Old Books

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: House of Ghosts
A family patriarch teaches a history lesson

Submitted: April 19, 2017

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Submitted: April 19, 2017

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Old Books

 

“I can remember when we used to have books that you could hold in your hands to read.” Jason reminisced, part in a faded memory, part speaking to his youngest great-great grandchild. He struck a match and held it to the charred wick of a partially used candle.

“Wow, what was that like?” JJ3 queried, scooting closer to the light. He wasn’t afraid of the darkness, but he knew when the old man told a story about the past sometimes they could be a little scary. The youngest Jason Joshua in the family was named after the old man he considered to be the oldest and smartest person alive. Of course when you’re seven years old, everyone older than twenty seems ancient.

Grandpa Jason, as he was affectionately titled by his numerous progeny, strode across the room with the light from the candle dancing and casting shadows across his face. Sometimes these shadows made Jason seem older than he really was, sometimes younger. JJ3 was mesmerized by the magical way the light was playing tricks on his ocular receptors.  The young Jason would pretend his grandpa twice great was a wizard casting incantations by use of the ignited Candle of Keen Mysticism to defeat the Nefarious Powers of Mother World.  He watched as “Jason the Conqueror” glided to his favorite leather recliner and settled in, his knees popping from the strain of arthritis.

“Well;” the old man began with a brief pause to light his cigar on the candle, puffing tiny smoke halos into the air above his head.  “It was a lot different having to turn pages manually and the smell of an old book would bring back as many memories as the actual words in the book itself. I would spend countless hours reading and by the time I was finished, it seemed like saying goodbye to old friends. The characters would take on a life of their own.” Grandpa Jason shifted his weight and crossed his legs at the ankles, getting a bit more comfortable. “The feel of the paper, the weight of the book, even the sound of the binding cracking as you opened one gave you this sense of peace; like you were leaving your world and travelling into another. That’s what a good book could do for you. Make you forget your cares and take you far, far away.” He stared into the darkness with this last phrase as if he was summoning up a wraith from the past.

JJ3 was very familiar with the look old Jason had in his eyes, a mixture of dreaming and glassiness. He waited silently for a moment before asking in a timid voice “what happened to them? The books, I mean. where did they go?”

It was either the sound of innocence in the voice of the youth or the context of the question that caused a tear to well up in the old man’s eyes.  He could remember being innocent, naïve, and inquisitive in his formative years. He would soak up information like a sponge, but in those days you had to put in a great deal of work researching topics and accumulating reading materials. Not to mention the amount of miles walked to the repository of books, the time spent checking the card catalog using the Dewey decimal system and the numerous trips to different libraries if the book wasn’t at the one he visited. Then you sat for hours studying, deciphering the information; comparing topics and taking notes. Once you found a common thread, you could assume with some certainty that the material was legit and not some government funded bullshit. This was something his great-great grandson would never have a chance to experience. Nor would anyone else of his generation, come to think of it.

Old Jason took a puff from his cigar, a maduro hand rolled by a “descendant of one of the renowned families in the cigar industry;” or at least that’s the story the trader told him. He had traded an electric generator converted to run on solar energy and later converted again to run on polarity magnetics.  He had gotten a “bonus” gift for being a good customer: a case of twenty-five year old scotch whiskey.  I should have poured myself a shot; he thought and decided against it. He wanted his memory as clear as it could be for the task at hand. The old man felt it an obligation to his young protégé to teach him about past events, as he had done each successive child of his offspring being that he was the oldest living patriarch of the family.  Jason took a slow deep breath, closed his eyes, and remembered…

“It may have been a decade or so after our first African American president completed his second term in office and a billionaire businessman attempted to make the country great again, the years get kind of jumbled with age. What I do recall is telling the wife, your great-great grandmother that with the new electronic reading gadgets rendering all the physical copies of books obsolete, before long all the bookstores and libraries will be closed. All a person had to do was take his “smart” phone from his pocket, pull up the internet and he could find anything on World Wide Web. You didn’t even need a computer sometimes; you had apps for everything from reading materials to shopping.  It was modern conveniences at your fingertips and easily accessible by all. My prediction came true in the summer of the year 2030. As with all forms of evolution, for the new to flourish the old has to pass away.

More and more people began online shopping which in turn created a void in the necessity of physical buildings called shopping malls. These were large buildings with multiple stores that a person could visit and stroll through, actually touching the textiles or rather clothes they wanted to purchase. There were specialty stores that sold exclusive items and stores for the “outdoorsman” those interested in hunting and fishing or other sporting goods.”

Young JJ3 had a million and one questions, but he dared not ask at this moment. The old man was in a zone and he did not want to break his connection, the memories flooding in a panorama of vividness. The child could almost feel the textures of the different clothes; smell the newness of the shoes, feel the electricity in the air from all the people hurriedly progressing from one shop to the next.

“Many of these malls had bookstores inside,” the old fellow continued “and when the doors closed everyone packed up and left. This was one facet to the demise of the books; the other was arrogance of the elite class ruling during that time period.”  Jason took another puff from his cigar, slowly rolling it between his thumb and forefinger admiring the texture of the rolled leaves and the aromatic smoke. A fine cigar would burn for hours with a couple draws every now and then, and the inch of ash on the end proved its quality. “The rich mucky-mucks weren’t pleased with the way history portrayed them, therefore they saw an opportunity to erase and rewrite history.”

The soothing sound of his great-great grandfathers’ baritone voice and southern drawl was lulling young JJj3 to sleep, but this heightened his curiosity. “How can someone change history when it has already happened, Grandpa? Were there time travelers from another dimension that caused a rift in the continuum, creating an alternate chain of events?”

Jason the older was never amazed by the intelligence of the child. It seemed the kids were getting smarter each generation since the Global Obliteration Decree was put into effect. He had this same lesson with each successive stage in descent of his offspring, beginning with his granddaughter. That was the toughest lesson, trying to teach a pre-teen about the benefits of leaving behind the world she had come to know and travel to an unknown planet to begin humanity again. The hardest part was reassuring her that her grandparents would survive the impending global war. “History is written by the victorious, and when all of your written records have been digitized and the physical copies destroyed; it can be easily manipulated.” The old man recalled a quote he had read somewhere; Memory is not an instrument for exploring the past but its theatre. It is the medium of past experience, as the ground is the medium in which dead cities lie interred. This was an apt quote for the memories flashing into his mind like an old 35mm film projection.

The old man sat there quietly reliving past events, trying to remain as unbiased as he could so he wouldn’t leave a lasting disdain for government on his young descendant. He watched as JJ3 absorbed the information, twitching and grimacing as the images flooded his small receptors. Carefully choosing which events to share was a task since there was no way to edit or filter memories. Yet Jason did his best to protect his great-great grandson from any psychologically traumatic recollections, tempering negative with positive. On one occasion he had fallen asleep without completely disengaging and frightened little JJ3 so immensely that the youngster refused to sleep alone for an entire year. Damn flashbacks, Damn technology.

Deforestation, de population; global warming, nuclear warnings; police brutality, increased immorality; phantasmagorias raced by in a processional condemning humanity to its demise. Cultures blending, genders bending; spiritual awakenings, religions negated; peace on Earth, good will to all…

A gaunt man stands on the beach gazing out over the ocean.  The breeze bends the brim of his favorite straw Stetson momentarily obscuring his view, as gusts playfully lift and twist his salt and pepper beard. Waves lap at his feet, first touching his toes then his ankles, rising to his shins with each undulation. A beautiful woman of equal maturity stands next to him entwined in his embrace, tear soaked cheeks reflecting the setting sun. They both watch a glint of silver metal dematerialize in the distant sky, parting clouds as it passed each level of heaven. Humanity continues…

“Jason Joshua…why are you still awake? You have early lessons and it is well past your time of slumber. Tell your great grandpa goodbye, and turn off your ocular receptors.” A stern yet loving motherly voice comes across the modified virtual reality machine, or VR gear as it was fondly dubbed during its unveiling. Grandpa smiled as he listened to his granddaughter, the spitting image of his lovely wife.

“Aww, Mom. Just a few more minutes, please?  The memories were starting to get interesting” the younger Jason protested weakly. He knew there was no winning this argument.

“Listen to your mother JJ3. We’ll chinwag more whenever the planets align…better….reception.” The old man placed his hand out in front of his face like he was touching something even though he was in this part of his bunker alone. He knew his grandson twice great was making a similar gesture before shutting down his hologram communicator and settling in to sleep on New Earth.


© Copyright 2018 Q.B. McKinney. All rights reserved.

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