Footsteps against the white pavement are all that strikes my ears, rather than the occasional conversation between two people, or the sound of laughter, or even the wailing of a child. All their heads are permanently bowed before their flat, handheld devices that emit the only unending noises into the stilled air. Their lips are firmly pressed together and their throats lay dormant. Beside the street where fast flashes of bright hovering cars whiz by, I walk among these mutes like the rest of them on the pure white sidewalk. In the city of Baltimore, Maryland, year 2144, trees do not grow, nor the grass and flowers. What grows each passing day are buildings and homes engulfing every plant life and creature. Mountainous buildings tower all around me with their glaring glass windows, and the glass doors that slide away in a flash for the oblivious beings who step through them.
The crowd fades away as I walk to the abandoned buildings at the end of the street. The glass doors are left wide open, filling the monstrous structures with emptiness. Scratches tint the glass windows removing its shimmering beauty, and the streets are left empty with the exception of a few cars passing by. Between two buildings a familiar narrow alley captivates my attention, and the setting sun behind me casts an orange light to my surroundings, pulling the edges of the shadow ever further towards my brown penny loafers.
A sense of fear and excitement pumps through my veins as I imagine what lies in wait behind the curtain of darkness. A force begs me to enter into its domains, but I am held back by an overwhelming fear of being caught inside the market filled to the brim with ancient objects. But my fingers burn with desire to touch the hard material that covers the thin crisp pages which hold every word in its grasp. The hunger for these words devours me slowly and my thirst for them is leaving my mouth parched and dry. The shadows reach my feet inviting me to come inside, and I take the invitation fully knowing the consequences of even being acquainted to this place.
The arms of darkness consume me entirely, obscuring my sight. Each step is careful, precise, and plays soft splashes of water. A small white light with a tint of blue comes to view as I tread on closer. At the end of the alley a wide black, metal house fills the space of the alley’s limit. Drops of water from broken pipes make a consecutive sound against the home, bringing a sort of life to its decrepit appearance. The light buzzes and dims momentarily above the blended-in antique door.
I turn the strange rusty metal and open it as it moans and grasps every speck of silence around the alley. The dirt on the tiled flooring scatters away into the air from the clean breeze entering the domains of the dust infested market. The empty hall stretches long and narrow with flickering orange light at the end of it. My racing heart beats in my ears.
I stop in the center of a small round room with flickering candle lights mounted on the musty yellow walls who cast dim glows on blacklisted paintings of Van Gough, Francisco Goya, Monet, Frida Kahlo and others. A black metal door is exactly across from the hall behind me with a large curved handle. Doubt taps the window of my consciousness as well as fear for what lies behind the arcane gateway. I dismiss their efforts and drape them over with a heavy curtain as I put my full weight into my hands to push the handle down. With a bit of exertion I push away the barrier between reality and fantasy to reveal rows of shelves with endless amounts of trinkets, accessories, toys, electronics, and--most of all--books. A slow and steady smile expands on my face as I pace my steps to a shelf of books, scanning my hand over the long row of their spines. It is a welcoming feeling to touch something so new and ageless, regardless of it being tabooed across the country.
Excitement boils down to my very core to excavate new stories and knowledge. Each spine I pass with the engraving of titles and authors, the rough textures spread from finger tips to the rest of my body, itching to tear it away from the old metal shelves and give it purpose again after so many years.
The flipping of crisp pages echoes from the very back of the market where a circle of light on the ceiling pinpoints the resident's location above the rows of shelves. I smile at the refreshing sound.
‘I’m sure he’s going to be excited to see me again.’
I observe around the dim lit room. ‘Two months…’
Never would I have thought to come back to this forbidden place after experiencing that horrific event in the street with those religious group of people known as the Ayat. But my yearning for these ancient objects had already clasped me down in chains and blinded my sense of reasoning while they were all martyred before my eyes, and the streets soaked with their blood. I wash the crimson pigments from my mind and smile at the little freedom I have here. With gracious steps I spin around with the dust particles whirling around me, and my red, mid-thigh skirt following my movements. Black strands of hair cover my face, hiding away my deep purple eyes.
I run down the mazes of shelves of books, and other objects that are alien to me as I look for nothing in particular. My desperate mind draws me to the left end of the market where I am greeted with a library of books to which I take their invitation with a loving thought. I scan every books’ title and the multiple colors of their spines with my fast pacing steps, gently hitting the cement ground until I come to a stop in front of a thin spine with a red background hidden behind gold lettering.
'Number the Stars. Sounds interesting enough.′
I pick out the paperback book and look down at the black and white photograph of a girl with chapped lips, short hair, and hollow eyes. The picture alone brings a small sting in the back of my eyes as I think back to the little Ayat girl’s own eyes that read no fear, but instead full knowledge of what her fate will be: a dart, which emits electricity, to the head. A painful and quick death.
A necklace is laid out beside the girl with a star shaped symbol that I seem to recall, and the corners of the book are eaten away with age along with the yellow-turned pages. With delicate fingers I wipe away the left over dust then make my way to Gasparo.
Just as before, he is sitting behind the hovering desk (one of the few modern objects he owns) flipping through the yellow pages of a large manual with his wrinkled and ink stained hand, and the other being occupied with an electronic object that has been lost and forgotten for the past century. I sit myself down on the hovering, single legged chair, in front of the occupied worker, and tap the desk commanding the chair to move me towards it. I set the book down before him, but he pays no heed to it as his eyes are firmly devoted to whatever it is he’s reading.
After patiently waiting in the few minutes of silence, with the turning pages the only source of noise to break the barrier, his grey eyes looks over at the thin book, then to the object held in his other hand.
“Do you know what this is?”
I stare at him with wide eyes, startled from how nonchalantly he spoke as if it were something this society did every day. It regularly slips my mind that he didn’t have his vocal chords removed at birth, like the Ayats, when it is law to have it done at birth. Although this information is fact to me, it’s not something I hear every waking moment of my life. I shake my head at him.
“It is called a PSP. Something children and teenagers played with.”
‘A PlayStation system. It does resemble in a way the handheld ones we have now. Just a little simpler looking.’
I nod my head toward him showing my full attention, and look down at the book I presented to him a while ago. Following my gaze he picks it up and his wrinkles stretch as he smiles.
“Ah. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Good pick.”
He sets the book down before me and points at the golden circle with an open book inscribed in it on the right hand side of the cover. “This is called a John Newberry Award. This award was given to the best American literature for children. Shame we don’t have that anymore.” He leans back and pops open the black plastic shell of the PSP.
‘Then this book must be very good to have gained such a high honor.’
The star shaped necklace grasps my attention and the dire need to know what it is chokes me. I lift the book in front of his face and point to it.
A throaty chuckle erupts from him marking a spot of confusion into my curiosity.
“You have to read it in order to figure out the purpose of that necklace.”
‘No. Not the purpose.’
I shake my head. It really is difficult not being able to text a man who doesn’t like the technologies of the world, so I have to act like a monkey now to show him what I really want to know.
His grey eyes cloud over with realization.
‘At least he catches on quickly.’
“You don’t know what it is?”
I nod my head confirming the correct question I want answered.
He scratches his tied back, grey hair and sighs, “What the hell do they teach you in those schools?”
From what Gasparo has told me, there are a lot of things that have been removed from our on-screen textbooks, and apparently this is one of them.
“You’re going to have to find out for yourself.” With an ink stained finger he points toward the book. “All your answers will be inside that book. I’m almost afraid of letting you read it.”
I tilt my head to the side in question of his last statement.
He sets down the already in pieces PSP and rests his elbows on the table with a firm look in his eyes. “Amethyst, there will always be terrible people who reside in this world who do terrible things, and we almost never know what the reasons for their cruelness are. Sometimes the only way to solve these problems is to act upon them with violence. There will certainly be blood shed among good and evil, no matter how much one tries to avoid it. These unavoidable things are what we call wars. Something the people of today have forgotten and are oblivious to the oncoming one between them and the Ayats. There is no such thing as peace in this world which is what everyone has failed to understand.” He grabs the book from my hand. “This book takes place almost 200 years ago where a man by the name of Adolf Hitler, a German man who was the murderer of millions of people, and the leader of a group of soldiers known as Nazis. This type of book is one of the reasons why books have been band from this country. To keep us from knowing the truth of the true human nature of our world. Do you understand?”
Were there really people like that? Murderers? The usage of the word is beyond a rarity in this time with the exception of history lessons at school where we are not even being taught a quarter of the things compared to what I have learned from Gasparo. I take the book from his hand and open it to chapter one, page one. Gasparo looks at me expectantly the moment I opened to the first page.
“Let’s see how much you know so far.” He grabs the pieces of the PSP again in his hands. “You may begin.”Without hesitation or trembling I feel the first word coming out from the back of my throat ready to be released into the dusty air. I open my mouth and what comes out is what will soon enough lead to my demise.