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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2302927
After the end of the world new life grows from books
Sophia remembered the first time she saw the library. Then she was a little girl of twelve running from Martha Middleton, a girl stronger and prettier than herself, or so the boys of her age said. She thought of Martha only as a bully who picked on her because she could read and write. She wandered deep into the forest and found the library in a clearing. Someone had broken the windows of the library, and the roof was leaking. She saw grass, weeds, flowers and even vines growing among the books. However, most of the shelves stayed dry, and the books on them were secure.

She ran back to the village and the following day she led her grandfather there. He cried with her, tears of joy when he saw the place. All these books and all this knowledge came from the old world before everything changed. Then her grandfather found flowers growing in volumes of tax law and he started laughing. He showed her words from the old world, like depreciation, amortization and capitalization, being chewed up by new plant growth and smudged by the damp. She remembered the scents of both old paper and blooming petals intermingling. Her grandfather seemed to think it was a good thing that they now lived in a world without taxes and laws.

The words stuck in her memory forever and she remembered a special moment. A butterfly landed on a sentence from the ruined pages that was still legible. It read

Under Section 179 of the Internal Revenue Code, eligible small businesses are allowed to immediately deduct the cost of qualifying assets...

Such words were empty in the new world. Her grandfather told her much about life before the end of time when the old world died. Knowledge was mainly stored in a place called the cloud and lost with electricity and other things that no longer exist. It was he who taught her to read, years before they found this place. But they only had one book then, 'Reader's Digest: The Complete Guide to Home Maintenance.' It was a useful book that contained skills and information the people needed and so she would recite its pages by heart to those who asked what it said about how to do carpentry, plumbing, guttering, drilling holes, and hammering nails into wood. She adapted this knowledge to her village's needs. Her grandfather died when she was fifteen and then she was alone, as her parents had died of plague years before and she had no brothers or sisters. She was the only one who knew how to read, the only one who could share the secrets of this magical place with the others in her village.

*BookStack* *BookStack* *BookStack*

At first, after the discovery, she and her grandfather sought out technical manuals, bringing some back with them to her tribe and sharing the information with their chief, who became her protector, realizing her value. This was yet another reason Martha Middleton picked on her. She alone wanted to be the center of attention. Sophia found the language in the new manuals hard to understand. Her grandfather helped her with the new words in those first days while he was still around and he found a dictionary to explain the others.

Her role now was to teach her village to make various things previously lost from the old world. Like smelting iron and making flour from wheat, which could then be baked into bread. Each day she would go to the chief and suggest two or three different new skills that might be useful for the tribe. He would pick out one or two and ask her to train someone to do that skill. Very soon, she had a team of people helping her. She would read and then pass a skill on. The tribe prospered as a result, but Sophia was always reading and teaching the skills and was quite tired. She felt it would be better if others could read as well and so she helped train three other girls of her own age. But it took five years before they could even begin to read the manuals. When they were trained, she could relax more.

Then she started looking at other books on the shelves to read for the sheer fun of reading. She discovered the Bible, Shakespeare and Jane Austen.

When she was seventeen, the other young women her age were already married. Few expected to live much longer than forty and there was no point in wasting any time starting families. But none of the men wanted her, as they found her knowledge intimidating and did not like that she was quite frail and short-sighted. Martha Middleton, now the town beauty, often made fun of her for this. Martha was spoilt for choice and flirted with all the boys, but she had still not made up her mind about which one she wanted. Sophia retreated into her literary world, convinced she would never marry. She fell further in love with the characters and worlds in her books.

*Books4* *Books4* *Books4*

One day, bandits came into the library while she was reading. Some men from her village were chopping wood nearby when she screamed, and they drove the bandits off brandishing the axes that she had taught them how to make. The chief now asked her to find guides on how to make weapons and he worried about the safety of the books. They already had axes and knives, which were useful tools that resulted from the ability to smelt iron, but now she told them about bows and arrows, spears and catapults. The chief organized a group of men to become experts in the creation and use of these weapons. She instructed them about the processes.

Sophia told the chief stories about armies and battles from the old world and he formed the idea of rebuilding the best things that once were. The people lived in wooden shacks then, but she showed him pictures of houses made of stone with walls and locked doors.

With his new army, the Chief organized raids on other tribes, bringing captives back as slaves to do the work of plowing fields, cutting wood and the various other projects that he had in mind. He created a new town with a fort made of leftover blocks of concrete and constructed tall walls. Sophia helped him build using a model from Roman times that looked possible with the tools and materials they had. The town was surrounded by fields of crops and well-tended orchards. It had proper roads and a water supply from a spring and well inside the town. The town was also equipped with a proper sewer system that flushed waste into a nearby river.

A new library had its own special place in the town and Sophia organized dry shelves for all the books she could rescue from the old library. She reflected that the slaves were far happier and indeed better fed in their new tribe and she made sure they were not treated badly so long as they did as they were told. So there was little unrest among them and the distinction between free-born and slaves was not really that important to most people. What mattered more was the new sense of purpose that the growing town had.

One of the slaves assigned to carrying the books was a young man of eighteen called John. Sophia caught John reading Dante's 'On Paradise' on a break from carrying a pile of books toward the town and the new library. She asked the guard to separate him from the work detail because she wanted to speak with him.

John was scared of Sophia at first and he seemed to think he was in trouble. He was tall, strong, with fair hair and blue eyes. He would have been good looking except he walked with stooped shoulders, never really drawing himself up to his full height. Sophia studied him for a moment before asking,

"Which of Dante's books do you prefer?"

The young man relaxed as if into his favorite subject, and the light returned to his eyes as he spoke.
"Well, I read 'On Hell' first and that scared the bejeebers out of me, then 'Purgatory.' But I never saw the one 'On Paradise' until I got here and saw it in the pile I was carrying. That has to be the best one, hasn't it, because who would want to go to hell?"

"Exactly, " Sophia replied, overjoyed that she had found a man she could actually talk to about books. "What is your favorite book?"

"Well, our tribe did not have many, as people used to burn books to keep warm in the early years. But they kept the ones that were really important, like the Bible, Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolkien, Austen, the Brontes and Dostoevsky. I love all of those. They only let me read for three hours a day, as they considered it a waste of time and they beat me if I read longer. I could not say which one I liked best out of all of those, though. Maybe if they had kept technical manuals, then I'd be the one asking the questions and I would have had a more important role in my tribe than I had."

He turned towards the decaying remains of the library they were removing the books from. "Have you read all these?"

"Not yet, but maybe one day," Sophia grinned. "Do you want a different job than carrying books?"

"Yes, of course, and especially if I get to read more."

"You have a stronger voice than mine and you speak well. I want to start sharing the stories I read with people, but they do not listen when I speak. I think that they would listen to you. I would like you to read the storybooks in the library and then make them into a story you could tell people. I will help you prepare the stories. We will start with stories from the children's bible, Aesop's Fables, or Grimm's Fairy Tales—something with a lesson for the kids in it. "

Sophia got the chief to agree to her idea and they created a special room next to the library for John to tell the stories. She loved the times they spent together reading and dramatizing the stories for the children in preparation. As he told them, his stoop disappeared and he swelled in size.

After a while, young women joined the crowd of children who loved John's stories. The crowds grew and grew and women came up to John after his stories, including Martha Middleton. Sophia grew quite jealous and scared that she would lose John to Martha, until one day he approached Sophia after the story, looking very nervous.

He walked to and fro before her and she smiled. He looked a little silly and she wondered what he wanted to say. Finally, he found the courage and surprised her.
"Sophia, I know that I am only a slave and so I have no status or prospects, but I would very much like to be your special friend," John said. "Can you see a way to that happening?"

Sophia's heart leaped as she realized what he meant. The only living man she had ever met who could read and write liked her more than all the town beauties who flocked to hear his stories. Seconds later, she was in his arms and they were kissing.

As they paused for breath, a quote from Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" came to her mind and she gasped out loud.
"Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same."

John responded by kissing her again passionately on the lips and the truth of the words was burned into both their hearts forever.

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