Presently, he flapped the magazine shut, placed his empty mug in the sink, and gargled a capful of mouthwash over the bathroom sink. Then he stepped into the slant, shadow-cubed sunlight of morning over the suburbs. Distant skyscrapers rose against the skyline like the spires of a crown, glittering like silver. He could drive there, if he wished, but he preferred the public bus. The other Literary Immersion Experts often asked him where he got his inspiration. He never told them. It was the bus—breathing in the cross-section of humanity. You had to know people to make reality for them.
Paul nodded at the elderly woman on the bus stop bench, who harrumphed back, not unkindly. The man in the gray suit did not look up from his smartphone. The community college student pored over her oversized textbook. The young couple tangled their fingers together and forgot that the rest of the world existed.
The bus squeaked gently as it pulled to a stop, and hissed as it knelt to receive its passengers. Paul found his seat—fourth down, left, by the window. He opened his mind to humanity. Somewhere, a horn beeped in a short, friendly burst, the greeting of friend to friend during the morning commute. A young boy’s voice called insistently for his father. A dog barked from an upper apartment window at pigeons on the neighboring rooftop.
The bus pulled away from the curb and the city approached, the sky crowding with swooping structures of steel and glass. The Fiction Building was easy to spot, shaped like a quill resting in an inkwell—a large cylindrical base, with a curving tower that defied gravity. The neighboring public library took the shape of a giant book, open and standing on its edge, as though beckoning the world to enter its pages.
Paul stepped down from the bus onto the walkway, and passed between twin fountains to the steps of the library. The elderly librarian at the front desk greeted him.
“Good to see you, Mr. Graff!”
Paul returned her greeting with a gracious inclination of his head. The library was quieter at this time of day, which is why he always came before his office opened. Still, a few people occupied the Immersion Booths that lined the wall. The cylindrical, dome-topped structures were occupied by a single seat facing a tilted book stand, leaving the reader’s back to the open doorway—a safety precaution. Sometimes immersions became too powerful, and a reader had to be rescued by one of the ever-watchful librarians.
Glancing at the readers now, Paul observed that one woman’s body was almost completely transparent, the edges pulsing softly with light, as she pored over the bookstand. A perfect immersion. Paul wondered what book she was reading.
The man in the neighboring booth was not so lucky.
“Sir?” Paul took the liberty of peering into the booth. “I notice you are having some trouble.”
The slightly-faded edges of the man’s body sharpened and he pulled out of the immersion. He sighed.
“This is the third week I’ve tried immersion. I’ve got depression. My therapist recommended a LIE. But I can’t get into it and no one seems to know the trouble, even the librarians.”
“Perhaps I can help,” Paul offered. “I have a little experience with Literary Immersion Experiences.”
The man shrugged. “Can’t hurt, can it?”
“An immersion experience requires two things,” Paul explained. “One: Your personality has to be compatible with the book. If that subject just doesn’t ‘itch’ you, you won’t immerse.”
“Makes sense. And the other thing?”
“The quality. The writer must have what I call ‘the immersion touch.’”
“Something special, huh?”
Paul nodded. “So tell me…”
“Tell me, Chuck, what sort of books did you used to enjoy as a child?”
“As a child?” the man blinked. “I wasn’t much into reading. But I liked the superhero graphic novels available at the corner store.”
“What attracted you to those novels?”
Chuck’s response meandered, gradually sharpening as it built from hesitation to rich enthusiasm. Paul listened, nodding, smiling encouragement, then, drawing a small notebook and diminutive pen from his breast pocket, he scribbled three titles.
“I recommend starting with these,” he said, tearing the sheet from the notebook. “They’ll fit your personality well, and I can vouch for the authors’ immersive abilities.”
Chuck reviewed the list. “I’ll give them a shot. Thanks for your help, man.”
As Paul made his way toward the glass elevator, a middle-aged librarian leaned on a book cart and grinned. “He has no clue who you are, does he?”
“I’m not advertising,” Paul replied.
“But I’ll bet you recommended your own books in that list, didn’t you?”
Paul laughed. “Only one. I don’t write much for the general public.”
“That’s right,” the librarian nodded. “You’re more into the customization business, I recall.”
Paul lifted a hand in a friendly farewell as he swept by. “If you ever want a custom LIE, you know where to find me.”
Her laughter followed him. “I sure do!”
Just before Paul reached the elevator, a loud bass arrested him. “Paul! Yo, Paul!”
Read the rest on January 1, 2015!