An impromptu graffiti inscription inside the book read, “I have eaten the heart of the Jabberwock. I am the Viking King; I can do anything.”
Beneath inscription, inked in more fanciful looping scrawls, the vandal signed a name, Mathias Wolfram, dated: “Saturday the something of twenty something, I think. Time is a horrid orifice with paradoxical exits. P.S. If the boogeyman steps out of the shadows and asks for this book back, hand it over immediately. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
Teressa worked in the Breakersville, SC public library for over fifteen years. She had never seen this book. Someone must have dropped it in the return as a prank. Still, it was extremely odd and quite old. Leatherbound, treated with tar and sealing wax – beeswax to be precise- and it looked to have been block printed in the earliest days of Guttenberg. However, appearances can be forged. The title relieved into its cover, Incunabulum Absurdum, betrayed its feigned age. The use of the word incunabulum to describe a book from early era printing was not used until much later, circa the seventeen hundreds or so.
Flipping through carefully treated papyrus pages, the language, glyphs, or whatever nonsense printed therein, was nothing she had ever seen before. Unlike the title and inscription, it was not Latin or English. It had no discernable symbology. Staring at the strange printing, trying to make sense of it, to surmise who might have been capable of such a prank, Teressa suddenly felt as if she were being watched. She peered, owl-like over horn-rimmed glasses, and hooted a sigh. She only meant to stayafter hours to reshelve the daily drops. Then this absurdity happened.
She bumped her glasses up her nose and peered back down, intending to close the book and push it aside, but when she looked back at the text, it was now plain English.
An introduction: There are rules to the probability of absurdity, but they are all paradoxical. Anything that can happen, will happen. Anything that could never happen, will also eventually happen. All else is guesswork because time is broken, and therefore irrelevant, but will always loop in some spectacular way. You have read this somewhere, somewhen, afore and ensuing.
A demonstration: You are now one and six scale your normal size…
Teressa sneezed. In the blink of that instance, she found herself on hands and knees atop the old book, staring down at the now enlarged text directly beneath her. She was about the size of a new summer squash. Her pulse jumped. Panicking, struggling to breathe, she read on.
…Ensuing, you will be several snaps afore you were, eleven paces to the left, seven paces in the air, watching yourself about to sneeze, but do not fret. Just hang on for dear life. In a few more snaps you will be back where you were…
Teressa, as a tiny imp person, looked up in a desperate panic, before she could stand up on her tiny little legs, she sneezed again. Instantly, she found herself on the top of the non-fiction section marked Sh-Si, nestled behind the holly leaves she put up earlier in the week as part of the Christmas décor. She peered around, trembling. Indeed, she saw herself at her desk staring down at the strange book trying to figure out what it was. The her from a few snaps ago—as the book timed it—looked up as if someone was watching her. Teressa from the past reaffixed her glasses and looked back down. She did a double-take and began reading. Tiny Teressa felt another sneeze coming on. She indeed held on for dear life, but past Teressa sneezed first and disappeared, reappearing instantaneously as tiny Teressa on the book.
Subsequently, original Teressa sneezed after witnessing herself. In a blink, , she was back to her normal self, sitting at the desk, the eldritch tome sprawled before her. She stared, catatonic, off into nothing, not daring to investigate further.
In the dead silence of the library, she could hear her heartbeat pounding over the ambient drone of industrial heating and air unit on top of the building. Without venturing even so much as a glance at the book thing, she closed it and pushed it away. Then she pushed it further away for good measure. Sitting quietly with her arms wrapped around herself, she tried to not go insane, but felt quite considerably that she was failing in all matters of such notions.
Eventually, she mustered enough courage to get up and walk over to the non-fiction section designated Sh-Si. She brushed her fingers across the soft holly leaves. They were comforting, but it was difficult not imagining herself nine inches tall standing on the shelf.
“There are rules to the probability of absurdity,” she soliloquized, “but they are all paradoxical.” She pondered this intensely.
Suddenly there was a shadow. A dark man wrapped in a dark cloak, somber of expression, stood in the aisle beside her. He was unusually tall and brooding. Teressa stiffened. A boogeyman, the inscription had warned.
She immediately pointed to the book on her desk. The man stepped towards it. Light receded before him. He took up the incunabulum in large, gloved hands, examining it thoroughly. Noticing the inscription, he harrumphed, shut the book, and stowed it away into the shadowy recesses of his cloak. He peered at her and grinned, quite handsomely actually.
“Your mind is not ready for such,” he said, or she heard inside her mind. “Sleep.”
She woke behind her desk thinking it had all been an absurd dream, but
Chapter One: All dreams are real.
Coby Rosser is the third child of a teacher and a roofer. He grew up running barefoot in the dirty southern streets of Bennettsville, SC. When he wasn’t running wild, he spent a large portion of his childhood in the care of Shriners Children’s Hospital systems where he received several extensive spinal surgeries for severe scoliosis.
Surviving, he graduated high school with honors in 1997 and went on to attend technical college where he earned two associate degrees, one in science, and another in computer programming. He has worked as an Information Technology Professional for various fortune 500 companies and private businesses for the past twenty years until gravitating towards self-employment during the pandemic.
He currently resides in Wallace, SC in a historical home built before the civil war that was once a stop on the underground railroad. He is an avid guitarist, an accomplished carpenter, a traditional archer, and a dabbler in micro-electronics. He also thinks digital watches are pretty neat.
Incunabulum Absurdum is the winner of the Apparition Literary Magazine May Flash Fiction Challenge, which was based on the Photographer/Image prompt for May: Grete Stern