General Fiction posted August 21, 2016

Not yet exceptional. When the exceptional rating is reached this is highlighted
A boy carries on his brother's secret library in a war zone

The war library

by oliver818

The boy crossed the road and ducked down behind the carcass of a car. He had seen that car driven proudly up and down the street so many times, before the war. Now it was a scarred mass of scorched metal. The original blue was still visible in one corner of a twisted door, a slight flash of colour on a charred, black wreck. How had it survived, he wondered, as he peeked through his fingers. The sound that had sent him scurrying behind the car's distorted torso was fading now, and the screams of pain and loss and the desperate shouts for help that he had become used to from daily exposure were echoing over the empty streets. He took a risk, raised his small head with its thin layer of dark, prickly hair that his mother had shaved just the night before, and, eyes focused on the door, he ran.

To the uninitiated it was a normal door on a normal street with absolutely nothing to distinguish it from the other doors that lined the street. To those who knew, it was a place of great importance, of history, of passion, of life's mysteries great and small, of rest, of mental and physical resistance. It was a place many of us could never imagine could or would ever need to exist.

He was the first one there. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the long, bronze key. It slipped into the deep keyhole and turned with a satisfying creak. The door opened and a warm smell of tea and paper wafted out. He was home.

Hamid was 13, and yet, in spite of his young age, he held the very important role of head secret librarian. He took his role extremely seriously. The shelves that lined the walls were nothing more than old boxes picked up from the street but they held some of the last books available in the war torn city. Around the walls were old, wooden chairs and small tables, some half broken, some on the point of falling apart completely. Hamid was extremely protective of the books and furniture, and everyone who came in for the first time was subjected to a five minute lecture on library rules and protocol from how long books could be kept, to where guns should be placed while reading (this had become necessary after a gun, still hot from fighting had accidentally singed a hole in a book on popular Italian dishes).

He still remembered how he had come to take over the role of head secret librarian. He wouldn't really admit it to anyone, but the original title he had inherited wasn't head secret librarian. It was simply librarian. Being the only librarian though, he had supposed it wasn't really exaggerating to say he was the head librarian, and the chief characteristic of the library was that it was a secret from everyone who should not know about it. So, he was head secret librarian. He had taken over from the his predecessor and older brother, Abdullah, 6 months and 2 days ago.

Sitting in his seat, one of the last pieces of a long-hoarded bag of candy stuck under his tongue, feet spread comfortably out in front of him, a book of modern inventions in his hand, eyes sweeping over the fascinating pictures and their varied uses, he had suddenly realised it had been four hours since Abdullah had told him he would be back in two. A blast of fear hit his stomach. Around here two hours could mean anything. He could be stuck under rubble, screaming for help. He could be blasted into a thousand pieces, hadn't he heard a particularly vicious blast an hour or so ago that had knocked his tea to the ground? Or he could have been caught by the government soldiers, and be lying on one of those terrifying tables he'd heard about with who knows what horrific instruments stuck who knows where.

The confirmation of his worst fears had arrived a few hours later. He had tidied the library, put back the books that had been returned, done the dishes as best he could. And then, a knock at the door. It was Mohammed, one of the regulars of the library. His hat was in his hand. "I'm sorry Hamid, I just heard. Abdullah was killed this afternoon. By a bomb. His body is being taken to your house now." As the soldier's arms wrapped around the boy's shoulders and his warm tears began to dribble down his face landing softly on the boys t-shirt, the boy opened his mouth and silently began to scream and scream until his voice burst out and his eyes exploded with burning tears and his pain came rolling out over and over again in heart wrenching screams into the chest of the man that was hopelessly attempting to silence him.

That day, the library was full at about 11am, and Hamid was kept busying helping the fighters and other regulars find books on everything from popular music to ancient poetry. He had been particularly challenged that morning as someone had again requested the library's most popular book, a guide book to popular travel destinations around the world with stunning photos that left even the toughest battle-hardened soldiers drooling. He knew it had been returned the day before but it was nowhere to be found. It finally turned up serving as seat for someone who couldn't find anything else to sit on in the busy library. A sound, public scolding was administered by Hamid and the soldier didn't dare meet his eyes or answer back. In the library Hamid's authority was unquestionable.

By 2pm, the library was empty, a massive push by government forces having pulled all the fighters from their temporary retreat. Hamid washed glasses and wiped up tea stains, put back books, swept up some crumbs, and sighed with happiness. The library would most likely be his for the rest of the day. Outside, bullets whizzed and slaughtered, shells dropped, and hearts stopped as limbs and heads were blasted off. But in Hamid's secret library, it was nothing but a background thunder storm, and he sat, cool and comfortable, reading chapters from various books on history, science, geography and medicine. He planned to be a doctor when he grew up. A doctor or a writer. This was his education and he cherished it more than all the other children on the earth put together. No teacher was telling him what to read, no classmates were trying to distract him, he was simply learning what he wanted, and loving it.

At 5pm, sure that no one else would come in that day, he washed up his tea cup, put away his books, turned off the light, and locked the big door with a loud creak. A sad smile crossed his face as he left his beloved library, but he knew he'd be back the next day so...

The first bullet caught Hamid square in the chest, and he was throw back against the door. The second and third and all the rest smashed into his body. He was lifeless from the first one though, and just as well or he would have heard the boots stamping down the stair, a cruel blow from a gun butt smashing in the door, and shouts.
"What the hell is this? It looks like a library. They said it was a resistance cell head quarters."
"What do you want us to do, sir?"
"Burn the fucking lot, and let's get out of here."
The flames tore through the books and the chairs and the boxes and the door and a small body. A few blocks away a mother stared anxiously at the clock on the wall as the hands mercilessly slashed away while her son, all she had left, still hadn't come home.

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