Chapter Six
By K.W. Taylor

“Why do you do that to yourself?”

He was home at last, depositing his backpack on the floor and looking at her with a furrowed brow.

Melody was tucked so deeply into the corner of the sofa, cat clutched protectively on her lap, that she practically disappeared into the cushions. Every light in the room was on, and a collection of differently-scented candles was lit on the mantle, filling the room with scents that clashed unpleasantly.

“I just...I get curious, and you weren’t home, and then--” She shrugged, and the cat clawed her way off Melody’s lap.

“See, you know what’s good for you, kitty.” Abe reached down and stroked the animal, who responded with a purr and a rub against Abe’s denim-clad leg. “You want to get away from your crazy mother, who insists on scaring herself.”

“Look, I just...” Melody sighed and reached for her husband, pulling him onto the couch beside her. “Don’t you ever get curious?” she asked.

“About murderers and ghosts and all kinds of creepy things?” he asked, gesturing at the book Melody had hurled across the room. “Nope. Never. Because I, my dear, am not a crazy person. I like feeling safe and sane and happy.” He planted a kiss on her cheek and wrapped an arm around her.

Melody shook her head. “I am not a crazy person!” she insisted. “I just need to know why other people are, that’s all!”

Abe narrowed his eyes at her before rising to cross the room and retrieve the book. It was a library book, the binding encased in plastic. The spine was nearly broken, and the card inside the front cover was liberally filled with date stamps going back many years. It was popular, all right. Melody wasn’t the only person in town who indulged a morbid fascination with the dark and sinister things Abe found easy to ignore.

But the title was far from academic, far from the psychological study Melody was claiming. Mysterious Murders: True Tales of Unsolved Crimes. The cover photo was a garish collage of disembodied hands wielding knives and guns. “Hon, no. No reading this alone, at the very least. And I think things like this now have an only-in-the-light-of-day rule, okay?”

Melody nodded. “You’re right,” she conceded. “But, look, I’m an adult. I can do whatever I want.”

Abe nodded. “Of course you can,” he agreed. He withdrew his phone from his pocket. “I just want to remind you of the six panicky texts you sent me begging me to come home as fast as I could. Just remember that the next time you decide to read a book like this by yourself.”

Melody rolled her eyes. “I hate it when you’re right.” She gave Abe a squeeze, plucked the cat from the floor, and made her way to bed.

Abe wandered about, clicking off lights and checking to see that doors were locked. As he made one last survey of the living room, he spotted the book, abandoned on the coffee table. In the dimmer light, the cover looked less poorly-designed, the letters of the title showing more clearly that they were stamped in silver foil tipped in little points of red, as if each letter were a bloody knife.

What was the fuss about? He shrugged and settled back down on the couch with the offending tome, intent only on skimming through the table of contents.

An hour later, Melody’s voice wafted out from the bedroom. “Are you still up?” she called. A moment later her head popped around the corner.

Abe sat upright, his whole body rigid, his face white. He was tucked as deeply into the corner of the sofa as Melody had been earlier, and his eyes were pinned to the book he now clutched so hard his knuckles were bulbous, angry crests of bone.

“Melody...Melody, my...did you read the...we...” He began to choke and sputter and cough before finally throwing the book to the other side of the couch and burying his face in his hands.

As he began to weep, Melody let out a mewling sound and rushed to his side, folding him into her arms and stroking his back. “Shh, it’s okay. What happened? What did you read?”

“Us,” Abe gasped. “Melody, there’s a chapter about us in there.”

Melody’s hand stopped moving along her husband’s spine. “What?” She moved back and tipped Abe’s chin up, looking him in the eye. “What do you mean?”

Abe pointed, hands flailing, to the book. “Chapter six. Chapter six. And it’s...” He heaved a nervous breath and pressed a hand to his chest, trying to calm his rapid-fire heartbeat. “There are pictures. We...we’re in there.”

Melody frowned and picked up the book. “I don’t remember a chapter that sounds like us.”

“Not sounds like us. It is us,” Abe repeated. “Did you read the whole book?”

“No, but--”

“But read it, then!” Abe interrupted. “Here.” He grabbed the book from her and flipped through the pages. “Wait, no, it was just...” Scowling, Abe slowed down and looked more closely. “I don’t understand; it was right here, right here, just before you came looking for me.”

Melody shook her head. “Abe, you fell asleep and dreamed it.” She held out her hand and stood up. “Come on, come and lie down. You were right before. We should both stop reading this stuff. It’ll give you nightmares.”

When they were both gone, the book lay open, alone. As the lights blinked out and the household drifted into uneasy sleep, the pages began to shift and change, the ink slowly fading away only to reappear, this time changing text into a glossy photograph.

A photograph of Abe and Melody lying dead on the floor of the living room, the corner of the book visible at the very edge of the frame.

- - -
K.W. Taylor’s first full-length novel, The Red Eye, will be released by Alliteration Ink this November. She teaches college in Ohio, and is an MFA student at Seton Hill University.
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