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Authors: Carol Snow

Snap

BOOK: Snap
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Snap
Carol Snow

For Lucy, who loves taking pictures;
and for Philip, who loves to be in them.

Contents

1.

IT WASN'T EVEN A VERY GOOD PHOTOGRAPH.

2.

BEFORE I CAME TO SANDYLAND, freaky stuff like this didn't…

3.

“NICE” IS NOT HOW I WOULD CHARACTERIZE Home Suite Home.

4.

BODY SNATCHERS.

5.

WHAT SUCKS ABOUT HAVING A BLOWOUT FIGHT with your parents…

6.

WHEN SOMETHING DOESN'T FIT INTO YOUR idea of the way…

7.

BY THE NEXT MORNING, I hadn't forgotten about the old…

8.

OVER THE NEXT FEW DAYS.

9.

ON FRIDAY I WOKE TO SUNNY SKIES. Well, I woke…

10.

SATURDAY MORNING, I SPENT AT LEAST AN HOUR photographing kayaks…

11.

THE INTERNET CAFÉ WAS PACKED. I had to hang out…

12.

AS I WALKED TOWARD PSYCHIC PHOTO to meet Duncan—and Delilah…

13.

WHEN I SHOWED UP AT NINE O'CLOCK, Duncan was sitting…

14.

LOOKING BACK ON THAT MOMENT when I stood in the…

15.

WHEN I WOKE UP ON SUNDAY, about two hours later…

16.

MY PARENTS GOT ALL GUSSIED UP to look at apartments…

17.

THERE'S NOTHING LIKE A GOOD FUNERAL to cheer a person…

18.

THE SUN WAS HIGH IN THE SKY by the time…

19.

IT WAS ALMOST ONE O'CLOCK in the afternoon by the…

20.

AFTER ROLF, YOU WOULDN'T THINK I'd be surprised when hot…

21.

BEYOND PSYCHIC PHOTO'S FRONT DOOR, the printer's lights glowed like…

22.

I DIDN'T CRY. I DIDN'T SCREAM. It's almost like I…

23.

HIS BREATH, COLD AND MINTY, woke me up. “Charles,” he…

 

I
T WASN'T EVEN A VERY GOOD PHOTOGRAPH.

The lighting was lame, for one thing. Midday light is never ideal, but the problem wasn't the overhead glare; it was the fog that choked the beach with a heavy whiteness. There were no shadows, no depth—nothing but a bleached-out deadness.

And then there was the problem of a focal point. There wasn't one. A row of boulders rose on one side. Next to some concrete steps a sign said
KEEP OFF ROCKS.
A sandy stretch, narrow in the foreground, widened to a fuzzy beach beyond, the distant people looking like dim dots, not the splashes of color I'd envisioned. There was the ocean, of course, a dull stretch so colorless that you could only guess at the line that separated water from horizon.

Finally, there was the old woman standing next to the rocks, completely ruining whatever beauty the scene had to offer. In a bathrobe and slippers, she didn't add to the beach vibe at all. Plus, she was looking at the camera, at me, as if I'd interrupted her
somehow, as if it weren't the other way around.

No, it wasn't a very good photograph. I would have deleted it from my camera without a thought, except for one thing.

When I took the photograph, the old woman wasn't there.

B
EFORE
I
CAME TO
S
ANDYLAND,
freaky stuff like this didn't happen. If my pictures looked different than reality, it was because I'd experimented with the camera's settings or messed around on the computer.

Before I came to Sandyland, life made sense.

We weren't even supposed to be here. Our original family plans—“family” meaning me and my parents—called for a cruise around Hawaii, where I'd photograph fire dancers and sunsets and turtles instead of creepy old ladies skulking around in the fog.

Hawaii! Four islands in eighteen days! And my parents cancelled the trip! Okay, I know that sounds totally spoiled, like “Poor me, getting cheated out of two and a half weeks on a cruise ship,” but vacations were what my parents and I did together. They were our bonding time. In previous summers we had forged stronger family ties in Bermuda, Mexico, and the south of France. The rest of the year we just kind of lived our separate lives in the same general vicinity.

The crazy thing is, I was psyched about Sandyland. Originally my dad was going to come alone. Some guy he knew found him a couple of weeks' work in town—nothing great, just some construction gig—and he was going to crash at a cheap hotel. My dad's a building contractor—he specializes in custom homes—and ever since the economy tanked, his business had been less than fabulous. “Money is tight” had become my mother's mantra, followed closely by, “You don't know how good you have it.”

That's when she said anything at all. My family was never exactly what you'd call chatty, but lately the usual silences had been joined by hostile glares (from my mother) and apologetic throat clearing (from my father). My reaction was to stay in my room as much as possible and try not to think about it.

But my dad's work had always come in spurts. Something would turn up. Then my mom would take me to the mall for some desperately needed new clothes, give me some spending money, and reinstate my cancelled cell phone service. (That? Really bummed me out.)

When I told my best friend, Lexie Larstrom, that my dad was going away to work for a few weeks, she gave me this really odd look.

So I said, “What?”

And she said, “Don't you think it's weird—that your dad would go to the beach and leave you and your mom here?” Lexie's family has a lake house, and her dad would never go there alone.

So I started thinking. Is this some kind of trial separation? Am I about to become a Child of Divorce? Will I have to stand up in court and say which of my parents I love more? Will they make me go to a counselor so I can talk about my feelings?

Then, on Thursday night, my mom had come into my room and said, “So that beach town—you know, we said Dad would go alone, but we're going to go with him. So you should pack. We leave Saturday. Dad starts work Monday.”

She didn't smile, but then my mom's not exactly a smiley sort, so I just felt relieved because I wouldn't have to go to a counselor and talk about my feelings. Plus, I was glad to be going somewhere—anywhere—even if it wasn't Hawaii (sniff), because our town, Amerige, gets really hot in the summer, and Lexie kept going off to the lake and leaving me bored and alone.

It didn't even cross my mind that summer in Sandyland might be worse than summer in Amerige. It certainly didn't occur to me that my life was about to be turned upside down.

I had just finished my freshman year at Amerige High School, where I was pulling straight A's in the honors program. (Well, okay, almost-straight A's. Let's not talk about Advanced Algebra II.) At the end of the school year, Melissa Raffman, the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper,
The Buzz,
had picked me to be a staff photographer.
The Buzz
had its own office and budget, along with a reputation for attracting the best students and the most prestigious awards. Practically everyone wanted to work on
The Buzz
because it would look so good on a college application (not that I'd ever be so calculating, ahem).

I had friends. I had my own bathroom, my own flat-screen TV, an iMac. I had a swimming pool—just a basic one, without any waterslides or caves like the Larstroms', but better than nothing. I had good hair: thick and brown, cut on an angle, ending between my shoulder blades.

Things weren't perfect, of course. My love life was in the
crapper ever since Rolf Reinhardt, my first almost-boyfriend, had publicly dumped me for the bloodsucking Celia Weaver. (On the bright side, I'd beaten Celia out for the newspaper photographer position.) By summer, the only guy who was paying any attention to me at all was pale-faced pothead Kyle Ziegenfuss, whom I'd tutored in my school's peer leadership program. But still. Things were pretty good, all things considered.

 

On the day we left, my mother woke me up early—at, like, nine—handed me a cereal bar, and told me to “get moving.” I threw my camera, iPod, and wallet into a beach bag and staggered out of the house. I'd packed everything else the night before, using the opportunity to sort through my summer clothes, most of which were too small, too faded, or otherwise too sucky.

As we whizzed along the freeway, my father behind the wheel of his “baby,” a black Cadillac Escalade, I had no bigger concerns than:

“Does the hotel have a pool?” (No.)

“Is it on the beach?” (No.)

“Can we stop at Starbucks?” (No response.)

The drive would take us two, maybe three, hours. Sandyland was a nice place, my parents promised: small, pretty, quiet. The hotel was on the road to the beach. I'd like it there. That's what they kept saying. “It's nice. Just wait. You'll like it.”

I should have known it was going to suck.

“N
ICE” IS NOT HOW
I
WOULD CHARACTERIZE
Home Suite Home. And let's just say that “hotel” was a bit of a stretch, too. If I had to pick one word to describe it, I'd go with “craptacular.” I didn't say that, though, because whenever I complain about anything, my mother says, “You expect everything to be handed to you on a silver platter”—which is actually pretty funny when you consider that my mother, who's really into decorating, once collected silver platters, back in her Victorian phase.

So instead I just said, “Well, this is, uh…”

My mother finished the sentence for me: “Hideous.”

I laughed. I thought she'd laugh, too, and we'd have this nice little mother-daughter snark-fest, but instead she just wrinkled her nose and headed for the bathroom.

The motel room—oh, sorry, “suite”—was dark: brown carpeting, brown couch, brown bedspread, heavy drapes. The space was long and narrow, with only a tiny frosted window by the
front door and a sliding glass door at the far end, past the brown kitchenette.

Also, it smelled—something musty and dirty that I couldn't place. Against the wall, a brown laminate desk had a sign propped up:
PETS STAY FREE!
That was it: the room smelled like dogs.

Once we'd brought in all of our stuff, I asked, “Wanna hit the beach?” (Nicer, I thought, than saying, “Let's not spend one second longer than necessary in this smelly crap-hole.”)

My mother said no because she had to go to the grocery store, and my father said no because—well, he didn't say anything, actually; he just lay down on the (brown) bed and turned on the (bulky, outdated) television.

I didn't bother to change out of the clothes I'd thrown on that morning: black shorts, a tight black-and-pink-striped T-shirt, and orange flip-flops. My hair was looking kind of greasy, but it wasn't like I was going to run into anyone I knew. I slung my camera case over my shoulder and made like a tree.

As advertised, the beach was right down the street. Unfortunately, the street was a mile and a half long. First I had to walk past the highway off-ramp (conveniently located right next to the motel), a McDonald's, a strip mall, and a run-down minimart. Things got nicer once I reached the middle school and town pool. Finally I hit the main drag. There were cute little pastel-colored buildings with awnings: restaurants with adorable names like Burrito Bandito and Priscilla's Pancake House and shops selling T-shirts, towels, boogie boards, and plastic sand toys.

Between a fudge shop (sorry,
shoppe)
and an antiques store, a surf shop had some really cute orange board shorts in the window. Across the street was a place called Psychic Photo. Seriously—I
checked twice. It could have been worse: at first I thought it said Psycho Photo. The awning was black with silver moons and stars. The storefront was purple.

At the end of the street I glimpsed blue and kept walking until I hit the wide public beach. The air by the water was cooler than I expected, almost damp. The sky had a slight gray cast: a fog was rolling in.

I dropped my orange flip-flops into my beach bag and stepped onto the coarse sand. It felt warm and soothing on my soft feet. Not as warm and soothing as Hawaiian sand, but nice. Around me brightly colored beach umbrellas sprang from the sand like lollipops. Small children in flowered bathing suits played at the water's edge, digging and hopping and yelping. In the water, older kids rode to shore clutching boogie boards.

This was approaching acceptable.

I pulled my camera out of its black canvas case. It was a tidy silver Canon that fit snugly in my pocket or comfortably in my hand. The square screen that covered most of the back was big enough to hold my world: to scan and edit it, to zoom in close or veer far away. With a push of one button, I could freeze time. With another, I could erase an unwanted moment.

I took some pictures of the umbrellas, and then I trudged across the sand to the ocean. Small waves broke near the shore, sending icy water to bite my toes. A strand of seaweed coiled itself around my ankle like a snake. I kicked it off.

Beyond the breakers, two large birds perched atop a yellow swim float. Pelicans? Herons? Maybe they were just seagulls. I held up my camera and zoomed in—just as a couple of kids reached the float and scared the birds away. I released the shutter anyway.
(Time: 3:34
P.M.
Picture quality: pathetic.)

The rhythmic whooshing of the waves soothed me. I took a deep breath and held the salty air in my lungs. It was cold and clean and tangy. It felt so good that I breathed in even deeper the next time, until I felt almost drunk with oxygen. Maybe this vacation wouldn't be so bad.

After taking a few (mediocre) shots of breaking waves, I strolled down the sand. I felt stupid in my dark clothing and wished I'd changed—not that any of the other clothes I'd packed were so great. The beach grew narrow. A rock seawall rose on the land side, a bunch of big houses above it. One had a second-story addition being built. Another had been torn down to make way for a whole new house.

I took shots of the rocks and of the concrete stairs leading to the houses. I was getting into position to snap a seagull standing on a
KEEP OFF ROCKS
sign when something pierced my foot. I stumbled forward. The camera flew out of my hand as if in slow motion and landed on the sand with a sickening plop. I lunged toward it, wincing in pain (I'd stepped on a shell). I hardly dared to breathe. Once I'd blown sand from the crevices around the lens, I took a deep breath, pushed the picture button, and checked the screen.

Nothing.

I hit the power button to see if the lens would retract. Nothing.

Forget the sweet air, the soft breeze, and the waterbirds. This vacation was going to suck.

 

A bell jangled when I opened Psychic Photo's purple door. There was another customer in the small shop already: a woman in a
straw visor stood in front of the digital photo printer, squinting at the screen.

Despite the funky name the store looked pretty much like a normal photo place: a display case full of cameras, racks of film, color-drenched pictures on the walls. But the walls were the same purple as the outside, and the sides of the service counter were encrusted with rhinestones, bottle caps, and shells. To my disappointment, there were no crystal balls or tarot cards.

A tall, angular girl stood behind the counter. She had the oddest hair I'd ever seen: straight and just past her shoulders, it was brown with black, blond, and pink—yes, pink—stripes. It made the unwashed mess on my head look normal.

She nodded hello.

I shot her a half smile in return.

“Don't say it,” she said.

“Excuse me?” Did she expect me to comment on her hair? I wasn't that rude.

“You know.” She sighed and closed her eyes. Her eyelashes were pale, as was her skin. A spray of freckles ran over the bridge of her nose. She had no curves and she wore no makeup. If not for the crazy hair, I would have guessed she was an extremely tall twelve-year-old.

Behind me, the bell jangled again, and a man walked in. He was middle-aged, with a round, squishy belly and a yellow shirt that said
FISHERMEN MAKE A GREAT CATCH.

He grinned at the girl behind the counter. “I'd tell you what I'm here for, but I guess you already know.”

She kept her face expressionless. “Can I help you?”

“I have film to drop off.”

She picked up a pen and pulled a yellow envelope from behind the counter. “Your name?”

The smile was back, bigger this time. “Don't you know it already?”

She gave him a look.

“Well? Aren't you psychic?”

She tapped her pen on the counter. She had silver rings on all of her fingers, even the thumbs. “Rose will be doing readings this afternoon. She has a few openings if you'd like to make an appointment.”

“Nah—just the pictures.” He handed her the film.

She slipped it into a yellow envelope. “Your prints will be ready tomorrow afternoon.”

His eyebrows shot up. “But the sign outside said this was a one-hour photo.”

She shrugged. “The psychic is one hour. Photos take a day.”

That confused him enough to shut him up.

“You waiting to download photos?” she asked me after the man left.

I shook my head. “Do you do repairs? I dropped my camera in the sand.” My palms were sweating at the very thought of handing over my Canon.

At the digital printer, the woman hit a button and muttered something. On the screen two kids stood like soldiers in front of the ocean. She zoomed in, zoomed out, zoomed in again.

“Our repairman is out at sea,” the girl told me, as if that made perfect sense. “He can look at it first thing tomorrow, though.”

“Tomorrow's okay, I guess.” I put my camera on the counter.

The woman at the printer sighed in frustration. “If I give you
my memory chip, can you just print the pictures?”

“Sure,” the girl said. “You can pick them up at…” She checked the clock behind her. “Five o'clock.”

Once the woman left, I asked, “So for digital shots, this really is a one-hour photo?”

The girl smiled. Her teeth were very white, her eyeteeth slightly crooked. “It's a one-hour photo for everything. Unless you make psychic jokes. Then it takes longer.”

She was definitely older than twelve.

“But you're not the psychic?” I asked carefully.

“Our in-house intuitive is Rose. She does her readings in the back room.”

“Well, that's cool,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

The girl retrieved a clear plastic bag, dropped my camera inside, and zipped it closed. “You got a number I can call when this is ready?”

“I'll stop by on my way to the beach tomorrow,” I said, eyes on my imprisoned camera.

“Kay.” She clicked her pen. “Name?”

“Madison Sabatini.” I spelled my last name for her because people always get it wrong.

“See you tomorrow, Madison.”

My day almost got even crappier when I walked out to the sidewalk. A guy on a skateboard was heading straight at me and would have run me down if he hadn't managed to jump off at the last minute. He stumbled briefly before regaining his balance. I dodged out of the way of his unmanned board, which continued to whiz down the sidewalk.

I froze, heart racing, breathing heavily, and looked at the
skater boy. He stared back, as if he were utterly astonished to see someone coming out of a shop on Main Street in the middle of the day. His eyes were a startling green.

“Sorry,” he said finally.

“You should get your board,” I said.

He nodded once and then sprinted down the street.

This town was frickin' bizarre.

 

When I got back to “the resort” (ha, ha, ha) my dad was still lying on the bed watching some history thing on television. This was a pretty familiar way to find him—except back at home, he was usually in his double-wide chair in the den (a room that my mother insisted we call “The Library”). He was really making the most of our beach vacation.

My mother, meanwhile, was trying to figure out how to boil water. No, seriously. She was in the kitchenette (otherwise known as “two burners and a microwave”) peering into a tiny pot as if it held the secret of life.

“What are you doing?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know.

“Making macaroni and cheese.”

I could not have been more surprised if she'd said, “Mapping the human genome.” My mother did
not
cook. Cooking was messy. Cooking took time away from hanging curtains and arranging throw pillows and watching HGTV. At home, cooking might scratch our stainless steel appliances. And on vacation? Hello?

“Aren't we going out to dinner soon anyway?” It was almost five o'clock.

She shook her head. “Not tonight.”

A night stuck in one room with my parents? I tried not to groan. I failed.

My next super-special surprise came when I tried to unpack.

“Hey, Dad—where'd you put my suitcase?”

No response.

“Dad? My suitcase?”

Still lying on the brown bed, he turned his head and blinked. “What does it look like?”

“It looks like a suitcase,” I said. “You know—square, canvas, has a handle? And inside? It's got these fabric things called
clothes!

“Don't talk to your father like that,” my mother snapped. (She talked to him like that all the time.)

“Isn't it in the room?” my father asked.

“If it was in the room, don't you think she would have seen it?” my mother snarled. (See?)

My suitcase was not in the room. And it was not in the car. After some discussion, we all agreed it was right where I'd left it, in the hallway outside my bedroom at home. Instead my father had packed the shopping bag full of my old, outgrown clothes that I'd left in the kitchen, ready for my mother to drop at the Salvation Army store.

I panicked for just a moment before realizing what an opportunity this was.

“I passed a surf shop downtown today—they had some cute bathing suits in the window.”

When my mother didn't respond, I plowed forward. “We can go there tomorrow. Or maybe there's a mall nearby.”

My mother still didn't say anything. I took that as a yes.

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