The Library


“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture.
Just get people to stop reading them.”

– Ray Bradbury

The sexton of Barnestone Cemetery hears the hum of nearby street lamps before he sees them, lighting up the road like an airport runway. Their activation might be a nod to the whole city, which seems to shine brighter, bearing down on him and the shadows in which he stands. The darkness scatters from around him. Alone, he drowns in light.

Windows illuminate even the tallest buildings against the backdrop of night, interposed with glowing billboards, bearing pixelated faces with wide, white grins and hair the colour of gold. Skyscrapers scratch the clouds. The roads beneath are no better; red rivers of brake-lights stopping-starting by the bright glow of the street lamps, which shine harsher than any lamp should, flashing, always flashing, burning spots into his eyes, his soul, like a strip of old film reel, grown hot and ashen–

He turns sharply from the city, his hand shaking where it grips the metal gate. Flakes of black paint rub from the railings, floating slowly to the ground, as anger wells inside him. He can only imagine the sight he must make; a solitary figure, small, barely a speck on a patch of grass against the enormity of the city around him. And yet it is the little things that he misses; the stars in the sky, bedtime stories, the owls, which he had once used to watch for through the window with his father and a pair of black binoculars. Stars and stories mean different things now; glossy magazine spreads, lurid as the lights around him. The owls mean nothing at all. There are pictures online, if anyone knows to search for them, and footage from old documentaries. He even found bird bones once, inside an old oak tree. He buried them where Rowling rests, in a grave by the north gate. That which he once thought fitting now brings a lump to his tight throat.

He focuses on the flakes of paint and their delicate descent, his anger slowly settling with them. His grip on the railings relaxes. So much is dead. So much is gone. The world, the word, everything that mattered now mad, or meaningless. The old ways are almost forgotten. But he remembers. He remembers the rituals, the rites, in this place where they might still be found, if one only knows where to look.

Returning to his work, he secures the cast-iron gates with lock and key. Chains snake through the bars, which he shakes, to make sure they are secure. Moving along the railings, he repeats this at the north and south entrances. He has worked in the cemetery his whole life, as his father did before him, and is intimately familiar with the grounds. When he reaches the east gate, he does not lock it but stands and stares a little longer through the bars. The city blurs, light running down his cheeks, and it is several minutes before he comes to himself again.

With the gate ajar, he turns from the railings and walks slowly back through the headstones. Sirens scream in his ears, traffic roars, and above that the digitized voices of a hundred adverts, proclaiming their products to passers-by. He laps the graveyard twice, depositing flowers at certain graves – roses for Hawthorne, lilies for Stoker, a basket of poppies for Faulks – before turning back toward the mausoleums.

The squat, grey buildings mark the hallowed heart of the cemetery. Approaching the closest, he climbs cracked steps to the entrance. The weather has done terrible things to the architecture, which has suffered – bled marble blood – beneath electric storms and acid rain. It is still more beautiful than anything in the surrounding city. He supposes he has always seen beauty in dead, ruined things. Now he appreciates them because he must. Because there is nobody else. Because otherwise they mean nothing, and the sad, sorry world has won.

Unlocking the rusted gate, he slips inside. Strangely, it is not the cold that he first notices, or the dark, but the silence. Only his boots continue to make sound, where they scrape against smooth stone. For a minute he descends through total darkness, feeling his way along the walls. He moves slowly, so as not to slip. Fingers find grooves they have found many times before, then he sees faint light ahead; the fire from the brazier he keeps lit here. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, he steps into a small chamber. Words drift through his mind: sanctum, sepulcher, tomb. The fire paints shadow shapes across the walls.

He approaches the sarcophagus, which dominates the center of the shallow room. The cold, or perhaps the silence, prickles his skin, but he is not uncomfortable. Quite the opposite, he stares down at the lid and the human shape engraved there. It is a knightly figure; proud, learned, like no man or woman he would encounter now. People no longer talk to each other but at each other. They curse and croon; incoherent sounds for an incoherent age. Fuck flows like poetry from furious lips, except they do not know the meaning of poetry, have never heard it, never read it, can barely speak let alone read. Language is lost, buried beneath a weight of blasphemies, generations buried with it, bones broken beneath text speech, abbreviated brutality, bound conscious to the internet, the Ethernet, the Ethernot, no sense, no individuality, no life at all beyond the small black mirrors in their palms, the bright, gaudy billboards outside their apartment windows–

Movement at the bottom of the stairs makes him turn. A man is standing by the brazier. He is followed by an old woman, and moments later two more. Gradually the room begins to fill, until a dozen people stand around him. There is no need yet for conversation. He thinks they look sad, and excited, and tired, although he could just be seeing himself in their faces.

When the chamber is full and everyone still, he removes the lid from the sarcophagus. The lid is made from marble, and it takes six of them to slide it from its place. Once, he thinks, as he applies himself to the task, it was a sin to disrupt the dead. Now it is required; a necessary necromancy, such that the written word might live again, that they might read, as writing was intended to be read. Together they lower the lid through the silence, resting it carefully against the ground. Reaching through the grave dust, he places his hand in the sarcophagus. When he lifts it up, he is holding a book.

There is no speech, no revolutionary jargon or ancient incantation. It is enough that those assembled can see the book, with its worn spine, faded font and tired, tattered pages. It has been a month since they last met; a month trapped in their wayward, prostituted world, and the sight of the volume is a visible weight from their shoulders.

As he opens the book to the first pages, some people sink cross-legged to the floor. Others perch on short statues, or lean against the walls. Firelight captures attentive faces, and in that moment, seeing their eyes shining back at him, he feels one thing, so powerful it is almost overwhelming; the rare, quiet rush of relief. They are a group; his group, the last literary coven. If it is necromancy to commune with the dead, to raise written spirits from their tomes, then they are necromancers; not death-dealers or charlatans but people, just people, who would read together and remember in this graveyard, this forgotten place, this library for the dead.

“We read,” he says quietly, remembering an old quote from a book buried now beneath a grave marked Lewis, “to know we are not alone.” Then he opens his mouth, draws breath, begins reading from the pages in his hands, and twelve people listen patiently, and for a chapter or two in a cold, dark tomb know peace.

~ Thomas Brown

© Copyright 2013 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved.

Heed the Tale Weaver: Celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Damned. Through May 7, 2013, upon each new post, a comment you will leave. A package of ghoulish goodies tainted with an offering from every member of the Damned awaits one fated winner – glorious books, personalized stories and eternal suffering at your feet. Now Damn yourself, make your mark below! But remember insolent ones, you must leave a comment, a “like” will not earn you a chance at our collection of depravity. Do not make the Damned hunt you down.

30 thoughts on “The Library

  1. What a brilliant idea. And it may come true… I’m actually reading this parked in my car outside the library, and I’m staring at the building imagining it as in your story.


  2. I love this story, Thomas, for a couple of reasons. First, it is to be admired for the flow of words so aptly flowing from your pen. Secondly, it is in the truth of what one day could come to pass. I am a writer who enjoys so much this digital age we possess, but what happens if circumstances such as you describe come about? Also, what happens if the world ends as we know it, and there are only a few inhabitants left on the planet? How are the children of these survivors to know all that was before them if they can not read the truth? They can’t. I am a firm believer that we must maintain a written history of humanity on the pages of paper or whatever other material can be held and read. After reading your great tale, I am even more convinced of this.

    Thank you.



    1. Rob, thank you for such a thorough reply. It pleases me no end to know that you have appreciated this piece of writing. I think the future of print books is an uncertain one. And what use is literacy, when all that many people read is the TV guide? We are undergoing a great deal of change at a very fast rate, and there is no saying where we will end up.


  3. Thomas, I absolutely love this piece! The writing is exquisite, as it always is from you both on a creative level, and a constructive one. You have pulled together prose that lead the reader along the path your main character takes expertly. My imagination isn’t far from allowing me to feel the the atmosphere of the chamber in which the reading is to take place.

    But equally important is the concept behind the story. I am a book lover, not just a lover of a good tale. By that I mean I can’t express the joy it gives me to hold a book in my hands, smell its print, let every one of my senses experience the turning of a physical page. Being a book collector, this speaks directly to my need to preserve these works in their initially intended state – print. This story is marvelously told, and with a clear and strong desire on behalf of the author to cherish these tomes as much as I do. Wonderful, Thomas, I really enjoyed it!


    1. Thank you, Nina, for your response and the photo. 😉 I’m very glad that you have appreciated the story for both the writing and the themes. It can sometimes be difficult to balance language with storytelling, so I’m relieved to read that you enjoyed both.

      If you ever need somewhere safe to preserve your collection, you know where to go…


  4. Excellent tale, Thomas! And, as others have said, you may have foretold of our fate. Your writing has a whimsical grittiness that I enjoy very much. The atmosphere you create pleasantly reminds me of the artistic works (film) of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Terry Gilliam. The emotions and intentions of your characters were portrayed with skill and in short time you’ve created an entire world effectively. Great job!


  5. Tom, yet again you’ve reinforced why you’ve become one of my favorite writers. “The Library” is simply an excellent tale – tightly written, tightly woven, tightly expressed. You mince no words (pardon the pun). On the surface, “The Library” does not seem like a terrifying tale, per se. But you’ve infused it with such rich, dark atmosphere…man, I loved it!

    The damned beauty about “The Library” is that it will appeal to so many readers outside the “horror genre.” Those who don’t read your story are truly missing out.

    Excellent job, Tom!


    1. It definitely plays to the Damned’s angst, rather than outright horror, but I certainly find something horrifying about a world without care for books or literacy. Very glad to read your responses, Joe, you are too kind. Thank you!


  6. Sir Thomas, I apologize for arriving late to the party with my comments, but it has taken me that long to absorb the impact of the words you weave together in this important and darkly moving tale. The fact that your metaphor speaks such truth is dreadful enough, without the tangle of words you spin into barbs that should pierce the veil of consciousness of any thinking reader. A truly wonderful concept. A magnificent statement. And another example of your sheer skill at wordsmithery and paragraph craftery. A genuinely disturbing and touching piece that I am all the better for having read. Thank you for having written it. Sincerely, D.


    1. Hello Wulf, don’t worry about any delays. It makes me happy to know that you have read and enjoyed the story. Your feedback feels rewarding. Thanks for commenting!


  7. Damn… This tale was so expertly crafted, so meaningful, full of hints at the arcane and so elegant that I couldn’t keep myself from reading it over and over. I loved it, and see myself as one of those down in the crypt, eagerly listening as you read from a musky tome.


  8. Love the atmosphere. The bit on how the f*#& flows like poetry rings true. It’s what most people use as a verbal pause. Powerful story.


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