Category: Short Story
Genre: Strange short story
Approximately 12 printed pages (or about 10 minutes to read).
Dean Weathers discovers a small black gerbil mysteriously appears in snapshots of animals about to die. But seeing the gerbil in his latest photo is both unexpected and unnerving.
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Dean Weathers pulled the string for the overhead light in his darkroom and examined the still wet prints. The latest photos also had the anomaly. Not good.
He grabbed the dry prints, left the wet ones hanging, and pulled aside the black curtain over the darkroom’s entrance, a large hole in the wall one had to both step over and duck under. He reached through the entrance, pulled aside the outer curtain, and stepped from the darkroom into the spare bedroom. He went down the hallway to the kitchen.
He slapped the photos onto the kitchen table. “Carol, take a look at these.”
His wife, back to him, stirred a pot on the stove. She didn’t turn. “Just a minute.”
He snatched up the photos, marched across the room, and thrust them into her face. “Look.”
She ducked under his hand. “Keep your pants on. I’m almost done.”
He glared at her for a moment, went back to the table, yanked the chair out and sat. “You’d think after thirty-three years of marriage—”
“Thirty four—whatever. This is important but you won’t give me two minutes.”
“I can’t just stop, Dean, or the sugar will clump and ruin the whole batch.”
“I don’t give a damn about your stupid candies. It’s a picture of the gerbil again.”
She stopped stirring and turned. White goo dripped from the wooden spoon now clenched tight in her hand. “From that old camera?”
“Yep. The Brownie.”
“Let me get my glasses.” She turned off the stove’s burner and disappeared to the living room, in a few moments returned, and took the seat next to him.
Dean pointed to the top photo. “This is where I first noticed it. Behind the dog on the left. The little dark spot.”
“Oh my God. It’s Champ.”
“Yep. Weekend before he died, in the park with James and the kids. I got a good roll, but only a couple with Champ.” He moved the top photo aside, revealing the next one in the stack. “Now the dark spot is on the right.”
He moved to the next photo. “That’s the two shots I have with Champ, but here I’ve enlarged the dark spot.”
Carol gasped. Dean nodded gravely. The blurry photo showed a black gerbil and, although the picture was black and white, Dean imagined the eyes as fiery red.
“My God. It’s just—”
“Like the cat. I know.”
Carol picked up the photo. “It has to be a coincidence. Maybe it’s a field mouse.”
“No, look at the tail. Gerbils have a little tuft of hair on their tails, mice don’t. It’s clearer in the next one.” He pulled out the last photo. The gerbil stood in profile, tail extended.
“What does it mean?”
“Think about it. I take Fluffy’s picture and this weird gerbil ends up in the frame. Two days later Fluffy’s dead. I get Champ in a shot, same gerbil, and a few days later he’s dead. It’s got to be a death gerbil.”
“Ridiculous. What’s a death gerbil?”
“Okay, Miss I-Know-Everything, you tell me what it is.”
“Maybe it’s the camera. Oh wait. I took some pictures at the park, too.” She rose and went to the living room.
Dean followed, leaving the photos splayed across the kitchen table. He stood behind her, arms across chest, while she rummaged through her purse. She produced a small digital camera.
He looked up to the sky, raising hands in mock supplication. “Lord help me.”
She scrolled through pictures on the camera. “Sorry, I know you hate gadgets.”
“I don’t hate gadgets. I hate digital cameras. They got no heart. They’re tacky. People who use them have no respect for the medium.”
“Found one.” She showed him.
“I don’t see anything.” He squinted. “Can you make it bigger?”
“I don’t know. Maybe James can.”
“I don’t think there’s anything there and I don’t want to bother James. Doesn’t matter anyway. Come with me. I’ve got something worse to show you.”
She followed him down the hall to the spare bedroom. Inside, he ripped the outer curtain off the darkroom’s entrance, and tossed it behind him. He reached through the hole in the wall, pulled down the inner curtain, and threw it on the floor on top of the other one.
“Calm down,” she said. “What on earth has gotten into you?”
“Doesn’t matter. I won’t be using this room again.” He stepped into the darkroom. “Come on.”
She followed him, crowding close in the small space. She wrinkled her nose. “You need better ventilation in here. The chemicals smell awful.”
He pointed to a drying print hanging on the drip line.
“Oh my God,” she said.
The picture showed Dean taking a picture of himself in the mirror. It was a reflection of him, head bent down, looking into his Brownie box camera. In front of his chest, inches away from the camera, hovered the black gerbil.