An old man, guarding something he can’t understand, looks for fun in an icy wasteland.
|The old man, surprised by the blare of an alert, rose with a grunt from his bed. It was many years ago that he had last heard it. Looking at the array of monitors, he saw someone clad in a down suit get out of a snow trailer. With heavy steps, the intruder approached the entrance through the deep snow.
The old man frowned. Why was that person coming here alone? If anyone wanted what his family had been guarding for six generations, he shouldn’t be alone. Could there be another reason for this visit?
He played back the memories of his mother and grandfather telling him their versions of how the world changed into this—endless snow, gray skies, and bone chilling wind—and how his family received the treasure for safekeeping until the day would come to reveal it to change everything for the better.
The bells ringing for entry dragged him back from tales of a happier past to confront him with the task of judging it better to unlock the door or not. Unchanging boredom tilted the scales toward the former. But, before doing so, he would have some fun. Projecting a hologram of a tall bearded man in pantaloons and a wide brim hat in front of the entrance, he thought what he would like to say and the hologram chose the words. “Who are you?”
The hologram laughed as the man stepped back, teetered, and fell on his ass.
Embedded in fluffy snow, the visitor struggled to rise. Finally, he stood, paused to regain his breath and chuckled. “I didn’t expect anyone to be alive this far north, Cowboy. My name is Gonzo. I’m the librarian of Jones County, Mississippi.”
The old man put his hands on his hips as did Cowboy. “So, Gonzo, can you explain to me what a librarian from Jones County Mississippi is doing out here in the middle of Nowhere, New York?”
“I’m looking for books. Of course, not in the snow. Rather, in shelters like yours.”
Cowboy’s mouth twisted in scorn. “You expect me to believe that you’re so hungry for the printed word that you would risk your life to look for them out here?
Gonzo patted snow off his butt. “Oh, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m risking my life for something of little value. Besides, it’s not for myself. It’s for the whole world. I know half of it’s gone, but it’s for the future. Which I dare say will be much better. And, the knowledge within books will be essential for that recovery.”
The old man took a moment to arrange his thoughts. Can this stranger help or not? Does he stand for good or bad? Tilting his head, he took a good look at Gonzo. “Unfortunately, I’m not eager to part with anything for something that might happen in the future.”
“Well, sir, I’m prepared to bargain for your books. My trailer is well stocked with food, beverages, books, old magazines, and comics.”
The cowboy’s eyes lit up at the word magazines. “Are any of those magazines puzzle magazines?”
Gonzo smiled. “Yes, indeedy.”
“And, ah, what are comics?”
“Essentially, stories told in color pictures.”
“I think we have the basics for a mutually beneficial swap.” With that said, he slowly disintegrated till only one arm was left.
Gonzo followed in the direction the arm pointed as a seamless wall parted. As he stepped inside, the walls, floor, and ceiling merged into a star filled sky. Gravity faded away. The old man snickered as Gonzo lurched ahead with his arms flailing until he was awkwardly somersaulting forward.
Outer space vanished. Gravity gradually regained its power and Gonzo landed belly first. In front of his eyes were cloven feet. Expecting to witness smouldering eyes above, he was startled to see a hologram of a nearly overflowing blouse under huge sparkling emerald eyes framed in pink tresses.
In a high pitched gleeful voice the young woman said, “Welcome, let’s get the trading started!”
Gonzo stood and tucked in his shirt. “With pleasure. And, how shall I address the ravishing beauty before me?”
“You may call me Cleo.” She giggled.
“How appropriate. I see behind you a wall filled with books! May I peruse yonder titles to initiate our business?”
Cleo smiled and nodded vigorously. She noticed his eyes were focused a little lower.
Gonzo walked to the wall of books. His head went up and right, down and left, zigged and zagged. “I see that nearly all the books are about mathematics, science, and engineering. Exactly what we are looking for. I commend you on your choices.”
Cleo placed a finger an inch from her nose. “Me? I didn’t pick those boring books. Books should be fun to read. Those just put me to sleep. If you have any books with adventure and mystery, I’ll swap.” She held out her hand. “Deal?”
In spite of knowing he couldn’t shake a holographic hand, he did his best. “Deal. Now, then, is there anything else that I might desire?”
Cleo imploded. Santa popped out.
The fat white-bearded man in a red and white suit spread out his arms. “Perhaps an item that one who desires to better the world would use. I feel the time has arrived for it to change hands. For six generations my family has preserved it believing that one day the world would need the hopes and dream of a great leader to help us. And, man, do we need help.”
There was a gleam in Gonzo’s eyes and a peculiar curve in his lips. “You have my full attention, Santa. Is it a magnificent machine that will transform this snowy wasteland into a verdant paradise?”
Santa dropped his arms and shook his head. “No, son. The most desirable things in this world are never so easy to attain. Needed are hard work, hard decisions, and the resolve of good people to push forward.”
Gonzo bowed. “My question was in poor taste. I couldn’t agree more. Forgive me for my cynicism. May I see this treasure so nobly guarded?”
“Come this way. There on the pedestal inside the case is a letter from a man named Abraham Lincoln dated November 19, 1863. It seems to be a speech after a battle in a civil war. Doesn’t say why there was a war, but my mother says her great-grandmother said it was about slavery and his side was against it.”
Gonzo’s eyebrows rose, “Why that’s nearly three hundred years ago! Amazing. I know it must be very important to you, and it must be fragile by now, so you must not like to take it out of the case, but may I read it?”
“You’re right. I don’t like to take it out of the case, but I trust you realize its value, and since I just might swap it for some things you have, I’ll let you read it.”
The last batch of books were under Gonzo’s left arm as he stood just outside the domed shelter. A distant sound as if something were scraping a brick across sand grabbed his attention. He looked north as the sun cast a feeble light through the clouds upon the mile high glacier inching its way south.
Back inside his trailer, Gonzo again read the speech. The words had the powerful effect of activating change, of making it a duty to do so, so that, the sacrifices given be not in vain. Thus, it was dangerous and must be destroyed. Gonzo lit a candle and held the document to the flame. The last words that the fire turned to smoke were … government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
The old man stood in front of the monitors and watched the trailer leave. Smiling, he opened a drawer, took out another copy of the letter and placed it inside the case on the pedestal.