"This will be your last dream."
He awakens in an abandoned library, surrounded by ancient books, lit only by gas light. He knows this day will be his last unless he finds a way out. But in the darkness, something whispers and something watches.
A chilling short story from James Laurence Wood.
'Chilling' doesn't come close. This story is going to stay with me. Terrifying in a way I really didn't expect.
“This will be your last dream.”
That’s what he said. Or I said. I was dreaming that I was back home, looking out of that little round window in the attic. You know, the one where you can see over the frozen roofs to the lake. Ellie and Abbie used to love playing up there. Made them feel like they were in a pirate ship. Or maybe something else, what do I know? Anyway, you know all this. The point was I was dreaming I was up there looking out of that window and I turned and caught my reflection in this tall dressing mirror that was up there from God knows when. And the person in the mirror wasn’t quite me. He looked like me, perhaps a little older than I think I should look, but yeah, he looked like me. And when he spoke he sounded like me too but it wasn’t me speaking.
He said there wasn’t anything he could do about it. He sounded apologetic. Well no, that’s not quite right; there was something about his face, the tone of his words… it felt like he was doing an impression of how people are when they’re apologising. I don’t know, a suppressed smile in those old familiar lips perhaps, some mirth hidden beneath those weary eyes. Something… hungry.
Anyway, none of this alarmed me, not in the dream. It didn’t feel like a stranger in my home. But I believed him. No more dreams, maybe no more sleep. Whatever, whoever’s doing this to me, I think they’re nearly done. I need to get out of here before the night comes again.
Well the dream ended and I drifted back out of sleep, for a moment not remembering. That was a good moment, believing just for a little bit that I was back home, looking out over the frozen roofs to the lake. Hearing Anna downstairs clattering about. For someone so delicate and graceful she wasn’t half clumsy. Though that’s been a long while now.
I’m still in the library. It’s still dark outside those huge windows up near the ceiling. Everything’s still in disarray. These beautiful old books are falling apart. They’re in piles on the floor, they’re strewn along the wrought iron gangways and up the spiral stairs. And yet the shelves don’t seem empty. There are just so, so many books in here, collected over hundreds of years.
There’s a word, kenopsia — do you know it? It’s that eerie, rather sad feeling you get in an abandoned place that’s usually full of people. That’s what this library is, abandoned and sad.
Wait, I can hear the voices again. They’re quiet, whispering and far away. But I’m not imagining them, there’s someone in this library with me. Where is it coming from?