Elizabeth let out a ragged sigh of exhaustion as the men retired to the study. She backed out of her seat and began stacking plates. Reginald had just returned from India. She had not even gotten a chance to talk with him before he invited his friends over. The clatter of porcelain drowned out a roar of laughter from the dinner party. She paused in her duties for a moment and listened in. As much as Elizabeth hated that they were all at her house, hogging her husband, she as was curious about his adventures as they were.
“Elizabeth dear? Please come in here!” A voice echoed from down the hall.
She was shocked at the invitation. The men never asked her to join once talks started in the study. She cautiously strolled down the oaken hallway and swung the door open to a half circle of gentlemen around the fireplace. Her husband took a mighty puff from a cigar while tapping on a leather bound book.
“Do you know what this is darling?” Reginald inquired.
“No.” Elizabeth replied, looking around at the attentive men around her. “I have no idea.”
Reginald held the book by it’s spine and flipped it open to a random page. He took one more puff from his cigar before setting it down. He cleared his throat.
“My dear wife. I know you were classically educated, I am going to tell a story pertaining to that. Please bear with me.”
“Of course” She obliged.
“This book comes from a small mountain tribe on the border of India and Afghanistan. Now these tribesmen are a curious people. They claim to be related to Alexander the Great of Macedon. I trust you know of him?”
“Y-Yes, I do.” Elizabeth stammered. The mood of the room was darkening as her husband and his party stared at her intently. The fire crackled intensely in the background.
“Well. As you know Alexander the Great conquered everything from Egypt to India.” He continued. “What this tribe claims is that when Alexander was done conquering he visited the most remote village in his empire. It was then that he charged the tribe’s ancestors with a sacred duty.”
Reginald picked up his cigar nonchalantly and took a deep puff. His friends around him leaned in as the flickering flames illuminated half his face. He cleared his throat and lowered his voice.
“He told them that this here.” He shook the book in his hand softly. “This book- was Pandora’s Box. And that it should never be touched by a woman, else it would unleash a new wave of demons upon the world.”
Elizabeth stood there shaken. She glanced around at the men sitting around her for any traces of a practical joke. In their eyes, solely fixed on her, she saw only a solemn sincerity. She jumped at the touch of her husbands hand against hers.
“Will you open it?”
Elizabeth’s heart beat rapidly. Something inside her chest screamed for her to run, but she stood her ground against it. Her curiosity would not let her leave.
Reginald held the book out to Elizabeth with both hands. Her fingers trembled as she hovered them over the ancient binding. With a swift motion, she snatched the book from her husband. The party gasped. Only the fire broke the silence of expectation.
The men around her guffawed and laughed heartily, elbowing Reginald joyfully. He smiled and shrugged playfully. Elizabeth narrowed her eyes at her husband. It seemed she had been nothing but the night’s entertainment. Multiple conversations splintered off around her, but Elizabeth drowned them out in her head. She brushed her hand along the cover, and then thrust her fingers into the pages of the book.
She flipped it open.
Her eyes widened. She stared down at the page for a few seconds in a fear that paralyzed her entirely. Her body allowed her to shriek and she did so as loud as she could. The guests fell silent. Fat tears welled in her eyes, rolling down onto the pages of the ancient book. Onto the faces of demons writhing disturbingly on the pages in a frenzy.
The book shook violently with an otherworldly energy. Pages tore themselves out and flew onto the floor. Illustrations of eldritch creatures scrambled to life in the confines of the papers. Snapping, scratching, and gnawing viciously. While the men sat in their chairs, holding their feet up, Reginald took charge.
“We need to get out of here!!”
He scrambled out of his seat and raced for the door. In his haste, he stepped onto one of the pages carelessly.
A creature of pure black, with dull blue eyes wrapped it’s arms around the passing foot. In a blink, the thing had attached itself to Reginald’s shoe. Thrown off balance, he dropped onto the carpet. Close to more of the pages littered all over the floor.
He screamed in agony as the creatures crawled out of their ancient prisons and onto his pathetic body. He twisted with every latch, bite, and gouge. From every wound, a black bubbling ooze spilled from his contorting body onto the ground. Elizabeth and the party watched in horror as the things swarmed his face like insects. She was so utterly terrified that she could not muster a scream. Instead an icy chill rippled through her body, rendering her incapable of anything but watching as her husband squirmed wildly on the floor.
In his final seconds of life, Reginald thrust a pained finger past Elizabeth. Her heart sank as she followed his gesture to the fireplace.
The piercing sound of a final page ripping from the spine of the book stole the attention of the room. All eyes fixed on it as it floated lazily in the air, twisting peacefully before plunging itself into the embers.
With a rush of air, the light of the fire was extinguished. Elizabeth remained where she was in darkness. Standing with an empty, open book in her hand, surrounded by nightmares incarnate. She forced her eyes shut with all the might she could muster from within. Preparing for the same fate as her husband. Praying to God that her death would be quick.
Her pulse gradually slowed from it’s erratic beat, settling into its normal cadence. A soothing, crackling rhythm came to life somewhere in the room. And with a ragged breath, she opened her eyes.
The fire was back, and with it the unholy scene surrounding her seared itself into Elizabeth’s mind. The semicircle of cushioned chairs were plastered with the corpses of her husband’s friends. Backs arched, and mouths twisted. Frozen in their torment by a hardened black sludge. The pages once laid out on the carpet were returned to the book, now closed in her trembling hands. She let out a yelp as she dropped it unceremoniously and ran to escape the study.
Elizabeth caught one last glimpse of her husband’s blackened remains before slamming the door shut.
She felt a deep pang of guilt as she phoned for help. She hated that was not plagued by the death she had experienced. Instead while the dial tone rang she wondered selfishly, if the police would believe her when they arrived.