The Pop-Up Book
Twenty-nine days ago, my daughter disappeared from my house without a trace. I am in her room now, armed and sweating profusely, waiting for midnight.
Ellen had once been a sweet, bubbly girl. After my wife left under ugly circumstances, Ellen seldom spoke and never smiled, and my old Lovecraft books disappeared into her room. She drew grotesque scenes and colored them with magic markers. In one particularly gruesome picture, monsters were feasting on a man and woman. When I asked her about it, she said, “It’s you two being eaten. I hate you both.” Nothing helped, until one day she came home with a flyer advertising The Outsiders’ Creep Show: Magic and Other Entertainments. It was the first time Ellen had been excited about anything since the divorce. So, with Halloween around the corner, I agreed to go.
The venue was a vacant lot in a downtrodden part of town. Two outdated school buses, painted crudely in dark colors, were parked behind a makeshift tent. A gaunt man with deep shadows around his eyes stood behind the souvenir table. He pointed to a book with a metallic cover and clasp titled The Pop-Up Book of Elder Gods and their Minions.
“Young lady will be interested?”
Although eleven, Ellen was an avid collector of pop-up books.
“Oh, Dad, it’s beautiful. Please?”
What could I do?
As the ghoulish salesman handed her the book, he warned her with a leering smile never to open it on midnight of a Full Moon. That seemed a bit over the top, and I rolled my eyes.
Ellen looked through the book as we waited for the show to begin. The pop-up scenes were vivid and borderline gory, and the “gods” were rip offs from the Cthulhu Mythos. As I looked around the room, some unsavory members of the audience seemed to be glancing at us surreptitiously. I began to wonder where Ellen had found the flyer.
The show was worse. I had to admit their magic tricks were well executed, but they definitely went beyond the pale with special effects. I’d seen women sawn in half before, but they never grimaced or squirmed, and blood never gushed from under the saw. For one prestidigitation, the zombie assistant not only wore startlingly realistic makeup, but he actually stank. A finger dropped off his hand during the act. I was relieved when the whole thing was over, but Ellen beamed.
“That was awesome.”
As we left, the scarecrow at the table looked Ellen in the eyes again and said, “Remember, Sweetheart, midnight on Full Moon.”
“Sweetheart”? I almost took a swing at the guy.
Over the next few weeks, Ellen spent a lot of time in her room with the book open before her on the bed. Our interactions became almost pleasant. On the night of the next Full Moon, I jokingly cautioned her about opening the book, and her eyes sparkled when she said, “Oh, Dad.”
Late that night I heard noises from down the hall and called out, “Ellen, you OK?” Without sleepiness in her voice, she replied, “Yes, Dad, just needed to use the bathroom.” She sounded so chipper. I fell asleep and dreamt about my great parenting skills.
The next morning, her room was empty. The book was open on her bed, and I flipped it closed and clasped it without thinking. “Ellen?” She wasn’t there. I searched the house with increasing panic, then called the police.
The month since that call has been horrific. As far as anyone could tell, there never was an Outsiders’ Creep Show in this or any other town. CSI evidence from the flyer pointed to a paper manufacturer in Romania. Although Arkham House supposedly published the pop-up book, the publisher had no records of it. No one else did either. I hired a private detective to investigate independently. The police and even my ex-wife started to insinuate vile things, and the local media played up the crackpot nature of my story, as if it meant I was a deranged man capable of anything. Meanwhile, I tortured over Ellen’s fate.
One night I opened the book and leafed through it. When I flipped to the last page, I lost whatever trace of sanity I had left. The pop-up was a circle of hideous creatures, with claws and tentacles and too many eyes. Bloody human body parts were strewn around the page. In the middle was a preteen girl in pajamas, apparently unharmed. I can’t explain why I never saw her before. When I examined her face with a magnifying glass, it sure looked like Ellen. Sometimes, I thought her expression was one of terror. Other times, it seemed more like elation. Not knowing where else to turn, I called my private eye, but his answering service told me he had flown to Providence Rhode Island a week ago, and no one had heard from him since.
So, here I am, next to Ellen’s bed with an arsenal around me – Glock 22, pump-action shotgun, ammunition, hunting knife, taser, pepper spray, crucifix, transubstantiated communion wafer, voodoo trinkets from the Haitian ghetto, and other hastily assembled icons of power against evil. Light from the Full Moon streams through the window, as I load everything into my cargo pants and vest. After pumping the shotgun at midnight, I open the clasp and turn to the last page.
A sparkling green mist forms a whirlpool around the book. Moist thumping noises begin and grow louder, like approaching footsteps. I hear Ellen far away, shouting “Dad! Dad!”
When tentacles burst from the center of the vortex, I open fire.
AS PUBLISHED on line in October 2013 by 713 Flash (Kazka Press)