By Shawn Cropley
Nov 3, 2018 · 2,612 words · 10 minutes

From the author: A book of beautiful illustrations found in a library's ruins becomes Sonny's obsession, with macabre results.

“They’re tearing down the library,” his mother said.

The library was the oldest building in town.  Of course, with any building its age, rumors of its hauntings were common.  Nothing specific, usually used as a humorous excuse for students not to study, but prevalent nonetheless.  

“Why?” Sonny asked with his mouth full of dinner, and his voice full of disbelief.

“Too old. The thing’s falling apart. They want to build a new one in its place, with computers and conference rooms.  Trying to catch up with the times I guess.”

“But libraries are for books.”

“Libraries are for information.  There’s no greater source of information than the internet, you know that.”

Sonny pushed his fork around his plate.

“I guess...” His sadness was apparent.

He was one of the few people in his town to ever use the library.  Sure, the place was old, but it’s not like was in bad shape.

“Maybe they’ll have to sell the books,” he thought, “at least then I’d have stuff to read until it’s rebuilt.”

They finished dinner and Sonny went to bed early. The thought of his favorite haunt being demolished still burned in his head.  He read to try and keep his mind off the bad news, the book still propped on his chest as he drifted off to sleep.

The school day passed excruciatingly slow.  Not much of a social creature, all of his breaks were spent buried in literature.  Once set free from the institution, he made his way through town to the library. Or, where it once stood.  They had already done it. Where once was his second home, now stood only a pile of rubble. Sonny never thought that they’d act this fast. There was no indication.  A deep melancholy welled up inside him as he kicked at a piece of the old stone in despair. The rock, soaring above and behind a large piece of the desecrated temple, didn’t crack against stone.  The impact sounded soft and thudding, bringing puzzlement to Sonny’s face. Setting down his book bag, he climbed over the rubble, working his way around the largest of the debris. He found the stone he’d kicked resting atop a book.  He brushed it clear, picking it up and examining it.

“Definitely old...” he mumbled.

 A black leathery binding gave no mention of the book's title or purpose, no explanation as to who wrote it.  Smooth all the way around, he opened the first page to find not words, but illustration. A female face, so accurately depicted, so realistic and lifesize he couldn’t help but feel as though he was standing in front of a live woman. So mesmerizing it was, he had trouble convincing himself to turn the page.  A man’s face, of the same artistic caliber as the preceding, filled the paper. Sonny couldn’t believe the skill of the drawings. He flipped through the pages, finding each of them to hold a new and unique face. Sonny’s eyes darted around the ruins to see if anyone witnessed his discovery. Quickly returning to the street, he stuffed the newfound tome into his bag and made haste home.

His mom wasn’t home from work yet, but he called out just in case.  No answer. He sprinted up the stairs, tearing open the door to his room, and slamming it shut behind him.    Dropping the book bag on his bed, he liberated his prize. Skimming through the pages, he verified his earlier finding; the book was a collection of faces.  So masterful were the drawings, so lifelike, Sonny was unsure if he’d ever witnessed art so true to nature. Each page a new visage, but there was something in common among them all.  A look that summoned only one word to Sonny’s mind; apathy. As interested as Sonny was in these faces, they showed none in return.

“So strange,” he thought to create such beauty, but deny them any emotion.”

Truthfully, it didn’t bother him, neither did it take away from the allure of the work, but strange still.  Slowly, Sonny flipped through each page, taking the time to study each face in depth, exploring each hand drawn image with deep interest.  The rest of the evening was spent like this. He took his dinner in his room, telling his mom that he was cramming for a big test. There was no reason for her not to believe him, he was a stellar student and a good kid.  That night he fell asleep later than he ever had, with the book resting flat across his chest.

The sun cut through the blinds, streaking its hot light across Sonny’s sleeping face.  The sun! Sonny shot up out of bed.

“I forgot to set an alarm!” he shouted; to whom, he did not know.  His mom was always gone before he left for school, he’d never had an issue getting up on his own.  Rushing around the room, he grabbed clothes from drawers, snatched his book bag off the floor, and yanked open his bedroom door.  He stopped. Slowly, he turned around and locked his eyes on the nightstand. There lay the black book, the book of faces, the book he couldn’t stop thinking about.  Walking towards it, dropping the bag back down to the floor, he picked it up.

“I’m already late,” he mumbled, “missing a day won’t hurt anything.”

Sonny sat down on the bed, the skin-bound book in his hands.  Flipping through the pages like he had been doing since he found it, he studied the many faces.  Something was different. He turned to the last face, which had filled the books final page, only now there was another page behind it.  Carefully, he pulled the page back. Blank.

“This wasn’t here before,” he said confidently.  

But then where did it come from?

Shrugging off the strange appearance, he got back to studying the many faces that populated the pages.  For the rest of the day, he lay there in bed, never taking his eyes away from his book. He was starting to realize that each face, while apathetic, had its own personality.  How he did not know. He wasn't purposely projecting anything onto them, and they certainly weren't demonstrating any traits. It was like he just knew, as if just staring into their meticulously penciled eyes gave all the communication needed.  Night came, his mother returned from work, and he stayed in his room.

“Must be a really important test for you to be cooped up two nights in a row.” She said, her eyebrows compacted, her lips downturned.  

“It is,” he replied, setting his book down and putting forth an aggravated stare.

She half smiled and shut the door.  She tries not to worry.

Again, he found himself at the final blank page.

“It's not right,” he mumbled, “there should be something here.  It's not fair.”

Each time he finished a round of studying the book and came to that empty space, the anger inside him grew.  It kept him awake. No matter how enthralling the rest of the faces were, that barren page stoked raging fires within him.  The flames were licking at the back of his eyes and threatened to make a furnace of his throat. Teeth grinding, hands trembling, he had an epiphany; “I'll add a face.”

Emptying a desk drawer onto the floor, he found a few pencils and collected them.  He sat down, slightly uplifted at the thought of amending the grievous issue, and opened to the blank page.

“I should probably practice first.” he said to himself.

Tearing a sheet of paper from a nearby notebook, he set himself to the task of finishing the book.  Never much of an artist, the act brought more of the same volcanic emotions. One after another, he tore out a sheet of paper, attempted art, and crumbled it up.  Occasionally, he tore them to pieces in frustration.

“Why did I think this would be a good idea,” he mumbled.

Defeated, Sonny returned to the bed and book.  Opening to the first page, he began once more the journey of faces, eventually fading to sleep, book waiting in hand.

The anxiety that he’d felt the previous morning due to his late awakening didn’t rear its head now.  He woke and knew instantly that he was late for school. For all he knew he’d missed his first few periods.  Sonny didn’t check the clock, neither did he bother to get out of bed. He immediately opened his black book to the final page, the blank page.  Even in his sleep it was eating away at him. There was no escaping its emptiness. Gripping it shut with all his strength, he let out an anguished scream.

“What am I supposed to do?” he cried to himself.

His frustration paramount, he dressed, grabbed the book, and left the house.  No plan, and having locked himself away for days, he wanted fresh air, a fresh environment.  Maybe then he could come up with a plan to deal with the empty page. Suddenly, an idea. Sonny opened the book, flipping till he came to that last page.  Smiling, he grabbed the topmost inner edge of the page and tore it out. Tossing it behind him, his smile grew even larger. Triumphant.

Never in the past would he have littered, but these were different times.  The weight lifted from that cast-aside paper was that of all the world.

Elated, he wanted a reward.  At a nearby coffee shop, he ordered the sugariest drink on the menu, his prize for having conquered his frustration.  Sitting down, sipping his drink, Sonny opened the book. It was like he was viewing it with new eyes, and it brought a new sense of joy witnessing the page’s population.  He went through the collection a little quicker than usual, eager to get home and study them in private. Coming to what should be the final page, the final face, he stopped.  Frozen in fear, Sonny stared at the edge of the page, too afraid to turn it. Taking a deep breath, he cautiously pinched the paper’s corner and pulled it aside. The final page was blank.  Nearly crying out, Sonny slammed the book shut and hurried out of the shop, leaving his unfinished drink behind.

Throwing shut the door to his bedroom, he slammed the cursed book on his desk.  

“Why is this happening,” he hissed through gritted teeth.

The weight of the world had returned with all its crushing force, pushing back to the surface his repressed rage.  Now he doubted his own sanity.

It's not possible, he thought, how is this possible?

Concluding he must have accidentally torn out the wrong page, he returned to the book and it’s blank page.  Checking both sides first, he tore it out. Sonny put it in a desk drawer, and shut it away. He sighed in relief, reasoning that now the issue should be taken care of.  Still, the fear of opening the book and finding the ghost page returned made his breaths short and his heartbeat unbearably strong.

He had to check. Opening the book, this time he threw caution to the wind.  Flying straight to where the page would have been, and there he found it. With an anguishing scream, Sonny hurled the volume across his room, a loud thud as it struck the wall, barely missing his bedroom window.  He tore open his door, and started down the hall, nearly tackling his mother rounding the corner. She was home early, her face showing concern.

“Is everything ok? What was that noise?”

Shaking his head clear, Sonny thought quickly.

“I’m fine, just really stressed out about this test.  I dropped the book when I was coming out here.”

The worry didn’t leave her face, but the right side of her lips bent up into a small smile.

“Must be one heck of a book to make all that noise,” she paused for a moment, “Well, I’m gonna shower.  Then, I was thinking I’d order pizza for dinner. How does that sound?”

Sonny returned the slight smile.

“Sounds good.”

She passed him and headed to her bedroom.  Sonny backed up against the wall, putting his head in his hands, and sighed.  Taking a moment to think deeply about the situation he was in, he calmed himself enough to re-enter his room.  Assumedly the book still lay on the other side of the bed, waiting for him to return.

I don’t have to worry about the page, he thought, I can just ignore it and enjoy the rest of the book.

A fake smile brought the corner of his lips upright.  Sonny was forcing himself to remain calm about the mystery of the page.

Fake it till you make it, he thought.

He snuck around the bed as if he was afraid there was some predator waiting to pounce on him, to drag him under the bed and rip him to pieces.  Only the black book lay in wait there, seeming dangerous in its own right. Sonny picked it up, the fake smile getting more difficult to uphold, and carried it over to his desk.

Bringing forward the first page, a pleasant feeling returned to him as he stared into the face there.  Turning to the next page, the feeling began to fade, and with each coming page, the dreadful annoyance of the final sheet grew stronger.  He couldn't stand it any longer. Sonny found the page and studied it, putting all his focus into finding a way to resolve it’s terrible weight.  He could hear his mother in the hall ordering the pizza. She knocked on the door to let him know. Sonny groaned in acknowledgment. His focus couldn’t be taken away from the book; he had to fix this.  It can’t be left blank.

After gazing into its emptiness for what felt like eternity, Sonny carefully closed the book and left his room.  Making his way to the garage, he opened a toolbox, grabbing a hammer and a pair of scissors. He tested the weight of the hammer, rocking it back and forth for a moment.  A car door thudded shut outside on the street. Sonny walked out the side door of the garage and then toward the street where the delivery driver was approaching the front door.  The first swing of the hammer brought the man to his knees as it collided with his skull in a sickening thud. The second blow was fatal; the cracking skull giving way, allowing the tool to pierce the grey matter beyond.  Rolling the man onto his back, Sonny turned the victim’s head so that his left ear faced the night sky. Spreading the scissors, he used the point to pierce behind the man’s ear. Maneuvering the blade deeper under the skin, he started cutting around the perimeter of the delivery driver’s face.  Sonny was careful not to cause any further damage, though it required strong pulling to peel the face away from the skull in the end. His new prize in hand, Sonny left the tools and walked inside. As he walked down the hall to his bedroom, his mother called to him.

“Is the pizza here?”

Silent, Sonny entered his room and shut the door.  Calmly sitting down at the desk, he set the face aside as he navigated the book to the blank page.  Once open, Sonny positioned the face so that it rested center of the page. His mother was screaming in the front yard.  Sonny shut the book, and he smiled.

This story originally appeared in Self Published.

Shawn Cropley

Shawn Cropley writes stories.