I am fourteen years old now, and as far as I know, no one has ever, in all my life, taken my photograph.

That might sound strange to most people, and definitely most teenagers, who from what I've learned, often take pictures of themselves every week or even every day without thinking twice about it. But things are different with me, and with all of my ancestors. Because not only has no one taken a photograph of me, but for fourteen years, I never saw any photos, pictures, or even sketches of anyone else in my family either.

I never knew very much about myself or the people I came from, growing up. It was always just me and my mother, and we lead our lives in the almost totally unchanging routine that my mother had set for me for as far back as I could remember. We lived in a small house out in the countryside, where our closest neighbors were wild hogs and coyotes instead of people. I didn't grow up playing with neighbor children or attending church groups, sports teams, camps, or even public school; in fact, my mother and I didn't leave home much at all, other than the necessary and still very routine trips to the grocery store, library, doctor, or dentist. I was taught at home by my mother, who downloaded worksheets off the internet and ordered books and other teaching materials online to be delivered to our front door in the mail. I was lonely, I guess, but I don't think I understood the feeling of emptiness and discontent I had for years, because I didn't have another example of life to compare against my own.

My mother wasn't a very talkative person overall, but even so, I started to notice, as I got older, just how much she didn't say. For one thing, I couldn't remember any time she had ever mentioned anything about any family outside of the two of us. She didn't talk about her grandparents or any siblings she might have had, or even her own parents. Even my father, whoever he might have been, wasn't a topic of conversation that ever crossed her lips. It was as if we had both just sort of appeared out of thin air one day, or hatched from mysterious alien eggs with no known source leaving us behind. I began to believe over time that this was exactly the way my mother wished things were. We were supposed to have no tangible proof of our past, and we definitely weren't supposed to create any in our immediate present.

I wasn't allowed to have a cell phone, for example. My mother didn't even give me a reason for that, like she thought I was too irresponsible not to lose it somewhere or drop it and break it, or even that it was too expensive or would distract me from focusing on schoolwork. When I asked for a phone, I just got a flat no, no explanation or reasons necessary in her mind. We did have a computer, but only my mother knew its password, and I couldn't use it without her being there, monitoring everything I did on it. It was weird, because she didn't seem to care about what books I checked out from the library or what shows or movies I watched on TV, and I tested out that theory several times, picking obviously sexy or gory stuff and then watching her out the corner of my eye, waiting to see if she'd object. She never did, and the older I got, the more I wondered what made phones and computers so different in her mind.

It was TV, in the end, that made me realize just how different my life was from everyone else's. Sure, I saw other families when I went out in public with my mother, and I could see that a lot of kids who looked my age were in groups of friends or playing on phones or laptops. Still, I assumed they must live near each other, and close enough that they could walk places together, instead of having to drive miles and miles like us. It was annoying to see that other kids could have phones and free computer use when I couldn't, but still, it didn't mean that much to me. I didn't know what their families were like when they were home, and as far as I knew, they all lived more or less the same way that I did.

But as I got to be nine and ten and eleven, moving out of the ages where cartoons and ridiculous kid shows were all that held my interest on TV, I started taking notice of how different things were for real kid actors playing characters on shows that were supposed to be more like real life. They went to school, for one thing, with teachers and class changes and sports and music, and best of all, tons of other kids their own age. I never saw kids on TV who sat at the kitchen table with just their mother to do math, and if they did, they were doing something they called homework for just a few minutes. Those kids went on dates and out to restaurants and on all kinds of fun, crazy adventures with their friends, and even when they got in trouble or sad things happened, it all turned out okay by the end of the show, and everyone was still so happy.

But most of all, I noticed how the people on TV were with their families. They had moms and dads, aunts and uncles, grandparents, brothers, sisters, boyfriends, girlfriends, even cousins, constantly involved in their lives. Sometimes they were annoying or embarrassing, sometimes they were stupid, and sometimes they were even evil or betrayed each other. But they were there, always. I never saw anyone on TV who just lived alone with their mother.

The more I watched the people on TV, looking and acting and doing things so differently from me and my mother, the more I started to suspect that maybe things weren't quite right with us. Eventually, one episode in particular struck my curiosity. It was picture day at the school on the show I was watching, and as I watched the kids line up and get their photograph taken, I remembered back to times I had seen people taking pictures with cameras or phones out in public. I tried to think of a time that I had had my picture taken, and I couldn't think of any. I couldn't even think of a photograph of myself, or even my mother, that I had seen. By then, I was fourteen years old. Surely that had to mean there were pictures of me, somewhere, from some time. Didn't it?

I waited until the episode had finished before going up to my mother in the kitchen, where she was folding laundry and stacking them in piles. She moved very carefully, even each sock folded, and didn't look up at me until after I had spoken.

"Mom, did you take pictures of me when I was little?"

I saw her lips press together tightly, and she folded three more things before she answered me, her voice as careful as her hands.

"No, Janet, I didn't."

That was something else I'd noticed from my TV watching; even my name seemed strange to me, compared to the names of other kids my age on shows. Girls on TV always seemed to be named things like Rachel or Marissa or Ashley, something like and cute and young sounding. Only TV moms or grandmas had names like Janet. Even my mother's name, Alexandra, sounded younger to me than my own.

"Why not?" I asked, taking a step closer to her, as though to unconsciously pressure her into answering with my closer presence. "Other people take pictures of their kids. Other kids even take pictures of themselves. How come you don't want to take any pictures of me?"

"I've lived with you all your life, Janet," she said. I could tell she was trying to sound amused, but it wasn't really working, especially because she wouldn't look at me. "I don't need any help remembering what you've looked like, and I don't think I will in the future either."

"But you might, when you're old," I persisted. "And anyway I don't remember what I looked like. How am I supposed to remember from when I was a baby? I don't think that's fair that you never took any pictures of me when everyone else does with their kids. I think we should start doing that now."

My mother was silent for a long, long moment, still not raising up her eyes to me, but I noticed that her hands stopped on top of a towel. Eventually she said quietly, "Janet, I don't believe in picture taking. That isn't something that our family does."

I tried to press her into explaining why, but she wouldn't give me any real reason at all. Instead she just kept saying the same thing- it wasn't something she believed in. It wasn't something our family did.

"What family?" I blurted, irritated. "We don't have a family. I don't have brothers or sisters, and you never talk about anyone else in our family either. I don't even have a dad!"

"We're our own kind of family, Janet," my mother told me, sounding tired, but there was an edge in her voice I noticed even then. Something close to fear, I thought- but that was crazy. What did she have to be scared of? "Families are different with different people. Our family is small, but it's still a family."

"You don't even tell me about anyone else!" I burst out with, years of growing resentment and curiosity starting to come out all at once. "You act like there hasn't ever been anyone but us, but there must have been. Everyone has a mom and dad, everyone! Why don't you ever tell me about them?"

"There's nothing to tell," she insisted, the edge in her voice getting closer to snapping by then. "They aren't here now, so there is no point in talking about what isn't important to your present life. Now, really, Janet, all of these questions are getting to be tiresome."

They might be tiresome to her, but they weren't to me. These were the kind of questions that I felt I needed to know. They were questions whose answers would tell me something about who I was and where I came from, and why I lived the way that I did. Couldn't she see that this was important?

"Other people go to public school with kids their own age," I maintained, crossing my arms over my chest and staring her down the best that I could. "Why can't I do that too?"

My mother sighed, putting a hand to her head and rubbing at her temple, like she was getting a headache.

"I've told you this before too, Janet. It's better and safer to be educated at home. You get more individual attention and learning opportunities, and you don't have the sort of bad influences and distractions that happen in public schools."

"What about cell phones and computers?" I kept pressing her. "Other kids get to have them and use them how they want. I've seen it on TV and I've seen it out in public too. Why can't I? Don't you trust me? What do you think I'd do that's so bad you can't even give me a chance?"

"It's not about what I think you could do, it's about what could happen!" my mother snapped back at me.

I could see from the way her face tensed up that she was sorry for what she'd said as soon as it came out her mouth, but I couldn't understand why. It was just one more question to add to the list.

"What? What could happen, Mom? Do you think I'm going to get kidnapped by someone crazy or take bad pictures of myself or something? What?"

"Never you mind," she answered, her tone getting stronger and firmer again as she lifted up her chin, setting her mouth in such a way that I could tell I was getting close to some kind of consequence coming my way. "Let's leave it at this, Janet. I make the rules because I am the adult and you are the child. As the adult, I have your best interests at heart and the mental capacity to understand the reasoning behind the decisions I make for you. And as for what you've seen on TV, you'd do well to remember that TV is for entertainment, not a reflection of real life, necessarily. And if watching TV makes you so jealous and resentful of your own life, well, I can certainly take away that distraction."

TV was one of the few things I could actually do without Mom sticking her nose into it, so I shut up after that. At least with what I said to her. But my thoughts about the subject definitely hadn't been distracted away. I was fourteen years old now. Did she really think that I was such a baby that I couldn't know anything at all about life? What was so bad that she thought I couldn't handle it?

I think she probably made a mistake, that day, in not telling me more, in trying in some way to satisfy me in her answers. Because the way my mother just shut down on me, refusing to explain anything at all, only made me resentful. And one thing I'd learned from watching TV was that when resentful teenagers didn't like how things in their life were going, the first thing they did was rebel.

There wasn't much I could rebel against. My mother's rules had been engrained in me so deeply by that time that I didn't see how I'd get around most of them. Even if I tried, I didn't think I'd last long against my mother's steel will. But if I couldn't openly rebel, then I could secretly research, and that was exactly what I decided to do.

There had to be something, somewhere, that would explain at least a little of my mother's attitude. Some secret she was hiding, about me or her or both of us, or maybe in our family's past. A newspaper clipping, maybe a notebook or old birth certificates, something. Anything at all that would give me any information she wasn't willing to supply me with.

My mother almost always knew where I was and at least a general idea of what I was doing, so it wasn't easy to find the time and opportunity to make my searches. But I decided on the times that she was showering and doing laundry as search time. My mother always took at least twenty to thirty minutes in the shower, doing god knows what since it never took me more than ten to finish up in there, and laundry seemed to take her forever because of all the careful folding and stacking and putting things away. She would be too busy to think about what I was up to.

The first time I searched my mother's bedroom felt dangerous, somehow, as though I were doing something that was wrong and even possibly threatening. I guess it was, in a way. It probably wasn't right of me to be invading her personal space without her knowing about it. I didn't like the thought of her going through my bedroom and snooping around in my things, even though sometimes I suspected she probably did. The difference was that I didn't have something to hide. If she wasn't so secretive, then I wouldn't have to be forced to go behind her back just to know what exactly was going on that she had to keep from me.

Besides, it wasn't like I was going to steal anything. At least, that was how I justified my plan to myself.

Even with the little prick of conscience twinging in my chest, I still felt sort of excited too when I made my way into her bedroom. After all, this was the first really rebellious thing I had ever done before, and that was definitely a thrill of sorts, even if looking in someone's bedroom was a pretty lame rebellion compared to what kids my age did on TV.

I had double checked first that she was in the shower, the water running hard enough she couldn't possibly hear. I even made sure as quietly as I could that she had locked the bathroom door, just in case. Then I eased open her bedroom door, grateful that she hadn't locked it or otherwise seemed to have secured it from my ability to enter, and stepped inside.

I really hadn't been in my mother's bedroom very often, which was sort of weird, considering that I'd lived in the same house containing it for fourteen years. Part of it was because she always made a big deal about bedrooms being private and how you should knock and wait to be invited in before going inside. She even did the same thing for me most of the time, asking if she could come in before actually doing it. I'd wondered before what she would do if I told her she couldn't, but I hadn't got up the nerve yet to test that out.

So part of it was because my mother never actually invited me in before more than a few times. But the other part of it was because I just hadn't been interested. How exciting could it be to spend time in my mother's bedroom?

It was pretty boring in there, I realized pretty quickly. She didn't do much to decorate it or personalize it. It consisted of a twin sized bed with a plain blue bedspread, and there were no paintings or of course, even photographs on the walls. She had a dresser with a small mirror and a nightstand with a lamp, and a little tray with her earrings and some makeup on it. That was about it. There really weren't many places to be searching for anything.

Still, I tried. I looked under her pillows and under the mattress, then under the bed. Nothing, not even dustballs. Alexandra Porter was such a neat freak that she even dusted and vacuumed under her bed. I tried the inside of her nightstand and found nothing but some chapstick and a Bible. I could have been looking in a motel room, for all I was finding.

It felt weird looking in my mother's dresser drawers, like I was some sort of pervert or something, but I scanned through quickly, trying not to touch the underwear drawers' contents more than necessary. I still wasn't finding anything at all interesting, and by the time I opened the closet doors I was already pretty much giving up on finding anything worth searching for.

But the closet was where I hit the jackpot. I had shuffled my hands through the bottom, finding only shoes and one shirt that had slipped off its hanger, and then stood, reaching my hand up to fumble around on the shelf overtop her hanging shirts and dresses. There didn't seem to be anything up there at first, but then my hand came in contact with something solid and square, some sort of box. It felt like a shoebox, so I didn't hold much hope at first. Standing on my tiptoes, I managed to grasp the box firmly enough to be able to pull it off the shelf and transfer it into my hands. Lifting back its lid, I peered inside.

I don't know what I was expecting to see, but it definitely wasn't a box of black and white photographs. Photographs, some of them torn at the corners or going yellow with age, almost filling up half of the shoebox. Photographs- being hidden away, like some sort of shameful secret, when my mother had told me such a short time ago that our family, for some mysterious reason, just didn't take pictures of each other.

She didn't take pictures- and yet here she was, with what looked like a dozen or maybe even more pictures of people in her own closet.

I felt my heart beat faster as I lifted up the first, squinting to make out the features of the people on its surface. It looked like a picnic. There were four young children sitting on a spread blanket, wearing clothes that looked like they were from the forties, maybe the fifties. I flipped through several other pictures, disappointed to see that as I had first thought, they were all in black and white, and not of anyone I recognized at a glance. None of my mother, and definitely none of me or anyone who was probably young enough to be my father.

Once I'd figured that much out, I started to look through them more slowly, still curious. Some of them were blurry and hard to make out, but most were good enough that I could guess ages, figure out a general setting, and what might have been going on. It looked to me like the photos were of one family.

It took me longer than it should have to think of flipping over the backs to see if there was anything written on the other sides. The very first picture I thought to do this with had an inscription written in neat cursive on the back that made me suck in my breath with excitement, because what jumped out at me right away was my own last name.

These people were almost definitely related to me. These people in the pictures were my own family.

The picture I had turned over first was of an older couple, maybe in their sixties. The man was tall and slender, with a full beard and head full of hair. The woman beside him was smaller and also thin, almost sickly looking, with her cheekbones sort of sunken in. She had shorter, styled hair and was wearing a long sleeved dress with some kind of pattern on it. The inscription on the back said only their names.

"Benjamin and Ilsa Porter."

Benjamin and Ilsa Porter. I tried to think if I had ever heard or seen those names before, but I was sure I hadn't. Were they my grandparents, or my mother's grandparents? Maybe distant aunt and uncle, or cousins? Whatever they were, they were my blood. I was sure of it. Benjamin and Ilsa Porter were the only factual evidence I had of my kin.

As I flipped over the rest of the pictures quickly, I saw that all the rest were the same. There were more of Benjamin and Ilsa, but other names cropped up too, all with the same tell tale last name mirroring my own. Uriah and Sadie, Cecelia, John, Harry, and Mary Catharine, George and Eva and Elsie Porter were all no doubt my relatives too.

For the first time, it occurred to me that it must be through my mother, not my father, where I had gotten my own last name. She wouldn't have pictures of my father's relatives.

I was so busy reading over the names, trying to commit them all to memory, that I didn't realize at first that I could no longer hear the water of the shower running. I had no way of knowing for just how long this had been the case, and I almost panicked. I didn't know what would happen if my mother walked in on me, holding the pictures in my hands, but I did know that I didn't want her to know what I'd found, at least not yet. I wanted more time, more chances to learn, without her simply snatching my new knowledge out of my grasp and hiding the photos somewhere I would never be able to find them. Worse, what if she actually did something to destroy them?

My heart pounding, I started to shove the box back up on the shelf, but then on second thought, removed the first picture I could get hold of and shoved it under my shirt. If I couldn't get back in there soon, then I would at least have one picture to hold onto, one definite proof of what I'd seen. Hurrying back into my own room, I threw myself back onto my bed, trying to act casually even as my breathing rushed out of my lungs. Beneath my shirt, I felt the picture of my long ago relatives sticking to my skin, almost as though it were molding against me, becoming part of my own body.

That day, I took out the picture of my long ago relatives and stuck it inside one of my books, being careful to make sure that no part of it stuck out in a way that my mother might notice. I had looked at it again quickly before hiding it, just enough to see that I had grabbed one of the pictures of Benjamin and Ilsa Porter alone. For some reason, those names in particular stuck out to me, maybe because those were the first ones I had read. I planned to look back at them later, searching for something in their faces that resembled my mother or me, something that could tell me more.

But first, I would have to deal with my mother. She was out of the shower now, probably about to start our studies for the day, and I knew I wouldn't be able to concentrate at all. The only thing I could think of was the pictures. I felt as though she had lied to me. How could she tell me that our family didn't do pictures, when all along she had a whole box of them sitting in her closet? At the very least, if she hadn't outright lied, she had kept information from me that I definitely would have wanted to know. What was it about these people that she wanted to keep away from me seeing or knowing about? They looked like regular old-fashioned people to me, not standing out in any way except that they happened to share my last name, and they happened, almost definitely, to be my ancestors.

I didn't get it. I didn't get it at all, and I think that's why I really didn't even try to keep myself from asking.

Not about the pictures, of course. I wasn't feeling that brave about it. If I admitted that I had been snooping around and found the pictures, my mother would have focused on the snooping part and totally ignored all the questions I threw her way. She'd just go on a lecture about dishonesty, even though I didn't see how snooping could be dishonest when I hadn't said one word to her, let alone a lie, and then she'd just give me some kind of consequence like extra cleaning and then probably throw the pictures away entirely. I wouldn't learn a thing, and I'd lose what little I did have to learn from.

But I still couldn't keep totally quiet. So instead of asking about the pictures, I just asked about our family in general.

"Mom, for real this time, I really do want a real answer. Why don't you ever talk about our family?"

She had just sat down with me at the kitchen table and was flipping through a teacher's version of a textbook when I spoke up. I might be homeschooled, but in Alexandra Porter's world, that didn't mean there was anything casual about my schooling whatsoever. She'd always insisted that we both be fully dressed and washed and sitting at the kitchen table whenever I had my lessons, no slouching on the couch with messy hair and pajamas for me. School was my work now, she said, and I might as well start preparing for my work in the future.

Looking up at me, she narrowed her eyes, studying me. She must have seen something in my face that was as serious as my words, because she stiffened, giving a sigh that didn't move her body with the exhaled air.

"Janet, why are you so stuck on this idea lately?"

I ignored that question. I'd asked first, after all.

"We have to have some kind of family. Okay, maybe my dad was a loser and you don't know where he is now, but you have to know where he used to be, right? You must know his name at least, and what he was like, and how you guys met. Or don't you?" I said with some suspicion as the possibility hit me. "Ew, Mom, you do know who my dad is, don't you?!"

"Yes, of course I do," she scoffed, giving me an offended look. "It's nice to know that you could consider otherwise, though. But my past choices, ill advised ones or otherwise, are not a topic of discussion I'm going into right now, Janet. Your geometry lessons, on the other hand-"

"You had to have had a mom and dad at one point," I interrupted, talking fast and loud, trying to get in as much as I could before she really did shut me down. "Everyone does, and even if you didn't know your mom and dad either, someone had to have raised you. So who was it? Were they that bad, that you won't ever talk about them? Even if you didn't have brothers or sisters, didn't your parents have any? We have to have relatives out there, somewhere. Or at least we used to, even if they're all dead now. We have to, Mom! I don't get why you won't just admit that and tell me about it. Were they that terrible? I'm old enough to hear about it, whatever it is. I promise."

For a second or two, I could see something churning behind my mother's eyes, something that made me think she might actually break her own resolve. But then she sat up straighter, one hand coming to rest flat against the table, and shook her head at me.

"This isn't about whether or not you are mature, Janet, though god knows I have my doubts about that. It's just that…you know what? I'm the parent here, Janet, and you are the child. I don't have to explain my reasoning to you. Just know that I intend that we both focus on the present and the future instead of the past. The past cannot be changed, and there is no point dwelling over it and romanticizing it. Live your life by what matters now."

She wouldn't let me question her any further and I could tell she was starting to get mad, maybe even suspicious about what was driving all my questions. But how could she possibly think I could just accept an answer like that? Didn't she think that what mattered to me now was knowing what the big deal behind her shut down attitude?

I wanted to blurt out the names, Benjamin and Ilsa Porter, inscribed on the back of the picture I had taken. I wanted to watch her reaction, to see if they were people she had known, or at least if she was as familiar with the names as I thought she was. But I didn't think it would shake her up enough to tell me anything, and the consequences wouldn't be worth it.

I had managed to find out a little bit on my own once. I would just have to keep going in the same way if I wanted to know more.


For the rest of the day, my mind kept drifting back to the box of pictures in my mother's closet, but even more to the one photo I had snagged for myself. I felt strangely itchy with a desire to be able to take time to myself in my room, to open up the book it was stashed in and look at the picture of Benjamin and Ilsa again. Maybe it was out of secret rebellion for my mom's refusal to talk to me, to trust me. Maybe it was just curiosity. Or maybe, I think now, it was them. Maybe they nudged my thoughts towards them, making me want to look at them.

That's what I believe now, as crazy as it might sound. I think it was them.

I didn't have a chance to do it, though, until I was getting undressed for bed. I shut my door, and then almost dove for the book, flipping it to the right page where the photo still rest. Part of me was worried it would somehow be gone, after I had been thinking about it all day, but no, there it was, exactly as I'd left it. But as I lifted it closer to my face, studying the people in its captured moment in time, I frowned, a little unsettled.

I hadn't noticed, the first time I looked at the picture, how weird Benjamin and Ilsa looked. Not just old fashioned and serious, like most people in those kind of pictures, but harsh and stern, even mean. There was a set to their jaw and mouth that made me think they were ready to yell or lunge out at someone, or like they hated the person holding the camera. I knew the picture was in black and white, but there was still a darkness in their gaze that looked much blacker than just the photo's coloring.

Like they themselves were dark, inside. Like they were…well, the word that came to my mind, as stupid as it sounded, was evil.

But that was silly. I shook my head, annoyed with myself, even as an uneasy tightness squeezed around my heart. It was just an old photo, and the people were just standing in it. Maybe they were in a bad mood or were wearing uncomfortable clothes or something. I didn't know anything about these people at all. It was just the talk with my mom, shaking me up. She was going to make me as paranoid as she was if I didn't watch myself.

But then I noticed something else. I was sure I remembered seeing the couple wearing shoes, the last time I had looked at their picture. I had noticed because they were ugly lace up boots, almost the same ones on Benjamin as on Ilsa. But now…now, their shoes were no longer in the picture.

Not because they were barefoot, or because I had misremembered and it turned out they were wearing sneakers or something. Their shoes weren't in the picture anymore, because their feet weren't in the picture. The photo had previously been zoomed out enough in focus to include not just their feet but the ground beneath it too. But now, the couple's bodies were cut off mid shin in the photo, as though somehow, the camera had zoomed in on them- over fifty years after the picture had been taken.

Somehow, in the past couple of hours, the couple in the photo had gotten larger. As if they had taken a few steps closer to me.

I blinked, shaken, and then quickly turned my head away, focusing on the wall for several deliberate seconds before looking back at the picture again. But I hadn't imagined it. The picture definitely did not show either person's feet anymore, let alone the details of their shoes.

My gaze sliding up to their hardened expressions, I shook my head at myself again, then abruptly put the picture back into the book, placing it where I had left it before. It wasn't possible, and that was all there was to it. People don't move in pictures, especially pictures taken so long ago that the people in them were probably dead. I had probably just imagined that I had seen shoes in the first place, or maybe I was thinking of a different picture of Benjamin and Ilsa Porter, one that did show their shoes. There had been so many pictures in that box, I couldn't possibly remember all the details of all of them.

That was obviously what had happened. I was thinking of a different picture and managed to spook myself.

Still, I didn't take the picture out again to look at it, at least, not right then. And I didn't let myself think of a logical reason why I wouldn't.


They must have called out to me, later that night, speaking to my unconscious self in my dreams. That's the only explanation for why I would wake up out of a sound sleep, sweat making my t-shirt stick to my back and dampening my hair against my neck, even though I couldn't remember any dreams or noise that should have made me stir. That has to be why instead of getting up for a drink of water or to use the bathroom, I swung my legs out of bed and padded over to the desk where I had last set down the book holding the photograph.

I don't remember having any thoughts or plans to look at the picture again. I barely had the presence of mind in my still groggy state to switch on my desk lamp to be able to see. But once the book was open and the photo was in my hand, any remaining sleepiness I had been experiencing was gone in the time it took for me to look down.

If I had thought before that Benjamin and Ilsa looked angry, that was nothing compared to the impression I was getting now. How could I have missed the way that they were glowering into the camera when I looked at them before? Their eyebrows were pulled tightly together at their brow, furrowed down over their noses so they almost touched together, and their eyes were narrowed so they barely seemed to have actual eyes at all, just dark holes in black eye sockets. They had both managed to clinch the muscles of their jaws so tightly that every bone in their face seemed to stand out.

If I had seen someone look at me like that in person, I would have immediately ran in the other direction, because I would have been afraid for my safety. They were looking into the camera, or at the person who had held it, as though they wanted to hurt them, maybe even kill them.

And when I looked at their picture, I felt like they were somehow looking back at me.

But that wasn't the worst of it. Their expressions were bad enough, but not nearly as scary to me as their body's placement in the picture. Before, I had noted that the picture cut off at their calves, showing their bodies from the knees up. But now, the picture stopped at Benjamin's hips and Ilsa's waist. There was nothing showing any more of their lower bodies at all.

Somehow, impossibly, they had moved closer.


I didn't sleep that night. How could I, with something so crazy going on right in my own bedroom? Even after I shoved the photo back into the book and threw it as hard as I could into the back of my closet, I couldn't stop picturing those glaring faces, seeing those broad-chested frames, seeming ready to burst through the picture entirely, stepping out beside me into my room.

I couldn't tell myself this time that I had just imagined that the picture was different. I knew, KNEW that they looked more angry than ever this time, that their bodies were bigger and closer. I knew the picture had changed. But how could that have possibly happened?

There were only a few options that I could come up with. I could be crazy. That was a pretty fair possibility. It could be real, which would mean, I guess, that the picture was haunted. But whoever heard of a haunted picture?

The only other option was that I wasn't crazy and the picture wasn't haunted, that the pictures really had been different each time I looked. But that would mean that my mother was involved. It would mean she had known all along what I had done, and she'd decided to teach me a lesson in the craziest way possible. That would mean she must be swapping out the pictures, putting in a different one of Benjamin and Ilsa each time I looked.

I liked that idea, once I thought about it. It meant that I was safe and sane, that my mother was the one who was nuts. But then I thought of problems with that theory too. How was my mother sneaking into my room and moving my things without me hearing or noticing, even in the middle of the night? And how would she know when I would decide to look again and when I wouldn't?

I couldn't come up with anything that made sense to me; none of the few explanations I had were ones that I was comfortable or okay with. All I knew was that whatever was happening, whatever reason was the truth of it, it was something scary, something that I was beginning to feel was dangerous.


I made up my mind, after that long night without sleep. I wasn't going to look at the picture again. That would solve everything. If I was crazy, I wouldn't feed into the craziness, and if it was haunted, it would have to try a lot harder to scare me or communicate or whatever it was that a haunted picture was trying or capable of doing. And if it was my mother messing with me, well, I wouldn't give her that satisfaction of seeing she had managed to freak me out.

It was an easy decision to make, but it wasn't an easy one to abide by. Every time I entered my room, or even walked past it, I felt my skin prickle with anticipation. It felt like something was going to happen, something big, something that would be wonderful or terrible or both, and I was just pushing it off, delaying the inevitable. I won't say the picture called to me, but I never forgot, not for more than a few minutes at a time, that it was there. And more and more frequently, the thought came to me.

What would it really hurt to look, just one more time? What could really happen?

It was a picture, just a picture. It was impossible for pictures to move, or change, or actually take any kind of action at all, let alone one that could hurt a person.

That was what I told myself. But I think a piece of me knew, or at least suspected, that maybe this wasn't the case.

Almost a week passed, and it seemed to me that every day I felt a stronger urge to go to the photo again, to see for myself if it had changed. It wasn't until six days had gone by that I finally came up with a plan that seemed to be the only way to be able to rule out at least one possibility- my mother's interference.

I would wait, that night, until I was sure she was asleep, even checking for myself, if I had to. Then I would take the picture out and look, just enough to see if it had changed from the time before. Then, I would put it back down, look away, count to 100, and look again.

I would know then, one way or the other. If the picture didn't change, then my mother must be the one behind this craziness. If the picture did…well, then it would be time for her to know what was going on. Because whether I was crazy or in possession of something powerful and scary, I couldn't keep trying to deal with it on my own.

That day seemed to take forever to be over with. Even my mother looked at me strangely a few times, asking me why I was constantly jiggling my legs at the dinner table and poking at my food instead of eating it. When it was finally late enough that I could get ready for bed without looking suspicious, it took all my willpower not to run the whole way to my room. Even then, I had to wait until I could hear Mom getting herself ready for bed too, until the sound of her footsteps retreating to her bedroom had gone away and I could see, peeking my head out, that the light in her bedroom was off. I couldn't be totally sure that she was sleeping yet, but I didn't have the patience to wait any longer. After all, I knew she wasn't in my room, and hadn't been since I left to supposedly sleep. Even if she changed the picture out earlier, she couldn't do it again.

My hands were shaking when I retrieved the book from my closet, but I wasn't sure if it was from excitement, fear, or just anticipation. My stomach was squeaking and knotting up when I carried the book back to my bed, flipped on my bedside lamp, and opened it, taking the photograph out to look.

There was no doubt about it; the picture had changed. This time, I couldn't see anything that Benjamin and Ilsa were wearing at all, nothing but the tops of their stiffened shoulders. The picture was now so close up on their faces that I could barely see any of the background behind them at all. It could have been a selfie, held directly in front of their snarling mouths.

That had changed too. They weren't just mean or angry looking anymore, and the neutral, sort of tired look I had seen the first time was long gone. Now they were actually seeming to growl, their mouths drawn back so I could see their teeth, clinched together tight, their forehead creased into sharp lines, cheeks pulled back so their eyes were almost entirely unseen. I could practically hear them hissing and feel the flecks of spit that must have sprayed the camera's lens in whatever they had been saying. I couldn't see their hands, but I was certain that they must have been extended out, ready to push or shove the person behind the camera away.

For the first time, I wondered just who it was who had taken these pictures, and where they were now. Were they one of the people in the photos? Was it even possible they were still alive- or had something happened to them, right after this picture was taken?

I should have thrown the picture down again. It seemed to be making me unclean, somehow, to even hold it, to have those horrible stares aimed towards me. I had seen that the picture had changed, and how terrible it looked now. It should have been enough for me, it should have been too much.

But I was stubborn. I was stupid. I was fourteen, and I wanted to know and understand everything that I was too young to even try at. And I had made a plan.

So I did it. I put the picture face down, took a deep breath, and squeezed my eyes closed, counting not to 100, but to fifty. Then I reached out and turned the picture back over.

I don't know what I would have seen, because there wasn't time for my eyes to register any changes that there might have been. In the millisecond it took for my eyes to open, before I could even process what image they were taking in, I felt strong hands grasping hold of me, seizing my upper arms, and tugging me forward with such strength that I barely had time to stiffen in response, let alone resist. Then I was falling, flying into a dark space without being able to scream, without even being able to brace out my arms to catch myself when I landed.

I guess I must have landed, at some point, but I never felt my body hit. The truth is that I don't have any awareness now of my body at all. I've become two dimensional now, unmoving, unspeaking, without any way of communicating, and no one near me or around me to communicate to. But I can still think. That's all that's left for me now, my thoughts. And I can feel, emotionally, if not physically.

I know what's happened to me. They pulled me in, Benjamin and Ilsa, somehow, making me static and still in their own fate. Somehow, I'm now nothing more than one of the dozens of photographs my mother kept hidden away, silenced and stilled in my black and white new world.

I guess this must be why my mother never spoke about her family, and never let me see the pictures. Maybe someone, down the line, was smart enough to understand what was happening, enough to break the cycle before it got to my mother. Maybe she had been warned, and was smart enough not to look for herself- or at least to stop in time, before it was too late for her. They hadn't gotten Alexandra Porter, the way they got her daughter Janet. She tried to spare me, with her silence, thinking that what I didn't know couldn't hurt me.

But the truth is, I wouldn't have believed her, if she had told me. Like I said, I was fourteen. Rebellion was going to happen, no matter how hard my mother tried to stop it, and no doubt I would have ended up here all the same.

I wondered, for the first few years, if it was an accident, if maybe Benjamin and Ilsa, whoever they had been, hadn't intended to change, hadn't really wanted or tried to pull me in. Maybe they couldn't help it; maybe it was just their nature, and they were helpless against it. I couldn't imagine wanting to condemn another person to my own fate, so I couldn't believe that this was what they had done, on purpose, to me.

But the more time goes by, the more angry and frustrated I'm starting to feel, and the more I am starting to wonder if my appearance, too, is starting to change. And now, I'm starting to understand that maybe- no, probably- what they did was in fact deliberate. Because I'm starting to feel impatient, as though I'm waiting for something, or someone, to happen…for another person to see me. And when that person comes, I can't wait to do the very same thing that was done to me.

The end