“I can see here on my computer that you’re on a real Ray Bradbury kick,” the friendly librarian, Jonah, said. “Fahrenheit 451 for the third time this year, huh?”
“Every time I read it I find something new— know what I mean?” Greg spoke too soon, fearing his attempt at a rhetorical question would fail. He shifted his weight onto his other leg. Both legs were covered by faded cargo pants and untied sneakers.
“Yeah! I can’t get enough of War and Peace.” Jonah usually didn’t judge anyone for their literary choices, especially adults, who, as far as he could tell, lacked any desire to read anything more challenging than Young Adult. But Greg was so damn squirrely, he would be the kind of degenerate who would read some irrelevant science fiction over and over. Jonah wasn’t quite sensitive or informed enough to consider maybe Greg had real issues, but we can forgive him for that because who knows about what kinds of things Jonah has going on that are messed up?
He stamped the lined paper on the inside of the book jacket: DUE DATE AUG 09 2022.
Greg had to extend his reach past comfort in order to grab and slide the novel across the counter and into a blue plastic bag advertising WAL-MART’s existence with a smiley. There was a dried out, cap-less sharpie marker inside and a can of tuna.
“Oh, Greg, by the way, remember to get your free electronic reader on the way out. We’re bookless by this time next week. Just enter your library card number to it and you can save stuff. It’s time sensitive, just like if you had checked out real books, so it’s really the same lending schedule. Sure you’ll get the hang of it no problem.”
“What? I will. I will. I…” Greg was polite on the outside but on the inside, his world was dismantling like an End-Times sermon served after a church bankruptcy warning. NO BOOKS?! WHAT AM I TO DO?! I HAVEN’T EVEN FINISHED HALF OF THE SCIENCE FICTION SECTION! His crotch pained psychosomatically at the thought.
He rode his bike all the way home on a thin mind. How would Kitty take this news?
He slipped into his apartment, taking care to not agitate the creaky front door. The calico awoke from her nap, anyway, body still, eyes penetrating as arrow tips. “Did you get Fahrenheit 451?”
“Yes. It’s the third copy, too. The only one I’ve missed.” Greg reached into the bag, opened the tuna can and left it near the water dish.
“Every page much be marked,” said Kitty.
“Ok, Ok. I’ll get started.” Greg sighed, unbuttoned his cargo pants and slipped them off along with his boxers. He opened the book.
“Don’t forget the intentionally left blank page.” The cat trotted to the tuna and started munching.
“I never do.” He proceeded to flop his penis on every page, making soft thuds. He had completed this work on a few dozen pages, when a passage caught his line of sight.
“It doesn’t matter what you do…so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”
He remembered the electronic readers and tried to think of a way to stop his release of body oils and pheromones.
Kitty’s head straightened away from her meal and she articulated, “You’re keeping something from me,” to the wall, which she faced.
“Oh, Kitty, there might be… complications.”
“Well, figure them out. You’re the human.”
“I will. I will solve our problem. I will.” He continued to wipe his genitals on every page of the book.
Greg was an expert at this process. In six years, he’d covered at least five hundred books (and nary a paper cut). The compulsion began by “marking” all the books he’d read in college and law school. But then Kitty got involved and demanded more. He moved on to self-help books (to try to break the habit), cook books, and eventually colorful books that rhymed. You could only check out so many at a time, so sometimes he took a sick day from work and proceeded inside of the library, below the table, while other people read weathered books around him.
A week later, Greg stared at a blurry reflection of his face in the electronic reader. He had hooked it up to a black-market USB thumb-drive computer, which was itself connected to a 90’s-era webcam he had found at a thrift store. He took a photo of his penis— which was briefly illuminated in grainy detail by a worn yellow flash. The image shot through the computer, which assigned to it a timestamp and watermark (ensuring each picture was unique), and encoded the information invisibly onto every electronic page of his downloaded library books in its metadata, one page at a time.
From outside of his apartment’s single window, you might have seen a flash occur every two or three seconds and wondered what kind of sad, quiet, lonely rave was occurring on the other side of the wall. But it was kind of worse than a sad, quiet, lonely rave.
Forty miles above the Earth surface, an alien craft accessed and mined each human’s electronic data.
“There’s information on this planet, for sure. But is there bona fide intelligence?” said one curious alien, sitting at the commander’s chair.
“Oh yeah, there definitely are encrypted messages hidden in their libraries.”
“Bring it up on my mental screen— center main.”
“There ya go.”
“Pff— looks just like oglepots.” (An oglepots looks just like a human penis and the alien symbol for farts).
“Yeah, heh, it does.”