12 Jan “I found a survival guide for 2021 in an old bookstore” – Creepypasta
I found the guide in a book store that was closing down. Most books were 50% to 75% off, even the old and ordinarily expensive leather-bound tomes kept behind glass in the rearmost section of the store. I hadn’t gone in with any particular book in mind; I’d simply meant to browse, and pick a few books up with the twenty dollars I had reserved for the occasion. I crossed row after row, pulling, inspecting, and returning several volumes; nothing too interesting that I hadn’t already read, owned, or planned to own in some other, more preferable fashion. There were other shoppers, most appearing to be casual readers or first-year students—there is a college not far from the bookstore.
The shop-owner and his assistant were visibly melancholy, so I smiled warmly upon arriving and made efforts not to cross their paths; I’m terrible at consoling people, and figured that my plentiful patronage of the store would be better than any fumbling words I could offer. I made a few rounds of the store—it wasn’t a large place by any means—before finally settling on a few horror collections—Machen, Blackwood, Lovecraft, Bierce, Stoker—and some books on Eastern mythology and mysticism.
Satisfied with my haul, I made my way towards the registers at the front, but stopped short when I saw the assistant wheeling out a cart on which sat some particularly old looking books—the single pricing sign listing them all as being 90% off. Immediately attracted by the discount alone, I asked her if I could take a look at the books, and she happily obliged. She left me with the cart and went over towards a group of shoppers down an aisle.
Most were first or second editions of books by authors I hadn’t much interest in—but whose values were inarguable—and I felt sorry that the owners hadn’t the means or time to sell these books more appropriately priced. My eyes scanned the withered and warped spines, reading the titles with a casual literary appreciation, but finding nothing of relevance to my somewhat specific interests. I had almost left the cart when I spotted, on the second steel shelf, a book that seemed of an extremely advanced aged; armored in dust, with the spinal lettering faded, ashen.
I withdrew it carefully, so that the row in which it had sat did not totter. The book was averagely sized, though oddly heavy, and as I had initially observed, was of an age much older than its leatherbound companions. Upon brushing away the dust, I saw with no small shock that the title read: “How to Survive the Harrowing of 2021.” The lettering, once relieved of its ashen coating, glimmered faintly in gold, and was styled in a pseudo-cursive that flowed beautifully across the faded crimson cover. There were no other designs or markings on the book, front or back; only that bizarre title, whose message seemed an impossible thing considering the book’s obvious age.
No authorship had been assigned to the book either, and this immediately inspired the idea that the book itself was some sort of joke, a thing made to appear severely aged; a novelty that would’ve assuredly been a hit to younger readers if the store had had time to market it. I had no doubts that other copies sat in a box somewhere in the store, never to be sold as intended.
I was about to open the book, where I expected to find fittingly contemporary messages of hope, faith, determination, and positive thinking, but phrased archaically; styled anachronistically. But before I could crack open that expertly aged guide, I felt a sudden sensation of foreboding; an ominous and vague prescience which not only stopped my hand, but removed it from the book’s surface. Through no conscious thought of my own had I withdrawn my hand from the cover, and yet the compulsion had been immediate and incontestable. A fear mounted within me, swelling almost to the point of actual dread, and I considered unceremoniously tossing the book onto the cart and leaving.
But some other impetus, equally powerful, impelled me to not only hold onto the book, but purchase it.
I stood there for a while, and the baleful apprehension which had entered my mind faded away, and a curiosity—morbid, if not scholarly—took its place. I added the book to the bundle in my basket and took my haul to the front. Surprisingly, the sum amounted to only seventeen dollars, and I happily allocated the change to the tip jar at the register. The owner thanked me gratefully, as if I’d thrown in double the amount I’d brought, and wished me a happy new year. I bid him the same farewell, and left the store pleasantly encumbered with new literature.
It was a nice day, cold but not uncomfortably so, and sunlight fell plentifully upon the world. I decided to sit in a nearby coffee shop and read, rather than go home to my stuffy apartment to do the same. I walked down the sidewalk, contemplating which book to begin first. Looking back, I now think that I had always planned on reading the strangest book first; that guide which I had believed to be a fake, a bookstore’s joke. Perhaps if I’d read anything else, I might’ve avoided the horror which was born from the pages of that truly decrepit and sinister tome.
I sat at a table nearest the window for optimal sunlight, ordered a cup of Earl Grey tea, a freshly baked Oatmeal cookie—just one, they were quite large—and laid the contents of my bag out onto the table. I went through the “performance” of considering each book, but my mind had already decided upon the 2021 survival guide. I stacked the other books nearby to my left, cleared a space to my right for my food and drink, and placed the book immediately before me. In the brief time that had elapsed, I’d forgotten the intense feeling of apprehension that had come to me when I first considered opening the book. When I reached for the crimson cover, the feeling again returned, albeit to a lesser extent. But this time, curiosity prevailed, and I endured the unsettling sensation and gently opened the book.
I was taken back by what I saw on the very first page. There were lines upon lines of tiny strange runes, scribed in letters that seemed entirely alien to human language. The writing—I am sure that these letters had not been mechanically printed—was done in a deep red ink; absolutely sanguine against the thick and time-yellowed paper. The spacing, placement, and script were all immaculate; despite my certainty that a hand—of some nature—had written the words, I was nonetheless amazed at the impeccable penmanship of the author.
My eyes scanned this first page several times and yet I could intimate nothing of what it said, so I flipped it, and was again shown a language entirely unrecognizable. There were no hints or clues as to the meanings of any of the words, and, after flipping to the very end of the book, no cipher was found with which I might’ve decrypted them. I flipped the pages at random, finding only that odd, unfathomable language, written beautifully, and yet eerily, upon the sallow pages.
My order arrived and I set the book aside, not wanting to stain it, which despite its age was in a decent condition within. My fruitless scrutiny of its contents had changed my mind entirely in regards to its nature. I had abandoned my belief of its literary duplicity; there was no way that anyone—certainly not a small-scale bookstore owner—would’ve gone through the efforts necessary to create such a thing for the purpose of novelty. The language, though unreadable, seemed to be an inhumanly real one, in a way that is inexpressible. The color and feel of the pages were indistinguishable from the pages of other incredibly old books, and the smell was similarly genuine.
I ate and drank absorbed in thoughtlessness; thinking neither of the book nor its enigmatic language, but vexed by an undefinable impression imparted to me by the book. A similar sensation, though to a much less unnerving degree, might be the apprehension one feels as a child on the day in which school report cards are mailed; confident that your grades aren’t abysmal, but nonetheless fearing that some unforeseen or miscalculated grade still might appear and evoke the ire of your parents. I felt that I was for the moment safe, but that certain actions—or certain knowledge to be obtained later—would place me in the way of some terrible yet unforeseeable harm.
Once I had finished my meal, I returned my attention to the book, this time determined to uncover some meaning or message from its previously inscrutable contents.
Minutes passed, I finished my tea and ordered another—this time getting an infusion of lemongrass, citrus herbs, and ginger, among other things—and really scanned the pages; but my efforts were pointless, the pages yielded nothing to any interpretation I tried to force.
I was about to give up, when a woman entered the coffee shop and immediately passed by my table, which I had chosen due to its proximity to the front windows. She’d glanced down, and in my natural shyness I had averted my gaze. My eyes fell upon the pages, and for a moment—a brief yet clarifying moment—I found some sense in the words. Nothing that I could really reproduce in my own thoughts and language, but there’d been for a moment a glimmer of…readability. Instinctively—through an instinct I hadn’t understood—my attention returned to the woman, who’d suddenly worn an expression of confusion intermingled with intense interest.
Meeting my eyes, she asked what I was reading, and I admitted that I wasn’t exactly sure. I noticed the logo on the plastic bag she’d been carrying, and pointed out that I had bought the book from the very same bookstore; but that it was written in a language totally unfamiliar to me. Her curiosity piqued, she glanced at the chair beside me, and I nodded—granting her permission to join me. One of the café’s staff came and took her order, and once that I was done, I slid the book towards her so that she could comfortably read it.
Initially, I had watched her face as her eyes crawled over the pages. Confusion and excitement illumined her green eyes, and her mouth twitched; as if the lips were attempting to read along, but hadn’t any basis upon which to form the unreadable words. A few seconds of this passed, and she sighed in defeat. I laughed, commenting on my own inability to decipher a single word of the thing.
It wasn’t until I had glanced back at the book that the sudden sensation of literacy returned. For a moment, my eyes and her eyes had rested upon the same line, and I realized—in both excitement and horror—that the script was readable when looked at by two persons. She must’ve intimated the same, because she turned to me, eyes wide with the very same emotions that I’d felt. We said nothing to each other, but my hand involuntarily turned the pages until it reached the beginning of the book, and my index finger came to rest on the book’s first line.
The moment our eyes landed on that first word, it was transformed from its alien text into English, or some interpretation simultaneously readable to us. I cannot earnestly say it was actually English upon the page. My mind reeled at the idea; the concept that the text was only readable by two readers, or by one in possession of four—at least four—eyes! Uncovering the secret of that once impassible barrier was exciting, pride-inducing, and yet I felt that I had finally arrived at that moment for which I had earlier felt such apprehension and ominousness.
I suppressed the rising terror mentally, and even physically with a few sips of tea, and once she had seemed to do the same for herself, we began reading the previously unreadable book.
The enigma unlocked before our eyes. The words shifted, re-formed, were unmade as if by some cryptographic sense inborn within us. Comprehension came immediately, as if we were reading any ordinary book. We read in tandem, effortlessly trailing the lines of script without one falling behind or pushing forward. Our eyes and minds were locked together, our thoughts fused in some tether of previously undiscovered hyper-cognition. We read as one, interpreted as one, thought as one, and the sensation was absolutely incredible—though entirely indescribable; at least in the language with which I compose this account.
Pages flew by, and I’m sure that to onlookers we might’ve appeared very strange; our heads practically touching, our eyes moving along with equal pacing, as if choreographed. In what couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes, we had reached the middle of the thick book, and by this time I had felt the indefatigable return of that monstrous horror. The things we’d read up to that point were nightmarish, unrepeatable; and though our eyes had easily discerned the words and our minds clearly understood the meanings, our human mouths had been woefully inadequate for the vocalization of the ultra-alien text.
It took a considerable effort to do so, but I pried my eyes away from the words, and they immediately resumed their inscrutable arrangement and forms in the corners of my eye. My reading partner sighed, exhaustion and terror clear upon her face. I glanced around, not really to see if we’d been watched, but just to keep my eyes away from the frightful book for a while. No one had seemed to notice our strange captivation. I turned to her, and saw that tears had begun to form in her eyes. I felt a similar deluge swelling within the ducts of my own, but tried to keep them at bay, if only to appear comfortably composed to her. The things we had read, the things the book had foretold, were appalling; things no human being, regardless of how black-hearted, would ever wish upon the species to which he belonged; the only world he knew to be home.
And there was still another half to read through.
She looked at the book, then to me; her eyes clouded with tears, the once vibrant light dimmed by a potent, insuppressible terror. Despite my own feelings, I wanted—almost yearned—to continue on, to read the rest of that darkly prescient tome. But with each page, the horror detailed therein had grown, worsened, and I knew that the trend would continue with each subsequent page. Conceding to her unspoken plea, I closed the book and set it on a table beside me. She smiled, and nodded to me with a gratitude that was almost spiritual in fervency.
Together, in silence, we finished our tea; both of our minds struggling to reconcile the abysmal predictions of that baleful book with the relative normalcy of our present world.
In a testimony to the weird unreality—or the chilling hyper-reality—of the event, I discerned a sliver of crimson light from the book. My heart seemed to irreversibly contract, my chest felt tight and hot, as I realized that the glowing line was a supernatural bookmark, keeping the place where we’d left off. I did not point this out to my partner, who had regained a bit of her composure and sanity. Instead, hiding as best as possible my distress, I packed up my things, and left that wicked book in a chair tucked beneath the table.
I will not repeat in detail anything I read. I will not subject anyone to the horrific prophecies, the diabolical incidents, the cosmically inimical afflictions to the human race described in those sanguine-runed pages. I will only give this instruction, this warning, and pray that it will be sufficient to prepare us for the coming storm—if the book is to be believed.
This woman and I—whom I have now befriended, as people who’ve shared a traumatic incident are often bonded—needed to read the book together, to decipher its abominable contents. Similarly, if we are to survive the coming year, we—humanity as a whole—must band together; intellectually, emotionally, perhaps even spiritually; or else we cannot hope combat the horrors which will descend upon us from the unmapped tracts of sidereal space; which will emerge from the molten depths of our own planet; and, quite possibly, arise from among our own allegedly human ranks…
Our strength must be communal.