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This is now.
The night was as clear as the first night of creation, unmarred by any cloud or haze. The gibbous moon shone down brilliantly, only an arm's length away. The stars shuddered with barely repressed feeling.
Bob, the older man, lifted the small, thin cylinder of metal from a velvet-lined wooden box that contained perhaps a dozen or so just like it. The cylinder was feather-light, wrapped in cotton batting and then encased in a yellowed cardboard sleeve.
The sleeve was unadorned, save for three letters on its side in faded, crabbed handwriting.
T. A. E.
Bob knocked the cylinder gently onto the palm of his hand, freeing it from the sleeve, then unwound the strip of cloth.
The cylinder surface was tarnished with age. Barely visible was a thin, hairlike groove that wound its way around the middle.
Both men found it hard to fathom that this small, fragile thing held what it did; a recording from the past...and beyond.
Bob was careful not to touch this as he passed it to Tim.
Tim's hands shook as he accepted it, held it up to the moonlight to get a better look.
That something so plain, so unadorned and functional-looking could contain something so profound seemed unthinkable...yet somehow perfectly fitting.
Sitting atop a scrolled iron tripod before Tim was a device the size of a milk crate. Its mahogany cabinet was dark and richly burnished with age.
The whole apparatus looked like a two-headed antique Victrola.
Two huge, elaborate sound horns, each pointing away from the other, were attached to the device. Between them, within the wooden cabinet, was a spring-mountedarmature with a tiny needle affixed to it, whose tip rested just an inch or so from a mounted cylinder.
This cylinder's diameter was tapered, with one end just a bit smaller than the looped strip of metal Tim held.
Carefully, he lifted the armature away, fitted the record he held onto the mounted cylinder. Metal slid over metal until the two cylinders seated themselves.
Replacing the armature with a pronounced metallic clack!, he turned and looked back at Bob, who stood a few feet from the machine with his arms crossed in front of him.
The looks they traded betrayed nothing, gave nothing to the other.
Tim took the small crank that jutted from the front of the cabinet in his hand, wound it several times.
Copyright © 2005 John F.D. Taff