A small number of cameras have the ability to capture ghosts on film. This gift comes at a steep price; the ghosts are resentful and hungry, and the cameras offer them a rare chance to reach their favourite prey… humans.
Jenine doesn’t know any of this when she finds an abandoned Polaroid camera in a lighthouse. At first she assumes the ghostly shapes in the photos are a glitch or a prank – but then the spirits begin to hunt her down, and she’s forced into a deadly race to free herself from the camera’s curse.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I’ve always loved ghosts and hauntings. I was at the shops one day looking at cameras when the idea came to me; what if there were cameras that could photograph ghosts? They would have to be incredibly uncommon. More than that, they would probably be dangerous… and the rest of the story fell into place.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I’d recently finished a book where I felt like I hadn’t developed the characters as well as I could have, so I was determined to do better in Ghost Camera.
In the first plot outline, Jenine was going to be a teenager living with her parents, but that idea was nixed pretty quickly. As soon as I wrote her as a young adult living on her own, her personality began to develop. She turned out to be quiet and thoughtful, but to also have a deep strength.
Bree was much easier to write. I knew exactly how I wanted her to be from the beginning, and she was an incredibly fun character.
Jenine tackled the lighthouse stairs two at a time, her lanky legs eating up the distance. The air was cooler there, hidden from the summer sun, and the thick stone walls muffled the noise from the wedding reception.
She wanted to get to the top and take a photo before the cake cutting. She wasn’t the official wedding photographer, but the hired man was only taking posed photos. If she got some good candid shots, she could make an album as a present for Helen when she returned from her honeymoon. A photo from the top of the lighthouse would be perfect for the cover.
Jenine reached the top of the stairs winded but elated. The trapdoor was already open, so she slipped into the room above.
The lighthouse hadn’t been used since shipping companies changed their routes nearly a decade before. A strangely sticky dust, infused with salt by the wind that swept over the bluff, covered every surface and made her shoes gum to the floor.
The now-defunct light hung in the centre of the platform, taking up most of the room, with a narrow stone walkway running around it. The waist-high brick wall was periodically studded with support beams, and Jenine had a perfect view of the wedding reception below. She scooted around to find a good angle then took her photo. As she stepped back, her sneaker bumped something small and solid.
Someone had abandoned a black-and-grey Polaroid camera. Judging by how dirty it looked, it hadn’t been touched in years. Jenine picked it up and examined it gingerly. Other than the dust, it seemed in good condition. Out of curiosity, she raised the camera to her eye, angled it at the wedding guests, and took a photo.
To her delight, it clicked, whirred, and spat out a black-and-white square. Jenine put it in her pocket to develop, slung the Polaroid’s strap around her neck, snapped a second photo with her digital camera, then raced down the stairs.
She opened the door at the base of the lighthouse and took a step back as an aging, sour-looking man blocked her way.
“You aughtn’t be up there,” he said, and paused to spit on the ground. “It’s not safe. Little boy fell from the landing a few years back. Died.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Jenine whispered. She gazed up the length of the tower, and unease dribbled down her back. She felt strange, knowing she had likely been standing where a child had spent his last moments on earth.
She looked back down to see the elderly man shuffling away from her, towards the groundskeeper’s cottage behind the church. “Sorry,” she called, but if he heard her, he didn’t give any sign of it.
Jenine hurried to join the other guests, arriving just in time to photograph the cake cutting. As she waited for the caterers to pass out the plates, she touched the Polaroid camera hanging around her neck. She wondered if it had belonged to the little boy. The thought made her feel queasy, and she pulled the camera off and hid it in her bag.
* * *
It was dark by the time Jenine got home. She opened the door to three mewling, disgruntled cats.
“I know, I know,” she whispered as she turned on the lights and waded through the rubbing, crying felines. “I wouldn’t like being left alone all day, either. How about I give you a special treat to make up for it?”
She dished up three plates of raw meat then went to her room to change her clothes. She’d dressed casually for the wedding, but slipping out of the slightly-too-tight jeans and into her pyjama pants still felt good. Before throwing her jeans into the laundry, she frisked the pockets to make sure they didn’t hold any tissues or stray coins.
“Huh,” she muttered, pulling out the Polaroid. She’d forgotten about it in the buzz of the wedding.
The picture wasn’t bad, she supposed. It had the inherent graininess and off colours of a Polaroid, but showed the wedding reception relatively clearly. Jenine had half-expected the film to be a dud after so long.
She smiled and pinned the picture to the corkboard above her bed. The board stored happy memories: train tickets from her trip to visit her crazy spinster aunts in the mountains, and zoo passes from when she and her best friend, Bree, had spent an afternoon watching the penguins. Letters, photographs, and trinkets hung above her head to give her pleasant dreams.
The three cats, finished with their dinner, filed into her room one by one and took their places on her quilt. Jenine showered quickly then crawled into bed between the warm balls of fur.
* * *
She dreamed about the photo. It was perfectly clear in her mind; the happy bride hanging onto the groom’s arm, talking to her father. The three aunts gathered around the drinks table, already on the verge of being tipsy. The professional photographer arranging the bridesmaids in a line in front of the cake.
At the forefront of the picture stood a little boy. Blood ran down his distorted face from where the top of his skull had been crushed. He stared upwards, directly at the camera he had once owned, oblivious to the wedding reception behind him. While the rest of the Polaroid was grainy, his eyes were sharper and clearer than any modern camera would have been able to achieve. They were completely white, bleached of iris and pupil.
Jenine woke with a smothered shriek. She grabbed at her covers, disturbing the nearest cat and causing it to roll over with a yawn. She huffed in a few tight breaths as she oriented herself, then turned on her bedside lamp.
The photograph hung from the corkboard directly above her bed. She carefully unpinned it and held it up to the light. To her relief, the boy was not there. The bride and groom were still talking to her father, the aunts still indulged in the relaxing powers of champagne, and the photographer was still hustling the bridesmaids into a line—but there was no boy.
Jenine exhaled deeply and rubbed the chin of the largest cat, which was kneading her thigh. Something about the photograph was definitely off, though, and after a moment, Jenine realised what it was. Because the picture was so grainy, she hadn’t noticed it at first, but pale figures stood among the crowd. She counted six of them. Some were partially obscured by people or tables, and some seemed to be huddled among the partygoers, joining their conversations.
Jenine brushed her finger over the clearest figure, trying to understand it. The woman was transparent, looking almost like a human-shaped wisp of smoke.
Then she spotted a seventh figure. Crouched behind one of the shrubs that bordered the church’s lawn sat a little boy, his knees pulled up to his chin and his arms wrapped around them. He was hidden so well that he was barely visible, except for his head, which was turned towards the lighthouse.
Jenine threw the picture onto her bedside table and clambered out of bed, careful not to disturb the cats again. She pulled on a dressing gown and slippers and looked at her clock: 4:00 a.m. Too early to call Bree.
She went into the kitchen, turning on every light in her path. She filled the kettle and turned on the radio, then made toast to while away the early-morning hours.
* * *
Bree opened shop two hours before anyone else Jenine knew. Rosie Posy, Bree’s floristry, was a tiny corner store near the centre of their rural town. Although it was small, the shop was brightly lit and overflowing with bunches and boxes of flowers. Bree had forgone university and used her life savings and a substantial loan from her parents to open the shop when she was nineteen. It ticked over reasonably well, making her enough money to pay her bills and her part-time assistant, Nina.
The distinctive smell of pollen and sap mingled with flower scents hit Jenine’s nose as she pushed open the door. Bree was already behind the counter, preparing home-grown daisies while she waited for the bi-weekly delivery of fresh flowers.
Jenine and Bree’s friendship was the quintessential attraction of opposites. Jenine was reclusive and passive; Bree was loud and active. Jenine was ungracefully tall and wore her tawny hair long and straight, but Bree, who was short and stocky, frequently added colours to her pixie-cut of black curls. That morning, it was streaked with pink.
Bree broke into a grin when she saw Jenine. “Morning, Sprocket! I missed you at the after-wedding party last night.”
“Sorry, I was tired. Was it fun?”
“Absolutely. What could be more fun than watching Vince throw up all over Tiffany?” Bree leaned forward conspiratorially. “Because that totally happened.”
“Eww. See, that is the exact reason I don’t do parties.”
“Clearly, your fun-o-meter is broken.” Bree pointed her scissors at a stool, indicating Jenine should take it. “Talking about things you don’t find fun—how come you’re up so early?”
Jenine pulled up the stool to sit at the counter opposite Bree. “Actually, I wanted to ask you about a photograph. I took a picture at Helen’s wedding yesterday, and some weird things have shown up on it.”
Bree continued to hack at the daisies, pulling off leaves and trimming stems. “Do we mean weird in a hilarious way or weird in a creepy way?”
“Creepy. Definitely creepy.”
“Sweet,” Bree said. “Let’s have a look. Ooh, nice angle. Where’d you scurry off to?”
“The lighthouse,” Jenine said, watching Bree scan the image, waiting for her to notice the pale shapes.
“Damn, girl, clever thinking. Hey, there I am!” Bree jabbed her finger onto an orange-and-red blob near the bride.
Jenine forced herself to be patient. “Notice anything odd?”
“Hell yeah. Why did you downgrade your Nikon to a Polaroid? It’s the twenty-first century, Jenny. People use digital now.” Bree glanced up and placed one hand over her heart, putting on a fake-concern face. “Are you in trouble? Do you need money?”
“Be serious,” Jenine said, waving the picture in Bree’s face. “I found the camera in the lighthouse. But look at these!”
Bree, determined to play out her joke, clapped her hands to either side of her face in mock horror. “Jenny, you stole? I can’t believe it! Oh, lordy! Poor, sweet, innocent Jenny has been reduced to a life of crime!”
“Hnnng.” Jenine dropped her head onto the counter in frustration. “The picture, Bree. I think there are ghosts in the picture.”
“And she’s hallucinating, too!” Bree cried, but she picked up the Polaroid to have a second look.
For the first time since Jenine had entered the store, Bree lapsed into silence. Her smile faded into bewilderment, which in turn morphed into intrigue. Without saying a word, she set the photo on the counter then disappeared into the storeroom at the back of the shop. She returned carrying a square magnifying glass. She placed it directly over one of the pale shapes in the photo and put her eye to it. Jenine held her breath while her friend examined the image.
“Damn, Jenny.” When Bree looked up, she had an odd expression on her face: half nervous and half excited, with a hint of exhilaration. “I don’t recognise any of these people. I never forget a face, and, I swear, I’ve never seen these people in my life.”
Encouraged by her friend’s bewilderment, Jenny pointed to the child crouched behind the hedge. “The lighthouse keeper said a boy had died falling off the lighthouse. I think this is him. And… I think the camera was his, too.”
Darcy Coates has had a long-standing love of horror, both reading and writing it. She is particularly fond of hauntings, monsters, and things without names.
She came first place in the Hpathy Short Story Competition (2013) for The Passing Hour, and first place in the Wyong Short Story Competition (2013, Adult Division), for The Mallory Haunting.
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