Monday, July 6, 2020

The Library by John Boeschen

John Boeschen bends time and reality in this mysterious adventure story about a beaten down truck-stop girl who, during the coronavirus lockdown, spontaneously hitches a ride with a charming rebel called James Dean.

Please read carefully. This story is not complete, it's evolving. What you read now determines what you and others read as the story comes together.

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"Goddammit, Siri, stop daydreamin'. I toldcha to flip the sign to 'closed.'" Niall Mac Loughlin follows his outburst with a sharp slap to the side of his daughter's face, the slap loud as a slammed door.

Mac Loughlin's an angry man. Some might say his 'I'm bigger, tougher than you' attitude stems from his short stature and scrawny frame, the man standing 5'3" on his toes, no more than 145 lbs with a growler of Guinness clutched in his stubby fingers.
  That's part of it, his anger, but not all of it. Mac Loughlin brought a deep-seated anger with him when he immigrated from Northern Ireland during the Troubles. An Irish Catholic Nationalist, his hate for Protestant Unionists never left him, followed him to the States. Why he left his native country and settled in Cortez, Colorado, that's a piece missing from this story.

Siri's not the source of Mac Loughlin's anger, not tonight, anyway. She's simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, a convenient - and frequent - outlet for her father's outbursts. What's raised the man's ire this Easter Sunday is megachurch pastor Adrian Baker's evangelical gathering down the road in Shiprock, New Mexico.

"Freakin' Protestants pulling their 'we're better'n you, know better'n you' bull," is Mac Loughlin's take on the churchgoers. "Jamming themselves together in that field when that virus is rampaging, passin' the bug around like it's holy communion. Damned if I'm gonna let any of 'em stop here, give 'em food and drink, watch the smug bastards leave with full stomachs for that devil's tent."

Mac Loughlin's truck stop sits close to Route 491, a major stretch of road for commercial trucks, short and long haul. Hungry and thirsty truckers are his bread and butter, other travelers not so much.

Truth to tell, Protestants passing by his truck stop on their way to the revival aren't likely to stop, grab a snack. The stop's battered plasterboard siding, chipped paint, cracked windows, and faded 'Mac Loughlin Diner' hand-painted on a sheet of 4'x8' plywood stuck in the diner's dirt turnout are more deterrent than come-hither.



Mac Loughlin's anger's building, thoughts of those smug Protestants stoking his fire. A '67 Camaro pulling onto the rutted turnout adds fuel to the flames, the Irishman's forehead throbbing.

Watching the driver scoot out of the car, saunter over to the diner, reach for the doorknob below the 'Open During Lockdown' sign's too much for the Irishman.

A loud slap to the side of his daughter's face punctuates Mac Loughlin's, "Goddammit, Siri, stop daydreamin'. I toldcha to flip the sign to 'closed.'" Siri drops to the floor, whines, knows better than to cry out. Crying out brings on more abuse, always has. She has the bruises to prove it.

The Camaro driver pulls the diner's door open. Hears Siri's whine. Looks down, sees her crumpled on the floor. Looks up, sees the girl's father, fists clinched, veins throbbing on his forehead. Looks back down on Siri.

"What have we here?" he says.

Siri says nothing, knows better. Mac Loughlin's speechless, too. Stares at the fellow, a young guy, white t-shirt under a dark leather jacket, blue jeans, cuffs turned up, high-topped black Keds sneakers. The Irishman takes in the clothes, thinks nothing of them. The kid's posture, the look on his face, that's another matter.

The fellow's leaning his shoulder against the open doorframe, legs crossed below the knees, body canted at a slight angle. Casual. Confident. Calm. The expression on his face in sync with the rest of his body. Altogether confusing given the situation.

Mac Loughlin, flustered, says, "Diner's closed," and points past the fellow to his parked car.

The fellow says nothing, looks down at his Keds, a slight upturning at the corners of his mouth, a smile, hard to see, but it's there. Siri's lying next to his sneakers, hasn't moved, looks up. He reaches down a hand.

Siri's an introvert, keeps her thoughts private, works things out in her head, takes her time, doesn't rush to judgment. Has to in this family. So she's surprised when, without thinking, she whispers a soft, "ok," reaches up, and grasps the stranger's outstretched hand.

The two of them, Siri and the stranger, stand together in the open doorway. Neither speaks, their hands still clasped. Mac Loughlin's caught off guard, dumbstruck. Faces them, confused. What's happened - is happening - doesn't fit, isn't right, not how his life's supposed to turn. Strangest of all, his anger's evaporated, no throbbing veins in his forehead.

Their standoff's short lived, Mac Loughlin standing in the diner, his feet on the long shadows of Siri and the stranger at the open door, the sun low in the sky behind them. Without a "Who the devil're you?" or a "Whaddya think you're doin'?" from the Irishman, Siri and the stranger turn, walk out to the Camaro and drive off.

"Mother Mary!" mutters Mac Loughlin. Bewildered, he shuffles to the drawer in the counter below the cash register, finds his long-neglected rosary, begins the litany, worries his fingers over the beads, somehow knows for a fact Siri's not coming back.



JD can't help glancing at the young woman sitting next to him in the Camaro. He should pay more attention to the road, Easter Sunday traffic heavier than usual, what with the big gathering in Shiprock, but he can't help himself.

Asleep before the Camaro pulls out of the truck stop's parking lot, the woman looks peaceful. Not at all like the jumble JD saw cringing, hurt, on the diner's floor. Her only movement a flicker of closed eyelids. "Could be dreaming," JD thinks.

His next thought is, "Beautiful." Long brunette hair woven into two intricate braids, one draped across a high cheekbone, the other braid hidden between her slender back and the seat. Flawless white skin offsets arched eyebrows and long lashes, both as dark and lush as her braided hair.

Only physical sign of her father's rage is a light bruising on one cheek and a smear of red lipstick on the right side of her chin.

Ten minutes down the road, her eyelids flutter open, brown eyes flecked with gold. They make a full circuit, take in the car, latch onto the shiny stainless steel tachometer, speed, fuel, water temperature, oil pressure, and voltmeter gauges. She's never seen anything like them. Never been in a car with tuck-n-roll leather seats, tinted windows, either. End of circuit, she looks at JD, his hands relaxed on a polished wood steering wheel, the wheel a pleasing laminate of light and dark woods.

JD turns his head to her, smiles. "You're awake."

She's silent, working out in her head what she wants to say, knows she should be worried, maybe frightened, in a strange car with a strange man. But she's neither worried nor frightened. "This is strangely f-familiar," she says, a slight stutter on her lips, her reply 1.5 miles in the making.

"Uh huh," nods JD, "like you've seen it all before, maybe in your dreams. Right?"

Another miles-long pause, then, "Dreams and s-s-sometimes just feelings when I'm awake, like things have happened before. Like I'm doing whatever it is all over again."

"I heard the old man call you Siri," a sudden detour in their conversation. "Did I hear right?"

Adjusting herself in the bucket seat, getting comfortable, "You did. But my real name's Siobhán. That old man's my father. H-h-he calls me Siri after that computer program, 'Siri, do this. Siri do that.' He treats me like a servant, always telling me to do this, to do that. Never stops."

JD knows some of this already, has those moments of deja vu, too. Vague recollections. But he doesn't know everything. "Just you and your father in the diner?"

No hesitation now. "My mom works there, co-cooks the food, stays in the kitchen. I'm out front, take the orders, bus the counter and tables."

A car behind the Camaro honks to pass. JD, in no hurry to reach Shiprock, slows, waves the car on, the opposing lane on the two-lane highway clear. Doesn't take much effort to see the wisdom of the old man keeping Siri out front, thinks JD. The only reason truckers would stop at a grubby diner like that would be to see her.

"Do you think your father's gonna come after us, give chase tonight?"

The answer to that should be obvious, but, "I don't know," Siri says. "Maybe." But JD knows. He asked his question knowing. Despite Niall Mac Loughlin's daughter being the draw that keeps the truck stop open for business, the old man's not coming, no one's coming after them. JD knows this for a fact. He's seen it all before, dreamt about it.

Siri's looking out the tinted passenger window, at the passing landscape, the Camaro's long shadow on the barren countryside staying even with them. Not turning her head, "What's your na-name?"

"JD."

Siri pauses. She's thinking, considers the possibilities. Settles on, "Like J-a-y D-e-e?" spelling it out.

"Nope," says JD. "JD as in JD. Two letters, initials." He knows what Siri's going to ask next, so he tells her, "JD stands for James Dean."

Turning her head sideways, glancing up to the left, her lips pressed together in a straight line, a signature tell that she's concentrating, "Your name's James Dean? Isn't that the name of someone famous?"

"No and yes." No reason to pretend he's someone he's not, JD's straight with Siri. "The name on my birth certificate's Myron Carp. My dad's choice, Myron's a family name. But my mother fancies JD. She's called me JD from the start, short for James Dean, a teenage heart throb, a movie star, my mother's heart throb. When she was a teen. She's why I'm JD."



On a normal day, the drive from Cortez to Shiprock takes less than an hour. Today, it's closer to two hours, with the faithful flocking to pastor Adrian Baker's evangelical super Easter Sunday. Not quite bumper to bumper, but close enough. JD lets as many of the flock pass as he can, the Camaro dropping further back in the steady stream.

"How come you're letting all those people go by?" Siri wonders out loud. "I bet you could pass all of 'em," eyeing the gearshift poking out of the center hump separating the driver and passenger seats. The shiny metal knob topping the short post hasn't been pushed past second gear, the numbers engraved in the knob zigzagging from 1 to 4.

JD answers Siri with a James Dean heart-throb smile, strokes the smooth surface of the gearshift knob with the palm of his hand. "Yeah, I could. I really could. Rebuilt this car from a wreck my dad got for me. Started working on it in high school, in auto shop, finished it at home after graduation. If things work out, I'm gonna take her on the race circuit."

Siri's impressed. Pulled out of middle school six years before to do 24/7 in the truck stop - a high school diploma would be something, really something. And JD has one, thinks Siri, a high school diploma!

These thoughts she keeps to herself, doesn't want JD to think she's warming to him, that there's an attraction. Another thought veers toward intimacy, a feeling that the two of them once were quite intimate, maybe in another time, a different world.

But now is now, and you have to keep your distance with strangers, even ones with heart-throb smiles.



Shiprock sits at the crossroads of US Route 64 and US Route 491, a key junction for tourists on their way to Four Corners, Mesa Verde, and the Grand Canyon. A local rock formation, whose name the town bears, draws crowds as well. This Easter Sunday, the crowds have come for pastor Baker's evangelical extravaganza, the location easy to find, bright search lights sweeping the sky from the grounds.

Baker and his team have pitched a massive white tent on the grounds where the Annual Northern Navajo Fair is held. Some would later claim (falsely) the tent was as big as a Marriott Hotel. Tent size aside, the grounds are lit up like a carnival, strings of colored lights leading from the entrance along a sawdust-covered path to the tent.

Stationed along the path, vendors hawk postcards, religious artifacts, trinkets, pamphlets, food and drink. The smell of hot buttered popcorn is heavy in the air. Past the last vendor at the end of the path, a two-story-tall photo of Baker's son, Revelation, stares down at the crowd, identical photos flanking both sides of the tent's columned entrance. Inside the tent, a praise and worship band warms up the crowd.

A mile in all directions from the fairgrounds, streets and parking lots are jammed with cars. A late comer, JD parks the Camaro in a dark, empty side street far from the festivities. He and Siri sit in the car, watch the last of the sunset's glow fade from yellow to orange to red to violet to purple.

Siri feels uncomfortable. Doesn't like the dark. She'd feel better if it weren't so dark. She sits up in her seat, tense. "Can you turn on the car light, please?"

She hears JD turning toward her, the worn sound of his leather jacket rubbing against the seat back, hopes he's reaching for the interior light switch. But he doesn't turn on the light, says, "It's better if we keep the car dark, not let anyone see in. There's nothing to be afraid of."

Siri's been locked in a small, dark closet at the truck stop more than once, knows there's a lot to be afraid of. "Please," she begs, "turn the light on!"

JD knows where events are taking them, their destination. He's absolutely sure of himself. He may not be familiar with all the particulars, the details, but he's got the general direction of events down on an easy-to-read map in his head, a mind map. This particular moment, light on or light off, doesn't ring any alarm bells, isn't critical to the journey's success. That's what his gut's telling him, and his gut has yet to mislead him.

"Sure," he says and reaches up to flick the overhead light on. "I don't want you to be spooked, especially when there's nothing to be afraid of." JD smiles, a pause. "You ok now?"

She nods her head, relaxes back into the seat. "How come we're here? Are you an evangelical? You don't seem like one, but my father thought you were. He didn't say it, but I knew that's what he was th-thinking."

"No," grins JD, "I'm not evangelical. My father is, believes with a passion the prosperity gospel guys like Adrian Baker preach. Took me to a buncha revival meetings when I was a kid, my dad did, but I didn't take to it, what they were saying."

Her head against the seat, her eyes closed, Siri repeats her question, "Why are we here?" A whisper.

JD unbuckles his seatbelt, surprises Siri with, "I've got an errand to run. I'll only be gone a little while, be back before you know it. You'll have your answer then." Without another word, he steps out of the car, locks the doors, and heads off to the fair grounds. He doesn't look back.

Siri's not ok with that, the suddenness of it. Her feelings for JD turn from warmth to confusion, uncertainty. In her mind, JD's sudden departure's no different than her father locking her in a dark closet, no reason or warning given. Her immediate response, then as now, is to fall asleep and escape the reality of the moment.



A bump in the road jolts Siri awake. Rubbing sleep from her eyes, combing fingers through her long hair - her braids have unravelled - and sitting up straight, she looks refreshed, happy.

Looking over to JD, whose focus is on the road, the pavement racing past the Camaro's headlight beams, she says without prompting, "I just had the best dream. It was like real, like it wasn't a dream at all. I'm up on stage in the Cortez high school auditorium surrounded by all the senior kids in our graduating class. The entire room's filled with balloons and bunting strung everywhere."

Siri pauses to collect her thoughts, hoping JD'll jump in, show some interest, encourage her to tell more. She attributes the long silence that follows to him concentrating on the narrow, dark road. Avoiding potholes like the one that bounced her awake.

With uncharacteristic excitement in her voice that even surprises her, she says, "The school principal's handing out diplomas. When he hands me mine, he says, 'Congratulations, Siri, we're so proud of you. You're going to do great in college.' Cheers come from the audience. My parents are there, too, clapping. I've never felt so good about myself... and it's so real, like that dream's a memory of a real time in my life."

JD nods his head, smiles, then turns more serious, his smile gone. "You asked why we were in Shiprock. That's why," he says looking into the rear view mirror. Siri follows his gaze, looks into the mirror. Draped over the backseat is the sleeve and shoulder of a white sweater, the rest of the sweater outside hers and the mirror's field of view. She wonders why she hadn't notice the sweater before.

"Did you get that s-sweater when you went into Shiprock?" she asks.

JD's answer is to adjust the mirror so she can see more of the sweater. When she sees it, her shocked look erases the excitement that had just lit up her face. "Siri," says JD, "this is Revelation."



Seeing the shock on her face, JD says, "Revelation's the son of pastor Adrian Baker." Siri stares into the rear view mirror at Revelation. A young man, early 20s, straight straw brown hair touching the tip of his shoulders, brushing against the white sweater. Aquiline nose, ears hidden under his hair.

Most striking are his eyes. Sky blue, maybe set a wee bit too close together. Striking as they are, Siri can't see anything in them, nothing behind them. A vacant stare.

"Revelation's autistic," says JD. "When he's spoken to, he acts as if he can't hear. He doesn't speak but for one exception." JD explains the one exception is the capstone to Adrian Baker's evangelical megachurch. If Siri's the main draw to her father's truck stop, the same's true for Revelation, the main draw to his father's packed revivals.

"Revelation's a healer, that's his role in the church. Baker gives his sermon, the band plays, songs are sung, dancers perform, then Revelation comes out on stage." The crowds know to go silent. They're anxious to hear Revelation speak, the one exception to his silence.

Once Revelation's on stage, Baker randomly draws names from a large wire drum, the names submitted by church members before the revival starts. The chosen few, each in their turn, stand in front of Revelation who speaks a torrent of unintelligible words at them, his words healing them of their troubles. Baker says his son's speaking in tongues.

"Revelation gave a special encore performance tonight," says JD. "First time he's done an encore." After the final healing, Adrian Baker announced his son would protect all of the revival's faithful, deliver them from the virus. The tent exploded with shouts and swaying bodies.

According to JD, Revelation faced the packed tent from center stage, waited a long 30 seconds for quiet, then directed a barrage of his strange words at them. The excited crowd leaped to their feet shouting 'Revelation!' 'Revelation!' 'Revelation!'

The tent charged with excitement, prosperity collection plates passed around, folks encouraged to give, Baker reminding the assembled Believers over the loudspeaker that 'God gives and God receives. Give generously, and God will repay you with generosity.'

Siri cranks the passenger door window down, leans her head halfway out, lets the slipstream of cool night air rushing past the Camaro wash over her face. Her long hair cracks the whip behind her, her eyes water, her open mouth sucks the wind deep into her lungs, the air expelled with equal force on the outbreath.

Pulling back inside the car, refreshed by the storm of wind, she asks a simple question, "Why is he in the backseat?"

"Revelation's the key to Baker's prosperity gospel. Baker's faithful see him as God's miracle worker. My father does, too."

Siri looks at JD, curious how his father fits into this.

JD scrunches his eyes shut, grimaces. "Revelation's the reason my father's hooked on Baker's gospel, why he's a Believer, why he gives so much when the prosperity plates come round, the reason why he has so much credit card debt, the reason why..." JD pauses mid-stream, out of breath from his outburst.

Siri takes advantage of the pause, repeats her question. "Why is Revelation in the backseat?"

As if he hasn't heard Siri's question, "I'm not going down the path my dad's trapped on. He's done everything we've been taught to admire, family, work, church, and look where it's got him. The norms we're taught? It's all a shell game for suckers."

Siri's never been close to the things people like JD have been taught to admire. She's been locked away in the truck stop, her father treating her like a slave, yelling at her, her mother quiet in the tiny kitchen.

That was her life until this afternoon.



Siri's quiet, processing the unfamiliar, trying to piece together what JD's saying. What it means to her.

"It's a shell game," repeats JD. "You can opt out of the game, move on. That's what I'm doing, what we're doing, moving on. Revelation's what put my father on his path, now Revelation's gonna be our way off that path." He pauses, waits for Siri to ask her question again, but she doesn't. He's not sure she's listening, but she is, listening and thinking.

"Revelation's the key to the church's wealth, an investment that just keeps on giving. Adrian Baker will do anything to protect his son. Anything. Now that we have Revelation, Adrian Baker's going to give generously to get his son back."

JD's words break into Siri's thoughts. Takes her breath away. Wide-eyed, "What have y-you done, JD!"

What JD did was walk Revelation away from the revival, from the back of the tent where he routinely goes after his healing sessions. Simple as that. Baker's son is docile, nonviolent; he walked away without a fuss.

Siri asks JD about security, surely there'd be security guards protecting Revelation. Not this evening, the virus had hospitalized half the rent-a-guards, leaving few feet-on-the-ground to maintain the regular rotation. Same for the surveillance cameras, not enough eyes to monitor them.

"You've k-k-kidnapped Revelation!"

"Not kidnapped, Siri. Borrowed." JD left a note on a prosperity collection plate saying as much. 'Borrowed your son' the meat of it. In the giving mayhem immediately after Revelation protected the crowd from the virus, JD walked into the tent, invisible as an angel, and laid the note in the plate.

"Kidnapping's a crime, JD. The police are going to catch us, a-arrest us, put us in jail."

"Not gonna happen. No more than I'm gonna get sick with the virus. That's not how this is gonna play out. I know it for a fact."



Looking at the Camaro's gas gauge, JD figures they can make the 90-minute drive to Gallup, New Mexico, without stopping. Might even be able to get there quicker, traffic at a minimum on the highway. Baker's faithful are still minutes behind, the revival's parking lot full. Despite widespread flaunting of the region's virus lockdown, few locals have taken to the highway. Only traffic's the occasional truck, commercial vehicles transporting food and medical supplies deemed essential, the lockdown waived for them.

Siri breaks a 10-minute, 7-mile silence. "I still don't understand. No matter what you think, this is wrong, taking Revelation."

JD waits, expecting Siri to voice more of her concerns. When she doesn't, "I told you, playing by arbitrary rules of right and wrong is bogus, it's a dead-end road. If you're concerned about Revelation, don't be. He'll be home in a matter of days, no worse for being away. I'm not gonna treat him the way your father treated you. I promise."

If JD expects his words to put Siri at ease, they don't. Her "What's driving you, JD?" comes across laced with tension, her voice higher pitched, 'you' nearly a shout.

"Seriously? I don't know. It's like an irresistible force out there, somewhere in the universe, leading me down this path. I have to follow." Looking over at Siri, "That make sense?"

A commotion from the backseat interrupts her answer. She and JD jump, nearly crack their heads together leaning in close to the rear view mirror to see what's happening. The mirror's angled so JD can see Revelation. The angle wrong for Siri, she turns half way round in her seat, sees what JD sees.

Revelation's facing the empty seat next to him, waving his arms, speaking gibberish. Adrian Baker would say, 'Speaking in tongues.'

JD slows the car, pulls off the road onto a narrow dirt shoulder. The two watch from the front seat, Revelation not letting up. "What's he doing?" says Siri. "Is he having a fit? A seizure?"

Not taking his eyes off the backseat, "Don't think so. This is how he acts at the revivals. How he behaved tonight protecting the crowd from the virus. Gibbering and waving his arms."

"Do you think he's protecting us?"

JD considers the possibility, watches Revelation. "Far as I know, he only acts this way at revivals. My guess is what we're seeing isn't about healing or protecting. Something else is going on."

Something else is going on.



JD's been on Route 491 after leaving his home in Monticello, Utah, since mid-afternoon. He'll stay on 491 till he reaches Gallup, New Mexico, later tonight.

The number of this 200-mile stretch of road he's traveling on hasn't always been 491. When it was first named, the number was 666. Route 666.

According to the Book of Revelation 13:18, 'Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.' Linked to the 'number of the beast' by locals, Route 666 came to be known by other names: The Devil's Highway, Satan's Highway, The Highway to Hell.

The road's accumulated a wiki-rich history of weird happenings, paranormal phenomena, ghosts, disappearances, strange accidents, and the like. In 2003, after heavy lobbying from local governments and citizen groups, the Department of Transportation changed the highway's official designation to Route 491.

Sitting next to Revelation in the backseat of the Camaro, and only seen by Revelation, is a disheveled man in a stained trench coat.



"My name's Bob," the man introduces himself to Revelation.

For all outward appearances, Revelation is autistic, his social communication and interaction skills lacking. Inside's a different story.

Inside, Revelation's a good listener, converses well, is eager to socialize, go places, problem solve. To reach that Revelation, you have to go deep, find his core, speak the right words.

Bob knows how to do that. But you'd never know it looking at the fellow. His outward appearance, like Revelation's, is deceptive. Messed up hair, cheeks covered in a heavy five o'clock shadow, a worn and stained trench coat over a ratty sweater, patched trousers, scuffed shoes, dirt and grease under his fingernails. He could be a character on a TV series.

Waving his arms and speaking gibberish on the outside, on the inside Revelation says, a touch of fright in his voice, "Are you a devil, Bob?"

"Definitely not."

"What are you, then?"

"I'm an angel."

"An angel? Why are you here, Bob?"

"It's my job. I'm your guardian angel."

Revelation's eyes go wide. "I have a guardian angel?"

"You do," says Bob.

Not missing a beat, "Does everyone have a guardian angel?"

"No, not everyone."

Revelation's curiosity aroused, "Who gets to have a guardian angel?"

The conversation continues, touches on many subjects, Siri and JD hearing none of it, only aware of Revelation's outward gestures and nonsense words. The rhythms and patterns - pauses and gestures - of an intelligent conversation are evident in the backseat but not recognized from the front seat.



The 90-minute drive to Gallup goes by quickly, Revelation and Bob in deep conversation, Siri and JD sharing their concerns with one another, listening to the radio when they fall into lapses of quiet.

Ten minutes outside Gallup, the radio picks up a local station, the nightshift DJ spinning virtual platters. The song playing is the Eagle's 'James Dean.'

Little James Dean up on the screen

Wonderin' who he might be

Along came a Spyder and picked up a rider

Took him down the road to eternity

"Cool," says JD. "My mother's teenage heart-throb, my namesake. Too bad he died so young."

"How'd he die?" says Siri.

"Car crash," says JD.

"Ohh."

The news follows the last of 'James Dean.' Local news first, then national. An update on the virus says the national lockdown appears to be working. The economy's in a sorry state, but far fewer lives are lost than computer models have predicted. The media and a who's who of big shots have praised the president for her quick and decisive response to the virus.

"Well, that's good news!" smiles JD.

"You mean about the steps the president took, her quick action?"

"Yeah, that's good news," says JD, "but even better is there's no news about Revelation. No police alerts. I told you nothing's gonna happen."

Siri's silent, doesn't comment, hasn't yet come to grips with the day's events.

JD stops for gas on the outskirts of Gallup. Pee breaks and snacks in the station's tiny market. On a hunch, a gut feeling, he buys a cheese sandwich and Reece's Pieces chocolate peanut butter cups for Revelation. In the car, Revelation offers the sandwich to Bob, who only chuckles. The chocolate peanut butter cups Revelation keeps for himself. His favorite.

How Siri's father, Niall Mac Loughlin, found his way from Northern Ireland to Cortez, Colorado, is a chunk missing from this story. Another chunk goes missing after Gallup, the long drive to the story's destination.

What is known is that Bob vanishes after JD leaves Route 491, Revelation reverts to his autistic ways, Siri falls into a troubled sleep, and the Camaro comes within a mile of the intersection where the actor James Dean died in a car crash.



Siri's the first of the three to wake. She stretches, brushes her hand against JD's shoulder, JD asleep in the driver's seat, his head resting on the steering wheel. Revelation's in the backseat. Siri's not sure he's asleep, but his eyes are closed.

When she fell asleep last night, they had just left Gallup. Looking out the car window now, she doesn't recognize what she sees. A large body of water surrounded by mountains and hills, low-slung and high. Nestled below and close to the water, an unbroken run of cities, shopping centers, concrete, and asphalt.

She thinks she might be looking at Houston, a big city in Texas. She's never been there, but has seen photos in magazines. She's sure about the water, but not the mountains and hills.

Her body stiff, she opens the passenger door, stretches her legs out of the Camaro, wiggles her toes in the pleasantly cool morning air. Her body waking up, Siri follows her legs outside, stands next to the car.

The Camaro's parked atop a bluff, a small sandy beach below, tiny lazy waves rolling ashore. The beach is empty, no one there. Turning a slow 360 degrees, Siri sees a shallow hillside packed with quaint homes, dormer windows, peaked rooftops. Another quarter turn, a huge multistoried building, crenellated roof, slits for windows, the building and grounds surrounded by a high chainlink fence.

Siri sees JD standing by his open door when she finishes her 360. She hadn't heard his door open, but there he is. A low-key "Good morning" aimed his way, then a more direct, "Where are we? Is this Houston?"

"No, we're not in Houston. We're in Marin County."

Siri looks puzzled. "Is Marin County in Texas?"

"No, Marin's not in Texas. We're in California."

Siri goes from puzzled to shocked. "California! You drove all the way to C-California last night?"

"Straight through, drove all night and most of this morning," says JD, dark sleep sacks cradling his eyes. "Hardly a car on the road." He turns his gaze on the huge building behind the chainlink fence, knows Siri was just looking at it. Figuring she'd be curious about it, he says, "Do you know what the building over there is?"

She is curious, shrugs her shoulders, says, "A manufacturing plant of s-some sort?"

Not waiting a heartbeat, "That's San Quentin State Prison. Home to the meanest bunch of criminals you wouldn't wanna meet."



Siri keeps a straight face, emotionless. In the time it takes her to respond, she thinks through what's happened, about JD's cocksure attitude in this whole sequence of events, his knowing she's upset about 'borrowing' Revelation and her fear of arrest. If he expects a panicked reaction from her, he's going to be disappointed.

In a calm voice, no stutter, "Has the virus shut down the prison, emptied it? Guards and prisoners?" JD's surprised, didn't get the reaction he thought he would. Siri seems to have turned a corner, seems more confident this morning.

"The prison is empty, no prisoners, no guards. No threat to us. But it's not the virus. Bad money management's why it's an empty building."

The prison complex was shuttered years before, prisoners moved to other facilities in the state. The county acquired the land for a transportation hub, including community center, park, sports fields, low-cost housing.

"County pensions, and several poorly thought out investments, broke the bank for the transportation hub. Where the money to restart the project's gonna come from, no one knows."

Siri now notices the neglected landscaping, faded paint on houses, weeds poking up through cracked sidewalks. "How do you know this?"

JD nods his head back over toward Mt. Tamalpais' East Peak, Marin's much photographed mountain. "My dad's brother lives in Kentfield at the base of the mountain. My dad and uncle stay in touch, pass along local gossip. Marin's a rich county, and my dad loves it when the rich have money worries, takes some comfort in knowing he's not alone with his troubles. Uncle Jimmy keeps him happy with his stories."

Poor her entire life, Siri'd like to hear some of those stories. But not now. "What're we doing next? And don't tell me 'later.' I want to hear it now."

"I'm going grocery shopping, pick up some supplies. I shouldn't be gone long. You stay here with Revelation, keep him close. Spend some time on the beach, get some sun. No one's gonna bother you, no one's gonna come. Marin takes the lockdown seriously, no one leaves their home except for necessary shopping, emergencies, maybe a walk around the block."

With that said, he's gone, heading for the nearest grocery store, a Trader Joe's in a nearby shopping center.



No arm waving, no speaking in tongues when he wakes, Revelation's docile, easy to manage. Siri's not sure he slept much, but his energy level suggests eight hours of sleep. Where she goes, he has no problem following.

The main entrance to the prison is less than a quarter mile down the narrow, weed-sprung, faded asphalt road they drove in on. Day before yesterday, she would've scoffed at the idea of getting close to the old prison. Not today.

She and Revelation walk toward the locked main gate, pass staff housing on their right, a small post office and crafts store on their left. Behind the store, San Francisco Bay stretches south.

The craft store is on the public side of the prison entrance. A sidewalk in front of the store leads to a guard shack and passageway to the prison complex. The passage is padlocked. Siri stops before she reaches the guard shack, cups her hands around her face and peers through a dusty store window.

Inside hang paintings, watercolor and oil, some childlike, others sophisticated. A hand-lettered sign on a wrinkled sheet of white paper tacked to a wall lists sale prices for the prisoner-created art, some pieces selling for a few dollars, others for hundreds. Siri laughs to herself, wonders what her art will sell for when she's in prison.

Siri woke up this morning full of confidence, sure of herself. She doesn't know why, just knows the confidence feels good. She's tempted to climb over the locked gates, explore the empty prison, but decides not to. She has Revelation to look after, doesn't want any harm to come to him. Besides, she'll be seeing the inside of a prison, somewhere, soon enough.



JD finds Siri and Revelation on the beach, their bare feet touching the waterline, the tide creeping in, lapping against their toes. He lugs the groceries he bought down to the beach, makes two trips up and down a steep, 15-step wood staircase. When he's finished with the last load, Siri says, "What'd you get?"

Sitting down next to them, kicking his shoes off - Siri notices for the first time he's not wearing socks - and letting a splash of bay lick his toes, "Enough supplies for a couple days... I suppose we could push it to three or four if need be."

Revelation looks up, the sound of a jet plane tugging at his attention, the plane on its landing approach to San Francisco International Airport. Few planes are in the air, the virus keeping passengers away, plane cabins breeding grounds for infection.

JD and Siri follow Revelation's gaze, share the same thought, wonder which airline logo's painted on the plane's fuselage. More than a handful of companies are spiraling toward bankruptcy, companies big and small. The virus doesn't play favorites.

Turning away from the plane overhead, Siri stares at JD, her voice full of confidence, "Tell me what you're up to. I wanna hear details. I mean it!" The look she gives him could be a look exchanged between an old married couple.

JD shifts his weight, scrunches his butt deeper into the sand. "Revelation's Adrian Baker's bread basket, what keeps his church in the black. Baker will do anything we want to get his son back."

Siri interrupts JD. "I know that. You've already told me. What I want to know is what do you... do we... want?"

JD leans back on his elbows, looks up to where the plane was, speaks slowly, sounds as if he's making stuff up on the fly. He's not. "Baker's wife, Loretta, features in his revivals, always standing at his side or close by when he sermonizes. She's there to be seen. She's good looking, a bit too much makeup to my liking, too much hair, too, but that's not what draws the looks. It's her necklace."

Siri's following, but the warmth of the sand on her bare calves and feet is sweetly distracting. The word 'necklace' snaps her back to attention, catches her off guard, the word not remotely what she expected to hear. "Necklace?"

"The center piece of her necklace is a 4.5 foot long iron nail," says JD. "Baker says the nail is one used to nail Jesus to the cross. Forensic tests confirm the nail dates from the time of his execution. To Baker and his followers, that nail is a holy relic."

"And?" says Siri.

"And," says JD, "this iron nail is worth a fortune to a few incredibly wealthy collectors of early Christian relics. That Jesus' name is tied to the nail makes it literally priceless. In auction, an opening bid of $10,000,000 wouldn't scare off any of these wealthy bidders. Fact is, a few of them could bid the price up to astronomical heights and not blink an eye."

Siri's skeptical. "Ok. Suppose Baker agrees to the exchange..."

"Oh, he will!" says JD. "I can guarantee that."

"Ok, suppose Baker does agree to the exchange," Siri repeats. "Where can you hold an auction that won't attract the authorities? The second the auction's made public, the only folks who'll show up will be police."

JD has an answer for that, of course he does. "It'll be an invitation-only auction. And it won't be held in public. It'll be on the Internet's dark web. The whole thing'll be done anonymously, nobody'll know anyone's real identity."

Siri's not familiar with the Internet, has no idea what the dark web is. She works full time in an out-of-the-way truck stop, her father doesn't let her out of the diner to socialize. She doesn't even have a cell phone. What she knows, she's picked up from newspapers left on the diner's tables and from eavesdropping on trucker conversations.

"How do you know about this dark web?" she asks.

"Computer club when I was in high school," he says. "A couple of us got together, did some digging, investigating, and found our way in. I know enough about navigating the dark web to find interested buyers and set up the auction."

Siri thought she'd had a handle on the past 24 hours, understood where events were taking them. Now she's not so sure. "What's next?" said without much confidence.

JD points east across the bay's open water, "We're going boating."



Tucked into the weedy crotch where hillside meets beach sits a long, broad-beamed wood boat covered by a waterproof tarp. "Revelation and I looked under the tarp while we were waiting for you," Siri says. "I've never seen a real canoe before."

"Kayak," says JD. "It's a kayak, not a canoe."

Siri runs her eyes over the kayak, says, "What're those three holes for?" The holes are more or less evenly distributed along the boat's length, each one big enough for a person to slip through.

"The holes are cockpits, where people sit to paddle the kayak. Three people can paddle this kayak at the same time. Each paddler has a separate cockpit."

Siri eyeballs the cockpits again, this time with new understanding. "The three of us are going out on the bay in that kayak, aren't we?" She sounds excited, the same excitement she felt thinking about climbing over the padlocked fence into the prison. Only this time it'll be more than thinking, it'll be doing.

"Yup," says JD, the three of us are going for a paddle on the bay."

Siri wants to know more. "Are we 'borrowing' this kayak?" a straight forward question, no concern in her voice.

JD nods his head, "Yeah, we are. But it's not what you might be thinking. The boat belongs to Uncle Jimmy. It's his fishing boat. He's kept it here since even before the prison closed down."

Fact is, you could leave your wallet on the beach, and no one would steal it. Not something you'd want to get caught doing next to a maximum security prison. That caution, the fear of being caught, clung to the beach, a life sentence, lawless behavior unheard of here.

"You knew this kayak was here, didn't you? This was always the destination, driving all the way from Gallup." Siri pauses, rolls her eyes, says, "You knew all the way from Cortez!"

"All the way from Monticello," adds JD. "I don't know where it came from, or how it got into my head, but the basic roadmap for this detour in my life came fully formed. I didn't know ahead of time all the particulars I'd meet along the way, but the general map has panned out. No wrong turns, no dead ends."

Siri believes him, wonders if she was on the fully formed roadmap or just a particular that happened along the way.

JD doesn't say.



JD waits till the last of the ebbing current slows before pushing off the beach. He wants to paddle across the bay to Red Rock island at slack, little or no currents to deal with.

Uncle Jimmy's left multiple dry clothes in the triple kayak, clothes to change into after fishing. JD assembles one outfit from a wool sweater and a long pair of pants, gives them to Siri who's still wearing her short halter-topped waitressing uniform. He and Revelation are already dressed warm enough, don't need any of uncle Jimmy's clothes.

Jimmy keeps two extra life vests plus his own in the boat for paddling guests. Each of the three wear an uncle Jimmy life vest for the crossing today. They also wear spray skirts, the top part of the skirt snug around their torso, the bottom stretched tight across the cockpit. The skirt keeps water from filling the boat. JD sits in the stern cockpit, Siri in the front, the front paddler most in need of a spray skirt, the front more susceptible to a soaking. Siri's lucky on the crossing, no significant bay spray to soak her.

Both JD and Siri have paddles, Siri surprisingly an efficient, tireless paddler, this her first time in a kayak. JD gives her a minute of instruction on the beach, and that's all she needs. Revelation's in the middle cockpit, no paddle. He's his calm, docile self, shows no emotion or concern.

Times are the bay can be wild, big winds, big waves, fast currents. Those are times of concern. Not today, the bay meek, mostly asleep. Uncle Jimmy's paddled the triple in big water, never had a serious concern, his boat bombproof in raucous conditions.

JD has kayak fished with his father on Lloyd's Lake near Monticello, knows how to handle a kayak. He and his father visited uncle Jimmy one summer to fish on the bay in this same triple. JD is comfortable, secure in his skills.

Red Rock's a three-mile paddle, an hour, give or take. A straight shot, JD navigates the boat close to and parallel with the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, the bridge spanning the bay between Marin County and Contra Costa County. Red Rock's a quarter mile south of the bridge near the Contra Costa end.



Red Rock is six acres of rocky upheaval with a distinctive Jurassic look and feel to it. The small island's namesake red is a property of chert, the rock's main ingredient. Uncle Jimmy has claimed Red Rock as his fishing camp, but not because of its color or its Jurassic look and feel.

Red Rock is the only privately owned island in San Francisco Bay. The owners have tried for years to sell it for development, but have given up, moved on. The three counties that claim parts of the island can't agree on anything, so nothing happens.

The island's main inhabitants are seagulls and the occasional Canadian Goose. Except for Uncle Jimmy and a small handful of local, wayward kayakers, few people visit the island.

Hasn't always been that way, the absence of people. At the turn of the Nineteenth Century, various groups of miners came to the island looking for manganese, the mineral an important component of steel and an additive in glass making. The manganese they found was of poor quality and little value. Mining operations ceased, the miners left, but the tunnels they dug stayed.

Uncle Jimmy claimed one of those tunnels for a fishing hideout. Cut through solid red rock, the tunnel was built to last, weather any storm, as bombproof as his triple in bad water.

In his tunnel sanctuary, Jimmy had stashed all the gear he'd need for a week-long fishing gig in the bay. Dried food, water grogged with a spot of rum to keep it from spoiling, a battery-powered coffee pot, solar-charged Luci lights, a sleeping cot, table and chair. In a dark corner is a small composting toilet.



JD lands the kayak on a pebbly beach fronting the tunnel entrance, the entrance above the high tideline, near the base of a high rock cliff. He leads Siri and Revelation down a dim passage to his uncle's sanctuary, the passage 3.5' wide, 6.5' high, the fellow who carved it out of solid rock a big guy.

Siri runs her hands along the cold stone walls, is amazed how smooth they are. In her mind's eye, the tunnel is rather elegant, the hard red walls, a gentle curve separating the walls from the arched ceiling.

"Wow!" she says when they reach Uncle Jimmy's room.

"Yeah," says JD.

Revelation hasn't made a sound since Gallup.

"Why are we here?" a frequent question, but one Siri asks, not because she's upset, but because she's a particular who's integrated herself into JD's master plan, become part of it.

"We're here to wait while I paddle back, set up what we talked about at San Quentin. Once I know the nail's on its way, I'll come for Revelation, make the exchange, then do the auction." JD lays this out without elaborating, gives no specifics, which Siri's fine with.

The two have become a modern day Bonnie and Clyde.

"How long before you come back for Revelation?"

"No more'n two or three days."

JD says a few last words to Siri, they hug, then he leaves. He's a mile into his paddle back to San Quentin when Revelation becomes agitated, waves his arms, starts shouting in tongues. Siri tries to calm him, tries to get him to look at her, listen to her.

Revelation's not going to look at her, not going to listen to her. He's focusing his attention on Bob, who's standing next to him, a surprise. Revelation's telling Bob he doesn't want to be in the tunnel, doesn't like what's happening.

Bob listens, tells Revelation not to fret, not to be afraid, he'll watch over him, make things right. He's Revelation's guardian angel, after all. Revelation, satisfied, settles down, sits on the cold, smooth rock floor next to Bob, his guardian angel.

Siri, aware of none of this, breathes a sigh of relief when Revelation settles down. She sits on the cot to think, thinking, what she does best.



Conditions on the bay haven't changed. No big wind, no big water. Only difference is the sun's set, the night dark, moonless.

JD paddles close to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, the bridge as close as you can get to following a straight line to San Quentin. Times past, the bridge's high-pressure sodium-vapor lamps spread a bright orange glow 50 yards over the water on either side of the bridge. Lights have been off for some time, kept off, since the county had its money troubles.

Those lights might've helped.

Freighters, tankers, and cargo carriers navigating the bay's shipping channels are hard to see from the low vantage point of a kayak. The big boats' bow lights are too high up, too far back to be seen. The hum of their big engines, when they're near a bridge, are swallowed up by the sound of bridge traffic, almost impossible to hear.

A monster cargo carrier, 900 feet long and 150 feet wide, is in the shipping channel, traveling at 10 knots and about to cross under the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. The lack of lights and the scanty but noisy bridge traffic take their toll tonight, the northbound freighter t-boning the westbound kayak. The kayak breaks in half, and JD is pulled under the long boat's hull, his fate sealed.

This wasn't part of the path JD was following.

The freighter continues north, unaware of what's just happened.

Also unaware are Siri and Revelation who...



"Bob? May I call you Bob?" says the Librarian, interrupting Bob's reading.

Bob - his name a rough translation of a long string of bits and pieces rendered into a soft whirring sound in a cloud bubble - stops reading, looks away from the pop-up book in front of him, looks sheepishly up at the Librarian. "Ma'am," nods.

"Bob," She repeats, "we need to talk."

Bob and the Librarian are thoughts, some might say dreams. They're two of many thoughts, their numbers vast, all part of a Collective Conscience, the Library.

The Library has a singular purpose: for eons, She's probed the universe for the remains of destroyed worlds, her most sought after worlds populated with self-aware life forms that reason, think, and problem solve. From the remains of those worlds, pieces to a giant puzzle, She assembles exact copies of every element of that world into pop-up books, the books currently numbering in the millions.

Open a book and the world it contains jumps out, pops up with a complete taxonomy and living history, from beginning to end. Digging down through the chapters, books read like a full-length movie, describe in detail the macro and the micro, from weather systems to electrons circling atomic nuclei.

An unintended, but intriguing, consequence of a pop-up book's attention to realism: copies of life forms self-aware in their original world also are self-aware, but they're not aware their world is a copy, that they inhabit a pop-up book.



Of destroyed worlds, the most difficult to render into pop-up books are those that have been atomized into incalculably small particles and flickers of energy. These remnants are magnitudes of order smaller than the more common clouds of dust and cinders left behind by colliding galaxies and supernovas. The force responsible for this level of destruction the Library identifies as the Destructinator.

The few pages Bob's been reading - pages describing 24 hours in the life of JD, Siri, and Revelation - tell a short story of a Destructinator-obliterated world, third planet from a small star in the long-ago Milky Way Galaxy.

"Bob," says the Librarian, "you're an apprentice Reader, is that right?"

"Yes, Ma'am. I just started."

"Is this your first reading test?"

"It is, Ma'am."

The Librarian looks favorably at Bob, says, "The section you've been tested on is a tough read. You've read better than most beginning apprentices."

Bob beams, knows the Librarian doesn't do praise lightly.

"You're aware of Reader Etiquette, correct?" Following Reader Etiquette is crucial to generating pop-up books that accurately describe destroyed worlds. Without Reader Etiquette, books become filled with errors, details lost.

"Yes, Ma'am, practicing Reader Etiquette was part of my entry-level training."

The Librarian nods, smiles. "That's as it should be. Of course, practicing in a classroom's one thing, reading an actual book's another."

"I understand," says Bob.

"Let's take a look at your reading. Think of this review as part of your continuing education."

"Yes, Ma'am." Bob's excited about the attention the Librarian's giving him, the prospect of learning from Her much better than from a second-level instructor.

Worlds, no matter how thoroughly destroyed, leave behind a whole suite of metadata, their entire histories encoded in subatomic particles and energy fields. The Library's challenge is tracking down that metadata, no matter how far and wide the data have been dispersed into the cosmos.

Perfected over eons of trial and error, the Library's sophisticated search engine finds and decodes widely scattered metadata quickly, searches wrapped up within a minimum of lightyears. Collected data come in bits and pieces, large and small. In the Reader's job description, one important task is to read between words, fill in small gaps left by missing or not-yet-decoded data.



The Librarian opens Bob's test booklet, thumbs through the pages he's just read. "I like how you've filled in all the small bits of data we've yet to gather, the gauges in JD's Camaro, his palm on the engraved Hurst gearshift knob, Siri's braids unraveling while she slept, the high ceiling in the manganese mine shaft... reading so many small details into the story keeps it in sync with the pattern of history we're decoding."

Bob beams.

"I'm also impressed," says the Librarian, "you didn't take liberties with the story's larger pieces of missing data. The details of Niall Mac Loughlin's immigration to Cortez, for example. Or JD's all night drive from Gallup to Marin. The temptation's great to fill in those big gaps, I know. It's a common weakness with Readers."

The counterpart to this weakness is another, ignoring or glossing over big data gaps that demand attention.

An incident famous in the Library, one taught to all apprentices, involves a novice reading an early first version of the pop-up book Bob's test booklet is based on. The apprentice, perhaps in a rush, ignores the immense data gap separating dinosaurs and humans, putting the two together in the same story. The harm, the suffering, inflicted on humans in that early version of the book is immense. The mistake is corrected in a future reading, but the harm couldn't be undone, all readings archived in the Library, all archives live and available for review.

Not causing harm reading a book is critical for the Library's publishing enterprise, an essential part of her Reader Etiquette.

The Librarian's not frowning, but Bob senses a change.



"You inserted yourself into the story, Bob. You do know that runs counter to Reader Etiquette. Yes?"

Bob nods as answer. He steels himself for what's bound to come next.

"The path JD followed, the kidnapping, the ransom? A harmful path not supported by the data!" That last in a raised voice, the Librarian's look worrisome. "That wasn't JD's path, was it? It was yours."

Bob says nothing.

"What metadata prompted you to take JD in that direction?"

Bob hesitates, knows the Librarian's not going to like his answer. "Movies, Ma'am. The search engine found reams of metadata that decoded into movies. Really quite exciting, movies. I thought an adventure would read well."

Read cautiously, metadata from movies, newscasts, podcasts, videos, books, newspapers, magazines, social media, surveillance footage, satellite imagery, academic papers, patents, art, music, theater, and such can help a book read true. Bob's aware he did not read cautiously.

"Inserting yourself changed the course of events, moved the story off track, away from what the data say actually happened." The Librarian pauses, considers. "Now, about that angel, the one with your name?" The Librarian chuckles to herself, keeps her amusement private. "My search engine hasn't found any data encoded with angel." Looking at Bob, "What data did you find encoded with angel?"

Bob answers very carefully. "I found lots of references to angels in books, movies, social media. Data like that."

"No primary data sources?"

"No, Ma'am."

The Librarian continues Her critique of Bob's reading. "You turned to other data I know aren't primary. Wasn't just the angel. Loretta Baker's necklace is data substantiated, but not the iron nail. Primary data indicates the man Jesus was tied with cord to a cross, not nailed. Ghosts and other unsubstantiated phenomena were never associated with Route 491, which never was numbered 666. Shall I go on?"

"No, Ma'am" says Bob. "I understand."



Readers aren't the sole source of bending the realism of pop-up books toward fiction. A bug in the publishing division of the Library plays a role, as well. The bug, ever elusive, lets readings of the same story by different readers leak into one another, potentially contaminating the story. Given that millions of readers can be reading the same book for millennia, the contamination can have unexpected, sometimes dire, consequences.

Siri's lucid dreaming is a result of data leaks from one reading to another, from an accurate reading of her life to one that's not. So is the sense of familiarity she and JD share. JD's sense of deja vu, knowing the outcome of future events? The Library's publishing bug.

The Library's aware of other bug-related phenomena that distort a pop-up book's reality, phenomena not supported by recovered metadata. Multiple timelines, parallel universes, multiple personalities in a single host, UFO abductions, ghosts, monsters, magic, reincarnation, time travel... all can change the course of a story.

"I don't mean to be hard on you, Bob, but it's important we adhere to Reader Etiquette. Follow the rules. Any harm or confusion we read into our books is not okay."

"I understand, Ma'am."

The Librarian knows that to be true. Wrapping up her critique of Bob's test, she gives him the actual story to read, the story supported by metadata.



In brief, JD and Siri are high school sweethearts, their affair conducted over a distance, Monticello to Cortez. Both graduate high school, Siri waitressing part time in her father's truck stop, both attending community college. They intend to marry, but Siri's Catholic father says no, no Protestants in his family.

Siri and JD elope on Easter Sunday, drive past Shiprock, don't stop for the revival, drive all night from Gallup to Los Angeles, then to Marin County. The two are wed by a justice of the peace, spend some honeymoon time with JD's uncle Jimmy, the highlight of their honeymoon kayak fishing on San Francisco Bay.

Curious about the couple, Bob reads ahead. Neither Siri nor JD contract the virus, the pandemic subsides, they have a daughter, Alexa. Six months later, the virus makes a comeback, but it's mutated, infects only males with excessive testosterone. Siri's father, Niall Mac Loughlin, and pastor Adrian Baker die along with 93% of the world's aggressive males. JD's infected, doesn't succumb to the virus, but has life-long respiratory issues.

Fascinated, Bob reads to the end of the pop-up book, adheres to Reader Etiquette. Male aggression no longer a force to be reckoned with, conflict of all forms is relegated to the back burner, has little bearing on world affairs.

No surprise, women assume roles of influence, Alexa among the first to put in place new standards of peace and equity. The world enters its seventh decade of this new order when the pop-up book abruptly ends, the world it documents a casualty of the Destructinator.

In the eons the Library tracked the Destructinator's wake of wreckage, there was a single instance when their search engine suffered an overload of information, crashed, had to be rebooted. At the same moment, the Library, the entire Collective Conscience, suffered a massive migraine that lingered a lightyear, then lifted. Collective thoughts agreed the Library had come too close to the Destructinator and that She should avoid close encounters at all cost.

Before Bob can close the pop-up book, take stock of what he's learned, he's slammed with a blinding headache, the Library goes dark, all thoughts gone, forgotten.



"Goddammit, Siri, stop daydreamin'. I toldcha to flip the sign to 'closed.'" Niall Mac Loughlin follows his outburst with a sharp slap to the side of his daughter's face, the slap loud as a slammed door.

Siri drops, smacks her head hard against the rough floorboards, her perfect daydream gone dark.

4 comments:

  1. Torturated ! Inextinguishabley!

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  2. Hopefully I kept the reader etiquette...internecine tale, with several levels...clever plot, static characters.. Lots of telling...I kind of liked the plot idea following the madness of our absurd world. I felt sorry for Siri.

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  3. Well done John! I'll keep a lookout for the bones of Siri and Revelation the next time I land on Toilet Bowl Beach.

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  4. This one really keeps you on your toes! So many twists and turns and layers upon layers. I found the virus mutation at the end particularly humorous. Long tale but well worth the time investment.

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