Hector sighed. He set the intruder alarms one last time and went out into the cool, dark night. Taking a final look at the building, he set the locks and began to walk home. So this is how his life’s work ended. Not with a bang or a whimper, but with gritted teeth and much evasive action. But there’s only so much dodging you can do. The inevitable is just that – inevitable.
He had kept the presses rolling and the fabrication facilities going full tilt for more than a month, to leave as little as possible for the bailiffs when they move in. And he’d been shipping everything movable out to obscure places, for retrieval later. Now he carried in his satchel three prized possessions. The last Print-on-Demand book to be commercially printed. The last e-Reader to roll off a production line anywhere in the world. And his first edition of Little Dorrit, from the display case in the lobby.
As he walked home, Hector reflected on how the world had been so different forty-something years ago when he first sunk his and Miriam’s savings into the business. They hit that first wave of electronic books at the prescient moment. They worked with the giants of the business, and fought with them too. They did well out of it.
But the world moves on. New hydrid animated books, film/books or ‘drooks’ – dramatized books – changed the market. They were survivable. Sadly,the last decade was not. New brain interface technologies were the game-changer. People could just download a book straight into their head. Writers and writer-animateurs could devise and upload everything online. The big two had the market sewn up. And Hector’s company had always produced the physical things that supported reading and the book trade. Books-as-a-service was an area where he knew he couldn’t compete.
Now his market for ‘knowledge accessories’ was gone forever. Sure, there’d be some diehards and hobbyists. But a market from which to make a living?
Miriam hugged him extra close as he came in and dropped his satchel. She gently stroked back into position the lock of grey hair that flopped over his weary forehead. With a last affectionate clasp of his shoulders, she said, ‘I’ve cooked us something extra special.’
‘The books, I hope,’ said Hector in a world-weary tone.
‘Oh, no one cooks those better than I do.’
Hector knew that was true. Without Miriam’s creative accounting, the business would have gone down years before.
‘Crooks, creditors and Philistines,’ she continued, ‘I’ve been swatting the blood-sucking parasites away right up to the last moment. Bought us the time we need. But are you sure you want to go through with this? I mean, I’m no spring chicken. Too long in the tooth by far to start anything new.’
Hector looked at her and the twinkle returned to his eye. ‘Oh, not true. For “thy eternal summer shall not fade / Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st …” ’
‘You old fraud,’ said Miriam, as she took out a large dish from the oven. He’d been charming her with poetry for more than four decades – and it still worked. He’s a romantic old fool, she would think, but he’s my romantic old fool. Well, apart from sharing him with the entire literary history of the world, that is.
‘I’ve set up the Trust. If you’re sure you still want to do it,’ said Miriam as they sat to eat. ‘And the apartment for us on the top floor of the Museum is furnished now. All systems go. Did you get all the books you want? And reading devices?’
‘Yep,’ said Hector. Then began singing, almost in tune, ‘We took all the books, put ‘em in a Book Museum. And we’ll charge the people a hundred bucks just to see ‘em …’
‘You never stop dreaming, do you Hector!’
He smiled. ‘The good thing about dreams is that even when they fail, sometimes you can carry on living in them. And in the Museum, that’s just what we’ll be doing . Literally.’
* * *
The theme for the July 2013 contest was “something based on today’s headlines”. Eligible stories had to contain each of the following: summer; mosquito.
I chose to write something that’s been in the headlines, in the business pages, in the trade press and all over social media – the changing nature of publishing. And projected it a few decades into the future.