The Diamond & the Thief – edition 23

...and now on to edition 23 of our minizine, with all the history of luminous motion.

In this edition Toby Fitch inspects the reach of living daylights, David Lynn Clucas reads back, and Levin A. Diatschenko descends down into the secret order of the gaol library.

Look homeward, angels!

Jeremy
The Black Rider

The Living Daylights
by Toby Fitch

Moleskine
by David Lynn Clucas

He opened his Moleskine up to where the ballpoint clicker sat
The spine long since broken and flattened
In the crease rolled bits of burned tobacco of some sort
He pressed it with his thumb and drew his thumb across the page
Across fourteen words, three of which were altered,
Two left illegible, and the third's meaning changed
And the page, as a whole, rendered senseless.

The Fall of the Borroloola Library.
by Levin A. Diatschenko

In the last months of the legendary library of Borroloola, a swagman arrived in the town. He had travelled far having heard of the revered books, and how they were kept in the town gaol – the only place with room enough for the largest library in the Southern Hemisphere. He sought the order of monk-librarians who lived there.

To his dismay, the gaol-library was one of only three buildings still standing among the ruins of what was now a ghost town.

He knocked on the steel-framed door and waited.

When the door finally swung open, a whole bunch of papers blew out and over the street. The Warden-Librarian received him with suspicion. But he pulled the swaggie inside and slammed the door so as not to lose any more papers.

The room was large and solid and quiet. The floor inside was covered in pamphlets and newspapers. The old man, dressed in every way like a prison warden fit with dangling keys at the belt (and a gun), said, “Good day. I am Jose, the Warden-Librarian,” and extended his hand.

The swagman shook it. “Hello. I am Ted.”

There were five cells next to each other. Instead of walls there were just bars like in American gaols, so that one could see inside each one. Along with inmates, each cell was filled with bookcases. The shelves were packed with leather bound books, one hundred or so metres high, with ladders. There must have been thousands of them. The five or six inmates were each absorbed in reading.

Ted spent days browsing the books. He learned from the Warden-Librarian that the cells were especially effective for locking out the outside world so as to remain undisturbed. He blew thick layers of dust off tomes, and swiped away spider webs. Most of the books were quilled in ink and hand-bound, preserved as if frozen in time. In fact the books felt cold to the touch. Here and there a typewritten book stood out. In high, out of the way shelves, he even found scrolls. Greek and Arabic philosophers, mostly.

One day he asked Jose whether he could borrow books. Jose shouted: “No book can leave the library! We cannot risk a single word lost! You may read them all if you choose, but only from within these walls!”

So began a monkish existence in the gaol library. Ted began with Homer. He coaxed it off the shelf and blew the dust off it. Each cell had a small table and chair, so Ted locked himself in and opened the book.

In a while a gaoler (under direction of the Warden-Librarian) brought him a light meal. When Ted’s eyes started drooping, a gaoler came and folded out a thin bed from the wall of the cell. When he left, he locked the door behind him, but Ted did not notice; a Cyclops was hurling things at Odysseus.

A fortnight later, he moved on to Cervantes. There was a shower in the gaol that he washed himself in. A gaoler took his dirty clothes away and returned with a clean prisoner’s uniform. He (the gaoler) seemed to be doing everything he could to make sure the reading went along without interruption.

Months later, Ted had read all kinds of scriptures and scientific texts, novels and mythologies. Some days he broke from reading, and would sit on his cot or stare out of barred windows and stew on all the ideas.

In between books one day, Ted discovered a strange thing: instead of returning Ted’s usual uniform, the gaoler had substituted them for a warden’s uniform. There was nothing else, so Ted had no option but to put them on. The Jose the Warden-Librarian unlocked the door and came in. He handed Ted a set of keys and a gun.

“What’s this about?” asked Ted.

The Warden-Librarian went over to a window, and Ted followed.

“There are three levels to the learning in this place,” said Jose. “The first is that of a citizen.” He peered at the ghost town through the bars on the window.

Ted followed suit at another window, but failed to see any citizens. He said as much.

“Phantoms,” explained the Warden-Librarian. “Ineffective ghosts, suffering Kundera’s ‘unbearable lightness of being’.”

“Oh.”

“From this perspective you don’t see them.”

“It seems I skipped that stage…”

“No. You’ve been a phantom all your life. But it felt normal to you while living among phantoms.”

“…”

“The second level is that of the inmate. He takes in knowledge like a sponge, but is still basically trapped. His life is not his own. He cannot do anything, but he begins to be aware of his imprisonment.”

“And the third level?”

“This is the level you are almost ready for,” said the Warden-Librarian solemnly. “That of the warden or gaoler. I’ve accepted you as my apprentice in our Order of Librarians. Keepers of the books.”

Ted now looked after inmates himself. He took their dirty clothes away and gave them prisoner’s uniforms (white with black arrows), cooked their meals, always making sure they read without interruption.

Eventually, Ted made preparations to leave the ghost town. Warden-Librarian Jose, while sad, conceded that it was meant to be – Ted was a swaggie after all, which is another discipline again. They ate their meals together and spoke of the world outside, and of the problems facing the library.

“What’s with all the papers on the floor?” asked Ted finally.

“The books are melting, Ted. Gradually, year-by-year, the shelves are disappearing. It’s climate change.”

“Are you sure?”

“We are a dying breed, Ted.”

It was only a day before Ted was set to leave when the gaol library started rumbling. He staggered out of bed and threw some pants on, thinking it was an earthquake.

The inmates were gripping the bars of their cells and screaming.

“It’s the books,” cried Jose. “They’re melting!” Tears were streaming from his eyes. He rushed to and fro like a mad chicken, but finding that there was nothing he could do, he sat in the middle of the floor. His gaze went blank and hopeless.

Ted considered that he’d have to open the doors eventually; otherwise they’d be smothered and drowned, but Jose became despondent and uncommunicative. Ted figured it was shock. He stayed longer so as to help the librarians through this crisis.

Over the next few weeks, the quill-written books warmed up, softened, and broke apart into scores of typewritten copies, spilling across the floors. Some of the books split and multiplied into hundreds of paperback copies, and Ted (not without reluctance) opened the doors to let them flow out over the town.

As it melted, the whole library rumbled and moaned liked a wounded beast.

By the third week, Ted – clutching the acquiescent head Warden-Librarian – led all the inmates in an exodus. They ran for safety as the last shelves collapsed and melted.

A wave of printed copies overtook them – Ted and company were hurled out of the town on a rapid landslide of literature. The printed copies then melted further into a liquid river of electronic text. The readers clutched to whichever books were still hard-covered to remain afloat.

The Warden-Librarian snatched at the floating debris, trying to salvage his favourites. “God dammit!” he bellowed. “They’re all falling apart. I can only grab small sound bytes!”

The current moved too quickly. Ted could neither navigate nor choose his direction. Some of the text rang out loud in radio waves and voices; other parts remained visual but impossible to grasp.

“We have to wait till it stops,” Ted cried. “Eventually it has to find the lowest ground and settle. There’s nothing we can do now but hold on!”

Ted felt zapped by the electricity and could no longer focus. His oversensitive nerve system shuddered in exhaustion.

He lost his comrades. There was no longer anything to grasp to. The waves of media threw Ted across world cities at preposterous speeds.

Think fast, he told himself. Got to think fast!

But he could not concentrate in this atmosphere. He tried to recall some wisdom or instructions from the many books he’d read. But then a wave would hurl him or flip him and break his concentration.

A stroke of luck came in the form of the Lady of the Lake of Media; she reached a hand up through the surface of the current and held up a typewriter. He latched onto it, and this kept him afloat. Within seconds the typewriter melted and mutated into a lap top computer. Ted hoped it would not break apart into even smaller devices like iPads or anything.

Ted eventually awoke in a suburban street, lying inside a puddle of media, like liquid computer screen. He was still clutching his laptop.

After coughing up some sound bytes, he wiped his mouth and stood up.

To his annoyance, most of the puddle rose with him in the form of an auric egg. He could not get out from the centre of it.

He spun around to take in his surroundings. He’d returned to his hometown.

As he walked the streets Ted discovered that everybody he met were inside media-eggs. The whole city was swimming in the stuff. Two kids passed him and he said, “How’s the water, today?”

“What water?” they asked. And Ted finally understood what David Foster Wallace meant .

When he arrived home, Ted had a good look at the media-egg that surrounded him and discovered that as the words of the books in the library of Borroloola had become less and less physical, paradoxically his thoughts had become more and more substantial – so that both met in the middle. His mental ramblings were jumbled and mixed up with the greatest of literature, floating around in the sea of media.

The result was that everyone in town was telepathic. His thoughts lay open like an open book. A Facebook, you might say. Whenever anyone thought anything, people saw it in their auric eggs. Associations and gossip popped up as unwanted web pages like the flu virus or a rash. Ted could not have a pornographic thought without his mother seeing it. Everybody’s auras leaked into everybody else’s. Even the auras of large organisations wiki-leaked. Little Brother was watching.

People panicked. They accused and judged each other. Some were arrested and others went into hiding.

But Ted sat down on his veranda, lit a pipe, and accepted it all, remembering a sound byte from a book he once read. In a completely telepathic society, he thought, who can possibly throw the first stone?

1 In Infinite Jest, one of Wallace’s characters tell of the older fish who says “How’s the water?” to the younger fish. They reply, “What is water?” It is a spiritual metaphor.

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