Rykard burned in Unit B. Unit B were responsible for the destruction of fiction; Unit A was non-fiction. The C’s burned just about anything else. Rykard liked to think the B’s somehow more important. He destroyed whole new worlds. Yet these days burning (once such a growing industry) was a dying vocation. Soon he would be re-allocated, given a new profession.
This morning, as Rykard moved through the check-point into the preparatory area, he saw on the digital progress screen that they had finished the paperback A’s overnight. They must have fired up ‘Furnace D’, he presumed. He strapped on the black, heat-proof overalls and made his way to the furnace floor where the B cages were waiting. Rykard wasn’t sure he was ready for starting a new letter, especially on a Friday. Incineration of a new letter always started with the hardback volumes. Heavy hardbacks. It was going to be a back-breaker this morning.
Fully flame proofed, Rykard set to it, moving mechanically towards the platoon of waiting cages. Two ‘Barrett-Browning’ cages waited, one full, one three-quarter full. Numbers 1 and 2. He was first in this morning; that would score him some extra credits. He started to drag them both across the black, asphalt floor toward the chutes. Some days one name would command over a hundred cages. Some voices had once spoken loud it seemed. The three-quarter cage felt unexpectedly heavier, so Rykard moved it to his better hand. Probably a faulty wheel. Names that were once praised for their skill in bringing the imagined to life were now voices lost to flame within a single shift. The burners were the only ones who still saw the names on the books in the cages, but they were under strict instruction never to utter such names outside of the compound. It was considered heresy amongst the burners. They had a code after all.
Unit B security patrolled across the cage-floor whilst the burners burned, forever vigilant of word-theft. They were dealing with valuable materials after all. Rykard knew, as they all did, that one volume could fetch a hefty price on the black-market. Rykard felt several pairs of iron eyes burning into his back this morning as he strained with the cages; he was the lone burner at present after all. Soon the others would scuttle onto the floor and join him and security attention would be divided. Unless he was suspected of course. Today they were incinerating the B’s in 18th Century Poetry. Blake, Burns and Byron were the biggest multi-cages. All soon to be forgotten in flame. Next month sometime they would finish and start on the C’s.
Before Rykard had reached the unloading bay, with the black, metal chutes jutting out of the ashen floor, he could hear that the other burners of Unit B had arrived and had also set to it; he could hear the squeals of the cages as they moved slowly towards the furnaces. When he’d first started as a burner, he’d imagined this squealing screams of objection from the voices they were trying to silence, rather than from the inefficient cages. Nowadays, though, he knew there were no voices. They had been silenced.
Rykard’s back was still aching from the yesterday’s extended shift, the final elimination of hardback A’s. He’d finished over an hour late. The final few ‘Aytoun’ cages all seemed to have faulty wheels and squeal as they were dragged to the flames.
Having pulled the first cage to the chutes, Rykard began to load on the volumes a handful at a time. The fire below roared its approval as it feasted on the first of the B’s. This close to the furnace, the fire’s roar drowned out the cages’ squeals behind him.
With the Barrett-Browning cages empty, he discarded them in the ‘empties’ zone and moved back toward the rest of the Ba’s.
At mid-morning, Rykard was called aside by the unit supervisor and redirected to make a start on the ‘Byron’ cages, opposite Furnace D, such was their large number. It wasn’t unusual to be singled out in such cases. Sometimes officials ordered specific burners concentrate on certain cages whilst the main labor thrust still focused on alphabetical eradication. For some reason they didn’t like a floor of workers burning a single name.
So Rykard jumped ahead of the others to try to alleviate the problem. It was a little uncommon for so many hardback cages to hold a single name. It was a common-place procedure when burning paperbacks, but such large cage numbers were rare with hardbacks.
Rykard dragged the first Byron cage toward Furnace D and began unloading. Having only recently been fired-up, it wasn’t at full roar yet. On grabbing another handful for the chute, Rykard paused as his hands settled upon an arrestingly-elegant silver bordered, black-leather volume. He wondered how words could be powerful enough to command such elaborate decoration. Being so close to the furnace, and surrounded by the vast number of empty cages, Rykard was obscured from the vision of the guards. A brief moment of privacy afforded to him as he burned. Curious, Rykard grabbed the large, black volume. ‘Byron’ was emblazoned on the front in gold, copperplate lettering, ‘The Complete Works’. In a moment of weak intrigue, he flicked it open mid-volume, and scanned what they had once called ‘poetry’. The last pair of eyes to see the, soon to be extinguished, words:
‘…I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguished…’
‘How true’, he thought, tossing it into the furnace.
Andy Mee is a teacher of English Literature working and living in the Welsh valleys with his wife and young daughter. Occasionally, when finding time away from analyzing other authors’ writing in the classroom, he likes to dabble with language and spin a yarn of his own. Andy has written short stories and poetry for a number of small press publications, including The Horror Zine, Big Pulp and 365 Tomorrows.