All Stories, Science Fiction, Story of the Week

Commerce and You: A Petrichor Instructional Film by Daniel Finkel


Good morning, and welcome to Volume 12 of The Petrichor Instructional Film Set.

Today, we are going to discuss the subject of commerce. Do you know what commerce is? Have you ever used commerce before? Well, let’s find out together.

Jimmy is nine and three-quarters. He will be ten next January. Then he will be all grown up, but for now he is still happy to help Mother weed the plants, fetch Father his glass of lemonade at the end of the day, and play with his sister, Sally. Say “hello,” Jimmy. Say “hello,” Sally. Jimmy and Sally both say, “Hello.”

Though they may not know it yet, the children are well on their way to understanding commerce. In the summer, they run a lemonade stand and charge five cents a glass. People in the neighborhood love Jimmy and Sally, and love their lemonade stand, so that by the end of the day, they have usually collected fifteen cents.

This process is called “business,” and consists of exchanging one thing (such as delicious lemonade) for another thing (such as currency). Once Jimmy and Sally have currency, they may spend it on anything they wish. Perhaps bubble gum at the corner drugstore, or new whistles for their bicycles, or a ride on the tram to go downtown and watch a motion picture.

What’s that, Jimmy? Oh. You don’t have enough currency to buy a tram token? Well, that moves us on to our next subject. You see, in any happy family, sharing is an encouraged and perfectly acceptable activity.

Mother has currency in her pocket book. Jimmy, go and take this currency so that you may catch the double feature. Today, they are playing Beyond the Atomic War Bride and Invasion of the Star Creatures. That’s right. That’s right. Softly now on the floorboards. Don’t worry, she’s outside watering the hydrangeas. That’s right. Now zip the pocket book open. You will see ten green slips of paper. This is a different kind of currency from the coins that you have been collecting. It is called “dollar bills.” Take the currency and place it in your left-hand pocket. Well done, Jimmy. You are good at sharing.

Now, there is just one more thing. Before he may go to the pictures, Jimmy needs the spare key from Father’s study. Let’s have Sally fetch it. Sally, go into Father’s study and open his special cabinet. Look at the shiny dial. Isn’t it pretty? This is what we call a Sargent & Greenleaf 6710 Combination Safe Lock. Do you want to turn the dial, Sally? Of course you do. Let’s turn it to five, and sixty-seven, and thirty-three, and twenty-four. There we go. Now, move the files stacked inside out of the way – but be careful! They all say “Top Secret.” That means they are important to Father.

At the bottom of the safe, Sally finds the key, just like we knew she would. She takes the key and gives it to Jimmy. Careful, Sally. Put those files back. Now, Jimmy, go to the tram station and buy a token. Sally will stay here and talk to Mother. If both of you were to leave, she might be worried.

Look at Jimmy buying the token from the conductor and getting on board the tram. This is yet another way that currency is useful – as a medium of exchange for services. The conductor settles Jimmy in one of the nice clean seats in the back, and Jimmy rides the tram into the city. He has never seen such big buildings before, and – oh my! – so many people. Stay focused now, Jimmy. We are learning about commerce.

There is the cinema, just at the corner of the block. No, Jimmy, we are not going in there just yet. Instead, let’s go surprise Father where he works. You don’t know where he works? Why, it’s that big white building right there, with the satellite dish at the top. Go in and tell the receptionist that you want to visit Father.

On the sidewalk outside the building, Jimmy is stopped by a nice policeman. The nice policeman asks Jimmy if he needs help. Tell him that you live just around the block, Jimmy, and that you are playing hide-and-seek with your sister. What is that? Your sister is still at home? Well, that’s all right, Jimmy. Just tell him anyway. Otherwise, he might stop you from seeing Father.

Jimmy says what he is supposed to, and the nice policeman gives him a pat on the head and tells him to watch for cars. Then Jimmy enters the big white building and talks to the nice receptionist. The encounter goes just the same way, except that this time Jimmy doesn’t hesitate. This time, Jimmy doesn’t ask Non-Constructive Questions. He tells her he is here to visit Father, but there is no need to call upstairs. He wants to surprise him. Then Jimmy gets into the big elevator and presses the button at the very top. He has to go up on tiptoe just to reach it. The doors close and he is on his way. Now, Jimmy, when we reach the top floor, we will be looking for a locked door.

Meanwhile, back at home, Sally is still learning about currency. Mother has noticed the missing dollar bills from her pocket book, and she is very worried. She is down on her hands and knees, checking under all the shelves. Sally goes and offers to help her. That’s right, Sally. Good girl.

Back at Father’s office, Jimmy has found the locked door. It’s large, with an oiled doorknob and a big black keyhole. Luckily, Jimmy has Father’s spare key. He fits it into the slot and lets himself in. He is now in a light-less antechamber, with a funny round door on the far wall. We want to go through that door as well, Jimmy, and shut it behind us just to be safe. There we are.

Jimmy is afraid. He is alone in the dark. There is only a dim red light from overhead – too faint to see by. Don’t be afraid, Jimmy. Just take a moment to let your eyes adjust. What’s that smell? No need to worry. That is only monomethyl-p-aminophenol hemisulfate. As your sight becomes clearer, you will see a wall of processing trays, each tub filled with photos that are being developed. The developer has stepped out for his five-minute coffee break, but he will be back soon. We must be quick.

Go to the wall of developing tubs, Jimmy. The photos are all done. They’re still transparent? No, they’re not, Jimmy. They’re done. Let’s take them out and open the doors of the antechamber a little so the light will help them dry.

Once Jimmy has followed his instructions, he picks up the photographs and studies them. The first one is called “April 8, 1960. Green Bank, West Virginia. 3:02 AM.” He can see the moon in it, nice and bright. There’s something in front of the moon, like a great big triangle in the sky.

Stop that, Jimmy. Stop that right now. Don’t look at any of those pictures. Those pictures were taken without permission. Put them away and never think about them again. Instead, let’s examine the exceptional layout of this darkroom. For many years, the development of photographic negatives was a highly technical process. However, with the advent of home developing kits and darkrooms, photography has become a rewarding and relaxing activity for the everyman. As you can see, with the proper quantities of developing solutions and chemicals, anyone can make their own pictures.

What’s that, Jimmy? The photos aren’t turning out well? Of course not. They need more light. Take them out into the hallway.

Why are you hesitating, Jimmy? Don’t you remember Volume 2 of the Petrichor Instructional Film Set: Taking Responsibility for Yourself and Your Community? This is just like that. If you don’t take responsibility for your community’s incessant spying, Terrible Things will happen. Sally, tell Jimmy to do it.

Sally is younger than her brother, which means she pays more attention to the Petrichor Instructional Film Set. She will obey. And she does. She closes her eyes, back at home, and wills her brother to take the bad photos out into the light. Listen to your sister, Jimmy. Obey. Obey. OBEY.

Jimmy’s head hurts, but he gathers up the photos and carries them into the hallway. There, he spreads them on the floor under a window and studies them. “April 8, 1960. Green Bank, West Virginia. 3:02 AM,” doesn’t look so clear any more, and that triangle doesn’t look anywhere as big. Jimmy sees that in the other photos, all the triangles are going away.

“Jimmy? What are you doing here?”

Jimmy looks up. Father is walking towards him down the hall with a cup of coffee in his hand.

Suddenly, Jimmy doesn’t feel so well. He feels dizzy, light-headed. Confused. Father walks up to him and claps him on the shoulder. “Came to see your old man, have you? Where’s your mother?” Then he glances down and sees the pictures spread out on the ground, all nice and white and clean. Father’s face goes slack, and the coffee mug makes a wet splatter on the floor.

Congratulations, Jimmy. You have surprised your father.


This concludes Volume 12 of the Petrichor Instructional Film Set: Commerce and You.

Stay tuned for Volume 13: Attitudes and Self-Confidence During Unexpected Invasions.


Daniel Finkel


Header photograph: Jarek Tuszynski / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GDFL [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

5 thoughts on “Commerce and You: A Petrichor Instructional Film by Daniel Finkel”

  1. I really liked the tone of this – Janet and John and all that stuff and then the actual story with the air of real menace – very well done I thought.


  2. Hi Daniel, a quirky story with a very sinister under-tone.
    If you take away the actual content, I think your description of the patronising information film was spot on.
    This was well thought-out, well researched and very well written.
    Look forward to reading more of your work.


  3. Hi Daniel
    Great story, amazing how you were able to get George Carlin to narrate (at least that’s whose voice I heard the entire time.) The pacing and intrigue are fantastic. Not sure if I got this right, but the lesson wasn’t really about commerce. It was about destroying evidence of aliens arriving. You are pretty insistent about what happened on April 8. It deserves to be the story of the week.


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