Faded Film

“What’s this?” said Mickey pulling a film out of its can. It was an old film – plastic-based, 35 millimeter, 16 frames per second – likely from the 1900s through the 1910s. It’s condition – poor and brittle.

Mickey worked for the Studio as a one of their film restorers. His main job was to repair films – the lesser known, less important ones – as best as possible, then digitize them for further enhancement and posterity. Still an important job, he was nonetheless officed in a small, dingy work room located at a corner of the Studio’s film warehouse.

His office contained a few work tables set up with equipment for film inspection, cleaning, viewing, processing, and digitizing. The only lighting being used were magnifying lamps with swivel arms attached to each table. This had the effect of leaving the top half of the room in darkness. Although the furniture was sparse, on the the floor and along the walls were file cabinets and stacks of boxes containing old film – either in cans, cardboard boxes, or nothing at all – and thoroughly filling the space. On the far end of the room was a blank wall. It served as a screen whenever needed.

The room was a mess. The boxes were numerous, and stacked in a way that made small pathways to and from the door and the tables. Some boxes were open with film strips coiling out, looking severely tangled and out of control. “Ok, just one more before heading home,” Mickey said. He grabbed a movie canister from a nearby box, opened it, and took out a roll of film with his gloved hand.

The film didn’t look any more interesting than the last. The label on the can had the title ‘Mad Lover.’ Its aged plastic cracked and split if not handled gingerly. It was also coated in dirt and grime. There were scratches, smudges, and droplets of who-knows-what. “I’ve got a lot of work to do with this one,” Mickey thought as he looked at the film under the magnifying lens and strong light.

Inspecting the cells themselves, he found no title or credits. Was it missing or just never made? The title on the can was probably wrong, too. The main body, maybe no more than five minutes running time, featured a woman as the sole character. The film was definitely from the 1910s as the actress wore heavily draped and tasseled clothes with a confining hobble skirt. Her arms were mostly outstretched in nearly every scene.

Mickey decided to view the film to get a better sense of the contents and its state. The first thing he did was to tape up some sections that had started to crack. Then after giving it a quick wipe down, he guided the film carefully within the projector’s gears and sprockets. The film was by no means clean or even restored, but just good enough to view. He grabbed his notepad and started the projector.

“Let’s see,” he said, sitting back to watch and jot down notes. The projector gurgled and the movie flickered onto the blank wall across the room. After probably over one hundred years coiled in darkness, it was once again being played and seen. Its contents, hidden and waiting, breathed to life. Mickey continued his notes: “Extremely faded. Little contrast. Silent, of course. Missing intertitles. No story to speak of. Low priority restoration.”

With that last comment, he focused on the actress. She was in every cell with no change in scene. Her face, heavy with typical greasepaint of the period, had agitated expressions. Her arms flailed back and forth, and her left hand grabbed a pen or pencil from a nearby table. There was a smudge on the right side of the film which periodically obscured the actress’ face whenever she leaned in that direction. Other than that, there really was nothing else particular about the short film.

His phone buzzed. He answered and leaned forward to turn off the projector. “Hello?” Mickey said while flipping the switch. For a split second – just before the projector stopped – his eye caught something in the film. The actress was talking in the direction of the smudge.

“Yeah?” He said. “Right. Working late. Yes, at the office. If you don’t believe me, come on over – you have the key. What? I have a lot to… I have food here. Why did you do that? Them again? I forgot. I don’t know if I’m up for that. An hour late already? Alright, I’m leaving now.” Mickey ends the call. “Sheesh!”

Before heading out, Mickey carefully unwound the film from the projector, rolled it, and set it back inside the canister. He placed the movie squarely on his desk. He’ll finish viewing the film first thing in the morning, then start restoring it. “That smudge is bugging me,” he thought.

“Finally, you’re home,” said Gigi, Mickey’s girlfriend. “What took you so long? We’re supposed to be there in 15 minutes.”

“Just a lot of work,” said Mickey. “It’s piling up and I can’t get behind. Why is it so important that we go?”

“Damn it, Mick,” yelled Gigi. “You look like shit. You need some sun. You’re always working late. We never have fun anymore. Phil and Jennifer were good enough to invite us, at least. I mean – come on – it’s been two weeks since we went out.”

“Well,” Mickey didn’t have any sort of response. “Look, I’ve been busting my ass at work. Tonight’s no different. I worked late and I’m tired. In fact, I don’t feel like going tonight. I’m not going tonight.”

“Great,” she said. “I’m sick of you not giving us any time together. You work late all the time now. What is it? You fooling around with some chick from the studio?”

Mickey laughed and dismissed Gigi’s comment.

“Fine,” she responded. Gigi picked up her purse and car keys. “I’m going. Enjoy your whore.” She slammed the door of their apartment.

At work the next day, Mickey took out the film. He began documenting its specs and condition, and steps needed to restore and digitize the asset.

He took the film to the cleaning station. Deciding finally on what needed to be done, he began wiping it down with a cleanser. He progressed fairly quick with most of the film, but stopped at the dark smudge. The smudge was on every cell midway into the film through to the end.

He scanned the strip and again saw the actress leaning into the smudge, her face disappearing beneath. Then her hands started flailing.

Mickey focused on cleaning the smudge. The dirt wouldn’t come off even after trying different cleansers. “I’ll get to this again,” he said while simultaneously entering the comment in his notebook.

He continued scanning the film strip. Near the end, he saw that the last section was uniform in a dark, grayish color, but still similar in contrast to the rest of the film. “I missed it – an intertitle,” he exclaimed. He can make out letters, but the words were again hidden underneath dirt. “Now maybe we’ll see what this film is about.”

Mickey put the film back into the projector and started the movie. “That damn smudge,” he said after a few minutes. It wasn’t any clearer than before.

“What was the actress trying to convey,” he thought. “She looks kinda miffed, but smiling? No, more like sarcasm? It’s hard to say with the big overacting from that time.”

After the scene with the flailing hands and arms, he got to the title card section. “Letters S, M , L,” was all he could make out.

Completely intrigued, Mickey put the film away as before, and noted down his next steps for tomorrow.

Gigi was again alone at their apartment. She had a soda in hand and was fuming that Mickey is still at work. She pulls out her Tarot deck and shuffles it over and over. Satisfied, she draws the Three of Swords.

‘I knew it.’ she thought. ‘He’s having a affair.’

The Three of Swords, generally dealing with conflict, points to a love triangle. Usually heavy in meaning, the card portends a yearning for the way things were. Basically, one of the triangle is causing problems.

Gigi put the card back into the deck. She spread the cards just to look at the images. “My cards are getting old and dog-eared.” She liked how her Tarot deck had a well-worn look and feel. Mickey came through the door.

“Sorry about being late again, Gigi,” he said. “There’s this film I’m working on, and it’s…”

Gigi interrupted, “Are you sick? You look really worn out.”

“I didn’t know,” he said. “I don’t think so. So this film has an actress that…”

“How long have you been cheating on me?” Gigi asked. That caught him off guard. Without waiting for a reply, she got up, went to the other room and slammed the door.

Mickey thought, “screw this,” and left the apartment. He headed back to the studio. Gigi, having heard Mickey leave, decided to follow.

Again examining the film, Mickey wanted to get rid of the smudge. Frustrated, he applied heavy cleansers, and at one point even used his gloved finger nail to try to scratch off the smudge in the multiple cells. “I shouldn’t do that,” he said. “I’m so mad at Gigi.” The smudge started to thin out. He could see a bright object hidden underneath. He applied the same cleanser to the rest of the cells and used a heavy abrasive to remove the dirt. After being satisfied, he put the film back into the projector and ran it.

Gigi quietly sneaked into the room and hid behind a stack of boxes to spy. She watched as the film queued up.

The movie played again. The only sound in the room was the projector with its loud clicks and hisses. The film’s pictures were faded, but well enough to see action. With no title or introductory slide, the scene began abruptly. It opened in a small, dark room, and on set was an oversized arm chair and table.

The actress looked directly at the camera and smiled, then stood up from the chair and leaned into the table. Slamming both hands down, she grabbed a knife (not a pen), brought it against her cheek and caressed it – all the while her eyes and face exaggerating their expressions. She was saying something to the blade, but the combination of missing intertitles with no sound made it impossible to understand what she was saying or doing.

The smudge appeared but this time was clean enough to show from underneath a person entering the room. The actress looked agitated after turning toward the person.

The angry actress’ face changed to sarcasm. Swinging her arms in grand gestures, she pointed the knife toward the person – a woman. The person’s face became clearer. It was Gigi!

Gigi gasped from behind the stack of boxes after seeing her face on the film. Mickey, surprised by the noise, swung around and knocked over a lamp. It landed on the box of film immediately in front of Gigi. The bulbs exploded and ignited the coils of loose film. In a split second, the stack of boxes became an inferno of fire as the old films provided a perfect fuel source. In her hurried attempt to escape, Gigi tangled herself in film that also ignited in flames.

Mickey ran for the extinguisher and hit the emergency fire alarm. The inferno grew to fill the room. He started to lose consciousness due to the toxic smoke. Before being overcome, he saw the last part of the film.

In a similar grand gesture, the actress, now with a broad, crazy smile and laugh, used the knife to slice Gigi’s throat, and stab her multiple times.

The flames reached the projector and film. In that moment, the intertitle displayed clearly with the words: “She succumbs to Madness and strikes at her Rival.”


This is Dante P Ramon, your host and author of The Dark Reading, a collection of original scary stories inspired by Tarot cards. I invite you to follow my website as I present new stories on a weekly basis. I also record and distribute my stories via podcast. So, visit us on the web at TheDarkReading.com, and feel free to share The Dark Reading with your friends.

I just drew the Death card, so good night for now.


Season 1 Episode 25.

©2021 The Dark Reading. All Rights Reserved.

This, and all stories on The Dark Reading are original and written by Dante P. Ramon.

All third party marks are the property of their respective owners.


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