The sun, a single red eye, burnt what was left of the earth, holding everything beneath it in a heavy, never-dimming glare.  It never left the sky, not even in those hours once reserved for night and the stars.

The land lay red and uneven under it like flayed flesh, gorges deep and hills steep.  Almost nothing remained, all flora and fauna dried to dust and indistinguishable from the dirt already there, water reduced to trickles, air clogged with the stench of the dead. 

Birds, fish, and anything on four legs, even the most-lowly crawling ant or roach, had long disappeared, victims of heat and dissolution.

It was more than a desert.  It was Hell raised to the level of an earthly horizon.

All one could see through the dense, dusty glare was a stack of triangular oddities, books they had once been designated when language had use and a scant few could read them:  hard-backed and leather-bound, containing all that had once been cherished: story, song, law, history, mathematics, science, theology….  No other evidence existed of these aspirations.  A hapless soul had abandoned them there in child-like hope then disappeared into anonymity.

Then they came.

The marauders, man and animal conjoined, naked, tattooed, pierced, eyes dead, mouths full of their own blood, their own flesh.  At times, bumping against each other, they gave the impression of being one thing, a single monstrosity; then, parting again, they revealed their individual obscenities.  They tore across the hot, dead, powdery plain in a pack, yapping at each other, moving their red mouths but saying nothing, yelling and bellowing, snapping like crazed dogs after fleshless bones.

They had come from elsewhere, nowhere now, having dismantled the temples, torn down the monuments, crashed the statues, erased the noble names, obliterated anything beautiful and true with their bile, their blood, their feces. 

Even in the throes of their chaos, they spotted the small tower of books, as a leopard catches glimpse of a hapless gazelle.  The scent of authenticity reached them and nauseated them further, as blood is said to madden the maws of dogs and turn them into killers.  They growled, they shouted, they fought each other for the opportunity to topple the tower.  They fell upon the books and rent them into pieces, flinging the pages into the hot glare of the pitiless sun.  They shoved pages into their mouths and regurgitated them at once, unable to digest what they could not understand. Shakespeare sickened them, as did Plato, as did Kant, as did Euclid, as did Livy, as did all the others who had written of what it had once meant to be human.  They destroyed the books and left the remains to the whim of the sand and sun.

And moved on.  They left, blindly, the taste for destruction still potent in their noses, their mouths, towards what else they must devour.

Randall Ivey

Randall Ivey teaches English at the University of South Carolina, Union and is the author of two short story collections and a book for children. His work has appeared in magazines, journals, and anthologies in the United States and England.

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