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Now, I have only three left.

I had seven, the seven Reri gave me. I hid these where I thought they would never find them, but they are ferrets and have found four of them so far. Four, and now I have only three left.

They can come at any time but they cannot hurt me.

By law they can search any Reader’s place anytime they wish, and they do. And I know they will come and search my place again and again, that they will keep looking until they are certain I have none left.

However, by law they cannot lay their official hands on me even if they find something, although that, from what I hear, may soon change.

And now they come once or twice a week, some weeks every day. One day they came twice. There is no knock, no warning. I have only a startled few seconds after I hear a key in my lock and before they burst into my apartment to cease or hide what it is I do if what I do is illegal (what I’m doing now, writing this, is illegal).

My life is no longer mine, no longer private, for by law I cannot use latches or chains or anything they cannot easily, and quickly, unlock from without. They must have free access, is how the law puts it. Latches or chains of any kind, it specifies, would amount to protected privacy and that privilege is reserved for the Locom.

I have to wear an orange R (for Reader) on my chest. It is made from glow-worm plastic so you can see it at night (as if I were crazy enough to go out then) and I have to wear it wherever I go.

The Locom stand aside when they see me come or they stop and point. Some turn away. Mothers bend to whisper to their children and I see their little eyes widen before they scramble for cover behind skirts and coats, although some are too young to understand and instead they smile at me in friendly wonder, some even wave (soon to be scolded by their mothers).

Some Locom scowl and frown, others pretend I’m not there. Some do violence to me, for the law says they can. It happens once or twice a week, that I get beaten. I don’t think it’s encouraged, these beatings. Reri said the law even frowns upon it, but when you listen carefully to what the law says, it is not illegal to hurt a Reader, that is, as long as you’re not an official, for by law the police or a searcher or other official cannot hurt a Reader. That’s what the law says. Reri never understood that either.

I cannot, however, defend myself, says the law. A Reader may not. If set upon by a Locom I have to stand still and take what the law classifies as “The just outrage of the Locom.”

It hurts, it hurts a lot, these beatings do, but usually I can make it home on my own afterwards. One day, I fear, either by accident or by excess enthusiasm, someone will kill me although that is against the law, to kill a Reader.

Were that ever to happen, I mean if killing us would be condoned, then, of course, I would soon be dead along with others.

But as yet the beatings are usually not severe because they attract attention and attention will notice if I’m killed, and attention will then alert the officials and the killer will then be caught and probably killed in turn, that’s the law.

So, it’s bruises mostly, my face, my chest, my shins (some like to kick). My back. What I fear mostly is injury to my hands, to my right hand particularly (I am right-handed and I use it for writing), but they are seldom touched or hit as I have to keep them by my side, arms straight down. That’s the law.

Should I die though, at the hands of some unknown, justly outraged Locom-avenger, I am sure the killer would silently be a hero with the Locom, but he would also, says the law, be a criminal, and no one, except the astonishingly stupid, would ever want to see the inside of a jail.

You don’t see the astonishingly stupid around very often for that very reason, they’re mostly in jail, or dead.

I am writing this as fast as I can in case they come again to look for more, for the remaining three. Of course they don’t know that there are more, they can’t be sure they haven’t found them all. But they always suspect a Reader, we are not to be trusted. And so, they will come again, of course they will come again. Maybe they will come tonight, perhaps in another heartbeat.

The act of reading is not a criminal offense. Not yet. Not really. The law reads: “Reading is a defilement of the Locom Desire,” and is an act contrary to Image.

Owning (and concealing, which is a given) something to read, on the other hand, is a crime. I’ve tried to reconcile this, but the law does not have to be, and mostly is not, particularly consistent or reconcilable, a state of affairs that has ceased to bother me.

While owning readable material is a crime, the only punishment for this, says the law, is that it shall be taken away from you. I say only, but I don’t really mean that. In fact, I have often wondered how it knows, how the law knows that taking the worst possible punishment is to lose the book.

And now, I have only three left.

Writing, on the other hand, what I am doing right now, is a crime and is punishable by death.

Ah, that I still were Locom and that I had never learned. I look at them staring at me, pointing to me, making way for me, scorning and loathing me, and I wish I could unlearn, that I could forget the surge and joy and power that coursed and erupted all through me as I traced my first line of letters and conjured my first image from these symbols.

I wish that I could forget the hours and days I have spent diving deep into the quiet waters of knowledge left by those great thinkers and writers that lived and wrote before the Locom.

Teaching someone to read is also punishable by death, and Reri, my teacher, although his name was officially James 86V, paid this price. He told me several times that he had taught fourteen people how to read.

“Fourteen”, he would say and splay the fingers of both hands once and then those on his right hand a second time.

“But that makes fifteen,” I would answer. It eventually became a joke.

And he would smile and say, “You are number fifteen.”

And I was his last. They must have done awful things to him for they collected me shortly after he was arrested. There is no way to keep secrets from them, this is a well-established fact.

The room was very clean and they only had a few questions—two uniformed officials, too large to be anything but enforcers.

“Can you read?” said the one of the two who hissed air in and out of his lungs rather than breathed it.

“Read?” I said.

“It’s a simple enough question.” He said, looking at me, then nodding at his partner who looked like a colossal child.

That nod made me very afraid. “No,” I said.

Then the colossal child hurt me very much. Then I agreed, “Yes, I can read.”

Once I had said this, he stopped hurting me and the guard who hissed again nodded at him, and then the colossal child took up a position to my right. Right up against the wall of the small room, though not leaning on it. He was looking straight ahead, stiff with pride. Job well done.

After a quick search the hisser found a voice transmitter in one of his many large pockets and dialed a long number. He listened, then said, “Yes, he has,” and returned the instrument to his pocket.

After a short while the door opened and a small person—I say person because to this day I am unsure whether it was a man or a woman—a small person entered the room. He, I’ll use the pronoun “he” for convenience only, sat down at the table across from me. He placed fine, manicured hands—one on top of the other—in front of him on the polished table (where they seemed at home) and looked at me, his eyes directly into mine. He was breathtakingly beautiful, and then I thought, surely it is a woman.

Although I wanted to look away, I could not. I was held captive by these still, gray eyes that should have been too large for his fine face but were not. Then he spoke, and then I thought, surely this is a man, although, as I said, I am still not sure.

“You now have no rights as Locom.”

I nodded that I understood.

But he wanted to make sure. “Do you know what that means?”

“Yes.” It came out blurred and I tasted blood as I moved my tongue and lips.

“Oh, really? How would you know?”

How would I know? Of course, Reri had told me. It had been part of the training: These are the risks you run, do you still want to proceed? But I could not tell him, or could I? Did it matter?

Surely, Reri was no longer alive.

The man/woman across from me waited patiently for my reply, knowing full well he had ensnared me.

“How would you know?” he prompted.

“I,” I halted, “I was told.”

He smiled to himself, then said, “By…?” His smile invited my answer.

When I said nothing he drew breath to speak, but then hesitated. The name had apparently slipped his mind and for a moment he lost his composure. One of his fine hands leapt up and out toward the hisser (who had taken up position to his right—to my left) with a crack of snapping fingers. The hisser quickly produced and placed a white dossier into the waiting palm, and the little man/woman, composure regained now, placed it on the table. Delicate fingers folded back the cover and retrieved the sheet on top. It was flimsy and white and did not have any writing on it that I could see. Just an image. In color, of Reri. I looked back at him while he glanced at the sheet. “Ah, yes,” to himself, remembering now that he saw the face. Then to me, “By James 86V?”

I heard the question but did not answer. The dossier had caught my attention. It was thick with sheets. Did they all contain only images? Or did they contain writing too? The second sheet contained image, too, that was plain, but I thought I could make out the dark traces of thought beneath. A sentence, a paragraph? He saw my glance and as if surmising my question, he replaced the image of Reri and closed the cover.

His eyes said nothing. But they were not Locom.

“By James 86V?” he repeated.

The hisser shot me a quick glance as if to remind me of pain. My lips still stung, my kidneys still ached, and my skin burned from burns in many places and none of them had stopped hurting just because I had confessed to reading.

The guard’s glance lingered to drive his point home, and I come home.

It’s funny what you think of in the strangest circumstances. I thought that the hisser must be a heavy smoker, and I wondered how many cigarettes he smoked in a day.

Then I looked at the colossal child to my right, to the beautiful man/woman’s left. He remained frozen at proud attention.

“Yes,” I said.

The man/woman smiled again, at me this time. Again his nervous hands ceased their parody of stillness and one of them sprung to life. The hisser understood immediately and reached into his largest large pocket (on the front of his jacket) and brought out what looked like a small tablet and placed it into the impatient palm. It was a single sheet of writing, encased in stiff, protective plastic. It looked old and probably was. “This makes it so much easier,” he said with a knowing smile, as if we shared a joke, and handed it to me. “I mean,” he added, “that you can read.” I wasn’t sure whether or not I should take it, but he nodded, “Go ahead, read it.” It felt greasy to the touch.

At this point the hisser deliberately scrutinized the floor, while the proud child kept looking at the opposite wall. Maybe they cannot set eyes on any writing, I thought.

The protective plastic had begun to crack and there were the prints of many fingers. The lettering was beautiful and clear. And then I recognized the words. I knew them by heart. As had Reri before me.

Still I read them.

After a line or so the beautiful man/woman said, “Aloud.”

“You want me to,” I began.

“Yes, read it aloud.”

I did. This is what it said:

You have been found a Reader. As a Reader you have scorned the Desires of the Locom and thereby placed yourself outside its benevolence.

Now and Forever your person may be searched at any time. Now and Forever your home may be searched at any time. Now and Forever your right to Image has been forfeit and your Tele-Visions will Now and Forever be removed from your home.

Now and Forever your person may be Assaulted by any Member of the Locom and you shall remain Passive, for it is the Right of the Desires of the Locom to vent and so purge its Emotional Outrage unopposed.

Any writings found in your possession must be relinquished, Now and Forever.

You must, Now and Forever, wear the Symbol for Reader on your person, over your heart, for All Locum to see.

This symbol is the capital letter R. It must be Orange. It must Glow.

It must glow. I looked up and into his beautiful, waiting gray eyes and then handed the sheet back to him. He passed it on to the hisser without comment. The hisser nodded to his younger partner.

The colossal child, still as a statue until now, proved to be the keeper of the symbol, for he now moved for the first time since he finished hurting me and delved into a monstrous pocket to finally bring out the R. This he did not hand to the gray eyes and fine hands, as I had expected, but instead placed on the table between us, the R facing me.

I noticed blood on the guard’s hands. Mine, I assumed.

I looked at the R. Though it looked nothing like one—it was simply an orange, capital R, Reri used to call it a snake.

My snake now.

It glowed.

The delicate face nodded again. “Yours. Take it.”

When I didn’t he said, “Pick it up.” This almost like the snap of a whip, hard to reconcile with that beautiful face.

I picked it up. It was warm in my hand, as if alive.

“On your chest,” he said. “Over your heart.”

I placed it against my shirt breast, to the left of the row of round white buttons, over my heart as directed. The snake almost bit into the fabric. It knew what to do. It clung there. It would not fall off.

Then I remembered why Reri called it a snake. It bites you.

But you get used to it. It clings to you with a sort of burning. It’s a bit uncomfortable at first but you get used to it.

Although Reri had told me what it was like, what to expect if ever I had to wear it, I did not properly imagine. Living it was different.

After I placed the R on my chest and the beautiful gray eyes assured to their satisfaction that it would remain there, my man/woman host rose and without another word turned and left the room. The hisser then told me that I was free to go.

As I descended the broad stairs leading up to Locom Hall and into the stream of the Locom the R above my heart grew warmer. Was it the sun, or was it that I was more conscious of it, here, where it would be seen by so many?

Imagining living with it and actually living with it was very different.

Gone was the gray, formless—and comfortable—anonymity of the Locom. Gone was the pleasant security of belonging and the passive benevolence of the many faces you don’t know and who don’t know (and don’t care about) you.

Now, stirred by the glowing R on my chest, what used to be placid, uninterested eyes that hardly ever looked at you, or at anyone in particular, had turned malicious. Not only had I been ejected from the warmth of the Locom womb, I had also been made a target of its malice.

The first person who noticed me, an older woman, slightly bent, cast me a baleful look and spat at my feet. I startled. Not so much at the saliva which landed on my socks and shoes, but because the woman, a person I had never seen in my life (that I know) really meant her venom. She rushed off, glanced behind her once, and then rounded a corner.

The next, a brat—he could not have been more than thirteen—cast me a quick glance, saw the R, stopped and smiled. He licked his lips with a quick, erratic movement of the tongue, and slapped my face. I felt the sting, from pain and humiliation both, and the heat reached my eyes. He laughed. His features, malevolent and superior, swam unsteadily in the moist film of tear. Then he raised his hand for a second helping and I snapped mine up as a shield. He stopped then, perplexed and affronted, and looked at my raised arm with a question. How dare I? And I remembered, I had just read my sentence, I could be arrested for that, for defending myself.

Slowly, and with even greater humiliation, I lowered my arm, inviting the blow. And with a triumphant smile it arrived, savage and with force. I reeled backwards, my heel caught a crack in the pavement and I almost fell. By pride alone I refused to go down and finally regained my balance. He watched my antic flailing in silence then laughed as he moved away. Just a boy, secure in his world of gray privilege.

Others had seen the exchange. None, of course, moved to help. And I could only think of escape. Reri had told me, had told me many times, but the telling did not approach the real. Or, perhaps, rather, I had not properly listened. Perhaps I had not wanted to imagine the real. For the real was torture; if not pain and humiliation then the anticipation of pain and humiliation.

Ah, that I were Locom again.

But was I ever? What had driven me to Reri in the first place? And driven is the right word: I had been restless, restless, restless.

Restless at work. Restless in my creation and distortion of image for the benefit and consumption of the Locom. Restless in my selection of color, in my dissembling true intent of advertisements to be fed the hungry Locom to create the need and to sell the product.

Restless in my hunger for what had gone long before, long before, when printed words were used. Written words (it was commonly whispered) made of symbols, called letters. Written sentences (less commonly whispered) representing thoughts. In the distant past when the Locom could read (seldom whispered).

Now there is only image. Says the law: There is only image. I search for and find another color, another image, and then another and I meld them and add more color, and I add another and I hunger for the words to tell what the image in my view so blatantly fails to. And I envy those that work with Tele-Vision, who can work with speak as well. For me, an advertising man, there was only image.

Restless at home, reclined before the monitors, passive as wave after wave of image and speak washes over the room and rush in through my eyes and ears.

Restless as I notice the blatant manipulation of the Locom, as the guilt of being party to the deception rises.

Restless as I sense the vacuum beneath, the hunger that would only grow and that no image would still.

Restless in thought. In seeing the wheel of the Locom spin from sleep to Tele-Vision monitor to work to Tele-vision monitor to sleep to Tele-Vision monitor to work to Tele-Vision monitor to sleep, ruled by Image, lulled by Image, fed by Image.

Restless as the hunger grew and tore and rose from below and then breached the surface.

“Where do the Readers learn?” I asked.

“They don’t,” he answered.

“But isn’t that what R means? I’ve seen them. The R stands for Reader. They’re branded as Readers.”

“They’re paid actors.”

“They get paid to play outcasts? To be beaten and scorned?”

“That’s what I’ve heard.”

We both went back to our work, to our images. Plausible, I thought, but no, not true. No actor can simulate fear so convincingly, to such depth. No actor can create, at will, the intelligent dread that plays on these faces. Besides, no Locom in his right mind would take a job that entailed weekly beatings, welts and bruises which I could sometimes see form and grow as the beating continued. Those sores were not makeup and these Locom were not actors.

No, they were Readers, and they knew the written word. I was sure of it.

Restless as the hunger would not still, as it ripped at its fetters and thrashed and reared and would not stay contained.

 

“Where can I learn?” I whispered.

The Reader looked at me with eyes that turned from frightened to expressionless. He then dropped his arms as if inviting a blow. He did not answer.

There were too many people around, I did not dare to ask again. Maybe he had not heard me. I would try another time, another Reader.

 

“Where can I learn?” I whispered.

This time without stopping. Again, as always, there were Locom about. Anyone hearing me could, and probably would, report it. So I tossed her the question without looking at her, hoping my circumspection would put her at ease and maybe elicit an answer. I stopped a few steps past her and turned. She looked at me with expressionless eyes. She did not answer.

 

“Where can I learn?” I whispered.

His eyes met mine only briefly. As expressionless as the others. Nearly. There hovered, for an instant, beneath his dark brows and behind his brown irises, an alert curiosity, then it too was extinguished. He did not answer.

 

Restless. I had to know but I had no way to find out—I realized that no Reader would ever answer my question. For their own safety, for mine.

Restless, until they came.

The knock was light, in retrospect quite secretive. He didn’t activate the visitor alert, he simply tapped on the door with his knuckles. Then again, and again. Until I opened.

I recognized him right away. Brown irises speckled with gold, and no longer looking away. We stood for a good moment, facing each other in silence. Then I stood aside and motioned him in.

“Thank you.” His voice was low and dark and reminded me of fine cloth.

I closed the door behind him and followed him into my apartment. He stopped at the center of the room, taking in my private life: my paintings, my photographs, my Tele-Vision monitor, my music and image discs, speakers, windows and bed. Then he turned to me.

“We have treatment to offer.”

I didn’t understand. Not at all. Somehow, the Reader had discovered who I was, he had arrived unannounced, and now he had spoken like an Official.

He eyed my confusion with a curiosity he no longer had to conceal. Then he smiled. Thinly, not pleasantly. From an inside pocket he brought out a small plastic badge and handed it to me. There was his picture, and there were symbols. Letters, I assumed. I didn’t understand.

“Philip 996X,” he said. “Department of Adjustment.”

Then I understood.

“You have been asking uncommon questions of unsavory individuals lately.” It was a statement. I knew I had been caught.

“Of course,” he continued, “the law allows asking, but I think you should be aware that you condemn to death whoever would teach you.”

Again, this was a flat statement, cast in his smooth fabric of a voice. It was low, almost a whisper, still it filled the room. I was cold but sweating, I even believe I had begun to shake. They said reading wasn’t a crime, not a real crime, but the Locom treated it like a crime, and now the Officials were on to me. My hunger was a disease and they were here to cure me. I sat down, I had to.

The Reader, no, the Official, said no more. The fabric, now like strands of echo, drifted away, leaving behind it a terrifying stillness. I buried my face in my hands. My hunger, now that they knew, would never find its relief, my restlessness would never dissolve, would always simmer and torment. Now that they knew.

I may have cried, I’m not sure. My face was still buried in my hands as I realized that I would never read. Not now, now that they knew. They would keep a close eye on me.

Then he startled me, or rather, his hand did. He placed it on my shoulder and left it there, firm and warm. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I had to make sure.” His voice was warmer this time, not as dark, friendlier. And, again, I didn’t understand.

My face remained hidden and with it my fresh confusion. He spoke into it.

“They are looking for our teachers,” he said, his voice still friendly, his hand still on my shoulder. “They will stop at nothing.”

Then I understood. And then, for sure, I cried. I must have, for when I slowly removed my hands to look up at him I noticed in them the glittering of wet, fresh tears.

 

He brought me to Reri.

Oh, Reri. “Fourteen”, he would say and show me three handfuls of fingers.

“But that makes fifteen,” I would answer.

And his smile would light up his wide, blue eyes, as he said, “You’re number fifteen.”

I would smile back at him and respond according to our little ritual, “All but a fraction of your full harvest.”

“Yes,” he’d nod. “Only a fraction.”

He was a good teacher. He was a patient and wise teacher. I learned the mysteries of letters from forbidden programs that he owned that used keyboards (they were a processor controlling device with many keys, each corresponding to a letter or another writing symbol).

I learned the meaning of words from secret books he kept hidden called dictionaries. I learned the pronunciation of these symbols, of these words, from his lips.

I learned grammar, which is what the system of language is called—how the words relate one to the other—from other hidden books.

And I learned the beauty, the sacred flight of reading from ancient authors (which then meant a writer of words and books, not an image creator). I know their names. They were Feodor Dostoyevsky, Vladimir Nabokov, Mervyn Peake, John Gardner, Charles Dickens, John Crowley, Gene Wolfe. There were others, many others.

And so I became a reader. A reader is very different from a Reader. The reader harbors his wealth in private, he treasures his books as highly as his life. The Reader is the reader branded and scorned and forever hunted.

“At first they noticed that fewer and fewer people actually learned how to read,” said Reri, “despite the fact that reading was taught and writing was taught and this teaching was mandatory. This was before the Locom,” he added. “Long before.”

“If reading was taught,” I asked, “how could those who could read lessen?”

“It was indeed taught,” he said as if underlining himself without having heard my question. “Everyone was taught. But those who did the teaching no longer cared or made sure that their pupils could read.”

I didn’t understand. “How can you teach and not teach?”

“It was not like you and me,” he answered. “It was very different then. The teaching was not personal, it was not one teacher and one pupil in a joint quest. It was different.”

He paused, as if he could actually remember, but he could only have remembered others’ rememberings, it was so long ago. “Each teacher was assigned a large group of pupils, there could be as many as thirty or forty to a group. They called these groups classes,” he explained, looking up at me. “They would all sit together in a large room. The teacher would then lecture them, read to them, give them reading or writing assignments, review them, test and encourage them, grade them, but there would always be too many to make sure.”

“Grade them?”

“They had a scale of excellence upon which they placed a pupil’s skill. ‘A’ for excellent, ‘B’ for normal, ‘C’ for barely, ‘D’ for inadequate.”

“Why?”

“This was before the Locom, remember.”

“Ah.”

He fell silent then and sat for some time gazing at the floor. I don’t think he saw the floor though, his eyes were still and unfocused, as though he was looking through the floor, at another floor beneath, or at something else, at something beneath even that.

“Often,” he said suddenly, then paused to take another breath. “Often his pupils never finished their learning. They would simply stop coming to him, before they could read, before they could write.”

The idea was too colossal, grotesque. I could not imagine. “How?” was all I could say.

“Image had arrived. Image could talk, image could show, could thrill.”

“Not the way the word can,” I interrupted.

He cast me a quick glance. “No, not the way the word can,” he said. “But with image you didn’t need the word, and for the indolent it was a welcome short cut.”

“For the Locom?”

“Yes, for the Locom. Although they were not to be called Locom for a while yet.”

“What were they called?”

“They had no name. Although they were sometimes referred to as ‘the public.’ They were just people. People who were content with image. People who were content to read only what they had to. Street signs, directions. People who didn’t care to know.”

“No books?”

“No. No books. Books were too many words. Too much reading, too much work. Why struggle through books when image gave you everything without effort. Image showed you everything, you didn’t have to tax your imagination.”

Then he smiled a strange sad smile. “You no longer needed imagination. Image thrills, as now, were fierce and direct, image excitement was blatant and excruciating, image blood was red and flowing and image explosions were loud. Image said it all, served complete with hand and spoon and ointment to make it go down easily. And under the increasing onslaught of image, books started to decline in number. To be sure they were still enjoyed by those who could read, who did read, and who vastly preferred them to image, but the number of readers was declining too.”

“And they were banned? The books?”

“Eventually, but not at this time. What happened next was that learning to read ceased to be mandatory. It became an elective, and only a few chose it, only a few saw the need. And to be truthful, by now there was no need, for image had entered every field.”

He fell silent again, a thick silence which I had to respect. It stretched and hurt while he remembered.

“And for those who did perceive the need, the need mostly grew out of a personal hunger, a hunger seen by the public as a weakness or as an imagined superiority. And in the face of that stigma—and by now it had grown to open scorn, ridiculed on Tele-Vision, joked about in the street—only a few of those who felt the need actually elected to learn. Only a few had the courage.

“And eventually reading and writing were dropped altogether as subjects of teaching. Fewer and fewer books were printed and published, and eventually the last house to publish books, which by then was constantly under attack and called a moral outrage, ceased too. They had to, because the Locom, and yes, they were Locom now, stoned the building and harassed and threatened, and then attacked the employees of the last publisher. That was the end of the book.

“Those who still read dared not display their gift, or their passion. Those who wanted to learn did so privately, and in secret. And then the act of reading was decreed a defilement of the Locom Desire. That’s what they called not conforming to the lowest common denominator. That’s also when teaching the art of reading was outlawed, when writing was outlawed, when books were outlawed. That’s the world you were born into.”

“But the wonder of it? How could they outlaw this wonder?”

“I really don’t know.” He shook his head. “The Locom works with image. The world functions and revolves around image. You cannot, must not differ. Not that drastically. A reader is vastly advantaged were he to find the right book. A reader can think, can create, can judge, can see. His imagination, which is the strongest and most wonderful manifestation of the self that there is, will revive and blossom once he knows how to read. The Locom can do none of this. Everything is done, thought, displayed and fed to them. That’s why the law says they must know, must be made aware whenever a reader is discovered. That’s why I must wear the orange R. So they can shun me, shield themselves from me. That’s why you must hide your knowing.”

“I will,” I answered.

“And if you can, if you have the courage, you must teach others.”

“I will,” I answered.

“Or else,” he said, “were reading to vanish, were books to vanish, there will soon be no world.”

“I will,” I affirmed.

They found him. They took him away, and, I assume, killed him. They took his books and his word programs. The only books they didn’t find were those Reri had given me. My seven books.

Of those seven they have now found four.

Now I have three.

I am really very scared and I am not very courageous. I have not kept my promise to Reri for I have taught no one. I dare not. I barely dare to write, but I am writing this and I shake as I write, listening for steps outside my door, listening for the key in the lock and for many footfalls through the open door.

When I finish, I will hide this writing, though I don’t know where. But I hope that perhaps someday, those who search the ruins of this world for clues to its destruction will find this and know what life here was like and what happened. For I am sure now, more sure every day as the Locom shun me and spit at me and more and more often beat me, that the reader, the Reader, too will be outlawed, and killed, and that eventually…

:

And that is where his written ramblings ended.

Fine and manicured hands restacked the sheets of papers and arranged the evidence just so.

They must have arrived as he summed up his outpourings, he thought.

He could picture him, frozen with pen in hand as he heard the key enter the lock. He must have panicked, rendered incapable of movement as the door swung open. There had been time for him to hide his crime, surely, but he had made no attempt to.

They reported that he had paused, but was still in the act of writing as they entered his room.

Justice had been swift, of course. He was caught in the act, so there was no need for trial nor for defense. And now he is dead.

His execution was broadcast. It made for strong images, a persuasive message to the Locom.

He looked at the small stack of sheets before him. Lined yellow paper. He wondered briefly where he could have obtained it.

The ramblings had been well written. Not brilliantly, but well written. Neat small letters in the beginning, larger and more hurried as he neared the end and felt the need to finish, as his fear of discovery grew and threatened to overtake him.

He, too, could read. Of course he could. Some officials, like him, had to. For someone had to read and interpret and understand confused ramblings such as these. Someone had to ensure justice was served. Someone had to maintain Locom harmony.

He studied his manicured fingers, and considered another treatment. His nails were a little too long. Tomorrow, perhaps. Then turned aside to admire his own reflection in the office window, and smiled.

He had thought me beautiful, he thought.

::

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