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Ludo Schildermans

She stood there. Lost. I asked her to get some folks to help us. Our library may be a small one, but the two of us would never succeed in getting all the books out in time. And I had heard what would happen to us then. Kathy went reluctantly. Like in a trance I began rolling out trolley after trolley loaded with books.

Strangely enough all this burning started with that one big bestseller. For years they let us be. We were nostalgia. Reading was a dying business. Government propaganda had worked well. People got addicted to other media. I suspect it gave the government better control. Until that one book came around. It was a reprint, not even of decent quality. You should have seen that publication… Some small publisher must have thrown it on the market one day for his own pleasure. To get the feeling back of the old days, I suppose. There were only a few publications every year. But no fiction. This book had a strange mixture of facts and fiction. A few hundred years ago it was considered the book of books. People erected the most magnificent buildings to read the words aloud. They tried to live their lives accordingly. They even fought bloody wars over it. Can you imagine that? Over a book? I’ve tried to read it several times. And honestly, I still don’t understand the fuss when the reprint appeared. Bit of an awkward plot if you ask me. All these miracles… and that pompous style. Jesus Christ!

The government must have slept while that reprint turned out to be a massive success. Before they knew it everybody wanted to read that book. In less than a week you couldn’t find a copy anywhere. In no time libraries were overrun with new members and they all wanted that one title. We should have refused every single one of them. But we were taken by surprise. And so was the government. When they finally understood the consequences, the message had already spread like a fire. They must have panicked. How else can you explain that the only answer they came up with was to fight fire with fire.

When Kathy came back with a few townsmen, we started working in a chain. I don’t know how many books passed our hands. It seemed that stream would never come to a stop. Night fell, morning broke. When they returned the next day in their black vehicles, we had only just finished.

I prepared for this day. I started right after the National Library went up in flames. I had found this little cave up in the mountains. It’s like a labyrinth to get in there. The last few months I dragged hundreds of books to this hiding place like an animal before hibernation. That was not the most difficult part. It was the choices I had to make that nearly killed me.

I didn’t tell anyone. Not even Kathy. She suspects something though. With all these books missing from the shelves. I really would like to tell her. I’m not getting any younger. One day someone has to take care of my little collection.

They really are cruel people. Especially that man with the black patch. He made us look at the fire. It was horrible. It took me all my power of persuasion to keep Kathy calm. The fire didn’t warm me. I stood there like a mourner on an icy churchyard. What was there to do but weep?

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