Word of the Day: Bibliophobe

Word of the Day: Bibliophobe

In this series, I will take the Word of the Day from Dictionary.com and craft a short piece of creative writing around it.  My goal is to embrace the meaning of the word in some unique way, all the while trying out different styles, rhythms and characterizations.  It is as much an exercise in creativity as it is an exploration of grammar. Enjoy!

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By Alex Seise

“Burn ’em.”

She chewed on the root-aligned end of a long stem of wheat, gazing out toward the uneven post and beam fence and the fields of grain far beyond that. They stretched forever out here in the middle of the dusty prairie. Once in a long while, a horse thudded in the distance, or a Conestoga wagon rolled by the worn trail some two, three miles north of the farm. But usually, Annabelle Jessup and Jonathan Markey were by their lonesome out on the wildest tips of the shrinking west.

“Annie…” Jonathan looked at his outlaw lover, a tough woman in her mid-fifties who had no qualms about shooting up a saloon or burning down a barn to get at the chickens inside. He was twenty-five years her junior and forever her frightened, witless slave. “Are you sure you wanna do that?”

She turned, the fine details of her lined face hidden by the sun-darkened silhouette of her regal portrait. Her bone structure was admirable and striking for her age. “Do it, Jonny Cakes.”

“But…” He didn’t usually protest her demands, knowing full well that Annie’s anger knew no bounds. One night after he refused to fetch her a bucket of wash water from the well across the yard, she tied his wrists with old chicken wire that cut his tender white skin with jagged bloody stripes, dragged him through the dirt and threw him down the shaft. He thought he would surely die, but the wire caught on the bucket’s rope and saved him from plummeting all the way to the bottom. She let him dangle there until dawn.

Another time, when Jonathan sighed too loudly while tying up their three remaining cattle before a winter storm barreled down on the plains, she slammed the back of his skull with wood beam, knocking him out cold. He woke up shivering without any clothes in the middle of their field, tied to a stake driven into the cold, stony ground.

The humiliation, throbbing headache and chill didn’t scare him; it was the stake that had been wedged deep into the frozen Earth that cooled his blood. It hadn’t been there earlier that day when the snow just started to fall. The Herculean strength that went into bashing that thick wooden post into the soil terrified the lanky young man.

Now, Annie wanted him to burn his books. All of them. She was a renowned bibliophobe, an illiterate wench with the strength of four men and the clever tongue of a salesman. Yet she could not—and would not—read. She said it had to do with her father, who’d been imprisoned for reading too much. He’d doubted the story’s veracity, but he kept his lingering wonders to himself.

Jonathan once loved leafing through a series of yellow old tomes that he kept under a loose floorboard in their cabin. Whenever she went outside, he’d sneak a few pages of delicious words in, then slip the pages back under the boards.

That is, until Annie found them that afternoon. He didn’t know how she came across the stash, but she must have been livid. She built the bonfire out on the front yard by herself and waited there for Jonathan to return home from town with provisions. When he saw her standing on the porch staring off at the horizon, he immediately knew something was wrong. Then, he spied the books and wood and kindling, and the seat of his breeches rapidly brimmed dark with fear-forced urine.

The burning of the books didn’t frighten him. Paper could be replaced. It was whatever plan Annie had in mind for him after that literary roast that sent shivers down his spine. She growled the same two words into the air once again.

“Burn ’em.”

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