I swear I'm not making this up. I know, I know, everyone says that when they've got stories like this, but I mean it. I hate to waste anyone's time.
Four, five years ago? Somewhere around there, I moved into this house- one of the old ones in the city, you know the sort. They teach about them in the local schools. Folks built them during the war for workers to move into, and the places went up practically overnight. Next thing you know, the city is full of lumberyard clones and rickety A-frames. And they've all got basements. Folks can't be exposed to the air if a bomb gets dropped. You know how that goes. So they gave them all nice, deep, concrete basements for folks to squirrel themselves away in if disaster happened.
Anyway, I moved into one of them. I think it's an A-frame? I'm not sure. Look, architecture's never been my thing and the place was cheap for the square footage, so I went for it. Nothing too special there- I mean, there was this one time my mom and I kept hearing music in the kitchen, but we figured out that it came from an ice cream truck passing by outside that time of night. No ghosts or spooks. It's been a good house.
Two or three years into living in that house, I got struck by the bug. I started reading again. Hadn't done it for a while- I fell out of the habit in high school. Didn't we all? But something got me back into it, and I stumbled across this lovely little library in town. Picked up books now and then, sometimes slapped them on my phone instead of going physical, all the good stuff.
And then I found the book.
I don't know what else to call it. It was... well, it was heavy. Handbound. I bind books now and again, I'd know. Nice leather cover, some embossing, really fancy bookplate saying where it came from. Wasn't my library- I don't remember what it said, just that it wasn't the local one. How it ended up on the shelves, I'll never know. I figured it was nice enough to take home and explore. Who am I to turn down a nice binding, you know? You'd do the same.
For some reason, I waited most of the day before reading it. Think I was busy doing something or other. It feels so insignificant now, almost like the hours blipped by. I think I had to work on classwork? Anyway, I finally get around to pulling out that book at... oh, midnight? Might have been ten. I didn't exactly check a watch before reading. Just dug in and got to it.
You should have heard the sound of that book's spine when it opened, sort of a soft groan. I don't think anyone cracked that book open for a long while before I got it. Poor thing needed some attention, and at the time I told myself I'd get around to it once I poked around in it for a while. I remember that the pages were brittle. I had to be careful turning them so I didn't ruin what seemed like a real treasure. First page stuck out to me, too. It had some incredibly intricate inkwork of... I couldn't tell you. I don't remember it. I just know I've never seen so many fine lines in the same space. The thing had depth. I think I could have gotten lost on that page alone.
Next thing I know, it's been an hour and I'm halfway through the book- yet somehow I've got no clue what I'd just read. Even the last sentence was gone. It still boggles me that I didn't remember any of it, not a single word- I mean, I felt like I'd read something. You know that heady feeling you get when you're lost in a story? Yeah, I felt that. But I didn't remember any of it. And mind you, I've got a good memory for things like this, so for all that to be gone? It was weird.
So I did what any other sane person would do and flipped back to the first page. A book like that only comes around once in a lifetime, and I owed it a proper reading, you know? It deserved to be appreciated. I took my sweet time with it, I thought, but an hour later, I was back to the middle of the book without a damn clue what any of the pages had on them. Maybe I had some vague memories of inkwork and shapes, but that's it. No ideas, no words, just that same page staring me in the face like it was mocking me. I was paying attention. I know I was. My eyes hurt from focusing so hard on the pages, and my head felt like it was buzzing from whatever I'd just read. I know I'd taken in every word. I just couldn't tell you any of it. That book was as much an enigma as it was when I'd started.
I figured I was just tired. I mean, it was at least two in the morning by then, and I'd had a busy day, so maybe I was too tired to remember any of it. Figured I'd give it another go the next day, so I went up to bed and left it on the nightstand. Woke up feeling like a fever dream. Did my classwork, noodled around online, the usuals, but I couldn't get that book off my mind. I felt drawn to it. Still do if I'm honest. I eventually gave up trying to focus on whatever else I had to do and sat down with it again, gave it a proper look-over in hopes of making it stick. There was no title- well, best I can tell. I don't remember anything being written on the cover and spine, and that first page was... indescribable, but I'm decently sure it didn't have words. Just those lines.
The night before nagged at me, and the last thing I wanted was to lose two more hours to a book I couldn't remember, so I stared at that first page for at least a few minutes trying to remember it. I even got out a notepad and tried to sketch it. I've got fragments of shapes from that, but they're muddy messes compared to the real thing. Feels like looking at the book through an ugly kaleidescope. The lines are too chunky, or the shapes warped in my head when I tried to get their angles right- god, I can't know them. I have to, but I can't. Do you understand how frustrating that is?
And then imagine my dismay when I found myself halfway through the book again an hour later without a goddamn clue. I swore. I despise swearing, but I think this book warrants it. It wasn't even about the book's appeal anymore. I just wanted to know what it said. Even a sentence's summary would be enough to get rid of the thing and move on.
I hadn't tried pushing through the back half of the book yet. Clearly, I wasn't having any luck with the front half, so maybe I could get a glimmer of something, anything from the back. Hell, maybe that middle page would yield something. So I paused myself there and just stared at it. I know it had words. Paragraphs, based on how long I sat there trying to get two pages rammed through my brain. It didn't matter. The second I finished reading a sentence, it was gone. I seriously considered throwing that book at a wall, but the binding was old enough that I still didn't want to destroy it. I couldn't read it if it fell apart. I had to read it. I needed to.
Maybe I needed a change of scenery. I usually read perched over the dining room table like some kind of awkward gargoyle. There's not too many other places I could read this thing; the living room felt too close, the kitchen was just plain awkward, and it felt wrong to haul it upstairs again and read it in my bedroom. The basement, though... I don't know what possessed me to drag myself down there with it when the place is as gloomy and damp as a pier in winter, but I creaked down the stairs and settled in on the concrete behind the washer. I remember checking the time: midnight again. And then I read.
And I kept reading. I wasn't shaken out halfway through the book like before- I'd promised myself to push through the whole thing in hopes of making just one word stick, and I followed through on that.
Unfinished, but putting the WIP out there for friends!