The Real Book of Shadows

They told me it was safe, I was safe. Nothing to fear except for fear itself. That’s what they had told me, and I believed them. Why did I believe them? Why did I let them goad me on into the darkness?
It hadn’t been my first time at the tree. When I first went there, I was exploring my new neighbourhood. I happened across the little gully in the forest that housed the old tree. I had found a dead bird there, its eggs laying smashed across the ground beside it. The second time was one summer when the neighbourhood kids sent me down on a dare. There was a rabbit carcass, caught in a trap and forgotten. The third time was in winter. I had gotten lost and slipped into the culvert after tripping on an icy rock. I landed right beside a body, the bright red blood still draining out and staining the shaded snow in a little river down the incline. We were forbidden from going into the forest after that.
This time was different. I had neither ignorance nor misdirection sending me to that place, even the other children hadn’t needed to coerce me into going. That day I just had this unbearable need to visit that place, so when the boy next door mentioned sneaking out to play Blair Witch in the area, I jumped on the idea.
In the middle of the night, when my parents were fast asleep, I climbed out my window to meet the others. There was only one flashlight between the nine of us, but no one turned it on. The waxing moon provided more than enough light to guide us to that forest.
I was made to be the witch. The other children would fan out around the forest and enter, their goal being to find the witch and steal her light before she “devoured” them with it. Shoving the light in my hands, they instructed me to find a place to be my lair. I complied; I already had the perfect place in mind.
I all but ran to the gully. The police tape from the murder investigation the previous winter had long since been collected, though a few lone strips fluttered in the wind where they had been hopelessly caught by the twisting branches of briars. That’s when I found it.
It was a cave. From the outside it looked rather ordinary, hardly like a cave at all, in fact. Just a big old tree with roots sprawling over a hole, barely noticeable this time of year when the dead leaves cover everything. Come to think of it, dead was a rather appropriate word to describe the whole area. Any given time of the year, death seemed to cling to that place like a leech.
In the dark, I had fallen into the hole between the roots. I watched as the leaves fluttered to land all over me from above, backlit by the moon that shone between the ominously bare limbs of the tree. I managed to climb out on my own, skirting the edge of the roots until I found one to pull myself up with. A shower of earth fell on top of me as I tugged on the makeshift rope, but the root itself held strong, so I used it.
In a weird twist of coincidence, all the children came upon my “lair” at once, seeing me rise from the dirt. A few of the more skittish ones went running, shouting everything from “it’s a zombie” to “the Blair Witch is real”. Only four remained.
“What did you find?” One of them asked nonchalantly.
“It looks like there’s a tunnel under there,” commented another as he stuck his head down to where I had just been.
Naturally, everyone’s curiosity was instantly peaked, and, naturally, I was picked to be the great explorer. They said it was because I was the one with the flashlight and something about some sort of treasure being hidden there, but deep down I knew the real reason; they were all too scared to go in themselves and I was the dispensable new kid on the block.
All alone I braved the descent back into the cave. All alone I walked down the tunnel, the light of the dying flashlight illuminating the smallest amount of path before me.
Time wound long in that place. Each step I took towards the end seemed to only pull it farther away from me. Each breath I released brought the darkness in closer, increased the tension inside me.
My flashlight went out and a noise exploded behind me from the darkness, both muffled and amplified by the shadows at my back. I broke into a dead run. Faster and faster until I came to a dead end. On a lectern sat a book bound in black leather, a lone candle flickering beside it. Fear forgotten, I ran my hand over its surface, feeling the odd veins that stood up from the burnt flesh of the cover. I’m not sure if it was my imagination, but I could have sworn they were pulsing ever so slightly, as if blood were flowing within them.
Another noise, a horrible unearthly sound, echoed from the blackness of the tunnel. Something drew me to open the book, some strange feeling that reading its contents would offer me some form of protection from whatever was coming for me. My hands moved of their own volition, opening the tome to a page near its centre.  It was blank. Another, closer noise lead me to turn around and face the darkness.
The candlelight from behind cast my shadow over the book, revealing the words hidden on the pages, inked in fresh blood. I didn’t even realize I was speaking the strange language before me until my voice rose in volume, echoing through the darkness and back to me. All the shadows seemed to bleed off the walls and into the book, leaving the tunnel in a state of grey twilight. The book fell unheeded from my hands to land by my feet, a scream tearing itself from my throat. What have I done?
I ran to the corpses of the children, strewn across the dirt like rags, their blood being leached out by the very soil itself. Behind me, the book had opened to a new spell. From its pages rose a monster more terrifying than the shadows it had been created from.
The creature stepped onto the earth, creeping its way up to me until its closeness was tangible. I had barely the time to turn around before the thing drew back a long, dagger-like arm and stabbed me through my heart.
As the shadow absorbed my life, I heard a voice in my mind. “You have my sincerest gratitude for finding the book, my dear,” the voice hissed. “As thanks, you have the privilege of becoming my new body.” I felt ice run through all my veins before everything went dark.
Someone, please, release me from the Book of Shadows!

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