The thrift store was busy, with people milling around looking at various items on various racks. Samantha stood in front of the massive shelf covered in boxes and boxes of old VHS tapes, watching as Lucy went through them at random.
“I’m not entirely sure what you are looking for,” said Samantha with a tone that suggested both interest and confusion.
“Weird stuff,” replied Lucy, her voice muffled by the box she had her head in. “It's a thing me and a few friends have been getting into, you find odd videos and then edit them to make them even weirder,” she continued before pulling her head out of the box and sneezing.
“Man, I remember when VHS used to be the common thing,” added Samantha wistfully as she brushed a strand of hair away from Lucy’s nose. “Like my family used to have massive storage units full of them, now nobody uses them at all.”
“Well that’s the thing,” said Lucy, her cheeks blushing just a little at the touch. “There was this massive explosion of VHS stuff in the late nineties when filming on tape became super cheap so a load of companies would start making VHS tapes that would never sell in a million years,” she continued putting her head back into the box. “Lots of niche instructional tapes, weird conspiracy stuff, loads of religious stuff, and the holy grail!” Explained Lucy, her voice slowly rising as she spoke.
“I mean yeah, that was a popular film,” started Samantha before stepping back as Lucy basically sprang out of the box with a handful of tapes.
“No, kids stuff!” She smiled, flipping through the boxes. “People knew that kids are super easy to please and their parents are always looking for ways to keep them entertained. On top of that kid’s stuff could be filmed on the cheap, so a lot of companies made kids tapes as a way of getting their name out there or to launder money.”
“Launder money?” Interrupted Samantha.
“I mean, that is the only explanation I’ve got for some of the stuff I’ve seen.” Smiled Lucy. “But it was common, set up a production company, film something as cheaply and as quickly as possible, and use the production fees and equipment purchases to clean your money up. Plus you could write the tax off if you planned it well,” she explained.
“Right,” replied Samantha, happy to be indulging Lucy’s rather adorable passions even if she wasn’t totally convinced about them.
“Of course, that means you have a load of adults with no idea what children actually like, trying to make a forty-minute show on the budget a normal person spends on lunch. So the results are dubious at best, frankly terrifying at worst.” She finished, spreading the cassette boxes out in front of her.
Samantha came closer and looked at them, getting a small wave of nostalgia at the clamshell packaging and a small wave of revulsion from how disgusting some of them seemed to be.
Lucy ran a finger along each tape in turn. “Famous,” she said as she started to form a pile. “Spin-off for a toy that did okay,” she said putting another tape on top of the first. “Weird European show about atoms where they are big fuzzy balls.”
“What?” Interrupted Samantha.
“Yeah, it was pretty odd, but it was decently popular out there, enough that a lot of people have heard of it, so not good for my needs,” she said as she moved onto the next tape. “Ugh, saw this as a kid and hated it,” she sighed as she added it to the pile. “Oh god, this was a thing,” she giggled as she lifted the tape up so Samantha could see it.
The case had an obvious space theme with very anime-looking characters on the front. “What about it?” Asked Samantha looking at the tape. “It looks like it had some good character designs?”
“Yeah, they brought four Japanese space animes, but they didn’t watch them fully before they brought them,” started Lucy.
“Oh my, let me guess, not for children?”
“Not one bit, one episode only had about 30 seconds of usable content. Their solution was to stitch the shows together as best they could and then dub over a new plot, leading to an utter trainwreck,” giggled Lucy.
“That sounds, wait, fun trainwreck or a not fun trainwreck?”
“Not fun, really not fun.” Replied Lucy shaking her head as she put the tape on the pile before looking at the last tape she had pulled out. “Oh, this is just a weird budget re-release of a load of famous old cartoons, nothing special outside of the odd case,” she sighed. “I’m going spelunking again, back in a minute!” She appended before dropping down and sticking her head back into the box.
Samantha just giggled and looked at the tapes while she waited for Lucy to finish. “Why do you think people get nostalgic for old formats like this?” She said as she idly fiddled with one of the cases.
“A lot of people think it is the physicality,” replied Lucy from the box she was buried in. “A lot of old technology was very satisfying in a.” She said before stopping to ponder her word for a moment. “Mechanical way, like they are chunky, make a lot of noise when used, also I think we like the fallibility of them, they are prone to quirks, it humanizes them a little.”
“I guess so,” smiled Samantha. “I’m prone to quirks, is that why you like me?”
“I love all your quirks,” smiled Lucy pulling herself out of the box, another load of tapes in her arms. “This must have been someone’s collection, at the bottom is just a load of different children’s tapes.” She said, laying them out in a row again.
Samantha wrapped her arm around Lucy and cast her eyes over the boxes, her eyes being drawn to one at the end. “What in the world is that?” She asked.
Lucy looked at it with bemusement before picking it up. The tape box was made of extremely cheap plastic and the cover was obviously home printed on a very basic printer, being made up of only words and random clip art. “Miss Vid goes to space,” said Lucy reading off the title.
“Looks more like a bootleg than a real thing,” said Samantha. “Turn it over and see if there is any more information on the back!” She smiled, actually getting excited by this strange find. When Lucy flipped the box over she found a description and more clipart.
“Join Miss Vid the video babysitter,” she started to read.
“Video babysitter?” Interrupted Samantha. “Man you would not get away with saying that today.”
“It was the nineties, everyone was listening to grunge music and being ambivalent about things like safety,” giggled Lucy before continuing to read. “Join Miss Vid the video babysitter as she comes into your TV to take you on an adventure through the stars! Learn about the planets, the asteroids, and even find if there is life on other worlds!” Recited Lucy, getting more and more into it as she read.
“I kinda want it,” said Samantha meekly.
“I really want it,” added Lucy. “Something that tries to be fun and educational sounds like it could be funny.” She continued as she pulled out her phone. “Let me just google it, see if it has any history.”
Samantha flipped the case over a few times as Lucy typed away. After a few minutes, Lucy let out a low “huh.”
“What?” Asked Samantha.
“I can find literally nothing on this tape, no record of a Miss Vid or anything similar,” said Lucy, slipping her phone back into her pocket. “Maybe this was a proof of concept made to try and get a distributor?”
“Maybe it was some youth group filming their play?” Added Samantha.
“One way to find out,” nodded Lucy, making her way over to the counter to hand over the fifty-cent cost of the tape. The pair then dived into the car and drove home, Samantha holding the tape like a holy relic the whole way.
Once they got back to their apartment they got to work, Lucy went to try and set up the VCR she had ordered off the internet while Samantha went to make popcorn.
Once the popcorn was done Samantha wandered into the living room to find a long trail of cable running around the TV like some kind of black plastic snake.
“Turns out modern TVs aren’t really designed to take a VHS player,” laughed Lucy falling back onto the couch. “It took a lot of conversion cables and an upscale box and stuff,” she sighed. “But! It is done!”
“Awesome!” Smiled Samantha sitting down and leaning against Lucy. “So ready to learn about space?”
“Of course I am!” Replied Lucy pressing a button on the clunky old remote.
The TV went fuzzy for a few moments before some bright music started to play and a very basic title card appeared. “Huh, no logos or anything, this really is cheap,” said Samantha quizzically.
Suddenly face came in from just out of the frame. “Hi, I’m Miss Vid!” Shouted the lady, making both girls jump. “Thanks for letting me into your fancy TV!” She giggled, looking around. “Hey, this is a pretty neat room you have!”
“How meta,” laughed Lucy, recovering from the unplanned jump scare. As the character moved fully into the shot both girls finally got to have a good look at her. Her costume was weird, it was like a mime and a robot had a baby. But the weirdest thing was that this girl had eye-shaped glasses over her eyes, obviously intended to make her look more cartoon-like. However, in practice, it gave her a strange otherworldly vibe.
“She kinda gives me the creeps,” shuddered Lucy.
“I get what you mean,” replied Samantha.
“You ready to go on an adventure?” Asked Miss Vid from the TV.
“No!” Replied Samantha and Lucy in unison.
“Let’s get ready to go!” Smiled Miss Vid, obviously not listening to the two girls. Music started to play and Miss Vid started to sing. “I’m Miss Vid I’m great with kids, let's cut to the chase and head off to outer space! With all the planets and every last star, we’re going to adventure really really far” She sang as the background changed from a simple flat color to all sorts of flickering and changing patterns.
“Well someone was getting the most out of their editing software,” sighed Samantha, rubbing the bridge of her nose.
“The best DOS has to offer,” giggled Lucy. “I don’t think this was even good looking for the nineties, let alone now on decayed tape.” She added, talking over the song that just kept going.
“Though I’ll admit, brave choice hiring an actress who can’t sing to do a musical number, show it to the right audience and it could be considered an avant-garde triumph!” Laughed Samantha, throwing a piece of popcorn into her mouth as she did.
Suddenly the song stopped and a terribly digitized fire effect came from under the girl’s skirt as she “lifted off” into space via an effect that was very clearly someone moving a still image up the screen. Suddenly the screen switched to Miss Vid flying through a screensaver’s interpretation of space.
“Oh my god I just realized,” gasped Lucy. “Her hair is a mop.”
“What?” Said Samantha looking at the girl’s hair before snorting. “It is as well!” Miss Vid’s hair was long red and yellow strips of fabric, totally like the head of a mop. In fact, it looked exactly like the cheap mop that Samantha had brought when she and Lucy had first moved into the apartment.
“They took the head off a mop and glued it to this poor actress,” laughed Lucy, almost doubling over.
“I guess it saves on makeup,” added Samantha, rubbing Lucy’s back.
“Oh god, do you think they brought the mop for her, or was it borrowed from the janitor?” snickered Lucy.
“Ewww…” groaned Samantha. “Imagine that. The first life on Mars is germs that crash-landed off Miss Vid’s mop hair,” she said breaking into giggles.
Miss Vid continued to speak as the girls laughed, singing about how fun it was to fly through space before she suddenly dropped out of the shot.
“Oh she is landing,” said Samantha pointing at the screen.
“Or crashing!” Giggled Lucy. “She is the monolith!”
“You mean mopolith!” Laughed Samantha.
Miss Vid landed on the surface of the Moon. The girls could tell it was the moon due to the heavily digitized image of it behind her, though it did more look like she was standing in front of someone’s desktop background as opposed to actually being anywhere real.
“Things float on the Moon!” Shouted Miss Vid as jumped up and down on the spot. “On the moon, your ball would fly forever and ever!” She continued as a little three-frame cartoon of a ball going into orbit played out.
“The moon is so great!” Continued Miss Vid, “we flew to the moon in 1969 as part of the space race! Where lots of countries wanted to get to the moon first to study it!”
“I don’t think that was the motivation behind the space race,” said Samantha.
“Who are you to doubt Miss Vid?” Asked Lucy with a smirk. “She has a Ph.D. you know!”
“She does? Which school did she go to?”
“The Detroit Academy Of eldritch horrors,” laughed Lucy as Samantha fell into giggles once more.
“You know scientists have special names for the bits of the Moon you can see from Earth!” Said Miss Vid, somehow getting more and more energetic with every word. “Can you help me sort them out?” She asked as the background changed back to the flashing and flickering patterns, causing Samantha and Lucy to moan.
Images depicting different phases of the moon appeared on the bottom of the screen. A larger image of the moon appeared next to Miss Vid. “This is called a Full Moon!” She smiled. “Which of the images at the bottom match this image of a Full Moon?” She asked, tapping her finger on her chin as “thinking” music started to play.
“I think this is a bit below our level,” said Samantha, her eyes watering due to the flashing colors.
“Yeah, but I hope it stops soon as these patterns are like a disco for the criminally insane,” added Lucy, her eyes wide and watering as well. However, the music kept going and Miss Vid continued miming thinking gestures, the patterns changing from flashing to rippling, making Samantha and Lucy’s eyes water even more.
“Did you say this one?” Said Miss Vid, causing Lucy and Samantha to jump. The smaller version of the Full Moon blinked and Miss Vid cheered. “Correct! You did really well!” She grinned.
“This is a Waxing Gibbous!” Continued Miss Vid as a big picture of a monkey appeared. “I said Gibbous, not gibbon!” huffed Miss Vid before faking a child-like giggle as the image was replaced with one of a moon. “Yes, the moon gets reduced in size, it gets smaller in the sky! Like there is less there! Can you see which of these are a Waxing Gibbous?” Smiled Miss Vid, pointing to the bottom of the screen as the thinking music started once more.
The patterns seemed to ripple even more this time, both Samantha and Lucy found their eyes kept fluttering as they watered, the intense wobbling of the patterns forcing them to keep adjusting their eyes if they wanted to make out what was on the screen. Both girls remained silent until Miss Vid spoke once more.
“Did you say this one?” Asked Miss Vid, pointing to the now blinking small image that matched the bigger one. “You’re so clever!” She cheered before the bigger moon was replaced by another one. “This is called the Last Quarter,“ exclaimed Miss Vid, the patterns causing the “pupils” of her fake eyes to shimmer slightly as she moved her head.
“Just like you the Moon gets tired and sleepy and starts to vanish!” Beamed Miss Vid, the ripples falling in sync with her words. “The Moon slowly vanishes as time goes on. Can you find your Last Quarter?” Inquired Miss Vid as the thinking music started playing once more.
Lucy and Samantha stared at the patterns on the screen, “find our last quarter,” said Lucy, her voice sounding more delicate. She did have a slight twinge of confusion, but that was drowned under a heavy wave of fuzzy numbness. It was like all of her thoughts were wrapped in bubble wrap.
Samantha’s eyes traced along the line of moons, sure she knew this was aimed at children, but she just had to solve the puzzle and answer the question. But it was harder to do than before, her eyes were moving slowly and there seemed to be a delay between her thoughts and her body responding.
“You just need to concentrate, I know you can work it out!” Encouraged Miss Vid, interrupting the girls’ train of thought as a flash radiated from the screen, making Lucy’s eyes roll up into her head for a brief moment.
Both girls slumped forward heavily, their mouths hanging open as they stared at the TV, their eyes lazily tracking back and forth as they scanned the line of moons that were now subtly blinking in sequence.
“Think really hard! It’s nearly all gone!” Added Miss Vid. The girls were listening to her without really trying, her words being the only thing that was anchoring them to reality.
Soon, a large pulse of color washed over the screen and Miss Vid smiled. “You got it right! Well done!” She beamed, the moon image fading. “Now there is no moon, it is an eclipse! An eclipse,” said Miss Vid, emphasizing the last word heavily as if to stress some kind of importance, the screen wobbling continuing as she did.
“When there is an eclipse,” explained Miss Vid. “There is only darkness and emptiness, there is nothing, the Moon is asleep. There is only an empty sky waiting to be filled!” She continued, the girls’ still drooling on the couch.
Suddenly Miss Vid leaned forward at the waist, her face moving very close to the camera making it look like she was about to climb out of the TV. Her fake eyes blinked softly as she looked out into the living room, the pattern behind her growing calmer, but still wobbling and pulsing.
“Isn’t space so much fun?” Asked Miss Vid. “Don’t you like having a big empty space so full of possibility and imagination?” She continued as the girls nodded their heads heavily, Lucy slumping so far forward that she nearly fell off the couch. Both girls were lost, their minds nothing more than foggy suggestions, there was only Miss Vid and at that moment they didn’t find anything strange about that fact.
“And the best thing about space is that it follows rules, rules of physics, rules of time, rules of reality,” lectured Miss Vid, her eyes starting to blink in a slower, almost drowsy rhythm. “Your space follows the rules, you follow the rules, don’t you?”
“Follow the rules,” slurred Samantha.
“And you know what else space is full of? Robots!” Grinned Miss Vid. “Robots in space, doing what humans need, robots just like the movies, obedient robots, following the rules, following what they are told. You can pretend to be a robot, can’t you? You will pretend to be a robot, won’t you?” Nodded Miss Vid not waiting for a response.
Both girls absorbed her words, while her chain of logic made no sense both girls saw no issue with it, their brains too far gone to even mount the smallest argument against the woman’s reasoning.
“Do it with me!” Exclaimed Miss Vid as she stiffened and started doing a robotic dance. “I. Am. A. Robot. I. Will. Obey.” The two girls stiffened a little as they watched, Lucy’s arms doing a heavy, uncoordinated attempt at mimicking the woman on the TV.
“Robots will obey their programming,” giggled Miss Vid, dropping the robot impression as quickly as she had started it. “And you are going to be good robots and when I say, you are going to find a payphone and call 555-634-463. What number are you going to call robots?” Asked Miss Vid, cupping her ear as if to listen to the girls’ response.
“555” slurred Lucy, her mouth hanging open as she slowly formed the numbers.
“634,” added Samantha, her head lulling forward every few moments. “463”. Miss Vid stayed silent for a few moments before smiling and nodding at the camera.
“Correct!” She applauded. “And when the number answers you are going to say that you are a robot who wants to join the Miss Vid fan club! And then you will do all the person on the phone says, okay? Okay!” Chuckled Miss Vid.
The girls continued to sway in their chairs, rocking back and forth gently, their eyes so glassy that the image of Miss Vid was reflected in them.
“Now time to turn the robots on!” Smiled Miss Vid, reaching forward and poking at the camera lens as robotic noises crackled through the speakers. “Robots active!” She giggled before starting to wave. “Bye Bye! Have fun!”
Samantha and Lucy stood up and started to walk towards their door. Their movements a strange combination of drowsy and stiff. Both girls nearly stumbled over several times on the way out of the building, but slowly they got used to their foggy states and fell into a regimented robotic march.
They marched into the city center, walking past store after store, looping around street after street looking for a payphone to call the number from. They continued to walk and walk, their minds totally fixated on that one command. Several people did stare at the two girls and their odd movements, but no one did anything, shrugging it off as just another day in the city.
After an hour the girls found themselves outside the mall. Lucy gripped her head and fell backward onto a bench. “My head,” she mumbled.
Almost instantly Samantha blinked heavily and looked around. “Where..where are we?” She asked, sitting down next to Lucy.
“I..I don’t know?” Said Lucy, shaking her head a few times as if to clear out the cobwebs. Suddenly Lucy saw the illuminated sign behind her. “Oh, we’re at the mall!” She giggled drowsily.
“At the mall, but why?” Questioned Samantha, turning to look at the sign with Lucy.
“We need potatoes,” nodded Lucy, her tone making it hard to tell just who she was trying to convince about that fact. Samantha’s face lit up as she started to nod like she had just had a revelation.
“Yes, we need potatoes, we should get coffee beans as well I’m nearly out,” she said, sounding much more awake as she rose from the bench.
“Swing by somewhere and get a cup of coffee now?” Asked Lucy as she took Samantha’s hand. “I’m feeling kinda out of it,” she groaned.
“Sure,” agreed Samantha as she started to walk, leading Lucy inside the mall, through the crowds of people going about their daily activities.
As they headed towards the coffee place Lucy tugged Samantha’s hand.
“Hey, Sam,” she asked.
“Remind me to check my calendar when we get home, I swear I was meant to call someone, but I can’t remember who,” said Lucy.
“Oh sure, it was likely May, she wanted to borrow your violin bow didn’t she?” Replied Samantha, pulling Lucy close. Lucy gently slapped herself on the forehead as she giggled.
“Oh right, duh. Man, I would forget everything if it wasn’t for you,” she grinned kissing Samantha on the cheek before pulling her into the coffee shop.