They were comfortably seated in the back of the bus, making the long trip to Denver, when Sam finally noticed that Morrison had been reading something peculiar for the past ten minutes.
“So, what’ve you got there?”
“Oh, it’s just one of those electronic readers,” Morrison replied evasively.
“Really? Because it looks…a little different from the ones I’m familiar with,” Sam said.
“No, it’s just the same as the rest of them,” Morrison insisted.
“You’re a terrible liar,” Sam said. “Let me see it.”
“All the same, no.”
“You’re holding a perfectly normal thing and you’ve got a problem with me looking at it?” Sam tested.
“I’m trying to read.”
“And you’re holding a conversation with me,” Sam noted.
“Not because I want to.”
“Because I’m such a great guy,” Sam said. “No really, just let me look. I promise I won’t break it. I’ll only take a moment.”
“All the same, no.”
“Come on! Now you’re just making it seem like it really is something special,” Sam protested. “Morrison! Stop being so difficult!”
“It’s a Monkey Palm. It’s just like any other e-reader,” Morrison relented. “It’s really no big deal.”
“I’ve never heard of…Monkey Palm? There are some pretty big, established names out there right now, but this one, come on, there has to be something special about it,” Sam insisted. “You’ve got to tell me!”
“You’re being kind of needy right now,” Morrison pointed out.
“It’s better than being secretive! What are you, some kind of spy?”
“Yes, I am a spy and I’m using my super secret surveillance Monkey Palm out in the open,” Morrison said, with not a little sarcasm in his voice. “But don’t tell anyone else. Just in case they didn’t hear.”
Sam sat quietly for a moment, not as if he were thinking about it or sulking, but biding his time. He was calculating. He was used to this kind of behavior from his friend, but usually it didn’t last this long. Also, usually Sam wasn’t this intrigued.
“Okay fine,” he said finally, “You can keep your secret Monkey Palm to yourself.”
“Listen, it’s just, the Monkey Palm is pretty unique,” Morrison said. “I just didn’t want to get you all excited.”
“Well, good job with that one.”
“When I said it was just like any e-reader, I really meant it,” Morrison continued. “There’s just one difference. It doesn’t carry…ordinary titles.”
“Oh, I get it! ‘Monkey Palm.’ Not very subtle,” Sam laughed. “Not very subtle. The world’s first sex-reader.”
“Ha. Right, you got me,” Morrison said, staring mordantly at his friend. “You idiot. That’s not what I meant at all. The titles aren’t ordinary because technically they don’t exist.”
“So you’re saying I haven’t heard of the Monkey Palm because it’s some kind of black market device,” Sam suggested. “That’s rich. Underground e-readers for underground literature. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?”
“Wrong again, friend-o,” Morrison said.
“I told you that was creepy,” Sam reminded him. “Never reference a creepy character with someone who’s actually your friend. It’s like nominating your biggest enemy as your running mate. It just doesn’t make sense, Morrison. Anyway, stop changing the subject! How is this Monkey Palm so different?”
“It carries material that does not technically exist.”
“You already said that.”
“I know. Clearly I’m reluctant about this,” Morrison said.
“I hadn’t noticed.”
“Okay. So the stories the Monkey Palm carries haven’t been written yet. Some of them are from alternate realities, too, I think.”
“You’re a horrible liar, Morrison.”
“Because if I were to show it to you right now and you were to confirm for yourself that you knew none of these stories, none of these writers, you’d assume I was just showing you a bunch of obscure works,” Morrison said. “Do you begin to understand my reluctance now? There are so many reasons. You come up with your own.”
“You’re crazy, Morrison.”
“Seriously, that’s exactly what you’d assume,” Morrison said. “You’d take one look at my library and you’d assume you’d just never heard of any of it, and you’d be pretty comfortable with that belief, because on the surface, it’s pretty plausible, and all you’d take away from it is that it’s me being me. But you wanted more than that, and that’s what I’ve given you. But I’m not lying to you now. When I say this stuff does not technically exist, that’s the god’s honest truth.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Think about it, even if I weren’t telling you the truth, you really wouldn’t know any better, and it wouldn’t make any difference. That’s the kind of stuff I’d be reading anyway, right? Stuff most people weren’t reading. That’s Morrison. Gotta be unique. Not because I’m trying to be, but because that’s just the way it usually works out. Well, most of the time. It just so happens that I came across this Monkey Palm, and it’s given me access to material that takes my usual interests to the next level. It’s the kind of thing everyone’s always looking for. You’re just jealous. That’s what you’ve really been thinking, just below the surface of your grimy self.”
“Now you’ve got to add personal insults,” Sam groaned. “Thanks a lot, pal. I honestly don’t know why I’m friends with you.”
“Hey, I never figured that one out, either. I figured you knew.”
“I wish I knew. It was your fault,” Sam complained.
“It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. But as long as you wanted to know about the Monkey Palm, I’ve got to continue punishing you. That’s the kind of guy I am. Really, I’m surprised you would be surprised by any of this at this point. You’ve really got to start thinking outside of the box a little. In all this time, that’s all I’ve been trying to express to you. That’s what Morrison’s all about.”
“Ah, I was going to say, ‘Tell me about it,’ but I thought better of it,” Sam realized out loud.
“As always, too late,” Morrison said. “The Monkey Palm is just like anything else I read, only taken to the next level. I guess I realized at some point since I was so obviously different in my inclinations from most people, there was really no longer much of a point of pretending otherwise. What better way to make the distinction than using a device that literally allows me to read things no one else will be reading, at least in the immediate future? Sometimes, I really just amuse myself by trying to figure out whether the story is from the future or was written in some other version of the present. The Monkey Palm strangely doesn’t make much of a distinction.”
“Okay wise guy, how do you know the stuff is really what it was billed to be?”
“I searched it on the Web. I searched every single story for the first couple of months, and never came up with a single hit,” Morrison said. “Not even close. I came up with the kind of results you wish these search engines would be able to strain out at this point, the odd combination of words that aren’t anything more than coincidence. The Monkey Palm is completely legit. I never doubted it, but idle curiosity, of course, had to enter the equation. I knew at some point someone would ask me about it. Honestly, I don’t know what took you so long. I figured you had to have noticed a lot sooner.”
“Because I need to know everything you’re up to, the moment you’re…up to it,” Sam snorted.
“You’re a curious little man, Sam, but just apparently not in that way,” Morrison noted. “That’s what I’ve noticed through all of this. Except today. I congratulate you, sir.”
“So the Monkey Palm gives you secret access to a bunch of stuff no one else is reading,” Sam summarized, with some of his own sarcasm slipping in. “You’re a wild one, Morrison.”
“You say that now, but there’d be some real practical applications to this,” Morrison said. “Think of the possibilities. I could predict…”
“All the things that will hardly sell even when they’re actually real,” Sam suggested. “Big change from what you’ve been doing with the rest of your life.”
“You’re such a cynic,” Morrison said. “Anyway, I was just trying to make it sound more appealing for you. Clearly I overestimated you yet again. Yay me.”
“I don’t even want to ask.”
“What am I reading right now? You want to know,” Morrison insisted. “You really want to know. The more you think about the Monkey Palm, the more it’s going to entice you. You just wait and see. You want to know what literature is going to be like in the future. Yes, it’s still going to have words and sentences, but just from what I’ve experienced to this point, I can tell you, I think it only gets better. I don’t know, maybe the Monkey Palm only gives me access to the kind of stuff that would interest me anyway, but it just seems as if there’s more consistency, more innovation in this material. I can’t even begin to tell you about it, about the things I’ve been reading. I think the best thing about it is I really don’t have to worry about what other people have said about it, that I can really just depend on my own thoughts. That’s the dream, isn’t it? Good literature, without the peanut gallery. The Monkey Palm has rescued books from the classroom.”
“That’s your version of the hard sell?”
“See? That’s why I never outright told you about it,” Morrison sniffed. “Sam being Sam.”
“Sam being like the rest of the freaking world.”
“You’re such a good friend.”
“Don’t I know it.”
“You’re awesome, Sam. Now, if you really don’t mind, I am going to get back to my reading.”
“Don’t let me stop you. Always a pleasure talking to you, Morrison. Never end up regretting it at all.”
The bus continued on its way to Denver, and Sam eventually took a nap. Morrison fell asleep, too, but he wasn’t concerned that the Monkey Palm wouldn’t be there when he woke up. The future would always be waiting for him.