Camera

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic


When an inventor approaches a studio showcasing a camera that will "change cinema forever", a studio executive assigns his right hand man, Ralph Burner, to break into the inventor's home and steal
his designs...but Ralph finds far more than he was looking for...

Submitted: March 30, 2018

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Submitted: March 30, 2018

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A A A


Camera

 

“This technology will change cinema forever!”

Thus was the proclamation of Seth Winters as the studio execs filed out of the screening room. The thirteen men looked like pilgrims at the Rapture, their eyes having beheld something their minds were still struggling to grasp.

Ralph Burner, aide to studio executive Shaun Whitmore, was inclined to agree with Winters’ statement. Ten years in the business of film (far less than the other grey-haired, white-as-bread men in the procession to be sure, but ten eventful years nonetheless) and he’d never seen images so pristine, so clear, so sharp.

“Millions could be saved in lighting alone,” Whitmore himself added to the discourse, albeit with less exuberance than his colleague.

“Oh yes,” said a man who didn’t belong to the studio yet was without a doubt the Man of the Hour. “And that’s just a start, isn’t it?”

Ralph did not like Elias Shutter, no sir. He didn’t like the smell of him; Shutter reeked of Salesman, with his smug self-assuredness, the tilt of his chin, and worst of all, his smooth “ain’t that neat?” smile. He had the kind of face that invited a good punch.

“I feel confident in saying, gentlemen,” Shutter went on in his airy, too-friendly way, “that the next film shot by your studio will have a look like no other in the business. When it comes to the job of moving images and light, you will be gods.”

“At least until someone else figures the technology out,” Whitmore said, ever cautious and ever skeptical. Ralph was happy to know he wasn’t the only man who hadn’t let himself be totally bewitched as Winters and the other execs had.

Shutter pushed his glasses up his nose and laughed Whitmore’s comment right off. “My process cannot be reproduced. If I guarantee nothing else, gentlemen, I guarantee that.”

“Any piece of tech can be replicated.”

They stepped into the conference room. The room had been cleared and converted into a presentation space. At the far end, flanked by muscular guards, were the other guests of honour: the Shutter Mk-I cameras.

Ralph had to admit, the two machines looked very sleek. Forty percent larger than the Arris the studio was currently using, the Shutters were cylindrical from end to end. They looked just like the cannons mounted on eighteenth century warships; the semblance was so close that Ralph felt uncomfortable standing in front of their barrels.

The bespectacled inventor stood between his latest creations and put a hand on each like a proud father. “No one can replicate this technology.”

Whitmore crossed his arms.

Seth Winters scoffed at his partner’s reticence. “Mr. Shutter,” he said, “if you can guarantee only that these babies,” he gestured reverently to the cameras, “will work without fail—“

“I’ve tested them for hundreds of hours with regular maintenance. I guarantee that they work.”

“Well, then I guess the only thing left to say is ‘name your price.’”

A grin split Elias Shutter’s face, as though he’d tasted something particularly juicy and delectable, and he named his price.

The life left the room. The studio execs were silent. Even Seth Winters, who’d been foaming at the mouth in the screening room, was gobsmacked. He tried to recover. “Er…for both cameras, you mean.”

“No.” Elias raised a finger as a judge raises a gavel. “For each camera.”

Winters deflated entirely. “That’s a…pretty penny.”

“I realize that,” Elias Shutter said pleasantly, reasonably. “I understand your hesitation, but please try to see where I’m coming from; I’ve spent a fortune designing and building these machines. I’ve committed hundreds and hundreds of hours to their development. The sum I am asking for will help me first to break even, and the rest will go towards helping build more of these cameras. I’m hoping to mass produce them, build a business off them. I came to your studio first because I need a little capital to complete the other cameras currently lying in my garage. In the process, your studio will partake in the greatest leap of video engineering of this decade.”

“Well,” said Winters, “perhaps if you were willing to throw in two or three of those other cameras with the deal—“

“No.” Shutter’s voice was a brick wall. “My price is final. I’m willing to sell you these two cameras, and as you’ve seen, they are well worth every cent.”

Winters looked around, gauging the room.

He’s gonna crack, Ralph thought. He’s gonna crack and we’ll be broke…and Shaun knows it too.

Winters surprised Ralph. “We’ll need some time to consider your offer.”

Shutter’s smile faltered just the tiniest bit, but his voice never lost that honey-sweet tone. “Of course. Take your time. But keep in mind, sir, that there are likely others willing and able to pay my price. However, I am still hoping that you and I can build a lasting relationship. For right now, feel free to inspect the equipment. I assure you they’re no more difficult to use than the cameras you already have.”

While Winters and the other execs crowded around the two cannons, Ralph and Shaun drew back until they could speak privately.

“Thoughts?” Shaun asked.

“Revolutionary,” Ralph said. “Extraordinary. It didn’t feel like watching a film; it felt like I was seeing with my own eyes.”

“I hear ya,” Shaun said. “Artificial lighting would be rendered almost totally obsolete.”

“You don’t sound too happy about that.”

“Me? I’m happy. I’m fuckin’ ecstatic. But I’m also asking myself why we’re letting this up-jumped electrician gut our studio.”

Ralph grinned. “So we are going to do something about it.”

“You’re damn right we are.” Shaun glanced at the crowd, took Ralph by the arm, and shepherded him further away. “I’ll find out where this guy lives and then I’ll call you tonight.”

Ralph nodded, yet cocked an eyebrow.“You really think Seth’s going to cave in a day?”

Shaun looked over at Winters. Seth’s eagerness was back and he was in an animated discussion with the ‘up-jumped electrician’. “We’ll be lucky if he doesn’t cave in an hour.”

#

If Ralph Burner had cared to check, his suspicion that he was the highest-paid aide to a film studio executive in North America would have been confirmed. His salary dwarfed even those of some of the other execs who’d been talking to Shutter not ten hours ago. The reason for such a salary was that he was “simply the finest, most upstanding and most talented man” Shaun Whitmore ever had the good fortune to meet. At least, that’s how Whitmore himself put it.

The talented part was true, there was no denying that. Ralph possessed skills not many people usually associated with office work. “What are these talents?” Shaun’s secretary once asked. “Too many to count,” Shaun replied with his most charming smile.

It was one of these talents which allowed Ralph to enter the workshop of Mr. Elias Shutter at two in the morning, beating a whopping three different security systems in the process. Why don’t more people have dogs? Ralph wondered, himself the proud owner of a loyal black Lab named Suzie. You can’t beat a good dog.

Dog or no dog, the locks were beaten and he was in. The door didn’t make a sound as it swung on well-oiled hinges. The workshop was pitch-black. Ralph took a small flashlight out of his pocket, clicked it on, and scanned the converted garage. No one there. The only other entrance was the door opposite him leading into the house.

He swung his flashlight left and its beam fell upon the very things he was looking for: the cameras. The six unfinished machines were aimed straight at him like a battery of guns while the two completed cameras from the demonstration today were near the garage door. With footsteps lighter than a breath of air, Ralph padded over to one of the two demo cameras and gave it a cursory inspection. The casing had plenty of screws, hatches, and access points. The camera was designed to be taken apart easily. I’ll be in and out in no time.

Ralph settled down to his task. He opened his bag of tools and began by unscrewing a panel near the butt of the camera, just in front of the controls and monitor. Straightaway, he was stymied; inside the camera, past a bundle of wires, was a black casing. It was cold to the touch, even though today had been the first hot day of the summer; over thirty degrees.

Ralph knew cameras, and he’d never seen an internal storage system like the one in front of him now. He guessed that whatever Shutter’s new technology was, part of it was inside the case, but he didn’t want to go rooting around in there just yet; there were a lot of screws around the case, most of them very fine. He decided to check the lenses of the camera first and come back to this compartment later.

He opened up the barrel of the camera. The machine shed its coverings like an eager lover; “Come closer, darling.” The first difference between this device and other cameras was clear: the barrel was entirely hollow. Between the rounded lens at the end of the camera and that inner compartment there wasn’t a single wire, chip, or servo. There was an aperture on that inner compartment, presumably to let light and images in.

Ralph went to the back of the camera and had a look at the controls. Pretty standard; zoom, focus, record, playback. If anything, there were fewer bells and whistles than you’d find on the Arris at the studio. Less options because it’s a prototype, or since the picture quality is flawless, less things you actually need to control? And where the hell are the circuits? This thing’s an electronic device; where are all its guts?

At the same moment this particular lightbulb went off in Ralph’s head, another lightbulb went on inside the house. Golden bars filled the spaces between the shutters hung on the glass of the door. Ralph froze.

A minute passed, then two, then three. Ralph’s hand hurt from clenching his screwdriver. He stretched a foot out behind him, ready to pivot and run if he needed to.

The light went out.

Ralph allowed himself a deep breath. Too close. It was time to stop beating around the bush. The time had come to open up that core compartment and find out what was inside. Pinching a screwdriver little thicker than a sewing needle, he loosened the screws on the top of the hatch. Could it be some kind of processor? He started on the bottom screws. It’s possible I may not recognize the tech at all. He lifted away the hatch. After all—

The compartment emitted a hiss and vapour poured out. Ralph dropped the hatch out of surprise and stepped back, thinking perhaps that he’d damaged something, but in a moment, that became the last thing on his mind. Few things had ever rattled Ralph Burner, but at that moment, he had to clamp a hand over his mouth to keep from screaming.

Suspended in the centre of the core with wires sticking into the trailing flesh, goo coating the exposed membranes, was a human eyeball. It twitched, and Ralph found himself staring into a green-ringed pupil.

Nausea overcame him as he backed away, tools forgotten. He backed up further and further until he came to the door he’d entered through.

He never felt the blow strike his skull.

#

Whitmore’s ulcer was acting up again. Felicity Dayton had a habit of doing that to him. When she started her whining the pain just started ramping up and up and up. If I don’t hang up this phone soon the paramedics will have something to talk about tonight: “Death by ulcer, aggravated by Pissy Actress Number One-Hundred-and-Twenty.”

“I’ll make this nice and simple,” Dayton said, “if I take a paycut, I walk. That’s it. That’s all there is to it.”

Jesus, how much longer? “Look, Felicity, I’m not saying it’s a certainty, I’m just saying Seth is keen on buying these—“

“I walk. You won’t have me, you understand?” She tried to sound adult and mature, but it just came across as the pouting of an insolent child.

Felicity Dayton was in fact the last thing on Whitmore’s mind. Ralph had never gotten back to him last night. He’d expected to wake up to at least a text message from the man, but when he’d unlocked his cell that morning, there’d only been the daily housekeeping memos from around the studio, and of course, a request to call the lovely Miss Dayton at his earliest convenience. Now Shaun was starting to do something he never did when it came to his right-hand man: he was starting to worry.

His cell suddenly pinged, and Shaun dropped his office phone onto his desk without a second thought, letting Dayton squawk uselessly at the wood. He unlocked the cell and read the message. It wasn’t from Ralph, it was from Seth.

“Shutter’s back,” the message read. “Get to parking lot asap.”

Shaun hung up with nary a goodbye to Miss Dayton and left his office at a dead sprint. His ulcer was a red-hot ember sitting in his stomach.

The rest of the Nazgul (as Whitmore so affectionately dubbed his colleagues) were gathered around a windowless white van in the parking lot where Elias Shutter was coaching two security guys as they offloaded one of the inventor’s big cameras.

“Gently, gently!” Shutter shouted. “Those are worth more than your life!”

The guards grumbled and placed the camera down beside its mates…two of them. Making three. And there was another camera in the back of the van, bringing the grand total of the miraculous machines to four.

“What now?” Shaun said as he trotted up beside a giddy Seth Winters.

“Mr. Shutter had a change of heart,” Seth said, looking like a kid at Christmas.

“What?”

“It’s true, Mr. Whitmore,” said Shutter, tearing himself away from his inventions. He approached the two executives. The crowd parted before him as if he were Moses. “I’ve reconsidered your offer and I’ve decided it is very fair. I’m throwing two new cameras into the deal at no extra cost.”

“Brand new?”

“Yes,” said Shutter, firing Shaun Whitmore a knowing look that turned the ember in Shaun’s belly into a cube of ice. “I just put the finishing touches on last night…”

 

THE END


© Copyright 2020 James Patrick Dick. All rights reserved.

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