SHORT STORY: Picture Perfect

Nobody would linger by his house for long. Nobody even thought to touch the iron gate surrounding his property. Nobody ever chose to enter his yard. People used to do it all the time because of large parties would be held there, but not everyone made it out. A handful of guests would disappear, and no one could say how. The other guests could simply remember a bright flash, and then they would be sent on their way by the kind gentleman who lived there. Once the disappearances became noticeable, the number of guests who went to the gatherings dwindled until no one went. That was more than twenty years ago, and that kind gentleman still lived in that house. 

Thomas was the gentleman’s name: a rich folk with gelled black hair and a thin pointed mustache. His eyes were darker than the deepest parts of the sea, containing secrets that no person shall ever know. His skin was ghost-like because he stopped going outside twenty years ago. His long lanky legs carried his body throughout his house while he puffed smoke from his favorite pipe. His smiles were never the kind and generous ones of a gentleman, but the one of a demon who has come to take you away. 

But those were only rumors that Jeremy Fisher had heard. His friends from middle school had always told him about that house and the parties that were held there. Jeremy believed them. He wanted to see Thomas and ask him what happened to those people that disappeared. When he told his mom this, she said that none of those things were real and that Thomas was merely a strange and quiet man. Jeremy was doubtful of that and held onto his hope. He wanted to meet Thomas so badly to where he got his twin sister on board with the idea. Sara was a tough girl to convince, but Jeremy did it. Sara began to rant to her mom about meeting Thomas, but her mom told her the same thing she said to Jeremy: none of those things are true – Thomas is just a strange and quiet man. 

Jeremy and Sara sat in the dark living room, making up possible stories about Thomas. 

“Maybe he eats them!” Jeremy shouted. He drew a line across his neck and fell to the ground with his eyes closed. 

Sara grimaced and shook her head. “I don’t think he’s a cannibal, Jeremey.” She stood and started to pace the room. “The stories always say there was a flash, but a flash of what?”

Jermy flopped onto the couch and munched on a bag of chips. “Probably the flash of light from the knife he used to kill his victims.” 

“Being a thirteen-year-old boy, you have quite a unique mind,” Sara said. 

“Why, thank you. Many tell me that I’m just plain crazy.” 

“That’s what I was implying.” 

Jeremy made a face when his sister turned away. He crumpled up the chip bag and threw it into the trash can. He leaped to his feet and jogged to the window at stared Thomas’s old house that was across the street. Parts of the gate have rusted and fallen over, but even with the gaps, no one dared to set foot in his yard. 

“Maybe we should just go over there. I mean, we both have been thinking about for a few weeks now,” Jeremy suggested. 

“And mom won’t be home till six, and it’s only four,” Sara added. A faint smile crawled across her face as she looked at her brother. “Let’s do it.” 

The siblings crossed the empty street and came to the main gate. It closed and locked with a silver chain. Jeremy scanned the area and found an opening big enough for them to crawl through. He ran over to it with his sister following close behind. They squeezed through the opening, avoiding the sharp points that were at the top of each rod. They watched every step they took, making sure they no one could see them or hear them. Sara and Jeremy made it to the front door without getting caught by any watchful neighbors. Sara grabbed the heavy brass knocker dropped it with a loud thud – it sent a vibration down Sara’s spine, reverberating around in her head. When the door didn’t open, she lifted it again and dropped it. It was much louder than before, and she heard it echoing throughout the house. This time, the door cracked open. 

“Oh, I’ve seen this in movies,” Jermey muttered as Sara pushed the door open. 

The foyer was brightly lit with dusty silver chandelier. The walls were decorated with black wallpaper that was torn away from the walls, exposing the rotting wood panels beneath it. To the left was a magnificent dining room that hadn’t been used for quite some time. The table that could seat twenty was covered with a thick layer of dust, and the fine china sat in the cupboard was unwashed and chipped. Jeremy ran his finger along with the table, a cloud of dust flying from it. 

He coughed, waving his hand wildly in the air. “Man, this place could give anyone an asthma attack.” 

Jeremy walked ahead, peeking his head down a thin hallway. It was lit with a flickering bulb that dangled from the ceiling by a wire. It was colder in the hallway as if there was a draft coming from every corner of the hall. There was a large archway at the very end, and the longer Jermey looked at it, he began to see the silhouette of a person in front of it.

“Sara!” Jeremy called out. “I think I found something.” 

Sara came bounding over and peeked around the corner. She couldn’t see anything at first, but, like Jermey, she eventually saw the figure. 

“Um, are you, Thomas?” Sara asked, her voice wavering. 

The figure took a few steps forward and stood below the lightbulb. The man’s skin was pale and full of wrinkles, and his graying hair stuck up in every direction. His eyes were as dark as the sea, and they stared directly at Jeremy and Sara. He wore an elegant black suit with a blood-red tie. In his thin hands was an old black camera. 

“May I help you, children?” he asked. 

“We just wanted to ask you a few questions,” Jeremy said. He took a few steps forward and held his hand out. “Um, I’m Jeremy Fisher, and this is my sister Sara.” 

The corners of Thomas’s mouth turned upwards. He shook Jeremy’s hand and motioned for them to follow. 

“Come with me.” 

Thomas disappeared through the archway, and the siblings followed. He took long strides as he ambled through the maze-like halls. He stopped in front of a door and rested his hand on the golden handle. 

“It’s been a while since I have had guests. I hope you don’t think of me as a bad host.”  

Thomas opened the door and held it for Jeremy and Sara. They walked into the parlor, and Thomas gently closed the door. A golden chandelier hung from the ceiling with brightly lit candles. The siblings sat in fluffy velvet chairs, eagerly waiting for Thomas.  

“We want to know about the people who disappeared,” Sara declared. 

Thomas nodded his head, all of the memories coming back. “As you wish.” He gingerly sat down in a large black chair and began. “I held splendid parties for everyone in town once I built this home. Everything was lovely, but when they left, I became very lonely. I built this camera from scratch, so I could take pictures of my guests and decorate my home with their happiness. Now, after twenty years, I want to take a moment to capture this happiness.” 

Thomas held the camera up, and a devilish smile crossed his face. The children got close together and smiled. A bright yellow flash came before their eyes, and the children groggily sat up their chairs. 

“What happened?” Sara asked, rubbing her eyes. 

“I don’t know.” Jeremy stood and walked forward, but ran face-first into an invisible barrier. He laid his hands against the cool surface and looked ahead. The two velvet chairs they were sitting in were empty. Jemery turned around and saw the exact same chairs behind him. It was like they were stuck inside a fishbowl that was decorated exactly like the outside. 

Thomas’s face came into view, smiling a devilish smile. “I told you this camera captures moments of happiness. Now they can live forever as a picture on my wall.” 

He walked away laughing, and the lost souls of Jermey and Sara lived on his walls, wailing and begging to be set free from their picture-perfect cage.

By Rebekah Johnson, Contributor @Rebekah07678349 on Instagram

Johnson writes, “I have been writing ever since 6th grade, and I’m still improving my skills every day. I care very much about my education and what kind of person I will become. I am quiet and shy around people, and writing is the only way I can really talk.”

Featured photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

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