Katie loaded the last box into the U-Haul and sat beside Jake on the front porch. Dale wandered the yard, picking up the shattered remains of the guitar and throwing them in a paper grocery bag. The sun was on its way down, but the air was still hot. Dirty sweat had pasted Katie’s shirt to her skin. Jake tried to put an arm around her, but she leaned away.
“I need a shower,” she said.
He took a whiff of the air. “Damn, yeah you do.”
She punched him on the arm. He laughed. She tried to join him, but her own chuckles came out broken and dry.
A solid brown box truck turned off Route 32 and onto the dirt road. Katie stood as the truck parked behind the Uhaul. The driver hopped out, carrying a box in thick, hairy arms. He approached, set the box down in front of Katie and scanned it. He gritted his teeth, not quite smiling at her. He smelled like apricot-flavored tobacco dip.
“Need someone to sign for this. Is Todd around?”
The sound of her father’s name made Katie’s belly clench. “No, but I’m his daughter.”
“Good enough.” He held out the electronic tablet and handed her a stylus. She signed. The driver nodded. “Appreciate ya.”
She carried the box back to the porch as the driver returned to his vehicle. Dale walked up beside her.
“What is it?” he asked.
“I don’t know. It’s for Dad. From… Les, one of his friends.” Her brow furrowed. “He died a little while back, a few months before Dad.”
Katie knew more than that about Les. She knew Les had been the father of Chloe. He’d been killed by that demon. Bringing any of this up would open a can of worms she didn’t know how to close. If Jake didn’t already think she was certifiable, telling him what she knew about Les would leave no doubt.
“You gonna open it?” Dale said.
She looked from him to Jake. Jake nodded for encouragement. She dug her fingers under the flap and pulled, tearing tape and cardboard. Crinkled newspapers covered the box’s contents. She sifted through the packaging.
The first book had a worn, leather cover. Its pages were yellowed and gave off a dry, sweet smell like dust and old glue. The title, The Cosmic Heart, was printed on the cover in faded Old English. Katie ran her fingertips over the lettering, reached under the cover, and opened to the first page.
“At the center of the universe one heart beats, pumping energy into everything,” she read aloud. “In the beginning it was perfect, but now its blood is diseased.”
“What the hell kind of crazy shit is that?” Dale said.
Jake laughed at Dale’s comment and Katie remained silent. She flipped a few pages a head, skimmed more lines, but refrained from reading them aloud to prevent further ridicule.
“Some kind of religious text,” she said.
“The Cosmic Heart,” Jake said. “Never heard of it.”
“Me neither. Must be from some occult religion or something.”
“Why would this Les guy want Dad to have it?” Dale said.
She ignored his question, dug through the rest of the packaging, and came up with another old text. This one had no title or even a cover. Instead, a symbol drawn in charcoal decorated the top page. Stars, animals and shapes spiraled into the central image. Her breath caught. Her eyes watered. She opened her mouth and tried to express what the symbol made her feel, a sense of familiarity and the sensation that she held something very powerful. She opened to the first page.
Within these pages, you will find the secret cures to cosmic ills.
She closed the book, taken with the intense urge to read it and the other tome from beginning to end. They’d drive the truck to the storage facility, then she would send Jake home and lock herself in a room so she could examine each book’s contents. The possibilities of what they contained, and curiosity as to why Les would have these sent to her father gnawed at her. Only the books and how they’d ended up in her hands mattered to her. Everything else, her family, re-enrolling in school, Jake, lacked such pressing importance. She knew then that she was on the verge of discovering something that would change her dramatically, even more than she already had in these last trying months. She wondered if anything would be left of her when it was all said and done.