The Book Under the Bed
The box under Michael’s bed was in a fire-proof documents safe with two keys. It was a lot of protection, especially since Michael took it out and read the book every day without fail.
It was the sort of book he should have found in the dusty corner of an antiques shop, wedged between the Necronomicon and the Neverending Story. That would be have been appropriate. Where he did find it was in a stack of identical paperbacks at a book fair in his school gym. The book was titled The Forges of Orion, by Madeleine Mackay. All the rest of the books in the stack were indeed this book.
Michael had opened the book and flipped through idly. The first words his brain took in were “Michael ate a hurried breakfast of Frosted Mini-Wheats and then ran out to catch the bus.” Which was odd since that was what he had eaten for breakfast that morning, right before running to catch the bus.
He kept reading and an eerie feeling came over him, like a ghost blowing on the back of his neck. He read about everything that had happened to him that day, right up until the words: “Michael scanned the piles of paperbacks until his eyes fell on The Forges of Orion, by Madeleine Mackay. He picked it up and scanned the pages until his eyes fell on the words…”
Michael shut the book hurriedly. The last words on the page he read as the book was closing. “Michael shut the book quickly.” The problem was that it was not the end of the book. There were still a few pages left. What would he find if he skipped ahead? He did not have the courage to look.
He bought the book. It was 20% off—a good bargain for a magical book.
At first, he stuck the book in the back of his underwear drawer, until he remembered his mom sometimes opened that drawer to refill it after doing laundry and if she saw anything in the back of the drawer, she would immediately look at it, just in case. Eventually, he bought the fireproof safe at the hardware store and stuck it under his bed.
It would not seem that it would be that interesting to read about his own life, but Michael could not help taking the book out every day and read it. For one thing, it was helpful in understanding what had happened that day. One day after a terrible math class where Mr. Hassan had yelled all class and given everyone detention (to be fair, the class had been pretty bad), Michael came home and read, “Michael went to his last class and had just sat down when a depressed and exhausted Mr. Hassan stumbled into the class and slumped into the teacher’s chair.” Huh, he hadn’t noticed any of that. Who knew teachers could be depressed too? It gave him a better appreciation for the math teacher.
And so, for several months, Michael unlocked the box under the bed, pulled out the book and read about his day. Every day he thought about turning the page to see if it would show him what he would do tomorrow and every day he could not quite bring himself to.
Then everything changed one rainy night in November. Michael had just taken out the Forges of Orion and was starting to read when his father yelled up the stairs for Michael to take out the garbage. His father did not use a when-you-get-a-minute-if-you-wouldn’t-mind tone of voice. It was a sharp tone that meant right now. Or else. Michael had been promising to take it out all evening, but when the alternative to lugging two heavy bags of garbage out to the curb in freezing rain was not doing any of that, it was easy to put off.
Michael jumped up and ran downstairs. Meekly, he pulled on his shoes and went out to the garage where the trash was waiting. Two minutes later, he ran back upstairs, shaking the water out of his hair and reached the doorway to his room.
He froze. His sister Heather was sitting crosslegged on his floor, The Forges of Orion open in her hands.
Michael’s first thought was to wonder if he had done anything especially embarrassing lately, things he wouldn’t want his little sister to read about. She looked up at him and he was shocked at the look of fury on her face.
“You jerk!” she shouted, throwing a pillow at him, and then, a math textbook. Michael dodged the pillow and managed to deflect the math book.
“What? Did you write this? Were you going to sell it? Do you think it’s normal to stalk your sister and write about every little detail of her life? You’re sick!”
Oh. That made sense.
“I didn’t write it,” Michael said. “It must be a magical book. Read near the end,” he added at her skeptical look.
Heather flipped ahead and he saw the look of understanding cross her face. “Okay, so I’ll admit you didn’t write that,” she said at last. “There’s no way you would know I would throw a math book at you. Still, it’s pretty creepy you have a book all about my life in your room.”
“That’s just it, though,” Michael said. “When I read it, it’s all about my life. Here.” He took the book and pointed at the second last page, following along with his finger as he read.
“Michael entered the room to see his sister Heather sitting on the floor, the Forges of Orion open in her hands. She looked up with a look of anger on her face.”
“That’s not what it says,” Heather said.
Michael shrugged. “That’s what it says for me.”
Heather reached to turn the page and Michael instinctively reached to stop her.
“What? What’s it say? Can you tell the future?”
“I don’t know,” Michael said. “I’ve never looked.”
Heather stared at him. “You’ve never looked? You have the possibility to maybe look into the future and you’ve never even been curious? What is wrong with you?”
“Of course I’ve been curious—” Michael began. Heather plucked the book away from him and flipped the page. He saw her eyes go wide and then she threw the book away, shutting her eyes tight.
“What did you see?”
“Ugh, I have a headache. You look if you want,” Heather said, keeping her eyes shut.
Michael picked up the book. He had to look at it now, if his little sister had. He reached the last page and flipped it over.
“He read the words he read the words he read the words he read the words he read the words—” The words poured down the page, seeming to bore into his brain. He dropped the book.
They decided that the book could not tell the future. Instead, it could only go right up to the present and reading about them reading created a type of feedback loop like a microphone put in front of a speaker.
Heather’s immediate thought was to use it as a weapon. Michael was not sure what that said about her.
“We should use it on Natasha Pearson,” Heather said. “She’s the worst bully in my class. This would really mess her up, I’ll bet.”
“How would that stop her from bullying you?” Michael asked. He was more worrying about losing his book.
“It would mess her up,” Heather repeated. “This is about justice.”
“I’m not going to risk losing my book for some petty revenge,” Michael said. “Does she even read?”
“She reads. Just because someone is a bully doesn’t mean they’re illiterate.”
“No, you can’t do it,” Michael said. “It’s my book.” Heather glared at him and stormed out.
Michael held firm for another week until Heather came home with a cut on her cheek and her hands scraped up. Natasha Pearson had pushed Heather into a car for trying to defend another kid that Natasha had been picking on.
“Fine, give her the book,” Michael said. “But try to get it back. And if she rips it up—” Heather cut him off by hugging him tightly.
Heather decided to slip the book to Natasha during lunch. Natasha always ate alone in the same place, so it would be easy to put the book there ahead of time. Michael was afraid that someone else would take it, but Heather assured him that no one else went near Natasha’s seat.
Michael watched from across the crowded room as Heather walked past Natasha’s normal seat and slipped the book onto the table. Natasha Pearson appeared a few minutes later, carrying her tray to the seat and sitting down. She picked up the book and turned it over. Michael held his breath. Then she put it down and started eating.
Heather joined him at the far side of the cafeteria. Their own groups of friends were calling for them, but they ignored them and watched Natasha eating. Finally, she picked up the book again and opened it.
The reaction was immediate. She jumped and scanned the room. Michael and Heather looked away, pretending to get into the lunch line. When they looked back a few minutes later, Natasha was reading.
Slowly they made their way around the cafeteria, trying to get to an angle where they could see Natasha’s reactions. She was reading the book intently.
“Skip to the end,” Heather murmured. But Natasha kept reading, from the beginning. The book was only about 100 pages and seemed to shift with the last 99 pages of your life. For Michael, that was usually about two weeks. He could only imagine what Natasha was reading now. Even after the bell had rung, Natasha stayed where she was. At one point, they thought they saw her wipe away a tear.
* * *
“I’m still pissed I lost my book,” Michael said. It was a week later. Natasha had kept the book, and Heather did not have the nerve to ask for it back. Michael was mad but he didn’t have the nerve either.
“But you don’t know the difference it’s made,” Heather said. “She’s like a totally different person now. I don’t know what she read there, but it changed her. Apparently, it gave her perspective.”
“Well, that’s good, of course. But—”
“Did you really want to read about your life anyway?” Heather said. “You know what you did every day.” It was true and if Natasha could get benefit from it, that was a good thing, especially if she stopped being a bully. But Michael decided to eventually ask for it back.
And from then on, at every book fair, he checked every copy of The Forges of Orion that he saw.