Photograph of your dreams

Submitted into Contest #144 in response to: Start your story with somebody taking a photo.... view prompt


Fiction Suspense

She clicks the button of her film camera, capturing the gleeful faces of graduates huddled together in the lobby of the university. The lobby, sterile, colourful and featureless contrasts sharply with the warm humanity captured inside these photographs. She clicks the button of her camera again, and she clicks it again and when the click weakens she knows that there is no film left. The pride on the faces of the graduates washes away at the hollow click, leaving only disappointment. This almost breaks her heart. “I’ll be back”, she says, doing her very best to retain some of their lost happiness. “I just need to go and grab some more film, and I’ll be back to take some more photographs. Hang in there, guys, I’ll be back before you can say ‘cheese’”.

She takes the steps behind her, leading into a blank corridor. The floor is cheap and shiny, and all the doors are blue and offer no clues to the secrets they hide. She walks quickly down it, the acoustics making her acutely aware of the squeaking and impact of each step. When she turns the corner, she sees a man. He’s a fat man with a receded, long ponytail and a weak beard. He’s staring at her and she feels uncomfortable, but she doesn’t know why. “Young lady, a word?” he asks. She stops beside him and obliges. “What a wonderful camera, I used to have one just like it” he says. She smiles and nods politely. “Truly wonderful things.” His perfect enunciation of each word does not fit his unimpressive appearance. “Remind me - which type of film does it use?”

“35 millimetre” she says.

“Of course. Nothing quite captures warmth like 35 millimetre, does it? Fantastic for family photos” She has the impression that he already knew the answer to the question before he had asked it.

He is yet to take his eyes off of the camera.

“Think about the vast aggregation of emotion captured on all the 35 millimetre film in the world” he ponders out loud. She doesn’t know what he is talking about. He stops, breathing slightly heavier now, still staring at the camera until he breaks the silence. “Perhaps you’d be interested in an item of mine” he says, finally looking up to meet her eyes. He reaches into a khaki satchel bag on his hip, and pulls out a reel of film. He pulls at the tab to unravel it, revealing something that in all her years here, she had never seen. On each segment of film, there were clear videos, or something more like moving photographs. It was surreal to her, and he could see this, and he grinned. “Would you like film like this?” She nodded like a child. “Good, good. You can have mine, if you’d like it. But I only ask for one small recompense - the film you have inside that camera.”

“But I’ve used it”, she explains. “It’s full of photographs of the graduates.”

“Quite right, but that isn’t an issue for me. I should be quite content with the film in either case.” He extends the moving image film towards her, gesturing for her camera. “Now, hand it over little bird.” She instinctively recoils and pulls the camera that is slung around her neck away from him.

“No, no, I don’t think so. Sorry.” She says. After looking him up and down in light disdain once more, she turns and continues down the hall. When she reaches the end of the corridor, she remembers that to reach the room where the film is kept, she must take a left turn, and then a right turn, and continue alternating between these directions until she comes across the green door. But when she turns the first corner, she sees the man again, leaning against the wall like before. She can see clearly that it is the same man. She takes a few steps back, placing herself on the apex of the corner between the two corridors. Looking left, at where she had come from, she can see the man. She sweeps her head right to look down the new corridor, and also sees the man there, too. She finds herself unable to perceive both of them at once. She walks down the new corridor, and as she draws parallel with him hears “young lady, a word?”

“No, sorry, I really don’t have time. The graduates are waiting for me.” This time she hurries down the hallway to show that she really is in a rush to get the film. She reaches the end of the corridor, taking a right - and there he is again. She rushes past the man, and begins to feel disoriented. The noise of the squeaking and impact of her shoes is now more apparent, and so overwhelming that she doesn’t know if the man said anything to her this time. As she reaches the end of the corridor, she is startled by “hey, you!”. His voice is loud and intimidating. She turns to look back at him whilst still in full stride. She is shocked to see him standing in the middle of the hallway this time, pointing a camera directly at her. Under the camera is a toothy smile that appeals to her as a little too wide.

Click - flash flash.

The flash of the camera shocks her, and she trips over her own feet and can’t see anything for a moment. Whilst she is still waiting for her senses to return to her completely, she can hear the sound of the man’s cackling laughter growing quieter over the sound of his quick, diminishing footsteps. When her bearings returned and she’d hoisted herself back to her feet, she could see that he was gone. Optimistic that this trouble with the man was now over, she turns the next left-hand corner. But there he is once more. This time she runs past him, but after the next right-turn sees a room that she does not remember. The end of the corridor leads into a large atrium, with a ceiling at least one hundred feet high and open cross-sections of each floor overlooking the central cavity. She tentatively steps into the atrium. There is nobody here. Now inside, she can see that the ceiling is in fact a large skylight, and she can see the blue of the sky in a shade of blue that she previously had no conception of. When she brings her gaze back down, the man is standing beside her.

“You really must do as you’re told, little bird. Hand it over, and the special film is yours. Do you have any idea what this is worth?” he says, holding up his film above his head, like a hunter holding the decapitated head of something or someone impressive.

“No” she says. “I need this film, the graduates were so proud and I captured all of it. Every single colour and emotion.”

“That doesn’t really matter, in the grand scheme of things. This is your last chance.”

She clutches her camera and shakes her head. In the periphery of her vision she sees dozens of dark figures appear on each level of the atrium, looking down at her.

“Are you sure this is the choice you want to make?” he asks, with a tangible air of finality. She nods her head with fear in her eyes.

She looks up at the darkened silhouette figures and sees that their hands are now in front of their faces. A few seconds pass before a sea of flashes floods down from above, sending her veering from side-to-side. The flashes move through her like propelled shrapnel and she is forced to the ground. Eventually the flashes taper off and offer respite, but in her blindness she hardly notices the man now scurrying away. He is holding a long string of film, and laughing as he pulls it from her camera. As his distance increases and he disappears around a corner, she realises that the film is extended from her camera endlessly. There must be 20 metres of film already trailing the man. She stands and begins to give chase, determined to stop his pulling of the film. But before she reaches the corner that he disappeared around, she is distracted by a shimmer in the corner of her eye. She turns and sees a string of film falling slowly and coiling on the ground beside her. She turns and sees that film is now raining from the upper levels of the cavity, and they look profoundly beautiful as the light from the skylight cascades and dances from their edges. The room is twinkling white and sepia, and the world feels slow-motion. She is utterly stunned by its beauty. Forgetting all about her quest to recover her own film, she dances and frolics through the shimmering art. She twists, and twirls, and tests her balance as she spins gleefully and feels as warm as her photographs. The atrium and wider world around her disappear in a cosmos of flickering, moving images glowing in the light, oscillating meaningfully through the air. She loses sense of up, down, left, right, and for a moment she even forgets even the idea of herself. The graduates are now so far from her mind that they cannot be seen or perceived, and so from her perspective, have ceased to exist. They never existed - the beauty of what was around her was so profound and consuming that the history of the world had fallen away.

But like all good things, this one must come to an end. Her ankle snags on a loop of coiled film and she tumbles to the ground. As she tries to push herself vertical again, she finds that her wrists are now bound in strips of moving images. As her attention is drawn to what is wrapped tightly around her wrist, she can now see that the moving images are images of her current struggle. Each section of film depicts a repeating three second clip of her struggle to escape. She sees the few moments she has left, displayed in no particular order. The film is now falling over her, and this ocean of moving beauty consumes her completely. All she can see is film and sepia, all she can taste is nitrates, smell metal, and hear shimmering. She sees images of the film snaking around her limbs and pulling her into the ground, and then she begins to feel it happen in reality. One by one, the sections of film fade to black and there is nothing left to be seen.

May 02, 2022 22:12

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Deanna Weigel
23:51 May 11, 2022

This definitely had a bit of a creepy vibe going. I liked that. Writing in the present tense made it feel scarier, I thought. My favorite scene was the hallway scene when she turned the corner and the man was there again. Very creepy.


Show 0 replies
Michał Przywara
21:51 May 11, 2022

The zig-zagging corridor scene was nice. It was a sudden alarming twist and it had some strong horror vibes, establishing that "something's really off here" sense. The fact the man was both behind and in front of her added to this, but so did the acoustics of the hallway. I was rooting for the protagonist to succeed, but I guess in the end the films were just too distracting :)


Show 0 replies
Jay McKenzie
21:37 May 11, 2022

Wow! Some stunning imagery here Harry. And very creepy. The start really doesn't reveal what is to come, which is nice. There's just a bit where the tense shifts which jarred a bit "...pulls out a reel of film. He pulls at the tab to unravel it, revealing something that in all her years here, she had never seen. On each segment of film, there were clear videos, or something more like moving photographs. It was surreal..." The present tense really works for the story.


Show 0 replies
Jeannette Miller
14:49 May 07, 2022

Love this story! Starts out a bit slow and clunky then awkward in the hallway then creepy. I thought maybe she was dreaming and caught in a loop. I love how you reveal each part of her trying to get away from the man and the falling film in the atrium. I could see it all while reading it. Well done!


Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.