Fiction – “The Peculiar People” by Erik T. Johnson

I. White Space

Martin Box used to have a dim view of human nature. Now he just didn’t look.

So he was interested when a book floated into his office.

The pages were open to an illustration of a black cat and a black witch.

“Are you the private investigator?” the witch asked.

“What can I do for you?” Martin asked the book.

“The black witch and I have been next to each other as long as we can remember,” the black cat said. “Today the black witch looked up and saw black space everywhere above us with eighteen perfect five-pointed orange stars in it. At the same time, I opened my orange eyes and noticed the black witch gazing at the pumpkin-colored pentagrams.”

“We decided we were going to have to get to know each other,” the black witch said.

“What seems to be the problem?” Martin asked.

“We noticed we can’t move,” the cat said.

“We think we’ve done something wrong and this is some kind of punishment,” the witch said.

“How long have you been a cat?” Martin asked.

“I don’t know.”

“How long have you been a witch?

“Since I was here,” the black witch said.

“Did you curse and kill people?” Martin asked.

“I think so.”

“Mr. Cat, did you bring bad luck?”

“Yes, that sounds right.”

Now Martin noticed some vast space of white around the edges of the pages, where the black and orange could not go.

“What’s the story with those white spaces?” Martin asked.

“Elephant in the room,” the black cat said.

“That’s not an elephant,” the witch said.

“Jesus, you witches are so literal,” the cat said.

“We think that white space has something to do with us not being able to move,” the witch whispered.

“It’s possible,” Martin said. “But I don’t work for paper cuts.”

“There’s money, right here,” the cat said.

The book tilted and some hundred dollar bills fell to the floor. Martin got up and checked them out.

“How did you hear about me?” Martin asked.

“Strange things talk about you. They say you have helped gods, beings from other dimensions, and fairy tale entities. The things strange things say often reach us,” the witch said. “And we just heard about your services.”

“All right,” Martin said. “I’ll take your case. But you’ve got to give me something else to go on. Who printed you? You look old.”

“Increase Treat, of the eastern colony,” the witch said, in a hushed tone.

“What’s on your other pages. May I look?”

“You can try, but they’re all stuck together, we believe,” the black cat said.

Martin saw that indeed the pages would not budge.

“Why are you whispering?”

“The white space is sleeping,” the witch said. “But—I’m sorry, it’s starting to toss and turn, we must go now…you can find us at the 95th street library in Bay Ridge when you have more information. We’re in the philosophy section—nobody checks those books out.”

The book fluttered away in a hurry.

II. Only Right

Lately Martin couldn’t stop getting headaches at 10:11 PM.

It was coming on the 25th anniversary of his mother’s murder at the hands of his father. He’d tied a noose around her neck and wrapped it around the gears of a clock in a great clocktower, and as the hands turned they pulled the rope higher and tighter and dragged her off the floor until her neck snapped and the clock got stuck at 10:11 PM.

It took the police three days to figure out what had happened, the same three days that Martin spent wondering where his parents where and why time had stopped.

Martin had plenty of time to think while nursing a headache each night at 10:11, and one thing he realized was he’d become a detective because he felt he had been wrong to not know his father was so troubled. How do you live to be ten years old and miss that your dad’s a psycho? And he had been wrong to not know why time had stopped and to not try to figure it out. So now he was going to figure out as much as he could.

Wasn’t that only right?

III. Glue of His Mind

Martin was able to track down a fragment of the diary of Increase Treat, written in the middle 1700′s and which belonged to his learned friend Dr. Julius Jonsson, the cryptobotanist, who had an interest in the unusual and the mysterious.

Increase Treat was a Quaker, one of the “Peculiar People,” who ran a printing press in Pennsylvania and disappeared in 1756. Dr. Jonsson loaned Martin this document and back at the office, Martin considered it carefully:

18 July, 1756

Before I tell Thee of My Descent into Wickedness and Desertion of God I must start My Story with two incredible Details. I am not sure which One should lead the Other, so I will toss an Hibernian Copper.

Heads.

A Man blew his Brains out in the Corner of my Bedroom while I slept only three Feet away. He wore Something resembling the simple dark Dress of We Quakers. In One Hand He held a Pen that had been hastily dipped in holly-green Ink. The Other clutched a Flintlock of some kind. His Head was pinned to the Wall with the Glue of His Mind, & His Mouth hung open in a silent Groan.

I did not hear Him shoot Himself because He was only six Inches tall. His Pistol was the size of a Tack.

When I woke I found Him & offered up Prayers to our Lord and Savior, plucked the Corse from the Floor & lay him atop the Bible on my Dresser. He was about the size of one of those Crucifixes favored by the Calvinists.

I would not speak to another about Him. I would be thought mad, & besides, His Death was the work of God. It would do Nothing for another mortal Man to know of it.

I bethought Myself that His Body on the Cover of the Book prevented Me from opening it & reading the Lord’s Word.

I decided to bury him Under the Bushes Behind the House and get on with the Duties of an upright Man. I hoped that He had squared away his Account with God before He had ended His Life.

Then I dug a small Hole & placed Him in. Never was a Gravedigger done with His Work so quickly.

I would have dwelled on the Strangeness & Sorrow of What had happened in My Room during the Night. But my Printing Press called to Me. I had some Tracts to set & print, and many educated Friends did rely on Me. The last few Days I had experienced Problems with my Press, as the Lettering had appeared messy & Orange & this weighed heavy on My Mind, since it was newly imported from England and for the Price should have been free of Defects.

I could tell Thee now all about the Troubles we Peculiar People were having with the Indians and Germans and Irish on the western Edge of the Colony. Quaker meant Fool to them, &Worse, because We did not want to take the Rod to Them Who were as Our Brothers, even if not Christian, the Six Nations & the Delawares.

But My Printing Press could tell Thee that for Me. None of that Turmoil even matters to Me now. It was the Stuff of the Spinning World & not the Soul, which Falls forever Downwards.

IV. Reading is Thunder-Mental

After contemplating Treat’s diary fragment, Martin went to the Bay Ridge library to find his client. It was thick, had no title on the spine, and was stuck between two books on Ethics, one called Beyond Good and one called Beyond Evil, last checked out in 1963 and 1978 respectively.

He took the book off the shelf and found a quiet area of the room, far from the librarian, where he sat on the floor and pretended to be looking at old issues of Popular Mechanics.

The book opened automatically to the pages with the black witch and the black cat and the black background and the orange stars and the white spaces around the edges of the pages.

“What are you?” Martin asked the white space.

“A ghost, I think,” the white space said in a voice like small thunder in Martin’s brain.

It seemed to Martin, based on the way the cat and the witch didn’t know how long they’d existed, and on the tentative nature of the white space’s reply, that books can only hold so much information and that they cannot answer questions about themselves with much insight.

“The ghost of who?” Martin asked.

“The ghost of everyone who died.”

“Who died?”

“Everyone,” the white space said.

“Why did everyone die?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why are all the pages stuck together besides these two?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why are you in New York?”

“Doesn’t everyone wind up here?”

“Can you move? The cat and witch told me that they couldn’t.”

“I can’t stop moving.”

“You look still from here, but I imagine my perception of your reality and your experience of it could be quite different—or else, like white cows against snow, I simply can’t detect the motion.”

“Can I help you sir?” the librarian asked.

She was short and wide as an elephant potty and her voice was strained like she was hanging upside-down. Martin’s head suddenly felt like it was splitting, and he wanted to take the librarian and grind her into bits.

“She’s talking to you,” the white space said.

“What?” Martin asked, cupping his head in his hands, fighting the urge to smash the librarian’s head into the floor.

“Sir, please keep your voice down…you have to go somewhere else. This is a library.”

“You’ve been shouting this whole time,” the white space said. “You just don’t realize it.”

“Sorry,” Martin said through gritted teeth. “I’d like to take this book out.”

The librarian looked at him like he had tentacles growing out of his face.

“What book? You can’t take out magazines, that’s policy.”

Martin stumbled to his feet, wondering what the deal was, it wasn’t even 10:11—and imagining the librarian cut into Dewey Decimal-sized pieces.

As he left, he passed the philosophy section—his client was back on its shelf.

V. Am I Wrong?

Martin returned the diary fragment to Dr. Julius Jonsson at his home, in a Baldwin VO-1000 diesel locomotive and a World War II, Type XXI Elektroboot submarine inexplicably half-sunk in the wetands of the Dyker Beach golf course.

“Where did you get Treat’s diary from?” Martin asked.

“A man named Nathaniel Featherstone sold the fragment to me,” Dr. Jonsson said. “He said it was all he had. I can give you his address if you’re interested.”

“Thanks, that would be great. Another question: what do you know about ghosts?”

“There’s a lot to think, but not a lot to say,” Jonsson said, neatly printing an address in block letters on a papyrus scroll with a reed dipped in tar extracted from cigarettes puffed thirty-three times. “The Impotencies That Be don’t tell us these things.”

He rolled up the scroll and handed it to Martin.

“Thanks,” Martin said, although his head was pounding and he uncharacteristically felt like shoving Dr. Jonsson’s cryptic responses down his throat.

He had walked a few blocks when he decided he had time to run this Featherstone character down. He opened the scroll and read:

INSIDE A LARGE OIL DRUM ON THE HIGHWAY DIVIDER AT THE CORNER OF GATLNG AND THE 92ND STREET EXIT OF THE BQE .

Martin found the divider and the black oil drum, which lay on its side as though fallen from a truck. He put an ear to the metal and heard the sound of a miniature harpsichord or a music box. He also noticed the faintest outlines of a door, obscured by dark highway soot.

Martin crouched down and tapped on the container, hearing traffic rush past him to reach the Verrazano bridge before the light turned red. He put his mouth near the door.

“Mr. Featherstone? I need to speak with you. It’s about Increase Treat—do you have a moment?”

The music tinkled to a halt. A kind of drawbridge opened in the side of the oil drum and out walked a six-inch tall man in a gray robe.

“Well, you’re as big as Fate,” he said in a surprisingly audible voice and with a slight Southern accent. “Welcome to Oil Drum Manor. How may I help you, sir?”

“I’m Martin Box, a colleague of Dr. Julius Jonsson, the cryptobotanist. I’m interested in knowing more about the diary of Increase Treat. It’s for a case I’m working on. You see, I’m a private investigator,” Martin said, almost handing Feathestone his card until he realized how large it was.

“I believe I may have heard of you,” Featherstone said. “Strange things move in small circles. I have more diary fragments if you are interested.”

“Yes, I am,” Martin said. “But I thought you sold what you had to Dr. Jonsson, or am I wrong?”

“I was just asking myself that question—am I wrong?”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Box. Regarding the diary entries, I did not feel ready to part with them all at that time.”

“And now?”

“Now I suppose I do. I was there you know, in 1756. I saw Treat unravel…there were no good old days.”

“What can you tell me about him?”

“I lived near him. You’ll learn all I really know about him from the remaining bits of his diary. But I’d like some payment first.”

“What’s the proposition?”

“I’d like some grains, which have been accidentally spilled by a woman with a nervous tic, to keep myself fed, and logwood heart formerly held by a man who vomited unexpectedly, which I use as an herbal expedient and to make furniture. Come back tomorrow before nine—I must now worship in silence for the rest of the night, before bedtime.”

As the little man turned, Martin noticed the back of his robe was monogrammed “BTJ.”

VI. Trapped in the Falling

That night Martin couldn’t dream properly. He seemed to fall asleep but not ever sleep, trapped in the falling itself, the feeling of tension in the body hovering always on the edge of release. He did dream that the book with the black witch and the black cat came to him and the pages that were stuck together unstuck and there were pictures of his father killing things on these pages rather than illustrations of a witch and a cat and orange stars. He half-dreamed his mother saying “What did you do that for?”and he woke suddenly, head throbbing, without an answer.

VII. Rumplights

The next day Martin returned to Dr. Jonsson for the specific types of grain and logwood which he knew only the cryptobotanist would have.

Dr. Jonsson was sitting astride the locomotive, comparing a dandelion plucked from a dead soldier’s cold fingers on the battlefield, to a dandelion stolen from the rim of a woman’s hat at the Norwegian Day Parade. There was no way to distinguish the two—unless they were kept separately, and the circumstances of their discoveries indicated with the appropriate labeling system. This was a part of Dr. Jonsson’s method, and the locomotive was stacked full of glass jars and wooden boxes labeled not after the plants they contained, but the place they had been found. In a sense, the cryptobotanist gathered places too large to be taken whole.

He thanked the doctor, but Martin’s hand went to his revolver and he came preposition-close to shooting Jonsson dead.

Nathaniel Featherstone was pleased with the grain and logwood and dragged out what was for him an enormous sheaf of papers from the oil drum. Martin restrained the desire to kick Oil Drum Manor into oncoming traffic and went to his office. Not trusting his recent urges to do violence to others, he unloaded his pistol with uncertain hands and set about reading more of the diary of Increase Treat:

24 September, 1756

I had almost forgotten about my small, Dead Friend when I found Myself watching Fireflies one warm Summer Night.

I often sat on my Porch & observed the ever-changing Constellations of Light produced by these remarkable Creatures. How like the Soul is the Behind of a Lightning Bug; glowing with the inner Light of Christ one Moment, and Dark and Cold in those sudden Moments of Moral Crisis that each Man must face in the Long Night of his Life. But All Must Die, the Light must become extinguish, the Dark ascend.

The Pattern created by their Flight is typically of a chaotic sort, more a lack of Pattern given some semblance of Order by the narrowly defined Region in which the Bright Bugs flit. This particular Night, however, the Insects were concentrated over a very small Piece of Air-Estate.

They were hovering & glowing in a Space of about one-Foot high & two Feet across, making an incandescent Rectangle of Light levitating under an Oak Tree about twenty Feet from where I sat, star-dazed.

I rose & approached this unusual Phenomenon. They ignored Me & allowed My fullest Investigation. Indeed the Bugs seemed to be sitting almost one on top of the other, on each other’s Shoulders if thou will, flapping their Wings like Hummingbirds. I counted one-hundred before I tired of the Exercise. The Light was extraordinary; I could make out the short Life-Line on the Palm of My Hand within eight Inches or so of the Floating Mass. It was situated approximately one Foot off of the Ground.

Satisfied that I had learned all I could of the glowing Insect Rectangle, though still none the wiser for it, I looked Down & my Senses nearly fled Me.

Two very small People were coupling beneath the Airborne Light.

A man & woman, each no larger than the Suicide I had found in my Bedroom, were in the deepest Throes of Passion. One is not supposed to see such Things. But One is also not supposed to be a Giant.

By the Illumination of the Living Quadrangle. I could see the Woman’s Hair was a beautiful Red such as Skulls wear when scalped by our Indian Neighbours. It hung in long Braids down to Her Thumbnail Waist. Her Eyes were open wide, but in the rapture of her Passion She seemed to see Nothing. The Man atop Her wore long Blond Hair; He had also a Scar on His Back as from a Gunshot. I could make out a Dress & Breeches in a Mouse-sized Pile of Clothing beyond the Glow.

As though They were merely two Squirrels & I was a Naturalist, I watched Them quietly for a Time.

The Woman suddenly cried out:

“Marmaduke!”

Her Partner stopped exerting Himself & slapped Her across the Face. He raised his Voice louder than the Crickets, & said:

“I know it was Thou & Marmaduke Here with the Rumplights Above Thee that Night, & if I see these Lights Here again I will come & kill Thee, that’s a Promise sworn on this Oak. Now We should get our Things on & go.” The Woman began to Sob, & entreating “Benjamin, Benjamin” while the Man waved a Fist angrily.

The Air went Black. In a Moment the Lightning Bugs were dotting the Field with random Yellow Spots, & I too returned to My normal Habits & went to Bed, after much Prayer. Thou can see from the Cuss Words I have employed in this Narrative that the Praying never did save Me from what I was to discover was My Awful Personality.

In the Morning I went to the Oak to look for any Traces of my Evening Guests. They left a slight Indentation in the Ground. The Clothing was gone but I spied a tiny White Object like a Bit of Birch-Bark.

It was a Piece of Paper, & there appeared to be Writing on it, in Green Ink.

I have a Magnifying Lens given to Me by a fellow Friend of the Society. I lay the Paper Beneath the Glass & was able to just make out the Letter.

It said:

Dear Elizabeth,

How trying are these times! It seems to me often as though the world has been set on its head. But there are precious few minutes for me to tell thee what I must. Let it be said now.

As our colonies move to the East, the Large-Folk move ever farther West. Benjamin Jacobs thinks that I am rash to assume that there will be a clash between these two forces of expansion, & that my ideas have caused the Exodus! But I merely spoke my mind at the Synod; I did not command. Jacobs as always is against me. . . & from thy silence I fear that thou agree with him.

But this is all nothing compared to what thou will hear tonight. Martha Goodenough was murdered yesterday, her flesh peeled off the bone & her blood poured into a big jar of ink in Big Increase Treat’s printing house! I know that it was the printer Benjamin Tiberius Jacobs, he thinks it humorous that a whore’s blood shall print the large text of God’s word when Treat makes his religious pamphlets, but Jacobs is coming tonight to tell thee that it was I who killed Martha. I, who only visited her to save her soul, to show her that a spiritual light did shine in those eyes that had seen so much vice. I beg of thee not to believe him, my love.

If I lose thy love & trust to Jacobs, I am left with only two things in this world: My life, & the means to take it away.

Forever thine,

Marmaduke Bellstock

25 September, 1756

At First My Mind was uneasy, for there had been Suicide, Murder & Copulation within my Sight & I had stood by & let It go on. Did the Size of the Agents lessen the Crime of My Indifference? I had watched them like a Boy does Ants in a field, but surely They were People, to write, to love, & to kill.

Perhaps I had even been an active Party to Horrible Death, by printing that Pamphlet on the Worthy Examples of Quaker Martyrs. It had come out with strange Orange-Red Smears, & a Friend had joked that I must not have learned my Craft well. If only He knew What that Orange was! After reading the Desperate Missive I was unable to go near my Printing Press for several Days. I thought It did not need to be repaired; it needed an Exorcist.

But Now I know that if Anyone, I need the Exorcist, though I do not want Him. I can Pray no longer. Where is the Light of Christ within me, that I had counted on for all My Days as a Peculiar Person? It has been replaced with Black, Black Night where Anything can Happen.

God Forgive me or Damn Me, I have decided the Little People were a Sign I should Begin the Real Work, however Dark & Forever-Like it might Be.

VIII. Nanners

On a hunch, Martin decided to have the diary entries authenticated. Once more he borrowed the entry belonging to Dr. Jonsson, and sent them all off to a friend who was an expert in researching these and other matters. One night, just about headache-time, the phone rang.

“Martin? It’s Nanners.”

“So what’s the story?”

“They’re mostly fake—all of them were made recently, except one, that one that belongs to your friend where Treat talks about the little person shooting himself. I hope you didn’t pay too much for the others. And here’s a weird thing about the fakes: looked at closely, there appear to be very small footprints on parts of the paper.”

“Thanks, Nanners,” Martin said, the pain now blooming in his temples.

“But they look pretty good, they might fool some keen guys. Any idea who forged them?”

“A guy by the name of Benjamin Tiberius Jacobs. Alias Nathaniel Featherstone.”

IX. Book Smarts

Martin didn’t want to shake down Jacobs just yet. There were other pieces here that needed sorting, and he still had a paying client to think about.

Because the book couldn’t remember much about its past, Martin decided to go to the library at 42nd Street to research anything he could on flying books, talking books, singing books, books with illustrations that came to life, etc. Most of what he found was useless or merely fantastical—the stuff of children’s stories. But there was one article about a man who had killed his parents about five years ago, after he said he was visited by a book that floated into his open window one summer morning and started talking to him.

This man—Harry D’Gentle—was in South Beach Psychiatric Ward on Staten Island.

The next day Martin was visiting with him in a white Quiet Room.

D’Gentle was the meekest looking man Martin had ever seen. He was short, skinny, bald, with small nondescript eyes; he was like an economy version of a human being, with no extras. They sat across from each other at a table by a window looking out on a green yard.

Martin found it hard not to think about how he had never visited his father in prison.

“You can’t have me,” D’Gentle said.

“That’s okay,” Martin said. “Just borrowing.”

“Don’t borrow books, that’s bad.”

Tell me about the book that floated through your window.”

“That book smarts,” D’Gentle said, whispering now. “The first time, the book flies to you on its own—like a bird, like a parrot that talks. The second time, you go to the book…you start talking to it…

Martin’s head began to pound and his chest constricted.

“The third time, someone brings you the book, see? And then, that’s it…

“What do you mean, that’s it?”

“Then you try to kill someone. You’ve got to get it out, see. But then it goes away, all quiet. I’m not dangerous. I’m not crazy. I was crazy once but being crazy once is like a tree being cut down once, see? Not cut down now, but just once.”

X. Quite a Little Hell

Martin was worried. He hadn’t been to see his client since the day he wanted to murder the librarian, and now he was afraid to. He was sleeping terribly, and his mother kept hanging from the hands of a clock in his dream, and the clock was a book, and the noose was a cat, and he’d tighten the cat around her neck until she stopped saying his name, which was also his father’s name, over and over. The dream kept repeating like midnights.

One evening he felt like taking a walk and found himself near Oil Drum Manor on Gatling Place.

He tapped the drum and the drawbridge opened.

“Mr. Box, what a surprise,” the little man said. “Can’t sleep?”

“No. You either, huh?”

“I don’t sleep.”

“Can I have a few words with you?”

“Please, have a seat. I’ll be right out.”

“Featherstone” went back inside and came out again wearing a rat-skin coat. He sat down on the open drawbridge. Someone tossed a dollar at Martin from a passing car.

“I know your name is Benjamin Tiberius Jacobs, and I know you forged most of those diary entries,” Martin said.

“I have longed for this day,”he said, tiny eyes welling with tears.

“Why? I don’t understand.”

“I’ve done many bad things in my life,” Jacobs said. “I wanted to confess.”

“By lying?”

“Not lying. Those things happened—everything I pretended that Treat wrote. I swear by the orange blood in my veins. I killed Martha Goodenough. I drove Marmaduke Bellstock to suicide. Those entries might as well have been his. I was often near him though he only saw me the one time, with Elizabeth, and he spoke to himself constantly so I knew his innermost thoughts.”

“But why not just confess as yourself?”

“I have no little world to confess to. My Everyone is dead.”

Martin remembered the white spaces of the book saying “everyone died.”

“How?”

“Treat killed them all. I don’t know what he did with the bodies.”

“Maybe he made a book,” Martin muttered, but Jacobs didn’t hear.

“I guess I wasn’t ready to come totally clean to the big world—most of which doesn’t know I exist anyway. So I changed my name, and finally put my crimes down on paper, though using Treat’s hand so nobody could identify me as Jacobs. But you figured it out.”

“You have a monogrammed robe.”

“Look at that. Dummy in the details.”

“What do you know about a book that flies around, talks, and makes people want to kill?”

“Never heard of a such a thing. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And Increase Treat did often mumble about creating a book that would be more meaningful than the Bible, that would actually do something…he became dark-minded after he realized I’d put Martha Goodenough’s blood in his ink and he began to associate with witches and all manner of wicked personalities. This book you mention sounds like the kind of thing he would have wanted to bring into the world. If such a thing exists, I blame myself for it, just as I sent Treat over the edge and caused the annihilation of my race…

Martin had been investigating people and non-humans long enough to know that Jacobs wasn’t lying. He really didn’t know about the book.

“Well, I can’t say you’re going to get taken in for murder. To most people, you’re not even real.”

“That’s the problem. Any confession I make will have a fictitious character. At least when I wrote out my story through Increase Treat, someone read it. Quite a little hell I’ve got myself here.”

XI. Third Time’s a Harm

Completely unsure of his next move, Martin fell asleep on his couch with the TV on.

Someone knocked on his door in the middle of the night. He got up and looked through the peephole. It was an old man he didn’t recognize, with a parcel under his arm. Martin’s headache disappeared as if by magic.

“Hold on,” he said, holding his loaded his revolver behind his back. One could never be too sure in his line of work.

He opened the door slowly.

“What can I do for you at this hour?”

“Martin? It’s your dad. Can I come in?”

Martin couldn’t speak, but he let his father push the door open and enter, the way you let rain keep falling.

“What are you doing here?” he managed.

“I busted out of prison. I don’t have much time . . . but I wanted to see you. It’s been 25 years I think. I . . . I brought you something, I remembered you liked books, and I broke into the library at 95th Street—they have nothing for security—and got you this.”

Martin didn’t need to see the gift to know what it was.

“I’m sorry, son,” his father said.

Martin raised the revolver.

XII. Am I Right?
The next afternoon, Benjamin Jacobs stepped outside Oil Drum Manor. He rolled an empty soda can away from the front door and saw a big, handwritten letter folded beneath a small rock. He pulled it out and dragged it inside, opened it up like a tarp and read by the light of an ingeniously wired Bic lighter:

I killed my father last night.

He handed me Treat’s book. The stuck pages became unstuck with the sound of skin tearing off bone, digestive decay wafted out from the vivesected pages. I felt like I’d just remembered my heart had been rotting for centuries and that the rotting would go on and on for hundreds of years more. My head was like a rock tumbler and I knew what I had to do.

The first shot went through his leg. He collapsed and clutched the wound, blood trickling between his fingers like the first leak from a dam about to burst.

He didn’t look surprised. He might even have wanted this.

The next shot went through his liver. He coughed, spluttered, tried to sit up but tilted over weirdly against the couch like a tossed marionette.

I kneeled down in front of him and put the gun to his forehead.

“No,” he said. “I don’t want you going away for the rest of your life…give me the gun and call 9-11.”

I heard the white spaces of the book laughing and the black witch and the black cat trying to say something, sounding confused. It broke my murderous concentration. I put the gun down on the floor.

I walked over to the phone to call 9-11 and a bullet went through my shoulder. That made me turn around.

“Now it’s self-defense,” he said. “Not murder. You’ll be okay…am I right?”

He died before the ambulance came.

The book? Well, it was hovering over the body, open again to the picture of the black witch and the black cat and the eighteen orange stars and the black space above them, and the white spaces around it.

“What’s happened?” the cat said. “Do you know why we can’t move?”

“Yes,” I said. “Because you’re a goddamn drawing in a book.”

I honestly think those illustrations were so old, they got senile and didn’t know what they were doing anymore.

Must be nice.


.

About the Author

Some of Erik T. Johnson’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Hugo award-winning Electric Velocipede, Shimmer, Space & Time Magazine, Underworlds, Clarion, Sein und Werden, Structo, Gigantic Sequins, The Ampersand Review, Morpheus Tales, Necrotic Tissue<,i>, and the following anthologies: The British Fantasy Society’s BFS Journal Winter 2010, Pellucid Lunacy, Best New Zombie Tales Volume 3, Box of Delights from Aeon Press, and Dead But Dreaming 2 from Miskatonic River Press. You can visit www.eriktjohnson.net for more about his work or to get in touch.