As I rifle through the fifth box, I can’t help but curse my great aunt. How the hell am I supposed to find one little sewing kit in all of this? And why does she need that particular sewing kit, anyway?
Oh, sure, it had been owned by her great, great grandmother. And apparently it’s one of few items left that still has our family crest on it. But if it’s so important, why is it buried in some old box in the attic?
I sigh and push aside the box. Nothing in there but some mouldy old books and a couple of shirts that are falling apart at the seams. Just like the other four boxes I’ve checked so far.
Only eleven more to go.
I scoot over to the next one. Gingerly, I remove the lace doily sitting on top. A cloud of dust rises, and I crinkle my nose. I almost wish I had allergies-maybe I could use them as an excuse to get out of this damn task.
At least this box is different than the others. An old doll, a cracked teapot, and a yellow tablecloth fill one half, while a pristine leather case takes up the other. I run a finger over the leather. It isn’t even dusty.
The case keeps my attention for a moment. I could open it and see what’s inside, but I won’t find the sewing kit. Great Aunt Trudy specifically said the sewing kit would be in a box with an old quilt. A red and orange one.
But, there’s something about the case I just can’t shake.
Doing my best not to graze the other items in the box, I lift the leather case. When it’s free, I push the box to the side and set the case on the ground in front of me.
I have to admit, the case is much nicer than anything I expected to find today. The gold clasp on the front gleams. Below it is a symbol, but I can’t figure out what it means.
The clasp opens easily. I lift the top of the case and let it fall gently back. Suddenly, the leather case no longer matters.
There’s a camera inside. It’s old, like one my parents used to have that would automatically develop the picture for you. I lift it out, and a stack of stiff papers tilts into the space it used to fill. I ignore them for now.
The camera is heavier than I expected. It’s mostly black, with a few silver accents. The space where the photos would come out is a deep, dark red.
The viewfinder rests comfortably against my eye. I focus on a spider on a nearby box before I release the shutter. The spider scrambles across the box and tumbles over the side, but my attention is pulled away from it when the camera whirs and spits out the photograph.
The image is exposed in perfect black and white, the spider a dark spot against the grey box.
“Huh,” I whisper. The photo had developed much more quickly than I had expected.
Shifting, I tuck my feet to the side and rest the photograph on my knees. I pull the pile of papers from the leather case, setting the camera on the floor beside me. Just like the picture of the spider, all of the photographs in the case are in black and white. Most of them are group shots, but there are a couple of portrait images—selfies, if the odd positioning of the arms is any clue.
But the pictures are… off. I’d say they’re unfocused, but that isn’t quite right. Most of the things in the pictures are clear and sharp, except for the faces. I can’t make out a single one. They’re all blurred or underdeveloped or something.
“Did you find my sewing kit yet?” The voice is nearly a screech.
I jump, the pictures scattering onto the floor. “Not yet, Aunt Trudy!”
“Well, hurry up!”
I sigh as I gather the photos. Back to work, I guess.
It takes me another hour to find the sewing kit. But that’s due, at least in part, to the camera. I just can’t seem to get it out of my head. It or its weird pictures.
As I leave the attic, I pause to study the leather case. I had put the camera and photographs back inside, but I hadn’t been able to bring myself to pack the case back into the box. I take another step toward the stairs, the inside of my bottom lip caught between my teeth. Maybe Aunt Trudy could tell me more about the camera.
Balancing the case against my hip, I make my way downstairs.
“About time,” Aunt Trudy mutters when I enter the living room. “What took you so long?”
“Sorry,” I say, sighing. “I had some trouble finding the right box.” I hold the sewing kit out to her, and she snatches it from my palm. Bringing it close to her eyes, she examines it. When she’s satisfied, she nods.
My shoulders relax. I drop myself onto the couch across from her rocking chair, the camera case sitting comfortably in my lap.
Aunt Trudy pulls in a gasp. I glance up at her, frowning. “Are you okay, Aunt Trudy?”
“Where did you get that?” Her voice is quiet, well below a whisper.
I look down at the case. “Oh, I found it in one of your boxes. I wanted to take a closer look.”
“Give it to me.”
My grip on the case tightens and I lean back against the couch. I’ve never heard Aunt Trudy sound that harsh before.
“You need to give that to me now, before the neighbours drop your brother off.”
“It’s just a camera, Aunt Trudy. Why can’t I look at it?”
“It is not just a camera.” Aunt Trudy tosses the sewing kit onto the table beside her. “It’s dangerous,” she adds as she pushes herself to her feet.
She takes a step toward me, but I’m faster. I’m off the couch and pushing open the back door before she’s even halfway across the room. “You’re paranoid, Aunt Trudy. It’s just an old camera.” Then I’m outside.
The door closes behind me and I let out a sigh. She won’t follow me outside. She hasn’t left the house in more than a decade.
I walk across the yard and rest my back against the fence, sliding down until I’m seated. I keep one eye on the door as I pull out the camera.
How could Aunt Trudy possibly think this is dangerous? The only harm it could possibly do is to her ego when she sees her own wrinkled face looking back at her from a photograph.
I let out a chuckle at my own joke. Too bad there’s nobody around to share it with.
Or maybe there is. A small cat pokes its head through a hole in the fence. Its whiskers twitch as it sniffs the air. Cautiously, it sets one paw in the yard before the other three follow. Once it’s fully through the fence, it sits with its back to me and begins cleaning its face.
Slowly, I lift the camera to my eye. When I’ve framed the cat just right, I press the shutter.
The cat bolts forward. It runs in a zigzag before stumbling to the ground. It tries to stand again, but doesn’t seem to have the strength. Its paws twitch once, twice, before it falls still.
What the hell just happened?
The picture is lying on the grass, where it fell after the camera spit it out. I set the camera beside it and crawl over to the cat. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about it. It looks just like any other orange tabby. But its glassy eyes and still chest make it clear that it’s dead.
Shaking my head, I lean back on my heels. The cat had seemed fine before I had taken the picture.
The picture. Maybe it would show me what had happened.
I stand up and walk back to the camera. After dropping myself to the ground beside it, I pick up the photograph. It doesn’t show anything significant. No insects flying around that could have stung the cat. No wounds. Nothing.
Before I have a chance to examine the picture further, the back door flies open and my brother yells out my name.
“Elliot,” I say as I gather up the camera. I shoot a glance at the cat. I can’t let him see it. “How’s it going?”
“Good!” Elliot stumbles down the steps. He catches the rail on the last one and grins. “Johnny gots a new video game. He let me play.”
“That’s awesome.” I trot across the yard and pick him up with one arm. I spin him halfway around and set him down with his back to the cat.
Elliot claps his hands. “Again!”
I laugh. “Later, okay?”
“Okay,” he says with a sigh. He twists his mouth to the side and frowns at the camera. “What’s that?”
“This is a camera.” I kneel down, lifting the camera so it’s at his eye level.
“Like on Mommy’s phone?”
“Sort of,” I say, chuckling.
He grins. “Take my picture! Please?”
“Sure. You stay here and I’ll back up a bit.”
When I’m far enough back, I lift the camera to my eye. I spot Aunt Trudy through the back door window. Elliot grins. Aunt Trudy pushes open the door and screams. “No!”
I press the shutter.
Elliot and Aunt Trudy both claw at their faces, but all I can do is watch. As soon as I’d clicked the shutter, something had happened. Their mouths, nose, and eyes are gone, replaced with smooth, clear skin.
“Elliot!” I run to him just as he drops to his knees. I catch him in my arms before he can hit the ground. “Please, Elliot,” I whisper. Something clogs my throat. Tears press against my eyes.
Gripping Elliot’s hand in mine, I pull him to my chest. His fingers dig into the back of my hand. And then they start to loosen. Before I know it, before I’m ready for it, he goes limp. I try to find a heartbeat with my free hand, but there isn’t one.
As I wipe wetness from my cheeks, the extra layer of skin over Elliot’s face melts away. His glossy eyes stare back at me.
I can’t handle those eyes. I gently set Elliot on the ground. A glance back toward the house confirms that Aunt Trudy, too, is dead. Her body lies just in front of the door, one arm draped across her chest and the other flung to the side. Her face has returned to normal.
I’m on my knees again. The camera lies exactly where I dropped it. When I pick it up, it seems even heavier than it did before. The picture of Elliot and Aunt Trudy sticks out. I pull it free, but I can’t look at it.
I understand, now. But I can’t face telling my parents what happened.
Swallowing back another wave of tears, I turn the camera around. The lens catches the sunlight. I frame myself as best I can.
And I force down the shutter button.