Tell A Tale — Gothic Fiction

Eye By ella holliday

I might have picked it up in the flurry of paperwork that crossed our desks. Perhaps I grabbed it from the mess of text books in the common room. I can’t know.

Clusters of thick fingerprints blink on its cover when the matte black catches the light.

I have a thing about old books: their musk, tears, folds. I think about what the last reader thought; I use their eyes.

It surprised me when I opened this artifact to find something hand-written - so much so, I snapped it shut. A diary? I waited less than thirty seconds before succumbing to my curiosity.

I close the book again. I know the handwriting. The dots above the “i”s are tiny hearts.

This time I wait until night falls before returning to my little mystery. Though now the writing seems changed; I must have skipped some pages last time. I freeze as I skim through the words.

“The journey home has never felt so short. This book holds more secrets than I think I want to know. I’m racking my brain to think where I found it but it could have been anywhere. I probably picked it up thinking it was my iPad case. Stupid.”

I know this writing too, all thick lines and raised bumps across the paper’s surface. I pull my finger down the tracks he left on the page, catching my nail on his capital letters. I know him.

I inhale the dusty perfume of the pages and consider its purpose. No need to use his eyes. I feel that his mind is on the paper, the lead still warm on the page where his sentences trail away.

Turn the page. I don’t know this hand.

“I can’t help but wonder whether these people are messed up or whether through writing I just know them better. Is there even a difference?”

I can almost hear the owner’s voice as I read. Nobody’s the same when they put pen to paper. We are different when we don’t know that we’re being read.

Realisation slips over my shoulders like heavy water. My skin crawls, eyelets of flesh pricking from its surface.

I walk to close my window. The darkness outside is absolute, and my imagination projects a thousand figures into the garden beneath me. My lamp can be seen for miles across the shallow fields. My eyes strain into the darkness. Nothing.

Next page. A teacher. She writes in green biro, familiar. Next. A friend. She is feverish and writes “see” with three “e”s. Next. “I can’t stop thinking about her. I can’t sleep with her burning on -“. Next. Things that we don’t think anyone sees.

The book thrums with activity, and the sound of internal monologue is addictive. Rare. But too much, too intimate.

My throat clenches. Suddenly I am repulsed by my own transgression. If I can read the minds of others, who’s to say nobody’s reading mine?

I close the book.

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