Picture This

“Hey, you okay? You’re all pale and stuff. Are you … you gonna faint or something?” Her voice trailed soft and concerned over the blaring roar of the busy street.

I wiped my tears and sniffed. “God, Shan … oh my God …”

“What? What’s wrong?” She was scared but put her arm around me.

“I didn’t … I didn’t do anything with the camera to make the pic look that way. It’s … something else … I saw it before, when my Grandma …”

She waited a moment, then two, and all I could do was sob. “What?” she said again. “When your Grandma what?”

“When she died, Shan. I saw this in the photo I took of her before she died.”

Shannon thought a moment, sighed. “What … are you saying I’m gonna die too?”

“Oh, God, I don’t know. She … I mean, she was …”

“She was elderly. I’m not. And you said she had a heart attack. How could I have a heart attack? I’m not even in high school yet.” She beamed me a reassuring smile.

“I know … I know, but …”

“You know, what? I bet it’s just because there’s strong shadows on the other side of the street and bright sunshine here on this side. Shoot me again, here on the stairs, with both of us in the shade here. You’ll see.”

I knew she was wrong. I knew it then, but I didn’t want it to be true, so I stood up and sniffed, wiped my eyes and nose with my sleeve, and backed up a couple of paces, trying not to crash into the fast-moving line of people behind me. When I was far enough away on the sidewalk, I pulled the zoom of the camera out, to make sure I could see all of her, and a fair amount of the building behind her. I flipped the camera back to record mode.

And I snapped the photo, then another, then another. I dropped to one knee, and got another and another, turning the camera on its side for the last of them. I smiled. Shannon sat there the whole time, hands hanging between her knees, eyes sparkling clear like a mountain lake, and never moved from the stairs.

She sat up. “Okay, so — let’s have a look.”

I sighed, and went to sit next to her, turning the camera back to view mode, and rewound through the shots without examining them. I took a deep breath.

“Oh, stop,” she chided, and swatted my arm. “Just show the pics.”

I forwarded to the first one. I almost dropped the camera and Shannon gasped hard and sharp in the crisp air.

That brooding, black shadow figure hovered over her, blocking out most of the building behind her, framing her in the silhouette and stretching out its wide appendages, the “wings”, over her. The angel, or demon, shadow.

I scanned ahead. The same image. The next image, same. They were all the same.

I sobbed. I sobbed out loud, and Shan put her arm around me again. She was quiet most of the day, and I didn’t take any more pictures.

We rode the train home that afternoon. Shannon didn’t buy anything. I didn’t get a lens. I wanted to talk to someone, to tell someone. She didn’t, and wondered who’d believe us anyway?

A week went by, and nothing. I called Shannon or made sure I spent time with her every day, every single day. About two weeks after our trip, she went camping with her parents. There was a family reunion and her dad’s relatives were flocking to it from all over the place. They were going to stay at the KOA just outside town, but there weren’t any phones and no Internet. She couldn’t wiggle out of it, and I couldn’t wiggle into it — strictly a family affair. I cried in her driveway when they piled in their rental RV. Her mother muttered something about not being so melodramatic, it was just a few days, but Shan watched me without blinking until they rounded the corner at the bottom of the street.

I never saw her again. The authorities said a bear mauled her. It had to be a bear, even though no one knew there even were bears around here, because the bites were too big for any other animal, the claws too heavy and destructive, even for a big cat like a puma. Her parents called me and told me when they got back. They were never the same after that.

I wasn’t either. But I knew Shan would want me to keep taking pictures.

So I did.

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