Marsha ducked into the small bookshop to avoid the pouring rain. It had been a long week, filled with too many overdraft penalties, breaking her phone, and of course, forgetting her bus pass at the office the day she forgot her umbrella at home.
The rain was really coming down now, but Marsha figured she could wait it out. Given her familiarity to typically random San Francisco weather, she hoped that she could wait out the downpour, then walk home in what she hoped would be a mild sprinkle.
Marsha realized that she couldn’t remember ever seeing the shop prior to her first stepping inside of it. Given that this was on her typical route home from work, it came as a surprise that she had never noticed it before.
The shelves were your typical, old wooden bookshelves that lined the long thin shop. There seemed to be only a few rows of books, but they extended deep into the bowels of the store. Marsha breathed in the familiar smell of old books as she looked around for the proprietor.
There wasn’t a cashier’s desk anywhere in plain sight, but Marsha figured maybe it was one of those old weird shops with bad layouts due to the necessity of the strange San Francisco architecture. She figured she had might as well look around, as she did love bookstores, and it’s not like she had anything besides some frozen pizza waiting her at home.
Marsha tried her best to dry her wet hands on her damp denim jacket and then slowly started dragging her finger along the neverending row of book spines on the shelf.
Practical Witchcraft. The Yellow Sign. Malleus Maleficarum.
Marsha read the book titles aloud as she walked through the long shelves. Classic wanna-be occult titles, promising magic but offering little. Marsha had been into witchcraft and all that during college, even going so far as to join some kids calling themselves the Black Wheel. However, all she had learned during that time was that all the magic found in these books were more immersive fiction than real magic.
As she walked down the aisle, the creaky floorboards under foot protested, but still no shop owner had appeared yet. Marsha was hoping there might be something new of interest, even some trashy romance or pulpy horror novel, but everything on the shelves seemed like something she had seen before.
Then she saw the book.
It was a large tome bound in black leather with silver lettering on the spine that simply read “Blackheart.” Marsha pulled the book from the shelf with both hands, surprised at the sheer heft of it. She leaned it on the shelf as she gazed at the cover – a blood red inlay of an anatomical heart. She smirked at the obviousness of it, but the sheer craftsmanship of the book was admirable, so she flipped open the cover.
The longhand writing on the parchment pages instantly made Marsha smile. Whomever the author or publisher was, they had obviously put a lot of care into making this seem like a genuine magic book. Aged, handwritten pages. Ornate leatherwork. Marsha knew an artist book like this was probably way out of her price range even when she had money so she figured this might be the only chance to explore it more deeply might and she might as well delve into this while she waited for the rain to stop.
Marsha looked for a place to sit and read, and she found herself staring at a stool farther down the aisle. She didn’t remember seeing it earlier, but she took the book and sat down on the stool. Cradling the tome in her lap, she began to read.
The tyrant known as Blackheart the Undying was born with a black soul. His reign of bloodshed and iron was the cruelest history had ever known. Blackheart’s pact with dark magicks granted him immortality – as long as his bloodthirsty heart was quenched with the life of his victims, he could not be killed by any mortal man. He was death incarnate for his foes. His ebon chainmail never rusted, and it seemed to glean with the dark light of the pits of the damned.
“Dark light? Geez, who’s student creative writing project is this?”
Marsha looked at the filmy windows, but it seemed the rain had shifted from a downpour to what sounded like a full-blown storm. She let out a sigh and flipped ahead to the end of the book.
After the loss at the port, the Order decided that since no man could rid the world of Blackheart, the only solution must be to banish him to the realm of shadows.
It was dark, evil magic to be sure, but the Order sealed its own fate by sacrificing its soul to banish Blackheart into the Realm of Shadows.
The blood circle was drawn with virgin blood, and the dread incantation was read aloud. As the final walls of the Citadel of the Sun fell to Blackheart’s murderous rampage, the magi’s spell was complete, and the portal was created. The magi themselves would be sacrifices, pulled into the dimensional rift first, but even the mighty Blackheart could not fight the magic’s pull and was cast in the Realm of Shadows, to live his undying life in a void of darkness.
However, the Knights of Helios did not know that Blackheart’s power grew from his very heart. True to his name, Blackheart’s enchantment that prevented his death stemmed from the evil festering in his chest. Blackheart, knowing he could not be killed by any man walking Earth, had cut open his own chest to sever a piece of his heart and hide it for safekeeping, a way of preserving his life on this mortal plane.
This book has served to maintain the life of his Dark Majesty, and the leather which binds this book is that same flesh he tore from his own body.
Marsha’s face turned into a contorted knot as she dropped the book from her lap. She laughed.
“Ha! Damn, you got me, mystery author. Nice twist, waiting until the end to gross me out.” She looked up, suddenly self-conscious of her talking to herself so loudly. She stood and picked up the book and looked for an author’s name, but couldn’t find one.
As she turned the book over, she realized there were small drops of blood smeared on the cover of the book. She looked at her hand and saw the thin slice of a paper cut.
“Oh great.” Marsha knew she could not afford to buy the book, so she grabbed it and started speed-walking through the aisles. “Hello, is anyone there? Do you have some paper towels or something?”
Down the last aisle, an older man popped his head out. He squinted through his thick glasses at Marsha, looking like a grumpy ostrich wearing glasses.
“Oh dear, did you spill something?” The man walked into the aisle, his green sweater, collared shirt, and brown pants the epitome of a librarian stereotype out of a comic book. He walked hurried towards Marsha with a dirty-looking rag in hand.
“I think I got a paper cut, and might have gotten some blood on this..” Marsha paused. She looked down at the book, and the blood was gone. “Huh, that’s weird.”
“Let me see that.” The man grabbed the book from Marsha’s hand. He inspected the cover, pulling the book close to his eyes. “You may not have actually gotten this dirty, but this is obviously handcrafted, if it was under glass, it was there for a reason, Miss.”
“But, it wasn’t under glass, it was just on a shelf over there, but I could have swore there was blood..maybe it was just my imagination.” Marsha turned to walk away, deciding getting in trouble with this judgmental old man was not worth staying dry. “Sorry about the confusion.”
“Wait a minute, young lady, I need to make sure you didn’t bleed on the pages.”
Marsha stopped and turned back, hoping that the blood had just been wiped off while she searched for the shopkeep and didn’t actually get on any of the pages. She’d be totally screwed if it did.
The old man continued. “By the way, where did you say you found this again? I don’t recognize it.”
Marsha started to point towards the shelves behind her, but her eyes grew wide and she found she couldn’t speak. A single black tendril had emerged from the bottom of the book and was flailing around.
“Mister, drop the book.”
“What? Listen here, I’m not sure-”
“Drop the book!” Marsha shouted, and stepped towards the shopkeeper. She raised her hand to slap the book out of his hands, but the man recoiled and shuffled backwards, tripping and falling backwards on his ass.
The book came tumbling down on him, and then the tendril found the old man’s arm. The man gasped as he tried to comprehend what was happening. The tendril wrapped itself tightly around the man’s arm, and stuck itself into his forearm.
Marsha watched in horror as tendril began to swell like a gasoline hose in a cartoon, pumping blood out of the man in a rhythmic pulse. The man screamed and convulsed, while the book seemed to unwrap itself, the leather binding falling to the floor like shedded snakeskin. The cover now pulsed with dark blue veins, and more tendrils began to grow.
The man’s face was pale white, and he slumped to the ground. The book’s other tendrils pulled the leathery mass closer to the man, then shot towards the man’s motionless chest like a spear. The bloody tendrils ripped opens the owner’s chest cavity, and the leathery book cover pulled itself inside of the man’s body. The leathery mass then started to wrap itself around the shrivelled heart hanging in his ribcage.
The book cover twisted and convulsed, the slimey black tendrils now being sent through the rest of the man’s body from his heart. Marsha screamed as the old man’s limbs moved in unnatural ways as the body began to try and stand. Finally, the grotesque puppet show came to an end as the man’s body began to move more fluidly. The tendrils that before rippled underneath the skin were no longer visible, save for the pulsing coming from the open chest.
“Thank you for stirring me from my slumber.”
A throaty voice seemed to come from the old man’s body, but his throat didn’t move.
“I am Blackheart the Undying, and this world is now mine.”
Marsha couldn’t believe her eyes. It looked as if the voice was coming from the twisted face on the heart itself. Marsha shook her head, reconciling the fact that a talking heart was very real and very possible, considering she just saw a book cover eviscerate a man and take over his corpse.
Marsha turned and ran out of the bookstore into the rain.
The reanimated corpse of the shopkeep smashed through the doorway, sending scraps of wood and glass flying into the street. Blackheart looked around at the bizarre landscape. Creatures with glowing eyes and fat black wheels filled the streets. Giant structures of stone and glass extended to the sky, higher than any tower or ziggurat he had seen before.
More humans walked about with their heads down, wearing colored hides he had never seen before and holding black parasols. The warrior laughed, noticing their size. The men were laughably puny, and the women even more so.
“Where are your warriors?” Blackheart walked up to one of the large creatures and smashed it between the eyes. He felt metal crunch under his fist. Puzzled, he ripped off the sheet of armor to find that there was nothing living inside – just a maze of metal. He heard people gasp, and even if he knew not what manner of beast he had just slain, he knew it scared those watching.
Blackheart slammed his fist through another of the armored machines, sending another wave of gasps and screams. He let out a hearty laugh, and then walked over to one of the small humans watching from a distance and grabbed the man by the face.
The man screamed and Blackheart squeezed the man’s head into a pulpy mess of bone and blood. Blackheart laughed.
“Bring out your warriors, humans. I will feast on their entrails and bathe in their blood. I am Blackheart the Undying, and no man can kill me!” Blackheart threw the man’s lifeless corpse towards the crowd. Even though everyone else was looking at the shopkeeper’s lifeless gaze, the heart smiled – using dead bodies to inspire fear always made him happy.
“SFPD, Put your creepy-ass hands up.”
Blackheart spun around to see the human from the bookstore and a human wearing a black uniform.
“For a warrior, you seem awfully small.” Blackheart took a step forward.
“Not another step. I’ll fire.” The small man was holding out some sort of metal object. Blackheart wondered if perhaps they had gained some sort of magic. He shrugged, and began to walk forward. He could not be killed by sword or magic by any mere man on Earth. His pact with the Great Evil had ensured that, and he had tested it many times over the centuries.
Blackheart felt the impact of the bullets pressing into his host’s body. He continued on, not feeling any pain. While the shopkeeper’s mouth exploded as a bullet hit it, the face on the heart grinned.
“You’ve gotta hit him in the heart! Shoot the heart!” Marsha didn’t want to stress out the nice policeman who initially humored her and then had to deal with a super-strong demonic warlord summoned from the skin of an ancient book, but this guy was clearly not getting the picture.
“Whatever, just run!” Marsha was not going to let this dense guy get her killed. She totally got it that it was a hard concept to wrap your head around, but it was survival time now. Marsha screamed one last time at the cop and then booked it.
Marsha could hear the policeman question reality between the punctuated gunshots. She heard him scream, and she didn’t look back. As she fled, she saw that the cop had left his car door open in the hurried frenzy of a multiple car accident and a guy getting his head squashed. She saw the shotgun next to the emergency brake, and figured it would be better than nothing.
Blackheart was still about twenty feet away when he had finished killing the police officer. As he turned, Marsha held the gun steady against her shoulder, and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
“Oh dammit, the stupid safety.” Marsha quickly examined the weapon as Blackheart slowly walked towards her. Marsha found what she hoped was the safety, pushed it in, and then brought the mouth of the gun up towards Blackheart, who was rapidly closing in.
“Time to die, wench.” Blackheart reached his hand out towards Marsha.
Marsha closed her eyes and pulled the trigger. Marsha cried out as the butt of the gun slammed into her shoulder. She looked up, and the corpse of the old shopkeep was laying on the ground. Marsha slowly inched forward, and saw that she had somehow hit her target. The rib cage was completely shattered, and fragments of bone were deeply embedded in what was left of the evil heart.
“I..I don’t understand,” the raspy voice muttered. Marsha stood over the quivering heart, it’s black tendrils retracting from its host’s limbs, wrapping itself in protection.
“I guess you should have watched Lord of the Rings, buddy. I guess where ever you came from, the “no man” thing is taken really literally.” Marsha cocked the shotgun and walked over, pointing the barrel directly at the small ball of blackened flesh. Marsha squeezed the trigger and another loud boom resounded in a puff of smoke. The black heart was now just chunks of meat mixed with bone and lead pellets.
Marsha could hear sirens in the distance getting closer. To the cheers of the bystanders who had peeped out from their hiding places, she walked back to the police cruiser and sat her soaking-wet self into the car, waiting out the rain. It had been a long week.