“Shutter, Shudder” by Craig Whipkey

“Did the mail come yet”, my wife asked for what seemed like the third time. I responded, “No

Babe. The mail hasn’t been coming until about 3:30 in the afternoon lately” I added, “Why?

What are you waiting for?” She proudly explained, “Do you remember a few weeks ago when I

said that I wanted a better camera to take pictures of the kids at their swimming and hockey

games and practices?” “Yeah” I responded, already knowing the answer. “Well, I bid on one on

Ebay and I won!” she exclaimed. “Well, that was fast.” I said sarcastically. She

responded,“Yeah right? And, it was a steal. I still can’t believe no one else was bidding on it. I

won the auction at the reserve price. So, I got a Nikon D3500 with 2 lenses for, get this, $75.00.”

she said. “75.00 dollars” she repeated anticipating a stronger reaction from me. “Wow! $75.00

for a Nikon camera? It must be broken” I responded unimpressed. Her caustic response to me

was muted as I responded to the doorbell ringing and got up to answer the front door.

When I returned, my wife, still seething from my lack of support for her purchase, sneered “I’m

still mad at you.” I sang, “Well, you won’t be when you see what I have for you .” and I

handed her a small cardboard box with the distinctive Ebay mailing label on it. “It’s here!” she

crowed. Like a kid on Christmas morning, she tore open the cardboard box and removed a

pristine Nikon camera box. “It hardly looks used at all. It looks brand new!” she smiled. She

then began assembling the camera body and fitting the lenses to the camera. “It won’t turn on”

she said flatly. “See, it’s broke…” I said before I thought better of it and silenced myself. She

shot me a “shut-it” look and continued to investigate. “Ahh, here it is. They must have removed

the batteries before they shipped it.” she responded. “Why don’t you take it tonight and take

some pictures of the girls at swim practice?” I offered, trying to recover from my gaff. “I will”

she responded absent-mindedly as she poured over the owner’s manual and fiddled with

camera’s parts and accessories.

Later that evening:

“How was swim practice girls?” I asked both of my daughters. “Good” they responded in

chorus. “But, Coach Courtney is leaving and that is sad.” said Sloan, my oldest swimmer.

“Yeah, but we had pizza and cake.” Tressa, my youngest daughter, said excitedly. “So, as long

as you get pizza and cake, it’s okay for Coach Courtney to leave?” I asked my 7 year-old. “I

guess so.” Tressa said and moved on to empty her swim bag. “Did you take any pictures? How

did the camera work?” I asked my wife. “Well, I didn’t take any of them in the pool because I

was talking to one of the other mothers the whole time. But I did take some at the going away

party.” she responded. “Mind if I look at them?” I asked. I took the camera out of the case and

powered it on, flipped the switch to the preview mode and began looking at the pictures.”Who’s

the old guy with the girls in all of the pictures?” I asked. “And why is his face blurry?” I added.

“What are you talking about?” my wife asked. “This grey-hair guy at the party is in all of the

pictures. Is that one of the old coaches?” I queried. “Must have been. But I don’t remember

Coach Bob being there.” she dismissed the issue and started sorting through swimsuits, towels

and goggles. I placed the camera back inside its case and began the ritual of giving everyone

showers before bed time.

The next day:

“Okay, Reed has hockey and then you were going to stop over at my Mom’s to pick up whatever

tools you need to finish building the deck. See you about 7:30, right?” my wife asked. “Yep,

hockey, your Mom’s and then home…maybe McDonalds for dinner. Right Reed?” I asked. Reed

nodded emphatically to my wife’s look of disapproval. “I’m going to take your camera and get

some shots of Reed on the ice, okay?” I asked. “Sure, just be careful with it.” she responded.

At hockey practice, Reed was skating well and doing his best to make his 6 year old legs do the

drills that the coach had chosen for that evening. He skated for about an hour and a half and I got some really good pictures of him doing his crossovers and skating backwards. At bedtime that evening, my wife and I were doing our nightly review of the day, enjoying the quiet as each of my three children drifted off to sleep. We were discussing the next day’s activities and where

everyone had to go when she asked to see the pictures of Reed on the ice after I bragged that he was going to be the next Mario Lemieux. I retrieved the camera and handed it to her as she

eagerly reviewed the photos of our blossoming hockey star. She said, “Why wasn’t the coach on

the ice tonight?” I said, “The coach wasn’t there tonight so all of the assistants took care of

practice.” “Why do you ask?” She looked puzzled and said, “Well it just looked like the coach

was behind the glass along the boards in all of the pictures. He’s pretty stout for a hockey

coach.” I replied, “Let me see.” “Weird, I can’t make out the guy’s face. And, I don’t remember

him being there at all. But, look. He is in every shot. The glass makes him look out of focus

though. I can’t tell who it is, but he sure was following Reed skating all over the ice.” My wife

teased, “maybe it is a scout. You know, Sidney Crosby was being scouted in middle-school.” I

joked, “Yeah, but Reed has half of your DNA and that half never played hockey…” She glared,

“Oh, and you think the one time that YOU played winter hockey with your brother in your

frozen, flooded cement driveway gives your DNA more of a propensity for one of your offspring

to be skilled at hockey? Please.” We both laughed as I explained that I had the hardest slapshot

in the neighborhood and broke out the most number of garage door windows in Murdocksville.

But, that nagging, weird feeling I had did not go away when I looked again at the pictures and

saw the portly, grey haired man with glasses in every, single shot. The pictures were not clear,

but like looking through frosted glass.

The next evening:

“Mom, will you take me to karate tonight?” Reed asked. “But, the girls have swim practice

tonight and I always take them.” said Tracy. “That’s alright, I will take them tonight. Besides, I

feel the need to sit at the pool in the stands in 95 degree heat with 100% humidity…it will clean

my pores.” I offered. “Dad, you are so weird.” said Sloan. “Well thank you!” I responded in the

craziest voice I could muster.

At swim practice, my phone rang about 5:30pm which should have been the end of karate

practice. “The camera…there’s something wrong!” my wife said out of breath. “You called me at

swim practice to tell me that there is something wrong with your new camera?” I asked. “Not

something, someone…I don’t know…it’s all so strange.” she gasped and tried catching her breath.

“Remember I took Reed to karate tonight.” she asked unnecessarily. “Well, there was a

promotion tonight and Reed got another stripe for coordination or something.” she continued.

“All of the parents were taking pictures at the end of class with the entire group of kids and then

with all of the parents. I had one of the instructors take a group shot with me and Reed and

everybody. And when I looked at the picture… there he was. Or, there it was…or whatever.” she

paused. I interjected, “What in the hell are you talking about?” Tracy’s voice raced, “remember

the guy that showed up in the pictures at the swimming party? The grey-haired guy that we

thought was Coach Bob…and, the coach at hockey practice, behind the glass…remember?” I

searched my brain for the events that took place right after getting the new camera, “well, yes,

each of the pictures was blurry…or at least his face was, why?” Tracy lowered her voice, “well,

after I had one of the instructor’s daughters take a few group pictures tonight, she handed the

camera back to me.” “And” I asked impatiently. “And…there HE was again. That short, stubby,

grey-haired guy in the group pictures, right beside Reed. Right freaking beside him…and I know

he wasn’t there when we lined up because I was on the end.” I paused, “I am sure there is a

logical explanation for this.” Tracy responded with a high-pitched voice, “Logical? There is a

guy in my pictures who isn’t there and he keeps showing up at every one of our kids events that

we take pictures of. What is logical about that?” Trying to calm her down, I responded, “Take it

easy and I will look at the pictures on the camera when you get home. It just can’t be the same

person. It has to be some malfunction with the memory card or something, you know, like a

double exposure.” Tracy said, calmly this time, “It just sent chills down my spine.” “I know, I

know. But we’ll look at it at home. I’ll save the pictures to our desktop and take a look at them.”

I responded unconvincingly.

Later that evening:

“So what exactly are you going to do with these pictures.” Tracy asked. I responded, “Well, I

saw this on some CSI show once that if you take a photo, especially one of a person’s face,

Photoshop can make suggestions on the person’s real face and take out the blurriness. It takes a while though.” Tracy said, “Run it then.”

A few hours later:

I couldn’t sleep, probably due to the creepiness of the events of the evening. As I was refreshing

the screen on the computer to find out what Photoshop had assembled in its rendering, my wife

joined me in the den. “Can’t sleep either, huh?” I asked. “No way. Not until we figure this out.”

she said while sipping a cup of coffee.

As the computer screen painted in the pixels of the computer’s rendering, I let out an audible

gasp. My wife, who was sitting on the opposite side of the monitor, strained forward and said,

“What?” I quavered in my response, “You won’t believe this” and turned the computer monitor

around so she could see. At the exact same moment we said, “Pap”. My wife’s father had passed away suddenly just 11 months prior from an abdominal aneurysm and in his final

moments he had promised to always watch over our kids. My wife and I cried and held each other until morning.