The Reader


In the not too distant future reading and writing is not only not taught, it is frowned upon. Not long thereafter, teaching these arts became a crime. Now, you read at your peril. They will not kill you for it, not yet, but you are shunned and reviled, and have to wear the orange R on your chest.
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Now, I have only three left.

I had seven. The seven Reri gave me, all hidden where I thought they would never find them. But they have found them, four of them so far. Four, and now I have only three left.

They can come at any time though they cannot hurt me. By law they can and cannot. By law they can come at any time and they can search any place, and they do, and they will, come again and again, and search everywhere, until they are certain, until they know I have none left; and by law they cannot lay their official hands on me, although that, from what I hear, may soon change.

And now they come once or twice a week, sometimes every day. There is no knock, no warning. I have only a startled second or two after I hear a key in my lock and before they burst into my room to cease or hide what it is I do if what I do is illegal (what I’m doing now, writing this, is illegal). My life is no longer mine, no longer private, for by law I cannot use latches or chains or anything they cannot easily, and quickly, unlock from without. The law says they must have free access. Latches or chains of any kind, it says, would amount to protective privacy and that privilege is reserved for the Locom.

I have to wear an orange R (for Reader) on my chest. It is made from glow-worm plastic so you can see it at night (were I crazy enough to go out then), and I have to wear it where ever I go.

The Locom stand aside when they see me come or they stop and point or they turn away. Mothers bend to whisper to their children and I see their little eyes widen before they scramble for cover behind skirts and coats, although some are too young to understand and instead they smile at me in friendly wonder, some even wave.

Some Locom scowl and frown, others pretend I’m not there. Some do violence to me, for the law says they can. It happens once or twice a week, that I get beaten. I don’t think it’s encouraged, the beatings. Reri said the law even frowns upon it, but when you listen carefully to what the law says, it is not illegal to hurt a Reader, that is, as long as you’re not an official, for by law they cannot hurt me. That’s what the law says. Reri never understood that either.