The unexpected three-day downpour flooded the basement computer lab and drove the students up onto the mezzanine. From the mezzanine, it was only a few short steps to the second floor, where they encountered a large and mostly darkened room full of strange shelving. The shelving stood floor to ceiling and ran the length of the room, disappearing into the more shadowy recesses at back. Draped over every shelf was a sheet.
Taylor lifted one of these sheets to have a look underneath and turned back to the other students with nothing smart-alecky, for once, to say.
“What is it?” his girlfriend Jordan asked him.
“I don’t know,” Taylor said. “But whatever those things are, there sure are a lot of them.” He pointed down the length of one of the shelves. “And it kind of freaks me out.”
The other students, now curious, began pulling the sheets off of the shelves.
Haley said that each of the shelves seemed to contain several smaller units of strange paper-like things glued between two pieces of cardboard.
“No, duh,” Taylor said. “But what are they for?” He pulled down one of these cardboard units and was surprised at its denseness.
Just then, a man stepped out of the back room wearing a buttoned-down maroon-colored cardigan sweater with elbow patches. He rubbed his shaky fingers against the lids of his filmy eyeballs and sneezed.
At the sight of him, a couple of girls—the twins, Denver and Dallas—began to quietly whimper from the back.
“Nothing to cry about, girls,” the man said. “You have come, finally, to the right place.” He introduced himself as the head lie-briar-an. “And this,” he continued, holding his arms out to the room, “is the Internet.”
“The Internet?” Taylor scoffed. “Impossible.”
“No, not impossible,” the lie-briar-an said. “Hard to believe, maybe, but not impossible. This is the Internet in its analog form.”
The lie-briar-an said that he had something to show them and motioned the students into a back room where he spent time looking for what he called an “overhead projector.”
He finally discovered it next to what he called a “slide projector,” brought it up front and flipped a switch. But nothing happened. He pushed a button on the wall and spoke into a round grill with black holes in it, asking for a technician. When the technician arrived, the lie-briar-an explained his problem.
“The light won’t come on.”
The technician nodded once, picked up the cord and plugged it in, and then the light from the overhead projector was thrown in front of the lie-briar-an on the wall as a square of whiteness, with triangular edges, that had tiny black squiggles running through it.
“Oh,” Haley said. “Old PowerPoint.”
His first slide was titled, “The History of the Internet.” It took him several seconds to get his long and yellowy fingernails under the staticky slide so as to lift it off the projector. On the second slide was a picture of Hitler.
“Who’s that supposed to be?” Taylor asked. “Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?”
“Neither,” the lie-briar-an said. “The Internet officially started with warfare, and with the advent of the computer.”
After his lecture, he cleared his throat to wake the students and said, “Let me finally show you something else.”
He took them to another closed-off section of the lie-briar-y. Several apes, standing in line behind the security tape, were taking turns hitting a paddle against a large and ancient timepiece of sorts suspended by ropes from the ceiling. Each paddling against the timepiece sent this vibrational quiver down two large cables. After every paddling, a man or woman at bottom somewhere said something like, “Hey, that hurts. Stop it. Knock it off. Ouch.”
“Not too many years back,” the lie-briar-an said, “your very own computer people came for a week straight until, finally, I showed up for work one day and here the apes were.”
“But what is it?” the students asked him.
“I’m not quite sure,” the lie-briar-an said. “But I think it might be dial-up.”
The students just looked at him.
“Dial-up, you know? Before wireless?”
But still the students just looked at him, not quite sure what to make of it until, saved by their various text tones, they turned at once, in unison, to their phones. The computer lab had been reopened, the messages read, which meant, thank God, that they all could go back to being normal again.