This is a short story I randomly began to write, and who knows if I will have the chance to finish it. It is set in the future, where all is online, and people can only work and live by means of speech and a keyboard.
Quiet in the chaos.
She was sitting in the New York Public Library, in the heart of Manhattan. Outside the world roared with traffic, talking, and trouble. But she was at peace at a desk. Other souls surrounded her, invested in their Excel business reports or maybe only mindless web-surfing. Her eyes glanced over her screen, sliding down the Twitter feed and flicking back-and-forth across the browser’s tabs. As she looked for a red square on her Facebook header, she admired a photo on Pinterest of a scrumptious blueberry muffin. Her thoughts and fingers synchronized to keep pace with the virtual marketplace, but her heart was heavy with wonder, What to do next?
At the same time a young man took the empty seat next to her. He had nothing on his person but a book. After a sigh, he opened it and bent over the worded paper, intently reading.
Seeing him, the girl remember she was in a library. She detached herself from the laptop screen and studied the young man. The thick book in his hands was worn, its rusty red cover faded from the hundreds of hands that had clutched it before him. Cracks in the spine revealed the sticky glue encrusting the pages, and she could barely see the title, Anna Karenina. She faintly recalled it was a classic, and that it had romance of some sort. It had been awhile since she had seen a book. The sight of this man reading one was a bit unnerving.
How could he waste a moment on fiction? The followers of his social media pages must be worried. And the boldness- to read in place that once had books! He probably has a struggling web-life, if he has to escape from it with a fake story on paper.
She was about to forget about it, to let him live in the literary. After all, her newsfeeds were screaming, the pings in her headphones shaking her back to reality. The lighted screen of the world wide web was calling, and she could not but help but answer- when every follower, friend, and family member was eagerly waiting for another selfie. But curiosity won out. This man had a reason for breaking away from the screen.
While scrambling to write a e-text to his desk monitor, she realized he hadn’t even turned it on. She looked around the room, there has to be paper and a pen somewhere! She hesitated. Even if there was a pen, it had been forever since she had written anything. Dare she embarrass herself with her kindergarten print? This simple struggle- the inability to immediately communicate- made her sick with frustration.
Next thing she knew, she was poking him.
His nose popped up from the book with blue eyes widened in alarm. As curly brown hair bounced around his face, he wore a questioning look. She pointed at his book, her eyebrows furrowed.
“What?” he mouthed.
She couldn’t believe he didn’t understand. “Why would you read a book?” she hissed back in a whisper.
“Why not?” he countered.
“Because you can read the story online.”
“True for most stories,” he admitted, “But not this one.”
She stared at him, what is he talking about?
“Anna Karenina has to be in E-Library, it’s a classic!”
Her whispered exclamation echoed across the room, and people curiously glanced up from their screens. Suddenly, a few library guards swooped upon them.
“If you two are going to talk, talk online or go outside!”
“Do you want to go outside?” the book boy asked her.
She wasn’t sure. By now, her online accounts were bursting with new messages and updates that had to be read, judged, and extrapolated to her own website. Could she afford to take a break from the digital mayhem? Getting 5 hours of sleep was already running her typing potential thin. Every second was precious. But she was wondering if the Facebook-status of this guy was worth thousands of her own.
“I guess so…” she murmured, staring at Anna Karenina and preparing to leave.
The guards were also staring at it, growing suspicious. “Why aren’t you on a computer, young man?”
The book boy smiled, “I don’t have one.”
The guards looked shocked.
She blurted, “He doesn’t have one with him! We are going back to the house to get it…” Grabbing the book boy’s shirt, she pulled him toward the exit, leaving the guards in awe.
“Did you want us to get kicked out?” She gasped.
“No no no… I didn’t realize libraries were so tough nowadays. That was my first time in there. I’m Kepplin, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you. You were wondering about my book. I think you should know, it’s not Anna Karenina.”
“Well, what is it?”
“It’s the Bible.”
The Bible? Wasn’t that a scripture of myth, from time before the Digital Age? She thought. Bi-ble. The word was foreign to her mind, and the two simple syllables resounded. Suddenly questions and fear collided within her conscience. Her hands trembling, she snatched Kepplin’s fragile book and flipped to the first page.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty…
Her heart skipped at beat. Who is God? How could he claim to have made the world? Nonsense! She slowly peered up from the printed page to see Kepplin’s watching her with concern, but also with a slight smile. Why would this guy forget the internet for a fairytale? For an obsolete book?
“Look Petra, before you say anything, give me and this Bible a chance.” Kepplin stepped a little closer.
I may appear crazy, but I can answer all of your questions. This book has the Truth. And when one knows the truth, the truth sets one free. Free from the binds of followers, friend requests, and social scrutiny. It is the freedom to be who you are without the proof, without the self-justification, without the need for attention or money. All you have to do is walk away from the screen for one day. The fact that you are listening now says you are different.”
She was speechless. I am “different?” That label was never used anymore. This whole situation was not real. How did she go from happily tweeting about Fashion Week to considering a strange guy’s offer of truth? She sat down upon the library’s marble steps, staring out at speedy taxis and crowds marching with their E-devices. The idea of a truth was enticing. At the end of the day, when her statuses and reputations were sent out to the web-verse, was any of it of substance? What was her life, really? A string of 140 characters, a post on someone’s wall? Even the in-person interactions she had fell short of some greater, fuller reality. The conversations lacked depth, they lacked honesty and direction.
“Okay,” she murmured.
“What?” he exclaimed.
He seemed as shocked by her acceptance as she was.
With a grin, he took Petra’s arm and pulled her to her feet. They stood face-to-face.
“You won’t regret this,” he said. His blue eyes sparkled with excitement.
She desperately hoped she wouldn’t.