Read The Book Online

Authors: M. Clifford

Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Retail, #21st Century,

The Book (5 page)

BOOK: The Book
3.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Did you have a chance to talk to your mother last night?”

She nodded through sips. “Could’ve gone without that. The conversation centered around all the men she’s been dating. How they’re half her age and yet I can’t find a decent man…da…da…da…”

“What about the pages?”

“It was my grandfather’s idea, I guess. He found all these books in the attic when he moved here and figured that he should recycle them because it was frowned upon not to. This was before the laws were changed, so everyone was lenient as long as you found a way to use the books for some higher purpose. He used a bunch of them on the walls of the bar. Rest of them he tossed. That’s it.”

“So there’s no more pages left?” Holden muttered, crashing onto the cushion of the bar stool as he realized that he may never fully understand why the page was different. Accepting this reality was going to be hard and if he needed to start accepting it now, he was going to need some air. “Thanks Marion, I’ll pay you back for the wall. Can I just hang onto the page for a little while? I don’t know…I just feel like I need to…look over it again.”

“Whatever klepto,” she joked, trying to lighten the mood. “Hey, relax. Things are fine. Okay?” She gave him a hug.

Being that close to her, smelling the scent that was only hers, he was reminded of the night they almost kissed. Feeling too vulnerable, Holden released her early, walked gently back to the exit door without saying goodbye and left her standing there, bewildered and bewitched.

Instead of returning home, Holden stepped onto the first bus he saw and found himself riding into the city. The bustling chaos of the weekend morning was soothing and it floated him away from his dramatic over-thinking. He looked out the window and watched as the buildings raced by. Then the park. And then the people. When the bus came to a stop outside the Art Institute, a spark of genius burned his brain and he looked around to find the map for the bus. It was heading toward the Museum of Science and Industry. Precisely where he needed to go.

The only other time Holden had seen a real book, a complete book, intact, it had been beneath a thick layer of glass at the Museum of Science and Industry when he was a teenager. Books had been rare if not completely extinct for over fifty years. The Great Recycling had taken care of that. Holden remembered enjoying the eminence of the book much more than those in his class. Most, if not all, looked upon it with disdain, unable to believe how insensitive to the earth their forefathers had been; raping trees to make paper and using paper to write fluffy fiction. The image of a man reading a book on a park bench, flipping the pages over and over, was akin to a savage Neanderthal tearing the flesh from an animal and devouring it over the sheer face of a cliff. Holden didn’t seem to care that mother earth had been raped. He was told to care. He supposed he was supposed to care, but he didn’t. If breaking trees down in order to communicate was all they’d had available, with their limited technology, then they did the best with what they had. The stories weren’t any different from that time and, in fact, when Holden would read them on his copy of The Book, he preferred reading things that most people wouldn’t enjoy. Digital and pre-digital work was easy to transition through because it had the same dull, green background. The same black text. The same simple margins and flickered movement between pages. It was fun reading pre-digital work because those authors hadn’t seen his world and he hadn’t seen theirs. It was his way to travel through time. To view the past through someone else’s written eyes.

Holden left the bus with a bad taste in his mouth and had to spit.
Who had given the Editors of the Publishing House the right to silence someone who couldn’t be there to defend their work?
These Editors were cowards, whoever they were. Holden was so worked up about it, he couldn’t move from the bus station. He stood outside the pillars of the museum and cracked the knuckles on his right fist. He was determined to find an original copy of the manuscript,
The Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger. He had to find it. The story seemed to call to him. It beckoned from across fields of pixeled black text and digitized landscapes in thirty-six hues of gray.

In a gust of wind, Holden realized that, for the first time in years, he was no longer lost. How could it be that, in these hours when he was the most misplaced he had been in his entire life, he no longer felt lost? Such emotions were impossible to decipher. It was similar to waking abruptly from a dream.
Who was he, again? Where was he? What time was it? Hell, what day was it?
Regardless of the unanswered questions, he could be sure of one thing – he was awake. The only questions that remained were: what world had Holden been so anxiously sleeping in and what world had he woken into?

The walls in the Hall of Publishing and Media were pristine white and resonating with harmonious jingles that resounded when patrons entered the welcoming alcove. Holden ignored the robotic voice that rang out an invitation from some hidden speaker. His face was blank and his eyes were unblinking as he strode forward, almost floating, with articulated steps that were both precise and resolute. It had been over a decade, but he knew where to go. He ignored groups of children with volumeless voices that marveled over the interactive machinery; he ignored the groups of older students sketching on digital pads and ignored the garish displays that begged him to pause in his journey to reflect on the many items of interest. The display case that held original manuscripts from a pre-digital age were only feet away and he wouldn’t allow himself to accept a yield sign of any sort. There was an overwhelming curiosity in him now that begged to be satisfied. No, it wasn’t even that simple. Holden felt as if he had some liquid answer lodged in his brain that wouldn’t drip from his ear no matter how hard he shook his head or how fiercely he pounded his temple with the butt of his palm. It unhinged him so quickly that it nourished a new need. Holden needed to know if he was willing to dig deep enough into his mind and risk sacrificing himself simply to get the answer out.

He reached the display case.

The display case was empty.

Holden blinked in the stark whiteness of the room and slowed his pace. The case that had once held ten books from his grandfather’s generation was empty. A synthetic cloth, cut to the shape of the inner counter, added to protect the spines, still held an imprint from the weight of the delicate artifacts. They had been moved. And recently.

The Catcher in the Rye
was not one of the books at the museum; he knew that it wasn’t. Holden was hoping, in his desperation, to find some clue as to why the story had been edited or, at the very least, to find information on an establishment that had copies of books for study or view. But all he discovered was nothing. Nothing but glass and fabric and air in an echoey chamber of white walls and parquet floors. Holden turned in place. He twisted his tongue through his lips like a lizard. He had come to an abrupt end in his search and was unable to grasp his next steps. Then he noticed the expression painted on the face of the woman posted firmly in the corner of the room. She was a guard and had apparently found Holden’s overt distress amusing.

“Something I can help you with, sir?” the guard asked with a curt smile. Her rude, Chicago twang actually comforted him.
“Yeah, where are the books?”
“I’m sorry?”

“The books. The books from the empty case. The ones that you are no longer guarding.” His question seemed obvious. “Wherever they disappeared to, it must have just happened.”

The guard released an exasperated breath, rolled her eyes and pulled her walkie-talkie up to her mouth, clicking the button with annoyance. “Jo, I’m in gallery two-oh-nine and I’ve got someone here asking about these books. You were working here this week. They were moved, right?”

“Yeah, they were moved.”

The woman looked at Holden as if that were enough of an answer to appease him. He laughed and kneaded his arms in a rolling gesture as if to say,
And they were moved where?

The guard clicked the walkie-talkie and asked, “Where were those moved to, Jo?”

After ten seconds of dead air and staring back at one another, Jo, the woman whose nickname he could only assume was short for Joann or Josephine or Jolene, came back. “I wanna say it was that government preservation group, whatever the name is. I think they had to be moved because of all that terrorist stuff going on. Guy thought they might get stolen or something. I guess you can’t take chances with those
Free Thinkers

The guard lowered her walkie-talkie, but Holden was already ambling away, rapt in thought. Before long, he found himself standing outside the museum near the bus stop beside a few other people. His mind was blank. In fact, he was almost angry. It didn’t make much sense, but he was angry at Marion. Things, up until yesterday, had been fine. This was, of course, a lie, but it seemed right because life had made sense. Sure it wasn’t great; in fact, it had been pretty damn complicated. At least he knew what he knew and going through the motions everyday kept things safe. His routine was solid. But now, even attempting to rekindle that state of mind seemed impossible. It wasn’t working because this was huge. No, beyond huge.

Still, hadn’t all of it been so odd? Why Holden? How was it possible that this enormous detail about everyday life had lost itself on everyone except him? He wasn’t the type of person that thought about deep things or went on long arduous walks to contemplate the circularity of the universe. He was average. Below that, if he could have things his way. Sure, he was a reader - most people were. But beyond The Book, he didn’t think much. He watched television and hung out with his guys. The extent of his brain power was tested only with sprinkler fitting. He knew sprinklers. And his daughter, Jane. He knew he loved her. He also knew the names of every player on the Chicago Blackhawks, but that didn’t do him much good. And, of course, a point of pride was that he knew the streets. In fact, he could be blindfolded and dropped anywhere in Chicago and would have the ability to pinpoint what intersection he was at, simply through the sounds of the street. Those were the things he knew and he was fine with that. He always felt that most other people, with their dreams and goals, were brought into this world with a much larger mind. His birth category had smaller brains; but since his brain was smaller, he was plum happy that way. He didn’t know any better. Life was small. Life was simple. But hey, the guy was happy.

Still, if that was true, if those books and many others – bigger, more substantial books that Holden could never imagine – were edited and altered, how was it that no one else had discovered such irregularities? If stumbling on that single, inaccurate page in Marion’s bar meant that he was the first person outside of the Publishing House to know about the differences, what was he supposed to do about that? How could anyone, especially someone like Holden Clifford, react properly when met with such life-altering knowledge?

Without a clue of what to do, Holden trudged onto the bus with the rest of the museum-goers, found a seat and crashed into it. He wasn’t surprised to find that nearly every person on the bus had a face that was glowing with dull, green light. Clouds had unfolded across the sky while he was inside the museum and the fact that it was going to rain again made the green lights shine ever brighter on the focused faces of those holding The Book. Even with his reservations and unanswered questions, it was a natural tendency for Holden to reach into his jacket pocket to pull out his copy of the Book. He wanted to resist. To avoid falling back into his old rhythm because something was wrong. But he didn’t. He opened the digital reading device and flipped again to
The Catcher in the Rye
. Only this time, he found himself clicking through the many menus of extra notes and details.

There it was. A crisp photograph of the original, printed book. There were many pictures available. He was able to see the front cover, the back, the binding, and even a photograph of the author himself. Naturally, the Publishing House found the most crisp, unblemished images possible. Holden would have preferred something that actually looked real, with creases and stains. Something that didn’t looked fabricated and airbrushed for optimal pixel value. What he saw made him sad, but mostly for a different reason. Holden realized in that humid, condensed bus that this was likely the closest he would come to seeing his favorite book in person and that the rest of his life would be filled with a forced decision to forget.



* * * * *






The bus came to a stop in Uptown and Holden stepped off with two others – people with a destination in mind that walked briskly toward it because the rain had returned. It was light and blowing pleasantly in the wind, but no less bothersome. Trudging through stagnant puddles on the way back to his apartment, Holden noticed the lights of a few shops along the street. One of the signs was blinking with false intention. The irregular rhythm forced him to stop and take notice. The sign was for an antique store that he had never seen before. A glimmer of hope promptly moved his legs toward the unwelcoming neon. Books were antiques. And it was very possible, although extremely illegal, that the shop owner had books for sale. At this point, Holden would have settled for an idea. A rough idea of where he could find an original manuscript.

Aisles of old furniture and scraps of history snaked through the long shop, dormant in a cracked, translucent skin of dust. The store wore a crisp smell of decay that made Holden recall every time he had been forced to squeeze along the many cramped rafters of a dying city with too many sprinkler heads in hand to cover his nose. It was repellent. But, no matter how unbearable, there were some problems in life he just had to accept.

Holden strolled cautiously to the immense oak counter where a skeletal man in a tight, red t-shirt was fiddling with the innards of a prehistoric computer. Three long, beaded necklaces draped his scraggly neck and his poorly-aged face, with oddly dark eyebrows and a handlebar mustache, was warped in concentration. Up close, Holden could see that the man was in his late sixties and was mostly bald except for a tangle of grey hair that swooped the crest of his ears to his neck. Holden knew he should wait until the man was available to answer his question, but he couldn’t help himself. He hadn’t gotten through five words before the shop owner interrupted him to laugh.

BOOK: The Book
3.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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