(Contains elements of a sensitive nature, including grief, the supernatural, and implied violence)
When you’re strapped for cash, and you’re already busy with school and working in your spare time, you find more work. For me, that was cleaning out basements for the neighbors. One particular day, though, I discovered a calling (albeit, short lived) much deeper than earning some extra cash. I was at Mrs. Carruthers’ place, tackling one of the most cluttered gold mines of a basement I’ve faced yet. She was a long-time friend of my grandmother who has long since passed. This 92 year-old’s basement clearly hadn’t been cleaned in perhaps a decade… probably not even walked in.
I discovered lots of treasures, from dusty record players and cassette tapes, to antique kitchenware that appeared to have more sentimentality than practicality.
Of course, amid admiring those things, my job was to organize and dust, and at Mrs. Carruthers' request, I was to also see if I could find a particular glass vase she hadn’t been able to find in many months. For the record, I did find that vase. But I also found something more mysterious. It took me several moments to even realize what it was. I don’t find these in my regular basement cleanings, but I realized what it was: a very old roll of film.
My curiosity piqued and I knew I had to get it developed. Of course, I’m not a monster or creep, so I asked Mrs. Carruthers if she minded. She barely understood what I was asking, but said it would be just fine. I wasted no time and got it developed and back to her the next day.
Mind you, I had a good look at the results before going inside to show her. Questions were now reeling. Mostly, the photos looked to be like a young Mrs. Carruthers in her marriage (before her husband made her a widow) and with her kids I presumed at birthday parties and whatnot, but one photo bothered me. This photo had a very obvious Mrs. Carruthers in no later than her 20s, next to another woman, looking almost exactly like her. That woman also carried an infant who had to have been under 1 year old.
I couldn’t resist bombarding Mrs. Carruthers with the burning question: “who is this next to you in this photo, including the baby?”
With a quick but struggled gasp, muted by her age and frailty, she began to close her eyes momentarily and time travel in her mind decades prior to now… “This was my twin sister. This was taken in 1954, and my sister, Katrina, had a son named Lucas. Those are the people in this photo. This photo was taken only a few weeks before she and the baby died. There was a horrible house fire that consumed Trina as she awoke from a deep sleep. It was already too late for baby Lucas when she finally awoke to get him. Help didn’t come in time and she never made it out alive.”
Though time had well passed since this tragic incident, I took advantage of her memory (though obviously still coated in grief) and asked her “where was the father of the baby, her husband?”
She told me he was in their life actively, but unfortunately was working when the fire occurred. “It’s not like she could have texted him back then…” she added, meekly, choking down tears.
As I stood there listening to the story, I noticed something peculiar. I thought the age and discoloration of the photo were playing tricks on my eyes, but with my own two eyes and a clear mind, I saw her sister Katrina and baby Lucas slowly fading from the photograph.
Without a second thought, I showed Mrs. Carruthers and she simply teared up and briskly walked to her bedroom sobbing. It was the quickest I’d seen her move. She probably just thought the photo was damaged. I gave her a moment before I went to her and knocked on the cracked open door. “Mrs. Carruthers… is it okay if I take this photo for now? Leave it to me to figure out what’s happening. I’ll do whatever I can to save this photo.”
She waved in an agreeing way as she settled her tears, falling into her pillow.
I didn’t realize I’d be saving more than a photograph until several days later.
I traipsed into neighborhood homes, antique shops, our biggest old library, and anywhere I could find out more about Katrina and Lucas and about whatever was making them disappear in this photo! I only learned so much, and sometimes nothing. Things like genealogy n such were told to me, but little else. It was an era with way less documentation that withstood time. Mention of that fire wasn’t found. I hit a break when I went to the police station. It was the only place left I could think to go. I figured even with officers likely retired - or gone - since this fire, someone might still know something.
As I was speaking with an officer who clearly knew nothing about these people or the fire, another officer was eavesdropping and chimed in as I was turning to find my new interviewee. He spoke up and said “I know this fire. My great grandpa grew up in this neighborhood and knew of Katrina and her family. He wasn’t close to them but he saw them around, knew who lived nearby…
“What can you tell me about the fire?!” I asked hurriedly. I never told the officers they were disappearing in the photo for fear of being locked up for insanity or something, but they could see enough of the faded photo to make it out.
He told me that all his great grandpa told him was that the fire seemed scantily investigated. He always suspected foul play but never got involved. “My great grandpa only told me that much when I inquired about an old obituary article I saw of Katrina and Lucas. I don’t know anything else.”
I went home to ponder all I’d read and been told by the officer, and kept hearing Mrs. Carruthers stifle her tears in the back of my mind… something was off. Though I didn’t know much, and it was a long shot, I took to the internet and looked into Katrina’s husband. I surprisingly found out some info and discovered his name was William Davenaugh. Katrina and Lucas Davenaugh… I repeated those names silently in my head as I dug further.
I stumbled across an article from 1984 (30 years to the day from the fire) by someone who I figured had ties or relations to the officers who investigated this fire. This article explained smells of gasoline, and strange amounts of cut wires, and other details that angered me to think this fire was ever ruled an accident.
It’s at least what Mrs. Carruthers believed.
I glanced back at the photo and I questioned what I saw, as Katrina and Lucas seemed to become more visible.
As I read on into the article, there was an unsupported claim with proportionally strong conviction that William Davenaugh caused the fire…
The husband and father?! Mrs. Carruthers told me he was away at work that day.
But this article writer kept explaining the clues and how things seem to point to this foul play…
William worked long days at the factory normally every weekday, and evidence supports that he was not home that day, but I believe he wasn’t at work. Not at the factory anyway. That factory was closed down for two weeks prior to the fire. William may not have been home, but for two weeks, accounts of witnesses seeing him regularly at the nearby bar support that he wasn’t working anywhere else those two weeks. I don’t have the why, but I am pretty sure about the who. William Davenaugh set fire to his home, probably for insurance, and either didn’t know or didn’t care that his wife and child were inside.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I could believe disappearing photographs before I could believe what I just read. But I knew one thing, I had to tell Mrs. Carruthers, as horrible as it was.
I quickly trekked back to her home, and she was back in her normal chair.
“Mrs. Carruthers, I have something difficult to tell you, but if you ever reminisce and ever get true closure, it should be with the truth.”
“Go on,” she permitted me.
As I showed her printouts of the article, and explained what clues seemed to indicate, she closed her eyes the whole time as she processed. Part of her seemed calm and unsurprised, but when I finished, she opened her eyes and said… “Thank you for finding my sister and her little boy. She may be gone, but she’s saved from the past I had her in.”
I looked down at the photo in my hand, and the black and white image was clear and back to normal. It was handed back to Mrs Carruthers, who gripped it tightly and brought it to her heart. I took my leave as she rested in silence, with a closure she never knew she needed.
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Very good story, engaging and kept my interest until the very end.
Roger, glad to hear it! I so appreciate you taking the time.
This reminded me of some of the stories I have submitted. I liked it very much and liked the way you concealed the ending.
Great job. I imagined listening to this story being told vs reading it, that is the way it came across for me. It drew me in and I enjoyed how the protagonist in the story went from house cleaner to detective by her interest in the photograph. Fun story.
I so appreciate you reading this! I wanted on purpose for the protagonist to not have an official career as a detective or something, but to more unofficially get involved.
As I was reading this I was sure early on that you'd solved the whole mystery far too soon, but then the real mystery of the fading photograph appeared and I thought this was great. At times, I felt like your story was possibly a little rushed. I would slow down a bit and try to get more into your character's head. But this was a story that held my interest throughout and had a satisfying (if really sad) conclusion. Well done.
Love the feedback! I definitely see your point - I could have developed some of that more! But I'm glad it was satisfying.