Remi read the first page of the volume she’d sought, snorted, and shoved it back into place. Her gaze trailed over the library’s shelves and snagged on a slim green volume on the top shelf. A chill trailed down her spine. She shuddered and fled to the end of the aisle.
Where she spotted Ellica.
Remi pivoted and darted back out of sight. Her heartbeat thudded in her ears. Shaking, she blinked and realized she was staring at the book. Before she could think it over, she snatched the green volume from the shelf, clutched it to her chest, and ran down the back of the library to her friends.
She slammed the book on the table. Eyes wide with horror, Gioli and Zita jumped to their feet.
“Are you crazy?”
“What are you doing with that?”
Remi thrust out her chin. “It’s just a book.”
Gioli shook his head. “Shaw said–”
“Shaw said a lot of things!” Remi flipped open the cover.
Gioli and Zita’s hands slammed down, shutting the book.
Cackles crept from the dark beneath the bed.
The women downstairs didn’t hear them, not over their cooking and conversation.
The three children didn’t hear either. Curled up in a squishy armchair by the fire, the eldest read. The other two chased each other around the staircase and ran out the garden door.
Remi jerked the book free from under her friends’ hands.
“The librarians keep it on a shelf in the temple’s public library. Do you honestly think they would leave a book accessible to every student who comes through these doors if reading the story unleashed anything? No one else has ever mentioned this book. Don’t you think we’d have heard about this from others if reading this book really brought disastrous bad luck?”
Gioli and Zita exchanged a look.
Raising her eyebrows, Remi flipped the cover open again. “Three Days Uglier.”
“Don’t read it aloud!” Zita clamped her hands over her ears.
Remi stared at her.
“You risk your own life if you want, but not mine!” Zita snapped her own book shut and drew her bag from beneath the table.
“No! Don’t go,” Remi said. “I won’t read it aloud. I promise!”
Zita let the bag fall back to the floor. She gestured at the shelves. “Will you put it back and do your own work instead?”
Remi glanced at the shelves but shook her head. She’d let her two-faced friend and her ex-phony-boyfriend have enough power over her. They would no longer have this book to scare her with.
A faint red light flickered beneath the bed.
The red glow solidified. No one noticed. No one was there to see.
Remi flipped to the first page and flinched. Instinct shoved her gaze away from the image. Fighting an emotion somewhere between revulsion and terror, she peeked at the book cradled in her hands.
Her brow furrowed. What was it?
Despite wanting to toss the book far from her, she looked closer. The picture resolved into a face. Not a human though. Not an animal, but some sort of fairy creature. A goblin. An ogre, Remi supposed. Something malevolent.
But a fairy creature?
Was that all this book was? A fairy tale?
An apple rolled from beneath the bed. It glowed too red a red. So red, the apple lit the room in a rosy glow. The apple rolled across the floor and stopped precisely in the center of the room.
Ten minutes passed. The apple lost its patience.
It rolled out the door and stopped exactly in the middle of the corridor.
Holding her breath, Remi flipped the page. She sighed in relief that words filled her sight, not another creepy drawing. Frowning, she bent forward and read the text:
The woman’s words were poison. They seeped through the skin and crawled around to the brain.
The listener might laugh outright.
They might snort and roll their eyes.
They might clench their fists and adamantly reassure themselves of the words’ untruth.
But the poison dripped down the listener’s ear canals.
There was no getting it out. In the dark hours of the night, those words would be there. When misfortune left the listener rattled, the words laughed their way back to the surface. The poison gnawed through self-confidence. Collapsed facts and beliefs. The poison smothered outside reassurance that the words were completely, definitely, and utterly untrue.
There was no antidote. The words would haunt. Would maim. Would kill.
Chili bubbled merrily on the stove. The mother entered the parlor and chased the reading child outside to play. Silvia slipped into the garden to collect the laundry, but paused outside the door. The housekeeper tsked over a streak of dirt down one of the sheets. Some days, she wished to drown her mistress’s entire litter of children.
She folded the laundry that had managed to remain clean despite the children’s mischief and headed inside. Up the stairs.
The apple drew her eye immediately. Sucked into a dream, she stared at the deep brilliant red fruit. The basket slipped from her arms and landed on her foot.
Roused, she shook her head and bent to flip the spilling clothes back in the basket.
An alluring scent wafted over the basket. Silvia looked up. Froze.
Ignoring the laundry entirely, she crawled forward and snatched the apple. Never had she wanted anything more. This near her face, the scent made her dizzy. Her mouth watered. She took a bite. Chewed. Swallowed.
And pitched over, dead, before she could take a second bite.
Remi shuddered and pushed the book back to the table. The description of the poisonous words gave her the creeps. She wouldn’t consider that a story. Nor anything scary. But reading it left her feeling weird. Uneasy.
Maybe she didn’t want to read any more. Maybe what she’d read was more than enough to prove her point that neither Ellica nor Shaw had any say in her life now.
She sneaked a look through her eyelashes. Nose to his paper, Gioli scribbled furiously. An eyebrow quirked, Zita glanced up over the top of her book. Remi dropped her gaze.
Zita’s expression dared Remi to admit that she shouldn’t have read the book.
Gritting her teeth, Remi flipped the page. Her barred teeth held back the scream. She slammed the book shut.
The drawing had been in black and white, but the disemboweled body etched in her brain glowed in vivid color. Every bloody detail roamed before her eyes. Purply intestines. Raw red flesh. And things, wrong-shaped, wrongly built creatures gnawing on the screaming human.
Remi retched. She dropped the book and ran from the room.
After puking her guts out for what seemed like hours, she rested her head against the bathroom wall. The rest of the room remained empty. Tears stung her eyes. Zita hadn’t cared to come to see if she was okay.
Friends, Remi huffed. Why did hers desert her whenever she needed them most?
Ellica would have followed Remi to the bathroom. She would have held Remi’s hair while she vomited. She would have laughed while doing so and told the entire rest of the school about it.
Shaw would have laughed. He found Ellica’s every action delightful. He’d courted Remi merely to get close to Ellica. He’d made that clear.
Gods, shut up! she screamed at herself. Using the wall for support, she dragged herself off the floor to return to the library. Fuck them both.
Zita wasn’t like them. She cared, but she was entitled to her anger. Opening that book had been stupid, reading it stupider still.
This was all Ellica’s fault. Ellica treated Remi like she was an idiot, and somehow Remi couldn’t stop herself from proving that true when it came to anything involving Ellica.
No one waited for her outside the library. Remi sighed. She’d hoped Gioli might be less irritated and come to check on her.
Apparently not. The book did bring ill luck after all.
Zita sat alone at the table. Gioli’s books remained where they’d been, but the book was gone. Remi scanned the table’s contents and approached cautiously. The book lay neither on her seat nor the floor.
“Gioli took it back,” Zita whispered. Her eyes were wide with fear and her mouth turned down in worry.
“You should be.”
“I am.” The tears burning behind Remi’s eyes laced her voice.
Zita sighed. “Are you okay?”
“Let’s go get a coffee.”
The children came roaring back inside. Their mother shut the door after them with a sigh. She’d seen the sheets. They’d have to apologize before the meal. Perhaps help out with this afternoon’s cleaning. Their footsteps thundered up the stairs.
“Wash quickly! Lunch is ready!”
With a shake of her head, the mother returned to the kitchen. Lunch was ready, but Silvia was nowhere to be seen.
“Silvia?” She checked the pantry, the laundry room and the garden. How odd. She walked to the foot of the stairs and called out for Silvia again. The silence upstairs positively echoed. That couldn’t be a good sign.
She called again for Silvia. For each child in turn. No one answered.
Her skirt clutched in one hand, she bustled up the stairs.
Nothing untoward happened on their way to the coffeehouse. Gioli found a silver piece on the street corner. He bought the first round. A very pretty boy flirted with Zita and asked her out by the end of the afternoon. One of his friends made eyes at Remi, but never came over.
Bad luck? Mayhap, but nothing that could crush Remi.
The night passed by no different than usual, as did the following morning. They had a test in history. Remi did well. Nothing she’d call bad luck happened all day. Nor the next or the next.
Weeks drifted by. No horrendous bad luck fell upon her. Shaw lied. No surprise that a liar lied, right?
Remi sometimes wished she hadn’t proved his lies by reading those pages. The images, the words snuck up on her dreams and sometimes slipped into the waking world. She hated having them in her head.
The four bodies lay in the hall. One hand of each child and of Silvia reached out. Their fingers trailed the edges of a slim green book that her foolish schoolgirl self read one rebellious afternoon so many years ago.
“No,” Remi whispered. “NO!”
And she began to scream.