• Published 3rd Jun 2016
  • 5,679 Views, 72 Comments

Cant - Rambling Writer



Twilight becomes obsessed with copying an old book.

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Makin' Copies

The Scripture of the Many-Angled One, They of the Space Between, was easily the most boring tome of eldritch lore Twilight had ever known.

Just to start, its appearance was dull. It wasn’t bound in pony skin (or the skin of any other species, for that matter). It wasn’t written in blood. It wasn’t covered in spikes. It looked just like any other century-old book: on the verge of falling apart, its cover was a faded robin’s-egg-blue, with the title and author written on in plain black ultra-precise lettering. Slip it into any bookshelf, and you could easily miss it.

Then there was the content. The Reinlic runes were a rarity in these times, and the kerning was nice and neat and precise, but those were the most fascinating things about the text. It was borderline incoherent, and not the fun, raving kind of incoherent, either. It was laughable gibberish in the vein of “the glow must be originate that fresh rainbow” for “the glow must be from a fresh rainbow”. But once Twilight had actually managed to decipher the meaning, it wasn’t much better; supposedly instructions on how to summon yet another eldritch being of some kind, it was completely off-base on pretty much every single step, the trans-dimensional equivalent of trying to light a fire in a vacuum with asbestos and ice. And that was when it managed to stay on topic; one particular section seemed more dedicated to talking about the effects of salt on slugs than anything else. There were diagrams for the magic circles to be used, but they were just as much a mess as anything else: uneven and distorted, with no scales available, and even some doodles in the margins of mundane things like a city or a bowl of fruit.

It didn’t even have an interesting history. It was really only a curiosity, cycled among collectors who went on to live happy, long lives. In fact, it’d only come to Twilight’s attention when an incredibly skittish collector had donated it to her “just in case”. And the author definitely existed; she’d supposedly written it on a drunken binge in the Frozen North (not too far from the former/future site of the Crystal Empire, actually), had been woefully embarrassed that she’d written it, and the worst that had happened to her before she died peacefully in her sleep at age 96 was that she gained an unusual obsession with rulers immediately after writing the book.

So, yeah. Boring. Twilight had read it cover to cover plenty of times and hadn’t been driven insane. Its utter failure on every level was always good for a laugh. But that was part of her current problem: she’d read it so much that it was on the verge of falling apart. She’d been gentle, but something that old could only take so much.

Which was why Twilight had set herself up in the library with lots of ink, lots of quills, lots of parchment, and lots of time; she was going to copy down the book as best she could so she’d have a spare copy to read. The original would go… probably into storage or something. It didn’t really matter.

She flipped the book open to the first page and started copying the words down. She knew them all practically by heart now, but she looked closely at the book anyway. She needed to be precise.

She started whistling, and the first page went by in a flash. Before she turned it over, she examined her copy closely, trying to find any discrepancies, just in case. But she didn’t see a-

Wait.

That last rune… It wasn’t precisely accurate. Twilight looked back and forth between her rune and the book’s. Hers was pointy with some curvy bits. The book’s was curvy with some pointy bits. It was a subtle difference, but Twilight was sure it’d drive her crazy, now that she’d noticed it.

She looked up the page she’d already written, all the runes with the ink still drying. She’d hate to scribble out a letter and make it look ugly like that, but it’d take a while to repeat all that. I’ll fix this page later. She blotted out the rune, cringing slightly as she did so, and wrote the new version in just below it. She checked again. Hers: curvy with some pointy bits. Book’s: curvy with some pointy bits. Good. She looked over the page again, just be sure she hadn’t missed any o-

Oh, wow. Her spacing was atrocious. How had she missed that? It was completely uneven from top to bottom. That wouldn’t do. She needed to be precise. It was a pain to write it all again, but there was nothing else to it. Sighing, Twilight crumpled the page into a ball, tossed it over her shoulder, and went back to copying from scratch.

She couldn’t help it; she worked a bit more slowly this time. It needed to look good. It was slow and annoying, especially compared to her fast pace earlier, but that couldn’t be helped. Not if she wanted it to be precise. So she went on, closely watching her spacing and making sure the last rune was curvy with some pointy bits. She got to the end and re-exami-

Dangit. Dangit dangit dangit. Her spacing between inked lines was good, but the entire text was tilted slightly to the left. You could tell from the uneven margins. How had she managed to screw up that badly? Twilight groaned and pushed the page aside. She pulled out another blank piece of parchment, but before she started writing, she cast one last wistful look at her work, beautiful aside from its tilted text.

Then she blinked.

The text wasn’t tilted slightly to the left at all.

It was tilted slightly to the right.

Twilight blinked again, frowned. It had been tilted to the left, right? Or had she been seeing things? She looked at the bottom of the page. There was a little more empty space on the left than there was on the right. The text was definitely tilted to the right. At least, that was the way it seemed to her. It wasn’t a lot of space.

How to check? Ruler. Too bad she hadn’t thought to bring any in here. It only took a few seconds for Twilight to get one, though, and soon she was back in the library, ready to see how badly the text was til-

It wasn’t tilted at all.

Twilight rubbed her eyes and stared. The difference she thought she’d seen before simply wasn’t there. Probably. She measured the margins: one inch on the bottom left, one inch on the bottom right. A second’s thought, and she measured the left, right, and top margins, too: all straight, all one inch.

This was getting ridiculous. Was it too much to ask for enough spatial awareness to tell whether or not she’d written her words straight? She’d been so sure she’d seen an irregular margin before. But she needed to be precise. She’d look one more time, Twilight decided, and if the text was tilted that time, she’d start over.

She looked. The text was tilted. Except not really. Just the runes; they were italicized.

…Italicized? She hadn’t been writing in italics, had she? She’d remember that. Right? Right. You had to work to write in italics, and she hadn’t been working at that. She shook her head, looked again. The runes were definitely italicized. Same direction, too. Shook her head again, looked again. Still italicized, same direction.

Nothing to it. Twilight shoved the parchment aside. She could’ve kept that page, but the italics would’ve driven her mad. She needed to be precise. She took her third page, made absolutely completely sure it was straight on the table, wrote everything down again. She went even more slowly this time, trying to be as careful as possible. She got to the final rune (curvy with some pointy bits), and set her quill do-

Oh, no. No. How had she missed that? Her kerning was abhorrent; letters appeared to be part of the words before or after the word they were actually a part of. That… that just wasn’t possible. She couldn’t be that terrible at copying, could she? No. Not possible. But there it was. And it was terrible, terrible, terrible. She needed something to keep the letters even. Like graph paper. Not actual graph paper, that’d look horrendous, but a separate grid that could go over the parchment.

Oh! Make an actual grid out of string. She’d need some way to keep the string straight without magic; even her control had its limits. So, how to… Nails. She’d nail the grid to the table. It was unfortunate that she’d have to ruin her table like that, but this was important. She needed to be precise.

String, hammer, and nails. She didn’t have a lot of them, but she had them, just in case. They were down in the basement. It only took a few minutes for Twilight to go down and pick them up. As she was walking back to her desk, she happened to glance at a picture of herself and her friends.

It was tilted slightly to the left.

Twilight’s eye twitched. She reached out and nudged the picture until it was straight. Right? Right. She cocked her head this way and that. It looked straight. She started walking away, then suddenly zipped back and stared at the picture.

It was straight.

After a few moments, Twilight stepped away from the picture and back to her desk. She didn’t set up the grid just yet, though; she laid her implements aside and looked at the last page, just in case her kerning had fixed itself while she was gone.

The kerning was still bad. But it was bad in a different way. Maybe. Twilight couldn’t say how, but she was sure it different from the last time she looked. For instance, she’d thought those two runes there had been a part of this word, not that word. It was still bad, though; those runes should’ve been part of two different words, not the same word.

Twilight pushed the poorly kerned words aside and promptly went about measuring the spacing and size of the runes in the original book. She needed to be precise. The height of the runes was, in all cases, nine-sixteenths of an inch precisely. The width of the runes was, in all cases, one quarter of an inch precisely. The spacing between the lines was, in all cases, one eighth of an inch precisely. That was good. Precision was good. She quadruple-checked to be sure. They were all correct.

The nails went into the table only after Twilight had quintuple-checked her measurements there. It wouldn’t do to have irregular runes and spacing, no no no. This book was important. It’d given her so much amusement, it was only fitting that she treat it with respect, which meant making sure everything was exactly as it was in the original. She needed to be precise.

The strings were tied on next. Twilight left enough room on one side to slide parchment in and out from under the grid. Taking one of her failures, she jotted down a few lines of runes, keeping them in the spaces. One rune per grid square. Well, rectangle, actually. When she drew the parchment back out, it looked good. She measured it. It was good. It was straight. It was precise. She needed to be precise.

Finally, she got to writing down the words themselves on a new sheet of parchment. She went slowly, making sure the runes weren’t just the same size, but they all had same thickness, too. With her luck, she’d get to the bottom of the page, only to find that the runes all had uneven pen strokes. That would be terrible. It’d probably drive her insane. She couldn’t have that. She needed to be precise.

And suddenly, she was at the end. She laid her quill down, pulled the parchment out from under the grid, and-

It was perfect. It was neat and carefully spaced and straight and regular and free of mistakes and precise.

Twilight’s heart began pounding in her ears. She’d finally managed to not screw up? She closed her eyes, looked a few more times. Each time, it was perfect. She stood up, took a walk around the room. Stopped to look at the picture. It was perfect. Got back to her desk, looked at the parchment. It was perfect. It was precise.

She couldn’t hold back a grin. Finally. She was done.

With the first page, anyway.

Her horn ached. She’d get to the other pages later, make sure they were as precise as this one, but for now, she needed to take a break. She stood up, stretched, and headed for the door. Maybe there was some chocolate in the kitchen she could pillage.

Then she stopped, took a few steps back, and tilted her head at the door. She tilted it the other way. Tilted it back.

It might’ve been her imagination, but it looked like the doorframe was tilted slightly to the left.

Hesitantly, she half-pulled on the door and let go. It swung freely until it bumped lightly against the wall. Hesitantly, she half-pushed on the door and let go. It swung freely until it bumped lightly against the doorframe.

Twilight looked at the doorframe again and laughed in relief. Her work must’ve been getting to her. The frame wasn’t tilted slightly to the left at all. It was tilted slightly to the right.

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Comments ( 72 )

Sometimes, it's the subtle horror that is the most terrifying...

I don't usually click on stories in the New Stories column, given that most of them are... well, frankly quite terrible. I'm glad I checked this one out, though, since, as Jman mentioned, it's very subtle, but definitely there. Reminds me quite a bit of Stephen King's story 'N.' as well.

One minor point: is the title missing an apostrophe? Or... hmmm.

Shocks #3 · Jun 3rd, 2016 · · 5 ·

Meh.

I think this is more comedy than horror. Why do I have a feeling that Discord is involved?

Just take it to the human world and use a photo copier!

7272687 It's not missing an apostrophe. "Cant" is another word for "tilt", hence the tilted cover picture.

Speaking of Stephen King, one of my primary inspirations for this was his "1408". Both the short story and the movie, incidentally. The short story for the scene right before Enslin enters Room 1408 and the door appears to be crooked one way, then not crooked, then crooked the other way. The movie for the scene where Enslin stares at a painting for a moment, tilting his head back and forth, then nudges it slightly and stares at it for a few moments more; it's obvious he's trying to see if it's straight, but the way the scene is filmed, it's impossible to tell whether or not it is at either point. So I guess that parallel's a plus.

I wouldn't really say it has a horror vibe, yet. But if you flesh it out into something bigger, maybe drive home the impact of the book, then yes.

I mean, I enjoyed the hell out of it, don't get me wrong. IMDB: 9/10

I just don't think it was horror.

looks at description
oh that looks funny
sees horror tag
....wut?

Discord must have authored this book to drive Purple Smart insane..er... than usual. :trollestia:

That moment when you're scrolling past stories and mistake an "A" for a "U" :rainbowlaugh:

:trollestia:

I'd say this was horror lite. This would be the kind of thing you'd find on the SCP site.

The Scripture of the Many-Angled One, They of the Space Between

Oh, you dick. :rainbowlaugh: That's just horrible. I didn't even notice that until after I was done reading and scrolled back to the top of the page. I hope you're appropriately ashamed for what you did there.

Next time Twilight, just buy a camera and take photographs of each page.

Most people think it's comedy, but I can see the subtle horror element of it. You are a genius to have done that.

So I'll be honest here, and this may not be pleasant since this is marked horror and was presumably supposed to inspire fear. This is one of the funniest stories I've read in a while.

the trans-dimensional equivalent of trying to light a fire in a vacuum with asbestos and ice

I burst out laughing in public at got weird looks from the people in the restaurant.

It is 4 am here, I just finished reading 1408, and then rereading this story. I am now terrified for twilight. She needs to get rid of that book by any means necessary.:pinkiesick:

Expect it soon

This seems less a horror story than a comedy/horror, and less about a Cthuloid tome messing with Twilight's mind than a meditation on Twilight's perfectionism.

7274147
Not coincidentally, "cant" also means "A private or secret language used by a religious sect, gang, or other group."

Since Twilight is unable to straighten this eldritch text, you could say she...

Can't cant cant.

7274147

Ahh, I'd forgotten that definition, yes. :-) And '1408' was also a good story and movie, in my opinion, with the latter actually doing a good job changing the ending of the story and making it work. Not something I felt they did with 'The Mist', as otherwise awesome an adaptation that was, though I understand I'm in the minority on that.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

Brilliant. :D Very SCP in execution (you should check out the Foundation if you're not familiar with it!)

She’d some way to keep the string straight

Cant

Or wont?

Jesus christ... This is freaky as hell, if you can see past the thin veneer of what seems simple.

At the start, remember how she says the book was dull? Then, she seems to change her mind halfway through. Think about that for a second.

7276310
I'm glad I'm not the only one who's reminded of the SCP Foundation.

This was indeed well done. I love subtle, psychological horror like this. It takes much more work and finesse to make it work than typical blood-and-gore horror.

I have to agree with Twilight there that this book isn't that amazing
Yeah it would drive people with OCD insane and be a nuisance for nearly everyone else but that's kinda lame for tome of eldritch knowledge

I reviewed this story as part of Read It Now #82!

You can read my review here.

I have a few more thoughts, though:

The borderline problem with Cant is that it never actually makes it clear just why the cant is sinister; it is only by thinking back to some of the descriptions of the supposedly skewed, messed-up diagrams that you realize that the cant that Twilight ends up with to her vision may make it so all the earlier diagrams (and possibly the text) make more sense, as tilting it might cause the "skewed" diagrams to appear straight, and the nonsensical words and sentences to appear differently as the letters are part of different words, and thus the book to, rather than be nonsense, be an actual dangerous piece of arcane lore masquerading as nonsense.

So unless you have a good memory for what happened earlier in the text, or read it twice, it never really makes it explicit to the reader that there's something more to it than the mild annoyance.

Camber, Caster, Canter, Toe.

Super subtle, and rather clever. The uneasy horror lurks below the amusing surface story, like a spider underneath a bunch of bananas. And it's all the more wicked for it.

I can definitely see the influence of 1408 in this - although mercifully you didn't go as far as Mr King, because 1408 is nasty. Seriously, I don't want to know how King thought that one up.

Excellent title too. I'm a sucker for a title with layers of meaning. I hope you felt all smug and happy when you thought that one up, I know I would have,

So it's not just me?

My monitor is turned slightly to the right? Huh!

7277509 That last bit took a second to understand, but I think I got it...?

I feel that somepony made this book and made sure it would find its way to Twilight, then make it so that whenever you look away, it adjusts itself. Twilight wants it to be perfect, but since it keeps changing, it CANT be perfect. Ultimately more of a comedy story up until the end, where the other objects begin tilting.

Isn't it ironic that my iPad is tilted to the right while I write this?

7341010
Twilight can't cant cant.
Twilight is unable to properly re-align the secret coded religious text.

The phrase can go on forever if you replace Twilight with someone named "Cant" in the sentence and add punctuation; it's kind of like Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo.

7341141 Okay, so I did get it right. Need to check out that Buffalo thing though.

I barely spent a minute on the linked page and Buffalo has already started to seem like a fake word. Ever had that happen?

Set

Oh the horror! The horror!
Nice one making it scary in a bookworm's perspective, especially since its Twilight!

I like this one. It's rare that somebody posts a horror story where there really is a perfectly logical, 100% natural explanation for it that makes the story more horrifying, and as a reviewer, part-time grammar Nazi, and somebody with a generalized anxiety disorder, I think you managed quite nicely!

Oh I love this one so much! The interpretation of this can go so many ways, because we do know that Twilight is obsessive, but I interpreted as the book had a power that was getting to her and actually affecting how she saw the world.

The repetition of "it needs to be precise" was fantastic and very well done, because this story was all about repetition in one of the most agonizing ways possible.

Fav and upvote!

Yes, seconding that this fits in perfectly with the SCP Foundation, and it was the exact thing I thought of when reading.

Very well done. Loved it.

Just to start, its appearance was dull. It wasn’t bound in pony skin (or the skin of any other species, for that matter). It wasn’t written in blood. It wasn’t covered in spikes. It looked just like any other century-old book: on the verge of falling apart, its cover was a faded robin’s-egg-blue, with the title and author written on in plain black ultra-precise lettering. Slip it into any bookshelf, and you could easily miss it.

Shockingly, I actually still own this book. The last time I read it it was called 'Theras and his Town' and before that it was something called Lorna Dune. Theras' was a good read about a boy from Athens who became a spartan slave and then escaped, and Lorna Dune was just a little bit more interesting than the three musketeers and Little House on the Prairie. I believe I last read it when I was 14. There's no title on the binding for obvious reasons, and it's actually rather cheaply made, but more durable than you'd think. Speaking of which, I really need to finish reading the Songs of Cthulhu if I should expect to improve my GM'ing skill by next year.

There were diagrams for the magic circles to be used, but they were just as much a mess as anything else: uneven and distorted, with no scales available, and even some doodles in the margins of mundane things like a city or a bowl of fruit.

Quit reading my second grade dialogue journal you ninny, it's called shorthand. You don't see me calling your infantile efforts to become an alicorn the work of Clever Hans.

she died peacefully in her sleep at age 96 was that she gained an unusual obsession with rulers immediately after writing the book.

I heard it was written in '96 and that she developed an obsession with sextants or tantric sex, not that there's much of a difference mind you.

Twilight couldn’t say how, but she was sure it different from the last time she looked.

Wait until she see's the monochrome edition of my graphic novels, they're a scream... the colors literally jump of the page in a poorly lit room. And, you can literally feel the book sucking the energy right out of you. Not quite as wickedly as a slot machine, but the pull is there.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

I only just now realized the cover art is tilted. This story just keeps unfolding. :D

(Reads it)
:applejackunsure:

(Reads it again)
:rainbowdetermined2:

(And again)
:rainbowderp:

(One last time)
:pinkiegasp:

As someone who has been reading Eldritch Horror since he could read and has a deep appreciation for both the SCP and the subtlw mindscrew, I can say that this is one of the best horror stories I have read.

that was fun.

The book that killed Twilight.
Love me some Lovecraft that doesn't rely on the clichés.
Very clever and well done :moustache:

...Uh....was that it?
....
Was that really it?
....
What's so scary about it?
No really, what part was meant to be the scary part? :applejackunsure:

7474208 I just noticed, following your comment: is Twilight leaning in the cover art?

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

7475704
I think it's just the whole frame itself is tilted.

7475606
I can sympathize. I don't put tragedy in the same category as horror myself, it's closer to comedy... but for the person experiencing the event it's rather horrific. So... in order for one to see the horror, the event requires empathy?

I have to admire some good work here. It isn't often that one dares deal with subtle psychological horror. Ofc ours sit'sw heny ouge tother stoj oini nthef unth atthing srea llyst artt ocom ealive.

One cannot tell whether this is dark magic or the OCD of Lesson Zero.

7475888
I guess the scary thing about the book is that it seems to be able to effect the world around it?
Even then it's not scary. I see what Twilight is doing as a mundane task, in fact it almost feels like the book is more of a prank toy designed just for Twilight.

Overall I think this just...failed on me. It didn't scare me. Maybe it's because I just kept reading instead of thinking and letting myself go paranoid?

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