The Horror in the Bookstore

Who says reading is good for you?

I have always been a gentleman reputed to possess somewhat eclectic tastes, burdened with an insatiable curiosity for the forbidden and unknown. As a young man my days and evenings were spent in the most singular bookstores and libraries, pouring over various obscure texts detailing the myths and beliefs of ancient tribes, as well their adjacent strange and macabre rites. So it came one evening that I was wondering the back alleys of Boston in the pursuit of sellers of curios and tomes which would somehow bring me a little closer to revealing the hidden things of our world, the eldritch secrets and forgotten lore of mankind.

If only I could have been content in my blessed ignorance, I may have resisted the lure of that blasphemous place.

I found it in a particularly dark and odorous section of the maze of alleys. All around me the shops had been long ago abandoned. These decrepit structures were either boarded up or their windows had been shattered to give entrance to the pathetic street people who made the neglected premises their foul dwellings. The clicking of my cane on the damp cobblestones sounded the signal for the street-dwellers to lurk out of their shadowy abodes and approach me with outstretched palms. I threw a few coins in their direction, loathe to come into physical contact with the unwholesome creatures. And as I made my way hastily down the darkened alley, I did not hear even the most perfunctory thank-you from the vagrants behind me, only sly, guttural laughter.

I saw ahead of me that their appeared some respite from the darkness, in a dim glow emanating from a shop window I was approaching upon my right. Eager to leave the darkness of the street creatures and their foul alleyway, I made haste towards the establishment’s entrance ignorant and caring little of what trade the little store performed. As I neared the dirty, fly-speckled window, I was overjoyed to sight the long wooden shelves lining the interior’s walls, packed with the spines of old books. ‘A-ha”, I thought. ‘A find at last!’. And yet as I reached for the door handle of the apparently nameless bookstore (for no monicker was displayed on its dusty window), I could not help but be pervaded by a nonsensical yet all-encompassing urge to flee from this place, to not pass the threshold for the sake of my immortal soul. Yet despite my mystical interests I had always been a man of science and thus of reason, and so banished this vaguely effeminate urge and opened the door of the bookstore.

The interior was a quite small area which communicated a sense of claustrophobia as several tall shelves had been cramped into its minuscule dimensions. The shelves reached the stores mould-spotted ceiling, and although they were crammed with books they could not bear the store’s entire stock alone, for numerous piles of tracts sat upon the threadbare carpet floor. A small table and chair was positioned to the left of the doorway, and on the opposite wall was positioned a plain wooden counter covered with several more towers of books. Behind the counter was a doorway covered by an moth-eaten curtain, doubtless leading to a back room. The light of a candle flickered from behind the curtain and the only other light source was a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling which swung with the air I had let in from outside. The room was pervaded with an overwhelming odour of mustiness and corruption, as if the place had been closed up from fresh air for some time. Initially, I found this smell disturbing and even of an offensive nature, but after a few moments I made the connexion between the scent and the fragrance of old books, and thus anxiousness was replaced by excitement at what I might find among these decrepit shelves.

A small man in plain, ill-fitting clothes appeared from behind the curtain as I shut the door against the chill night air. I bade him a good evening and he returned my greeting in halting English, from which I detected some foreign accent. As he stepped forward into the bare bulb’s light, I could see from the slant of his eyes and the slope of his face the man was of Asiatic blood, although probably mixed in with some European background as well. The man was kind enough, though, and after introducing himself as the establishment’s proprietor, he placed himself at my service, no doubt eager to make a significant sale to myself, his sole customer. I described my interests to the little man in the simplest layman’s terms I could muster and he directed me to a shelf and invited me to browse. I perused the spines for a few minutes before taking several volumes of interest to the reading table to study them more closely. Alas, I found little to hold my interest for long. Although there were a number of interesting texts on the dusty shelves, such as Crowley’s The Book of the Law, the mystical Lesser key of Solomon, and the devilish Ecce Qui Tollit Peccata Mundi, none of these title did not already furnish my own personal library, and thus they could by no means be called exceedingly rare. Yet, the persistent scholar in me did note the different editions and varying translations of these texts before I began to wonder what small treasures my host maybe holding elsewhere in his keep.

Every scholar worth his salt knows that all bookstores worth frequenting keep their rarest tomes away from the eyes of the general public, and only bring them to light at the request of their most significant customers. I called the proprietor over to my rude table and inquired after these things while pressing a crisp banknote into his clammy hand. I was gladdened to see him nod in understanding of my request, yet somewhat perturbed at hints of malevolence and cunning in his Asiatic eyes as he hastened away into the back room. I sighed inwardly and prepared myself to be shewn laughable forgeries at incredible prices by this foreign rascal. Feeling the disappointment well up inside of me, I stared out of the dirt-clouded windows as I waited to see what the little man would bring me, and spied several forms lurching in the darkness of the alley. The ragged outline of the shadowy forms led me to believe they were the street people whom had assailed me earlier, and yet their forms seemed somehow misshapen and quite singular, as if they were stricken with some kind of twisted palsy or gross deformity.

My musings were interrupted by the return of my doubtful host, who placed a large volume on the desk in front of me. I was immediately intrigued by the nature of its cover; a cracked leathery material, browned with age. Turning to the preliminary page I was startled to see it entitled in Low Norse (a tongue I had a working knowledge of) The Book of Eibon. A small laugh escaped my lips as thoughts of forgery once again sprang to mind. The Book of Eibon was little more than a myth, said to be written in the mythical prehistoric land of Hyperborea. And even if it had existed, the last copy had surely perished in the fires of the Inquisition in the 14th century! And yet as I turned its yellowed leaves I saw that the parchment was ancient and crumbling, and that forgery of such a standard would be beyond the realms of human endeavour.

And so I read from The Book of Eibon. After the first few pages, my command of Low Norse seemed to come as second nature to me and I had little trouble deciphering the horrid things written in those ancient pages. I read the aeon-old words from cover to cover without pause. I read of the lost land of Hyperborea and of the the things that came before its humanoid inhabitants. Of the monstrosities they worshipped, and of the ice-ridden end of that fabled continent. By the thickness of that awe-inspiring tome, I judge it must have taken me several hours to complete it, but that I did. And when I turned its final, yellow page, I raised my head as it waking from a dream to see it was still dark outside, and that the misshapen forms still lurked outside the store’s window. Modern physicists tell us that time is relative and this was always a difficult concept for me to grasp, until I entered that nameless bookstore.

Yet before I could emerge from the daze the ancient book had placed me in, the proprietor was laying another volume on the desk before me. And I gasped yet again when the crumbled, dusty cover revealed its title as Of Daemons and Thaumaturgists, by the infamous 16th century witch hunter Thaddeus Ward, a tome thought lost to the ravages of time. And this, too, I read without hesitation to the end, and learnt horrible details of pagan cults and witches and the unspeakable beings they sort to bring down to earth from the stars.

And as I completed this devastating tome, still the proprietor brought more tracts of mind blowing consequence. The blasphemous Book of Hidden Things, the terrible Of the Spawn of the Great Old Ones. He even brought me the ancient Book of Thoth, penned in Egyptian hieroglyphs which somehow made perfect sense to me and I read of its horrid content as if it were my native language. And he even laid before me the dreaded and unspeakable Necronomicon , scrawled by the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred.

And as I completed each of these despicable tracts and briefly looked up before the next literary horror was placed before me, I saw darkness still prevailed outside the grubby shop window, and that those inhuman shapes still danced their crippled jig in the alleyway outside. And yet I could not let them pray on my mind for long, for there was too much to read, too many horrible revelations to discover. And I learnt it all, the truth about the fate of Atlantis, what lays dead and dreaming in the sunken R’lyeh beneath the ocean waters, where mankind came from and the cosmic, tentacled horrors that came from the stars to earth and are our unspeakable ancestors.

Still the man brought me more books. Damnable tomes which had no names, scratched in unrecognisable glyphs and symbols, yet completely, inexplicably, and horribly literate to my racing mind. Impossible writings from the future, the testimony of Maurice Klondike, a traveller of other worlds whom would not be born on earth for another fifty years. Tracts documenting the human dynasties the earth will not see for millennia, and the terrible insect races who will take the rule of the earth from humans in the inevitable future. And even more blasphemous, writings that defy time and space both. Accounts that are all encompassing as Azathoth himself, for all horrible cosmic truth they hold in their unspeakable pages. Yes, the Unspeakable Ones, only they could be the divine authors of these infinite works. For at that moment I saw and understood all, as my mind melted away and all sanity and reason with it. I understood the horrid corruption which is the very base of all life on this planet, and, indeed, the very cosmos.

And I could still hear their guttural laughter from out in the alley way. And as I finished a book written in the blood and bound in the flesh of umpteen tortured souls, I stood and shouted out to the filthy window:

“Ia! Ia! Shub-Niggurath! The Black Goat of the woods with A Thousand Young! N’gai, N’gai phehaux n’gar n’ Cthulhu au R’yleah”

The horrible shapes danced even more fervently, and I fancied I could see tentacles and unspeakable beaks and proboscises in those unearthly shapes. And then I heard the same thick, guttural laughter coming from behind me.

From my ever-compliant host, carrying a new pile of books for me to peruse.

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