The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Scarlett R. Algee
It happens because one day you ask your great-grandmother what’s in the old dusty wooden box at the back of her sewing table.
She frowns and jabs an embroidery needle into her pincushion. “It’s your great-grandfather’s old camera,” she tells you. “Best left alone.”
But you’re ten, and being left here by your vacationing parents with this crinkly old woman who’s patching together quilt squares is unbelievably boring. “I wanna see.”
She’s pinning two squares of calico together and sighs. “You really shouldn’t. Your mommy doesn’t like to think about it.”
That just piques your interest. “Lemme see!”
Another sigh, but she passes you a plastic-wrapped soft peppermint from her apron pocket and drags the box over. Her fingertips leave streaks in the filth across the top, revealing a rich reddish grain underneath. She shakes the dust off and snaps the box open, pulling out the boxy black and silver camera and a thin sheaf of photographs. There’s something else at the back of the box, something faintly luminous, but she closes it again before you can look more closely, and hands you the photographs. “Just a few old travel pictures. Harold didn’t get to use it much.”
You stare dully at the greyscale images, excitement forgotten. You recognize them, of course; they’re in your textbooks. The Eiffel Tower. The Coliseum. The Sphinx. Compared to the pictures on your mom’s smartphone, they’re faded, blurry. One is a street lined with ancient cars, and you scowl at it. “Where’s this?”
Your great-grandmother’s mouth softens, and she lifts it from your grasp tenderly. “New York. First stop on our honeymoon before we went to Europe.” She laughs a little and reaches for the box. “I’d never seen so much traffic.”
But when she reopens the box to replace the camera and photos, her gaze grows distant, as though you’re not there, and she grips the wooden edges harder. Her voice, when she speaks, is quiet and airy.
“Egypt was later,” she murmurs. “After your grandfather was born. After I caught Harold taking pictures of pretty girls.” Another laugh, but grim. “I said he didn’t get to use it much.”
She reaches deep into the box and pulls out a stained glass trinket box, a deep red rose set in the center of the lid. Whatever’s inside is a handful of little cylinders, glowing erratically like fireflies.
You swallow the last of your peppermint. “What’s that?”
“Film rolls.” She doesn’t open the glass container. “I was so angry, I took the camera and—well. There was an old woman at our hotel who claimed to be a witch, so I asked her to do something. I was jealous; after all, he was mine. And after that, when Harold took pictures of those girls…” She taps the colored glass and the glow of the film rolls stutters. “Let’s just say they stayed where he put them. Harold learned his lesson fast.” Back it all goes: glowing film, photographs, and the camera, which she lingers on. “Didn’t you, honey?”
You screw up your face as she closes the box, and jam the end of your thumb into your mouth for a moment—before you remember you’re not supposed to do that. “I don’t get it.”
“You will. Someday you will.” Your great-grandmother puts the dust-streaked box back in place, wipes her hands on a tissue, and picks up her quilt squares. “Do you want another mint?”
Fiction © Copyright Scarlett R. Algee
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from author Scarlett R. Algee:
The Lift: Nine Stories of Transformation, Volume One
The hall is dark and the overhead light flickers. Sounds echo, and there’s a creaking and clanging that gets louder as you stand in the semi-dark. The elevator opens and you’re offered a ride. Step inside and ride it to the story chosen for your transformation. Don’t be afraid, for Victoria, the mysterious girl who operates The Lift, waits to guide you. Set in the same world as the award nominated audio drama, The Lift’s first written anthology features nine all new stories by fan favorite writers and special bonus content by creators Daniel Foytik and Cynthia Lowman. The collection is brought to life with beautiful illustrations by Jeanette Andromeda for each story.