You lie on your bed, huddled under the covers with a fresh book from the library. Your eyes feel somewhat droopy but you are reluctant to put it down, as the story is too enticing to pause so you can sleep. It’s nearing the end anyway, you reason silently; not even thirty pages to go. Might as well finish it now.
Your eyes skim over the paragraphs, fighting to stay awake.
“She stares at him furiously, blinking back tears as she wills herself not to cry, to show The terror he so deeply craves.”
You pause. “To show The terror”? You look back, thinking you’d spotted a minor capitalization error, but now “the” is lowercase. Strange, you think. Usually you don’t even really notice things like that, but you figure it’s just because you’re so tired and pay it no mind as you continue.
“She opens her mouth, but no sound comes out. No matter how hard she tries, how hard she thinks, she just can’t find The words.”
You jolt in bed a little. There it is again! You reread the sentence once more, but the word “the” is lowercase, just like the last time. Strange, you think to yourself. Usually you don’t pay attention to this kind of stuff, but for some odd reason it really seems to stand out tonight. Figuring you’re just tired, you briefly consider stopping for the night, but the story is at its climax. In the end you resume reading, deciding to finish it before going to sleep.
The next few pages are uneventful, and you’re quickly pulled into the story again. You can easily visualize the heroine kneeling on the ground, her long red hair blowing in the wind and passing over her face as she covers her near-golden hazel eyes with her hands, sobbing silently. A vivid image of her adversary facing her appears in your mind, his ugly face contorted into a cruel sneer as he taunts her with her friends’ fates.
“As his words jab at her, sinking deep in her brain, something snaps. Her trembling ceases as she abruptly stands, her fiery red hair waving wildly around her as The wind–”
You abruptly stop reading mid-sentence and give a little jolt. Another capitalized “The” mid-sentence? You go back to reread it, but yet again, “the” is back to lowercase letters. For a moment you just stare at it in silence. Again? A third time? Surely it’s just your tired mind playing tricks, right? Yet you stop yourself mid-thought and shake your head. No, it’s not alright. There’s something wrong here, something really, really wrong. Three times feels like too many to just blame on a tired mind.
You start to close the book, but then find yourself hesitating. There are only a few pages left, you think off-handedly, and this IS the big climax. Hesitating, you then slowly reopen it and locate where you’d left off on the page.
You continue reading but do so more slowly now, scrutinizing every word. As you continue you can’t help noticing more capitalized “The”’s, but you will yourself to ignore them and just enjoy the climax. You find yourself pulled into the world with the heroine as she confronts her adversary, her voice calm and cold as her rage slowly builds up in the back of her mind.
“Her rage slowly grows with each word, her vision becoming redder and redder until finally... she snaps. She screams at The top of her lungs, tears flying behind her unnoticed. It is a wordless scream, with no words or sentences, but just a single syllable of the rawest rage she had ever experienced. It’s enough to make The man wince, taking a single step backwards, and she matches him with a step forward. ‘Die!’ she screams, and lunges at him, the pure rage in her voice and movements leaving The once-formidable man too shocked to think, let alone move. By The time he regains his train of thought and his brain screams ‘Run!’, it’s too late. She tackles him to the ground, the sun silhouetting her form and casting her face in shadows. Light streams through her hair, giving it The appearance of blazing flames as large and powerful as The—”
You abruptly stop reading in complete frustration. As hard as you try to ignore all of the capitalized “The”’s, you just can’t, even when you’re so engrossed in the story. You reread the entire page, focusing on every single word, looking for a single error, a single misspelling, a single capitalization where it doesn’t belong. Of course, though, you don’t find any mistakes.
You’re looking at the book more warily now. This can’t just be your tired mind playing tricks. It’s happened too many times to keep playing that card. There’s something else going on here, something that you can’t understand. And something tells you that the book is to blame. Your gut is warning you to stop reading right now and go to sleep, and to finish it in the morning.
And yet, you are still hesitant.
You’re already 456 pages into the story. You’ve had plenty of time to become attached to the characters and fall in love with the setting. You want to know how the story ends, and you won’t be able to stand it if you don’t find out. The temptation is too strong, so you start reading again. However, this time you just skim it, wanting to find out the resolution as quickly as possible so you can then close the book once and for all.
“She bared her teeth as she hissed at him ... cowered in fear ... raised The dagger above her head ... let it fall, clinking against The ground ... spat in his face ... on The ... after The ... but The ... and The... The… The... The...”
The word “the” is capitalized in every appearance now, your brain screaming at you to notice with each appearance. Every time you see it you automatically reread it, but it’s always back to normal the second time around. It’s such a dull word, usually barely registering in your mind, but for once it’s becoming the only word you can see. Even so, you try to ignore it and keep reading, but before long it’s literally the only word you notice.
Feeling frustrated, you drop the still-open book on your lap and groan. Only a few more pages, you tell yourself. Get it together. You’ve waited so long to get this book, going to the library only to find it already checked out again and again every time, and you’re so close to the resolution. You’ve come too far to stop now. If you put it down now, you won’t be able to sleep without knowing how it ends. You can’t let a few unusual disappearing capitalizations stop you now, dang it!
Determined to finish the book, you return to the beginning of the section to start over again, willing yourself to be completely immersed inside the world once more.
“She glared down at him, her emerald green eyes cold and filled with fury. Her brown hair seems to float as the wind blows past her, her ribbon whipping rapidly–”
Again you abruptly stop reading, but this time it’s not because of a capitalized “the”.
This time, the entire description seems wrong.
Brown hair? Green eyes? The heroine had red hair and golden hazel eyes, to represent fire or... something, but that wasn’t the point! You close your eyes and try to visualize the main character once more as she originally appeared, with that beautiful and fiery appearance just as fierce as her determination.
Instead you see a girl with brown hair pulled into a ponytail with a green ribbon, wearing a green sweater vest over a white shirt and blue plaid skirt. She looks at you with a gentle smile, her glasses seeming to magnify the almost unnatural emerald color of her eyes.
Your eyes pop open as you jolt in bed with a gasp, breathing heavily as your heart pounds against your chest. That image was so realistic–almost like a photo. You’ve always thought your imagination was good, but not that good. As you wait for your heartbeat to fall and steady itself, your eyes cast downward at the book. A few misplaced capitalizations are one thing, but that image of that girl? No, that wasn’t normal. You can’t just play it off as your imagination or being tired like with the capitalized “the”s. Something is wrong here, seriously, horribly wrong.
And whatever is going on is connected to the book.
That’s it. You don’t care if you’re at the climax, you can’t read it anymore. Your instincts are telling you to get rid of it now, to slam the book and throw it out the window and never look at it again. You don’t care if you’ll get in trouble with the librarian; you’ll gladly pay for the replacement if it means never looking at this infernal book ever again. You can just find the ending on the internet.
Resolved to get rid of it once and for all, you start to close the book.
“Wait.” A chill runs down your spine as you hear a soft whisper, your body tensing as you look at the book. Inhaling sharply, you look around but see no one. You wait a moment to see if it will sound again, but hear nothing. Exhaling slowly, you return to closing the book only to be interrupted by that same whisper. “Please, wait.”
Tensing again you quickly whip up your head to look around the room, but still you see no one as you peer at the shadowy corners of the room where your lamp’s light doesn’t completely reach, or even inside your perpetually-open closet. For a moment you’re confused, but then realization abruptly dawns on you. A chill runs through your entire body as you slowly lower your gaze to the book with wide eyes, your hands shaking.
“Don’t you want to finish?”
It’s coming from the book.
At that moment, every instinct in your body screams to get rid of it, to run away as fast as your legs can carry you, to never look back. However, for some reason, you can’t. You just… can’t. You can’t understand why, but somehow you find yourself lifting the book. Hands trembling, you curl your fingers around the edges of the covers as you slowly part them to reveal the pages, staring anxiously as you wonder what awaits you.
Staring back at you from the center of the book is a female face, gazing at you from behind a pair of glasses with emotionless green eyes that seem to pierce your soul.
“Don’t you want to finish the book?” it asks—no, she asks.
At that moment, everything in your mind just seems to shut down. You don’t know what you were expecting, but this is too much. You stare at her with your mouth open, but no sound comes out. You’re in too much shock to even think, let alone move or scream.
The girl starts to emerge from a glowing portal in the center of the book, rising until only her feet remain inside the pages, the rest of her towering above you. It’s the same girl you had seen in your mind’s eye earlier, with the brown hair and bookish nerdy clothes and... and everything. She stares down at you silently, her eyes devoid of feeling. You can only stare back at her in shock, too overwhelmed by the situation to think clearly.
However, even so, you suddenly find yourself speaking, your voice hoarse and quiet as you whisper words that you did not tell yourself to say. “Who… what are you?”
“My name is The,” the girls answers plainly. Instantly your brain assaults you with images of the word “The” continuously capitalized mid-sentence where it didn’t belong. You don’t have much time to think about the connection before the girl continues. “I’m just a girl who likes to read. Would you mind sharing your story with me?”
Your story? Does she want you to tell her about your past? Before you can figure out what she meant, though, a thick, black book materializes out of thin air, landing in her outstretched hands. The pages begin to wave and flip over wildly in some unseen wind, yet the balance of pages on each side of the darkly glowing cover remains unchanged.
As you watch in shock, the girl—The—smiles at you, revealing a row of sharp, pointed teeth. A chill runs down your spine as you stare at them, your eyes widening. “I hope your story is interesting,” she says. Suddenly a vortex appears, spiraling upwards from the center of the book and extending towards you. You watch in shock and your brain finally tells you to scream and run, but it’s already too late. You find yourself being dragged through the air and claw desperately at the ground, trying to grasp the small strands of the carpet to keep from being pulled inside, but you know it’s futile.
Desperate, you turn to her to ask something, to beg her to stop it, but stop upon seeing her face. Though the general features remain the same, it seems to have transformed completely. Her smile is gigantic to the point of being grotesque, almost like a Glasgow grin. Meanwhile, her eyes, previously emotionless emerald green spheres, are flickering with excitement.
Regaining your senses you flail your arms at her face, swiping at her glasses and knocking them away, only to freeze as you see her eyes without them. The whites, irises, pupils... Her entire eyeballs are a solid emerald green, glowing in the darkness. As you stare in disbelief she catches her glasses mid-air, and you notice that the lenses hold mimicries of her previous “normal” eyes. She smirks at you, her eyes crinkling both on her face and in her glasses. That double-set of smirking eyes are the last thing you see before being pulled inside the vortex.
You find yourself dragged into a white void, your room only visible in a small window above you. Frantic, you reach for it, desperate to escape, but it only continues to shrink as you fall farther away from it. Despair overcomes you as it soon disappears from your view, but still you reach, desperately clinging onto even a sliver of hope for escape. However, you cannot hold your arm out for long, and your body feels like it’s being torn apart as you’re violently flung around the white space. Eventually your arm falls limply to your side, too sore to stretch above your head anymore.
Realizing at last just how helpless you are, you open your mouth to scream, but instead of your voice you see the letters “Aaaah” appear above your head before being torn apart, flung around the vortex alongside your body. The letter “A” flying past your head is the final thing you ever see before blacking out.
The book abruptly slams shut and stops glowing, the vortex vanishing with it. The girl opens it and flips through the pages, stopping upon reaching a chapter labeled with your name followed by “Part 1”. She smiles as she calmly sits on your messy bed to begin reading, glasses resting on the mattress beside her, quietly repeating the narration in a soft voice.
“On the XX day of the XX month, the year XXXX, a new life entered the world, marking the start of a new story...”