The Black and White Photograph
by Eric J. Krause
Andrea sat at her desk with her lukewarm coffee and glanced at the clock. A half-hour until first-grade recess. In years past, these oral reports usually took about that long, but this class never made anything easy. No doubt they'd do everything they could to stall the process, so she figured on another half-hour after recess. But she'd put a button on this project, even if it took the rest of the school day.
The first few students did a great job. She had to prompt them to give their first and last names--they found it silly since everyone already knew who they were--but otherwise it went quick and smooth. They showed an old family photograph, briefly explained what the picture was about, and said why they liked it. Instead of having each student take five minutes to allow everyone to scrutinize the picture (and, yes, this group would drag it out to a full five minutes or more), she'd promised they could get up and look at all the photos at the end. That would be a horribly noisy unorganized chunk of time, but it was better than wasting that same amount with each presentation.
Though a few of her usual suspects mucked up the process a bit with feet dragging and excess questions, she was pleased with the kids. They might hit recess with only a few left to complete. But up next was one of her wildcards. Maude (such a strange name for a child nowadays) could give the best report of the day, or she'd forget about her photo altogether and perform a song and dance. To Andrea's relief, the girl clutched a black and white photograph on her way to the front of the class.
When Maude held up the picture, everyone in class, even her most rowdy boys, went silent. Andrea perked up because this never happened. Jared and Hector would whisper and giggle even if she brought in their favorite animated feature to watch.
"This is my great-great-great Grandma Maude. She's relaxing in her favorite sofa on a warm day. I love this picture because she's me."
"You mean she looks like you, Maude?" Andrea asked. She couldn't see the picture clear enough from back at her desk to tell. Or was Maude simply confused because she shared her ancestor's name?
Maude looked up and flashed a wicked grin, unlike any a six year old should possess. "No, Mrs. Billups. Watch."
Some sort of energy pulsed out of the photo, and every student slumped down in their desk. A few face-planted hard on the surface. How was she going to explain broken and bloodied noses to the parents?
"And now I have seventeen more souls stored up next time I need to be young again. But I can always use another."
Before Andrea could do anything, Maude stepped forward and held up the photo. The woman in the picture really did look like the girl. The eyes glowed silver, and she couldn't look away.
"It's true about photography and the stealing of souls. It's not the camera that does it, but properly prepared photographs. Don't worry, Mrs. Billups. You won't remember this until you die."
The glowing eyes flashed, and Andrea found herself sitting at her desk. Maude walked back to her seat, her photo in hand. Had she given a presentation? Andrea couldn't remember. She glanced around the room and saw four or five of the kids sporting bloody noses. The entire class noticed at that same moment, and all hell broke loose.