“I thought it was supposed to be bigger.”
“Well how should I know? This is what the guy at the shop gave me. It’s not like I ever saw one before.”
The two boys stared down at the black rectangle on the table, breathing in musty basement air. Marty, the older one, was twelve; Chester, his junior by only four months, was eagerly anticipating his birthday next week. The strange device in front of them was meant as part of Chester’s birthday present, along with the much larger box that the man in the antique shop had told Marty he’d need to use the thing, but so far Chester had showed little appreciation. He poked the boxlike object skeptically.
“But I thought all that old stuff was huge, like dinosaurs. My dad told me the computers used to take up whole rooms! And they had to use big cards with holes in them to put the numbers in. It’s all supposed to be big.”
“Well it goes in the big box. This thing is like one of those cards. That black tape inside has the picture on it, and the big thing is what you play it with.”
Chester seemed to accept this, poking his finger into the slot in the larger box, which was covered by a flap of hard plastic. “So how’s it work?”
“It has to get hooked up to the TV first. It’s an antique, remember? It’s got wires.”
“Does your TV even have wires?”
“Course not, but it’s got the place for some. My dad says it’s stupid but my mom says we need it ’cause Grandma hates wireless. She’s always coming over to show us her pictures, but she won’t use the beam on her album. She says the pictures might get lost in the air.” The two boys snickered at the thought. Marty plugged one end of a tangle of wires into the six ports on the wall. “Okay, hand me the player.”
Chester obeyed, pushing the larger black box over to Marty with the heels of his hands, stretching his body out like a worm. Marty took the device in hand and started turning it over and over while Chester lay down on his stomach and put his chin on his hand. “Did you find it yet?”
“No. They must put them in a different place.”
“Maybe it’s that black wire.”
“That’s the power, genius. You have to plug it into a grounder source.”
“What about those things on the back then?”
“That’s it. It’s probably only got two sound inputs.”
“So is anything even gonna play?”
“Of course it is! You think I woulda got it if it wasn’t going to play? We just need to give it some powerâ€¦ there. I knew my mom kept these old sources down here.”
“So what now?”
“Now we put it in.”
Marty picked up the cartridge from the floor. One edge had a flap on it that reminded him of the flap on the big box, so he pushed it in, that end first.
“Is it working?”
The TV flickered, the screen turning a different shade of black. The quiet hum of nothing issued from two of the speakers, the ones closest to the wall on either side. The others stayed deadly silent.
“Is that it?”
“I dunnoâ€¦ maybe we didn’t do it riâ€””
The screen suddenly flared to life, going white and grey and grainy, a visual mish-mash that changed the quality of light playing over the two shocked faces. There was only a split second of delay before the sound came through, blaring white noise from the two forward speakers. Both boys jumped and Marty quickly turned the volume down. The low thrum of static filled the room as they stared at the screen.
At last, Marty broke the not-silence with a snort of disgust.
“Guess I got gypped. Man, what a waste. This is why they don’t make this stupid stuff anymore. C’mon, let’s go find something better to do. I shoulda known this thing wouldn’t work.”
Chester stayed silent, still blinking in the wake of the strange white light.
“Chester? Come on. I’ll get you a better birthday present, all right? Jeez.”
It took several moments for Chester to move. He answered with a short sound of assent, and Marty immediately turned to climb the stairs back up to the first floor. Chester stood and started after him, but hesitated after only a step. Quickly, he knelt by the player and hit the eject button. The cartridge popped out with a mechanical whir and Chester stuffed it into the huge pocket of his baggy pants. He ran to catch up with Marty.
“Nah, it’s okay. You don’t need to get me a better present.”
The artificial snow still danced behind his eyes.