What a delightful tale coming from the mind of Christa Planko. It reminds me of the games my cousin and I used to play in a haunted house somewhere in the Northwoods. But they weren’t games for Corey and the gang, were they? – Jim
“Do you think this is a good idea?” Jeremy hesitated at the bottom of the warped wooden stairs. His three friends already stood upon the creaking porch.
The shortest, stockiest of the boys swept the cobwebs out of his way as he led the pack toward the front door. “What he means,” Corey said. “Is ‘do you think we’re a bunch of wussies?’”
“Hell, no!” chimed Randy and Raymond in unison. They were identical twins and always in sync.
“I’m not wussing out!” Jeremy cried. “I just don’t want to get busted for trespassing. The cops patrol the streets on Mischief Night, you know.”
“So, we’ll keep extra quiet,” Corey said. “Now shut up and follow me!”
Jeremy gulped and climbed the rickety steps. The boys stood by while Corey picked the lock. Slowly, he pushed open the door. It moaned on rusty hinges.
“Quick, guys!” Corey ushered the boys in and shut the door behind them. Their flashlights immediately scanned the dusty room. Nothing but a few pieces of furniture draped with sheets—a sofa, an armchair, a coffee table. Otherwise, the house stood as vacant as the day it was abandoned.
“We’re here again why?” Jeremy asked.
“To see the room where it happened,” Corey said.
“Um…where what happened?”
“I’ll tell you all when we get there,” Corey’s flashlight illuminated a staircase. “This way!”
He mounted the stairs, bravely leading the way. Randy and Raymond prodded each other to go first.
Corey paused halfway up the stairs and spun around. He frowned. “Come on!”
Jeremy shoved the twins from behind and they squeezed up the stairwell, side by side. They followed as Corey ventured up the second-floor hallway. He shone his light into each room, passing each one by until he came upon the largest at the end of the hall.
“This is it!” he cried. “The master bedroom. This is where they found her.”
“Found who?” Jeremy asked.
“Shirley Sugg,” Corey whispered. “The Shutterbug!”
“Oh, we know this story!” Randy elbowed his brother in the ribs.
“Yeah, but we thought it was just an old tale,” Raymond added, clutching his side.
“What tale?” Jeremy asked. “Someone please tell me already.”
“It was told to us as an old rhyme,” Randy started. Then he and his brother chanted in unison:
Shirley Sugg was a shutterbug.
Photography her only role,
she captured your photo, then captured your soul.
She carved your smile with a box cutter.
The Shutterbug will make you shudder.
The boys all jumped as a rat suddenly darted across the floor, startling them.
“OK, that was really creepy, guys!” Jeremy panted, holding a hand to his racing heart.
“Oh, it gets better,” Corey smiled. “I know the true story. Shirley Sugg was an actual person. This was her bedroom.” He propped a lantern on the bed and turned it on.
The twins froze, then glanced about, trying to play it cool. Jeremy’s body shook with fright.
“Check you out, bro!” Corey snorted. “You really are a wuss!”
“Am not!” Jeremy snapped. He collected himself. “It’s just that it’s cold in here.”
He shone his light around the room.
“Hey, look!” He snatched an object from a nightstand and turned around. “It’s an old Polaroid camera!”
He held it up and aimed it toward them all.
“Group selfie! Smile!”
He pushed the button. Surprisingly, the camera groaned, producing a square, white photo. They stood around, watching as an image began to develop. Within minutes, their awkwardly smiling faces emerged.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Corey said.
“Why not?” Jeremy asked. “We needed to lighten the mood.”
Corey shook his head. “I didn’t get to tell you the story.”
“Well, tell it already so we can all get outta here.”
Jeremy crossed his arms and glared at Corey. Corey glanced from face to face, then began.
“OK. So, Shirley Sugg was a local photographer about half a century ago. She was an oddball, but good at what she did. She never married and she lived alone—here.”
Corey observed the captive audience before him, then continued.
“Over the years, she got stranger and stranger. She started walking around with a Polaroid camera, taking pictures of random things. Then one day, someone got in her way. That’s when she completely flipped out and went bonkers. They say she stalked the person afterward, then killed her.”
For dramatic effect, Corey lowered his voice to a whisper.
“When they found the body, it was posed in a chair, the mouth carved into a permanent smile. The ruined photo sat in the dead woman’s lap with her image scratched out.”
Corey stared at the horrified faces before him. The twins whistled low in disbelief.
“That is one creepy story, dude,” Jeremy finally said. “But whatever happened to Shirley? Was she arrested?”
“No,” Corey smirked, enjoying the fright he was giving his friends. “That’s the strange part. When the cops showed up at her house, there was no answer. So, they entered. What they found was Shirley Sugg in her bed in this room, dead. She had a huge grimace frozen onto her cold, dead face and a Polaroid on her lap. It was a selfie she took—in this very room, but her smiling face was missing from the photo. Instead, it fixed itself permanently onto her dead body.”
“Christ!” Jeremy cried. He slowly backed up, bumping into the bed. He jumped. The Polaroid fell out of his hand, onto the bed. It landed image side up.
“Holy, shit, guys!” he screeched. “Look!”
Corey snatched the photo. The twins gasped as they looked over Corey’s shoulder. The photo showed the entire group with the exception of Jeremy’s face, now a white smear.
“OK, let’s get outta here!” Corey said. He bolted out the door and down the hall, the twins immediately in tow, when a slam occurred behind them. The last sound they heard from behind Shirley’s closed bedroom door was Jeremy’s scream, followed by a maniacal laugh.
Christa resides in South Jersey—home of the Pinelands and the Jersey Devil. She is a medical writer by day with a passion for creative expression. Her poetry and short stories have been featured in several publications, including Jitter Press, Rune Bear, Tanka and Haiku Journal, and Every Day Fiction.