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Alphabet Soup

"Thanks Dave." I say again for the thousandth time as I'm served. Dave's a big guy, huge muscles, a real bruiser. Despite bestsellers he never had more than a one-bedroom apartment, heroin addiction keeping his savings low. We're all the same, possessing the same tenuous link. Look at Archie or Gary for example; only completed one piece in his life, did poor in the market too. Inheritance made Archie rich, and he's never even touched alcohol. Gary's famous book was about his college, a psychic spy training school in which the other students were trying to kill him; Gary is schizophrenic, but has since acquired medication. We all have the same reason for being here, we write.

They keep on trying to catch us. Words scrawled on hundreds of cocktail napkins, newspaper cutouts on restaurant tables, reams of toilet paper, classroom chalkboards, ingredient labels, tattoos, hidden files, and the insides of cereal boxes. They try to dismiss it, labeling it as graffiti crime, but our readers know better. Enough scraps of paper with graphite stain, enough blackboards with letters made of glue, and someone, somewhere, will transform from reader to writer; spreading like a virus, infecting victims with imagination, and victims infecting more victims. I hope the pages will return someday, but that's a daydream. Less and less know how to read, and the burnings never seem to end.

"Caught Jim yesterday, chiseling words into the federal building's bricks." Gary announced, sipping some soup off of a plastic spork.

"It woulda made a statement, government building and all." Archie chimed in with his usual southern drawl.

I'm gonna miss Jim. Unlike me he'd been published before it happened, and I always kind of looked up to him, seeing as he'd started out with an essay, just like me. After American government class in high school and reading some Thomas Jefferson I thought myself a defender of liberty, enough of one to write a ticked off paper in response to a school visitor at least.

I can't remember his name, but I can still see his wrinkled old face, and deep green eyes. You could see pain there, irremovable tattoos of emotion unhealed even by time, reflected in his yarn tale. He told us of the concentration camps, hiding in the latrines, crouching inside a wall for days, and drinking urine. A grotesque picture; I won't pretend to understand the pain he went through. Hatred's dictatorship was surely a threat to democracy, and must never be put in place again, but how? I asked him.

He didn't twitch as he trespassed on my holy land, "Change amendment one, censor the Nazis."

After writing my angered response, I decided to pursue penning my thoughts as a career. I should've known that man's message was a foreshadowing. When speech was no longer sacred, a precedent was set; laws passed quickly, books were banned, and the power was superficially distributed when it was really just one man. That's how we became homeless, that's what motivates us to spend hours writing on dollar bills and stapling them together knowing that they'll be burned and lost forever, that's why I try to press on.

Looking at my bowl, I realize the irony of all this. Letters swirl around in the brew, alphabet soup, the aroma masked by smoke. I can see the fires burning just outside, book upon book stacked carelessly, dreams gone forever. Alas, in trying to stop the fires we became the ones setting them. I want to feel the words again, as I once felt them, to taste them, smell them, hear them, and see them. I want...

Dave's eyes go wide as I run outside, past the guards and hobos, the streetlight, the abandoned bookstore. I run towards the flames, just to sense the words again.

Winning piece I submitted to a writing contest. Consider copyrighted (for legal shenanigans, sincec it'll be published soon, although it's only a highschool writing contest so no big deal). This put here Just In Case (TM).