Melody stared into Tollin’s eyes for a moment, then turned her gaze back to the wall.
“This isn’t easy to say,” Melody started. “I’m not sure where it began, how it began. I just know we needed a camera. And we ended up with this one. We didn’t know. We just … didn’t know.”
“Didn’t know what?”
Melody sighed. “You know how — well, of course you do, everyone does — but, you know how native peoples sometimes have superstitions about photographs? You know, like they thought the camera steals your soul and they don’t want pictures taken? Some native tribes thought that, right?” She glanced at Tollin, expectant, hopeful.
“Yes, they thought the images in the pictures were their actual spirit, taken from them. I wish I could say when and which people believed that, but I don’t think they still do, whoever they are.”
“Because this camera does that. And we used it. Over and over again. And now all those souls are trapped in this camera, and I’m not going to let anyone touch it until I know how to get them out, and then I’m going to destroy the camera so it can’t hurt anyone.”
“Melody, you know —”
“Mel, call me Mel. I’m not used to hearing my name. All my friends call me — called me — Mel. You can too. It’ll be … easier, I guess.”
“Okay, Mel then. You know those people weren’t educated, didn’t understand the photographic process. The flash, which used to be a weak gun powder, the way you had to hold perfectly still because of how the shutter worked, the whole process — it was so much harder then. But I don’t think anyone still —”
“No, they should. They should be afraid of this camera. I’m not saying every camera, Dr. Tollin. I’m saying this specific camera — it steals souls. I don’t know how. But I know who. And I have to get them out.”
“Who? Who do you need to get out, sweetie?”
“The drama club. Mr. Penderson, the drama teacher. They’re all dead. I mean, they’re not dead — but …”
Tollin waited and Mel wiped another tear. “How many people are dead, Mel?”
The girl’s eyes ran with fat tears again. “The whole drama club. There were eleven others besides me.”
“Eleven? Eleven people?”
Mel shook her head. “No, no — you’re not listening. There were eleven of us, and Mr. Penderson. And the bus driver. That’s thirteen.”
“Yes. There are thirteen souls in this camera.”
“Mel, do you mean —”
“I mean just what I said. There are thirteen spirits, ghosts, souls, whatever, trapped in this camera, and I have to get them out. And for some of them it’s too late. For some of them they’re already …”
Tollin waited. A harsh sobbing escaped Mel for a moment, and through her cries her voice cracked, thick with spit.
“… They’re already buried.”