Red liquid spilt onto the wooden floor, caressing the cracking splinters as sloshes of red seeped into his worn-out socks.
Pathetic. Useless. That was all he could see himself as.
Donovan Choo… senior photographer, reduced to an unemployed beggar. He knew he should have kept quiet — should have minded his own business when his boss forced him to drop his recent commission. But no, he was too proud…too cocky. And where did that leave him? Without a job, in a house minutes away from crumbling.
His fingers gripped the base of the glass wine, lips cracking from the dryness in the air. He should have simply minded his own business while he still could. But, no. A strained chuckle escaped his lips before hurtling the wine glass across the room. Shards of glass scattered across the floor, and even more bloody hues sank into his already dampened floorboard. He was such a mess. How many times was he going to get fired? How many times was he just going to let everything slide as if his career wasn’t on the line?
A pathetic croak strangled in between the clutches of his throat, bile finding its way up and rising to the crevice of his mouth. How much longer was he going to live like this?
He forced his mind to shrivel back to its confines, back to a place where he didn’t need to think. He was going to do this commission, no matter what. Even if he was fired for it, he’s not above getting things done when he sets his heart to it.
Alas, if only he just listened for once…maybe he wouldn’t have to deal with the following consequences.
It took a whole day for his heart to steady to its usual professional stance. Heels slapping against gravel, Donovan clutched the ends of his camera, releasing and refocusing the lens. If he was to make history, he wanted to do it right. The commission led him to an abandoned shack in the middle of the woods. Yes, cliche. Even the photographer himself thought about the likelihood of him ending up in a ditch somewhere if his plans were to go wrong.
Regardless, he pressed on.
Dried leaves crackled under his feet, the creak of the shack door opening, announcing his presence as though he were the only sign of life in this shack. He could barely see anything, but the stench. God, the stench.
It was horrific. The stench of raw carcass filled the musty air, years-old mould penetrating his nose as slivers of maggots crawled underneath him, hungry and waiting to infect him. To have a piece of him. If he wasn’t sceptical then, he was now. Bile permeated his mouth before retching it out, tears prickled down his lips from the disgusting odour that filled the shack—his vomit now mixed into it. He wanted out, but he had to do his job. Or rather, whatever left of it he could.
Pressing the shutter button of his camera, Donovan wished he didn’t. The scene that greeted him was a slaughterhouse. Hanging dead meat that was infested with maggots encompassed the shack. But, his eyes were immediately drawn to an old camera, safely nestled on a dusty desk. Hesitant fingers reached for the camera before ultimately dashing out of the shack, body convulsing and jerking from the inhumane reality he had just seen.
Allowing his camera to dangle against his chest where his strap was neatly secured around his neck, he turned on the power switch of the dusty camera, eyes bulging over it. How could it have possibly done that? It looked old enough to have no battery life at all. Questions upon questions piled on his head before focusing back on the display.
There were…pictures already.
What madness was this? Was someone playing a prank on him? He couldn’t understand or imagine how there were already pictures in this camera. Upon taking a closer look at the first picture, he noticed an abandoned asylum engulfed in flames. The next picture, a child smiling as they dangle from a high building. The third and final image, a Victorian mansion…eerily void of any humans, except the small spectres floating about.
This was…impossible. Who had taken these images? How did it all end up in this camera? Who even put this camera in that horrid shack?
He wanted answers to such a bizarre event he came across, but nothing. With all that out of the way, he trudged back home. His mind was clouded with confusion and scepticism, even while he was heading to bed. Maybe the next day would grant him some semblance as to what is going on.
The next day arrived and it was just as uneventful as the previous days. Donovan took it upon himself to rework the old camera and delete the images that must have been there for at least a few centuries. But just as his thumb pressed against the erase button, nothing happened. He did it again. And again. And another time before ultimately stopping.
What is this sorcery? How? WHY?
He wanted answers, but all he was left with was an endless obstruct of questions. An obstruct of questions until the sound of sirens wailing caught his attention. Scruryying to the window beside his torn mattress, Donovan’s heart dropped upon seeing the hospital minutes away from his apartment burst into blazing flames.
Cries and screams of terror could even be heard from where he was, with the window shut as well. No… how could have this possibly happened? Except, he had an inkling of a feeling.
He didn’t want to be right. God, he didn’t want to be right this time. As he pulled up the worn camera, his eyes steadied on the first image— this time, however, the image looked as though the image itself was burning through the camera display. On the bottom left, a date. A date which was today. Today’s date.
It was no coincidence…right? The photographer was a smart man. He knew that there was something to this. There always had to be something linked to a rusty camera such as the one he held on so tightly to.
All those people…those poor, innocent patients, gone. Gone, because a stupid image in this stupid camera was the possible cause for it. No, he couldn’t think so irrationally right now. He had to think— he had to calm down.
He would rest on it. Or rather, rot in his bed and blame himself for a tragedy he could have stopped if he hadn’t just used his brain in the right place. Why did it have to be so hard? Slumping against his mattress, tears found their way cascading down his cheeks; dampening the frayed cotton. He could have done something— anything, to save them. But history found its way of repeating itself from a photograph to a realistic representation.
The next picture, only took a few days for the event to happen again. A child, helplessly dangling from a nearby building instead. This time, however, Donovan was prepared. This time, whatever this camera had in plan for him… was not going to win. He was going to fight so that it would not manifest.
As he heard the gruelling wails escape from the poor child’s lips, the photographer knew he had to act quickly. He had already called the rescue department, but not wanting to tempt fate, he ran up the stairs of the building.
He ran and he ran. Ran as his feet were screaming for a break— ran as he felt his heart viciously hammer against his chest. He ran to save that child. He ran so that his own mistake of finding that camera would not harm innocent civilians. At this point, his legs almost gave out, but finally reaching the rooftop— Donovan scrambled to the lithe fingers clutching for dear life onto the ledge.
He grasped with all his might, ears ringing from his overexertion. But, it was all fine. He saved the kid. He saved them.
On that day, most would have called him a hero, a saviour.
If you were to ask him yourself? Oh, he would have said he was a monster.
He knew he was a monster the moment he took up that commission. Only a monster… would have been prideful enough to push himself to take up a job even his boss warned him about.
The child was saved. But at what cost?
Arriving back home with a chill running up his spine, the photographer’s fingers instinctively reached out for the old camera, flickering to the next picture on the display. What was previously a child smiling as they hung from the ledge, was instead a child frowning. They looked angry. Betrayed. But, why? He saved the child. He did everything he could to stop it. Rage started to fizzle in his veins, gripping the ends of the camera as he watched the image burn into white light inside the display.
WHY CAN’T ANYTHING GO RIGHT FOR ONCE!?
Awful thoughts consumed his mind as he tried to make sense of why this was happening. He of course knew that it was the damned camera causing all this. He has been consistently relating all these events to the camera. But, why did it have to be so hard? So hard to understand. So hard to navigate these particular uncharted waters he wished he could save himself from.
It was too late though. He was a lost cause. Now, he had to play the waiting game. The waiting game for the next and final image to manifest into reality. All because of his one choice that caused a multitude of consequences to take effect.
The third day arrived, and Donovan woke up in a cold sweat. This feeling— it has never happened before. So why… now? Chills prickled his hair, goosebumps rising in every body part of his as he reached for the camera and sat snugly beside his mattress. Pressing his eye against the viewfinder, he almost wished he didn’t.
Ghosts, spectres— whatever you wished to have called them, floated along his room. Staring at him. Some with horrific smiles, others with a defeated frown. Most, however, blankly stared at him. He wanted to scream, get out of his home and run as fast as he could out of there. But he couldn’t. He was rooted in place. Not a single limb could be moved.
He didn’t know whether it was because of the ghosts he was able to see, or simply because of the hot breath exhaling down the side of his neck. He felt protruding nails dig into his flesh. He wasn’t supposed to feel anything— but, God, it hurt so much. His energy was waning as one eye steadied on the viewfinder of the camera. The Victorian mansion…the last image. It moved itself to his abode. Intruding the only safe place of his.
A shaky sob escaped his chapped lips, fingers still tightly gripped onto the camera.
What was he going to do?
Fear filled every crevice of his bone, forcing him to throw the camera against a nearby wall. He heard a small crack. Hesitantly reaching for the device once more, the display cracked— in the picture, angry faces moving and reaching out through the screen.
He couldn’t— he couldn’t let this go on any longer. Mustering enough strength as he could, the photographer smashed the camera again and again and again against the hard floorboard. He didn’t care if he was breaking a priceless object or if he was condemning all those poor ghosts to eternal doom.
He did not care.
He continued his rageful actions, fingers oozing with red hues that dripped down onto the floor. Shards scattered on his floor. Broken lens and a broken camera. Was he free? Donovan was not quite sure. This time, though, he just wanted to be free from all this pain and torture.
He wanted…freedom. No more could he live his life blissfully now. No more.
He was now stuck in an endless loop of worry and sorrow—fear and heartache. As though any choice he were to make, would cause another set of catastrophic events to take place.
Written By: Lavanya
Edited By: Ashley