Old Family Movies



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Scene Title Old Family Movies
Synopsis Richard Ray watches an old video.
Date February 21, 2018

Raytech Building

The blinds are drawn, the equipment set up.

The multi-cassette VTR clicks and whirrs as it accepts the U-Matic tape pressed down into one of its decks. Converter cables dangle above, sending a low-fi video output to a modern HDTV. Seated by himself in his office, Richard Ray presses play with an expected amount of trepidation.

The tape starts with noticeable distortion, visible because its aspect ratio is a box, leaving the black bands on either side of the wide screen to contrast what is being shown. Horizontal banding crawls up and down across the screen along with flickering pops of static. In the bottom right corner, a time stamp reads 01:22:44:16 2/5/1981 to start, with the seconds and milliseconds flashing past quickly. The tape displays just this for seven solid minutes, with a low droning sound emanating in the background. It warbles, slowly, going from a low moan to a higher buzzing noise over the course of that time, intermittently interrupted by the pop and click of bad audio.

Then there’s just an image, like someone turned the lights on in a room. It’s a gray room with cinderblock walls. A lab sink spans the back wall, polished aluminum with a tall, curving faucet and an eye-washing station. There’s a microscope nearby, test tubes in neat racks, and a table that’s so close its out of focus. Shuffling footsteps are heard off-camera, along with clicking and clacking sounds of something being moved around.

Someone in a brown suit walks into frame, between the table and the camera. They’re mostly a beige blur, too close to focus on. The camera jostles and then clicks and the perspective moves as it’s picked up. The camera pivots, turns, and from its new orientation it looks as though it may now be carried rather than left to record while sitting on a tabletop. When the motion blur normalizes, its pointing at the other side of the room where a slab-topped lab table is set up with some kind of triangular device on its surface. It is an upright triangle of metal with three straight lengths of coiled copper running the interior. Transistors are wired around the frame, and a pipe with frost on it runs through the copper coil. Hoses connect to the pipe, and there’s a blurry tank on the floor nearby with a twist-top valve.

«This is… attempt number 17.» A distorted voice warbles over the horribly preserved audio as a few more horizontal bands roll across the screen. «Power it up.» The filmer asks of someone else, and there’s a loud click and the lights flicker and dim and eventually go completely dark. There’s that low humming sound again, then a buzzing distortion, and more horizontal bands streak across the screen.

Then there’s a shower of sparks and a crackling that sends waves of static through the picture. Shouts of surprise fill the air, and when the camera steadies that metallic triangle is on fire. Someone comes into frame with a fire extinguisher, putting it out with a blast of white foam. There’s more shouting, cursing. The man with the fire-extinguisher steps back out of frame again, there was no good time to get a look at his face. The video cuts.

Then, the video picks back up. The timestamp has changed: 02:32:47:18 6/18/1982

The screen is black, and that moaning noise emanates from the speakers again. A low, groaning sound that builds into a high-pitched whine crackling with static. Then, the lights flick on again. It’s the identical setup as before, except the test tubes are in a slightly different spot, and there’s a Budweiser beer bottle atop the lab sink. The camera is picked up again, pointed at the same table, and this time there’s a slightly larger triangle of metal sitting there. There’s now four rows of copper coils, more hoses, and six tanks of whatever is being pumped through the frosted metal tubing.

«This is… attempt number 18.» The voice is more tired than before. «Power it up.» There’s another loud click and the lights flicker and dim again. The camera shows only darkness with the clock counting as always. There’s a humming sound, low and droning, then a gradually building mechanical buzz. This time, something flickers in the darkness. Electricity dances along the edges of the triangle, sparks and sputters but doesn’t explode.

«Okay. Okay.» Whoever he is, he sounds nervous. «Ok, the coils are holding.» The humming sound continues in the relative dark, and the static crackling across the image becomes greater. For four and a half minutes there’s silence. Then, «Ok, flip the secondary.»

There’s another click, and this time there is just a pop of light. In the middle of the triangle there is a bluish polygon of light that appears, ghostly and fading on the edges. It looks like a hologram suspended in mid-air or the glow of an old cathode ray-tube television broadcasting static. Cheers erupt from within the tiny room, absolutely riotous cheers. Clapping pops with the bad audio, the camera jostles and wobbles around considerably.

But someone off camera, a woman, is trying to shout over the noise. «Look! Look! Bring the camera over! Oh my god look!» The camera bobbles around again, sweeps down to focus on that triangle of light and them zooms as close in as it can. For a good long moment it’s completely out of focus and everyone is dead silent. The cheering has stopped, and there’s just the low hum and buzz.

Finally, when the image comes into focus it’s like looking into a television screen. Everything is slightly blue-hued, but it’s the back of the lab. That same aluminum sink, but the beer bottle isn’t there. The microscope is missing, and there’s a rag hanging over the side of the sink. «Oh my god, oh my god. The bottle’s gone!» The woman excitedly notices.

«Look! Look the microscope is missing! Oh my god!» Another man says, horizontal bands scrolling up the screen. «I think— I think we’re— I think we did it. That’s gotta be last week!» Then everyone in the room collectively gasps as someone walks into frame on the tiny triangle. The camera bobbles again, unfocuses and makes it impossible to see who it is.

«That’s the last of it. I’ve boxed up the parts, we’ll have them shipped to Langley in the morning.» There’s a distinct, distortion in the other voice, like reverb. Whispers cover over much of what is said next, and the picture comes into focus finally just as the figure walks out of frame from the triangle of light. Multiple people on the film are talking over each other, words “yesterday” and “tomorrow” come up, but also no one seems to be in agreement as to what they’re seeing.

« — ink we’re looking at? What are we looking at?» The cameraman’s voice is clearest now. «Jesus Christ, what is this?» The camera moves back into view of the triangle and there’s a half dozen men in suits carrying boxes across the field of view of the triangle.

«Turn it!» The woman cries, «We can see who they’re talking to!»

«No, no we shouldn’t move it!» A man calls out, «We really shouldn’t.» There’s an argument brewing, those for or against moving the device, and the camera jostles considerably more. Someone shouts, there’s a scrape of table legs moving, followed by a cracklesnap of electrical impulse and another explosion of sparks that fills the air.

Static crackles up the screen, horizontal banding and a low buzzing sound followed by an electronic screech that is ear-splittingly loud. When the banding clears the video recording no longer displays the dark basement. It displays a burned in, static after-image of the basement where the bottle of beer and microscope is missing and the corner of a man in a dark suit is in frame.

That image stays on the screen for eight seconds, and then the entire tape goes to static. Later, Richard will discover the remaining tape has been demagnetized.

The tape ends.

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