Leaves tumbled down from the branches as the chill of winter began to creep up on the small town I called home. Autumn was coming to a close and my classes were giving out more work as mid-term drew near. There was research paper to do for a blow off zoology class so I took the scenic route towards the library to experience the last days of the falling leaves. I would go to the library, find a book, skim a few paragraphs, half-ass the paper, and then it would be all over. Too bad that’s not how it went. I wish the day would have gone as planned, but unfortunately it didn’t. I should have checked where the library was located before I went out, but with my idiot sophomore boy mind didn’t think about it. I should have just checked out a book at school, but that day I felt like taking a walk down to the local library. If I wasn’t traumatized by what had happened that day, well, I guess maybe I could laugh at myself.
I was walking across the sidewalk with my hands in my hoodie, my lungs freezing over as I breathed in the cold air. The season’s scenery was full of fair-haired trees and red decor, but I sort of regretted coming out into the unfriendly weather. It was warmer when I left the school and as time pressed on, the colder it seemed to get. It was strange because my mother told me it was supposed to be cool today, but not cold enough for me to shiver like I was. I'd guessed that it must have been my mind trying to tell me that it was cold and I was only overreacting like any teenage boy my age would, so I moved onward until I approached the sign directing me towards my destination.
Thank you, I thought in relief, knowing that I wouldn’t have to endure the cold for much longer.
I turned down the road, my feet crunching against the dry leaves as I strode along the road towards the parking lot. The asphalt felt soft underneath my feet, almost as though I was walking on soil. I looked down for a split-second and just assumed my feet were sweaty and numb from walking such a long distance. As I drew near the lot, I noticed that the lot was completely empty, and a bad feeling washed over me. It wasn’t like your usual cheesy horror story ‘something’s watching me’ kind of feeling. It was more like I was a fly about to land on a spider’s web. I had a slight hesitation to go into the library, but something kept drawing me closer to it – like a supernatural energy was beckoning me forward. My nervousness grew as this feeling ate at my mind. I didn’t feel comfortable alone out there where someone could jump out of nowhere, drag me into the woods, and kill me. My anxiety ended up getting the best of me and I quickened my pace into a run. That didn’t stop the sensation from continuing to claw its way into me, dragging me into its preplanned trap. It had me in its grasp the moment I that I saw that sign and it was prepared to devour me.
I began jogging as I reached the safety of the lot and tried to regain my breath when I made my way up the steps to the double doors. The library’s lights looked rather dim and I didn’t see any info on the hours on the glass. To determine whether it was open or not, I decided to jostle the handle. The knob was cold and it sent an immediate chill down my spine. I shook my head at myself and redeemed my composure, took a deep breath, then invited myself in. A loud, squeaky, rusted creak leaked into my ears as I entered the library. I had to go to the front desk to ask for books on my research topic, but there wasn’t anyone standing there during the time. The uneasiness struck me again. My shoulders trembled as I was grasped by the paranormal force. A chill went down my spine as it trickled into my lungs, my breaths collapsing. My paranoia told me that were was indeed something wrong here, but my mind was telling me that they must have been in the bathroom or organizing books, so I strode over there to wait for them to return. My eyes wandered towards the diamond chandelier hanging above me. My vision darted around the scenery. The floor was done up in a matted, black carpet and the walls were painted an iridescent gold. Not a single book was on the floor or placed sideways. It wasn’t too shabby for a small town library. The person who owned this place must have had a continent of cash to have it done up so nicely. It certainly wasn’t the best location to run a business, but hey, if that’s what they wanted, then who was I to complain? As I stood there, I still felt a bit uneasy from earlier. I tried to pull myself together again, but it was like I was being forced to feel anxious. I can’t explain it all too well – it’s definitely one of those things that you’d never want to experience for yourself. It felt like something was pressing against my skull and trying to squeeze it like some sort of invisible pressure. My body reacted and it put my hand to my head and the pressure almost instantly stopped.
What the hell? I paused to think about it. I hope I’m not getting a migraine. That would suck ass. I pressed my head again, groaning. I’m the kind of person who wants to go lie down in bed and loll around when I get headaches. Migraines were no better. At that point I was ready to find the first book that looked good and leave.
I waited a few more minutes before I grew impatient. I grumbled and I looked around from corner to corner to see if the librarian was anywhere in sight. “Hello?” I began, my tone curious.
I saw someone scuffle behind one of shelves. A pair of pastel blue eyes peered in between the crack, observing me.
“Excuse me? Do you work here?”
There was a foreboding chuckle and the eyes slipped away, footsteps pounding down the hall as the person in hiding fled from my question.
“Must have been some kid,” I thought aloud. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to look through the library myself.
I shuffled my feet from the desk and wandered down the hallway, searching for the nonfiction section. Oddly enough, nothing was labeled. There we no hanging signs and no plates on the shelves to signify any sort of alphabetical order. Whoever owned this place must have wasted so much of their money on those fancy-looking chandeliers that they didn’t have enough cash to afford some damn labels. I would have to start at the back then – that seemed to be where they’d most likely be located at since anything that wasn’t fiction was pretty unpopular. I started with the back shelf straightaway in my path. I scanned the shelves to see if there was something useful. I paused, mouth agape. All the spines were....
“What the hell is going on here?"
I breathed in and reached for one of the books. It was a faceless red book with no author listed, unlabeled like everything else in that godforsaken place. I flipped through it to see if it was even nonfiction or if I was lucky, it would be my topic. Blank, blank, blank. The entire book was full with blank pages! I chucked the book to the floor out of spite. This had to be some elaborate prank! I wanted to know what the hell was going on and it was about time I found out. This wasn’t funny anymore. There was a paper I needed to do and they were wasting my time.
I grinned, taking a few steps forward, arms open wide, nodding in defeat. “All right, you’ve got me,” I laughed. My hands smacked my thighs as my arms fell down. I walked out into the hallway, my smirk growing. I tried to sound as friendly as I could, “Jokes over, guys! Run out with those cameras! Let’s have a good laugh!”
“If a good laugh is what you want, then I accept that request,” echoed a feminine voice. I looked over to my left and saw those piercing, pale blue eyes gazing at me from where I'd removed the book. I felt as though I were being drawn into a white void. I cringed at the sight. I could sense satisfaction in her voice, “It’s not very polite to stare when someone’s trying to focus.”
My hands slammed down on the wood. She didn't even blink. “What the hell are you talking about?” I yelled. “I know this is a prank so you and your pals can come out with the cameras already!”
There was a hint of a French accent when she spoke again, “Learn some patience. It’s not very polite to be so impatient. Besides, there are no cameras here.”
“This isn’t funny anymore dammit!” I sneered through my teeth. “Shh, you’re in a library,” she hushed. “Enjoy, my sweet little playmate.”
“What do you me–” A strong, painful jolt went into my skull, pounding throughout my brain. I clutched my head screaming, “Fuck…fuck…fuck!” as I leaned against the shelf, my lids collapsing as the pain ate at the tissue.
I heard the sound of pages fluttering and my eyes flickered open to see that the book was opening on its own. I paused, realizing that there was no breeze to cause this. There wasn’t even a light gust brushing against my arm.
Oh shit. My pupils widened as the book found the center of its spine and became stationary.
“What the fuck?” My hand went over my mouth. The girl was no longer there. The throbbing faded. “What the fuck is going on?”
The sound of ink splattering across the empty page regained my attention. The girl was causing this. That obscure feeling I got when I was walking towards the building – that was her. The book began to write its own story.
The Raven is old and wise.
I took a step back.
You are young and thoughtless.
I had to get away. Grrr.
Like the Wolf who looks upon her with yellow eyes.
I turned. Grrrrrrrr.
Take a good look at me, am I so senseless?
The growling intensified and the heavy sound of paws prattling on the floor trailed behind me. Its steps grew closer together – and closer – and closer – until the creature broke into a run as it began to pursue me, its thirsty pants longing for my blood. I could hear it, the creature hunting me, prepared to tear me apart with its fangs. As much as my eyes wanted to, I didn’t dare look back at it to see how close it was – that would only slow me down and get me killed. The door wasn’t too far ahead of me now. I just had to keep moving.
You can make it, Josh.
You can make it, Josh.
You can make it.
I collided with the glass, yanking at the handle.
“Oh God!” I tugged at the handle again. “No! NO!” Clicka! Clicka! Clicka! It was locked. How in the hell was it locked? I’m going to die!
I jumped back as the handle convulsed and twisted in a corkscrew fashion, morphing into a branch and reaching out for my wrist. The creature snarled as it was startled by my sudden movement. I turned around to see a large, black, golden-eyed wolf staring deep into me with hungry orbs. It watched me, patiently waiting for the perfect moment to strike for a quick kill. I swore I saw that wolf wear a wide grin when it glared at me. It knew it had me. I didn’t think twice when I bolted off to the side and the wolf sprung at me. The fear swelled up inside me and I slammed my quivering body into a bookshelf as it lunged for my throat. I slid off to the side and flinched, its teeth inches from my eyes.
But nothing happened. Familiar snickers came from down the hall. I opened my eyes to see black raven feathers dancing around me, teasing me as the laughter became louder. I swatted at them, but my hand passed right through them as though they weren’t there. I extended my hand again, and yet the same thing happened – they fell through my hand like a ghost. Were they not real? The chuckling silenced and the feathers vanished instantaneously.
The girl was there, her elbow on the front desk and her hand on her cheek. Her sloping eyebrows and her crooked frown showed slight concern for a moment, but then her mouth curved into the biggest shit-eating grin as she moved out. She looked out of place here. The girl's soot-like hair was as dark as night, wore a long-sleeved purple shirt underneath her black hoodie, which was done up in laces straight down her chest to her belly and on her arms. She wore a pleaded skirt that was fastened at her waist with smaller laces and she covered her legs with faded black jeans and grey lace-up boots. The chick was like one big gothic puppet show.
“Bravo, my player! Bravo!” The girl applauded. Her voice dropped, “You’re so rude. I treat you as my guest, do as you ask, and yet you tried to leave when you just got here. That’s not how you’re supposed to treat your host. Didn’t they teach you any manners growing up?”
I swallowed. I was at a loss for words. This girl…what was she? Was she even human? There were so many questions going throughout my head. Did she cause all of that to happen just now? There was no other explanation for something like that. There was no way that could have been faked. She must have done it. What was her reason? Did she get amusement from tormenting people that crossed her path? The main question was…why did it have to be me? It could have been anyone else, but why me? I didn’t want to die.
“Do you have an answer for me?” she pondered.
I snapped back, “I thought I was about to die dammit!” My heart dropped when I realized that I yelled at a monster.
Luckily, the girl didn’t react to my sharp words. She sighed, “Honestly… honestly…I knew you would react that way. Everyone gets mad when I try to make sure they have a good time when playing my game.” She shook her head and rolled her eyes. “At the very least I have to tell you that you’re not as boring as some of my other players. You’re a lot younger than most of the people I come across, so I can relate to you a lot more. Don’t you have a library at school? Why didn’t you go there?” Compared to me this girl was so calm and collective. I didn't understand why she wasn't mad at me. Could she even feel emotion?
“Oh! Uh…” My heart pounded and I stared at my shoes.
This was my chance to escape. If I was strong enough, maybe I could break through that glass. If it wasn't, I would have to find another way out. It was a longshot, but after what I experienced just then, I needed to get out of here or this girl could wind up killing me.
“I-I just wanted to go f-for a walk,” I staggered. My eyes flickered towards the door. The handle was normal again. "See the trees."
Her voice became menacing, “What are you about to do?"
My pupils shrunk. I was at the door in the next second, ham mering my body against the glass and attempting to break it with my shoe, but it wouldn’t even crack. I tried the handle – it was still locked. Dammit! I whirled around and was prepared to make another break for it; however I was abruptly lifted into the air by a cryptic energy. I panicked, hyperventilating as I watched the girl break out in another sickening smile.
I was once again mocked by her merriment. “You look stupid,” she badgered. “You’re like an insect trying to out speed a raven when you don’t have wings.”
I didn’t say anything. I just gave her a long, hard stare, and she exchanged one with me. That horrible smile never left her face as she observed me. I couldn’t stand those eyes of hers. They were ghostly and emotionless as though their owner was detached from the world. It was really gloomy looking to say the least.
“You’re too heavy. We need to go sit down and finish the game, then I’ll decide if you can go home or not, alright?” Her scowl intensified when I didn’t answer. “Alright?”
I responded with a nod. “Okay.” Oh my God.
The girl levitated me in front of her, but I was far enough away so that I couldn’t reach her. She paced down the hallway, those damn eyes focused on me. The area around me seemed to be duller than before. The gold looked a tad browner and the rucked carpet looked as though it wanted to lift up and curl. The bookshelves were rotten, some were missing chunks, and occasionally there were empty spaces where there should have been shelves. They were like the raven feathers, except they didn’t vanish instantaneously – it was more of a slow process.
She detected that I was spotting the changes and spoke to me, “I never let my players leave without a proper game, so if they try to leave before the game ends, I kill them." I swallowed. Oh God...no. "Think about that if you want to try and run from me again. This is your only warning.” Something was off about her. Her voice was more timid than before. I knew something definitely was going on with this place that she didn’t want me to figure out.
“May I–” I suddenly fell to the floor, flat on my back.
“Sorry, you had too much weight on you. I couldn’t stay focused,” she apologized. “What was it you were about to ask me?”
May I ask what this game is about? “Nothing,” I blurted.
“I see.” Her kindness didn't stop my nervousness from showing. I recoiled when she came over to me and offered her hand, grabbing it regardless of my silent protest. “I assume you can walk on your own?” She grinned.
I pulled my hand away from her and continued forward giving her a silent, “Yes.” She returned the favor with another giggle. There was nothing I could do and she knew it. She delighted in having me submissively obey her. It drove her enthusiasm and the matter slowly returned to the distorted library as we made our way to the back.
The girl bumped my shoulder me and pointed over to a single table in the corner. “We will play over there.” Stained glass windows let in multicolored light onto the table. Underneath the light was a black roulette wheel along with a single silver ball set off to the side. Two wooden chairs pulled themselves out for us and she directed me towards the chair across from her, “Why don’t you have a seat right there?” and she took a seat.
“Alright.” I couldn’t do anything else but submit to her orders and I sat down. It was my only way of getting out of this hellhole. I swallowed, “So what are–”
“This is where it really gets fun, Josh.”
My heart sank. “What?”
“I said this is where it gets fun? You should pay attention to your host, you know?”
“No, no,” I stammered. “You said my name. Do I know you?”
“Who knows?” She shrugged. “I see so many people that I may have seen that face of yours before at one point.” Her mouth twisted and she pondered for a moment. “You’re Josh Collins, right?”
My silence answered her question.
“I should probably give you my name too. I’m Levine.”
“I don’t know anyone named Levine.” How in the hell did she get my name? Who told her?
“If you don’t know a Levine, then I must not know you,” Levine sighed. “And if I don’t know you then you must think I’m a monster, so I’ll tell you who I am since you must be dying – ha, ha – to know. I think of myself as an alchemist of sorts. I’m an alchemist that creates games with her own mind – rather literally, if I do say so myself.” She chuckled. “I am known as the Game Alchemist.” When I didn’t respond her brows furrowed and she continued with a smirk, “Well, if you don’t have any other questions, then let’s get this game started.”
“Wait,” I stopped her.
“So if I play this game, I can go home? This isn’t a trick?”
“Theoretically…speaking,” Levine replied hesitantly. “And this isn’t a trick either. I do not pull tricks. That is cheating. I do not cheat. In fact, I have the key right here.” She pulled something silver out of her pocket and held it out in front of her. “This is the key to the door. If you win, I will let you go and you will never be able to find or see this place again.” Levine set the key off to the side.
“What happens if I lose?”
“I win.” Levine flashed her teeth.
I didn’t like that tone in her voice. Her answer was so vague that I knew there was something up her sleeve that she was hiding from me. I wasn’t going to push my luck and ask what would happen if she won. I didn’t know if I was going to live or die, but I knew I wouldn’t be leaving this place if I didn’t win – the look on her face was enough to tell me that. I needed to stay focused and not let her calm attitude get to me.
The library morphed into an enclosed room. There were no doors or windows anymore – just a small dome around us with stars and constellations shining in multiple colors. The floor was a checkerboard and the table chocolate color became a deep grey.
“This is for a calmer atmosphere. I didn’t want to trouble you with that sunlight. It wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t have even chances,” Levine chortled. She was so arrogant about this damn game and so confident in herself that she waved victory in front of my face when she knew very well that she had a better chance at this than me. “Shall I explain the rules?”
Levine cleared her throat. “As you can see here, the game is played with a roulette wheel. The dice–” she rolled a pair of red dice and they tumbled across the table. Eight. “–are rolled to see who goes first.” She gestured with her head. “You go ahead and roll them too.” Levine pushed them closer to me so I could reach them.
Ten. I swallowed. I didn’t want to go first.
“That’s unfortunate,” she snickered. “I wanted to give a demonstration. Oh well, shit happens.”
She brought out a miniature black sack and a set of dark indigo cards with peculiar golden markings on the back. She opened the sack and split the plastic coins evenly between us, leaving two coins leftover. A board was generated into the table’s wood. It was like one of those game straightforward boards that you would give to some snot-nosed kids in kindergarten. You know, like the ones that are getting from one point to the other. This one was just a straight line that went to the end. It couldn’t get any more straightforward than that. The coins slid themselves over to the start.
“The green coin on the right is yours. The orange one on the left is mine. These are the pawns that we will use throughout the game.”
She cleared her throat and dealt out several cards to the both of us face-down and set the rest of the deck next to the roulette. I didn’t dare pick them up.
“Please, look at the cards,” she begged.
They were tarot cards.
“Allow me to explain further. The strongest cards have advantage over the weakest. What are the strongest, cards, you ask? It goes in this order: Wheel of Fortune, The Lovers, Judgment, The World, Death, The Sun, The Moon, The Star, The High Priestess, The Hierophant, The Devil, Temperance, The Magician, The Emperor, The Empress, Strength, The Tower, The Chariot, The Hermit, The Hanged Man, and The Fool. It’s like in cards – the higher the number, the more advantage you have over the other player. However, there is a small chance that the weaker card can win if it’s two stages lower. I’ll flip a coin to determine that. Whoever wins the round will proceed to use the roulette to pick how many coins will be taken away from a particular player. We each have twenty. Run out of coins and the game is over. This could be over in one turn if you’re lucky…or unlucky, worst case scenario. If we still have coins at the end of this turn, then the winner will roll the dice and proceed to move his or her piece across the board. In that scenario, the game would end once someone reaches the end of the board. However, whoever has the most coins in the end wins regardless. Do you understand?”
“Then we’ll begin the Tarot Roulette.”
I can’t remember how most the game went from there – dark memories that my brain doesn’t want me to remember, I suppose – but that game went back and forth for over two hours. I recall her getting upset whenever I came close to winning. She would get so pissed if I won a round. Levine would say things like, “You cheated,” “You saw my cards,” or “You can’t do that.” Maybe those were only used to distract me, or maybe she was legitimately upset that she didn’t have the advantage the entire time. She’d come very close to flipping over the roulette at one point out of rage. I don’t want to believe that someone as calm as her would have gotten upset over a game that she’d created for her own amusement…but maybe I am right. Maybe there was something extremely angry within that girl because when I finally pulled out “The World” card and beat hear at her own game her expression turned unwelcoming and deathly intense. "Well, Collins, it looks like you've won," she said through her teeth. "Congratulations."
“Can I have the k-keys, please?” I asked.
Levine tossed my freedom to me, “Fine,” and folded her arms, but the dome around us did not disappear. “Cheater.”
“I didn’t cheat.”
“Liars get their tongues cut off and cheaters never prosper.”
“I said I didn’t cheat!”
“Liar!” Her hands struck the table.
“Look, I don’t know how you think I cheated, but I didn’t!”
“Shut up!” Slam! The stars disappeared. “Shut up!” Slam! The dome came down. “Shut up!” Slam! We were back in a distorted version of the library. “No one ever leaves unless I say so! We’re playing again, you cheater!”
“We are not.”
The laces tore themselves from her hoodie and whirled around like hungry, poisonous snakes protruding from the silver rings. Her hair went wild and revealed an eye missing from an empty socket. “Don’t you fucking stare at me!” She snapped. “I’ll give you one more chance, Josh. Play the game again. You know you can’t out speed the raven, little bug.”
I quickly scooped up the metal ball, chucked it at the one eye, and ran for my life. The walls became a disgusting grey color as the building began to lose the conception that Levine created. The bookcases liquefied around me and the carpet aged and curled as I rushed for the front.
I could hear Levine’s painful cries echo throughout the dying building. She continuously shouted, “Cheater, cheater, cheater! I’ll kill you!”
A raven soared past me in a blur, dispersing into black feathers as it flew up and hit a chandelier.
They aren’t real, Josh.
Another followed in suit.
They aren’t real, Josh.
Then another, then another after another. Levine’s growls strengthened as more ravens carelessly hit the ceiling, scattering their feathers, gore pouring down from the ceiling as the room filled with the bloodied birds. I could hear Levine running after me. She was trying to distract me with an illusion, just as she did with the wolf. None of this was real. The only thing that was real was her and she was drawing near. My heart pounded as I reached the door, the black birds surrounding me with angry crows as I unlocked it, forcing myself outside. I looked over my shoulder – Levine was not too far behind. I continued across the now dirt filled lot. If she got out here, then she would certainly try to lift me up again, knowing that I was about to escape. I didn’t look around to see if she made her way outside – I just went down the path that I came from. The path was spotted with mud and false concrete. I sped through the thick concrete, my breaths becoming short as I trudged my way to freedom. The path seemed to go on a bit longer than it did before. I thought the trauma was trying to take me over. I focused on the way out. That would be the last mistake I made that day.
Bright lights plowed their way through the trees, going through them like a ghost. There was an abrupt pain as they blared an ear-piercing sound at me and slammed into my body. I was sent flying across a road into the middle of a street. I tried to move, but my body wouldn’t allow it. Blood seeped from my forehead and my side ached as it gushed the same bright red liquid. The last words I heard were, “Oh my God. I hit a kid,” before I blacked out.
I was in the hospital for the next couple of weeks. I was hit by a car and was being treated for broken bones. Unfortunately, they found out later that the impact paralyzed my body from the waist down. I can’t walk anymore. I’m stuck this way. I have to stay in a damn wheelchair for the rest of my life. There are so many things you start to miss when you lose your legs, you know? It’s that girl’s fault – no that monster’s fault that I’m like this now. I wish I could have told the police what really happened when they asked why I ran across the street like that, but I knew they wouldn’t believe such a farfetched story, so here I am, typing up what happened two years ago. I doubt this will get much attention, but I sometimes wonder if anyone else has seen that girl because the same day I was put in the hospital, four students were killed by a train. The reporter said that they just blindly ran out there. I really do wonder if there are any other survivors of the game Levine created. If so, you are not alone in this. I lived through it too.
I hear someone ringing the doorbell. They’ve been doing it for the last half hour and won’t fucking stop. It’s probably one of my pals from high school. I’m going to let this all blow over in the comments while I go see who it is. I’ll come back and answer your questions in a bit.