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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Black (10/15/09)

TITLE: The Black Book
By Steve Fitschen


Upon his deathbed, my grandfather uttered, as his last words, a sentence that altered my life: “Find my grandfather’s black book.”

I know now what I knew not then—the compulsion that gripped me was not derived from a desire to fulfill a dying man’s request. The quest for my great-great-grandfather’s black book was an unalterable command from a man whose powers I had never guessed.

My quest began ere the ground received Grandfather’s bones.

The library of our ancestral home at Heatherstonshire is voluminous. As a lad, I had been fascinated by its leather-bound books. But the day arrived, shortly after my father’s death, when I knew—don’t ask me how—that some evil lay upon that room. I knew, too, that I faced a choice. I could give in to the temptation that drew me in fascination or I could refuse it its prize. I refused it.

But now, with Grandfather’s body in its coffin in the parlor, the mirrors draped in black crepe, and the family daguerreotypes turned face down, I re-entered the library after, lo, those many years of self-imposed exile.

Grandfather’s desk contained no clues, but upon careful examination, I discovered one shelf of books upon which lay no dust. Here I discovered various arcane tomes and Grandfather’s journals, written in runes.

The runes were not any of system known to academia. I spent years mastering these systems. It was not a pretty study. It required the acquisition of acquaintances of occultists, both genteel and vile.

Armed with the knowledge of these mystic alphabets, I embarked upon the journey that would consume the rest of my life. Following from hint to hint, I myself traveled frequently through the lamp-lit nights of London, to the basements of Europe’s libraries, into Egypt’s deserts, and beyond. But of necessity, I oft relied upon paid adventurers, though not infrequently I was obliged to kill those benefactors lest they sell their knowledge to additional buyers.

Of those dark times I will tell you nothing more. You need only know that the trail ended here at Heatherstonshire, where it began. Indeed, I write these words from Grandfather’s desk.

This past fortnight I have barely slept. I have examined every black book in this library. None was the promised book of necromancy and wizardry. I searched from cellar to attic for secret compartments and rooms. Though the house yielded many secrets, the black book was not among them.

Then today, all was revealed. Having begun to examine all those books on the shelf with Grandfather’s journals, I discovered a code hidden in the ornamentations of an illuminated Kabbalistic text. Great-great-grandfather—it could be none other—had inserted well-disguised Cyrillic letters among the ornamentations. I was able to de- code the message thanks to a cypher key recovered from a Roman catacomb by one Giussepe Valesvieno, Adventurer of Genoa, lately deceased.

Following the message’s directions, I arrived at a portion of the estate I had never ventured upon during my many hunts. Moving from landmark to landmark, I at last arrived at the pile of stones beneath which the long-sought book was supposed to lie.

I set spade to soil and reaped my life’s reward. I dared not examine the box until I had safely returned to this desk. The lock yielded to an Albanian incantation. I cannot describe my surprise when I beheld, not a black book, but a scarlet one.

I feared lest my life’s work had been in vain. Yet, convinced that every clue had led inexorably to this book, I began to read.

At once I knew. The book was not called “black” for the color of its leather, but for the arts contained within it: Incantations and instructions of the most potent order.

Perhaps it was my exhilaration—or was it something else?—that caused me to read the first incantation out loud. Only after the last syllable traversed my lips did I stop in realization. I had called forth the dead.

Who will come? I think I know. For within this book, scarlet and black, I read a Latin treatise on filicide. And there I read lines I think my undead Grandfather knew could be found here. It contains the words which, if spoken by one who has sacrificed both his son and his grandson, will treble the occult practitioner’s power.

A thousand times, I have imagined some sound, some motion that might be Grandfather coming. But now the witching hour draws nigh and again I th

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Member Comments
Member Date
Robyn Burke10/22/09
Dark-- black-- indeed. This creeped me out and I mean that in the most complimentary way. Very unique.
Jan Ackerson 10/26/09
Very Poe-like!

I felt a little bit squeamish about the subject matter, though. The narrator's consequences for his evil and occultish deeds are only implied (great ending), and that's problematic on a Christian site.

From a writerly point of view--wonderful entry, strong in all of the most important short story elements and exceptionally well-written.
Rachel Phelps10/27/09
This would have benefitted from a longer word limit, I think. I loved it, and it reminded me of my dear old literature books I never touch any more (sigh, life outside of college). I agree that some consequences might have been more appropriate, but I also like that, true to real life, the most immediate and horrifying consequence is the terror of guilt. A guilty conscience can be worse than any other punishment..