The sound of a diesel churning truck engine rumbled faintly in the distance with a threat like approaching thunder.
Emily wiped an arm across her forehead, and felt the sweat in her escaping fringe drag across her skin. Posters stuck on fences of chicken-wire were illuminated by the dozens of small bonfires like that which Emily diligently tended were emblazoned with slogans such as ‘Seek Truth!’ and ‘Fact is Freedom!.’
The time horn sounded across the cold night, and a gate into the enclosure swung open as the third shift arrived for the late night shift. Emily reached into the bin beside her and took out a handful of thin paper back novels. She relaxed her fingers and let the paper slide through her fingers onto the hard packed dirt, and bent over, cursing under her breath to pick them up.
If her replacement saw her slip a dog-eared copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray into the gaping top of her regulation gum boots as she picked up the novels one by one and threw them into the fire, he made no sign of it. She wasn’t the only one who did.
The book chaffed against her leg on the walk home almost as much as the pay check in her pocket grated on her conscience.
She lived only a couple of streets away from her work, close enough that even windows shut tightly and stuffed door snakes to stop the draught on cold nights couldn’t stop the pervading smell of smoke that seemed to soak into her very bones – or so she’d been told. She wasn’t sure she could remember what smoke smelled like.
Once her front door was shut firmly behind her and the bolt drawn across, Emily reached into the top of her boot and withdrew her contraband. She walked through her hallway and into the dated 90s kitchen, before crawling down under her kitchen table, and reached to pull up the loose floorboard hiding her cache of illegal goods.
She showered, stripping off her work clothes and letting the hot water wash away both soot and sins.
There came a knock at the door. Feeling the books hidden under her kitchen like a tangible presence at her back, Emily peered through the tiny peephole in the centre of the door, stepped back, unbolted it, and let the assorted troupe of fellow members of The Society for Periodic Table Appreciation into her house, and then bolted the door firmly behind them.
The six other members of The Society for Periodic Table Appreciation arranged themselves in a circle around the coffee table and unpacked the shopping bags they’d brought with them, filled with packets of biscuits, the makings of hot chocolate, and in one case, a container filled with home made mini quiches.
Snippets of conversation made their way to Emily as she leaned against a kitchen cabinet and waited for the kettle to boil.
“I think, like, Neville could have been it, you know? I know everyone gets all teary eyed at Harry, but Neville is a bona fide badass.”
“I find the parallels between Lily throwing herself between Harry and death and Narcissa lying to Voldemort’s face to save Malfoy really beautiful. How many mother figures have we lost?”
For the first time in months, Emily almost thought she could smell smoke.