It was on a mild Spring Thursday morning when it happened. No church bells, or fireworks, or even a spontaneous applause marked the occasion; for on that Thursday, at 9.24am, the last book that had been read was closed for the very last time.
It’s not as if anyone could have failed to see it coming. For years people had read their stories on little pads – never having the satisfaction of turning and folding paper pages. The population would binge on streaming drama, and comedy, and documentaries from Amazon, Hulu, Netflix and a million others. People didn’t want to read anymore – because with reading meant bringing your imagination to work – and that took time which no one could spare.
You see it wasn’t just books – for, not long after the last book was read, the electronic versions, also got discarded. Reading was so last decade. To be honest, most folks found it difficult to write in anything other than EstuaryText (ET): ‘You’re’ had become, ‘Your’, had transmuted into ‘UR’. Slogans were written in ET. Shop signs and street signs, the same. Mostly graphics provided information – the way you knew where a toilet was, or a car parking, back in the 20th century.
But there was still the need for stories, meaning there was always a requirement for story writers. Sure, people read scripts for movies – but the words were projected immediately in front of them. No one needed to commit lines to memory. Some of the team of media writers would still use old methods to record their thoughts for stories – but these were the exception.
Then it happened – one day, about 130 years after the last book had been read, a man turned up who had spent his early life in the hills of northern Montana. He had grown up with his grandmother, in a small cabin. He had hunted and fished, and in the evenings, his grandmother told him stories that had been handed down through the generations. His favourite story was one called ‘Great Expects’ – which had been written by a man called Chuck Dikkens, apparently this dude had written stories in sections, and would sell them bit by bit, leaving the readers excited about what would take place next. Of course, they had to buy the next instalment to see what had occurred.
This man from Montana, called Aster, decided that perhaps he could be like Chuck Dikkens and create stories.
At first, they were verbal. He would drone-travel around the town and tell a story or two. Most folks told him to be quiet while they would binge inside on their latest streamer, but one or two listened and asked him when he would be back with the next story. Two became four, which became fifty, then a hundred. Aster’s visits would be greatly anticipated.
One of those listening to Aster’s stories was a woman by the name of Fara. She had studied stories and story making, and this included a rudimentary understanding of a written language, once known as EstuaryText. She started to convert Aster’s stories into Text Speak – and one day, when she had the courage, she showed it to him. Of course, there could be anything written in the strange shapes – according to Aster. So, to appease him, Fara taught him all she knew about writing language. Eventually Aster not only told his stories but handed out single page leaflets which contained the same in Text. Not many could read these stories to begin with, but after Sara started up a class in town, more and more folks began to understand what the shapes meant.
More than a few folks got excited, as they had probably done, several hundred years before with the stories of Chuck Dikkens and – okay, so it wasn’t a book – but people began to read for pleasure and the world lightened a little.
And perhaps one day, maybe in the far-distant future, books would come back and be read on hillsides.
bobby stevenson 2018
painting: Quint Bucholz.