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Monster in the Stacks, Horror Short Stories/Anthologies

August 3rd, 2021 · No Comments · Books, City Library, Library Displays, Main Branch

Check out the new display featuring horror short stories/anthologies and click to read the short horror story below.

Monster in the Stacks.

It’s rare that you, as a page, need to go into the stacks- the storage of the library- to put things away. You are comfortable with it; you’ve been working at the library for about a year and know the layout and how everything works. The stacks are a little creepy: Entirely metal and secluded, especially on days when the general public aren’t allowed into the building. The worst time is early morning and late afternoon when the light from the windows doesn’t reach down there.

One afternoon in the middle of winter, there’s almost an entire cart of books to shelve in the stacks. You need a special key to go into the stacks. The key itself is nondescript, relatively new, and matches the metal door. You grab the key from a low drawer behind one of the desks and fiddle with it in your hands as you return to the cart. You roll it over to the metal door and peek through the woven metal. The stairs are sturdy concrete, but the grey paint is chipped and worn. You take a deep breath- you don’t fear the dark but being alone in it is unsettling.

The key goes into the lock and turns smoothly. The door creaks when you open it, and snaps shut behind you. Your feet echo down concrete steps, stiff chain link fence hugging you on either side. When you arrive at the bottom you are greeted by rusty carts, tight shelves, and old books. There are gaps beneath the bookshelves, leading to darkness in the level below. It’s much warmer in the stacks than every other floor, like hot breath on your neck.

There is a 3-5 second delay in the lights turning on, and each row of shelves has its own switch. The sun is already setting, the low light from the windows only adding a dark blue tint to the area. You need to venture into the darkness to turn the lights on.

You take a few steps forward and reach for the switch. something warm wraps around your ankle, squeezing it. You gasp and hit the switch in a panic… 1… 2… 3… 4 seconds pass and the light flickers on. the feeling vanishes and nothing is there. You take a deep breath. The smell of musty books fills your lungs. You taste the pages, old words on your tongue. Some of them haven’t been touched in decades and would practically turn to dust in your hands.

Quickly, you think. You don’t want to stay here any longer than necessary.

You grab one of the carts and pull it over to the stairs to transfer the books waiting at the top. It’s tedious work, but it doesn’t take you too long. When you have all the books ready, you finally start shelving.

You’re efficient at your job, but you don’t know the placement of things in the stacks as well as you do the rest of the library. You can’t be as fast as you had hoped. The longer you spend in the stacks, the more unnerved you become. The sun has left, leaving only the harsh pools of yellow artificial light to guide you. It’s out of character for you, but you fumble with one of the books. It falls and slips beneath one of the shelves, plummeting into the darkness. You hear the thud echo as it hits the floor of the level beneath you. Damn, and you’re almost finished with putting the entire cart away. You decide to finish the cart before going downstairs to retrieve the book.

It feels childish, but as you go down into the lower level you turn on lights as you go. You are patient in waiting for them to turn on, not wanting to aggravate your own anxiety further. Then you reach the stairs, another issue. The next switch is at the bottom, and the light behind you doesn’t reach all the way down. You wring your hands as you look where you need to go. You’re nervous, but annoyed that you’ve catered to that juvenile emotion as much as you have. That annoyed, stubborn part of you drives you down the stairs without another thought.

As you reach the bottom, the silence here is staggering. The usual hum from the depths of the building is abnormally quiet. You shake your head dismissively. You look up at the cracks of light from the floor above. The book should have fallen just around the corner. You don’t even need the light for that. You step forward, balancing on the balls of your feet to peek. The light from above is dim, but you see the book. You make your way down the aisle and pick it up- the book is unharmed, a small relief. Book in hand, you turn to head back upstairs.

That’s when you hear it.

There is a strange noise, something between weeping and growling. It vibrates through the metal shelves. The hairs along your arms prickle despite the warmth. You close your eyes for a moment, not wanting to look. It’s only your imagination, right? It would be silly to even look. But the fear in your body is so raw and unfamiliar you can’t help it- you turn your head.

The creature, if you can call it that, is a mass of dark tangled tendrils like a thornbush, dripping with ink and bleeding into everything it touches. Its various eyes are bone white and eerily human, sinking in and out of the darkness. The noise it makes is a conglomeration of muffled and gurgled cries for help. You are too panicked to even scream.

The monster moves by dragging itself with those tendrils. It’s slow, but anywhere there is darkness around you, more vines seem to appear.

The shadow is sticky like blood and clings to your shoes. You put your foot back down and you sink into it. Inky vines begin to climb up your legs and you reach for the switch. Your fingers touch it just barely, you flick up and hear the click- The lights don’t turn on. You have seconds to wait, but they may as well be hours. How long until you are consumed?

1… You can’t feel your toes anymore. 2… Your ankles are wrapped tightly in the vines. 3… The murky substance has dragged you down to your calves. 4… everything below your knees has vanished into the darkness. 5… 6- It flickers but doesn’t turn on. In a last panicked attempt to save yourself, you grab hold of one of the metal shelves. It isn’t as secure as you’d hoped, and the books topple off it. It’s held in place now by only two screws. You hold on so tightly your knuckles turn white in the low light.  You can’t reach anywhere else, the shelf is slipping from the bolts keeping it in place, the metal groans.

Finally, the light turns on and you stare, wide-eyed, as the shadow melts back into the floor, tendrils untangling themselves from the shelves. You shudder as you regain feeling in your legs and topple backwards, toward the light. Your nerves tingle as if the circulation had been cut off. You rub your legs- there is no residue from what just occurred, but the panic is still there.

You don’t care about the fallen book or the shelf of books now scattered across the aisle, you can take care of that during the daytime.

You climb the stairs when the pins and needles finally wear off, each step getting you farther from that terrible feeling. At the top of the stairs, with the metal door securely behind you, it seems unreal. That didn’t really just happen, did it? There’s no proof. You had been alone, the monster left nothing behind but a feeling of panic. You certainly wouldn’t talk about it. Maybe you had hallucinated the entire thing and you don’t want to seem crazy.

Still, from now on you’ll keep a flashlight on your keys… just in case.

when ink fades from paper, where does it go? does it drip down between the cracks in the floor, pooling into shadows? do the words create something sentient?

The Stack Monster (Ink Achak)

Note on the name: ‘Achak’ is an Algonquin name for spirit

Appearance: The Ink Achak is a large dark mass, seemingly made of thorny vines dripping with ink. It has various eyes that fade in and out of view all over its body. It is capable of changing its shape depending on how it is moving and/or hunting (growing human-like limbs, using its vines to crawl like a spider, sinking into a dark puddle to move through shadows, etc.). At its largest humanoid form, it stands at 7 feet. While it is made of faded ink and drips as it moves, the ink quickly dissipates and leaves no trace.

Background: The Ink Achak was formed in the stacks of an ordinary library, beginning as faded ink in forgotten books collecting and slowly forming into a creature. It took bits of consciousness from the stories the ink held. Its singular desire is to collect more consciousness from ink in books and directly from the source- it began absorbing people after only a few years. All the eyes that rise and sink in the surface of its body are from victims previously devoured.

Abilities: The Ink Achak travels through shadows, but the shadows must be connected in some way or it will need to materialize to move between them. It can travel in indirect light as its corporeal form.

It actively hunts when a person is alone nearby, especially at night. It uses its vines as tendrils to trap its prey and absorb it. The process is not painful, but it is terrifying. As it wraps its tendrils around its victim, they will begin to go numb wherever the ink touches. Depending on the Ink Achak’s strength at the time, it can take anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes. You only finally die when you are completely absorbed, your body is dissolved, and your heart stops. While your body dies, your consciousness never ceases.

Direct light, especially sunlight, is its main weakness as it will make the ink evaporate. It doesn’t like water as exposure to water will weaken it, but not kill it.

Display and short story by Delia in Circulation.

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