and ran down the stairs. I pushed past my mom, standing at the bottom of the steps, still counting like an idiot.
She shot me an incredulous look as I threw open the garage door, hopped on my bike, and rode away. I was sick and tired of her and the rest of my family bossing me around like they were royalty. I pedaled furiously through my tiny, picturesque hometown of Wickford, Rhode Island, probably drawing stunned stares from my neighbors.
I flew over the bridge spanning the bay separating our neighborhood from the main roads. I saw the store where my mom worked, a small jewelry store on the corner. I turned onto the main road, past the jeweler’s, then onto a smaller road that led to the town library. I frequently visited the library and was on first-name terms with most of the librarians.
When I said I had no friends, I guess that was an inaccurate statement. I should have said that I had no friends my age. My friends were mostly librarians, but as for friends who could come over to my house, I was distinctly lacking. I slipped my bike into my favorite place in the bike rack and slid my lock into place. I walked into the serene library and, immediately after returning my hefty stack of books, found Linda, my best friend/librarian. She walked up to greet me.
“Hi, Leah! How’s your day been?”
“Not very good. My mom’s on some ‘family togetherness’ run. It’s horrible.”
“Aww, it can’t be that bad, can it?”
“You wouldn’t believe it.”
“Hmm. Well, on a different topic, have you been reading any good books lately?”
“Oh, well, I just finished a really good horror story! I’m returning it now.”
“Oh, well then, if you like horror, let me show you something…”
Well, something turned into a lot of somethings. I followed Linda around the library collecting various horror stories, and by the time my arms were full, it was really late. I think it was about eight or nine. I was usually home by seven. When I got home, my house was dark and my whole family had gone off to do something without telling me. That was just like them. I spent another lonely night alone in my room with only my books for company.
I had always been an early riser. That morning, I woke up around 5:30. The rest of my family was still asleep. I trudged down the stairs, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. Just because I woke up early didn’t mean I liked it. I plodded over to the refrigerator and got the milk jug and cereal. It didn’t take long to eat, and I was already dressed. I sat down in the living room with one of my new horror books. I absolutely loved horror. It was definitely my favorite genre. I was just getting into my book when I heard the floor creak upstairs. That was my signal to go. It meant that someone else was awake and I had to leave immediately or face the consequences.
I threw my books into my backpack, dug my bike out from underneath my brothers’ stuff, and started on my way to school. My commute wasn’t very long; it could have only been a mile at the most. I got to school at precisely 6:14, four minutes later than my usual.
I tiptoed into the silent school. Even though I had done that every day since third grade, it was still kind of creepy to be in such a big place with next to no one in it. I stole down the dark, noiseless hallways to the library. I tried the door and found that it was open. I silently thanked the librarian, Mandy, for leaving the door unlocked. I slipped into the library and opened my book.
By the time everyone else began arriving, I had finished that book and had started the next one. I was about halfway finished when five girls from my class came into the library. It was about 7:00, just before my first class started. I got up to leave, but they were laughing so much I hung back a bit to see what they were laughing at. With further observation, I realized that they weren’t laughing at anything.
I really hated those kinds of people. They were so annoying. I didn’t think they even had brains. All they did was laugh and make fun of each other. They weren’t even looking at books. That was another thing about girls like that. They had no appreciation for literature. The only reason they were there was to talk to each other without the teachers getting mad at them. Now that was mistreating the sanctity of the library.
But on the other hand, they were always so happy. They always had someone to talk to. They were never alone. They actually had friends. Sometimes I wished I could be like them. Then I remembered how idiotic they looked. But there was always that tiny wish in my head…
A few days later, after I had finished all my books, I went over to the town library again to get a few more. I walked into the library with my enormous bag of books on my shoulder and checked them back in. I walked around the library trying to find Linda. I finally found her in the basement restoring a pile of ancient books. I greeted her and told her my dilemma. I needed more books.
She said, “Well, I don’t know how many more books we have here. You’ve read so many,” she said with a shake of her head. “You know, there’s another library a little while away from here. I’d bet you could ride your bike there in under ten minutes if you tried. It has a lot of old books that I think you would like. It’s amazing!”
I considered that. I didn’t really want to go somewhere else. I liked it here.
“It’s a really old building, but the lady who runs it just started. If you’re lucky, she’ll be there. I’m not sure if anyone else works there yet. I really think you should go!”
“Okay. Maybe I’ll go there a little later. I want to see what other books there are here.”
“No, no, go now! We don’t have anything else here! I’m positive!”
I wondered why she was being so pushy… and since when was she positive? “Wait… you just said you didn’t know what else there was here! Now you’re positive?”
“Oh… just go… please?”
She sounded so plaintive that I just decided to go along with it. It couldn’t hurt me, could it? “Okay, Linda, fine. I’ll go. Where exactly is it?”
“Oh, thank you, thank you! Leave here by the school, turn right, then turn at the next left you see. Go down that road and there are, oh, say three bends in the road, and at the fourth, there’s a ramshackle old house with an illegible sign on the door. That’s what you’re looking for.”
“Thanks, Linda. I’ll go right now.” I grabbed my library bag and walked out the door. I mounted my decrepit old bike, since my parents were too cheap to get me a decent one, and followed Linda’s directions. As I turned onto the winding path she described, I noticed that there were increasingly more trees on the side of the road. It was farther than I expected. As I progressed deeper into the thickening woods, I perceived that it got quieter the farther I got. It was kind of creepy. By the time I rounded the third bend, it was absolutely silent. The only sound I heard was the creaking and grinding of my bicycle’s rusted gears. It had also gotten darker. I could barely see the road in front of me. I thought that odd, because I could see the sky through the trees, and it was a bright, clear blue. I shook it off, telling myself that I just needed to have my vision checked. But it was still disconcerting.
I shivered. Finally, after what seemed like forever, the old house Linda portrayed so accurately showed up in my limited vision. After ten minutes of gloom, the dull light by the door seemed ever so welcoming. I stepped inside and nearly choked on the cloud of dust that blew in my face as soon as I opened the door. I coughed hoarsely.
The noise of my cough drew a middle-aged lady out of a back room. If I had been with any of my nonexistent friends, I would have laughed out loud. She had scraggly blackish hair and a pointy, slightly wrinkly face. Her eyes were small and sharp and her nose was cruelly pointed. One of her front teeth was missing and she had a large black mole on her upper lip. All she was missing was a pointy black hat. Even with the absence of companions, I had to struggle to hold back a nervous giggle. If I had ever met anyone who looked most likely to consume me, it was this woman.
In a shaking voice, I told her my name. In reply, she said, “Hello, Leah. I am Marcia. I am the head librarian here. I specialize in ancient manuscripts. Most of the books you will find here cannot be found anywhere else. For this reason, I can only lend you one book at a time. Do you understand?”
I nearly screamed when she spoke. Her voice was a startling mixture of dead leaves and snakes. I replied that yes, I did understand, and I was looking for a good horror book, thank you very much. At this, Marcia got this funny gleam in her eye and asked me, “Ah, are you the one that girl Linda sent me? I asked her to find me a good one. I assume you are she. Follow me.”
She led me to the back of the library, past immense shelves full of dusty, moth-eaten books with vile titles. I was spellbound. I followed Marcia down a flight of rickety stairs into a pitch-black room. I barely swallowed a yelp as my shins hit something squishy and cold.
I let out a relieved sigh as Marcia turned on a solitary bare bulb hanging in the dead center of the tiny cellar. I saw that the thing I had bumped into in the dark was only a wet sponge most likely used to clean off Marcia’s desk upstairs. I had noticed that her desk was the only dust-free item in the whole place.
I looked around and drew in a reverent breath. The room was filled to the ceiling with old books. It was obvious that all the good books were down here. Marcia walked around the towering piles of books searching for something. Finally she yanked a book out of an already unstable stack with a cackle as the entire mountain crashed to the floor. She handed the book to me and set about restacking the mountain.
I looked at the ancient cover with respect. Engraved in peeling old paint were the words The Vortex, which I assumed was the title. When she was finished, she told me the basic outline, nothing more than would have been on the back of a modern book, and smiled.
“I think you will enjoy this story. It’s really absorbing,” she said. That in itself wouldn’t have been enough to freak me out, but she said it with a leering grin on her face that would have scared the stripes off a zebra. I thanked her with a shaking voice and ran out of the library as quickly as my undersized legs could carry me.
After my less-than-uplifting experience at the library, I was hesitant to begin my new book. It sounded interesting from what Marcia had told me, but her parting words had frightened me. It was for that reason that I decided to put off reading The Vortex. For the first time in six years, I wasn’t reading anything before school. I was shocked at myself. I didn’t wake up as early as I usually did. I woke up around 6:30, which was really late for me. I was usually at school at that time.
I rushed to get my morning things done while everyone else was awake. It was very disconcerting. I finished in just enough time to get to school at seven, right before my first class, math. I slid discreetly into my seat in the back of the classroom. Or so I thought. The five girls I had seen in the library the other day sauntered over to me. One girl, whose name escaped me, had noticed my lack of a book. She casually walked over and stage-whispered to me, “Hey, Leah— where’s your precious book?”
My first reaction was shock— no one had voluntarily talked to me in— forever! This first thought was stunning. My second reaction was the thought, Hey, she’s right— Why am I not reading? The combination of these two thoughts was enough to send me over the edge. I stalled for time.
“Umm…” I opened my mouth to say something coherent, but nothing came out. I realized that all five of them were waiting for me to answer, so I wordlessly leaned over and picked up my tattered old book. As I held it up for them to observe, they gasped and cringed.
“What is that?”
“What did you do to that thing?” I figured they were talking about the dirty, peeling cover and the frayed, worn pages. They just gaped at it for a little while longer, then the tallest one shrugged, turned, and walked away. The rest of the girls copied her exact movements, shrugging, turning, then walking away. Spooked by the conversation, I looked at the book I had just shown them, opened it, and began to read.
I woke up surrounded by shelves of books. I was sitting in my favorite reading corner with The Vortex on my lap. I yawned, stretched, and attempted to stand up. I immediately fell back down. That was odd. I wasn’t exactly the strongest person on Earth, but I usually had enough strength to stand up. But right then I really just felt like sleeping. I felt like I had no energy left.
Now that I thought about it, I vaguely remembered leaving school and walking up to the library. I remembered picking up my book and reading it in my corner. I remembered very little of the storyline, but I remembered that it was excellent. I picked it up to read again, but I soon dropped it. I just felt so drained. All I wanted to do was sleep. So I sank back into my cushy chair and drifted off…
I’m falling… far beneath me, I see my book… I drift down and float slowly down on top of it… then I sink into it… I feel a sort of sucking… it feels like something is sucking my soul out… I realize that it is the book… I look down and I can see it… it’s like pure gold energy is being sucked out of me… I realize it is my soul… it’s spiraling down a long, black tunnel… I look through the tunnel and I see a dark figure… I look closer and I see that it is Marcia… she’s laughing… no, she’s cackling… she’s absorbing the light… she’s absorbing my soul… she laughs louder… I black out… she’s still laughing…I screamed…
And woke up. I realized that I was gasping for air. I tried— and failed— to slow my breathing. I attempted to reassure myself by telling myself that it was just a dream… just a dream… just a dream…
After my perplexing experience at the library, I biked back home and opened the door to a silent house. Now that was odd. My house was usually chaotic. It was eerie. I crept around the noiseless rooms until I almost tripped over my sleeping brother. He was just lying on the floor, out cold. Maybe other people’s floors are comfortable, I don’t know, but ours certainly isn’t. We have tiled floors in every room of the house. So this was not a normal occurrence.
With further investigation, I discovered that my whole family was like that. They were all passed out in various rooms. My dad was on the couch, probably watching a game on TV. My mom was in the kitchen, most likely making dinner. I hadn’t found my older brother, Scott, though I thought he might be in his room with the door closed. I always tried not to go in there.
While I was contemplating this, I heard a sound downstairs. It proved to be my little brother, Mark. He stumbled into the living room, where I was, and proceeded to give me an enormous hug. He hadn’t done that in so long. I realized that I kind of missed it. “Hey, Leah. What happened? Where’s everyone else?”
“Hi, Mark. I was going to ask you the same thing. What happened to you? Why were you sleeping on the floor, of all places??”
“I don’t know. I was walking home from school when I started feeling really tired. It was like my legs just didn’t want to go anymore. I decided to take a nap when I got home. When I walked in the door, I heard a loud noise upstairs. It sounded like someone fell. I went upstairs to see what happened and I found Scott on the floor in his room. Then I went down to the kitchen to get a snack and I found Mom sleeping on the floor. Then when I went to find Dad to ask him what happened to Mom and Scott, he was sleeping on the couch, too! When I was going up to my room to take a nap, my head started to spin and I fell down. Then when I woke up, I heard you so I went to find you. Do you have any idea what’s happening, Leah?”
He looked so scared. I just wanted to hug him and fix everything for him. But I didn’t know what was happening any more than he did. His story did spook me a little. It seemed so similar to my falling asleep at the library… and it had happened at the same time… and I assumed that my family’s stories were probably very similar… at least, they had very similar outcomes.
Just then, we jumped at the sound of Scott coming down the stairs. He greeted us sleepily. Mark asked him the same question he asked me: What happened?
He replied, “Well, I had just gotten home from school when my head started to hurt. I felt like I needed to lie down. I didn’t know that Mom and Dad were home, so when I found them both lying in odd places just sleeping, it was kind of confusing. You know how they never stop what they’re doing voluntarily. I just kind of figured Dad fell asleep watching TV and Mom, I don’t know, passed out or something. By then I was feeling really tired, like if I didn’t lie down I might pass out, too. So I went up to my bedroom and had just closed the door when my head started to spin and I fell. The next thing I remember was waking up and hearing you and Mark down here. I don’t remember anything in between. I think I fell asleep or something. Do you have any idea?”
That sounded almost exactly like what happened to Mark. That was just too weird. Both his and Mark’s experiences were somewhat similar to mine. We both felt the same way at around the same time. We all got home from school at different times, so it made a certain amount of sense. Was there something supernatural going on? I shook my head. I was being ridiculous. I was just still paranoid about the library and Marcia. That was it. But I still couldn’t shake that feeling that there was more than met the eye to this little episode…
A week passed, and I didn’t read very much of my book. I felt like every time I read it, I fell asleep. It wasn’t pleasant sleep, either. Every time I slept, I had that horrid dream about Marcia again. Then, when I woke up, I felt terribly drained. So I decided not to read it very much. It was hard, though. I had this strange urge to read the book. After I had read it a while, it actually got a little boring. But I still had to read it. It was addictive.
I decided to go back to the library and ask Marcia about it. She certainly seemed to know a lot about the book. I kept on putting the visit off, though. I couldn’t get the first trip out of my head. It was haunting me. But the book was really bugging me. Whenever I read it for a while, my dad would fall asleep. I had also noticed that my family was sleeping increasingly later.
Yesterday, I hadn’t heard Dad waking up until six-forty-five. It almost made me late for school. It seemed like they had less and less energy.
For example, Scott’s passion was basketball. Every day after dinner, he’d go over to the gym for an hour or two and shoot hoops. It was something he had done every day since he was in fifth grade. Then, he suddenly stopped and decided to go to bed instead. That shocked everyone. And Dad started taking time off work because he had so little energy.
I was feeling tired, too, don’t get me wrong. As I said before, it was mostly after I read. Now that was odd. Sometimes if I was reading late at night, my eyes might get tired. But this was my entire body, and it was at three o’clock in the afternoon. I was starting to get worried.
My gut was still telling me to go talk to Marcia, but my head was screaming at me not to. I wasn’t sure which to listen to. In the end, my gut instinct won out. I decided to go see Marcia.
The next day was a Saturday, so I slept in a little. I eventually woke up around ten-thirty. I figured my family would be long gone, so I was pretty shocked to find them still asleep in their beds, dead to the world. They hadn’t slept that late in about six years! I yawned contentedly, already looking forward to the weekend. Then the fatal promise I had made the night before came back to me. I had to go see Marcia today. I could try to get out of it, but I would always hate myself for skipping out. I knew I had to go. I trudged out to the garage and yanked my bike out from under my brothers’ clutter. I began to pedal slowly down my cracked, blackened concrete driveway. I rode down the sidewalk to the bridge and crossed it. I picked up speed and determination as I crossed the main road. As I neared the park, I saw a girl standing on the corner. I felt like I recognized her. What was her name…? I hit a crack in the road and tumbled off my bike. She rushed over to where I was groaning on the pavement. As she stood over me, I remembered her name. She was Becky, one of the five girls who tormented me. Why was she helping me now? She stretched out her hand to help me up. “Hi, you’re Leah, right? I’m Becky, but I guess you knew that. I’m in your class. But are you okay? That was a nasty fall.”
She pulled me to my feet and helped my dust off my dirty bike. She asked me where I was going so quickly. I paused, debating whether or not to tell her my dilemma. I decided I should. So I started with the book. It really was the root of my problems. She asked to see it, so I pulled it out of my muddy bag and handed it to her. It reminded me of the last time I had talked to her and she and her cruel friends had made fun of me and my books. She looked it over carefully and handed it back to me. “It looks normal enough. So what’s with the Maria person?”
“It’s Marcia. And I don’t know. She’s really scary. Her voice is the creepiest voice you’ll ever hear. It’s like snakes… and dead leaves… and something else I can’t exactly put my finger on… but you don’t want to hear it. Ever. If you’re smart, you won’t go to that place at all. But I’m not smart, and I went there.”
“Hey, is that where you’re going right now? Can I come? I want to meet this Maria person. She sounds interesting.”
“No, you don’t get it. Marcia is interesting, but in a bad way. You can come, but you’ll regret it. I can promise you that much.”
“I can come?? Cool! Wait a minute, let me get my bike.”
I groaned. But Becky seemed nicer than her other friends, and she was the only person who had been nice to me in a long time.
Becky and I flew past the middle school and turned onto the increasingly dark and zigzagging road. I got that creepy feeling I had gotten the last time I visited Marcia. It felt dark, cold, and evil. It was horrible the first time, and this time it wasn’t any better. I almost turned around right then, but I remembered my promise to myself—and to Becky. I had to see her. I pulled the book out of my bookbag and looked at it. I had never noticed it before, but The Vortex emanated a morbid aura of death.
By then we were in front of the sinister-looking library. I noted that Becky seemed tenser now that she had seen the library. I slipped the book back into its place in my bag and squared my shoulders. Becky did the same. We took a step forward together. And froze. Because we saw the door creaking rustily open. We tiptoed warily up to it and peeked behind it. There was no one there. We stepped across the threshold and paused, waiting for something to happen. We crept past the first bookshelf… and paused again… listened… and heard and unearthly scream coming from the basement.
I nearly screamed myself. Becky looked thoroughly shaken, too. Trembling, we proceeded onwards. I, for one, had to find out what was so odd about this place. We wound our way through the stacks of books to the worm-eaten wooden door to the basement room I had been in before. As we squeaked down the creaky steps, we heard the scream again, closer this time. We cowered against the wall like frightened mice. We slid ourselves to the end of the stairs and peeked around the corner. We recoiled in terror as we saw Marcia asleep on the mountain of books. I thought she was dreaming because she was talking to herself. All of a sudden, she sat up and started muttering nonsensical words to herself. Gradually, as she woke up, her mutterings began to make more sense. I heard her say something about the book, a secret, and me. We leaned in closer to hear better. She mumbled, “This is going perfectly. That girl, what is her name, Leah, does not suspect a thing. She will never discover the mystery of her book. She has no idea that the more she reads, the more captivated she will become and the more powerful I will become! She can’t stop now. She’s almost finished. And what happens when she’s done? She and her precious family die. And the best part of this is that she has no idea, and even if she figured out my… addition… to the book, she couldn’t stop me alone. There is no way this can fail!” Here she stopped for a maniacal cackle. Becky and I recoiled with disgust. But we still listened. Marcia continued. “… finishes the book, I will leave. I will collect my prize and move on. Where shall I go next? London? Maybe Paris? Perhaps I will visit the lovely country of Brazil. I do not know. Anywhere with lonely boys and girls who enjoy reading…” The rest of her monologue trailed off into senseless mutterings. Becky and I turned to each other and gaped. We could tell that we were both thinking the same thing. We had to stop her! She couldn’t just do this to hundreds of defenseless children around the world! We had to figure out the mystery of the book. As we were silently debating our course of action, we heard a pause in the mutterings of the mad librarian. We looked up and heard her say, “I sense someone here. Someone is listening to me. Who is here? I will find you. You cannot hide from me. I know you’re here…” Becky and I turned around and sprinted up the rickety stairs as fast as we could. I hoped we could run faster than Marcia. We crashed through the door, hopped on our bikes and rode away. As we neared the park where I met Becky, we stopped to take a breather. Wheezing, I looked up to see Becky wasn’t even breathing hard. “Aren’t you out of breath?” I asked her.
“Nope. I’m on the track team. I can go forever.”
“So, what could it be?” I asked. We were at Becky’s house trying to figure out how to disable the book’s enchantment. We had been there for over an hour and hadn’t found anything. “She said that we’ll never find the ‘addition’ to it,” Becky mused.
“No, didn’t she say ‘edition’?” I asked.
“’Addition’ makes more sense.”
“You’re right. But what could she have added? This looks pretty much like the original copy, doesn’t it? Nothing’s added.”
“Are there hidden words somewhere? Did she handwrite something in?”
“No, I would have found that already.”
“How do you know it’s not at the end? You haven’t read that part yet.”
“And I can’t or else I’ll die. Do you want that to happen? You look.”
“Good point. Okay.”
She riffled through the pages noisily. I watched with apprehension.
“Nope. Nothing,” Becky said, her voice heavy with disappointment. “I was really hoping there would be something there.”
“Well… we’ll need to go through each page individually and check if there’s something unusual there. We’ll have to find it eventually. It might take a while, but we’ll find it.”
“Well, if we take too long, either you’ll finish the book or Marcia’ll find out that we’re trying to break her power. And we don’t want either of those things to happen.”
“We just need to go through it page by page. We’re going to start now.”
Becky flipped to the first page, the title page. She ran her fingers over it, held it up to the light, and brought it to her face. “What’s sniffing my book going to do to help us?” It was my first joke in forever. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d used sarcasm. That was something the “tormenters” used. Not me. But things were changing. I had friends now. Or, at least a friend. Who was at that moment sniffing the Table of Contents. She flipped to Chapter One and yelped. “What happened, did you get a paper cut on your nose?” I joked.
“No, I found something!” She looked like a young puppy who’s found a bone.
“What did you find, Becky? Is it important? Could it be the answer?” She continued to pore over the first page, apparently picking at something. “What is it?”
“It’s… a… umm… oh, wait… hang on… yes! I got it!”
“Just wait… umm… ahh… er… here! Look right there. Don’t you see it? There’s a little corner sticking up from that rune thingy. Hang on…”
She flipped to the beginning of the next chapter. A shiver went through me as I recognized that section of the book. That was the part I had read just before I had the first nightmare. I shuddered again.
“Look, there’s a similar one here!” She picked at that one, too. “I think it comes off!” She fervently flicked through the pages. “There’s one at the beginning of every chapter! We have to get these off!”
“Hey Becky… I think you found it… I think you’re right…” I turned to the first chapter again and began to peel off the rune. It turned out that each small picture was only a sticker, though cleverly placed. If it weren’t for Becky and her sniffing I would probably be dead by now. Was that what Marcia meant by “she couldn’t stop me alone”? Without Becky, I couldn’t have figured it out. Was the key friendship? Because that was certainly what had saved me. As I pondered this, Becky let out a triumphant cry of success. “Did you finish? Are they all gone? Do you think I can read it now?”
“I don’t suggest you try, Leah. I just met you, I don’t exactly want you to die.”
“Good point… what do you think we should do with the book? Should we burn it?”
“I don’t think so. I think it started out as a normal book, but Marcia ruined it by sticking these stupid runes on the pages. I think you should keep it. Like as a souvenir. So you can remember what happened.”
“Do you think I want to remember almost dying and killing my family?”
“No… but you should still keep it. It would be an interesting story to tell your kids. And you could actually show them the proof!”
“Hmm… yeah… I’ll think about it.” I had learned in my lifetime that the best way to avoid doing something was to say “I’ll think about it…”
We gathered the rune-stickers together into a plastic bag and debated what to do with them. Becky thought we should keep them. I thought we should bring them back to Marcia and confront her about them. Becky said that she didn’t want to go back there for anything. I countered with the statement that she didn’t have to come with me; this wasn’t her problem. She finally gave in and said that I would need the support. I didn’t say it out loud, but I was silently grateful that she was coming with me. I didn’t know what I would do if she hadn’t relented. We began to make plans.
That night, I slept for the first time free of nightmares. It was blissful. I slept until sometime around eleven o’clock; the exact time escaped me. When I woke up, my family was awake and lively. They hadn’t been that active since I had started my cursed book. I ran up to each of them and enveloped them all in a gigantic bear hug. I was so happy to have them back. When I was finished showing them my great and sudden affection for them, I decided to call Becky. We needed to plan our confrontation of Marcia. Then I realized that I didn’t have her phone number. I wondered if it was okay just to go over to her house and ring her doorbell. I had no idea. Years in social Siberia had taken their toll on me. In the end, I decided to go over to her house. I knew where she lived. I had just been there yesterday. I figured she would forgive me if it was the wrong thing to do. From what I knew of her, she seemed like a forgiving person—at least when she wasn’t at school.
I arrived at Becky’s house just after lunch. Her mother answered the door with a smile. “Are you Becky’s friend? I think I saw you yesterday, didn’t I? Are you looking for Becky?”
“Yes, is she at home? I need to talk to her. Thanks.”
I waited at the front door for a minute and after a short time, Becky came. “Hey! You ready? ‘Cause I’m not!”
I laughed. But I felt exactly the same. I did not want to go, even though I knew I had to. There was no way I could let Marcia get away with this. We had to stop her—together.
We set off on our bikes with the book and the bag of runes in my bag. As we neared Marcia’s lair, we giggled nervously. We were both terrified, but neither wanted to show it. We arrived literally at Marcia’s doorstep. Neither of us had any idea how this was going to go. Marcia might eat us, for all we knew. Though I really hoped she didn’t. That didn’t sound too pleasant. I imagined her breath would smell really bad. Right then, it was all I could do to hold back a snicker. I didn’t know what I was doing, snickering at a time like this. Really. I should have more self-control.
We stepped across the threshold and shuddered simultaneously. Even though we were in a vile witch’s lair, it still felt intrusive of Marcia's property. It was completely silent, with only a few creaks or groans of the ancient building punctuating the quiet. Our feeling of apprehension grew as we tiptoed through the dark house. I flinched repeatedly at the various noises. So when I heard something that sounded like someone jumping out from behind us, I did nothing more than flinch… until that “noise” reached out and, grabbing me by the shoulder, hissed in my ear, “Now what do you think you’re doing here?”
She—for it was indeed Marcia—must have done the same thing to poor Becky, because at that moment, Becky screamed the loudest, most earsplitting, bloodcurdling, spine-chilling scream anyone on Earth had ever heard before. Ever the brave one (yeah, right), I turned around and faced Marcia. I shrunk back a little as I saw her eyes all but shooting flames at me, but stood my ground… for the most part.
“Okay, look. I know what you’re trying to do to me. I have you all figured out. You gave me that book on purpose. You knew what was going to happen. You planned it all. You wanted me to die.”I paused. A thought had hit me. “You made Linda tell me to come here in the first place, didn’t you? You wanted me to be lured here so you could make a victim out of me. Well, I might have just accepted my fate before. But now I’ve met Becky. Becky and I figured out your book together. We found these.” Here I dramatically pulled the bag of runes out of my backpack and dangled them in front of her face.
“What… how did you…” Marcia looked at Becky. “You. You. You helped her. You cheated me of this girl’s life. And I wanted it so dearly. It would be such a nice addition to my collection. I collect souls, you know. That day you visited me and spied on me—oh, yes, I know what you did—you must have heard one of my more—nonconforming—spirits shrieking like mad. And I was so close to having yours, Leah… so close…
“And my runes. How did you find my runes? They were hidden so well. It’s all because of that nasty girl standing next to you…” –she gestured at Becky—“…She knew that friendship was the only way to break the power of the book… didn’t you, you nasty girl?”
I looked at Becky, who was looking quizzically at Marcia, and I assumed Becky had no idea what Marcia was talking about. I turned back to Marcia, who was staring at Becky, waiting for an answer. Becky looked up and slowly shook her head no.
Marcia gave Becky the evil eye and continued with her speech. “Well, since you obviously know about everything, you also know about the power of the runes. They are what channels your family’s and your souls to me so I can become more… powerful…” The last word was hissed greedily. “And you would also know that all my life force is stored in that glass bottle in the basement room… but you could never find it… it’s too well hidden…” With that she slunk away… outside. Away from the basement.
It was almost like she wanted us to destroy her. We snuck down to the basement room I had seen too many times in the past week. Becky decided to search one half of the room, and I, the other. It wasn’t long before Becky whisper-shouted that she had found it. I whisper-shouted back if she was sure that was it. She replied that yes, she was sure. She read me the label: Marcia’s Life Force. “Well, that was obvious,” I stated unnecessarily. “Let’s try to break it.” Just as Becky was lifting the glass to smash it on the floor, Marcia came bursting in the door. Becky didn’t see her and the bottle continued the path to the ground. The next few seconds played out in slow motion. Marcia lunged to literally save her soul while Becky looked up in terror. But it was too late. The bottle crashed to the ground. As the glass cracked and splintered, Marcia seemed to fold inward on herself. In my detached state of mind, I realized that I had now witnessed something imploding. I looked up to see Becky staring at me in horror. We had just destroyed Marcia.
After the initial shock wore off, we left the horrendous library for the last time. When we got back to the house, we made a few promises. Firstly, neither of us would ever go back there. Secondly, neither of us would ever speak of this incident to anyone else. Our third promise was slightly unrelated. It was that we would both be friends for as long as we knew each other. I went home that day elated. I knew that I had a best friend now.
School the next week was extremely different. I was not the loner hanging on the edges of society. I was Becky’s friend. I went from being nobody to being somebody in a matter of days. I was ecstatic. No longer would I spend my weekends locked up in my bedroom. No longer would I be lonely at school. No longer would I have to get up at five-thirty to avoid my family. No longer would I have to avoid my family! Well, maybe sometimes…
My week came to a perfect ending when my tall tormenter, whose name was Ashlee, came up to Becky and asked why she was hanging out with “that”. She then began being crueler to me than she had ever been before. One of her faithful subjects began to cower away from her like she wanted no part in it. She slowly began to inch toward Becky and me, and she stayed behind as Ashlee and the other two girls left. Ashlee turned around and said to her, “Are you coming, Natalie?”
Natalie looked at her with a confidence I knew I’d never possess and said, “No. I’m staying with my friends.”
Mount Prospect, Illinois
Colorado Springs, Colorado
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