This is a continuation from The Last Romanov, which was the last post before this. If you have not read it, I would encourage it, so you understand.
The old man stood there with a haze over his eyes, and stared ahead as if in a stupor, mumbling to himself in the quietest whisper. He repeated the same words, and continued this way, as if stupefied by the question. He was looking for the answer, but could not summon the words from his consciousness, so he rolled this question around his tongue, “what happened to all the books”, an incantation of sorts as he repeated in a subliminal manner, as if unaware the world around him. Reaching forward, Orwell touched his shoulder, a sympathetic touch, realizing, in a way, he broke him, as if he had physically climbed inside his mind, and smashed the contents of his memory.
Turning his gaze back to Orwell, a flat smile came across his face, as if he looking upon were some pathetic creature, asking childish questions for which he should already have the answers.
“Sorry. It has been a long time since I have spoke on this topic. It…it all flooded back to me so sudden. What happened to all the books? Thats your question. They’re gone, kaput. No more. Just memories fading in time, disintegrating one vanishing brain cell at a time. They are nothing but ghosts wandering the halls of our fading memories.”
“But, what happened to them? Where did they go? How did we get to here, an building empty, filled with nothing but stale air and dust?”
“Now you are asking the right questions to achieve the appropriate answers. The answer is, they are gone, no longer filling this room, but the story goes back farther, most likely when your parents were young.”
“It was 2052. The world was in upheaval, and we stood upon the edge of a precipice. You see, Orwell, we were the creators of our own destruction. Every one of us was guilty in some fashion. We all had our hands on the axe which severed the head. We all contributed to the collapse of our society. It was a slow progression which very few of us noticed. And those that did, that voiced their concerns, were deemed false prophets of doom, misanthropes with too much time on their hands, naysayers against happiness. If we had only listened to these individuals, but those were different times. We were prosperous, we were educated, we were on top of the world, none of us suspected that the carpet was about to be pulled out from under our feet. So we went about our lives, in a fog, living unawares of impending doom.
First it was the small things, closet activities, things which people were ashamed to protest for out in public, that was how they slowly altered our lives. Pornography was the first industry to go. The courts deemed sexual acts as just that, sexual acts, and removed them from freedom of speech. It was easy really, very few people protested, and like a candle’s flame snuffed out, it was instantaneous. This small act, allowed a greater demon to crawl out of the muck and destroy our lives.
This was the first affront to free speech, and it was a quick descent into a pit which seemed to swallow up individual’s rights. It was one thing after the other, and writing was at the top of the list. Christian groups lobbied to ban certain books, and like the Nazi empire, they marched as mobs into libraries, schools, and even some homes, and burned these books on pyres, blazing bright in the centers of many towns. The police and the government seemed to reserve their position on these acts, and the responses seemed eerily vacant from the discussion of politics.They ignored all these acts blindly, and answered questions on the topic with a willful ignorance. It was as if all in the government was involved, even at the lowest level, but the scariest part was, how many citizens joined the ever-growing mob.
It was a few years after this happened that a national religion was founded, and of course it was the same religion that lobbied and backed the pornography act, making all materials illegal to own, sell, or buy. This national religion, banned all other religions in the Federation of United Sovereign Nations, and as a result, a boiling point was found, and the temperature of the water was rising, one slow degree at a time.
Amazing, was how people so readily accepted this new religion, how they did not question this as infringing on their rights. The most troubling part was how other religions were vilified. Their gods, sacred texts, ceremonial garbs, structures, and anything else found to be associated with worship were all burned to the ground, razed in fiery plumes of thick black smoke rising from the ever growing, sacred bonfires. It was as if standing there, breathing in the smoke, you could inhale the holiness escaping the objects, and the despair and loathing of millions. On the grounds of these previous holy buildings, where their foundations were once rooted deep into the earth, mega churches were constructed. Big white marble structures–the ones you know today–would gleam in the dying of the afternoon light, and just at dusk, as the sun dips below the horizon and the sky bleeds, so too did these churches, their white structure hemorrhaging corruption right through their walls.
The world was in chaos, and the reform was swift. The followers of this church were zealots in those early years. You know them now as Lazarian’s. Their real name, their anointed name, is The Church of Christ Lazarus. They believed they would resurrect the world in Christ’s image, and save the whole global mess by restoring them from their heathen ways. Like a cult they chanted in church with a blind devotion that bordered on catatonic recitation, yet no one could realize this, no one could put their finger on their sheepish platitudes. So religion became homogenized, and that’s when we began to lose ourselves, one small freedom at a time.
As time went on, and people eased into the Lazarian’s reeducation of the public, as they so politely named it, people fought less and less about anything. People no longer needed to process the news, because television host’s told the public what to think about the news. Information was digested and spit up by news anchors like William O’Rahilly, telling the public how to think, while spewing forth the Lazarian’s agenda. The problem was, people willingly leaned in for the kiss, taking it all in, not thinking twice about it, well, not thinking at all. Newspapers became extinct, their lengthy worded columns fraught with information having to be digested by the mind, and then coherently shuffled around to have ones own thought on the topic at hand. When newspapers fell, the medium for news was now monopolized by television–why read, when someone can tell you the news.
This became the stepping off point, the springboard for disaster. Some of us began to march, to fight back, to rally against these absurd changes occurring around us. The problem was, there was so few of us, and without the newspaper anymore, our information became limited. Yes, I know what you are thinking, we had the internet. This is true, but, I am getting to that. So we marched, to no avail, and we became enemies of the state, not deemed enemy by the nation though, but by the people. The public judged us, and became our enemies. Where we saw ourselves fighting for our and their freedom, they saw us fighting directly against them, interrupting their happy lives. We were isolated on our own little island amidst a sea of cultural insanity.
Books, yes books. I know. Books. So it began as a slow trickle. First one library closed, then the next. Eventually funding for libraries were cut completely, and we saw a see of books without homes. This was disconcerting at first, but we believed we could fight this tide, so we lobbied, we fought, but as time went on, we lost ground. Books became old, and antiquated, and as such, people eliminated them, purged them from their homes, for more available space so the new wall sized televisions could fit. People like your parents began reading in the streets, out loud on street corners, trying to gain public support. They became performers, much like the living statues of cities or jugglers plying the crowd for loose change. Criticized and ostracized by the majority walking past on the dirty cracked sidewalks, the only positive attention they received was quickly beaten down by peer pressure. The world had become a dismal place, a place with a lack of options for many.
Reading was replaced in school by computer programming. Many said they did not need words to program, and communication could be taught orally, without books. Many even hypocritically cited indigenous peoples and their culture’s ability to pass on language which was unwritten. They said this even as the last of their nations were absorbed back into the country, their sovereignty no longer recognized by the Federation. The words were replaced with symbols, changing the whole education system, reading no longer required, and then completely eliminated from the curriculum. Manuals, books, the ability to write dissolved into memory as previous generations fell to the reaper’s scythe. Sure it didn’t happen all at once, this occurred over tens of years, which made the process more acceptable, and the detractors of this process became the minority. When libraries began to shutter, some of the buildings just sat there barred and vacant, their only occupants the bound pages, the words of authors, and any animals who took refuge in these pantheons of literature. Some of us, such as myself, took up the position as resident librarian, maintaining the collection as best as possible with the limited resources available to us. A few underground movements spurred some in the population to take up the cause of literature again, but those were quashed with a quick and repressive force.
While the world began to eat itself alive, I remained in here, hidden behind the large brass doors, only a lingering thought for anyone else outside this building. I rescued as many books as possible those days and stored them in here, in this massive monument to the literati. And then the world descended into chaos, it all fell apart, and I find myself here, protecting these books, everyday, till my last day.”
He sat back and with open arms gestured to the building that surrounded them. Orwell furrowed his brow in a pained and puzzled look, and turned around in his chair to make sure he was not missing something that he had missed before.
“But, where are the books? Are they here?”
As he said that a noise came from outside the great room, and the sound of boots echoed through the building, followed by a screech which ran chills up and down Orwell’s spine.
“We have to leave now. Come on, Anton.”
Grabbing his arm, Orwell stood and began to run, but Anton was like a ship’s anchor stuck in the ocean floor, secured in sand and rock.
“Anton, come on.”
“I told you. My job is to protect these books, to my final day. I will be nothing but cinder and ash, a bag of bones, when these books are gone.”
“There are no books. None, there is nothing here but shelves filled with dust. There is no literature, no words, no pages to be flipped, just emptiness. So come on, we have to leave before they realize where we are.”
“No, you don’t understand. I must protect the books.”
Pulling his arm away he pointed to his head, tapping his finger against his temple, and walked toward a corner of the room, which was hidden in abject darkness. Backing up, with a slow and determined step, Orwell glanced over in the moonlight which spied through a piece of broken stain glass, and noticed something white in a fireplace along the wall. As he approached the brick hearth, heedless to the screeches which found their way echoing through the building, Orwell knelt down, and picked up a charred piece of paper. Turning he whispered with a soft, yet firm, tone in an attempt to get Anton’s attention, but as he did this, his body seemed to pass between the meridian of light and dark, dissolving as he entered the shadowed corner. Focusing his attention back on the paper, he shoved it, and others into his bag.
A screech louder, and more ominous, due to its closer proximity, pierced the great room. With that Orwell stood up and began to walk away, stopping when he saw the figure slink out of the darkness. Out in the open of the floor, at the bottom of the black marble staircase, stood the creature from which this insidious noise emanated from, his head white, appearing to glow phosphorescent in the darkness. A cacophony of boots reverberated through the hollow open space, and made it sound like people were walking right next to him, their shoes clunking against the dirty tile floor directly under his feet. Before he knew it, the same large group that had passed him on the street, was now filling this room. His heart pounded as he stared at the crowd just standing there, waiting their next move, as more screeches filled the air.
Orwell took a step back, trying to mask his figure in the darkness, but it was too late. Before he could dissolve to shadow, the horde began to flock toward him, this sick pale creature screeching as it led the pack. If it wasn’t for the bright light that emanated from the corner of the room, he surely would have been dead, eaten alive like that poor unsuspecting soul on the streets.
A flash of luminosity filled the room, and all eyes, even Orwell’s found their way to the corner. From abysmal blackness to the brightest light, Anton stepped out of the corner aflame, his body seeming to melt lava flesh as he walked toward the group with undue composure. His screams were the only tell which gave up his pain. Their shrill pitch and quivering words told all.
“I am the protector of books. I will save the books, which you would destroy. These books will stay forever protected inside me.”
This human torch barreled toward the screeching leader, and with open arms, Anton grasped him around the shoulders, setting him afire. Their bodies seemed to melt together, a flaming pool of flesh as the smell of gasoline and rendered fat stunk heavily in the air. The massive crowd had dispersed, but still lingered in the room, lost in their momentary autonomy, their leader a ball of flaming muscle, sinew, and skin curling on the floor as the petrol fueled fire ate through his body like naphtha, their bodies crackling and sizzling like grease in a pan.
In the sudden radiance that enveloped the room, an object caught his eye, and laying next to an old, split leather, wingback chair was a pile of books. Knowing that this distraction would only last a little longer, Orwell stuffed as many book as his bag could fit, and grabbed as many as his arms could hold. As the luminescence began to die in the room, it reminded him of dusk on a cold wintery day, the light eking down along the wall, his shadow projecting high upon the stones. Exiting a door opposite the room from that unrecognizable, chaotic mass of charred flesh, he made his way out into the greying morning.
As he stood on the granite steps at the rear of the library, he watched the sun peak over the horizon, and knew he was safe. He thought back to the charred remains, curled up in a heap on the tile floor of the great room, and knew that he must protect the books, like Anton had for so long. Wandering away from the building, Orwell noticed people wandering into the street, picking over garbage for food, rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Moving to a corner, Orwell found a box, and overturning it, he stood upon it, elevating himself from the sidewalk. Book in hand, he turned to page one, and with a tear that dropped on the page, moistening the crisp paper in an oval shape, he began to speak the words that were on the page.