One. She could feel them behind her, hear the scratching on the wooden floor getting closer. Two. The whispers started. A language she couldn’t understand, yet consumed her thoughts. Three. She faced herself in the oval antique mirror, her terrified, bloodshot eyes darting around in front of her, clenched fists, a ragged nightgown covering what was left of her dignity. Everyone thinks she is crazy…they’re crazy. She was going to prove to them, show them, warn them. It had taken her months to get this far, to learn as much about them as they knew about her, she wasn’t going to let them win. Her foot fumbled for the floor behind her; stepping back slightly as she bent her knees slowly, slowly, her hand reaching down into the darkness for the camera. Where was it? She had just put it down for a second, it had to be there. She fell to her knees, her fingers, raw from her nervous chewing, desperately searched through the junk that surrounded her, the dust from family heirlooms filling her lungs, choking her, her heartbeat hammering in her ears.
They had stolen it from her. She should have known better, but she would get it back. She clawed at the floor, throwing away the junk. They were laughing at her, their sickly sweet giggles echoed around the room, mocking her, playing with her. But she wasn’t here to play games. She knew if she waited long enough, they would come, she could catch them. She shut her eyes, that way they would come, when they thought she wouldn’t look. The laughing stopped and the scraping began to get closer, their footsteps pattering on the wood. It was then that her fingers grasped onto a familiar object: her camera. Her hands clenched around it and she took a deep breath, in…out. They were almost right behind her now, she could smell their rotting smiles and oozing stuffing. She spun, her finger pressing the capture button of the Polaroid and her eyes simultaneously flying open to be faced by their army. A scream of triumph escaped from deep in her throat, the anticipation and fear flying from her body in one final effort to capture the proof she needed.
They were helplessly frozen in her gaze. Her bruised feet shuffled backwards into the corner, giving her some distance. Her eyes watered, tears streamed down her pale cheeks as she desperately tried to keep her eyes open. She had to be quick. The camera flashed, blinding her as she blinked, undeveloped pictures fell in streams to the floor. Flash. They’re smiles grew wider as they grew closer, she couldn’t keep her eyes open. Flash. She wasn’t going to make it out in time, but she had to get her proof. Flash. Flash. She tucked her legs into herself. Flash. There was nowhere else for her to go. Flash. Everything went dark.
The brightness blinded her. Had she survived? Her eyes felt heavy and the sterile smell of antiseptic crept up her nostrils, the distant sounds of sirens surrounded her. She saw a sea of faces; family and friends. They all looked down at her, frowns on their faces but an air of relief in their eyes. How long had it been? Her mother’s voice answered her, ‘six months Cassie.’ It was over but she was stuck here ‘for a while’ because ‘she was ill.’ These phrases were thrown about the room, nobody looked her in the eye. Crazy eyes. Did they find her pictures?
‘We sold the house Cassie, you need a fresh start. We took your belongings and left everything else for the new family. A lovely family with a beautiful little girl, we left your old toys there for her to give them a new home.’
Mr Lambert carried the last box up to the attic, it had been a long day of moving into their new home. He had never realised how much junk they had, the attic was full of boxes. Still, it was nice of the old family to leave their toys; Julia will love them. He found a space in the back to tuck away the last box. What were these? There was a pile of polaroids strewn across the floor. He picked them up. Someone had brought those toys up here, it was a strange place to play with them. There were dozens of photos of them, a colourful clown standing in the foreground, a manic smile across his face, a one eyed bear to his left and a cracked doll to the right. They appeared to be getting closer and closer, the clown’s smile was changing, they were all changing.
The pictures fell through Mr. Lambert’s fingers, his blood running cold.