Continuing on our serialization of a photography themed short story, here is Part 2 of "In the Blink of an Eye." If you didn't manage to read Part 1 last week, then catch up to find out what Charlie Sydcup videoed during a trip to the City of London.
Charlie replayed it again - the image etched on his memory. He paused, trying to understand before snapping out of his reverie. He snatched the camera from the top of the tripod, rapidly collapsing it and stuffing his kit into his rucksack. Crossing the street and working his way back up to Bank he jumped aboard the first red bus running back to St. Paul’s, before switching on to a second bus running out to Elephant and Castle. Whilst travelling he kept replaying the clip over and over in his mind.
What was it he had seen?
What did it mean?
The bus was empty, running away from the city in the rush hour, as it trundled along bustling streets, jammed with cars, busy cyclists and pedestrians clamoring to get to their destinations. Charlie got off the bus and walked along next to Albany Park back towards the Aylesbury Estate. Whilst he lived in a slightly aging tower block, the area was undergoing renovation and being so close to the park was a boon. He slapped his card against the lock on the gated entrance and slipped through to the lift. After pressing the ‘Call’ button and a momentary wait, there was a ping and the doors opened. The tin box accelerated upwards to the fifteenth floor, where he exited, sliding the key into the lock and opening the door.
His one-bedroom flat was spartan, but clean and tidy. The open plan kitchen-diner was off one end of the entrance hall, with the bedroom at the other. He went in to it, extracting his camera before flinging the rucksack on to the bed.
The computer was already on, having been compiling source code overnight. Flipping open the cover, he pulled the SD card out of the bottom of the camera and put it in to the reader on the computer. The videos were automatically extracted from the card and stored on the internal system drive, where they were mirrored to external network storage before being streamed to off-site backup at his network supplier. He skimmed through the thumbnail images of each video until he came to the last one from the morning, double clicking to load it. Dragging the timeline slider he moved to the end of the video and again played at one tenth speed the builder falling through the frame. There it was, top-to-bottom, thud, head lolling, the eyes. He slowed the motion down to one hundredth of a second and rewound it. Thud, head loll, the eyes - flash. He froze the screen, trying to take in what he was looking at.
Charlie took a screen dump, saving the image to a file and loaded it in to his image processing software. His reduced the brightness on the screen and, to his surprise, realized that the image wasn't saturated. Given the brightness of the light he had assumed that what he was looking at was pure white. He wasn't. He masked off the white flash and applied a reduction in brightness, boosting the contrast in the image. Given the high resolution of the image the process took some time to complete. He waited impatiently as the percentage indicator on the taskbar slowly inched its way across the screen - in tandem he saw the white image bleach away. Areas of high and low contrast appeared first, followed by shapes, outlines, the edge of a building, the figure of a person, almost like producing a photographic print in a darkroom. Gaining contrast and solidity with time. He was looking at himself!! He was stood in the street, next to his tripod and camera, a look of surprise on his face. The view was from across the street, from the builder, his last conscious vision of the bustling Fenchurch Street before he lost life.
He had a thought, going back to the video footage. The whole flash was one tenth of a second in duration which equated to one hundred frames on his video. He skipped back ten frames and froze the image. The flash was there, less intense but clearly visible. He extracted the image and ran it through the same process. He was impatient as the processing took its time, but gradually the scene emerged on his screen - a rough floor, concrete ceiling, sky, people with helmets. It was the building site, presumably the floor the worker had been on. The image was paler, lacking detail and contrast, clearly not as well formed as the previous scene he had looked at.
Charlie yawned - it had been a heck of a morning and he was due back in work at eight that night. He needed to crash and get some well earned rest. He went back to the video stream and extracted the complete tenth of a second flash and buffered it a tenth of a second either side. These were then all exported as individual frames creating three hundred files - he initiated an image processing batch job and set it running. Switching the monitor off, he pulled the curtains, put ear plugs in and curled up under the duvet - before long he was in a deep sleep.
Evening dawned and Charlie awoke to the quiet of a summer night. Cars rumbled along the street, children played in the park and the occasional sound of his neighbors around him indicated that dinner was underway. He jumped out of bed and in one stride was in front of his computer. Flicking the switch on the monitor, the screen burst in to life - the cursor blinked indicating the batch job had finished. He loaded the image viewer and used the scroll wheel on his mouse to cycle between the images. As he had suspected, the first images were faint. Like a degraded memory, they were low in contrast, slightly fuzzy and whitewashed. The first gave him broad shapes which looked like they could have been on the building site and as he progressed through them, the shapes became solider, firmer, taking on the appearance of people. The view moved across the building - a fixing was placed in the wall, before it pinged straight back out, straight towards him. He sensed the head tilt back, then moving backwards before a jolt to the vision. The head rotated backwards suddenly looking at sky and then the world flying past. It all stopped, the head slid sideways and, across the street, he stood looking back at himself. As the image faded the scene changed - it was a kitchen, morning sun streamed in through the back window. As he looked at the view he realized he was standing, facing a woman with long blond hair; she had thin pursed lips, a visible layer of foundation and heavy mascara. The facial expression turned to a scowl as the scene faded. Charlie sat back - what had he just seen?
Lead image courtesy of Free-Photos via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons.