The Collector’s Disappointment

He arrived at home, and noticed the package sitting outside on the stoop, leaning against the aged red brick, with crumbling mortar barely holding its walls in place. It sat there, the white address label neatly printed in blue ink, staring at him, its brown paper wrapping beaten and abused from lengthy travels. Standing there mouth agape, he just stared at the package with a sense of trepidation. He didn’t touch it, or advance toward it, but stood paused, frozen in his step, as his heart pounded within his chest, each pulsation of quivering muscle thumping his ribs.

Bending over, he wrapped his fingers around the coarse brown paper which enveloped this package, his hands and fingers trembling as he held it out before himself at arms length, turning the package in his quaking hands to see all sides. Beads of sweat formed and rolled down his forehead, descending toward his nose, and with one quick swipe of his sleeve he smeared the moisture across his brow, leaving a glistening sheen of salt.

He stood absolutely still, a statued sentinel to forever guard whatever monument he watched over to only crumble with age and time. Eventually the stalemate was broken, and he moved toward the door of his apartment, retreating from the oppressing heat of the day, with the package securely in hand. Pulling it toward his body, he now cradled it with extreme caution, as if this box itself held the most precious and delicate life on earth and if he not be careful, it should forever become extinguished.

He thought to himself how long he had waited for this day to come. How much anticipation had been built in his head as he relished the moment which he was soon to experience. Beside himself and atwitter with anticipation, it was as if he hadn’t opened that door a hundred times, forgetting which key entered the lock to move each tumbler aside as he fumbled with key after key, a frustration and excitement building, as if a child who needs to pee, dancing his dance, waiting his turn at the public restroom. He realized that this was taking far longer than he wished, and finding the key, he entered the hallway to his building, and hurried himself down to his ramshackle door, the white paint flaking off in large strips, as if pieces of bacon taken down to fry in a cast iron pan.

Flinging open the door to the apartment, he stepped inside and with the package securely under arm pulled tight into his ribs, he whipped his head up and down the hallway, scanning for anyone who might have seen him, and satisfied that he was alone and not seen, shut the door slowly, as a loud creak from the aged hinges announced his presence with a grating irritation. The click from each lock was a satisfying sound, and placing his back against the door, he held the package out in amazement, still not believing what he held within his hand was his, was real, was tangible. He was alone with it now. Of all the people on earth, of everyone alive, he was the only person he knew to hold these in his hands.

Although the package was still wrapped, he caressed it as if he was holding the items themselves, no longer covered by the cardboard. Sitting at his kitchen table, he placed the rectangular object on the dirty and cracked formica surface and just looked at it. After a minute, and with an unsuspecting suddenness that even scared himself, he tore into the brown wrapping, throwing paper through the air, brown butterflies alighting with each tear of his fingers into the bundle’s covering.

He held them in his hand, gingerly resting them in his palm like a baby bird, fragile and scared, having fallen out of its nest. He looked at their bright colors and knew there was one more step before he was done, before his ecstasy was complete. Running into the other room he took a glass from the cabinet, but then stopped as if he was wrenched back by some unseen bungee cord attached to his back, which he pulled too far and tightened against his spine with no further give. His hand slipped to his side, as if it was no longer alive, the glass barely held by his fingertips as they scarcely gripped the lip of the cup. He hung his head and stared at the sink, deflated as he realized that his excitement had flown away like the brown paper butterflies which had drifted through the air.

Hoping against hope he picked up the receiver of the phone, and dialed zero for the operator. The strangers unaffected voice climbed through the ear piece and crawled into his ear to speak. Asking for the Ministry of Resources, the operator sighed and connected him without any pleasantries exchanged, and then without interruption another voice, a male voice, a monotone voice, came across the line, one with a deep authoritarian tone.

“Hello,” the authoritarian man said.

“I would like permission to….”

There was a long pause as he tried to form the words which might facilitate the best possible outcome in his favor.

“Well, do you have a question? You would like permission, for?”

“For an extra water ration at this moment.”

“Is this a medical emergency. If it is, you must scan a physician slip into the phone’s reader.”

“No, it is not a medical emergency.”

“Sir, you know the ration laws don’t you? Should we send literature to your residence? You know you get water every two days. Please, if you are thirsty, then have your Doctridrink.”

“Please, I just came upon something from long ago, something from my childhood. Please. All I need is a little water. Just a cup, eight ounces, that is all I am asking for, just this once.”

“Sir, there is never just a once with you people. Everyone wants more, but there isn’t more. That is why we have laws like this, so greedy people like you don’t abuse the common resources needed for all to survive. Now please, stop wasting my time.”

“But…”

The phone went silent with an abruptness before he finished his last plea, his last beg, his last remonstration. Tears welled up in his eyes as stared at the package on the table. Walking over he picked them up, their bright colors like fluorescent easter eggs all five fitting in the palm of his hand. Hot pink, electric blue, fluorescent green, lemon yellow, and bright orange capsules, all rested in his hand.

The package lay on the floor in a crumpled heap. Pictures of dinosaurs decorated the card-stock, brightly colored and poorly drawn, with a volcano erupting in the background, its hot lava spewing over the mountainside. The package boasted, “Just add water and watch the grow, 4 times their size, for hours of fun.”

Placing them on the table, he picked up his glass, and began to cry. Hanging his head over the small cup, tears dropped into the clear container, running down the smooth side. He looked at the small globule of liquid and cringed at how little it filled the glass. Cursing evaporation which would fight against him, he brought his most painful memories to the surface, each tear a memory of loss and regret, dropping into that glass, one minuscule bead of liquid at a time.

Cultural Insanity

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.

“Anton.”

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.

 

The Last Romanov

Trash blew down the street, rustling against the empty pavement, as he stood there enveloped by the darkness. Streetlights overhead stood like frozen sentinels, their light having died long ago. Glass broken on some, others just no longer functioning, they stood there as monuments to a different era.  People once felt safe to walk the streets at night, a time when they felt that artificial light illuminated the darkness, protecting them from what lurked in the shadows. Light can only do so much now. The orange glow of these large lamps would expose and highlight one’s vulnerability in the night, working contradictory to their true purpose, exposing rather than protecting. Their absence was welcomed, their state of disrepair, the veil of which masked his movement.  He wandered down the street, hugging the brick walls of decrepit vacant buildings, keeping close to the alleyways to duck within. The buildings offered cover, they offered a safety from the open street, from the revealing sidewalk.

Stepping over bags of trash, which cascaded out vacant doorways onto the street, he navigated the refuse of the masses, stumbling over heaping piles of bloated black sacks. His steps were deliberate, as he positioned his body, his balance, with each movement. His calculated actions maintained a stealth on the dead street, where only the loose trash showed life. Shadows cast by the moon overhead, beaming down brilliant rays of the lightest blue, coating the world in an ethereal light, became his refuge, and allowed him a greater comfort on his journey. Resting against the husk of a deceased maple tree, in one of these black voids, he found himself staring out across the landscape, and thinking how beautiful all this entropy was, blanketed in the soft moonlight. The dead hay, where once was green grass, was blue in the lunar rays, and the buildings scars were rendered moot in the contrast between light and dark. Realizing he lingered too long, he darted his eyes to and fro, and then moved on, advancing  shadow to shadow.

In the distance he could see the monolith of a building rising into the night sky. Its oxidized copper domes were still intact, and sat upon the granite structure, which rose from the street. He could not help himself, and stepping out into the open street, he took in the grand view of this building, allowing imagination to take him to another time. In the few seconds  standing there, he envisioned the construction of this building, and could see the grand architect, with blueprints in hand and pencil tucked behind his ear, standing where he stood, overseeing the creation of this marvel. He envisaged, this view was chosen so the street ended at this structure, that this building was so important to the community, a road led to it. And then he heard it, off in the distance, a noise like a screech owl, sounding prey in the dark lit woods, on a snowy night.

Frozen in place, he stood there, a sudden rush of fear taken hold of him. Hearing the screech again, he bolted off the road, and found a small hole in the side of a building. Moving debris from the opening, brick and mortar scratched against each other, as he frantically moved the materials away till he could fit in this small space. Fearing what could be inside, living in this recess, he dove in, knowing what was out on the street, producing that sound, was far worse than any animal that could fit in that hole. Cramming himself into that small space, he pulled back some of the brick, and forced his body as far back into the void as he could. As he pulled back the last brick, a screech, louder and far more ominous than the first, rang through the air, and seemed to amplify in his small hovel, ringing loudly through his ears. Watching out through the small opening, he waited for the parade he suspected would come.

Slowly a body walked down the street, with deliberate strides, each one so long, it seemed inhuman. In the moonlight his face was bright white, like a sun bleached skull, and very much like this image, the hair was vacant from his head, not even eyebrows to show. Stopping in the middle of the street, the man craned his neck like a bird, his body still, his legs in a lunge position, only his head and neck moving. He opened his mouth and screeched again. And with focused movements he made his way down the street, till he was out of view. The screeches continued as he walked down the street, and they eerily mixed in with the sound of boot heels which followed close behind.

First one, then two, then uncountable numbers arrived in the street. Their bodies forming one dark mass in the dull light. From that horde, individuals broke off, scouring the alleyways, poking the garbage heaps, swinging spiked sticks at any object that resembled a human figure. He lay there, his breathing even too loud for his liking, and watched as a silhouette sifted through the heaps of garbage directly in front of his hiding place. As the black figure came closer to his refuge, he could see this creature’s club poke the loose brick, which covered the makeshift entrance. He began sweating in nervous anticipation of the horrors that would descend upon him, and his imagination raced with all the torture that flashed like a slide show through his mind . Like a rabbit wanting to run, waiting till the last second, muscles tensed, and ready for flight, knowing full well it wouldn’t matter, he held his breath, even the beating of his heart thumped so loudly, it rang through the air.

A screech cut through the night, and the black figure turned, and pulled his club out of the rubble, knocking the unsecured bricks away, exposing him to the world. The figure ran through the pale light toward the group, while the screech came again, and again, until it was a succession of shrill sounds. And then he heard it, heard the man screaming as he ran away from this armed swarm, pleading for help. Some unsuspecting person, hidden in the shadows like himself, was rooted out, and now being chased like quarry, as if it were all part of some dystopian fox-hunt. The pack followed this poor soul down the street, and the screeches faded off into the distance, as this already dead stranger ran for his life. This fortunate, yet tragic, event was a boon, and crawling out of his hole, entered the street, knowing his path was clear up to his destination.

After a short while he reached the tall marble steps of the building looming in front of him, and began to ascend them, one at a time. With each step he could feel the concave marble worn by weather, use, and time. The black, which swirled through the white stone, seemed alive in the pale light, dancing as he alighted each step. Reaching the top platform, he turned around and looked out upon the dismal world, and saw nothing but buildings jutting up into the dark sky, a jagged world of stalagmites, wasting away in the chaos. A wind pulsed by, whispering across his face, and he felt his cheeks flush against the cool air. Turning, he stared at the prodigious bronze doors. Reliefs cast in the metal contained clusters of grapes and vines, Roman and Greek gods, ancient philosophers and Caesars. He ran his hand across this door, and he felt insignificant, dwarfed by the enormity of this treasure. Tracing his fingers across a relief of Pan playing his flute, he could not help wonder, how many hands had touched this door before his? How many people had entered these doors with a deep yearning for something so far from their own lives? He could not imagine it in better times, because he had not been alive to witness it, instead he could only recollect on what his parents had passed on to him in stories.

Leaning his shoulder against the massive doors, he pressed into them, exerting his body, flexing his muscles, tensing his back, pushing with all his might against years of neglect. Straining against the stubbornness of the hinges, the door began to open, inch by inch, until it crept ajar enough for him to slide though sideways. Entering the building, it was like a massive crypt, a mausoleum built for kings. High vaulted ceilings could be seen as the moonlight streamed through tall stained glass windows, and small eyes, inserted just below the roof lines along the walls. Standing there, slow and deliberate, he panned his vision, and was awestruck by the enormity and beauty of the architecture. Moving one small step at a time, allowing his vision to acclimate to the darker conditions within this building, his feet moved amongst the dust and dirt collected through time. Large cobwebs filled whole spaces, masking corners and whole walls with their white filament. These massive webs hung like large white, wool blankets strung from looms against the wall.

Standing before a wooden railing set atop iron, he found himself on a grand staircase, overlooking the main room. On each side of the landing, upon which he stood, a large set of stairs, formed of black marble, descended into this great room. In the gloom of the night, only rays of blue eked through the windows, illuminating very few details. Carefully he descended each step, making his way to the floor. In that cavernous room, he came to find himself staring across long wooden tables, with oak chairs strewn everywhere in a discordant mess. Some of these chairs were smashed along the floor, pieces missing, laying there like marionettes flopped on the ground, lifeless reminders of what once was. Others were pulled up to tables, left in a row, as if someone had neatly come along, spacing each chair equally one from the other.

Making his way past a shattered chair in the middle of the floor, he walked to the end of a shelf, and ran his hand along the tall piece of wood. He closed his eyes and felt the grain of the quarter-sawn oak under his fingertips, and rubbed his thumb over an imperfection, a small divot, and felt an electric sensation run through his body. His excitement was palpable, and turning down an aisle between two oak monoliths, he found himself staring at nothing, empty space. Even in the dim light he knew he stared at nothing. Frantically he ran his hands along wooden shelves filled with nothing but years of dust. The soft pillowy grime, collected under his fingers like skin schluffing off bones. He ran from stack to stack, and found nothing but the same. In his panic, his disappointment, he ran from aisle to aisle, shelf to shelf, and searched in the emptiness, looking for his reward.

“No,” he yelled.

A single word he uttered, he yelled, echoing off the vaulted ceiling of the empty reading room.

“No,” he whispered.

Slumping down in a chair, he fixed his eyes to the ceiling, examining the cobweb filled chandeliers, and trying in vain to identify the images painted on the ceiling. He did this for quite a while, and with his eyes transfixed on the ceiling, he did not notice the old man enter the room.

His long, thick, grey beard hung low, and ran down his chest, like foamy water churned over rapids as it cascades down a waterfall. His clothes were tattered, and ripped, their life lasting well beyond the intended use. Suddenly a noise alerted him, as the old man shuffled across the room, and spinning in his chair, he fell over the table backwards, landing on the ground like a turtle on its back. As he lay on his back, a face wrinkled with time, and hidden by thick hair hovered over his, and spoke.

“What is it you want?”

He felt a sharp object stick into his side, and saw the metal poker gripped by the old man’s right hand, sharpened to lethal point, jutting into his ribcage. Speechless he just lay there, the force of the object getting stronger and more painful.

“Come. Out with it. There is not much meat left on the bones of this old man, but I will not be eaten. Speak your words, or death will find you quickly.”

Wetting his mouth with what little saliva he had, he finally spoke.

“I’ve come for…books. Books. I’ve come for books.”

“To burn I suspect. Like those heathens that burned so many before, disagreeing with the topic, you will seek to destroy the written language, so none other may share in it. Well as you can see we have none, so off with you, before your heart is pierced.”

“No, not to burn. To read. I’ve come to read.”

“No one can read. Don’t lie to me.”

“My parents. They taught me, long ago. They were Livrelutionists. They read in public, created poetry circles, their intellectualism was subversion, their literature traitorous. They fought against the demise of literature. The state. The state executed them, along with all the others. The public saw fit to accommodate, and so they cowered in their homes, while my parents hung in the street. The state saw fit to let me live. They sent me to reconditioning school, taught me about the image. The digital word. The image and the oral, but the word, literature, they tried to erase that from my mind, but they could not.”

“And you have come here to read?”

“To read.”

The old man took the poker from his chest, and stood back, giving him his hand. Helping him up, he held his hand firmly, and shook it up and down.

“What is this?”

“A handshake. It is what civilized people do when they meet. It was a greeting long ago. And now, in keeping with old customs, we introduce ourselves. My name is Anton Romanov.”

“I am Orwell Bradbury.”

Anton just stood there gripping the man’s hand with his aged and gnarled fingers. And then with a squeeze released it.

“That is a strange name.”

“My parents named me after two revolutionaries in literature. They told me that surnames did not matter anymore, so they gave me one which they felt reflected the times in which I was born.”

“They could not have picked one more appropriate.”

They both sat in wooden chairs facing each other. As Anton sat down, it was as if the creaking of the chair mimicked the sound of his bones, and Orwell wondered if it was really the wood or the ossein that shuddered so.

“What happened to all the books?” Orwell said.

“What happened to the books? That’s a questions that I have asked myself many times. What happened to all the books?” Anton shifted in his chair after saying that and sat in silence staring at a stained-glass window directly behind Orwell.

To be continued……….