The Cursed Book - alignthoughts

Part-I

“Benedict Farey was a professor of history; he taught at the University of New York and was working on Egyptian history.” Sheriff Jamie Jerkins told the whole sentence in one breath. Marie was tuning in to him painstakingly.

She said, “So, what do you think about his death?”

“His death initially appears to be a natural death, but his wife Hannah complained that it was not. Because her husband talked about an ancient curse and believed that the subject he was researching on would lead to his death. However, we failed to detect any foul play or conspiracy related to his death, but the lady is still adamant in her assumption.” Jaime went on, “Our police department cannot investigate a case merely on suspicion, but you may help her.”

Marie grinned, “Definitely, that is my job dear.”

“Awesome, at that point, I’ll disclose to Mrs. Hannah Farey to meet you as soon as possible.”

As Jamie left her office, Marie stated, “Tanya, we will have another case once more.”

“That’s great,’ Tanya said. She feels insecure if Marie gets no case. “But when is she coming?”

“No thought, I figure Jamie will settle the arrangement.” However, Marie had no clue that Lady Hannah would come within an hour. A tall, lean lady with a wrinkled face and brown hairs entered her office with a vigilant look on her face. Marie noticed she creased in her white blouse and long gray skirt. She did not even spend her time checking the dress.

“If I am not wrong, you are Lady Hannah Farey, the…”

“The widow of Prof. Benedict Farey; ma’am,” She said. “Your friend Sheriff Jerkins told me about your intelligence and caliber. Miss, I have come to you with enormous expectation. Please do not treat me as an insane or obsessed woman.”

Marie offered her a seat. Hannah sat on a wooden chair and Tanya politely asked for coffee. Hannah gasped to say thanks. Then she came directly into the topic.

“My husband Benedict was a researcher. Recently he had taken part in an Egyptian expedition and announced that he found a clue regarding Pharaoh Akhenaten’s Tomb.” She paused, “He claimed that an old book contains the clue, but the book is cursed. Those who will try to read or touch the book, they will die untimely. I initially did not believe; called it a superstition, but his health started deteriorating. With his final breath, he talked about the ancient curse and asked me to remove the curse forever. Otherwise, it would not allow our children to live in peace.” She stopped.

Marie was listening to her carefully. She could not understand what to say next, lazily asked, “Why did not you remove the book immediately?”

Hannah looked confused, “That is the real mystery ma’am. Probably it has been stolen on the day of his funeral. When we all were busy in the graveyard, some burglars broke our house and created a mess in his study room. They took nothing, but the book was nowhere to be found. I am sure; they came for it.”

“Then, the curse is no more with you,” Marie said lightly.

“Things are not so easy, ma’am. A week later, I again received the book along with the morning newspaper. I have asked the delivery man; he could not say anything. It means someone delivered it on my doorstep, just after the man delivered the newspaper. I threw it in a dustbin, but one of our neighbors thought me insane and picked it up.” The lady sighed. She was looking exhausted as well as fatigued.

“So, the book is still with you?” Marie calmly asked.

“Yes, yes, I brought it.” Hannah opened her handbag. The book was not voluminous, but a thin one. Marie guessed that it might have hundred or slightly more than a hundred pages. The book cover was interesting; it had the leather bound hardcover. Its pages were yellow. The book had a name written on it in golden color, ‘Hidden Tombs of Egypt,’ but no author’s name was mentioned.

Marie took it and got a strong smell of chemicals. She turned over its pages. To her surprise, all the pages were blank.

“It must be written in invisible ink. After all, it contains important clues.” Tanya remarked.

Marie replied, “Well, let’s try in the light of fluorescence bulb. Tanya, can you please switch on the table lamp.”

Tanya switched on the table lamp. Marie tried to spread one page near the light, but could not do it effectively. There was always a possibility of book damage. She nodded her head impatiently. “If I could have nail polish remover in my office…” She murmured.

“I have.” Tanya opened her handbag and offered a bottle of enamel remover.

“Great,” Marie shouted in joy, “It will help us for sure.” She applied it over a page, but nothing happened. Then she tried on another page, and again nothing happened. At last, she said, “I think some rare chemical is used in this invisible ink. Only a chemist can help us.” She re-examined the book and said, “May I keep it for a few days, ma’am?”

“Yes, of course, you can, Miss Claire.” Hannah replied, “Now please allow me to leave.”

“Definitely madam, but I forgot to ask you about your address and….”

“Oh, I am sorry, Miss. I stay in the University Campus only. Very soon, though, I have to shift my residence, but still, I have got a couple of months in hand.” Hannah replied.

“Well, who else stays with you, ma’am?”

“My son Ron and daughter Esther,” She smiled sadly, “They are twins.” Hannah assumed from Marie’s silence that she had nothing else to ask. She left her chair and walked silently towards the door.

“So, now we have to go to the lab?” Tanya asked almost immediately, “Please give it to me, Marie.” She surprised to see that Marie was still sniffing the book like a school kid.

“You’ll not get the sweet smell of fresh books from this old parchment, Marie. The only thing you can smell is damp and dust.”

“No Tanya, I am trying to figure out the strong sweet smell. I think we should go to the City Hall Library first.”

“The Library?” Tanya surprised.

“Yes, see the book’s name ‘Hidden Tombs of Egypt.’ But, the author’s name is not mentioned here. I am curious to know about the book.”
However, the librarian could not help her in this regard. She instantly admitted that she had never heard of this book.

“Then where is our next destination, ma’am?” Tanya asked with confusion.

“Of course the forensic laboratory,” Marie got into her car and fastened the seat belt, “I want to know about the invisible ink and its chemical composition.”

Again, they returned from the forensic laboratory in empty hands. None of the expert, even the Director failed to recover its words. Finally, he said that the book pages were actually blank.

“Someone is misleading us, Marie,” Tanya said thoughtfully.

“Or it is actually Hannah’s paranoia,” Marie replied.

“I think, we should visit the University,” Tanya suggested. “Maybe Prof. Farey’s colleagues will help us or the librarian….”

“Excellent,” Marie fastened her seat belt and spurred her car towards the university.

Death Trap

Part-II

“No, Miss Clarie, I am sorry,” Librarian Jane Sebastian nodded her head, “This book was not issued from our library and sorry to say, it is not at all a book, but a bundle of blank pages.”

“Well,” Marie sounded disappointed, “Sorry, I wasted your time.”

“No, not at all,” she said, “You can explore our library, we have enough books on Egypt. If you are particularly interested in rare books, you may contact Prof John Richardson. He is the current head of the department and working on ancient Egyptian history.”

“Thanks a lot,” Marie thanked her.

“Anyway, in which university you are working on ?” Tanya stumbled over Jane’s question. Marie had concealed her identity here and pretended as a research scholar working outside the USA.

“I…I am from Cairo, working in a research institute, but our library is not up-to-date like yours, ma’am.” She replied. “But I am a US citizen.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jane smiled, “I would be happy to help you, but your colleague has lied. He did not borrow this book from our library.” She said firmly.

Marie did not waste her time. She left the librarian’s office immediately and started asking for Prof. Richardson’s office. Though she had a doubt, whether or not Richardson would meet her without an appointment, he easily agreed.

As Marie stepped into the office room, she found a middle-aged, grumpy man on a revolving chair placed behind a wooden table full of piles of books.

“Hello, Miss Claire, glad to meet you. Where do you work in Cairo? I know almost all the universities and the research organizations.”
Marie looked tensed, but she drew smiles on her face, “Good Afternoon, Prof. Richardson. I am from Cairo University, one of my colleagues told me about Prof. Farey and his book collection. So, I came here, but unfortunately, he is more.” Marie noticed Prof. Richardson looked paler after hearing the name.

“ He was my immediate senior. We joined almost in the same year at the University, but I made a little late in joining.” He smiled sadly, “It is sad that he is no more. We were jointly working on a project.” He suddenly said that “Forgive me, I need to refresh myself.” He slowly rose from his revolving chair and walked towards the washroom.

Marie looked around the chamber. Half of its walls were covered with wooden bookshelves. Some were opened, and some had sliding glass doors. Suddenly, she got a strange smell, it appeared quite familiar to her, but could not remember the source.

“Smelling like Farey’s book,” Tanya remarked.

Marie silently opened her bag and smelled the book, “same scent,” she remarked.

“Yes, please tell me, how can I help you ?” Prof. Richardson came out from the washroom and strolled towards his chair. He slowly occupied it and again repeated the question.

“Pardon me; I am not feeling comfortable in this odd odor,” Marie said.

He frowned, “Oh, it is a chemical which makes new paper yellow and they look ancient. I use it for duplicate making.”

“Duplicate ?”

“Yes, duplicate. There are many people, who want to collect historical items for personal collection, but cannot, because they are mostly public property. So, they often opt for replicas and duplicate scrolls and parchments. I use this chemical for making duplicates of ancient parchments and old books.”

“Interesting indeed,” Marie tried to smile.

“I am looking for a book, named ‘Hidden Tombs of Egypt.’” Marie added.

Prof. Richardson looked thoughtful. He scrutinized Marie and nodded, “Let me check in my rare book collection.” He walked towards an antechamber and entered. Marie earlier did not notice it earlier. The man spent a few minutes in the room and came back with two or three books, whose title had a similar phase, but none looked exactly like Prof. Farey’s book.

“All are rare, and you’ll not get them in any library.” He chuckled, “You can borrow them, but I want them back within a week. I hope you’re staying in the USA for the next couple of weeks ?”

Marie replied, “Yes, sir.” She took those books but did not get any bad odor.

“Actually, I am looking for Prof. Farey’s book….”

“Farey did not author any such book, ma’am. His other books are new and easily available in the market.” He replied.

“Ah, yes, actually, I heard that he was searching the hidden tomb of some Egyptian King…..” Marie brought out the book from her bag, “I am looking for this book.”

Richardson looked at it thoughtfully, “It is cursed. Why are you carrying it?”

“Cursed?” Marie asked curiously.

“Yes, at least my colleague Benedict thought so. He discovered this book in a private library in Cairo. It was written by a nineteenth-century British traveler. Benedict got the entire idea of our forthcoming expedition from this book only. And suddenly, one day he came to my office wearing a worried expression on his face. He said ‘Someone was trying to steal the book, please make a duplicate of it.’ I did it. You are

carrying the duplicate one.” He pointed out.

“Then where is the original one, sir?” Marie asked.

“I have no idea, Miss Claire. It will be better if you don’t find it out. Those who try to read it or touch it meets an untimely death. Initially, I thought it as a superstition, but now I believe too.”

 

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Mala Mukherjee was born in Kolkata, India and began her literary career in her mid-twenties when her short stories were published in various websites during Halloween. She is an academician by profession. She has completed her Doctoral Degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India and currently working as an Assistant Professor in a research institute. She is an author by passion, an impulsive writer, who enjoys writing the horror story, paranormal and fantasy fiction.