It was frightening to burn as the men and women faced a risk indulging in their pleasure to write. They sat at the round, wooden table, enclosed by the imposing four walls, hidden beneath the grounds of the boarded-up home, sequestered away from the rest of the arbitrary dangers of society, their faces long and downcast as each day presented a new consuming threat.
“Shhh, they’re about to make an announcement…” Paul Noah, a once-renowned author, said.
He got up from his chair and walked over to the rusty Frigidaire. It looked like a single, aged white pillar. A small radio sat atop it.
A faint fuzz of static came from its speakers. Paul looked at it pensively and then adjusted its dial until he found its appropriate frequency by finding the right signal.
A small voice could be heard as it began to broadcast.
He looked at his colleagues and placed a forefinger to his lip. An indication to remain silent. Paul Noah then turned the volume knob upward and a voice came through more evident and clear, speaking to the small group of writers:
“Today, several arrests were made. Two known writers have been convicted on charges of conspiracy. It was tipped to the police, from an anonymous source, that the two writers were publishing against the law and spreading literary propaganda to over two-dozen curious people in the community. The curious people have been detained and await trial. As for the writers, they will be punished by fire…”
Paul Noah turned the radio off.
He looked at the radio thoughtfully and was disturbed by such turbulence of unsettling news. Milky and formidable darkness formed in his eyes. And he stood still, rigid as though rigor mortis had overcome his body.
“What should we do?” A startled voice asked of him.
Paul Noah placed a palm to his forehead, allowing himself to think briefly. Inside of himself, he surmised that he knew the answer but which he truly could not feign. He was as frightened as that inquisitively chilling question proposed.
He looked over to the table and stared at the writers. He wanted to look away but resisted because he knew that they had looked to him for answers.
Paul Noah was a once renown author. But now he operated clandestinely like many others, functioning secretly under the totalitarian peril that lurked just outside of these walls.
He was speechless.
He was confused by the fear of wanting to respond but not knowing how to exactly. Trepidation settled more closely and the walls of the candlelit cellar, although cool, felt constraining as panic caused hot flashes of daunting images.
“I suppose…we…continue to write,” he said.
The writers passed curious glances, and he could see their intimidation.
Inspired by his courage to persist, their silence invoked an intense passion to move forward.
One of the writers picked up a Holy Bible and skimmed through its pages while seeking to find an appropriate verse. There she landed on a necessary and favorable scripture. And she read aloud:
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” Her voice declared.
Paul Noah absorbed the idea. He allowed himself to speculate over its profound meaning.
Its words were so relevant and contained a multifaceted meaning, which he could not refute.
Paul Noah’s eyes wandered from writer to writer as if he was gazing into their troubled souls.
He could sense their zeal.
There was a moment of silence and a small smile crept onto his face. Within the dimly lit room, filled with books by various authors and journals and diaries—whether emptied or inscribed with ideas—that surrounded them, the moment didn’t seem so risky. And the writing was much more than a craft it was something they loved wholeheartedly.
As Paul Noah began to stir, he could hear the sound of the wooden floorboards creaking above.
It was the sound of heavy footfalls and also glass shattering.
Puzzled and frantic, he rushed to the table where the other writers sat, they too began to scurry, rushing to disguise their innocent mischievousness.
The door that led to the stairs of the basement was completely boarded from the inside, along with wood and deadbolt locks, secured in several places.
The writers quickly grabbed their journals, diaries, and technological devices. Hurryingly, they began to place them into less noticeable places, hiding these things from sight.
The formidable sound of footfalls returned. This time they stopped just before the door, which led to the bottom half of the old, shabby house.
The writers ceased their movement and looked at one another startled. Hesitating, to avoid making any further activity. Cautious and frightened that they would attract attention by making noise.
A floorboard creaked–suddenly there was a loud bang on the door.
The sound of it was jarring; it made a startling impression on the writers. There was another bang. And this time there was a booming effect as the door, which led to the basement, began to give way.
The wooden door rattled inside the inset of the door jamb, causing its hinges to bend and contort.
There was a shout: “Police! Open the door! Now!”
The voice resonated with the writers. Chilling and frightening and all at once. Their hearts thumped frantically and Paul Noah could merely hear the apprehensive rhythms of his heart.
There was a final burst as the door was ramshackle and thrown down the steps. Hurling towards the base of it with remarkable force.
Several officers appeared, each dressed in fine, emblazoned black, uniform and gas masks, thrusting their way through the smog of debris.
They loomed threateningly amid sudden shock.
Paul Noah stood at the foot of the stairs. Petrified by their intrusive presence.
He had to admit that he was found, along with his castaway fellowship of other writers.
“Are you Paul Noah?” An officer, which Paul assumed was the head chief, demanded.
Not knowing what to say exactly, he looked to the officer with a faulting glance. And avoided eye contact without knowing that he would soon meet his demise.
The officer waved his hand, motioning for his men to fall back, and they retreated up the stairs.
Their heavy boots sounded like deer hooves clamoring through a tiny passage. And the head office made a sweeping glance.
At first, his eyes had seen no indication of writing paraphernalia, until he caught a glint from the corner of his eye.
“What’s this?” He looked at Paul Noah and the rest of the writers gravely.
Paul began to utter but instead rendered himself speechless.
He followed the officer’s gaze and saw that a barely visible corner of a typewriter, crammed in a crawl space behind an aged oak bookshelf, was exposed.
The officer looked at the writers with a knavish smile, exposing a set of teeth which sneered in the delight of destructiveness.
“Looks as if there are pens there as well,” he said adamantly and plainly.
The writers stood without a word.
Only mutual fear flickered before their eyes like the wildly blazing flames that would soon engulf them.
The officer whistled. And a vicious grin crept onto his ruddy face. He yelled up to his partners, “Burn them! And everything else along with it! Leave nothing. Not even a charred bone!” He emphasized.
And those words seemed to cumber Paul Noah and the writers with a daunting effect.
The officer raised his weapon, pointing it at the writers as he backed away while retreating up the steps.
His stone face, behind the plexiglass of his gas mask, was piercing, unwavering and demanding.
Paul Noah and the other writers looked to each other with gut-wrenching fear as the officer vanished up the steps.
His heavy boots plodded up the staircase with an eerie finality that suggested that this was their last moment.
Paul Noah looked at the circle of writers around the wooden table and then bowed his head.
He began to pray:
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom comes, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”
The writers followed his lead and bowed their heads, accepting this token of prayer as a last resort of salvation.
At the top of the stairs, there came the sound of an igniter. Then the immediate sound of torching followed.
Flames began to rapidly spread, and intense heat could be closely felt as if someone had converted the once cool setting of the basement into a steadily intensifying furnace.
The writers looked to each other, fearsome, and with speculation as the flames grew. Approaching them imminently. Devouring the home with its swift destructiveness.
Paul Noah approached the table where the writers stood while uttering the Lord’s Prayer. He sighed and extended his hands as a request, hoping his fellow companions would follow his lead and share this last moment of their lives.
He felt two hands firmly grasp his. Then he looked towards them and smiled. And as he did, he could see the other writers fade into the flames along with himself.