Excerpt from-

Before the End, by Karen Fox, © 2006


Akirame is the last person in the world in this post-apocalyptic musical poetry play. In this segment, she explains to the audience why she is burning books-


Fire books do not burn so well. They provide warm embers through the night, good for sleeping indoors. The people decided that reading was not necessary, and voted to stop teaching it to the young. There were so many to be found and the trees were gone. It was a practical choice. (pause) Some of the elders said that books were used as opiates, shackles, locks. I didn’t know what they were talking about.

Akirame goes inside. Puts books into pit, lights them. She lies on her bed roll, restless. She cannot sleep. She goes to the door, peeks. Goes back to bed. Can’t rest. She gets up and opens the door.


Amal taught me. He brought me with him when it was his turn to gather fire books. He was old and I helped him carry them. When he opened their spines, fire rose in his eyes. He spoke wonderful, terrible words. So many pictures came into my head. Sensations heated my body. I asked him to teach me. It was our secret. Before he died, he shared another.  He had laid words into fire books. ‘Poetry,’ he called them. A black hole lodged in his throat when the people voted to stop reading. His silence was heavy. Years later, when there was food to cook, we made a special outdoor fire. Amal drew pictures with a stick in the sand, delighting the children. The people thought he was losing his mind strength. He was making poetry.

She runs back into the house. Gets books from hiding place. Comes back out with books.


This one I keep. (It is the collected works of Shakespeare.) I’ve read some passages so many times that the black ink has joined the ancestors. I remember them even so. It is my job. In this are many ways of people. And the words are put easily to song.

She sings.

“Full fathom five thy father lies

Of his bones are coral made

Those are pearls that were his eyes

Nothing of him doth fade.

But doth suffer a sea change

Into something rich and strange.” Akirame closes Shakespeare and opens another book.

This one holds special content. She takes out a perfectly preserved oak leaf.

Ketli sunder legache!

Harika! Vacker! Piekny!

Zuri! Frumos! Mool! Migoto!

Beaux! Bella! Belo! Bellissimo!

She carefully replaces the leaf.

I had almost forgotten about Amal. Wonders never cease! Good night.