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Meredith’s Regret – Finished

Part 1 in a short story series:

Prologue

The blazing fire scorched Samantha’s skin, but she did not stop. She didn’t dare stop. With frenzied hands she cast every book she owned into the infernal blaze. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Chronicles of Narnia, her entire collection of Jane Austen and Edgar Allen Poe, even The Grinch glowed brilliantly red and gold in the wickedly hot blaze.

Beads of perspiration collected on her forehead and stung her shallow wounds. Her fair skin, once lovely and porcelain, was now a marred mask of red welts and scrapes – souvenirs from her most recent trip down Crazy Lane…

Chapter 1

Friday had started like any other day; a tall upside-down caramel macchiato from Starbucks, a cinnamon scone, and thirty minutes of reading. This particular morning she was reading Meredith’s Regret by Genevieve Davies. She had found it at Second-Hand Harry’s shoved between a copy of Run’s With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs and A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Second-Hand-Harry’s lacked organization, but made up for it with the most intriguing eclectic selection.

Meredith’s Regret was a large voluminous hardback boasting at least 900 pages. Purple and blue swirls decorated the cover and the title was embossed in a metallic gold. It caught Samantha’s eye immediately. The orange circle price tag had .99 scrawled on it in blue ink. What a steal, Samantha thought, and then she purchased it without hesitation.

***

Plain as vanilla ice cream, people hardly noticed Samantha. Hair the color of peaches, it would have been pretty if it hadn’t been so coarse. It hung straight down on the sides of her head like straw in a broom. Her face was plain, her glasses were thick, and the only thing special about her was her skin. It was clear, fine pores, creamy smooth – unfortunately it was wasted on such a bland face whose only outstanding feature was a bird-like nose.

Part 1 1/2

Friday moved along at the pace of a sloth on Ambien, Samantha longed to be free from the prison of her cubicle so that she could escape to be with her favorite companion – a book. Her books rarely let her down, and they never required long-term commitment. They didn’t cheat on you, or stand you up, and they never made fun of you. A book could be your best friend, your lover, a teacher, a priest. This weekend she planned to spend the entire weekend poring through Meredith’s Regret and losing herself in a world so much different than her own.

When she arrived home that evening she quickly made a pitcher of mango green tea and picked up a box of buttery Girl Scout cookies. She opened the patio door and sat in her favorite green chair and began to read.

Meredith’s Regret – Chapter 1

Meredith was cold – cold on this inside and out. Her life had not been filled with years of marital bliss and love, but with abuse and hate. As a little girl she had dreamed of being a nurse and eventually a mother, she had reached both of those goals, but as the Bible says, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” and take he did.

Samantha continued to read enthralled by the horrific tale of Meredith. A tale of suffering that started with the loss of her children to beatings from a jealous husband. Once a pretty girl, Meredith’s ugliness on the inside had transformed her on the outside. Her hatred for herself had become so great that it manifested into a form of evil and that evil gave Meredith a supernatural power.

Putting the book down for a moment Samantha felt an uneasiness starting to build within her. She got up and made sure that the door was locked. The patio door was still open and despite the warm breeze that was coming in, Samantha was cold. She slipped into a sweater and pulled an afghan around her legs. She hugged herslef for a moment and let her mind wander about Meredith. Without realizing it she found herself nibbling on a butter cookie. Then she felt something tickling her hand and when she looked at the cookie again it started to crumble into tiny little pieces and each piece started turning black. Immediately she threw the cookie onto the floor and started spitting out what was left in her mouth. She wretched violently and wiped her mouth with the back of her sleeve. Standing now she watched as the black spots that had once been a cookie started to move. Like tiny little ants the pieces started to take shape.

Frightened and fascinated Samantha could not believe her eyes. A million thoughts ran through her mind: call for help, get the Dirt Devil, scream, run – she acted on none of them.

As she watched, the small black ant-sized creatures grew – and grew quickly. Still small, about the size of an egg now, the little black orbs suddenly sprouted wings and the wings began to flap. This time, Samantha did act. She ran. She screamed. It was too late.

Part 2 – READ!

Samantha stretched out her hand to pick up her cell phone, but before she could grab it a slippery black creature scampered past and with a wicked laugh ran off with it out of site. She whirled around looking to see where it went and what she saw made her gasp with horror. There in her living room were approximately 30 small creatures. Their skin was oily black and smooth and even glistened as if it was wet. Large eyes greeted her, looking at her with a mixture of affection and something else… Hunger?

About a foot tall, the beings appeared to be almost cute to Samantha. She was reminded of the creatures in Gremlins, but these little guys were much rounder with chubby legs and round Buddha like bellies.

Samantha continuted to stare at them not know what to do. They stood there almost expectantly, as if they were waiting for something. Her heart was pounding and she was visibly shaking, but at the same time she was fascinated. Finally, a bit of excitement in her life – and this time it wasn’t in a book, but it was actually happening.

She looked at the creatures and smiled and then tried to communicate with them. She waved timidly and said “Hi, I’m Samantha!” Feeling a little stupid she was surprised when one of them opened it’s large mouth and smiled back and said “Read”. It had a raspy voice and brilliantly white razor sharp teeth and upon seeing those teeth Samantha screamed and ran for the door.

The darkness appeared like a cloud around the door. The winged creatures clamored together, their large eyes looking at Samantha curiously. Then she felt something pull on her skirt. She let out a startled gasp when she saw one of the chubby little creatures holding her book – Meredith’s Regret. With expectant eyes and a scratchy voice it repeated the only word it seemed to know, “Read”.

Samantha reached out slowly and took the book. The small creature smiled and then eagerly clapped it’s small hands and said “Read”. It was then that Samantha noticed the claws. Metallic looking points almost like cat claws extended from the wicked little hands.

As she opened the pages to the book she noticed all of the little black things settling around her like small children waiting to be told a fairy tale. In unison, all of them, with a voice that had been conjured in the darkest recesses of hell, began to murmur – “Read, Read, Read”. Their chorus started out slowly, an almost pleading cry. The cry quickly changed and Samantha noticed a hint of frustration and in seconds their tone turned to a demand. “READ! READ! REEEEEEEEAAAAADDDD!!!” The whites of their eyes turned to a dark red. Their little faces began to tremble as if they were about to have an epeleptic seizure and without further hesitation Samantha obeyed and began to read.

Part 3

The menacing ululation subsided upon the first syllable Samantha uttered. The whites of their eyes turned white, their faces turned almost cherubic and they settled down like a sated crack addict after receiving a much needed fix.

Samantha read quickly page after page and noticed the little black creatures starting to settle down as if they were about to fall asleep. Samantha found hope in this and almost began to find a bit of joy in having someone – some thing to read to, but her hopes were quickly dashed as she read what was happening to Meredith…

Meredith rocked in her chair on her front porch. Her mind drew pictures of wicked things and those things brought a cruel smile to her face. The readers would need to be punished. That was the solution. Her husband had been an avid reader always choosing to spend his time with a book instead of with her. Once he had even thrown a book at her and broke her nose. Yes, that was it, she set to work on a plan…

Double Double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble…

Samantha began to grow tired of reading. Her voice was hoarse and so she paused for just a moment to take a sip of her tea. She paused and looked at it making sure that it hadn’t suddenly transformed into something evil the way the cookies had. Other than the fact that the ice had mostly melted, it still looked like tea. She sipped a cool sip and then suddenly the glass was slapped out of her hand. Tea went flying across the room and her glass broke up against the brick fire place. A couple of the creatures flew about and one of them stood on the arm of her chair, reached out and held her face gently in both of it’s tiny little hands and with a command that probably sounded similar to the way a command was given to an unworthy slave – the little demon said, “Read”.

Samantha’s lip quivered and she choked back a sob. Her mind reeled about looking for some way of escape, she thought of none and so she continued to read.

***

After reading for eight hours straight Samantha didn’t know if she could take it anymore. Her throat ached and she needed to go to the bathroom. She was tired and soon found herself fighting back the urge to just close her eyes and fall asleep. Every time she paused for just a moment the oily black things awoke quickly and forced her to read. Sometimes they would hold the book close to her face, one even climbed upon her head and peeled back her eyelids momentarily until she continued to read. It seemed that when she stopped reading the creatures were in intense pain.

As she read she continued to think of a way of escape and then realized that she was nearing the end of the book. Maybe there was a conclusion to this horrific tale, but what she had read from Meredith didn’t allow her to hope too much. It seemed that Meredith had a plan, and that plan ended in death.

***

Tears flowed from Samantha’s eyes when she read Meredith’s plan. There reading could not cease. An incantation read…

Demon creatures oily black
Come out, out, and attack
The reader who reads incessantly
Make them read and make them bleed

Don’t let them stop
Don’t let them pause
If they do scratch them
With your claws.

Make them hate their favorite thing
Make them hate – HATE TO READ!!

The book ended and another book was forced into Samantha’s hands. She pushed the book away and one of the small creatures slapped her hard in the face. The blow knocked her out of her chair. Before she could recover she felt herself being lifted and above the drone of their beat wings, the creatures shouted “READ, READ, READ!!!!”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban felt like lead in Samantha’s hands. She started to read it, and then another, this went on for hours and by now it was nearing midnight on Sunday night. She had finally gone to the bathroom in her pants since she couldn’t hold it any longer. Her lips were dry and her throat was so hoarse that she didn’t even recognize her own voice. She hadn’t slept in nearly 72 hours.

Finally she decided to give in.

No one was going to come to her rescue. She had no friends and her co-workers would just assume that she was sick. They would never come and check on her.

She stopped reading. She couldn’t stand it any longer. One of the little creatures got up and started flying at her hard and she held the large book like a baseball bat and hit is hard hurling the little beast across the room. She made a charge for the door but felt a sudden thud against her back that it felt like a grown man had been pushed against her. She fell to the floor, but didn’t hesitate, she didn’t pause, she didn’t wait for them to cover her – no she decided if she was going down, she was going down with a fight.

She jumped up quickly and lashed out with her fists connecting with 2 demons flying around her. They screamed and whirled and continued to chant, but she wasn’t going to go down easy. She suddenly felt the most intense pain in her calf and when she looked back one of them was biting into her flesh, it’s wickedly sharp teeth easily cutting into the soft flesh. The pain continued to ignite a fire already burning within her. She kicked at the little creatures and decided she needed a weapon. She ran into the kitchen and grabbed for a knife but it was quickly slapped out of her hand. The creatures were lightning fast and they didn’t seem to want to hurt as much as they wanted her to sit back down and read. She noticed something different about them. They continued to chat, but each one of them held a book tightly in it’s grip. On the counter she had a lighter and on the back porch she knew she had some lighter fluid. She picked up a pan from the stove and started hitting the demons as they attacked her. The action reminded her of a game she loved as a kid – Whack-A-Mole.

Her arms ached and her clothes were ripped to shreds but she managed to make it out of the house and she slammed the door before any of the creatures could escape. She quickly grabbed the lighter fluid and then lit the house on fire. She could hear the demons their shrill cries unlike anything she had ever heard. Their fever pitch was so intense you would have thought that they were already burning. She started to run and leave them to burn in the house hoping that they would die, but just as she thought, that would be way to easy. Suddenly a book flew out of the window. It was hurled with such force that if it had hit her it probably would have broken a bone or at the very least knocked her down. More books came. Every book she owned came spewing forth from the windows of the house. It was as if the house had suddenly gotten sick from consuming too much bad literature and suddenly it was projectile vomiting from every orifice.

Her small house was two story and it had been inherited from her grandmother. Unfortunately, her grandmother preferred solitude and country life – which meant there was no place to run and no one to call to for help.

This would be settled here, tonight, end game, finis, finale, whatever you wanted to call it, it was about to be over. She picked up the books one at a time and through them back at the house. She watched them burn, all of her favorites, but she didn’t care, she didn’t think she would ever want to read again.

The house groaned as if it could feel itself burning and dying. The orange flames were hot and hungry and continued to devour every available morsel.

Where are the creatures? Samantha thought. She could no longer hear their cries, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all. Maybe it was finally over… and then she saw it. There in the middle of the house something large and dark. If she had to describe it she would have said that it looked like a giant burnt Pillsbury Doughboy with black wings and pointed teeth. It stood their in the middle of the blaze morphing into something unholy.

Samantha continued to toss the books into the fire. She wanted to stoke the blaze with anything and everything – whatever it took to burn this thing alive.

The creature moved toward her. It’s voice was no longer shrill and childlike, but deep and booming. It let out a bellowing sound that wasn’t unlike a foghorn. A fould stench enveloped Samantha and she fell back onto something hard. She reached behind her and found that it was a small Bible. One she had as a child, but one that she had thought she had lost. She held the Bible closely to her chest as it was the only thing she had for protection. The monstrous black creature walked out of the burning house towering above Samantha. Again it repeated it’s one and only command. “REEEEEEAAAAAAADDDDDD!!!!”

All of the other books were gone, she only had this one left. She opened the book and found a passage that had been taught to her as a little girl, one she still remembered by heart.

“Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…” She could barely talk, her voice was barely a whisper, but she continued… “for thou are with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”

The creature was standing over her close now. Samantha didn’t dare look up. She was afraid, but she wasn’t shaking and suddenly she felt calm. And then the large black hand scooped her up and stuffed her into it’s mouth.

The pain was intense, so intense that Samantha thought that this must be what it felt like to die. This was the end. There wasn’t a bright light at the end of the tunnel, only blackness, only filth, only bile. She held on to the small Bible, she clutched it tightly somehow taking a modicum of strength in knowing that it was there. She finally gave in to the pain and let herself go. She gave up, she was ready to die.

Samantha opened her eyes. She couldn’t believe it, she was alive. She looked around hoping that what she had gone through had been a bad dream, but it wasn’t. Her skin was covered in a oily substance that smelled of sulfur and charred flesh. The house was in ashes behind her and in her hands she still held on to the Bible. As she looked at the Bible she laughed as she thought to herself, “thou anointest my head with oil” – apparently God was being very literal this time.

Epilogue

Samantha hugged her husband tightly. Her dark hair flowed around her shoulders and she still couldn’t believe how much her life had changed 2 year ago on one dark and wicked night. After taking a bath and washing away the oil and dirt she was no longer herself. She had become something new. No, she wasn’t beautiful, but she was different, she was changed on the inside and on the out. She stopped reading – everything except for the Bible – and she stopped living in a fantasy world and started enjoying reality. 1 husband and 3 kids later she realized that she had learned a lot from Meredith’s Regret, and she didn’t plan on having any of her own.

By Evan Stark

Eddie Renz is an avid fan of Egyptology, Wilbur Smith and bacon. Not a fan of humility but often finds himself humbled when he is around people who understand numbers like the Fibonacci sequence and Pi.

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