“At one point does one give up? At what point does one concede that screaming into the void, no matter how eloquently, is still futile?”

That short note, on hotel stationary, was the only intelligible writing found in the hotel room of Abigail Stearmann when her body was discovered. Her body was found in bed, her death having occurred not more than four or five hours before its discovery, and the coroner ruled it a suicide inasmuch as there was no evidence of foul play. Indeed, Stearmann was found to have died of dehydration despite being not ten feet from a working faucet with potable water.

The more compelling mystery was what Stearmann had apparently been working on in her six months’ residence at the hotel. She had regularly gone out for paper and ink, and those that knew who she was assumed that the author had at long last begun her second novel or second short-story collection.

Instead, investigators found 10,983 pages of…markings. Some have described them as scribbles, some as glyphs, but all agree that there was absolutely no meaning to be had from them to the casual observer’s eye. “It was as if someone had rewritten the Voynich Manuscript in the very messy cursive of a medical doctor,” said one of Stearmann’s closest associates at Southern Michigan University.

The author’s notoriety—increased tenfold after her strange death—led to a number of increasingly sophisticated attempts to find meaning in her last writings. An early attempt, in 1985, was touted as a “lost” Stearmann novel. It was generally ridiculed at the same level as The Tragedy of Anne Boleyn that Elizabeth Wells Gallup claimed to have found in cipher among Shakespeare’s plays. The most sophisticated effort, a computer-aided statistical analysis published in 2012, found no meaning in the whole but allowed for the possibility of a representational cipher in some places.

An equal number of people saw Stearmann’s supposed suicide note as explanation enough. In the throes of a depression so deep, so all-consuming that she had considered not just her writing but all writing to be insignificant on a grander scale…what greater cosmic joke could there have been than to bequeath gibberish to posterity?

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Detective Stevens had seen the book among the deceased’s personal effects, and had been sufficiently intrigued to gingerly open it with gloved hands. There, in ink that had been wet enough to blot the opposite page when closed, the young woman with her head in the gas oven had written a meticulous account of how she planned to end her life and the silly, petty (in Stevens’ mind) reasons behind it.

He’d listed it as evidence at the inquest, but the volume had vanished before it could be consulted again–most likely taken by a family member worried about the poor young thing’s posthumous reputation, Stevens reasoned.

Fifteen years later, arriving at the house of someone who had dissolved a bottle full of sleeping pills in sparkling water, Detective Stevens saw the book again. The last page bore, in the dead woman’s own hand, her research on the dissolution of sedatives in carbonated waters and the personal and professional failings she felt had driven her to such.

How could he be sure it was the same volume? For one, leafing through the myriad and Bible-thin pages brought up that long-ago death by natural gas. For another, the dark leather binding and embossed writing were unmistakable.

The title? The Book of Ending Softly.