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The Camera

This was the first picture she took with her new camera. Well, it was new to her and that was good enough. She found it at a pawnshop over on 9th Street, the street of lost chances and dead ends. Nobody went to live on that street if they could avoid it. But sometimes she went there to browse the pawnshop and see what she could find. There was always something there that she could find room for in her house. But that day she didn’t go to browse. She had decided she needed a camera, and the older the better. She didn’t want anything digital. She didn’t want her tools to be smarter than her. Sure, she had a smart phone that could take pictures, but she wanted something slower. Haste makes waste, after all, and being able to take a thousand pictures a day certainly created some bad shots. No, a roll of 24 shots was right up her alley.

She’d gotten into the mindfulness trend and decided her new hobby was going to be photography. Not that silly point and shoot business, but actually composing photos like you’d compose a sonata or sonnet. She wanted real pictures, with heart and soul.

But she ended up with pictures that were dark. They had soul, but it was of a dangerous bent. The camera never seemed to work when she tried to take a photo of a flower, or a child, or a puppy. Only when something tragic or scary happened would the shutter release, and she had no control over when that would happen.

It wasn’t like she pointed the camera at that car accident. She tried to frame a shot of the roadside flowers. The shutter clicked, or so she thought. She stood up and then the car came around the bend, going 90 to nothing. It hit a pothole in the road and flipped. The passenger flew out, arms flailing and then, the camera, slung on a lanyard around her neck, took the photo.

She didn’t know until she got the film back two weeks later in the mail. She’d spent the whole weekend taking photographs and none of them came out. Or rather – all of them came out perfectly – they just weren’t the photos she’d taken. The camera had taken them all. All weird. All strange. All disturbing. She noticed all the strange things that were happening that weekend she chose to learn how to use her camera. But she’d not focused on them. Who would point their camera at that? A decapitated doll. A strangled snake. And worse.

She was here to share joy with the world, and her camera seemed bent on showing junk.

She took the camera back to the pawn shop. Maybe she could trade it for another? There were no other cameras there that day, and the clerk mutely pointed at the “no refunds” sign written in 48 point font taped to the cash register. But he did offer her the name of the person who had brought it in. This was against policy, of course, but she was a regular and so patient with him so he decided to make an exception as a way to appease her.

Now she had a name. Perhaps this had happened to the last owner. Worse – perhaps the last owner had done something to make this happen. She did a little research. It didn’t take long to make contact. He owned a tea shop just four blocks away, on the other side of the tracks.

She decided to swing by to see what he looked like. Maybe she could get a feel for what kind of person he was. If he looked scary she would just leave. But he didn’t. He looked normal. So she approached him and asked if they could talk. He was used to this. People were forever coming up to him to talk about what was going on in their lives while he was at work – mostly what was going wrong. He often used to say that he should have been a priest or a bartender instead of owning a tea shop. He heard a lot of dark secrets and confessions.

She asked him about the camera. Yes, he recognized it as is. He’d pawned it because he’d gotten a digital camera and didn’t need this one anymore. No, he didn’t recall it taking strange pictures. He said he’d not used it in years, having stored away at his desk. It was the same desk where he made art every day after work. Every day his customers would pour out their problems, like buckets of rocks, into his head. It weighed him down. So he’d pour out all that misery into his artwork. It left him clear to start fresh the next day. It was how he survived. It was how he stayed sane.

They realized that the camera must have picked up some of that strangeness. It had taken up the same skewed perspective of the world as all those people who had unloaded on him. Now the camera, like the people, chose to see only ugliness and deformity.

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