The analog clock glaredfrom across the dimly lit corner of her room as she slumped her head into her hands. Typical Hannah. The first sentence of her 650-word book report, which was conveniently due at 11:59, mocked her resolve to break her procrastination habit. The book lay on her pillow, exactly the way she had left it when she brought it home from that elusive bookstore.
She wasn't surprised; Hannah knew her servile efforts were simply an excuse for "becoming a better version of herself" for the start of the new year. But despite the cheesiness of New Years' Resolutions, Hannah knew this: she definitely wasn't the same person she was before. Something about that book, from that peculiar bookstore at the corner of Maple and the South side of town to the menacing conversation she had with the sweet-turned-sour bookstore owner when she touched that book. The seconds ticked away as she stared at it.
It all started that Tuesday afternoon before the start of winter break when Ms. Loudon assigned that book project. Hannah didn't read much, let alone know where the closest library was. She decided to take her usual route home, except instead of taking a left on Oak Street which led to her house, she made the split-second decision to venture into the provincial downtown. Hannah gripped the hood of her thick jacket onto her head as she ventured into the diverse landscape miles away from her reality. Southside was nothing like where she lived, where picket fences and manicured lawns perfectly separated her enormous home from the houses beside hers. Southside simply had shoddy houses built from scraps that existed in a rapport of anarchy. The wind gnawed at her face as she spotted the grim sign of the library Ms. Loudon told her to find.
"Mr. Linden's Library," a red sign overhead stated in once bright yellow letters, "We welcome all!" Hannah apprehensively opened the door and was welcomed by the familiar scent of her grandmother's lilies; she relaxed instantly. A cuckoo clock rang throughout the empty library and the cheery face of whom she assumed to be Mr. Linden greeted her.
"How can I help you, my dear?" he asked Hannah.
"I'm looking for something that's unique, something that other people haven't read before. You see, I have to do a book report on a book that I've never read before," she rambled.
Mr. Linden's eyes were bright with excitement. He nodded and directed her to a dusty corner of the bookstore.
"This should work for you," he declared and vanished back between the aisles of books.
Hannah gazed at the enormous shelves of novels and ran her hands across a row of book covers. Some were bound by leather, others had golden trim upon their luxurious covers. Each one was so special and within it contained a unique story.
Hannah's journey through the aisles was fearfully interrupted by the ring of the cuckoo clock, causing the books in her arms to drop to the ground. As she kneeled to collect the fallen books, a mysterious, hard-bound book caught her attention underneath one of the bookshelves. The cover was bare, but the characters inside looked to be of some foreign language. Something about that book was enigmatic; she had to have it. Hannah grabbed the book and stuffed it underneath her jacket, hurriedly leaving the empty library.
This time, it was the clock in her room that brought her back to reality. 11:57, it read. "I'll just ask Ms. Loudon for an extension," Hannah reasoned, and she made her way to her inviting bed. She turned on her lamp and placed the book on the edge of her bed. She pulled her covers up, just enough to be comfortable enough to read the miniscule text on the first page.
"I'm warning you, Hannah. Don't read any further" was scrawled in the same handwriting she had seen on the sign outside the library. A chill went down her spine. 11:58. She reluctantly turned the page. Hannah's eyes widened as she read the first words on the page aloud. A weed had sprouted out of the center of the binding. It grew exponentially faster than anything she had ever seen. The plant's leaves grazed her wrists and her head fell back onto the pillow. Her eyes rolled back into her head as the vines clenched her stomach and choked their way up to her throat.
11:59. He had warned her about the book. Now, it was too late.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner.