‘How much for this?’ asked Karen as she placed the item on the counter. ‘There’s no price on it.’
The cashier was an old woman with silvery hair thinning on top. Her skin was brown, sagging and seeming as if it hung from her brittle bones. Her eyes held the expression as though she’d seen much suffering in her life, they were dull, cloudy, almost lifeless. The old woman stood from her rickety chair (the cracking sounds her bones made as she pulled herself to her feet were as loud as the creaking of the old chair) and hobbled towards the counter, eyeing the item Karen had placed there. Karen noted the way the old woman walked, with a stoop, leaning forward with her arms dangling down in front of her like she was carrying invisible weights.
The item Karen had placed on the counter was a refurbished Polaroid 600 camera, very similar to the one her parents had had when she was a kid. Black with all the original trimmings. She didn’t know original Polaroid’s still existed, let alone people were spending money on them to bring them back to looking their best. Karen figured the price would be steep, which might have explained why it was the only item in the second-hand store that had no price tag. But she knew she had to have it. It didn’t matter if it worked or not (she wasn’t even sure she could get film for it) when she’d seen it sitting there at the back of the shelf, it swept her back to her childhood.
There she was with her parents, standing on the beach they holidayed at every year. Her mother had her arms around her, both with huge smiles and looking the like nothing in the world could change their happiness. Her father would hold the Polaroid up to his eye, calling out ‘say cheese!’ just before snapping the picture. Then the sound the Polaroid made would fill her ears, a series of buzzes and zips as the camera did its magic of producing a small square image. Little Karen would run to her daddy and shout, ‘Did the camera fairy come, daddy?’ At that age, there was no other way she could explain where the image came from. It was like it just appeared from out of nowhere. Then the anticipation of playing the waiting game while daddy kept the photo shielded for a few minutes in his pocket. ‘Polaroid film is sensitive to light, Karen,’ he would tell her. They had been good times. Before cancer had taken her father and before depression had snatched her mother away. They had been good, loving, fun times.
The old woman reached the counter, still eyeing the Polaroid 600. She reached out to take the camera with a bony, almost skinless hand, then seemed to hesitate as if she didn’t want to touch it. After a few seconds, the old woman pulled her hand back.
‘So ancient,’ the old woman murmured.
Karen thought that’s how I’d describe you after watching you get yourself out of the chair. It was a rude thought she considered and did her best to push it aside. She smiled at the old woman.
‘Well, no older than the early 1980s?’
The old woman raised her lifeless eyes to her. Karen wished she hadn’t. There was pain and suffering in those eyes, and her spoken word danced around Karen’s mind. Ancient.
‘No price. Take it away,’ blurted the old woman, and then began to turn away from the counter.
‘What?’ Karen asked, surprised. ‘Free? No way. This is an original Polaroid 600 camera. They don’t make them anymore. I’m not even sure if they make a film for it anymore. You can’t be serious. This could get you two-forty, maybe more.’
What the hell are you doing? she asked herself. Just take the damn thing and leave. Are you mad? Standing there telling her she could get two-hundred and forty dollars for it! Where do you think the two-forty will come from? You’re damn pocket, fool! Just take it and leave!
The old woman stopped her slow movement back towards the rickety chair. She turned to face Karen once more, and once more, Karen felt a small cringe inside when she looked into those dull eyes.
‘Too old to price,’ said the woman. ‘It’s free. Just take it.’
Karen hesitated. She opened her purse and removed a fifty. ‘Here, how about fifty? I have to give you something for it.’
Kaz? Fifty? You just told her she could get two-forty and now you’re offering her fifty?
The old woman eyed the note in her hand and then those dark eyes wandered to the Polaroid.
‘I told you, I want nothing for it. Just take it away, and all is well.’
She offered Karen a creepy little smile with her dry and cracked lips, which showed teeth (or what was left of them) yellow and tarnished. Then she returned to her old chair.
Karen watched as the woman lowered herself back into the rickety chair, hearing the cracks of her old bones and creaks of the chair performing well together as she sat. After a moment longer, Karen sighed, slipped the fifty back into her purse. She picked up the Polaroid, shrugged and turned to the door.
‘Well, thank you,’ she said as she moved away from the counter.
As she pulled to open the door, the old woman said, ‘Don’t thank me too soon, dearie.’
Karen turned to look at her, but from where she was standing, she could no longer see the old woman sitting in her chair, only the top of her thinning hair.
‘Don’t take a picture of yourself,’ the old woman went on. ‘You can take photos of anything else; your cat, dog, bench, chair, bike, what have you, but not yourself.’ She paused, then added: ‘And don’t look into the eye.’
‘The eye? Do you mean the lens?’
‘No,’ said the old woman. ‘I mean the eye.’
Don’t look into the eye…
Karen was now sitting on her leather sofa in the living room of her second-floor apartment. The purchased–or gifted–Polaroid 600 sat on the coffee table in front of her. She stared at it, remembering the old woman’s words about not looking into the eye or taking photos of herself. Those words repeated through her mind like recorded messages. Since leaving the store, the old woman’s words had been there. At first, they were just Karen’s own thoughts, don’t look into the eye? What does that mean? and now she could hear the words being spoken in the old woman’s voice, and those words terrified her a little.
She’s just a crazy old woman. Get a grip of yourself. It’s just a damn camera. What harm has a camera ever done to anyone?
A camera killed Princess Diana…
No, the idiots chasing her with cameras caused her driver to lose control of the car and that’s what killed her. The camera probably has no film in it, anyway. Hell, it probably doesn’t work. Do you even know why you’re getting so worked up in the first place?
She snatched the camera from the coffee table, eyeing it. After a minute, Karen smiled to herself. ‘Idiot. It’s just a camera.’ She opened it by clicking the release button. The top of the Polaroid 600 sprung up, and she looked at the lens (or was that an eye?). She was probably right; the damn thing might not work, and surely there’d be no film in it. Holding the camera up, pointing the lens (eye) at herself, Karen rested her finger on the shutter release. After a moment, she thought better and turned the camera around, pointing it at the other side of the living room. She pressed the button and was shocked when the camera flashed, and she heard the buzzes and zips coming from it. Seconds later, out popped a small plastic-like square image she remembered all too well from her childhood.
‘Wow. It works. There is a film in it.’
Polaroid film is sensitive to light, Karen her father said somewhere in the back of her mind. Karen snatched the photo from the front of the camera and laid it upside down on the coffee table. A few minutes later, she was looking down at a photograph of the other side of the living room. And the image was perfect, too. Perhaps a little too perfect considering how old the camera must be and the film inside. She studied the photograph. There appeared to be no grain or blotch or mark or defect in the image at all. In fact, if Karen didn’t know an old Polaroid 600 had taken the photograph, she would have sworn the picture she was looking at had come from a new digital SLR camera.
‘That’s amazing,’ she whispered, placing the image on the coffee table and once more taking up the camera. She moved it around in her hands, looking over every inch of the camera, including the lens (or eye).
Don’t look into the eye…
Karen laughed. Crazy old bat, she thought and turned the camera to face her. After careful consideration, she stood from the sofa and moved around to the front of the coffee table. Raising the Polaroid above her head, she extended her arm out so that the camera wasn’t too close to her face when she took the selfie. ‘Cheeeeeeessssseee,’ she said, mocking her childhood memories, and snapped a shot. The brightest flash she’d ever known or thought existed blinded her. The bright light from the camera caused her to close her eyes just as she took the photograph.
‘That’s gonna be a keeper… not.’
The Polaroid 600 made its usual buzz and zip and then plop, out came the small image. She snatched the image from the mouth of the camera and laid it flat on the coffee table, upside down. Then, gently, she placed the camera next to the developing image and waited. Three minutes later, Karen was looking down at a photograph of herself standing in front of her sofa, with eyes closed and a frown set on her face. She wasn’t smiling because she hadn’t been able to form a smile since the flash had been so bright. She’d turned her mouth into a kind of snarl, lips pulled back to a thin line, teeth bared. She laughed, ‘Oh my god, that… is… terrible,’ and then laughed again. She looked closer at the image, studying the way the bright flash made her skin look pale and sickly. Her eyes drifted the entire picture. Except for the face she was pulling, nothing appeared strange about the photograph… Her breath caught in her throat, and her eyes widened. She looked closer at the snapshot, drawing the image nearer to her face. Was it just the trick of the bright flash or…? Her eyes narrowed as she looked at the sofa in the image’s rear.
Or is there a man sitting on the sofa behind me?
Karen spun around, almost losing her balance as she did. She already knew what she would see but could not keep the fear from creeping in. Nothing. No one. She approached the sofa and swung her arm above the cushion where the man (or a trick of the flash) in the image had been sitting, feeling the complete fool as she did. Nothing. She examined the photograph again. A man was sitting there, a huge man, she was sure, and looking right at home, too. He was leaning back in the sofa, right arm resting behind him on the top of the couch, left leg resting on top of his right. Karen couldn’t make out the man’s features because the man was nothing but a silhouette in the image, but the way this dark man was sitting, to Karen, it seemed as if he might have been smiling.
Without thinking, or realising the fear she was experiencing rising inside her chest, Karen dropped the new photograph to the floor and picked the camera up again. She stepped behind the coffee table, aimed the camera at the sofa and pressed the shutter release.
Buzz. Zip. Plop!
She snatched the image from the front of the camera, waited for it to develop and looked at… only the vacant sofa.
Don’t look into the eye, the old woman murmured in her mind.
‘What eye?’ Karen snapped back.
She had an idea. Karen placed the Polaroid 600 on the coffee table and then left the room. A few minutes later she returned holding a small digital camera she’d bought a few years ago from some swap meet gathering down at the local park. She wasn’t sure if the batteries were still any good, but when she pressed the button to turn it on, the camera made its little musical tone, and the screen lit up. The battery indicator told her the batteries still contained half their life. Karen aimed this camera at the sofa then thought better. She turned around, held the camera up as she had before with the Polaroid 600, smiled this time, and pressed the shutter release. The flash on this camera wasn’t as bright as the Polaroid 600 so she could keep her eyes open. She flipped the camera over, flicked the switch from photo to file and looked at the latest image. It was her, looking into the camera and smiling. Behind her sat the sofa with… no one occupying it.
Maybe it was just a trick of the flash, she told herself, not feeling very convinced with that idea. There was undoubtedly a man sitting on the sofa in the Polaroid, there was no way the light could have made such a trick as that, right? It was too real, too lifelike to be anything other than someone sitting behind her in the living room.
What if there is someone in the apartment and he scooted away after you took the photo?
How the crap could he move that quickly?
She’d taken the photo and snatched the image from the camera. She would have seen someone move in the corner of her eye or heard something, surely. No one can be that quiet.
But the flash, Kaz, had blinded you.
Blinded or not, Karen knew she would still have heard something if someone had been sitting on the sofa. Between the time it took to take the photograph from the camera and for the image to develop, she was sure she would have heard something, anything. A scruff as the intruder’s foot scraping against the sofa or the sound of the leather on the couch as the man stood from it. Karen picked the Polaroid up again, cradling it in her hands carefully like it was some wild animal that could bite her at any second. She gently rotated it, looking closely at every inch, trying to find anything that might give her an idea of what was happening. Nothing seemed out of place. It was just an ordinary Polaroid camera that…
Took strange photos, she thought. There’s a defect in the film, making you think someone is sitting behind you, that’s all.
Placing the camera down, she picked up the Polaroid image and studied it again. Eyes closed, snarly look on her face, the shadowy outline of a man sitting on the sofa. She frowned, and when she realised what she was about to do, she felt the hairs on her neck stand up a little.
Are you seriously doing this? She dropped the image to the floor and turned back to the camera. You’re not really going to take another one?
But before she could answer that, she was already picking up the camera and holding it up as she had the first time. Without hesitating, Karen pressed the shutter release. The flash this time was even brighter and more painful than the first time. She felt the heat almost blast from the bright flash into her eyes, though her eyes were closed from its brightness. It radiated with such force that she stumbled backwards. The backs of her legs connected with the coffee table, and before she could gain balance, Karen was falling backwards. She came down hard on the edge of the table, then fell off, hard onto the floor. As she landed on her backside, the side of her head connected severely with the edge of the table. The Polaroid 600 slipped from her hand and dropped against her thigh before rolling onto the floor where it lay beside the image.
‘What the actual fu―’ she started to say, but greyness then swooped down over her, and she embraced it. A few minutes after Karen had passed out, a huge man, wearing a toxic gas mask rose from behind the sofa.
When she came to, the first thing she noticed was how bright it was. The second thing she realised, with rising dread, was that she was sitting in a chair from the kitchen, stripped down to her underwear, hands and feet secured to the arms and legs of the chair by plastic ties. She was also gagged. Karen began to panic, she tried to wriggle out of her bonds, but all that seemed to produce was small beads of blood as the plastic ties cut into her wrists.
‘I wouldn’t try to break free,’ came a man’s voice on the other side of the light.
She looked toward that voice, her wide eyes narrowing as she stared into the bright light that was beaming in front of her. She could see nothing.
‘If you try to break free, Mother won’t be too pleased.’ The man’s voice then broke into a child-like chuckle. Karen whimpered as that was all she could manage behind the gag.
Movement from behind the light and a huge man stepped up alongside it. She couldn’t make him out too well, the light was just too blinding, although she was sure he was wearing something over his face. A mask, perhaps? Or a balaclava? It didn’t matter. He was holding something in his gloved hands. At first, in her stress and fear, she thought it was a gun, but as he stepped closer to her, now blocking most of the brightness from the light with his vast body, his hands came apart, and she could see it was two objects he was holding. The first was the Polaroid 600. The second, she realised with cold terror freezing her where she sat, was a large butcher’s knife.
He laid the knife on the coffee table (I’m in my living room, she thought when she recognised the table as being her own) and then sat the camera into Karen’s lap. As his hands came nearer to her bare legs, Karen shuddered, causing the camera to tilt on her thighs.
‘Whoa!’ the man cried out. ‘Don’t let it fall off. That will get Mother angry.’ His voice was soft and a little high for his size. ‘It’s okay. Don’t worry. You have done nothing wrong. Mother told me I have to reassure everyone of this. You weren’t picked for anything that you’d done wrong. Just because you took the camera. They all take the camera after a while. It can sit there for months and months, but someone takes it.’
The huge masked man took the Polaroid from Karen’s lap, raised it to his eye, aimed at Karen, and pressed the shutter release. The bright flash burned into her eyes, causing Karen to shrink back in the chair and close her eyes. Again, she whimpered. The camera buzzed and zipped, and the image appeared from the slot. The man pulled it from the front and dropped it to the floor.
‘That’s gonna be a good one,’ he sniggered.
He crouched down in front of her. The sheer size of him meant that when he was crouching, he was eye level with her.
‘We’re gonna play a game. Just you and me and...’ he trailed off.
Karen whimpered and tried to say something.
‘Hush. Mother doesn’t like it when you make that noise. It makes the game go longer, and she doesn’t like long games. So just be quiet and sit there like a good little girl. That’s what she tells me all the time.’ He chuckled his soft laugh. ‘She doesn’t say “good little girl” to me though. She says, “Stay in your room like a good little boy.”’
The man’s eyes went distant and stared into the darkroom behind her as if remembering something.
‘I don’t like that room,’ he mumbled. ‘It’s dark and cold, and there are rats in the walls. But Mother says… Mother… Mother… says…’ His eyes cleared, and he focused back on Karen. ‘Never mind, Mother says we must play the game. I don’t know what Mother calls it, but I like to call it “selfie.” Mother says it’s based on an old belief that states you lose part of your soul every time you take a photo of yourself. But,’ he chuckled again, ‘I can’t take your soul away from you, so the idea of “selfie” is that you take parts of yourself away and then take a photo.’
The man reached behind his back and brought out a gun that had been tucked into the belt of his pants. The weapon looked small in his large hand.
‘This is Morton,’ he said, holding the gun close to Karen’s face. ‘Morton decides if you win or lose the game. And Morton is hungry and likes it when you lose. When I tell you what body part you need to cut off, and you don’t cut it off, Morton counts to three and then blam! You lose. Do everything I say to do, and Morton loses, and you win. Your prize is life. Get it?’
Karen looked at him, her breathing was rapid. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and her lower lip trembled intensely beneath the gag in her mouth.
‘You think you will not play the game. That’s okay, most people don’t play at first, but then they understand how hungry Morton is and life becomes important to them. If you don’t play, then you give up the game and Morton wins. You will play the game. Whether you win or lose is up to you.
‘Now I have to release one of your hands so you can play. Are you righthanded or left? It doesn’t matter, I guess, only it goes a lot smoother when you use your correct hand. I’m lefthanded. Mother says I was born to be the left hand of God. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds important, don’t you think?’
The man took up the knife from the table and cut the plastic tie on Karen’s right hand.
‘You look like you’d be righthanded.’
He slipped the handle of the knife into Karen’s hand. She fumbled it for a moment and then gripped the handle tight. The man eyed her carefully behind his mask.
‘You’re thinking about sticking the knife into me,’ he intoned. ‘Not the first person to think or try that. You can try if you like, but Morton is fast, and Morton is hungry… and Morton doesn’t like cheaters. If you try that, you also give up the game and Morton wins. Your choice.’
They both stared at each other. She, sitting in one of her kitchen chairs, shaking with fear, gripping the handle of the knife tight enough that the ends of her fingers were white. He stood towering over her, looking down at her from behind his mask, clutching the gun he called “Morton” in his hand.
Karen saw the truth in the man’s eyes. This man was going to kill her no matter what. It didn’t matter if she played his sick game or not, she was going to wind up dead either way. She could just let it come quickly by refusing to play his twisted game, or she could fight to survive. She had the means to do it in her hand but how quick was he with that gun? Would he blow her head off as soon as she raised the knife, or would there be a moment’s hesitation from him so she could get the upper hand? It all seemed risky, however, and so did playing his game. Risk made life worth living. Who had said that? She couldn’t remember. All she knew was that she was going to die whether she played his game or not, and all because she found a stupid Polaroid 600 camera in a damn second-hand shop that morning.
The woman, she thought, the old bitch in the store! She’s Mother!
Karen reluctantly relaxed her grip on the handle of the knife. The man must have noticed this because he too relaxed his stance.
‘Good choice,’ he said. ‘Now, we will start out with an easy one. Your mission is to cut your index finger off your left hand. Once you’ve done that, you put the knife down, pick up the camera and take a photo of yourself. You do it, and you win that round. You don’t do it, and Morton wins the game. Simple, isn’t it? Remember, Morton, is watching.’
He moved behind her, and she felt the cold metal of the gun’s barrel press against the back of her head. ‘I will count to three, if you haven’t done what I ask of you, Morton will eat your brain.’
Karen closed her eyes, trying to think of a way out of this nightmare, but all she could feel was that cold hard barrel pressing against the back of her skull. This man meant to kill her, and for the life of her, she couldn’t find a way out. The question that remained was will she let death come quickly, or will it take her slowly and painfully.
She could somehow swing the knife behind her, she considered. Maybe she’d strike his arm with it and cause him to drop the gun. Give herself just a little extra time to…
To do what? To die? You’re strapped to a chair with a madman holding a gun to your head! What do you think you’ll have time to do, Kaz? This man has done this to others. Play the game, and you might live!
She heard the hammer of the gun click as it was locked into place behind her. The man pushed the barrel harder against the back of her head. Karen felt her body release with fear. She wanted to live more than anything and if there was the slightest chance to live by playing this man’s sick game, then what other choice did she have?
Karen placed the blade of the knife against her left index finger. She whimpered as she pushed down on the handle, and the edge began to sink into her flesh. Beads of blood appeared around the base of the blade as Karen began to push on the knife harder still. She watched through teary and painful eyes as the knife started to slice into her finger by her own doing.
She sat slumped in the chair with her chin resting against her chest. Her blood-soaked hair hung across her face, sticky and matted. She drifted in and out of consciousness. So far, there had been four rounds. The first round she had lost the finger. The man in the gas mask had soothed her and congratulated her on a job well done after she’d cut it off. He’d also said that the rounds would get harder and that he “apologises for that.”
In the second round, he had made her stick the knife into her left upper thigh and then drag it down towards her knee, leaving a deep opening. In her fear, she hadn’t imagined that it would hurt so much. But as the knife had sliced open her upper thigh, a spasm of pain went all the way up her leg and into the pit of her stomach. As she watched in horror, hardly believing it was her own hand dragging that knife down her leg, seeing the muscles and tendons poking out through the wound, a sense of being electrocuted washed over her. The pain had been so terrible that it had made her vomit.
In the third round, the massive man had returned to her left hand. With the gun held against her temple, he’d made her cut her own hand from the wrist. Blood had squirt onto the cream carpet, turning it dark crimson. As she’d cut, she had mumbled the words ‘Oh Jesus’ beneath the gag. She had wished she had been able to scream the words over and over, partly for a release of stress, partly because she was surprised she was playing this twisted game, but mostly out of agony.
She kept thinking, someone in the building should have heard something, but no one came to her rescue, not even when he’d beaten her in round four. No one had knocked on the door. No sound of police sirens or anything. Are people that deaf to their surroundings they are not even aware a woman is being tortured (perhaps even murdered) in the apartment next to them? What had become of the world? In a city that on any other night seemed to never sleep, it now appeared to be dead on this night.
After each round, the man had made her hold the camera and take a photograph of herself. After he’d beaten her, he’d had to assist her with the camera, holding her arm upright so she wouldn’t drop the camera on the floor.
‘That will make Mother mad,’ he’d said. He’d made her press the shutter release by herself. ‘Mother says I’m not to help take the photos, only assist where I can.’
Now, as she sat slumped in her chair, blood dripping from her face, her eyes almost swollen shut, loose teeth wobbling around in her gums, the masked man was standing in front of her, breathing heavily. He’d removed his shirt and was now naked from the waist down. She could smell him. He smelled of sweat and grease and something else she could not quite figure out. A musky stench like wet hay, or old clothes, or…she could not define it. He was just standing there now, looking down at her. The last time she’d raised her head, she’d seen the bulge in the front of his pants. The twisted bastard was getting off on her pain.
Between her legs, lying in a row at her tied feet were each of the photographs taken after each round he’d made her play. As she drifted in and out of consciousness, Karen could see the images. She was being made to relive each round every time she opened her swollen eyes.
‘We are almost done,’ the man said. He knelt in front of her, his large shadow blocked the bright light that felt too hot on her skin. ‘Mother will be so proud of you. Just a couple more rounds to go and you have won the game.’
Numbly, Karen shook her head and mumbled something. A persistent aching that stabbed at every bone and muscle in her body overwhelmed her. Her left hand was missing and in its place remained what felt to her like severe frostbite.
The man hesitated for a long, long time. Minutes of dark silence rolled over the room, like oil being poured from a bucket. Then, his muffled voice came from behind the gas mask. ‘I will remove the gag from your mouth so you can speak. But if you scream…’ He finished by pressing “Morton” against her forehead.
Slowly, the man reached out with his free hand and grasped the gag in Karen’s mouth. He pulled it without care or gentleness from her busted mouth, down over her lower lip. Blood spilled from Karen’s mouth, and she spat four teeth onto the floor. The blood from her mouth splattered the images.
‘Oh god no!’ the man almost shrieked. ‘Not Mother’s pictures!’ He scooped them out of the way with one hand. ‘Mother will be so cross you did that.’
‘Please…’ Karen begged. Her throat felt clogged with blood, tension and felt full of phlegm.
‘Hmm? What’s that?’
She shook her head slowly, feeling the agony of numbness surge throughout her body. ‘Please… no more.’
‘I don’t understand. You girls like to play games and to take selfies. Why are you saying no more? Only a couple more rounds and you’ve won the game. You’ll be free, I promise.’
Something in his voice told her otherwise. She felt she was finished, and she would end up dying here tonight, tied to one of her kitchen chairs, covered in blood, wearing only her underwear while the other people in the building were all hypnotised by their TV’s or mobile devices.
‘I can’t…’ Karen whispered.
The man stood, and Karen used what was left of her strength to raise her head to follow him. She had to tilt her head far back to meet his covered face.
‘I can’t do this anymore. Why can’t you understand that? I’ve done everything you’ve asked. Why can’t that be the end of it?’
‘Because Mother told me what rounds we had to play tonight, and if I don’t play the rounds Mother says, she’ll know by the photos and then she’ll be mad. She said, “make sure you make that prissy little thing look ugly. You don’t stop until she looks as if no man will glance at her.” She said I had to make sure you do one very important thing. And that is what we will do now for this round, okay?’
He placed the knife into her hand again, while aiming the gun at her. Out of reflex, Karen gripped the handle of the knife and then moaned. The man then slipped his hand between her breasts, grasping her bra and jerked the fabric hard. The force from his tug made Karen launch forward in the chair, whipping her head sharply as she shot forward and then back as her bra broke away from her. The man stood there, staring down at her breasts from behind the bug-like eye sockets of the gas mask. He was breathing heavily again, she could hear the breathes he took, shaky and jagged as they came out from behind the gas mask.
‘Very nice,’ he said. ‘Which one don’t you like?’
‘In this round, you have to choose which one you don’t like and then cut it off.’
‘No, please don’t do this.’
The man pointed the gun at her. ‘Are you giving up? Because Morton here thinks you are.’ He pulled back the hammer on the gun. The click was loud in her ears. ‘Choose or die. Mother says you must choose. Morton says you must die.’
Karen was crying now. ‘I don’t want to die. Please don’t make me do this anymore.’
‘Okay. You are giving up. There’s no shame in that.’ The man knelt in front of her again. ‘Mother won’t be happy, but these things happen.’ He raised the gun and placed the barrel between Karen’s eyes.
‘I… don’t want to… die,’ Karen said between sobs.
‘Then play the game.’
The man replaced Karen’s gag and pushed the barrel harder into her head. Crying, Karen raised the knife to her right breast, slipping the blade against the underside.
Behind the mask, the man let out a shaky sigh as he watched Karen go to work on her right breast, screaming beneath the blood-soaked gag in her mouth.
‘Sometimes,’ he said as Karen cut through the flesh below her right breast, ‘the beautiful lie we know to be life can overshadow the reality of death… so Mother says.’
The old woman hobbled across the floor of the shop to her rickety chair. Her old bones cracked and groaned in unison with the chair as she lowered herself into it. When she was seated, she eyed the shelf where she’d just came from. The Polaroid 600 sat in its usual place on the dusty shelf, a little back towards the rear of the shelf, but not far too back that people wouldn’t see it.
Beneath the counter was a stack of Polaroid images, all displaying the gruesome events the Polaroid had captured for her entertainment. The newest ones from the night before laid on top of the stack. There were five in total. Not the most she’d ever received from her son, but not a bad game night, she supposed. It had started out slow, though. The first image had somewhat disappointed the old woman. Her boy had gone easy on the girl and had allowed her to start the game by removing a single finger. But the second… oh, the latter had seen her boy regain his magic, and he had produced some fantastic art for Mother to look over during her long and lonely nights.
The woman that had taken the Polaroid 600 the day before had lasted a fair while. Most people begged her boy to kill them after three measly photographs. Only one had continued through the whole game, ending it by cutting his own throat. But the girl from the night before had bled out after the fifth photograph, but it wasn’t too bad. Her boy had created another masterpiece for her. She had seen the night unfold through those Polaroid images. The finger, the hand, the leg, the beating her son had given her, her left breast… all had been removed, and all documented by her trusty old Polaroid 600. Her boy had pleased her.
It was only a game that had begun when her husband was still alive. They had purchased the camera not long after they were married, and the idea had seemed erotic to them both. They’d started by taking the homeless from the streets, just slicing them up and photographing it. They’d had many wild nights of sex in the blood of others. That people would go to such lengths and through so much pain and agony just to live only came to her after her husband had passed away. She wanted to witness life and death firsthand, she wanted to know if others felt pain like she felt after losing her husband. How far will one go to survive?
Behind her, the door leading into the small room at the back of the shop creaked open a few inches. The old woman turned in her chair but did not look at the door.
‘Close the door,’ she croaked from her rickety chair. ‘Stay in your room like a good little boy.’
‘Yes Mother,’ came the reply, and the door creaked shut again.