The Projector – Fiction

Chip stood in his basement, admiring the school projector he had bought that morning at St. Bartholomew's rummage sale. Stored in a rolling cabinet five feet high, the metal projector was covered by much dust and a little rust. Inside the cabinet were a dozen shelves, each with dozens of little round metal canisters the size of silver dollars, covered with even more dust, causing Chip's allergies to act up. Each canister held a 16 mm film, which had been shown countless of times to children in the 60s until the projector and the films it projected had outlived their usefulness. As Chip looked around his basement, admiring the bison head he had picked up at a garage sale, the wooden carousal horse from a broken down merry-go-round, and the painting of someone's dear departed Doberman, he felt that he had truly outdone himself with this projector. The click of heels descending the stairs into the basement interrupted his self-admiration. "Charles, are you down here again? Goodness, are you going to spend another Saturday in the basement?" Monica was Chip's wife of sixteen years. She loved what was new and stylish as much as Chip loved what was old and discarded. She in her Prada black pumps, Kay Unger's black and white contrast suit and her Coach purse. He in his worn tan loafers, faded blue Dockers and a tan button down shirt he had picked up at a thrift store. Chip tried to hide the projector under the stairs, but the piles of old newspapers and magazines, many dating decades earlier, prevented him from doing so. 'What is that!" Monica said. "It's…it's…it's a projector, Monica. I picked it up this morning at a school bazaar. It's really quite exquisite. It has all these old films from the 1960s…" "Enough Charles. What did I tell you I would do if you brought any more junk into this house?" "Now Honey, it's just a projector, it hardly takes up any space…" "What did I tell you Charles? Did I tell you I would throw whatever you brought along with you out the front door? Didn't I tell you that?" "Yes, Honey." "And yet here you are, bringing this, this…" "Projector." "Yes, this projector. Well, I will have none of it. I'm meeting Susy and Rachel at the theater. When I return this projector better be gone or you better be gone. The choice is yours." A rubber ball rolled down the stairs onto the floor of the basement. Both Monica and Chip looked up to find their 8-year-old son, Matthew, sticking his head through two of the wooden railings on the staircase, one hand on each railing. Monica lowered her voice. "You or the projector Charles. You have until I return." She turned around and walked up the stairs past Matthew, never acknowledging him. Matthew turned his head to see his mother walk out the basement and close the door behind her. Matthew's favorite room in the whole house was that basement. He spent countless hours there hearing his father telling stories about his latest purchases. Mom hated the basement. "Dad, do you need help getting the projector out of the house?" This time, Mom sounded like she really meant what she said. "In a little while, Matthew. In a little while. First, let's see if this old projector still works." Matthew smiled and ran down the stairs to take a closer look. Chip laid the projector on an ornately carved wooden table, no doubt one Franklin Roosevelt had used to write letters to Churchill. Before he plugged it into a socket, he turned to his son and said, "Cross you fingers and hope the bulb hasn't burned out." Matthew dutifully crossed his fingers on both his hands. Chip turned on the projector and it began to hum. It cast a large, bright light onto the wall, which was covered by vintage maps of the Americas as the Spanish Conquistadors had found them. "The bulb, it works, it works," Chip clapped. His enthusiasm was contagious. Matthew clapped too. "Pull a canister from one of the drawers, and let's watch a movie." Chip said. Matthew pulled open a drawer. Both him and Chip looked inside. Each canister, in small print read, "THE FUTURE IS YOURS." Beneath these four words, each canister bore a subtitle. One read, "Cars of the future." Another read, "What we will eat." A third read, "Computers in every home." Under the subtitle appeared "MCMLXI," the number 1961. All the canisters bore the same number which Chip took to mean the year the films were produced. "Look son. These letters are Roman numerals. They stand for the number 1961. In 1961, somebody made these films predicting what the future would be like. Let's see if they have us flying around in cars like the Jetsons." Chip starting singing the theme song from the show, making Matthew smile and then laugh. "Which one should I pick Dad?" "Anyone you want." Matthew glided his small index finger on the tops of the metal canisters, sending dust particles into the air. Chip sneezed. "How about this one?" Matthew pulled a canister out of the drawer and handed it to his father. "Ah, THE FUTURE IS YOURS…Space Travel. Perfect." Chip took down the maps off the wall, inserted the film into the projector and started the movie. For the next 15 minutes, he heard a faceless, baritone narrator describe the future of space travel. Instead of seeing pictures of Americans living on the moon or in floating space stations, as Chip had expected, he saw pictures and models of the Space Shuttle, years before it was ever created. And then there it was – a brief animated clip of a space shuttle exploding shortly after launch – and on the white wall of his basement he made out the shuttle's name on it's white exterior – Challenger. A few minutes later, a similar animated clip showed a similar explosion. This time though, the shuttle was reentering the earth's atmosphere, and this time the name was Columbia. This film, which had collected dust for decades, had predicted the explosion of two separate space shuttles, separated by seventeen years. The film came to an end, and the projector made a clicking sound, as the end of the film kept striking a metal plate on the projector. "Dad," Matthew whispered. Chip didn't answer. "Dad," Matthew said a little louder. "Yes, son." "They were really good at predicting the future in 1961." "Son, hand me another roll." Matthew handed his father another roll. This time they watched how every family would have a "microwave" in their homes and have portable computers called "laptops." The home of the future looked a lot like theirs. The film ended and made that clicking sound again. "It's my turn to pick one," Chip said. He pulled open a different shelf and blew the dust off the tops of the metal canisters, making him sneeze twice more. His eyes froze on one of the titles – THE FUTURE IS YOURS – The Sun Will Kill Thousands. "What does that one say?" Matthew asked. Chip showed him the title. Matthew looked at it and then looked at his dad. "What do you think that means? The Sun Will Kill Thousands?" "We're about to find out." So far, the films they had watched had predicted events that had already happened during Chip's lifetime. But the sun killing thousands? Nothing like that had ever happened. Again, the same narrator's voice was heard. He talked about the sun and how powerful it was. How it's light and heat made all life on earth possible. How, if the sun was any closer to the earth, it would burn it up. Any further, and an ice age would ensue. Pictures of fields of grain and cattle and of the sun covered the white wall. And then, the narrator made an appearance. Behind him was a calendar. A tall, thin man in a dark blue suit and dark blue tie and a white shirt said, "The sun sustains life. But just as it has the power to sustain life, it has the power to destroy it. Some scientists predict that one day, the sun will expel pulses of hot hydrogen gases through the darkness of space which will make their way to the Earth. These pulses will make some cities throughout the world very hot for just a few moments. Those who find themselves outside when this happens will die." "Dad, look at that, look at the calendar behind that man." Chip walked closer to the wall, and then walked closer still until his nose was only an inch away from it. There it was. A calendar for the year 2011. It was open to October and there was a red circle over the 8th, a Saturday. The metal canister made a clang when it fell from Chip's hand and struck the stone floor. Today was the 8th. The narrator continued. "The best advice to avoid the harmful effects? Stay indoors. Better yet, hide in your basements. The sun, ladies and gentlemen, is a fickle one. Just as it gives life, it can take it away." The film came to an end, and the clicking sound ensued. "Dad, today is the 8th." "I know son. I know." As they stared at the light on the white wall, they heard a high-pitched noise and all the lights went out. A few seconds later they went back on as if nothing had happened. The solar pulses had occurred just as predicted. That basement, which had been Chip's and Matthew's haven on countless Saturdays had saved them. The boys in the neighborhood, who had given up asking Matthew to play stickball with them, covered the sandlot like dead fish washed up onshore. And Monica? She laid on the sidewalk outside the theater, still grasping her Coach purse. Her girlfriends, with their Prada shoes and their Coach purses, laid nearby. Share this: Twitter LinkedIn Email Digg Reddit StumbleUpon Facebook Like this: Be the first to like this post.

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