There were two items he did not remember buying, hidden beneath his other purchases from the boot sale. If he had left them in the box and returned them straight away things might have been different. But his curiosity got the better of him and he lifted out first the book and checked the spine and cover for title or author. There were neither. It was plain, worn and even cracked in places. He opened it at a random page and marvelled at the hand written text, in faded brown ink.
From the style of the letters it looked old. Very old. The pages were stiff and had a stretched, almost translucent quality. On closer inspection it looked like skin. From what kind of animal he had no idea.
These things are more often than not made of goat skin, aren’t they? he thought.
It felt far too fine and smooth for that and the fineness of the hairs were more like the ones on the back of his own hand.
He turned the foxed and mildewed pages one at a time, then held the book up to the light and peered closer at the dark brown spatter covering one entire page.
Is that blood?
If he’d shut the book at that moment, he might have been able to resist, but the book was already speaking to him.
This is old, rare and valuable. It won’t hurt to look, then I’ll drive back and return it.
Page upon page was filled with arcane words and occult symbols, the sort of stuff a Medieval alchemist would have been proud of and he found himself wondering if it was possible to try a few of the simpler spells.
In thrall to the book he had completely forgotten about the second item and it lay, silently waiting, at the bottom of the cardboard box.
Hours passed. With every turn of a page he had fallen deeper under the book’s spell and it continued to whisper to him.
Can I really bend someone to my will? Call up spirits to do my bidding? Bring someone back from the dead?
It looked like a prop from a Shakespearean play. But it couldn’t hurt to try, could it?
Dawn light filtered into the room as he finished the last page and closed the book.
I need sleep, he thought and staggered to his bedroom collapsing across the bed and into immediate oblivion.
When he woke, drenched in sweat and screaming, the day had gone. He sat up, on the edge of the bed, head in hands, the awful images of his nightmares still scratching at the inside of his eyelids. He had dreamed he was not one, but dozens of people, changing from one to the other at various stages of their lives. In each one he carried out acts of violence and debauchery so vile he shied away from the memory. He had tortured, raped and murdered his way through the night, with no feeling of remorse or pity for any of his numerous victims, until waking brought him back to himself. He felt sick. His empty stomach told him he needed to eat, but the thought of food, after the things he had seen, made him retch.
He lurched towards the bathroom, catching sight of his reflection in the mirror.
God, I look rough. I look ill.
He splashed cold water on his face and tried to shave, but his hands shook so much that he gave up for fear of slitting his own throat. After making himself a strong pot of coffee he approached his study.
The black book perched on the edge of the table, an innocuous item amongst the other, everyday objects that ornamented the room. He leaned against the door frame and regarded it from a distance, sipped his coffee and told himself he must take it back. Resolute, he downed the dregs from his mug and approached it. It was in his hands and poised over the edge of the packing crate when he noticed the box.
He laid the book to one side while he investigated the other item. He reached for it, caressing the smooth, plain wood. It was oak, judging by the rich honey colour. At first glance it looked like an artist’s paint box, but lifting the hinged lid dispelled that notion immediately.
The box was lined with blue velvet and shaped specially to hold its contents – a razor sharp, pointed silver dagger with an ebony handle.
He whistled at its lethal beauty, captivated by the symbols engraved on the blade and did what anyone would have done. He took it out of the box and touched the point to his finger. A bead of bright, red blood ran down the length of the metal and it was too late to save himself. He never even noticed the change as the dagger took him over.