Friday, November 29, 2013

Lost in Flame

I don't usually write fanfiction, but in this case, it was a school assignment--a script. Well, it turns out the script was never used once in the final product, but in any case here the story is. This is a mashup of Fahrenheit 451 and Of Mice and Men. Although it doesn't have to be--substitute any old name for Lennie, and it would work just fine.

            Montag sighs, looks at the sky. It is unseasonably blue; incredibly, impossibly blue. All is clear except for the tall plume of gray to the left, trailing east with the wind. Another fire. Someone, somewhere, is screaming, no doubt—screaming through the silver tape pasted on his mouth, screaming as he or she is dragged away by the policemen, packaged into a gray beetle and sped away, to a distant jail. Somewhere, books are burning.
            The smoke feels wrong. It mars the clear sky, a black cinder, an ashy mark. It feels like it should be only him and the sky and the grass beneath him, on this perfect day, under this sun. Feels as if…as if…
            Montag grimaces, shaken out of his reverie. Lennie comes running up the corner, sees him lying in the grass. Frowns. “Montag, what are you doing, just lying there? I swear, you get odder every day. We’ve got work to do. Some guy in West District with an attic fulla books--Beatty wants us to handle it.”
            Montag returns his gaze to the sky. “I dunno, Lennie. Somehow I just don’t feel like it today.”
            Lennie stares at him. “What’re you saying? We can’t just miss out on it. Besides, it’ll be fun!”
            Montag lets out a sharp bark of a laugh. “Fun! That’s right. Lennie, somewhere along the line this all just got…monotonous. For me, that is. I can’t get my heart into it no more. Sometimes I just sit down and wonder about things…about the books, about the words. Think, Lennie! Thousands of words…then we come along, and they’re gone in an instant! Dunno, Lennie…sometimes I just don’t like this job.”
            Lennie just stares at him, his face a mixture of anger and incredulousness. “I swear, Montag! What the hell’s gotten into your mind? Sometimes I feel like I don’t know you at all anymore…like you’re not the same guy I grew up with. You say these crazy things all of a sudden, that almost border on…” His words come out edgy.
            “Never mind. I’m not going, so just go by yourself, okay? Tell Beatty I’m sick.”
            Lennie groans. “Just this once.”
            Lennie walks away, grumbling under his breath. But before he leaves, Montag stops him. “Oh, and Lennie?”
            “Yeah?” He says, faintly resentful.
            “Do you ever look at the sky?”
            “Why would I? With my bad eyes, it’s just a haze. Fire is prettier, anytime.” He throws back, and leaves without a glance.

            Montag is walking the short distance from the fire station to his empty home, hands in his pockets, hat perched slightly down over his face. Suddenly, he stops, looks up. A girl is standing in the middle of the sidewalk. She seems to be about fourteen and fifteen, yet something in the quality of her demeanor makes her seem older than that, wiser. She looks at Montag and smiles.
            Montag smiles back. “Good afternoon, Clarisse.”
            “Good afternoon!” She skips to his side, and they walk home together, talking.
            Montag asks her a question. “Clarisse, why is it that I feel I know you so well? It’s as if you’ve always been here—as if we’ve walked down this stretch of pavement for years, not weeks.”
            She smiles. “That’s because we’re kindred spirits, Montag.”
            “Kindred spirits?”
            “This world is full of noise, noise and destruction. Everyone in this city is night-blind. They’ve spent so much time playing with flame that they can’t see the stars. We’re the only ones who look at the moon every now and then—we’re sky-gazers, you and I.”
            He is silent for a moment. “That’s right…no one ever looks at the sky, anymore.” He says softly.
            Then: “Clarisse, what if we escaped?”
            “That would be wonderful…if I could go with my family. We’d just travel and travel, with no one to tell us what we couldn’t do, and what we had to. At night, the sky would be clear…we could lie on our backs and watch the stars.”
            Montag smiles. “A wonderful dream.”
            When they reach his doorstop, Montag tells her to wait. He hurries inside, and retrieves something from inside his ventilator grille. He hands it to her. It is an old edition of the bible—leather bound, its pages fragile as moth wings. “I couldn’t bring myself to burn it.”
            Clarisse hugs it to her chest, smiles happily. “Thank you, Montag. I’ll treasure it.”

            The same meadow, the same sky. Montag lies down on the grass, stretches and casually hooks his arms behind his head. He closes his eyes, lets himself feel the warmth of the sun on his face, melting into his skin. The sun beats down, beats down, traces all of him with warm fingers, and he sinks into a blissful sleep.
            Lennie tromps down beside him, sits down heavily. Montag’s eyes flick open. He turns his head to the side. “Hello.”
            “Hello.” Lennie says cheerily. Then, “You shoulda been there last night!”
            “Oh. Really?”
            “Yeah. Two fires that night. First one was some crazy old bat, with an attic full of books. Neighbor called her in. God, that house went up like a tin can fulla petrol.”
            “And the second?”
            “Well. That was a strange one. Some teenage girl—weird, how they’re going cuckoo younger now. Whole family was cuckoo. Something called a bible…”
            What?” Montag sits up. His eyes are fixed on Lennie, piercingly, and Lennie shifts nervously.
            “Well, like I said, some teenage girl. She sure was attached to that book—even went back for it…”
            “What?” Montag says again, but it’s softer, almost despairing.
            “She went back for it, when we weren’t watching. Just when I lit the kerosene…”
            “You burned her? A teenage girl!”
            “Well, there was nothing we could do! By the time we saw her, it was too late!”
            Montag buries his head in his hands.
            “Geez. What’s with you? She shouldn’t have been reading in the first place…God knows it’s against the law…”
            Montag only shakes his head, slowly.
            “Dunno where she even got that book…” Lennie mutters, defensively. He gets up and paces, mutters some more. “Whole family was crazy…what was going through their heads…” and even, something suspiciously like, “got what was coming to them…”
            Montag still doesn’t move, and at last Lennie leaves. He takes one look back, a little guilty, a little angry, a little confused.
            Montag does not make a sound.

            The dawn streams in through the parlor windows, into the hall, illumining the faint blue form of Montag. He is feverishly stuffing items into a bag. Toothbrush, clothes, a book, another book… he stands up, violently zips up the bag. He swings it over a shoulder, and heads out the door. Just before he’s swallowed up by the light, he turns and takes a last look at his house. Bare white walls, rooms almost devoid of furniture. There never was anything here for him.
            He hikes through the streets with the bag thrown over his shoulder, a solitary figure. The sun is barely up, but loud music and chatter is already leaking from beneath the parlor doors. He passes the meadow, takes a last look around. The grass sparkles with drops of dew, like faintly winking stars. Then he turns, and continues on.
            Past the Car-Wrecker park, past the Window-Smasher place, past the fire station. He is almost to the city limits when there is the sound of pattering feet behind him. He turns, warily, and there is Lennie. He is still in his pajamas, hair tousled and plastered to his forehead. “Lennie!”
            “Montag! What do you think you’re doing? I was just out of bed when I saw you—Montag, where the heck are you going?”
            “Me? I don’t know where I’m going…I guess, towards a dream. Or is it that I’m waking up?”
            “You’re talking nonsense. Montag, wake up! Stop this crazy quest, journey, whatever it is. Go back to bed and maybe you’ll get up with some sense in your head.”
            “I couldn’t. Lennie, I can’t stay here. It doesn’t seem like I’m…living, anymore.”
            Lennie doesn’t hear him. His eyes have fallen on his bag. The corner seam has burst, and out of the gap pokes the corner of a book.
            “Montag, is that… a book?” Lennie’s voice is hushed.
            “What the hell, Montag? You’ve been weird for months, but this…I don’t know you anymore. You’re someone else. Someone insane.”
            “Lennie, don’t you see? I was insane, and it’s only now that I’ve..”
            But Lennie isn’t listening. He looks at Montag, and his eyes are hard. “Montag, I can’t let you leave. You’re under arrest.”
            Montag is speechless. He looks at Lennie, really looks at him, and realizes something. Or knows something, that perhaps he had already known. He stills. And he reaches behind his back, and pulls something from his belt. A gun. He had thought, when he brought it, that in case they came after him…
            He points it at Lennie. “Lennie, let me go. Don’t make me use this.” His voice is steady and calm, dangerously so.
            “You wouldn’t.”
            Montag just holds it there. But then, behind Lennie, there’s the sound of a kicked stone. Montag looks up. A pedestrian, that rare creature, crossing the street. He looks up at the two, and his eyes widen.
            In that moment, Lennie grabs the gun. “Just put your hands up, Montag.”
            But Montag’s eyes are firm on his, and he goes for the gun. A single shot ricochets off the wall behind them, loud as a firecracker in the still streets, and then Montag is on him. He grabs for the gun, finds it. But then Lennie pulls his arm, and his finger tightens on the trigger…
            And another shot sounds. Suddenly, Lennie is bleeding. He touches his arm, feels the wetness there. Looks up at Montag, amazed. “You…”
            Montag steps back. The gun clatters to the ground. His face is completely open, completely in shock. Then he is running, running, and Lennie makes no move to stop him. He just stands there, silently, the gun cold at his feet.
            A lone man strides through the wilderness. His bag is hiked up over his shoulder, and his cap is yanked low down over his face, shadowing it. He walks like a man in thought. Flowers nod at his feet, and cirrus scurry overhead, but he takes no notice.
            In slow motion:
            A boom. Montag looks back, startled. The horizon is overwhelmingly bright for a moment, and then the blast throws him back, carries him. The roar goes on and on and on, and the city is ash and dust and then just gone.
            He lies on his back, bag thrown to the side, looking at the sky. The clouds are gone now, the world silent, and the sky is utterly and impossibly blue.
            After a while, he starts to laugh. “I wonder…if you ever even saw it coming.”

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