(*Note: This is a short story for the Pandora’s Box of Horrors Challenge)
Gray clouds hung low in the colorless sky as he watched a group of teenagers clamber down the street littered with rusted and mangled vehicular bodies. Houses on both sides of the disintegrating asphalt stood in various wretched shapes. Woods warped. Windows smashed or missing. Vinyl sidings bent like painful hang-nails.
Like Rome, another giant had fallen.
The group turned down a graveled pathway which led to a large, crumbling brick-laid building that stood three-stories tall. A sign stretched across the middle of the structure with words etched in the marble slab: Esmond High.
As soon as they crossed the threshold, he turned his eyes toward the heavens.
How much longer now before the imminent end?
He carefully hobbled inside, turned right and entered into a large room. Inside, several long tables spread across the dusty tiled floor, each partnered with two deformed metallic chairs. Large windows lined the far wall, and like the others, many were either missing or broken. They also provided the only source of lighting.
The younger version of adults sat at the three front tables, their eyes rested solely on him.
He shuffled across the room. Long, wispy white hair hung from his head. White-black beard partially covered his face, its bottom touched the ragged red and black plaid shirt.
“Good morning, class.” His voice crackled as he slowly limped to the front where a small wooden desk stood.
“Good morning, Mr. Pike.” The teens replied in unison.
He gingerly set down a plastic bag on the desk which wobbled with the weight being pressed on it. Mr. Pike turned his cataract-riddled, hazel eyes to the classroom before him.
“It seems our number is ever growing smaller.” He sniffed.
“Marge’s parents have married her off to the Mableton clan so she won’t be coming back.” The lone female in the room spoke in a quiet voice.
“Ethan, Sam, and Levi have been recruited to the front line.” The dark-haired male at the center table said.
“Sal was killed with his parents by thieves last night.” The smallish boy next to the brunette female muttered.
“Madness.” The old man whispered as he rapped his arthritic knuckles on the wood. “This is what we’ve been reduced to. Constant warring with one another. Servitude and slavery. Mockery and misery all around us. All due to stupidity. Stupidity.”
“Mr. Pike?” The girl’s voice drifted to his ears. “Are you all right?”
He shook his head hard and blinked several times as he struggled to regain his focus on the remaining kids.
“Yes, yes of course I’m alright!” He snapped as his hands gripped the plastic bag. “It’s a bit disconcerting when I see our future being ripped from us, that’s all.”
“What’s in the bag, Mr. Pike?” A petite oriental boy from the table directly in front of him asked.
The elder released his grip on the bag and began to pat it. “Ah, yes. The bag. I discovered the content last evening when I was rummaging through a building that was once a library.”
“What’s a library?” The girl asked.
“My dear Oona,” he said, “a library was used to house what we called books. Books were once the foundation of which we built a great civilization. Books were what brought us out of the last Dark Ages. They enabled us to become highly advanced and educated and enlightened. They were the glue that held us together.”
“What happened?” The small boy next to Oona asked.
“Man grew stupid, Darrin, “he answered. “We grew so enamored with technology and all our wonderful advances, and decided to get rid of books, which contained everything, our souls, to rely completely on digital machines.”
He glanced across the room and saw that all eyes and ears were attuned to him, and continued. “Then the storm happened and wiped out all the technology, and with it our heart and soul as a specie.” He raised a hand into the air. “Hence, you see the result all around us.”
“So…” Mr. Pike reached a hand inside the bag. “For the next few weeks, or for as long as we are able, we’ll be reading two of the greatest books ever written, in my humble opinion, by man.” And pulled out two heavily worn, hard-covered books. “Moby Dick and War and Peace.”
“Could we take turns reading them?” Oona breathlessly asked.
“I don’t read too well,” the oriental boy said.
“Don’t worry, Mai, I’ll help you,” she replied.
For the first time, Mr. Pike smiled.