Sunday, February 18, 2007

lusus naturae

Barely anybody had clapped eyes on an authentic copy of Dr Hirschkovitsch’s Encyclopaedia of Monstrosities and Miscreations in the nearly two hundred years since the destruction of its scanty printing. In fact, the closest number of eyes I can come up with at present sits at nineteen; a number which counts up to and including the man’s who relieved me of the evil thing, but omitting those of whomever currently owns the last of those bedevilled books. And for him I feel nothing but the utmost sympathy, for his life, should he suffer any length of one at all, will not be anything approaching enjoyable.

first and second eyes

Dr Itzhak Hirschkovitsch, renowned explorer and acclaimed cryptozoologist, had set to task writing the manuscript during the early years of the nineteenth century after his nearly two decades of extensive travel and note-taking.

The things he had seen abroad had changed him, his wife was noted as saying, and once back home, Dr Hirschkovitsch flatly refused to discuss the things he had seen, and the “vast network of monstrosities” which he had discovered.

All would be laid out in his book, he said, and the world would at last see what it was never meant to see. The imaginary lines dividing countries would fall away, and religions would crumble with a new, greater one rising up to replace the myriad old. The earth’s population would assume its rightful place as a people of slaves, he said, and it would be happy to do so in place of the “other thing” which he repeatedly declined to elaborate on in his few interviews. All would be laid out in his book, he said. And it was.

By summer of 1808, the manuscript was ready for printing, and a title was chosen, with the words Encyclopaedia of Monstrosities and Miscreations emblazoned in gold on the book’s great leather cover. Dr Hirschkovitsch envisioned a book which could be kept locked by three brass hasps, requiring three different keys, each of which could be hidden in a different locations around the owner’s home. In addition to the aforementioned details, the book’s pages would be made of the sturdiest paper, and its accursed words would be printed with the finest of inks – all details which made the book one of the most expensive books to be printed up to that time.

third, forth, fifth, and sixth eyes

Dr Itzhak Hirschkovitsch inexplicably chose for the book’s printing one of the smallest and most ill-equipped printing houses in all of England – Kohlson’s. It was only Samuel Kohlson’s second year in the business when Dr Hirschkovitsch made the exhaustive request of him, and he would have declined the work if it were not for the handsome amount of money the weird doctor offered.

It’s been said that not even two dozen copies of the book were printed by the time Dr Itzhak Hirschkovitsch abruptly ordered the book’s printing stopped, and this order he followed by another: the immediate destruction of all twenty-three already printed copies. This order was to be carried out by Kohlson’s apprentice, a boy by the name of Johann Bruhner. It was this apprentice who saw something important in the tome, and managed to squirrel away a copy of the book before burning the rest.

But the books would not go down without a fight, and the fire which ensued raged large enough and so wildly that the printing house was burned to the ground with Samuel Kohlson still inside, unable to escape.

The body of Dr Itzhak Hirschkovitsch was found hanging in his home three days later. He did not leave a note, but he did tie a really good noose. So nicely tied was the noose, that it worked its way into all of the newspaper articles on the doctor’s suicide. A new length of the finest hemp rope was used and twenty-three coils made up the knot, one for each copy of the Encyclopaedia of Monstrosities and Miscreations which he had allowed to be printed. In life, Dr Hirschkovitsch enjoyed twenty foot ceilings – in death, this made for an awfully long drop over the second floor balustrade.

seventh and eighth eyes

Printer’s apprentice Johann Bruhner was never the same after the fiery destruction of his workplace, and it wasn’t long before his bloodied body was found in the basement of his parent’s home.

Police reports detailing the suicide mention how the young boy committed an act now known as seppuku, seemingly ripping open his own abdomen with a long knife. He was cut through, all the way, from side to side, they wrote, and his body was discovered nearly cut into two pieces. The knife was still in his hand. A book lay open by his side.

Police Inspector William Johnson is said to have collected a few things as evidence, including the knife and the unnamed book. The knife went where evidence is supposed to go; the book found its way to Inspector Johnson’s home.

eyes nine through eighteen

I’ve a theory that Inspector Johnson never did get to look through the book, instead, unthinkingly, but luckily, locking it using the three brass hasps without having the keys to open them again.

I think this only because Inspector Johnson apparently enjoyed a long life, a life free from any kind of curse save for the curse of mundanity, and by the time my great-great-grandfather – a noted bibliophile – found the book in Johnson’s attic, it was still locked and under a layer of five decade’s worth of dust. The book, considered little more than an oddity by my own family, found itself being passed down from my great-great-grandfather to his eldest daughter, to her eldest son, to his eldest son, until it wound up in my hands.

eye nineteen

That is, the book was in my possession until two years ago when it was stolen from me during a random burglary. The one-eyed career criminal, Hunter Hickley, was ultimately arrested for the break-in of my home, along with the homes of a number of others in the neighbourhood, but while the police were able to recover a few of the items stolen, the Encyclopaedia of Monstrosities and Miscreations was never found.

My only hope is that for his own wellbeing, Mr Hickley never got around to opening those three brass hasps. For if he did, I could not say with any certainty that he will live long enough to enjoy the resumption of his crooked career.

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