Marjorie Honey Don't Look
The Unending Story of a Little Black Book
Thousands of words smeared as bourbon chased the white pages until they all turned honey.
Accompanying the sound of clinking glass, Gina heard an exhale of frustration come from one of the offices. She trucked her cleaning cart down the hall and glanced at the name on the door:
Remington Belfield (She/Her)
Director of Rights and Contracts
“Oh -- I didn’t know anyone else was still here,” said Remington as she caught Gina’s willowy shadow. She turned on a lamp in her office, not realizing the night crept up and her vision was starting to rely on the streetlights outside.
Gina felt the need to explain herself as she entered the room, “They asked I come in late to clean since that Editors’ meeting went over time.”
The tweedy cloth of Remington’s suit exposed her wrinkly pale wrists as she leaned against her mahogany desk. Although her eyebrows were still furrowed, she spoke with a modulated voice, “Thank you. I appreciate you being here.”
“You’re welcome,” Gina responded as she quickly pressed a dry rag into the wet carpet, soaking up the puddle of liquor. She felt apprehensive about how to act in front of a woman whose lipstick is worth more than her rent. Attempting to prevent an awkward moment of silence, she tremulously asked “So, why are you here so late? I’m Gina by the way.”
“Nice to meet you Gina. I’m Remington,” she placed her hand on her chest then continued to answer her question, “Someone on my team didn’t properly obtain rights from one of our authors…yada yada yada...17 hours of phone calls later, I thought I earned a drink,” she explained as she picked up the aureate papers that dripped in alcohol, “luckily these manuscripts have been scanned into our cloud.”
“I’m sorry you are under so much water.”
Remington picked up the glass that toppled off her desk. Refilling it with bourbon, she rhetorically asked, “Why was young millennial me tricked into drowning myself in the messed-up concept of a ‘career’?” Her regret continued to laugh as she pointed at Gina, as if asking her to take notes, “Chasing success is like chasing after a fire to stay warm. But really, that eagerness just leaves you running until you ignite in flames and burn to a crisp.”
“I guess it’s a matter of being left in the cold or burning to death,” Gina mumbled.
“Would you like a drink?” Remington asked with spontaneity. She sympathized with Gina as she felt she was looking at a younger version of herself. The young woman’s eyes still flew kites. It wasn’t that Gina’s dreams were invalid, Remington just knew a layer of them were plotted by the modern labor market. The two of them sat down with drinks in their hands as they continued their conversation. Remington hoped that sharing her life experiences would help Gina uncover the false condition that being a hardworking woman makes you successful, let alone a good feminist.
After feeling the warmth of a few more drinks, Remington excused herself from the room to answer a phone call. Alone in the swanky office, Gina explored the veneer book cases that covered the back wall. Amazed to see so many old-fashioned books, as she hasn’t seen hardcopies since she was a kid in the early 2020s, she ran her fingers across the heads of the selection until she touched a little black notebook. Noticing its mysteriousness, she pulled it out and slid her finger under the front cover.
“Don’t read that!” alerted an orotund voice. Remington re-entered the room and rushed over to stop Gina from opening the book.
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay, I um,” Remington paused trying to catch her breath, “…didn’t mean to yell. It’s a manuscript, and it isn’t safe for reading.”
Gina felt comfortable enough with Remington to ask what she meant by that. Although, she asked in a way that hid her intense curiosity.
“We don’t discuss it…be ---,” Remington strangulated. She hesitated for a few seconds as a lightbulb in her head slowly illuminated while she thought to herself: Gina was new to the area, didn’t have much family, and was unsure of her direction yet. She proceeded to say, “Maybe you are the perfect person to help me with something.”
“I could try?”
Remington put her hand on Gina’s and looked in her eyes to authenticate her trust, “You can’t tell anyone about this,” she hesitated while she gathered whether this was the right decision, “As I alluded to before, this book is dangerous…but our Executive Director believes that it’s a potential gold mine, ethical or not.”
Gina tried not to interrupt with questions when Remington paused to sip her drink again. She impatiently watched the liquid disappear from the woman’s glass, relieved when the ice cubes fell to her lips. She finally went on to explain that the little black notebook was submitted anonymously when their publishing company began using super intelligent AI software to improve the virtual reality experience for readers. When manuscripts are scanned into this software, the characters in the story develop a sense of self-awareness, meaning that authors have an ethical duty not to reveal to the characters that they aren’t real. This has the potential to cause the artificial intelligence of the characters to suffer in a temporal loop of discovering that their reality does not exist past the pages of a book.
“Part of my job is to make sure Authors are held accountable to these ethical conditions in their contract with us”, Remington continued as she held the book tightly closed between her fingers, “When I was hired, I was told a rumor about this anonymous black book. Supposedly, a custodian found it a few years prior while cleaning this office. Overridden by curiosity, she scanned it into the AI software to experience the new virtual reality technology, which was only available to the elite during this time. Subsequently, she became a resident at a psychiatric hospital far away from here…something ‘Hills’. Trapped behind the whites of her eyes, the woman repeats the same words over and over, ‘Don’t Look…Marjorie…Honey…’”
“What’s the story about?” Gina couldn’t resist asking after listening to that blood curling rumor.
“No one knows because no one wants to risk ending up like that poor custodian.”
“Why is your Executive Director opposed to destroying it?”
“Where do I even start with that unrighteous girl boss,” Remington clicked her tongue while shaking her head, “She is one of those public figures that disguise thievery with inspirational success, pertinent to our earlier discussion. The profits from our publishing company’s virtual experience upholds this system of productivity to a standard that will never be met because people will always want more,” she squeezed the little black book tighter, “and this… will someday be that more our audience wants.”
Gina was beginning to understand that it wasn’t uncommon for large companies to leverage any resource that could profit off the universal addiction to technology. Although, she started to second guess what level of involvement she wanted to have in this possible proposition. But in Remington’s mind, which was starting to befuddle from all the bourbon, the stars seemed to have aligned for a perfect opportunity to get rid of the book.
“I-I’m not sure I want t-“
“I will give you $20,000 to leave the city with this book. Destroy it. And find a beautiful new place to start fresh.”
Gina’s jaw dropped as she reconsidered the fact she didn’t have much to lose, so she eventually accepted the offer.
Remington thanked her immensely and wished her the best on her new journey. She can now pronounce it stolen while having peace of mind that it was destroyed. Before handing Gina the book, she repeatedly emphasized, “Don’t look…promise me you won’t look.”
The sun poured through the fragmented windows, as Gina hopped on a train to go someplace where trains are the only form of transportation. She cracked a fuzzy smile and hugged her bag of possessions when the orange and yellow trees smudged across the window as the train started to move.
“Is this seat taken?” a handsome, young voice spoke. Gina looked up at the friendly eyes of a person carrying a hefty bag over their shoulder, waiting patiently in the aisle.
“Oh, no it isn’t. Please,” she gestured to the open seat next to her.
“I can’t wait to get out of this God forsaken city.”
“Where are you going to go?”
Arlo explained with a silvery voice, “A beautiful new home far, far away called Marjorie Hills. It will change everything. It is completely isolated from our toxic world, so my brainwashed propaganda enthused parents won’t be able to find me here! What about you?”
Having no other response prepared, Gina said, “That’s where I’m going too.” Arlo seemed to have described the perfect place for her to retreat to, somewhere far and isolated to prevent any chance of getting caught for stealing the little black notebook. She also enjoyed this person’s company and was smitten by the idea of getting off at the same train stop.
After hours of getting acquainted, Arlo noticed the little black notebook in Gina’s bag, “Don’t forget…you can’t bring that book. You know Marjorie Hills doesn’t permit any materials that have potential to advance. Ha, suppose we really didn’t see the day coming that technology would allow books to be more than what they are, right?”
The train approached a bridge that stretched across a wide river. Gina pulled out the book and got up to search for an open window.
As she sauntered down the aisle, her curiosity detoured her to the bathroom. Realizing it was her last chance to know what the book was about, she convinced herself that one peak at the first sentence could do no harm. She put the toilet seat lid down and sat for a few minutes with the little black notebook resting on her lap.
Suddenly, the train started to slow down, prompting her to look out the bathroom window.
Remington’s words “Don’t Look” repeated in her head as the train stopped in front of a sign that read “Marjorie Hills.” Now or never, she peeled the little black notebook open and read the first sentence:
“Thousands of words smeared as bourbon chased the white pages until they all turned honey.”