Monday, April 15, 2013

Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge: Civil Disobedience

This week's challenge is to incorporate one choice from a list of fifteen opening lines presented by readers in the previous week's challenge.  I've opted for Valarie Valdes' excellent opener:

"Once James accepted that he had no choice but to burn the books, the question became which to burn first."

I also chose to go outside my wheelhouse for this one and present you with neither violence nor death.  Instead, I give you a tale of dystopian youthful mischief.

Chuck's blog is here -

Civil Disobedience

Once James accepted that he had no choice but to burn the books, the question became which to burn first.  The colors on the covers weren't helpful, as each was a drab black or brown or gray with scuff marks on the corners and dust thick on the spines.  Their pages were universally yellowed by age and exposure, some brittle enough to flake off when they were touched.  It wasn't a question of the content, either.  Like most eleven-year-olds, James had never seen the inside of a copy of A Farewell to Arms or Ulysses.  In truth, the fact that his parents felt they were worth saving was the only thing he knew for sure about them.

He decided by shoving his hand into the pile and yanking out a thin, brown book.  No title was etched across the front of his one.  He fanned the pages and found them lined with words he couldn't decipher, just like the others.  The Old Tongue they called it, a collection of languages from the times before the Ecclesiarch provided the people with a universal dialect. 

"Here ya go, Magpie." he called out, releasing the book with a side-arm toss that sent it spinning across the attic and into the girl's waiting arms.  She scowled but even that effort did little to diminish the cherubic nature of her features.

"I hate it when you call me that.  Why can't you just call me Maggie like the others?" she asked, setting the book on the window sill and taking up a box of wooden matches in its place.  A few strikes of the match set it ablaze and filled her nose with the stink of sulphur.  She paused for a moment, staring at the dance of light at the end of the stick, and then tossed it into the metal wash tub.  Lighter fluid caught fast, a rush of heat and then the sticks inside were burning.

"Maggie is a boring name.  You're Magpie.  Smart and quick and...stuff." James replied as he pulled two more books out of the pile.  He weighed them, forming a scale out of his arms, and opted for the musty copy of The Great Gatsby.  He gave this one an arc and it hung in the air for a moment before plummeting into the flames.  Sparks kicked up in a flurry of tiny flares and Maggie covered her eyes against them.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" she asked even as she picked up her book and let it tumble into the tub.

"Gotta teach 'em a lesson," he said, scratching at a mosquito bite on the back of his hand.  "Besides, they don't even read these.  Just let them sit up here and get old."

"Yeah but...I dunno.  My grandma told me about a place they used to keep these.  She called it a liberry," she said, pausing long enough to catch the next book thrown her way.  "Kinda seems like they're important if your folks went to such trouble to hide them from the Censors."  James shrugged at that, looking at the wall they'd had to break open to get to the books.  It did seem like a lot of work.

"Well, maybe they shoulda thought of that before they told me I couldn't join the Acolyte's Choir.  Anyone over 10, that's what the recruiter's say," he bristled, walking over and setting a thick tome on the edge of the tub so that it would balance beneath his palm.  "My dad hates them.  Calls them Loodites or something, but I don't wanna be him.  I wanna travel the country with a rifle and a list like the Censors do."

"And what about me?" Maggie asked, her nose wrinkling.  "My grandma loves the old books.  I think they smell nice and I can even read the Old Tongue sometimes.  Are you gonna put me on the list, too?"

"No way, Magpie.  You can come with me and hunt traitors.  You'll be better at knowing what to burn anyways." James replied with a laugh, releasing the book and letting the flames claim it.  Maggie smiled, her eyes bright at his acceptance, but something inside her didn't feel right about any of it.

A sharp buzz from outside interrupted her worry.

-zzzzttt-  Attention Sunnybrook residents.  The time is now 8 pm.  All residents must return to their homes within one half hour.  Anyone caught breaking curfew will face a mandatory two month imprisonment.  That is all. -zzzzttt-

The loudspeaker hummed for a moment longer, then fell silent.  James grabbed a few more books from the pile.

"We gotta hurry.  My folks'll be home soon." he said, concern creeping into his voice.  Maggie reached out and scooped up a few more, several slipping through her arms and clattering onto the attic floor.  James stopped to pick them up and when he smiled back at her she knew he hadn't seen her tuck one of the books into her waistband.  She didn't like to steal from her friend but she just had to know what Frankenstein was about.  It gnawed at her, teased her like glittering gold even as she tossed the other books into the fire.

Maybe I am like a magpie, after all. she thought, wiping her hands on her blouse as they turned to go.


  1. I like this! It definitely hints at a much larger world outside the story. And liberry is the proper southern pronunciation, don't mock it!

    1. I am actually playing around with expanding the story's setting. Might be a few more stories in there.

      I'd comment on the improbability of there being libraries in the south but that might take the joke too far and lose me one of my three followers.

  2. Nice story and good dialogue. The visuals were well written. Good job!

    1. Thanks for the encouraging words.

      I am trying to incorporate more dialogue into my flash fiction because I've never been super comfortable with it. Practice makes perfect!