Elber woke slowly, from a deep sleep. His dreams, once again, had been inscrutable. They flickered on and off, melted, froze. They mingled with a penchant for forgetting and for imagining to become surreal in the literal meaning of the word: south of real.
Even as he was thinking this, Elber realized that this was not important. The smell of burning colored the air in great swaths, curling Elber's lip and prying open his crusting eyes. His pupils dilated and the whites of his eyes glowed orange.
He was surrounded. Four bookshelves of flame, reaching to the ceiling, greeted him. His room, coated in books, burned magnificently. All four walls were bookshelves, and on them, outlined in flickering shadows, pages burned and seared across Elber's mind.
He had gotten his first book when he was three. He had whined for his mother to read it to him and followed along closely with her. Later, in his room, he would practice, miming her word and movements, turning the pages reverentially as she had. He learned to read quickly after and matured under the covers, sweating, with a flashlight.
In high school, he roamed the library shelves as others roamed the halls. For this, he escaped most harm that could come to him. Most. There was one incident, halfway through his sophomore year. He was walking to his locker when someone pushed him from behind. His elbows cracked as he landed down the lonely stairwell. Elber came to to find his body aching, bruised and bleeding. He looked back up the stairs and saw the books he'd been carrying lying bent and twisted, scattered over the stairs. He spent a lot more time in the library after that. Eventually, he forgot that someone had pushed him.
College was equally unnotable (Elber went to a large school for its space-and-time-bending qualities and vast distances, almost like a miniature universe), but for one April Fool's day. He sauntered into his room to find all his books missing. He stood there until a wave of anger overtook him and he stalked out of the room, punching and breaking his roommate's computer monitor. He found his books stacked into a fort down the hall. His roommate and his friends sat behind it giggling. Elber stormed the castle.
His books flew as he pushed them out of the way, striding up to his roommate and pinning him against the wall.
"Don't," he said.
He let his roommate go and started picking up the scattered books. The others just walked away.
His life had been more of the same.
Well, until now.
Fault lines appeared along Elber's mind, spiking out exponentially along a thundercrack's path. Eyes traced the outlines of the inferno. He had spent his life collecting them, gathering them in his apartment and lining the walls for insulation. For the most part, they kept out the summer's heat and the winter's cold, but the seasons still seeped through the pages.
Books blackened and crumpled in the heat like gnarled hands. Elber slid out from his sheets, feet on the bare floor. Mouth in a thin line, he stood up. A torrent of heat hit his face for the first time. He blinked, slowly. He shuffled to the door, pausing briefly to put his slippers on. He closed the door behind him.
Down the stairs he went, to the front door. Elber looked back up the stairs to see whisps of smoke curling down towards him. The faint smell of burnt ink and paper stung his nostrils. He inhaled deeply, turned, and walked out the front door.
Putting his hand on the cast iron railing, he took a step down the stairs towards the sidewalk. The metal was cold and solid under his palm. The crisp air washed over him on the sidewalk. Elber turned his head to look down the sulfur-lit street, first left and then right. He turned left and began walking down the broken sidewalk.
Card Catalog by RyanJLane (source image)
Bookworm by shoofle