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Miss Crachen’s Camera

By day, Miss Crachen was a second grade school teacher; by night she was an inventor, though not a productive one. She would give up on an invention once she saw that it would work, being interested only in the surprising, not the obvious. Having the keen mind that she did, one able to quickly see the implications of things, this meant that she didn’t often get to the point of even building a prototype to test. The problem was aggravated by the fact that Miss Crachen was arrogant—an affliction not untypical amongst people with keen minds—and so tended to trust the fullness of her understanding too much. All her life people tried to correct Miss Crachen’s arrogance. They would tell her, “You think you know everything, but you don’t. You think ‘this’, but actually it’s ‘that.’” Unfortunately they were always wrong. “This” was, in fact, “this”, not “that”, so their attempts to correct her arrogance only reinforced it.

Miss Crachen would receive an idea for an invention while cooking, or cleaning, or taking a bath, or on the drive to or from work. The idea would fall in her lap all on its own, and she would pick it up, she would look at it, examine it, turn it over, take it apart. When she could see the whole thing, hold it in her mind all at once, she’d throw it away. Once she’d eaten the flesh, she would discard the rind, and meanwhile five or six fresh, ripe ideas would have fallen into her lap.

Then, one morning, while buttering a slice of toast, an idea came to her for a very high-speed video camera, and this proved to be a very difficult invention. An artichoke, with not much flesh, and difficult to eat. It was difficult enough that it kept her wrestling with it. She couldn’t simply devour it like lesser ideas, and so she turned out an actual prototype— not her first, but one of only a very few.

Miss Crachen estimated the time resolution of her camera at roughly one trillion frames a second, or, to put it more precisely, she estimated the time between two successive frames was close to a trillionth of a second. This is an important distinction. There are what seem to be very high-speed cameras giving that kind of time resolution, but while it may be sort of fair to describe them as capable of capturing a trillion frames a second, you cannot honestly say that the time between two of their successive frames is a trillionth of a second. They work by capturing periodic phenomena, a laser repeatedly firing for instance, at slightly different moments, and then putting the frames together, kind of like stop motion animation combined with time-lapse photography. It could take minutes, or hours, or more to capture a thousand frames, whereas Miss Crachen’s high-speed camera was straightforwardly a high-speed camera, and if it ran for a second it would capture a trillion frames.

The first test was conducted in her living room. She set up a tent around her couch and smoked several cigarettes inside it, then she fired a laser mounted on the armrest of her couch and filmed its progress with her prototype camera. She filmed for only 125 millionths of a second but captured over two hours worth of footage played back at a hundred frames a second. Once the test had been performed—a fraction of a blink of an eye—Miss Crachen eagerly played back the result.

Miss Crachen had thought it would be cute if she were in the frame for the test, so the first thing she saw on her laptop when the video started playing was what looked like a still photograph of her smiling face. After several minutes of nothing happening, a little fleck of red appeared on the right side of the frame. Miss Crachen cheered the little fleck on as it slowly—agonizingly slowly—stretched out, but she ran out of enthusiasm when the beam was as long as the breadth of her thumbnail.

She could’ve quit watching at that point—the test had been confirmed a success—but she felt the diligent thing to do was to watch the whole video, to see with her own eyes the red thread of light’s journey across the frame. She took down the tent, microwaved a bag of popcorn, and made herself comfortable on the couch. For forty minutes she watched the video play only out of the corner of her eye while she snacked on popcorn and dinked around on her phone, but then something in the video moved suddenly, catching her eye. She looked from the little screen to the bigger one. She saw her face frozen like in a photograph—as before—and she saw the laser rolling steadily onward—again, as it had been—but over her shoulder she saw the zipper on the tent being undone shakily, in fits and starts, but swiftly, as if it had been filmed at normal speed. When a crack of a few inches had been made in the tent flap, in they all poured like baby spiders bursting out of their egg sac, swarming over every surface and blackening the very air: Monsters.

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