Light flitted in through the large, oriel windows that fronted the library and down the aisles it streamed, illuminating the dust that floated aimlessly about the air. Rays of light are beautiful even when visible only through dirt particles. I looked out the window down the aisle to the left of me. The sun would go down soon and darkness would obscure my reading. I needed to get that back-up generator running, but… why but? Because you make excuses to not do things.
What do you mean, "do you", didn’t I just say that you do? Put the book down and figure it out.
But this is an interesting part.
I stood amongst the stacks of read books that had accumulated upon the floor, mulling through a book with exquisitely yellowed and crisp pages. The author had just posited that man was the only creature to make images, and this creation was akin to God. If so, I thought, then we are a very stupid god. I could go on as to why, but this is not my story here.
Is it not?
Notes—————no, no it isn’t.
Well… um… Yes then, before I could begin to argue with myself over my assertion, a sudden intake of breathe interrupted the silence. I looked up from the page to see an older-ish man: scruffy beard stubble; dirt stained clothes; deep bags under his eyes; holey shoes (probably). He simply stood and stared at me.
“Has he fainted standing up?” I wondered, “or does he believe that I can’t see him if he doesn’t move?” I wanted to see, so I waited, and so there we stood, simply staring at each other in the waning light. Soon, beads of sweat began to form on his brow to then drip down into his eyes. He began to sway a bit and his hands drooped with fatigue. Clearly stricken by fear and irritation, he probably wished he hadn’t raised his hands in surprise. I was impressed with his stamina and his commitment to his ill-begotten ruse, but boredom began to sink into my decay. This fool clearly feared me, for he had found me not swaying mindlessly in place, but reading.
The brainless reading? he must have thought, and now it stares at me. Truly it must see me. Were it actually reading, then it can see me. I mean, it turned directly at me when I gasped. It must see me. But… if it can see me, then why am I standing here as though it can't see me if I remain still? It can see me. It is looking at how I can’t hold this pose much longer, wondering what is that fool doing if he knows that I can see him… doesn’t he?
Sadly, I never learned what this man might have had on his mind. In my impatience I made a sudden movement ever so slightly towards him.
“Shite! Fuggers! Get away from me!” He yelped as he sprang to life, awkwardly grasping at a book and hurling it at me.
SKRATCHMD! I felt a rib splinter upon impact. I paused at my fragility, at which the man bolted away in fear.
“The stairs aren’t that way,” I thought. Would he try to hid from me, or would he flee? He probably isn’t thinking clearly, but if he is hiding, then that gives me some time to rethink my approach.” A pencil and paper message perhaps? Something of the sort of: “Forgive my frankness, but you look far from appetizing.” …no? Perhaps: “Honestly, I doubt my digestive system works.” Too sarcastic? Then: “Pens pals?” Oh, oh, I know: “My phone isn’t working, can I use yours?” I mulled over what I was going to write to him as I hobbled down the stairs when he rounded the landing above me.
“What in the he——!” I heard exclaim in disbelief behind me. I turned to see him leveling a pistol at me. “A Baretta .9mm?” I wondered—not too long ago I had read A Visual History of Firearms.
KREPOW! KREPOW! KREPOW!
The window behind me splintered, and a bullet tore off my right ear.
CHK! CHK! CHK! He pulled the trigger in a panic.
“SH—!” he exclaimed, eyes wide with fear. I raised my hands in a ‘"calm down you fool," manner, but this only agitated him more. He hurled his empty firearm at me in a last ditch effort of snuffing me out. Yet instead, it finished off the window. I dodged a moment later—razor sharp reflexes there. I looked up after my amazing display of martial prowess to find him gone. Perhaps to the other stairs? Unfortunately for him, those stairs closed off by an emergency door which had been locked shut. I assumed to keep out those mindless monstrosities. Still, I found it odd that the emergency exit had lockable doors which appeared to require some sort of special key to unlock. Not entirely practical in the face of urgency. I can imagine the scene unfold before me:
A fire rages below and blocks our hapless second floor library patrons’ flight down the main stairs. The elevators are inoperable, and there are no fire escapes—they would have been a blight on the ornate facades of the building—and besides, more than one escape route would have been too costly. Not only that, but running under budget allowed the city commissioners and mayor to line their pockets with more money than they already had—yes, I have read much about the corrupt and scandal-prone world of public office; perhaps more on that at a later time. For the sake of irony, let’s place one of those commissioners and his son trapped on the third floor. Panic careens through their veins as they rush amongst the aisles full of inflammable tomes of grand adventures of courage and heroism; of burning passion and tragic love; of zealous treatises on religion in all its various forms of morality and afterlife; of logic and the dangers of fallacies. There! At the far side of the room are the emergency stairs, but what is this? A heavy fire door blocks their escape?
“What stoicism this door embodies during such a time of crisis,” mutters the son. The commissioner reels on his son and slaps him fiercely across the face.
“FOOL! This is no time for jokes! Don’t you see? It is locked.” He gestures dramatically at the door and yanks at its handle, but the door remains closed.
“You flail me for jesting? You old nincompoopie, move aside, this is a push door.” He throws his body against the door only to bruise his ego and shoulder. They look at each other foolishly. The fire crackles and pops below them. The son returns back to his onslaught, pushing and yanking on the door while the commissioner’s mind wanders in search how this door is locked… oh… dangling from the grounds keeper’s key chain is a special key to this door. "Well that’s stupid, he thinks, what good is an emergency door if when there is an emerg—the windows! The commissioner slaps his forehead; "Brick head, the outside fire escapes."
Hope rekindles in their hearts, and off they go to save themselves. They reach the first window—what? No latch? It doesn’t open? They look out. No fire escape. Perhaps the next? Again? Here neither. And the others? What!? "How is this possible?" the commissioner exclaims. Not a single lifeline to the ground clings to the building. It is a beautiful facade though.
“Dammit! Where are those firefights?” The commissioner curses and feebly presses his fist against the window. "Oh… I diverted funding from this district’s station in order to pay for the exuberance of the exterior of this library… it shuttered its doors.” He thinks. “And my extra trip to Hawaii this year…? No… don’t give up hope, not yet.”
He looks up. “High ceiling. We won’t succumb to gas poisoning so soon.”
He strains his ears to hear for the blaring of sirens, and…? Faintly, yes, faintly they tickle his ear drums with hope. Yet, the hissing and popping and crackling and creaking and snapping and groaning of burning wood beats louder, and the wheezes and the sobs and wails of his son bore into him. His heart sinks. His delusion of hope fades and he feels the increasing heat sear his skin; feels his lungs struggle to breath; feels his heart knowingly pound its final beats.
He notices then that they are not alone on this floor. He hears glass shatter and he turns round to see two junior high school girls clutching each other tightly moments before they leap from the window. Their bodies crumple lifeless into the pavement three floors below. He averts his gaze and finds a mother with her young son having accepted their fate, sitting stoically on the floor, their hands tightly entwined. Overly dramatic, this is too dramatic, he thinks and reels back towards the window where an older man now stands looking out down at the gathering crowd; down at the two dead youths. He shakes his head, then trains his gaze on the commissioner accusingly.
The wooden floor croaks suddenly and buckles, shooting sparks and embers into the air. The mother, body trembling uncontrollably, tears streaming from her bulging eyes, grips her son tight to her. The floor groans again and buckles further, awakening within the mother and son the grim reality that awaits them: they won’t die from the fall; they’ll burn to death—nothing beautiful there, only flesh rending pain and grotesque unidentifiable corpses. They make to stand to flee just as the floor beneath them collapses, just as the commissioner's son wails “NOOOOOO,” as he leaps forward in a suicidal attempt to save them, just as the old man rushes forward to intercept his foolishness, screaming a cliché, “Don’t be a Hero!” The old man misses and loses his balance and tumbles over the edge and down into the inferno below, while the commissioner’s son connects with the mother, pulling her from her son. She struggles; her son screams as he falls; the commissioner’s son loses his hold on the mother; she reaches desperately for her son before the flames engulf them both; the commissioner’s son holds onto the edge of the hole left by the collapsing floor. He turns to look at his father.
“That is not my son,” the commissioner thinks, “my son doesn’t look so... that isn’t my—“
He loses his grip.
The fire fighters arrive ten minutes later; as the sun rises over the horizon the last flames are extinguished. A few months later, a mangled corpse is interred with little fanfare.
Hmm…? It is dark now. He must be hiding.