Title: The Leather Book
Fandom: original, strictly speaking
Recipient: [livejournal.com profile] myxginxblossoms
Notes: One of the options you offered was something Lovecraft inspired but original. And that's what this is. My original fic writing muscles are rusty, or else my Lovecraft muscles, but I hope you like this one anyway.

I have to write this quickly. My memory of these events is fading, and soon it will be gone forever – I must consider this merciful for myself, but I feel that an honest accounting must be given or many lives may well be in danger. I cannot help but think of all the great libraries around the world, and the secrets they may hold, deadly books waiting to be opened.

Johanna was never a particularly morbid girl. I don’t mean to give that impression. She was my sister, and very dear to me. She was curious, though, always curious, about everything. As a child she always wanted to know everything about everything around her. We were close, then, very close – there was nothing we did not share with each other, and no detail of our lives the other did not know completely. It wasn’t until after our mother died that things began to change.

I was the elder by two years, and as I was applying to colleges Johanna began running with a strange crowd. Johanna was a gentle soul, but these friends she chose were not. There were whispers that they were involved in all kinds of strange matters, though of course nothing was ever proven. I never thought it was any particular business of mine and kept my thoughts to myself, but then there was an incident that ended with one girl in the hospital (I never learned exactly what happened) and between one day and the next, it seemed, Johanna was swept away across the ocean to stay with a distant relative.

For some months I received letters from her, speaking vaguely about her classes and her boredom and dissatisfaction with her life abroad. Then, quite suddenly, the letters ceased.

By this time I had troubles of my own, working hard at my studies and finding myself attached rather unexpectedly to a young man who demanded much of my time. I assumed that Johanna had found her niche and was settling in and thus finding herself too busy to send her sister letters.

However, three months after, around Christmas time, I received a strange letter from Johanna, postmarked from Prague. In it, she spoke with great excitement about a new ‘project’ – of which she left the details vague – and that she hoped she would soon be finding her way back to the States, as by this time she was old enough to leave our aunt’s care. I read the letter with confusion and some amount of worry, as something in the writing did not sound altogether natural, though I could not have said what it was.

Other letters followed, postmarked from different cities across Europe. Not a week went by without a letter from Johanna, each one seeming to increase in enthusiasm and excitement – and also that strange sense of wrongness that I could scarcely identify. She spoke of the great monuments that she visited in each city – and once, in the letter from London, mentioned a traveling companion, though she declined to name him or even give much detail. “He is a very private person, Amelia,” she explained, “He does not approve of me even sending you these letters. I should feel poorly about speaking of him, even to you, my dearest sister.”

I was wary of this figure. I could see in him some echoes of those who had led her astray during her younger years, and feared that he might be some wolfish predator of a man who sought out innocent young women to seduce them into deadly paths.

Little did I know how right I was.

Johanna left no return address, however, so I had no way to reach her. I did not speak of my worries to our father, who was at that point quite advanced in years and spoke to me little due to his disapproval of my studies.

So things remained, until nearly a year after that first silence of letters had begun, when I received a final letter:

My dearest Amelia,

It is done. Everything I have wished for is done. If you had only seen what I have! But soon you will. I plan to return and will hope for a welcome from you. How much I have to tell you. Your head will spin to hear the things I have to say to you. The world is so much wider than we were ever taught to know, and he, oh he, has shown me so much I never dreamed to see.

I remain your sweet sister,
Johanna.


There is no way to describe or explain the shiver that ran down my spine on reading these words. I knew that something was strange, but I hardly knew what or how. Something about the lettering seemed strange, and I looked at it for a long time before setting it aside.

Johanna returned home late in the afternoon, calling up to my apartment. I let her in and nearly started and yelped to see the changes in her. When she had left Johanna had been almost angelic in her beauty, with fair, pink-tinged skin and gently falling chestnut curls. Now she had grown and matured, and there was something exotic in her strangeness to me. Her skin had darkened to a deep tan, as from a great deal of sun, and her hair was straight and much darker than I remembered. There were deep circles under her eyes, as from prolonged lack of sleep, but she had never looked happier.

All my worries fled at once and I embraced her with sincere joy, exclaiming my delight, and she returned the same, but hardly seemed able to contain her energy. “Oh, Amelia,” she said, gazing at me intently in a way that almost made my skin crawl. “I’ve waited so long to be able to tell you everything! You will scarcely believe it, but – the wonders I have witnessed! The doors opened to me!”

“By your friend,” I said, curious in spite of myself. “Can you tell me more of him now?”

“He was a professor,” she said, excitedly. “But he was cast out for his revolutionary theories – I cannot tell you more. He would be dreadfully upset.”

“Is he here with you?” I asked, but she shook her head.

“He remained behind, in Europe. There is still much work to be done, but what I have with me – sit, sit. I can’t keep it in any longer.”

I sat down quickly and waited. Johanna unzipped her suitcase and removed a small package wrapped in simple brown paper. I gazed at it curiously, but she shook her head with a small smile. “Not yet. I have to tell you the whole story first.”

She sat down and took a moment, gathering herself. “I found it in the ground in a copse of woods in that abominably small town where our aunt lives. No – not this book; rather, I found something far more significant. Something that threatens what we believe we know about the universe and our place in it. A fossil of something that cannot possibly have existed on this earth.”

I sat up straighter, my attention caught. “I brought it to a university, and they turned me away – but that was when I found him, and he told me – Amelia, he told me that this remnant was not from another time, but from another dimension, intimately connected with our own.

“I was skeptical, of course, as I see you are, but he showed me things – proofs – I cannot speak of them. Such wonderful things, so strange, I scarce own the words. Suffice to say that he told me enough to convince me that what he claimed was true, and I had to know more. That was where our travels began. He had been seeking a book, he said, for many long years, following a trail that led always onward, with vague references to some kind of book or record that spoke of this other dimension, and the power that might be harnessed so. Power greater than any source we now know, Amelia. Power that amounts, quite simply, to magic. And we found it. We traveled to many strange places, many dark libraries and abbeys in towns that time has forgotten, but we found it.” Her eyes glowed with a fervent light, and I was suddenly fearful of my own sister as she looked at me with a stranger’s eyes.

My mind was spinning now, and I hardly knew what to do. “Why come to me?” I asked. “I know nothing of any of these things you speak of.”

Johanna seemed startled. “Why would I not come to you? You are my sister, and such a thing as this! I needed to share it with you. I want you to have everything that I do. This tome is only part of the wisdom that we found. There is so much more, so much that I could not even explain. So much that I want you to understand.”

I stiffened. “You want me to go to Europe with you? I have studies, Johanna. Duties to attend to. I can hardly-”

“Duties!” Johanna exclaimed, her eyes gleaming as though there was a fire in them, and again I was struck by that unnatural, uncomfortable creeping sensation. “You speak of duties, and studies – Amelia, this is the most important discovery of our age! Do you understand how much this could change?”

I hesitated. But I knew my answer, and the fey look in Johanna’s eyes only sealed it for me. “Perhaps I do not,” I said, “And perhaps I do not want to. Johanna, I think you may be getting in too deep.”

Johanna was angry. She argued with me for some time, but at last she swept up her book and departed in a huff. “You’ll hear from me soon,” she said, ominously, “And then you’ll wish you’d come.”

I was horribly upset, but I expected to hear back from her soon. I did not. It was almost six months before I saw her again. The young man had left me, and I threw myself into my work, and it was without warning that Johanna knocked on my door.

She was scared. Her eyes darted to-and-fro as she stood on my porch stoop, and as a bird fluttered overhead she jumped. Something was clearly wrong, and she was nearly trembling as she forced her way into my house.

“Something’s gone wrong,” she said. “He’s vanished. I don’t know where he’s gone. And these things…” she shuddered, seeming nearly hysterical. I shook my head in confusion, wondering if perhaps she was suffering some sort of nervous breakdown.

“What things?” I asked, as Johanna retreated to a corner of the room where she could watch all the windows at once.

“They’re coming for me,” she said, “Amelia, they’ll never stop until I’m dead. It’s the book. It’s that book. It wouldn’t leave me alone. I couldn’t stop looking at it, and the more I looked the more I saw, and the more I saw – I had to read it. I couldn’t keep myself from reading it, but –” She choked, clapped a hand over her mouth.

“Johanna,” I said, “Sit down. You need to stay calm.” The wind built to a fever pitch and banged against the windows. Johanna stared at them, wide-eyed.

“Their black unblinking eyes,” she said. “They don’t stop watching me, no, not even when I sleep, they never stop watching, they don’t,” and then a particularly large gust banged the shutters and she jumped to the side, and a small brown book spilled out of her jacket and to the floor, where it fell open.

I wish I had not looked. I wish I had never looked. I almost wish that Johanna had never come to me, and I had simply never heard from her after her terrible quest began. Who knows what strange things might be disturbed on such a travel, or how much the experience might change someone? Who knows what things lurk deep in the shelves, waiting only for the pages to open to the right place to be released?

The lights went out with a buzz and a snap. Johanna screamed, and then screamed again. I cannot say I saw anything, but I cannot say I did not see anything; it is only impressions, now, and fading swiftly – a shadow full of eyes, scythe-like teeth in a red mouth, bat wings, a yellow eye in a black face, all of these and none. The shrill wailing of pipes in no tune I could ever replicate nor want to hear again.

The lights blinked back on before I could even understand what was going on, hardly before I registered anything. There was nothing. No sign of Johanna, my sister gone-

Only the book on the floor, closed once more.

I do not know what to think. I do not know what to believe. I don’t know where the professor my sister spoke of is, or who he was. I wonder sometimes if he was even human, or just some demon luring my sister into touching forbidden things no person was meant to know. I wonder what other fossils may be sitting buried in the woods, waiting to be found by the curious. I wonder where my sister was taken, and I hope, dearly, that she is dead, for her sake.

I wonder what lies within the pages of the brown book she carried with her.

It seems to pull at me as it sits here beside me at my desk. I feel a great desire to open it, just to look. I do not know what would happen then. I think it best to lock it away. The memories of tonight are slipping away from me quickly. My hands are still shaking but even now I am unsure if it ever happened. Except for the book, this strange book…

Perhaps I’ll look. Just once.
.

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