Elizabeth gently opens the ceiling door to enter the attic. The rickety sound of the long-unused hinges sends a shiver up her spine and only antagonizes her jittery nerves. Grateful to have finally pulled the door all the way open, she pulls the ladder down from the attic and places her foot on the first rung. Pausing for a moment, she gathers her strength. "I am strong. I am not afraid." The mantra rings in her ears. Looking upward, she begins to climb.
The first thing she notices is nothing spooky at all, only annoying. Spider webs. Everywhere. As she pulls herself fully onto the attic floor, she wipes away multiple webs from her hair. She takes a moment to gather herself and lets her eyes adjust as much as they can in the dark. This is not an exploratory mission. She is there to seek one item: a long-missing roll of 35mm film that her grandmother left in the attic decades earlier. Elizabeth's grandmother told her the sordid tale while on her death bed and pleaded with her granddaughter to find the film. It would have all the answers to the greatest family mystery.
Reaching into her pocket, she pulls out the small flashlight she brought for this mission. She flashes it over multiple cob-web-covered boxes. There is an old-timey bicycle in the far corner. Elizabeth stands up and shines the light over each box, looking for the telltale mark that will alert her to the film's resting place.
After a few minutes of looking at many boxes and wiping away more cobwebs, she finally finds it. The box her grandmother told her about is marked with a crudely-drawn X inside a circle. Excitedly, Elizabeth tears open the top of the box. As clear as day, she sees it: an old roll of film sitting alone in the large box. Eager to depart, she grabs the film and heads back down from the attic. Hastily, she closes the ceiling door, heads down to her car, and rushes to the nearby photo mat. She had already identified a location that should be able to process the film, despite its age.
"How long do you think it will take?" She asks the clerk at the counter, practically foaming at the mouth with anticipation.
"Oh, about an hour. You can come back and pick it up if you want."
"Oh no," she eagerly responds, "I will wait."
The hour goes by rather uncomfortably, with Elizabeth's imagination running wild with excitement at the result of the film's processing.
Finally, just over an hour later, the clerk returns with good news.
"I finished developing the film. The images still need to hang and dry, but you can come in and look at them."
She looks back at him with no expression. She feels the excited anticipation inside, but she's afraid of what will happen if she expresses it. A loss of control seems imminent, so she remains as calm as she can.
"But," the clerk continues, "I must warn you a couple of the images are...disturbing."
"What do you mean, disturbing?" Elizabeth coolly asks.
"I don't feel comfortable saying. All I can suggest is that you have a look for yourself."
"Mm." She stands, straightening out the ruffles in her skirt. "Well then, let's have a look, shall we?"
The clerk gives a nod and turns to direct her to the darkroom. As they approach the door, he turns off the hallway light to not disturb the image processing.
He opens the door. Inside, she can barely make out the row of photographs hanging in front of a dull red light. Her eyes adjust, and she moves toward them.
"I'll leave you alone. I hung the photos in the order they were taken on the film, from left to right. I'll be waiting at the front desk if you need me." With that, the clerk closes the door and leaves Elizabeth to her fate.
She exhales slowly, and steps toward the first photograph hanging on the left. She can see a young woman donning an old hairstyle in the dim light. Something that appears to have been popular in the 1950s, she guesses. She believes it's her grandmother. The high cheekbones are hers, but she is so much younger than how she now appears. She's sitting on a swing, holding a broad, teasing grin on her face. She appears to be no older than 18, and from the beaming look in her eyes, it is evident the person taking the photograph is someone she admires.
Moving to the next image, Elizabeth sees the young woman staring into a beautiful forest. It's a shot one could expect to see in many Instagram feeds today, save for the black-and-white imagery. It appears the woman is also her grandmother, though with her back to the camera it could not be known with certainty.
She steps to the right and observes the next image.
Now, she sees her grandmother again. This time, she is laying on her side in a bed in what appears to be a small bedroom. An open window on the left lets in a good deal of sunlight. The brightness affects the image in a way that gives it a strange effect. Her grandmother stares directly at the camera. Her face is smooth, calm, serene, and serious. Her head is up and supported by her right arm. It's as if she's patiently waiting for something. Or someone.
Elizabeth continues to the next image. It shows her grandmother once more, this time close up. So close, that she almost kisses the camera. Her smile is huge and infectious.
Elizabeth takes a step back for a moment. "What am I looking for here?" she asks herself. Thus far, the photographs seem to be taken by a lover from long ago. Any young woman could be found with similar photos today, except now on their phones rather than on an old roll of 35mm film.
Three more photos hang on the line. She knows she must view them, but at this point, she's feeling disappointed. Supposedly the great family mystery is addressed here, but she's discovered nothing extraordinary yet.
The next photograph shows the same bed on which her grandmother had been laying. This time, there isn't anyone in the image. It's almost as if it was taken by accident.
Elizabeth sighs. "Let's get through this and get out of here," she says to herself.
Moving briskly to the next image, she looks up and all her thoughts stop. The clerk said there were some disturbing images. And now, she sees why.
Her grandmother is on the bed again. A least it appears to be her grandmother. This time, she is shirtless and lying face down. On her bare back, there are...marks. They appear to be claw marks, but it is difficult to tell. The sunlight that bathed the room in the earlier image has given way to what seems to be an early evening dimness. The darker image makes it difficult to precisely make out just what Elizabeth is witnessing. Nonetheless, it feels disturbing to see a woman in this condition.
Elizabeth stands transfixed. What could have caused those marks?
A fear grips here. There is one more photograph, and now she knows it could be anything. If her grandmother had been right, this last image should tell her everything she needs to know about the family secret. It has to. The previous images were nothing more than mysteries...they provided no answers, only more questions. This last one must be key.
Yet, knowing that all she has wondered all her life may well be answered in the next moment, she pauses. Her entire life, everything she's known, it could all change now. Massively. Is she ready for this moment?
She looks at the ceiling and closes her eyes. She takes in a long, deep breath, holds it, and slowly lets it release through parsed lips. "I'm ready," she consoled herself.
Stepping in front of the final image, she kept her gaze slightly away from it until she was directly in front of it and ready.
She quickly lifts her gaze to the image, and her mouth drops.
"What the...oh my god!"
Her knees weaken, and the only thing that prevents her from dropping to the floor is a quick reaction to grab the table behind her.
"It can't be. It can't!"
She stands up straight and looks at the image again, almost expecting to see something entirely different.
Calming slightly, she stands and stares in awe. What she sees is incomprehensible. It is unbelievable. It is scientifically impossible. And yet, there it is.
In the image, the person behind the camera extends an arm out in front of it. From the look of the dainty arm, Elizabeth guesses it's her grandmother taking the photograph. Her hand is grasping...another hand. But, it's not any hand.
It's an enormous, furry, beast-like hand.
And that hand belongs to an enormous creature. A massive, hulking beast. It stares back into the camera with hissing, fire-like red eyes. Yet somewhere in those eyes is a soft, caring look. The conclusion Elizabeth makes is clear.
The beast is in love with her grandmother. And her grandmother is in love with the beast.
"It can't be," she says aloud to herself. "Yet, it explains so much. This is the answer I've been seeking all my life."
Looking down at her arm, she feels an itch that needs attention. She begins to scratch her fur-covered arm with her opposite paw, relieving the discomfort.