“How much would you say it’s worth?” I had to ask the question because there was a space for it on my form. But we librarians never used the figure we were quoted, because donors chronically overestimate the value of their donations. That collection of newspaper clippings from 9/11 probably wasn’t worth $1000; we’ll talk in 500 years or so.
“Oh, priceless, priceless.” Dr. Devereaux said, her smile never wavering as her head bobbled. “It is the greatest collection of materials ever assembled on this topic, with many unique primary documents!”
“Ah, I see.” I wrote in a value of one dollar on my sheet–the usual dollar amount for “priceless.”
“Yes, I have all the interviews here–transcribed, of course, by typewriter–that I conducted between 1986 and 1992. And over here, in this box, every co-authored book and magazine article.”
The interviews were bound in rubber bands that were in the process of drying to dust, their Borneo stretchiness a distant and sunny memory. Yellowed carbon copy paper wrapped around bushels of cassettes, cornflaking to pieces around the edges…it would take an archivist and a conservator months to recover a single word. And as for the books…
The boxes were piled high with offbeat literature. Umberto Eco. Thomas Pynchon. William S. Burroughs. Philip K. Dick. I picked up a copy of Ubik–a 1985 edition, it would have been worth a few bucks to the right person if it hadn’t been scribbled up in a cramped and frantic scrawl in every margin cover-to-cover.
“How, exactly, were these…inspired…by your subject?” I said.
“Well, Ubar-17 is a multi-dimensional being of tremendous power,” Dr. Devereaux said. “From time to time he choses to invest a portion of this expanded and cosmic vision into a vessel, and the results are always spectacular. Oh, there are side effects to be sure, mental illness, reclusiveness, and so on. But it’s just one of the many marks this beautiful alien being has left on our world.”
“Uh-huh,” I said. It was sort of sad, really; Dr. Devereaux had clearly suffered from some sort of undiagnosed psychotic break int he mid-80s, one that her position as a literary critic had helped conceal. But the gloves were off now, and she was on the greased downward slope toward court-ordered anti-psychotics. “Why did you stop interviewing Ubar-17 in 1992? Did he die?”
“Oh heavens no,” laughed Dr. Devereaux. “Ubar-17 is deathless, as his kind merely transcends into a new multi-dimensional species at the end of their millennia-long lifespan. No we had…well, I can only call it a ‘break-up’ as one would have with a lover. I stupidly allowed an unflattering first draft to do out to the Saucermen Review in Phoenix.”
“I see,” I said, as indulgently as I could. “That’ll do it, won’t it?”
“Ubar-17’s servant Una advised me to retract or correct the article. She’s a dear, though I’m certain she’s not human. Perhaps a gynoid? She never does seem to age, and wears clothes decades out of style until it’s practically rotting off her body.”
“Of course,” I said, in my exasperation allowing a little sarcasm to creep into a tone I’d been able to keep strictly professional. “No human would wear ratty or out of date clothing.”
“Exactly,” said Dr. Devereaux. “One does not simply say ‘no’ to Una, as that is tantamount to saying ‘no’ to Ubar-17. I was cut off from that point on, and worse, Ubar-17 saw to it that I was added to a psychic blacklist. No reputable publisher would touch my book. I had to put it out via Saucermen Press!”
I steeled myself. It was time to try and let Devereaux down easy. “This…may not be a good match for the Hopewell Public Library collection. Have you thought about the Laramie Paranormal Collection in the Southern Michigan University archives?”
“NO!” cried Dr. Devereaux, with a vehemence that took me aback. “I’M NOT GIVING THEM SO MUCH AS ONE PAPERCLIP!”
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