A piercing scream had me sitting bolt upright from a dead sleep, smashing my forehead on the top bunk support beams. Tears pricked my eyes as I stumbled out of bed and made for the door. I kicked toys out of my way, avoiding the Barbie shoes and Lego pieces with experienced steps.
“Gabby! What happened?” I yelled into the empty hall way.”Is Fritz okay? Where’s the baby?”
“Sasha it’s SNOWING! Come here!”
I could hear Fritz singing loudly and baby Jeanne laughing, probably at his goofy faces.
So the shriek was of delight, not fear. My stomach unclenched a bit and I detoured to the bathroom to look at the faint black and blue egg rounding on my head. It bled a little and I slapped a band-aid on it. I’d be the butt of all the unicorn jokes for the next week. Sometimes siblings sucked.
I huffed at my reflection, hazel eyes and curly dark brown hair I threatened to cut off every other week. But Mama liked my long hair so I kept it. I grabbed a hair tie and wove it into a braid while I traveled through the maze of hallways in Grandfather’s mansion. Having lived there for most of my life I didn’t really notice the priceless paintings hanging on the walls or the museum quality vases and statuettes on pedestals anymore. We lived in his ancestral home, passed down from Bromser Grandfather to Bromser Son since it had been built. The accumulation of wealth was staggering when you thought about it all at once but I was a teenager. What did I care for art and dusty books when there was TV and Kindles?
I did notice the gaping holes in the floor where workers were replacing the plumbing and the buckets of plaster surrounded by smoothers and scrapers for the crumbling ceiling. Three out of the six bathrooms were in disarray, being re-tiled and caulked. There were paint chips and furniture catalogs sitting on boxes in corners. There were hazards everywhere, thanks to Mama and Grandfather.
They had a crazy idea to turn the Bromser estate into a hotel or a bed and breakfast or something, which meant it needed updating. For me, it meant hazards to keep the younger kids away from and summer break would be spent painting and shopping. Ugh.
Down one flight of steps, two flights and I walked into the main foyer. The excitement got louder and I followed it into the informal living room where we spent a large majority of the day since that was where the big screen TV and computer was.
“Sash! Can we go out? There’s so much of it. The ground is nearly covered!” Gabby, the second youngest, looked at me with wide hopeful eyes that looked just like mine and she dragged me to the large window. She gave me a second glance and a little frown. “What happened to your head?” I ignored the question and peered outside. There was indeed a large swath of white covering the lawn. For a moment I swelled with excitement. Snow! We’ve never ever gotten snow this late in Spring!
“I bet I can beat you in a snow ball fight, Unicorn brain,” Fritz said, grinning at me. I rolled my eyes. So predictable. He carried baby Jeanne who slapped the window and drooled, making baby sounds of excitement. I scoffed at his bet, turning my nose up at his ginger hair. He was Grandfather’s “mini-me”, the only one in the family with orange hair now that Papa had passed on.
“Like you ever have, Carrot head. You can’t beat the Queen of Diamonds.”
My nickname on the softball field. I was a beast at sports, on my way to getting a full scholarship to my top choice university. Fritz rasberried me, knowing it was true so he couldn’t say anything. “Besides, there’s not even enough yet to make a ball. A snow pebble maybe.”
“It’s still coming down. I bet we could build a snow man by dinner time.”
I took baby Jeanne away from him and wiped her slobbery mouth with her bib. She patted my cheeks, asking for “outside”.
“You’re making a lot of bets you can’t win Fritz.”
“Saasshhhhhaaaaaaaa! Let’s goooooooooo!” Gabby whined.
I stared out at the falling snow. Yeah there was no way we were missing that.
“Alright,” I relented. “Go get shoes and a jacket.”
My siblings tore off to get ready and I found some pants and shoes for the baby, who kept insisting for “outside” and struggling against my efforts to clothe her. I stepped into a pair of Mama’s Uggs, too big still but I was too lazy to walk back upstairs. I shrugged on a flannel of Grandfathers from the coat closet and we waited for the others by the window. The wind changed direction and started blowing the snow across our porch. I frowned down at it as a few pieces swept across the wood. Since when did snow have sharp corners? And it looked kind of dirty. More yellowish than pure white.
I looked up and saw that the sky was bright blue–no clouds in sight. When did snow ever fall without clouds? That was impossible. I saw a formation of planes roaring away in the distance when I looked farther across the sky. We never saw that many planes out here either.
I cracked open the window, expecting a chilly breeze against my skin. Warm scented wind curled around me and I began to suspect something was very wrong. When Fritz and Gabby came tearing back downstairs and tried to pull open the door I stopped them with a fearful shout.
They looked at me and scowled.
“What gives Sasha?” Fritz said, annoyed.
“It’s not snow,” I whispered and I pointed out the window. “Look down.”
Fritz huffed over to me and shoved me out of the way, looking at the porch. He looked back at me with his eyebrows raised, a stupid expression on his face.
“It has EDGES, dummy! And there’s black specks on it. What has sharp edges and black specks?”
Gabby pressed her face to the window.
“Books,” I agreed. “Those are book pages.”
I took Jeanne away from the window, which made her squawk in protest and I went to the computer, jiggling the mouse to wake up the screen. I saw Fritz creep toward the door and I picked up the nearest object and threw it at him. A book.
“You idiot! Don’t go out there!”
His freckled face turned red and he rubbed the spot where the book hit him; square in the shoulder, where I’d aimed.
“You’re the idiot! It’s just paper.”
“And what if it’s coated in anthrax or something Fritz? What if it has the bubonic plague wiped all over it or the avian bird flu, huh?”
He crossed his arms and slouched against the wall, once again beaten by his older sister. Gabby came over to me, solemn faced. We waited for the home screen to pop up and I pinned Jeanne’s hands away from the keyboard long enough to type into google “world news”. The first article to pop up was written in bold letters “GOVERNMENT BANS BOOKS”.
“Oh my god,” I whispered and clicked on the link.
I read the article silently, scrolling slowly through the extensive article. Words like “terrorism” and “anarchy” and “control” pierced me and my jaw went slack. A yawning scream started inside my head the longer I read and my stomach clenched with nausea. This was so much worse than I initially thought.
“What?” Fritz asked, coming out of his pity party long enough to realize I wasn’t paying attention to him at all.
“They’re banning books,” I said, barely able to get the words out.
He scoffed and my hackles raised instantly.
“So what? Books are dumb. Whatever we need we can get on the internet.”
I set Jeanne down on the floor and I stood, my back to Fritz so I wouldn’t feel the need to punch his stupid face.
“It’s because of people like YOU that this even happened,” I growled. “You’d believe anything the government tells you. The internet doesn’t always boast the truth. The only true source of knowledge is books.”
“Hey I had nothing–”
“It’s not about BOOKS though!” I barked. “It’s about the government taking away our freedom of speech. They’re superseding the Constitution, taking away what makes America, America and stomping all over it. If there’s no line they can’t cross, they’ll take everything over and they just crossed that line. We’ll become a dictatorship.”
“Oh yeah okay–” His voice was dripping with so much sarcasm I could have strangled him with it. “How do you even know what you’re reading is true if the internet lies?”
“It’s right there on our front lawn! They’re trying to control the flow of information and suppress the truth of the people. They want to do our thinking for us so we don’t question them anymore. They’ll say it’s for our own good but they just want to make us subservient sheep.”
I gave Fritz a hateful glare. “For those of you who don’t know what that means, it means slavery.”
He didn’t move or say anything. He just stared at his scuffed sneakers. I stormed over to one of Grandfather’s book shelves and pulled out a worn copy of Aesop’s Fables. I waved it at Fritz.
“This was your favorite bed time story book as a kid,” I said. “It had beautiful illustrations you would stare at while Mama read you the story and you would talk about what the stories meant. They were teaching you and giving you memories. This is a learning tool but also history passed down from generation to generation. The stories of our ancestors.”
I pulled another one out, a Frederic Nietzsche tome.
“This guy had a voice, an opinion. People idolize him for his knowledge and his truth, for being different and not being afraid to say what he saw. The government hated him and the people loved him and now they want him to disappear. What will happen when Frederic is gone; when no one remembers his truths?”
Fritz didn’t have an answer for me. Either he was too stupid to understand what was really going on or he was sulking about me being right. Again. Either way, it pissed me off.
“They’re going to destroy all the books. History. Fiction. Philosophy. Manga.”
There was a pregnant pause. I knew Fritz loved his manga. It was probably the only thing that he read and the only thing that would have bothered him about this take over.
“It’s a hostile take over, guys. And it’s only going to be the first step.”
There was so much more roiling inside me; so many more things I needed to say out loud. My siblings didn’t get it. It wouldn’t become real to them until the soldiers broke down the door and took all the books outside and burned them. It wouldn’t be real until it was too late. I wondered with an inward scoff if my Kindle account had already been wiped.
“I want Mama,” Gabby whispered, her lip wobbling at my harsh tones. She was carrying baby Jeanne, clinging to her like she would a stuffed animal, afraid to let go. Jeanne was still insisting for “outside.”
“I do too Gabby. Lets go call her while our stupid brother stays here like an angry little kid.”
“Shut up Sasha,” he grumbled and crossed his arms.
When I passed him on the way to the kitchen, I flicked his forehead in annoyance.
“Wake up, dummy. This is real life, not a movie.”