Picture This

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

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Speculative Holiday Drama

“Everyone in!” Darcy yelled to her family. They all lined up like little soldiers, with smiles on their faces. They knew the routine. It was Christmas and their ten-foot Christmas tree was proudly standing on a square table covered in a plaid holiday tree skirt. Darcy had set up her tripod and the countdown had already begun. Success! This was a well-rehearsed action the kids could perform without much thought.  Darcy was a fan of capturing the family moments on film, along with the staged group pictures. She fully subscribes to the adage, “Take a picture, it will last longer.” But not in the way you think.  She did not live in the world of sarcasm and spite. No one had ever sniped that statement at her for looking at them, even though she grew up in the period of history when that was popular to say amongst the youth circles in America.  Her photo albums brought her joy and she documented and chronicled every holiday and special event. 

That was the last picture on that roll of 35mm film to be snapped. Darcy removed her camera from the tripod.  She wound the film back into the metal film housing before opening the back of the camera to remove it and place it into the black plastic cylinder case with the grey cap, to seal the film canister into its protective cocoon, until she could drop it off at the at the photo lab. 

The family loved the holidays and enjoyed being all together. Her husband worked five long days a week, so the children were all vying for his attention. Darcy and Dale had married soon after their college graduations in a small ceremony, on a hot day in July. Their first born, Ashlie, arrived ten months later, in April of the following year. Her baby sister, Amy, came into the world two years after that. Dale’s career had taken off just as quickly as the kids had arrived. Darcy had agreed to put her career aspirations on hold to be a stay-at-home mom to their growing family. Jake or “Jakey” as they all called him, arrived in the family when the girls were eight and six respectively. Darcy had chronicled every milestone of the children’s lives. Her VHS-video recorder had been replaced by the newer VHS-C camera with smaller more compact tapes. No matter how busy her days were, and they were busy, she always reviewed and labelled her pictures and videos of their family life. That made it easier to scrapbook and edit later at her leisure. If you had asked her back then, what she was going to do with this growing collection, she would just shrug her shoulders and say, “enjoy the memories when we slow down in life.”  

This was the last Christmas together all living under one roof, as it was Ashlie’s senior year in high school, she would be leaving for university the following Fall. Darcy’s “career” never did come to be, and life sped forward, she had always been needed by her kids and loved that she was able to stay with them as they grew. Darcy loved her life, her family, her husband, and family pets. 

They had been able to buy an old Victorian house three years into their married life. Darcy delighted in cleaning, repairing, and decorating each room of that old house. On weekends Dale was pulled into renovations that required two sets of hands. They were both handy with a table saw. The kids’ rooms each reflected their unique personalities. 

The new year came in with their traditional stay-at-home family party. They put out all their favorite dishes smorgasbord style. Ashlie, Amy, and Jake were each allowed to have a friend over, like usual. Each had chosen their favorite year-end movie pick for “Cinema Night,” that followed a spirited game of “Bullshit.” A card game they had learned on their summer vacation one year. This year they played their loud card game in the library after filling their plates with all their favorite foods. 

Darcy took a few candid pictures throughout the day’s events and one group picture like usual before they all found comfortable spots in “The Parlor” to watch the four-movie lineup of the evening, to usher in the New Year.  Dale would announce the time to “retire to the parlor” in his best turn-of-the-century formal voice. Ashlie had picked out, “Mean Girls,” Amy’s choice, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” Jake and his friend were excited to see “Spiderman-2” and Dale’s and Darcy’s collective movie choice was, “Without a Paddle.” Darcy placed a tray of snacks on the side buffet to be enjoyed whenever the mood struck. The house boasted several antique pieces Dale and Darcy had collected over the years. They both loved a “good find.” Sometimes these were collected off the side of the road when people had put them out for trash. 

Everyone enjoyed the movie lineup. Bathroom breaks, drink and snack refilled were accomplished between each movie. By the time, “Without a Paddle,” was put into the DVD player the boys were fast asleep on the floor and the girls were all fighting to keep their eyes open.  After hugging their parents and saying their “Happy New Year’s” wishes, they retired to each of their rooms with their friends in tow. It was Friday night this New Year’s Eve, so Dale and Darcy spread out to enjoy their movie pick. They laughed so hard they almost woke the boys up. Their delighted laughs had rung in the New Year. After the movie they headed off to bed. They left the boys camped on the parlor floor with all their pillows and blankets. 

In the morning Darcy rose early to put the breakfast casserole in the oven. She had prepared it the morning before because she knew she would not be in the mood for a lot of work in the kitchen. She made two cups of coffee, placed them on a tray and with the timer set, headed back to the bedroom to coax Dale awake with the smell of coffee. They lazily sipped their coffees and talked about their plans for the day. When the timer sounded in the kitchen, Darcy threw off her covers once again and headed for the bedroom door. She yelled out, “Let’s seize the day!” as a general proclamation to the household occupants. She removed the casserole from the oven and the smell of cinnamon filled the house. She could hear feet hitting the floor upstairs and placed the casserole on the table followed by a pile of plates, utensils, glasses and a big pitcher of juice and smaller glass pitcher of milk. All the kids found their way to the table and grabbed a plate to set in front of themselves. It smelled deliciously like the holidays. The casserole was sliced into large squares, and everyone took a piece. Dale retrieved the large bowl of cut fruit from the refrigerator and placed it on the table. Darcy and Dale asked the guests what time their parents would be expecting them home today, as they developed their route for returning these kids back to their respective homes. They all critiqued the movies from last night as they enjoyed their breakfasts.

By 10:30 the snow had stopped, and everyone piled into the family Ford Expedition. En route to drop off the kid’s friends, Darcy spotted a one-hour photo service that was open. Dale turned into the parking lot and Darcy jumped out to run two films in to be developed. She returned shortly and jumped back into the passenger front seat. She smiled at Dale as he drove back onto the road, to drop off Jakey’s little friend Troy next. Troy’s parents waved from the front door as their son entered. Ashlie’s friend was last to be dropped off because she lived the furthest away in the next town over. Ashlie and Amanda whispered and giggled most of the way to her house. “Call me as soon as you get home!” Amanda yelled over her shoulder to Ashlie after she thanked Dale and Darcy for their hospitality. Dale and Darcy waited for Amanda to let herself safely into her house before they backed out of her driveway. 

Darcy looked at her watch as they neared the one-hour photo store again, realizing an hour had already passed, she directed Dale to pull back in. She hopped out and ran inside to retrieve their holiday photos. She returned with a small bag, and they headed home. Darcy tucked the pictures into her purse as Amy was already asking to make plans for another friend to come over.

They all ate a light lunch when they got settle back in their old Victorian house. Amy cleared the table after and Ashlie did the dishes. Jake checked on the family cats and cleaned the litter box. Darcy found she had a minute to sit down and look through the pictures she had just picked up. The negatives spilled out as she flipped the cardboard holder open. She scooped them up and tucked them back inside. She smiled at the well composed pictures she had taken. Scanning the group picture, she noticed an extra person standing by her husband, peeking over his shoulder. She pulled the picture closer to her face trying to understand what she was looking at. No explanation came to mind. She slowly flipped to the next picture. That one looked normal. She pulled the group picture to the top of the pile again and examined it. Were the kids pulling a prank on her? Who in God’s name was that woman? She looked to the left, staring into space searching her mind for an explanation. It must be a mistake made in developing. A double exposure of sorts, she finally settled on. Happy she could explain it, she called out to Dale, “hey honey, look at this picture!” Dale retrieved the picture from her hand and looked at it, before noticing the oddity. 

“Who is that?” he questioned his wife.

“Beats me,” she responded.

“No seriously,” he says.

“Seriously, I don’t know,” she responds.

Slowly he says, “sooo we have a ghost living with us now?”

“A ghost?” she laughs. “No, I’m sure it’s some type of double exposure,” she says. 

Darcy continues, “We’ve never used that photo lab before, maybe they aren’t very good.” 

Dale looks oddly at her, unsure of her explanation. 

When Ashlie walks by, he holds out the picture for her to examine. “Nice picture…” she starts to say, until she notices the extra person looking at her dad. “Who is that?” she demands.  “I think it’s a development issue,” her mom offers.

“Mom, that is not an issue with film developing. That’s a spirit in human form in our group picture!”

Chills ran through the three of them at the same time and they all gave a little shake. “Nooo,” her mother says, trying more to convince herself than her daughter. She quickly opens the other film prints and flips through them before resting on one her husband snapped of her in the kitchen when she was working alone on the casserole, they all ate this morning. Except she wasn’t alone in the picture. “Who the…” her words trailed off as she let the photo fall to the table. Now her goosebumps were permanent.   

Ashlie scooped up the picture and saw what had drained the color out of her mother’s face. There was a woman standing next to her smiling mom in the picture. Studying the extra form in the picture, she was sure it was no woman she had ever seen before. She passed it slowly to her dad, while still looking at her mom. “Cool,” she said trying to lighten the mood. “So, we have someone living with us,” she added, trying to hide her own concern at this astonishing sight. To her, it explained a few things she had noticed over the years, which had totally creeped her out, but she had never shared with anyone. 

Amy entered the room and asked, “what are we all doing?” “Oh pictures!” she exclaimed. “Did you get any good ones Mom?” she asked. The three of them glanced at each other as they waited for Amy to discover what they had all discovered. “Oh my gosh!” Amy finally said as she got to the two odd pictures. “What the heck?” she questioned as she looked at her father.

“Fun, right?” he said. 

When they heard Jakey heading their way, Darcy scooped up all the pictures and returned them to the bag. They all changed focus not to alert Jakey of the anomaly they had all just viewed. 

“I feel like her name is, Victoria,” Ashlie said quickly, before Jake entered the room.  

“Whose name is Victoria,” Jake repeated, upon entering.

“Oh, a girl at school,” Ashlie lied.

“Oh,” Jake said, instantly losing interest.

Dale hugged Jakey. “Are you ready to help me clean the garage?” he asked his young son. 

“Do I have a choice?” Jakey questioned.

“No,” his father reported. They headed out of the dining room to go fetch their coats.

“Dad, this really seems like a Spring-Cleaning job, not a New Year’s Day job,” Jake tried appealing this new sentence his dad had handed down. To his surprise his father agreed and said he was right, and they should stick to a warmer task. 

“Off to the basement it is,” his father announced. 

“That dungeon!” Jake protested. “I’d rather shovel the walkway.”

“Sold!” his dad announced like an auctioneer.

Jake put his coat on and headed outside, happy to be left to his own task. 

Amy had returned from her bedroom with a few books. She paged through them until she landed on a picture page of the family that used to live in their house. “I meant to show this to you. I’m working on a book report for history class, and I found this book on our town.” She pointed to the picture in the book and asked, “do you think it looks like the lady in our Christmas picture?” Ashlie stuck her face in close first to examine it. Slowly nodding she passed it to her mom. Dale looked over her shoulder. “That’s crazy!” was the collective consensus. 

“Those guys at the photo lab, must be pulling a fast one,” Darcy tried one more time to float her theory passed them.

A glass smashed to the floor in the kitchen. They all snapped their heads to look toward the noise. Dale walked over to the front window to see if Jakey was outside. He was. Darcy headed to the kitchen at the same time to clean up the glass. Amy dropped the book and Ashlie looked at her.  “Someone just slapped it out of my hands,” she reported. 

“Just when we thought life couldn’t get any better!” Ashlie quietly surmised.

“Let the adventure begin,” Amy added.    

May 06, 2022 01:51

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2 comments

Tanya Humphreys
02:40 May 13, 2022

Reedsy critiquer here- This story is very well written. Good punctuation and grammar- yay! I like the descriptions, the way you describe the family makes you feel like you're right there with them on their special occasion. Unfortunately, I found the outcome too predictable. It feels like a tired theme done before- many times. You did a great job with this story though, kudos to you. I'm normally a lot tougher on writers I critique.

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00:36 May 14, 2022

Thank you for your critique! I appreciate your time and agree on the tired theme, but I still had fun giving it go. Thank you again.

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