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(10) A Dark Development

DYLAN INCHED INTO THE DARK room, careful not to bump into anything. It has been a few hours since he developed the prints and they were long since completed. He flicked on the light and removed the panels from his window, sticking them back beneath the bed.

His camera sat where he left it on his desk. Quickly, he picked it up and hung it around his neck before he could forget it again. Dylan couldn’t believe he’d done so in the first place. On an ordinary day, he took his camera with him everywhere – and today was beyond ordinary. His university portfolio wasn’t going to create itself.

Dylan looked up at the prints hanging around his room.

There was the first one he took – a view from his window this morning, capturing the various rooftops of Hains, each decorated for Halloween. If he looked closely, he could see skeletons hugging chimneys, carved pumpkins lining the streets – even some early morning risers, dressed spooky for the day ahead. The mayor’s house certainly was a good vantage point.

There was the one he took of Bethanie leaving his house, light spilling in around her like a halo. There was the one he took of her in the forest, and of the view out over the river. They were all exactly as he envisioned them. He felt himself swell with pride; they had developed perfectly.

He moved on – more pictures of the forest, some with Bethanie, some without. Then he came to the ones taken at Hallow-Hains festival.

Dylan quickly started to realise something was wrong.

He pulled down a photo and felt himself frown. It was of Bethanie at the festival, standing in front of the candy cart. She started at the camera, unsmiling. He remembered taking it. Hadn’t Florence been in that?

He looked at another.

The haunted house. He’d taken one of Florence by the coffin as the woman jumped out. She’d been putting on an expression of mock fright. But the photo only depicted the coffin and the woman. Florence wasn’t in it.

His pulse picked up, his gut twisting with foreboding. Quickly, he looked at the rest.

Bethanie in the haunted house’s kitchen, fake bloody limbs strewn by her feet. The bloody chef a few steps behind her holding a knife. No Florence.

At the festival. Bethanie tucking a stray piece of hair behind her ear. Dylan, frowning, eyes on the person holding the camera, afraid they’ll break it. No Florence.

The final, eerie room of the haunted house. Bethanie with her back to the camera, staring at the television. Florence had been seated on the couch when he’d taken it. The couch was empty.

Dylan looked back at the first one, still in his grip. His hand shook. Florence had been holding a lollipop – he was sure of it. He squinted down at the photo. There was no Florence. But the lollipop was there in the middle of the frame, a small pink blip, hovering in mid-air.

His pulse racing, he took a step back. He’d taken dozens of photos and at least half of them had included Florence. As he turned, taking in all the prints, his breath got lodged in his throat. Dylan couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was like a nightmare he couldn’t wake up from. Because there it was – photo after photo after photo, laid out before him like a horror reel.

And Florence wasn’t in a single one.

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