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A Trick of the Light
I storm down the cobblestone street, pulling my thick black coat closer to me. The icy wind finds its way into my every crack and gap of bare skin, and it feels like someone is pressing an ice cube to my cheeks. The cold sun is shaded by pregnant grey clouds. A streetlight spreads an eerie rutilant glow across the pavement. I suddenly feel very small amongst all of these quiet houses. Small and exposed.
The sky is grey and stained with pale purple evening light, and soft rain begins to fall, droplets against my cheeks like glassy tears. “Of course,” I grumble to myself, fishing for a hat inside my backpack, shocked that it’s still not cold enough to snow. Torrents of rain begin to shoot down, soaking my hair and clothes. It runs in a river down the sidewalk, and all the lights get caught up in it, so that it seems like a wavering yellow stream courses down the road. Still annoyed at Viv for forgetting to wait for me after school, I purposefully stomp my boots on the wet earth. I’m so absorbed in my misery that I don’t notice the strange woman dressed in all black before me until she steps out onto the road only a hundred yard’s distance from where I stand.
I squint curiously at the strange woman, a prickle of nervousness running down my spine. In that second, even though rain rages around me and the trees sway from side to side, I feel like I’m trapped in an iron casing, unable to move a muscle, my heart flip-flopping inside my chest. It’s so dark that I don’t think she can see me, but I can’t know for sure.
The person is wearing a black trench coat, black jeans, and black high heels. She has a shawl over her head, and I can see oversized sunglasses peaking out. This might as well have been a James Bond movie; she looks every inch the suave female secret agent.
But you never see scared teenage girls on the sidewalk in those movies, especially not scared teenage girls with ugly, frizzy hair that sticks out at all angles. And you can count out anything action-packed ever happening in Wiccaville, Maine. It’s the sleepiest little small town, filled with long shadows and family trees and headlines that read, Squirrel Found Dead on Marsh Rd.! Alright, well, maybe not a squirrel, but you get the idea.
But this woman looks like she should be from Paris, or New York City, and definately not near the picket fences and white shutters of Crag Street, Wiccasville. I squeeze myself behind a thick oak tree, my face pushed against coarse, chipping bark. My chest rises and falls, like the tree’s boughs blown back and forth by the storm’s breeze.
When I finally have the courage to peer back out again, my eyes fall on a small brown box where the woman has just been. There is no sign of her—she seems to have disappeared into thin air.
My feet squelch along the muddy peat grass spots as I clumsily try to shield myself from the rain. It’s like there is a string from my toes to the box, pulling me forward. I know I should call the police, or at least do something besides approaching it myself, but I can’t help it. It’s like there’s an invisible force drawing me forward.
The air smells like wet green jungle and lush, vibrant garden, with the intoxicating scent of flowers swirling all around me. It’s a sweet and thick aroma, fragrant and misty and old. For a second, the street disappears, and I imagine wild green vines criss-crossing the pavement, a deep, clear brook babbling around my feet, rainwater pouring down through cracks in an old stone roof above my head.
Then the summer garden fades away, and I blink furiously. It’s raining hard, rivulets of water flowing around my sneakers, droplets steadily turning to sleet. A cold wind whips my hair around my face, reddening my cheeks and sneaking between my lips so that my breath comes out a pale white fog.
I kneel down beside the cardboard box. It’s held closed only by a single staple. As if my hands are not my own, they reach out against my will and rip open the flaps. My head screams with terror—stop! stop!—but now I’m too curious not to burrow beneath pastel green packing peanuts until my fingers brush cold metal.
The second my skin touches the object, shivers begin to race down my spine, and not because of the cold. Light jolts of static electricity whip through my body, tousling my hair. I take a deep breath and lift it, whatever it is, into the light.
A strangled little gasp escapes my lips. “Oh,” I find myself saying over and over again, fingers tracing the fine little indents and buttons of this beautiful thing, this strange and perfect camera.
It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. A compact, sleek digital, the front made of silver metal is so polished that I can see my reflection in it. The whole thing vibrates futuristic energy.
I press the ON button, and suddenly a massive tunnel shoots out of it, with different slots and buttons to change the focus and edit the picture. Tentatively, I turn the wheel back so that only the first loop is showing, and click the shutter.
It’s so silent that for a second I’m not even sure if it took a picture. But on the crystal-clear back screen, the image appears, each grass blade, each shard of light, each fallen leaf materializing with perfect exactness, not a pixel out of place. Dots of light sprinkle the corner of the print. The photo is simply of a grey, rainy street, but it seems to be so much more, a beautiful expression of gorgeous landscape. The houses are shaded, but the sleet falling in the picture glitters like a flash illuminated it so that it sparkles with luminosity.
Slowly, I let out a breath. The camera’s metal is cold and new. Excitement begins to grow in my stomach, and slowly I can feel a wide smile spreading over my lips. I imagined using this camera every day, the beauty of the pictures it could capture...
A cold voice whispers in the back of my mind, You should give it to the lost and found. But why would the woman just leave this out on the street? It could be that she was dropping it off...but she’d left it in the middle of the road, as if she meant for a car to run it over. It all seems almost too coincidental to be true—me, looking desperately for a new camera, and here it is, as perfect and beautiful as I can wish for.
I stuff it beneath my coat and hurry on to Vivien’s house, leaving the opened box and the packing peanuts strewn in the middle of the road, wondering where the camera has come from, who left it here for me to find, and more than anything, what will come of my pictures through this lens. My hands quiver with strange power, and I want to use it, to hear the swift click of the shutter, to see the vibrant beauty of its images.
Just then, the rain begins to clear, though a determined haze clings to the air. The sky is purely white.
I lift the camera again, this time directing my shot. I catch sight of a few dewdrops clinging to the spidery branch of a white dogwood tree. Behind it, the forest sways.
Click. I look at the screen, hitting the review button so I can see the picture I’ve just taken.
My heart skips a beat, and I gaze at it, amazed. The photo is gorgeous, perfect—the greens are vibrant, the dewdrops depicted in luminous accuracy—every color, every shade is flawlessly draped across the image. But what catches my attention are the little hexagonal bulbs scattered across the picture. They could be just discrepancies caused by the light of the flash, but something tells me they’re not.
I look closer, zooming in on the top right corner, and suddenly I can’t breathe.
It takes me a second to gather my thoughts. This could not be possible. This could not be possible.
For the little ghostly lights spell out, very, very clearly, pale against the green backdrop, the words HELP US.