It was March 18, 2109, and I was bored. Quendy and I were lying next to each other on Quagnar beach, drinking Zoofle Blasters and watching sky pirates shooting each other down over the ocean.
“I’m sick of Zoofle Blasters,” I said, throwing away my fluorescent blue cup. It disappeared as soon as it hit the sand. “And I’m sick of sky pirates. They always do the same thing every time.”
“Me, too,” said Quendy. “Maybe we should go visit the Xenon 5 beach. They have a whole new sky pirate show.”
“Okay,” I said. We both felt 25 zilodollars drain from our accounts, and the beach around us changed. Now it was green sand, instead of black. The sky pirates were black, instead of red, and they shot each other down even more frequently. There were four suns in the sky.
“What kind of drinks are there here?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said Quendy. Immediately a pull down menu appeared in our heads.
“I’ve had all of these,” I said.
“Me too,” said Quendy.
“Well,” I said, “maybe we should call it a day. I can’t think of a single thing to do.” We lay there in the green sand, not wanting to go somewhere else because we’d already spent 25 zilodollars getting to Xenon 5. Suddenly Quendy spoke up.
“I have an idea,” she said excitedly. “I know something we could do. Let’s go to a bookstore.”
“A bookstore?” I asked. “Why?” I’d already downloaded all the books I needed for school. I had them on background filter, and they were slowly transferring directly into my brain. Some people like to do it all in one go, but that makes my head hurt.
“No,” said Quendy. “This is different. I saw it when we went to visit Grandma and Grandma in Happy-Old Land.”
“Oh,” I said. “So it’s out there?”
“Yeah,” said Quendy.
“Weird,” I said. “Why would there be a bookstore out there?”
“You’ll see,” said Quendy. We turned off our Virtua-Screens, and got up from my sofa. Then we got in the hyper-car, and Quendy set it for 5212324 Happy-Old Land Drive.
“I know it’s near there,” said Quendy. When we appeared, things looked pretty familiar. I’d only been to 3423435 Happy-Old Land Drive, to visit my grandparents, but this place wasn’t so different.
“I think it’s next door,” said Quendy. “But we have to walk.” We got out of the car, and walked about twenty feet to the next building, which felt strange. The building said “O’Gara and Wilson” on an green cloth thing hanging out in front.
“This is it,” said Quendy. “I’ve been here with my grandmother once.”
Inside the store were all sorts of things that I’d learned about in history class, called realbooks. There were big realbooks, and little realbooks, and they were filled with words, just like the ones in the advertisements and pull-down menus.
“This is so weird,” I said. “What do you do with these?”
“Read them,” said a voice behind me. “Although no one really does, anymore.” I turned and saw an ancient man, with bushy eyebrows and a goatee.
“Why would you read them,” I asked, “if you can just download them instantly and transfer them into your brain in the background?”
“Well,” said the old man, “some realbooks aren’t actually available for download. Take this one, for example.”
He opened a case made out of something called glass, and took out one of the strange old things. The front (he called it a cover) looked like this.
“Careful,” he said, as I flipped through it.
“Cool,” said Quendy.
“Not just cool, young lady,” said the old man. “It’s the coolest Collectible realbook in the store. Written in 1901 by H.G. Wells, a first edition, back when people had never visited the moon before.”
I’d been to the moon with Quendy lots of times. Super boring, unless you’re a little kid. “Can’t download a first edition,” added the old man, though I didn’t know what he meant. “That’s why it’s so expensive.” 400 zilodollars, said the price tag. That was like 16 beach trips.
“What are these?” asked Quendy, who had found something somewhere else in the store.
“That’s a magazine,” said the old man. I recognized the little white cylinders in the picture – they were cigarettes. Long ago, said the history textbook I’d uploaded last year, people used to kill themselves by smoking them.
“Is a magazine a realbook?” I asked.
“Not exactly,” said the old man. “But it would take too long for me to explain the difference. Not too expensive, though,” he said. “Only 6 zilodollars, so you could probably get one yourself. We’ve got Time magazines, like that one, and also Life magazines. Affordable and Interesting, magazines.”
“Of course,” he said, “you probably don’t know how to read.”
“Nope,” I said. Only old people knew how to read, like this guy or grandparents. “It would take so long. And these realbooks are big and clunky. I think downloading is much easier.”
“I don’t know,” said Quendy. “Maybe it would be fun to learn how to read.” The old man didn’t say anything. He just went over and pulled another realbook off the shelf and started reading from the back.
This is what he read:
“We read to find the end, for the story’s sake. We read not to reach it, for the sake of the reading itself. We read searchingly, like trackers, oblivious of our surroundings. We read distractedly, skipping pages….We read in gusts of sudden pleasure, without knowing what brought the pleasure along.”
Quendy and I browsed for a while, and I ended up buying the realbook the old man had read from, for only 9.5 zilodollars. It was called A History of Reading, by an elder-one named Alberto Manguel. Even though it didn’t look that special, it was my Favorite thing in the store, and no matter how much I searched the Virtua-Center, I couldn’t find a copy available for download, at least not at that price.
(Thank you to M.T. Anderson and his wonderful realbook, "Feed".)