By Ben Burke
Embers danced off of the vaulted ceiling, and the scholar found themself in the center of the library, on the very first floor.
Still some time before it’s too dangerous to be in here, they thought.
They turned towards the great spiral stairs and took off running.
They were a scholar of aesthetics; young and hailing from the countryside. They excelled in athletics and were always talking up a storm to disinterested teammates about politics and the latest treatise on nature as a motif in contemporary art.
But now, lonesome in the quickly burning library, they grabbed their bag and determined to fill it with as many books as they could before the written knowledge was lost to the unforgiving embrace of the flames.
As they dashed up the stairs, they could not help but laugh at the irony inherent in this situation. Their lungs were burning and filling with smoke, but the crumbling walls around them looked oh so beautiful.
When they were beginning to feel like there was no more air left to breathe, they finally reached the floor of the library with books concerning their field.
At this moment, they were satisfied with the training they had received so far as a scholar of aesthetics. They had spent so much time studying the philosophy of beauty that they finally quelled the human instinct to escape, instead channeling only their instinct to highlight the beauty of their world.
And their instinct to save some damn books on the subject.
Only so much room in my bag, they thought. I’ll grab the first five that I see that I remember reading.
And they did, but they couldn’t help fearing that they had picked the wrong ones. So as the smoke began to cloud their vision, they switched out one book for another. And another, and another.
That’ll do, they thought. Time to rush downstairs; the inferno was roaring at this point.
As they rushed past shelf after shelf of books on math and sciences on the lower floors, they couldn’t help but wonder if their arrogance for shunning the more technical studies of those fields was a hamartia, and so they took precious seconds to divert their path and retrieve two or three books dealing with geosciences and the work of Pythagoras.
The weight of their bag was difficult to bear at this point, and they felt more as though they were falling down the stairs instead of running. Soon this was not just a feeling, and they found themself quite literally falling down the stairs.
As they finally rolled to a stop, they noticed that two books had fallen from their bag.
Oh god, they thought. To retrieve them or flee?
Bright grey disks danced across their field of vision now, and they coughed with fervor. They stood and eyed the exit of the library, and their head swiveled between the refuge of fresh air that awaited outside the building and the books holding precious knowledge that might not ever be retrieved. They were frozen.
Frozen as when they stood in the center of the dirt path in the village they hailed from, and a carriage flew towards a clueless baby goat.
Frozen as when they were keeping goal during a game of football on the green not far from here and an opponent blasted the ball under the crossbar with a speed not even the best of goalkeepers could react to.
Frozen, as the flames licked their feet, melting away their apprehension.
They dashed toward the books.
Picking up the closer one, the scholar reluctantly resolved to leave the further one behind, and dashed with fury towards the exit; escape was in sight.
As they blew through the main reading room, the sight of a grey sky grew more clear.
The scholar felt a crushing weight slam them to the ground. They struggled to stand but found they could not. A beam that supported the ceiling of the library had landed squarely on their back and trapped them to the floor.
Hours later, rain would extinguish the flames. Smoke from the charred wood that supported the bastion of wisdom rose into the sky.
And so did the scholar.
Discoveries for others to make, further down the road.