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Previous(est) Entry: Part 1 M.N.P.
Well, here it is, y’all. This is the final entry into the M.N.P. which I started at the beginning of the month (technically a little bit before but I’m ignoring that and so should you!) with the express purpose of making sense of utterly unrelated things on a nearly twice-weekly basis. A reflection will follow, I assure you! But in the meantime, I present the short-story ending to this whole odyssey. Rather than use Featured Fiction’s guidelines like I had originally wanted, I decided to take the prompt from my mother who, without knowing anything else I had written for this escapade, said that I must:
1. Use the colour “yellow” prominently and
2. Use the action of “knocking on the door” as a primary mover of the plot’s actions.
Both were quite easy to fulfill and actually spurred the plot along nicely!
So, here you go, the culmination of this hashed-up makeup for doing diddly-squat on this blog for NaNoWriMo!
Word Count: 5828
Genre: Surrealistic Fiction
Due’s head hurt. Like, it really hurt. The kind of hurt that even aspirin, rest, and a mother’s kiss on the forehead can’t stop. It was appropriate, though, Due supposed. It was hard to imagine coming out of a near-death experience so unscathed. He shivered a little as he sat up in his chair, pulling the thin blanket around him. A mild fire was crackling in the fireplace. The whole room smelled vaguely of smoke. But it wasn’t from the fire; it was a smell that was deeply imbedded in every square inch of the room.
I’m home, Due realized. They brought me back home. How thoughtful.
“Good job passing out like a swooning belle,” Syl said, sitting in the shadows on another chair across the room.
“Good job breaking the record for how quickly somebody can be an asshole to somebody else upon them waking up,” Due said, trying and failing to shake the hanger-ons of drowsiness from his head.
“It’s just been a whole night of revelations, hasn’t it?” she said.
“So,” Due said, standing up and drifting into his kitchen. “That means we got him?” He knew the curfew would still be in effect, meaning no lights. But that was fine, he knew his house better than he knew the inside of his own brain. His hands fluttered about, opening this door, uncorking this bottle, getting that glass, etc. etc.
Eventually, Syl said, “Yes, the police have him down at the station.”
“He damn well better be,” Due said, closing everything in the kitchen back up and coming back to his chair. “He seemed like the vengeful type, after all.”
Due shivered again. “Throw another one of the yellow pages in there, would you?” he asked, putting his feet up on the end table. “The fire’s starting to get a bit low.” He sighed as he popped the dress shoes off, letting them fall wherever they chose. His finger ran around the cold rim of his glass. It was port. He thought. It was something like that. Sherry, maybe. Well, it was red, stayed in the glass and promised to take his mind off of things. So what if he couldn’t remember what it was even when had poured it less than a minute ago? When Due looked up, he saw Syl looking at him, her patience-thin eyebrows tilted down in stabbing motions. “What?” he asked. “Aren’t you cold?”
She only kept looking at him, her arms crossed to the point of fusion with her torso. Due could see Syl’s breath coming off in little white clouds and that she was trying to keep her shivering down a socially-acceptable point. “No,” she said. “No, I’m not cold. Also, I’m going to be burning books with you.”
“It’s the yellow pages,” Due said. “From four years ago. What use could it possibly have nowadays? You want a doorstop? Get a rock. Ditto for if you want some convenient in-home anti-robber security.” He took a heavy sip from his drink. Huh, it wasn’t port or sherry. He had no idea what it was. Oh well. Another heavy sip. “Okay, I admit, it’s pretty cool to fuse two phone books together by linking the pages. Damn near inseparable then.” Due waited for the long, struggling pause to pass. When it decided to outlive its welcome though, he said, “Nobody will ever eat it. Nobody ate it in the first place. Hence why it’s still here.”
“Somebody may want to one day,” Syl said. “Knowledge is expensive when you take even thirty seconds to think about it. Somebody sits down to a pagemeal and afterwards, all the knowledge is theirs.” She politely stomped her way over to the pile of firepaper that sat stacked against the wall. Phone books, tabloids, magazines (all from a year or more ago, of course), and any novel unlucky enough to be placed on the “worst books of the year” (but not “so bad they’re funny,” list). He frowned at the stack. So did Syl, but for different reasons, obviously. Due frowned because he saw that the pile had been shrinking at an uncomfortably fast rate. A damn curfew every night with the cutting of power to boot just as winter was coming on was just… poorly timed. Didn’t the cops know that people would be freezing in this weather? It would be worse for the book-munchers who would never dare to suck up their pride long enough to stop their shivering by a warm fireside. Syl picked up a small book, a novella by the looks of it. A firestarter. She flipped through the pages, her fingers slightly shaking from the cold. “But what after that?” she asked. She held the novella up and shook it. Not out of anger, though. More like for simple emphasis. “What if nobody had ever heard of this book before and wanted to eat it more than anything else in the world?”
Due recognized the cover. “Trust me,” he said. “Nobody will want to eat that book unless they want some quick stomach evacuation.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s Hamlet or red crayon scribbles on red construction paper done by a malamute… actually, that might be pretty impressive-“ she fanned her hands in the hair, shaking her head, “you know what I mean. It’s still knowledge. To somebody somewhere, it means something. Somebody had to write it in the first place, meaning it’s worth existing.”
“You clearly haven’t eaten that book,” Due said with a smile accidentally forming on his face. Hopefully Syl had crap eyesight. Due thought he read somewhere that book ink was bad for the eyes if you ate a lot of it (which Syl seemed to, if her slight heaviness was anything to go by). Or maybe he just dreamed that. Oh well. Either way, if she saw his grin, he would never hear the end of it.
Syl placed the book back down onto the pile with a reverence that the piece of literary excrement didn’t deserve, and came to sit next to the fire. She shifted as she sat there, trying to fan away the flaking bits of paper that fluttered out of the fireplace.
Due sighed and let his glass sit. He stood and picked up one of the yellow pages and tossed it as gingerly as he could into the flames. It took almost instantly, bright orange flames mixing with the yellow of the pages. The whole room seemed to glow for a moment before the flames started to eat into the paper and sat more subdued in the hearth. Due sat back down again, tucking his cold feet underneath him.
“You did well,” Syl said, her words sounding suspiciously like a commendation. “We saved this city a lot of grief tonight.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Due said. “You turned me into Blackstone, organized this whole trap, contacted the cops, and… well, you did pretty much everything that didn’t involve ad-libbing a speech and dodging books.”
“I’m not,” Syl said. “I know I did well, too.”
Due nodded, packing at the remnants of the silky, sticky, slimy, goopy… stuff that still clung to his face. The makeup job really was impressive. Blackstone practically underwent fission that night and became two people. When Due looked at himself in the mirror after Syl had finished her crazy cosmetic magic, he almost wanted to punch himself. He hated Blackstone’s stupid books and his stupid pug face. And I still almost took a book to the temple for that guy, Due thought. The things I’ll do for this damn city and all us freaks that live in it…
Due whipped his head up at the sound of a heavy knock on the door. Several knocks, actually. Whoever was outside sounded like they had urgent business. But not urgent enough to just bash down the door. In other words, it probably wasn’t another assassin who wanted revenge by hysterical book-throwing. Probably.
Syl looked at Due and, after a moment, they nodded at each other. Syl rose from her seat and stood at the door, which was still being assaulted by knocking. She deeply sighed, her hand hovering just above the knob. Due stood off to the side in the darkness, ready to pounce or run, whichever savage reality demanded.
With one quick movement, Syl twisted the knob and yanked, wrenching the door open with an unfittingly quiet squeak. The doe-eyed young woman on the other side almost fell through the door and plump into the middle of the floor. She caught herself on the outside doorknob though, and anchored herself with surprising grace. She cleared her throat as she stood, fixing the creases in her starchy blue uniform.
“How can we help you, officer?” Syl asked, apparently unfazed by the dynamic entrance of the young woman.
“Assistant officer,” she corrected. Her voice was strong, despite her willowy form. By the light of the fire, Due was just barely able to make out the silvery badge on her check. Assistant officer indeed. Since the tensions between the page-burners and book-humpers reached batshit insanity, volunteers to help keep the city from bursting into flames were constantly called for. And so far, they’d been doing a pretty alright job at it. They were only ever armed with megaphones are strong lungs. But that seemed like enough. “Bon Elswary,” she said, introducing herself with a little nod at both Due and Syl. “It’s good to meet the both of you. The city owes you quite a bit. I think I can thank you for the whole of the police force, too.”
“Can the whole force thank us in person?” Due asked. “With a nice ceremony, too. Something with Champaign and flowers.”
There was a terse pause. There was supposed to be laughter somewhere in it. Instead, it coagulated into a little swamp of awkwardness.
“I’ll look into it,” came Bon’s eventual pained response.
“What can we help you with, assistant officer?” Syl asked, coming to Due’s rescue.
“The prisoner- culprit… suspect,” Bon choked out, “the one from tonight. The book-throwing one. Yeah, yeah you know the one… yeah. Well, the commissioner wants you two to come talk to him.”
“Why?” Due asked. “Also, is he really much of a suspect anymore? Four cops and a whole room of crazy bookies saw the book leave his hands with murderous intent. And I’m pretty sure I dodged like my life depended on it.” There was benefit of the doubt and then there was tinfoil hat denial. “And why us specifically?”
Syl sighed her sharp, hefty sigh again. Due was starting to get used to hearing it. It was almost like a second version of Syl’s breathing. She must have been great at parties, a regular Victorian socialite… did he use that term correctly? Victorian socialite? Oh, who cares. “Some people possess something called composure,” she said, scolding Due like he was a child. A child that understood the word ‘composure.’ Some people don’t just immediate set their problems on fire.”
Bon’s doe-eyes enlarged to become ones of doe-in-headlights-eyes. She had probably never seen a verbal battle between a book-muncher and page-burner. Due decided to do the young lass a favour and cut this particular bout short. They were supposedly overwhelming things for virgin eyes to behold. “Some other people prefer a more direct method,” Due said. “So shut up.” You’re not getting off so easily next time, Syl, Due thought, suppressing a smile seeing Syl’s face crumple like a kindergartener’s construction paper. “Well,” Due said, stifling any overstuffed rebuttal that he might have to endure, “take us to the madman if he’s so keen on meeting with us.”
The drive in the awkward molded plastic seating in the back of the patrol car was even more awkward due to the distinct lack of space. Syl’s perfume-laden skin constantly brushed up against Due’s. It was a matter of pride and petty annoyance that he wanted to avoid brushing arms. It was like being in the back of the family Volvo with his sister all over again. Except this time he reeked of smoke and ash, as was the norm now, and his ass hurt.
The towering police station stood out like a birthday candle in a swamp this late at night. It was the only place in the city allowed to keep power running past the curfew time. Not even the city hall that that privilege. Still, fifteen stories of shining steel and concrete went at least somewhere in convincing the populace that the world hadn’t ended quite yet and wouldn’t be ending any time soon.
Bon lead the way through various checkpoints and scanners before showing Due and Syl to a spacious room with lockers and shelves lining the walls. All of them had a certain name, date, and location attached. The only thing that remained consistent, however, was the loud red label of “EVIDENCE.” A wooden table sat at the end of the room and a thick-waisted man stood behind it, hands on his hips. He gave a courteous nod to all three of them before moving an object into the center of the table.
The bulbous man motioned to a leather-covered novel sitting on its lonesome in the middle of a steel table. “You two may be interested in this,” he said, hand on his jowly beard. “It’s a piece of evidence we took from the scene.”
“The murder weapon?” Syl asked, her hand on the book’s cover.
“That is still under investigation,” the round man said slowly.
“Good God,” Syl said, leaning closer into the book. Before Due could ask anything, Syl gave a look up at the Roundy and Bon, who both nodded and waved Syl on. She picked up the book and rotated it around the light. The light glanced off the book’s edges very… oddly. The edges almost seemed melatic in the way they glistened and shone and- oh good God in heaven the edges actually were metal.
“Painted steel,” Due coughed out. “That wasn’t a book being thrown at me,” he said, “it was a motherfucking shuriken.”
“More or less,” Syl said, her usual crisp monotone replaced with a kind of terrified wonderment. She even shot a cautionary glance, lowered eyebrows and big eyes, the whole nine yards, at Due. It almost looked like she felt bad for putting Due at the mercy of a book-throwing ninja. Her sympathy tanks apparently drained already, Syl turned back to the officers and, with her usual hammerhead-blunt tone, asked, “was the book that killed Bessmore similarly modified?”
“No,” the round officer rumbled. “Bessmore’s death was simply a stroke of extremely bad luck.”
“As far as we know,” Bon chimed in, “Somn wasn’t even the culprit for Bessmore’s murder, either. The methods seem far too different.”
“Dammit deputy,” the round man said, pinching the bridge of his nose. Due suddenly knew why it looked so red before. Bon must have been a repeat offender.
“What?” Bon asked, sounding genuinely confused. “I said, ‘as far as we know,’ didn’t I? Besides, I hear things when I’m on the job. It helps being the commissioner’s niece.”
“Even so,” Mr. Roundpants groaned, digging further into the bridge of his nose, “no, especially so… you shouldn’t be telling these civilians classified information.”
Bon shook her head, crossing her arms and taking a few begrudging steps back from the examination table. “You make it sound like we’re secret agents,” she half-whispered.
“Right about now, I think we ought to try to be,” Roundy said. “It might help people listen to us for once.”
With a scoff that sounded more like an off-tone squeak, Bon crossed her arms and shook her head. She gave the watch at her wrist a quick look and said, “It’s about that time. The commish will be waiting for us.”
Bon certainly had some of “the commish” in her. The dirty blonde and freckles must have been a family trait. But, instead of Bon’s big doe-eyes, the commissioners were narrow and sharp. Little knifeblades that glistened on his face.
Through a window near the heavy metal door, Due could see most of the man in the interrogation room. Somn sat there in his lonely chair on the other side of a metal table in a grey square of concrete. He sat like he was at dinner, back straight, hands folded neatly in his lap, and eyes slowly scanning the same walls, table, and single white ceiling light over and over again.
“Don’t worry about being in there with him,” the commissioner said, pointing behind him to the booth with a thick glass window and two other officers sitting attentively behind it. One of them sipped loudly at coffee. The other told him to stop being so damn loud. “It’s one-way glass,” the commissioner said. “And these two will be going in there with you,” he added, pointing at Bon and the Blimp.
For a split second, Bon’s eyes widened, but the Blimp’s falcon eyes only narrowed like they caught sight of close prey. There was an eager fire to his nod. Bon’s neck was so stiff that when she nodded, she looked like one of those stupid water-drinking wooden bird things. If it wasn’t a homicidal maniac in that room, Due might have asked for Bon to be left out of this. I wonder if she would even accept? Maybe not.
Due looked over at Syl. Her face was almost as impassive as Somn’s. It only gave off the feeling of cool confidence that Due had come to expect and very nearly appreciate from her. Due sighed and rolled his tense shoulders. They crackled and popped. Suddenly, Due wished he was back sitting in front of his fireplace. Did he forget to douse the fire before leaving? Maybe. It wouldn’t have been the first time. But it’s not like he would know until he got back home. No power, no fire alarms. Besides, he supposed there was a bigger problem in front of him right now. He sighed again and cleared his throat.
“Alright,” he said. “Let’s do this.”
Bon swiped a keycard down a slit on the door’s electronic lock and , after a few beeps, it swung open slowly. Due brushed past everybody nearby, his breath coming heavy and hot. He thought he might have heard somebody telling him to slow down or be careful. Not like he listened to them.
“So I heard you tried to murder me with a book-shuriken,” Due said, his words almost getting clogged at his mouth as they all tried to come out at once. He could feel his face start to go red and hot. He stopped on the other end of the table and slammed his hands down as hard as he could. The resulting echoes almost made his ears ring. “My name’s Due, you know, the pug-faced author you tried to impale. I’m much more dashing without the makeup. And, until I’m legally obligated to leave, I’m going to be your worst nightmare.”
“Actually,” came Bon’s voice. She paused, as if trying to summon up the courage to continue. Due realized he probably looked pretty damn scary right about now. Good. “Actually, if you could refrain from beating him lifeless, that could really help with the interrogation process.”
Due looked from Bon to Somn. The little shit- big shit, actually, standing what looked like half a foot taller than Due, had a face of iron. But Due thought he saw a flicker of a smile on the edge of his mouth. He pretended it was a smile of relief and not amusement.
“Can I just break something he doesn’t really need?” Due asked. “Like his nose or ear or neck?”
“You can’t break somebody’s ear,” Syl said.
“I could try,” Due said.
“No, no,” Bon said like she was talking to a raging toddler, “let’s all keep our hands to ourselves.”
“Hands and projectile bladed books, buddy,” Due said, squinting across the table.
The room went mysteriously silent just then as Somn lifted up his huge hands and opened them wide. They probably could have fit all of Due’s head inside them. Why didn’t he just use those to attempt to murder Blackstone? It would be damn near impossible to miss with those when they took up so much space. Somn shook his head, his bald head shining like a snowglobe in the overhead light as he did, and said, “I am completely unarmed.” Every word took a damn hour and a half to come out of his mouth. Either he was milking the drama of the moment or he just enjoyed talking like Gandalf in slow motion. “In this instance, you seem more like the aggressor.”
“It’s what you deserve,” Due said. He knew he wasn’t going to win against dreaded rationality (it’s not like page-burners lacked in rationality, either. Theirs was just a unique brand, one that favoured directness and finality) in this situation. If this had happened between page-burners and page-burners were able to dispense their own unique justice, Somn would have served his sentence already, having been knocked out cold and humiliated within an hour of catching him. They say they’re impartial, Due thought, backing away from the table and getting a glance at the officers standing behind thick protective glass, but this way of justice seems very book-munchery of them.
“Mr. Somn,” Syl said, steadily pacing behind the man. Every step she made was an authoritative click, like the ticking of a gigantic clock. “You have called us here, been very much introduced to Mr. Due, and yet you have yet to tell us why you called us both here. I suggest you remedy that quickly before we lose our patience and leave you to your face.”
The ticking of a clock indeed. When that ticking ended, Due reckoned so would Syl’s patience. After that, she would be out of the room like a well-dressed bolt of lightning. For now, she clicked on.
Somn sat up slowly and cleared his throat, still staring straight ahead into what really seemed like open space. “May I have the pleasure of making your acquaintance?”
“No, you may not,” Syl said. “My name is Syl,” she continued. “That is all you will get from me. You will not use it to address me. Use whatever else you like, but not my name. I engineered your capture and Mr. Due’s disguise, so give due respect.”
“Yeah,” Due said, “show me the proper respect.”
Bon barely stifled a chuckle.
Syl and Due gave each other a quick glance. Syl’s mouth was a tightened vice. Due just shot her his goofiest smile.
“Of course,” Somn said, apparently unfazed. “You are both my betters, having bested me at my top form. I would not dream of insulting you.”
“Well, we can cross that possibility for us being here off the list,” Due said.
“I merely wished to talk to you both,” Somn said. “If we are lucky, I think we may be able to see another side to this conflict. One that will benefit all of us.”
“You’re barking up the wrong tree, guy,” Due said. “Why should we listen to somebody who tried to murder the living hell out of us?”
“Firstly,” Somn said, “you two were never the targets of my attack. Secondly, regardless of how the events at the conference hall transpired and whether or not Blackstone had lived, I would have sent for you regardless.”
“Why?” Syl asked. She had stopped walking, the clock coming to a halt. But she still stood there, hanging over the thick-shouldered man, her shadow trying to devour him.
“Because I know that you two would listen to me, if anybody in this city would,” Somn said. For the first time, he lifted up his head and looked directly at Syl, then at Due. His eyes were surprisingly unsurprising. They were seriously totally unremarkable. Due had expected them to be bloodshot or icy blue or envy-green or something like that. Villains always had remarkable eyes. “I know the secret about the two of you,” he continued. “The secret. The one that brought you together to thwart any more deaths in the first place.”
Due looked up at Syl, their eyes meeting almost instantly. Syl had something on her face that Due had the good luck to never see before. Fear. It pushed her eyes out of her skull and made his pupils shrink into pinpricks. For Due, it just like something heavy and hooved was standing on his chest. He quickly spun around. There were still three officers up in the booth, listening to every word of the conversation. Bon and Mr. Fatfuck stood in the room on either side of the door. It didn’t look like any of them would be pissing off any time soon, even if they were asked. In fact, they all looked like they had leaned in the slightest bit to hear whatever life-destroying secret that was about to come out of Somn’s mouth.
Somn opened his mouth and a little trickle of sound leaked out before Syl spoke in an uncharacteristically ‘outside-voice’ level, saying, “Commissioner. I know you and your officers won’t leave us alone with this man. It is understandable and noble.”
And a giant pain in the ass, but go on, Due thought.
“But can we have some guarantee that what is said in this room will stay in this room?” Syl finished.
There was a little chirp of static, then the commissioner’s gruff voice said, “So long as it does not pertain to the resolution of the case, certainly.”
Well, shit. There goes that, Due thought.
“You two are Pilgrims,” Somn said, “travelers between two places bearing great knowledge. Due,” he said, turning like a stone-faced executioner towards Due, “you were born a book-muncher but changed to become a page-burner.” The world became unnaturally quiet after he said that. Due half-expected a loud DUN-DUN-DUN to play as the sound editing time of the soap opera that was life took advantage of the dramatic tension. “And Syl,” he continued, turning his average eyes onto Syl, “you were born amongst the page-burners. You were raised and taught by them but then forsake them to become a book-muncher.” Syl didn’t seem to react or even look at Somn. She was probably locking down everything inside herself that she could to brace herself. It seemed to have paid off, too. “You two are the only Pilgrims in this city,” Somn said. “And, as far as I know, the only who have been brave enough in history to adopt a new life.”
“What are you getting at?” Syl asked. Her feet started clicking again, but not with the same steady rhythm as before. Now, there was a hurrying to it. “Whatever it is, do it quickly.”
“Yeah,” Due said, putting his hands on the table again. Somn slowly turned to look at him. Due stared right into his boring eyes. Yeah, he thought, that’s right. I have better-looking eyes than you do. I’m the hero of this story. And you’re not even significant-looking enough to be a villain. So what are you, even? “Get to the point. So you know our dirty giant secret? Pilgrims you’re calling us? You’ve have had enough time to make up dopey names for us. So, what’s your big plan, huh big guy? Say something.” Due only now began to notice that his voice had been rising throughout until it was bouncing off the concrete walls, trying to find somewhere else bigger and more open to accommodate it.
“This,” Somn said, slowly waving his tree-trunk arms around the room. It was like he was sleepwalking all this time, no hurry or fever to him at all. “All of this. This civilization. Nowadays has their own room, each with its own door and lock and then everybody’s homes has a door and lock. It has shut us up in our own separate towers where we can safely fling stones at our hated neighbors or slam the door on families and friends. Everything is static and rigid now. Two cultures formed and never shift, never interacting beyond angry looks or going through lawyers just to say ‘hello.’”
“I knew that about your people, of course, Somn said. “Elsewise I would not have such conviction in what I do. You claim that your cultures bring you closer together and, in a way, you are right. Page-burners gather with page-burners around their hearths. Book-munchers have feasts of knowledge with other book-munchers. But it never expands further than that, does it?”
“I longed to see the day when these buildings and libraries were torn down by nature… so that we can live as humans do, as the animals we are… together and without borders or cultures built up like paranoid palaces. We are the most dangerous kind of animal. The kind that would kill another with the very symbol of intelligence and thought- a book.”
“From what I remember,” Due said, “you tried to bury that same symbol into my forehead.”
“As a statement,” Somn said, “not as a method within itself.
“That makes it so much better,” Due grumbled.
“What I did tonight, what I tried to do tonight, will almost certainly be followed by another act of madness. One group will blame the other and the slow boil will continue.”
“That sounds like exactly what you were after,” Syl said. “Eventually, it’d all boil over and we’d all go back to eating dirt and wandering naked through the streets.”
“Not at all,” Somn said, if a bit curtly. Interruptions to his philosophical tirade might have been his secret weakness all along. “Streets wouldn’t be a thing anymore, so we couldn’t really wander around naked on them.”
Due thought he was supposed to laugh at that. Or somebody somewhere on planet Earth was supposed to laugh at that surrealistly off cough of humour. But Somn’s face stayed as it always did, time-locked.
“But beyond that,” Somn continued (Due never thought he’d be happy to hear him speak but was now handedly proved wrong), “you are right, ma’am. Things would eventually boil over. But a boil is not what I wanted. I wanted an explosion. I wanted to set all of the rules we thought we knew and needed alright all at once. Give no chance for blame and cruel deliberation. Only something as reckless and chaotic as an explosion could wash away everything so definitively.”
“We’re talking about a metaphorical explosion, right?” Due asked. “Like, you’re not planning on blowing up the whole city or something?”
“Of course not,” Somn said. “How contrary that would be to restoring the order I spoke of. Or any kind of order. No, one of the few things that separates a man like me from a lunatic is the realization that an explosion controlled and directed by calm intent, a metaphorical one, is much more powerful than a physical one. But they are equally as real.”
“So…” Syl started, her foot tapping had reverted back to its calm pacing. Honestly, it was a welcome change. Due shook some of the confusion from his head and used the back of his hand to pull away some slick sweat from his forehead. “If you’re not a crazed lunatic, just what kind of man are you?”
I wonder if I want to know, Due thought. Whatever kind of man Somn was, he was the kind who managed to stay calm and cool despite being arrested, thrown into an interrogation room, and forced to contend with Syl’s terrifyingly eloquent bluntness. Seriously, whatever this guy considered himself, it wasn’t normal.
“I would consider myself an enlightened man,” Somn said. His eyes went back to their polite dinnertime positon, scanning blank open space with the urgency of a doped boulder. “A man who has seen many things, enough to say with certainty what he would like to see in the world. I am a Pilgrim,” he said with thunder in his voice. “I am a Pilgrim like you. So yes, Mr. Due, I have had a long time to think about that name.”
“I don’t believe you,” Syl snapped. “The first day of every year, I eat the newest roster of book-munchers in this city. I have since I was seventeen. And we don’t forget the books we eat. Never.”
Just seventeen? Due thought. That’s pretty damn early to run away from home and decide to start gnawing on paper. It took me almost five years longer to realize that burning old books made much more sense than eating new ones. There probably wasn’t a human being more unlikely to be a rebellious, hot-headed teenage than Syl. In fact, the whole childhood wonderment and teenage angst stage probably blew right past her in an afternoon. But then again, maybe she burned away that hotheadedness in her last page-burner fire before moving on.
“That is because I was not born a book-muncher,” Somn said.
“That doesn’t make sense,” Due said. “I was told the same thing around the fire a whole bunch of times. The page-burners that were born, lived, and died all from my dad’s time until now. And you don’t look much older than either me or Syl.”
“I was not born a page-burner either,” Somn said. He let the answers hang in the air, apparently content to wait and milk the revelations firing off in people’s heads.
“You were born an illiterate?” Due asked. He could hardly believe what he was asking. People were born page-burners or book-munchers or illiterates. They didn’t just migrate from place to place. Sure, Due and Syl were “Pilgrims,” but they were still born separate from the rest of the normies. Both the book-munchers and page-burners were simply… different from the non-booky people. That’s what he had been taught. By bother groups.”
“Born an illiterate, I studied with the book-munchers then I lived with the page-burners,” Somn said. “I found all three worlds unsatisfactory. Each group was right in their own ways, but only by tearing down the walls between them could others see that.”
There was a squeak of static, cutting off whatever else Somn was going to rattle off. The commissioner sounded distinctly ruffled as he spoke, saying, “That’s enough. Officers, shut this man up and take him back to his cell. You two, I need to speak with you.”
Due groaned and looked over at Syl. She had the same look of confusion he could feel growing onto his face. What I would give for a bed and a handful of quiet hours, Due thought. Then this crazy goddamn night could finally be over. As they left, Due thought he saw Syl’s face reflect a very similar thought. In this better light, he noticed the deep black bags that had roosted underneath her warm brown eyes.
Now those are the eyes of a protagonist, Due thought.
Oh, I can only imagine just how many errors in spelling, grammar, and word choice there are in that little story. But them’s the breaks when time is short. The clicking of my shoes have definitively stopped, so to speak. So with that, I say adieu to you all for the rest of 2014 (so, about 7 hours from where I live) and hope you all have a good year and spend it doing something else other than reading my hasty, sloppy writings!
Good luck, you brave writer folk!