TAKE A PICTURE IT WILL LAST EXACTLY THREE YEARS SEVEN MONTHS EIGHT DAYS AND FOURTEEN HOURS
J. J. W. Mezun ☆ Season 6 ☆ 2021 October 1
Autumn slowed her steps as she neared the window o’ a place named “Li’l Shop for Hoarders”, glossy e’en under fall’s faded sun, as if the storeowner had set up the sun itself to improve their presentation, so she could capture a longer image o’ the camera — sleek, black with a silver circle round its lens, text too small to read embossed in silver letters in the top left corner, & many other tiny details that probably pumped up its price. But it wasn’t the appearance o’ the camera that interested Autumn so much as the possibilities it presented: she’d read ’bout a local contest where people who took pictures o’ the strangest thing they could find in Boskeopolis would get a 30,000₧1 prize; & part o’ her thought, well, she knew a disgusting abundance ’bout what was out there in this ferreous forest thru her many explorations searching for treasure, which she ne’er found…
I’ve ne’er found any ’cause I’m a dumbfuck guttertrash teenager, which is why I wouldn’t win this contest. I’d be competing with hundreds o’ people, many with decades o’ experience in photography & photo editing. My slow-ass laptop wouldn’t e’en be able to run whate’er expensive programs I’d need, much less would I be able to afford them.
I mos-def won’t be able to afford the camera, either. ¿So why am I wasting my time looking @ it?.
Then a voice — like a demon, if Autumn were so superstitious — said in her mind, ¿So why not steal it?.
That’s the most batshit idea e’er. But Autumn stood there, feeling sweat drench her, despite the chilly air surrounding her. In fact, she had done e’en mo’ insane stealing near 3 years ago when she broke into almost every house on her neighborhood just to get back @ the kids who stole her Muertoween candy.
I’m not a li’l kid anymo’. If I wasn’t liable to get sent to jail or juvy then, I am now.
But Autumn had felt as if she’d been in trouble fore’er, anyway; & the punishments would only get worse when she became an adult — if she were to live that long, that is. Gainst this accelerating fear o’ accelerating punishments for her klepto habits as she was to grew older was the urgency to hone this craft to cut down her chances o’ getting caught when the punishment did become less merciful. She didn’t want this camera, after all, just to have it: she wanted the money it might earn her — needed that money, in fact. & she would need this money e’en mo’ when she struck adulthood.
She let this thought’s vine wither & turned back to the shop door. A gray wind passed, making her feel cold ’nough to zip up her jacket & cover her ears with her hood. Glancing side to side round her, she was surprised by how empty the city looked now, e’en for a Saturday.
She rushed forward, opened the door, & went inside, only to stop in the middle o’ the shop when she noticed how vacant ’twas inside as well. Then, in the corner o’ her vision she saw a middle-aged clerk come up to her & say with a smile,
O, hello. ¿You looking for something?.
Autumn froze. She forced herself to say,
Um… No. I think this is the wrong place, & then turned & scurried outside.
You fucked up, ’cause that’s all you are: a useless fuck up. You should just kill your fucking useless self.
But she didn’t. ’Stead, she wandered the city, since that was the only thing she could do this weekend, & she was too riled to read any o’ the useless crap she got from the library.
But only a few blocks from the store she began to grow tired, having thrown her energy out as she walked, likely looking like a psycho to the few passersby. She stopped @ a bus stop occupied by just 1 other person, a middle-aged woman speaking sternly in a nasally voice into her phone while staring off into the distance.
On the bench ’hind her sat a black purse with silver-colored plastic ornaments. Just a second after sitting on the bench, Autumn felt her exhaustion pump back into her heart. She watched both the cantankerous woman & the purse from the side o’ her sight. The former didn’t seem to acknowledge Autumn’s presence @ all.
Fuck it: ¿what’s the worst that could happen?.
She wrapped her hand round the purse handle while staring up @ the woman. The woman didn’t so much as twitch from her conversation. Autumn felt her body fill with so much adrenaline that she thought she’d explode.
¡Do it! ¡It’s already too late!.
True. She rose from the bench, twisted ’way, & scampered down the sidewalk, hoping her jacket with its hood up would cover every identifiable part o’ her — specially her hair. After a few squares o’ sidewalk, she heard the woman ’hind her shout,
¡Hey! ¡Thief! ¡Get back here!, & then a beat later,
¡Hey, someone stop her!.
Autumn’s eyeballs bounced all o’er the streets. She kept twitching whene’er she’d see anyone, which was thankfully rare.
All right, act solid, shithead. We can’t run from everyone.
So she swung the purse o’er her arm as if ’twere hers, & after turning a few corners, slowed to a fast walk. She pulled down her hood to make herself look less like a thief & mo’ like the dork everyone @ school took her to be. ’Twas 1 o’ the few advantages o’ having glasses, she s’posed: now that she thought ’bout it, she didn’t think any o’ the stories ’bout crooked thieves creeping into homes & poisoning guard dogs she’d e’er read described their thieves having glasses.
If I had a cell phone, I could pretend I’m looking @ it. Better just look round so it seems as if I’m looking for a certain building.
That made her jump @ the realization that the purse probably had a cellphone in it that could be used to track her. She forced herself to let her nerves breathe & waited till she reached a wooded area up ’head ’fore climbing down inside, crouched down ’hind a tree blocked off by many others from the rest o’ the city. She dug thru the purse in search for smooth plastic, only to realize that the purse could have many other things that could be used to track it; so, ’stead, she searched for the easier-to-find wallet, pulled out all the notes she could find, shoved them deep into her jeans’ pockets, & then left the purse ’hind as she climbed up the rocky bank to ’nother part o’ the city, opposite the 1 whence she entered.
Autumn stormed into “The Li’l Shop for Hoarders”, feeling the ₧ in her pocket fill her with boldness, only to stop for a moment ’pon seeing the clerk, realizing that she looked not unlike the woman she robbed, with similar long, straight hair. Howe’er, her eyes could tell a subtle difference ’tween the 2, e’en if she couldn’t verbalize the differences specifically.
The clerk looked right @ her & greeted her ’gain:
Hello, ’gain. ¿Now you need something?.
This time Autumn didn’t freeze, shrunken into herself, but nodded right back, & then strode thru the store. Despite how sturdy ’twas in her mind that she would need to buy that camera, she still couldn’t keep her sights from darting round the store, staring @ the prices o’ things to see if maybe, perhaps, there was something mo’ efficient, ₧-wise. But none o’ the other goods kept her interest for mo’ than a slice o’ a second, whereas the camera captured her attention the moment she lent it.
She picked it up & felt it round her hands. She put it close to her face & smelled it & swooned @ the rubbery new smell that was so unfamiliar to her, would be unfamiliar in her future o’ homelessness, hunger, jailtime, & early death.
But that was for later. For now she’d have 1 nice weekend — maybe she’d e’en win that prize, too.
She carried the camera up to the front & set it on the table, staring @ everything but the clerk & trying to hide her heavy breathing while the clerk rang up the camera & tried to shove Autumn into small talk. Autumn was too happy by her seeming success that she didn’t have it in her to be rude to this person who, after all, was playing an important part in her victory.
¿You entering that contest, Madame?.
Mmm hmm, mumbled Autumn.
Sounds like you have a fun weekend ’head o’ you. That’ll be 7,500 please.
Autumn pulled out the notes from her pocket, putting all her effort into not swallowing too loudly or blinking too much while she counted them. Gainst her expectations, she’d stolen ’nough with a few bills she didn’t have time to count to spare. She handed them to the clerk & held her breath as the clerk counted the notes herself; but the clerk just thanked her & handed her a receipt with a small white plastic bag holding the camera — her camera — inside. Autumn murmured a thanks & took them both.
Autumn rushed outside the store, where ’twas already becoming twilit, thanks to the deepening darkness that came with the season that gave her her name, & hurried ’way ’fore the clerk somehow found out what she’d done.
When she’d gotten far ’nough ’way, that idea she’d had before came to the front, like a card waiting below ’nother: her camera. How strange tasted that word, “hers”. ’Twas hers now, the best birthday present she e’er had, e’en if ’bout a month late. She was struck by how much love she had for it.
Then a gloomier thought came to her. This will get stolen from me. She wasn’t sure what was worse: that, or her inkling that if she did get mugged with a knife or gun, she might just fight back, death or no death.
Autumn focused on these thoughts for so long that it blurred her mind for a moment why she wanted the camera in the 1st place. She realized that now would be the best time to start taking photos, as evening came & the weirder elements came out with it.
She crouched down where she stood on the sidewalk &, while keeping the corners o’ her eyes in mind for threats that might walk in from either end o’ the street, pulled the box out o’ its li’l white plastic bag. ’Twas then that she noticed that the clerk had replaced her naked camera with a fully-boxed product. Tho part o’ her thought that the other camera was just there to be seen, & that this camera was probably better in that it had no chance o’ being smudged with anyone’s fingerprints or broken somehow, the other part o’ her worried that it may be different from the 1 she saw, that it could be worse.
You don’t e’en know anything ’bout cameras. Hell, you were too shitbrained to check if the 1 you took e’en worked. Not like it matters now.
But she was too excited to care too much. She took out a knife she kept in her pocket & sliced open the box, & then tossed out the styrofoam blocks to reveal an identical twin to the camera she’d picked out, only this 1 wrapped in a see-thru plastic veil. She tore it open & finally had access to her camera, as well as a cord wrapped with matching black twine. She pocketed it, but kept the rest o’ the box & the bag, just in case she missed something.
She thought, It’s probably not charged, tho, as she pressed the power button on the top, flamboyantly red gainst all the other black buttons fitting in with their black background, only to hear a soft grinding as the camera’s nose pushed out like a transforming robot & the camera manufacturer’s logo popped onto the LED screen in front o’ her.
But what she saw next wasn’t the window into what was in front o’ her, but an eye-searing bright red that flashed into white — so sharp it made her wince.
You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me. It’s brok — .
I know how you got me.
Autumn almost threw the camera straight up like upside-down lightning in such a jolt from such a sudden, deep, distorted voice. She swung her head all round, but saw nobody who appeared to pay her any awareness.
It’s me, the camera, Autumn Springer, the voice said, with extra venom gainst her name.
Autumn stared down @ the camera with eyes hot as a Baxter-o’-Lantern’s. She didn’t say anything.
¿Has this been hacked into by some creepy fucker?.
I know what you did: you robbed some innocent civilian to buy me.
Autumn felt her arms shake so much that she struggled to keep hold o’ the camera.
…Or maybe the police… ¿How?.
You did evil, you did cruel. Thus, I shall make your world full o’ such evil & such cruelty. ¡Snap!.
Autumn blinked down @ the camera as its flashing screen turned black, & then popped on the real world in front o’ her, like a regular camera.
Probably some vigilante hacker.
But whether ’twas some nobody or the police, ¿how would they know I robbed someone? ¡That was kilometers ’way! As far as they should’ve seen, I walked in, gave the cashier money, & then left. ¿How could they know where it came from?.
Autumn felt her skin grow colder & colder as she stood there for minutes, numb.
¿What should I do with this?.
I’m not giving it up.
Autumn blinked mo’ as she thought mo’.
& if I’m not giving it up, then I’m not giving up its use. ¿What’s the use in having it if it’s not gonna be used for what it’s used for?.
She began turning her head round the blue city. Then she looked back down @ the camera, tilting it to see every side o’ it.
Might as well test it out.
She found a big round button that stood out ’mong the rest o’ the labeled dials ’long the top & pressed it. The next moment she saw a flash pop in front o’ the camera & looked down @ the screen to see a still picture where the moving world was before.
After a while, the screen resumed reflecting the world. She pressed a button next to the screen & made a menu pop up, & after a few seconds o’ menuing, made the gallery pop up, where her image remained.
It seems to work just fine… for now.
Gainst this she responded to herself, The same goes for all things, e’en humans.
Autumn wandered the evening to its darkest blue, capturing streets & buildings with neon signs; brown-stained olive-colored dumpsters; marble-blue electric things; maples, firs, & chokecherries. With each snapshot she felt as if she were collecting the pieces o’ the city, till she’d ’ventually have the entire city in her pocket.
She only stopped once, on a shady & lonely street, to reconsider everything: how none o’ these pictures would help her get anything, how her peers were probably spending their time doing things mo’ productive & exciting, how she had no idea how her parents would react to her being out so late with no explanation.
Then she unfroze, & the picture-taking proceeded. All that would come would come. For now she felt she still had a couple mo’ years a’least to fret ’bout things.
Near 1 alley she heard rumbling from inside a dumpster & glanced toward the entrance to see a raccoon cat2 poke its head out, the li’l black dots that were its eyes gleaming in the moonlight. Autumn edged back, wary that raccoon cats had a tendency to be vicious attackers, with their sharp claws & teeth & the magic to use maple leaves to turn themselves into ghosts & traumatize minors by showing them their engorged genitalia.
That didn’t stop her from aiming her camera @ it to take a picture, slowly pressing down onto the button to focus. But ’fore she clicked the button all the way down & committed to her shot, the raccoon cat scurried to the side. Autumn noted that ’twas a couple centimeters closer. Then she saw it rear its back, open its mouth wide open, & emit a mix o’ a hiss & a snort that caused yellow spittle to fling onto the sidewalk. Autumn witnessed with alarm the spittle begin to sizzle & release wafts o’ smoke & then looked back up to see the raccoon cat’s eyes glow red. & then Autumn remarked, now that the raccoon was in the yellow light o’ the streetlamps & no longer in the shade o’ the alleyway, that its fur seemed to have a slight bluish-purple tint to it.
¿What the fuck is this thing?.
It’s going to kill me’s what….
But damned if she wasn’t going to get a picture o’ such a rare creature, noxious or not. She just had to tilt her camera so that she got both the raccoon cat & the spit still burning the sidewalk neatly in frame. Then she had to hold down the button & hope the stupid bastard didn’t move while the camera sucked in all the light it needed to etch its painting into its silicon brain.
She stumbled back as she stared @ the screen, only to bump into a brick wall. Once she confirmed she’d captured the creature’s picture, she lowered her camera, only to see the raccoon cat now walking ’way with its nose to the ground, its eyes black & calmly round, &, most notable, its fur now an earthy brown. Autumn looked down @ the sidewalk, but couldn’t find any steam or yellow spittle anymo’.
Autumn looked down @ the camera with screwed brows. But on that screen she saw what she saw before: a rabid indigo raccoon cat with glowing red eyes & steaming yellow spittle in front o’ it.
¿What the fuck is go — ? ¡What the fuck?.
Autumn almost tripped as she swung to the left, where she saw a stop sign hopping toward her with the kind o’ ridiculous thumps you’d expect from a pirate’s peg leg. On the sign itself, which was now purple, were 2 angry eyeballs.
Autumn lifted her camera & tilted it so that she got the whole thing in frame, & then snapped. As she continued to back ’way, she turned the camera horizontal ’gain & zoomed in on the sign’s face… but the sign was now still, & its face was now faceless & red.
Autumn jerked her head in all directions, camera clutched itchily in her sweating palms.
This is the camera’s doing — or whoever’s controlling it. ¿Who cares which? If stop signs can just hop their merry fucking way o’er here, we’ve gone long beyond science.
Well, joke’s on the camera, since all this is doing is giving me amazing pictures to submit.
That is if 1 o’ these crazy bastards doesn’t kill me 1st.
Autumn paused on this note, having been unable to do so before in her scatterdash action. She’d, ’course, thought a lot ’bout dying young, either by cops trying to stop her thieving or suicide; but she imagined that being when she was a young adult, not someone still in 2ndary school. & yet, she couldn’t put her pulse on her feelings ’bout it now. Sure, there was plenty o’ fear ( which only worsened her need to use the bathroom, which had awoken after she had been out wandering the city for mo’ than 6 hours ); but she wouldn’t call that all bad. Quite the opposite: she found it interesting. ’Twas like the ventures she used to pretend to go on or that she’d read ’bout as a stupid kid had come to life, & now she had a ’scuse to indulge in them — indeed, had no choice not to.
Either way, I’m not giving up. Bring on whate’er monsters want to get their picture taken. Autumn gulped as she felt her breathing become heavier. It’s not like I’ll do much with my future, anyway. ¿What’s a li’l risk?.
But as Autumn wandered the streets, her need to use the bathroom only grew worse; & tho she figured the chances o’ encountering someone who recognized her was low, she also figured her luck was just terrible ’nough to make that happen if she did wet her pants, which was likely if ’nother possessed stop sign started hopping after her. But by this point she was in a sparser part o’ town where there were fewer buildings & mo’ trees, & the buildings she did find were too dim to be inhabited.
There’s hardly any lights round. C’mon, stop being a chickenshit: if you’re bold ’nough to steal a purse, you should be bold ’nough to piss in the woods without worrying ’bout some pervy cop finding you.
Knowing my luck, that will happen, tho.
But that seemed like ’twould be less humiliating & less uncomfortable than the alternative, so she crept toward the nearest copse, looking both ways not only to make sure some possessed truck wasn’t ’bout to run her o’er, but also to make sure nobody was watching her. The area was luckily empty — 1 o’ the many reasons she preferred night to day. Then she crouched down in front o’ the tree that seemed most shrouded from the streets, flicking glimpses in every direction @ rapid pace to be certain nobody was looking, & reached down & grabbed her zipper, only to be interrupted by a huge gust blowing her face-down onto the ground.
She spun back & sat up to see the tree she’d been sitting in front o’ before glaring @ her with eyes, a nose, & mouth carved out like a pumpkin’s, glowing with a red light strong ’nough to light a circle large ’nough to engulf Autumn, while its trunk & branches appeared purple in the marriage o’ the red light &, presumably, its new blue hue.
In his defense, I’d be pissed if someone was ’bout to piss on — Shit….
Autumn lifted her hands, only to notice that they were now grasping empty air.
O fuck, I’m dead. ¿Where the fuck did it go?.
A second later, Autumn saw a huge red object shoot from the tree’s new mouth, growing huge in a millisecond till it covered her full sight. A moment after, she felt an explosion o’ pain in her face throw her onto the hard dirt. There she moaned as she covered her still-throbbing head, heart pounding @ the possibility that she might’ve gotten brain damage, if it wasn’t outright fatal.
She sniffed, mixed a bit with a quiet laughter. ¿Did that tree just throw a dodge ball @ my head?.
Either way, it won’t be any mo’ caring ’bout whether I live or don’t than any fellow students, so I’d better focus on getting that camera ’bove bitching & moaning to myself.
She raised her head, glaring @ the tree with icy venom in her eyes. Fear only feeds them. If it kills you for being bold, it’ll kill you e’en worse for being cowardly.
She stumbled to her feet just in time to see the tree spew ’nother hard red object. This time she held her hands out, only for the object to bounce off them with a harsh ache. Autumn shook her hands & stretched her arms out & in.
Shit. I hope that didn’t sprain them.
She looked down to see that the hard red object was a giant apple, as big as her head. She picked it up & tossed it @ the tree with full strength & fury. She watched it slam gainst the tree, causing it to grunt & crease its eyes e’en angrier. Autumn flipped the tree off & shouted @ it to go fuck itself.
She turned back to the grassy ground & crawled all o’er it like a search engine querying for her camera.
¡Fuck! ¿Where did it go?.
She looked up & threw herself to the side just in time to dodge ’nother giant apple.
¡Fuck this asshole & his god damn apples! ¡I ought to just say fuck the camera & bash his fucking brains in with those god damn apples o’ his!.
She began to slip off her jacket, her body now scorching in the heat o’ action, only to notice a large solid object in 1 o’ its pockets. She slapped her forehead hard — which only caused the earlier pain in her head to come back.
¡I’m a fucking idiot! ¡How the fuck did I not remember or notice?.
Autumn tied the jacket round her waist & pulled her camera out o’ its pockets, & then looked up @ the tree.
If this thing flings an apple @ me while I’m taking a picture, it’ll shatter this fucking thing.
But as she waited, the tree seemed to be waiting, too.
Can ne’er be sure if he can’t try to trick me by shooting ’nother apple just after. I have a better idea.
She began walking round the tree in a circle. The tree’s face revolved — just its face, not its trunk — ’long with her. She then held up her camera & held down the capture button so hard it hurt her thumb as the tree began spitting ’nother apple.
After the flash Autumn dove to the side. When she rose back to her feet she saw that the tree’s face had faded ’way, ’long with the light it emitted, releasing Autumn back to the abyss-blackness o’ the thin thicket. But Autumn continued to watch it for the next few minutes while she held her camera just ’side her face just in case.
I’m surprised this fucking thing didn’t blow up in my face just to fuck me further. I wouldn’t put it past this camera to do something so preposterous.
She felt a sharp hunger for air & a shaky weakness in her muscles & crouched down, panting. She almost didn’t think she’d be able to get back up.
Maybe I should go home… It’s not as if this camera will vanish the next d — Well, actually, since it’s the 1 causing these bastards to come to life & attack me… ¿What kind o’ bullshit is that, anyway? I’m hardly the only teen to steal something — fuck, if you count online piracy, all o’ them do it, like all their parents. That definitely makes me deserve being murdered by malevolent maples.
But that wasn’t what confused Autumn the most; — she was used to having her life threatened simply for being herself — what confused her was why, if the camera was causing this, the camera was also the tool that made her attackers tranquil ’gain.
Hey, camera. ¿Can you talk?.
All she heard was the rustling o’ leaves in the wind.
Autumn pushed herself up to her feet. Fuck, I have to get out o’ this shit hole. A’least I can see in the city; & I’d take possessed raccoon cats & stop signs o’er these fucking trees — they’re the worst.
Autumn looked up just in time to see a crow swoop down & yank the camera by its string with such sudden force that it popped right out o’ Autumn’s hands. Then the crow flew ’way with the camera dangling from its claws.
¡O, fuck! ¡No!. Autumn ran after the crow @ full speed. O, I am so fucked… There’s no way I’ll be able to catch up with it now.
Indeed, the crow had already vanished, ’long with the camera. Autumn searched the streets round her in the hopes that maybe the crow had dropped the camera; but she couldn’t find it anywhere.
Then she looked up @ the streetlight signs. Fuck this: I’m going home. I have no chance now. O, fuck. ¿Why can’t they just consistently # these damn avenues?.
Autumn had filled with so much o’erflowing fury that when she saw a red stop sign standing @ the end o’ the street, she suddenly swung her fist back & slammed it as hard as she could gainst its pole, only to feel a thick pain on her fist while the sign didn’t bend a centimeter. But Autumn wasn’t mollified, but felt e’en thirstier for pain: she grasped the side o’ her face so tightly it pinched into her skin. She could feel the corners o’ her eyes burn with tears.
I’ll ne’er get home, & I’ll ne’er survive long out here without that camera.
That’s probably for the better. Let them kill me. Let them smash my head in with their fucking apples, peck my eyes out bloody, let them run me o’er & rip all my limbs into shrapnel….
Autumn forced herself to take deep breaths. Her eyeballs were bulging out o’ their sockets & she thought she could see stars in front o’ her.
All right, calm down. Maybe that camera’s what makes them attack me. Maybe if I don’t have the camera, they won’t attack me.
She began walking down the direction she 1st entered this wasteland from, figuring ’twas the most likely to lead back home. She unraveled her jacket from her waist & slung it back o’er her arms &, feeling this still not ’nough warmth gainst the sudden chill o’ the now-black night, wrapped her arms round herself & pressed her legs together as she shivered in the cold, still feeling the dull ache o’ her full bladder, but not daring to try going in the woods ’gain.
If not, then I’m dead.
By the time Autumn reached Young Highway, she was proven wrong by the appearance o’ a blue taxi cab. @ 1st she thought ’twas just her imagination: Blue cars appear in real life; but she was glad she’d edged toward caution & kept toward the walls o’ the buildings lining the highway when she saw it veer toward her, only for it to turn right for her, off the street & onto the sidewalk.
Then Autumn spotted the buildings round her & measured that 1 just ’head had an alley too tight to fit a car thru, so she slipped inside. A few meters inside, she looked back to see the wild automobile smack into the building walls, as she predicted. It kept ramming its angry-headlighted face into these walls, causing the whole ground to seem to shake @ the seams. Not wanting to prod her luck, Autumn continued down the alley in the hopes o’ leaving as much distance as possible.
But she was forced to stop when she saw stomping toward her a blue dumpster with its lid snapping down & up like an angry duck. Tho slow, it blocked the whole alleyway with its berth.
Autumn stood there, swinging her head ’tween the 2.
The only chance I have….
She ran back o’er to the taxi, standing just half a meter from where it rammed the walls — so close that she could feel & smell its piping-hot petrol breath & the quakes it made rattle her whole skeleton. She waited till just after it started backing up to run round the corner, during which she heard the taxi screech louder than before, causing her to cry out. A millisecond after she moved her back leg out, she felt a gust o’ air & a rumble from the taxi smashing the wall.
Autumn blenched as the image o’ her leg being pummeled into a bloody pulp invaded her imagination; but she drove it from her thoughts & pumped all o’ her broken breaths into feeding her footsteps down the sidewalk, now just as fearful o’ the claustrophobic alleyways as the naked streets.
No matter where I go, I’m fucked. ¿Does any choice matter?.
She looked ’hind herself to see the taxi just finishing backing ’way from the wall & turning its tires toward her.
It seems the only workable solution is to keep switching ’tween the 2.
She became mo’ hopeful, tho, when she went thru the next alley & found it empty o’ bedeviled dumpsters. She paused for a step, thinking it might be safest to just stay in there, but then started running all the way thru. I shouldn’t push it: whate’er magic’s doing this could always make some monster arrive later, while I’ll ne’er get anywhere just staying here.
From there she went in whate’er direction her mood happened to choose in less than a second to reduce delay, the only determinant being to avoid animated inanimate objects. She didn’t run into anymo’ haunted monsters till she wandered into a familiar park. ’Twas there her eye caught an e’en mo’ familiar crow standing on a “¡Keep our parks clean!” sign with its lone needle-shaped leg, the camera dangling by its velcrow handle in the crow’s beak. A gasp after, Autumn began to hear the camera speak into her mind ’gain:
I take it you still haven’t learned a thing, ¿have you?.
¿‘Don’t steal’? Yeah, I think I’ve got that, said Autumn.
The crow cocked its head just ’fore the camera said,
¿Have you? You know what they say ’bout thieves: the thing they steal the most is the truth.
Autumn felt her head steam @ the irrationality o’ this inanimate object. If so, ¿then why are you bothering to ask me for the truth?. But just the same, ¿what would arguing back do? This was far from the 1st time something mo’ powerful than she berated her for working far harder to get something than the so-called “rightful” owner had to own it; she could hear a million mo’ words.
So…. The camera dragged it out for almost a whole minute, which irritated Autumn further. Her breathlessness & her need to pee still dug into her like fungus & sucked out all patience. Finally, the camera continued,
If I return this camera to you… ¿what shall you do with it?.
Autumn kept her expression the same way it had been before — as opaque as possible.
I will bring it back to where it belongs, she said with the stilted words & blank stare she always gave when telling an authority lies.
The crow cocked its head in the other direction.
¿& where would that be?.
Where I stole it from.
I don’t believe you.
Autumn said in a casual tone, — for she truly was feeling less irate, as the conversation began to fill her with more optimism that she could get the camera back —
¿Then why are you asking me? ¿What use are a thief’s words?.
That is a good question.
When their conversation had 1st commenced, Autumn had conjured up a plan, but was too terrified to try it too soon, only to screw it up. But now, as their discussion began to dusk, she fretted mo’ letting spoil a succulent opportunity.
I take it you want me to ’splain why I’m such a horrible thief, Autumn said sullenly.
That would be interesting to learn.
I’ll ’splain it to you like this…. Autumn made out to search the ground, e’en tho she already knew what she was seeking. She went o’er & picked up a branch, & then went o’er & picked up a rock with the other hand, & then stood & held them a quarter meter ’way from each other.
Think o’ this stick as me…. Autumn shook the hand holding the stick.
…& think o’ this rock as anything valuable I happen to see. She spread her arms apart.
Now, this is how — .
Autumn chucked the rock @ the crow. She expected the crow to see it coming ’fore it reached & aimed somewhat higher; howe’er, the crow didn’t stir ’fore being hit, so ’twas clocked on the edge o’ the forehead. Either way, it flew back in reaction & let loose the camera. Autumn raced forward & scooped it up like a baseball catcher, & then fled as fast as she could while shoving the camera deep into her pocket.
I just need to make sure I ne’er let this thing out o’ my pocket from now on, & it’ll be much harder for anything to steal it. To be extra sure, she kept her hand on the boxy lump bumping gainst her side @ every step to perpetually check that it didn’t go flying out.
As she left the block, she looked round, but didn’t see the crow ’gain.
This time she didn’t dare pull her camera out, e’en when confronted with belligerent blue bricks falling from the walls looming o’er her or blocks o’ sidewalk that rose, spun, & dove @ her like ninja stars; she only dodged them & tried to drive as much distance from them as she could. She had mild success: while the latter only scraped her shoulder a bit, 1 o’ the former bonked her blank on the head. As she kept running down the sidewalk, rubbing her head with her hand not still holding the camera bulge in her pocket, she thought, Well, there goes a lot o’ my intelligence — the only thing I maybe have.
But this became trickier when a smarmy smiling young man in a billboard selling car insurance climbed out & ran toward her, smile still the same, but brows arched in fury. She had no hope of outrunning this adult’s long legs & couldn’t find something to throw @ him ’fore he knocked her down in the middle o’ the street with his thick, hairy mitts round her neck, squeezing & digging the sharp nails o’ his thumbs right into the soft stomach o’ her throat.
¿What are the chances o’ something nabbing it with him in the way?, she thought as she felt all the nerves in her face scream under her skin.
She slipped the camera out & flashed a picture o’ the guy’s plain white shirt; but his grip didn’t weaken.
The camera’s voice laughed.
I’m ’fraid a photo that lame won’t cut the catsup. An expert photographer should ne’er choke.
She felt her blood become cold @ the realization that she was probably already dead, or e’en if not, that she was probably already crippled in some way e’en mo’ than the weakness she already had. But the panic to keep whate’er she still had forced her hand round the tangle o’ the man’s arm to flash a photo o’ the man’s face.
This time he dissolved, leaving her to fall back & pant on the black pavement, feeling as if her limbs had broken. The vision popped into her mind o’ a truck — possessed or not — driving right o’er her like a saw, cutting her into pieces with all the agony & bloodflood she already felt. She felt as if she felt mo’ ’fraid to get back up & walk on than avoid that. Then she looked down @ her crotch & frowned @ how dark ’twas & realized that part o’ the feeling o’ blood draining out o’ her was her bladder fleeing & releasing everything. & yet she still felt so shaken & paralyzed that she couldn’t muster mo’ distress than that. She was already dead, anyway.
But then she thought ’bout how the camera would react, e’en if it got broken. That same laugh dripping with jism. Then she thought ’bout how others would react — her costudents, for example. O, they wouldn’t have the balls or minges to admit out loud how pleased they’d be: they’d paint on onion tears like black mascara for the week or so it took for her remains to fade from memory.
She forced herself to sit up, glaring @ the other end o’ the road as if daring a car to be vile ’nough to run her o’er. But the road was empty. In fact, she just noticed how empty the entire city seemed to be. But then, ¿how else could the camera have so many things attack her & not get anyone else caught in the violence?
Then she climbed to her feet. I’m getting that 30,000₧. Then she walked on down the street.
The remains o’ the way home was peaceful, which relieved Autumn a li’l, but not much. She e’en saw people & automobiles begin to reemerge from whate’er hideout they’d kept themselves to for so long, which @ 1st alarmed Autumn till she confirmed that they were normal humans who a’least had mo’ important things to do than try killing her. Still, she watched them for signs o’ hostility — tho she tried to avoid making eye contact, almost as averse to attracting the attention o’ real humans as o’ the possessed variety. She hoped ’twas too dim to see the dark spot that still felt sickly on the front o’ her pants or that these adults were too preoccupied to notice.
Autumn prepared a lie ’bout some extracurricular activity going on too long & some clumsy fuckwad spilling water on her; howe’er, when she opened her front door, she found the livingroom empty & guessed from the darkness in her mother’s doorway that her mother & her boyfriend were already asleep. She set her backpack in its usual place by her couch bed, grabbed clean clothes, & went in to finally use the bathroom properly.
Afterward, ’fore changing, she looked @ the bathtub, full o’ dishes dirty for a year a’least — the water pipe connected to the kitchen sink being 1 o’ the many things broken in their slumland, electrified by faulty wiring that would no doubt burn this house down ’ventually, making those pipes unusable, ’less one wanted to be electrocuted — & exhaled deeply. While part o’ her asked herself what the point would be, the other thought, Best not give them further reason to think o’ me as a shabby, poor street rat — or just a retarded baby who still pisses herself. ’Sides, it’s ’bout that time o’ the… ¿month?.
So she shifted the dishes out o’ the tub, slowly so as not to wake anyone, & then turned on the shower & stepped inside, frowning gainst the icy water — hot water being ’nother luxury their home didn’t have, ’cept for maybe during the occasional solar eclipse.
You just had some strange, possessed man jab his needle-like thumbs right into your throat. Indeed, she could still feel as if softer phantom thumbs were still prodding her throat. Cold water should feel like… getting sucked off by the richest man in the land or something.
In fact, when Autumn got out, toweled off, dressed into her nightshirt, & wrapped herself in blankets on her couch bed, she did feel quite nice, specially with how exhausted she felt.
Howe’er, she didn’t let herself fall asleep just yet: her nerves itched with ideas for how her rough-reaped footage would fade from her fingers the second she handed it the chance. So she spent the next 10 minutes plugging the camera’s card into her laptop & downloading the photos, & then slipped outside, shivering in the night air that felt e’en colder in the current calm, to cadge some unprotected Wi-Fi with a generic name & upload her photos to as many free online storage services she could remember signing up for.
’Twas only after she confirmed that most o’ these backups had completed that she stepped back inside & allowed herself to click off her lamp, lie down, & close her eyes. She usually felt restless, sweaty, & uncomfortable @ night, e’en in the winter; but tonight she already felt her consciousness slipping as her thoughts drifted ’way to visions o’ sending in those pictures & winning that money.
That was when she felt the blanket tighten round her & sharp spikes jab into her head. She lifted her head, clicked on the lamp, & looked back to see her pillow, now blue, had a whole black maw, lined with sharp fangs, top & bottom. Looking ’head she could see her blanket had also turned to that moldy blue.
¿Why’d I imagine they couldn’t get me here? ¿Did I think there was something magical ’bout my home that would ward them off?.
But these thoughts were eaten by a hungrier thought: Well, ¿now what do I do?.
Well, the 1st thing she did was struggle out o’ her blanket. She thanked her luck that she was underfed ’nough to slip thru a crack ’tween the blanket & the couch cushions. She stumbled back to her feet & flailed ’bout for the camera, only to remember ’twas still missing its SD card. She yanked it out o’ the laptop & jammed it @ the SD slot a few times ’fore she managed to get it in. By that point, the blanket was already on the ground, oozing toward her cold feet like a spilled drink, & her books joined the fray, flinging themselves @ her with flapping leaves like bats. As she turned the camera in front o’ her, the lamp began to click on & off.
Living’s mo’ important than preventing o’erexposure, she thought as she clicked on the flash.
Despite the starting scare, it didn’t take as much effort to subdue these beasts with photos as most o’ the others she’d fought. Soon, Autumn was left panting on her couch bed. She glanced up @ the hallway, but didn’t see a stir.
I should be glad a’least that this asshole didn’t decide to drag my mother into this.
But now Autumn had to think ’bout what she needed to do. ¿Was she ne’er going to allow herself sleep & take her camera to school, where it could get stolen & fuck her o’er eternally?
She thought o’ an obvious solution, but hesitated. If it doesn’t work, I’ll be fucked.
But I’m fucked, anyway, ¿remember?.
I got what I got by risking everything; might as well do the same to get out.
But then she thought ’bout it mo’ & realized there was a slightly less-risky solution — albeit, 1 that was more o’ a hassle to carry out. Ne’ertheless, she knew she had no hope o’ earning any sleep if she didn’t try what was most likely to work. So she looked round the house till she found a flashlight in the closet she didn’t think anyone e’er looked in, & then put on her shoes, sweats, & a jacket & stuffed the flashlight in 1 o’ her pockets. Then she headed for the door, peeking ’hind her to ensure her mother hadn’t gotten up, & then slipped out, only to realize it had started to trickle, which only made her feel e’en mo’ frozen — & if not for her urgency to hurry & finish this deranged task o’ hers ’fore the camera had a chance to kill her or ’fore her mother woke being stronger, she’d have felt as if she couldn’t move. But she turned this urgency into an advantage & pumped mo’ force into her movement down the steps & down the street in her struggle gainst the chill.
She walked 4 blocks back to Young Highway, anticipating mo’ monsters to attack her. But to her surprise, the night was empty & peaceful, as she always liked it. But something else did impede her: she stopped ’pon seeing “The Li’l Shop for Hoarders”.
Nothing’s even ’less I give this back to the shop & take the money back.
I should just wait till tomorrow & return it when it’s open. I still have the receipt.
The camera’ll kill me by then.
She stepped up to 1 o’ the windows & peered inside. No shock, there were no lights on inside. She didn’t dare try breaking a window to get in. Not only would she be unable to, it’d only risk getting her arrested, & for no hope o’ money for it, too. Plus, the camera would no doubt demand she do something to make up for the broken window, too. As she gazed o’er the storefront, Autumn thought, There’s no way to get inside. Give it up. Just leave the camera in the park & hurry home ’fore the night’s half o’er already. But then, just after, as if in response, the window began to blow neon blue & then grew tiny arms & legs & began to pull itself out o’ its frame.
Bingo, Autumn thought without emotion.
Good thing was, this window’s tiny feet made it too slow to be dangerous. Autumn hastily maneuvered round it, climbed into the now-open frame, & then snapped a quick photo o’ the window, causing it to stop like a statue & fall onto the pavement with a thud. Having settled that, she pulled the flashlight out o’ her jacket & aimed straight for the desk, only to pause with her hands frozen before the cash register.
This is stupid. ¿What if they get my fingerprints?.
It’s too late to avoid that — you already got your dirty hands all o’er the window frame. ¿Why don’t I think? ¿I tell myself I’m going to be some kind o’ great thief when I can’t e’en avoid doing li’l dumb shit like this? It’ll be a miracle if my dumb ass doesn’t get sent to jail for years by the time I’m 18.
They may miss that, specially if the window hops back in its place. I should still cover my fingerprints here. She pulled her hands into her jacket sleeves & grabbed the handle to the register's mouth with a sleeve; but when she pulled, it wouldn't budge. Then she noticed a coin-shaped lock gleam under the light o’ her flashlight. She looked round the desk, but already knew she wouldn’t find the key anywhere in the building. She knew from when her mother was a store clerk that cashiers have sets o’ keys they need for opening & closing stores, & Autumn was sure those keys included the key to the cash register.
She set the camera down on the desk & turned it to face her, only to feel like a fool just afterward. Ne’ertheless, she whispered to it,
I wouldn’t s’pose there’s a chance you’ll possess the cash register to open its mouth & attack me….
Just after, the cash register turned blue — much mo’ quickly than any other specter she’d encountered, which caused her to jump ’way. The cash register shot its mouth open, causing paper bills to fly into the air. Autumn wrestled with the air to catch them all, all the while keeping her attention on the cash register, who didn’t seem to do anything mo’ than close its mouth ’gain.
When Autumn had grabbed all the bills she saw, she hastily counted them all: they counted exactly 7,500₧.
Autumn stood there with a blank face, paralyzed by how eerie she felt with this camera controlling so much. But then she noticed the cash register was still blue & fumbled for the camera & took 1 last photo.
After her eyes had assured her that the cash register was back to its plain gray, she reached out to place the camera back on the desk, only to pause in thought. Then she pulled it back, turned the camera back on, went into its gallery mode & went thru & deleted every photo on it. As she did so, she felt saliva trickle down her throat in wait for the camera to yell @ her ’gain, knowing what her true motive was. But the camera didn’t speak.
Once she’d ascertained that the camera was empty o’ all photos, she turned it back off, set it back on the desk, & then headed back out.
As Autumn headed for the bus stop she’d stopped @ yesterday, she noticed a middle-aged woman sitting on the bench under the glow o’ the still-lit streetlamp — the same woman she’d seen before with her black purse sitting next to her just as before. This time she wasn’t yelling into her phone, or talking into it @ all, but sitting there with her hands in her lap, staring forward into space with an expression o’ serenity.
As Autumn crept near, the woman suddenly spoke:
I was wondering when you’d come back.
Autumn gave a wry smile.
Thanks for the loan, Madame. I came to pay it back.
All the woman replied with was a humorless laugh.
Autumn watched her warily as she dropped the cash on the other side o’ the bench, & then turned & fled.
Autumn was surprised to find that not only did the monsters not return @ all thruout the next week, but that she had received a letter from the place she’d submitted her photos to telling her she won 1st prize & asked that she & her mother fill out some forms. Autumn tried to read all the small print, paranoid that there would be some liability clauses that could cause them to lose way mo’ than she gained, knowing her luck, but couldn’t find anything other than meaningless tripe protecting their asses — & e’en if she found something, she could ne’er bring herself to refuse the money after all that o’er an unlikely lawsuit. She risked her life for it; ¿why not her livelihood?
Her mother didn’t demur, either, which was to be expected. If anything, Autumn was mo’ nervous ’bout her mother’s effusions o’ pride @ what a great photographer Autumn could be as an adult. Autumn ’splained to her what a fluke this was & how irresponsible it’d be for her to bet too much on such a risk. Contests like these are rare, & winning them is e’en rarer, & to succeed as a photographer you need a proper education & to have a network with the right people, she thought, but didn’t see fit to say ’loud. What she did say was that her camera had broken in the process o’ getting those pictures.
You could always use that money to buy ’nother — probably a better 1, said her mother.
Autumn returned a grunt, but didn’t say that she definitely wouldn’t spend her money on that, or anything @ all, most like. ¿What was the use o’ going to such trouble to get money if you were just going to toss it ’way so quickly & easily?
A week later, Autumn was shocked to hear ’bout her photos making the news — mostly hokey feel-good articles or TV news snippets that pretended that the photos were mysteries. Some few loons made up conspiracies ’bout aliens or government chemicals, while most figured they were just Photoshop or sculpted works. The only source given for the photos was The Sichtglas Company, the company who held the contest & sent her the check she’d cashed. When asked who took the photos, the company said they’d ne’er reveal their secret. Most commentators believed ’twas just some in-house work.
As the weeks withered into winter, Autumn couldn’t stop herself from searching as much as she could ’bout the issue every few days. Included in that research was news that Sichtglas’s stock had surged after this publicity splash — doubled to mo’ than 100 million ₧, which was a lot for such a small company & was mo’ than 3,000 times Autumn’s 30,000₧. Autumn became queasy running all the calculations in her head &, mo’ importantly, wondering if she could find a way to get a chunk o’ that profit.
Then 1 day, she read a story that caught her attention — & from a boring, reputable newspaper — was an inside story that showed that Sichtglas was, as everyone expected, secretly hiring a graphic designer to design mo’ “haunted” photography for them. @ 1st, the CEO o’ Sichtglas denied this news story, but after ’nough people pressed on them, they finally admitted that these were just designs, saying that they didn’t want to ruin the “immersion” for their fans & apologized for anyone “psychologically harmed” by their “storytelling”. After that, news died down on the subject, & Sichtglas’s stocks plateued, tho @ a far higher level than before the whole debacle.
Autumn, too, began to lose interest, for she could hear the toll o’ the death knell on her chances o’ getting a bigger slice than her 30,000₧. Clearly Sichtglas found someone who could replace her — ¿& why not? It wasn’t as if she could reproduce what “she” made without that special camera or e’en the artistic skills to produce a facsimile like those they hired. Her only “proof” was the congratulations letter Sichtglas sent her; but she knew everyone would consider that fake. Anyone with basic skills in Google Docs could reproduce it.
The closest she came to telling someone ’bout it was when her mother saw a news story ’bout Sichtglas on TV & said,
Hey, ¿wasn't that the company that paid you that money for winning that photo-taking contest?.
Her mother laughed.
Those weren’t the photos you took, ¿were they?.
Autumn shook her head.
No, just regular trees. She wasn’t sure why she told this lie, other than to protect her far mo’ gullible mother, who still imagined she’d get rich someday paying taxes to that scam called the “lottery” every month, from getting some tiresomely fantastical idea.
But tho it felt like such a setback, when Autumn thought ’bout it logically, she still left with a win. Hell, she expected she’d be dead; ’stead, she won 30,000₧ & had to endure the taunt o’ losing millions she ne’er had the chance o’ getting, either way. For all its threats & condescension, she beat whate’er specter, demon, or god who controlled that camera. E’en if she had to undo her work in some sort, crime still paid, as it usually did.
The mo’ she remembered that day, the mo’ she reminisced ’bout it as a fond memory, e’en the parts where she had huge apples shot @ her head or choked almost to death. In contrast, she became e’en mo’ bored & restless during school, during lunch breaks, during rides home, & eventless, frivolous weekends inside, staring @ her laptop or a book or wandering the city, thirsty to see blood ’gain like a vampire.
She didn’t dare spend the money she’d won, but, quite the opposite, was in such constant fear o’ losing it somehow that she kept checking on it whene’er she could. She was oft distracted by worries o’ what might happen to it, & a few times e’en began to suffocate & felt like she would almost pass out. ’Twas the rarity o’ such money that made her so resentful toward it. If 30,000₧ came easier, she wouldn’t worry ’bout 1 pile flying ’way; but ’cause ’twas so rare, — for her, unique — ’twas like an abusive lover who threatened to leave any second it didn’t get what it wanted, & she could only throw ’way her dignity & beg for it not to leave her with nothing & incessantly check up on it to make sure it didn’t make good on its threats & slip out.
’Twas only her insistence that there would be more opportunities to feel that fleeting spice o’ success that kept her bothering to continue getting out o’ bed in the morn. In the meantime, she felt a transformation, & great growth to her spine. After being bashed by apples, nearly run o’er, & choked, ¿what reason had she to be fearful o’ any students @ her school? While as yet, she had only stolen in rare occassions where she was sure she wouldn’t get caught or was desperate, now she opened herself up to more opportunities.
In the process, she began to get caught mo’ & began to catch more overt anger from other students with it till 1 day, as she tried to slip a mobile out o’ the locker o’ a student distracted in conversation with ’nother, only for that student to swing round, clutch Autumn’s throat, & slam her gainst the locker in 1 sharp motion. The student glared directly into Autumn’s eyes, but Autumn wouldn’t flinch this time, but stared back like the abyss. The student shouted something, but Autumn didn’t hear. The student was pressing so hard on Autumn’s neck that ’twas blocking oxygen & choking her like the happy insurance man, or whoe’er he was, & all Autumn could think was, Blue, blue, blue….
To her surprise, she saw her assailant’s pupils pull back in fear. The student released her & punched her in the side o’ the head, knocking her down onto the ground. Tho the impact was sharp & painful, it faded quickly, an illusion, replaced by a far-longer-lasting intake of oxygen & heartbeats like drinking alcohol. Now maybe she knew how her mother felt wasting her money on that junk.
Autumn’s nerves jittered so much like ants that she tittered with laughter. She looked up @ the student & saw that student gazing down @ her with a disturbed frown, which, for some reason, only made Autumn want to laugh mo’.
You’re a fucking nutjob, the student said ’fore leaving.
Yes, now ’twas Autumn’s turn to join the the cars, the tanuko, the dumpsters, the stop signs, & the happy insurance salesman & become an inanimate object now possessed.