Author : David Kavanaugh

The projectionist’s nimble hands slid the reel into the side of the old machine. The switch was flipped and a cone of illuminated dust particles appeared in the theater outside the tiny window.

In the seats below, the scattered audience members settled back, putting their little conversations on hold as the feature began.

At first, the screen was black but for a bit of deep, dark, throbbing grayness in the very center. Then suddenly there was a collective gasp of breath and more than one audience member jumped in their seat as the dot on the screen suddenly glowed white hot and inflated. It stretched out and out, blinding them with its brilliance. It filled the screen, pulsing and twirling with ripples of electric blue. The speakers grumbled out a roar of sound, like living thunder.

Then, as the liquid fire began to calm, the scene changed. The perspective zoomed in on a little ripple of gold, closer and closer until the audience was watching tiny mites of energy shudder and clash. They began to evolve into bits of color, and the opposing shades collided and burst like firecrackers. The speakers sent out sizzling sounds as the particles appeared and disappeared.

The light softened, and the screen became a hazy scene of drifting clouds. The clouds began to squeeze inward and take the shapes of disks and skirts and hats and hoops. Stars in the newly formed galaxies twinkled and blinked. The big ones were the prettiest, but they only lasted a few seconds before flashing out in rainbow gusts.

It zoomed in on a little tornado of silver glitter. The galaxy spun through the darkness until it happened upon another galaxy, this one a smaller disc the color of blood. The whirlwind of stars swept across the red galaxy, swallowing up the colors and hiccupping a flash of orange before moving on.

There were some random shots of rocky worlds and gas giants rotating around their parent suns, and after a few minutes the scenes of life began. Quark warriors swarmed in the molecular castles on a scrap of frozen iron. An ooze of black silicone sludge rose up in a great wave and battled a thorny beast as big as a mountain. Sentient souls in a methane sea slashed at the seafloor and turned the ore into shiny metals. They built vessels like golden spears and hurled themselves through the cosmos, forming an empire dozens of galaxies across. Buzzing pools of electrons bickered over philosophy. A small, wet planet featured scenes of jellyfish and fungi and a single frame of a hairless ape driving a Volkswagen. Gray-green clouds made love and gave birth to raindrop children. There were monsters and angels and artists. There was a stone dragon snacking on stars and belching out hydrogen fumes.

The flickering scenes of life came to a close, and the screen showed black and white once more. The pop and crackle of starry lives. The heavy breathing of nebula. The grinding, angry music of pulsars.

The specks of light went out, one by one, and the speakers grew silent.

Some of the audience clapped politely, but there was a general feeling of anticlimax. They began to rise from their seats, yawning. Someone spilled a soft drink. Someone forgot their keys.

Above them, the projectionist carefully inserted the reel back into its container and set it on the cart beside the others. As the gods tottered from the dingy theater below, the projectionist blinked its many, glistening eyes and glanced at the fading label. It read: The Universe.

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