“Starting from scratch.” (Part Two)

Long ago and far away the Burning Days were, although Brother Flammable made them seem like yesterday, as if he himself had been there. But it was all memory. The original Leftovers, who had brought their memories to the Monkery, were ancient dust and bones now. The books Theo, Augusta and the rest were copying were themselves copies of copies of copies of copies.

Theo leaned over to Augusta, his tablemate. She was quiet like him, hardworking too, although not as talented. She had said so herself.

“I feel like a slave sometimes,” Theo whispered. He gazed longingly out of the arched window.

“Don’t even think about it,” Augusta said.

“But I do.”

“Then you’d better stop. You know what’s Out There.”

Theo nodded. He did. At least, he knew what he and the other students had been told.

A rough road led from the Monkery into an unknowable wasteland, frozen solid at this time of year. Nomadic bands of Takeaways scoured the land. Wild animals, strange mutations from times past, beasts larger than buildings, roamed the Wilderness.

Brother Flammable had told them about monstrous birds (now extinct he believed, but who could be certain?) that had once flown across the world, north to south and east to west.

“Those birds had pincer-like teeth,” he said, “and hundreds of tiny eyes that gazed on the earth below. Every eye looked down on the bright lights of great cities as well as on the flickering lights of small towns and villages.”

“Everywhere”, Brother Flammable finished, “was linked by roads, long and short. No-one lived far from anyone else. But now distances are great, and people are scattered far and wide.”

“Do you believe all that?” Theo had once asked Augusta.

She had shrugged. “What else can I believe?” she’d said.

The students in the Monkery would never be able to find out for themselves if Brother Flammable’s tales were true or not. Their lives belonged here, from beginning to end. They were, as Headhabit Ceo was fond of saying, Guardians of the Words.

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