Fiction Friday – 19 October 2007
This Week’s Theme: What happens when a character, while cleaning out a house before moving out, finds a roll of film?
“Is that what I think it is?”
Her voice brings me back to the present, and I put the small plastic canister back onto the table in front of me. The gray cap has writing on it, faded with time, but still perfectly legible. I turn my head to look at her and nod. She sucks the air in between her teeth sharply and shakes her head. “No doubts?”
“It’s there on the lid – the date, the number. I haven’t looked at the film, but what else is it going to be?” Roll #23, 9th August 1996. Given the history of this house, this room, what he did here… Number 23 was the one we could never find out of the thirty he used that day. Once they were developed the pictures told a story. One that should never be repeated. But one chapter was missing, in many ways the most important one. The “Magic Bullet” as Louise had called it at the time.
Karl was long gone now, but his reputation remained. What that roll contained would either condemn a hero or canonise a monster. Saint or sinner, he was simply “Karl” to me. He did what he was asked to do, I never asked for details and he never went into them. It was enough that we got results.
“Should we turn it in? Let the Directors take the decision?” That would be the smart thing, and in any other situation I would follow Louise’s advice. But I need to satisfy myself. I pop the lid off and drop the roll into the palm of my hand. Karl kept this hidden for a reason. I ought to respect that. Then again, I ought to follow orders and turn this in.
“Louise, you should get out. You don’t want to be part of the blowback on this one.”
She made to protest, but Karl was slightly before her time. This was agency legend to her, it was personal history to me. “Five minutes, then we leave, OK?” She walks out the apartment door into the hallway, and I know that she’s already started the clock.
I grab the end of the film, and unspool it quickly, twenty six frames that see the light of day for the first time in a decade. Holding it up to the light, I quickly run my eye over the images. The strange colours and hues of a negative world make everything inhuman; the last piece of the puzzle falls into place for me, and I’m glad that things look unreal in negative. I can distance myself from the scene played out before me.
I hold one end of the unspooled film in my left hand. With a flick of my thumb the lighter in my right hand sparks into life. It’s hypnotic the way that film bubbles, warps and melts, until there only a small black mass of charred plastic remains. I’m satisfied now. Canister 23 will remain a legend. Damn you Karl. And from what I saw, you probably are.