“Shut him up, Mister Barber,” said the priest, dusting off his hands after sending a particularly neglected book to the graveyard. The barber obliged, picking up a gray sock from the floor and stuffing it in Kyle’s mouth.
Immediately Kyle spit it out. “You know, that only works in movies,” he said. Suddenly calm, he adjusted the coarse ropes holding him to the bedpost. The boy could have been ADHD, for how quickly he went from yelling to speaking normally. “What’s next?”
The barber handed the priest a shiny blue-and-white paperback. “The Eye of Minds by James Dashner,” he announced.
“Dashner has never failed me before,” said the priest. “He’s an excellent writer. After all, The Maze Runner series was something to be reckoned with. Pass.”
The barber put it into a stack with a few other books: Watership Down, Eragon, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and others. As the bookshelf was almost half gone, it was obvious not many books had made it to the Keepers pile. They lay in the fire pit just outside the window, reduced to ashes by the priest’s cruel hand.
Kyle, seeing The Eye of Minds had made it, breathed a sigh of relief. “Good. That one cost me seventeen bucks at Barnes and Noble.”
“Next one please,” the priest said.
The barber frowned at Kyle. “I thought you did all your shopping on Half.com now.”
“Yeah, well, every time I walk into Barnes and Noble I end up spending fifty bucks on books whether I want to or not.”
“NEXT ONE, PLEASE,” said the priest.
The barber’s mustache trembled. He hurriedly shoved a novel into the priest’s hands.
“What’s this?” said the priest. “Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose.” He thumbed through it and snorted. “A play? That’s lame even for you, Kyle. Into the fire.”
The barber tossed it out the window, and flames roared. Kyle thrashed at his bonds. “NO! That one’s a classic!!!”
The barber handed a boxed set of The Lord of the Rings to the priest. He hefted it and eyed it doubtfully.
“No doubt Tolkien should have a place in any person’s library,” he said, “but these copies are…”
“Weathered,” offered the barber.
“High in sentimental value,” pleaded Kyle. “Please, priest, you mustn’t burn a masterpiece like The Lord of the Rings, regardless of how beaten.”
“Fine,” the priest said. He put it into the pile of chosen ones. “Next one, please, barber.”
“The Various by Steve Augarde,” the barber said as he handed it to the priest.
“A confusing piece of fairytale nonsense,” the priest scoffed. “An ineffective attempt at blending violent fantasy and fable. What was Augarde thinking? Into the fire.”
Kyle howled resentfully as the cream-colored book was fed into the flames.
“Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt,” said the barber.
“A decent plot, but that’s being generous,” said the priest, examining it thoughtfully. “Hmm. The writing is far too narcissistic though. Who is this author to use such heavy prose, to act like the master storyteller, to make phrases so deep and thick that they would bend a metal spoon? Plus the constant switching of point-of-view makes me nauseous. Destroy please.”
“Babbitt is a genius!” shouted Kyle. He thrashed at the bonds as his copy was destroyed. “Why must you be so cruel?!?!”
“It’s for your own good,” said the priest. “You said it yourself: too much time hiding in these fantasy worlds. It’s starting to take a serious toll on your social skills. We’re doing what we have to.”
“Let me go!”
“Never. What’s next, barber?
“The World of-” The barber did a double-take. “The World of Pooh?!? On the same bookshelf as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?”
The barber and the priest looked at Kyle. He shrugged sheepishly. “Sentimental value?
“There’s a bookmark in it!”
The priest rolled his eyes. “Kyle, do you ever let go of anything? Destroy it, please.”
Kyle watched in horror as his eighth birthday present was reduced to ashes.
The next books were fed into the fire by the barber without so much as a glance. When the priest looked at him questioningly, he said, “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I like a LITTLE nonsense in my stories, but these are overflowing with stupidity.”
The priest agreed. Douglas Adams was obliterated.
Kyle could take it no longer. He had seen enough of his books incinerated. He screamed and thrashed some more, but the bonds held. He glared at the priest and the barber. “YOU IDIOTS! Your motive is evil and your criticisms unfounded!”
“Unfounded, are they?” The priest tapped Kyle’s nose. “These books have overtaken your life, my young friend. It’s for the best that we destroy them. You’ll realize it once you’re the most popular kid in school.”
“BY GOD, THAT’LL NEVER HAPPEN!!!” Kyle screamed. He squirmed violently.
“You’ll see,” the priest said. He turned to the barber. “How much is left?”
“About two hours worth.”
“Excellent. Let’s continue.”
Kyle moaned and slumped over in his bonds with his chin to his chest. This was hell, he thought. He couldn’t take much more of this.
Four hours later, the priest and the barber released Kyle and, smug in their self-righteousness, presented him with the ashes. They were all that remained of his collection. The rest went home with the two for “safekeeping.” They left, and Kyle, his mind shot, went out to wander the neighborhood, babbling incoherently, frothing at the mouth, and frightening small children. Then he caught a bus to Barnes and Noble.
There he spent his life savings not only on replacements for his collection but many new impulse buys. His only comments were that he “regretted nothing.”