The Silk Mind

Ashlin Smith is bored with his apparently pointless job in the Royal Badger Survey, and is trying to quit so he can go and be a blacksmith like his family expected. However, the true purpose of the Badger Survey is a lot less boring than he knows or would prefer.

Ashlin, Jenna, Justin and Derk face monsters natural and unnatural as they are tangled up in political intrigue and the civilization-threatening side-effects of ancient sorcery.

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44. The Happy Bunny

Some thirty years or so before, there had been a really bad outbreak of scarlet fever. Hundreds of children had died. One thirteen-year-old girl had lost all her friends to the disease, and her baby brother was dying. She wrote a book for him called The Tale of the Happy Bunny. She illustrated and bound it herself, and read it to him on his last night in the world. A few days later, she also died.

Then her parents.

Everyone who read the book died within a couple of days.

“Did they die of scarlet fever?” asked Jenna.

“No. They just died.”

“So, it’s not like the book is covered in disease. Poison or something?”

“No. Several people have handled the book and been apparently unharmed by it. At least one man who cannot read has looked at the pages and lived. But if you read the book, you die.”

“People die of a lot of things, Ash,” suggested Derk, “could it just be bad luck, a coincidence?”

“It could be. If there were a hundred million books in the world I dare say there might be one with an unlucky history of being read by people who were coincidentally about to die anyway. But there surely aren’t. And people who could read thirty years ago were mostly nobles or merchants or teachers. Well-paid or at least well-fed. Much less likely than average to suddenly drop dead.”

“Well, what does the book say? What’s it about?” Jenna asked impatiently.

Ashlin just looked at her.

“Fine. Right. But did anyone say what was in the book before they died?”

“They can never remember exactly. Right after they read it, they can’t really remember what it was about or anything that happened. They aren’t frightened or anything, it just doesn’t seem all that important. Then they die.”

“Well, what if someone read it to you? They would die I assume. Would you?”

“No volunteers have come forward to help the Crown Library find out, I expect,” said Derk.

Ashlin shuddered.

“Well, I saw the index entry for The Tale of the Happy Bunny, and read up on all that was known about it. And I thought, huh that’s odd. And forgot about it. Then, that night, at maybe two bells in the morning, I woke up and started thinking.”

“Well, what? It’s mysterious and a bit scary. That’s all.”

“That's all? It’s not a bit scary. It is completely scary. If there is a book you can read that kills you, and you don’t even get any warning, maybe there’s a word you can hear that kills you, or a picture, or just a thought you have one day. What if I can’t help thinking about it, and one day I figure out how a book can kill you, and that kills me? What if I dream one page of that book and never wake up?”

“Wow. What if you just killed the lot of us by telling us all that?” joked Derk.

Nobody else laughed.

“Anyway, I got up early, because there was no way I was falling asleep again after that. First thing in the morning I confessed to reading the banned index, and told Morsen, the head librarian, what was worrying me. He told me I needed something useful to do, a sense of perspective, and maybe a girlfriend if I couldn't sleep.”

“And now here you are,” said Jenna, “Two out of three isn’t bad,” cruelly leaving doubt about which two.

“Yes. Anyway, he ejected me from my job as assistant librarian on the spot and sent me to Doctor Grey, who sent me here. Well, I don’t know if he expected me to end up here exactly, but here I am.”

“Why don’t they just burn that book?” asked Jenna.

“Well, they’re librarians. You can’t just burn ... no, actually all the legitimate reasons for never burning books don’t really apply here do they? What in all hell are they thinking?”

“Hmm,” said Jenna. “What if there is no such book and the whole thing is made up to scare assistant librarians away from poking around where they’re not wanted?”

“I hope so.” Ashlin smiled. “But even if I'm only jumping at shadows, I’m glad I jumped here, now.”

“Good,” said Green, walking up to their fire. “Since you’re enjoying yourself so much telling ghost stories, you can share first watch with me.”

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