Unlike most stories, this tale cannot be started at the beginning. Far too many centuries have passed since dark, unknown powers first coalesced around what is probably the most evil book of all time. No one knows how the book came into existence, who wrote it or why. Perhaps the book had existed since evil begun. Perhaps it was even responsible for evil beginning. We do know that wherever there has been pain and misery, war and pestilence, famine or flatulence there is a good chance that this most hideous of grimoirs will not have been far away.
Perhaps our story begins in the picturesque market town of Dorking in Surrey. Here we might find a pretty little house just off the high street where Elizabeth Info, more commonly known as plain Miss Info, lives. No one would say that she was a dark and brooding character with a black malignant aura that could such the life out of a man. On the contrary, Elizabeth was fairly typical girl of her generation. She enjoyed such normal, healthy pursuits as binge drinking, cow tipping and mud wrestling. A shock unruly of blond hair that had much in common with a haystack was just one of the reasons she looked less than her twenty seven years. It caused much amusement (and, it must be admitted some jealousy) amongst some of her friends that occasionally she was still asked to show some ID to prove her age when they went out clubbing.
Probably the best place to start this story is up a tree. It took Elizabeth quite some time to realise where she was but, under the circumstances, she could be forgiven for that. She remembered turning up the air conditioning in her room before going to bed the night before. Now, with her eyes still shut, she felt a cool breeze on her body and presumed that she had turned it up a bit too high. She also had a splitting headache. Granted this was not the first time she had woken up with a headache but she had only had a single glass of wine to drink last night. She reached around for the duvet to draw it up over her and keep out the chill. There was no duvet. The bed felt all wrong as well. She gradually opened her eyes, instantly regretting it as the pain in her head exploded as though white hot needles were being driven into her brain. She opened her eyes a second time. The pain was still intense but just about bearable. Gone was the white ceiling of her bedroom with the Japanese lampshade. She looked around. Gone was the fitted wardrobe, the makeup mirror and the IKIA chests of draws. In its place were ancient branches and dark green leaves, sky and fog.
She closed her eyes again. Obviously she was still asleep so there was no point in opening them until she had woken up. In spite of the chill a thin layer of sweat covered her skin. As it evaporated it chilled her even more. She hugged the pillow she was holding to her chest but even that felt strangely and unnatural. Reluctantly she opened her eyes again. What had once been a pillow had transformed into a large and ornately bound leather book. Cursing she sat up and surveyed her surroundings.
The only things she could really see properly were the book she was holding and the tree which she was currently perched upon. It was a wicked-looking tree as well, with gnarled knots taking odd twists and turns and dark limbs curling upward like the clawed hands of the damned. Below her the mist seemed to swirl malignantly whilst she, cold and bewildered, with not a stitch of clothing to fend off the elements, tried to come to terms with her situation.
This could not possibly be real. Elizabeth had not led an entirely uneventful life. She was, after all, the president of the National Association of Liars and a member of the 2012 world champion unicycle hockey team but nothing had prepared her for this. She kept repeating the mantra ‘this can’t be true’ assuming that any minute she would wake up in her own bed. Apart from anything else, the weather was all wrong. Yesterday (in common with most hot days in England) had been the hottest day on record. People had been sunbathing in their gardens or stampeding towards their local beach. There were news flashes urgently telling people to put on factor 50 sunblock and rumours of a national ice cream shortage.
Elizabeth had no idea what the time was but it couldn’t have been that early as the sun was a good way above the horizon, although it had made no progress in burning off the dank cloying mist. Asleep or not, she decided that she could not stay there all day and so cold, bewildered, and as naked as the day she was born, she tried to work out the best way to get down.
With a sigh she managed to sit up. Her bare legs felt odd against the rough, slimy bark of the tree. With each movement she made, her head pounded in agony, sending white-hot flashes of light swimming behind her eyes. She decided to climb down in short spurts as the climb looked like an exceptionally tricky one. Using both her hands she gingerly dropped the book to the ground and carefully picked out her route.
One of the major perils was the slipperiness of the bark. She paused to run her hands over it, noting that it had a strange, sooty texture, almost as though it had been badly singed. Elizabeth eventually reached the lowest branch of the tree which, unfortunately, was a good ten feet above the ground. Elizabeth could not see any possible way to get down to the ground safely. What puzzled her even more was how on earth she had managed to sleep-climb up this haunted trunk.
She was reminded of the surreal ‘Pink Elephants’ scene in the Disney film Dumbo, where he and Timothy Q. Mouse find themselves in a somewhat similar situation. She half expected a gang of crows to arrive and encourage her to try and fly down by flapping her ears.
Not having ears large enough, however, she peered down at the ground, wondering if she could hang from the branch and drop down safely. A wave of panic threatened to knock her off the tree. Elisabeth was not afraid of heights, in fact there was not much she was afraid of. The terror that gripped her was not even for herself but for the book for she had just noticed that she could not see the it through mist. Wondering why she should feel so strongly about an object that she had no previous association with, she began speculating on how it had come into her possession in the first place. Perhaps if she knew that it might shed some light on why she should feel so inexplicably protective towards it.
There was nothing else for it, lying on the branch and putting her arms around it, she lowered herself beneath the dark slimy branch, hanging briefly from the slippery bough. Her legs were four feet above the ground, she could never have climbed up this tree without a step ladder. Gradually she released the branch, bending her knees a little as she dropped in order to absorb some of the shock.
Ending up in an undignified sprawl her first concern was not to see if she had hurt herself in any way, but to see if the book was unharmed. In fact she had sustained no apparent damage other than some scrapes on her arms where she had been holding on to the branch and the book too, appeared to be safe and sound, lying a few feet from where she had landed.
She snatched it up and hugged it to her bare chest like a lover. The book was heavy, it was old, it was probably valuable although the idea of trying to sell was out of question. In fact she was stricken by the ridiculous notion that she never wanted to let it out of her sight again. Considering it for several minutes, Elizabeth came to the conclusion that it had a sort of powerful, regal sort of look to it. This book was a noble one, perhaps even a king among its fellows.
Looking around, it appeared to Elizabeth that she was in an open field of some kind, although she could not say for certain because of the fog that enveloped her adding a mysterious and spooky dimension. The earth was springy and the grass was thick and reached up to her ankles. In a sense, her nakedness might have been a blessing, for it would not have taken long for any clothing to be soaked through. Surprisingly though Elizabeth found that the book remained bone dry. Tiny beads of moisture clung to the leather, but nothing penetrated the musty old pages. She turned it over a few times in her hands, wondering what could be within its aged and delicate looking pages. A book like this had to have countless secrets. Now, however, was not the time to explore them.
Following her instincts, muddled though they were, Elizabeth soon enough came to a narrow country road. She had forgotten all about her severe case of nudity at this point, and was overjoyed when a kindly gentleman pulled over to the side of the road to help. Looking back on it, she supposed that it was quite probable that her state of undress might have influenced his decision to offer her a lift all the way to her home in Dorking. Fortuitously that was precisely where the fellow said he was headed. A sceptical sort of person might suspect that he would have claimed to be heading anywhere an attractive naked woman wanted to go but Elizabeth was in no position to look a gift horse in the mouth.
They started chatting, like you do when you are buck naked in a stranger’s car with nothing but a large leather book to cover your modesty. It turned out that she had somehow been transported sixteen miles away from her house to an area of woodland just outside Woking. Sixteen miles! She had assumed that she was just a few miles from Dorking, but how on earth had she travelled sixteen miles without realising it?
“How did you come to be out here anyway?” The fellow questioned, understandably bewildered.
“Frankly, I haven’t the foggiest.” She replied. “I can’t thank you enough for stopping to help me. I’m not sure what I would have done otherwise.” She shook her head despairingly. There had been no road signs or markers of any kind to indicate where she was, but it had definitely been someplace rural, as Elizabeth was fairly certain she saw the cloudy forms of sodden sheep through the window as they drove. She noticed that his eyes kept drifting between her chest and the book on her lap. She crossed her arms to hide her toplessness but every time the car braked the book slid forwards and she was concerned about the book slipping from her hands.
Fairly certain that if the book fell to the floor, he would be even more distracted, she continued to hold the book in her lap, running her fingers idly across the cover and tracing some of the metal inlays. It certainly looked as though it was real gold adorning the cover. They had travelled only a few minutes longer when it began to pour quite vigorously, drowning out anything she could see beyond the roadside.
Elizabeth tried to start up a conversation, explaining that she would not have wanted to walk all the way from Woking to Dorking. In fact, she continued, she was even balking about talking about walking from Woking to Dorking. It’s soaking in Woking, she was really not joking and walking from Woking to Dorking in the rain would have been a complete pain. He looked at her as though she was a complete idiot.
Her arrival home was rather inglorious. Thankfully, the rain was still coming down in sheets and nobody except the man who had helped her was there to witness her naked rush to get inside. She located the key that she kept under a plant pot in the front garden just for situations as these and hurried inside, noticing that the man did not leave her before she was safely indoors. ‘How considerate,’ she thought as she finally began to relax. It occurred to Elizabeth that she had not caught his name, nor offered him hers. Still, she had given him a story to tell down the pub that none of his mates would believe. Hopefully this was sufficient recompense for his good deed for the day.
The headache that she had acquired earlier had completely disappeared by now and, all in all, things had turned out rather well. There was a gaping hole in her memory, but this was hardly the first time that had happened. She was still soaking wet and covered in mud so decided to take a rejuvenating shower. Again, looking back on it, it did seem strange to her that she had propped the book up on the sink whilst reveling under the warm jets of water but at the time she thought nothing of it. When she shampooed her hair she expected it to sting a little as it made contact with the scrapes on her arms and then noticed that there were no scrapes. She reasoned that they could not have been scratches at all, the marks must have just been bark marks and mud. Getting out of the shower and wrapping a towel around her hair, she put on her bathrobe. She was about to examine the book, but remembered that she had left the spare key in the front door, attached to the lock when she had entered the house.
Cursing, because she had only just got warm and dry, she grabbed an umbrella and opened the front door. Half an hour ago it had been raining cats and dogs. Now, however, it appeared to be yet another hottest day on record. There was not a cloud in the sky as far as the eye could see. Elizabeth mumbled something about the typical English weather, four seasons in one day, and wryly predicted that it would be snowing by teatime. Removing the key from the front door she replaced it under the pot. When she returned inside the house she was finally able to scrutinize the book in more detail. The golden inlays gleamed more fiercely now, shimmering with gilded brilliance as her eyes took in the title. Somehow she had missed it before. The flat, dull letters seemed a little out of place next to the gleaming shield and vine design that dominated the cover.
“Liarnomicon.” She said out loud to herself. “Such a funny name.”