“Night of the Hungry Well-Read” or “Attack of the AmaZombies”
Chapter 1: Alone in the Library
I recall when the name seemed the flimsiest bit of whimsy, a felicitous appelation for a harmless addiction. I fear, now, that it will be the end of us all.
As I sit here, alone in the last library in the world, I can no longer deny that my time, and that of the world I once knew, is short.
I apologize, stranger, for the curious method in which this journal is written. It would take a steadier hand than that of this old academic to etch with acid on metal a clear missive. Even through my improvised protective raiment, my eyes water from the by-products of the writing process. At least, I prefer to believe that is the cause.
My lord…has it only been three scant months since this all began? It was then that Jimmy, a first-year student in my Astronomy 101 course at the university, brought me his observations. He claimed to have seen a “distortion” in the sky, while doing his study time in our celestial observatory. We employ an experimental telescope with lenses of unique property…one of my own design. I would have dismissed his concerns out of hand, had not my daughter insisted that I give them a second review. To humor her, and her innocent affection for the lad, I turned my full attention to the fateful words.
If I had known then that it would lead me to this solitary existence, I might have better destroyed the report then and there. How ironic that would have been!
Wait…are they here? Must it end with the story untold? No, it is only the wind. Perhaps haste is more appropriate, so I will speed the telling of the tale.
My scientific analysis showed that the boy had been correct. The Earth was about to enter a cloud of heretofore unpostulated radiation. I called it the “Barbara Belt”, in honor of my dear departed wife. I could not help but wonder if it was my telescope, or the youthful vigor of his eyes that enabled the discovery, for no other observatory had reported the same phenomenon. Astronomers are nearly always old men, such as myself, and our eyes may have seen too much to react to an unprecedented stimulus.
I took my findings to the League of Professorial Scientists. The blind fools! How they laughed at me, and mocked me! They could not, despite my reasoned postulates, see the danger.
I saw that I must seek another avenue of defense. I went to the White House: being a respected professor, I was admitted into the office of the President at once. While sympathetic, he was wary of causing a panic. When his Science Advisor consulted with the League and received their resolved rejection of my hypothesis, that door too was closed.
There was little I could do then but wait, and hope that the effects would be none too severe.
“Father, you seem upset. Is everything alright?”
“How could things be otherwise while you are here, child?”
It pained me to lie to my own flesh and blood, but it was for her own good. I exchanged a meaningful glance with Jimmy, who had assented to my desire to withhold our knowledge of the impending doom. If we were wrong, we would have brought unhappiness and uncertainty to her for no reason. If we were right, as science said we would be, then let her enjoy what time she could in blissful ignorance.
“Three…two…one.” Jimmy counted down the time.
As we expected, there was little perceptible difference. The birds still sang outside, and my bulldog, Winston, snored on his cushion.
However, over the next few days, we learned of the horrible truth. As we entered the cloud, a strange transformation had come over the world’s Kindles, and the people who read them. At first, it was unclear. The machines had stopped functioning, and no amount of resetting could restore them to proper operation.
Catastrophe though that would have been, what happened to those reading them was worse.Through some unexplained mutation, their eyes became no longer mere perceptors, but projectors as well. Projectors of a strange cosmic radiation, a remnant of the cloud itself. It had the unexplained property of causing the deconstruction of ink. As the afflicted read a book, the words would disappear, the only evidence of their passing a thin gossamer vapor, which quickly evaporated.
Accustomed to reading constantly, they would quickly consume all the books in their own homes. They would read everything else, newspaper, magazines, even cereal boxes. Everything became a blank slate.
Unsated, they would wander into the streets, looking for more to read. Each piece of literature an AmaZombie found would be destroyed through the action of those nefarious ocular rays. A child’s book, a racing form, the safety instructions for a cross-cut saw: all became as void as a slab of untrodden Antarctic ice.
Those unaffected soon became aware of the perilous nature of the situation. Driven by an unsatiable need, they would stop at nothing to achieve their goals. People feared that low, plaintive moan heard across the nation:
Their eyes were blank, and betrayed no glimpses of the intelligence which once resided there. Although their hands hung limply at their sides, their thumbs still twitched spasmodically as they clicked the
phantom “Next page” buttons of their long abandoned but once beloved Kindles.
The devices themselves were everywhere, still laying where they had been abandoned. The white rectangles skewed every which way, like the Devil’s paving stones.
The world became a place of unlabeled shapes. Blank rectangles where once the great novels had been proudly displayed. Red octagons, their imperative to Stop long erased. Colorful circles on strings, no longer proclaiming proudly their Duncan kinship.
Quickly apprehending the danger, I began an odyssey with my daughter and Jimmy. Our destination was a great repository, which I could only hope lay untouched. The hardships of that trip I dare not enumerate here, for my supply of acid is dwindling. Yet, I can not leave untold the horrifying scene which is etched as deeply in my memory as these words are on my metal medium.
We had nearly reached our goal. I confess to say that my aged sinews had slowed our progress, despite Jimmy’s best efforts to lend me aid. I paused to rest, but my daughter had wandered somewhat ahead of me. I saw but too late where she had hesitated, as she realized that Jimmy and I were trailing behind. A small shack with a wooden overhang, bright overlapping colors…a newsstand! Surely, it must have already been ravaged by those we had to avoid. But no! I saw the words: People, The Economist…through some horrifying fate, they lay untouched!
I was struck dumb! My vocal cords would not respond as I tried to warn her of the danger. I grabbed Jimmy’s arm and pointed, gesturing for him to call her back. But the dear boy thought there was something wrong with me, and sought to provide me assistance.
Then it happened.
Between us and my beloved child, they emerged. From out of a subway station they came.
It happened so quickly! A sea of pale faces and pale arms, they surged towards the newsstand, and she who so resembled my late wife.
Jimmy saw the danger at once.
“Go, Professor…go! I’m coming!”
He gently propelled me in the direction of the library, as he ran towards my daughter. She heard his shout, and turned, but I could no longer see her: the wall of the afflicted had closed. I hesitated, but knew that my elderly body would only be a hinderance in the rescue effort. Like King Leonidas facing the mighty Persian army, Jimmy plunged into the sea of readers. I saw him flailing about, as he fought, and pushed and struggled towards his goal. Then he was lost to me. The hungry ghouls reached the newsstand. For a moment, there was a flury and I could see nothing.
Although it seemed like hours, it could not have been more than two or three minutes. The magazines were read. The pages were cleared: colorful but empty covers stared back at me.
The throng turned. I saw no sign of Jimmy…or my daughter. My only hope lay now in the great library beyond. Perhaps they had made it. Perhaps they were waiting for me there.
With some faint resurrection of my lost youth, I ran up the stairs, past the mighty guardian lions. I dared hope that those powerful stone forms might protect me as I reached the doors. Finding them unlocked, I hastened to make entrance, and slammed the portal shut behind me.
I searched the building in vain…I could no more find my daughter or Jimmy than I would ever see my lost wife. I comforted myself with the belief that they had reached some haven of safety. When my girl was young, we had developed, in that childhood play between a child and a doting parent, a secret knock, a sign of identity without counterfeit. As she had grown older, we had kept it between us, and I shall not divulge it here.
Now I sit and listen. I pray to hear that knock, but fear I shall instead hear that inevitable sound of the grim readers. I dare not lock the door, for what if Jimmy should return? I can not risk keeping them out, if by some miracle they should return to me.
My acid supply is almost fully depleted. I do not know if even this monument will survive the onslaught of a thousand ray-emitting eyes. I can only hope.
What is that I hear? Jimmy? Is this my fevered imagination, or is it undeniable reality?
I know! I know now whether it be Jimmy or that plaintive vocalization that will spell my doom…and that of the last words in the world!
The sound! The soun the sou the so…
Thanks to J. Seidel, whose term “AmaZombie” inspired this tale…