My first day out on my own, and I’m lost in the middle of nowhere, looking for a new place to call my home. How long have I been walking? I’m exhausted.
But there’s something in the distance. I snap to attention upon the realization of what it must be. Civilization. A town.
My steps heavy, I wearily drag my feet as I approach the entryway to the small town. Full of small buildings, family-owned businesses, and homely people, it feels like a decade of abandonment and decay away from being a proper ghost town. The sign is aged, weathered from years of annual rains and snows, reading in peeled paint: Tacit Knoll. An odd name for such a place, but, considering how it’s basically in the middle of nowhere, peculiarity is to be expected.
Upon first stepping foot within the limits of Tacit Knoll, it’s clear not all is… normal, to be vague about it. The citizens roaming about and making small talk to their neighbors and friends seem awfully placid, despite the almost ominous aura resonating in the air. Had the sky always been overcast? No, but judging from the earthy, moist scent wafting about, a shower is about to bear down on the area.
As if it had been waiting for me to acknowledge the weather in my train of thought, a few heavy droplets impact my face. I look around. The nearest building appears to be a small business, with an obscured sign hanging over a porch-like entryway baring a camera in its logo. I duck inside, pushing open the door and standing within the parlor. A woman sits calmly at a front desk, a flier plastered to the front-facing side of it announcing that the establishment is in need of work.
Well, why not choose this place to be my new home? Surely I’ve stumbled upon it out of luck. A miracle, this discovery must be.
“Erm-- hello! I’m looking to live here, in, ah… Tacit Knoll, right?” I lean cautiously on the countertop of the desk, eyeing the stranger.
“Mhm. You’re correct.”
“Would it be possible for me to… get a job, here?”
“Of course! We’re always looking for more help. Follow me.” The woman gets up from her seat, walking out from behind the desk and gesturing for me to walk behind her. She approaches a door to her left, opening it and beckoning inside. I nod, entering the room.
I hear her close the door behind me without going in. I take a nervous breath, looking to another woman sitting in the room, behind another desk. She’s wearing glasses with thick frames, typing away on a keyboard. Her hands are smooth and soft-looking, with little effort put into hiding a habit of nail-biting. “Yes?” She doesn’t raise her head.
“I was interested in applying for a job, here.” I sit in a chair positioned near the desk. Common courtesy, isn’t it?
The woman looks up. With a quick glance at her desktop, I notice a nametag. Sandra Triskit. Interesting name. “Ah! I heard you talking to Molly. Pleasure to meet you. You’ll be starting tomorrow morning.” We didn’t even talk about what my position would entail, or what positions are even open. Before I get in a word to protest, she reaches across the desktop, standing up and extending a palm to shake.
“...what exactly will I be doing, though?” I hesitantly accept the offer for a handshake.
“..oh! Silly me. Forgetful. Let’s see…” She firmly shakes my hand, like sealing a deal with the devil, and sits back down, pushing up her glasses. “Anyways! Here in Tacit Knoll, we get a lot of reports of supernatural occurrences. Spirits, demons, monsters, you name it. We work in tandem with the daily paper, and photography to go with articles about sightings of these incidents are in very high demand. So we’ve devoted an entire division of our company, Diafol Imagery, to getting these photos. Nothing we send our camera guys after is malignant or dangerous, so no worries about that! How about it?”
“Well, we shook on it, so why not..?”
Sandra reaches into a drawer, pulling out a camera. It looks like a camcorder, but without the screen that extends outwards for watching recorded video. So a camcorder without the “corder” part. A cam? Just a camera. She places it on the desktop in front of me. I take it into my hands, looking back at her. “...well? There’s a hotel across the street. No rent, just sleep in one of the rooms. Come back here tomorrow.”
“It’s pouring outside. Won’t that damage the camera? I don’t have anything to protect it with.”
“...eh? No, it’s not raining. I’d hear it. Go on, it’s getting late.”
But it’s the middle of the day, right?
I look to a clock on the wall.
How long was I in here..?
Shrugging off the feeling of something weird going on, I leave the Diafol Imagery building and make my way across the street. Surely enough, the hotel is there. The sign reads Passe Accommodations. Fancy-sounding. I look about after walking through the door, and what I see is quite the opposite. Just as settled-down and musty as the rest of the town. Something to get used to.
A young man sitting in the lobby directs me to the first open room. I step through the door.
I must have been really tired.
I don’t remember making it into bed that night.
My eyes snap open. 7:30 AM. I must have made it into bed, considering the comfortable mattress is supporting my still-weary body. I sit up and yawn, rubbing my eyes. Why am I here, again, I think to myself.
Right. My new home. And my new job.
After getting dressed -- Passe Accommodations supplied me a uniform Sandra had left for me -- and grabbing my camera, I go back across the street into Diafol Imagery. Sandra is waiting for me nearby Molly at the front desk, a grin on her face.
“You’re up early! We’ve been waiting. Care for some coffee?”
“No thanks, I’m not a fan of caffeine.”
“Alright. So your first assignment is to this diner down the street. We’ve heard something about a specter being sighted in the kitchen. All you need to do is go in, snap a few good angles of the little bugger, and come back with the pictures. Simple, right?”
I nod, clutching my camera eagerly in my hands.
“Molly here will help you get to your destination. You’re new to Tacit Knoll, right?” I nod. “Then you wouldn’t mind Molly guiding you to the diner, right?” I nod again. “Alright, then.” Sandra gestures to Molly, who steps out from behind the front desk, once again gesturing for me to follow.
I never really got a good look at these two. Molly is petite in build, with curly blond hair and a casual yet formal uniform consisting of a dress shirt, a knee-length skirt, and a rose-colored tie. Sandra has dark skin, with straight hair dyed bright red, a tall and somewhat lithe build, and a pantsuit. An interesting duo.
I follow after Molly, looking around as we walk down the street. The air is crisp and chilled, still smelling of rain and morning dew. The sun is still rising, casting a rosy tint on the colors outside. Sloppily-kept plants and overgrown trees line the spaces between houses and buildings.
After a couple minutes of casual strolling, we come across a diner. Translucent glass lines the wall facing the street, stained with slight yellow from age and a lack of effort in cleaning. Checkered tile covers the floor, or, at least, what’s visible from looking through the windows.
“Go on in. I’ll be out here. Don’t be too long!”
I step inside, looking around. Booths and tables line the outermost areas of the floor, with counters paired with stools for ordering food at. I slip through a gap in the countertops, walking through a sleek, loose door to the kitchen. The lights are off. An eerie blue glow fills the room.
I feel a ten-pound weight slamming down my throat, crashing into my belly. I pull out my camera with shaky hands, raising it to my face as I walk around.
The source is a white orb of light, pale, icy blue bouncing off of the halo surrounding it. I take slow steps, my index finger hovering over the button to take a photo.
It jerks forward, closing the gap between me and it by a couple feet. I let out a terrified yelp.
I rapidly take a couple of blurry photographs before turning on my heel and sprinting out of the diner.
“I-- I got it, let’s go!” My chest is pounding, my breathing heavy.
“When I said to not be too long, I didn’t mean to take less than a minute on the pictures! Calm down, it’s just an apparition, isn’t it? Harmless.” Molly rests a hand on my shoulder. I flinch away.
She frowns, sighing and removing her hand before we return to the Diafol building.
Sandra gently takes the camera from my hands, going into her office. I assume she’s downloading the photos to her computer. “...excuse me, could you come here?” I enter her office. There’s a frown on her face, with furrowed eyebrows. She turns the monitor of her computer to me. My eyes widen. “Where is the specter? There’s nothing on the film.”
“I… I could have sworn I saw it, it jumped at me and I took clear pictures of it!”
“You’re lucky you’re brand new here. I don’t tolerate lying and laziness. You’re off for the rest of the day. I’ll give you another chance tomorrow.”
She shoves the camera back into my hands, scoffing. I walk out of the building, feeling like both Sandra and Molly’s eyes are burning holes in the back of my neck.
Determined to prove myself, I haul ass back to the diner, gripping my camera so tightly my knuckles might as well be bleached forever. The specter is still there. The photos from before seem to be erased from the history, but no matter. I raise the viewfinder to my eyes and focus on the ghastly sphere.
To make sure the apparition is definitely being caught on film, I look back through the history on the camera. All there, clear as crystal. Giving a small wave to the spirit, as if it’d care to get a silent goodbye from some strange cameraman, I once again leave and book it back to the company building.
“Sandra! I got your pictures.”
I storm into her office, showing my camera to her with the images pulled up. I know for a fact the glowing ghost is visible. She looks at me without moving her head from facing the camera, unamused. My heart stops. “...where is it? You gave me an empty diner kitchen. Again.”
“...what…? I… I double-checked… triple-checked… what..?”
“You heard me. See for yourself.”
I look at the camera.
I look through the photos.
All three images… all lacking the ball of light.
This can’t be possible.
I checked each photo over again and again before I even left the diner.
My hands tremble. I can barely stop myself from dropping the camera on the floor.
“Come back tomorrow. It’s late.”
I woke up barely an hour ago.
It can’t be any later than 9:00 AM, tops.
My eyes wander to the clock.
What’s going on?
“You seem awfully tired. Disoriented, even. You can barely stand. Go on, go to the hotel.”
To think of it, it’s hard to stand up straight. My head is pounding. My vision feels fuzzy. Clutching my camera as if I’ll die without it, I trudge out of the building and back to my room in the hotel.
Once again, it feels like I black out before even making it through the door.
When I wake up, it’s the usual time. 7:30 AM. But there’s something different. That ball of light from before is in my room. I stiffly sit up, holding a pillow close and trembling. Why is it here? Does it want something from me?
I feel like I should be understanding something, like it’s trying to tell me something.
It vanishes before I decipher the feeling.
The rest of my morning goes on normally.
I head back to Diafol Imagery, decked-out in my uniform and holding my camera.
“The specter is still at the diner, still needing someone to take pictures of it. Yesterday was a disaster for you, but I’m sure you’ll do better today. It’s a new day, right?”
“R… right.” My head still feels odd. I’m not entirely over that disorienting experience from yesterday. There’s something more than supernatural occurrences going on in this place.
Perhaps that was a bad dream. It definitely felt like one.
I take a deep breath and look at my camera, then to Sandra. She gestures with her hand to the door, impatient. I sigh and walk out, taking my time to go down the street.
It’s overcast, again. The air smells dank and earthy.
I go into the diner for the third time. It seems as if nobody has been in here besides me since before I went in the first time. As usual, the same shining being from before is awaiting in the kitchen, in the same place as before, like it never even visited me in my hotel room.
I take five photographs, sure that if I take enough, one of them will definitely come through to Sandra’s vision. I check over each -- they all bear the same spherical manifestation of bluish-white light. My work will end up in the next issue of the Tacit Knoll newspaper, surely. With a spring in my step, I run back to my workplace.
“I got the pictures! Five of them, in case only one came through! But I checked them all, and they all have the thing in it!”
Sandra takes my camera off my hands, walking back to her desk in her office. She connects it to her computer. I hear my name being called. She doesn’t sound happy.
“They all have it, huh?”
No, that can’t be right.
I checked twice.
I obsessively checked each and every pixel in each and every photo I shot.
I don’t know what I’m trying to accomplish by snatching my camera and slamming it over Sandra’s head, but she collapses face-down on her desk after the first blow.
Red is visible after the fifth.
One blow for photo.
I glance at the computer, still recovering from the sudden frenzy.
Not a hint of light, just an almost pitch-black kitchen.
I realize what I’ve done, and quickly get overwhelmed.
“Erm-- hello! I’m looking to live here, in, ah… Tacit Knoll, right?” I hear Molly and a stranger, a newcomer, talking outside of my office.
“Mhm. You’re correct.”
“Would it be possible for me to… get a job, here?”
“Of course! We’re always looking for more help. Follow me.” I hear footsteps. Molly open the door to my office, beckoning towards my desk. The stranger enters the room.
She closes the door without coming in, herself. The stranger takes a nervous breath, looking to me. I adjust my glasses, chewing on a fingernail. “Yes?” I don’t raise my head.
“I was interested in applying for a job, here.” They sit in a chair positioned near my desk.
I look up. The stranger’s eyes lock onto my nametag for a moment.
After a brief conversation, I hand them a camera. They turn it over in their hands. I tell them where they need to go, what they need to take photos of. They leave.
I grin, my tongue running over a couple sharp teeth in my mouth.
Down the street, in the diner, the stranger raises the viewfinder of their camera to their eyes.