Well, my friends, it is here. And...it is long. You may need to read it in more than one sitting...I thought about posting the ending in two parts, but decided to give the whole thing to you here and now, since you've been waiting so patiently! Enjoy! (Again, if you haven't read Parts I and II, scroll down and read those first!)
“Frank, are you…I mean, that’s not…” Maggie’s sentence trailed off as she stared at Frank, who was staring back just as earnestly, his eyes pleading for her to understand.
“No, Maggie, I have not lost my mind, the cider hadn’t expired, and I really saw them!”
She stared at him for a moment before responding. “And you saw these…these lumpy thingies two weeks ago, but you…”
“…didn’t tell you for fear that you would have this exact reaction and think that I was senile. Maggie, you of all people know me. You know just how much of an imagination I have, or, well, don’t have, and just how much I don’t believe these things. I would not make this up, I’m not imagining it, and I’m not crazy!!” Frank was pacing now, without realizing he’d gotten up out of the chair.
“Frank, listen,” Maggie shook her head before going on, “let’s just say you saw these, these things under your rug.” Frank looked as if he was about to protest, but Maggie held up her hand and went on, “What do think they are? I mean, you said nothing was there when you looked, but maybe it was a…a particularly fast…mouse or something.”
“No.” Frank shook his head and continued his pacing, his arthritic knee slowing him with each turn. “No. It was too big to be a mouse.”
“No! Besides, when I dropped the book, it, it…it divided! It multiplied!” He stopped and looked directly at Maggie. “Maggie, I think it has everything to do with that book you lent me.”
“You, but…but nothing like this ever happened when I read the book, Frank! Why should it just happen to you? This makes no sense.”
“Think about it, Maggie. I’m an old man…” Maggie cut in, “You’re not old…” but Frank went on as if he hadn’t heard her. “I’m set in my ways…I don’t believe this stuff. You do! You didn’t need convincing! I did! Maybe it’s meant to only happen to those who are skeptics, or maybe only at a certain moon, or in a certain atmosphere…Maggie, come back with me to my house. We need to see the room. Maybe it’ll help us.”
“Help us…what exactly? Should we call a medium? Have a séance?”
“Maggie. There was something under my rug. And you need to help me figure out what exactly it is.”
They approached Frank’s house with considerable trepidation, and found it dark as they had left it. Frank’s mind spun with visions of creatures infesting every nook and cranny of his home, his sanctuary…anger flared in him briefly as he put his hand on the door knob. They had infested his house, and he was taking it back. With a boldness pulled from unknown recesses in the usually mild Frank Batton, he pushed open the door, switched on the light, and, with Maggie close behind, walked straight for his sitting room.
All was still. No movement under the rug, no change from how he’d left it: lamp in pieces on the floor, wooden chair splintered on the rug. No noises or shuffling sounds, just silence.
“Frank,” Maggie’s voice caused Frank to jump.
“Shhh! It was here!” he whispered, pointing to the spot on the rug where he’d smashed the chair. He approached the spot slowly, pulling Maggie behind him, and dropping her hand as he grabbed the splintered pieces of wood and moved them off the rug. Maggie helped, then they both grabbed the corner of the rug and folded it back. There, just where the remnants of the chair had been, was a perfect, polished circle in the wood. No dust or dinginess or scratches like all of the wood around it; it was as if someone had sanded and refinished a six-inch circle of wood in the middle of Frank’s old, well-trodden floor.
The following day found Frank on the phone with what seemed to him to be the most unhelpful human on the east coast. Her nasally voice was like nails on a chalkboard, but Frank endured. If she gave him what she wanted, he would put up with it. Heck, he’d send her a dozen roses and a basket of throat lozenges if she would just give him the information he sought.
“I’m sorry, sir. There is no one in our records with that name.”
“But…” Frank’s already disheveled hair was being pulled through his fingers yet again. “…this book was published by your company! How can you not have the author’s name in your records? How is that possible?”
“I’m sorry, sir, we have no record of this book. Maybe you should check another publishing…”
“There is no other publishing company! The book is right here, in my hands, and the name of your publishing company is stamped on the side! How do you explain that?!”
“I’m sorry, sir…” the rest of her words were cut off as Frank slammed the phone on the receiver. He turned to Maggie, who was sitting at the table working on her laptop. After cleaning up the broken furniture, they’d both decided to leave the sitting room alone for now, and had spent the day working in the kitchen. “The publishing company doesn’t seem to have any record of this book being published by them. Can you believe that? I thought technology was supposed to help with the distribution of information. What about losing it?!”
“Wait, what do you mean, ‘no record’? How is that even possible?!” Maggie spoke as her fingers flew across her keyboard. “That’s weird…how could they not…Frank! Frank, I’ve got it!”
“You have it? Let me see!” Frank put his reading glasses back on as she turned the computer to face him. “Wait, what is this? This is the contact information for M. John Livret. We don’t need a reviewer’s number! We’re looking for information on the author of this blasted book!” He slapped the cover of the book whose last chapter he had not yet brought himself to read. “Why would you look up him?” He gestured at the computer screen, his mind going back to the phone call he’d just ended.
Maggie turned to him. “Frank, Livret reviewed the book. He had to have been contacted by someone and asked to do that review! Maybe he has some information! Call him!”
Frank stared at her for a moment until what she said finally registered. He was exhausted, having gotten little sleep the previous night (for obvious reasons) and he felt like the cogs in his brain were going in slow motion. He turned his head to face the computer once more, his hand reaching for the phone.
Moments later someone picked up and answered with a brief, “Yes?”
“M-m-m,” Frank cleared his throat and tried again, “Monsieur Livret?”
“Oui, this is John Livret. Who is this?”
Frank took a deep, steadying breath. “Monsieur Livret, my name is Frank Batton. I’m a big fan of your reviews. I read everything…” he paused and looked at the book lying in front of him on the table, “…I read practically everything you recommend!”
“I appreciate that, Monsieur…uh…”
“…Monsieur Batton, but this is a private line. Kindly send a note next time. Au revoir.”
“Wait! Please! I need your help!” Frank’s heart was pounding and the phone slipped in his sweaty hand. He grabbed it before it fell and pressed it against his ear, praying M. Livret wouldn’t hang up on him. “You reviewed a book! It was by an author named ----- -----! I need to know about that author!”
There was silence on the other end of the phone. Frank was about to hang up when he heard the reviewer swear softly in French. The line was silent for a few more moments. “…Where did you get that book?”
Relief flooded over Frank and he gripped the phone still tighter. Someone else had heard about the book! “My neighbor…she’s a friend of mine, and she, well, she works at a book store in town. She bought the book there…” Maggie was shaking her head, her eyes wide. Frank put his hand over the mouthpiece and whispered, “What?”
“Frank, I didn’t buy that book.” Frank looked at her, his eyebrows pinched together. Maggie hurried on, “A friend of mine gave it to me. He said someone gave to him, that it had been passed from person to person and should be passed on when I was done.”
“Wha…?” Frank’s surprise was interrupted by an impatient “Allo??” on the other end of the phone. “I’m sorry, M. Livret…I was just… Well, as it turns out, my friend was given this book by a friend, who was given it by a friend, and so on. She gave it to me a few days ago, and, well, I just wanted to know if there was a way that I could get in touch with the author somehow.”
The phone line was quiet again. “I am afraid that there is no way for you to get in touch with the author. C’est impossible.”
Frank paused for a moment. “Excuse me?” Maggie was looking at Frank, her eyes ablaze with curiosity. “Forgive me, M. Livret, but I don’t…I don’t understand. Is the author…dead?”
“M. Batton, I don’t know exactly how to explain all of this, so I shall be, how you say…frank.” Despite the tension, Frank chuckled silently to himself, then shook his head at Maggie’s confused expression as Livret went on. “The author of this…this book you spoke of…does not exist. There is no record of such an author anywhere with any agent or with any publishing company. I do not know or understand how this book came to be published, and any inquiries made into this, this…mystère have come up blank. No one knows where this book came from, who wrote it, or how it got into circulation. There is no record of it having been sold at any store, ever, and the publishing company whose name graces its spine has no record of any author or book bearing those names. As for my review…” M. Livret paused and cleared his throat, seeming hesitant to go on. “I…I once read a book when I was a young man traveling the world. It was a translation of an ancient text and it fascinated me. I retained a copy of this text for some weeks, and wrote notes in the, ah, margins, notes expressing my opinion of the book.” He paused again, taking a deep breath. “One day my small room was broken into, yet the only thing missing was that text. Time passed…then, some years ago a friend of mine called me and asked about a review I’d given of a strange book. He said he was surprised to see my name on the back of such a book as it was not the sort of book I usually reviewed. That book, M. Batton, is the one of which you have spoken to me, and that review is nothing more than the words I once scribbled on the pages of the translation of an ancient text.”
Frank sat, silent, his heartbeat still racing.
“I have no way, Monsieur, of knowing whether or not that book in your possession is the same as the ancient text I once read. Several times I have tracked down someone with a copy of the livre…excuse me, the book with my own words on its back. Each time, that person promises to send me the book, yet it never gets to me. I have asked them to read it to me over the phone, and the phone lines go dead. I have even tried to go to the book, but by the time I arrive, it is always gone. Stolen, lost, disparu.” The Frenchman sighed heavily. “This book, Monsieur, it plagues me.”
“M. Livret, it plagues me as well.” Frank’s eyes had gone wide during Livret’s story, and he stared in shock at the wall in front of him. “Has anyone, that is, those people you spoke of, who have read this book…has anyone ever mentioned anything…strange…happening to them when they read the book?”
Livret considered for a moment. “Monsieur, all I can say is that everyone with whom I have spoken about this book is more than anxious to be rid of it.”
“Thank you, M. Livret. I appreciate your help. I myself am rather anxious to be rid of it.” Frank’s heart had slowed as he adjusted to the news.
“Au revoir, M. Batton. I wish you luck.”
The line went dead and Frank turned to Maggie with a tired look on his face. “Would that you had never brought me this accursed book, my dear Maggie.”
The wind blew lightly at the windows as Frank and Maggie sat quietly in Frank’s sitting room. They had deliberated for some time about the future of the book. Frank had suggested burning it, but Maggie felt that there was some purpose behind the book and eschewed that idea immediately. She kept telling Frank that before they did anything, Frank needed to finish the last chapter.
“Maggie, I don’t…what if…”
“Frank, I will sit with you while you read the last chapter. Just read it!”
After a few more minutes of cajoling and Maggie practically shoving Frank into his chair, he finally settled in to finish the book. They had turned on all the lights as a precaution, and Frank didn’t drink anything, hot or otherwise. Hands shaking, Frank set the book in his lap and opened it to the last chapter. He glanced up at Maggie, who was sitting nearby with her own book in her lap, then around the room once more before settling in to read.
Just like the last time, the book practically turned its own pages as Frank flew through the last chapter. It seemed he’d just begun reading and then he was on the last page, his eyes sliding across the final words. Fin. He closed the book with a snap, and Maggie jumped and looked around nervously. Frank’s eyes darted around the room as well, at the rug, at the new lamp on his side table, at the empty spot where the wooden chair once sat.
Nothing. No movement, no bumps, nothing. Curious, he dropped the book on the floor where it landed open and face down, but still, nothing. Maggie looked on as he lifted the corner of the rug once more. He had to check. Had he been dreaming? Could this all be a strange dream?
There, on his scratched wooden floor, the polished circle remained. He looked up and met Maggie’s curious gaze. “Do you have any friends who are interested in a book?”
Evan Drabinski sat in his worn recliner with the book his coworker had given him. She hadn’t said much about it, just that it was very…unexpected. He wasn’t one to read fiction, as a rule. He preferred concrete fact…but every once in a while his sense of adventure kicked in.
He settled in and began to read the first chapter, finding himself pulled into the strange story line…when out of the corner of his eye, something moved.