What happens when you fall into a trap where an image is the single proof? Or what impact does a photograph have in your life. This story will take you in a journey where you will feel photograph from a complete different aspect. Read on to find out.
Nestled among the towering pines of the Jemez National Forest, the picturesque mountain cabin harbored nostalgic memories for Justin Solomon. He couldn’t have chosen a better place.
Although he’d rented the cabin for two weeks, he was sure his spreading pancreatic cancer was going to qualify that as a bad investment. He smiled. Not that it made much difference, anyway; like they said, “you can’t take it with you.”
The radiation and chemo therapy treatments had been discontinued; the doctors had given him six months to live, and he’d already maxed that out. He was lucid enough to realize that the end was near. He’d been like the walking dead for the last ten years anyway, wandering through the days, months and years like some specter, with only the slightest contact with the world around him. He often wondered if he had gone insane.
Justin dropped his exhausted, emaciated 6’2” frame into the large, overstuffed chair. Once an athletic 225 pounds, he had been reduced to a wheezing 140 and draped in clothing that had grown several sizes too large. The doctors had encouraged him to check into a hospice facility, but he had declined. He hadn’t brought much with him to the rustic cabin, but limping up the wooden porch stairs with his few possessions had completely drained him.
This had been their “retreat,” and now he had come here to spend his last days with her. With his memories of her, anyway. He looked down at the cardboard box next to the chair, a box containing their photos and albums, images of their life together, reflections of his memories.
Ten years had passed since Megan had died, but Justin continued talking to her, as if she had never left. He had aged more than those ten years warranted, his hair graying, his body stooping, his gait and speech hesitant and unsure. People came to think of him as just a crazy old man, wandering the streets, vacant eyed, muttering to himself. It was ironic; the cancer that had ravaged his body over the last year was finally going to be his means of escape.
Through the open window he listened to the silence of the forest, broken only by the sigh of the wind in the tall pines surrounding the cabin. They had rented the cabin several times during their marriage, usually to escape the stress of her job at the University of New Mexico. Good memories, but then all of his memories of Megan were good—except at the end.
Justin squeezed his eyes shut in an attempt to block the tears. He whispered, “I’m so sorry Megan; please forgive me.”
The dark images of that last night started to slip their terrifying tendrils into his mind. He shook his head and pressed his palms to his eyes, trying to keep the horrific pictures out of his head. Gritting his teeth, he got up painfully and started putting away his meager supplies.
“Okay Megan, let me get a little organized here, then I’ll start sorting through all those pictures.”
His memory lane had been so well traveled over the past decade that he really didn’t need any prodding to walk down it again. His images of her were stuck in a closed-circuit, continuous loop in his often faltering mind. Sometimes it seemed there wasn’t much room for anything else. But that was okay with him.
He’d managed to keep down a peanut butter sandwich earlier in the day; he didn’t eat much anymore. He was well stocked with the pain-killers morphine and oxy-codeine, drugs that were fighting a losing battle against the painful onslaught against his body. Between them and the spreading disease, his appetite had become a casualty.
It was early evening and he was tired from the drive, but he wanted to look over some of the photos. Slumped in the easy chair, he browsed a couple of the albums, stopping and commenting to Megan as if she was actually present. He hesitated with his hand on one, shaking his head, but it made him smile. The two of them were skydiving. “I still don’t know how you got me to do that, Princess.”
The next picture had them both waving to the camera from the floor of the Grand Canyon. Then, the two of them, hand in hand, crossing the finish line of the City Half Marathon. There were several at University Arena, Megan in her red University blazer and black slacks and he in his Campus Police uniform. In another, a picture of her, her smile radiant, right after she had received the news that she had been promoted to Director of Special Events at the University.
He ran his hand over the picture lightly. “I had a crush on you the first time I ever saw you. It just took me a year to get the nerve to ask you out.”
When he first met Megan she was the Assistant Director of Special Events. She was handing out assignments and giving instructions to personnel before a basketball game. He had been on his University Police job for all of two weeks, a retiree from the Albuquerque Police Department. His twenty-year career there had established a habit that sabotaged his retirement after a total of only two months.
Justin remembered being introduced to her. He thought her the prettiest girl he had ever seen, although at age twenty-six, “girl” was certainly a misnomer. Soft spoken, with dark hair matching her expressive eyes and dark complexion, he had found out later that her mother was a native Hawaiian. Indeed, Megan’s lineage could be traced back through her mother to former kings and queens of the Islands, but her mother had married a U. S. serviceman, so Megan figured that nixed the whole royalty thing.
Justin liked to call her Princess, and on their first anniversary had given her a bracelet inscribed with her full name: Princess Megan Malu Makahilahila Solomon. The inscription had cost almost as much as the bracelet. She had laughed in her soft, melodic way, a laugh that made people smile even though they didn’t know why. He loved to make her happy…
Rummaging through the cardboard box he came up with more loose photos, which he carefully placed in the album. He had left instructions to forward these and a few other personal items of Megan’s to her parents in Michigan after his death.
He came across a close-up photo of her, a half smile on her lips, eyes locked on the camera. He grinned and sighed. “Ahhh…my princess…what chance did I have against those beautiful eyes of yours?”
He was often assigned to various sporting and entertainment events around campus, and had frequent contact with Megan. She was a woman whose eyes mirrored her emotions; confidence and self-assurance the majority of the time, frustration and anger on the rare occasions when someone disappointed her. But disillusionment and pain had also made their appearance in those brown depths when she was bypassed for a promotion at the University. Her unexpected vulnerability had been the final push. A day later, stammering and stumbling, he asked her out.
Throwing her head back and laughing she’d said, “It’s about time!”
That had caught him off guard. “Uh…what do you mean…?”
“You’ve been following me around like a puppy dog for the better part of a year. I’d given up on you; I didn’t think you were ever going to go for it.”
With her he had reached the pinnacle of his life, a crest that lasted almost five years. Those years seemingly outweighed all those that had come before; they were married six months after their first date. Megan was the last piece of the puzzle completing his life.
They began talking about names for their children; she wanted at least two, a boy and a girl, but felt she needed to earn her M.B.A. Degree and land the Director’s job first. She achieved both, the last coming only two weeks before…He reached for the bottle of morphine and quickly dry-swallowed two tablets.
Justin gently placed the photo in the album, and reached back into the box, pulling out an old digital camera. It took him a second before he remembered; he’d bought it at a local Wal-Mart a week before that final night at the theater ten years ago. It was a deal he couldn’t pass up—a discontinued model, twenty-five percent off. He’d jumped at the offer, but if he remembered correctly, had only used it once—on their last night together.
He’d purchased AAA batteries on the drive up and now inserted them in the camera, but was still mildly surprised when the camera turned on and the screen lit up.
There were only four pictures in the memory, all from that last night at the theater, all taken outside in the courtyard. His favorite was of Megan standing near the entrance with the night-time crowd, grinning and waving at the camera, proudly preening in a stylish new red dress; a beautiful, white lace shawl draped loosely around her shoulders and trailing down her back. The lights from the antique lamp poles lining the courtyard and walkways highlighted her beauty. She was exquisite. His heart had ached looking at her then, just as it now pined looking at her picture.
Justin was exhausted; he was done for the night. He shuffled off to the first bedroom, the one he and Megan had always used when they had stayed there. It afforded the best view of the forest.
The nightmare came as it always did, as it always had. It was burned forever into his mind, etched indelibly into the very fabric of his being. Nothing he had done since that night had blurred or dimmed the horror. He moaned in his sleep, an echo of the pain deeply embedded within him
On their way home from the campus theater and a performance of the musical “Cats”, they had stopped at a local 7-Eleven store; Megan wanted to pick up milk for the morning, and Justin needed to use the restroom. He had been washing his hands when he heard the yelling outside.
Running out, his world was forever turned into a ragged, broken film reel, a surrealistic montage of jumpy, disjointed images.
Two wild eyed meth-heads standing at the counter with guns drawn, aiming at the cashier, screaming almost incoherently for money.
Drawing his off duty gun, aiming at them, yelling for them to freeze, to drop their weapons.
Drugged out of their minds, eyes blazing, turning and firing wildly, a fuselage of bullets, one grazing his shoulder.
One robber falling to the floor by the counter, the other firing wildly over his shoulder as he staggered towards the door, before finally collapsing.
Walking forward, gun trained on their immobile bodies, glancing down the aisles, yelling for Megan.
Saw her crumpled on the floor, a growing blossom of blood staining the front of her dress a darker red.
Yelling and screaming from far away. Coming from him.
Holding her in his arms, one hand frantically trying to stem the blood seeping from her chest.
Her breathing loud and labored as her punctured lung struggled for air.
Her lips unnaturally red from blood.
Her panicked, beseeching eyes wide in fear and pain. Looking at him. Pleading with him.
Now, blood on the floor.
Coughing, more blood on her lips.
Struggling to breathe.
Another ragged breath, gasping, choking.
Her eyes frantic, begging.
Her hand, clutching his arm.
Finally, a rasping exhale, and then—
Her hand fell away.
Crying. Screaming. Welling up from deep within him.
When the police arrived minutes later, Justin was still on the floor, holding and rocking her, talking to her, begging her not to go. They had to pull him away.
He had never stopped screaming inside.
The next morning he drank his coffee on the covered front porch, and even managed a short walk down to the road so he could get a better view of the mountains. The autumn air was cool and crisp, the scent of pines sharp and fresh and the silence complete, except for the occasional falling pine cones, dislodged by the fluffy tailed, furry grey and white squirrels that frequented the forest. By the time he returned to the cabin he was exhausted and slept well into the afternoon.
He managed to keep down some vegetable soup that evening before he sat back down in the chair to again travel his and Megan’s memory lane. “Well, Princess, where shall we revisit tonight? Maybe the Grand Canyon? How about the white water rafting trip on the Animas River in Colorado?”
While he was reminiscing he had absently turned on the little silver camera, scanning through the four pictures.
“Well, Megan, I vote for the…” He stopped in mid-sentence, staring at the fourth picture on the camera. Something was different.
He scanned back, figuring he had missed it the night before—there must have been a fifth one. But no, there were only four. He stared at it again. He remembered that she had been in the crowd, smiling and waving at the camera. He was sure of it. But in the picture he was now looking at she was detached from the crowd, no longer smiling, running towards him, towards the camera.
Maybe he was taking too much morphine. Maybe the cancer had leeched into his brain. He shuddered, shut off the camera, closed his eyes and laid his head back. “I don’t think it will be long now. Please be there.”
Then he let his mind drift…they were hiking down into the Grand Canyon; they’d be spending the night on the floor of the Canyon in each other’s arms, looking at the stars, listening to the sounds of the Colorado River, musing on the ageless carving of the Canyon’s walls…
It was almost afternoon before he managed to get out of bed. He sat on the porch for a while, but was too weak to make the trek down to the road. He tried a sandwich for lunch, but threw it back up. He limped into the living room, looked at the photo albums, the cardboard box and the camera sitting on the table.
Finally, licking his lips in trepidation, he picked it up and turned it on. He scanned through to the fourth picture. He gasped, a choking sound escaping his throat, and dropped the camera. He staggered back and fell to the floor and sat there, his breath rasping in his chest, his heart racing dangerously.
Justin crawled back, picked it up with trembling hands and looked again at the image. In the picture Megan was no longer outside the theater—she wasn’t even on the University campus anymore—but he recognized where she was.
The pine strewn land to the front of the cabin sloped down for about a hundred yards to the dirt road, Horseshoe Loop. Across the road was an open, grassy field that stretched approximately a half mile before the trees started again, sloping upward into the forested foothills of the mountains.
In the picture Megan was on the far side of the field running towards the cabin. She was still wearing her red dress, although she had lost her white shawl somewhere.
He groaned and pulled himself up on the arm of the couch. He looked out the picture window towards the open field; he had a clear view from this vantage point. It was near sundown, but he could see that there was no one in the field.
He looked back at the camera image of the running Megan. He knew he was hallucinating. “Megan, I’m sorry. I wanted to spend my last days and hours with you just remembering everything. Now I can’t even seem to do that.”
He took several more of the morphine pills, and sobbing quietly, fell asleep on the couch.
Justin awoke late in the afternoon of the next day. He was too weak to get off the sofa, or to try to eat. He stared at the little silver camera on the table until it was almost dark. Then he picked it up and turned it on.
He focused his eyes and stared at the small screen without emotion. Megan had made it to the road near the dirt driveway. Her hair, which she had worn pulled back and tied with a pearl clasp that last night, had come undone and was flying loose around her head. Her red dress was flowing out behind her. It appeared she was crying.
He didn’t bother trying to look out the window; he knew she wasn’t there, she had been dead for ten years, had died in his arms. He knew his mind, his sanity—what was left of it—was slipping away. Justin knew he wasn’t going to make it through the night. The pain had become very bad, in both body and mind.
He took several more of the morphine pills, rolled off the couch onto his hands and knees, crawled to the bedroom and made it onto the bed. One last time. “Please be there, Princess…please be there…”
Justin dreamed his last dreams. A kaleidoscope of memories slowly unreeled through his mind. Somewhere he imagined he heard a door shut. He tried to rouse himself to consciousness, but couldn’t. He slowly began to fade.
He could smell Megan’s perfume, the warmth of her body against his, the faint sensation of her breath on his neck—like the caress of a subtle breeze on the leaves of a tree. And her voice in his ear, the fading, faintest of sighs. “I’m here. I’ve always been here. I’ve always been waiting for you. It’s time to come home now.”
“Hey, Jodi, wait up.” Where his girlfriend got all her energy, Mark had no idea. They must have trudged over a mile up Horseshow Loop, a dirt road that lead higher into the mountains. Now she was running across an open field whooping and yelling like some young kid. Mark had to admit the reds and yellows of the turning autumn leaves were beautiful in the brilliant afternoon sunshine and crisp mountain air. Still, he would rather have been back at their cabin with Paul and Maryanne having a beer on the front porch, firing up the barbeque, readying themselves for an evening of party time.
They had rented the cabin for the weekend; a final charging of their collegiate batteries before the fall semester at the University got into full swing. He and Paul were juniors, both Jodi and Maryanne sophomores. It had been hard enough for them to coordinate their schedules, and now Jodi was running around the countryside like some eighteenth century explorer. He would have much preferred being back at the cabin “spooning”, a quaint term he remembered his grandmother using, a forerunner of the “necking” terminology of his parents.
Mark picked up his pace to a slow trot in the brown, mid-shin high grass. Thirty feet ahead of him Jodi had stopped and was looking down at something on the ground. He finally huffed up next to her. “What’d you find this time, babe?”
“It’s beautiful,” she replied, more to herself than Mark, “it almost glows.”
The dazzling, white lace shawl was lying in the grass of the field like a delicate spray of snow. A gentle breeze wafted across the field, ruffling the fabric and sending wavelike ripples through it.
Jodi knelt and picked it up cautiously as if she thought it might disintegrate in her hands. When it didn’t, she shook it slightly to dislodge several stray pieces of grass stuck to it. “I wonder what something this nice is doing out in the middle of nowhere?” she said.
“Especially since I’ve only seen a few cabins this far up Horseshoe Loop.” Mark added.
Jodi swung the shawl out and around like a wave, draping it lightly over her shoulders and back. “How do I look?”
She was wearing an old red sweatshirt with the slogan ‘Women Who Behave Rarely Make History’ emblazoned across the front. Even so, Mark thought the elegant wrap somehow made her look even more beautiful. He just shook his head. “Jodi, you could wear a sack and you’d still look gorgeous to me.”
Jodi took his hand, stood on her toes and gave him a kiss. “That’s my Sir Galahad.” Hand in hand, they started back across the meadow. “No more exploring, this has made my day. There’s no telling where it came from or who it belongs to, so I’ll just call it a ‘gift from heaven.’”