slow fire Nov 28, 2009
Shhh, tap. Shhh, tap. Shhh, tap. Shhh, tap.
While shelving books, I keep my pace by the tap at the end of the cover-to-shelf-metal slide. I try not to think about all the people living inside the books, but I've been here so long it's automatic. I know the titles by call-number, most I could recall just by observing the volume at rest from ten meters, and a handful by heft alone. It's been a long day, and the cart is almost empty. Shhh, tap. Shhh, tap. Arobira and Gohabia, the Twin Jewels, restored to non-fiction shelf P, for Potter, both numbered 999.7P. Shhh, tap. Shhh, tap. Shhh, click.
Click? ...soft tap. I look up but the shadow has already gone. White amorphous reflection dances in the exit door's plexiglass—shadow passes the windows. One. Two. Three. At a pretty good pace. A shadow late for dinner, perhaps? Shhh, tap. Shhh, tap. Shhh, tap. I have to pick up more orange juice on the way home. Shhh, ah! Asteroides, Q. Jolise, a real leather cover! I gingerly address the treasure with fingertips across its stitching, taking in the swirling aromas of long-dead-animal and long-dead-plant. The books are burning, slowly. I feel the acid in the paper when I brush my fingertips across their brown pages. My skin burns as the volumes contained within it are pierced by a thousand million invisible blinding rays. The drone of the highway outside is almost as imperceptible. We use the word 'outside', but sometimes I wonder. The highway is louder than usual, and suddenly there is the sound of a tree hit by a bolt of lightning as the rear wall explodes in a shower of splinters and sparks of glass. The robots begin digesting the shelves, rows of spinning teeth the size of CRTs, turning out sand from the holes in their sides. They grind forward as I run to the reference section for the Tesla coil, smashing its display case with Vorre's Humanities Index.
Waiting, hidden in the relative silence, I listen to the hiss of the slow burn sped up a millionfold and the clunk of metal jaws and rows of short angled legs. The multilingual dictionaries are overcome from behind, the metal worm rising in a terrifying arch before melting the entire shelf. I hit the exposed underbelly with a burst from Tesla and the segmented monster curls and its legs freeze. Its whirling red-hot digestion arrays still spin with a gut-wrenching whine. None of the rest of them even react but I am already out the door.
It is raining outside in the darkness. The highway drowns out the sounds of the books, but I hear them in my head. I can't see the metal shell a thousand meters above, but the vastness it encompasses is heavy. I am pretty sure water is falling from the sky. Shhh.