May 21

1688 — Birthdate of Alexander Pope


“And ten low words oft creep in one dull line…”

— Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism


The scholar of ancient texts turned brittle pages, transcribed the symbols and strange letters as best he could.

On his notebook pages, the copied lines lost their vibrancy.  In his pedestrian handwriting, in plain black ink, the scratchings seemed random and insignificant.

But in that old book, with the title he could partially translate as The Mysteries of ___________, the lines seemed to dance on the page.  In some places, the letters almost seemed to flicker, like small flames.

Such illusions were particularly surprising, considering that the book’s ink was a dull, faded brown.  Possibly human or animal blood, but the owner would not permit laboratory testing to confirm the scholar’s guess.

They wouldn’t permit photographs of the pages, either, and had confiscated his camera and cell phone before allowing him into the mansion’s library.

As he turned to the next brittle page, copied new patterns and angles into his notebook, the scholar felt frustrated.  He simply couldn’t reproduce the flicker of ink, the flutter of ancient lines that were at once indecipherable nonsense, and a dark voice whispering at the edge of his comprehension.

Behind the scholar’s shoulder, the society’s archivist stood with his back to the wall, supervising to ensure the irreplaceable book wasn’t damaged.  The scholar wished he had brought a replica in his briefcase, which he could surreptitiously remove and switch with the original.  He wished he had brought a small blade to make a quick incision to remove the book’s most infamous page.

The page everyone whispers about.  The page that could trigger the end of the world…


 […continued tomorrow…]