He warned her about the book, now it was too late.
Books created my world, each a different area of the universal design that I imagined. I go to several used book stores, acquiring three or four books which eventually accumulated into hundreds of thousands of books.
It all began three years ago after an old clothbound book was sold to Linden's Library. It was actually my favourite used book store, owned by Mr. Harris B. Linden. This book had no title only a thick silver lock on the side, keeping the pages securely fastened together. The key to unlock its mystical story was with Mr. Linden.
"Athena, there is a curse following that book," Mr. Linden spoke softly to me once I announced that I wanted to buy the book.
"I believe in no curses, they exist only in fantasy, not reality. Please, I do not fear this book, let me buy it."
"Fine, buy the cursed book, but say not that I did not warn you," he exclaimed while scribbling something on a pad of paper. "Take this with you. It is the address of the previous owner of that accursed book."
"What is so wrong with this book?"
"Briar Rose's world," he replied as though he were talking to himself and not me. "Once you buy this book, I must say to you, never bring it back again to me. I shall never bare the hideous task to claim that book once more. Now, take it, just take it and leave, Athena."
He threw the key at me and pointed angrily toward the glass front door.
On my way home, I unlocked the book. In golden embossed letters were the words Grimms' Fairy Tales. The next page was the story Little Briar Rose:
A long time ago there were a King and Queen who said every day, "Ah, if only we had a child!" but they never had one. But it happened that once when the Queen was bathing, a frogcrept out of the water on to the land, and said to her, "Your wish shall be fulfilled; before a year has gone by, you shall have a daughter."
What the frog had said came true, and the Queen had a little girl who was so pretty that the King could not contain himself for joy, and ordered a great feast. He invited not only his kindred, friends and acquaintances, but also the Wise Women, in order that they might be kind and well-disposed towards the child. There were thirteen of them in his kingdom, but as he had only twelve golden plates for them to eat out of, one of them had to be left at home.
The feast was held with all manner of splendour, and when it came to an end the Wise Women bestowed their magic gifts upon the baby: one gave virtue, another beauty, a third riches, and so on with everything in the world that one can wish for.
When eleven of them had made their promises, suddenly the thirteenth came in. She wished to avenge herself for not having been invited, and without greeting, or even looking at anyone, she cried with a loud voice, "The King's daughter shall in her fifteenth year prick herself with a spindle, and fall to her death." And, without saying a word more, she turned around and left the room.
They were all shocked, but the twelfth, whose good wish still remained unspoken, came forward, and as she could not undo the evil sentence, but only soften it, she said, "It shall not be death, but a deep sleep of a hundred years, into which the princess shall fall."
The King, who would fain keep his dear child from the misfortune, gave orders that every spindle in the whole kingdom should be burnt. Meanwhile the gifts of the Wise Women were plenteously fulfilled on the young girl, for she was so beautiful, modest, good-natured, and wise, that every one who saw her was bound to love her.
It happened that on the very day when she was fifteen years old, the King and Queen were not home, and the maiden was left in the palace quite alone. So she went round into all sorts of places, looked into rooms and bed-chambers just as she liked, and at last came to an old tower. She climbed up the narrow winding staircase, and reached a little door. A rusty key was in the lock, and when she turned it the door sprang open, and there in a little room sat an old woman with a spindle, busily spinning her flax.
"Good day, old dame," said the King's daughter; "what are you doing there?"
"I am spinning," said the old woman, and nodded her head.
"What sort of thing is that, that rattles round so merrily?" said the girl, and she took the spindle and wanted to spin, too. But scarcely had she touched the spindle when the magic decree was fulfilled, and she pricked her finger with it.
And, in the very moment when she felt the prick, she fell down upon the bed that stood there, and lay in a deep sleep. And this sleep extended over the whole palace; the King and Queen who had just arrived home, and had entered the great hall, began to go to sleep, and the whole of the court with them. The horses, too, went to sleep in the stable, the dogs in the yard, the pigeons upon the roof, the flies on the wall; even the fire that was flaming on the hearth became quiet and slept, the roast meat left off frizzling, and the cook, who was just going to pull the hair of the scullery boy, because he had forgotten something, let him go, and went to sleep. And the wind fell, and on the trees before the castle not a leaf moved again.
But round about the castle there began to grow a mighty hedge of thorns, which every year became higher, and at last grew close up around the castle and all over it, so that there was nothing of it to be seen, not even the flag upon the roof. But the story of the beautiful sleeping "Briar-Rose," for so the princess was named, went about the country, so that from time to time kings' sons came and tried to get through the thorny hedge into the castle.
But they found it impossible, for the thorns held fast together, as if they had hands, and the youths were caught in them, could not get loose again, and died a miserable death.
After long, long years a King's son came again to that country, and heard an old man talking about the thorn-hedge, and that a castle was said to stand behind it in which a wonderfully beautiful princess, named Briar-Rose, had been asleep for a hundred years; and that the King and Queen and the whole court were asleep likewise. He had heard, too, from his grandfather, that many kings' sons had already come, and had tried to get through the thorny hedge, but they had remained sticking fast in it, and had died a pitiful death. Then the youth said, "I am not afraid," I will go and see the beautiful Briar-Rose." The good old man might dissuade him as he would, he did not listen to his words.
By this time, the hundred years had passed and the day had come when Briar-Rose was to awake again. When the King's son came near to the thorn-hedge, it was nothing but large and beautiful flowers, which parted from each other of their own accord, and let him pass unhurt; then they closed again behind him like a hedge. In the castle-yard he saw the horses and the spotted hounds lying asleep; on the roof sat the pigeons with their heads under their wings. And when he entered the house, the flies were asleep upon the wall, the cook in the kitchen was still holding out his hand to seize the boy, and the maid was sitting by the black hen which she was going to pluck.
He went on farther, and in the great hall he saw the whole of the court lying asleep, and up by the throne laid the King and Queen.
Then he went on still farther, and all was so quiet that a breath could be heard, and at last he came to the tower, and opened the door into the little room where Briar-Rose was sleeping. There she lay, so beautiful that he could not turn his eyes away; and he stooped down and gave her a kiss. But as soon as he kissed her, Briar-Rose opened her eyes and awoke, and looked at him quite sweetly.
Then they went down together, and the King awoke and the Queen and the whole court and looked at each other in great astonishment. And the horses in the courtyard stood up and shook themselves; the hounds jumped up and wagged their tails; the pigeons upon the roof pulled out their heads from under their wings, looked round, and flew into the open country; the flies on the wall crept again; the fire in the kitchen burned up and flickered and cooked the meat; the joint began to turn and frizzle again, and the cook gave the boy such a box on the ear that he screamed, and the maid plucked the fowl ready for the spit.
And then the marriage of the King's son with Briar-Rose was celebrated with all splendour, and they lived contented to the end of their days.
There was a peculiar symbol at the bottom of the page, somehow I felt as though it were familiar to me. Looking at that black Celtic knot made my skin crawl as if there were black-widow spiders running just under my feet, armed to kill at a second's notice. My hands slammed the book shut without a conscious decision to do so. I realized that there was a very flat sticking sheet of paper with an address on the back of the faded moss green cloth cover. The street was two blocks away from my home and I was heading in that direction. Strangely enough, I didn't recall the actual address on the page. I knew that there were twenty-four houses on that street, not twenty-five. As I neared Cardamom Drive, I prepared myself for anything that could happen.
Someone must have seen me. I could feel the stares of a thousand men on my back. Still, I had to see for myself what became of the former owner of this book.
Twenty-one, everything seemed just as it was. I peered into the front window and I thought I saw a shadow duck out of the way from my view. There was something about this book that set people on edge – that made them crazed in a sense – why else would people be ducking away from my gaze?
Twenty-three, it seemed as though that house were empty, until I looked up and saw the eyes of a young girl, about the age of eight staring down at me.
In the place were house twenty-five should have been was a massive tangle of French vines and thorny rose bushes. It looked grossly overgrown, almost as if no one had cared for it for many years or that it were abandoned and never bought again. I could see a black shadow through my peripheral vision and whipped my head at the thing to see it. A man with an old, worn cane stood there with a dazed and bristled look. He was staring at the massive thorns and leaves that encased the house in Mother Nature's embrace.
"He warned her about the book, now it was too late. She didn't listen. Brigid never listened to that old book keeper and now she's still in there… all because of a little book. A little green book of fairytales," the old man kept repeating the same thing over and over, "Two hundred and nine times the seal cast, fore if not the world is never quite safe from it."
I didn't understand his jabbering words. What did two hundred and nine times the seal cast mean anyway? There was no chance in the entire world that I would have ever figured that out. Maybe Mr. Linden was right and what he was saying was more than just meaningless tales. I should have gone back right now, and I would have, if only I didn't have this book in my hands. He would be scared and start acting mad the very second he saw it again. I wouldn't learn anything about the myths and curses or whatever was on this book if I let that happened. I had to take this book home before I went to see him again. I had no other choice.
Dusk loomed just barely over the horizon, which meant that I only had a few more minutes before I had to begin travelling home. Strange power loomed over the property of twenty-five Cardamom Drive, and I felt compelled in the strangest sense to stay, though run away terrified at the same time.
Brigid… somehow, I thought I heard that name once before. It was something out of a book and it was someone's wife. Just as I hit the drive of my own home, I remembered that Brigid was the name of Mr. Linden's wife – the wife that he said disappeared. Somehow that book must have gotten into the hands of his wife and done something to her and to the house. I needed to find answers. Especially what that old man cried, "Two hundred and nine times the seal cast, fore if not the world is never quite safe from it," I needed an answer to at least that one.
"Mom, I'm home," I called as I headed to my room with the book in tow. First things first, I needed to get this accursed book under lock and key so that whatever happened to Brigid Linden would not happen to me. My mother gave me the response to let me know that she knew that I was home.
Somehow, I already had speculation about the book. There were two hundred and nine original Grimm Brothers Tales and two hundred and nine seals. Maybe that symbol, the one I thought so familiar played a part in this madness. Maybe that symbol was the seal. On my way up the staircase, I flipped to the inside back cover. Vergiften des seele, proclaimed a series of Gothic gold embossed letters printed neatly on two lines. I did not speak German, but I knew what that said. Poison of the soul, I just could not relay those three German words to the ghoulish phenomenon and mysterious powers of this nightmarish book.
Now, with the book on my bed, I dug through my closet to find the box. It was an ordinary small treasure box the size of a book, but the height of two. With the book firmly locked away and the skeleton key that opened the lock on a ribbon around my neck, I felt safer than I had since the bedevilled anthology of Grimms Tales came into my possession.
It was 2:34 in the morning when I woke. Something felt horribly wrong. I checked over everything in my room.
"No," I gasped. It was the skeleton key. The key wasn't around my neck. No, instead it was in the lock of the treasure chest box. And worst of all, the box was open and the book was gone. I just hope Rhiannon, my little sister, didn't get it somehow. Oh, God, if anything happened to Rhiannon, I couldn't keep living. Rhiannon was already so fragile all the time; she probably wouldn't live through the insanity that the book could probably bring. I don't even know how Mars would fare against its bizarre powers.
Mars was my only brother who happened to be one year younger and Rhiannon was my three-years-younger sister. All three of us were named after gods and goddesses. I checked Mars' room first since his was closer to mine than Rhiannon's room. I checked both rooms, but the book was in neither one of them. Maybe whatever possessed the book wasn't strong enough to move far. Maybe it was still in my room and I just overlooked it.
Back in my room, I looked everywhere. I didn't look at the place where the book lay. It was on my bed, unopened and eerie as could be. Something was truly amiss with this clothbound set of stories and I couldn't tell what that was exactly, though its presence was more than a little obvious. The peculiarity of it all was just so grand that on a scale of one to ten, it would be a six hundred and twenty-seven. It was the top book of the books I had on my reading stack that was on the edge of my bed. Those were the books I was currently reading. I knew that I would never put the book there, but, it was safer to have it there rather than in the hands of one of my unsuspecting family members.
"Mr. Linden, tell me about the book." I spoke point blank, no time for small talk.
"Athena, you're still…" he trailed off. "I'm sorry; I should have burned that book after I found out what it could do. Come into the back room."
He pulled up two chairs in the room with book stacks concealing the floor and towering until they touched the ceiling. "As you know, the book is a copy of the translated Brothers Grimm Tales. I don't know how long that book has existed the way it has. All I know is that it is cursed with hate and black magic. At the bottom of some stories there is a… an image. That image is the seal to which the story is bound after its black magic has been released. Once each story has a seal on it, the book will be harmless, but until then, it can be deadly or heavenly. But, the magic of the stories only affects a certain type of person. Those with names of gods and goddesses and ancient greats are the only ones affected. That is why I worried about you, Athena the Greek goddess of wisdom and war."
"But, then, why did you sell the book to me if you knew of its insanity?"
"Because I knew you, I knew that you would wonder about my strange behaviour. There is a reason I never burned that hideous book. If anyone ever burns that book, whether accidentally or purposefully, all of the unsealed stories are released into the world and can attack anyone who fits the story. If a girl has a stepsister, then even if her name is not godly, any story with step-family will affect her. And, it can't be stopped until each story has played out…"
"My wife suffered the curse of Sleeping Beauty. Her name was Brigid, named after the Pagan Goddess…"
The phone in the back room rang and Harris B. Linden answered it with ferocious agility. After a moment and a low spoken word, he slammed the phone down just as rapidly. "We have to hurry." He grabbed my wrist and yanked me from the chair. We ran out of the shop and down the road as fast as our legs could carry us steadily.
"What's going on?"
"A fire at your house," he spoke with a winded breath.
I knew that a fire at my house was more than just the fact that my house was burning. The book was still there in the house and it could burn. I could not let that happen. That book must NOT BE PUT TO FLAME! Too much was at stake and I was faster than the old book shop keeper. I sped past Mr. Linden and everything seemed to turn into a blurry tunnel around me, only my destination was still clear.
"Athena," Rhiannon called to me as soon as I came into view. "Athena, I know you told me never to go into your room without you there, but Mom said to get the book on your bed. It was the old book with a lock and key and green cover. I read one of the stories in it, and just as I finished reading, the house started to flame."
Maybe the book was still safe then. "Rhiannon, this is important, what happened to the book after everything started to blaze?"
"I… oh, Athena, I dropped your book and before I could grab it off the ground, it caught the fire. I got Mom and Mars out of there before anything could happen to them."
I hugged my little sister as I watched my home and the book burn.
Just as the fire was dying, something one thousand times more menacing rose from the house. A heartless, midnight black cloud stared down at the world with diabolical eyes, sending shivers down my spine. I couldn't release myself from looking into it. As I watched the black skull open its mouth, black horses ran out one by one, making the skull cloud shrink. One hundred and nineteen horses I counted without blinking once. One hundred and nineteen stories to rule the lives of one hundred and nineteen families. Maybe there was a reason for that book's mayhem. Maybe there was a story behind the stories' curse. Maybe…
Several years later…
I don't know what happened to those one hundred and nine stories that ran ramped in the smoky sky that day, and I doubt very highly that the black magic of the curse just evaporated into utter nothingness. Sometimes, I wonder. Was it just a dream? Was it all real? Those two small questions were never answered with an indefinite response. All I know for sure is that I don't know. And, that's all I've ever been certain of since the day I walked out of Mr. Harris B. Linden's Library.
He warned her about the book, now it was too late.
I walked into a place safely and walked out just the opposite.