Kimberly’s cell phone rang while she was on the interstate, heading home. She had too much on her mind. She’d been trying to figure out what to make for dinner, wondering how her mother was doing, and whether or not she should take the Volvo in to have it looked at. After all, she knew that odd clunking noise under the hood wasn’t going to be magically fixed by turning up the radio.
So, when picked up the call, her voice had more of a snap to it than she meant.
“Kimberly?” A young woman’s voice replied uncertainly. “Hi, it’s Amelia.”
“Ah, my personal photo developer! It’s nice to hear a friendly voice. Are the pictures ready so soon?”
“Well, I developed them this morning.”
Kimberly noticed tension in the younger woman’s voice. “Is everything OK?”
Kimberly hoped the photos had come out. A year ago, she had accompanied Thomas, Cheryl, and the kids on a camping trip and, feeling very much like a fifth wheel, had spent a lot of time hiking on her own. To her disappointment, not one of the gorgeous scenic shots of the Blue Ridge Mountains had come out. Not one.
“Bad film,” Amelia had told her. “Sometimes it happens. I’m so sorry.”
“Um, actually… there is something I’d like for you to see,” Amelia replied. “Can you swing by?”
Kimberly glanced up at the exit she was passing. She'd need to get off at the next one and double back about a mile to get to Amelia’s house.
“Sure, I can be there in about 20 minutes.” Kimberly said with a frown. “What is it, though?”
Amelia hesitated for a moment before speaking again.
“I think this is something you need to see with your own eyes.”
“Hey,” Amelia greeted Kimberly, opening the door to her apartment. “Come on in, I was just finishing up in the darkroom. The photos are almost done. They’re gorgeous.”
The slender, dark-haired 23-year-old was wearing a fitted turquoise top over a pair of flared jeans. The bangs above her forehead almost completely covered the large scar that had been there as long as Kimberly had known her. Amelia's green eyes twinkled as she smiled and stepped back, allowing her guest to enter.
She walked toward the back where her darkroom was located, and Kimberly followed. She was so used to Amelia’s slight limp, she hardly ever noticed it anymore, but today, for some reason, it seemed more pronounced.
Kimberly had questioned her about the scar and limp about five years ago when she was still babysitting Lynn.
“It was an accident when I was little.”
That was all Amelia had said, and Kimberly left the young woman to her privacy.
Amelia opened the outer door and closed it behind both of them. Turning out the overhead light, she opened the door to the darkroom.
The smell of processing chemicals greeted their nostrils, and Kimberly inhaled deeply. She knew she was one of those odd people that actually enjoyed the smell of what other people seemed to find unpleasant. Darkroom chemicals, tar, gasoline, even manure if it was mingled with hay, all gave her a sense of delight.
Standing in the amber glow of the safelight, Kimberly smiled as she glanced around. The photographs she had taken in Maine were drying side by side on lines strung up around the room.
“So, what did you want to show me?” Kimberly asked. “The photos look like they came out great.”
Amelia was pulling a photo out of the fixing bath. She rinsed and hung it next to the others before turning to Kimberly.
“It’s this one,” Amelia said, walking over to her desk, “I enlarged it so you would be able to see the detail better.”
As Kimberly rounded the corner, the young woman raised a cautionary hand.
“What I’m about to show you is… weird. It scared me.”
Frowning, Kimberly took a seat in the chair next to Amelia.
At first, Kimberly saw nothing wrong. The photo was the one she’d taken of Lynn dancing in the sunlight outside of the psychic’s tent. She looked beautiful with her hands raised to the sky, her long hair fanning out behind her.
Suddenly, as though viewing an optical illusion, another image that seemed to be superimposed onto the photograph jumped out at her.
She reeled backward. “Oh, God! What is that?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Amelia said. “I thought it was something I had done wrong. I developed this photo four times, but I can’t get that image to disappear.”
Kimberly slid her chair closer to the desk and peered at the image. There appeared to be two little girls pictured in the photo. There was her daughter, smiling and looking up at the sky while this other, darker version of Lynn glared through Lynn’s chest, one white hand curled into a claw that reached toward the camera.
Kimberly felt a shudder pass through her as she examined the features of the other child. If she didn’t know better, she’d say this little girl was Lynn. Everything from the nose to the shape of the eyes and even the hair were all like those belonging to her daughter.
But this child, this thing, whatever it was, was not Lynn. This "other" was staring out from behind Lynn’s eyes with a look of rage and hatred on her face, and her mouth… dear God, her mouth was twisted open in a horrible scream!
“Do you see it?” Amelia asked, tracing her finger around the ominous visage. “It’s almost like a shadow. It’s not as clear as what's in the foreground, but it’s there, like an imprint or something. If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was a double exposure. I’ve seen lots of weird things happen when two photos are taken on the same piece of film, but this is a clean shot. I have no logical explanation for this. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Neither have I,” Kimberly whispered, leaning back in her chair. When it creaked, she gave a little start.
“You took a few of the exact same shot but this—face doesn’t appear on any of the others.”
Amelia handed her a small stack of photos. “I developed all of the ones from that particular set a few times.”
Kimberly glanced at the photos in her hand and then up at the enlarged image.
“I don’t know what it is,” Kimberly said, struggling to keep the tremor out of her voice.
“Do you want me to just get rid of it?” Amelia asked. “I can—”
“No,” Kimberly replied, cutting her off. “I mean, I might as well keep it. It could mean something.”
Amelia frowned. “Like what?”
Kimberly shook her head. “I have no idea.”
Amelia shrugged and took down the rest of the photos. “These are done. You can take them home with you.”
“What do you think this image is?” Kimberly asked after a long moment.
The young woman paused after putting the photographs into an envelope. She leaned back against the counter, her fingers running a gold locket back and forth on the chain around her neck.
When she finally looked up at Kimberly, a hint of fear showed in her face.
“I could agree with that,” Paul said. He leaned back against the sofa cushions as he examined the photograph. “It looks like a ghost.”
“It gives me the creeps, Paul,” Kimberly said, rubbing the goose bumps on her arms. “All this talk of possession, and now this photo? It’s horrible. I can’t even look at it. It looks as though something is trying to come through Lynn’s body!”
“What did this psychic tell you?” Paul asked.
Kimberly and Paul had been talking in the living room for half an hour. He had dropped by to discuss their trip to Maine, but one look at his sister's pale and drawn face as she opened the door told him she had much more on her mind than the health of their mother.
Kimberly leaned her elbow against the back of the couch and put her head in her hand, massaging her temple. “It was very strange, Paul. I think this woman was for real.”
As her brother listened, Kimberly explained the experience. She mentioned everything from the odd silence surrounding the tent to how Madam Roberta seemed to be able to pick thoughts of out thin air.
“And that cat, Velvet. I swear she was summoned there to lure Lynn out of the tent so Roberta could give me the warning.”
“So she didn’t use the word ‘haunted’, she said, ‘plagued’?” Paul asked, staring back down at the photo and frowning. He turned it to the left and then the right, as though trying to find an angle that would somehow reveal its secret.
“That’s what she said. I wanted to ask her so many more questions, but then Lynn was getting bored and wanted to leave and another customer just ‘happened’ to walk in at that moment. The whole thing was very strange.”
Kimberly shifted in her seat. “And do you know what was even more frightening?”
Paul looked up from the photograph and squinted at his sister over the top of his glasses.
“Lynn was going to ask her!”
Paul’s lips tensed. “Really?”
“Somehow, Roberta seemed to know about what’s been happening with Lynn, and she steered her away from the topic. You should have seen the way Roberta was studying her.”
“Well, did you think this woman was dangerous?”
Kimberly shook her head. “No. It was actually kind of validating she picked up on so much. At least now I don’t feel as though you and I are the only ones with the paranormal on our minds. Still, I don’t know what to do. It seems the more I find out about this situation, the more questions I have. And now, I have this horrible photo.”
Kimberly gestured with irritation as Paul laid it down on the coffee table. “I don’t know how I’m doing all this at once. I mean, think about it. Mom is sick. My relationship with Gary just went kaput, and I haven’t even had time to deal with it, and now my daughter is, not might be, is possessed!”
"Well, we don't know--"
Kimberly sprung up off the couch and began to pace, effectively cutting Paul off mid-sentence.
“Paul, I don’t know what to do here. Ever since we got home, Lynn hasn’t been looking well at all. At first I thought it was the stress of seeing her grandparents for the first time and—Oh, I forgot to tell you!”
Paul was now perched on the edge of the couch, his cool, calm gaze following Kimberly’s attempt to wear a hole through the carpet.
She stopped suddenly, crouching down like a child about to play leapfrog, her eyes wide with excitement. “Something very odd happened when Lynn met Mom!” Kimberly cried, her fingers drumming on the coffee table. “Lynn reached out and touched Mom's abdomen and kept her hand there for a long time, this look of hopeless sorrow on her face. Then, after a few minutes, she looked at me and just shook her head, almost as though she felt resigned about something. Then, Mom just looked from me to Lynn, and, before she fell back to sleep said; ‘She knows’.”
“Well, they do have her on a lot of medication,” Paul offered.
Kimberly shot up from the floor and resumed her pacing. She sighed. “I know they have her on a lot of meds, Paul, she’s on a morphine drip. But, I swear Lynn was doing something or trying to.”
“Do you think she was sensing the disease or trying to heal it in some way?”
“Yes!” Kimberly exclaimed, eyes blazing. She pointed at her brother. “Yes, that’s it! I think that’s exactly what she was trying to do!”
“Wow,” Paul said. “Exactly how much coffee did you drink today?”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Kimberly laughed, her cheeks turning pink. “I know I seem manic, but I’ve just been so up and down for the past couple of days. I’m a live wire one minute and practically comatose the next.
I need to do something. Gary is gone, and I can’t say I blame him for wanting to get away from Lynn, considering. I have no idea why her “ghost” started targeting him all of a sudden. Mom is sick, and the only thing I can do is be there. But Lynn, I have to do something for her, Paul. She’s even starting to look sick.”
Paul frowned. “Her mother isn’t looking so great, either.”
Kimberly collapsed onto the leather chair opposite the couch and put her feet up on the ottoman. “I’m trying to take care of myself as best as I can.” Whatever chemicals were responsible for her sudden excitement were already draining from her. “It’s just that dealing with work, Gary, Lynn, and Mom, not to mention Dad...it’s all too much at once.”
“Why did you go back to work?” Paul asked, his eyes narrowing. “You took time off, didn’t you?”
Kimberly sighed. “Yes, I did. Then Brian came down with the flu, and all of the clients who were supposed to go to him are now starting to look outside of our little office. I just had a busy day today and yesterday. Brian is coming back in a few days, and then I’ll be off again.”
“You know, you can’t save the world,” Paul told her. “If you need the time, you need the time. You can’t keep running back to the office just because they say they need you. Trust me, the creditors and bookies will not stop calling these people just because you take some time off.” Paul spread his arms out and gestured wildly. “You can’t possibly lose clientele. Our entire nation is in debt!”
Kimberly let out a chuckle. “It’s only for a few more days, and then we’re going to sit down and delegate the workload to some freelancers we know. I promise.”
“Have you seen Debra since you’ve been back?”
Kimberly nodded and rolled her eyes. “Yes, and now she thinks it's possible Lynn might have dissociative identity disorder.”
Paul looked incredulous. “Has she seen this photo?”
“Yes, she has. She doesn’t have an explanation for it. Oh, and get this, Lynn’s test results from the MRI came back, and they’re negative except there’s a large spot on the image from the last scan they took right after we had that weird brownout. It’s not a dark spot either, it looks like a type of sun flare on the negative.”
“Where was it?”
“It was on the right,” she said, raising her hand to touch the side of her head, “and the doctor told me it was concentrated in the neocortex.”
“Hmmm,” Paul said, adjusting his glasses. He steepled his fingers together and looked at Kimberly over the top of them.
“Well, the neocortex is the area of the brain that controls what’s called ‘higher consciousness’, it’s even been linked with psychic abilities, and…check this out, the ability to move objects with the mind.”
Kimberly’s eyes widened, and her lips formed an 'O' of surprise. “You know, I was wondering about that. The doctors assured me it was just a glitch in the machine, but that’s about as much of a technical error as the photo Amelia developed.”
“Have you ever seen Lynn move something with her mind?”
Kimberly shook her head. “As far as I know, she’s only done it around Gary for some reason. I mean, she apparently hurled him down a flight of stairs and has no recollection of even getting up from the table to do it.”
“There’s got to be a reason she targeted him,” Paul said, resting his chin between his thumb and forefinger.
He sat forward and put his elbow to his knee in a perfect impression of Rodin’s, “The Thinker.” It was a pose he’d adopted in early childhood whenever he was concentrating deeply on something.
“Paul, do you think she did it on purpose, or was Gary just in the wrong place at the wrong time?”
“I’d believe that if it happened once, but two events like that in the span of two days, directly targeting Gary?” Paul said with a shake of the head. His forehead wrinkled. “It seems significant somehow. What did Gary have to say about it?”
“Well, his was royally pissed off and called her a demon seed, so I about threw him out the door.”
“Oh, no, I know that, but what had Lynn said to him? Did she say anything before she threw him down the steps?”
“Oh,” Kimberly said, leaning back. She put a finger to her lips. “Well, the first time it happened she was accusing him of keeping her trapped. It was something like that. She screamed at him to let her go.”
Paul nodded. “I remember you telling me she said something like, ‘I know what you did to my mommy’, was that it?”
“Yeah. I have no idea what that meant. Neither does she.”
“The only way you’re going to get real answers to what’s going on is if she starts remembering things,” Paul told her. “Otherwise, all you’re doing is going around in circles.”