Part Four: They Rose From the Ashes

January 2, 2013
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It was a long way back up the river. As we crossed the river, the sun beat down on our necks. It was noon and the hot sun mixed with the cloud of dust left me feeling tired and hungry. There was rubble in the streets and buildings collapsed. Bodies were strewn about and there was the faintest smell of rust... Or was it blood? Granger climbed on top of a pile of concrete and looked around.

“The air is so thick I can't see!” he loudly coughed.

The rest of the group scattered about just looking around, as if they were in a museum. On display were crushed beetles and demolished buildings; there were bodies of people that had once walked down these streets. I found myself walking towards the fire station. It was now only a pile of rubble and memories of the man I used to be. Shouting snapped me out of my trance and I ran back to the others.

“I think I heard something. Hello?! Is anybody in there?!” Professor West yelled. Everyone was lifting rubble aside and digging through miscellaneous items to reach whatever had made that noise. Everyone was so busy trying to save whoever was down there, that they failed to notice what they were brushing aside.

“Books,” I said so quietly that I wasn't ever sure if it escaped my mouth. So I repeated myself, but more loudly, “Books.”

“What did you just say?” all the men turned to look at me.

On the ground were books mixed in with the rubble. I stood there feeling numb and confused. By this time, the men had returned to saving the injured person, but I didn't care about whoever they were. I cared about the books; I ran from pile to pile. There were books where buildings had stood; there were books where families had lived. A society that burned books, yet everyone secretly had them? This had to be a dream... Or a nightmare.

“We got you, don't worry! C'mon lets get you up – there you go!” Dr. Simmons assured the man that they had just pulled from the rubble. He was short and stout with beady eyes, coughing up dirt as he clutched his chest.

“Thank y – cough cough – thanks!” the man wheezed. “Thanks for saving me – cough cough – I'm John Fargo.”

I thought to myself. I knew his name from somewhere... The bank! Mr. Fargo was the bank manager!

“Hello, Mr. Fargo! My name's Granger. Are you okay? Would you like something to drink?” Granger asked as he pulled out a canteen. Mr. Fargo took big gulps of the liquid and breathed out a tired sigh.

“I had just finished programming our new teller bot when all of the sudden there was a loud boom and then it all goes dark. What happened? Where is everyone? Is the war over?”

After informing him about the bomb that had been dropped on the city, and then explaining how I actually wasn't dead, all the men sat down and said nothing. We couldn't believe that a city had been destroyed in an instant, and more importantly, that dead people surrounded us. The sun was lower than before, so it was probably mid-afternoon; my stomach growled with emptiness. An object by my foot shifted my focus from the old restaurant that used to be down the street, to the discovery I had made earlier.

“Books,” I said. Such a simple word, but now with a complicated and twisted meaning. The others looked around and to their own surprise, they saw the books that littered the once clean streets. Mr. Fargo stood up and walked toward a briefcase that was covered in dust; I assumed it was his. He brushed off the top of it and input the code that would open it. He reached inside and pulled back the padding, and revealed a book that had been hidden inside. He held it up for us to see; it was entitled Charlotte's Web.

“This book makes no sense. Its about talking animals and a girl. Since when was it possible for animals to talk?” he asked no one in particular. “But I love this book...” he trailed off.

We weren't sure if Mr. Fargo was completely sane. I mean, he had tons of rubble piled on top of him. Who knows what he might have inhaled! He laughed a little; perhaps he laughed because he was happy that he revealed his secret, or maybe it was because he couldn't believe what he had just said. Just then we heard movement and yelling. Granger climbed on top of a nearby pile of metal and looked around.

“Hey! We're over here!” he shouted as he waved his arms above his head.

“Who is it? What do you see?” Dr. Simmons asked him.

“I see people! Lots of them. They must've been farther out from the city, and weren't hit as badly as the city people were,” Granger said as we helped him climb back down.

We made our way in the direction of the groups of people, Granger leading us. I lagged behind for two reasons. One, I was supposed to be dead and might frighten the people. And two, I kept stopping to pick up the books that cluttered our pathway. There were picture books, books with lots of words, and even books as thick as the fire pole! Mr. Fargo still held on to his book. As we approached the group of survivors, I could see that it consisted of men and women; no children were to be found. Their group was silent and the only noise was the sound of dust being blown around the empty streets. Professor West broke the silence.

“Well hello! We were out in the country and saw what happened, so we decided to come look for survivors... Is everyone okay?” he asked the group of adults. There was a low murmur of agreement and I could see some of them nodding their heads; one woman began to cry and the other women went to console her. This was a group of average adults that had endured a tragedy and were obviously upset by it. I was upset too because I realized that my wife had been killed, and the only thing keeping me from breaking down was knowing that I was helping keep books alive for everyone to read. My attitude changed when I saw one of the men shy away from a book that had touched his shoe. I couldn't control myself anymore; all the emotions I had kept inside of me from the day that woman burned with her books came bursting out like a flamethrower.

“Do you see these books? Do you see all of these books?” I asked in an angry voice, “All these buildings and homes, filled with books!”

The survivors and the members of the book group all stared at me. They were all witnessing my meltdown. I seethed at the injustice of books in this city, in this world. I grumbled and yelled and threw my arms into the air; I picked up the books and began organizing them into stacks. Granger walked over and tried to calm me down. He took the books from my arms and set them down on the ground. I collapsed in his arms and began to cry because I was utterly alone. I had no home and no wife; books were my only real friends.

“Its okay, Montag. Everything is going to be okay. We are going to start over and introduce people to the world of books, and make sure that they know its normal to read them,” Granger comforted me. He rubbed my shoulders and let me sob into his shirt. The group of survivors, one by one, began making their own pile of books. The other book readers that I had met in the woods joined in, too. Granger left me to help them organize and search for other books in the piles that surrounded us; when I had regained my composure, I joined them. George, one of the survivors, had gone in search of a building that was still standing and reported back with the news that the abandoned factory nearby was undamaged. We took several trips transferring the books to the factory where we sorted them by title.

Just then, we heard a humming noise in the distance. Granger walked outside first, and shortly after we followed him. We looked up and saw helicopters flying over us, searching for survivors. Dr. Simmons waved his arms above his head and shouted to try and signal the helicopters. Everyone joined in because we knew we needed help. The thought of being rescued and given somewhere safe to stay reminded me that I hadn't eaten since this morning; I was absolutely famished. Unfortunately, I also remembered that we had all these books. We all had come to the agreement that books were okay and shouldn't be burned, but these new people wouldn't understand. For all we knew, our city was the only one secretly keeping books. The rest of the world might still be convinced that books are bad and should be burned. Visions of books catching fire crossed over my eyes and I knew that it would be no easy feat to convince them of our realization. We would have to fight for the books because after all, who else would?

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