The doors opened up with a smooth mechanical whoosh and Sophie stepped inside.
The first thing she noticed was the sheer energy that seemed to emanate from the products themselves. The air was filled with strange beeping, clicking, and whirring noises. Hydraulic hisses and clanking engines brayed their presence. Robotic animals crawled, leaped, slinked, flew. Narrow aisles showcased self-cleaning vacuums, bidet toilets, computers, small mechanic planes, flat screen TVs. The whole shop gave the impression of a purring animal wiggling in anticipation of a meal.
An intelligent-looking man in his early 60s sat by the front minding the shop. Frequent hair-dyes had turned his once full mane into a desert and invading silver strands declared unconditional surrender against the dark guerrilla fighters guarding their homeland. He stood up as Sophie entered, electronic bells on the door jangling.
“Hello, what can I do for you?” he intoned the greeting chanted by shopkeepers throughout centuries of human history.
“Just looking around,” came the classic response.
“In that case, I would be honored to show you some of our best items,” quipped the tenacious shopkeeper. It had taken him over half an hour after tea last night to conceive this line for use against such blasé customers as Sophie.
Sophie frowned but nodded her assent.
The man harrumphed to mask his glee. He gestured at a huge instrument that dominated the center of the crowded shop.
“This here giant was made in 1824. The barrel is incredibly ornate and one of the largest created. If I turn this lever like so… and… Ah ha!”
A shimmery tune boomed out from the heavy wooden chest in golden notes that lingered, like Sirens singing their promises to lost seamen. The two of them listened in silence until the rotating cylinder halted its orchestration.
“Beautiful,” murmured Sophie appreciatively. But she was not so entranced by the sweet music to forget her wits in front of the shrewd shopkeeper.
“What’s this called?” she asked, diverting their attention to a small metal brick with a shallow indent on the front and little protrusions on the sides. “I’ve seen it in some history texts before.”
“That is a smartphone. It was very popular in the first half of the 21st century. The one you’re pointing at, in particular, is an iPhone 6. It was used to communicate with people, make schedules, play music and games, take notes, and many other functions. You could think of it as an early prototype for the microglass. We have many of them in our shop if you are interested in smartphones.” The shopkeeper spread out his arm in an expansive gesture.
Indeed, the shop had a large collection of smartphones. The blocky gadgets littered the space, seeming to leak out from behind closets and drawers, pour out of cabinets, and balanced on precarious stacks on nearly every table. Someone from a bygone generation would have even noticed a couple battered flip phones mixed into the heaps.
“No, that’s alright,” said Sophie, shrugging off the subtle bid. “I think I’ll look around a bit longer.”
Freed of the insistent shopkeeper, Sophie wandered through the antique shop. She peered at a holographic device here, nudged a power-drained hoverboard there, sneezed at a dusty DSLR, and finally came to pause at the end of a nondescript aisle. She had covered nearly the entirety of the teeming shop.
She bent down to examine a strange object, one that seemed newer than the other curios that had collected decades of dust.
It was a stout rod, one inch thick, and four inches long, all stainless steel and precision laser-cut edges of the industrial variety. “THOUGHT HOARDER” was etched in sleek lettering in one corner. A glowing circle marked one end of the rod, and it blinked at her invitingly, warmly.
The shopkeeper had crept up unbeknownst to her, but now harrumphed his return.
“Ah,” he sighed, “this thought hoarder was made about 172 years ago. It came into my hands quite recently, actually, from a long-time client of mine. The thought hoarder was a beauty of engineering, but the whole line had a defect, you see, and whoever manufactured them retired the things before they could see any real use. It’s simply a waste, in my opinion.” He scanned Sophie’s expression and with artful nonchalance asked, “Would you like to hear more about it?”
Despite her wariness, Sophie nodded. The shopkeeper beamed.
“Thought hoarders were supposed to be a kind of memory storage device for human thoughts. Say you had a great idea, but forgot it before you could write it down somewhere. The thought hoarder would have saved that idea and let you have the same thought later when you were ready. Apparently you could connect it to something called a roll-pad, which was an older version of our system bots, and actually see your ideas. It was going to revolutionize the world of thinking!” The shopkeeper let the words hang theatrically. “The engineer who invented it was a genius, but unfortunately she died before she could perfect it, and no one was able to complete it after her death. So, the project was thrown away.” He shook his head slowly for added effect. “Such a waste.”
“What was wrong with it?” asked Sophie. She was aware that she was showing too much interest, but her curiosity burst out unbidded.
“It stored too much, my young friend,” he intimated, eyebrows raised and voice hushed, like a bard of old. “The thought hoarder failed because it showed people their subconscious thoughts – those dark, twisted embarrassments in the deepest crevices of our minds. It drove users mad! No one wanted one. They were afraid of their own thoughts. And thus, the downfall.” The man shrugged. “It was soon pulled from the market when developers found it was impossible to make the thought hoarder remember only the conscious thoughts.”
Sophie shuddered unintentionally. “And how did you come by such a dangerous object?” she asked. “Black market?”
The shopkeeper scowled, the silver hairs on his head waving bayonets in the air. “I’ll have you know it was a legal purchase from a reputable client,” he retorted.
Suddenly, the shopkeeper’s spell was broken and the magic gone. Sophie muttered a farewell and exited the store from where she came – thinking about the thought hoarder.