America's Most Critical Journal (since 1999)
The Last Storyteller
By Mark Fritz
Homer O'Hara loved to tell stories. He had a wealth of them, accumulated over a period of 80 years lived in interesting times. For years he had been hoping to get the opportunity to tell a few to his 8-year-old great-grandson, Brandon. Kids are suckers for a good story...right?
Well, maybe, but so far, no success. Every time he had visited the city, he had hoped to be asked to babysit Brandon (well, Brandon's parents used the term "sit," leaving the "baby" part out). And on those few occasions when he did get the opportunity to "sit" Brandon, Homer had failed to engage the boy. There was nothing he could do to pull Brandon away from the big-screen multimedia entertainment system that every kid has nowadays.
But then one night Homer had a stroke of luck. During a rare visit and a rare "sitting" session, a sudden power outage blacked out the entire city.
There they were, just he and the kid, alone in a quiet apartment 31 floors above the streets, with only the weak emergency nightlight over the entrance doorway to prevent complete darkness. Homer had a captive audience who was just sitting there in the dimness getting more bored by the second.
"So, how’s about I tell you a story?" Homer said, rubbing his hands together the way a hungry person does just before digging into the grub.
"A story! Great!" Brandon replied. "I can't wait. But where's your equipment?"
"No equipment needed, other than my tonsils," said Homer. "And I've lubricated them with a little scotch I borrowed from your Dad's stash."
"Will your story have a quadraphonic soundtrack?"
"No.oo. Sorry," Homer answered.
"But how can you have realistic sound effects without surround sound?"
"Ah...well, I usually don't do sound effects, but when I do, I just use my mouth."
Homer quickly tried to launch into his story: "Once upon..."
"You mean you rely solely on narration?"
"Ah, yeah, that's right. Now, as I was saying -- once upon a time..."
"Will this story use holographic projections?"
"No, 'fraid not."
"Three-D graphics, then?"
"Ah...none of that, Brandon. It's a story. It's all oral. I talk and you listen. That's how it works. And they always start like this: Once upon a time, there was..."
"Will it employ gaming? Simulation?"
"No, son, it's just a story."
"What kind of interaction will it have? What kind of user control?
"Son, all those things require electricity, and as you can see, we ain't got none."
"Sure we do, Gramps," Brandon said, "I'll just go get my Handheld
Portable Media Player in my bedroom. And I've got lots of extra batteries for it."
Brandon flicked on an LED penlight on his keychain and scampered off to his bedroom.
And so Homer's story was over before it began.
Homer walked over to the big picture windows and looked out upon the blacked-out city. The half moon hung low in the sky and backlit the buildings, giving the whole scene an ethereal glow, as if freedom from electricity had magically transformed the ordinarily grim, grimed, crime-filled city.
Brandon re-entered the room, already absorbed in a multimedia "story" being played on the small Portable Media Machine he held in his hands.
"Hey, kid, come here and look at how beautiful the city is in the moonlight," said Homer.