Believe it or not

This week, Lillie McFerrin’s prompt for her Five Sentence Fiction challenge is “LETTERS.” Hop on over to Lillie’s site to check out other worthy entries, or try your own!


John didn’t believe, because belief granted power, giving purpose, tooth, and fang โ€“ and more, with numbers โ€“ to what should have stayed amorphous clouds of mere ideas. He’d read the texts, studied the stories, but always kept his distance from the mysticism: stay back from the fire and don’t get burned.

His colleagues challenged him, of course, with goads and pranks designed to make him crack, but he never gave in. He even snorted in disdain at their latest joke: a leather-bound book delivered to his darkened doorstep by unknown courier, its hackneyed prophecies scribbled in umber ink. No one would call him a frightful fool, so he read, deeper into meaning and long into the night, until he decided he’d learned enough to state his dedication to the cause of his study and his own stoicism…when his heart stopped, and he stared, as the letters on the page moved.

My primary major at university was English Literature (with a double in Classical Studies – super-employable, that combo), but I also took a few classes in Theology, for which my institution was known. Beginner theology is pretty standard stuff: a lot of translation and interpretation, with a heavy dose of well-chronicled history, believe it or not. Throw in some sociology and cultural studies, and it becomes more of a snooze-fest. I did have one class, though, that both totally sparked my interest in the field while at the same time completely freaking me out. It was a guest lecture by one of the Jesuit brothers who was a rather renowned demonologist (yes, they are real; William Peter Blatty supposedly consulted with this priest in regards to his novel, The Exorcist). He stood in front of a class of about fifteen students and told a story very similar to the one I’ve written above: about being up late one night in his seminary room or wherever, reading some so-old-it-farts-dust manuscript, and seeing the letters on the page move. Not just waver, but actually f—ing shift on the page. It remains perhaps the most awesome and most frightening thing I’ve ever heard…because, whether it really happened or it was just his tired eyes playing tricks on him, he believed it.

I remember wanting so badly to experience this sensation. So, I went to the university library and tried to make it happen.

FULibrary_FromStreetThe university library was a converted cathedral, a real Gothic throwback in the middle of the city. The inside is very modern, more so now than even during my days there, but when you looked up at that monolith of a central tower from the street, especially at night, it made for an imposing sight. In the stacks, it got even worse:

the london library photographed october 2010.Cramped quarters and rickety spines all around. But, I remained determined. If anything weird was going to happen, it was most likely going to happen in the library. I mean, we had a copy of the Malleus Maleficarum, for pity’s sake! So, with the Dewey codes for the demonology texts scribbled in an uneasy hand on the index card in my fingers, I made my way up to the Theology stacks. I remember feeling giddy as I scanned the guide numbers on the shelves. And then, walking halfway down a deserted aisle, the numbers on the card and the numbers on the shelf matched up.

I stared at that book a long time. I don’t remember the title or the author, but I do remember it had a brown spine, with that gold leaf lettering that always seemed so popular on highfalutin’ academic texts. It looked relatively untouched, too. I remember that, as well. Because I thought, Why is this book just sitting here, as if in wait? (I was pretentious enough at that stage to have thought the phrase “as if in wait.”)

Now, I’d like to say I picked up that book and nothing happened…or, that something did happen. The truth is, I pulled an awkward teenager move and picked up the book three titles to the right and muttered under my breath something like, “Oh, this is the book I’m looking for,” even though no one else was about. Years on, though, I often consider that moment of standing in the stacks: what could have been or what I might have learned. The power of belief, if you will.

It’s a marvelous thing.

Did you work in any writing challenges, this week? Did you challenge yourself some other way? (You don’t have to have become a demonologist.) Let me know!


11 thoughts on “Believe it or not

  1. The background was just as intriguing as your take on the prompt! I did have an experience with something moving, that shouldn’t have, and it was shared with my college roommate. Actually, it was two things movingโ€”the corkboards affixed to the cinder-block walls of our dorm room by our beds. I kid you not. It was a weekday afternoon, and we were sitting on our beds talking after classes. We each saw the ca. 5-foot-long corkboard behind the other move in a sine-wave pattern. To this day, I have no idea what caused that phenomenon. A strange pressure wave going through the air? If it was just me, I could put it down to imagination. But both our jaws dropped and our eyes went wide at the same instant.

    So I won’t discount your guest lecturer’s experience as an overactive imagination or tired eyes!


    • Such unexplained, or inexplicable, incidents are exciting but scary for me, JM. I’m glad they happen, though, in a weird sort of way. It makes me think there’s more to life than what we see day to day.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  2. That’s pretty cool that you were inspired to go on a little adventure to your school’s library and try to get the same experience, though it didn’t go as you had planned. I feel that if we had something like that, I’d be there all the time!

    I haven’t really written anything or done any fun challenges, but the most I did do was get myself to stop and figure out story stuff that I needed to write out. It’s the most writing I’ve done in over a week for a story, so it was pleasant enough for me.


    • Most uni libraries are more or less public – you just need to show some ID or sign in. Even though I was too chicken to take the plunge that particular time, the library was always a source of inspiration for me, both in its books and just in the plain old stacks.

      Figuring out story stuff is just as important as the actual writing, especially for planners like us. Glad to hear it!


  3. I totally believe. I have lots of little experiences with seeing, hearing, or smelling things that don’t make sense. We’re fools if we think this world was made for only humans and that everything should be logical to our minds.

    I sooo love that you went to the library. That’s something I would do. ๐Ÿ™‚


    • This probably should have been a Hallowe’en post.

      I wish I still took the same sort of chances I used to do. Not just in the case of seeking out the unexplained, but in everyday stuff. I honestly hadn’t thought of that moment in the stacks in years, until I wrote this week’s challenge, and the feelings of standing in those rather musty stacks came flooding back to me. It’s been a prodding impetus for me to take more risks again. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks for stopping by, and for the vote of confidence, Kate. I’m glad to know I wasn’t being crazy/silly, even if I didn’t go through with it, in the end. ๐Ÿ˜€


  4. LOL. I think confronting the supernatural is really hard. And this would be an actively inviting it rather than an accidental interaction. I think you had lots of courage to get to the stacks and almost grab the book. ๐Ÿ™‚


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