by Jared Millet
Quickly, everyone, come inside. Someone bar the door behind us. This old city may be empty of people, but I think I saw a wolf scouting us out a few blocks back. Where there’s one, there’s bound to be more.
Sweet Judas on a stick, but it's cold in here. Still, it looks safe to build a fire. That marble floor won't catch, and if we break that upper window it will act as a chimney. Let’s just hope some of the furniture is wood and not plastic.
But wait. Oh my god, look where we are. Forget the furniture, kids, we just hit the jackpot. Just look at all those shelves. All those dusty volumes. Row after row after row. I tell you what, we're not going to freeze tonight.
Did you know that paper burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit? Says so in this book right here. Who's got the matches? We should only need one. Run it across the pages. Get the kindling going, then bring some more, quick. Places like this used to hand these out for free, you know.
Start with the skinny ones with all those bright pictures. Fan them open on the pile. If you’re quick, you can read them while the pages start to curl. Hey look, it's a banquet. Green eggs and ham. Piles of roast beast. Who's got the cat food? Open a can. Hey, let's celebrate. Go ahead and open two.
What's next? Ah, textbooks. May as well, no one ever read them anyway. You might think the world wouldn’t have gone downhill if people had, but who are we kidding? People are people. All the history in the world couldn't change that, much less the algebra. What's that... trigonometry? Oh please, burn it all.
Now this one's funny. The Perfect Resume for Dummies. Just imagine: somebody somewhere was the last person ever to read this. What was he thinking? I guess people still had dreams, right up to the end. I wonder if he picked the “work-based resume” or the curriculum vitae. Whatever. They both burn just as well.
Now we get to the good stuff. What'll it be, kids? Thrillers or romance? Adventures or mysteries? Comical pastoral or pastoral historical? Sorry. Shakespeare joke. We'll get to him later, just you wait. Oh, I know. Bring me the science fiction. You know, those books with the bright shiny futures on the cover. Burn the whole lot before it makes me sick. The fantasy too, why not. After all, there’s no wizard going to sweep down on a broom and save us, is there? May as well do us some good.
That reminds me. As long as we're on the subject, there's another fantasy department somewhere over in nonfiction. See if you can find it. Some of the books will have people with wings on the cover. They called those guardian angels, if you can believe it. I wonder if one of them will protect us the next time a storm hits, or a bear steals all our food. Throw them on the fire; maybe that will wake them up.
Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. I'm getting cranky in my old age. We should stay positive if we're going to keep strong and make it all the way south to where it's warm. But I'm saying, you don't know. You were too young. You don't remember the stupidity of it all. No one cared what was going wrong in the world, not even the ones who said they did. Everything was always someone else's problem. And you know what? I’m just as much to blame as anyone else.
Where were we? What's next? Home Repair and Improvement. Yeah, may as well. That won't be useful where we're going, not unless you think we’ll find construction equipment and power tools that work. Once we settle down, we'll have to invent the wheel all over again. If you find a book on that, you can save it. Just make sure it has lots of pictures.
It's finally getting warm in here. That's good. There's a lot of night left to go. What else have you got for me? Travelogues. Distant shores and foreign lands. 50 Best Diners on Route 66. Torch 'em. Antiques and Collectibles? Definitive Price Guide to Depression Era Glass. Light her up.
Politics. Oh, please, bring me politics. Anything with a picture of some screaming guy on the cover, those should burn the best. The writers should all be in Hell now; maybe the books will burn hotter. Sports almanacs? Burn 'em. Biographies? Burn. Poetry? Science? History? Burn.
Oh, here they are. The Philosophers. The Thinkers. The greatest minds in history, the ones who taught us how to be human. The ones who showed us how to live with purpose, with responsibility. How to not let the whole human race slide into ruin. Fat lot of good they did. Bring 'em on.
Plato. Socrates. Nietzche. Decartes.
Franklin. Jefferson. Einstein. Nobel.
Clemens. Faulkner . Dante. Angelou.
Homer. Aquinas. Luther. King.
That's enough. Keep it stoked and that blaze will go on until morning. We'll be out in the wild again soon, and we’ve a long, cold trek ahead of us. Let's take our rest while we can. If it doesn’t attract any wolves, we’ll remain as long as the fuel lasts. With luck, there'll be a break in the weather. But for a while, we can stay here, in the warm, cozy light of history.
Until the last
of the fire
This story is copyright 2011 Jared Millet.
It was performed on March 22, 2011, at the Hoover Public Library Flash Fiction Night, sponsored by the Hoover Library Write Club.
See also: Witch's Cross, Flash Fiction Night 2010.