The Last Idea

by Jane Rawson

The hurricane lantern was flickering more than usual. She checked the gas line but everything seemed fine. Oh blimey, she thought, not the mantle. Last time she’d had to ransack the outdoor shop in town it had been a two-day round trip. ‘Don’t be the mantle, don’t be the mantle…’ At least it wasn’t getting worse. She picked up her pen.

Cox’s Bazaar – sometimes spelled ‘Bazar’ – was named by the British during the time Bangladesh was part of India and under colonial rule. It is often described as the world’s longest sea beach, though some geographers maintain it is outstripped by Australia’s 90 Mile Beach and others in South America.

A few more deliciously factual snippets like this and she could pop herself into bed for the night.

Hailing from Hull, the Housemartins sprang to fame covering a 1960s Motown hit, Caravan of Love. The song’s delightful harmonies and up-beat sentiments made it a sure-fire hit for the summer of 1984. By the end of the 1980s the band had fallen into obscurity and went their separate ways. The band’s rhythm guitarist went on to invent the iPod as a technician at Apple, but never received payment.

She leant back on her chair and stretched her spine, remembered when she’d seen the first of them. He’d been tearing pages from one of the library’s books, cramming them into his mouth, and before she’d even really registered what was going on, before she had time to intervene, the library was full of the things. They’d devoured the lot: 000 General works, computer science and information to 999 Extraterrestrial worlds. She’d fled with one armful of novels, ELIO to EMER: it was all she could save.

She checked the water filter – still plenty in there – poured herself a mug and stepped outside to brush her teeth. Night times were quiet, just the ticket for a walk on the grass, have a look at the stars. She didn’t get out much during the day anymore, so it was nice to stretch the old legs a bit. She spat, rinsed, then drank the couple of mouthfuls of water left in the bottom of the mug. She pulled her coat tighter, popped the empty mug by the door and made her way down the hill to the gate.

One of the goats had nibbled yesterday’s factoids. She pulled the tooth-marked sheet off the fence post, held it up to the moonlight. It was alright. It’d do. She reattached it – it should still be enough to satisfy the things if they came hunting. Anything would keep them quiet, she’d learned, as long as it was print on paper. An iPad wouldn’t do. She’d seen Ken try to feed one an iPad during those last desperate days and the thing hadn’t been satisfied at all. Cracked his skull open as fast as blinking, ate every last bit of his brain.

‘Alright then. Alright. Let’s get this sorted out shall we?’ She walked the boundary, pegging pages to the fence every few metres until she could see the main road, then walked back to her shed and shut herself in. She’d found the stone shed, tucked in a hollow behind a little copse of trees, three months after she’d had to leave town. It was perfect. Just one door, easily barred. No windows. It would have been a touch dark and grim, but whoever built it had installed a lovely skylight that made the snug interior quite merry when the sun was out. Sometimes she lay on her back on the floor and watched clouds race by. Really, it was all she did.

She woke to the sun in her eyes and the unmistakeable sound of shuffling and groaning down by the gate. She pulled out the periscope and looked through the skylight. Her factoids were untouched, her shed was surrounded. They hadn’t liked the food she’d left.

She’d known, of course, this day would come. Still, she cried a little as she tore out the final page from her very last book and slid it under the door, as she listened to the wet sound of it being swallowed. The second-last page, the third-last and more all went into their hungry mouths. Seven hours later, when the sun set and the things shuffled off to sleep, 150 pages were gone.

Nothing mattered to them but devouring information. They never gave up. They never died and, anyway, she wasn’t the type to kill a thing. Once this book was gone, the only ideas left would be in her brain. She’d seen what happened to Ken. So she checked the door was properly shut, the gap underneath blocked with an old shirt, and she opened the gas canister wide and curled up with what was left of a good book.

Jane Rawson is the author of a novel, a novella and a non-fiction book about climate change. Find her at http://janebryonyrawson.wordpress.com or on twitter as @frippet.

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