Back in February of 2008, I decided that I needed a change in my monotonous life. Whether that change would come in the form of a new job or a new toothbrush, I didn’t know. I was never the most adventurous person, I’ve always found it difficult to veer away from my comfort zone and the limit of my existence usually depended upon which book I was reading at the time. It took me a while to realise that my happiness often derived from the stories that my mind was living in; I was an avid bookworm – as miserable a synecdoche as that is.
Once I realised my true outlet, I immediately knew what I wanted. I purchased a small shop, quit my boring job, renovated the building and transformed it into a bookstore – I had never been happier. The next two years were the best of my life; the store had become a huge hit with the locals, my perspective on work had been completely altered and I was feeling genuinely happy for the first time since my childhood.
It was during the winter of 2010 that she walked into my store. She stepped inside out of the snow and approached me with a large bin-bag. Etchings of age covered her pale face and hands – she must have been at least 80 years old. Slamming the bag on the counter, she simply said:
“These are for you.”
I looked inside the bag to find a selection of some of the greatest novels ever written.
“Why? Do you want money for these or some kind of book trade?” I asked confusingly.
“No, they’re yours to have. Take them.”
She gave me a feeling of uneasiness. Her dirty grey fringe slightly concealed her face as a cold gaze met my vision.
“Are you sure you want me to have them, wouldn’t you rather sell them?”
“No. I have no use for them, nor for money.”
“Okay… thank you. What’s your name?”
She muttered her final words and left my store.
I found it all too strange that somebody would give away such great books for nothing, but I suppose some people are just nice. I made my way home that night and took the books with me so that I could go through them. I piled them up on the table and was surprised to see that all of them were in fantastic condition. A couple of them seemed to be first editions and others were versions that I had never even seen before. It took me a moment to realise but the novels that I was looking at were not as I had remembered them to be.
The first book that I picked up was The Green Mile. On the front cover, there was an image of John Coffey smiling and holding two dead, naked girls; I opened it up and flicked through the pages. In this version of the novel, he was in fact guilty of the rape and murder of both children. I made my way to the end of the book and read through the execution scene. All of the officers who had originally grown to love John Coffey in the original novel were now laughing uncontrollably and screaming racial taunts as he was being executed. My eyes had seen enough and my stomach had felt enough too.
The next book I picked up was The Catcher In The Rye. The artwork upon the front page seemed to be of a dead body splattered on the street, drawn from an aeriel view. I flicked through the book until I reached Chapter 14. After Holden Caulfield speaks of ‘messing with the idea of suicide’, he suddenly breaks down in tears and jumps from the window, cracking his skull on the pavement below. The book abruptly ended after that.
I then picked up Lord Of The Flies. The defining image on this novel was of a large child with the face of a pig; he was covered in blood and surrounded by decaying corpses. After grazing through the pages, I reached a point of the story in which Piggy is described as being “non-human, vicious and a hungry animal”. A chapter or so later, Jack insults Piggy which leads to him losing his temper and ripping him apart. Piggy then proceeds to kill and eat the rest of children. The remainder of the book was the same line repeated over and over: “Piggy sat alone on the island waiting for death”.
I read through the few books that were left in the pile and they had all been changed in some sick way: The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, To Kill A Mockingbird, Ulysses, every one of them. Just as I reached the bottom of the pile, I noticed that the final book was one that I had never even heard of before. It was called Last Of The Sparks. I found this slightly unnerving as I immediately paired it with my name, Aaron Sparks. Still, it was just a book.
The front cover was of six gravestones with words too small to be read etched into the granite. I looked up into the top corner of the book and noticed that there was a sell-by date on it – 6/4/2013. I nervously opened it up to the beginning of the story: Chapter 1 – Alice Sparks. My stomach dropped as I read my mother’s name upon the page. I felt dizzy and confused as I anxiously made my way through the chapter. It seemed to detail a regular day in the life of the character; until I reached the last page. Alice was crossing over the road when the heel of her shoe broke causing her to fall. She didn’t get to her feet fast enough and a speeding driver struck her, puncturing both of her lungs.
I felt sick to my stomach. I put the book down and got straight into bed hoping for some sleep. I lay awake all night as countless questions ran through my mind; the only thought that managed to put me to sleep was: “It’s just a book”. The next morning when I got into work, I was feeling worse for wear. It wasn’t until around lunch time that I began to perk up and regain a bit of energy. Then the phone rang. I answered the call to my father crying on the other end – I immediately knew what had happened. I closed the shop and ran to the hospital, but it was already too late, she was gone – hit by a speeding driver they said.
I spent the next couple of weeks helping take care of my dad. Me, my brother and my sisters stayed with him in turns and looked after him; we all looked after each other. It wasn’t until a few months later that I picked up Last Of The Sparks, it had just scared me so much the last time. I opened it up to page 37 and there it was: Chapter 2 – Patrick Sparks. This story was more of the same, a day in the life… right up until the part in which he shot himself in the kitchen whilst on the phone to his son. I ran to the phone to speak to him – comfort him – but then I realised what I may be doing. The phone picked up at the other end and before I could say a word, he was gone.
I got my black suit and tie out once more and repeated the same process for another parent. It ruined us all. After the funeral, I refused to touch the book. What if I had been causing these deaths by reading it? I couldn’t go through it all again. But on Christmas Eve of 2011, I got a phone call from my brothers wife, Heather. Will had been putting up christmas lights on the roof, when he slipped on ice and broke his neck – he died almost instantly. I threw the phone at the wall and began to sob into my sleeve. Anger took the pain away for a moment as I picked up the book and read through Chapter 3. It was exactly as Heather had described.
I fell asleep and woke up the next day with the book still on my lap. I decided to check who was going to go next out of me and my sisters and hopefully warn them – or myself – in some way. I turned the page: Chapter 4 – Mary and Sarah Sparks. I rushed through the story as fast as I could until I reached the end. Both of my sisters and their partners would drown in a lake after colliding with another car on a one-way bridge. That same sickly feeling took over me. I met with my sisters later that day to exchange gifts and I told them as calmly as I could muster to be careful when driving. I had to sound as sane as possible mentioning the lake, the bridge and the fact that all four of them would be in the car at the same time; but at least I told them.
Mary and Sarah drowned eight months later in August 2012. After I went to the funeral, I picked up the book and turned to the final pages: Chapter 5 – Aaron Sparks. But I didn’t read it. I’d rather not live in fear for so long, so I decided to save it for nearer the time; after all, there was a sell-by date on it for a reason. Everything has been normal for the past five months or so, although I’ve lost interest in reading so I’m back to my old miserable self. I questioned myself every day as to why she was doing this to me. But it didn’t matter, it was all going to be over soon anyway.
I’ve just finished reading the final chapter. Its 6/4/2013 and I’m sitting in my basement waiting for her to arrive; that’s the way the ending goes… or so I’ve read.