This story is inspired by the famous one act play, Krapp’s Last Tape, by Samuel Beckett. Thanks to Harris Levinson for introducing my High School English class to this singular work.
Once again, I have the pleasure of collaborating with photographer and graphic artist, Bill Draheim. In previous collaborations, and in the spirit of Chris Van Allburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, Mr. Draheim would provide me photographic works to which I would write short stories. This time, the process was reversed. I provided the story and he came up with artistic pieces to match its flow. We hope you enjoy our newest effort!
One night, a few months before she left for Nepal with her post-menopausal adventuress group, Bianca turned to Krapp as they lay in bed.
“Don’t disappear, Krapp.”
“Hmmm?” Krapp’s eye did not leave the page of his artifact paperback.
“Don’t get old,” his wife said. “Certainly not on my behalf.”
“Just because I don’t go on crazy trips…,” and his voice had sputtered out in that way it did when he didn’t want to talk.
“That’s not what I mean,” she said.
But he had already frustrated her, and the conversation was over.
Later, while he was telling her why he didn’t want to go onto the Æthernet—it was too labyrinthine, he said, using an artifact word—she reminded him of their short conversation that night. He pretended that he had forgotten. She, of course, had not.
“This is what I was talking about!” she exclaimed, meaning any number of things.
“Really, well I, you know…,” *sputter*.
“There are all kinds of data visualization methods nowadays, Krapp.”
She pulled out her SamWay tablet.
“I’m just not crazy about—” he said, but this time she wasn’t having it.
“I’m leaving in a few days,” she said, scoldingly. “What if I can’t call you where I’m from? What if I can only get ahold of you through FaceSpace or MyBook?”
Krapp vaguely recalled having a FaceSpace account in his younger days, but as notifications of grandchildren’s birthdays had given way to digital obituaries, he had gradually drifted away. Disappeared.
Just like his wife had said.
“Alright.” He surrendered.
Not one to gloat, Bianca got straight down to business. “Okay, let’s try something simple. We’ll chart what you’ve eaten this week.”
And in the next few minutes she took stock of what Krapp had consumed (he chose not to tell her about all the bananas) and input it into an incredibly user-friendly system with a facility remarkable for her age. In minutes, the content of his meals that week was rendered in bar graphs, spirals, concentric rings, pointillist clusters, impressions, maps clotted with dots and cones and rods and….
Eventually he conceded and bought a Direct Interactivity System. Together, they set it up.
That had been a long time ago.
On her trip a freakishly huge snowstorm hit the mountains. Some trekkers, his wife among them, simply disappeared. The irony was lost on him for many years, buried beneath a grief so immense that its very totality confounded any estimation of its limit. Krapp only noticed it upon attempting even the smallest action; for example, the lifting of his aged body from the bed—he taught himself that he must rise in the morning—happened only through considerable effort, as though a thousand years hung to his frail bones.
It had taken years for him to regain his vigor, and this returned only in part. Things that before had been easy were now hard.
Like checking the inbox of his email account.
It was this Herculean task that he prepared for that morning after he’d awakened, drank his coffee and eaten a banana.
He wasn’t entirely in error to think of it as something against which his nerves needed to be steeled, his mind and body prepared. In the twenty years since his wife had disappeared, the world had changed. At the time Bianca had been right. Data visualization did made information processing easier.
But these days it was an entirely different affair. After the formation of the Galactic Federation, the information superhighway had gone interstellar. Suddenly the news was not just of your garden-variety terrestrial dysfunction, but of alien warlords invading galactic outposts, broken treaties between xenon civilizations, disputes over empty stretches of space, and the increasingly common UFO visit to Earth’s city-sized mega-malls, presumably to stock up on the cheapest goods in the galaxy. In no time at all, information from the far reaches of the solar system was just a mouse-click away. Junk mail, accordingly, had gone from a manageable trickle to a deluge.
He doddered over to the D.I.S. and settled into his rolling chair. A finger run across the screen returned tipped in dust. He uncoiled the wires and plugged the eight-prong cord into his temple. He clipped the diodes to index finger and thumb, and dropped the glossy shield.
Krapp could feel his blood pressure rising. There would be thousands of messages waiting for him. Tens of thousands.
He pressed a button. The console hummed. The shield blackened and then…
Row upon row of stylized envelopes appeared, suspended in virtual space for as far as the eye could see.
Krapp swiped his hand. These first letters slid off to the side, quickly replaced by others.
“Jesus,” he muttered.
Most of the envelopes plunged from sight.
Krapp’s hands trembled. His heart raced. What had just happened? It took him a long, sweaty moment before he realized what had happened: He had been so long absent from the Æthernet that he had forgotten any spoken word was construed as a command.
Those messages remaining on the screen would be from the world’s hundreds of Christian offshoots. Many would herald the end of the world, an event Krapp remembered having happened a few times in his long life already.
Well, he didn’t need salvation. And even if he did, it wouldn’t come via email.
“Delete,” he commanded.
Just like that, they were gone.
He thought next of how he might best categorize the remaining messages. He decided. He would trim the off-world hullaballoo first.
“Visualization: interstellar channels. Milky Way,” he commanded. A black and white image of the solar system appeared, sparkling with thousands of glimmering lights dispersed among the many stars. The closer to earth, the more condensed the clusters. The earth itself was awash. Each represented a message sent from that part of Federation territory.
The white-hot clump of messages clustered around the earth disappeared. He brushed his virtual fingertips over those that remained, and brief synopses popped-up: political messages asking for support in other-worldly elections; businesses promoting products only available from gaseous planetoids; advertisements for off-world picture brides with ‘complementary morphologies’. Only a few had been sent from the outer limits, none whatsoever from the center….
Scratch that. One: a message from Sagittarius A*.