The White Woman

Submitted into Contest #144 in response to: Write about a character who’s pathologically camera shy.... view prompt

6 comments

Horror

Antony hefted his equipment bags to his shoulder and watched the lights on the elevator panel tick upward. When the doors opened, he saw her at the end of the hall. She wore a long, black coat and held a shopping bag in one arm as she fitted the key into her lock. He was struck by two things—her abundance of platinum-white hair that fell past her slender hips, and the pure-white Afghan hound that waited patiently at her side.

He was pleased to see that the new tenant was a woman, and wondered if she was single. He'd broken off with Ashley a month ago, after she'd become too demanding, always asking for favors. He was ready for a new romantic challenge, but he wasn’t pleased about the dog. The pair of dachshunds that had lived in Apartment 606 had been an irritating, yappy nuisance.

Antony entered his apartment, removed his winter coat and put his heavy bags on the floor. He’d have a glass of wine before dealing with them. He walked into his kitchen to get the half-bottle of sauvignon blanc from his glass-faced wine cellar. He retrieved a goblet from the cupboard above the sink, and glanced through the window, across the spacious air shaft into the kitchen window of Apartment 606.

The white-haired young woman was there, busy putting things away. It was the first time he'd seen her face, and he was pleased with it. Her skin was nearly as white as her hair, which fell from a center part. She had a pointed chin and almond-shaped eyes. If he had been choosing a model for a fashion shoot, he probably would have rejected her. Her eyes were too small, her mouth too narrow. But there was something compelling about her. She was exotically beautiful. He could imagine using her in a commercial shoot, perhaps posing with her monstrous silky dog. Could he convince her to model for him? He smiled. Thank God, women are vain.

He poured himself a glass and returned to the entryway, where he began unpacking his bags. He stored his lights on the shelves, put his lenses into their individual cases, and carried his Canon SD Mark III to his work table. While most photographers used digital equipment now, for his fashion work at least, Antony preferred cellulose acetate for its spectral and tonal sensitivity. He'd shot ten rolls of 35mm, with one still left in the camera. He checked the read-out. Two shots left. He considered just clicking off to the end of the roll, but thought about the white-faced woman. He took the camera back into his kitchen window. She was still there, washing dishes. Antony rested his camera on the sill and waited for his best chance. Click, click.

He took his camera and the rest of his bottle of wine into his darkroom, where he prepared his negatives. When they were hanging from the drying line, he filled the developing tanks and water baths. One by one, he placed the negatives in the enlarger, adjusted the filter and focus, and set the timers for proper exposure.

He'd spent several hours developing the shots and had finished the bottle of wine before he reached the final two photographs of his new neighbor. In the first tank, a picture formed of the brick frame of the window containing the woman’s bowed head. In the second photo, her face was visible. Anthony examined it with his loupe. It was hard to tell if she'd noticed him stealing her image. He hung the photographs to dry. Those pale eyes fascinated him. He was more intent than ever to find some way to photograph her.

The next morning, he bustled out of his apartment with his camera and portfolio on his way to meet a prospective client. In the foyer, he nearly collided with the white woman as she entered through the revolving door with her great dog.

“Hello!” he said, extending his hand. “Apartment 601! I’m your neighbor, Antony Ferrier!”

She looked at him with the most amazing eyes. A blue so pale they were almost white.

“Mr. Ferrier,” she said, without returning his gesture. “Please do not photograph me. Thank you.” And she walked, nearly gliding across the floor, into the elevator with her hound.

For the rest of the day, Antony could not get the image of her ice-like eyes out of his head. They intoxicated him. Mesmerized him. He knew that her unusual milk-white face could sell a thousand products. He must find a way to convince her to be his model. He must find the key to seducing her.

He hurried home after his appointment and went immediately into his dark room. He pulled the last two photographs from their clips. Astonished, he sat on his stool. The last two sheets were completely blank.

How could that have happened? Antony couldn’t imagine any scenario where such a thing could even occur. If he'd failed to fix the images, perhaps, but he hadn’t. The images were perfectly visible last night. He crumpled the sheets and threw them in the trash.

He tried to distract himself by watching a movie. But the white woman’s voice, her walk, her haunting pale eyes—kept interrupting his concentration. That evening, he spent an hour standing in the darkness in his kitchen, sipping wine and staring at her empty window, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. He slept fitfully, and awoke with a headache.

In the morning, he determined to go to the lobby at about the same time as he'd encountered her the day before. Perhaps he could learn her name. Perhaps they could discuss her preposterous aversion to being photographed. Maybe he could invite her to his place for drinks, show her his talent, and convince her to change her mind. He could offer to help her in some way. He could get her to like him and break through her cold barrier.

He didn’t find her in the lobby, but saw her in the park across the boulevard, walking her elegant dog. Her long white hair fell loose over her black coat. Antony ducked into the coffee shop in the lobby, bought two coffees, and dashed across the street. He walked quickly behind her, calling, “Miss?”

She turned.

He extended a coffee. “It is ‘Miss,’ isn’t it?” he asked.

She didn’t answer, but stared at the beverage he offered.

“It’ll take the chill off,” he said.

“I don’t drink coffee,” she said, and he detected a foreign trace in her voice. The fashion models he photographed often came from places like Russia, Romania and Hungary, but he couldn’t recognize her accent. He realized that she could even be Asian. Perhaps an albino? Who knew? Whatever it was, her strangeness made her even more enticing to him.

“I’m a professional photographer,” he said.

“I know.”

“You said that you don’t like to be photographed, but Miss, I must say, you are the loveliest thing I have ever seen. You could have a great future—”

“So I’ve been told. Many times, by many photographers. But I have no interest. Excuse me, please.” And she tugged gently on the dog’s leash.

Antony watched her turn and walk away. He suddenly felt warmth on his fingers. Without realizing it, he had gripped the cardboard cups so tightly that the coffee had spilled up though the plastic covers.

Over the course of days, his obsession grew. He set up his camera in the kitchen window and sat in the dark hoping to capture her, but only caught images of her hair. He followed her through the park with a telephoto lens, but she never turned around. He went so far as to contemplate setting secret cameras in a variety of places. He tried making additional prints from his original negatives, but time and time again, the photographs failed, each worse than the next. It was as if the negatives were dissolving with each effort.

She seemed aware of his fixation, and acted as if she was fearful of him. She hung a pair of yellow curtains in her kitchen window, and kept them closed.

Antony began to beg off photographic assignments, and spent entire days sitting on a cold park bench, his camera aimed at the revolving doors of his building. Then one morning, she saw him waiting for her. Angrily, she strode toward him across the boulevard. Her white eyes were blazing, the December wind blowing her white hair across her white face. He was so entranced and surprised that he forgot to raise his camera.

“Mr. Ferrier!” she said. “I demand that you stop trying to photograph me! You have no right!”

The ferocity in her voice unnerved him at first, but his frustration took over, and he responded angrily.

“I don’t know what the law is where you come from, Miss! But this is the United States, and I have a right to take photographs in a public place.” He raised the camera and click-click-click stole her visage.

She looked horrified, stared at his camera, then turned and hurried back across the street and through the revolving doors of their apartment building.

He paced around for a long time, muttering to himself, planning arguments in his head to make her see things his way, forgetting for the moment what he held in his camera. Then he raced across the street and to his apartment. He went directly into his darkroom, opened the camera and put his fingers into the well to release the film roll. It was sticky with some substance. He turned on the lights and examined the camera. It was as if the film itself had melted into tar. The camera was destroyed. He threw it to the floor.

He didn’t know how she had done it, but somehow, she was thwarting him. She was standing in the way of his artistic achievement. She was standing in the way of her own success! Together, they could make millions! She had THE LOOK, and he had the talent, for God’s sake. All she had to do was to listen to him. If he could only explain himself to her.

He decided he must talk to her, but first, he needed to cool down. He opened another bottle and downed a glass or two. Then he collected his courage, took another glass from the shelf and walked into the hall to her door.

“I know it’s you, Mr. Ferrier,” she said, in answer to his knock.

“Please go away.”

“I just want to talk to you. I want to apologize.” He held the wine and glasses up to the peephole so that she could see them. “I’m not carrying my camera.”

She opened the door a crack and looked him up and down with those astonishing eyes. Then she let him in and gestured toward her couch. Declining his offer of wine, she sat in the chair opposite him. In the corner, her dog eyed him, warily.

Antony filled his glass again while he tried to figure out how to bring up the situation of his ruined camera without sounding like an idiot. It wasn't possible that she could have disintegrated the film in his camera simply by looking into the lens. How could she destroy negatives and prints in his darkroom, by simply thinking about them? He suddenly felt foolish.

“I want to apologize for the way I acted in the park,” he said.

She responded, stiffly. “I must say, Mr. Ferrier, I find your insistence dismaying and offensive. Where I come from, we respect a person’s privacy.”

“I didn’t mean to upset you. I only meant to explain that in the United States an expectation of privacy doesn’t extend to public places. I have the right to photograph you whenever I want, whenever you are on the street or in the park.”

Her light eyes seemed to grow darker. “But I want you to stop!”

He wanted more than ever to capture her new, angry eyes. His excitement felt almost sexual. The wine made him feel cocky. He growled, “You can’t stop me. If you don’t want your picture taken, you’re going to have to start wearing a mask.”

He watched with amazement as her white eyes turned purple. Her cheeks began to move in a strange way. It was as if dozens of tiny fingers moved beneath her skin, searching for a way to escape. He wondered if he were hallucinating.

“But Mr. Ferrier,” she said, in a voice deep and boggy. “I am already wearing a mask.”

Then, she took it off.

May 03, 2022 13:24

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6 comments

Lore Ax Horton
22:04 May 11, 2022

Oh I like the ending!!

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Mark Wilhelm
01:02 May 11, 2022

Good evening, My name is Wilhelm I have a small podcast where I perform stories very much in the same vein as the one you have written and it would be an absolute pleasure to bring this tale to life. Please visit my podcast at frighteningtales.com and see if its something you'd be on board with. If this isn't something you're interested in then in the very least thank you for sharing a scary story.

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Frances Hogg
15:26 May 15, 2022

I don't know if I responded yet or not. Of course you can use the story. I have several volumes of stories in this vein.

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Mark Wilhelm
12:44 May 18, 2022

Anything you care to share would be awesome... Hunting for the stories is always the trickiest part. You can submit stories at frighteningtales.com or just email them to... creepy@frighteningtales.com. Also, as a thank you, if there is ever a website or book or whatever you want plugged let me know and I'll be sure to get it in there.

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Mark Wilhelm
12:42 May 19, 2022

Is your last name pronounced Law-chow or loch-ow like lochness

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Mark Wilhelm
13:57 Jun 17, 2022

You can hear the story here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/1ua3IBRBUTyUS8VRkHPle2?si=82439dad04a24c34 Your story is 13:30 thanks again.

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