You could only copy a photo so many times before it would fade away.
With each attempt, the objects warped, smearing into a mass of images and colors that spiraled into senseless abstraction. The artist may describe it as intentional; the pretentious may describe it as profound; but only the photographer could identify it as anything other than what it was: garbled noise.
Grisela’s camera didn’t have lenses, lights, or shutters, but she clutched it just the same, until her fingertips pressed white and the protective shell strained under her grip. It was little more than a vessel for a series of ones, zeroes, and variables suspended within a stream of data, and yet it was more precious than anything—even the lump of flesh and bone that flopped and chattered on the bed.
“Are you okay?”
Marcel’s voice was thick, weakened by a bubble of persistent phlegm that hung in the back of his throat and slathered each word in a vague but constant wetness. His fair hair hung over his face, limp, but she could still barely make out the features beyond: His blank eyes veered slightly to the left, transparent skin stretched over fluttering facial muscles, and cracked lips were forced to wear a smile that threatened to tear his already thin face in two.
He looked horrible.
Still, there wasn’t any blood. His head wasn’t in chunks and cooking on some slab of summer-baked asphalt; he wasn’t surrounded by gawking rubberneckers and emergency teams.
He was there, on the bed, watching her.
Grisela didn’t answer him. She shuffled some papers around on a nearby table, even as the bedsheets shifted behind her. The laboratory workstations flickered in an alluring lightshow of black and green, even as the cream walls threatened to overtake everything in their blinding light.
She bit her lip. “Yeah. I’m okay.”
“Are you sure?”
The paper she was holding crumpled.
“Yeah,” she said, “Really.”
“You’re lying. Your voice is shaking.”
“I’m okay, really. Don’t worry about it.”
She slammed her fist on the worktop.
“Marcel. Drop it.”
There was a tinny, phlegm-edged whimper, but he said nothing.
Grisela’s hands shook as she took the data stick—her precious ‘film’—and slipped it into an open slot on the console. She ran her fingers along the edges of the keyboard.
It made her think of the old days.
Back then, movie directors used film reels lined with cellulose nitrate; after a time, they were proven to be unstable, and were discontinued. That didn’t prevent the unfortunate ones tainted with this technique from crumbling into dust, or stop the inevitable decay.
Slowing the process—or recreating them entirely—didn’t make them indestructible.
How many times have they gone through this?
“Hey.” she said. “Can you go to sleep for a little while?”
“I need to do something. It won’t take long.”
“Gris, are you crying?”
“Are you sure? You sound like you’re choking.”
“Look, just lie down and relax, all right? And watch those wires.”
The sheets shuffled, and Marcel tried to push what should have been deep breaths out of lungs that were too weak and too small to handle them. He coughed from the effort.
One more time. She only needed to do this one more time. Maybe it would be like it was before, and he, her film reel, would restore himself and become a little brighter. He’d move a little closer to where he used to be before the first time she lost him.
Or, it would be another failure, the original long lost to time.
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Jennifer L. Pastor
Jennifer L. Pastor is a Pennsylvania-born, Texas-raised writer who lives with her partner and cats. When not writing, she works on finishing her degree in literary studies, plays video games, and chips away at the large stack of to-read books by her workspace. You can follow her adventures on Twitter at @jlynnpastor, or her new personal blog at writersblockstories.wordpress.