In the setting sun, the men and women were returning from the hunt. Meanwhile, in a cave next to the village, it was customary that as the sun set behind the mountains, the village storyteller would light a small fire, and all the children would come running in, eagerly anticipating the story that night. The storyteller would spin his yarn slowly as the children sat enraptured, and every time, he would end his story just before the fire died.
“Gather round, kids, gather round,” beckoned the storyteller. “It’s time to tell you all a story.”
“Today’s story will not be about a princess, a prince, or a frog. There will be no witches, ghosts, or fairies tonight.
“Tonight, I’ll be telling a story about stories.”
A story about…stories? The children scratched their heads. What does that even mean?
“It will be a story about where I find the stories I tell all of you every night. It’s an interesting story, more so because it is true.”
The children leaned in closer. This wasn’t like the usual stories he told.
The storyteller took a deep breath, and began.
“Stories weren’t always told by storytellers. In the past, you didn’t need a person to tell you a story. You could find them yourself in things called ‘readers’. These readers were magical things. They had a button, and if you pressed it, words would appear on its surface, and you’ll find that it contained hundreds of stories. To this day, I have no idea how they worked. But it is because of what the men used to call ‘technology’, which was a sort of power men used to have that made them capable of doing all sorts of things.”
The storyteller stared wistfully out of the mouth of the cave as the fire cast his shadow on the ceiling.
“We don’t have technology any more. We forgot how to use it at some point in our history. But back then, technology was a wonderful thing.”
“I was about seven when I was given my first reader. This was maybe more than a hundred years ago. I loved stories. I devoured them. The surface would exhibit ‘a page’ of the story, which basically means a part of the story, and when I clicked another button, the screen would change to the next part, or page, of the story. I went through page after page. All the stories I tell every night, I read in the reader. I read story after story. Stories about knights, men who wore hard and shiny metal, like what they use in your parents’ spears. Stories about girls and boys, falling in love. There were strange creatures, like dwarves, dragons, vampires, and aliens. You have heard of some of these things; I’ve told you some this stories.”
“The reader ran on electricity, just like how fire runs on wood. Some of your parents are trying to discover electricity again, because in the past that’s what all technology was using. It’s the same as lightning, except we had made lightning safe and dispersed it through the air so that technology that needed it, like the reader, would always have enough electricity.”
Some of the logs on the fire were fully charred, their ashes white-hot and emitting heat. The cave grew warmer as the night grew colder.
The storyteller continued. “One day, the reader stopped being charged in the air. There were indications on the reader’s surface when the level of electricity was dropping. It had never done that before. I panicked. I was ten then. I asked my parents, ‘why isn’t the reader being charged?’ They said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get the electricity back,’ But they didn’t. It never came back.”
The storyteller paused as he tried to remember how it was like, but despite his prodigious memory, it wasn’t serving him as well as it used to, especially for memories that were made more than a hundred years ago.
“One day, I will tell you why it didn’t come back. It’s such a long time ago, I can’t remember! But it was one day when the level of electricity in the reader had gone below half, that I realised how afraid I was of losing these stories. I knew that when the level of electricity reached zero, words would no longer appear on the surface, and my stories would disappear. In the dark underground room where my parents and I lived in, I reread all my stories, taking care to remember every single word. I don’t think I remember it all exactly, but as the days and months went by, I put all the stories,” the storyteller tapped his temple, “in here.”
Some of the children’s mouths were agape as they stared at the old storyteller, his gaunt face stretching further in the dimming light.
“I don’t remember how long it took for the reader to run out of electricity. I was engrossed, busy memorising each and every story. When I was done, I realised how hungry I was. I looked around. My parents were gone. I still don’t know where they went.”
“I left the underground room, and around me, everything had changed from how I remembered. I held up my reader in the air. It didn’t charge; there was no electricity in the air at all.”
“I walked and walked, reader in hand, looking for my parents. Whatever plants and water I found, I ate and drank. I hadn’t eaten anything in a long time.”
“One day, I stumbled on this village, your village. That was a very long time ago, and I have been telling stories to the children of this village since then.”
The storyteller stopped, and his shoulders sagged slightly. The fires were reaching their final embers; the flame was nearly gone.
“Thank you children. I hoped you enjoyed the story. Now, go and join your parents for dinner!”
Some of the children, hungry for the mammoth that they could smell cooking over the spit, ran out immediately. A few, looking disappointed, stood up and ambled out slowly.
One boy stayed behind and walked up to the storyteller, snapping him out of his reverie.
“What is it?” the storyteller asked gently.
“Do you still have the reader?” asked the boy inquisitively.
The storyteller stood up, and walked to the back of the cave. He emerged from the darkness a few minutes later, and handed the boy a flat and rectangular object.
“Wow,” the boy exclaimed softly, turning around the plastic device reverently. He tried pressing the buttons; nothing happened.
“It hasn’t turned on, not in a while,” the storyteller said.
The boy looked back at the storyteller. “Thanks,” he said, returning it to the storyteller, and ran out of the cave.
Barely lit by the smouldering remains of the fire, the storyteller sat down, staring at the dead reader in his hand.