Between the Frames

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Fantasy
Between the Frames is R J Dent's surreal short story about film, ideas, thoughts, perception and cinema.

Submitted: April 18, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 18, 2016



Between the Frames

by R J Dent



Once the cartoon was over, the projectionist paused the projector and turned the house lights up. Far below, in the darkened cinema, the audience began to file noisily out of the auditorium.

Edgar, the albino projectionist, waited impatiently for the room to empty before finishing his work. He reversed the projector's ratchet, then pressed the blue button. The film began to rewind onto the huge spool.

As the machine whirred, Edgar placed the other film reels shown that evening into cases and the cases into the rack. He slipped covers over machines, then checked that the room was tidy enough for the next day. It was.

Edgar was in a hurry because he had a date with Emily Watson -the waitress from the Laguna restaurant- and tonight looked as though their relationship might develop into something more than the kissing and touching bouts that it consisted of at present. Therefore, Edgar wanted to get out of the projection booth and along to the Laguna, where Emily would have finished serving the last customer and would soon be free to go dancing.

Suddenly more impatient than ever, Edgar reached out and switched the rewind button off. The machine stopped whirring, then fell silent. The film had almost rewound to the beginning, but not quite. There were still about ten metres of film left.

That's good enough, he thought. Besides, it affects no one else but me. I'm the one who'll have to sort it out tomorrow.

So, having justified his actions, he performed his quick, ritual look out at the screen. Nothing. He didn't remember switching the projector beam off, but it was off, so content, he slipped his jacket on and opened the booth door. He took a final quick look around his place of work, switched the house lights and the booth light out, then shut the door firmly and locked it. He then made his way down the stairs and out of the building.

The reason for him not remembering switching the projector's beam off was because he hadn't. The bulb was slightly loose in its socket, that was all. When Edgar had looked at the screen, the connection had not been firm and so the light had gone off. This had made him think that the machine was off. It wasn't. So when he had slammed the door shut on his way out, the bulb was jiggled in its socket and had then made contact with the terminals. The bright beam abruptly came on again, illuminating the section of film that had been stopped in mid-rewind. Because Edgar had not rewound the film fully – had in fact stopped it in mid-frame – the picture on the screen was divided. The top half was of a woman wearing a grass skirt, dancing for a man who was sitting on a sofa, a light bulb, connoting an idea, illuminated over his head. On the floor at the woman's feet was a duck-billed platypus. It was looking up the woman's grass skirt.

The bottom part of the divided picture was of a bird flying across a cloud-free sky. It was looking up, as though contemplating flying higher. The vista below the bird was invisible, due to the bottom part of the frame being off the screen.

The auditorium was silent. The door was abruptly closed and locked by the usherette, then the cinema became still and silent.

"I've just had a really good idea," the cartoon man in the chair said.

The woman didn't answer. She was too busy dancing, deliberately flailing her skirt so that the platypus could see her labia lips, clearly visible now that she had taken to removing all of her pubic hair.

The platypus examined the woman's swollen gash. It could smell the heady aroma of her sweat, and feel the heat emanating from her vagina. It thought the woman was beautiful and wanted to fuck her. Luckily, because the platypus was actually a shapechanger – and because its current manifestation was one that it only held for a few minutes of the cartoon – it put all of its effort into changing into another form. As it had done so often in the past, it psychically sketched out the new shape, then slowly began to move its body space into the newly-drawn area. Just as it was about to take on the new form and absorb the remnants of the platypus, the shapechanger sensed that something was wrong – the shape it had chosen to become was not available to it. Alarm raced through the shapechanger's insubstantial body.

Something wrong somewhere! it told itself as it reluctantly reformed into the platypus. It tried a different form, sketching out its parameters - thinking out, then formulating the outline of the shape in the space it would occupy, then flowing into it, leaving just enough of its essence to absorb the previous shape. Once again it met resistance and flowed back into the platypus husk.

"I wouldn't bother trying, if I were you," the bird called up at the platypus.

"Why not?"

The bird wheeled and dipped.

"Because your limits are already drawn. You can't become what you are not. In this cartoon, you can only become the shapes that the cartoonist has drawn."

Nonsense!" said the man tersely, suddenly standing up and banging his head on the light bulb that floated above his head. "We're illustrations, therefore we can assume any shape we choose. There are no limits for us."

"Well, something is stopping me from assuming another shape," the shapechanger said petulantly.

"Yes," the man said. "You are. You're stopping yourself."

"No I'm not," the shapechanger protested. "I map out the shape, give it its outline, then attempt to move into it, but I keep encountering resistance."

"What shape did you attempt to assume?" the man asked.

"I'm not saying," the shapechanger said.

"Why not?"

"Because to give it a name is to limit it."

"Nonsense!" the bird squawked. "To name something is to give it form and solidity. Concrete words give concrete shape and form. Everyone knows that."

"Cat," said the shapechanger. Again it mapped out the shape it was going to become, set the outline in place, then poured itself into the form. Just as it was about to consolidate, the desired shape – this time of a cat – collapsed and it had to quickly become the platypus again. The husk of the platypus was – after all of this – getting pretty fed up.

"Just stop it," it said to its occupant. "Either be me, or be something else, but don't keep changing back and forth. Give yourself the dignity of some consistency. You owe it to yourself."

The bird – glad that the cat shape had eluded the shapechanger – flew across the screen, then back again. After a few banks and spins, it contented itself with hovering in the same place.

The man walked to the edge of the frame, then slid down the edge, using the perforations for hand and foot holds. Reaching the divide between the top and bottom half-stills, he walked along the top of the bird picture, then reached down and grabbed the bird by the tail-feathers. The bird shrieked.

"This bird," he suggested to the shapechanger.

The shapechanger stretched, tested and flowed. This time there was no resistance. It liquidly flowed into the bird and became it. The bird essence was quashed and chose to ooze out of the bird into the platypus husk. The new life infused the husk and the platypus began scrambling along the floor, sniffing.

The man let the bird go and it flew out of the frame. The man sat on the top of the picture and looked at the empty sky.

The woman kept dancing. New sweat formed on her body, gathered at her groin, and dripped down onto the man's head. From his hairline it ran down his face and into his mouth. It tasted salty. It seemed to make the image of the sky more resonant.

Thirsty, he opened his mouth and looked up. He could see the delicate undulations of the woman's vagina. The man smiled.

The platypus went off in search of food.

The woman kept dancing.




Between the Frames

Copyright © R J Dent (2005 & 2016)


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