Rick finished reading the page, the last of the chapter, and closed the book. He didn't really feel like reading. The pain made it difficult to concentrate and relax, two things he discovered long ago that he needed to enjoy his favorite activity: reading horror novels. Without concentration and relaxation the act of reading simply wasn't something he wanted to do.
The dull ache swirled in his back like a blob of oil in an otherwise serene pond. It had a life of its own, and a malevolent personality to match.
"You need to take it like a man," he mumbled to the empty room, the empty house, his empty life. "Other people have their problems and they deal with them." The words drifted into the stale air and dissipated into meaningless entities, little failed reasons, that although perfectly logical and true, still did not manage to make an impact.
Trying to alleviate the pain, his shifted in his seat several times until he found a comfortable position and opened the book on his lap.
The pages were blank. Only his book marker looked back at him. The confusion he felt was matched only by his fear. Things like this simply didn't happen, and the fact that it was staring at him made it all the more frightening.
The pain in his back subsided for an all-too-brief moment and then reared its ugly head again, sending him into a realm he'd never experienced before. It was like he was dangling, face-up, over a roaring fire, the flames periodically licking the small of his back.
He turned the page and only saw blank paper.
"This can't be."
And then, on a hunch, he closed the book and a wave of relief overcame him. But there was something else, an intangible aspect of his relief that he couldn't ignore. He felt empty, hollow, as if he was somehow drained of not only his energy but also his memories. It was as if he was nothing more than an empty shell, a dried husk, a caricature of who he used to be.
But at least his back didn't hurt anymore, and for that he was grateful.
With a trembling hand he opened the book to the first page. He closed his eyes and held his breath, waiting for his courage to kick in and then opened his eyes.
The page was not blank this time. In fact, there were several sentences on the paper, neatly typed prose that at first appeared to be gibberish, but upon closer inspection were revealed to be much more meaningful.
I am alone with myself and all others. I yearn for a solution to my simple desires, and yet, as I sit here, my pleading goes unanswered.
He raised a hand to his face and rested his chin on his palm. He pondered the words, trying to not only make sense of their meaning but also how they wound up on the page in the first place. And most unsettling of all was the fact that they seemed to mirror what he was feeling. He did feel alone, even when with other people, and everything he wanted out of life was always out of his reach.
He continued reading.
So, as I sit here, alone yet again and enjoying the temporary reprieve of my back ailment, I cannot help but become startled by the strange scratching noises echoing throughout my dust-laden house.
He looked up from the book. He thought he heard something, something like scratching, coming from another part of the house. He remained still, both in body and thought, and listened for the noise again.
After a few minutes of silence he was satisfied it was his imagination and returned to the book, turning the page.
My respite is ending. I can feel the ache in my back again. The noises that I thought were my imagination have grown in frequency and intensity as well, becoming so pronounced that I fear for my life.
With a surge of defiance he closed the book. "I must be going mad," he moaned and shut his eyes as tightly as he could, trying to relax.
He felt and heard it at the same time.
The book opened.
He let his gaze slip down to the book and quickly noticed that it was on a new page. According to the numbers at the bottom of each subsequent sheet the book had opened to the next page after the last one he'd read.
I understand now, and it freezes the blood in my veins. I haven't been reading the book, it has been reading me, gleaning aspects of my life for its own amusement.
He wanted to stop reading but couldn't.
It flips through the pages of my thoughts and interprets them in its own way.
His breathing became shallow and labored, and a cold sweat broke out over his body, but he still read on.
And the worst part is my favorite genre is horror, so being a horror book it has apparently inserted something of its own liking, something ominous.
Scratching sounds jarred him to attention and his knuckles grew white on the book. The noises, and whatever was making them, came closer, so near that he was afraid to turn his head.
The scratching drew closer to where he sat motionless with the book on his lap, the pages facing upward toward his face.
And then something spoke.
"You need to turn the page." A short pause followed, as if for effect. "And you need to do it now."
He could feel hot breath on his neck. His terrified mind scrambled for a possible solution to his situation but came up empty. He felt he had no other choice but to comply. If he didn't the book might write even worse horrors into its pages.
He turned the page, hoping that the story would take an unexpected turn for the better.
I turn my head and gaze up into the worst nightmare I could imagine, and holding my breath, wait for the fatal strike.
He turned his head and saw the thing standing behind him rear back its huge arms as it prepared to strike.