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Sins Untallied

long library shelving

Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.

I’m leaving this message on every social media page, every blog, and every forum that I know. My hope is that someone, anyone, will read this… before it’s too late… 

I’m afraid, not just for my own life, but for the lives of countless others as well. If I  don’t say anything now, there’s a chance that my story – and their stories – may never be told. 

My name is Amanda Reese, I’m forty-one years old, single, and live alone at 5422 Regal Drive, Raven Ridge, Massachusetts. I work full time at the Sherman & Kettle Public  Library and have worked there for over ten years. 

Now, I know that’s a lot of information and you might be thinking I’m stupid for sharing it so freely but I need you to know who I am. I can’t just be another nameless face on the internet. I need people to know that I exist, that I have a life, and that I want to live… 

If you’re seeing this and it’s too late, just know that I didn’t “run away.” I didn’t just  “disappear,” or “escape,” or- God… I didn’t take my own life. 

I was murdered…  

And I know what you’re thinking, “Why are you telling me this? Why don’t you just go to the police?” and believe me, I have tried, but each time they’ve shooed me away like I’m some solicitor caught with a cold. But I get it. At first glance, anyone would say  I’m overreacting, a paranoid bookworm wrapped up in a reckless conspiracy, that I can’t tell facts from reality. And maybe they’re right. Maybe I’ve spent too much time staring at the yellow wallpaper. 

But I don’t think so… 

Allow me to explain. 

About a month ago I was working in the library, the Sherman & Kettle library, on  the corner of Aron and Beckley. Like I said, I’m a librarian- assistant librarian, technically.  Most of the operational work is conducted by the actual librarian, my supervisor, 

Delaney. I’m usually assigned the more menial tasks, the day to day operations. This includes accepting returns, loaning material, and general customer service. 

I’d be lying if I said I enjoy customer service but I’m certainly warmer to the work when it deals in the department of books. Rarely does a library see a line of impatient customers. And the marketable product of the business is, in my opinion, far more treasurable than fast food or fancy phones. 

Anyway, that day I was working with a few returns, shelving books back to their respective locations. The library is four stories tall, and, not including the archives in the basement, has over 300 thousand books. 

Maintaining, let alone navigating, such a collection is no small task. However, like  Edmond Dantès in his cell I’ve had over a decade to study the stones. Now, I am not  Abbé Faria and can hardly name every book but I’d wager that even blindfolded I could reliably walk a path from the front desk to nearly any shelf. 

Such as that is, it’s rare that I cross any material wholly unknown to me. 

But on that day, as I was returning a set of books, I was led into the back rows of our biography section. I forget its name but I was shelving some book on Shakespeare when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it…  

On the middle shelf and just an arm’s reach away… was a plain, red book

Now, I’m not talking about the dull burgundy you see draping shelves in decorative sets. No. This was a bright red, blood red… Frankly, among the steady rainbow of grey hues the spine stuck out like a cover by Dr. Suess. 

And that was the other thing… The spine had no label. It listed neither name nor tag, which was odd since practically every volume in the building was scarred by some tacky code.  

I pulled the book off the shelf and turned it around. Neither cover nor back held any hint to its contents, and unmarked, the warm leather was as smooth as skin. I  opened the front page and there, handwritten in a weathered font, was its title… 

“Sins Untallied”

There was no author but below was an epigraph; five lines and inscribed by the same hand as before. It read… 

The lonely pain forgotten
The lonely pain not missed
The lonely pain forgotten
By death’s hand
Sweet bliss 

It was certainly… a more mystifying introduction… Yet it left my curiosity unsatisfied. I turned the page to find another poem. Almost like a children’s book, the ten lines were front and center, isolated, and devoid of any commentary.  

It went like this… 

You were abandoned
Abandoned
By the only one you love
If it’s her or you
It’s her
When push comes to shove
The heartbreak never ending
The loneliness
Never mending
Thus your pain was death’s to rid of 

Now, poetry’s far from my forte. Sure, I’ve read T.S. Elliot and Emily Dickenson,  but were it not required for my degree, I would have taken the road less traveled by and forgone the works of Robert Frost. That’s not to say I oppose poetry, but rather, I prefer my time with novels.  

As such, my initial opinion of the unnamed poem was harsh. It seemed cliche, a  lover’s plight filled with sappy words totaling to no deeper meaning. I would have put the book down right then and there, if the next lines weren’t so well within view… 

On the adjacent page, there was yet another poem, nearly identical to the first.  Exposed against the wide margins, the words were magnetizing – before I could even conclude my previous criticism, my eyes were drifting down the page…

You had a burden
A burden
A father under your care
Their mind was slowly fading
Your face
No longer there You couldn’t keep on living
With the loneliness
And only giving
Thus your pain was death’s to bare 

Though I couldn’t tell you why, just then, I had the sudden urge to glance over my shoulder. I did and no one was there, but that didn’t ease the tension. All at once, and for no reason I understood, I was afraid someone might see me. I don’t know why it would have mattered, but quickly, I closed the red, leather book and shelved it away.  

Then, shaking off the jitters, I hurriedly left and went back to work… 

I tried to forget the book, but it was like trying to forget a gnat, flying around the room. The very thought of it tickled my neck and thenceforth every red spined volume violently pulled at my attention. It was the itch I couldn’t scratch. 

Of course, I tried consulting our database. Though the website was archaic, it held a near accurate account of our entire stock. The title “Sins Untallied”, however,  listed zero results. Neither our database nor any search engine I tried had any clue to the mysterious tome’s existence. 

The book, I then assumed, was likely rare, perhaps the only one of its kind. Along this line of logic, it was also possible that our catalogue was merely incomplete, an error in inventory. 

But none of these assumptions provided answers. 

And so, one evening, as the library laid in a lull, I snuck away from my desk. I did so almost unconsciously. As easy as Alice fell down the rabbit hole, the gravity of my curiosity was pulling me up – up the stairs, down the hall, and four rows into the biography section… 

I stood there, for a moment, just staring at the red spine. Nervous for no reason, I  stealthily stole the book from its shelf and hid it within my shirt. In hindsight, I’m sure my tactics were doubly suspicious, shuffling between shelves while awkwardly clutching my chest. Nevertheless, I returned to my desk with the red book in hand (so to speak). 

I sat down, and sort of like the family dog that’s caught a squirrel, my instincts subsided, leaving me to ponder over my prize. Once again, I inspected the book. The faint but uneven stitching led me to believe that the binding wasn’t factory produced.  Paired with the curious font, I was confident that the volume was handcrafted. 

That in and of itself wasn’t too unusual. The Sherman & Kettle Library was home to several first editions, drafts, and diaries, but even still, these books were typically tagged. 

Skimming through the pages, I found they were all familiar – on each page, a  poem, ten lines long, and written in a weathered font. Its strict pattern was puzzling, yet  I could barely guess at its significance. 

Hoping to unravel this mystery, I flipped to the end, searching for either an acknowledgment page or comments by the author. But there was nothing… In fact,  there was less than nothing. There were over a hundred empty pages, leaving nearly a  quarter of the book entirely blank. 

This peculiarity did not escape me, but I assumed the book to be some author’s unfinished publication or a student’s ill-attempted art project. Brushing my hand over the ancient leather, my speculations grew inventive. As well as one might envision the characters from a novel, I was drafting its author. I’ll save you from my headcanon, but all that to say I had already begun investing some of my own imagination into the volume’s hidden history. And now, I was somewhat inspired. 

I always dreamed of writing my own book but was never settled on a story. This volume, I thought, was a well of potential ideas, an antique of creativity. And so, in view of the prospects of its forgotten text and curious aura, I was determined to read the red book, Sins Untallied

I accomplished this over the course of several lunch breaks and slow working hours. Though I was committed to reading the book, I remained hesitant to carry it at length. At the time, I’d say my reasons for this were mixed. The book was clearly rare and immensely delicate – handling it unnecessarily seemed like a risk. Moreover, it was still untagged, and I weighed the work of cataloguing the item for loan as tedious.  

These excuses, however, were designed only to deceive myself. For the truth is, a  part of me was terrified. Terrified of something I didn’t fully understand. But I knew if I  were to admit that fear I would have been that much closer to seeing it. 

You know what I’m talking about. You’ve seen it already. You’re a witness,  whether you realize it or not. Don’t believe me? Let me show you again, with another poem from the book… 

You were old
So old
And the world you loved was gone
Trapped in the present
And past
Any chance at moving on
Alone and deep in thought
With your memory
Forgot
Thus your pain was death’s to take upon 

Maybe it hasn’t hit you yet. Maybe you’re just reluctant. Look again. Here… 

You were a doctor
A doctor
A rising star to fame
But
For your loneliness
You had yourself to blame
You preferred your own reflection
With the scalpel
A vivisection
Thus your pain was death’s to claim 

Do you see it now? You cannot be as stubborn as I was. 

I read through hundreds of pages, each page a new poem, but always the same.  Of course, by then I was well aware of the common themes: loneliness, pain, death. Hell,  they were all there on the first page! 

But how much further are you willing to go? How deep will you read between the lines? 

I came to assume the book was a manic celebration of suicide, that each page told the tale of a lonely soul crushed by their depression, relieved only by death. It was a  book so tragic and miserable that even the author could not commit themself to complete it. 

But then I noticed one other detail… 

And I confess, I have thus far withheld this information. For even if I laid the book in front of you, it undoubtedly would have gone unseen unless you looked very carefully at one corner of every page… 

At first, I didn’t see it… 

Later, I assumed they were page markers… 

But then… I realized… 

They were tallies… 

At the corner of every page, there was a tally mark. With every poem, the count increased. 

And you might be thinking, “What’s to tell the difference between a page number and a tally mark?” well typically page numbers don’t range in roman numerals and typically page numbers don’t pause between random pages… 

Except these weren’t random at all… 

There were a select few pages – few enough to miss – where the featured poem deviated from its standard style. Let me read you one of these outliers, and as I do, pay close attention to its last line…

You were a widow
A widow
Haunted by the dead
Dreams of those you loved
And lost
Bleeding inside your head
The loneliness invited
A chance to be
Reunited
But you chose pain instead 

I will reiterate that the number of tally marks on this page were the same as the page prior. This is more than just coincidence. Wherever the tally marks do not increase,  that final line is altered, it is altered emphatically to say that “death” did not claim this person. It is altered to say that they are not among the “Sins Untallied”… 

Because the “Sins Untallied” are those who’ve died… 

The “Sins Untallied”… are those who were killed… 

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If a living human is murdered and no one reports it, was there ever a crime?  As I read poem after poem, I found myself wondering, what if it were me? 

I don’t have any friends… and my immediate family is… all gone. If I were to  “disappear” who would notice? Maybe my boss? But what do they know? Who’s to say  Amanda Reese, the forty-one-year-old assistant-librarian wasn’t tired of her boring life filled only with books and left everything behind to start anew? Who’s to say Amanda Reese, who lived alone, didn’t struggle with depressive thoughts? Who’s to say Amanda  Reese wouldn’t take her own life? 

What if there was someone who preyed on people like that? The people who are lonely, desperate, or hurting? Who would ever know? Who would ever care? 

But it would be insane – ludicrous! – to think that this book is, what? The confessions of some serial killer?! There are over three-hundred poems! I’ve counted! 

There’s no way someone could kill that many people and get away with it! That’s more than just murder that’s a calamity a catastrophe! 

It’s impossible… Right? 

I finally showed the book to my manager. Delaney spent all of ten seconds putting on their glasses only to study the blank cover for two. Then they handed it back and turned towards a mountain of paperwork.  

“Not one of ours,” they said, still focused on something else. “Likely some bush league author. Some writers leave their books around a library like business cards at a  coffee shop.” 

Delaney was unconvinced. Even as I showed them the poems, the tally marks,  and the many blank pages… 

“Look,” they sighed, “it’s just a book. If you want it, you can have it. What you do  with it is up to you.” 

But I didn’t want it. I was terrified of the thing. What I wanted was someone to believe me, someone to take this seriously! But no one would…  

I tried telling the police, but without any proof of foul play my book of poems was just that. I suggested they could run it for fingerprints, maybe cross reference them with a cold case or something.  

They said they’d “file a report” and follow up soon… I still haven’t heard back… 

I returned the book. I put it back right where I found it. I was too afraid to keep it yet even more afraid to get rid of it. I thought maybe I could just leave it alone. Maybe someone else would find it. Maybe someone else would know what to do with it.  

Or maybe nothing would happen. Maybe I’d forget the whole thing and the book would just fade away… 

Yesterday I was in the biography section. This wasn’t for work. I was there because I wanted to be there, because I was hoping beyond hope I’d look at the space where that red spine stood and see nothing.

But it was still there… 

I had tried to forget. I had tried to let go. But nothing changed. Nothing… except for one thing… 

As I inspected the red, leather tome one last time, I turned through the book. I  turned to the end, where the poems stop short of empty pages. There were 357 tallies when I first read the book… but now, there were 358… 

There was a new tally and a new poem… 

My hands were shaking, and I could barely breathe as I read the lines. As soon as  I was finished, I dropped the book and ran. When I thought to return, this morning, the book was gone. It was gone, but its words remained in my mind. I was scarred by what I  knew, what I’d seen. It’s why I’m leaving this message wherever people can find it. 

The book is real. The Sins Untallied cannot be forgotten. We cannot be forgotten. Please, remember me and remember that I wanted to live. 

Remember me and remember the poem I found, the last poem that was in that book… 

You were curious
So curious
Reading books all on your own
But paper proof
Means nothing
When you are so alone
The words you see
My own
Biography
Thus your pain soon death shall own