NOW PLAYING • by Emily K. Stamm

I’m usually bored when other people start talking about their dreams. Who wants to hear about the weird stuff that runs through peoples’ heads? Not me, that’s for sure. But when one of the old timers starts talking about a dream set Before, I always perk up my ears. They don’t talk about it that often, at least not around me and the other kids born After. I guess they don’t want us to be disappointed about the stuff we’ll never get to see.

“I was eating cereal,” Jason said. “It was Lucky Charms and I swear I could taste them, it was amazing. And then I had a date. I was just there, like how you are in dreams.” The adults nodded. Me, Cory and Liz all stayed silent; we didn’t want to break the spell.

“I was at the movies with my ex, holding her hand. I don’t remember what we were seeing. We ate popcorn and I bought her candy…” he said, his eyes distant. I wanted to ask what a movie was, but I had learned long ago that asking questions only made the adults sad. They would describe it to me (“A microwave? It’s this electric box you put food in to make it hot. It tastes better fresh from the fire, you aren’t missing anything.”) Then they would get that sad look in their eyes.

I spent the rest of the day wondering what a movie was. Was it a place you went to to learn how to move a certain way? Jason said he was holding her hand, so maybe it was something you needed a partner for. Some kind of dance thing maybe. I asked Cory and Liz but they didn’t know either. Every idea we came up with seemed to conflict with either the hand holding or the candy. Then again, everything we learned about Before made it seem like an alien, magical time. People could fly? They went to the moon? Sometimes I thought my parents were making things up.

Finally, I asked my parents. “Movies? Where did you hear about that, Sarah?” Mom was starting to get the sad look, but I pushed on.

“Jason had a dream about them last night, but he didn’t explain much. Was it like a dance class? Why did he buy popcorn and candy if they were doing so much moving?”

She laughed, “Oh, it wasn’t like that! Movies were like television, you remember us telling you about that? But they were much bigger, and longer. It was so lovely.” She smiled at Dad. “That’s where we had our first date. What did we see again?”

“Oh, I don’t even remember. Something scary so I could put my arm around you.” He smiled back at her.

I was glad this was turning out to be a happy memory.

They kept smiling,  talking about all the different types of movies. I listened, enraptured.

“Oh, honey, make a flipbook!” My dad started drawing pictures in the corner of all the pages of his notebook. “Some movies were hand drawn, kind of like this.” He flipped the pages quickly through his fingers, and like magic the tiny man he had drawn began to dance. I laughed out loud. I had never seen anything like it.

Our lives were starting to settle down by then. Dad said the weather was going back to normal, and we were starting to have time for more than just finding food and building shelters. The attacks came less and less. Cory, Liz and me hardly knew what to do with ourselves; we had never known peace.

That winter was cold, but free of storms. I passed the long hours inside by experimenting with flip books and storytelling. I wanted to create something better than my dreams to show off to Liz and Cory. I tried to imagine what it would feel like to see it enlarged on a big screen, but try as I might, I never could visualize it.

“I wonder if I could build some kind of projector.” My father said one night. “Last time I saw Tom Harris he showed me an old camera he had rigged up. I bet he could help me figure something out.”

“That would be a great project, dear!” My mother exclaimed. “Especially now that we’ve got the generators running again.”

Months went by and I forgot all about movies and projectors. Spring had been difficult for us. A nearby group had been attacked. We did our best to save as many people as possible, but in the end there were only a handful of survivors, most of them small children. Since I wasn’t old enough to help out in other ways, I was put in charge of them.

When my mom told me she had a surprise for me and the kids I didn’t think anything of it. She led us into our classroom, happier than I had seen her in years. She was practically skipping.

She threw open the door to reveal my father, standing next to a strange object. They had hung a sheet in the front of the classroom, and the chairs were arranged in rows. “Welcome to the movies!” She shouted. “Sit wherever you want!” We sat haphazardly around the room. Jason and some of the other old timers brought us buttered popcorn, a luxury I had never before enjoyed. They extinguished the lights and took their own seats. My mother started playing her violin and my father cranked the projector. The light danced and suddenly pictures came to life across the screen. The people on the screen smiled in colors somehow more real than life.

A hush fell over us. Somehow we all knew this moment was sacred, special. Watching the movie was like watching a dream. And I’ll tell you this: it might have seemed like someone else’s dream, but I wasn’t even a little bit bored.

Emily K. Stamm is a librarian, writer, and avid reader living in her own little world, or Pennsylvania depending on who you ask. For more of Emily’s work visit or follow her on Twitter @Stammily.

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Every Day Fiction