"Well, that's maddeningly unhelpful."
"Word?" asks Dictionary, sitting on my bed next to a pile of unsorted books. "/werd/ 1. See also, Word of the Day?"
"No, I don't need a Word of the Day, I'm writing fiction today," I say, picking up my Tashi collection and putting it on the side shelf. "I've only been writing Duke Forever for so long, I think it's time that I did some original fiction. I just don't know what to write about. I've got this 'Writer at the End' title from my notes, but I don't know what to make the story about."
"Foreshadow," Dictionary replied simply, "verb. To presage or suggest something in advance: Didn't you foreshadow the return of the Necronomicon?"
My gaze drifts down to the bottom shelf of my bookshelf, where I keep reference materials.
"Well, yes . . ." I say, leaning down. "I did say it could make for a nice plot point."
I grasp the fleshy bindings of the old grimoire, and it's unusually warm to the touch. I believe the book is sleeping, as it doesn't react as I pick it up and glance over the skin that forms its cover.
"But last time I went on one of those adventures, it was pretty dangerous. I nearly lost you, Dictionary, and I could have been seriously hurt."
"Wimp," says Dictionary.
"HEY! I am not a wimp!" I say.
"/wimp/ noun. 1. You," says dictionary, and I see a sketch of my face in its pages.
"Shut up," I say as I stand up, kicking the book shut and standing on cover. Then, after a some hesitation, since I'm really not sure I want to do this (I mean, really, it's a freaking grimoire full of demony shit and it sucked that Encyclopædia into oblivion, I really shouldn't open this thing) I finally summon the courage from deep in my loins to stop procrastinating with this run-on sentence; so I pinch the corner of the cover and turn over to the first page.
A waft of stale air, that smells unnervingly like bad breath billows from the book and into my face, in a cloud of smell that would have been coloured yellow-green if this were a cartoon.
The first few pages are covered in words from several languages I recognize, and many more which I don't, in a mad, scrawl that twist and turns around the page like the web of a drug-induced spider.
I turn through a few of the pages, passing the title page reading: 'NECRONoMICON'
"Well, someone had fun playing with the font tool," I murmur idly, as I find one of the friendlier looking pages, which is covered with text. For a moment, it looks like some of the marginalia around the edges of the page disappear like cockroaches when you turn on the light, making me clear my throat awkwardly to build my nerve, but the words look nice enough, and I can actually read them, so I decide to delve into this page of the book. I realize, after reading the title then first sentence, that this is actually some kind of short story.
"Ooh, I love it when there's a story within a story," I say with a smile. "Sawgrass Sandy and the Dag-nabb'ed Dandy . . . sounds a bit chipper for a grimoire, but okay." I sit down, cross-legged on my bed and read quietly to myself. The page reads:
Sawgrass Sandy & the Dag-nabb'ed Dandy
The wetlands were a farspread landscape of chittering, burbling life and brown-colored waters, isolated from cityfolk. Within this wild wonderland lived Sawgrass Sandy, the sweetest gal of the South, with a twinkle in her black eyes, the widest smile and a heart full of love for God’s green earth. One day, as Sandy was tending her fern gardens, a dark storm-cloud started to shift across the land, sending a mighty dark shadow over the lands from North to South.
"Well, darn-tootin'," said Sally, looking up at the dark nimbus above, “looks like one o’ those darn’d jungle bunnies ‘ve bin playin’ the devil’s tricks ag’in.”
Standing up straight, and licking her chops, Sandy leaves her garden, and starts wandering down the waterway, headed for the heart of the storm. As she entered the shadow of the clouds there was a crack of thunder, and purple lightning streaked from cloud to cloud in the sky above her.
“Well butter ma’ bread! Looks like heathen’s hoodoo!” squeaked Sandy. “If that’s Zipper Daddy’s work, I’ll have to show that gator-bait gee willickers!”
Wetting all of her toes as she stepped through a clump of weeds, Sandy began walking towards the
“Huh?” I say aloud. I peer closely at the last few words, but they trail off the page, and slip into the crease of the book. It must be some kind of printing error, there are no other words on the other page, the story seems to slip into the middle of the book and out of sight.
“Come on, at least tell me where she was walking . . .” I say, I grab the sides of the book tightly with both hands, and pull, prying the pages out, to peel apart the centre crease. I can see the letters ‘th’
“Walking towards the ‘thuh’ . . .” I read aloud, then I repositioned my hands with my thumbs both sides of the crease as I pry it apart. “Thuh- . . . ee. Ee-MMmmmm,” I say, reading an ‘e’ and an ‘m’.
As I pull the crease apart, trying to read, it seems to get easier to pull the paper apart. The crease seems to grow deeper as I try to read the words, bringing my face closer and closer.
“Theee . . . Theme! towards the ‘theme’ . . . paaa-” as I keep pulling, suddenly, the crease opens wide into a gaping hole and I find myself falling “-AaaaAAaaAAAAAARRRCK!”
I find myself sliding through a slippery dip of weathered paper. the line of words beside me is streaming past too quickly to read as I fall headfirst into the depths of the book. Then suddenly, the paper slide opens and I see a flash of green before - THUMP!
I land facefirst onto the grass and my body is unceremoniously dropped beside my head with a flop.
“Ugh . . .” I murmur, as I roll off my face and onto my back, trying to ignore the new headache. I look up and see an odd-looking opening, two pieces of parchment, leading up to infinity and folded out like a flower.
I frown for a moment before, with a flutter, then the strange dimensional portal folds out of itself, and with a rip! noise, like someone thumbing a deck of cards, the pages combine into two hovering stacks before a cover wraps them from behind and the newly-formed Necronomicon slams shut with a Thoomp! and drops out of the air, landing on my chest heavily. “Oof! . . . ow. Where the hell am I?”
To answer my own question, I sit up and look at this new setting. To my immediate right, there’s some kind of standing booth. To the left, there looks like there are little tents and stands with novelty candy stores and carnival games. In front of me, I see a large ferris wheel and a rickety, old rollercoaster.
“Theme park,” I say, like Captain Obvious. I climb onto my feet, picking up the Necronomicon as I do so, and look around, as I- “AAGH!!”
I scream when I see a zombie in the booth beside me. The zombie flinches and holds up its hands, looking shocked. Its face looks mouldy and rotten, with its jaw leaning to one side, an eyelid missing and no lower lip
“Hhhrrung-guhkraargh . . .” gargles the zombie.
“Z-z-zombie . . .” I say, dumbstruck.
“Zrrarr-uh?” says the zombie, looking around, confused, then glances at its hands and flinches again, shocked. “ZRRARR!”
The zombie looks terrified, and starts smacking around the booth, smearing some kind of dark, decayed, bodily fluid against the walls as it struggles.
“(What in the name of Holy Fuck is going on?!)” I ask myself in a harsh stage whisper.
"Although the flesh is dead, their memories of life are fresh. In death, these monsters are blind to their macabre fate," says the Necronomicon, in an epic, ethereal voice.
I very, very, very slowly turn to look at the ancient grimoire of the dark arts in my hands.
“You can talk now?”
"Like my brethren before me, I possess an inconceivable tongue by the laws of this reality,"
“ . . . okay. Do you have to talk like that?”
"Just as it is the nature of the Scorpion to sting, I must speak in the manner-"
“I’ll take that as a yes,” I say. Before me, the booth has begun to rock back and forth from the hysterical zombie. “Is there something I can do about that?”
"Forget. Like the horrors that dwell in the deep, forget and live - or die - in ignorance."
“Uh, okay . . .” I say, stepping forward.
“Hey, hey hey Zom- . . . uh-” don’t call him zombie, you idiot. What’s that nametag say? “-uhh . . . ‘Cad’?”
The zombie stops beating the booth, and it rocks to a stop as he looks up at me.
“Guhh . . .” he replies.
“Yeah, that’s right, Cad. Hey, calm down you. Forget about what I said before. You’re perfectly . . . alive-like. Very living, yeah? So, calm down.”
Zombie Cad looks at me and grins, but in his conniptions, one of his eyes had popped out and was dangling sickly on his cheek, making me want to vomit. I manage a smile-like grimace in response.
“Uhrnn uhh . . . guh Gruhh-eh?” asks Zombie Cad, and stares at me expectantly.
“Uhhhhhhhhh . . .” I stare around blankly, continuing to ‘uhh’ dumbly, before I see the words 'Ticket Booth' written on a sign under the booth window. “ . . . uhhh . . . a ticket? Yeah, sure.”
"Grnn . . . blurghh . . .", says Zombie Cad, as he leans down, grabs something under the counter, then stands up and slaps a red-stained piece of card on the counter in front of him. Then he glances up, with that creepy, expectant smile again.
"This cadaver desires you to seize this fragment of paper." said the Necronomicon.
“I know, I’m just . . .” I hesitate again, before stepping forward carefully and with one hand, I lean forward and pinch the ticket between my fingers. It’s wet, so I have to be careful not to tear it. “Thank you.”
“Cruhhh-grah,” replied Zombie Cad, turning his hand over and holding it out. I quickly realize he wants money.
“Okay . . .” I mutter, transferring the Necronomicon under the arm holding the ticket, then I reach into my pocket and find my wallet. After an awkward moment, I retrieve a few gold coins and drop them in Zombie Cad’s hand, careful to drop them so that I don’t have to touch the decayed flesh.
"Urnghh . . . grr uh Rrarrhh . . ." says Zombie Cad, nodding, and as he does black spit spills from his mouth.
“Uh . . . you’re welcome,” I say. I return the wallet to my pocket, then stand there for a moment.
After another moment, Zombie Cad leans out and points his left arm. His finger is missing, but he points to a dark building a few feet to the right of the booth.
“Okay then,” I say, heading towards the building. “Hey, Necro -you don’t mind if I call you that, do you? 'Necro'?”
"Your method of addressing this meagre vessel is immaterial." replied the Necronomicon.
“Okay, cool.- So, Necro, how exactly do I get out of here?” I ask, as I step into the dark room, the only light come from some standing lamps by the doors, and I find myself standing on a platform beside some tracks.
"We have fallen into the dark abyss of Narrative, our only respite rests on the final page." said the Necronomicon. As I stand on the platform, I hear a rattling sound, and what looks like three small, flat-bed train carts roll down the track and stop before the platform. Once they stop, I realize that there are short chains on each corner of the three carts, with large cuffs on the end of each.
“Is this the last page?” I ask.
"No." said the Necronomicon. "This is the First."
Then, three zombies stagger through the door behind me. I jump and try to step away, but one of them grabs me by the wrist, and I drop the Necronomicon.
“No no NO!” I scream, “Let me go!”
The zombies don’t listen, and in a zombie-businesslike fashion, they drag me towards the three carts. I yank and try to pull free, their rank, cold breath seeming to stick to my skin like rancid jam. With a pull, it feels like my arm comes loose, until glance at my wrist and realize that the zombie’s hand has come loose. I scream and throw it off, but one of them pushes my chest and I’m forced down onto the cart.
“No no! Necro! Help me!”
"Our paths will cross again, I promise you that . . ." threatens the book.
Before I know it, all four of the chains are clasped around my wrists and ankles and the zombies stand up.
“Okay . . . okay, okay, okay . . . okay,” I say, glancing around. “Not so bad. ‘First page’, I just need to stop panicking . . . stop panicking . . .”
With a clank that makes my stomach drop, the carts begin to rattle forward, I’m headed feet-first down the track and have to crane my neck to see as a curtain brushes over my legs, leading into the dark ride.
“Oh . . .shit!” The curtain passes over me, then suddenly, the cart turns down and I plunge straight downwards. The rattling of the carts turns into a scream of metal and wind lashes at my face. I clench my teeth to stop from yelling out, then the track dips and I feel like I’m upside down as the track dips and rolls, sends me around and around. Then I hear a squeal of brakes and I feel pressure as the cart slows down, and again we start rattling along. At first, I think the ride has ended, but then I see a flicker of light. To the left, there’s a small scene, behind a pane of glass. I turn my head and see what looks like store mannequins, all posed life-like, but without clothes, it’s a little unsettling.
Then, to my right, another light comes on, lighting up a scene of more mannequins, but this time the scene looks like one of the mannequins has torn off the head of the other mannequin. I notice myself whimpering.
“What the hell?” I stutter.
A third light flickers on, this time there are three mannequins standing at attention, in a row, staring straight forward. The cart rattles slowly by them, but as I watch, one of them snaps their head and looks straight at me!
“Aagh!” I scream. That’s when I start to hear the banging. A loud, but hollow thump, thump.
The fourth light flickers on, and I realize what it is. There are two mannequins, standing in the window there, but they’re both moving, banging their hands on the glass.
“No no no no no . . .” I stammer. I feel sick in my stomach. Then I realize that the thumping noise isn’t just coming from that window, I can hear it behind me. All of the mannequins are banging on the glass. I hear a crash and a tinkle of fragments falling to the ground.
“AAH! NO! NO NO NO!” I cry out. “Not Mannequins! Please . . . anything but mannequins!”
I hear the creaking of their joints as they climb out of their windows and chase after the cart.
“No PLEASE! STOP! What kind if sick fuck would do this?! Please, I don’t want to do this anymore!” I scream, and tears stream pitifully from my eyes and wet the flatbed beneath me.
I hear them coming closer and closer, and hear the thump as one of them climbs onto the carts behind me.
I just shut my eyes tight and sob.
“Please . . .” I stammer. Suddenly, all around me, I hear a loud pop, all the lights turn off, then a whir of machinery winding down. All I can hear is my heavy breathing. I open my eyes, and all I see is darkness.
“I’m sorry,” says a feminine voice over a loudspeaker, echoing through the chamber. “I’m so very sorry.”
There’s a heavy clunk as all the lights turn on, and I can see two black walls leading up to a concrete ceiling. With a whirring sound, a platform with yellow railings descends from the ceiling, a little lift, all the way down to the ground and stops with a clack onto the rails. I hear the squeak of a gate opening, and the crunch of footsteps on gravel.
“Sweetheart, I didn’t mean to scare you that badly. I thought you were scared of spiders, not mannequins.’
I crane my neck to look up to the sound of the silk-smooth, honeysweet voice.
“Beloved? What are you doing here?” I ask. A petite, Indian girl with dimples wearing a business jacket and skirt walks up and starts uncoupling the cuffs from my legs. It’s my girlfriend.
“You mentioned wanting me to write a story for the Halloween Countdown, so I pulled out this amusement park tale I wrote as a teenager and dusted it off. Didn’t know it would scare you, since it’s a bit too much like Goosebumps.”
“I don’t remember there being mannequins in Goosebumps,” I say, rubbing my wrists after she uncouples them.
“Slappy the dummy. Freakiest doll out there.”
“Fair point,” I say with a smile, then lean forward and give my girlfriend a kiss. She kissed back, rubbing her fingers over my beard stubble. “I’m sorry, I forgot that I asked you to help with the Countdown . . . but, if you were behind it all, I guess this makes you the Writer at the End of the Story?”
“‘Blog Post’, dear,” she corrects me. “We both have to make it to the end of the story. No one dies, but you have to have a few guts. Fortunately, no spiders at all. Just have to enjoy the ride.”
“Isn’t this the end? It looks like the end. We’re at the bottom of the webpage.”
“Cliffhanger,” replies my Beloved. “And not one that’s a cop out. In part two, we start where we left off here, exactly at this moment. Unless you want to take a snack break.”
“I’ve lost my appetite,” I say, glancing at the frozen mannequins around us. “But where’s Necro?”
“Necronomicon. Evil book, bound in human skin? Sounds like Death from Discworld?”
“Oh. That book. He appeared in my hands for no reason and started spouting morbid knowledge. I left it on the elevator.”
I glance over my girlfriend’s shoulder to see the grimoire, mumbling to itself in smallcaps.
“Okay then, everything’s set,” I say with a smile. “I guess now we head up. Ready to go on an adventure, princess?”
“I’m always ready, especially with you. Maybe this can count as our first date.” She smiled.
Then together, hand in hand, we strolled towards Part 2.