Jon Cooper

History horror

The historian’s ultimate sybaritic horror must be the industrial annihilation of memoranda. So let us imagine a passenger jet flying to Heathrow suffers a catastrophic engine failure, stalls, and violently crashes. It detonates, explodes, and fuminates directly upon the National Archives building near Kew Gardens. In the initial eruption, the plane’s fuel tank bursts its noxious inferno into the surrounding environ, its plexiglass windows discharging searing shards of shrapnel in every direction. Hundreds of tonnes of paper and parchment fan their own flames, mutinying against the indulgent artifices of their preservation – the air-conditioned, tenebrous antechambers designed to preserve them for everlasting posterity. The few on-duty archival staff and readers who miraculously remain unscathed are hounded by tabloid journalists until they can live out their existences as shellshocked memorialists, unprivileged in memory of an event so catastrophically unlikely that everybody must categorise as a diabolic aberration.

As for the brutalist edifice itself, it is destroyed, not in the instant, but gradually, over the ensuing hours, as residual jet fuel seeps into every metal-shredded crevice, smothering, engulfing, and setting aflame all interior furnishing, framing, and cladding. The remaining concrete pile, desiccated and spalled, is afterwards allowed to stand as a piteous cenotaph, the only relic of any significance left standing. It won’t commemorate the unthinkable human suffering once endured upon that site, but the millennia worth of meticulous record-keeping lost in one ruinous instant: a national monument to the innumerable, uncatalogued, and unread records of a past lost and now vanquished.