[Prompt: One day at home you are dusting off your pictures on the wall and you notice in all of the pictures there is a tall elderly man in a black button down suit standing in all of them but you’ve never noticed it before ]
Kristen paused in her Sunday ritual of cleaning house to closer inspect the pictures on the wall. She had been dusting the frames when something strange caught her eye. In each of the photographs an old man could be seen standing in the back. He was dressed in a black button down suit, his face sallow, and his hair nonexistent. Checking each of the pictures, Kristen saw him in the background in the newer pictures as well as ones from before her time. Kristen knew for a fact that he had not been there last Sunday when she had dusted.
“Teddy?” She called for her husband a second time just as he arrived in the room. She pointed to the pictures on the wall, “What is this?”
Ted glanced at the frames, then answered in a cautious manner as any husband should when uncertain of his wife’s meaning. “Picture frames?”
“No,” Kristen dropped her hand to settled on the point of her hip. “Did you look at them?”
“Not for a while,” Ted moved closer to humor his wife by peering at the pictures in question. “Did you add a new one?”
Kristen pointed at the suited man, “What is that?”
Ted examined the photo, “That is you and your Aunt at the beach.”
Kristen checked to make sure she was pointing in the right spot before tapping the glass just above the old man’s head. “No, what is that.”
“I don’t know, honey,” Ted squinted at the photograph. “A tree? What am I looking at?”
Kristen began to doubt herself, but pointed out the stranger in all the other pictures. “The old man. He’s in all of them.”
Ted followed her gesturing hand that was gaining speed as her panic rose. Despite her efforts, Ted shook his head in the end. “I don’t see any old man in those pictures.”
“Don’t lie to me!”
“Krissy,” Ted had her by the shoulders, “are you okay?”
“No!” She stepped away from him. “You ruined my pictures!”
“I haven’t touched the pictures.”
“Well someone did,” She snapped and glared at the old man who lurked in the background like some courier of death. “It’s not funny!”
“Sweetheart, sit down, you’re starting to scare me.”
She began to tear the pictures off the wall until Ted caught her wrists and pulled her away.
“Krissy, go lie down for a bit. Let me take care of this.”
In truth, she hadn’t been sleeping all that well ever since her Aunt passed away due to an aggressive cancer. They had been close when she was growing up and Kristen didn’t even get a chance to tell her Aunt goodbye before she was gone. It made Kristen reflect on her own mortality. She wasn’t even a woman of thirty, had barely given serious thought about having kids, and she was already considering the limits of her life. Her husband was overly concerned about her withdrawal and had made her go see a therapist who in turned tried to prescribe her medication. She had dumped the pills down the sink when they got home but didn’t tell her Husband. Ted was sweet in his concern, but he needed to respect the fact that Kristen didn’t want to become a medicated dunce to deal with her grief. Time was the only treatment she required.
Kristen retreated to the upstairs bedroom with a connecting bathroom. She ran the cold water and splashed it against her face. Something else bothered her about the old man in the photographs. It was an itch on the back of her mind, the man with his sunken cheeks and blackened eyes. His skin around his face like melting wax that left him more skeletal than human. The way he looked out of the pictures instead of being engaged with the people in the photo disturbed her to no end. She could almost believe she had seen him before, but it didn’t seem probable.
Kristen dried her face, returned to the bedroom and sat on her side of the bed. Her eyes nervously darted to the single photo frame on her nightstand. Staring back at her, from between the smiling faces of her and her husband, was the old man. She grabbed the frame, broke the glass against the stand, then pulled the photo for a closer inspection. She probed at the ghastly face of the old man to see if someone, with a poor sense of humor, had glued the image there. When it didn’t budge, she dragged her fingernail over the old man’s face. She did it over and over again until she had scratched his dour expression out of existence.
Knocking sounded from the bedroom door along with Ted’s concerned voice, “I’m sorry honey, I really thought you would find it funny. I had a friend photoshop the man into all the pictures. I wanted to see how long it would take for you to notice. I’ll put everything back the way it was.”
Kristen wasn’t listening, because as soon as she had lifted her gaze her eyes had locked with the old man’s eyes through the reflection of the vanity mirror. His face was a mess of fresh red scratches and angry rolled off him in heated waves. The longer she stared at him the more she remembered. She finally knew where she had seen him. It had been when she was a child, standing next to her father at the funeral while everyone else exchanged prolonged hugs and kind words. Kristen had seen the strange man standing by the casket. He had given her the chills and she had sought the warmth of her father’s hand which she held throughout the rest of the funeral.
She lowered her gaze to the photograph, alarmed to see blood smeared across the smiling faces. She must have unwittingly cut herself when breaking the glass. Yet there was too much blood. It was all too red. It was spreading across the front of her blouse. Kristen dropped the photo and saw that in her right hand she clutched a shard of glass from the broken frame.
“No,” She whispered in horror. When she looked back up at the mirror, the old man stood next to her and the glass she once held was now embedded in her stomach. The old man reached for her but she couldn’t scream for Ted’s help. He’s come for me, she yelled to herself, He’s come to take me.