Kara snapped a picture of her daughter eating a chocolate and raspberry ice-cream and set the camera aside by the bowl of chips.

“Is it tasty?” She asked, watching as the blank photograph popped out.

Her daughter responded with a frantic nod and a prolonged “mmm” and Kara smiled at the happy chocolate smeared face. Waiting for the picture to come to life, she sliced her burger in half and took a bite. The combination of bacon, pork, pickles and cheese tasted delicious. She took another bite, glancing at the photograph again. Setting the burger back on her plate, she grabbed a napkin and wiped her hands. Then, after brushing them off on her denim jeans, she picked up the photo and fanned it in the air.

Her daughter’s chocolaty smile took centre stage and Kara’s eyes lit up with joy before her eye caught a tiny grey smudge in the corner. Using the collar of her red chequered shirt, she began wiping it away.

“What’s wrong, mommy?”

“There’s a mark on the photo,” she said, continuing to rub it away. She extended the photo in front of her and saw the smudge move. Kara pulled it closer and the smudge gave off cold air and slowly shrunk into a figure.

She looked past her daughter towards the end of the diner and then back at the photograph, where the blur turned into an old woman in a grey nightgown and slowly floated towards her daughter’s frozen smile. Long yellow nails protruded from her outstretched hand. Her mouth moved like a nutcracker singing and black eyes stared right back at her.

Kara looked around, but there were no customers this early in the day. The waitress disappeared behind the counter, and the street outside was deserted. She looked back at the photograph, and the woman was brushing her daughter’s hair with one hand, while her other hand wrapped around her neck. She whispered something into the child’s ear.

“Sweetie, let’s go now.”

“But I haven’t finished my ice-cream!”

“Now. Let’s go. Now. Come on,” she urged, gathering her things and grabbing her daughter’s arm.

The photograph lay on the counter when the waitress returned.

“Another one,” she sighed. “Johnny, call the sheriff.” she shouted into the kitchen while picking up the photograph.

“I sure hope she’s not a photographer,” she shook her head, crumbling the photo of an empty diner seat and tossing it in the half-eaten bowl of chips.

Aldas is a writer and editor with MA in Creative Writing. He has been chosen as the Irish Writers Centre delegate for the International Literature Festival Dublin 2020. His work has been featured in Cabinet of Heed,  The Fiction PoolQutub Minar Review and elsewhere. His website: http://www.aldaskruminis.com/

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