Digital Dichotomy

Published June 9, 2013 by Laura Crean Author


There was a fine and foggy mist hanging in the air on a mid-October morning.  As the girl walked her usual daily route to college, a feeling hung in the morning mist, a disheartening  and somewhat sinister feeling of  foreboding that she couldn’t understand and it made her feel  extremely uneasy.  She tried to put the feeling to one side and looked around her as she slowed her pace to take some deep breaths.  She could smell and taste the smoky coal particles in the dank air, of all the fires lit in the houses in the street to take the edge off of the autumnal chill.

She was suddenly aware that the misty atmosphere unveiled what would have been an invisible miracle of nature on any other morning.  Everywhere she looked, on every bush and tree, on bins and lamp posts, gates and walls, everywhere she turned there were spider’s webs, highlighted and brought to her attention by the fine dewy drops of the early morning mist.  She stopped, stunned by this moment of awareness.  It was as if nature itself had decorated the world in time for Halloween.

The house she stopped outside was particularly old and rotten looking, the garden very messy, unkempt and neglected.   The window frames were peeling, long since abandoned it seemed.  However as she stepped towards the hedge to admire the spiders’ work, she noticed an unexpected movement behind a downstairs, dirty, cracked window.  A haggard, bent over figure, an elderly woman she imagined, too old and incapable of keeping the house she was living alone in.

The girl was saddened at the thought of the loneliness that may be trapped within the house.  She reached into her handbag and pulled out her digital camera, the tool of her trade, and took some shots of the house.  Then she chose the angles she wanted of the spider web strewn hedges and framed her shots to catch the dew glistening webs and their eight-legged inhabitants.

Happy with her choices she turned to leave when another movement caught her eye, the curtains twitched and a bony, arthritic looking hand pulled the curtain discretely back to peek outside to see who was lurking on her property.  The girl smiled at the extremely elderly looking woman and the woman smiled sweetly back.  She opened the window and the girl leant forward and said, “I’m a photography student.  I hope you don’t mind me taking a picture of your house and I just caught this magnificent spider’s web on your hedge and thought it would make a good shot for our College magazine’s Halloween edition.”

The old woman nodded and replied, “Photography was my husband’s passion too.  Would you like to see some of his work?”  The young photographer beamed,

“Oh you’re so kind, I would love to, but I have to get off to my course now.  Can I pop back later after college?”  The frail looking woman in the window smiled again and nodded her head,

“That would be nice dear, I don’t get many visitors.”

The girl took the lady’s photo.  She thought the window framed her profile stunningly and she could see a timeless beauty hiding in the aged woman, an elegant shadow of the attractiveness she imagined once clothed her now age-worn figure.  “OK then, I’ll see you about 4.30 this afternoon, is that OK for you?”  The woman nodded again and waved her goodbye once more before she shut her window and the girl carried on her way, so pleased she had stopped to take those pictures and genuinely looking forward to having a cup of tea with the elderly woman and having a look at her husband’s photography portfolio.

When the girl arrived at college she decided the first thing she should do, would be to download the photos she had taken on her way there.  Not only had she taken the fantastic shots of the elderly lady and her house, she had some nice shots of different types of buildings and landmarks on her journey to college too and she thought she might like to do a project based on her daily walk.

She took out her camera and the cable she kept at college to attach it to the computers in the media suite and logged into her personal files.  She began to download all the photos on her camera onto the college computer and one after another her cool shots appeared on the screen until all the photos had been downloaded.

As they each appeared on the screen the girl evaluated them self-critically, that one worked well in the early morning light but needed cropping, this one was blurry, that one had an unexpected quality about it, another one wasn’t  framed quite right and so on.   Soon she came to the last photos she had taken, the ones at the old lady’s house and straight away the girl noticed there was an eerie quality about them.  The first shot was of the house itself.  There was something not quite right about the picture but she couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was.  The next one was the same, a picture of the house and path leading up to the house, taken at a distance; she had stepped back into the road to take this one.   There was something not completely right and she also realised these photos were not how she would normally take a photo, not her usual style and the colour was very washed out as well; it had come out almost black and white for some reason.

The girl sighed, what was it about these photos that made them seem wrong?  They were good shots, their composition was really creative, she was proud of that element, but still something didn’t seem quite right, she felt almost as if the camera was trying to tell her something with these photos, compelling her to look more closely at some detail the camera had seen at the time but she had not.  She continued looking at the last shots, the hedges, the webs, the spiders, the garden and finally the lady herself.   She sat forward in her seat as the photograph pulled her eye hypnotically to the female form standing in the window.  What?  “Oh My God!”  The girl whispered under her breath.

“What’s wrong Kathleen?”   The girl’s classmate and boyfriend asked her as he leaned in next to her to see what had upset her.  “What the?”  He gasped and they looked at each other.  “How could you have taken that?”  Kathleen shook her head,

“I didn’t take that picture Sean!   The picture I took was of this lady, but I took it this morning and she must have been in her 80s at least.  This woman is no more than 30.”  Sean shook his head, “How is that possible?”

They both looked at the photo again.  It was a photograph in black and white, the same house, the same woman, the same shot, but the house in this photo was clean and well decorated with flowers in the garden and a well-trimmed lawn and hedge, the time-period that could be discerned by the clothing the woman was wearing and by her hair and make-up was 1940s.  But that wasn’t what had shocked the couple most about this picture.  Oh no!  Behind the woman was the image of another woman, an identical copy of the first, it had to be her twin sister – and in her hand and against the perfect beauty of the other young woman’s throat was a knife – it glinted in the sun as she was captured in the act of murdering her sister.

Kathleen looked back at the other photos she had taken, they were all basically black and white but what else, what else was the camera trying to tell her.  She zoomed in on each photo in turn and her boyfriend immediately saw what had been hiding in each picture all along – a face reflected in the window of the house, the face of the photographer – and it wasn’t her, but was the face of a man dressed in a uniform with an army bag slung over his shoulder, no doubt the husband returning from duty overseas.  He had planned to capture his return home and the loving and welcoming look on his wife’s face, instead he had captured the agonising moment of her death.  The camera never lies some say…

Copyright © Laura Crean 2012

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