Fiction by Sergio Troncoso excerpted from our Winter 2017 issue.
I traveled by night, paying those who would be willing to take me farther west. I was stranded in several one-stop hamlets and spent weeks hiking through mountain ranges and around gorges. I met others whom I befriended and trusted only after spending time with them, all of us on this same vague mission to find Library Island. After weeks together, our small group witnessed flashes in the night. What looked like campfires across a few hills. One night Jacqueline joined us, also searching for what we had been searching for, and we shared our food and supplies with her. One day after that night in a western forest, both of us had been captured by what appeared to be night patrols from Library Island. So we had been close to its edges, I thought. These guards did not hurt us, but they bound our hands and pulled black hoods over our faces and uttered assurances that we would be given a chance to prove ourselves. I was frightened, yet in a way also elated. After what seemed three or four days of travel, after a deep sleep that later I believed had been induced with drugs in our food, we awoke in our cells. Next to each other. They assumed Jacqueline and I had been together, their only mistake.
What was life like inside this haven? I could only imagine. We had seen nothing but the inside of our cells. What little I understood was that the overseers of Library Island—our captors uttered so few words to us—were trying to tear you away from the Outer World. Every bit of you, the seen and the unseen you. This cleansing, through books. If you could survive that, if you could endure . . . What I saw in the eyes of my interlocutors was reason mixed with madness. Reason: it was clear what new entrants had to do: if I could explain and better argue for or against a book, to demonstrate that I had read it, then they would move on to the next book. If I could not, if I missed one book, if an interlocutor indicated I had failed to “read” a book, as subjective as I first imagined that evaluation could be, I would be immediately expelled. No second chances. No appeals to a higher authority. Months ago, those were the only instructions I had received an hour before my first shipment arrived at my cell door. The same instructions repeated before every new shipment arrived. The guards outside my cell were monoliths, with eyes never acknowledging my presence, silences like rocky shoals impervious to any pleas for explanations.
Image: Style of Goya (Spanish, 19th century). Detail of “A City on a Rock.” Oil on canvas. H. O. Havemeyer Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.