Sunday, May 25, 2014
"Technical Difficulties"—A Short Story
I'm scribbling this hastily in the linen closet; it's dark in here, with only the light which creeps in under the door, and I know that if they find me, it's all over. But, I may be the only one who knows, and there's nobody in here that I can talk to—nobody I can trust. They're not about to get me that way. So, my only hope—our only hope—is to get this to someone on the outside. Someone who can do something.
My name is ---------no, that doesn't matter—why make it easy for them? For the last six years I've worked security for a local corporation. But don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those law and order types. My job was to sit in front of a battery of monitors and check the corridors and the labs for unauthorized personnel. Only once in my six years did anything untoward occur, and that turned out to be a maintenance man who got off on the wrong floor.
The truth is, I took the job because I love the tube. I guess you could say I'm a video nut. As a kid I spent all my summers glued to the TV while the other kids were out playing. I watched everything: cartoons, game shows, soaps, talk shows, sit-com reruns. But most of all, I loved the old movies, and I watched them whenever they were on. It's a tragedy that they don't show those old black and whites anymore. Too old, I guess; too “phony” for today's kids.
Anyway, that's why I got the job, because it seemed the perfect way to get paid for doing what I like to do best. On the night shift, after all the offices and labs have been closed and everyone's gone home, we hook the front hall monitor up to a TV tuner. The higher-ups know about it, and nobody cares. Anyway, about a year ago, I began to notice something peculiar.
Have you ever been sitting in a theatre watching a movie when words come out, but the person who is supposed to be speaking didn't open their lips? That's called “voicing over.” They didn't used to do it much, but they do it on everything nowadays.
It's very subtle. Most of the time you never even notice, but once in a while a careless cut might throw out the sync and the voice won't fit the lips. Sometimes the levels are wrong, creating a disparity between the different voices. Other times the actors on the screen aren't talking at all, but they're far away, and they figured you wouldn't notice a few extra words.
But, I did! Then, it got worse. Even programs that were supposed to be live began to look dubbed. They're very good. It takes a practiced eye to catch them. Usually, they're only a fraction of a millisecond off. But they're off! Even the news reporters aren't really live anymore.
It all fell into place about three months ago, though, when I was home watching the President on TV.
“We all know that the best defense is a good offense,” he said, “And so I am instituting a new program that will show the world, both our enemies and our allies, that we will not stand still and watch our world be imperiled by evil, Godless monsters.” He frowned, to show that he meant business, then he smiled and continued. “Therefore, in order to fight these VICIOUS, GOD-FORSAKEN HOOLIGANS, the following steps will be taken....”
Well, you know all about the steps. The whole world does. But, you see, I was watching the President. They tried to pull back from him and show the the flag and the Oval Office, but I saw it! The President was over-dubbed! The words that we were hearing were not the words that he was speaking.
I couldn't even begin to fathom the implications of that truth. I still don't have it all worked out, but at the time, I about flipped. I burst out of my place and took the stairs to Leo and Melanie's apartment three at a time. Melanie came to the door; Leo was still sitting in front of the set.
“Well,?” I said, “Did you see it?”
“Sure,” he said, “but it wasn't all that exciting to come running up here about! Besides, I've seen it before a million times. It is a kick, though, when Lucy starts stuffin' those candies down her blouse.” Melanie started giggling and Leo laughed hard.
“NO!” I shouted, “I mean the President's speech. Didn't you see the President just now? His 'Cleansing the World' speech?”
“Oh, no,” said Melanie. “We always catch him on the Eleven O'clock News.”
“But they don't show the whole speech on the news!” I said.
“No, but they show you the important parts, and they tell you what he said,” Leo answered and then frowned. “What the hell is all this about, anyway?”
“That wasn't the President speaking!” I said, raising my voice. Suddenly, I thought of all the speeches that I'd seen on the news: The anchor smiling sincerely and summarizing what some person said, while a picture of the speaker is superimposed on the background. Maybe they let you hear a few words by the speaker—rarely more than a sentence—before switching to a new story. You don't really get ANY of the speech!
“What the Hell are you talking about?” Leo said.
Old Leo can get pretty testy, but I was surprised at such an antagonistic tone.
“Yes, Scott, Darling,” Melanie chimed in cheerfully. “Whatever are you talking about?”
But this time I was watching. She was over by the wet bar fixing a vodka water. She had her back partially turned from me; nevertheless, when she spoke, her voice level sounded slightly off, and I could've sworn that the voice started before her lips began to move. Oh, they're very good, as I've said, but I saw.
“Oh...I...uh...was just joking,” I stammered. “I mean, it was a great speech ... Better than usual, I mean.”
“They're always great,” Melanie said, but she was looking at me queerly, almost suspiciously. Leo wore the same puzzled but accusing look.
“Hey, you okay, Buddy?” he asked. His eyes showed concern, but his lips were off. Nearly imperceptible, I'll grant you, but off!
Needless to say, I got out of there post haste. I've tried not to raise their suspicions, but now I realize they must be everywhere. The desk sergeant, the doctor, most of the nurses: they're all a part of it. The terrible thing is, I don't know how they can tell us from them. Some of them are so good that you'd never notice if you weren't really watching, and, of course, watching is a dead giveaway.
So I don't watch their lips, except on the sly. And I don't talk to anybody. I figure that's the most likely way for them to recognize us, and like I said, they're not going get me if I can help it.
I'm going to try to hide this letter in the outgoing laundry and hope that it gets to someone on the outside. I can't give my name or where the asylum is because they could find me. If you're not one of them, though, you've got to warn people. And remember, WATCH THEIR LIPS!
From the short story collection, So, It's All Done With Mirrors; That's No Reflection on You
©1985 Tim McMullenAll rights reserved