I knew what he was referring to. The Polaroid camera in the study.
“Thank you, Curtis.” As I whispered it, I realized I was never going to hear from him again. He’d told me everything he could. The rest was up to me. So before leaving the bells, I added a somber, sincere “I hope this frees you from this place. I really do. I hope you find peace.”
With that, I made my way up three sets of stairs, my joints creaking the entire climb. In the third-floor study, I found what I was looking for in the closet.
A blue shoebox full of Polaroids.
I sorted through them, seeking the ones I’d neglected to look at the day I discovered the box. Photo after photo of Curtis Carver’s increasingly haunted face. I wondered if, when he took them, he felt as helpless as I did. If he was as worried and racked with the same guilt that weighed on me.
The images of Curtis were so similar that I needed to look at the dates scribbled below them to indicate which ones I hadn’t already seen. July 12th. That was one was new. As were pictures from July 13th and 14th.
The last Polaroid sat facedown at the bottom of the box. Flipping it over, I saw that, like the others, the date it had been taken had been written across the bottom of the photo.
A year to the day since Curtis Carver killed himself.
My gaze moved from the date to the image itself. At first, it looked like the others. But a second glance revealed something different from the rest of the photos. Something deeply, deeply wrong.
Someone else was in the room with Carver.
A dark figure tucked into a far corner of the study.
Although Maggie had called her Miss Pennyface, I knew her by another name.
She looked exactly like the woman in the portrait. Same purple dress and ethereal glow. The only difference between her painting and her ghost was her eyes.
They were covered by coins.
Yet it was clear she could still see. In the photograph, she stared at the back of Curtis Carver’s head, almost as if she could read his thoughts.
I was still studying the picture when a presence entered the room, invisible yet palpably felt.
“Curtis, is that you?”
I received no response.
Yet the presence increased, filling the room with a heat so strong it was almost suffocating. Inside that menacing warmth was something even more disturbing.
It burned through the room like fire.
I grabbed the camera from the desk and took a self-portrait similar to the ones Curtis had taken.
The shutter clicked.
The camera hummed.
A picture slid out, its pristine whiteness slowly giving way to an image.
Arms extended. Staring at the camera. Expanse of study behind me.
Also behind me was Indigo Garson, edging into the frame. I saw a slender arm, the curve of her shoulder, stringy strands of blond hair.
She was there.
And she was waiting.
Not for me.
“Keep waiting, bitch,” I said aloud.
I raised the camera and took another picture.
In that photo, Indigo had moved to the other side of the study. She pressed against the wall, slightly hunched, her coin-covered eyes peering at me through a veil of hair. Her lips were twisted into a grin so sinister it turned my blood cold.
The only thing that kept me from fleeing the house was the knowledge that she didn’t want to hurt me. Not yet, even though that moment would surely arrive. But for the time being, she needed me to get to Maggie.
Convinced I was out of harm’s way for the short term, I moved to the closet, grabbed all the packages of film sitting inside, and carried them back to the desk.
I remained there as the pale light of morning changed to the golden sun of afternoon. Every so often, I’d take another picture, just to keep track of Indigo’s whereabouts in the room. Sometimes she was in a far corner, facing the wall. Other times she was just a sliver of purple on the edge of the frame. In a few photos, she wasn’t visible at all.
But I knew she was still there.
I felt the angry heat of her presence.
I continued to feel it until the daylight outside the office widows had given way to the lonesome blues of twilight. That’s when Indigo suddenly vanished—an instant cooling.
I grabbed the camera and took another picture.
I snatched the Polaroid from the camera and held it in front of me, watching the image take shape.
It was just like all the others—me and a woman standing in the background.
Only this time it wasn’t Indigo.
It was Jess. Standing just inside the study. Every muscle in her body tensed. Confusion streaking across her features like lightning.
I turned around slowly, hoping she was just an imagining brought about by hunger, thirst, and a need for sleep. But then Jess spoke—“Ewan? What are you doing up here?”—and my heart sank.
It meant she was real and that Indigo’s patience had paid off.
Maggie had come home.
Dane takes a step into the study. I take a step back, pressing against the edge of the desk.
“It’s not what you think,” he says.