The book opened and laid on his knee. The paper was faded, old, and crinkled. A coffee stain on its binding from back when there was coffee.
“It says many things about what you described,” the man said.
“A ‘book’ does?” asked the boy sitting at the man’s feet. Off in the corner of the room a machine puttered along, producing heat.
“Yes. There was once a time when books told everyone all knowledge. We had one great book we used to read.”
“What was it called?”
The man sat back, and wistfulness made a pass. A slight frown, turned smile, turned frown again. His fingers tapped at his chair in some old rhythm.
“Huh. Odd name.”
The man sat forward and chuckled. “Yes. But a lot of history to it. Now, describe the finer details to me again.”
“Well,” the boy began and frowned with a deeper furrow than perhaps a child should have. “It came around the bay. I helped anchor the ship, and then I saw something move.”
“No, no. You got this to me already. Tell me the finer points of how it looked. It’s important.”
“I guess shaggy is a good place to start.”
The man flipped open the book to a page. He looked at it, muttered something underneath his breath, and flipped to the next page.
“Right, I have about ten shaggy things. Tell me more.”
“Are you sure that book is going to have it?”
“Yes. A lot of adventures went into getting this.”
The boy moved one foot from underneath him to the other. Before switching back to how he had it.
“It had…I think deep blue eyes.”
“It had deep blue eyes.”
Crinkle, crinkle. “Hmm, okay. That narrows it down to only two. Tell me, did it have antlers?”
The man nodded before going back to the book. He slapped down his index finger to the page, and the spine creaked with the impact.
“There it is: says here it’s called a ‘Gorehound’. They are not common around here. Or anywhere. A rare sighting.”
“Does it mean anything if it scratched me?”
The man looked up from his book and placed it to the side on his knee. “Oh, it scratched you? Come over here, let me make sure it’s okay.”
“It’s nothing,” the boy said, but he stood up and walked over, reaching up on his suit sleeve. The skin, pale as the moon, made a sharp contrast with the scratch. Four long lines of red shredded skin. But perhaps only two layers deep.
“Does it hurt?” the man said.
“A little,” the boy replied.
“Hmm, okay. Well, here.” He reached underneath his chair, and messed around with a small bag, before pulling out an old, dented, spray can.
“This should at least help,” the man continued, as he sprayed it over the cut. The boy winced and pulled away, but the skin broken began to regrow.
“How old of a prescription is that,” the boy said.
“Not too old to be useful,” the man said and chuckled again. “Now, let’s see what beastie you came across.”
He opened back up the book and stared down at it. His smile held until it didn’t. And he leaned closer to the book, arching his back.
He looked back up rather fast.
“It said the wounds are not to be worried about.”
“Really?” the boy said. “Can I read it?”
“Sure,” the man said, smiling. He held up the book at half of his arm length. It shook a bit.
The boy walked over to it with a slight squint and hesitation to each step.
He grabbed the book, but the man did not let go of it. And for a moment, they both held onto it. The book stopped shaking.
“It said something bad about bites, didn’t it?”
“Why would you think that Billy?”
“Because you won’t look away from me.”
“Am I not allowed to look at my grandson?”
“You’re scaring me.”
The book pulled back fast, and with surprising force. And the boy looked at his hands and flexed his fingers.
“Why would you–?”
The edge of the spine hit his head and rattled his eyes. Billy’s mouth opened in concern and tried a scream. Tried. Before the next hit knocked away the sound.
A red welt appeared on both the side of his head and a liquid equivalent to it on the side of the book. The boy stumbled, and the man, with a pop in both his knees from rising, and a tense jaw, sent another smack.
Twisting backward, the boy fell to the ground. He placed both hands on the solid chrome floor and tried to rise before a heavy foot laid on his hips.
“Grandpa…” he mumbled. His tongue swollen.
“Why?” his grandfather asked, and held open the book with one hand, and scanned with feverish eyes the same words. “Why did it have to be that one thing?”
“Stop talking! You sick thing!”
The foot came down one more time. And the book several times. More than ten. More than twenty. More than the book, or a skull, could take.
Pages fluttered. A man stood. He wavered. And he breathed so hard.
“There is no cure,” is all he said. “There is no cure.”
Special thanks to: Bob Gerkin, Collin Pearman, Dylan Alexander, Jerry Banfield, Michael The Comic Nerd, and Pulsatilla Pratensis.
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