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Throw Out All Your Pictures
Scrap booking used to be one of my favorite activities. Just sitting in my room, listening to Counting Crows and pasting pictures and other random things on endless sheets of colorful paper could keep me entertained for hours. If someone were to call me in the middle of my scrap booking to tell me they would give me a billion dollars to never paste down another pointless picture onto another square sheet of paper, I would have laughed and told them to bother someone else.
At least, that was then. But, as I'm sure you know, times change. These days so much as a glance at the glossy surface of a photo makes my blood drain from my face any my mouth feel like cotton. You see, if it weren't for the damned gas station on the corner of Mase and Washington, the dinky little Gas America, none of this would have happened. Well, I guess it isn't really the gas station's fault, perhaps the owner. That pervert little freak named Todd McGinn.
Todd McGinn was never a scorer with the ladies. To be blunt, he got a hard beating from the Ugly Stick. Probably not so different from the beatings he got from Frank McGinn, Todd's father. I don't remember it because I wasn't even alive, but my Aunt Summer told me once that it was a rare day when you didn't hear things crashing around in that old house. Frank would constantly be screaming at Todd, sometimes loud enough for the police to be notified.
Delores McGinn, Todd's mother, was a long-time alcoholic and a born with lethargy. Every once-in-awhile she would croak out for the boys to stop their fighting already. However, it wasn't loud enough for the neighbors to hear, let alone Frank.
The truth was Delores didn't really care. She wasn't embarrassed to say her infamous last name; she was only concerned with how much whiskey was left. One time, when Todd was only five years old, he came running into his mother's bedroom, mouth agape and bleeding. Through choked gasps of air and tears, Todd tried telling his mother that all he wanted was a bowl of cereal, and his father had socked him right in the mouth. His father had punched him because he was 'pouring the cereal too loud and Daddy couldn't read his paper'.
Before the word 'cereal' came out of little Todd's mouth, his mother shooed him away, telling him he was disturbing her and dripping blood on the floor, for Christ's sake! She told little five-year-old Todd not to talk to or bother her again unless he was bringing her a drink or until he had become a real man.
That was the day Todd McGinn cut himself off from his mother. He never truly spoke to her again. Frank McGinn left his wife and son when Todd was nine years old, and although most children are devastated at being walked out on, Todd cried in happiness. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted from his chest.
But it was still too late for Todd. He inevitably grew up to be a total pervert, and awkward, shy, pimply man who collected pictures from wherever he could find them. Although there was no proof, everyone knew Mr. McGinn got some sort of a thrill'most likely sexual---from those pictures. None of the pictures were even sexual or revealing, either. They were just plain old pictures. But not to Todd McGinn. To Todd, they were life.
I first discovered the collage of pictures at age seven, the first time I was desperate enough to use the Gas America bathroom. I always thought it was weird to have all those pictures hanging up there above the sink, where a mirror should be. They must have been family or friends. Except one little thing constantly nagged at me. Todd McGinn didn't have any friends. I had never heard of anyone being friends with him, and with his mother dead from liver cancer and his father long-gone, Todd had no family to have pictures of.
Still, my life had more things going on in it for me to really get concerned about the collage. Of course until that unnaturally hot day last March.
It was over seventy degrees, but in Indiana people hardly ever fret over strange weather. It was just after my twentieth birthday, and I decided to stop in Gas America for a Poptart and a Frappacino on my way to work. Although I worked in a restaurant called Dave's Steakbar (funny name, huh? You could order all your food at the bar, even steak), I tried my best not to eat there. The food all seemed to have an aftertaste of cigarettes.
Anyway, I stopped in for a little breakfast and remembered that I had completely forgotten to use the bathroom that morning. So, with the collage far from my mind, I headed towards the bathroom. Since there was only one bathroom, there were both stalls and urinals. I went into the first stall and relieved myself.
While washing my hands, I eyed the collage that took the mirror's place with dim curiosity. Then, my eye landed in something a bit out of place. It was a picture alright, taped up right in the heart of the collage. Except, it was backwards, so you could only see the white backing of the picture.
Without drying my hands, I reached out and took the picture from its place. As my eyes settled on the glossy side of the photograph, my heart seemed to skip a beat, maybe two. It was me. The picture was of me.
I was clearly unaware that my picture was being taken. I was in the kitchen of my apartment, washing my hands in the sink. It seemed that whoever had taken the picture had been standing out on my dinky little porch, looking through the glass door. But who'and why?
Then I noticed a message written at the bottom of the photograph in silver marker. It was written in the scratchy handwriting of someone in a desperate rush.
'ONLY THE BEGINNING'
the message read. Only the beginning? Only the beginning of what? More pictures? I didn't like the sound of that.
I was clutching the photograph so hard that a drop of water from my thumb streaked off onto the photograph, and quickly rolled off its surface. It almost looked like the me in the photograph was crying.
A small squeak that sounded entirely inhuman escaped my throat, and at that moment I stormed out of the bathroom, suddenly furious.
'What the hell is this?' I cried out at Todd. He only gave me a dully curious gaze. His eyes looked glazed over and uneventful. Almost like he was on standby and not really there.
'Did you hear me? I said what the hell is this?' I shook the photograph angrily at him. He stayed quiet for a little while longer, just giving me that odd gaze. I was opening my mouth to yell at him again when he finally answered.
'I didn't take it,' was all he said.
I was so stunned by the simplicity of his words that I could say nothing. This didn't seem to surprise Todd.
'You'you didn't take it? Then who the hell did? And why do you have it? And why did you hang it up in there? Why do you hang any of those pictures in there?' I cried out in a voice that was a bit angrier than I was feeling. I was feeling more dazed than anything.
'Do you have any idea how many people ask me that?' Todd replied.
'Don't answer my questions with another question! Why?' I said through tightly clenched teeth.
Todd sighed. 'I like them, okay? Is that so weird that I enjoy looking at pictures? No one ever comes in here and says 'Hey, Todd how you doin' today? Catch the game last night?' I'm lucky to even get a friendly glance from someone. I don't know what I did to everyone, but no one likes me. So I keep those pictures because it's the nice to look at people who don't seem to be embarrassed to look at you or who think you're an ugly freak.'
I was so shocked at the sudden emotional pour of Todd's words that I once again found myself unable to speak. I felt pretty sorry for him, too. After all, how come Todd never had friends? Plenty of people grow up with an abusive walk-out father and an alcoholic mother but that doesn't necessarily damage the friendship part of their brain.
'I---I'm sorry to hear that, I guess, Mr. McGinn, but that is still no excuse to sneak onto someone's property and take their picture without them knowing it,' I said, still keeping my tone firm but no longer angry.
'Didn't I tell you? I didn't take it,' Todd replied.
'Then who did? I thought you said you had no friends so who took it for you?' I replied smartly. I felt a little bad after I said it, but I wasn't going to take it back.
There was a hidden look of hurt in his eyes and then he said, 'If you don't like that it's in there, then take it. I've got plenty and I can always get more.'
I thought about asking him where he can get more, but then I decided that he wasn't going to tell me no matter how many times I asked. So I just walked out of Gas America, forgetting all about Poptarts and Frappacinos for the rest of the day.
At several points during the day I wanted very badly to shred the picture and forget about the whole thing, but I never did it. I kept thinking about how I might need it later, how I need to show somebody. I knew it would make no difference though; I didn't shred the thing because of the message at the bottom. The message scared me; it scared me so much I didn't even mention it to Todd. I knew he didn't write the message, kind of like how I knew he didn't take that particular picture. I don't know how I knew it, I just did.
That night I woke up to a loud clap of thunder. I looked around my room and was about to roll over when I saw something. It was taped up to the mirror on the far side of my room. I felt a small jolt of fear enter my heart and spread throughout my brains, a black kind of tingle, and I debated getting up.
I had that sudden sense of being watched. I was sure someone was there, lurking in some shadow somewhere. I swallowed and the dry click my throat made seemed loud in my ears. I knew I was going to get up eventually, and it was best not to torture myself. Might as well get it over with. I slowly peeled the covers back from my body, inviting cool air in. I slowly lowered my feet to the floor, hearing my ankles crack from sleep.
As soon as I was out of bed, I felt wide awake. I could have just drunk eighty Frappacinos. I walked cautiously over to the mirror (which wasn't nearly as long as a walk as it felt, my apartment bedroom is tiny, but nothing is tiny when you're scared), hearing that strangely loud click as I swallowed more dry spit. I saw quickly that the thing taped onto my mirror was a rectangle. Not very big, not much bigger than a'a'a picture. The thought brought a new kind of fear into my head. Only the beginning. Only the beginning. Only the beginning. It echoed in my mind.
I reached out with a shaky arm, closed my eyes, and took the picture from the mirror, feeling that dull hesitation of the tape barely clinging to the glass. My eyes still closed, I could feel the picture in my hand. I could already tell that the side with the image on it had been taped face-down. I could feel the stickiness of it on my fingers. It felt like I was leaving my guilty fingerprints all over it. I opened my eyes, and sure enough, I was staring at the white backing instead of the front of the picture.
I turned the picture over, not wanting to but knowing I had to. Oh my God, what if it's a picture of me SLEEPING? The thought ran through my head with a metallic kind of certainty. I have a stalker and he's trying to scare the shit out of me by taking pictures of me'
But it wasn't me. In fact, I didn't have any idea who it was. I squinted against the darkness for what felt like an eternity trying to figure out who it was'where I knew him from. I never figured it out. He was just a stranger.
I went back to my bed and turned on the light to get a better look. The sudden brightness made me blind for a moment, but as soon as my eyes adjusted I saw for sure that I had no idea who this person was. Like my picture, it was clear that this person had no idea they were being photographed. The man in the picture looked to be around thirty years old, and he was sitting in his car, presumably at a stop light. His right hand rested at the top of the steering wheel and his patient face was looking forever onward. He had a five o'clock shadow and had deep, sunken eyes. His nose was a little big for his face, but other than that he just looked like any ordinary guy. There was a message at the bottom of this picture too, also written in silver ink. The handwriting was a bit more patient this time.
'HIS NAME WAS ALAN MEYER''
I had no idea what that message was supposed to mean. All I knew was that I was very, very scared.
'What's going on here?' I whispered to no one in the darkness.
No more sleep would come for me that night, and I had absolutely no idea where to put the damn picture. I finally put both of them in a cabinet drawer I hardly ever opened in the bathroom. The whole night I lay awake, thinking about how someone had come into my room while I was sleeping and taped a photo, face down, on my mirror. The picture wasn't even of anyone I knew'why would anyone want to scare me with a picture of someone I don't know? Or maybe that was just the point, maybe whoever was doing this wanted me to toss and turn all night asking myself the who's and the why's until I couldn't think anymore.
Whether or not that was what this person wanted, that's what they accomplished, and I was completely dead the next morning at work. My boss pulled me aside after dropping a tray full of food to ask me if I was ok. I was always a good employee, punctual, lively, and a hard-worker, so luckily I didn't get into trouble. I told him I was just having some personal problems resulting in some pretty bad sleep. He nodded and told me if things got worse I would need to go home for the day. I forced myself to be more careful.
Two more days went by with those pictures hiding in that drawer, that dreadful drawer. It was constantly on my mind. I thought that maybe if I put it in that drawer, that drawer that hadn't had a purpose since I'd moved into the shabby apartment a year and a half ago, I would forget it. But the more time went on the more I thought about it. A mere two days later I returned to the drawer as soon as I walked in the door.
The drawer made an extremely unpleasant screech---the screech of useless dried wood that is suddenly shifted, I suppose----when I opened it. Suddenly I tasted something a lot like copper in my mouth. Three pictures were in the drawer. The two that I already knew, the one of me and the one of Alan Meyer, were staring up at me, the lightest coating of dust on them. The third picture lay face down. The white backing of the photograph had no dust on it, it certainly hadn't been here long.
I suddenly felt dizzy and I was sure I was going to faint, but that wasn't enough to tear me (or my eyes) away from what lay in the pointless drawer in my bathroom. This couldn't be right. I thought that I must have put three pictures in the drawer without even realizing it, fear can do that to you, you know, but somehow I knew it wasn't true. Somehow I knew that no matter what I did, I would only find more pictures.
In a trance, I reached for the picture. No tape this time. This picture was of a young woman, a cute redhead, in fact. As I'm sure you might guess, this woman was also photographed while going about some of her daily routines, she was not smiling or waving at the camera, because she didn't know it was there. This woman was in her kitchen, the picture was clearly taken through a window (like the one of me). She looked like she was preparing food, and she was smiling down at something on the floor. A dog or a cat, probably. Her hair was tied back in a bun, and a few loose curls of deep red hair fell around her face. She was a very pretty woman, and could not possibly be any older than myself. Only about twenty.
In silver ink at the bottom:
'HER NAME WAS JAQUELINE HENDERSON''
It suddenly occurred to me that in both pictures he used the word was. What did he mean their name was? Did that mean they were'were'no, it's probably just a coincidence. After all, these mastermind killers are just things you see on TV, right? I let out a shaky breath and decided I needed to take a bath. But what about these pictures? Where do I put them? I knew I couldn't get rid of them, but it seemed weird to just set them down somewhere.
I decided to just put them on my pillow and allow myself a few moments of relaxation before I deal with this any further. I drew a hot bath and sunk into it gratefully, but things as serious as what were going on could not melt away in a bath. I got out and drained the bath not five minutes after I had gotten in it, feeling guilty. I came into my room, tried to avoid looking at the pictures (and failed), and decided I would go look at some of my scrap books. That usually made me feel better, looking at all those pictures of friends and good times. In my closet was a small bookcase that only had several books---I am not much of a reader---and an endless amount of scrap books. Almost every occasion of my life I had made a scrap book of, and I'm not ashamed of it, either.
I picked the one that said 'SPRING BREAK '02' without really looking at it. I went into the small living space I had (which wasn't really a living space so much as a small couch and a TV) and flipped through the pages. Despite my strange situation I still got a smile out of those cheesy pictures of me and my friends in Myrtle Beach. Just like any other Spring Break scrap book you'll find, it was all pictures of us on the beach and in the hotel room.
Then I got to the second to the last page. A picture fell out and landed (face down) on the floor. I looked down at it, hesitant to picking it up. The white, smooth backing of photos seemed sinister now. I told myself it was probably just a picture that fell out, but part of me knew. And that part was right.
This picture was a picture of a man. He was blonde, and cute, probably about twenty-five or so. He had a nice tan and he was mowing a small lawn. Did he know someone was taking his picture? Oh, no.
'HIS NAME WAS PAT STONE''
was written in that dreadful silver marker at the bottom of the picture. A moan escaped my lips, the kind of moan you make when you're sick. And I felt sick. Hell, I felt almost crazy.
'What does all of this mean?' I croaked. The phone rang just then and I was sure it was going to be him, whoever he was. And if he was, indeed, a he. I debated not picking up the phone but did anyway.
'Hello?' I said in a small voice that sounded far from my own.
'Hey, you okay?'
Air rushed out of my chest and tears welled up in my eyes. It wasn't him, thank God. It was just Dave, my friend.
'Oh, hey Dave,' I replied in a healthier voice, 'yeah I'm good. Just a little tired. What's up?'
'Not a lot. I was gonna ask if you were coming to Heather's high school graduation on Friday?' Dave asked. (Heather is his little sister).
'Oh, um, well sure. I don't think I have anything going on,' I replied.
'Cool, give me a ride?'
'Alright, thanks. See you.'
I placed the phone back on the receiver and a sudden loneliness swept through my veins. I felt very alone all the sudden, but I didn't know if that was better or worse than feeling watched. I looked at the picture again and wondered how this person knew what scrap book to put it in. I didn't even know what scrap book I was choosing, I just grabbed one.
Or maybe there were pictures in all of them. Maybe they were planted all over the house. Maybe that's why I kept finding them. I liked that idea a little bit, that someone just came in and planted photos everywhere to spook me. It was a little creepy, but not as creepy as someone knowing exactly where to put them. The idea of someone knowing exactly where I would look, that's just crazy.
With the picture unknowingly in my hand still, I rushed back into my room and tore through the rest of my scrap books. Nothing out of place. Nothing. I didn't want to accept it, but that meant that whoever, or whatever, was doing this knew everything. Even the future, apparently. I took all four photos and threw them in the waste basket before I could think about. In the back of my mind, I knew it wouldn't make a difference, that whatever was happening would still happen no matter where those pictures were, but I still slept better that night.
The next day was normal, which was almost worse. It made me paranoid, but I was much better at hiding it. I was normal at work and with everything else, I even went out to a movie with some of my friends. I was positive that I would walk through the door and find another photo, but I didn't. It almost made me want to search the house, but instead I just went to bed feeling like something was out of place.
Was that it? Was that all that was going to happen?
I knew it wasn't true but I thought that maybe if I told myself that enough I would start to think it was true. Hey, they say ignorance is bliss, right? I slept all through the night, but it was one of those sleeps that you never really get deep asleep, it's like you're hovering between sleep and consciousness for eight hours. I woke up groggy as hell.
That morning on my way to work I stopped by the Gas America and actually succeeded in getting a Frappacino. My eye landed on the door to the bathroom and the collage popped into my mind, making my mood even blacker. I knew I wouldn't go in there, even if the whole collage was just pictures of me, fine. Today I wasn't in the mood to look at pictures, if I ever would be again (which so far, I haven't been).
I bought the Frappacino and almost walked right out of the gas station without even saying anything to Todd McGinn. Then, at the last moment I said something almost without thinking about it.
'Todd, you didn't take any of those pictures, did you?' I asked.
Todd just looked at me with that same standby look he had in his eyes. I thought he wasn't going to answer when he slowly shook his head. Then something occurred to me: maybe that look wasn't some sort of a weird glazed over look that so many potheads have, maybe that look is the look of true, complete fear.
'But you have to put them up, don't you? You have to put them up or else?'
His head stopped shaking and started slowly nodding. I felt a pang of true sorrow for Todd McGinn then. After all, just what had he done to everybody to deserve getting shunned? Hung up some pictures on a wall? So, what? And it wasn't up to him anyway. He didn't creep around taking pictures of people, it was all someone else. But who? And of course, why?
'Can you tell me who the photographer is, Todd?' I asked gingerly. I could tell Todd felt sort of like a deer, trapped, but if I made too sudden of a movement he would surely run, and probably never come back.
Todd looked at me for a long time, his lips working, 'I wish I could,' was all he said. I could tell he meant it, so I only nodded and left. I felt like I had learned a lot. Todd was not the person everyone thought he was, he wasn't a pervert at all. Although I felt good, my mind strained to find out who the photographer was, and why in the hell he was doing what he was doing.
Work was good that day, but I was anxious to leave. Tomorrow was Friday, I would be going to Heather's graduation at 5, and I felt like there was still a lot to figure out. I went home and wracked my brain, trying to think up scenarios to go along with what was happening. I came up with nothing. I had finally decided to take another bath, knowing it wouldn't help, and what I found made me feel a lot less like a detective and a lot more like a victim.
Taped up to my mirror was a picture, face up this time. The picture was of Alan Meyer, and it was horrible. Alan Meyer was dead, but was clearly tortured first. Shards of glass stuck out from everywhere in his body. The bottoms of his feet, his hands, his stomach, legs, arms, everywhere. They weren't huge pieces of glass, but they were big enough to surely hurt like hell going in. The one that had clearly killed Alan Meyer was the largest piece of glass of all, right in his throat. I couldn't stand to look at that picture, the scene was so gruesome that it almost looked fake. I tried to cling to that idea---that it was just fake, just a set up, just a cruel, sick joke. I knew that wasn't true, though. I knew it and it was horrible.
And then the message down at the bottom of the picture'that stupid message written in stupid silver marker.
''AND HE DIED!'
That exclamation point snarled up at me, and I could tell whoever wrote this was laughing as they did it. Ha, ha, ha! He died! He died! Isn't that just a wonderful joke? He DIED!
I threw the picture down on the floor, trying to scream, but nothing but a hot hiss of air came out. I looked around the room, suddenly paranoid. Why are you doing this? I wanted to scream, needed to scream, but couldn't. All I could do was gape at the picture, which had mercifully landed face down. White dots danced before my eyes, and I thankfully made it to the bed before I fainted.
I woke up early the next morning and my first thought was to get out of the house. I took a quick shower and headed out the door without drying my hair, I figured I would go over to Dave's house. I was still supposed to take him to his sister's graduation and I might just decide to tell him everything, as crazy as that might seem.
'Hey, are you alright?' Dave asked as soon as he opened the door.
'Yeah, I'm ok,' I lied, 'I was just getting a little spooked over at my place so I thought I'd come over here.'
'You don't have to work today?' Dave asked casually.
'Let me make you lunch.'
I sat down in his living room (which was similarly just a couch and a TV, like mine), and felt even more relieved than I thought I would. Being in someone else's company made me feel a lot safer, and a lot more rational. I began to question if I had ever seen the pictures at all when Dave came back in with a bologna sandwich and a Coke for me.
'Thanks so much, Dave,' I said with a smile, and grabbed the paper plate.
'Not a problem. So what's been going on with you lately? You seem to be jumping at ghosts a little bit,' Dave said, trying to maintain that casualness in his voice.
I almost began to tell him everything and then decided it sounded a little crazy. Someone I don't know has been putting random pictures all over my house'and I think he might be a serial killer'and he spooks people by showing them pictures.
It didn't sound likely to me, and look who it was happening to. So why should Dave buy it?
'Well you know that collage up in the bathroom at the Gas America? The one that has a bunch of people on there? Well, the other day I saw a picture of me up there,' I said. I decided that's where I would stop, I wouldn't say anything about the other pictures. And I surely wouldn't say anything about those strange messages written in silver marker.
Dave's eyebrows furrowed downward in a sort of shocked confusion. 'Do you think Todd took it?'
'Yeah, I guess, who else?' I felt sort of bad accusing Todd, because I knew it wasn't him. And I knew he wasn't the freak everyone thought he was.
Dave's look became a faraway thoughtful look and I wondered if our conversation was over. Then he said, 'did you leave it up there?'
'No! Of course not. I kind of yelled at Todd too, ha,' I replied.
'Hell, I don't blame you! That guy's weird. But at least he didn't stop you from taking the picture,' Dave said, seeming a bit less thoughtful. I thought our conversation about this was over, and I was right.
We spent the rest of the afternoon chatting and laughing on his couch, until we decided it was time to go. The graduation was fine, boring, but I was glad I went. Spending the day with Dave---and the evening out of town, thank God---made me feel a lot better. I hardly thought of the pictures at all.
But on our way home, Dave asked to stop at the Gas America.
I almost decided to just drive right by, no matter how weird it seemed. Then I decided I couldn't do that, he might be trying to go in there to talk to Todd about that picture of me. And if I drove right by there it would just make the whole situation seem a whole lot weirder to him.
I drove into one of the parking spaces in front of the Gas America and parked the car.
'Wanna come in and get something with me?' Dave asked. He seemed to have forgotten everything I told him about the picture.
After a slight hesitation I agreed and went in with him. I tried not to look at Todd. As Dave and I were looking at all the candy bars, laughing as usual, the bathroom door burst open angrily.
'What is this? What is this!' someone I didn't know screamed. She was a woman, about thirty I would say, with long red nails to match her fire engine red lipstick. Her hair was a deep brown and poofy, almost an eighties style. She held up a picture in her right hand, long fingernails denting its glossy surface.
Todd McGinn just gave her that look. You know the one I'm talking about.
'Well? Aren't you going to answer me? Why do you have a picture of me in your damned bathroom?' the woman shrieked.
Dave and I exchanged glances and then both looked at the woman. I saw with a kind of sick horror that there was something at the bottom of the picture'something in silver.
This time Todd said nothing to the woman and after frantically screaming a little bit more, she finally stormed out of the door. Todd looked at me, giving me a knowing look. I looked at Dave, who once again had that confused look on his face.
'Lets just get us some chocolate and get out of here,' Dave said rather distantly.
I nodded, swallowed hard, and paid for the food. We sat in my car, not starting it for awhile.
'I've looked at that collage a few times but I've never seen a picture of me'or even anyone I know up there before. Now it seems that more people besides you are finding pictures of themselves up there. I wonder why'why he would want pictures like that,' Dave said, more to himself than to me. I could tell his thoughts were far away once again.
'I don't know what's going on,' is all I could think to say. I turned the car on to interrupt the awkward silence and drove Dave home. We hardly talked.
'Well'thanks for the ride,' Dave said as he unbuckled his seatbelt. I could tell he was still thinking about all those pictures, and really thinking about them this time.
'No problem. Call me sometime,' I said casually, but we both understood what I meant. If you get too freaked out, call me, because I am too.
He nodded, slammed the door, and walked into his dim apartment. I sighed, put the car in reverse, and drove slowly home. I almost just continued driving when I came to my apartment complex, I knew what would be waiting for me.
But I was tired, and I had to work in the morning, so I hesitantly pulled into my parking space anyway. I fumbled with my keys and finally unlocked my door, feeling forced. I flicked on the light and the first thing I saw was, sure enough, a picture.
It was lying on my kitchen countertop, I could see it from the door. I could tell it was face-up, from the way the light was being shone off the surface. Was this picture going to be of Jaqueline Henderson? Why, of course it would be.
I walked into the kitchen, not quite as hesitant as before. Sure enough, it was Jaqueline Henderson. She had three long spikes of wood sticking out from her midsection. They were in a neat triangle, and they had probably hit some vital organs, from the look of it.
Her face was pale'almost like a fish's belly. Her eyes were terrified but lifeless. And a stream of maroon blood spilled out of her dead mouth and all over her chin. The blood had spurted out of her mouth, ran down her chin, and dripped onto her petite white tank top.
''AND SHE DIED!'
was written in promising silver marker. I knew it was laughing at me, laughing at the way my face looked.
This time my hand simply unclasped the picture, and it fluttered ungracefully to the floor. This one, like the last, landed face down. I felt dazed, almost drugged. I knew what I had to do. I turned on my heels and stomped out of the kitchen. Someone might have thought it was an angry walk, like how that woman had busted angrily through the bathroom door earlier with the picture clasped in her red claws. Truthfully, it was a stomp of utter fear.
I stopped dead in my tracks. 'No,' I whispered to myself. 'No, no, no, no!' Taped up to the front door was yet another picture (face-up, of course). I must have just missed it'after all, I didn't look at the back of the door when I came in, did I?
No, I hadn't. But I still had the feeling that it was freshly taped up. My mouth suddenly felt dry, and my legs like Jell-O. I walked forward anyway, this time more like a zombie.
I'm sure you can guess, the picture was of Pat Stone. Whoever he was. This picture I didn't take from its place. I didn't want to touch it. Pat Stone looked absolutely fried to death. He had some sort of a machine hooked up to him, it almost looked like a robot. The machine sat on a table and had a number of switches on it. There were also several cords with clamps at the end that sprung from the machine.
These clamps were attached to Pat's nose, nipples, fingers, and toes. His remaining hair stood straight up from his body, the rest looked like it burnt away. Several parts of his body had clearly been on fire, especially his lips. Well, what were his lips, they were clearly gone now. A blackened tongue hung out from his teeth now, and his whole jaw was exposed.
At the bottom in silver ink:
''AND HE DIED, TOO! WHO'S NEXT?'
Without getting a better look at the picture (I was beginning to feel quite nauseated), I ran out the door in a frenzy. It was a good thing I had my keys in my hand the whole time, or else I would have forgotten them. And I wasn't sure if I could ever set foot in that apartment again.
I yanked open the car door and tried to put the key in the ignition. This took me awhile, I was shaking horribly and crying without even knowing it. The car finally rumbled to life, and I backed up quickly without looking. Thank goodness no one was behind me. I sped all the way to the Gas America, and God only knows why I didn't get pulled over.
As I pulled up to the gas station, I saw a young man that I recognized'but from where?...walking out of the gas station angrily. I saw a picture in his hand. A picture with silver marker at the bottom. What is going on here?
'Todd, you have to talk to me!' I squeaked in a small frantic voice.
He looked at me with that knowing look from before, a knowing look of dread. Finally he said, 'Ok, but we have to make it quick.'
I rested my elbows on the counter, still not aware I was crying. He handed me a tissue and I wiped my face absently.
'I don't know his name, but he's not human. Not exactly. He looks just like anyone else, and he first came to this gas station over fifteen years ago, when no one was here in the middle of the night. He asked me if I had any friends. I didn't answer him, but of course that was answer enough for him.
'He told me he had some pictures for me, so that maybe I could look like I had friends. I told him that I'd lived in this town my whole life and everyone knew that I didn't have friends. He said it didn't matter. He said nobody really mattered, and that I had to hang them up. I don't know what it was, but the way he said that, I knew that I did have to put the pictures up.
'So I didn't ask any questions, he looked dangerous, and he looked like the kind of man that didn't like questions. So all I asked was where to hang them. He said to get rid of the mirror in the bathroom and put them there. Then he said, 'And don't worry, all these people are long gone, so you won't have to worry about one of them seeing their own picture. Not yet.''
My mouth hung open, and all these things swam through my head. It was so much to take in that I couldn't even begin to react. I could tell he was waiting for me to say something, so I did. 'But now there are pictures of live people up there. Lots, by look of them. When did he start doing that?'
'Well, actually just recently. People always questioned the collage but no one ever knew the people, but the people were his murder victims. He always scares his victims by first sending them a picture of themselves, that always creeps people out. Then he'll send pictures of people who he's killed'but they're still just ordinary pictures. Then, finally, he sends pictures of---'
'---how he killed them,' I finished.
'Right,' Todd said gravely.
Todd took his eyes away from mine, meaning it must be bad news. 'Then he sends his last picture.'
'What do you mean?' I asked fearfully.
'He does this to towns everywhere. Eventually people just start disappearing, until everyone else either moves away or disappears themselves. But it's always small towns, like this one. Remember what happened to Aklenville? That town a few miles north? It's a ghost town now. Everyone just vanished. That's going to happen here.'
Dread sunk into my heart. 'Has he been doing this long?' I asked.
'No,' Todd answered with a sigh, 'he sort of just started. He's only done this to a few towns across the country. And there's no way to stop him.'
'How do you know all this?'
'He tells. He talks to me like I'm his friend, because he knows I have no one to tell. At least, until now I didn't. And he let me know there was nothing I could do about it, and he was right. If I tried to take down that collage he would do horrible things to me'there's just nothing I can do,' Todd said with regret in his voice.
'Will he kill you anyway? Since he's trying to get rid of the whole town?' I asked.
'I'm sure he will. But I don't know how,' Todd answered, lowering his eyes.
My mind returned to what he had said about his 'last picture' again and I tried to get him to tell me what it was. He said he couldn't tell me, but I'll find it soon. I turned to leave and he said to me, 'Don't try to stop him. He can't be stopped. If you want to get away, just drive. Drive forever.'
I hardly heard him but what he said sunk into the back of my mind.
As I said earlier, I never wanted to go back to that apartment ever again. But I knew I had to one last time. I didn't want to see whatever picture he had waiting for me, so I kept my eyes down. I went into my room, grabbed the big blue suitcase from under my bed, and began to pile my things into it. I didn't know how long I would be gone or what I would need, so I tried to take everything I could.
Just as I was beginning to leave, dragging the bulging suitcase along my side, there it was. It was taped up to my bedroom door, so I would see it as I was leaving. My heart seemed to stop in my chest and float up into my throat. I wanted to just walk past it and not even look, but I already knew I wouldn't do it.
Like the first sets of pictures I found, this picture was taped face-down, and it had a silver smiley face drawn on the white backing. The smiley looked normal, like something a little kid could have drawn, but it looked sinister to me. I let go of the suitcase and walked the few steps to my bedroom door. I stood there for what seemed like an eternity, just staring at that smiley face.
I finally reached out and plucked the picture from its place, but I still did not turn it over. I had no idea what would be on it, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to. I finally turned the picture over anyway, getting sick of staring at that smiley face.
Once again, it was me.
But I wasn't alive.
The picture was of me just on a black background, so I couldn't tell where I was. My face was pale and drained-looking, and my sunken eyes stared lifelessly upward. It looked as if I had somehow stumbled upon a field of bear traps, they were everywhere. My hands and my feet were clamped between metal teeth, as well as a huge one clamped around my midsection. My face was high in pain and struggle but it was evident that I had bled to death in the picture.
I tried to tell myself that the picture must have been ran through PhotoShop, but I could tell better. This picture was real. But how? How could it be real? It wasn't possible. But the idea that the picture was as real as anything else still clawed at the back of my mind. It was then I noticed that damned message written in stupid silver marker at the bottom:
'AND THIS IS HOW YOU WILL DIE!!!'
Those exclamation points laughed a crazy laughter up at me, almost like a hyena. The extra exclamation points were mocking and horrible. However, I decided not to dispose of this picture. I quickly tucked it into one of the front pockets of my suitcase. No matter how hard I've tried, I've never been able to get the picture out of my mind, even though I never looked at it again.
My hands shaking (but my eyes finally dry), I fumbled with the car keys until I made the lock. I threw my suitcase into the back seat and started the car. I had to head off to Dave's house, I couldn't leave him behind. And now I knew that what Todd said was right, there was no escaping him. The only way to try to get away, if only for a few days or weeks, was to drive and never stop.
I nearly forgot to put the car in park when I sped into a parking space in front of Dave's apartment, and I didn't mess with taking the keys out. It would be too much work trying to start the car again.
'Dave! Dave come out here!' I shouted as I pounded frantically at his door.
The door opened almost immediately, and Dave's face, worried and expectant, peeped out the door. 'Jesus! What's going on?' he asked me.
'Get your things. We need to go, now!' I yelled frantically. In the parking lot, a man sped into another parking slot and got out of his car quickly, furiously holding a picture in his hand.
'What are you talking about? Go where?' Dave asked.
'Damn it!' I screamed, and started sobbing once again.
'Hey, come in here. Come in here and explain this to me,' Dave said, wrapping a comforting arm around my shoulder.
'There's not enough time. I can explain in the car. But trust me, Dave, this is an emergency, and we need to go now. I'm saving your life, trust me,' I replied, working very hard to steady my voice.
Dave's face softened, and he finally agreed to come with me. He only took a few minutes to pack and we were on our way.
'Will you explain to me why we're running away now?' Dave asked once we were on the Interstate, a little frustrated.
'You know how I found that picture of myself in the Gas America bathroom?' I started.
'Oh, come on---'
'This is serious! I'm trying to explain are you going to listen?' I shouted back.
Dave only nodded.
'Ok. So I found the picture of myself. Well, it had a message at the bottom that said 'only the beginning', and I didn't like that. But then I went home, and over a few days I found three pictures of strangers, and the message at the bottom told me their names. I had no idea who they were, and they obviously didn't know their picture was being taken, just like my picture.
'Then I started to find these horrible pictures tonight. The people that I didn't know in the pictures'they were all dead. They died in horrible ways, like one guy had glass shoved all into his body. Stuff like that.'
'Jesus,' Dave uttered breathlessly.
'Yeah. Then, just before I came over, I found a picture of myself'dead.'
I saw Dave look sharply over at me from the corner of my eye, but I didn't look back.
'How is that pos---'
'I don't know how it's possible but it happened!' I shouted. Dave drew back a little. 'I'm sorry, I'm just on edge. But the picture wasn't PhotoShopped, you can look at it.'
Dave was silent.
'It's in the smallest pocket in my suitcase.'
We both sat in silence for awhile, saying nothing. Finally, Dave reached into the backseat, pulled out the picture, and looked at it for several minutes. I didn't dare let my eyes stray to the picture, and I never will.
He finally put the picture back and let out a sigh. 'So what are we going to do?' he asked, sounding suddenly tired.
'Drive,' I replied.
That night we stayed in some roadside motel, and we were both exhausted. As soon as we got in our room, I dropped my suitcase and went to the bathroom. I ran the water and splashed some on my face, I was about to reach for the soap when I casually glanced in the mirror and saws something.
A message suddenly appeared on the mirror, in silver. It looked as if someone were writing it right in front of me, but no one was there. Slowly, the message spelled out to say:
'YOU WON'T GET AWAY SO EASY'
I backed up until my back hit the wall, and the message was still there, glaring up at me. I opened my mouth and tried to scream for Dave, but only that hot hiss of air came out. I finally gained strength enough to run out of the bathroom, and startle Dave for the millionth time.
'Whoa!' he cried out in surprise.
I was shaking once again as I said, 'Th---the bathroom'the mirror!'
He gave me a confused look, but it was all I could manage. He pushed past me and went into the bathroom. I followed him, not wanting to look at the mirror again, but of course, I did anyway. The words were now only a faded blur, not legible at all. I was glad there was some sign of them, though, otherwise Dave wouldn't have believed me.
'What on Earth is this?' Dave asked, stepping closer to get a better look.
I opened my mouth to tell him what happened, but in that moment a horribly loud boom echoed throughout the bathroom, and I saw a sound wave ripple out of the mirror. Dave flew back and hit the tile wall behind him hard enough to chip the tile. As his body slid down the wall and onto the floor, his head left a bloody trail on the wall.
This time I really did scream, and ran to Dave. His head was split open and bloody, as well as his nose and mouth. I saw immediately that he was dead, I could tell from the lifeless glossiness that covered his eyes. He was staring endlessly and lifelessly up towards the fluorescent bathroom lights.
I continued screaming and ran out of the motel room, screaming words that I didn't know. A man tried to stop me in the parking lot, but I only shoved past him and got into my car. Forget sleeping, forget my luggage, and unfortunately, forget Dave. I knew that I either had to keep driving and never look at a mirror again or die.
I've been travelling for four months now and like I said earlier, the slightest glance at a photo makes me jump out of my skin. I've tried staying in one place long enough to try and settle down, but it never works, and it never will. You see, you can't stop him. The only thing you can do is delay your fate, but you can't change it.
I miss my old life, I miss having a job and an apartment. I miss being able to look in the mirror and I miss not having to drive every second that I'm awake. But most of all I miss Dave. When one has nothing else, a companion is like a gift from God. I keep thinking of his death, and I wonder what became of him. He was not easily recognizable from the way his face was smashed `in, but he was the one that got the room, so they knew his name. I'm sure he got a proper burial, and I only wish I could have been there.
I don't wish to continue my life this way for very long at all. No one can run forever, and I have a deathmark on me and so I'm going to die. Whether I like it or not (which I don't) I'm going to die. I don't even know who---excuse me---what is causing all of this, but it will find a way to kill me, even if it's me killing myself.
Either way, I wanted to write this for a reason, and that's not only to get the story of what happened to me out there, but to also pass along some life-saving knowledge. Don't ever look at another picture again, it might save your life. For the love of God, throw out all your pictures.
Exp: I wrote this story out of a dream that I had. Things didn't exactly happen the same in my dream, but the whole concept of murder via photos was the same. It took me a whopping three days to write these 15 pages, and as always I put little personal references in there that are my own secrets. But don't worry, pictures can't really kill you.