Darkness gripped the scene. A sinister, threatening, hate-filled darkness. The air, humid and uncomfortable, had an acrid tinge to it. A stinging aroma teetering somewhere at the edge of one’s senses. One that catches at the rearmost recesses of one’s throat. Through the darkness a stilted, flashing light appeared, edging closer to the scene.
‘Goddamn Asian phone! Work you piece of shi…’
‘What’s wrong Donny…erm..Imperial Wizard, sir?’
‘This piece of cheap third-world labour trash! That’s what’s wrong Thurston! Trying to get this goddamn torch app to work and it keeps goddamn failing! God damn!’
‘Maybe…uh…maybe uh, use the flashlight option Don…uh…Imperial Wizard? Just swipe up on your phone and press…’
‘Swipe up? Huh? Like this?’
‘No, the…uh…the phone…uh…you have to do it at the bottom of the…of the phone D…uh’
‘That’s what I’m goddamn well doing! Argh, I can’t see in this goddamn sheet!! Oh come on you piece of trash you fu…’
‘How about just use mine Imperial Donn…Wizard…uh..sir, master. Here.’
The light cascaded from the latter’s phone and spread out across the immediate vicinity, bathing a number of cloaked and hooded figures in the palest of lights. The figures, around ten or so, stood in a circle. At the centre of which lay a pile of wood. Glistening in the weak phone light. Kindling, two-by-fours, pallets. A myriad of wood and all wood-related extracts. A bonfire. A makeshift one, no less, but a bonfire all the same.
‘Ok my brothers…er, fellow members. We are here. Here we are. Are we not. Yes I very well believe we are. We are here, one and all, for our glorious annual book burning event! One of the greatest events in all our calenders. Yessir. The time of year that allows us to purge another collection of vile, evil, hate-filled materials. Materials spawned from the poisonous hands of his satanic majesty…erm…Satan. The grandmaster, no, the master…just master…of all evil. Yes, tonight we do God’s work here my friends. Tonight we take another shot at the left-wing, anti-Christian, pro-sodomy, Islamification, socialistic…fication…ism of…’
‘Socialiasticfi…no, nothing…I just…no, nothing Grand…erm…Imperial…mas…’
‘That’s right nothing…now, where was I…’
‘Goddamn Cleatus I goddamn well know where I was…yes, the socialisticfic…ation….istic…social…ing…of…ah goddamn! Forget it. This, tonight, is our expression of our right to free speech. A right that has been passed down to us by our Founding Fathers. And our God-given right to be ‘Mericans! Am I right!’
‘Yes Imperial Wizard’
‘Yes Imperial Wizard’
‘Yes Imperial Wizard’
‘That’s right! Now, friends, let us un-hood…de-hood?…should it be de-hood?…let us take our hoods off, let’s just say that shall we. Let us see what we’re working with. M’kay?’
All figures in the circle slowly took their hoods off, some with more ease than others (the ‘others’ generally requiring their own two hands and a pair of hands from a nearby ‘friend’ to help them with such an arduous task), as the pale phone light slowly revealed their features. All male, of course. Some young, most older. A variation of facial hair, hairstyles, glasses, tattoos and many other distinguishing marks adorned their appearances. A couple of the older men had proud, stoic, unflinching postures and expressions. A couple of the younger members looked to be caught in the midst of a who-can-keep-their-mouth-open-for-the-longest-time-and-catch-the-most-flies competition.
‘Ok now,’ announced the Imperial Wizard (although you can call him ‘Don…uh…Imperial Wizard, sir’), ‘let us begin. Officer Randall…sorry, erm…sorry…Dewy. Dewy. What have you brought this night?’
‘Well…’ announced the latter, holding up a collection of books, ‘I don’t wanna embarrass y’all but I think I’ve got the mother-load here. All six Harry Potter books. Howzat!’
‘Ah, well done Office…erm…Dewy. A mighty fine start to…’
‘There were seven Harry Potter books…’ a meek voice crept out from one of the younger men. The others all turned, in a whiplash-threatening manner, to look at him in unison. Anger, derision on their faces.
‘My apologies Thurston, I think my ears must have been deceiving me there. I thought I heard you mumble something. Am I right?’
‘I said there were seven Harry…’ he halted, the hardening gazes directed at him suggesting this was probably the best course of action to take. ‘Uh…nothing Imperial Sir…Master’
‘And how would you know such a thing to be true Thurston? Hmm? About these heathen scriptures? Hmm?
‘I just…I dunno…I maybe think I heard someone…’
‘Makes sense though.’
The members all turned to look at a stout, bespectacled member of their group. His face had that look etched upon it, the one that seems to suggest a constant expression of condescension. Either that or an eternal sufferance of acute constipation.
‘Sorry Pastor Wil…erm…sorry, Mr Williams?’
‘I said it makes sense. Well, think about. There were seven deadly sins weren’t there? It makes sense that a heathen and all who worship their words would settle on the number seven. I wouldn’t be surprised if their were 666 pages in each volume’ he let out a slight self-congratulatory burst of laughter.
‘Yes, you’re no doubt right. Ok, now if…’
‘Actually the first one is quite short. Only 200 something pages and…’ Thurston once again stopped mid-sentence, slowly realising his error.
‘Thurston…for god sake shut the hell up!’ muttered another younger member of the group standing next to the aforementioned Thurston.
Again the eyes of the group focused on the unfortunate interloper.
‘I mean, anyway,’ interjected one of the more generously bearded of the group, ‘wizards and stuff. Whoever heard of such shit!’
His spluttered chuckles petered out into a gormless ‘oh damn’ look as the already angered tension seemed to tighten yet further. One and all turned to the Imperial Wizard looking for direction.
‘Goddammit!’ blurted the latter. ‘Can we focus on the task at hand! Jesus chri…erm…for god’s sak…erm…shit, let’s just get a goddamn move on. Gram?’
‘Yes Senator? Uh…I mean uh…yes, Imperial Master…Wizard…?’
‘Your books Gram! Your goddamn books! What have you got?’
‘Oh yes…uh…well I managed to uh, to uh, to steal a copy of the uh, Odassity…erm…Audacity Of Hope from the uh library and erm…’
‘Ah now that’s what we’re looking for! Yes! Good work Gram!! What can be better than seeing that ‘Merican hating, Muslim-loving socialist’s words burn on the fire. Yeah! What else boy?’
‘Uh…well that’s um…that’s about it.’
‘Ok. Good enough. Cleatus?’
‘Um well, my folks don’t read so much so all I could get was the uh…Da Vinci Code…’
‘The uh…um Fifty Shades of Grey…’
‘Even better. Depraved sexual filth.’
‘Yeah, it’s not even that sexual to be honest…’
‘Go on Cleatus.’
‘Yeah and um…something called…it’s a weird cover…uh…the Kama Sutra? I think it has something to do with um…something…well it’s Muslim I think…’
‘Just throw it on Cleatus.’
‘But uh what is it Imper…’
‘Just. Throw it.’
All three books toppled towards the top of the of the pile.
‘Randy? What have you got?’
‘Well sir…master…I’m like Cleatus here in that my house don’t have much books or reading, um, material as such. So all I’ve managed to find is um, this recipe book, um, 101 Interesting Ways To Cook Curry…’
‘That’ll…that’ll do I suppose. Yeah, that works. Probably. Yeah, no, that‘ll work.’
‘Ok, uh, and well um…this Charlie Brown annual sir.’
‘Why Charlie Brown, Randy?’
‘Well uh, the um old television my Mama used to have wasn’t so good sir and the um, the uh colour on it was a bit off shall we say. And he kinda looked…y’know…a bit um…brown…’
‘And y’know, there’s his name and all…’
‘Just put it on Randy.’
‘I do love Charlie Brown though I must admit so it’s a shame to…’
‘Throw it. Randy!’
‘Right’ announced the Imperial Wizard, obvious exasperation shining through in his voice, ‘what else? Who’s next? Nathan?’
‘The History Of The American Civil War. Sir.’ declared Nathan, pride draped across his face.
‘Excellent. Yes! Is that it?’
‘ Well thank you Nathan. Sam?’
‘What have you got Sam?’
‘Well uh…I don’t read so much either sir. Neither did my Mama. On account of not being able to read and all.’
‘So uh…all I’ve got are these magazines…sir…’
‘What uh…what kind of magazines?’
‘Um…ones with um…ladies in them…sir…’
‘And um…some of the…some the um…some of the ladies are uh…non…non-whites sir…’
‘I haven’t looked at them though sir…those pages are just a bit hard to open because um…because I um…glued them together…yessir…glued them together so I wouldn’t see them…to um destroy the uh threat of…um…temptation…sir…um…’
‘Right well I’ll just erm…I’ll hold onto those Sam because well…magazines are very flammable you know and it’s…’
‘Isn’t that the point sir wizard sir?’
‘Thurston I swear to God…!’
‘Yes that is the point but no these’ll be…too flammable yes…we don’t want to burn the whole erm, the whole field down now do we.’
‘Um…no sir, I guess…’ Sam passed the magazines over, a sinking feeling thudding in his heart as he saw them disappear beneath the Imperial Wizard’s robe.
‘Who else? Johnny?’
‘Uh I got nothing sir…’
‘Nope. I was gonna print off the legislation for Obamacare but I don’t uh…don’t have…uh…a…uh…’
‘A printer Johnny? Is that the word you’re looking for?’
‘No, a computer sir. I don’t have a computer.’
‘Ok.’ a sigh peppered his voice once again, ‘Bobby. Last one. What d’you have Bobby?’
‘The Bible sir.’
A sharp collective intake of breath hissed through the air.
‘Say that again Bobby…I dare ya too…’
‘The uh…the Bible…sir…’
A second even sharper collective intake of breath hissed through the air.
‘The Bible? What in God’s name…what in the HELL do you have that for?’
‘Well sir that’s the em…the only book we have in the trailer. And you said to grab any book we could get our hands on…’
‘Oh for god’s…NOT the goddamn bible! Are you soft in the goddamn head!?’
‘Um well actually sir when I was young the Doctor did say…’
‘Just put it away Bobby, put it away goddammit!’
‘This is what I have to goddamn work with. Holy moly. Give me strength.’ muttered the Imperial Wizard, a mite louder than he perhaps should have. Swiftly followed by a booming, ‘HOODS ON! We shall now begin!’
A few members of the group huddled around a non-responsive cigarette lighter, each taking it in turns to try to muster a flame from the seemingly redundant object.
‘Does no-one have a match? No-one!?’
‘We could try shooting it sir?’
‘Shoot it maybe sir.’
’Always with the goddamn shooting…hush now Cleatus!’
‘A match goddammit, anyone?! Anyone!? Ahh…’
The lighter finally lit, the smallest, and most fragile of flames quivered out from atop the plastic implement.
‘We got it! We got it!’
‘Ok now careful. Careful now. CAREFUL!’
The huddled members shuffled towards the pile of wood and books, hunched around the lighter, protecting the fledgling flame, ensuring its continued existence.
‘Right now Thurston…’
‘Yes Imperial Master Wizard, sir, Imperial…’
‘You made to douse the pile with petrol yes?’
‘I sure did! Took the petrol straight from my Daddy‘s pickup truck.’
‘Soaked the whole thing’
‘Not too much though Thurston yes? Like I said?’
‘Like I said, yes? Several goddamn times? Not too much? Because it’s very flammable stuff? Yeah?’
‘Very very flammable?’
‘Quick it’s going out!’ shouted one of the huddled members of the group. ‘Throw it! THROW IT!’
‘Oh shit…’ mumbled Thurston as he turned away and dived to the ground for cover.
The others looked on at him with looks of confusion. More so than their usual amount. Looks that, admittedly, only lasted for a good second or so before they turned to abject horror. The fire was lit. More than lit. It was blazing. Furiously blazing. The books did burn, yes. Quickly, violently, their pages turned to ash within seconds. Paper is of course very flammable. But then so are robes. And hoods. And magazines beneath robes.
Through the pitch darkness of the Southern night a passer-by could have been forgiven for thinking that a handful of giant fireflies were dashing furiously around an otherwise isolated field. Isolated except for a very impressive, sky-reaching bonfire. It’s ash, speckles of white dotting the darkness, falling to the ground gently amid the unhinged, blood-curdling screams of terror.
And the screams of ‘Goddamit’, of course.