human falling star

Out of paper

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 13 Sep 2022



     In stark contrast to this, everything within our city limits was in the whitest state of repair and usefulness.  While I toiled in a dim kitchen basement the skyscrapers were all taken down.  The Church didn’t want a single structure left standing that it couldn’t use.  And since the power that drove the elevators had ceased to flow these looming giants were doubly useless and offensive.

     The hard task of whittling them down was taken on with as much civic pride as had gone into their creation.  Though I didn’t see it, I heard the constant clanging of hammers and dust drifting in through the bars of my window each afternoon.  They were demolished mostly by hand, with saws and torches, the beams lowered one at a time by ropes.  At first there were trucks and probably cranes in use, but they soon gave way to long lines of wheelbarrow crews winding through the streets and horse-drawn carts for the heavier loads.

     This lack of power equipment seemed to give our people a glow of health and vigor.  Because of the plague I think, and to spite it, people had taken a renewed interest in fitness.  The tight-knit formations of lickers jogged through the streets from one assignment to the next with a unity that would have impressed a Roman general of old.  At the competitions groups cheered for their teams and their favorite athletes with an equally Roman gusto and the winners were talked of for days afterwards and honored by all like heroes.

     This was the sunny side of the new order.  But the weather was actually a dull gray and I didn’t share in the enthusiasms around me.  It wasn’t just my deep-seated sympathy with the past.  There seemed to be a rebel in me that dwelled upon the one thing it was forbidden.  I’ve sometimes thought that if things had turned out differently and a new society had sprung up that more than ever doted on the past, I’d probably be the non-conformist crying out for innovation.

     There was no pleasure in this obstinacy though.  It cut me deeply and made me feel like an outcast, like one robbed of his inheritance by a cheat with no judge to hear my cause.  I'm sure there were others like me, but I had no way of finding them.  Our feelings had to be carefully masked.  The one thing our religious leaders did fear was our thoughts.  They preached against what they termed ‘idol worship’.  But under this head they persecuted any sign of sympathy with the past, wherever it could be found, in any loose talk or old habit, or secretly preserved relic.

     And the punishment, when they did arrest some unhappy wretch, was swift and merciless.  There was no trial, just a tribunal, no talk, just interrogation.  If the crime was very slight, there was a demotion.  If it were anything more than slight, or twice repeated, there was forced confession and a public burning.

     These burnings were given the name ‘purifications’ and were designed for the sick as well as the guilty.  A procession started every evening at the end of the service.  It set out from the temple square to a steep, little hill plainly visible to us, a few miles north, right by the bay.  Those who were very sick were carried in litters, but most tried to walk, at least through the square, where they were congratulated and cheered by all for their good fortune in receiving the light.

     Even the convicted ones were cheered, not like criminals, and so warm was this sending off that sometimes others, perfectly healthy, joined in for the sacrifice with an enthusiasm they would have no time to regret.

     A bonfire was lit on top of the hill as night fell and while we prayed for the souls to be received by the light we watched their ‘illumination’.  A high platform stood above the bonfire.  Here the volunteers were one by one doused in flammable spirits and ignited by a torchbearer, to leap or be shoved into the flames below.  From where we stood it looked like little spits of fire falling against the dark curtain of the night sky, recalling the falling stars we could no longer see.  We sang songs of celestial reunion afterwards and many of those around me actually looked forward to the hour of their own rendezvous.

     This is what I learned from what I saw and from the talks with my old friend.  He warned me often that I was around watchful eyes, looking for any signs of discontent.  Even the talks we had in his house, he told me, were an indiscretion.  He bid me keep them between us, though he did mention that his own stature and connections freed him from the worst rigors of the law.

     I’ll not forget the help he gave me.  I would certainly have perished miserably without it.  I sometimes think of the disappointment he must have felt when I ran away.  But sometimes I think that he knew all along, for he knew me well.  Maybe he even helped my escape by the long-distance mail service he arranged for me.  I’ve no way of knowing, but I still wonder about it.

            I can’t add much more to these annals.  For one thing, I’m out of paper and forced to end this prolix history.  But I'm glad to be done with it too.  It took many years before I began to recover from the shock of these events, a recovery still not complete.  If I acquire the means I'll go on and finish the rest of my story.  It carries me, though not my fellows, through saner times, and years where I remember I was even once and awhile happy to be alive.


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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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