The black ocean sky pulled from edge to edge of the horizons, like a bed sheet tight across each corner. The pyre, roaring in fury, reached out in greedy grabs for more fuel to consume. Heaved from the hands of the participants, the books flew in arch motions towards the outstretched arms. Pages flapping against one another gave them the look of rectangular flightless birds attempting to escape from their impending doom below. Reaching higher, the flames glowed bright in the milky white eyes of the Preacher. Rolling with laughter as the books kept being thrown, he waved in more of his community to join in upon the festivity like a ring leader at a circus. The crowd grew thicker; shoulder to shoulder, they looked upon the massive blaze. Curling as they burned away, the books glowed amber and then crumbled to ash.
“Yes, everyone, yes! Righteous justice against sin has been called upon God’s people! Send this abomination of writing to the fires of Hell!” Pointing to the flaming rise, Preacher Smith threw another novel of “I Came from Somewhere, But Became Someone” by Joseph Gilbson. Landing into the pile, flecks of embers broke away and danced into night the sky.
The celebration was held on the front lawn of First Baptist Community Church of God. Located in the middle of the small town called Somewhere, the fire’s light touched nearly all corners of the no stop light town. Living a tortured existence within Somewhere, Joseph Glibson ran away at the age of sixteen. Finding no salvation at home or within his community, he hoped to find it elsewhere beyond the town of Somewhere. And, with his book, Joseph felt it to be an open letter to his community notifying them that he has succeeded and was now safe and happy beyond their aggression and torture.
At the early age of six years, Joseph found he held strong affections for other boys within his peer group that was beyond simple friendships. His first attraction was to the fair haired and freckled faced boy Jim Barrons. Of similar age, Jim lived only three houses down on the same side of the street as Joseph’s family. Admiring from Joseph’s bedroom window Jim in his backyard fighting imaginative enemies with sticks and shields, he would watch the other boy play hero until Jim was called in for dinner. In Somewhere, the Barrons’ family held most of the respected and leadership roles for the community, such as mayor, community representatives, and even some held office in the state’s legislator.
While his affection for Jim was warm and caring, many within Somewhere would not understand the odd attraction a boy would have for another boy. For those in the community, such held affections were simply illogical and went against all forms of natural processes and God’s work. Especially within his own family, Jim found how little he would be understood or respected. After confiding in his mother that he would ask the boy Jim to be his Valentine that year, he was marked red across his lower back and buttocks by a wooden spoon. His father, learning of Joseph’s disturbing desires when he returned home, beat Joseph with the back of his hand; leaving the little boy purple and bloody upon his bedroom floor.
Curled in the corner of his bed, he pressed his bruised frame against his shaking knees. Warm streaks of tears rolled down upon his face and darkened the purple comfortable he sat upon. He did not understand why his parents, who he trusted and thought loved him, treated him with such vigorous hatred; however, he committed at that moment that he would escape from them. He would escape from Somewhere. His eyes were open, and could not be closed again.
In small towns, word does travel faster than anything else. In Somewhere, Joseph found that his existence from that moment forward would be forever tortured and demoralizing. There were no safe spaces in town or in home. For the next ten years, he endured all the harsh treatment at the hands of his peers and elders. Still, never given reason for his treatment or the hatred that was bathed upon him, he endured through it. Each day, he repeated a mantra focused on leaving Somewhere.
Though Joseph had left Somewhere at the age of sixteen, he returned in a manner that the community least expected: his novel “I Came from Somewhere, but Became Someone.” As his book burned, the conservative community rejoiced. The flames of hell would return the things they viewed as harmful for their holy community’s wellbeing. Again, ironically, they would be the creators of Hell on Earth within their own community.
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The rubber soles of her white glossy leather Sunday school shoes crunched the drying grass down as she made her steps closer to the blazing fire. Holding the novel close to her chest, the small petite girl named, Patty, awed at the towering flames in front of her. The arms of the massive beast pulled at the edges and waved in the air begging for more books. Looking in the first few pages to the dedication page, she read “To that person out there that must hide in the shadows, please know you are loved and freedom might not be where you are now but it is out there. You are not alone; come join us in freedom. Be strong.”
Playing the Shepard over his flock, the Preacher ushered the crowd closer to the burn to bask in the warmth of the flames. Each of the participants welcomed the encouragements, and with joy they collectively threw more fuel upon the fire. Stunned by their enthusiasm, Patty watched with unblinking eyes as the embers broke free and climbed high above. Cool water rushed down her legs as and into her dense feet as the ice that filled her chest melted. Clenching the book to her chest tighter, she felt cemented in place as the crowd gathered closer to the fire.
Being so fixed upon their instructor, none noticed as Patty began backing away; still holding tight, the book was pressed firm against her flat chest. Shouldering her way between the moths, she made her way back home through the night streets. Turning the front door’s knob, her nerves were tense and she ran up the wooden stairs leading to her room. Sliding into the corner of her bed, she felt the edges of the soft book’s pages roll down her fingers. The paper was fresh; the binding creaked as she opened the book full spread. Returning the book back against her chest, she promised Joseph she would keep the novel safe from harm.
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Watching as the little girl walk with heavy feet down the street, Farmer John felt the weight of the book that hung at his side pull upon his grip further. He too had reservations, and wondered if him leaving would be without protest as it had for her. Shoulders tight, he turned from the crowd and made his way through the thick line of full eyed converts. Though few gave side glances, no one protested his access to leave. Carrying the book firm against his side, Farmer John made for home.
Laying the book flat upon his kitchen table, Farmer John turned on the light overhead and then took his seat at the table. Opening the book, he read aloud its entirety to an empty home. Not until morning did he finish the reading the book cover to cover. As the light of morning broke over the horizon, he moved himself to his mudroom and slipped on his work boots.
The morning dew was fresh across his lands and his animals were waking within their stables. Rustled by his presence, most joyfully called as he approached their pens.
His work was harder; his heart twisted. Though his hands were clean of it, he felt the blood and bruises that were wiped across his skin when he was teaching Joseph the lesson of being a man, tips to wrists. Looking back at his tall white farm house, no lights were on; no one but him lived there now. Remembering his son, he pained more. Feeling he had abandoned Joseph when he needed him most. Now, ironically, he felt he had also abandoned the only other person in Somewhere that would understand him as well…