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The Baleful Book in Brompton

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There exists a volume of print so treacherous and vile in nature that no one who has begun to read the text has ever finished. Faint reports of its content persist: scrawled messages tucked away in dusty pages and low whispers in darkened chambers. Although the testimonies of those who have gazed over portions of the book tend to disagree and contradict one another in regards to the meaning of the writing, every report agrees word for word the opening line of the book:

“Blessed are the blind.”

Many men have wasted away trying to locate a copy of this book, seeking to obtain its forbidden knowledge. Myths circulate, attributing nearly every piece of wisdom ever sought to this book’s many pages: the after-mass of death, the meaning of life, the state of the gods. Truth is, nobody knows what precisely lies within this tome, only the struggle of seeking it out.

I had assumed that it hid somewhere deep in the cellars of the Brompton Private Library.

Gaining access to such a facility proved challenging; from what I had heard, significant bribes to the right people seemed the traditional means of entry. Having at the time hardly a penny to my name, I knew that getting in would require notable cleverness, and having little cleverness at my disposal, I simply did the best I could.

On the average day, I would stalk around the outside of the building, strolling casually in an effort to remain inconspicuous. The library itself attached to the Brompton College, leading to a large number of pedestrian with whom I could intermingle and avoid suspicion. However, this forced me to remain on busy walkways unless I wished to lose my cover; after all, it is far easier to remain unnoticed than it is to be forgotten.

This quickly became a favorite diversion of mine. In my free time, I would simply watch the library from the college sidewalks, patiently waiting for any opportunity to enter. Looking back, I confess it seems odd, my fascination with the building, but then again, curiosity can drive us to do mad things at times.

I knew it would take spectacular luck for the building to allow me entrance. Security guards waited patiently at a front desk just within the doors, and they knew every guest by sight. In addition, more guards as well as vigilant librarians patrolled just past the windows, ensuring that even if I snuck past the front desk, I would only tumble further into trouble.

One particularly un-notable Monday, as I walked quietly before the façade of the facility, I noticed a rather peculiar man. He looked about my own age, though wore a rather disheveled appearance. His slightly discolored skin hung over his thin frame with the general looseness of a coat on a hanger. I estimate he could not have weighed much more than 100 pounds, despite appearing rather tall, though I admit some difficulty determining his height while he sat in his wheelchair. Had he not used a wheelchair, I certainly would not have approached him and, for that matter, probably never would have further entangled my life with that dreaded book.

However he did use a wheelchair, and as I walked by he struggled to enter the building. The handicap door failed to respond as the man pressed the button, so I, seeing my opportunity, simply approached the building and politely held open the door for him.

“Thank you,” he smiled weakly before rolling through the opened doorway. His chair caught on a lip on the threshold, so I continued to push him all the way up past the front desk. The guards nodded politely at us, simply assuming me to be the man’s guest.

Calmly pushing the wheelchair ahead of me, I entered the Brompton Private Library.

“That’s one way to sneak in,” the man snickered under his breath as we found ourselves in the first floor of the library. I stopped, surprised that the man knew I had used him for my own ends.

“I’m sorry,” I apologized in a quiet stammer.

“You’re looking for the book aren’t you?” the thin man asked, ignoring my apology.

“Yes,” I admitted and let my head hang slightly in embarrassment.

“Well, that makes two of us,” the man said slyly, “Though I just got in by coughing up some dough for the college, thought of it like a down payment.”

“Do lots of people come here looking for it?”

“On this earth there is no richer source of arcane knowledge,” he smiled, “If it exists, then I have no doubt it lies somewhere within these walls.”

I scanned the room as he speaks, taking in the sights. Long bookshelves stretched down the open corridor and antique desks lay entirely unoccupied. In fact, I hardly noticed a soul in the building aside from the scarce librarians hovering about their business.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” I sighed, shaking my head slowly.

“Starting’s the easy part; finishing is the challenge,” the man said, wheeling himself slowly forwards, “I’d suggest beginning with the catalog at the north wall. It’s the best place to start any search.”

“Thank you, I think I will,” I replied with a light nod and took a step in that direction.

“Wait,” he said quickly, stopping me, “It’ll take quite a while for you to make any progress. What are you going to do when the library closes?”

“I dunno, I never thought I’d actually get in.”

He chuckled before giving a response:

“Listen, I want to find this book as much as you do. Keep looking, but tell me if you find anything of value. In return, I’ll let you into the library anytime you desire. I figure: the more eyes, the better, right?”

“Sure, deal,” I smiled, shaking his hand.

“Take this,” he said, reaching into his coat pocket, “It’s my business card. Call whenever you want in and I’ll drive out here. Don’t worry about disrupting or annoying me; I spend practically all my free time here anyways.”

“Well, thanks, this is very kind of you. I’ll do my best to find it.

With that and a gentle smirk, he rolled off, disappearing behind one of the numerous shelves. After a short pause, I headed over the far wall and looked carefully over the catalog.

Initially, I could hardly describe the card catalog with any word aside from ‘massive’. The sprawling collection of cherry-wood cabinets spanned the entire wall, reaching up to the spacious vaulted ceiling far beyond any man’s reach. Several long ladders attached to rollers hung along the gigantic card catalog, and I shuddered at the very thought of having to climb that enormous height simply to procure a card. The cards themselves seemed entirely un-notable to me, I concluded as I checked a random one from the sliding drawer nearest to me. Each card simply had the title of the represented book, the author, and the book’s id number. Curiously enough, none of the cards that I look over had any information about the contents of the books; nor did they contain any further details describing the books’ locations in the library. This lead to the rather daunting task of attempting to navigate the building.

In time, I learned the general layout of the Brompton Private Library. The original architects had adopted a multiple tiered approach to constructing the building, with common writings located on the uppermost floors and the rarer documents lying undisturbed in the deep basements of the institute. Over the following weeks, I came to learn much about the content and layout of these floors, and the information I found goes as follows:

The first floor held books of id numbers: 1-123,611. Among these were rather common non-fiction writings, the kind that you could find in any legitimate scholarly collection of works. Small reading areas dotted this floor and provided a rather pleasant atmosphere for studying and work. Guests would most often frequent only this floor, finding the facilities here far more than adequate.

Go to second floor, the first underground, and you may find documents of id numbers: 123,612-224,006. I found this number displayed on a small plaque at the top of the steps leading to this floor, and I quickly wrote the number down for future reference, as I had with the numbers on the first floor. Of the books found on this second floor, I found these to hold my interest the least. The collection consisted of information about the Brompton community: maps drawn by the founders, original blue-prints for the streets, and other rather useless items. I did look briefly for information on the library itself, but to my surprise, found no mention of the building.

The third floor held documents: 224,006-767,211. At first, I had assumed this to be the deepest floor of the site, with no immediate staircase leading down to the next level. Eventually I did find the staircase to the rest of the lower rooms, but it hid far at the opposite side of the floor obscured by some old filing cabinets. It took several days in total for me to happen to wander this far over to stumble over this staircase. For that matter, finding anything on this floor proved rather difficult, as it seemed much larger than the two floors above it, with the library evidently branching out to the side as it dug deeper down into the ground. This floor rather impressed me with its contents; among this collection I found a wide variety of collectable and rare books. Thin metal cords tied each to the shelf, as to make stealing or removing these books completely impossible. Small stools and desks lined the shelves, so that you could bring a studying spot to the books rather than the other way around.

Once I had found the hidden staircase to the fourth floor, I noticed the plaque declaring items of id numbers: 767,211-1,642,643. The steps leading down to this level surprised me with their length; given the height of the ceiling, it was almost as though they skipped a floor entirely. Disregarding this observation, I found the eventual fourth floor generally difficult to search. This floor held many conference and meeting rooms, each locked tight and unavailable to tour. At the front desk, you could ask to rent out these rooms and I did once, for the sake of experimentation. The room I checked out held nothing aside from a long meeting table, some chairs, a dirty chalkboard, and an old skeleton hung in the corner, the kind you find in medical classes. I could find no books of any kind on this level and wondered what the id numbers on the plaque possibly could have referred to.

On the fifth level, no plaque announced any id numbers. This, no doubt, resulted from the contents of this level: only the building’s basic industrial utilities. I found a locked furnace room, some boilers, and ample custodial/maintenance rooms. The latter struck me as somewhat peculiar, as I had seen no janitors or repairmen up to this point. Of all the levels thus far, this one impressed upon me most the sense that I had not been meant to search this area. No chains or locks hindered my progressed, but my gut simply and sternly told me that I had no reason to venture this far down.

The sixth floor held a variety of somewhat controversial documents. Among these, I found tapes of executions, what appeared to be classified military documents, and even instructions on various torture methods. Perhaps you might have guessed, but by the time I had journeyed this far into the library, I found myself quite alone. Come to think of it, I cannot for sure say that I had seen another person any deeper than the fourth floor, and even then, seeing someone else always came as quite the surprise. The lighting did nothing to soften this surprise either, dim fluorescent lights scarcely allowed me to see more than a foot in front of my own face, let alone see if someone else approached. Considering this, I may never have noticed even if there were others down on this level.

After what must have been a week of searching that floor, I eventually found the narrow steps leading down to the seventh floor. These steps seemed to skip a floor, as they had on the fourth. At this point, I found the dim, flickering lighting nearly unbearable and would bring my own artificial light sources along with me on my searches.

This seventh floor housed a variety of very strange and largely unrecognizable objects. The books themselves appeared to have been written in some derelict foreign tongues; which is to say, I could not decipher even a word from them. Looking over these alien volumes, I wondered to myself how I would possibly manage to recognize that singular book for which I was searching even if I managed to find it. I imagined that somehow that I would know if I happened upon it, that it would call out to me in some indescribable manner.

I almost gave up hope on finding the book. Actually, I would have, had it not been for that man.

You see, over the months that I searched the library I had come to know that man in the wheelchair quite well. He told me to call him Henry and that he absolutely needed to find the book. For quite some time he avoided telling me why, but it gradually became clear to me that some un-diagnosable illness had stuck Henry and he desired only a cure, a cure which he believed to lie in the pages of that forsaken volume of text. It amazed me how he would waste away his little remaining time in pursuit of something that, in all likelihood, never existed, but then again, I myself had already become intoxicated with seeking the very same goal.

Henry kept his research mostly to himself; he believed that looking independently might increase our chances of actually finding the book. Nevertheless, we often managed to bump into one another, perhaps just desiring some company in those long hours of scouring the library.

Finding any new leads pointing to the book seemed practically impossible. The only promising clue I had managed to uncover had been a worn line written over the card catalog system:

“Blessed are the blind.”

I felt blind myself as Henry’s research seemed to diverge further from my own. In the proceeding weeks I began to see him less and less within the building, although his car would always sit idly in the parking lot when I came out to the library. The few glimpses I stole of him showed him to be further decaying from his nameless ailment; his features grew frail, his hair thinned to baldness, and his bones jutted violently out from beneath his skin. He never would speak to me, even when we did pass. No doubt he had uncovered a lead somewhere, and his curiosity began swallowing him whole. I could only imagine his lust for the book as his body rotted away with him still inside it.

At the front desk, the guards would let me in without Henry. I guess that means that I had become one of the regulars. Actually, I would doubt even the employees spent as much time between those walls as Henry as I did.

Sacrifices had to be made; we knew that to succeed where so many others had failed that this could not be a simple hobby for us. Finding this book became our life.

You might expect then, that I would have been happy when we finally found it.

I never recorded the exact date or time, though in my mind I hesitantly believe it to have been a Sunday evening. Within the lower levels, time always seemed to move differently than it did on the outside, and as I patrolled the seventh floor I had lost all track of how long I had searched. That particular day, I had found some kind of annex, of which I had not known prior. Within it, I had found several rooms displaying ancient maps and diagrams of some unknown life-forms’ anatomy. Among a mound of discarded pages, I found a ladder.

With growing excitement, I shone my light down the thin aperture, realizing with excitement that I had at long last located the eighth floor.

Before I descended the rusty ladder, a moment of hesitation overcame me and I faltered. My hand stayed glued to the metal rung as I stared down into the shadows below. I felt a cold sweat forming over my brow and as my stomach swam over itself, I lowered my head to the floor, feeling almost nauseous from my nerves.

With my anticipation eventually overcoming my hesitancy, I took my first step onto the ladder. My damp palms gripped the rungs as a hawk might its prey, and I had to shut my eyes to keep my whole body from shaking timidly.

After a long climb down, my foot tapped the concrete floor of the eighth floor.

I shone my light out, finding row after row of plain, unmarked bookshelves. The shelves sat on metal runners, so that they could be pushed and manipulated into different arrangements on a whim. Idly, I pushed one of the shelves rolling, moving it just a foot to the side. Besides the shelves and the books, I could not find a singular other object in sight: no lights hung from the ceiling; no plaque announced the documents on the floor; and no desks sat immediately visible. Upon examining a random book from the shelf, I found that it contained nothing but hand-written calculations. Numbers and numbers tumbled from the page, mixed with bizarre sketches and those unrecognizable languages that had notated the volumes above where I now stood.

Setting the book back on the shelf, I cast my light forward revealing the row of bookshelves extending as far as my light could. With slow steps, I paced forward and explored the forgotten catacombs of the library.

I could hear no sounds staining the air aside from the echo of my own steps and the hurried heartbeats within my chest. The musty odor of dust hung around every turn, and I felt almost guilty disturbing the sediment that had developed on the floor after years of apparent abandonment. Looking down to the floor, I noticed with alarm something I had not before:

There was one other set of footprints.

Quickly looking behind me, before me, and peering through the shelves I took a deep breath and ordered myself to calm down. Surely another pilgrim like me could exist. Still, I could not help but remember how I had not ever encountered anybody nearly so low as this secluded floor.

As I dragged my footprints farther and farther away from the entrance, I began to grow disoriented with the layout of the floor. The movable shelves seemed to stray on their own accord, with the halls slowly creeping and changing as I continued my exploration. At multiple points, I ran into dead-ends and had to either move the book-laden walls or circumnavigate the obstacle.

I wandered but never considered myself lost, drawn inevitably forward by my lofty goal, that arcane volume that I swore I could almost smell. To humor, or perhaps distract, myself I would picture finding the book and holding it proudly in my arms. I imagined running my hand over its worn, dusty cover.

Then I heard breathing.

The realization jolted my out of my daydream, and I took a long moment just to confirm that I had not somehow merely been hearing my own breaths. I froze, deathly still, as I listened for it to continue.

Silence answered.

My steps eventually resumed, though I admit at a much slower pace. I kept my feet light against the concrete, careful not to make any avoidable noise, not to draw any attention to myself. To that end, I considered shutting off my flashlight, realizing that my light would draw in any eye like a moth. Shaking my head, I disregarded the idea; I could never navigate through the dark.

About that time, I heard the breathing again, this time louder. It droned through the stale air in a high-pitched wheeze, cracking with each exhale. I tried in vain to locate the direction from which the sound seemed to originate, but it seemed to radiate from every angle at once. I hurried along in response, sacrificing stealth for speed as I fled from the sound. Despite my efforts for escape, the noise seemed to grow in volume, closing in on my position. In a panic, I pointed my light behind me straining my eyes to see any potential object in the inky blackness.

Turning back forwards, I saw a pale creature in my way.

“Henry?!” I stammered in surprise, recognizing the frail humanoid being before me.

“You made it,” he smiles weakly. I look over him as he responds, realizing that I had not seen him in the person for several weeks at this point. His body has collapsed further around his diminishing frame, yet he stood upright as though suspended by some unseen force.

“How are you standing?” I asked in disbelief, my heart still pounding in my chest.

He just smiled.

“I found it.”

For a moment, I failed to comprehend what he has said.

“You found it?” I repeated in amazement, “You really mean it?”

“Yes,” he nodded and his sunken-in eyes gleamed brightly. His corpse-like figure wavered gently back and forth as he stood.

“Did you find your cure then?”

“Yes,” Henry nodded, “I have begun the process, and it is nearly complete. I don’t have much time, follow me.”

With that, he stepped away, slowly stalking out into the shadows.

“Wait, come back!” I called, hurrying after him and letting questions flow from my mouth, “Where was it? You said you found it; is it down here? How did you find it? Was it locked up? Do you have it now? This is unbelievable! Where is it?”

Henry did not answer at first, maintaining his uneven stride.

“We just need to go forward,” Henry answered, “It is so nearly complete.”

Following my emaciated guide, we eventually came to a plain wooden door on which the phrase had been inscribed: DO NOT ENTER.

Henry ignored the warning with a scoff and tossed open the door, revealing a small, nearly empty room equipped with a single ladder descending lower still into the earth.

“There’s another floor?” I asked in surprise.

“The ninth floor,” Henry breathed, “I have not explored it; I just uncovered its location in one of the manuscripts outside when you ran into me. I am glad you are here.”

“Listen, Henry, I really need some answers here. You said you found it, where is it?”

He shook his head, as though wishing not to tell me. I continued to plead:

“Please, I’ve been looking for so long, just tell me where it is! I’m begging you. Please, for the love of god, where is it?”

“It’s all around us, you fool!” he snapped at last, letting his annoyance free, “What? Did you think that they buried the book, that they somehow hid it away somewhere down deep in the bowels of this institution? No! It’s all around us! They did not have to hide the book away behind some sealed barrier; they hid it in plain sight, among the others. Scraps of it, pieces of its wisdom are intermingled and scattered between pages of every chronicle on these shelves. You’ve been trying to find the book in the library. The book is the library!”

“That’s madness,” I breathed.

“I thought so too,” Henry admitted, “But every whisper I’ve heard of the book’s contents I’ve found! It’s true; it’s here, all of it.”

“It would take a lifetime to read,” I mumbled in realization.

“And I’ve spent almost that,” Henry muttered, “But I have it now. The cure! It’s so close!”

“Where is it?” I asked at last.

“Down there,” Henry replied, gesturing towards the ladder, “There’s another card catalog hidden away on this floor; the id number of the book I require is not here. It must be a floor deeper. Maybe even further.”

I looked down to the ninth floor, shining my light into the opening. The ladder stretched impossibly far down, out of sight.

“This is madness,” I repeated lightly, more speaking to myself than to Henry.

“This is the truth,” he smiled and kneeled down at the hole’s edge. He grabbed the top rung but stopped as though briefly reconsidering. At last, he continued down, treading lightly over the rungs until he vanished from sight, deep into the shadows.

I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And as I waited I considered what he had told me.

You see, there exists a volume of print so treacherous and vile in nature that no one who has begun to read the text has ever finished.

He found it.

I realize now that the ‘book’ is at my fingertips just how easily one can access it. A simple bribe to the right people or even just helping out a poor man in a wheelchair can grant one free range to the greatest collection of knowledge the human race has ever compiled. If I began reading today, and did nothing besides read every day of every week of every year, I would hardly put a dent in the collection by the end of my lifetime.

As I sat by the edge of that vacuous hole to the ninth level, I just began to appreciate the depth of ingenuity that had sealed away that so-called book. It’s not hidden. It doesn’t even have to be, yet no human will ever grasp the entirety of its implications. You can have every answer to every possible question, but you will never have enough time in your life to have them all.

The air grew cool in that small room, and I suppressed a shiver. I looked down the ladder, seeing only the bare blackness beyond. Not a sound came from the opening, not a single sign that anything at all existed down there.

It was just an empty void.

Written by Levi Salvos
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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