The Sherman Library was the oldest building in the world, residing in Seattle, Washington. It resembled roman architecture with several grand ivory pillars lining the front and automatic tall mahogany doors. In the Sherman Library, numerous dark shelves could be seen filled with books of many colors, various textures, different sizes, and various topics. On the right corner of the entrance, the old librarian with purple glasses, Mrs. Franklin, always sat at her large wooded desk, typing in her foreign machine called a computer, waiting for visitors. She was a small petite woman in her mid-seventies with gray hair and blue eyes that seem to speak of the many words she had read. It was mostly empty. It was the only library in the world. In the year 3000, books were no longer needed when all the information one could ever need could be found on their headpiece, much easier to find, much easier to control. Few of the elderly men and women would come and visit the library to find joy in the smooth covers and yellow pages, clinging to the old ways.
The government had recently launched a reform program that called for all the libraries in the nation to be taken or burned down to make room for new houses and city tele connector hubs because they were simply wasting space that could be used for more beneficent purposes, and many nations followed suit. The Sherman Library was the last one standing, but for good reason. Many of the Old-World sympathizers protested the destruction of this library and have gone rather extraneous lengths to preserve it from sabotaging equipment to harassing government workers and officials. They have won so far, but unfortunately it would not last long.
The president, Mason Rutherford, was growing irritated and angry at the setbacks of his reform program. He tried to be friendly and comprising at first, but he is going to take drastic measures.
It was 8am on a Monday. Mrs. Franklin unlocked the large mahogany doors of the library, and entered the dark musty library heading toward her desk. She sat down, leaving her purse off to the side of the desk, and she pondered whether she would have any visitors today. She pulled out one of her favorite books Poor Richard’s Almanac from the desk to read her daily wisdom.
“Let no Pleasure tempt thee, no Profit allure thee, no Ambition corrupt thee, no Example sway thee, no Persuasion move thee, to do any thing which thou knowest to be Evil; So shalt thou always live jollily: for a good Conscience is a continual Christmas”
As she was reading, Mrs. Franklin heard the door creep open and was greeted with the sight of the Old-World sympathizers entering her library, many of whom she had seen at the library occasionally. They were a rough crowd with determination although they only amounted to a meager group of 60 people, but it had proven enough so far.
“Good morning, Mrs. Franklin! How are you?” Mr. Lee, the leader of the protestors, asked politely with a bright smile. Mr. Lee was a tall man with a lean figure in his late fifties, and his brown hair was beginning to gray. He was the most frequent visitor at the library, and Mrs. Franklin always enjoyed having him around.
“I’m good, Mr. Lee! What are you doing in this fine morning?”
“Unfortunately, Mrs. Franklin, we aren’t here to do a group reading. We are here to protest once again. I heard they were going to try and burn it when the protestors weren’t around. Well, we are going to be here all day so I would like to see them try.”
Mrs. Franklin was grateful for all their work and effort. She would have been utterly devastated if they had burned down her library as it was like a home to her, a place of tranquility and of knowledge. You cannot get wisdom from those stupid headpieces; they only reveal to the people information the government wants them to know. It had not always been like this.
Government had once been for the people. It used to perform actions at the people’s permission and will through elected representatives, but the government began to realize how inefficient it was as it would often take months or some cases years to even accomplish anything, and the common man did not seem intelligent enough to act accordingly to the best interest, blinded by emotion. The government officials knew that simply revoking away it’s democratic principles would certainly cause a revolution that they could not win so they devised a plan that would simply control the way the people thought. They reached a conclusion: He who controls knowledge controls the world.
Headpieces were created not purely for the advancement of the people rather of the government. They were constructed and programmed with biased information, and were advertised as the perfect companion for anything you want to know, hear, or see. It was a silver band make of steel and in the center of the brand was an oval that contained the “magic.” It had several sensors that could monitor thoughts, feelings, sleep and moody cycles, heart rate, and much more. To access the “valuable” information inside, one simply had to think the question, and it would be answered. As the technology became more advanced and reliable, the government ordered that all citizens wear a headpiece once they have turned the age of 2. But, not all had succumbed to the headpiece. Those who continued to read books until they could no longer were not fooled by the propaganda and soon formed a “radical” group called the Old World Sympathizers.
The sound of the door being locked and bolted could be heard. A stout man with a shiny bald head and a large grey mustache rushed to investigate the source of the sound and reached to open the front doors, but it would not open.
“Lee, I think those workers tried to lock us in! I can’t budge it open,” the man said.
For only a split second, the expression of worry was on his face but was quickly replaced with his usual composed facial expression. “Don’t worry Hemingway! There is still the fire escape.”
The men rushed to check the fire escape in the library located near the back corner of the library. Once they reached the grey door with flashing red letters that read exit, they pushed the door open, but it did not budge. They keep pushing, but the door would not open as if something was blocking it.
“It’s okay, guys. We are in the library, and there is no way they would burn it down while we are here,” said Mr. Lee.
Everyone in the group seem to agree, and the panic was extinguished, but it would not last long. The members headed toward the center of the library to wait until the doors could open again. Half an hour later, the library began to smell like smoke and became more prominent by each passing minute.
“Do you smell that?” A middle-aged woman by the name of Ms. Austen asked, who at the time was reading the classic Pride and Prejudice.
“It’s smoke. Something is burning,” replied a wry old man by the name of Mr. Steinbeck.
“Let’s go check it out, might be a faulty wire in the electric system. I don’t know when the last time this library ever received any maintenance,” said Mr. Hemingway.
“You don’t think they would burn down the library with us still in it, right?” Ms. Austen asked rather nervously.
“Don’t be silly, Ms. Austen. Those people are crooked but they wouldn’t commit murder like that. Imagine the outrage they would receive if they attempted it,” reassured Mr. Lee.
They headed out to the back part of the library to check where the source of the smoke could be, while Mrs. Franklin headed toward her desk to fetch the key. She was met at a horrible sight. The mahogany doors of the library were engulfed in flames, and the flames were spreading fast. Mrs. Franklin screamed.
At the sound of the scream, the members of the group hurried to Mrs. Franklin to only to discover the disheartening sight of the library burning down slowly.
“Those bastards! They’re going to burn us alive,” exclaimed angrily Mr. Hemingway. His fists were clenched with such aggression that can only come from one’s treasures being destroyed. The smoke grew heavier, and it became more difficult to breathe. The people began to cough aggressively.
“There is no way out! We die by the flames,” yelled Mrs. Austen with anguish. “I’ll never see my family again.”
Mr. Lee made his way to the front of the group, no longer with his notorious calm composure, but of the flames of passion. He was a martyr, a man with a cause.
“Old World Sympathizers, I thank you for your service and sacrifice to protect true knowledge and uncensored thoughts. You are a people of great strength as you did not fall into the devious trap the government has made, and you stand firm with stubborn hearts. Our death is imminent,” he coughs violently and his chest shakes with such ferocity. The smoke is black and heavier.
“But I am honored to die with my brothers and sisters for a cause that I am passionate about. We will not die in vain, and others will rise up and make the world what it once was.”
At his words, the protectors of knowledge held their heads high and gathered together to join hands one last time. Tears fell down Mrs. Franklin’s face as she watched her home and her books slowly die by the flame, but as the flames grew stronger and approached the group, she had comfort in knowing that she will going down with in. She looked up. Smoke hung so thick in the library’s rafters that she could read words in it. The words come to her from one of her favorite Persian poets, and she closes her eyes to see the words on the page:
“The world’s flattery and hypocrisy is a sweet morsel:
eat less of it, for it is full of fire.
Its fire is hidden while its taste is manifest,
but its smoke becomes visible in the end.”
― Jalaluddin Rumi
The words comfort her.
Soon the intense heat becomes unbearable, like the gates of hell opening to welcome them in, and breathing becomes extremely labored, like fish out of water.
They fall unconscious, one by one like dominoes scattered on the ground. They do not feel when the first flames reach their bodies.
It was 8am on Tuesday. The library had burned slowly for eight hours, as if too stubborn to give into the flames easily. The President had come to Seattle to see the ashes of the last library in the world. He walked on the ashes with indifference.
“You did well to inform that these pesky protestors were in the library,” the President said to one of his best workers Mark. “Now we can proceed further with our plans.”
He stepped on something, hurting his foot in the process. Clutching his foot with irritation, he said, “What is that stupid thing?”
He looked down to be greeted with the bones of the Old-World Sympathizers, laid out with hands clutching each other for dear life. The President felt this eerie shiver go up his back, but quickly dismissed it. “Get rid of the bones, Mark.” He left Mark to his duties.
As the government workers scavenged the bones and threw them in the garbage to be disintegrated for later, a little girl of about 7 years old hiding behind a building, clutching her headpiece in her hand saw the bones. Bones that should not be there, the girl thought, bones that died protecting something worthwhile. The spark was lit. Although their bodies were burned, their souls and their mission would carry forth.
One day the world would be made right, and those who play with fire will burn.