Daisy’s Note: One cold and stormy night, inspired by Bookmarks’ selection of spooky reads for Halloween, Karl and I decided to pass the time making up scary stories. Karl fretted over his for some time and kept throwing out ideas, but eventually inspiration hit him and he wrote this story in a manic frenzy. When he gave it to me to edit, I was amazed that so twisted a tale could have come from Karl’s brain. Still, I was impressed by his creation and urged him to publish it on the blog.
Before you continue, gentle readers, let me warn you that it is the product of a fevered mind and contains much that you may find deeply disturbing. Read on at your own risk!
Avast and ahoy!
I write with trembling tentacles, dear reader.
One night not long ago, I was reading a book on arctic exploration when I heard an insistent knocking at Bookmarks’ front door. “Hence!” I cried. “O wanderer of the night, what thinkest thou disturbing the literary vigil of a poor kraken? Knowest thou not that the store be closed and shuttered by nine every night?”
“Good sir,” a voice called back, “truly your forgiveness I implore! For I am no simple customer, but a man in desperation. Every other business in the city is silent as a mausoleum this time of night. Bookmarks is the only place where a watchful kraken keeps a sole lamp flickering even at this witching-hour!”
After a moment’s hesitation, I unlocked the door for the poor wanderer and let him inside. “I have always believed,” I said, “that a bookstore should be a place of refuge for the weary and comfort for the needy. Come, warm yourself at the hearth of knowledge and drink from the latte mug of literature.”
As the figure stepped into the lamplight, what a horrible and pitiable visage greeted me! In well over a year’s experience of human beings, I had never seen such wide yet sunken eyes, so pallid a complexion, or such hunched shoulders and withered arms. I led him to my reading nook in the children’s section and propped him up on the pillows. I gave him tea and microwaved a bowl of my special kelp soup, which seemed to revive him considerably.
Once he seemed in a fit state to talk, I asked him how he had come to be wandering the streets at this time of night. “Surely you know it is dangerous to walk the streets at midnight, even in such a peaceful city as this. What devilish force compels you?” I demanded. “What monstrous being pursues you?”
He lifted his red eyes so that they fixed my gaze and said in a shattered voice, “Truly, kind kraken, no monster or demon drives me, save the most powerful evil of all.”
“And what is that, pray tell?” I said, breathless.
“Books!” he cried.
It was enough to send shivers down the spine of even an inveterate invertebrate.
Once I recovered my composure, I stiffened and took offense. “Surely you are mistaken, dear sir. Books are no evil. Why, I believe them to be the greatest good humanity is capable of creating, and the highest expression of the krakonic spirit. If you tell me that books are things to be feared and hated, then I must compel you to leave this store at once. At Bookmarks we are devoted to the promotion of literacy and the love of reading, and enemies of the literary arts have no place here.”
He laughed. It was a sinister sound. “I am nothing if not a lover of literature. Yet I have loved not wisely, but too well!
“But I can see that you do not understand,” he continued, noting the puzzlement in my face. “Let me tell you my story, right from the beginning. My childhood was a happy one, but therein was its curse. For my parents encouraged me and my sister to become readers at a young age, and when I went to college, my interest was always in literature. That is how I became an English Major and so sealed my own fate–or, you might say, my doom!”
I gave another involuntary shudder.
“My professors should have foreseen the danger when I turned away from the modern canon and started to delve into outdated volumes of forgotten lore. The epic poems of ancient times entranced me. I became obsessed with reviving dead languages, experimenting with Greek and Latin before moving on to Akkadian, Proto-Dragonian, and Old Krakonic. The surest sign of a young mind gone astray was this: when I read Milton, I sympathized not with Adam or even with Satan, but with the poet himself!
“And so, bewitched by ancient epics and corrupted by those delusional attempts of modern fantasists to reawaken their spirits, I began to assemble a monstrous creation of my own. Yes, I became a novelist! Without considering the consequences, I thought only of the method by which I might bring characters to life on the page. I patched together bits of grammar and roots from various tongues to make a constructed language. I breathed life into my world by writing page after page of backstory. I drew detailed maps and timelines. I wandered the mountains with my head full of plot devices and interesting turns of phrase.
“During those years of obsession, I often locked myself in my chambers for hours on end and never tore my eyes from the glowing screen. My fingers could not leave the keyboard. I neglected food and sleep and quickly became ill, and yet I worked on. Chapter by chapter, my work took form, until at last I had produced an entire draft.
“It was on a dreary night of October that I read through the accomplishment of my toils. I had plotted it and paced it well and crafted every sentence to be beautiful–beautiful! Great God! It was a monstrous, half-formed thing, with barely enough plot to cover the work of world-building beneath. Yes, the prose was vivid and flowing, the grammar impeccable. But these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with the convoluted structure and labored emotional beats!
“Two years I had worked on my modern epic. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. I rushed from my chamber and into the dark street, and that is how I have come to seek refuge here from the fantasies that still plague my mind.
“The worst part is that I might yet have tamed this horror, had I not fled but stayed and committed myself to editing the draft. I could have made it less monstrous, less unwieldy, more acceptable to civilized society. But I did not. And even as I walked the streets this night, new ideas entered my brain which I could not easily remove. For this story–this hideous creature I have made–now has a life of its own, and to my horror, I am powerless to refuse it now that it demands a Sequel!”
By this point my tentacles were as cold and stiff as ice. How could the love of reading drive a man to such a wretched state? My faith in literature was shaken to its core.
The poor wretch stood suddenly and pointed a shaking finger at me. “Be warned, O thou foolish kraken! For I see in you the same obsession that has destroyed me!” He swayed on his feet, and I was afraid he would fall against the concrete floor. But he braced himself against a bookshelf and began to stumble towards the exit.
“May I ask what the title of your opus is?” I called to him. I was genuinely curious, but I also wished him to stay inside a little longer so that he would not catch a cold in the chill air. “Bookmarks loves to support local authors, and if I could set you up with an editor or an agent you might find your book not half so monstrous as you say.”
“Peace!” he cried. “Do not tempt me! What, would you unleash such a tale on the world? Would you have other young writers follow in my footsteps? Nay, let it die with me, I say! I must forsake this place of bookish seduction.” He made for the door. “I cannot stay here where the spirits of so many other novelists torment me! No, the temptation is too great! For God’s sake, do not let me near any collections of myth or high fantasy!”
With this he fled into the night and was soon lost in darkness and distance.
I tried to return to my reading, but I was too haunted by the young man’s words. Let them be a warning to readers everywhere: a devotion to literature may seem harmless, but it can lure the unwitting into icy and uncharted waters.
Karl the Kraken